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Archive for the month “August, 2016”

A Tale Of Two Hearts

It was junk pickup day and my pastor noticed that a couple that drove an old rusty pickup truck was rummaging through the junk on the curb.  God has placed a burden on his heart to talk to people about God’s salvation and love for us so he went out to fulfill that mission.  After some warm greeting pleasantries he asked them if they had ever considered becoming Christians?  Bluntly they told him no and then the whole story came out.  Their 15 year old daughter had been tragically killed in a car accident.  “We used to go to church”, they stated “but never again.”  He would have liked to have consoled them and told them how sorry he was about their daughter. He would have liked to have been able to tell them that God loved them even through their sad circumstance.  Before he could however they coldly and swiftly jumped into their truck and sped away.

This incident about their attitude toward God was upsetting.  He thought about the situation and concluded that the real tragedy was the bitterness and hardness of their hearts.  Of course it is an awful thing to have someone we love dearly taken from us.  Yet it isn’t what happens to us but how we respond to the situations.  The saying of get better not bitter applies here.  I read a quote that is really true although it’s author was unnamed.  “Faith isn’t about everything turning out okay.  It is about being okay no matter how things turn out.”  Saying the words I realize from personal experience that a loving attitude is impossible if we rely on ourselves.  It is natural to place the blame on someone or something.  We have been trained in life to solve problems and most of the time we are able to.  However, there are times when we really don’t know where to begin.  There are times when life doesn’t make sense.  There are events in our lives that fit so perfectly under the category of a best selling book years ago “When Bad Things Happen To Good People.”

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

When bad things happen what is our attitude?  Are we apt to play the blame game?  I can tell you from personal experience that I have played the blame game.  At he end of the day though I realized that nothing gets accomplished by blaming.  Even if the circumstance was in part someone’s fault how can this fact justify the bitterness I let it create?  How can being bitter help the situation one bit?  I had to come to the conclusion that God was the only answer to my hurt.  I’ve heard that when life gives you lemons make lemonade.  Again that is easier said than done and can only come about with God’s helping hand.

When my daughter contracted spinal meningitis that took her life in 3 days we were so devastated as anyone would be.  Why did this happen?  I found that I couldn’t go back to work right away.  When I did the slightest little reminder of her would cause me to break down.  The only thing that saved me was a place that I went to talk to God.  I would literally walk to a building across the street on my breaks and pray on my knees.  I remember a time or two when someone would happen to pass by and wonder if I was okay.  It was a very unusual place to be praying but there I was.  In those times God gave me a peace and I was able to go on until my next break.  I can’t imagine anyone trying to go through such a tragedy without God’s help.

Through my pain I was searching for answers.  A pastor from my mom’s church came to the hospital and counseled us during the bleak hours before the final outcome.  We didn’t forget that act of kindness and started attending his church.  I remember a feeling in my heart as he preached on a topic called Fresh Fire that I was to write a poem.  From that first time many poems came to me that were what God put on my heart.  After three and a half years I put my poems together in a poem book called “The Gardener and My Garden.”

I can tell you that if something tragic has happened to you that blaming anyone including God will not help the situation.  The fact is that whatever happened has already caused damages.  It is like if a tornado comes through your neighborhood.  Are you going to try to pick up the pieces or mutter about what happened?  It is our attitude that we need to be concerned about.  Luke 10:27 states to love the Lord thy God with all your heart with all your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  It doesn’t say that this only applies if you have not been through a tragedy at which point be bitter and curse the circumstances around you.  In choosing love we are giving our life to a higher power who loves us and see’s a bigger picture.  We are no longer fighting the battle alone.  We also trust in Romans 8:28 which states that All things work together for good to those who love God who are called for his purpose.

There are times that I have not packaged doughnuts correctly and let air harden them.  Did you know that if they are not brick hard that usually a trip to the microwave will soften them right up? It is so nice to eat soft, sweet, warm doughnuts instead of hard cold ones.  What a difference the added moisture from the heat can make in the softness and deliciousness of the doughnuts! They actually taste better than they would have out of the box!  My pastor gave a wonderful example about ice and clay last week.  If you put ice and a ball of clay out in the sun the ice will melt while the clay gets hard.  That is the two directions our heart can go too as we face life’s battles.  It is our job to make sure that our hearts have that quality that ice has where they soften and melt rather than get hard and bitter.

There was a young lady he talked about that is now 22 years old.  When she was 5 her brother and her were playing with gasoline and matches in their basement.  The result was severe burns all over her body and multiple skin graph operations.  Today with God’s help her attitude is one of love.  She volunteers at the burn unit of the local hospital.  She has found her niche as she can empathize with their hurt and pain.  She has taken a horrible situation in her own life and through God shows nothing but love for others.

Perhaps you are going through pain as you read this.  Maybe circumstances have given you reason to be bitter and question God.  I can tell you that nothing good will come out of that attitude.  In fact you will find yourself further and further from God.  So how do you develop that soft heart that melts like the ice?  You don’t develop it but you make the decision to follow God and give him all of your cares.  Praise him for whatever situation has come about and thank him for it.  Somehow, someway beyond anything we know he see’s the big picture.  Draw close to him and he will draw close to you.  You will then find like I did that your heart will soften.  The hardness of your heart will slowly melt away and you will find that your melted heart soothes the pains of many.


Safe At Home

Bobby Richardson had a Mickey Mantle moment once.  Bobby was the little second baseman that played for the Yankees in the late 50’s  til the mid 60’s.  Bobby was a light hitter without much power.  Usually in clutch situations just as he was going to bat he would hear his manager Casey Stengal holler “drop that gun.”  It meant that someone was going to pinch hit for Bobby.  The Yankees had just loaded the bases and Bobby was walking up to the plate.  It was the World Series of  1960 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Bobby was sure that he would hear Casey’s voice one more time and was shocked when Casey’s crackling voice didn’t fill the air.  Apparently Casey had a feeling that it was Bobby who would come up with a big hit.  Bobby was thinking about how he could punch a ball into right field and perhaps get an opposite field hit.  Surprisingly the pitchers pitch was on the inside corner of the plate and Bobby turned on it and ripped it down the left field line.  Amazingly the line drive sailed over the left fielders head and into the seats just fair!  Bobby had hit 1 home rune through the whole 162 game regular schedule so his dramatic grand slam on the biggest baseball stage was shocking!  He trotted around the bases just like Mantle had done 40 times in the regular season.  It was truly a Mickey Mantle moment.

World Series, New York Yankees Bobby Richardson in action, hitting grand slam HR during game vs Pittsburgh Pirates, Bronx, NY 10/8/1960

When Bobby was 14 years old he had an experience that felt like that grand slam he hit in the World Series only it lasted the rest of his life.  His plans were to be outside playing the game that he loved so much (baseball) when his parents had another idea.  Bobby was to be home when their church pastor made a visit.  Although the Richardson’s were regular church attenders Bobby discovered that day that there was something missing in his life.  The pastor pointed out to young Bobby that all had sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Bobby realized that he needed to accept Jesus Christ into his heart and the pastor led him in the sinners prayer.  From that day forward there was a new peace in Bobby.  That decision changed his life as far as the decisions that he made while he was a major league baseball player and the years after he retired from the game. Bobby would become a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which emphasized sharing the Christian faith from their athletic pedestal.

Mickey Mantle knew all about that athletic pedestal.  He had been on it for years as the center fielder on the most recognized team in baseball (the New York Yankees).  Mantle’s love of baseball started with his father.  Mickey was named after his father’s favorite player Mickey Cochrane.  Mickey’s father who was a miner in Commerce Oklahoma left the house early in the morning and didn’t return until late in the day.  Mickey was to be around when his father came home because it was a ritual that his father pitch to Mickey every day.  They had an old barn and Mickey stood in front of it with his bat waiting for his father’s pitch. Mickey was a natural right handed hitter but his father insisted he switch hit (bat from both sides.)  He had seen that baseball was starting to go to platoon systems where the managers had left handed batters facing right handed pitchers and vice versa.  He wanted his son to have an advantage that the other players didn’t.  Every day young Mickey would bat against his father (who pitched right handed) and his grandfather (who pitched left handed).  In that way young Mickey practiced from both sides of the plate and got a clear picture of what the pitches looked like from both a lefty and a righty.  It was this labor of love from his father that made Mickey a high school star and led to his signing with a New York Yankee scout.

Mickey astoundingly made the Yankees team at the age of 19.  His manager Casey Stengal gushed as he talked about the young phenom.  Not only could Mantle hit long home runs from both sides of the plate he could also run like the wind!  He was the fastest player in the major leagues.  They gave him the number 6 and it was symbolic.  Babe Ruth was number 3, Lou Gehrig was number 4, and Joe DiMaggio was number 5.  Mantle symbolically was to become the next Yankee star.  Along with his managers praise and the symbolic number Mickey started to feel pressure.  The fans expected to see the next great star and Mantle was not delivering.  He was striking out a lot and he was very down on himself.  It got to a point where Casey called him into the office.  Mantle was in tears when Casey told him they were sending him down to Kansas City (the Yankees minor league team.)  Although Casey tried to encourage him Mickey felt like a failure.

The Yankee organization thought that a trip to Kansas City would uplift Mickey’s confidence as he started hitting again.  It seemed that the opposite was true.  Mickey kept striking out at a rapid pace even though the pitchers were not nearly as good.  After every game Mickey was getting down on himself further.  At long last he couldn’t take it anymore.  He was feeling extreme depression and called his father.  It was a very short conversation as his father said he was on his way to see him.  Mickey was delighted that his father was making the trip.  He thought that somehow his father would understand his dilemma and comfort him with loving advice.  When his father showed up a few hours later he marched past Mickey and started throwing Mickey’s clothes into a suit case.  “Dad, what are you doing?”  “I thought you had guts”, was his reply.  “You can come home and work in the mines with me!”  As his father was hurriedly packing his suitcase Mickey was frantically telling him that he would do better.  Finally he convinced his father to give him another chance and his father left for home.  After that encounter Mickey started hitting like never before and was soon back with the Yankees.

In the 1951 World Series Mickey had a devastating injury.  Mickey was playing right field and was charging after a fly ball to right center.  Seeing DiMaggio (the center fielder) catch the ball at the last minute Mantle tried to put on the brakes and hit a sprinkler head placed in the outfield.  The pop could be heard all around the ball park as Mantle had severely injured his leg.  They had him in the hospital and ironically the guy in the other bed in the room was his father.  The history of the Mantle men was not good.  Each of them died before the age of 40.  Mickey’s dad was no exception.  He was dying from Hodgkins Disease  and there was nothing anyone could do about it.  As they both left the hospital together Mickey without thinking leaned on his father for support.  His father crumbled to the weight which had to be devastating to young Mickey who had depended on his father so much.

Mickey’s father died a short time later.  Mickey spent the times after games for the rest of his career living it up.  In his mind life would end for him at 40 just like the other Mantle men.  He was going to get out of life all that it had to offer.  Even though he had a wife in Dallas Mickey lived as though he were a man without  responsibilities.  He did not enjoy the off season as it was a reminder that he had others to think about.  He had a growing family but wasn’t the father he should have been.  His life was wrapped around Mickey and a Yankee team who were heavy drinkers.  After games Mickey along with Whitey Ford and Billy Martin were regulars in the bar scene.  One time Bobby Richardson was involved but it was in a funny way.  The Yankees had hired a detective to follow Mantle and the other high living Yankees.  The detective picked out two guys he was sure were part of the Yankees.  He followed the two players doggedly knowing that they would lead him to the place of misconduct.  Unfortunately for him he was following Bobby Richardson and his fellow Christian teammate Tony Kubek.  They ended up at the local YMCA where a ping pong score was settled!

Although they went their separate ways after the games Bobby and Mickey were friends.  Bobby would share his faith with Mickey as often as he could.  His teammates would agitate Mickey asking him if he got saved yet?  Mickey in his smiling Texas drawl would answer back that he was working on it.  Bobby retired after 1966 and Mickey 2 years later.  Bobby retired early at the age of 30 to spend more time with his family.  Mickey retired not for his family but because at the end of his career he was so crippled he couldn’t perform like Mickey Mantle anymore.  After his retirement Mickey’s life got out of control.  Baseball was the only thing he knew and when he was hired for public relations jobs drinking was a big part of them.  For years his life was totally a mess as he even stooped to binge drinking with his sons as a way they could get to know each other after years of neglect.

Although after retirement they both went their separate ways Mickey found time to come to South Carolina and give hitting clinics to Bobby’s baseball team. Bobby had become the head baseball coach for  South Carolina University. Whenever they met up Bobby shared his faith with Mickey. Mickey’s drinking eventually took it’s toll.  He was admitted to the Betty Ford Hospital and they had him write a letter to his father offering an apology.  Mickey admitted that it was the hardest thing he had to do.  He left the center vowing that he was done with drinking but unfortunately the damage to his body was done.  His liver was not functioning and he needed a new one.  It was determined that he wouldn’t have lasted through the week when a new liver donor was found and Mickey had the 6 hour operation.  It wasn’t long after the operation that a weak Mickey Mantle held a press conference.  He wanted to speak to his fans that loved him dearly.  “To all you fathers out there here is a role model…don’t be like me.”  Through teary eyes he explained that he had it all and just threw it all away.

Although he made baseball’s hall of fame years before Mickey never thought he lived up to everything in baseball that he could have been.  He didn’t maximize what the good Lord had given to him.  He felt like his life was a total disappointment.  He didn’t expect that he would live into his 60’s.  A few years back he had stated that if he knew he was going to live this long he would have lived differently.  When the doctors gave Mickey the liver transplant they discovered cancer spots.  They thought they had it under control only to realize that this was a fast moving cancer.  From his hospital room Mickey talked to Bobby.  Bobby again talked about his Lord Jesus Christ and prayed for Mickey.  He then boarded a plane for Dallas to see his old friend.  When Bobby walked into the room Mickey perked up!  Mickey couldn’t wait to tell Bobby that he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.  He even quoted John 3:16 to him.  Bobby was thrilled that his old teammate had come to Christ and would some day be in heaven with him!

Mickey had a Bobby Richardson moment that day.  It was like the voice Richardson heard to “drop that gun.”  In other words someone was going to come and bat for him.  Jesus came to bat for Mickey.  He took the load off of Mickey’s shoulders and gave him the peace he had long been looking for.  Although he had a storied career in baseball and was a hero to so many it was never good enough.  He had never had the Bobby Richardson moment that Bobby had at 14.  Now Mickey was near death but was at peace with his life.  Unlike his earthly father when he leaned  on Jesus he was supported like a rock and was carried safely home!

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