Friday, June 23, 2017

                 A very good friend of mine (Pete O’Neal) lost a close friend this week, and I find myself grieving with him. My grief reminded me that this time last year, I lost two friends whose deaths affected me much more strongly than I would have thought they would, and I am grieving for them again, as well.  One died thirteen years ago, but I only learned of his death this time last year.  He was my best friend in high school and Irish as the day is long was Michael Sean O’Brien.  He was a groomsman in my wedding, but we lost touch when I moved to Los Angeles in 1970.  My sister let me know of his passing (he died of ALS) and through her, I got word to her widow (whom I have never met) of a story about Mike and I from our high school days that she didn’t know.  It seems strange that I should be so sad when I hadn’t seen or heard from him in almost 46 years, but I was.  He was a part of who I am and his passing left me with a hole in part of my heart.
               The other friend was Elie Wiesel, who was my professor for the Book of Job at Boston University.  I only had him for the one course, but I made many trips to his office, and we became friends.  We would talk often, sometimes of trivial things, sometimes of deep things.  When I graduated in 1992, he wrote me a handwritten note you can see in the picture at the right.  The note says, “My dear Charles Wiggins — We will miss you in class — I do hope our paths cross again — Be well, wise, teach and learn well— And all the best to you,  Elie Wiesel.”  I once asked him if he had a special prayer that he prayed on a regular basis.  He told me that every night he would ask God, “So, how’d I do today?  Did I make you proud? or were you ashamed?”  We would all do well to pray that prayer every night.  I have the note in a picture frame with my favorite picture of him where he is laughing.  He didn’t laugh often as filled with sadness as he was, but I could make him laugh in class and out of class.  In fact, for a while, on campus, I was known as the guy who made Wiesel laugh.  I was proud of that.  He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and the text that accompanied the prize read, “Wiesel is a messenger to mankind.  His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”  His death was noted in the New York Times as it should have been, and he will be mourned by many.  The Times writer, Joseph Berger, wrote that “There may have been better chroniclers who evoked the hellish minutiae of the German death machine. There were arguably more illuminating philosophers. But no single figure was able to combine Mr. Wiesel’s moral urgency with his magnetism, which emanated from his deeply lined face and eyes as unrelievable melancholy.”  
                 I will always remember the first time I met him when he came into class, put on his yarmulke, looked up into our eager faces and asked, “So . . . was Job Jewish?”  There were some rabbis in that class and not one of us knew the answer, so he told us to search the text.  We did and found that there was no reference to anything Jewish in the book of Job.  What an introduction to a wonderful man who would change the way I looked at the world, forever.
             So I find myself saying goodbye to Mike and to Professor Wiesel once again as I join my friend, Pete, in his grief,  knowing that it was all my friends who helped to make me who I am, and I am blessed that I have had such good friends in my life.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” ― Robert Frost

                         Never in my life, even just ten years ago, did I believe that I would live to be seventy-two years old (seventy-three in November).  My body is missing several original parts—some that I was really sorry to see go.  It has had a mechanical part (actually the fourth replacement) that God never put there with a Medtronics logo on it (not a pacemaker, an implanted defibrillator) since 1996.  Certainly didn’t plan for that.  My good friend Pete O’Neal has a knee that was made in a factory.  I have more scars than I have children and grandchildren.  The things I can no longer do far outnumber those that I can do.  Pain used to be the occasional result of an accident but is now a constant companion who just won’t go away and that medication cannot mute.  
                                This isn’t just me, this is almost everyone who has reached their “three score and ten” the Bible promised.  But there are many who are in much worse shape than I who are less than a third or even a fifth my age.  The issue for me, and for everyone I expect, is that no matter what our physical limitations, there are things we can do and should be doing for ourselves and for others.  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his famous works from his bed where he was confined by sickness.  Stephen Hawking is one of the most remarkable thinkers of our time and imprisoned in a body tied to machines and tubes.  We can moan and complain of all that we can no longer do.  We can moan and complain of our constant and incurable aches and pains.  We can pretend that these infirmities and physical limitations prevent us from doing and being the servants of God that we have been called to be, but I think we know, deep inside, that we are just pretending.  Sarah laughed when God told her she would bear a child at the age of 99, but bear a child she did.  Moses was 80 years old when he led the Hebrews out of Egypt (maybe if he had been younger, he would have asked for directions and it wouldn’t have taken him forty years, but that’s another story).  The fact is that God calls us to do what we can with what we have where we are.  He doesn’t seem to mind that we have infirmities and physical limitations.  Helen Keller comes to mind, among others.   Just the other day (June 8th) we watched a deaf girl named Mandy Harvey sing her way into the finals of “America’s Got Talent”—a deaf girl who cannot hear the music accompanying her or hear her own voice singing—and it was beautiful (we all cried, link to video at the bottom).  No matter what’s wrong with us, it is in each day, within its limitations, that we are to be available and obedient to God.  If we are, He will use us to sow seeds, to drop pebbles in a pond, to touch others in ways we never expected or planned, yet when we let God do the guiding, we always get farther than we ever thought we would.  I have done much in my seventy plus years, but it is just possible that the greatest thing God wants from me is yet to come, maybe even ten years or more away.  There is a line I really like in “Macbeth” that Scottish play by William Shakespeare (John and I just watched “Hamlet” recently and that Shakespeare fellow shows great promise).  Anyway, the line I am talking about is from Malcolm speaking of an enemy of Macbeth who repented, turned and fought for Macbeth losing his life in the process.  Of this, Malcolm says,  “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.”  Perhaps something similar awaits me.  Perhaps my true discipleship to Christ will come at the point of my death or near it.  I know not.  What I do know is that to moan and complain does not endear people to you and tends to drive those who love you away—in other words there is nothing to be gained and much to be lost.  Take what life gives you and look for the opportunities to serve within its circumstances.  All God asks is obedience and availability every day.  In spite of my age, missing parts, and aches and pains, I can offer these to my Lord and Savior.  So can you.  

Clicking on this link will take you to the video of Mandy Harvey:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” ― Mark Twain

                          In 1972, my wife and I attended a John Denver concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, California.  We were big fans and were really happy to get to see him in person.  Through his songs and his career, he helped both of us to know the “why” in the quote above.  We’ll never forgot what he said when he first walked on stage that night (remember this was very early in his career and his first big concert), “Woooeee, I wish my mother could see me now!”  I remember that because every time I have done something I thought was significant, I wanted to show my parents that I was doing something well.  I guess that includes me spending twelve years as an unpaid, volunteer missionary in East Africa running our mission and living on just our retirement and social security.  It seemed like such a silly idea at the time moving to Africa, and now it seems like we have always lived here and can’t imagine living anywhere else.  We have accomplished a lot since we have been here: Karen, me, and our son, John—with a whole lot of help from friends and family in the U.S.  Others have told us of just how much we have done (like Dr. Chris telling us we are beloved by the locals), but it doesn’t seem like much to us because we are just doing what we’ve been called to do, and we don’t do a whole lot every day, it just sorta piles up over the years.  Sadly, my father died in 2003 before we ever moved to Africa, but he did know that we were planning to do it, and he approved.  My mother lived for another ten years after his death and knew what we were doing here, but her mind started going long before we had ever really accomplished much.  I guess all of us want our parents to be proud of us, and I am certainly proud of all three of my sons, but it is our Heavenly Father that we really need to please.  It doesn’t matter how much others think of what we have done here, or what others say about it, what matters at the end is what we hear when we enter into the company of all the saints.  All I want to hear is, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  It’s not about earthly fame or praise or honors or the accumulation of possessions and money—it’s about being obedient and available when God asks us to be His hands and voice through our service to others.  We pray that we can be strong enough to continue to serve until we are called to His home.  Until then, we all need to remember to be kind to our family, our friends, and the strangers that we meet.  Remind those you love how important they are to you.  Really, do it today.  You will be blessed if you do, as well as those you tell.

    ** On a side note, I found out why over 200 readers stopped reading the blog a while back.  Seems that in two countries (Russia and India), the blog is used to help teach English and school was out.  Probably pick back up in the fall.  I guess it’s a compliment as my English must be good to be used as a model.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

“Our faith is built in the dark, in the valleys, and during the tragedies of this life.” ― Dana Arcuri

             Every week it seems, I read or hear of another mass tragedy with people driving their cars into crowds, or going on killing sprees, or blowing things up and killing innocent women and children in the process.  Whenever this happens it always brings to mind the question of how can a loving God allow this kind of death and suffering?  
          If you read the New Testament you will find that a very honest Jesus told us the truth. He said in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world.” He didn’t say you might—He said it is going to happen.  Now, many of you are parents or had some or know some. Yet, even before children are conceived, their parents know that children sometimes die, sometimes have birth defects, may get their hearts broken, or may run away from home.  All parents know that but we still want children. Why? Because we know there is also the potential for tremendous joy and deep love and great meaning.  I recount a story later in this blog of a child who suffered, but his parents are forever glad they had him, and you will understand when you read about him.  Now, this analogy of parents is far from perfect, but think about God. He undoubtedly knew we’d turn against Him or ignore Him, and would hurt Him, but He also knew many people would choose to follow Him and have a relationship with Him and spend eternity in heaven with Him,and it was all worth it, we were worth it, even though it would cost His own Son great pain and suffering and death to achieve our redemption.
            I once heard and loved the story that British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life — and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, “How old are you?” The boy said, “Seventeen.” Reid asked, “How many years have you spend in hospitals?” The boy said, “Thirteen years.” The pastor said with astonishment, “And you think that is fair?” And the boy replied: “Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me.”
             If we love God, if we trust God, and if we focus on what we can do in response to evil and suffering, we will not only find God in ourselves, we will help others to know that God loves us more than we can ever understand and that we will have an eternity with Him surrounded by perfect love.  Whenever there is a tragedy, Mr. Rogers says to look for the helpers.  I think that Christ would say that since there will always be tragedies--be one of the helpers.  This life was never meant to be heaven, it was meant to be a proving ground for what kind of Christians we can rise to be.  When we get to the end of ourselves, we begin to find God.  That's the truth of it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.” ― Charles M. Schulz

                  About ten years ago, I had an accident that I thought only happened in cartoons.  I slipped on a banana peel on the floor of my house and fell into the hardwood arm of a chair, injuring my groin.  I didn’t think too much of it after the immediate pain passed.  Several days later, I came down with a bad case of malaria while Karen and John were in Dar Es Salaam visiting missionary friends there.  Shaban drove me to the Hindu Hospital in Mwanza for an injection since the malaria was so bad.  The doctor giving me the injection saw my injured groin and said I had to go immediately to Bugando Hospital there in Mwanza.  He gave me the injection, and we went to the hospital with one of his nurses (a very kind young women who later died of AIDS) and she got me into see a doctor who said he had to operate almost immediately.  The operation took place four hours later, and I became a man with just one of what most men have two of.  The doctor told me that if I had waited just another twelve hours, I would have been dead.  Ten years later now, I stopped and thought about what if I had died then, ten years ago.  I would have never known of, seen, held or loved my three grandchildren for one thing.  Then I thought about what all we had done here at the mission in those ten years, what the changes had been in the church, in my own family, the new churches that wouldn’t have been, the now seven preschools that would never have been started, the orphans that wouldn’t have been educated or fed, the biosand filters (almost 500 of them) that wouldn’t have brought clean, safe drinking water to almost 12,000 people—well, you get the idea.  Those ten years have been a true blessing, not that the time was a happily ever after time because I had prostate surgery, emergency air ambulance to Nairobi for surgery, malaria, three skin cancer operations, and a tooth is gone for good, but all those fade in comparison to the good that has occurred.  I was talking to my friend, Pete O’Neal, about the orphanage he started at his place ten years ago, and he said his life would have been almost completely without meaning had that orphanage never happened, and he was 67 years old when it began.  There is just no point in time when we can say that we are done with our labors because we have no idea what God has in store for us.  We plan—He laughs.  I slipped on a banana peel, had great pain, emergency surgery, and good things in His plan happened later.  Our job is to stay open to the opportunities He sends us and never to stop and think we have done all we could, no matter our age, our physical limitations, or our financial situation.  God knows what needs to be done and our role in it.  The words are “Thy will be done” and not “my will be done.” 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

“Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice.” — Charles F Kettering

          As today is Father’s Day in many countries (not here) I looked for fatherly advice in literature.  There was a ton, but perhaps the best, as it contains so much of Christ’s teachings—although not specifically noted, is this poem by Rudyard Kipling written over a hundred years ago (1910).  My father gave me a copy of this poem on my eighteenth birthday, and I have never forgotten it.


If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
    If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!