It was taco night at the Chapin house.  I was about five years old, and looking forward to a yummy supper.  Apparently, I was a little too eager for the meal because part way through my taco, I swallowed a bite that I had not chewed well enough.

Suddenly, the air which normally flowed into and out of my lungs abruptly stopped. A piece of taco shell had lodged in my throat, and I couldn’t breathe.  I must have looked panicked because Mom and Dad both noticed.

Mom tried to stick her finger in my mouth far enough to reach and dislodge the stuck piece of taco shell, but to no success.  They raised my arms.  They beat on my back.  But nothing was working, and my face was beginning to turn blue.  I think all of us were probably crying and fearful by this point.

My Dad turned to my oldest sister Cathy and asked her if she had been taking a first aid/CPR classes in high school.  She had been.  He asked if she had learned that maneuver where you squeeze someone and help free them from choking.  Cathy acknowledged that she had learned it, but wasn’t sure she knew well enough how to do it without hurting me.  Dad told her that she had to try because it might be my only hope.

My face was more like purple by the time Cathy stood behind me, wrapped her arms around my torso, clasped one hand around the other and suddenly thrust that fist into my diaphragm.  I grunted, but nothing came out.  She tried again.  Nothing. Mom was crying.  Dad was yelling to try again.  Cathy was scared, but she gave one more big thrust.

With that thrust, the air inside me blasted the triangle-shaped piece of taco shell up out of my throat, through my mouth, past my lips and hurled it across the room several feet.  I sucked in precious, life-giving air, and the the rest of the family drank in sweet relief.

There were lots of hugs that night.  And Mom and Dad were so proud of Cathy… so happy that she had been taking that class at that very moment in our family’s history.

I don’t know if Cathy enjoyed that class or not, but none of us cared that night because it paid off.  Her willingness to take on the challenge of that class ended up providing her with the very knowledge and skill I needed her to have in order to save my life.

In much the same way, God will often allow us each to go through some challenging situations in life in order to give us the ability we need to help someone else.  Our difficulty can be necessary for a moment down the road when we will be needed.

Your serious health issue may give you the ability to show someone else how to appreciate the life and health they have.  Your financial challenges may help you show someone else how to live on a budget.  Your broken relationship may help you show someone else how to love more.

So if you’re going through a challenging or difficult situation right now in life, respect it… don’t reject it.  It may prove to give you exactly what you need to make a difference in the life of someone else.

When I was a teenager, my parents were not only the lead pastors of a church, but my Dad helped oversee a group of about 25 churches in our fellowship’s network.  It was part of his role to help churches and ministers through challenges they might face.  He had a tough job one year in particular when five ministers in our group made poor choices which caused them to lose their credentials and ministries temporarily.  One story from that year sticks out vividly in my mind because of the lesson I learned from one minister’s journey. In fact, I would say it has partly shaped who I am as a person and minister today.

I had gone to bed after the 10pm news had gone off, but I was awakened not long after going to sleep by a sickening feeling in my stomach.  Whatever I had eaten had not agreed with me, and it wanted out.  I jumped out of bed and crossed the hall to the bathroom.  How can I say this delicately…  I had barely knelt at the altar of the porcelain god when my offering came forth.

Mom was out of town for some reason, and so I hollered for Dad… because I don’t do sick alone.  He quickly came to my rescue with a wet rag, but almost as soon as he had come to help me, our doorbell rang.  I wondered out loud who it might be, and he informed me that a minister in our area was coming over to talk about something serious.  Dad asked if I was going to be okay by myself, and let me know that he would come back to check on me.  By that time, I had gotten rid of whatever was ailing me, and so I told him to go on because I’d be fine.  With that, he left to answer the door, and I cleaned up and went back to bed.

True to his word, Dad came and checked on me after the man and his wife left.  When I asked what it was all about, he told me to go on to sleep and we could talk about it the next morning.

I slept, the sun rose, and the next morning I asked again.  This time Dad shared the sad news that the man had made a series of bad choices which could have cost him his family and his opportunity to minister.  But the man was contrite, and his family was gracious.  For things to be restored, the man would have to step away from the pulpit for a year, go through counseling to help heal his marriage, have regular accountability meetings to chart his progress of being restored to ministry, and attend a different church… our church.  In fact, Dad said the couple would begin attending our church that very next Sunday.

I said, “Dad, what do I say when I see them Sunday?  How am I supposed to treat them?”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Dad’s words to me that day.  They have shaped my heart for people from that moment forward.  He said, “Well, Allen, they’re going to be a part of our church.  They’re our friends.  What do you say to other people at our church who are our friends? How do you treat everyone else at our church?  What do you do when you see them?”

I replied something like, “I smile, shake their hand or hug them, and let them know I’m glad to see them.”

To which Dad gently said, “Then that’s how you treat these people.  They don’t have a lot of friends right now who will just love them and welcome them.  That’s what they need.  They’re already ashamed about what happened.  They need someone to love them.”

In that moment… and in the moments that followed beginning with that first Sunday when I smiled at this couple, hugged them, and welcomed them as a part of our church family… I learned that real love renders people shameless. That’s what God does with each of us… He loves away our shame.  He knows that we already feel badly enough about blowing it in life.  He knows that we don’t need to be reminded of how imperfect we are.

1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love expels all fear.”  Isn’t that what shame is… fear that others will see our junk and realize we don’t have it all together? Fear that people wouldn’t accept us if they knew what we are really like, or if they knew what we have done?  But love overpowers fear, kicks it out & renders us shameless.

That couple walked the year-long journey back into ministry while attending our church.  It was a thing of beauty to see love conquer shame, and I’ve never forgotten it.

So, let me encourage you today to love people who don’t deserve it.  Let your love prove to them that they don’t have to fear what you will think about them or say to them.  Let your love render them shameless, and watch in amazement as they transform before your very eyes into all they can become.

I was about five years old, and it was summer in Minnesota.  Brother Hahn was a loving, retired minister who attended the church my parents pastored at the time. And that summer he invited us to go fishing with him at the lake where they had a lake house.  Dad agreed, and we went fishing.

Brother Hahn had grandkids.  So that meant he also had gear for kids to go fishing.  He had one of those orange, U-shaped life vests.  And he had one of those short, two-foot kids’ fishing rod and reel combos.  I was in hog heaven sitting in the middle of that boat between my Dad and Brother Hahn.  We were catching bluegills, having ourselves the time we had dreamed of when the invitation was extended to us.

That is, till it happened.  I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I just remember that it did.  With my hands, and therefore most of the rod and reel over the edge of the boat, I lost my grip on Brother Hahn’s rod and reel which he had for his grandkids to use.

I experienced something of which it might be my first memory… forgiveness.  Bro. Hahn was probably disappointed, maybe even frustrated, but he never showed it.  He told me everything would be alright, and that I shouldn’t worry about it.  We enjoyed the rest of the trip, but it seemed slightly tainted with my mistake… at least in my mind.

A number of months later, Brother Hahn came up to us at church and invited us to go fishing with him again.  I was surprised that he would want the kid who lost his grandkids’ fishing rod to go fishing with him again.  But Dad agreed, and we went to the lake again.

And then I experienced something else, possibly for the first time… grace.  When we arrived at the boat, Brother Hahn said something along the lines of, “Here, Allen, you use this one.”  To my amazement, he held in his extended hand the very rod and reel I had lost while fishing on the previous trip.  He had fished in that spot long after our first trip… hooked something… reeled it in… only to discover he had caught the rod and reel I accidentally dropped overboard.  It was dirty, and so he had meticulously cleaned it up, oiled it, put new line on it… and purposely invited me to fish with it again.  Grace.

I was scared to use that rod and reel.  I was also extra careful to hold tightly to it.  When extended that rod… and thereby grace… to me, I was determined not to make the same mistake.

What shocked me, though, was that he was willing to let me try again.  I was just a little kid.  I could have dropped it overboard again.  But he didn’t seemed to be phased by that at all.  He believed in me.  And he believed in second chances.

Let me just say… Brother Hahn was so much like God.  God is not afraid to give us second chances.  We make mistakes.  We goof up.  We even sometimes just flat out choose to do wrong.  But in His love and grace, He simply catches what we dropped overboard, cleans it up, hands it back to us, and says, “Here, try again.”

So no matter what you’ve done… no matter how bad you think it is… no matter how little right you have to be invited again, accept the invitation. Try again.  And this time hold it a little more carefully.  This time, honor the extended grace by using what has been lent to you to bring great joy to the One who gives it to you.  Try again!

My first memory in life is my fourth birthday.  I don’t know why it was the first.  But I suspect it might have been the impetus for my love of celebrating.  I LOVE to celebrate!  Birthdays, anniversaries, victories… I’ll celebrate pretty much anything. In fact, I recently discovered a fun website with unique and bizarre holidays.  For example, July is… (Cue Kool and The Gang…)

National Blueberry Month

National Anti-Boredom Month

National Cell Phone Courtesy Month

National Hot Dog Month

National Ice Cream Month


National Picnic Month

That’s a lot to celebrate in just 31 days.  I personally choose to just primarily focus on National Ice Cream Month.  The rest will take care of themselves, I’m sure.

By the way, today specifically is National Culinarians Day, as well as National Thread The Needle Day.  These are like celebrations within celebrations.  Maybe you can figure out how to walk the thin line of perfecting blueberry and hot dog ice cream to take on a picnic with your phone on silent today so that you won’t be bored.

The thing is, there is some odd holiday on every day of the year.  In other words, someone somewhere chose to celebrate something, and made a big enough issue out of their celebrating that others took notice.

Every day presents us with the opportunity to celebrate or be sour.  For example, July 3rd-August 11th are known as “The Dog Days of Summer.”  For those of us who live in the Deep South, we can either bellyache about our clothes becoming instantly damp from humidity and sweat the moment we walk outside… orrrrrrrrr…. We can remember that it’s National Ice Cream Month, and let the heat motivate us to celebrate.

The Apostle Paul encouraged people in his day to give thanks in everything… not because every situation is totally enjoyable, but because Jesus took our punishment so we could be free and be in God’s family forever.

I want to be a person who celebrates.  I want to celebrate people.  I want to celebrate accomplishments… big or small.  I want to celebrate blessings when I am surrounded by challenges.  I choose to be a person who celebrates.

There is always something for which to be thankful… something to celebrate.  You and I get to choose which emoji we will select for every situation.  My encouragement to you today is to choose to celebrate regardless of “the Dog Days of Summer” or any other challenge.  I mean, after all, it’s National Ice Cream Month!

This is my “happy family” pic…

This is my “cute kids” pic…

This is my “yummy food my wife makes” pic…

This is my “we only do fun things” pic…

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Now, if you’ve read this blog at all, you know that my life purpose is “to love and encourage, offering grace and hope.”  You know that I write to build people up, not tear them down.  So, please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to write…

Most of us only post the good stuff about our lives online.  Our social media posts would make people think we never have a problem.  And the more likes… or hearts… or comments… or shares… or retweets we get, the more valued and validated we feel about ourselves.

Truth be told, the mechanics of this blog give me analytics to help me which posts read more… or liked more.. or commented on more.  If I’m not careful, it can turn into one more way for me to judge myself and my abilities.

But when we live our lives based on whether people think we are cute… or amazing… or talented… or lucky, our emotions are going to end up all over the place.  Happy birthday greetings on Facebook weren’t quite what they were last year.  Sad face emoji.  Less people shared that video. Cry face emoji.  Wait, more people than ever read this post! Big smile, thumb up and fist bump emoji.

Yet our value far exceeds what our peers… or our bosses… or our followers… or our subscribers tell us.  We have inherent value placed on us by Someone who never changes His opinion of us. God gave us value when He made each of us unique and special.  He determined that the world would need someone like you.  And He placed even more value on each of us when He gave His only Son to come take our punishment so that we could be freely adopted into His family.

And the great thing about this value is that it doesn’t change.  It doesn’t change when I do something spectacular (and therefore post-worthy).  It doesn’t change when I fail as a partner… or lose a subscriber… or burn the grilled-cheese sandwich… again.  The value God gives each of us supersedes all our ups and downs.

So let me encourage you today to not let how your day goes be determined by what someone says or doesn’t say about you… by how many or  few people liked your “cute puppy pic”… by shares or comments or follows or hearts.  Find your value in the One whose estimation of you has never changed… and never will!

An amazing friend texted me out of the blue today just to ask how I’m doing. No agenda other than to express love and concern for me. No words other than encouragement and commitment to walk the journey of life together with me. I have nothing to offer this friend… other than friendship. This was a bona fide act of love.

We all need this kind of friend in our lives. We need those people who will make the journey with us… through the great times, as well as those times that are less than worthy of being posted on social media.

We need people who will speak life into us… people who will cheer us on… people who care enough about us that they will stick with us even when they are the ones doing all the giving with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

That friend made my day, but they also inspired me. I want to be that kind of friend. Not just back to them. I want to pay it forward as well. I want to speak life into people who have nothing to offer me in return. That’s what Jesus did… and He IS my role model.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times...”. What about you? Is there someone you can think of right now to whom you could be that kind of friend? If so, go ahead and plant that seed of kindness. Down the road, when you need that kind of friend, the Lord will make sure you harvest what you planted.

Today we will put away the Christmas decor for another fifteen weeks or so, and wrap up our new family tradition of celebrating Christmas In July.  So I’ve been reflecting on my Christmas memories as a child this morning.  Many of those revolve around road trips to visit extended family. And when I say road trip, I mean road trip.  Like 1,000-1,500 miles and 20-24 hours of drive time.

We would leave on a Sunday night after church.  We would load everything in the station wagon and hit the road.  No seatbelt laws meant we kids could sleep on the slats Dad had specially made to fit in the back of the land yacht. Luggage underneath the slats and sleeping bags on top of the slats.

Mom would drive first because she was a night owl.  She would get us to daybreak, and then Dad… having gotten some sleep while she drove… would take the helm and keep us rolling.

We stopped only to fuel up and eat.  While we rode, we played all the classic road trip games… because there were no cell phones… or on-board wifi… or iPads… or built-in video players which could play videos or your gaming system.  No, we read… and slept… and talked… and drove each other nuts.

But you know what? I never thought twice about what direction to drive… or how much money we would need to take with us… or whether gas stations were open on Sundays or not… or whether we would get where we were supposed to be going.  Mom and Dad said, “Get in the car. We’re going to see your grandparents.”  And I did.  I just got in that station wagon, and let them do all the planning and driving.  They took care of when to stop and when to go.  They determined which roads were best for us.  They made sure we had all we needed to make the trip as easy as possible.  I just got in and trusted them.

Oh, that I would always treat God the same way.  That I would simply get in the car of life which He is driving, and let Him take care of all the details.  Sometimes I do better than most.  Other times, I’m like a 6-year old trying to tell his parents what time to leave, which road to take, how fast to drive, what time to stop or go.  I know, it doesn’t make any sense.

In those moments, my Heavenly Father is kind and gracious enough to say from Matthew 11:30, “Keep company with Me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  In other words, “Allen, let me take care of the details… You just get in and ride along with me. I’ll get you where you need to be, when you need to be there.”

I’m glad He’s driving.  And since He is, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to climb in the back, rest, and have fun looking at the billboards and license plates we pass.

And oh yeah, just one more time this year… Merry Christmas in July!