Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Saturday
Feb082014

"ONE IS TOO MANY"

Death was with us, all during 1997—

+  Margaret had jaundice from the beginning of the year, and on March 10 she was diagnosed with cancer, which murdered her finally at our home on September 27.

+  Her father, Paul Heine, died in our living room on June 21.

+  My father, Larry Towe, died in Winter Park, Florida, on December 4.

But in the midst of shock, sadness, anguish, financial free fall, death and loss, I could not have anticipated how much joy there would be.

But first, there was the shock of Margaret's cancer. It began with the jaundice in January, 1997, leading up to an operation to remove her gall bladder on March 10.

A friend told me he'd had his gall bladder removed two years earlier. It had become a minor operation, taking half an hour. For Margaret's operation, I waited at Christ Hospital for an hour and a half. Then the surgeon found me and took me to a small consulting room. I realized this was not good news. He said, "When we opened Margaret up, we found what we didn't want to find. She has pancreatic cancer." It felt like a concrete block dropped in my stomach.

Vivid Photos, Too Vivid

He showed me four small photos they had taken with their TV probe. The photos were vivid. The cancer was evident. I still have the photos and could reproduce them here, but I'll spare you that experience.

"How soon can I see her?" "In an hour. She's still in recovery." When I did see her, we just held each other for a long time without saying anything.

Some people give up and die when they hear they have cancer. Not Margaret. She deter­mined to go on living as fully as possible. We had many prayers for her healing. She chose to have chemotherapy treatments for her visceral cancer. Between April and July, the cancer indi­cators in her blood kept improving, and we expected that the LORD was indeed healing her.

During those final months, we spent far more time with each other than we had previously. We also prayed together far more.

She was in and out of the hospital several times. Each time, I went with her and slept in the hideaway bed in her room.

Our Summer Trips

And we traveled. In May we had plane tickets to San Diego. Margaret was scheduled for a presentation at the American College of Chaplains. She was scheduled to talk on the perenatal loss support program at University Hospital—a program designed by Margaret and a nurse. But we didn't go to San Diego. Instead, we were at University Hospital at the time for more surgery on her liver and bile duct.

That didn't stop Margaret, however. In June we flew to Winter Park, Florida, and spent a week with my Dad. (Margaret had not had a healthy relationship with her own father, so for the last several years of their lives, Dad and Margaret adopted each other as father and daughter. They talked on the phone and corresponded.) Our week in Florida was a bittersweet time for all three of us.

However, we three made a hit at Winter Park Towers, the senior complex where Dad lived. I had the problem of moving two people, both in wheel chairs. So I pushed Margaret; she pushed Dad. As we passed people in the corridor, they grinned. Several said, "Cho-cho. Cho-cho."

To Germany and France

For both Margaret and me, a great event during the summer of '97 was our trip to Europe. All her life Margaret had wanted to go to Europe, so we did. And we had my Dad to thank for that trip. Years ago, Dad had introduced us to the books of John Gould, a Maine farmer who is also a writer. So, each evening after reading chapters in the Bible, we also read John Gould's Europe on a Saturday Night—unique tour of Germany and France.

The Goulds were passengers on a German cargo ship and polished their German in conver-sations with the crew. In German and France, they visited few big cities and a few tourist attrac­tions, but mostly they stayed in small towns. Whenever possible, they took part in the village life. So, theirs was a unique experience of the Continent which resulted in a unique and thoroughly enjoyable book.

The good hopes of her recovery in the summer were dashed, however, by the events of August and September. Margaret declined visibly and rapidly.

Great Gifts of Nursing and Food

Through all this illness, however, we were incredibly helped by friends from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Julie Schubert coordinated efforts to keep us supplied with food by con­gregational members and other friends. Also, three nurses—Melanie Lieuwen, Brook Gumm and Julie Schubert—gave liberally of their time and skills. Their ministrations comforted Margaret—and the rest of us in the family.

Margaret and I had plane tickets to go to Rochester, NY, over Labor Day weekend to visit our older daughter, Christie, and her husband, Jiu Kim. Unwisely, Margaret and I relied on her memory (rather than checking the tickets), so we arrived at the airport on a Saturday evening—when there is no flight to Rochester. The tickets had been for the previous night.

So, on the Sunday before Labor Day, when we were not expected at Prince of Peace, we attended the dedication worship at the Fellowship of Jesus Christ, in the new church home. It had previously been the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Silverton. It was Margaret's last appearance in public, and it was a blessed time of fellowship and prayer with many of our charismatic Christian friends.

In mid-September, we were back in Christ Hospital. At 8 p.m. on Monday the 15th, Dr. Hawley, our oncologist, visited us. He told Margaret, "I have to say that the chemotherapy is not working. We'll try to make you as comfortable as possible."

Fluent in Doctorspeak

As a chaplain, Margaret was fluent in doctorspeak. She knew he was really saying, "This is your death warrant. You'll suffer an extremely painful death, but we'll try to keep you so doped on morphine that you won't experience much of the pain."

And here's Margaret's response: "Well, I'm surprised. I find I'm very much at peace." Then she took Dr. Hawley's hand and added, "This must be very hard for you. You must have to say this to many people." And he replied, "Saying it to one is too many."

I was astonished. Her focus on Jesus blessed her in meeting death with peace and then being able to shift immediately into ministering to Dr. Hawley.

For the next two weeks, we had home hospice care. Our family arrived: Daughter Christie from Rochester, NY, with her medical-student husband, Jiu Kim. Son David from Montana. Daughter Karis from her senior year at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. Margaret's mother, Hulda Heine, from Garden City, KS, and five of her sisters, Eileen, Christel, Anita, Jaylene and Lori, from all over.

A Zinger for the Nephews

Margaret was of German descent and thus had a limited sense of humor. Without realizing it, she occasionally delivered hilarious lines. Jaylene's arrival occasioned a zinger. Margaret was in a hospital bed in our second-floor bedroom. Jaylene rushed into the room and hugged her. Jay's four sons lingered in the doorway, evidently appalled by Margaret's gaunt, bald appearance. She held out her arms to them, "Come here and give your Aunt Margaret a hug. Cancer isn't contagious."

Great events happened in Margaret's final week. On Sunday afternoon, we were visited by chaplain friends from the Cincinnati area. We hugged, held hands, worshipped, prayed, sang and celebrated the Lord's Supper together. It was intimate—a good time for Margaret and them to say their good-byes.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, two good friends from our church visited us—Pastor Chris Johnson and Deborah Leavell, the church secretary. This was also a time for the Lord's Supper. Pastor Chris read the liturgy of Holy Communion, and during the reading, I contrasted the com­munions on Sunday and Tuesday: Sunday was warm; today was bleak. But I was in for a major surprise.

Margaret felt close to Jesus in worship. Worship was celebration and joy for her. We received Jesus' body and blood in the bread and wine. The liturgy ended. Margaret exclaimed, "Amen!" Again she said, "AMEN!" Then she raised both arms over her head and shouted, "AAAAAMEN!!!""

During her last two weeks, we did round-the-clock nursing, taking two-hour shifts with her during the night. During her final week, she was in a coma most of the time. My watch, from 4 to 6 a.m. was a blessed time for prayer, Scripture reading and just being with her. Melanie Lieuwen often relieved me at 6 o'clock.

How Do You Know She's Gone?

On Saturday, September 27, Jiu Kim was with Margaret. He was reading his The rest us were in the living room watching a year-old VCR of Margaret telling University Hospital patients about Jesus. Jiu came downstairs, put his hand on my arm and said, "She's gone." "How do you know?" I asked. "She stopped breathing and has no pulse."

Many friends gave their condolences and added, "If there's anything I can do, let me know." "Thank you," I replied, "here's a list of fifteen friends you can phone and tell them about her memorial service."

Margaret's memorial service was a major event. The upstairs sanctuary at Prince of Peace seats 800, and it was packed—for the first time in decades. The Over-the-Rhine Steel Drum Band played. Deaconess Rhoda Schuler gave the message on "on the pearl of great price" because Margaret means "pearl."

Karen Schneider, Kathleen Prudence and I read poems we had written for Margaret. In the bulletin, we also printed Margaret's Psalm Written in the Summer of '97.

Here's What's Gonna Happen

At the pot-luck reception that followed in the undercroft, hundreds of friends hugged me and expressed their sympathy. I appreciated their concerns. However, the most memorable sen­timent happened when one of Margaret's Steel Drum Band colleagues took me aside. He coun­seled, "Now Jack, I'm gonna tell you what's gonna happen to you. I know 'cause I've been a wid­ower for three years. Some women are gonna go after you, and you're gonna have to learn to say, "No. No. No. No. No."

The next day, Sunday afternoon, the family gathered at Spring Grove Cemetery to place her ashes in our joint grave. We'd made arrangements to be buried near the statue of Johnny Apple­seed—our favorite Cincinnati artwork. I had prepared a brief liturgy, with space for each who wanted to voice a goodbye to Margaret.

The short liturgy included a hymn, and we read together the benediction adapted from Hebrews 13:20-21. Then a wonderful, spontaneous event happened. Sister Christel Moecker started the Nunc Dimittis—Simeon's Song—which the whole family knows because we sing it in church after the Eucharist:

     Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

     For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

     Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

     A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

     Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.

     As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Simeon's Song was exactly right for the occasion. In the context of Luke 2:25-35, the word "depart"—in the first line above—means "die."

Life, She Wrote

In the week that followed, one message really gave me comfort. Friends and colleagues of Margaret held a memorial service at University Hospital. Karis and I were invited. Fellow Chaplain Tomi Kimball gave the message. "Those who know Margaret well know that she died with two regrets. She did not get to know her grandchildren, and she was not able to finish her two books.

"Yet, she did. She wrote a far better book than she realized. I quote to you from St. Paul, Second Corinthians 3, verses 2 and 3: "You are our epistle [Margaret, you are our book] written in our hearts, known and read by all men. Clearly [you are] an epistle of Christ, [who] ministered to us, written, not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh, of the heart."

Tomi continued, "Grace, you knew Margaret for only a few weeks. You're a couple of pages in her book, but many others of you—such as Dr. Hanto—are whole chapters."

Well, that really spoke to me. Of course, Margaret had written her book! Praise God. She has written volumes on my heart.

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In February, 2014, I discovered the letter reproduced above, which I had written early in 1998. That letter concluded, "This has been a hard letter for me to write. Since Margaret's death, all creative writing has been hard—or impossible. Even my computer has been against me—again and again, wiping out what I have written.

"With both Margaret and my Dad gone, I especially feel the loss when I have something to share—and they're not here. They have both left gaping holes in my heart."

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Purpose of this blog is to compile books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2013 by Jack Towe

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