Friday, December 27, 2019

Life is Often Not What You Expect

Life is Often Not What You Expect

     Ruth was born in Culbertson, Montana in the second month of World War I.  Her father had a small farm and raised horses and cattle.  He also ran the ferry across the Missouri River serving north-eastern Montana and western North Dakota.  Ruth had five siblings: three older brothers and two younger sisters.  She remembers her Dad working long hours and her Mom as being a great cook.

     Dad would often rock his daughters on his lap when he had a few moments before dinner or just after.  Then one day he got real sick with horrid pain in his stomach.  The one doctor in the county took one look at him and said it was appendicitis and placed him on the first train to a hospital in Denver.  It was nearly two weeks before he returned.

     His body was still very tender and his bandage had to be replaced frequently.  Nile, the oldest son fed and watered the stock while his Dad, Adee, was on the mend.  3-year old Ruth was being rocked one afternoon when Nile came in and asked his Dad what he should do as one of the horses was acting up.  As Adee went to calm the horse he opened the gate to approach from the back.  It happened faster than the eye could see.  Suddenly the vicious beast kicked backwards with both rear hoofs ripping open Adee’s stomach.

     The neighbors got him on a stretcher for the next train to return him to the hospital in Colorado.

     Ruth didn’t know when he’d come back home and thinks it must have been a month or more before she overheard a neighbor tell her mother, “I’m sorry Adee didn’t make it.”

     Talk about a tragic and heartbreaking start to a life.  3-year old Ruth would have more than her share of heartaches along life’s way.

     After her father was killed her mother couldn’t keep up the farm nor be the nurturing Mother anymore.  Her brother in far away Oregon said she and the kids could come and stay with his family.  It was more than a thousand-mile trek and Ruth remembers how horribly long the trip was and getting motion sickness on the way.

     Finally they arrived at her Uncle’s place and, though really crowded, it was warm and felt secure.  Her Mom kept job hunting and the kids felt lonely but found ways to play between their many chores.  One afternoon her Mother kept looking out the window like she was expecting someone.

     Ruth and Lillian, just two years apart, were really close knit and were playing when there was a knock on the door.  A man and woman came in and had a cup of coffee with Ruth’s Mother.  The girls kept playing but Ruth felt she was being stared at.

     The couple stood up and Ruth’s Mom called her.  “Ruth, come here”, as she took Ruth’s hand and marched her to the couple. “Ruth, this is your new Mom and Dad.”  Though Ruth clung to her Mom she was shoved away to the man and woman.  Ruth remembers that horrible time as one of the worst in her whole life.  Not only was she leaving her own Mother but also Lillian and her other siblings.  It would be many, many years before she saw any of them again.

     After a very difficult adjustment and harsh, unreasonableness, Ruth finally became an adult.  She couldn’t move out quickly enough.  She found work on a large farm as the cook.  She was naturally gifted at cooking and remained that way all her life.

     She met Roy at the farm and later they married and moved to their own flat.  Shortly thereafter they had a sweet little blond daughter, Mary.  Roy struggled earning a living partly because he was an alcoholic.

     One morning Ruth hugged Roy goodbye when he went to work to pick up his paycheck.  But that was the last time Ruth would see him alive as he had a heart attack and passed away late that afternoon.

     Ruth was very, very hard working and her daughter, Mary, praises her to this day.  Ruth was lonely and struggled to survive with her young daughter through the great depression.  Community dances were common during that era and Ruth occasionally went, secretly hoping to meet Mr. Right.

     A handsome, strong young man asked her for a dance.  Ruth enjoyed dancing with him and felt secure in his rock-hard embrace.  They dated several times and the attraction seemed to be growing.  That is until what happened at the restaurant.

     Ed got upset at a man whom he felt made a pass at Ruth.  Ed had drank enough to be nearly drunk.  He grabbed the man and beat him so severely Ruth thought he would kill him.

     Ruth wisely decided to not stay in relationship with a man of such a violent temper when drinking.  So she refused to date him anymore.

     About two weeks had passed when unexpectedly Ed showed up at Ruth’s flat.  Little Mary recalls the exact shirt he was wearing and would tremble ever after when anyone wore that kind of shirt around her.

     Ed came in and apologized to Ruth about his horrid-temper outburst.  He swore he’d never do it again.  He handed her a little ring and said “We’re going to get married.”

     Ruth said, “No we’re not and I want you to leave now.”

     Suddenly Ed thundered as he marched her to the kitchen, “Oh Yes we are.”  Holding Ruth by the hair he pulled a butcher knife off the counter and held it to her throat.  “I’ll slice your throat if you don’t say ~ Yes ~ right now.”

     Later it was learned that Ed was a felon on parole from a serious, violent crime, when he met Ruth at the Dance hall.  Over the years Ed and Ruth stayed married because she feared him so much.  Along the way they had three children.  Charlene, Douglas, and me

                                         Ruth Vail

A Tribute to Ruth


     For the rest of this story go back and read the story I wrote previously: Murder Attempt Led Me To The Lord.”
     Postscript: Ruth became a Christian in midlife and lived to be 86.  She was the best Mom and grandmother on the planet.  My wife loved her more than her own Mother and wrote the following epitaph for her memorial service: “Don’t cry for me because where I go Angels sing.”

When You Come Home
By Billy Gilman

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Friday, December 13, 2019

A Most Nauseating Dinner

A Most Nauseating Dinner

     Mom and Dad asked if I could come to their home and advise them what to do with their daughter.

     Desiree was turning 18 in two months.  They described her as uncontrollable,  argumentative and defiant.  In fact, Desiree had dropped out of high school and run away from home.  But they didn't want that to become public or church gossip.

     I began searching for someone who might know of her whereabouts.  My oldest Son had heard through the pipeline that she was staying with a family from another church several hundred miles away.

     I was able to leave a message that I'd drive to her current town just to talk if she'd agree to meet with me.  We met at a fish and chips restaurant and her warm hug gave me hope we could make some sense out of the separation from her parents.

     "Desiree, I've known your mom and dad since before they were married.  I've attended the same church with them but don't know them really all that well.  They told me how concerned they are about you and miss you very much.

     "Excuse me," she said as she hurried to the Rest Room.  When she returned she'd obviously been crying and her composure was unsettled.  She continued, "I didn't know you'd be getting so personal. I'm not comfortable with that.  Maybe I should just g..."

     Seeing her emotional state I wished I hadn't been so direct.  "Desiree, I've known you since you were born and have always loved you and my family does also.  You know that... so please forgive me for hurting you... but I hope you won't leave.  I've driven for hours to get here because I truly care about you."

     She shifted her body in the chair, took another drink and dipped a french fry in catsup.  "I was glad when you said you're coming just to see me.  It's a long story but I just can't take it anymore.  If I hadn't left I don't know what would have happened but it wouldn't have been good."

     Trying to read between the lines I wondered what deep, dark skeleton was in their closet.  I grew quiet as I pondered why she said something bad would have happened had she not left.  I was not prepared for what she was about to divulge.

     "I think everyone's blind to what goes on in my home behind closed doors," tearfully she whispered.

     "Can you share just a bit with me?"  Two couples were chattering at a nearby table so I leaned closer as I couldn't hear her very well.

     Her eyes welled up with tears.  "What does your family eat on Sundays after church?" she asked.

     Where o' where was Desiree going with this?  I had no idea.

    "Sweetie that varies.  You know I love pizza.  And we all eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.  My wife's meatloaf is the best on the planet.  Why do you ask?"

     "Her face contorted into a twisted sarcastic hardness, her voice accelerated and she asked, "What do you think our family eats every single Sunday?  Do you have any idea?"

     Not waiting for my response she suddenly snapped, "We have boiled elder and fried preacher.  I cannot recall any Sunday when my Mom and Dad didn't berate and gossip about anyone and most everyone. I've never heard them say, 'Boy that was a good sermon or anything nice.  I think they're hypocrites!  I had to get out of there before I exploded."

     I knew I was in over my head and asked the Lord to give me wisdom to know what to say and the kindness to help her through this.  I clearly hadn't suspected this was what had caused her to leave home.

     Suffice it to say this didn't get resolved that night.  It took several more visits and two very uncomfortable meetings I had with her parents.  When enough time elapsed and she visited her family I was told it felt very awkward at first but a lot of apologies and forgiveness was on the menu that day.



     The Scriptures are replete with teachings about setting good examples and being continually on guard against unchristian behavior.  I am cautious to call anyone a hypocrite though sometimes it is necessary to confront a person whose action is hypocritical.  Certainly Peter was not a "hypocrite" but he did act hypocritically a few times.  In Antioch the apostle Paul had to confront Peter for bad hypocritical conduct that was leading several Christians away from the truth.

     I suspect the most familiar Bible verse to many unbelievers is:  “Judge not, or you too will be judged." (Matt. 7:1, NIV).

     Jesus went on to warn that judgemental people may very well be hypocrites.  "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."  (Matt. 7:2-5, NIV)

     To list the number of hypocrites discussed in the Bible takes a computer.  To list the number of hypocrites in churches today is not my assignment.  That will be the task of the angels when the Lord returns in the clouds according to two of His parables.  In Matthew 13, His disciples questioned the meaning of two of his most sobering teachings:  The parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Drag Net.

"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:40-43, NIV)

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.  When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.  Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.   This is how it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  (Matthew 13:47-50, NIV)

    Honest hearts and sincere consciences will repent of hypocritical behavior.  Sometimes as a counselor, I've had to confront hypocritical behavior and/or thinking.  The old adage is so true: Thoughts lead to behavior.  Behavior leads to habits.  Habits lead to destiny.  Destiny leads to eternity.

Critical Temporary Assignment

     Some parents forget that children are, when you ponder it carefully, a temporary assignment.  Though there are exceptions to the norm the Lord assigns us the awesome and terrifying task of training our children from an early age until they're adults.  Once they can make it on their own we're to bless them and send them forward to build their own homes.

     God even created most animals to be caring parents until their young can make it on their own.  Kangaroo joeys stay in Mom's pouch for about 8 months and when they are out they suckle for a couple of more months.

     Majestic eagles typically have two eaglets.  Eaglets can't fly and are fed by their parents until they're about 3 months old.  Since eagle wings often span 6 feet, four in a nest is quite crowded.

     Mom and Dad don't push their eaglets out of the nest.  Instead when the parents think they're old enough to make it as a fledgling they quit feeding them.  That's usually about 10-12 weeks and then the eaglets anxiously test their wings... they're hungry.

     So if we are going to be successful at parenting we need to be dedicated to our children from day one.  I can't count the number of Moms who are still weeping over their grown child who will have nothing to do with Jesus.  Or the number of Dads who have disowned their own offspring.  How tragic, sad and the opposite of God's plan for our parenting.

     I'll never forget a dear friend who told about his childhood.  He said, "After Mom tucked me in for the night sometimes I'd get up to go to the bathroom.  When I did I'd hear voices.  So one night I quietly peeked into the living room. I'll never forget what I saw.  My Father and Mother were down on their knees praying... for me and my brother."

     Is it any wonder that the two boys became Ministers?

Were I The Perfect Child of God
T. Alonso and M. Mahler

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

THAT BLASTED _ _ _ _ _ _!

THAT BLASTED  _ _ _ _ _ _!

     I want to tell you a true story, which I’ve titled:“That Blasted _ _ _ _ _ _ !"

     I want to challenge you to read closely and see if you can fill in the 6-letter word following, “That Blasted”.

     Customer service has always been one of the most stressful, difficult and unfulfilling of any job on earth.  We all know that.  And that’s what several clients have told me over 40 years.  Here’s a composite description of these “customer-service” counselees as I grew to know them.

     The date they were hired they were eager to please, cheerful in disposition and possessing a gracious personality.  Given some time and dealings with customers many were altered into a glazed-eyed, muttering-psychopathic, snarling brain-dead zombie after serving their months behind that counter of infamy.

     One such zombie I actually observed, where he didn’t think he was being noticed, was tapping his forehead into a wall and stammering, “,,”   Whether you’ve been an automotive service advisor, or a refund clerk or a postal employee or anyone of 100’s of such positions… you know what I’m talking about.

     One of my new Counseling clients, Darrell, worked as an Automotive Service Department Manager.  He’d been doing it for 7 years and his health was deteriorating.  His family physician recommended he seek counseling and/or change jobs.

     When he arrived he dragged his shoes across the carpet and almost collapsed onto the couch.  His face was lock-jawed and his body was so tense I guessed his blood pressure was higher than a kite.  To say he looked stressed is a gross understatement.

     After a few sessions Darrell could even crack a grin... a momentary one.  This was only when he focused on home life, being with friends, going to church, etc.  But if I asked, “How’s work going?” it erased his grin, his face hardened and the symptoms of stress returned.

     I often prayed for my client’s well being and sought the Lord’s wisdom to guide me.  But with this honest, industrious and decent man I felt like I was letting him down.  Nothing I recommended seemed to improve his work experience.

     Well, let me add a little more information.  Realizing the high stress and casualty rate of employees working in customer service, many Psychologists have devised miracle programs and conducted seminars to train employees to improve their conflict management skills.

     They’d lecture and draw circles on white boards showing how to have genuine empathy for the customer and so on.  The efforts were aimed at the employee because it was hypothesized that customers became difficult because employees provoked them.  Or that the employees, through ignorance or by projecting as being disinterested, infuriated customers even more.  “Mrs. Jones feels like you have a non-caring attitude.”

     I had held Seminars in schools, colleges, on military bases, for retreats, churches and large companies.  But the customer-service training only provided slight improvement and a very minor reduction in reports of dealing with difficult customers with these newly acquired skills.

     It was apparent that I couldn’t train the irritated, difficult customer.  I walked through every scenario, without even a thought as to how the difficult customer’s behavior could be changed.  So, I went back to the drawing board to redesign the Employee Training modules.  It still hadn’t dawned on me about “That Blasted _ _ _ _ _ _ !”

     I decided to visit his work site and observe like a quiet little church mouse, you know, out of sight.  What I saw was that Darrell was not causing his stress, he was being shellacked by utterly abusive, furious customers some of whose faces looked demonic and whose angry voices resonated like fighter jets taking off.

     It was high time I take on one more project.  A real-life, people-helping project.  If I couldn’t make a difference for highly-stressed-out-customer-service employees like Darrell then I was not giving it my best.

     I scratched my noggin, which is easy to do since the hair has long since whispered goodbye.  There has to be a way to get consumers to let up on these customer service reps.  If only they could see themselves: with smoke pouring out of both ears and their nostrils resembling a dragon’s fiery appearance.  And their voices yelling ear-piercing curses at the bewildered employees.

     Sarcastically I thought, I should take a picture and hand it to them.  That’d do it.  Then they’d stop.  Right?  Probably they’d just punch me in the nose for interfering.

     I shrugged and continued to ponder.  If only they really could see themselves... as they really were.  But was there any way it could be done?

     That night my scripture reading was in Luke 22.  When I got down to verses 61 and 62 something struck me.

“The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words: “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.”  (Luke 22:61-62, CEB)
     Jesus had forewarned Peter that he’d deny Him three times before morning.  But resolute Peter swore he’d never do that. But he did.  Jesus turned and looked right at Peter.  And at that moment seeing Jesus’ eyes "Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.”

     I happened to read the first chapter of James that night and paused at these two verses:

“Those... who look at their faces in a mirror.  They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like.”  (James 1:23-24, CEB)
     Had the Holy Spirit connected Luke and James’ verses to guide me into the long-sought solution.  Slowly I kept reading these accounts.  What was the key?

     In Luke, Peter had the warning of Jesus in his soul.  When he denied Jesus and saw Jesus look him square in the eyes his memory resurfaced creating massive guilt and shame that led to a violent tearful event.

     Then in James, we see a man who looks straight in a mirror but walks away forgetting what he looked like.  But what he had seen was himself - he forgot it because no one reminded him as the Lord’s glance at Peter did.

     BINGO!  I had the answer.  And suddenly it all made sense.

     I went to the dealership owner and told him I had a great cure for his service department’s maximumly-stressed-out employees.  And this time I knew it would work… to greatly reduce his employees’ stress and maybe even almost eliminate it.  Best of all I said, “It will cost you less than $200.”  I told him I didn’t want one penny for doing it.  He looked at me somewhat skeptically, pondered it and said, “Go for it!”

     The cool thing that the Holy Spirit was showing me was that I should not focus on changing the employees anymore.  Instead, now I was focusing on diffusing the customers.

     I met with the dealership janitor when the shop was closed.  He and I installed the $200.00 item.

     When Darrell showed up for his next appointment I asked how things are going.  He smiled and replied, “The Janitor had a clever idea. It really is helping.”

     “What was it, Darrell?”

     “Yesterday the Dealer said, “I don’t hear hardly any yelling anymore at your service counter.  What has changed?”

     Darrell said, “Ever since they saw themselves they calmed down.”

     The dealer said, “I can’t believe that blasted m i r r o r  could make so much difference.”


     None of us wants to look at our mirror image with smoke pouring out of both ears and our nostrils resembling a dragon’s fiery appearance.  Nor seeing our bloody-red vocal cords yelling ear-piercing curses.

     James, the Lord’s brother wrote a very wise statement: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  (James 1:19-20, NIV)
"Man In The _ _ _ _ _ _ "
Performed by Joyful Noise

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