Uncle George

In the summer of 2003, my wife Amy and I were living in a tiny apartment in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland. In that same time period my dad’s older brother, my Uncle George and Aunt Laurelynne had plans to be in that same historical, and stunningly beautiful city for a conference.

Uncle George reached out to us to see if they could stay at our place for a few nights in order to see us and to save some money by not staying in a hotel. Amy and I were delighted to have some guests from America in our temporary home so of course we welcomed them in!

Some of my earliest childhood memories were of my uncle George. He was witty, had a great laugh, cared about others, was an excellent chef as he combined art and science, he was an outdoorsman, he was deeply knowledgable when it came to the arts and history, a coffee aficionado, a military veteran, and so much more. He was a handsome and approachable man, and in my memory he was the only person I knew at the time who had a beard and smoked a pipe. Uncle George passed away in 2011 and was loved and missed by many; his wonderful wife and partner in adventure Laurelynne, his children, siblings, in-laws, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews and more.

I shared all of these things about Uncle George because I looked up to him so much, and just recently I benefitted from a gift he and Laurelynne gave to Amy and me as a thank you for allowing them to stay with us.

The gift was one bottle of French wine, given to us in 2004. It was not just any bottle of wine. It was a 96+ point 2000 Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac. This wine has history dating back to 1853 and is one of the most highly sought after wines in the world, therefore priced accordingly.

When George and Laurelynne gave us the bottle they said to cellar it and then sell it on our 20th anniversary, then use the money for a trip to Hawaii. That was always our plan however no matter how good a plan is, it is subject to change.

With our pending move out of the country, we decided to enjoy this bottle with our dear friends Rick and Heather who are the most knowledgable wine connoisseurs we know. Rick and Heather have been extremely generous to us over the years with their time, love, friendship, as well as their wine cellar! If anyone deserved to try this wine it was them!

The wine lived up to its hype and we had an amazing evening savoring each sip. All evening I thought of this gift and was completely blown away by the fact that first and foremost it wasn’t even necessary! George and Laurelynne didn’t need to do this, but they wanted to. Just spending their time with us was sufficient. This gift was by far the most clever, fun and enjoyable gift ever given to me.

All of this of course leads me to the cross. A gift undeserved yet freely given. A gift that cannot be bought, nor paid back. All we need to do is accept it and eternity with our loving creator is ours.

Father God, you are the ultimate giver. Thank you Jesus for your sacrifice, for loving us more than we can comprehend. You bought our future, and I choose you and your ways today. Amen.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-12)

Today’s other reading: Psalm 86

Our Father

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” Luke 11: 2-4

Today’s Reading: Luke Chapter 11

One of the things that I’ve learned in the past year (hey…yeah I’ve been writing for a year now!) is that the sharing of our personal testimony, no matter how simple is so very powerful.  In so many ways, I’m working to strengthen my faith in what I call the post-honeymoon phase of Christian journey. Being a Christian isn’t so new and shiny anymore, it’s more about holding myself accountable to go deeper into God’s word and mature in my faith.  It’s not just about the having faith anymore but about growing in my faith.

When I read Luke 11 today I was struck by the coincidence that in the first several verses we hear the Lord’s prayer that was literally a cornerstone of my Catholic upbringing. The famous painting pictured above hung in both my grandmother’s kitchens as a symbol of their faith. Then, just a few verses later I read the verse that actually opened the door to real faith for me. I want to share that story with you today. I grew up in a strong Catholic family. I attended Catholic school my whole life from elementary school through my doctorate degree at Creighton University.  I wouldn’t trade my Catholic roots. I learned about social justice, about self sacrifice and most importantly about the strength that can be found in a group of believers. Even now, as we approach lent I will observe some Catholic traditions as a way to connect with God through discipline and intentional prayer.

In October of 2011, I realized for the first time that I needed a lot more spiritual strength than I had. I hit a literal spiritual rock bottom. Our son had come through a very severe illness and was seemingly healthy again. Until one day he wasn’t.  A whole new and different problem arose that had been silent since his conception. Our pediatrician found the problem with Ollie’s heart purely by accident.  He heard a murmur that was actually unrelated to his actual more serious diagnosis. I’ll never forget that day. In fact, I now work at the same hospital that we went to for his first cardiac echo.  Would you believe that just last week I ran into the technician that performed that echo while at work? Just seeing her face brought that day back to me with full force.

It was a Wednesday.  I was supposed to be at work but instead I just drove home and sat alone on my couch. I kept thinking that I should call this parent I knew from work, but I really didn’t know why.  I know now that it was the firm hand of the Holy Spirit guiding me.  Amy acted quickly.  She showed up at my door with her bible in hand and those infamous yellow cards.  I have all my cards as you know if you are a frequent reader here.  The other thing I have are the memories of the words she said to me. On that day, I was hopeless. I viewed what was happening as a kind of punishment.  I was searching for a way to bargain with God to make this go away. Through tears I asked Amy why God was “doing this to me?” What had I done wrong and how could I appease him again so that he would take this suffering from my child. Her answer was this passage from Luke:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

For the very first time in my life, I saw God as a gracious and loving Father.  For the very first time. I understood that my pain and sadness were not something He was “doing” to me rather something that He was using to bring us closer to Him. Now, when I face these types of situations, and I often do, I have the ability to look to God for strength and trust in Him that there is a greater plan.  What a miracle! Our Father is there for us. In the daily ritual of a prayer and in the bigger chasms of our life. I hope you’ll read Luke Chapter 11 today and receive the comfort and strength that our Father has for us. Certainly, there are lessons to be learned but also the reminder that He is with us always.