“Here Comes Santa Claus!”

When I was small, I loved watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.  I squirmed with anticipation as the bands and floats passed by, hoping the next float would hold Santa waving to crowds atop his sleigh.  When I finally saw his face, I knew Christmas was finally here! 

“Lynn, calm down!” Mom would shout from the kitchen.  I have never been calm about anything, but certainly never calm about Christmas.  That would be sinful anyway.

This year, there is something brewing in the air.  I know COVID is raising its ugly head again, but that’s not it.  I see whatever it is in people’s eyes, in their speech, and in their smiles.  The holidays are welcomed this year with more enthusiasm and gratefulness than I have witnessed in a while.  I feel it in my heart, and boy, am I happy about that.

No way, no how, not happening

Now, y’all know I love people.  But a few out there can sure put a damper on one’s spirit if we let them.  All those naysayers, troublemakers, and hot-headed opinionated, self-righteous folks make us often believe that all humans have moved to the shady side.  They may cause us to want to give up, toss in the towel, and go hide in the closet until the Lord comes and takes us away.  But that’s not what we are supposed to do, right?

Hopelessness is just a downright killer of the Christmas spirit. When we lose our enthusiasm and zest for living, we miss the opportunity to experience life to the fullest.  And, by gosh,  not COVID nor politics, nor conspiracies, are going to dampen my Christmas cheer.  Not happening.  No way, no how, and they are not going to put a damper on yours either.

So, I need all of you to put on your happy face, top your head with a Santa hat, your car with reindeer antlers and let the world see your Christmas joy.  Unless you are one of those “shady” characters, you have no excuse.

God’s love is the meaning

Indeed, Christmas is not really about Santa or our wish lists; it is about the enormity of God’s love.   He gave us His only son to bring us hope.  God hasn’t abandoned us or hid in a closet; He desires us to believe that we can overcome our dark days and smile again as we did as children.  We must never give up on ourselves, our country, or our fellow human beings.  If we do, we hurt not only ourselves but our Maker.  

Yes, those Scrooge-like folks have no business messing with our Christmas.  So, disregard them and, instead, see the joyful faces that surround you. Notice goodness and turn away from ugliness.  Listen to those who encourage and ignore those who speak of despair. We are not finished; we aren’t going to be defeated without trying to be better.  It is what we are supposed to do, right? 

My grandmother, aka Grandpa, likened life to a garden.  “Shoot, if you want pretty flowers and a good watermelon or green beans, you constantly must pull the weeds growing in the garden.  Everything that reaps beauty and food for the soul requires tending for it to grow.”

Well, a big “AMEN” to that!   So, let’s pull the weeds of scorn, skepticism, and hopelessness.  Let’s toil in our spiritual gardens and let kindness take root.  It is the only way to grow a beautiful life. 

Beaming is better

Yes, there is something in the air.  Optimism is contagious, so spread it.  Don’t just smile, BEAM!  Beaming is better.  Don’t calm down; jump up and down with delight so that all people can see the best of who we are.  Enjoy living, be grateful that you are here, and pull those pesky weeds that sabotage your happiness.

If we want our holidays to shine, we need to polish our hearts.  If we’re going to feel the enormity of God’s grace, we must fall on our knees and hand him our pain.  It’s not that hard to do; it just requires tending to our souls.

Now that I am grown, I know and understand that I knew Christmas was actually here when I finally saw God’s face.

“May the Lord bless and keep you; may his face shine upon you and bring your peace.”   Have a beautiful, happy, Holiday season.

Thankful for an Angel’s Comfort

How many stories can one write about the Thanksgiving holiday?  We all know we need to be thankful for what we have and share our blessings with others who have little.  Whether we follow through on what we know to be true is up to each of us.  Because most of us, if we are being honest, are not always full of gratitude and charity.   Being human is complicated and fraught with transgressions and selfish behavior. 

An abundance of grief and loss has spilled over the earth these last two years.  Our society has endured so much.  Some have not felt the sting of death or disease as others have, but the loss of normalcy in our lives is still sad and frustrating for nearly everyone.   

As the holiday season approaches with a lingering feeling of uncertainty still looming, let us seek our comfort.  Perhaps we should pause and not only be thankful for what we have but also be appreciative of what we had.

Returning home

Recently I returned to the place in the Tennessee mountains where I was born.  Saturday was spent promoting my new book at a book signing in the old train depot that is now a history museum.   Seeing friends, relatives, and talking about past times is comforting and easy for me, and I relish those who knew my family from long ago. 

However, on Sunday, I woke with a feeling of sadness and melancholy.  I deduced my fatigue was to blame.  When the morning coffee didn’t seem to perk me out of my malaise, I decided to go for a drive.  I went to the cemetery where my family eternally rest and walked among the tombstones as I approached my parent’s graves.

My mother and father’s headstone has a small ledge large enough to hold a plant on each side.  I sat on the one nearest my mother and rested my back against the marble.   I looked around at the names that reminded me of happy holiday times filled with kinfolks and storytelling.  

The sun beamed brightly in a cloudless blue sky.  It warmed my face as I gazed upward to heaven and also stung my eyes wet with tears.  Looking at all those who I had lost began to cast me further into unhappiness.

In my Mother’s arms

I tried to pray, but the silence was only interrupted by a rooster’s crow and the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze.   Then, as if there was magic in the mountain air, I suddenly felt my mother’s comfort.    Her arms encircled me as if I were a child who had scraped my knee, and she kissed the pain away.   The tears began to dry, and as I looked around at the graves of many family members, I no longer felt loss but rather a sense of joy that these folks once lived as part of my world.

How blessed am I for what I had? How fortunate I was to have parents who embraced and protected me.   I am grateful for the grandmother and grandfather who taught me so much and showered us all with unadulterated love.   I was blessed with a wonderful brother, defender, and partner in shenanigans who now waits for me in heaven.

A bit later, I waved goodbye to all those whose voices I only hear in my heart.  Pep was back in my step as I walked toward the car, and I realized my mother’s comfort returned my joy.   And my gratitude for such an experience was overwhelming. 

Appreciation for angels

We can be thankful for all the blessings we have today, but also be grateful for all the people who have walked with us, loved us, held our hands, and shared our world.   Become joyful that God blessed you with each and every one. 

Yes, we have mourned the loss of normalcy, the loss of friends and family, and suffered the slings and arrows of selfish behavior.  We have endured illness, violence, and hardships, but we can rise above it all by just appreciating the folks who share our life journey and those who shaped our lives.

This Thanksgiving, as you gather around your tables, look at the faces you can still see and be grateful.  Be thankful for the teenager who is being a teen.  Comfort the toddler who screams through dinner, and the grandpa who can’t hear the scream.   Be grateful for the spouse who kept you up snoring and the child who keeps you in worry.  And, above all else, appreciate the God who placed them at your table.

Fill your plates with happiness and Thanksgiving and take a moment to feel the arms of angels as they bring you peace.

“Welcome Home, Mighty Warrior”

Sometimes in life, we must go backward to move forward.  We may need to repair a bridge before we cross it, or perhaps, ask for forgiveness before we seek blessings.

History tries to teach us not to repeat errors.  America has a long-standing record of fighting for freedom and for the oppressed throughout the world.  Our ancestors suffered or died in battles to protect our democracy and served us all with heroic acts and unselfish devotion. 

America has given much, applauded many, and saved countless, but we have also created a few potholes in our roads that caused damage and pain.

This country made an error in the 1970s when our Vietnam Veterans returned home. It was a tragic mistake when we held no parades, heard no applause, and saw few “Welcome Home” signs for those who had served America in a long, brutal war. 

We sent well over 2 million men and women to battle and over 52,000 soldiers to graves.  Afterward, we shuffled the war and those returning soldiers into silence.  We were in a hurry just to “get over” this blip in our history.

It is past time to repair this pothole.

A humbling experience

After I wrote a column, “Salute the Vietnam Warrior,” last Memorial Day, I began receiving many responses from thankful Vets. They simply appreciated my few words recognizing their valiant service. Soon, I was invited and honored to speak to several Vietnam Veterans’ organizations near me.

  The first evening I stood before a group, I was moved to tears. When one gazes into the eyes of those who walk with canes due to old war wounds or still grieve over the loss of close comrades, the experience changes you. 

In the corner of an American Legion Hall, a white linen-covered table with a place setting for one adorned with a single red rose dominated the space and jarred my soul.   The empty chair patiently waits for the missing soldier from long ago to join the others for dinner.    

I was humbled when I noticed a veteran’s tear fall because I had simply saluted their service with mere words.  It was then when I realized that we must repair a hurt, mend a heart, and build better bridges.

Past due gratitude

These military men and women applauded me for a three-minute story, plus a 30-minute speech. However, they had given years telling countless stories of heroism, sacrifice, loss, imprisonment, abandonment, and grief.  It is I who should be praising these warriors who marched en-masse to Southeast Asia to fight in a thankless, unmerciful, foreign war.

There are over 600,000 living Vietnam Veterans scattered over our country and beyond today.   The names of those who never returned home are carved on a wall in Washington. Yet, few of us will see or begin to understand the depth of pain it represents. 

All veterans, including those who returned from other battles, need to be welcomed home. Also,not only by their families but by every person who calls themselves American.  I wish it were not too late to produce a Ticker Tape parade celebrating our returning military men and women. But since that cannot happen, perhaps we could honor them another way.   

We should give from our hearts to the many organizations that help our veterans to show our appreciation.    It is not too late to mend the broken spirit of the soldier we too often take for granted.  It is never too late to reward our heroes with resounding applause, open arms, and gratitude. 

A warriors love of country

We will be changed if we look into the pages of history to understand that the love a warrior has for his country is the backbone of our nation.  The sacrifice that soldiers gave so that we remain free should be honorably held in the highest regard, whether a war was popular or not, whether you agreed with the battle or not, and no matter how long ago it was.  No veteran should ever feel alone or forgotten.

We can spar over politics, over our rights, over policy, and over our dinner tables, but we must all agree that we never forsake the most courageous among us. 

Let’s welcome home all veterans with our humble hearts, countless gifts of gratitude, and buckets of pride.  Let’s fill our potholes with care and concern so those who march across the bridges to war will always do so, knowing that we will honor their courage all the rest of their days.   

Here are two out of many you may wish to donate to on this Veterans Day 2021:

Vietnam Veterans of America or your local chapter

Tunnels for Towers Foundation

A Brave Adventurer’s Final Journey

After a seven-year battle with cancer, Tom passed away.  But then, I am still not sure who won.  In all my years living on this earth, the fortitude and power Tom exhibited during his battle were akin to Alexander of the Great family.

At the beginning of his cancer war, the future looked bleak for Tom.  He was sick and fearful of what the next day would bring.  I am not sure when or what month or even what day, but somewhere along the battle lines, Tom decided he would live fiercely until he couldn’t.

Always the adventurer, he began packing his bags.  He and his wife, Geri, sped off when the cancer was slowed by chemo, new medicines, and Tom’s ferocious will.  They sailed across oceans, flew high in the sky, and drove across the land, distancing themselves from disease.  Tom’s desire to see the world and enjoy the folks who inhabit it curtailed cancer’s death wish.

One last dream trip was planned with a buddy to go to Antarctica, but it wasn’t the big ‘C’ that canceled that trip, but rather the other nasty ‘C,’ COVID.

The greatest adventure

Because of the virus, the travels and explorations ended for a while.  However, once those vaccines hit Tom’s arms, the brochures, plans, and explorations were back on the table.  Cancer would need to return to the cargo hold.

Finally, Tom’s adventurous voyage to the South Pole was rebooked, and he could finally see the ship on the horizon in his soul.  But about the same time, cancer was weakening his body, and the doctor finally broke the news, “Tom, there isn’t much time left.”  Saddened, Tom thought about his family, friends, and the last trip he would miss.  He wasn’t ready to leave.  The oncologist, seeing the sadness sweep across his patient’s face, declared, “Tom, you are going on the greatest adventure of your life.  You will finally see the face of God, and He will show you the world!”

Tom flew away three days later.  He was in a hurry to go.

For some, reading this, this is a sad tale of sickness and death.  But when I think about those who savor living until life ends, I am in awe of the courage they exemplified during the battle.  They give purpose to their days and show the meaning of motivation to the rest of us who are eating twinkies while staring at the TV.

Never waste time

Whether a soldier is battling an enemy in war or a warrior facing a disease, the endurance and strength it demands to stand tall is astounding.  These are the folks who can teach us all how to march on and live a good meaningful life.

How many of us waste precious moments with self-indulgence and trivialities? How many of us fight over stupid stuff, acting irresponsibly and selfishly?  While Tom was facing death with grace and honor, there were idiots on planes punching flight attendants or politicians somewhere acting like idiots.  Folks were fighting over a vaccine to prevent illness, while others like Tom were rejoicing to receive an injection so they could continue to live. 

We all make mistakes, sin, and occasionally act foolishly while we are here.  And, for many, we try to correct or atone for those errors during the hours we breathe if we are insightful enough to do so.

The final trip

For me, I envision my final trip because I see God now.  I suppose when I leave here, I will travel down a long hall.  Framed pictures hang on the walls depicting my life on earth.  I will view joyful paintings of my time with family and friends. However, I will also see dark scenes depicting the sins and hurt I created.  They will cause me sorrow as I relive my journey walking down the corridor.  However, at the end of the hallway, there is a light waiting for me, and as I move closer, I recognize the face of God.  He takes my hand and dries my tears from the sadness of my life.  And when I touch Him, I look back toward the hall, but it has vanished.  It is then God smiles, and I understand.

We are born with a duty to live our lives until we are done. Our days here will leave inspiration for others or not.  When we walk down the passageway to meet our maker, what scenes will be depicted in the highlighted paintings of our time? 

So, adventurous Tom took his final journey. I believe when the brave explorer reached the end of the hallway, the Lord said, “Welcome, my friend! I am flying you to Antarctica where we will toast the setting sun for an inspirational life well done.” 

 For Tom Harkins, 1949-2021