My first semester at Dallas Theological Semester was entering the books of history. It was time to make my plans for Christmas. I was looking forward to the break.

With my carefully earned savings I bought a round trip red-eye airplane special to my home state. The big draw was the Winter retreat of my home church for college and career students. It was scheduled for our traditional site of the Ponderosa Lodge on the grounds of Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center.

Many good friends excitedly told me that they would be at the retreat. Anticipation of reunions are thrilling. Also, a church in San Francisco asked me to speak at their morning service when I was home for the break. Relatives also told me to fill in their Christmas celebrations while I was home for the break.

Now, my two week hiatus from my first year at seminary was all set. In the back of my mind were several connections with wonderful women that I wondered if they would develop. I had to leave that option up to the Almighty.

Dallas Theological Seminary welcomed me as new student during the Fall of 1974. Finding work, locating a new church, meeting new friends, setting up my study routine, finding my way around a new city in a new state were all challenges. Of course at the ripe age of 23 old friends and new friends were introducing me to my future “Mrs.”

Friends invited me to check out their church. Their friendliness often came with a “Oh, by the way, I would like you to meet …” Naturally, it was polite to go along with the introduction, be friendly, Christian, and naturally charming. Finding a lifelong partner was way up on my prayer list, so I was a-tuned to however God would sovereignly lead as I tested the opportunities.

Those meetings were fun, fascinating, and a distraction from rigors of seminary studies. Pleasant conversation, hearing stories of another person’s life, tracing the spiritual pilgrimage of another was always a curiosity, and of course wondering if God was starting a connection with my life partner was always on my mind.

The age-old question of how a person really knows when he meets Miss Right still lies in the foggy realm of the mysterious. Yet, I noticed some clues. First, godly friends have great hearts. Their tastes in possibilities was always commendable. But, that intangible subjective chemistry seemed to have its grip on the pathway to “I do.”

I am still a friend to the movie with a happy ending. “Wonder” is one of those films. You’ve never seen it? I highly recommend it.

A young boy is born with a goofed up set of genes. Operations and special care are a part of his life. He is a great kid but he is severely damaged in his own psyche because of how he looks.

His parents and sister are fantastic supports. But, the world is an unforgiving place when it comes to standing out. Peer pressure is huge. The masses stare and openly ridicule young Augie. Yet, true friendship and family win in the end. It is brilliantly written, cast with excellence, and is certainly one of my favorite movies.

Then, there is a huge poster at the top of our steps, reminding of a film that makes me sad and smile. It is called “Up.” Young Russell lives his life as a Wilderness Explorer Scout, trying to win the graces of Mr. Frederickson.

In the beginning of the film there is a speed up of time where there are no words spoken, just music and that lives of Carl and Ellie lived out over life time. Joy, laughter, but ultimately sadness and bitterness stop the fast forward. Life is awful alone. Carl’s life changes when he finds meaning in pouring into the life of a youngster. It is discipleship at its best. Time, love, memories knit lives together for the real meaning of life. It is a fabulous film

While I was a boy, movies with a happy ending were paramount. The older I grew, movies became my stories. That’s when character development was far more important to me. Virtue, courage, and truth became high water marks for me.

Many times good character developing movies had sad endings. But, if the values that I treasured dominated, if the bad guys met justice, or if hope for the future reigned, then I was many times deeply fulfilled with the story. Values that make a difference in the lives of people that I grew to lift up in the movie always means a lot to me.

Mel Gibson turned out a trilogy of war movies that have been favorites: “Braveheart”, “Patriot”, and “We Were Soldiers” Each was based on a historical gathering, all three were set against overwhelming odds, brave comrades died, family sacrifices were experienced, and virtue won in the end. Treachery is common, noble lives on both sides was a tension, right and wrong become victims of war, and individual courage is always present.

“Braveheart” is the story of William Wallace. He is educated thanks to his uncle Argyle and sees no good reason to make war. But, evil forces him to use his keen mind, brave heart, and longing for freedom for his fellow Scotts against the cruel and vicious King of England. It is a sad ending to this movie but Wallace’s inspiration for freedom rings far beyond the confines of a single human life.

“Patriot” is another feature of a man who sees the futility of war. Yet, the evil of the British against his family draws him in. He is a valiant warrior, effective leader, and a patriot of the colonies. Family is a feature that pushes this movie to a resolution in the end and paints the picture of hope for this new nation.

“We Were Soldiers” is a classic story of a military leader who does not love war but loves his soldiers that he leads. He trains, cares for, and strategizes for the success of his troops. Woven into this film are the horrific experiences of the wives that are left behind and the families of the enemy combatants that the Colonel is facing across the battlefield. Does he win or does he merely begin the long line of questionable battles that just more and more human lives?

War takes that best of what we have on earth. Loved ones die. Families are torn apart. The evil never gain all that they want but never stop trying. The good are always trying to be brave and give freedom back to those they treasure.

Yvonne and I planned for a weekend trip to Austin, TX during the Christmas season. Our objective was to take in a live show during this most special time of the year. We had our tickets for Martin Burke’s solo performance of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Now, that will make you do a double-take.

One stage for this live presentation, this single performer plays all 37 characters in this classic film. Burke weaves in the comical and humorous features as well as remembering the tender moments of the story. I never lost a moment in reliving the way those characters engaged the unfolding story, the tragedy, and the wonder of how the story could ever find a happy ending.

Who would go and see such a performance? It seems painfully contrived and hopelessly disappointing. However, if you love the movie, then this play makes all the sense in the world.

I love this movie. It is in fact my most favorite film of all time. Every Christmas I love watching it. It doesn’t matter where the movie breaks into my schedule, I can pick it up at any location.

Especially, I look forward to the final fifteen minutes when George returns to reality, finds that his family and friends are more important than power, success, or money, and that while he never pursued anything selfishly, he learned that he had amassed the greatest fortune any person could in a life time.

How I ended up alone with my mom and on our way to the movie theater I have no recollection. Maybe I drew the lucky straw. At any rate I had no idea what we were going to see, but a young boy loves the thrill of the silver screen and all of the trappings that come with it. My mom bought me popcorn, soda, and ice cream. Those items alone made whatever movie that was scheduled a huge hit.

As it turned out, we were there to watch Sound of Music. The film captured me from the very beginning. The von Trapp family was comical, intriguing, and adventuresome. Throw in a nanny from the convent and the story engulfed me and my youth.

I had no idea how the Countess could be as devious as she appeared to me. Nor could I understand how Maria could trust her “confidence”. In my childhood mind, I knew who did not like and who I did. My feelings burned.

At least the movie a turn for the better when Maria and the Captain got it going. I was elated. Then, the singing competition made me hope for a miracle against the Nazi intrusion. It came. When the family escaped to Switzerland, I remember Maria’s concern, “But, the children…” and the Captain’s confidence took over, “We will help them. We will be fine.” What a great memory to make for a fabulous childhood memory.

My pastor sent me a wonderful word of encouragement the other day. It was a timely word for me. After weeks of trying to deal with pain and limited mobility, I felt the despair and futility that comes from the beat down from unrelenting discomfort.

My faith came into play so many times. The wonderful words of Scripture sounded hollow. Hope waned. It made me sad to think that one of the best four letter words was starting to ring empty.

Our church family has been singing a song robustly during Covid 19 and Texas winter ice storms. The lyrics shout out that even when it “feels” like God is not working, he is. The nature of who God is requires that we acknowledge this feature about him and accept it by faith. My pastor just sent me that reminder. It was a terrific word of encouragement for me.

Feelings are easily affected by pain. Especially when pain is intolerable, unrelenting, and vicious, our emotional mood surrenders to the dark world of despair. I was getting too close to that world. My pastor’s ministry brought me out.

God is…

This is my fifth week of recovery since my spine surgery. It was my first surgery and it was a big one. Each moment of each day since the surgeon did his magnificent work to relieve my spinal cord of pressure due to four herniated disks have been an overwhelming challenge. My day pushes me into the face of severe pain and dramatically curtailed mobility.

No doubt there are many out in the reading world who have some constant pain or debilitating malady that can find some encouragement in my journey. In the hope of cheering on my fellows in a seemingly endless future of discomfort, I will occasionally write these words. The composition is not from a return from convalescence but reflections while still in it.

Pain is a four letter word. That alone seems so appropriate. No one likes it. It is necessary for short spells but no one even philosophically sees its importance when it is endless.

One of my former students has an autoimmune disease that causes a 24-7 burning sensation on all of her skin. I have read her recollections, prayed for her, and tried to cheer her on. My constant and increasing back pain has lasted for over 20 years. I found myself identifying more and more with her experience.

Now, after corrective surgery I have a reaction to recovery: the process is a vicious BEAST!

The World’s Fair in 1962 was my first big trip as a child. Both the monorail and Space Needle each locked in their place in my memory banks. But, Seattle was a special city back then. Other adventures added to our journey.

Have you ever been to a fish market that was as much fun as it was a bargain for seafood? It’s in Seattle. The smells of fish was fragrant. It didn’t stink. The fish were all so fresh. Everything was iced down and presented with care. If you wanted dinner it was there. But, so many like our family was there for the experience.

Some men were shouting out instructions. Their banter was quick and clearly timed with a cadence followed by surprising activity. Over our heads a huge salmon went flying. One shouter tossed a fresh Coho to a wrapper who caught the fish in midair and wrapped it in paper without missing a wasted motion. The patron smiled, paid the bill, collected her package and walked off to her car. All of us kids just giggled!

The variety of fish from the sea were represented well on beds of ice. One guest pointed at a weird looking fish displayed with its big eyes and open mouth to his girlfriend. She came over to look like a lamb to the slaughter. Just when she looked closely, one of the workers grabbed the tail that was hidden in the pile of fish, pushed it forward with a quick wiggle. It caught the shopper by surprise, she screamed, and we all laughed.

This was one of my biggest childhood trips. It was great. From Tater Tots to the World’s Fair to the fish market, my boyhood memory banks were completely full. I would return several times as an adult and enjoyed the city and the revolving restaurant for grown up memories.

A monument for the 1962 Seattle World’s fair was the Space Needle. You could see it for miles before every arriving at the fair grounds. It was like a beacon of where to go, how close you were getting, and served as a destination for millions of people.

Everyone talked about the revolving restaurant in the Space Needle. Of course reservations were needed. Do you think that the menu was a bargain? Wrong. Would a family of six look forward to walking in and sitting down for an evening fare? Wrong. How far in advance would reservations be needed? Weeks. What would be the options for a large family like ours? The observation deck was free of charge. We headed there.

The line for the Space Needle was long. We had snacks to entertain us little tykes. Finally, we crowded into the the elevators. The ride to the top was an adventure. The city of Seattle unfolded in front of us. It was spectacular for little children.

Once we arrived at the top we were off and running around among the clouds. Snacks were for sale and we took advantage of those. From this grand view platform we saw the city, the surrounding mountains, and the Puget Sound laid out before us. That’s a lot to take in for little minds are their first World’s Fair. We had all experienced the Space Needle and it was a memory that would repeat itself several times in the decades to come.

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