Late one spring night, my daughter Elizabeth woke us up with screams of “Fire! The house in on fire!” My wife and I got up and walked into the hallway, which was filled with smoke. We got our youngest son Erich from his bedroom and the four of us descended through the thick smoke and out of the house. But when we got there Elizabeth was missing. I was told that Elizabeth had gone back inside to get her cat. I went back into the house, calling her name, and went to her room. I couldn’t see anything so I felt around and kept calling out her name. She didn’t answer and I couldn’t find her. I had to crawl down the stairs and back out of the house. To my surprise, there she was with the others on the sidewalk. Still one missing!
Our oldest son had a bedroom on the first floor in the back of the house. I sent the family to our neighbor’s house and went to find him. I ran to the back of the house and to the outside of the missing son’s room screaming his name. I smashed out a window with my fist and tried to climb in, but the heat and smoke drove me back. I broke through another window, thinking that the smoke would go out the other window, and tried to climb in again but was driven back. All I could do was stand there screaming his name. At that time someone found me and told me that he had been at a friend’s house and was heading home. I then went to the front of the house and just stood looking, wanting to do something. A neighbor pulled me away and brought me to his house where I found my family being cared for. They were covered with soot and looked awful. An ambulance took us to the hospital and we were given oxygen. We were told that the Red Cross had arranged a motel room for us for the night, so we found our way there. We showered and didn’t sleep, but sat around trying to grasp what had happened.
The next morning at dawn, I went back to the house. One cat had died in the fire and one was unaccounted for. The house, garage, and the two cars that were parked next to the house were in ruins.
We spent the next two nights at one neighbor’s house. Another neighbor offered us the use of her house for following week, while her family went on vacation. After that we moved into a motel. We hunted for a local place to live so that the children could go to the same school and have the same neighborhood friends, but couldn’t find one.
Dear reader, this was a very tough time for us. Yours truly was at the end of his rope. I could see that the family desperately needed a place to settle down, but I couldn’t find a place to live. By chance, I remembered that a nearby church owned the vacant house next to it. One night as it was raining, I went to see the congregation of the church during their bible study night. I sat in the back to wait until they were done. They stopped their study and asked if I needed help. I said yes, but that I preferred to wait until they were done. When they were done, I asked who I should talk to about the house and was directed to the deacon. I presented my case and he said he would think about it. His wife was there and looked me in the eyes. After a short pause she said that we could live there. The deacon just looked at her and said, “I guess that’s it then”. They drove away and I started to walk back to my car. Suddenly, for no reason, my legs gave way and I dropped to my knees. I knelt there in the rain crying from relief. We moved in the next day.
The entire Town rallied to our side. People gave clothing, furniture and money. One man even gave us his car. I remember that when I thanked him that he said, “We’re all connected right?” The local school children collected cans to raise money for us, and the local stores had jars to gather donations. One neighbor arranged for a local television station to air our story and gather donations. Everyone gave.
About three weeks after the fire, I was driving through the village. A man was sitting in a stalled truck at the intersection, blocking traffic. I pulled over, and we pushed his truck off the road. I had jumper cables with me and we were able to start the truck. He told me that he was from another state and had just bought the truck and he was headed home. He pointed at a car that had pulled up near us, and I could see what I presumed were his wife and child waiting in it. They looked tired and hungry and so did he. He was concerned that the truck would stall out again. I gave him the jumper cables and told him that if he was ever in the neighborhood again, he could drop them off. He asked where he could drop them off. I pointed at my burned down house and said, “Well, I used to live there, but you can drop them at my neighbors house right there.” About a month later, my neighbor gave me those jumper cables back. She said that when the man dropped them off, he started crying. Apparently, he was overwhelmed by the fact that I would give him something after I had lost everything else.
Four weeks after the fire, I was where the burned house stood and was planning the new one. I was talking to my son, and started talking about the cats that we had lost. I was talking about one of the cats, mentioning him by name. This very same cat suddenly appeared out of nowhere and sheepishly came to us. He was very frightened. We brought him back to the family and he settled in with us.
We decided to put up a modular home where the old home had stood. A modular home is assembled in one day, the various parts of the house fit together like giant Lego pieces lifted into place by a crane onto a prepared foundation. The night before it was to be assembled, I received a call that my mother had passed away. I drove across the state to where she lived, just to be near where she had been. When I got back home, they had assembled the house, and my family took pictures of the event for me. After one month we were able to move in.
We lost a cat and all of our possessions in that fire. Some of them were precious. Family pictures, heirlooms, children’s keepsakes. But we saved the most important things; life and hope. If you have those, everything else will work out.
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I lived in Utah, a long time ago, in the way outback, working on a construction site. There were a lot of native Navajo Native Americans working as welders. As you were talking to them, they would constantly be cracking and crunching on pinion nuts. Kind of like pistachios, but you had to crack them open with your teeth. Being the curious soul that I am, I asked were they got these nuts. I was told that their wives harvested them. I visited a neighbor/Navajo, while he was there, and asked his wife for directions. She told me how to get there and it sounded real simple. I’m simple, it should work.
I didn’t have a four-wheel drive and set out on roads for which there are no maps. I drove through massive canyons, just following the tire tracks. I must have missed a turn. At one point the road followed an old chopped up river bed and ran into a series of small ledges that got bigger the farther I got. One particular ledge made me aware that I would not get back up the same way I came. I met up with a small river I would have to cross. The tire tracks I’d been following could be seen on the muddy hill on the other side. I would have to get a running start, cross the river, shoot up the hill and make a sharp left turn.
A herd of cows were blocking the way. They weren’t disturbed by the sound of my horn. I got out and chased them away to make a hole, but by the time I started again, they had closed the gap. After a couple times of getting out and moving the cows only to have them play the same dirty trick again, I just drove like a maniac straight at them, and they parted like the Red Sea at the last minute. Scared? You bet. Lost? Of course. Several hours later I found the main highway, got out and kissed it, and headed home.
As I was driving back, I remembered that they sold pinion nuts at the general store. Not wanting to come home and lose face, I stopped and paid about five dollars for a handful of pinions. When I got home I showed them to my wife to show her that if there are pinion nuts that need finding, I’m your man. I also told her what I’d gone through to find them. She figured out where I got the pinions after a trip to the general store and after I broke under questioning.
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There was a man who was looking for something and he searched the mountaintops. He called out, “Helloooo…” and he would hear the echo call back “Hellooooo…” He ran to the other mountain, thinking that it was what he was looking for only to find nothing. He called out again, “Helloooo…” and heard the echo and ran to the other mountain. Back and forth endlessly, never finding, always looking.
I was fishing with a friend on a boat on a beautiful day. There was a bald eagle sitting up on a tall tree nearby, and herons everywhere. I pointed them out to my friend but he paid no attention. He was telling me about a trip that he had been on. He said that the place was so beautiful that he wished that he were still there. He said that the eagles would swoop down and grab fish out of the water. Just as he said this, the eagle that had been in the tall tree swooped down and grabbed a fish. I stopped my friend in mid-sentence to tell him to look, but he didn’t. He was still talking about being somewhere else.
The answer is not always on the next mountain. Look around you. Look at yourself. Stop chasing echoes. You will see much beauty and happiness right where you are.
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My brother Henry was the family jewel and we all knew it. He was great at everything and everyone liked him. Even my parents stood in awe. I was nine years younger than Henry. He took me sledding in the winter and would pull me home when I got tired. He took me for my first root-beer float and would bring me swimming when he went with the older boys. He once brought me on a watermelon stealing expedition during which we almost got caught. He wrestled in high school and took second place in the state championships. His team liked him so much; they had a little trophy made that said “To Our State Champ”.
He got drafted during the Vietnam War and served in the honor guard here in the states. After his term of service was up, he went to college in another state and came home one summer with a fiancé. I was twelve. My father had previously purchased our first farm tractor, and on the fourth of July, Henry started and drove a tractor for the first time. He invited me to hop up on it with him and I sat on the fender. This was big. Even my father had never really driven the tractor. We drove around the fields for a while and he crossed the road and tried to climb the bank on the other side. On the first try the tractor balked. On the second try the front end of the tractor got so high that it flipped over backwards. I jumped clear and the tractor landed on him. The steering wheel had gone through his chest and he turned blue. I tried to push the tractor off, but it wouldn’t move. I ran up to the farmhouse and told everyone what had happened. It was my mother, my sister, and Henry’s fiancé. They ran down and pushed the tractor off of him, but it was too late.
Henry got a full military burial and his fiancé’s parents came and took her home. It was never the same for the family after that. There are some people that are that important. I’m an old man now, and still miss him.
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I was at a picnic and saw a woman who seemed to be looking for something in the grass. Every few minutes she would pick out a four-leaf clover. I asked her, “How are you finding so many?” She said, “I just know that they’re there.” Some of the people that had been standing nearby sat down and began to search. Most of them didn’t find any, but some were finding them steadily. I asked them how they did it and they all said, “I just know that they’re there.”
This story applies to four-leaf clovers and life. If you’re looking for something, just know that it’s there and keep looking.
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Recently, my 7-year-old daughter made a mailbox out of paper and taped it to the outside of her room. I began using this as an opportunity to send her notes of love and encouragement. So, at various times of the day, without her seeing me, I would sneak a note into her mailbox. That night, I put in a note for her to find in the morning. I awoke the next morning with my daughter jumping on my bed saying, “How did you do it Mommy? I got a letter from you in the night!”
Excited, she busied herself in making a paper mailbox for me, taping it to the outside of my room. And the written communication began in earnest. Notes of love continued through the week.
Two days ago, I bought her a small toy while we were out shopping together. We came home and after supper, she quickly disappeared saying, “Don’t come into my room, Mommy.” Knowing that she was working on some little project, I busied myself washing the dishes and cleaning up. Excitedly, my daughter then appeared saying, “There’s a letter in your mailbox!” And as we went to my mailbox together, I could see a rolled up piece of blue paper sticking out.
Unrolling the paper, I read her crayoned message: “Dear Mommy, I love you. Thank you for the toy. But just becuse you got me a toy dose not mane I love you more than I did be for. I could never tell you how much I love you.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as my precious girl flung her arms around me in a big hug.
As I stood there enjoying the embrace of my daughter, I was reminded that our Heavenly Father also receives such joy when we offer our love to Him with the excitement and simplicity of a child.
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I used to hate Mother’s day. Not because I was not grateful for my Mother or for what my Grandmothers did for me. They were and are great women. I hated Mothers day because it was a day to remember and honor mothers. Something I longed so badly to be but was not. « Continue reading »
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