Thursday, May 31, 2007


There is the saying “the only constant is change”. I had the occasion to do a little reflecting on that this past week end. This was my second Memorial Day weekend since Carol’s death. Last year I merely went through the motions, still dazed and confused. A lot of changes have happened in the last couple of years and being back in Ellsworth for the weekend sort of forced me to think about them.
For years and years, Carol and I, then also the kids, would faithfully go to Ellsworth on Memorial Day weekend. We would attend the ceremonies at the local cemeteries and then enjoy a picnic with extended family and really get summer off to a great start. This year the kids and I went up and the changes were so very obvious. Carol was not with us. My Dad was not there. Uncle John was not there. U. John’s large garden is not there. The children are all growing up. The house I grew up in now belongs to somebody else, etc. etc.
Matt and I took a little walk down around my old home. It was sold two summers ago. It appeared like there was no one there so I looked around a bit. That was a bit sad. We walked along the lake that I used to swim and fish in, strolled the yard we played baseball and football in. I showed Matt the wall I used to pitch tennis balls against. Matt remembered a baseball game when he was pitching and I was batting and I batted the ball right at his head (it smacked him pretty hard). I remembered the surprise fortieth birthday party that everybody knew about except me. Now it’s all somebody else’s land.
Change! Nothing stays the same.
We travel this sod for such a short time. For me, it took a tragedy to really understand that fact. Like Peter says in 1 Peter 1:24 "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall. . . “. I know, this sounds very depressing, but here’s the encouraging part. God never changes. He is the creator and has been around from the beginning of time. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) He is eternal. We, who call Christ our Lord, are, by the grace of God, His children and thus heirs to eternity! We will enjoy an eternity with the saints from all ages and that includes Carol, and my Dad, and Uncle John and hopefully your loved ones also. On this present earth, in our life time, we can expect many “changes” and most of them not what we would call “for the good”. But what a comfort it is to know that God never changes and His love is constant.
As I was walking along the old “paths” of younger days, I could also reflect on the powerful LOVE of God and what a privilege it is to be called His child. Joy and evn happiness does not have to depend on our current "temporary" condition.
Perhaps the saying should be “the only constant is God”!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The flight from Brussels to Monrovia was very pleasant. It was a big plane and was nearly empty. We could stretch out on the middle seats as on a couch and sleep. The flight over northern Africa was interesting because the weather was clear and we kind of followed the shoreline of the ocean. The contrast between the deep blue of the ocean and the dry, brown of the land was highlighted by the white surf. After about a one hour stop in Dakar, Senegal where we had to stay on the plane, we finally landed at Roberts International Airport. This wasn’t like any airport I’ve ever seen. The baggage claim area was a hornet’s nest of chaos. Two of the guys watched for or luggage to materialize while the others watched our pile of carry on bags. Someone tried making off with my carry on bag, but we were able to stop him before he actually grabbed it.
The airport has a lot of what Jonathon Enders called “local bums”. They would grab the luggage to carry it for you without asking but then want money. Or, they would just outright ask for money. We were warned to just try to ignore them. Jonathon and Pastor Payne were there to pick us up and we made our way to the guest house. I was all eyes! I was getting my first look at Africa. Clusters of huts, roads full of walkers, people pushing broken down cars, huts/houses with no chimneys just smoke coming out window openings, I saw a lot of Africa in just that first ride.
We stayed in a mission compound between the airport and Paynesville. It was called ELWA, which stands for Everlasting Love Winning Africa. By local standards it was a very nice place. We had electricity in the mornings and evenings, and we had a fan when the electricity was on.
We were taken to the new school construction site first thing Saturday morning. That was about a 10 mile ride but it goes right through the heart of Paynesville. Two traffic lanes right through an extremely busy market area. We were told to hang onto our things because they would reach right into the car and take things. (We never had that happen) When we got to the job site we had breakfast with Jonathon and Comfort and some other members of the school board. They conveyed their deep appreciation for ours and the other work teams that have come. I wish everyone could hear the passion in their voices when they speak of the school and their vision and the partnership that has developed between them and us.
After this the four of us kind of jumped in and tried to be of help to the crews of local workers that were already there working. The language barrier was much bigger that I anticipated. It seemed to me that they only use the first part of every work. In keeping with Carol’s tradition from Cuba, I wrote down a few of the expressions and some vocabulary:
“yu wal sma” = you walk small = you walk slow
“mo th whe” = move the wheel = keep moving we don’t have all day
Thr wi nai = 3” wire nail
Humu = hammer
Frelly = my name
“wawa” = “Uncle John” would have to explain that one to you.
Etc. You get the idea. It was such a joy to work along side the Liberian workers. There seemed to be a carpenter in charge of each crew and then some younger less skilled workers that were helpers. That’s where we fell in the pecking order. It was neat to see their trust and acceptance of me and my “carpenter skills” increase as the day wore on. It didn’t take long for us to need a break. The local workers worked from 8 till 5 with one 30-35 minute break for about $3-5.00 (American) a day. We worked for about 45 min and needed a water break. Hot and sweaty are the key words. There are no power tools; all cutting is done with a hand saw. Blisters happen!
Each night we were taken back to the guest house before dark (6:30 ish) and treated to a beautiful Africa sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
Sunday was a treat as were attended the Ender’s church and then Jonathon took us into Monrovia (Liberia’s capital city) and pointed out some of the “sights”. He pointed out an area where in the early 90’s, he and Comfort were caught in the crossfire of a gun battle and had to run. The evidences of the wars are still very visible. Perhaps the most striking reminder I saw was a field with at least thee soccer games going on and every player was an amputee, playing with the help of crutches!!
Later in the week we got involved in some projects out in the community. I really enjoyed this because we met more people right in their home areas and it felt like I was actually helping someone specifically.
Various people have asked if one week is enough time to be there for having to travel so far, I think the answer is yes. The week was a total blessing and flew by but I was glad when it was time to head home. But, I would love to go back! There are tentative plans for a team going back in late August. We’ll have to see how the Lord leads. It gets in your heart. I took a part of them back in my heart and, hopefully, left a part of me in their hearts. The ministry there is not something one can walk away from and ignore once back in the states.
Thank you so much for your prayers and the other ways many of you have supported me in this. It was truly a blessing to be used by God in the way.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Liberia Part III

Many of you have likely seen the television reality show Amazing Race. On that show teams of people race around the world city to city, airport to airport. The prize at the end of the race is a large sum of money. Our trip to Liberia reminded me a lot of that TV show. The difference is that our prize wasn’t money; it was an opportunity to bring a little hope and encouragement to an area of God’s world that needs both desperately. Our gracious God directed our paths and we made all our connections and arrived in Liberia as planned.
There are many stories I could tell about my week but it starts with our trip to Africa. We were scheduled to leave Grand Rapids at 11:20am on Thursday, April 26. After prayers and farewells at the airport we boarded our plane as scheduled. Then we sat and sat. It seems O’Hare in Chicago was behind and not allowing our flight to take off. After about 1 ½ hours we finally took off. That made the connection in Chicago very close. We caught a shuttle to our next gate, did a little running and made it. Next was Dulles. We didn’t have a lot of time there but made it ok. The next flight was to Brussels. It was kind of strange flying into the sunrise. That makes for a short night. Also, as airplanes are not made for people that are 6’6”, I was like a sardine in my seat, so I didn’t sleep much. We arrived in Brussels at about 8am, that’s 2am GR time. Our flight to Africa was to board at around 10am, we had about 2 hours. We went directly to the ticket counter to get our boarding passes. The person there needed to verify our visas and she discovered a problem. The paperwork we had was quite vague and she suggested we would need to get something more official. She suggested that we get a taxi, rush to the Liberian embassy in downtown Brussels get our visa situation straightened out and hopefully make it back to the airport in time to catch the flight, a very unlikely scenario, unless God wanted it to happen. We raced around until we found the immigration line to exit the airport. We jumped in the queue for a taxi (maybe 100 people ahead of us) and finally were picked up. The taxi driver understood English and understood the urgency. We were zipping around Brussels like something from the movies. Our driver didn’t know where the address was specifically so as he was peeling around he was also trying to find the way from his telephone book sized street map book. After a few wrong turns he did get us there. We asked him to wait for us; he said he would if it wouldn’t be too long. We ran to the door and got there just as the lady there was opening up. She also understood the situation and said she could take care of us quickly. She did. She actually let us fill out some of the paperwork ourselves so it could be done simultaneously. She stamped and signed them all and we raced back out to our waiting taxi, then we sped back to the airport. Traffic was amazingly clear on our way back to the airport. We got there, however, only to find out at the ticket counter that the flight had boarded already. Ron (one of our group) explained that we had tickets and really needed to get on that flight and could she just check to see if we could somehow get on it. The next flight to Liberia would not be until Sunday. She checked with the gate and they said they would let us on. We got our boarding passes and, once again, hustled through immigration, ran to the gate and got on the plane. Was there ever any doubt? No, because God wanted it to happen.
I was thinking about Psalm 127:1, where Solomon writes “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Those builders currently working on the Kingdom Foundation Institute don’t need to worry about laboring in vain. The Lord is definitely building this house!
The other thought that struck me was that this whole Brussels adventure happened in the middle of the night back home. Our prayers support was likely sound asleep (maybe except for my Mom). Another of the Psalms I was drawn to prior to this trip was Psalm 121 and verses 3 and 4 really spoke to me of God’s provision in our lives. “(3.)He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber; (4.) indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
The whole trip was a faith building experience. It was amazing to see God’s handiwork so evident in all aspects of our trip and in the building of this school. Praise God!
Wow! This is just the beginning. There is so much more to tell.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Pear Tree
We have a new pear tree in our front yard. It was planted about one year ago today, Mothers Day. There’s a story I would like to tell about how it came to be.
Our front yard is not large. We have a few shrubs and things around the front of the house and we had two maple trees spaced evenly in the front between the house and the street. Some time ago one of the maple trees started dying. We kept it as long as possible but finally 5 or 6 years ago I cut it down and pulled the stump out. Then I simply seeded over the spot so our yard did look a little unbalanced. We, Carol and I, always figured we would plant a new tree of some species in that spot.
A little over a year ago, the spring of 2006, we got a little more serious about choosing a type of tree to plant. Carol really wanted a flowering, ornamental type and was thinking about a pear tree. The week before she went into the hospital she circled an ad from the Sunday paper showing an ornamental pear tree. I figured she and I would go shopping and get one sometime soon. Then she went into the hospital.
That first week she was really feeling pretty well. We didn’t know what was attacking her and trusted God that in just a few days she would be coming home. One day she told me that it would be nice if I could get a tree and plant it for her homecoming present. That instantly became my job number one. I remember on Saturday morning before going up to the hospital I stopped at a retailer and looked at variety of trees. As God would have it, one of the workers there, and I didn’t know she worked there, attends our church. I told her about Carol’s request and she helped me. We looked at what was in stock and she showed me more pictures. All of which just confused me. I decided not to buy one at that time and when Carol got well enough we would make an outing to go “tree shopping” to get one that she really would be happy with. As most of you know God’s plans were different. Carol never came back to her earthly home at all. There would be no more outings with her. The tree was never purchased. On May 7th she died. That was Sunday, one week before Mother’s Day.
Our visitation for Carol was to start on Tuesday at 7pm. The funeral home people suggested we get there early to have a chance to, I guess, fall apart and get ourselves back together again before others arrived. When I arrived at the funeral home, I was overwhelmed by all the flowers, plants, expressions of love that people had sent. One stands out, there in the middle of the room stood a pear tree with a beautiful note attached. It was from Irene, the person who had helped me that Saturday Carol was in the hospital. Wow!
At the suggestion of my Sister, I planted it on Mothers Day 2006. It seems to be thriving. It’s probably doing better than I/we are. But when I remember these acts of gracious kindness by so many people I know God has never left us. I know He is using people to reach out to us, holding us up each and every day.
Mothers Day is one of those days that can be a real joy or it can hold a lot of sorrow for many varied reasons. I think of a quote from one of Mitch Albom's books that is something like "When death takes your Mom, it steals that word forever". I am sad for my children. They are missing out, for the rest of their lives, on a relationship with one of the most amazing people that they would ever know, their Mom.
Remember that the acts of kindness you show toward people are appreciated and never forgotten.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It’s Still Wrong

It has now been one year since Carol’s death. For me the one year mark was just after midnight Saturday night. While that isn’t the May 7 date this year, that is the night I will never get over.
About the only thing I could verbalize that night in her room, when she was lying there dead, was “this is wrong”. It’s not my style to scream and yell and I didn’t know who to scream at. All I could do was cry and keep saying over and over “it’s wrong – it’s wrong”
Now it is one year later and I have to say “it’s still wrong”. I haven’t read or heard or experienced any thing that has convinced me that her death was “right”. I have to believe it is in God’s big plan somehow but I think it is wrong. It is wrong for so many reasons. The positive influence she had on this world is profoundly absent. God what were you thinking?
The timing of my trip to Africa has added an interesting dynamic to this one year mark. I am up and down like a yoyo (I know, that’s a pretty fitting analogy for me). There are so many stories and great memories of my trip then, whap, I wish Carol were here to share them with me. The reunion would have been so sweet. I know we would be spending hours talking about every minute of my trip. We would have had a great time comparing this to her trips to Cuba and it would have been fun trying to convince her that Liberia is hotter and more humid than the pleasant Caribbean island of Cuba. When I got off the plane Amy and Matt were there to great me, that was wonderful, but the other guys had there wives there to greet and wrap their arms around them. That was not lost on me.
I guess the thought that God doesn’t promise that everything will be easy, just that He will help you through all times, still applies.
I still rely on Him and His good people to help me through.
Thank you to all of you who are included in that group.
January 12, 1956 - May 7, 2006
Wife, Mom, Daughter, Sister, Aunt
You were the BEST of all of these.
We still miss you,
We still LOVE you,
You displayed the Love
To all who knew you,
What a legacy!
Your Loving Family