Long-Lost Friends

I woke up one morning to discover all my friends were dead. Okay, maybe not all my friends, but three of my very best. Granted, I haven’t seen them for decades, yet it still hit me like a bad phone call in the middle of the night; all three of my best childhood friends were dead. And it made me sad. None of them would ever be able to get together with me to share stories and reminisce. I could never reach them by phone or meet up for a drink after a class reunion, nor would any of them ever be available to friend on Facebook.

I had three best buddies growing up. My very first was Dennis Beiter.

Dennis and Me
Dennis and me, August 1966

Dennis and I became fast friends in 1964 when my family moved two doors up the road from him. I was five; son of a Baptist preacher and Dennis, one year my senior, was the son of a Catholic grocer.

My 50-year-old memories of Dennis picture him as a freckle-faced kid with big front teeth and sandy colored hair who typically wore nothing but a plain white t-shirt and blue jeans to play in; and he was always up for an adventure.

We spent most of our days riding our bikes up and down Heinz Road, seeing how far we could coast with no hands. Sometimes we made it for what seemed like miles. But one time I recall only making it to his driveway before I wiped out, planting my face into the fresh tar and gravel.

When we weren’t on our bikes, we were playing in the woods across the road. We enjoyed turning over rocks, looking for bugs and skipping stones in the pond. We were known to spend hours out there, until finally, one of us either wet our pants (usually me) or we thought we heard the mysterious bobcat our big brothers swore lived in those woods.

When the weather was bad, we were in his basement doing what all little boys did in the mid-sixties. We pretended to be the Beatles. (Okay, maybe that’s not typical). At the top of our lungs, we would belt out, “I wanna hold your hand,” while strumming air guitars atop an old kitchen table.

It was your typical 1960’s basement with concrete floor and walls furnished with boxes and worn-out furniture. I remember next to the table was an antiquated refrigerator that I couldn’t help but peak inside any time we were down there. Mainly because it contained things I’d never seen before; things, such as bottles of beer (one would never find that in a Baptist preacher’s fridge) or freshly skinned squirrel carcasses hanging there with their furry tails still intact.

It was in his basement where I had my most traumatic childhood experience. Dennis wanted to show me the giant battleship he’d received for Christmas. We ran downstairs to check it out, but it wasn’t long before we got tired of the battleship and turned our attention to the empty box it had come in. It was long and narrow, with both ends kicked out. My buddy was the first to try it on. He slipped it over his head with his arms out in front, flailing about like the robot from Lost in Space, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

It was my turn next. I squeezed into the box and began to shuffle around like a robot when suddenly; I lost my footing and began to fall forward. Because I was confined in that narrow box I was unable to put one foot forward to catch myself and instead began to tip over. That’s when I caught a glimpse of the window leaning up against the wall. As I fell towards it, I must have instinctively covered my face with my left arm and down I crashed, glass shattering all around me, piercing my forehead and slashing a deep gash into my left arm just above the elbow. I remember the blood. Lots and lots of blood. And Dennis’s dad rushing me to my house and my sister crying and my grandma wrapping my arm in a dish towel and then calling my dad to come home and take me to the hospital. It was all so very exciting.

It’s been fifty years since that day. And fifty years since I saw my best friend, Dennis. We moved shortly after that and I never saw him again. But I did call him one time in early 2003. I remember thinking how strange he sounded with his deep bass voice, instead of that six-year-old with whom I had shared so many adventures. We had a great visit over the phone, reminiscing about the old days and our childhood shenanigans and we promised to keep in touch, but of course life moved on and we never spoke again. I heard from his sister recently that he died from esophageal cancer on April 1, 2013.

Dennis was my first best friend. I don’t remember ever quarreling or competing with him. (Except when we argued over who got to be Paul and who had to be John). We both just simply enjoyed playing together and having a good time. Isn’t that what friends are for?

New Beginning

Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

 …from our old life to new life in Christ

It was Christmas Eve at the Jacob’s.  Bing was crooning familiar carols from the boom box in the living room, while Jim put the finishing touches on a home project down the hall. Megan was in the kitchen, taking advantage of a napping baby, wrapping presents and working on dinner. Justin was busy being a three-year-old, jumping off the walls with excitement for Santa’s arrival.

“I’m gonna go pick up mom,” Jim said, carrying his toolbox through the kitchen.

“Jim wait! Can you please stop by the store and pick up butter? Oh, and get a quart of egg nog while you’re there. But non-alcoholic, this time,” Megan said with a giggle. Jim set his toolbox on the counter and wrapped his arms around his wife.

“Thank you,” he said, looking into her blue eyes.

“For what?” Megan asked, wiping the sweat off her forehead. A trail of flour remained sprinkled across her brow.

“For forgiving me. For being willing to give me another chance,” Jim said. He softly blew the flour from her eyebrow and kissed her on the forehead.

“Go on, now. I need you back here by six,” Megan said, giving him a swat on the rear.

It was a quarter-till when Jim arrived back with his mom. As they walked in the house, they could smell the roast turkey and hot rolls. Megan turned from setting the table and greeted Carol with a gentle hug, while Jim hung up her coat.

“Did you tell her yet?” Megan asked.

“Not yet,” Jim answered. ”I was waiting until I could show her.” Carol looked at both of them with a confused look. “Mom, we have something to show you. Come with me.”

The three of them walked down the hall, followed by their rambunctious little three-year-old. When they got to the end of the hall, Jim opened the door revealing his latest project. He had finally finished the spare room and bath. Carol gasped and smiled. She nodded her head in approval. “Mom, this is your room,” Jim announced. “We want you to come live with us. You’ll have this side of the house to yourself, and you’ll even have your own bathroom. What do you think?”

Carol was astonished. Her eyes glistened with gratitude as she gave her son a hug.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” Jim chuckled. Carol nodded and smiled, hugging him one more time.

“Well, dinner’s just about ready, so let’s eat,” Megan said. “Carol, I realize you can’t eat yet, because of you jaw, so I had Jim pick up some egg nog today. I know it’s one of your favorites.” Carol nodded and smiled.

As the family gathered around the table, Justin immediately reached for the spoon sitting in the mashed potatoes.

“Just a minute, buddy, we’re gonna say a prayer first,” his daddy said. Everyone appeared a bit surprised, then awkwardly bowed their heads and closed their eyes.

“Dear God, thanks for everything,” Jim prayed. ”Thanks for helping me get into recovery, and for my friend and sponsor, Joe. Thanks for helping mom start to heal and for providing us with a place where she could come live with us. Thanks for Megan, for fixing this great meal, but more importantly, for her love and forgiveness. Thank you for little Hannah Joy, who brought us a ray of sunshine during the darkest time of our lives. We’re grateful for a safe and healthy delivery.  We already can’t imagine life without her. And thanks for our happy little man, Justin. I hope he gets everything he asked for from Santa.” Justin looked up  and saw his daddy wink at him.

Then Jim continued, “And God, thanks for dad, may he rest in peace. Thank you for breaking the chains that have kept our family hostage all these many years. Thanks for freeing us from our past hurt and into your HOPE, for bringing PEACE into our lives and home, for restoring JOY in the midst of painful circumstances and for the LOVE we experience through you. And finally, thank you for sending baby Jesus to save us. And it’s in his name we pray, Amen.”

Just as they began eating, the baby woke from her nap and started crying. Megan sighed and stood up to get her, but Carol indicated she wanted to help, so Megan gratefully accepted her offer. As the family enjoyed Christmas dinner, Carol gently cradled her newborn granddaughter in her arms, and softly quieted her, humming, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles 
and for glory to your people Israel.”              Luke 2:29-32


Merry Christmas,

Tom Wideman

December 25, 2012

To read this story from the beginning, click here.



Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

…from self destruction to self-love               

Megan and the baby came home from the hospital on December 20th, the same day Henry Jacob’s was to be buried. As they walked in the house, Megan discovered Jim had cleaned the house and gone out and bought a real Christmas tree.

“Wow, when did you find time to do all this?” Megan asked.

“Well, Justin and I were up past our bedtime last night, decorating the tree,” Jim said. Megan couldn’t help but laugh when she saw the tree decorations, which consisted of baby rattles she’d been given at her baby shower, and an assortment of Justin’s action figures. “We couldn’t find where you stored the real ornaments,” Jim admitted.

The four of them got changed and headed for the funeral, picking up Jim’s mom on the way. As they pulled onto the farm, they saw remnants of crime scene tape fluttering in the wind around the evergreen shrubs in front of the house.

“Well, it looks like mom decorated for Christmas too,” Jim said with a chuckle.

“Jim, that’s not funny,” Megan said. “We’ve got to get your mom out of this house. She shouldn’t have to stay here with all the painful memories, especially considering your dad shot himself in their bedroom.”

“I know you’re right, but what do you propose we do?” Jim asked. Just then, his mom came out the front door wearing her best Sunday dress. Jim quickly got out and helped her to the car.

“Carol, you look nice” Megan said. “The bruising is starting to fade on your jaw.” Carol attempted a smile and a thank you, in spite of her emotional and physical pain. The car ride to the funeral parlor was relatively quiet except for Justin who would occasionally break into “Jingle Bells.”

There was a sparse gathering at the funeral, mainly distant relatives and a couple of old retired farmers and their wives. The preacher had never met Henry Jacobs and it showed. His sermon was so generic; it could have been just about anyone lying in the casket.

Jim fidgeted throughout the eulogy, until the preacher finally stopped and sat down. Just as the funeral director started down the aisle to give last minute instructions about the procession, Jim surprised everyone by standing up and walking up to the podium.

“I know it was not planned for me to speak, but I need to say something. With all due respect to the reverend, I feel it’s important someone say something about the deceased. My dad was an S-O-B. The few of us who are here today know that to be a fact. We’ve all, in some way or another, been a victim of his anger and abuse. In reality, most of the people who knew him hated him and if we were honest, would admit we are secretly glad that he’s dead.”

Jim’s mom let out a whimper and covered her face with a handkerchief. Megan put her arm around her and gave Jim a concerned look.

“I’m sorry, mom,” Jim continued. “But hear me out. I don’t know much about my old man; where or how he grew up. But from my one, single memory of Grandpa Jacobs, my guess is, he lived a pretty miserable childhood. And that might just be the reason he made my childhood miserable as well. And up until the other day, I was doing the same thing with my family. I was making all our lives a living hell. But something happened to me this past week. I guess I hit the wall, as they say in recovery circles. I came to the lowest point in my life, where I nearly lost it all. And that’s the point when I had to come to terms with my own attitude and behavior. Yes, I had been a victim of unspeakable abuse from my dad, but I realized I didn’t have to remain a victim. If I choose to live as a victim and refuse to forgive my dad for all the abuse, then I choose to allow my dad to have control over my life, even from the grave. But I’m done! I’m done living in fear of my father. I’m done with the hate and the anger. I’m done spending my life medicating my pain with my own self-destructive addictions.”

Jim cleared his throat and continued.

“I believe my dad has given all of us a gift. That’s right, a gift, because he has given us a picture of where self-destructive behavior ultimately leads. Self-destructive behavior, like alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction, anger, or even debt, all ultimately leads to death. So thank you, Henry Jacobs for showing that to us. I forgive you for the abuse because I believe you were a fellow victim of your own abuse and self-hatred. Thanks for providing me shelter and food and education and for a few precious happy memories in my life. I hope you’re at peace now. I hope you can have the joy of meeting Jesus and experiencing true love now. I don’t know what your future in eternity will be like, but I do know that I am committed to making my remaining years on earth a personal pursuit of HOPE in Jesus, my Higher Power, of living in PEACE with myself, my family and friends, of JOY in spite of whatever circumstance that comes my way, and of LOVE, that seeks the best in everyone I know. So, good-bye dad, I believe you loved me in your own way, and I love you too.”

 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Eccleciastes 3:10-11

Advent Application: God’s business is about bringing beauty from the ashes of our lives. It’s the theme of Jesus’ life and death; born to young parents who were alone with little-to-no family support, he survived a king-ordered genocide aimed at him, only to grow up poor, and then live as a nomad with a group of misfits, constantly at odds with his own religious establishment who ended up having him killed. But that’s not the end of the story. Death did not receive the victory; Jesus did, when he rose from the dead. It is in Christ’s resurrection that we discover the true beauty of God’s purpose in Jesus’ life and in ours. If your life appears to be a heap of smoldering ash, take heart, submit to God and watch Him make it beautiful in its time.

To read this story from the beginning, click here.



Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

…from broken relationships to reconciliation

“I’m so proud of you, Jim, for sharing at your very first meeting,” Joe said.

“Thanks, Joe,” Jim answered. “I was afraid maybe I shared too much. But it felt so good to finally open up about my stuff, I just couldn’t stop.” Both men laughed. “And to share my secrets and then not feel shamed or judged by the group, I don’t know, I guess I always assumed that if people knew the real me, they would reject me.”

“That’s exactly how I felt before I was in recovery,” Joe said. “Hey, you want to go get a cup of coffee?”

“I would, Joe, but give me a rain check on that. There’s something I need to go do before I do anything else.” Jim reached out to shake Joe’s hand, but Joe pulled him in for a big hug.

“Call me if you need to talk later. You got my number,” Joe said.

Jim pulled out of the church parking lot with a lightness he had never felt before. Tears of joy streamed down his face as he drove back into town towards the hospital. Why should he feel such joy, he thought. His circumstances hadn’t changed one bit. His marriage was still on the verge of divorce, his mother was still in great pain and his dad was still dead, but for some reason, hearing the other men share their stories of defeat and triumph, gave him the encouragement he needed to move ahead.

When he arrived at the hospital, the butterflies in his stomach seemed to be trying to convince him to fly away with them. But he ignored their fluttering and headed to her room. When he opened the door, Justin jumped up in excitement. Jim reached down and swooped him up for a hug. Megan was feeding the baby and watching TV. Jim reached over and turned it off.

“Hey! I was watching that,” Megan protested.

“I know, but we need to talk,” Jim said. He put Justin down and got him playing with his action figures, then walked over and sat down on the edge of Megan’s bed. He took a deep breath, and then, for the first time in his life, opened up and shared his story with his wife. He told her about the abuse and how he’d always dealt with it by running away and isolating himself. He apologized for the way he had treated her and Justin and committed to do whatever it took to make things right, including attending Celebrate Recovery and marriage counseling.

Megan couldn’t help but be skeptical, as he’d promised to change many times before, yet as he continued sharing, her heart began to soften and she found herself desperately wanting to believe him.

“Will you please forgive me and give us another chance?” Jim asked, gently placing his hand on her leg. Megan reached down and placed her hand on his and smiled softly. Jim buried his head in her lap and cried tears of relief and gratitude.

Justin climbed on to the bed and put his hand on his daddy’s heaving shoulders.

“Daddy, I’m sorry I said you smelled funny. You don’t smell funny, you smell good.” Jim sat up and wrapped his little boy into his arms.

“No, son, you were right, I stink,” Jim said, laughing through his tears. He rubbed his whiskered face against Justin’s, making him squeal in delight. “But I promise, to you and to mommy and your baby sister, I’m gonna get cleaned up.”

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.      1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Advent Application: Love can make us do crazy things. It can also make us do difficult things, like saying “I’m sorry.” Making amends is hard, but it’s also very liberating. When Love came down at Christmas, it was God’s way of making amends on our behalf. So, if you are struggling with unforgiveness, let Love help you make amends this Christmas.

To read this story from the beginning, click here.



Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

…from depravity to purity

Photo by emma320

Joe stood at the front door of Christ Community Church hoping his friend, Jim, would show up for the recovery meeting. But as he heard the music starting, there was still no sign of him. Joe checked his watch; it was 7:15, so he went on inside to the meeting.

Jim was driving down Highway T towards the Interstate when he spotted Christ Community on the right. The church sign announced Celebrate Recovery Meeting Tonight at 7:00, but Jim whizzed on by. He had made up his mind that he needed a night away from all his worries, so he bought a six-pack at the Gas-N-Go and headed on down to the Gentleman’s Club and Adult Arcade. But just as he pulled into the parking lot, he surprised himself with a bad case of nervous sweats.

Jim sat there with the motor running, cracked open the window and pulled the tab on his second beer. He watched as a trucker slinked his way inside the blacked-out front door of the triple-X funhouse. Then he watched as another guy, hiding under a hoodie, came out and headed quickly to his minivan. As Jim watched the minivan pass by, he spotted a baby asleep in the guy’s back seat. He felt his stomach knot up as he recognized the depth of such desperation and depravity. He thought about how he had acted-out through the years, putting himself and his family at risk. He pictured his little family in the hospital room, each one in tears of pain because of him. He knew how that felt. He had grown up with that same relationship with his father. He had sworn he wouldn’t be like his old man, but yet, that’s exactly what had happened.

Jim threw the opened beer out the window, followed by the rest of the six-pack, and skidded out of the gravel parking lot. It was 7:30. He headed back up Highway T, eventually slowing down at the church. He turned in and found a parking spot. Pulling his hood up over his head, he got out and walked to the front door. Through the glass he could see his friend, Joe, sitting on the back row  next to an empty chair. He took a deep breath and walked inside.

As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.    Proverbs 26:11 

Advent Application: Jim’s life was a total disaster. A childhood victim of abuse and an adult addicted to sex and alcohol, he was now facing divorce from the one woman who had ever really loved him and who had just given birth to their second child, a precious little girl. His mother was in the hospital after being abused by his father, a drunk, who had apparently shot himself in the head. He was a total train wreck. So what else would someone like Jim do, but return to the very thing that he had used all his life to numb his pain, sex and alcohol.

But this time, something was different. Seeing the pitiful display of men slinking in and out of the Gentlemen’s Club and then witnessing an innocent baby being put in harm’s way because his father was unable to think of anyone but himself, helped him come to a point of clarity and decision. He could walk in and repeat his folly, or he could take the scary 1st step of recovery. And that’s what he did. He admitted he was powerless over his addictions and compulsive behaviors and that his life had become unmanageable.

It’s interesting how it took a baby to get his attention. First his own newborn baby daughter had been born. Her birth served as a catalyst for him returning, even if for a brief moment, to his little family. And then, secondly, it was the baby asleep in the back seat of that minivan that sobered him up to see the depravity of his addiction. But most importantly, it was the Baby in the manger that would ultimately make a difference in his life. If Jim commits to continuing the 12 steps of recovery, he will soon be given the chance to choose Jesus Christ as his Higher Power. It’s that same Jesus who was born so long ago in order to set the captives free. Captives, like Jim, who were bound by the chains of addiction. The baby Jesus was born to set him free from those chains. If the chains of sexual addiction bind you, including the habitual use of pornography, there’s an online support ministry that can help. Check out www.xxxchurch.com.

To read this story from the beginning, click here.


Solitary Confinement

Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

…from isolation to community    

Jim entered Megan’s hospital room and made a beeline to his newborn daughter. Justin looked up from the TV and immediately hopped down from his chair.

“Daddy,” he exclaimed, running over and hugging him around his legs. “Daddy, you smell funny.”

Megan sat quietly on her bed, trying hard not to get her feelings hurt from being totally ignored by Jim.

“Jim, at least wash your hands before you pick up the baby. You’re filthy,” she said. Jim picked up the baby anyway and turned his back toward Megan. “Jim, I’m serious. Go wash up!” Jim turned around and glared at Megan with wet, angry eyes.

“Megan, if you don’t shut up, I’m gonna…”

“You’re gonna what?” Megan interrupted. Jim took a step toward Megan in anger, accidently knocking his frightened son to the floor. Justin started crying for his mom, which set the baby to crying. Pretty soon all four of them were in tears.

“I’ve gotta get out of here,” Jim said to himself, but loud enough for Megan to hear.

“That’s right, get everyone riled up and then flee the scene of the crime like you always do,” Megan said.

Jim didn’t respond. He handed the baby over to Megan, bent down and apologized to his crying son, then turned and walked out. As he walked down the hall, he could hear his son crying for him to stay. Jim couldn’t bear it and ran down the hall as fast as he could.

The hospital doors opened and Jim felt the blast of winter wind on his red face. He ran to his dad’s pickup and took off spinning slush across the parking lot. Almost instinctively he started toward the old barn, but then reconsidered. He did a one-eighty right in the middle of the two-lane highway and headed the opposite direction.

Jim had driven a good way down the highway when his cell phone vibrated in his jeans pocket. It was his friend, Joe, from the diner.

“Hello,” Jim answered.

“Hey, Jim. This is Joe. I just heard about your dad,” Joe said.

“News travels fast ‘round here, doesn’t it. But that’s not the half of it, Joe,” Jim explained. “Megan and my mom are both in the hospital. Dad apparently kicked mom in the face last night and broke her jaw and Megan went into labor early and had our baby this morning!”

“Wow, Jim, that’s a lot for one person to deal with. How are you holding up? Are you at the hospital now?”

“Nah, I had to get out of there,” Jim answered. “Everything was going to hell-in-a-hand-basket and it was best for me to split.”

“I understand those feelings, Jim, I really do. But maybe it’s not such a great idea for you to be alone right now,” Joe suggested. “I’m headed over to my recovery meeting pretty soon, over at Christ Community on Highway T, why don’t you join me?”

“Nah, I’ll be okay. I just need to be alone,” Jim replied. “But thanks for the offer.”

“Well, I wish you’d reconsider,” Joe said with a bit of disappointment. “If you change your mind, meet me there at 7:00. I’ll wait at the front door and we can go in together. Jim, I care for you and I’ll be praying for you and your family.”

Jim hung up the phone and pulled off to the side of the road. He rested his head on the steering wheel and whispered, “God help me.” He blinked the tears out of his stinging eyes and sighed deeply.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
 he breaks out against all sound judgment.           Proverbs 18:1

Advent Application: God made us for relationships. No one can live his or her entire life in isolation. We were all meant for community. When we isolate ourselves, we end up acting out in some way in an attempt to numb the pain of our loneliness. Then the shame of acting out brings us more pain that we attempt to numb by acting out again, and again, leading us into addictions and more isolation. It’s a vicious cycle. Jim appears to be at a crossroads, both literally and figuratively. Joe has reached out to him, inviting him to join him in the safe community of recovery, but Jim is the only one who can make the decision to join them or stay in his isolation. The wisdom of Proverbs 18:1 is profound, “whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire,” but it takes an act of surrender to finally admit our selfish desires are what got us into trouble in the first place.

God didn’t have to come to us as a newborn baby, totally dependent on an earthly mother and father. He could have appeared as a fully functioning, totally independent God-creature who lived alone in a cave carving rules and laws for us to follow. But community is important to God. God is love, and love only happens in relationships. The eternal community of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the supreme example of a loving relationship.

If you are feeling alone and isolated, you may also be struggling with a destructive habit or addiction. If so, go to www.celebraterecovery.com and click on “Groupfinder” for a list of support groups in your area. Don’t stay isolated in your pain.

To read this story from the beginning, click here.


Pride’s Prejudice

Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

…from marital strife to marital harmony    

Justin watched Sesame Street on the TV while Megan finished nursing the baby. As she was putting Hannah back in her bassinet, there was a knock on her hospital room door.

“Come in,” Megan said.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for Mrs. Jacobs,” said the visitor.

“I’m Megan Jacobs,” she explained.

“Oh, I think I got the wrong room number,” the visitor said, looking at her notes. “I’m looking for a Carol Jacobs.”

“Wait, Carol’s my mother-in-law. Is she in the hospital too?” Megan asked. “Who are you?” she added.

“I’m sorry. I’m Anita Stroud. I’m a reporter for the Post and was told this was Mrs. Jacob’s room, which I guess it is, but just the wrong Mrs. Jacob’s,” she explained with a nervous laugh. “Apparently, your mother-in-law was admitted this morning about the time they found her husband dead in their home. I was just hoping to ask her a couple of questions.”

Megan gasped and fell back on the bed. She looked over at Justin who was still glued to the TV.

“Mrs. Jacobs…Megan, is it? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ll just see myself out,” the reporter said and exited the room quickly.

Megan’s hands were shaking when she picked up her cell phone to call Jim.

In another wing of the hospital, Jim and his mother were still trying to deal with the news of his dad’s suicide. Both were silently staring out the window when Jim’s phone vibrated in his pocket. Jim saw that it was Megan calling.

“Megan, I can’t talk right now, I’m at the hospital with mom,” Jim said abruptly, and started to hang up.

“No, wait, I know,” Megan answered. “I’m in the hospital too. I just heard about your dad.”

“Why are you at the hospital? We just heard the news a couple of minutes ago; how did you get here so fast?” Jim said.

“I’ve been here since early this morning. I had the baby,” Megan said. Jim didn’t respond. “Jim, are you still there?”

“I’m here. Did you just say you had the baby?” He immediately started down the hall toward the maternity ward. “Why didn’t you call me?” he demanded.

“I did, but you didn’t answer,” she replied.

“Is everything okay? Is the baby…” Jim hesitated.

“She’s fine, I’m fine too, not that you care. But your dad; what happened?” Megan said.

“Never mind that right now. What room number are you in? I’m on my way.”

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.      Proverbs 13:10

Advent Application: A crisis can either bring people closer together or it can do just the opposite. There was already strife in Jim and Megan’s marriage. They were on the brink of divorce, caused mainly by Jim’s anger and addictions, but in reality, the true cause was simply pride. When we allow our pride to rule our behavior, we become more concerned with having our own way than we are having true reconciliation. But the Proverb tells us that if we humble ourselves and take the godly advise of others, we are found wise. Time will tell if Jim and Megan are willing to check their pride at the door and humble themselves and seek out the advise of a good marriage counselor or pastor.

Mary and Joseph must have experienced strife in their relationship when Mary ended up pregnant before tying the knot. Matthew 1:19 states that Joseph was planning on divorcing her quietly. But thankfully, both of them humbled themselves and were willing to take the advice of God’s messengers and move forward with God’s plan for their lives. When we follow godly advise, we find true wisdom.

If your marriage is on the rocks, seek godly advice. Call your pastor or Christian marriage counselor and gain the wisdom that can help end the strife in your marriage. And if your not currently experiencing marital strife, thank God for blessing your marriage. Write a love letter to your spouse telling them how thankful you are to have them in your life.

To read this story from the beginning, click here.

Dead End

Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free 

…from depression to wholeness           

Jim left a generous tip on the table for Joe, his favorite waiter, and headed toward the front door of Lucy’s diner.

“Have a good day, hon. Go home and take a hot shower,” Lucy said as Jim helped himself to a toothpick.

“Afraid there’s no time for that. I need to go check on my mom,” he said.

“Well, tell her I said ‘hey!’”

The snow was melting into a soupy mess as Jim drove to the hospital. He glanced at himself in the rearview mirror and tried, unsuccessfully, to smooth his greasy hair with his hand. His eyes were looking less hung over.

The hospital had an unusual buzz when he walked into the lobby. He had spotted several news vans out front and wondered if perhaps someone important had just died. He approached the information desk.

“Could I have Carol Jacobs’ room number please?”

“I’m sorry. I’ve already told some of the other reporters we’re not allowed to give out that information,” the volunteer said rather sharply.

“Reporters? I’m not a reporter, I’m her son, Jim Jacobs,” he answered rather confused and indignant.

“I apologize, Mr. Jacobs, but when the news got out about your father, everyone from the sheriff’s department to the news reporters have been trying to see your mom,” she said, handing him a small piece of paper with his mother’s room number on it.

“What on earth are you talking about?” Jim asked loudly.

When the volunteer realized Jim was in the dark about his father’s death, she excused herself and called the chaplain for assistance. But it was too late; Jim was already headed to his mom’s room in a sprint. He shoved his way past the deputy standing guard and barged into her room unannounced. When he saw her bruised face, he broke down in tears.

“What’s going on, mom? What happened to you and dad? They’re saying there are news reporters wanting to talk with you,” Jim asked without pausing for any answers.

“Your mother can’t answer you. She was given a sedative earlier and still very groggy. Besides, her jaw is broken and wired shut, so she’s unable to talk.” The voice came from behind him. Jim turned and saw the deputy who had followed him into the room.

“What’s going on, officer?” Jim demanded.

“Your father was found dead at his home this morning, single bullet to the head, and your mother was admitted this morning after being discovered passed out behind the wheel of her stalled car,” the deputy said with zero emotion.

Jim turned back toward his mother, who just stared up at the ceiling, her eyes as red as his had been earlier. Jim stood paralyzed for a moment and then walked up next to her bed and whispered in her ear.

“Mom, do you know what happened to dad?” he asked, trying not to show his suspicion of her.

She turned toward him and pointed her finger back in his face.

“What are you saying, mom? You think I shot dad?” he whispered, glancing over his shoulder toward the deputy. “I didn’t do it, even though I’ve thought about it a hundred times. What about you?” Both mother and son stared silently at each other, questioning their own suspicions while studying each other’s faces for signs of guilt.

Just then, the deputy got a phone call. It was from the sheriff. They had found a suicide note.

Anyone who is among the living has hope.              Ecclesiastes 9:4

Advent Application: Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, or more than 24 million people. That’s more than coronary heart disease (17 million) or cancer (12 million) or HIV/AIDS (1 million). Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent. Those who attempt suicide have given up on any hope, but the Bible says that anyone who is among the living still has hope. All living people have hope, but those who end their lives do not. Don’t allow depression to make you hopeless enough to end your own life. There’s help. Call your doctor. Talk with a pastor or counselor. Memorize Ecclesiastes 9:4 or

1 Peter 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

To read this story from the beginning, click here.

Bad to the Bone

Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

…from envy to gratitude                   

Photo by Null Value

The sheriff and his deputy drove back to the Jacob’s farm to join the investigation already in progress. As they pulled on to the property, they spotted some of the local news reporters congregating next to the yellow crime tape.

The sheriff checked himself in the rearview mirror, grabbed his hat and exited the car. His deputy rolled his eyes, anticipating what would happen next. Sure enough, the sheriff swaggered over to the reporters and began making a statement before they even had a chance to ask any questions.

“At approximately 6:55 this morning, we discovered the resident, Mr. Henry Jacobs, mortally wounded from a gun shot to the head. His next of kin have been notified and we are now in the process of determining whether or not this is a murder or a suicide.”

“Do you have any leads or suspects?” asked one of the reporters.

“Not at this time, but we do consider his wife, Mrs. Carol Jacobs, a person of interest,” he answered. “That is all the questions I’m going to answer at this time,” and with that, he ducked under the crime tape and headed toward the house.

The deputy stayed behind hoping the reporters would ask him some questions. But when one of them announced they had just received a tip that the victim’s wife had been admitted to County hospital, the entire group jumped in their vans and sped away, kicking wet snow and gravel all over the deputy’s clean slacks. He swiped away at the gray slush and cursed under his breath.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:20

Advent Application:  We all struggle with envy and jealousy at some point in time in our lives. A neighbor buys a new car every other year, while we continue to drive our clunker. A friend marries our former girlfriend while we spend our nights alone, chatting online and eating cereal for dinner. The deputy struggled with envy over the sheriff’s status and the respect he received from the community, not to mention his huge salary.

But scripture says we need to live in peace and that if we struggle with envy, we will become dead inside. Jesus’ parents had reason to be envious. They could have been jealous of those sleeping in homes, instead of being left to sleep with the animals. They had been told that their son was going to be the Messiah, so why in the world would they end up giving birth in a feeding trough? Jesus, too, as he began his ministry could have been envious of everyone who lived in nice homes with the wife and kids, instead of being homeless, running around with a bunch of misfit followers. But Jesus knew the secret to wholeness and happiness was contentment, living in gratitude for what his heavenly Father provided for him. Read Matthew 6:25-34 to get Jesus’ perspective on how to live in contentment and experience true peace and joy. Make a list of things for which you are grateful.

To read this story from the beginning, click here.

Morning Joe

Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

…from sadness to happiness             

Lucy greeted Jim with a hug as soon as he walked in the door.

“Where have you been hiding?” she asked. “You look like death warmed over!”

“Rough night, Lucy,” Jim answered without making eye contact.

“Well, we’ll get you fixed up,” Lucy said. “Sit where you like, Joe will be with you in a moment with your coffee.”

Jim was a regular at Lucy’s Diner. He liked the food and the staff. They always made him feel welcomed.

“Jimmy, my man. Long time, no see,” Joe shouted as he placed a cup of hot coffee in front of him.

“Not so loud, Joe, I’ve got a bad headache,” Jim said.

“I should say. You look awful. Out partying last night?” Joe asked.

“Hardly. Got into another fight with the wife. Then had a bit too much to drink I suppose. I’ll have the bacon and eggs, over easy.”

“Sorry about that, Jimmy. You want toast or hashbrowns?”

“Toast. Yeah, I think it might be over this time. She’s been using the d-word a lot more lately.”

“Oh man, that sucks,” Joe answered. “Listen, I’m getting off in an hour. If you’re still here, I’d love to talk some more.”

“Thanks, Joe, but I’m gonna have to run as soon as I eat. Mom’s in the hospital.”

“What happened?” Joe asked.

“I’m not exactly sure,” Jim said. “But I really do appreciate your offer to talk.” Jim’s voice cracked with emotion.

“Listen, Jimmy. I’ve been right where you are, too much drinking and a painful divorce. But God saved me, man. He saved me from my self and my addiction,” Joe said with a big gummy smile on his face. “If he can help me, I know he can help you.”

“I don’t know, Joe. I’m a pretty hopeless case. I’ve got things in my past nobody knows about. Damaged goods, as they say,” Jim said looking into his coffee.

“Well, we are definitely going to talk then,” assured Joe. “Because I’m here to tell you, ain’t nobody any lower than I was.” Joe let out a big laugh and patted Jim on his shoulder. Jimmy smiled and sipped his coffee.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.     Psalm 68:3

Advent Application: Nothing makes a person happier than experiencing recovery from life’s hurts, habits and hang-ups. When a person finds freedom from their chains of addictions, they become contagious carriers of happiness. Joe lived his life out loud. He eagerly shared his life story with others because he was so thankful for his freedom from his addiction.  The 12th step states, “Having had a spiritual experience as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

2000 years ago, a King was born. But unlike today, when the royal family gives birth to an heir to the throne, with all the pomp and ceremony, not to mention, increased security at the best hospital in the kingdom; King Jesus was born in a stable, open to animals and lowly shepherds. Read their story in Luke 2. “So they (shepherds) hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about his child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

Good news makes us happy and that happiness becomes contagious when we “spread the word.”

To read this story from the beginning, click here