Ripples of Faithfulness – A letter to Chuck

Hi Chuck!
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.


COVID-19 and other generational traumas

When I was a young child, it was polio. It got my two-year-old sister. She was hospitalized, put in social and physical isolation. Even our parents were kept away except one visit by one parent for five minutes a week. She, they, and we were forever changed. I remember vividly being in a long line of little children getting a sugar cube put on my tongue, like a holy communion wafer, from a lady with a tense, hopeful, forced smile.
In elementary school, it was air-raid drills and the threat of atomic bombs. Shelter under your desk!
In middle school, it was the scientists’ dire warnings about global cooling and a coming ice-age.
President Kennedy, Bobby, MLKjr,
Riots, marches, hunger strikes, struggles for civil rights
Vietnam, the draft, word of lost friends
California on fire.

I was thinking this morning about generational traumas. I am 68 and these were mine. We all have had them, will have them. We will be impacted by all of them, remember most of them.

Take heart, parents. This – now – can make your children strong, compassionate, wise. It can give them perspective on what really matters. They’re watching and listening and processing to see how we respond – how they should respond. You have their ear like no other time. This is boot camp for the rest of life’s troubles, and we get to teach them how to find the good. Every day. That’s a silver lining. A gift. A severe mercy. As I pondered these things, these song lyrics came to mind:

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”
–John Newton, 1725-1807
[once a prominent slave trader who repented, turned to follow Christ, and ended up becoming a leading abolitionist.]

Looking Back: Testimony given to a women’s Bible study in 2012.

Early Christmas morning, 1974, I was awakened by my mother running down the hall, shouting, “Kim, Kim, I think Dad’s dead!”  As soon as I entered their room, I somehow knew that he was already gone, no longer there, but – you do what you have to do – so I told her to call 9-1-1 and I gave my beloved Dad CPR.  He had had a massive coronary sometime in the night.  Only two months before, he had submitted his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, after years of angry defiance, and would spend his first Christmas as a Christian face to face with the Jesus he had come to truly love.

But I was Daddy’s girl, and I was devastated and traumatized.  My wedding was only seven weeks away, and for the first months of our married life I would secretly but frequently check during the night to see if Dale was still alive.  I was sneaky and would cuddle so that my ear was on his chest; hearing that slow, steady rhythm was a balm to my own traumatized and fearful heart.  Once I reached over in the middle of the night to check and he suddenly spoke, “I feel you checking my heart!”  I knew I couldn’t live with this fear of losing him, so I had to let go, fully acknowledging that he was not mine anyway, he was the Lord’s.  I had to trust God for him, to say, “He is Yours, not mine; You have entrusted him to me and I will trust him with You.  I want Your will – nothing more and nothing less.”

Repeatedly, the Lord has brought me reminders to let go… to hold loosely to this world, even to the people I’m called – commanded – to care for and to love. He has had to pry my white knuckles again off those people so I could set my heart on pilgrimage.  All that I have – my husband, children, health, reputation, friends, my very life – are His, not mine; He is the owner and I am only a steward, and often a very poor one at that.  One by one He has put each of our four children in a position where I was totally helpless, forced to relinquish my death-grip on that child and lay him or her at Jesus’ feet.  But through every trial He has taught me so much and has sent tokens of His love to encourage me and keep me from despair.

When our firstborn child Sarah saw the doctor at four weeks old she had not gained weight and had developed a heart murmur.  The doctors began a series of tests.  We were in the middle of moving to Southern California at the time.  Dale actually had the car loaded and had said his goodbyes to us to go down to secure an apartment, when he had to come back in to get something he had forgotten.  That was the moment the phone rang with the test results.  (Why is bad news called “positive results”?)  Yes, Sarah had Down Syndrome and a major, weight-inhibiting heart defect.  Poor Dale prayed with us, but then had to drive away, leaving us alone.  It was the 1970’s, (my hair was to my hips…) we were young and poor, had just finished school, and had no family close.  I spent the next few ENDLESS days in our rocking chair, holding Sarah, crying and praying.

Dale secured us a place to live and came back to get us.  When we finally arrived down south and went to the home of some of Dale’s childhood friends, we told them about Sarah’s conditions.  The wife looked at me, and at Sarah, then asked incredulously, “Have you been sitting in a rocking chair, crying?”  When I said yes, she told me that a friend had had a burden for a young mother somewhere with long hair, sitting in a rocking chair, holding a baby and crying and praying.  She didn’t know who it was, but she couldn’t forget it, and she’d been praying for “this girl” all week.  What tender mercy for the Lord to put me miraculously on the heart of a total stranger, and for me to find out about it!  In dark hours to come – even those years later – I would remember this token of God’s love for me.

When Sarah was 2½ she finally reached the safety target weight of 23 pounds and underwent open-heart surgery.  Our assistant pastor sat with us for the whole 8 hours.  Two things I will always remember: he read to me 2 Corinthians 1, which says that we suffer, and God comforts us, so that we can then go out and comfort others with that same comfort.  He also reminded me that God had watched His only son suffer and even die.  It was because He loved me so much that He knew exactly what I was going through and how I felt.  He was a God of compassion and love.  This pastor’s own firstborn, Godly, 19-year-old son was dying of bone cancer.  This pastor was living what he taught; he was walking ahead of me on this road of severe mercy and could truly comfort me with the tender comfort God had given him.

In the next few years our youngest got into a childproof bottle of Tylenol and had to undergo traumatic treatment, our only son was thought to have leukemia, and about 15 years later he was thought to have lymphoma, and our middle daughter had to have extensive orthopedic surgery and had a respiratory arrest while I was alone with her in ICU.  I was that mom hearing “CODE BLUE; THIRD FLOOR” about her own child.  But in God’s great mercy, each of our children was given back to us whole, while I had fresh reminders that they were the Lord’s, not ours. During this time I learned to cling to Godly friends, and to praise Him when doing so was a “sacrifice of praise”.  In moments of deepest sorrow I learned to get out a hymnal and (sobbing, off-key and full blast) sing songs of God’s love and faithfulness.  This unfailingly gives  me hope and peace, and quiets my heart.

Then came six years of great peace, health, and blessing after blessing.  I had a keen sense of urgency – that the Lord was giving me this time to be renewed and strengthened, to feed richly on His Word and theology, to become more firmly anchored in my faith and more aware of the devil’s schemes, to hide His Word in my heart as an ant stores up food in the summer for the winter I sensed was ahead… and we all know the winter comes for us all…

But when the next big storm finally came in 2001, I was still crushed under the weight and severity of it.  During a time when my mother was being diagnosed with metastasized, aggressive cancer, and came within hours of dying, some leaders of the church we were attending began to verbally and spiritually abuse our middle two kids, slandering us and trying to divide our family, turning all allegiance from parents to the “pastor”.  Over the years there had been many isolated incidents that had troubled us, but now we were concerned enough to consult with two national Christian experts on abusive churches about what was happening.  We began to realize that although the church was orthodox in its beliefs, it was cultic in practice. Looking at all the troubling bits we had swept under the rug, we were shocked at what we saw. In leaving, our reputations were slandered, our kids lost their jobs, and we lost all our church family and friends, because the church members were ordered to shun us.  Ironically, the treatment we’ve received served to validate our concerns.  A Godly friend who had left before us put it well, “I cried out ‘Why me??  – Why did the Lord show ME such mercy to deliver me, when so many wonderful people remain behind, locked in?’”

We rejoice that He is restoring the years the locust has eaten, He has put us in a healthy church where we have had words and acts of grace poured out on us, given us compassion for our persecutors, and freed our hearts to see and rejoice in His tender care.  He even amazingly gave me my mother back, in good health!

Years ago in a dark time, the Lord helped me see a huge boulder, with a large crack in the side, and when the storms blast around me, I can go deep into this crack and even watch the storm raging outside, but inside is stillness and peace.  This Rock is Jesus.  He is my mighty fortress.  In the Cleft of the Rock there is safety and rest for my soul.  I CAN trust Him.