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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Lancaster County, PA farm in snow
The snow storm we had from Sunday through early Tuesday morning has ended but yesterday it was still cold and windy. Snow drifts were common as we traveled on the country roads near Strasburg.
(Click to enlarge)


Message summary: We'll have to wait till the other side to understand.

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(Please note: This message is a bit longer than normal and includes additional study resources.)

"This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:3).

Practically our entire ministry Brooksyne has played piano and led hymn sings in various nursing homes in the locations where we have lived. As you can easily imagine the older folks thoroughly enjoy singing hymns they've sung since childhood. I've asked her to share regarding a man who attended the hymn sings she held in neighboring Elizabethtown over a five year period some 15-20 years ago.

Tuesday morning I was looking through the obituaries and the photograph of a 65 year old man who died on January 28th immediately drew my attention. It included a wonderful write up by family members who lovingly described his life activities and educational background since he was born with Sturge-Weber Syndrome. His mother is deceased but his father still lives as well as three siblings and their families.

Sonshine hymn bookI look forward to attending his viewing and funeral service in Lancaster later this morning. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to meet family members, especially the dad, and let them know how I met Rodney years earlier at the hymn sing I led in E-Town and how he sang from the large print Sonshine Hymn Books that I brought along each week. I always had request time during part of the hour long hymn sing and he often requested a hymn that was meaningful to him. In fact most participants kept a finger anchored on their favorite hymn page until it was their turn to make a request. Of course some memorized their favorite hymn number so they could just yell it out when they were given the opportunity. In all my years of leading hymn sings "Jesus Loves Me" was the most requested in every where I led hymn sings.

Nursing home hymn singIn 2001, shortly after our move to Lancaster County, I began leading a hymn sing targeted for people of various ages who were picked up on a bus and dropped off at a wellness center in E-Town. Most were elderly, though some had intellectual and social challenges such as downs syndrome. It was in this setting that I was introduced to Rodney. Two thirds of his face was covered with a thick port-wine stain birthmark including his extended enlarged lips resulting in excessive drooling from his saliva. After several weeks of his attending the hymn sings I wanted to get to know more about him.

I eventually learned that Rodney was born with Sturge-Weber syndrome (SWS), a rare disorder that is present at birth. A person with this condition will have a port-wine stain birthmark (usually on the face) and may have nervous system problems, also glaucoma and organ complexities. It is not genetic and in many people, the cause of Sturge-Weber is due to a mutation of the GNAQ gene. This gene affects small blood vessels called capillaries. Sturge-Weber's syndrome is named for the two doctors who discovered this disfiguring disease. Sadly, Rodney had a severe form of SWS, so much so, that his presence might be a revulsion to onlookers in public settings.

The most unusual thing occurred during one of the hymn sings as I sat down at the piano preparing to greet the people and begin the hymn sing. As I looked out at the 40 or so that were seated in the large circle my eyes came upon Rodney and I did a double take. Sitting right beside him was another man with Sturge-Weber's Syndrome. In fact I couldn't tell which one of the men was Rodney, whom I'd been acquainted with for about four years. After the meeting I talked with them both face to face and still had difficulty telling them apart.

I talked to a worker afterwards inquiring about the new visitor and commented on how he looked just like Rodney. She told me how rare it was to have two men with the same condition in such a close geographical area. I inquired about the ages of the men since I couldn't even guess at Rodney's age due to his disfigured face, though I'd wondered over the years. She looked up his records and told me he was born in 1955.  Out of curiosity I asked her the exact date since 1955 was also my birth year. She told me his birth date was Oct. 21. My eyes probably got as big as saucers since this man was born the very same day as I!  (The other man with SWS was 20 years younger though you couldn't tell the difference by appearance. Sadly, he died within the next year or so.)

This conversation with the worker and my visit with the men sitting side by side caused a lot of introspection on my part. Why was I born with a "normal" body and given the opportunity to live a typical life the majority of us take for granted and often under appreciate? Yet Rodney, born on the very same day and year as me, would be born with such abnormality, that his parents would have major challenges from the day of his birth. While my parents were proudly showing me off as their newest baby in the public square, it's likely that Rodney's folks possibly felt the need to explain to others or perhaps even shield him from the public eye.

Brooksyne's question,
"Why was I born with a "normal" body and given the opportunity to live a typical life that the majority of us take for granted and often under appreciate?" leaves us hanging. Her question just can’t be answered. Only God knows. And so often we just need to leave it there lest we become overly simplistic like the disciples who, when confronting a man born blind asked the Lord, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Apparently the dominant theological assumption at that time was, it was either one or the other.

But Jesus answered their question, "this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life". In this case the "work of God" resulted in his healing. But God is always working on behalf of those who trust in Him even when it's not the outcome we would have desired. Don't you suppose the early church wondered why Stephen was stoned just as his ministry was beginning? As a great old hymn states, "they who trust Him fully, find Him wholly true".

Ester was only about 12 when she met Rodney and she asked us later, "Why does Rodney look the way he does? Why did God let it happen? Doesn't God love Rodney too?" So many "whys" we all think or dare to ask as we encounter uncomfortable situations.

So often in life we want simple explanations to complex issues. Some of you reading this are going through a very difficult situation or have had many painful experiences in life. Why, we wonder, would a loving God ever allow this to happen to me?

What I want to consider today is our blessings and sometimes it takes the perspective that encountering people like Rodney can bring. God desires to display His work in each of our lives. There are no second stringers in God's family. He wants to use each of us to bring Him glory. We'll have to wait till the other side to understand.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying man Daily prayer: Father, each of us has a story that has commonality with others and uniqueness unto ourselves. Romans 14:7 reminds us that "none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." Our story influences and affects other lives, especially those who are with us day in and day out. Those who are born with uncommon traits, requiring special assistance and lifetime devotion are the ones whose story also changes our story, making us more compassionate and loving people. You allow these things to happen so that Your work might be displayed not only in their lives but You also further display Your work in our hearts, stretching and growing us in our hands-on love and understanding so that we learn sacrifice for others truly brings fulfillment and maturity to our own lives. Like the Scripture says, "Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed." It's true that we can never out give You, for You always give back more than we could ever expect. Amen.

Additional note from Brooksyne: Rodney is the first person I have ever met personally who was born on the same day and year as I. About 14 years ago he was thought to be the oldest person living with this disorder and yet he lived to be 65 years and three months.

Many of you are familiar with Christian songwriter Rich Mullins, best known for  "Awesome God" and "Step by Step". Rich also was born on October 21, 1955 but died at 41 years of age in a car accident on his way to a benefit concert in Wichita, KS. Now that's another "we just don't understand".

Stephen's note: I have a local friend, Doug Paglia, who I found out was born on the same day I was.

Over the years we have met many people and everyone has a story, although some are more interesting and colorful than others. We met Bob and Joan in a church I served as an interim pastor in York County some fifteen years ago. At that time they had been married over 50 years. It's very inspiring these days to know people who have an enduring marriage but this couple went on to tell us something that we had never heard before. They both share the same birthday, but that's not all!

Bob and Joan were born on the very same day of the very same year in the very same hospital. Since their birth records do not specify the precise time of birth they don't even know who is older! They've known each other since they were little and both recall having an "interest" in the other as youngsters. Now that's about as close as you can get to life-long love with one who is not your blood relation!

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Trust His Heart"  Video  NewSong

"Blessings"  Video  Laura Story

For further study: (from the Discover series)

"It's Not Fair"  Trusting God When Life Doesn't Make Sense
"10 Reasons to Believe In A God Who Allows Suffering"
Some scenes from our journey yesterday

Agape sign
We had breakfast yesterday at a new restaurant in Strasburg that opened during the pandemic and is thankfully doing very well. The Agapē Cafe & Grille offers food, coffee fellowship in a very wholesome setting. We shared a BREAKFAST HAYSTACK - Sausage gravy over biscuits, eggs, bacon, peppers, onions, and home fries drizzled with homemade cheese sauce.

Home decor
Adjacent to the restaurant is a small but interesting home decor store called "Beautiful Home Interiors", also owned by the restaurant owners. We think this swing bed would be attractive and comfy if you had a large enclosed porch!

Home decor
Much of the decor had a spiritual theme. Do you recognize these words?

Finally today:

14 foot snowman
Phil, a friend of ours, sent us this photo of a 14 foot snowman built in Canada.

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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