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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.