Saturday, December 2, 2006

Guardian Angel

This photo of one of my Bulldogs. I have two. This is the male. His name is Benson. Some will call him an English bulldog, but there is only one bulldog the others French, American, etc. need the added description to differentiate them from the one and only original bulldog. I got my first bulldog in 1993. I had wanted one since I was a young boy.

One summer when I was probably 8 or 9, the next door neighbor boy and I started camping out in a little pup tent in his back yard. I remember the first night we spent out there very well. It was late, very dark and we were a little nervous at being alone in the dark by ourselves. We heard this very strange noise coming from outside the tent. It was an awful snorting, wheezing, throat clearing kind of sound. Wild visions of misshapen and terribly mean and foul smelling creatures coming to snatch us out of our little tent went through our young minds. This noise grew closer and closer till it was just outside the flaps of the tent. I really cannot remember all of the details. I’m sure we must have had a flashlight with us. I don’t really remember just when we discovered what the ‘monster’ was, but I’m sure we were hugely relieved to see that it was a gentle old male bulldog.

He came in our little pup tent that night and slept with us till almost dawn in the morning. I remember he gently chewed the earpieces on my glasses. He didn’t destroy them, just left his teeth marks there. Maybe he found some kind of bulldoggish comfort in that. Maybe it was his little calling card. I don’t know, but he was gone when the sun came up. My slightly altered glasses were the only sign of our midnight friend. The strange thing was my friend and I had no idea where he came from. As young boys, we pretty well knew all the dogs in our little neighborhood. This was in the early sixties. People were more involved in their neighbor’s lives than today. We knew of no one for quite a radius around who had a bulldog, but that summer every time we stayed out in the pup tent this gentle snorty monster would show up and spend most of the night with us.

Anyway, I wanted a bulldog for my entire life. Again, we got one in 1993. I haven’t been disappointed. They are very special dogs. Stoic, devoted, courageous beyond belief, nothing scares them. This fellow regularly takes on our St. Bernard who outweighs him by well over a hundred lbs. Pain means nothing to them. They are amazingly gentle with small children. When we have little toddlers in the house, the bulldogs are very very careful around them. Sensing how unsteady the young ones are, they give them wide berth and yet when we lay on the bed for a nap or at night with a grandchild, the bulldog desires more than anything to be right next to the young one. . . a guardian angel for all the babies in the house, just like our pup tent friend years and years ago.

Thank you Lord for guardian angels . . . . . Thank you Lord for bulldogs. . . .

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dancing with babies. . .

1 Corinthians 2:11-16

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (12) Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. (13) Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (14) But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (15) But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. (16) For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

I can personally attest to how much truth there is in the verse, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him." I clearly remember how I viewed the foolishness of Christianity and the foolishness of everything associated with God. I would curse at the television when I stumbled across an evangelist while channel surfing. I chuckled to myself when I watched my wife pray to a God that I knew did not exist. I have truly been given a new mind. . . old things have passed away and all things are become new. Now I find something that is beyond description, is dancing before the Lord and worshipping Him while holding my grandchildren. I find a joy and satisfaction in that beyond anything I've ever known. A couple of years ago, soon after he was born, we began bringing one of my grandsons to church. He is a little older now and usually wants to stand on his own, but his little sister loves being held by her grandpa as we worship and sing every Sunday afternoon. The love for Him in my worship and the love for my Granddaughter get all mixed up and blended together as I dance and sing before Him. I feel the glow and closeness of God's love, the warmth of my little granddaughter's body nestled in my arms, the joy and happiness flowing from me to her to Him and back again. This may sound funny, but in some way's, it's almost like I'm holding God and hugging and caressing Him while I worship with my granddaughter in my arms.

I get hugs from God all the time. He lets me know that He is near in little ways all day long, but until now I never really knew of a way to hug Him back. To hold this wonderfully warm little miracle child in my arms, caressing. . . protecting. . . holding. . . hugging. . . dancing with her in the crescendo of many voices raised in adoration of God, people crying out, worshipping Him. It's magical.

You know, when I think about it, that's really what I'm supposed to be doing all the time, loving God by loving the people around me. I'm not very good at it much of the time. For a little while though, for a few minutes on a Sunday afternoon. . . God, a little girl child and I, bask in our great love for each other as we dance a perfect dance.

Thank you God for my grandchildren. Thank you for forgiving my foolishness. Thank You for love filled Sunday afternoons filled with your presence. . .

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A wonder filled weekend

It was the last part of November, 2005. My wife and I decided to go on a little get away weekend. We made reservations at a bed and breakfast in Arcadia, Michigan. On the way up I hit a patch of black ice on the interstate highway. It was very very spooky. I was going around 70 m.p.h. and the temperature was just a little above freezing. I noticed a light rain that started to freeze on the windshield. Just a minute or two later we went across an overpass and my little pickup truck started to careen wildly all over the road. There was lots of traffic, but I regained control of the truck without crashing into anyone or going off the road.
It happened so quickly that I really cannot remember praying for God's protection or anything like that, but afterwards my wife and I surely thanked Him many many times for protecting us and keeping us from a terrible crash.

I love to take wildlife pictures. One of my goals on this trip was to get some good pictures of swans. Every day of the four days that we were gone, we took little car trips and looked for swans, which are abundant in the area, to take pictures of. We saw many swans, but there was always something wrong with the shot. The birds were too far away. The water was too rough. The light was bad. Nonetheless, my wife and I had a wonderful time.
We headed back for home late Sunday morning. I had planned on taking the major roads back after my spooky incident on the way up. I figured that the main highways might be better maintained than the little state roads, but as I came to a turnoff to a less traveled road I really felt a compulsion to take that route. It wasn't a voice or anything like that, just an overpowering feeling that I needed to take that road home. We had gone a number of miles when I saw a sign for a public access to a lake. I had never been in this area before and knew nothing about it, but I turned off the state highway and followed the signs on the little county roads for two or three miles.

We came around a little curve to the waters edge of a quiet little bay, on I think it was Pickerel lake and in this bay were two beautiful swans just at the edge of the water. They were feeding quietly. They weren't disturbed at all by our presence. My wife and I took pictures for almost an hour. It was just a special, spiritual, and holy time. The lighting was perfect. The water was quiet and there were large evergreen trees casting shadows on the far shore making the water appear very dark, almost black.

If you know Michigan, there are lakes everywhere. I mean you cannot go more than a very few miles without passing access sites and boat docks, etc. We were led to this spot. One of my favorite verses are:

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.

This is literally true. Many many times He has directed my path. He has let me know which way to turn. He is there. He is real. This isn't about little Bible stories for children. It isn't about being religious. It is about a relationship with a living, loving, very real God.


Friday, November 24, 2006

So much has changed. . .

I cannot fully explain to you how much my life has changed. If you had asked me years ago, I would have told you that I had a good life. I lived in a nice house, had a wonderful wife, a great job. I thought my life was OK. . . . but there was an emptiness inside of me, a sense of worthlessness. . . an everpresent question. . . Why? What's this all about? What am I here for?

Lots of times it was way in the background of my consciousness, but it never completely disappeared. My life is rich now beyond my imagination before finding God. A hole inside of me has been filled. I weep for you who do not know Him. You are in some ways like a blind man who has never seen a beautiful sunrise. He doesn't really believe it can be as beautiful as seeing people make it out to be. The difference being that there is nothing the truely blind man can do. The sun come up in a glory of pinks and blues and there is nothing he can do to see it. But it is also possible for a man with sight to walk with his eyes tightly clenched and not be able to see.

There can be many reasons for this happening. In my case, I was certain that there was nothing to look at and therefore kept my eyes closed to the beauty and wonder of God all around me. If you have working eyes and do not see the Son it is your own decision, but He is still there. You have eyes, but you choose to keep them closed. You deceive yourselves by saying that the Son doesn't exist, or He's nothing special or a myth. All you have to do is to open the eyes of your heart, take a chance and let Him in.

I knew there was no God. I was so certain. I bet my life upon it. I loved to talk religion with Christians. One day a group came around noon to my porch to tell me about God. When they asked me if they could leave, it was almost dark. I was a fool. . . . . . . . I was so wrong. He is alive. He is real and doing wonderful things every day, not 2000 years ago, but today!!!

A new creature is born. . .

I came to God later in life than most. I am 52 years old today in 2006. Until a little over six years ago, in June of 2000, I was an atheist. I want to share my story with you. It is a story of answered prayers, not my prayers, but my wife's. I was an atheist. I married a Christian lady. She prayed for me for 10 years. I can remember watching at night as she prayed. Thinking how very foolish she was praying to a God that I was certain did not exist. I was the fool.
The first crack in my shell came in the fall of 1999. I had been having some health problems and my doctor did a personal lifestyle inventory. One of the questions that he asked me was, "What were my religious beliefs?" I told him, I was an atheist. Then he asked,"How is your relationship with your father?" I told him it was pretty bad. My father was an alcoholic and consumed with his addiction while I was growing up. I really don't have much of a relationship with him to this day. The next thing that he said was like a cup of cold water thrown in my face, "Well, It's difficult to have a good relationship with your heavenly father if you have a bad relationship with your earthly one."

There were many many people across decades of time that affected me, seeds planted, but this the first definitive step for me towards God. It was such a perceptive question and in many ways it went straight to the heart of my disbelief. I thought about that little exchange many times over the next few months.

In the end we discovered that I had a bad aorta valve. This is really interesting in itself. I've led a very very active life, been in the military, played sports, and been hiking, backpacking, really no restrictions to my activities at all. The doctors at the major medical center where I was operated on said that my pediatrician, when I was a very small child should have been able to hear this big leak that I had in my heart. My wife is a nurse. She listened to my chest and said that my heart sounded more like a mop squish squish squishing up and down in a mop bucket than the thump thump thump of a normal heart.

I was the captain of an 8-ball billiard team. One of my best players also started having health problems and had to quit the team. His name was Butch. He was turning his life over to the Lord, quitting drinking and smoking and could no longer play pool on the team. I told him that I respected that, no hard feelings and wished him the best of luck.
In March my praying wife writes in her diary, "Soon David will know the glory of the Lord." We don't discover this until months after my surgery, when she is flipping through past pages for some reason or another. It's prophetic. . . .

I don't know if you've ever been through anything like this, but it weighs very heavily on your mind. I was going to one of the best cardiac centers in the country. Lots of people from all over the world go to this center. In February, my surgery was scheduled for the middle of June. About the first week in May, I received a phone call, while at work, from the heart center asking if I would mind if they moved up my surgery by three weeks. I burst into tears while on the phone, weeping, embracing, caressing the anonymous lady on the other end of the phone with my words, "Thank you . . . thank you . . . thank you. . ." I hadn't really even known how heavily it was weighing on my mind till that moment.

My surgery was scheduled for Wednesday May 24th. The Wednesday before, my father-in-law and I went to a local veteran's club to play pool. It was a quiet evening in the place. A young boy maybe nine or ten years old, came and watched for a while, asked if he could play. We said sure. We talked and played for a couple of hours. He listened as my father-in-law talked about my upcoming surgery. I didn't know the boy. I had seen him around, but never really had spoken with him. We made plans that night for my wife's uncles and aunts to come back on Friday for the fish fry at the club. They would have a little send off for me going to the heart center in another state. Friday night comes and we got a big table. We're sitting there when this boy that we played pool with on Wednesday walks up. He's got something behind his back. He takes it out. It's a Chicago Bulls championship season plaque. It's got Scottie Pippin and Michael Jordan's NBA basketball cards and the team's picture. He tells me that he was in the hospital and this plaque brought him good luck. He wants me to take it with me to the hospital and keep it with me to bring me good luck. . . I am touched. I am humbled. It's obvious this is very special to him. I am honored by the loan of his prized possession.
I go to the hospital. My friend Butch, who quit the pool team to give his life to the Lord, tells me that his church, Life Tabernacle, is praying for me. I don't really understand, but I am appreciative. My surgery goes wonderfully. I have no problems whatsoever. By the following Monday, I am on the way home. I face a good six weeks off from work and some cardiac rehabilitation, but the surgery went very well.

I decide to go to church the first Sunday in June. I want to say thank you to the people of Life Tabernacle for their prayers. I had never been to a Pentecostal church before. I was unprepared for what I saw. The worship was so intense, so alive, and so real. We sat on about the second row from the back, on the left side of the sanctuary. A couple of rows ahead and to the right was an older man. His name, I now know, is Brother Studt. I owe him a lot. He was probably in his late sixties or early seventies. I was fascinated by him. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. His worship was so fervent. I couldn't understand why a man his age wasn't taking a little nap in the back row. How may songs had he sung in his decades in church? How many thousands of sermons had he heard? Why was he still so obviously excited and passionate about worshipping God? My unbelief wasn't gone, but I wanted what he had. His worship created a hunger, a thirst in me. I wanted a relationship like he had with God. I asked my wife if she wanted to go to the evening service. She was so surprised. I think her jaw almost hit the floor
For the next three weeks, we went to church every time the doors were open: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Thursday evening Bible study. I think I even went to the Tuesday prayer meetings. My unbelief did not change. Finally on a Thursday evening after the lesson, I went down to the alter. I told the Pastor, Mark Johnson, that I was an atheist. Belief is like a light switch. It only has two positions. It is either on or off. I wanted to believe, but I just could not make the jump. He told me that I had done the right thing. I had come and I had opened my heart to God. Now it was time for me to let God work. A mountain for me would only be a mole hill for God.

I had had some problems in the recovery from my heart surgery. My wife and I were on the way to my daughter's high school graduation and had stopped off at McDonald's for a drink. One moment I was standing in line, the next thing I knew, five or six people were peering down at me as I lay on my back with a terrible headache. I had passed out while standing in line and hit my head pretty good. I ended up in the hospital for a few days. It really wasn't anything serious. I had just tried to do too much too soon, so I had to slow down. I had not yet been back to the veteran's club.

The next day after going down to the alter at church. We had planned another night at the veteran's club fish fry. I took the plaque the young boy had given me and my wife and I walked in the door. From across the smoky room the young boy saw me. He came running and gave me a hug. "Dave! Dave! I've been so worried about you. You're here!" He was helping with the fish fry, putting together Styrofoam to go boxes, wrapping up plastic knives, forks, and spoons, just helping out where needed. It was obvious he was very very happy to see me.
We went and got a big table. My wife's aunts and uncles, mom and dad were coming again. We were sitting there a little while later, when I felt someone sitting next to me and it was this young boy again. "Hey Buddy!" I was surprised to see him. In just a couple of minutes, a girl, a little older, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old came up, hands on hips, her finger in his face, "What are you doing sitting over here. You're supposed to be over there helping me." "I quit! I quit! I ain't doing that no more." he replied. She stomped off in a huff. He turned to me, "What would she do if her best friend were here and she couldn't talk to him!". . . . . . . I melted. . . . . One evening, a couple of games of pool almost a month ago. . . . I'm his best friend. Oh man!
The memories came flooding back. I knew what was going on. He was reaching out. He has no father, in many ways like I had no father. For years I tried to attach myself to any man who paid me any attention. A boy needs a Dad. My heart was deeply deeply touched by this boy.
A few years before, I had dug a pond, a water garden in my yard. I was active on this forum on the Internet. On one section of the forum we talked about our fish and plants, problems with water quality, etc.

The site was:

I just checked a few minutes ago. As of right now anyway, the forum has either been discontinued or is maybe just temporarily not working. Anyway on the other side or section of the site, people posted personal things: books they'd been reading, personal stories, jokes, non-pond stuff. On Saturday morning, I wrote a long post telling about my surgery and what had happened with this boy.

On Sunday, before church, I got up to check the response to my post on the forum. I was amazed. People from all over the world had replied. I remember posts from New Zealand, Australia, England, Japan and several from the United States. Pretty much all of them said the same thing, "Don't you see what God is doing with you and this boy?" They didn't know. . . They didn't know. . . They didn't know, they were speaking or writing to an atheist.

In a moment, sitting in the same room, the desk has been moved a few feet, but in almost the same spot that I now write this testimony, I saw my life pass before my eyes. You hear about people coming close to death and having this experience. I had this vision sitting before my computer on that Sunday morning. It was vivid, like a movie. I saw vivid vivid scenes from my life, times where I should have been terribly injured or hurt or killed or in trouble and every time. . . (I had called it coincidence, good luck, good fortune) . . . every time things worked out. I was OK. Well if you flip a coin and it turns up heads fifteen times in a row, it could be good luck, right? But it really is something else . . . my unbelief was gone.

There were about, maybe fifteen of these scenes from my life that I saw. I'll share a couple of the more dramatic ones. These are memories that I had not thought of for years and years.
The first was when I was a boy of nine or ten. It was in the spring. A storm had come through the night before. I went down to a friend's house to play. It must have been on a Saturday. In his back yard was a little crab apple tree. On the ground was a robin's nest. There were two little birdies on the ground, very wet, but still alive. Mama was frantically chirruping in the fence near by. My friend and I decided to put the nest back in the tree. I took off my tennies and put the little birds in them to keep them warm while we shinnied up the tree and replaced the nest in a crotch in the tree.

Everything was OK till I looked in my shoes. There were all sorts of bugs crawling in there. I thought they were lice. I don't know what they really were, but I thought they were lice back then and I sure wanted no part of that. I'd seen kids in school get called out for having lice and I would do anything to avoid that embarrassment. I was a real bright kid. I'd drop an atom bomb on those lice, so I went to the shed and got the gas can for the mower . . . and poured gasoline into my tennis shoes. Ya know what? It worked. The lice were dead.

I was a pretty bright kid, but not too good at thinking ahead, for as you might have guessed by now I had another problem, gasoline filled tennis shoes. Well that's a pretty easy fix. I took them into the house, into the hallway . . . and put them into the gas dryer. . . I turned it on. . . A half hour later, my mom comes home. I'm not sure where she was, probably at a neighbor's. As she walks in the door, she begins shrieking, "David! David! What did you do?" The house reeked of gasoline. She walked to the hall. The shoes were in the dryer a thumpity thumpity thumping around in the dryer . . . she opened the door. The pilot light had blown out that day. What good luck. What a coincidence. Now I saw, thank you Lord!

The next vision or scene that I saw was probably thirty years later. It was in the mid to late nineties. I had an old Chevy S-10 pickup truck. It was broken. I replaced the ignition module and took it for a test drive on a local state highway. I went maybe five or six miles to a major intersection, pulled into a gas station, bought a cup of coffee and probably a box of cigars. I parked right in front. The truck was an automatic transmission. I put it into reverse and began backing up. The gas pumps were right behind me. I don't know if you've ever had this happen, but it is spooky, when I put my foot on the brake to creep out of the parking spot, I had no brakes. I mean my foot went to the floor and I couldn't even begin to slow down the truck going at an idle. I had to slam the transmission into park to stop the truck. I got out and all along the side of the truck was a big puddle of brake fluid. I found out later that a steel brake line had corroded through and ruptured. All the brake fluid was there on the pavement. One stop before . . . one stop before, I was going 50 or 55 M.P.H. down the highway, up to a major intersection. The brake line lasted just long enough, just until I was backing out of a parking spot.

Another coincidence, another piece of good luck . . . thank you God! Again and again and again I saw these things, these times when my back was turned against God and yet He was still there, still watching over me, still protecting me. He is so good. Almost my entire life was spent in unbelief. My wife prayed for me for ten years. . . I was baptized in the name above every other name, in Jesus name July 16th and I was filled with the Spirit of God on August 17th. I spoke in a language I did not understand of that same year.
My life is completely changed. Never say never. . .
I love you Jesus. Thank you.

Dave Stokely