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Our children are uniquely created gifts of God, and are living memorials to our influence in their lives.  Parenting is never finished. We have to teach our children, and grandchildren, about Jesus Christ, and then live our lives showing them how to live as believers. The journey of life is filled with tribulation, problems, roadblocks and temptations that challenge our resolve to reach our final destination.

The problems teach us to be a better traveler, and encourage us to share what we learn about making the journey easier with others who are walking the same path.God places some people in our lives to plow and plant, while others water and fertilize. God will grow your faith, give you challenges to help you mature, and will also test your faith. The mark of a true Christian is not that have have been merely saved, but rather, that you share the story of your salvation with others.  For new readers, you can hear my testimony here. You can also read the daily dispatches during Lea’s 6-month hospital stay. This link takes you to the condensed timeline, but you can read the entire dispatch by clicking on the date link to the left of the comments.

Lea and I have had an incredible life journey together, and will celebrate 50 years of marriage next year. I particularly thank God for the last few years, because he gave her back to me after showing what it would be like to live without her. We have been so richly blessed! His provision for us has been remarkable. Both our sons made multiple trips to be with her during her hospitalization, and have assisted us financially well beyond our expectations. He has provided us a loving church family to serve in, and given us both the health we need to be active servants. Even more remarkably, He has given us wonderful grandchildren to love on and share our love of Christ.

The life worth living is rooted in sound teaching. We, as parents and grandparents, are responsible to teach our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren about God’s love, His benevolence, and how he works in our lives to shape us into the servants we need to be. We strive to be knowledgeable about His rules and His laws, so we can be the kind of teachers our grandchildren deserve.

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As Christians, we often wonder what the purpose of suffering is in our daily walk. It’s all around us. We struggle as best we can through our own difficulties, hold firmly our faith in the knowledge that this, too, is a part of God’s plan for our lives. We also make it a part of our lives to show compassion, and lend a hand, to those less fortunate than ourselves. Still, it is just beyond our power to understand many situations we encounter. 

I recently had included in my prayers a two-and-a-half year old boy who had been diagnosed with cancer.  He has undergone many struggles for survival, and was just recently sent home from the hospital with no hope of recovery. The doctors told his mother that he will most likey pass before Thanksgiving, a mere three weeks away.  How horrible for her! I can only imagine the pain and agony she is going through! And, although she has received great support from friends, family, her church, and others who supported from afar, nothing could be more heart rendering than the loss of a child. 

It can be pretty tough to understand why certain sweet souls have to undergo such battles, but a close friend of this mother sent a wonderfully uplifting message to her upon learning of the child’s prognosis. The heart-broken mother was so touched by the message she wanted to share with all who had uplifted her son in prayer or helped out with medical costs. It also gave me a new, brighter, perspective on suffering. I don’t know who the author of the email is,  but this message is so powerfully moving, it can help many of us as we face our own trials. I feel the writer will forgive me for not giving due credit.

A Little Soul

“Not too long ago in Heaven, there was a little soul who took wonder in observing the world. He especially enjoyed the love he saw there, and often expressed this joy with God. One day however, the little soul was sad, for this day he saw suffering in the world. He approached God and sadly asked ‘Why do bad things happen, why is there suffering in the world?’
 
God paused for a moment and replied, ‘Little soul, do not be sad, for the suffering you see unlocks the love in people’s hearts.’ The little soul was confused. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. God replied, ‘Have you not noticed the goodness and love that is the offspring of that suffering? Look at how people come together, drop their differences, and show their love and compassion for those who suffer. All their motivations disappear and they become motivated by love alone.’
 
The little soul began to understand and listened attentively as God continued. ‘The suffering soul unlocks the love in people’s hearts much like the sun and rain unlock the flower within the seed. I created everyone with endless love in their heart, but unfortunately most people keep it locked up and hardly share it with anyone. They are afraid to let their love shine freely, because they are afraid of being hurt. But a suffering soul unlocks that love. I tell you this – it is the greatest miracle of all. Many souls have bravely chosen to go into the world and suffer to unlock this love – to create this miracle – for the good of all humanity.’
 
Just then the little soul got a wonderful idea and could hardly contain himself. With his wings, fluttering, bouncing up and down, the little soul excitedly replied, ‘I am brave, let me go. I would like to go into this world and suffer so that I can unlock the goodness and love in people’s hearts! I want to create that miracle!’
 
God smiled and said, ‘You are a brave soul I know, and thus I will grant your request. But even though you are very brave, you will not be able to do this alone. I have known since the beginning of time that you would ask for this, so I have carefully selected many souls to care for you on your journey. These souls will help you create your miracle, however they will also share in your suffering. Two of these souls are most special and they will care for you, help you and suffer along with you, far beyond the others. They have already chosen a name for you. Caleb Andrew.’
 
God and the brave little soul shared a smile, and then embraced. In parting, God said, ‘Do not forget Caleb that I will be with you always. Although you have agreed to bear the pain, you will do so through my strength. And if the time should come when you feel you have suffered enough, just say the word, think the thought and, I will bring you home.’
 
Thus at that moment, the brave little soul was born into the world and through his suffering and God’s strength, he unlocked the goodness and love in people’s hearts. For so many people dropped their differences and came together to show their love. Priorities became properly aligned. People gave from their hearts. Those who were always too busy, found time. Many began new spiritual journeys – some regained lost faith – many came back to God. Parents hugged their children tighter. Friends and family grew closer. Old friends got together and new friendships were made. Distant families reunited and every family spent more time together. Everyone prayed. Peace and love reigned. Lives were changed forever. It was good. The world was a better place. The miracle happened!

Father God, please be with this little boy in his few remaining days, letting him know that he is being brought home to eternal happiness. Keep your hand, Lord, in the lives of those who love him, or have been touched by his trials here on Earth, and provide them with peace, understanding, and Your grace to comfort them through all their days. In the name of our almightly savior, Jesus Christ, we ask these things. Amen.

Week 2,

     Well “Operation Ash Tray” has brought everything here to a screeching halt.  In my 7 years of flying AE I have never seen anything like this.  We were the alert crew Thursday night when the phone rang around 10pm, first we were going to a base in the desert, next we were going to Andrews, then back to the desert and finally told to just pack tan and green flight suits.  It was rather comical looking back on it.  At the time however, with all of 25 minutes to get packed, repack, repack again and then be ready to be picked up I didn’t find it was all that humorous at the time.  Finally a few hours later we were mere minutes away from flying to Andrews Friday morning and even got as far a closing up the ramp on the C-17 before the mission was scrubbed.  No comment. 

For Kevin and me it was a huge disappointment since Amanda and his girlfriend Robin had already made plans to drive down to D.C. later that morning to stay with us for the anticipated 4 to 6 days we would be there.  I know it has only been two weeks but I will take any opportunity I can to see Amanda and Cam that I can get and I returned to my room 12 hours after I originally left with no flight hours logged and a heavy heart.  Mission first I always say and when you compare with some of those I have the privilege to help on their journey home my temporary disappointment is trivial when you see what they are going through. 

     Day two of “Operation Ash Tray” we found ourselves off for the entire day.  The day started with a quick morning swim and then came an urgent mission to assault two vineyards located the Phalz region near the Rhine river.  Our two targets, Dr. Burklen-Wolf and Rudy Ruttger were successfully visited without incident and numerous prisoners were taken into custody.   Anything I can do to maintain international relations.   As for today I did find some humor when last night we were put into crew rest so we could sit in Bravo “Stand-by” today.  Here is my disclaimer.  To avoid any potential “Operational Security” issues I won’t discuss our current situation.  However if you Google “Stars Stripes Ramstein,” Stars and Stripes will and you will find the following article: http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=69398 .  Not much has changed but I am sure once we can start flying again I think it will get pretty busy.  Until then I will enjoy the down knowing there is a price for everything. 

     Down time has continued to be filled with running, swimming and biking.  Running here is fantastic and I try to set 2 days a week.  I am already back up to 12 miles and if I can keep up this pace might even entertain running the entire Hartford Marathon this coming October.  I am still split on what to run for.  Honor Flight is a great charity and the debt we owe WWII Veterans will never be repaid.  However my first flight we flew back some CT Guard members, two of whom were seriously injured.  It would be nice to do something for them as well.  Luckily I have a few more months to make up my mind. 

     In my previous update I totally forgot to mention and thank the support staff from our home unit in Westover.  Our full-time staff, recently thinned by staff reductions did a superb job in getting Kevin and I out the door.  While it may not have always been pretty we arrived to our deployed location with all equipment (maybe a little more than we needed), our paperwork was in line and we were ready to go.  It speaks volumes that 36 hours after our arrival we were mission ready and flying our first mission down-range the other night we were prepared to redeploy anywhere in the World.   Thanks to Lt Cols Z & D, Wayne, Rich and Vikki for all of their help.

That is it for this installment.  Hopefully this quagmire ends soon and we can resume our mission.  Talk to you soon, Chris.

Lea and I are high school sweethearts, and have been married 45 years. We have been blessed with successful careers, fun and adventure, wonderful sons and daughters-in-law, and grandchildren in whom we delight. And, God has always been a part of our lives.

The account of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey, and gives him his true purpose. Many of us have thought it was the story of our acceptance of Jesus, and then avoiding doing bad things until we appear for judgment. Not so.

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, we are not fulfilling our mission, and 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.

Lost and Saved
I don’t remember not being saved. My childhood was mostly about church activities, Royal Ambassadors, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I was taught to be independent and self reliant. I was raised Southern Baptist with a generations-long line of bible thumping fire-and-brimstone preachers who pastored churches and taught in summertime revival tents. God was always present in my life, although He was hardly the main focus of my life. I was a Christian on cruise control.

Danville Baptist Temple
The bible teaches that even though Satan cannot possess the Christian, he can oppress him. 1 Peter 5:8 says: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan is our enemy; an adversary who is out to throw us off track. He is out to drive a wedge between us and God! He was successful in my case.

When our sons were young boys, Lea and I transferred our membership to a startup Baptist church that was moving mightily in our community. The charismatic young pastor had a vision to create an entire Baptist campus which would include a retirement home and hospital for members of the church, and he was very aggressive in reaching out to young people in the community.

He had asked me several times to become involved full time in the ministry of the church. I had been successful in soliciting donations of cash and real estate for the campus building fund. Support from the community was outstanding, and the membership grew rapidly. It was a wonderful feeling to see God’s favor flowing on our church, and I was really under conviction to take the leap and join the ministry team. Lea and I talked and prayed about it extensively.

Then, overnight, the minister, his family, and the entire church staff, disappeared with all of the church funds! I was totally crushed. I just could not believe that such a thing could happen! I was so confused, and felt God had abandoned us.

I was too embarrassed to return to our previous church, and just could not bring myself to join any other. In fact, I shunned the church from that day. I reasoned that I could minister on my own. I felt that I could set a good example for my sons and for others around me, by professing my faith, and by keeping God in our home. After all, Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) This reasoning was how Satan drove that wedge that turned me from the church for many years.

Discipline
Scripture is clear that you cannot accept Christ and then just live any way you please. And, God, our heavenly Father, 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.

Hebrews 12:11 states, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” To rebel because of discipline is to turn your back on His will for you.

Even when we sense God’s disciplining hand upon us we should be encouraged by this, for it shows that God is at work in our lives. We should not lose heart when being disciplined. God will never go too far. He will never give us a burden larger than we can handle.

Lea’s Illness
I got one of His spankings, and the memories still hurt four years later. God led me through a six month living Hell while Lea was in Hartford Hospital with an illness that, medically, she wasn’t supposed to survive; Necrotizing Pancreatitis. Her pancreas had suddenly ruptured while we were on vacation back East, a thousand miles from home, and had started digesting all her internal organs. Her pain was horrible. The surgeons had placed her in a drug induced coma and said she had a 15% chance of surviving. They told me to call the family.

The Hell I’m talking about is not some storybook or Hollywood contrived representation of Hades. This was Hell; the real one. You can touch Hell. It can touch you. Hell is so palpable you can actually taste it. It is a much worse place than you have imagined. It was the most horrible thing I have ever experienced, and I certainly don’t want to ever have to go back there.

My Hell was a small, musty, dormitory room with carpet I hesitated to walk on barefoot. It had an outdated motel style bed & dresser, flimsy wooden desk with loose-jointed chair, coffee table, and a fold-out couch that made into a bed. And, yet, I was happy to be there, close to Lea.

The room was attached to the hospital by a series of dimly lit underground tunnels with water dripping from cracks in the ceiling. The tunnels led to another room, this one sterile, where the person I most love in the whole world was in a coma, her every bodily function tended to by people I didn’t know. I was only allowed in the room to be with her at various times, which was painful, but she was not able to respond to me in any way.

She may not, really, have known I was there at all. I realized even then, as I looked at her lying helplessly there, this was only her body, kept alive with drugs and machines. She may already be gone. She was in this state for 78 days, and certainly could have been taken away from me at any moment. Nothing I did to comfort or help her appeared to make a difference, because she was unable to respond or react.

Purpose of the Coma
She was in that coma for 78 days. She had 18 IVs going into her, plus hookups for dialysis, because her kidneys had failed, and plasma phoresis to remove fat from her blood. She had cuffs on her legs that would squeeze and release to circulate her blood, and a ventilator to breathe for her. During that coma she had over 30 abdominal surgeries. She died four times. The doctors weren’t even sure her brain was working after the first two weeks. This was truly Hell.

God got my attention. It felt drastic, but He had tried easier, more subtle ways. The previous year my two sons and Lea and I had done a family study of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. Praise God! Our youngest son was subsequently convicted and saved, which was an answer to years of prayer. This was clearly God at work, but, still, I continued my selfish, prideful, ways, rather than submitting to His will for my life. I used our lifestyle as an excuse for not getting back to church.

The Floating Vision
Before Lea’s illness, in May of 2005, God gave me a warning in the form of a vision. At the time, I was in the basement, building a number of wooden replacement storm windows for our Victorian bed & breakfast. I had kissed Lea goodnight as she headed upstairs to bed, and I went down to work on one of the storm windows.

Maybe half an hour later as I was brushing on some paint, I heard Lea call softly from the top of the basement stairs, “Larry.” I was a little surprised she wasn’t already asleep, and asked, “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, tonight I had turned all the lights off when I went down to the basement, and had 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 in the doorway in a simple white, floor length, nightgown.

“What is it, honey?” I asked.
She said, “I died!” She sounded 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.

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 vision was constantly in my thoughts over the next several days, and I shared it with Lea and other family members.. Although puzzled by it, I didn’t dwell on it. It was just one of those inexplicable things that happen. Later that same week, however, I had another warning.

The Casket Vision
Lea had gone on to bed while I finished up some things downstairs. When I finished and went upstairs. I entered our bedroom and saw Lea asleep on her back, with her hands folded on her chest . . . and for an instant I saw her lying in an open casket.

The sight 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 said. There is no “Do over.” If you haven’t said it, 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 her if I no longer had her at my side. I realized 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.

Revelation in Hartford
Six weeks later she was in that coma. I kept thinking about the visions, and how she had slowly faded away into thin air. And, now, I feared, the Lord was actually taking her away from me. I prayed constantly, as I often did . . . doing some task, and silently talking to God as though He was at my side. I prayed first that Lea would be spared, and that she could somehow beat the odds. But I was troubled.  I felt I wasn’t praying for the right thing.

As she lay there in that coma, God revealed many things to me. One of the most painful, was the realization that her body was there before me, seemingly asleep,  but her spirit was gone. The spirit, or personality, or soul, is what makes us who we are. Hers wasn’t present. I suspect it may have been with Him, but that’s another part of her testimony Lea will have to share.

It was in those first days I realized that all these years I had been in love with her soul, but what I had always seen was her body. Now, here, they were separated! Although I could touch her body, I couldn’t reach her.

I spent countless hours at her bedside reading to her and tending to her body, helping turn her every two hours to avoid bedsores, applying lotion to keep her skin soft, washing her hair, trimming and cutting her nails, so that, if her spirit returned, she would be comfortable in her body.

I talked to God constantly, and as I poured out my emotions to Him, and beseeched Him for healing, I began to listen to my prayers and realized that if I wanted Him to listen, I was going to have to change my heart. I had been praying selfishly. I was praying for Lea to survive because I didn’t want to lose her. I wanted her to recover because losing her would be painful and I didn’t know what I would do without her by my side.

Suddenly, I thought of the glorious heavenly rewards that must surely be hers. That mansion with the flower gardens she loves so much. Friends and family around her forever! What joy she is going to have! And, here I was asking the Lord to delay giving those rewards to her.

That revelation cut me to the quick! It examined the truth of my faith, because it made me answer the question, “Do you truly believe in heavenly rewards, and that she will be better off?”

I prayed earnestly for forgiveness of my self centeredness. I grasped her hand and told her that I wanted her to stay with me, so we could have more years together, but if she wanted to go on home, I would understand. I then began to pray for strength to accept His will, whatever that might be, and the wisdom to accept the challenges He put before me. I also promised God that if He chose to allow her to remain here, I would abandon my self-centered ways and make the next chapter of our lives about her, and our service to Him.

Book of James
As I prayed one night for strength and revelation, I opened my bible randomly to whatever page happened to appear. As I looked at the page, James 1 Verse 3 came into focus, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Over the next several months there were countless emotional ups and downs as Lea would improve and then crash. Four times her body just gave up. Two of those times I was in her room and experienced her relinquishing her life. That is a deafening silence.

I knew that my faith was being tested, but I also knew that God’s will was going to be served, regardless, and that my test of faith could include Lea’s death.  But, once God helped me realize that if Lea died, she was going to be cared for much better than I could ever provide, and that He was going to lead my life from that day forward. And, with that, I was given an inner peace that enabled me to deal with the trials and challenges of each day, knowing that He was in control, and I was doing His work.

James 1:5-8 states,  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, stable, and keep my wpromise.

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 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 it 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.

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 our Father, God. I try to care for Lea, and look after her needs, as though she is very special to God, because I believe she is.

Lea and I feel that sharing our story is the ministry set before us, and we are blessed through giving you our testimony. Thank you for this opportunity to share with you. God bless!

Hear this testimony as presented during a recent service: http://kacfaustin.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=103&Itemid=116

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.

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.

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

PRAISE GOD! I give thanks today on so many levels for SO many blessings our family has received! God’s shower of blessings for Lea and myself during and following her illness have just been absolutely humbling. Even though Lea’s medical expenses left us financially devastated His provisioning for us has been constant and steady. Along the way we have found a much better relationship with Him, with each other, and with our service in a local church body.

I am greatly relieved that the Indiana house Dottie & Dave purchased to provide for our needs has indeed been sold. The house was certainly a perfect blessing for us, and its provision was one of the most generous acts I have ever heard of. I know the Lord has arranged for their compensation, and Lea and I feel an undying gratitude, and love them all the more. The house again became a solution when my mother suddenly needed help with housing.

Just as that occurred, the Lord opened a door for Lea and me to relocate to Texas for the next phase of her recovery. We were led to a fine doctor who accepted the special challenges of Lea’s medical needs, we were provisioned a lovely rental home in a delightful setting in close proximity to my younger son’s family, and I was able to continue the part time consulting work that helps with expenses. Lea has found a renewed sense of purpose in caring for our new grandson, and her mental progress has been amazing since we relocated

She now has accepted the fact that it is unlikely that she will ever have her abdominal ventral hernia surgically closed, and that she will have to wear an elastic binder that reaches from her hips to her shoulder blades 24 X 7. The joy of caring for the grandson, and seeing God’s wonders reflected in his development, has been the best medicine for her and has lifted her from the troublesome place her mind resided prior to our move. Again, the Lord provisioned for our needs according to His plan!

When Lea’s illness devastated our financial reserves, we sorrowfully abandoned the lifestyle we had enjoyed, and just got down to the basics of survival. Back then Lea still had an active fistula draining pancreatic fluid onto her new skin graft over her bowels, which had been left exposed by her many surgeries. Her medical needs were intense.

Her physical weakness caused her to be confined to a wheelchair or walker, her mental acuity was very poor due to the addictive narcotics she was taking to control her constant pain, and her emotional state was tremulous at best. Providing a continual flow of positive experiences, and protecting her from negative ones, was a constant requirement, since it could take her days to recover from mental anguish.

Over time, as she continued to heal, she was able to reduce the amount of narcotics she needed to offset the pain and was able to get back to meal preparation, which is one of her favorite activities. She improved physically, too, and eventually was able to progress from using a walker to a cane, which affords better mobility. Even though she subsequently had knee joint replacement surgery, the implant was not entirely successful, and she still has to use a cane to maintain her balance. Perhaps some day we will have that surgically corrected, but she isn’t ready to consider that yet.

We are becoming active in our local church as her health permits, and really enjoy going to adult bible study on Wednesday nights. It is a delightful gathering of like-minded Christians with a prepared meal and study of the scripture led by the pastor, who has a charming demeanor and comprehensive knowledge of the scriptures. We were led to his church by our new neighbors.

We have had the privilege of getting to know our grandson’s maternal grandparents better, and delight in being able to spend time with them. They have vastly different backgrounds than our own, but we share the love for our family and a love of the Lord that has made our move here much easier. We look forward to growing closer as we all help our grandson grow in the Lord.

Looking back over the past three years, I am so glad God intervened in our lives! I had mistakenly planned for security, but God planned for spiritual growth. I had tried to build security for Lea’s retirement, expecting that I would be the first to go to my heavenly reward. He took security away to remind us that our purpose here is to prepare for eternal life. Lea and I have much less now, but have gained so much more. We no longer have financial security, and I continue to struggle with that emotionally, but we have the peace and comfort of knowing that He is moving mightily in our lives, and that His purpose for us will play out in His way in His own time.

One of my favorite hymns, Amazing Grace was made even more special for me a few years ago when I heard my daughter-in-law perform it, a cappella, during a very touching ceremony to recognize fallen Civil War era soldiers. I will never forget how beautiful her voice sounded as it echoed off the tall buildings downtown as a horse-drawn wagon passed carrying a flag draped casket.

I received a link to a video of a performance of Amazing Grace by Wintley Phipps, in one of the most profound performances I have heard. It made chills run up my back, and brought tears to my eyes, as I felt the Spirit and visualized the setting this hymn came from. I think you will enjoy it, too.

Wintley Phipps is an ordained Seventh Day Aventist minister, world-renowned vocal artist, and president of the US Dream Academy. He also founded Songs of Freedom Publishing Company and Coral Records Recording Company. Mr. Phipps has been the featured speaker and performer at many notable occasions around the world. Additional videos can be found just by searching on his name. He currently serves as Pastor of a church in Palm Bay, Florida.

If you aren’t familiar with the slave-ship-captain-turned-evangelist John Henry Newton, there is a lot of interesting information on him on Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia. He was the author of many hymns, including Amazing Grace. He was born in London, the son of a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service. At the age of 11 he went to sea with his father and sailed with him on a total of six voyages.

In 1743, he was pressed into naval service, and became a midshipman. After attempting to desert, Newton was put in irons, court martialed, and received a flogging of eight dozen lashes. He went on to become enslaved himself before being freed by a friend of his father’s.

Sailing back to England in 1748 aboard the slave-ship Greyhound on the Atlantic, the ship encountered a severe storm and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and prayed to God as the ship filled with water. It was this experience which he later marked as the beginnings of his conversion to evangelical Christianity. He later said that his true conversion did not happen until some time later: “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.”

Still, he didn’t renounce the slave trade until later in his life when he wrote a tract decrying it in aid of abolitionist sympathies. He only gave up seafaring and his slave-trading activities in 1754, after a serious illness.

Much later he published his thoughts about the African slave trade, which is quoted here:

“With our ships, the great object is, to be full. When the ship is there, it is thought desirable she should take as many as possible. The cargo of a vessel of a hundred tons, or little more, is calculated to purchase from two hundred and twenty to two hundred and fifty slaves. Their lodging-rooms below the deck, which are three (for the men, the boys, and the women), besides a place for the sick, are sometimes more than five feet high, and sometimes less; and this height is divided towards the middle, for the slaves lie in two rows, one above the other, on each side of the ship, close to each other, like books upon a shelf. I have known them so close that the shelf would not, easily, contain one more. And I have known a white man sent down, among the men, to lay them in these rows to the greatest advantage, so that as little space as possible might be lost.

“Let it be observed, that the poor creatures, thus cramped for want of room, are likewise in irons, for the most part both hands and feet, and two together, which makes it difficult for them to turn or move, to attempt either to rise or to lie down, without hurting themselves, or each other. Nor is the motion of the ship, especially her heeling, or stoop on one side, when under sail, to be omitted; for this, as they lie athwart, or cross the ship, adds to the uncomfortableness of their lodging, especially to those who lie on the leeward or leaning side of the vessel.”

John Newton went on to study theology, and went on to pastor churches and was also a prolific hymnist. So popular was his preaching that the church he pastored in Olney for 16 years had a gallery added to accommodate the large numbers who flocked to hear him. In 1767 William Cowper, the poet, moved to Olney, worshipped at Newton’s church, and collaborated with Newton on producing a volume of hymns, called Olney Hymns. This work had a great influence on English hymnology. The volume included Newton’s well -known hymns “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken”, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds!”, “Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare”, “Approach, My Soul, the Mercy-seat”, and “Amazing Grace”.

What a blessing it is, to listen to this performance, and experience anew the thrill of God’s love!

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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