by Al Tucker
So here I am, five months from my recovery from triple bypass surgery. Physically, it has not been the easiest of journeys as it is a major shock to your system that requires time for healing. Plus, I’ve had to deal with issues caused by medicine or because I have pushed myself beyond my limits. But overall, I have been tremendously blessed. I have a loving wife who has been a wonderful caretaker, and we have friends whose kindness has made the past five months easier for us. I have a great cardiac rehab team that is making me stronger every day. Also, I have a network of photographer friends who have allowed me to keep my passion for photography fresh. Driving to and from rehab in another town, God has blessed me with some amazing scenes to photograph. I have included a few of those in this testimony at the end.
When you have a lot of time on your hands while recuperating, you have a choice in how you use that time. Sometimes, you have no choice as you don’t feel well, and rest is the order of the day. But, on those days where I had energy, I chose to not waste it in front of the TV. My first order of business was to send thank you cards to all those generous people, groups, and companies who helped our Band of Brothers raise almost $50,000 for our annual Help Us Help Kids program. I also had several personal thank you notes to write. Sometimes I read, and sometimes I caught up on communicating with old friends. I also did a lot of cleaning out of office files, computer files, etc. It was so nice to clean out the clutter. Exercise has also consumed considerable time: first home health exercises, and then my rehab exercising. I have been diligent in doing them at home, and they definitely are making a difference. With exercises comes much-needed rest, and naps have consumed considerable time. But my most important use of time has been scripture/devotional reading, prayer, and reflection on my spiritual life.
“We do not want you to become lazy but to imitate those who, through faith and patience, inherit what has been promised.”Hebrews 6:12 NIV
During my recovery, I have consciously tried not to be spiritually lazy. That was my life prior to being saved. I was a good Sunday churchgoer and the occasional good deed doer. But making time to serve Him was not a priority. I realize I have been blessed with more time here on earth, and I want to use it wisely. I now have a stronger thirst for God than even before my surgery. The Psalmist said it best, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” (Psalm 41:1) I “long” for a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Early on in my recovery, I thought, I’m 78, and I was told it takes at least a year to get back to normal, i.e., being able to do what I did prior to my surgery. My initial reaction was, “I can get there in six months.” Wrong! When I feel really good, I think, I’m back! only to quickly find out that the strength and stamina are still not there. Five months later, I now realize my doctor and other friends who have been on this journey were right–it takes time. I’m learning to be patient and let it come to me. Another thought I had was, well, I’m pushing 80, and it’s time to retire, in the sense of being so active, and I just take it easy from here on.
INSPIRATION – BILLY GRAHAM
Then I was reminded of a story I read about Billy Graham when advancing age had him first thinking about retirement. The rigor of his ministry was difficult physically. But he knew his strength came from the Lord. One day he walked off into the woods near his home to contemplate retirement and seek God’s guidance. He remarked that he didn’t hear any audible Charlton Heston voice-like command “to continue preaching Billy.” But he knew after prayers and quiet reflection time with God that he was to continue preaching the Gospel and carry on with his day-to-day organizational responsibilities. He also knew one day that he would no longer be able to carry on with his three-day crusades and oversee his worldwide ministry. It was time to prepare others to carry on the Lord’s evangelistic work, and at that point, God would have other things for him to do. He always looked forward to serving the Lord in whatever capacity called because he “loved the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his mind.” What an amazing servant of the Lord. At the age of 16, he went to a revival meeting with a friend and gave his life to Christ. He said he didn’t know what CONVERSION meant for him but knew he was changed forever, and that God would have a purpose for his life. Little did he know when he went to bed that night that his purpose would be a “lifetime” (no retiring) commitment to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
I am currently reading the Old Testament and have been struck with how all the saints called for God’s work, served Him until their death. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Samuel, Isaiah, etc., never had a retirement plan. Jesus’ disciples took up His yoke and followed His example: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for many.” (Mark 10:45) Then there was the meanest dude of Jews, Saul, who loved to persecute Christians. In Philippians 3:5, he referred to himself as “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee.” He was relentless in his persecution of Christians until his dramatic CONVERSION on the way to Damascus. Saul became Paul, and God used this greatest of evangelists to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. It was another lifetime commitment to serving God, and Paul served the Lord faithfully under the most challenging conditions.
One of the blessings of my rehab is I have about a 30-minute drive to and from the rehab center. In the past, I would have an oldie’s channel playing music as I drove along. Recently when surfing through the SiriusXM lineup, I came across the Billy Graham channel (Ch. 460). I have enjoyed listening to it for the past several weeks. Yesterday, Billy was preaching on CONVERSION and its impact on people’s lives. I had already started writing this testimony a few days prior, and this was so timely. I love to listen to him. I love hearing him say, “the Bible says!” In this sermon, he recounted Saul’s CONVERSION and several other people through the ages to more recent CONVERSIONS. He said to be converted is to be changed forever, you die to self, you become a new creation, and you have a new lifelong purpose: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. I had already selected that verse for this testimony. From my other readings and prayer, I had come to realize that kicking back and taking it easy is not the path for me. I’ve learned CONVERSION also means finding your calling and fulfilling it for the rest of your life. That’s what dying to self is.
ERIC LIDDELL – THE FLYING SCOTSMAN
Learning about other people’s CONVERSION fascinates me as I enjoy reading about how God changes lives for His purpose. I have always loved the story of Eric Liddell, known as the Flying Scotsman, who was considered the fastest man alive during his youth. Eric qualified to run the 100-yard dash for Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was a devout Christian who went to China as a missionary a year or so after the Olympics. When learning that the qualifying race was to be run on a Sunday, Eric withdrew due to his convictions. Even though he underwent considerable pressure to compete, he would not dishonor God. He did eventually run in the 400 metres, though, which did not involve running on Sunday. Before the Olympics, his 400 times were mediocre at best, and he wasn’t given much of a chance to be competitive. Two Americans were heavily favored. Just prior to lining up for the race, he was handed a note that read, “He that honors me I will honor,” from 1 Samuel. Liddell would not only win but also broke the world and Olympic records. The movie, Chariots of Fire, was based partly on Liddell’s story. He remained in China, serving his Lord until he died in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. His final words were “complete surrender.”
BERNARD COFFINDAFFER – MERCY CROSSES
More recently, I read about a West Virginian named Bernard Coffindaffer, who served in the Marines in WWII, including Iwo Jima. Returning home, he eventually got into the coal business and invented a coal washing operation that turned him into a millionaire. Coffindaffer had a full and productive life. Then one night in 1982, when he was recovering from his second bypass operation, the Holy Spirit came to him, and directed him to put up crosses in West Virginia and across the nation. The crosses were to remind people that Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary for our sins, there is hope in Jesus Christ, and He is coming again. Coffindaffer liquidated his business and established Mercy Crosses Inc. He would spend his fortune erecting crosses across America. He would erect 1,842 sets of crosses, spending every penny he had on his calling. Why? He said, “because the Lord loved me that much.” He died at the age of 68, broke, spending every penny he had made. I wrote a more detailed account of his life on Facebook over Easter. That post went around the world and was shared over 10,000 times. I heard from his children and other relatives and friends who knew him and who were happy to hear that the legacy of his love of Jesus still lives.
For More on the Coffindaffer Story and follow up posts: visit my Facebook Page.
MARY BRENNER CLARKE – MOTHER ANTONIO
I belong to a Band of Brothers who meet every Friday at 6:30 a.m. to study God’s word. We call it Fellowship Fridays. We recently finished a book called With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God written by Skye Jethani. It is about living in communion with God. One of the stories in the book is about the amazing conversion of Mary Brenner Clarke. She was a blond Beverly Hills socialite, married twice, divorced twice and the mother of seven children. At the age of 54 and her children grown, her life was changed beyond anything one could imagine. God called her to serve the “poor and wounded.” That calling led her to sell all her possessions and drive to her new home in Mexico, to the worst place one could imagine, the notorious Le Mesa prison. It houses the worst of the worst, six thousand prisoners including drug lords and their murdering gang members. She is known as Mother Antonio and was a frail eighty-year-old nun at the writing of the book. She lived in her own tiny cell “alongside her sons” for thirty years, tending to their needs. A riot broke out in September 2008. Fire and destruction, with bullets being fired, all occurred; ultimately hostages were taken. This all took place when she just happened to be elsewhere.
When she returned, she pleaded to enter. She did, and the inmates put down their weapons. Her presence quelled the riot. She was called a “walking gift of love” and the most important person in the prison.
I marvel at these stories of how everyday people are moved by God to do amazing things when they surrender their life to Jesus. Billy Graham would remind us, “the Bible says, ‘For nothing is impossible with God.’” (Luke 1:37) Each transformation begins with a CONVERSION, a belief and trust that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. I can attest to trusting in Jesus changes everything. In past testimonies, I have shared many of those changes. We all can’t be a Billy Graham, Eric Liddell, Bernard Coffindaffer, Mother Antonio, nor any of the other saints that have gone before or are currently harvesting the fields and tending to His sheep. However, I think we should all want God above all things and please Him above all else. That is the essence of CONVERSION.
I take great comfort in Paul’s guidance to the Church in Corinth, “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you and remain as you were when God first called you.” (1 Corinthians 7:17) He has placed me in Buckhannon. I believe my calling is here, and it involves honoring God and helping others. While I am still a work in progress, I definitely want to live a life that honors God, reveals His glory, and points others to Him. I know that involves loving others through acts of kindness. I also know I need to continue to grow in grace and knowledge of our savior Jesus Christ. Finally, Billy Graham often reminded us that prayer is vital to all we do. He called intercessory prayer “the greatest privilege this side of heaven.” If you want intimacy with God, he said, “start praying and be like Jesus, pray continuously.”
As I continue my recovery, I plan to continue praying with a submissive spirit, seeking His guidance and serving where called. My most significant challenges to honoring God and growing in grace are to avoid getting spiritually lazy and following my own selfish ways. But I know that with God, anything is possible, and I am so grateful for how he has transformed me so far. Until next time, Godspeed, and I hope my testimony will help you reflect on your journey with Jesus. If you haven’t begun it yet, my prayer is that you will. He’s there knocking at the door of your heart, awaiting your invitation in.
Scripture notations are from the NIV Bible. Feature Image: © Al Tucker