|Return to Laos
|Thursday, May 24, 2018|
Choking smoke, a shattered canopy and the eerie sound of wind against wings: pilot David Thomas Dinan was in trouble. A Soviet MiG fighter had shredded his F-105 fighter over the jungles of Laos. When not riddled with bullets, an F-105—heavily used during the Vietnam War—could fly at Mach 2 and carry sixteen 750 pound bombs.
As the swept wing jet pancaked out of control there was no question it was time to bail. By all accounts, David T. Dinan successfully ejected from his aircraft. Yet he died upon landing and his body was not recovered.
Leyland Sorensen, who served as an Air Force pararescueman was chosen for the mission. Lowered by helicopter, his job was to bring back the injured and the dead.
But enemy gunfire erupted around Leyland’s helicopter and the rescuers were forced to abort their mission of recovering Dinan’s body. Back at base, the rescue attempt would be rescheduled.
Except, it never was. Not that week. Not the next month. Not the next year. An administrative oversight? Maybe. No one knows.
But more than four decades later, when retired Air Force pararescueman Leyland Sorensen was invited to return to Laos aboard a C-17 and try to locate Dinan’s remains, he accepted the call of duty.
Imagine riding in a helicopter 45 years later over the very spot you’d been fired upon. For three days they scoured a hillside they thought might be the place. Nothing.
On the third and final day allotted to the mission, they came upon a nylon pad that appeared to be from a parachute. About 25 feet from the pad was more parachute material: a harness, buckles, and fabric. They also found a locker key and a sock.
Then came the miracle. Lying on the ground was a laminated military ID card, caked with dirt. The name was partially visible: “David T….”
A subsequent recovery team discovered the rest of David T. Dinan’s remains. Last month, he was finally laid to rest at home in the U.S.—forty-five years after the first rescue was attempted.
To me, this is more than a powerful Memorial Day story. It reminds me of what Christ did to bring us to God. He traveled all the way from heaven to earth, enduring deadly attacks from a savage enemy. Christ ultimately gave up His own life to extract us from the wreckage of our sinful state. We who were “dead in trespasses and sins” have now been made alive through the sacrifice of Christ.
What a rescue! What a Savior!
|Hope After the Storm
|Thursday, May 17, 2018|
As she peered out the hospital window, angry skies warned Dory it was time to leave her husband with the doctors and head home. Not easily done. He’d had a heart attack five days earlier.
Climbing into her four-door Chevy, she cruised down to the ferry that would float her across the lake from Mountain Home to Gamaliel—hopefully before the worst of the Arkansas storm hit. At about 6:30, she turned into her driveway, hurried inside and changed into her nightgown, and then put a piece of meat in the frying pan and set it on the stove.
At 6:55pm, Dory’s watch stopped. That’s when the tornado exploded her home, lifting her above 50-foot trees, ultimately tossing her body a thousand feet into the forest across the street.
Concerned neighbors formed a search party, tromping through the woods, calling out Dory’s name. Finally hearing a whimper, they placed her crumpled body on a bi-fold closet door, eventually getting her to the hospital. The attending physician—the same doctor who had cared for her husband—announced that despite his team’s best efforts, Dory’s internal injuries were too many to overcome. She was not yet 60.
This all happened 50 years ago this week, back when my parents had six little kids to worry about. Having just returned from Arkansas visiting his father in the hospital, my dad immediately returned—now for his mom’s funeral and to clean up the property.
“Clothes were scattered throughout the forest, their car buried under the rubble of what was a fireplace. One of mother’s quilts was found across the lake in a tree,” Dad recalls.
“Their refrigerator was blown nearly 200 feet across the road into a gulley where it sat upright. One hinge was broken, but inside there was an egg carton with one fresh egg—unbroken.”
Knowing that a shocking loss like this has soured many a man’s faith, I asked my dad how this devastation impacted his beliefs. His reply: “Turning from God never entered my mind. Mom was a strong Christian. I knew I'd see her again. Was I sad? You bet. Was I bitter? Not at all. I felt sorry for my dad, of course. My attitudes and feelings were based on my faith in what the Bible says and who wrote it.”
Fifty years later, it’s difficult to think how hard it was for my dad and his dad. In one storm, my grandfather lost his wife, and my dad lost his Mom. Hard to process.
Truth is, we live in a world where cancer often overcomes…where bullets kill …where car crashes turn deadly…where tornadoes blow up houses. Yet as long as we have Christ, we have hope itself. And not a flimsy, fuzzy vague religious notion, either. Hebrews 6:19 spells it out:
That anchor, of course, is Jesus and His promise of eternal life for all those who know Him.
For now, we hurt.
Yet now, we have hope.
A hope that no tornado can ever blow away.
|Dreams of Heaven
|Thursday, May 10, 2018|
Had some thoughts last night that startled me out of that half-asleep stage. Get this—I was shopping at a store—in heaven. The clerk was friendly enough. But nevertheless, I was puzzled by the experience.
“What can we get you, sir?” asked the guy behind the counter.
“A box of Kleenex” I replied.
“Box of Kleenex. You know, tissues.”
“What for?” I stammered incredulously. “For blowing my nose when I get a cold.”
“Not gonna happen. Didn’t you read the Book? There’s no sickness up here. No suffering.”
“Well what if I…you know….cry at something sad. Not that as a guy I’d…”
“Not gonna happen: ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes…’ Haven’t you read that?”
“Well yeah. ‘Course. But what about using the Kleenex for a dirty stain or a spot of mud?”
“Not gonna happen. Nothing impure will enter heaven.”
At that point I just sort of started looking up and around at the rather curious store. The clerk smiled warmly and said, “You’re new up here, aren’t you?” I nodded. He continued. “Well let me tell you what we do have in stock. We’ve got kindness—available by the cubic yard. We absolutely never run out of that.”
“What else do you sell?”
“Actually, we don’t sell anything here. It’s all free. All given away. But to answer your question, we have grace.”
“I’ll take a gallon” I said. “I could use a whole lot of grace.” He laughed again.
“Mister, we could probably special order a gallon of grace but we don’t typically carry it in that small a quantity. Up here, grace is generally measured in pools. Swimming pools. You’d call them Olympic-size from your earth days.”
At this point, I was feeling a bit lightheaded. But having come this far, I figured I’d ask away. “What else do you have?”
“Mercy. Available In three sizes. Extra-large…Humongous…and Massively Mega.”
“So what would you say is one of your more popular items?” I couldn’t resist asking.
“That’s easy: righteousness. Got plenty of peace around, too. Flows like a river. ‘Course all the fruits of the Spirit are here in abundant supply. Oh—and there’s one other popular staple you should know we’ve got.”
The guy left a big ol’ hole in the conversation, so I played along and asked him, “Okay, so what’s your other popular staple?”
“Laughter,” he said with a chuckle. Comes in one, two and three-ton shipments. And up here, there’s no cash and carry. Just ask and receive.”
There. Now I’ve told you about my dream. Hope you don’t think I’ve finally gone nuts. And I hope it makes you long for heaven as much as it does me.
|Don't Have To Miss You Too Much
|Thursday, May 03, 2018|
There are two kinds of grandparents. There are those who live by the “show up, sugar them up and send them home” philosophy. Then there are others—like me—who find every parting sad. I'm never glad to see the grandkids go. Never. Does that make me sappy? Probably.
So there we were, putting on our shoes and getting ready to leave after a nice visit with four of our little buddies. That familiar wave of melancholy was washing over. Yet the silver lining was the fact that later in the week, we’d be watching the grandkids while their parents traveled out of state. Naturally, the kids had been told about all this.
When you are four and have to wait—for anything—an hour feels like a day. A day feels like a week. And a week feels like a whole month. Lacing her little arm through mine, four-year-old Lucy was definitely doing some processing.
As she lavished hug after generous hug, Lucy abruptly brightened and announced, “I don’t have to miss you too much! I’ll see you in a few more days!”
From a time-keeping standpoint, she was absolutely right. But for me, it opened up an unexpected window into a longer look at time: death and eternity.
Who among us isn’t missing someone? A mom who lost her battle with cancer…a daughter whose life was snuffed out in a car crash…a grandpa whose heart just plain wore out. We miss them. Grieve their absence.
Could it be, though, that we look at loss from a warped perspective? Those who have gone before us and loved Jesus—we really will see them again—and soon!
Meaning we can say with Lucy, “I don’t have to miss you too much! I’ll see you in a few more days.” The truth is, the need for Kleenex is coming to an end—and fast!
1 Corinthians 15:52 reaches out to us with all of Lucy’s happy eagerness when it proclaims, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
Those loved ones now gone--we miss them. We ought to. But not to the point of devastation.
Let’s learn to celebrate with Lucy, “I don’t have to miss you too much! I’ll see you in a few more days.”
|Thursday, April 26, 2018|
To visit Bureau County, Illinois is to unplug.
You unplug from the roar of incessant traffic. Instead you find yourself on roads where you are as likely to encounter a deer as another vehicle.
You unplug from a terrain of cement and asphalt, trading that in for farmland and grass and stands of ancient trees.
You unplug from the density of urban living. There are more people living in my Chicago suburb than in all the towns that make up Bureau County combined.
You unplug from the cocooned way of life that cautions us against waving to strangers or being too open with anyone about anything. People in Bureau County wave whether they know you or not (which they probably do).
One of Bureau County's greatest treasures is the Kasbeer Community Church, parked just off of Route 26. Here, I married my wife, Diana. Climbing the stairs into the entryway, I found it reassuring to observe that the pews and cushions and carpet and piano were all there, all the same, just as I remember them.
By my count, there were 21 of us attending services a couple Sundays ago. The Kasbeer Community Church has certainly seen larger crowds, but those who were there were definitely blessed. We unplugged from the Chris Tomlin culture of worship and instead sang this:
There is something real and right about singing an old hymn in an old church. But beyond the nostalgia, I found myself almost overwhelmed by the weight of the song lyric.
If ever there was a weary land, it is ours.
If ever there was a time of storm, it is now.
The shelter for that storm is—and will always be—Jesus. But to really get close, we have to unplug first.
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