Like Sand Through the Hourglass

Like sand through the hourglass… seems like the hole between the upper and lower chambers of the glass has gotten wider these last few years.

By Ross L. Riggs, D Min.

Those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s often heard a familiar voice in the mid-afternoon come across the television. For me, it was usually  as my mother was ironing clothes. (For those of you who are much younger than I, ironing was something a mother, usually, would do using a steam iron and an ironing board. The purpose was to take clothes, particularly shirts, which had been dried on the clothesline in the backyard [I’ll explain that another time for sake of space] and iron the wrinkles out of them before folding and placing back in the drawer or, for dress shirts on a hanger)

The voice solemnly told us, “Like sand through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives” the introduction to the soap opera  Days of Our Lives. Soap operas were great for those who were hooked on them because even if you missed a few days, or weeks, even months, you could come back and find the storyline not very far advanced from when you left it. But, I digress.

The Bible also speaks of the fleeting nature of life. Solomon, a man who was given more wisdom than any man before or since once bemoaned, ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity..” He found little purpose in striving in life because no matter what, one was not getting out of life alive and whatever you had accomplished was left for someone else to claim. A pretty depressing line of thinking. Still, the Bible does give us analogies such as “For He Himself knows [a]our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer.” (Psalm 103:14-16) A great analogy, though editors are always cautious about the use of the word but; whether it is a adjective or a noun, of course spelling helps to clarify.

There is Jack Nicholson who, in Bucket List, declared life to pass like smoke through a keyhole. Of course, the origin of the thought is somewhat less clear. Google lists 166,000 answers as to the origin of the term.

James, the brother of Christ, a leader in the early church and co-author of the Book of James in the New Testament writes, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14 NASB)

What got me thinking about the brevity of life, or rather, the speed with which life seems to pass by came as I left Bethany Nursing Home, the finest facility  with the nicest folks where I had been watching the All Star Game with my brother Rod. The neighborhood around was apparently the night before trash pick up because the street had numerous trash receptacles out to the curb and some bags of trash awaiting pick up. Have you ever noticed how quickly you get from one trash day to the next? The week in between just blows by and the amount of stuff  you have to throw away from the week is incredible.

Allow me to go back to those childhood years when Mom was ironing and the man was solemnly warning us about the sand in our hourglass, we had something in our basement not uncommon in those days; but, now a thing of the past, an incinerator. Think of it as a family size crematorium for trash. You, (meaning the children in the house old enough to reach the top of the incinerator which was about the size of a washing machine) had the job of taking the bag of trash each evening, just after supper, to the basement to be thrown into the incinerator which had a gas fed fire always burning in the bottom, like a port-a-hades. The evening air in the neighborhood was always tinged with the smell of the days garbage being destroyed by the third element of nature. Later, we moved to a newer housing allotment and surprisingly the new homes did not have incinerators. Rather, in the back yard of each home was a burn barrel  and it was exactly what the name disclosed.

Now the children of the house old enough to handle matches unattended would carry  the bag of trash out to the burn barrel and light it up and standby long enough to know the days garbage was nothing but flecks of black soot rising into the air. Not bad duty on a cold winter night but not the best chore in the middle of summer unless you really enjoyed, perhaps too  much, watching things burn. I suppose it was the environmental movement of the 70’s which brought an end to burn barrels and a new suburban glimpse into city life, the appearance of garbage trucks! Still, life revolved, to some degree over the trash pick-up. My Mom would only fry chicken on the nights before trash pick-up so as to not have the bones lying in the garbage for several days…

The trash of our week gets tossed out and forgotten, hopefully being composted or recycled so my great-grandchildren don’t have to live on the waste dump we created. The weeks for which the trash accumulates go by more quickly with each passing year. Going out to retrieve the garbage can and taking the garbage can out, one begins to feel like the guy in the old “Dunkin Donuts’ commercial, who finally meets himself at the door he is coming and going so quickly and so often…

Solomon’s warning of life like a flower, the wind passes over it and it is remembered no more. We should acknowledge the brevity of life and rid ourselves of the trash which accumulates around our lives and we must do so prayerfully and purposefully. We need, at the same time to hold on to what really matters. Hang on to the precious moments which will fill our lives if we allow them .

When visiting the Philippines back in 1998, I was impressed with a part of  their culture which celebrated events rather than be slave to a clock. In the U.S., a time to meet with a friend for coffee is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. and is expected to be finished by 10:45, even placed in our cellphone calendar with a reminder ding and perhaps, too, an alert when time was up, next appointment. In the Filipino culture the event was time with a friend. Set for 10 but maybe it will begin at 10:30 or 10:45, whenever the parties arrive and it will last for as long as it possibly can, the friends taking over an hour to say goodbye even if it meant the next event would have to wait. Of course, a wait wouldn’t matter because the next meeting was also based on the event not the time.

I create for myself, now, a priorities list which is designed to help my sometimes failing memory with what I would like to accomplish each day. Notice, like to accomplish not need to accomplish? A few things have been on the list every day for a month, I’ll get to them; but, I won’t be driven by the list. It reminds me things I would like to do and often an article on it will be a hammock nap. I always include a prayer-time and some reading time. When life changes how the list will go on a given day, no worries, tomorrow will have a new list. When I have a chance to hang with a grandchild, I want to really be there with them not just be in the same place they are but completely disengaged. When they say, “Papaw” I want my eyes to meet theirs and they know they have my full attention. It doesn’t always work and sometimes ol’ Papaw is just too pooped to pop; but, they know my intention is to be part of their moments. When  I was with my one grandfather, my papaw, I knew I was the most important person in the world to him at that moment. He might have six grandchildren lined up for a ‘toopie-too’ ride on his knee; but, for that moment his attention was fully mine and I want my grandkids to feel that same specialness.

Like sand through the hourglass… seems like the hole between the upper and lower chambers of the glass has gotten wider these last few years.

The Bible gives some truly great advice when it comes to living life. Karin and I are about to celebrate 40 years of marriage. Solomon wrote, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has give to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9) Solomon concludes Ecclesiastes with this:

Reliving the 60’s

Anyone could spank or ear pull anyone else’s child, whip them and send them home to report to their own Mom what had happened and who tagged you! Of course, my Mom would get right on the phone and boy, would she thank that Mom

The early 60’s are replete with scores of memories that  today, most would think so stone-age! (no pun intended… that was a little later in the 60’s) – We got a second phone in the house… that was a big deal, we now had one in the living room and one on the wall in the kitchen. Rotary dial, of course. That doesn’t refer to how you get ahold of a businessman’s service organization in your town. Not only were they rotary dial, we were on a party line! That may sound exciting to someone from the 21st century because it sounds like a great time with friends! But that wasn’t our party line. All of our neighbors shared the same phone line. We had different numbers; but, you had to pick up the phone and make sure the neighbor wasn’t talking on it before you could make a call. Of course, anyone in the neighborhood could listen in as well.

Another big deal… we got a color television for the first time! It wasn’t anything like the color sets today that are so vibrant and real, its like you could walk into them. This was more like someone put the black and white picture on the TV and then used water color, with a LOT of shades of pink to kind of fill in where the color should be. You had a color adjust knob so you could try to get the color to match a real life color but it wasn’t very effective. Although, with the rabbit ear antenna for UHF, you could only get two channels and they were as fuzzy as the rabbit might have been. On ‘regular’ TV we had three channels, 3, 5 and 8 all out of Cleveland.

We did have a remote control, though for our TV. My dad would be sitting in his chair and he would say, ‘Son, get up there and turn to channel 8 for me.” Voila! Remote control! You couldn’t sneak out to the living room and watch TV at night for two reasons. One, the tuner knobs made such a loud click it would wake the neighbor’s dog. Second, all of the stations went off the air at about 1:00 a.m. so you would only be watching a ‘Test Pattern’ that was on the screen overnight. Also, for those of you who are following the Brown’s ‘prayer meeting fiascos’ it would interest you to know that when the TV stations signed off at 1:00 a.m. they played the National Anthem while a flag was shown.

Living through the sixties, the first time around was, to use an old phrase, ‘a hoot’. I could probably spend a dozen or more pages regaling you with stories like sitting on a red metal ‘step stool’ on the back porch in the summer while Dad took an electric hair trimmer that I think was last used to trim the tail of Man o’ War. It was like the commercial for the nose hair trimmer “It doesn’t trim your hair, it rips it out by the roots!” This was our summer ‘buzz’ cut. He took it down in May and we didn’t have hair growing until Christmas break! I only experienced one other haircut like that, it was one bright morning about 5 a.m. at a military induction center! I think the military had Dad on time to complete the cut but he won hands-down for depth of hair removed! My Dad had big strong, workman’s hands. He may have been able to bend steel. I do know he was able to replace a fleeing child back into a metal step stool chair in record time with one hand and never miss a stroke with the razor!

With four boys and Dad at work five or six days a week all day, Mom was eager in the summertime for us to ‘go play outside’. There could have been a tornado bearing down on our neighborhood with gale force winds but when she suggested we go play outside, we did. The rule was you came back for supper when Dad whistled (everyone in the neighborhood could hear Dad’s whistle and dogs came from two cities over looking for food!) and when playing out after supper, we came in when the street lights came on. My oldest brother is eleven years older than me, I think his rule was he had to come home when the lamplighter came down the street!

I was fortunate, (in retrospect… I didn’t think so at the time) to have eight different mothers. No, my father was not a polygamist, we lived in Ohio not Utah. Polygamy, I never understood. Who, in their right mind would want multiple mothers-in-law? Anyway, my eight mothers were all moms in the neighborhood. They had a coven between them. Anyone could spank or ear pull anyone else’s child, whip them and send them home to report to their own Mom what had happened and who tagged you! Of course, my Mom would get right on the phone and boy, would she thank that Mom! Then turn she would turn to whichever one of us boys had gotten it and say, ‘just wait until your father gets home!” WOW, that was a way to ruin an afternoon! Usually we’d try to catch Dad as he drove in the driveway so we could give him our side of the story first! If, by the time we were done with our story he was already unbuckling his belt, we knew we would be standing up for supper!

But our neighborhood was great, so was our small town. Many of us were together all the way through high school and not long ago we had a 40th anniversary reunion for our graduation. Golly, those others sure have gotten old looking!

When I truly think back about those years, there were three things that stood out as most important was family, friends and faith; not necessarily in that order. Now, here I am about the live through the sixties a second time!

This time, it isn’t a decade among other decades like the 60’s of the 20th Century that I referred to here but it is my own decade of being in my 60’s. I have no idea what the next ten years hold, or even if I’ll be here at the other end of them. That’s just life. But I have a pretty good feeling at this point that these years will be centered on faith, family and friends and it will likely be in that order.

 

 

 

per-spec-tive {pƏr’spektiv}, n

This morning I had been awakened sometime after four with some nagging issues on my mind. It was meant for me, I think, to sit in the dark room, in my grandmother’s rocking chair; listening to its almost melancholy creaking noises, as I slowly rocked back and forth. (At least I think it was the chair that was making the creaking sounds!) My thoughts were mostly about a teaching assignment. The assignment turned in by one student had me concerned. As I worked through the issue, I could hear the gentle sounds of two of my pre-school age grandchildren asleep in the same room where I was sitting. The soft rustling by the children against the creak of the old rocker and the dark of the room contrasting the bright light of my computer screen, as I penned a response to my student, all sought to give me some perspective. A short time later, I looked out the window to see the sun slowly breaking through the eastern sky and almost straight above it was the crescent moon, as if it was battling to keep its place in the sky from the on-coming day. Perspective.

I know I have written before about my father who was aboard a PC boat, a patrol-craft, the 1261 which was the first recorded ally ship sunk at the D-Day invasion. My dad lived, though many of his shipmates did not. To this day, it is not known for certain whether my father’s ship was sunk by a shore battery or a torpedo from a U-boat that hit the PC1261 mid-ship, directly below where my dad was manning the radio room. The complement of sailors aboard the 1261 was usually just under sixty. My dad’s ship spent most of its duty hours escorting ships across the shark and U-boat infested waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic When the 1261 was sunk, she lost 13 of her crew to the Channel.

This morning, I read an article about German U-boats, the scourge of the Atlantic during the war. According to an article on the PC Sailors Association website[i], the presence of the PC boats (sixty in all) deterred the U-boat activity and were credited with only a few U-boats sunk; but, the threat of their depth charges was real.

According to the U-boat article, there were 1154 submarines commissioned and, of those, 795 were sunk. Of the 40,000 German sailors assigned to U-boats, 30,000 men, or 75 percent, were killed when their ships were sunk[ii]. Over sixty-five percent of the ships were lost at sea.

The fear of an unseen enemy deep underwater for those on the PC boats and the terror of the sound of a falling depth charge which could mean your U-boat becomes a steel tomb at the bottom of the ocean – perspective.

trolls

Don’t get me wrong, here. I know, as well as most, that life is not all “cupcakes and rainbows” and no amount of glitter can just make everything Okay. Cooper and Sky Diamond could follow you around all day and you will still have all the concerns with which you started! Do you really want your day determined by trolls, anyway?

The key to perspective is who is in charge. When I am in charge, I am the center and everything must be about me. It is my pain, it is my inability to sleep, or my… you can fill in the blank. If God is in charge then there is a reason or something to be gained by everything. My not sleeping gives me time to appreciate the night, the children and the chair. My care is for the students, the people I will meet in the day and finding ways that God intends for me to be a blessing for them. Does perspective make the pain and problems go away? No, but it can shrink them to the right size for them to fit into God’s plan for your life and He will be at the center. Someone once said if you are down at the bottom of a very deep well, the only way to look is up!

frog

 

[i] http://ww2pcsa.org/patrol-craft.html

[ii] http://usasocialcondition.com/incredible-facts-that-will-give-you-a-new-perspective-on-world-war-ii/6/

When Life Doesn’t Fit

God is NOT in the box business! He does not build them and because He has not constructed your box, it is also NOT His responsibility that its construction is of shoddy workmanship or that it was built to specifications that are NOT His!

 

Have you ever had times when, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot make life fit into that perfect little box you have been constructing all your life? You know the box I’m talking about. Your parents and even your grandparents probably helped you build it. Certainly, in today’s world, the media helps you build it. Back in my day, shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and a dozen more fantasy television shows built the box that most of us in our WASP worlds saw as normal family life. Movies showed us patriotism and that things ALWAYS worked out happily ever after in the end. Even when you fall off a 150-foot cliff and an anvil slams down on top of you, you will be just fine; at least if you are Wile E. Coyote.

If you went to the kind of church many of us did, you also had neatly tucked into the back of your mind the list of Do’s and Don’ts that make for good people. Some churches would even give you a box to keep that list in! There was a definite line between good and evil. Such things were black and white. Why else would the good guys on the late-night westerns always wear a white hat and the bad guys a black one? It was all part of our box that we had so carefully constructed. We couldn’t even consider that our boxes could be made to come apart.

Is there a certain amount of pressure that, when applied to the box, makes things fit the way they should? Can that unknown amount of pressure cause the box to go flying into a gazillion pieces across the room?

It is difficult enough when the box you have with things sticking out in all directions that is starting to come apart is your own; but, what if that box you had built was one you had constructed for your child? You know, that precious wonderful child of yours, no matter what age, that you love more than life itself… you have in your mind, in your heart really, as to how their life will be so much more comfortable, less stressful, less hurtful than yours was and that all their wondrous dreams will come true. That is the special box you have built for them. Then, for what seems like no fair reason, nothing is fitting in that box. Your heart is absolutely crushed as you see your child now faced with a life that is nothing like you would like it to be. Sometimes, maybe it is because of their own bad choices; yet so often, it is because of someone else’s hurtful actions. Boxes can also be smashed by something even more difficult to get a handle on, a vicious disease that has grabbed hold of your child, sending your box careening across the room.box

Whenever our boxes get busted, there is a great tendency to blame just about everyone, including God. It took quite a bit of time for me to work through how my own box just couldn’t possibly hold all of what I expected life was supposed hold. I finally learned that much of what I thought was supposed to be in my box was just completely unrealistic, too much Loonie Toons and not enough 60 Minutes. Now that I’m pushing the door open on my sixth decade, I know that a portion the box busting was because of my own bad choices along the way too, although at the time I wouldn’t have seen it.

What about those times when your box starts breaking apart and it is because of the horrific actions of another? Is it better when there is someone to blame? Is it worse when there is just an organism or a genetic anomaly to blame and not a person? Does God take the heat even more when what appears as such a senseless hurt has no one at which to point your finger?

Certainly, there can be very real times when the grief caused by the bursting of one’s life expectations is the result of the sin or evil actions of another. Not a day goes by when there isn’t a crime committed by a person with no regard for life, whether his or another’s. The multiple boxes that can be shattered by that one person’s actions can result in a firestorm of anger and resentment and some of that will still be shoved on God. We shake our fist or scream out at God and demand to know why He allowed such hurt.

As I have studied the wondrous Scriptures with this question in mind, I have come up with one very profound truth. To be quite self-asserting, I don’t know that any student of the Bible, any theologian, great preacher or teacher of the holy book has ever found this particular bit of wisdom, at least not in the way I have discovered it! (Okay, I said all of that just to whet your appetite for what I am about to share… even Solomon once said there is nothing new under the sun!)

When we are ready to demand from God why He would so destroy our boxes, the truth that the Bible will make clear to us is: God is NOT in the box business! He does not build them and because He has not constructed your box, it is also NOT His responsibility that its construction is of shoddy workmanship or that it was built to specifications that are NOT His! It is true that Jesus was a carpenter, a very well-trained one to be sure. It is also true that He is the master creator of everything. God’s Word tells us in the book of John that without Him nothing was made that was made!

God doesn’t build boxes and He doesn’t design boxes either. People who are big on ‘RELIGION’ like to believe that their boxes are uniquely designed by God to make certain that His people do church the one right way. They are mistaken. One box may be three hymns and an offering or a sermon with three points and a prayer. Another box may be candles in the corners and censers flying in all directions while a low voice mumbles a liturgy that no one can hear and, even if they did, they wouldn’t understand a word of it because it is in Latin! Boxes like those into which people have stuffed their religion are usually rectangular and have a lid. It’s appropriate that they resemble a coffin.

God did provide us with a framework for how He would have us to live out our lives here and even about how to do church. The base boards are these: Love the Lord your God all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself.  That’s for us as we seek to live in community with one another. As to how we are to pattern ourselves individually to please God, He gave us three side boards. They are: Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God. Then when it came to being useful as a Church body, He gave us two great handles for us to hold: Baptism and Communion. Finally, God knew that the living of life and the doing of church would often require us to bear some burdens, our own and one another’s; so, to the framework He gave us he added an axle by telling us to ‘GO’ and He added two wheels, evangelism and discipleship.

If LIFE doesn’t FIT in your BOX, try Christ’s push-cart instead.pushcart

 

UNPINNED REVISITED

Sometime back I began a post that I titled, ‘Unpinned’. It was a reference to those of us who have retired from law enforcement. I realized this evening that I never finished that post. Allow me to begin again. Here are the first lines from the long ago post that never posted…

I have been connected, as most of you that have been following my writing for any period of time know, for several decades with law enforcement. It has been very difficult to ever see myself as ever truly separated from it. I have written, in times past, under the blog title of “Unpinned” which carried the picture of a badge with the pin open. My argument is that for those of us who are retired, the badge may be unpinned but it is never gone. You hear, at times, that there is no such thing as an ex-Marine and I think, for those who truly bleed blue as a life-long law enforcement officer, it is as true. That can have positive and negative consequences and it remains always for those who have such a dedication to their given profession, (many of us would use the term calling), to keep in a healthy balance family life and the job.

Even as I write this, my son is on patrol on midnight shift for the department from which I retired as Chief. I see, in him and in the comradery he has with the other cops (as well as some of the frustrations that come) quite a bit of myself so many years ago. However, he is going into the crucible of public police work in a much different era than I. When I began, America was just post-Vietnam. I was one of the last to enter the military during the time designated, the Vietnam Era. There was plenty of social unrest; but, it was mostly name calling and rock throwing. Today, it is assassinations from snipers at multiple locations without mercy.

Most of the retired – unpinned – cops I know still carry their credentials and with thanks to the H.W. Bush Administration, their firearms under the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act. We maintain our regular qualification at the same standards of officers working the streets. The retirees I know would stop to help an officer in trouble without a second thought for their own safety. Some might say that such retirees are not just unpinned, they’re unhinged! That may be more true than we want to admit! The inexplicable bond that comes from such a shared experience of law enforcement cannot be severed by time, age or distance. Many retirees may have angst toward the system which they left; but, never would they permit a brother officer to stand alone if they were in any way capable of standing with them… and when I use the term brother that is neutral to sex and determined only by the blue blood that courses through the veins.

This is a time when such a brotherhood must band together. At the same time, it must not erect a fortress wall against every citizen because there are armies of citizens who support that for which cops stand and are prepared to link arm-in-arm with them to keep the thin blue line resilient and strong. In my upcoming book, I use the term stretching the thin blue line for the way in which supportive citizens and the blue officers can stand as a force against evil and defy those who would seek to terrorize our homes.

Our local church now has a hired off-duty law enforcement officer at each service. Men of the church have dedicated themselves to meet with whichever officer happens to have the duty and before the day begins to pray with him. They pray for his safety, for the church, for his family and the community. Not once has the offer to pray been declined; but, every time it has been appreciated.

A local Christian university has just begun a four-year degree program in criminal justice. There is no better time for men and women studying to enter law enforcement or to improve their knowledge while in the career to receive such training from a faith-based, biblical standpoint. If you have never questioned and studied why you believe what you believe, you will believe anything. A bumper sticker bit of wisdom says that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything! An unexamined faith will never grow and the days in which police officers are now doing battle with the forces of evil requires a vibrant and burgeoning faith. Such a faith does not recoil for political correctness and as the Apostle Paul admonished, it does not grow weary in doing good.

If ever there was a time of vibrant opportunity for seasoned and retired law enforcement officers, who are men and women of faith, to take a hand in helping to nurture and challenge these current officers, it is now. America needs law enforcement officers who understand their work to be more than a calling. It is a ministry, God-given and God-blessed. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 NKJV) Law enforcement officers walk every day and night along the thin line that touches evil on every point yet also touches goodness at corresponding points. To live within such a tension requires a strong faith in something. Most, who do know have a personal relationship with Christ Jesus, would struggle to define what it is that founds their faith except that they know there is something greater than themselves which is holding that line taut. It is little wonder, though, that when Jesus met a Gentile man of whom He declared had greater faith than any of the nation of Israel, that man was a 1st Century Roman police officer, a Centurion. (Matthew 8:10) Today is a day when America needs New Centurions of Faith. Thankfully, there are multitudes of them on the streets this very night holding strong in the battle against evil. If you have not prayed for them lately, please pray for them now. If you have not spoken to one lately and told them you support them, commit to doing so today and, if you have never asked a police officer if you can pray for him or her, I challenge you to do so. You will be overwhelmed by the response you receive.

On the back of my motorcycle helmet is a shield with a blue line through a field of black. It says, ‘to some this is just a thin blue line… to others it is a family crest.’ I may be unpinned. My family may even tell you that I’m unhinged. One thing I’m certain of and that is my Christ is who saw me through my career, even when I did not acknowledge Him and He stands ready to carry the next generation of cops to the end of their tours of duty, in whatever way that may come. I would ask every retired cop, who has faith in Christ, to join me in a strong commitment to do whatever it takes to uphold these new centurions in prayer each and every day.

 

Through the Keyhole

Every moment is but a wisp of smoke through a keyhole and cannot be grasped and held so that it might stay longer than the brief time it is allotted.

Earlier this evening as I opened my FACEBOOK page, over on the left column it asked me to add a public ‘bio’ so I sat and penned what I thought should be said. Well, after a few minutes when I went to save it, it said that I was 2844 characters over what is permitted. So… since I cannot say it there, I will say it here! If you have a desire to read this short ‘bio’ – I hope you enjoy it. If you choose not to – I will not be offended in the least. For me it was an exercise in thinking about my priorities, so here it is my “short bio”!

First and foremost, I am a sinner saved by grace, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Without Him in my life I am nothing and I have no hope for the future. I make no boast but in Him alone. He did not save me because I deserved it but because He loved me even though I could never deserve or earn it!

After that, I am the husband of Karin for almost forty years. I have been far from a perfect husband; but, she remains my life partner whom I love with all that I have to love. I am blessed to have her in my life and blessed with four great children, all of whom are grown and married and so far we have eight grandchildren, two boys and six girls ranging in age right now from 8 years to about 1 month. yogiOur newest is the daughter of our “adopted” daughter (child number five if you are counting, who came to us not by birth but by 747 as an exchange student back in 1996.) We tried to keep her but the best we could do was share her with her own parents in the Philippines and now we share her with our ‘adopted’ son-in-law Andy!

Our not so regular kids are: Heidi with her husband Nick, Suzanne with her hubby Dave, Sarah with her husband Mike and Daniel with his wife Sarah. We have another little child who went to be with her (his?) Heavenly Father before he or she was able to be with us. We look forward to meeting him or her someday.

My work and life’s passion since my teen years has been law enforcement as well as time as a firefighter and EMT, too. I retired as a Chief of Police and now own a private investigations and security consulting agency.

After I retired, I attended seminary and for almost fifteen years Karin and I have had the joy of serving as missionaries to help care for missionaries all across Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. I have worked a great deal with them in the area of security and contingency planning. We enjoy our service in a local church with whom I will begin serving as a Deacon in January. I love to teach and do so whenever I have an opportunity.

I enjoy fishing and hunting, horseback riding and I’m a ‘ham’ radio operator since 1971! (WB8KMP)

Most of all I love to be with family whether it is babysitting grandchildren or travel.

Every moment is but a wisp of smoke through a keyhole and cannot be grasped and held so that it might stay longer than the brief time it is allotted. So I inhale deeply, as the moments go past and drink as deeply with each precious memory that is so fragile it can be lost in an instant.

I love to read and study the Bible and I enjoy reading mysteries the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle. I have authored a book on policing in a new century during times of great threat. It is due to be published this winter. yogi-bear-n-boo-boo

Rather than an epitaph engraved on a cold stone over an empty grave; I much prefer to have a message written on the hearts of those I love and leave behind that says simply: Ross, He loves the Lord, his wife and his family. He tried his best and is a trophy to God’s grace.

Shoes

It was, however, the shoes left behind the spoke their message so quietly that it was deafening

We have heard the analogies perhaps dozens of times growing up. We should never think of judging anyone until we have walked a mile in their shoes. An ‘Americanized’ version of that is from what is known as ‘an American Indian proverb.’ Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. I imagine it is the use of the moccasins that makes it an American Indian proverb. Still, the thought is there.
The Bible also placed some tradition upon shoes. It was customary in a Jewish home and perhaps, too, in homes of Arabs of similar times in history; that a guest in the home was to have his shoes removed so that his feet could be washed by the host or the host’s designee. It was not a light issue but one of great importance. To fail to treat someone in this way was to show them disrespect. Jesus instructed His disciples that when they came to a town and were well received, they were to allow their blessing to remain on that town. But, if they were mistreated, they were to remove their sandals and shake the dust off of their feet, symbolizing the removal of blessing. Jesus said it was better for Sodom and Gomorrah than it will be for that town’s people upon the Day of Judgment. Paul and Barnabas, when the irreverent people of the Antioch stirred up the populace against them, took leave of the city. Following the direction Christ gave to his apostles during His earthly ministry, they stopped at the city gate to shake the dust from their feet and then they continued then on their way.
Shoes, in many cultures may define their wearer. My own propensity is to almost always wear a western style “cowboy” boot even when donning a tuxedo for some special occasion. My boots have defined me to some folks. The business man or the sports enthusiast each may be defined by their shoes; as too, the child who cannot get a new pair of shoes before school starts because mother and father are simply too poor. All of these things help to define the wearer. There are, too, the ‘baby’s first shoes.’ Shoes that are bronzed and kept often with a photo of the baby who first toddled about in those clumsily formed shoes that looked like they were more of a prison for those tiny feet than a comforting wrap against the elements.
Twice, I had the inner-peace shattering occasion to view such baby shoes, not bronzed, but still immortalized in a macabre fashion that cried out against the evil that had stolen that small life from this world. Perhaps nothing can speak such a message about a person more than shoes that they have worn in a time or in a way that tells such a horrifying tale. A pitiful message across the years. It is a message that is given to those who happen upon those shoes, either by chance or choice; but in either way, the recipient, not being prepared for the impact those shoes would have upon them will most certainly be taken aback for some time to come.
The first encounter that I had with such shoes was in a stark building, darkened by dust encrusted windows and the absence of any produced light made it even darker. It was darker, still, in the evil that enveloped the building. The long center of the main room was roped off and within it, was a pile of shoes ten feet high at the crest of the pile and more than thirty feet long at this farthest edges. The building was in Stuthof Camp. It was one of the few buildings left in this, the first Nazi ‘relocation’ camp for Jews during WWII built on Polish soil, just about 21 miles NE of Gdansk Poland and less than 2 miles from the Baltic coast. Stuthof had as few as 250 prisoners and grew to a maximum of 52,000 with over 1,000 SS guards by January of 1945. It began not just for Jews but for the undesirable Polish elements. It was, however the shoes left behind that spoke their message so quietly that it was deafening.
Poland Stuthof Shoes

An early photo before the building was used to memorialize the shoes left behind

As difficult as this site was to view, particularly the small children’s and infants’ shoes, it did not prepare me for my next encounter with another such site; shoes whose souls are still speaking their silent message across the miles, the years and into the hearts of all who will stop long enough to listen.
The City of Budapest is one of the most beautiful in all of Central and Eastern Europe; perhaps even further. From Hero’s Square to the Opera House, to the casual promenade along the banks of the Danube River all the way to the base of the Chain Bridge which is known for its majestic lions and massive expanse across the river the cities of Buda and Pest have joined to make an amazing cultural venue. There is one site, though, along the shores of the Danube in the shadow of those majestic lions that bespeaks a horror so intense it will take away one’s breath. I found that it left me spell-bound in the mystery of what the last words, the last thoughts and the last looks between loved ones might have been as they were lined upon the bank of the river and murdered. Their bodies – from the smallest of children in their mothers’ arms to the old and infirm stood, awaiting the sting of the bullets that would dispatch them to their certain death and a watery grave marked only on this earth by the shoes the left behind. Immortalized by the townspeople of Budapest as a defiant call to never allow such a horror to happen again – the shoes are lined up along the banks as if their owner’s next steps would be into eternity.

Budapest WWII Memorial to those murdered on the banks of the Danube River 1944-1945 by ArrowCross Militia
Budapest WWII Memorial to those murdered on the banks of the Danube River 1944-1945 by the   Arrow Cross Militia

On the night of January 8, 1945, an Arrow Cross execution brigade forced all of the inhabitants of the building on Vadasz Street to the banks of the Danube. Arrow Cross was an extremist socialist party holding power in Hungary’s government in collusion with the Nazis. At midnight, Karoly Szabo and 20 policemen with drawn bayonets broke into the Arrow Cross house and rescued everyone there. Among those saved were Lars Ernster, who fled to Sweden and became a member of the board of the Nobel Foundation from 1977 to 1988, and Jacob Steiner, who fled to Israel and became a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Steiner’s father had been shot dead by Arrow Cross militiamen on December 25, 1944, falling into the Danube. His father had been an officer in World War I and spent four years as a prisoner of war in Russia. The Arrow Cross had usurped the symbol from the ancient Magyar for themselves and was then used it to symbolize their fascist movement known later as Hungarists. They oversaw between ten and fifteen thousand people murdered outright and another 80,000 deported to Auschwitz.

Hungarist flag
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Dr. Erwin K. Koranyi, a psychiatrist in Ottawa, wrote about the night of January 8, 1945 in his Dreams and Tears: Chronicle of a Life (2006), “in our group, I saw Lajos Stoeckler” and “The police holding their guns at the Arrowcross cutthroats. One of the high-ranking police officers was Pal Szalai, with whom Raoul Wallenberg used to deal. Another police officer in his leather coat was Karoly Szabo.
The memorial along the Danube almost always has flowers or candles laid within the shoes. No one particular pair is identified with an individual victim, rather the sixty pairs that are made from iron are fashioned and welded in place as a lifetime remembrance of the evil which can overtake mankind when he fails to stand for the laws which protect humanity and to stand for the biblical principles that demand one brother look after another regardless of nationality or genetics. Such evil happens when people forget that under the depth of skin lies a heart that beats every single beat only by the permission of God the Creator. The shoes serve as a reminder not only of the brave heroics of the policemen that night who took a stand for what is right and what is fair; for justice and for humanity as a whole but also as a call to all future generations to not allow this to happen again. By Christmas of 1944 when Jacob Steiner’s father was murdered on the banks of the Danube, millions had already died at the hand of demonic forces masquerading as military officers and enlisted soldiers, as well as government officials and ordinary people who simply did nothing.
This short monograph, Shoes was not meant to be light-hearted or lightly up-lifting. However, it is, if the reader allows it to be, a source of encouragement. Our world again faces demonic extremists that have only one desire: to rule and reign by terror and violence, murder and mayhem at the edge of a sword, inflicting the name of Allah upon those they call infidels, as well as, on those who might consider themselves of the faithful.
The encouragement lies within a simple maxim: The darker the room the more luminescent even the feeblest light. The brightness of that light is proportional to the depth of the darkness within which it burns. When the light is that which burns within a believer in Jesus Christ, even though the strength of that believer’s faith may provide only a modicum of power for the light to glow, the darkness that envelopes it enables that light to have an effect far beyond its means. Scientists tell us that under ideal conditions our unaided vision can detect a light as dim as a candle flame or a lit match 30 miles away on a dark clear night. You can perhaps imagine the strength of the light which has the full power of Jesus. In Him there is no darkness. God is truth, life and light. In these darkest of times, may the power of the light of Christ light your life, embolden your witness and may it never be said of this generation of Christians that we stood by while others collected shoes.