Picture this writer on the horns of a dilemma. Certain readers like charming stories of my Swiss childhood. Some can stomach more “intense” adult content and so will take in stride today’s musings. These may prove to be kinder to my reputation than incidents in 1941 and 1946 when I conned a “slow” kid out of candy money and set friend Ruth’s hair on fire, respectively. Please picture me now aboard my Swissair flight to Zurich in mid-April 1985 and marvel that the seats next to me were left vacant. Believe me when I claim that God the Father and God the Son provided the company I sorely needed, and that I made the Holy Spirit laugh. At age 50 I was on my way to spend five weeks with my brother Peter, who at the age of 53 would be dead of lung cancer by early August. I was privileged to lead him to the Lord in February, when he asked for me to come. While waiting for the plane to take off, I was in a growing panic that I would not know how to convey biblical comfort and counsel in Swiss German. I relished His imagined good laugh when the Holy Spirit reminded me of Pentecost, when He had mastered 14 native tongues simultaneously.
Peter was not a churchgoer, but the pastor did visit him once, right after he knew of my coming. He happily shared my letter with him and was brusquely warned of my unrealistic “Americanized” Christianity that had me dabble in healing and holiness. The cleric left Peter with a calling card that read, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” My brother cried tears of joy when I entered his sickroom, and he eagerly handed me the New Testament that I had given him for his 20th birthday. We took turns reading Psalms and developed the most wonderful, loving fellowship. The more my new brother in Christ experienced regeneration, the more alarmed he became about his visiting nurse with known occult ties and symbols she had hidden in the room. He was bedridden and in constant pain, and as such profited greatly from her skillful, soothing ministrations. The day came when her “Papa,” as she affectionately called him, begged me to confront her. Sure enough, the Holy Spirit put Swiss German words in my mouth that were both gutsy and gracious. Then the spiritual warfare started in earnest and a badly needed blood transfusion on her watch went dangerously wrong. I knew the time had come to go on the offense. Before kneeling, I told Peter that I would do battle in English, knowing that memorized Scripture would become “weaponized” and lead to victory. Peace became tangible and Christ’s sweet presence infused our parting with hope.
After coming home in late May, I wrote to Peter daily until shortly before his home-going, when I succumbed to utter exhaustion. I had been losing weight and the gaunt look on my face had people chide me for unhealthy dieting. Ironically, I was on a bread-baking and whipped-cream-eating kick, Europe still being fresh on my nostalgic palate. I also taught with gusto from the Book of Joshua to appreciative members of my adult Sunday school class. After nearly fainting at the mall, I saw my family physician who was puzzled to find nothing physically wrong. Over Labor Day Fred and I hosted a couples’ retreat at our mountain cabin. Upon closing up before leaving in separate cars, I had the most peculiar foreboding that I would never come back again. Almost indignantly, I brushed it off with a breath prayer. Still, something sinister clung to me as I walked to my car and had me ask Fred to check the brakes. After driving around the block and finding everything in order, we departed, having agreed to meet at the gas station where the 15 and 138 intersect. A mile or so before, at the steepest rise of a hilly stretch with the final sharp plunge of the road just ahead, I lost both brakes and power steering. Inexplicably, the car came to a safe stop on the only flat space next to the hill side. More curiously still, after invoking afresh Christ’s shed blood to cover me, I restarted the car and met up with Fred as planned. “What happened to you?” he exclaimed when I stepped out of it, and added “You look like death!” By then I was shaking like an aspen in a wind tunnel. On September 19, 1985, I retreated to the cabin to “have it out with the Lord.” Asking for prayer had led to unhelpful advice and food suggestions foreign to my Swiss palate. Yet something did feel like a clawing at my pained innards, causing weight loss I could not gloat over. Up at five on the 20th, I prepared by singing When morning gilds the skies, my heart awaking cries, may Jesus Christ be praised…. Then I read Spurgeon’s morning devotion, intending to read the full context of Judges 7:20 in my Bible, before crying out to the Lord in prayer. Instead, I burst into tears and cried for two hours. I know I wept over Peter’s death – that grief having been put on hold – and healing was poured into me. So were new marching orders that God put on my lips and had me utter out loud as a strangely worded imperative, “Shatter the clay!” Yes, it is a crying shame that today’s musings must stop here, before I can enlighten the curious reader. It took me years and Dr. Dale Bruner’s Greek scholarship until the light bulb came on in my head. Psalm 97:11 kept me from ramming it into a wall, “Light is sown like seed for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.”