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Friday, May 13, 2022

Ambidextrous?

 


Within the city limits of the metropolis of Brookneal, there is a building wherein I ply my trade as a Medicine Man to the city and country folk who live Thereabouts.  The clinic is not very big, but we stay Almighty Busy most of the time.

Now, at this Office of Medicine, we firmly believe in the germ theory of infection.  With this theory in mind, we wash hands, apply anti-bacterial gels, and even with some procedures, wear protective devices on our hands that some call Gloves.

It came to pass that one day, my nurse opened a new box of these Nitrile Gauntlets.  I saw written in bold letters open the box that these gloves were "Ambidextrous."

Now, the term Ambidextrous carries with it different meanings.  To me, when I hear this word, I conjure an image of a masked man saying, "You are probably wondering why I am smiling.  Well, you see, I'm not Left Handed!"

I wondered in my heart if these new gloves conferred upon their wearers the magical ability to do things with their left hands that they could formerly only do with their right hands (or the reverse, as the case might be).

I decided for scientific purposes, to see how well this power might work, although not trusting it totally, I refrained from a true test, such as juggling scimitars or timing myself defusing a nuclear warhead one handed.  Instead, while wearing the gloves, I attempted to write my name with both hands.

This stunning conclusion came into view:  while the gloves might be Ambidextrous, I certainly was not.

I thought on this for some time.  It was disappointing to be sure, but since these gloves still protected their wearers from bacteria, it probably was no Big Deal.  

I thought more about the meaning of this Experience.  For, there are boxes wherein are supposed to be found Followers of Jesus, namely a Church Box.  While the church sign says one thing, the fruit of some of those found within tells a Different Story.

It is not the act of spending a few hours a week wearing gloves from a "Church Box" that makes one a Follower of Jesus.  It is when we focus ourselves on Him and seek to deny ourselves and bear our crosses that we truly become His Disciple.

Nothing less is sufficient to be a Follower of the Way, just like wearing the right gloves will not magically make a One-Handed Man Ambidextrous.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Hindsight is 20/20 -- Lessons From Our Response to COVID-19

 




It is a little over two years since COVID first made landfall in the United States.  For quite a good chunk of that time I was writing a weekly update -- trying to let people know both the severity of what was going on and at the same time, trying to provide people with a little bit of hope as we journeyed through the Forest of the Unknown.

It was a stressful time for us all.  There were times when COVID cases were through the roof and other times when it seemed that it was almost gone.

It is time to take a little stock of the last two years and understand where we did well and where we could have done better -- this specifically from the United States perspective.  This is not so much for continued response to COVID (although it is still around), but rather to understand a little better how we can improve if and when there is another pandemic.

Eventually we will see a new virus show up that we haven't dealt with before.  Hopefully we have learned some things to be able to handle that infection with fewer deaths.

Pandemics Take Time

My point of reference for COVID was influenza.  Every year that I have been a physician we have dealt with a flu season.  Some time between December and January we would see our first cases and then over the next three to four weeks we would be overwhelmed with influenza.  Local ERs would have really long waits and then it would pass.  We might get another wave later in the season, but by the end of March flu would be done till next season.

COVID was something different.  I remember looking at the IHME web site and seeing tracking data and predictions for the rest of the year.   I hoped that by mid-summer, certainly by August, the worst would be behind us.  It turned out that I was wrong.  It was going to be all of two years before our numbers truly began to decline.

With all of this in mind, the whole "flatten the curve" concept burned out with people.  If more had been done at the beginning to prepare people for the concept that they were looking at a minimum of one year of dealing with COVID, perhaps it would have helped.

When you are dealing with a brand new virus, you need to buckle up for a long haul.

Comparisons to Influenza Weren't Useful

Influenza is a virus that spreads around every winter.  It made sense that we would compare COVID to influenza.  Scientists would say that COVID is three times more contagious than influenza or four times more deadly than influenza.

I think the problem is two-fold.  First, many people use the term "flu" interchangeably with the word virus.  These comparisons often made it sound like COVID was a bad version of the common cold.  Beyond, which, familiarity doesn't really mean that you understand how severe or contagious an infection really is.  If you don't really know how contagious influenza is, knowing that a different virus is twice as contagious isn't very helpful.  Second, these comparisons missed the "novel" aspect of COVID.  Unlike influenza, which is only contracted by 5 to 10 percent of the population in a given season, most people ended up getting COVID -- many got it several times.

Statements like:  "5 percent of people who get COVID end up in the hospital," or "People with COVID typically transmit it to 5 other people" are more helpful than saying, "COVID is 2.5 times worse than flu at causing death."

In the future, it would probably be best to take a new virus on its own, without these sorts of comparisons.

Speculation is Bad

Early in the pandemic there was a great lack of information.  Everyone wanted to know all of the details.  What was the best treatment?  What should you do to prevent catching COVID?  How bad was it really?

Probably the best thing to do in the absence of solid information is to simply say "I don't know," but that seems to be a hard thing to say.  A lot of conflicting recommendations from early in the pandemic came because doctors were making recommendations without solid data.

The problem is that later on those statements ended up harming the confidence that people had in the experts who made these recommendations.  I heard this all of the time with regard to masking.  Dr. Fauci said initially that you couldn't transmit COVID if you didn't have symptoms and now he is saying something different.  Why should he be trusted at all?

I think we all understand that you can share something in good faith and find out later that it is wrong.  Any recommendations that are not based on facts could end up being wrong.

It may feel reassuring to hear someone making statements with a tone that makes them sound certain of what they are sharing, but at a minimum, it is very important for scientists and doctors to say clearly when they don't know something and are simply speculating.

Another issue is that people spreading disinformation speak with as much confidence as those who are attempting to speak truth.  Both sides try to speak with authority about things which are completely uncertain.

Caution may not sell many books or generate many You Tube hits, but it is the wisest course when discussing a brand new illness.

Studies are Important

There have been a number of miracle cures for COVID that have been mentioned over the last couple of years.  Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin are two medications that have been administered quite widely to patients with COVID.  I have read many accounts of doctors claiming really high success rates in using these sorts of medications in treating COVID patients.  

The problem is, of course, that most people with COVID do get better -- probably around 99.4 percent of people who got COVID survived prior to antivirals and monoclonal antibodies.  The question is if more get better if they take 'x' medication.  The only way to know for sure is to take two groups of people who are similar in age and risk factors and give half of them a medication and half of them a placebo and see if the people getting the medication improve at a higher or faster rate than the people who didn't get it.

When this was done with ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, there was no difference seen in the two groups.  Those medicines weren't harmful, but they didn't help either.

I think the number one thing I would like to see in a future pandemic is that rather than blindly giving out medicines that might or might not work, enroll patients in well-designed trials with medications that make sense and figure out what really helps.  This was done in the Oxford Recovery Trial and the Together Trial -- we should be able to do even more in the future.

It is not enough to prescribe medications that "might" work.  We need to know what really does work and at what dosage.  That requires studies.

Public Health Policies Are Crucial Early On

It takes time to develop antiviral medications.  It takes time to develop new vaccines and get them tested.  Maybe there is some existing medication that can be re-purposed to treat the new virus, but even there, it takes time to figure out which compounds work and at what dosage.

This is where public health comes in.  Testing, isolating ill people, and even masking all were crucial to getting control of the pandemic.  For whatever reason, many western nations were fairly resistant to a number of these things.  On the other hand, Asian nations did much better.

The United States has had 3,050 deaths per million population.  Japan has had 234 deaths per million, Thailand 405 deaths per million, and Taiwan 36 deaths per million.  This huge difference had to do with the willingness of citizens to wear masks, get tested if they had exposures, and generally listen to what their health department asked them to do.

I will mention here that testing is the only way to really know the scope of the problem.  African countries have pretty low levels of COVID diagnosed, but they don't really test much either and so it is questionable as to whether they know the severity of it (they probably couldn't afford a high level of testing).  Over the last two years, the United States ran 3 tests per member of the population (over 1 billion tests).  In comparison, Ethiopia ran 0.05 tests per member of the population over the same period of time (5 million tests).  It is likely that numbers from some of these countries are meaningless -- they just didn't test enough people to know how many were sick and how many people who died, died from COVID.

I don't know how to fix the general distrust many Americans have of public health, but certainly in future pandemics death tolls will depend on the willingness of citizens to think about others and not simply focus on their liberties.

Public Health mandates are the only way to control a novel virus at the beginning of a pandemic.  We would be wise to listen better next time.

Mutations are the Worst

Viruses "live" by copying themselves millions of times inside their host and then getting transmitted to another organism.  Some viruses, like Measles and Chicken Pox, copy themselves extremely carefully and have very few changes over time.  Some viruses, like Influenza and COVID, have a lot of changes (called mutations).  These changes could make the virus more contagious.  The bigger issue was that they made the virus able to evade previously formed antibodies.

I underestimated significantly how much COVID would mutate.  This was part of the reason that I had hoped that things would be better in five or six months.

Herd Immunity is not a useful concept when you are dealing with a virus that changes significantly over time and when the antibodies formed from vaccines and infections only last for 6 to 12 months.  At the beginning of a pandemic your guess about whether you will see a lot of mutations says a lot more about you and your sense of optimism or pessimism than it says anything about the virus.

It is best to bank on viruses changing through mutations over time.  If they don't, it will be a pleasant surprise.

People on the Internet Don't Admit They're Wrong

I suppose this is true in real life too, but I have read so many false things about COVID, about masks, about the ethics of doctors, and about nurses' poor care of patients with COVID.  I have given up hoping that people will share that they were wrong.

Plenty of people early on shared that COVID wasn't that bad, that H1N1 flu had killed more people than it had, that their local hospitals were empty, and that doctors were faking death certificates.  Probably most people who shared these things still believe them, but I would say that it is really important for those of us who are ethical, to admit when we have been wrong.

On the other side, plenty of people shared that vaccines would last for a couple of years, that they were better than a COVID infection, or that asymptomatic people didn't spread COVID.  Many of these were eventually proved to be inaccurate and it is best to say so clearly and not couch it in vague verbiage.  I believe that people trust someone who is willing to admit when they were wrong.

Honesty does not mean being right all of the time, it simply means telling the truth, even to the point of admitting that you were wrong in the past.

Politics and Medicine Don't Mix

If there is one thing that saddens me, it is the way that the United States' response to COVID became highly politicized.  I don't think it should be that way.

At the same time, when you are dealing with a contagious illness, a person's behavior affects not only them, but their friends, family, and neighbors.  Treating this as a political issue and focusing on individual liberties lost sight of the important need for caring for the elderly and frail among us.

Once again, I don't have solutions, but I would hope if there is another pandemic in my lifetime, that people will think of others more than they have with COVID.

Politicians aren't scientists, but they definitely affect citizen's willingness to buy into health officials recommendations.

Christians Need to Listen Better

Throughout the years there have been different plagues that have swept through lands and peoples.  In the Roman Empire there was the Plague of Cyprian and the Antonine Plague.  Later, there was Black Death.  In each of these, true Christians exemplified the love of Christ by ministering to the sick and dying people, even though it often cost them their lives.

Somehow COVID was different.  Many Christians were so focused on downplaying the seriousness of COVID and complaining about the stupidity of the people in charge that they didn't minister to people's needs.

Beyond which, they didn't listen to the messages that the frail among us were saying.  At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if wearing a mask helps or not, if it makes someone else feel heard and protected then Christians should be first in line to do that.  

Jesus said that His followers were to be known, not for their liberty, vibrant worship, or fearlessness.  He said they were to be known for their love.  We can and should love better.

There are probably other lessons that can be learned.  Certainly, I hope there is more personal protective equipment stock piled (no one should have to wear the same surgical mask two or three days in a row).  I hope that we have more tools to come up with antiviral agents and vaccines more rapidly.

The number one thing I have learned through this experience is that kindness is paramount.  Words fitly spoken make a difference.  Medical personnel who listened and shared honestly what they were seeing made an impact where scientists never did.

Pandemic times are filled with loneliness and Christians should be willing to fill that void.  Loving people and caring for them makes all the difference in times filled with death and suffering.

I hope there isn't a next time, but likely there will be.

Let's make sure we do better.

An Esteem Engine

 


One day, about the time of the evening meal, a conversation began between two of the citizens who reside in the House of Waldron.

“Dad,” said one, whose name was Elliot.  “I wish you were an inventor.  It would be so cool to have a dad who had invented something.”

"Well," said the other particpant in this conversation, who just happened to be Elliot's father.  "I did invent one thing, but it never caught on."

"What was that?"  The young lad inquired.

"Basically, you heat up a marshmallow and put it between to Oreo cookies.  I called it the "S'Moreo, but it never caught fire the way the light bulb did.  I'm guessing it's just because everyone is so focused on low carb diets these days.  If your father had but lived fifty years ago, he would have been famous."

"That isn't really the sort of invention I was thinking of.  I wish you had invented something interesting, like the Internet or something like that," Elliot said.

“I guess Al Gore did that already.  Anyway, I think being an inventor is overrated,” I told him.  “A lot of the people who claimed to invent things were just full of Hot Air.”

“Like what inventors were full of hot air?”  Elliot queried.  I could discern plainly that he was not convinced that his life would not have been remarkably better if his father had been more Edisonian.

“Well,” I said.  “People think Leonardo da Vinci was some kind of inventor – he sketched all sorts of things like flying machines and army tanks in his notebooks, but most of them weren’t workable the way he sketched them.  A man named Stanley Meyer claimed to have made a water powered car, but he never gave any convincing demonstrations of it.”

“A water powered car would be really cool,” Elliot said.

“Sure it would, if it worked.  We would save a lot of money on gas, that’s for sure, but the people who loaned him money to make it didn't seem very pleased,” I said.  “Even Nikola Tesla, who was a pretty famous inventor, claimed to have invented a Death Ray that could shoot down planes from 250 miles a way.  No one ever saw it in action, though, which is probably fortunate.”

“Oh,” said Elliot.  “But those weren’t inventors.  They were Fakes.”

“If I were going to invent something,” I told him.  “I think it would be an Esteem Engine.”

“That doesn’t sound like a particularly good invention,” he said, in a voice of discouragement.

“That’s just what they said about the Horseless Carriage,” I said.  "But look at what's driving on the highways and byways today."

The face of my son informed that he had no idea what my invention would be.

I know that there have been many great inventors.  They have created Amazing Devices that allow one to speak to others in different continents – without even having a single wire attached to them.  There are even engines that will power a Ship of Earth into orbit.  Few of these things make a difference in how people feel or provide them with the encouragement to live their days in a fulfilled fashion.

It would be such a blessing to have an engine that boosted a person’s self esteem.  I could see public schools around the country purchasing these by the armful.

Even as I ponder the subject, I know that this an area where we need no new invention or technology.  Instead we simply need to use the tools we already have at hand.

Romans 15:2 says, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up."  Mayhap, if just a bit of the attention paid to designing new electronics was paid to Simple Encouragement, much good would come to pass.  For this is one area in which skill is not as crucial as effort.

It might be nice to have an Esteem Engine, but the reality is that technology cannot take the place of personal interaction in matters of the heart.  If we only used our words with wisdom and kindness, we could help others.  If we only spoke with encouragement, this world could be a better place.


Friday, April 29, 2022

Not Quite Lemonade

 


It came to pass that one day, the fair damsel Elaine (my wife) purchased some lemons at the Store of Groceries.  For, she had decided to make a pie of which the name in the common speech is Lemon Meringue.

(And as pies go, it is in my top ten, which is high praise indeed).

This, apparently, is a good way of expending many eggs.  Our chickens are Holding Up their end of the bargain well and we have an abundance of eggs.

So it was that Elaine finished making the pie and she looked upon it and behold, it was very good.  And she ceased from pie making and the evening and the morning were the First Day.

There were, however, several lemons left over and this, is the story of one of those lemons.

The maiden, Victoria took one for to make lemonade with.  She took the lemon and cut it in the center part and proceeded to squeeze the juice out of it.  This done, she fished out the seeds that had made their way into her juice and proceeded to taste it and shared somewhat with her younger sister.

"Is it delectable?"  I asked them, although I could sense the answer to this question from the appearances of their faces.

"No, Dad," Victoria replied.  "It's terrible sour!"

Whereupon she went to the pantry and there secured some sugar and combined at least as much sugar as there was lemon juice to make a mixture.  And there was a small "sugar disaster area" in our kitchen besides after this adventure.

I, with great wisdom, suggested diluting the potent mixture with some water.  This done, a cup of Fairly Passable Lemonade came to be shared among the two girls.

I pondered on this simple recipe.  Victoria had understood the important ingredient of lemonade to be pure, unadulterated Juice of a Lemon and I suppose this is right.  It taketh lemon flavoring of some sort to create lemonade.

A little sweetener helps too.

I thought on the fact that many men and perhaps some women, believe themselves to have the fair gift of prophecy and to be speakers of truth.  They who have these gifts are not careful on whom they bestow their advice and criticism.  Further, few of them seem endowed with the gift of loving speech.

The end result is that their words are sour and bitter in mouths of those who are fated to receive them.  As like as not, they are spit on the ground, rather than taken to heart and made useful.

I took note.  For while it is a blessing to speak words of truth, Love is a wonderful Sweetener for such words.

As a great man once said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Friday, April 22, 2022

Mystery of the Missing Glasses

 


It was an event filled to the brim with tragedy.  “I was playing basketball,” my son Vincent intoned in a hollow voice.  “The basketball hit me in the head and hit my glasses too.  So, I took off my glasses and put them behind the basketball goal.”

“What happened then?”  I asked, feeling like a private detective interviewing a star witness.

“They vanished,” Vincent said.  “Elliot and I looked all over for them, and we couldn’t find them anywhere.”

"Did they just vanish because you weren't wearing them?"  I asked.

"No, Dad, Elliot still had his glasses on, and he couldn't see them either," Vincent said seriously.

It seemed like a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes, but when he did not choose to make an appearance, Vincent’s parents went out to look for the vanished lenses.  Despite our best efforts and a number of Tantalizing Clues, we discovered no sign of the Lost Glasses.

The next day, we made a more complete search.  There upon the lawn, Elliot made the discovery of his short lifetime – bits of a frame and one lens.  Then, I discovered the second lens nearby on the the grass.

The truth was Clear to be see.  Our Canine Pal, Aria, had made short work of these glasses.

(Fortunately, the lenses were not chewed or scratched and only needed new frames.)

Of course, no True Crime story would be complete without an analysis of the criminal’s Motivation.  This of course, is difficult when the Prime Suspect replies “Woof!” to all questions, but in extensive interviews, it is clear that Aria has a secret desire to read.

There are so many interesting books about dogs.  There’s “Go, Dog, Go!” and the Clifford the Big Red Dog series, and even that classic title, “Harry the Dirty Dog.”  I suppose it is understandable that our Lab would think that the One Thing keeping her from the world of books was simply having some glasses.

For those who are blessed with literacy (I’m guessing that most of those reading this would fall into that category), it is understood that there are no short cuts to learning.  The road to reading is paved with Vowel Sounds, Blends, and Diphthongs.  No special glasses will substitute.

So it is with things like understanding the Bible.  Paul told Timothy “Study to shew Thyself approved unto God.”  He was telling Timothy that the only way to understand Scripture is to spend time with it.

There is no secret road to reading, nor is there is a back way to having a deep knowledge of God's Word.

It is those who read and meditate and try to understand who will receive Knowledge that Passeth Understanding.  For this Knowledge comes from time well spent, not from special glasses.


Friday, April 15, 2022

"I Wuv You, Dad!"


 

One day, in the year of our Lord 2022, I was driving through the County Campbell on my way to a store where they vend items having to do with Hardware.  For our kitchen sink had a leaky faucet and unfortunately, Faucets do not fix themselves.

My two-year-old daughter, Elise, was in her car seat singing a Beautiful Melody that shared some deep insights on Bus Wheels.

On completion of her tune,  she announced to me, “I Wuv You Dad!”

These are the sorts of words that would make even the stone heads on Mount Rushmore melt just a little.  One can only imagine the feelings that stirred in my chest.  “I love you too,” I told my daughter.

“I Wuv Mom!”  She said.  This too seemed reasonable.  Although Dads are important, Moms are important too.

“I Wuv my Blankie!”  Elise shared next.  Then this was followed by the definitive statement, “I Wuv Gloves!”

For some reason, our two year old has an odd fascination with gloves – particularly ones that are much too big for her.

I suppose it is not unusual for people to mix up the words “love” and “like.”  Elise is aware of both of these words, but perhaps her feelings for her parents aren’t that much deeper than her desire for her special blanket.

The story of Jesus and Peter came to my mind.  It was a time after Jesus’ resurrection.  Peter had denied his Lord three times and perhaps it was with this in mind that Jesus came to His follower and asked him three times, “Simon (Peter), son of Jonas, Lovest thou me?”

 Each time Peter answered, “Lord, yea, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”

 Peter was honest, but perhaps his understanding of Love was but a pale shadow the Divine Love that Jesus had for him.  For, Jesus had gone to the cross for Peter.  The reverse had not been true.

 I am certain that my love for my Master is not nearly as Deep and Committed as it should be.  So often it becomes distracted and focused on things that are trivial in comparison to my Savior.

 Maybe it is similar to a young child who loves not only her parents, but also her blankie and gloves, with equal fervor.


Friday, April 8, 2022

Labor Saving Devices



One day, it so passed that our Mennonite Meeting House had a week of meetings that some call Revival Meetings.  These have received their name because of their reviving spiritual effects, for the meetings were Physically Taxing for those who endured until the end.

One evening, on returning to our home from one of these meetings, my wife noticed that the Youngest Damsel in our household was already enfolded in the arms of sleep.  So, Elaine put this damsel into bed with her clothes on.  It came to pass that Elise slept all night until the dawn and a little thereafter.

It so chanced that what with one thing and another, Elise wore the same clothes until evening when her sister, Victoria, exclaimed, "Mom, Leesy is wearing the same clothes as yesterday!"

It was true.

When I was a Wee Lad, still sleeping in the House of my Father, I had the notion that there would be much less laundry if only I would be allowed to wear my clothes two days in a row.  I am not sure why I was concerned about this, because my mother washed the clothes, but it seemed reasonable to wear them inside out one day and the following day to wear them right side out.

Hey Presto!  Suddenly half the laundry would be generated with no effort at all.

Somehow this Whiz-Banger of an idea has never caught on.  Perhaps the issue is that its inventor isn't famous enough.  Certainly it has never been tried on a global scale.  As I ponder the subject, part of the issue is that many types of apparel that come with buttons and zippers pre-installed, are difficult to put on inside out, but of course, living in the 21st Century, that should be easy enough to deal with.

Mayhap the number one reason for New Inventions is simply laziness.  The desire to do the same things with less effort is very motivating for humans.

Proverbs 13:4 tells us "The soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing, but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat."  Idleness leads to emptiness, while diligence leads to fulfillment.

The goal of human endeavor should not simply be to avoid work at all costs, nor should it be an aim for Maximal Rest.  A little labor is good for the soul and weary heads rest easier on their pillows.  I have become convinced that if folks invested the same effort in finishing their work that they use to get out of work, they might rest from their labors knowing that they were done.

The number of Labor Saving Devices grows larger by the week.  Perhaps the time will come when the Multitudes will need a special edifice simply to story their Gizmos of Laziness.

There is a cost for each one of these inventions and though they might prove useful, the Bigger Deal is to get the work done.  

For laundry must be done, even for those who wear their clothes multiple days in a row.  For while they may save time on laundry, they might lose friends through Increased Stinkiness.

Friday, April 1, 2022

The Miracle of the Prodigal Chicken

 


On the grounds of the palatial Waldron estate there live thirteen individuals who have Two Legs.  Seven have gone to school or will someday attend school, while the other six indulge in Fowl Language on a regular basis.

There might be other differences noted between those who make their abode in the Yard of Chickens and those who live in the House, but I will leave that for another Time and Place.

One day, it so chanced that my daughter, who has just turned seven, went to the Chicken Pen with the intention of Collecting Eggs.  She found some and then returned to our house.  Unfortunately, she Forgot to Shut the Door.

So it was, that an hour later I looked and behold, the door was Ajar.  On further investigation, only three chickens remained within the pen.

Now, we live with woods surrounding our home and there are many Critters that are glad for Chicken Dinners that they find when we do not pen our chickens up for the night.  So, my heart fell as I beheld our Chicken Pen only half full.

One chicken was found soon afterward in our yard.  Another chicken returned that afternoon and was permitted re-entrance to the Yard.  Of the sixth chicken there was no sign or feather seen of it.

All that afternoon I prayed for my Hen Neighbor to return by nightfall, but as the sun sank below the western horizon, I scanned the woods and saw no trace of her.  I felt a sense of discouragement, knowing that some racoon or fox in our woods would have a solitary feast that evening.

I had prayed quite a few times that afternoon for our Prodigal Chicken.  I gave it up that evening, knowing that she was a goner.

The next several days passed as usual.  The sun rose, although not with burning heat, for March in Virginia is anything but Toasty Warm.  I went daily to my Office. My children also went daily to their Institution of Lower Learning.

Then, five days later, my children discovered hiding under an outbuilding, a hen that resembled greatly our recently departed chicken.  She had no desire to come into the open air, but when she finally emerged, she was found to be no ghost chicken returned to warn us of some coming danger, but a flesh and blood hen, who was Hale and Hearty.

Whether she was there the whole time or only just returned because she missed us so much, I cannot tell.  Either way, it seems to me to be a miracle.

Matthew 18:12-14 says, "How think ye?  If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?  And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.  Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."

I am no shepherd, nor does my living depend on the presence and vitality of my chickens.  Yet, my heart rejoiced greatly when the Lost Chicken was found.

I understood a little better my Heavenly Father.  His heart yearns for His children who are roaming afar, though they do not heed His voice.

It is not that He does not care for those of us who are within the fold.  He loves us greatly, but His heart breaks for those who are lost and prey for the Evil One.

His love is great and He cares for each one us, and welcomes us home.  For His excitement at the return of a sinner is even greater, if it were possible, than my joy at welcoming my Prodigal Hen back home.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Waiting on a Check Up


 


Within the Metropolis of Brookneal there is one store wherein are traded food stuffs that some call Groceries.  It came to pass that after work one day, I passed to this location on an Errand of Mercy.  For, I went with three silver pennies and a little more money besides, to purchase a gallon of milk.  Without this, my family would have suffered the terrible fate of drinking water.

It is perhaps surprising considering the size of Brookneal, but I often see people at this Market of Groceries who I know.  There are times when I even see an individual who is a patient at the office where I work.

On this particular evening, I met a man in the Dairy Aisle.  He was one with whom I am acquainted, and he did not seem very pleased to see me.

As I greeted him, he cast a rueful glance upon his shopping cart and I could see that it had within its confines Soft Drinks, Chips, and even a Couple of Packages of Oreos.  I felt within my heart that perhaps he too, was on an Errand of Mercy.

And yet, I said nothing.  For, I am no Angel of Judgment to whip my patients into shape when I am not with them.

"Good to see you," I said to him, by way of greeting.

"Good to see you," he told me in return and then grudgingly said.  "I think it's about time for me to come down and see you again.  Only, I need to get things into shape a little better first.  I'm afraid of where my numbers would be right now if you checked them."

I bestowed on him a smile of the rosiest nature.  "You know where to find me," I told him.  "Don't wait too long."

I am a Medicine Man, but I have also been a patient.  I know the desire that each of my fellow citizens has to get a Good Report and to hear the words, "Well Done, Good and Faithful Patient!" 

I know too, that honesty is more important.  It is better to get a real evaluation of where your health is, than to get a glowing report based on six weeks of Better Than Normal Behavior.

I am afeared that many believe the same thing about church.  It seemes clear that many believe the idea that churches are buildings wherein amazingly Holy lords and ladies go to celebrate their marvelous purity of character.

While this is a widespread belief, the reality is totally different.  I am a sinner, Saved by Grace.  This is true for every Christian.  If, Christians experience holiness, it is because of Jesus' work in our lives, not because there is some intrinsic Awesomeness that brought us to the Foot of the Cross.

While it might seem important to clean things up before setting foot in church, it is better just to go.  It is the sick who need a doctor.  It is sinners who need a Savior.

Jesus knows who we are and came to bring us Life, regardless of how dirty and stained we feel ourselves to be.  It is easy to put it off till we improve things a little bit.

Still, He calls us.

Don't wait too long.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Spaghetti and Joy

 


One evening, it so passed that I returned to my place of abode and my sundial showed that it was about six hours after noontime.  And behold, though it was a pleasant spring day, I found within my dwelling place much weeping and wailing, so much so that I wondered if my beloved wife had departed for some western state like Ohio, for to seek her Fortune.

On reaching the kitchen, I discovered my Beautiful (if a bit Frazzled) wife trying to Whip Up some spaghetti for our evening meal.

As I began to explore the reasons behind each of my children’s angst filled voices, I found different reasons, none of which seemed too terrible to me.

One child had a paper to write and was having a Hard Time starting on it.  Another child just had “Too much Homework!”  The youngest member of our household had foregone her nap in favor of a Full Helping of Misery.

To top it all off, one of our five Two-Legged-Sunbeams had decided that she Hated Spaghetti.  This was a singular development as spaghetti is close behind Apple Pie, Baseball, and Beef Jerky as something all true blooded Americans like.

So it was that our supper meal was a Mournful Affair with a sense of relative despair over the Small but Terrible things of this life.

I considered well the angst with which my family was afflicted.  Fortunately, not every evening is so filled with anguish, but it seems to me that this is simply a manifestation of a lack of joy.

Joy is that essential characteristic that allows humans to weather the small things and the large trials of life with a sense of hope.  As Nehemiah told the people, “This day is holy unto our Lord:  neither be ye sorry; for the Joy of the Lord is Your Strength.”

Many times I have experienced a lack of both Joy and Hope.  This is never because of a lack on my Father’s part, but only because I let the trials of life cloud my vision.

God is faithful and can provide Joy for every situation.

He even provides sufficient Joy to deal with Spaghetti for Supper.


Friday, March 11, 2022

"You're Not the Boss of Me!"

 


One day, in the country west of the city of Gladys, the weather became somewhat warmer and the Frosticles upon the eaves began to melt.  I bethought me to go out from my dwelling place and prune my fruit trees.

Now, it so happens that I have several fruit trees and even now their number approacheth and in fact is, seven.  Each year, I desire to taste their fruit and each year they Let me Down Hard.

For the frost cometh at the wrong time and weather does not Cooperate.  While there are many buds in the spring, there few fruits in the fall.

Yet hope, as has been said, springeth eternal.  With this thought in mind, I decided to prune those trees of affliction.  Yea and I even went forth to spray them with Horticultural Oil.

To this endeavor, my youngest daughter set out to accompany me.

As I lopped off crossing limbs, Elise went walking through the yard saying in a voice like a Spring Storm, “You’re not the boss of me!  You’re not the boss of Elise!”

Wise father that I am, I knew that Elise had heard this statement from her older siblings.

"You're not the boss of me!" is a statement replete with sentiments of rights spurned and liberties violated.  It is a statement of a Coming Revolution from an Oppressed Individual.

Perhaps even as I was pruning my fruit trees, they too were crying out wordlessly with my daughter, “You’re not the boss of me!”

It is often true that this is a human response to others who speak truth into our lives.  It would be a Sad State of Affairs if we were unable to receive correction or outside input into our lives simply because we are too afraid of giving up liberty.

There are many reasons for us to allow ourselves to be bossed by other people.  It may be better for our physical or spiritual well-being.  More than that, we may simply bear more fruit.

Perhaps the best thing to say would be something like, "You're not the boss of me, but I choose to hear the truth you speak and will endeavor to learn and grow from it!"

Living with liberty is worth far less than living a fruitful, victorious life.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Of Vertigo and Empathy

 


One evening, as I began to clothe myself for my bed chamber, the world began to spin.  Of course, the world is always spinning, but normally I do not feel it in this way.  It did not do this because of the quaking of the earth, nor was it because I had taken part in some intoxicating beverage.

As I have been a Medicine Man for others, I put on my Thinking Cap and diagnosed myself with the dread malady “Vertigo.”  That was all the further than I got.

While I have heard many times the Proverb “Medicine Man, Heal Thyself,” I have found diagnosing myself about my Max.  I cannot say that my diagnosis brought me either joy or comfort.

All that night I did turn, even without moving.  Yeah, and my stomach was Queasy as All-Get-Out, even to the point of Nausea.

The next morning, I was a little better and so I improved a little bit by little bit for the space of a week.  Then I was as good as before, but more conscious of the blessing of something called Equilibrium.

I have seen patients with Vertigo before in my office, but till now, I had little concept of how miserable it was.  Now, I know.

It was for this sort of situation that the Apostle Paul wrote, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation, and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”

Truly, there is no sympathy like the sympathy of one who has walked through the same trial you are experiencing.  Though people may be linked by blood or friendship, yet some are connected by the maladies which they share.  So it is that for some diseases there are meetings for encouragement called Support Groups.

It may be that the most important thing for someone dealing with a Trial is to know that they are not alone.

When we walk through a Hard Experience, we must remember how we felt during it so that we might encourage and sympathize with others.

Even if we experience so small a thing as feeling a spinning feeling when lying very still in bed.


Friday, February 25, 2022

The Puppy Stage

 


There came a time when our old dog, Zeus, being old and full of years (those sound like the same things to me, but it says that about Job in the Bible) died and slept with his fathers.  For, Zeus was about 105 years old, if those who say that one human year is seven dog years have truth.

(Since I have never seen a dog with a calendar, I think it likely that they do no celebrate birthdays every 52 days).

Lo, our family mourned for a space of time and then, decided that we should get a younger dog to be a part of our family.  We inquired in various places and discovered a nine-week-old dog that was mostly Lab and she, we purchased.

Very quickly, we discovered what I had forgotten – namely that Puppies are not the same as Old Dogs.  Aria was many things, but she was not Zeus 2.0.

 For puppies dig and not for Buried Treasure.  They also chew on many things, including pencils (that no one leaves on the floor), stuffed animals, and anything else that happens to fall on the floor.  

There came one day that I discovered Aria carrying one of my daughter’s shoes.  Now, Aria does not wear shoes and so I feel certain that she thought a shoe was simply a Lovely Thing on which to Chew.

As I think on it, I realize that Puppies are Tabula Rosas, that is, Blank Slates.  In a short time, they learn an awful lot.

In the months since she has been with us, Aria has become house trained.  She is (slowly) learning not to jump on people.  Perhaps other educational opportunities lie waiting in her future.

When someone becomes a Christian, in much the same way they are unlearned.  They know little of God, the Bible, or the Fruit of the Spirit.

Those things come with Effort and Experience.

I am afraid that there are many who are comfortable continuing in the Puppy Stage, far into their walk with God.  For ignorance is easier than learning and laziness is a trait that is all too common, ever since Adam and Even ate the Wrong Fruit.

There is a blessing in growing and learning, even in things of faith.  For they that would truly know Jesus must not remain Puppies any longer than is necessary.