Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The House That Gives Life

Recently, the house in the photo above, was sold and a new family moved in.  So what?  Well, this house was the Smith Family home for many years.  When it was first built, it was one of the only houses in the area.  Now, it is but one among many in a densely populated subdivision.

For years, this house was the center of life for the Smiths.  The family gathered each year to celebrate Christmas, the favorite family holiday.  Packages nearly dwarfed the Christmas tree placed strategically in the center of the bay window for all to see and enjoy.  Peals of laughter and excitement could always be heard those Christmas Eve Nights as adults and children alike gathered together to welcome the Christ Child.  The next day, the aroma of a freshly baked turkey nearly the size of the kitchen itself permeated the house.  The warmth of a crackling fire in the fireplace punctuated the air, adding to the warm feeling of the season.

Birthdays and anniversaries were noted and celebrated within these walls as well.  No one was ever forgotten.  All were welcome as the family's matriarch and patriarch looked on in joy and contentment at their growing family.  They converted this house into a home and it was to this place that all would eventually come at one time or another throughout the year just to be "home."

But time passes and things change.  Children grow up and become adults.  Grandchildren are added to the joy and celebrations become larger and larger.  Soon, great-grandchildren make an appearance and the joy of new life makes the home feel indescribably warm.

Here, within these four walls, the Smiths gave life.  The house provided shelter but soon became a part of the family, always drawing those who call themselves Smith back to within its walls.

Years passed and the parents aged along with everyone else.  Along with age, sadly, can come infirmity and the first signs that life is not endless.  Six years ago, in the spring of 2005, the family matriarch left this world suddenly and unexpectedly.  Yet another family gathering, this one far more somber than any other in its history, took place.  But even in this gathering there were remembrances of life and joy.

More time passed and on an early spring morning in 2010, the patriarch of the Smith Family passed.  The house that had become a home, the home that had become a part of the family, now stood empty.

Much work was needed to clear out several decades of living.  Once the material goods of a life well lived had been removed, the family home went on the market.  But there was no quick sale here!  Finally, after a little over 18 months, the family home was sold.

There was a certain amount of relief when the sale was completed.  It represented a closure of sorts, a time for the family to move on with only memories and a myriad of pictures to accompany them.  But there is also a great deal of sadness in this event.  This home, filled with love and life, is no longer a part of the family.  A new family now occupies its walls and the only walks through its hallways, living room, bedrooms, and family room is in the mind.  And while this is a treasure, it can never match the sheer joy of just being there.

But the story does not end here.  This house, built several decades ago, housed a family full of life, love, energy, and non-stop fun.  It provided shelter to all who entered it.  It endured Midwestern seasonal changes as though it was proudly protecting its occupants living safely and securely inside.

Now the house enters a new chapter.  A new family resides within its walls.  New pictures have been hung.  Perhaps a fire, the first in many years, has been lit in the hearth.  The comings and goings of every day life now provide a new rhythm to its existence and it is once again filled with life.  And that is what this existence is all about.  Life has its changes.  They are inevitable.  Some are good.  Some not so good.  But all represent an evolution of life, a chance to grow and change based upon what has happened in the past.

Another family has celebrated its first Christmas in their new home.  New traditions have begun within its walls and somewhere deep in our hearts we yearn to go back just one more time for a stroll through the living room, to climb the stairs to the bedrooms, or even take a chance at the basement!  But we will never take that stroll because life has changed, has moved on.  And while there is an emptiness of sorts because the house is gone, we will forever remember the laughter, the joy, the sheer pace of life for when this was home.  May those who not occupy it find the same comfort that this old friend brought us for so many years!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Story

Recently, the home in which my elderly mother lives threw a Christmas party for the residents.  Musicians led the group in traditional Christmas carols and songs that I am sure took many of them back to days when life was filled with family, friends, work, kids, and everything else that constitutes an active life.  Many of them sang along with great spirit and vitality even though their tired bodies seldom are able to display such energy.

Life was etched on their faces.  One gentleman who sat near me was just over 100 years old.  As I watched him, I noticed he sang with all the zest of a twenty something.  His face lit up as old familiar tunes like "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Silent Night" sounded throughout the room.  I am certain that he was unaware that he smiled as he sang every note with an energy that I am sure he had not had in some time.  

In other corners of the room, other residents sang out, often way off key, but the sheer pleasure they had in recounting and singing these old traditional Christmas songs brought them to life.  The emcee of the festivities who is also the Activities Director of the home, strolled through the room talking to each of the residents, kidding them about nearly everything from their age to how many meds they take on a daily basis.  Peels of laughter followed all his incredibly corny but gentle remarks.  He brought smiles to faces that probably had had very little reason to smile in some time.

Or course, there were a handful of residents who sat there silently, lost in their own world.  But they were no less a part of the community than anyone else.  They had as much attention paid to them as everyone else.  Still, it was sad to see them so disconnected from the present world, living in the past somewhere unknown to those around them.

As I looked at each face, it suddenly struck me that here is where a very unique aspect of God come to life.  In these elderly citizens who spent years toiling at their lives, raising families, building businesses and industries, and being productive citizens, can be found a spirit of life that only God can instill.  Many have serious medical problems that would knock most of us off our feet.  Yet, somehow, they find ways to keep going.  Against all odds, many of them are living well past 100 years old and manage to still contribute to the community in ways beyond the material and monetary.  

In this room was the accumulated wisdom of lives led through great struggles and magnificent triumphs.  Here was the "Greatest Generation," the generation that saved the world from dictatorial domination and established a way of life that became the envy of the world.  Here were the remnants of a proud generation fading from our midst with little notice.  And in the midst of these aged treasures, God is very clearly present.

He is present in every joyful smile whether elicited by an old Christmas carol or a memory sparked by one of these old favorites.  He is even present in those who are off in some other bygone world because in that world they find comfort and solace.  His love for the simple gestures of love was apparent every time a resident was offered a cookie and a broad smile of thanks swept across their face.  In these ways and countless others, He ministers to us through those who have gone before us.  

His smile is the smile of the 93 year old woman who remembered the first time she ever heard "Jingle Bells."  His playfulness was in the twinkling eye of the 102 year old man as he sang "Walking in a Winter Wonder Land."  His tenderness was in the face of the 85 year old woman as she softly, almost prayerfully, chanted the verses to "Silent Night."  In those moments He reached out to all of us in that room in very personal ways.

In the same way over 2000 years ago, He made Himself manifest in the face of an infant child born to a poor couple in a far off, nearly forgotten part of the world.  Here, in this obscure country of strange people, the Savior of the World became flesh and dwelt among us.  Here He reached out to us through His Son in so many and diverse ways that He continues to touch our hearts today even though so often we ignore His loving attention.  He never gives up.  He always persists because He loves us for who we are.

In a very real sense, the Christmas Story was retold in the faces of these elderly residents.  There were no angels announcing the birth of a Savior, only the expressions of years and years of life and their encounters with the living child born in that cave so long ago.  The hopes, the fears, the sorrows, the joys were all revealed in those moments as God in His infinite mercy and compassion revealed Himself to be the Master of us all.  He has given all of us to each other as a gift just as He gave His only Son to us as a gift on that dark night centuries ago.  We must learn to look at each other as this gift and give the respect, dignity, honor and love due to one another.  In this way, the Christmas Story will live on in a very unique way within each one of us.  And in this way, we shall experience the coming of the Lord every day and maintain the Christmas spirit throughout the year!

Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Very Special World Series

The St. Louis Cardinals are the 2011 Baseball Champions of the world!  And this baseball crazy town will revel in this amazing series for years to come.  And why not?  Back at the end of August, no one, and I mean no one, expected this team to be anywhere but on the golf course or off fishing somewhere right about now.  But the team, thankfully, didn't listen to all the "experts."

This victory means a great deal to the City of St. Louis and the surrounding area.  It goes far beyond baseball.  Unemployment continues to be high.  Crime in certain parts of the city runs rampant.  Prospects of future economic prosperity seem uncertain at this point.  But this team gave everyone here a bread in all the depressing news of the day.

All of us watched, with skepticism at first, as the Cardinals began to pull things together at the end of August.  Still, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought at that point that the Cardinals would make it to the post season.  Yet, the team kept pounding away steadily at its opponents, winning one series after another and the gap between them and the Atlanta Braves began to shrink.  The Cardinals had to catch Atlanta if they were to enter the playoffs as a wild card.  Even half way through the month that seemed an impossibility.

Yet, as the month progressed, so did the Cardinals until, finally, on a night late in September, the home team beat the Houston Astros and waited to see how the Braves would fare in Atlanta.  If Atlanta won, the Cardinals would head home to clean out their lockers and make plans for a long winter.  If, however, Atlanta lost, the Cardinals would clinch the wild card spot and would continue to play.  With the team and Cardinal Nation on pins and needles, Atlanta extended the game into extra innings, exaggerating the tension even more.  Finally, late that night, Atlanta lost and the Redbirds headed to the post season where, by the way, no one expected them to do anything!  The rest, as they say, is history.

What this team did in the waning days of summer and early days of autumn lifted the spirits of all who followed them.  They helped us to momentarily forget our woes.  Their exploits on the field captivated millions as they boldly marched through the Fall Classic.  Sure, unemployment and crime remained, but at least for a few brief hours of an evening, those things were momentarily pushed into the background.

There was an excitement in the air that you could feel everywhere you went.  Much of the talk was about how they were doing.  Yet, no one dared think that the St. Louis Cardinals, who barely made it into the playoffs, could possibly do the impossible--win the World Series.  But somehow they did and in doing so they have endeared themselves to a hurting community in a very special way.

This is what sports is all about.  Both teams put their best on the field and competed to the best of their ability.  There was no chest thumping on either side, no sniping, no personal affronts to stir up the team and engage the media.  No, this was pure competition and we loved it.

As the year fades and the holidays come upon us, the memories of this year's version of the St. Louis Cardinals will burn brightly during the dreary winter days ahead.  Through sports and the competitive spirit of the 2011 World Series, this community came together for a common purpose.  The Cardinals became ambassadors of a sort, who united groups into one huge cheering section and reveled in a world championship.  This is the stuff of heroes, the ability to bring together widely diverse elements of a community for a common purpose and we thank them for the ride.

Congratulations St. Louis Cardinals.  You have done much more than win a World Series!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October. The Month of Splendor

All months have their special and unique aspects.  Even July and August with their stifling heat and humidity have something unique to contribute to our lives.  But there is something about the month of October that makes this 31 day stretch more special than any other comparable time.

October is the month of transition.  The declining number of hours of sunset now has nature hastily preparing for the cold and desolate months of winter that lie only weeks ahead.  Sit back and look out your window and you will see birds eating more and more in preparation either for flight south or the dreary days with little food to be found.  Squirrels scamper about the yard, often carrying in their jaws a walnut that has just dropped out of a nearby tree.  Even the trees get in on the act as the chlorophyll begins to retreat in the leaves uncovering the spectacular colors of the season most of us wait for with eager anticipation.

It is a time in which we humans begin to convert our lives from mainly outdoor activities to ones spent indoors in the warm glow of the family home.  The exception to that is the Friday night ritual called football.  All across the land, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, and the media gather in mostly small stadiums to watch their high school athletes play at America's passion.  Marching bands at halftime and stadium blankets are all a part of the ritual as the chill of the October evening descends.

October is a month of magic.  It is a month that we all seem to come alive in some fashion, refreshed by the cool breezes from the north.  It is the doorway to the holidays and suddenly, a day like Thanksgiving doesn't seem so far off.  It is a month when people actually notice nature in all its splendor, when the family jumps into the car to do nothing else but look at the colorful leaves.  At no other time does the family just simply take a ride into the countryside for no reason other than to be there!

October's promise is the promise of life fulfilled.  After the heat of a long growing season, farmers flock to their fields, gathering in the literal fruits of their labors.  Take a ride down a country highway in the Midwest on any given October day and you will see the tell tale columns of dust hanging lazily over the fields that are being harvested.  Each dry day now is not a day to be dreaded as they are in the spring as planting gets underway.  Rather, a day without rain is a day to be cherished and thankful for during the great harvest.  Clear blue skies mean uninterrupted hours of harvesting and that ensures countless livelihoods.

October is the month of life.  yes, nature is preparing for her great hibernation, but it is not death.  The colors of the trees remind us of just how alive and spectacular nature is.  The creatures of the forest gather stores of food not because they fear death, but because they embrace life and instinctively know that the rebirth of spring awaits them.  We, too, prepare for the cold months ahead by gathering friends and family together for the day set aside to celebrate life and all it has to offer.  We call it Thanksgiving and, for most, it is truly a day of rest, companionship with those we love, and a deep-seeded gratitude for what he have.

Celebrate October.  Don't miss one day of it.  Absorb it like a sponge because there are no two Octobers alike.  This one will come and go and we'll have our memories and photographs to mark the days of this unique one, but know that God will once again grace us with this month of splendor.  This magnificent October!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Birthday Blessing

I have led a blessed life!  It has been a life full of its troubles not unlike anyone else's life.  But it has had its great blessings as well.  I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some very interesting people whom society considers to be important.  I have had the opportunity to travel to fascinating places and experience historical events where they actually took place.  I have worked in many different areas.  I have seen many things and have been blessed with an education that has opened up the world of learning to me that still happens to this very day.  But above all, I have been particularly blessed by one woman of extraordinary character:  my wife.

Joan is the strongest person I know in so many ways.  We have seen each other through some very harrowing times, growing stronger because of them.  The most momentous of these was the battle against breast cancer which threatened her life.  It was "our" disease and there wasn't a moment throughout the journey that we were ever without each other.

We have witnessed the advent of grandchildren in our lives.  These little gems have brought a joy that only a grandparent can know.  These powerhouses of life and love light up tired eyes and weary hearts in ways that are beyond the ability of any author to fully capture.  Grandchildren remind you that there is hope in the world, accompanied by smiles and laughter just because you have come to see them.

Companionship is but one element of my relationship with Joan that I cherish.  She has always encouraged me to go and do what my heart desires even though it may mean that she has to sacrifice things in order for this to happen.  She has encouraged my writing, my continuing education, and my evolution as a human being ins such a selfless way, that I am sometimes overwhelmed.  She puts up with my shortcomings and understands me in ways that others cannot possibly even fathom.

She has taught me the meaning of courage.  Through the battle with cancer, as the toxic medications employed to combat this dread disease coursed through her veins, she never uttered a word of discouragement or hopelessness.  Through the grueling thirty-six rounds of intense radiation therapy, as her skin burned to a point where it literally peeled away from her body exposing raw tissue below, she never once complained about the unbelievable pain, even though she had every right to do so.  We experienced a miracle of unknown proportions when we learned that the tumor and all its remnants had died.  And this summer, we humbly thanked God for her sixth year without cancer.  Joan is just as courageous as the soldier going into battle.

There are so many other things that I could tell you about her, but the one final thing I'll mention, is the fact that she is the love of my life.  Yes, we have our troubles, just like any other couple might have.  Yes, there have been times when the both of us must have wondered what we got ourselves into.  But there has never been a doubt in my mind that my love for her is undying and continues to grow day by day.

Joan is a remarkable woman,  She is my companion and I look forward to sharing many more years with her as we slip into the older time of life.  She is my support, encouraging me to become the best person I possibly could become.  Most of all, however, she is my friend through thick and thin.

Yes, God has blessed me greatly all these years and as I turn 58 I realize that the greatest blessing bestowed upon me has been at my side for many wonderful years.  I can't remember a time without her.  May we never take each other for granted and continue to see in each other the blessing that God has made each of us to one another.

I am blessed this birthday to have the greatest gift of all, the unconditional love of my wonderful Joan!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 & Noe

Today, September 11, 2011, marks the tenth anniversary of the attack by terrorists on the United States.  As a result, this has been a weekend of retrospection on television.  Once again the images of that tragic day have seared their way into our consciousness.  Scenes of abject panic in the streets of New York, a blazing Pentagon in Washington, and smoke rising from a newly formed crater in a farmer's field in rural Pennsylvania have all brought back difficult memories.

Dedications and commemorations have taken place in every corner of the land.  The nearly 3,000 who perished that day have been remembered in countless ceremonies at the sites of where they actually happened and in the small corners of the villages and towns that dot this expansive country.  Sober faced politicians have laid wreaths and spoken words of comfort and compassion.  Partisan politics seem to have taken a much deserved vacation for at least one, brief weekend before resuming its mind numbing rhetoric with the beginning of the new week.  And this is as it should be.

For our family, today also marks an anniversary, for one year ago this very day, a bundle of energy and joy announced herself to the world.  Her name is Noelliah but we call her Noe (Noee) for short.  She came into this world with a smile and personality that proclaimed a new day had dawned and the world (at least ours) would never be the same.

This little girl, brought instant joy to her two sisters and proud parents.  There is something about her that will not allow you to take your eye off of her.  By the time Christmas rolled around, Noe was like bottled energy, all ready to be let loose but not sure exactly where to go with all of it.  She grinned from ear to ear her first Christmas day and anyone who spent time with her could have testified that she new the real meaning of the season far better than all the adults in the room because she simply lit up with joy.  I held her for a while on that cold and snowy winter afternoon and she was ready to go.  Her little legs were always in motion and that infectious smile lit up every feature of that three month old face.

During the course of her first year, she has delighted us with her antics and amazed us at how quickly she has grown.  One glance at a photograph reveals that twinkle in her eye that speaks of her love of life even at this tender age.  She delights in being with her sisters.  She cuddles with mom and warms those long evenings when my son Josh works long hours to support his brood.  She lights up as daddy comes home and can't wait to leap into his arms.

Yet, the joy of this first birthday could be tempered with the sadness that history has punctuated this day with.  The thought of thousands of innocent people who went to work that morning with no thought of death whatsoever suddenly perishing in a brutal, unprovoked attack could dampen any day.  And we could be forgiven if it did.  The misery and suffering of that day was enormous and has impacted us all even though most of us did not personally know of anyone who died in the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, or that lonely field in the countryside of Pennsylvania.  We are, after all, all connected by our very humanity and the thought of the carnage of that day is certainly a sad and melancholy thought.

Yet, that day with all of its sadness and tragic memories is not the whole story of 9/11.  Who would have guessed ten years ago that our family would be blessed on this very day nine years into the future with God's symbol of hope and joy.  That is what this day is all about.  We are not callous when we think of celebrating the life of this precious child born on one of the most historic day in our nation's history.  We are human!  Noe has brought a new dimension of life into our midst and it a dimension that demands celebration.  She is the embodiment of hope.  She is the future.  She will have no memory of that awful day that stunned us all.  She will have only the history books and stories from those of us who were alive when we were attacked.  Every day, little Noe is a reminder that God renews the face of the earth with new life.  Every day, every new child is a reminder that life goes on and it is ours to celebrate because despite the difficulties we encounter, each day is a gift.

And so, on this most somber of days, we do take time out to celebrate with all our hearts, the little girl with the big smile and enough energy to keep us all going for years to come.  Happy Birthday, Noe, from a grandpa that is grateful to God for the bundle of joy that you truly are!

Friday, September 2, 2011


Those of us who profess a belief in God are said to have faith.  Faith is a mystery that, no matter how hard we might try, we cannot fully and completely convey its meaning to others.  It is too mysterious, too personal to do any definition justice.  It is a word that believers use a lot, yet, I wonder how often we take this gift which comes from God, seriously.

To the believer of Jesus Christ, faith is an absolute must.  On the surface, our profession of faith in the Son of God seems ludicrous.  Let's just explore this for a moment.

We believe that this man who lived two thousand years ago was, in actuality, the Son of God.  We believe that He was both God and man.  We believed that He lived the perfect life, sinless and in the presence of God, His Heavenly Father.  We believe that He spent three years of His life traveling around the land of ancient Israel proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven and Salvation.  We believe that after a time, the civil and religious leaders of the day had Him arrested, put on trial, found guilty of blasphemy, tortured and crucified.  But our belief does not stop there.  No, we believe that this Jesus Christ not only died on the Cross, but after three days in the tomb, rose from the dead.

Now no right thinking person would really ever come to believe in such a fantastic story.  It simply doesn't make sense.  It seems like some fairy tale made up to give some sort of comfort and hope to mankind who is awash in a world filled with skepticism and cynicism.  It is fairly easy to believer in a story of a man, a rabbi, going from town to town in ancient Israel preaching.  That was not all that unusual in those days.  And it really isn't much of a stretch to imagine that the authorities of the time would become suspicious of Him as He spoke to the common folk about subjects such as freedom, mercy, and the power of God.  But what does stretch the imagination is that this same itinerant preacher, who was killed by the Romans after a brutally process of torture, rose from the dead after three days of being in a sealed tomb.

That is where the gift of faith comes in. We believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ not based on some empirical evidence, but rather on faith.  Why do we believe?  Because Jesus, Who is the Son of God, said that He would rise after being sacrificed for the sins of men.  He is Truth.   There is no other Truth but that of Jesus Christ.  When Pilate asked Him was Truth was, he had no way of knowing that He was looking into the eyes of Truth.

We live near an empty world, devoid of truth.  We don't believe things unless they can be seen or detected in some way, shape, matter or form.  Scientists are the new High Priests of the age.  If a scientist proclaims something as the truth, we take him at his word even though evidence suggests that he is dead wrong about his assertion.  Take the debate of when life begins.  There is no doubt that human life begins at the moment of  conception.  Yet, there are those in the scientific community who insist that no one can truly determine the exact moment when a human being comes into existence.  Despite the evidence that the newly fertilized egg is now a living human being, millions through the years have steadfastly held their ground to state that no one can tell at what point life begins.

Faith is a gift.  Our faith is not really ours!  Our faith comes from God through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has touched our hearts with the call of the Father.  We have the option, by virtue of our free will, another divine gift, to accept the call of God to faith or to reject it.  One week accept it, we have the responsibility to develop and live it.

My faith has seen me through more than I could ever possibly recount.  It has gotten me through the dark moments of my life and has allowed me to become a stronger person because of the difficulties even though there may have been much pain involved.  Without this faith, I quite simply am sure that I would not have survived.

When you accept the gift of faith, you begin a journey that guides you to the acceptance of Truth.  We cannot accept Truth without faith and without Truth, there can really be no faith.  Faith does not make us special.  It does, however, allow us to understand how special our relationship with God truly is.  Like everything else that God does, faith is given in Love.  God loves us so much that His love knows no bounds. He gives us the gift of faith because, as our Creator, He understands us in a perfect way.  He knows how we best respond to those things which we truly do not understand.  He knows that man, with the remarkable mind that he was given, could not begin to fathom the reality of God, the wonder of Jesus Christ, and the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit on his own.  It is through faith that we come to these realizations.

Faith is not something that you can acquire in a lifetime.  It is not like learning how to play the piano in that it can be learned.  No, faith is something that is freely given and it is up to us to freely accept it.  Faith is given to all.  Sadly, many reject this gift because it is too hard to understand and sounds like superstition to the modern ear.  It sounds like a throwback to the Middle Ages and things like witchcraft and magic.  So it is often rejected out of hand because it simply is not sophisticated in some circles to believe in the things that faith allows us to know.

Cultivate faith.  Encourage it in others, especially members of the family.  Teach your children the importance of this gift for it is far more valuable than anything life can provide.  Remind each other that faith is not easy, it is often demanding and humbling.  But it also bestows upon those who cultivate it a sense of peace and serenity that nothing mortal can give.

Most of all, have faith in the one sure being in existence who is worthy of our faith: God.  Trust nothing else in your life like you trust God.  Surrender to Him in faith and your rewards will be great.  Most assuredly, you will still experience the trials and sufferings of life.  They are a part of our human nature.  But living in faith, the faith found in Truth, all of those things won't matter much in the end.  All in this life shall pass.  There is nothing permanent about this world.  Indeed, this world is merely temporary and shall, one day, pass away.  The Truth will not.  Without faith, we cannot have Truth and without Truth, there is no hope.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


It is amazing how fast time passes.  When a child, I felt that I would never grow up.  The space between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed next to an eternity.  A school year passed as quickly as a decade.  Days drifted by like a stick floating down a lazy, slow moving stream.  It just never seemed like the future would ever arrive.

But that was when I was a child.  Now, well into adulthood (some would say very well into adulthood!), I can't seem to get time to slow down.  Take the 10th day of August.

This is a very special day in my heart and will be to the last day of my life.  Thirty-four years ago on this date, one of the most monumental events happened in my life.  At one-thirty and one-thirty nine on a sunny, steamy summer afternoon, my first two children were born.  Twins!

Lincoln Michael entered the world only nine minutes prior to his brother Joshua Nathaniel.  A father can never truly describe the multitude of feelings that he has that very first moment he is introduced to his first offspring.   Your mind spins, trying to fathom what has just happened while wanting to leap for joy announcing to the world at the top of your lungs of your great good fortune.

In the moment that I met my first sons, I'm not sure I was consciously thinking of anything.  I was at once exhilarated and overwhelmed.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I beheld the greatest gift that God can bestow upon a man.

In that moment, the starting gun of time is cocked and ready to be fired.  Before I knew it, the boys were home and life would never be the same.  From the time they came home to the time they first entered kindergarten now seems like about two weeks.  Once they hit grade school, time flew by so quickly that it was hard to even track it on the calendar.  Then high school, college and into adulthood.  Time sped up and a month passed as but a day or two.

However, all of us who are of a certain age know this.  It is not a mystery.  We all say the same thing and because of this, this is really not what this piece is all about.

What it is about is two grown men who I cradled in my arms on that hot summer day 34 years ago.  It is about the kind of men they have become despite some of the difficulties that life has produced for them.  It is about two brothers who, despite the fact that they are twins, couldn't be much more different in personality.

Life has not always been kind to these two.  There were severe disappointments in their young lives that were extremely hard to bare.  Those times left their scars and each has dealt with these wounds in their own unique ways.

Sadly, a split occurred between us, caused by a man who did not know who he was or what he wanted out of life.  Yet, in spite of all of this, or because of this, each has become an example of what a responsible father should be like.

Both are loving fathers who find their life's joy in the midst of their families.  Family life means everything to the both of them as can be seen in how they relate to their children, my grandchildren.  They have become the type of fathers that I could only dream about.  The love they have for their children takes a backseat to no one and bolsters their children with a sense of well-being and safety.  They work hard to provide for their broods so that the life their children inherit will be a better life than they had.

I have a sense of pride on this 34th birth anniversary.  It is pride not in anything that I did, for I truly did very little.  No, the pride I have is in the kind of men they have become despite huge odds against them.  The pride I feel is for the way they conduct their lives from one day to the next, always keeping their priorities in focus and their energy fixed on achieving their goals.  The pride I feel is the pride of the kind of husbands they are, nurturing their wives and loving them no matter what life may throw at them.

But the reason for my deep sense of pride is the fact that God blessed me with such exemplary and extraordinary children.  I didn't always see them for the gift that they were, but now, with a number of years under my belt and a change of heart that took place several years ago, I realize that they were the greatest gift I have ever been privileged to receive including their sister and younger brother.

My birthday wish for them is that they continue to grow in wisdom and love as they pass through the various phases of life.  My birthday wish for them is that one day, they will come to see their children as the greatest, most precious gift ever to be found in the universe.  My birthday wish for them is to continue to walk the paths they have chosen with a sense of dignity and integrity that will bestow upon them a mantel of peace and extraordinary pride so that, on their childrens' 34th birthday, they may say "Happy Birthday" and have that greeting mean much more than happiness, but a deep sense of peace and comfort in the midst of their families.

You two have given me great joy over the years and you will be in my heart throughout this very special day!

Happy Birthday Lincoln and Josh!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Little Christmas Amid the Heat

With the intense heat and humidity that so many of us have endured this summer, my thoughts will at times take me back in time to cooler, gentler days.  One such memory involves, once again, my grandfather.

My grandpa was the world and everything in it as far as I was concerned.  He was a man of deep principles and an amazing discipline.  He was a hard worker who took great pride and even greater pride in his family.

We were a small family living in a home of simple pleasures.  We enjoyed Sunday dinners together each and every week.  During the summer, the happiest part of the day came when my mother arrived home from work.  We ate dinner, waited the appropriate amount of time for the food to settle, and then we were off to the pool for a swim.

But one of the greatest pleasures I had was the annual decorating of the Christmas tree.  My grandpa enjoyed the season but one of the traditions of the season that he didn't look forward to was the purchase of the Christmas Tree.  He put it off for as long as he could and then, finally, at the insistence of my grandma, he headed out on a usually inclement night, to pick the family tree.

What he brought back usually, could barely be called a tree.  Because he waited so long, often the only trees left in the Christmas Tree lot were the "orphans."  These were the trees that had been rejected by everybody else because they just weren't quite good enough.

Our tree was usually scrawny.  There were holes and gaps where most trees had branches.  Its needles seem to drop off at a mere thought.  And its trunk was usually rather serpentine, making it very difficult for my grandpa to line it up in the stand so that the tree would appear straight as an arrow.

Below, you will find a poem that I wrote many years ago about this annual ritual in my home when I was a child.  In the poem you have my grandpa and grandma, along with me.  While there is no mention of my mother, rest assured, she was right there, helping to decorate this poor creature with the rest of us.

But the main character in the poem is not my grandpa or grandma.  It isn't my mother and it certainly isn't me.  No, the main "character" of the poem is love.  That is what my home was filled with and it was no more powerful and evident than at Christmas.  And that is what I hope you get from this little piece.  I was fortunate to have grown up in a home of love and peace, the same kind of love and peace that was bestowed upon the world with the birth of Jesus Christ.

So, now, as we all await some fresh, cool, and dry air to break the awful heat of this long summer, allow yourself to be taken back many years to that little living room in my home as the four of us, grandma, grandpa, my mother and I gathered 'round "The Old Man and His Tree."

The Old Man
And his tree

He was a proud man
Who year after year
Brought into our home
A sad, misshapen fir.

He was happy to shelter
Those poor misfit trees
Giving them a place of honor
With dignity and ease.

Proudly he set the tree
In its proper place.
Adjusting to the right, then left
Till it filled that corner space.

“gaps and branches Must be covered,”
Said his wife of many years
As about the tree she hovered
Concealing her laughter’s tears.

Dutifully he twisted
The oh so crooked boughs
Until, upon inspection,
It passed my grandma’s browse.

From the basement came boxes
Filled with ornaments and lights.
They were thoroughly examined
With anticipation and delight.

Carols of the season
Warmed the room
As he took his seat
Taking in pine perfume.

Lights were first
Upon the orphaned tree.
And as they were strung
Something began happening magically.

His cigar smoke circled
Above his old bald head
As the tree took shape
The homely, now somehow beautiful instead.

He smiled and hummed
As the ornaments were fixed.
And we were cheerful
To have the right color mix.

Tinsel was then hung
As the lights danced to and fro.
Christmas filled the room
With its special kind of glow.

I climbed the shaky ladder
And reached for the tree top.
I placed a shining star gently
And all came to a stop.

Oh, for those days
When an old man and his tree
Became a powerful symbol
Of his special love for me.

Silent night, holy night.
The gentlest night of the year.
I fondly remember grandpa
With a sentimental tear.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Ground Zero Cross

I didn't think much could shock me these days what with the so-called leaders in Washington "working" on debt limit legislation like a bunch of kindergartners at recess.  However, I am wrong.  Once again, I have been shocked and at the same time outraged.

First, just a little background.  On September 13, 2001, just two days after the nightmare of 9/11, one of the rescuers picking very carefully and slowly through the dangerous heap that used to be the World Trade Center, discovered three bodies.  He signaled to his fellow workers and the bodies were carefully and respectfully removed.  Looking further, this rescuer noticed something unusual among the unbelievable devastation.  There, in the midst of the giant stack of rubble were two steel beams that had been sheared off in the form of a cross.

This brave, hardened rescuer dropped to his knees and began to cry.  He brought others to the area in which the cross was located.  No one could believe their eyes.  Cranes were quickly moved in and the several ton cross was carefully removed.  Those pieces of broken steel became a focal point for all who continued to search for more victims of the worst attack on US shores.

Eventually, the cross was removed from the site as the pile of broken buildings was hauled away and taken to its new temporary home, St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in lower Manhattan.  There it has remained, a symbol of hope and love found in the middle of the horror of that day in September.

Now, as the 9/11 Memorial Museum takes shape at Ground Zero, the cross has been moved to become one of the artifacts that will be on display for public viewing.  Many are drawn to this powerful icon of hope and comfort.  However, in the political correct lunacy that dominates this society, a move has been made to stop the placing of the cross on the site.

An organization called American Atheists has filed suit in court to remove the cross claiming that the placement of the cross is actually promoting Christianity.  David Silverman, a spokesman for the group seems to be angry that there will be no symbol on the premises to honor those non-believers who died in the attack.  He supposedly is upset that no other religious symbol will be on display including a symbol that represents the nothingness of his beliefs.  In other words, there will be nothing in place to represent nothing!

Silverman, in his apparent blind anger and hate for anything Christian, actually blames Jesus for the attacks on the World Trade Center.  He said that the Christian God "couldn't be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people to be killed in his name."

It is hard to say how this will turn out and whether or not the WTC Cross will be allowed to remain as a centerpiece in the museum.  But what is clear is that elements of this society have clearly lost their minds.  So many of those of the same persuasion of Mr. Silverman demand that the Muslims be allowed to build a mosque just a stone's throw from Ground Zero.  Yet, a cross, created from the chaos of that horrible morning, is not proper to be put into a museum where thousands lost their lives.

I didn't really believe that there was a concerted effort in this country to eliminate Christianity from society.  However, this action of the American Atheists, along with nearly countless other examples of actions taken to remove any vestige of the Christian faith from society, has begun to convince me otherwise.

It is time for we who believe in Jesus Christ and call ourselves Christians, to stand up for this beautiful faith, a faith that far more people belong to than any other in the United States.  We cannot allow this lunacy to continue.  For too long, Christians have remained silent on such things and, as a result, many Christian traditions that had deep meaning for many have been declared unconstitutional and removed from sight.  Take for example the annual battles of municipalities against their own citizens who want to erect manger scenes to commemorate the birth of Christ on the court house square, a practice which often has gone back for decades.  In nearly every instance,  a law is passed, a court ruling decreed to remove the "offending" display of religious fervor.

We must pray continually as Jesus urged us to do so.  But we must also make our voices heard.  Believe it or not, despite what the media or Washington politicians say, there are issues that are far more important than the current subject that have been debated ad nauseum for weeks on end to no avail.

We cannot allow our religious rights and freedom of speech be eroded any longer.  Pray, get involved by watching your representatives, federal, state, and local.  Write letters, protest and always do so in imitation of the Master we claim to follow.  We must be firm but gentle in our approach but if we value our religious freedom, we cannot sit idly back and watch it be taken away.  This would be a far worse legacy to hand to the younger generations than trillions of dollars of debt!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grandpa and The Old Front Porch

Its funny how this hot weather, miserable and seemingly unending, has managed to spark some pleasant memories that have taken me back to simpler, more carefree days.  Life passes us by at such a rapid rate that nearly everything now appears as a blur that no sooner appears on one horizon and, before you know it, disappears over the other.  Maybe that's a product of growing older or maybe it's just the world becoming more and more complex.  Or, perhaps, it may be a combination of those two.  Whatever the reason, my world is flying by all too fast.

As I said, the hot weather, this endless stretch of one hundred degree plus days triggered my memories of times that have long since come and gone.  The house I grew up in on Summer Street was not a large house.  It had a couple of bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and something a bit bigger than a walk-in closet called a kitchen.  Across the front of the house stretched a comfortable old porch that served as a second home to us during the hot summer months.

There are many pleasures connected with my childhood, most revolving that old house on the tree-lined brick street.  Many of those memories center on that front porch.  The porch was at one time completely open.  Built in the mid-twenties, it was a perfect meeting place for neighbors who would gather in those days to talk and share the news of the day in lieu of cable, satellite, or incessant Internet surfing.  It was on these steps and on the porch swing that these neighbors became more of an extended family than just a group of people living in close proximity of one another.  Lives intertwined.  People became involved in one another's day-to-day activities because they were close to each other and knew practically everything there was to know about the other.

By the time I was born and began my journey through childhood, my grandpa had the porch closed in.  Now, instead of wide-open space, there were screens in the summertime and windows in the winter.  Still, that old porch was a meeting place of the neighborhood.  In those days (the 1950's) people seldom moved from where they may have lived for thirty or forty years.  The only thing that had changed since the house was built in the twenties was the fact that now the neighbors could enjoy themselves on a hot summer evening sitting behind the protection of screens.  No more constant swatting of mosquitoes or rain blowing in during a summer evening thunderstorm.

I played on that porch constantly.  It was my summer home in the days before air conditioning became commonplace.  At one end of the porch hung a beautiful old porch swing that had seen many, many seasons come and go.  It was the pride of the room.  My grandfather babied that beloved piece of furniture as though it were an infant.  He would carefully hang it from several massive hooks anchored to the ceiling every spring as the first hint of warm weather arrived.  During the long winter, he cleaned and painted it despite the fact that the swing took up a good part of the basement.  Throughout the summer, he invited people to sit and have a swing, joking that it would be the only breeze they'd feel on a summer's night.  As the cool air of fall arrived and we were forced inside, he would carefully remove the swing from the hooks and take it to the basement where another season of babying this prize possession would take place.

The rest of the porch was populated with various kinds of comfortable chairs all made of the heaviest gauge of metal or thick wood.  There was not a piece of plastic in sight!  Seems like everyone had their assigned seating.  My grandfather sat on the side of the porch opposite the swing.  It was here that he assumed his role as king of his castle.  I remember with fondness those long ago Sundays.

My grandmother and grandfather always attended the 10:00 AM Mass on Sunday.  My mother and I would follow at the 11:00 o'clock Mass.  While we were in church, my grandmother started the weekly food fest.  She would often fix fried chicken, mashed potatoes, some sort of a vegetable and very often, in the heart of the summer, she would slice giant tomato slices that had been purchased from one of the many roadside stands in the countryside surrounding the little Midwestern village I grew up in.  Often, a pie served as dessert.  To my grandpa, no meal was a meal without dessert!

After Mass, we would come home, anticipating what dinner might be.  We didn't have to wait long.  The minute we hit the driveway the aroma of our meal was apparent, hanging over the house like some sweet perfume.  We rushed into the house and were greeted with the sound of the chicken sizzling in an oversize iron skillet.  The house was so small, that you could see the front porch from the kitchen and there would be grandpa, sitting in his chair on porch, devouring the Sunday paper, cigar smoke swirling about his head.  He loved a good cigar and to this day, on those rare occasions when I smell cigar smoke, this image of grandpa comes to mind.

Once the meal was served, we often jumped into the family car for a Sunday afternoon ride.  It was the thing to do in those days.   Since there was no cable TV, Internet, or DVD's, DVR's or anything else electronic, it was our form of entertainment.  We often road into the country just south of town to visit some of grandpa's relatives still living on farms that their families established decades ago.  The adults would talk over the "good ole days" while the kids ran through the yard playing tag or some other innocent childhood game.  Late in the afternoon, we'd head back home for an evening on the porch.

Grandpa would assume his usual position on the porch, light up another cigar, and simply watch the world go by.  Grandma would finish dishes from the light evening meal and join us soon after she was done.  My mother deated herself in the swing gently pushing herself back and forth.  I would often bring my toys to the porch and spread them out on the floor.  It was a wonder sometimes that anyone could even get through the clutter.  But no one seemed to mind.

Occasionally, a neighbor would drop by for some conversation, fanning themselves with an ad from that day's paper long since discarded by my grandpa.  The talk would revolve around the kids, what they were doing and how they were.  Tales of the grandchildren lit up the night with smiles and laughter.  As the sun set, we watched with awe as the summer sky, while only a few moments ago white hot with the blinding sun, began to fill in with the colors of dusk.  The glowing embers of my grandfather's cigar became brighter as the sun sunk closer and closer to the horizon.  Finally, it seemed like the sun would hesitate just as it intersected with the earth as if to bid us all a pleasant evening.  And then, in the twinkling of an eye, it would disappear for another day.

Our guest would linger for a little while longer and then announce that it was getting late and head off for home.  As my grandpa's cigar shortened I knew my bedtime grew nearer.  I played on, trying to push the clock back a little so that the day would magically be longer and I could stay up till the wee hours.  It never worked and regular as clock work, once the cigar was extinguished, it was time for a bath and then bed.  The newspaper would be gathered up, the chairs straightened, and the screen door locked as life headed into the house for the rest of the day.

This cycle was repeated day in and day out for years until the summer of 1962 when it was discovered that my beloved grandpa had some strange disease called cancer. I knew he was sick because he began to lose a great deal of weight in a short amount of time and the energy he once had seemed to be gone.  Still, he loved his porch and would retreat to it every time he had the chance and felt up to it.  It was his comfort zone long before that term became a popular cliche.  He spent many hours of his last summer on that porch, taking in life in a different way than he had before.

He reminisced more often about the old days, days of his childhood on the farm and his time in the army in Paris during WWI when he served as an MP.  There were times when tears came to his eyes talking about me growing up but, because I was only nine that summer, I didn't quite understand why the sadness.  I just knew that everything would be alright as long as he sat on the porch, puffing away at his cigar.  But those times dwindled and  as the summer wore on and he became weaker and weaker because of the chemo he suffered through.  But, he had his porch.  That porch was like a healing balm to him mainly because when he sat on it family and friends would follow.  He loved his family and friends so dearly.

We lost him in April, 1964.  There was a cold snap in April that year and the day he was laid to rest in the Catholic cemetery south of town was a cold day indeed.  It was hard for me to believe that my grandpa, the only grandfather I ever knew, would no longer sit on the one end of that porch with his cigar lit, pouring over the newspaper.  No more would stories of the old days or debates about the day's political happenings echo on that porch quite like they once had.  There would be no more funny stories of family doing the goofy things that bind them together in unique ways.

As the years went by and I grew, I still spent a good amount of time in that place.  The porch swing was still hung every spring but it wasn't as well kept as when my grandfather was around.  Usually, one of the men in the neighborhood kindly hung it and took it down until I was old enough to perform the task myself.  My grandmother, saddened for the rest of her life by the departure of the greatest love she had ever known, used to sit on the porch in the evenings with my mother and I.  But, somehow, without that lit cigar and telltale red glow with curls of smoke wafting through the room, it just wasn't the same.

As time moved on, I moved away, started a family of my own and the porch faded into the background of my life.  Years later, the house was sold to the school district so that a new school could be erected on the site.   The house, along with the porch, was not torn down, however.  It was moved to the other side of town where, to this day, it sits, providing comfort and shelter to another family.  I seriously doubt, however, that they use the porch like we did.  They're probably all huddled indoors like most of the rest of us in air conditioned comfort, never knowing of the pleasures that old room once provided.

The old porch and my grandpa who loved it as much as a place can be loved, still linger on that porch--at least in my memory.  There, my grandmother, my mother, my grandfather, and I all collect on summer evenings to take in the sights, sounds, and smells from that old front porch.  And in those moments, life pauses to once again sweeten my life, and then moves on.  They, and it, will be with me for the rest of my days.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Christmas in July

Now, in the midst of the great heat wave of "11, I found myself wandering back in my memory only six months back as we awaited the arrival of Christmas.  Thanksgiving had already come and gone and the weather, in typical St. Louis style in December, couldn't make up its mind whether it was early October or January.

Everyone was busy making preparations for the big day.  There was shopping to be done, menus to be planned and executed, and last minute decorations to be added to what was already up for that perfect touch.  Christmas carols were being sung over and over again on all radio stations.  Some stations had actually been playing them since November 1st.  Nearly everyone was beginning to experience that holiday lift, a feeling of joy and festiveness that isn't felt at any other time of the year in this way.

There was the feeling of "its too bad we don't have this Christmas spirit year round!"  It is a spirit of good will towards all we meet.  We smile more easily during this run-up to the biggest day of the year.  Exhausted, there is a refreshing feel to everything we do because we knew that in only a few days we would be getting together with family and friends to celebrate the season often following long-standing traditions begun years ago.  Or maybe there was the added joy of a newborn coming into the family since the last Christmas.  There was, indeed, a magic feel to the air.

Then came the big day.  Christmas passed as swiftly as all days do, but for some reason, Christmas Day always seems to go a little faster.  The clock seems to have sped up some, leaving us to wonder just where time goes.  A sumptuous meal was enjoyed, gifts opened, all while we were cozily gathered in a warm home while outside the White Christmas we all had hoped for, had come.

Before we knew it, the day was over.  And we were all saying to ourselves, "where does the time go?"   Once again, as darkness falls and the reality of the hum drum day to day existence we all feel we lead comes to mind, we said to ourselves, "its too bad this spirit doesn't last throughout the year!"

Now that Christmas is but a distant memory and things like pools, camping trips, vacations, air conditioning, and heat indexes preoccupy our minds, my question to you is this:  What have you done to ensure that the Christmas spirit that you reveled in just six short months ago, is still alive?

I'm not talking about the presents or the meals.  I'm not talking about the wish for snow or a myriad of things that all of us anticipate in the Christmas season.  No, I am not talking about that.  What I am talking about is the joy that underlies all of the Christmas season.

It is joy, not presents, that accounts for the feeling of well-being during the days and weeks leading to that special day.  It is joy that prompts us to want to share time with friends and family, celebrating the season that initiated our salvation.  It is joy that brings us together around a table, some lavish, some sparse, to break bread together in honor of the Savior whose birth has brought about eternity for us.

The Spirit of Christmas should live in us all throughout the whole year.  That is obvious.  But it is difficult to bring it to day-to-day life because of our cares and concerns.  We live thinking about tomorrow, forgetting about today and the opportunity it brings to once again recapture the joy of God become man even a half a year away from that celebration.

Mention the fact that Christmas in only a few months off and you're liable to hear something like, "don't mention it.  It'll be hear too soon."  Yet, do we mean that?  I think most of us are reacting to the hustle and bustle that most of us fling ourselves into willingly, only to complain about it as we exhaust ourselves for all the wrong reasons.

Now, in July, is a great time to truly examine where our hearts are, apart from all the clamor of the season.  Do we really experience the joy of Christmas in our lives and live out that joy as though Christmas was only a few days off?  What relationships do we need to mend so that we can truly celebrate the joy of Christmas day in and day out.  What have we done for others just because we feel so blessed in our lives and it just seems like the right thing to do?

And what about God?  Where do we stand in our relationship with Him?  Do we celebrate His love and mercy in our lives every day?  Do we truly feel the warmth of His love just as we did when we gazed upon a manger scene under the tree or through a decorated store window?

Christmas in July!  It sounds like an advertising campaign, but if you think about it, it can be the perfect antidote to the dog days of summer when many of us become bored with life and feel somewhat empty as we pass through the seemingly endless days of oppressive heat and humidity.  But Christmas doesn't have to be limited to July.  We can have it in February, August, May, September, or any month of the year as long as we keep in mind the song of the angels on that night when Christ was born.  "Peace on Earth and to men of good will!"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Sacred Document

On this weekend, America and Americans pause to celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day.   There is no end to community fireworks displays from the humble ones of small town America to the splashy, extravagant ones of places like New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.  There are family gatherings and cook outs.  There are parades with men on stilts dressed as Uncle Sam.  There are heroic air shows, demonstrating the might an power of the United States military.  Mostly, the weekend is a time for all of us to get away from the daily grind of life and work, a time to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.

But this holiday that commemorates the birth of this great nation is far more than these things.  It should be a time of reflection, of self-discovery, and of determination that what was begun 235 years ago, shall remain an example of the best of society.

We must remember the great men who debated the issue of Independence, who put their ideas and opinions forward, sometimes heatedly, as they tried to bring a nation into being.  We remember Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Rutledge, Hancock, Livingston, and all the others gathered together in stifling hot Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia to hammer out a response the the British intrusion into the colonies' lives.  Ultimately, through passionate debate, squabbling, name calling and outright hostility in some cases, these men, even though their actions could and, in some cases did, bring about their deaths, created what we now know today as the Declaration of Independence.

Penned by Thomas Jefferson, the document was hotly debated and edited to reflect the views of the diverse colonies.  In the end, it was approved by a unanimous vote with New York abstaining.  In that moment, when it was seen that all of the colonies voted in favor of Independence, the United States of America was born.

It was not a perfect nation by any means.  Slavery was a thriving business.  Women had very few formal rights and most were uneducated.  Men had all the political power.  But it was by far the most powerful expression ever created by a political body of man's natural right to be free.

Have you ever read the entire Declaration?  Most of us, if not all, can recite the opening line.  "When in the course of human events..."  A powerful opening, indeed, but there is even more power and majesty later in this statement of man's desire and right to freedom.  As a document measured by today's standards, it would never have seen the light of day.  It is not politically correct.  It pulls no punches.  It mentions God.  And, yet, we today, in this the 21st century, owe our very existence as a nation and a people to these words written so long ago in a time of supreme crisis.

I urge you to take a few minutes out of a busy holiday schedule to read the text of this amazing and inspiring document below.  It takes some reading and some of the language is a bit archaic, but ponder the words and take them in.  Feel the power behind them and know that whether you are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or of any other ethnic background, if you are a citizen of this magnificent country, these words are your heritage.  They are who we are and are still very relevant 235 years after they were first proclaimed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.  We must give thanks to a God who gave us men in an age of crisis who rose to the occasion and triumphed over their own biases and fears to move forward into the future with confidence in their principles and in God Himself.

Happy 4th of July

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.