This topic is one you may not have expected to find here, but so many of our Christian friends and acquaintences are seeking their next career position, I thought this article, which I recently wrote for my professional weblog, may be of help to our extended church family. In my professional walk I counsel dozens of people each week who are desperately seeking jobs to obtain security for themselves and their families. I hear the pain, and I get great satisfaction out of helping others. Please feel free to share the following article. 

Job hunting during difficult economic times is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are a few important steps to incorporate into your search methodology to help you conduct a more orderly and structured search.

Define your personal brand

Your personal brand is what differentiates you and makes you stand out from your competitors. It’s the unique edge that you’ll need to compete for jobs in today’s marketplace. Ask two or three trusted professionals you know to write a paragraph describing you, so you don’t overlook traits important to a potential employer. You could also use recommendations others have written for you and posted on networking sites. 

Compose a detailed list of the skills and knowledge you possess. Don’t limit your skills to what you have learned in your career. Think about what you have learned in other venues as well. Skills are often acquired through participation in community activities where you may have worked in capacities outside your career path. These skills are also important in defining who you are.

Consider online assessments that may help you get a broader understanding of what makes you who you are. Your personality traits help define you as a person and an employee. Gaining clarity about these can help you do a much better job of marketing yourself in a time when it is important to find that perfect job opportunity.

The granddaddy of all personality assessment tools, the Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter is now available online at www.keirsey.com. Upon completion of the assessment you will have immediate access to your results, and a trained counselor to help you interpret the results. Over 40 million people have used the assessment to gain insight into what makes them tick and what hampers their career advancement.

CareerFit is another excellent resource to help you uncover what would be a best fit for you and what wouldn’t. An online assessment tool located at www.careerfit-test.com, it helps test-takers identify their career interests and career personalities.

Assessments can be an excellent investment of time and money. They can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses and recognize where and how you add value and what makes you stand out from others. When you have completed this step, begin developing your unique brand with all of your networking contacts.

Define Your Job Ideals

Start by identifying what is important to you in a job. Think about jobs you’ve held, and what you liked and disliked about each of them. List those characteristics or environments that helped you grow and feel productive, and also list those that didn’t. Review your completed lists and analyze why you liked or disliked each item. This step will help you identify the internalized values and beliefs that cause you to react in certain ways to situations you encounter.

Then list your needs. What do you need for compensation? You can research what a typical salary range for your occupation is in you community at www.salary.com (www.salaryexpert.com in Canada). Are you willing to relocate? How much vacation do you require? Are you willing to commute? Do you need day care? What about flextime or telecommuting?

Naturally you want to understand the health benefits that are provided, but you may also have other needs, such as relocation or travel reimbursement, maternity/family leave, personal days and sick days, bonus and profit sharing, signing bonuses, and any other items that are important to you. These are necessary for you to consider, rate in importance, and then use as a way to measure whether an occupation or position you are considering will be a good fit.

Consider Shifting Your Career Path

Let’s face it. This is a tough job market. Perhaps the toughest we’ve seen in decades. Many folks are finding few opportunities in their chosen fields, and the interviewing process may include dozens of qualified candidates. If you are struggling to find openings in your chosen field, perhaps its time to consider other occupations that might be a good fit for your interests and skills.

It is often surprising how many different occupations use the same skill sets while offering the quality of life and job satisfaction that are so important in making a career rewarding and fulfilling. Career counselors routinely test their clients for occupational fit and then help them make informed decisions about which paths to pursue.

A reliable Internet resource to help you do this research on your own is the Self Directed Search assessment located at www.self-directed-search.com. The SDS can help you make informed career decisions, and has been used by more than 29 million people worldwide. SDS results have been supported by more than 500 research studies.

The results provide an extensive list of the occupations and fields of study that most closely match your interests. You can then explore the careers you are most likely to find satisfying based upon your interests and skills. Research occupations that interest you in the Occupational Outlook Handbook at www.bls.gov/OCO/. This site will help you discover what it is like to work in that occupation, including details on work environment, what training is required, how promotion occurs, and many other details to help you visualize whether that kind of job is a good fit for you.

Next, you need to determine whether you are a good fit for the occupations you wish to consider. Go to www.online.onetcenter.org to get an understanding of the skills required for the occupations you are researching, to determine whether you have the required career assets to be successful in that field. If there are gaps, you may want to consider how you can acquire the needed skills. Explore every industry or job function that initially appeals to you. The broader your search, the better your chances of locating the perfect fit.

Research Potential Employers

One of the biggest shortcoming of job candidates is that they don’t know enough about the companies to which they’re applying, and, consequently don’t know how they can contribute to the company’s success. To stand out from your competition, it’s crucial to be extremely knowledgeable about any company for which you would like to work. Learn what is happening in the industry. You want to know what challenges they are facing in today’s market and new initiatives are being undertaken to develop emerging demand for new services or products.

Set up news alerts at http://alerts.google.com for companies
on your target list. Search for blogs by industry leaders and read or watch the national and business news to keep up on challenges and new initiatives in the industry. Consider professional societies or associations in your area that might provide networking opportunities that can lead to learning more about what is happening at that local employer in which you are interested.

Network, Network, Network

Networking taps into the “hidden job market,” where openings exist long before they are advertised. Most of these slots are filled by someone identifying a need and asking their contacts if they know someone who would fit. The Internet is a great research resource, but it still accounts for a very small minority of job filled. We constantly hear that 70 to 80 percent of all jobs are found through networking referrals, not through newspaper listings or Internet job boards.

The best place to start networking is one-on-one with the people who already know you: your family, friends and other close contacts. Social scientists tell us that everyone has well over 100 people in their immediate circle of influence. Think about those folks who know you best, and start networking with them. Make a list of these contacts, and then prioritize it, putting who you want to talk to first at the top.

Then plan your networking strategy. Call or email these contacts and set up informal chats to discuss the occupations you have investigated and to seek their advice on how to improve your search strategy. Never ask if they know of a job opening. That puts your friends in a defensive position and makes them uncomfortable. Instead, ask if they know anyone else you should talk to for more insight and guidance. People want to help, and asking for contacts is something almost everyone can easily do to help you out.

Prepare a list of companies you are researching and share that with your networking contacts as you are explaining the steps you are taking to research opportunities for career advancement. Ask if they know anyone who works at any of those companies who might be able to provide some advice. Try to get three or more names from every contact you make. Then, set up networking meetings with those to whom you have been referred, and continue your research.

Be Prepared for the Interview

Very frequently when you are in a networking meeting with someone to whom you’ve been referred, and that person is looking over your resume, they may recall that as associate mentioned a while back that they need someone to fill a particular need. Sometimes they pick up the phone and call that person to see if they are still looking, and might take you down the hall to meet. Suddenly your networking meeting turned into an interview. You need to be prepared.

Develop a marketing plan for yourself, including your portfolio materials, examples of your work, your statement of objectives, and any other materials that help you demonstrate what you have to offer a potential employer. You must also directly tie yourself to your accomplishments in a public, linkable format for all the world to see if a professional image is important in your field.

The Future Buzz (http://thefuturebuzz.com/2009/02/18/personal-marketing-plan/) states that there is no power in remaining silent. In today’s world a professional is all but invisible unless they are blogging, talking shop with peers, and taking charge of their own personal PR. 

I have discussed in my online webinars that you may need to have more than one resume with you, so you can present the one that is appropriate for the person you have been taken to meet. You may need to create two or three functional style resumes that reflect your various skills as they relate to a variety of fields. The functional resume reflects your skills rather than a chronological listing of your previous employers, and helps the viewer quickly view a list of your transferrable skills. For more information on this style resume visit www.quintcareers.com/functional_resume.html.

Be Visible to the right people

Networking is not just about who you know, but also about who knows
you. So, it is important to get out in the community and meet new people. Expand you network. Attend industry association conferences, seminars, community networking sessions, workshops and any event where professionals are gathering. Use www.LinkedIn.com to join industry group discussions and increase your list of contacts.

Consider a membership in the Chamber of Commerce in your area. The Chamber is made up of business professionals in your community who are working together to promote the economic health of the area. Service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Jaycees, etc., are made up mostly of business people who are volunteering their time to provide grants and activities to help those in need. They are a great place to meet business people in a social setting.

There are many nonprofit, community and religious organizations that constantly need volunteers, and this may be a good time to learn new skills. Giving back is rewarding, plus your service has many tangible benefits: you’ll meet new people who may be able to refer you; you’ll build skills and experience that can enhance your resume; and you may come across paid openings at an organization where you’re donating your time.

Often those job goes to the person who is in the right place at the right time, and are never advertised. Stay in touch with everyone you know and everyone you meet. Keep notes about their interests and associations. Send an article he or she might enjoy when you run across it, and comment on a person’s status update on Facebook or Twitter when appropriate. Just be careful to remain polite and professional. You want to nurture a positive impression, not pester and irritate!

Keep Your Chin Up

It’s easy to become frustrated while job hunting any time, but in a tough economy it can be much worse. Stay active. This is not a time to sit around and hope something comes your way. Pay attention to personal hygiene. This is not the time to let yourself go. Don’t spend all your time on the Internet looking at job postings. Get out of the home office and mix it up with friends, family, and new interests.

Look for inexpensive ways to have fun and stay relaxed. Put together a neighborhood pot luck dinner party, or get yourself to the library, museums, join a gym or just start taking regular walks. Spend quality time with the people you love and take care of yourself. This can be a time to learn new disciplines as you follow up contacts on a regular basis, acquire new interests and skills, and may even help you to counsel someone else you know who will someday need help getting through what you are experiencing today.

Larry E Vaughn is a certified eLearning career counselor for Drake Beam Morin (www.dbm.com), has operated a private consulting practice for over twenty years, and appears daily on proprietary counseling webinars.

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A CALL TO COMMON COURTESY
by Max Lucado

Perhaps you’ve never placed the word courteous next to Christ. I hadn’t until I wrote this chapter.

But you know how you never notice double-cab red trucks until your friend says he wants one-then you see a dozen of them? I had never thought much about the courtesy of Christ before, but as I began looking, I realized that Jesus makes Emily Post look like Archie Bunker.

He always knocks before entering. He doesn’t have to. He owns your heart. If anyone has the right to barge in, Christ does. But he doesn’t. That gentle tap you hear? It’s Christ. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20 NASB). And when you answer, he awaits your invitation to cross the threshold.

And when he enters, he always brings a gift. Some bring Chianti and daisies. Christ brings “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). And, as he stays, he serves. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45 NIV). If you’re missing your apron, you’ll find it on him. He’s serving the guests as they sit (John 13:4-5). He won’t eat until he’s offered thanks, and he won’t leave until the leftovers are put away (Matt. 14:19-20).

He is courteous enough to tell you his name (Exod. 3:15) and to call you by yours (John 10:3). And when you talk, he never interrupts. He listens.

He is even on time. Never late. Never early. If you’re checking your watch, it’s because you’re on a different itinerary. “There is a time for everything” (Eccles. 3:1). And Christ stays on schedule.

He even opens doors for you. Paul could preach at Troas because “the Lord had opened a door” (2 Cor. 2:12 NIV). When I asked my dad why men should open doors for women, his answer was one word: “respect.” Christ must have abundant respect for you.

He knocks before he enters. He always brings a gift. Food is served. The table is cleared. Thanks are offered. He knows your name and tells you his, and here is one more.

He pulls out the chair for you. “He raised us up with Christ and gave us a seat with him in the heavens” (Eph. 2:6).

My wife has a heart for single moms. She loves to include a widow or divorcée at the table when we go to a restaurant. Through the years I’ve noticed a common appreciation from them. They love it when I pull out their chair. More than once they have specifically thanked me. One mom in particular comes to mind. “My,” she blushed, brushing the sudden moisture from her eye, “it’s been a while since anyone did that.”

Has it been a while for you as well? People can be so rude. We snatch parking places. We forget names. We interrupt. We fail to show up. Could you use some courtesy? Has it been a while since someone pulled out your chair?

Then let Jesus. Don’t hurry through this thought. Receive the courtesy of Christ. He’s your groom. Does not the groom cherish the bride? Respect the bride? Honor the bride? Let Christ do what he longs to do.

For as you receive his love, you’ll find it easier to give yours. As you reflect on his courtesy to you, you’ll be likely to offer the same.

_______________________________
From A Love Worth Giving
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2002) Max Lucado
http://www.maxlucado.net/_product_30305/A_Love_Worth_Giving_(Paperback)

Lea and I are high school sweethearts, and have been married 45 years. We have been blessed with successful careers, fun and adventure, wonderful sons and daughters-in-law, and grandchildren in whom we delight. And, God has always been a part of our lives.

The account of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey, and gives him his true purpose. Many of us have thought it was the story of our acceptance of Jesus, and then avoiding doing bad things until we appear for judgment. Not so.

God created us to be Christ-like, and to carry the word of salvation to all parts of the world. If we aren’t serving Him in that manner, we are not fulfilling our mission, and He will, like any good father, try to nudge us in the right direction. If that gentle nudge doesn’t work, He will try a new strategy . . . perhaps a little more forceful. If those attempts don’t work, He may have to take even more drastic action to bring us back into line.

I am one of those believers God had to severely discipline.

Lost and Saved
I don’t remember not being saved. My childhood was mostly about church activities, Royal Ambassadors, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I was taught to be independent and self reliant. I was raised Southern Baptist with a generations-long line of bible thumping fire-and-brimstone preachers who pastored churches and taught in summertime revival tents. God was always present in my life, although He was hardly the main focus of my life. I was a Christian on cruise control.

Danville Baptist Temple
The bible teaches that even though Satan cannot possess the Christian, he can oppress him. 1 Peter 5:8 says: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan is our enemy; an adversary who is out to throw us off track. He is out to drive a wedge between us and God! He was successful in my case.

When our sons were young boys, Lea and I transferred our membership to a startup Baptist church that was moving mightily in our community. The charismatic young pastor had a vision to create an entire Baptist campus which would include a retirement home and hospital for members of the church, and he was very aggressive in reaching out to young people in the community.

He had asked me several times to become involved full time in the ministry of the church. I had been successful in soliciting donations of cash and real estate for the campus building fund. Support from the community was outstanding, and the membership grew rapidly. It was a wonderful feeling to see God’s favor flowing on our church, and I was really under conviction to take the leap and join the ministry team. Lea and I talked and prayed about it extensively.

Then, overnight, the minister, his family, and the entire church staff, disappeared with all of the church funds! I was totally crushed. I just could not believe that such a thing could happen! I was so confused, and felt God had abandoned us.

I was too embarrassed to return to our previous church, and just could not bring myself to join any other. In fact, I shunned the church from that day. I reasoned that I could minister on my own. I felt that I could set a good example for my sons and for others around me, by professing my faith, and by keeping God in our home. After all, Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) This reasoning was how Satan drove that wedge that turned me from the church for many years.

Discipline
Scripture is clear that you cannot accept Christ and then just live any way you please. And, God, our heavenly Father, takes our obligation to serve Him seriously. He will often let us stray a bit to test the boundaries, as children will do. Eventually, though, He will bring us back into line by taking us to the woodshed for a good, corrective, spanking if necessary.

Hebrews 12:11 states, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” To rebel because of discipline is to turn your back on His will for you.

Even when we sense God’s disciplining hand upon us we should be encouraged by this, for it shows that God is at work in our lives. We should not lose heart when being disciplined. God will never go too far. He will never give us a burden larger than we can handle.

Lea’s Illness
I got one of His spankings, and the memories still hurt four years later. God led me through a six month living Hell while Lea was in Hartford Hospital with an illness that, medically, she wasn’t supposed to survive; Necrotizing Pancreatitis. Her pancreas had suddenly ruptured while we were on vacation back East, a thousand miles from home, and had started digesting all her internal organs. Her pain was horrible. The surgeons had placed her in a drug induced coma and said she had a 15% chance of surviving. They told me to call the family.

The Hell I’m talking about is not some storybook or Hollywood contrived representation of Hades. This was Hell; the real one. You can touch Hell. It can touch you. Hell is so palpable you can actually taste it. It is a much worse place than you have imagined. It was the most horrible thing I have ever experienced, and I certainly don’t want to ever have to go back there.

My Hell was a small, musty, dormitory room with carpet I hesitated to walk on barefoot. It had an outdated motel style bed & dresser, flimsy wooden desk with loose-jointed chair, coffee table, and a fold-out couch that made into a bed. And, yet, I was happy to be there, close to Lea.

The room was attached to the hospital by a series of dimly lit underground tunnels with water dripping from cracks in the ceiling. The tunnels led to another room, this one sterile, where the person I most love in the whole world was in a coma, her every bodily function tended to by people I didn’t know. I was only allowed in the room to be with her at various times, which was painful, but she was not able to respond to me in any way.

She may not, really, have known I was there at all. I realized even then, as I looked at her lying helplessly there, this was only her body, kept alive with drugs and machines. She may already be gone. She was in this state for 78 days, and certainly could have been taken away from me at any moment. Nothing I did to comfort or help her appeared to make a difference, because she was unable to respond or react.

Purpose of the Coma
She was in that coma for 78 days. She had 18 IVs going into her, plus hookups for dialysis, because her kidneys had failed, and plasma phoresis to remove fat from her blood. She had cuffs on her legs that would squeeze and release to circulate her blood, and a ventilator to breathe for her. During that coma she had over 30 abdominal surgeries. She died four times. The doctors weren’t even sure her brain was working after the first two weeks. This was truly Hell.

God got my attention. It felt drastic, but He had tried easier, more subtle ways. The previous year my two sons and Lea and I had done a family study of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. Praise God! Our youngest son was subsequently convicted and saved, which was an answer to years of prayer. This was clearly God at work, but, still, I continued my selfish, prideful, ways, rather than submitting to His will for my life. I used our lifestyle as an excuse for not getting back to church.

The Floating Vision
Before Lea’s illness, in May of 2005, God gave me a warning in the form of a vision. At the time, I was in the basement, building a number of wooden replacement storm windows for our Victorian bed & breakfast. I had kissed Lea goodnight as she headed upstairs to bed, and I went down to work on one of the storm windows.

Maybe half an hour later as I was brushing on some paint, I heard Lea call softly from the top of the basement stairs, “Larry.” I was a little surprised she wasn’t already asleep, and asked, “What?” She didn’t reply. Sometimes when she was looking for me she wouldn’t realize that I was in the basement, and would go on into the rest of the house looking for me.

But, tonight I had turned all the lights off when I went down to the basement, and had left the door open, which would spill light out into the dark kitchen. “Larry,” she called softly. “I’m in the basement, hon,” I replied a little louder than before. Again, no reply.

I wondered if I should go find her, but I was almost done, and didn’t want to leave the painting unfinished. “Larry,” she called softly again. I put my paint brush down, a little alarmed that she didn’t answer me. I hurried up the stairs and saw her in the doorway in a simple white, floor length, nightgown.

“What is it, honey?” I asked.
She said, “I died!” She sounded surprised.
“What!?” I said, thinking I must have misunderstood her.
“I died,” she repeated, and started to fade away. Just as she vanished, I noticed she was floating above the floor, her feet dangling.

I ran up to our bedroom, where I found her laying on her side toward the center of the bed. I reached out to place my hand on her arm, while praying silently that she was still warm. As I touched her, she turned slowly to me, nearly asleep, and asked, “What’s wrong?” All I could get out, was, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you.” She smiled faintly, turned back, and went to sleep.

I stood there for several minutes, unable to make myself leave her side. How confused I felt! The vision was constantly in my thoughts over the next several days, and I shared it with Lea and other family members.. Although puzzled by it, I didn’t dwell on it. It was just one of those inexplicable things that happen. Later that same week, however, I had another warning.

The Casket Vision
Lea had gone on to bed while I finished up some things downstairs. When I finished and went upstairs. I entered our bedroom and saw Lea asleep on her back, with her hands folded on her chest . . . and for an instant I saw her lying in an open casket.

The sight nearly brought me to my knees. I was really shaken. I didn’t wake Lea, but lay down beside her, and wept silently as I prayed for clarity. I know how final death is. There is no second chance to say the things you wish you had said. There is no “Do over.” If you haven’t said it, it’s just too late. And, you have to live with that regret.

I really understood, for the first time, how horribly I would miss her if I no longer had her at my side. I realized that I was being given a message to spend more quality time with Lea. To make sure that all those things that needed to be said between us were said. We had many warm, loving, friend-to-friend conversations over the next few weeks, and I felt closer to her than ever.

Revelation in Hartford
Six weeks later she was in that coma. I kept thinking about the visions, and how she had slowly faded away into thin air. And, now, I feared, the Lord was actually taking her away from me. I prayed constantly, as I often did . . . doing some task, and silently talking to God as though He was at my side. I prayed first that Lea would be spared, and that she could somehow beat the odds. But I was troubled.  I felt I wasn’t praying for the right thing.

As she lay there in that coma, God revealed many things to me. One of the most painful, was the realization that her body was there before me, seemingly asleep,  but her spirit was gone. The spirit, or personality, or soul, is what makes us who we are. Hers wasn’t present. I suspect it may have been with Him, but that’s another part of her testimony Lea will have to share.

It was in those first days I realized that all these years I had been in love with her soul, but what I had always seen was her body. Now, here, they were separated! Although I could touch her body, I couldn’t reach her.

I spent countless hours at her bedside reading to her and tending to her body, helping turn her every two hours to avoid bedsores, applying lotion to keep her skin soft, washing her hair, trimming and cutting her nails, so that, if her spirit returned, she would be comfortable in her body.

I talked to God constantly, and as I poured out my emotions to Him, and beseeched Him for healing, I began to listen to my prayers and realized that if I wanted Him to listen, I was going to have to change my heart. I had been praying selfishly. I was praying for Lea to survive because I didn’t want to lose her. I wanted her to recover because losing her would be painful and I didn’t know what I would do without her by my side.

Suddenly, I thought of the glorious heavenly rewards that must surely be hers. That mansion with the flower gardens she loves so much. Friends and family around her forever! What joy she is going to have! And, here I was asking the Lord to delay giving those rewards to her.

That revelation cut me to the quick! It examined the truth of my faith, because it made me answer the question, “Do you truly believe in heavenly rewards, and that she will be better off?”

I prayed earnestly for forgiveness of my self centeredness. I grasped her hand and told her that I wanted her to stay with me, so we could have more years together, but if she wanted to go on home, I would understand. I then began to pray for strength to accept His will, whatever that might be, and the wisdom to accept the challenges He put before me. I also promised God that if He chose to allow her to remain here, I would abandon my self-centered ways and make the next chapter of our lives about her, and our service to Him.

Book of James
As I prayed one night for strength and revelation, I opened my bible randomly to whatever page happened to appear. As I looked at the page, James 1 Verse 3 came into focus, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Over the next several months there were countless emotional ups and downs as Lea would improve and then crash. Four times her body just gave up. Two of those times I was in her room and experienced her relinquishing her life. That is a deafening silence.

I knew that my faith was being tested, but I also knew that God’s will was going to be served, regardless, and that my test of faith could include Lea’s death.  But, once God helped me realize that if Lea died, she was going to be cared for much better than I could ever provide, and that He was going to lead my life from that day forward. And, with that, I was given an inner peace that enabled me to deal with the trials and challenges of each day, knowing that He was in control, and I was doing His work.

James 1:5-8 states,  5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; 8 they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.” I resolved to be single minded, stable, and keep my wpromise.

James 2:18; “Faith without works is dead.” I had not been working for the Lord for a long time, because I let the devil, through my pride, turn me away from the church. God was showing me that He wanted me back in fellowship, and He and I were talking constantly during those days as He strengthened my faith.

James 4:10 – “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Pride has always been one of my biggest challenges, and I realized that it was at the root of my separation from the church years ago. I began working hard to let it go and confessed to God that I needed His help in casting that demon out. I continue working on humbling myself every day to bring my pride under control.

I thank the Lord for bringing me back into the fold, and for restoring Lea to a healthful state. I know that each and every day is a very special gift from our Father, God. I try to care for Lea, and look after her needs, as though she is very special to God, because I believe she is.

Lea and I feel that sharing our story is the ministry set before us, and we are blessed through giving you our testimony. Thank you for this opportunity to share with you. God bless!

Hear this testimony as presented during a recent service: http://kacfaustin.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=103&Itemid=116

The Life at Conception Bill – A Frontal Assault on Roe v. Wade

For more than thirty years, nine unelected men and women on the Supreme Court have played God with innocent human life. The result has been a brutal holocaust that has claimed the lives of more than 45 million innocent and helpless unborn children in America.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling forced abortion-on-demand down our nation’s throat.  As a result, many pro-lifers resigned themselves to protecting a life here and there — passing laws which slightly control abortion in the most outrageous cases. And other pro-life organizations always tiptoed around the Supreme Court, hoping they wouldn’t be offended.

The proposed Life at Conception Act Follows the High Court’s Instructions To Define When Life Begins . Working from what the Supreme Court ruled in Roe, pro-life lawmakers can pass a Life at Conception Act and end abortion by using the Constitution instead of amending it. A simple majority vote is all that is needed to pass a Life at Conception Act as opposed to the two-thirds required to add a Constitutional amendment.

When the Supreme Court handed down its now-infamous Roe v. Wade decision, it did so based on a new, previously undefined “right of privacy” which it “discovered” in so-called “emanations” of “penumbrae” of the Constitution.  Of course, as constitutional law it was a disaster. But never once did the Supreme Court declare abortion itself to be a Constitutional right.

Instead the Supreme Court said:  “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins . . . the judiciary at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

Then the High Court made a key admission: “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case [i.e. “Roe” who sought the abortion], of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.” That’s exactly what a Life at Conception Act would do.

A Life at Conception Act changes the focus of the abortion debate. It takes the Supreme Court out of the equation and places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the elected representatives who, unlike life term judges, must respond to grass-roots pressure.

National Pro-Life Alliance members have led the fight to end abortion-on-demand by passing a Life at Conception Act. They have generated over 1.5 million petitions to Congress to date urging lawmakers to cosponsor and fight for passage of a Life at Conception Act.

Those continued efforts have led to ever-increasing support for a Life at Conception Act in Congress. In the 111th Session of Congress, Pro-life Members of Congress introduced three almost identical Life at Conception Acts – two in the House of Representatives and one in the U.S. Senate.

The lobbying of National Pro-Life Alliance members led to the Life at Conception Act being introduced with the highest number of cosponsors, ever. And NPLA members will continue to hold the politicians accountable, pushing for an up or down vote on a Life at Conception Act.

In the U.S. Senate, pro-life floor leader Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) has introduced the Life at Conception Act, S.3346, in this session of Congress. Behind the Life at Conception Act bills in the House are Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) and Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA). By introducing H.R.881, Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, the son of former Life at Conception Act sponsor Duncan L. Hunter, is following in his retired father’s footsteps.

Congressman Paul Broun, the author of H.R.227, is a former medical doctor who entered into the political arena in 2007. Congressman Broun has since sought to use his medical expertise to legally establish the scientific fact that conception marks the creation of a genetically unique human being, who should be guaranteed Constitutional protection, under the 14th Amendment.  An up or down vote on a Life at Conception Act will put politicians on record either for or against ending abortion-on-demand.

Pro-lifers are urged to take action and insist that their Congressmen cosponsor H.R.881 and H.R.227, and that their Senators cosponsor S.346 today.

Pray for our country. She needs your help!

For more information on the National Pro-Life Alliance, go to http://www.prolifealliance.com/default.htm

I am filled with joyous praise of our Heavenly Father today as Lea and I celebrate the miraculous healing He has provided her over the past four years, and the opportunities given us to witness to others of His workings in our lives. Yesterday, almost exactly four years after Lea was stricken with sudden and near fatal necrotizing pancreatitis, her doctor feels she has achieved sufficient medical and mental recovery to assume a more normal lifestyle. He has cleared her to begin driving a car again, and even to accept appointment to jury duty.

These are huge steps in her return from a crippling disease that claimed her life four times, handicapped her physically and mentally, and created major changes in our lives, including a complete uprooting from our comfortable lifestyle and superficial comforts, and a homecoming to the values that are truly important.

Many Chrisitans continue to misunderstand what our relationship to Father God should be. We often believe that it is simply our acceptance that Jesus, lived, died, and rose again, and then avoiding doing bad things until we appear in front of God’s throne to be judged and rewarded according to our deeds. Not so. The real account of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out to service, takes him on a journey, and gives him true purpose.

God created us to be Christ-like, and to carry the word of salvation to all parts of the world. If we aren’t serving Him in that manner, He will, like any good father, try to nudge us in the right direction. If that gentle nudge doesn’t work, He will try a new strategy . . . perhaps a little more forceful. If those attempts don’t work, He may have to take even more drastic action to bring us back into line. I am one of those believers God had to severely discipline, and pray for His continual guidance as I try to serve Him to the best of my abilities.

Scripture is clear that you cannot accept Christ and then just live any way you please. And, God  takes our obligation to serve Him seriously. He will often let us stray a bit to test the boundaries, as children will do. Eventually, though, He will bring us back into line by taking us to the woodshed for a good, corrective, spanking if necessary.

I got one of His woodshed spankings that shook my faith to the core. God led me through six months of hell in the form of unrelenting horrors in 2005 while Lea was in the hospital. Her pancreas had suddenly, without warning, ruptured and began dissolving all her internal organs with stomach acid. The surgeons had quickly placed her in a drug induced coma to begin her treatment and said she had a 15% chance of surviving.

She was in that coma for 78 days. She had eighteen IVs delivering medications, plus hookups for Dialysis and Plasma Phoresis. She had cuffs on her legs that would squeeze and release to circulate her blood, and a respirator to breathe for her, because her internal functions has ceased to work normally. During her hospitalization she had over 30 surgeries. Her cardiac and pulmonary systems failed four times, requiring emergency procedures to restore them. The medical team wasn’t even sure her brain was working after the first two weeks, or that she could recover from the trauma caused by the pancreas. This was truly Hell.

I believe this illness was God’s way of getting my attention. I had always been independent,  prideful; self reliant.  I ignored His calls to service, although I recognized that’s what they were. He had tried easier, more subtle ways to being me back into the church I had disregarded so long, but those efforts didn’t work. Lea and I were busy at our careers, and running a bed and breakfast that we used as an excuse to be “too busy” to get back to church. That’s why God had to take more drastic measures.

The Floating Vision
Six weeks before we drove from Indiana to Maine for vacation with some dear friends, God gave me a forewarning in the form of a vision. At the time, I was building a number of wooden replacement storm windows in the basement of our Bed & Breakfast. We had no guests that night, and I had kissed Lea goodnight as she headed upstairs to bed, then went downstairs to work for an hour or two.

Perhaps half an hour later, as I started brushing paint on one of the window frames, I heard Lea call softly from the top of the basement stairs, “Larry.” I was a little surprised she wasn’t already asleep, and responded, “What?” She didn’t reply. Sometimes when she was looking for me she wouldn’t realize that I was in the basement, and would go on into the rest of the house looking for me.

But, that night, since we had no guests, I had turned all the lights off when I went down to the basement, and had even left the door open, which would spill light out into the dark kitchen.

“Larry,” she called softly. “I’m in the basement, hon,” I replied a little louder than before. Again, no reply.

I wondered if I should go find her, but I was almost done, and didn’t want to leave the painting unfinished. “Larry,” she called softly again. I put my paint brush down, a little alarmed, that she didn’t answer me. I hurried up the stairs and saw her standing in the doorway in a simple white nightgown.

“What is it, honey?” I asked.
She said, “I died!” almost as though surprised.
“What!?” I said, thinking I must have misunderstood her.
“I died,” she repeated, and started to fade away. Just as she vanished, I noticed she was floating above the floor, her feet dangling below the gown.

I ran up to our bedroom, where I found her laying on her side toward the center of the bed. I reached out to place my hand on her arm, while praying silently that she was still warm. As I touched her, she turned slowly to me, nearly asleep, and asked, “What’s wrong?” All I could get out, was, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you.” She smiled faintly, turned back, and went to sleep.

I stood there for several minutes, unable to make myself leave her side. How confused I felt! The horror I felt just ran up and down my limbs and my mind raced seeking some logical explanation for what I had seen. Over the next two days, the vision was constantly in my thoughts, and I shared it with Lea and other family members over the next couple of days. Although puzzled by it, I didn’t put enough importance on it. It was just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen. Later that same week, however, I had another incident.

The Casket Vision
Lea had again gone on to bed while I finished up some things downstairs. When I entered our bedroom, dimly lit by the nightlight across the room, I saw Lea lying on her back, the covers thrown back, with her hands folded on her chest. And, just for an instant, I thought I saw her lying in an open casket.

The vision nearly brought me to my knees. I was really shaken. I didn’t wake Lea, but lay down beside her, and wept silently as I prayed for clarity. I know how final death is. There is no second chance to say the things you wish you had told them. There is no “Do over.” If you haven’t said it, or shared it before they pass, it’s just too late, and, you have to live with that regret.

I really understood, for the first time, how horribly I would miss Lea if I no longer had her at my side. I knew that I was being given a message to spend more quality time with Lea. To make sure that all those things that needed to be said between us were said. We had many warm, loving, friend-to-friend conversations over the next few weeks, and I felt closer to her than ever.

Less than 2 months later she lay in that coma, practically dead. Certainly her body had given up, and her spirit, the soul that makes her who she is, was not present. The body was being kept alive by machines. I kept thinking about the visions, and now, I feared, the Lord was now taking her away from me. I prayed constantly, silently talking to God as though He were physically at my side.

Over the first few days in the hospital, it was revealed to me that if I wanted God to listen to my prayers for miraculous healing, I was going to have to get right with Him. I had been out of fellowship with the church for decades, and I was going to have to change my heart.  I prayed earnestly for forgiveness, and I promised God that if He allowed her to stay with me, I would make this chapter of our lives about her, and our lives about His service.

But, God knows my pride, and that I struggle with being submissive, so He had to keep working on me to break through my resistance. During one particularly tough day, Lea’s lungs stopped functioning for the second time. She was still in a coma, but the medical team had been trying to wean her off the ventilator. But, fluid buildup in the chest cavity created so much pressure the lungs simply collapsed, and breathing stopped. 

A doctor and a respiratory therapist quickly responded, and had me roll Lea up on her side and hold her while the doctor inserted a large needle through her back into her chest cavity to drain the fluid, and got her lungs started again. As I stood there holding the comatose body of the person I have so dearly loved in this life, I realized that what I loved about her wasn’t there in that bed. Her spirit . . . the essence of who she is . . . was somewhere else . . . maybe already in heaven.

The horrors just kept coming. I was emotionally exhausted, with no relief in sight.
I prostrated myself before Him that night in my bedroom, praying for strength. I knew that my faith was being tested, that I was being disciplined to get me back into the role set out for me. I also knew that God’s will was going to be served, regardless, and that my test of faith could include Lea’s death. Once I recognized and accepted those realities, I began praying a little differently, asking to be given strength to accept His will for my life and bring honor to Him regardless what challenges were placed before me.

As I lay there, He brought the book of James to mind.  James 1:3 – “The testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  I re-read the Book of James the next day while sitting with Lea in the ICU, and the Lord revealed several other things to me. One piece of scripture that really hit home was James 1:5-8  5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; 8 they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.” I resolved to be single minded and stable.

James 4:15 – “If it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.” I gave myself up to our Father, submitted to His will, and told Him I knew that He had control. If He chose to take Lea home, I prayed that He would grant me the wisdom and depth of faith to deal with my loss in such a way that I could be a sound witness and demonstrate the peace He gives His children.

It’s difficult to think of trouble as being a blessing when you’re going through such a difficult trial, but we know that it is true. We grow much more in faith through dealing with difficulties, than we do just cruising through life. James 5:11 teaches, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.”

James 4:10 – “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Pride has always been one of my biggest challenges, and I realized that pride was at the root of my separation from the church years ago. I began working hard to let it go, and confessed to God that I needed His help in casting that demon out. I continue working on humbling myself every day to bring my pride under control.

James 2:18; “Faith without works is dead.” I had not been working for the Lord for a long time, because I let the devil, through my pride, turn me away from the church. God was showing me that He wanted me back in fellowship, and He and I were talking constantly during those days as He strengthened my faith.

James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed.” I am confessing to you that I am a work in progress, flawed, but with hope eternal through salvation made possible by the blood and resurrection of Jesus.

I thank the Lord for bringing me back into the fold, and for restoring Lea to a healthful state. I know that each and every day is a very special gift from my loving Father. I try to care for Lea as though she is really special to God, because I believe she is. Lea and I feel that sharing our story is the ministry God our Father has set before us, and we are blessed through that testimony to be a blessing to others!

I suppose perhaps the main lesson to be taken from our experience is to recognize that you have a special role to play in God’s plan, and you must guard against Satan turning you from that role. Satan never takes a vacation.  He is always present, always looking for a way to turn us from God.  Be alert! “Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)

Strengthen yourself in the Lord, putting on His full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:11). That means, among other things, to remember and believe that as a Christian you have received the righteousness of Jesus. It’s a defense against the ongoing accusations that the enemy tries to speak into your life. Stand confident that the Father loves YOU and in the fact that He does have good plans for you!

Please continue to pray for Lea and me as we continue our walk with God; that we can stand firm against the devil’s wiles and schemes, and that our life’s story can be a blessing to others and bring them into the light of this world, our savior, Jesus Christ.

(May 5, 2009 – Baltimore Examiner)

I received this from a friend in Oklahoma. I added the laws after I confirmed them all. Maybe I’ll move to Oklahoma!

 The state law passed today, 37 to 9, had a few liberals in the mix, an amendment to place the Ten Commandments on the front entrance to the state capitol. The feds in D.C., along with the ACLU, said it would be a mistake. Hey this is a conservative state, based on Christian values. Guess what……….We did it anyway!  House Bill 1330

(May 26, 2009 –  The Oklahoman – Not even a popular governor dared stand in the way of the Ten Commandments. Gov. Brad Henry, with some polls showing him having a popularity rating of nearly 70 percent, signed without comment Monday a measure to place a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds.  Had Henry vetoed House Bill 1330, it was likely the GOP-run Legislature would have overridden it, something that has occurred only once in the 61/2 years Henry has been governor. The measure easily passed both chambers: 83-2 in the House and 38-8 in the Senate.)

We recently passed a law in the state to incarcerate all illegal immigrants, and ship them back to where they came from, unless they want to get a green card and/or become an American citizen. They all scattered. Hope we didn’t send any of them to your state. This was against the advice of the Federal Government, and the ACLU, they said it would be a mistake. Guess what……….we did it anyway. House Bill 1804

(Tulsa, Oklahoma (CNN) – “I’m convinced illegal aliens will not come to Oklahoma, or any other state, if there are no jobs waiting for them.” said state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Republican and the law’s author. “They will not stay here if there are not taxpayer subsidies and they certainly won’t stay here if they ever encounter one of our fine state and local law enforcement officials,” he added. “They’ll be physically detained — until they’re deported.”)

Yesterday we passed a law to include DNA samples from any and all illegals to the Oklahoma database, for criminal investigative purposes. Pelosi said it was unconstitutional. Guess what……..We did it anyway. Senate Bill 1102

Several weeks ago, we passed a law, declaring Oklahoma as a Sovereign state, not under the Federal Government directives. That, for your information, makes Oklahoma and Texas the only states to do so. Guess what………More states are likely to follow. Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, both Carolina’s, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, West Virginia, just to name a few. Should Mississippi act, so will Florida. Save your confederate money, it appears the South is about to rise up once again. House Joint Resolution 1003

(World Net Daily – FEB 2009 NEW YORK – Oklahoma’s House of Representatives is the first legislative body to pass a state sovereignty resolution this year under the terms of the Tenth Amendment.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution 1003 Feb. 18 by a wide margin, 83 to 13, resolving, “That the State of Oklahoma hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.” The language of HJR 1003 further serves notice to the federal government “to cease and desist, effectively immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.”)

The federal Government has made bold steps to take away our guns. Oklahoma, a week ago, passed a law confirming people in this state have the right to bear arms and transport them in their vehicles. I’m sure that was a set back for the Kennedys and Ms Pelosi. Guess what……….We did it anyway. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling 3-0

By the way, Obama does not like any of this. Guess what….who cares…were doing it anyway.

Author: Al Ritter Baltimore Examiner – http://www.examiner.com/x-3678-Baltimore-Conservative-Examiner~y2009m5d5-Update-from-Oklahoma

God was missing for six days. Eventually, Michael, the archangel, found him resting on the seventh day. He inquired, “Where have you been?”
 
God smiled deeply and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, “Look, Michael. Look what I’ve made.” Archangel Michael looked puzzled, and said, “What is it?”
 
“It’s a planet,” replied God, and I’ve put life on it.. I’m going to call it Earth and it’s going to be a place to test Balance.”  
“Balance?” inquired Michael, “I’m still confused..”
 
God explained, pointing to different parts of earth. “For example, northern Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth, while southern Europe is going to be poor. Over here I’ve placed a continent of white people, and over there is a continent of black people. Balance in all things.”
 
God continued pointing to different countries. “This one will be extremely hot, while this one will be very cold and covered in ice.”
 
The Archangel , impressed by God’s work, then pointed to a land area and said, “What’s that one?”
 
“That’s the State of Texas , the most glorious place on earth. There are beautiful mountains, rivers and streams, lakes, forests, hills, beaches and plains. The people from the State of Texas are going to be handsome, modest, intelligent, and humorous, and they are going to travel the world. They will be extremely sociable, hardworking, high achieving, carriers of peace, and producers of good things.”
 
Michael gasped in wonder and admiration, but then asked, “But what about balance, God? You said there would be balance . . .”
 
God smiled, “There’s Washington DC. Wait till you see what I put there!”

Author Unknown

Someone sent to this to me as an email, and although it was incorrectly attributed to a particular writer, the author is actually unknown. However, this letter certainly expresses my personal sentiments and sincere disappointment with the current administration. 
 

April 27, 2009

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington , DC 20500

Mr. Obama:

I have had it with you and your administration, sir. Your conduct on your recent trip overseas has convinced me that you are not an adequate representative of the United States of America collectively or of me personally.

You are so obsessed with appeasing the Europeans and the Muslim world that you have abdicated the responsibilities of the President of the United States of America .  You are responsible to the citizens of the United States .

You are not responsible to the peoples of any other country on earth. I personally resent that you go around the world apologizing for the United States telling Europeans that we are arrogant and do not care about their status in the world. Sir, what do you think the First World War and the Second World War were all about if not the consideration of the peoples of Europe ? Are you brain dead ? What do you think the Marshall Plan was all about?

Do you not understand or know the history of the 20th century? Where do you get off telling a Muslim country that the United States does not consider itself a Christian country? Have you not read the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States ? This country was founded on Judeo-Christian ethics and the principles governing this country, at least until you came along, come directly from this heritage. Do you not understand this?

Your bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia is an affront to all Americans. Our President does not bow down to anyone, let alone the king of Saudi Arabia . You don’t show Great Britain , our best and one of our oldest allies, the respect they deserve yet you bow down to the king of Saudi Arabia . How dare you, sir! How dare you!

You can’t find the time to visit the graves of our greatest generation because you don’t want to offend the Germans but make time to visit a mosque in Turkey . You offended our dead and every veteran when you give the Germans more respect than the people who saved the German people from themselves. What’s the matter with you?

I am convinced that you and the members of your administration have the historical and intellectual depth of a mud puddle and should be ashamed of yourselves, all of you. You are so self-righteously offended by the big bankers and the American automobile manufacturers yet do nothing about the real thieves in this situation, Mr. Dodd, Mr. Frank, Franklin Raines, Jamie Gorelic, the Fannie Mae bonuses, and the Freddie Mac bonuses. What do you intend to do about them? Anything? I seriously doubt it.

What about the U.S. House members passing out $9.1 million in bonuses to their staff members – on top of the $2.5 million in automatic pay raises that lawmakers gave themselves? I understand the average House aide got a 17% bonus. I took a 5% cut in my pay to save jobs with my employer.

You haven’t said anything about that. Who authorized that? I surely didn’t! Executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be receiving $210 million in bonuses over an eighteen-month period, that’s $45 million more than the AIG bonuses. In fact, Fannie and Freddie executives have already been awarded $51 million – not a bad take. Who authorized that and why haven’t you expressed your outrage at this group who are largely responsible for the economic mess we have right now.

I resent that you take me and my fellow citizens as brain-dead and not caring about what you idiots do. We are watching what you are doing and we are getting increasingly fed up with all of you. I also want you to know that I personally find just about everything you do and say to be offensive to every one of my sensibilities.  I promise you that I will work tirelessly to see that you do not get a chance to spend two terms destroying my beautiful country. 

Sincerely,

Every Real American

chancephelpsHere is a story worth reading!  Chance Phelps’ story is well told by a U.S. Marine Corps officer who volunteered to serve as an escort for the remains of one fallen Marine being returned to his family. The officer’s life was deeply impacted by this experience. Below is his well worded journal of the events of that escort duty and his experiences throughout the days of this most humble detail.

There are several web sites about Chance Phelps that have comments from all over the world and from Marines that served with him. They are also well worth reading. We can not thank our uniformed men and women enough for the service they provide, and pray that in some way they know that their country supports them.

23 Apr 04 – This article was written by LtCol M.R. Strobl USMC who is assigned to MCCDC Quantico, VA and served as the officer who escorted the remains of PFC C. Phelps USMC from Dover AFB, DE to his home. PFC Phelps was assigned to 3d Bn, 11th Marines – an artillery unit functioning as a provisional infantry battalion during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM 2. PFC Phelps was killed in action from a gunshot wound received on 9 Apr 04 during combat operations west of Baghdad. He was buried in Dubois, WY on 17 Apr 04.

“Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him. Over a year ago, I volunteered to escort the remains of Marines killed in Iraq should the need arise. The military provides a uniformed escort for all casualties to ensure they are delivered safely to the next of kin and are treated with dignity and respect along the way.
 
Thankfully, I hadn’t been called on to be an escort since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. The first few weeks of April, however, had been a tough month for the Marines. On the Monday after Easter I was reviewing Department of Defense press releases when I saw that a Private First Class Chance Phelps was killed in action outside of Baghdad. The press release listed his hometown – the same town I’m from. I notified our Battalion adjutant and told him that, should the duty to escort PFC Phelps fall to our Battalion, I would take him.
 
I didn’t hear back the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday until 1800. The Battalion duty NCO called my cell phone and said I needed to be ready to leave for Dover Air Force Base at 1900 in order to escort the remains of PFC Phelps. Before leaving for Dover I called the major who had the task of informing Phelps’ parents of his death. The major said the funeral was going to be in Dubois, Wyoming. (It turned out that PFC Phelps only lived in my hometown for his senior year of high school.) I had never been to Wyoming and had never heard of Dubois.
 
With two other escorts from Quantico, I got to Dover AFB at 2330 on Tuesday night. First thing on Wednesday we reported to the mortuary at the base. In the escort lounge there were about half a dozen Army soldiers and about an equal number of Marines waiting to meet up with ‘their’ remains for departure. PFC Phelps was not ready, however, and I was told to come back on Thursday. Now, at Dover with nothing to do and a solemn mission ahead, I began to get depressed.
 
I was wondering about Chance Phelps. I didn’t know anything about him; not even what he looked like. I wondered about his family and what it would be like to meet them. I did pushups in my room until I couldn’t do any more.
 
On Thursday morning I reported back to the mortuary. This time there was a new group of Army escorts and a couple of the Marines who had been there Wednesday. There was also an Air Force captain there to escort his brother home to San Diego.
 
We received a brief covering our duties, the proper handling of the remains, the procedures for draping a flag over a casket, and of course, the paperwork attendant to our task. We were shown pictures of the shipping container and told that each one contained, in addition to the casket, a flag. I was given an extra flag since Phelps’ parents were divorced. This way they would each get one. I didn’t like the idea of stuffing the flag into my luggage but I couldn’t see carrying a large flag, folded for presentation to the next of kin, through an airport while in my Alpha uniform. It barely fit into my suitcase.
 
It turned out that I was the last escort to leave on Thursday. This meant that I repeatedly got to participate in the small ceremonies that mark all departures from the Dover AFB mortuary.
 
Most of the remains are taken from Dover AFB by hearse to the airport in Philadelphia for air transport to their final destination. When the remains of a service member are loaded onto a hearse and ready to leave the Dover mortuary, there is an announcement made over the building’s intercom system. With the announcement, all service members working at the mortuary, regardless of service branch, stop work and form up along the driveway to render a slow ceremonial salute as the hearse departs. Escorts also participated in each formation until it was their time to leave.
 
On this day there were some civilian workers doing construction on the mortuary grounds. As each hearse passed, they would stop working and place their hard hats over their hearts. This was my first sign that my mission with PFC Phelps was larger than the Marine Corps and that his family and friends were not grieving alone.
 
Eventually I was the last escort remaining in the lounge. The Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant in charge of the Marine liaison there came to see me.  He had Chance Phelps’ personal effects. He removed each item; a large watch, a wooden cross with a lanyard, two loose dog tags, two dog tags on a chain, and a Saint Christopher medal on a silver chain. Although we had been briefed that we might be carrying some personal effects of the deceased, this set me back. Holding his personal effects, I was starting to get to know Chance Phelps.
 
Finally we were ready. I grabbed my bags and went outside. I was somewhat startled when I saw the shipping container, loaded three-quarters of the way in to the back of a black Chevy Suburban that had been modified to carry such cargo. This was the first time I saw my ‘cargo’ and I was surprised at how large the shipping container was. The Master Gunnery Sergeant and I verified that the name on the container was Phelps’ then they pushed him the rest of the way in and we left. Now it was PFC Chance Phelps’ turn to receive the military – and construction workers’ – honors. He was finally moving towards home.
 
As I chatted with the driver on the hour-long trip to Philadelphia, it became clear that he considered it an honor to be able to contribute in getting Chance home. He offered his sympathy to the family. I was glad to finally be moving yet apprehensive about what things would be like at the airport. I didn’t want this package to be treated like ordinary cargo yet I knew that the simple logistics of moving around a box this large would have to overrule my preferences.
 
When we got to the Northwest Airlines cargo terminal at the Philadelphia airport, the cargo handler and hearse driver pulled the shipping container onto a loading bay while I stood to the side and executed a slow salute. Once Chance was safely in the cargo area, and I was satisfied that he would be treated with due care and respect, the hearse driver drove me over to the passenger terminal and dropped me off.
 
As I walked up to the ticketing counter in my uniform, a Northwest employee started to ask me if I knew how to use the automated boarding pass dispenser. Before she could finish another ticketing agent interrupted her. He told me to go straight to the counter then explained to the woman that I was a military escort. She seemed embarrassed. The woman behind the counter already had tears in her eyes as I was pulling out my government travel voucher. She struggled to find words but managed to express her sympathy for the family and thank me for my service. She upgraded my ticket to first class.
 
After clearing security, I was met by another Northwest Airline employee at the gate. She told me a representative from cargo would be up to take me down to the tarmac to observe the movement and loading of PFC Phelps. I hadn’t really told any of them what my mission was but they all knew.
 
When the man from the cargo crew met me, he, too, struggled for words. On the tarmac, he told me stories of his childhood as a military brat and repeatedly told me that he was sorry for my loss. I was starting to understand that, even here in Philadelphia, far away from Chance’s hometown, people were mourning with his family.
 
On the tarmac, the cargo crew was silent expect for occasional instructions to each other. I stood to the side and saluted as the conveyor moved Chance to the aircraft. I was relieved when he was finally settled into place. The rest of the bags were loaded and I watched them shut the cargo bay door before heading back up to board the aircraft.
 
One of the pilots had taken my carry-on bag himself and had it stored next to the cockpit door so he could watch it while I was on the tarmac. As I boarded the plane, I could tell immediately that the flight attendants had already been informed of my mission. They seemed a little choked up as they led me to my seat.
 
About 45 minutes into our flight I still hadn’t spoken to anyone except to tell the first class flight attendant that I would prefer water. I was surprised when the flight attendant from the back of the plane suddenly appeared and leaned down to grab my hands. She said, ‘I want you to have this’ as she pushed a small gold crucifix, with a relief of Jesus, into my hand. It was her lapel pin and it looked somewhat worn. I suspected it had been hers for quite some time. That was the only thing she said to me the entire flight.
 
When we landed in Minneapolis, I was the first one off the plane. The pilot himself escorted me straight down the side stairs of the exit tunnel to the tarmac. The cargo crew there already knew what was on this plane. They were unloading some of the luggage when an Army sergeant, a fellow escort who had left Dover earlier that day, appeared next to me. His ‘cargo’ was going to be loaded onto my plane for its continuing leg. We stood side-by-side in the dark and executed a slow salute as Chance was removed from the plane. The cargo crew at Minneapolis kept Phelps’ shipping case separate from all the other luggage as they waited to take us to the cargo area. I waited with the soldier and we saluted together as his fallen comrade was loaded onto the plane.
 
My trip with Chance was going to be somewhat unusual in that we were going to have an overnight stopover. We had a late start out of Dover and there was just too much traveling ahead of us to continue on that day. (We still had a flight from Minneapolis to Billings, Montana, then a five-hour drive to the funeral home. That was to be followed by a 90-minute drive to Chance’s hometown.)
 
I was concerned about leaving him overnight in the Minneapolis cargo area. My ten-minute ride from the tarmac to the cargo holding area eased my apprehension. Just as in Philadelphia, the cargo guys in Minneapolis were extremely respectful and seemed honored to do their part. While talking with them, I learned that the cargo supervisor for Northwest Airlines at the Minneapolis airport is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. They called him for me and let me talk to him.
Once I was satisfied that all would be okay for the night, I asked one of the cargo crew if he would take me back to the terminal so that I could catch my hotel’s shuttle. Instead, he drove me straight to the hotel himself. At the hotel, the Lieutenant Colonel called me and said he would personally pick me up in the morning and bring me back to the cargo area.
Before leaving the airport, I had told the cargo crew that I wanted to come back to the cargo area in the morning rather than go straight to the passenger terminal. I felt bad for leaving Chance overnight and wanted to see the shipping container where I had left it for the night. It was fine.
 
The Lieutenant Colonel made a few phone calls then drove me around to the passenger terminal. I was met again by a man from the cargo crew and escorted down to the tarmac. The pilot of the plane joined me as I waited for them to bring Chance from the cargo area. The pilot and I talked of his service in the Air Force and how he missed it.
 
I saluted as Chance was moved up the conveyor and onto the plane. It was to be a while before the luggage was to be loaded so the pilot took me up to the board the plane where I could watch the tarmac from a window. With no other passengers yet on board, I talked with the flight attendants and one of the cargo guys. He had been in the Navy and one of the attendants had been in the Air Force. Everywhere I went, people were continuing to tell me their relationship to the military. After all the baggage was aboard, I went back down to the tarmac, inspected the cargo bay, and watched them secure the door.
 
When we arrived at Billings, I was again the first off the plane. This time Chance’s shipping container was the first item out of the cargo hold. The funeral director had driven five hours up from Riverton, Wyoming to meet us. He shook my hand as if I had personally lost a brother.
 
We moved Chance to a secluded cargo area. Now it was time for me to remove the shipping container and drape the flag over the casket. I had predicted that this would choke me up but I found I was more concerned with proper flag etiquette than the solemnity of the moment. Once the flag was in place, I stood by and saluted as Chance was loaded onto the van from the funeral home. I was thankful that we were in a small airport and the event seemed to go mostly unnoticed. I picked up my rental car and followed Chance for five hours until we reached Riverton. During the long trip I imagined how my meeting with Chance’s parents would go. I was very nervous about that.
 
When we finally arrived at the funeral home, I had my first face-to-face meeting with the Casualty Assistance Call Officer. It had been his duty to inform the family of Chance’s death. He was on the Inspector/Instructor staff of an infantry company in Salt Lake City, Utah and I knew he had had a difficult week.
 
Inside I gave the funeral director some of the paperwork from Dover and discussed the plan for the next day. The service was to be at 1400 in the high school gymnasium up in Dubois, population about 900, some 90 miles away. Eventually, we had covered everything. The CACO had some items that the family wanted to be inserted into the casket and I felt I needed to inspect Chance’s uniform to ensure everything was proper. Although it was going to be a closed casket funeral, I still wanted to ensure his uniform was squared away.
 
Earlier in the day I wasn’t sure how I’d handle this moment. Suddenly, the casket was open and I got my first look at Chance Phelps. His uniform was immaculate – a tribute to the professionalism of the Marines at Dover. I noticed that he wore six ribbons over his marksmanship badge; the senior one was his Purple Heart. I had been in the Corps for over 17 years, including a combat tour, and was wearing eight ribbons. This Private First Class, with less than a year in the Corps, had already earned six.
 
The next morning, I wore my dress blues and followed the hearse for the trip up to Dubois. This was the most difficult leg of our trip for me. I was bracing for the moment when I would meet his parents and hoping I would find the right words as I presented them with Chance’s personal effects.
 
We got to the high school gym about four hours before the service was to begin. The gym floor was covered with folding chairs neatly lined in rows. There were a few townspeople making final preparations when I stood next to the hearse and saluted as Chance was moved out of the hearse. The sight of a flag-draped coffin was overwhelming to some of the ladies.
 
We moved Chance into the gym to the place of honor. A Marine sergeant, the command representative from Chance’s battalion, met me at the gym. His eyes were watery as he relieved me of watching Chance so that I could go eat lunch and find my hotel.
 
At the restaurant, the table had a flier announcing Chance’s service. Dubois High School gym; two o’clock. It also said that the family would be accepting donations so that they could buy flak vests to send to troops in Iraq.
 
I drove back to the gym at a quarter after one. I could’ve walked; you could walk to just about anywhere in Dubois in ten minutes. I had planned to find a quiet room where I could take his things out of their pouch and untangle the chain of the Saint Christopher medal from the dog tag chains and arrange everything before his parents came in. I had twice before removed the items from the pouch to ensure they were all there, even though there was no chance anything could’ve fallen out. Each time, the two chains had been quite tangled. I didn’t want to be fumbling around trying to untangle them in front of his parents. Our meeting, however, didn’t go as expected.
 
I practically bumped into Chance’s step-mom accidentally and our introductions began in the noisy hallway outside the gym. In short order I had met Chance’s step-mom and father followed by his step-dad and, at last, his mom. I didn’t know how to express to these people my sympathy for their loss and my gratitude for their sacrifice. Now, however, they were repeatedly thanking me for bringing their son home and for my service. I was humbled beyond words.
 
I told them that I had some of Chance’s things and asked if we could try to find a quiet place. The five of us ended up in what appeared to be a computer lab, not what I had envisioned for this occasion.
 
After we had arranged five chairs around a small table, I told them about our trip. I told them how, at every step, Chance was treated with respect, dignity, and honor. I told them about the staff at Dover and all the folks at Northwest Airlines. I tried to convey how the entire Nation, from Dover to Philadelphia, to Minneapolis, to Billings, and Riverton expressed grief and sympathy over their loss.
 
Finally, it was time to open the pouch. The first item I happened to pull out was Chance’s large watch. It was still set to Baghdad time. Next were the lanyard and the wooden cross. Then the dog tags and the Saint Christopher medal. This time the chains were not tangled. Once all of his items were laid out on the table, I told his mom that I had one other item to give them. I retrieved the flight attendant’s crucifix from my pocket and told its story. I set that on the table and excused myself. When I next saw Chance’s mom, she was wearing the crucifix on her lapel.
 
By 1400 most of the seats on the gym floor were filled and people were finding seats in the fixed bleachers high above the gym floor. There were a surprising number of people in military uniform. Many Marines had come up from Salt Lake City. Men from various VFW posts and the Marine Corps League occupied multiple rows of folding chairs. We all stood as Chance’s family took their seats in the front.
 
It turned out that Chance’s sister, a Petty Officer in the Navy, worked for a Rear Admiral – the Chief of Naval Intelligence – at the Pentagon. The Admiral had brought many of the sailors on his staff with him to Dubois pay respects to Chance and support his sister. After a few songs and some words from a Navy Chaplain, the Admiral took the microphone and told us how Chance had died.
 
Chance was an artillery cannoneer and his unit was acting as provisional military police outside of Baghdad. Chance had volunteered to man a .50 caliber machine gun in the turret of the leading vehicle in a convoy. The convoy came under intense fire but Chance stayed true to his post and returned fire with the big gun, covering the rest of the convoy, until he was fatally wounded.
 
Then the commander of the local VFW post read some of the letters Chance had written home. In letters to his mom he talked of the mosquitoes and the heat. In letters to his stepfather he told of the dangers of convoy operations and of receiving fire.
 
The service was a fitting tribute to this hero. When it was over, we stood as the casket was wheeled out with the family following. The casket was placed onto a horse-drawn carriage for the mile-long trip from the gym, down the main street, then up the steep hill to the cemetery. I stood alone and saluted as the carriage departed the high school. I found my car and joined Chance’s convoy.
 
The town seemingly went from the gym to the street. All along the route, the people had lined the street and were waving small American flags. The flags that were otherwise posted were all at half-staff. For the last quarter mile up the hill, local boy scouts, spaced about 20 feet apart, all in uniform, held large flags. At the foot of the hill, I could look up and back and see the enormity of our procession. I wondered how many people would be at this funeral if it were in, say, Detroit or Los Angeles?  Probably not as many as were here in little Dubois, Wyoming.
 
The carriage stopped about 15 yards from the grave and the military pall bearers and the family waited until the men of the VFW and Marine Corps league were formed up and school busses had arrived carrying many of the people from the procession route. Once the entire crowd was in place, the pallbearers came to attention and began to remove the casket from the caisson. As I had done all week, I came to attention and executed a slow ceremonial salute as Chance was being transferred from one mode of transport to another.
 
From Dover to Philadelphia; Philadelphia to Minneapolis; Minneapolis to Billings; Billings to Riverton; and Riverton to Dubois we had been together. Now, as I watched them carry him the final 15 yards, I was choking up. I felt that, as long as he was still moving, he was somehow still alive. Then they put him down above his grave. He had stopped moving.
 
Although my mission had been officially complete once I turned him over to the funeral director at the Billings airport, it was his placement at his grave that really concluded it in my mind. Now, he was home to stay and I suddenly felt at once sad, relieved, and useless.
 
The chaplain said some words that I couldn’t hear and two Marines removed the flag from the casket and slowly folded it for presentation to his mother. When the ceremony was over, Chance’s father placed a ribbon from his service in Vietnam on Chance’s casket. His mother approached the casket and took something from her blouse and put it on the casket. I later saw that it was the flight attendant’s crucifix. Eventually friends of Chance’s moved closer to the grave. A young man put a can of Coppenhagen on the casket and many others left flowers.
 
Finally, we all went back to the gym for a reception. There was enough food to feed the entire population for a few days. In one corner of the gym there was a table set up with lots of pictures of Chance and some of his sports awards. People were continually approaching me and the other Marines to thank us for our service. Almost all of them had some story to tell about their connection to the military. About an hour into the reception, I had the impression that every man in Wyoming had, at one time or another, been in the service.
 
It seemed like every time I saw Chance’s mom she was hugging a different well wisher. As time passed, I began to hear people laughing. We were starting to heal.
 
After a few hours at the gym, I went back to the hotel to change out of my dress blues. The local VFW post had invited everyone over to celebrate Chance’s life. The Post was on the other end of town from my hotel and the drive took less than two minutes. The crowd was somewhat smaller than what had been at the gym but the Post was packed.
 
Marines were playing pool at the two tables near the entrance and most of the VFW members were at the bar or around the tables in the bar area. The largest room in the Post was a banquet/dining/dancing area and it was now called The Chance Phelps Room.  Above the entry were two items: a large portrait of Chance in his dress blues and the Eagle, Globe, & Anchor. In one corner of the room there was another memorial to Chance.  There were candles burning around another picture of him in his blues. On the table surrounding his photo were his Purple Heart citation and his Purple Heart medal. There was also a framed copy of an excerpt from the Congressional Record. This was an elegant tribute to Chance Phelps delivered on the floor of the United States House of Representatives by Congressman Scott McInnis of Colorado. Above it all was a television that was playing a photo montage of Chance’s life from small boy to proud Marine.
 
I did not buy a drink that night. As had been happening all day, indeed all week, people were thanking me for my service and for bringing Chance home. Now, in addition to words and handshakes, they were thanking me with beer. I fell in with the men who had handled the horses and horse-drawn carriage. I learned that they had worked through the night to groom and prepare the horses for Chance’s last ride. They were all very grateful that they were able to contribute.
 
After a while we all gathered in the Chance Phelps room for the formal dedication. The Post commander told us of how Chance had been so looking forward to becoming a Life Member of the VFW. Now, in the Chance Phelps Room of the Dubois, Wyoming post, he would be an eternal member. We all raised our beers and the Chance Phelps room was christened.
 
Later, as I was walking toward the pool tables, a Staff Sergeant form the Reserve unit in Salt Lake grabbed me and said, ‘Sir, you gotta hear this.’  There were two other Marines with him and he told the younger one, a Lance Corporal, to tell me his story. The Staff Sergeant said the Lance Corporal was normally too shy and modest to tell it but now he’d had enough beer to overcome his usual tendencies.
 
As the Lance Corporal started to talk, an older man joined our circle. He wore a baseball cap that indicated he had been with the 1st Marine Division in Korea. Earlier in the evening he had told me about one of his former commanding officers; a Colonel Puller.
 
So, there I was, standing in a circle with three Marines recently returned from fighting with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq and one not so recently returned from fighting with the 1st Marine Division in Korea. I, who had fought with the 1st Marine Division in Kuwait, was about to gain a new insight into our Corps.
 
The young Lance Corporal began to tell us his story. At that moment, in this circle of current and former Marines, the differences in our ages and ranks dissipated – we were all simply Marines.
 
His squad had been on a patrol through a city street. They had taken small arms fire and had literally dodged an RPG round that sailed between two Marines. At one point they received fire from behind a wall and had neutralized the sniper with a SMAW round. The back blast of the SMAW, however, kicked up a substantial rock that hammered the Lance Corporal in the thigh; only missing his groin because he had reflexively turned his body sideways at the shot.
 
Their squad had suffered some wounded and was receiving more sniper fire when suddenly he was hit in the head by an AK-47 round. I was stunned as he told us how he felt like a baseball bat had been slammed into his head. He had spun around and fell unconscious. When he came to, he had a severe scalp wound but his Kevlar helmet had saved his life. He continued with his unit for a few days before realizing he was suffering the effects of a severe concussion.
 
As I stood there in the circle with the old man and the other Marines, the Staff Sergeant finished the story. He told of how this Lance Corporal had begged and pleaded with the Battalion surgeon to let him stay with his unit. In the end, the doctor said there was just no way; he had suffered a severe and traumatic head wound and would have to be med-evaced.
 
The Marine Corps is a special fraternity. There are moments when we are reminded of this. Interestingly, those moments don’t always happen at awards ceremonies or in dress blues at Birthday Balls. I have found, rather, that they occur at unexpected times and places: next to a loaded moving van at Camp Lejeune’s base housing, in a dirty CP tent in northern Saudi Arabia, and in a smoky VFW post in western Wyoming.
 
After the story was done, the Lance Corporal stepped over to the old man, put his arm over the man’s shoulder and told him that he, the Korean War vet, was his hero. The two of them stood there with their arms over each other’s shoulders and we were all silent for a moment. When they let go, I told the Lance Corporal that there were recruits down on the yellow footprints tonight that would soon be learning his story.
 
I was finished drinking beer and telling stories. I found Chance’s father and shook his hand one more time. Chance’s mom had already left and I deeply regretted not being able to tell her goodbye.
 
I left Dubois in the morning before sunrise for my long drive back to Billings. It had been my honor to take Chance Phelps to his final post. Now he was on the high ground overlooking his town.
I miss him.
 
Regards,
LtCol Strobl”

Ben Stein is one of those people that can do everything. As an actor, he’s famous for his role as the boring teacher in film “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off”, is a trained economist and lawyer, has won Emmys for his television work, is a novelist, columnist, and popular speaker.

He wrote a column for the website E Online and when he decided to step down from that, his last column about who and what is really important in life became an Internet classic. It is a great reminder for all of us in this time of economic and spiritual upheaval in the U.S.

From Ben Stein:

As I begin to write this I “slug” it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is “eonlineFINAL,” and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started.

I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end. Lew Harris, who founded this great site, asked me to do it maybe seven or eight years ago, and I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.

But again, all things must pass, and my column for E! Online must pass. In a way, it is actually the perfect time for it to pass. Lew, whom I have known forever, was impressed that I knew so many stars at Morton’s on Monday nights.

He could not get over it, in fact. So, he said I should write a column about the stars I saw at Morton’s and what they had to say.

It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world’s change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton’s, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars.

I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today’s world, if by a “star” we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model?

Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails. They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.

A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton’s is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament. The policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive. The orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery. The teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children. The kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.

Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse.

Now you have my idea of a real hero.

Last column, I told you a few of the rules I had learned to keep my sanity. Well, here is a final one to help you keep your sanity and keep you in the running for stardom: We are puny, insignificant creatures.

We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important. God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves.

In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.

I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin–or Martin Mull or Fred Willard–or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.

But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life.

I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister’s help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

As so many of you know, I am an avid Bush fan and a Republican. But I think the best guidance I ever got was from the inauguration speech of Democrat John F. Kennedy in January of 1961.

On a very cold and bright day in D.C., he said, “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth…asking His blessing and His help but knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must surely be our own.”

And then to paraphrase my favorite president, my boss and friend Richard Nixon, when he left the White House in August 1974, with me standing a few feet away, “This is not goodbye. The French have a word for it–au revoir. We’ll see you again.”

Au revoir, and thank you for reading me for so long. God bless every one of you. We’ll see you again.

Source for this article: www.truthorfiction.com

ABOUT HARTFORD LETTERS

Experience the Miraculous Healing and Recovery of Lea Vaughn, and the incredible spiritual journey of her husband during 180 days in Hartford Hospital. Read his original daily emails in "Hartford Letters" above. ____________________________

In “Prayer,” above:

For Dave
Praise: Lea
For Bill and Jane
For Megan
For Charlotte
For Marnita
Praise: Gary
Praise: fellowship
For Herb
Praise: Joe
For Lea
For Unnamed

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