Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Chick-fil A Controversy; One Man's Opinion...

I was going to leave this topic alone because I don't want to stir the controversy even more, but I find myself compelled to voice an opinion.  I keep reading various other opinions, mostly ugly and hateful, and it leaves me with one burning question - why do those who demand tolerance and understanding refuse to display that same tolerance and understanding?

I'm talking, of course, about the controversy created when Chick-fil A President, Dan Cathy, responded to a reporter's question about the issue of gay marriage.  Mr. Cathy dared to give his honest opinion - that he supported traditional marriage due to his Christian beliefs.  Whether you agree with him or not, does not Mr. Cathy have the right to his own opinion and beliefs?  And does he not have right to incorporate those beliefs into his business practices if he so chooses?

Chick-fil A has operated their business with Christian morals and values since its conception.  They do not open on Sundays,  instead remaining closed in observance of the Christian day of worship.  Personally, I find this refreshing since the company obviously worries less about profits than they do about worshiping the God of their beliefs.  I don't see this as a bad thing.

To my knowledge, Chick-fil A does not discriminate against homosexuals, either in service or in hiring.  During a lecture once in Alabama, a spokesperson for Chick-fil A said "If a man's got an earring in his ear and he applies to work at one of my restaurants, we won't even talk to him."  Tracy Baim, an LGBT blogger for the Huffington Post, finds this to be bigoted and hateful.  Interestingly, Publix Supermarkets, one of the largest and most successful employee-owned grocery chains in the US, has the same policy.  Men are forbidden from wearing earrings at work.  They also have restrictions on hair and tattoos.  They haven't made a similar statement as Chick-fil A but is it not the same basic thing?  Or is it just assumed that Chick-fil A thinks any man who wears an earring is gay and therefore not employee material?  I don't feel that way but I'm sure some do.

Now comes the real problem in all of this - at least as I see it.  The lesbian/gay community demands and expects people to understand and accept their lifestyle.  Those who support the gay and lesbian community demand and expect people to understand and accept it as well.  They (collectively) want full access to free speech to promote their cause and their beliefs without interference.  Yet those people who demand such understanding and freedom of speech and expression want to stifle those same rights of the people who disagree with them.  Why is it that disagreeing (not condemning) with a lifestyle on personal and/or religious grounds is seen as hate speech and bigotry?  (Certainly there are those who are the exception to the rule.  The Westboro Baptist Church, a truly vile group of people, is a good example.)

I have known gays and lesbians both who have stated matter-of-factly that they think heterosexual relationships are disgusting and that they just don't understand how people can be with the opposite sex.  Is that hate speech and bigotry?  Or is that OK because, after all, they've been discriminated against for years?
Christians, as a whole, and others believe the two sexes were created by God for a specific purpose - to live together and procreate the species.   Biologically, sex is the means by which humans procreate that just happens to feel good.  And while there are many variations of what people do for sexual pleasure, without the joining of the male and female in some way, be it physically or in a Petri dish, humans would have expired from the Earth centuries ago.  Why then, is it so wrong for many people to believe that homosexuality isn't "normal" by the laws of nature?  Is that bigotry or simple science?  And no - I'm not interested in debating whether or not some people were born that way because I do believe that's true in some cases.

Before anyone gets angry at me understand that I am not here to judge anyone.  That is not my role in life.  There are several gays, lesbians and even transgenders who are important in my life.  I am simply tired of the hate speech that has been leveled at Chick-fil A in the last week simply because Mr. Cathy had the courage to speak his mind.  If we disallow freedom of speech for someone simply because someone else doesn't like it, where does that stop?  Do we next only allow free speech for those who are "politically correct" but disallow it for those who aren't?  I'm thinking we have some politicians who would answer that question affirmatively.

My other beef with all of this (no pun intended) is against the mayors who want to stop allowing Chick-fil A to open restaurants in their towns because Mr. Cathy had the audacity to express an opinion.  Mr. Cathy did not condemn anyone.  He did not say "No gays or lesbians will be allowed to eat our food."  Nor did he say he would not hire anyone who is gay or  lesbian.  He said he believes in traditional marriage.  Rahm Emmanel, Mayor of Chicago, said "Mr. Cathy's beliefs are not the beliefs of Chicago."  Mr. Mayor - with all due respect, have you asked the people of Chicago?  You might be surprised at what you learn.  And what other businesses operate in Chicago that don't agree with your personal views.  Will you close them down and run them out of the city next? 

The rhetoric in this country is only getting worse as the years pass.  Hatred of those who don't share your opinion is getting more common all the time.  I, for one, would like to see it stop.  Can't people disagree without hating the other person for it?  Think about it - can someone disagree with  your opinion without being labeled a bigot or a hater?  If not - where does the problem lie...?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Miracle Inside The Aurora Shooting: One Victim's Story

Here is the second story I wanted to share.  It was written by a church pastor about one of the surviving victims of the Aurora tragedy.  This victim received a miracle - that's really the only way to put it.  Read her story and see for yourself.

At Columbine, I have seen this before. But not up close.  As a church pastor in Denver, I have worked as a chaplain with several police and fire departments. I was privileged to counsel parents just hours after the Littleton Columbine shootings. However, in this new tragedy at the Aurora Theater Dark Nightshooting, one of the victims was a 22 year old woman from my church, Petra Anderson (pronounced Pay-tra). Petra went to the movies with two young friends who are biking across America.  You and I have been inundated with news about what happened next. A joyful movie turned into bloody, unbelievable chaos. Petra was hit four times with a shot-gun blast, three shots into her arm and one bullet which entered her brain. This a bit of Petra’s miracle story.
With awesome people from our caring and pastoral team, I spent all day Friday in the ICU with Petra and her family. Her injuries were severe, and her condition was critical. A bullet had entered Petra’s face through her nose, and then traveled up through her brain until stopping at the back of her skull. The doctors prior to surgery were concerned, because so much of the brain had been traversed by the bullet. Many areas of brain function were involved. They were hoping to keep her alive long enough to get her into surgery. The prognosis was uncertain—if she lived, Petra might struggle with speech, movement, and thinking due to considerable brain damage. With Kim, Petra’s mother (who is in the final stages of terminal cancer), we simply cried, hugged, and prayed.
It is pressed into my memory now. Motion and emotion…
Other families come and go into the ICU waiting room. Some sit with us, and we talk. Others are visited by doctors with “Family Advocates” in tow. The families listen, sob, and then are moved like stunned cattle to a more private space to grieve. We pray. Petra is finally taken into surgery, using two different surgical teams. One team of neurosurgeons will open up the back of her skull to remove the bullet and clean up brain damage as best they can. Another ENT-specialty surgical team will then work through Petra’s nose by scope to follow the bullet’s path up into her brain.  Their hope is to remove bone fragments, clean up damaged brain tissue, and reseal her brain to reduce infection.
If you have lived any of your days in a hospital waiting room, you know how long the enduring process is. It has a woeful pattern to it. Sit. Walk. Grab a drink. Sit. Walk. Answer a phone call. Sit. Walk. Hug someone. Sit. Talk to the FBI. Sit. Pick at the food. Sit. Walk. Go down the hall, but not too far because you’re afraid to miss something. Back. Hug. Pray. Sit. Sit. A picture of a five year old waiting for next Christmas from January 1st comes to my mind. FOREVER. Only this feels worse: a heavy forever, with no promise of presents, Santa, or good news at the end.

Petra Anderson and her world class violin.
After the waiting drags for over five hours, tired doctors and nurses spill back into the room, one or two at a time. I look for “Family Advocates” but can find none. I exhale. The doctors update us: “It went well, and she’s recovering now. We found very little damage to the brain, and got the bullet out cleanly. It went better than we hoped for.” Each brings a warrior’s smile, and a bit of information—information that we turn into hope as we regurgitate it over the next hours.  Still, the medical team remains professional and reserved, “Something might still go wrong. We just need to wait and see if she makes it for the next 48 hours.”
Tears and thank you’s abound. We are so thankful for these men and women. We hug. Everyone hugs. Then, round two. Sit. Wait. Pray. Fully dressed people cuddle into small snails and try to sleep on the floor. Some are shuttled to a room donated by the Holiday Inn across the street. Thank you, Lord, for every little thing. We sit. We pray. “We’ll understand better tomorrow.”
Petra is moved back to ICU. She looks, surprisingly, wonderful. With a small hole in her nose, and her arm wrapped, she almost looks uninjured. She is medicated and sleeping when I come to visit her on Saturday. I sit, talk, and pray quietly with Kim amid the darkened room, lit by glowing medical screens and power switches. Nurses, like quiet soldiers posted on guard, come in, march attentively through the machines, and go out.  These men and women really care. Finally, one of the surgeons comes in to check on Petra. He has had some sleep, and looks more like a movie star this time. As Petra sleeps, he retells the story of the surgery, and we ask questions.  The doctor reads the perfect script, as if he is on Hallmark Hall of Fame. He fills us in on the miracle. Honestly, he doesn’t call it that, he just uses words like “happily” and “wonderfully” and “in a very fortunate way” and “luckily” and “we were really surprised by that.”  Kim and I know a miracle when we see it.
It seems as if the bullet traveled through Petra’s brain without hitting any significant brain areas. The doctor explains that Petra’s brain has had from birth a small “defect” in it. It is a tiny channel of fluid running through her skull, like a tiny vein through marble, or a small hole in an oak board, winding from front to rear.  Only a CAT scan would catch it, and Petra would have never noticed it.
But in Petra’s case, the shotgun buck shot, maybe even the size used for deer hunting, enters her brain from the exact point of this defect. Like a marble through a small tube, the defect channels the bullet from Petra’s nose through her brain. It turns slightly several times, and comes to rest at the rear of her brain. And in the process, the bullet misses all the vital areas of the brain. In many ways, it almost misses the brain itself.  Like a giant BB though a straw created in Petra’s brain before she was born, it follows the route of the defect. It is channeled in the least harmful way. A millimeter in any direction and the channel is missed.  The brain is destroyed. Evil wins a round.
As he shares, the doctor seems taken aback. It is an odd thing to have a surgeon show a bit of wonder. Professionally, these guys own the universe, it seems, and take everything in stride. He is obviously gifted as a surgeon, and is kind in his manner. “It couldn’t have gone better. If it were my daughter,” he says quietly, glancing around to see if any of his colleagues might be watching him, “I’d be ecstatic. I’d be dancing a jig.” He smiles. I can’t keep my smile back, or the tears of joy. In Christianity we call itprevenient grace: God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.
While we’re talking, Petra awakes. She opens her eyes, and sits up, “Mom.” Movie-star doctor spins to grab her, to protect her from falling. The nurse assures him she’s been doing this for a while. He talks to her, and she talks back. He asks questions, and Petra has the right answers. “Where do you hurt, Petra?” “All over.” Amazed, but professional, he smiles and leaves the set shaking his head. I am so thankful for this man.
Petra is groggy and beat up, but she is herself. Honestly, I look worse before my morning coffee. “I’m thirsty,” she proclaims.
“You want an ice cube, honey?” Kim replies.
“Please.”  Wow. She lays down, back to sleep, a living miracle who doesn’t even know it yet. Good flowering out of the refuse pile of a truly dark night. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whisper.

Kim and her daughter.
Petra, you are amazing. Kim, you, too, are amazing. I am so proud of you both. But God, you are in a league of your own. (Duh.)
There is much ahead. More surgerys. Facial reconstruction, perhaps. And for Kim, chemo therapy to stretch every moment out of life. But life remains.The ending is yet to be written for this family.
One final note: I am told Petra will take her first steps today. Time for the miracle to go for a walk.

The First Time He Could See Me Play

Today I'm going to post two things I read this morning that I thought needed to be shared.  I guess I'm cheating a little by not writing something original but I have nothing to offer that comes close to the messages in these next two stories.  This first one I can't verify as being true but the message is powerful.  I'll let you decide for yourselves.

I have no idea who wrote this originally.  I saw it in a post on Facebook.  It was posted by a man named Scott Sonnen.  Maybe Scott wrote the story about someone he knows.  He went on with some other things but this story struck something inside me.  I hope you like it.  Thanks to Scott, whoever he is.  Hope you don't mind me sharing...

A teenager lived alone with his father, and the two of them had a very special relationship. Even though the son was always on the bench, his father was always in the stands cheering. He never missed a game. This young man was still the smallest of the class when he entered high school. But his father continued to encourage him but also made it very clear that he did not have to play football if he didn't want to.

But the young man loved football and decided to hang in there. He was determined to try his best at every practice, and perhaps he'd get to play when he became a senior. All through high school he never missed a practice nor a game, but remained a bench warmer all four years. His faithful father was always in the stands, always with words of encouragement for him.

When the young man went to college, he decided to try out for the football team as a "walk-on." Everyone was sure he could never make the cut, but he did. The coach admitted that he kept him on the roste because he always puts his heart and soul into every practice, and at the same time, provided the other members with the spirit and hustle they badly needed. The news that he had survived the cut thrilled him so much that he rushed to the nearest phone and called his father. His father shared his excitement and was sent season tickets for all the college games.

This persistent young athlete never missed practice during his four years at college, but he never got to play in the game. It was the end of his senior football season, and as he trotted onto the practice field shortly before the big play off game, the coach met him with a telegram. The young man read the telegram and he became deathly silent. Swallowing hard, he mumbled to the coach, "My father died this morning. Is it all right if I miss practice today?" The coach put his arm gently around his shoulder and said, "Take the rest of the week off, son. And don't even plan to come back to the game on Saturday.

Saturday arrived, and the game was not going well. In the third quarter, when the team was ten points behind, a silent young man quietly slipped into the empty locker room and put on his football gear. As he ran onto the sidelines, the coach and his players were astounded to see their faithful teammate back so soon."Coach, please let me play. I've just got to play today," said the young man. The coach pretended not to hear him. There was no way he wanted his worst player in this close playoff game. But the young man persisted, and finally feeling sorry for the kid, the coach gave in. "All right," he said. "You can go in."

Before long, the coach, the players and everyone in the stands could not believe their eyes. This little unknown, who had never played before was doing everything right. The opposing team could not stop him. He ran, he passed, blocked and tackled like a star. His team began to triumph. The score was soon tied. In the closing seconds of the game, this kid intercepted a pass and ran all the way for the winning touchdown.

The fans broke loose. His teammates hoisted him onto their shoulders. Such cheering you've never heard! Finally, after the stands had emptied and the team had showered and left the locker room, the coach noticed that the young man was sitting quietly in the corner all alone. The coach came to him and said, "Kid, I can't believe it. You were fantastic! Tell me what got into you? How did you do it?" 

He looked at the coach, with tears in his eyes, and said, "Well, you knew my dad died, but did you know that my dad was blind?" The young man swallowed hard and forced a smile, "Dad came to all my games, but today was the first time he could see me play, and I wanted to show him I could do it!"

Monday, July 23, 2012

A True Love Story With A Happy Ending

You know - I sometimes enjoy when I don't have to write something original.  This story, which I verified on, is true and very touching.  John Glenn is an American hero.  Unbeknownst to many Americans, his wife, Annie, is too.  Love like this is difficult to find in 2012.  Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Glenn, for an inspiring story and service and sacrifice for our country.  

John Glenn's true hero

For half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as a heart-stirring American hero. He lifted the nation's spirits when, as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he was blasted alone into orbit around the Earth; the enduring affection for him is so powerful that even now people find themselves misting up at the sight of his face or the sound of his voice. 

But for all these years, Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone who he has seen display endless courage of a different kind: 

Annie Glenn. 

They have been married for 68 years. 

He is 90; she turned 92 on Friday. 

This weekend there has been news coverage of the 50th anniversary of Glenn's flight into orbit. We are being reminded that, half a century down the line, he remains America 's unforgettable hero. 

He has never really bought that. 

Because the heroism he most cherishes is of a sort that is seldom cheered. It belongs to the person he has known longer than he has known anyone else in the world. 

John Glenn and Annie Castor first knew each other when -- literally -- they shared a playpen. 

In New Concord, Ohio, his parents and hers were friends. When the families got together, their children played. 

John -- the future Marine fighter pilot, the future test-pilot ace, the future astronaut -- was pure gold from the start. He would end up having what it took to rise to the absolute pinnacle of American regard during the space race; imagine what it meant to be the young John Glenn in the small confines of New Concord. 

Three-sport varsity athlete, most admired boy in town, Mr. Everything. 

Annie Castor was bright, was caring, was talented, was generous of spirit. But she could talk only with the most excruciating of difficulty. It haunted her. 

Her stuttering was so severe that it was categorized as an "85%" disability -- 85% of the time, she could not manage to make words come out. 

When she tried to recite a poem in elementary school, she was laughed at. She was not able to speak on the telephone. She could not have a regular conversation with a friend. 

And John Glenn loved her. 

Even as a boy he was wise enough to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on knowing a rare and wonderful girl. 

They married on April 6, 1943. As a military wife, she found that life as she and John moved around the country could be quite hurtful. She has written: "I can remember some very painful experiences -- especially the ridicule." 

In department stores, she would wander unfamiliar aisles trying to find the right section, embarrassed to attempt to ask the salesclerks for help. In taxis, she would have to write requests to the driver, because she couldn't speak the destination out loud. In restaurants, she would point to the items on the menu. 

A fine musician, Annie, in every community where she and John moved, would play the organ in church as a way to make new friends. She and John had two children; she has written: "Can you imagine living in the modern world and being afraid to use the telephone? 'Hello' used to be so hard for me to say. I worried that my children would be injured and need a doctor. Could I somehow find the words to get the information across on the phone?" 

John, as a Marine aviator, flew 59 combat missions in World War II and 90 during the Korean War. Every time he was deployed, he and Annie said goodbye the same way. His last words to her before leaving were: 

"I'm just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum." 

And, with just the two of them there, she was able to always reply: 

"Don't be long." 

On that February day in 1962 when the world held its breath and the Atlas rocket was about to propel him toward space, those were their words, once again. And in 1998, when, at 77, he went back to space aboard the shuttle Discovery, it was an understandably tense time for them. What if something happened to end their life together? 

She knew what he would say to her before boarding the shuttle. He did -- and this time he gave her a present to hold onto: 

A pack of gum. 

She carried it in a pocket next to her heart until he was safely home. 

Many times in her life she attempted various treatments to cure her stutter. None worked. 

But in 1973, she found a doctor in Virginia who ran an intensive program she and John hoped would help her. She traveled there to enroll and to give it her best effort. The miracle she and John had always waited for at last, as miracles will do, arrived. At age 53, she was able to talk fluidly, and not in brief, anxiety-ridden, agonizing bursts. 

John has said that on the first day he heard her speak to him with confidence and clarity, he dropped to his knees to offer a prayer of gratitude. 

He has written: "I saw Annie's perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her and love her even more." He has heard roaring ovations in countries around the globe for his own valor, but his awe is reserved for Annie, and what she accomplished: "I don't know if I would have had the courage." 

Her voice is so clear and steady now that she regularly gives public talks. If you are lucky enough to know the Glenns, the sight and sound of them bantering and joking with each other and playfully finishing each others' sentences is something that warms you and makes you thankful just to be in the same room. 

Monday will be the anniversary of the Mercury space shot, and once again people will remember, and will speak of the heroism of Glenn the astronaut. 

But if you ever find yourself at an event where the Glenns are appearing, and you want to see someone so brimming with pride and love that you may feel your own tears start to well up, wait until the moment that Annie stands to say a few words to the audience. 

And as she begins, take a look at her husband's eyes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thoughts on Independence Day

On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence from England that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.  The resolution declared the colonies free from the rule of Great Britain.  Following the vote the Congress focused on a document prepared by a committee of five members but mostly authored by Thomas Jefferson.  They debated and revised some wording of the document and finally approved it as the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

John Adams had written to his wife, Abigail, on July 3rd, telling her of the vote on July 2nd, without realizing it would be a different day that turned out to be celebrated. 

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Little did he know that even though he had the date wrong, the other things he had said would turn out to be true, even 236 years later.  Independence Day is one of the largest and most celebrated American holidays with parades and fireworks in many places.  As it should be.

But I wonder how many people sit back on July 4th and truly contemplate what it means?  Independence from England was not free.  It cost thousands of lives in the Continental Army and the militias that had sprung up all over the land; volunteers one and all.  They fought for a dream – a homeland where they were truly free from government interference in their lives.

I believe the first time I realized exactly what Independence Day meant to me was when I was in the Air Force.   I wore the uniform for eight years and during those years I realized just what a great country we are.  I suppose I always knew but I think I took it for granted until I was a part of the group who volunteered to defend her. 

I was in basic training on July 4, 1977.  There were no backyard barbecues or fireworks for us.  What we did was celebrate with a parade of all the young airmen in front of the base general and base commander.  I remember how proud I was to be a part of it.  Another great memory I have is my first retreat ceremony – standing with about 1000 other young men and women listening to “Taps” and saluting as the flag was lowered and folded.  I have never forgotten that feeling of honor – and I never will.

My family has been traced back to the famous Clark family of Albemarle, Virginia, who gave birth to General George Rogers Clark and William Clark, two important explorers who helped settle this great nation.  Although they did not sign the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, they knew many of the men who did.  Both George and William reported directly to Thomas Jefferson on several occasions and also knew Mr. Washington.  George was instrumental in furthering the cause of freedom on the Western front of the war.  With a small brigade of volunteers he took the towns of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, and Fort Detroit from the British, capturing Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton.  Clark was often credited as the “Conqueror of the old Northwest.”  And William, of course, was the first Clark in recorded history to cross the United States all the way to the Pacific.  I have done it twice in my life.

We, as a nation, have fought several wars since those early days.  We have gone to the aid of other countries who were struggling for their freedom and have been a friend and ally to many peoples around the world.  Our flag stands for freedom – a freedom after which many other countries model themselves.  And I’m very proud to be a part of it.

I spent a total of 30 years serving my country in the military and in federal service.  Even though I have disagreements with the government now and then, I would do it again in a minute.  I didn’t serve for glory or fame.  In all honesty, when I joined the Air Force it was to get away from home and get a good job and when I took the job at the Lompoc penitentiary it was to feed my family.  But both jobs surprised me in the way they effected my thinking about the USA.  If anything the work made me even more proud of my country than ever.

Yes, I am a proud American and tomorrow I will celebrate her independence with friends and family.  Regardless of what some people think, America truly is the greatest nation on Earth.  We have our problems, sure.  But you don’t see millions of people a year trying to get into other countries any way they can as they try to get here.  They know what I’ve known for a long time.  God has truly blessed the USA and her people.  In the words of Lee Greenwood:

“I’m proud to be an American – where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.
And I’ll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
For there ain’t no doubt I love this land….
God bless the USA.”