Friday, December 21, 2012


It was an uneventful wintry Wisconsin evening. Vic and I were on the way back from after school pick up with the darkness of night falling and a calm, serene, post card like scene all around us. As we turned to go the last mile of our homeward trek, I hummed “Silent Night” quietly admiring the beauty of our own personal winter wonderland. When I reached the phrase “Heavenly Peace” I noticed the van skid ever so slightly. “No problem.” I thought. I’ve driven in Midwest winters for the last twenty years. I’ll just compens…” The slight skid was transforming before my eyes into a totally control-free careening towards the wrong side of the road and the drainage ditch! I had no control and we were not only going to leave the road; we were going to leave the ground! In an instant we were ‘airborne’ and in action movie fashion, I blurted the first thing that came to my mind: “BRACE FOR IMPACT!!” I shouted as we soared through the air for what seemed an eternity and we hit the ground with an impact that resembled Chevy Chase’s Family Truckster impacting the desert floor after having by-passed the warning barricades! The only difference was that instead of throwing sand upon landing, we were throwing snow – BUT we were still moving! My gut feeling - which had served me so well to this point - told me not to stop but to keep driving! I glanced in the mirror to make sure Vic was okay. She was as brave as she is adorable, but had a grip on her car seat that equaled the strength of 10 men! We were enclosed on both sides by insurmountable mounds of earth and snow, and I could hear the ice cracking beneath us – “KEEP DRIVING!!” my gut ordered. And drive we did; pushing through the ditch, throwing and blowing snow, earth and debris in a display that must’ve resembled a giant, bionic gofer plowing through a snowy corn field at supersonic speed! Just when I wondered how we were going to get out, I saw a break in the left side mound and the lights of a house through the break. Stuck in movie mode in my brain, I shouted to Vic, “WE’RE GOING FOR IT!” I punched the gas, turned the wheel, slipped through the break and we were airborne AGAIN, just at a slightly lower altitude! We landed with significantly less force and Vic warned, “Daddy, this is someone’s back yard!” In cool George Lopez fashion I crooned, “I got this!” We barreled through the yard, connected to the driveway, onto the cul de sac, down the street, made a series of quick turns to shake anyone who might have tailed us, and were back on the road in a jiffy! Five minutes later we were home! We found Luz in the kitchen firing up another culinary master piece. “Anything interesting happen today?” she chirped. Victoria and I looked at each other, turned slowly back to her and in unison chimed, “No. Nothing…”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

23 Years of God's Blessings!

23 years ago today, I received the greatest gift of my life when Maria-Luz Roda Bautista took a tremendous leap of courage and joined her life and those of our two oldest daughters with mine. As the years have passed, I have come to appreciate more and more the tremendous risk Luz took in trusting me with all that was precious to her. It is humbling and heart-warming for me to consider all the love I have gained from her leap of faith. Our family continues to grow along with my waistline and my gratitude for her goodness to me! God has blessed me in too many ways to count, but never more than when he answered a more than 20-year prayer and brought Luz into my life! Thanks to all of you who have stood by us over the years, especially at the beginning when many felt the odds were totally against us and thought - even out loud - that we were making the greatest mistake of our lives. God has been faithful all through the years and done the miraculous time and time again! May we continue to experience God's mercy and grace as we travel through life together, loving the Lord, loving each other, and loving all those He allows to cross our path! Happy Anniversay Sweetheart! Until next time...


Monday, December 17, 2012

The Man on the Moon and the Reality of Evil

“Tranquility Base here…The Eagle Has Landed.” The world changed that July day with Neil Armstrong’s victorious declaration that humans had safely landed on the moon. ANYTHING was possible! The generation that had saved the world from the most perilous time in human history had now brought us to the moon. “Ol’ Blue Eyes’” stylistic groove was no longer a romantic line from a smooth operator, it was reality. What couldn’t humans achieve? In spite of a seeming unending stream of assassinations, a ticking doomsday clock, a war in SE Asia and racial tensions throughout the United States, a new optimism was creeping up in the American soul. If we reached the moon and had achieved all of this progress, perhaps we can see the dawn of a New Age and even achieve unparalleled good in human history. It seemed there was good in everyone and as a result, US culture witnessed the dawn of the Age of Aquarius and the emergence of a generation raised in a comfort and luxury unknown to any generation before!

So great were the gains and so sweet the fruits of freedom that we failed to pay attention to the stirring of inner demons poised to wage war on our souls and society. Though the ability to communicate more quickly and efficiently increased, it seems that growing numbers of the members of society felt more and more disconnected. Though inventions and conveniences made time for socializing more readily available than ever, contemporary Americans became one of the loneliest generations to walk the planet. Today, urban violence marches on at a relentless pace, while our safe and secure suburbs are experiencing volatile explosions of mass violence that shake us to the core. No example of this violence has hit us with the ferocity and savagery of last week’s tragedy at Sandy Creek Elementary in Newtown, CT. This abhorrent occurrence has left us struggling to understand and seeking answers. The questions “How? And Why?” abound and the answers seem illusive.

Connecticut defined all that is tranquil and ideal about these United States. That idyllic definition has been shattered by the harsh and cold reality that evil exists. It lurks in every corner of our society no matter how pure and good that corner might seem and it has the ability can strike at will - without warning - leaving death, destruction and mayhem in its path. The great physical pleasures we have enjoyed in our society have anesthetized us to the spiritual realities of the evil that surrounds us. If we address evil at all, the evil we are most willing to acknowledge is largely framed within the context of entertainment and it is personified by characters like “Jason” and “Freddy” or relegated to the most heinous real-life human examples: people like Hitler, Pol Pot, or Bin Laden. This company of villains is universally acknowledged as evil, but they are never viewed as “normal” and are seen as aberrations of the rest of us “good and God-fearing” people.

A more attentive view of the human spirit might give evidence to the contrary. The potential for evil can be found in every fabric of society. More frighteningly, this potential isn’t just confined to the dark corners of society, but even in the secret places of EVERY human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 warns that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Honesty informs us that there are times that even the “good” we do comes from a less than honorable place, whose source is not a desire to achieve good for others, but rather a drive for the promotion of self and the satisfaction of our own need to be acknowledged.

How pervasive is evil? Consider the number of respected and responsible leaders of late - religious, military and governmental – who have thrown away careers and reputations for the pleasure of a sweet liaison they thought would go unnoticed. We are tempted to think, “Well, yes, but is that evil?” Think of the betrayals of trust, the risks to themselves, their loved ones, the nation and communities they served. Most of these leaders are considered not just good guys, but “great guys” anyone would love to have on their team – the most trustable of the trustworthy. Nevertheless, careless moments grew into wreckless indulgences which grew into tragic scandals with many innocent victims. EVIL! We’re tempted to think, “I would NEVER do that! I propose that without careful personal attentiveness, the casual flirt, the engaging look, and the “playful” teasing can easily take flight to become a nightmare scenario of heartbreak we never imagined could really happen to us. EVIL! We are in a desperate situation.

Dealing with our desperation means understanding where the hope lies. The hope for peace, safety and security in our land will not be found in passing laws, mounting soap boxes and demanding freedoms. If hope is to be found, it will come from a transformation of the mind and heart, built on the understanding that the Battle is spiritual at its core. In Matthew 15 Jesus said, “…out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” The problem is inside us. In Romans Chapter 12, the Apostle Paul presents this solution for dealing with the root of the issue: “do not be conformed to this world [the way everybody else does things], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” We need an accurate understanding of just “how bad we can be” knowing that each of us possesses the capability of the manifesting the worst we’ve ever seen in society. Furthermore, we need a firm grasp on the truth that God has the power to transform us from the inside out when we humbly surrender to Him and His ways and walk in community with others who can hold us accountable and help us in our most desperate and anxious times.

Nothing we can do will bring back those beautiful children who suffered such unspeakable horror in Connecticut or ease the pain their families are suffering. Their deaths, however, leave us with an undeniable clarity to what is at stake. If we can embrace the Biblical truth about our natures and acknowledge that we are the keepers of our brothers and sisters, then perhaps we can dislodge ourselves from the outrageous notion we have heretofore practiced in our society: that we have come so far in our sophistication, we can simply live on “autopilot” and let things sort themselves out or let someone else do it for us. If we will apply ourselves to personally pay attention to those troubled souls around us – be they strangers or our closest of kin - and if we can do the work of befriending the lonely, comforting the forlorn, or identifying that ones who are just too troubled to be left to themselves and be willing to face the turmoil of making such a call, then perhaps we can turn the tide! If we are willing to do the grunt work of getting deeply involved in the lives of others and taking the time required to help while suffering the inconvenience to our personal goals and agendas  that helping can cause, we just might see some change for the better. One thing is for certain. If we fail to pay attention to these horrible signs of our times, and continue to march in the direction of indifference and apathy, we are certain to continue to suffer; and that suffering will happen much sooner than any prospect we have for once again leaving footprints on the moon. Until next time…


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Knocked Out! How to Grow From a Humiliating Loss!

The absence of post-fight chatter was conspicuous. I hadn’t caught the fight as I was swamped with ministry and family duties as well as annual Christmas celebrations for some civic organizations to which Luz and I belong. I had almost forgotten about The Fight when it occurred to me that I was surrounded by Filipinos and NO ONE had mentioned Pac-Man’s name - Not ONE person. The silence said it all – “Man!” I thought – “Pacquiao must’ve LOST!” I pulled out my phone and quickly Googled “Pacquiao /Marquez-4”. The picture was worth more than a thousand words. Referee Kenny Bayless was kneeling and waving over a motionless, face-planted Pacquiao as Marquez was suspended in air, mid-leap in jubilation. The “Mexican Assassin” – so nick-named for his victories over numerous game and powerful Mexican opponents - had himself been “assassinated”! Manny Pacquiao had been knocked out!

But the disappointments this weekend weren’t limited to the “Sweet Science.” Since my earliest days of watching college football, I have only had a heart for one team and One Team only - The Army Team of the United States Military Academy at West Point! As a Cadet, and particularly as a Plebe, I kept that information to myself; as such a declaration might have brought on suspicion or ridicule. But now, as a “mature” man, I make the confession with great pride – which is what made the weekend so horrible for me! Army came OH SO CLOSE to snapping an unbearable decade-long losing streak, when a fumble of unbelievable consequence dissolved all hope for a totally achievable win over the Navy. Trent Steelman, the Army Team Captain who had contributed so much to Army Football for the last four years, was unfortunately a part of the fumbling experience that cost Army the victory, and was inconsolable at the Game’s end. Absolutely no joy in Mudville!

Monumental losses – unexpected losses – unrecoverable losses - have a way of zapping one’s very soul and leaving one not only in a daze but in a heap of pain, regret and inner anguish. The thoughts are relentless – “If only I would have…” “But I should have and could have!” “Why didn’t I?...” Yet, in both of these cases, the men who went down in defeat have displayed character and courage that gives us hints for how they will navigate the future. Many contemporary athletes throw pity parties, hurl obscenities, and unleash unrestrained tirades after a loss of much less consequence than the losses for Pac-Man and Army this weekend. These “losers” refuse to talk to reporters – refuse to honor the victors – refuse to respect and to honor the game they claim to love. Steelman and Pacquiao, however, faced the world and the post-loss scrutiny just as they had faced their opponents – with courage, honor and dignity – characteristics that can be very difficult to display in the face of a very public and humiliating defeat. This is what athletics should, in the end, be about; the opportunity to grow in character and honor, whether in defeat or victory; understanding the value of the prize sought, while also understanding the greater and incalculable value of the human soul.
As one who made my own deeply painful fumble in my contest with the Dean of the United States Military Academy and shed tears that were not recorded for posterity as were Trent Stillman’s nor did my face bear the scars of Manny Pacquiao, I understand profound loss. I faced both comfort and support as well as ridicule and chastisement during my experience and learned from both of these responses to my disappointing performance. I have put my academic loss into perspective since having ministered to countless others, helping them to deal with life and death situations, and the kinds of heartaches and heartbreaks that defy easy answers and instant healing. I have also faced my own life and death encounters and losses as well. Those real tragedies place my perceived loss in the proper context of “mistakes made and lessons learned”. I have also seen how God has mercifully used my humiliation to move me towards a humility and a restoration that have served me as no victory I have experienced ever could have. Because of God’s work in me, I can see how He can truly work all things together for good for those who love Him and understand that He has a purpose for them too.
It is that perspective that helps me understand the context of Jeremiah 29:11, where God declares That He has plans for a hopeful future for the nation of Judah after they experience a “knockout” of life shattering proportions – losing a war and being sent into exile. Sometimes it takes a devastating loss to grab our attention and to shape us to do the work God truly has prepared for us to do. Sometimes someone or some circumstance has to literally take us down a few pegs so that we can see life as it God would have us to live it, not as a selfish fantasy of our own creation.
Though they have suffered great losses, I have nothing but respect for Trent Steelman and Manny Pacquiao. I can see great continued hope for their future if they use their experiences of loss to form their souls and not allow them to break their spirits. If these great competitors can gain wisdom and perspective in their daily lives, then the losses can also serve as refining tools that will build character in them and benefit all the people they will encounter in the future. These are experiences from which we can all learn – even as observers. But maybe this lesson hits closer to home...

Perhaps you’ve lost in life. I understand that losing hurts. I know that the taste of defeat is bitter and that victory is exceedingly sweet and a lot more fun. Nevertheless, I am asking you to consider how God might use your losses to bring about good in you and later bring about good for you and for the people you will meet along your life’s journey. Don’t wallow in your losses but rather follow after God, allowing Him to use all of your life experiences to produce maturity, perseverance and completeness in your character that will bless you, encourage others and honor Him. That kind of attitude has the power to transform many win-loss scenarios into win-win propositions. Until next time…

Friday, December 7, 2012

Eight Years of Gratitude

Psalm 89:1 says, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations." On this 7th day of December, our family remembers God's mercy and miraculous intervention on our behalf in the birth of our youngest daughter, Victoria, who entered this world at 28 weeks of gestation weighing in at 1lb 13oz. After fighting for her life for 3 months, she emerged healthy, whole and victorious and remains a blessing and reminder of God's mercy each day. We will never forget. We will never fail to give thanks! HAPPY BIRTHDAY VIC!!