Sunday, June 17, 2018

“For truly we are all angels temporarily hiding as humans.” ― Brian L. Weiss


                      Today is Father's Day in the U.S. and thanks be to God, I am a father.  It is something I thank God for every single day.  My youngest son almost didn't become my son because I was scheduled to die before he was born.  What am I talking about?  Well, let me tell you a story.   Someone posted on Facebook asking if any of us remembered a time when we didn’t know God was taking care of us, but looking back, could see it had to be.  This was certainly true of me because about twenty-five years before I became a Christian, at about nine o’clock in the morning on December 31, 1976, when we were living in Claremont, California, (L.A.) I went to our local Kaiser Clinic for an injection of antibiotics because I had a cold, and I didn’t want it to interfere with my New Year’s Eve partying.  The doctor, (Stephen Glass whom I had never seen before and would never see again—changed things).  He was giving me the injection when he noticed a spot on my arm and told me I needed to go the Kaiser Hospital in Fontana, California, twenty-five miles away.  I said I would go after the holidays, but he said, “No, right now,” and picked up the phone and made me an appointment.  I drove our only vehicle (a VW camper, what else) the 25 miles out to Fontana prepared to spend the day in the waiting room as the dermatologist was very, very popular.  Sure enough, there must have been a hundred people in the waiting room.  As soon as I sat down, they called my name and I was lucky to escape the others who had been waiting for much longer.  The doctor just looked at my arm, said, “Hmm.”  He picked up the phone and asked the chief of surgery to come in and look at it.  The chief of surgery (Dr. Shaner, another who came into and out of my life) came quickly, looked at my arm and said, “Hmm.”  Then he picked up the phone and told someone to get operating room three ready.  At this point, I said, “Excuse me!  Could someone tell me what’s going on?”  The surgeon (who was completely hairless—didn’t even have eyebrows) told me they just wanted to take the mole off my arm to be on the safe side.  I had the surgery then and there, and while I was in recovery (they took a big chunk out of my right arm) they called my wife and told her I was out of surgery but would need to be driven home.  Now, she thought I was getting a shot at the local clinic and the surgery thing threw her as well as my being in the hospital miles away, but she got a neighbor to drive her out to pick me up.  I was told to come back on the third of January to talk to the surgeon again.  Needless to say, there was no New Year’s Eve partying that night.  On January 3, 1977, I went back out and heard that I had malignant melanoma, Clark Level 3, and only had a one in ten chance of living for two more years.  I had to have needle biopsies every day for the next two months, then once a week, and then once a month.  They took photographs, but I lived with no more surgeries and no chemotherapy.  My youngest son, Keith, was born on July 12, 1979, at the same hospital where they took the chunk out of my arm.  I was that one out of ten and got to become a father again. 
                       Was Dr. Glass an angel that day working with God to keep my date with a mission in Africa decades in the future?  Was he in league with my wife who didn't yet know she wanted to spend her last years in Africa?  I’ll never know.  If I get to heaven, I won’t ask.  I only have two questions if I get to heaven and that’s “Can I stay?”   If the answer is yes, then I will ask for my beloved.  That's how my heart works.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face. ” ― Ben Williams


                John and I spend some time every day just sitting outside and watching the new puppy (Judi) play and learn and jump and fall.  She fails at lots of things but doesn't let any of her failures slow her down.  She just jumps back up and runs till she falls again.  She doesn't know it, but she is teaching me a lot about dealing with grief.  We can learn from puppies.  She reminds me of a great story which follows:

               A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the four pups, and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his yard. As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.  "Mister," he said, "I want to buy one of your puppies."  "Well," said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat of the back off his neck, "These puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money."  The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket, he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer. "I've got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?"  "Sure, that's enough for a look," said the farmer.  And with that he let out a whistle. Here, Dolly!" he called.  Out from the doghouse and down the ramp ran Dolly; followed by four little balls of fur. The little boy pressed his face against the chain link fence. His eyes danced with delight. As the dogs made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed something else stirring inside the doghouse. Slowly another little ball appeared, this one noticeably smaller. Down the ramp it slid. Then in a somewhat awkward manner, the little pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up....  "I want that one," the little boy said, pointing to the runt.
              The farmer knelt down at the boy's side and said, "Son, you don't want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would."  With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a specially made shoe. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, "You see sir, I don't run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands.”  With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup. Holding it carefully he handed it to the little boy.  "How much?" asked the little boy.  "No charge," answered the farmer. "There's no charge for love."

Friday, June 15, 2018

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ― Will Rogers


                         A dog we raised from a puppy died two weeks ago at the age of thirteen (old for a German Shepherd).  I loved that old dog and he loved me.  Since I am still grieving the loss of my beloved wife, John and Shaban were afraid to tell me he had died for two days and then John broke it to me.  We both cried.  It was bad, but it's been worse.  I had to hold our Border Collie, Sam, who had been with us for twelve years while the vet did what she had to do.  It hurt me so very much.  In our ten years here, we have always had dogs and have had to put down two due to old age and one just died.  We still have five dogs because John got the puppy Judi in Mwanza last week, and we love them all.  I truly believe all dogs go to heaven—it helps me cope.  This story is for me and you if you've ever lost a beloved pet—it’s true; you can check it out at Snopes.com and they will tell you the real names of the parents and where they lived.  Little girls shouldn’t have to deal with death, but this little girl set an example for the rest of us.  Here's the story:

              Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my four-year-old daughter, Meredith, was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God, so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could, so she dictated these words:

‘Dear God,
      Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.’

Love, Meredith
(written by the mother of Meredith Claire)

         We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to: God in Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office.   A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.  Yesterday there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, "To Meredith" in an unfamiliar hand.  Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers, titled, "When a Pet Dies." Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away. Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.  Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I am wherever there is love.

Love, 

God

Thursday, June 14, 2018

“Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people that they don't like.” ― Will Rogers



                          I am not feeling good yet, but I am feeling better than I did.  I do have a new hole in my head even if it has been sewn shut.  Now, I have written before about the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.  I pointed out that just two chapters earlier a man had come to Jesus to find eternal life and Jesus invited him to join Him but first the man had to sell all his possessions.  This was a man that the Gospel says Jesus looked at and loved.  No other man received that high a compliment, but the man went away sorrowing because he had many possessions, and they were what was important to him.  I think this gave Christ a heavy heart, and so it should.  It should also remind each of us that Christ told us not to accumulate treasure on earth but treasure in heaven.  This is a hard story for many (it was for me for far too many years), but it has another meaning that is even more important.  The great truth of this story lies in the way it illuminates the meaning of eternal life.  Eternal life is life such as God Himself lives.  The word for “eternal” in the Biblical Greek is “aionios” which does not mean lasting forever; it means such as befits God, or such as belongs to God, or such as is characteristic of God. The great characteristic of God for us is that He so loved and He gave.  Therefore the essence of eternal life is not a carefully calculated keeping of the commandments, the rules and the regulations; eternal life is based on an attitude of loving and sacrificial giving to others.  If we want to find eternal life like the rich young ruler wanted, if we want to find happiness, joy, satisfaction, peace of mind and serenity of heart, it won’t be by piling up a credit balance with God through keeping commandments and observing rules and regulations and certainly not through accumulating wealth (see the Will Rogers quote above); it shall be through living God's attitude of love and care to others. To follow Christ, and, in grace and generosity, to serve those for whom Christ died are one and the same thing.  This is what my wife did, and she set the bar rather high for me, but it is hardly unattainable for me—or for you.
             In the end the rich young ruler turned away in great distress.  He refused the call of Christ who loved him because he had great possessions.  How sad was that?  His tragedy was that he loved things more than he loved people; and he loved himself more than he loved others.  All of us who put things before people and self before others, must turn our backs on Jesus Christ and all that He offers no matter how regular our church attendance.  Only by loving and serving others can we find the wealth we seek.  The truth of the Gospel is meaningless—unless we live it, eh?  Even when we have a new hole in our head that has yet to heal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"You may be the only Bible some people will ever read." — on a church sign in Arkansas


                           When I was a little boy (about five or six), I used to love to visit one of my father’s best friends and a Sears store manager like my dad.  His name was Neil Gately, and he was the manager of the Sears, Roebuck store in Waco, Texas, (the home of Baylor University).  Neil called me “Schmoo” from a character in an Al Capp cartoon strip in the funny papers.  I always remember him fixing breakfast in his plaid bathrobe wearing his cowboy boots (he never wore anything else on his feet).  Many years later, his wife, Mae Pearl, decided that since she had never gone to college she wanted a college degree.  She was sixty years old at the time.  I was there visiting (much older by that time) when they were talking about it.  Neil just looked at her as if she had lost all her marbles.  “Mae Pearl,” he said, “I am astonished.  You will be sixty-four years old when you finish.”  Mae Pearl just shook her head as if she was explaining something to a child and said, “Neil, I’m going to be sixty-fours old anyway, but this way, I will have something I’ve always wanted.”  Neil had nothing to say and four years later, Mae Pearl graduated from Baylor the oldest and probably happiest graduate in that graduating class.  
                                  So often, we shy away from things because of the length of time it will take to finish them.  And yet, if we never begin them, and don’t continue to work on them, they will never be finished.  How many buildings, roads, bridges, monuments, and great projects all over the world throughout history would never have been finished if they had listened to my friend Neil?  The country of South Africa is far from perfect, but it is light years away from the horror that it was while Nelson Mandela was wasting away in prison for twenty-seven years.  About 2,000 years ago, our world was far from perfect and still is, but the son of a carpenter, talking to people, teaching people, and demonstrating with his life and death and resurrection what life could and should be—changed the entire world forever.  It didn’t happen quickly, and is still going on, very slowly in many parts of the world, but it is still happening because we who know the joy, the peace, the hope, the strength, the comfort, and the healing that it brings with it refuse to stop sharing it.  We can do no other, although some (far too many actually) try to share it with words alone, but that almost never works because their own lives so often expose that they are living lives of hypocrisy compared to what they are telling others to do.  The world changes not by loud, fiery or angry words, but by simple, humble acts of love, kindness, gentleness in the face of anger, compassion instead of resentment, and by the examples set by the Mae Pearl Gately’s of this world, who refuse to let age or infirmity prevent them from accomplishing the goals they set for themselves.  I don't know (no one does) how much longer I will live on this planet, but if I am true to my wife's understanding of me and my vision, I must spend all the time I have living as Christ wanted me to live.  That means keeping the school going, feeding orphans every day, continuing to produce and place biosand water filters, and continuing to do whatever I can to support the Methodist Church in Tanzania.  I must ignore my personal health issues and live a life in imitation of Christ (or as close as I can get, sinner that I am).  
                  Where would Christianity in the world today be without the dogged determination, persistence, and downright courage of a former Christian persecutor named Saul who became the great missionary, Paul?  He was only one man with a mighty task, but he believed in it.  I believe in the Bible and live it, but not because someone told me it was important or special.  I believe in the Bible because I have seen it lived in the lives of famous people like Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who freely admit their own flaws, but more importantly, because I have seen it lived in the lives of my parents, my late wife, my family, my friends, and some very common, very poor, almost perfect strangers who lived and are living as holy and living testaments to the example of Christ.  I suspect that you know some of these special, holy people, too.  Faith based only on words is pretty shaky, but faith based on seeing it lived in people you know and even in those you don’t—changes you, hopefully forever, and then you change others and before long, the world is a better place, a place where there is peace on Earth and goodwill to all living souls.  A place where one person will give his or her own shoes to someone unknown simply because the other person has no shoes.  That kind of a place.  That’s the kind of place where I want to live and where I want my children and grandchildren to grow up knowing.  With God's help and the help of my friends and even strangers who know me, I will keep on keepin' on.  Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2018

“Scars are not injuries. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.” ― China MiĆ©ville



                   Had Karen still been here, she wouldn't have let me go as long as I did without having Dr. Chris check me.  She cared about me and just wouldn't let me not care about myself.  I suffered for months before I finally gave in and called Dr. Chris last Friday.  He came over to see me last Friday night around seven.  He took one look (lasted about ten seconds) and said he would operate the next morning at ten.  He gave me no options.  John went along to work on the computer project for the clinic.  Shaban's phone was broken, so we called a cab (neither John nor I drive any more) and made it on time.  I got shown to the room where I would recover and then was taken to the little operating theatre.  My last surgery was in Dr. Chris's cramped office in his old building, but this was large and nice.  The windows were still open to the outside air, but this is Africa.  The surgery took about forty-five minutes with Dr. Chris wanting to show me each piece he removed and the liquid he extracted (I didn't want to look).  There are just no serious pain medications here unless you are an inpatient in a big hospital.  The best I could get is the African form of Tylenol called Paracetamol.  Doesn't do much good on serious pain, but I have learned to take myself to a happy place (I'm usually at the helm of a good-sized sailboat in the North Atlantic or in the Caribbean).  I can handle a whole lot more pain than I ever could back in the States where there are lots of pain-killer options.  I'm glad that the damn thing is gone and so is Dr. Chris because the infection made it life-threatening.  My hair hid it well, so John was really surprised at how big it was and that he hadn't noticed it before.  Well, most of that hair got shaved off, so I've got another big empty space on my head to go with the one from my two months of radiation treatments.  Good thing I'm not a model.  I had several local churches praying for me Sunday after it was over, and I was humbled by the attention.  It's always kind of special to see our workers on their knees praying for me when they don't think I can see them.  I'm not sleeping very well at the moment because there is no position that doesn't hurt except balancing face down on my nose—not the best way to sleep.  Still, I am very calm because I can feel Karen with me and can hear God saying that I am in His hands and not to worry.  
            Shaban showed up Saturday afternoon after the surgery with my new labor permit and residence permit in his hand, so I'm good to go for another two years.  It used to cost $50 for two years and now it's $1,500, but we pay whatever we have to pay to continue serving God and the little ones who show up here for love, food, education, clothes, and to get the feeling that they are important—and they are.  Our Australian missionary friend came back from Nairobi with two hams for us, so we are eating well.  We get about one ham every two years or so and are very appreciative.  I'll have ham and eggs for breakfast tomorrow and will be ever grateful.  I'm also grateful to Dr. Chris for his skill and caring.  He always calls to check on me several times after each operation or treatment, but I guess you are all used to that kind of care.  I do like it.  If you've been praying for me, or John, or our mission here, don't stop.  We like it and need it.