January 2012 A Christmas Wrap
Dear friends, January 2012
I write this January LifeSharer letter in a home, quite neat and attractive and warm, yet a home that will seem understandably dull for a few days. You see, Claire has just finished taking down Christmas. And until we adjust to the new atmosphere, we will sigh in remembrances of what it has looked like these last couple of months. For put away now are the ribbons, wreaths, nativity sets, lights, the two big Christmas trees, the Christmas throws and pillows, the poinsettias, the snow globes, the holly, the reindeer, the framed puzzles, the vintage posters from the Georgetown (Colorado) Christmas Festival, the candles...
I could go on. Indeed, I believe that Claire makes our little cottage about the most Christmassy place south of Santa's workshop!
Yes, the house is lovely in its present state with the Carol Coppi paintings, the Edward Hopper prints and the various artwork that I've picked up from Belarus, Russia, Poland, Burkina Faso, India (and so on) back on the walls. But it's different.
However, we rejoice that the spirit of Christmas need not be packed away with the trees and the tinsel.
Oh no, the Christian has both the obligation (and, thank God, the spiritual power) to keep Christmas alive and kicking every day of the year. Remember the converted Ebenezer Scrooge? "He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us." Amen to that.
With that introduction, however, let me admit that our Christmas experiences of the winter months are always something very special. And boy, do we pack 'em in. As you might remember, Claire and I got the Christmas season started early with a working vacation down in Branson the first week of November where, among other things, we attended a play called "A Christmas Snow," went to the Christmas concert of the Lennon Sisters, enjoyed the lovely lights and decorations that were all around town, visited extended family nearby and celebrated our 40th anniversary. And later in November, our annual weekend retreat with our book club down in Nebraska City was full of Christmas too.
But once December came round, we really hit our stride. We put together a couple of Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzles, started planning our parties, ran off lyrics to Christmas carols to be sung outside the abortion mill, played seasonal favorites on the CD and phonograph, started preparing Christmas-themed sermons for Faith Bible Church, etc. Claire decorated the house. We strung lights on the front yard pine tree. We suspended green wreaths on each of the silver maples and another on the garage. The nativity scene was set up in the yard. We were ready to go.
The schedule from then on was pretty much a whirl as mixed in with all of our other Vital Signs duties (and despite an exposed nerve from a cracked tooth that haunted me for a couple of weeks), we managed to season a whole lot of things with a little Christmas flavor. For instance?
* On the several occasions in December and early January when we were praying and sidewalk counseling in front of Planned Parenthood, we also sang Christmas carols together. It was a way we could express a joyful witness of the "good news of a great joy for all people" while also waging spiritual warfare. And, believe me, there are a whole lot of verses in those ancient Christmas carols that take on a new relevance and power when sung in that context.
* Christmas was the theme of the four Sunday morning sermons I preached in December at Faith Bible Church: “The First To Hear,” “The Bethlehem Scene,” “Gifts,” and “The Providence of Christmas.”
* I spoke about the Christmas shepherds (Luke Chapter 2) to three groups of kids at the AWANA Club at Country Bible Church in Blair.
* We added a bit of Christmas seasoning to several other meetings: the quarterly meeting of the Vital Signs Ministries Governing Board, a fundraising dinner for Don Stenberg which featured Ed Meese as speaker, and the December gathering of our longstanding book club. Also, for several other social activities, Claire made sure there were always plenty of cookies to go round!
* We wrote a whole lot of thank you notes and other messages to friends during December. And, in doing so, you guessed it, we used Christmas cards and stationery instead of normal stuff.
* Claire and I hosted 9 evening dinner parties. We also served as hosts for Claire's annual Christmas tea for the girls in her family, the traditional Christmas Eve breakfast in Lincoln for the Aylward family members that can make it, and maybe a half dozen simpler, more personal conversations over coffee.
* We served a Christmas Day dinner for 18 guests.
* As the guests of Quint and Carol Coppi, we attended a "Holiday Under Glass" luncheon at the Joslyn Art Museum which featured exquisite performances by three different choirs from Central High School.
* We watched Christmas movies; read Christmas poetry and stories; and listened to not only our favorite Christmas albums but a couple of new ones too. Claire and I also managed a few quiet meals out together, including a delicious and kinda’ fancy New Year’s Eve dinner at Dolce.
* We braved the crowds three times on brief shopping excursions. One was to Scheels; a second was to Target; and the third involved browsing through the Boy's Town gift shop after we had breakfast at the cafeteria there.
* Claire and I were invited to address a special gathering of Christian families out near Lindsey, Nebraska, about 2 and a half hours away. We met in a large home that had been transformed from a schoolhouse – complete with gymnasium! Very neat. As requested, I spoke about the Christian’s obligation to promote the sanctity of life, to honor and care for our elders, and the importance of family and intergenerational interaction. We had a truly wonderful time. And yes, I managed to season even this talk with a bit of Christmas sentiment.
* We promoted (and personally participated in) Voice of the Martyrs' Christmas Care project in which gospel materials and school helps were sent to children in countries where the Church is experiencing direct persecution. Provisions were also sent to evangelists and pastors in those same countries.
* Throughout most of December I posted several items daily on Vital Signs Blog and I made sure there were a lot of them that dealt with Christmas themes. We know from previous years that those are especially popular and the traffic counter suggested that was again the case this year.
* This December an audio file of "Chesterton and Christmas" (a presentation I delivered at the annual conference of the American Chesterton Society in St. Paul, Minnesota a few years ago) was offered by the ACS on their website as a free gift to reward those who purchased material there...and just to be nice to those who didn't buy anything! It was most definitely an honor to be of service to them.
And last but not least… Claire’s and my Christmas season was absolutely chock full of “When Swing Was King.” (Next page.)
* Chock full, indeed! We gave 17 presentations (that’s right, 17) of the Christmas edition of "When Swing Was King." The Christmas edition involves the same type of music we feature every month (big bands and classic crooners) but there's no doubt it is special in several ways. It is more visually stunning. More emotional. More profound. The repertoire includes festive favorites like Duke Ellington's "Jingle Bells," Woody Herman's "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town,' and Judy Garland's "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" as well as some of the most profound carols: "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem" by Frank Sinatra, "Silent Night" by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Perry Como, "O, Holy Night" by the Mills Brothers and "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" by the Guy Lombardo Orchestra.
So, as you can see by the above list, we were as busy in December as elves – and maybe even happier. For we love Christmas and we love the challenge of bringing the theological truths, the wondrous and beautiful mysteries, and the special joys that Christmas brings into all areas of our life…including our various pro-life ministries.
It is the best way to fight back in the culture’s war on Christmas – not merely by stiffly insisting that the school, the city or the local bank celebrate the holiday but by we Christians doing so. And with fervency, creativity and waves of good cheer. It is our winsome witness that is the most potent weapon in that war, showing as it does what a world-shaking event that birth in Bethlehem was 2,000 years ago AND what a life-changing power the living Christ still has today.
Okay, that’s the Christmas report for this year, my friends. Let’s now make sure that the Christmas (and Easter!) spirit lives strong and glorious in us all throughout 2012. May God bless us all in mighty ways this year and, in turn, may He use His Church to bless the world around us.
Coming up for Vital Signs in the next few weeks? Besides the usual (blogging, the WSWK programs, the presence at the abortion clinic, etc.) there’s more work with Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood (the new website is almost ready to upload), a L’Abri conference in Minnesota, the annual Walk for Life in Lincoln on Saturday, January 28 (to which you and your church should seriously consider participating in) and the next Book It! discussion of Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey on February 7.
We will also be sending letters out to several pastors soon, asking them about letting us help create a letter-writing ministry for their respective churches. We will prepare and host the first one for each congregation and, if they agree that it’s a worthwhile way to lift up Christ’s Name in the public square, they will then take it over themselves. We all pray that churches will find their voice on the crucial issues of our day – this is an excellent way to do just that. So please pray that it works. And, if you’d like to help get something started in your church, let us (and your pastor) know!
Until next month, keep in regular touch with us on Vital Signs Blog.
Dear friends, December 2011
As you all know, Christmas has always been a season of tremendous significance to Claire and I. We both loved the season growing up in Denver and Lincoln, respectively. We first met at Christmastime. And throughout our married lives, this wonderful season has been for us an intense, busy time of fun, fellowship and spiritual service. And what a Christmas season this is already lining up to be!
It began during our working vacation down in Branson where our 40th anniversary (on November 4th) was celebrated in a town whose halls were already splendidly decked for Christmas. We went to a couple of Christmas shows, a Christmas play and listened to Christmas music the whole time. Back home we started playing carols in the background as we worked. And once December started, we really got going.
I have, for instance, taken a break from Galatians and started preaching over at Faith Bible Church a mini-series on Christmas -- and an adult Sunday school class too. I’ve spoken about the shepherds outside Bethlehem to 3 groups of AWANA kids at Country Bible Church in Blair. I’ve started writing Christmas cards and Claire has started baking cookies for friends, neighbors, and folks we know from the nursing homes. And we have begun hosting the first few of what will eventually be 10 Christmas dinner parties at our home.
What else? Well, on a couple of occasions already we have engaged in a special kind of spiritual warfare outside the abortion mill by joyfully singing Christmas carols there – songs in which we “join the triumph of the skies” by praising and thanking God for the Advent of Emmanuel, He Who was “born to save the sons of earth.” If you’d like to join us, we will be doing that again a few times this month. And the American Chesterton Society recently told me they will be offering an audio file of a lecture I gave at one of their annual conferences a few years ago.“Chesterton and Christmas” will be given as a bonus for people who buy stuff on their web site. Neat.
Oh yes, one more very important part of our Christmas celebrations? We have already presented the Christmas edition of “When Swing Was King” at 11 nursing homes or assisted living facilities! And we have 6 more to go!
Of course, these Christmastime activities must be folded in to our other duties. Those include helping develop the website and other ministries of Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood, our normal correspondence tasks, arranging my material for translation for our Russian-language web site, preparing for the quarterly Vital Signs Board meeting, and running Vital Signs Blog. The traffic on the blog, by the way, continues to move forward. By the end of this year, it will have logged over 130,000 page loads for 2011.
And speaking of Vital Signs Blog, I’m going to pass along here one of the brief columns that got quite a bit of attention over there. And yes, it’s appropriate to this LifeSharer letter, concerning as it does Christmas. It deals in particular with the commercialization of this splendid holiday.
Will Yours Be a Car Wash Christmas?
While leaving Blair the other night, I drove by a car wash that had this posted on a big sign, "Need a Christmas gift idea? Give free tokens!"
I smiled at what I figured was a quirky kind of joke. But, after a few minutes, I thought again. Maybe it wasn't a joke at all. With the modern Yuletide so awash in remarkably garish, gratuitous and expensive gifts, maybe these guys have gone in a completely different direction -- opting instead for something as mundane and impersonal as car wash tokens.
Is this what Christmas has come to?
In the "olden days, happy golden days of yore" (the line comes from Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"), giving presents required some personal investment. Dad made you a little wagon; Momma knitted you a scarf; Grandma baked you a pie. Even after Christmas began to be commercialized, shopping for family and friends was a time-consuming activity -- not because there was so much to buy but because you were searching for just the right gift, something you knew the recipient needed or wanted.
But who painstakingly considers what special presents to buy nowadays? No, we just hand out the Home Depot or Amazon.com gift cards instead. And making something by hand? Good grief -- forget about that. We've lost the time. We've lost the talents. Worse still, we've lost the desire itself to put something of ourselves into our gifts.
One of the causes for this condition is that the commercialization of Christmas just got further and further out of hand. One Christmas gift wasn't enough for little Timmy. He now had to get 2 presents, then 4 presents, then 11 presents. And the Christmas lists expanded too. No longer were parents expected to give presents to just their kids (and maybe a little tip for the milkman and the paperboy) but to practically everybody they knew.
So no longer could gifts be very personal. After all, Grandpa can whittle only so many flutes. And beyond that problem, Americans were seduced (almost forced) into a whole new way of “celebrating” Christmas by advertisers, storekeepers, peer pressure, and an distorted doctrine of what true affection required; namely, that the giver’s esteem for the recipient was measured in the amount of dollars spent. Instead of creativity, personal investment and tenderness, the new celebration system brought us the mania of Black Friday, excessive spending, debt, stress, and resentment. The giving of gifts became one of the banes of Christmas rather than one of its blessings. And it crowded out the more social, more serene, more spiritual blessings that had once marked this holy season.
Can we go back? Can we recover some of those warmer, healthier Christmas customs? The answer, of course, is yes. But it will take a bit of courage to truly live counter-cultural. It will take some explanations to family members. And it will take some patience and sacrifice -- baking cookies takes longer than buying an iTunes gift card. But if we want our lives (and those of our family members and friends) to find in Christmas some genuine affection, spiritual meaning and moral stimulation, we need to concentrate again on quality, not quantity.
And don’t forget the larger stage on which this problem is played out. Our country just can't afford to keep Christmas according to Madison Avenue anymore. We don’t have enough “scratch” (to use an archaic word for money) to satisfy the “itch” produced by the endless TV commercials that tell us we will never be happy or healthy or hip unless we buy their stuff.
The never-satisfied spirit of consumerism has ruined our economy. It has spoiled our culture. And it has left in its wake a false sense of entitlement, irresponsible expectations,and a secularized Christmas ethic.
But again, I say that we can – we must – recapture that Christmas spirit of the “olden golden days of yore.” Recall for a moment the intense warmth and hope you feel when watching an old Christmas movie, sitting by the fire listening to Christmas carols, or decorating cookies with the kids. Those feelings have nothing to do with Christmas presents. Rather they bless us with more valuable treasures: faith in Christ, family intimacy, friendship, beauty, romance, memories, community, and festivity.
With love, reason, and inventive effort, we can indeed recapture some of that warmth and bring it into real life. Perhaps, like me, you're unable to whittle or knit. Fine. But can you bake a pie? Decorate cookies? Throw a party? Sing a song? Tell a story? Write a personal Christmas card? Any of these -- or anything of a similar nature – is much more authentically Christmas than cash, gift cards…or car wash tokens. Don’t you think?
Have a safe and very merry Christmas.
P.S. A wholehearted thank you from Claire, myself and the Vital Signs Board to all of you who have made donations to Vital Signs Ministries this year. We are particularly grateful to those of you who have given so faithfully and generously. Deep thanks also for all who have prayed for us, for those who have given direct help of any kind and for those who have passed along encouraging words. We are forever grateful.
Dear friends of Vital Signs, November 2011
I write this month’s LifeSharer from a Panera’s restaurant on the last day of our working vacation. I’ve already been here a couple of hours working on other projects: a letter to selected businesses about helping support “When Swing Was King,” some material for the Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood blog I’ve recently created, and a letter to selected pastors offering to host a letter-writing party for their congregation in hopes they will then take on such ministry for themselves.
While I’m busy here, Claire is grocery shopping, doing laundry, deleting over 2,000 spam e-mails that accumulated in our absence, and, in numerous other ways, organizing the house. Tomorrow we jump back into a regular schedule which, in the next three days alone, will include sidewalk counseling at the Planned Parenthood mill, hosting a table at the Nebraskans Concerned for Ethical Research banquet featuring David Limbaugh, completing and mailing out the letters to pastors and businessmen I mentioned earlier and doing three “When Swing Was King” presentations. It’s a good thing we’re coming back from our vacation refreshed, huh?
Where were we and just what we were doing? Well, it’s those questions I’m going to answer in this LifeSharer letter. I do so, in part, as a genuine expression of thanksgiving for the many gifts God gave us during this wonderful break. And what could be more appropriate for a November letter than thanksgiving? So, let’s get to it.
Our gratitude certainly extends to the work we did on our working vacation. That part consisted in blogging half of the days we were there, writing four dozen personal letters and creating a whole new blog for Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood. That blog can be found at http://nappnotes.blogspot.com. I guess you could also list as work-related the hours we spent evaluating Vital Signs activities, revising certain ministries, and planning the schedule for the next few months. We also did an awful lot of praying about these things.
I’m going to take most of this letter, however, to tell you about the other times we had down in Branson. The times of relaxation, recreation, reflection and renewal. It was these things for which we are especially full of thanksgiving. It was a momentous time for Claire and me and it caused us to understand with greater clarity and force how critically important such things are for keeping the quality of our work high and for keeping the spirit of the workers healthy, happy and finely-tuned. We have never “done” vacations very often or very well but we came back from this one realizing just how much we need them now and then!
We got off to a late start. That’s par for the course for us. And so the first day of our vacation (Monday) saw us still at home trying to finish up key items on our Vital Signs to-do list. But finish them we did. We had a great time driving down – good conversation, a late lunch in Kansas City, and the wonderful tunes of big band and early rock provided by the satellite radio in our rented Ford Fusion. It was a relaxed, leisurely drive…almost too leisurely for we didn’t arrive at our Eagle’s Nest condo (just south of Silver Dollar City, southwest of Branson about 8 or 10 miles) until nighttime. In fact, we made it to the office just 5 minutes before it closed!
It was super dark outside and the stars were showing in all their brilliance. We were eager to see if the view from our third floor balcony was going to be as pretty as promoted. It was an anxiety that must have permeated my subconscious for I awoke before the dawn and went out on the balcony to wait.
It was everything we had hoped. And more. The luscious autumn colors were almost overwhelming, filling the hills and valleys of the Ozarks and complementing the cliffs, the shoreline and the placid waters of Table Rock Lake. We couldn’t have found a more beautiful, more serene place to spend a vacation. With the dawn underway and Claire still asleep, I slipped down to the rocks along the lakeside to spend what would be the first of several exhilarating prayer sessions. Another particularly intense time with God was spent there a couple of days later when Claire and I stayed through the sunset, through the dusk and into the mysterious darkness of night. We were able to find the condo only by starlight. It was an unforgettable time.
Scheduled in among such times of enjoying God, enjoying His creation and even enjoying our work projects were plenty of other neat things. We saw a couple of music shows in Branson and spent a day at Silver Dollar City. They weren’t really worth “writing home about.” So I won’t. However, we did see a movie at the IMAX entitled “The Ozarks: Legend and Legacy” which we found very moving. We also attended a compelling drama which was overtly Christian in its message. It was “A Christmas Snow.” And one of the most touching hours of our whole stay was enjoying the tradition, the generous character, the inter-generational relationships and the Christ-honoring examples of the Homestead Pickers, a group of bluegrass musicians which we found at Silver Dollar City. The version of the old hymn “Sweet Beulah Land” that they played with a young woman taken from the audience providing the vocals was something that touched us more deeply than we can express.
Another wonderful afternoon was spent on the campus of the College of the Ozarks, a Christian school begun in the earliest years of the 20th Century. They call it “Hard Work U” because all of the students commit to work their way through school at various jobs provided there on campus including a dairy, greenhouses, the Keeter Center, a grain mill, jelly and jam canning, fruitcake baking, and much more. It’s an incredible place (about 10 miles south of Branson) and it shows up year after year in lists of best American colleges. We at lunch there, toured the campus, visited the campus ministry offices and talked to students (yes, they’ve got kids involved in helping the pro-life pregnancy center in Branson), bought some of the products of the students’ labor, prayed in the beautiful chapel, and prayed some more for the school’s protection while sitting at Lookout Point.
There were a couple of especially sweet experiences for us on this trip that were outside of the immediate Branson area. Those were the two visits we made to my Aunt Ferris and a few of my cousins up in the little town of Crane. It was a delightful drive 30 miles up a county road. We spent a wonderful 4 hour visit with Ferris and five other relatives one night and then another five hour visit with Ferris, three cousins and members of their families. It was really neat to enjoy Christian fellowship with them.
Our time spilled over into many other things but I just don’t have time (neither do you!) to go into details. But here’s a real quick rundown of a few of them:
* We took several drives through the bountiful autumn beauty of the Ozarks. Sometimes we just got in the car and took off with no destination in mind. Other times we took long scenic routes on our way to do grocery shopping or to get help from Stephanie at the U. S. Cellular office for our new phones. One such side trip took us to Omaha…Omaha, Arkansas, that is. Population 166. We checked out the town, took a few pictures and bought a couple of jars of jelly that bore the town’s name on the label.
* There was a great Greek deli where we ate lunch 3 times. The potato salad is fabulous and the Rosa (a Mediterranean-style turkey and olive oil wrap in a soft flat bread) is the best thing I’ve eaten this year. We also did a little shopping at Branson Landing. We got a shirt for a friend at a St. Louis Cardinals store. And Claire found some scarves and a blouse, a couple of shirts for me, and 3 bottles of infused balsamic vinegars at the Devo Olive Oil Company. There was also a quiet coffee shop there where I got some work done.
* The Christmas lights start going up real early in Branson and by November 1, most of the town is lit up for the season. So it was natural for Christmas lovers like Claire and me to make sure we got out often to soak that atmosphere in.
* Another great afternoon was spent in visiting Scott Lawson, one of our godsons (39 years old!) up in Springfield. We drove up to meet him at the Lambert’s Restaurant (“Home of the Throwed Rolls”) and had a neat time catching up. He’s a really swell guy and our conversation ranged over a whole lot of spiritually-oriented topics.
There were a few other highlights but you get the idea – we had a terrific time. We got a bit of work done but we also came back refreshed, invigorated and with some important new perspectives on Vital Signs Ministries. We have, for instance, carefully reviewed the various services we have provided over the years and calculated which should be our priorities for the next stage. We sought God’s help for making these changes and for blessing the ongoing impact of our prayers and our deeds. And there’s one more thing I should mention that we did on this break to Branson…we celebrated 40 years of a very blessed, very wonderful marriage.
Much love and appreciation to you all. May the Lord grant you a deeply meaningful and productive Thanksgiving season.
P.S. In last month’s LifeSharer, I mentioned the possibility of us having a Vital Signs Christmas party where you could view a sample of “When Swing Was King,” the exciting new nursing home ministry that has so surprised us with its overwhelming popularity. Well, we decided we just didn’t have time to get such a thing going but you are all most cordially invited to join us for any of our presentations! We’ve certainly got enough to make it easy for you – 17 in December alone! Man alive! For a full schedule, give us a call or check out the Vital Signs website (www.vitalsignsministries.org) and click on the “When Swing Was King” button. Blessings, dear friends.
Dear friends of Vital Signs, October 2011
Last week we hosted our quarterly Board meeting, preceded by an end-of-summer meal of hot dogs, brats and Italian sausage that I had grilled, accompanied by potato salad, baked beans, chips and a superb apple cobbler with ice cream that Claire had prepared. It was a delicious and fun way to start what was a very enheartening evening. Yes, the times are tough -- both culturally and economically -- but we remain deeply grateful that God has called us into this ministry and the review of the last few months of Vital Signs Ministries we presented that night bears witness that we continue to make a serious impact for the Faith, the gospel and the culture of life. In fact, the review of our activity was so upbeat that several of our Board members urged us to pass it along in our next LifeSharer letter. We thought that was a good idea. So what follows are some of the highlights from that quarterly report.
Beginning our agenda that night was the financial report. This is rarely a thrilling part of the meeting for an under-funded ministry like ours and this one was no exception. As I said, times are tough and Vital Signs’ income is down. But we moved on to the review of Claire’s and my activities for the previous three months which, I hope you’ll agree, was a lot more encouraging. First up was a survey of several advocacy efforts which included our letters and internet postings: 1) against the Omaha Public School Board for their strict requiring of employees to read an immoral, anti-American “sensitivity” manual; 2) against Komen for the Cure’s unconscionable partnership with Planned Parenthood; 3) against those leaders of Communist and Islamic governments that are persecuting Christians; 4) against Walgreens and CVS pharmacy companies for selling really bizarre “sex toys” on their web pages; 5) against U.S. government officials who have engaged in a variety of acts detrimental to the public good; and 6) against Planned Parenthood.
That last campaign has occupied quite a bit of 2011’s third quarter. It included our prayer presence and sidewalk counseling outside the northwest Planned Parenthood abortion mill, of course. But there was also our involvement in a new statewide coalition, Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood (NAPP). This new association consists of a small group of pro-life leaders who are trying to develop new strategies in opposing the sinister schemes of Planned Parenthood. We’ve occasionally met together in person down in Lincoln but we’ve done alot of talking on the phone and e-mailing as well. It was NAPP who brought Jim Sedlak and Rita Diller of STOPP International to Nebraska for speaking engagements and training sessions in several communities, including one in Omaha we helped organize. NAPP also created a Facebook site with daily updates. (I’m pleased to serve as one of the two co-administrators of that page.) Finally, NAPP is very close now to putting onto the internet an information-packed website that will serve pro-life advocates all over the state.
Was that all that we had been doing since the last Vital Signs meeting? Hardly. I’m pleased to say I’m just getting started. Next in our review were details about the “Lt. Dan Party” we had hosted (a patriotic film promoting the Gary Sinise Foundation) as well as a host of other hospitality and discipleship ministries in which our home served as the entertaining venue. Included also in that hospitality ministry is Claire’s baking dozens of her famous chocolate chip cookies for friends in hospital and for residents and staff of nursing homes.
I was also able to tell Board members about a stimulating evening I spent in a conference call with Coach Ron Brown and Board members of FreedMen Nebraska and about Claire and I providing a Vital Signs information booth at the Providential History Festival held at the Strategic Air and Space Museum. There was also the new Vital Signs brochure we had designed and printed; the two days in Lincoln spent in an exciting and unprecedented pro-life strategy and networking conference; our participation in the Life Chain; and a bunch of thank-you letters we had written to religious, business and political leaders who had done praiseworthy things.
And, oh yes, I reminded the Board members that I’m still preaching every Sunday at Faith Bible Church. I’m currently doing a series on the book of Galatians. And I’ve also started teaching an adult Sunday School class as well. It deals with the Old Testament tabernacle.
Vital Signs Ministries continues to soar in cyberspace and that part of our quarterly review was really neat to share also. Although I’ve read that there’s a national slump in blog traffic, Vital Signs Blog is still averaging about 400 page loads every weekday. That results in over 100,000 page loads so far in 2011. But that’s not all. There have been some neat improvements and expansion of our other web ministries too. The Vital Signs Ministries official web site looks better, has more on it and is more interactive. And VSM Resources, our Russian-language site, is not only adding to the number of articles it contains but is also gaining substantially in the number of visitors. In just the last quarter, it drew nearly 2,500 page loads from people all over the world who are utilizing the Bible study material, sermon helps and pro-life information we have there in Russian. Isn’t that terrific!
The next arena we had for our report was a ministry that is keeping us busier than we ever imagined. That’s the one we call “When Swing Was King.” Every month we give audiences at assisted living centers and nursing homes a new series of big band songs, photos and fun, lively commentary – all free of charge. It is (by far and away) the most popular outreach into these facilities that we’ve ever had.
And remember, we started “When Swing Was King” as a service to my Mom and her fellow residents at Life Care Center in late summer of 2010. That’s all we had in mind at the beginning. But God clearly had bigger plans for the program. For we now have 12 different volumes with 13 songs each that we provide for several places bi-monthly or quarterly. But 9 facilities have us in every month! And we’re getting more requests all the time. In 2010 we presented “When Swing Was King” 29 times. But the number of performances in 2011 has already reached 81 – and we still have two months to go! Wow.
Can you see why, despite the rather grim financial report we endured at the beginning of the Board meeting, we were all in a celebratory mood by the meeting’s end?
Still to come before the end of the year is a lot more of the same as well as AWANA speaking engagements, letter-writing nights and book discussions, and a special Vital Signs Christmas Party which will combine a charming sample of “When Swing Was King” with a commemoration of our 40 years of marriage. Sound like fun? It will be! The details will be coming your way in a couple of weeks!
In the meantime, please keep praying for God to use Vital Signs Ministries to fight back against the schemes of the evil one and to help build, for God’s glory, a culture of life in Omaha and way beyond. Thanks for all your support, guys. We are deeply grateful.
Much love to all of you from both of us…
Dear friends, September 2011
Man, it’s been a busy few weeks around here with our presentations of “When Swing Was King” increasing, our sidewalk counseling, blogging five days a week and brand new responsibilities with Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood and another statewide pro-life coalition. These last couple of things have required our presence in Lincoln a few times but they’ve proven to be opportunities for very enlightening and stimulating networking – fellowship which has included both pro-life veterans and devoted, visionary Christians who are fairly new to the cause. It’s been terrific but it does mean more work. For instance, I’ve been asked to be the media contact for Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood, help administrate NAPP’s Facebook page, and serve on a media strategy committee. How we will we fit these things into the rest of our schedule? Well, we’re working on that!
For this month’s LifeSharer letter, I’m sharing three items with you. The first is a description of a recent encounter I had with a security guard at the Planned Parenthood abortion mill. The second involves some nice responses from “When Swing Was King” presentations the last couple of weeks. And the third is a review of a thank you party we threw for special friends. I hope they all prove of interest.
Item One: A Security Guard Without Eternal Security
We had been on the sidewalk in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion mill for quite awhile before the security guard arrived. Several abortionist staff had showed up already as had a few clients. Alongside me on the sidewalk were Catholic pro-lifers as well as several evangelicals who are part of the Vital Signs team: Keith, Carol, Bev, Quint, Val, Karla, Chet and Claire. We had been praying and, when possible at this difficult facility, talking to the clients across the parking lot.
When the guard pulled in, he swung his truck over to us and rolled down his window. Trying to strike a commanding pose, as security guards are so prone to do, he said in his best Jack Webb voice, "Good morning, Mr. Hartford." (I was "Denny" last week.) "It seems like things are going fine here and they will as long as you and the others keep to the sidewalks."
I smiled and made sure we had strong eye contact before replying, "No kidding? Is that how it works? You know, after 30 years of doing this, I thought that was the procedure but it's awfully nice of you to come over and remind us. Thanks."
"Well, I just wanted things to be clear. You all have your opinions and they have theirs and...well, it is what it is. We just have to coexist."
"Oh, coexistence is fine as far as it goes," I said. "But the most important things in life -- issues of morality, where we stand with God, what happens to us when we die -- those things matter. And you and I have to take these things up with the God Who created us. The Bible warns us that it is appointed to every man to die and then to face God's judgment. So, you know, it's not coexistence with one another that is the priority, man; it's getting right with God."
I spoke calmly and had bent down a bit so as to have a more direct conversation. I kept holding my sign with its beautiful baby picture as well as my pink banner which reads, "Mom, We Care for You and Your Baby." I was being as friendly as I could be, trying to build on the brief conversation we had had a week ago. Also, I was confident that my friends were lifting up this conversation in prayer.
He answered. "I hear you, Mr. Hartford. And I want you to know that I appreciate your civility. It's a whole lot nicer than being screamed at for being a baby-killer or being told that I'm going to hell."
I laughed. "Well, don't mistake my civility for confidence that you're not going to hell. Man alive, that's what I'm talking about. You and I have to answer for what we believe, what we do, how we respond to the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made when He died on the cross to pay for our sins. I'll tell you what. I'm preaching every Sunday about this stuff down at Faith Bible Church on south 27th Street. Rather than us trying to “coexist” out here across the parking lot, why don't you come by some Sunday morning -- the service starts at 10:30 but I don't start preaching until 11 or so -- and listen in. Then I'll take you out to lunch and we can kick around what I talked about. You can tell me what you think too, what you believe. Tell me your life story. No pressure. No hard sell. Just one conversation if you want. What do you say?"
He didn't say anything for a moment. But then he thanked me for inviting him and said he might do that someday. "Well please know I'm quite sincere," I concluded. "I'd love to talk to you about these things and about how my whole life was radically changed for the better when I became a Christian. And you don't have to come to church either. I'll do lunch anytime we can fit it in."
He thanked me again and left, parking his truck up near the building and then going inside. We prayed for him together and recalled other security guards who have been employed by abortionists over the years. Some of them have been sadistic thugs but a few responded positively to our challenges to forego helping these barbaric businesses. We recalled one in particular who gradually changed her mind about abortion, about pro-life advocates and about her own life. She eventually quit but for months before she did, she had begun helping us in certain situations, even urging women to come talk to us about alternatives to abortion. We reminded each other of the importance of dealing with our opponents as courteously as possible. Not compromising or making light of sin but making sure that our demeanor is balanced, winsome and under the control of the Holy Spirit.
Conversions happen. And among all kinds of sinners. So please pray with us that this security guard is among that company. And let's pray -- fervently and frequently -- that many, many more would walk away from the shame of this brutal industry and into the light of Christ's mercy.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."
Item Two: “When Swing Was King” Fans
From a resident: “Your program is the shortest hour in my whole month! Oh, how I love this music. And the pictures and stories you tell are so interesting. Please keep coming back.”
A note from an activities director: “Thank you for the wonderful music programs you do for the residents – ours as well as so many others. What memories they bring to the folks and every week I see how meaningful that is to them. It is a lifeline as well as a common bond among them. Enclosed is a ticket for you both to join us here for a meal sometime. We’d love to have you as our guests!”
Also from an activities director: “You guys have no idea how much our residents love you two and they appreciate so much all the time you put in to making these different music programs for them. They refer to you all month long.”
From a resident who almost didn’t stay for the program: “Wow. Am I glad I stuck around for this. It was great. Will you make sure they come and get me the next time you come?”
Item Three: Thanks for Loving Our Loved One
We recently hosted a little thank you party for the staff of Life Care Center. It was just one of the ways we have tried to express our appreciation to them for doing such a wonderful job of taking care of my Mom in the last two years of her life. We brought a cake (made and beautifully decorated by Baker's) and served it up in the conference room at just the right time in the afternoon to catch both shifts of workers. Our initial plan was to just bring the cake, present a few gifts to the director and then split. But we have formed too many sweet relationships for that. We ended up hanging around and talking for about an hour and a half. And we made sure the cake was big enough so that there was plenty left over to supply the night shift too.
Alongside the cake, we set up some pictures of Mom. That turned out to be a nice blessing for the staff because so many of them truly treasured her. We also had printed off some copies of the funeral reading (complete with Mom’s obituary and a clear exposition of the gospel) and several staff members grabbed those. And then we presented some gifts as a memorial to my Mom: a Visa gift card for $400 to get whatever they wanted for the facility and a box filled for the residents’ use with jigsaw puzzles (which Mom loved to put together), decks of cards and tins filled with dominoes.
Nurses and aides, administrators and activities staff, rehab therapists and cooks, custodians and maintenance workers -- everybody stopped by to grab a piece of cake, give us hugs, and tell a story or two about Mom before going on back to work. It was a really sweet time.
Thank-yous are always a great thing to pass around. But, in the case of the Life Care Center folks, they were genuinely deserved. We are staying in touch with these guys (staff and residents alike) through our monthly “When Swing Was King” gig but we’ve spent so much time over there that we frequently find excuses to get over there even more – usually a batch of Claire’s chocolate chip cookies which need a home!
Okay, guys, that’s it for the September LifeSharer. Please keep in touch with us through Vital Signs Blog and Vital Signs Ministries web page. You can even listen in to my Faith Bible Church sermons from there. If you do, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find this summer’s “Trees of the Bible” series quite interesting! As always, your prayers and financial support for our ongoing efforts to promote a culture of life are greatly appreciated.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, August 2011
Just where should we look for models in dealing with people who are afflicted by Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and other debilitating maladies? Traditionally, of course, those models have come from heroes of mercy like Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. We look in a broader sense to the ideals of Western Civilization which are taken from religion, especially Christianity.
But modern times call for modern ethics, something more in line with the natural (rather than the supernatural) order we now worship. Therefore, even if the resultant methods seem ugly and cold-hearted to those whose consciences are trained in old-fashioned ideas, progressive social engineers are laying out new plans for our ill and aging citizens.
As an example, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the touching observations of April Bogle, the Director of Public Relationships at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, who proposes that the best model we have before us for treating our elderly is…wait for it…the law of the jungle! And I’m not making this up. Here is Ms. Bogle’s mind-boggling prescription for ethics in the post-Christian era.
It's simply unnatural to encourage old people to live on well past their functionality; I'm convinced of this now more than ever since I returned from the rainforest of Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. This may sound like a heartless statement, but it is just the opposite.
For more than 10 years I've watched my father -- a brilliant college administrator and professor of history, a progressive thinker and agent of social change, a man who loved to ride his bike for exercise, worked in his rock garden for meditative therapy, grilled hamburgers for his wife and two daughters and wrote stories about his past for fun -- deteriorate into someone who is lost, scared, immobile...
There are the smells that you can't hide no matter how attentive the staff. And the sounds. The jabbering, moaning and crying is a constant, like the ocean, wave upon wave. And then, of course, there's the television that's always on...
In a nursing home, there is no system for life and death except the endless waiting. The rainforest, on the other hand, has it all worked out. Obviously it is a brutal plan, but I argue no more horrendous than the "care" people endure in a nursing home. In the rainforest, everything is about survival -- from being eaten, from lack of sun or water, from limited nutritious soil. Yet everything, except perhaps the big cats and big snakes, gets eaten. Everything dies. And the remains are taken care of by four different kinds of vultures and thousands of other natural recyclers.
Monkeys befriend toucans and then break their necks before eating them. Frogs eat mosquito larvae and other pesky bugs. Termites eat rotting trees and build large nests that birds invade for dinner. Even the trees know how to survive -- the walking palm sprouts new roots and kills old ones so that it can "walk" to find the nourishing sun under the thick tree canopy.
And the smells? Earthy fresh, clean, sometimes floral, occasionally appetizing (flowers that smell like garlic). And the sounds? A symphony of the original tweets and twitters, clicks and clacks, even howls and squeals. Some are songs of joy, some are sirens of warning, some are simply announcements of being alive.
Is this more brutal or terrifying than an Alzheimer's home? At least in the rainforest, nature is in balance and everything is there for a purpose. It is a highly complex system of interconnectedness and interdependency that functions perfectly when left on its own.
Did you ever imagine that such self-centered savagery could be promoted as public policy by a high-ranking educator here in America? Or that such a cold-hearted creed could be praised by other social engineers for its “reasonable” utilitarianism?
For my part, I choose Florence Nightingale instead of a neck-breaking monkey. I choose the aroma of loving sacrifices lifted to heaven instead of the stink of decay which Ms. Bogle finds so perversely appealing. And I reject completely her notions of becoming one with the natural order. I choose instead to worship nature’s Creator, the Lord God Who laid down specific laws about justice, holiness and the love due to God and one’s fellow man. These laws proscribe man’s tender care of anyone who needs help: the preborn child, the infant, the sick, the crippled, the aged, the orphan, the widow, the persecuted, the prisoner and so on. That help needs to be given selflessly, liberally, responsibly, without question of reward and always in the secure confidence that man’s life is designed for an existence beyond this present one.
Ms. Bogle’s desire to throw people away who have passed their “functionality” is unconscionably cruel. Furthermore, in her idealization of the jungle, she mistakes happiness for what is actually horror and religious virtue for what is ravenous violence. It is as remarkable an example of a culture of death as one can imagine – so astounding you expect it to be an outrageous satire. Or more accurate still, a nightmare.
I’m afraid, however, that Ms. Bogle’s ideas are not particularly extraordinary. Brutal and wicked, yes. But they are but the logical conclusion of a philosophy which denies the existence of a personal God, which teaches that man is nothing but a cosmic accident with no inherent dignity or spiritual worth, and which promotes a “survival of the fittest” hedonism in which a person is justified in removing any and all obstacles (even other people) in his quest for pleasure. Just look at how the powers that be are promoting euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Or consider Planned Parenthood (the abortions, the poisons, the lies, the lack of care for women, the criminal activity, the cover-ups, the enabling of promiscuity and perversion) and remember that this sinister business operates with the ardent support of the press, business, government, churches, Girl Scouts, Komen for the Cure and American taxpayers.
No, the culture of death isn’t merely the stuff of horror films or teenagers shooting each other on street corners or even terrorism. It has become the atmosphere that the West breathes every day. And, as socialists gain greater control of government, education and entertainment, it will become more expansive and coercive still.
Yet no matter how far this culture of death reaches and how much it demands subservience, we must be committed to fighting back. Instead of surrendering to the laws of the jungle that would disregard the lives and well being of our senior citizens, we must lovingly care for our parents and grandparents and others who need care. For Vital Signs, this means also that Claire and I will continue to make friends with residents of nursing homes, visit shut-ins, advocate a morally responsible health care system and present “When Swing Was King” for their enjoyment and edification.
And instead of surrendering to the laws of the jungle that would treat preborn children as intruders and parasites, we must respect and defend “the least of these” as our Lord commands. Again, for Claire and I, this means informing men and women about the baseness and dangers of abortion through our web site, Vital Signs Blog, our Russian-language site, sidewalk counseling, support of Christian CPCs, discipleship efforts, etc. And finally, rather than surrender to the laws of the jungle that would teach man to worship the creation instead of the Creator, we must all determine to keep preaching the gospel, keep teaching the Bible and keep living lives marked by truth and beauty as we endeavor to honor the character of God. We do so in anticipation of the bountiful blessings of heaven purchased for us through the shed blood of Jesus.
We know you assume similar obligations in your lives and we find much comfort and stimulation to ongoing “love and good deeds” in your resolve. Nevertheless, let us all dedicate ourselves anew to serving God in confidence, in winsomeness and in gladness of heart. For, make no mistake, it is a calling far more noble and rewarding than any “monkey business” the jungle can provide.
P.S. For those of you on Facebook, please make sure you’re “Friends” of Claire, of me AND of the Facebook site for Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood of which Vital Signs has become an active partner. Thanks so much.
Dear LifeSharers, July 2010
It’s been almost two weeks since Claire and I have been back in Nebraska after just a week in Colorado for my mom’s funeral and a few days of reorientation with family and friends. Life will be a lot different for us than it has been for the last several years of my Mom's illness but we believe the Lord is now showing us just how that extra time on our agenda should be filled in. I want to share a few of those things with you in this LifeSharer letter but I’ll start with a general review of what’s been happening.
At 7 o’clock on Monday evening, June 13, my Mom, Ionia Hartford, passed into the presence of her Savior, Jesus Christ. Her death came after many years of battling weakness and ill health including dementia, heart and liver ailments, diabetes, recurrent edema, recurrent infections and injuries from falls. Her last 38 days were spent in Immanuel Hospital. Claire and I had spent most of our time there during those weeks and we were with her when she died.
We scheduled the funeral for the following Friday out in Golden, Colorado where my father’s body is buried. We really had to hustle in order to get everything done in time including several things we had to finish for Vital Signs and then here at the house. But among the more pleasant tasks were delivering thank-yous to the staff at Life Care Center where Mom had lived so joyfully the last two years. There were some sweet embraces of goodbye even though we reminded them we will still be seeing them often. We also left them a large card we had made showing photos of Mom throughout her life. And, as usual, we dropped off some of Claire's chocolate chip cookies! We then took plates of cookies, a few more photo cards of Mom and two $100 pizza “credit cards” to the nurses who work the ICU and cardio floors of Immanuel Hospital. Thanking people is so important and those doctors, nurses and other staff members truly deserved it.
So we didn’t arrive in Denver until late Thursday night but we were up early Friday morning to enjoy the sunrise on the Front Range of the Rockies. Claire and I headed out to Golden to sign some papers at the cemetery, check things out at Foothills Chapel, and buy a floral display and two dozen roses.
The funeral service began at 2. It was a nice gathering: Mom’s five kids and their families, a niece and her husband from Kansas City, some of Mom’s friends from the old neighborhood, some of Ric’s friends, some of our friends who live in Colorado, and Claire’s sister who lives there too. My funeral sermon was brief, involving a description of Mom’s life and interests as well as relevant Scriptures dealing with resurrection, heaven and the gospel. We then drove a couple of miles to the town cemetery in Golden. The graveside service involved a Scripture reading, a prayer and testimonies from several family members and friends, each of whom then placed one of the roses on the casket. It was a tender and very moving time – as was the fellowship at Ric and Ellen’s after the funeral.
On Saturday morning, Claire and I headed to Golden to check on the grave, to get a few more groceries and to serve as the scouts to find a good picnic spot near Idaho Springs. Other members of the family took off to visit Red Rocks. We found a superb picnic spot (one where Claire and I have had lunch before) about 12 miles south of Idaho Springs, just a few miles on the highway leading up to Mt. Evans. What a splendid afternoon we had. A cold mountain stream. High pine trees and aspens. Sunshine keeping it warm enough to be comfortable. Mountain jays cawing and flying around. A great picnic menu. And a whole lot of memories shared of Mom and Dad. Saturday night was great too, the highlight of which was the discovery of a little diary that contained Mom’s description of her courtship with Dad. It was absolutely amazing and none of us had ever known it existed! One of our Christmas projects will be to produce a transcript of that diary for all family members.
Sunday morning saw some family members having to leave for Florida and Kansas while others stuck around for a nostalgia tour of our high school, the swim club, our old neighborhood and more. We had a very nice time all day and then enjoyed dinner together at a 50’s style diner that night. On Monday morning, Claire and I arranged the headstone etching, the placement of a permanent vase and so on. We then had one final meal together with family at a kosher deli and said our goodbyes. Claire and I then turned our sporty red, rented Chevy towards the mountains, eventually crossing Loveland Pass during a sleety snowfall and landing in Frisco. It was only that night that we really felt the effects of what had been a very emotional, very hectic week and, after I recovered from a really severe nosebleed, we slept hard until the next morning.
We were breathing that rarified mountain air very early on Tuesday morning and by 7 o’clock we were on the road again. What spectacular views! If I live forever (which, by the way, I will!) I’ll never get over the splendor of the Rocky Mountains! We looked around Frisco a bit and then headed further west to Vail. We got off the highway and enjoyed bagels and tea at an out of the way town called Minturn and eventually got on 131 and headed north towards Steamboat Springs. It was a gorgeous day, just perfect for driving in the mountains which has always been a fun and therapeutic activity for me. We drove around Steamboat for quite awhile, had a cup of coffee and then headed back over Rabbit Ears Pass towards Winter Park. We had a romantic (but chilly) picnic there and then crossed the Divide again at Berthoud Pass, dropping in for a soda in Idaho Springs. By the time we found a motel back in Denver, it was pretty late in the evening.
Wednesday was a neat day of visiting. We started out with lunch at Vince Canino's fabulous restaurant Piccolo's. Vince is Claire's sister Peg's husband and a nicer guy and better restaurateur you'll never find. We had lunch there with our forever friends, Jim and Jeanne Lawson, and then headed into Wheat Ridge to visit Jeanne's mother who lives in a very nice assisted living facility there. We've known Mrs. Nemec for 40 years and it was great to see her again. Next it was up to Lafayette to visit Dave Hall in an assisted living home. He is another fellow I've known for over 40 years. In fact, I met Dave the first day I was in Omaha. It was late spring 1970 and I had hitchhiked into town from Denver, knew nary a soul in the town, and had absolutely no prospects. But I got involved in a conversation with Dave on a sidewalk next to Farnam Street and we've been friends ever since.
The next visit was a couple of miles away in Louisville where Claire's brother Dan lives with his wife T.C. and their three great kids, Maria, Annie and David. Also living there is T.C.'s father, Russ. We talked deep into the night and I especially enjoyed talking with Russ about his history, GK Chesterton, and new technology.
On Thursday, things finally seemed to catch up with us and though we desperately wanted to relax and enjoy more vacation time, our thoughts were clearly being drawn back towards home. I had taken two weeks off from preaching; we had cancelled the rest of June's "When Swing Was King" presentations; the Vital Signs Board had already conducted the quarterly meeting -- but still we were feeling the need to get back. Part of this was grief over Mom's passing and part of it was the natural let down after the intensity of the funeral activities and days spent with family. However, a rather sad part of it is that Claire and I have just forgotten how to have vacations. Kind of a bummer, huh?
Before we left, however, there was one more family we wanted to visit. But Craig Young wasn't going to be back in town until Friday morning. So we decided to stick around and have breakfast with Craig, Cindy and their three youngest kids, Mercy, Elizabeth and Duncan up in Loveland. So Claire and I spent Thursday in another nostalgia tour, this one concentrating on family homes that we lived in before moving to Lakewood, the service station I worked at on Evans, etc. We also fit in a lunch at a delightful dive at 15th & Curtis in downtown Denver which has been there since 1927. It’s called Sam’s #3 and we award it at least 4 stars. We then drove up to Loveland for our last evening in Colorado. We found a quiet motel and asked for a westward view on the highest floor. We spent the last hours of day looking out at the beautiful view, drinking tea and talking about our Moms, our families and everything that had happened the previous week. It was really sweet.
The next morning we had a delightful breakfast over at the Young's house. It turned out that Craig and Duncan had a flight canceled and they didn't get into town until afternoon. But Mercy had prepared a bacon quiche, spinach quiche and blueberry muffins for us and we spent a swell couple of hours in conversation with Cindy and the girls. We took off around noon.
It was on the way home that we had a discussion that seemed to open up the next ministry chapters for us for the key topic of conversation was how those hours that we had been expending in my Mom’s care these last several years should be spent now. Some of the agenda was already clear to us: 1) Vital Signs Blog has been doing a good job informing, stimulating and equipping Christian activists and so we decided that should definitely continue. 2) “When Swing Was King” has become wildly popular and not only is a terrific ministry in itself but it has opened many doors of friendship to residents and staff members. We’re getting close to a saturation point with the number of these presentations we can handle, but that will stay a priority. 3) Our new campaign against Planned Parenthood is becoming more clearly defined. It includes a weekly presence at the Northwest Planned Parenthood abortion mill, developing further our internet audio/visual projects for use on the internet and continued involvement with the new Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood such as my present service as a co-administrator of NAPP’s Facebook page. 4) We also know the value of longstanding services like our letter-writing nights, our book discussions, the Vital Signs web page, my writing and our Russian-language website. And so those will remain in place too.
But the fact is that we have been able, by God’s gracious strength and provision (provision which involves your general and loyal support), to fulfill these things at a pretty high level of efficiency despite the hours invested in caring for Mom. So the central question for us was, “Lord, what do we do with the time that was formerly expended for Mom?” We think there’s two parts to His answer. First of all is that the freed hours from Mom’s care mean that I’m available to travel abroad again. So, look out Burkina Faso, Belarus, Poland, Great Britain and who knows where!
And we believe God gave us the second part of the answer by having us reflect on the previous Wednesday. Was it mere coincidence that our visiting happened to include three seniors? These particular people all have family who are heavily involved in their lives. Nevertheless, they were thrilled to have us visit and we were able to minister to one another in wonderful ways – just as we have done with the residents of Mom’s nursing home. And just as we have done with those that we meet through “When Swing Was King.” So why not go ahead and move further into this arena of ministry; that is, extend our personal visitation to those who continually face the tedium and loneliness of a nursing home or shut-in lifestyle? It was an answer that made immediate sense to us. We do, after all, enjoy it. We have plenty of experience. There is a huge need. And finally, to be quite frank, we’re pretty good at it! So, that’s exactly what we plan on doing – filling the absence of hours spent with my Mom with hours spent with other Moms…and Dads…and Grandmas…and Grandpas.
So the new agenda for Vital Signs Ministries turns out to be an awful lot of the previous agenda including a return to the more direct investment in international missions which (before I needed to stick around for my Mom) had taken me to Poland (2x), Russia, India, Nigeria, England (4x), Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Burkina Faso (2x) and Belarus (10x). But there are some new features: the Russian-language website, “When Swing Was King,” creating special internet educational projects and now, an increase in personal visits to area seniors. We hope you approve of this agenda and we hope you continue to uphold us in prayer, in encouragement and in financial support. Please know that we are forever grateful for those of you in our LifeSharer team that do any combination of these important blessings. Thank you so much.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, June 2011
This isn’t the first LifeSharer letter that I’ve written from my Mom’s nursing home or hospital room but it does appear that it will be the last. After many serious health problems over the years and more than 5 weeks in the hospital during this last battle, Mom is about to receive that most wonderful of all welcomes, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.” She will be greatly missed by her family, the residents and staff of the nursing home where she has been living, and dear friends like Keith and Carol Moran who have been so faithful and loving to her in this past couple of years. But what a welcome she is about to receive!
Claire and I will also miss the hospital staff for after many weeks of 6-12 hours a day here, there’s been many engaging conversations as we’ve had the chance to be co-laborers in the care of my Mom. We’ve had the blessing of sharing our Christian testimony through deeds which has led to effective opportunities to share our testimony in words too. They have watched us care for Mom. They have watched us care for one another. They have interacted with us in many ways. They have seen the examples of other friends like the Morans, Pat Osborne, Quint Coppi and others. The frequent gifts of food for the nurses haven’t hurt either! And then, of course, there was that remarkable wedding performed in Mom’s ICU room that created a great deal of interest in us. The winsomeness of a Christian’s character and compassion creates a powerful foundation for the verbal expression of our faith. Both must go together.
It’s been an intense and difficult time but a blessed time too.
As I said, we’ll miss the hospital staff. But we do have plans to reward them a little for their good care to Mom. And we’ll miss the staff and residents of Life Care Center too since we were over there to visit Mom several times a week for the last couple of years. We will still keep in touch a bit with them because Life Care Center is one of the places we present “When Swing Was King” every month. But it won’t be the same as hanging out there all the time.
Most of all, we’ll miss Mom. Her absence will mean a dramatic change in our daily lives for she has been a priority since her dementia and other health problems began to be so acute. That’s been about 6 years. But to help fill that absence, we will have the joyful confidence that my Mom is relishing her new life, her new body and her new home in heaven. Because she received Christ as her Savior, putting her full faith in the payment He made on the cross, her forever future in the presence of Christ is assured.
Also to help fill the void Mom leaves behind will be work, time with Claire, time with friends, prayer, learning and everything else that is part of God’s agenda for His people. So Lord, You set the “to-do list” for us and give us everything we need to get it accomplished.
Among the tasks that I know are already on that “to-do list” are the cleaning of Mom’s room at Life Care Center, the thank-you gifts to LCC and Immanuel ICU workers and then the
funeral and family gathering back in Denver. After that it’s “When Swing Was King,” Vital Signs Blog and the Vital Signs web site, our Russian-language web site (VSM Resources), writing, the fight against Planned Parenthood and so on.
Oh yeah – I’m way behind cleaning the garage too!
In handling all of these things, we need your prayers. And we are also grateful for every donation to Vital Signs Ministries, every card and e-mail, every word of encouragement. Thank you so much.
P.S. I should also let you know that even with Mom in the hospital, we’ve been able to get some good work done on other fronts. Check out the numerous changes and updates on the web site, for instance. Also we’re in the middle of a 10-day stretch where we’re presenting “When Swing Was King” 9 times! Wow.
P.S.S. From Claire. Two days after Denny wrote this (exactly 7:00 P.M. on June 13), Ionia Hartford peacefully passed into the presence of Jesus.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, May 2011
This is one of those months when I’m kinda mystified about what topic I should write. And that’s not because there’s too little to talk about but too much! So much is going on and so much of what’s going on is momentous and interesting. In fact, there are several happenings that could easily take up an entire letter if I covered them in detail.
For instance, I could tell you about the two-hour conversation I had with a Swedish journalist who works for his country’s largest newspaper and magazine. Michael came to Omaha to cover the Berkshire Hathaway meetings but while he was here he was also slated to do a story about abortionist Leroy Carhart. He knew of me from the interview I had done for a Norwegian TV crew last spring and so he called for a meeting. We met and had a very relaxed, wide-ranging conversation, spending a much longer time than either of us had planned for. We talked a lot about abortion and other life issues but he was also interested in my conversion and my Christian worldview as it impacted many things. It was one of those meetings which have all the distinctives we associate with “divine appointments” and I’ve been praying for Michael ever since.
Or should I talk about the changes in our sidewalk counseling schedule, refer to a couple of book reviews I wrote to promote Christian books on Amazon, or maybe review the things I’m preparing to add to our Russian-language web site? A completely different topic would be the plans formed by a new pro-life coalition of which Vital Signs is a part, a coalition whose purpose is to more effectively oppose Planned Parenthood in our area. These last few weeks have also seen us busy with efforts to persuade the Unicameral’s Judicial Committee to let two key pro-life bills get to the full legislative body for debate. That was quite a fight but one which ended in sudden and surprising success. LB 521, the bill to stop web-cam abortions, and LB 690, a parental consent bill, are now available for the full legislature to debate and vote on. Pray. And contact your state senator, asking for his/her vote on these measures.
Like I said, any of the things above could fill up a LifeSharer but then I wouldn’t have any room to tell you about the two letter-writing parties we conducted in these last few weeks. One of them was the normal Vital Signs P.A.L. Night while the other we held in conjunction with Faith Bible Church. And those letter-writing parties produced over 70 letters each! How cool, huh? Especially when it may well have helped get those pro-life bills out of the Judiciary Committee! We also wrote to persecuted Christians, addressed business leaders about issues of decency in the public square and contacted federal officials about freedom of religion matters.
And if I wanted, I could also write a whole LifeSharer letter about the numerous presentations we’ve given of “When Swing Was King.” The program continues to produce the most remarkable results and more nursing homes are inquiring every month about Vital Signs bringing “When Swing Was King” to their facilities. If you could see the smiles, hear the stories and watch these seniors sway with the music, you’d know why our hearts have been so touched by giving this gift to them. We are getting pretty close to our saturation point but still have room for two or three more facilities.
What else is going on? Well, a review of Vital Signs Blog would certainly qualify. We’re getting a lot of cross-posting on other sites plus counting 600-700 hits a day. That’s really great. There was also a lecture I gave to a Grace University theology class about the biblical perspective on suffering. And I could fill two or three LifeSharer letters if I tried to describe everything Claire has been doing: Vital Signs taxes, volumes of correspondence, typing, organizing my schedule, sidewalk counseling, phone calls, and running the PowerPoint in “When Swing Was King.” Oh yes, there was also her organizing the open house for Kurt Oyer’s graduation, receiving commendations from two nursing homes, planting flowers, overseeing our new diets, painting the kitchen cabinets, escorting me to an emergency visit to the dentist, reorganizing our personal finances (especially crucial in this Barack Obama economy) and spending hours and hours helping me oversee my Mom’s care. What an incredible lady Claire is!
The subject of my Mom is another very big one. The latest news is that Mom has been in the Intensive Care Unit of Immanuel Hospital for two weeks. In addition to her regular health issues, Mom has been dealing with lower blood pressure, a particularly vile UT infection, pneumonia, greatly increased weakness and lethargy, severe edema and a new problem with her heart which, after they finally beat the infection, required a pacemaker. The most serious battles involve the edema and keeping her nutrition up. It’s been a tough time (we spend many hours at the hospital every day) but, of course, it’s more than worth the effort. Your prayers are appreciated more than we can say.
Finally, here is the next (and last) update for this month’s LifeSharer. And, again, like almost all the other items I’ve mentioned thus far, this one could easily have a few pages dedicated to it – particularly if one was to count the number of prayers that have soared heavenward for it to happen. It concerns my conducting a very special marriage ceremony last week. Now, marrying a couple is momentous enough in itself, but this wedding was a particular treasure for us because the couple getting married was my Harley-riding brother from Florida, James (aka “Highway”) and his long-time girlfriend, Tenna! I might mention too that the ceremony took place in Mom’s ICU room!
It was my brother’s first marriage (he’s 54) and it was at his request that the wedding occur with Mom present and with me officiating. Claire and my little sister Sherry were the witnesses. Tenna was very pretty in a peach dress and holding a bouquet she had made herself. The groom, more casually dressed as is his style, nevertheless wore a resplendent smile throughout. Mom was fully awake for the whole ceremony and even with her dementia, the memories of the event are staying with her. The wedding was the talk of the hospital and staff members were coming from different wards (even different floors) to congratulate the couple…and to sample the wedding cake! It was quite an event – unusual, memorable, and most delightful.
So, you get the idea. The last few weeks have been packed. The last few weeks have been very emotional. But we know also that the last few weeks have been blessed by the Lord’s enablement and comfort. I hope this month’s LifeSharer format (a little about a lot) reflects that. As always, thanks for your support for Claire and me. It means more than we can say.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, April 2011
Today’s debates surrounding euthanasia are framed almost exclusively in terms of technology. Such terms as "brain death"; "persistent vegetative state"; "intrusive means of nutrition and hydration"; "heroic" means of "prolonging death"; “the quality of life”; the common paranoia over being "kept alive on machines,” and so on all tend to present society's responsibility to the infirm and severely disabled as a radically new problem because of the advances in this century of medical technology.
Even Christians often act as if modern times have presented God Himself with some kind of dilemma – the forces of science going beyond His scope of action. Such Christians have begun to look at the absolutes given in Scripture in a condescending way. "Well, those were applicable in Jesus' time and perhaps even in the 19th century but they certainly can't be applicable now, at least not in a literal way. We have new problems; we have to find new solutions. We require an up-to-date source of authority to guide us through these murky waters." And who becomes those authorities? A hospital committee? An insurance company? A government bureaucrat? An author whose book is endorsed by Oprah or Ellen?
Don’t play this game. For central to Christianity is the eternality of truth. God’s revelations of His law are timeless and humble submissions to those revelations are always in order – for all and any times, under all and any circumstances. The Bible teaches us that "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever" and His truth as given in the Holy Scriptures are forever "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." The world is still judged by the standards of His righteousness as they pertain to any moral question. And that naturally includes all issues of the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the debate is not, at its core, an argument based upon technology at all but rather upon changing values.
In the beginning of our pro-life ministries (1980-81), we tried to warn people that euthanasia was right on the horizon. And not just what was called "passive euthanasia" but deliberate actions taken by doctors, nurses and others that would effectively hasten people's exit from this life. Well, we reached that horizon years ago and have now gone far beyond it. Yet most prefer to ignore euthanasia's constant presence. They may be aware of Jack Kervorkian and of suicide clinics in Europe. They may even have read of physician-assisted suicide laws in Oregon and elsewhere. But euthanasia has grown pervasive in those places where most Americans least expect it -- those hospitals and nursing homes in their own neighborhoods, places where "quality of life" philosophies have combined with cost containment policies to bring in a new ethic of "live and let die."
I faced this alarming reality again last week when a phone call came in from a woman in another part of the United States who was looking for help in her efforts to keep her mother from being denied basic medical care. Until recently, this woman had been taking care of her Mom but, after a heart attack and stroke, her mother had been hospitalized and then admitted to a long-term nursing facility. It was shortly after that when another family member (one who had her mother's power of attorney) opted to place her in hospice care -- this even though the patient was still alert, responsive and very much wanting to live as long as God desired.
Since then it's been a heartbreaking trial for the considerate daughter who is fighting the facility's staff to give her mother the most basic of care. In fact, when the daughter has intervened in any way (even applying a soothing cream to her mother's hands), she's been criticized and warned off.
The woman, desperate for assistance in protecting her mother, had been searching the web for the last week. She had been shocked and heartbroken to learn how common these cases are and how many people are in the same situation; that is, fighting the medical system in order to get quality care for their loved ones. In her search, she came across Vital Signs Ministries.
We spoke of many things and I won't try and summarize our long conversation but let me pass along just a few points of my advice. You may find it of some value too. 1) Quality medical care provides, at the very least, these things: oxygen, nutrition, hydration and antibiotics to fight infection. Those are the basics to insist upon. I'm not suggesting that every possible surgery or drug or other treatment is morally required. But the basics are. For even if I am severely injured or grievously ill...even if I am dying, I am not yet dead! Therefore, I should be given the best care possible to the very end and not denied these basic life-giving things. If they are withdrawn, no matter what eventually is written in the post-mortem, the cause of death will actually be the removal of these necessities. So until that moment comes when the Creator says "Enough," I should be cared for properly. As the Hippocratic Oath requires the physician to swear, "First, do no harm."
2) One's presence is invaluable in securing the best care possible for your loved ones in a hospital, nursing home or hospice program. Be there. Pay attention. Get all the information possible. Take notes. Don't be afraid to ask penetrating questions, seek second opinions, offer suggestions. Go to the top with complaints or concerns -- including the doctor, the head nurse, the director of the institution, and the local representative of the state aging office.
3) In cases where you believe the facility is failing to provide adequate care, consider finding another place. And don't be afraid, if necessary, to have your lawyer get involved.
4) Be very careful not to sign the standard documents given you upon entrance to a facility. DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders and living wills are the primary justifications for stopping proper medical care. Draw up your own or use the Life Support Directive that we have posted on our web site. I print a copy below.
In the absence of my expressed instructions, I hereby indicate that I wish all life-saving, life-sustaining and/or life-prolonging measures to be used to preserve my life, regardless of condition, dependency, prognosis, or any other factor, including a terminal condition or the absence of brain activity in whole or part. Under no circumstance is any other party authorized to deny or withdraw any such measure, thereby ending or shortening by act or omission my life span. My life span is determined by God and must not be shortened by me or others. I appreciate and reverence God's gift of life under any and all circumstances and express my heartfelt gratitude towards all who shall help me preserve and protect that sacred gift. I request that this directive be entered into my hospital record as testimony to my instructions and desires.
And finally, of course, 5) Pray for God's help. Pray that the culture will once again turn towards ideals of mercy and moral responsibility in our care for the aged, the sick, and the injured. For human beings are created by God in the image and likeness of God. In the 21st century as well as in Eden, humans in their very nature bear that divine image in an unique, infinitely valuable form. Therefore, to murder an innocent human life, in addition to being a heinous crime against man, is also the gravest act of blasphemy against God. Even if the killing is shrouded in the defensive justifications of abortion, infanticide or euthanasia, murder is always unacceptable to God.
Christians especially must heed this message and be fully aware of the force which God intends. The Commandment does not read, "Thou shalt not murder unless you have a heartfelt motive." It does not read, "Thou shalt not commit murder until the 21st Century when advancing technology, overpopulation, economic considerations, fear of lawsuits, concerns over being a burden, and so on make it socially acceptable for you to do so."
No, we Christians serve the God of Scripture, not the god of this world. It is because of the loyalty we owe to He Who bought us with His sacrifice on the Cross that we are obliged to fight for the lives of unborn babies. It is also the source of our duty to fight for the lives of those who are threatened because they are handicapped or disabled or who, for any other reason, are potential victims of the disregard modern culture has for human life. It is because He commands us to meet the concerns of the truly needy that we must fight for the right to life of the elderly, the infirm, and the severely disabled.
For Vital Signs Ministries this respect for all human life motivated us to start the AAA Center for Pregnancy Counseling 25 years ago. It is what has motivated our nearly 30 years of prayerful sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics – sidewalk counseling. It is has been the foundation for our internet outreaches, our educational programs, our publications and writing, our many years of “Vital Signs” radio, my 25 international missions, our conferences, our numerous experiences in civil disobedience, our principled and peaceful protests, our discipleship and networking, and our other advocacy activities.
And it is that profound respect for all human life that has fueled our nearly 30 years of ministry in nursing homes – including our latest programs, “When Swing Was King” and “Bedside Music.” You’ve heard us describe the extravagant response we’ve had to “When Swing Was King” but the other is one we’re just beginning with pilot programs in two nursing homes. It involves our donation to the libraries of those nursing homes several audio compilations. They include programs of big band music, hymns, and Bible reading. We’ll keep you informed of how these pilots “fly” in the next few months.
Of course, these years of effective pro-life advocacy have been enabled by the fervent prayers and generosity of dear friends like you. We are forever grateful for your sacrifices in our behalf and very mindful of the honor it is to be a part of your service to God in the defense of human life. Please continue to stay with us and, in these days where our income has declined even as our opportunities have increased, we would appreciate your mentioning Vital Signs Ministries to those among your friends and church members who might consider becoming LifeSharers too. Thank you so much.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, March 2011
A couple of weeks ago, Claire was called for jury duty but, as these things are wont to go, she ended up being passed over. That's what being a pro-life activist, a co-founder of a crisis pregnancy center and the wife of an evangelical pastor gets you in post-Christian America -- you're not qualified to weigh evidence, make moral judgments, or pass sentence in a criminal case.
Because I figured she would be dismissed pretty quickly, I hung around downtown in order to pick her up. I was wrong. It took them 6 hours to decide they didn't want her. Anyhow, I sat at the Panera's drinking decaf for a few hours. I went over the agenda for the Vital Signs Board meeting this month, jotted down some slogans to use for signs outside Planned Parenthood and wrote some letters. But having a presentation of "When Swing Was King" early in the afternoon, I finally had to pack up and head out.
I had never attempted presenting a "When Swing Was King" program by myself. My job is to do the sound, the narration, the screen, the preliminary music, and the conversation with the residents. Claire visits too, of course, but she also handles all of the computer stuff: the Power Point program, the projector, and the various connections that keep all these things "talking" to one another and to the power source.
I did have a few things going for me though. Her prayers were very important; so too was the generous and warm-hearted welcome we always get at this particular facility. And then there was the delight of having 4 members of Faith Bible Church show up: Allen, Cindy, Paul and Harriet. They visited with the residents. They covered the windows so the images could be better seen on the screen. And then Allen operated the Power Point. It was a wonderful testimony to the staff and residents of how church is supposed to work. And it was certainly a tremendous help to me. Thanks a million, guys.
There was only one small glitch. Claire's sister called on the cell phone during the program. I got the phone out of my pocket pretty quick but there was another problem when I opened it. You see, earlier in the morning I had somehow turned on the speaker phone and I didn't have a clue as to how to get it back to normal. (Without Claire, I'm absolutely helpless with this kind of thing.) Anyhow, I made a dash for the door to keep Peg's voice from drowning out the song that was playing. And the song that was up at that very moment? I kid you not -- The Ink Spots singing "Ring, Telephone Ring!" The unscripted comedy was one of the afternoon's highlights for the 18 people present.
Claire found out a little before two that she wasn't going to be picked for jury duty after all. So she waited patiently at the courthouse, enjoying Jeff Shaara's Gone for Soldiers until I could get down and collect her. We then had a most enjoyable early dinner with the Nelsons at a health food place we all enjoy -- Five Guys Burgers and Fries! A couple of hours conversation about Christianity, our common ministry, church matters, Vital Signs, flowers (Allen sells them), and Claire's experience with the judicial system that day was a great way to get things back to normal.
Okay, on to a couple of ministry updates before I let you go. The educational, motivational work on the blog continues with 25-35 different posts a week. Those posts are also published twice a day on Facebook with two a day published on Blogs Lucianne Loves. The result is that they are being read by several hundred internet visitors each day. Among recurrent themes of recent weeks have been the National Public Radio scandal, the arrogant injustice of the Obama administration, the push to defund Planned Parenthood, and the extreme dangers to women posed by both surgical and chemical abortion. We hope those of you connected to the internet have taken advantage of these posts to get relevant information to pass on to friends, family, church members and your political representatives. And we hope they help motivate and inform your prayers too.
Speaking of Planned Parenthood, we have begun going out to the new northwest facility to pray, hold signs and talk to those we can. With the building set up the way it is, the last task is especially difficult. Please pray that our witness there is effective. We are also in the process of putting audio narration to our two You Tube presentations as well as creating some brand new ones. Some of these will focus on Planned Parenthood as well.
I am nearing the conclusion to my Sunday morning series on the book of Nehemiah. These are available on the internet as are my “Beasts of the Bible” series. (The Russian text version is available through the Vital Signs Ministries web site too.) This spring we will be extending our Russian language pro-life materials even further. In fact, several articles have already been sent over for translation.
There are other things going on too – speaking to AWANA groups, correspondence regarding pro-life legislation and other matters, spending time with Mom and so on. And, oh yes; there’s “When Swing Was King,” the outreach in the nursing homes and assisted living centers that continues to be a source of great excitement. Writes one activities director: “Our residents love ‘When Swing was King.’ They await the program all morning and enjoy reminiscing about it after it is through. It’s like a window to the past…The pictures and the music are wonderful! We look forward to ‘When Swing was King’ every month! Thanks, Claire and Denny!” While another writes: “This monthly show is a much enjoyed special event in our facility….The quality of this presentation is awesome. I am so grateful to Denny and Claire for enhancing our activity calendar. I appreciate their kindness in sharing their time and talent.”
What wonderful encouragement. And the complements and thank-yous from the residents themselves mean even more. There’s no doubt – “When Swing Was King” has become a wonderful addition to Vital Signs Ministries.
And so that’s enough for this LifeSharer Letter. As I mentioned earlier, please keep us in your prayers for all of our work – at the abortion mills, the various internet outreaches, the advocacy, the discipleship and our involvement with seniors. We appreciate so much every prayer, every financial donation, and every word of inspiration. God bless you.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, February 2011
This month’s LifeSharer letter comes in two parts, each written at a different place and with a couple of weeks in between. The first section was written in my Mom’s room at the nursing home. She had been having several rough days in a row and I was spending quite a bit of time with her. We talk a bit; I tell stories; I read Scripture and poetry to her; I help her with meals sometimes; and, when she naps, I get some work done. My Mom is in what we have accepted as an ongoing decline. Both her dementia and physical weakness are getting worse all the time.
Yet we were still not prepared for last weekend when Mom suffered a full-blown panic attack. It was accompanied by severe paranoia and the staff had no choice but to have her sent to the hospital E.R. Because of that and a couple of other physical issues, she stayed in the hospital for four days. It was from her hospital room that I wrote the second part of this letter. Mom is better right now but extremely fragile in both mind and body. We never know when the next challenge will come. But God is faithful. God is merciful. And God insures a glorious and forever inheritance for His children. Mom clings to that sure hope – and so do we. Okay, on to the letter.
The primary purpose for this letter is to review our quick but valuable visit to Washington, D.C. last month for the March for Life. We left Omaha early on Sunday evening, got into our hotel near Reagan International Airport around 9 and tried to get some sleep before what promised to be a very busy Monday down in the city. On our schedule was the ProLifeCon at the Family Research Council from 8:30 to 11:30 and then the various activities surrounding the March in the afternoon. Following the March itself, we had no time to spare in getting back to the airport to catch our ride home.
But the first item on the agenda proved to be the toughest. Both of us were dealing with upper respiratory congestion but Claire’s was severe and getting worse. It turned out she had an infection. Even though we propped her up in bed with pillows and even the suitcase, she got very little sleep. I didn’t fare much better.
But thanks be to God, we received the energy to carry on in what turned out to be an exciting and eventful day. We checked our bags, talked to staff members and then walked the four blocks to the subway. We made it to the FRC building in plenty of time for the pro-life bloggers conference. It was very interesting and helpful as several speakers addressed the small group there as well as thousands of others across the U.S. via webcam.
The emcee for the conference was Jill Stanek, a nurse out of Chicago who is one of the pioneers of pro-life blogging. She is the woman responsible for exposing the botched abortions and subsequent killing of newborn babies in Cook County Hospital. She is also the person who most publicized Barak Obama’s inhumane opposition to Illinois legislation that would have protected those newborns.
Other speakers at ProLifeCon included Abby Johnson, the young woman who recently walked away from her job directing a Texas Planned Parenthood and into the pro-life movement. Her new book shows the wicked organization for what it really is (and from an insider’s point of view, no less). It’s called Unplanned and we’re heartily encouraging our friends to read it.
Lila Rose was also on the program. Lila is one of the heroines from Live Action, the daring and visionary group which has compiled several undercover sting videos revealing Planned Parenthood’s racism, their misleading counseling techniques, and their cover up of statutory rape. Up next were Dean Nelson and Ryan Bomberger giving timely information about the effect of abortion in the African-American and other minority communities. Professor Michael New spoke about the demographic significance of the recent increase in surgical abortions but he put it in the context of more encouraging news such as the fact that there are 1/3 fewer abortionists in the U.S. than in the mid 1980’s. Professor New left us with this important charge: “Defeating ObamaCare must be the pro-life movement’s priority job right now.”
James Langford, a devout evangelical from Oklahoma and one of the freshman class in Congress, was a bit of a sensation on the internet for the pro-life speech he had given on the House floor a week earlier. His remarks at the FRC building were inspiring too. I asked the question from the floor, “The mainstream media keeps telling us that the only conservative issue moving the Tea Party-influenced Congress is government spending. Is that the case or do the moral issues that are so important to us resonate with the new Congressmen and women as well?” His answer? “Don’t be misled by those guys. Almost 90% of the Congressional freshmen are pro-life. And though we are very serious about fiscal conservatism, issues of life, morality and religious freedom are also of tremendous importance.”
Closing out the morning’s program were Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, Tony Perkins and Jean Monahan who gave us the latest revelations about the horrendous crimes of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who had been arrested for illegal drug sales, botched abortions that killed women, unsanitary conditions, unlicensed personnel, and killing babies born alive. She passed out excerpts from the grand jury report that made us all heartsick.
Then it was on to the March for Life. We’ve lost count of how many times we have participated in this momentous event. All we know is that it is always wonderful and profoundly moving to be with so many thousands of fellow pro-lifers. It’s a marvelous sanity check and a great motivational experience. And this year, with great weather and the keen desire of the pro-life movement to follow up strong on the November elections, the crowd was one of the largest ever – 400,000 or more. That makes it (once again) the largest demonstration of the year. Still, the mainstream media in an outrageous act of obfuscation, failed to report even one line about the March. Check that. Claire did notice that the Washington TV stations talked a bit about the March that morning. But it was only to alert downtown commuters to the upcoming traffic disruption!
Claire and I have now participated in March for Life activities in the tenure of 5 different U.S. presidents. Some of the Marches have been in blizzards, some in frigid cold and maybe one or two in weather this fine. Some were shared with Vital Signs teammates. Some of them I missed because I had been arrested at abortion mill sit-ins earlier. But all of the March for Life experiences have shared at least 3 characteristics: 1) They are full of hope and enthusiasm. 2) They involve people who see the event as part of a “whole-life” pro-life lifestyle. And 3) The percentage of evangelicals involved is woefully, shamefully small.
That poor performance of evangelical Christians in the national March for Life is also seen in those state marches that occur throughout the nation. Lincoln’s Walk for Life is an example. Catholic schools, Catholic organizations, Catholic churches and clergymen, Catholic laymen – all are represented but it takes a very, very close look to discover evangelical counterparts. This must grieve God deeply. Evangelical Christians find time to go to concerts, movies, church picnics, endless youth events, men’s conferences, women’s conferences, sporting events and a whole bunch of other things. But we can’t be bothered to join in the most important public testimonies against the despicable evil of abortion?
Pastors, really. Why can’t you urge your parishioners to join you for a Saturday morning stroll through Lincoln? It’s only one Saturday a year. And pro-life state legislators say over and over again how important this public testimony is for their work to be most effective. So why aren’t you there? Christian school principals, how about you? Why are all the school banners one sees in these events from Catholic schools? Youth pastors? Here is a short term mission project that is inexpensive, quick and easy – yet one that can be a life-saving as well as a life-changing ministry. Why is it that year after year you overlook this wonderful opportunity?
Oh, what a difference we could have made in the culture wars of the last 40 years had we raised our voice in the public square - peacefully, winsomely and in concert with others who share our convictions about life and justice and decency. What a difference we could still make!
Okay, I’m writing these concluding lines some two weeks later, but I’m still alongside my Mom. However, this time she’s in the hospital. It’s been a rough couple of months for her and we’re still a long way from being out of the woods. Any and all prayers are appreciated.
But I wanted to drop in a couple of Vital Signs updates before I finished this LifeSharer letter. After all, we do want to keep you informed of how things are going with the ministry here. For instance, we have experienced another spike in traffic to Vital Signs Blog recently, one that has moved the average of our page loads above 600 daily. An important theme in recent weeks has been the latest revelations of Planned Parenthood as not only brutal, lying, blasphemous and racist but also guilty of covering up the sordid crimes of prostitution and statutory rape. I’m also posting a lot of material related to the de-funding of this wicked business.
The performances of “When Swing Was King” have continued to draw rave reviews in the nursing homes. This ministry combines the audio, the visual and the relational in a way that is really heart-warming and entertaining. We’re in the midst of presenting Volume #8 to facilities this month. Our sidewalk counseling team has been on a mini-vacation for a few weeks because Leroy Carhart (in deference to Nebraska’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act) has cut back the days he aborts babies. He’s been closed on Mondays (our day) so it looks like our team will be switching soon to the northwest Planned Parenthood.
Another update – my friend in Eastern Europe has done several more translations of sermons and pro-life articles into Russian which Steve Young then loads onto our web site. This teamwork has also resulted in a Russian language version of our internet video presentation, “Abortion and Church History.” And one more item – we had a terrific time at the annual Fremont Right to Life prayer breakfast two weeks ago. It was the third time I’d spoken at the event and my remarks dealt with what has happened in the pro-life movement since the first time I’d addressed them – way back in 1984! I guess we’ve been around for awhile!
And, by God’s grace (which, of course, includes your help), we’ll stay the course! May God bless you all.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, January 2011
The most recent Guttmacher report on abortion (using demographics from 2008) showed a slight increase in the number of surgical abortions performed in the U.S. The numbers had been decreasing for several years previous to that.
Why the change? I've been thinking a lot about that and here's a few factors that I think are relevant.
1) There is no doubt that the recession has had an effect on the abortion increase. Couples fear the costs of bearing a child in hard economic times, especially if unemployment is part of the picture. And the worst case scenarios that have become popular fodder for news programs have only increased the dread. As any pro-life activist knows, finances have always provided a motive for abortion -- even when times were rosy and the parents had plenty of dough for big houses, nice cars and plenty of toys. So it's no surprise that when times are bleak, those abortion decisions related to finances will increase.
2) Planned Parenthood has recently become more aggressive and more organized. They have opened (with much hurrah) "mega-centers" which have increased the abortion rates in every location where they have been placed. And they have dramatically stepped up their national sales pitch too, especially regarding such chemical abortifacients as RU-486 and the "morning after" pill. Women are led to believe that taking pills is an easy, simple, inexpensive way to get rid of their unexpected pregnancy. They can more easily convince themselves that if a pill is the answer, then it isn't a real baby being destroyed.
But, of course, it is. And then these women often end up discovering that they need a "surgical" abortion after all. The preborn child doesn't just dissolve. The womb must be invaded by the tools of the abortionist anyway. Thus, as the sales of abortion chemicals go up (greatly encouraged by the general media, ineffective sex ed programs, liberal politicians like Barack Obama, etc.), the resultant number of surgical abortions go up also.
3) Also to be considered in the increase in abortions is the general "cooling down" of the issue in the general culture. Among the effects of this are hospitals that were very scared of negative publicity in the 1980s, so scared that they stopped doing abortions for fear of losing customers, are now back in the abortion business. They do not trumpet the news but they're involved. In the same way, more organizations and businesses that avoided connections with Planned Parenthood in the 1980s are now openly engaged in partnerships with the abortion conglomerate. The Girl Scouts and the Susan G. Kommen Foundation are just two of the many sad cases in point.
Abortion as a political issue has cooled too. This has resulted in less stringent investigation of abortion businesses for criminal activity and even health and sanitation (witness the horrific situation in Philadelphia); less internal policing of the industry from established medical groups; and more generosity from business, government and charitable foundations to abortion organizations. And that money is then used to sell abortion.
4) Finally, a fourth and very important factor involved in the increase of abortions is the increasing apathy of the Church. Abortion mills which once had peaceful protests and pro-life sidewalk counselors outside to help dissuade people from having their children killed now operate without the slightest notice of neighborhood churches.
Christians have stopped participating in Life Chain, Walks for Life, Sanctity of Life Sunday, and fund-raising events for pro-life pregnancy centers. Christian pro-life organizations have withered, failing to receive the support that was there in the 1980s when so many first discovered the horrors of legalized abortion and wanted desperately to do something about them.
Church youth groups have stopped inviting chastity speakers nor do they encourage kids to participate in local pro-life activities. Preachers, never very outspoken about abortion anyhow, have decided to never even mention the subject.
And alas, James Dobson is no longer on the air to stimulate the Christian conscience and mobilize unified pro-life efforts. Indeed, Christian radio in the post-Dobson era has gone the way of the post-modern Church: oriented to entertainment, self-esteem, happiness enhancement and being popular with everybody in town.
The salt has lost its savor. The cultural rot escalates. And that includes an upswing in the abortion numbers.
But before I leave the subject, let me give you one valuable word of encouragement that comes, surprisingly enough, from this same Guttmacher study.
Our friend, Eric Scheidler (Joe's son) pointed out to me that the finer print of the study's findings showed that abortion rates had not increased in the region of the country where pro-life activism is most common; namely, the Midwest. Indeed, 85% of abortionists in the Midwest report that active pro-life opposition still exists to their business. That means sidewalk counselors, people with picket signs, and people who gather outside the abortion mills to pray. The abortionists call such things “harassment.” We know that it is better called a principled protest of evil, an outshining of the righteousness of God's teachings of the sanctity of life, a merciful outreach to people facing unexpected pregnancies, and a ministry which seeks to "deliver those being dragged away to death."
This means that even the demographers working for the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute admit that pro-life activism of the kind Vital Signs Ministries has engaged in since our founding (and still engages in) works! It does move the abortion rates downward by dissuading people from choosing such wicked violence to solve their problems.
In other words, despite the economy, despite the aggressiveness of Planned Parenthood, despite the cooling of the general culture to life issues, and even despite the tragic indifference to abortion shown by the Church at large, devoted Christian pro-life activists are still making a difference – for life, for eternity, for our Lord.
Our passions need not cool. Our resolve need not be shaken. Our "vital" pro-life ministry need not wither on the vine.
In 2011, Vital Signs Ministries will continue to provide a winsome pro-life testimony outside the Bellevue abortion clinic. In addition, we will be taking on a pro-life presence outside the new Planned Parenthood abortion center in northwest Omaha. We will keep the educational, motivational work going on Vital Signs Blog. We will keep up our letter-writing parties, our prayer meetings, our discipleship activities, our writing and speaking.
In 2011, we will also keep providing Bible studies and pro-life material for our Russian-language web site. We will keep producing pro-life presentations for You Tube and other venues. We will keep networking with other pro-life activists to provide a unified voice against abortion, unethical science, and euthanasia. We will continue expanding our new "When Swing Was King" outreach into area retirement centers and nursing homes.
We will, by God's rich grace and empowerment, keep making a difference for His Name's sake. And we know, as you are able, you'll help us do so. So thank you, dear friends. Thank you for every prayer, for every note of encouragement and support, and for every donation to Vital Signs Ministries. We are deeply grateful.
P.S. Speaking of notes of encouragement, we’ve decided to start sharing some of those in these LifeSharer letters. And we start right now:
“Great to see you both at the music program, ‘When Swing Was King.’ Hope you can come again. I’ll be there again. Much love…”
“Thinking of you, thankful for you, and loving you for who you are – your hearts for the unborn and the elderly, your faithfulness in the ministry.”
“I enjoyed your ‘The Magic Lantern’ story very much. I found myself racing from one paragraph to the next wondering what the outcome would be and I especially related to the big band era of songs…God bless you both for your obedience to His calling…Love and hugs for both of you.”
“Great job on the blog! It’s become indispensible to me. Where do you find all this stuff?”
“You two are so kind and generous to bring ‘When Swing Was King’ to our residents. It’s become a highlight they look forward to every month. God bless you 100 fold!”
“Thanks for highlighting this important article on your blog and Facebook. I ran across it today and went to alert you to it but discovered you were already on top of it. Shoulda’ known!”
Dear LifeSharers, December 2010
Having given you a year end review in last month’s letter, one which told of a challenging yet momentous year for Vital Signs Ministries, I’m offering you this month a short work of fiction I hope you’ll find appropriate to the season. It is, as you will see, inspired by conversations we have enjoyed with residents and activity directors of the assisted living and nursing home facilities where we’ve presented our new “When Swing Was King” outreach. So, brew up a cup of tea and give a few minutes to “The Magic Lantern Christmas.”
“The Magic Lantern Christmas”
Frank hadn’t seriously thought about Christmas for an awfully long time. He always liked Christmas and had pleasant memories about the holiday but not since that Christmas he spent in a military hospital in 1944 had he given thought to what the holiday really represented or what it meant as far as history or religion were concerned.
Frank’s family had celebrated the season when he was a kid but it was never too much; it certainly didn’t involve any real expense. That part of Christmas came later when he and Doreen had their own children. Doreen could get pretty extravagant in buying presents for the kids and so a lot of Frank’s Christmas memories were nervous ones about lay-away plans and hopes that the company bonus would cover the overdrafts on his checking account. But generally Christmas had been okay for Frank. He liked the colored lights. He liked fruitcake and eggnog. He liked having the kids realize (at least in that one time of year) that he was a good and generous provider.
They didn’t play Christmas music at the house but you heard it on the radio and later on the TV. They even played it in the stores. Doreen always had him put up a tree but otherwise they didn’t decorate much for the holiday. And he now realized, most significant of all, that their Christmases together hadn’t been at all religious. Neither of them were hostile to religion but they were not churchgoers or people of prayer. The way they celebrated Christmas, Santa Claus was as much the hero as was Jesus Christ.
How had that happened, he wondered. Especially after the remarkable experience in that hospital in ’44. Especially when his heart had been so deeply stirred by that magic lantern program that the good vicar presented that night. He hadn’t thought about that Christmas for years. But he was sure thinking about it now ------
The mortar shells hadn’t hit Frank. Rather it was the stone fence he had ducked down against just before the shells started exploding. The force of those blasts had driven pieces of the wall into his body – some pretty big and three or four pretty deep. He almost gave it up right there and then but the medic got to him and stopped the worst of the bleeding. By the time he was actually in hospital, the doctors got him stabilized but they thought his left leg might need to be amputated. Still, he was the lucky one, his sergeant said. Three of his buddies, including the young cowboy from Wyoming that he played cards with, didn’t make it.
Frank had never been more scared in his life than he was at Christmas in that hospital. He was safe. He was clean. He would almost certainly be shipped back to the States to be reunited with family and his pretty fiancée. But the alarm over his leg, the worry about how Doreen’s feelings might change after such an operation and, to a larger degree than he wanted to admit, the fears of what would have happened to his immortal soul if he had been just one second slower in getting behind that rock wall – those things haunted him something terrible.
But on Christmas eve itself, he should have been more optimistic. After all, the prognosis from the doctors had actually improved in the last few days. The feeling had come back throughout the foot and the surgeon had actually smiled before he walked away that morning – the first time Frank had seen him do that.
The fears persisted though. In fact, the fears had crystallized into more of a spiritual anxiety. Frank had never wrestled with weighty questions of morality or religion, let alone think about what happened to a person’s soul after death. But then, he had never seen anyone die before. Was death a complete annihilation? Was it some disembodied drifting without pleasure or friendship…maybe even without self-awareness? Or as so many seemed to believe, was death all about going either to heaven or hell? All filled him with intense dread. For none of those things provided him with much hope. Except the possibility of heaven. Yet Frank was pretty convinced he wasn’t fit for that. He hadn’t thought of himself as a great sinner but, on the other hand, he was anything but holy either.
Then came that magic lantern presentation. The English vicar who served the hospital as a volunteer chaplain had come that Christmas eve like he came several evenings a week. But instead of just bringing in biscuits or cigarettes or books like he usually did, he now had an infantry captain and a couple of nurses help him hang a bed sheet in the mess hall on which he was going to show slide pictures from his old magic lantern contraption. He then announced that they were going to give a special Christmas program for any of the boys who wanted to come. He was going to tell the story of Christmas – a story that would be told in word and picture and song. Frank grabbed his crutches and hobbled in.
He had seen magic lantern shows before. In fact one of his school teachers back in Woodbine used one every year that featured maps and photos of Civil War battles. But the vicar’s program that night was about the history of Jesus. And for Frank, the next hour really was magical. The captain operated the magic lantern. The nurses played carols on the phonograph. And the clergyman talked about the first Christmas. Illustrated by the scenes on the wall, he talked with great understanding about Israel’s hope of a Deliverer, about the Magi and evil King Herod, about shepherds and angels and the Holy Family. Sometimes the vicar read from the Bible directly; sometimes he filled in the details on his own. And sometimes the pictures were accompanied only by the old Christmas songs whose lyrics explained the religious message of hope and revelation, of mercy and salvation. Those old carols and the pictures from the magic lantern deeply moved Frank’s heart.
Frank was remembering it all very clearly now. He hadn’t thought of that Christmas eve for so many years but it was all coming back to him. The warmth he felt. The sense of peace. The tears of happiness as he recognized that Jesus had come as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Christ had come as a baby but He did so in order to be one of us and to eventually pay the penalty for man’s sins through His death on the cross. Frank remembered the vicar praying for the men afterward. And he remembered too how the fear had seemed to be lifted. So too the confusion and hopelessness. That magic lantern Christmas had shown him the way to peace and purpose…no matter what happened.
So how could he have so completely suppressed that compelling experience in the days immediately following it? He remembered feeling awfully embarrassed the next morning about his tears. And there was a Christmas party in the ward on Christmas Day where some Marines had liquor smuggled in. Undoubtedly that had figured in somehow. And then on Christmas night, the doctor came in with news that he was out of danger – no amputation would be necessary! The relief and excitement were overwhelming to Frank. In the days to come there were other distractions: several of Doreen’s letters, the announcement of his medical discharge, the offer from home to take a junior partnership in Mr. Grantland’s firm. The intensity of Frank’s Christmas encounter with God diminished and, as the succeeding years went by, so too had even the memories of that dramatic Christmas eve.
But my, God had seemed so close to Frank that night. The glow from that magic lantern had pointed his way to Bethlehem as surely as the miraculous star guided the wise men. But the glow had faded. And Frank forgot.
Until this afternoon, that is. Until today, in the nursing home where he now lived some 65 years following his time in that Army hospital. For today Frank had been wheeled out of his room for a special program of big band music to be played in the cafeteria. He had been looking forward to the afternoon’s program, not only because it was something to break the long monotony of nursing home life and not only because he took any opportunity to get away from the blare of his roommate’s television. Frank also hoped it would provide some distraction from his pain. The surgeons had finally been forced to take that bad leg a couple of years ago but the pains hadn’t gone away. They had just moved up into his hip and lower back. And sometimes they were just horrible.
But Frank wanted to go down to the cafeteria to see the program for yet another reason too. He absolutely loved big band music. He had always loved it and now, with Doreen gone, it was one of the keenest ways to stimulate memories of their life together. And the only chance he had to hear such music nowadays was from the church folks who started this program just a few months ago. It was really nice. At these programs they played the old recordings of Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and a whole lot of the others he loved. There was also a fellow who told a few stories about the bandleaders and the songs. The small group that came with him were all very friendly and respectful. They made a guy feel like someone who was worth something. Someone whose life counted. And less like…well, like what Frank felt so much of the time.
And then there were the pictures. While the music played through the speakers, the pretty lady used a projector to throw photos on a big screen that everyone in the room could see. It was just like the magic lantern did on that hospital bed sheet those many years ago. There were pictures of bands and bandleaders, singers and movie celebrities, but a lot of them were just pictures of regular life in the 1930’s and 1940’s and 1950’s.The pictures helped Frank remember his youth, the early years with Doreen and when the kids were young – the days when he had life by the tail. The nursing home had several programs for the residents but this one was really special to Frank. But he certainly didn’t know what was in store for him that afternoon.
It was a Christmas presentation that was on tap for the day. And along with Ellington doing “Jingle Bells,” Woody Herman doing a jumping version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and other festive songs, the program had several specifically Christian songs for the season – songs like Frank Sinatra singing “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” the Mills Brothers doing “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and the Glenn Miller Orchestra playing “Silent Night.” And while those carols played, the pictures on the screen told the grand story of Christ’s birth, that serene yet cataclysmic story that had so deeply touched Frank more than 6 decades ago.
The lyrics of the carols were clear and profound. And whether they were sung by Perry Como or Kenny Gardiner or any of the others, they seemed to Frank like they were being sung directly to him. Could it be that after all this time, after turning away from that powerful appeal back in 1944 (and all the long years afterward) that there might still be an open door to the manger? Frank thought to himself, “After I’ve spent my whole life away from You, indifferent to You, disrespectful of the true meaning of Christmas, would You take me even now as a worshipper? Would You take me as a sinner who needs grace even at so late an hour?”
As if in answer, the photo on the screen changed. A simple silhouette of the manger scene cast a light pointing upwards to a cross, the cross on which the adult Jesus was dying for the sins of mankind. And as Frank looked from the manger to that cross, the words of the carol struck deeply in his heart, “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
Once again, just like that Christmas in 1944, the tears came. And again, the fears and confusion lifted. But this time, true belief was added to the sentiment. By the matchless mercy of God, a magic lantern had once again illuminated for Frank the meaning of this holy event. But this time, Frank came to Christmas…to stay.
Merry Christmas, friends.
Dear Vital Signs friends, November 2010
Thanksgiving should be a continual occupation for the Christian, a reflection of our identity as people saved by the grace and power of God. Thanksgiving was part of the Old Testament requirements in keeping God’s covenant and it is repeatedly emphasized in the New Testament as well. It should be a part of our prayers, a part of our worship, a part of our service in Christ’s Name, and a part of our joy. It is something that we will be expressing when we are in Christ’s physical presence in heaven – we should, therefore, become well acquainted with thanksgiving right now.
In that spirit then, I decided that instead of writing my year-end LifeSharer letter in December or January, I would do it for November. In fact, it’s a perfect time for such a letter since you will probably have more time to read it AND because it will be chock full of wonderful blessings from 2010 for which Claire and I and the Vital Signs team are profoundly thankful. So let’s get right to it.
There’s no doubt that 2010 was quite a year for almost every aspect of Vital Signs Ministries. But I’ll start off this year-end review with the thing that takes most of my time --Vital Signs Blog. By the time 2010 is done, I will have created somewhere around 1,300 posts for the blog. Most of those are also then cross-posted on my Facebook page with another 6 or 8 every week cross-posted on a large site hosted by Lucianne Goldberg out of New York City called Blogs Lucianne Loves. These posts all concern various elements of the “culture wars” as we try to give important, relevant and action-oriented information to Christians who want to make a difference in our world. 2010 was our fifth full year in this pro-life, pro-family, pro-Faith outreach. And we’re very pleased to see that this internet ministry is substantially more effective than our years on radio.
We were always told, for instance, that the listening audience for the “Vital Signs” program on KGBI was two, maybe three thousand. But this only means that number of homes or cars had the radio on. But, for a lot of those people, “listening” to the radio is often a kind of background, half-attentive experience. However, with Vital Signs Blog we are providing information (and an awful lot more than I could fit into a single radio program) to internet users who are deliberately seeking us out for that information. They are wanting to learn, wanting to pray, wanting to do something. That’s why I’ve encouraged fellow bloggers who may only have a few dozen people logging in to their blog that they’re still making a significant difference.
But with Vital Signs Blog, we’re so thankful to say we’ve got more than a few dozen. In fact, we are averaging 400-550 visitors every day with specific “page loads” substantially higher still. And whereas radio required production costs and, after KGBI was sold to a commercial company, very high costs for airtime, maintaining Vital Signs Blog is virtually free. So you get the idea. The success of Vital Signs Blog is something that we are deeply grateful for in this Thanksgiving season…and all year round.
We are also appreciative of other public outreaches that we were involved in this past year. This would include such varied things as talking to groups of AWANA kids in churches; presenting my “Christian History of Omaha” to three different groups; and having two pro-life op/ed essays published this year in the Omaha World-Herald. As many of you remember, there was a time when they wouldn’t even consider publishing anything I wrote. There’s also been an interview over at KCRO; a presentation to a group of pro-lifers in Columbus; and an extended interview to a Norway TV crew whose network (the second largest in the country) was investigating why the pro-life movement in America was still kicking. We participated in Omaha’s Life Chain and the Nebraska Walk for Life. We helped judge regional home school speech contests held down in Lincoln. I taught a couple of classes over at Grace University. Oh yes; I also preach the Sunday morning sermon over at Faith Bible Church every week.
Of course, one of the most challenging elements of Vital Signs Ministries is our sidewalk counseling at the abortion mill. Nothing new about that. We have taken on such duty ever since we started in pro-life work. In 2010 we were at the Bellevue abortuary every Monday morning. This next year may be a lot more challenging with a Planned Parenthood facility opening in northwest Omaha and talk of a new Carhart late-term abortuary in Council Bluffs. Lord, have mercy. As it has always been, sidewalk counseling is a service filled with tragedy and frustration and heartbreak – but we lean into our Lord for strength, perseverance and, yes, joy. And, as you’ve read in other LifeSharer letters this year, the Lord has blessed us immeasurably by allowing us to participate in several turn-aways from the abortion clinic. In addition, with our winsome signs and banners, we have communicated the pro-life message and the message of Christ’s gospel to untold thousands driving along Mission Boulevard this year. For both effects of our sidewalk counseling ministry, we’re very grateful to God.
2010 has seen a whole lot of letters, phone calls, e-mails, and articles forwarded to the powers that be. We have had significant conversations with our federal political representatives, our City Councilman, the Attorney General and a whole lot of aides and secretaries! And we’ve conducted at our dining room table several very productive P.A.L. Nights, one which produced over a hundred letters in one night. Very cool.
I made no overseas trips in 2010 but we did take a very significant step forward in our international ministry by “signing on” a friend to do the translation for our Russian-language page. And since he lives in Eastern Europe where the dollar goes a lot farther, we were able to employ him at a much less expensive rate than what we had faced in the past. This was a tremendous blessing and we are very thankful for that.
Networking has always been a hallmark for Vital Signs. We have helped many pro-life groups get started over the years and, when we can, we still provide occasional help to organizations and individuals who are serving the Lord in ways we cannot. So, again in 2010, we gave a donation to IMAGE, a great Christian pro-life ministry in Great Britain who has been a partner with us since their beginnings in the early 1990’s. And though we have been kinda’ hard pressed financially these last several years, the Vital Signs Board agreed to make donations this year to two excellent pro-life ministries: Nebraskans Concerned for Ethical Research (effectively fighting the fight against embryonic stem cell experimentation and cloning) and, to help defray the costs of bringing in Lila Rose to speak in Lincoln, the Nebraska Family Council.
2010 saw a whole new look for both Vital Signs Blog and the official Vital Signs Ministries web site. Indeed, for the VSM site, Steve Young did a complete makeover that was a lot more than cosmetic. He did serious surgery! He streamlined the site, fixed the bugs and extended the scope of the site, allowing us to host a lot more there than we did. Now we can “park” video clips there, the audio files of my sermons, and so on. This eliminates needing several web sites like we were trying to do. Super!
While we’re talking about new things in our cyberspace outreach, let me say that in 2010 we launched our first video presentations. Now available on You Tube and other sites are VSM’s first two productions, “Church History and Abortion” and “Heroes.” Both include music, visuals and a powerfully persuasive text. In the coming year, we will be doing improved versions of these two with vocal narration plus creating several brand new projects as well.
What else? Well, I must write each month’s LifeSharer Letter and a monthly article for Faith Bible Church. And, as already discussed, there were all those blog posts, personal letters and articles. I shouldn’t forget our Book It! discussions either. Several of us have gathered here in our living room to discuss The Forgotten Man by Amity Shales, Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn, The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek and, next week, Sentenced to Life by Malcolm Muggeridge. And we have hosted 4 VSM Governing Board meetings here too.
Now, in a review of the blessings of 2010, I surely can’t leave out the development of “When Swing Was King,” Vital Signs Ministries’ unique combination of big band music, an informative and entertaining commentary, a photo display showing life and popular culture of the era…and the chance to make solid new friendships with the residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other retirement centers. We only came up with the idea in late summer but, boy, how it has taken off. Indeed, before Christmas Day dawns, we will have presented “When Swing Was King” 27 times! And in 11 different facilities! And with 7 of them putting us on their monthly schedule! (I know, I'm asking what's wrong with those other four activity directors too!)
The residents have absolutely loved it. Hearing their gratitude and seeing their enjoyment has been incredibly invigorating to Claire and me. They love the music. They are thrilled with the memories. The show creates delightful conversations with each other. They appreciate the trivia and the comedy I share, often having their own stories which they want to share afterward. We have frequently heard the word “professional” used of the programs by activity directors and visitors. That’s splendid. But even more welcome are the smiling faces, the tender hands applauding each number and the warm invitations to “please, come back soon!”
In order to keep the experience fresh for our audiences, we have already created 5 different volumes of “When Swing Was King.” That's 13 big band songs and a couple of hundred photos each. We’re already working hard on our Christmas volume and will then work on producing another 6 for the regular series. Little wonder then that our Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons will feature the strains of Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo and Duke Ellington in the background! What a joy this ministry has been for us.
Finally, I couldn’t conclude this 2010 blessing review without mentioning some of the more personal things. Preeminent in this category is my Mom. She has had a tough year with more than a few crises in which she has had to go to the hospital. Her dementia is getting worse all the time and she is physically weaker, more forgetful, more confused, and more fragile in every way. But she’s here. She’s safe. She knows us and loves us and loves God. And for these things we are most grateful. It does take some time but ministering to her is a priority we both take seriously and willingly.
Also in 2010, we entertained visits from every one of my siblings and their spouses: Ric and Ellen, James and Tenna, Linda and John, and several from my youngest sister, Sherry. I was also able to travel to Missouri to represent the family at the funeral of Mom’s sister, our beloved Aunt Kate. And then last week, Claire and I were able to spend a week in a condo south of Branson with Sherry and her husband, John. And our friends? My, how our lives are enriched by them. 2010 saw our literary society move through our 18th year, an abundance of parties and shared meals, and a bunch of double-dates.
This was a year in which we had new windows (and a few new doors) put in our home; we re-financed our home loan on a much better rate, did a lot of lawn work, and had the tree in our backyard come crashing down on the power lines. We had fun attending a few Lincoln Pius football games, a couple of Omaha Nighthawk games, a few symphony concerts, Claire’s 40th high school reunion, a lot of dinners out with Mom, and a couple of Christmas shows in Branson featuring Andy Williams, the Gatlin Brothers and Debby Boone.
I hope you get the big picture here; namely, that we think 2010 has been a very special year in Vital Signs history. And for a ministry that has been on the scene since 1982 (one that operates on a shoestring budget and with a paltry staff of two) to still be fresh, relevant and effective is wonderfully encouraging for us. So we are feeling particularly grateful this Thanksgiving season. And though our gratitude flows primarily in the direction of our Savior’s throne, we certainly want to bless all of you who have helped make this ministry possible. Thank you.
For those of you who do not regularly give a donation to Vital Signs Ministries, we’d like to be so bold as to ask that you consider the ongoing legacy of our work and perhaps help us close out the year in the black. If you cannot or if your gifts go to other churches and ministries, that’s great. Say a few prayers for us instead. We will be sincerely grateful for either gift. And those of you who do help us out financially, may God grant you bountiful blessings for doing so. We could not be doing these things without your generous support.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Denny & Claire
Dear Vital Signs friends, October 2010
The leaves are falling. The breeze has a portentous coolness to it. And the Christmas trees are on full display over at Menards. Hmm…it must be October!
To be honest, we haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy the change in scenery as much as we’d like. But the pace and the variety of our activities these past few weeks has been exhilarating enough. In fact, in order to cover most of it, I’m only going to be able to give the briefest descriptions in this LifeSharer letter. But I do hope it conveys our belief that Vital Signs Ministries has, even after all these years, launched into some of our most important work yet.
1) We were greatly encouraged by the letters and e-mails some of you sent along after last month’s LifeSharer letter, sharing in our joy and gratitude over the lives which were saved from abortion. Even after all these years, those two stories (involving three preborn children) thrilled us to the core.
And, I’m really pleased to tell you we’ve seen another dramatic situation since then, one in which we spoke to a couple, comforted them as the mother broke down into sobs and were able to take them over to the pro-life pregnancy center. This couple isn’t “out of the woods” yet, though. Sin has wracked their lives something fierce and they need wholesale heart changes in order to escape the enemy’s snares. Pray for them.
There was one other sad situation for which we request your prayers. A woman that Claire and I know and have regular contacts with brought a young girl into the abortion clinic. We both spoke to her but she refused to even acknowledge our presence. You can imagine the intensity of the situation as well as the difficulties in future dealings with this person. Again, prayers are greatly appreciated.
2) In addition to our sidewalk counseling and prayer ministry at the Bellevue abortion clinic, we’re beginning to gear up for the opening of the Planned Parenthood abortuary in northwest Omaha. We’ve had two Saturday morning prayer meetings there since the last LifeSharer letter and more are planned in the weeks leading up to the opening. After that, we’ll be assuming weekly intercession, sidewalk counseling and peaceful protest ministries.
3) Claire and I were pleased to participate once again in the Life Chain. How churches have dropped out of this simple but powerful public witness to the sanctity of life is one of the most appalling cave-ins of our time. How terribly sad. I am pleased to say, though, that our church (the little congregation of Faith Bible Church from the near south side of town) was remarkably well represented. Indeed, I’m sure that FBC presented the greatest percentage of any church in Omaha for the event. Almost 70% of the church’s adults were there on the corner of Dodge and 72nd. Awesome, huh? What a wonderful congregation Claire and I have found!
4) Our letter-writing activities, phone calls and Taking Action posts on Vital Signs Blog have really been paying off. We’ve seen neat examples of how others are following our lead and we ourselves have received several responses from the politicians and business persons we’ve contacted. Our Senators have responded; our Congressman gets back to us on Facebook; and just last week, Claire and I, respectively, had engaging phone conversations with our City Councilman and Nebraska’s Attorney General.
5) Since the last LifeSharer letter, Vital Signs has uploaded onto YouTube and our own web page our new PowerPoint presentations, “Speaking of Heroes” (5 minutes) and “Church History & Abortion” (10½ minutes). Both are very informative and, we’ve been told, quite inspiring. They represent the front edge for us of a whole new outreach, one that moves through cyberspace to the whole, wired world. Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks! Go check them out.
6) Speaking of a Vital Signs outreach that goes international, here’s where I tell you about a great step forward in our Russian language website. That site looks really great and it has wonderful stuff already available but we haven’t had the time (or the funds) to better stock the site with pro-life info and Bible study helps. However, a good friend who lives in Eastern Europe is offering to do written translation for us at an exceptional rate. Now, Vital Signs isn’t in the greatest shape financially and we haven‘t been able to afford the costs of translation for over a year -- but this does represent a golden opportunity for sure. So please join us in asking the Lord to provide funds to greatly expand this critical part of Vital Signs Ministries. Thanks.
7) The number of visitors (including regular users) of Vital Signs Blog remains encouragingly high. In the last few weeks, we’ve had several days where the page loads have topped 550, even 600. The influence of certain posts expands even further through Facebook and e-mail forwards.
8) This morning the Omaha World-Herald printed a column I wrote about the fetal pain legislation reintroduced into the U.S. Senate by Republican Senator Mike Johanns. This is the second essay of mine that the newspaper has published just this year. My, my. Some of you remember that the paper’s opinion of me in years past was…Well, forget it. Let’s just enjoy the present state of things. For those who don’t get the paper, I provide a link you to the article http://www.omaha.com/article/20101013/NEWS0802/710139962
9) The entirety of my “Beasts of the Bible” sermon series has been uploaded onto the Vital Signs Ministries web page. I’m editing it now prior to sending it over for translation into Russian. This Sunday at Faith Bible Church, I’ll be starting a series on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah.
10) In recent weeks, our Book It! discussions have tackled Randy Alcorn’s Money, Possessions and Eternity and the classic (but tough going) economic treatise by F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. Next up is something much smaller but no less profound, a play by Malcolm Muggeridge called Sentenced to Life.
11) The new outreach of “When Swing Was King” continues to soar higher than our fondest expectations. We have now finished Volume 5 (there will be 14 when we’re done) and I will start working this week on Volume 6, our Christmas presentation. Just since late summer, we’ve delivered the program (a sweet combination of big band music, fun trivia, and photographs from the 1930s, 40s and early 50s) to audiences at 7 different facilities. Several of them now have us on their regular monthly schedule and there are three new facilities waiting in the wings. And we haven’t really done any promotion yet! The response has been fantastic!
Thank You, Lord. Vital Signs is getting close to seeing three full decades of Christian pro-life work and yet You’re giving us new and important challenges too. “When Swing Was King,” creative video presentations for the internet, expanding the Russian-language website, Vital Signs Blog, and more…packed in tight with “old” activities like sidewalk counseling, letter-writing parties and Life Chain. Wow!
12) Since the last LifeSharer letter, we had to endure some major drama concerning my Mom but things seem to have stabilized on that front. We do spend quite a bit of time there with her. It was being there and making friends with so many residents and staff that first inspired “When Swing Was King” and we’ve managed to engage in other volunteer service as well. One of those activities is taking Mom out to the “dollar stores” where we stock up on things to donate to the nursing home to use as bingo prizes and other gifts. Fun times to minister in this way with Mom.
I won’t list anymore items for this month’s letter. After all, I realize that these letters are like my sermons – the most popular just happen to be the shortest!
But let me conclude with this thought. We are very encouraged and confident that our efforts are packing a stronger punch in the culture wars than ever before. And, by God’s rich grace, we will continue moving forward until He calls upward. Your help is critical, of course. Your prayers…your calls and letters…your participation in our various ministries…and your financial assistance, especially as we try to end the year in the black AND expand our Russian-language cyberspace outreach -- all help is of tremendous value. Thank you.
Denny & Claire
Dear VSM LifeSharers, September 2010
In deciding the agenda of this month’s letter, we considered 1) a description of our new internet presentation, “Church History and Abortion”; 2) the ongoing progress of our “When Swing Was King” outreach to residents of nursing homes and retirement centers; 3) the amazing productivity of our last letter-writing night; 4) the ongoing impact of Vital Signs Blog; 5) our ministries of hospitality and encouragement; 6) our plans regarding the translation into Russian of my “Beasts of the Bible” sermon series; or 7) a couple of updates about our sidewalk counseling.
Though we’ve really been blessed in all of the above, I think you’ll see why I chose the last category. Therefore, taken straight from Vital Signs Blog are two recent accounts of lives saved from the abortionist. The first was written up by Claire (with comments from Quint Coppi) and the second I recount from our sidewalk counseling experiences the very next week.
We knew early that it was going to be a tough day when three abortion workers and a client pulled into the parking lot at 7:30. Denny stayed on the sidewalk between the parking lot and Mission Avenue with his baby sign and banner while Quint Coppi and I headed up to the building's east side. That's closer to the building entrance and sometimes abortion clients will park on the street nearby. Before too long Bill Coker and Chet Thomas arrived too. Chet joined Denny while Bill stayed up top with us. Other members of our prayer and sidewalk counseling team take the "second shift" so Val Prater and Carol Moran joined us a bit later. (Others of our little band were not able to be there yesterday: Ruth Denzler is in Minnesota; Larry Booth's wife, Jeannie, is undergoing a medical procedure; and Mark Morin was on a job.)
By 9:30, there were 11 clients that went into the abortion building. Four of them parked on the street and we were able to walk with them from their cars to the abortion clinic -- offering our help, telling them of the alternatives to abortion and showing them the beautiful model which represents exactly what an unborn baby looks like at 10-weeks gestation. Among these were a couple of angry people so, along with the normal excuses and lies about their intentions, we got some pretty salty language and threats. One woman, after hearing us explain the miraculous development of her baby, brazenly said, "So, I'm killing my baby. What of it?"
Down by the parking lot, Denny was able to speak to the women, husbands and boyfriends too. But since they all come in the east door, we were able to speak to those clients as well.
One of the young women who was just "dropped off" at the door went into the abortionist, but then came out after just a few minutes. She sat on the bench by the door and smoked a cigarette. I quietly shared with her what happens during the abortion, the uniqueness and beauty of her child, what her son or daughter might be doing right now in her womb, potential dangers to her own health from the abortion (like a greater incidence of breast cancer), and especially about how we could take her right across the street to A Woman’s Touch Pregnancy Center. There she could to sit in a pleasant, unpressured, safe place and talk to the counselor there about her alternatives to abortion.
I reminded her that the three of us there were all praying for her right now to not get an abortion, to let us help her and her baby. Periodically, the young lady would look up as I was talking and, after she finished her cigarette, she just sat there with her chin on her hand. She looked lost and far away but she kept looking up at us too like she was about to speak.
Bill shared a little bit with her too and in a very kind, fatherly way that he has. I've been doing this kind of thing for an awful lot of years but my heart was still pounding as I prayed for this lady and her child...and even her boyfriend. I also felt a tremendous sense of pride and appreciation for the pro-life friends who are on our team and taking on this crucial challenge.
Then Quint decided to tell the young woman a compelling story from his own life, one that was of the utmost relevance and value. I'll let him summarize what he had to say:
"Young lady, my daughter became pregnant in high school and gave birth to a little girl. My wife Carol and I had the privilege of seeing our little granddaughter as a newborn. This would be our only chance to see her, since my daughter had arranged for her to be adopted. Since this was the case, we knew that, more than likely, we might never see her again.
However, she had other plans. She remembered in earlier correspondence with my daughter, that my wife was an artist in Omaha. She googled "Omaha Artist", and found my wife's e-mail. Earlier this year, we received an e-mail from her, asking my wife if she was my daughter's mother. She wanted to re-establish contact with her again, and asked if we would send her our daughter's address.
The upshot of this was that, that little newborn, now a young woman in her thirties, came to Omaha, spent a day with my daughter, and the next day came and visited with us. Now she has a husband and children of her own. Through recent e-mails, she has let us know that she would like to stay in contact with us often. My wife and I are very thankful for this turn of events.
Your child could have this same opportunity; to live, marry, and have children. This could not happen if you proceed along the path of abortion. Your child will have no opportunity to live, to marry or have a family. Please reconsider, come over to the CPC, and listen to the options that are open to you. They will help you to make a much better decision than abortion. Believe me, in time, you will be grateful that you saved your baby's life."
I already knew Quint's story, of course, but it was thrilling to hear him relate it to this young woman. I knew Bill had been praying hard as Quint told it. I reminded her that we cared very much for her and really wanted her best. I also emphasized that there was no charge, no risk, no obligation to go over and at least talk to the counselor at A Woman's Touch.
She looked up and suddenly asked if you needed an appointment over there. We told her no, not at all. In fact, I would be glad to walk her over and introduce her. She sat a few minutes longer, then she grabbed her purse and walked over to me and said, “I would like to go over there.” I handed Bill my sign and introduced myself. She, in turn, told me her name. As we walked over, I found out a little about her.
As we walked into A Woman’s Touch, I introduced her to the counselor. The counselor immediately sat next to the young lady and said that she was glad that she had come in and asked her to fill out some forms so she would know how to help her. It was difficult for me to leave her. After all those years of counseling at the AAA CPC, I wanted to be a part of the session too. But I didn't want to be a distraction. I told the young lady that I would leave her in good hands and that we would continue to pray for her. And that anytime she wanted my help, she could count on it.
It was a great joy to go back across the street to share with Denny and the rest of the team what was happening, to let them know that this young mom had escaped the devil's trap and that her baby wasn't going to be killed. Indeed, she was now getting the full range of counseling, alternatives and assistance the pro-life community can give. There was great rejoicing there on the street yesterday morning as well as in the heavenlies! Thank You, Lord Jesus!
We ask for ongoing prayers for this young couple and their baby. And you might also say a prayer for the two other clients who left yesterday morning without having the abortion. Neither wanted to stop and talk to us (although one of the young women gave Denny a smile and a little wave) so we don't know what transpired. And please say a prayer for the impact of our sidewalk counseling team when the Lord brings us to mind. We sure would like to relate to you more miracle stories like this one.
And here’s the second account:
There had already been 8 or 9 clients go into the grisly-looking abortion mill and it was only 8:15. Up top near the entrance were Claire and Quint Coppi. Beside me on the sidewalk along Mission Avenue was Bill Coker. Due to arrive for the second shift in awhile were Carol, Val and Mark. As always, I had with me a big sign with a smiling infant and the word "Life" emblazoned at the top. To the drivers going east, I showed a pink banner with black words reading, "Mom, we care for you and your baby."
Bill and I were talking about his Sunday School class the morning before when another car pulled into the parking lot with a man and woman inside. They parked along a row quite near the steps leading to the entrance. There were three cars between us as well as a bit of parking lot. However, the windows on both the passenger and driver's side had been down when they first drove in and the street traffic had diminished quite a bit since earlier in the morning. So I decided to go ahead and speak across to them.
I spoke of the alternatives to abortion we could offer them, of the facts about the procedure that would be denied them inside. I spoke of the physical development of the child, how the heart was beating even now and how little time would be needed before they could cuddle this precious son or daughter in their arms. I spoke too of the dangers of abortion to the mom's own health and future, of the much higher risks of breast cancer and miscarriage, of the heartbreak and regret she would experience for the rest of her life.
And throughout my attempts to speak to them, I regularly repeated that we truly cared about them, that everything we offered was free of charge, that everything we spoke about was true and in their best interests. I explained that Jesus loved them and that He loved their baby -- and we did too. Wouldn't they please let us help them through this difficult time? I informed them that right down the street was a pregnancy center that could see them right now, a place of safety and peace where they could see their child via ultrasound and hear about the whole range of services the Christian pro-life community could provide for them.
To be honest, I didn't know if they were hearing me or not. The parking lot was quiet enough but from my vantage point I couldn't tell if their windows were still open or not. Beside me, Bill was earnestly praying for the couple. And up top, Claire and Quint were praying too. In the quiet of the morning, they could hear everything I was saying and they could see into the car. They also knew what Bill and I didn't; namely, that the couple were seriously taking in what I was saying. The woman was crying.
After about 10 or 15 minutes the young man got out of the car. I urged him to come over and talk to me. And he did. I introduced myself and Bill. We shook hands and I told him, "Everything I've been telling you guys is true and from the bottom of my heart I mean what I say about helping you through whatever difficulties you're dealing with. But you know, man, taking the life of that child in the womb isn't the answer."
He nodded. "We just don't know what to do."
As I asked questions, the story came out. They had three other children. There were financial problems. They were being strongly pressured by a family member to abort. There was confusion and fear but they also understood that what I was telling them was true. They really weren't keen on abortion. In fact, he explained that this was their third appointment with the abortionist! For various reasons they hadn't gone through with it the other two.
Bill said to the young man, "Doesn't that tell you a lot? God has delivered you two times already and now He is giving you a third chance. And this time we can take you right over to the CPC where you can get all the help you need."
It also came out in the conversation that the abortion was costing $600. Why so high? Because the procedure involved killing two children. His wife was bearing twins!
The conversation ended when he decided to take us up on our offer. I told him to drive up to where Claire was and she would escort them over to the pro-life pregnancy center just around the corner. She would also introduce them to the counselor there. Bill accompanied them too.
Not surprisingly, the warm-hearted counselor there was able to deal with the various issues put before her. While over in the parking lot, I had spoken to the young man at some length about the loving choice of adoption. That seemed to strongly resonate with him but whatever course they will take, it looks very likely that it won't be abortion.
When I last saw the young man, it was in the CPC. His wife was back talking to the counselor and having ultrasound pictures taken of their twin babies. He was reading through pro-life literature out front. I wrote down my name and information about Faith Bible Church where I'm preaching. I told him, "In addition to directing Vital Signs Ministries (that's my job), I'm also a preacher. Now don't freak out at that," I laughed, "Preachers can be very helpful. And so if you're looking for a bigger safety net, here's a small church with a big heart that can help you guys get through this...and more."
He thanked me again for being there and for caring about them. And again he shook my hand. I left him with this: "You were a real champ today, my friend. And I'm proud of you. So thank you for listening. And thanks for doing the right thing. And you've got that information about how to get in touch with me, so I hope this isn't the last time I see you."
One last thing I should mention before signing off here. In the activity and excitement of this whole event, something had completely slipped my mind until we were sitting at a coffee shop "debriefing" later in the morning. "Hey, Bill. What about that little gray car with the young couple?" While I had been talking to the others, this car had slowly driven around the lot looking for a place to park. They finally settled into a place. But they were there for no more than a minute or two. Then they drove away. "Did they ever come back in?"
Bill said no. And the sidewalk counselors on the second shift later confirmed that they had never come back. Had someone else decided against abortion? Had yet another preborn baby been delivered by the mercy of God as the parents were held back, like the other couple had been twice before, from the brink of destruction?
We can only hope...and pray...and stay faithful to the call of God to stand as witnesses to His truth, His holiness, and His grace.
For all of you who pray for us as we sidewalk counsel outside the abortion clinics, for all of you who financially support Vital Signs Ministries and other pro-life organizations (especially CPCs), for all of you who raise up His standard in your spheres of influence -- thank you.
P.S. About all those other exciting ministries I mentioned at the opening of this LifeSharer letter?
Maybe next month!
Click here to download the newsletter:August LifeSharer Letter 2010.pdf
Click here to download the newsletter:July 2010.pdf
Dear VSM LifeSharers, June 2010
As I was standing along Mission Boulevard next to that despicable abortion clinic last Monday morning with my big pro-life sign facing east (the beautiful baby picture with the simple caption, “Life”) and the pink banner facing west (“Mom, We Care About You and Your Baby”), I found myself thinking about the Normandy invasion.
It’s not really much of surprise that I was. After all, the day before was June 6th and much of our weekend had been concerned with reflecting on the world-changing event that was D-Day. I had spent most of Saturday reading The Steel Wave, the second in Jeff Shaara’s superb WWII trilogy and it is the volume which concentrates on Operation Overlord.
It’s a thrilling but deeply somber read for, though the Herculean effort was ultimately successful, the invasion of France and the creation of a second front on European soil cost thousandsof lives. Yes, there will always be sacrifices required in the cause of justice but reading Shaara’s brilliant novel reminded me of the debt the free world owes to these brave soldiers, sailors and airmen of D-Day AND of the responsibility I myself bear to insure their sacrifices were not in vain.
But we weren’t done with D-Day just yet. For the next day was the anniversary itself. Claire and I talked more about the Shaara book as well as things we have learned from others: the war memoirs of Omar Bradley and Winston Churchill, and histories by such able writers as Cornelius Ryan, Samuel Eliot Morison, Stephen Ambrose, David Howarth, William Shirer, and so on.
I also shared a few reflections about the anniversary before my sermon at Faith Bible Church that morning. And then that night, after a day spent with church friends and then at my Mom’s, Claire and I watched the monumental 3-hour Hollywood production from 1962, "The Longest Day." It’s quite a movie and it had been a long time since we had seen it.
"The Longest Day" is a remarkable film on many levels, not the least of which is its cast. The film boasts 42 international stars -- and yet they all play relatively small roles, some no more than a cameo appearance. This approach makes D-Day itself the star. Thus, the viewer is pleased to see John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Robert Ryan, Eddie Albert, Richard Todd, Henry Fonda, Stuart Whitman, Kenneth More, Edmund O'Brien, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery, Jeffrey Hunter and those who were teen heartthrobs of the day (Robert Wagner, Tommy Sands, Fabian, Sal Mineo, Paul Anka and Richard Beymer) – but none of them are on screen long enough to steal the spotlight. The viewer is therefore always drawn back to the fact that the invasion was an awesome and huge event, one that involved the hard work, bravery and sacrifice of thousands upon thousands of brave men.
It was a very moving conclusion to the weekend.
So, it was quite natural that I was still thinking of D-Day when early on the morning of June 7th, I was standing on that sidewalk outside the abortion mill to do sidewalk counseling along with the regulars in our team. I couldn’t help but notice too the U.S. flags that the city of Bellevue has hanging from most of the light poles on each side of the street. There are two more stars on those flags than the ones which accompanied those heroes who stormed Omaha and Utah beaches on that fateful day in 1944. But the ideals the U.S. flag represents remain the same.
Or do they?
I couldn’t help but wonder at that question as I recalled the things I’d been pondering over D-Day weekend. My eyes shifted from those waving flags to the ugly and abhorrent structure on my left – that abortion chamber where Leroy Carhart and his minions cruelly destroy babies for profit. In his grisly career, this single thug has killed more people than all who died in the D-Day invasion! For the number killed on D-Day is around 2,500. Carhart has many, many more than that number on his soul. And not a single death is justified – all were innocent, helpless unborn babies.
What a thing to bear when he faces a holy God in judgment!
And what a thing for our country to bear as well.
For it is the U.S. courts that have legalized this holocaust. It is American politicians that have protected abortion, promoted it, peddled it as a constitutional right. It is American businesses that share in the blood money abortion yields. It is American journalists who have protected the abortion industry from hard scrutiny. It is American teachers who have distorted history as well as morality to propagate the myths of “safe sex” and “freedom of choice.”
And it is American churches that, if they haven’t championed abortion themselves, have learned to co-exist with it, finding more to publicly criticize in pro-lifers’ methods than even in the barbarity of the abortionists.
Is this what the heroes of D-Day fought for, bled for, lost limbs for, died for – to defend such a freedom as that which lets abortionists wield their weapons against our own offspring?
Of course not!
Those that gave their all at Bunker Hill and Shiloh and Belleau Wood and Normandy -- and so many other hallowed places where Americans died -- did so for a freedom companionable with justice and faith and truth. Their noble sacrifices were not for the licentiousness, hedonism and godlessness that modern liberals have so malevolently stuffed into the Constitution.
It is therefore up to we the living to fight on for the ideals that motivated them, to keep them from being completely overwhelmed by the socialists, the secularists and all others who seek to destroy the values of our nation's founding fathers.
Therefore, as I stood on that Bellevue street last Monday, I decided to make it a D-Day of my own. I prayed and re-dedicated myself to serve God with a heart of gladness and hope as I “invade” the paganism of the culture that has stolen America from under my feet. I promised the Lord anew to serve Him with boldness, with a willingness to sacrifice, with a keen sense of my dependence upon my fellow warriors, with a humility that uses technology and strategies developed by others…and with confidence that God will reward my every effort tenfold. In my gospel proclamations, in my pro-life ministries, in my praying and preaching, in my writing and blogging, and in every other duty My King sets before me, I will give it all I can.
The inspiration of that D-Day weekend was powerful indeed -- yet another blessing which came from the heroic efforts expended those long decades ago. Thank you, guys.
Now , before I close, let me share just a couple of quick updates on what’s been happening with Vital Signs Ministries since the LifeSharer letter of last month.
* We had a very successful P.A.L. Night in which 66 letters were prayerfully launched. That's right; just a couple of hours with a handful of letter-writers but we produced 66 letters! Those letters went to politicians, diplomats, businessmen, TV producers, and others – but all dealt with important and relevant issues for Christians who want to “shine” instead of just “whine.” We have another coming up on Monday, July 12th and we urge you to be a part. It's fun; it's a lot easier than you think; and it does make a difference!
* Claire and I spent an exciting morning catching up with Dr. Paul Byrne when he was in Omaha a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Byrne has been a good friend and inspirational leader to us ever since we first became involved in pro-life advocacy. He is one of the world’s experts in exposing the various myths of “brain death” and how those myths have fueled the euthanasia movement. He is also one of pioneers in neo-natalogy with several groundbreaking treatments and technologies to his credit. During our talk, I was moved to ask him if we could do some film work with him for use on the internet, in pro-life circles, etc. He was more than willing! So, are you listening, Patrice? Looks like we’ve got some new work ahead of us!
* Even with the general summer slump that affects internet use, the number of page loads on Vital Signs Blog continues to remain high. We are very pleased at how this aspect of the ministry, completely unknown to us just a few years ago, has taken off. We have recently given the blog a new look AND Steve Young's renovation of the official Vital Signs Ministries web site has just been completed too. Great job, Steve! Go check it out at www.vitalsignsministries.org.
* I’ve finished my series of sermons on the book of Colossians at Faith Bible Church. This Sunday we start in on what I hope to be a “special attraction” for those summer months when it seems easier to dodge church. The series is titled “Bible Beasts” and we'll be exploring Balaam’s donkey, Jonah’s great fish, the bears called by the prophet Elisha, the four horses of the Apocalypse, and various other passages dealing with sheep, lambs, dogs, donkeys, oxen, camels, birds, the Leviathan of Job 41 and more.
* Finally, the Mercy Ministries which we’ve seen “resurrected” since my Mom became a resident of Life Care Center are expanding. Now, besides our visits with residents and staff, we’re adding to our repertoire, bird feeders and big band music!
Okay, I’d better go; I’ve still got some bird feeders to fill before I can go home. But at least I can cross the LifeSharer letter off my “To Do” list and move on. Thanks for reading it!
And thanks too for your generous and loyal help in keeping Vital Signs in the fight. Your prayers, encouragement and financial donations are greatly appreciated! Thank you so much!
Dear Vital Signs LifeSharers, April/May 2010
My apologies for not getting an April LifeSharer letter out but many things conspired to delay my writing it until the month was almost over. And even this “double month” edition is being sent out later than I wanted. Time has always been in short supply around here. But in these last few years, the new duties of daily blogging, studying for and writing a sermon every week plus the extra hours needed to help take care of Mom – well, it’s made for a really tight and frequently stressful schedule.
Add to all these things three visits from family (Sherry from Wichita, Linda & Jon from San Jose, and last weekend's adventure with James and Tenna from Daytona Beach and Ric and Ellen from Denver) and viola -- you get a missed month for the LifeSharer letter!
Let me begin with a quick recap of the last several weeks. 1) The Omaha World Herald published a pro-life op/ed piece of mine which drew a lot of attention. Historically, the newspaper has been anything but positive to my entries but there has been a few changes at the top there. This was the second op/ed of mine they published in the last couple of years.
2) Several posts from Vital Signs Blog have been picked up by “big blogs” like Lucianne.com, Blogs Lucianne Loves, The Point and others which have not only driven our daily average to over 400 page loads but have created extra “spikes” in traffic that have gone as high as 1900 in one day! Wow.
3) We have begun a new series of P.A.L. Nights where we take advantage of the special punches that a handwritten letter creates. Always fun, always encouraging, and always helpful, these P.A.L. Nights really do make a difference. The next one will be Monday, May 24th at 7:00 P.M. at our place. Please consider joining us.
4) The sidewalk counseling on Monday mornings now involves two shifts: one from 7:30 to 9:15 and the other from 9 to 10:30. That usually allows 4 of us to be present at any time. However, in the summer, we lose two of our regulars. Therefore, any additions to the team would be most welcome.
5) The latest Book It! discussion covered Amity Schlaes’ The Forgotten Man and it was (both the book and the conversation) superb! Next in line is Randy Alcorn’s Money, Possessions and Eternity with the evening discussion scheduled for Monday, June 28th. Give us a call if you’re interested.
6) Our ministry of one-on-one and small group discipleship goes on as usual. For example, since the last LifeSharer, we have hosted nearly a dozen lunches or dinner meetings. And that doesn't count those involving visiting family, the Board meeting, the literary club, etc.
7) As I’ve mentioned before, we have seen a revitalization of our Mercy Ministries with our frequent visits to the nursing home where my Mom lives. We’ve made many friends with both residents and staff and we’ve really enjoyed developing those relationships. Whenever I’m there, I “work the rooms” a while which seems to be warmly appreciated by all though not as much, I must confess, as Claire’s frequent donation of cookies are! Other Vital Signs team members engaged in regular nursing home visits (that we know of) are Keith and Carol Moran, Quint Coppi, and Ruth Denzler.
8) I was honored to fill in for a friend when he needed a “substitute teacher” for a couple of his Old Testament classes at Grace University. But I had to hit the books for a few hours to be ready for whatever they might throw at me. It went very well.
9) We’ve had some intriguing correspondence in recent weeks from all over the country and from a few more far-flung places like Norway, Belarus, England and the Philippines.
10) Steve Young is nearing completion of his renovations of the official Vital Signs Ministries web site. It looks cool now but it will be even better when he launches the new one. Moreover, the site will also be more comprehensive (incorporating much of what is now on individual blogs), more interactive, more user-friendly and, probably most important of all, more Claire-friendly! That last bit means that Claire will be better able to add, subtract and otherwise regularly maintain the site.
And now, in reply to several requests from LifeSharers who don't make it to Vital Signs Blog as often as they'd like, I finish off this “double-month” LifeSharer by printing off a few recent examples – I usually put on 25-30 posts every week – of what has become such a key part of the Vital Signs outreach.
----- Govt Workers Take 16-Year Old Across State Lines for Late-Term Abortion -----
You don't mess with the government. It will bite back -- and hard.
That's the lesson now being learned by a Philadelphia foster mom who blew the whistle on a Department of Human Services bureaucrat who talked a 16-year old girl into a late term abortion and then drove her into another state to have the inhumane operation performed. But it's not the social worker who got in trouble. Certainly not. Government workers are the experts who can do no wrong. But they can get even.
Citing the breaking of a confidentiality agreement, the government quickly moved in to take away the other children in the foster mom's care. Her home has already been designated as unfit as a foster facility.
And that's just the beginning. The woman has been threatened by a government worker who told her "that trouble was in her future." She was further informed she would be sued. "Find yourself lots of money because you're not going to come out from this one very well."
Note too that this ugly bullying isn't just a matter of a single bullying bureaucrat. It goes all the way up to the Philadelphia mayor's office. A spokesman of that office said, "It's now become clear that the foster mother has violated Pennsylvania state law regarding confidentiality, therefore potentially compromising the safety and well-being of the children in her care."
Wow. Government workers have, in this sad case, cooperated with an abortionist to kill a late-term unborn child and yet they shamelessly talk about a child's "safety and well-being?"
I think I'm gonna' be sick.
----- Russian Tourists "Nostalgic" for Cuba -----
Regarding the expectation of some 45,000 Russian tourists this year, Agence France-Presse reports "Havana's secret weapon for Russian tourists is nostalgia, officials said, playing off a 30-year relationship between the countries due to a once strong political and economic alliance between them."
Ah, yes. Remember the good old days when both our countries tortured and imprisoned innocents, when we both enacted severe controls on information, when we both held on to the corrosive creeds of Communism? Well, come to Cuba, comrades, where we still have these things! Bask on our beaches and dream of the good old days of tyranny, show trials and the Gulag...the days before things went sour on the great Soviet schemes of world domination...the days before you lost the Space Race and the Arms Race and Eastern Europe...the days before Solzhenitsyn and Walesa and, especially, Ronald Reagan.
No, come to the worker's paradise in the Caribbean where the Wall still hasn't come down, where a corrupt dictatorship still enslaves its people. You who yearn for the old ways, be assured you are among friends. So, by all means, relax here. Reminisce here. And, above all, please run through your rubles here!
Because (most unfortunately for the cause) that hasn't changed either. Cuba's economy is still a complete disaster and the old man desperately needs your cash. Please come soon.
----- Push Button Abortion -----
At least a dozen Planned Parenthood offices in Iowa have been "administering" to women who believe they are pregnant the extremely dangerous abortion drug RU-486 -- without the physician even seeing the woman! That's right. You watch a teleconferencing screen and hear from abortionist Susan Haskell up in Des Moines. Then you push a button and and whoosh! A drawer opens up with the RU-486 inside.
Wham. Bam. Thank you, ma'am. And good luck with that abortion because you'll need it. After all, even FDA figures show mifepristone had seriously injured over 1,000 women by 2006 alone. And that includes women dying.
You say you can't believe it, that such a powerful abortifacient could be given to women without a doctor even checking them out? Well then, you don't understand the motives (both ideological and greed-driven) of Planned Parenthood.
And yet this wicked organization just keeps getting protection from local officials, huge donations from corporations and charitable groups like the United Way, and big chunks of your tax payer dollars as well.
Lord have mercy.
----- American Idol Gives Big Bucks to Abortion Groups -----
Of course, the American Idol TV program doesn't let it's viewers know about this, but it has once again decided to funnel large amounts of money to organizations that aggressively promote abortion.
Indeed, one of the organizations that will receive money from the annual "Idol Gives Back" fund raising campaign is Save the Children which partners with Planned Parenthood. And Planned Parenthood not only promotes abortion but is, by far, the largest abortion provider in America.
The program, which aired last night, sent viewer donations to, among others, Save the Children and the United Nations Foundation. But the fact that both of these organizations support abortion was withheld from the public. Why? Because the producers of American Idol well knew that the money gathered would be dramatically less if viewers were aware, for instance, that Save the Children partners with the Center for Reproductive Rights legal group, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Population Action International, and the U.S. Committee for UNICEF.
Pass the word. Contact Fox and let them know your opinions about this matter. And carefully consider doing something else with your time when American Idol is on.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Well, that's it for this catch-up LifeSharer letter and I do so appreciate you cutting me a bit of slack for missing April. Like I said, things can get a bit chaotic around here but it is because we're trying to get as much done as possible. Thank you so much for your understanding and your ongoing support. Whereas so many pro-life agencies have gone the way of history, your generous backing has kept Vital Signs Ministries alive, kicking and making a difference: on the streets, in cyberspace, in the public square, and in the heavenlies. Thank you.
Dear VSM LifeSharers,
We had one of those days last week, unusual and interesting enough that I made it the topic of a Vital Signs Blog post that ended up getting a lot of attention. It was even listed on the front page of Lucianne.com, one of the most popular conservative sites on the internet. And unusual enough that several have suggested I make it the subject of this month's LifeSharer. I've acceded to that request – even though it seems to imply that not all on our Vital Signs LifeSharer list are regular visitors to the blog! Could that possibly be?
Before that unusual day occurred, I had thought of a few other subjects for this month's letter. Among them was the inspiration and encouragement we experienced when hearing young pro-life heroine Lila Rose speak in Lincoln a couple of weeks ago...or the purposes behind my presentation on “Omaha's Christian History” which I've now delivered 3 times in the space of a few weeks...or such other items as sidewalk counseling, President Obama's “health care” boondoggle, important letter writing projects...or perhaps the remarkable blessing it is to be the teaching pastor of an evangelical church that turns out more than a third of their congregation for the Walk for Life in Lincoln. Good subjects all – but I'll go ahead and describe that unusual Thursday from last week.
There were some things pretty normal about the day really. I had my routine breakfast (peanut butter on toast with a cup or two of Early Grey tea) and there was the morning blogging, the correspondence, and checking in with Mom. But we rarely get a chance to have lunch with Sister Rita Jane and other friends (Karin Coker, Quint and Carol Coppi) from our GK Chesterton group over at the Lithuanian Cafe. That was the first unusual item in our day – and it was delightful. Sister Rita Jane is now in a wheelchair mostly and so the nurse in charge where she lives thought it best to send her along by a special van. Great. We therefore invited Sister's van driver (one of the staff at the facility) to join us and we all had a wonderful time catching up and talking about literature and life, families and faith history and heaven. And, oh yes, there was the goulash, the pastrami & Swiss cheese sandwiches, the cabbage soup...and that incomparable apricot torte that Claire and I agree is the best dessert in Omaha.
Later that evening Claire and I experienced another rare social treat and that was having dinner out at Ralph and Carol Kramper's lovely house north of Omaha. Ralph is our physician and both of the Krampers are our very dear and longtime friends. They are also two of our earliest and most enduring heroes. We had a sweet time with plenty of stimulating conversation, good food and laughter.
And then, in between these two fellowship meals, was yet another unusual part of our day for, until that particular Thursday, we had never had a Norwegian television crew come to our house to conduct an interview. Imagine that.
Jan, Pavel and Leif (the lone Swede in the group) were in town from NRK, Norway's public (and most popular) TV network to do a story on abortion in America, a story in which Omaha's infamous late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart would be featured. I was to provide "the other view." It was but the latest opportunity that came my way from Julie Schmit-Albin's recommendation.
The guys were professional and friendly. We served coffee and spent almost an hour and a half talking and then doing the interview itself. We covered a lot of ground in the on-camera interview but they were particularly interested in our sidewalk counseling (both motives and methods), the pro-life movement's emphasis on pregnancy center ministry, the controversy over sex education, my opinions of Leroy Carhart, my work abroad, the history of the pro-life movement, and my religious motivations to engage in such work.
The one question that most perplexed them, however, was "Why, after so long a time, is abortion still such a desperate controversy here in the United States?" Their experience in Europe gave them few clues. After all, abortion had come to most Western European countries, been rapidly accepted and was now off the political agenda altogether. So they were sincerely trying to figure out why four decades had elapsed since abortion had begun to be legalized in the U.S. and yet abortion was still, as Jan described, "issue number one for America's people."
My answer, given in 20-30 second bursts as we explored this issue, centered on three things: 1) The deep religious faith of a large section of the American people. I explained that for these Christians (Catholic, evangelical, Orthodox), defending the sanctity of life is a biblical command. It is our Christian obligation. Therefore, no matter what politicians or judges or celebrities or the opinion polls may say, we have a motivation for our pro-life activity that is transcendent. They seemed to like my biological illustration in which I explained that though secularists tend to be like amphibians, that is, cold-blooded animals whose body temperature adapts to that of their surroundings, genuine Christians exemplify quite human qualities; namely, their blood runs warm until it ceases to run at all. Christians seek a higher goal, accept the fact of a higher judgment and depend upon a higher power. Thus, the pro-life movement in America remains strong, vibrant and uncompromising because of its starkly religious nature.
2) Technology has proven to be a tremendous ally of our movement. No one with any sense of responsibility or honesty (make that any sense, period) still tries to say that the unborn child is just a clump of cells or mass of undifferentiated tissue. And the stubborn fools who still do talk like this have been marginalized to the nutty fringe of the debate. Fetal photography, fetal surgery, techniques and equipment which are used to help earlier and earlier "preemie" babies and, most of all, the development of ultrasound has given the pro-life movement, which always held the higher moral ground (i.e., justice, compassion, opposition to barbaric violence) the higher scientific ground as well.
And 3) I told the interviewers that though Europeans might have a harder time identifying with this third foundation, it was of critical importance to their question. It was simply this -- Americans have always held as ideals the right of self-determination, liberty, equality, democracy. It is why most Americans still treasure the Declaration of Independence with its heralding of the God-given, unalienable right to life and the Constitution with its separation of powers. Thus when an unscientific, unjust, wildly unpopular law is forced upon all Americans by a mere 7 people in black robes (which thus, in one swipe, uprooted every abortion restriction ever passed by any of the 50 states), it is bound to generate enormous and long-lasting antipathy. Tyranny doesn't set well with us.
No, I confirmed to the TV crew, because of these three things (the depth of our religious faith, the ever-advancing power of technology, and the incontrovertibly unconstitutional nature of legalized abortion), the pro-life movement will only become stronger in the years to come.
The interview went well and we were confident that God had answered our prayers. But I've learned a few things from 3 decades of doing media interviews besides technique -- and one of the most important is that the ultimate fate of the on-air presentation rests with those doing the editing. So our prayers (and yours) are still very much in order.
Like I said, it was an unusual day.
Now, before I close this month's letter, let me also drop in here that the two days after our time with the Norway TV crew were also rather unusual days for us. How? Well, as you know the traffic to Vital Signs Blog has continued to grow and as the year began, we were averaging 350-420 “hits” per day. But with a few very recent developments (especially becoming one of the blogs featured in Blogs Lucianne Loves, a very hot spot on the web) that traffic has increased still further. For instance, on the Friday previous to the unusual day that I've just described, we had gone over 700 “hits” in one day. Quite a jump. But in the two days after the NRK interview, that record was really smashed. With the Norwegian interview post being chosen for Lucianne's front page and another post making an even “hotter” conservative web site, Vital Signs Blog went over 1800 “hits” on Friday and then stayed over 1000 the next day. Wow.
We are so grateful for your prayers and support that are making these things possible and for keeping Vital Signs Ministries a “vital” force in re-building a culture of life. Thank you so much.
P.S. A special word of thanks to all those who passed along your appreciation for last month's LifeSharer letter and its imaginative descriptions of how people respond to the presence of Christians outside abortion clinics. It meant a great deal to know you found it of value.
See you on Vital Signs Blog.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, February 2010
Can you imagine what goes through the minds of people driving by an abortion clinic, an abortion clinic where a pro-lifer is standing with a smiling baby sign and a banner that reads, “Mom, We Care for You and Your Baby”?
And if you’ll indulge my imagination for a bit, I’ll share with you a few possibilities. Yes, these are fictional wanderings but after 30 years of pro-life activist experience, (including thousands of testimonies read and personal conversations engaged in), I don’t think they are far off the mark. You see, when I am in front of an abortion clinic, it is to serve two purposes: 1) to help sidewalk counsel as needed and 2) to present a pro-life witness to the public passing by. My signs and banners, therefore, are of most immediate importance to the incoming clients, but I'm also very serious about showing them clearly to those hundreds of people driving by during the time I’m there. I smile, give a gentle wave, try and ensure that both directions of traffic can easily see either my sign and/or my banner...and I pray. I'm well aware that many of those driving by don’t want to notice me (or “us” if I'm with colleagues), but the clear fact is – they do! And I am quite confident that God is speaking to them. After all, by His very nature, He is a revealing God Who constantly tugs at men’s heartstrings. He does so through conscience and memory, through creation, through the written and verbal word, through examples, and through the “still, small” voice of conviction.
What does God want to say to those people driving by an abortion mill and how will they respond to His entreaties? The answers to those questions are as many, as varied, and as complex as the people involved. But we can be sure of this – God knows each person intimately. He is “in on” every detail of their history, their beliefs, their hopes, their fears, their secrets, and their future. And so God can use any tool available to reach out to them, not the least valuable of which are courteous, prayerful Christians who conscientiously present the winsome pro-life messages of their signs, banners, demeanor, and conversation -- and who then pray for the Holy Spirit to use them as He wills in the individual’s life. Again, what goes on in those minds and hearts?
We can only imagine...
Car #81. Inside this green SUV were three nurses car-pooling to work at a nearby hospital. The two in the front seat were both very uncomfortable when thinking about abortion. One had gone through that tragedy when she was 19 and had never forgiven herself. She shuddered at the memory and tried to think of something else – anything else. The other nurse, the one driving, was once married to a security guard whose duties included escorting women into an abortion clinic. He had hated the assignment at first and felt very guilty about it. He had been raised in church and believed abortion was a grievous sin. To make it worse, he saw how dirty the place was, how arrogant and coarse the abortionist was, and how the staff lied to women, scared them, and (behind their backs, of course) made fun of the girls that came there for abortions. But her husband had been afraid to tell his boss that he wouldn't work there and was too lazy (she believed) to go get another job. And so he stayed – and grew hardened and profane and then even brutal himself. He finally was reassigned but it was too late. She no longer loved or respected him and the marriage was broken.
That nurse would have described herself as pro-choice before her husband started working at that place. But not any longer. Not after she saw what prolonged involvement with abortion led to. It wasn't that she knew much about it or that she was ever moved to speak against it; all she thought about when she heard the word “abortion” was the shame and emasculation it had brought to her husband, a man who she once thought was a fantastic guy. But seeing the man with that banner that read, “Mom, We Care About You and Your Baby,” gave her a couple of new things to think about...like babies and people who were willing to stand in the snow to try and protect them.
But the third nurse, the one sitting in the back, had a much different reaction when she saw the pro-lifer on the sidewalk. In fact, she gave him a big smile and actually applauded when she saw him lifting his hand as a greeting. The reason for her strong show of support was because she worked in the neo-natal unit of the hospital and was very much aware of the beauty and mystery and value of each baby that God sent to earth. After they had gone by, the nurse at the wheel asked if she knew that man. “No,” she said. “I just wanted him to know I appreciated the stand he's taking. I think that's really cool.” And then she talked for several minutes about why she believed as she did. It even gave her an opportunity of referring to her Christian faith. As she did so, it prompted an intense longing inside the nurse on the passenger side, the one who had opted for that abortion when she was a teenager. She was sick and tired of trying to bury something that wouldn't stay buried. She didn't want any more excuses or distractions; no more coping mechanisms or escape hatches. She needed to get rid of this guilt. And Christianity was about forgiveness, wasn't it? She made a resolution then and there that she would have a long talk with this gal sometime when they were alone. And that sometime couldn't come too soon.
God had used that pro-life witness there on the sidewalk to plant a couple of seeds. And now God was carefully, lovingly watering them.
Car #214 was actually a pickup truck and in response to the pro-lifer’s smile and nod, the driver leaned across his passenger to yell out an obscene phrase. In doing so, he momentarily lost control of the truck and almost hit the school bus coming up alongside. When the pro-lifer didn’t respond (except for a wry smile and a little shake of his head), the pickup driver screamed out again, “Why don’t you get a life, you @&*#%.” By this time, they were far down the street. Still, the driver kept shouting things out the window for another block.
The other young man in the truck was embarrassed by the actions of his co-worker but what troubled him most was the phrase, “Get a life.” That was a joke. After all, what kind of life did the two of them have? They were doing dirty jobs for a jerk who was constantly on their case. And the meager paychecks they got were then spent mostly on cheap weed. They lived in a noisy, filthy apartment where the plumbing was a nasty mess. No, there was no other way to slice it; they were losers with no future and no hope. And yet here was his blockhead friend yelling at that man to “get a life.” And why? Because he’s a decent man trying to save babies from being torn to pieces? For crying out loud!
The young man would go on to stew on that irony throughout that day and most of the next week. And with his intensified sense of failure and desperation, he even began to entertain thoughts of a “way out” that he hadn't considered for years; namely, taking his next paycheck and buying a bus ticket back to Mills Creek. Back to family. Back to memories of a better time. Back even to that little church where the people had made him feel so welcome. Maybe it didn't have to be a dead end for him after all. Maybe he could get rid of the dope, get a new way of thinking and “get a life” once again.
God had used that pro-life witness there on the sidewalk to plant a seed. And now God was carefully, lovingly watering it.
Car #239 was an old but newly-washed Ford Fiesta with a young woman driving. She honked and waved at the man with the banner even before she got to him. She did that every morning she saw him. And a couple of times when the traffic allowed she had slowed down and yelled out to him that she would pray for him and the other pro-lifers there. And that she did. Polls indicate that young Americans are even more pro-life than the generation before them but, believe me, this young woman still didn’t come anything close to the stereotype of a pro-life citizen. In fashion, attitude and the music on her MP3, she was 1968 and Flower Power all over again. But she worked as a chemical engineer for the FDA and her hobbies included writing poetry, skeet-shooting, and skydiving. And one more thing, she frequently helped out at a crisis pregnancy center. The motivation for that latter activity was because her birth mother was once going into an abortion clinic in Georgia when she got involved in a conversation with the pro-life sidewalk counselors who were outside. They convinced her to choose life instead of death for her baby and then introduced her to a pregnancy center who, in turn, introduced her to a couple who very much wanted to adopt her baby. Et Voila'! 28 years later that baby crossed the stage to receive her Ph. D with her parents and her birth mother in the audience applauding. Oh yes, this young scientist knew firsthand the crucial importance of sidewalk counseling. And that’s why she so diligently prayed every time she saw these pro-lifers:
“Lord Jesus, please use their witness there on the sidewalk to save lives like mine and also to plant many seeds of truth in the hearts of people driving by. And thank You for Your care in watering those seeds in the days to come. Bring in a rich harvest from their devoted service in Your behalf. I pray in Jesus' Name. Amen.”
The cars continued to speed by in waves that morning. Many of the drivers smiled back when the pro-lifer smiled and waved to them. Some also waved, or honked, or gave a thumbs up. One little kid saluted. One of the honks was given by a man whose mother was a strong pro-life voice in her community back in Nevada. Another came from a grandmother who had recently lost a granddaughter to a terrible illness and, through the ordeal, had learned anew the preciousness of human life. And one women gave a thumbs up (she had done so frequently in recent weeks) just to emphasize to herself that there were still men of principle in the world. Unfortunately, her life had been messed up pretty thoroughly by men who were anything but.
And there were, of course, a few shaking heads too and a few obscene gestures. There was one more “get a life” yell (besides the pickup driver) and two urging the pro-life activist to “get a job.” The most enigmatic outcry came from an older woman in a new Volkswagen who shook her fist out the window and bellowed, “Why did Nixon go to China? Answer me that!”
From the perspective of the sidewalk counselor, it was just another sad morning. None of the abortion clients had turned away. That meant 7 babies, infinitely precious in the sight of God, had been aborted. But he kept up his vigil there by the abortion clinic parking lot. And he kept showing his sign to the eastern flow of street traffic and his banner to the west. And he kept praying that God would plant seeds of truth in the hearts of all who passed by.
Finally, there was Car #433 which came by just a few minutes before the pro-lifer had to leave the abortion clinic. The young couple inside didn’t wave at him nor did they smile. In fact, they each tried hard to make it seem that they hadn’t noticed him at all...even to each other. Because, you see, there was tremendous tension inside Car #433 because the couple had gone through a long, exasperating, even violent argument the night before over abortion. And the topic was not raised in any political or sociological sense, but in an extremely personal application.
For this young woman had discovered she was pregnant and, with no small amount of trepidation, had told the young man with whom she had moved in five months before. He had been bitterly angry with her and when she had balked at his insistence that an abortion was necessary, he became enraged. To calm the storm (and because she was trying to convince herself that she loved him and needed him), she had finally relented and said “yes” to an abortion. But, at breakfast the next day, the young father had new doubts about his girlfriend's compliance. She was distant and cold, like a robot going through programmed actions. Still, there was just no way he was going to be saddled with a kid right now. So, even if it took heavy pressure to get her to the abortion clinic; he would definitely turn the screws. It might not be quite as sweet a setup as before – for awhile anyhow. However, he was confident she'd give in.
But that assurance was taken away the moment they had driven by that guy with the banner, “Mom, We Care About You and Your Baby” for, in the icy silence that followed during the next several miles, he began to realize that something, maybe everything, had changed inside her. She hadn’t said a word. She never acknowledged seeing the banner or the smiling baby on the sign that he knew she'd peeked at through the sideview mirror. But she had changed. He knew she had decided against the abortion. If he had her to himself, he could have insisted she get an abortion before the holidays. But it was too late now. She had seen that banner. She had seen the eyes of that baby.
God had used that pro-life witness there on that sidewalk to plant a seed. And now God was carefully, lovingly watering it.
As I said when I began this exercise, I know I’ve used my imagination in constructing these scenarios. But, based on my experience, I submit that they are true-to-life and certainly reflect the directions of my prayers as I ask God to use my pro-life witness outside abortion clinics to teach, warn, comfort, encourage, rebuke and inspire according to the specific needs of the people driving by. And yes, indeed; I believe that dramatic, life-changing stories like these do occur…more often than we dare to dream. When we get to heaven, we'll hear them firsthand.
As always, I'd like to conclude this letter with a sincere thank-you from both Claire and I for all of the financial support, the encouragement, and the prayers that you invest in the work of Vital Signs Ministries. Whether it involves our sidewalk counseling, our public advocacy, our cyberspace outreaches (including the ever-increasing impact of Vital Signs Blog), speaking, “Mercy Ministries,” networking, and so on, we will endeavor to hold high His banners for the Faith, the family and the sanctity of life. God bless you for your part in this great team effort.
Dear VSM LifeSharers, January 2010
I write this month’s letter in a very jovial mood because it’s 40 degrees outside and snow, for the first time in about a month, is melting! Sure, it will be messy for a long time and I’ll be buying a lot of windshield wiper fluid as Omaha’s massive snowfall melts – but at least it's started!
Of course, I realize that it’s only mid-January and I shouldn’t exactly be getting ready for lawn work yet. In fact, Claire just informed me that there’s snow in the forecast for next week. Still, I can’t help myself. Feeling the sun on my face, watching water flow from the house drain pipes, and knowing that any hour now I will be able to see the top of my mailbox again has put me in a great mood today. So, as soon as I finish writing this LifeSharer and complete a few other tasks, Claire and I are going out for a walk. Yes, a walk outside! I can hardly believe it.
With the break in snowstorms and the Arctic temperatures that have assailed us these last several weeks, we’ve returned to some of our normal activities. For instance, after missing two Mondays of sidewalk counseling at the Bellevue abortion clinic because of sub-zero temperatures, we started again last Monday. To try and deal with an extended schedule on the part of that barbaric business, we have divided our little sidewalk counseling corps into two shifts that puts at least three Christians at the site from 7:45-11:15 AM. It was only 18 degrees last Monday but, after what we’ve been experiencing, we almost went out in shirt sleeves! We’ll see how this new schedule goes. And, of course, if you believe the Lord would have you join us (even on occasion) we would sure be overjoyed. Just give us a call.
The bright sunshine today also motivated us to get out and enjoy a wonderful working lunch down at the Kona Grill. (Claire had the white pizza; I had the Asian pan noodles. Delicious) We had a great time planning our trip next week to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life, discussing time schedules for two upcoming writing projects, looking at changes in a few of our web ministries, and carefully evaluating our various Christmas activities. We hung around talking and just reveling in each other's company until nearly everyone else had left the place. It was an enlightening, productive and fun time. How blessed we are to be more in love than ever after all these years and, I hope, more effective as a ministry team too. Thank You, Lord.
Despite the snow, despite the frigid cold, and despite being hit hard by a computer virus (targeted or arbitrary, we don't know) which severely limited my blogging for awhile (even shutting us down completely for a few days), we managed to still have one our most productive Christmas seasons ever. We had to postpone three of our major events but they proved even more successful when they came off on re-scheduled dates.
Here’s the rundown of the Hartford Yuletide. There was a Christmas dinner where we hosted 16 guests; a Christmas Eve breakfast where we hosted 21 guests; our traditional Epiphany evening with three couples; a Christmas Tea at my Mom’s nursing home and three separate “Santa runs.” Also we hosted a breakfast at our December Vital Signs Board meeting; enjoyed a Christmas-themed meeting of our book club; prepared and preached 4 Advent sermons for Faith Bible Church; did several Christmas-themed blog posts; shared a “Making the Most of Christmas” presentation at our church and, more informally, for my Mom and several other residents of the Life Care Center.
And, oh yes; there were 6 other dinner parties held here at the house during the Christmas season and, if my math is right, those 6 parties involved another 29 people. We are most certainly serious about Christmas!
There were some other highlights for us in the last few weeks including helping out with Chet Thomas’ 80th birthday party, being nominated for the 2010 National Pro-Life Blog Awards, attending Sandy Schoville’s birthday party, and participating in a mortgage burning ceremony at Faith Bible Church.
But there have also been some lowlights: feeling the same old helplessness when women walk in the abortion mill; the computer crash I mentioned; sad news from several friends about serious moral failures in their children; and the end of year financial totals for Vital Signs Ministries which saw us down quite a bit (about $10,000) from last year’s income. When you operate on the scale that we do, that’s a pretty tough drop. We knew the state of the economy would probably give us a serious jolt – we just didn’t anticipate how sharp a jolt it would be!
But, of course, we'll carry on. And we are more grateful than ever to all of you who have supported Vital Signs over these many years of struggle. God has used this work in mighty ways and we're honored beyond words to have partnered with you. You’ve been terrific. We’re grateful for your prayers. We’re grateful for your encouragement and involvement and example. And we’re grateful for your financial support whenever you’re able to help. Like I said, we’ll keep carrying on.
Now, to conclude this edition of the LifeSharer letter, I thought I'd give those of you who are not regular visitors to Vital Signs Blog a little illumination about what’s happening over there. Every day we are getting several hundred “hits” where internet surfers encounter 5 to 8 posts dealing with religious, political and cultural issues from a distinctly Christian point of view. Here are a few titles to show you what I mean:
Count the Reasons: Why Pro-Lifers Must Oppose the Senate "Health Care" Bill
A Sinister Search for Minority Embryos
How Much Does Drunk Driving Cost America?
2009 Has Been a Bad, Bad Year for Global Warming
Insurance Companies & Abortion: Ethics Have No Cash Value
Pantheism is Everywhere (Pun Intended)
Nickelodeon Is Promoting Some Pretty Sick Games to Your Preschoolers
Early Sex Experiences Linked to Greater Cancer Risk
The Religion of Planned Parenthood
An Indispensable Part of the Pro-Life Case? The Science of Embryology.
Modern Day Scrooges Want to "Reduce the Surplus Population."
To illustrate further the kind of things going on over at Vital Signs Blog, I'll print on the next pages two of the posts that have drawn considerable attention.
Christians Falling for Hollywood's Bad Bill of Goods
Has the church militant become the church milquetoast?
I'm hearing more and more Christians give movie recommendations that sound like this...
"Well, yes, there a few scenes that you should probably close your eyes to and there's
the usual problem of some pretty gritty language. Of course, there's going to be some toilet humor and probably more sexual references than they needed.
And there are a few attacks on conservative political values that I didn't like either
but, hey, that's Hollywood for you."
"Also, they've got to throw in a homosexual character who gets kinda' gross at times
but then he's the one in the end who really ends up showing compassion and common sense. Oh yeah, there is quite a bit of religion bashing; well, except for pantheism.
And they did get carried away a bit in making fun of creationists, pro-lifers
and people who want to protect marriage."
"But overall the story was pretty neat and it sure made me laugh a few times.
It wasn't Shakespeare or anything, just a couple of hours
of nice, escapist entertainment. I think you might like it."
Really? Then think again. For the sake of everything that's sacred, please think again.
For such mindless movie recommendations are but one example of how Christians are willingly surrendering to an ungodly culture their values, their heritage,
their consciences and the commands given them by Jesus to remain pure in heart,
to shine the light in the darkness, to overcome evil with good, and so on.
We aren't actually losing the contest; we're simply forfeiting it away.
Ben Nelson Wants Nebraskans to Trust Him Again
Democrat Senator Ben Nelson will introduce a 30-second TV commercial
during the Nebraska/Arizona football game tonight in which he defends his vote
for the Obama/Reid "health care" bill. The spot will then run on other Nebraska TV stations for at least a few days.
He's doing this in an effort to keep his reputation from falling
even farther than it already has.
The spot is only 30-seconds because the Senator has no substantial basis
for his support of the bill nor any reasonable arguments for so cravenly forsaking his pro-life principles and concerns for the Constitution.
Therefore, his ad is a quick, folksy appearance in which he can mouth
a few generalities and not have to explain further his catastrophic cave-in.
So how should Nebraskans respond to Nelson's little ploy? Simple.
1) Keep doing what you've been doing; namely, calling, writing and e-mailing the Senator and expressing your opinions about this and the many other budget-busting, boneheaded, boondoggle bills he has supported.
2) Follow up by sending similar letters to editors. Keep the dissonance public.
And realize that with the left-leaning bias of the press (yes, even here in Nebraska),
there will have to be a large and steady stream of such letters
to insure that a few are actually published.
And finally 3) Make it clear to family and friends that this is what happens
when you vote Democrats into office. For no matter what they claim when back home, their "conservative" or "moderate" positions melt when they get to Washington
and they end up toeing the party line.
And the line of the modern Democrat Party (led by the likes of Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Baucus, Rangel, Boxer, Clinton, and Franken) is marked by an aggressive support of abortion and embryonic stem cell experimentation, an expansion of the homosexual agenda, intolerance of Christianity, antagonism to freedoms of speech and assembly (when they involve conservatives, that is), an expansion of the welfare state, support of judicial activism, a dedication to an ever-burgeoning government spending spree (except for national defense), ongoing assaults on the free market, and so on.
So, turn Ben Nelson's greedy, perfidious ways with this misnamed "health care reform" bill into an opportunity to educate your fellow Nebraskans about the dangers unavoidably inherent in voting Democrat these days.
Okay, that concludes this month's letter. I hope it has helped bring you up to speed a bit about Vital Signs Blog, about how we ended 2009, and how we're starting 2010. Like we've done for all these many years, we'll keep lifting His banner high with your help and His awesome mercy.
Claire joins me in sending you all all our love, our appreciation and our prayers for a spiritually prosperous New Year.