Thursday, July 13, 2017

All He Ever Knew Was Love

Cayden Hughes Buttram was born along with his twin brother Cooper Andrew Buttrum on Monday night, July 10.  Cayden died on Wednesday, July 12.  Cayden’s parents, Lauren and Brad, knew he had an uphill battle.  A problem pregnancy, in utero issues that denied him needed nutrients, a premature birth at only 2 lbs, 13 oz, and the quick onset of an infection spelled trouble for Cayden.  His brother Cooper was a little bigger, had the necessary nutrients all along, and he is doing well.  But Cayden didn’t make it.

I don’t understand these things any more than you do.  Why does one twin live and the other die?  We know God knits us together in our mother’s womb.  We know we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  We know Jesus loves children … and then this.  As a pastor I’ve grieved with parishioners over a miscarriage and buried my share of babies.  Some, like Cayden, didn’t last long out of the womb.  Some fell victim to SIDS a year or two into life.  It’s all hard.  It all hurts.  It all leaves us with more questions than answers.

I woke up in the middle of the night with the Buttrums on my mind.  As I was laying there praying for the family, the Lord put a thought in my head about Cayden: “All he ever knew was love.”
                                                                                                                   
Since the pregnancy test came back positive, Cayden was loved—parents and doctors doing all the right things.

Upon his birth into this world on Monday, Cayden was loved.  Incubation, intubation, and IVs may not feel or look like love, but that’s what it is—love that fights for life and health and well-being.  There’s not a lot Mom, Dad, and family can do in this situation except pray and touch and speak life and love over the child.  That’s what they did.

And when Cayden shut his eyes in death on Wednesday, he was swept up into the arms of Jesus who loves him best of all.  I don’t know how all this works in heaven, but I do believe this: Cayden is experiencing the love of His Savior and the love of believing family that preceded him in death.  It is well with his soul.  And on the last day, his tiny body will be resurrected just like yours and mine.

In just two short days of life on this earth, all he ever knew as love.  He never experienced abuse of any kind.  He never dealt with the betrayal of a friend.  He never felt the sting of guilt over his sins.  Nobody ever broke his heart.  He never stood over the grave of a loved one who meant the world to him.  He never wrestled with feelings of failure.  I realize, as do you, that such things are all part of life, that they shape us into the persons we become, that wounds and scars hurt in the moment but can reap the benefits of maturity and a closer walk with Jesus.  Like his family, I wish Cayden could have lived a long full life.  But if you only get 28 weeks in the womb and two days in the world, and all you ever know is love, and the only memories people have of you will be cherished ones, well … you’ve lived a pretty wonderful life.

Cayden, I can’t wait to meet you on the other side.

Monday, July 3, 2017

There's No Place Like Home

Well, we’re in.  Still unpacking boxes and deciding what goes where, but we’re in.  And, man, does it feel weird.  After 22 years in the same house, you know every creak and crack in the place.  You can practically move around with your eyes closed and still get where you’re going.  In the new place, I better keep my eyes open or I’ll run into walls and bump into stuff.  It’s going to take some time to get my bearings.

We loved our last home.  (Well, I had a love/hate relationship with it when I had to take care of the pool.)  We lived in that place for more than a third of our lives and more than half of our marriage.  We (that means Dayna) kept it in great.  It pays to have a wife who watches a lot of HGTV.  She always had some idea to make it better.

But a home is not so much about the floors and the roof and the curb appeal.  A home is about what goes on inside.  It’s about the memories.  And do we ever have memories associated with that place.  That’s the house where we celebrated high school and college graduations, the house where we celebrated the weddings of our children.  That’s the only house our seven grandkids know as Papa and Grammy’s house.  That’s the house where we spent 22 Christmases.  That’s the house where we prayed a lot of prayers, cried a lot of tears, and laughed more times than we can count.  That’s the house where our teenage kids brought their friends.  That’s the house where we watched a lot of Razorback and Cowboys and Orioles games.  That’s the house where we loved one cat and two dogs.  That’s the house where we spent five days without power during the great post-Christmas ice storm of 2000.  That’s the house where we always tried to keep Jesus at the center.  It’s been a good house.  It’s been our house.  I think it was Miranda Lambert who sang a song about “the house that built me.”  Well, this house didn’t build us, but our lives were shaped in numerous ways during our years there.

On Father’s Day weekend our whole family was together.  The kids wanted to say good-bye to the house.  We talked about some of our favorite memories in that house over the years.  The kids took a last look at their teenage rooms.  Everybody enjoyed the pool one more time.  It was more emotional than I thought it would be.

But now it’s time to move on, time to get a little better arranged space to accommodate our family of 13 when they are home.  It’s time to quit messing with a swimming pool loved by my wife, my kids, and my grandkids but not loved so much by me.  I don’t know how long we’ll live here.  I doubt it will be anywhere near 22 years.  In 22 years I’ll be 82 and my wife will be 80.  For all I know I’ll be dead.  We’ll make some memories in this new house, but it won’t be like the house in which you raise your kids.  My daughter summed it up pretty well before she left our house for the last time: “Every time I’ve come home since I left for college in 2000, I’ve always felt like I was coming to my house.  Now, I’ll feel like I’m coming to my parents’ house.”

And that’s where we are now: in her parents’ house.  Dayna is excited to make this house a home.  And she’ll get it done for sure.  I’m still a little depressed about the change.  But I’ll be okay.  Whether our address is Meadowmere Terrace or Blue Bell Court, as long as Dayna and Jesus are here it will be home.  That’s been good enough for almost 40 years.  It will be good enough till Jesus calls one of us to the home that’s really home, the home from which we will never move again.   

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

She's a Grand Old Flag

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress of the United States adopted the stars and stripes as our national flag.  That why we call June 14 Flag Day.  I usually let this day pass without much thought of our flag.  Sometimes I don’t even realize it’s Flag Day till the day is past.  Not this year.  I decided to pause for a few minutes in a busy and reflect on my memories of the United States flag.

Standing in my first grade class room, facing the flag in the corner, hand over my heart, saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” with my class.

The flag at Meadowcliff Elementary School flying at half-mast in the days after President Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963.  That’s the first time I saw a flag at half-mast—but sadly, not the last.

Images of the flag-raisers on Iwo Jima after our brave Marines wrestled Mt. Suribachi away from the Japanese at the cost of much blood and death.

Taking my turn in fifth or sixth grade raising and lowering the flag at Branson Elementary School and learning how to fold it properly.

Watching fuzzy black-and-white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin staking our flag on the moon in 1969.  I understand it’s still there today.

Watching the USA Hockey Team in the 1980 Olympics waving our flag after their improbably gold medal.  “Do you believe in miracles?” Al Michaels uttered after we beat the Soviets in the semifinals.

The Lee’s Summit, Missouri, High School Band belting out “Stars and Stripes Forever” at their annual spring concert.  It always brought everyone to their feet.

The uncountable numbers of little flags attached to trucks and cars in the days after September 11, 2001.

A display in the Smithsonian of the tattered flag that flew over Fort McKinley—the very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem during the War of 1812.

Numerous flag draped caskets at the graveside services of veterans—including the flag that draped my father’s casket, now folded into a crisp triangle that we keep in our home.

The presentation of the colors at numerous ballgames and thousands of voices singing The Star Spangled Banner.

Those are some of my memories. Not everything done under our flag has been good and right.  But on balance, our flag has represented some of the noblest, highest ideals in human history.  We are blessed to live in the good old U.S.A.  Our freedom has been bought with the price of other’s blood.  I encourage you on this Flag Day 2017 to take a moment, remember, and give thanks.




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I'm Finally Above-Average at Something

Hooray!  I learned this week that I am finally above average at something.  For a guy who’s spent his life hovering around average this is really encouraging news!  I’m average size.  I’ve always been an average athlete.  I’m an average husband, an average father, grandfather, golfer, and singer.  My birth certificate says my middle name is Scott.  I’m surprised my middle name is not Average.  It could have been.  Hi, I’m John Average McCallum II.  I guess that means I’m average twice-over.  Average.  That’s not so bad.  Most everybody is average or they wouldn’t be considered … average.

Ok, I’ll confess that I do have some bright spots.  I have always been a slightly above-average student.  And while I’m not trying to be prideful, I’ve always thought I’m a slightly above-average pastor.  Now I know I am.  In fact, it’s been scientifically confirmed.  According to a March 1, 2017, report on Barna.com the average age of American pastors is 54.  Hey, I’m 60!  Boom goes the dynamite—I’m six points higher than average.  (I wonder if I should ask for a raise.)

What’s good news for me may not be such good news for the church.  On the one hand it could mean that America’s churches are being led mostly by seasoned, experienced veterans who bring a lifetime’s wisdom to bear on the work.  But on the other hand, it could mean that America’s churches are being led mostly by a bunch of crotchety old fogies.  Each church with an above-average pastor will have to figure that out for itself.

The sad thing about this report is that while the median age of pastors in 1992 was 44, only one in seven pastors today is under 40.  Yikes!  We need some younger pastors.  Pray, please, that God will call more young people into pastoral ministry.

But in the meantime, I’ll try not to gloat about being an above-average pastor.  Gloating is not in order anyway unless my gloating is in Christ.  I may be a C+ person and a B- pastor, but Jesus is an A+ Savior who can take even below average people and do extraordinary things through their lives.  And that doesn't just go for pastors, that goes for us all.     

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Single-Minded Focus

Please take a look at the picture.  The first time I saw it, I was sure it was photo-shopped.  But no. According to the Washington Post, this is a picture in real time. Theunis Wessels of Three Hills, Alberta, Canada was caught in the act by his wife Cecilia who snapped the picture this past Friday.  "I was keeping an eye on it," he said.

Twitter blew up over the picture with some great responses:

- No worries.  The fence will keep it out.

- In "mower" danger than he thought.

- The house may be gone but the lawn is immaculate.

- At least he won't have to worry about sweeping up the grass clippings.

- "Well, I don't see anyone else offering to mow the lawn."

- Metaphor for the Trump administration.

- When the wife asks you to do your chore or else, there's he*# to pay, a lot worse than that tornado.

- You think you're awesome but you're not mow your lawn in a tornado awesome.

You know what I see?  Single-minded focus.  Dude probably knew if he didn't get it done that day, he'd have to wait another week.  In the words of Larry the Cable Guy, "Git 'er done."  Theunis may be a bit nuts, but he got to check "Mow the lawn" off his Friday to-do list while his neighbors were cowering in their basements.

In his little epistle at the back of the New Testament, James writes that "a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (Js. 1:8).  There was nothing double-minded about Theunis.  The man was focused on the task at hand.  For a person like me who's a little ADD and too easily distracted, I tip my hat to Theunis.  He inspires me to single-minded focus as I go about my faith in Jesus and carry out my ministry.

Roger Miller, kind of big deal in the '60s liked to sing humorous songs.  He sang one that had this lyric:

You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd …
You can't take a shower in a parakeet cage …
You can't go a-swimming in a baseball pool …
You can't change film with a kid on your back …

But apparently you can mow your lawn with a twister at your back …
if you have single-minded focus.

I think I'll leave the lawn mower in the yard and take cover if I can see a tornado, but there are other things in my life I could do much better if I would approach them with the single-minded focus of Theunis Wessels. 








Thursday, June 1, 2017

I Treasure the Church

Rarely a week goes by when I don’t read some article bemoaning the decline of the church.  Some are growing.  Many are declining.  And even in growing churches members attend with less and less frequency, choosing sports or sleeping in or going to the lake over being in the church house to worship God. 

And can I just go on record by saying that I treasure the church—the church in general and the church I serve in particular.  The church has always been part of my life.  My earliest memories include stopping by the church library on my way from Sunday School to the sanctuary to pick up a book that would get me through the worship at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Little Rock.  I still the remember the smell of Dottie Hilton’s stale perfume on those Wednesdays after school when she led our little children’s choir at First Presbyterian Church in Branson.  I remember so many things: Bible School, pot-luck suppers, Young Life, college group, camps and retreats.  As a kid I didn’t always find church interesting and I haven’t always loved every minute I’ve been involved, but I always knew I was loved, I knew I belonged there among that particular group of people at that particular time.  It was … family.

I treasure the church.  It was the church that introduced me to the exploits of these larger than life characters named Abraham and Sarah and Moses and Samson and David and Elijah and Peter, Paul, and Mary (not the singing group but the Bible folks).  They told me that they were in my family tree.  It was the church that taught me that I was part of something larger than myself and my town and my country; I was a citizen in the kingdom of God that stretches around the whole wide world and from here to eternity.

I treasure the church.  That’s where I first saw a cross and learned about a Savior who loved me and died for me and rose from the dead for me too.  That’s the one place I could be assured that even if I hadn’t given God much thought on Monday through Saturday, my attention would be brought back to Him on Sunday with words as simple as “Let’s pray … open your Bible … hear the Word of the Lord.”

I treasure the church.  It was the church that gave me my song and taught me to sing it:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound /
that saved a wretch like me.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty /
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

A mighty fortress is our God /
a bulwark never failing.

Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature /
Son of God and Son of Man.

All the way my Savior leads me /
What have I to ask beside? /
Can I doubt His tender mercy /
Who through life has been my guide?

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord /
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light.

Up from the grave He arose! /
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.

When we all get to heaven /
what a day of rejoicing that will be.

How many times have the songs I learned from the church given voice to my praise, words to my sorrow, hope to my fear, faith to my doubts, and carried me when I was weak!  And now the church is teaching me new songs that only add to the repertoire. 

I treasure the church.  The church has helped me see the world—not with the eyes of a tourist but with the eyes of God: eyes of compassion and love, eyes of concern for the lost and the poor and the people at the margins.  And the church has helped me do my part in reaching out to all nations.

I treasure the church.  When I was a child and my family fell apart, the church was there.  When I went off to college, the church was there.  When my kids were born, the church was there.  When there’s been sickness or surgery, the church was there.  When we had a crisis with our son, the church was there.  When my parents died, the church was there.  In good times and bad, in times of rejoicing and times of grief, the church has been there for me.  Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything and a season for everything under the sun, and the church has been there for me in every time and every season.

I treasure the church.  That’s not to say that the church hasn’t broken my heart along the way, that the church has never let me down, or that the church has always lived up to my expectations.  But that’s okay: I don’t love a perfect church and never have.  I don’t love the church as I wish her to be; I love the church as she is—with her warts and her wrinkles, with her saints and her sinners, with her allies and her critics.  I love the church when she’s gone down swinging and when she’s knocked it out of the park, when she’s soared like an eagle and when she’s limped like a three-legged dog.  Someone once likened the church to Noah’s ark: if it weren’t for the storm without, you could never stand the smell within.  But in spite of the fact that the church stinks it up from time to time, I treasure the church.

I treasure the church because the church has always loved me and because Christ has loved me through His church.  Christ has always loved me enough to challenge me and forgive me and encourage me and stick with me no matter what.  And Christ does just that through His church.  I treasure the church, and I value this treasure.

When I was a kid I collected baseball cards—from the early 60s to the early 70s I collected a lot of cards.  I wish I had known they would become valuable.  Then, maybe I wouldn’t have clothes-pinned Carl Yaztremski to the back tire on my bike so Carl could slap my spokes and make me sound like a motorcycle.  Maybe I wouldn’t have been so free to trade some extra Brooks Robinsons or Mickey Mantles or Bob Gibsons or Ernie Banks or Hank Aarons or Willie Mayses or Sandy Koufaxes for some guy I didn’t know but didn’t have his card.  Maybe I would have held on to rookie cards of people like Johnny Bench and Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt.  At one point, somebody gave my brothers and I a bunch of baseball cards from the 40s and 50s—cards of people like Stan Musial and Yogi Berra and Bob Feller and Ted Williams and Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.  They weren’t in mint condition, some carried a bit of a mildew smell, but they were loaded with some great players.  When we went off to college, my mom started cleaning out closets.  She told us she gave all our cards to a young cousin of ours.  Didn’t think much of it at the time—just a little sting of nostalgia.

But when the mid-80s rolled around and people started opening up shops to sell classic baseball cards to serious collectors—my little brother and I often shook our heads and said, “We could have been rich.”  Here was this treasure in our laps.  We didn’t realize it.  And we certainly didn’t value it.

Christ’s church is a treasure.  Don’t trade it.  Don’t lose it.  Don’t give it away.  Value it.  It shows us Christ.  It shapes our lives.  It provides opportunities to impact eternity.  It stirs us to love and good works.  It encourages us when we need it most.  It gets us ready for heaven.  It makes us rich in ways that money can’t buy, in ways that last forever.  And guess what: you get to be part of it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Graduation Season: A Word for Parents

My son Nathan graduated from high school in 1998.  Wow!  That’s 20 years next year.  Can’t believe it.  Anyway, I was asked to give a parent’s response at his baccalaureate service all those years ago.  As I’ve spent the last couple of weekends with graduation activities for the high school seniors in our church family, I thought I might help parents a bit by sharing some of my remarks at my son’s baccalaureate 19 years ago.

*********

Did you ever see Fiddler on the Roof?  One of the classic songs to come out of that musical seems fitting for us parents on a day like today:

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older.
When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset; sunrise, sunset;
Swiftly fly the days.

For most of you graduates, the speed of the last eighteen years may have felt like a round of golf on a busy day: hit and wait; hit and wait; hit and wait.  But for us parents, these years have felt more like a fast break in basketball; like an 80-yard touchdown pass—just a few seconds and it's over.  So cut us a little slack if we seem a little more sentimental, a little more nostalgic than usual.  Be patient with us if we run through a box or two of Kleenex dabbing our misty eyes.  This is all pretty emotional for us.  We're happy for you, but we're a little sad all at the same time.  It's sort of like swimming through a bowl of sweet and sour sauce.

You see, we remember.  We remember how our hearts leapt when the doctor told us you were on the way.  We remember lying in bed at night trying to come up with a name we could both agree on—we hope you like it okay.  We remember the thrill of holding you in our arms for that very first time.  And when we did, well, something happened inside of us that let us know we would be connected forever.  You were bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.  And if you have been adopted, you are the very child of our choice.  And we are bound together—bound in ways words cannot articulate.  We dads remember proudly pointing you out to others through that nursery window at the hospital—and even though we may not have said it out loud, we believed in our hearts that you were the pick of the litter, the finest looking baby in the bunch.  We still do.

And we remember taking you home.  Video cameras cost about a zillion dollars in those days so most parents didn’t have them.  But we had an instamatic camera, and we got plenty of snapshots of that Kodak moment.  Now I know you don't remember this stuff, but trust me, you were there.  And some of us parents can see it as if happened yesterday, and we remember it.

And we remember when reality set in.  We quickly discovered that you weren't a doll in a box.  You were a person, and you were determined to let us know that you were in the house and you were claiming your space.  You woke us up a lot those first few months.  We dads usually pretended to be asleep so mom would have to tend to you, but you woke us up too.  And before any teacher ever schooled you in the "three r's" of "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic," you gave us a thorough education in the three p's—pee, poop, and puke—and you were very undiscerning about when and where you did all three.  You took a lot of patience in those first many months.  I read about a young father in the supermarket pushing the shopping cart which held his screaming baby.  The father could be heard muttering gently under his breath, "Easy, Freddy, calm down now.  Everything's all right, boy.  Come on, Freddy, don't get upset."  A woman customer gave him a real pat on the back by saying, "You are very patient with little Freddy."  To which the young father replied, "Lady, I'm Freddy."  Most of us parents, we've been there—many, many times over these last eighteen years we've been there.

Parenting is such a roller-coaster ride.  We've walked with you from most of your firsts to many of your lasts in this era of your life.  We remember so many firsts with fondness: first tooth, first word, first step, first haircut—back when we got to choose the style.  We remember the first ballgame, the first recital, the first day of school, the first date.  Those firsts were happy firsts.  But other firsts were more trying: your first big sin against what you knew was right—that moment when we realized that you weren't as perfect as we hoped you were.  Then there was your first note from the teacher, your first trip to the emergency room.  And then when you started driving, well, that ushered in a whole new set of worries.  Many of us have felt like the dad who received this Father's Day card from his sixteen-year-old son.  The card reads: "Dad, everything I ever learned I learned from you, except one thing … The family car really will do 110."  And your driving offered some of us parents a few other firsts to remember: first wreck, first ticket, first court appearance, first community service.  And then, we struggled right alongside you with other firsts you experienced—like your first funeral of a loved one, your first broken heart, your first big disappointment.  Parenting you has been such a mixture of worry and rejoicing, celebration and sorrow, good times and hard times.  Just like life, I guess.  But it's been a good ride all in all.  There may have been a few times when we wanted to go to PTA meetings under an assumed name, but by and large, the journey has been a joy, and we wouldn't have missed it for the world.

So here’s some of what we want to say you graduates: "Way to go!  You survived us, and all in all you look to be in good shape."  How many of you are first borns?—raise your hands.  Well, you were the guinea pigs many of us parents had to experiment with and learn on.  Sometimes I marvel that my son Nathan is turning out as well as he is.  When Nathan was about three years old, I was trying to watch a Razorback game while he was supposed to be napping.  Very few Razorback games made TV in Kansas City, so I liked to devote full attention to them when they were on.  But Nathan wasn't cooperating.  He kept calling me for this or that, and I kept telling him to pipe down and take his nap.  It became a war of words that wouldn't have escalated if I had just gone in there in taken care of the situation.  But I was more interested in my game than I was in my son at that moment.  So I let it get out of hand.  I got so mad at his interruptions that I decided I'd fix him good … at the next commercial, of course.  Since he was being so mouthy, I determined to wash out his mouth with soap—and not just any soap, but dishwashing soap.  So I dragged him by his little arm into the kitchen, put a few drops of that slimy, blue liquid on my finger, and smeared it across his teeth and mouth.  Then he looked up at me, tears streaming down his sweet, pudgy cheeks, and do you know what he did?  He blew a soap bubble.  Then I laughed and he laughed and I scooped him up in my arms and gave him a great big ol' hug.  You know, I knew then that with a dad like me the kid was in trouble, but it's amazing what a little love and laughter and forgiveness can do for a family.  I hope there's been a lot of that in your family.  But even if there hasn't, you survived us.  You made it.  And now you get a fresh new start.  Still, however, let's make a deal right here: we won't tell all our stories on you, if you won't tell all your stories on us.

And graduates, we also want to say thank you.  Thank you for being you.  We delight in you.  We are so proud of you.  There is no way you can know the depth of our feelings until you stand in our place in about 25 years or so.  How we love you!  And how we thank you.  Thank you for including us in your lives, your world, your friends, and your dreams.  That means a lot to us.  And we say thank you.

And then we ask you something too: please be patient with us as we work at letting you go.  We've been working on that ever since you've been born, some of us with more success than others.  Whether it was presenting you to the church for baptism or dedication, watching you walk through the door of the primary school for your first day of kindergarten, running alongside of you steadying your bicycle and then giving you a gentle shove and cheering you on as you pedaled down the street on your own, we were learning to let you go.  Giving you car keys on your 16th birthday was another big step.  And now, as we celebrate your graduation and send you off to work or college, we are letting go most of all.  We are going to do it, but be patient with us and understand that it's probably a good bit easier for you to be let loose than it is for us to turn loose.

After all, literally or figuratively, we've been holding your hands for a long time.  And those hands weren't always so large as they are now.  They once were baby hands that squeezed our fingers.  Hands you used to play peek-a-boo.  Hands with which you smashed spaghetti into your face while trying to get it into your mouth.  They were small hands that turned the pages when we were reading you a book, tiny hands folded in prayer at bedside and at table.  And those little hands were the hands we parents held when we walked you across a street or through a mall.

But now those hands are big and strong.  Hands that in many cases dwarf our own.  Hands strong and gentle.  But hands that offer help to others.  Hands that hold the potential to do much good in life.  Hands that hold a growing responsibility.  Hands that will find new work and challenges to tackle.  Hands that will find new hands to hold.  They are strong hands, big hands all right—hands strong enough and big enough to hold a diploma and firmly shake the hand of the one who gives it.   


So use your hands wisely and well, okay.  We will let them go.  But we encourage you to put your hands into the hands of God.  And then, with our two free hands, we send you on your journey with prayers and this blessing—"You are our beloved sons and daughters, in whom we are well pleased."