Joy Comes In The Morning

I was thinking…

When is the last time you thought about all that God has promised us… I mean, really thought about it? I’ve been drafting the book of 1 Corinthians lately and came to 2:9 where we are told that “no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

I know some people with pretty amazing imaginations, but apparently what God has prepared is beyond all that. Staggering. And Almighty God himself is personally preparing it. For us.

Last week I was drafting Hebrews and read about how we are sometimes chastened by our  Heavenly Father. This is hard, but it proves we are his children and develops his character in us. But in an mp3 message Donna and I listened to today, we were reminded of the promise that “His anger lasts for a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may go on all night, but joy comes with the morning.”

I may not be able to fully imagine it, but I’m going to try to focus more on that eternal  joy that will come in the dawning morning of our Lord’s return…

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From Blogger to WordPress


…here to WordPress from Blogger! All my new posts will go right here as of Oct 8, 2011.

As for old content, I was able to import all my old blog’s posts. Everyone’s comments carried over, too. You can find them here under the topical menu tabs.

If you had been reading the old blog, welcome back! If you are new, I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you enjoy reading these posts…

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Saved By The Blood

No, I’m not going to write here about the doctrine of redemption. This is about ordinary blood. The kind of blood we often need after a surgery.

Do you take blood banks for granted?

This is the “quick” version of what it took to get blood for a 14-year-old Palawano girl named Miyan who needed a few units of O+ here on Palawan. Miyan’s mom was one of our daughter’s best friends, so she is like a bit like granddaughter to us.

How To Get Blood (or, Missionary Life)
The father hikes sick daughter on his back through the jungle for three hours, then rides a “tricycle” (motorcycle with a side car) for 45 minutes on a dirt road to reach the hospital

The hospital has no blood and isn’t allowed to maintain a blood bank

The father travels 5 hours by bus to another hospital which is allowed to maintain a blood bank. That hospital has no type O+

Bill and father arrive at Red Cross at 4:10 a.m.

Bill knocks

Bill knocks

Bill knocks louder

Bill knocks ceaselessly

An old woman who was sleeping on the blood extraction tables at the Red Cross wakes up

Blood is not ready to go

The next 50 minutes…

  • The woman has to find the papers (actually Bill had to show her which paper it was) and find the blood
  • She gets out two units, so Bill had to tell her the release was for three units)
  • She has to copy numbers from each blood bag into a log book, and goes go get her glasses after about ten minutes of struggling to read the numbers
  • She packs the ice chest (meticulously wrapping each blood bag and each ice block in old file folders, taping the ice chest closed, etc.)
  • She finishes the paperwork and gets Bill to sign the doctor’s request
  • Bill has to sign a log book
  • Bill pays and fills out a receipt (she has to ask Bill how much he had been told he was supposed to pay)
  • Bill pays $100 for processing fee for the three units of blood donated by volunteers
  • Bill leaves Red Cross at 5 a.m. with the blood

Bill drives the father to bus terminal

Father boards the bus 30 seconds before it leaves

Father takes blood to his daughter 8 hours by bus to the south

Bill gets home and back to bed at 5:15

Then later that morning, breakfast and church.

Just another Sunday!

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Who you gonna call?

(Why, Mom and Dad, of course)
Exclamations are a fun part of language. They don’t necessarily fit all the patterns. And sometimes, kin terms and other surprising words are shouted out to express deep feeling.

You know how you always yell, “Oh cousin!” when you’re exasperated. No? Oh yeah, sorry. It’s brother, not cousin. And these meanings are arbitrary. There’s no real reason why it’s brother and not sister, or cousin, or uncle…

…no, wait. We do cry “Uncle,” but that means “I surrender.” And even the nonreligious will exclaim “Oh God!” or “Oh my God!” (or, omigosh! or even OMG, for short, on their smart phone.)

Filipinos use Diyos ko (“my God!”) as an exclamation. But they don’t stop there. They will cover all the holy family bases with Susmariosep! which is a way to say JesusMariaJoseph without stopping to take a breath.

But how come earthly parents get left out, here? Well, they don’t. At least, in Palawano, they have their moments of exclamatory fame.

A Palawano who is extremely sick or writhing in pain will continually moan, Indoooooo! Amaaaaaa! (gotta draw out those final syllables), which means “Motherrrrr! Fatherrrrr!” Even adults will do this, long past the age when an American would cry “Mommy!” without shame. They even do it after their parents have passed on. Whether that’s just semantics or due to their tradition of ancestor worship is just a guess.

They will also scream “Indo-Ama!” when deathly afraid. And that’s the expression I heard today.
My friend Ruben had to catch a ride on the back of a motorcycle over a rough logging road through the jungle as part of his journey to see me here in the city. Apparently his brother-in-law drove the bike a little too fast for Ruben’s comfort and peace of mind.

Ruben described it to me like this:
Neg-indo-ama ko!

That literally means, “I mother-fathered!” No verb meaning “cry, call out, or scream.” He put a verb-making prefix on the noun cluster mother-father and he was good to go. Palawano is flexible that way when it comes to building words.

And sorry, dads… it’s not father-mother. Mom always comes first in Palawano.

And if you want to be ready in case you you’re in such pain that you cannot speak, you could always point to this tattoo…

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Old Yeller and Bin Laden


I was thinking…

Spot on, Rick.

My long-time friend and spiritual mentor when I was a teenager, Rick Bundschuh (co-author of Soul Surfer), posted an insightful blog on a Christian Response to Bin Laden’s death. Read it here.

Here below is the comment I posted on his blog (with an added picture, free of charge)…

I remember trying to hide my tears (boys don’t cry) when reaching the end of Old Yeller in 5th grade, reading ahead while the class was doing some assignment or other.

I appreciate your perspective here on what love really means. I would have argued that for a Christian, revenge (as opposed to the mandated forgiveness), is something different than justice meted out by a government, or the casualties of war (as seen in Bin Laden’s case). But when I read your big-picture description of a Christian response, I found it thought-provoking and helpful.

When I first heard that Bin Laden had been killed, I knew that there would be lots of whoops because we’d finally gotten the “bad” guy. And there were. Ding-Dong the Wicked Terrorist is Dead! Then I thought, how like us as human beings. It’s only the really really bad guys that deserve anything. Bin Laden. Hitler. Guys like that. How we love to compare ourselves to them, and then we feel pretty good. We conveniently avoid comparing ourselves instead to God’s holiness, the only standard that really matters in the universe.

Yikes. I don’t measure up, either.

We don’t like to think about how crummy and sinful we are, and that our “little” (only from a human perspective) sins prove us to be just as lost as Bin Laden. Just as much NOT children of God by (natural) birth. Just as much in need of a savior.

A Savior. Christ died for me, just as much as he died for Osama.

God died for me. Now THAT’s something to whoop about.

Posted in I Was Thinking... | 2 Comments

You Have Won!

I recently learned something about myself and my work through the painful experience of a friend. Walk through this with me…

You have won!

In today’s world of lotteries, casinos and hard times, those are welcome words. If only they were always true.

By now most of us have figured out how to filter those incessant business offers from rich African widows out of our inbox, or at least we know how to kill them all with a vicious burst of semi-automatic fire from our ‘delete’ key. Going on rampage. Almost feels good.

But sadly, the con artists around the world keep trying, and there are always those who are naïve enough to lose money. And often, it’s the ones who can least afford the loss.

Like a Palawano, for instance.

One of our close friends, Odi, a Palawano “nephew” who married Nili, our oldest daughter’s very good friend (Nili is mentioned in some older posts on this blog).

For nearly 30 years now, we have worked here in the Philippines among a minority group on the island of Palawan, helping them in a number ways. In the old days, people used to call these groups “tribes.” Now that term is offensive to some, but not to the Palawanos we work with.

The Palawanos are mostly preliterate, subsistence hunter-gathers. Some have adopted “new” technology like plowing with a water buffalo. My anthropologist friend has jokingly said that the Palawanos are “400 years southwest of Manila.”

Over the years we have done translation and church planting, taught literacy, provided basic medical care, developed a community health program and trained medical workers, launched agricultural projects, tried to help with land rights issues… anything we could do to make the Palawanos’ life a little better. We raised our kids there. It’s home to us. And after four generations (Palawanos often marry young), we now have “great-grandchildren” in the community.

But the outside world keeps encroaching, and sometimes the Palawanos ask our help in dealing with it. Five years ago, I took a few hours to write up a step-by-step instruction manual in their language for how to use a cell phone. That was for the first two Palawanos to own cells phone in our area. Now it seems they all have phones, even the kids. I have 31 Palawanos’ numbers in my phone.

So I helped them learn to navigate menus to call their cousin, or send a text to their child who was stranded on the other side of a flooded river.

But we never thought to warn them about phone scams.

Here in the Philippines, where many people do not have constant internet access for email, the scams come by text. And that’s what happened to Odi.

YOU HAVE WON 560,000 pesos! the text read. That’s nearly $13,000… a lot of money to a man who might make $3 on a good day, but is usually satisfied with no cash and a couple family meals’ worth of food wrestled from the ground after a long day’s labor.

There really are legitimate lottos and raffles in the Philippines. Your chances of winning are slim, as always, but there are winners. During our first year in the country, while were studying Tagalog, our neighbor in 1981 built a new house with his winnings. But you have to buy a ticket and enter the game. The phone scams claim you have won a random drawing where your cell phone number was selected without you even trying. Lucky, lucky you.

So Odi called the number of the fictitious manager of the Philippines National Charity Sweepstakes company. Yes, he had won, they said. All he had to do was pay the lawyers’ fees up front so they would process his claim and wire him the money. Uh oh. A more worldly-wise man would have smelled a rat, but our friend could only think of how that money would help his family (actually, I personally think it would have destroyed him and every relationship his family had, once the flames of jealousy started in a community like his… but that’s another story.)

So he sold his water buffalo and hiked to the nearby small town and wired some money. Over $200. Soon he got another text. That’s great, but sorry, the lawyers say they need a little more. Unexpected paperwork, you know. But don’t worry. You’re getting so much in winnings, you won’t miss it.

Odi wired more money. Nearly $200 this time. This time he pawned some of his land to get the cash. That was a big part of the acreage he uses to feed his family. He even sent the scammers pay-as-you-go PIN numbers, in essence paying for their cell phone charges as they talked him into sending more money.

We need a little more…

So our friend Odi borrowed money from someone who had some extra cash he was using to pay for his son’s rabies shots. He promised to pay the guy back with interest that same afternoon once he got his winnings. Then he sent another $200. But it was someone else’s money this time. Money desperately needed for medical care. And he waited for two hours at the remittance office, but his winnings never came. Then there was another next.

We need just one more payment…

Then we finally heard about it. We live in a nearby city now, about a day’s travel away from the village where Odi and Nili live. Some of our Palawano translation helpers came to town and told me what was going on.

So I immediately phoned Odi and told him it was a scam. And he stopped. He never made that fourth payment. The following week, he came out to town and I took him to the local equivalent of the FBI so he could file charges. Not much chance of recouping the money or catching the crooks, but who knows? The cash remittance offices here all have CATV cameras. But very likely the men are long gone, just like the money.

Odi had been warned by several others, but he did not believe them. He figured they were just jealous. Now he wishes he had been more willing to listen.

At first I was angry at the dishonest crooks who stole from a poor man. I still am. But since then I’ve also thought about this a great deal. What else can be learned here?

Certainly, there is a clear reminder that there is evil in the world. We need to be careful. We should listen to warnings, slow down, be humble enough to be guided and corrected.

The thing that personally struck me hardest was how important relationships are. Our friend didn’t listen to anyone else’s warnings. But he believed me because of 30 years of relationship, decades of mutual give and take, all those times when we treated his kids’ malaria, when we paid to have his wife rescued from jail in Malaysia (long story… ask me someday!), when he helped roof my house, when we trained his wife to be a community health worker, when we sat by her in the hospital…

I had entrance into his life. I had the right to speak and be trusted.

Being heard is a great privilege, but it’s a frightening responsibility, as well. I could selfishly take advantage of my relationship with him, and be no better than those phone scammers. Or I could simply be unwilling to help. But sadly, even though I want to help, I can’t always be there in time to save the day. In that way, it’s a lot like parenting. I have to accept that.

But an important lesson for all of us is this:

We won’t have any significant impact of those with whom we have not taken the time to build a relationship. That is true whether we are missionaries, teachers, aid workers, writers… anyone who desires to pass someone on to others in order to effect change.

It’s all about people, giving them something they need, but even more, letting them know we care.

Before we can be there for someone. We have to be there with them.

I’m learning more and more what this means. How am I gaining others’ trust? Who do I need to turn to for counsel? Who has earned the right to be heard in my life?

How about you?

Posted in Missionary Work | 1 Comment

The Bank Was Empty!

I was thinking…

What’s wrong with this picture:

Our good friend went to the bank today. That’s not news in itself, but she shared on Facebook that her bank had no decorations. No Christmas decorations, no Hanukkah decorations, nothing for Kwanzaa, not even any generic “cooler-weather-have-a-nice-day” decorations.

Astonished by the barren emptiness of the bank (but not as concerned as she might have been had the bank been empty of cash), our friend asked why.

The teller answered that the order came “from on high” while pointing at the ceiling and rolling his eyes. As a side note, I’m thinking it’s safe to assume you should not take “on high” in a Judeo-Christian sense. The ruling was “no decorations at all for any season” and the reason was “we don’t want to offend anyone.”

How considerate! This bank really cares! Well, never mind those of us who might be offended, or at least taken aback, by stripping our calendar and environs of all evidence that we have history and culture, seasons and celebrations. 70% of retail sales occur during this season because of Christmas. You’d think the bank would at least want to acknowledge that the bulk of their customers’ credit card purchases were being made because of some kind of “season.”

We’re not talking about an atheist being visually assaulted by a manger scene. No one worries if Christians are offended by Santa or Target ads which presume to represent the spirit of Christmas, but that’s another story. No, the bank is avoiding the serious faux pas of offending a customer with snow, holly berries and jingle bells!

But here’s my question: What is so offensive about an evergreen wreath or (gasp) a red bow, that some poor soul would be “offended”? And for that matter, what part of being wished a “Merry Christmas” would actually ruin someone’s day?

I do not celebrate Hanukkah, but blue lights don’t bother me, and I certainly would not be offended if a Jewish friend wished me a Happy Hanukkah. Happy is nice. I like to be happy, and anyone who wishes that on me, if only for a season, is welcome to do so. Even if they do it because of an event which is meaningful in their religion.

Seems to me that our atheist friends, and whoever else the bank is trying to avoid offending, are a little touchy. Perhaps they need a faith (lack of faith, in this case) or a worldview which provides them with a little more self confidence and inner strength.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

It’s a special time of year, even if your bank is afraid to admit it.

Posted in I Was Thinking... | 2 Comments

My Dad Died

my dad died one night
when I was 15
the unwanted phone call’s shriek
ripped the night in two
my whole life gushed from the raw wound
pooling red on the floor at my feet
coagulated, then held me fast
sticky like new flypaper
life stopped then and there
when I was 15

Mom, let me sleep!
and sink into darkness
I can never bring him back now
he’s gone on without us
loved his Pall Malls and bread pudding more
life garroted by tar, soot and fat
artful dodgers he welcomed in
they stole what I needed most
and what can I do now?
I’m just a kid

no tears, I’m all dried up
except for pints and fifths
can’t you see my screams?
garbled cries inhaled, full of smoke
gagging on red, blue and yellow lies
out the windowpane, I leap through broken glass,
dreams slashed to shreds, my wrists intact
running madly after him
the dirty secret goal
over before I’ve begun

I’m a runaway train
derailed in the desert night
whimpering where the tracks ended
pummeled and mocked by radio’s unwelcome mirror
do I like the things that life is showing me?
tears of surrender germinated my mother’s prayers
hitchhiking to perdition but driven to hope
I knelt in the light
head bowed
one first step of faith

His willing, wrongful death
long before I was born
forsaken, shouting, It is finished!
light and hope tore the veil
love gushed from every brutal wound
my heart full, as his love flowed over me
cool river, ever fresh like spring
set my feet and soul free
new life the fruit of death
youth now eternal

Posted in Life | 3 Comments


I was thinking…

I rode a jeepney today. That’s certainly nothing to smile about. Slow, crowded public transportation. Squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip and thigh-to-thigh with total strangers. The roof too low, so my neck was bent over. Polluted air, stifling hot, swirling around us. I was on my way to the largest mall in Asia to get online and to check the stores there for a fancy shirt to wear to my daughter’s upcoming wedding. Thinking of her made me smile.

Next me on the jeep was a young woman with a baby on her lap. I expected to smile as I glanced at her child. (I’m a little more into babies now that I have a grandson, you see.) As my eyes landed on her son I saw that he had a terribly disfigured face. Hare lip and deformed nose, pointy teeth sticking out in all the wrong directions. Even more startling as he was nibbling on a sticky rice treat without an upper lip. I looked away quickly, trying to hide my reaction, my smile fading immediately.

I felt terrible, but I was unable engage normally with the little guy. I felt ashamed and shallow. I knew it was only too obvious that my reaction was to look away quickly. I smiled to myself, but only to remember how my daughter and her friends wore Billy Bob teeth at a mall once and watched how guys would check out the cute young girls from behind or from the side and then look away quickly when they saw the teeth. That was funny, but temporary. Those teeth could be removed and the girls were beautiful again. Then I thought of the young mother beside me. What must it be like for everyone to turn away from your child, trying to hide their revulsion? And for that baby, how would life be growing up and having everyone avoid making eye contact with you, looking horrified, and never smiling at you unless they were cruelly laughing at you? I though of how everyone smiles at my grandson and talks sweetly to him, telling him he’s cute, making him smile back. But who would ever make that boy on the jeepney smile?

Looking down at my shuffling feet, I thought of Operation Smile and other charities that do surgeries here for free to repair hare lips and cleft palates and I gained a whole new insight into what it must mean for someone like that young mother and her child. It would not merely alter this child’s appearance by putting a smile on his face surgically. It would completely change who he was. He would become a completely different person. It would change how everyone interacted with him. It would put joy and confidence in his heart by making others smile at him. I quietly prayed that someday that transformation might become reality for the little guy.

A little later, over lunch I thought of how God views us who are now in Christ. We were sinful and God cannot look upon sin with pleasure. He cannot smile upon it. But at great cost to himself, he undertook a solution for the ugliness of our sin. When he looks at us now, he doesn’t see our original deformity. He sees the perfection of Christ and he smiles upon us with great pleasure.

That made me smile.

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For Vic Harris

I’m here again.
Are you glad?
Your mouth contorting
(was that a smile?) with
eyes shaking frantically,
head on institutional pillow,
turned to me,
with the strain of simplest movement
for the briefest moment
before collapsing back
to that position you’ve held
for over eight years now.

your eyes are open.
Do you see me?
Can you hear?
What are you thinking?
Are you thinking at all?
Word and thoughts
behind a locked gate,
screaming, fists pounding,
helplessly trapped?
Or do you dwell
in blissful silence,
dead long before
you are buried?
A dial tone,
and buzzing,
a rainbow test pattern
flickering on the dim screen.

you were so strong.
A bull elephant,
Baloo to my scrawny Mowgli,
Rocky to my Boss
in our Protestant mafia,
Led Zeppelin IV
on the eight track
of your Corvair.
We were young
and foolish,
and fearless.
Beating the odds
so many times
until that needle,
those demons.
We never thought to fear
the ordinary:
hard concrete
of that curb,
that fall
which turned your brain
into this prison.
Why you and not me?

your shirt is clean.
God bless the nurses here.
Single fleck of saliva
on your lip
sparkling in the sunlight.
we’ve been cut off.
Please leave a message after the tone.
I want to talk to him,
hear his voice,
his laugh,
and feel his bear hug.


Okay, uh, Victor,
This is Bill.
Sorry I missed you.
More sorry than I can say.
Um, we’ll talk again, man.
He’s coming back, remember.
And we all get new bodies.
Hang in there.
I love you, man.


This poem is about Vic Harris, my erstwhile best friend and partner is lots of crime (literal and figurative). We were inseparable for a few years, indulging in many vices.

Vic lies at a convalescent hospital in a “permanent vegetative state.”

I define ‘grace’ as ‘undeserved favor.’ We’ve all experienced plenty of that.

Well for me, this one is about grace, too, since Vic continued on the path of darkness while I was rescued to a life of joy. Why… there is no answer to that one. No answer, but the response would be: Show gratitude and don’t waste your new life. Okay, God, I hear you.

I had left and gone to the Philippines, but other friends nursed Vic through his demons, both invisible and injectable. Vic had no sword to kill the Bolrog, or else, having the sword, he waited to use it until it was too late.

No one knows for sure what happened, but Vic’s been in a coma now for at least 8 years, apparently from a repeat of a head injury. The last time I visited him was a few years back. I just now got confirmation that he’s still there, still “alive” and little has changed… no improvement, nothing worse. And the calendar pages keep on flipping…

That freaked me out, and next came this poem.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , | 1 Comment