Last week we spent some time near Des Moines, Iowa. In that area of the country, as the sun begins to set in the evening, sidewalks, grassy areas, and fields take on a mystical, almost magical allure as they light up with thousands of fireflies. They are always a pleasant surprise for us as we do not have these where we live in western Oregon.
The first time I saw them the other evening I called my wife from the house of our kind hosts: “Honey, you’ve got to come out here on the deck …!” “The fireflies are here?” She guessed as she quickly made her way to the deck with her camera.
It was an event. She sat there for about an hour taking pictures and movie clips of the fireflies which she sent to our son and her friends. As she was doing so, someone came to visit. “I just LOVE the fireflies?” she exclaimed to which the response was, “Oh, are they out?”,It seemed that everybody passed by without paying any attention to this wonderful phenomena. For the people of the area who were used to them, it was as if nothing happened, but for us it was a special event and local attraction.
It is probably the same the other way around. When my father visited me from France six years ago, he marveled at the tall fir, pine, and cedar trees that we have on our region. He was more used to smaller trees as we found in most of the Midwest and the East Coast. For him these tall trees were a special area attraction.
As human beings, whether it be concerning the wonderful people or the wonders of nature around us, we have a tendency to become familiar with our immediate surroundings, to the point of seeming to walk with our eyes closed. Maybe that’s why they say that ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder!’
I am also reminded of a time when a group of visitors at a summer resort had watched the sunset from the gallery of their hotel. An overweight, unromantic-looking man had lingered until the last glow faded, & had seemed thrilled through & through by the beauty of it all. One guest, more observant than the rest, wondered about this, & so at supper she said to this man, who sat next to her, "You certainly did enjoy that sunset, Mr. B. Are you an artist?" "No, Madam, I'm a plumber," he responded with a slow grin. "But I was blind for five years.
We have now been on the road for a month. We have about three more weeks to go. We have crossed seven states and traveled on innumerable highways and freeways. We have also stayed at many hotels, numerous Airbnbs hosts, and been guests at all sorts of households.
We have recently joined an online community of people who offer meal and lodging to passing through travelers who also belong to the same online community. This week we were invited to stay at the home of a sweet older couple in a mostly Swedish community. The man had been a minister and was still writing a column in the local newspaper and his wife is a homemaker, and we must add, a wonderful cook! This faithful sweet pastor also invited some of his friends for whom we did an impromptu concert and teaching about Israel. In the evening, they took us to the local municipal band concert which we enjoyed very much.
As we stayed we learned everything about this man's life, his travels, his hobbies, his beliefs, his favorite teachers and evangelists, his family, more of his family, and even more about his family. Whereas it was all very interesting, we had hoped for a time to lay our heads, rest, as well as catch up on some correspondence and planning. And whereas we were very thankful for their hospitality, at times we just needed a little time to ourselves. In a heartbeat, we had become the hot, sweaty, tired captive audience of this very sweet and sincere man. Comfort came to me in the form a quick thought, "I hope that after I have lived a full exciting life, when I am 77, someone will take the time to politely listen to my stories about all the things I've done and the places I've been to!"
We have sometimes helped organize functions for homes for the elderly. It is amazing the stories you get when we take the time to listen to them. Really, everyone has a story, and oh, what do we miss when we don’t take the time to listen to them. We could learn much more about life by listening to the stories of the old than by listening to the rambling of the young on social media and who would not wish that when we are old, someone would not take the time to listen to us.
I have a personal story to tell today.
My wife and I have been on the road touring the States for three weeks now. We go to Churches, home-groups, and congregations to present our music and give lectures. Everything was going well until twelve days ago in the morning my wife noticed a redness accompanied of some sort of hardness on her left leg. After seeing it getting painful, bigger, and hotter throughout the day, we decided to go to emergency.
At the time we were staying with friends in Arizona. I took my wife to the nearby hospital and, after waiting the ‘normal’ ER time of three hours, the doctor diagnosed it as a superficial blood clot. He told us that a superficial blood clot is not a big problem, but that it can often be a sign of deeper clots which are dangerous, if not fatal. The doctor ordered an ultrasound. As it would not be ready for over an hour, Christina and I passed the time playing Wheel of Fortune on my tablet. By the way, we didn’t win any money…The doctor also asked Christina if she felt pain in her lungs which she didn’t at the time.
Finally the time came to go for the ultrasound and a different doctor asked my wife if she felt pain in her chest, which she did not. We waited another hour for the reading of the ultrasound results, and then two doctors came to confirm a DVT- deep vein thrombosis. Again, the doctors asked if there was chest pain, and yes, by now there WAS chest pain. As she went through a CT scan they discovered not one, but several blood clots in Christina’s lungs. The doctor then came with a strong warning about the situation. Christina needed to take medication and have close follow-up. “But we’re on tour…!” she said, to which the doctor replied that we need to be serious about this and in his words, ‘..Put our social life on hold!’
For a moment we considered just going home, or flying my wife back to Portland while I continued the tour by myself. In the meantime, she was admitted at the hospital for the night. I went back to our friends’ house (who have been sooooo helpful) and brought Christina her overnight things. The next morning the doctor was encouraging and told us that as long as Christina had stabilized, could get her medicine, do a follow-up visit in three weeks, and not spend very long days sitting in the van, we could continue on our tour together.
At this point, we are still on the road. We are in Kansas today, in a little town called Manhattan. Last Tthursday we celebrated Christina’s birthday with a lunch at a Thai restaurant then went bowling. In the course of the afternoon we received a notice that on this very same day, a musician friend of ours lost her 31 year old son from the very same condition my wife had just escaped. We knew she had dodged the proverbial bullet, but this sad piece of news brought it home even more.
We realize now that if we had not paid attention to that ‘superficial’ wound, I might be writing a different story today. We also realized that we considered going to the hospital and staying the night because we have insurance. We might not have done it otherwise, which also could have also brought this situation to a different ending.
All in all, while we do not understand His ways, we thank God for sparing Christina.We pray for our friend who lost her son, and are reminded of something that probably every EMT, doctor, religious leader, counselor, colleague or friend knows, that superficial conditions, be they of the body, of the soul, of the spirit, or of the heart can, and often are the tell-tale signs of a deeper, and very serious condition.
‘Imitation is the highest form of flattery’ they say, and there seems to be nothing more pleasing for a parent than to hear that their children wants to be just like them. But do we really want to wish that on them?To set ourselves as role models is a very weighty responsibility.
In our travels we share conversation with many people. Some are older like the 90 year old lady we recently met who wears a tiara and calls herself Queen Ruth; some are our age, some the age of our children, and we also make sure to take the time to communicate with children. Twice in our two weeks on the road a child said to my wife, “I want to talk with my Mom but she is always texting on the phone…!”
It is true that parents need the time to talk with their friends, but should it be done at the cost of the time we need to invest in our children? I see so many parents discouraged with their teenagers or adult children appearing self-centered and flat out ignoring them, but the question we may need to do ourselves is, “Have they become just like us?” Also, we ask them to listen to us and respect us but do we, in their presence, show respect to our parents?
It is a sad fact of our times that the young adults and middle-aged parents of this generation find it difficult to spend time not only with their children but also with their parents. Could it be that 'The pursuit of happiness’ has taken an unintended left turn to the Highway of Individualism leading to Selfishness Boulevard. Maybe it is time we make a U-turn and get back on the simple Road of Community which leads to the Court of Family. Sometimes we wonder why some our teens grow hating everything we do,especially our favorite hobbies, but the problem is that they often see these activities as a competition for their parents’ attention. One solution is to involve our children in the things we do, but when we do that, we also need to be careful that we are not forcing it on them if they don't like it.
As a father of six, I must say that hindsight is always 20/20, and that my wife and I have learned many hard breaking lessons by making mistakes along these lines, mostly with our first children. We can only pray that these observations of ours may help today's parents to find some ways to fulfill their need for personal time without neglecting their children.
Cats in a cradle
My wife and I just spent a few days with friends in Los Angeles. Because we live in a small town of about 2500 people, the culture shock never escapes me when I arrive in a city this size. The skyline reveals skyscrapers which always makes me uncomfortable knowing that the city is build on a fault line. When I visited the Lancaster fire station, my friend, Capt. Scott Polgar showed me the fault line following a freeway through the city.
Many cities built on the Ring of Fire, like Los Angeles, are reviewing their building code. The stiffer the building is, the more it has a chance to collapse. So instead of reinforcing it with steel and concrete, they are learning to build the foundation with material and architecture that allows it space and movement to absorb the seismic tremor.
This principle reminded me of one of the many Aesop’s fables I had to memorize while in grade school in France. It is called, 'The Oak and the Reed’. In the parable, a mighty and strong oak boasts of its might and strength. Tall, straight, and strong as he is, he condescends the Reed' who has to bow his head yielding to every whim of the wind. Eventually, a strong wind comes and uproots the mighty oak while the reed survives the storm through his ability to 'bend’.
Isn't it true also in life? Whether in marriage, parenthood, business, or in leadership of any kind, we are less likely to suffer the humiliation of the oak if we are able to allow ourselves to gently 'bend’ with the 'wind’ around us. Compromise is not a bad word. It is simply the ability to work with others while including them in our thought pattern and modus operandi. This usually makes for stronger more unified teams. I don't know who said, 'How the mighty have fallen…!’, but it is King Solomon who said, 'Pride goes before a destruction.’ Prov 16:18
And one version for the kids...
VISIT AT THE LANCASTER CA FIRE STATION
This morning I went to visit my friend Capt. Scott Polgar at the Lancaster fire station. He showed me around the station and I had the opportunity to go on 3 calls with the crew.
Though Lancaster is a city of about 200.000 people, the stations there are the busiest in the whole Los Angeles area. They say it is because of the poverty and homelessness in the area.
They use wood ladders which they feel more sturdy and are lighter. I have not had a chance to taste the cooking skills of the crew, but they do have a warning sign in their kitchen...
If you appreciate these articles, support their upcoming publication in a book called, "REFLECTIONS OF A FIRE CHAPLAIN"