Comfort Dogs Bring Comfort and Healing to the Grieving in Boston and Texas

K-9 Comfort Dogs Ruthie and Luther, along with team members Rich and Dona Martin, visit with Lee Ann Yanni, a survivor of the bombings in Boston, just before she underwent surgery to repair her shattered leg.

After ministering to those shaken by the bombings along the route of the Boston Marathon, specially trained therapy dogs have been deployed to help those struggling to recover from the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

The dogs and their handlers are members of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog team that is headquartered just outside of Chicago. In Boston and in Texas, these Golden Retrievers and their handlers have come alongside victims, families, first responders, medical personnel, public works employees, school children and just folks on the streets who are in need of some unconditional love, non-judgmental ears, and what Tim Hetzner, President of the LCC calls, “furry counseling.”

Tim Hetzner, President of Lutheran Church Charities. Photo provided by LCC.
Tim Hetzner, President of Lutheran Church Charities

In Episode 24 of my program, On the Road with Mac and Molly on Pet Life Radio, I speak with Tim Hetzner, who is leading the team in West, Texas and who was also with the team deployed to Boston. Tim shares stories from the ministry in these cities and recounts how the dogs have been able to break through to help people move toward healing. Often, individuals will begin by petting the dogs and hugging them. Then the tears and the worry-filled and pain-filled words follow.

Luther and Ruthie, bags packed, ready to deploy
Luther and Ruthie, bags packed, ready to deploy

While in Boston, the team spent time working at the First Lutheran Church that sits very near the finish line of the Marathon. The Wednesday Night Runners’ Club of Boston, most of whom were marathoners from Monday’s race, were among those who came by to talk through the events of the week and to work through their thoughts and feelings together as a group with the K-9 Comfort Dogs. Wherever the team went they helped provide a respite area, a place to step away from the fear and sadness to work through the healing process individually or in groups.

Bringing comfort

Home base for the team in Texas is Waco’s St. Paul Lutheran Church but a good bit of the ministry has been done in the local schools and with university students shaken to the core by the disaster.

Each of the dogs in the program, including those deployed to Boston and Texas, has its own Facebook page. Home page for the program is:

For more information on the Comfort Dogs visit:

Listen to my interview with Tim Hetzner on Pet Life Radio’s On the Road with Mac and Molly at:

All photos provided by Lutheran Church Charities.

Virus-infected Strawberry Plants Affecting Crops in Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic U.S.

Healthy strawberries…scrumptious-good eating!

We spent Sunday afternoon picking strawberries at a delightful family-owned farm on the coast of North Carolina. As we were paying for our basket of delectables, we learned from the owner that it cost $50,000 to plant his five acres and that this season’s crop is the worst he’s seen in 15 years.

The reason for the low yield? He and other farmers in this state purchased plants from Canada that came with a virus. He had to destroy all of the infected plants to keep his healthy plants healthy. And now he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to afford to plant again this fall for harvesting next spring. No compensation is expected from the Canadian farm that sold the plants and he expects no help from the governments of the United States or Canada.

According to the CBC News, reporting on April 11: “Nova Scotia’s multi-million dollar strawberry industry is under attack from a mutant pest. An insect-borne plant illness has been detected in an area just north of Truro. The area is responsible for about 40 per cent of the province’s $17 million industry. The new virus — the result of two known viruses [the Strawberry Mild Yellow Edge Virus and the Strawberry Mottle Virus] combining into a new, mutated form — are spread by the strawberry aphid. The strawberry aphid is a small, soft bodied insect that siphons plant sap. The virus weakens plants to the point where the berries themselves are undesirably small, or the plant fails to produce berries altogether. About 81 hectares [approximately 200 acres] of strawberry fields are being plowed under or having plants cut out of the ground.”

Earlier this month, The Raleigh News and Observer reported that two Canadian breeders [in the Great Valley area of Nova Scotia] unknowingly distributed 18 million of these virus-infected strawberry plants to farmers in about a dozen states. On April 11, The Times-News, out of Burlington, North Carolina, reported that “within four to six weeks of planting last fall, a number of strawberry producers in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States began noticing poor growth in their fields.”

Chuck Johnson, an Extension Plant Pathologist, in a February communication to strawberry growers in Virginia, reported that “all of the infected plants were originally sourced from one nursery in the Great Valley area . . . but four different vendors grew out tips from that same nursery.”

Strawberry field
Strawberry field

“Once infected, plants are infected for life, and every cell in an infected plant will eventually contain virus,” Johnson concluded. “There are no ‘silver bullets’ or miracle cures, despite what some may claim. Infected plants can’t be saved, although growers could see some improvement in their appearance and growth between now and harvest. We don’t know why that is, so we don’t know how to promote it. This means that growers with infected plants should focus on preventing spread to healthy plants.”

Barclay Poling, a North Carolina State University Extension strawberry specialist has predicted that the viruses’ impact on North Carolina strawberry plants will be minimal with four percent fewer strawberries grown in the state and only 12 percent of the state’s 1,600 acres used to produce strawberries affected. He projects the state will produce 27.6 million strawberries in 2013 as compared to 28.8 million strawberries last year.

News of the virus reminded me again of how important it is for folks to support their local farmers. We can read statistics in a newspaper and never consider that behind those statistics are real people trying to eke out a living from the soil. Such a critically important and honorable line of work but so difficult. So much depends on so much that is out of one’s control.


IMG_0801“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forest. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.” – Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: Love. They must do it for love.’ Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide.” – Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food

More scenes from the farm follow (click on the first photo to see enlargements; all photos by Donna Hailson):

George Beverly Shea: A Life Lived “On Pitch”

George Beverly Shea. Photo by BGEA. Used with permission.
George Beverly Shea
Photo by BGEA
Used with permission

Beloved gospel singer George Beverly Shea, 104, of Montreat, N.C., soloist of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, died Tuesday evening following a brief illness. News of his passing has taken me back in memory 22 years.

In 1991, the Graham Association created a profile of my life and ministry for airing during one of the crusade telecasts. I was just starting my work for the Lord and I was stunned to learn that my profile would be the second in a series that began with that of baseballer Dave Dravecky.

Graham’s message for that program was entitled “Who Is Jesus?” I can still hear the voice of Cliff Barrows introducing my segment. And, of course, George Beverly Shea’s comforting bass-baritone filled and lifted the hearts of those in the stadium seats at the Meadowlands in New Jersey along with the hearts of those listening from their seats at home.

The Graham Association, in announcing the passing of Mr. Shea, noted that since he first sang for Graham in 1943 on the Chicago radio hymn program, “Songs in the Night,” this dear man had “faithfully carried the Gospel in song to every continent and every state in the Union. Graham’s senior by ten years, Shea devotedly preceded the evangelist in song in nearly every Crusade over the span of more than one-half century.”

Born in Winchester, Ontario, the son of a Wesleyan minister, it was in the choir of his father’s church that he first sang publicly. He went on to perform live before an estimated 200 million people and he recorded more than 70 albums. The New York Times, in a reflection, noted that, “Of the hundreds of songs he sang, Mr. Shea was most closely identified with “How Great Thou Art,” a hymn that became the de facto anthem of Mr. Graham’s ministry.”

Other songs for which he was known include “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” for which he composed the music, and “The Wonder of It All,” for which he wrote words and music. He was the recipient of ten Grammy nominations and a Grammy Award in 1965, and he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011. He was a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1978) and was inducted into the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in February 1996. Shea was also inducted into the inaugural class of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ “Hall of Faith” in 2008.

George Beverly Shea, 104! What a long and blessed life he led! Cliff Barrows celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this month and Billy Graham’s 95th will arrive in November. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to the Lord for these men. As I sit here reflecting, I realize that – in SO many ways – my life has been what it has been because of what the Lord has done for me and in me through them.

I’ve mentioned the telecast profile but, what is far more important to note, is that I came to faith in Jesus Christ at a Graham Crusade at Nickerson Field in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Graham’s signature is on my Master of Divinity diploma from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; he was one of that institution’s founders and chairman of the seminary’s board during my years there. As a student, I was required to train in and engage in evangelism through one of the BGEA phone centers that was activated each time a Crusade aired. Later, I served as a visiting professor in evangelism and urban ministry at Gordon Conwell and required the same training and engagement of my students. I contributed to The Billy Graham Christian Workers’ Handbook and worked with the BGEA on a film for use in the telephone training centers. I was a delegate to Lausanne II (Manila, the Philippines, 1989), one of the series of events called by the Lausanne Movement, which was founded by Billy Graham. I am a Christianity Today Book of the Year honoree and Billy Graham founded that magazine. I was one of the first students invited to participate in the Arrow Leadership Program, founded by Billy Graham’s brother-in-law, Leighton Ford. The list of life intersections goes on and on: I am a product of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Graham said at Shea’s 100th birthday celebration in February 2009 that he couldn’t have had a ministry without Shea. And I certainly can’t imagine what kind of ministry, if any, I might have had without Billy Graham, George Beverly Shea and others who are and have been part of the wonderful BGEA team. For how many thousands (millions, perhaps?) might this have been so? But, the Lord, in His great providence, called these precious men to His service and we are all the richer for it!

In 1998, Shea told The St. Petersburg Times: “I hope that when I die, they put on my tombstone, ‘He was always on pitch.’”

To be “on pitch,” you must follow the correct frequency, you must sing true. From the perspective of many, including this writer, George Beverly Shea lived his life on pitch.

The Wonder of It All

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,

The wonder as sunrise I see;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul

Is the wonder that God loves me.


O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!

Just to think that God loves me.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!

Just to think that God loves me.

Verse 2

There’s the wonder of springtime and harvest,

The sky, the stars, the sun;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul

Is a wonder that’s only begun.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your much-loved George Beverly Shea, whose music has thrilled our souls and reminded us of the wonder of your great love for us all!

Featured image: George Beverly Shea by BGEA. Used with permission.

Pawsitive Partners Prison Program

Hug Goodbye
Hug Goodbye

In Episode 25 of On the Road with Mac and Molly, the focus is on the Pawsitive Partners Prison Program, which is operated under the umbrella of Monty’s Home. This North Carolina-based organization was inspired into being by the love and generous spirit of Monty, a dearly loved therapy dog and canine star who brought sunshine into the lives of many. After Monty succumbed to cancer, his human companion, Barb Raab, created an organization in his memory and today, through Monty’s Home, sunshine continues to be shed on dogs and human beings through efforts like the Pawsitive Partners Prison Program.

In this effort, volunteers select dogs from kill shelters to undergo training in preparation for adoption into permanent homes. After undergoing temperament evaluations, heartworm testing, spaying/neutering, microchipping and vaccinations, each new “class” of dogs moves into the Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw where they are trained by specially-screened inmates over a period of nine weeks. Upon graduation, the dogs go home to their adoptive families.

saving changing bannerNearly 100 dogs have been successfully placed in loving homes and preliminary nationwide studies are suggesting that the recidivism rate of inmates participating in programs of this type is significantly reduced. Pawsitive Partners is credited with not only saving the lives of canines but saving the lives of humans as well.

I’m looking forward to being with the volunteers as they choose the next “class” of dogs. I also expect to observe some of the training and to be present for an upcoming graduation ceremony.

You can listen to my interview with Barb Raab on Pet Life Radio’s On the Road with Mac and Molly at

Featured image: Stormy, Chilly, Misty, Thunder and Breezy taking a bow with their primary trainers, Timothy J., David S., Tony J., William B. and Derrick M. All photos provided by Monty’s Home.

All five bow.
Stormy, Chilly, Misty, Thunder and Breezy taking a bow with their primary trainers, Timothy J., David S., Tony J., William B. and Derrick M.

Oscillating Mascaras and Fish-Finding Watches

Matthew 25:14-30

I used to be a mall rat. Not anymore. Now — only when absolutely necessary – do I drag myself to one of the mega shopping complexes. Then I run in, get what I need and run out. However . . .

Some time ago – as I was running out — something caught my eye that stopped me in my tracks. It was a display for a new product: oscillating mascara. Oscillating mascara? Yep. Lancome and some other cosmetic lines are now marketing battery-powered mascara. Jean-Louis Gueret, creator of mascara brushes for Lancome, said he came up with the idea for oscillation after watching makeup artists at work. While applying mascara, their hands move in a zigzag pattern. So to best emulate the movement, Gueret explained, he came up with a flexible, polymer-based mascara brush that vibrates along its longitude at 7,000 micro-oscillations a second. To launch the battery-powered movement, one presses lightly on an area of the mascara’s outer tube that turns on a three-centimeter motor.

Gueret said that, as the mascara brush vibrates against eyelashes, they become “organized” and evenly coated with a mascara formula that also extends, curls, shapes and makes lashes seem thicker.

Well, I just stood there in the aisle . . . riveted and then I burst into great gales of laughter. But now I feel like crying. There, in front of me, was a perfect example of being acted upon vs. acting. Now, you can take a stick, put it up to your eye and voila!  Perfectly organized eyelashes.

Segue. I have some pretty distinct memories of fishing with my Dad. And whether it was dropping a line from a pier or from a rowboat in the middle of the lake, it’s my recollection that a good bit of the enjoyment of fishing was in using our human senses to find the fish. The big question, the big mystery: where were the fish biting?

Today, all of the guesswork and sense work has been taken out of the equation because now recreational fisherman can purchase a fish finder akin to those used by the huge commercial operations. The device is worn on your wrist and doubles as a working wristwatch. The instrument’s sonar sensor reads to a depth of 120 feet and operates in a wide 75-foot remote radius, transmitting real-time views of fish to the 1 1/4″ LCD display. Come on! Talk about shooting fish in a barrel! Where’s the fairness in that? Where’s the fun in that?

The more I look around today, the more I see a good bit of our culture heading toward Wall-E-ism. A key plot point in this animated movie (released in 2008) centered on the creator’s vision of what would become of humankind after 700 years of having everything done for them. The picture wasn’t pretty: human beings as useless baby blobs being acted upon, not acting. Wall-E warns us of the dangers of rampant consumerism and presages what can happen to the Earth when human beings abandon their responsibility for stewardship.

Now, working off of this intro, I’d like to ask you some questions: Will you settle for being acted upon or will you act? Are you using, will you use, your God-given talents or will you bury them? Will you be a good steward of what the Lord has given to you or will you abandon that responsibility?

To get a grasp on how important the stewardship of our talents might be, let’s look to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25. There we read:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

I’ve researched the contemporary equivalent of the biblical talent and have come up with a range of estimates. In one place, I read that one talent was a worker’s average income for anywhere from three to 38 years worth of work. So, if we come somewhere in between and say 15 years, five talents would be the income for 75 years of labor, two talents the income for thirty years of labor. In another place, the author calculated today’s value by drawing from the talent as used in military pay. During the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece, a talent was the amount of silver needed to pay the crew of a trireme (a warship powered by 170 plus oarsmen) for one month. Hellenistic mercenaries were commonly paid one drachma for every day of service; 6,000 drachma made a talent. Based on this fact, assuming a crew of roughly 200 rowers paid at the basic pay rate of a junior enlisted member of the US armed forces, a talent would be worth nearly $300,000.

Bottom line here: the talent was an enormous sum of money.

But, for our purposes today, let us think of the talent as not just a measure of finances but a measure of the amount of gifts, resources and abilities that God has given to each one of us. In our story, all three individuals were given good gifts. All three were given good talents and resources. Not one of these servants earned the resources or talents that they were given. We need to understand that all of the talents were pure gifts from the giver of gifts: God. Not one talent was earned nor deserved.

The one who had received the five talents put them to use, went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. This individual was industrious with what had been entrusted to him and he doubled what he had. In the same way, the one who had the two talents put those talents to use and he doubled what he had.

Notice that the “five talent” person and the “two talent” person did not get into psychological games about who had the most talents. They didn’t get into verbal jousting with one saying, “I am superior because God gave me five talents,” or the other bemoaning, “I am half as good because God gave me two talents.” There were no “comparison games” being played here.

Both individuals realized that the one who had given them resources expected them to use those resources for His glory. That was simple and clear. They had to turn in an account of how they had used the gifts that the giver of gifts — God — had entrusted to them.

Now, in our story, the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried the talent he’d been given. Remember this talent wasn’t anything to scoff at; this was an enormous waste!

We, too, have been given resources, gifts and abilities and we are to use them to please our God – we’re not to bury our talents.

Every single one of us has received clusters of gifts, clusters of resources. Each and every unique one of us. But, we can bury those treasures – as did the third person in this parable – we can bury those treasures.

But, like the three in our parable, we will also face the moment of settling accounts. We, too, will need to face the giver of gifts to explain how we used what He gave us. You see the joy here of those who put their talents to good use. They were happy and God was happy with them.

How precious it must be to hear the words from our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We want those words said about us on judgment day.

This is not a “works righteousness” kind of thing. We know that salvation is a pure gift and that we cannot earn our way into heaven by our works. Rather, the sign that our salvation is freely given is that we do the works that God wants us to do out of thanksgiving and not to earn anything from God. Salvation is always a free gift, undeserved, unearned.

Knowing that we are saved by God’s grace, however, we “do” the works that God wants us to do, not to earn salvation but because God has filled our hearts with love and our actions with compassion.

Now the one who buried his talents actually blamed God for his own inaction. We may respond in the same way. If we don’t use the gifts/resources/talents that God has given to us, rather than blame ourselves, we may end up blaming God or evil or evil circumstances for the fact that we did not use our God-given gifts.

But note the way the giver of gifts responded to the one who had buried his talents, “You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.” This individual tried to blame God but it didn’t work. God saw through his game and so the talent was taken from him and given to the one with the ten talents, the one who would put the talent to good use.

Each one of us has been given gifts. Your gifts are the sum total of all the resources that God has given to you.  Your gifts or talents are not just your genetic abilities and natural aptitudes, although these are part of your gifts.  Many of your most precious gifts are qualities and resources that have been developed in you over time.

And one thing we know is that God wants us to use these gifts, these God-given gifts for His service and, as you use those gifts, the Lord showers you with blessings.

In her book, Gifts of Grace, Mary Schramm suggests that there are five steps in ascertaining and using your gifts, and I would like to walk through those steps with you.

The first step is to discover your gifts, and you always discover your gifts in relationship. You rarely or never discover your gifts in isolation. You discover your gifts through your parents, teachers, coaches, instructors, friends, fellow Christians and others. Other people help you to discover your gifts.

The second step is to accept the gifts that God has given to you. This is the art of maturity, learning to accept the gifts that God has given to you and not given to you. A key thermometer is how jealous and envious you are of other people and their gifts. If you are jealous and envious of other people’s giftedness or feel inferior, chances are you have not really accepted your own blend of gifts that God has given to you. One of the primary keys of life is to accept and use the gifts that God has uniquely given to you, your unique blend of talents, aptitudes, abilities, life experiences, the sum total of all your resources.

The third step is to enjoy your God-given gifts, to take pleasure in them, to appreciate what God can do through your life.

The fourth step is to mature or develop those gifts. Like all gifts, they need to be put to work, to be exercised, developed. Nothing in this world becomes stronger without hard work and investment of time, self and energy. Just to rely on native talent and avoid the hard work of developing a gift will lead you nowhere, but will cheapen your gift and you as a person.

And the fifth step involves all of the steps, and this is to surrender all of your gifts to God.  If you don’t, you’ll either bury your gifts or you will use your gifts for your own benefit…to glorify yourself or to satisfy yourself. Either you give your gifts to the service of Christ and His mission in this world, or you don’t. And, if you don’t, you will always fall short of happiness.

Many people ask, “What is God’s will for my life?”  Very simply, you do God’s will in your life when you discover, surrender, and use your gifts to honor Him and bless the world around you.  It’s not that difficult.  That’s stewardship, the management of the life that God has given to you. You have been blessed to be a blessing.

Will you settle for being acted upon or will you act? Are you using, will you use, your God-given talents or will you bury them? Are you being a good steward of what the Lord has given to you or have you abandoned your responsibility? If you have buried what you’ve been given, ask yourself: is it because you’ve become stuck in a pattern of blaming others for your circumstances? Well, it’s high time you dug down deep to draw up that talent. Claim the abundant life the Lord has for you. If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, you’ll keep getting the same results. Make today different. Resolve TODAY to be a more faithful steward of all that the Lord has placed within upon you.


May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; may the eyes of your heart be enlightened, that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and the immeasurable greatness of His power in us who believe, according to the working of His great might which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

Photos by Donna Hailson.