Love your neighbor as yourself. Several days ago, I wrote on this commandment. I have been thinking about this more and more, especially as the situation with my daughter became more prevalent. I’d like to talk about it again.

It is interesting to me how much emphasis Jesus placed on this commandment. He said it is the second greatest commandment, next to loving God with our all. Yet He told us that this commandment, along with the greatest commandment, was the foundation of the entire law. I take that to mean if we love our neighbor as if he is us, we are fulfilling, through Christ, the entire law. But there’s so much more to consider.

Take, for example, sin. Why do we sin? Because we are selfish. Currently, there are many in the body of Christ who do not believe we are selfish. Yet if we were able to step back, and observe ourselves, with the thoughts of our minds being played out on a TV screen, how could we ever deny our own selfishness? Is it so simple to say that we sin because we are selfish?

Maybe not, but for the sake of this post, let’s keep things simple, and leave our sin at the tree of selfishness, and work from there. One thought that has occurred to me over and over these last several years is the fact that we think mainly about ourselves. I have never done a study or taken a poll of thoughts to see the results, but I do not think I’d be misleading anyone if I said that possibly as much as ninety-five percent of all our thoughts are completely about ourselves. I know for sure this has been true of me.

Can this kind of thought process gel with loving our neighbor as ourselves? I think it is impossible for it to be so. If I am to love my neighbor as if he is me, I have to step inside of his circumstances, and try to think about what he is thinking about. Part of what has been breaking me so deeply this past week and a half has been the ability to think the thoughts of my daughter, to try and put myself in her position, and think of how I would feel. Truly, that breaks my heart every time I do it.

This has helped me to be gentle with her, and more willing to respond to her with my ear than my mouth. I find myself smiling at her more, and being more playful. In essence, I find myself being more childlike.

If I love my neighbor as if he is me, would I find myself more apt to sin against him? Let me say this as compellingly as I can. It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to sin against my neighbor if I truly love him as if he is me. Therefore, not only am I not apt to sin against him, but I am apt to do good for him, and to him.

How important am I? Must I “find” myself? Or must I lose myself? Loving my neighbor as myself is the key to losing my life for Jesus.

Let me encourage you today, somehow, to step back from an encounter with someone, and try to think their thoughts. Try to feel what they might be feeling. Try to put yourself into their circumstances. Literally, walk a mile in their shoes. If you have done that, then see how willing you are to put yourself before them, and sin against them. I think you might find that for some people you encounter, you are going to cry silent tears, so touched by their circumstances and heart you will be.

How do you think someone’s thoughts, and feel someone’s feelings? That is very simple to do. While we are all very different, we are all very similar in several ways. We all feel emotions, each of us the same ones. We all respond very similarly to many certain situations. What hurts one person is usually bound to hurt another. What makes one person feel JOY will usually make another feel it as well. It is not all that difficult to try and feel what they feel, especially if we are loving them enough to ask them how life is at the moment. Be prepared, you may be there for a while. I think loving our neighbor means we don’t wear watches.



Maybe you have noticed. I have started showing my current mood on my blog, using unkymoods (love that name!). Today’s cartoon of my mood fits my mood perfectly. How do they do it? I suppose with several hundred to choose from, you’re bound to find one that is close. But this one is right on.

I feel bottled up. I feel like I am in prison, only not a horrendous prison, or one of my own making. It sort of feels like frustration, anxiety, hope, and excitement all at once. Dangerous combination, that one.

I have been anxious about my daughter, and maybe we’ll get some answers tomorrow. We’ll see. I am much more hopeful, because it seems like she is talking with me more and more. But, there is still the holding back. When will the flood gates open, and what will that be like?

Maybe I am over-reacting, I hope I am. I hope it’s nothing. After all, trying to be nonchalant about this isn’t easy. Trying not to coddle her is difficult to say the least. I want to hold her, and constantly tell her everything is going to be alright. I can tell her that, because everything in my heart tells me this is true.

Now, why won’t my head shut-up, and why does my heart hurt so bad? Well, I think it’s because the “everything will be alright” part is not here yet. I am bottled up. What I know to be true isn’t here yet, I want to escape, I want my daughter to escape, and I want it to be here now. But I will hold on to what I cannot see, because I know with all of my heart that it WILL be, and that it is REAL.

God, I love you, I really do. But right now, my daughter is hurting, and I am hurting because she is. I don’t care about my heart, Lord. I really don’t. But please, heal hers? You see, I don’t need to feel good. I don’t need to have a heart that is healed. In fact, it would be useless to me if my daughter’s heart wasn’t. That’s how I feel, Jesus. Anyway, whatever you will do, I am willing. If we have to wait, then I ask you to give us the strength for patience that we don’t have. Whatever it is, Lord, equip us, and we will obey. Thank you for letting me talk with Ally. You know how much that meant to me. You know how much I want for her. But Lord, it doesn’t matter if I connect with her. She needs You! Please, connect with her, call to her. Speak to her as you have to me. Make her to understand, and beckon her with your arms as you did me. For what am I, that you should call to me, and not her? She is by far more obedient, more loving, more kind. If any of this could earn your good pleasure, she would please you far more than I. That’s all I have, Jesus. Please reveal joy to each person who visits here. Reveal it in such a way that they won’t miss it. Thank you. AMEN HOLY ONE.



My daughter had a crisis tonight. It was a wonderful, sad, easily understandable crisis. But it was a crisis she chose to share with me, from her heart. This has not been something that is just taken for granted lately.

My little girl (who am I kidding, she’s twelve!!) does not talk about what she is feeling much at all. I think much of that has to do with repressed feelings about the divorce. So when she does talk, you better believe I listen.

Tonight it was nothing more than forgetting some homework at school. Most children will talk about that, but Ally really opened up with it. She said she felt like she never does anything right. My Daughter said that!! Just this morning, we had talked a little, and I asked her that very question, if she ever felt like that. Then I told her what I know is the truth. I said, “Ally, you do most things right. I want you to know that I notice it, too.”

My relationship with her is close, but most times, she just won’t let anyone near her heart. She’ll backhand them away if they try. She won’t be mean about it, she’ll just not answer questions, and no one, nor nothing can make her. Is she stubborn, or protective? Maybe a little of both.

Whatever she be, I am glad she opened up to me tonight. I love her so, and the thought of her feeling like she can’t do anything right breaks my heart. But I also know that most kids feel that way sometimes, so, rather than throw her a pity party, I just re-told her the truth. I'll keep reaffirming that with her. Maybe it will help.

But most of all, I hope Ally knows that anytime she wants to talk, I will listen. I will leave work if I have to, I will do whatever it takes to be there, to listen. I have always been here, but she has not always taken advantage of it. God, please let my daughter take way advantage of it. Amen.



I have been considering the REAL aspects of the gospel. Notably, I have been considering what it means to love my neighbor as myself. Notice I did not say “love my neighbor as I love myself”. I think there is a difference between the two.

To love my neighbor as I love myself is incomplete, it only deals with me loving me, which is but one aspect of me. To love my neighbor as myself, though, there is the whole commandment in all of its splendor, to die to myself, and let my neighbor be me in my heart.

Please allow me to explain. If I love my neighbor as myself, the commandment is complete. All of me is involved in this commandment, not just the part that loves me. All of my hopes, dreams, losses, and gains are included when I love my neighbor as myself.

How does this work, to practically love my neighbor as myself? Here is my paraphrase of the commandment. “Love your neighbor as if he is you.” When we see that commandment in this light, what happens?

First, we, or me, disappears. I have died to myself, and my neighbor becomes the only important person in the equation. For if my neighbor is now me, I am not present, only my neighbor is. How can we flesh that out more? Let’s think of it as removing all of my fleshly desires, all of my wants, needs, and selfish tendencies. Truly, if I remove all of these things, my love for my neighbor will sky rocket through the roof.

Loving my neighbor as if he is me removes any chance that I will harm my neighbor. In fact, it assures that I will only build my neighbor up, that I will add life, rather than steal it. While my neighbor is present, and I am not, I am free to focus on my neighbor’s needs, whatever they may be.

What enslaves us? Is it not our fleshly desires? Is it not the belief that we “deserve” this or that? Isn’t it my sin nature, the nature that drives me to think of only me all of the time? If it is, and if I remove that, then I am free. I have died to myself, I have taken up my cross, and I have literally followed Jesus’ example. The cross wasn’t about what Jesus wanted. It was about what we needed. If we need an example that will show us how that commandment works, the cross is it.

Grace is the only thing that makes dying to ourselves possible. It is the underlying power behind being strong when we are weak.

Here is a scenario to ponder. I have a head cold, but I am meeting a man I consider to be a complainer, for lunch. I really do not want to meet this man, because I already feel miserable, and he only makes me feel worse every time I talk with him. What should I do?

Before you answer that, remember to love your neighbor as yourself. I will ask a couple more questions to prime you. What causes this complainer to complain? Do I even know? What does it feel like to be him? What life experiences has he had that has shaped him?

These are just a few of the questions that might help me to forget me, and love him as if he is me. What do you think?



I wrestled with a one hundred – fifty year old door today………….

and won. Of course, the entire match was unfair, really. You see, this big chunk of wood never had a chance to do anything but cooperate with me. That is the way it is with wood and me, it is my job to make wood look perfect, and I strive to fulfill that role as best as I can.

However, if this door had not cooperated, I would have given it every chance to change its mind. I would have struck it with a hammer, ground it down with a sander, taken the sharp edges off with a chisel, and polished it with extra fine sandpaper. If that failed, I would have run it through a planer to take the entire surface off, and change its demeanor completely. I would have threatened it with the table saw, and cajoled it with caresses as I ran my hand across it to see if I could find any more flaws. I would have endeavored for perfection in this rare beauty.

If all of this had failed, if I had tried every conceivable method I knew of to restore, and make this door like new again, there would remain only one thing I could do. I would have to carry the door out to my fire pit, and burn it.

The thought of reaching that end almost makes me want to cry. I love wood, and I love this door. That is why I expend so much care, and energy into restoring it as a piece of perfection. To make a beginning with this door, to pledge to its perfection, and then settle for anything less would be wrong, it would be a lie. If once I have met this door, it refuses to be restored and made perfect, I must destroy it.

But first, with great patience, with painstaking accuracy and awareness to each stroke of the chisel or sander, I will work the perfect plan. The plan must be perfect, if the end is to be as well. I will spare no expense in the restoration of this door, for I love it dearly, and will not think about destruction until all other avenues are exhausted. I will speak to this door, I will listen to it, I will observe it, and I will encourage it. In the end, the door will be perfect, or it will be destroyed, for I cannot stand to have an imperfect piece of wood anywhere near me. It is an insult to my efforts, and a constant reminder of its refusal to yield to my hand.

But why, Tom, would you destroy it just because it wouldn’t yield? The answer to that is many layered, but the foundation is that I cannot abide wood that does not cooperate with me. If I have made every possible attempt to persuade it, change it, finish it, and love it, but it remains warped, then it is unusable to me. It is good for nothing but to be burned up in the fire. A warped piece of wood can be straightened, of course, unless the warpage is beyond repair.

Make no mistake, I will make every effort to repair it, I will treat this piece of wood as I would any other, giving it every chance to cooperate, and live. I would cut around knots, or cut them out all together. If there is a high spot, I will sand it down level. If it is discolored, I will stain it, and seal it. I will wash it, polish it, and protect it, unless the door is too warped. Then, I will destroy it, and move on to the next piece of wood.

As I look at the door I wrestled with today, I ponder how near to destruction it came. I did not get frustrated with it, but I did get angry. There were moments when I had almost decided to throw it into the pile, and burn it, but love kept me from reacting recklessly. After all, when you have put this much time, love, and effort into something, the very last thing you would want to do is destroy it.

But there comes a time when a certain piece of wood will not respond to my hand. Every call to perfection will be either refused, or ignored. For such a piece of wood, only the fire will suffice. It can be no other way. I make wood perfect, and the wood that will not yield, WILL be destroyed.

Alas, there was such a piece of wood just bare weeks ago. It was warped beyond recognition, and crumbling, though it knew it not. So I took my hand to it, and offered to cut it down to a much smaller piece. I would make every offer and effort to save even a small fragment of it, if it would yield to my hand. But, as I cut it, it crumbled to pieces in my grasp, leaving me with not even a sliver to set my hand to. I took what remained of it, and carefully examined it to see if any other part was worthy. There was nothing left to do, however, but burn it. I carried it out to my pit with a very heavy heart, for it once must have been a very beautiful piece of wood. What had happened? Time, circumstances, elements, and attacks from insects had all reduced this piece of wood into an unworkable ruin.

As I watched it burn, a tear slowly fell down my cheek. Standing there, I thought of the lost, and of how inconsolable God must feel that even one is destroyed.



All I really wanna do
is fall into
the emptiness that is
the space in between us,
erase it and bring us
together again.

Building 4:29

I couldn’t have said it better myself. That chorus is from Building 4:29’s song The Space In Between Us, which is about how we create this space between us and God by our failure to realize the fullness of Him, and how He expects nothing of us to fix it, except to fall into Him.

There are times I wish that was something I could see with my eyes. I know it’s true, but sometimes, I long for it so desperately, to touch God physically, to have Him pick me up, and coddle me like the infant I am.

I took my daughter to a concert last night with my best friend and his daughter. Building 4:29 was one of the bands we saw. Todd Agnew was another. That man is the humblest performer I have ever met. “It’s time for all of us ‘performers’ to just drop the idea that we are anything, and realize that no matter what we do, it’s ALL about Jesus. It’s time to live that, not just say it! It’s time you all knew we are just as screwed up as you are.”, or something akin to that. (my memory, hmm) Amen!

Lord, erase the space that is in between us, and bring us together again.


It struck me this morning that I have been busy writing for quite a while now. What have I been writing? About the things I know, or claim to.

Does this glorify God? I hope it does. The last thing I want to do is steal His glory. Today, I am taking a different approach. It is sort of a prayer, and a way for me to worship my timeless, ageless, limitless God. You see, I can write whatever I want, things which I know, and things which I hope. I can write about squirrels, or the past, fiction or non, hopeful things, and seemingly hopeless things. I can write about all manner of life and circumstance here on this dying earth. All of it I can do, and it all glorifies God. I do it because He has set in my heart this desire to write, and it has become a thing He created me to do.

No greater “purpose” have we than to do what we were created to do. It is one of the best acts of worship I believe we can undertake. I am a new creation, discovering so many things God has set in my heart. All these things, if approached with a heart for Jesus, will glorify God.

However, there is one other thing I can do that I believe might glorify God. I usually write about what I know. Today, I will speak of the things I do not know, and merely thank God for knowing them for me. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you want to add a few of your own, feel free to add away. All to the glory of God.

1. I do not know when Jesus will return
2. I do not know how God sanctifies us, other than some simple head knowledge.
3. I do not know how many stars there are. I know there are a lot.
4. I do not know how many planets there are.
5. I do not know what I will look like in heaven.
6. I do not know what it feels like to be physically raised from the dead.
7. I do not know the day I will die.
8. I do not know the square root of 1,343,567, without using a calculator.
9. I do not know how to form a mountain.
10. I do not know if I will be on this earth ten years from now.
11. I do not know if I will ever marry again.
12. I do not know the secret things of God
13. I do not know how God is sovereign, and yet it feels like I make choices all of the time.
14. I do not know how many acorns the squirrels in my yard have moved.
15. I do not know what I am going to write five minutes from now.
16. I do not know how to dance.
17. I do not know how to bring rain onto a parched land.
18. I do not know everyone I have yet to meet, here in this world.
19. I do not know why I sin.
20. I do not know how to change myself.
21. I do not really know how to worship God.
22. I do not know how bumble bees are able to fly.
23. I do not know why gravity exists. I know some theory, but no one can explain to me why it exists “logically”.
24. I do not know how to create something from nothing.
25. I do not know how to order the universe.
26. I do not know how to make it rain for forty days and nights.
27. I do not know God all that well.
28. I do not know myself all that well.
29. I do not know why lightening strikes in one place, and not another.
30. I do not know what all I do not know.

There is so much more. I could spend my life writing this list. Thank you God, for knowing everything. Thank you for letting me know some things. I am content.



Understanding is the reward of faith. So do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe so that you may understand. Augustine

When we tell someone about the gospel, or about how the gospel has changed us, do we tell them hoping they will understand, and then believe? That is quite impossible, we should know.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB

Approaching faith from an intellectual understanding is one of the great mistakes of our times. When we “try” to convince someone of the absolute sense the gospel makes, we are approaching the gospel from an intellectual angle. I think we might be handicapping those we speak with, if we do it like this.

The gospel cannot be understood by the mind, until the heart believes it. Then, how beautiful does it appear? Awesomely spectacular, with all of its wisdom attached to the man dangling from the cross. Utter foolishness it is to believe that this man, Jesus, can save anyone, if we approach it with our minds primarily. But when our heart is engaged, it seems as if God on the cross is the only thing that could ever make sense.

We approach the Word of God in the same manner, with our heads first. Why do we do this? Is it because we believe we have a pretty good understanding of the gospel? Is it because we fail to remain in Jesus the way He told us, which is by faith alone, and not by deeds, or by intellectual cunning? To remain, to abide in Christ, is to love Him, and obey Him. Love speaks nothing of the head, only of the heart. Thus, to abide must be a heart matter, not a knowledge base.

When we “lead” people to Christ, then, let us do it with our hearts, not with our heads, because the people who don’t know Jesus won’t understand the gospel unless they believe it first. What great fruit could we bear if we remained in faith? If we approach the gospel through faith, share it through faith, and live it through faith, understanding will follow. Let us pray understanding will follow for those we share the gospel with, for if it does, then they have believed!



As winter approaches, there a few things I look for. The obvious of course, is fall, and the turning of the leaves. I also look for the deer traffic in my backyard to increase. There is one sign I look for, however, that gives me great joy every time I see it. It’s the dance of the squirrels. This year, I have five squirrels in my yard as far as I can see, three grays, and two reds.

These little people have been busy every single day for the last three weeks, from sun-up until sundown. In my part of the world, that’s thirteen and one-half hours. They never take a day off, and they never rest, until it is too murky for them to feel safe roaming about. What machines they are! How do they do it? How does a tiny little squirrel run about for thirteen and a half hours, without getting absolutely blown out physically?

The dance of the squirrels is a special scene this year. You see, I only get to see it played out in full dress once every four years, when my very large oak tree is gorged with acorns. Some acorns fall every year, but it seems that every fourth year, the tree is overloaded with the crunchy squirrel-fare.

Two of the gray squirrels look like they’ve been digging into the acorns already. I have never seen such corpulent squirrels. One of the reds looks like he’s starving, he must be the frugal one. As the slightest squirrel in the yard, he is also the fiercest, so I am going to call him Rocky. The other red squirrel is fairly ferocious as well, but the grays, they just want to have some nuts. Twice I have witnessed Rocky chasing two of the grays out of his territory. In a yard that is just over two acres, how can Rocky tell what’s his?

This is the dance; starting at daybreak, the squirrels emerge, and commence scurrying across my lawn, digging shallow pits, and depositing acorns within. This will go on until the ground freezes, which could be another two months. The reds and the grays dance the same ballet. At any one time, I can have five squirrels all running around with a nut hanging from their mouths, scampering hither and yonder, spying the best location for their buried treasure. It never ends, so long as daylight holds.

The grays venture far and wide, while the reds remain closer to quarters. The grays are shy, and easily frightened, while the reds are much more audacious. Rocky won’t stray from his tree more than forty feet, but much of his time is spent running across my deck, within mere inches of my back door. The grays would never have such courage. After all, how brave can a gray squirrel be, when he is nearly three times the size of Rocky, and is repeatedly chased out of the yard?

Rocky is my favorite. He can flat-out scuttle! All of these little people are very busy, and I wonder if they know God is watching? If they do, are they aware how pleased He is with them? You see, these squirrels cannot be deterred. They will finish their job, or die in the attempt. They are not sidetracked easily. If something daunts them, they find a different way to do the same job. Regardless of how they do it, they will have their fill of acorns this year, and no trauma or tragedy will impede them.

How strong they are, for the grays lost a family member the other day, and still, they carry on with their appointed task. Three grays are now doing the work of four. Not even death, or mourning will keep them from fulfilling the purpose God has set within them.



The following is another part of a book I am writing, called Effortless Grace. feel free to criticize. God knows I need it!! : )


One of the best ways to help someone who is considering suicide is to talk about it with them. One popular myth tells us that talking about suicide may give the depressed or traumatized person an idea that may not have occurred to them. This is false. Often, talking about it brings something to light that the person may never have thought of, such as a hope they believed was no longer theirs. Remember, feelings of hopelessness almost always accompany suicide attempts. Feelings of loneliness, of rejection, or of despair are all things people who attempt suicide face.

We can address each one of these areas as the body of Christ. Loneliness is not so much the act of being alone, as much as it is the feeling that one is not accepted anywhere. We have all felt rejected at times, or unaccepted. Have you ever felt unaccepted everywhere you turned? That is the experience of the person who is considering suicide. Maybe they ARE accepted, and just don’t know it. Maybe their feelings are twisted by their rapid loss of hope. Whatever the case may be for the condition, there is only one cure, as mentioned before, grace.

We can administer grace to everyone we meet by being available for them, whoever it may be. We can dispense grace by listening more than we talk. One of the best indicators of a person who is considering suicide are feelings of hopelessness. We won’t hear them say it unless we are listening.

When I was going through the loss of my wife through adultery and divorce, one of things I did to get through it was to call people, and talk with them. Maybe the call was an inconvenience, but I would never know, because I was never told it was. I would spend sometimes hours on the phone talking with brothers and sisters in Christ, who never told me they “had to go quick”, or were “just about to leave”. They gave me their time, and more importantly, their ear. This allowed me to speak what was in my heart, it allowed me to bleed over the phone. And, if my bleeding overflowed, they would offer to come over and mop it up, again, with their ear. Those believers were the hug from God I needed, at a time when I easily could have ended it, so blinded I was by my pain.

How else does listening to someone in pain help them? Just as getting them to talk about it helps them work through it, DISCUSSING their trouble with them lends to them a sound mind that is not blinded by pain. Some of the greatest tragedies have occurred because a sound mind was not at the helm the day the tragedy took place. We do not make wise decisions when we are in pain. Most of the murders in this world are committed by people who didn’t plan it, they just reacted to the situation they were faced with. They made a hasty, uninformed, and unwise decision, because all their mind could see was pain.

We can offer them a heart that, although it is hurting because of compassion, is not completely clouded by pain. We can offer them our wisdom, and in the case of a person contemplating suicide, wisdom is one thing they are desperately lacking.

More on this part of the book soon.



The following is another excerpt from my book, Effortless Grace. Please feel free to criticize. I look forward to the help you will offer. Thank you.


Once every two seconds, someone, somewhere in this world, attempts to end their life. Once every forty seconds, someone succeeds.

Imagine the despair, the loneliness, the tears, the crushed hopes in the waning moments before the attempt. Imagine the utter hopelessness. This is a life without grace.

Even for followers of Christ, a graceless life can be a possibility. But for those who do not know Jesus, a graceless life is not just a possibility, it is a reality. A person without grace, or one who has forgotten grace, teeters on the edge of losing hope. Little by little, as the tension between performance and acceptance mounts, hope trickles out.

Currently in this world, suicide is the number three leading cause of death for those of both sexes aged between 15 – 44. The NUMBER THREE CAUSE! Since 1960, suicide rates have risen by 60%. To put that number in perspective, a country with a population of ten million people, in 1960, would have had 10,000 suicides in. In 2004, they will have approximately 16,000, in the same ten million person population segment.

It is estimated that there will be over one million suicide deaths worldwide in 2004. There will be approximately 20 million attempts. Lets put a face on that. Approximately one person in every three hundred and twelve will attempt to take their life this year. Now take a look inside of your church. How many people will attempt to end their life in your church this year?

What can we do about that? Do we walk away, shrugging our shoulders? Do we frown, and click our tongue at the weakness? Do we want to help, but since we don’t know how, we do nothing?

One person every forty seconds is going to die by their own hand this year, and there is a good chance they will not know Jesus when they do. But if they do, how do we explain the hopelessness? Do we write it off in a judgmental tone, and merely believe they never REALLY knew Jesus? Or do we begin to understand that hopelessness does not belong to the lost alone?

One in three hundred and twelve. You WILL know someone who attempts suicide this year. You may not hear about it, but you’ll know the person who tried to end their life.

Grace will go a long way in giving hope back to someone who has lost it. A person without hope cannot live long. Feelings of hopelessness are far more predictive of suicidal risk than clinical diagnoses of depression. That means there is a way we can hear someone’s call for help.

But, must it get to the level of the danger of someone’s call for help? Can we do something beforehand? Yes, we can offer everyone we meet the same grace we have received from God, the grace that builds communities, and restores relationships.

Suicide can be caused by many different factors, amongst them depression, drug or alcohol abuse, job loss, loss of a loved one, expectancy of trauma, and the list goes on. Suicide has many causes, but only one cure, grace. Only grace can heal the broken heart, only grace can restore hope. Sure, a psychologist can be a tool of grace, but we can be tools as well.

All of the people who will attempt suicide this year will have one thing in common. They will not be able to cope any longer, they will have reached the limits of their strength, whether it be hope, health, or mental capacity. They will all feel as if they have no other alternative. In a world full of believers, in a world where the body of Christ is alive, that ought not to be. In most cases, lending an ear, some time, or some compassion is all it will take to stop the downward spiral toward suicide.

One in three hundred and twelve. You WILL know someone who attempts suicide this year. In the past ten years, I have lost two friends to suicide. I don’t want to lose any more, regardless of whether they know Jesus or not. I will make it a point to extend grace to every one I meet, each day.



Lonely night,
In darkness, in fright.
Savior come,
My solace, my light.

Shaken, dazed,
I wade through a maze.
Righteous King,
Guide true, my liaise.

Helpless, low,
To whom shall I go?
Son of Man
Give hope for my woe.

Arduous weight,
Forlorn in my hate.
Lamb of God
Make sinless my state

Ashen face,
Uprightness abased.
Nail pierced God,
Enlighten thy grace.

Cross ward bound,
Miraculous sound,
Chosen son,
In Christ I am found

Copyright Tom Reindl 2004



This is the second part of a series I am calling "Billy and Me" Enjoy!


The beginning of that summer was a bummer. Billy spent a lot of time in the hospital, first getting mended up, then with a bout of pneumonia, and finally with rehabilitation. It seemed like the longest summer of my life, for a while, anyway.

Billy and I used to play ping-pong for hours during summer, as well as Risk (The game of world domination, yes!!), and just running around getting into all sorts of things. One of the things we liked to do best was to bother the girl next door, Sara. She was our age, and a very beautiful young girl, only she ended up going to the east part of our high school. Our town had two high schools, East and West. As strange as this may sound, the two were connected by the same building. In fact, I had several classes in East HS. It was a weird arrangement, sharing classes with our rival high school, but it was cool, too, because I had a lot of friends in East, like Sara.

Billy and I would bug Sara if we found nothing else to do, and as she got older, we found more reasons to bug her. We used to tease each other about who Sara liked, with me claiming it was me, and Billy claiming it was him. Much to our surprise, the summer before, Sara hadn’t liked either one of us. Instead, she went out with some guy named Guy. That was his real name, by the way, and we used to tease him mercilessly over it. He was okay, though, and we became and stayed fairly decent friends, even after Guy and Sara broke up, much to Sara’s displeasure. I think we did it just to spite her, as bad as that sounds.

That summer, however, Billy wasn’t around much, so I had to look for something to do. One day in mid-July (after what seemed like years of the summer had already gone by), Sara called me over to her house while she was sitting on the porch. Brace yourself, you are about to be amazed at how absolutely clueless guys can be about girls.

I sauntered up the stairs, and stood before her while she sat on a porch swing. “You wanna sit down?” she asked me. “Nah”, I answered. Sara looked kind of surprised by my answer, but she quickly recovered.

“Well, anyway, what have you been up to? I’ve seen you sulking around the neighborhood like a guy who’s dog just died. Why didn’t you stop over here?”

How to answer that without offending her. “I dunno. I guess I just didn’t ever see you out.” I lied.

“B.S!!” Sara cracked, although with a smile. “What’s going on with you? I’m WORRIED about you.”

Oh-oh, another person who thought I needed to talk about what happened the night Billy and John got into the accident. “Why are you worried? There’s nothing to worry about. Everything is great!” I lied again. I wasn’t used to being over by Sara’s without Billy, and I was feeling sort of awkward.

“Well, if nothing’s wrong, fine. I think something is, and I think we should talk about it. over….”

“Nothing’s wrong, and there’s nothing to talk about, Sar’” I interrupted.

Sara looked at me sideways, and continued, “As I was saying, I think we should talk about it over pizza. So, I decided we are going to Dick’s Pizzeria tonight, you and me, and we ARE going to talk.” As she said that last part, she stared into my eyes, as if defying me to say no.

“No.” I said.

“What do you mean, ‘No’!” Sara asked. I didn’t want to disappoint her, but I had no intention of sitting down to pizza, while talking about something I didn’t want to talk about with anyone.

“Just what I said”, with a charming smile to defuse the conversation a bit. “You don’t need to be all worried, Sar’, if there was something to talk about, I’d tell you.”

Sara looked kind of hurt by that answer, so I quickly added, “You meant talking about the accident, right?”

“Well…..no, maybe that a little, I mean, if you wanted to. I was hoping we could talk about something earlier, but you haven’t been over here. I really just wanted to spend time with you, BEFORE school starts, and either one of us gets all tied up with other people.”

I was caught off guard a little. So Sara didn’t want to press the issue about the accident after all. Then what did she want to talk about, I wondered. “Well, I suppose pizza is okay tonight. But why are you so insistent?” I asked.

“Well, if you must know, I’ll tell you tonight. It’s just something I really wanted to talk with you about the night of the party, the night of…of.. the accident.” Sara carefully added. “Anyway, it’s really good to see you. I have to go get ready. See you here around sixish?” The smile she gave me almost melted me. Sara had that effect on guys, and lots of guys were jealous of Billy’s, and my close relationship with her.

“Sure, sixish” I winked, and left.

Sara was the prototypical girl next door. If there was a mold for it, she was the original. Beautiful (even at age fifteen), smart, funny, at times flirtatious, and yet very mysterious, at least to a fifteen year old boy. Long dark hair, dark eyes, slim, well tanned and kind of sure of herself. She could have easily passed for eighteen or nineteen.

It was four o’clock in the afternoon when I left her. How could it take two hours to get ready for pizza, I wondered? Well, that was just Sar’, and I was alright with that. Besides, it gave me time to see if Billy was around.

He wasn’t, so I trudged back home, and waited until sixish, to walk over and collect Sara.

Ouch!! Two hours really had done something. She looked even more incredible than normal, and I began to wonder why. We walked down to the pizzeria, talking, laughing, and joking about kids we knew. Nothing major was discussed, I could tell Sara was saving it for later. I seriously wanted her to spill her guts about it, because the whole secrecy thing was never something I went for. However, every time I tried to mention it, she’d only smile at me, and stay silent. Sara was acting nervously. I began to think she had lied when she said she didn’t want to talk about the accident.

We spent an hour and a half eating pizza, sucking cokes, and talking about almost everything, except what Sara had to tell me. It was a great evening, don’t get me wrong, but I seriously wanted to know what was up. As we were leaving, I stopped Sara halfway out the door, and reminded her she hadn’t told me what she REALLY wanted to talk about.

Sara sort of grabbed my hand, and started walking, saying “Come on. Let’s go down to the river. I’ll tell you there.”

So, off we went to the river, which was a place Billy, Sara, and I had often run to, and spent long summer days swimming, and carousing. When we arrived at our favorite spot, Sara plunked down on the grass, and taking my cue, I did the same.

“Alright,” I said. “We ate pizza, we walked to the river. Now, what did you really want to talk about, Sar’”

“I saw your no hitter, the one that got you guys into the championship game. Did you hear me?” She said, with a wide grin on her face. You didn’t have to see Sara to know she was at the game. She was a fierce, and loud fan.

“Of course,” I answered, “I heard you almost all the time. But what’s that got to do with anything?” I could barely keep from laughing out loud every time I thought of Sar’ giving the umpires a piece of her mind.

“Actually, I had wanted to talk with you after the game, but I never got a chance. So then….I hoped I could talk to you at the neighborhood party after the championship game, but you guys never got there, obviously. So, see? It does have something to do with ‘anything’, silly.” Sara teased.

“Okay, but what did you want to tell me after that game, and then after the championship, AND THEN after dinner tonight? Or, do I have to wait another month?” Sparring verbally with Sara was something I was good at. It was not something she was good at. I always won, she always got mad, and she always left in a huff, only to return a few minutes later as if nothing had ever happened. This time, however, she did something strange. She leaned into me, and stayed that way. That’s about how I would have described that scene as a fifteen year old, so I’ll describe it that way now. After all, I was fifteen, and had never even kissed a girl, yet.

My stomach was doing something funny, and it wasn’t the food. And what did Sara put into her hair?! Man!! It smelled good! I couldn’t breath! Help! My mind shouted. I couldn’t even move to put my arm around her. All I could do was lean back into her.

She remained silent for another minute, and then said, “I’m nervous, but I know I have to tell you, I’ve already waited a whole month, and God only knows when I’ll see you next, seeing as how you’ve been avoiding me and…………”

“Avoiding you? Is that what you think I’ve been doing?” I asked.

“I don’t know. All I know is, I really missed you, Tom, and I don’t like not talking to you.” She replied. She cuddled more closely now, and I suddenly had the wits to put my arm around her. It was this brave move that gave her the courage to finally tell me what she had been torturing me with all night.

“I like you, Tom.” She said softly.

“Well, I like you, too, Sar’. So, what did you want to tell me?” I answered.

“I just DID tell you, you big goof!” Sara insisted.

“What, that you like me? Is that it? Is that what all this was………….?” Wait a minute, I thought. What?! Huh? Fifteen year old boys are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, if you know what I mean, and I was truly clueless, until all of a sudden, EUREKA! I got it! Oh-oh, there went the stomach again.

“Okay, ….by…’like me’, do you mean like, ‘like me’ like me?” Truly astounding, my grasp of the English language at that age.

Sara laughed the most beautiful laugh I had ever heard from her. It was deep, and true, and her eyes went well with it. “Yeah, dummy!! What did you think I meant?”

“I dunno. I thought you had something really important to tell me, and this isn’t something I was……expecting?” I asked, tentatively.

“This isn’t important? Sar’ asked, sounding worried.

“No, no. …..I mean , yeah, it is! Wait a minute, don’t look like that. I said, ‘yeah it is.’ I just didn’t get it at first, that’s all.” I looked intently into her eyes, trying to gauge what she was thinking. Nothing, apparently, so I continued, “So that’s what you wanted to tell me? I mean, of course I like you, I sort of always have. I was really steamed, sort of… anyway, when you went out with GUY. (love that name, a guy named GUY!)”

“Oh yeah!! Sure you were. If I remember correctly, you guys became pretty good friends.” Sara countered.

“That was only to piss you off, Sara. You know that’s what I do best.” I answered.

Sara smiled softly, “No, that isn’t what you do best. The way you look at me is what you do best.”

Alright, I’ll buy that. How exactly had I looked at her, anyway? Should I ask? Best not to, I decided. “Oh” was all I could muster. There was a silence that lasted about a minute.

“Well?” Sara asked

“Well what?” I asked back.

“What are we going to do about this, silly?”

I thought for a moment, and didn’t know what to say, so I just queried her a little further, “What do you want to do about it?”

“I want to spend more time with you. I want to have a relationship with you.” Sara answered, as if she had rehearsed it.

Oh-oh. A re..re..relationship? What was a relationship going to be like?

Give me a break, I was fifteen, I really didn’t know!

“Well……..okay. If you really want to, we can.” Was what I ended up saying.

Sara must have been a saint, because she decided to look beyond my clueless ness, and instead, she reached up and kissed my cheek, which suddenly became very, very warm. “You’re so sweet.” She said.

“I know” I replied. As we got up to leave, Sara socked me in the shoulder, hard. “You’re not THAT sweet! But maybe you’ll get better, you goof.” She was all smiles. So was I.

That was the last time I remember us being all smiles together for any decent amount of time. We were fifteen, it was doomed, and that was that.



Is it, or not? Is masturbation a sin? Is there even one answer that fits all people? Can we narrow this topic down to one size fits all?

I can only speak for myself, and for men, as I am not a woman, and I do not understand the psyche of women. Men, on the other hand, I understand. Having said that, I will attempt to give a position for both male and female, based upon scripture, as well as human psychology, from a male point of view. Keeping that in mind then, let’s begin.

Is masturbation sin? This is an important question for most Christians, I believe, but one that is rarely dealt with. Ask a pastor what he thinks about masturbation, and he is liable to give you a strange look, or pass his opinion off to an article someone else wrote. Messy Christian asked a number of questions that people might be afraid to ask a pastor, and a few pastors showed up, and answered some of them directly. I found it interesting that when the question pertaining to masturbation was approached, the pastors who commented on Messy Christian’s post referred us to an article written by someone else. All except Sivin Kit, who referred us to a comment he had written on a different Blog pertaining to masturbation. In that comment, the issue of masturbation was touched on, but in the end, our attention was turned to idolatry.

I think Sivin is on to something with that, I believe in fact he hit it generally pretty well. However, I believe this issue can be talked about in more detail, and can be labeled as either sin, or not sin.

First, what is a good definition of sin? The best one I have heard yet is this: Anything that does not glorify God is sin. Alright, does that answer our question? Not necessarily. I think it gets us close, provided one can agree with that definition of sin. But there is much more to this issue for the Christian than just calling something sin, and leaving it at that.

Here is something Jesus said about adultery that I found disturbing.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’, but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you, for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:27 – 30

Can the last two verses be tied in with the first? In other words can we rightfully apply tearing out an eye, or cutting off a hand to what Jesus said about adultery? I believe we can, and must, for immediately following the verse about cutting off a hand, Jesus speaks of divorce, and again, of adultery. It is clear He is still on the subject of adultery when He is talking about the eye and the hand.

For me, the reference to the eye is simple, since I am a man. Men are visually stimulated. Women, I do not claim to know what stimulates you. But, is it safe to say that some visual stimulation also takes place with you?

The eye in that passage is the easy part. It’s the hand that disturbs me. Who believes Jesus was referring to masturbation when He spoke of the hand?

Currently, I do believe He was referring to masturbation. That could change, but I haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary in anything I have read. The context of this passage all the way to the next time Jesus says, “You have heard it said” is the context of adultery, so clearly, Jesus is referring to relationships of an adulterous nature. The eye refers to looking at a woman with lust. Is it possible that the hand refers to acting out that lust? I believe it is.

However, I do not believe Jesus was literally telling us to gouge out our eyes, or cut off our hands. I believe He was referring to making those body parts not available to sin. In other words, if one wants to obey the heart of Jesus’ message, he must make his entire body a vessel for good, not for sin. This is followed up nicely by Paul in Romans and 1st Corinthians, where we are told to not let the members of our bodies be instruments of sin, and other such statements. If masturbation is a sin, it is clear that Jesus and Paul would give us the same message regarding the use of the body parts, what they are intended for, and what they are not intended for. If masturbation is a sin, then the hand is certainly causing us to stumble, but before that, it was the eye, so the eye must go first, and if that does not work, then the hand as well.

I admit that is a fairly simplistic way to look at all of this, so let’s go a little deeper. One comment I read recently on this subject stated that so long as a person didn’t fantasize about someone else, then masturbation was not a sin. I don’t think we can get so far as to give that much thought, unless we can prove that masturbation is even possible without fantasizing. Is masturbation possible without thinking of some sexual tryst? Is it possible for anyone, be they man or woman, to do the deed without engaging their mind? Off the cuff, I want to say “no” immediately. However, I admit there may be circumstances that I haven’t thought of, or know about.

For the male, I must say that I would find it very difficult to believe that one could masturbate without engaging his mind in some sort of fantasy involving someone else. For the woman, I would have to say the same thing, possibly their mind will engage more deeply, if we consider how much more deeply they communicate than men, as well as how much more intimate they desire their relationships to be.

Let me give you an example. If a man goes to a beach, where women are abundant in number, but not abundant in clothes, a man will have a feast of the eyes, if he does not have supernatural control over his mind. For a man, the simple act of looking at a woman can stimulate him. Further, once the woman has left his view, he no longer needs to see her again, he can file the image away for future use, and change that image, even animate that image, all within his mind. He can give words to that image, he can give commands, he can even have sex with her, right there in his mind, and he doesn’t need the woman present after the first glance. She is safely stored away in his memory for future reference. How nasty is that?
Women, if you ever wanted to know why you should probably dress conservatively, reread that paragraph. Men don’t need women to be around after they have had their first glance. In fact, when men do this, we dehumanize women, we treat them like a poster, like a blow up doll, and it is truly a sick thing that we do.

Nevertheless, let’s assume for a moment that a man masturbates while fantasizing about a woman. Clearly that is adultery, as Jesus said it was. But why is that adultery, Jesus? After all, no harm is being done to the woman, is there? Of course there is. If the woman is merely an image at this point in time, then the man is guilty of making that woman a slave to his passion, be she present or not. In essence, he is taking away her life, taking away her personality, and taking away her dignity. He might as well rape her, because in his mind, she has no choice in the matter, nor does she even have the right to a choice. She is a slave that belongs to this man, who in actuality, has no right to make any claim upon anyone who is not his wife. Adultery.

Then, can a man masturbate without engaging his mind? Can a woman do so? I do not believe it is possible. The mind is never at rest, it is always working. The mind is the keyway to sexual stimulation, whether it be through the eyes, by a thought, through relationship, or by physical touch. It all goes through the mind at some point in time, whereby the mind issues the command to follow through with self-gratification. Can a person masturbate without some type of fantasizing occurring?

Maybe a better question would be, can a person love without engaging the heart? Is that possible? We should know the answer is no. If a person cannot love without engaging the heart, how is it possible to self-gratify without engaging the mind? A fantasy doesn’t have to be a roaring sexual tryst. It can be the memory of a touch, or of something said, the memory of a compliment, or a person’s manner towards a woman. It doesn’t have to be a blazing sexual encounter for it to be a fantasy. However, without the mind, stimulation is impossible. Something needs to trigger that stimulation, and the mind gives the order to follow through, it doesn’t ever happen spontaneously.

I do not know what all stimulates women. I do know what stimulates me, and my mind takes over from there, issuing a command here, barking an order there, being the maestro of some grand symphony being played out in my mind.

But there is a simpler way to prove that self-gratification is a sin. It is the simple focus upon it that proves it. Have you ever tried to quit something that you thought you shouldn’t be doing? How hard was it once you started focusing on it? In fact, didn’t it become nearly impossible to stay away from that thing? Didn’t it seem there was temptation everywhere concerning it? This is the way the Law works, and the way our flesh responds to the Law. Especially for believers, where the flesh has set itself against the Spirit, there is a constant battle going on inside. The flesh will incessantly attempt to wrest control away from the Spirit. When the flesh becomes aware of something that is being focused on, the flesh will wage war in that direction. If it is masturbation, the flesh will scream for satisfaction. No matter that the Spirit will eventually win, the guilt left behind by giving in to the flesh is all that is needed for our proof. That, and the act of focusing on the subject matter which makes it so much more difficult to avoid, or cease from.

It almost becomes idolatry, and this is the point I believe Sivin was trying to make. Self-gratification is self-glorification. Recall that sin is anything that does not glorify God. If we are busy gratifying ourselves, are we gratifying God? Is that possible? Can one serve two masters simultaneously? You know the answer to that. It is impossible for us to voluntarily self-gratify, and simultaneously glorify God. The act of masturbation takes place without relationship, it is completely self-serving. That may not be a bad thing, if the self serving thing is something like breathing, or sneezing, or something involuntary that is necessary for survival. But is masturbation something that would fall into any of those categories? Is it something that is necessary, or is there an alternative release already provided for?

For men, the answer is simple. Nocturnal emission are the release God gave us for the “dry” times. I am almost ashamed to say that I do not know what God provided for women, maybe I should brush up on my biology? Am I allowed to not have that answer, seeing as how I flung this together at the last minute?. Please?

In the end, one thing needs to be clear. This is an issue best taken to God, and not to any man or woman, including me. I am imperfect, and not all knowing, my position is based on what I perceive to be the interpretation of the Word. It is not the end of all interpretations, it is only a well thought-out position on a very touchy subject. Keep one thought in mind, however. Masturbation has been declared as a good thing by most psychologists of the world, their basis for that being that “most people do it.” If that is the basis for our position, then we are in trouble. Since when do Christ-follower’s listen to the world for advice on what is right or wrong? Go to God, I believe He will answer this question for you.

I will not leave this subject without reminding you of grace. You are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, and that is going to take place regardless of what you do right now. Take hope in the fact that God loves you, and knows right where you are on this subject. If we be in sin, still, God loves us. Let that spur us on to the truth. He is big enough to handle whatever we bring to Him. But, if we try to deal with this on our own, we will be saddled guilt upon guilt, failure upon failure, and nothing but remorse for the flesh. Remember grace, remember that the changes inside come not by our own hands, but by the very hand of God. Let that be a greater encouragement to you than any worry or guilt over any sin currently in your life. Let grace wash you, as it was intended to. Let it define you as a saint, regardless of the flesh. Keep in mind that God’s love knows no boundaries, and there is always hope in that. This will one day no longer be an issue for any of us. Let’s try to remember that.



The following is another excerpt from the book I am working on. As with the previous excerpt, please do not be afraid to be critical. I am looking for help, and wisdom beyond my own. Iy you have a story you'd like to share, I'd like to hear it, too. Thank you.

There is so much we can talk about, isn’t there? From vacations, to experiences, from trauma to triumph, we can share it all. I have never met a person who didn’t have a story. Grace changes people’s stories, from one of losing, being confused, or jaded, into one of hope during trials, and peace during storms, of outright miracles that defy any explanation. It transforms us even while we yet live in this body of flesh.

Transformation literally means being changed from one thing, or way, to a new thing, or way. When we share the stories of how God is transforming us, whether we do it before believers, or those who don’t believe, we share the gospel.

As we read the synoptic Gospels, we are struck by the crucifixion as the defining moment in Jesus’ ministry. As important as the cross was, it pales besides the transformation of the resurrection. Not because the cross means less, it certainly doesn’t. The cross pales because while Jesus was on it, his old self, his body, was dying. When Jesus rose, He had a new body, a body that had been Transformed, from perishable, to imperishable. The gospel then, is not about the death of Christ, so much as it is about the transformation that took place during the resurrection.

For we who believe in Christ, when does the transformation begin? I believe it begins the moment Jesus lives in our heart. We are no longer destined for death, we have been removed from the sting of death, now we are alive forever in Christ. Even though this physical body must die some day, we will be raised again with an imperishable one, and yet, while this old body of ours dies every day, our inner spirit is renewed through the resurrection of Christ.

The change, then, that takes place in our lives, is part of our story, part of our Resurrection, that people will be drawn to. They will not be drawn to “Turn or Burn!”, I assure you.

“and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:19-29 NASB

Paul spoke boldly, in telling of the transformation of his life. Notice how he calls himself an ambassador? An ambassador moves into the nation he is ambassador to, and begins to step out into that society, and make himself known. While he is doing this, he is also beginning to know the citizens of the nation he is ambassador to. Preaching the gospel is no different. Check out this testimony that many have heard from my friend Ben, who you might say is an ambassador to many who don't know Jesus.

“I was not a good husband. Even before I had married my wife, Susan, I had been unfaithful to her. Since we had been married, I was not physically unfaithful, however, my eyes and my mind were. Wherever there was flesh, I would look. I wasn’t deeply into pornography, but I admit that I dabbled in it. But the greatest problem is that I was not ‘into’ my marriage.

Susan and I were mere months away from splitting up, I believe. We didn’t connect with each other, we didn’t talk with each other, and we rarely touched each other physically. I spent most of my time in my own world, usually doing what I wanted to do, and lying to my wife about whatever I was doing, even if I didn’t have to. I was a chronic liar.

The frustration and distrust I caused my wife would have been more than enough reason for her to split with me. I thank God He helped her hang on long enough for me to change. I am so in love with Susan today, but it certainly didn’t happen over night, not even after I believed in Jesus for eternal life.

Soon after I met my Savior, I told Susan about the night I was unfaithful to her, just before we were married. She was devastated. But still, she hung on.

You see, something was happening inside of me. I was being convicted of the things I was doing that were killing my marriage. An even grater thing than that was happening. I was being led to talk with Susan about nearly all of it. As we began to talk about these things, she opened up to me as well, and admitted it wasn’t all my fault. I had been living under the impression for several weeks that I was solely to blame for all of the problems in my marriage, which was dying. When Susan admitted that she was being convicted as well, our marriage began changing. We opened up to each other, talking for hours on end. We cried together, we laughed together, and we began to fall in love with each other all over again.

My marriage was dead, and I knew it. I didn’t want to even try changing it, I had given up on it. But Jesus had other ideas for my marriage. Through tears of pain, anguish, and joy, He placed Himself in the center of my heart, my marriage, my family, and my mind. I am so happy to tell you today that I am so deeply in love with my wife, I am more each day, and it has been this way for three years. Where once I didn’t really care about being with Susan, now it is like a fresh heartbreak every time I have to be away from her, and my two children. I love Susan now, and I don’t think I would have ever loved her had I not met Jesus when I did."

Ben’s story is very close to my heart, because I have been blessed to be a part of that marriage restoration, and have received the timeless joy of watching two very good friends consistently grow to love each other more and more. Believe me, their marriage was dead, but it is now more alive than any other marriage I have witnessed, and there is no explanation for it except Jesus.

Ben has a ministry in our church. He is one of the first that people get to know, if they are willing to visit us, and join a group we call ALPHA. Many of the people Ben meets with have a story very similar to his Pre-Jesus story. God has placed him in a position to share his reception of grace frequently, and this is the story he usually tells. For my part, it is an encouragement just to write about it. Imagine if you were the one who was hearing him tell it. Imagine the difference, from expecting to be preached at, to being met by a guy who isn't afraid to admit he is much less than perfect, and hey, he might even have a story just like yours.




Total Deaths, Pentagon Attack (Ground): 124
Total Deaths, American Airlines Flight 77, (Pentagon): 64
Total Injured, Pentagon Attack: 76

Total Deaths, WTC Attacks: 2,792
Total Deaths, American Airlines Flight 11, WTC North Tower: 92
Total Deaths, United Airlines Flight 175, WTC South Tower: 65
Total Injured, WTC Attacks: 2,261
Firefighter Deaths, WTC Attacks: 343
Police Deaths, WTC Attacks: 75

Total Deaths, Shanksville, PA, United Airlines Flight 93: 40

Total Deaths Resulting From All 9/11 Attacks: 3,030
Total Injured Resulting From All 9/11 Attacks: 2,337

It is the eve of the anniversary, of September 11, 2001. How long ago that day seems now. Three years?

When I first heard of the attack, I was working for Burger Boat Company, a builder of multi-million dollar luxury yachts. We built some of the finest yachts ever made, and the interior carpentry was second to none. On September 11, 2001, I realized just how pointless my job really was. It would be another eight months before I was no longer with that company, but the truth is, I lost my heart for that type of construction the day the airplanes landed on people, on purpose.

I heard of the attack on the radio, as I was passing by it on my way from the Owner’s stateroom, to the aft of the yacht. I stopped in my tracks, wanting to make sure of what I was hearing. Several people gathered around, and we listened to reports of the first plane having just crashed. We all wondered what the chances were that a jet would crash INTO one of the Trade Center Towers. As we were asking ourselves that question out loud, we heard a reporter talk about a second plane that had just plowed into the Trade Center. It was at this point that we knew we were under attack. No amount of coincidence was enough to explain two planes into the Center.

Then when we heard about the Pentagon, and several men worried about their loved ones working at one of the two Nuclear Power Plants just North of Two Rivers, thinking they would be likely terrorist targets. I didn’t worry too much, because I knew the terrorists were too stupid to concentrate on the heart of America. They are too weak to hit the center, that is why they always attack the edges. So I felt that day, as I do to this day.

I remember talking with a good friend of mine, a young man named Darren from Ireland, whom I had introduced to Christ just several weeks before. “Tom, I feel God so strongly right now!” That’s what Darren said to me. I nodded my head, and continued to listen to the report. Soon, we were shuffled back to work, being told there wasn’t anything we could do about what was happening in the east.

It was difficult at best to concentrate again on my purpose there. I found myself asking these questions:

1. Where is God in all this?
2. What is the purpose of all this?
3. What is the scene like?
4. Are there children at the Trade Center? For the life of me, I couldn’t answer that question.
5. How many died without knowing Jesus?
6. Is my little daughter hearing about this? Seeing it at school? Is she okay? How is her heart?

Tears flowed easily, but briefly when I thought of my daughter, and made the connection that mattered. My God!! The families!! The wives!! The Husbands!! The children?!

I do not remember my day at work from that point on, except that I desperately wanted to get home so I could hug my little girl, and thank God for her being alive. I prayed God be with those families of the lost.

The following evening, I met with my pastor. We were supposed to discuss a study I was doing with him. Instead, we discussed the previous day. What was God telling us? What was next? There had to be a purpose from God’s point of view, because the idea that God can’t stop evil is just garbage to both of us. What was the plan, and what should we do?

I had been at the church the night of September 11, 2001. I was called there by a friend of mine who told me Hope Church was planning a prayer vigil that evening. I sat in stunned silence as I listened to this prayer, over and over by each participant, who only used different words.

“Father God, Come alongside of those families now, and lift them up, give them some peace, and some hope. Father, come alongside America, come alongside us, and restore our safety, restore our security, restore our hope. We are afraid, lonely, and looking over our shoulders. We do not understand all of this, and we have been terrorized. We want desperately to feel “normal” again, what shall we do to feel so? God, Bless us, bless our land, bless our economy, our protectors, our President and government, our children, our WAY OF LIFE. Amen”

“Our way of life” was a statement I would hear more and more that evening, and the next day. How dare they threaten our way of life. I wondered about that statement. What did it really say about America? When I met with my pastor, and we started discussing the events of the previous day, I told him what I had been hearing. He told me he had heard similar things. We talked about what it all meant. How would we help others to understand? I told him what I had told the group I met with just the evening before, the group that had repeatedly prayed the same prayer using different words.

I told them we had not lost our safety, despite the carnage in the East. We had not lost our security, despite the ease with which we had been struck. We had not lost our hope, despite the despair we all felt over the reports of estimated dead. We had not lost any of these things, because we had not lost God. I talked about the nation crying out, “God Bless America”. I told them this is not a prayer to be uttered at this time. The way it was prayed, uttered on every street corner, in every pub, church, hospital, store, and television show, it was uttered as a demand, not as a plea.

I told them to pray for what was real, pray for the families, and for God’s will to be done, in this, and in all things. I told them that despite our lack of understanding, despite the pain and anguish we all felt, we could still trust that God loves us, even if it looks like He has abandoned our nation. Then I told them God has most certainly not abandoned our nation. How could He abandon a land where even one of His children lives?

I told my pastor I did not think what I said did any good. People were afraid to go home, afraid to go to sleep, afraid to go to work. It was the most desperate time I have ever witnessed. We talked a little more, my pastor and I. We came to the conclusion that it could take a long, long time to discover the purposes of God in this. We were fairly sure that there were many. But we agreed that we must do at least the one thing we could do; encourage everyone we meet with the love of Christ, be they follower or not.

We agreed that something more needed to be said. We agreed that church would be packed that Sunday. We also agreed that it wouldn’t be long before normal levels of attendance returned. We agreed that above all else, America as a whole had been exposed as an instant gratification driven conglomerate of hopers. We wanted to feel better, and we wanted it now. If going to church could do that, then we would go to church. We would have done anything to feel better during those days, because the reality couldn’t be escaped, and that is one thing Americans have become quite good at; escaping reality.

Things are for the most part, back to normal in this nation. It didn’t take long for that to happen. I love them so. I love my nation, but I am not going to lie for this country. Many great things have been accomplished by we who call ourselves Americans. Many horrible things have also been done. But the worst thing, I believe anyway, is that we have become a nation of “feel gooders”, rather than a nation of “do gooders”.

That has been exposed wide open by the terrorists. But I have a message for the terrorists. This nation is strong, even though it be a nation driven by “feeling” good. You have not destroyed anything but your own reputation, which was never good to begin with. Be you white, red, black, or yellow, if you are a terrorist, you are a coward.

You have no honor, you have no glory. All you have is a gun. I have two of them, and you will never see me aim them at a child, or a woman. You will never see me aim them at any innocent bystander, just to get my point across. By now, the world knows that real men use words, not guns or bombs or planes. Yours is a despicable gang of thieves, murderers, and rapists. You portray yourselves as men with a cause, and all the while you are nothing more than toddlers throwing a temper tantrum. You want your way, and you are willing to kill to get it. That’s not honor, that’s cowardice.

There is no honor in killing women and children in the name of a “cause”. There is no honor in specifically targeting innocents and civilians, in planning to do harm to them for the name of whatever religion or right you claim.

You believe that bloodshed will bring people to their knees, begging you to stop. You believe that terror reigns in America now. You believe wrong. I am an American, and I am not now, nor have I ever been afraid of you. Nothing you can do will take my security, my safety, or my salvation away. It is not yours to take. It belongs to God, and you are not man enough to take it away from Him. Nothing you do will ever cause me to fear you. I stand, America stands, and there are many, many who stand with me. We are not defeated, we are strong, and we will stand beyond your pitiful attempts to inflict terror into the one place you cannot reach with a gun, bomb, or plane, our hearts. Amen to God.


The temperature has risen sixteen degrees F. in two hours. At that pace, it will be 130 deg. F by seven PM. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm :D



The following is an excerpt from a book I am writing. I am asking for help, for REAL world expereince and wisdom, because I do not want to rely on my own wisdom in writing this book. The idea to do this, to ask you, people who read this blog for help, came from prayer, and from reflection. Please feel free to criticize. I can take it. Above all else, be honest, because I am asking you to be. Thank you very much. God bless you all.

Grace can change a life in a moment, but it can also take twenty-five years of sin before grace wipes all of the past away, even for someone who believes.

Grace is always with us, a constant for those who believe in Jesus Christ for Eternal life. But what does grace do? What does it accomplish? To answer those questions, we need to look within the scope of our own lives, for although grace comes as a gift to all who believe in Christ, it meets each one of us at different times, and in different ways. Grace is the essential ingredient to faith. Without it, there is no belief, and without belief, there is no eternal life.

I believe grace can be defined in several ways. The word grace can be defined biblically as being unearned favor. It is not the same as justice and mercy. Justice is getting what we deserve, while mercy is not getting what we deserve. Using justice and mercy as sort of an equation for a definition, grace is us getting what we do not deserve. That’s a clinical definition of grace.

The definition I prefer is much more personal. It is your story. It is my story. It is the story of a changed life. It is the story of the gospel. Before Christ, the destiny of man was death. After Christ, after grace, the hope of man is life, residing in Jesus Christ.

Have you ever tried to tell someone about the gospel using only the verses in the Bible that we think prove us right? What was the reaction? I have done it several times in the past, and the reaction was always not what I had hoped for. The person I was talking to would immediately get defensive, and start claiming that I was self-righteous. Several times, my listener’s voice was raised, and once, I was even called a double-talking liar. Most of the time, the minute we begin preaching bible verses at someone who doesn’t know Jesus, the conversation has already begun to end. The listener is looking for a way out, a way to leave this preacher who makes him feel so uncomfortable, and so worthless.

Last, I would probably never be given another chance with this person who is lost without Christ. It won’t happen, because that person doesn’t want to hear the same things he has always heard from “Christians”, judgment, scripture, and a sound dose of disagreement. Having lost my chance with this fellow, I turn to look for my next victim. Yes, I said victim, if all we are doing is preaching AT the lost.

Now let’s infuse some grace into the conversation, so that it can be a conversation in the first place. Remember my favorite definition of grace? Here is where it enters. Between Paul’s third missionary journey, and his eventual placement in prison at Rome, Paul had opportunity to present Christ to six different audiences, most of them unsympathetic and hostile towards him. Each time he faced these audiences, he did not resort to finger pointing, and threats. What did he use? He told them his personal testimony of how Jesus Christ had entered his life, and changed him.

The results are not always going to be as we wish them to be. But Paul knew that the best chance for common ground and further discussion lay not in his vast understanding of doctrine. Rather, it lay in his own little story, in his own words, using his own emotions to relate with the audience before him. Specifically, the best chance lay in grace.

Paul was able to relate to his audience through voicing his story with emotion. That word, “relate”, what does it mean? It is a root word for “relationship”. If we want to form a relationship, we have to relate with those who are lost. God’s grace relates with us every day, by meeting us right where we are at. Jesus didn’t shout the gospel from heaven. He came here, to earth, so He could relate with us. So it is with our own testimony, or story, no matter how small or large it is. If we want to introduce a person to Jesus, then we must introduce them to us, to our lives, to our story. We must be willing to listen to theirs, and willing to tell ours.

Rob is a guy who worked hard all of his life, battling to break addictions to every sort of drug one could imagine. If it wasn’t cocaine, it was heroine. If not heroine, then weed. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t stay clean. He lost his wife, his children, his house, his job, and his hope. Rob wanted to die right up until he met a man who knew Jesus Christ. That man’s name was Jonathon. Jonathon had met Rob in a bowling alley, of all places. Jonathon loved bowling, and Rob loved drinking shots of hard liquor with his friends at the bowling alley Jonathon regularly went to.

The night they met, Rob was in the bathroom, vomiting up the liquor he had consumed, so he could go back out for more. That was when he met Jonathon. He felt a hand on his shoulder as he was sobbing from the pain in his belly, and his heart. Jonathan helped Rob up, and walked him out to his car. He proceeded to drive Rob to his own home, half-carrying him inside, and layed him down in his bed. What an introduction!

The next morning, when Rob woke up, it took him a moment to remember how he came to be in this strange house. But when he walked into the kitchen, he saw Jonathon, and he remembered everything. The two of them sat down to coffee, and talked for hours. Jonathon listened as Rob told him first of how the world had treated him so badly, how everything he had lost was someone else’s fault, and how all he really wanted to do was die. The more Jonathon listened, the more Rob opened up. Soon, Rob was telling Jonathon about his drug problems, and how he couldn’t seem to stay to clean. He was two weeks away from homelessness, and he knew it. He felt hopeless, and he didn’t know what to do.

Thank God Jonathon did. He could have told Rob all about sin, all about the bible, and how man isn’t supposed to be addicted to anything. He could have preached to Rob about the evils of drugs, and how of course, since Rob didn’t know Jesus, his life was destined to be a mess. Jonathon did none of that.

He made another pot of coffee, sat down, and proceeded to tell Rob his own story, a story that wasn’t all that different from Rob’s. He told Rob about having lost his oldest son in a car accident because he had been drinking. He told him how his wife had left him because of it. He told him how his other two sons wouldn’t even speak to him anymore. He spoke about the night he tried to take his life with a gun, how the gun had jammed when he pulled the trigger, and how he had wept that night, asking Jesus to save him.

There, Jonathon stopped. Silence ensued, for about five minutes, as Jonathon wiped his eyes dry of tears, and Rob looked first at the man who had cried before him, and then around him. First, he looked at the immaculate kitchen, next his eyes caught sight of a bowl of apples on the counter. He looked at Jonathon again, and then he saw one single, large, empty bottle of wine sitting alone on a shelf above his sink. Jonathon watched as Rob stared at that bottle, wondering what he was thinking. Rob broke the silence by asking Jonathon why he kept an empty bottle of wine on his shelf. “Because it reminds me of you.” Jonathon answered. Rob looked quizzically at him for a moment, until Jon explained what he meant.

He told Rob that seeing the empty bottle every morning reminded him of where he came from, of all the people who had been hurt, and of the Lord’s amazing grace despite all that he had done wrong in his life because of that bottle. He told him how Christ had changed his life from the moment he had asked Him into his heart. He told Rob through fresh tears how many times he had clutched that bottle, desperately wanting a drink, and desperately holding onto Jesus, believing Jesus would pull him through to the next day. Rob began to weep, as he listened. When Jonathon finished his story, Rob was ready to ask Jesus to save him. He was broken, despairing, and without a job, or a hope in the world. The last thing he needed was someone preaching at him. What he needed was exactly what God provided for him, the grace of Jonathon’s story, which so closely matched his own.

This is his testimony, using bits of his life, memories of wrongs that he had done, recounting the feelings of hopelessness and confusion. And finally, Jonathon. Jonathon’s story is now part of Rob’s story, forever, because a little bit of yeast works through the entire batch of dough.

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverance.

1 Peter 3:15



Okay. As you have doubtlessly seen already, I have the weather posted on my blog for Two Rivers, Wisconsin, USA. Right now, we are slightly warmer than a refrigerator with a bad compressor. The Weather channel is remarkably accurate, except they are saying we are mostly cloudy, and we are not. I see stars everywhere. Right now, it is 55 deg. F, with 96 % humidity, and very few clouds in sight. I am proud to announce that Two Rivers is the only city in the world where this phenomenon can be witnessed fairly regularly. Jealous?

Alright. Add to that fact that I live just south (and I mean JUST south, as in less than one mile) of a state forest, and soon, my road (and it is MY road) will be full of the most intense fall colors you could see anywhere in the world. This spectacle will last anywhere from three weeks to a month, dependant upon the weather. Still not jealous?

Try this. One or two months after the leaves fall, we will be hit with what is called a “lake effect” snow storm. What does that mean? It means that while our neighbor town to the south (approx 5 miles) might receive absolutely no snow, or minimal snow at best, this burg will receive at times eight to ten inches of the white, fluffy stuff. All of that, plus driving through a state forest during the snow storm, watching the snow fall in huge white flakes, is a sight unequaled. And, if it is warm enough, we can walk through the forest road while it is snowing. The quietness is truly awe inspiring, and the beauty is breathtaking. Surely you are squirming with envy by now?

No? Well, then you haven’t watched a Two Rivers sunrise on Lake Michigan. We are truly blessed, because the sky with all of its Chicago pollution creates a kaleidoscope of color in the morning. (Chicago is just some hick town in Illinois to our south that pumps out massive amounts of pollution daily). Reds, grays, blues, whites, and shades in between can be seen almost every morning. Now I know you are lying if you say you aren’t jealous!

So, I don’t really have to tell you about the ten point buck I saw in my backyard the other night, or the herd of deer that passes through every day around four o’clock pm, to sample the apples fallen from the trees in my yard. I don’t really need to go into detail about the pine trees that surround my yard, gently swaying in the wind, as I listen to the inspiring roar of the Lake that lies less than one-eighth of a mile away from me. Nor do I need to expound upon the fact that four red cardinals fly around my abode every morning for hours on end, chasing off the blue jays, and the chickadees. Sound like paradise?

Not even close!!! But a lot closer than most places, I think. God, thank you!! I love it here!! AMEN!!



Over the next month or so, I will be using this Blog as practice, and as sort of a testing ground for a book I want to write. I am not certain of everything I need to write, so much of my sounding out will take place here.

I believe that I have received an answer to the many questions I have been putting to the Lord. Maybe a better word than “answer” is “direction”. There is peace in my heart after a tumultuous weekend, and for that matter, week prior. I feel a confidence again, although it is very tenuous, I admit.

That being said, I guess I am looking for some help with writing. As you know, my Blog is titled Effortless Grace, and naturally, much of my bent is on living that, and encouraging others to live it. The book I want to write will be mainly about that. But, there is much I have to learn before I can complete such an undertaking.

The first thing I believe any believer needs in their minds and hearts is grace, and copious amounts of it. Taking a look at the life of just about every believer I have met, their walk begins with their confession of Jesus as Lord. The next step is usually an attack from Satan. Grace overcomes all such attacks, but can you imagine the heart of a believer who doesn’t understand grace well, under such an attack? I would forego everything the Lord has taught me about doctrine for just a little more wisdom concerning grace.

You see, to me, grace defines the gospel. It is the gift we cannot buy, or earn, in any way. It is God’s to give, and He gives it generously. He is insanely protective of us, jealously guarding us from Satan. I mentioned in a comment on another blog that if any of us had to battle Satan for our salvation, none of us would be saved. That is why I do not believe in free will, at least not in the sense the world believes in it. I believe we make choices, but when it came to salvation, that is not something God left up to the fickleness of the human heart. He intended grace for us, that which we are given, which we have not earned, and cannot do for ourselves. Grace is love and joy in place of the wrath of destruction we deserve.

As believers, grace washes us constantly. We are always seen as righteous by God, who sees us through our intercessor, Jesus Christ. This is what I want to encourage people with. I want them to learn, to know, and to love grace, so that in our lives each one of us may walk perfectly imperfect, striving to do good, and always being tempered, then strengthened by grace.

Effort is worthless without grace. A man may as well be dead if he is going to write a checklist, and make great effort to change himself apart from grace, for apart from grace, we are apart from the Lord. Yes, you read me correctly. If there is no grace, there is no salvation, and where there is no salvation, there will never be grace. Since we have this grace abounding in us, and around us, then why not live with it, accepting it as the gift of the Holy Spirit to encourage us to great works not done by our effort, but by God through us, and in us.

Preaching the gospel is only possible through that same grace. Wear on your face guilt and shame when speaking of the love of Jesus Christ, and you will instantly be recognized as a hypocrite. Wear, however, grace when speaking of the love of Christ, and the light shining forth will speak the gospel for us. The hard work belongs to Jesus, we are allowed to go to work with Daddy, and that, too, is grace.

Grace washes everything. In it lies the blood of Christ, the power of resurrection, and the forgiveness of sins. What a plan!! What a gift!! What grace!!

This is the bent of my life. In order for me, or anyone to effectively live, and preach the gospel, I must, we must, live out grace as a moment to moment reality, not just a warm, fuzzy word. How can we help each other live out the gospel of grace better?



The following is the first of a series of stories that are only partly true. I say partly because I will use different names to protect people’s identities, and because some people who know me may read this blog, and I don’t want them to be able to pinpoint the event, or the results too easily. So, you will never be able to tell what part is true, and what part is not. Some of these stories will be mostly true, while others will be mostly false. Enjoy!

Billy was a trouble maker as a teenager. He spent more time in detention during High school than anyone I knew. But he was my best friend. We had known each other since childhood. Billy lived behind me, one house to the west. We used to get into all sorts of trouble together, including getting caught playing doorbell ditch-it numerous times.

Once, when I was fourteen, Billy and I were doing something really intelligent. We were picking up rocks from his mom’s garden, and throwing them across the street. We couldn’t really see if cars were coming, because Billy’s house was blocking our view of the oncoming traffic from the north. Well, I picked up a rock a little larger than a golf ball, and threw it. An instant later, we heard the sound of tires screeching to a halt, and a car door opening and slamming shut. We boogied out of there as fast as we could, but consequences always seemed to catch up with Billy and me. As I got home minutes later, thinking everything was safe, here was my mom with the man whom I had hit with the rock. He wasn’t hurt all that bad, although he was bleeding.

He also didn’t seem all that angry. My mom was a different story, though. I didn’t think she’d ever grab my ear at the age of fourteen, but sure enough, she did, and she dragged me towards the man, and said, “Look at what you’ve done!!!” I saw alright. The rock I had thrown had flown right through his driver’s side window, and belted him in the head. He told me the rock had been slowed somewhat by the window, and I told him how sorry I was. He could see that I meant it, and I could tell he was uncomfortable having my mom hold onto my ear like that. I however, was no longer aware of the pain in my ear. I could only see the look on the man’s face, how forgiving he was.

“Ma’am”, he said, “Let go of the boy’s ear. He didn’t mean to harm me. It was just something boys do. I threw rocks at his age, too, and I wasn’t always that careful about where they ended up, either.” Mom let go of my ear, and asked the man if he thought she should punish me. He just smiled and said, “No, I think he has already been punished enough. My insurance will cover the damage. Let's just forgive and forget, okay?” Then he looked at me and said, “Tom, there are better ways to make use of your arm than throwing rocks. I see you and Billy have some strong arms, to be throwing rocks as fast as you do. Tell me, do you play baseball?”

Do I play baseball? This was turning into a strange encounter, I mean, a fourteen year old doesn’t quite make all the connections that adults do, and I had no idea why he asked me that. I told him yes, I did. I told him I was a pitcher, and Billy was too. We hadn’t decided who threw faster yet, because we weren’t allowed to throw in front of radar guns at our age. In my town, they were always trying to protect kids from being pushed too far too fast, especially in sports.

The man, whose name I later found out was Earl, just happened to be the high school baseball coach. He looked back at his car, and I looked with him. The rock I had thrown hadn’t shattered the window. Instead, it had cut threw almost cleanly, leaving a hole slightly bigger than the rock. He handed the rock to me, and said, “I hope you can still throw like that when you try out for my team, Tom. It takes some sort of arm to do THAT to a car window. Billy was hanging in the background, just sort of sniggering, and Earl looked at him, and said, “You, too”. He smiled, and left. I won’t go into the details of how my mom told me how embarrassing I was to her. She had every right to say it, as I look back now.

Billy and I entered high school the following year, and sure enough, there was Earl, our future coach, and suddenly our physical education teacher. As he was reading off the role call, he came to my name, and he glanced up and saw Billy and me standing next to each other. He chuckled and asked, “Do you two do anything apart from each other?” I just said, “present”, and tried to hide myself.

As our first year progressed, we became friends with Earl. He sort of took us under his wing, possibly hoping to keep the two of us out of trouble long enough to play for his team, or so I thought. Athletics were always in doubt for Billy and me, as we always seemed to be in trouble.

There was a group of “jocks” in our school who weren’t really very good at anything except cutting other people down. Well, Billy and I had always stood up for each other, so when several of the jocks started picking on Billy, I stepped in, and somehow, a brawl started. That is how we managed to be kicked off the football team.

When basketball season started, Billy and I knew we would be starters, until we both got caught drinking beer at a high school party. It was then that Earl began to take us aside, and give us “special attention”.

I recall something Earl said to us. “You two boys aren’t as stupid as the way you’ve been acting. Tell me, which sport do you most want to play?” We both loved baseball best, and he knew it. So he told us this one piece of wisdom that will live with Billy and me forever, “Boys, I’m not going to say this but once. From now on, the only thing you’ll be tossing back is baseballs, not beer cans. And from now on, you won’t be throwing anything but baseballs either, not punches, or rocks. If you truly want to excel, I can help you, but I can’t be smart for you. If you don’t stay out of trouble, in trouble is always where you’ll be. You won’t play for me, because you will be in trouble. So, if you want to play for me, if you want to do anything in this life, you have to find a way to stay out of trouble. I won’t tell you how to do it, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. But I’ll give you a hint; anything, and I mean ANYTHING, that doesn’t point to your goal of staying out of trouble, is probably a good thing to avoid. Get me?” We got him, and for the most part, stayed out of major trouble for the rest of the year.

That spring, we started baseball!! At fifteen, for the first time ever, Billy and I were going to get to see just how fast we could throw. During tryouts for varsity, Earl brought the pitchers in early during the mornings, before school started, and set up the radar gun. A lot of the older players wondered just who these two skinny kids were, Billy and I. Then, Earl had several of the seniors throw for him, and we noticed that none of them even broke eighty miles an hour. Still, it seemed like they were throwing awfully fast. I remember mumbling to Billy, “Man, I don’t know what we’re doing here. We aren’t going to throw any better than any of these guys. Look at the size of them!” Billy nodded, but didn’t say anything. I could tell he was as afraid as I was to embarrass himself.

After twenty minutes or so, it was my turn. I warmed up for about five minutes, not really wanting Earl to turn the gun on anytime soon. My arm felt good, but I hadn’t let it fly yet, I was afraid to. I desperately did not want to be laughed at. So, when Earl turned the machine on, unbeknownst to me, my last warm up pitch registered at eighty –two mph. I wouldn’t have known it if Billy hadn’t said, “Hey Tom, look at the gun!” I looked, saw the numbers, and wondered if I had thrown that speed. Then Earl asked me if I was bringin’ it yet. (“bringin’ it is just a way baseball guys have of saying throwing it as hard as you can). I said no, I was just warming up. Earl raised an eyebrow. What else could I say? It was the truth.

“Well, Pearl,” Earl said, Anytime you’re ready, hum fire.” (Earl is the only coach I ever heard say that. He meant “bring it”) So, I brought it. Ninety miles an hour. The next pitch was better, because the faster I threw, the more my arm loosened up. I ended up with a high of ninety-two mph, and the older guys were just standing there, silent. As I walked past, I heard Billy say, “Great. How am I supposed to match that!?”

Match it he did, and he went one better, ending up at an average of ninety-three mph. Earl looked like a kid on Christmas morning, hopping around everywhere, and laughing, trying not to favor his two newest varsity pitchers. He would never have called us his stars, but the older guys did. I was amazed at the acceptance they gave us. It was the first time any older kid had ever given me the time of day. I guess making them look silly in batting practice can change things quickly, although Billy and I caught on fast. We didn’t make them look too silly, they were, after all, our teammates!! Awesome!! What were the odds of two kids the same age, living almost right next to each other, starting as freshmen pitchers on the varsity baseball team?

And this team was good, even before we got there. Two of the guys Billy and I had rumbled with, Chris and Dave, tried out for varsity too, thinking the team couldn’t be all that good, after all, Billy and I were on it. When Chris, (a guy who hated me for no reason I could understand) came up to bat, the first thing I did was throw one at his chest. He flopped backwards onto his butt so fast all I could see was a cloud of dust. I hadn’t hit him, and I hadn’t meant to, but he got the message. Earl did too, and he just said, “Save it for the game, Pearl”. Honestly, I have no idea why he called me that, and dumb as I was as a kid, I never realized it rhymed with his first name. Was it a compliment? I don’t know. He called Billy “Jack”, and at times, I don’t think it was a compliment.

Earl was a great coach, and I loved him. But he had a way of saying things that was unlike anyone I had ever met. As a freshman pitcher on the varsity squad, I wasn’t a good hitter. Most of the time, I struck out. After striking out one time, I remember looking at Earl, who was holding his arms eighteen inches apart, one above the other. I took that to mean I had missed on my swing by that much. I laugh about it now, but it wasn’t all that funny then. The guys on the team just sort of giggled and said, “you’ll get’em next time, Pearl”. Yeah, right!!

Billy was a little better than I was, although he got into trouble on the mound because he didn’t like slowing down his fastball to gain control over it, and no matter how much Earl yelled at him, encouraged him, or just plain benched him, Billy wouldn’t listen. Still, he was the best pitcher we had. So it was no surprise that Billy started the state championship game for us, while I sat on the bench. Billy hummed fire all night long, striking out nearly every batter he faced, and we won, seven to nothing. We were champions, and it was time to celebrate.

Freshmen celebrating with seniors is not a good idea. Billy and I got drunk, and Billy went off with one of the seniors for more beer. That senior’s name was John, and I am sure now that he never meant to run that stop sign, but the beer had severely hindered his judgment, and in the end, an oncoming car crashed into the right side of John’s car, the side where Billy was sitting.

Billy and John both survived that crash, but Billy’s right arm was broken in three places, and his leg was broken as well. I think his spirit was broken a little, too, that night. Like I said earlier, consequences always seemed to catch up with Billy and me.