Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Gift From Ground Zero

A fictional tale of Christian Love in the wake of tragedy.

Kay's Jewelers store manager Mary Beth Fowler sipped on her Dunkin Donuts Hazelnut Decaf as she half-heartedly scanned the morning's headlines in the New York Daily News. The jewelry store, located just a few blocks north of Ground Zero, had a very slow Christmas selling season due to the terrorist attacks on The World Trade Center three months earlier. Aside from the cleanup efforts at the 'pile' of the fallen towers, Lower Manhattan was still in a state of shock and at a virtual standstill.

Her attention shifted from the newspaper as the first customer of the day entered the store.

"Hi, I'm here to pick up an item I have on layaway for Christmas." The young Wall Street executive had a twinkle in his eye as he shook the crisp December cold from himself as he entered the store and handed the store manager his layaway receipt.

"Sure, no problem" Mary Beth beamed. "I'll just get your item from the safe. I'll be right back."

For some reason,and she didn't quite know why, this young executive reminded Mary Beth of someone. As she retrieved the layaway item from the safe, however, Mary Beth completely connected the dots. On this Friday morning, December 21, 2001, this layaway was only one of two remaining for the Christmas Season. The other still-unclaimed layaway belonged to another young executive, Chris Gibbons.

A chill went down Mary Beth's spine as she looked at Chris' place of business listed on the sales invoice: World Trade Center, 99th Floor, North Tower.

Mary Beth stared at the remaining unclaimed layaway after concluding the sale with her first customer and he left the store. She trembled as she vividly remembered the transaction.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10th, 2001 --- 12:30pm --- KAY'S JEWELERS , NYC
"Do you allow layaways?" Newly-hired financial executive Chris Gibbons pointed to a 24ct gold necklace, containing two hearts joined in the middle with a cross.

"I would love to get this necklace as a Christmas Gift for my wife, but I've got to be honest, I just started my job last month. I really can't afford to just buy it now, but I don't want to lose the piece by you selling it to someone else. Can I put it on layaway and make weekly payments until I pay it off. I will probably be able to pick it up around Thanksgiving."

"You bet!" Mary Beth exclaimed. "It sounds like this necklace has a very special meaning."

"Wow, does it ever!" Chris was smiling ear to ear. "My wife Amy and I are Christians and we feel we have Jesus Christ at the center of our marriage. This necklace with the two hearts and the cross in between them is the perfect symbol of our relationship." Chris paused as he looked Mary Beth squarely in the eye. "Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"

Mary Beth bristled a bit at the question. At twenty four years of age, she had become the youngest manager in the giant jewelry store chain and her success-driven lifestyle was the epitome of a fast-paced Manhattan go-getter. God was never a part of her thinking, much less her life.

"Uh, no,... I, um, well, I don't think about religious things very much."

Chris did not flinch or skip a beat.

"I understand. Here, take this tract and read it when you get a chance. I would love to discuss it with you sometime when I make my payments."

"Sure, that would be nice." Mary Beth was lying through her teeth. The last thing she wanted was for some religious zealot trying to slam-dunk his beliefs into her business, sex, and good-times lifestyle. All she wanted to do was to complete the sales invoice for the layaway and be done with it.

Chris left the store in as bright a mood as when he entered, and Mary Beth was relieved she had dodged a religious bullet. Yet, strangely enough, Chris' faith in Jesus Christ had an impact on her, though she struggled not to admit it.

Mary Beth tossed the tract, unread, into the center drawer of her desk.

Chris Gibbons was driving his wife Amy crazy. He was up to something and she didn't have a clue as to what it could be. As she was dropping her husband off at the Metropark New Jersey Transit Train Station for his morning commute into 'the city', Chris' excitement over something was downright maddening. Throughout the prior evening, Chris made not-so-subtle hints that he got a surprise for his wife, but he wouldn't say anything beyond that. And the secret was tormenting Amy!

"Christopher Gibbons, if you don't tell me, right here and right now, what you're up to, I won't make dinner for you tonight!" Amy hoped Chris would fall for her bluff.

"That's why The Good Lord created fast food joints!" Chris teasingly responded as he gave his wife a goodbye kiss and jumped from the car. "I'll see you tonight."

And with that simple statement, Chris bounded up the steps to the platform as his commuter train was slowing to a stop to pick up the fifty or so waiting passengers. Amy watched him until he was out of sight, completely unaware that she would never see him again.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2001 --- 10:15am --- KAY'S JEWELERS, NYCMary Beth was trembling, still holding the unclaimed layaway of Chris Gibbons as she went to her desk in the rear of the store. The memory of Chris' enthusiasm flashed through her mind, but his business address on the layaway invoice made her sick to her stomach. With a shaking hand, Mary Beth dialed Chris' office phone number and was momentarily relieved when someone answered the call.

"Good morning, Cantor Fitgerald" The young telephone receptionist exclaimed. "How may I direct your call?"

"Chris, eh, Christopher Gibbons, please."

"Just a moment, ma'am, as I check my company directory for him." A interminable pause was followed by a gasped, hushed, "OH!!!" After another anguished pause, the receptionist stammered "I'll, uh, I'll connect you with our Human Resources Department."

Another maddening wait, until a very tired-sounding girl mechanically blurted "HR, Wendy speaking."

"Hi Wendy, I'm trying to reach Christopher Gibbons."

"Do you know what department he's in?"

"No, I just know his office was in the World Trade Center."

"OH !!!"

The very tone of Wendy's voice made Mary Beth tremble all the more.

"Are you a relative?" Wendy tentatively inquired.

"No, I have to confess, I'm not" Mary Beth then proceeded to explain how Chris had placed an item on layaway for Christmas and she was trying to contact him.

"Well, I'm not supposed to discuss this with anyone other than relatives, but..." She paused, clearly trying to gain her composure before proceeding. "Chris Gibbons was killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attack. Fact is, our entire staff in the tower lost their lives. THE WHOLE COMPANY!!! WE WERE LITERALLY WIPED OUT!!! All calls to the New York number are now automatically routed to our office here in LA."

Wendy broke down in tears, followed immediately by Mary Beth.

Through innumerable tears, both young women shared their grief and anguish about the day that changed America forever. They shared their experiences for about 15 minutes before they decided they had better get back to their jobs. After wishing each other a Happy Holiday - if it could be possible - they terminated the call and Mary Beth was alone in her office.

She stared at the layaway that would never be claimed in her hand, crying profusely.

And then, somehow, she remembered the tract. Did she still have it? Fumbling through her center desk drawer, Mary Beth recovered it, bunched in between menus from Panera Bread and Mama Leone's Restaurant.

And the tears came even more...

Since September 12th, Amy Gibbons could not bear to stay in the two-story townhouse she and Chris had rented the previous June. The evening of 9/11, Amy was joined by her parents, who lived just across the Goethals Bridge on the western side of Staten Island, and Chris' parents, who lived about 25 miles northwest in Morristown, New Jersey. The two sets of parents spent a tearful, sleepless night with Amy glued to the CNN coverage of the disaster, praying and waiting anxiously for a call from Chris: A call that would never come.

The awful realization, heavily deluted with hopeful denial, made staying at the townhome impossible for the young bride. Amy set her telephone to call-forward all incoming calls to her parent's Staten Island home, where she would wait for any word about Chris.

The wait would be endless.

Amy refused to set foot in the townhouse for the next three months. She just could not bear to see the apartment she and Chris called home. The week of Halloween made the loss of Chris even more unbearable: Amy had thought her 'being late' was the result of the anquish she was experiencing. A trip to her doctor told a different story: Amy was two months pregnant with Chris' child.

This morning, however, Christmas Eve, Amy made a decision: Her unborn child, now confirmed to be a boy by her gynocologist, would have his daddy's picture beside the Christmas Tree in her parent's living room. If not in person, Chris would be there to celebrate Christmas with his family in spirit.

Amy announced she was going to make the drive back to Woodbridge to retrieve her and Chris' wedding portrait, but her father adamantly refused to allow her to make the trip alone. He insisted he would drive his daughter and unborn grandson. Amy gratefully consented.

At the townhome, Amy asked her father if he would wait in the car, parked directly in front, as she nervously and sadly went into the apartment alone. She needed to make this entry on her own. Her father understood and watched his pregnant daughter unlock the door and enter, leaving the front door behind her wide open.

As he waited for his daughter, lost in his thoughts of the tragedy and his love for her, Amy's father was startled back to the present by a FedEx truck that abruptly pulled into the parking space right next to him. He was stunned as the FedEx driver jumped from the van clutching a small FedEx Box and walked right up to the open door of Amy's apartment.

The driver froze for a moment in the open doorway as he observed a young woman inside, slumped on a loveseat, cradling a wedding picture to her breast, and crying hysterically.

Nervously, he cleared his throat. "Excuse me, ma'am. I'm sorry to startle you, but I have a delivery here for Mrs. Christopher Gibbons."

Wide-eyed in confusion, Amy took a long moment to let the salutation sink into her consciousness.

Trying to gain her composure, Amy stammered "I'm Mrs. Christopher Gibbons." She placed the portrait beside her on the loveseat and walked to the FedEx driver.

"Could you please sign here, maam?" The drivers voice was ripe with compassion and nervousness.

Amy signed for the package and stared at it for a long time as the driver thanked her and made his exit. To the young woman's complete confusion, the waybill listed the sender as 'Mary Beth Fowler, Kay's Jewelers' with a New York City address. As she pulled the zip-cord to open the box, Amy's father appeared on the threshhold, equally curious at the reason and the contents of the surprise delivery.

Amy was amazed as she discovered a beautiful red velvet jewelry case and a card inside. Totally baffled, she opened the card:

"Dear Mrs. Gibbons,

My name is Mary Beth Fowler, and I'm the store manager of Kay's Jewelers in Lower Manhattan.

The enclosed necklace is from your husband Chris. He came into my store on Monday afternoon, September 10th, and chose this for you. He placed it on layaway and had planned to pick it up in time to give it to you as a Christmas Gift. Today (Friday, 12/21), I found his unclaimed layaway and I remember so well how excited he was and how much he obviously loved you. Chris told me how the necklace perfectly reflected your marriage: Two hearts with the Cross of Christ in the center.

Chris even gave me a tract to read.

Mrs. Gibbons, I have to tell you: The day Chris came in to place the necklace on layaway, I was living a very wild and reckless life. I'm ashamed to admit many of the poor choices I made in bad relationships and one-night stands. When Chris gave me the tract, I have to confess I wanted to just throw it in the trash, but for some reason, (and I know now that reason was The Lord preparing me!), I tossed it in my desk drawer.

But today, after finding your necklace, I pulled out the tract and read it. And I found The Lord! I accepted Jesus into my heart and life! I know He died for my sins and I know my sins are forgiven because of His Death on the Cross.

And I have Chris to thank for leading me to Jesus!

Mrs. Gibbons, I know this necklace will never bring Chris back, but I hope it will somehow bring you some happiness in knowing his love for you and your mutual love of Jesus.

And it's your mutual love that brought Chris into my store and helped a sinful store manager find the Savior.

If it's any consolation at all, because of Chris, I will be celebrating my first Christmas as a Child of God. Thank you!!!

I sincerely and respectfully wish you a Merry Christmas.

Your new sister in The Lord,
Mary Beth"
Tears were flowing freely from both Amy and her father, as he had come beside his daughter and, with his arm gently around her shoulders, was reading the note along with her.

Gingerly, Amy opened the red velvet case and looked at the exquisite necklace inside: Two hearts joined by a Cross in the center.

As she stared at the beautiful piece of jewelry, Amy's father gently removed it from it's case and tenderly placed it around his daughter's neck and fastened the latch in back.

"Chris loved you so much, honey! He's wishing you a Merry Christmas from Heaven!"

Wiping away tears, Amy walked over to a wall mirror and studied herself wearing the most precious Christmas Gift, other than God's Gift of His Son to the world, she would ever receive.

A gift from her fallen husband, whose remains would never be recovered from the debis field of the collapsed World Trade Center.

A Gift From Ground Zero.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Michael & Michaels - 2 Singers Who Died This Year

They both were singers.
They both wanted to enact change.
And they both traveled the world with their message.

But the change they enacted - and the message they delivered - was 100% different.

Michael carried the message of Michael. He was the "greatest entertainer". He was the "lover of children". He was Peter Pan personified, living in his own Neverland.

Michael Jackson served himself. He was, after all, The King of Pop.

Michael Jackson viewed himself as king.

Bobby Michaels, on the other hand, was a servant, using his musical talents in service to The King of Kings!

Bobby Michaels' named his worldwide ministry Musicianairies International, NOT 'Bobby Michaels Ministries'. Even though he started the ministry, Bobby Michaels made sure his ministry would continue, with or without him.

Today, July 16, 2009, as I write these words, Michael Jackson's legacy is selling, in death, more of Michael Jackson: CD's, tee shirts, pictures of himself.

Bobby Michaels' legacy, however, lives on as we speak: His yearly 'Rice for Cambodia' missions trip is at this very moment distributing hundreds of tons of rice to needy people in southeast Asia.

Bobby Michaels passed away on March 31st, but his ministry lives on.

Michael Jackson died on June 25th, but his self-centeredness drags on.

The most important person in Michael Jackson's life was Michael Jackson.

The most important person in Bobby Michaels' life IS Jesus Christ!

Bobby Michaels is now with his King!

Sadly, for all eternity, I'm afraid Michael Jackson is with his.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Red Monster on The Green Monster

The Red Monster on The Green Monster
(with CAL)
Fenway Park
Boston, Massachusetts
Friday, June 5, 2009

( No wonder all the seats are EMPTY !!! )

Thursday, September 11, 2008

102 Minutes that changed the world

It all happened in 102 minutes.

The Twin Towers that dominated Lower Manhattan's skyline like two exclamation points were leveled.

The Pentagon was heavily damaged in the first successful attack on Washington since the War of 1812.

And ordinary citizens won the first war on terrorism aboard United Airlines Flight 93 before crashing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

102 minutes.

That's about 3 quarters of a professional football game or 7 innings of a typical professional baseball game. It's a shorter amount of time than the length of a typical movie.

In 102 minutes, we went from being a nation at peace to a nation at war.

The first plane hit at 8:46am - - - the second tower fell at 10:28am.

And in that short amount of time, our entire world changed. Forever.

I can't believe there are people who say that President Bush did not react swiftly enough that fateful morning.

I can't believe there are actually people who try to diminish the significance of September 11th, saying in effect it is just another tragedy in a long list of other tragedies.

And I really can't believe we have a presidential candidate who sat under the teaching of a pastor for most of the seven years since 9/11 who claimed we got what we deserved!

Quite frankly, if 9/11 didn't make you a better American, you don't deserve to live in this great country.

And since 9/11, if you sat under the teaching of anti-American pastoral loudmouths, you are not qualified to be President of the United States.

102 minutes changed our country forever.

Do the math.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

July 4, 2008 - Independence Day

The 4th of July. Independence day. The day we celebrate our freedom in America.

I'm free to pursue my dreams. I'm free to vote for - and free to complain about - my goverment officials. Most important of all, I'm free to worship my God and Savior openly and without fear of imprisonment for doing so.

It's occurred to me today, however, I don't know what it's like not to be free.

Sadly, I take it for granted. Freedom is nice, it's comfortable, it's relaxing, and as I all-too-often forget, freedom is a privilege.

But my freedom didn't - and doesn't - come free.

Many brave men and women have fought for - and died for - the freedoms I ashamedly take for granted.

And they're still there today, protecting my freedom.

They're in Iraq, Afganistan, Guantanimo Bay, and everywhere else on the globe. They're stationed on Military Bases, Aircraft Carriers, Navy Ships, and Coast Guard Cutters. They man security checkpoints, ride Humvees, operate artillery, pilot F-16's, and pass out chocolate bars to little kids in war torn countries.

And though they don't know me, they risk their lives on a daily basis for me.

I wish I could say that I would do the same for them.

So today (especially today!), I just want to say THANK YOU !!!

If you know someone in uniform, or you happen to pass a member of the Armed Forces on the street, in an airport, in a parade, or at a fireworks display, give them a salute or a thumbs-up today.

And tell them Joe says thanks!

God Bless our men and women in the service of our country.

And God Bless America!

Monday, June 23, 2008

I remember George Carlin before he said seven words...

George Carlin used to be my favorite comedienne. (emphasis on used to be)

I remember as a teenager in the late 60's, George Carlin was a regular on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" - - - or as it was usually called, "The Smothers Comedy Brothers Hour."

I loved him! Carlin was a comedic genius! I couldn't wait to hear his routine on each of the weekly Smothers Brothers shows. In one memorable performance, Carlin portrayed an Indian Chief talking to his tribe about the upcoming day's events: "OK, let me have your attention. Knock off the horseplay... Knock off the horse play... Hey, you guys playing with the horses, knock it off!" Then later in the routine: "And tonight we will again be attacking the soldier's fort, but it will be different than last time: Tonight - THERE - WILL - BE - SOLDIERS - IN - THE - FORT!"

But, unfortunately, George Carlin changed - - - and to quote Cole Porter:

Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose,
Anything Goes

George Carlin was far too funny and infinitely too talented to have to resort to seven words you can't say on television, because on television, the man was hilarious. For all the incredibly funny routines George Carlin did, it's a pity he is remembered for seven stupid words.

It's a shame he limited his vocabulary.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Tribute to My Wife, CAL's Mom

It's a shame Mother's Day only comes once a year.

My wife is a FANTASTIC mother to our son. She works tirelessly at trying to find ways to make CAL happy and, like most kids, he doesn't even come close to appreciating it.

I won't give specific examples, except one (the most important one): My wife demonstrates on a daily basis what it means to be a Christian Mother and never fails in teaching CAL Sound Biblical Values.

The Scriptual Principles my wife displays in raising our son is especially apparant at school.

We manage the school store at CAL's Bicentennial Elementary School and, being at the school every day, we see the effects of poor parenting in the lives of these young people. Some of these kids are vitual orphans. It breaks my heart.

But it also makes me even more appreciative of the great mother my wife truly is.

So today, May 11, 2008, Mothers Day, I just want to say "Thank You" to my son's Fantastic Mother.

And oh, by the way, I Love You.