Wednesday, February 26, 2014


In 1969 a baby girl and her family took a summer vacation at a dude ranch outside Del Rio near the Mexican border. It was a hot Texas summer and the family rode in a station wagon from their home in Houston with the convenience of air conditioning but without the inconvenience of seat belts. Once they got to the ranch, however, they rode horses with neither. Since the baby girl had not yet been born, she rode in her mother.  

This was Ross and Ginger's second marriage each. She brought one teenage daughter into the new family. He brought a daughter and two sons. They were very different people, but their differences fit together like pieces of a dysfunctional jigsaw puzzle. Both of them smoked a lot of cigarettes. This was before smoking was bad for you. 

Ten weeks before Ginger was due to give birth she went into labor at the dude ranch. They station-wagoned over to the nearest clinic in Del Rio and that's where Martha was born. Except her name wasn't Martha yet, because the doctor told the family that she would not live and advised them not to give her a name. She weighed less than four pounds and, like most premature babies, had underdeveloped lungs. The clinic lacked the equipment required to treat a baby this little. Since they didn't even have an oxygen mask small enough, they pointed a hose at her face and fixed it to the side of her little bed.  Her parents and brothers and sisters came to see her. Her skin was red and she had no fingernails. 

Her chest labored up and down as she struggled to breathe. 

Then something happened that is hard to understand. The family spent a few more days in Del Rio taking pictures of the little girl who would be named Martha and holding her. Then they left. They drove back to Houston and left her there to die by herself at the clinic. Undoubtedly, this was Ross's idea. The situation was too out of control for a controller like him to tolerate. But Ginger complied because she was powerless and afraid to refuse him. Leaving Martha behind was a source of shame for them for the rest of their lives.

They called the clinic regularly from their home in Houston to see how things were progressing and after several weeks the doctors became convinced she was going to live after all! Ross and Ginger drove back to Del Rio and brought Martha home laying on the front seat of their station wagon. They arrived on the day Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon. It was July 21, 1969.


Forty four years later Martha is a grown woman with children of her own. I am her husband and we have been married twenty years.  Except for a couple of brief periods I'm not supposed tell you about, she has not smoked cigarettes, ridden horses, or been back to Del Rio.  She drives a high-mileage minivan which is like a station wagon only taller.

Over the years her mother's health degenerated; Ginger was spending week after week in hospitals and rehab centers to treat her COPD. All those years of smoking had ruined her lungs to the point that her breathing was shallow on a good day and full of suffocating panic on a bad day. Martha arranged for a nursing home in Waco where we live with our children and minivan. We moved her there and in a short time her strength and attitude improved significantly.  The nurses guiding her through her respiratory therapies would often tease her and laugh with her until her blood oxygen count reached 100%.

But the day after Thanksgiving, 2012, she had a flare up and had to be hospitalized, and it was then that we learned how bad her condition was. The doctors told us she had a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. She did survive that night, but the next day she and Martha decided the best thing was for her to enroll in hospice care.

[Martha visiting her mom while in hospice care]

Martha visited her every day for eight days. The morphine was a great help. Not only did it decrease the oxygen consumption of her body, it also calmed her fears and took away her panic. This was the most peaceful she had been in years. On the ninth day it seemed the end was near and Martha stayed with her around the clock. She stroked her hair, whispered prayers into her ears, and told her it was OK to let go. I came up to visit and bring Martha a change of clothes. Ginger laid on her back while Martha held her hand.

Her chest labored up and down as she struggled to breathe. 

That's when it hit me. Although Ginger had given up on Martha and left her to die as a baby, Martha refused to leave her mother. What a picture of forgiveness this was. What mercy I had just witnessed. What an act turning the other cheek. It left me speechless and I went home and wept for the beauty of it. 

" we forgive those who trespass against us"

She died the next day in Martha's company. It was days before I could talk about it without choking on my words, but eventually I pointed out what she had not noticed herself, the redeemed contrast of her own birth and her mother's death that I had observed. She was overcome.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Heroes

This post is a list of people I call my heroes. They have inspired me, or informed me, or encouraged me to one degree or another. Some of their influences affected me in earlier years of my life, some are still in progress. They have all had me in tears at one point or another, some many times.

I list them in no particular order.  About some I have much to say, others not so much.  Don't read anything into that. Their influences are all too multi-dimensional to make direct comparisons between them.

I must confess to you that I worry about making this public. It is my own weakness that I worry about what you think.  What if you hate them? What if you think they are trouble-makers, bigots, ivory-tower-ish, or self-righteous? What if you roll your eyes at my list? What if you think them pretentious and (gasp) me too by extension???  Well, so be it. These folks are awesome.


Francis Schaeffer's books - how can I say it? - finally made sense of the world.  The first one I read was "How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture". It was a brief history of western thought, why it was great, where it went wrong, and where it is headed. In its few hundred pages, it transformed my understanding of philosophy, art, culture, politics, law, theology, and history. It put a big enough frame around them all that I could finally start making some sense of them all. He was a genius. I wanted to name my youngest son Schaeffer, but my wife was afraid he would be beaten up on account having a funny name.  So we made Schaeffer his middle name!

Nothing I can say is adequate praise for the Saint of Calcutta, Mother Teresa. Her devotion to the poor and marginalized (sustained for 45 years!) is nothing less than inspirational. I love this picture of her.

Rich Mullins was a musician whose life and lyrics communicated great spiritual depth and yet sincere humility. His authenticity and simplicity inspired me and challenged my suburban middle class life. There was a longing in his music, a hunger for something else over the horizon: heaven.

And if I sing, let me sing with a joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
That is longing for his home

Bono is still alive, and therefore a potential threat to my hero list; he could still do something to embarrass me.  My first real connection to his music and message came in 1987, the spring of my freshman year of college when U2 released "The Joshua Tree". My roommate and I played it countless times and even today hearing it will evoke good memories from that time of my life.  Like MLK, Bono uses his voice both metaphorically and literally to "defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. [To] rescue the weak and the needy; [and] deliver them from the hand of the wicked" as Psalm 82:3-4 says. And like MLK, his motivation for this voice is born out of his grateful heart redeemed by his Creator. 
I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise...

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent

Chuck Colson spent time in prison for his part in the Watergate scandal. In the midst of his arrest and sentencing he became a Christian. He founded Prison Fellowship to minister to the forgotten and the thrown away in prisons. His book "Loving God" changed the way I think about prisoners, human dignity, hope, and service.  His radio commentaries on science, culture, and apologetics picked up where Schaeffer left off.

I was five months old when MLK was assassinated. His eloquent and peaceful fight for justice has as its anthem the Bible verse Amos 5:24 - "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream."  Justice matters. People matter. Human dignity matters.

My favorite author, Clive Staples Lewis, died on the same day JFK was assassinated. During college his books showed me that being a Christian and an intellectual need not be mutually exclusive, and that the growing chasm between my faith and my intellect could be closed. This was, for me, a reconciliation marked by enormous relief. His influence on my life has been more than significant.

One of my favorite quotes of his, one that is not well-known I think, particularly inspires me. It  reminds me of my father's struggles with Parkinson's disease: 

"But if you are a poor creature--poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels--saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion--nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends--do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all - not least yourself."
Italics mine.