In procrastinating typing a long story…I’ve been absent. But here goes. Feel free to read it in small pieces and please know that no long response is needed…
In September, I was supposed to go to a conference at the WWII History Museum in New Orleans; they had to cancel because the covid rates/hospitalizations/deaths were skyrocketing – one of the hottest covid spots in the nation at that time. AFTER they canceled it, the hurricane hit. So it was good they had already canceled.
But I was sad. I really wanted to GO – if not there, somewhere. I had no travel on my calendar and felt very constrained and homebound … and … no Dale. The trip was planned during the prelude to the “hard days of August” – eleven years but it still hurts. I already had a companion to stay with Sarah. I thought, “I’ll go somewhere anyway!” My first choice was north to see you, but I realized I only had four days total, and the driving alone is four days. And I really needed some uninterrupted time to work on some Christmas presents I’m sewing for the girls. So I found the closest hotel “ON” the beach that had a vacancy where I could sew for four days, walk the beach, watch the sunsets, have good Bible study time (it was just before the launch date of our 2021-2022 women’s Bible study.) The closest I could find (and afford) was in Shelter Cove. I loaded my sewing machine, iron, boxes of tools, and fabric. It was four days of wonderful. Population – 580. 73 degrees and beautiful night and day. I slept with the balcony slider wide open and was lulled by the roar of the ocean only a few hundred feet away. I was the only guest in a “hotel” that had about six rooms.
I noticed a tiny white wooden church (the only church I saw) just a block down a mountain road, and I could tell it was evangelical. I was checking out on Sunday morning at 11:00, which was the exact time the service started. I knew I wanted to go.
There were five or six people on the tiny platform – with a mandolin, a guitar, an older woman pounding out some old revival music on an upright piano, a fiddle. Dudes our age with full facial hair and long hair in ponytails, probably Vietnam veterans, old ladies, a few young (40s haha) people. The total congregation in the pews was twelve plus the ones up front, so about 17 people total. They were joyfully and confusedly “winging it” – “Am I up next?” “Is this the time for prayer requests?” Someone in the pews always knew and called out clarification. It was just delightful. I think Jesus would have loved being there. There were praises and prayer requests — kids without jobs, people with cancer or covid, Laughter. Compassion. Openly and unapologetically expressed because of the size. Then was time for the sermon.
[And everything to this point was just the background to this…]
A 50s-ish man who had been one of those who spoke up freely from the back corner stepped up to preach. His name was Mike. He looked and had mannerisms and a way of speaking that was like seeing you 20 years ago. It was so striking. He told about his little girl saying, “Daddy, you never cry.” He thought about it and told her, “Yes, honey, I do.” And he told about being called into the principal’s office in about 5th grade and hearing them recommend that he be moved to the special education class, of watching his mother cry. Knowing he had caused his mother pain broke his heart. His mom died daily to care for the (6?) kids and they were poor. He cried. And he determined then and there to live in such a way as to never cause her pain again.
He stopped in the early part of this, and said, “My dad [who clearly was behind me] told me not to say something… but I can’t remember what it is!” (laughter all around.) Then he related that story to God’s love for us. His sacrifice, our poverty, our sin, His mercy that never flagged. He implored, “Do you understand???” Then he stopped. “That’s IT! THAT is what I’m not supposed to say! He said I say it too much! (more laughter.)
And he did. And now I noticed! But barely. I was just so moved as he continued to show from the Scriptures and his own life how deep and unconditional the Father’s love is for us, the sending of Jesus, His love and sacrifice. I was reminded of his supposed need to go to the learning-disabled class, yet here he was in the pulpit, expounding on the most important truth in the world and doing so powerfully yet in a way of profound simplicity and truth. And I thought of the verses in I Corinthians 1,
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.”
And Chuck, his physical appearance and mannerisms were so YOU. I was reminded of the early days of you and Dale as new believers handing out tracts, and telling anyone who would listen to the simple Gospel, uncluttered by hoity-toity theologians. And Mike kept asking, “Do you understand?” I was reminded of the Ethiopian eunuch on the desert road, and he is recorded as saying “Do you understand?” It was so earnest and compelling.
At the end of the service, I went to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for such a powerful and moving sermon. I told him never to worry about saying “Do you understand?” because he is just quoting Scripture! I reminded him of the verse, and that it was no different than Jesus saying “Verily! Verily..” and he excitedly said, “That’s just what my wife told me this morning!” Then I told him of how much he reminded me of you, and told him a very brief account of Chief Jackson, his zeal for the Lord, his ministry in your life, and how that led to you not only getting saved but in the salvation of many in your family, and of you chasing Dale down in Vietnam and leading him to Christ and to the power of the Holy Spirit, and finished with the fact that even though both yours and Dale’s were powerful emotional responses, that neither of you ever looked back. Both of you served God with faces set like flint on the finish line, on eternity, on pleasing God. Having decided to follow Jesus, “No turning back”.
Mike was listening intently then said, “What did you say his name was?” I said, “Chuck”. He said “No, the other one!” “Dale?” “No, the one on the ship!” Oh! “Chief Jackson!” “YES!” Then he began to tell me a part of his own story. He tried not to cause his mother any more reasons to cry, but he didn’t love God or serve Him. Life had been hard. He was a young man working at Walmart and was gathering up the carts in the parking lot when someone laid a hand on his shoulder and spun him around. It was a co-worker I’ll call John. John looked right at Mike and said, “I won’t ever mention Jesus to you again, because until the Holy Spirit puts His hand on your shoulder and turns you around, there is no hope for you.” That night, he gave his life to Christ, and has never looked back. The co-worker’s last name was Jackson.
I got in my car and cried. So grateful, so encouraged, so moved… by the whole thing! It was a Holy Spirit encounter that I know encouraged him as much as it encouraged me… And as I dried my eyes so I could see to drive, I reflected on the amazing details of the stories that dovetailed to this moment, these two people – a middle-aged man in a tiny church and an old lady far from home because of Covid and hurricanes, and Chief Petty Officers on ships fifty years ago, and the overlap of two brothers in far-off Vietnam, and of Dale’s mission being scrubbed at the last second giving him the whole day to spend with you – of God sending PopPop to HMB instead of Bishop or SoCal, so you boys moved near San Jose; Dale marrying me out of many tens of thousands; then sending me to that little chapel on that day. To see the fruit of you and Dale and your early simple bold zealous testimonies still bearing fruit fifty years later. And allowing me to see it and tell you. Ripples.
A long story, yet simple. So much goodness and faithfulness in God, in His love for us, in His giving us unmerited glimpses of it here and there like rainbows in a break in a huge storm. “Verily, verily” moments. Love notes from Eternity sent into Time and Space.
I’m so thankful for you – for the impact you have made through your faithfulness to God, and its subsequent impact on me and on so many people I love. The ripples keep spreading outward… still. Do you understand?
I love you, Brother. Thank you for your faithfulness to Him.