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30 Years Ago

Dear friends,                                                                                             June 2015 

            This month’s letter (like most of them) is being written between other tasks and so I’m kinda limited in time.  But there’s a lot on my heart too so I’ll try and share some of the most pressing concerns.  First, I’m printing below the first paragraph of a memorial I wrote about my father for the Omaha Christian Action Council newsletter 30 years ago.

            Alva Thomas Hartford died early Wednesday morning, June 25, 1985, just before undergoing yet another surgery at St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver.  He had been valiantly struggling against devastating injuries for six days after his car had been slammed by another whose driver had been careening down Colorado’s I-70 at a speed of perhaps more than 110 miles per hour.  After striking another car in the eastbound lanes, this car spun across a grassy, 53-feet wide median and crashed into Dad’s Plymouth which was traveling in the westbound center lane.  The police report stated the offending vehicle was moving at 82 miles per hour at impact; Alva’s speedometer was frozen by the crash at 48.  He was less than a mile from his turnoff and only a couple of miles from home.

            My dad was only 68 when he was killed and the tragedy was compounded when the drunk driver responsible was given no penalty besides a few months probation.  No jail time.  No restitution for the widow.  Not even an apology.

            A few weeks ago, before my weekly Panera’s meeting with Pat Osborne and John Malek, Joy Stephens stopped by for a brief chat.  I told an anecdote about working with Dad at Banner Conoco and Tire in south Denver in the mid 1960s.  We laughed together and then Joy asked, “Denny, are you like your father?”  I stopped a moment and then said with feeling, “Oh, I certainly hope so.”  Joy smiled and said, “That’s a wonderful answer.  I would have liked to have known him.”  I assured her that she would. I’ll make a point of introducing her some day in the New Jerusalem.

            Here’s two more paragraphs from that memorial tribute of 30 years ago:

            …The family had maintained a constant vigil at the hospital since the accident occurred, joined also by a number of his close friends.  In addition, the prayers of hundreds of other persons were combining with the petitions of Al’s loved ones, requesting of God that He spare the life of this outstanding man.  For a time, it seemed as if our prayers were being answered according to our desires; Dad was improving in a way that mystified the hospital staff.  Here was a 68 year old man whose earlier bouts with cancer and renal disease had left him without a bladder and with only one of his kidneys, yet he was beating incredible odds by not only surviving such a violent crash, but actually improving amid the great difficulties of brain surgery, innumerable broken bones, and grievous internal injuries.  Then a sudden loss of blood pressure, a rapid rise in pulse count, and a dramatic increase in Alva’s pain revealed a major crisis.  Surgery to confirm the doctor’s suspicions of a ruptured spleen and to perform the necessary repairs never actually occurred.  He died on the operating table.

            The day before, Dad had reminded Mom to pray that God would heal his body. God had done just that, but He performed the miracle in a more wonderful fashion that we can ever imagine.  Immediately healed in body and in spirit, Alva, because of his longstanding dependence upon Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary’s cross for his salvation, passed into the glorious presence of the Lord. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116:5) Alva’s confidence in his own resurrection came because he knew the awesome power of Jesus’ resurrection that guaranteed God’s complete victory over both Satan and death.  As Scripture’s great promise states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

            June is also the month in which we lost my mom.  Four years ago, after several difficult but rewarding years, Ionia Ellsworth Hartford died at Immanuel Hospital.  She immediately joined her husband of nearly 45 years in that forever fellowship that now flourishes between Christ and all the saints that have gone before.  Mom was a big part of our lives in those last years and we still miss her very much.  Many of you reading this know exactly what we feel.  But there is great joy as well when we remember the astounding blessings they are experiencing now instead of pain, sickness, confusion, loneliness, frustration, and all the rest.  We are also excited to know we will join them…and it won’t be too awfully long now.  

            My mom and I have a very important date “on the other side” and that’s to play a game of one-on-one basketball.  You see, Mom was the star player on her high school championship team and we often teased each other as to who was the better player in our prime.  I frequently reminded her that neither of us would ever really be in our prime until we sported our glorified bodies in heaven, so we made a date to do shoot some hoops soon after we reunite there. But I made Mom promise she wouldn’t practice until I got there too!  It was a promise smilingly repeated just two days before she died. And, like other dates I’ve made with friends, I seriously plan on keeping it. Look out, Mom.

            “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21) Heaven – it’s going to be something beyond spectacular…beyond wonderful…and beyond forever!  Make sure your passage is booked by trusting in the finished work of Christ’s death and resurrection to pay the penalty of your sins. 

            Of course, for a little while longer, we remain on this sin-scarred planet and our tasks and trials continue.  Therefore, we must look to that same grace of God that will take us to heaven to deal with our present conditions as well. 

            Among one of those tough conditions we’re now up against is that Claire has developed painful arthritis in her hands and fingers and wrists.  She is scheduled for a surgery at the end of the month that will fuse the joint in her right thumb.  That will affect her movement but the doctor says it should help her with some pain relief.  What’s next for the rest, we don’t know.  She is now using Tylenol, hot packs in the morning, and ice packs through the day when needed. Any prayers lifted up for her would be greatly appreciated.

            Still, the work of Vital Signs continues apace.  The discipleship.  The public prayers and pro-life witness at the Planned Parenthood abortion mill.  The blogs and social media. The promotion of the “3 for 5” prayer campaign.  Also, we will be deciding at next week’s board meeting whether or not to jump back into radio.  And, by the end of June, we will be finished with the revisions of The Christmas Room, my novel about nursing home life, intergenerational friendships, and Christian service to a much-endangered section of our society. We will then begin our search for a publisher.  Our revision process has, by the way, been a remarkably effective one, utilizing as it has the kind and conscientious service of 16 friends who read the entire 263-page manuscript and passed along editorial suggestions.  Most of those friends are either involved in care-giving careers or have intimate experience in serving aged loved ones. Their suggestions and encouragements have been priceless.   

            Oh yes, there’s also our “When Swing Was King” presentations. In addition to the 11 facilities we visit every month, we have scheduled extra shows in July and August including a couple in Colorado when we’re out there for a family reunion next month. Of course, besides the high-quality entertainment of the shows themselves, another critical element of our outreach in the senior facilities is the development of friendships with residents and staff. We are enjoying wonderful conversations, opportunities to pray for and with residents, occasional oral history interviews, and special actions like we experienced yesterday at Bethany Lutheran Home. Here’s how it went down.

            Last month I had a long and fascinating talk with Mel about his past as a stock car racer. Because of Mel’s deafness, both of us were speaking really loud…so loud that the whole room (maybe 30-35 people) were in on it. As he was leaving after the show, Mel told me, “Nobody cares about an old man anymore, but I love to talk about those days.  I live for days like this!  Thank you so much for asking me questions!”  Well, I then went home and searched the internet for a photograph of Mel from those days and I came across a real honey. In the photo, Mel (now around 90) was shown as a young man standing besides #155, his 1953 Hudson stock car. We made a couple of 5 by 7 prints (one of which we framed) and eight 4 by 6 prints that he could autograph and pass around. Mel and his wife, also a resident at Bethany, were thrilled and overjoyed. So too were the staff and the whole assembly of other residents gathered for the program. It was a blast. And, naturally, we were the first in line for an autographed photo! This is the kind of thing that WSWK generates. So cool.

            Okay, as I said at the beginning, there are several tasks calling for our attention so I’d better close this letter off.  Just this week we have that board meeting to get ready for, a group discussion at our home over I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, a morning session at the abortion mill, a lot of correspondence and script writing, my regular three “iron-sharpening” meetings with friends, and several more “When Swing Was King” gigs.

            There’s also our stepped up exercise routine that we’re working pretty hard at.  I’m riding my mountain bike 4 or 5 times a week (over 90 minutes a trip) and sometimes joining Claire for her 30-60 minute daily walks. We remain on our strict Paleo diets which, come July, we will have been on for a year. Actually, we try not to use the word “diet” because it really has been a lifestyle thing – a whole new approach to shopping, cooking, and eating which we have found absolutely terrific for weight loss, mobility, Claire’s stomach issues, energy, grocery savings, greater teamwork in the kitchen, our long term health, and so on.

            Well, that’s enough for now.  Thanks for reading the letter.  And thanks for your faithful prayers, encouragement, and support of Vital Signs Ministries.




P.S.  For the LifeSharers in the Omaha area, Kansas, and Missouri, just a reminder to sign up for the Dillons/Baker’s community rewards programs.  All you have to do to help out Vital Signs is 1) Go online to www.bakersplus.com/communityrewards.  2) If you already have a Plus Card, sign in. If not, create an account.  3) Find and select Vital Signs Ministries (#45539) and click “Save.”  4) Shop at Dillons/Baker’s using your Plus card.


Thanks so much!