Sunday, December 25, 2005

One more holy night

Last night we gathered in a plain room, sang Christmas carols, prayed and listened to scripture readings.

It was the Plow Creek Christmas Eve service, an annual event that brings together those of us who are not traveling to see family and those of us who traveled to Plow Creek to see family.

We sat in a rough circle of folding chairs. On a small table in the center of the room a single white Christ candle burned.

As we sang about a baby being born the candle flickered.

Sarah read, "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world".

We sat there crazy enough to believe and sing about God shrinking from creator of the universe to a baby.

As we sang the Christ candle burned.

Then Emily Fitz, home from physician's assistant school in California, handed out candles and we formed one large circle around the room. Someone dimmed the lights until the candle at the center was the bright.

Then Louise Stahnke, who led worship, lit her candle from the Christ candle in the middle of the room. Then she lit two other people's candles who each lit the candle of a person next to them.

Rick Reha started us singing "Silent Night, Holy Night."

As we sang, slowly the fire and light from the Christ candle passed from candle to candle along each side of the circle.

Five year-old Helen Moore with long brown hair and churubic face stood next to me. When her candle was lit she turned and solemnly lit my candle. Then I turned and lit Sarah's candle.

We sang cheerfully, gratefully, believing that this baby, born oh so long ago, became a man who passed on such powerful love from his Dad in heaven that it is possible for us to love one another...and even our enemies.

The darkness did not have a chance. As we sang the room filled with flickering candle light.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Two brains

One evening when our son Jon was about eight he asked me to read him a story while he did his math problems. “Jon, you can’t do math and listen to a book at the same time,” said his all knowing father.

“I have two brains,” he explained. That caught my attention and I decided to experiment to see if he do math and listen to a story at the same time.

When he finished with the problems I stopped reading and checked his work. He had done the problems with 98% accuracy. Maybe he was right. Maybe he does have two brains.

When it comes to figuring out the next directions for Evergreen Leaders I am working with two brains--my spiritual brain and my other brain.

My spiritual brain has an ear cocked listening to the divine story, seeing where the story is heading and where EGL fits in with the divine story. My spiritual brain is listening to the good shepherd, knowing that he sees a much broader story than I do. My spiritual brain is listening to his voice, confident that it’s okay to wait until he reveals what’s next.

And then there’s my other brain that is checking out two paths. Yesterday I continued working on writing curriculum for a three-hour workshop for nonprofit boards. Several months ago a local nonprofit CEO with connections nationwide listened to my spiel about EGL and said that there’s a big hole in the field of board development and encouraged me to develop an EGL three hour board retreat for NPO on the role of boards and CEOs.

My other brain that loves a plan said, “Let’s go. If we develop a brief EGL workshop for boards that incorporates key EGL concepts it’ll open doors for our workshop series for managers and workers.”

And my spiritual brains, “That’s okay. You work on the EGL board workshop. I’m just going to sit here and listen to the divine story. God’s ways are mysterious, delightful, and full of twists. I can hardly wait for the next twist in the story. I bet he’ll incorporate EGL in a way I never could have dreamed of. I love him and a good story.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pneumonia and thinking about Evergreen Leaders

In one of those strange twists of life, having a nasty case of pneumonia is giving me critical time to think about Evergreen Leaders.

What exactly is Evergreen Leaders? That question has been the essence of our conversations at the EGL September and November board meetings.

Board member Tutuk Horning, an immigrant from Indonesia, said it best at our November board meeting when she recounted an incident. Someone visiting Plow Creek asked a question about Evergreen Leaders. Someone pointed out Tutuk and said, "Ask Tutuk. She's an EGL board member."

At that point in the board meeting Tutuk said, "My English is not very good." Then she held up flower and said, "I do not know how to describe the form and function of Evergreen Leaders."

Other board members chimed in. "It's not your English, Tutuk. We don't know how to describe it either."

I listened to the conversation feeling an odd combination of gratitude and chagrin. Gratitude because Tutuk, our quietest board member, had simply and eloquently described the key issue. Like a flower, EGL needs and easily described form and function. Chagrin because after two and half years, I, who love putting concepts into words, still can't describe EGL with the simple beauty of a flower.

I take some comfort from venture capitalist Brad Feld's blog:

''One of the challenges with early stage companies is determining whether the thing you are creating is a “feature”, a “product”, or a “company”. Of ''''course everyone aspires to create “a company” and most business plans eloquently describe the $50 million company that is going to be created in ''''five years. Since that rarely occurs, early stage VCs are constantly asking “is that a feature, product, or a company?”''

Evergreen Leaders has a mission that I'm deeply passionate about: ''To give ordinary people the tools to help their groups thrive.''

We started out by creating a series of three workshops aimed at two niches--churches and nonprofits.

So far no churches have shown an interest in the workshops but non-profits have. We did the first series for a paying custmor last spring. We're taking off, I thought. Two more NPOs expressed interest and I assumed we'd be doing the series for both this fall. But then both stalled out. One of the NPOs hit a money crunch and cut staff training. The other stalled out when their board questioned the value of workshops.

While marketing EGL to another NPO CEO she told me that there is a great need for brief, three-hour, board development workshops.

That made sense to me and some of my EGL board members. Thus I began working on developing an EGL board development workshop, integrating key concepts from the EGL workshops with ideas from John Carver, the leading thinker on nonprofit boards.

Another idea that surfaced during board conversations: focus on consulting as a way to pursue the EGL mission and bring in much needed income.

No wonder all of us connected with EGL are wondering what the form and function of EGL is.

After five days in the hospital with a nasty bout of pneumonia (when my blood pressure dropped to half of normal my dear Sarah worried about my survival--I was too sick to invest much energy in worrying) I've taken off the month of December.

This is giving me time to reflect and pray about Plow Creek and Evergreen leaders matters. I think I'll use my blog to think and pray about EGL. You can follow my journey, add to my thinking through comments. and you can even pray with me.

Lord, I know you called me to launch EGL. Now help me and the board know what you have in mind for the next leg of the journey. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Giving thanks for friends

Last week Lynn Reha from Plow Creek had to spend four days in the Chicago area for her work. She stayed with friends in the Clearing, a Reba Place Fellowship household.

Lynn's colleagues were amazed that she could stay with friends while on her business trip.

Lack of friends is a side effect of the mad American rush to succeed. Even though I've lived in a commune since 1977 I too get caught up in the rush. Yesterday I wrapped up a capital campaign feasibility study for a local nonprofit that I squeezed in this fall between being on the leadership team for our church and our communal group at Plow Creek and also serving as the one person staff for Evergreen Leaders.

This morning I've been enjoying slowing down. My first meeting is at 10:00.

Reba Place Fellowship, a communal group founded in the 1950's, sent out three couples to found Plow Creek in 1971. This week ''Christian Century'' has an article on "The New Monastics: Alternative Chistian Communities." Reba is featured in the article.

David Janzen is quoted in the article. He and his wife Joanne often come to Plow Creek for retreats. They'll be joining a bunch of us at Plow Creek for a Thanksgiving dinner at Plow Creek's Alpha House where Mark and Louise Stahnke live.

I am thankful for time to slow down, admire, and give thanks for friends.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tagworld friends

I love to explore. When I go on spiritual retreats in the Chicago area, I read my Bible, write in my journal, and wander through parks, galleries, and alleys.

There's something renewing about exploring. Sometimes I do the same with the Web, I simply wander through alleys and pages and blogs.

This morning I wandered through e-mails and found a glowing review of Tagworld. I read the review, clicked on a link and registered, creating my own page on Tagworld.

I had vaguely heard of tagging. According to Wikepedia, "Tags are pieces of information separate from, but related to, an object. In the practice of collaborative categorization using freely chosen keywords, tags are descriptors that individuals assign to objects."

So I guess I am doing my bit to collaborate on categorizing the web.

After I registered, my Tagworld page appeared and it in the upper left hand corner it said:

Hi, RichFoss
You have 0 friends.
TagWorld Population: 74,163 people.

I had to laugh. Zero friends. A little presumptuous of Tagworld to decide I suddenly had zero friends.

But, it turns out that the people who created Tagworld are nice people. Soon it said:

Hi, RichFoss
You have 1 friend.

I clicked on the link to see who my one friend is. Turns out it's Ryan, a member of the Tagworld team. Hi, Ryan.

You can upload photos to Tagworld, use it as your blog site, and e-mail from it.

I haven't figure out how you become my friend on Tagworld but I am glad to have you as a real world friend and if you figure how to become my Tagworld friend I'll be glad about that too.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

News that's not in the news

Last night Sarah and I arrived in St. Louis to visit our daughter, Heidi, and our son-in-law, Woju. Shortly after we arrived Woju began listening on the web to an Ethiopian radio station in Washington, DC.

Soon I heard the voice of a woman speaking Amharic, a language I don't understand, but I could tell she was in great distress.

The radio station called her in Ethiopia, Woju explained, and she is crying out because her son was killed by government soldiers.

In June Ethiopia held parlimentary elections. When the elections appeared to endanger Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's hold on power he ordered international election observers out of Ethiopia.

Even without the international observers and with suspected fraud, the opposition won forty percent of the seats in parliament. When people ammassed to protest the voter fraud in June, 36 people were killed.

This week the opposition announced peaceful protests. A Reuters story today indicates that 46 people were killed this week.

Woju says that police shot on a group of unarmed demonstrators killing men, women, and children. Once the demonstrators fled the government would not allow family members to return to claim the dead. The goverment removed the bodies to prevent an accurate count of the dead but Woju has heard that as many as 1000 were killed.

Ethiopia was ruled by Marxists for nearly two decades until 1991 when the Marxist regime was overthrown by a group of guerillas led by Meles Zenawi.

The Marxists had overthrown 82 year-old Emperor Haile Selassie on September 12, 1974.

When Sarah's father, a Baptist missionary, was killed in Ethiopia in 1951 the Princess met with Sarah's mother as she grieved her husband's death. Sarah's Dad is buried in Addis Abba so we have deep ties to the country.

This week 25 leaders of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD)were arrested this week. Woju has been reading online witness reports of people suspected of being part of the opposition being loaded on buses and taken to unknown location.

Woju's brother is in a college surrounded by troops. No one is allowed to go out of doors.

Wars and rumors of wars.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I dare to believe the world needs me

Gazing out my west-facing window I see the early morning sun highlighting the fall leaves in their dying splendor.

My days are full of bringing life to my family, Plow Creek, and Evergreen Leaders and yet there is a time to die.

A few minutes ago, reading posts on an Open Space List Serve, I came across Tree Fitzpatrick who concluded a post with, "I have been feeling more and more like technology is leaving me behind. And, yet, I dare to believe the world needs me."

A few years ago at Plow Creek Elsie Mast did a Sunday morning childrens' story about plants in fall. She didn't focus on they dying leaves but on all the amazing ways that plants in the fall are spreading their seeds for the spring.

One plant drops seed-filled cockleburs that cling to animals who carry them far from the original plant. Another tree drops winged seeds that glides hundreds of feet. Thousands of plants and each has a strategy to spreads its seeds. While the leaves are dying and getting ready for winter, seeds are daring to believe that come spring the world is going to need them.

Today, with much to do, I dare to believe that the world needs me to spread these little words.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Coming home from exile, Part 2

Fast-forward to August 2005 when I received an e-mail from Dr. Paul Alexander, a professor at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, inviting me to the first annual Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship (PCPF) retreat.

I checked out the on-line brochure and saw that six of the ten speakers were African-American. This has got to be the Holy Spirit at work, I thought.

The modern Pentecostal movement began when the Holy Spirit fell on an integrated congregation on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 but the Pentecostal movement soon succumbed to the racism that is part of the fabric of our country and divided into black and white denominations.

Being at the retreat was a sheer joy for me. I discovered a group of Pentecostals and Charismatics who were reconnecting with their own Pentecostal pacifist roots. The early Pentecostal leaders were clear in their call to loving enemies and refusing to fight in wars. Most Pentecostals have lost touch with their pacifist roots.

Dr. David Hall of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination that has not lost its pacifist roots, gave the key note address on Friday evening. Setting the tone for the retreat, at the beginning of his presentation he invited the audience to critique his ideas. That led to a half an hour of great conversation with Dr. Hall following his speech as he and the audience sought to explore the implications of being Pentecostals and pacifists.

My brain still carries lots of snapshots from the weekend. Dr. Paul Alexander, founder of PCPF, made my bed for me when I arrived--now that servant leadership! Sitting at lunch one day I listened to Church of God (Cleveland, TN) seminary professor and missionary Rick Waldrop tell the story of being kidnapped by Guatemalan guerillas.

Ah, the music. Sam Martinez played the keyboard at each worship and invited us to worship our incredible God. I was deeply touched when on Sunday morning Yvonne Williams, a member of Bible Way Church Worldwide, Washington, DC, led us in the spiritual, “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More”.

Another snapshots stored in my brain. Eric Gabourel, Associate Pastor of the Hot Dog church in San Francisco that serves an area of the city prone to gang violence, gave me a pamphlet he had created called, Have you considered nonviolence? The pamphlet urges people to consider Jesus’ way of peace as an alternative to violence. “We hand them out like tracts in our neighborhood,” Eric said.

Diana Aubourg, acting director of Save Africa’s Children, told a powerful story of African children, orphaned by Aids, trusting the Lord to provide when they had no food and then leading the young woman who was caring for them to the Lord.

By Sunday morning of the retreat I was deeply reconnected to my Pentecostal roots.

“In five years,” Dr. Hall said at a meal, “I think this will have grown greatly and when we look back, those of us who are here this weekend will say, ‘I was at the first one.’”

As the retreat came to an end I told Paul Alexander, “I juggle a lot of balls but I want to add Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship to the balls that I juggle. Envisioning is one of my gifts as is writing and I’m a blogger. I write for the sheer joy of it. Let me know how I can help.”

“You can write up your reflections on the retreat,” Paul said.

We serve an amazing God. As I sit at my keyboard I am filled with awe and gratitude to our God who has been so faithful to me during my on exile from the Pentecostal church, who gave me a new people among the Mennonites, and now has reconnected me with my Pentecostal pacifist roots.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Coming home from exile, Part 1

A decade ago while I was on a personal retreat I sensed the Lord telling me that he wanted me to reconnect with my Pentecostal roots.

On the weekend of October 7-9 I reconnected with my roots in a powerful way at the first annual Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship retreat at a Salvation Army camp near Midlothian, Texas.

My Pentecostal roots go deep. While I was still an infant my mother handed me to the woman sitting next to her to accompany my father to the altar of a Pentecostal church in northern Minnesota where he gave his life to the Lord.

At age nine I gave my heart to the Lord at a Pentecostal Bible camp near Lake Bronson, Minnesota. At age twelve I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. The same year I sensed God calling me to be a preacher.

Then when I was sixteen I became severely disabled by rheumatoid arthritis. My church and I expected me to be healed. I answered many altar calls and we prayed fervently. Each time I limped back to my pew. I continued to answer altar calls for the next few years, feeling more and more desolate.

Finally I decided not to answer any more altar calls. I knew that God could heal me but he was not doing so through altar calls and the laying on of hands. To keep answering altar calls and not be healed was too painful. Thus began a slow and painful separation from the Pentecostal church.

About the same time I became a pacifist as a result of Jesus saying, “Love your enemies…” I couldn’t see any way to love my enemies and kill them. In my dorm room at the University of North Dakota I wrote out on a yellow pad my commitment to love my enemies and I signed it. When I became a pacifist I thought I was moving even further away from my Pentecostal upbringing.

Six years later I sensed the Lord calling me to serve him through a life of communal living. He led my wife, Sarah, and I to join Plow Creek Fellowship, a Mennonite communal group near Tiskilwa, IL. The Lord did much emotional and spiritual healing of me in our early years at Plow Creek.

Four years later Plow Creek called me to be one of their pastoral elders. The church laid hands on me on a Sunday morning in 1981, praying for me as I became one their pastors. I could hardly believe it. At age 12 I really had heard the Lord’s call to pastor.

Over the years I have known that, through my Pentecostal roots, the Lord has given me many gifts that help me in my life as a pastor. And I was clear that I am living out God’s call for my life. Still there was always a small ache in being an exile.

Then a decade ago I sensed the Lord calling me to reconnect with my Pentecostal roots. After meeting with a Pentecostal pastor and his wife and later another Pentecostal, I went away feeling empty. “Well, Lord,” I said, “if you want me to reconnect with my Pentecostal roots, you are going to have to do it because I don’t seem to be able to pull it off.”

Friday, September 30, 2005

Worth more than a billion dollar inheritance

Today I turned 54. Generally I enjoy birthdays, seeing them as one more reason to enjoy life. I even blogged my birthday last year. But today I've been sad. I'm not exactly sure why.

Recently I figured out that my insurance company pays about $150,000 a year for medicine for two chronic conditions I have--rheumatoid arthritis and emphysema due to alpha one antitrypson deficiency. And that doesn't count all the expense connected with being hospitalized for a blood clot this summer. Today I recieved a hospital bill for over $30,000 that my insurance company will pay one of these days.

It's expensive making sure I keep having birthdays.

Am I worth it? I suppose the answer is grace.

Here's three words of grace that I am treasuring on this day I turn 54. One, last night as Sarah lay in my arms she said, "I am glad you are alive for your birthday."

She, who's father was killed before she was born, never loses track of the wonder of having a man who loves her and doesn't disappear on her.

Two, recently I began writing a column for Tiskilwa's weekly newspaper and today I received a birthday card from Wilber and Doris Giltner, a couple I've met a time or two. In the card they wrote: "We sure enjoy your column in the Chief. Keep up the good work - you are an asset to our community!"

Three, you have to know a little background to appreciate the sentence in my daughter Hannah's card that's ringing in my heart. First, as a communal member of Plow Creek Fellowship we've taken the equivalent of a vow of poverty. Sarah and I are accumulating no assets to pass on to our chidlren. Second, I write a letter of each of my children and their spouses/fiancees each week. In her card to me Hannah was reflecting on how close to me she feels even though she and her husband Donny live in Florida while Sarah and I live in Illinois.

Then Hannah said, "I realize it is because of your faithful letters, e-mails, and our phone conversations. Thank you for all your letters--I woudn't trade them for a billion dollar inhertance."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My kind of Mennonite

When the president of Eastern Mennonite College named names in an effort to keep Mennonites pure, he included Jim Harnish.

During World War II, Jim, a long time member of Plow Creek Fellowship, was a conscientious objector and served in an alternative service program run by Mennonites.

The program, sanctioned by the U.S. government, was required to accept not just Mennonites but all conscientious objectors.

Mennonite leaders were worried that young Mennonites were being radicalized by being thrown together with pacifists of other persuasions.

Jim was part of an alternative service unit, working as an orderly at a state hospital near Poughkeepsie, NY, when the president of EMC identified a conservative young man who was part of the unit. He wrote the young man and asked who among the Mennonites at the unit were being radicalized.

Based on the information from the young man, the EMC president sent a letter to the unit naming Jim and others who he deemed as not adhering strictly enough to all Mennonite beliefs. How can you call yourself Mennonites? he asked.

The young man who had provided the names felt very bad. He had not expected the people he had named to be denouced in a letter to the whole unit.

Jim and another person in the unit felt sorry for the young man and took him out for a malt.

Now that's my kind of Mennonite.

Taking a rhythm day to get my groove back

Yesterday, Tuesday, I took a rhythm day. Not a sick day but a rhythm day.

After waking Monday with a headache and going through the day on passionless will power, by evening I was thinking, "I just want to run away and hide." It was at that point I realized I needed to take a rhythm day.

Tuesday morning I left home and wandered to the local library, chatted wih the librarians, taking note for future columns.

Then I had a long lunch at Burger King reading the latest Fast Company. After lunch I drove to a park, leaned my van seat back, and took a nice nap. Actaully two nices naps. The first one wasn't long enough.

After reading Freakonomics for awhile I took a swim and then headed home for dinner with friends.

I love people and pastoring and leading EGL but every once in awhile it's too much.

If I were working for a standard USA company I would face a moral dilemna: should I call in sick?

Margaret Morford, president of the HR Edge Inc., a Nashville-based training and management development consulting company, says people are taking sick days because they are simply working harder and longer. Voice mail, e-mail, cell phones and other technology also allow people to be plugged in to work more than ever.

"People are getting burned out," she said. "And I recommend to managers: You need to keep your eye on people, and sometimes you just need to give them a mental health day, or at least offer them the option."

Companies need to abandon the old sick day policies and give people rhythm days.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz make two points in The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal'':

We need to balance stress and recovery.
Balancing stress and recovery helps us be highly energetic.

When the balance between stress and recovery gets out of rhythm on the stress end we get sick. Much better to take a rhythm day. And now I have my groove back.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Turning the good ship Evergreen Leaders

The major emotional, intellectual, spiritual challenge I've been working on is expanding Evergreen Leaders into board training and consultation. At our Labor Day weekend board meeting the board strongly encouraged me to head in this direction.

First, it's an emotional challenge because our vision from the beginning has been to give ordinary people leadership tools to help their groups thrive. We want to work with groups who would not otherwise have access to leadership teaching. So it feels like a loss to me to invest in boards, pastors, and CEOs, as if we will be ignoring the people ate the extremities of the organization, the people we wanted to work with in the first place. I'm sad at the thought of turning away from ordinary people who make it possible for any group to thrive.

Second, it's an intellectual task because to keep integrity we need to figure out how to add board teaching and pastor/CEO consulting within the framework of our mission which is to give ordinary people the tools to help their groups thrive. All along I've had a nagging concern that to be really beneficial to nonprofits and churches, that we need to engage the pastors and CEOs. I pretty much overlooked the boards, a mistake, I think. I am reading a lot about church and nonprofit board development as a way of filling my brain with what others are thinking about the roles of boards. I am enjoying the reading and trusting we will be able to fit the pieces together into a uniquely EGL approach to boards just as we've done with our series of workshops.

Third, it's a spiritual challenge because EGL is God's business and I am God's man. Even though I am very passionate about Evergreen Leaders, it's not mine. Each day I focus on trusting that Jesus will shape my day and my work that day including my work with Evergreen Leaders. In turning the good ship Evergreen Leaders to also focus on leaders and boards, I am obeying the true founder of EGL, the big Dude I work for.

Evergreen Leaders is all about helping groups change so that they can thrive. Now we are getting to practice what we preach, or maybe, we are practicing on ourselves so that we will have something to preach.

Whenever I think of helping an organization to change I think of that a small change in the direction of a ship’s tiny rudder will, over time, change the course of an ocean liner.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bringing a little joy to an IRS agent

Several months ago with the help of my attorney friend, Mitch Kinglsey, and dozens of hours of work, I completed a 20+ page form to apply for 501(c)(3) status for Evergreen Leaders--such status makes it clear that people who make gifts to EGL can take tax deductions.

Six weeks ago I received a phone message from a Miss Johnson. I couldn't understand what company she was with and when I returned the phone call it turned out she was from the IRS.

She needed another document for our application. I faxed it to her.

A CPA friend had warned me to expect such a call, that the IRS often calls several times to ask for more information. I waited for another call.

Two weeks ago we received our letter declaring us a 501(c)(3) organization. I e-mailed Mitch to thank him and shared the good news with the EGL board. I thought: I should thank Miss Johnson too. A few minutes ago I did.

When I first told her who I was I could sense the coolness in her voice as she wondered what I wanted. "Filling out that form was a lot of work for me and I'm sure it was a lot of work for you too," I said, "So I wanted to thank you for all your work."

"Did you get your letter?" she asked.

"Yes, we received it and we were really happy. Thank you for your work."

Her voice warmed right up. She expressed her appreciation for my thanks, we chatted for a few moments, and then hung up.

It's a great day when you can bring a little joy to an IRS agent.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Refusing to join the career club

As I dressed after swimming this afternoon I glanced at a brand emblem on the inside of my shirt collar: Career Club.

When I finished graduate school in 1977 I decided not to join the career club. Something seemed amiss with the pattern in our culture that leads us to forsake people and place to follow a career where ever it may lead.

Instead I moved to Illinois and joined a commune.

Now it's 28 years later and I'm still part of the commune. When I Sarah and I moved to Plow Creek it was was an idea, a vision, a call. Like a seed that I could hold in my hand, the idea of joining a commune was something I could play with, maybe even kiss it, or not.

But once we joined and started living at Plow Creek it was like a seed disappearing into the earth and taking on a life of its own.

Sarah had moved 21 times by the time she was 18. When her mother first visited Plow Creek, Sarah, in her middle 20's, gave her a tour and when they passed the cemetary she said to her mother, "This where I will be buried."

She was done moving.

I have spent countless hours over the years listening and praying with our farmers, supporting them through draught and flood and bountiful crops. One fall I sat in my wheelchair next to a poorly producing pumpkin patch and wrote a poem about Autuckee, the chief of the last of the Potawatmi to live on this part of the earth that is now Plow Creek:

Perhaps this year a tiny piece of America is mourning
the memory of warm footprints from the brothers and sisters
of the First Nations.

I have learned that to be part of this place is ache for the people who have gone before. To be part of a people is to be part of death and birth.

Our son was born in a room in the upstairs of the Alpha House, Plow Creek's first house. He was born during a members meeting and when someone called over to the common building with the news, David Gale, who took the call, returned to the meeting and said, "Plow Creek has another son."

Each of our children grew up knowing they were part of a place and a people.

I don't know where the Career Club shirt came from. Sarah loves to shop at used clothing stores and shirts and pants simply show up in my closet.

After 28 years in a commune I have a people, a place, and a Career Club shirt.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The new president gets tears in his eyes

Blogging SMC festival 5

Two years ago Anali Gatlin of Hope Fellowship was one of two people who were members of the Baylor Students for Social Justice.
What can two people do for social justice?

They decided to start a campaign to urge the University to provide a living wage for their employees. Soon other students joined the group and the campaign.

All year long the president of Baylor ignored their e-mails and refused to talk to the Baylor Students for Social Justice.

Then this summer the Baylor hired a new president who asked to meet with the group. Two weeks ago they went to his office and made their presentation urging him to lead the university in providing its workers with a living wage.

He listened to them and with tears in his eyes, and said, “It’s not right that we the world’s most beautiful parking garage and we are not paying our workers a living wage. We need you.”

Two shy people from Camden House

Blogging SMC festival 4

The two shyest members of Camden House, Elissa and Melissa, have been sent by their community to tell the SMC festival about their two-year old community.

“We are the shy people in our community. We like being in the background. The rest of our community told us we would do well but we’re a little nervous,” Elissa said as they stood at the microphone.

For seven years a Catholic priest in Camden, New Jersey held on to an abandoned house in his parish, waiting for a religious community to come looking for a place to locate. Perhaps a group of Jesuits or maybe a Catholic worker house.

A handful of 20-something Protestants (and one Catholic) showed up looking for a house to start a community. The priest handed them the keys.

In May they dropped off their gear at the house and went back home with plans to gather in July to launch the community. When they arrived in July all their belongings had been stolen.

Welcome to the neighborhood.

The house across the street openly sells drugs and does prostitution as a service to people who drive in from the suburbs.

Camden House works with the environmental and social degradation of our neighborhood. “We are committed to Christ and committed to each other…it’s a beautiful time together…as we stumble through together,” says Melissa.

Currently the eight people of Camden House all work at jobs outside the house, paid and unpaid.

“Andrea and I do community gardening during the summer…it’s so much fun to introduce people to organic gardening…,” says Melissa. “We have the neighbors do a lot of the work so the rows are a little uneven but it’s beautiful.”

In the sweet understatement of people who follow Jesus, Melissa says, “We live in a culture of mistrust and alienation. Our neighborhood is a dangerous place. Opening up our house and trying to be trusting is important.”

Thus Camden House welcomes the prostitutes and crack addicts who wander over to visit.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A conversation with a young radical

Blogging the SMC festival

After lunch this old radical invited young radical Shane Claiborne of the Simple Way over for a visit. One of the founders of the Simple Way, next February Shane is publishing with Zondervan a book called The Irresistible Revolution.

Shane is an interesting character. He’s evangelical to the core and a radical living among the poor in Philadelphia. He’s had a goods time working with a group of young editor’s at Zondervan.

Zondervan is committed to publishing the book but they’ve put together a team of lawyers in case they get sued for what Shane says in the book.

Shane says there is a whole group of young evangelicals who are looking for models of how to live out their faith.

I’m glad to hear that not all my evangelical brothers and sisters are enamored of right wing politics.

What does a young radical do when he publishes a book. He makes sure the book is copyrighted by the Simple Way, a nonprofit, that will give away all the money that he makes on the book.

Zondervan couldn’t believe it. When they finally did believe it they decide to give away some of the money they make on the book.

This world needs more evangelical radicals. Young and old.

A healer of machines

Blogging the SMC festival

Rose, a tiny young woman from The Simple Way, an eight-year-old community planted in a poor section of Philadelphia gave a brief history of the community.

A decade ago there was a big housing crisis in Philadelphia. (Still is). Thirty homeless families squatted in an abandoned Catholic church in a neighborhood called Kensington. The bishop wanted to kick them out. A group of Eastern College students began to befriend the squatters, rallying to their support although eventually they were evicted.

Ten of the Eastern students formed a community and decided to settle in Kensington. They now own two houses.

All of them come from evangelical backgrounds but as one of their founders, Shane, says, ‘It’s really been our neighbors who are teaching the kingdom.”

A handful of people with lots of visitors, “The Simple Way believes in living authentically small in a way that is visible,” says Shane.

For instance, one of their members, Justin, tells the story of their car mechanic telling them about Adrian, a mother with three children who had just become homeless. The Simple Way folks contacted Adrian and took her and her children in. ”It’s cool to provide some hospitality,” says Justin.

One day while they were driving Adrian around to look at houses for her to rent, a city bus clipped the door of their car, driving the door forward and ruining it.

When they brought it to their mechanic they told him what had happened and told him the progress Adrian was making.

“I’m going to fix your car door for free,” he said. “You guys are healers and I’m a healer of machines.”

Bringing our praise and longings

Blogging SMC festival 1

Reba Place is leading the worship this morning. David Janzen, 60-something, and a group of 20-something folks serves as singers, drummers, and guitarists as we pour out our praise and longings.

Paul Rhode and Heather Munn are sitting next to me. Yesterday morning as I sat in my chair, keeping my leg up, writing on my laptop, I saw them moving hither and yon, gentle servants, preparing this place for the festival.


“Thank you, Lord for the beauty of creation, for the purple and red sunrise this morning.”

“Put your loving healing hands upon us…”

“Enrich everyone one here.

“We pray for this broken and warring world…”

“Let us continue to exalt you with righteous fellowship, Father.”

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It looks like heaven

Tonight Plow Creek began hosting the annual Shalom Mission Communities festival. We have 70 guests from communities around the USA and Canada.

To accomodate everyone for all group meetings we rented a big tent and put it up in the middle of the meadow--that piece of earth in the center of the Plow Creek houses.

Tonight as I rolled home in my wheelchair I looked at the tent in the meadow lit by interior lights. The striped roof glowed in the dark and the light through the open sides was bright.

Plow Creek has no outdoor lights so when it is dark it is dark.

In the middle of the darkness the tent glowed beautifully and I thought, "It looks like heaven."

Because of my blood clot I am going to have to keep my leg up six hours a day during the festival, missiong out on the fun.

So I've decided to blog the festival. With my laptop I can do that in my chair with my leg up.

The theme of the conference is discerning the times. That led me to suggest a variation of the Chicago Bulls shout during their championship years. The players gathered in the tunnel before the game, put their hands together, and one of them shouted, "What time is it?" And the rest of the team responded, "Game time. Huh."

What time is it? Kingdom time. Huh.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hospital tales 8: Gee, but it’s good to be alive

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

After the procedure, I encouraged Sarah to go home and get some rest because she would have had to sit up all night in ICU with me. I thought she needed sleep.

By 3:30 a.m. I had a headache and nausea and felt so alone. I lay there thinking, when somebody from Plow Creek is in the hospital we ought to always have someone with them.

Sarah called the ICU nurses on Tuesday morning and in my infinitesimal wisdom I told the nurses to tell her to come at noon. Poor Sarah. When she showed up at noon I kept weeping because I had been feeling so alone in my misery for the last eight hours. Also, apparently the medicine they gave me for nausea made me weepy.

I went back to interventional radiology where they took the catheter out, peered around inside the vein, and saw that the clot was gone from the knee to groin. Thank you, Lord. They sent me back to ICU for four hours because I guess I was still a high risk for dying.

“I just want to get out of here,” I said to Sarah.

When I got to a regular hospital room Tuesday evening I was exhausted. At one point I woke up and Sarah was on the phone with Heidi and Jon. She asked if I wanted to say hi to them. I greeted them cheerfully and then woke up a bit later. “Did I fall asleep talking with Jon and Heidi?” I asked, feeling very embarrassed.

“Yes, they laughed when you started snoring.”

Uffda. Later, to Sarah’s utter amazement, I slept through getting my blood drawn.

The next morning a young doctor sauntered in and began spelling out their plans for putting me on a blood thinner and regulating it over the next few days.

“Ah, what about Lovenox? I understand that if I went home on Lovenox I could get home sooner.”

He looked a bit taken aback and said, “I’ll go check on that.” He left.

“You can go home,” he said when he returned. My head was spinning. Fourteen hours before I was in ICU because I might die at any moment and then he casually announces I can go home.

When Sarah and I questioned him about what kinds of activities I could do once I was out of the hospital he said, “Use your common sense.”

Sarah, who teaches a lot of non-medical people at her job to provide basic medical care for people with developmental disabilities, knows you never tell people to use their common sense. You never know what people think is common sense.

“He should write that in the chart and then have to go to court and explain that he told the patient to ‘use common sense’”, Sarah snorted to me.

Hopefully he was a first year resident and will learn to move beyond “use common sense” before he’s unleashed on patients on his own.

At home I took a shower. Ah the simple pleasures of life.

But during the shower I noticed my back was itching. “Oh, know,” Sarah exclaimed when she looked at my back. “You have a bright red rash.”

Then she explained that a rash can be the first sign of an allergic reaction to a medicine. The second stage is anxiety because our system realizes something is amiss before we do. The third stage is difficulty breathing. The fourth stage is shock and you need immediate medical attention (or you die).

Great. I lay in bed checking to see if I was anxious.

Of course, I was anxious.

But was my anxiety the normal “I might die at any moment” anxiety or was it the second stage of an allergic reaction to a medicine?

Fortunately, I have an amazing ability to fall asleep at night. I kept waking up and I was always alive.

Gee, but it’s good to be alive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hospital tales 7: Way out in the forefront of medicine

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

After the lysing procedure they wheeled me into surgical ICU with four tubes and wires coming out of my leg, an I-V in each arm, and two monitors. I must have looked like a float in a parade.

As soon as we entered, an ICU nurse looked at one of the monitors and said, “What’s this? We’ve never had one of these before.”

“It’s an ultrasound that pushes the clot buster into the clot,” said a radiology nurse who was part of the parade. “This is only the second patient we’ve used it on.”

“We don’t know anything about it? What if the alarm goes off?”

“Call the tech. If the something goes wrong call the tech. We have a power point I can show you about it.”

There’s nothing like being on the forefront of medicine, so far out front that the ICU nurses are scared.

Bravely, and later I thought, foolishly, I encouraged Sarah to go home and get some rest since she couldn’t stay with me in ICU and spending the night in the waiting room would be very uncomfortable.

At about 11:00 p.m. the alarm went off on the ultrasound monitor. The nurse came in and pushed a button that turned it off. Then she didn’t now what to do next. I reminded her that interventional radiology had said to call the tech.

She went and got another nurse and they both studied the monitor. Neither one of them knew what to do. “Should we call Angio?” one of them asked the other. Assuming that Angio was the tech I voted for calling Angio.

The nurse pushed a button turning the machine back on but she wasn’t sure if the monitor reading was correct. Again I voted for calling Angio.

Later the nurse came back and told me that she had called the number for the tech. The tech, she discovered, lived in Seattle and was flying out the next day to teach staff at St. Francis, She described what the monitor was displaying and he reassured her that everything was fine.

It’s good to be out in the forefront of medicine, I guess.

The next day as I was being wheeled back to interventional radiology we passed a door with a department sign on it: Angio. Oops, I realized, Angio was not the tech.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hospital tales 6: Face down in empathy

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

At 12:30 on Monday afternoon they wheeled me through halls, an elevator, and more halls to interventional radiology.

“We’ll take him to holding until they are ready for him,” they explained to Sarah. “You can stay with him in holding until they are ready for him. Then you can wait in the waiting room and when they are finished the doctor will come out and tell you how it went.”

I started laughing. Lest they think I was going nuts,I explained. “I grew up on a farm,” I said, “Holding sounds like the place we put critters in before we shipped them.”

Earlier a nurse practitioner from interventional radiology had visited me in my room. She had explained the lysing procedure and had explained I would be awake during the procedure but that they would give me drugs that would put me in “la-la land.”

I asked about the drugs. One would relax me and the other would reduce my memory of the procedure.

La-la land. That was the best medical term I heard during my stay.

When I was wheeled on a gurney into an interventional radiology room the radiology staff told me that I would be lying on my stomach for the procedure.

I had a mild moment of panic. “My rheumatoid arthritis makes lying on my stomach hard to do and I can’t turn my neck to breathe,” I said. They may be experts in interventional radiology but I’m an expert on what my body will and will not do.

They listened to me and we worked together to figure out how to get me from the gurney onto the table. Soon I was lying face down with a pillow under my chest and a rolled up towel under my head that allowed me to breathe.

Once I was in position on the table the sweet nurse whose job it was to medicate me into “la-la land” (the best medical term I heard in the hospital) leaned over and said, “You don’t look very comfortable at all. I sure wouldn’t be comfortable in that position.”

I about cried.

“Thanks for the empathy,” I said. “Empathy is a great gift even when you can’t change the situation.”

Hospital tales 5: Nurse blame residents, resident blames nurses

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

At midnight on Saturday night I went NPO--an abbreviation for “nothing per oral” or maybe it’s an abbreviation for a Latin phrase. What ever it means, after midnight I could not eat or drink because I was going to have the lysing procedure on Sunday.

Medical people love Latin. In the early 70’s I began to lose small patches of pigment on my chest, arms, etc. Once a doctor and medical student were examining me when the student asked what caused the loss of pigment. “It’s idiopathic,” the doctor said.

“Does that mean ‘I don’t know’?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the doctor.

I woke up Sunday full of gratitude: “I’m alive.” Sarah was still sleeping on a cot beside me.

I pressed my call light and asked the nurse for a Bible. Eventually she came back and said they had searched the whole floor for a Bible and couldn’t find one. “I’ll call pastoral care.”
A sister showed up with a Good News Bible. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We used to keep Bible’s in the room but they kept disappearing on us.” She handed me the Bible.

Now there’s a ministry opportunity, I thought. Keep hospitals supplied with Good News Bibles so that people can steal them.

After a good quiet time I asked the nurse when the lysing procedure was going to be done. She hadn’t been informed yet.

At 1:00 p.m. my nurse came in and said she had called my doctor to ask when the lysing procedure was scheduled for. That’s when she discovered that none of the five doctors I had seen the night before called interventional radiology and scheduled the procedure.

The doctor said it would be fine to do the procedure to morrow.

“Can he eat then?” asked the nurse. Kind nurse.

The next day a resident said that nursing should have arranged the lysing procedure. Hmmmm.

I didn’t get upset by the mix-up. My hope is not in medicine but in the Lord of the universe and I figured he’d make sure I got the lying procedure in the fullness of time.

That evening Rick and Lynn Reha, Heather Munn and Jim Fitz came from Plow Creek to visit Sarah and me. As they were about to leave, Jim said, “How about we pray?” I was so thankful. I was lying in the need of prayer.

At midnight I went NPO again.

Hospital tales 5: Nurses blame residents, resident blames nurses

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

At midnight on Saturday night I went NPO--an abbreviation for “nothing per oral” or maybe it’s an abbreviation for a Latin phrase. What ever it means, after midnight I could not eat or drink because I was going to have the lysing procedure on Sunday.

Medical people love Latin. In the early 70’s I began to lose small patches of pigment on my chest, arms, etc. Once a doctor and medical student were examining me when the student asked what caused the loss of pigment. “It’s idiopathic,” the doctor said.

“Does that mean ‘I don’t know’?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the doctor.

I woke up Sunday full of gratitude: “I’m alive.” Sarah was still sleeping on a cot beside me.

I pressed my call light and asked the nurse for a Bible. Eventually she came back and said they had searched the whole floor for a Bible and couldn’t find one. “I’ll call pastoral care.”
A sister showed up with a Good News Bible. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We used to keep Bible’s in the room but they kept disappearing on us.” She handed me the Bible.

Now there’s a ministry opportunity, I thought. Keep hospitals supplied with Good News Bibles so that people can steal them.

After a good quiet time I asked the nurse when the lysing procedure was going to be done. She hadn’t been informed yet.

At 1:00 p.m. my nurse came in and said she had called my doctor to ask when the lysing procedure was scheduled for. That’s when she discovered that none of the five doctors I had seen the night before called interventional radiology and scheduled the procedure.

The doctor said it would be fine to do the procedure to morrow.

“Can he eat then?” asked the nurse. Kind nurse.

The next day a resident said that nursing should have arranged the lysing procedure. Hmmmm.

I didn’t get upset by the mix-up. My hope is not in medicine but in the Lord of the universe and I figured he’d make sure I got the lying procedure in the fullness of time.

That evening Rick and Lynn Reha, Heather Munn and Jim Fitz came from Plow Creek to visit Sarah and me. As they were about to leave, Jim said, “How about we pray?” I was so thankful. I was lying in the need of prayer.

At midnight I went NPO again.

Hospital tales 4: The patient is in charge

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

I remember vividly my moment of enlightenment in the early 1970s.

Between the ages of 17 and 23, 1968-1973, I spent many months in the hospital for eight orthopedic surgeries and much rehab for my rheumatoid arthritis.

After one of the surgeries I was transferred from an acute care hospital to the rehab. Sitting in a wheelchair physically and emotionally depleted from the surgery, an aide announced they were going to transfer me from the acute care hospital wheelchair to a rehab wheelchair. Dimly, as a couple of aides grabbed a hold of me, I thought they were going about it wrong. But they were medical people so I assumed they must know best.

They proceeded to inflict great pain on me while transferring me.

I didn’t blame the aides. Instead, I paid attention to the light bulb that went on in my brain. Medical people may be the experts but the patient is in charge. It’s his or her body. The patient always decides what gets done and what doesn’t. And when the patient is dimly aware of something amiss he’s responsible.

This pain-earned bit of wisdom helped me when I arrived at St. Francis on Saturday evening by ambulance. I saw five doctors, singly or in pairs. I think they were all residents and interns, none of whom was Dr. Debord.

I didn’t mind. I always consider it an honor to have medical people learn their trade by practicing on me. After all, we have three generations of nurses in our family and they all had to learn on patients.

I’ve heard that July is a poor time to be a patient in a teaching hospital because residents all rotate in, up, or out on July 1. But my blood clot didn’t ask me about timing.

One after another I answered the residents’ questions and watched while they took my pulse in both legs.

About the third or fourth resident began happily rattling on about how the they were going to do several blood tests and order a hematology work up to see why I had gotten the clot. I didn’t understand all he said but I did catch that he didn’t mention lysing.

A warning light went off in that part of my brain that fully embraces that I am in charge of my medical care.

I waited until he was finished and said, “Have you talked to Dr. Debord? I was transferred here because he said I was a candidate for lysing.”

The resident was kind of taken aback. “We’ll talk to Dr. Debord,” he said. Later I wondered if he was a hematology resident since he seemed to be so interested in a blood work up. I don’t recall seeing him again but they did wake me up at 5:00 Sunday morning to take five vials of blood. No one talked to me about the blood work but hopefully they had good practice.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Hospital tales 3: The ambulance ride

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

I’m worried as they wheel me into the ambulance for the hour and fifteen minute ride to St. Francis in Peoria.. What if part of the blood clot breaks lose and makes a mad dash for my heart, lungs, or brain? I’ll be a goner.

“Can I use my cell phone?” I ask the EMTs.

“Sure,” they said. “We don’t have anything on board that it’ll interfere with.” I felt like a free man because I could use my cell phone without sneaking.

I called my parents first. I thought of starting off cheerily, “Hey, I’m calling from the back of an ambulance.” But that didn’t seem like a good idea. At 81 and 77 they’ve had enough shocks in life. I reminded Dad that I had told him about my sore leg the day before and then told them about the blood clot. We were several minutes into the call before I communicated that I was calling from the back of an ambulance.

“It’s a good thing you are strong, Richard,” Mom said. Wow. Mom thinks I’m strong. I never knew that.

The head of the stretcher could be tilted up. Good thing or my back would have been screaming by the time we got to Peoria. The tilt also helped me look out the back window. Once stopped at a red light a young man pulled up right behind us. I wondered if he could see me. I thought of waving to him to see if he would wave back.

After talking to my parents I called my daughters Hannah and Heidi and my son Jon. Once in awhile my anxiety would begin to rise like a muddy creek in a rain storm. To keep at bay the worries that the rough ride was going to shake lose a blood clot and kill me, I concentrated on the conversation of the moment,

When I talked with Heidi she was in a motel in Atlanta writing an outline for her master thesis study. Her Ethiopian husband was a mile away enjoying watching a soccer match between two Ethiopian teams.

A nurse practitioner student, she would like to do a study on why pregnant women at risk of acquiring AIDS refuse to get AIDS testing. I knew she’d eventually like to work with AIDS patients in Ethiopia.

“Design the study for Ethiopia,” I said. “It’ll be a challenge to find someone to collect the data for you but that’s where your heart is so go for it. It’ll be a challenge but if you work your connections I bet you can pull it off.”

She’s done the literature search and she knows of a similar study in Los Angeles and one other county but none in Ethiopia.

I had one other suggestion. Design the study to uncover the reasons pregnant women in Ethiopia choose to be tested or to not be.
Heidi immediately recognized the value. Such a study could teach health workers how to encourage more at risk pregnant women in Ethiopia to be tested for AIDS.

After talking with my kids I called Lynn Reha at Plow Creek to make the final arrangements for hosting another Mennonite church the next day. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll pull it off.” It was like she was singing to my soul.

Talking with Lynn and each of my family was much more fun than thinking about a bit of my blood clot breaking loose and making a mad dash for my heart, lungs, or brain.

I am a blessed man.

Hospital tales 2: And denial comes tumbling down

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

A week ago today I laid in the hospital bed with a blood clot in my left leg and read my patient rights in a classy folder handed to me by the nurse. That brought back memories of the last time I had been in the hospital and the first time I had tried to exercise my rights as a patient.

In the mid 1970s Congress passed a law on patients’ rights. As I understood it I could now see my chart. Having spent lots of time in a rehab hospital starting in 1968, I was eager to read my chart. I asked to see it.

The next thing I know I get a visit in my room from the assistant administrator. He was as smooth as a knife cutting through butter as he chatted me up. After a bit he gently let it slip that I had a good relationship with the medical director and that he was sure I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that relationship by asking to see my chart.

Needless to say my patient rights melted like butter on a hot griddle.

Thirty years later, early in the afternoon I met Dr. Norris, the young on-call doctor, who had ordered the ultrasound that revealed the blood clot and who had put me in the hospital.

She did a great job of keeping my denial in place, saying that if my insurance approved Lovenox, a new blood thinner, for home use, then Sarah could inject the Lovenox at home and I could probably go home the next day. In the hospital one day and out the next. Piece of cake, I thought.

I called the insurance company and left a message (they were closed for the weekend) asking for approval of Lovenox at home.

A bit later Dr. Norris returned and said she’d like to consult with a vascular surgeon from Peoria. Wow, what a conscientious doctor I have, I thought.

Next thing I know she’s back explaining that she and the Peoria doc think that I’m a good candidate for lysing, a procedure where they inject a chemical directly into the vein to break up the clot in hopes of saving the valves in the vein which work very poorly if the clot stays in there too long.

Then sweet Dr. Norris took two swings at my denial with a sledge hammer. “IVCH doesn’t do lysing except in the emergency room when people are having a heart attack,” she said, “so if you decide to have the lysing we’ll transfer you to St. Francis in Peoria by ambulance or by air.” Then she let it slip that Dr. Debord said that I’m a “high morbidity risk.”


Around here patients who are about to die get shipped off to Peoria. And high morbidity risk? Fancy way of telling me I could die at any moment.

Dr. Norris left the room to allow Sarah and me time alone to decide about being transferred to St. Francis.

My denial tumbles down like a ragged old pair of pajamas. I’m tearing up. I’m choking up. “I’m not ready to die,” I tell Sarah. “I mean, I’m ready to see Jesus but I don’t want to leave you all alone. I don’t want to disappear on you. I’m sorry, Sarah, for putting you through this. I know it’s crazy to say I’m sorry--I didn’t choose this--but I’m sorry to put you through this misery.”

Sarah, the love of my life, lost her father before she was born and a step-father when she was 18-months old. I don’t want to be another loss in her life.

Sarah lowered the bed railing and sat on the bed. We hugged. We kept looking in each others eyes, Sarah looked away, trying to control her emotions. We held each other and when we parted she had tears in her eyes. “I’m trying to keep my emotions from taking over,” she said. If she went down her trail of losses she’d be too sad to think straight.

Poor Hannah, our eldest daughter, calls then and I choke up on the phone with her.

Sarah and I decided--lysing in Peoria it is. Staff tells us that the transfer will be by ambulance within an hour. Sarah heads out to bring a few things home and pack in order to stay the night with me at St. Francis.

Hospital tales 1: I’ll just keep on working

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

“What can I do for my leg?” I questioned the Lord in my journal on July 9.

Admittedly, asking the Lord a direct question is a dangerous practice because I might hear wrong, but that doesn’t keep me from trying.

“Swim and sit in the Jacuzzi and let healing time pass," I thought I heard.


“Baby it with hot packs and cold packs. Ask Sarah.”

A few days later Sarah, my beloved, read my journal while I was lying in the hospital. “You sure didn’t do a very good job of hearing the Lord,” she said with a laugh.

“That’s true,” I said, “the only thing I got right was asking you.”

When I asked Sarah, a nurse, if I should use hot pack or cold packs under my sore knee she asked to look at it. “There’s a reddened area above your knee and it’s hot to touch,” she reported. “That could be a blood clot above the back of your knee. You better call your doctor.”

Now denial is a wonderful thing. It keeps us from spending too much time thinking about the fact that we can die at any moment.

I vaguely knew that blood clots in the leg can break off and be deadly but I didn’t spend time worrying about that. I called the doctor who ordered an ultrasound. “If it is a clot,” she said, “I’ll have to put you in the hospital.” I felt my denial slip a bit but I quickly pulled it back up.

In radiology at the local hospital I watched beautiful, color, abstract patterns on a screen while the tech pressed the ultrasound by my groin. “What’s that?” asked Sarah.

“That’s a clot,” the tech said. My denial was very good. I wondered how she could see the clot beneath my knee from by my groin. Only later did I realize the clot went from below my knee to my groin.

True to her word the doctor put me in the hospital.

I wasn’t supposed to use my cell phone because it would mess up the telemetry, the nurse said. I sneaked and used my cell phone a few times to complete arrangements for hosting a sister church the next day at Plow Creek.

My denial firmly in place, I kept working in the hospital, making phone calls and studying The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Trusting a man who makes no secret of his brokennness

On this last day of my vacation I continue to ponder trust. The people of Plow Creek are used to me pairing "trust and openness" as if they were a couple of nesting mallards.

Coca Cola and KFC are two companies who are famous for guarding their secret recipes for soft drinks and fried chicken respectively.

They clearly believe that a well-kept secret is the path to power. Not trust and openness.

I wasn't always "the world's most open man", a comment by my wife. I grew up in a tough Scandinavian clan who knew how to suffer in silence. When my body began to fall apart at age 17 with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis I kicked suffering in silence into high gear.

When hit with humiliation after humiliation I toughed it out.

By the time I was 21, after my seventh surgery in four years, I was so depressed that I thought I might end up on the psych ward. Being a strong, silent Scandinavian didn't seem to be working very well.

I sought out a Christian professor on campus and poured out about 15% of my woes. That proved to be helpful. Especially when I managed to put into words that I was quite sure God didn't want me to get married. After all, he didn't seem to mind me becoming disabled; he probably wanted me to see me suffer more by dashing my dream of being married.

When you suffer in silence long enough it's amazing the thoughts your brain comes up with.

The professor didn't try to correct my thinking. He simply asked if I had asked God about marriage. I hadn't. Although I continued to cling to a belief in God like a man clinging to the debris of a sinking ship, I wasn't too sure that at any moment he might step on the fingers.

Since he hadn't answered my desperate pleas to be healed...

But the professor seemed to think it was okay to ask God about getting married. To me his suggestion was as hopeful as dew forming during a night in the desert. I asked.

Sure enough one morning a few months later I woke and while lying in bed praying I sensed God telling me that it was okay to get married.

That answer gave me the confidence I needed to do my part in the summer of '73--Rich and Sarah fall in love. Maybe there was a better way than suffering in silence.

That wild idea was confirmed for me in 1981, three and a half years into my sojourn at Plow Creek. I found myself telling my sharing group my story of becoming disabled. I'd shared it all with Sarah during our courtship but this was the first time I ventured to trust a group of people, a bunch of God's people, no less.

The first time I shared I shared maybe 20% of the humiliations and I thought I was all done. When I was done someone in the group said they'd be glad to hear me share more. Hmmm, I thought, maybe there is more.

A few weeks later I went deeper into the story. They listened so kindly--Margaret even cried with me. For the first time I began to discover some meaning to the humiliations. For instance, I grew up in a Pentecostal church and I answered many altar calls, asking for healing. At first, I fully expected to be healed. I would head to the front of the church, eager for the laying on of hands, eager to be healed. But after answering repeated altar calls and not being healed, I found myself limping back to my pew in utter desolation.

"You were the scape goat," said one of the men in my sharing group. When I didn't know what he was talking about he pointed me to the Old Testament where I discovered my story. The people of Israel had a ritual of laying their hands on a goat to place their sins on the goat, and then the goat was drivien into the wilderness.

My dear Pentecostal people laid hands on me in faith at first. But eventually as I was not healed they kept laying hands on me in, what I suspect, was anxiety.

No one in my church talked to me about me not being healed. I answered altar calls, they laid hands on me and prayed fervently, and then, like the scapegoat of old, I wandered off into the wilderness.

Eventually I stopped answering altar calls. God can heal me, I declared to myself, but he obviously isn't doing it through altar calls. Then a few years later I drifted away from the Pentecostal church.

I could have kept guarding myself, not exposing my humiliations, keeping my shame a secret and climbed to the top of some organization on talent and endurance, making sure that I would never be weak and humiliated again.

But suffering in silence would have kept me wandering the desert. In a deep sense, in that Plow Creek sharing group, I came home. After losing my Pentecostal people I found a new people.

A few weeks later Plow Creek asked me to become a pastoral elder, in part, I suspect because on some level they knew needed an elder who was comfortable with his own weakness. They could trust a man with power who makes no secret of his brokenness.

Trust and openness is a path that leads home.

What Sarah thinks about my musing on sex and trust

Note before I wander back to thinking about trust: This is my 100th post. For those of you reading this at Thriving Groups you can see the complete archives at Rich Remarks, a dulicate of Thriving Groups.

You may wonder what Sarah, my beloved, thinks of my recent posts on sex and trust. When I wrote the line at the end of my last post--"Now here's a man I can trust"--I kind of gulped and wondered the same thing.

As Sarah has been known to say, "I am the most open person in the world she knows."

Earlier in our vacation I had told her I was blogging about sex and trust but she hadn't read them. She's not the writer in the family and finds other parts of life more enjoyable than spending much time on the internet.

After the last post I printed out the last five entries. When I gave them to her I assured her that I could go back and edit them if need be.

"You mean the whole world hasn't seen them already."

"Not the whole world. A few people probably have but I can make any changes you deem necessary and that's how they'll be from now on."

Ah, what a relief. She deemed them good. I still have her trust even as I wander along thinking about sex and trust.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Now here's a man I can trust

One day when I was in my early teens I came across a magazine ad featuring a nightlight that said, "Tonight's the night."

I had never thought about that before. How do couples know when to do it?

Sex was such a mystery. I could hardly wait to get married and solve the mystery.

When Sarah and I married in our early twenties, we had a great time laughing and exploring the mysteries.

But one part of the mystery completely escaped me. I was following in the footsteps of a violent step father-in-law.

"The leading cause of injury among American women is being beaten at home--by a husband, boyfriend, ex-husband or ex-boyfriend," says Colman McCarthy, author of I'd Rather Teach Peace.

Sarah told me the stories but it completely escaped me that meant that on some deep level she could not trust me. After all I was a man. The first man in her life had disappeared before she was born when he was shot and killed. The second man in her life died of polio three weeks after her mother married him when Sarah was eighteen months old. The third man in her life stayed around but he was an alcoholic prone to bouts of violence.

If I would have been smart when I we married I would have cried out, "Lord, help me earn this woman's trust."

But I was young and in love and an eternal optimist. As could have been predicted, a few years into our marriage her ardor waned and mine did not.

Being disabled I was finely tuned to rejection. "She's cutting me off," I wrote angrily in my journal, feeling every bit as hurt and powerless as a dandelion run over by a mower. "I need..." I would write in my journal.

What I thought I needed was sex. A wiser, older friend suggested that I needed love and that God might be a good source of love.

I thought God was a poor substitute for sex. Sarah wasn't too keen on being close to this angry man she had married. She didn't like my demands.

One summer vacation I sat in the car by myself, agonizing in my journal about my misery. ''Make a commitment to Sarah to stop making demands'' I thought I heard the God of the universe say.

"How can I do that?"

"Look to me for the love you need."

I wrote out my commitment in my journal and told Sarah. She didn't believe me. But my commitment wasn't dependent on her believing me. I stopped making demands and each time I was tempted to be demanding I asked God to love me.

I know it sounds kind of nuts but it worked. Slowly my frustration was replaced with a sense of being loved by the God of the universe.

Slowly Sarah began to trust me. About a year later she said she'd like me to take some initiation. At first I wondered how I could do that without making demands but I soon discovered that I could.

Now I look back on it and I realize how smart God is. I was a young, clueless husband who did not know he had to build trust with this most beautiful woman. She needed more than my eyes lighting up like a nightlight saying, "Tonight's the night."

By making the commitment to stop making demands and keeping that commitment, I became the first man in Sarah's life that she could depend on.

I still shake my head in amazement. By God's utter grace I became like a nightlight that says, "Now here's a man I can trust."

Thursday, June 30, 2005

When it's better to be a lamb

"If you can't be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who's strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always," Illinois Senator Barack Obama's step-father told him when he was a boy.

“But always better to be strong. Always.”

Let's go back to the sexual harassment that I recounted in yesterday’s blog. The next day I went to church and prayed desperately. I didn’t know what to pray and my prayers seemed like rain falling on granite. The event became one more in a series of humiliations that were part of becoming disabled.

The immediate shame of each event dried and crusted and I went on with the task of surviving as one of the weak of the earth.

In the same way that I brought to our marriage gritty joints that were prone to sudden flares of pain, I also brought humiliations.

“Men take advantage of weakness in other men.”

Of course, part of me was strong. At the end of my freshmen year I was elected president of my university’s Inter-Varsity chapter. I remember my shock. What did the other students see in me?

One of the reasons Sarah was attracted to me was that she could take care of me. She’s a nurse and part of her loves being a care taker. When we had our first child Sarah suddenly had someone else who needed her care even more than I did. We had a rough stretch as I figured out how to handle physical tasks that she had been so willing to do before--like washing my hair.

So I entered our marriage as a leader and someone others felt free to take advantage of.

One Christmas after our second daughter was born I decided it was time to revisit the shame of the dorm. It had always been hard to talk about. Molested by a man? And I wasn’t even sure it had happened, since I was asleep. That Christmas, something in me said that it was time to stop running away from the shame.

I began writing about it in my journal. Soon I was furious at God. Weak, I had allied myself with God and yet he hadn’t protected me. What good is God if not for protection? And all semester long I had tried to stay pure. I had thrown away the picture of the naked woman they put in my King James Bible. I had said no to the drunk co-ed who wanted to get in bed with me. Once they had blocked me from entering my room to get my suitcase to go home. When I got back from home they asked me what I thought of the porno magazines. But there was no porn in my suitcase when I got home. They swore they had put it in there. I was sure God had evaporated the porn to protect me.

Then they got me while I was sleeping.

I raged in my journal. Eventually I wrote what I had concluded about the event: I was ruined for life.

Those words rang like the distant tolling of a church bell at a funeral. Ruined for life. Journal in hand I looked at those words. They were exactly what I had concluded. Ruined for life. Then a little voice inside me asked: Was I really ruined for life?

I was married. I had children. Not exactly ruined for life. I was living the life I had longed for ever since I was a little boy. Then I remembered another phrase, this one from a song we sing at Plow Creek: The lamb who was slain has begun his reign.

I wrote that phrase in my journal--the lamb who was slain has begun his reign--and it set off a geyser of joy.

Yes, that was it exactly. I was like a lamb in the dorm, an innocent lamb that was molested. But that was not the end of the story. I knew the original story, Jesus of Nazareth going through a day of humiliations ending in his death. He too was molested but his story didn’t end there.

It isn’t always better to be strong. Sometimes it’s better to the lamb who was slain who has begun his reign.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A cripple and an orphan

Sarah married a cripple and I married an orphan.

As I wander through this vacation blog thinking about sex and trust "cripple" and "orphan" have been floating through my thinking like a pine cone caught in the current of a stream.

I guess you can't talk about trust without talking about weakness. Sarah and I have built trust on a foundation of weakness.

"Men take advantage of weakness in other men," Barack Obama's Indonesian step-father, Lolo, said. "They're just like countries in that way. The strong man takes the weak man's land. He makes the weak man work in his fields. If the weak man's woman is pretty, the strong man will take her."

The above quotes are from Obama's memoir about growing up with a white mother and an African father who returned to Africa when Obama was age two.

Growing up African-American is an exercise in coming to terms with weakness. My son-in-law is reluctant to hold my daughter's hand in public because he could be shot.

When I became disabled at 17, I became deeply acquainted with weakness. Other men took advantage of my weakness.

Not only was I disabled but I was religious and sexually naive. When I was a freshmen at a university the other men on my dorm delighted in explaining sex in all it's variations to me whether I wanted them to tutor me on the topic or not. One day one of them asked what I'd do if a woman wanted to get in bed with me. "Think about it then," I said.

That night they smuggled a drunk co-ed into my room (this was long before co-ed dorms), woke me up, and hooted and hollered as she asked to get in bed with me. I kept refusing her request.

My weakness was like a scab that had to be picked by others in the dorm. Another night I woke briefly from a deep sleep, dimly aware there were men in the room. I slid back into exhausted sleep.

The next day I heard two men talking, one obviously ashamed about something. "You should have stopped me," he said to the other.

Suddenly I realized they were discussing something that involved me. "What are you talking about?" I asked.

"You don't remember?" one asked in disbelief.

"No, I don't know what you are talking about."

"Boy, you must have a Freudian block."

I will never forget the shame that flooded me as I realized that I had likely been molested while asleep. I was too ashamed to press them for the facts.

Men take advantage of weakness in other men.

A few years later I graduated with a Master's degree and I was hired to be a human resources director for a nonprofit that provided services for people with disabilities. Given my disability I had a hard time finding a job and the director took advantage of my weakness, starting me out at $3.50 an hour.

"If the weak man's woman is pretty, the strong man will take her," was another bit of wisdom from Obama's step-father. The strong get the prettiest girl. Imagine my surprise when Sarah, the prettiest, sweetest girl chose me, the cripple.

What I didn't know at first was that she was an orphan with a violent step-father. She too was acquainted with weakness.

Lolo went on to tell Barack, "If you can't be strong, be clever and make peace with someone's who's strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always."

I would have preferred to be strong, not to be the scab of Walsh Hall that kept being picked in the fall of 1969. But Lolo was missing something in his stark assessment of the role of power in the human community. He assumed that power comes through strength. Power through strength has a limited shelf life.

There's better path to sex and that's through weakness and trust.

Speaking of power, my battery power is about the run out on my lap top. More tomorrow, Lord willing, and the creek don't rise.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Blueberries are like proper sex

A couple of years ago a philosopher friend, Greg Clark, said, "Every time I ask you a question, you tell me a story."

I guess that's how my brain works.

Yesterday as I wandered through my blog I began to ponder why in humans sex and trust is linked like the membrane and nuclei of a cell.

So I have a story. Actually two.

Yesterday Sarah and I visited with Sarah's 79-year-old mother, Jean, and Walton, her 85-year-old friend. Walton and Sarah's father, Ralph, were best friends in a Baptist seminary in the 1940's.

Ralph was shot and killed while serving as a missionary in Ethiopia in 1951 while Sarah was still in the womb. She's been searching for her father ever since and here was a chance to here more stories about him.

Walton told a few stories about Ralph but he kept drifting off to stories about Eunice, his wife of 53 years who died a couple years ago.

Shortly before he met Eunice, Walton had broken an engagement with another woman. Then he met Eunice at a camp and sparks flew immediately. Ralph saw what was happening and he asked Walton if he was being true to his fiance. Walton 'fessed up to Ralph that he had broken his engagement.

"That's the kind of friendship we had," Walton said.

Walton met Eunice in August, they got engaged in October, and married in December. "I never kissed her until I gave her an [engagement] ring," he said. "That's the way we were."

"Did I ever tell you about the first time Ralph kissed me?" Jean asked Sarah. "He kissed me and then a week later he apologized." She paused. "That was kind of disheartening."

"Ralph was very proper," said Walton.

I can think of another word. Trustworthy.

Contrast Jean and Walton's stories with the story Alma (not her real name) recently told me. Ten years ago Alma decided to leave, Alfred, her husband of 40 years. He was an alcoholic who periodically drank and became violent towards her. Ten years ago he was drinking again.

"I was so nervous when I left him I thought I wouldn't last a week," she said. "I thought I'd die of a heart attack."

She carefully planned her escape so that her husband would not know where she was, moving half way across the country. There she bought a .22 caliber pistol. "With planes nowadays," she said, "you can get anywhere in the country within a few hours. If Alfred showed up at the door I wanted to make sure that he wouldn't get in."

For seven years Alma kept the pistol under the liner in the waste basket in her bathroom. "I always figured I'd have a reason to go to the bathroom," she said.

Alma's story tastes bitter. I can only imagine the improprieties that led to the earthquake fissures that ended their marriage.

Now Jean's story of her courtship with Ralph and Walton's story of his courtship with Eunice have a different taste. Their stories make me think of tasty good sex blooming like blueberries in the backyard.

You know trust and blueberries will keep producing for fifty years.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Considering pine cones and sex

This morning I sat under a pine tree in northern Minnesota considering the pine cones lying on the pavement at my feet and hanging from the branches overhead.

Pine trees put a lot of energy into reproducing.

Probably none the pine cones from this particular tree will take root and yet year after year the tree produces new pine cones and drops them hopefully to the earth.

Which gets me thinking about chastity before marriage and fidelity during marriage, two of the commitments we make to each other and our God when we join Plow Creek.

Shouldn't we be like nature and cast our seeds far in wide in hopes that a handfull will take root and reproduce?

Sitting under the pine tree this morning I read the following quote from Jim Wilder's The Complete Guide To Living With Men:

We have all been to school. Did anything happen there that would help you control your fears and desires? Does school help you stay out of an attractive person's pants? Did you ever pass a test that helped you to be calmer when in trouble? Did any grade you finished make you a noticeably better parent? Did you ever get a license that made you more generous?

Several years ago we went through a sex scandal at Plow Creek centered around one of our founders. Uffda. We are a rather egalitarian community who sit in a circle and make the decisions that shape our church and life together. Sarah decribed it best. After the "confession" she said it was like a bomb went off in members meeting and everyone looked around wondering, "Who can I trust?"

Sex and trust. As far as I can tell trust is not part of the mix when pine cones reproduce. But for some reason or other we human beings link sex and trust so deeply that when we are sexually betrayed we seem to feel it at the cellular level.

I wonder where my thinking will go next as I explore my world (God's world?) on this vacation.

It's time to go have lunch with Sarah's aunt and mother.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The world according to Gordon Foss

I first did this post for Father's Day 2005. I keep adding quotes from my Dad:

When you get to be my age you brag it because you’re still kicking
--at age 82

Mama picked herself out an outfit for the anniversary deal.
--On a trip he and my mother had taken to Thief River Falls, MN in preparation for the 60th wedding anniversary celebration coming up June 25.

The Lord gives you wisdom so you can't believe what you've done.
--On his confidence in working out the technical details as he builds a diamond willow bed frame as part of a craft business he launched at age 80.

You get a lot of compliments and that spruces you up even if you don't make a lot of sales.
--On how he enjoys working at craft shows as part of Foss Diamond Willows.

I love you, Dad.

Friday, June 17, 2005

My people in Ethiopia

No more pastoral or Evergreen Leaders work until July 5.

I get to slow dance with time, Sarah and family.

Let my mind drift like a leaf settling gently on a brook.

In 1988 on vacation at my parents' in northern Minnesota, I began to write little parables in my journal each morning. At home I typed them up and realized--this could be a novel.

Thus was Jonas and Sally born.

Let's see what happens as my mind meanders, my body bends, and my spirit strecthes over the next couple of weeks.

Tonight I had the honor of eating dinner with my fingers, an Ethiopian tradition. My daughter Heidi's mother-in-law made ua meal consisting of several dishes with Ehtiopian names that did not stick to my brain long enough to be repeated.

As in Ethiopia we diners broke off pieces of enjara, a pliable flat bread, and used the enjara to pinch bites from eat dish. Bite by bite I ate a fine meal with my fingers.

I am ready to go to Ethiopia now, a dream I've harbored since the early 1990's. Sarah's father, Ralph Larson, an American Baptist missionary, was shot and killed in Ethiopia on November 13, 1951, five months before Sarah was born.

Ralph is buried there and no one in his family has visited his grave since his family left a day or two after he was buried.

Three years ago this summer Heidi and Woju fell in love and married a year later in a glorious Ethiopian-Plow Creek wedding.

For over fifty years our family has been bonded to Ethiopia through loss and a distant grave.

Now my people are living in Ethiopia.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The library of persistent listening

One day persistent listening will make it possible for Tiskilwa, my home town, to have a new, accessible library.

Four years ago the board (I'm currently president) set a goal of an cretaing an accessible library that will serve our village for the next fifty years.

We currently have a small library with a dozen steps to get to the door.

In my February 10 blog I was excited because a bank had offered to donate their Tiskilwa branch office to the library. But an architectural study showed that making the bank into a libray was going to cost us between $300,000 and $500,000. We could probably build an energy efficient new library for $400,000.

Last night the board voted to decline the gift of the bank building.

A couple weeks ago I visited with Bruce McVety, a former library board member, and he suggested approaching the village board about them village donating part of one of the parks for a new library.

This morning I phoned the mayor who's open to the idea but he wants to know exactly how much of the park we need.

Now it's time to listen to a consultant from the regional library system who will be able to give us an idea of how much of the park we will need.

When it's complete it might well be called a library of persistent listening because, as a board, we will have collected a ton of ideas in order to create a library that will serve Tiskilwa for the next fifty years.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

In praise of good helpers

Last Thursday I got caught in a whirlwind that I'm not ready to blog about. Perhaps later.

But now I have a power of praise story.

Last Wednesday I finished the Encouraging Path workshop at 3:00 for fifteen people from Gateway Services. I spend part of the workshop teaching about how praise helps groups thrive and then teach seven different ways you can use praise.

On the way home three Plow Creek boys came running up, wanting a ride on my wheelchair. I divided the ride home into three stages and each lad rode a third of the way with me.

They hung around our garage while I loaded my wheelchair into my van. When I load my wheelchair I roll a rug van over the van's bumper to protect it. After I loaded the wheelchair four year-old Chris reached over and rolled up the rug and stored it in the van.

"Thank you, Chris, that was very helpful." I said, suprised because Chris usually has his head down as he charges from one activity to the next. "Chris, you are a good helper, " I added.

"I'm a good helper," he announced with pleasure.

"I'm a good helper too," said Zach, his six-year old brother. "I help my parents carrry in groceries from the car."

"Yes, Zach, you are a good helper," I said. "when you help your parents carry in the groceries."

"I'm a good helper too," said five year-old Gabrian. "I help my parents carry in things from the car."

"Yes, Gabrian," I said, "you are a good helper when you carry in stuff from the car for your Mom and Dad. You are all good helpers."