I woke up around midnight with over one hour of decent sleep behind me. Something inside me pulled me out of bed, to the desk to get my laptop, and then down the stairs to the dining room table. I was going to write a tribute to my Dad—there is no time like the present to gift a tribute to the living.
In this tribute, sometimes I write TO my Dad, and sometimes I write ABOUT my Dad.
Dad, I'm glad I have you as a father. You have been a steady force, a caring father, and a wise soldier.
You see, Dad has been a part of my life for a long time. I don’t remember in the hospital when I popped out of Mom all tiny, crying, red, and slimy, but Dad could tell you he was there, probably in the room if they allowed that back in 1975. I don’t remember coming home from the hospital wrapped up in all those blankets, but Dad was driving the car and helped Mom get out and then helped us both inside. You don’t even have to wonder if Dad helped—helping others has always been what Dad does.
I don’t remember much about moving to our home at 15700 Huntley Road, in Huntsburg, Ohio. They tell me I was three years old when we moved. I remember visiting while the house was under construction. There was this plank that led from the excavated area around the block foundation to the deck of the house. Dad was working there, framing the house. I don’t remember much about the early years in the house, but I do remember walking across unfinished plywood floors after moving in, with Dad doing more work inside the house to get it finished. He worked a lot.
Much of the memories of the years before first grade have Mom in them. Dad was gone to work most of the day Monday through Friday. He would get up for work before 6:00 a.m., Mom would get up to help him get breakfast and pack his lunch, he would kiss her good-bye, and off to work he’d go. I remember Mom in the kitchen when Dad would come home around 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. Dad would smile at her as he’d come in through the garage door in the family room, then he’d come up to the kitchen and hold Mom in a hug as he put down the lunch pail on the countertop.
After supper Dad would go do chores or work in the shop, or sit on the recliner and read the paper and sometimes fall asleep. Saturdays he would go to town often to run errands. If we were lucky enough to go with Dad, he was usually more generous than Mom. J He would buy a Klondike or candy. Dad was always generous. I remember going to Disneyland in Florida with our whole family. Taking a family of five sons with your wife to Disneyland is not cheap, but Dad wanted us to enjoy life. We went to Sea World and Geauga Lake in Ohio often, especially Sea World. I look at the cost of tickets to Sea World now and I think “I’ll take the kids to the park to play basketball or play on the playground.” Dad had this idea that he wanted to treat us kids well. He always went out of his way to provide for his family. I think he remembered his growing up years of having very little, and he wanted his sons to have much.
Christmas was a special time of year for our family. Mom loved to decorate for Christmas, and we always enjoyed it. Dad kind of went over-the-top for Christmas. He has always been a conscientious person—when he does something, he wants to do it right. I laugh now, trying to retrospectively analyze Dad’s generous spirit as I think back to those Christmas seasons. Here you have a man who loves his wife and his sons, and he is generous to a fault. Do I have enough gifts? Shall I get something else? But if I give this son this gift, should I get all the other sons something else? Dad was not the most efficient planner for Christmas. He would often go to Mentor, Ohio, to do his shopping just a few days before Christmas, and he would come home with bags of stuff for Mom and his sons. Each of us boys got a BB Gun at age seven, a .22 rifle at age 13, I think we each got a muzzleloader at age 15, and all the years in between brought coats, shoes, compound bows, fishing gear, tools, games, etc. Mom would open her gifts to find the latest kitchen gadget, some beautiful item of clothing, or another new kind of perfume. I have this memory of Mom having a long, low dresser filled with dozens of perfumes—that’s probably an exaggeration, but it’s a memory nonetheless. I have this faint memory of Dad asking me in my late teens one Christmastime “What do you think I should get Mom?” It was a worthwhile question to ask, because he had given Mom a lot of cool things and poor Dad was probably running out of ideas.
I don’t remember Dad crying much while I was at home. The first time I remember seeing tears on Dad’s face was at a Petersheim funeral in Holmes County. It may have been Rudy Petersheim, and I think I was around eight years old. There we were standing with others outside at the burial. I had just walked by this casket in the church and saw a lifeless body lying there. As if that was not unnerving enough, now they were throwing dirt on the casket in the grave. I glanced up at Dad and saw tears on his face. This was too much. Dad is crying? I stole furtively back to the van and lay down on one of the seats. My propensity to cry easily did NOT come from Dad’s side of the family. Blame the Miller genes for that sensitivity. I’ve cried plenty of times in my day, but I haven’t seen Dad cry much.
When I was in school, maybe in the first grade, Dad was in a car accident on the way to work. I think it happened before we went to school. There was crying in our family then. Mom cried, I remember that, and I think my brothers may have cried, too. Dad’s face was one black and blue mess. A woman had pulled out right in front of him, so he swerved to miss her and hit a tree. Broke his nose badly. The pictures would speak a thousand words if I could show you. But Dad was tough. The pain of that accident and his subsequent visits to the Doctor didn’t seem to faze him.
Speaking of crying, though, Dad nearly died from a fall at the jobsite after I had moved to New York and married Sandy. I should ask Deb, the family historian, which year that was. I’m thinking it was 2002. Dad had, I think, been walking some walls on a deck of a new house, marking the walls to place joists on for the second floor. He must have had a dizzy spell or something, and down he went, headfirst onto the plywood deck from 8’ feet up. We got the call that he was life-flighted by helicopter to Metro Hospital. I think we were able to get away that day and drive back to Ohio. There was Dad in a stubble beard, graying now, with a wry smile on his face. “You shouldn’t have driven all the way back to see me.” I saw him later that day trying to walk in the hall using a walker, his hospital gown dangerously exposing his body in the back—they don’t make those thingees for full grown, active men.
Dad recovered from that fall, and we were so grateful. Sometime within that year Dad and Mom visited us in New York and came to the church small group that Sandy and I were a part of. I remember it was hosted at Matt and Eleanor’s house that week. When it came time for sharing, Mom shared with the small group how grateful she was that Dad was alive, and then Dad shared a little, too. And what do you know, I saw tears again on Dad’s face. That fall shook us all up. We were all grateful he survived. I remember my cousin Parch telling me, “Man, when we heard the news about your Dad’s fall we all were afraid he was going to croak.” Well, Parch has had to lay his father's body in the grave some years ago and now, this month, his father-in-law has passed away. As I read the family's tribute to Roman Miller a week or so ago, it was one of the prompts for me write a tribute to my Dad while he can still read it. We never know how much time we have together.
I have some memories of Dad on trips that make me feel kind of badly for him. We drove to South Carolina once a year around Christmas to see Grandpa Schwartz and his family. This was like a 13-15 hour drive. Those drives he would park the van in the garage and get it warm and running, then when we were young he would carry us out to the van early in the morning while it was dark to get a good start. We might pretend to be asleep when we got a little older, just to see if we could trick Dad into carrying us. We would usually stop at Bob Evans or a sit-down breakfast place somewhere in West Virginia in the late morning. Well, we also drove to Missouri to see Mom’s family about once a year, and those drives were like 14-16 hour drives. Imagine taking your family twice a year on those long drives, and then all the places in between.
We went on several trips out West, covering more than 6,000 miles and taking more than 3 weeks for each trip. It seemed like things often went wrong, like the green van going through at least a quart of oil for every tank of gas in the last 3,000 miles, or the tire blowing out on the pop-up camper on some lonely Colorado road. When Dad would get anxious, we could tell. He would start burping. Out would come the Maalox, or maybe he would just pop a few Tums and chew on them. I feel about 20% responsible for some of his anxiety though, because traveling with my four brothers led to a fair share of brother fights in the van. So there was Dad, driving the van, while we would occasionally get involved in noisy fights in the back. One memory stands out when we all knew Dad had reached his limit. This time he banged hard on the dash up front and yelled. It caught our attention, and we stopped. What came next was supposed to be a threat. “If you don’t settle down and stop fighting, we’re going to have to… to… stop by the road and make pudding!” There was a short silence after we contemplated that grave threat while staring straight ahead, but then we exchanged wide-eyed, confused glances and burst into loud laughter. Even Dad smiled after that one. I think he knew his attempts to generate a bona fide threat had fallen flat.
So much more could be said about Dad. How he took us to church every Sunday morning and back to church every Sunday evening that we had a service. How he took us to church on Wednesday evenings for prayer meetings. How he would pray for us. How he would go help brothers in the church work on their houses for weeks at a time, coming home from work, eating supper, then going to work on a house for a man in the church. We didn’t think it was too funny when the one man in the church bragged about how cheaply he had built his house. “Yeah, you had our Dad for three months many Saturdays and evenings, donating his labor to build your cheap house.” Ah well, that was Dad--helping others has always been what Dad does.
I went to Sharon Mennonite Bible School when I was 19, and encountered this new-fangled (to me) teaching that the fathers ought to get involved in courtship. So I remember coming home and working with Dad that next summer as a carpenter. We drove to and from work together. One night we drove in the lane, and as he parked the van I worked up the nerve to tell Dad I liked a girl. He listened. I told him that I think it would be kind of neat if he would call up the girl’s father and tell the father that I was interested in his daughter. Dad paused. He looked at me, a little confused, and then said astutely “Uh…I think that’s your job.” I stammered a bit and nodded my head sheepishly, opened the van door and took the lunch pail in. That was that. Well, I did get married to the girl, in case you wonder, but I was the one to speak to Webster Clay about her. It was probably best that way.
When Mom died of cancer in 2005, Dad had a very rough three years until he remarried my stepmother, Ada Mae, in 2008. He really missed Mom, as we all did. It was hard in one sense to think of Dad remarrying. We knew that Mom could never be replaced. But I am so grateful to God that he gave Dad the opportunity to marry Ada Mae and have companionship with her over these past eleven years. She has been a gift to our family, and to Dad in particular.
As the years have passed, it seems to me that each year makes my heart feel a little closer to my father. I like it that way, the “feeling closer” bit. Only I wish I had been more intentional about getting closer to Dad when I was younger. Dad is 69, and I figure if God gives him another 11 years and I get to have coffee with him once a year, that’s only eleven more times to have coffee with him. That’s too short, you know? Surely I could do something to spend more time with him? I don’t see Dad moving to the Bronx, so that’s out. I don’t see me moving to Huntsburg, Ohio, at this time, so what to do? One thing I want to do is call him more. Just talk about life, share updates, and stay connected. Out here in the Bronx, we have six children to care for ourselves: some are young adults, and some are still children. The longer I am a parent, the more I honor my father and mother for their parenting of me and my four brothers.
Dad, I am very, very grateful to God for being so generous in giving you to me as a father. You know I have not been a perfect son—I know that you have not been a perfect father. But I have to tell you, your life through the years has taught me more than words can say, and I have always known that you love me. You have been a steady force in my life. You have always expressed care and interest in me and in my family. My children love Grandpa Schwartz.
I honor you today, Dad. If there is anything this Thanksgiving season that stands out as a top-tier reason to be thankful, it is that I have you as my Dad. Thanks for all you have done for me as my father, and for who you are as a courageous man of God.
Over the past few years, God has been bringing people, circumstances, and media into my life that remind me that silence and inaction is no longer an option when it comes to abortion. Back in 2016 I walked into an abortion clinic in North Carolina and decided to leave before I got arrested—that’s a longer story for another time. Earlier this year Sandy and I joined Stan and Sharon and watched Unplanned, a graphic, moving movie about an abortion clinic manager who left her job and became pro-life. More recently we have been accepted as a family mentor to a young woman at www.expecthope.org in the Bronx, who is living in their home and planning to carry her child to full term and is due the Spring of 2020.
Today we attended a LoveLife prayer walk in downtown Manhattan. It started in a church with worship, prayer, and testimony, and then several hundred of us walked to a Planned Parenthood on Bleecker street to pray and sing. Three women who had been considering abortions chose life. We cheered, the whole group. Much better than a touchdown.
This was end-game warfare. Armor on. Swords out. Battle lines drawn.
It strikes me that the life of an active disciple of Christ could be divided into three categories: godly life-style choices, intervention rescues, end-game warfare. Sometimes all three happen simultaneously.
Godly lifestyle choices include simple things like deciding not to eat that extra helping of food, or drink that soda since my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Or maybe I’ll decide to exercise instead of being a couch potato this evening. Godly lifestyle choices include simple things like teaching children and young people that healthy sexuality before God is found within the boundaries of marriage between a man and woman, for life. Sexuality is a gift of God, and it is only to be explored and enjoyed in marriage between a man and woman, for life. That’s sound doctrine that fits into the back-end, day-to-day living of godly lifestyle choices. Godly lifestyle teaching could provide warnings against illicit drugs, alcoholism, fornication, adultery. It could celebrate the privilege Christ-followers have to become excellent in gratefulness. Holy Spirit-inspired gratefulness fuels an attitude of gratitude, which opens doors to amazing opportunities never experienced by grumblers. How about choosing to tell my wife "I'm sorry," after I respond with frustration to a simple question? That should be a simple godly choice.
Intervention rescues may be self-sought. Active disciples of Christ can engage with the body of Christ, confess sins, and say “Please pray for me. I need help.” These cries for help can range from “I’m feeling depressed” to “I am so angry at my children’s husband I feel like killing him,” and anything in between. The body of Christ has the privilege to provide intervention—to come to the rescue. But intervention rescues may also be initiated by people who care so much for others that they enter into messy lives with offers to help, if possible. These intervention rescues can take the form of Christ-followers approaching a brother or sister to offer a loving rebuke, to offer counsel, or to extend a caring warning. Intervention rescues are needed in the mid-range battles that flare up between the humdrum normalcy of “godly lifestyle choices” and the stress-filled crises of “end-game warfare.”
End-game warfare happens when people have missed the boat in the godly lifestyle choices, wandered on into bad choices and horrible circumstances that warranted intervention, but somehow they have passed intervention and are now in stress-filled crisis situations that are at the end game. It’s life or death here. Endgame battles are won by prayer and fasting. End-game warfare needs faithful, committed, god-fearing believers to stand in the gap for each other, for their neighbors, and for the lost around us all. It’s one thing to tell a woman not to have an abortion. Our recognition that this child within the woman has a right to life is, I believe, rooted in the Word of God and reality. So there is a place for end-game warfare. But if the woman decides to keep the child, the long haul can look big, cloudy, and scary. And this end-game warfare will need to introduce prevention in the form of godly lifestyle choices if it is to be sustainable.
There is also a place for intervention rescues. If we know of a man or woman, boy or girl who is moving towards a relationship with someone that is clearly not glorifying God, an intervention at this stage could keep that person from entering into end-game warfare and facing the false dichotomy of “Shall I control my own destiny and kill the baby, or shall I keep the baby and ruin my life?” We should be prepared to enter into and engage in end-game warfare, matters of life and death. But we need to be at least as prepared to receive for ourselves and, by God’s grace, provide for others intervention rescues.
That leads me back to godly lifestyle choices. I am glad that 300 churches in NYC participated in 40 days for life. I’m glad we had a chance to prayer walk and participate in that end-game warfare. But Oh Lord Jesus, wake us up to the need to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Wake us up to the need for fathers and mothers to teach and model that sex is a beautiful gift of God to be enjoyed within marriage between one man and one woman, for life. And Lord, enlarge the territory and impact of your church in New York City to show children, youth, and adults that fornication and adultery are always wrong. We need Jesus, Lord. We are called by your name. We humble ourselves and pray, and seek your face. We need your grace and power to help us to turn from our sin. Please forgive us of our sins, and come and heal our land. Heal our families, Father. Heal our churches, Lord. Teach us to teach your body how to live godly in Christ Jesus.
We then attended a beach baptism at Plumb Beach in Brooklyn, NY. 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the air, 54 degrees Fahrenheit in the water. We Christians are a kind of weird bunch. We go to the beach in 35 degree weather as a group and dunk one of our friends in the 54 degree water. He comes up sputtering and cold. We all laugh and clap and pray for him, celebrating God's goodness. We then stand around in the sand and talk, laugh, drink Dunkin' hot chocolate, and eat munchkins. Reality is stranger than fiction. You can't make this kind of stuff up.
From there we went on to visit friends in South Brooklyn. These friends have spent the better part of twenty years praying for and intentionally reaching out to Turkish Muslims, in order to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. They gave us a tour of a building that was recently purchased that will be converted into a coffee house. Coffee and the gospel. Sounds really awesome.
We arrived home. A mother and her three daughters dropped by to play games at our house for three hours. It was a good, full day.
I'm tired. But it's a good tired.
Three funerals in two weeks was death overload. I told Sandy last Saturday that I’m rethinking our current strategy of attending the funerals of our friends’ parents who die. A lot of our friends are in their thirties, forties, and fifties. That makes their parents, well, nearing the end of the race. So it began three weeks ago when the father of our good friend Glenn Beiler died suddenly. We knew him, and of course we have been good friends with Glenn & Angela Beiler for a long time. They are real people—close friends. We should go down to the viewing to show support. Yeah, let’s do it. So we joined up with a carload of friends and traveled down to Paradise, PA, for the viewing, ate dinner with friends afterwards, and came back. Nine hours out of our day, some money spent, but what is time and money when you have such good friends to support?
A day after that, our friend Brendan Weaver’s mother had a stroke, and died the following Tuesday. Brendan and Heidi and their family have joined us here at Believers in Jesus Church, so it was fitting for us to travel to his mother’s funeral in Shippensburg, PA, on Saturday, November 2, 2019, with Stan & Sharon. We are glad we could see some of their world, meet more of their friends and family, and show support to them during this difficult season. Thirteen hours out of our day, some money spent, but what is time and money when you have such good friends to support?
The Friday before that funeral, Rose Hostetler, the mother of my sister-in-law Renita Rhodes, died. It had been a long, difficult struggle with cancer, and some time back Sandy and I told each other that if Rose dies, we want to go to the funeral in Ohio to support Rick & Renita. Besides, Sandy had lived in the same area as Rose and Richard and attended the same church for years. We knew her. So we left at 5:30 a.m. Monday morning and attended the funeral on Tuesday. Hearing Renita and Ravonne give reflections, listening to the sermon from Pastor Perry, watching the burial with the dirt filling the grave, the reality and intensity of death pounded in on every side. Jesus help us, and please help our friends and family as they deal with the loss of a dear wife, mother, and grandmother. Forty-three hours out of our week, some money spent, but what is time and money when you have such good family members and friends to support?
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. I Corinthians 15:26. I was at a service a few weeks back when the preacher said that the last enemy that was destroyed was death. It was said in the context that God wants everyone everywhere to be healed, and death has been destroyed everywhere. He was a great preacher. I haven’t sat under such fiery Pentecostal yelling for a good while. But he messed up the verb tenses when he spoke about death being destroyed. Death has not yet been destroyed, at least not physical death. In heaven there “will be no more dying.” Uh, but we are not yet in heaven, and there is death and dying all around us. Brendan’s father had a moving tribute to his wife. At one point he said “I hear people saying that they don’t think we have a soul. Well, we ARE a soul, and this death that happened to my wife was just her body. Her soul lives on in eternity.” It will be a glorious day when death is destroyed.
I think of Hebrews 2: “You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus.”
Now we do not yet see all things put under him. That’s true. There is still death. We see Jesus, yes, but there is still this enemy of death. When I am around caskets and see the bodies and faces of people whose spirits have departed, something dissonant rattles in my bones. Ears ring after an explosion, right? Skin starts to itch when you hear someone talk of bedbugs. Similarly, my body and soul take a figurative step back and down when I come face-to-face with death.
But then something else rises up within me.
There is hope beyond the grave. The comforter has come, and even in the mourning He brings comfort.
Eternal life is real. I will stand on the powerful truth that all of the promises of God are yes, and amen.
And I’m hoping to take a bit of a break from funerals for a while.
I'm listening to Dallas Holm right now. I have hope. Lyrics posted below.
Where do the brokenhearted go
To find a comfort for their pain
So many hurting need to know
The hope there is in Jesus' name
I tried to make it on my own
I kept on drifting far away
But now I finally have a home
In Jesus love I'll always stay
I have joy in the time of sorrow
I have peace in the raging storm
I have faith that Jesus holds tomorrow
I have hope, I'm resting in His arms
I'll carry on 'til Jesus comes
Though trials and snares may come my way
And by His strength the race I'll run
And by His grace these words I say
He said He'd never leave me, never let me go
No matter what may come, this one thing I know
We found the van window shattered when we went out to use it earlier this year. I think this was in April. A van window broken. Again. Somebody must have thrown a rock through the window this time. My good friend Sunny told me years ago, “People are stupid.” I called 911 to report it. Nobody showed up from the four seven.
"So love them anyway."
Ben’s bike was stolen last winter. We found it several weeks later, chained to a No Parking sign down on Adee Avenue near the Eastchester Deli. The police never responded to that 911 call, either. The homeless guy, "Face," who chained it there came riding up on a red Huffy bike. He agreed to open up the chain and give the bike to me, but he denied stealing it. “Yo dude, I found it on the sidewalk. The tire was broken.” I told him the red Huffy that he was riding was mine as well, but he can have it. He did not even deny that the red Huffy was ours. People can be annoying.
“Love them anyway, Rich.”
Our friends on E. 224th Street asked if I can help them hang blinds in the back bedroom a few weeks ago. Apparently the two girls saw the shadow of a man creeping around in the backyard at night, trying to look in. What a weirdo. People do the strangest things.
“Rich, I have been telling you. Love them anyway.”
Two days later, our other friends stopped by to hang out for a while. They live on E. 224th Street adjacent to the house of the ones who asked for help to install the blinds.. We found out from them that the previous week, the 12 year old boy had been in his room, lying awake on his bed at night. The back window was open, but the window bars were in place. A man’s long arm reached into this boy’s room, and the boy screamed and screamed. His mother called 911, and the boy told everyone that would listen, “It was a man hand! It was a man hand reached in through the window!” That is just plain freaky. What is this man doing reaching in the window? Doesn’t he have anything better to do? Earthlings, humanoids, strange random creatures floating on the whims and feelings of the untethered self.
“They are created in my image, Rich. I love these people. Please, as you have received my love, love them anyway.”
In September, a weirdo opens our back door in the middle of the night. This guy walks into our house, through the basement bedroom, up the stairs, and then assaults our nineteen year old daughter in the house. Thankfully she screams loud and fights him off, so he runs away. I get down from upstairs just in time to find out that a man has been in the house and run off. This guy must be some piece of work. Crazy, man. If people keep doing these kind of things, what in the world are we to do? How do we love our neighbors well, with open hearts, if there are crazy people out there? The detectives tell us that the night after the incident they booked a man for a separate offense who has been charged previously with seven burglaries. The detectives are certain this man is the one who entered our house, but they cannot pin this one on him unless a witness can identify him or unless they match fingerprints. People may be strange, but that does not give them any right to come uninvited into my house and assault my daughter.
“I am your God, Rich. Do not fear men. No person can separate you from my love. Remember, Rich, you have been an unlovable chap many times in your life, but I have always loved you. You have been given much. There is much to be given. Love them anyway.”
When a friend bails out of a long term rehab program because “The guy was pushing my buttons,” I want to grab him by the hair and shake some sense into him. How is that people think they are autonomous creatures of choice, but as soon as someone around them does something wrong they blame their own poor choices on the people around them. Mark this. As soon as you place the responsibility of all your choices on those around you, you self-destruct your value as a person of creative, meaningful choice. And you give all that power to those around you. That’s a lot of power to give people. Especially crazy people.
“They’re crazy? Love them anyway. You’re a little nuts sometimes yourself, and I love you.”
Thanks, Lord. I needed that. And yes, since You love me so well, how can I not love them anyway? Apart from you I can do nothing. Give me your love. Your kindness leads me to greater running-over infilling of your love and repentance. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
We had a traumatic early morning at the Schwartz house on Sunday, 9/8/2019. Sandy and I awakened to piercing, incessant, screams. Wave upon wave, on and on. I jumped out of bed and out the bedroom door before identifying the screamer as Bri. My mind whirling, I dashed down the steps, trying to pinpoint the reason for the screams. Had she seen a cockroach? A mouse? Had she had a bad dream?
Bri had been sleeping on the couch in the living room. Earlier that morning, I had awakened around 3:00 a.m., gone down and ate a clementine from the fridge, turned off the dining room light, turned on the kitchen light, and gone back to bed and dreamland. Sandy had gone down a few minutes later to get a bottle for the little girl living with us, and had turned off the kitchen light and kept on the stove light.
Pounding down the steps, I arrived at the bottom and found Bri screaming, shaking, and yelling “There was a guy in the house! He just went running down the basement stairs!"
Adrenalin rush. A wave of blood sweeping through my system. We had four little children sleeping upstairs. We are friends of these children and of their mother, and they had been staying with us on alternating weeks for a season. Our other five children were sleeping in the basement!
I ran down the basement stairs. Avery and Ben were up. They looked dazed and disturbed… Yes Dad, there was a man who just ran through our bedroom and through the family room and out the back door! I ran through the basement and outside. Nobody there. Avery came out and I told him to get his electric scooter and go around the block to see if he can see anyone. I then ran around the back alley towards Givan Avenue. Nobody.
When I came back inside I went upstairs and Bri was with Sandy. Through the gracious hand of God, Bri had been awakened by a dream just before the incident. It was a bad dream, a dream in which someone was coming in the house and she was yelling at the guy. So she woke up and lay there on the couch. Wait. There is a guy walking up the basement steps. The guy came up the steps and stepped into the living room. At first she thought it was Avery. When she realized it was not Avery she started screaming. The guy ran over and tried to hold her mouth shut and put his hands on her. It was terrible. She yelled and fought him off, so the guy ran to the basement door, down the stairs, and out the back door, leaving Bri with some cuts on her face and a bloody lip. Avery and Ben both saw the guy run through their bedroom on the way to the back door. They had just been awakened by Bri’s screams, and this guy came running through their room.
A burglary is one thing. Having a man come into my house and put his hands on my daughter is another thing altogether. No no no. This cannot be. How can this be? This is bad. Real bad.
I called 911 and within minutes the police and ambulance were there, and we had a parade of over twelve police officers come through over the next four hours. One police officer advised we get a security system. Another police officer gave a strong recommendation to buy a dog. He said that’s the best security system. We don’t have a security system for two reasons: 1. God is our security; 2. Rich is too cheap. I’m rethinking this, though. And we hope to get a dog if we can find one suitable and reasonably priced.
Yes, we thank God for giving Bri a dream that made her wake up. She starts up and is awake, and then this man comes up the steps. She has the adrenalin and strength to scream and to fight him off. That's a gift from God.
Practically speaking, I wish God would have kept the dude from coming into our house in the first place. Is that too much to ask? During the twenty-four hours after the incident, I told myself that we need to receive this experience as an opportunity to trust God with everything. But man, everywhere I went I would think “Was this the guy? Was that the guy?” It’s tough to care for people when everyone looks like a potential burglar. Over the course of the next week, God gently softened my heart.
The night after the incident
The night after the incident I slept downstairs in the family room. I figured if the dude tries coming in again he’s going to have to get by my umbrella first. I locked the boy’s room from their side, so I could not get into the boys room unless I would go outside, up the exterior steps, and enter the dining room. Well I woke up sometime around 3:30 p.m. to a loud moaning/groaning sound, and what I thought was a “3...2...1!” countdown from Avery, like he had the moaning guy in a chokehold. “Avery must have tackled this guy. I need to go help out!” I thought to myself. So I ran outside, up the steps, and entered into the dining room. I then waited and listened, but did not hear anything. I came back down and quietly entered the back door and stood there, listening.
I heard the front door open upstairs.
Running back outside, I ran up the outside steps two at a time and barreled into the dining room.
There was Avery, standing by the front door with a yellow broom in his hand, eyes wide. “Dad, you heard it too?” I heard the door open!”
“Yes, I heard the front door open. Was that you?” I asked.
“Yeah, I opened the front door, but I heard the back door just open. Who did that?” Avery asked.
“I opened the back door," I told him.
We looked at each other, relieved and a little sheepish at this round of scaring ourselves.
We had scheduled more than a month prior to this event to take a four day vacation on the Jersey shore in Wildwood Crest, NJ, so we were there from Monday through Thursday. It was a very timely getaway.
And God is working through the prayers of His people to restore trust in Him, and to be able to feel love towards people.
Last night, Bri called me at 11:45 p.m. from her bedroom. She had heard a noise in the kitchen. I came downstairs and found it empty. Nobody was on the back porch. So I walked down the basement steps to the boys room. Avery and Ben were awake, eating a frozen fruit salad. “Ben, I told you that you were too loud going up to the kitchen to get the spoons,” Avery said to Ben as they both looked at me from their midnight snack. I guess they got late night hunger pangs and Ben was commissioned to get the food and the spoons.
We are all still a little jumpy around here. Maybe a dog will help.
Animal Crackers and Prayer
Sandy was shopping at the Boston Road supermarket two blocks from our house when she witnessed a young mother yelling angrily at her young son. This went on and on, until Sandy felt led to approach the woman. “Hi, you seem to be dealing with a lot of stress. Do you mind if I pray for you?”
The woman said she would love to be prayed for. She was about to be evicted from her apartment. After Sandy prayed, the young woman told her “You pray different than I have ever heard before.” The little son yelled “Do it again!” So Sandy said, “Sure, I’ll pray for you again,” and knelt down and put her arms around the boy and prayed again. When she finished, the little boy yelled “That felt so good!”
The young woman told Sandy she remembers meeting her last year while we were house hunting, but Sandy does not remember that meeting. Anyway, while they were talking another shopper came up and asked the young woman if she knows where the animal crackers are. Sandy had this quick thought “I should pray for that woman, too,” but the opportunity passed and her new young friend told the hunter of animal crackers where she thought she could find animal crackers.
Sandy bought her groceries was standing just inside the grocery store door, nearly ready to leave, when the hunter of animal crackers approached her: “Excuse me, do you know where I could find a big box of animal crackers?” It was almost like this woman was stalking her. So Sandy said “Well, I don’t know where you could find animal crackers here, but you could check Aldi… By the way, would you mind if I pray for you?”
The woman said “Yes, I would like that,” so Sandy stood there praying for the woman, tears coming down her face, while the woman was holding her hands up in the air, receiving the prayer.
The Scripture that came to Sandy on the way home was from Isaiah 61, the passage that Jesus read in Luke 4…“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind…”
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6
Sandy says “Prayer is such a powerful gift! Use it to minister to someone today!”
I prayed over a brick house.
I try to take a daily morning prayer walk along Corsa Avenue. It is about 0.5 miles between Burke and Hicks; three long city blocks, so the prayer walk ends up being around one mile. Back in January or February, every time I would turn around by Hicks Street and head south on Corsa Avenue, I would feel this urge to stop at a brick house on the west sidewalk. I would stop, look at the house, and pray for the people in it. I had never met them, but I would talk to God about this house and its occupants, asking for the Spirit of God to draw them to Himself.
About five weeks ago, I was walking towards Hicks Street along Corsa Avenue and saw a well-dressed man standing in front of this brick house. I quickly crossed the street, introduced myself, and said that we moved in last fall and I have been praying along Corsa Avenue most mornings. I explained that there must be a special call that God has upon the people in that house, because for a while I could not pass it without praying specifically for the occupants. The guy, (we’ll call him Sam), told me that he lives there. Sam is about my age. Sam grew up in church. He was baptized as a teenager. He is the son of a pastor. He knows that God wants him to come back, but he has walked away from God, from the faith, and from the church. “My Dad prays for me every day,” Sam said.
I asked Sam if I could pray for him, and he readily agreed. Something is happening in Sam’s heart, it seems.
Last Monday, my brother Ike and I were walking along Corsa Avenue. We spoke with a few people and had the opportunity to pray for three of them. Divine appointments. As we neared Hicks Street I said, “Hey Ike, let’s ring that bell over there and see if Sam is home.” We rang the bell to this brick house, and the first person to answer the door was… you guessed it, Sam. He said if we had rung the bell five minutes later he would have been on his way to Yonkers. We spoke with Sam for maybe 30 minutes and at the end we prayed for him, and he prayed in Spanish.
Sam told us something like this, and I paraphrase…“I know I need to come back to God, but I don’t want to come back and disappoint God by not following him wholeheartedly, so I’m asking him for a sign.”
We suggested that, perhaps, if God was prompting me to pray for that brick house multiple days in a row that might be a sign. Just maybe, right?
God is using others to answer the prayers of a pastor who is praying for his son. I wonder how many different people are involved in this master plan of God’s to point Sam’s heart back to His Heavenly Father. As I was writing this little update I called Sam, and he invited me to meet up with him this Friday. May the Spirit of God draw Sam to the Father, through Jesus.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
What happened?! You were stabbed?!
Most Friday mornings Stan and I go to the train station to preach the gospel. Actually, one of us preaches on one side of the track to the Manhattan-bound travelers waiting for the train, and the other one tries to smile at each traveler as they near the top of the 49-step ascent to the platform. A smile, a “Good morning” and an offer of a gospel tract sometimes receives a smile in return, sometimes gets rejected, but is always worth doing in the name of Jesus.
We have about a five minute window to preach before the northbound or southbound train comes through. Last Friday morning my short five-minute message began with “Good morning to my friends across the track, my name is Rich, and I want to tell you this morning that You are called to have life to the full, to live completely free, and to be filled with joy.” This was the day after the 4th of July, so I mentioned the “we hold these truths to be self-evident” statement that outlines our “inalienable rights” and then talked about the Kingdom of God that calls us to deeper life, gives us freedom to serve, and provides fullness of joy.
After my second message, the northbound train pulled up to the platform. I moved back and talked with God a little: “Thank you, Father, for giving me the chance to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. I was made for this.”
A man staggered off the train holding his side, moaning a little, his shirt all bloody.
“What happened?” I asked, walking up to him quickly. “Do you need help?”
“I got stabbed, man. I need to get to my sister’s house and get to the hospital,” he managed to get out between gasps.
“What!? You got stabbed!? Hey, let me run get my car and I’ll drive you to your sister’s house so we can then get you to the E.R.” I ran down the steps, ran to get my car, and pulled up to the train station. He wasn’t there. “Oh know,” I thought to myself. “He probably fell down those stairs!” Thankfully I found him leaning up against a post near the other exit, so I drove over and helped him into the car. He began to explain where he lived and told me where to go, but then he couldn’t remember the name of his street. “It’s 3300….3300…man, I’m losing it. I can’t remember the name of my street.” I’m thinking to myself this guy is going to pass out in my car, I don’t know who he is, and I don’t know where he lives.
We made it to his sister’s house, where he changed his shirt. Four stab wounds in all. I took him to Montefiore Hospital with his cousin, and dropped them off at the E.R.
The man (we’ll call him Dan) showed me his stitches and staples the next day when I stopped in to visit, and thanked me for taking him to the hospital. The next day, Sunday, I invited Dan to come to church, not thinking through it that he’s probably in a lot of pain yet. He actually walked the 0.4 miles to church and joined us for the service. The message was on “Walking in the Spirit” from Romans 7, and Dan said later that Stan’s message spoke to him. Ike took him home early because his wounds were hurting him.
The Word of God was sharper than a two-edged sword. Or maybe that’s not such a good analogy for someone who has just endured four stab wounds.
God is on the move.
Rejoicing in heaven.
Ike and I have begun to try to schedule a weekly walk along Corsa Avenue on Mondays during the mid-morning, looking for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. After “Dan” came to church on Sunday, we decided to stop in to visit him. He was very happy to see us and sat outside on the patio on a chair while Ike told of what God has done in his life. I shared some of what God has been doing in my life. We then both told Dan that we believe God preserved his life on Friday for something bigger.
Dan told us that he can think back to a time before dawn on Friday when he went to get some beers and, as he was coming back, he had a choice between two paths to the place he was heading. He actually started down the one path, but it was like he was moved to change his course and go down the other path. That “other path” is where he met the four guys who started trying to beat him up, and the one began using a knife. The time that he changed his course and went down the “other path” sounds very close to the time that Ike, Stan, and I were praying at the church building for those who would receive the gospel tracts and hear the gospel message at the train station. Would God have listened to our prayers and moved a man in downtown Manhattan to change his course so he could get stabbed and so that people would ignore him on the train so that he could come off the train just as I was preaching? We do not know the mind of God, now do we?
Now is the day of salvation, we told Dan. We asked Dan what keeps him from giving his life to the Lord Jesus. Dan said that there is no reason for him to wait, and he would like to do that right now. So I prayed for him, he prayed and asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins, and to be Lord of His life, tears streaming down his face. And then Ike prayed.
So we gave Dan a Bible, gave him some reading assignments, and Stan had a follow-up visit with him Wednesday. I’m hoping to meet with Dan again tomorrow.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. ” (Matthew 13:45-46).
Go all in.
The Kingdom of Heaven is worth dying for.