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March 2015

A Leaf in the Mailbox – Some Lenten Add-ons

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Recently I was taking a walk at the Cypress retirement center with my friend Neal, a retired pastor. He stooped to pick up a nicely colored leaf, then a bit later tucked it into a mailbox.

“I like leaves,” he said, “but the woman who lives there lost her husband recently. So every time I walk by I leave a leaf to remind her that I am praying for her. She is not forgotten.”

That triggers me to think how small acts of love can play a big part in our Lenten practice.

When I was growing up in Canada Lent was no big deal. We Presbyterians thought only Catholics observed Lent, and had to give up everything fun or delicious. Later I learned that Lent is kept worldwide by many Christians, reflecting the forty days that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and reminding us to clean up our lives.

Then another friend, David, a Catholic priest, told me that while he gave up certain things for Lent, it was more important for him to add others. “I call or write notes to people who have meant a lot to me, just to let them know I am grateful.”

David and Neal inspire me to “add on” some acts of caring and loving this year.

I have been sorting through hundreds of old photos from years past, throwing some away, keeping others. So I have chosen some photos of people who once were important in our lives, scanned and emailed them with a note to say I remember them, with much thanks.

‘Tis a gift to do simple things! Our youngest grandson has had a tough year, recovering from a motorcycle accident. But his great desire is to help people. So we have agreed during Lent to look for opportunities to help and report back to each other. I told him of having lunch with a guy who had just lost his job and needed encouragement. He told how he and his roommate saw a man using a walker fall, and no one stopped to help. Ben and his friend stopped their car, jumped out and helped him up. of delivering food (his current job) to a woman at a business, starting to leave then going back to tell her how much he appreciated her warmth and smile. It made her day – and his!

The former UNC basketball center and broadcaster Brad Daugherty spoke at the memorial gathering for Dean Smith of the influence of his late coach. Brad had just finished a broadcast in Boston, and was rushing through a snow storm to his car. A man in the parking lot asked if he could spare some cash. Brad shrugged him off, said he had only a credit card. Then he paused, went back, gave the man several dollars, and as he got into his car imagined he heard Dean Smith say, “That was the right thing to do.”

It was a small act, inspired by a great teacher/coach, who always told his players to do the right thing.

Lent is a time to remember the Greatest Teacher/Leader/Savior, who did the greatest thing of all, by dying for our sins. Yet on the way to the cross he had time to stop and heal one blind man, and to wash his disciples’ dirty feet.

Jesus was the motivation for Mother Teresa. I once met her in Calcutta. She was a little woman, less than five feet tall, barefoot, with thick glasses, and a bunion on one toe. I asked her how she kept going as she and her sisters helped the hundreds of dying poor.

“We do our work for Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus,” she said. “And that’s what keeps it simple.”

Simple, yes. Like a leaf in the mailbox. A few dollars given to a hungry man. A word of thanks. Small acts of love and kindness.

As Mother Teresa used to say, “We cannot do great things. We can do small things with great love.”

What could be your “add on” for Lent? Today?

Leighton Ford
March 2015

 

 

 

Competing for Gold – Another Take

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I like to win. My family will tell you I change into a fierce personality on the tennis court. And I like my teams to win.

So, as a Canadian born and bred, when the Canadian women and men’s hockey teams won gold at Sochi I stood and sang “O Canada”!

But then, also being a naturalized American citizen, I cheered as the medals piled up both for the US and Canada – but also for the athletes from any country who stood on the podium to be acclaimed for their speed, strength, and skill.

I also got to pondering: what about those who trained for years but couldn’t make their teams? Or the sole athlete chosen to represent some small country knowing they had no chance to medal? Or those injured early in the competition who had to drop out? What does “competition” mean for them?

“Do you think God made us competitive?” I asked two friends, both pastors, both athletes.

Steve, a cross-country runner believes some people are born more competitive. But he says, at its best competition drives us to conquer a challenge. “It doesn’t have to be rooted in destroying the competition. You need other people to compete with. But you don’t compete just for the fun of it. You compete to win.”

Elizabeth, who lettered in track and field at Stanford has a different take. “Character is not inborn. It is developed through struggle, through success and failure. Most good athletes say they learned more through losing than winning.”

Think of Jeremy Abbott the American figure skater who had a terrible fall and was badly hurt, yet got up and completed his routine to the cheers of the crowd. What did he learn?

What can competition teach us – whether winners or losers?

That was clear at a recent lunch honoring volunteers from the different Charlotte Y branches. Each one said a few choice words. Just before the end Nate, a tall, impressive man spoke.

“You know about the Miracle Field?” he asked. I didn’t then. I have since learned it’s a baseball field at the University Y built so special needs kids can play, on a surface so wheel chairs can move easily. Every child gets to bat. Everyone gets on base. The games end tied so everyone wins. And each one has a “buddy.”

Nate told us about his eight-year old son Anthony, who has played soccer at the University Y for several years, but also has been a “buddy” to Jack, a boy his age who is in the Miracle League.

“Last year,” Nate told us, “the schedules conflicted. So I asked Anthony whether he wanted to keep on with soccer, or be a ‘buddy’ for the Miracle League.”

That’s when big, tall Nate, who played basketball at Penn State, paused, choked up, could hardly finish.

“Anthony chose to be a buddy” he said, wiping at a tear. “To be a buddy to Jack rather than to play soccer himself. I am so proud of him.”

I think we all choked up then.

Last week I went to see the Miracle Field. Paul the director of that Y took me to see the sparkling baseball diamond.

“The Miracle League has all that’s best in sports,” he said. “Loyalty, family, community. Everyone matters. One mother who drives an hour every Saturday to bring her son says, ‘No one ever cheered for my son before.’”

Paul wants parents to consider: would you rather your child be a great athlete? Or a great person?

Of course they can be both. But Nate and Anthony model another way to compete.

I searched my Bible and found these two wise admonitions from Paul on competition worth considering:

The kind to avoid: “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

The kind to pursue: “Outdo one another in showing honor.”

That’s what Anthony and Nate model.

A gold well worth pursuing.

Leighton Ford
February 2014

 

For Butternut … a.k.a Sir B

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 In honor, and in gratitude

Something is missing in our house today,
a prowling feline presence
who came to us fourteen years ago
and staked a claim to his territory,
which extended to only God knows where.
We never knew where he spent his nights,
only that every morning he was sure to turn up
for breakfast, tail raised in regal, golden splendor,
which is why I nicknamed him Sir B.

Our grandson and his father brought him to us
one Christmas on a long drive from Virginia,
he riding most of the way on the dashboard of their car.

On Thursday that same grandson rode with me
on the very short drive to the vets
where Sir B was very quiet, lying low on a padded table,
not at all the personage
who hunted at night and proudly offered his
latest catch to us in the morning.

The vet folk were very kind and gentle.
They left us with him for a while, to stroke
and whisper our care, and a prayer.
Then they did what they needed to do.
He became sleepy.
We left.

Wrangler our Blue Heeler doesn’t realize he’s gone.
The two of them declared a war
from the time Wrangler invaded Sir B’s sovereign turf,
and never came to a truce.
Butternut was smaller, but faster.
Wary of an attack he could streak
like a golden arrow across the street to safety.

He was also canny,
knowing exactly the line of the invisible fence
beyond which his foe would not pass,
and where he could lie in smug disdain.

Yet he had one dog-like trait.
The neighbors marveled, and so did we
that when we went for a walk in the schoolyard
Butternut would tag along.

Last Sunday we took a different path
through a neighbor’s yard, down their driveway
to the woods and by a stream.
We were surprised when he followed us there,
trotting behind, catching up
in spite of an open, bleeding wound
(a sign on his paw of other creeping ills
which could not be fixed).

He had never walked that route with us before
(although Wrangler had, many times).
I wonder, smart intuitive cat that he was, whether
he knew it was time to take a final jaunt,
perhaps to show us his nighttime haunts,
or, even better, to go where Wrangler had gone,
a preview of that coming age and space
where they and we and all God’s creatures
made new, will finally walk together.

Leighton Ford
October 26, 2013

 

 

Five Most Powerful Words in Scripture

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By Don Meyer

ROSEMONT, IL (February 8, 2002) – Using what he considers five of the most powerful words in scripture, world-renowned author and speaker Leighton Ford challenged his listeners to seek a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God.

Ford, president of Leighton Ford Ministries, addressed a capacity audience of pastors attending the 2002 Midwinter Pastors Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church in this Chicago suburb.

“If you could ask Jesus for one thing, what would it be?” Ford asked. The answer is to be found in the example provided by the band of disciples who followed Jesus. They asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

“Perhaps they asked him that because they often saw him in prayer,” Ford mused in searching for the reasons behind their request. “Perhaps they wanted a simple ritual. Perhaps it came out of a sense of their own inadequacies.

“Jesus said that the most important thing is not what you do, but to whom you belong,” Ford continued. “They were still apprentices, learning from the master.”

The gospel of Luke suggests that prayer was the lifeblood of the early Christian church. “When they needed encouragement, they prayed,” Ford observed. “When they needed direction, they prayed. When they needed wisdom, they prayed.”

Ford shared three key observations taken from the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples to pray. First, Jesus gave the disciples a pattern for prayer.

“There are only 37 words in the Lord’s Prayer in the original Greek,” Ford noted. “God is not so impressed with the number of words, but rather in how simply and direct we can be. He wants us to tell him how our hearts really feel.”

Ford stressed the importance of the image of God as our father that the prayer reflects. “In Christ we have the very same relationship to God as Jesus had,” he said. “God says that you (we) are the very best son I could have – in Christ.” We have a giving, forgiving and guiding father who keeps us safe – a powerful father.”

Jesus gave the disciples the language of prayer, Ford said, stressing the importance of teaching our own children the familiar prayers at an early age, so that the practice of prayer “becomes a part of us.”

The Lord’s Prayer also provides a pattern for prayer, a word picture of the kind of prayer we are to practice – spontaneous and passionate.

“Ask, seek, knock and you will find,” Ford said in quoting the passage where a late-night visitor in scripture seeks bread from a neighbor to feed an expected guest. The visitor persistently knocks at the door late at night, refusing to give up until the sleepy owner inside lights a light, opens the door and hands the neighbor several loaves of bread.

“When is the last time you knocked at a midnight door?” Ford asked his audience. “Was it the midnight door of a son or daughter so involved in destructive behavior that you cannot change them? Was it the midnight door of a friend with cancer? Or the midnight door of kids with AIDS in Africa? What do you say at midnight?

“We all know the mystery and pain of unanswered prayers,” he continued. “Why should we go on asking, seeking and knocking? Jesus is not suggesting that (persistence) because God . . . doesn’t want to be bothered. The parable is not one of comparison, but one of contrast. Prayer can become a defining point in our lives. The disciples believed that being taught to pray was key for them, too.”

Jesus calls us to be a people of prayer, Ford believes, “to become askers, seekers, knockers. How can we become pray – ers? Ford continued. “Why not start with the Lord’s Prayer. He shared Mother Theresa’s formula for prayer – what he called the bookend prayers. At the beginning of the day, she would count on the fingers of one hand these five words: “He did this for me.” At the end of the day, she would count with the other hand: “I did what for him?”

One can engage in prayer at any time of the day – throughout each day, Ford suggested. At the start of a committee meeting. While sitting at a traffic light – “that’s a great time for prayer!” Quoting Dallas Willard, Ford argued we are too busy in our lives and need to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry.”

“Use small chunks of time for prayer,” he recommends. “Instead of trying to cram three more things during the few minutes before your next meeting, pray and prepare instead,” he advised. Before falling to sleep, ask where you have seen God today, also asking where you may have missed him and failed to join him in his work.

“The point is this: How can we become people of prayer?” Ford stressed.

Jesus not only provided the disciples a pattern for prayer and a picture of what a life of prayer is like, he also provided a promise for those faithful in prayer, Ford observed in drawing his message to a close.

“If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him,” Ford said in quoting a familiar passage. “Seek to be in the places where the Holy Spirit lives. Ask him to teach us how to pray. And may we hear him saying at the midnight doors of our lives, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

 

 

Sandy – Fifty years ago today

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The first message I had this morning was from our Kevin on Facebook.

Happy 52nd birthday to my brother today. Sandy, we all still miss you.

Fifty two years ago he came …. quickly .. Jeanie was only in labor 45 minutes at the hospital before he emerged — as all through his life he didn’t waste time.

I was wondering tonight: if he had lived through that surgery – would he have married? by now have perhaps a son or daughter in university? be living fully in his calling?

And as I thought of him I wished each of you, who matter so much to me, could have known him, had a conversation with him, serious and humorous.

Then I realized: if he had not left us, I might never have met so many of you – because the trajectory of my/our own lives might have been so different, affected it was by his death.

Life – has its crazy turns and quirks. There is no knowing what might have been – only what has been.

Interesting that this morning Wendell Berry the Kentucky farmer-poet was interviewed on the Diane Rehm program on NPR.. I listened to his quiet, calm voice, as reedy as his Kentucky farmscape, reading this excerpt from his new novel A Place in Time, about a small town in Kentucky during another wartime, decades ago.

Wendell Berry: “Yes. This comes — this comes after the news has come in I think 1944 that Tom Coulters, who Burley helped to raise, has been killed in action. “He was a bulldozer operator in that advance up through Italy that was so difficult. What gets you is the knowledge and it sometimes can fall on you in a clap that the dead are gone absolutely from this world. As has been said around here over and over again, you’re not going to see them here anymore ever. Whatever was done or said before is done or said for good. Any questions you think of that you ought to have asked while you had a chance are never going to be answered. The dead know and you don’t.”

“And yet their absence puts them with you in a way they never were before. You even maybe know them better than you did before. They stay with you and in a way you go with them. They don’t live on in your heart but your heart knows them. As your heart gets bigger on the inside the world gets bigger on the outside. If the dead had been alive only in this world you would forget them, it looks like, as soon as they die. But you remember them because they always were living in the other bigger world while they lived in this little one. And this one and the other one are the same.”

Listening I breathed “Yes.” And was painfully grateful that we knew Sandy in this world, and that he lived, now and then also, in ‘the other bigger world.”

Yes Sandy, we do miss you – and walk with you still in God’s larger world.

Love, Dad