Archive for the 'Inspirational' Category



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 kevin@kwt.info.

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This is Boerne…you never know

A sad but undeterred mother stood on the driveway of her adult daughter’s burned down home. As she picked up some pieces and contemplated the road ahead, she surmised, “This is Boerne. You never know what might happen.”

She wasn’t talking about the tragedy that happened last week at 123 Becker Street on the north end of town. She was talking about the recovery.

By the time I showed up with shovel and wheelbarrow to help with the clean up, Boerne ISD bond contractor Bartlett-Cocke already volunteered to demolish and haul off the totaled structure. An architect donated his services to draw new plans. Several homebuilders expressed a desire to help.

The displaced family of six relocated temporarily to one of the last available 3-bedroom apartments in Boerne. The fire department donated a couple of beds. A thrift store donated a sofa. A random stranger gave a check for $500. A neighbor brought over a dozen eggs. All in less than a week. Yes, this is Boerne.

It is a unique sensation to live in a place so generous. Some people are generous because they can be. Others are generous because they choose to be. Either way, Boerne has a heritage of generosity.

I once heard a civic leader count more than fifty active non-profit capital campaigns in Kendall County. That’s not normal. That’s Boerne.

The persevering mother is confident in her daughter’s ability to fight back.

“We’ll be okay. We come from a very tough family. My mother lived to be 95 years old and only needed one medication.”

Judging by the matriarch’s perspective, I suspect the family will fight back.

“We’re really just thankful everyone made it out alive. The fire department expected casualties when they arrived. They did a very good job. The fire didn’t touch the houses on either side.”

A correlation exists among gratefulness and toughness and longevity.

A correlation also exists between generosity and desirability. Throughout our nation’s history, immigrants have come in droves in part because of the generosity within our DNA.

The same could be said about Boerne. People want to move here in part because our citizens are willing to give their time and wealth to make this a great place to live.

One truth about life is that the tables are always turning. Prosperity one day can turn – on a dime – into disaster the next. You never know when it will be your turn to need. That’s as good a reason as any to give.

If you would like to contribute to the family of 123 Becker, go to http://www.gofundme.com/h8qls4. So far, 83 people have given a total of $10,525. The donation site has been shared 277 times on social media. This is Boerne.

Disasters often strike at the worst possible times, such as two weeks before Thanksgiving. But bad timing can bring people together in good ways. What better time to express gratitude for the gifts we’ve received than to pay them forward to those who need?

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info. Email him at kevin@kwt.info.

Ebola victim has Texas connection

The two Americans infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia, Africa, have made national news in the last week. One, Dr. Kent Brantly, completed his undergraduate studies at Abilene Christian University (ACU) and his residency training in Fort Worth.

Though I have never met Dr. Brantly, I imagine him much like his older brother, Chad, whom I knew at ACU. Chad was the gentlest, funniest, teddy-bear-est of a man you’ll ever meet. He’s now a dentist in San Angelo.

Even without the alma mater connection, Dr. Brantly’s story would have captured me. The Indiana native was overseeing the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola care center in Monrovia, Liberia, when he was diagnosed with the disease. Samaritan’s Purse is the mission organization of Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham.

The recent Ebola outbreak in southwestern Africa has infected roughly 1,300 people and killed more than 700. The symptoms of the disease, which is transferred only through bodily fluids, start like malaria’s: fever, nausea, stomach pain. Eventually, uncontrollable bleeding from body openings can take the lives of victims.

Now why would a bright, young physician leave the prosperity and esteem of American medicine to go to an unknown land to care for victims of a disease with an unknown cure?

I’ll let him answer that. This from a message he gave to his childhood church before leaving for Liberia:

“God has a call on my life. I never heard the voice of God say, ‘Kent, you need to become a doctor and go to Liberia to be a missionary.’ But what I heard were the encouraging words and actions of my friends and family. When you connect the dots, you see a grand picture that God has used to draw my life in a certain direction.”

After seeing images of Dr. Brantly in a haz-mat suit caring for Ebola patients, I remembered another medical missionary.

Father Damien was a Catholic priest who travelled to the then Kingdom of Hawaii in the 1870s. One of the kingdom’s islands, Molokai, had been quarantined as a leper’s colony.

In 1873, Damien volunteered to go to Molokai to care for the lepers even though leprosy was thought to be highly contagious. There, Damien dressed ulcers and gave comfort while building reservoirs, homes and churches. He also made coffins and dug graves.

For sixteen years, Damien struggled alongside the lepers before finally succumbing to the disease himself. “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ,” he told his brother.

I have no doubt that Dr. Brantly meticulously attempted to avoid contracting Ebola. The haz-mat suits were not worn for comfort. I also have no doubt that he knew there was a chance he might still become infected.

But when you are in pursuit of a purpose far above earthly health or worldly wealth, one’s view of risk changes. The thought of not answering a spiritual call seems more risky than the prospect of physical death. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” is how one missionary once put it.

As of press time, Dr. Brantly’s recovery prospects appeared good as warriors continued to pray. His televised ambling from ambulance to Atlanta-area hospital resembled Neil Armstrong’s “one giant leap for mankind” moonwalk.

Indeed, Dr. Brantly is empowered by something out of this world.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Summer memories last a lifetime

Blessing to educators, bane to stay-at-home moms, summer is in full swing. With its long days and warm weather, summer arguably makes more memories than all the other seasons combined. Here are some of mine.

***

Nothing spells summer like VBS (Vacation Bible School). Before the days of VBS-in-a-box complete with soundtracks and t-shirts, a plump preacher conducted “sword drills” in a stuffy auditorium. John 7:37? I got it! “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Yes!

Drink we did on those humid middle Tennessee mornings: McDonald’s orange drink by the yellow cooler full.

VBS is where I first learned the meaning of JOY (Jesus – Others – You), an acronym only recently challenged by the Christian Web site: I Am Second.org.

Our kids will attend three VBSes this summer. My kindergartener wants to add a fourth: “VBS-ta Texas.” He really wants to learn that God stays with us through the ups and downs of life.

***

We weren’t members, but someone invited us to a private pool tucked in the trees of a manicured south Nashville neighborhood.

Mom’s car must have been in the shop, because we took Dad’s extra work truck, a 1976 Ford. No AC, no power steering, no power brakes, no fun. The flatbed had wooden sides that barricaded the indiscriminately dumped trash Dad cleared from behind shopping centers.

Swimming must have been a non-negotiable on the day Mom agreed to wrestle the beast to the water source. I’m sure our arrival caused the cosmopolitans to rethink their commitment to diversity. I didn’t notice. I simply swam up a huge appetite.

At the poolside snack bar, I learned that nothing satisfies post-swimming hunger like a sandwich, an ice cream sandwich.

My kids will learn some things at the pool this summer. Someone will teach my pre-schooler that the game is Marco Polo, not Marco “Pillow.” It’s not going to be me.

***

For several summers, Mom borrowed an Apple II computer from the school where she taught. Our family rarely adventured beyond a Motel 6, so Oregon Trail became my gateway to the frontier.

An educational computer game, Oregon Trail taught children the realities of 19th century pioneer life. It mainly taught me worst-case scenarios:

1. A wheel could come off your wagon. 2. Your kids could starve because you can’t hunt worth a darn. 3. Your wife may drown while fording a river. 4. You could die of dysentery. Crap.

***

Oregon Trail prepared me for our church camp located in the shadow of the tallest waterfall south of Niagara, Fall Creek Falls in east Tennessee. The falls were fatal to go over but a rush to swim under.

The waterfall wasn’t the only water that washed over me at that camp. At age eleven, I was baptized into Christ after a campfire devotional on the last night of camp. A great cloud of witnesses consisting of seventy-five campers and thirty staff members surrounded the swimming hole.

Thirty minutes later I was filling water balloons in preparation for a midnight raid of a rival cabin. Salvation is instant. Sanctification takes time.

In retrospect, it was a night for obeying Jesus, including Matthew 18:3 – “Unless you change and become like little children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Kevin Thompson writes a weekly column for The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

What a difference a year makes

A year ago we San Antonians nursed our wounds. Tim Duncan’s chance at “one for the thumb” had slipped through the net like a Ray Allen three-pointer. With an aging core, a Finals return seemed unlikely.

Then, Coach Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to the NBA’s best regular season record and a triumph over all Western Conference foes.

And then, Mr Duncan promised redemption. “We’ll get it done this time,” he calmly pronounced after defeating Oklahoma City on May 31.

I had my doubts. The Spurs were again up against the “best player on the planet” and a Big 3 that took its talents to South Beach to win “not two, not three, not four…” but more championships.

Oh, but what joy that basketball inventor James Naismith concocted a team sport! And what a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, San Antonio entered a collective depression. This year, the celebration hasn’t stopped. Not even headfirst fall from a pickup can keep us down (Google “Spurs fan face plant”).

Last year, Manu Ginobili made more turnovers than an English bakery. This year, he dunked on Chris Bosh and resurrected moments of brilliance.

Last year, a once-dominant Duncan knocked hard on retirement’s door. This year, it looked like he could be an effective role player for another five years.

Last year, Patty Mills waived a mean towel from the bench. This year, he threw daggers that put a languishing victim out of its misery.

Last year, Kawhi Leonard was 21. This year, he was 22. And MVP.

Last year, Heat forward LeBron James rejected Spurs center Tiago Splitter in a series-defining play. This year, Tiago sent Heat guard Dwyane Wade packing.

Last year, the Heat’s supporting cast showed up. This year, they appeared tired of the LeBron show.

Last year, the air conditioning worked every game. This year, a warm June night separated the men from those who cramp.

Last year, LeBron swaggered. This year, he whined.

Last year, a yacht-owning Heat owner accepted the championship trophy. This year, a heavy equipment-dealing Spurs owner accepted it.

Last year, the Spurs ran a stale triangle offense. This year, Coach Pop changed to a 1940s weave.

That was about all Pop changed.

He still spoke concisely in interviews. He still graciously hugged LeBron when it was over. He still thanked the fans. (Last year, it was the thousand who greeted a losing team at the airport. This year, it was 75,000 who celebrated at the Alamodome).

Yet again, Pop represents all that’s right with the Spurs and the world. The love he has for his players. The lightness with which he navigates success and fame. The perspective he brings to the game.

When other NBA coaches would be straightening their ties for the championship photos, Pop took his off. It draped casually around his neck as if to say, “Hold loosely to things that pass.” Fittingly, this philosophy had put his team on the championship stage.

During timeouts, Pop would tell his players, “Don’t let it stick,” referring to the ball and the importance of frequent passing.

The principle orchestrated a Mozartian display of team basketball and a fifth NBA title. Pop knows it will orchestrate a fulfilling life, as well.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

 

P.S. Related: An open letter to Pop, July 2013 – https://kwtinfo.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/an-open-letter-to-pop/

 

Remembering Operation Overlord

“I know the sorrow this message has brought you and it is my hope that in time the knowledge of [his] heroic service to his country, even unto death, may be of sustaining comfort to you.”

A half day of heroism seventy years ago today put that sentence in 2,500 heart-wrenching War Department letters to wives and mothers across our great country. Nearly two thousand families in Britain and Canada received similar missives.

June 6, 2014, marks the seventieth anniversary of Operation Overlord, more commonly known as D-Day.

Men died in many ways on and before D-Day. Some fell during cliff-climbing exercises on the southern coast of England in the weeks leading up to the invasion. Others died early that morning parachuting in behind enemy lines.

Offshore, heavily armored “swimming tanks” sank. According to one soldier, “Them poor guys, they died like sardines in a can, they did. They never had a chance.”

Then there were the courageous souls aboard the flat-bottomed boats. The watercrafts, designed by Louisiana entrepreneur Andrew Jackson Higgins, were invented to save Mississippi River flood victims. As their ramp doors lowered off the coast of Normandy, the boats did anything but save.

Infantrymen, many grossly seasick from the choppy ride across the English Channel, hopped into frigid, waist-deep water under ominous overcast skies. German machine gun, mortar and artillery fire welcomed them into the water and onto the shore.

“There were bodies floating around, no end of them,” one survivor recounted.

Another remembered, “You couldn’t lay your hand down without touching a body. You had to weave your way over top of the corpses.”

Lt. Col. William Friedman: “Rank had nothing to do with anything on that beach… Not by unit, not by role, everybody individually…did what they had to do… [Men] started yelling, God*****, get up, move in. You’re gonna die anyway, move in and die!”

Void of self, many moved in and died. God rest their souls.

A comrade recalled the scene: “I walked by, oh God, the guys that died that day — all those beautiful, wonderful friends of mine, the day before, the night before, kidding and joking.”

Why did so many have to die?

In short, so that 130,000 infantrymen and 20,000 airborne troops could land safely after them.

In medium, so that a continent could be liberated from a madman.

And, in long, so that you and I could have the freedom to say, write and do what we want.

Lt. Gordon Osland of Michigan was one hero who fell that day. Three days earlier, he had written to his pregnant wife for a final time. He describe her as Sweetheart, Darling, Honey, precious and beautiful. He acknowledged the mission before him but seemed not overwhelmed by it. “I am very calm and not the least bit nervous.”

In a P.S., he asked for her help on one matter: “If anything should happen to me, please pay H.J. the $25 I owe him.” An odd request given the weight of the moment, but also an inside look into a soldier’s honor.

Maybe H.J. stood by her side when the Adjutant General’s letter came two weeks later. I’m quite confident he at least considered the debt paid in full – paid not by U.S. currency but by the blood of a patriot on a beach called Omaha.

 

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

Parents make the difference

Have you ever wondered why Father’s Day is six weeks after Mother’s Day? It took that long for a bunch of dudes to go, “Hey! Wait a minute!”

Welcome to the parent-honoring season. With 31 years of parenting experience, I must be qualified to advise parents. (Okay, I’m really not that old or that qualified; my kids’ ages just total 31.)

No topic generates more longing for a silver bullet than the topic of parenting. Unfortunately, no bullet exists. No particular act or activity will set a child on a trajectory toward prosperity, tranquility and harmony. Still, we think:

“If I can just get my kid into the right (fill in the blank), everything will work out.” (school, church group, sports team, after-school activity, friend group, relationship, hobby, college)

“If I can just get her before the right youth minister, coach, headmaster or tutor…”

“If I can just orchestrate the right tapestry of influences, experiences and knowledge…”

To quote a certain boy band of the 1960s, wouldn’t it be nice.

I once worked for a Dallas real estate executive who bumped into Beach Boys front-man Brian Wilson at a Grammys after party in 2001.

My gregarious boss quizzed Wilson on his very interesting life. My boss was not ready for Wilson’s reply: “I really just wish I had spent more time with my kids.”

For all the tutoring programs, radio ads promising behavior modification by Friday and enrichment opportunities that keep moms and dads and kids on the move, I am convinced only of this:

The parents make the difference.

I know both bratty kids and respectful kids that attend expensive private schools. I also know both lost kids and engaging kids at free public schools.

I know a successful business leader who proficiently uses financial leverage in his company. He has no clue how to use leverage in parenting.

I know a restaurant caterer who refuses to cater to the demands of his sixteen-year-old. The customer is not always right; neither is the child. Both can be illogical.

Poor parenting often comes from parents’ unwillingness to accept the consequences of a child’s poor choices. They don’t want to miss the party themselves.

It is also rooted in the fear that discipline will alienate a child. The opposite is actually true: Appropriate discipline makes a child feel loved.

Relating well, striking the right balance between full throttle and full coast, expecting excellence while giving acceptance – these are the touchstones of good parenting.

Chauffeuring sounds a lot easier.

A friend’s corporate employer once challenged him to encapsulate his life mission into 6 words or less. He took that challenge and formulated this one:

“World’s best dad and getting better”

This simple line promises presence and connection, not more running around town.

Modern life brings many enemies of healthy parenting: divorce, absenteeism, schedule strain, the temptation to shirk duties because one is providing financially for the family.

We feeble humans can only do so much. “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” Lombardi once said. Let us give our first fruits to the kids we were given. No one else can make the difference.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info.


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