Archive for the 'Holiday' Category

Veterans Day 2018: Military stars shine brightest

“We are privileged to serve,” Texas Air National Guardsman Lt. Col. Ben Schill told me last week. “It’s our calling, our solemn duty.”

He continued, “We don’t need people’s gratitude, but a sincere ‘thanks’ goes a long way, just like in friendship or in leadership. The American people can’t pay us back, but we can’t pay them back for their support either.”

Lt. Col. Schill, known to fellow pilots by his call sign, “Showdown,” has flown F-16 fighter jets for sixteen years, twelve of those in the U.S. Air Force. Duty has called him to Germany, Korea and Iraq.

Today, the Boerne, Texas, resident trains a new generation of fighter pilots at Lackland Air Force Base. He also still flies missions of his own.

Schill recently returned from Afghanistan where he flew roughly fifty “close air” missions supporting American and Afghan ground troops. His time overseas provided clarity on the U.S. military’s role in the world.

“Our power is overwhelming to our enemies,” Schill explained. “We are extremely good at fighting and winning. We have a heritage of skill and expertise that extends back to the World Wars.”

“But we also have a conscience,” he asserted. “The men and women of the U.S. military are volunteers from the citizenry of our country. We have a somber approach to taking life. We don’t take unnecessary life. We don’t cause unnecessary suffering.”

Like a sharp scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon, U.S. Armed Forces excise threats to human life and rights worldwide.

“The meritocracy, the ingenuity and the capability of our military make the United States a tremendous force for good,” Schill stated. “The power of our dollar and the power of our military have brought more prosperity and security than any other forces in history.”

“It sounds jingoistic, but it’s absolutely true.”

I had to look up “jingoistic.” Schill’s Air Force Academy education had left me in some etymological dust. It means “characterized by extreme patriotism.”

You could certainly use the term to describe Schill, a Pennsylvania native, but his devotion isn’t naïve. It’s rooted in an “eyes wide open” view of our times.

“We are fighting an Islamo-fascist ideology that wants to destroy and subjugate faith, freedom and open society. It’s a scourge that devalues human life, particularly the lives of the defenseless, the vulnerable.

“Today’s terrorist leaders are extremely perverse. They’re only interested in power and using people for their own gain. If we pull back, the weak will suffer more.”

Schill pointed me to a timely line by twentieth century English writer G.K. Chesterton: “Men are never more awake to the good in the world than when they are furiously awake to the evil in the world.”

“We live in a miracle called the United States,” Schill believes. “When you witness evil like what continues to transpire in parts of Afghanistan, you realize what good is.”

Under the capable leadership of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the U.S. military is arguably the brightest light atop this shining city upon a hill. (For more on Secretary Mattis, click here.)

Veterans and service personnel like Lt. Col Schill have made it so. They don’t need our thanks this Veterans Day, but it would go a long way if they got it.


Kevin Thompson writes a regular opinion column in The Boerne Star. Follow him at



Christmas from the other side

“God loves you!” the smiley face stickers say, and He does, but it doesn’t always feel like it. There is still longing, questioning, wondering about how this or that of life will pan out.

“God loves you!” is a good message, but it is incomplete. To interpret life’s challenges, “Satan hates you!” must be part of the equation. It’s a backdrop that makes “God loves you!” significant and meaningful.

If all we have is smiley faces and religious cliches, we end up attributing the dark stuff of life to ourselves: the failures, the brokenness, the despair. We don’t see the enemy at work or the battle at hand.

“There’s something wrong with me,” we’re convinced.

By now we know the story of the manger, that earthy account where greatest becomes least.

We treasure the silent night because it tells us that no matter where we go, the divine has gone before. He is not far off. He is very near. God with us. Emmanuel.

I know these things in my head. I don’t always feel them in my heart, and I’m not sure why.

When it’s hard to grasp what child is this, it is helpful to see Christmas from heaven’s perspective.

You can find the account not in Matthew but in Revelation, Chapter 12. It is quite graphic.

“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.” (verse 4)

Upon delivery, the baby is snatched up to God, while the dragon is hurled down to earth.

The dragon, we are told, is Satan “who leads the whole world astray.” Enraged at the woman, he goes off to make war against the rest of the woman’s offspring. (verse 9)

Tell me: What kind of beast would steal a newborn from a birth canal???

Exactly. One who hates your guts.

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy,” John 10 says, even while angels sing, “Joy to the World.” Now, that’s low. And that’s who we’re dealing with here.

None of us lies outside the devil’s purview. We are all targets of his anger.

“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (verse 12)

Thankfully, we are also targets of the one who came upon a midnight clear. He defends us from accusation.

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of Christ. For the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down.” (verse 10)

The first Christmas turns out to be less silent of a night than we first thought. It was actually a night of great war.

The battle’s victor entered the womb humbly and lived his life courageously. His enemy prowls in pride looking for souls to devour – but only for a time.

That’s the full story. Satan wreaks havoc on the earth, but God sends a rescue. Come, let us adore him.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at

Bottling Christmas

If there were ever a time to freeze frame time, it’s most certainly the week of Christmas. Bottle the spirit of this season and become a billionaire. Easily.

Nights are cold. Hearts are warm. Days are short. Light strands are long. The anticipation of a gift received is surpassed only by the joy of giving.

If you’re like me, your list of people to buy for is longer than you ever imagined. Six months ago, you had no idea you cared about half of them. Suddenly, like an angel in a dark sky, you want to say thank you. Maybe even I love you.

It’s a season of miracles. You find a unique gift at a department store. You find an affordable one at a boutique. Traffic is lighter than you expected. You don’t mind hearing Carol of the Bells for the 234th time.

You think about families who have too little and people who have no families. You think about bare cupboards and sparse fridges. You consider trees with no gifts and homes with no trees. You even do something about it.

You grab a paper angel off an artificial tree. You fill a shoebox and wrap a gift. You wonder what it would be like to receive them. You remember life is relative and that kids in trailer parks laugh as hard as kids with a view. It’s about joy, not stuff.

You drop a few bucks into a kettle and say a prayer for the man at the stop light. You might also lift one up for his dog. Even animals get prayers this time of year.

You hit a movie, maybe a love story, and the popcorn tastes even better than you remember. You stay through the credits. You don’t dwell on tomorrow’s trials. You don’t dread getting up early to face them. You relax.

You recall the highs of the year but also the redemption in the lows. “I didn’t get that job, that relationship ended, my daughter struggled to carry on, but I can now see why. The smoke has cleared.”

You attend a Christmas Eve service and hear the town’s best voice belt O Holy Night. You close your eyes and it’s Mariah to your untrained ears. You go to dinner afterward. You leave 35%.

You see a child and remember what it’s like to want something so much, you can’t sleep. You try to imagine what that might be for you today. You may even write things down and review them come January.

You hear the year’s best jokes from Uncle Larry. You see Susie’s dance recital on Grammy’s smartphone. You cry with an aunt who retired too early. Her husband of thirty years just left.

You give someone the benefit of the doubt. You notice something redeeming in an in-law. You linger at the table a little longer and give more of yourself than usual.

You ponder joy and its source. You think about the sources you’ve tried and the mixed results you’ve gotten. You question whether a virgin birth really happened, and, if so, why God came so humbly.

You recall the baby who, for the joy set before him, endured a tortuous death, rejected its shame and returned whence he came to prepare a place for us. Joy – to the world and back.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

Different reasons for gratitude

“Do you know what ‘gratitude’ means?” I asked my 8-year-old a while back.

“It means you have a great attitude?” he answered, less than certainly. I smiled and assured him that was as good a definition as any dictionary could give.

As I write, two funeral programs stare back at me. Both men, young men, died earlier this year at ages less than mine. I’ve kept their faces on my desk as a reminder: Live this day with gratitude.

Gratitude opens my eyes to a world unseen by a clamoring, grasping nature. It slows me to the speed of appreciation. Here, people return to being fellow God-image bearers, not merely conduits of my advancement.

From this lookout, I bring a different cornucopia of blessings for which I’m thankful:

1. A cup of clean water – A missionary to Peru returned to the States on furlough recently. His most striking culture shock? The sheer availability of drinkable water. I’ve since quit complaining about the taste of tap water.

2. A high in the 70s – The stock market has averaged a 12% annual return a year since 1928. But in how many years has the return been 12%? Two. The average high temperature in Texas may be in the 70s. But on how many days is the high actually in the 70s? Not many. I’m thankful when it is.

3. A disability – We are all disabled in some form or fashion. Some of us more noticeably or more severely than others. But nothing puts life in perspective like a handicap. It seems irrational not to want to send back an illness, an injury, an abuse, a catastrophe. But many “victims” wouldn’t trade their stories. They learned too much. They became too much.

4. A vehicle – It may be sixteen years old with rips in its leather and a busted taillight, but my Land Cruiser still unlocks opportunity. Transportation creates disproportionate returns. It delivers knowledge, relationships, employment and enjoyment well beyond its raw value.

5. A good woman’s love – I can’t put it better than a song by Roots & Wings:

“A good woman’s love is sweet like the summer / It saves you like a shelter just when you need it the most / A good woman’s love is solid like a mountain / Like a road that just keeps winding, it goes on & on & on”

6. The strength to respond – Again from Roots & Wings:

“An honest man would know, once he’s finally found her / He better put his arms around her and never let her go / ‘Cause once you have a woman’s love / Treat her like no other, place nothing else above her / She’ll love you more than you could know / That’s a woman’s love”

7. A child’s resilience – As a parent, how many do-overs could you use? Instruction given more gently, patience given more liberally, perspective maintained more consistently. And yet kids bounce back like a trampoline: ready to forgive, willing to forget, hoping for the best from the people who brought them into this world.

In the words of my spiritual mentors, The Oak Ridge Boys:

“When you look down in those trusting eyes / That look to you, you realize / There’s a love that you can’t buy / Thank God for kids”

Kevin Thompson can be reached at

A Herculean Halloween

Our family has have never really prioritized Halloween. Oh, we’ll make it to a party or two. We’ll hit a few houses (“hit” in the non-vandal sense). But our kids’ costumes have generally consisted of whatever they can find in the dress-up box (race car driver, puppy dog, Elmo) or in the garage (Olaf painted on a cardboard box). It’s the creativity that counts, right?

The real excitement, at least in recent years, has surrounded The Candy Bowl, an annual early November neighborhood football game that my kids throw. To the victor go the spoils: all leftover Halloween candy.

But this year, with Halloween on a Saturday and a daylight savings hour to spare, we decided to splurge.

First, we planned to hand out actual candy instead of fruit snacks. Then, we planned to eat chili and cornbread with some friends. Finally, and most surprisingly, I agreed to spend hard-earned money on NEW costumes (thrift store purchases have occasionally occurred over the years).

Don’t let your imagination run wild. It didn’t mean we were surfing Amazon for three weeks selecting every last accessory. It meant we were in Wal-Mart at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. I was pleasantly surprised by the selection.

Our five-year-old son requested Superman. He had worn his cousin’s hand-me-down kangaroo costume to a preschool party two days earlier. Evidently, he was the only non-superhero among the boys in the room. But kangaroos can jump twenty-five feet!?!

His first grade brother requested Captain America. Remarkably, I found both costumes in just the right sizes.

I thought my luck was running out, however, when the nice kid helping me uncovered no “Batgirl” or “Secret Service” outfit. But then, time stood still as I gazed into the eyes of a handsome male model on a costume’s packaging. The costume: Hercules. The size: Adult.

Initially, I struggled to wrap my mind around paying $22.47 for a costume for myself. Last year, I broke my string of twelve straight years as a referee when I bought a pair of disposable white coveralls and went as something of a beekeeper.

But when I remembered that I had to teach David and Goliath the next day at church, I decided to pull the trigger. It was like slaying two hydras with one imaginary sword.

Back home, batgirl became a beautiful butterfly with some face paint and wings we had bought a while back. The aspiring Secret Service agent stuck a pillow under a white button-down, grabbed a walkie talkie and became Paul Blart, Mall Cop. We were set.

When I appeared in mythological form, I was not greeted by fear. My five-year-old said I looked like a girl, my seven-year-old said I needed some fake muscles, my nine-year-old asked, “What in the world is that?” and my twelve-year-old observed, “You’re obviously not Goliath.”

Rrrrr. That’s it. I’m stealing Almond Joys from all your plastic pumpkins! And Hercules is dressing out for The Candy Bowl!!

Well before sunset, the costumed crew trick-or-treated at a few nearby homes before driving to a tract home neighborhood. The subdivision was a land flowing with Milk Duds and Bits-O-Honey, some of which will end up at The Candy Bowl where a  certain middle-aged Hercules plans to reveal his deity to childlike mortals.

Follow Kevin Thompson at

Herdmans, herdsmen and me

“What do you want for Christmas, Dad?” my six-year-old asked. “Maybe some floss?”

“Some what?!?” I replied, hoping I had misheard him. Surely he thinks I have more compelling Christmas wishes than dental floss! Full disclosure: As a 15-year-old I did request a file cabinet from jolly old and organized Saint Nicholas.

To my chagrin, I had heard my son right. (At least my hearing’s not going!) He actually asked me if I wanted floss for Christmas. Woe is me. My offspring thinks I’m mind-numbingly boring or that I have really bad teeth. Or worse, both.

Later that day, our family attended a heartwarming holiday classic in the league of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. A story of hygiene-free rugrats who commandeer an annual Christmas tradition: the church Christmas pageant.

Barbara Robinson’s comedy The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has been a favorite of mine since I saw it performed in a community playhouse in the mid-1980s. It probably sparked my love of redemption stories.

By way of review if you haven’t read or seen it in a while, the Herdman kids are a ragtag, uncouth, welfare-dependent bunch of bullies. Their parents are nowhere to be found. A social worker attempts to bring order to their chaos.

When the oldest, Leroy Herdman, is tipped off that Twinkies are served at the local Sunday School, the scraggly siblings suddenly find their religion. In Sunday School they hear about auditions for the church Christmas pageant.

“That sounds interesting,” they think.

After intimidating the buttoned-up church kids into relinquishing their starring roles, the Herdmans secure lead parts. Ralph is Joseph. Imogene plays Mary. Gladys gets her wings.

Church members are appalled:

“How could such riffraff be let into God’s house to perform God’s sacred nativity?”

“Mary and Joseph will look like poor travellers looking for a place to stay!” (Heaven forbid.)

“No one will come to the pageant!”

In fact, everyone came to the pageant – to see what the Herdmans would do.

The play unfolds as a story of redemption within a story of redemption. The Herdmans get swept up into the remote possibility that an all-powerful God just might care about them.

“Magi” Leroy Herdman offers a canned ham to the newborn king out of the family’s welfare box. Angel Gladys Herdman announces Christ’s arrival with “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” The story even broke through the hardened Imogene Herdman.

After the play and the crowd disperses, Imogene returns to the stage alone to take in the events that just occurred, to treasure them up in her heart, if you will. In tears, she clings to the swaddled savior of the world.

Imogene was as unlikely a carrier of the baby Jesus as the mother of Jesus herself. And therein lies the glory of the story of stories: God, acting in the lives of ordinary people – people who get dental floss and file cabinets for Christmas.

Just like the Herdmans on stage, the story of Christmas is equally unpredictable. From virgin birth to shepherds witnessing history to a daring midnight escape…nothing is as you or I would have drawn it up.

And how relieving is that? If a saving, gracing Creator can break through to the Herdmans and the herdsmen, just maybe he can break through to me.

Merry Christmas, 2014.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Contact him at

A Holy House of Horrors

For good or bad, Halloween strikes at children’s imaginations (and taste buds) like no other holiday can. Think about it: You get to dress up like something you’ve always wanted to be, run around the neighborhood after dark with your friends and eat as much candy as you want.

Not even Santa can match those specs.

Halloween wasn’t perfect. There were inefficiencies, such as the houses that gave out raisins or pennies or pencils. Sometimes Mom insisted on driving along the street as we went door to door. But for the most part it was – and is – a kid’s dream.

My earliest Halloween memories occurred at church youth group parties. As a grade schooler, I blindly stuck my hand through holes labeled “Eyeballs” and “Brains.” Wet grapes and cooked pasta noodles never tasted the same.

Plenty of innocuous fun filled those parties: bobbing for apples, scarecrow dressing, pin the tail on the skeleton. But there was a next level that I couldn’t wait to experience.

A visionary youth minister (with perhaps a few skeletons in his closet) dreamed up the attraction. High schoolers would concoct and conduct a haunted house for the middle schoolers. Except for the fellowship hall where the G-rated party was held, the high school students had free reign on the entire church building.

Now when I say church building, please don’t picture a 10,000 square foot metal building with a few offices attached.

Picture a 3-story, red-bricked, multi-columned, fully-steepled, 60,000 square foot urban fortress on a 2-acre spread. Built in the Sunday School heydays of the 1950s, it was an imposing monstrosity and an ideal place for monsters.

The building had plenty of spookiness without the high schoolers’ help, especially since declining attendance left many sections minimally utilized.

For instance, the “Room in the Inn” homeless ministry took over the west wing of the 3rd floor once a week. Sleeping cots filled the rooms. An eery plastic molded shower was installed in the hallway.

Legend had it that a man simply known as “George” lived in the building for months, maybe years, without ever being caught. How else could the empty cans of beanie weenies in the church’s commercial kitchen be explained?

All this provided more than a fair share of fodder to freak out ‘tweenagers and early teenagers. The 20-minute tour of terror wound its way from the fellowship hall, through the industrial boiler room in the basement and past the baptistry, dyed red for the occasion.

Limp bodies hung from chandeliers. Masked monsters filled Sunday School rooms otherwise home to flannel board Bible characters. The haunted house was as good as any commercial attraction I ever saw.

Before I got to do my share of scaring, a more mature church leader nixed the annual Halloween party and haunted house tradition. Better to leave seldom-used adult education classrooms boringly neutral than to formally commit them to the dark side, I suppose.

But it was too late for me. Evil had already taken root. My best friend and I began building our own house of horrors in his attic each October. We eventually added a haunted woods.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at

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