Tag Archives: Kris Wood

Passing the Flame

By: Major Kris Wood, Maplewood Salvation Army

I was recently on vacation in Michigan where I was visiting my eldest son and relaxing by a quiet lake with a sandy beach. It was all quite tranquil and serene. A Great Blue Heron called out his daily arrival to the lake and let me know that it was time to hit the water. A Red Tailed Hawk floated high above my head, riding on the invisible forces of the wind; looking for a quick prey to grab into his steel-clawed talons and sweep back to his nest for a morning snack. A pontoon gurgled by as the owner tried to eek one more summer out of his ancient Johnson 15 h.p. motor. He waved, acknowledging my return to the lake that God has given to me as my retreat from stress and reality. I waved in return, the affirmation of a friendship based solely on the time and place. We’ve never spoken, never gripped hands, never communicated in any way over the years except for the passing wave as we both attempted to coax out of life a few moments of escape.

This was my ninth summer upon the lake. In those years very little had changed. I could predict that the college-aged children of the doctor would soon zoom past me on their jet skis, raising high off of each other’s wake. The family at the far side of the lake that kept a beautiful painted horse on their lakeside property, would not be far behind as the kids shouted with glee as Dad pulled them from the motor boat and they clung with white-knuckled fingers to their tubes as he aimed for the wake of the jet skis to send them airborne and to their crashing joy as they fell into the water. (The purpose of tubing is to get thrown from the tube, take serious air and make a horrible crash into the water. Floatation devices keep the tubers at the surface while the boat circles back to gather it’s victims.)

Our tradition has been to build a bonfire near the water’s edge, poke sticks into the red hot coals, tell stories of our family exploits, dream big dreams and burn marshmallows to a golden brown crisp each night that we spent at the lake. This night, the two boys and I were the only ones still awake as the deep night descended upon us. The sky was filled from horizon to horizon with the glorious expanse of stars that make up the universe. One son was tossing a fishing line into the blackness of the lake at night, hoping to catch the big bass that made his home along the beach. The other son was talking about cars and his pursuit of the perfect used car that he could afford. I was adding my wisdom into the mix, pontificating from my seat upon an18-inch stump of wood. It is the earned right of all fathers to take advantage of such times to pass on the knowledge of the ages to his children. We continued the rite of many generations of the family to pass on the stories of old, wax eloquent on the beauties of life, speak somberly of those we had lost, exaggerate the exploits of our past and bond as the men of the family had always bonded – around the fire.

The clan goes back to the lumberjack days of Northern Ontario where my Grandfather cussed in French Canadian with the best of them, used his mighty arms to heave an axe or pull on a saw. The lumberjacks ended each day sitting around the fire, telling stories that were mostly true, and dreaming of moving to the big city, having a house of their own and raising their families in the wealth of their nearest neighbors, the citizens of the United States of America. Grandpa never told the stories that were shared around those fires in the great north, censoring most of the tales from our virgin ears as little children. However, great truths were past down and the tradition has carried forward in the family around the country. Sitting around a campfire, eating food, sharing life, and distilling the family wisdom is a way of life for all of the family members; whether in Michigan, Utah or along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming. It is the way we continue the oral history of the family – a tradition that has been passed on to many generations.

Now, in the midst of telling the most profound experience of my life with unidentified flying objects and the Northern Lights, a deep rumble moved from the southwest and then cracked loudly above our heads. At first, I considered it the warning of a coming storm. Yet, the sky was still clear and filled with the stars, not a hint of any oncoming storm could be seen as far as the western horizon would allow. One quick look on the smart phone confirmed that no storms were headed our way. One of the boys said, “Is it a storm coming, Dad?” I affirmed that the skies were clear. After a moment of contemplation the other son said, “Must be a military jet.” We agreed in silence. I continued my story.

Twenty minutes or so later, my story having ended and discarded as so much late night gibberish; my son talking of having a house on a lake and fishing every day the rest of his life, the rumble again shook the sky. This time it was more defined, sharper, and obviously not a military jet. It most closely resembled the sounds I had experienced twenty years prior as aftershocks of the Northridge, California earthquake shook Los Angeles and the Hollywood area. The rumbles would begin in the distance and then move closer as the sound became louder, soon to be followed by the waves of rock solid earth moving beneath us as we held on for dear life and prayed that this rumble was not the first sound of “the big one” that would cause California to slide off the continental U.S. and into the Pacific ocean. Yet, this night on the lake in Michigan, no waves of earthquake followed. I put my hands palm down against the ground at beneath me and felt no tremor, no shake, no slight wiggle in the terra firma.

“What is that?” the youngest son asked, fear obvious in his voice. “Not a military jet,” the eldest son replied. He arose to his feet and began to pace along the sand, looking into the darkness of the southwest sky. I pondered what kind of celestial or manmade thing could make such booming occur. It was too loud for fireworks – the resounding lower frequencies moved the organs in my stomach in a way fireworks have never accomplished. Jets breaking the sound barrier never shook the sky with such ferocity. Thunder never moved in waves from the distance to explode over your head and continue on to the opposite horizon. It was a surreal, disturbing experience. Yet, given our desire to find that stated place of bliss and escape, we were quick to fall back into our slowly spoken conversations and to continue on the long family tradition. The stories lasted late into the night with never another interruption by the unknown source of the boom.

Three days removed from the lake and deeply immersed in the rat race of work once again, I found a news story that about fifty miles south of where we had been at the lake an entire region of Michigan was jolted by “unknown” disturbances in the air. One man’s house had structural damage and two trees were literally torn in half at the same elevation. Several other neighbors reported house damage as well. The United States Geological Service reports NO seismic activity in the state of Michigan or the region. The United States Air Force reports no activity over south western Michigan. The F.A.A. reports no low flying airplanes and no crashed or missing airplanes in the entire region.

One can make a lot of these kinds of things if one allows their imagination to go wild. It would be easy to imagine all kinds of sci-fi type options as answers to the dilemma of the booms of southwestern Michigan on those days of vacation. However, it solidified the memory of that time together – the sharing of the past, the enjoying of the present and the guaranteed retelling of this story for generations to come. If my sons hold true to the family tradition they will interject their own personal opinions about the noises that filled that night and make the story that much more incredible by adding their own unique perspectives and memories of that night to make it the “incredible night when we heard the strange booms over Michigan.” For me, it is a great and warming memory when a father shares a special time with his sons, passes wisdom, postulates about things he knows little of, and in that moment solidifies the family bond that had been passed down to him from the not so silent generations of the past.


A Baptism of Forgiving Tears

By: Major Kris Wood, Maplewood Officer

On a bitter cold and windy December Saturday in the year 2010, a Salvation Army bell ringer named Derek was about three hours into an eight hour shift when the wind shifted and blasted the bone chilling cold into his face, followed by small projectiles of ice crystals that pelted him in the face and bounced to the concrete at his feet. Derek shivered, and pulled his collar tighter around his thick football player’s neck. A woman passed by the kettle without noticing either the bell or Derek. “Merry Christmas,” Derek said with a smile on his face. He did not feel merry at the moment. It had been a long and bitter bell ringing season and his body was reaching its limit of enduring the battering of the winter weather and the constant echoing of the bell in his right hand. Derek told himself that he could make it through another day; suffering through the cold was worth it when he thought of all the people he was helping by raising money for The Salvation Army. He pictured a little girl he had seen at The Salvation Army building standing half hidden behind her Mommy’s leg as they waited for a bag of groceries from the food pantry. He knew that his bell ringing was making a difference in that little girl’s life so he rang the bell with more energy and forced that smile to stay upon his face.

“You stupid, &$#@#$!” someone said, standing only inches to his left, shouting at the top of his lungs the most horrible of all racial slurs. “Shut that bell up and go home where you belong!” the angry man continued. Derek, a large and muscular man, felt his fists tighten at his sides; the deep anger that only an African American man can understand when someone degrades him once again in such a brutal manner; well up inside of him. Derek stepped back, ready to defend himself from the angry man’s assault. “You heard me, boy!” the man shouted, and then entered the store that Derek was assigned to stand beside for the day. Catching himself before saying or doing something in response, Derek called out to the man, “Sir, You have a Merry Christmas!” With that, the life changing confrontation ended. The man was gone and Derek was left alone standing outside the store, ringing the bell, enduring the cold. Inside Derek’s mind words bounced around, questions arose and his anger seethed throughout his body. Derek decided to do what his Grandmother had taught him to do when someone mocked him or made fun of him; he prayed.
“Dear Lord. Please help that man. He’s so angry. Forgive him and help me to forgive him. Amen.”
Derek finished the day with a vehement purpose to make eye contact with and smile upon every person coming in and out of the store. By the time the Salvation Army van pulled up, Derek had seen customers fill two kettles with money; his best day ever on the kettles. The officer driving the van asked sincerely, “How was your day, Derek?” He smiled and reached out his hand to shake Derek’s hand. Derek hesitated just a moment, and then looked his friend, the officer, in the eyes. He saw caring and acceptance from his friend and shook his hand in return, nearly breaking the bones in the officer’s hand.
“What’s wrong?” the officer asked, seeing the momentary pause in the greeting, so unusual for the usually jolly bell ringer.
“Nothing,” Derek muttered as he took his place seated with the other bell ringers. The officer and everyone else in the van knew that something was wrong as Derek stared silently out of the van window as they drove toward the next kettle location. Derek usually filled the van with his joyful laughter and casual joking with his fellow bell ringers. He was known for his strong pats on the back, loud outbursts of laughter and his huge smile. Everyone loved Derek because Derek freely gave from his loving heart to everyone he met, no matter who they were, where they were from or what they had done. This day, there had been a change in Derek and all the bell ringers rode in silence, disturbed by Derek’s distance from each of them as his eyes scanned the trees rushing past the window.

After all the other bell ringers had left for home, Derek pulled his Salvation Army officer friend aside and told him about the angry man and the disturbing confrontation earlier in the day. The officer was upset and shaken by the entire event. He promised Derek that he would never have to go back to that location again. He promised that all people in the world did not look at others through bigoted eyes, scarred by prejudice and rage, but that most people were caring and kind and would never hate someone because of their race. Derek knew that it was all just a weak attempt to make him feel better but it was not working. “Major,” Derek interrupted. “That man, he ain’t so different from most others. I seen it all before. People do hate people cuz of their skin. It aint nothin’ new to me. Black men learn to accept it as just the way things are in the world.” The major was silent, embarrassed that his words had rung empty, the reality of the world crashing them to the ground.
“I’m sorry, Derek,” he said, unsure of what else to say.
“It’s all good, Major,” Derek said. “I look at it this way. That man needed to hear my Merry Christmas more than anyone else I have ever seen on the kettle. If he didn’t like me then that’s his problem. My job was to tell him to have a Merry Christmas and I did my job. I’ve got to let it go now or it will make me angry just like him, so I’m letting it go.” Derek waved his hands from side to side above his head as if releasing responsibility, stress and shame. Derek smiled and bear hugged the officer. “Put me back there tomorrow, Major,” he demanded.
“You sure, Derek?” the officer asked.
Derek smiled and said, “If I don’t go back and raise the money for the kids then that man and evil people like him win and I aint gonna let him win!”

One year later the wind was warm and blowing across the same parking lot moving spring like air into Derek’s face. What a difference a year makes. Sunshine was blinding his eyes and he rang the bell in his shirt sleeves, wearing no jacket. He was smiling and ringing the bell wishing everyone that past a Merry Christmas. A little old lady, so typical of little old ladies; small, hunched over, wearing a wool winter coat topped by a red scarf, glasses perched on the tip of her nose; smiled at Derek and said, “You are a jolly elf aren’t you?” Derek smiled and said thank you to the kind woman who put her money into the kettle. “I remember you from last year,” she said. “You have such a sweet smile.” Derek smiled his broadest smile.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said. “Merry Christmas to you.” The little old lady shuffled away behind her shopping cart, waving at Derek as she left. Derek looked forward to those moments when someone shared a kind moment with him, as if they brought hope back into a world that seemed to be getting harder to live in and in which to make a living.
“I’ve been looking for you,” a familiar voice said, once again catching Derek by surprise as he stood inches from his face off to the left of the kettle stand. The voice was THE voice of the man from the year before. Derek felt his heart start to beat rapidly; fear made his palms sweat and the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
“You didn’t listen to me, did you?” the man asked. Derek turned to look into the gray sunken eyes of the man. He looked older than Derek remembered, stress lines edging his eyes and dark shadows hanging beneath them.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Derek said. “But, I had to stay here and ring my bell so that we can help the little kids that need help. I wasn’t about to let you make me leave. You can hate me as much as you want, but I ring for the kids.” The man hesitated and stared into Derek’s eyes. Derek kept ringing the bell and met the empty stare with his own filled with kindness.
“I’ve hated you every day for the past year,” the man said. Derek was silent.
“I’ve hated you every day because of what you said,” the man continued. He looked down at the tops of his brown leather shoes and dug his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. Derek kept watching and ringing the bell.
“I have hated you because you told me to have a Merry Christmas after I looked you in the eye and called you the most horrible thing I could think of calling you.” Derek smiled in response. The man began to cry. Long streams of tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks and his shoulders began to shake. He tried to continue telling Derek his story. “I’ve hated you because,…” He paused to wipe the tears from his cheeks. “Because when I was so horrible to you, you showed me kindness. I, I, … I didn’t deserve kindness, I deserved for you to hit me, to yell at me, to do something to hurt me back, but you didn’t. You didn’t and every single day of this year I have thought about that. Every day I have thought about why you didn’t yell back at me or punch me in the mouth, but every day I keep seeing you smile and tell me to have a Merry Christmas.”
The man began to sob again, this time turning his back to Derek to hide his shame. Derek put his large paw of a right hand on the man’s shoulder and said, “It’s alright, sir.” The man turned and buried his face into Derek’s shoulder and reached his arms awkwardly around Derek’s back. “I’m so, sorry,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.” He cried out loud, sounding like a small child in Derek’s strong embrace. “It’s okay, sir,” Derek repeated.
“No, it’s not okay,” the man said. “It will never be okay. I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have…. Will you ever be able to forgive me?” he asked looking up at Derek as he continued crying against his shoulder. Derek gently moved the man away from himself and said, “I already forgave you last year when I told you, Merry Christmas.”
The man looked at Derek; bewildered, unsure, not trusting. It was too much to believe, too much to handle.
“You forgave me?” he asked Derek.

Derek gave his big, kind smile and said, “A year ago, sir. I forgave you a year ago.” The man backed away from Derek and prepared to walk away. Then, he stopped and turned back to face Derek and said, “You keep ringing that bell to help the kids and you have a Merry Christmas.”

Derek felt the healing of tears well up in his eyes and they flowed freely down his cheeks cleansing him of the past, freeing him from the pain; a baptism of forgiving. “Merry Christmas!” Derek yelled out to the parking lot in the man’s direction. The man turned and smiled at Derek and waved his hand high in return. Indeed, it was a Merry Christmas.

Who is Jesus?

This blog by Major Wood is the first in a series of blogs that tackles the question “Who is Jesus?” Read, enjoy and share – and give us your feedback and thoughts as you consider his interpretation of this question.

“Every Time My Heart Beats”

By: Major Kris Wood, Officer Maplewood

I was driving in my minivan the other day, the radio was off, the only sound I needed was the sound of my 4 year old daughter humming to herself.  She was creating a tune that was not quite musically accurate but there had never been a more beautiful sound to reach my ears.  The sound of children singing makes the hardest hearts quake.  It was a beautiful day. The trees were in the process of turning from the green of summer to the colors of fall.  The sky was as clear and cloudless; the blue reflected off of my daughter’s eyes as she gazed with amazement at the glory passing her side window. 

“Daddy, Jesus is talking to me,” she said.  She said it as if it was a common occurrence, not something supernatural or incredible.  I got the feeling that she was used to Jesus talking to her.  “What’s he saying?” I asked.  I wanted to encourage her so that I could understand where her mind had wandered as we drove in the minivan and she hummed her tune.  “He told me not to drink alcohol,” she said.  I was surprised.  I expected her to repeat what she had heard in church; “Jesus loves me.” 

“That’s a good thing to remember,” I said.  I have to admit to being at a loss for words.

She hummed her tune for a moment, contemplating something profound.  I watched her through the rear view mirror.  Her right hand was twirling her light brown hair in circles.

“Jesus talks to me every time my heart beats,” she said.  Again, there was a frankness to her statement that made me feel like she was in constant conversation with Jesus.

I had to ponder what she was saying and still focus on safe driving.  Her last statement hit me as something more profound than a four year old should utter. 

“Does he talk to you all the time?” I asked.  I saw her shake her head in response; as if I were a total idiot.

“No, Daddy.  I said; ‘Jesus talks to me every time my heart beats.’  My heart goes, ping, ping, ping; and Jesus talks to me.”  I had been scolded by my daughter; put into my place.  How could I be so slow as to not understand that obvious truth? 

I turned the corner and drove a block farther down the street where my office is located.  There was nothing that I could think to say or ask, so we rode the remaining distance in silence.  Then, she spoke once again; “Daddy, do you talk to Jesus?”

“Yes.  I talk to him all the time,” I said.  She thought for a moment.

“Does he talk to you through your heart beat?” she asked.  Great question indeed. 

It is obvious to me that my daughter talks to Jesus.  She knows that he is real.  Somehow she has made the connection with him, yet so many ask the question, “Who is Jesus?”  They do not seem to know what my daughter understands; Jesus is real.  I recently asked people on Facebook to answer the question:  “Who Is Jesus?”  I have received responses from all over theUnited Statesfrom people I know well and people I do not know at all.  I have heard over and over the standard answers that Christians around the world give for that question:  “The Son of God, My Lord and Savior, Lamb of God, Emmanuel, God With Us, The Human Manifestation of The Creator God, God’s Gift To The World.”  All those are true Biblical statements about who Jesus is, but they do not reach the place where a personal connection is made, like when my daughter said, “Jesus talks to me every time my heart beats.”  She seems to have tapped into the mystery that goes beyond definition.  In some miraculous way, Jesus is real to my daughter.  She does not know or understand any of those descriptions that people have given of who Jesus is; but she knows Jesus. 

Who do you say Jesus is?  Is it a standard answer that comes to mind or is it the unspeakably personal feeling of being connected, in touch, with the eternal?  Jesus asked his followers who they said he was.  Simon Peter answered by saying, “The Christ, the Son of God.”  (The Messiah).  Yet, later when Jesus spoke to Peter he asked Peter personal questions that probed to the heart of the man.  “Do you really love me?” he asked Peter.  Peter replied, “You know I love you.”  It was a personal, even painful interaction for Peter since only a short time before he had publically denied knowing Jesus or being one of his followers.  To Peter, Jesus was more than just the Messiah, he was his friend.  Is Jesus your friend?  Many people know about Jesus.  Many others have heard about Jesus, but Jesus desired to have a personal relationship with each of us that goes beyond labels and titles.  Jesus longs to speak to you through the beating of your heart.  Every beat, every breath, every thought, every movement; they are all a gift from God.  They tell us that we are still alive; they allow us to live.  At the very center of living we find a person, not distant and unknown but close and caring.  We find someone who loves us in ways that cannot be put clearly into words.  We find acceptance, caring, love, peace and hope.  Most of all, we find a forgiving and welcoming friend.  It is time to move past the religion of Jesus, the things done in his name, the impact his life had on the world and all that those things imply, and find a personal friend.

Get Motivated!

by: Major Kris Wood, Maplewood Corps Community Center Officer

Someone purchased a ticket for me to attend the Get Motivated conference that moved through St. Louis.  Eighteen thousand people filled the stadium and listened to motivational speakers, financial experts, Washington D.C. celebs and politicians get us motivated to make a difference in our world.  Overall it was not bad.  I was surprised that Laura Bush was my favorite speaker of the day; surprised because she was funny, intelligent and very candid.  One speaker talked about how success is built off of doing the little things well.  He emphasized that doing the little things for someone else, whether they know you are the one doing them or not, can change that person’s world.  
I left the arena to go the six blocks to my car so that I could hurry home to dinner.  A cold rain blew from the west and hit against the city with large hard raindrops.  The warm spring day had deteriorated into a cold stormy evening.  Everywhere around the stadium people scurried to find the warmth and protection of their automobiles.  Taxi cabs were lined up waiting for interested patrons; like a long row of ducks swimming across a pond.  I did not have a rain coat and an umbrella was never something I had with me, so I immediately felt the cold, soaking rain penetrate my fleece jacket and chill my skin.  I pulled my collar up and dashed like so many others.  My strategy was to dodge from building to building using their entryways and awnings as protection from the weather.  This worked for three blocks and then when I turned west toward the lot that held my car there were no more protective architectural designs to cover me from the rain.  I walked along a six lane main road that protruded out from the Gateway Arch like a spoke on an old wagon wheel.  I was on the third spoke, the one heading directly west.  Two other spokes went out to my north and several others to my south.  The French designed cities with a combination of wheel spoked roads and semi-circular belt roads that connected the spokes as they headed in different directions on the compass to some unknown ending point.  (Does the road ever end?)The rain was beating into my face and my tri-focal glasses were nearly useless as the rain coagulated on their surface.  I removed them and wiped them dry with the underside of my jacket but vision was still blurred by the hard rain and the increasing wind.  The sound of car tires pushing aside water came up the road as the next surge of vehicles increased speed from the last red light.  Then, I saw something that I wished I could stop but was helpless to do anything about; a man, wearing a long gray trench coat and carrying an over-stuffed leather shoulder bag was running across the six lanes of road directly in the path of the cars that were gaining speed and heading west out of the city.  The horrible and inevitable sound of the man getting struck by a car is the only thing I can remember.  One minute he was running; then maybe a raindrop interfered with my view or my own psychological defense mechanisms have blocked the image from my mind; and then the horrible sound of body striking metal and the sound of breaking glass shocked me into understanding that I was a witness to a horrible accident.  I must admit that I am surprised that at that very moment I remembered the words of the motivational speaker who had told us earlier in the afternoon that doing little things for people can change their world.  I wondered why I had that thought as I ran the fifty or so feet to where the man’s body lay crumpled at the side of the car.  Then, I saw a miracle that has impacted me with incredible significance.  First, I must explain that every major city in the United States has its section where young and old men spend their days wandering aimlessly up and down the street panhandling, stealing, scheming, selling, using and sometimes sleeping.  I was in that neighborhood when the accident occurred.  As if out of nowhere a small group of these street men suddenly ran to the injured man and realized that the next surge of cars was coming up the road with no apparent idea that there had been an accident.  
These young men, often labeled as societal rejects or the hopeless lost, threw their bodies with wild abandon between the on-rushing vehicles and the body of this man laying almost invisible in his bloodied gray trench coat on the gray rain washed asphalt of the road.  Having no fear for themselves two men literally ran toward the oncoming vehicles waving their arms and shouting for them to stop.  All of the vehicles caught notice of these brave young men and stopped before striking the prone body of the man on the street.  “You saved his life,” I heard myself shouting as I arrived on the scene.  A nurse ran from her SUV and began immediate first aid care for the injured man.  I did not know what I was to do.  The young men were still directing traffic around the accident, the nurse had the victim secured and was giving him amazing care.  I was standing there wondering what little thing I could do.  Then, I saw the shaking hands of the young woman who had been driving the car that struck the man.  The hands were lean and slender and gripped so that her knuckles were white from the pressure.  She was staring out the windshield, holding the steering wheel and a lone tear was resting on her left cheek.  I knocked on the window and motioned for her to roll it down so that I could talk to her.  She looked at me with a sort of shock, wondering what I was doing and why I was there.  (I was wondering that as well.)
“Are you alright?” I asked.  The woman looked at her hands and then released the steering wheel.  She slowly nodded her head as reality crept back into her mind.  In the back seat were two boys that looked so much alike that they had to be brothers.  “Are you two alright?” I asked.  Neither boy responded.  They stared at me as if I were an apparition from another time or dimension.  I asked again, “Are you alright?” The eldest looking nodded that he was fine and the second followed him with the exact same head motion.  “Are you sure that you are all okay?” I asked, addressing all three of the passengers.  The woman turned and looked at me.  A tear was filling her right eye and ready to spill over onto the other cheek.  “Is he…..” she started to ask, her voice distant and thin.  “He’s going to be alright,” I said, patting her on the shoulder.  “There’s a nurse here and she’s taking good care of him.”  The young woman sank with relief and then began sobbing uncontrollably into her hands.  “I thought I had…. I thought….” she was trying to say.  “I know,” I interrupted, “He’s gonna be fine.  How about you?”  She shook her head from side to side.  “I didn’t see him.  His face just hit my window… I never saw him til the last second.  I saw his face.  He’s a white man.  I saw him ….”
I patted her shoulder.  “It’s okay.  You are fine.  You did great.  He’s alive and you are all okay.  Don’t worry.  Everything is going to be okay.”  She did not believe me when I said those words of comfort.
“No, did you call the police?” she asked, fear entering her already shattered voice.  I wondered if she was going to try to flee because of the way she asked about the police.  “It’s all going to be okay,” I said again.  “The police and ambulance are on the way.  You have to listen to me carefully right now.”  The woman nodded and looked into my eyes.  “You cannot leave.  You just have to sit here and wait for the police.  You didn’t do anything wrong so you have nothing to worry about.”  She nodded again.  The boys in the back seat stirred with the mention of the police and whispered to each other.  I heard the younger boy say, “They gonna take Momma?” The older boy just shrugged his shoulders.  It looked like the youngest was going to burst into tears so I leaned in the opened window and said to him, “Your Momma is a hero today.  She swerved your car and stopped in time to save that man’s life.  Nobody’s taking her anywhere.”  The boys both smiled a quick smile and then went silent again.  The woman reached up and took a hold of my hand.  Her hands were cold and shaking.  She was holding my right hand with both of her hands and she was looking at me with an earnest longing for hope.  “Did you see it?” she asked.  “Can you tell the police?”  Her question and the grip of her hands spoke volumes to me about her life experiences with police.  I smiled.  “I am a witness and I will tell the police what a great hero you are for saving this man’s life.”  I thought she was going to hug me through the opened window, so I slightly backed away.  “I’m going to go check on the man,” I told her, pulling away; my own personal issues were starting to show themselves.  (I do not particularly like it when strangers touch me.)In the next minutes the ambulance drivers moved the man to the ambulance and several police cars arrived.  One of St. Louis’ young officers hesitated to step out of his car and into the rain before he could slip his rain slicker on but he was too large to pull off such an acrobatic move in the front seat of a squad car.  He quickly threw the slicker into the passenger seat and pulled his massive body out of the car.  He pointed at me and said with an accusatory tone, “You the driver!”  I knew that he was asking me a question but it sounded like more of a statement.  I paused just a second and then responded.  I told him who I was and what I had been doing.  He asked me if I had been a witness and I assured him of what I had seen and heard.  I told him of the position of the car in the lane, the lack of any sign of the woman skidding on the wet pavement, the impact point of the man on the driver’s door, and the state of semi-shock of the driver.  I then urged him to be careful with her because her boys were scared that he was going to take her away.  I emphasized that she had done nothing wrong and that the man had literally run into the side of her moving vehicle.  The officer took my i.d., ran my name, found out that I am a legally clean person and then smiled.  “She’s lucky you’re here,” he said.  “Without an eye witness she’d be in trouble.”  I smiled, wiping the rain from my face.  “She saved his life,” I said, piling on my sympathy for the woman.  “Come with me,” the officer said as he moved to her car.  He leaned in the opened window and said, “Ma’am, are you okay?”  she said that she was.  He checked on the boys and they agreed that they were unharmed.  Then he said, “This man tells me that you swerved at the last second before you hit the victim.  Ma’am I want you to know that if you had not have done that he would not be doing as well as he is right now.  This man says that you saved the victim’s life and I tend to agree.  Boys, your Momma’s a hero.”  The boys beamed wide smiles.  The youngest boy reached out his hand and grabbed the older one’s hand.  The woman looked at me and said, “Thank you.”I’m sure I stood out in that rain for another thirty minutes before the police allowed me to leave and the woman to drive away.  Before she drove away the woman waved me over to her car.  I heeded her call and went to her again.  “I don’t even know who you are,” she said.  Her voice was much stronger and her hands were more steady.  “I just want to say thank you.”  I smiled.  “It was the least I could do,” I said.  “I’m just glad that you and the boys weren’t hurt.”  She looked at me quizzically.  Her eyebrows were raised as she tried to figure me out.  “What do you want from me?” she asked.  I was confused by her question.  “I don’t want anything.  I’m just glad you’re okay.” I smiled again.  “You don’t want anything?  Who are you?  Are you an angel?”  I laughed and nervously wiped my face.  “I’m no angel,” I said.  “I’m just a man.  Just a man who God put in the right place at the right time.”  She still wanted to hug me but I was keeping my distance.  (An angel would have taken the hug.)  “I want you to know something,” I said.  “God saved you, your boys and that man this evening.  None of this happened by accident.  I was here because God put me here.  Now, what do you think God is saying to you?”  I saw the instant connection of my words with her thoughts.  She did not hesitate to respond, “I gotta stop runnin’ from Him and go back to followin’ his Word and His ways.”

“Good for you,” I said, sounding patronizing.  “You sure you aint no angel?” she asked again.  I waved goodbye and walked away knowing that I was and still am far from angelic status.  The police officer looked up from his computer that was mounted off of the dashboard of his cruiser and waved goodbye.  He said thanks too.  I was soaked to the bone, my knees were knocking and my teeth were chattering.  I remembered the motivational speaker’s words, “Doing the little things for someone else, whether they know you are the one doing them or not, can change that person’s world.”  I wonder who’s world was changed the most that evening.  I know that mine certainly was.  I wonder if that young woman stopped her running and started following His Word and His ways.  It is my prayer that her running days are over.  

The Master Musician

 By: Major Kris L. Wood, Maplewood Worship & Community Center

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I was born a musician.  It could not be helped, actually.  My father was a young boy when he and his brother followed the Flint Citadel Band of The Salvation Army as they marched down the street.  They followed the band to the Salvation Army building and there heard of God’s love for them.  They rushed home and pulled their parents and sister to the Salvation Army “hall” where the preacher gave an inspiring message that led my father and the rest of his family to accept Jesus Christ into their lives.  Later a woman approached my father and asked him if he liked the band.  “Yes!” he responded with great excitement.  “You can learn to play a horn like that too,” she offered, “We have a beginner’s class just for you. Would you like to play a horn of your own?”I will never know who that woman was nor did she have any idea what her invitation would do to change the lives of so many people.  My father became a soloist on his cornet at a young age.  He played as the featured soloist all over the Mid-West and even in Ontario, Canada.  He played on a national radio broadcast and won the top prize.  His name was soon well known as a young musical genius with perfect pitch.  At the age of nineteen he became one of the youngest bandmasters in the Salvation Army world and the youngest to ever hold the baton of the famed Flint Citadel Band of The Salvation Army.  He went on to study music education and performance at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.  After five years he graduated with a Masters Degree in Music Education.  He received many offers from around the country to take positions in symphonies and at universities but he felt called to go back to his home and continue the music that had given him his start; The Salvation Army.  However, there were no paying positions with The Salvation Army, so he had to find work in order to support his family and follow his passion for ministering through music and The Salvation Army.

For thirty five years he was an elementary school music teacher in the Ferndale, Michigan school district. He was known by everyone as Mr. Wood.  He taught countless thousands the joy of music through their instruments.  He tutored students in our basement studio and he mentored many great musicians through their education and on into their professional careers.  To name those students would be a waste of time; literally.  There are just too many to begin to list.

However, growing up in a home filled with music was a wonderful gift to me and my sisters.  We never knew a day without singing, humming, whistling, brass instruments practicing or recordings playing out through the state of the art stereo system that our father always maintained to perform at it’s highest level.  The emotional comfort and the strength and confidence that came from full immersion into music cannot be measured, but my sisters and I can testify to the powerful impact music has had on our lives.  Music became a tool that my father used to connect with me when I was going through a difficult time in my life.

He asked me one day to accompany him to the stereo shop where he was going to be looking for a new set of high end speakers.  I went along because the thought of high end speakers made me think of how my own musical favorites would sound.  I could only dream of how the band Chicago would sound blasting at maximum decibels out of our basement sound room.  I could only drool at the thought of the exquisitely piercing blasts of Maynard Ferguson’s trumpet filling my house.  I had to go with my father, so I went along; even though I was in a time of life when I felt that he was the dumbest man alive and had no idea what I wanted, needed or cared about.  He knew more than I could ever know.  It was in that elite sound room in a small store on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak, Michigan that my father reached out and connected with me in a way that would change my life.  My father, unbeknownst to me, had grabbed my cassette of favorite music and slipped it into his pocket.  Then, sitting like a Prince at the side of my father, the King, the music began to play out of a sound system that was valued at over $10,000!  
Best of all, it was my music, not my Dad’s Salvation Army Brass Band music.  My Dad was testing new speakers with my music!  I could not believe it.  He knew something after all.  He smiled at me when he told the man to turn it up a bit louder and to boost the bass.  Ah, sweet rapture!  Maynard was wailing, Chicago was harmonizing and even Stevie Wonder’s voice resonated in a way I had never heard it before.  Then, pushing the limits of any adult’s endurance, I fast forwarded the cassette to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  My Dad closed his eyes and absorbed my music as if it were Beethoven, Bach or Condon.  The voices twisted around my head in a musical gyroscope of sounds mixed with special affects and incredible musical mixing.  My Dad was smiling, I was smiling and the sales man was smiling.  ( He was thinking that he was going to sell a ten thousand dollar system.  It did not happen.)  That day, I understood that my Dad understood music.  He understood it, appreciated it and loved it; even if it was my chosen music and not his.  Never did my Dad ever tell me to turn my music off in the house.  It was music and it was good.  I sit here today thinking about the tolerance and open mind that he had to possess in order to listen to all the immature, misguided and really horrible music that crossed through my years and played over the stereo system he had purchased.  Yet, my Dad never criticized; only listened.  In those hours of sharing music together in our basement sound room my Dad and I forged a deep and lasting relationship.  I learned that we did not have to agree, we did not have to share the same tastes or the same ideas, we did not even have to understand the other but we did have to respect each other and appreciate the passion that the other held.  Those ideas transferred from music and impacted every aspect of our lives.
Today, my Dad is 81 years old.  His heart and mind are constantly filled with music.  He hums tunes, fingers the complicated movements of trumpet solos with his right hand, conducts silent symphonies and sings out the songs of his life.  Each day he plays his cornet, sometimes for hours.  He listens to music, judges movies not on their screen play but on their musical score, writes arrangements for small ensembles, and lives a life that is accompanied by a glorious musical score.  He hung up his baton this past year; after conducting for 62 years. (I must confess that I was upset that this happened, not wanting to let go of the past and all that.)  Yet, I know that all around the world people are singing songs, playing instruments and living life with the joy of music in their hearts, because of my Dad.
Recently, I have reconnected with an old friend.  We have reminisced about many old times together.  Last week we remembered a special project my Dad started in the Ferndale School District called, Summer Band.  It was a music program that families could pay a small fee and enlist their children into so that they could keep honing their musical skills over the summer.  We played concerts in the parks of Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge and Oak Park.  Parents brought picnics, put out their blankets, children played on swings sets, and the sound of music echoed across the evenings of a simpler life and time.  That is where my friend and I first met.  He played trombone and I was playing tuba that summer.  Who would have known that forty years later our love of music and our passion for God would have brought us back together?  We look back to those days as the great days of our lives.  The conductor of those great days?  My Dad.  How fitting indeed.  I wonder if God smiles upon that woman who asked the simple question so long ago, “Do you want to play a horn of your own?”, and says, “You did a great thing that day.”  I wonder if she can see the impact of her encouragement, the lives that were turned in the right direction through music, the souls that walk the streets of God’s glory because she offered a cornet to a poor little boy.  I hope and pray that God has granted her that blessing.  It is because of her that I am who I am today.  It is because of her that the world is a better place.  It is because she cared that my Dad has spent his life as the Master Musician.
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