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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

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They Were All Here; Now They’re All There!

The Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year holiday season is an especially difficult time to experience the death of our loved ones.  I know this from both personal and vicarious experiences.  For example, I preached the funeral of my own mother just three days before Christmas 1980.

A few days ago, word came to me that former classmate from college, ministry colleague, and friend Ed Dobson of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had died just one day after Christmas 2015, following a fifteen-year battle with ALS.

Pastor Ed Dobson  is debuting a new film series called Ed's Story through local producer Flannel.  (Cory Olsen | The Grand Rapids Press)

Pastor Ed Dobson

Yesterday, my elderly friend and mentor of almost forty years, Dr. A.V. Henderson, passed from this life to the next.

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He was the last of my unofficial board of mentors—ministry men to whom I turned for advice and counsel.  Suddenly, I find myself thinking, “Now where do I turn when I need an experienced human being to suggest a course of action when I have questions?”

Today, and relative to that, the thought that continually circles my mind is this reality: They—that is, my mentors—were here, but now they are all there—that is, heaven.  From the multitude of those thoughts, I find reasons for reflection and for gratitude.  Perhaps quite by “accident,” I have been blessed from my early adulthood with marvelous mentors.

Soon after getting married in 1970, my young bride and I moved from hometown in the southern city of Knoxville (TN) to metropolitan Detroit.  From the first Sunday at Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, their pastor G. B. Vick took us under his wing, treating us as if we were his very own.  Old time Temple members will appreciate this statement—I have eaten many lunches at Snow Whites’ in Detroit, whether I wanted to eat there or not.  If Mister Vick said, “I’ll see you at Snow Whites,” it meant that we were going to Snow Whites!

If I had ever missed the example from my own father, Dr. Vick was to me what a Christian gentleman should be.  While there were other men in America whose churches were larger than Temple in the mid-70s, there was no larger ministry example in my life than the gracious G.B. Vick.  Although he died in 1975, I miss him sorely.

During my three-year tenure as a student at Bob Jones University in the late 1960s, I was privileged to be on stage with one of the world’s leading Shakespearean authorities—Dr. Bob Jones Jr.  His father, Bob Sr. died during my freshman year at the school.

Perhaps it was in an early rehearsal of The Merchant of Venice, that Dr. Bob and I first became acquainted.  He played the role of Shylock, while I was a lowly jailer with no lines at all.  But those hours on stage together afforded me opportunities to spend time with a very personable Dr. Bob.

Through the years, we disagreed on a few ministry personalities and philosophies, but I cherish to this day many conversations and correspondences.  Once, after making some bold statements to him, I waited for him to virtually dissect me.  Instead, I received the most grandfatherly advice and warm affection, not the tongue-lashing that I feared might come. Those are things one doesn’t catch from a pulpit on the platform.

The name R.O. Woodworth and Baptist Bible College have been synonymous since the inception of the college in 1950.  For decades “Reg” was the business manager and taught personal evangelism, among other courses.  One cannot talk for more than a few minutes with any graduate of BBC and the name Dr. R.O. Woodworth not be mentioned!

Because I had married into the Woodworth family in 1970, he was just Uncle Reg, and his wife—Mrs. Woodworth—who had tended the bookstore at the college, was Aunt Dorothy.  I can still see and hear my oldest two children—when they were young—crying in fear that Uncle Reg was going to die in our living room!  Why? Because he was standing on his head, trying to prove to them how young and strong he was (in his 80s!), and his face had turned 20 shades of bright red!

Although I haven’t lived in Paducah (KY) for more than 25 years, I still miss his annual stops in Paducah, breakfasts together, and his passionate preaching in the church where I was pastor.

Of all my mentors, I probably spent the least amount of time with Dr. Lee Roberson, long-time pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga (TN).  Our paths crossed numerous times through the years, usually at conferences in the 1970s-1980s.  I seldom asked for his advice directly.  However, anyone who ever heard or read his sermons received practical advice in short sentences.

Without disparaging other pastors for whom I worked, and without listing the many reasons for this statement, Dr. Jerry Falwell was the greatest pastor I’ve ever known.  After my first six months in Lynchburg, I was discouraged, thinking, “Jerry doesn’t even know who I am!”

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One Sunday evening, as I headed to a side entrance to the auditorium at 701 Thomas Road, a black Buick Electra 225 screeched to a halt in the parking space beside me.  Out jumped Falwell, tickled no doubt that he had startled me.  He slapped his arm around my shoulders and with that voice of authority said, “Dale Peterson!  I just got off the plane from De-troit, Michigan!  You know, not one person asked me about Liberty Baptist College or Thomas Road Church or Old Time Gospel Hour, but everybody I met asked me about you!  We’re glad to have you onboard!”

I learned through the years that Jerry truly loved everyone.  He could walk away from a sound stage or studio after interviews by celebrity types, but he was just as interested in the cameraman or the lady calling the lights as he was the Phil Donahue’s!  Another excellent illustration of his love for people was in my church office one morning.

Before walking into an auditorium filled with pastors one day, I asked Jerry to hang on for a minute, and we let everyone else leave the room.  My youngest daughter Joy—12 years old at the time, wanted to interview Falwell for a class project.  His attention instantly shifted to Joy.  He asked if she had her tape recorder ready.  He had her sit in my chair while he made himself comfortable on my desk.

Joy had her questions written on 3-by-5 cards, and asked them one by one.  Jerry Falwell treated her like she was a contemporary of Barbara Walters or Katie Couric!

I would like to think that some of those noble characteristics rubbed off on this pastor.  Few days have gone by since Jerry’s death that I haven’t missed him.

B.R. Lakin, like all the others named, was a true friend to preachers everywhere.  I had listened to and read his sermons for a few years before finally meeting him in Southgate (MI) in the early 1970s.  Shortly after hearing him in person, I invited him to speak to a youth rally in southern Michigan.

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Picture this, if you can—2400 high school teenagers and their youth leaders sitting spell-bound listening to an old southern evangelist from Fort Gay, West Virginia.  I still meet people who attended that meeting—and they all remember the lights suddenly going out and Dr. Lakin quickly saying, “Just hold!  It’ll go out quicker than that for some of you one of these days!”

Then, just as quickly as they had gone out, the lights came back on.  I will refrain from divulging the name of the young man who hit the master light switch in the control room at Temple Baptist Church.  A few minutes later, after finishing his sermon, Dr. Lakin invited young people to come to Christ, and dozens were saved that evening.

Three years after entering vocational youth ministry, I accepted the role of youth pastor under Dr. Tom Malone Sr., founder of Emmanuel Baptist Church and Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac (MI).  Malone was a preaching machine—a preacher’s preacher, with a style all his own.

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I asked Doc one time, “Doc, how do you get your sermons?  I know you don’t just subscribe to The Sword of the Lord, and get other preachers’ outlines because that publication usually prints yours!”  I’ve never forgotten his reply.  Without going into lengthy detail as I tell it, he outlined for me how he read the Bible each morning, and continued reading until God had spoken to him.  Then he said, “ … and I have found that what God uses [to do those things in my heart], He will use in the lives of others.”

The one mentor who influenced my life over the longest period of time was Dr. John Rawlings.  My first introduction to Dr. John was in the late 1950s when I listened to his national radio program—The Landmark Hour.  It was the live broadcast of the evening services from Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati (OH).

As a child, I loved to hear Dr. John preach because he told a lot of stories as he spoke.  As I listened to those messages, it never entered my mind that this man would one day become a dear friend.

Dr. John & Dale

Dr. John & Dale

Finally, the last of the old-timers to hang up his sword is my friend Dr. A.V. Henderson, whose passing has prompted my reflections today.  As I write these words, I am trying to book hotels from Michigan to Texas.  A younger pastor friend from Waterford (MI) and I are planning to make the journey to attend the memorial service in Haslet, Texas.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray for our safety as we make this unscheduled trek?  Further, and perhaps more sobering, let me ask this—whose lives are you influencing for the cause of Christ?  While we’re praying, let’s ask God to use us to positively impact others for His glory.

The men mentioned above are a handful of the men and women whose lives have touched and encouraged my personal and ministry life.  With whatever inherent faults I have, these are people who helped make my life more Christ-like because they cared about others, including me.

One of my prayers—since childhood—could be summarized in a song that George Beverly Shay used to sing.

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

My living shall not be in vain,
Then my living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,
If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

My living shall not be in vain,
Then my living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

 

Well, no airport intercom announcement calls me to board a flight, but common sense tells me that I’d better go pack my suitcase for Texas.  Thanks for praying with me!

It’s A Small World

It’s a church that I always find refreshing and inspiring.  From the moment one steps onto the campus of First Baptist Church of Leesburg, the sense of God’s Spirit is evident.  It’s the kind of experience to which one looks forward—the friendliness of the congregants, the excitement in the music, the camaraderie of the staff, and the gracious application of the message.

Today was no exception—plus there was an additional bonus to the mixture.

Following an opening set of songs, one of the pastors introduced a young man, sent out as a church planter, to give a word of greeting and report on his initial efforts in the greater Boston (MA) area.  His exuberance was contagious.  It so happened that, during a brief “meet and greet” time during the early minutes of the service, this gentleman stopped in the aisle to speak to a wonderful woman seated in a wheelchair next to me.

As they finished their exchange, and our eyes met, I pointed at him and asked, “Do you by chance know my friend Sean Sears in Stoughton (MA)?”  His eyes instantly communicated what his lips would confirm—“Sean is one of my dearest friends!”  After a few more seconds of conversation, Jay Mudd said, “Let me take a picture of us together and I will text it to Sean!”

dale and jay mudd

Even after decades of ministry and travel, I never cease to be amazed at how small our world is!  Seldom do I go anywhere that I do not run into friends of my friends, which makes life all the more exciting!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in praying for the numerous young church planters in New England, especially Jay Mudd and Sean Sears? God is moving in dramatic ways in that region of America and our prayer support for these men and their families is vital!

For any readers who may be visiting northcentral Florida, do yourself a favor and visit First Baptist Church of Leesburg, where Cliff Lea is the pastor.  You will be glad you did!

Dale on Coronado (CA)

Dale on Coronado (CA)

I Do Solemnly Swear …

Veterans Day is that one special day when all America pauses in gratitude for and honor of those living men and women who have taken an oath to ” … support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

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While the young men and women who make this affirmation come from varied nationalities, differing socio-economic backgrounds, and religious experiences, but they all come together in this common oath.  The basic training provided by each branch of the United States military, the length of training, and certainly the MOS (military occupational service) training all vary, but all towards the fulfillment of a singular goal—the support and defense of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Although a growing number of politicians, from the president to congress, seems to have forgotten either the constitution or the oath they swore when taking office, the vast majority of the men and women of our armed forces—Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps—put their very lives on the line daily.  These who have so seriously taken their oaths deserve the utmost of respect from all Americans.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, here are a couple of things about which you can pray.  First, after thinking quietly about whom these men and women are and what they do to make our freedom possible, thank God for them—from the young recruits to the most elderly veterans.  Second, ask God to sustain these troops and their families.

And to my own veteran son, USMC Sgt. Joshua D Peterson—you will never know how proud you and your older brother USMC Capt. Justin D Peterson have made your father, even at great cost.  Semper Fidelis!  The same can be said of my son-in-law USN Lt. Brandon Geddes!

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Celebrating Freedom with a Hero

Celebrating Freedom with a hero, Joe Hutchins 

veterans day 2015

Great Friends

It seems that saying “Goodbye” to great friends never gets easier.  A few minutes ago, we pulled in front of the airport terminal in Roanoke (VA), where two great friends were dropping me off for my now-delayed flight to Atlanta (GA), where I still hope to catch another flight to Hartford (CT).  It isn’t unusual for me to spend Mondays in airports and airplanes.

However, I am discovering in recent years especially that it is never easy to say “Goodbye” to good friends.  Such was the case a few minutes ago here in Roanoke.  Friends have come to mean so much more through the years to me.

Late Saturday evening … the night of the Spring-forward time change … my friend of twenty years, Mark Grooms, picked me up out front.  We were both exhausted, so other than the non-stop conversation during the one-hour drive to his home east of Lynchburg, we quietly retreated to our bedrooms and collapsed for a short night’s sleep.

Mark and I talked away any hope of an afternoon nap, while his mother, Albertina Grooms, graciously listened to two Baptist preachers excitedly try to tell stories to each from decades of ministry experiences, especially as they related to two of our mutual mentors—Dr. John Rawlings and Dr. Jerry Falwell.  Periodically, this wonderful octogenarian (who celebrates another birthday today) would inject a comment, then listen quietly as we continued.

Following the evening mission conference banquet at Thomas Terrace Church, and comfortably settling into the family room, Mar, his wife Renee, Albertina, and I returned to our conversations.  Evening after the ladies had retired for the night, Mark and I kept talking until after midnight … but continued over morning coffee right where we’d left off only a few hours earlier.

Some 36 hours later, our time together was over.  We’re saying and hugging our goodbyes, when someone said, “Let’s pretend like we’re young and know what we’re doing and take a selfie!”  Mark took a better photograph than I captured on my phone, but any photo is good when great friends are saying “Goodbye!”

mark albertina dale 09 march 2015

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in praying for God to use TTBC’s “Regions Beyond” mission conference to impact many lives for eternity?  I was only the keynote speaker to open their conference, but other ministry guests will do the main work throughout the week.  Also, pray for my friend Albertina Grooms.  This wonderful widow (her husband was J.O. Grooms of Treasure Path to Soul-Winning and other scripture-memory publication fame) continues to be a blessing and encouragement to all who become acquainted with her.

Well, they’re announcing flight DL4962, so I must adjourn for now.  Cheers!

Son and Grandson

Yep—here I sit in my DTW-Online Café “office,” and my mind is a whirl of thoughts … answering emails, scheduling meetings, booking flights … all the typical stuff.  However, my mind continues to default to thoughts about tomorrow.

Oh, these aren’t thoughts really of the details and meetings that are scattered from Manchester to Stafford (England).  No, they are thoughts of my grandson Jared.  Fifteen years ago tomorrow, my first grandchild was born back home in Michigan.

The mental gymnastics that spin in my mind are bittersweet though, since his father, my oldest son Justin, is not here to witness his son’s fantastic journey.  There is one thing for certain; Justin would be very proud of Jared.

Most times when Jared and I are together, I bite my tongue lest I weary him of comments about how much like Justin he is!  It has been that way since he was an infant.  There have been times when I was ambushed by my emotions when we have been together—a look in Jared’s eyes, his hands, some mannerism.

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I understand the DNA aspects and inherited physical characteristics, although I don’t grasp the differences in height and shoe size!  All that 5’ 9” Justin could muster was an 8.5 shoe, but his 6’ son is wearing a size 12!  Yet, beyond the physical are the personality characteristics—the wit, the sarcasm, and the list could continue.

Through the myriad of thoughts is the solid constant—Justin would be proud—very proud—of Jared as he turns 15 tomorrow.  Though Justin was not a hunter or fisherman, he was ever the athlete.  Jared not only captured the athletic genes from his dad, but added to those skills, hunting and fishing as well.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in a brief prayer of gratitude for Jared and his family, and an extended time of prayer for all the kids across America who are growing up with the empty seat in their lives where a parent once sat?  The price of freedom is far greater than dollar signs reflect.  There is a silent price tag hanging in the hearts of children, teenagers, and adults—those who experience daily life without someone they would love to have with them every day!

The flight to Manchester is boarding, so I’ll leave you to pray.  Cheers!

Dale on Coronado (CA)

Dale on Coronado (CA)

Preparation

Debbie and I are hosting an after-Christmas dinner tonight for our local children and grandchildren.  While I spent New Year’s Day working in the office, she spent the day cleaning and preparing for this family get-together.

Before leaving for her office at the Detroit Skating Club this morning, she walked me through all the steps of preparation that I must make before everyone else arrives late this afternoon—plates, napkins, chips, bowls, dips, platters of hors d’oeuvrs, ice bucket, drinks, etc.  She wanted to make sure that we are ready for the arrival of our family members.

Well, all of that started me thinking about other preparations.  For example, I’ve noticed that most people carry a spare tire—(not the one around the middle)—in or on their vehicles, just in case they have a flat tire while traveling.  I suppose that most adults have some kind of health insurance, just in case they get sick.  A few of us have a “go bag” or “bug-out bag” stashed somewhere, just in case there is an emergency.

Just in case …

Here’s my question—have you made preparation for the one event that is certain to happen to you?  This is something that few people care to discuss, for fear of sounding a bit morbid (pun intended). However, there are no if’s, and’s, or but’s” about it, as mother used to say.  “It is appointed unto man once to die … “ (Heb 9:27)

Like it or not, that event is one day closer for each of us than it was yesterday.  Have you made the preparation?  I’ve had a wonderful life—every year—since 1950, in spite of a few tough times, storms, and valleys along the way!  Could this be the year that the icy fingers of death tap you or me on the shoulder because our numbered days have come to their end?

BTW, do you pray?  If so, perhaps today would be a great time to pray, while it’s in your control, in preparation for that time that is beyond your control—death!  I know!  I know!  “What a depressing way to begin a new year!” you may be thinking.

Quite the contrary—there’s nothing in the world more depressing than the thought of anyone who ever reads these words failing to make preparation for the inevitable in life!  The Good Book says, “Today is the day of salvation!”

BTW, if you do not pray, the greatest way that I know of to begin praying would be to blurt out to God in your own words that you recognize that you are a sinner … that you recognize that He is the Savior … and that you want Him to personally be your Savior!

Then, tell someone else that you made that decision!  Don’t know who to tell?  Write and tell me!

What an exuberant thought—I’m prepared!  Cheers!

dale

Remembering Mom

Thirty-four years ago today, I stood before a standing-room-only audience in the chapel of Mynatt’s Funeral Home in Knoxville, TN and delivered a eulogy—one that was at the same time one of the most difficult that I have ever given and also one of the easiest.  It was for my 53-year-old mother—Hazel Peterson—whose life had been cut short by a drunk driver.

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Also three and one-half decades later, I have forgotten many of the details.  However, there are some things I haven’t forgotten.  Let me divide those memories into two categories—the difficult and the delightful.

Once the word circulated that I was preaching my own mother’s funeral, many people asked, “Oh! How will you do that?!”  To be sure, I knew that it would be difficult, but that was what mother wanted.

When mother died on Friday, December 19, 1980, I was with her.  Other than the few medical staff who quietly came and went, she and I were alone.  From my arrival at her bedside in the wee hours Monday morning, December 15th, I had spent the majority of each day and night by her side.  Though mom initially tried to respond to both my brother Dennis and me when we each arrived in ICU, she remained unresponsive thereafter.

In spite of the missing responses, I talked to her, prayed with and for her, and even sang to her.  Friday morning, was no exception, although that day would be different.  It would be the last day that I would hold those hands that had cared for me since the day three decades earlier when this lady had given birth to me in that same hospital.

As the medical staff reverently removed all life support, I silently watched the heart and respiration monitors until someone broke the silence by softly stating her time of death.  The staff slipped from the room, I prayed once again, and quietly walked to another room a few doors away.

Because of his own injuries from the same accident, dad was confined to another ICU room down the hall at St. Mary’s hospital.  All week I had reported any changes in mother’s condition to him immediately. Now I am standing by his hospital bed, his hand in mine, and our eyes fixed on each other.  “Dad,” I said softly, “she’s gone.”

I do not recall how long we remained almost motionless with silent tears coursing down our cheeks, but I think it was dad who spoke first.  Among the things he said were these words, “Your mother had a request.  She wanted you to preach her funeral. Can you do it?”  With my eyes still locked onto his, I replied, “If that’s what mom wanted, then that’s what mom will get.”

Now, with the most difficult behind me, I stand before those assembled to pay their respects to my mother.  The sheer magnitude of the crowd—hours of visitation that went past midnight on Sunday, combined with this audience—told me something of this simple woman’s impact in the lives of others.  What a delight to see her influence on others!

Skipping the details that were used that morning thirty-four years ago, let me summarize the delight this way—my mother lived a life that gave me something with which to work at her funeral!  I did not have to dig for positive things to say about her life—the evidence was everywhere any of us looked!  The people on those pews had their own testimonies of how her life had impacted them for good and for God!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, perhaps this would be a prime opportunity to join me in praying that our lives can be lived that way, too!  Perhaps in this life we may never know the magnitude of our influence for Christ.  However, we can faithfully do our best each day in obedience to His Word, perhaps like an old song says:

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,

Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

To my way of thinking, the child of God’s daily life should stand in stark contrast to the world in which we live today.  Such a life will certainly stand out for the right reasons, and will impact positively the lives of others.  Thank you, mom, for setting that kind of example for your three children!

Dale, Gina, & Dennis

Dale, Gina, & Dennis

Veterans Day Thoughts

Normally on Veterans Day I reminisce and blog, often using the occasion to highlight family members who are veterans. I am extremely, and justifiably proud of my oldest son USMC Capt Justin Peterson, a Marine whose life was cut short in the sands of Iraq, my youngest son USMC Sgt Joshua Peterson, who was also deployed in Iraq at the time his brother was killed, and my oldest son-in-law USN Lt Brandon Geddes, who is still active and stationed in Norfolk.

However, today I want to highlight a rather quiet, unassuming veteran who calls San Diego home.  Two years ago, while in Chula Vista presenting the patriotic program A SALUTE TO AMERICA!, I was privileged to meet and spend almost an hour with Joe Hutchins at the real estate office owned by Joe and his wife Pat.

Celebrating Freedom with a Hero

Celebrating Freedom with a Hero

Joe spent most of his first career in the United States Navy as a SEAL.  We sat on a sofa in the reception area of Hutchins Realty on Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach, as Joe, a retired Air Force friend of Joe’s, and I talked.  I turned to this quiet tower of strength and said, “Joe, you know what’s different about your generation and today’s generation?”  Not sure where I was going with that question, he simply said, “Go on.”

“You have deeply buried stories of years of special ops—stories which have never been uttered, and probably never will be.  Today, guys go on a couple of missions and then write a book about it!”  Joe smiled, his USAF brother-in-arms chuckled, and I was satisfied that Joe’s smile was speaking volumes.

While I’ve seen many of Hollywood’s action movies and read several books each year written from the arena of combat experience, somehow—even unintentionally—they tend to glamourize the blood, sweat, tears, agony, and pain.  Conversely, many civilians seem to make every combat veteran a “victim” who suffers from PTSD.

Off all the possibilities that Veterans Day can bring to America, perhaps the one that should capture the imagination is this—let’s allow this annual day of remembrance remind us of the price that is being paid by approximately 1% of our nation’s citizens—men and women who are heroes merely because they stepped forward and serve or have served the other 99%.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, why not spend some quiet time alone sometime during this Veterans Day, contemplating our veterans, especially the ones you know personally, and pray for them, thanking God for these men and women of courage, honor, and commitment, and asking God to minister His goodness to them as they provide our nation safety and freedom?

And Justin, Joshua, and Brandon—thank you for your service to our nation, and for making your father very proud of you!

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The Pain of Death

Although it’s a hard saying, (and one from which many people try to withdraw), death is a part of life.  It’s equally accurate to say that one is not truly prepared to live until he/she is prepared to die.  For me this time of year brings the subject of death to the front and center of my thinking.

Friends, relatives, and regular readers know that my oldest son Justin died in Iraq on Sunday, October 1, 2006—the day after his 32nd birthday—and was buried at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan on Monday, October 9, 2006.  Regardless of the indescribable pain his death as a United States Marine has brought, it has been tempered by a justifiable pride in our career Marine, and especially an eternal hope.  I will see my son again.

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The pain that death can bring has been intensified this year, because of the deaths of four special friends of our family who lived in western Kentucky late last week.  I received the horrific news while conducting a conference in Ireland.  That news, received via an inbox message from my oldest daughter Charity, who knew how special this family has been through the years to our family.

Monica (DeeDee) Alvey, her sisters Veronica and Heather, along with their parents Morris and Debbie and grandparents Delma and Junior Brantley were members of the church where I was pastor in Paducah, Kentucky during the decade of the 1980s.  Their extended family became dear friends as well.

In time Monica married a handsome young man named Michael Cruce, and had two sons, Joshua and Caleb.  On Friday, October 3, 2014, the Cruce family was traveling along I-40 in Tennessee and we involved in a six-vehicle pile-up.  Four lives were snatched away from family and friends without warning.  Can you imagine the heartaches of surviving family and friends?

Cruce Family Photo

While communicating with Monica’s mother Debbie and her youngest sister Heather, both mentioned something that can serve as a powerful reminder to each of us—something good that come out of our heartaches.  In their own words each said, “Pastor Dale, I know you understand what we’re experiencing.”  What does that mean?  How can anything good come from such heartache?

Here it is: It is possible to turn our pain into a measure of comfort to others.  Don’t misunderstand.  This does not take away our pain, but it does allow us to discover a purpose in life (or death) as we comfort others with the comfort that we have experienced ourselves.  The Apostle Paul wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 1:4.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in praying for the Cruce and Alvey families, that the God of all comfort would minister to them a peace that passes all understanding in the midst of their unprecedented grief?  Knowing what it is to lose a son, I must honestly tell you that I cannot imagine the heartache to these families in their circumstances.  However, I know the comfort that God can bring to our hearts as we trust Him, even when we do not understand “Why?”