Our Life

By John and Darlene Dickey




I was encouraged to write this collection of memories by Starshine, Johnny and Darlene.  Initially, I resisted the idea but while on a walk one morning, I felt quite strongly that the Lord confirmed that I should. 

Memories are just that – I’ve presented everything as factually as I can without coloring or exaggeration.  I should also mention that Darlene and I have cooperated on it and share most of these memories together. 

Of course, this collection is not by any means comprehensive.  But we chose highlights and those recollections that come readily to mind.  These are those we hope will reveal to our children and grandchildren who we are and why we think and act as we do.  We love each member of our family so deeply – when they hurt, we hurt; when they have joy, so do we.  It is our one fervent desire that we all will be together in Jesus throughout eternity clothed in His rightness and covered by His grace. Some of the artwork He inspired is included as well. If you read this, please always look for the wonderful hand of God at work for indeed He is faithful.

Almost killed by horse

In a child’s eyes, everything looks so much bigger than it does to an adult.  In any case, the black monster-horse my parents assured me was safe, along with their friends who were hosting us at their mountain ranch in Estes Park, loomed over me like a huge dark ogre.  I think my sister chuckled as she hoisted me up the 30 feet or so to the saddle, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

Off we went to the fields, the two of us as our parents watched from the porch of the house.  Anyway, we got about 200 - 300 yards away down the dirt road when my world suddenly exploded.  For some reason, ‘black beauty’ decided it was lunch time and abruptly turned around, then headed back to the barn at a full gallop, probably 80 miles per hour.  I hung on for dear life to the saddle horn and was frozen in place.  As I saw the door of the barn approaching at light speed, I knew my young life was nearly over for the door was only tall enough to allow the horse to enter with its head lowered leaving about six inches to spare.  I didn’t want to be squished!

I had no clue what to do, I just knew I was going to die.  My parents stared at the scene in shocked silence; they too expected the worst and were too far away to do anything but watch frozen in horror.  Suddenly, perhaps thirty feet from death, I distinctly heard a voice behind me that said, “Johnny, jump off!”  Of course, I had mixed feelings about this as the ground looked very hard and very far away, but the alternative was even more ominous so off I went to my left and fell to the ground landing just under the barn doorway.

Immediately, my parents grabbed and hugged me saying, “We were so afraid, we just knew you were going to be crushed.”

“I was too! But thank you for telling me to jump off; I was so afraid, I didn’t even think of it,” I answered.

They stared at each other and along with their friends shook their heads, then turned to me and said, “Sweetheart, nobody said anything. We were just in shock.”

“Well, somebody told me to jump off. And I’m glad they did!”

And all these years later, I can still hear that voice.


A couple rattler run-ins

Me and rattle snakes have a history.  My crazy uncle who would take us boys out arrowhead hunting in Texas would grab them by the tail and snap them like a whip to break their backs. That always grossed me out because it had to be true.

Anyway, it was a beautiful day in Michigan and as a high schooler, I got it into my head that I would train for cross country and I was really pretty faithful to run and run and run, whew!  I loved this one park, Kensington I think it was called.  It had a nice walking path around the Wildwing lake  - probably a couple of miles or so. 

For some reason, there were a lot of bees out that day and one hornet that I think was demon-possessed had it out for me.  I couldn’t ditch him for anything – he would zoom in and buzz my face shouting obscenities (not really) over and over as I ran.

So naturally, I ran faster.  But no luck.  This little pest was determined to get me and just when I thought I’d lost him, ZOOM!  He dive-bombed me again.  And so, I ran pretty fast the whole way around the lake on this woodland path until at last, I thought he’d given up.

I huffed and puffed and continued walking about ten or twenty yards when by chance, looked up to see this ‘classic’ back-to-nature guy – you know, khaki shorts, weird hat. He was white as a ghost and speechless.  He looked at me, seemingly frozen in place.  Why? I didn’t know.

I was still approaching him to ask what was the matter, when Wham!  Something strong hit the bottom of my shoe in mid-step.  Immediately, I looked down and, you guessed it, a five or six foot rattler had struck the sole of my shoe and was recoiling for another attack.  Without even thinking, I kicked it as hard as I could and launched it some distance into the forest.

Of course, neither of us stuck around to enjoy the forest trail any further.

And then there’s the time I was visiting my folks in Colorado Springs.  This was before it got so built up.  Their house was surrounded by open land  that I suspected was full of Native American artifacts, arrowheads and such.  So, I went out hiking in these ravines in shorts and running shoes (a real outdoor-genius, I know) searching for ‘treasure’.

I wandered for quite some time and wound up in a ravine about eight feet deep and 25 feet across.  I got interested in this one section of the bank nearest me and stared intently at it while I slowly walked along side of it.  I stopped thinking, ‘ah hah, is that an arrowhead?’ and scraped a little dried mud away at about eye level – nope, just a rock.

I was about to continue when something warned me to stand still and slowly look behind.  I did so and nearly leapt out of my skin (though I did not move) for there, just six inches from my leg was coiled the largest diamondback rattler I’d ever seen, poised to strike.  He did not rattle, so I said a silent prayer and VERY slowly moved to the side, knowing he could strike at any second.

Thankfully, I did not get bit as I was a long way from any help.  Whew!


Car wrap

The first year after I got my driving license, I was in 13 accidents! Yep, that’s right, 13.  Now, in my defense, I was only driving in one of them – a rear end fender bender.  But at that age both me and the guys I hung out with were stricken with acute teenage insanity.  One of them, Gary Curtis, was determined to show that he had the fastest car in the cosmos.

It was a winter evening and we were headed home from the city on the interstate, exiting on the off-ramp during a heavy downpour of snow and sleet.  Now the off ramp had two lanes and of course, Gary chose that very moment to show the car exiting next to us that he had the guts and the ‘idiocy’ to make it to the light first.

Now, I was the only one in the back seat and had my back against the passenger-side door. I had injured my leg in wrestling, and it was in a brace.  Well, in just a couple of seconds, nature demonstrated to us that we weren’t so ‘hot’ – as the car sped up radically, it spun out on the road’s ice at over 80 miles an hour.  We spun around and around several times while I was clinging for dear life to the car’s seats bracing myself against the door.

Suddenly, I distinctly heard a voice say, “John, look behind you!”

I immediately did so and reacted by launching myself with all my strength across the car’s interior just as the car slammed into a huge tree trunk and literally wrapped around it in a V shape. Glass showered all over and I knew that if I had not moved, my back, at the very least, would have been smashed as well.

I never told my parents, I knew they’d freak, but I also knew ‘someone’ was indeed looking out for me (and I didn’t ride with Gary again.)

Salvation - John

I’m sure there are people somewhere who will disagree with me but there just does not seem to be any single, lone, reason for all of us to come to Christ. To be sure, many realize their need for Him because of personal awareness of sin. Many don’t comprehend what sin is any more than it’s a Christian term, but they know that their life is a mess.  Some are sincerely wanting to find something true amidst the ocean of deception in this world.  As the old preacher used to say, “Everybody has a hole in their heart that only God can fill.”  But that hole becomes evident in many ways.

Of course, at some point, we all need to realize that we are sinful and that our weight or debt of sin is what Christ took on himself at the cross of Calvary.  Just how much we realize this grows as our walk with Him continues. 

As for me, I knew I was a real mess.  I always wanted to know God, but I couldn’t find Him. I tried to fill that ‘hole’ with rebellion, with drugs and alcohol, with eastern religions, with sex, with school,… but it always left me empty and discouraged.  I looked down from a twelfth-floor balcony one night and contemplated the jump.  Thankfully, I didn’t.

Sunday, March 19, 1972, I went to the city park to do some photography.  That’s the kind of thing I’d do to forget my heart’s ‘mess’.  Now, as a child of the 60’s so to speak, I was a pretty hippie-like but the guy I saw across the park was a hippie-maniac.  Of course, at that time the town was filled with uppers and downers, LSD, all sorts of drugs and as I pointed my lens at this fellow, he stared at me hard, real hard. 

Not wanting to end up in a fight, I lowered my camera, but he walked toward me the 100 yards or so and never flinched.  He neared and got right in my face and then smiled.

“You have got to be the biggest sheep in this town,” he said matter-of-factly.

I was confused.

“Sheep?  What do you mean??”

“You’re one of Christ’s flock and you just don’t know it yet.”

And this led him into sharing the gospel of grace and salvation by faith.  I don’t remember every word, but I listened.  When he finished, he offered to pray with me on the spot to receive Jesus as my Savior.   I looked around the park and felt like all eyes were upon me and thus, retreated.

Having declined, I left, but this guy shouted, “You can pray anytime. You don’t need me to do it.”

I heard him and was headed home.  Nevertheless, the conversation stuck with me all day.  I couldn’t shake it.  That evening, sitting on the edge of my bed, I looked around my room with the dozens of empty liquor bottles lined up like twisted trophies of stupidity.

‘What if he was right?’ I thought.  ‘Maybe I should open my heart. I know I’m a mess.’

Then I’d back track, ‘Nah, that’s dumb.”

Then again, ‘But what could it hurt?  I think I’ll pray…’

‘No, no, don’t be an idiot.’

Back and forth, my thoughts bounced for over 45 minutes until my hands were shaking and sweat dripped from my face.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that some ‘force’ was fighting this decision big time and that convinced me to cry out, “Jesus, come into my heart and save me from my crazy messed up life.  Please show me your grace and forgiveness and show me how to follow you.”

BAM!  It was electric.  200 pounds fell off my shoulders and I leaped up from the bed, knowing I was truly a new creature.  In that moment, my life was changed forever, and I absolutely knew it.  Immediately, I ran down the halls of the apartment building knocking on all my friends’ doors, saying loudly, “You have to hear what I just did!!” Of course, they all thought I was nuts, but I didn’t care.  I laughed and sang and then started hunting for a Bible.

And for days, I just devoured the Word starting with the gospels.  When I read, “So likewise whosoever he be among you that does not forsake all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) I gave away everything I owned.  

I read, “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,’” (Mark 16:15) which stirred me to hit the road. And then, when I read, “But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,’” (Lu 9:62) the issue was settled in my heart.

With the few things I had left, I stuffed in my backpack and headed out.  My first stop was in an Episcopalian church where I figured I could get some good advice for my journey from the Reverend. Sitting in his office, its atmosphere seemed very dark. He entered and sat down across from me behind his enormous desk.

“So, you want to follow Jesus, eh?” he said.  Suddenly, I felt like I’d done something wrong.

“Yes, sir. Do you have any guidance for me?  I’ve been reading my Bible and…”

He cut me off. “Oh, before you go any further. If you want to know Jesus, you are first going to have to know Satan.”

At that, I stood and left quickly. I knew then why it felt so dark in there. But with that, I stopped ‘figuring’ for myself and began to pray and listen for direction.  About a month later, after sharing my new faith in downtown Denver, I’d made it from Colorado to New Jersey where I looked up my old friend from school, Dean.

Of course, we talked all evening about what I was doing, and he was kind enough to let me crash in his house that night. However, in the wee hours (about 1:30 or so) I was woken up by the Lord telling me that I had to leave and go to this town in upstate New York. I woke up Dean and told him thank you and that I was leaving.

“Leaving? Right now? It’s not even 2:00AM.”

“I know it seems whacky, but I heard the Lord’s voice and I need to obey.  Gotta go.”

“Wait.  I’ll take you at least part of the way.”

He drove me to the State line and stopped. “If I take you any further, I won’t come back.”

I could tell from his countenance that he was facing a similar struggle as the one I had while sitting on my bed several weeks previously. I thanked him again and prayed with him. After that, I started hitch hiking north.  I really didn’t know where this little town was located and neither did the two drivers that gave me lifts.  At about 4:30 AM or so I walked up to a crossing of two single lane roads in the rural abyss of upstate New York.  It was still dark.  A single light hung over the intersection and I stared at it sitting on an old railroad tie by the side of the road.

Admittedly, I was pretty miserable.  A light rain fell and soaked me, and I wondered if I had really heard from the Lord.  I finally decided to pray again and as I did, a school bus pulled up to the intersection, screeched its brakes, the door opened, and the driver’s voice bellowed, “Hey there, are you headed for…?” and he said the name of the town I wanted to find (I’ve forgotten its name).

I responded, “Yes!! Are we near it?”

He laughed, “Not really. Probably two hours or so away. I just felt like I was supposed to take this back road and when I saw you there in the rain, looking pretty lost, I thought maybe that was why.”

Anyway, that was one of my first lessons on trusting the Lord.

Salvation – Darlene

            Darlene grew up on a little island off of Long Island, NY with year-round residents numbering about 14,000.  The demographics were quite simple – Italians (Mafia), Irish (Rangers Hockey families) and Jewish. She worked on the beach each summer starting at age 14.  The only exposure she had to Jesus was when she and four boys were on the school bus – they taunted her that she had killed Him.  She went home crying about it and told her mom who promptly said that Jesus was a dirty name and warned her never to mention it again.

Her dad was in WWII and came home a very different man, suffering with PTSD.  He couldn’t even take the noise of his children so he ate alone and sat each night alone in “his living room” where they were not welcome.

Her Mom got sick of being a mother and checked out emotionally.  She had been mentally ill  due to the trauma surrounding the loss of her own father at the age of twelve.  His severe depression led the doctors to give him a ‘lobotomy’ after which he was essentially brain dead.

Darlene has some good memories of growing up but none of those are from her home life or from school.  Unfortunately, her parents were quite harsh, abusive and gave much preferential treatment to her older and especially her younger sister.  She shared with me times in which her father would beat her with a belt strap simply because her older sister wasn’t available for the punishment.  As a young girl, she was left to do all the cooking and housework alone for years when her mother decided she was done with it and took off.  Continuously, her parents berated her and told her over and over how she was a ‘loser’ and worthless.

            So, it was no wonder that she found herself punished with jail time for illegal drug activities when she got shipped off to Israel. Or that she dabbled more than a little with drug use or that her parents disowned her quickly when she turned eighteen.  She bounced around some between boys and with partying.  Mostly, she just wanted someone to love her but because she was nurtured with such low self-esteem, she just didn’t expect that to happen.  She had a “secret place” that she would go to.  There, she would hear a voice she describes as beautiful, loving and warm telling her, “Darlene, in a little while everything will be OK. Just hang on.” It was that voice that kept her going. 

            Then one day, a friend showed up at her door with a Bible in hand.  He had gotten saved while on a camping trip and shared with her about Christ, specifically out of Isaiah 53 and it clicked.  For first time, she had hope and believed that God was real and had a plan for her.  She heard Him say to her heart, “I am the voice,” which put her in tears as she realized that He loved her and saw worth in her.  After that, her prayer was for Jesus to confirm that He was real.  The next day, she lost her job, her apartment and broke up with her boyfriend – that did it.

She recalled that her friend told her of a discipleship school in New Hampshire and she believed the Lord was telling her to go, so she threw everything she had in a beach bag and began hitch-hiking there.  She got several rides from truck drivers but she had no city name or address so when the last driver dropped her off at a 7-11 somewhere in New Hampshire, she walked into the store and asked if they knew of a discipleship school.  They said yes, that it was just down the block.  When she knocked on the door, there was her friend who had led her to Christ.  She cried and knew without a doubt that Jesus is real and she decided to follow Him.

About a year later, she ultimately wound up acting as a nanny for some missionaries in Puerto Rico where we met.

Angels - Darlene

            Now, she had many wonderful experiences in learning to live by faith but one story she loves to recall is the time she and another young believer, a girl, were on their way to do missions work in Puerto Rico.  They had learned of a half-way house where they could spend the night in New York City.  Now, it was in a tremendously dangerous part of the city with muggings, robberies, murders and rape.  The bus driver was concerned for them and asked them when they were about to disembark, “Are you sure you want to get off here??”

            They said that they didn’t know exactly where this ‘haven’ was located but, yes.  As they exited the bus, suddenly two men appeared before them, dressed identically and in white.  Without speaking a word, one of them took Darlene’s travel bag and the other took her friend’s. They turned and walked them silently for several blocks as the girls watched in awe.  Finally, they came to the unmarked destination and simply set the luggage down.  Then they disappeared, all without a word being spoken.  And yes, it was the right place.  Both of the girls knew they were angels.


The addict

Sometime after that, I found refuge with four others about my age who had likewise become followers of Jesus and we spent much of each day helping people in need and sharing our faith.  During that time, there were at least three things that impressed me that God was at work. 

First, we took turns going to hotels, restaurants and grocery stores asking for supplies and food that we could in turn give to people in significant need.  It was truly amazing to watch the Holy Spirit move in these donors’ hearts and we always had plenty to give out.  Anyway, one day we hosted an event of handing out food and clothing and as was normal, we had maybe 25 -30 of the neediest people we had met in the previous week or so come by. 

This one fellow I noticed was clearly stoned, really stoned.  My friend and I began to talk with him, and he explained that he had been addicted to heroin for seven years and was now on meth.  He had real trouble even speaking coherently.  Suddenly, we both felt strongly that we would pray for him for a deliverance from the addiction.  He was all for it.  I asked him if he believed God could and would heal him and he smiled and nodded.  We prayed fervently and soon there were others gathered around, all of us laying hands on this fellow.

When we finished, this guy stood up and began speaking perfectly clear.  He hugged everyone around and said he knew he was free from the power of the drugs.  Well, that was cool but my joy for him was reinforced when he came back about two weeks later, still clean and drug free.  He had found a church and enrolled in school.

The tire store

One day, as my friend and I were calling on contacts that typically helped us to help others, our car’s tire blew out and when we looked, we saw that they were all really bald.  We knew the Lord promised to provide all our needs and after praying, decided to see if anyone would help with some new or newer ‘rubber’.  The first place we stopped the owner was truly belligerent.  He didn’t just say no, but he literally drove us off his property and threatened us loudly.

At that moment, I recalled Christ’s words to his disciples, “And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” Mark 6:11  I told my friend about it and he too felt that it was appropriate.  So, we turned our backs to the tire store, standing on the street curb and stomped our feet a couple of times.

Then on we went to another place where the owner was very nice and gave us an enormous discount – like four tires for the price of one – and we thanked him profusely. 

A couple of days later, with new tires, we were on route to a hotel contact when we drove by that first tire store and my jaw just dropped. “Look!” I exclaimed to my friend.  There where the tire store had been located was nothing more than a burned pile of rubble.  That sobered both of us greatly and we prayed for the owner.

The fixing of the dead car

In my younger days, I knew nothing about car engines, nothing at all.  So, it was pretty intimidating when one of my friends told me that our car was DOA.  Naturally, we needed it that day and we knew no mechanics. 

“I believe you are supposed to fix it, John,” my buddy said with a pat on the back and a short prayer. 

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I called out to him as he departed. “Oh, Lord. You gotta help me here.  I have no idea what the problem is let alone how to fix it and we do need this car.  Please show me what to do.”

A couple of times, my friends came out of the house to check on my progress, “Is it fixed yet?”

“No!” I said each time.  I got the hood opened and just stared blankly at the engine. Shortly, I got a whisper in my heart to grab the wrench and loosen what I now know is a distributor and turn it.  I had no idea as to why.  However, after this, the car started up and ran smoothly.  It blew my mind!




‘Faith-trip’ home for Christmas

You know, Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the Good News with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.  He told them that they would lack nothing along the way.  Well, about a year and a half after getting saved I decided to visit Mom and Dad for Christmas.  I had recently made a close friend I’ll call Abby.  He was lamed in both legs by a childhood disease, so he walked with crutches and he was also deaf and mute.  Despite his challenges, he had the sweetest heart filled with love and grace for everyone and eagerly shared the Gospel every chance he had.

Well Abby and I headed out from Rochester, NY to go to Detroit just like the early followers of Christ.  We hitch-hiked and shared Jesus with people all along the way.  But of course, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge blizzard trying to flag down a truck or car.  Finally, a couple in a small car had mercy on us and gave us a lift; in fact, they took us to their house where we spent the night getting warm.  Abby and I both realized that God was indeed looking out for us after that.

The next day, there were huge drifts of snow everywhere, but we managed to make it to Detroit.  At first, my parents were a little uncomfortable around Abby, but he soon won them over as he did everyone who got to know him.  And Christmas was special that year, at least for me, because I knew the Lord was near.  My mom pleaded with me to stay; somehow she thought I was enslaved by a cultish attachment to Christ.  I told her that there was no cult involvement though I had, upon occasion, stayed in a Christian commune or two.  That helped a little but she and Dad just couldn’t fathom my newfound passion for the Lord.

Leading people to Jesus in San Juan plaza

Shortly after this, about a year and a half after coming to the Lord, I decided to go to Puerto Rico.  I remember leaving the airport in San Juan in a bus and arriving in the city center in a large plaza.  Now, I’m not a musician but I had learned to play a few cords on a guitar and knew some very elementary Spanish.  One guy in the plaza noticed the guitar strapped over my shoulder and said in English, “Hey, play us a song!”

What happened after that was pretty amazing, at least to me.  I strummed a little bit, cleared my throat and started to sing a simple song in Spanish about coming to Jesus.  Pretty soon this fellow was accompanied by four, then ten to twenty, then a larger and larger crowd, all singing along with me and mothers with children were pointing at me and the spirit was so incredibly joyful.  When I was done, there must have been two to three hundred people gathered. 

I asked the first guy if he could help me translate something. And he laughed and said, “Claro.”  So, I began speaking about the love of Jesus and told the now ever-growing crowd my testimony.  At the end, I explained that salvation by the grace of God is for all who will come before God and ask humbly to be forgiven their sins and to open their hearts to him.  The people seemed extremely receptive, so I told them to join hands and pray out loud after me.

Then I led them all in a prayer for salvation and to my utter amazement, they all prayed and then they all rejoiced; I think the whole plaza was full of people welcoming the Lord into their lives.  That was my introduction to San Juan! I love that place!

Getting married

Our lives in Puerto Rico were good.  Both of us ended up on this wonderful island – I got a job in a small print shop and lived in Santurce; Darlene lived on the beach as a nanny and ‘semi-pro’ body surfer.  One day she and a couple friends showed up at the house I shared with a few other guys and they stayed for the night.  She and her friends were on their way to the island of Martinique to do missions work. 

Just before dinner, she came into the den where I was practicing my music skills (skill is an overly generous descriptor) and sat down to chat.  Now, I’m not a particularly chatty person but I instantly liked her and tried to be talkative.  Unfortunately, she didn’t see me as very communicative and didn’t stay long.  All in all, it was no more than 45 minutes – nevertheless, I was verbally exhausted, and she had only just warmed up.  That was the last I saw her as she and her cadre left the next morning.

Several weeks later, one night late while closing up the print shop, I took some time to have a short devotion and read my Bible.  I prayed and asked the Lord what to study and clearly heard, “Read the book of Ruth.”

After reading it, it’s only four chapters, I began to think more about it and suddenly, the Holy Spirit spoke into my heart.  He brought to mind this same girl that clearly thought I was a speechless nerd.  And I responded, “Yes, Lord.  I remember her.”

He then said to my heart, “You need to write her a letter and ask her to marry you.”

“What??!  Lord, I mean she was nice, and I liked her, but for sure, she’s going to think I’m insane.”

That was it. No further ‘discussion’.  I got the message, and now it was my turn to either do it or dismiss it.  Of course, God had guided me faithfully the last couple of years and had told me to do some ‘head-scratching’ things but nothing as crazy as this.  However, I knew I’d heard Him clearly so I couldn’t get away with dismissing or doubting.  But then I made the mistake of asking my friends what they thought, and they all tried to steer me away from doing what they assured me would make me look like a real weirdo.  That made the decision even harder or probably better to say, riskier.  In any event, in my heart, I knew I had to obey.

So, I wrote a letter trying to appear rational when it was obvious that I half expected a restraining order, but I felt relieved that I knew I’d done the right thing – I’d obeyed.  I sent it to her general delivery and honestly never expected to hear from her.

Well Darlene was a beautiful girl and had many guys interested but really was all about following the Lord. When she had gotten saved, she asked the Lord to take away her menstruation and only restore it when it was His will for her to get married. (Pretty radical!)  Well, God did exactly that and for a year and a half she had no period. 

But then, one day it came.  She freaked out and told the Lord, “I can’t marry either of the two guys I’m working with, Lord.  I mean they’re like brothers but… no way!”  So needless to say, she was pretty anxious.  Later that day, she went to the PO and got the mail and lo and behold, there was this letter from me.  I don’t know if she laughed, or cried, or screamed or got sick at the thought but somehow, the Lord touched her heart, and she came back to San Juan.

There, we dated for about three months and knew we were meant for each other.  We rolled down the hills together at the San Juan castle in the rain, we ate tapas and danced at evening street parties.  When we let her parents know, they wanted to put on a classic Jewish wedding, and she convinced me it would be fun.  Of course, this meant returning from San Juan to Tucson.  At the same time, we got the opportunity to work in Spain for a publishing/translation firm and we decided to go for it.

Meanwhile, we knew a pastor on the island, and we had a bunch of friends that wanted to see us married so we opted to tie the knot ‘in the eyes of God’ before going to Arizona.  About 50 of our best friends gathered for it – the vows were formal but everything else – well, not so much.  I didn’t even have rings but as it turned out, one of my friends – when it was time to answer the pastor on, “Who has the rings?” – stood up and said, “I have them.” And he tossed them to me just in time.

We left the next day for Tucson and wouldn’t you know it, none of Darlene’s relatives (except Aunt Helen) would come because I wasn’t Jewish.  So, Darlene’s parents took us to Las Vegas so they could ‘do the deed’ and do some gambling as well.  We got married by a drunk pastor-impostor at Chapel of the Bells and our reception was a comedy show on the Vegas strip.  Fortunately, we found out later that the ceremony was legal.



Guardia Civil in San Sadurni

Now, we lived in Spain in the last days of Franco, specifically Barcelona, more specifically in San Sadurni outside Barcelona on an old estate and I do mean old.  It was like a small castle with knights in armor standing in the hallways, huge wine cellars, endless olive trees – you get the picture. 

Well, I was engaged in setting up a temporary translation and publishing business on the property.  I hired translators, graphic artists, a production manager and several distribution managers.   Anyway, as a start-up, we were trying hard to keep the costs down and so I learned myself how to make films for the printer on a copy camera.  In those days, they were fairly bulky and of course we needed a darkroom for operation.

Mine was in a first-floor room of the estate.  So, this was no big deal except that in those days, Franco ordered his Guardia Civil, a group of typically local guys that could act unpredictably with their automatic weapons, to inspect all residences monthly.  In addition, these same guys were always on the lookout for activities that might be communist backed. Of course, that could mean anything, and everything was potentially suspect.  Usually, they would barge into your home, go from room to room, and leave the place a mess seemingly just to toss their weight around. 

One day, I had gone to town and Darlene saw a group of ten of them coming.  Instantly, she knew that if they saw the copy-camera, they would think the worst, and someone could be hurt as they typically reacted strongly to anything unusual.  It was like having the Nazi brown-shirts and it was very scary.  She went out to greet them in the yard and in talking with them steered them to the fact that we had an abundant ‘crop’ of wild asparagus growing all over.  That stopped them in their tracts and for the next twenty minutes or so they were filling their hats and bags with asparagus saying what great tortillas they could make.  Afterward, they decided that they had to move on, so thankfully we ‘passed’ our inspection thanks to her inspired asparagus-diversion.

Naming Starshine

As it turns out, Darlene got pregnant on our first night together and her pregnancies were always very difficult.  After a week, she was temperamental and after a month, she was throwing things at me.  Being the genius I am, ha!, it never occurred to me that she might be ‘with child’.  To boot, she didn’t realize it either! 

Anyway, after dodging an old shoe or two, it finally dawned on me that we should get a pregnancy test done.  Of course, in these days, you still had to take the urine sample to the doctor; so, I jumped on the train to Barcelona and later that day returned with a lot of relief and a smile – she was indeed pregnant.  Now, on the way into the city, as I watched the sun rise, I heard the voice of the Lord say to my heart that we would have a girl and that her name was to be Starshine.

When I got back, I think Darlene was puking up again and when I told her the news she was happy but not looking forward to months of continued misery.  She said, though, that the Lord had already told her that she was pregnant and that she would have a little girl who we would name Starshine.  I told her that this was exactly what the Lord told me as well. 

Trip to Zaragoza

I think we got notion of a ‘faith trip’ from the story of Jesus sending out His disciples to preach. Basically, all they had was the clothing they wore.  One many occasions, while in Spain, we did the same thing and two of them were memorable.

Now Darlene was pregnant and not feeling well so we thought that perhaps a trip over to Zaragoza to share the gospel would take her mind off the ‘yuckiness’ for a while.  Of course, we believed God was directing us and so off we went down the road, hitch-hiking to this town we had never seen over 300 kilometers away.  At first, the journey went well, with one ride after another but after several hours, we were completely lost – no map, no ride and dropped off in the middle of nowhere.  As far as the eye could see, no town or house or livestock or even power lines.

Darlene was such a trooper though.  On the other hand, I was the real ‘blooper’.  This was way before cell phones but even if we’d had one, in this desolate part of the high plains of north-central Spain, there would probably have been no coverage anyway.

So, we sat down together by the side of the dirt road and just prayed fervently for God’s help.  We both were wondering how in the world we were going to get home.  After about twenty minutes or so and many more prayers, I saw a cloud of dust in the distance and dared to hope that it was a car coming in our direction.  Gradually, the cloud seemed to move closer and a few minutes later we could see a little car.

Five or ten minutes later, the little car had stopped next to us and out jumped our friend Ed.

“Wow! This is truly amazing!” he exclaimed.  “Get in. Get in. There’s some water in the back seat.”

“Ed, how in the world did you find us  out here?”

“OK, well about an hour or so after you guys left, I got this check in my heart prompting me to go after you.  I didn’t know where to go or even where you had headed but I just asked the Lord to guide me left or right at every turn and after 200 kilometers, I was really wondering if I was doing the right thing.  But each time I prayed, I distinctly heard a ‘left’ or ‘right’ so I kept going.  So anyway, here I am.  Isn’t God good?”

We were stunned and rejoicing at the same time.  God always took care of us and suffice it to say we were more careful about the rides we accepted but the adventure taught us more and more that we walk (or ride) by faith and God is always faithful.

Trip to Valencia

On another occasion, we decided to go to Valencia.  Each year, they have a festival during the first part of March called the Fallas de Valencia.  The city itself is not small – about 800,000 people live there, but the Fallas attract another 1.5 million so the place is a fun but totally crazy madhouse.  Think of Mardis Gras on steroids.  

The Fallas are floats that are paraded through town and judged so that there is one ultimate winner out of hundreds.  On the last day of the festival, all the floats are burned in all the plazas of the city except the one winner.

Of course, you can imagine, with millions of people in the city during the Fallas, unless you know someone, you won’t have a place to stay.  Fortunately, we did have a friend who promised to host us if we would meet him in Valencia, but he never said where to meet him and like I said before, there were no cell phones or email. 

Again, Darlene was pregnant and getting ‘big’.  When we left Barcelona, we had no idea of how many people to expect in Valencia but when we arrived, we were overwhelmed.  Downtown, all the streets were absolutely packed.  We both wondered how we would ever find our friend among these millions of people.  After leaving the train station, we walked like balls in a pin-ball machine bouncing off folks on the left and right.  A half hour later, we knew that looking around was pointless.  At that point, we finally called out to the Lord for guidance.  Standing on a really busy street corner we prayed together for a miracle.

Then, opening my eyes, I saw, looking at me with a big smile, our friend.  Again, our minds were blown by God’s faithfulness to us as the ‘dumbest sheep in His flock’.


Star is born at home in Pantoja

About a half hour south of Madrid on the train is the little hamlet of Pantoja.  We rented a small rancheria there mostly out of the way of the Guardia Civil.  The rent was cheap, and the transportation was decent to Madrid and Toledo but when our first little ‘bundle of joy’ arrived, we had to call upon the hamlet’s midwife to help Darlene give birth in our home.   

Star is abducted in Paris

            Darlene was always an amazing Mom.  She was truly ‘wired’ for the role and loved her children with every fiber of her being.  She has always been a fervent disciple of Christ eager to share the gospel with her sample of love and honesty.  So, when, while on the streets of Paris, she discovered with alarm that her little baby, Star, was gone from her side she cried out and began searching frantically everywhere.  She had only turned away from her for a few seconds, but in that brief time, baby Starshine and her buggy had been stolen.

            Her friend, a French girl, immediately enjoined the search and stopped everyone on the crowded Champs Elysée asking desperately if they had seen a baby in a buggy.  No one was helpful, but a few minutes later her French friend called excitedly to her to come quickly.  There in a back alley was a homeless ‘clochard’ giving Star a small piece of food.  He had taken her off the street and began yelling at the girls that they weren’t taking care of the baby so he decided that he would.  Darlene’s French friend gave him a real tongue lashing and they hurried away with our dear little girl.

Paris drama troop

While living in Paris near the old stock exchange, we became friends with a small group of Christians from all walks of life – a couple of Canadians, a Dutch girl, and of course several French.  We all had a desire to share the Gospel and came up with the idea of opening a theater club downtown.  After searching for quite a while we were able to lease a top floor of an old office building for a reasonable amount since most of the building was unused. 

We had live music from local bands, a small cover charge got you one drink and a table, and we always presented once at the end of the evening, a drama with a simple but powerful message.  My part was to do lighting, hosting and security.  My wonderful French-Canadian friend, Timotee, would usually do a short thank you to everyone, all the guests, and an invitation to learn more about Christ.  As a consequence, nearly every evening for the six months we were there, we saw a dozen or more people come to faith in  Jesus – overall, several hundreds of people whom we introduced to local groups of believers for spiritual homes.

A day in the ‘slammer’

Starshine was almost two years old, and we decided to take a short trip from Rennes, where we lived, to Mt San Michelle, a unique town on the Normandy coast built on an island that was connected to the coastline when the tide was low.  Now, I had been asked to do a start up in France for the publishing firm and though we started in Paris,  we found that Rennes was more economical.  We were doing what we typically did on weekends, street witnessing. 

Normally, we never had any problem, but this was different.  About an hour after we arrived, we were talking with someone who was very interested to know more about the Gospel of Grace when a police car came up and startled us. They proceeded to take us into custody and without any charges or a hearing, threw us in jail – all three of us for the better part of a day.  They later let us out and harshly told us to get out of town and don’t come back, in French of course.  Still, they never charged us with any crime.  Anyway, we told Star that her life of crime started early – ha.

The walk of faith

The life of faith is truly an adventure.  Living by faith in God to provide day by day our needs taught us a lot.  Without this kind of faith, our lives are filled with worry but with it, we simply got used to knowing that somehow, the Lord would guide and provide.  Now, there were times when He ‘stretched’ our faith and let us experience hunger, sickness, emotional hurt and even death of loved ones, but during those times, He was also faithful to sustain us and to encourage us to keep following. 

We lived in mansions and grand estates as well as abandoned brothels and fallen down farmhouses.  We usually had plenty to eat but not always.  But always, we had the confidence that Jesus was walking with us. 



Making friends

And we made the most wonderful friends. Abeille and Timotee in Paris, Osea and Jose in Barcelona, Ed, Paloma  and Melita in Pantoja, Adar in Amsterdam, Nick and Mara in Germany, John and Elena in Athens, Carl and Judy in Rome, the list goes on and on.  We encountered loving people everywhere with a shared love for Jesus.  We lived a year in Spain, a year in France, two years in Northern Europe, over a year in Greece and over a year in Italy.  Many of our friends worked with us in translations and publishing and taught us a lot about their cultures.  Others, we met in witnessing.

The Istanbul melee

While in Athens, I traveled with a business associate to Istanbul for an exploratory meeting on setting up a translation site there.  Now, our travel budget was quite low, so we went by bus and arrived in the large bus terminal plaza in the late afternoon.  Looking outside the bus, I noticed what appeared to be a good-sized crowd at the bus door.  At first, I thought it might be family members gathering to greet travelers but when it was my turn to exit, I quickly realized they were all ‘rabid’ taxi drivers all grabbing our arms and luggage trying to get a fare.  Unfairly, but with a bit of humor, I shouted, “No lira!” and pointed at my partner shouting “lira, lira!”  Promptly, they turned from me to swarm him while I laughed.

When we both finally broke free of the melee, we went and sat at an outdoor café to wait for our local ride.  In only a few minutes, a middle-aged Turk walked up to us and exclaimed, “You are from Germany! I love Germany.  Let me buy you a dessert.”  We looked at each other, surprised, because we had both been in Germany, we weren’t Germans and were dressed like Turks.  We were happy, though, to accept the gift and in about ten minutes our guest had left, and we were feeling pretty good.

In no more than a few minutes later, another Turkish man passed and exclaimed virtually the same words as the first and waved over the waiter to buy us some tea.  We accepted and thanked him, and in a few minutes, he too was gone. 

Our ride was due and so we were just getting up to look for him when a third, yep, a third Turkish man wandered by and was about to go through the routine again, but we stopped him and just then our local friend and business associate arrived.  He spoke Turkish and told the man we were thankful but in a hurry.  We left the café to walk across the plaza and we noticed that this latest fellow followed us  closely. Along the way, our friend explained that he had experienced some car trouble, so we needed to take a local bus to the office.  As we began to get on the bus, I went first, then our local friend and lastly my associate from Athens.  As he started to mount the bus, the Turk who had followed us grabbed his briefcase and tried to yank it out of his hands.  Fortunately, he was unsuccessful but quickly, he jumped aboard the bus and began shouting to the passengers that we were thieves that had stolen his case and he was trying to get it back. 

Our local friend jumped to our defense and explained, “You all saw what happened.  This man is the thief and Allah doesn’t approve of stealing.  You know that.”

That’s all it took. Immediately, the whole bus full of male passengers jumped to their feet, exited the bus rapidly and chased this would be thief down in about a hundred meters.  They promptly turned him over to a police officer and marched together back to the bus patting each other on the shoulders.  We just shook our heads – what an interesting culture with such stark contradictions.


The birth and loss of Lancelot

This story is difficult.  Every time we had stepped out in faith, God met us and helped us, in fact, miracles abounded.  But this was different.  We were just outside of Athens when the blessed day came.  Our little boy John Lance, whom we called Lancelot, was born at home.  This is really difficult. 

The birth was not as lengthy as Starshine’s and we had the help of a midwife, but Lancelot was soon very ill.  Darlene and I were terribly worried.  He didn’t eat normally and the morning after he was born, I was holding him, looking at him, praying, and he just stopped breathing.  Darlene was out of the room and my heart sank.  I didn’t know what to do so I tried giving him a gentle mouth to mouth resuscitation.  A few seconds later, he started breathing again.

I brought him out to Darlene and told her and we both decided to rush to the hospital for help.  Most of what happened after that is a blur.  They told us he was the sickest little baby they had seen and eventually diagnosed him with Meningitis with Septicemia.  Years later, we learned he could have been saved with a simple shot in the US but they had no such medical knowledge at that time in Greece. 

Lancelot got weaker and weaker.  We wept so sorrowfully seeing him struggle to live.  Finally, after several weeks, while out in the front yard I heard a shriek and wailing that gripped my heart and instantly I knew – Darlene had gotten the news that our dear Lancelot had passed.  We were both in a daze, stupefied by grief and despair. 

We did not have enough money to pay the hospital bills and the American consulate wasn’t really helpful.  The best they could do or so they said was to get the hospital to release his body to us for burial only if we allowed them to do an autopsy for medical students. 

In my memory, it’s unclear how we got to the cemetery, but I remember a kind old man who dug the grave telling us not to look inside the box-like casket.  He knew it would be too much for us to bear. 

The doctor Darlene saw after the birth told us we would not have any more children and though we tried to be ‘brave’ and continue to have faith, it was more of a show and a real spiritual struggle.  Anyone who has lost a child will tell you that well-meaning people say and do things that don’t help.  Grief just has to work its way to conclusion, and it takes a lot of time.  We did not lose our faith in God, but we were without an ‘anchor’ and consequently ‘driven by the wind’ of sorrow and our best friends knew it.

These are the dark valleys we never imagine will come our way.  We had many dear friends who cared for us but no one who really understood how to help us out of that valley.  The good news is that Jesus was there and showed us.

Starshine’s salvation and God’s promise

Of course, Starshine who was about two and a half years old, was affected by the whole experience and sincerely wanted to know where her little brother was.  She was exceptionally smart for her age and when I explained his death and about heaven, she seemed to understand.  She asked if we would see him again and I explained about belief in Jesus and a simple version of the Gospel. 

She was quiet and after a few moments looked up and said, “I want to go to heaven when I die to be with you and Mommy and Lancelot.  Can I ask Jesus to be in my heart?”

Her simple understanding surprised me, and I sensed God was ‘in it’ so I nodded and then held her hands and led her in a prayer of surrender to Christ, welcoming Him into her heart.

If I had any doubts about her sincerity, they vanished over the next weeks as we witnessed a truly godly character emerge and grow in her in a wonderfully miraculous way.  It was clear that God heard and honored that simple prayer.  She truly became a ‘shining star’.

The Abdul affair

We never had much money; the translating job paid very little.  So, I made ends meet by taking my old guitar out in the evenings and playing songs like a wandering minstrel in the streets.  In Athens, everyone loves to spend their evenings dining or just talking at outdoor cafes.  Typically, I’d sing a song or two and then take a collection.  Then I got smart and had little Starshine, who was about three, do the collecting with her hat.  She was irresistible.

One evening as we were headed home, we passed by a long table with some ten or so large black men and at the end an elderly black gentleman.  When he saw us, he waved energetically for us to approach.  When I neared, he said in English, “Come, play us a song!  Something with joy.”  At that, his companions who resembled in size, the front line of the Chicago Bears,  also chimed in, “Play us a song!”

Not one to take on unnecessary risk, I began to strum and sang a song about coming to Jesus innocently and receiving His joy.  A bit to my surprise, they loved it.  And the older man at the end said, “Sit, sit.”  He took Starshine on his lap and she giggled.

“Where are you from?” he continued. 

Shortly, we were engaged in a lively conversation about my song, living in Athens and probably ten other topics.  There seemed to be an instant click between us, and he was enchanted with Star.  After a half hour or so, we excused ourselves and he insisted that we come visit him in his hotel.  Not wanting to get on the bad side of the ‘Bears’ at the table, we agreed.

This began a long and delightful friendship with Abdul.  We visited with him probably twice or three times a week for six months or so and each time listened and then discussed both Islam and Christianity.  He told us that he was a lawyer and an author known in the Muslim world and each time we met we grew closer to each other.  Star would run to him and jump onto his lap. Then she would stick out her hand into which Abdul placed a piece of candy.  She loved this as much as he did.

One day, after several months we went to his hotel lobby and though his ‘friends’ were there, he was gone.  We asked them where he was and one of them let slip, “Oh, he’s in Tripoli.”

“Tripoli?” I asked.  “He didn’t say anything about that.  When will he be back?”

“Oh, in a few days, it’s another Arab Summit,” he replied and then acted like he’d really blown it.  “I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK.  You know we are his friends.  Why is he at an Arab Summit?”

“Well…,” he paused, “Abdul is the Prime Minister, in exile, of the Sudan.  He is still considered the legitimate leader of our country by the other Arab heads of State, so he attends for us.”  This last part was said with obvious pride.

Darlene and I were dumbfounded. 

When Abdul returned, we met with him and he shyly confessed that it was true.  He told us that he had spent seven years in and out of jail in Khartoum because the Egyptians had taken over and put all his government in prison, then the military leaders that had overthrown his government were themselves overthrown but the new leaders didn’t know who to trust.  At one point, Abdul, convinced that he was about to be executed, wrote his will on the wall  of his cell.  The next morning, the ones who were going to execute him were themselves executed in the cell next to him.

Upon release, he fled the country with many people who were loyal to him and he was supported by other Arab heads of state because he was so highly respected.  He had been the first Sudanese leader invited to the White House and to speak to the UN.  In addition, he had hosted several Arab Summits himself.

“Do you know what I did in Tripoli?” he smiled broadly almost like a child.

“No, Abdul.  What did you do?”  We anticipated something unusual just by his body-language.

“Well, there is this man named Ghaddafi who is the leader of Libya.”

“Yes,” we inserted.  “We know who he is.”

“OK, well he was going on and on, loudly asserting that we all had to reject the West and especially Christians because they are all infidels and unworthy of our friendship.  So, I stood and rebuked him and said that he was mistaken.  I said that, in fact, I had met wonderful people from the US who were Christians and if there are more people like them, we should welcome their friendship.”

“You said that!?  Abdul, you said that at the Arab Summit??  Will that get you in trouble?”

“Oh no.  It is the truth and I know many of them heard my conviction.”

We were flabbergasted at his boldness and prayed for God to protect him.  Anyway, it wasn’t too long afterwards that the Lord led us to Italy.  Of course, our goodbyes with Abdul were tender and loving.  He wrote to us many times explaining that he had experienced vivid dreams about us and about Jesus.  In one letter, us joyously wrote that he had asked Christ to come into his heart and forgive his sins.  He was so happy that he knew he was saved and would see us in heaven.  A few months later he returned to Sudan under a blanket pardon, and we did not hear from him again.  Much later, we found out that he died about a year after returning but we don’t know the circumstances.


Unexpected influence

So, there we were, our cheap car was broken down again and we were trying to hitch a ride into Rome.  We lived in Frascati which is in the hills outside the city.  The road was fairly busy, so we had a car stop pretty soon but it wasn’t an ordinary car.  It was a stretch limo with the darkened windows.  It pulled over and the rear window came down and a 45-ish slightly greying man said in Italian, ‘you need a ride?’

I explained in broken Italian that our good-for-nothing junker needed a new belt and we needed to get into the city.  He switched to English and welcomed us into his limo, Darlene, Star and me.  I was hoping he wasn’t mafioso, but he definitely could have been.  Like most Italians back then, he was very friendly;  he talked and laughed with us for nearly twenty minutes, then he told his driver to go to this ‘special place’ and I didn’t recognize the name.  Shortly, we were wending our way through myriad backstreets of Rome, way off the beaten path so to speak. 

Meanwhile I was trying to figure out how to make a ‘clean exit’ before he mugged us and took our ‘very expensive backpack’ (ha).  Finally, we pulled up to what appeared to be a dilapidated warehouse.  Now I was really worried.  Where was he taking us??  He cheerfully opened the door for us and inside it was like a palace – an amazing restaurant, crowded with joyful Italians.  Our host explained that he thought we could use some lunch, and this was for locals only.  Wow, was it beautiful.

And the food was mind-blowing.  We dined like kings and queens and after almost two hours, he insisted that we come see his family sometime in the next few days.  During this whole time, he never said what he did for work and we didn’t ask. 

So, about a week later we arranged to meet him at his home. His wife and kids were very welcoming, and we spent the whole evening talking about why we had come to Italy.  They had never heard of being saved just by faith in Christ; all they knew was working hard to hopefully be good enough for God and praying to Mary.  When we shared about salvation by grace and showed them the Bible verses, they were sincerely excited and wanted to know more.  Later that evening they all held our hands and prayed together to be forgiven their sins, saved by grace and  to welcome Christ into their lives.

That’s when our host told us his job – he was the Secretary General of the Italian Socialist Party.  Of course, we were surprised and prayed again with him to be guided by the Lord in his work. 


The ‘disco’

Believe it or not, at the time, disco was popular and we, together with about a half dozen friends decided to open a disco in downtown Rome – we called it the OK Club – near the old Olympic Stadium.  We all believed it would give us opportunities to present the Gospel in an unconventional way.  We built it out in an old Western theme, served drinks and pastas and of course, live music.  Young Italians helped us with the cooking, wait-staff and greeting.

And apparently, we did something right because we opened each night to crowds lined up for blocks.  It seemed  like all of Rome was coming to the OK Club.  I ran security and one night, I did a little reconnaissance at the other big-name discos and they were pretty dead.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for our not-so-friendly local mafia to pay us a visit and let us know that we could either close our doors or be closed – strong hint.

In all we were only open about six to seven months but in that time, many, many people came to know the Lord.

More mafia ‘friends’

During this time, we also had a knock at the door of our house and upon opening it, there was a uniformed policeman who informed us that this quiet neighborhood was actually quite dangerous and advised us to obtain “protection”.  He said that he could arrange it and quoted a large amount of money each month for the ‘service’ which we declined.

That night we had a very stealthy break-in and when we got up in the morning, we found that our kitchen had been emptied of all food – the refrigerator, the cupboards, the pantry – all gone.  Later that morning, the same ‘officer’ appeared at the door asking again if we thought we could use his protective services.  We said we’d think about it and we began to make arrangements to move.

Our PO friend and our return to US

About this time, we thankfully realized that Darlene was pregnant again (with Michael) and after much prayer and discussion we decided to return to the US.  We didn’t have the money for plane tickets, but we asked the Lord to provide it if it was His will. 

A short time after this, we met a young man from England who we led to the Lord and became good friends with him.  He was a computer programmer working on a project for the Italian Post Office. After a few months we were talking about his plans after the project was over and he asked what our plans were.  We shared about losing Lancelot in Greece and that we thought we should return to the States.  He looked sad but said he understood.  Another few weeks passed and one day he showed up at our house with an envelope which he gave to us saying that he wanted to help us – in it was enough money for our tickets – totally unexpected.  Of course, we thanked him and thanked him again.


Trip to Acapulco

Back in the US for about a month, we got a call from a couple we knew in Rome.  They asked us to consider joining them on a short-term mission to Acapulco, Mexico.  Darlene was several months pregnant, so our inclination was to say no.  Nevertheless, we prayed about it and felt that the Lord was saying yes.  So, we got a small trailer to tow behind our little Chevy Vega – yeah, a Vega, and headed off to meet our friends and drive down south.  Imagine six of us, four adults and two (and a half) kids towing a packed-out trailer venturing naively to Acapulco on the south end of Mexico on the Pacific coast – a long trip.

Along the way, since I was the one who spoke Spanish, I kept asking how much a small cabana there would cost to rent, and everyone said, “Oh about $150.”  So, I thought, OK, we can stay a couple of months.  Now, as we finally came down the hills into the city, our super-Vega brakes burned out and we coasted to a stop not too far from where we got them checked.  The next day, we went all around the town asking to see places to rent and when we finally settled on a reasonable location, I asked the landlord to write up our lease agreement.  As he wrote, I noticed that the cost was “$150 diariamente.”   I immediately stopped him and asked, “What do you mean daily!?”  Of course, he was put off and basically told me to take it or leave it.

Well, we left it.  But after checking around, it was indeed the going rate and wow, were we bummed.  We thought for sure we had not heard from the Lord but again, we went to prayer and the Lord said to simply go out and share the gospel, so we did.  We witnessed all day to dozens to receptive people and then toward the end of the day, we were out on the peninsula that sticks out into the bay – a very nice area at the time – and encountered Jorge who loved hearing about the Lord and got saved.

He immediately wanted to learn more about the Gospel, and we explained that we would love to share more but we had to return to the States.  We explained the situation to him, and he smiled and turned me around.  He swept his arm in a half circle and said, “Take your pick!”

“What?  What are you talking about, Jorge?” we asked.

“I am in charge of all these homes.  You can stay in any ones you like for as long as you like.  Just teach me about Jesus Christ.”

Needless to say, we were flabbergasted and so thankful.  We moved in to two adjoining cabanas with a pool and rejoiced at God’s goodness.

That evening we decided to splurge a little and buy a plate of spaghetti at the one Italian restaurant we had seen.  As we were splurping down the last noodles, our waiter, Fulvio, came over and asked if the food was good.  In typical Italian fashion, we all put our index fingers in our cheeks and said, “Multo Buono!”

Fulvio jumped and exclaimed, “You’re from the old country??”

He ran and grabbed the owner who came over and said, “Fulvio says you are from the old country!”  He pulled up a chair, snapped his fingers, ordered a round of drinks and desserts and we spent the next hour talking all about Italy. 

Finally, as we began to leave, he insisted, “You have to come back and meet my friend.”  When he observed our hesitation, he added happily, “On me of course. You’ll be my guests.”



The Pipo affair

So, we showed up the next evening and were treated like royalty.  Course after course was served with great care.  Meanwhile musicians played violins around us.  Then as they began to serve some wonderful deserts, an older Sicilian man appeared smiling broadly and introduced himself as Pipo.  The manager brought over an extra chair, and we had a delightful talk about the restaurant, the ‘old country’ and of course, each other.

Pipo said he was mostly retired and liked to do artwork.  Now, I had a liking for art as well, so we had a long talk about painting.  Soon, he was insisting that we join him for a dinner at his house and we agreed.

A few days later, we journeyed out on the peninsula that juts out into Acapulco bay.  There we found a rail car positioned to carry us down to where his phenomenal mansion was literally built into the cliffs above the bay complete with its own large swimming pool.  Quite impressive to say the least. 

As our relationship with Pipo progressed, we ministered to him about Christ and our desire to serve Him and he responded by taking us all out for dinner at least once a week for several months.  Each time he seemed to receive more of the gospel message.  Finally, on our last night together, he took us to the Princess hotel which at the time was spectacular – a pyramidal structure with hanging gardens inside all the way to the top. 

At meal’s end, Pipo asked my friend and I to come with him outside.  There, he held our shoulders and smiled.  He said, “I have learned so much from you and wanted to thank you.  You’ve helped me make an important decision – I’m going to stop what I’ve been doing and go back to the old country.” 

He hugged us both and we prayed for him to place his trust in Christ.  Of course, we had no idea what he meant by “what I’ve been doing.”

Anyway, the next morning, my friend and I drove to the open market to talk with the people who routinely helped us with vegetables.  As we stopped to park, we heard gun shots everywhere and saw all sorts of people running.  We thought we’d be sitting targets in the car, so we jumped out and put our backs against a convenient wall.  Suddenly, one of the people we had seen frequently at Pipo’s home dashed around the wall and saw us.

“What are you guys doing here?!” he exclaimed.

“We just came to the market to get some produce.  What’s all the shooting about?”

“You both need to get out of here immediately before you get hurt,” he replied with urgency.

“OK, but what’s this all about?” we asked.

“Pipo left!  He just left…”

“Oh, yeah, he told us last night he was leaving,” we said with a tinge of cockiness.

“You don’t get it,” clearly our naivete was trying his patience.  “Pipo was the second most powerful man in all the Latin American mafia.  He ran the drugs from South America to the US and now that he’s gone, there is a huge struggle between many groups to take control.”

We were absolutely dumbstruck.  We had had no idea and were thankful God had protected us and used us, unwittingly, to disrupt the drug trade by leading the kingpin to seek new life in Christ.  As you might imagine we left Acapulco not long after this.

But before leaving, dear Jorge got saved, we were able to share English lessons and music with lots of wonderful kids, we met the amazing Quebrada divers and the precious lady (and her daughter) who introduced us to them also became part of Christ’s family.

Michael’s birth

But before that departure, we got a wonderful gift, our boy Michael.  Now, we had not expected to be in Mexico for his birth, but it seems God had His own plan and as the saying goes – ‘where God guides, God provides’.  Miraculously, He provided for us this wonderful little Catholic clinic where Michael was born.  They were so kind and although he was almost birthed in the restroom, they took great care of both he and Darlene.  They called him little ‘Rubio’ and told us he was the first American baby to be born in Acapulco since WWII.  And all this stretched our faith for after losing Lancelot in Greece and being told that we would not have any more children, coming to Mexico was truly an act of submission to God’s plan especially for Darlene.


Go to the land of the setting sun

Well, we had seen many wonderful things occur in Acapulco, the saving of many friends, teaching the city’s kids, ministry to the Quebrada divers and more.  But with the conclusion of the ‘Pipo affair’ and Michael’s birth, after about six months we felt that we should go back to the States and so we drove our faithful little Vega all the way up to Tucson and then to Colorado Springs where we stayed with Mom and Dad Dickey for a few weeks.

It was there that we sat in Dad’s basement office praying for direction.  We lifted our bowed heads and looked at each other and almost in unity said, “I heard, ‘Go to the land of the setting sun.’”  Now, of course, as usual, we had very little money – basically enough for the plane flight, a few days in a really shabby hotel, and our first month’s rent in a cheap apartment.  But in obedience to God’s guidance, we went and after landing in San Francisco, got a room at the “Ritz” hotel, which was really the Pitz – each room was occupied by strung out addicts.

Upon leaving to find somewhere better to stay, I left Darlene and the kids, locked the door tightly and jumped on the BART to the furthest point away from the Pitz.  At the time, that was Concord.  Fortunately, nearby was a small apartment complex which turned out to be the only one in the area that allowed children.  I got a unit with no deposit required, Whew, and hurried back to gather my family.

Our move consisted of two small trunks of clothes wheeled on Safeway grocery carts that we borrowed from the store around the corner.  Naturally, the apartment manager was curious, and I assured him that more was coming (at least I hoped so).   However, we started out with one chair that had been left by the previous tenants.  We ate and slept on the floor for several weeks.  At the time, we knew nothing about public assistance, so I bought a really cheap bicycle and went around the area looking for work.

Within a couple of days, I was selling printing jobs on behalf of Heinz, the owner of a new printshop.  He promised only a 15% commission on all jobs I brought in.  Fortunately, the Lord opened several doors and in only a week, I had lined up annual commitments of more than a million dollars.  Heinz was floored and delighted and immediately fired me saying, “I don’t need you anymore. Goodbye!”

So being talented, or so I thought, in sales, but stupid in business, I had nothing in writing, and I left penniless.  But God was faithful and one of my new client contacts helped me get a chance at the local paper, the Contra Costa Times.  Now, ‘the chance’ just got me in the door, but the operations foreman said that he did not have an opening.  So, I put on my ‘sales hat’ so to speak and offered to work for him in the composition team for free for two weeks and then he could decide.  He agreed.  A week later, he offered me the job.

Slowly, we got our act together.  We found out about food stamps, we got a few mattresses (no beds) and some pieces of somewhat smelly furniture that had survived a house fire (boy, did they stink), and joy of joys – a table to eat on.  And after riding my bike to work for months (which was no fun in the rain and sleet) we saved enough to buy an old but sturdy Chevy Impala.

Michael’s feet

            Michael had been born with some bow-leggedness but he had learned to walk and run at such an early age that I think we were mistakenly believing that he would ‘outgrow’ the condition.  One day, as Darlene was taking him in to the doctor to get a shot, the doc saw him and told Darlene that she was not leaving until Michael’s feet were looked at by a podiatrist.

            Very shortly, she was ushered to the specialist who said that we were late but not too late in attending to it.  He immediately put Mike in two leg casts up to the knees and warned Darlene that he probably wouldn’t walk for a month or more since the casts were so heavy. 

            Well, of course, I learned about the whole deal later that day, and as she was repeating the doctor’s cautionary words on Mike’s walking, we heard a thud-thud-thud-thud in the bedroom and then a bunch of noise from the bathroom.  We jumped up and ran to the bathroom just in time to find Mike, casts and all, standing on top of the toilet tank laughing, yelling for us and Star to come see him.

Shaking things up!

But it wasn’t time for us to settle down.  Soon we learned of this person who was raping and killing women in this part of the Bay Area who was known as the East Bay Rapist.  As I was literally the only male in the apartment complex, I was concerned that we could be a target for this guy.

Also, we had neighbors with not-so-good lifestyle choices.  One of Darlene’s friends lived across the way on the second floor, like us.  She was married to a fellow that we came to find out was a major drug dealer in the area.  He was never with her; at least we never saw him there but one time.  Big guy. 

One evening, we heard some screaming coming from her apartment.  I opened our door and saw a large man, not her husband, dragging her down the stairs and out the complex.  Without really thinking, I dashed out after them and caught up out in front of the apartments near the street.  As I approached, I put on my best ninja face (ha) and yelled at the guy to let her go. 

He swung around and towered over me by at least eight inches.  Glaring down, he said, “What are you going to do about it.”

He was about to haul off and pummel me when he suddenly turned white as a ghost and scared to death.  He backed away and at first, I thought he had gotten a better look at my ‘terminator torso’ but then I turned around and saw behind me this lady’s huge and well-armed hubby who quickly took care of his wife’s attacker and then heartily thanked me for trying to help her.

A few days later, I had a dream that I thought was from the Lord in which we were driving north.  It was a bit unsettling because in spite of the pretty lousy social environment, we had finally settled down, we both had jobs and as already mentioned had actually gotten some fire-sale (literally) furniture to sit on.  But I couldn’t stay if indeed God wanted us to be somewhere else, so recalling the story of Gideon (which was admittedly maybe not the best example) I cast a ‘fleece’ of sorts. 

I prayed, “Lord, I’m asking for a confirmation on your will.  If you do want us to go north like in my dream, please… … give us an earthquake as a sign.  Epicenter in this county.  No one killed, please. And oh, this is Tuesday so please send it by Thursday.”

Well, by the next day I was convicted that I didn’t really need that sign so when I went in to work at the paper, I gave them my notice.  The next day, Thursday, January 24, 1980, while waiting to go to work – I had the swing shift in the composition office – BOOM a large earthquake shook the area followed by two more aftershocks and then another separate quake.  As it turned out, they were all centered in the county and over six points on the Richter scale.  That hadn’t happened in over 20 years.  I was stunned and shouted something like, “I hear you Lord!” 

Soon, I was on the road north scouting out where the Lord seemed to want us to go.  Driving on I-5, I crossed the Oregon state line and entered the Rogue Valley approaching Medford.  There I saw a perfect, full rainbow arching over the area.  With the nudge of the Holy Spirit, I turned off and knew that this was the place.  In a couple of weeks, we were all there.


Learning from the best

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  We rented an old, old house just outside Medford and of course as soon as it turned cold the heater died so we ended up virtually living in our Impala for nearly a week – very hard to do with two kids.  However, this ended up stretching my faith to actually buy a house.  First, though, I had to find a job – that’s when I discovered Pietro’s Pizza and met my good friends Ken Ficere, the manager and Scott Biondi, who later became a pastor at our church along with Jon Courson.

We bought a nice little house out in Griffin Creek on the west side of Medford south of Jacksonville.  It was on the side of a large pear orchard on a half-acre.  As Asst. Manager of Pietro’s, I made a whopping wage about two bucks over minimum but if we scrimped – and indeed we did – we just barely eked by but soon friends and relatives learned of our new home and the visits began.  On the plus side, we made wonderful friends with our new neighbors and the kids loved pulling their wagon full of empty coke bottles a couple of blocks down to Edie’s store where they exchanged them for penny candy. 

And I also made the mistake of buying a pony for Star who became really attached.  Unfortunately, the Pony, Princess, was a prima donna of sorts and wandered continuously.  It broke my heart but eventually, I had to sell her, and it was very hard on Star.  To this day, she snarls at me when we reminisce about her pony. 

But the best of times was our church – Applegate Christian Fellowship.  We knew a lot of scripture and had literally walked by faith for almost ten years, but we had never been taught the Bible.  Pastor Jon Courson was and is a gifted teacher and we both learned a TON.   Michael got saved there and both he and Star were baptized in the Applegate river. B-r-r-r!

Pizza baby bargain

Maybe it was something in the water – Darlene got pregnant again.  Johnny was our pizza baby – just about every other night we seemed to have a ‘burnt’ pizza at Pietro’s that somebody had to dispose of so I would sacrifice and volunteer.  I’d get home late and as Darlene was sleeping I’d wave a savory piece just under her nose and her eyes would always light up.  Anyway, Johnny was our biggest baby – go figure; but we didn’t have enough money to afford an OB/GYN.

That didn’t stop Darlene who found this really nice doctor who she asked if we could barter the birth.  He asked, “Well, maybe; what do you have to trade?”  She said that I was an artist and that I could paint him a picture.  After much intense negotiation (lol) he settled on two paintings which I did of his family. I also brought hot pizza for the nurses when he was born – that was a hit.


Back to school

But, at some point, we realized that we simply had to have more income, so I looked around and found a job as a Shift supervisor with the Harry and David’s gift business.  I managed a crew of about 80 mostly college-aged kids for six months in the bakery and then a crew of about the same size in the rose-packing plant the other six months – good work for a while.

Nevertheless, the responsibility of providing for my family drove me to go back to college with the goal of continuing on to Med School.  With Darlene’s truly sacrificial help at home, I ended up carrying 24 credit hours at Southern Oregon University and working 55 hours or more each week at H&D.  We were both amazingly busy, but I guess not too busy for intimacy. (I still think it was the water.)  And Gabe was on the way.

The Service directive, the AFOQT and OTS

So, we were making progress on schooling and work but with three kids and another on  the way I knew our goal of getting into Medical School wasn’t going to happen – I was the wrong gender and wrong ethnicity – but I knew I had heard the Lord tell me to serve.  In what capacity, I didn’t know but one day He inspired me to consider something I never would have ordinarily – military service.

I contacted the Army; they said “no.”  I contacted the Navy and got the same answer.  Lastly, I contacted the Air Force and found out they had a medical school scholarship program, but alas, I was a month too old to be considered.  Nevertheless, I called them back and asked, “Does it make any difference that I’ve been in a pre-med program and am scheduled to finish with two degrees?”  The answer was that that made a lot of difference and to come into the office to discuss it. 

Well, I did and signed up for the program.  I had just three weeks left in the final term and busted my butt so to speak to finish with the best grades I could.  Immediately afterwards, I showed up in the recruiter’s office ready to start but…

“Bad news John,” he said.  “The program filled up last week.  But, hey, we can make the best of an unfortunate circumstance; how’d you like to be an engineer?” 

I was dumbfounded and deeply disappointed but kinda stuck.  We first looked at aerospace engineering – nope, full.  Then we checked out aeronautical engineering – again, nope.  Finally, he exclaimed, “Aha! Got it!  Electrical Engineering.  We can get you into an undergraduate conversion program.”

I swallowed hard.  Engineering was like an ominous monster that I never would have considered but I had to find a way to provide for the family, so I said, “OK, let’s go for it.”

The recruiter timidly said, “Alright, but first you have to pass the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test with a good grade since you’re past the age cutoff.”

So, the next day I was on a bus up to Portland where I sat in a room with about a dozen others to take this four or five hour test that had five parts.  The first one was a general knowledge exam like a GRE and I thought I did OK on it but the next four tests were all on pilot stuff – pitch and yaw and other stuff of which I had no clue.  ‘Desperate times and desperate measures’.  I simply prayed over each question, asking the Lord for the answer and marked to first thing that came to my mind.

Now, being a true ‘giant of faith’, I left utterly discouraged and called Darlene to say I bombed, or rather crashed and burned.  The next couple of days were really gloomy as I prepared to find another minimum wage job, if I could.  I was so sure I had heard the Lord, but it seemed like I was mistaken. 

Then came the call I dreaded – the recruiter.  I knew what he was going to say.  He started, “John, I’m so sorry to tell you…” and my heart sank.  “But,…” then he laughed, “…You, my friend, scored the highest AFOQT scores in the HISTORY of the northwest recruiting area – you got a 98, 97, 95, 98 and 98.  They have never seen anything like it!  Are you ready for OTS?  The General is writing an age waiver for you as I speak.”

I was shocked. 

The next day, I was back in Portland for my physical and shots and I few days later, on my way to OTS in San Antonio where I ended up becoming the OT Commander of my class of 150 and graduating #3.

The miracle house sale

So, all this meant that we had to sell our Medford house, but with some 2400 homes for sale in the small community and only a few each week selling, we were not expecting much, but apparently such dilemmas are no big deal for our Father because it sold in less than a week at full asking price.


The miracle baby

Gabriel was our miracle child from the very beginning.  While I attended Officer Training School in San Antonio, Darlene and the kids stayed in a home my parents found for her in Colorado Springs.  Dad would show up most every day to help out and spend time with the kids.

But then the balloon burst – I got a call at OTS in the middle of the night from Darlene and she was weeping and crying, “not again!” over and over.  She relayed that Gabriel had been born at the Air Force Academy hospital with a transposition of the arteries that prevented him from circulating oxygenated  blood once the placenta was gone.  The surgeons had done an emergency operation to create a hole in the heart’s septum separating the isolated chambers and allowing a small amount of circulation.  This saved his life but was a very temporary fix.

The additional dilemma was that if I ran back to Colorado Springs which everything in my heart was demanding, they would drop me from the OTS, the Air Force and consequently we would have no health insurance which Gabe was going to desperately need.  I talked with Darlene about it and she agreed that I should stay.  To say the least I couldn’t focus after that; it was killing me not to be with my wife and kids.  I did the best I could though and spent a lot of time on the phone. (and a LOT of time in prayer and weeping)

Miraculously, Gabe did surprisingly well.  It encouraged both of us and I wound up leading my whole class of 150 cadets and graduating as #3.

Right after graduating, I was assigned to attend Auburn University to obtain an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering in just two years as well as to supervise the group of AF officers who were also at the school – about 25 – 30 or so.  We found a house to rent in Opelika but shortly thereafter, Gabe’s ability to breathe started to decline and so we rushed with him to the Army hospital in Fort Benning, GA.

Sad to say, the doctor in charge of Gabe was disturbed that he had to interrupt his golf game and basically told us that Gabriel was going to die.  I blew up at him and we just took Gabe from the hospital and drove to Atlanta where we went to the emergency room of the Emory University hospital.  There, the doctors said he was the sickest little child they had seen and quickly gathered their top cardiologists to decide what to do.

It wasn’t long until they had an answer. Although he would be the smallest child to ever receive such an operation, they told us they could help him by performing an operation called the Senning procedure.  Bear in mind that his heart was the size of an acorn – a small acorn.  We agreed and prayed desperately during the operation which took hours longer than they estimated.

When they finished, they warned us that he might not wake up but even as the doctor was telling us that, the nurse came out and said that he was already awake and full of energy.  Of course, we praised God. 

But then the other shoe dropped.

Over the course of the next week, Gabe’s energy and vitality steadily declined, and he got so bad that he couldn’t eat.  I was in Opelika with the kids and dear Darlene was in the hospital looking out for our baby.  She got more and more worried and said the doctors, though they clearly cared about Gabe, couldn’t figure out why he was going downhill.  Finally, she overheard the nurses saying that the doctors had given up on him.

Anyway, she then called me again and told me of the situation weeping terribly.  Something caused me to say, “Call me back in a few minutes.”  I went to prayer as did she and when she called back, I told her with absolute assurance, “This is Friday.  I guarantee that by Monday, you’re going to leave there with Gabe.  Now, seek the Lord; I know He will tell you what the problem is.”

Well, she did exactly that and sure enough, the Lord showed her a group of doctors taking Gabriel’s blood to test and it dawned on her that different groups of doctors with their students had been doing the same thing over and over with no realization that together they were ‘bleeding him dry’. 

So, she went ballistic.  She virtually threw the next group out the door and barred the way to Gabriel.  The attendants thought she had lost her mind, but she demanded to see the head cardiologist immediately.  The whole hospital was quickly aware of the “crazy lady on the third floor” and when I got there, everyone was talking about it.

But the head guy came in and sat down with her and listened to her explanation.  He was utterly shocked and sobered and said, “I think you’re right, Mrs. Dickey.”  To his credit, he immediately ordered a blood transfusion for Gabe and in a few minutes, he was eating so eagerly,  he broke the nipple off the bottle!   And just as the Lord had told us, Darlene and Gabe were discharged Monday afternoon.  Praise God!


The anodization surprise, the big grant, the masters selection and the PhD offer

Lab time gave me a break from the constant studying, and I got to experiment rather than run through a mindless routine.  The prof I worked for, Dr. Jim Davidson was as much a chemical engineer as electrical and he gave me great leeway in approaching the myriad tasks assigned.  Learning to use powerful electron microscopes and doing plasma deposition on silicon was fun as well.

The assignment was to study the fundamental properties of thin-film capacitors such as are routinely used in semiconductor fabrication and to understand how to better store energy.  A capacitor is made of two opposing plates of conductive material, i.e. a metal, sandwiching between them an insulating material, i.e. something that will block the flowing of electrical current. 

Anyway, long story short – I had made a fairly routine type of dielectric (insulator) through anodizing aluminum  by running current through it while submerged in acid, in this case, sulfuric acid. It produced a fairly weak insulating layer of aluminum oxide (aka corundum, related to sapphire and ruby).  I noticed that under an electron microscope, it looked billowy and porous.  It tested out with a dielectric constant of about 8 which indeed had been established nearly a century earlier.  Basically, this is a measure of how much energy it can store.

Well, I was praying and got the idea to place the same anodized sample back in another stronger acid – hydrofluoric – and see if I could anodize it further.  The result was the formation of a non-porous layer of aluminum oxide on top of the first layer.  ‘So what’, you think and yawn.  Well, this new material which had never been made before tested out with a dielectric constant of nearly ten times the former so in other words it could hold almost ten times more energy.  We calculated that a multilayered device made with this dielectric the size of a softball could power a city the size of Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Naturally, Dr. Davidson was excited and urged me to write a paper to submit for presentation at a materials science convention.  So, I did that, and it caught the attention of the DoD and not long afterwards, I presented the findings in Boston, got offered a full ride PhD at Auburn, two Air Force sponsored patents and Auburn received the largest single grant in its history - $19 million which it used to build the Space Power Institute.  I also received a follow-on scholarship from the AF to complete a Masters degree (one of just two people in the whole AF to get that).  A simple prayer and a big Bang.

The Division Chief in WPAFB

I didn’t accept the school’s PhD offer because it would have meant leaving the Air Force.  So, after graduating from Auburn, we were stationed at WPAFB in Ohio.  I was a new 1st Lt. and was given charge of a team of six senior NCOs and one GS13 civilian.  However, the first day I told Darlene that I had the ‘feeling’ or premonition from the Lord that I was going to be put in charge of the whole Division of 12 teams.  What I didn’t know was that that position was slotted for a Lt. Col., so my ‘feeling’ was wildly unlikely, but within a few weeks all of us in that division were notified that the Major in charge temporarily was transferring out and miraculously, they asked me to take the position temporarily.  And temporarily became two and a half years. 

During that time, we were decorated twice for emergency restoration of communications on Air Force One and once for saving the AF a ton of money on supposedly secure systems that turned out to be disastrously insecure.  We assessed operational readiness for all AF bases worldwide and began the first security and quality testing of the internet, then known as the DSN.  I was offered, again, a scholarship to get my PhD with the AF at any school in the country but I turned it down.



Ironically, as I turned down further education, Darlene (and I) thought it would be good for her to pursue it.  We were able to get her several scholarships and she did amazingly well.  Straight A’s and many laudatory comments from her teachers.  But even more noteworthy was her simultaneous duty as Mom which she had to do without my help when I was deployed, sometimes months at a time.  She truly was a supermom and only stopped her schooling because the kids asked her to – notice they never said they missed me (LOL).

Chicago Drama

When my obligation to the Air Force was finished, we moved (with much prayer) to Muncie, Indiana where I’d gotten a job with Ball State University as an Asst. Professor in a graduate interdisciplinary program called the Center for Information and Communication Sciences.   

We became members of the church youth leadership team and reveled in sharing Jesus with many young people.  One of our ministry outlets was street dramas.  After practicing for weeks and securing a very kind host, we traveled to the near west side of Chicago with a group of 20 or so ‘aspiring actors’ and eight or so adults.

Juan was the pastor of this little store-front church in a very dangerous neighborhood.  He allowed us to bed down in the church – sleeping bags on the floor.  Each morning for several days we went out into the hood looking for places, vacant lots, to put on the street drama which shared the beauty of the Gospel and the bondage of drugs via a play using a pirate theme.  Typically, it was really effective in opening doors for dialog with the people who watched.  We found parking lots, empty lots, even the open area between the ten story tenements of Cabrini Green.

I was in charge of security which is when I went bald (lol) because many people there were in the drug trade and carried guns.  We were ‘invading’ their domains and there were times in which we had to leave in a hurry.  Gangs formed around us quickly at times.  Of course, the kids were so focused on the drama, they didn’t notice most of the time.  However, many people were ministered to and many went home saved.

Our last day, we found an empty corner lot across the street from a small church.  It was a run-down residential neighborhood and the pastor of the church told us we could perform there.  Of course, once the drama began, the lot became crowded with on-lookers among whom I was sure the local gang was represented but what was most notable was that just as we began, a roughly 40 year-old man came out of the house next to the empty lot with his girl on his arm and a group of about a dozen snarling men.  I thought of stopping the drama at that point but then I noticed that this fellow and his lady were quickly engaged with the message.  The crowd had made way for his group and so he had a front row seat so to speak. 

As the drama concluded, something wonderful happened; as if on cue, Johnny (who was about 12 or 13) and Darlene (who has always been 29) approached the man and his girlfriend, respectively.  As they neared them, they all became moved to tears.  Johnny shared with the man about Christ and Darlene with the young lady.  The crowd around them was absolutely dumbfounded and aghast.  The supernatural power of the message was on display before the whole neighborhood for well over a hundred people were watching.  In a few minutes, the four of them were praying together and a miraculous transformation in this man and woman were obvious.  They beamed, they hugged, they thanked God and virtually danced.

That’s when the church pastor from across the street caught me and said, “Do you realize what’s happened???”

I responded, “Salvation is amazing!”

“Yes, of course, but this is especially amazing.  You see that man there who just prayed and is hugging that boy?”

“Yeah, that’s my son…”

“That man is the godfather of all the gangs on this side of Chicago.  He is feared by everyone.  This could really be monumental for the whole region.”

Well, we loaded up and went back to the storefront.  About a half hour later, I found dear Juan in his little office, weeping.  I asked him what was wrong.  He humbly explained that he was in a quandary because although he knew it was definitely the work of God that the godfather was saved, his heart was torn.  You see, he shared, it was just a couple of days earlier that his 19 year-old son was killed by this man’s gang during an initiation.

But I know Juan placed his trust in God and some twenty years later the godfather was still going for God.  He had personally led most of the gang members on the near west side to Christ and had a thriving ministry to all the gangs in Chicago.

Club 153, a sign for Gary

Admittedly, it was a pretty crazy idea; but seeing the enthusiasm and work of God among the youth group, I wanted to create a place in Muncie for them to fellowship in a safe environment and to be able to invite others.  Thus, Club 153 was born.  153 referred to the haul of fish Peter dragged to the shore in John 21 when he obeyed the Lord and threw his nets “on the right side of the boat”. 

I pitched the idea to the Lions Club and they loved it.  A facility they owned was unused and they loaned it to me to test the idea.  I got businesses to donate furniture and we worked on sprucing up the clubhouse to include a stage for bands and skits, a pizza maker and rudimentary kitchen.  Then I spoke to my friend Gary who agreed to help manage the place. 

We had so much fun, so much laughter and great fellowship but this story is really about Gary.  He and I were working on the clubhouse outside.  I noticed a loose board that needed to be secured so we got a ladder and Gary climbed up.  As I watched, he pulled the board back and peered underneath.  He then turned on the ladder and said, “John, you better take a look at this.”

He looked startled and so I thought it must be a really bad wiring problem or some such thing.  After he climbed down, I went up and looked.  There, under the one loose board was another with the words, “John Dickey” written in red.  Nothing else, just the name.

At first, I thought maybe, with as rare as my name is, it was a confirmation from the Lord.  We asked the owners of the facility if they had hired a contractor in the past with my name, but they said no.  Now, I think maybe  it was a prophetic sign for Gary because almost twenty years later, his daughter married another John Dickey, my son.

Church planting

It was a very painful experience for all of us.  After eight years of working with the youth of our church, the pastor led the congregation into a deep involvement with spiritual heresy that ultimately destroyed many lives and forced me to make a stand against it privately with him.

In his office, he got very irate and told me I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Now I had witnessed spiritual oppression before but his behavior and that of many of the congregation became so bizarre, we left the church and prayed for God’s guidance.  The experience showed me that Satan can and does deceive even the most sincere believers and can lead them away from God by masquerading as ‘the Spirit”.  As a result, many of the youth left off following the Lord; some thought their parents who had been “squirming like snakes” or “barking like dogs” had lost their minds.  Some of them really lost their way because of this.

Anyway, we started a little Bible study home group and had about 15 regulars each Sunday.  Shortly after that, we noted a group of ten or more people from the old church who were doing a ‘prayer march’ around our home ostensibly to cast out evil spirits.  Afterwards, I met with a kind pastor from Indianapolis Horizon Christian Fellowship.  He agreed to ordain me and supported us starting a church.  We ultimately rented a storefront and had anywhere from 20 to 60 adults attend in the first year and then next year a fairly consistent 50 – 60.  It was, however, disappointing to find out that the very people we had ministered with at the old church were spreading outright lies about us to the churches in the area. 

One pastor of a CMA church however, became a good friend and we helped each other in many ways. After about two and half years, the Lord spoke to our hearts by revelation, circumstances and godly counsel that we were to turn the leadership of the new little church over to another and follow the Lord’s leading to California.  I struggled with this because I didn’t want to be a ‘hireling’ but we decided to take the step of faith.

We turned over the church to Star and Dave and got support from the CMA pastor to help them and we sadly but expectantly journeyed west.  Some time after this, perhaps a year or so, I’m not sure, Star and Dave met with the CMA friend and agreed to send their ‘flock’ to join his church.  This was indeed blessed by the Lord and the result was that the union blossomed and became one of the most attended churches in the area and several of our folks went on to work full time in the ministry.

Fired for burying Dad

As I mentioned, one of the ways we knew God’s will was closed doors.  I had been working in tech management for the largest regional blood and organ center in the Midwest.  After three years there, my dear Dad died, and Mom specified that they wanted me to place his ashes in a sacred garden at their old church in the Detroit area.  I could make the round trip from Indianapolis in a day but the CEO of the center, even knowing the circumstance, refused to let me take a day.  In fact, he bluntly stated that if I did, he would fire me. (Yes, he was a very troubled man, mentally.)

My immediate boss however, the SVP of operations (#2 guy) was entirely understanding and told me to go and that the CEO would have to fire him first if he wanted to fire me.  His name is Don Schoolcraft and we have remained good friends over the years.

Well, I made the trip and though no work was held up or delayed, the CEO got so mad that he fired my boss and then he fired me on the same day. 


Open doors in California

The other way we knew God’s will was open doors.  A few weeks after this debacle, a previously unknown recruiter from a top agency in Chicago, called and asked if I would consider an opportunity in California.  He mentioned that the President of Kraft, NA was going to be on the team as CEO as well as the Controller of Chevron becoming the CFO and they wanted me to be the CIO.

I felt like asking the fellow if he knew who he was speaking to -  these were ‘heavy hitters’ so to speak and I wasn’t even a bat-boy.  However, we ended up taking the job – an assignment to turn the company around and then sell it at a profit in three years or less.  After a couple of months, I was promoted to Vice President/CIO and a year later also took the additional role of leading Production Planning.  The company was the largest food ingredient processor in the world, and we were indeed successful in our task.

The Bob Palmer episode

But of course, an eternal soul is far more important than an earthly job.  And working for me at this job was someone who desperately needed Christ.  Bob was a diligent and gifted tech manager, but his family and home situation was really a mess.  We got to be good friends and he frequently shared about his troubles and concerns with his kids and wife.  Many times we met and I shared with him about Jesus and that having Him in his life would make a difference.  He always listened but never committed.

One day, I noticed his countenance being pretty down and I knew it was time - I had to step out.  I went into his office, closed the door and told him as plainly as I could the salvation message.  His eyes looked sad and expectant.  I then just stood from my chair, approached him and offered to pray with him right then to receive Christ.  He stood and promptly replied, “Yes, let’s do this.”

Bob was wonderfully saved and knew it.  His life, his countenance and even his family got changed by the power of God’s Spirit and his new faith.  Several of his family got saved and he told me some time later, “John, BVP may have recruited you to come here to be our CIO but I know God sent you here to bring me home to Jesus.”  Wow.  And I still think he may have been right.

Walnut Creek gang

I think it was Darlene who happened to meet a lady in Walnut Creek, and as she is prone to do, ended up in a conversation that ministered to her.  She found out that this lady and a few of her friends were wanting to have a Bible study and that led Darlene to prompt me to get acquainted with them. 

Well, they were all very much wanting to better understand the scriptures and felt to varying degrees that they had been somewhat misled by other teachers who simply used them to sell vitamins.  Of course, there were some trust barriers to overcome and one of the couples was just too wounded from the previous experience to open up to me.  However, several others did and after some time, the ten to fifteen of us became fast friends and eager learners. 

Now, Walnut Creek was about an hour and twenty minutes from home for us, but we made the journey weekly to meet with them at Brian and Kristin’s home.  All of them grew tremendously in the Lord and I encouraged them to start attending church at Cornerstone in Livermore.  Most of them did and some eventually even participated there in support positions.

I’ll never forget that one time Gabriel asked to come along.  The other two boys had come a couple of times to help with worship as well, but I was hopeful Gabe would really enjoy it.  He had such a sincere walk with the Lord – one of these folks who truly and simply lives the gospel rather than just talking about it. 

Anyway, we had been meeting for over two and a half years and I felt led to offer to them that evening to lay hands on anyone who wanted to receive an empowering of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of ministering the love and truth of Christ.  Well, I explained about the indwelling of the Spirit upon salvation and the ‘epi’ or coming upon of the Spirit like in the upper room.  Many took advantage of the offer and indeed it was very evident that the Holy Spirit empowered them.  For me, it seemed like the final healing balm for many of their previous hurts.

But the most wonderful gift was when I opened my eyes after praying for one person and there was Gabe asking to receive the same blessing.  I wept and said, “Of course!”  All of us laid our hands upon him and indeed he humbly received the Spirit’s gentle ‘coming upon’.  This was when I fully understood that God was truly at work in his life and my heart rejoiced, as did his.


Gabriel – his life, his friends, his teachers, his passing, his testimony

First thoughts - wrestling, leading the way on our hikes, always the friend, defended by his bros, writing his name in the cement, run around the house – please, street hockey, lemonade stand, learning to ride his bike, ¼ mile band, crazy aluminum foil hat, adopting the outcast, pretending to be asleep to avoid having to go to bed, Gideon bibles in his back pockets, always loved the Christmas skits, the one time he expressed concern that he was going to die, the difficulties at the hospital, when his friends came, Robin Williams, his O2 counts, my ultimate surrender to God’s will, the miracle, the loss – terrible loss, the funeral

Of course, I could write a whole book on each of the lives of my children. Darlene would agree I think – apart from our salvation, the taking care of them and loving them defined our lives.  That’s probably true of most parents.  When I remember Gabriel, I think of a stream of blessings:

I think of wresting on the floor of the den in Muncie with all the boys jumping all over me while I’m on my hands and knees with Gabe underneath me so I could protect him from getting hurt but still involve him in the fun.

I think of how he loved to be the leader on our hikes in the park until he got tired, and then I’d put him on my shoulders.

I think of how he never forsook a friend even if they were mean to him or ignored him.  He would always keep going to their house and knock on their door to see if they wanted to play.  Even when they said “Go home” he would tell me, “He’s still my friend. I’ll see him tomorrow.” And sure enough, he would, and eventually even the biggest brats became his buddies.

I think of when a bully on the school bus made fun of his raspy voice, his two brothers confronted the kid and it never happened again.  I was so proud of them.

I think of the time I was driving home from working and upon entering the subdivision I noticed that FINALLY they had repaired the street with new cement.  But then I noticed that some of the neighborhood kids had written in the wet cement. I shook my head and wondered what kind of parents raised such kids.  I stopped the car and inspected the damage and much to my dismay, there was a hand-print with a name written under it “GABE”.  Of course, he got a stern lecture, but his real shock was when a cop showed up at our door and wanted to talk with him. 

I think of how he had so much energy for most of the day that I would tell him, “Gabe, go run around the house three times (or more) and he’d immediately go do it because he loved running – I think it reminded him of his true passion, playing.

I think of his love for playing street hockey – he was always the goalie.  In fact, we always had to search the whole neighborhood for him when we were headed out somewhere because playing was his life’s pursuit and making friends was his passion.  He once told me that he didn’t have many friends and I reminded him that he was so loaded up with friends that they couldn’t all fit in our house.  He thought about that, but he never thought he had enough.

I think of his attempt to make spending money to buy candy from Johnny (after he had emptied Mom’s purse and searched under every sofa and chair cushion). His plan was to have a lemonade stand outside the community pool.  But the funny part was that he somehow convinced Johnny to run it for him – I think they shared the profits.

I think of how he taught himself to ride his bike by starting at the top of a little hill in our military housing area, Page Manor.  It was so gutsy, and I didn’t know about it until he was riding around like a pro.  I don’t know but wondered if he got that idea from overhearing us laughing about how Michael learned to ride when Star pushed him downhill in Medford.

I think of him making the best of having to recover at home in Oakdale by standing outside in the front yard and using his phone to jam with his friend who he could barely see down the hill. He claimed that they were the “Quarter Mile Band” ha.

I think of the crazy hat contest at church when Michael made an aluminum foil ‘spire’ about three feet tall on Gabe’s head.  He couldn’t wait to show it off because he loved being unconventional.

I think of how he always, and I do mean always, looked for the kid or kids who were left out and befriended them.  If Gabe was there, nobody was without a friend.  He didn’t care about the cool kids or jocks; he loved the outcasts, the lonely and those who were typically dissed.  And he was absolutely genuine about being their friend.

I think of him pretending, when he was little, to be sleeping on the floor while actually watching TV and thinking that he was getting out of having to go to bed.  I could hardly keep from laughing while carrying him up the stairs and he’d peek at me quickly to see if I’d fallen for his trick.  Or how he sneaked some change out of Star’s purse to buy Johnny’s candy and then laughed as though it was the funniest thing ever as he retreated semi-secretly.

I think of one time he had blown it and disobeyed his mother.  He knew he was in trouble and he headed upstairs ostensibly to wait for a few swats from the hanger.  He put on the act – he was so sorry and was willing to take his punishment.  But boy his face just dropped when I came in and said, “OK, son, drop ‘em.”

You see, most times I just spanked him a couple times with his pants on but for some reason, this time I thought I’d swat him just once but with his trousers down.  He was shocked and later confessed (years later) that he had stuffed Gideon New Testaments in each of his back pockets to save his butt.  We all had a great laugh.

I think of how much he loved our Christmas skits.  Whether acting silly like Elvis or being the deer in the ‘deer hunter’ skit, he never let his disability hold him down.

I think of begging God in the hospital for his life, then surrendering to His will, and then the miracle in the ER when his O2 levels that had fallen went up from the 40s to 93. 

I think of holding his hand when he passed into Jesus’ arms.

What grief can do, what only God can do

The grief from losing a child rips your soul to shreds and then stomps on the pieces with a fierceness that doesn’t let up.  All our family was devastated with Gabe’s passing.  There simply are no words to express the depth of pain we felt.  For Darlene and I, we knew we had two children in heaven but we could hardly breathe let alone feel hopeful.  Our children, also dealing with loss, came to believe we needed “tough love” and it didn’t go well.  We became alienated and even more hurt.

Slowly, God began to bring a desire to draw close to Him again and I realized how little I knew about heaven.  I read everything on it I could find – some good and some just off.  Somewhere along that trek, I began taking notes and then got the inspiration to do some of my own writing. One short devotional led to another and another.  Before long, the Heavenly Minded series took off.  I distributed them to friends and family and later made a website where nearly 180 devotionals and then ten books became available to freely download. 

Oddly, for years the CIA and FBI tracked and downloaded some of the writing but that was probably because more than 100,000 visitors each year came from Russia and China.  Over nearly twenty years, the sites, heavenlyminded.com and gracentruth.net have had well over a million visitors from some 150+ countries. 

Oakdale house sold

Though our house held some precious memories, we were also wondering if a fresh start would be helpful.  We listed the home and after three months had absolutely no inquiries.  After that, we took it off the market and went through a refinancing.  Some time later, we were watching television one evening when the phone rang and the lady on the other end said, “Hi, I saw your house from the road down the hill and I want to buy it.” 

I looked at Darlene and asked, “You want to sell the house?”

She replied that we just refinanced.  I said, “OK, I’ll get rid of her.”  I replied to the lady on the phone, “We’ll think about it, but the price will be ________.” It was a very high price.  “And you’ll have to buy the empty lot below us as well for _____.” Another very high price.

She said she would talk with her husband and get back to me.  I told Darlene, “I think that’s the end of that.”

Well, only a few minutes later the lady called back and said, “OK, we’ll take it.”

I told Darlene, “Well, get ready to move.”

A season of overcoming for Mom

Amidst the deep grief she went through, the Lord gave Darlene several inspired dreams that she shared with many people who were grieving the loss of a loved one.  Countless strangers and new acquaintances were moved to tears and rejoiced with new hope when she shared her story.  In her own words:

After the Lord took my precious son home to be with him the Lord gave me several visions of heaven.

The first vision was I saw Gabe but he wasn’t ‘glowing’. The Lord was standing behind him and was ‘glowing for him’. He said Mom don’t cry I am with the Lord!

The second vision was weeks later - I saw him again and he was glowing. I seemed to understand that he took on the Lords glory. He was brilliantly beaming on his own and totally happy and at peace!!!

The third vision was I was in a boat with a lady I had been witnessing too who was dying of cancer and had not yet received the Lord. I was sharing with her about heaven and asking her if she wanted to ask the Lord in her heart. Immediately my vision jumped to seeing her walking to me laughing and smiling and so filled with joy. I smiled and said, “you asked Him” and she said “YES!” Then, there was a building and Gabriel and a bunch of people walked out. I looked at her and said “that’s Gabe?”  She smiled and said “Yes!!” I walked over to him and said, “Gabe,” and he said, “Mom.” I hugged him and whispered “it’s been so long” and he stopped and looked at me and said “no mom it’s only been seconds.” In this, I felt like the Lord showed me that heaven moved without time so our love ones don’t miss us. To them our separation seems momentary even though we miss them. 

In the last vision I got from the Lord I was transported to a beautiful mountain lake with colors that were more than iridescent. They were the most intensely beautiful colors you could ever imagine. There, I felt the Lord was behind me and I said “Lord this is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen” and He said, ”Yes, Darlene these are your tears. I saved everyone of them  - this is your lake.”


In the process of healing, she even reconnected with old friends from high school and played a fundamental role in helping them grow stronger in their Christian walk.  She connected instantly with so many hurting people and helped them find hope and healing. 

Six acres in Sonora

But there was, in her words, a circle of grief including shock, denial, anger, hopelessness, more anger, loss of faith, all before the gradual upward path of hope led her out of the darkness.  It was during this journey, that I took her out in the country of the hills near Sonora and by divine inspiration, bought a six-acre parcel with the most beautiful view of the surrounding hill country.  About six months later, we sold our house in Oakdale and began planning to build a new home there.

It was truly a leap of faith for neither of us had any serious construction experience.  However, the Lord gave us wisdom and guidance along the way and after about a year and a half, we were moving in and for the next 14 to 15 years, it was a wonderful home filled with good and sorrowful memories.


A season of overcoming for Johnny – remembering the souls saved at Delta. I got mad but God was faithful

Johnny had a unique faithfulness to sharing the gospel as did Mike.  They often had stories to tell at dinner.  I remember Mike getting shoved against a locker by a guy considerably bigger who threatened him if he ever tried again to tell him about Jesus – later, that same guy came to Christ.  I remember his desire to be so real and compelling in his drama role as Jesus that he didn’t mind if he got banged up or hurt.  I remember Johnny recalling the people he talked to about Jesus at school – mostly no fruit.  But years later, at a school assembly after we had left Muncie, dozens of people testified of their salvation and gave Johnny the credit for sharing the message.

As a sibling, Johnny had been the closest to Gabe.  They shared a room, including the funny stories, stinky socks, and nightly Jon Courson tapes.  After his passing, Johnny wrote many songs and recorded them on a CD.  He missed his brother so much and was of course, emotionally vulnerable.  Unfortunately, a sociopathic woman saw that and took advantage of his tenderness.  She lied to all of us about believing in Christ and in promising devotion during their wedding vows.

In less than a couple years or so, she revealed to him that she had had several sexual relationships including some with students in his class at medical school.  Sadly, she berated him in the most vile ways and publicly boasted in her own “worship” of lust.  In spite of this, he still wanted her to stay and change her ways, but she abruptly left him and their two children to care for by himself while trying to get through medical school.  Frankly, I think she is a sociopath and possibly even demon oppressed. 

Anyway, with support from his academic advisors Johnny took a break from school and lived with us while his heart mended.  At some point, the disappointments, despair, beratings and unresolved grief led to a near disastrous mistake that he recovered from with support from all of us. 

Afterwards, he returned to school, kids in tow, and finished well.  He landed an internship in Bakersfield and we bought a small home for him to live in temporarily.  Not too long after that he got reconnected with Nikki and found in her a loving partner.  However, his ex-wife also re-entered the picture.  Amazingly, after deserting them, having sex with and then dumping several other men, and weaseling her way into a CHP job, she decided she deserved custody of the kids.

Now, she had already tried three times to sue for custody previously in Sonora and lost but with her new ‘clout’ as a cop she was able get a female judge in Bakersfield to vilify Johnny for absolutely no reason and take the kids away from him.  It was insane and no lawyers in the city would help him.  That’s when I lost it.

I got really angry with God.  Alone in a motel room in Dallas, I shouted at God and accused Him of deserting us – “WHY??!” I screamed.  I had never felt this way before and never blamed God for my anguish.  Later that night, He ministered to my heart and told me He wasn’t finished.  The next day, I returned to tell Johnny that I would help him fight the decision.

Shortly afterward, I found a group of lawyers in Fresno who were supposed to be the best.  They admitted that in California to overturn a family-law decision in favor of the husband was virtually unheard of but after nearly a year of costly processes with both the case and the 6th court of appeals, the case was indeed overturned with a unanimous decision by the three justices, and Johnny got the kids back.  The lawyers gleefully explained that we had effectively rewritten California law with the judgement.

Unfortunately, the kids had suffered under the ex’s ‘care’ which was actually complete neglect.  Promise had been traumatized by the experience and Brett was permanently hardened toward the only man who had ever loved him.  And to boot, the sociopathic ex acted in contempt of court and refused to return the kids until a new judge in Bakersfield told her that Johnny could ask the court to put her in jail and end her career.  As an example of grace, he did not.

A season of overcoming for Michael

Both Michael and Gabriel had similar personalities.  Michael loved him deeply but was much older and naturally involved with his own friends and newlywed life.  At one point, he told me that he felt bad that he hadn’t realized just how serious Gabe’s condition was.  As an ‘outside observer’ it seemed to me like Gabe’s passing changed Mike forever – in addition, his life became a huge struggle – he lost his very dear adopted child, Chris, to a brain tumor, he lost his job in spite of doing outstanding work, he lost his home. Meanwhile the church where we attended and where he served in youth ministry virtually ignored his situation – never reached out. After working briefly for me, he moved out of the area for another teaching job but the stress continued as his wife was nearly killed in a freak accident that wrecked their house.  And their adopted daughter Hannah gave them enormous heartache and frustration.

Nevertheless, he’s always had a steadfast heart in him to try and help people in meaningful ways.  I continue to remind myself of the faith and love for God he used to have as a younger man and that God is not far from him.  I know he knows we love him and that we pray for him continually. 

A season of overcoming for Starshine  

I can’t say enough about my joy in seeing how Star and Dave over the last twenty years have continued to trust in the Lord through their myriad challenges and difficulties – Charis’s accident and operation, Comfort’s kidney failure, her own cancer and of course Dave’s job situations and Alex’s anger issues.  Through it all, they have poured into their kids about the truth of the Gospel and loved them all deeply.  It seems to me that Star has learned from the Lord through her trials and walks humbly before Him. 

Fire seasons, mad raccoons, and mountain lions

So, it seems like God uses direct revelation sometimes to guide us like He did many times when we were younger but sometimes, He also uses nature.  In the last few years that we were in Sonora, we experienced two major forest fires that threatened our home, mountain lions in our pool, plagues of rabid racoons and skunks, filthy hoards of turkeys, on and on it  goes.  Darlene and I talked about this and how the house had become too much for us to maintain and clean by ourselves, so we finally decided to make some needed repairs and sell it. 

It also entered into our thinking that we had tried for nearly 15 years to find friends in Sonora but alas, to no avail.  We reached out so many times, Darlene mostly, to people that seemed only interested in themselves.  We hosted dinners, home Bible studies and fellowship groups. I tried to help the town in economic development and teaching at church.  She hosted pool-parties with ‘needy’ girls and took them on shopping trips. In any event, it would seem that the area was settled with isolationists and consequently we just never really found a fit with the community.

Thus, after so many struggles – loneliness, job loss, Darlene’s cancer and hysterectomy operations, her extreme back pain, Johnny’s divorce, Mike’s tragedies, Star and Dave’s trials with Alex, even my own weird Guillain-Barre sickness and absence-seizure episode – and much more, we listed the home we had once thought would be our last.  

We sold the house! What now?

Now, Darlene had spent well over a decade in residential real estate appraising and based upon the market conditions we expected it to take about two years to sell our home but a few days after we listed it, the Lord spoke to me audibly one morning saying, “You will show the house on Monday.”

I knew it was the Lord, but He had never spoken to me so distinctly before.  It was Saturday and I told Darlene about it.  Then, Sunday evening, our Realtor called and said that he had an interested couple that he wanted to show the house to – so how about tomorrow.  Well, we both sensed that this was the fulfillment of what God had spoken so of course we said yes.

Well, a little over a week later, after some negotiating, we agreed to sell it.  The buyers were in a huge hurry to move in though and we only had a couple of weeks to pack and vacate which exhausted us.  We gave away many truckloads of furniture, tools, books, keepsakes and such and by God’s grace found a nice littler place to rent in nearby Angels Camp.  In short, we thought it would take two years and it only took about two weeks.

Time to write

About two months later, the exhaustion from the move, running everyday to work in Modesto, class prep and other stuff brought me to a crash physically and mentally.  I knew I couldn’t continue so I retired.  I thought Darlene would be upset and insecure but once again, she surprised me and was very supportive.

I wasn’t sure how best to use the time except to take some time to ‘decompress’.  I’d always wanted to write a novel and decided to do one on our old friend Abdu, the former Prime Minister of the Sudan.  It was fun to do the research and after about a year I finished “Moonlight in Lalibela” the first part of an intended trilogy.  Now, I’m certainly no Steinbeck, but it was I think a good first book.  I’ve started on the second but I also put together all my writings into an additional ten books and made a website to display them.  The pastor at our chuch, Ted Mustill, really enjoyed reading them and especially, FireEyes, my commentary on the book of Revelation.  After some teaching and sharing with members of the congregation, he also invited me to join him in broadcasting a radio program that aired on KVML and on the internet each week.  That has continued now for a couple of years and he tells me we have many thousands of listeners all over the world.  Praise God!

You know, this really isn’t the totality of our life, just snippets – probably only ten percent of our memories or less, but God has done and continues to do miracles for us almost daily and if I can sum up our life I’d say that it’s all about our God and Savior.  We have no life, no joy, no love apart from Him.  Dear children and grandchildren, He is so good, and we can’t wait for His appearing.  Come, Lord Jesus!