Thursday, May 30, 2013


"The end of a thing is better than its beginning;..." (from Ecclesiastes 7:8 New King James Version)

I missed the final episode of the NBC sit-com "The Office" a few weeks ago, but was intrigued by the number of comments posted on Facebook about how much fans enjoyed and were moved by this final episode. It seems to me that after nine years or so, "everybody" has watched "The Office" and is familiar with it, but I know that's really not true. I'd say that when it comes to "The Office" there are three types of people: 1. Those who absolutely love the show. 2. Those who can "take or leave" the show and don't get it. 3. Those who have never seen it.

The original television show known as "The Office" was on British television and ran for only a year or two. (Sit-coms don't usually run for much more than a year or two on British television.) The British show was run on American PBS stations for a few years and I've seen a number of episodes of the original British program. I think it was my son Jon who first introduced me to "The Office" in its first year on NBC. For those who are unfamiliar with it, "The Office" is what's known as a "mock-u-mentary", that is, a fake documentary. The viewer sees what appears to be just a film of real life situations. Interspersed among the "real life situations" are short interviews of the people commenting on what's just happened in the previous scene, their opinions about it, etc. I know. If you've never watched a "mock-u-mentary" this sounds really stupid and you can understand why some people don't get it! "The Office" struggled in the ratings for its first year and could easily have been cancelled. I'm glad the network gave it a chance, because it slowly built ratings and after three years or so was a big hit. Currently, there are reruns of "The Office" frequently popping up on independent and cable channels. I have the feeling it will be around in reruns for at least another decade.

I liked "The Office" right from the beginning. The characters have exaggerated traits for comedic purposes, but each of them is like someone we've known in real life. "Michael Scott" (the office manager) was played by Steve Carrell. That character really "made" the show. Then there was "Pam" originally the receptionist who later became a salesperson, and an accomplished artist outside of her job at "Dunder-Mifflin paper company". The big plot of the first year was her "friendship" with "Jim Halpert" a young Dunder-Mifflin salesman with a warm and friendly personality who was also quite the prankster. That year, Pam was engaged to "Roy" a big oaf who worked in the warehouse and had nothing in common with Pam. Jim was secretly in love with Pam and devastated that she was marrying Roy. I will never forget the final episode of that season which I watched in a hotel room on the Ohio/Pennsylvania line on my way back to Massachusetts from Missouri. Jim takes Pam aside and tells her he is in love with her. Initially, this goes over like a lead balloon. I felt so bad for Jim, as I suspect all viewers did. That Fall, however, fans were delighted to learn that Pam called the wedding off. It took time, but Jim and Pam began dating, and ultimately married. One of my favorite episodes was their wedding at Niagara Falls, NY which included a ride on a "Maid of the Midst" boat. (That happens to be one of my favorite places, and I've been on one of those boat rides.) Back to the characters, there's "Dwight" who comes from an Amish family background. He's one of the most paranoid, nerdy, and intense people you'd ever want to meet and the victim of many of Jim's pranks. There's "Angela" who is very self-righteous, critical, and unfriendly. Early on in the show, she lets it be known that her two favorite books are The Bible and Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life". Yes, I think she's supposed to be an evangelical Christian. Sadly, Angela sometimes engages in premarital sex and can have a foul mouth. I suppose it might have been a motive of the writers to use the "Angela" character to slam evangelical Christians, but the character "Angela" can also be used to instruct evangelical Christians in how not to behave! As a committed evangelical Christian, it really saddens me that there are plenty of "Angelas" out there who do a great disservice to the Kingdom of God. In their wake are scores of people saying, "If that's what a Christian is, then I want nothing to do with it!" Sadly, that character is nothing like a born-again Christian is supposed to be, and I hope no Christian would ever want to be like "Angela". Still another character is "Kevin" a bookkeeper who seems kind of dumb and mediocre in so many ways, yet in his own way is likable. There are many other characters; I just don't have room to write about them all!

Another of my favorite episodes is when Michael and Scott are on their way to visit a client and Michael is dutifully obeying his GPS. The voice from the GPS instructs Michael to "turn right". Dwight yells and protests, but Michael insists on obeying the GPS no matter what, and drives right into a pond!

This brings me to write something about the character Michael Scott that I have never shared with anyone until now: I saw a lot of myself in that character. I was hesitant to write that, because in the show Michael Scott is in some respects a racist and a sexist, and at times is an absolutely clueless fool. I want to make it clear that I am not a racist or a sexist, and I sure hope I am never a clueless fool! What I did identify with in Michael Scott is that he is a guy who absolutely "thinks outside the box". He's not a good office manager or administrator. One wonders what he's doing in that roll. Yet, serious fans of the show know Michael got that job because he was and is an outstanding salesman. And, much to the amazement of the Dunder-Mifflin higher-ups in New York City, Scranton (Michael's branch) is usually the top performing branch in the country! Michael tells them it's because he makes the office a fun place and has a family relationship with the workers. Yes, he's a terrible administrator, but there's something about that personality of his, because for whatever reason, that office produces! There's one episode of the show where Micheal is taking to Erin, a new employee at the time. He encourages her and tells her he has "a good feeling" about her and her future prospects. It's in that episode where we learn how Kevin the bumbling bookkeeper ever got his job. "Kevin originally applied for a job in the warehouse," Michael tells Erin, "but I had a feeling about him and I made him a bookkeeper- and I have a feeling about you, too". After Pam takes some art classes and gets to be pretty good she is featured in a show at an art gallery. Pam eagerly invites her coworkers to come to her art show. They all give her lip service, but at the show, Pam is very disappointed that nobody from work has come to her art show. At the very end, Pam is almost in tears, and who shows up? Michael Scott! He warmly compliments Pam's artwork. She gives him a big hug and cries. Yes, Michael is a friend and an encourager and a good salesman, and also loves to get up in front of people and perform. Michael believes he is a great businessman and administrator, though he isn't. At one point, he is told he is being "considered" for a big promotion in the company. He really isn't. It's just a bone that the big-shots from New York throw at him to make him happy. Much later in a deposition at the corporate headquarters in New York City, Michael boasts that he was seriously considered for that big corporate job (that ultimately someone else got). In that deposition, one of the big-shots is asked point blank if Michael Scott was really a serious candidate for that big job. "David Wallace" the corporate guy fumbles around, hangs his head, and says, "Michael is a nice guy, but no, he was never a serious candidate." You can see the hurt and surprise in Michael Scott's face. Later in that episode, Michael goes up to David Wallace, a bit nervously, and tells him how much he appreciates that David called him "a nice guy" and says "I think you're a nice guy, too!". That episode means a lot to me, because it frankly reminds me a lot of some real life disappointments that have happened in my life- and Michael's "nice guy" statement to David Wallace is very much like something I would have done.

I missed the final episode of "The Office" but I was delighted to "accidentally" stumble upon it being re-run this past Tuesday night. In the final (one hour) episode, Dwight marries Angela; and "The Office" is running on PBS- all of them have suddenly become little celebrities. I was both happy and misty-eyed watching that final episode. I haven't quite felt that way watching a television show finale since the final episode of "Northern Exposure" in the summer of 1995. Maybe this piece bored you and meant little, but watching on Tuesday night was very special for me and something I felt I had to share with you!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


"While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house:
And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee." (Job 1:18-19)

There are very few references to tornadoes in the Bible. This, I believe, is one of them. Here we are told that while Job's young adult children were partying at the oldest brother's home, a "great wind from the wilderness" came, the house fell down, and all Job's offspring were killed.

I ask that no one take my title, "Tornadoes For Dummys" too literally! It's meant to be "tongue in cheek". In this piece, I intend to share some basic information about tornadoes (and the so-called "tornado alley" region of the U.S.A.) that most New Englanders and others from the northeastern U.S. are unaware of. I would imagine that friends and family of mine who live in the midwest and deep south (that includes my daughter and son-in-law who live in southwestern Missouri!) will get a good laugh from reading this piece and will be stunned to read that most natives of New England and the northeast know so little about tornadoes. The flip side of that scenario is that folks from the northeast get a big laugh every winter when they realize that most people from "tornado alley" don't know how to drive in snow, and most communities in that part of the country do a very poor job of plowing and snow removal!

The devastation of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado is mind-boggling. My heart goes out to that community. It should also be mentioned that shortly before the Moore tornado, there was a devastating tornado in Shawnee, Oklahoma which has gotten very little coverage. I've heard New Englanders make comments in the wake of the Oklahoma tornadoes such as, "Why would anybody be foolish enough to live there?"...or..."Why would anyone living in Oklahoma be dumb enough to not have a basement?!" (Well, in New England, they don't say "basement" they say "cellar"!)...or..."Why would they be stupid enough to build a new home right there which can be leveled by a tornado all over again?" In my opinion, the most annoying comment by New Englanders about the whole "tornado alley" thing is, "I'm so glad I live in the northeast were we don't have tornadoes!"

I think I will deal with that last comment first. In fact, the northeastern United States does have tornadoes! Every one of the forty-eight contiguous states has had tornadoes at one time or other. It is true they are most common in the midwest, especially Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Arkansas. But tornadoes have happened in the northeast, even within the past decade. I believe there were two pretty good sized tornadoes that hit Brooklyn, New York (of all places!) over the past ten years and did a substantial amount of damage! Can we forget that several tornadoes ravaged western and central Massachusetts on June 1, 2011? That event involved fatalities. Many homes in the small town of Monson, MA (pronounced "MUN-sen") were leveled. A (confirmed) very small tornado damaged a Ford dealership in Stoughton, Massachusetts (just south of Boston) earlier this month. Great Barrington, in the southwestern corner of Massachusetts had a pretty bad tornado strike in 1995. It's before my time, but on June 9, 1953, several tornadoes struck Worcester County, Massachusetts. There were ninety-four fatalities that day. My friends in Framingham may not realize that one of these tornadoes did substantial damage in Southborough which borders Framingham. We are not exempt from tornadoes in the northeast!

One big mistake that New Englanders make is they think a tornado is a tornado is a tornado. Not true! Some tornadoes are very small and do minimal damage. There's that whole Fujita Scale (now the Enhanced Fujita Scale) which rates Tornadoes from EF-1 through EF-5. An EF-5 tornado is much, much bigger than an EF-1 tornado and much, much more powerful. Perhaps one out of a thousand tornadoes is an EF-5 tornado. They are very rare. Sadly, that tornado in Moore, Oklahoma was an EF-5 tornado. An EF-5 tornado can be well over a mile wide. It can have winds of well over 200 M.P.H. The size and force is incredible. Such a tornado will pretty much level and devastate a community- leaving it demolished and unrecognizable. Such was the case in Moore, OK. It's likely that the tornado which hit the Ford dealership in Stoughton, MA was actually an EF-Zero- probably not even quite an EF-1. Such a tornado is small...maybe the size of an average house and barely has the corkscrew shape and rotation of a tornado. Even so, you would not want your house to be hit by even an EF-Zero tornado. It could tear all or part of a roof off. It could blow out a window or two. It could tear off some vinyl siding. It's a nuisance no one needs. But it's far from what hit in Oklahoma this week.

I went to Bible College in Springfield, Missouri for two years. During that time, I lived through only one tornado warning. It was in the spring of 1979. At around 11 a.m. it became very dark, almost as dark as night. The tornado sirens went off. I was with a bunch of other students in the lower floor of "Bowie" the oldest building on campus. We were there listening to the radio for a half hour or so. There was heavy rain and a bad thunder storm. Funnel clouds passed over the city of Springfield that day. I believe in a few small towns there were tornadoes, but in Springfield, we were spared. My daughter Amy went to college for four years in Springfield, Missouri and has now lived there for six years after her graduation. In school, she experienced a lot more tornado warnings than I did and Springfield has many more "dicey" weather situations than when I was a student there. I was visiting Springfield, Missouri in May of 2009 when the tornado sirens went off. I turned on the television set and learned that a tornado had touched down in the adjacent town of Republic and was heading for the southern part of the city of Springfield. It got very windy outside, and the neighborhood sustained substantial tree damage. I was by myself in the bathtub and pretty nervous. My daughter was working as a nurse at Cox South Medical Center where a tornado passed right through their parking lot that morning. It was a very small tornado...probably an EF-Zero or EF-1. That day at a high school just outside Springfield, Missouri, a wall fell down and their brand new weight room was destroyed. Several houses in Missouri were leveled that morning and there were a few fatalities.

This gets back to the whole thing of "Why live there?!" Let me tell you something, my good friend the Rev. Debby Seler has written on-line in the past few days of the wonderful faith-filled people of Oklahoma and what an example they are for us. (Note: Debby and her husband Denny are former residents of Springfield, Missouri.) I agree with Debby about those people. Listen, you'll never meet finer people than you'll meet in the midwest, and especially in the southern part of the midwest. They're old-fashioned "religious" hard-working conservative patriotic people. They're the kind of people who will "give you the shirt off their back". One of my favorite movies is Robert Duvall's "The Apostle". In the commentary track on the D.V.D., Duvall states how much he loves the people and culture in that area and that it really bothers him the way people from either coast call their home area "flyover territory" and look down on the people from there. I used to like to watch "Friday Night Lights" just because of that whole lower midwest "feel" and culture. My daughter Amy has come to love that culture and life and frankly, I do, too! Honestly, the only thing I don't like about that area is there's no ocean! If I were to move there, I'd try to come to New England for just a few days each summer to "hit" Cape Cod, put my feet in the water, and enjoy the coastal atmosphere. It may surprise some of my friends that I would move to "tornado alley" in a heartbeat. No kidding.

Now, back to the "For Dummys" thing, there's something else some northeasterners do not understand. There is a huge difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch just means conditions are favorable to produce tornadoes. In the event of a tornado watch, there may be tornadoes and there may not be tornadoes. If a tornado watch is issued, say, for Middlesex County, MA, you'll hear things like, "Get in the cellah, theah's gonna be a tornado!!" Well, you really don't have to get into the cellar (or basement) until there is a tornado warning. And, regarding the thing about folks in "tornado alley" having no basements/cellars: well, some do but most don't. It has a lot to do with the water table. In most of "tornado alley" it's just not practical or workable to have basements. They'd be flooded constantly and I mean constantly. Now, I will say, when I stay at my daughters in Missouri I'm always intrigued by television commercials from a company called "Missouri Storm Shelters". They sell metal storm shelters in which you can ride out any tornado situation confidently. Most people don't own them because they're quite expensive, but I think if I ever do live in "tornado alley" I'd want to have one of those storm shelters!

Sunday, May 19, 2013


"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (John 12:32)

This morning as I drove along Route 2 Westbound somewhere in the Concord, MA area, I was suddenly struck by a very strange sight. On the roof of an SUV driving along the road somewhat ahead of me was was appeared to be a "good sized" crucifix! It was like looking at a crucifix from a rear view. There was the familiar "t" shape. There was also what looked like a human figure: a thin human figure with arms and legs (especially legs) slightly bent. There was what looked to be a white cloth around the mid-section.

"That can't be a crucifix, can it?" I quickly thought.

Many of you know that I was raised in a Roman Catholic home. My mother was a particularly religious Roman Catholic. There were crucifixes and other religious objects all over the place! After I became a "born-again Christian" in my teens, I learned that most Protestants don't particularly like crucifixes. Protestants will often use the cross symbol, but usually it's a plain wooden cross. Most Protestants take very seriously the commandment about not "making a graven image" depicting God. Now, Catholics don't even acknowledge that commandment! (Instead, they have two commandments against coveting!) I was surprised to learn from my friendship with Rich Hurst, a Lutheran minister, that Martin Luther never got rid of the devotion to the crucifix, and that the crucifix is just as important to Lutherans as it is to Catholics. At Bread of Life Church where I'm now a Member, we've been doing a very cerebral Adult Sunday School class studying J.I. Packer's classic book, "Knowing God". Early in that study is a chapter absolutely condemning not only crucifixes, but all statues of Jesus and even any pictures of Jesus! Most evangelical Christians get all freaked out about statues and crucifixes but will give paintings and drawings of Jesus kind of a "pass"!

The "crucifix" on the roof of the SUV was indeed a very strange sight. I strained to look at it and see if this really was a crucifix or if it was something else that looked like a crucifix. Upon careful optical examination, it turned out to be the latter! In fact, what I "saw" as a crucifix was some sort of a bicycle affixed to a rack on the roof of the SUV! There was something about the handle bars, wires holding the bike, and the whole configuration that absolutely gave the optical illusion of it being a crucifix! As I looked at it further, at times it looked like a crucifix and at times it looked like a bike! Inwardly, I chuckled! Surely the driver of the SUV had no idea what the bike affixed to the roof looked like!

I know this will make me sound terribly old fashioned, but I literally have never taken a picture with my cell phone, much less a video. NEVER! I don't have a "smart phone". Mine is a "dumb phone"! It's about seven years old. It does have the capability to take pictures but I never use it for that reason. Yes, I am very old-fashioned. I believe a telephone is a telephone and a camera is a camera and that "never the twain should meet"! It would have been interesting, however, if I'd have taken a picture of that "crucifix" and posted it on-line. Would it have "gone viral" on the internet? Would it have had the same kind of reaction as the grilled cheese sandwich which "contained an image of Jesus" a few years ago, or the "image of Jesus in the window's condensation" at the Milton Hospital in Milton, MA a few years back? I take seriously all that "graven image" stuff and I'm not a big fan of crucifixes, but could God have allowed drivers to see a bike on the roof of an SUV as something looking like Jesus on the cross to "speak" to some of them about this? Could it have been one way of God's speaking to me this morning; to say that in the midst of the mundane and routine (driving on good old Route 2 on a Sunday morning) He is still there overseeing everything and in control? Or was the whole thing just a bike tied to a roof and that's it?

Well, that was my unusual sight on the road this morning! What was yours?!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

PEOPLE LIKE CHARLIE (from the blog's achives)

This piece was originally posted on the blog on Monday, June 22, 2009, just a few weeks after I returned from a month's rest, including what was supposed to be a private and personal retreat at a remote spiritual retreat center in the Missouri Ozarks. Hope you enjoy reading "People Like Charlie"!

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Most of you know I had a “sabbatical month” off from mid-April through mid-May. That was a very special time for me. It was a time to disconnect (as much as I could) from “regular” life in Massachusetts and to “connect” with God in a powerful way. Much of what happened during the sabbatical month is very personal- too personal to write about. I know that to some people I may seem to be the same person I've always been, but if you could truly see inside my “heart”...inside my soul and spirit, you’d see that a lot of things changed as a result of the month in Missouri.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the secluded retreat facility where I spent several days in late April and early May. That was a wonderful place and a wonderful time. I can honestly say that I “got in touch with God” at that place. But I can also say that God allowed a big “challenge” to “stretch me”. I had prearranged to be “on retreat” from a Tuesday morning through a Friday midday. I arrived around 11 on the Tuesday morning. A home made sign announced, “Welcome Charlie! (not his real name) Welcome Bob! May you have great retreats!”

Shortly after I pulled into the retreat center, the “hermit priest” who runs it met with me and gave me a brief tour. “Father Paul” is quite a guy. He’s an ex-Methodist minister, a handyman, a writer, and a self described “extrovert”. I stayed on the bottom level of a house near the lake, and the guy I’m calling “Charlie” stayed on the top level. As Father Paul was showing me around, Charlie came out on the deck. “Hi, Charlie!” I smiled and waved to him.

Nothing. No response. Only a cold look. Charlie was thin, and around 45-years-old. I immediately felt somewhat apprehensive and wondered what kind of guy I was sharing the house with. After Father Paul left me and I got settled in, I read the rules of the house. It was made clear that no smoking was allowed. It was also made clear that retreatants were to leave one another alone to enjoy their time with God. I had been there about two hours when, to my surprise, Charlie came downstairs and introduced himself. He was somewhat socially awkward. He was insistent that I come up and see “his” part of the house. I did. It was pretty much identical to mine, except that I had a washer and a dryer and he did not.

“I will leave you alone,” announced Charlie, “you won’t even know I’m here!”

That night, I had a nightmare! In the dream, Charlie had brought a bunch of undesirable people into the house who were rude to me and tried to steal my things. In the dream, I was angry, and I wandered around trying to find Father Paul. I finally found him, and complained. Then I woke up feeling quite agitated.

Just minutes after waking I HEARD CHARLIE’S VOICE BEHIND ME!

“Here’s a couple biscuits.” he said in a monotone.

I turned around and he was gone. On a saucer were 2 Pillsbury type dinner biscuits he had baked. On the one hand, it seemed kind of bizarre. On the other hand, I tried to tell myself he was just trying to be friendly and helpful. I ate the biscuits along with a bowl of cereal.

That afternoon, I walked down by the lake. There was Charlie fishing. He began talking incessantly about fishing, and also began doing bird calls. After awhile, he went back up to the house. I waited and came up a half hour later. Once again, Charlie came down into my part of the house. He brought a number of brochures about other retreat facilities and insisted on going over them with me. He also insisted on giving me a State of Missouri manual about fishing and a State of Missouri manual about hunting and trapping.

The next morning, I was sitting at a table journaling. At that table were some art supplies with a sign urging guests to help themselves to the art supplies. Obviously some previous retreatants had. There were several nice watercolor paintings displayed on the wall. As I journaled, I had no idea Charlie was standing behind me.

“Them’s real nice pictures!” he announced.

I gasped!

“Charlie, don’t be sneaking up behind me like that!” I said half kidding, but half serious!

He began to tell me that he’s an artist and brought his sketch pad with him. After talking to me for about twenty minutes, Charlie went back upstairs. I began to chuckle about his statement on the day I arrived, “You won’t even know I’m here!” Yeah, RIGHT!

That night, shortly after I finished my supper, Charlie came downstairs again. This time he was in his PAJAMAS! He had brought down his sketch pad.

“I wanted to show you the pictures I done” he announced.

To my shock, the sketch pad was one which had been designed for a young child! There was a cartoon drawing of a pirate and a pirate ship on the cover. When I opened the pictures, the entire sketch pad was like that. It was essentially a child’s coloring book. There were “fill in the dots” exercises, such as, “connect the dots to see what the pirate found”. Charlie had done the “connect the dots” exercises, and had colored each picture. He had also put children’s stickers on each page. He was as proud of that sketch pad as if it was on the level of a famous artist’s paintings.

I was honestly scared. “This guy’s crazy!” is what I thought.

I was nervously pleasant.

“I’d like to visit for awhile.” he announced.

“O.K.” I said, pensively.

We went into the living room. There were two sofas. I sat on one, expecting him to sit on the other. Instead, he sat right next to me as though we were on a date! I began to try to make conversation, while inwardly I was praying, “Lord, what do I do?!”

Suddenly, Charlie got up, went to the other sofa, lay down, and fell asleep!

I went in to the kitchen and cleaned up my dishes. I came back in and woke up Charlie. I nicely told him, “You’ll have to go back upstairs now”. He did, but I knew this was not the last I’d be seeing him.

He had asked me if he could wash his clothes in my apartment the next morning, and I told him he could. I locked and secured the two doors to my bedroom that night! I awoke at 5:10 a.m. to hear a BANGING sound. It was the washer and dryer! Charlie was in the next room doing his laundry!

I got up at 6 and he was back upstairs. The place reeked of smoke. It was obvious he’d been smoking at “my” kitchen table. He came back downstairs and announced he was about to leave. I asked him what time he’d come down to do laundry. No kidding, it was 2 a.m. when he came down!

Charlie went out to his car and started it. He sat “revving” the engine for 20 minutes! My face was pressed against the window, waiting for him to leave. After what seemed like forever, he did!

Boy, what peace I felt.

Mind you, I DID have a great retreat during the times Charlie was not bothering me. But I realized Charlie was part of the retreat. The people God sends to us for ministry are not always the people we’d choose. Relating to them is not always easy! They may be NOTHING like us! They may make us uncomfortable! They may even scare us! But God can show us how to minister to them, if we’ll allow Him to lead and direct us.

Yes, sometimes God sends us people like Charlie and there’s a reason for it!

Thursday, May 9, 2013


"A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." (Proverbs 15:1)

It is with genuine mixed emotions that I post this story. Back in 2006 when this blog was in its infancy, (in those days, it was still part of AOL Journals) I wrote a post about a bad experience I had with an airline. I named the airline, and shared my whole frustrating story complete with anger, pettiness, and vindictiveness. From some highly committed Christians, that brought great criticism and disapproval. I was told that what I had written was very immature and very much unbecoming a Minister of the Gospel. Following that incident, I've taken a deep breath each time I share some very personal things, including issues with businesses which may not have been so pleasant. In a sense, I think this story could be "taken the wrong way" but in another sense, there really is a positive message to this story. For the latter reason, I have decided to post it.

Every person who knows me well knows that I do not like to go to doctor appointments, or undergo medical procedures, or take prescription medicine. That has been especially true of me over the past twenty years. (It's a long story why I became so averse to doctors, medical procedures, etc.) Now, I did pretty regularly go to have my eyes examined by an optometrist because I had to have prescription eyeglasses to see properly. And, I did pretty regularly go to the dentist, because they could get my teeth a hundred times cleaner than I ever could, and because I had occasional cavities that had to be filled. Otherwise, I went for many years without a physical examination or a basic doctor visit. That all changed a few years ago when a denominational official insisted I see my P.C.P. for a complete physical. Even so, doctor's office trips for me were pretty infrequent. Well, in 2013, I have had more doctor and medical trips and procedures than in the previous twenty-five years combined! I have to tell you, I don't like it. I never wanted to be one of these older people who is always talking about his ailments. I hate to say this, but talk to almost anyone over age seventy, and many people over age fifty-five, and they'll give you an earful about their medical issues. I never wanted to be like that! Well, now I'm like that, and to use an expression from my friend G.S. it is "not something I ever would have signed up for"!

Most of you know my political position is pretty much on the "right" and that I have never been an advocate of government or universal healthcare or socialized medicine. I still have major concerns and reservations about government health care, but as much as I also hate to admit this, some of my personal experiences could just push me in the other direction! I understand, from a Biblical point of view, that all of the challenges I am facing in my life right now, medically and otherwise, can and will be used by God for my spiritual growth and benefit. It does, however, get overwhelming at times! Right now, I am having cataracts surgically treated. I also still have a regular optometrist in addition to the eye specialist practice. I also have had a recent G.I. crisis which started with massive rectal bleeding and a hospitalization. This has led to me being diagnosed with a chronic G.I. illness, for which I am now being pharmaceutically treated. I also have regular appointments with my P.C.P. who put me on blood pressure medicine this year. I have had a major dental problem develop, which is being treating by a dental specialist as well as by my regular dentist. Trying to keep all the appointments, procedures, prescriptions, etc. "straight" on my calendar and in my life is frankly getting overwhelming! I thank God my wife has good health insurance, for otherwise I would have no health insurance on my own. Were it not for her health insurance, I frankly do not know what I would do! Even so, just the matter of what is not covered by insurance gets overwhelming. I don't want to name the practice or the issue, but for one of the practices I have named, I was required to have a particular appointment about a very specialized issue. I did not know that appointment would not be covered by insurance at all.

It was a surprise to me that I received a pretty large bill for that particular appointment. At the time, I commented to a friend that I was surprised it was not covered by insurance. That person encouraged me to wait on paying it and thought that maybe that was the figure before it was submitted to the insurance company. But that was not the case. I got "repeat" bills on it several times. With having all I could do to put gas in the car, pay car insurance, and just get through week to week, that bill had to be left on my "back burner".

Now, not long ago, I went for an appointment at that particular office. I had been told that this appointment did not require a co-payment, so I did not have my checkbook with me. I was not expecting what would take place when I "checked in" with the medical secretary. In a very public fashion, she verbally brought up and spoke of the exact figure I owed the practice from that appointment which was not covered by insurance and what I intended to do about it that day. This was right in front of patients in the office. I was, as you might guess, quite flustered and embarrassed. I made a few brief comments which, to use on of my famous expressions, "did not go over". Awkwardly, I reached into my wallet. There was about $24 in cash there. I laid a $20 on the desk. Even that really did not "go over" but she printed out a receipt and allowed me to continue on with that appointment. Later that day, I wrote a letter to the practice. (Their main office is in another location.) I sent another check in. Over the next week I sent in several small checks. I explained that I was shocked the appointment was not covered by insurance and that I would have it paid in small installments before July 1.

I wish I could remember the guy's name and the book he wrote...I can't, but a few weeks ago, I heard a successful attorney interviewed on a radio program. His specialty is helping people deal with crisis situations; especially situations in which they may have deliberately or inadvertantly done something wrong and are now being confronted with the offense. He said that while 99% of lawyers tell their clients to say nothing; to just do the "no comment" thing; he does not recommend that. He believes they should speak up right away and tell the truth. He believes they should tell exactly what happened, what they did, and where things stand. He also believes that in the long run, things will go much better for someone when they're an open book, even though almost every lawyer disagrees with that methodology. Well, a couple of days ago, I answered an unexpected call from that medical practice I am citing. It was a woman who is (I guess) in charge on the financial/credit end. She was businesslike, but she was also very confrontational. I began to try to answer her questions. Again, nothing was "going over". She had not received my letter explaining what happened and at that point had only received one payment by mail although I had sent several. She told me flatly that the way things work with them and with their collection agency is that I could absolutely not continue just making small payments on my own. She told me that was just not possible. I would have to agree to a formal monthly payment arrangement; and I could tell that even that was not desirable or impressive to her.

What did I do? I did what almost no one would do. I just told her the truth. Now, I can be a very emotional, sensational, and even sometimes hysterical person. But, by the grace of God, I was not at all hysterical or out of control. I could not believe how calm and how professional I was. I calmly stated that I believed the appointment would have been covered by insurance. I told her exactly what I made for gross income last year. Trust me, it's a very low figure. I told her how embarrassing this all is for me and that I am dealing with a high amount of personal stress on a daily basis. Again, there was no hysteria and I was calm and pleasant.

"Well, what should I do?" she asked.

The amazing thing is, she did not ask that sarcastically or rudely. She was sincere.

"Do you want me to just let you continue to send your small payments and have it paid off by July 1? What do you think I should do?"

Now, mind you, not five minutes earlier she had told me it was not possible at all for me to do that! I think that as she got to thinking about it she realized that having the bill paid in full by July 1 would make a whole lot more sense than putting me on some payment plan with interest accruing and having it paid in a year. I suspect this may have been the first time she'd ever "thought outside the box" in speaking to a delinquent client. But I also think my total truthfulness was obvious to her, and totally unexpected by her.

So, in that case, the "impossible" became possible.

You know, I'm a very idealistic person, and in my life I've suffered countless disappointments. There are many times I wish I were not the person I am. But I don't know if it was because I heard that lawyer's advice on the radio, or because I was just drawing on the Biblical message that "the truth will set you free" (found mainly in John's Gospel), that I was able to handle that phone call the way I did. Our society teaches us to put on masks and never tell what is really going on and/or who we really are. Sadly, many, many Christians give the same message. I still face enormous challenges, and it's going to take probably about forty-five miracles to get me through the rest of this year, but I am heartened because I got one of 'em just this week!