Tornadoes I know about - we had one go through our backyard when I was a kid. Then we moved to the East Coast - so I also got the opportunity to get acquainted with hurricanes. But there is one natural disaster I do not know much about - and that's just fine - earthquakes. What I know I have learned from people who have been through them - like Mike, for example, the man in the seat next to me on a long airplane flight recently. Until recently, he lived in Northridge, CA - remember, that was the epicenter of a major quake not long ago. He told me he and his family were lucky to be alive after that quake. And the day after he was out in his backyard, cleaning up some of the damage. Suddenly, he said, the ground started moving around him - and he literally saw the ground moving in waves toward him. Now it was an aftershock - and it was scary to see. And he summed up what he had learned from that earthquake in just a few words - "Things you're sure will always be there - may not be."

    If you want to make friends fast at an airport sometime, stand there with a big "welcome home" banner. Recently, we were contacted by a young woman who has been a part of our Native American work in the past - and who is going through a time of severe struggle right now. She really wants to turn things around and asked us if she could come and spend some recovery time with our Team in New Jersey. We had been praying for her, so we were wide open to her coming. Well, we scrambled to find a way to get an airplane ticket for her . . . and then decided to try and let her know we still think she's special- with a special airport welcome. We got some colorful helium balloons and a bright welcome home banner - and five of us stationed ourselves at the end of the concourse she was scheduled to come in on. It was really funny to watch the reactions of the pretty expressionless arriving passengers - they laughed, they waved, they thanked us as if this welcome party was for them. It was fun - until we saw the last flight attendant coming down the concourse with no other passengers coming behind her. The person we had come to welcome - never came.

      My friend Billy knew where his parents hid the Christmas gifts. Well, he's an adult now but he still remembers the year he that he acted on knowing where the gifts were. His parents were gone and he sneaked downstairs. He went into the closet and nothing was wrapped yet, opened up the shopping bags and there they were. He folded up the bag and went back upstairs. His parents never knew. Now it was Christmas morning and you have to know that Billy had the reputation for being Mr. Christmas in his family. He never needed an alarm clock on Christmas morning. His parents told me all you have to do is have him get you up about 5 a.m. He's set to go off on Christmas morning. But this particular Christmas everybody was downstairs. They were beginning to open their presents and they suddenly realized, "Whoa, Whoa Billy is not here." Well Dad went and got him and he said, "It's Christmas son. Are you coming?" "Yeah," and he came shuffling downstairs, opened his presents, expressed his appreciation but somehow he was just not into it like everybody else was. His dad called him aside and he said, "Hey, Billy are you sick or something? You're like Mr. Christmas here." Billy said, "Dad, I really blew it." He said, "I opened my gift early and I ruined Christmas." A lot of people have ruined what could have been an unforgettable celebration.

        The occasion was a city-wide art contest. They were told to paint paintings entitled "Peace." While the judges were understandably attracted to this beautiful pastural scene that a local painter had painted. It was a green pasture. It was the puffy white clouds and the beautiful blue sky and a little boy going by with a fishing pole over his shoulder and a quiet brook and some birds. That got second place. First place - well, the picture was of an angry, stormy day at the sea shore as the ocean was beating against the cliffs and the cliffs were stark and dark because of the darkness of the storm. The sky in this painting was angry and black, green and purple. You had to look twice to figure out what in world this had to do with peace. But if you looked halfway up the cliff these little baby birds were nestled underneath the wing of their mother, and they were sleeping totally oblivious to the storm that was howling all around them. Now it's the Christmas season. It's suppose to be about peace; but, if you feel the holiday pressure like I do, seems more like a storm, a stress which leads us into those birds.

          Remember when the word, window, only referred to an opening in a wall covered with glass. Now the space program changed all that. A window is still an opening, but the folks at Cape Canaveral referred to that brief period of time where everything is right for the launch. The wind is okay. The weather is okay. They checked it at the Cape. They checked the down range. The atmospherics are okay for communication. The conditions have been projected for the time of return and they look good. But the window will pass soon. If you're going to get it off the ground, go when the window is open.

            I guess every athlete would like to do something immortal, something that will be remembered. Roy Riegels did - in a way. He played center in the 1929 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California. The game was almost over - the score was very close. Both teams knew that any score might well decide the game. Then, on one play, Roy Riegels suddenly found himself with a ball in his hands. Now centers only know what to do with the ball when they're snapping it to the quarterback - but Roy Riegels had it whether he liked it or not. Well, he started running as fast as a center can go - right for the goal line. He glanced back over his shoulder and he saw a strange sight - he was being frantically pursued by his own teammates. His instincts told him to just keep running, and he did - until he was tackled just short of the goal - by one of his own teammates. Roy Riegels was running for the other team's goal. And shortly, the other team went on to score and win the game. And as for athletic immortality? He went down in football history - as Wrong Way Riegels!

              One thing I was never tempted to be was the neighborhood bully - you have to be big to be him. Now in the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up, there was a guy big enough to bully all of us - his name, believe it or not, was Boomer. If his mother named him that, it is her fault that he was a bully. Well, he was the first terrorist I ever knew - and I was one of his terrorees.

              He threatened all of us little kids, he hurt us, and took our stuff. One day, I had had enough of Boomer's terrorism. So I marched down the street to his apartment building and went where no one ever went - to his back porch, to his door. Sure enough, Boomer came to the door, looking as nasty as ever. But I insisted that he give back the stuff he had taken. You say, "What a brave little guy you were." Sort of. Left out one small detail - when I went to stand up to the bully, my father went with me.

               

                Well, some of us had to wait almost 20 years for it - but the 1996 New York Yankees finally won the World Series. Now they had to be the champs to do it - the Atlanta Braves. And after the first two games of the best-of-seven series, I thought the Yankees had gone into a coma - they got creamed. Ah, but that's when it got exciting - they came back to win next two games. The series was tied at two games apiece, of course - and the then Yankees appeared to doze off again in Game Five - they were behind 6-0! Speaking of dozing off, that's what at least one Yankee fan did - including the guy I heard buying a newspaper the next day. He saw the headline announcing that the Yankees had come back and won that game 8-6! He grabbed that newspaper, saw the outcome of the game, and then said some things I can't quote - after which he said, "I can't believe it! I gave up on them in the seventh inning and went to sleep!" He missed a great victory.

                  Gayle's parents were away - and they had asked her to check on their house while they were gone. Gayle's one of our ministry team. It was a pretty cold night - Gayle thought the heat should be on. She called her dad - in dad fashion, he said, "You should know what to do - done it before. Probably just a zone valve is stuck." So Gayle went to work on the zone valve - she really went to work on it. We're talking about desperate measures - like beating the valve to death with a screwdriver and actually breaking blood vessels in her hand in the process. It refused to stay open in spite of Gayle's vigorous encouragement. Valve 1, Woman 0. When dad got home a few days later, he went to work on it - and it was very easily fixed. Of course, he worked on the other valve - the right valve. Gayle had been working on the valve, it turns out, that was already working! He told Gayle she had made a simple mistake - she put a lot of effort into fixing what was already working - and no effort into what really needed the attention.

                    I have no official statistics on what I'm about to say - only personal impressions - but I believe the State of Pennsylvania is the roadkill capital of the Northeast - especially for dead deer. I've just seen many more deer by the side of the road there than in any state in our region - of course, there's a lot more of Pennsylvania too. But I read an article about the outraged mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania - the interstate runs through his community. The reason for his outrage? A paving crew was working on that road one day last summer - and they came upon a dead deer with much of its carcass lying on the road. Do you want to try to guess what they did next? Yes! They went right ahead and paved right over the deer!

                                  

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