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Guest blog by Brad Hutchcraft

There are toys, and then there are trains. Toys are fun, but trains bring out something else. Maybe it's the feeling of nostalgia, or maybe it's the delusional thinking that I could just step on a locomotive and successfully operate it. Either way, one of my favorite moments each Christmas is when we pull out the Lionel O-Gauge and set it up under the tree.

    The news was awful. Then, I heard those three life-saving words that sounded strangely familiar.

    A guns-blazing attack on a San Bernardino, California "holiday party." Fourteen dead, 21 wounded.

    One of the wounded was Denise Peraza. But for the heroism of coworker Shannon Johnson, she would probably have been one of the fatalities.

      "Active shooter in Colorado Springs." When I got the news alert, I turned to a news channel right away. I have friends in that city.

      After a violent five-hour siege, the gunman surrendered. And the tragic count of dead and wounded began to become clear. But so did the heroism in the middle of the fear and the violence.

        As I watched heartbreaking scenes from last week's terror attacks in Paris, my mind flashed back some 22 years.

        The morning after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, I flew from New York to speak in another city. To my surprise, we were greeted by a TV crew, asking, "How are New Yorkers feeling after this attack?" They came to me first.

          I've been in three hurricanes. But always on land. I can't imagine what it would be like to face it on the water.

          The crew of the container ship El Faro were on pace to be well ahead of Hurricane Joaquin last week. Until they suddenly found themselves with no propulsion system.

            If I was back in elementary school, and they asked me to write a composition on "My Summer," I'd have one word on the paper. Amazing.

            Because I spent it on Indian reservations with a team of 60 Native American young people. Who stood on rez basketball courts, pouring out their Hope Story of how Jesus has rescued them. I had a front row seat on God's awesomeness.

              There was a miracle in the wildfire the other night. On an Indian reservation where we have many dear friends.

              We've watched the news with growing concern - and intensifying prayer - as the path of the fire's destruction has grown steadily. We learned some of our "family" there have their church and some loved ones in a town surrounded by the flames.

                A part of my heart's been in Charleston, South Carolina the past few days. So has a part of America's heart. As the hate-driven murder of nine Christian worshipers - in the church - has devastated a city and riveted the nation. With seasoned reporters groping for words. Like "horrific." "Heartbreaking."

                But even more overwhelming than the brutal crime has been the response of the families whose loved ones were murdered. "I forgive you."

                  "There are five Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John - and the Christian. Most people never read the first four."

                  That observation, made long ago, couldn't be more true today.

                  If our world's getting darker, then something must be wrong with what folks are "reading." In the Christians - the messengers - they know (that was last time). And with their Message. Actually, with the way they represent it.

                    Boom. Suddenly all the lights went out in the conference center where we were staying. Just as we were all making our way out of our rooms and down the long hallway to breakfast.

                    The hallway was longer than usual that morning. Totally dark. Turns out the entire region had experienced a power failure. Because a squirrel got into a relay station and gnawed through a cable. Fried squirrel. Lights out.

                                  

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