Safest Place in Iraq

My brother, Colonel Paul Linzey, US Army Chaplain (retired) spent a tour of duty in Iraq. Not because he was ordered overseas, but because his men were stationed in harm’s way, and Paul wanted to be with them to minister hope, peace, and life with them. Coming within mere feet of death, himself, Paul clearly identified with his men, and that is beautifully portrayed within the pages of Safest Place in Iraq.

He encountered numerous experiences – many serious, yet many humorous – and he detailed some of them in this book.

I had the privilege of reviewing and endorsing the book, and I highly recommend it. You don’t need a military background to understand and “enter” the story; but if you are military, you will “find yourself” in Iraq, and will immediately be a part of the story as it unfolds in these pages.

As the mournful sirens sound off, the missiles come screaming overhead, and as the bombs explode creating death all around, you’ll walk with Paul as he visits the hurting, the dying, and as he helps the soldiers see past the deadly present and gives them hope for the future.

Go to https://paullinzey.com/books/ and visit Paul’s website. You can order Safest Place in Iraq, and see Paul’s other endeavors.

You can also find the book at https://www.amazon.com/Safest-Place-Iraq-Experiencing-During/dp/1642799173

How’s Your Drag Set?

In the late 1990s, Carol and I were visiting her mother and step-dad in Pagosa Springs, Colorado where they owned a cabin on Pagosa Lake. Charles and I had become life-long friends and we enjoy fishing together. (My mother-in-law has since graduated to heaven, and the cabin was sold.)

“You want to go fishing out on the lake?” Charles asked.

“Sure, I suppose so; but we always catch our limit of Rainbow trout from your dock. Why fish from a boat?”

Charles’ neighbor, Frank, had a trolling boat and took Charles fishing in it somewhat often. The limit from the boat was still the same, but Charles said they catch bigger ones out on the water.

Within the hour, the boat was ready, we had our poles, tackle-boxes, bait, nets, and Coca Cola, and we headed out for an adventure.

Frank told me, “Throw your line out in back of us.” I had a new pole called an “Ugly Stick” with a Shakespeare reel, and the yellow and green Rooster Lure flew about 100 feet. Frank’s next order was, “Now, just hold the pole perpendicular to the direction of your line and wait for the trout to visit you. When he hits, don’t point the pole in the trout’s direction; keep it pointed 90 degrees from him. Just reel him in steadily and let the flexing pole do the work.”

We were trolling slowly, and within three minutes I felt a tremendous yank and my pole doubled over. But just as quickly, it popped back straight.

Frank had fished Pagosa Lake for many years and caught his limit every time. He said, “I know what’s out here, and the way your pole bent over, that was a 20-incher. Reel in your line.” When I found the end of the line, the lure was gone.

“That critter broke your line.” Frank exclaimed. “How’s your drag set?”

I asked, “What’s drag?”

Perplexed, Frank asked, “You’ve fished northern New Mexico for ten years, and you don’t know what drag is?”

“No, but I always catch fish.”

Frank and Charles started laughing. No they weren’t mocking me; they just thought it was funny that a man in his 50s could fish for years and never know what drag was. I began laughing, too, and handed my Ugly Stick with a Shakespeare reel to Frank.

The drag is actually an apparatus made from a pair of friction plates inside the reel. The tension has to be set to release quickly to keep the line from snapping when the big ones yank on it. Then as we reel the critter in and the fish puts up too much of a squabble, the friction is overcome, allowing the reel to rotate backwards just enough to keep the line from breaking.

Frank explained drag, and showed me how to set it. He then set it for the trout we were after and said, “You’ll need to adjust it for stream-fishing back home.”

We proceeded to fish for an hour, and each of us and several friends caught our limit of three Rainbow trout. The two 17-inchers I caught put up a fuss and took a minute or two to bring in. And yes, the drag function worked properly. But an 18-incher put up a fight! Taking almost three minutes to reel it in, I was grateful that Frank set the tension for me. Back at the cabin, Carol cooked the big one like a salmon, and it was GOOD! The left-overs were made into trout-fish sandwiches which tasted much better than tuna-fish.

By the way, the little ones – eight to thirteen inchers – don’t pull hard enough to break the line, and I have never reset the drag.

Reminiscing on that recently reminded me of everyday life. Do you find that the pressures of life are too much, and you feel like snapping? Do you feel like giving up? How’s your emotional drag set?

Don’t trust your own wisdom, for you’ll be disappointed.  And don’t give up because help is just a prayer away. So trust in the Lord with your entire life. In everything you do, acknowledge the Lord, and He will guide you (Pro. 3:5-6). You are secure in God’s hands because He will help you set your emotional drag.

The Cracked Windshield

As we were driving near the Salton Sea in Southern California, a blinding sandstorm lightly sandblasted our windshield. Afterward, when the sunlight hit the windshield at the right angle, or if a car came toward us at a critical angle at night, it created a visual difficulty. But we could still see well enough to drive safely so we didn’t replace it.

But this is a different story.

In October of 2016, a truck about 300 feet ahead of us lofted a rock that landed on our windshield – right in front of Carol. In addition to startling Carol and eliciting a yelp from her, it created a crater in the windshield with five or six cracks radiating outward.

What could I do? There is no need to stop. No sense in getting aggravated, worried, or upset; and the truck driver didn’t do it intentionally. Change lanes if possible, continue on course and take care of it later. But be assured: if not repaired soon, the cracks will grow and the windshield will become what I call “spider-webbed”.

Here’s some background information.

The dashboard was created to prevent mud and horse excrement from “dashing” the legs of the driver and passengers. Dashboards on buggies were originally vertical or at an angle, but lower on the carriage.

Windscreens (early name for windshields) may also have had their beginnings on horse-drawn carriages or buggies. They were made of glass, were mounted on top of the dashboards, and provided protection for the upper body and face.

Since many early cars were manufactured without tops, the windscreen provided some protection from the wind as well as from stuff being splattered by horses and other vehicles. In the US, the windscreen became a shield from the wind as the vehicles began going faster; so it took on the name of windshield.

In a car, the “shelf” between the driver and the windshield kept the title of dashboard, and the windshield could be laid down on the dashboard on dry and non-windy days. But the glass broke easily, so improvements in glass quality and safety were needed.

A process called “tempering” was utilized to make a safer glass, but it was soon replaced by “safety-glass.” Safety-glass is a laminated glass that is made like a sandwich: two layers of tempered glass with a layer of plastic in between.

Today, the major components of windshields or windscreens are silica, soda ash, dolomite, limestone, and cullet. Often potassium oxide and aluminum oxide are added; but silica (sand) comprises well over 60% of the material.

Also, modern windshields can have more than two layers of tempered glass with layers of plastic (usually polyvinyl butyral or ethylene-vinyl acetate) in between. This allows the windshield to be considerably more flexible and more resilient to blows from rocks or other objects.

Because of the flexibility and lamination, when an object hits the windshield, potential damage is usually confined to the outer glass layer. It may still need to be repaired or replaced, but the lamination prevents the glass from shattering.

Back to the cracked windshield.

I called Safelite AutoGlass Company. They said if the break was smaller than a credit card and has three or fewer radiating cracks, the insurance companies will not provide a replacement. Well, the break with cracks was smaller than a card, but it had five or six radiating cracks that I call spider-legs – and they were growing. So we set up an appointment for the next day; and while we shopped at Sears, the car received a new windshield.

Wow! What a joy it is to see super-clearly as we drive throughout the California country-side – and on interstate highways.

Do you know that our spiritual vision can be damaged by bumps in life? Someone can purposely or inadvertently hurl a spiritual stone at us and crack our mental or spiritual “shield”. Then, without the badly-needed protection, we become vulnerable to other dangers. Our damaged vision robs us of wisdom, and our poor reactions make things worse.

What should we do? Safelite AutoGlass cannot help us here; but Almighty God can. Ephesians 6:16 says, “Above all, take the shield of faith which will protect you from all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

Place your faith in Jesus: in Almighty God. He will give you clear vision and help you make correct decisions in life.

So, enjoy life – both the rough and smooth parts – and stay clear of those who would throw things that could hurt you. But if you do get a crack in your shield, turn to God immediately for help. Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us.

On the Beach

Boeing 747-400“Okay – we’ve taken Sharon and Jim to the airport. What would you like to do next?” (The year was 2016.)

“What do I want to do next?” Carol responded. “It’s 5:45 in the morning. The only thing to do now is have breakfast.” She was right – as usual.

We wound our way out of Lindberg Field (the San Diego airport) without getting lost. Turning onto the Pacific Coast Highway in the dark, we headed north but missed the entry onto I-8 which would take us east up Mission Valley; but a quick u-turn took care of it. (Don’t worry: our’s was the only car on the street.)

Finally sitting at the booth in Denny’s – with Coffee! – we planned our day.

We attended the early church service where David Jeremiah is pastor. I heartily recommend visiting Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California if you have a chance. His mailing address is listed as San Diego, but the church is on the east side of El Cajon – pronounced El Cahone.

Afterwards, we headed west on I-8, north on highway 67, then west on highway 52 which took us to the town of La Jolla (La Hoya) on the coast. We decided to drive north on beautiful Scenic Highway 101 up to Oceanside.

Friends, pay attention: It’s a beautiful drive, and we enjoyed it. But if you are in a hurry, don’t do that. Highway 101 meanders through all the towns, and you can make more time on I-5 – unless it’s slow-hour. I think most folk call it “rush-hour” but believe me: there is no such thing as rushing down the freeways if they are jammed with cars. I call it slow-hour.

In the town of Carlsbad at 1:15 pm, we began looking for a place to eat and a nice place to stay. (We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary all year long.) Turning onto a side street, we found Ocean Street that looked more like an ally; but we turned north on it hoping to find our way back to 101. The street was separated from the Pacific Ocean by one row of buildings, so Ocean Street is a good name for that road.

Before turning east on Christiansen Way to return to Highway 101, Carol spotted a place called Beach Terrace Inn. “I wonder how much they charge for a night’s stay.” Translated into a man’s language, it actually means, “Find out how much it costs to stay here.” Yes, Ma’am.

THAT was a good idea!

Beach Terrace Inn, the only oceanfront hotel between Oceanside and La Jolla, was built in three stages. The first edifice was built on the beach (on the sand) and was constructed around 1960. The second stage, which includes the current lobby, was built in 1976. And the third stage, which includes breakfast – and coffee – was built in 1988.

Ryan Roark, the assistant manager, greeted me. I know there are many friendly folk up-and-down the coast and throughout the country, but Ryan is one of the best. He personally walked to my car, helped carry in our luggage, and showed us where to eat. Sure, he wants our business, but that is the first time a hotel manager ever helped me with the heavy work. As we walked, Ryan said, “Those who stay here are not guests – they are family. So you are now part of the Beach Terrace Inn Family.” Thank you, Brother Ryan.

Thomas Burke, the Guest Service Ace, stopped for ten minutes and filled us in on a lot of the history of the place. He even brought extra coffee to our room. Thank you, Thomas. These folks really know how to make people feel welcome and important – like family.

In the evening, we walked down the steps to the beach and I swam in the surf. After tiring myself out, Carol and I walked the beach looking for sand dollars.

The Inn’s advertisement (http://beachterraceinn.com/) says, “We believe size matters, so we’ve chosen to be a small hotel with big rooms rather than a big hotel with small rooms.  We’ve remained owned by the same family since the 1960’s. We believe in personality and choose to be remarkable rather than flashy.” Carol and I found that to be true.

If you find yourself in Southern California, go to Carlsbad and visit the Beach Terrace Inn on Ocean Street. You’ll be glad you did. Tell them Gene and Carol Linzey sent you.

Now, where’s the coffee?

Ability versus Availability

In mid-June several years ago, Carol and I were returning home after visiting Jeremy (our son) and his family in Perkins, Oklahoma. We were on highway 33 about halfway between Perkins and Tulsa when I suddenly stopped the car and turned around. Carol asked, “What are you doing?”

Pulling onto the shoulder on the north side of the road, I said, “Look.”

Carol incredulously exclaimed, “Oh no, a fire!”

I was already calling 9-1-1. When the operator asked about my specific location, I said, “I am on Oklahoma highway 33, east of the intersection of highway 48; but I don’t know how far.”

The operator said, “No problem: we’ve got you pegged. Stay there; a truck will be on the way.”

When Carol asked how they knew where we were, I said, “GPS on my cell phone.” (That’s another story.)

Fires generate their own weather-patterns and can produce fierce winds. That becomes a major factor in the growth of wild fires, and is why they need to be spotted and put out early. In the past several years, fires had ravaged that portion of the state.

It was after 10:00 pm, dark, and we had nothing with which to douse the fire; so we were merely a landmark, waiting for someone who could extinguish the growing blaze. About six minutes later, a fire-truck pulled up in back of us. The driver said, “Thank you for calling it in, and thank you for waiting for us. You are free to go now.” That was a hint to get out of his way.

Carol and I didn’t have the ability to quench the fire, but we were available to contact those who could do the job.

Ability versus availability.

Another time, in the summer in 1976 in the heat of the day, Carol, the kids, and I were heading south on Arizona highway 89. We were almost to the little town of Congress when we saw a small brushfire beside the road. We surmised that the fire was caused by a foolish person throwing a cigarette out the window. It was hot, and a lot of dried vegetation (fuel for the fire) covered the country-side.

Cell phones were not invented until the mid-1980s, and I didn’t have one until the mid-90s. With no way to call for help, 6-year-old Ron, 4-year-old Jeremy, and I used a cardboard box, dirt, and our 5-gallon container of water to extinguish the small-but-growing blaze. In that situation, we were available and had the ability to complete the task.

What is the common denominator in those two events? Availability.

Without our presence and alertness in each of those situations, both fires might have caused great physical damage and possible bodily harm.

No, I’m not bragging; merely explaining the concept of availability. The idea is: no matter what you know or what you think you know, your knowledge cannot benefit anyone unless you are available to apply it.

“Available” means: Present and ready for use; at hand; accessible.

What about you? Are you available to mankind and to God? Although an unlikely candidate, Abraham Lincoln was available. God, Himself, doesn’t need our skills and abilities, but He does give us the privilege of exercising our gifts and abilities—what He gave us or enabled us to learn—to fulfill our portion of His plan: thus, growing His kingdom and helping mankind. You may be a computer technician, auto mechanic, writer, pastor, secretary, lawyer, politician, policeman, or fireman. Whatever your vocation, God calls each of us to work as though He (God) is our supervisor. He then helps us to be alert to situations, such as the fires, and directs us as to our part in putting them out.

Psalm 147:10-11 says, “His pleasure is not in strong horses, nor his delight in brave soldiers; but he takes pleasure in those who honor him, in those who trust in his constant love” (GNT).

The psalmist tells us that God does not rejoice in our strength and ability, but He finds pleasure in our attitude. Are we available to Him and mankind, or are we stuck on our own desires? It is our attitude that determines whether or not we are available.

I am not inferring that you need to accept every offer that comes your way. You need to pray about all that. But we can take a hint from Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan. Are you available to help? Are you available to put out various “fires” (physical, emotional, relational, etc.) that you encounter?

Pray about it. It is great to be part of God’s team.

Fort Sumter

Dad was a chaplain in the US Navy and we moved around somewhat. So in my four years of high school, I attended four different schools: two in Southern California, the third near Boston, and I graduated in Charleston, South Carolina in 1964.

In April of 2016, the USS Yorktown, CV-5 Survivor’s Reunion was held in Charleston, and I was chaplain for the group. One day, Carol and I drove over to James Island to locate the house my parents rented and the high school I attended. This was the first time I had returned to the Charleston area since May of 1964, but I located both house and school without a hitch. They hadn’t moved.

Memories flooded my mind, and I verbally relived many of them while Carol listened. (I met Carol in Southern California in late August of 1964.) When my parents lived in the Charleston area, we didn’t visit Fort Sumter which is situated in Charleston Bay. Perhaps that was because renovations, beginning in 1961, had not been completed. But now I was looking forward to visiting the fort.

Fort Sumter was named after General Thomas Sumter – a hero in the Revolutionary War. Built primarily by slave labor, construction of the fort was started in 1829 but was still incomplete in 1861 when the War Between the States began.

There are several names for that war, and each name reflects the feelings of various groups through history. A well-accepted name is The War Between the States. Many northern folk called it The War of the Rebellion, while many Southerners called it The War of Northern Aggression. Some Europeans called it The War of Secession, but the common name here in modern America is the American Civil War. But as Colonel Butch Quick said, “There was nothing civil about it!” Well over 625,000 Americans died in that hellish conflict.

Many believe that the war was not primarily about slavery. As an example: South Carolina’s General James Longstreet is quoted as saying, “We should have freed the slaves, THEN fired on Fort Sumter.”

Understanding that South Carolina was thinking about seceding from the brand-new Union as early as 1827, Fort Sumter was not built to keep South Carolina in line; the fort was one of a series of fortresses built along our eastern coastline to protect our major ports from potential European aggression.

Our tour boat backed away from the wharf and sailed around the bow of the USS Yorktown, CV-10, that was docked nearby. The Yorktown (built to replace the USS Yorktown, CV-5 that sunk in the Battle of Midway in June of 1942) was commissioned in 1943 and is huge; but with its flight deck looming 50 feet above our heads, it looked enormous.

A twenty-minute cruise toward the Atlantic Ocean, Fort Sumter looked small with walls currently about 15 feet high. However, seventy thousand tons of New England granite had originally been imported to build the 5-sided Fort Sumter on the harbor sandbar; and the walls in 1861 were 5 feet thick and 50 feet high. It was designed to house 650 men with 135 canons.

South Carolina had officially withdrawn from the fledgling United States of America, and Confederate Brigadier General Beauregard ordered Union Major Robert Anderson to surrender Fort Sumter. When Anderson refused, the Confederate forces began firing on April 12, 1861.

The fort was built to withstand a naval assault using small, ship-mounted guns, but it could not long endure the massive bombardment from the shore-based gun batteries. Even though there were no casualties during the 36-hour bombardment, Major Anderson finally realized that the situation was hopeless.

Therefore, to save the lives of his men, Major Anderson raised a white flag. Deciding not to capture the Union forces, General Beauregard provided a boat and personnel to take the Union soldiers to a Union ship waiting off shore. Note: two years later in the heat of the war, on September 8, 1863, Union naval forces, using larger guns, attempted to regain control, but failed. Again, the fort was severely damaged.

Ninety-eight years later, South Carolina and the US Government agreed to restore Fort Sumter and make it a National Monument with a Visitor Education Center. This was being completed as I graduated from high school just across the harbor on James Island.

Fifty-two years later, I returned with Carol and the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s group, and finally had the privilege of touring the fort. I was impressed with the history and the restoration. If you have the opportunity, I would encourage you to visit Fort Sumter.

London Bridge – Redeemed History

In April of 2015, Carol and I went to California to speak at the annual USS Yorktown Survivor’s Club Reunion. The keynote speaker, Rear Admiral Mac McClaughlin, spoke at our banquet on the USS Midway in San Diego Harbor.

Spending a night in Kingman, Arizona, Carol said, “In 50 miles we’ll get to Arizona Highway 95. Driving south on 95, it is only about 25 miles to Lake Havasu and the London Bridge, and we haven’t seen the London Bridge for about 40 years. Let’s go see it.”

“Your wish is my command, my love.”

Some travelers say the scenery in that part of the country is desolate, hot, and dry. Well, it may be hot and dry in the summer, but I’m not sure it’s desolate: you should see the numerous animals inhabiting the land. And it is beautiful! Between Kingman and the southern tip of the Lake, we took over 200 pictures.

Does the bridge look any different from 40 years ago? It is the same, but the town has certainly grown around it.

But the bridge! Straight from London, it is redeemed history! When you look at the bridge you are looking at part of London in 1831AD. But you see the Stars and Stripes and the British Jack flying alternately on poles on the bridge because it is also now part of American history.

The first bridge over the Thames (pronounced Tĕmz) was of wood construction probably built by the Romans near the village of Londinium prior to Jesus’ time. Destroyed and rebuild numerous times, Henry II chose Peter of Colechurch to oversee the reconstruction of the bridge, but this time it would be a substantial structure. Finished in 1163, it was the last wooden London Bridge. Lasting for over 600 years, it was considered a “wonder of the world.”

But it, too, eventually had to be replaced. John Rennie and his son oversaw the work, and you might say it was a “rock-solid structure” because this bridge, completed in 1831, was made of stone. The bridge weighed about 130,000 tons. The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, has a displacement of over 103,000 tons, so you get an idea of the bridge’s weight.

However, not having a stable foundation, the bridge sank about one-fourth inch annually. Another problem: it wasn’t made to withstand the heavy traffic of modern society. By 1924, the east side had sunk about four inches lower than the west side. The bridge had become a concern to the community, and they considered tearing it down.

But someone had a novel idea: Council member Ivan Luckin suggested selling the bridge. The rest of the London City Council thought he was crazy! However, with no other viable idea forth-coming, they decided to look for a buyer. Surprisingly, Robert P. McCulloch was interested.

McCulloch is the founder of Lake Havasu City, Arizona – a retirement and real estate development project on the east shore of Lake Havasu. He bought the bridge in 1964 for $2,460,000 as a tourist attraction to his city. But it was a chore getting it to Arizona. He couldn’t just pick it up by helicopter and haul it over. In time, they developed a plan.

The stones of the bridge were individually numbered as the bridge was disassembled, and the plan for reassembly was simultaneously drawn up. The stones were shipped through the Panama Canal to California, then hauled by truck to Lake Havasu, Arizona. The Sundt Construction Company laboriously reassembled it, but modified the plan and reassembly procedure to meet current safety code for bridges. Therefore, the bridge is hollow with substantial steel reinforcement, and was fully reassembled in 1971. The weight of the modified bridge is about 30,000 tons.

The lamp posts on the bridge were made from Napoleon Bonaparte’s cannons, and the bridge has been in two American movies (“Day Of The Wolves” and “Bridge Across Time”). And, of course, it is the world’s largest antique.

In 1960, the bridge was considered useless, and was to be destroyed. But in 1964 Robert McCulluch redeemed it and made it a magnificent, important part of his plan in Lake Havasu.

Jesus did the same for you and me. Having sunk in the muck and mire of sin, mankind had become useless to God. But God, in the person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross for us and provided redemption for “whosoever will.” All that’s required of us is to stop living to please ourselves, ask God to forgive us for our sin and selfishness, live for Jesus Christ, honor God with our whole life, and help others.

And we will become an important part of God’s magnificent, eternal plan.

The Salton Sea

As we were driving south along the Colorado River, Carol asked, “Did you know we won’t be far from the Salton Sea?”

“Are you kidding!” I exclaimed. “How far is it?”

“Driving west on I-10, if we turn south on Highway 86, it’s about 20 miles, or so.”

“I am a Californian. I grew up in El Cajon in San Diego County, and I’ve never been to the Salton Sea!” I exclaimed. “One time when I was in seventh grade, dad preached in Brawley near the Sea, and I knew it was over a hundred miles away. Back in the mid-1950s that was a long distance. None of us went with him because we were needed in our home church. But now I want to complete my California childhood and visit the Salton Sea. By the way, how far is the lake from San Diego?”

DSCN0333“If you get there by driving on the freeways through Riverside, it is about 182 miles; and if you go through the mountains through Julian, it is about 138 miles. But if you get there by helicopter, it is only about 70 miles.”

“Let’s go!” So we did – but not by helicopter.

Several thousand years ago (after the flood in Noah’s time) the lake was approximately 105 miles long and 300 feet deep. That lake had long-since dried up, as did the lake in Death Valley. The area is called the Salton Sink which is in a low area of the Salton Trough, and is often referred to as the Colorado Desert due to its proximity to the Colorado River. The lowest spot is 277 feet below sea level.

Throughout the centuries, the area has alternately been a shallow lake and dry desert plain. Heavy rains and snow runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains periodically flooded the Salton Sink, and one of the worst storms was in 1862 when the area was again submerged, creating a lake 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. That 1862 storm wreaked havoc in the entire western third of our country.

The present lake was formed in 1905 when engineers with the California Development Company were trying to increase water flow from the Colorado River into the valley for farming. But the powerful river overcame their barriers, gouged deep channels into the land, and poured into the Salton Sink basin for eighteen months. The engineers were finally able to stop the flow in 1907. Interestingly, the Salton Sea sits squarely on a portion of the San Andreas Fault.

We turned south on Highway 86. Carol took many pictures of palm tree groves, animals, low-flying military jets, and cloud formations. Looking south, we could see in the distance what looked like a rain squall forming, so we decided not to spend too much time at the lake.

The lake is currently about thirty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide. The surface is 228 feet below sea level, and the deepest part of the lake is about 49 feet deep. But this varies annually depending on rain and snow melt.

We were surprised at what we found. We saw many sand-covered streets and vacated houses with broken windows. We did see a few sandy residential areas with very small town centers, but the thriving resort and retirement communities I had read about years ago seemed to be non-existent. The lake had been receding in the past several decades but more rapidly during the recent California drought. The badly-receding shoreline was salt-encrusted, and badly deteriorated boats were rotting in the salty sand.

After stopping at four locations, I had seen enough. I wished I had seen the Salton Sea fifty-seven years earlier.

Then we saw what we thought was a rain squall. Wrong! It was full-blown sand-storm! We had a choice: either we could continue south forty miles in the midst of the length of the storm to Brawley, or drive across the storm for twelve miles. Either way, we would drive slowly for we couldn’t see very well more than 75 feet ahead of us. We chose the shorter hazard.

After ten minutes of a sandy blizzard, we were out of it; we could see blue skies, and the beautiful mountains ahead … all through a pitted windshield.

But that sand-storm reminded me of something else. If we patiently “weather the storms of life” without panicking, keeping our faith and trust in God, the Lord will bring us through to the “blue skies” on the other side; and we can see life more clearly. 

It Was On Backwards

We lived in the high country of northern New Mexico for many years. At 7,827 feet above sea level, we lived about a half mile higher than Denver. When folks who live near sea level take a trip up there and start chopping wood or do some other vigorous activity, they find out what it means to be out-of-breath. Why is that?

Sea level atmospheric pressure averages around 14.7 pounds per square inch, and water boils at 212 F. But the air pressure at 7,827 feet is around 11.1 psi, and water boils around 198 F. Okay, that’s not a big deal; but when we remember that the oxygen content in the atmosphere averages around 20.9%, a 3.6 psi drop in air pressure effectively reduces the available oxygen by 5%. Therefore, people need to breathe deeper or more often until their bodies acclimate to the altitude.

Conversely, when Carol and I moved to Siloam Springs (altitude of 1,132 feet, air pressure of 14.1 psi, with the boiling point around 210 F), we had a much easier time breathing.

Back to my story.

In New Mexico, we lived in the forest about thirty miles from town. Sometimes we had to remove a tree that had fallen across the road. Many of us carried chain saws in the back of our 4-wheel drive vehicles, so if the tree was too large to move by hand or truck, we would cut the tree to manageable chunks to clear the road.

Tornados, which are common in the flat country, are almost unheard of in the mountains of New Mexico. But one day a small twister touched down and took out about 183 trees that ranged in diameter from twelve inches to three feet (plus tons of saplings and underbrush), and it really cluttered up the road.

Seven or eight of us gathered around the mangled mess and got out our trusty chain saws. I was real proud of my saw. Our kids gave me a Sears-Best with a 20-inch bar, and I could hardly wait to show my friends what I could do with it.

I put gas and oil in it, checked the tension of the chain, put on my safety goggles and hearing protection, and pulled the cord.

RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!! It started up like it knew what it was doing.

I eagerly stepped up to the nearest tree lying across the road and increased the power. RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!! I was excited and ready to throw chips and sawdust all over the road. With the saw revved at full speed, I attacked the tree. But nothing happened.

I was perplexed because my prized saw didn’t cut anything. I tried it again with the same results: nothing. No one was watching, for they were busy clearing their own portion of the road, so I shut the saw down to analyze the problem.

Have you ever felt an agonizing and humiliating embarrassment flood your soul? I did right then. Again, I looked around to see who was watching. Everyone else was busy working, and I was glad.

I had the appropriate tool, gas was in the tank, and the engine ran smoothly. But I had the chain on backwards!

Completely aggravated at myself for my ignorance, I quietly put the saw back in my pickup and did what any hard-working “wanna-be mountain-man” would do: I helped move the logs the other guys were cutting.

How many times have you discovered that a good plan wouldn’t work simply because you did something backwards? Many Christians I know complain about their lack of finances, but they squander their money at the casinos. Other folks make disastrous or poor decisions because they didn’t pray about them or seek counsel. These folks aren’t thinking properly.

But do you realize that God never gets things backwards? His plans are perfectly laid out. When something goes awry, it is us – you and me – who mess up. Proverbs 3:5-6 exhorts us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek God’s will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 4:7(a) says, “Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do.” And wisdom comes from God.

God’s plans are perfect. Listen to Him; trust and obey Him. God is omniscient and He’ll never lead you astray.

When I returned home, I reinstalled the chain. A month later, I did successfully clear the road of a fallen tree. And if I ever get tempted to look down on someone who made a mistake, God reminds me of when I had the chain on backwards.

Joy in Sorrow

Several years ago, Carol and I were in San Diego, California to officiate at a military funeral for a good friend. Victor was a WWII veteran, and served on the USS Yorktown, CV-5, with my father. The Yorktown was sunk in the Battle of Midway, but most of the crew survived. Vic and my father were members of the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s Club, and dad was the chaplain. When I attended the CV-5 Reunion in 2006 in Albuquerque, NM, only twenty survivors were in attendance, along with family members and friends.

When Dad died in February of 2010 at the age of 89, I was asked to take his place as chaplain. Nine WWII survivors plus family members and friends attended the 2010 Reunion in Little Rock, AR. Five years later at the funeral, Vic left this life at 94 years of age. It’s always sad to see a loved one depart.

But the end of life on earth is not the end of the story.

Victor and dad were Christians, and we know where they are: in heaven. Death for a Christian is a joyful kind of sorrow. Although we’re glad they no longer suffer, it still hurts to say goodbye. But when a Christian dies – or graduates – the goodbye is not final.

First Thessalonians 4:13-14 is the basis for our joy in sorrow. It says: “And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died. (NCV)” Therefore, death for the Christian is only a temporary parting.

Does everyone go to heaven? I wish everyone did. I’ve thought long and hard about it over the years, and I shudder to think what many folk are experiencing who died without submitting their lives to Jesus Christ. I fear for those who will yet reject Christ knowing that, after death, they will live throughout eternity in torment. Although God wants all people to be in heaven (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), not all people go there.

But if you’re breathing, it’s not too late. As the man on the cross, adjacent to Jesus at Calvary, asked for forgiveness in his last hour of life and entered paradise, we also can repent and go to heaven.

The only way to heaven is to choose to live for Christ and obey Him while we are yet alive. Jesus died to redeem mankind. Defeating death, He returned to life and lives forever. He wants you to live forever with Him. In heaven you will never have to lock your doors again. You’ll never be afraid or be hurt again. There will be no more death. However, before Jesus returns, we get to heaven by going through the door called death.

What does that feel like to die? Many times our kids fell asleep on the couch or on the floor of the living room but woke up in their bed. In the morning they asked, “How did I get here?” My Precious wife told them, “After you fell asleep, your father picked you up and took you to your room.”

That’s what death is like for the Christian. Whether we leave this life because of sickness, an accident, or old age; we merely fall asleep here in our “living room”, but we wake up in Heaven because our Father takes us to our new home. A Christian should never fear death. For the Christian, there can be joy in sorrow.

Are you living the way God wants you to live? If you died today would you go through the door that I call LIFE and live with Jesus, or go through the other door? Is there anything you need to ask God to forgive you for? Don’t be afraid to talk to God about it. He loves you very much and wants to forgive you. He wants you in Heaven with Him (2 Peter 3:9).

Victor and dad were shipmates and friends in this life, and they are continuing their friendship in heaven. Who knows: they may be visiting together right now. I’ll be in heaven sometime in the future, and I hope to see you there.