Monday, May 28, 2018

A Meaningful Memorial Day





Most days I ride my bicycle with a group of friends and there's chatter and joking and all around good fellowship. But some days, I enjoy a solitary ride on roads I seldom ride. This Memorial Day weekend I've been with my family in Boone celebrating my mom's 80th birthday. There's been a lot of laughter, food and this spring for some reason, copious amounts of rain. Its been a green, muddy spring in Western NC. So when the forecast in Watauga County says sun, I try to take advantage of that.

Yesterday that was the case and I headed up the mountain near our family home here in Boone. Riding solo, there is a lot of time to think and I had a lot of names running through my head. Names like Alan, Ben, Steven, Mike, Ben, Marty, Joseph, Aaron, Dusty, LaDavid, Bryan, Jeremiah and Dale. Lots more are there taking up space in my head.

As I rode and looked at the scenery around me I thought of those names, the circumstances of the loss, the funerals and the families who continue to hurt. Riding alone I revisited friendships and conversations, smiles and quirky eccentric stories.


I've been reading a book by Rob Morgan on Psalm 23. This psalm is read at almost every military funeral I've ever officiated or attended. As I road my bike, pushed up steep hills, felt the pain in my legs, remembered my friends, I also remembered that the Lord is my Shepherd. He's keeping watch, aware of every detail. He's leading, He's preparing, He's with me and you in all of life's shadows and valleys. And He has made a dwelling place for those who know and trust Him. Promises that have been backed up by a cross and an empty tomb.

I rode on pondering these things and on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I found a particularly scenic spot to snap a picture or two as you can see from the photos here.

While there I noticed an older gentleman sitting in a camp chair gazing out over the spine of the Blue Ridge mountains. I noticed also that he had a desert tan ball cap on with an American flag, the tell tale sign of a Veteran. He looked over at me, it was just the two of us and greeted me warmly. His name was Jim. It was about a perfect morning and we both agreed we couldn't get much better.


Small talk about bicycles and mountain breezes turned more profound as he shared with me that he comes to that particular place a few times a year to visit with his wife. She passed away a little over 2 years ago and when they were just young kids they used to rent a cabin not far from the overlook. It was her favorite place. Two years ago, Jim spread her ashes over that very spot. They had been married for 31 years.

I felt bad about interrupting his time there, but he continued to talk as if introducing me to her. He told me of his days in the Army 50 years ago and how when he left Korea he cried because he was leaving his buddies behind.

It was a stunning, random, God ordained meeting.

I asked him if I could pray for him and he gratefully accepted. In my prayer I echoed what I had been reminded of in my reading, "The Lord is my Shepherd".  The Lord is your Shepherd...Jim.

After the Amen, we shook hands and I thanked him for his service, for the privilege of meeting him and then I told Jim, "I hope you have a meaningful Memorial Day"

With that, I pedaled off leaving him staring out over the valley....smiling.

May your Memorial Day be filled with meaning this year.


The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Thanks Dale Beatty: A life well lived






I've been asked by several folks to post the sermon I gave for my friend Dale Beatty at his funeral. It was an honor to speak on his behalf and to speak words of hope from a living Savior. Please understand that words delivered in 15 minutes are inadequate to sum up a life well lived.





I walked through the hallways of Walter Reed almost exactly a year ago o in my Army uniform on a mission to see my one of my soldiers who was being treated for terminal cancer. On my way to his room I saw a nurse pushing a wheel chair with a young man missing two legs and oddly enough on that day wearing a Purple Heart Homes hat. I looked down at him and said “Hey son what do you know about Purple Heart Homes?”. And with that crooked grin Dale Beatty looked up at me and shared with me the 30 second elevator story of Purple Heart Homes. I said I know who you are Dale and he again smiled and “Hey Brad, how are you, so good to see you”
I spent a little time with Dale and Belinda that day and hearing their story first hand, praying and laughing. For those that had the honor of spending any time with Dale, you know that laughter was always included.

We’ve missed that laugh this week. 

Its been missed in the phone calls, the snarky texts he would send. 

Its been missed in the offices of Purple Heart Homes where Dale lit up the lives of the family that he and John have built there. 

That laugh has been missed among his vast network of friends across the country.

Its been missed by his mom and dad and his sister. That laugh has been missed in his home with Belinda, Dustin, Lucas and vibrant little Sophia. Man we just miss him.


We miss him because he was loved.

And the reason Dale was loved is because he loved. He just had a knack for loving everyone who crossed his path, he didn’t differentiate at all. There just are too many stories to tell in these short minutes today, those will be told over the days, months and years to come.

I asked Dale’s friends about a word or a phrase that comes to mind when they thought when they thought of Dale. All of Dale’s Army friends use the word resilient, oh man was he ever that. How could one man ever over come so much? He could have mailed it in after what happened to he and his battle buddy John over in Iraq. He could have just rested, and no one would have ever blamed him. But that dude bounced back and not only got back to walking, he got back in the game for others. Thousands of others all over the country. The relationships that are formed in military service, the commitment to duty and to honor and to each other are transcendent values that span generations.

John gave me poem that he and Dale loved and there’s a stanza in there that speaks volumes.

We have shared our blankets and tents together,
And have marched and fought in all kinds of weather,
    And hungry and full we have been;
Had days of battle and days of rest,
But this memory I cling to and love the best,
    We drank from the same Canteen!

God bless you brothers that served with Dale on the battlefield. God bless you John Gallina for being his battle buddy and for drinking for the same canteen.


One dear friend said, when Dale opened his arms and you entered his space, you felt so special.
Others said He never met a stranger. He lit up rooms.
He was known as the baby whisperer because he was known to be able to calm crying babies while waiting for airplanes.
Another said her memory of Dale was simply…”Roger that” . It meant he understood and was moving out.

Dale was notorious for sending harassing text messages to Parker late at night, just because that is who he was.

He loved music, He loved the drums.

Dale loved his family, Jerry , Celene, and Amber. Celene told me “If I had known how good my kids would have turned out I’d have had more of them!
He loved you Belinda, you Dustin, you Lucas and little Sophia. He talked constantly about you. Oh my how he loved.

And to be honest he’d be mortified if he knew all this fuss was being made about him. He always wanted the fuss to be made about others.
That’s because Dale’s life was lived out of love and love is always on a mission.

Dale’s mission was restoration. He helped bring restoration after hurricanes. He mobilized and deployed to Iraq to help restore a nation in the midst of war.
He got blown up, lost his legs and made his mission to restore himself to being physically functional.

Then something really amazing happened, this community. You in this room and others who couldn’t be here, rallied around Dale and built him a home and brought restoration to his freedom of movement and gave him a place to raise a family. You gave him a home.

And through that you inspired that man and John to set out on a mission of restoration for hundreds of veterans and their families. Not just to restore homes, but dignity and community. And Purple Heart Homes continues this mission of restoration to this very day and it will continue on Monday and hopefully for the next 100 years.

Any time restoration is needed is because something is broken.
This mission of restoration is not new. 

Dale didn’t invent that idea of making broken things new.
No, this idea was fashioned long ago in the heart of God. And his mission: The restoration of a broken world.
Why is this important today? Because today we stand in the shadow of death. We are in the darkest hour, the hardest of days.
It is light that we search for today, light to see the way where there seems to be no way.

We also feel oppressed when death comes. When you hear of the death of someone you love it’s like having the wind knocked out of you. It just feels all so wrong. We pray it will all go away, yet here we are, its real.
We experience darkness, oppression and our hearts break. Its hard to describe a broken heart. Torn apart maybe…Loneliness…maybe, we may not know how to articulate a broken heart, but we know it when it has happened.

So in the darkness, under the heaviness of being oppressed and with broken hearts…we long for something…oh my goodness we need some good news on a day like today.

All the stories that we love, you know the ones that you walk away from deeply moved, that book that you couldn’t put down or that movie that had you sitting there 10 minutes after the credit rolls have a common element.

All of those stories had one of these days in them. It’s the point in the story where the hero seems defeated, where hope is lost. But in all the stories that we love, the stories that we long for, the good guy finds a way back…evil is vanquished, the girl is rescued and the day is saved. Good News!

I sincerely believe that there is good news amid the pain of today. And that good news is the Gospel. Literally…the Gospel means “good news”

At the outset of Jesus' work on the earth. Before a miracle was performed or a storm was stilled…he opened it all up with these words…in a stone synagogue in northern Israel quoting the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
     Because He has anointed Me
     To preach the gospel to the poor;
     He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
     To proclaim liberty to the captives
     And recovery of sight to the blind,
     To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19      To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
 
Just like every soldier has a mission to do, this was Jesus' mission concept. He recognized that in this world people were hurting, broken, lost, trapped. And that they needed some Good News.
To proclaim the Gospel! The Good News was his mission for He Himself was the good news.

And this Good News would result in these things
-         Binding the broken hearted
-         Bringing sight to the blind
-         Setting free those who are oppressed

That is what we need in days like this.
To have the bindings cut free, a clear view, and freedom. Restoration
Jesus accomplished his mission here on earth, but it came at a heavy price
And just like we experience the darkness of this day, so too was there darkness in the story of The Gospel. It is that day where the hero looks like he’s not going to make it.
Jesus mission took him up a lonely hill in Jerusalem where he gave all for us all. It was His great love for You and me and Dale that took him up that hill. And waiting for Him there was a cross.
It was through the blood of Christ that the mission of healing broken hearts, opening the eyes of the blind and setting captives free was accomplished.
And then three days later, the very thing that brings all of us here together today, death, was completely, convincingly, utterly, defeated. Paul would later write as he proclaimed the Gospel, “Death where is your sting, grave where is your victory”
Yes the Hero is alive…Jesus conquered what has us hurting so badly.
Death always comes prior to resurrection, but rest assured that resurrection of the body is for real. Christ has shown us the way, for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. When all was lost and the hero seemed to have failed, resurrection entered the scene and the one thing that we all need arrived with that resurrection….hope.

Hope is the one thing that will get us through today and into tomorrow. Hope that death is not the end.

You see we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Dale placed his faith in a crucified, resurrected God-man Savior…Jesus.

It was not Dale’s good life that secured this hope and it will not be yours.

What is required is, simple basic faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and the Savior of the world. His death is sufficient to pay our debt.

Death will visit us all, but through faith in Christ it will be nothing more than a shadow of a cloud passing us over as we move from this life to the next…And then there will be a reunion, not like the boring reunion where the food is bad and conversation worse, but like a reunion after a really long and difficult deployment, but better because the deployments will be done. A reunion with belly ache laughter will greet us, with tears not of sadness but of unending joy. A reunion of love, a reunion of life, a reunion of all and for all! Death will be a memory that fade away forever.

And waiting for us there at the homecoming will be Dale, with his crooked smile and he will run to us on restored legs in a restored body. Restored forever. And we will laugh again!

So, what do we need to know now? Please know these truths.
In our cries God Hears
In our grief God Remembers his promises
In our pain God sees all
And in our lives God knows every single need and is ready with help.

So what are we to do now?
Today: We will honor the fallen
In the days to come: we will care for those that are wounded from the loss of Dale
And finally: We will continue the mission

Its what Dale would want. 

Amen


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Faithful friends and a big fake check


If you read this blog you might recall from my last post a cycling accident that put my friend Pressly and I in the hospital for some injuries. We are both on the mend now, although my finger will probably never work like it used to and Pressly's shoulder looks like as he calls it "Quasimodo" we are getting better.

Scars are little reminders of life's
journey I suppose and at my age I have a few of them.

My recovery however this week was spurred on by a remarkable and unsuspected show of great love and friendship.

I took my broken bike to First Flight Bikes this week where our buddy Wes Davidson is the local genius. Please check them out for your next bike, upgrade or repair at firstflightbikes.com

The forks were sheared off, my front wheel is toast and some other minor injuries. Not a total loss, but bikes can be a little pricey to repair. Wes diagnosed the damage and informed me of the price which came as no surprise.

As you might imagine, a 45 minute trip to the hospital in an ambulance and 14 hours of CAT scans, minor surgery and care from nurses and doctors in a level 1 emergency room came with a hefty bill and even though we have good insurance, we don't have alot of extra laying around to repair a broken bike.

I was resigned to wait it our for several months and slowly save along the way with the hopes of getting back on the road by spring.

But, this week changed that plan. I've been riding a bike since I was 5 years old. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood in the 70's revolve around my Schwinn Varsity and the friends whom I joined on micro-adventures all around town. Having a bike brought a kid freedom to move around, to go to the store and get a mountain dew or to visit new roads and see stuff that from a car just doesn't do it justice.

But it was the friends that made it memorable.

That has not changed. I suppose at 52 I still ride with people, because cycling is best enjoyed with others. Over the last 3 years I've come to know so many new friends through cycling. I've also reconnected with old friends from my childhood, the Schwinn Varsity crowd. It is literally something I look forward to each and every week.

And something amazing has grown out of that, a community. Communities are not just groups of people. I suppose the defining characteristic of community is the network of support and communication that comes with it, relationships.

A few years ago, I planned a little ride on a Sunday with a few friends to establish an F3 workout on bkes. F3 stands for Fitness, Fellowship and Faith and seeks to develop male community leadership through planting free small group workouts.

With that what is now called F3 GoatDog cycling was formed, aptly named for a goat and a dog who resided together in a small pasture on one of our routes. Oh, yeah they would chase us as we rode by from their side of the fence. Hec, we even have jersey's. Now that community has grown to a size and depth I never imagined.

So, last night as I got home from a very productive day serving great american veterans at Purple Heart Homes (A blog post will come later about this) I was surprised with a visit.

Not one of my friends, not 2, but a kitchen full of unexpected visitors. People just kept pouring in, to over a dozen. I had no idea and neither did Tammy. Names like ManYanna, Davinchi, Ray Ray, Maytag, Matlock, Sprinkles, BayRoos, Sonny and Cher, Frasier, Gomer and Wolfpup. In this community everyone gets a nickname and they all mean something important.

If I forgot anyone, please remember I'm recovering from a severe concussion. I know way more folks were involved in this than those in my kitchen. Thank you all.

After a few minutes of me being very uncomfortable, it got worse. Cher took the floor and said some really kind words and declared that this wonderful community had come together and raised money to repair my broken bike. Even now as I write these words my emotions well up deep inside. They handed me a big ceremonial check (My first ever that I will frame) that was made out to me. The memo line it says "Heal your wheels". The signature is however greater than the dollar figure and it means so much more.

It simply reads "Your friends"

My friends raised money for me to fix my bike so we can all ride together again.

I'm not sure what I did to deserve such a great gift, not of money but of people.

“Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.” 
― William Shakespeare


I found them, thank you God for the privilege of friendship.



The songs of life- Thanks to mom

My home was filled with music and people growing up. Mom loved music and can play an assortment of instruments but her favorites are th...