I am a former atheist who discovered Jesus in June of 2000. Now I am a chaplain and a licensed UPC minister who loves the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. . . I once was blind, but now I see. . . never say never.
If we had some power to perform miracles at our command and could take away alcohol and illicit drugs from our society our jails would have hugely excessive capacity. It would be close to the truth to say that we could immediately close 3 out of every 4 prisons. I've seen figures showing that alcohol alone accounts for close to half of all incarcerations in penal institutions. It is not only drinking while driving that puts people in jail, but it is the things that people do while intoxicated that end them up in prison. Domestic violence, sexual crimes of all kinds, robberies, assaults, financial troubles, failed businesses, failed marriages, child support arrearages and on and on all have their roots in many cases in the abuse of alcohol. For many years, I was a suicide hotline worker. It was huge the percentage of our calls that had as a foundational component, the abuse of alcohol. It was not often that the one who had the drinking problem who called us, but it was most often family members, or friends, or co-workers who were effected by the drinking who called us.
I would often be on a call for an hour or more before that relationship would be revealed. The nameless, faceless person whom I was talking with would begin talking about a father or spouse or other family member who through their drinking had terribly impacted the caller's life and thereby caused great great problems. A little bell would go off in my mind, and yet another call with the revealed ever widening circles of anguish and destruction caused by alcohol.
In my family, my father is, was (he no longer drinks, so I'm not sure of the term he would use for himself) an alcoholic. My brother has dropped out of our family secreting himself a long ways away largely as a result of his addictions. My sister, her life is shattered, job, family, health all ruined as a result of alcohol abuse. In my own life alcohol caused great problems. I was the lucky one. I came to God before the damage was too great.
I give God all the credit. When I came to God, immediately my urge to drink was gone. It was not a battle. There was no fight. I simply was given, through the infilling of the Spirit of God, great joy, great power and by that, the desire to drink was no longer there. Almost from the very first day of being filled with God's Spirit, I had no more desire to drink at all. Roughly maybe six months after I came to God, I did drink again. I had several beers and I hated it. It was the same feeling as always. I wasn't drunk, but I had a good buzz as you would call it and it was awful. It was like there was a wall between God and I. I could not feel his presence. It was like I was alone and isolated. Other than communion I've not had even a single sip of alcohol since then.
My battle with tobacco was another thing. That was a war. For those of you who have been blessed not to know being addicted to something first hand, you may look down upon nicotine addiction as not being a true addiction, but nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. It used to be called 'the most', but I'm not sure how it rates currently in addictiveness in relation to meth and crack. At one time I knew the figures, but something like over 50% of all people who smoke more than 2 packs of cigarettes will go on to smoke for at least 5 years. It's worse than heroin in that respect.
I know lots of crack addicts and meth addicts who stopped using their illicit drug, but could not stop using tobacco. And that is very much a stumbling block for them, especially if they do not recognize that bondage is bondage is bondage. The addiction to meth and the addiction to nicotine both originate in the same place and it is my experience that the addicts who are most successful in staying off their illicit drug are the ones who also overcome their addiction to nicotine. In other words, the seemingly innocuous, legal addiction tobacco will lead you back into an addiction to illicit drugs.
I fought for about 18 months to overcome my addiction to nicotine. I would do well for a few days and something would always happen. You are especially vulnerable for a relapse in times of stress. I was doing well when the planes crashed onto the buildings in New York City on September 11, 2001. I hadn't smoked for maybe 3 days. Within an hour of learning the news that morning, I went out and bought a box of cigars and was smoking again, but importantly I kept fighting. It's almost funny now, I don't know how many times I was anointed and the church prayed for me. I probably really blew out their budget for olive oil the year that I was trying to quit.
When you fail, the devil tells you to to give up. A little voice in your head says: "You can't do it. You'll never succeed. Give up." That is a lie. If you keep trying you will succeed. It was two weeks before Christmas 2001, at a ladies service in the jail, two ladies asked me to pray for them, for their families, etc. It is a difficult time for everyone in jail over the holidays, but I think especially for women with small children. It is terribly difficult being away from their families, especially with the knowledge that they only have themselves to blame. They know how much their children miss them. It is very painful. It is really a very difficult, a very emotional time. Anyway the three of us made a little circle. We joined hands and I told them that I also needed their prayers. I was fighting a dragon in my addiction to nicotine and I needed their prayers to overcome this.
That night, in that little prayer circle God took my addiction away. From that point forward I had no more withdrawal symptoms. No more anxiety, no craving. . . it was absolutely gone. But if I had stopped my battle any time before that, I would still have been addicted today. I do not know why God chose that moment to deliver me and not sometime six months before. I was able to go back to those two ladies and tell them about God answering their prayers for me. On many subsequent occasions, I have given my testimony as to how God used prayer in the jail to deliver me and to free me from that terrible bondage.
It is a terrible thing, that craving, the desire for the artificial appetite you created in your body for the addictive substance. It is a hunger. That is the best way to understand it. Consider what a powerful attraction food naturally has for us. When we try to fast the same pangs, the same rationalizations, the same spiritual/physical battle takes place. . . it is exactly the same as trying to quit a drug that you are in bondage to. The difference being that a fast ends. To have victory over your addiction, your fasting of it can never end.
When I talk to the men and women at the jail about usage or addiction to nicotine or alcohol, legal drugs by man's law, I ask them what is it about using nicotine that is against God's will? By far the majority of the time they will at least know of or sometimes even quote:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (17) If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
And you surely cannot argue with tobacco being bad for your body and through use of it, you are thereby defiling the temple of God that is your body, but to me that is not the primary problem with tobacco. I smoked for roughly 30 years. At a minimum of 20 cigarettes per day (or surely their equivalent in cigars), that is approximately 200,000 cigarettes. I have now quit for almost 7 years and I have little, if any in the way of ill effects to show for my 30 years of smoking. I am undoubtedly still at greater risk for cancer, but other than that I am not aware of any ill effects of my 30 years of smoking. I am assured that if I had eaten 200,000 Twinkies or 200,000 Tootsie Rolls, or if I had consumed 200,000 cans of Pepsi in those 30 years my temple would have been in far worse shape than it is from my smoking. There are lots of things we do to our bodies (or not do) that are as bad or worse than smoking. Laying out in the sun is terrible for you. Sitting on the couch and not getting enough exercise is not good for your temple at all.
So if being bad for your body were the only problem with nicotine, I think it would be well down the list of things to be concerned about. The problem with nicotine is the bondage that it places you into. It places you in chains. It takes your freedom. You are a servant to your addiction. When I ran out, I would walk barefoot in the snow if necessary to get more cigars. When you are addicted to something, satisfying your addiction, keeping your addiction happy is the most important thing in your life and that to me is the reason that you must fight with everything you have to free yourself from every addiction. God must be the most important thing in your life and He cannot be number one, if that position is already filled by your addiction.
Again men and women who have been addicted to crack or meth fool themselves that they can just get rid of those illegal addictions and keep their cigarettes or keep on drinking, but all these bondages come from the same source. Did you ever think of how all these addictions like to hang out together? Drinking and gambling go wonderfully together. Illicit drugs and fornication are commonly found with each other. Drinking, smoking, and strip clubs go hand in hand. You cannot separate them one from another. You cannot pick and choose which sins to keep and which to get rid of.
If you had lung cancer and woke up from the surgery to remove the cancer and the surgeon told you that he'd taken most of it out, but he decided that some of it wasn't important, so he left it in. What would you think? To leave some of the cancer and not to remove it all, is a death sentence. The small remaining bit will grow and grow until it consumes you and you die. It is the same with sin. No matter what it is, we can never rest satisfied allowing it to remain in our lives. What ever sin we make a compromise with and allow to remain within us, will eventually cause us to fall away from God and die. . .
My point in writing this is not to justify or to defend addictions or to make excuses for people who are addicted to things, but maybe to gain understanding and compassion for those who battle and sometimes stumble in their fight for freedom. I remember about a month or maybe even a little less, after I started coming to church, a men's fellowship fishing trip was planned for a charter boat on Lake Erie. I signed up to go. We left Friday after work and rented a condominium so we could get a daybreak start Saturday morning on the walleye boat. One of the last things before turning in for the night, I went out and sat on the curb next to the parking lot and smoked a cigar. As I sat there, a man from our little fishing fellowship group was coming back from dinner. He walked up, and he didn't say this rudely or anything, but He said, "You're Smoking. . ." It was just a statement of fact, an observation. . . he wasn't condemning me or anything, just pointing out the obvious. Until I wrote these words, I didn't realize how much of a debt I owe this brother. He could have lectured me on how bad smoking was. He could have cited scripture on how sinful smoking was. He could have told me to just have faith. . . just say no. . .give it to God. He could have given me lots of cliches, lots of pat answers, lots of things I already knew. He could have made me feel very small. He could have made himself feel very good and very righteous at my expense. If he had been unkind, he could have caused me to turn away. . .Thank you Lord. . .
Instead, he was kind and we talked. I told him I was fighting to quit, but it was a great struggle for me. He seemed surprised that I was openly smoking and not trying to hide it. I explained that I didn't feel that I needed to hide it from anyone in the church. What would the point in that be? God was the one I had to answer to and there was no hiding from Him. My brother walked inside, leaving me with my thoughts and my cigar. . .
An addiction, no matter to what, is a terrible thing. You create an appetite within yourself that really never dies. It is always there waiting for your guard to drop. . .waiting for a weak moment. . . waiting for you to become spiritually malnourished. . .
I give thanks to the power of God to deliver. . .
I give thanks to inmates at the jail who joined with me in prayer. . .
I give thanks to the power of God that keeps me from going back. . .
I give thanks to a brother who was kind and loving. . .
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; (32) And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (33) They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? (34) Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. (35) And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth ever. (36) If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
I'm reading a book about death: The Grace in Dying. I found this book at Goodwill (a shop which sells used goods) a few days ago. It is written by a lady who works in a hospice and has been intimately involved in the final days of many hundreds of people. There is much in this book that I would not have written, there is surely much that I could not have written. There are chapters of the book devoted to the apparently deeply intricate theoretical psychological workings of the mind, etc. that I find impossible to follow and which are of questionable significance to me, but between those indigestible regions the author speaks of and gives examples of the almost universal shedding away, in the last weeks or days or hours, of all pretense and all distraction from the cares of the world.
For the most part the people whom she documents in this book are not apparently devoutly Spiritual Christian people, but I have not read where any of the people did not become deeply. . . greatly. . . gravely Spiritual in their last hours on earth. The author speaks of this transformation as a universal happening. She speaks of the power and peace gained through this transformation. The author's contention, if I might paraphrase her, is that as the clamoring distractions of this world are all shown to be deceitful lies, illusionary in their importance, as these facades fall away in the proximity of the door of death, then the terminally ill person is finally able to begin to hear the small still voice of God and it performs a mighty transformation upon the person. Everything else falls away and even before the person's last breath, they are alone with only God before them.
How well this is reflected in the words of Jesus:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (26) Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (34) Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
In our last moments there is no more thought of the cares of tomorrow. There is no more worry about our daily needs and our daily life. How much that we have held to be important, will be shown to have been a lie in our final moments? How much power would you have by being absolutely free from the cares of the world, if you were able to see and thereby believe just how trivial truly are the concerns and worries of our daily lives? How many things do I get anxious about which have no lasting meaning? The title of the book, "The Grace in Dying", talks of the growing grace given in the final hours before death. The author speaks of a very much accelerated process, taking place visibly before her eyes. In the Christian, I believe that we necessarily do go through this very process, but as our not being under the hugely powerful motivating energy of standing directly before the doors of death, the process is a gradual (in my case anyway), a slowly continuing one requiring long years and decades.
I desire this power, this grace in my life more immediately. What prevents me? The author speaks of how we lie to ourselves, by paying lip service to our mortality, but not really believing in our hearts that it will happen to us. Until forced by dire prognosis, we always believe we have a few more years, when no one is any more than a heartbeat away from the truth of life. Death is not an exception, death is not a surprise, it is not an unusual outcome, as another said it, It is not an outrage committed upon us. Through this book, I come to much more clearly see, that it is the natural culmination and completion of our earthly life.
The author speaks of those dying of cancer or AIDS as being the lucky ones. How many times in the past have I voiced the desire to die quietly in my sleep? In ways that surely might be easier, but again according to this author, this lady who has been intimately involved with the passage of hundreds of people, the final hours of life are the most precious and power filled of all the hours of life and while almost universally feared they are not to be despised. . .
Can I therefore, not to become morbid or depressed or to be continually in despair, but can I attempt to keep my mortality vividly in focus before my eyes? Can I in a deeply spiritual way, sincerely live each moment as my last, and thereby find this power and ultimate freedom before its being forced upon me by the failure of my body? Not everyone is given, what I now see to be as, the gift of time to prepare. Not every one is given a time by God to examine and cast away the lies of life. To many, finding themselves suddenly standing before God, with no warning, with no time to prepare their hearts, will come as a very rude shock, an extremely unpleasant surprise. Therefore not knowing my future, but knowing the power that this realization affords, what prevents me from accelerating this Christian process of grace and learning this lesson and profiting from it today. . .
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.
The Hebrew word used here, "eem" is a common preposition used over 900 times, translated into English as "with", but the common never remains that way when used in conjunction with the Lord. In this passage the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and announces to him that he will be used to save his people:
And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
Gideon does not believe. Gideon does not understand that the Lord is with him. God's plan is very thorough. There are no surprises to God. Gideon claims weakness:
And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.
But the name that Gideon's father gave him speaks otherwise, Gideon means 'warrior'. In man's eyes, in Gideon's own eyes, Gideon was weak, a very minor player, but somehow before his birth, his father had been inspired to call him warrior. God's plan does not begin nor end on any particular day. When God is with you events, places, names, resources have been long set in place to fulfill His plan, accomplish His purposes, and to bring Him glory.
The Israelites had turned their backs on God and as a result God had delivered them into the hand of the Midianites:
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.
Now God's plan is coming to maturity. He never leaves His children perpetually in the darkness. They needed to be taught a lesson. God provided himself a warrior for their deliverance in Gideon:
And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
Gideon is rightfully convince of his own weakness, but he is forgetting that God is with him. Gideon's abilities and disabilities are not at all important. The plan of God is. From the very beginning of the oppression of the children of Israel, God provided a sacrifice for this very day of deliverance:
And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: (26) And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down.
This is not a coincidence. Nowhere else in the Bible are the people instructed to offer a sacrifice of a seven year old animal. This animal was set aside by God for this very purpose from its very birth. Maybe even on the very day of their deliverance to the Midianites this bullock was provided to be used in the restoration of the people back to God.
God's plan works together as a finely tuned machine. It's very interesting how everything meshes in God's plan. Before I decided to write this compound name, before I began looking at Gideon and the sacrifice of the bullock I had been reading in the New Testament:
And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus' feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: (42) For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went the people thronged him. (43) And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, (44) Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood staunched.
Two people. . . two needs. . . an important significant man, a ruler of the synagogue crying out publicly. . .humbling himself. . .placing his important position in the temple at risk for his daughter. . . an anonymous already very humble woman, an outcast due to her condition, prohibited from going into the synagogue, prohibited from support and companionship, in many ways similar to a leper hiding herself in the crowd. . . choosing this moment when she would most likely not be noticed, to come with a very private and personal need. . .desperately. . .quietly. . . silently seeking. . . the ruler loudly begging for the restoration of his joy. . . the woman silently, tentatively, meekly slipping her hand to touch the very edge of Jesus garment in faith for deliverance from her personal hell on earth. The rulers joy and and the lady's despair both began 12 years before. These two needs illustrate the complete range. Jesus was available to both on the very same day, at the very same time, He was with them both in a seemingly chance encounter on the street to restore the joy that ended for one and began for the other possibly on the very same day 12 years earlier. . .
Interestingly the humble woman's need was answered immediately, on the spot. The important man had to wait a little while for his deliverance.
LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
God is with you. Turn toward Him. . . reach out your hand. He is prepared. There are no surprises to Him. I look back upon my life, Events across decades worked together in a seemingly random and coincidental fashion. In the early 90's Jackie and I went to San Antonio, Texas to visit her brother who was stationed there in the U.S. Air Force. I also had been stationed in San Antonio while in the U.S. Army. While there, we took a little trip down to the Mexican border town Neuva Laredo. During this little jaunt I broke a tooth. Our being so very far out of town, added with my habitual dislike of dentists combined to my never getting the tooth looked at. Scroll forward to 1999, some 6 or 7 years later. I was having health problems. I was not satisfied with the care that my family physician was providing and I insisted on being referred to a cardiologist. My (now former) family doctor resisted saying (Jackie witnessed this), "Why would you want to go to a cardiologist? I can do everything for you that a cardiologist could do." He was treating me for high blood pressure. . . My appointment with the cardiologist was set for some 2 months later, the first week in January of 2000. Between Christmas and New Years an abscess formed in my now 6 or 7 year old broken tooth. I was put on antibiotics to take the swelling down and heal the infection and had an appointment to have my tooth worked on in the second week of January.
I kept my appointment and saw the cardiologist. Less than 10 minutes after reviewing the same test results that my family physician had, the heart doctor told me exactly what was wrong with my heart. He wanted to do more tests, but he told me that I had a birth defect of my heart which resulted in severe leakage of my aorta valve and it looked like I would need surgery to correct it. One of the final things he said was, that if I had any dental work done, even a teeth cleaning it was very important that I be sure to be on antibiotics, for it was very possible for my heart to become seriously infected from even minor dental work. . .
I hadn't had my teeth worked on since I was in the U.S. Army more than 20 years before. With my heart condition, even a routine teeth cleaning was a potential risk for a very serious infection of my heart. . . everything worked together. . . all through this time of my coming to God over and over again coincidences kept happening.
I searched the Internet for my heart condition and found a revolutionary procedure, a minimally invasive procedure invented by and now named after a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, to correct the very aorta valve problem that I had. This man, Dr. Toby Cosgrove who was then the head of the cardiac unit at Cleveland, and now heads the Cleveland Clinic discovered a way to repair my heart. Virtually everyone else in the world was replacing aorta valves with the problem that I had. Those replacements only last for 10-15 years and you must be on powerful blood thinners for the rest of your life. I would have had to have had 3 or 4 or 5 more open heart surgeries to replace the replacements. I did not know all this at the time. What I did know was that I could have the surgery in Elkhart almost immediately, but there was an almost 6 month wait to have the surgery done in Cleveland.
I really wrestled with this decision. Until you've faced something like this, you cannot understand how heavily all this weighs on your mind. I had an appointment for, I think it was the third week in February, with a local surgeon to schedule my surgery in Elkhart. My local cardiologist told me that he was very much against my going to Cleveland to have this surgery. He told me I would have more complications, more pain, and a longer recovery period. . .all those things were absolutely 100% wrong as I found out later.
I think it was the 12th of February, 2000. It was a Saturday night about a week before my appointment with the local surgeon. Remember I was an atheist at this time, anyway I had a dream and the voice in the dream told me to go to Cleveland to have my surgery done there. I told Jackie about this the next day. Based upon that dream, I made my decision to go to Cleveland. The following day I went to work. Jackie and I haven't watched television since 1995, but that Monday I received a phone call from my sister and a friend from work. Both of them told me about a news program they had seen over the weekend. They each had seen a special news segment on a heart procedure developed by Dr. Cosgrove of Cleveland to correct bicuspid aorta valves (the birth defect that I had). I very much took this as confirmation of my decision to go to Cleveland. . .Dr. Cosgrove personally operated on me. . .as a result I am on no medication. . . I should never have to have any more surgeries on my heart. . .
This is by no means the end of the things that have occurred in my life. . . time and time again. . . events. . . chance encounters. . .people. . .all in place to accomplish God's purpose in a grand tapestry woven wondrously to accomplish His ends. . .All these chance events were revealed to me in a vivid vision in June of 2000. . .My whole life passed in front of my eyes sweeping away my unbelief in God. . .
I'm about 75% sure that I'm going to get back into keeping bees. About 25 years ago I had bee hives. I got my start in that unusual little hobby by a gentle giant of a man, Milt Fair. He gave me my first bee hive. In hindsight, I think he was the first Spirit filled person, by that I mean the first person who spoke in tongues, whom I had ever known. I'm not sure of that, but I'm pretty convinced he was. He was a man of great personal faith. His faith ruled his life. He was a very large man, an extra-ordinarily gentle man. He died about 10 or 12 years ago. I think he knew that I did not believe in God. I'm not really sure if he knew, but in any case I thought of him as a very good friend. It's not hard for me to imagine him praying for me. He died well before I came to know God. . .Someday I'll know. . .Someday I'll ask him. . .Anyway, he gave me my first bee hive and I just loved it. It was so enjoyable keeping bees. I learned so much. I would sit in front of the hives and watch them for hours on end. It was much better than TV.
I lived in a residential neighborhood north of Mishawaka, Indiana on about a 1 1/4 acre lot. I had my bee hives in a little stand of wild cherry trees toward the back of my property, surrounded by a little fence of wood slats painted red in wire. I think it was called a snow fence. People might think it odd or dangerous to have bees in a residential area, but bees are a natural part of every neighborhood. Chances are no matter where you live that you have a natural hive of bees living in a tree within a few hundred yards of your house. Bees will not go out of their way to bother people. Generally people get bothered by or stung by yellow jackets and call them bees.
My next door neighbor back then had an above ground swimming pool in his back yard. He came over to me one day and complained about my bees landing on the ladder of his swimming pool and his grandchildren getting stung when they put their hands or feet on the rungs of the ladder as they climbed out of the pool. I was very sure they were not my bees, I had a large galvanized wash tub filled with water, with tree bark floating on the top right outside of my hive boxes. Bees need water to cool their hives. They suck up the water and then spit it out on the inside of the hive for evaporative cooling. They set up all through the hive each pointing in the proper direction, flapping their wings in place to bring air into the hive and then out again. Bees must have water and the more time they spend flying to bring water to the hive the less time they have to gather honey. So that's why I had water just outside the entrances to my hives and why I was certain they weren't my bees that were bothering his grandchildren.
I told him this, but as you can imagine, his eyes were pretty skeptical. To him a bee was a bee. His grand-kids were getting stung, and I had bee hives. I told him I would show him where the bees were coming from, that were landing on his pool ladder. I said this with a confidence that I really had no personal foundation for. I had read of doing what I'm about to describe, but I had never done it. Bees are very efficient. When they are full of water or nectar they fly directly back to the hive. They make what is called a bee line. So I went over to my neighbors back yard and watched the bees take off from his pool ladder. I lived directly to the east of him and the bees were flying to the south west, so I would follow a bee in the air until I lost sight of it and then I'd wait for another one to come along and follow it. My neighbor probably thought I was nuts.
It was just amazing. I hadn't gone a hundred yards following these bees through the air, just across the alley that ran in back of both our yards, kind of catty-corner to his yard, in what looked to be an empty field overgrown with weeds and very tall grass, I found, what I can only describe as a bee ghetto. There were dozens of bee hives in a very bad state of neglect. Some were toppled over, really it was a mess. I had only left my neighbors property on my little bee hunt a few minutes before, when I came back to him to take him to see what I had found. I am sure he was so ready to disbelieve me, but when we walked through the weeds and found all those bee hives, his eyes grew as big as saucers. He couldn't believe it. I could barely contain my smugness. . . actually in truth I probably didn't contain it at all. . .sometimes things work out. It was apparent the bees stinging his grandchildren were coming from there.
Indiana has a state bee inspector. I called her and she came out a week or so later. You are supposed to have your hives inspected every year. I can so clearly remember the day when I first me her. I had called her to have her come inspect my hives. She was supposed to be there at, I think 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning if I remember right. I got ready for her visit. I put my bee suit on. It's a very closely woven lightweight, almost like a paper material, that is difficult (surely not impossible) for the bees to sting through. I put on my canvas shoulder length gloves with the elastic bands around them to keep the bees out of my arm area. I put my military elastic trouser-blouser bands around my boots, to keep bees from getting up my pant legs. I put on my bee hat with my veil to keep them off my face. I looked like some kind of alien from a UFO I suppose. I had my bee armor on. Bee Man!!! I probably looked pretty funny.
This petite little lady bee inspector showed up. She had on this little sleeveless jump suit with short pant legs. She had sandals on. She didn't wear gloves. She did put a veil on as she told me she didn't prefer the bees crawling on her face. So much for my mucho macho male ego. She was comfortable with what she was doing. She did admit that my bees were pretty grouchy, but I don't think she got stung that day, but man they would sting me when I worked them. I remember one sting in particular. My entire arm swelled from shoulder to finger tips. That fellow got me right in the arm pit where the elastic from my canvas gloves drew my bee suit next to my skin. Goodness, 25 years later I still remember that little fellow.
Actually this whole story I'm describing was the final chapter of my beekeeping. The bee inspector had been looking for this fellow's bee hives for years. He would play hide and seek with his hives and keep them from her. Anyway, the bee inspector came out and burned, if I remember correctly 30 or more of those hives. They had disease in them, American foulbrood it's called. As its name says, it kills off the bee brood, it kills the baby bees and thereby severely weakens the hive. It isn't harmful at all to humans, but the spores of foul brood are transmitted through honey. As the hive is weakened it cannot defend itself and bees from other hives come and rob the honey thereby carrying the disease back to their hives and that's what happened to my bees. They ended up getting foulbrood from these hives and dying off. You can either destroy the hive box and all the bees or for evermore treat them with tetracycline. The foulbrood spores live for more than 40 years. That was too much for me. I just wanted a little hobby and not a big mess with antibiotics, etc. So that was the end of my beekeeping days.
But the several years that I had them, it was so neat. I learned so much. It was fascinating. Bees do not hibernate. They gather the honey for food, to keep them over the winter. The inside of a bee hive is kept in the mid 90's all winter long. The bees form a ball over the honey comb. The heat from their bodies heat the hive. They rotate from the outer edge of the ball to the inner, just like people warming themselves around a campfire, move close when you're cold, move away when you're warm. The bees will not go to the toilet inside of the hive. They must have a thaw every few weeks throughout the winter or they get sick and die when they cannot get outside to relieve themselves. On a sunny day in January, even with the air temperature below freezing the bees will fly and go to the toilet. The snow for 50 or 100 feet around the hive will be speckled yellow with bee droppings.
It takes the nectar from a couple million flowers to make a pound of honey. Nectar is something like 98% water and honey is only about 15% water. So it takes 6 or 7 pounds of nectar to make 1 pound of honey. In like manner it takes several pounds of honey to make 1 pound of beeswax. Beeswax comes off the bee's bodies like scales of dandruff. They then form it and shape it in their mouths to make the honeycomb. Beekeepers cut the caps off the honeycomb and spin it to extract the honey. They then put the honeycomb back in the hive for the bees to reuse, thereby saving the expensive process (in terms of lost honey production) of the bees having to remake it. The honeycomb is where the baby bees are raised and it's where both honey and pollen are stored in the hive. Pollen is quite high in protein. The baby bees need the high protein of the pollen when they are growing. A worker bee only gathers nectar or pollen, never both at the same time. The gathering of the nectar and pollen is the last stage in a bee's life. If nothing else kills them (yellow jackets kill and eat bees among other dangers a bee faces), a worker bee dies when its wings wear out.
In the late spring and early summer, when the bees are really gathering lots of nectar, you can smell the hive from yards and yards away. The nectar from uncountable millions of flowers is being evaporated into honey. In a good year you might be able to take somewhere between 100 and 150 lbs of honey from a hive and still leave them enough for themselves to eat through the winter. When you lift off the lid of the hive at this time, an indescribable fragrance fills your lungs. It is intoxicating. It is beyond any man made perfume. That wonder filled scent alone made keeping bees worthwhile.
It will be interesting to see what kind of honey I produce here. In Mishawaka my bees primarily made basswood honey. I did not at all like the honey that my bees made. Basswood honey is a very pale yellow, about the color of very light lemonade and has an extremely floral flavor. To me, the taste was like eating flowers. I didn't care for it, but lots of people liked it very much. Honey comes in widely varying shades of color from almost clear like water to blacker than coffee. One of my favorite honeys is made from buckwheat flowers. I bought some yesterday. It is very black. It has a very distinctive flavor that I just love on toast. I'll bring it to my Sunday school class for their snack today. We've been eating my Bonneyville Sweet Wheat bread, butter and honey for our classroom snack the past couple of weeks.
I've been pondering getting back into beekeeping for a number of years. Yesterday I bought over $30 worth of honey for my bread making and while that alone is not my only motivation for having bee hives again, it was a enjoyable hobby years ago and if I can save myself money also in the making of my bread, that's surely an added bonus. I'm looking forward to spring. . .I'm looking forward to ordering my bees and building the hive. I'm looking forward to the wonder of it all. . .
This morning, maybe for the first time in weeks, I'm looking forward to something. . . We had a prayer meeting at the church last night and I was prayed for. A great heat filled me as maybe a dozen or more brothers and sisters laid their hands upon me and prayed for my depression to lift. . .