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Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Cementing Little Trees

Years ago we called my dad to go with us and take a look at a house we were interested in buying.  We knew that he had built three houses and that he would know what to look for.  We liked the neighborhood and the outside look of the house.  We were thinking that the walls could be painted and new carpeting could be added.  Dad wasn’t concerned with any of that.  He was more interested in going down in the basement and looking around.  He was interested in the framework including poles, wood, cement and the furnace.  While we looked at the physical appearance he was concerned about the foundation.  When he gave his approval we knew that the house would last a long time!

Although dad got the credit for building three houses mom was a big help!  I remember her mixing cement in anticipation of him coming home from work.  When he got home he would start right in on working on the house.  The three houses that he built were in the same neighborhood.  The third house I helped with too!  I was 12 and one of the things I helped out with was the driveway.  Unlike the other houses dad had hired a cement company and they drove the truck over and dumped the cement.  We had four of us ready to spread it.  Dad had lined up some 2 by 4’s on the sides of the driveway and he had made us smoothing tools.  He had cut handles in the long boards and we used them to smooth the cement down.  As soon as the cement was dumped our work began.  Dad had hired my friend Lloyd and my cousin Lawrence.  Then there was myself and him and that was our crew.  The cement was very soft when it was dumped and we quickly smoothed it by putting a worker on each side and working the board together back and forth.  The goal was to make it the exact height of the side boards he had put down.  We worked the cement from up by the garage to down by the road.  Since we were right there when it was dumped it was easy to work it into place.

Cement and children have a lot in common!

Cement and children have a lot in common!

It’s been said that your house will probably be your biggest investment.  With that being said it is so important for that house to be solidly built from the ground up!  When the winds blow and the rain pours down it is essential that the house stands firm!  Dad knew what was important in examining a house.  Things that we see with the untrained eye are things that don’t make a difference in the sturdiness of the house.  We tend to look at colors and room sizes.  We gasp at how the old owners decorated and our plan to make it look so much better.  Luckily for us we had dad to give us his opinion on what was really important.

Although it is said that a house will likely be your biggest investment, I contend that it is not.  If you have kids they are your biggest investment.  Of course they are a financial investment but more importantly they are an investment in time!  Although percentages differ a majority of the things that we learn are learned before the age of six.    Those early years are so important and the most important thing a child can learn is that as parents we love them dearly!  That very fact goes a long ways in building the foundation that they will have for life!  They learn how much they are loved not by lavish gifts, but by quality time we spend with them.  They need to know that we as parents are on their side!  As parents it is vital that we set an example of how to live and that we encourage them to take the path to eternal life through Jesus Christ.

A study was conducted by a group called the “Bama Group”, which concluded that nearly half of all of the people who accept Christ do so before the age of thirteen.  Two out of three Christians accepted Christ before their eighteenth birthday.  It makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  Young people are much more opened to changes.  They are sponges as far as absorbing information around them.

We worked hard with that cement because we knew that we were on the clock.  Sooner or later the cement would harden up where it could not be molded anymore.  When the cement hit the ground it was the most important thing at that moment to start spreading.  We didn’t let it sit there for an hour or two or when we felt like working with it.  The same thing is true when we are investing in our children.  Their little minds will get molded by the world if we don’t help them.  The lessons that we give in those formative years will be cemented in them for life!

Does that mean that everything will always be rosy?  Does it mean that they will always walk the line?  The answer to these questions is “of course not.”  They may walk out like the prodigal son did.  Sometimes little birds want to fly on their own and sometimes they get rebellious.  What I’m saying though is that if their foundation is solidly built they will end up knowing that you were right and that you love them.  Years ago my mom and I were talking about this very subject.  She was a terrific Christian example and she told me a story of “the little tree.”  The idea so much moved me that I wrote a poem called “The Little Tree.”  You won’t have to read too much between the lines to realize who the little tree is.  Like the cement and the little tree, time is of the essence!  We all as parents are responsible for the foundation of our kids.  Quality time is needed starting early and often to help mold the future for our greatest and most important investments!

The Little Tree
By Lewis Hamilton
From the book “The Gardener and My Garden”, c1997

A little tree was planted
It started very small
It could be bent or straightened
without any trouble at all

One day I was observing
the growth of the little tree
I noticed it was crooked
which was bothersome to me

I’d have to take some time,
there wasn’t any doubt,
to work on that little tree
and help it straighten out

But now I am so busy
Where do I draw the line?
I’ll deal with the tree later
when I find the time

One day I found a moment
to help that little tree
straighten out its problem
now that my time was free

But the little tree had sprouted up
much bigger than before
I tried to make it tall and straight
but couldn’t move it anymore.

Train a child in the way he
should go, and when he is
old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

Almost!

I think I can relate a little fraction of a bit to the light that blinded Paul on his way to persecute the Christians.  I would have to say that we both took advantage of escaping with life!  Though mine was staying in this life his was a spiritual rebirth that put him on his way to heaven!

I was driving down the road on my way home about a month ago.  It was the time of day that the sun was blinding me.  The road I was on was a busy street and my next turn would be a left at the traffic light.  The sun was so bright I couldn’t see the traffic light but I did see the turn lane.  I was able to make out the oncoming traffic down the road and saw that I had time to make my turn.  With the light blinding my eyes I turned too soon.  My heart went to my throat as I realized what I had done.  I found myself almost driving into the curb.  The road I was trying to turn on was 30 feet ahead and I was in the lane of oncoming traffic.  Luckily I was able to drive quickly against traffic and take a round left turn just before the oncoming traffic got there.  As I hurriedly made the turn onto the side road my heart was racing.  I almost got killed I thought and it was true.

One of my favorite movie series ever was “Back To The Future.” It was about time travel as they went back in time in the first episode forward in the second and back further in the third.  The concept that is true in each of them is that one thing effects everything.  Decisions that we make today effect everything later on.  If you are married take for example the circumstances of you meeting your future spouse.  Maybe it was by chance that you met them.  Now consider what life might have been if that event didn’t happen.  It would effect where you live, the kids that you have, everything!  When Marty by accident interfered with the course of history it started changing events that followed.   Like the Back to the Future movies, you may say that where you are in life and the people that you are with almost didn’t happen.

Back to the Future

BTTF-Wallpapers-back-to-the-future-19874499-120-90

I’ll bet you can think of a lot of almost things that happened in your own life.  Maybe you were almost killed like me.  Maybe you almost won the lottery or almost invested your money with a dishonest person.  Maybe you almost married someone else or you almost bought a different house.  Maybe you almost by accident burned the house down.  Maybe you almost became famous or you were sick and almost died.  There are so many close calls in life that we almost do or don’t do a lot of things.

A book was written by Roger Bruns that is titled “Almost History.”  It has information about documents for events that never happened.  Included is a speech prepared for President Nixon in case the Apollo 13 astronauts died.  Also included is an apology from General Eisenhower for the failure of D-Day.  Some events like the time that Lincoln got a letter from a young girl encouraging him to grow a beard may not make a big difference.  In this case it probably only changed the picture of the president on the five dollar bill.  Other almost situations such as Hitler almost taking over the world would have changed everything had it happened.  The thing about things that almost happened is if they did other things would have been built from them.  Suddenly everything becomes different  if the almost actually happened.

It almost happened!

It almost happened!

I think it was in March of 1971 that I went to a basketball tournament.  It was sponsored by a group called “Word of Life.”  They contacted churches in our state and had them recruit players to play basketball for a Saturday.  At lunch time a message was delivered to the participants.  I was not a Christian at the time.  Actually I wasn’t even on the team.  I was in junior high and this was a high school group. They won the previous Saturday and had advanced to this tournament in Ohio.  I was invited to go along and decided to go!  Our team dominated in the region but met much stiffer competition in this tournament.  At lunch time I heard probably the most powerful sermon I have ever heard before or since.  I did not become a Christian that day, but the impact of that sermon weighed on me a lot when I made a commitment two and a half years later.

As always the basketball players that day reluctantly sat in the bleachers as the speaker was introduced.  I remember a pro player for the Cincinnati Royals named Darrel Imhoff gave his testimony.  After that the other speaker took us to Acts chapter 26.  It was about Paul presenting his case in front of King Agrippa.  Paul had been arrested for preaching the gospel and the leaders couldn’t find evidence that he did anything wrong.  He was brought to the king to state his case and he did it very impressively.  He told of how he was an enemy of the Christians until he was blinded by a light on his way to persecute the Christians.  He told of the voice he heard “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”  King Agrippa listened with great interest as Paul laid out his story.  Verse 28 states “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”

The speaker that day concentrated on that word “almost.”  He stated that nowhere else in the Bible does it mention that King Agrippa became a Christian.  If he never did and is now in eternity without God the speaker concluded that King Agrippa is languishing on those words “Almost, Almost, Almost.”  He concluded his sermon that we don’t want to almost become a Christian.  We don’t want to regret the day when we almost accepted Christ.  Truly we live through a lot of almost circumstances in our lives.  Sometimes things work out fine the way that we end up traveling.  Other almost  situations we regret and wish we would have gone the other way with our decision.  If you haven’t already, take advantage of God’s saving grace while it is available.  Then you won’t have to regret the time you didn’t but almost did.

The Beginning Of The Road

I still see him every now and then. The last time was at his garage sale a couple of years ago. He doesn’t remember my name but why should he? I was just one of thousands that he taught in Drivers Ed and it was forty years ago! I was in a class of strangers while he was doing something completely in his element. My memory of the events are vivid color photos while I’m sure his are black and white at best. Still when I tell Mr. Knight I was in his Drivers Ed class he thinks for a minute and then replies “you were from Portage Northern weren’t you?” “Yes” I reply and a slight smile comes on his face. I wonder if in the back of his mind some kind of memory is in there. Maybe he doesn’t remember the details but he may remember the struggles. Maybe he has got it categorized like those kids from Portage Northern really struggled with learning to drive that year. Somewhere very deep in his memory that he can’t retrieve is the story of Joe and I. Two struggling would be drivers that he has put in the almost forgotten category of “Struggling Student Drivers From Portage Northern.”

The reason that I felt like a stranger in the class at the beginning was because I was taking Drivers Ed a year later than most of my classmates. We were eligible to take Drivers Ed in the summer after we had reached our 15th birthday. I wasn’t able to enroll until I was 16. I had to make arrangements to get there since my dad was always working. I ended up riding my bike the eight miles to class each day. Class started at eight so I had to be on the road at seven to make sure I was there and recovered on time. It seemed like that most of the kids that year were from Portage Central. That made sense because it was their drivers training course that we signed up for.

We were informed after a couple of classroom sessions that we were assigned a driving partner and that we would all be on the range the next day. The partner that I was assigned with was named Joe. Mr. Knight must have paired us up because we were both from Portage Northern.  Our high school was pretty big and even though Joe was in my year I didn’t know him. That summer as driving partners we got to know each other pretty well. It seems there are two or three types of  Kids in Drivers Ed classes. The first group has probably driven cars (illegally) as often as they could. Unlike me these kids loved to give oral presentations in front of the entire group. They thrived to be recognized and have attention come their way. These kids were brimming with confidence and had that take charge attitude. The middle group had some of the same qualities listed above but needed help in bringing them out. A good teacher who recognized the talent within would bring them almost to the first groups level. Then there was the third group which is a group that at that time I put myself and Joe in. This group lacked confidence and didn’t want to stand out. We would rather not ever give an oral presentation. We were the ones that didn’t enjoy the spotlight. We were happy letting the confident glory seekers take the limelight.

Although I didn’t search for the spotlight I wanted very badly to learn to drive.  The ability to drive is a giant step in being an adult!  It’s a turning point where we start feeling grown up as we take on grown up responsibilities!  On a  personal note it is a way to get away!  It’s funny but now there are times when my car might be in the shop getting fixed when suddenly I have the urge to do something.  Forgetting for a moment that my car isn’t around I am suddenly caught with the reminder that I can’t do whatever it was.  Suddenly I seem stranded and a hostage to the shops mechanics.  I’ve also heard about older people rebelling when their drivers license is taken away.  Just as it is important to get the license when we can’t drive anymore something very valuable is taken away.  It gets to be a part of us and our independence and it hurts terribly to lose it.  Going back to depending on others is a form of dying.

Joe was the perfect driving partner for me. We quickly became friends as we shared driving on the range. The range was a parking lot filled with plastic cones and traffic signs. The speed limit on the range was 8 miles an hour. At that rate it was thought that if we hit the bumper of another vehicle hopefully minimal damage would occur. Each day one of us would begin driving. At the appropriate time Mr. Knight would call out to us to switch drivers. Joe seemed like a happy kid and he had a smile constantly on his face. He had a good attitude and was very helpful. The most helpful thing we both seemed to need was someone to talk to as we learned the new skill. We always had the radio on while driving on the range and that was the year Paul Simon had a song out called “Kodachrome.” It was a song about a kid with a camera and the Kodak process made beautifully colored pictures for him.

Kodachrome

Mr. Knight was the football coach at Portage Central (our rivals) for years. I remember a friend in 1977 wanting to go to the Pontiac Silverdome because Portage Central was in the state finals that year. This was two years after I graduated but I went because he had already bought the tickets. He was more familiar with the team as his brother went to that school. The only familiar face I knew was Mr. Knight, and I remember saying “their coach was my Drivers Ed teacher!”

It has to take a special person to be a Drivers Ed teacher. One of the greatest qualities that Mr. Knight had was patience. Having patience with young drivers is critical because driving is a skill that has to be developed. Encouraging words are needed and compliments are sometimes in order. Mr. Knight was real with his compliments. He used them sparingly, so when you received one you knew it was genuine.

I’m reminded of a movie I saw years ago called “License To Drive.” In that movie a brother and a sister were both taking Drivers Ed. The sister had a Drivers Ed teacher that was very easy.  He always had her driving out in the country where hardly any traffic was. When the sister had to parallel park she was given a space big enough for three cars. The brother on the other hand had a drill sergeant type of instructor that took him into a busy city and made him squeeze his car into a parking space almost big enough for it to fit! Mr. Knight was neither of these types. He treated us equally and we both had to attempt the same obstacles.

After our original range experience Mr. Knight took Joe and I out for a lesson. At first he took us out in the country. When we drove out there the main thing was just to keep the car on the road. Every now and again we might pass a car going the other way, but for the most part it was sparse traffic. After each session Mr. Knight would go over our driving as we sat there in the car. Joe seemed to be picking it up faster than I was. Mr. Knight accused me (and rightly so) of not having the big picture. “The Big Picture” referred to the film about Mr. Smith’s driving techniques that we saw in the classroom.  It was the technique of seeing everything when driving. Mr. Knight said that I was just seeing what was just beyond the hood. In retrospect I think I know what was going on. Here I was a kid lacking confidence trying to please a Drivers Ed teacher. I was trying so hard to be alert to everything, that I was not alert to anything. The multiple things like checking all of my mirrors, keeping the car straight, and watching out for everyone on the road was more than I could handle. Adding to it was Mr. Knight’s watchful eye and trying to do everything that he said. I was thinking more about what I was supposed to do when I should have been naturally doing it. It was like worrying so much about all of the positions that my body should be in at each part of my golf swing and forgetting to hit the ball.

golfer-missing-ball-18728684

Through the weeks of the class Mr. Knight had Joe and I drive through the city, highways, main roads, and even parking lots. After each session he gave us his summary of how we did. Each time Joe got better comments than I did. I just couldn’t seem to get my full concentration on the job with all of the things I was trying to do. Joe had his faults too and Mr. Knight scheduled us for a Saturday morning extra session. It was a last chance session because everyone else had already passed the class. I was thinking that I had to do better because I was definitely on the borderline of not passing. Although Joe struggled too, he had probably driven well enough to stay over the failure line. For me this final session would be the deciding factor.

We met early that morning and Joe was the first driver. In the few minutes that Joe drove we went all around recapping all of the driving situations we had been through in previous sessions. Within a few minutes we were taking the entrance to I-94. To this day I don’t know what went wrong with how Joe was driving. All I can tell you is that Mr. Knight had hit his brake and had Joe pull the car over.   Sitting in the backseat trying to relax, the sudden stop caught me completely by surprise! I had expected Joe to be driving another 20 or 30 minutes and now Mr. Knight was having us switch drivers on the side of I-94!

Sometimes in life when we aren’t expecting something we don’t have time to think. I’m reminded of the rookie pitcher who doesn’t know he will start the game until just a few minutes before game time. Sometimes that is the best situation because he doesn’t over think the process. For some reason when I took the wheel on the side of the highway that day I drove like never before! I was in a driving zone and was alert to everything around me!  I wasn’t thinking about Mr. Knight’s watchful eye.  I was just in a concentration zone where I was doing everything right!  Mr. Knight was very hesitant to turn on the radio with Joe and I. He figured that it would ruin what we should be concentrating on. After awhile as we drove on Mr. Knight relaxed back in his seat and turned on the radio! I don’t know what songs played but “Kodachrome” had to be one of them! The words of that song said how I felt as I was driving in the zone seeing the big picture that day! “Kodachrome they give us those nice bright colors, They give us the greens of summer, Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day!”

Kodachrome!

Kodachrome!

Sunny Day                           Kodachrome-It makes all the world a sunny day! 

Mr. Knight had his final summary of our driving that day. To Joe he shook his head a little and told him that “I have seen you drive a lot better!”  For me he said just the opposite “it was by far the best I have seen you drive!” It was a pass for both of us and we would both soon become licensed drivers! I’m sure that Mr. Knight shook his head and was relieved as much as we were! A good teacher pours everything they can into making their students a success and in turn our success (and especially mine) made him feel very successful that day!

Maybe that is how God feels when he looks down on us. He sees us struggling and wants to help. So many times we don’t grab his helping hand as we try to do things ourselves. We tend to like our independence much like what driving gives us.  We might let everything else get into our thinking when we should be focused on him.  Sometimes he brings circumstances into our lives to draw us nearer to him! Under these situations somehow the light goes on! Suddenly we come to know him and everything begins to become clear! It’s like my driving and at long last finally seeing the big picture! Much like the song Kodachrome’s lyrics “the world became like a sunny day!” Mr. Knight was a great instructor and unknown to him he gave me confidence!  It came in an unusual manner as his sudden switch of drivers on the highway didn’t give me time to doubt myself.  He brought out what I really could do by that sudden move.  Sometimes it is the things we do that we think nothing of that are the most important. Unlike Mr. Knight or anyone else God remembers all of the experiences we go through. He remembers the time that we started the road to Christian living! He celebrates that time when it finally all came together! In his eyes it isn’t a black and white memory! It’s a living colorful one that he cherishes as much as we do!  When we accept his gift of eternal life he puts us in the category of “Saved by Grace!”  It is a beautiful immaculately colorful picture that he reflects on often and remembers forever and ever!

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