Wednesday, September 11, 2013



Most of us have experienced something tragic in our life.  And when that happens, often times our response is....."where were you God".   Those words might be a knee-jerk reaction or it might be a question we know we'll never get an answer to here on earth.  Nevertheless, the feeling is there.

These past few days, I've heard a number of people ask questions in regards to 9-11.  "Where was God that day?   Why did he let that happen?"  Well......there is an answer.  One that will be useful to you anytime you reach a point of despair.  The story I'm about to share with you is a God-thing.  Told only by the one that knows.....     

I was there................

You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news on September 11,2001.  Neither will I.  I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say "Good-Bye".  I held his fingers steady as he dialed.  I gave him the peace to say, "Honey, I am not going to make it but it is okay......I am ready to go.

I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children.  I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn't coming home that night.  I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out to ME for help.  "I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!", I said.  "Of course, I will show you the way home-only believe in ME now.

I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls.  I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven.  He heard my voice and answered.

I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer.  I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faiths has saved them.

I want you to know that I saw every face.  I was in Texas, Virginia, California and Afghanistan.  I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news.  Did you sense me?

I want you to know that I saw every face.  I knew every name-though not all knew Me.  Some met ME for the first time on the 86th floor.  Some sought ME with their last breath.  Some couldn't hear ME calling to them through smoke and flames"  "Come to ME....this way......take my hand",  I offered.  Some chose, for the final time, to ignore ME.  But, I was there.    

I did not place you in the Tower that day.  You may not know why, but I do.  However, if you were there in the explosive moment in time, would you have reached for ME?

September 11, 2001 was not the end of the journey for you.  But someday your journey will end.  And I will be there for you as well.  Seek ME now while I may be found.  Then, at any moment, you know you are "ready to go".

I will be in the stairwell of your final moments....


We are just days removed from honoring 9-11.  The sting is still there...but for how long?  Will the words God offered in this story be something you can hold onto for more than a couple of days, a week, or perhaps a month?  Or will they be something you can grasp for eternity?

Know this...He was there on September 11th, 2001.  He is here today.  And He will be there tomorrow.



Sunday, July 14, 2013


Nearly two years ago we were left with the image of Hawkeye, the black Labrador friend of Petty Officer Jon Tumilson laying on the floor near the coffin of his owner.  It was a picture worth more than money and fame could ever provide.  It was the "ultimate gift" one friend gives another, regardless if one of those happens to be a dog.

This past weekend the small northeast Iowa town of Rockford paid additional accolades to the fallen hero and his buddy.  The following is from Laura Bird of the Mason City Globe Gazette.

"U.S. Navy Seal and Rockford, Iowa native Petty Officer Jon Tumilson and his dog, Hawkeye, will be able to forever run through the prairies of the Rockford Fossil and Prairie Park.  A bronze statue of Tumilson -one of 30 American troops killed in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011, when their helicopter was shot down en route to a combat mission-and Hawkeye were unveiled and dedicated Friday night at the park.

"Thank you to the board for allowing us such a beautiful place for Jon and Hawkeye to run forever", said Tumilson's brother-in-law Scott McMeekan.  The statue was made by Jeff Adams of In Bronze in Mt. Morris, Illinois.  It depicts Tumilson and Hawkeye running, which the two loved to do.

Kathy Tumilson (left) mother of Jon hugs a family member at dedication
I can't tell you what an honor it was to be entrusted with the image of Jon", said Adams.  He said he spent six to eight months trying to "breath life" into a man he never knew.  The Tumilson family sent photos and measurements such as shoe size and Adams read Navy SEAL books, but it was the stories of Tumilson that inspired him.

"Here on this extraordinary hilltop we dedicate this statue to the memory and intensity Jon brought to life", Adams said.

U.S. Navy Lt. Robert Bradshaw spoke about Tumilson's character, too.  He was chaplain for Tumilson's SEAL team.  "Jon was a gift to us", he said.  He was fully secure in who he was.  JT was a man of faith, a warrior".  All of the speakers, including Iowa State Rep. Josh Byrnes, encouraged the more than 200 people in attendance to never forget the people who serve the United States.  "Everyday is Memorial Day and everyday is Veterans Day", said Byrnes.  "It shouldn't be just one day we honor these people".

People were also encouraged to crush their excuses like Bradshaw explained to the families of the 30 SEAL members after their deaths.  "I will never forget what he said", McMeekan said.  "These are the type of men who crushed their excuses".

That quote inspired the GO Crush It 5K Challenge and Operation Go Crush It Collection Drive for military families, which were both part of the events on Saturday.  There was also a meal and benefit concert held later on in the day.  All proceeds from the event will benefit 3 Minutes Out, the foundation the family set up after Jon's death.  For more information on the charity go to

And I should add....yes, Hawkeye made it back for the festivities.....

Family and Friends around the tree of HOPE
This past Wednesday evening I had the distinction of traveling with two of the co-founders of Project 52, Dustin Blythe and Bill Clark, to Rockford.  As part of the ministry of Project 52, they plant trees with the following commitment...."plantings seeds of Hope one tree at a time".

There must have been 30 friends and family members who were invited to the tree planting. was an evening to remember.  The Tumilson family was terrific......after the ceremony Kathy ushered the three of us into their home to show us the memorial room Navy Seal members had erected in honor of Jon.  It was moving....and it was special.  And as we shared traveling home that AMAZING day.



Monday, May 27, 2013


I served our country as a Navy SEAL.  Every Memorial Day I have a persistent, dull, deep ache.  It's the memory of all of the buddies I'll never be able to talk to again.  I couldn't express my feelings with words, so I put on my boots, loaded my pack and I started walking.  With every step, I thought about those buddies I lost.  As I walked, a man stopped me and asked, "Son, who are you carrying?  He understood what I couldn't say.  At that moment, I knew that other people felt like me.....and Carry the Load was born".

Those words came from Clint Bruce, Co-Founder of Carry the Load.  They are impactful and to the point.  And they pack at wallop. So what is Carry the Load and what is its significance to Memorial Day?

The mission with Carry the Load is to bring the meaning to Memorial Day by honoring the sacrifices made by members of the military, law enforcement officers, firefighters and their families while serving our country and communities, especially those who have died or were wounded while carrying the load for their fellow Americans.  "The truth is, there is a disconnect between what Memorial Day means, and how it is observed', said Bruce.

This year the group began with a 2,000 mile relay that began at West Point, New York on May 1st and will conclude with the annual 20-hour walk in Dallas.  The National Relay was broken into 348 legs along its journey to Texas.  Each leg represents an opportunity for some group to honor a selected individual or individuals. The Dallas walk began at 4 p.m. yesterday and concludes today (Monday).  

One leg of the National Relay comes into view for the pass off.....
Twenty thousand people registered for this year's event, more than a million dollars has been raised but it's more than that.  One walker back for his second year is Luke Benson.  If he has a beef with anyone, it's that the true meaning of Memorial Day has been lost on so many people.

"A lot of people have taken away from the tradition, you know, just to sit on lake and drink beer and barbecue", he said.  "I think you have to go back to something like this walk to realize the importance of what the Day is about".

Marine Staff Sgt. Jacob McCormack carries a flag with the names of Marines he deployed with to Iraq in 2005.  Two were killed. On his backpack are pictures of the five Marines killed when he went back in 2006. He and his team were walking at 4 a.m. as I posted this story.....making each step along the way count.  His thoughts on the marathon summed up so, so much to the event.  "It's important to us, and there's nothing like a little bit of pain and suffering to make you remember and never forget what those guys sacrificed for us", said McCormack.   For more information on Carry the Load go to

My best guess is that this event is going to grow in its numbers......and here's hoping those figures are off the chart.......and then there is the Freedom Rock.  Here's what I wrote about in October of last year.

"It's only thirty some miles from where I live.  Hardly a long trek.  That's why it's hard to comprehend any  reasons its taken me so long to get there.  But last weekend I finally did.

It weighs some 56 tons and is roughly 12 feet tall.  It's about a mile and a half off of Interstate 80 at exit 86 (about 35 miles from Des Moines) among the cornfields of Iowa.  And it's one huge, huge focal point for what our troops preserve for us each and every day.  Freedom.  And appropriately it's called by that same name, Freedom Rock.

For years, the rock served as a graffiti piece.  Something vandals used to pen their mindless dribble and sayings.  That was until 1999 when a nineteen year-old from nearby Greenfield by the name of Ray "Bubba" Sorensen came to the rescue".

"It was around Memorial Day when I was driving past the rock when I wondered what it would be like if I actually took the time to go out there and paint it.  And so I painted it with the flag raising from Iwo Jima.  I got a huge response from it that I kept painting it. And I've been painting it with tributes to Veterans on Memorial Day".

Thirteen years later, Sorensen's still at it.  He usually begins his process each year by putting scenes on a blank canvas.  And then the process begins.  Each side of the rock save one has a coat of white paint and awaits a new theme".

And then I found out about this nugget, one, I hadn't seen anywhere. This Spring, Sorensen began the Freedom Rock Tour with a goal to paint a rock in every county in Iowa....99 in all, creating a unique statewide veterans memorial for the state.  How cool is that??

A Sorensen Masterpiece....Again


Thursday, May 9, 2013


You've no doubt felt frustrated and angry about something in your life and said, "if only I could eliminate this from my life, things would be just fine".  And if you haven't said it, you've no doubt thought it.....or if you can't admit to that, my guess is.........that feeling has existed deep down inside the innards of your soul. Somewhere.  That's the kind of being we are.  Prone to wanting everything to be hunky dory.  But as most of us have experienced, that's just not possible. Have you ever wondered why?

Recently I read a piece which hit home on the subject courtesy of  Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling".  Here are her words:  "Do not long for the absence of problems in your life.  That is an unrealistic goal, since in this world you will have trouble.  You have an eternity of problem-free living reserved for you in heaven.  Rejoice in that inheritance, which no one can take away from you, but do not seek your heaven on earth.  Begin each day anticipating problems, asking Me to equip you for whatever difficulties you will encounter".  Wow....if that's not spot on!!!
We're wired one way.....or so we think
Problems aren't causing you trouble; you are using problems to cause yourself trouble.  A problem for you may not be a problem for your best friend.  And a problem you had a year ago may not be a problem any longer, even if it is still present.  Here is an example from a young person trying to make sorts of life.  "In 2004, I was 18.  I was comfortable.  I had money, but I didn't have peace.  Happiness was out of sight.  I thought money would provide happiness, but it didn't.  As time went on, I became frustrated with the endless search for happiness.  People all around me were looking, but weren't happy.  I became frustrated, then impatient, and then curious.  Why were some people happy, while others wallowed in their own misery.  Some were happy with little, while others were miserable with a lot.  It tickled my brain".      

Where our young lad found a "tickle"....many others would perhaps describe it as a "weight on the brain".  Because that's what the days have become to them.....a constant search in ridding themselves of life's hiccups.

I found myself drifting to the Bible for a thought...."who would I think faced one of the biggest problems in their life?"  Let's see.  There was Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Peter, just to name a  few.  And of course, Jesus.  He would be the problem sufferer leader hands down.   But then I thought of Daniel.  And clearly, he made real sense to me.

Many of us know the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den.  Daniel, in Daniel 6, is a highly esteemed government official whose colleagues become jealous of.  Seeking to get rid of him and knowing that he is a religious man, his colleagues convince the king to enact a decree saying that prayer can be made to no God except for the King.  Once the decree is made, Daniel continues on praying and giving thanks to his Lord just like he always did.  When he is caught, his colleagues tell their king and he is forced to throw Daniel into the den of lions.  The next morning, the king finds Daniel alive.  The lions had not harmed him.  The point?  Daniels faith in his God is what made him great in the first place.  Knowing he would not recant regardless of what happened to him....despite the problems he's facing.

Is there a simple solution?  Some would say yes and some would argue that it's a life-long battle....however,
"The best equipping is My Living Presence, My hand that never lets go of yours", concludes Sarah Young.  "Discuss everything with Me.  Take a lighthearted view of trouble, seeing it as a challenge that you and I together can handle.  Remember that I am on your side an I have overcome the world".  



"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight"-Proverbs 3-5;6  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


"When opportunities don't present themselves, you have to look for other doors to walk through", said a confident and smiling Anthony Robles Monday night.  My gosh, if that didn't resonate with me.  And it sure made me inquisitive of what else he might be passing along our way.

The night, was the 2013 Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet for Central Iowa.  It's a night I've attended many times, but none with the effect I was left with on this particular evening.  If you don't know of Anthony Robles, you're probably not alone.  He's not what you'd call a household name.  At least not yet.  He's a former NCAA wrestler who in his final season won the 125-pound weight class while wrestling for the Arizona State Sun Devils.  That fact alone is not so unusual, but given that he only had one leg is.  In truth, that's his story....the past, present and future of what he encounters each and every day.

If ever a mother (Judy Robles) could have said, "I told you so"
Robles was born with one leg, just his left.  And his mother was young, just sixteen.  So given those odds, wouldn't it be easy to see failure written across much of these two lives?  That was not the case.  His mother, Judy, always reasoned things out by saying, "God made you this way for a reason", over and over and over again, until he believed it.  For sure, it was her unwavering push that enabled him to be where he is today.  Was it a cakewalk to fame?  Far from it, as Robles would say......

He's never met his real father.  In fact, he didn't know much about him at all until he needed to add that portion of his life to the book he's written, "Unstoppable-from Underdog to Undefeated".  His step-father,who had served as a father figure since he was four, left the family.....walked away from Anthony's mother and three other siblings because he could no longer handle the financial pressures.  Strange considering his step-father was a pastor at a local church in Mesa, Arizona.  Nonetheless, the remainder of Robles family leaned on their faith.  Somehow, Judy reasoned...."you stay in school and we'll be alright".

It was around this time, the sophomore year of Anthony's career, that there were also changes in his mind-set.  He became more focused......his prayer life became deeper and he depended on his God for strength......and he also kept thinking about his mother's message...."God made you this way for a reason".   Weeks later, Robles placed fourth in the NCAA Wrestling Tournament.  The next season, he enjoyed a 32-4 campaign, but finished seventh at the NCAA's.  There was but one year left.

In the 2010-11 season Robles enjoyed his achievements, going undefeated through the regular season and right up to the final match against Iowa's Matt McDonough, the defending champion at 125 pounds.  Scared....but determined.....and relieved to see his family in the arena....Robles wrestled "the match of his life", winning 7-1.  He had, in many respects, gotten his glory.  Hours later when the meet was wrapping up, he grabbed further accolades by being named "Outstanding Wrestler".   Later would come other forms of recognition through the NFL Hispanic Leadership Award and the Jimmy V Perseverance Award.

Today, Robles is working on a movie deal, serves as an analyst on ESPN wrestling coverage on the motivational speakers circuit.

To me, what a crowd of some 400 saw Monday night had much to do with humbleness.  Truth is, it could have been an evening where disabilities took center stage.  But they didn't.....and after the initial walk to the podium, the two crutches that were positioned under Robles' armpits seemed as natural as a stool.  That's how much he held the interest of the crowd.

Yes, Judy Robles, God did make your little Anthony for a reason.  Just like he has for each and every one of us.  It's our path......much like the one Anthony painted of his Monday night, that we need to find.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance"-James 1:2



****The evening ended with a poem Anthony read after receiving the Jimmy V Perseverance Honor which he shared so goes like this:

Every soul who comes to earth with a
leg or two at birth must wrestle his
opponents knowing its not what is, but
what can be,  that measures worth.  Make it
hard, just make it possible and through pain,
I won't complain.  My Spirit is unconquerable.
Fearless I will face each foe for I know I am capable.
I don't care what's probable, through blood, sweat
and tears, I am unstoppable"---Anthony Robles.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Are we ever truly ready for death?  An unusual question to ponder no doubt, but one many of us have considered from time to time.  When death happens quickly, say in the way of a accident, there is no time to make plans.....touch base with old friends and tie up loose ends.  However, when there is an illness involved......when death is knocking at the doorstep....our opportunity to "square" things is staring right at us.

Last night I received news that a former high school classmate and college roommate of mine passed away  after a couple months battle with cancer. His name is Gary Burman, one most of you don't know.  That's really not the relevance of my words today.  What the fact that Gary did not die a Irrelevant Death.

Peace Be With You Gary.....
When I first heard of Gary's illness in March I struggled with reaching out to him.  It had been some where in the neighborhood of 30 years since we'd talked.  After college graduation, he'd gone his direction and I went mine.  There wasn't a real connection to us anymore, or so I thought.  So for days, I wrestled with the "Should I" or "Should I Not" and looking at the phone numbers for Gary and his wife, Linda.  Finally and slowly I punched the digits of my cellphone.

As the phone began to ring I was filled with all sorts of uncertainties.  What condition would Gary be in?  What would we talk about?  Would I be walking into uncomfortable waters?  What compassion or friendship would I be able to offer?

"Hello?", echoed the strong voice at the end of the line.  "Ahhhh, Linda, this is John Kelling, Gary's old roommate from college", I somehow forced out.  "Hi, John", she shot back.  And that's all it took.  Just a couple of quick words and the rest of the conversation took its own course.  For all the anxiety I put myself through in making the was long gone now.  (let that be a lesson to us all).  The two of us must have talked for five minutes or so as she explained things of what was going on until she passed the phone over to Gary.  What I heard was a weak, soft-spoken Gary....but it was a voice exactly as I remembered.  .    
As we talked, I thought about a whole lot of other remembrances.  Like the fact that our parents were both in the restaurant business in our growing up in small-town Iowa, we were in Cub and Boy Scouts together, he was on the Little League Cubs and I was on the White Sox (two Chicago teams), we both played the saxophone......we got into trouble together (I'll leave that to the imagination) and we both went on to the same college, Mankato State.  We had a whole lot of commonality, the two of us.

Our conversation must have lasted half an hour and in it was some laughter and some tears. But definitely more laughter, especially when Gary related a parasailing experience he had in Florida.  Seems like his fellow employees all got together and sprung a trip on the family to a warmer climate.  Apparently, Gary's son, Joe, wanted to parasail, something Gary had little interest in. However, as the story goes, the driver of the parasail boat had a shirt on with the letters, Y-O-L-O.  And as curious sorts, the family asked what the letters stood for.  "You Only Live Once", the driver responded.  I'm not sure of all the details other than the fact that it was toward the end of the day and the crew offered to let Gary go up with his son.  In many respects, the shirt's "message" couldn't have appeared at more appropriate time.  For both Gary and his son.

That was the last time we talked. And as I hung up the phone, I knew it probably would be.  But that didn't keep me from calling and checking in with Linda.  Over the course of the next few weeks Gary had very little strength, yet....and this is what I find amazing, he'd wake up each day with Hope.  "What's on the calendar for today", he'd ask his wife.

The more I thought about Gary's calendar comment, the more I was intrigued.  How often do we look at each day as a challenge, ready for what's in store?  How important was it for Gary to try and keep his family at a point of "normalcy", when things were clearly close to the end?  Was Gary's desire for another day, another task what kept him alive.....without pain throughout his entire struggle?  Yes, Mr. Burman, that's a relevant statement.

CaringBridge was an especially good tool for Linda (and family and friends) to use during Gary's illness.  There were many days I read her comments and left with a big hurting hole in my heart.  But this morning, as I sat down to share a few words of a life that was not Irrelevant, these words presented themselves.

"As the sun was setting over the lake and began to shine on Gary's face....and into his eyes.....he saw the light and peacefully passed at 1907 (time)......Gary is at Peace with our Lord!"  

'What's on the calendar for today?"......Somehow, Gary, I think you have the answer to that question.



"Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended"-Isaiah 60:20

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


In my last writing I spoke of some of the trials of the mission field....and the fact that missions are not to be looked at as some impossible leap of faith.  It does require some courage, I will grant you that.  The notion of courage led me to suggest a line, "courage sometimes skips a generation".

As much as I'd like to say that was an original thought on my behalf, I'd be lying.  It came from the movie, "The Help", a story concerning blacks and whites in the south and the relationships between the slave/maids and their owner/boss.  Courage was prevalent throughout the show......first from the maids ability to weather tremendous amounts of the wherewithal of a young white woman who chose to write a book about the maids and the treatment they received in her southern city.

What type of a role model had her mother been to the little southern belle?  Well, not much really, that is until shows end.  It was then that the mother realized her daughter had stepped out of the stereotypical attitudes of the town and had forged her own ideas as to the worth and respect the black women should have been given.  In many cases, the maids were more of a mother to the children than their own biological parent.  The mother's remark, "courage sometimes skips a generation" was as much a smack at her own deficiencies.  But truthfully she could have been speaking on behalf of millions of people who let "things happen", by turning the other cheek.  Why?...because their afraid of any kickback to a status in life they think they are entitled to.  And oh, how wrong we are on that account?  

It can seem this daunting to have courage.........
It leads me to the question, "how courageous are you?"  If so, is it something you have passed on to your children? it something they see in you....OR, if you aren't.....why not?

The dictionary offers this nice little package of words to describe the action.  "The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  But it's not that simple.  If it was, I believe we'd see it far more of it than we do.  So, I wonder, why is that?

Author Steve Maraboli offers this response, which is pretty right on.  "People who lack the clarity, courage or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours.  When you change for the better, the people around you will be inspired to change also...but only after doing their best to make you stop.  Live your truth and don't EVER stop".  

And then there is our former President John F. Kennedy who stated, "In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience--the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men--each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.

If I think a little deeper on the subject, I see two forms of courage.  One comes from a direct plan.....going against the grain, so to speak, where you are a risk taker.  The other has to do with a reaction to something, say for instance, the type of courage Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta exhibited in Afghanistan in 2007.  For his actions in an ambush of the eight members of his 1st Platoon ....heroic by all standards, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.  The first living soldier to have received such an honor since World War II.  

Giunta remarked, "In this job, I am only mediocre.   I'm average.  I did what I did because in the scheme of painting the picture of that ambush, that was just my brush stroke.  That's not above and beyond.  I didn't take the biggest brush stroke, and it wasn't the most important brush stroke.  Hearing the Medal of Honor is like a slap in the face".

I'm sure it took courage for Giunta to utter those remarks.  But isn't that what so much of this is about?  When the easy way out is right in front......when Giunta could have taken all the glory....he opted to go the other way.....knowing that his fellow soldiers were equally important that particular day.  Courage is not  something easily achieved.  It takes an individual who is resolute and focused. And those seem few and far between any more.   Perhaps that's why we see it skip a generation. And in the world we live in now, that's a  doggone shame.