Sunday, December 20, 2020

Surrounded by His Favor- a Reprise

March 27, 2020

 Last night was not a good night. The statistics for coronavirus infections stood at 86,000 infected in America, the most for any country. Only 713 recovered and 1300 died. My nephew called and shared a long time about the hardships for the supply chain for the respiratory devices that he sells. He’s not allowed in hospitals to teach people how to use the machines and the manufactures can’t keep up. Although it is good business for the manufacturers, as I have always contended, “The people that need the respiratory devices I design are to be pitied.” The numbers that are to be pitied are increasing exponentially. 

Now, this morning I woke to find that number includes one resident at Landis homes where Karen’s day resides. Her dad called in tears after finding out this news. Of course, they have no masks for the residents and workers. On top of that is the growing antagonism between the USA and China and the high-level finger-pointing for who is to blame for this epidemic. Finger-pointing between such well-armed adversaries is always disquieting. And the animosity appears to be extending downward, even to my friends who seem to be becoming circumspect in the way they talk with me. I tried to end bouts of sleeplessness during the night by repeating the prayer, “God, how are you showing us your favor in this mess?”

It hadn’t worked too well. The report of my youngest daughter's child having coughing fits through the night had not helped. She was understandably worried that he had contracted the virus. And my wife’s brother-in-law was in the hospital for some major bowel surgery. The virus made it impossible to have any visitors in the hospital with him. His kids were showing their love to him by standing, holding hands in a heart-shaped circle in the street, five floors below. 

And then there was the matter of my access to Social Security. I had spent hours the day before trying to penetrate the password wilderness that guarded the entry into my locked-down Social Security number. Two clever, and extremely devious, Indian hackers had gotten into my computer back on Halloween night of 2019 and had riffled through my personal documents, leaving a note at the end on a blazing screen, “Got it you M-F’er! You’ve been hacked!” This along with a screenshot of the pertinent SSN information that they were carrying away to be sold on the dark web unless I intervened in their plot and sent them a cool $500,000. I retained that screenshot as a testament to a very bad night and as evidence for the local police department. But my non-payment of the requested sum continued to bother the perpetrators who would call back on numerous occasions to remind me of their continued presence in my world. The only comfort back then on that Halloween night when I had prayed, “How are you surrounding me with your favor in this mess?” was for God to assure me that the favor was to give me two Indian hackers to pray for! Small comfort! But I was ready to take any assurances at that point. 

But now, with my job shut down by the virus and both Karen and I self-isolating in our house, the world was seeming rather chaotic. I did have small comfort in knowing that my most productive activity was to make my wife as happy and comfortable as possible in her home office. To that end, I had gone to Staples to buy a cable to connect between her laptop and an extra flat panel display. Going from a huge, Apple monitor at her workplace to the confines of a small MacBook Air screen at home was a real frustration. The service person at Staples seemed a little put-off by the mask I had chosen to wear into the store. I had been mandated to wear it by my wife who was starting to point out my hypocrisy of so loudly advocating wearing masks in public and then being too timid to do it myself. Between the perpetual fogging of my glasses and the uncomfortableness of talking to another person through a mask, I was able to buy what I thought was needed to solve my wife’s display problems. Except that it hadn’t worked! I plugged the mDP cable into the computer, connected the HDMI cable from the monitor, and nothing! NO SIGNAL PRESENT. Another downer! But a quick call to Staples' IT guy allowed me to solve the problem with eloquence! Turn the computer and monitor on, unplug the cable from the computer and re-plug it, and -- success! Even Karen saw it as a grand advancement after a bit of grumbling about, “Never did it like this before!” 

So, I awoke in the morning from a sleepless night with only the working monitor to my credit. That joy was completely counterbalanced by all the negativity that I couldn’t avoid hearing on the news. But I did have one task to complete for that day. I wanted to put a coat of paint on the Welcome Center cabinets that I was building for the church. I realized that I could paint and be on hold on the phone at the same time due to the marvel of the hearing aids I allow Blue Tooth connectivity between my phone and my ears. I called the Social Security office and was understandably put on hold “for the next available operator.” Call times were unusually long, I was assured, due to the coronavirus. I could reasonably expect to speak to someone live -- not just hear the elevator music and the periodic sincere apologies for “people who were working hard to service 60 million people” -- some time an hour-and-a-half hence. But it was in the actual 2 hours and 19 minutes that the full surrounding of God’s favor appeared. First, I got into a WeChat with a girl, in Shandong province of China who had lost her job the week before Spring Festival. She had gone back to her hometown and had been isolated there ever since. Arriving there with a very bad, almost suicidal attitude, she had really been touched by God in that time and had made a remarkable rebound spiritually. She had just turned 30, which in China means that you are not very likely to ever get married. This milestone had almost drugged her into the grave. But now, sitting in her parents’ home, she had been reborn in her love for God. She was telling me about her dreams of being a Sociologist and studying in America. I told her that she should write down her remarkable story and I could include it in the “SwitchPoints” book I was contemplating writing. 

Then amid the telephone hold time, another friend got hold of me on WeChat. This was a friend who really resonates with me about the stupidity of Americans being so averse to wearing masks in public. This was hardly surprising. She is the one who has been beating the drum about the need for me to protect myself by wearing a mask ever since she was aware that this dread disease was coming to America, which is to say, way back in January. Both her and my Chinese engineer sidekick, Joey, agree that some protection is better than no protection. And they were quick to point out that the proof is in the pudding; China has been able to turn back the tide of this virus that was ravishing their country. Some of that success surely is credited to the quick, widespread adaptation of masks with their ability to knock contaminated water particles out of the respired air. It has been fatal to wait to ramp up the production of protective equipment in the USA until the virus is widespread among us. It felt good to chat with someone that supported my position. 

But then came the real wonder of the long telephone hold. Someone answered! The elevator music stopped and a male voice with a slight Southern accent asked if he could help me! Milton was answering the phone from home quarantine in New Mexico. He had a kind, gentle voice; exactly what you would expect from a government worker during a crisis! I explained to him my anguish of not being able to access my SSN due to the identity fraud that I had encountered on Halloween night. Interestingly, what he had me do was to go through filling out the form again, but this time I was to put in a fictional birthdate. I did this once, then again, and then a third time. Now it gave me the dire warning that I was permanently locked out of the account! Thank God for Milton on the line with me! He told me that is where he needed to get me. Now we could start all over with the correct information this time! Wow! It worked! He successfully got me an account! Then he asked if I wanted to sign up to start receiving benefits. If so, I could go to the local SS office, sit in a long line and talk to a sweaty agent in some booth or he could help me do right now! In my chair – at my desk – guided by his kind, gentle promptings! This was not a hard choice! So, for the next half hour, this kind gentleman from the great state of New Mexico walked me through the process. I felt as if a great burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I gladly gave him straight 5’s on the evaluation survey after the call. The only thing that bugs me is that I didn’t give him was the reference to Psalm 5:12, and tell him that he, for today, had been that shield from God that was surrounding me with his favor. 

And one final small act of favor, on my part this time, was to jump in the car and run to Dairy Queen to buy a small, Heath Bar Blizzard for Karen who said she needed it for her mental health! I even got the girl in the speaker to laugh when I asked her if I needed to stop the car 6 feet from the microphone to maintain proper social distancing when placing my order! 

Why did I find so much of God’s favor today? Perhaps it is because I had repeated the prayer about the Psalm 5:12 promise to God so many times over and over as I sought to find some sleep last night. Maybe my multiple asking’s were rewarded with multiple giving’s. Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi’s God sure seemed alive and well today!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Blue Smoke in my Pocket

June 2, 2020

I had another “surrounded by His favor” moment on this past weekend! I decided to mow the yard. But, when I started the mower it began to blow out blue smoke—big billows of it! It got worse and worse. I was embarrassed to be seen driving it. It had never done that before. I figured that the engine was blown and or that the rings had broken. Now I was going to have to drive to Lancaster and bring home the mower that I had just taken there. And I would need to get the motor on this mower rebuilt for $500 or so. But I stopped at this little lawn mower shop located in a guy’s garage not far from my home. When I explained my problem he said, “Oh, you blew a head gasket. You can fix that yourself! You’re good with mechanics." I was so relieved! He had just saved me a bundle of money.

I decided to ask him what made him an interesting person and that launched him into a 45-minute dialog about his very colorful life! I felt like I had gotten free advice and a good friend! Plus, when I got home, the neighbor boy, Matt, said that he would mow the yard for me the next day! Which he did. When I tried to give him $30 for his efforts, he refused the money. Now Karen says she will make him a batch of chocolate chip cookies instead! (and I will get to eat some!)

So, I decided to take the advice of my book, “Created to Commune” and "not let God's blessings find a dead end in my pocket!" I sent the $30 to a friend whom I knew could use it, or more likely, would find a way to pass it on and keep the blessings moving!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What is That Contraption?

June 10, 2006

Quite a few years ago, I was the Sunday School teacher for an exception bunch of fourth and fifth graders. I have always liked to teach using analogies to develop truths. One Sunday I put the breathing system from the anesthesia machine that I was designing at Draeger Medical into a cardboard box and took it to class. I told them that the night before I had witnessed the most amazing sight! This streak of light, like a meteor approached the house from the east. Something bright and shiny landed in the field across from my house. The machine, whatever it was, settled onto the ground and soon a door opened in the front surface. A ramp pivoted downward onto the grass and two creatures that looked like little, glowing, green men descended the ramp. In their arms they carried this funny shaped object. They carefully placed it on the ground, looked around for a moment and then returned to their machine. The ramp lifted with a slight whirring sound, the craft lifted off the ground, hovered there for a moment, and then with a whoosh, streaked away into the eastern sky from whence it had come.

Shaken, but curious, I slipped into my shoes and eased out of the front door of the house. I cautiously snuck up to the area where the machine had alighted and saw the object that they had deposited still sitting there on the ground. Rather than risk contamination, I left it sitting there and ran back to the house and grabbed a box and some gloves. Returning, I carefully picked up the contraption and placed it into the box. It was not overly heavy, so I was able to carry it back to the garage and keep it there until morning. I was excited to bring it to class with me and see if they could help me figure out what it was!

With their curiosity thoroughly aroused, I undid the top of the box and lifted the odd contraption from its resting place. It was all a tangle of hoses and valves with a large translucent canister attached to its underside. The black of the base contrasted with the shiny silver of the metal parts. A rubber balloon dangled from the longest hose. What could be the purpose of such a device?

The kids started to squeeze the balloon and blow into the hoses. They twisted the knobs and flipped the switches. They turned it over and poked around in the recesses. Suggestions were made that the canister could be filled with water or soda. Perhaps it was a portable fish bowel. Or an alien breath analyzer or a galactic telephone.

Of course, they quickly realized that my story about it being dropped off by some aliens was an elaborate ruse, but what  was it really? I told them that in fact it was a device that allows patients to breath and keeps them alive during surgery. Not only did I know the purpose of the device, but I was friends with the person who had designed it. His name was Jan Sievertsen and he lived in Germany. If they wanted to know anything more about it I could give them his phone number and they could call and talk with him. Better yet, he had written an entire operators manual on the unit so that every doctor would understand its design and the correct way to use it.

By now the light was slowly dawning on them about where this little demonstration was going. They, the young boys and girls marveling at this breathing system, were analogous to that complicated devise with all its dangling hoses and mysterious valving. And it was God, the one who created them, that they could get in contact with via prayer. And the operators manual was the Holy Bible that our loving Creator had so graciously provided us. Mr. Sievertsen would never have designed his breathing system and placed it out there in the hospitals without any way for doctors to understand it and its purposes. Neither would God have created them, such wonderful boys and girls, and left them without an instruction book and a way to contact him as they attempt to find their purposes in life.

But just in case I had made my story too vivid, I told them that there was no need to pressure their parents to stop and let them look for spaceship tracks in the field across from my house! God could be trusted to be there for them everyday, very unlike those fickle aliens!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Path to True Worship

"No Agenda" Moments

Many years ago, I had a Honda Civic, a wife and two daughters who took afternoon naps, and an inspiration. I would use those several hours of sleep-time on Sundays to throw my toolbox into the back of the Honda and spend the time cruising the highway on a lookout for people who were having car problems. This was in the era before cellphones, so anyone with a set of wheels could be a big help to someone stranded along the road. 

As I set out on these afternoon jaunts, I would pull to the end of the driveway and offer a prayer. “God, the next several hours are yours. I have no agenda. Just lead me wherever I’m needed to meet with whoever you wish.”

From there I would head down the road in whatever direction seemed appropriate. I would keep on the lookout for cars stranded along the road: flat tires, blown radiators, and cars out of gas. I found all those and more on these excursions. And always I found thankful spirits from those I was privileged to help.

I clearly remember the one recipient of my aid. I saw a large gouge leading down the road and ending underneath a disabled car on the side of the road. The owner of the car was still behind the wheel, tightly surrounded by all his earthly possessions. He was documenting his predicament in neat, little, scrawled writing on a slip of paper when I knocked on the window. He said something – he wasn’t sure what – had gone, Bang! He had barely been able to get the car off the road.

I peeked under the car. He was right about the bang thing! The whole support structure of this overworked Oldsmobile had broken out from under the transmission! The driveshaft had dropped to the ground and had created that long groove in the pavement.

I walked up the side of the road and found a broken-off piece of a road sign. I dug it out of the underbrush and lugged it back to the Olds. It was just the right length so that I could wedge the one side under the frame and lever the transmission up off the ground. I managed to tuck the other end on top of the opposite frame member. The car was mobile again – barely. The man with the mini-scrawl writing was ecstatic that he could again drive. He thanked me profusely and then asked whether I thought it could pass inspection that way! I thought not!

I don’t know how many people I helped on those occasions. But it doesn’t matter. The one person I know benefited the most from those times was me. I still look back on those “no agenda” moments as times when I really experienced true worship. Those were times that I could truly see God working in the “fragrant muck and misery” of the roadside.

A Lesson in Duplication

On one of my frequent trips to L├╝beck, Germany while working for Draeger Medical, I got to talking with a German physicist I met in the gate area. He lived in Hamburg and worked for Philips Electric. During the conversation, he told me about the fact that Philips held the joint patent on the CD disc technology. That caught my attention and I told him that I had a question.

“Suppose that one were to take a CD disc full of information and copy it to another disc. Then they were to copy the copy to a third disc and then copy the copy of the copy to yet another disc and so on, always copying the latest copy to the successive disc. Now, after 1000 copies, if they were to compare the information on the first disc with that on disc number 1000, would they find that all the information was still perfectly intact?”

“Yes!” he told me emphatically. “Philips has developed a very robust copying routine and had built in lots of safeguards and error checking to assure that the data is copied properly.”

“OK,” I said. “Now suppose that you are God, and that you have just put the first human genome onto earth. Your expectation is that this genome will be copied and the copy copied and the copy of the copy copied and so on until here you and I are, many generations later talking together and looking very much like most of the original information has been preserved. Do you think, that if you were God, that you would have built a careful set of rules around that copying process, such as morality, sexual purity, loving parenting, and nurturing family values? Wouldn’t following such guidelines be important for the successful transmittal of our humanness from generation to generation? Wouldn’t they be just as important as all those rules that Philips developed for governing the duplication of data from one disc to another?”

“You’re right,” he said. “I never thought about reproduction in those terms before!”

We often lose sight of the fact that our sexuality is one God's greatest gift to mankind and that we should not use it as some plaything. How often people forget that the rules God places around us are not to make us miserable, but to make us viable!

The Homeless Muslim Girl

The Homeless Muslim Girl
June 26, 2017

One of the many benefits that life has provided me is the joy of accompanying my wife to her many video conferences around the world. This has given me the chance to visit many interesting places in Europe and America and to meet scores of people and explore fascinating cities. But one of the more interesting people that I ran into first appeared to me as a ruffled blanket and stuffed garbage bag lying against the wall of a building in Cincinnati, Ohio. If it hadn’t been for the protruding shoe, I likely would have walked on by. But my momentary interests evoked a rustle from under the blanket and the face of young girl appeared with her head wrapped in a head scarf. She seemed uninterested in pursuing a conversation, so I moved on. But when I returned later, she was sitting up and I was able to talk with her.

It turned our she had been in a bad marriage, had been thrown out by an abusive husband and had lived here on this spot for many years. All she wanted out of life was a bus ticket so she could move to Washington D.C. She had heard that living on the streets there was much more satisfactory. “Could you please give me enough money to buy a bus ticket?” was her plea.

I told her I could give her something much better! I could get her off the streets entirely in a short amount of time. I pulled one of my CrossPuzzles from my knapsack. I told her that I would be willing to give her as many of these puzzles for free as she wanted and she could hand them out to any passers-by. Within a week, her picture would be in the local paper if not on the national news!

But when I tried to hand the cross to her she drew back in disgust. “That is an instrument of execution!” she hissed.

“Yes!” I said, “But is also the instrument of salvation!”

It was obvious that she was not getting the connection between the two concepts. So, I proposed an analogy to help her understand. I asked her to imagine that she was in jail, accused of some heinous crime. She was to be executed the next day. But today, her identical twin sister had come to the jail to visit her. The two of them had snuck into the ladies’ room and had switched clothing. She had emerged, wearing her sister’s business suit, and her sister had been returned to her cell in the prison garb. The next day it was her sister who died at the hands of the executioner. She was on the street, a free woman. Her crime had been paid for by her sister!

I told her that we all have an identical twin. His name is Jesus! And he has paid for our sins so that we can be free.

The light of understanding seemed to come on in her eyes. She had never heard the story framed in that manner. But the years of abuse and indoctrination were stronger than my analogies. She continued to cling to her lineage as a Muslim for her assurances. I told her that one of the best thing Jesus had ever done was to die without having children. There is no bloodline of Jesus. We can not evaluate our worthiness by examining how much of Jesus blood flows in our veins. For the descendants Islam, the attempt to trace bloodlines back to the proper son of Muhammad has been the root of generations of struggle since his death. With Jesus, he ended the bloodline. His blood does not flow in our veins. His blood covers us! We can all be his children; no restrictions from genealogy!

But in the end, all I can claim is that I had planted the seeds. Hopefully, someone else can secure the harvest. I saw her one more time, months later. It was on Google Earth as I panned the camera up that street. There she was, still lying under the purple blanket on the sidewalk. But a week later, when I again searched for her on Google, she had been painted out of the picture. Only a bottle, leaning against the wall, remained. A friend of mine, who was visiting the city, stopped across the street at the church and asked after her. They remembered her, but said when last they had heard about her, someone had given her a bus ticket to Washington D.C. Her dream had come true. But my dream for her, most likely, may never to be realized.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

New Excitement for the Taste Buds

New Excitement for the Taste Buds

The Microsoft welcome screen on my Surface laptop this Saturday morning suggested that one should seek out new excitement for the taste buds. Hah! I had already gone there, even without their prompting! I had gotten out of bed before 6am and put on the pot of coffee to brew. I then set about the task of cooking myself some “Eggs in a Basket.” This is not an onerous task; else I would have left it undone. But given the proper level of creativity, it can evoke a true explosion for the taste buds. Let me detail some of steps of that creativity for you!

1.     Find a slice of high-quality bread. Then cut a hole out of the center of it using your wife’s favorite cup, much like your kids did with their playdough. Clean the any crumbs from the lip of the cup so that your wife is not displeased with your having borrowed it! Now spread a thin layer of butter onto the bread and its inner disc.

2.     Get out your best, non-stick skillet and put it on the stove at medium heat. Melt a tab of butter onto its bottom.

3.     Separate the disc from the bread and place both, butter side down, into the skillet.

4.     Crack two eggs into the confines of the slice of bread. It is ok if some of the egg white cascades over the side and spreads out into the pan but limit its expanse if possible. I typically break the yokes and stir them up slightly at this point, but that is a matter of preference for how much yellow goo you want to deal with when eating them later.

5.     Now the good part! Sprinkle the top of the eggs with Garlic Pepper. If you do not have any of that, I will be happy supply your need from my storehouse of the substance, uniquely available for my Mennonite friends in Missouri.

6.     Then, to really engage your taste buds in their exciting mission of delivering delight to your palate, sprinkle a healthy coating of crushed red pepper on top!

7.     You are now ready for the next creative step. Cover the cooking egg with a lid and pour a few tablespoons of water around the brim so that it runs down under the lid and fills the area around the egg with steam. This allows the egg to cook quickly from both sides and causes the top to skin over, vastly improving the results when attempting the next step.

8.     Slide a spatula under the contents of the pan, and in one intense act of concentration, flip the whole thing over without allowing it to leave the confines of the pan or landing inside the pan but all crumbled up. Even crumbled up results are still edible, but lack the high-quality appearance seen in fine restaurants.

9.      Now sprinkle some grated, sharp cheddar cheese on top of the eggs and recover for a moment and allow the cheese to melt. When it is satisfactorily gooey, flip the now toasted disc and any of the errant egg white up on top of the egg.

10.  And one more idiosyncratic flare can now be added. Spread a thin coating of peach jam on top! Strawberry also works, but I grew up raising eggs and do not like to see red intermingled with my eggs!

11.  Enjoy, with loud groanings!

12.  It is now time to go back over to the stove and turn off the burner! Leave the dirty dishes for your wife so she is impressed at your industry so early on a Saturday morning!

I wonder if that was what Microsoft had in mind with their welcome screen?