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Celebrating Birthdays in July

Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries,                                         July 2016

       Among our activities in these last few weeks, we have celebrated three July Summit BW.jpgholidays – the signing of the Declaration of Independence and two birthdays, with the birthday events being particularly inspiring and fulfilling. One of those birthdays was my own.  On July 5th, I turned 65. And I celebrated by climbing Mt. Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s famed 14ers. Indeed, the photo on the left shows me joyfully breathing the rarified air at the summit at 14,065 feet. But I’ll tell you more about that adventure in a moment.  Let’s first take a look at the second birthday event.

            On July 14, the residents and staff of Life Care Center here in Omaha threw a 6th birthday party for “When Swing Was King.”  That’s right; it was 6 years ago this month that we started this ministry…and we did so right there at LCC. So, in celebration, the staff gave us a splendid thank-you party in the cafeteria following our show. There was enthusiastic applause, complements from both residents and staff (including the LCC Director), a warm-hearted thank-you speech from the Activities Director, a gorgeously decorated cake, punch, and a lot of fun conversation. Needless to say, Claire and I were honored and greatly encouraged.

            But that wasn’t all for the “When Swing Was King” birthday. News got around to a few of the other activity directors from places we regularly visit and they wanted to join in the congratulations.  So, to bless and encourage those of you who pray for us and give financially to help Vital Signs Ministries keep going strong (including our “When Swing Was King” outreach), here are a few of those messages.       

            Chad wrote, “I want to wish ‘When Swing Was King’ a BIG Happy Birthday as they celebrate 6 years of providing a wonderful program to our residents on a monthly basis.  This program that Claire and Denny provide is a wonderful trip down memory lane for our residents.  And Claire and Denny do it for free! We now average about 20 residents each month, but that doesn’t include the family and friends they invite.  This just shows you how special this program is -- we have guests from outside our community coming to see what our residents are excited to show them!  For Pacific Springs Village, the program itself is not only a success, but a great way that Claire and Denny can connect and create friendships with our residents, which they have done over the past few years.  I know that means the world to them! 

            Thank you for your support for providing this outreach not only to our community, but to the others they reach out to each month.  I hope you continue to support this program so our residents can keep enjoying this special and unique opportunity! God bless you.”

            Sarah sent along this note, “We are so appreciative of Claire and Denny and the dedication they have for their program ‘When Swing Was King.’  Each month our residents come down, not only for the music and pictures, but to visit with their friends, Claire and Denny.  They provide such an inviting setting and they get to know the residents on a very personal level.  Having the extra attention and someone to sit and chat with our residents before and after these programs is very important.  The Hartfords have a special gift and you can see the enjoyment from both of them, as well as from the residents.  Thank you for all you do!  We so appreciate you and look forward to your continued visits to Brookestone Village!”

            Ann sent this: “Since I have been blessed by ‘When Swing Was King’ at the last three senior care facilities I have worked over the past 5 years, I am happy to wish this ministry a happy birthday! We love the memories and smiles your program brings to our residents every time.  They love hearing the music and seeing the neat pictures, but they also enjoy the educational part of the program as Denny tells them who wrote the song, when, and other fun facts.  I also love how Denny and Claire always (and I mean always!) reach out to the residents personally. The residents know you really care and it is so awesome to see…We really love you guys!  ‘When Swing Was King’ is a huge blessing to everyone -- staff, families, and residents. I’m so proud to call you my friends.” 

            Vicki wrote, “Happy birthday to ‘When Swing Was King’!  We love Denny and Claire and appreciate all the wonderful memories they bring to the residents here at Immanuel Village. ‘When Swing Was King’ always packs the room and the residents talk for days about the program.  You can see them tapping their toes and singing along.  We sure hope to continue celebrating ‘When Swing Was King’ birthdays for a long time!”

            Ann Marie sent this note. “Congratulations to Denny and Claire Hartford on the 6th anniversary of launching ‘When Swing Was King’! It’s hard to believe it has been 6 years! Our community here at Immanuel Courtyard has been blessed to be on the receiving end of this wonderful program almost from the very beginning.

            There are so many facets to ‘When Swing Was King’! The presentations really take the residents back to their younger days which invoke such happy memories. Both the pictures and music complement each other so well, creating such a positive experience for all who attend. And, of course, Denny and Claire are so pleasant, welcoming, and excited to share their programs. They are also great listeners which allows the residents opportunities to share their own stories.

            Immanuel Courtyard is very thankful for the gift that ‘When Swing Was King’ is to us.  Thank you so much for coming here each month to share with our residents. Lives are definitely enriched because of ‘When Swing Was King’!”

            And finally, Kathy from LCC said this in her speech at the party, “To everyone involved with Vital Signs Ministries, I am the Activity Director where ‘When Swing Was King’ originated as a party for Denny's mother and a few other residents. Since it’s very beginning, this monthly event has been a blessing to so many. The show has them tapping their toes, thinking of good memories, reminiscing about the era, and is powerfully therapeutic.
            Through the generosity of Denny, Claire, and Vital Signs Ministries, we are able to provide this quality program to our residents and it truly enhances our monthly calendar. And boy, does ‘When Swing Was King’ have a strong following! And it’s not only the entertainment program, but Denny and Claire speak personally to each and every resident who attends, remembering their names and important personal information about each one.
            So, Happy July birthday both to Denny and to ‘When Swing Was King.’ And God bless you, Claire, Denny, and Vital Signs Ministries. We are so very grateful for your kindness and generosity in this wonderful ministry. Congratulations also Denny, on your successful climb of Mt. Bierstadt. I find that not only impressive but personally inspiring.” 

            What uplifting, encouraging sentiments. I hope you find them so too.

            Anyhow, Kathy’s concluding line brings up that mountain climbing birthday again. However, I’m going to hold off talking about it in order to mention a few other important things that have kept us busy in these past few weeks.  For instance, there were a couple of adult Sunday school classes dealing with a practical approach to holy, counter-culture living. I taught those on June 26th at Country Bible Church in Blair. ------ We went “on the road” again on June 30th and July 1st to present three special presentations of “When Swing Was King” in senior care facilities down in Lincoln.  Those, of course, were in addition to our regular schedule covering Omaha, Blair, and Bellevue. ------ Claire and I attended a Business and Professional Persons for Life luncheon where we heard Lt. Governor Mike Foley. ------ We hosted another in our series of letter-writing parties at our home on June 28.  Ten people were present and we ended up shining lights of truth, justice, religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and more in 58 letters and cards. ------ We had a meeting with General Don Bacon to discuss his candidacy for Congress and we have worked with his office to schedule another group meeting in a couple of weeks. ------ And, of course, our work on Vital Signs Blog and social media continue apace as does our pro-life witness on the sidewalks outside Planned Parenthood.

            Can I tell one more story before I get to Mt. Bierstadt? Thanks.  A few weeks ago, Claire and I invited our church and VSM LifeSharers to join us in a summer reading project. The books involved were the classic C.S. Lewis series, The Chronicles of Narnia.  20 people signed on (plus a few long-distance) and, on July 15, we hosted the first of two dinner and discussion parties for 15 of those taking part. And out of those 15 present at our party, 7 of them were “visiting” Narnia for the very first time! How cool is that?

            Okay, finally, let’s head for the hills.  Though hailing from Colorado, I have little experience in serious mountain hiking; that is, in tackling trails that move far above timberline.  Nevertheless, with my weight loss and aggressive walking regimen of these last couple of years, I found myself thinking about the possibilities. Indeed, I aimed so high as to actually consider Mt. Bierstadt, one of the Colorado mountains that soars above above 14,000 feet. 

            It was a pretty daunting ambition and I went back and forth on the idea. But, as my birthday closed in (and with Claire urging me to give it a try), I made up my mind.  We left early Sunday morning July 3rd, driving first into Golden where we put new flowers on my father’s and mother’s gravestone, and then on up into the lovely mountain town of Frisco where we had a hotel reservation. We enjoyed a windy picnic near the lake that evening and turned in early.  The next day, July 4th, was an especially interesting day for us.  We started with a drive back to Georgetown and up the Guanella Pass road to check out what was in store for me the next day. Mt. Bierstadt, the Sawtooth, Mt. Evans, and the rest of the vista was magnificent, but if I wasn’t intimidated already, looking up to the peak of Bierstadt would certainly have done it.  Next up on America’s birthday? We had breakfast in a little dive in Georgetown, enjoyed sightseeing among the holiday festivities in Frisco, took ringside seats at the Fourth of July parade, packed my stuff for the hike, had another delicious picnic with Paleo items we had brought from home, and then watched a glorious fireworks show over the lake that night.  

            And then it was July 5th, my 65th birthday.  By the time the sun rose, I had already bathed, shaved, and kissed Claire goodbye. (She patiently and prayerfully waited for me back in Frisco.)  I drove the 45-minute route to the trailhead and began the hike at 6:23. I made it pretty quickly through the marsh, searched a bit until I found a place to jump over Scott Gomer Creek, and began the ascent with only a few slips in the mud.  Things went well for the first 90 minutes or so, but the angle of climb, the rocky terrain and, of course, the altitude finally began to take their toll.  My prayers increased in fervency, not necessarily to make the summit, but just to make it to the next rock!  In fact, there were several times in that phase of the adventure where I considered quitting. It wasn’t that I was too short of breath, but I was certainly feeling the physical fatigue and was a little nauseous a couple of times. And add to that, the mountain rising up before me looked tougher, higher, and farther away than ever. There were a few others on the mountain that day but, as I got higher, most of them had turned around and headed back down.  God was wonderfully gracious to me, however, and He granted me the will and strength to keep going. Indeed, by the time I got to the boulder field, the last section of the climb, I was given a remarkable level of new energy and daring. Oblivious to the pack I carried on my back, I climbed over, crawled through, and jumped around the rocks to the summit, trying hard not to think about the sheer drop that was about 15 yards to the west.

            I was alone there, save the marmots who playfully approached to check me out. And, of course, God was there too and we had some very intense minutes of communion. The climb itself had been an incredible experience and, as you can guess, the panoramic views were indescribably inspiring. However, one of Claire’s specific prayers for the day was that someone would be at the top when I was there. And, sure enough, after I had prayed awhile, rested awhile, and taken a video, a young couple made it to the summit to join me. They were Blake and Miriam, from Colorado and Spain, respectively. We congratulated each other, talked and laughed, and took pictures.  They were thrilled that it was my 65th birthday and we had a very nice time together.  

            The climb down?  Well, that turned out to be as tough (though in different ways) as the climb up and my legs felt like noodles (wet noodles!) by the time I finally got back to my car.  It was probably one of the most physically taxing things I have ever done.  But I was amazed and grateful and delighted that I had given it a try.  My regular walking route here in Omaha is 7½ miles and it takes me about 2 hours and 8 minutes.  On the Bierstadt climb, however, my pedometer recorded 8.7 miles and it took me 6 hours and 20 minutes! Yipes. I was a bit embarrassed to tell my time to my youngest brother Ric and his wife Ellen when we had dinner together that evening in Denver.  You see, they are themselves members of the 14er club.  But they gave me warm congratulations on the feat, and even on the time. They said that for getting all the way up and back and across that rock field, anything between 6 and 7 hours was actually a good time!  And it was more than a good time for a 14er rookie who was eligible for Medicare! That was encouraging to hear.

            Our stay in Colorado was short. We were home and back at work the day after the climb, Wednesday the 6th. But, as I have suggested in this LifeSharer letter, we had a lot going on which kept us busy, helping us escape feeling anticlimactic with our return. Even so, I know you’ll understand when I say that my 65th birthday will likely stand out as one of the most significant and memorable ever. By the way, I posted photographs of the climb on my Facebook page, but for those of you who don’t do Facebook, I’ve posted them over on Vital Signs Blog also.  Just type “Bierstadt” in the search window.

            Okay, that’s it for this month’s letter.  Thanks so much for reading it.  And to all of you who pray, who give, who encourage, and who in other ways support Vital Signs Ministries, thank you so much.  Until next month,

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