Wednesday, August 30, 2006

This last saturday, my wife and I were blessed with a visit from three children (center) who touched all of our lives, including our two boys. The oldest two, a boy and a girl, are twins. They are the same age as our oldest son, Dominic. The youngest, a little girl, was the same age as our youngest son, Joshua. They all had fun running around playing together, staying late into the night. They even came back the next morning before they had to go back home with their parents who were visiting from out of town. What's so amazing is that a year ago, they were living in a Russian orphanage with little hope and no joy. Today, after being adopted by two wonderful parents, their eyes are filled with the hope of a loving future and their faces reflect the joy that swells within their hearts. It didn't take us long to find out that this hope and joy was contagious. All of us were soon wearing smiles and laughing together. We were witness to a real and tangible manifestation of hope and joy. These were no longer abstract words, but something we could see and touch right before our eyes. We were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of how God is working to bring these children into the light of His love. Honestly, I don't have the words to describe what this means to us, so I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Thousand Words

I know that you’ve heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think it can be worth much more. Sometimes a picture can be so powerful, that it breaks your heart. My wife once told me that the thing that most breaks your heart is where God is telling you to go. When I saw this picture of these orphans in Ukraine, I knew exactly what she meant. I knew through my broken heart that God has prepared a place for us in Ukraine.

A thousand words can’t even come close to describing what this picture captured. I could look at it a thousand times and see something new each time. The first thing that struck me was the longing and searching in the eyes of these children. You can detect a glimmer of hope as well, but it is fading with each passing day. The concept of a family and a home is foreign to them. To most, any other life would be a fairy tale. They are society's cast offs.

These children are the product of a machine called an orphanage. I say machine because a machine can’t love. The machine feeds them, clothes them, and shelters them, but it is critically lacking in love. I’m sure there are people who do their best to show these children love, but they can never be more than just the workers who keep the machine running. The eyes of the children are filled with desperation for something more than the life they live within the walls of the factory.

If you look closely, you can see the layers of clothing that cover their frail bodies. Even inside, they are cold. Imagine being a child and never being able to shop for your clothes. Instead, you gladly take what is given because you have never known any differently. I see in the picture that these children aren’t worried about how their clothes look, but only how well their clothes will keep them warm.

As these children get older, they see their chance for adoption pass them by. In its place is the growing anxiety and dread of the day when the machine will spit them out onto the streets. For most, that day will come when they have reached the age of fifteen. Statistics on orphans during this time of their lives have shown an estimated 70% of the boys end up in crime, 60% of girls in prostitution, and 10-30% commit suicide.

When I look at this picture I see wasted treasure. I see the jewels of our future cast into a sea of rejection and loneliness. I see the urgent need for the restoration of Hope. What do you see?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Where's my Scooby Doo?

I can still remember as a kid, getting up early with my dad when he got up to get ready for work. I’d sit and watch Davey and Goliath until he left for work and then I’d go back to sleep. Well, this morning I wasn’t feeling very well so I thought I’d just take it easy and watch cartoons with my son Joshua. Scooby Doo was coming on and it was an episode I’d never seen. I checked the program guide. “Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost” 1999. Ok, so it’s a next generation Scooby Doo with better animation. Fred was looking a little more masculine without the orange scarf, other than that I didn’t see any obvious changes.

The plot is familiar, the gang heads to Oakhaven, Massachusetts to debunk the ghost sightings of a witch named Sarah Ravencroft. They meet up with one of her descendants, Ben Ravencroft (Tim Curry), who is a horror story writer of the Stephen King persuasion. Ravencroft bears a slight resemblance to Mr. King, complete with thick glasses. His story is that Sarah Ravencroft was falsely accused of being a witch. If he can find her journal, he can prove she was actually a gifted healer, a Wiccan. She helped people who couldn't afford good health care. (It's commonly known that Puritan HMO's weren't any better than their British counterparts.) At this point Velma chimes in to help clear up the grave misconception that Wiccans are witches. She explains that Wiccans seek spiritual harmony with nature and healing powers from mother earth. Their spells and herbalism are used only for good. She tells us that they aren’t witches, but the word witch comes from Wicca.

This is the part where I fell on the floor. I thought I was watching Scooby Doo. What happened to the guys pretending to be ghosts and monsters so they could turn pristine lake front properties into mega resorts? Next I expected Velma to claim that Antoine LaVey was just a misunderstood hippy.

Enter the Hex Girls. Three girls in a band who dress like vampires complete with fake teeth. Don’t call them witches, because while they sing about spells, they claim to be ‘Eco Goths’. Eco Goths claim, “Ecogoths are mourners of a dying world, dressed in black and thinking Green. Only through honoring the sacredness of Death and Regeneration will a sustainable culture emerge.” (Taken from an Eco Goth website.) The Hex Girls are the opposite of Barlow Girl, but I’ll get back to them later.

Not to ruin the surprise for you, but the witch’s ghost turns out to be a town conspiracy to draw in tourists for their harvest festival. Nobody goes to jail by the way. Mystery solved right? Not for the next generation of sophisticated mystery solvers. The towns people feel bad and tell Ben Ravencroft where they think the journal might be.

The gang helps find the journal for Ben and Velma makes an ominous observation, “For a journal, it sure looks kind of evil.” That’s not a journal, it’s a spell book. Turns out old Sarah was a witch and the eco-minded Wiccans imprisoned her in her spell book. Ben is shocked to discover that once he releases her she refuses to share power. She laughs at his attempts to send her back saying, “Only a virtuous soul can imprison me.”

Good thing the lead singer of the Hex Girls, Sister Thorn, is one sixteenth Wiccan. Sister Thorn, who’s earthly name is Sally, is able to cast a spell and send Sarah and Ben Ravencroft into the book of spells forever. It’s interesting to note that Wicca was first publicized in 1954 and Wiccan theology began to be compiled no earlier than the 1920’s. So how is it that Wiccans are claimed to be among the puritans and someone can have ‘Wiccan blood’ ?

They wrap it all up with a Hex Girls concert in the park where they sing a happy little tune that proclaims, “To love the Earth is our desire.” Can you imagine the backlash if they sang a song that said, “Jesus is Love” ?

This is definitely not the Scooby Doo I grew up with. The original was called Scooby-Doo, Where are You! It was the result of CBS and Hanna-Barbera's plans to create a non-violent Saturday morning program which would appease the parent watchgroups that had protested the superhero-based programs of the mid-1960s. Anyone see the irony here?

What happened to the ‘Scooby Doo ending’ ? “It’s old man Withers from the amusement park!“ “And I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids!“ I’m glad I took the time to watch a ‘harmless cartoon’ with my son.

Quotations: From

"We are not evil. We don't harm or seduce people. We are not dangerous. We are ordinary people like you. We have families, jobs, hopes, and dreams. We are not a cult. This religion is not a joke. We are not what you think we are from looking at T.V. We are real. We laugh, we cry. We are serious. We have a sense of humor. You don't have to be afraid of us. We don't want to convert you. And please don't try to convert us. Just give us the same right we give you--to live in peace. We are much more similar to you than you think." Margot Adler

"If you take [a copy of] the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible IS the wind and the rain." Herbalist Carol McGrath as told to her by a Native-American woman.

"I don't think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made." G.W. Bush (R), as Governor of Texas. Interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America, 1999-JUN-24. He disapproved of Wiccan soldiers being given the same religious rights as others in the military.

"We should educate people that 'Witch' is not evil but ancient and positive. The first time I called myself a 'Witch' was the most magical moment of my life." Margot Adler. 3

"When one defines oneself as Pagan, it means she or he follows an earth or nature religion, one that sees the divine manifest in all creation. The cycles of nature are our holy days, the earth is our temple, its plants and creatures our partners and teachers. We worship a deity that is both male and female, a mother Goddess and father God, who together created all that is, was, or will be. We respect life, cherish the free will of sentient beings, and accept the sacredness of all creation." Edain McCoy

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My wife once told me that she could tell that she had been spending too much time on the internet. She said that when she would read from books or magazines that had underlined words, she had an overwhelming urge to click on them. This brings me to hyperlinks. A wise teacher, who happens to be a pastor named Bryan, once explained how Jews viewed certain text in the scriptures. Certain phrases and words would have been like hyperlinks to them. They would have immediately been reminded of key scripture. I find myself doing the same thing. Now that it has been explained to me, I’ve started seeing links in everyday life as well as modern history.

On Sunday I found myself explaining why we only take home just enough bread from church to last the week to our son Joshua. I explained how God blesses us with the bread and if we took more than we could use, it would mold and be of no use. Before I knew it, our ‘weekly’ bread, had become the daily bread of Exodus. When I was done he had totally made the connection and understood the concept of trusting and obeying God as I had explained it. What an awesome way to look at life.

Last night, while watching the History Channel , that concept of the hyperlink kicked in again. I was watching a show on the monuments that Hitler was planning on building. A single word triggered a link back to Exodus again. It was “bricks“. Hitler needed bricks for his building projects. In Berlin he got them from the Klinkerwerk at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Jews, along with others considered undesirable, were used as slave labor to make these bricks. They were often beaten with whips and worked to death in order to meet their quota. I couldn’t help seeing the similarities between the Nazis and the Egyptians.

On the front entrance gates to Sachsenhausen is the infamous slogan Arbeit Macht Frei, "Work Makes You Free".

Prisoners perform forced labor in the brickworks (Klinkerwerk) at Sachsenhausen.

The biblical hyperlinks didn’t end there. The Soviets took control of Sachsenhausen in 1945 and renamed it Special Camp No. 7. With the exception of the crematoria and extermination facilities, the camp was put back into use to hold Nazi functionaries, political undesirables, arbitrarily arrested prisoners, and inmates sentenced by the Soviet Military Tribunal. By 1950 when the camp closed, 12,000 people had died there from starvation and malnutrition. Christians were seen as a threat to communist rule, so it is no surprise to learn that they were persecuted by the Soviets. So many Christians were starved to death at Special Camp No. 7 that they had to be buried in a mass grave. Would it be a stretch to say that Nero and Stalin had a few things in common?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Wait

For anyone who thinks the military is glamorous, I can set you straight. The best way I’ve heard it described is “long periods of boredom punctuated by intense moments of terror and panic”. I think this makes the job of a soldier all the more commendable. Soldiers don’t complain about having to fight, they complain about all the waiting in-between. (I’ve never heard a soldier say, “I’m really getting tired of shooting at terrorists.“) Along with all the waiting come things to keep you busy like, sweeping floors, filling sand bags, mopping floors, cleaning weapons, waxing floors, vehicle maintenance, and formations. Lots and lots of formations. For those of you who don’t know, a formation is when they get everyone together and we stand in these neat little lines called squads, which are part of a platoon, which form the company. The Army likes to have formations for everything. Generally there is a formation first thing to make sure everyone is there, one to release people for lunch, one to make sure everyone came back from lunch, and one at the end of the day to release everyone (and make sure everyone is still there). That would be the absolute minimum in a perfect world, but in the Army it seems like there is a formation every time something changes. “It’s raining outside. Let’s call a formation to let the soldiers who are standing outside know so they don't get wet. Wouldn't want Joe to slip and fall out there so let's give them a safety briefing too.” Yes, these things actually happen.
I’ve actually been told this before, “Hey, go call a formation and let the troops know that we will be having a formation in about fifteen minutes.” Needless to say, they get a little crazy with the formations. The opposite can happen as well. At a chemical weapons depot we had dug into the ground to carve out some protection from the elements and a possible terrorist attack. We lived, ate, and slept in that miserable hole in the ground for two weeks before we got a safety briefing. They warned us not to disturb or come in contact with the soil in that area. It was contaminated with mustard agent that had spilled and leaked into the soil. The hole quietly disappeared the next day. We had to have blood tests every few weeks or so to monitor our exposure.
Anyway, as I was saying about those periods of boredom. They can be, and often are, made worse by not knowing where you are going ,when, or for how long. A typical phrase you hear quite often is “Stand by to stand by.” I just got back from Visalia where I drove to after getting a call that said “Grab all your gear, get to the Armory ASAP, and be ready to head out somewhere for an undetermined amount of time.” We spent two days thinking we were headed to an international airport to provide extra security after recent terrorist plots were uncovered. I’m still on alert, but at least I’m home now. This is about the fifth or sixth time I’ve been called like that. The first time was after 9/11 and I was gone for a year. Three times I've been headed for Iraq and once for Bosnia only to stand down at the last minute. The last time I got the call, I went to New Orleans for 45 days. It never gets any easier on my wife or our boys. They can’t understand why I never know if, when, or how long I’ll be gone. The missions usually aren’t glamorous and they involve high levels of readiness and the ability to do whatever needs to be done. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes soldiers sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice (God took one of my soldiers while he was in Iraq. Please visit the link,
  • The Bunker
  • for his story.), but more often they make a lot of smaller sacrifices along the way and so do their families. So the next time you thank a soldier, don’t just thank them for what they willingly did, thank them for what they’re willing to do.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    The other day my youngest son Joshua and I took a trip to Home Depot. We were working on one of our Geocaching projects and needed some supplies. Before we made it in the door, Joshua spotted this huge hot tub on display. He said, "That's cool dad! Hey we should get that for our backyard." I casually replied, "Sure. Let me know how you plan on getting together the money. It cost close to $5,000." He got this look of disbelief on his face and said, "$5,000? For that? Do you know how many starving children and orphans you could feed with that?" I had never looked at it that way before. My 8 year old had just changed my whole view of the world. I started looking at things like the new Hummers people are driving around and all I could think of was the faces of the children I have seen in other less fortunate places in the world. Joshua had caused me to see things not in dollars, but in human suffering. Suddenly those luxury items or things I thought I had to have, just didn’t look that cool anymore. I read that the minimum cost to feed, house, and care for an orphan in Ukraine is $120 a month.

    "Based on personal experience of caring for and raising a child in Ukraine, $150 a month is sufficient to cover all but dire emergency needs such as a serious accident or catastrophic medical condition, in most locations in Ukraine. This is roughly in line with the $120 per month per child cited by EveryChild..." -Terry Hallman Ukraine: Death Camps, for Children

    That means that for the cost of that hot tub, 41 children could be adequately cared for this month in Ukraine. It costs a lot less in other parts of the world. Just my thoughts, inspired by a little boy with a big heart.

    We came across this brother and sister in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. They were miles away from the tent where they lived with their family. They were looking after the family's goats and sheep. They were very friendly and thankful for the candy we shared with them. These are two of the faces that come to mind when I think I "have to have" something.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    My first thought was "who would want to read this?" My thoughts are usually random and of no great importance. They range from theology to military history and everything in between. My thoughts don’t have much of an impact on world events or for that matter, local events. Unless my thoughts involve “something fun”, my two boys aren’t usually interested. My thoughts don’t seem to be particularly inspiring. I wouldn’t say they are insightful or even very original or unique either. So what’s the point of posting them? Why bother ? It would be hardly worth the effort. But, if there was just one person who hung on my every word and not only valued my opinion, but treasured it. If there was just one person who saw that my thoughts weren’t random and unimportant. If there was just one person who’s entire world was impacted by my thoughts. If there was just one person who was interested in my thoughts and found them inspiring and insightful. If just one person found my thoughts original and as unique as a fingerprint, it would be worth posting. Then it hit me. There is such a person. My best friend, my perfect companion, my wife. Genesis 2:18 So, on second thought…