Saturday, April 27, 2013


It’s been about a week since I got back from my latest trip to Mexico. I’ve gotten past the travel fatigue, but I’m still walking in the afterglow of the sights, sounds, and experiences.
When you mention Mexico to most Americans, the images usually conjured up are gleaming white beaches, the plush resorts to be found in Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, casinos, spas, or golf courses. That wasn’t the Mexico I saw, or have ever seen. The Mexico I’m acquainted with is gritty. The people I’ve met and have come to know live in crude cinder block homes that sit atop huge landfills, which in turn are primitive attempts to mask the smell of tons of rotting garbage that’s been dumped beneath them. The people somehow manage to live on pennies per day, doing work that no “self-respecting” American would ever consider doing. Their intestines are filled with worms and parasites. Their afflictions are many.
That’s the Mexico I know. In many ways, it’s the Mexico I prefer. I prefer it, not because of its problems, but because it’s real and the people living in that reality respond to love. The Mexico of the resorts and casinos seems empty and plastic to me. The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to believe that sitting by the pool, praying for 11 red or 34 black to magically appear on the roulette wheel, or anticipating the turn of a card to fill in a straight flush is about as futile and meaningless as life can get.
For four days our group of nineteen went from site to site, diagnosing, prescribing, dispensing, touching, hugging, playing, and praying. There were more than enough needs to keep us fully occupied for twelve hours or more each day. The work was occasionally interrupted by laughter or spontaneous cheers as something beyond our ability to explain occurred. There were moments when the overwhelming nature of the people’s needs would reduce us to tears.
The doctors, nurses, and pharmacist who were part of our team took care of the medical needs. They did an amazing job! The rest of us did the touching, hugging, playing, and praying. I especially loved being around the children. And, they loved being around me. I became quite good at face painting. I drew a mustache and goatee on a boy who appeared to be about eight years old. I nicknamed him “Snidely Whiplash.” I was quite proud of my work. I found a couple of small water pistols and engaged in mock gunfights with the boys. Every time I did my imitation of John Wayne’s walk they would laugh uncontrollably. That, in turn, gave me the opportunity to soak ‘em real good. I challenged a couple of six year olds to arm wrestling contests, which they won.  Even teenagers gravitated toward me. I adopted two, calling one Butch Cassidy and the other the Sundance Kid.  I think that surprised some of our group. Over time, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for being a small town hair-shirted prophet. They didn’t realize that even a dour old man like me has his soft spots. On the way home, one of the team members expressed his surprise. I told him I was beginning to work on my epitaph. My first draft reads something like this:
“Kids loved him.
Politicians hated him.
All in all, a well-lived life!”
We saw things in Mexico one doesn’t see very often on our side of the border. I saw hundreds of lost souls saved. I saw a lame woman come into one of the meetings, struggling to move with the aid of a crude, home-made cane. I saw her leave without the cane. The joyful expression on her face was the only explanation I needed.
One of the beautiful things about Mexico is that the social environment seems far less rigid than ours. Everything’s done in the open. I saw an Aztec shaman trying to cleanse some demons from a guy in Mexico City’s downtown park. I passed by the “church of death” one day and lifted a drive-by prayer of exorcism as I did.
The openness of the environment makes the fight very easy. One knows what he’s up against. Our north-of-the-border demons are much harder to see. They wear a cloak of respectability and can be found in corporate board rooms and legislative chambers. They often wear Brooks Brothers suits. They have names like greed, envy, and lust for power. They have a tender touch, but they’re deadly.
The afterglow of Mexico remains, yet I know her needs are still acute. But, I also know there’s hope for Mexico’s poor and needy. As it’s written, “God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”

Saturday, April 13, 2013


The memories of when I first I met my wife, Nancy, are fresh in my mind these days. I met her twenty-seven years ago, right about this time of the year. God’s timing was perfect.
It didn’t seem that way when 1986 began. I’d been through a particularly difficult divorce a few years earlier. Career wise, I was at a dead end. Former “friends” from the church I’d attended were sending me occasional pieces of prophetic hate mail, usually prefaced with the words, “I knew what you were like all along. I knew you were nothing but a failure.”
I had to work my way out of the pit I was in, so I began attending a downtown Kansas City church. One of the first things I remember was a presentation one of the members made about a trip she’d taken to India as director of a charitable foundation called Wellspring. I wanted to talk to her after the service, but she was surrounded by lots of others who’d also been moved by what she shared. I went out to the vestibule and asked someone about her. “Everyone here knows Nancy,” he said. She’s “someone very special.” I decided I had to meet her face to face.
That time did come. We were both chosen to be representatives on a Biblical literacy team the church was developing. By the time the spring of 1986 came along, all my bells and whistles were going off. I’d never been around someone quite like her. She was an immensely gentle soul, a tender flower, yet she was full of the kind of conviction that adds strength and depth to the gentleness.
In time we found ourselves outside the church long after the classes were done for the night. We talked about our respective dreams and visions.  I began to sense that our souls were being knit together. But, when I was alone I wrestled with my fears. What could a man like me, with a track record of brokenness and failure, possibly add to this relationship?
There was a bridge for me to cross and it was paved by love. I fell, head over heels. I was like the cartoon character whose heart pounds out of his chest on the end of a spring when his love is near.
That was twenty-seven years ago. It really does seem like yesterday.
There have been so many wonderful moments between then and now. Even today, in this quiet time, I can still feel the power of Nancy’s touch as we looked out our kitchen window in Montville, New Jersey. She saw a flicker making its way up a tree trunk. She whispered softly as she grasped my hand. “Oh, Phil, look….It’s the flicker!” The voice was soft, but the grip was supernaturally powerful, revealing the depth of what was going on in her heart.
There was a morning at a bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey. I don’t know why she asked me the question. Maybe she sensed that I was, for the first time, feeling my age and coming to grips with my own mortality, and hers. “What will you do, Slick, if I die before you?”  I became indignant and refused to answer the question. If I remember it right, I sulked all the way home to Denville. Later that night I came to my senses and saw why she’d asked that question. C.S. Lewis answered it better than I ever could – “Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not an interruption of the dance, but the next figure. We are ‘taken out of ourselves’ by the loved one while she is here. Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be still taken out of ourselves though the bodily presence is withdrawn, to love the very Her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrow.”
It was hard to see it that morning, but I believe Nancy was trying to tell me, in her gentle, yet powerful way, that I needed to be taken out of myself. I treasure that lesson as the most valuable I’ve learned in this life.
So, I love the memories, but I know there are even more memories to come, more experiences to share, and more lessons to learn if I’m willing to be taken out of myself. And, amazingly, there will come a day when I will see God in all his glory, Nancy clothed in hers, and even greater memories than this beautiful, yet transient life, can possibly offer.