Five Minute Friday — Weak

I have a good excuse. I was on the road yesterday!

Seriously, whether it’s Friday, Saturday or sometimes Sunday or later, I’m compelled to participate in the Five Minute Friday exercise, much like a schoolboy with an assignment — and it’s been a lot of years since I’ve been in school!

Our hostess, Kate Motaung sums up the community. “Five Minute Friday is a weekly testimony of the creativity of our God. Every weekend, I step back and smile at the way God takes a single word and turns it int a fountain of varied inspiration. I love seeing the many avenues that branch out from the same starting point, and how some travel the same path, but with their own stride. Five Minute Friday has taught me that God is a creative God. When we come together in community, gathering around the same prompt, we reflect His image through our unity and diversity.”


The prompt word is developed at a twitter party Thursday night and released at 10 p.m. From there, the creativity begins … all writing unscripted for five minutes (or so) on the prompt word, linking at Kate’s place,, then experiencing the work of others and offering encouragement. It’s that simple. It’s fun, energizing and keeps your mind active amid the daily routine. You should check out some of the work at Kate’s  place or, better yet, try you hand at it.

The prompt this week was WEAK. The time has been set, so I guess it’s time to GO …


For when I am weak, then I am strong [through the grace of God] – 2 Corinthians 10

That’s what popped into the mind this week.

I know, at least for me, I don’t like weakness (of any kind) and I like to believe I am strong enough to handle anything. But I also know the truth. Like Paul, I am weak — in body, in spirit, in faith, in perseverance. But there is a greater power — our Lord and Savior — who breathes into me the strength to keep plodding through. I like to do things my way … and only when it’s convenient does my way coincide with His way.

But although I fail — often — my God keeps lifting me up. He is there in the darkest times. He is there during the mundane times. He is there in the happiest of times.

When I recognize my weakness, I get an extra push of His strength. Sometimes I don’t even realize it … but when I look back I can see the hand of God at work in my life. Praise God!


Wow, look at that. Five minutes! That must be a first for me.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. — Dr. Leo Buscaglia

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O Canada

I really faced a dilemma Sunday. I was pulpit supply so I couldn’t leave early and I needed to get back for a Monday doctor’s appointment. In between there was this massive coastal storm that promised havoc through most of my normal route from Maine to New York.

So, I got this bright idea. Why not bypass the storm and head through Canada?

Actually, it wasn’t a bad plan. Under normal circumstances, the northern route on paper is only about a couple of hours longer. Given the weather, well… And the forecast in Quebec and Montreal was for snow showers.

It wasn’t a bad trip, but I don’t know if I saved any time. It actually took me 18 hours (including a power nap and more than usual stops). I don’t know what Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts would have been like, but New York sucked. The last 2 1/2 hours were really stressful.

welcome The trip, nonetheless, turned into an adventure. When I reached the Canadian border, I was delayed about a half hour at customs. I think this was because they were lonely. Six — count em — six handled my arrival … one at the booth with the usual questions (why through Canada? I guess they didn’t hear about the storm), another insider to ask me more questions, two more to confirm my answers and two more to search my car (the ladies even got to go through my dirty laundry). Of course, during this span, I was the only car in sight. Maybe they were lonely.

That was also the end of my communication with the outside world. GPS stopped … bars disappeared and I didn’t have a good hard-copy map of Canada. In retrospect, I think I could have added coverage through Verizon … I received that message — except it never came through until I was stateside again. I also could have downloaded directions offline through Google Maps. I just didn’t give it a thought.

Anyway, I generally knew where I wanted to go (Route 20) so I stayed on 173 and stayed on 173 and stayed on 173 for about an hour and a half. I stopped twice to make sure I was going in the right direction (and to pee because I was keeping myself hydrated). Through fractured French-English I was assured I was. The only mishap was I missed a turn and almost ended up in a dump.

When I finally got to 20, I had to backtrack my way southwest. With a good map or GPS I probably could have shaved off about an hour or so.

onroute-signs-gas-restaurant-restrooms-washrooms-handicapped-access-on-400-401-highways-ontario-canada1Somewhere in Montreal — I think at the tunnel — I ended up on Route 40 with no way to turn around. But it was going southwest so I stuck with it. Somewhere along the route I saw a sign for Point Champlain and remembered there was a crossing there so I took the exit. Lo and behold there was a sign for Route 20 ouest (west). So I probably lost about an hour there. I eventually needed gas (106.4 per liter — a little over $4 per gallon) so I fueled my body as well with a Papa Burger with lard fume (bacon) and a frosty A & W root beer.

And then I drove and drove and drove until hitting customs at Alexandria Bay where the U.S. agent took about 10 seconds before telling me to drive right on through.

Before I leave Canada, however, here are a few additional tidbits. Canadian top speed limit is 100km (about 60 mph) so I didn’t pick up any time. Because of the weather it was pretty much 45-50. It snowed from Quebec until I got home, only in Canada it was a dry blowing snow (not a lot of moisture so it wasn’t piling up). Roads were pretty clear, usually with one lane down to the pavement although, ironically, it was usually the passing lane.

I literally saw about 50 plows in Canada, all in the opposite direction except on the ramp when I re-entered 20.

Traffic was moderate except for Montreal where it was heavy.

lg_french_signIt was fun looking at the signs like Subway or a pizza place with a French subscript. Signs are different … all visual but sometimes it was difficult to figure out their meaning.

Rest stops are called Onroute and I stopped at a few, mostly for directions. I met a guy from Wisconsin who noticed my Green Bay jacket and we struck up a conversation. He told me he has two friends with season tickets … they were willed to them.

At one stop, I noticed a group of Mounties and asked them how far it was to the U.S. border since I had seen a sign about 90 kilometers back about the border and not one since. They told me I was about 15 km away and we started talking. They asked why I was in Canada, business or pleasure. I told them I was coming from Maine to New York and figured I would bypass the storm. I told them I thought there was only supposed to be snow showers. They laughed and one said, “This is a snow shower.”

I did decide to nap when I got into New York, hoping the plows would come through. They did, but it wasn’t much of an improvement … and only got worse as I traveled through Tug Hill.

All told, I could have shaved about 4-5 hours … still longer, but I know the regular route would not have been fun. There was no stress going the northern route. It was just another adventure.

When I relayed the experience to my kids, I told them if Karen was with me, I’m sure “today would be the first of many ‘I love you but I don’t want to talk to you’ days.” My girls, who are their mom incarnate, responded, “No doubt” and “100%”. Deanna added, “Nicolle and I weren’t thrilled either!”

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Are you wanting something very much? Have you asked God for it?

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More Joy … Joy … Joy

I’ve tried to share my time behind the pulpit with you as I’ve gone along. Here’s the latest from Sunday’s message at Dover-Foxcroft (ME) United Methodist Church.

It’s actually a revisit of one of my first sermons. I liked the message and, of course, this was a new audience. Some of you may remember this since it has been posted before.

So, here we go …

Way back when, well over 20 years ago, I was at a Consistory meeting at Tyre (NY) Reformed Church. We were talking about the budget and how we could trim it. I was doodling when the pastor announced it would help our bottom line if one of you could step up and preach while he’s gone. I looked up and five pair of eyes were fixed on me.
I mention this only because if you’re caught doodling or dozing during the sermon, you might end up on this side of the pulpit!

And He sayeth unto thee, the wicked shall be punished

No, no (shuffle papers), these are the wrong notes.

Ah, here we are. Joy … one of the “glad” words like praise and rejoice.

When I was working on this commentary in the early days of my pulpit supply like a fish out of water, I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know exactly how to phrase it. And being the procrastinator I am, the days were winding down to a precious few. After putting out that week’s edition of my newspaper, I settled in for a night of rest, relaxation and inspiration.

Lo and behold, my then three year old grandson came bounding down the stairs. Anthony had more energy than any three-year should legitimately have {which shows you how long ago this was written; he’s almost 21}. He wanted to watch a movie and, since I wanted a few winks, I figured it was a good mix.

To make a long story short, he chose Pollyanna and as he nestled comfortably in my arms in the recliner, I instantly recognized the hand of God in that decision. The movie was the connection I needed to discuss joy.

You’ve probably all seen the movie. Pollyanna has become a model for all that is good and righteous. In a town fraught with pettiness, loneliness, fear and tepidness came this bright-eyed maiden with a simple faith who touched the hearts and souls of the people of Harrington.

She reminds me a lot of Clarence, the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life. The simplicity of seeing things at face value is a faith lesson to us all.

Both Pollyanna and Clarence had a clarity in their world view. It wasn’t based on theological discourse. It wasn’t attained through rigorous study. No, it was a pure, simple faith in the goodness of God’s creation.

We often speak of the faith of a child … simple, unjaded, yet often direct enough to cut to our very own self. We can tell from Scripture God loves his youngest creations. Jesus was as much at ease with the little ones as He was with others. They weren’t a bother. They were important.

And the common theme of this innocent view is the ability to look for the good in people … to look at the wonder of a snowflake … to explore the richness of life.

Our call to worship was Psalm 150. What praise is expressed there. What joy. How can I keep still, Lord, when everywhere I see Your works?

How often have you and I heard these words yet allowed them to vaporize off into the distance. In my case, too many things on my mind I guess, and it isn’t easy to shut out the worries, fears and concerns of day to day life.

But, what joy there is in praise. I’ve been given so many marvelous gifts and yet I don’t appear to be the happiest person. It’s not that I’m thankless. I am thankful. It’s just I don’t slow down enough to let God show me the life that can be mine.

The pivotal scene in Pollyanna, I think, is when she visits the good Rev. Ford to drop off some “notes” for his sermon. She’s wearing a locket her father gave her, which she allows the reverend to read.

“When you look for the bad in mankind and expect to find it, you surely will.”

You won’t find that reference in Scripture or any theological discourse. It’s from the sayings of Abraham Lincoln and it opened the reverend’s eyes.

It should open our eyes as well. Don’t we often look on the down side of life? Don’t we often focus on the trials and tribulations? Don’t we often look at the glass as half empty?

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of trials and tribulations in life. There is plenty of darkness out there. But we have the light. We have the Son — S-O-N. We know firsthand as Christians there something better in store for us. Through thick and thin, we truly, truly have a friend in Jesus.

Maybe we should start looking for the good in people. I think we’ll find it just as surely.

What joy. What unmistakable joy. What a missed opportunity we have.

We hear that when we come to church, too. Very often, it is the God of fire and brimstone that gets the attention. We have a fear of the Lord drilled into us from our earliest days.

Certainly, our God is to be awed. To think He created us in His likeness and image only to have us throw it back in His face; we deserve the fire and brimstone of hell. We … deserve … the … fire … and … brimstone … of … hell.

But God loves us. He sent His only Son to atone for our sins. In a few weeks we will again remember Jesus’ cruel death … a death He freely chose to save you and me. He stretched His arms across the cross to create a bridge allowing us access back into the heavenly fold.

We can concentrate on the death … or we can concentrate on the Resurrection. Half empty … half full.

Do we deserve eternal damnation?

Of course we do … but that’s not God’s will. It’s His will is to share His heavenly bounty with us. His one aim is for us to be reunited with Him through the blood of His Son, Jesus.

That’s the joyful message of the Bible and the joyful summation of our faith. Sure, some pretty crummy things were done by us and by others to us. And God has showed His rightful wrath. He owns the right of justification. He is the creator, we are the creation. If He chooses to throw us into the fire for our blemishes, so be it. It’s His prerogative. Nothing we do on our own will ever change that.

But I believe this just God doesn’t want any of His creation to be damned. He wants us all to be saved. He has given us that gift … freely, of His own choice. Our responsibility is to accept the gift … no strings attached.

Well, there are some strings. We must always and everywhere recognize and demonstrate this unwavering love. And one way we do that is through praise and rejoicing.

Of course that leads us to prayer.

One television program my wife Karen and I generally tried to watch was Touched By An Angel. It’s nice to think we’re touched by angles and in the span of 47 minutes lives can be turned around. But angels are another topic. What I’m going for here is the transformation process found in our saved soul.

More often than not, at some point in the show that soul she is trying to save tells Monica to tell God to butt out. Where has God been? might be the question. Whenever that point in the show arrives, I’m reminded of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life when he gets popped in the mouth after praying.

You know, I think sometimes God must get bored up there in heaven. I know I would, listening to the same old rhetoric over and over … words spilling from the lips, rote-style. “Heavenly Father this …” or “gracious God that …”

I think prayer is something else. It’s communication. It’s simply talking with God … from the heart, not the mind, from the soul, not the lips.

I’ve always had an open line to God. I’m not a “formal” pray-er. In the middle of a traffic jam or when in the solitude of my distress I might internally or externally scream out at God. “What the heck is going on?” I might cry, perhaps not that sedately. I can talk with God one-on-one like a friend … and I know God speaks to me as a friend. And we all know how caustic and sometimes blunt a true friend can be, cutting through all the garbage in our lives and touching our very souls.

This week, stop praying.

Well, that got some attention.

Seriously, stop praying … and start talking to God from your heart. The heart is our emotional fountain. Let God know your emotions. Heck, He knows them anyway. He knows our heart. He knows our motives. He knows the truth … better than we do. Don’t masquerade your emotions with platitudes. If you’re angry with God, let Him know. But if you’re happy with God, share that joy as well with words of praise, not because that’s what should be done, but because that’s the way you feel.

I’ll close with another story … one many of us can relate to.

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news to tell you. Which would you like to hear first?” the farmer asked.

“Why don’t you tell me the bad news first,” the banker replied.

“Okay,” said the farmer. “With the bad drought and inflation and all, I won’t be able to pay anything on my mortgage this year, either on the principal or the interest.”

“Well, that’s pretty bad,” the banker said.

“It gets worse,” said the farmer. “I also won’t be able to pay anything on the loan for all that machinery I bought, not on the principal or interest.”

“Wow, is that ever bad,” the banker admitted.

“It’s worse than that,” continued the farmer. “You remember I also borrowed to buy seed and fertilizer and other supplies. I can’t pay anything on that either — neither principal nor interest.”

“That’s awful,” said the banker, “and that’s enough. What’s the good news?”

“The good news,” replied the farmer with a smile, “is I intend to keep on doing business with you.”

The good news I’m telling you is God is our banker. Despite our failings, He wants to continue to do business with us.

Do we believe the good news or the bad  news? Isn’t that our dilemma?

The good news is Christ is alive. The bad news is that fact seems to have so little impact on the world today. In this world it’s easy to be fearful and troubled of heart. It’s easy to look at the glass as half empty … but Jesus tells us we must look at it as half full. Christ is alive and so are we.

You’ve probably figured out how I “look” at life. I try to see the little everyday miracles. I’m awestruck by the starry night or a flash of light bellowing amid dark stormy clouds. I’m struck by their beauty, but more so, knowing no mortal nor chance of nature could create such masterpieces. It is in those moments when I spontaneously praise God. It is those moments I ask you to look for this week.

Pollyanna looked for those bright clouds. As she told Rev. Ford in the movie, there are 800 happy texts in the Bible … texts of joy or gladness. “If God told us 800 times to be glad and rejoice,” she said, “He must have wanted us to do it.” Rev. Ford went to the pulpit the next day and corrected the young girl. There are 826 passages, he said, and he intended to dwell on one each week for the … well, it equates to the next 16 years or so.

I’ll take Rev. Ford’s word for it. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of opportunities from Scripture and from life to draw from, all pointing toward joy, praise and gladness. All we have to do is take our cue from the Source.

Praise God.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The difficult we can do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.

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Saving Faith

We’ve all seen it and many of us have experienced it as well. We put our heart and soul into a dream only to see it unravel before our very eyes.

It could be a retail store or a service enterprise. In the case of Saving Faith it was a theater in the little town of Clinton, TN.

Faith Scott (Jenn Gotzan)  inherited the theater from her mother and aunt. But things are going from bad to worse. The bills keep outpacing the revenue, she’s way behind in utilities ($17,000), the bank is threatening foreclosure and a prominent businessman who owns all the surrounding property is hoping she fails so he can purchase the discounted property and re-sell it to a company for a new plant … and a profit.

The plot is familiar, but writer/director Chip Rossetti puts a decidedly Christian twist on it. Faith has the support and encouragement of her Elvis-loving Uncle Donny (Donny Richmond), a volunteer joking jack of all trades Henry (Henry Cho), a suitor of seven years Frank (Jim Chandler), Donny’s son Carl (real life son Chase Richmond) and Hailey (Lilly Echeverri) who works at The Ritz and helps tests Faith’s faith . They all pray for guidance for Faith, who herself faces one of those “Where are You?” moments as her faith wanes.

saving-faithIn a last ditch effort, Donny shows Faith a photo of her mom and aunt as they put on a Christmas show … in July. He suggested Faith might likewise put on a special Christmas show for the community.

They all get busy calling their contacts, leading to cameos — and sorry, no can dos — from Michael W. Smith, Scott Hamilton, Phil Vassar, Victoria Jackson, Buddy Jewell, Jay DeMarcus and Steve Gatlin. Then Donny scores with Vince Gill and Amy Grant, also making a cameo, setting the stage for this Christmas spectacular that renews Faith’s, well, faith and sparks the relationship with Frank.

Of course, businessman Peter Marsh (Carey Jones) can’t let the show go on. He calls in some favors to have the utilities turned off at the theater and at least implicitly is responsible for a fire backstage that fortunately was discovered by Henry before it could spread. And when the Vince Gill/Amy Grant bus broke down the night of the performance, Marsh was the first — and only — person in line for a refund.

The show did go on with Henry — who was known for god-awful jokes — knocking out a comedic routine, an uplifting set up band and former star Donny capping the show.

The movie is about family and loyalty, trusting in God’s plan and believing in and standing with your dreams and values. It’s a feel good movie and while you may think you know how it’s going to end — The Ritz saved and Faith and Frank getting together — there are enough surprises to keep you guessing and laughing and praying for Faith.

While it decidedly had a Christian bent, the movie did not hit you over the head with theology. Instead it showed faith in action, quiet prayer time and, as the promo promises, allows us take a leap of faith and find hope. I appreciated that … and those are the type of Christian films I prefer.

My only negative was the hustle of the cameos. The names were listed on the promo poster, but made no appearance other than the brief cameo. And I would have really like to hear more than “We’re in” from Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: A good friend is much like a vase. A good friend is a vessel who helps us display the gifts God has given us and brings out the best in us. A good friend nourishes our gifts and encourages us to blossom while he/she holds us up. A good friend is transparent and open. A good friend reminds us God uses the beautiful things in our lives as well as the ordinary.

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Five Minute Friday — Safe

I feel like I’m on a roll. It’s Friday and I’m working on my Five Minute Friday contribution. Okay, it’s late Friday … but it’s still Friday!

The exercise involves spending five minutes writing on a specific prompt word and then — the good part — linking up at Kate’s place (, sharing our work and checking out our neighbors’ work. That’s the fun part, seeing how others reacted to the word of the week.

You can join us as well. It just takes a five minute commitment.

Anyway, this week’s word is SAFE. The timer has been set, so it’s time to GO …

We ll have our safe zone … our comfort zone. We build it ourselves. We’re comfortable there. But sometimes ….

We have to step out in faith. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to you.

I was always a very private pray-er. I wasn’t vocal . I wasn’t comfortable leading prayers. I was a follower. My wife, on the other hand, was very comfortable sharing her faith. If asked to spontaneously lead a prayer, she would just jump in.

pastor-prayAnd she challenged me. I remember it vividly. We were at a bible study and the host asked Karen to lead us in closing prayer. She looked at me, then him, and said, “I’d like Joe to lead us in prayer.”

What? Betrayal! But you know, the words came — not easily and not necessarily fluidly — but they came. And afterwards, I was still breathing. I had stepped waaay out of my safe comfort zone and survived. …STOP

… A few years later I was challenged to not just pray, but preach as an elder. That was waaay out of my safe comfort zone as well, but I did it — not as a preacher but as a storyteller who shared the gospel. You know what? I was still breathing. I had stepped waaay out of my safe comfort zone and survived.

Since then, I’ve been asked again and again and again to fill in on the slanted side of the pulpit. In fact, I am scheduled to preach — I really don’t like that word — at Dover-Foxcroft (ME) United Methodist Church. {Please lift me up in prayer that the words I say are pleasing to the Lord.} It’s a new congregation and my first time in front of them. But it’s not too far out of my safe comfort zone anymore.

Over the years, I’ve been blogging, mostly about my faith and my experiences. Over the past few years, I’ve posted well over 600 entries and have made numerous connections with friends I’ve never met {many right here in the Five Minute Friday community}. If you asked me five years ago if I would be sharing my life stories with strangers, I would have resoundingly said, “No way!”  As a natural introvert, that’s not necessarily in my safe comfort zone.

I also share words of encouragement to my friends, family and prayer partners at least weekly and visual thoughts that catch my eye daily on Facebook. I’d like to think my small contributions help share the gospel. My circle has come to expect these nuggets and I have been amazed at the ripple effect.

None of that was in my safe comfort zone.

You, too, can do little things outside your safe comfort zone. The lesson I learned — starting with that first challenge from my wife — was it isn’t enough to live your faith … you have to share it because you never know who’s watching or listening.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What I can do, I do with God’s help; what I cannot do I turn over to Him so He can work. This leaves me free to enjoy my life.

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An Itinerant Preacher

I’m not sure what the formal criteria are for designation as an itinerant preacher. I know it infers traveling to different congregations, although traditionally it’s on a circuit. I’m not sure if I formally qualify, but this Sunday I will be filling the pulpit at a third church.

I’m also not sure I like the designation “preacher.” I’m just an ordinary guy {although I am an ordained elder}. I don’t preach. I don’t teach. I do write and tell stories … about Jesus … about how His life impacts my life … about how His life can impact your life.

I’m also not quite sure how I get into these speaking situations from the angled side of the pulpit. When I first started at Tyre (NY) Reformed Church it was the result of a challenge from the pastor for us leaders to step up in his absence. All eyes stared at me.

At West Fayette (NY) Presbyterian Church, I was asked to fill in when a supply pastor backed out. They keep asking me back whenever our pastor leaves town.

This one is a little different. I’ll be speaking at Dover-Foxcroft (ME) United Methodist Church Sunday (Feb. 12) — sound unheard. While I was a congregant at both Tyre and West Fayette, I am not a member in Dover-Foxcroft. I’ve been visiting there whenever I’m in Maine. While I’ve been there on and off for about a year and a half, I’ve only casually mentioned my pulpit supply. I haven’t been active in the church’s life. Yet, a few weeks back I was asked if I would fill the pulpit. And so, here I am. And as if speaking for the first time to a new congregation isn’t a bit stressful {it was in Tyre and West Fayette as well}, I was informed the district superintendent will also be in attendance. No pressure there!

So, my friends, I come to you again asking for prayer. First and foremost, May the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:4).

I consider it an honor and privilege to share my thoughts. That’s why I first considered filling the pulpit. That’s why I continued to fill the pulpit. That’s why I accepted the most recent call.

I’m not implying my words on Joy … Joy … Joy will be resoundingly poignant — but they will be from the heart and they will reflect Jesus. I’m just the conduit. As I prepare, I pray the words and meditation I craft ARE pleasing to the Lord.

If you happen to be in mid-Maine Sunday, I welcome you to join us at 10:30 a.m. at Dover-Foxcroft United Methodist Church not to listen to the guy in the pulpit, but to enjoy the fellowship of church.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: You can tear down or build up the people around you by what you say. Bring encouragement to others by being positive in a negative world. — Joyce Meyer



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Hidden Figures

There’s a movie that was released at Christmas — Hidden Figures. It could have waited until Feb. 1 and the start of Black History Month or March 1 and the start of Women’s History Month. It could very well be the poster film for either of those months..

I had never heard of Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) or Mary Jackson (Janelle Monaen). I doubt if many other people had either. They were not household names in the African-American nor women’s rights struggle. They were truly “hidden figures” at NASA, fighting racial and gender issues in a male world in segregated Virginia in the early 60s.

The storyline surrounds these three women and how they advanced themselves despite the times. Johnson was a mathematician who “saw” beyond the raw numbers. Vaughan became an IBM guru — on her own time — figuring out how the room-sized mainframe worked, learning its language — fortran — and teaching it to her colored cadre of women. Jackson clawed her way to earn an engineering degree — at an all-white school at night.

The three shared the billing and their contributions during the space race that put John Glenn into orbit and moved the United States forward in it space challenge with Russia. And it was all done tastefully respecting the challenges the women faced. It made no political statements but let those struggles shine through their lives.

As NASA prepared for the orbital mission of Glenn, Johnson was called upon to do the work she would become most known for. The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral, FL, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from blast off to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”– Johnson — to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine.  “If she says they’re good,’” Glenn said, “then I’m ready to go.”

Johnson also was key with the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, and authored or co-authored 26 research reports. She retired in 1986, after 33 years at Langley. In 2015, at age 97, Johnson added another extraordinary achievement to her long list. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

In 1949, Vaughan was promoted to lead the group, making her the NACA’s first black supervisor, and one of the NACA’s few female supervisors. The Section Head title gave Dorothy rare Laboratory-wide visibility, and she collaborated with other well-known (white) computers like Vera Huckel and Sara Bullock on projects such as compiling a handbook for algebraic methods for calculating machines. Vaughan was a steadfast advocate for the women of West Computing, and even intervened on behalf of white computers in other groups who deserved promotions or pay raises. Engineers valued her recommendations as to the best “girls” for a particular project, and for challenging assignments they often requested that she personally handle the work.

Vaughan led the segregated West Area Computing Unit, an all-black group of female mathematicians for nearly a decade. In 1958, when the NACA made the transition to NASA, segregated facilities, including the West Computing office, were abolished. Vaughan and many of the former West Computers joined the new Analysis and Computation Division, a racially and gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing.  Vaughan became an expert fortran programmer and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program. She retired from NASA in 1971.

Jackson began her engineering career in an era in which female engineers of any background were a rarity, Iin the 1950s, she very well may have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the field. For nearly two decades she enjoyed a productive engineering career, authoring or co-authoring a dozen or so research reports, most focused on the behavior of the boundary layer of air around airplanes. As the years progressed, the promotions slowed, and she became frustrated at her inability to break into management-level grades. In 1979, seeing the glass ceiling was the rule rather than the exception for the center’s female professionals, she made a final, dramatic career change, leaving engineering and taking a demotion to fill the open position of Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. There, she worked hard to impact the hiring and promotion of the next generation of all of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.

Sometimes, it takes protests to raise awareness. But this film is a classic example of walking the walk having a bigger impact.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: When you place your trust in God, He will accelerate His plan for your life. You will accomplish your dreams faster than you thought possible.

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