Another Empty Seat

On Thursday, 13 July 2017, a friend of hundreds of people (especially in the figure skating world), Mr. Terry Watson, quietly stepped across the threshold of death from time into eternity.  Only a couple of weeks earlier had he, his family, and friends learned of the diagnosis—advanced, stage-four pancreatic cancer.  I wrote a brief blog only minutes after learning of Terry’s death.

Unbeknownst to anyone else, and not knowing what my role might be with this precious family, I worked (and cried) for several hours, preparing thoughts in a Word document, just in case I was asked to do Terry’s funeral.  Per his wishes, Terry had a “living funeral” at Detroit Skating Club only days earlier, providing an opportunity for those who could make it there to say their goodbyes while he could still hear them!

Now, I want to share some of those thoughts, to bring focus, encouragement, & consolation to all who read them.  It is my prayer that these words may become a focal point of comfort & blessing to those bereaved by Terry’s passing.

One of life’s greatest blessings is the privilege of building relationships with other people.  (That makes times like this simultaneously difficult & comforting.  Whilst we’re born into some relationships, we must build them in order to maximize them.  Other relationships are built from scratch into great marriages or friendships.  Such was the case with two friends in the Old Testament—David & Jonathan.

(1 Sam 20:18 KJV) Then Jonathan said to David, Tomorrow is the new moon: & thou shalt be missed because thy seat will be empty.

Those two phrases speak an inescapable reality that must be confronted.  The Watson family demonstrated a remarkable togetherness for decades, especially in recent weeks with Terry’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  Further, the out-pouring of concern & love expressed to them by the Detroit Skating Club was remarkable as well.

Consider those two short phrases for a moment.

The seat of a son is now empty, and he will be missed.  Please understand that, when I make that observation, this is something I have experienced.  To lose a child—regardless of their age—is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences a parent can have.

Further, the seat of a spouse is now empty.  Earlier, during a phone conversation between Di and me, she quietly stated, “I miss him already.  I expect to hear his voice any moment.”   What a beautiful testimony this couple has given us by the love they have shown each other in the presence of all who ever knew them.

And Di, what a wonderful legacy you and Terry have given to your daughter Bethany.  When you sense that loneliness creep over you, and feel the emptiness of that chair at the table, remind yourself that, although you loved Terry dearly, God loved him even more.

The seat of a father is now empty, and I know he will be missed—again, something I understand personally.  This is a tough one too, because, although the world has millions of fathers, this one was yours, Bethany, but let me encourage you with something that I have seen in your family.

And, Bethany let me be honest with you—I don’t know exactly how you feel, but from someone whose father died several years ago, let me say this—None of us understands why death reaches its icy fingers into our lives the way it does, but accepting God at His word, we can find comfort, peace, & perspective.

In coming days as you notice that empty seat, & miss your wonderful dad, never forget how much your father loved you.  Terry left you with many noble character qualities as an example that you can follow; so identify them, commit yourself to them, & walk in them.

Death always touches more lives than the immediate family.  The seat of a friend is also empty—and Terry had many friends.  Now, by the hundreds, we’ll be see an empty seat in our circle of friendship, & we will miss him.

Most of us are old enough & experienced enough in the rigors of life to know that friends are made & not met—that if one makes a dozen loyal friends in the run of a lifetime, we’ve done well.  Watson family, you must know that your husband & father was that kind of friend to many people—& especially so to the many skaters whose lives he touched.

Finally, I notice that the seat of a saint is now empty here on earth, but one has been filled in heaven—and that’s the end game, not earth.

Late Friday night, after hundreds of Terry’s friends had spent time honoring him, Debbie, Diane, Terry & I slipped into the Ice Sports Café for a few private moments.  In Di’s words, “We just want to make sure that we’re going to see each other again in heaven.”

As Terry sat on a stool, with the three of us standing around him, I covered some critical bases with Terry before asking him a summary question—one that I’ll ask you momentarily.  While Terry Watson was one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet in your lifetime, you need to understand something else—despite all the good that he did, he was a sinner!

I could not tell you what one of his sins were—he never confessed to me, & I was always too busy confessing my own—but I know that he was a sinner (that’s the bad news).

(Rom 3:23) For all have sinned & come short …

(Rom 3:10) There is none good, no, not one. 

However, the good news is that Terry confirmed that he had addressed the sin problem & called on the only person who can help anyone with a sin problem—Jesus Christ.

(Rom 10:13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Do you realize that the only hope we have of ever seeing Terry Watson again is in heaven—& the only way to get there is by following Terry’s footsteps to the cross of Calvary, & asking Terry’s Savior to become yours.

(Isa 55:6) Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.

It’s at times like these that pastors are called upon to offer words of comfort.  However, I must be honest with you—the comfort needed in times like these is not found me, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ—the God of all comfort.

(John 14:1-3 KJV) (Jesus said) Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, & receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

This leads me to ask—Have you trusted Jesus Christ personally as your Savior?  You see, the relationships we have here in time determine to some extent our level of happiness here on earth.  However, it’s the relationship that we establish here on earth with Jesus Christ that determines our happiness for all eternity in heaven.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, why not take this moment to affirm or reaffirm your relationship with Christ?

Dale on Coronado (CA)

WE LOST A FRIEND TODAY

Each day, 151,600 times, millions of people around the world will lose a friend—ripped from their lives by the icy fingers of death.  Today the snatch ‘n grab of morbidity targeted Mr. Terry Watson, friend of all who ever called the Detroit Skating Club their “home.”

 For forty years Terry and his wife Diane operated the Ice Sports Café off the main lobby of Detroit Skating Club, one of the world’s premiere training facilities.  While there are numerous reasons why DSC became a club of renown, one of the reasons has been Terry Watson and people like him. 

 That may sound strange to some people, especially since Terry really had nothing to do with coaching Olympic hopefuls or training world medalists on-ice.  However, he had everything to do with setting an example, creating an atmosphere, and establishing a mindset for winners … oh, and serving up some pretty darn-good, delicious food! 

 No matter who came through the doors at DSC—a newly enrolled learn-to-skater, a hockey player from any of the high schools or universities that called DSC their home ice, seasoned world and Olympic medalists, parents, grandparents, or nannies—if they interacted with Terry, the thumbprint of his influence on them was certain. 

Last Friday evening, 130 skaters took the ice in front of a packed house in C-Rink at DSC to honor their friend Terry, who only a couple of weeks earlier had received the diagnosis of advanced Stage-Four pancreatic cancer.  I was there – for three reasons really. 

 First and foremost, I love Diane and Terry Watson, so I was in town and wanted to be there for them.  Second, my wife Debbie (DSC office manager) had assigned me the responsibility of purchasing several cases of bottled water and delivering them early for the huge meal that DSC members brought for the event.  Third, Diane and Terry had asked if we could talk privately. 

 What I observed throughout the evening is beyond my ability to adequately describe, so I won’t even attempt it in detail.  However, I want to summarize it this way—Terry Watson, with his precious wife Di and daughter Bethany by his side, and his extended family surrounding him at center ice, gave a standing ovation to the representative crowd to whom he had given his life—one specially prepared meal, snack, or encouraging word at a time. 

 Further, Terry and his entire family graciously allowed hundreds of parents and skaters  the opportunity to come by for a few moments of private words, hugs, and photo ops.  A few hours later, Debbie, Diane, Terry and I got our few minutes together privately—behind the closed door of the Ice Sports Café, moments which I will harbor in my heart as some of life’s most precious.

This morning, Terry stepped from time into eternity.  The loss hurts everyone who knew and loved him.  However, we have awesome memories until we catch up with him one of these days … and I have it in my mind that there will be a time when Debbie, Diane, Terry, and Dale will join hands there, just like we did here! 

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you ask God to minister His comfort, grace, and peace to the hearts of the Terry Watson family?  While you’re asking for that, would you also petition Him for comfort for the hearts of the thousands of Terry’s friends … who will miss reaching across the counter of the Ice Sports Café counter and shaking his big, hard-gripping hand?  Thanks

RIP, my friend

WHAT’S YOUR TOTAL?

We are the persons that the sum of our decisions has made us—for good or for bad. For some folks, that isn’t so bad. However, for a few people that isn’t such a good thing. What do I mean?

Years ago, the late Jerry Falwell and I were on a plane from Lynchburg (VA) to New York City. Before reclining his seat and sleeping, Falwell made this statement: “Dale, it’s more important to learn how to make decisions right than it is right decisions.” While Jerry slept, I scratched my head, wondering what in the world he meant!

The moment our decent began, Jerry sat upright, reached for his electric razor, and began buzzing away the five o’clock shadow. Immediately I asked him to explain exactly what he meant by his statement.

Basically, he explained, life is a series of decisions. Since none of us can or will make them all correctly, it behooves us to learn how to correct them—make them “right”—as we journey along life’s road … which brings me back to my hypothesis—we have become the people that the sum of our decisions has made us.

Unlike inanimate objects, humans have choices, and in some senses, more than ever. Have you shopped in the breakfast cereal aisle?!?! Things don’t make choices—people do! The computer on which I am typing is a wonderful piece of technology, but the person who is typing decides whether it is used for “good” or “bad.”

The same is true for the use of everything, although some people never seem to understand this concept, sadly. Across America several millions of gun owners collect thousands of guns, never harming anyone, while a few thousand people choose to misuse an inanimate weapon to maim or kill. Unwise people focus blame on the weapon rather than on the person who chose unwisely.

But, before we get to the end, let’s start at the beginning, which already presents a problem—we’re all bad! As Rush Limbaugh says, “Don’t doubt me on this!”

There is none good, no not one … For all have sinned and come short … (Rom 3:10, 23)

Just don’t focus so much on the beginning that you forget that the ending doesn’t have to look the same as the beginning. You have choices. You can make decisions that can change a bad beginning into a wonderful ending!

For whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom 10:13)

The greatest “good” decision that an individual can make is to admit that he/she is “bad,” and trust the one and only “good guy” (Jesus Christ) at His word: Whosoever cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37)

BTW, do you pray? Have you ever asked God to do for you that which you cannot do for yourself—give you everlasting life? If not, would you make the choice to do so right now? Tomorrow may be too late … but right now never is!

Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. (Isa 55:6 NLT)

For those who have made the decision to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you do understand that a lifetime of decisions is still yours to make, right? You will not make them all correctly, so why not ask for God’s help each day to guide you in making wise decisions as well as the wisdom to correct the bad ones along life’s trail?

USING MEMORIES ON FATHERS DAY 2017

Perhaps it’s a natural component to the process of aging, but I find myself reflecting and reminiscing more these days. However, I know that I’m not alone in this. A casual review of Facebook also verifies that we humans have the innate propensity of remembering the past … or at least glimpses of it.

One of the first things I see each morning from Facebook is “On this day …” or “You have memories …” For most of us it is a picture of something special that happened, a place we visited, or a person that we enjoyed meeting. Sometimes the memories are painful perhaps, like the death of a loved one or some personal tragedy.

Memory is an interesting phenomenon to me … perhaps because mine isn’t always very good (if it ever was)! For example, I can recall events of fifty years ago while forgetting where I put my truck keys or left my sunglasses just five minutes ago! I’ll remember the details of a story of something from decades ago, but forget that I told you the same story a few weeks ago.
However, approaching Father’s Day, I’m thankful for many excellent memories from childhood, especially of my father—Ralph Henry Peterson. Perhaps this is because I’m quickly approaching the age of my father when he died.

Ralph, Hazel, & Dale

Since all dads either have died or will die at some point future, that isn’t what’s on my mind today, but rather how are we living the lives that we have today? Reflecting on that is one of the greatest advantages of memories—especially when they are memories of a father who exemplified great character qualities, Ralph Peterson did.

Do you doubt me on this? Ask his friends, former employers or employees, neighbors, or relatives! Everyone who ever knew dad for any length of time beyond a casual passing could tell you. He was quiet, thoughtful, courteous, wise, and gentle … well, usually gentle. (There are plenty of memories from childhood when he wasn’t very gentle with me. Dad thought that Dr. Spock was a crock, so memories of waiting in my bedroom for dad to come home from work, the sound of his lunch box hitting the kitchen counter, and his belt coming out of the belt loops are still vivid to me!) But I digress …

No …, the digression is a vital part of what I’m saying. What Dr. Spock thought of “spanking” ill-behaved children didn’t matter to dad, since it was dad’s responsibility to raise me, not Spock’s. Dad chose to believe God’s Book over Spock’s and therefore it was dad who took a time out—to spank his three children when he deemed it necessary.

Further, neither today nor on any of those days when it was me receiving a spanking (we actually called them “whippings” back then), did I blame dad or doubt that he was doing what he deemed best in love for me. (I still think he should have loved my younger brother Dennis much more. 😊) But I digress … again …

Approaching this Father’s Day, reminiscing about my own father, while sitting in the Virginia Beach (VA) home of my oldest daughter Charity, her husband Brandon, and their two children Brynn and Cole, I find myself wondering, “What kind of dad was I … really?”

However, the sad thing about this line of thinking—most of that answer is already in my life’s review mirror and cannot be changed. I can only hope that it was sufficient in the past, and that I can use the mistakes of the past to become a better dad and Papa Pete going forward.

BTW, do you pray? If so, wouldn’t now be a wonderful time to thank God for your dad? Even with whatever deficits he may have had, you owe your very life to a man somewhere in this world, whether he’s in a church, a prison, or a graveyard! If you were raised by a godly father, you especially should be thankful, and endeavor to live out the godly characteristics that he modeled.

For those whose fathers were absent or less-than-favorable, do not waste that pain! Make a mental list of the deficits and turn that into a positive list of goals and objectives for yourself, and become the kind of man, woman, parent, or grandparent that you wished to have growing up. Turn your tragedy into a triumph!

Got to run! It isn’t a gate agent calling me today … it’s two grandkids who want Chick-fil-A! Bye!

Dale on Coronado (CA)

Black Ice

Today, my oldest son Justin would be celebrating his 42nd birthday with us.  Although his life was cut short while deployed with the USMC in Iraq on 01 October 2006, the morning after his 32nd birthday, our family chooses to celebrate his life.

Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, but this morning, I woke up remembering a humorous event that took place some years earlier–although, it wasn’t so humorous to me when it happened.  Anyone who ever knew Justin Dale Peterson understands that humor was a part of who he is!

The end of Christmas break had come, the little red 1977 Ford Mustang (Justin’s first car) was packed to-the-max, and Justin and Patty were on the road again to Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.  Given that it was early January, the weather in Michigan was bitter cold, compounded by a blustery wind that dropped the wind chill factor to sub-zero.

After whispering a prayer for their safety as they made their journey back to college in rural Indiana, I continued my normal morning routine.  About an hour after their departure, my phone rang.  It was Justin, calling from a pay phone at a gas station at U.S.-23 and M-59.  He sheepishly told me that Patty and the Mustang were sitting in the middle of the median on U.S.-23, saying they had hit “black ice,” he’d lost control of the car, and they had come to a stop facing south between the north and south-bound ribbons of asphalt.

Seriously?!  With all the salt that Michigan throws down in the winter?!  It sounded like an excuse to me, since Justin had the reputation for horsing around most of the time.  Are a barrage of questions about the well-being of the two kids and the car, I instructed him to go back to his vehicle, make sure the exhaust/tail pipe was unobstructed, and to keep the car running so they could stay warm until I got to the scene.

Although I felt badly that Justin had to walk a half-mile to make the phone call, stand outside at the pay phone to talk, and walk a half-mile back to his car, I built up an emotional “head of steam” as I drove from Davisburg to Hartland—picturing in my mind how my oldest son may have been goofing off and caused this “accident.”

Justin and Patty knew me quite well, knew how I might react once I knew that they were physically okay, and apparently had discussed my likely reaction.

Sure enough, when I pulled my vehicle onto the southbound shoulder of the freeway, the little red Mustang was sitting in the middle of the median as though they had deliberately driven it there to park, with the engine running and the windows steamed.  Then again, the windows weren’t the only thing “steamed!”

After watching for a clearing in southbound traffic, and when there was a safe break in the stream of vehicles, I opened the door to the Dodge conversion van I was driving, stepped onto the pavement,  slammed the door, and headed across the highway.  The next thing I remember was picking myself up quickly from the road, as I continued toward the median!

Miraculously, Justin and Patty had straight faces by the time I reached their stranded vehicle, but I imagine that if there had been a “black box” recording the sounds inside that car as they observed my fall, it would not have been the sounds of silence, but hilarious laughter.  They also knew that I had just confirmed the “black ice” story, as well, so there would be no scolding from me!

There was another time when I discovered “black ice,” but that’s another story for another time!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray for Patty Harvey, Jared, Jayden, and Caitlin Peterson today?  Today would be a great time to support them with your prayers, because this can be a tough day.  Further, would you join us in thanking God for Justin’s life?  That boy brought a lot of joy, laughter, and pride to our lives as his family, and we are forever grateful for the 32 years we were together!

Semper fi, son!

dcp06328

We Need Another Patrick Henry!

Patrick Henry said, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For this very reason peoples of other faith have been afforded asylum, prosperity, & freedom of worship here.”

Henry & our Founders believed in absolute morality, teaching that “the eternal difference between right & wrong does not fluctuate.”  Needless to say, much of Washington, D.C. is the antithesis of Patrick Henry!

No, we do not have Patrick Henry’s leading us today, in part because Christians have been careless.  Even though we may say “God Bless America!” with our lips, our lives are too often a rejection of God & His principles.  For too long we have elected men & women who have ousted Bible-reading & prayer  from our schools, who place a low value on human wife, and a growing disrespect for the law.

We have put in office those who adhere to the “right” to abort unborn babies—at the rate of one every 30 seconds, 24-7!  We have elected men & women who uphold lifestyles rejected by God’s Word & repulsive to Americans as a whole—that is until we began parading them on television and in movies as “normal” until they have become acceptable, even to some in the clergy-world.  It is still sin in God’s sight.

It’s easy to become discouraged by the moral trajectory of our nation today.  Marriage and gender have been redefined; gender has become a “choice” for those who can’t get enough attention.  Euthanasia is gaining momentum.  Genetic manipulation of human embryos has become a reality.  Jihadist terrorism dominates our news.  American politics is in shambles.

However, one great certainty today is this—God is still on His throne, folks!  Another certainty—God wants to use you to make a difference in the world.  The Old Testament writer gives us great hope when he penned 2 Chr 7:14.  While some may debate whether or not its application was for Israel alone, those who know God personally understand that the principle is applicable to America today:

(2 Chron 7:14 KJV) If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, & pray, & seek my face, & turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, & will forgive their sin, & will heal their land. 

Let me ask—what part of that verse is NOT applicable to us today?  Are you NOT one of His people, or do you NOT call yourself a Christian?  What Christian should NOT humble him or herself before God, especially given the condition of America today?  Who amongst us should NOT be seeking God’s face?  When God’s Spirit reveals to us our wickedness, who of us should NOT turn in repentance from that attitude or behavior?

With that said, which of us would audaciously proclaim God to be a liar—that He would NOT hear the prayer of a penitent, that He would NOT forgive our sin, or that He would NOT heal our land?!

In addition to our repentance & petitions, we must also pray that God will send again leaders like Patrick Henry, who will hold fearlessly to God’s hand while leading this nation.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in praying for our nation like never before.  Since God’s Spirit will not always strive with man, it behooves us to seek Him today while He may be found.

dale

There Is Hope

For more years than I can remember, I’ve spoken somewhere on weekends surrounding America’s patriotic holidays.  Sunday, 03 July 2016 will be no exception, but will be one of those rare occasions when I will speak at the church that Debbie and I call “home”—North Auburn Hills Baptist Church.

Approaching America’s 240th birthday, reflecting on the current election cycle, and considering the condition of our country, I must confess grave concern for the country that has been my home base for 66 years and counting.  So as not to discourage you, let me quickly disclaim that I believe there is hope!

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah opens one of the Bible’s most horrific chapters with a ray of hope this way—Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.  However, he then proceeds to describe the dark days in which America … er, Israel, was living.

Skipping from the opening verse, we find a summary description of America today—a parallel—that should arrest the attention of thinking citizens, sober our thoughts, and lead us to petition the God of Isaiah 59:1, as described in Isaiah 7:14!  Consider just four common characteristics between Israel of some 700 years before Christ and America today—highlighted in four critical words.

Justice

(Isa 59:14a HCSB)  Justice is turned back …  In the vernacular, we would say that justice has been turned on its head, upside down, everything is backwards.  America’s victims of crime watch a never-ending stream of criminals going free, restitution never paid.  Be strong and of good courage, my friend, for God the Righteous judge rules over all the earth.  Remember verse one—He hears and He can save!

Righteousness

(Isa 59:14b HCSB) … righteousness stands far off …  In a practical sense, righteousness is simply “morally good.”  A deep study is not necessary, when a casual glance at television, a movie screen, or newspaper reveals daily that America increasingly is anything but morally good, choosing rather to trust in vanity. Take hope my friend!  There’s still hope in verse one—only one call away!

Truth

(Isa 59:14c HCSB) … truth has stumbled in the street … (“fallen” in the KJV).  The meaning is the same—truth doesn’t matter in our culture today!  History is being rewritten.  Truth is being hidden, while falsehood is being paraded as though it was the truth, in order to accomplish someone’s agenda.

The truth is, God’s agenda will be accomplished in the end.  By the closing chapter of this world’s history, all liars (those who refused to live truthfully) will find the burning truth forever in the horrific abode of the father of lies, yet eternally separated from the truth, the way, and the life!  That is not something in which one should glory, but rather with broken heart, fear and trembling, choose to be a living sacrifice, that others might hear the truth while there is time!

However, if you are reading these words, be encouraged!  As long as we have breath, we have hope—and it still stands back in verse one!

Honesty

(Isa 59:14d HCSB) … and honesty (or equity) cannot enter …  At the end of the day, honesty is a proper dealing with the three aforementioned qualities—truth, righteousness, and justice.  You see, it is possible for one to know truth, but be dishonest and unjust, thus missing the boat on righteousness as well. That’s why in our courts of law, a witness swears an oath—hand on the Bible—to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  The purpose is to bring about justice, making something that was wrong right again.

That’s also why sinful man needs the hope back in verse one, a hope ultimately found in God alone.  All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, but He is near and willing to give to us His own righteousness.  Justice for our sin was served some 2000 years ago, when Jesus Christ willingly made an in-full payment for us.  His death was not about His own sin, but rather your sin and mine—which brings us back to the hope in verse one!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in asking God to draw America back to Him, that we as a nation might become a country of justice, righteousness, truth, and honesty once again?  Or perhaps you feel like God is far, far away.  Not so, my friend—He is only one prayer away!  Call on Him today while He is near!

Finally, in spite of all the woes of our world and country, my fellow Americans, let’s celebrate the freedom that we enjoy and for which much of the world longs!  Happy 240th Birthday, America!

(2 Chron 7:14 HCSB)  (If) my people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. 

Celebrating Freedom with a Hero

Celebrating Freedom with a Hero

Forgotten? Never!

I drove out to Great Lakes National Cemetery today …

Normally, my wife Debbie and I do that on Memorial Day, but for some reason I couldn’t settle my thoughts while trying to write my Memorial Day blog, so I dropped the work on which I was unable to concentrate anyway, and made the drive—alone.  I thought perhaps that a blue sky, green grass, and solitude at grave marker 5-595 might help.

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Oh, that helped alright—helped break open a floodgate of memories, thoughts, and tears!  Then it hit me—that is really the whole meaning of Memorial Day each year!  Sadly, the true meaning is often lost in a sea of activities rather than being discovered—not to mention, appreciated from hearts overflowing with gratitude—by those who take the time to remember!

The mode of transportation today was my red 1965 Olds Cutlass.  Frankly, I thought Justin would appreciate that.  As I parked along the curb on the Avenue of Flags, with Justin’s grave off to my right, I shut the car off and just sat there—looking and thinking.

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Ahead of me some 400 yards were lines of automobiles, staged where all vehicles gather for funeral processions.  I reflected on how those families felt in those moments, remembering all-too-well the day I stepped from a black limousine with my family and made my way to my seat in a temporary pavilion.

The memory of numbly starring at a flag-draped casket a few feet in front of me seemed to me like instant replay as I contemplated the cars ahead of me today. I understand a bit of what they must be feeling as the drivers pull away, following the lead car.

DALE BEN AT GLNC 2006

Then I instinctively grabbed my cell phone from the seat, and after allowing a couple of vehicles to pass, I stepped from the car, and slowly made my way to 5-595.  While walking, I noticed how many markers have been added to section 5 since Justin’s marker was set.  In this one national cemetery alone an average of 11 fresh graves are dug and filled with someone’s loved ones every business day.

If you run those numbers, they add nearly 3000 veterans each year to this one location.  That totals some 30,000 new additions to Great Lakes National Cemetery since taps shattered my thoughts on 09 October 2006.

It’s no wild guess on my part—I know those families … no, that’s too abstract … those spouses and their children, those parents and grandparents, whose loved ones have been laid to rest in whatever cemetery, can’t forget on Memorial Day or any other day of the year!

Is it asking too much of a rather self-absorbed society to pause for a few minutes once each year—on Memorial Day—and remember and respect those who paid the ultimate price for our collective freedom?  I don’t think so—neither did the countless thousands of families dating back nearly to the Civil War—and neither does the 1% of America who shoulders the responsibility of defending our nation, so that the other 99% can enjoy the freedom which they provide.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, there is no better time than now, and no better day than Memorial Day, to spend at least a few minutes in prayer.  Every American, at the minimum, should express gratitude for those men and women who saw a cause bigger than themselves and that cause was you, me, and their posterity.  We owe a debt that we can never fully pay.

Everyone who lives under that beautiful red, white, and blue flag with its stars and stripes should also petition the Almighty—you know, the God in whom our Founding Fathers believed and Washington DC seems to have forgotten—that He would spare America and preserve the freedom purchased for us by those whose bodies rest in the dust from which each was created.

Then add to you prayer an appeal for strength for the families who have an empty seat at their tables—whether it has collected the dust of decades or is fresh with pain, as those friends and families in the processional earlier today.  At my grandson Jayden’s baseball game recently, his sister Caitlin ran up behind Debbie and me, with the exuberance of a ten-year-old who was excited to see Grandma Debbie and Papa Pete.

A moment later she gone, leaving me with a recurring and inescapable thought—there goes a little girl who will never know her daddy.  You see, she was only two days old when Justin deployed.  Think about it!  Freedom’s price tag is far greater than you can imagine.

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With that said, any people who mindlessly puts boating and barbecuing, picnics and parades, above remembrance of those who paid the price for freedom disgraces the country I love and those who died defending it.  However, even in America’s forgetfulness, comes the haunting biblical prediction of the characteristics of those living in “the last days”—unthankful!

May that never be truthfully said of you and me.  Let’s give ourselves this Memorial Day 2016 to gratitude and to expressing it appropriately … by reflecting and remembering.

Justin Dale Peterson 2006

Justin Dale Peterson 2006

Happy Mothers Day, Mom!

With Mother’s Day looming in a matter of hours, and having read several Facebook postings and blogs about other people moms, my own thoughts have turned to motherhood and memories of my own mother.  One thought in particular hit me—have spent more of my life without my mother than I have with her! hazel summers peterson

While my eyes brim with tears at that very thought, there is also a measure of happiness that mingles with thankfulness that encourages my spirit in spite of a seat in our family that has been left vacant for nearly 36 years now.  One cannot escape the void in his heart when God, in His perfect wisdom, calls a godly mother from the humble hovel of an earthly home of clay into that land that is fairer than day—a heavenly home that fadeth not away.

However, with each passing year of my own life I can honestly say that my gratitude for Hazel Margaret Summers Peterson grows.  Although time and space prevents sharing everything—even if I could remember everything, which isn’t going to happen, here are a few worthy elements to be considered, especially by young mothers who may have more life in front of them than in the rear view mirror.

Mother was the kind of mom who set a great example for her children … well not just her children, but for anyone who knew her … but I speak/write from the vantage point of a son.  Frankly, I was at times the one child of three who could have been labeled “the black sheep” of the family.  (Don’t expect me to admit to the specific reasons behind that!  Those events and times have long been forgiven by mom, dad, and God—and are buried in two graves behind the old buildings of Salem Baptist Church and in the depths of the sea!)

I suppose you could ask my brother Dennis or my baby sister Gina, but they won’t tell you either, because mother taught us not to gossip.  Thankfully, the two of them were much more obedient, caused fewer worries (and mom worried about everything, I think), and received fewer spankings, though those repercussions were called whippings when and where we were raised.

Our petite 98-pound mother knew how to discipline when it was warranted, unlike so many modern moms, it seems to me.  Oh, I see them in the stores and other public places.  Some of them yelling at their children (which our mother never did, at least that I recall) or threatening their offspring with a “time out.”  We didn’t have “time out;” we had “time in”—time in the garden, time in the strawberry patch, time in the barn!  Come to think of it, I did spend a few hours in “time out” in the bedroom, waiting on dad to come home from work!

Mother's High School Graduation

Mother’s High School Graduation

Mother taught us with her words, to be sure, but perhaps she taught us mostly by example, as I reflect on those early years in the 1950s and 60s.  It was a wonderful example of the disciplined life—and I don’t mean punishment.

She was disciplined in her person.  She was always up early.  The bed was made, she was dressed, and breakfast was prepared by the time the family could get to the kitchen.  Good grief, it isn’t uncommon today to see moms (and dads, too, to be fair) get on airplanes still in their pajamas!

The Prince of Belgium at the Peterson's, circa 1955

The Prince of Belgium at the Peterson’s, circa 1955

Although dad was not a good reader, mother was, and she read and studied daily.  When she walked into a Sunday school class filled with children on Sundays (as she did for decades), she had not only prepared her lesson, and she had prepared herself.  It was a lifestyle for her.

She was disciplined in private.  I remember overhearing a member of the church where I was pastor some years ago.  He did not know I was at his house yet, but he was yelling angrily at his children, but when I came on the scene, I realized that I was dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde!  Not mom—she was in private the same Hazel that she was in public!

We were taught to clean up and pick up after ourselves.  If we opened it, we were expected to close it.  When we came to the table for a meal, we were expected to have washed our hands and combed our hair.  Proper table manners were a way of life.  (Lord, I could write a book on the kind of manners I see in my travels!)

Hazel Peterson, circa 1978

Hazel Peterson, circa 1978

She was disciplined in public.  Perhaps the greatest aspect of this would be good manners, which again, was a carry-over from home.  Because of who she was as a person, mother respected others and treated them with pleasant courtesy.

She was disciplined even in her passing.  After her injuries from a horrible head-on collision caused by a drunk driver, mother’s swollen body was kept functioning somewhat by various forms of life support from Sunday until it was all removed the following Friday.  Since dad was in another intensive care unit and could not see mom, I was with her until she was pronounced dead.

Afterwards I made the all-too-familiar trek down to dad’s bedside.  Looking him in the eyes for the few seconds that seemed like minutes, I quietly said, “Dad, she’s gone.”  We wept together and then I prayed with him, as I had done many times before with others.  This time, though familiar in many ways, was different.  This was my mother.

Following a few moments of silence, I said, “Dad, I suppose you want me to call Bud?” which was more of a matter-of-fact statement than a question.  Our neighbor and daddy’s friend since childhood, Bud Coomer, was the funeral director at Mynatt’s Funeral Home.  I knew they would handle the arrangements.

As though I were still standing by that ICU bedside, I can still see dad’s lip quivering as he spoke, “Yes.  You mother and I talked through the details last week.  In the closet is a garment bag with everything Bud will need—all the clothing and jewelry.  And, son, your mother had a request.  She wanted you to preach her funeral.  Can you do it?”

I guess what I’m conveying is this—because of her disciple in life, she was prepared in death.  That preparation was evidenced by the conversation she and dad had together on Friday before the auto accident on Sunday.  More importantly, preparation had been made years earlier at a little country church hear her childhood home, when she had a conversation with God Himself, asking Jesus Christ to be her Savior.

The notes for her funeral are buried somewhere in my files, I suppose … haven’t seen them in years … but I remember this above all else.  Neither as her son nor as a minister preaching her funeral did I have to hunt for good things to say about her.  Good things abounded from her life as a Christian, much as it had been reflected in her grade cards from school days, when she received A’s … sometimes with as many as four plus-signs after them.

BTW, do you pray?  Have you ever had that all-important conversation with God?  You know … the one where you get really honest and admit that you, like everyone else in the world, are a sinner.  You know … when you get honest with yourself, too, admitting that you need Him as your Savior, and then asking Him to wash away your sins?

If not, wouldn’t this Mother’s Day be a great time to do that?  I mean, if not now, when?

Dale, Gina, & Dennis

Dale, Gina, & Dennis

Developing Partnerships

Yep … another day … another airport … doing what I do … waiting on a flight out of Dallas-Fort Worth at the moment.  I’ve just spent the better part of two days with friends and ministry partners, sorting how we can do greater ministry through partnerships.

As usual, I do a personal debriefing, using the waiting time to reflect on various aspects of all we discussed.  However important that may be—and it has great value, to be sure—my thoughts have turned primarily to the aspect of relationships, specifically the value of authentic, long-term relationships.

Sitting in the planning/strategy meeting from 10am until 3:00pm, my thoughts went beyond the presentation of material, questions, and answers.  I was reminded of what should be a life-long process of developing new friendships and partnerships in both life and ministry.

The wise man Solomon stated that a man who has friends must be a friend (Proverbs 18:24).  To my right at the conference table was my older friend of 35 years—Harold Brown, longtime pastor of Oakhill Baptist Church in Somerset, Kentucky.  In recent years we only see each other once in a great while, but we invariably engage like we’d never been apart for more than a few minutes.

To my left at the table was Harold’s son Dan Brown, with whom I have partnered in youth ministry and other events, both in America and in the United Kingdom, through LIFT Student Ministries.  As with his father, weeks and months can pass without contact, but Dan and I always have an unbroken continuum of friendship and ministry.

Also at the table were several other businessmen/women and ministers—people with whom I enjoy newer but growing relationships, in part because of a developing partnership with Manna Worldwide.  Bruce O’Neil, founder and president of Manna Worldwide and several of his staff like Jerry Abbott, Ryan Jones, and Andrew Even, are amongst those new relationships that exemplify the great opportunity and privilege of a healthy ministry lifestyle.

What I mean by that is this—throughout our lives, each of us should be meeting new people and building new relationships.  It’s the embodiment of iron sharpening iron, which leads each participant to greater personal and ministry heights, translating into the furtherance of the Gospel in our world!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray for these new partnerships for ministry?  The issues and opportunities we are discussing, as well the plans we are formulating, have the potential to become one of the greatest movements in modern Christianity—indeed, worldwide!

Stay tuned!  Although things are developing, you will be hearing and seeing more!

dale