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Apr. 29th, 2011

REMEMBERING A LIFE... REV. DAVID WILKERSON

It’s with great sadness that I share with you the passing of David Wilkerson following a terrible auto accident on a Texas highway Wednesday afternoon. See the details at:

    http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20485424,00.html

    http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2011/April/Rev-David-Wilkerson-Killed-in-TX-Car-Crash/ (story and video)
   

Dave Wilkerson was a long time friend and colleague. Our first contact occurred in 1972  when he phoned and introduced himself, and then inquired about my recently published novel, BEHOLD A PALE HORSE. I was thrilled to hear he’d read my book and wanted to make a film based on it.

I arranged to fly to Texas to meet with him and over the next few days we discussed my book, his vision  for evangelism through the growing interest in earth's "last days," and we brainstormed an outline for a film.

After our meeting I flew home and began to write a screenplay for the film, to be co-produced by David Wilkerson and our company, FourMost Productions. The motion picture was titled, THE RAPTURE, and it was edited and distributed widely.

Not long after the release of THE RAPTURE film I learned that as a result of my book and the film, I'd become an urban myth that began in the late 1970s, persisted into the new century, and has continued in one form or another for nearly 40 years. You can check it out at:

    http://www.silicon.com/technology/hardware/2003/07/24/it-myths-does-the-beast-of-brussels-know-everything-about-us-10005304/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beast_%28Bible%29


Following the production and release of THE RAPTURE Dave Wilkerson and I got together to work on another motion picture project. This second film was being outlined months after our son David, then three years old, was seriously injured in an auto accident. He was crushed between two cars while with his grandmother, and began bleeding from internal injuries in his abdomen. He was rushed to the hospital, and without stopping at the emergency room, a surgeon took him straight to an operating room.

It was a scary time, and while on the operating table our three-year-old nearly died twice -- once for the loss of blood, and another when his heart stopped from shock. Following almost eight hours of surgery our little David was hospitalized for almost a month.

When he was finally released to recuperate at home. Sometime later I got a phone call from Dave Wilkerson. He invited Nancy and me to bring our David and come to Dallas to stay with him and Gwen and their children.  Nancy and David, with Gwen and the Wilkerson kids, relaxed by the swimming pool while Dave and I worked on the other film project. It was an amazing time for our son and he seemed to have gathered strength and recovery much quicker.

The Wilkersons prayed for us during our son’s continued recovery. It was the strength of these prayers that carried us through the tough days as we experienced miraculous answers to the prayers of Dave and Gwen. 

My life was truly enriched by David Wilkerson, short as my collective time with him was in the overall linear paths of our lives. I will forever remember my friend and mentor, and tonight my emotions are painful, and there is sadness and grief. But there’s also a great sense of peace and comfort, because I know that he’s in heaven.

Looking back tonight, I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to work with David Wilkerson because those experiences changed my life in many ways. He gave me a greater sense of spiritual vision; he modeled the urgency of sharing the “good news” of Jesus Christ; he taught me how to pray with greater expectation; he showed me how to focus on what really lasts, and he encouraged me to trust God for the results of my efforts.

Dave was a man who had a special “direct line” with heaven, and he was not timid when he felt that God was prompting him in a particular direction. He shared his thoughts with conviction.

I always thought of him as a mature mentor -- an older, wiser counselor. Yet, I learned when I read the account of his deadly accident that he was 79 years old -- I was only five years younger!

I believe there are hundreds -- perhaps thousands who feel they were also personally mentored by David Wilkerson. And if you never had the opportunity to meet him, or read his books, or hear his tapes, I'm sure you've heard his name, and know of him. I'd like to ask you to please pray for his wife Gwen, who was injured in Wednesday’s fatal collision, and for his grown children and their families during their time of grief and loss.

Also see David Crosby’s article in Christianity Today: Remembering David Wilkerson:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/aprilweb-only/rememberingdavidwilkerson.html

Apr. 4th, 2010

AN EASTER MEDITATION

Matthew 28: 1-6
The Resurrection

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”

I was thinking about earthquakes that were mentioned in the crucifixion account. First, a quake happened when Jesus cried out and died on the cross from his gruesome torture, (Matt. 27:50-51). The second account is the one Matthew shares in the passage above, when an earthquake and an angel opened Jesus' tomb.

Before leaving for Easter service at Friendship Church this morning, I had commented to my son Bruce (who was visiting for the weekend) that when I logged on-line this morning I noticed on the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) earthquake chart (that comes up with my Google home page), there seemed to be a swarm of earthquakes posted over the past few days. I said to Bruce that I wondered if these smaller quakes meant a bigger one might be coming.

Fast forward to 3:40 PM this afternoon. A bigger one DID come.

The Associated Press reported on the “Easter Earthquake,” registering 7.2 magnitude on the seismic scale, followed by aftershocks of 6.9 and 5.1 almost immediately and dozens of smaller ones over then next few hours. The 7.2 one originated about 20 miles to the south of Mexicali, Mexico, about 83 miles by air from my California home.

The 7.2 Mexican earthquake was much stronger than other recent North American quakes -- in fact, it was among the three strongest in almost 20 years.

For those who have felt big earthquakes like the 7.2 one before, most who offered sound bites to news crews agreed that this one seemed to last longer -- too long for even blasé Californians to feel comfortable.

Bruce and I felt the rolling waves of the large quake, and they seemed to grow in intensity, so we both hurried outside. At the time we opened the front door and exited, there was an eerie sound -- loud like thunder -- but sounding almost like the cracking of big trees splintering. The sounds and ground waves came in pulses. The rolling waves under my feet were disorienting, like motion sickness, and I braced myself against the house to steady myself.

After a while the shocks diminished. It seemed like several minutes, but the later USGS report said it was no more than 45 to 60 seconds.

More than a dozen other powerful aftershocks shook our desert region within an hour this afternoon. The USGS said three strong jolts, including the magnitude 6.9 and 5.1 aftershocks that we felt, that struck about 85 and 54 miles respectively close to us.

As I started this journal entry tonight, I counted 61 earthquakes marked on the USGS earthquake activity map on my Google home page showing the 7.2 quake epicenter in Mexico, reaching up to the Coachella Valley where I live. The count of 61 was up from the ten marked on the chart in the first hour. Just now, as I'm typing these last words, I stopped to count again. The USGS chart lists 93 quakes for the day, and they are still rumbling -- though we aren’t feeling any of that earlier seismic activity.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Jesus’ disciple Matthew records an afterthought to the events of that first Easter -- and his words apply to the wary, and worried, people who are nervous about today’s “Big One.”

Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, then as today, to those who are apprehensive:
“...surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matt. 28:20b)

Mar. 7th, 2010

The Blessings of Downsizing

I went back to Rockford (Ill.) for most of February and was reminded that the weather is generally inclement. Actually, inclement doesn’t quite describe weather that seems is always alternatively snowy, sleeting, storming and continually cold and damp.

Fortunately I spent most of my time inside and only froze when I went out to do errands. I flew back to Rockford to nudge the real estate agent that listed our Rockford house, to get more people to come through the house to see it. Our agent, Jeff Rohl, reminded me that February wasn't the best month to expect people to come out for Open House showings. He said that usually happens sometime in May or June. Well, wouldn't you know? Since I'm eager to sell the house, I was hoping house-seekers were equally up to the task of buying a house.

At the same time, my brother Walt and I went forward with a major project -- an estate sale. He generously took off two weeks from the restaurant (The Victorian Manor) that he owns in Geneseo, Illinois, near the quad cities. Walt donated his services to help me to sort, organize, tag and display hundreds of items from our household. We were assisted by my sons, Kerry, Kevin and Bruce, and it was Walt's expertise that got us through the huge task.

As we were getting ready on the last night before the sale, it was 3:30 in the morning when we finished. As I was getting ready to go to bed for 90 minutes of sleep, and get ready for the 8:00 AM start of the sale, Bruce and I noticed a large van pull up and park in front of our house, and turn off its headlights.

It seemed suspicious, but it was parked under a streetlight, and all our doors were locked, so we ignored it.

But when I woke at six and got up, the van was still parked outside. As ridiculous as it seemed, I realized it had to be someone trying to be first in line at our sale. Sure enough, an hour later, at 7:00 AM, seeing lights in the house and the open drapes and movement inside, a man ventured to the front door and rang the doorbell. “Will you acknowledge that I was the first one here, and let me in as soon as the sale opens?” he asked.

I looked outside and counted 27 cars already parked on both sides of our quiet street -- and it was still an hour before the sale started! I shook my head in disbelief.

That was a preview of things to come. Over the course of three days, we were deluged by nearly a thousand eager buyers -- and many more who just came to look.  I was amazed at how so much stuff looked like it was left on the tables in the garage by Sanford and Son. But most of the boxes marked "Everything in this box for 25¢" were gone by the last day, and hardly anything remained.

I'd saved out some furniture and other items for my children, stashed in two corner bedrooms, out of sight of the scavengers who would’ve also grabbed those things as well.

It was a physical and emotional time, getting rid of “stuff” that also carried memories from years past. Yet it was satisfying to clear the house of so much extraneous baggage and clutter. (We have so much storage shelving in the basement that a lot of clutter went unnoticed most of the time.)

Going through the entire house was a clear reminder how we'd nonetheless accumulated too much stuff. It didn’t all magically appear one day. It shows up one thing at a time, and we don’t really notice until some life change causes us to review the accumulation.

I’m grateful for being able to sell so much at our estate sale. I also appreciate the object lesson that the sale provided. I made a pledge to myself that when I sell the house and settle into one that’s smaller, it'll be with far less “stuff” than now.

Come to think of it . . . our lives are sort of like that. Maybe it’s time for some early spring cleaning, to clear out the things that fill our minds and schedules, and keep us from focusing on those things that are truly important.

Maybe it’s time to downsize our lives as well as our houses.

“Because you have these blessings, do your best to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness . . . knowledge . . . self-control . . . patience; and to your patience, add service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love. If all these things are in you and growing, they will help you to be useful and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8, New Century Version)

Feb. 16th, 2010

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED 32,000 FEET ABOVE NEBRASKA…

Today's journal entry is to update you with my trip back to Rockford. Normally I don’t wait for friends to phone or email me to find out how things are. But word spread like wildfire over the phone lines and Internet when word leaked out that I was in St. Anthony Hospital today.

I wasn’t sure what was happening. And that scared me.

On Saturday I left on a planned trip back to Rockford to tend to a number of tasks and errands as part of the process of selling our furnishings and household goods, and then move forward with selling our Rockford home.

Halfway between Palm Springs and Chicago’s O’Hare Airport I suddenly developed a bad headache, and felt nauseous. It came over me with no warning. I was so uncomfortable that my only way of dealing with it was to push my seat back and try to sleep it off.

By the time I got to Chicago, I was very weak, and it was a struggle to get up, my hands and feet didn't smoothly follow my directions. When I reached to retrieve my carry-on luggage from the bin, and leave the plane, I could hardly walk toward the street outside the American terminal where my son Kevin was to meet me. For some reason I couldn’t fathom why my arms and legs seemed unreliable, unsteady.

The walk to the arrival area seemed endless. Normally I can do it in a brisk walk, as the mile or more I walk every morning. Kevin arrived within minutes, and I struggled with the usually easy-to-maneuver roll-on bag and my computer bag. As I closed the trunk lid, I noticed that my hands were trembling --- also something unusual.

I slept in the van on the way to Rockford, but when I woke now my hands and legs were shaking uncontrollably. Kevin tells me that my face looked like I was distress, and he said that my face reflected a face that's years beyond my real age.

Inside our home, I put on a heavy sweater and wrapped myself with an India shawl because now I had severe chills and uncontrollable shivers that seemed to keep up for hours and cramped my arms, legs and back muscles.

After getting settled in, and having a scant meal of Italian restaurant food, I excused myself and went to get ready for bed. I was in bed by 8:00 PM.

Around midnight I awoke to go to the bathroom, but I was uncoordinated and lacked the ability to direct my legs. I couldn’t trust myself to stand until I was able to steady myself by holding onto the edge of the bed and night table. I had to repeat this procedure several times during the night.

I got up and knew I wasn’t going to go to church and my son Kerry (who’s living at our Rockford house) decided to skip church and keep an eye on me. When I woke up with chills that I couldn’t seem to subdue.

I had a small breakfast of grapefruit, bagel and cup of tea. By now I thought I picked up a flu bug on the flight, and decided to drink lots of water and tea, to keep my fluids happy.

The headache, which hung on all day Saturday, was still with me all through Sunday. I went to bed early again Sunday night, and settled under the sheet, two blankets (one of them electric) and a comforter --- when my usual choice is a sheet and one thin blanket, I knew my internal thermostat must be on the blink. The teeth-rattling chills left somewhere between 10:00 PM and 3:00 AM, when I woke up in a sweat and starting tossing blankets. I slept soundly until 8:30 Monday morning.

I reflected over the past three days, and guessed it wasn't the flu --- but what was it?

I recalled that one of my agenda items for the trip back to Rockford was to make an appointment with my doctor. So I called his office to see if he could squeeze me in, After repeating my symptoms his nurse said, “I think you should come right away. I’ll ask Doctor if he'll let me schedule you. I’ll call you right back.”

As promised, she called right back. “He says that, because your headache has been present for three days, he wants to rule out anything serious. Instead of coming to the office, he wants you to go the Emergency Room immediately and have a CAT Scan.”

That sounded urgent. So we did as told, and reached the hospital ER in about eight minutes.

After checking in, Kerry and I went to the waiting area nearby to wait our turn. Wait was the operable word. After two hours, the crowd kept growing, and very few beepers were flashing to notify patients it was their turn. Finally 4 ½ hours after I checked in, my beeper flashed.

I was taken to a room, took off my clothes and put on a smock, struggling to tie it so the back stayed closed. A doctor came in and told me what was ahead. “We’re going to draw some blood, test your urine, give you an EKG and then, give you a CAT Scan. A radiologist will review the scan and come and explain the results.”

Those tests took another two hours. The blood test should have been the quickest one. I’ve been pricked for blood hundreds of times over the years, but never ran into a problem. The nurse said she needed 8 vials of blood and wanted the blood to come out quickly and generously so it wouldn’t clot. She picked up their largest (#20) needle appliance that she taped to my arm. She had no trouble locating the vein --- and found my pain threshold as well as she shoved in into my vein. I was expecting a pinprick and smooth sliding in the needle connection.

The nurse turned to pick up a siphoning tube, and she didn’t notice that the needle appliance was spouting a geyser of blood that fell on my arm, splattered on the bed clothes and both smocks. After stemming the blood flow, she pushed something onto the connection in my arm that was literally bigger than a turkey baster, and not the usual small vial collectors that the nurses usually fill one by one. When she filled the big one, she reached for each of the eight empty vials and pushed the plunger and forced the blood into each one. The next tests also took much longer than previous ones I’d had.

After another hour the first doctor came back to my room and explained that the radiologist reviewed the CAT Scan and said everything looked fine. “There’s absolutely no evidence of a stroke, even a mini-stroke." He touched on silent fear both Kerry and I had never discussed, but both were thinking. A stroke was my threat during the eight hours I spent at the ER. I was silently offering praise to God for his protection. 

The doctor added, "I think you'll be glad you decided to take the scan. The pictures showed your brain as very healthy for a person your age. The radiologist saw only microscopic evidence of brain cell atrophy --- apparently you exercise your brain cells.”

“Occupational hazard,” I replied. He changed the subject.

“Let’s talk about your flight from California. Anything different about that?”

“Yeah, I had lots of time to think while waiting. I remember I usually get up and walk the aisle several times every hour of a flight, but with the headache I was too queasy to get up. I took a nap instead. Then I thought about the thin air in a plane’s cabin. Oxygen depletion could have contributed to that --- I usually take aspirins when I go through Denver or Salt Lake City. Seems like I’m always out of breath.”

“Well,” the doc added, the fact you didn’t walk the aisles this time may have given your restless leg problem. It wasn’t a nerve problem, but fatigue.”

I was beginning to feel encouraged --- and relieved. I recalled that many of my symptoms were so similar to some of Nancy’s stroke --- deficits in her mobility and sometimes unable to controlly her movements.  Now, with that reminder, and against my will, and my faith, doubt crept in. I was being seriously assaulted by the Evil One.

I thank God for His protection and healing. My symptoms are fading slowly --- and maybe quicker if I get food and liquids into my system. And get more rest.


Jan. 24th, 2010

DAWN OF THE POST LITERATE AGE?

    Last month’s THE FUTURIST magazine offered a forecast of a future defined as the Post Literate Age. Senior Editor Patrick Tucker says that, “The written word will likely be rendered a functionally obsolete technology by 2050.”

    The magazine observes that there will likely be “gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the demise of reading,” and offers this explanation: “Between 1982 and 2007, reading declined by nearly 20% for the overall U.S. population, and 30% for young adults aged 18-24.”

    Tucker tosses in a sobering stat: 40 million Americans now read at the lowest literacy level. The numbers will increase over the next 40 years.

    Does it mean those of us who write for a living will be out of work by 2050?

    If the U.S. population under 25 is choosing NOT to read, eventually they won’t be able to read, at least in the conventional sense.

    Their choice is to use other means of communicating, mainly electronic. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ignorant or illiterate -- just that they’re choosing not to be “reading and writing” literate. Will that make a difference to our culture and society?  I think so. Choices for communicating that don’t make use of reading and writing, as well as content and context means a deep loss of feeling and understanding.

    One study from Ireland validates this fact for teenagers using text messaging. Texting -- which breaks all the rules of syntax, grammar, abbreviation, punctuation and spelling -- has a negative effect to writing and reading skills, according to the Ireland study.

    Ironically, diminishing literacy skills run parallel to an opposite counter-reality -- young people who lose literacy skills are technology-literate and have mastered all the electronic gadgets of the information and entertainment media.

    Do our cultural advances have to be an either/or proposition?

    Is there any good news on the horizon?

    Senior Editor Patrick Tucker offers some: “For the first time in more than two decades, Americans aged 18-24 are now reportedly reading more literature (meaning a book of serious fiction or nonfiction), according to the National Endowment of the Arts.”

    Author Nicholas Carr (The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google), offers his "encouragement":

People have been proclaiming the imminent death of the written word for a long time.  When Thomas Edison invented [the phonograph], everybody assumed the flashy new device would mean the end of writing.
In the 1960s, hip cultural theorists predicted that new media -- radio, cinema, television, computer -- would soon render writing obsolete.

    So should we not worry?

    Carr writes, “Writing will survive, but it will survive in a debased form. It will lose its richness. We will no longer read and write words. We will merely process them, the way our computers do.”

    And that’s the good news?

Jan. 12th, 2010

THOUGHTS AT DAY'S END

CRAIGSLIST AS A SOCIAL COMMUNITY?

As I get ready to sell our homes in California and Illinois, I’m getting rid of some things to eliminate doing it after the escrow closing. I’ve posted some things on CraigsList, including our dining room table and chairs. I had many initial nibbles, but no offers. Then I lowered the price and sent an e-mail to a half dozen people who’d made previous inquiries, to inform them of the lower price.

Today one woman sent me an interesting e-mail in response. She started out by saying:

“Thank you for the nudge.  I love the dining room set.  I need to show it to my husband.   He will once again ask me what I plan to do with my current set and I will once again tell him I intend to place it on Craigslist!  

“I hope you still have the set . . . I promise to show the pictures to my husband this evening.

“While I can't say that Craigslist is a social community, I can say people are perhaps often compelled to act on ideas maybe considered divine intervention.  I don't make it a habit to ‘Google’ names from Craigslist, but something told me to do so in your case.  I might have been just a little curious about your second e-mail—curious as in, ‘should I be worried’?”


I stopped at that paragraph. Yes, I can see how a strange name on an e-mail could make her curious—and how she might be worried that, perhaps I was a crook, hacker, or stalker!  So she Googled my name, and the first thing that came up on the Google list was my last journal entry. She clicked on that link and read my last entry.  She explains:

“What I found was an indescribable blog so personal and touching I am not quite sure how to put my thoughts into words.  Let's just say, I believe this is Nancy's table, which if I have the good fortune to purchase, will always be represented as such. I promise to stay in touch.”     —S. P.

Nice to know someone reads my journal, and found it touching.  S.P.'s e-mail made my day.

------------------------------

THE NEW ORALITY

I’m getting back on track with my writing schedule. Last week I finished the first draft of a book that I’d scheduled for completion in August but my circumstances this year caused it to be four months past deadline.

I collaborated with a friend from Rockford, Dennis Johnson, to do the book. Denny’s passion is helping kids. He founded Kids Around The World. You can it check out his organization at kidsaroundtheworld dot com. Denny also wants to promote a rather recent concept called Orality. Orality is simply another word for Storytelling.

The reason we’re doing a book on Orality is to create an awareness that two-thirds of the world’s almost seven billion people are either illiterate or non-literate. That means about four and a half billion people can’t or won’t understand the ideas, principles, morals and values of the literate one-third of the population. So how do we communicate to them, and reach them with our ideas?—such as the teachings of Jesus.

Denny explains for those for whom the word doesn’t register, “Orality is doing what Jesus did. He told stories to the people on the Judean mountainside. We call them parables. He got their attention with a dramatic story. They listened and identified with His stories about the prodigal son . . . the shepherd and the one lost sheep . . . or the good Samaritan. Once He got their attention, He presented them with a moral application of each story. That’s how Jesus communicated biblical truth to people who were illiterate. For the literate religious rulers, he went to the Temple and interpreted the Old Testament scrolls to the leaders.”

Denny’s right. At first I thought he was only talking about illiterate or non-literate people on the other side of the world—India, China, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cuba, and the rest of the world we’re trying to reach with our ideas.

However in researching this new book I learned that nearly 70% of the world’s population—and 50% of Americans are functionally illiterate—and they prefer a visual, non-literate approach to learning. That’s half of U.S. students and graduates who can’t read well enough to comprehend principles and ideas. TV and movies convey ideas in a more palatable way than books and other printed matter. 

Those are sober statistics for those of us who make a living with the printed word.

-----------------------------------------
THE DESERT HYMN SING

About five years ago my late wife, Nancy and I were invited to a small gathering of friends that met once every month for a time of old fashioned hymn singing in the living room of Ronn and Connie Haus. It almost became an addiction. We simply HAD to be there every month.

If you’ve ever seen one of the Bill Gaither Gospel Sing programs on television, you’ll get an idea of what takes place at what we began to call, the Desert Hymn Sing.

Over the years, the Desert Hymn Sing outgrew the Haus living room. It even outgrew the spacious home of Tim and Beverly LaHaye, and now we meet at a church in south Palm Desert.

Tonight was my first visit after Nancy’s death, and I missed her sitting next to me, to help keep me on key. I knew how much she enjoyed the Hymn Sing and I thought I'd be sad and overly emotional about her not being there. But I wasn't, perhaps because it felt like she was there in spirit.  God’s Spirit was also present, and after 90 minutes of group singing, my own spirit was renewed, and reenergized. I drove home singing the same songs again, mostly on key!

Music truly does bring inspiration to the human soul.

Dec. 25th, 2009

CHRISTMAS IN HEAVEN AND HOLIDAY MAIL

I’ve been gleaning some wonderful things from my Christmas cards, phone calls and emails. They're messages of encouragement as well as “Season’s Greetings.” First, here’s one from my eldest son telling about his celebration of Jesus’ birth that took place when brother Kevin (and daughter Emma) drove to Rockford in an ice storm so the three of them could be together on Christmas Eve:

Dad,
I wish we were all together this time of year. That smorgasbord you made sounds fun and yummy. Kevin and Emma came over last night. I played with Emma while Kevin did some last minute shopping to help out Santa. Emma and I were sitting in the living room with just the lights from the Christmas tree, when little Emma went over to the piano and “played” it while singing a Sunday School song. Mom’s picture was sitting there on the lamp table. Emma finished playing the song on the piano and said, “Grandma taught me that song.” Her words left me in tears. I thought, Grandma taught us all a lot.

Merry Christmas, Dad! I love you.
Kerry
*    *    *
From my friend Kim in Colorado Springs:

It’s great that you’ve been experiencing that almost tactile sense of God’s presence and the “peace that passes understanding.”  That’s a great testimony to the power of prayer. 
 
We had a good friend die unexpectedly just after Thanksgiving.  Her last e-mail to me, sent just a week or so before she died, was “See you up there!” (She was referring to seeing us “up in Maine.”)  But after she passed away, that e-mail took on a totally different context and now I fully expect that I really will “see her up there.” 



(Also) I’ve been reflecting a bit on a C.S. Lewis quote: “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” 

I believe in the truth of that, but sometimes, in the hurry of life, I get it backward and think I’m a body that has a soul. It’s good to be reminded of that (C. S. Lewis quote) and “get it right” for my perspective of reality.

*    *    *
A few days ago my pastor sent me an anonymous poem from the Seattle Times, which resonated with me because of the timing—this is Nancy’s first Christmas in Heaven:

CHRISTMAS IN HEAVEN

    I’ve had my first Christmas in Heaven, a glorious, wonderful day.
    I stood with the saints of the ages, who found Christ, the truth and the way.
    I sang with the heavenly choir, just think—I joined in to sing!
    And oh, what celestial music we brought to our Savior and King.

    We sang the glad songs of redemption—how Jesus to Bethlehem came;
    How they called his name Jesus, so all might be saved through His name.
    Again we sang with the angels, the same message they sang that blest morn
    When Shepherds first heard the glad story—that Jesus, the Savior, was born.

    Oh, I wish you’d have been there, no Christmas on earth could compare.
    With all the rapture and glory that I’d witnessed in Heaven so fair.
    You know how I always loved Christmas, always such a wonderful day.
    With loved ones around me, the children and grandkids “singing all the way.”

    But now, I can see why I loved it, and just what a joy it’d be for you,
    When you and other loved ones are with me, to share the glories I see too.
    And all on earth, follow me—look not for a babe, for our Savior appears
    For that greatest Christmas Day awaiting—ending all our fears and tears.
—Author Unknown

        “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today…”  (Luke 2:10-11, NLT)

Dec. 24th, 2009

Silent Night, Lonely Night…

I received a couple phone calls and some emails from my kids throughout the day. Checking up on Pop. There’s perhaps some hesitation to address it directly, but I think the unspoken thought on everyone’s mind is how I (and they) feel on this first Christmas without my wife Nancy, their mom.

Last Saturday evening I decided to honor Nancy by doing what she always did -- prepare and host a festive Swedish smorgasbord. She prepared all kinds of traditional Swedish dishes: ham, meatballs, rice pudding, baked beans, potato casserole, pretzel salad, hot spiced cider, homemade rye bread, cinnamon rolls, and pies. To make it more authentic, she’d go to the grocery store in Rockford that carried Swedish foods for the holidays. Nancy bought pickled herring, rye hardtack, korv sausage and pepperkakker, but skipped the blood sausage, pickled pig headcheese and lutfisk (thankfully!).

Then on Christmas Eve she’d host that festive meal for family and friends. In lieu of name cards at the place settings she used the fronts of Christmas cards from the previous year. Then she’d cut in two with a jagged line (like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle) and wrote each person’s name on one half and put it on a dinner plate.

The other half of the card became a name tag for a little gift for each person. She got the idea when the kids were little and underfoot when she was trying to get the Christmas meal ready. So she bought small gifts, wrapped them, and hid them in another part of the house. Each person was to take their place card and go look for the other half -- which was attached to their gift.

I wonder if I’m the only one this Christmas who’s going to miss that tube of socks or a can of deodorant that was wrapped and hidden for me (or one of the grandkids) to look for the other half of my card.

Well, anyway, I need to get back to my story of taking Nancy's role for this year’s smorgasbord. I invited several couples over who have been wonderfully attentive to my needs and many times went out of their way to help me. I had decorated with a couple of mini-tabletop lighted Christmas trees, and some other decorations. On the hall table I’d made Nancy’s recipe for hot spiced cider -- but since the Palm Springs area had 82 degrees weather that day, instead of heating the cider, "to warm them" up when they arrived, I put ice cubes in it. On the coffee table, I had some Swedish rye hardtack, sliced cheese, mixed nuts and cranberry muffins.

For the meal I’d made several of Nancy’s recipes for some of the things she always made. But objectively -- even though I followed her recipes to the letter -- they didn’t turn out as well as when she made them. Still, the guests kindly raved about how good each dish was. (I think they were just shocked that I could cook.) All in all, it worked out well, and everything tasted pretty good. I think Nancy would have been proud.

It’s nearing the midnight hour now and I've made it through the day without the grief or sadness people might expect. My friend Louis, who lives in Tennessee, called me this morning to check on me and wish me a Merry Christmas. He and his wife Donna are among those who pray every day for me. I told Louis how much their prayers work for me, and how grateful I am for his faithfulness.

I told him, “You know, Louis, it's amazing. Over the past few months, somehow I’ve had the strength, peace, hope and happiness that I never thought I'd have.”

It’s true. I can only attribute it to his and the prayers of others. I literally have a physical and emotional sense inside of me that I can't quite explain. I know the Spirit of God works inside me, which gives me experience with the reality of His presence and His power to do all that He promised in His Word. For example, I found this verse in the Bible that gets right to the crux of it all:

“I am sad and tired. Make me strong again as you have promised”
(Psalm 119:28).

Can you imagine being able to ask for that of God.

I can. Every day.

Merry Christmas!

Joe


Nov. 26th, 2009

Joe Musser Photo

Speaking of Thanks...

Exactly two months ago yesterday my sweetheart passed away. We were married 53 years this year, so her absence in my life is hard to get used to. There have been considerable changes over the past year, and I’ve mined new heights and depths of emotion. I expected the lows -- the grief, sorrow, sadness and pain of losing Nancy. But I never expected emotional highs.

Today is Thanksgiving, a time we appropriately want to express our gratitude. I wonder how many millions were giving gratitude to God for His blessing of their lives today. Despite the sour economy, unemployment, global warming (or is it global cooling now?), the falling dollar, foreclosures and war -- Americans still have much for which to be grateful to God, and tell Him so in their prayer at their Thanksgiving meal.

This morning I prayed alone. My children and grandchildren were far away, most were at other gatherings. I thought of all the times our family was together at Thanksgiving. We didn't thank God in a once-a-year prayer. When the kids were growing up, we prayed at every meal, at bedtime and in times of crisis. When the kids left home, Nancy and I sat alone at the breakfast table in prayer. It was a meaningful tradition that began long before we did it as a young married couple, then with our children, and once again as a couple.

As a writer I’m a strong believer in the power of words when we pray. To me, I believe that prayer is more effective when we actually speak aloud a person’s name and present his or her needs to God by name. That takes a little more time, but somehow I believe because it’s personal, maybe it’s more effective.

I got up this morning and made breakfast, and because it was a special holiday, I decided at the last moment to change the way I’ve been praying. For the past two months by myself I’ve started my day praying silently. I’d begin my prayer with thanksgiving to God, and praise Him for the many ways that He has helped and blessed me. Time and again my faith was validated because God answered those prayers -- prayers for my family, friends and specific faith-based organizations that we’ve supported through the years, Then I’d close with my own personal petitions and needs.

But today, as I bowed my head, more than a little conscious that it was Thanksgiving Day, I found myself praying aloud, the way we’d always prayed before, together at the breakfast table, at the beginning of our day.

Sitting there alone and praying aloud I didn’t feel lonely or vulnerable. The sound of my voice speaking to God, however, did something that caused a wave of deep emotion to sweep over me. I was so overcome that my voice cracked. For several minutes, I was half praying and half weeping, and telling God why I felt so overwhelmed.

I think I said something like, “God...this day is special. People everywhere are expressing their gratitude and thanksgiving to You. But I, more than anyone else, have so much to be thankful for. You have blessed me beyond belief this year despite all our physical and financial setbacks.”

I related the sad experiences and how they were met with the power of prayer. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of people that we know, were praying for us. I’d felt peace, power and promise every time God answered one of our “impossible” prayers. Cards, phone calls and emails from our friends, family and even casual acquaintances -- reminded us that they had prayed for us, and these prayers were so real that we felt them resonate within our being.

I felt overwhelmed by the experience. It was as if God was sharing His emotion over my own feelings. As if He wanted me to know that He understands my sorrow...my loneliness...my emptiness. He had experienced what I had experienced. Yet His Son died, from terrible violence -- not peacefully as Nancy did. Everything I had faced, He faced worse. So I can trust that He fully understands my predicaments.

His presence with me this morning was special...and sadness, sorrow and loneliness were crowded out of our communion today. What I felt inside me was exhilarating. Thank you, God.

“...we are hoping for something we do not have yet, and we are waiting for it patiently. Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain.” (Romans 8:25-26, New Century Version)

Oct. 25th, 2009

A Library Burned Down…

I was on my morning walk this past Wednesday when my cell phone began vibrating in my pants pocket. It was John, a good friend and a neighbor in our community.

John has been something of an unknowing mentor to me for the past six months or so. His wife has been confined to a wheelchair for several years and John is her primary caregiver. He became my role model when I became my wife Nancy’s full-time caregiver following her first stroke in May.

Whenever I saw John in the past four or five years, he’d stop and greet me. I’m sure he never noticed how impressed I was with his patient character and loving devotion to his wife. Fact of the matter is, even before my and Nancy’s needs he’d already laid our a foundation of knowledge to me on how to be a caregiver. In many, many instances I’d witnessed his attentive, loving and patient turn at caring for his wife--for many years, well before I enlisted into that assignment myself.

The thing I noticed first and last was that John always seemed to give his full attention to his wife. He looked after her physical needs, including hair and makeup, and even refurbished his van to accommodate her wheelchair without making her slump or lower her head (because the ‘chair was so high in the van). After the van conversion his wife could sit high in her wheelchair and get the best view out the windows when they traveled. John was attentive to little things and big things. Being an engineer before he retired, he’d imagine all kinds of ways to make his wife’s situation more comfortable or enjoyable.

When John called me Wednesday, I told him I’d only returned from Rockford the week before. He asked, “How are you feeling--really?”

I said, “I’m really feeling quite good. I slept the first few days, and took an occasional nap. I feel like I’ve recovered the sleep I missed after those chaotic days after Nancy passed away. I felt absolutely depleted.”

“I could tell,” John said. “When I saw you over the past few weeks, you looked fatigued. I could tell by your posture.”

I was about to moderate the seriousness of his assessment but I checked myself. He was right. I’d been running on adrenalin for a month, but I told people that I was “fine.” John seemed to know what I was thinking and changed the subject.

“Are any of your kids still with you?”

“No...three of the boys are in Illinois--Bruce is in Austin. Laurinda’s back in Kenosha. They call to check up on me--making sure I’m eating and getting enough rest. They saw I was getting run down, too. But to tell the truth, this past week of rest and solitude has helped me recharge.”

“But I’m sure you miss Nancy,” John suggested. “How’s that side of it going?”

I took a deep breath. It was a question like this that could still ambush my feelings, that are still raw and on the surface. I tried hard to control my voice when I answered him, but the sound that came out of my mouth broke with emotion. “I desperately miss Nancy,” I said weakly.

“I understand,” John said.

This time I changed the subject. "Nancy was organized in every department,” I said with a laugh. “I kid myself my saying I’m organized, but she knew where everything was--didn’t have to hunt for it. I spent two days looking through all my address books, Rolodex and email list--for two names I couldn’t find. Then I remembered. Nancy has a ‘master book’ that she categorized for contacts in Illinois, those in California, and a third category called ‘Christmas Card Names.’ And there they were--the two I was searching for. She was amazing. I can’t replace…”

Once again my voice broke as the enormity of what I was trying to say swept over me.

John spoke into the awkward pause and again deflected my thoughts. He told me something he’d heard from a friend recently. “He said, 'Whenever someone dies, it’s as if a library burned down.' When you stop to think of all the thoughts, plans, knowledge and memorized data that’s stored in our brains, and how many times other people need to access that information….”

I saw the point immediately. “Yeah, John, you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly how I feel. Helpless and lost without her. Her knowledge and wisdom is gone...and I miss our conversations and sharing. It really does seem like, a ‘library burned down.’ There’s so much of her that’s irreplaceable.”

John and I continued our conversation until I’d completed my one mile walk. We talked about many other matters and soon I was standing in front of my home, and we concluded our phone call. I went inside and began my work for the day.

Yet, ever since John called on Wednesday, I haven’t been able to get his comments out of my head. The more I thought about it, the more it was true: when a person dies, it does seem like a library burned down.

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