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I am filled with joyous praise of our Heavenly Father today as Lea and I celebrate the miraculous healing He has provided her over the past four years, and the opportunities given us to witness to others of His workings in our lives. Yesterday, almost exactly four years after Lea was stricken with sudden and near fatal necrotizing pancreatitis, her doctor feels she has achieved sufficient medical and mental recovery to assume a more normal lifestyle. He has cleared her to begin driving a car again, and even to accept appointment to jury duty.

These are huge steps in her return from a crippling disease that claimed her life four times, handicapped her physically and mentally, and created major changes in our lives, including a complete uprooting from our comfortable lifestyle and superficial comforts, and a homecoming to the values that are truly important.

Many Chrisitans continue to misunderstand what our relationship to Father God should be. We often believe that it is simply our acceptance that Jesus, lived, died, and rose again, and then avoiding doing bad things until we appear in front of God’s throne to be judged and rewarded according to our deeds. Not so. The real account of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out to service, takes him on a journey, and gives him true purpose.

God created us to be Christ-like, and to carry the word of salvation to all parts of the world. If we aren’t serving Him in that manner, He will, like any good father, try to nudge us in the right direction. If that gentle nudge doesn’t work, He will try a new strategy . . . perhaps a little more forceful. If those attempts don’t work, He may have to take even more drastic action to bring us back into line. I am one of those believers God had to severely discipline, and pray for His continual guidance as I try to serve Him to the best of my abilities.

Scripture is clear that you cannot accept Christ and then just live any way you please. And, God  takes our obligation to serve Him seriously. He will often let us stray a bit to test the boundaries, as children will do. Eventually, though, He will bring us back into line by taking us to the woodshed for a good, corrective, spanking if necessary.

I got one of His woodshed spankings that shook my faith to the core. God led me through six months of hell in the form of unrelenting horrors in 2005 while Lea was in the hospital. Her pancreas had suddenly, without warning, ruptured and began dissolving all her internal organs with stomach acid. The surgeons had quickly placed her in a drug induced coma to begin her treatment and said she had a 15% chance of surviving.

She was in that coma for 78 days. She had eighteen IVs delivering medications, plus hookups for Dialysis and Plasma Phoresis. She had cuffs on her legs that would squeeze and release to circulate her blood, and a respirator to breathe for her, because her internal functions has ceased to work normally. During her hospitalization she had over 30 surgeries. Her cardiac and pulmonary systems failed four times, requiring emergency procedures to restore them. The medical team wasn’t even sure her brain was working after the first two weeks, or that she could recover from the trauma caused by the pancreas. This was truly Hell.

I believe this illness was God’s way of getting my attention. I had always been independent,  prideful; self reliant.  I ignored His calls to service, although I recognized that’s what they were. He had tried easier, more subtle ways to being me back into the church I had disregarded so long, but those efforts didn’t work. Lea and I were busy at our careers, and running a bed and breakfast that we used as an excuse to be “too busy” to get back to church. That’s why God had to take more drastic measures.

The Floating Vision
Six weeks before we drove from Indiana to Maine for vacation with some dear friends, God gave me a forewarning in the form of a vision. At the time, I was building a number of wooden replacement storm windows in the basement of our Bed & Breakfast. We had no guests that night, and I had kissed Lea goodnight as she headed upstairs to bed, then went downstairs to work for an hour or two.

Perhaps half an hour later, as I started brushing paint on one of the window frames, I heard Lea call softly from the top of the basement stairs, “Larry.” I was a little surprised she wasn’t already asleep, and responded, “What?” She didn’t reply. Sometimes when she was looking for me she wouldn’t realize that I was in the basement, and would go on into the rest of the house looking for me.

But, that night, since we had no guests, I had turned all the lights off when I went down to the basement, and had even left the door open, which would spill light out into the dark kitchen.

“Larry,” she called softly. “I’m in the basement, hon,” I replied a little louder than before. Again, no reply.

I wondered if I should go find her, but I was almost done, and didn’t want to leave the painting unfinished. “Larry,” she called softly again. I put my paint brush down, a little alarmed, that she didn’t answer me. I hurried up the stairs and saw her standing in the doorway in a simple white nightgown.

“What is it, honey?” I asked.
She said, “I died!” almost as though surprised.
“What!?” I said, thinking I must have misunderstood her.
“I died,” she repeated, and started to fade away. Just as she vanished, I noticed she was floating above the floor, her feet dangling below the gown.

I ran up to our bedroom, where I found her laying on her side toward the center of the bed. I reached out to place my hand on her arm, while praying silently that she was still warm. As I touched her, she turned slowly to me, nearly asleep, and asked, “What’s wrong?” All I could get out, was, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you.” She smiled faintly, turned back, and went to sleep.

I stood there for several minutes, unable to make myself leave her side. How confused I felt! The horror I felt just ran up and down my limbs and my mind raced seeking some logical explanation for what I had seen. Over the next two days, the vision was constantly in my thoughts, and I shared it with Lea and other family members over the next couple of days. Although puzzled by it, I didn’t put enough importance on it. It was just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen. Later that same week, however, I had another incident.

The Casket Vision
Lea had again gone on to bed while I finished up some things downstairs. When I entered our bedroom, dimly lit by the nightlight across the room, I saw Lea lying on her back, the covers thrown back, with her hands folded on her chest. And, just for an instant, I thought I saw her lying in an open casket.

The vision nearly brought me to my knees. I was really shaken. I didn’t wake Lea, but lay down beside her, and wept silently as I prayed for clarity. I know how final death is. There is no second chance to say the things you wish you had told them. There is no “Do over.” If you haven’t said it, or shared it before they pass, it’s just too late, and, you have to live with that regret.

I really understood, for the first time, how horribly I would miss Lea if I no longer had her at my side. I knew that I was being given a message to spend more quality time with Lea. To make sure that all those things that needed to be said between us were said. We had many warm, loving, friend-to-friend conversations over the next few weeks, and I felt closer to her than ever.

Less than 2 months later she lay in that coma, practically dead. Certainly her body had given up, and her spirit, the soul that makes her who she is, was not present. The body was being kept alive by machines. I kept thinking about the visions, and now, I feared, the Lord was now taking her away from me. I prayed constantly, silently talking to God as though He were physically at my side.

Over the first few days in the hospital, it was revealed to me that if I wanted God to listen to my prayers for miraculous healing, I was going to have to get right with Him. I had been out of fellowship with the church for decades, and I was going to have to change my heart.  I prayed earnestly for forgiveness, and I promised God that if He allowed her to stay with me, I would make this chapter of our lives about her, and our lives about His service.

But, God knows my pride, and that I struggle with being submissive, so He had to keep working on me to break through my resistance. During one particularly tough day, Lea’s lungs stopped functioning for the second time. She was still in a coma, but the medical team had been trying to wean her off the ventilator. But, fluid buildup in the chest cavity created so much pressure the lungs simply collapsed, and breathing stopped. 

A doctor and a respiratory therapist quickly responded, and had me roll Lea up on her side and hold her while the doctor inserted a large needle through her back into her chest cavity to drain the fluid, and got her lungs started again. As I stood there holding the comatose body of the person I have so dearly loved in this life, I realized that what I loved about her wasn’t there in that bed. Her spirit . . . the essence of who she is . . . was somewhere else . . . maybe already in heaven.

The horrors just kept coming. I was emotionally exhausted, with no relief in sight.
I prostrated myself before Him that night in my bedroom, praying for strength. I knew that my faith was being tested, that I was being disciplined to get me back into the role set out for me. I also knew that God’s will was going to be served, regardless, and that my test of faith could include Lea’s death. Once I recognized and accepted those realities, I began praying a little differently, asking to be given strength to accept His will for my life and bring honor to Him regardless what challenges were placed before me.

As I lay there, He brought the book of James to mind.  James 1:3 – “The testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  I re-read the Book of James the next day while sitting with Lea in the ICU, and the Lord revealed several other things to me. One piece of scripture that really hit home was James 1:5-8  5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; 8 they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.” I resolved to be single minded and stable.

James 4:15 – “If it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.” I gave myself up to our Father, submitted to His will, and told Him I knew that He had control. If He chose to take Lea home, I prayed that He would grant me the wisdom and depth of faith to deal with my loss in such a way that I could be a sound witness and demonstrate the peace He gives His children.

It’s difficult to think of trouble as being a blessing when you’re going through such a difficult trial, but we know that it is true. We grow much more in faith through dealing with difficulties, than we do just cruising through life. James 5:11 teaches, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.”

James 4:10 – “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Pride has always been one of my biggest challenges, and I realized that pride was at the root of my separation from the church years ago. I began working hard to let it go, and confessed to God that I needed His help in casting that demon out. I continue working on humbling myself every day to bring my pride under control.

James 2:18; “Faith without works is dead.” I had not been working for the Lord for a long time, because I let the devil, through my pride, turn me away from the church. God was showing me that He wanted me back in fellowship, and He and I were talking constantly during those days as He strengthened my faith.

James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed.” I am confessing to you that I am a work in progress, flawed, but with hope eternal through salvation made possible by the blood and resurrection of Jesus.

I thank the Lord for bringing me back into the fold, and for restoring Lea to a healthful state. I know that each and every day is a very special gift from my loving Father. I try to care for Lea as though she is really special to God, because I believe she is. Lea and I feel that sharing our story is the ministry God our Father has set before us, and we are blessed through that testimony to be a blessing to others!

I suppose perhaps the main lesson to be taken from our experience is to recognize that you have a special role to play in God’s plan, and you must guard against Satan turning you from that role. Satan never takes a vacation.  He is always present, always looking for a way to turn us from God.  Be alert! “Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)

Strengthen yourself in the Lord, putting on His full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:11). That means, among other things, to remember and believe that as a Christian you have received the righteousness of Jesus. It’s a defense against the ongoing accusations that the enemy tries to speak into your life. Stand confident that the Father loves YOU and in the fact that He does have good plans for you!

Please continue to pray for Lea and me as we continue our walk with God; that we can stand firm against the devil’s wiles and schemes, and that our life’s story can be a blessing to others and bring them into the light of this world, our savior, Jesus Christ.

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(May 5, 2009 – Baltimore Examiner)

I received this from a friend in Oklahoma. I added the laws after I confirmed them all. Maybe I’ll move to Oklahoma!

 The state law passed today, 37 to 9, had a few liberals in the mix, an amendment to place the Ten Commandments on the front entrance to the state capitol. The feds in D.C., along with the ACLU, said it would be a mistake. Hey this is a conservative state, based on Christian values. Guess what……….We did it anyway!  House Bill 1330

(May 26, 2009 –  The Oklahoman – Not even a popular governor dared stand in the way of the Ten Commandments. Gov. Brad Henry, with some polls showing him having a popularity rating of nearly 70 percent, signed without comment Monday a measure to place a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds.  Had Henry vetoed House Bill 1330, it was likely the GOP-run Legislature would have overridden it, something that has occurred only once in the 61/2 years Henry has been governor. The measure easily passed both chambers: 83-2 in the House and 38-8 in the Senate.)

We recently passed a law in the state to incarcerate all illegal immigrants, and ship them back to where they came from, unless they want to get a green card and/or become an American citizen. They all scattered. Hope we didn’t send any of them to your state. This was against the advice of the Federal Government, and the ACLU, they said it would be a mistake. Guess what……….we did it anyway. House Bill 1804

(Tulsa, Oklahoma (CNN) – “I’m convinced illegal aliens will not come to Oklahoma, or any other state, if there are no jobs waiting for them.” said state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Republican and the law’s author. “They will not stay here if there are not taxpayer subsidies and they certainly won’t stay here if they ever encounter one of our fine state and local law enforcement officials,” he added. “They’ll be physically detained — until they’re deported.”)

Yesterday we passed a law to include DNA samples from any and all illegals to the Oklahoma database, for criminal investigative purposes. Pelosi said it was unconstitutional. Guess what……..We did it anyway. Senate Bill 1102

Several weeks ago, we passed a law, declaring Oklahoma as a Sovereign state, not under the Federal Government directives. That, for your information, makes Oklahoma and Texas the only states to do so. Guess what………More states are likely to follow. Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, both Carolina’s, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, West Virginia, just to name a few. Should Mississippi act, so will Florida. Save your confederate money, it appears the South is about to rise up once again. House Joint Resolution 1003

(World Net Daily – FEB 2009 NEW YORK – Oklahoma’s House of Representatives is the first legislative body to pass a state sovereignty resolution this year under the terms of the Tenth Amendment.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution 1003 Feb. 18 by a wide margin, 83 to 13, resolving, “That the State of Oklahoma hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.” The language of HJR 1003 further serves notice to the federal government “to cease and desist, effectively immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.”)

The federal Government has made bold steps to take away our guns. Oklahoma, a week ago, passed a law confirming people in this state have the right to bear arms and transport them in their vehicles. I’m sure that was a set back for the Kennedys and Ms Pelosi. Guess what……….We did it anyway. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling 3-0

By the way, Obama does not like any of this. Guess what….who cares…were doing it anyway.

Author: Al Ritter Baltimore Examiner – http://www.examiner.com/x-3678-Baltimore-Conservative-Examiner~y2009m5d5-Update-from-Oklahoma

chancephelpsHere is a story worth reading!  Chance Phelps’ story is well told by a U.S. Marine Corps officer who volunteered to serve as an escort for the remains of one fallen Marine being returned to his family. The officer’s life was deeply impacted by this experience. Below is his well worded journal of the events of that escort duty and his experiences throughout the days of this most humble detail.

There are several web sites about Chance Phelps that have comments from all over the world and from Marines that served with him. They are also well worth reading. We can not thank our uniformed men and women enough for the service they provide, and pray that in some way they know that their country supports them.

23 Apr 04 – This article was written by LtCol M.R. Strobl USMC who is assigned to MCCDC Quantico, VA and served as the officer who escorted the remains of PFC C. Phelps USMC from Dover AFB, DE to his home. PFC Phelps was assigned to 3d Bn, 11th Marines – an artillery unit functioning as a provisional infantry battalion during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM 2. PFC Phelps was killed in action from a gunshot wound received on 9 Apr 04 during combat operations west of Baghdad. He was buried in Dubois, WY on 17 Apr 04.

“Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him. Over a year ago, I volunteered to escort the remains of Marines killed in Iraq should the need arise. The military provides a uniformed escort for all casualties to ensure they are delivered safely to the next of kin and are treated with dignity and respect along the way.
 
Thankfully, I hadn’t been called on to be an escort since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. The first few weeks of April, however, had been a tough month for the Marines. On the Monday after Easter I was reviewing Department of Defense press releases when I saw that a Private First Class Chance Phelps was killed in action outside of Baghdad. The press release listed his hometown – the same town I’m from. I notified our Battalion adjutant and told him that, should the duty to escort PFC Phelps fall to our Battalion, I would take him.
 
I didn’t hear back the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday until 1800. The Battalion duty NCO called my cell phone and said I needed to be ready to leave for Dover Air Force Base at 1900 in order to escort the remains of PFC Phelps. Before leaving for Dover I called the major who had the task of informing Phelps’ parents of his death. The major said the funeral was going to be in Dubois, Wyoming. (It turned out that PFC Phelps only lived in my hometown for his senior year of high school.) I had never been to Wyoming and had never heard of Dubois.
 
With two other escorts from Quantico, I got to Dover AFB at 2330 on Tuesday night. First thing on Wednesday we reported to the mortuary at the base. In the escort lounge there were about half a dozen Army soldiers and about an equal number of Marines waiting to meet up with ‘their’ remains for departure. PFC Phelps was not ready, however, and I was told to come back on Thursday. Now, at Dover with nothing to do and a solemn mission ahead, I began to get depressed.
 
I was wondering about Chance Phelps. I didn’t know anything about him; not even what he looked like. I wondered about his family and what it would be like to meet them. I did pushups in my room until I couldn’t do any more.
 
On Thursday morning I reported back to the mortuary. This time there was a new group of Army escorts and a couple of the Marines who had been there Wednesday. There was also an Air Force captain there to escort his brother home to San Diego.
 
We received a brief covering our duties, the proper handling of the remains, the procedures for draping a flag over a casket, and of course, the paperwork attendant to our task. We were shown pictures of the shipping container and told that each one contained, in addition to the casket, a flag. I was given an extra flag since Phelps’ parents were divorced. This way they would each get one. I didn’t like the idea of stuffing the flag into my luggage but I couldn’t see carrying a large flag, folded for presentation to the next of kin, through an airport while in my Alpha uniform. It barely fit into my suitcase.
 
It turned out that I was the last escort to leave on Thursday. This meant that I repeatedly got to participate in the small ceremonies that mark all departures from the Dover AFB mortuary.
 
Most of the remains are taken from Dover AFB by hearse to the airport in Philadelphia for air transport to their final destination. When the remains of a service member are loaded onto a hearse and ready to leave the Dover mortuary, there is an announcement made over the building’s intercom system. With the announcement, all service members working at the mortuary, regardless of service branch, stop work and form up along the driveway to render a slow ceremonial salute as the hearse departs. Escorts also participated in each formation until it was their time to leave.
 
On this day there were some civilian workers doing construction on the mortuary grounds. As each hearse passed, they would stop working and place their hard hats over their hearts. This was my first sign that my mission with PFC Phelps was larger than the Marine Corps and that his family and friends were not grieving alone.
 
Eventually I was the last escort remaining in the lounge. The Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant in charge of the Marine liaison there came to see me.  He had Chance Phelps’ personal effects. He removed each item; a large watch, a wooden cross with a lanyard, two loose dog tags, two dog tags on a chain, and a Saint Christopher medal on a silver chain. Although we had been briefed that we might be carrying some personal effects of the deceased, this set me back. Holding his personal effects, I was starting to get to know Chance Phelps.
 
Finally we were ready. I grabbed my bags and went outside. I was somewhat startled when I saw the shipping container, loaded three-quarters of the way in to the back of a black Chevy Suburban that had been modified to carry such cargo. This was the first time I saw my ‘cargo’ and I was surprised at how large the shipping container was. The Master Gunnery Sergeant and I verified that the name on the container was Phelps’ then they pushed him the rest of the way in and we left. Now it was PFC Chance Phelps’ turn to receive the military – and construction workers’ – honors. He was finally moving towards home.
 
As I chatted with the driver on the hour-long trip to Philadelphia, it became clear that he considered it an honor to be able to contribute in getting Chance home. He offered his sympathy to the family. I was glad to finally be moving yet apprehensive about what things would be like at the airport. I didn’t want this package to be treated like ordinary cargo yet I knew that the simple logistics of moving around a box this large would have to overrule my preferences.
 
When we got to the Northwest Airlines cargo terminal at the Philadelphia airport, the cargo handler and hearse driver pulled the shipping container onto a loading bay while I stood to the side and executed a slow salute. Once Chance was safely in the cargo area, and I was satisfied that he would be treated with due care and respect, the hearse driver drove me over to the passenger terminal and dropped me off.
 
As I walked up to the ticketing counter in my uniform, a Northwest employee started to ask me if I knew how to use the automated boarding pass dispenser. Before she could finish another ticketing agent interrupted her. He told me to go straight to the counter then explained to the woman that I was a military escort. She seemed embarrassed. The woman behind the counter already had tears in her eyes as I was pulling out my government travel voucher. She struggled to find words but managed to express her sympathy for the family and thank me for my service. She upgraded my ticket to first class.
 
After clearing security, I was met by another Northwest Airline employee at the gate. She told me a representative from cargo would be up to take me down to the tarmac to observe the movement and loading of PFC Phelps. I hadn’t really told any of them what my mission was but they all knew.
 
When the man from the cargo crew met me, he, too, struggled for words. On the tarmac, he told me stories of his childhood as a military brat and repeatedly told me that he was sorry for my loss. I was starting to understand that, even here in Philadelphia, far away from Chance’s hometown, people were mourning with his family.
 
On the tarmac, the cargo crew was silent expect for occasional instructions to each other. I stood to the side and saluted as the conveyor moved Chance to the aircraft. I was relieved when he was finally settled into place. The rest of the bags were loaded and I watched them shut the cargo bay door before heading back up to board the aircraft.
 
One of the pilots had taken my carry-on bag himself and had it stored next to the cockpit door so he could watch it while I was on the tarmac. As I boarded the plane, I could tell immediately that the flight attendants had already been informed of my mission. They seemed a little choked up as they led me to my seat.
 
About 45 minutes into our flight I still hadn’t spoken to anyone except to tell the first class flight attendant that I would prefer water. I was surprised when the flight attendant from the back of the plane suddenly appeared and leaned down to grab my hands. She said, ‘I want you to have this’ as she pushed a small gold crucifix, with a relief of Jesus, into my hand. It was her lapel pin and it looked somewhat worn. I suspected it had been hers for quite some time. That was the only thing she said to me the entire flight.
 
When we landed in Minneapolis, I was the first one off the plane. The pilot himself escorted me straight down the side stairs of the exit tunnel to the tarmac. The cargo crew there already knew what was on this plane. They were unloading some of the luggage when an Army sergeant, a fellow escort who had left Dover earlier that day, appeared next to me. His ‘cargo’ was going to be loaded onto my plane for its continuing leg. We stood side-by-side in the dark and executed a slow salute as Chance was removed from the plane. The cargo crew at Minneapolis kept Phelps’ shipping case separate from all the other luggage as they waited to take us to the cargo area. I waited with the soldier and we saluted together as his fallen comrade was loaded onto the plane.
 
My trip with Chance was going to be somewhat unusual in that we were going to have an overnight stopover. We had a late start out of Dover and there was just too much traveling ahead of us to continue on that day. (We still had a flight from Minneapolis to Billings, Montana, then a five-hour drive to the funeral home. That was to be followed by a 90-minute drive to Chance’s hometown.)
 
I was concerned about leaving him overnight in the Minneapolis cargo area. My ten-minute ride from the tarmac to the cargo holding area eased my apprehension. Just as in Philadelphia, the cargo guys in Minneapolis were extremely respectful and seemed honored to do their part. While talking with them, I learned that the cargo supervisor for Northwest Airlines at the Minneapolis airport is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. They called him for me and let me talk to him.
Once I was satisfied that all would be okay for the night, I asked one of the cargo crew if he would take me back to the terminal so that I could catch my hotel’s shuttle. Instead, he drove me straight to the hotel himself. At the hotel, the Lieutenant Colonel called me and said he would personally pick me up in the morning and bring me back to the cargo area.
Before leaving the airport, I had told the cargo crew that I wanted to come back to the cargo area in the morning rather than go straight to the passenger terminal. I felt bad for leaving Chance overnight and wanted to see the shipping container where I had left it for the night. It was fine.
 
The Lieutenant Colonel made a few phone calls then drove me around to the passenger terminal. I was met again by a man from the cargo crew and escorted down to the tarmac. The pilot of the plane joined me as I waited for them to bring Chance from the cargo area. The pilot and I talked of his service in the Air Force and how he missed it.
 
I saluted as Chance was moved up the conveyor and onto the plane. It was to be a while before the luggage was to be loaded so the pilot took me up to the board the plane where I could watch the tarmac from a window. With no other passengers yet on board, I talked with the flight attendants and one of the cargo guys. He had been in the Navy and one of the attendants had been in the Air Force. Everywhere I went, people were continuing to tell me their relationship to the military. After all the baggage was aboard, I went back down to the tarmac, inspected the cargo bay, and watched them secure the door.
 
When we arrived at Billings, I was again the first off the plane. This time Chance’s shipping container was the first item out of the cargo hold. The funeral director had driven five hours up from Riverton, Wyoming to meet us. He shook my hand as if I had personally lost a brother.
 
We moved Chance to a secluded cargo area. Now it was time for me to remove the shipping container and drape the flag over the casket. I had predicted that this would choke me up but I found I was more concerned with proper flag etiquette than the solemnity of the moment. Once the flag was in place, I stood by and saluted as Chance was loaded onto the van from the funeral home. I was thankful that we were in a small airport and the event seemed to go mostly unnoticed. I picked up my rental car and followed Chance for five hours until we reached Riverton. During the long trip I imagined how my meeting with Chance’s parents would go. I was very nervous about that.
 
When we finally arrived at the funeral home, I had my first face-to-face meeting with the Casualty Assistance Call Officer. It had been his duty to inform the family of Chance’s death. He was on the Inspector/Instructor staff of an infantry company in Salt Lake City, Utah and I knew he had had a difficult week.
 
Inside I gave the funeral director some of the paperwork from Dover and discussed the plan for the next day. The service was to be at 1400 in the high school gymnasium up in Dubois, population about 900, some 90 miles away. Eventually, we had covered everything. The CACO had some items that the family wanted to be inserted into the casket and I felt I needed to inspect Chance’s uniform to ensure everything was proper. Although it was going to be a closed casket funeral, I still wanted to ensure his uniform was squared away.
 
Earlier in the day I wasn’t sure how I’d handle this moment. Suddenly, the casket was open and I got my first look at Chance Phelps. His uniform was immaculate – a tribute to the professionalism of the Marines at Dover. I noticed that he wore six ribbons over his marksmanship badge; the senior one was his Purple Heart. I had been in the Corps for over 17 years, including a combat tour, and was wearing eight ribbons. This Private First Class, with less than a year in the Corps, had already earned six.
 
The next morning, I wore my dress blues and followed the hearse for the trip up to Dubois. This was the most difficult leg of our trip for me. I was bracing for the moment when I would meet his parents and hoping I would find the right words as I presented them with Chance’s personal effects.
 
We got to the high school gym about four hours before the service was to begin. The gym floor was covered with folding chairs neatly lined in rows. There were a few townspeople making final preparations when I stood next to the hearse and saluted as Chance was moved out of the hearse. The sight of a flag-draped coffin was overwhelming to some of the ladies.
 
We moved Chance into the gym to the place of honor. A Marine sergeant, the command representative from Chance’s battalion, met me at the gym. His eyes were watery as he relieved me of watching Chance so that I could go eat lunch and find my hotel.
 
At the restaurant, the table had a flier announcing Chance’s service. Dubois High School gym; two o’clock. It also said that the family would be accepting donations so that they could buy flak vests to send to troops in Iraq.
 
I drove back to the gym at a quarter after one. I could’ve walked; you could walk to just about anywhere in Dubois in ten minutes. I had planned to find a quiet room where I could take his things out of their pouch and untangle the chain of the Saint Christopher medal from the dog tag chains and arrange everything before his parents came in. I had twice before removed the items from the pouch to ensure they were all there, even though there was no chance anything could’ve fallen out. Each time, the two chains had been quite tangled. I didn’t want to be fumbling around trying to untangle them in front of his parents. Our meeting, however, didn’t go as expected.
 
I practically bumped into Chance’s step-mom accidentally and our introductions began in the noisy hallway outside the gym. In short order I had met Chance’s step-mom and father followed by his step-dad and, at last, his mom. I didn’t know how to express to these people my sympathy for their loss and my gratitude for their sacrifice. Now, however, they were repeatedly thanking me for bringing their son home and for my service. I was humbled beyond words.
 
I told them that I had some of Chance’s things and asked if we could try to find a quiet place. The five of us ended up in what appeared to be a computer lab, not what I had envisioned for this occasion.
 
After we had arranged five chairs around a small table, I told them about our trip. I told them how, at every step, Chance was treated with respect, dignity, and honor. I told them about the staff at Dover and all the folks at Northwest Airlines. I tried to convey how the entire Nation, from Dover to Philadelphia, to Minneapolis, to Billings, and Riverton expressed grief and sympathy over their loss.
 
Finally, it was time to open the pouch. The first item I happened to pull out was Chance’s large watch. It was still set to Baghdad time. Next were the lanyard and the wooden cross. Then the dog tags and the Saint Christopher medal. This time the chains were not tangled. Once all of his items were laid out on the table, I told his mom that I had one other item to give them. I retrieved the flight attendant’s crucifix from my pocket and told its story. I set that on the table and excused myself. When I next saw Chance’s mom, she was wearing the crucifix on her lapel.
 
By 1400 most of the seats on the gym floor were filled and people were finding seats in the fixed bleachers high above the gym floor. There were a surprising number of people in military uniform. Many Marines had come up from Salt Lake City. Men from various VFW posts and the Marine Corps League occupied multiple rows of folding chairs. We all stood as Chance’s family took their seats in the front.
 
It turned out that Chance’s sister, a Petty Officer in the Navy, worked for a Rear Admiral – the Chief of Naval Intelligence – at the Pentagon. The Admiral had brought many of the sailors on his staff with him to Dubois pay respects to Chance and support his sister. After a few songs and some words from a Navy Chaplain, the Admiral took the microphone and told us how Chance had died.
 
Chance was an artillery cannoneer and his unit was acting as provisional military police outside of Baghdad. Chance had volunteered to man a .50 caliber machine gun in the turret of the leading vehicle in a convoy. The convoy came under intense fire but Chance stayed true to his post and returned fire with the big gun, covering the rest of the convoy, until he was fatally wounded.
 
Then the commander of the local VFW post read some of the letters Chance had written home. In letters to his mom he talked of the mosquitoes and the heat. In letters to his stepfather he told of the dangers of convoy operations and of receiving fire.
 
The service was a fitting tribute to this hero. When it was over, we stood as the casket was wheeled out with the family following. The casket was placed onto a horse-drawn carriage for the mile-long trip from the gym, down the main street, then up the steep hill to the cemetery. I stood alone and saluted as the carriage departed the high school. I found my car and joined Chance’s convoy.
 
The town seemingly went from the gym to the street. All along the route, the people had lined the street and were waving small American flags. The flags that were otherwise posted were all at half-staff. For the last quarter mile up the hill, local boy scouts, spaced about 20 feet apart, all in uniform, held large flags. At the foot of the hill, I could look up and back and see the enormity of our procession. I wondered how many people would be at this funeral if it were in, say, Detroit or Los Angeles?  Probably not as many as were here in little Dubois, Wyoming.
 
The carriage stopped about 15 yards from the grave and the military pall bearers and the family waited until the men of the VFW and Marine Corps league were formed up and school busses had arrived carrying many of the people from the procession route. Once the entire crowd was in place, the pallbearers came to attention and began to remove the casket from the caisson. As I had done all week, I came to attention and executed a slow ceremonial salute as Chance was being transferred from one mode of transport to another.
 
From Dover to Philadelphia; Philadelphia to Minneapolis; Minneapolis to Billings; Billings to Riverton; and Riverton to Dubois we had been together. Now, as I watched them carry him the final 15 yards, I was choking up. I felt that, as long as he was still moving, he was somehow still alive. Then they put him down above his grave. He had stopped moving.
 
Although my mission had been officially complete once I turned him over to the funeral director at the Billings airport, it was his placement at his grave that really concluded it in my mind. Now, he was home to stay and I suddenly felt at once sad, relieved, and useless.
 
The chaplain said some words that I couldn’t hear and two Marines removed the flag from the casket and slowly folded it for presentation to his mother. When the ceremony was over, Chance’s father placed a ribbon from his service in Vietnam on Chance’s casket. His mother approached the casket and took something from her blouse and put it on the casket. I later saw that it was the flight attendant’s crucifix. Eventually friends of Chance’s moved closer to the grave. A young man put a can of Coppenhagen on the casket and many others left flowers.
 
Finally, we all went back to the gym for a reception. There was enough food to feed the entire population for a few days. In one corner of the gym there was a table set up with lots of pictures of Chance and some of his sports awards. People were continually approaching me and the other Marines to thank us for our service. Almost all of them had some story to tell about their connection to the military. About an hour into the reception, I had the impression that every man in Wyoming had, at one time or another, been in the service.
 
It seemed like every time I saw Chance’s mom she was hugging a different well wisher. As time passed, I began to hear people laughing. We were starting to heal.
 
After a few hours at the gym, I went back to the hotel to change out of my dress blues. The local VFW post had invited everyone over to celebrate Chance’s life. The Post was on the other end of town from my hotel and the drive took less than two minutes. The crowd was somewhat smaller than what had been at the gym but the Post was packed.
 
Marines were playing pool at the two tables near the entrance and most of the VFW members were at the bar or around the tables in the bar area. The largest room in the Post was a banquet/dining/dancing area and it was now called The Chance Phelps Room.  Above the entry were two items: a large portrait of Chance in his dress blues and the Eagle, Globe, & Anchor. In one corner of the room there was another memorial to Chance.  There were candles burning around another picture of him in his blues. On the table surrounding his photo were his Purple Heart citation and his Purple Heart medal. There was also a framed copy of an excerpt from the Congressional Record. This was an elegant tribute to Chance Phelps delivered on the floor of the United States House of Representatives by Congressman Scott McInnis of Colorado. Above it all was a television that was playing a photo montage of Chance’s life from small boy to proud Marine.
 
I did not buy a drink that night. As had been happening all day, indeed all week, people were thanking me for my service and for bringing Chance home. Now, in addition to words and handshakes, they were thanking me with beer. I fell in with the men who had handled the horses and horse-drawn carriage. I learned that they had worked through the night to groom and prepare the horses for Chance’s last ride. They were all very grateful that they were able to contribute.
 
After a while we all gathered in the Chance Phelps room for the formal dedication. The Post commander told us of how Chance had been so looking forward to becoming a Life Member of the VFW. Now, in the Chance Phelps Room of the Dubois, Wyoming post, he would be an eternal member. We all raised our beers and the Chance Phelps room was christened.
 
Later, as I was walking toward the pool tables, a Staff Sergeant form the Reserve unit in Salt Lake grabbed me and said, ‘Sir, you gotta hear this.’  There were two other Marines with him and he told the younger one, a Lance Corporal, to tell me his story. The Staff Sergeant said the Lance Corporal was normally too shy and modest to tell it but now he’d had enough beer to overcome his usual tendencies.
 
As the Lance Corporal started to talk, an older man joined our circle. He wore a baseball cap that indicated he had been with the 1st Marine Division in Korea. Earlier in the evening he had told me about one of his former commanding officers; a Colonel Puller.
 
So, there I was, standing in a circle with three Marines recently returned from fighting with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq and one not so recently returned from fighting with the 1st Marine Division in Korea. I, who had fought with the 1st Marine Division in Kuwait, was about to gain a new insight into our Corps.
 
The young Lance Corporal began to tell us his story. At that moment, in this circle of current and former Marines, the differences in our ages and ranks dissipated – we were all simply Marines.
 
His squad had been on a patrol through a city street. They had taken small arms fire and had literally dodged an RPG round that sailed between two Marines. At one point they received fire from behind a wall and had neutralized the sniper with a SMAW round. The back blast of the SMAW, however, kicked up a substantial rock that hammered the Lance Corporal in the thigh; only missing his groin because he had reflexively turned his body sideways at the shot.
 
Their squad had suffered some wounded and was receiving more sniper fire when suddenly he was hit in the head by an AK-47 round. I was stunned as he told us how he felt like a baseball bat had been slammed into his head. He had spun around and fell unconscious. When he came to, he had a severe scalp wound but his Kevlar helmet had saved his life. He continued with his unit for a few days before realizing he was suffering the effects of a severe concussion.
 
As I stood there in the circle with the old man and the other Marines, the Staff Sergeant finished the story. He told of how this Lance Corporal had begged and pleaded with the Battalion surgeon to let him stay with his unit. In the end, the doctor said there was just no way; he had suffered a severe and traumatic head wound and would have to be med-evaced.
 
The Marine Corps is a special fraternity. There are moments when we are reminded of this. Interestingly, those moments don’t always happen at awards ceremonies or in dress blues at Birthday Balls. I have found, rather, that they occur at unexpected times and places: next to a loaded moving van at Camp Lejeune’s base housing, in a dirty CP tent in northern Saudi Arabia, and in a smoky VFW post in western Wyoming.
 
After the story was done, the Lance Corporal stepped over to the old man, put his arm over the man’s shoulder and told him that he, the Korean War vet, was his hero. The two of them stood there with their arms over each other’s shoulders and we were all silent for a moment. When they let go, I told the Lance Corporal that there were recruits down on the yellow footprints tonight that would soon be learning his story.
 
I was finished drinking beer and telling stories. I found Chance’s father and shook his hand one more time. Chance’s mom had already left and I deeply regretted not being able to tell her goodbye.
 
I left Dubois in the morning before sunrise for my long drive back to Billings. It had been my honor to take Chance Phelps to his final post. Now he was on the high ground overlooking his town.
I miss him.
 
Regards,
LtCol Strobl”

Our friend Joe, who suffered a heart attack in 2005 and had a heart transplant in 2008, has been in a Carmel, Indiana hospital for several weeks now with symptoms more related to his course of treatment after the transplant, than with the heart itself. Here is an update from his devoted wife, Pat:

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and believe it or not, I’m up, dressed, make-up on, hair done, and ready to go. Sad isn’t it? I had to wake my bra up this morning, it isn’t used to this either!  Today’s news about Joe is: he has been moved.  He was taken to another hospital within the St. Vincent’s complex called Seaton Specialty Hospital. It’s located on Town Rd. just west of the big hospital.  This facility is for long term patients and rehab, which Joe qualifies for.  We expect he will be there for 2 – 4 weeks, and he is starting rehab right away. They want him up and walking, to help build up his strength, and hopefully get his stomach back to working again.

Joe is still getting everything thru IVs, and nothing by mouth. When I left him last night at almost 10:00, he had 5 IV’s going, and not one of them had any chocolate in it!  (Just an FYI, I don’t want to go there, no chocolate, it’s not for me!)  But Joe seemed to be a little better, and his sprits were good.  At least this way he’s not up- chucking all day long, so that’s an improvement.  He even watched American Idol last night, and he hasn’t had the TV on in weeks.  When he starts flirting with all the nurses and picking out the real cute ones, I’ll know we’re on the road to recovery.

     I’m on my way to see him, run a few errands and I promised Scott’s Fire Station that I would make them a peach cobbler today.  So I’m back in flour!  I’m using everyone as ginney pigs for my pies, because I’m planning to serve “home made pies and cobblers” at the Ice Cream Parlor when I can get it open.  Although I don’t think a bunch of firemen are going to give me an honest croquet on my crust, they’ll just wolf it down.  But they’re good for the soul anyway. And what gal can’t use a few hunky firemen for their soul? 

     I was a little taken back last night when I first walked into Seaton, it looked like a nursing home to me.  But when I got upstairs, I noticed it was like a cross between a hospital and a nursing home in a way.  I feel that this will be very good for Joe, as they will work with him to help get him back to where he needs to be.  We know that this is going to be a very long recovery, and I can’t be there all day with him every day. So they will make him move is butt, and I don’t have to do it! 

For the past few days, when he was in the hospital, he would wait for me to take him for a walk, it made me feel good inside, but I knew he needed to go walk before I could get there. Well now, he’ll be doing what he’s suppose to be doing, and I don’t have to be the bad guy.  Works for me!  Nursing and hospitals are NOT my thing.  I’m still trying to find out what my thing is, but I know nursing is not one of them! 
 
Love to you all!!!!
Pat

We are requesting prayer for our dear friend in Jesus, Gail, and her husband, Bill, who are standing firm as Satan continues to attack their ministry at Living Stones Church in Kona, Hawaii, through Gail’s health. Here is the latest note regarding Gail’s situation:

Dear friends and family,

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
-Romans 12:12

Thank you for rejoicing, enduring and praying with us these past few
weeks. We are in Arizona and the doctors at Mayo Clinic have said that
Gail’s condition is colon cancer and surgery is not an option. They
recommend chemotherapy to relieve some of her symptoms and said the
treatment can be administered in Hawaii. We have much more faith and
optimism than the doctors and are asking and believing that the Lord will
bring full healing!

In order to fight in faith on a daily basis, Gail needs for her symptoms
to go away, and she is asking you to pray that that will happen
soon. These symptoms include 1)- a large belly caused by the tumor and
fluid that it emits. Every four days Gail needs this fluid drained.
2)- Hip pain caused by the tumor in the hip.  Please pray that the Lord
shrinks the tumors and as a result, the fluid lessens and the pain goes
away. This will be a great encouragement to all of us.

For the past few days we’ve been trying to make arrangements for Gail’s
treatment at Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, but there has been
difficulty coordinating things between the Mayo doctor and the Queens
doctor. Please pray with us for breakthrough against any opposition from
satan. Also, for the Lord to confirm that treatment is to be at Queens by
providing appropriate housing in Honolulu and the right doctor within the
next few days.

Thank you again for standing with us in this battle!

Blessings to you all,

Bill

Please lift Gail up for a miraculous healing. This couple has been instrumental in working many wonderful victories for the Lord, and their church family is certain this is an attack aimed to confuse and destroy this powerful force that opposes the evil minions in Hawaii. Pray that this powerful ministry will be allowed to continue to grow and carry the Word of Salavation throughout the region.

Lord, Your Will be done here on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.

We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly sitting and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, ‘Hi.’ He pounded his fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes were crinkled in laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin, as he wriggled and giggled with merriment.

I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man whose pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of worn out shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map.

We were too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled.. His h and s waved and flapped on loose wrists. ‘Hi there, baby; hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster,’ the man said to Erik.

My husband and I exchanged looks; ‘What do we do?’

Erik continued to laugh and answer, ‘Hi.’

Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man. The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. Our meal came and the man began chatting from across the room, ‘Do ya patty cake? Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek- a-boo.’

Nobody thought the old man was cute.

My husband and I were embarrassed. We ate in silence while Erik, ran through his repertoire for the admiring skid-row bum, who in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments.

We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot. The old man sat poised between me and the door. ‘Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,’ I prayed. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back trying to sidestep him and avoid any air he might be breathing. As I did, Erik leaned over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s ‘pick-me-up’ position. Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man.

Suddenly the very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love and kinship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged h and s full of grime, pain, and hard labor, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time.

I stood dumbstruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm commanding voice, ‘You take care of this baby.’

Somehow I managed, ‘I will,’ from a throat that contained what felt like a stone.

He pried Erik from his chest, lovingly and longingly, as though he were in pain. I received my baby, and the man said, ‘God bless you, ma’am, you’ve given me a great gift.’

I said nothing more than a muttered thanks. With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. My husb and was wondering why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly, and why I was saying,’My God, my God, forgive me.’

I had just witnessed Christ’s love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul, and a mother who saw a suit of clothes. I was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not. I felt it was God asking, ‘Are you willing to share your son for a moment?’ when He shared His for all eternity.  How did God feel when he put his baby in our arms 2000 years ago.

The ragged old man, unwittingly, had reminded me, ‘To enter the Kingdom of God , we must become as little children.’

Sometimes, it takes the innocence of a child to remind us what is really important. We must always remember who we are, where we came from and, most importantly, how we feel about others. The clothes on your back or the car that you drive or the house that you live in does not define you at all; it is how you treat your fellow man that identifies who you are.

Author Unknown

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma.
I was just a kid.

I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the
Day my big sister dropped the bomb: “There is no Santa Claus,”
She jeered. “Even dummies know that!”

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to
Her that day because I knew she would be straight with me.

I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth
Always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of
Her “world-famous” cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous,
Because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites,
I told her everything. She was ready for me.

“No Santa Claus?” She snorted… “Ridiculous! Don’t believe it.
That rumor Has been going around for years, and it makes me mad,
Plain mad! Now, put On your coat, and let’s go.”

“Go? Go where, Grandma?” I asked. I hadn’t even finished my
Second world-famous cinnamon bun.

“Where” turned out to be Kerby’s General Store, the one store
In town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we
Walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That
Was a bundle in those days. “Take this money,” she said, “and
Buy something for someone who needs it. I’ll wait for you in
The car.” Then she turned and walked out of Kerby’s.

I was only eight years old. I’d often gone shopping with my
Mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself.
The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to
Finish their Christmas shopping. For a Few moments I just
Stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill,
Wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for.

I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my Friends, my
Neighbors, the kids at school, and the people who went to my
Church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby
Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he
Sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock’s grade-two class.

Bobby Decker didn’t have a coat. I knew that because he never
Went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote
A note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we
Kids knew that Bobby Decker didn’t have a cough; he didn’t have
A good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing
Excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it.
It looked real warm, and he would like that.

“Is this a Christmas present for someone?” the lady behind the
Counter asked Kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied shyly. “It’s for Bobby.”

The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really
Needed a Good winter coat. I didn’t get any change, but she put
The coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag
Fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in
Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, “To Bobby, From Santa
Claus” on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on
Secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker’s house,
Explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially,
One of Santa’s Helpers. Grandma parked down the street from
Bobby’s house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the
Bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. “All
Right, Santa Claus,” she whispered, “get going.”

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the
Present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to
The safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited
Breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open.
Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven’t dimmed the thrill of those moments spent
Shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker’s bushes. That
Night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus
Were just what Grandma said they were: Ridiculous.

Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.
I still have The Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside:
$19.95.

Author Unknown

My father, Eugene Vaughn, loved Christmas tradition. He instilled in his children, and eventually his grandchildren, the blessings of week-long family gatherings over the Christmas and New Year holidays. These times were always filled with one-on-one activities we just didn’t seem to take time for any other time of the year . . . card playing, piecing puzzles, playing Battleship, and, of course, on Christmas eve, reading of the Christmas Story from the bible.

In later years, Lea added a Birthday Party for Jesus to our Christmas eve traditions, with an elaborately decorated table filled with festive foods and snacks. It was also a time of wonderful, heartwarming, conversations, and building excitement for the youngsters present that year. Our granddaughters will never forget the excitement of receiving “Reindeer Food” that they could sprinkle in the lawn around the house, to attract Santa’s reindeer.

These traditions have great impact in the life of a youngster, and live on to bless future generations. This was never made clearer to our family than when our youngest son went off to college, and found himself yearning for those traditions. He expressed these things very eloquently in a short story he wrote and a subsequent Christmas Carol he composed to celebrate the importance of family during the holidays. Here is what he recently wrote:

“It was 1991, and I was a sophomore at Purdue University. When Christmas rolled around, I was painfully low on cash. I wasn’t sure what to do for my family for Christmas that year. I had been toying around with a bit of writing over the last few years, so I came up with the idea of writing a short Christmas story. Little was I to know that so many feelings… so much of me… would find its way into the story. When I read the story to my family Christmas night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was a beautiful moment — one that I will remember forever!

Now, fast forward nine years…

It was the year 2000. I had spent almost every waking moment that year writing music for a studio band that I was in, so I decided to attempt writing a Christmas carol for my family’s traditional talent show that we do every year on Christmas night. Easy stuff, right? Ha! I was only able to write a couple of verses in the one or two hours that I had, but it went over really well. It was fun when I asked my family to sing along after having only heard the song for the first time just a few moments before! I wasn’t even sure what key the song was in!

Well, the next year, I had a little surprise up my sleeve. Starting in late July, I began collaborating with Brian Hazard of Color Theory to finish the song. It wasn’t easy writing a traditional-style Christmas carol — trying to capture the true warmth and magic of the season without being too cheesy — but it was incredibly rewarding when we finally wrapped it up! And what a wonderful surprise for my family that year! I couldn’t even wait until Christmas night. Christmas Eve hit and I was all aglow!

I had really started getting into the spirit of Christmas early that year and it was a long wait until December 25th! Since I had a bare bones recording studio in my home, I had also decided to create an audio version of my Christmas story that year. It had gone through a lot of small revisions over the last ten years, but it was time to finally put it in stone. So, while I was working with Brian on the Christmas carol, I decided to ask him to write a short instrumental to include in the audio version of my story. It was designed as a companion song to the carol, but was meant to capture the deeper, more personal side of Christmas. I swear there was such an amazing degree of divine intervention involved, because Brian created the song with very little direction from me; yet, as I began to piece everything together — layering his music in with my reading — I must have cried a dozen times out of sheer joy! The timing and overall feeling of the music matched the storyline perfectly! Bravo!

Please visit Brian’s site at colortheory.com — beautiful music from an incredibly talented individual!

I am sharing these two productions with you simply because I love Christmas and I hope they will somehow touch you the way they have me all these years. Please feel free to share this site with anyone and everyone — it’s a great way to help your loved ones find their spirit! Christmas is such a beautiful season! It brings out the best in us… reminds us of everything we take for granted.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Listen to the original Christmas carol and read the lyrics here:  The Magic of Christmas

Read the original Christmas short story and listen to the audio version here: The Warmth of My Santa’s Beard.”

God bless! Our prayer is for love, peace and tremendous growth in faith in the coming year.

Good friends are for life. Real friends remain with you even after they move on to eternal life. Although we delight in knowing that Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for us to receive salvation, and that we will live eternally with Him after we pass from this life, we continue to hold on to this world and its trappings as vigorously as we can.

When my wife went through six months of a horribly devastating illness, and three years now of a very difficult recovery, I prayed and prayed to my Heavenly Father that we would allow me to keep her at my side for another season. He blessed me with that gift, for which I give thanks many times every day, and give Him praise at every opportunity.

I have also maintained a prayer page on this blog since her illness, sharing with our readers the concerns and praises of others who are meeting life’s challenges, and dealing with them through prayer requests and praises. We have been truly blessed to see the effectiveness of our meager efforts on behalf of others, and give praise and glory to God for all He has worked in reponse to those concerns.

Today I was privileged to receive a note from a dear, longtime, friend who was suddenly taken ill and rushed to a hospital hundreds of miles away. Having very limited ability to communicate with him or his family, we placed a prayer request for him on our blog and waited for God to work. Today we are able to give praise to the Lord for Gary’s recovery and share with you his note, slightly modified to remove personal information:

“I was dismissed from (the) Hospital last night, (Sunday), about 6:00PM. They took the tube out of my side about noon, and everything seems to be working. I’m on 2 ml oxygen at home for a while, and am being very careful hoping the right lung doesn’t collapse again. Hopefully the surgery they did last Wednesday will prevent that from happening.

Thank you for all of the help, visits, and cards from many of you. I will be stuck at home for a week or two before going out in the cold air, so feel free to call or e-mail me.

After two weeks in the hospital, three holes poked between my ribs to re-inflate my lung, and the panic of not being able to breathe and two ambulance rides, I’m ready for a little peace and quiet at home.

And for those that are wondering but are reluctant to ask, yes, my smoking was probably the biggest contributing cause, and yes, much as I enjoyed it for many years and it helped to cope with the stress of the job, my last cigarette was smoked the morning of Nov. 25th just before I lost about 90% of my ability to breathe, and took the first ambulance ride to Tipton Hospital.

Spending Thanksgiving in the hospital is not my idea of a good time.

Gary (Retired & tired town Marshal)”

We give praise to God for so many blessings He has worked in our own lives, and in those lives of those we love, and those we don’t know other than through contacts made through this blog. He is a caring and loving God, and He absolutely does respond to prayer requests. We praise our loving Heavenly Father for Gary’s recovery, and pray that He will be with Marnita this morning as she receives an artificial heart.

We must always keep in mind that what we pray for may not be the best solution for the working of His great plan which is worked through us and our daily lives. We aren’t intended to understand the grand scheme of things until we are at His side and His great plan is revealed to us.

Thank You, Father, for the grace given us, the great Hope available through Jesus, and the shower of blessings You so lovingly provide to Your children. Help us to be patient, thankful, and ever mindful of our life-long role in helping bring others to salvation. Praise to You, Lord, for the tender mercies delivered to so many who course through my mind as I write this, and please continue to bless our humble ministry, that we might better serve You. In Jesus’ name we give Thanks. Amen.

Hello friends and family,

I presume that most of you know by now that I have received a new heart. I went to surgery at about 1:00 AM on Friday, November 14th. They finished the surgery at 6:30 AM which was pretty fast. Everything went well, and continues to do so. I was in a chair most of the afternoon today. Sitting up was good but the transition from bed to chair was a little shaky.

My cardiac output numbers are much improved. I am off of some of the medicines and the Swan and arterial pic have been removed. Tonight they are weaning me off of the Milrinone that was being given to strengthen the heart’s contractions, and then tomorrow they will remove the external pacer. The doctors are very pleased with the progress. and I will probably be moved out of Cardiac Recovery into the stepdown unit tomorrow or Tuesday. They are targeting to send me home this coming Friday. Amazing!

I was totally surprised at how little pain I have experienced. No more than any other surgery for certain. Just thinking about getting a new heart one Friday and going home the next – WOW! They think that I received an excellent heart that will serve me well. I know nothing about the donor yet. They delay that information out of respect for the families, but encourage contact at a later time. I will definitely try to make contact.

My immune system is at it’s lowest right now and the doctors recommend that I have only immediate family visitors now and for the first couple weeks at home until I recover somewhat. I ask that you respect that and when you are ready to come see me, please call first. I’m sure I am not going anywhere for a little while so there will be plenty of time. I look forward to seeing many of you in the near future and I think you will be surprised how am doing. My family cannot get over it.

All of you who have supported and prayed for me have made a huge difference, and I thank you so much. I hope I will able to give some back in the future.

Thank you for being there for me.

Joe Stroup
Born 13-Feb-1947 and 14-Nov-2008

ABOUT HARTFORD LETTERS

Experience the Miraculous Healing and Recovery of Lea Vaughn, and the incredible spiritual journey of her husband during 180 days in Hartford Hospital. Read his original daily emails in "Hartford Letters" above. ____________________________

In “Prayer,” above:

For Dave
Praise: Lea
For Bill and Jane
For Megan
For Charlotte
For Marnita
Praise: Gary
Praise: fellowship
For Herb
Praise: Joe
For Lea
For Unnamed

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