A Mercedes 380 SL and a Lesson on Contentment

Mercedes 380 SL

Mercedes 380 SL

As a 4th year general surgeon resident physician at Charity Hospital in New Orleans in 1969, Cathy and I could see the light at the end of a long tunnel at that stage in life. We had one child, John Aaron who was 2 years old and my salary level was the highest it had been in 3 previous years. I was being paid $500 per month base salary and was receiving an additional $200 per month as the Assistant Clinical Director of Surgery for Charity Hospital. That in itself was an honor because every third night I was the Director on call for the entire hospital and was responsible for every night-time administrative decision made for that massive 3000 bed hospital. Still our income was at poverty level because we had made the decision 2 years before when John was born, Cathy would stay home from her teaching profession to concentrate on raising our children. The last year in New Orleans Cathy and I also decided to sell my car (1964 Corvair Monza convertible) to save that additional expenditure for transportation. A fellow 4th year resident, Jack Welch offered me a ride to work every day, since he and his family lived a short distance from our duplex, and it was right on the way to the hospital.

Jack was an outstanding man and surgical resident with a very promising future in general surgery in his home town of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Jack and wife Marie had 4 young children, and they were a little older than Cathy and me because Jack had already completed his military obligation prior to the residency years. Jack and I were both Chief Residents of the LSU Surgical service, which was a bit unusual because normally there was only one. The head of the Department of LSU Surgery, Dr. Isidore Cohn told us one day he was unable to choose one over the other, so he made us co-chiefs.

Jack and I not only shared a ride each day and shared teaching responsibilities at the hospital, but we shared a common desire for nice clothes and fancy sports cars! Jack loved Porsches and I was extremely fond of Mercedes. Neither of us at the time could afford to purchase even the  new tires of such vehicles. Fortunately for us the dealerships of those two cars were within a block of each on St. Charles Avenue which required only a few blocks detour on the way home. Because we were “important” senior residents on the surgical service, we were able to leave for home most days before 5 PM, and if we desired could make it to the car dealerships before closing. As I recall we made a brief visit to the respective dealerships at least once every 2 weeks or so. The salesmen learned to recognize us as we browsed the showrooms and lots each time. They learned quickly neither one of us were able at the time to purchase such an expensive car, but we were certainly great future customers for them, so they were quick to be nice to us! Jack’s dream car was a Porsche 911s Targa, and mine was a Mercedes 380 SL (pictured above). I was partial to a red one because my former Chevy Monza was red with a white interior! The cost then of each car was approximately $30,000 when an ordinary new car like a Ford or Chevy could be bought for $2,500.

When we completed our resident training, Jack and Marie moved to Lake Charles while Cathy and I moved to Valdosta, Georgia to begin my 2 year obligation of active duty in the US Air Force. We then moved to El Dorado, Arkansas to start my professional life as a  general surgeon and where we were to raise our family. I had mostly lost contact with Jack except to know he was doing extremely well professionally and financially in Lake Charles. That is until I heard he had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and was undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston.

When I first called him, he already had the major operation for esophageal cancer and was in his second month of treatment in Houston with radiation and chemotherapy. He told me the entire story of the discovery of the cancer and the extremely difficult journey he, Marie and their kids were taking. Jack and Marie were only in their late 30’s in age. The part of the story that caused us to weep together on the phone that day was as follows; “John, you remember how we used to spend time looking at and desiring our dream cars?” I said, “I sure do, and I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I can afford a 380 SL.” He said, “Well I finally bought the absolute car of my dreams, a black 911s Targa, and I was so proud of it; not only that I could afford it, but now I owned it! But the day I knew I had cancer and got in that car to drive alone by myself to Houston for the first time, I had just hugged and kissed my wife and 4 children good-bye. I wasn’t sure I would ever see them again. While driving that 2 hours alone, I realized how unimportant owning a Porsche was for me, but how critically important my family became. John, don’t make your family secondary to a car!” We cried together on the phone that day, and I pledged my prayers for him. I so wish now I had prayed for him on the phone, but was not a Christian then except in name. I talked with him a few more times over the next 2 months as he became weaker. Jack died before the end of the year. I saw him for the first time in 4 years in his casket at his funeral in Lake Charles. I never again desired nor purchased a Mercedes 380 SL.

Jack’s words concerning life priorities impacted me greatly then and now, not just because I loved and respected him, but because they contained such Biblical truth. The Apostle Paul said in the book of Philippians, we are to learn contentment in whatever state we find ourselves, whether we are poor or rich., and to understand our God will supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Dr. John

 

 

 

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Honey, Come On Board!

 

Flying in Economy Class

Flying in Economy Class

During the years Cathy and I travelled with and took mission trips with The International Congress on Revival (ICR), we met some of the most outstanding Christians we have ever known. The first trip overseas we made with ICR was to a conference in Salzburg, Austria in 1992. The team met in Atlanta and boarded a Delta L1011 for the non-stop flight to Munich. Cathy and I were seated in Economy Class along with most of the team. Several members of ICR were travelling in Business Class, including Bill and Sue Stafford, and I assumed it was because as President of the organization, Bill scheduled all the trips overseas. The other couple in Business Class was Alton and Mabel Bean from Amity, Arkansas. They had been going overseas with ICR for at least 3 years before Cathy and I joined the team.

Alton Bean and his son Gary owned and operated Bean Trucking Company in Amity since 1969, and the company had grown into a very successful transport company. Alton and Mabel had met Bill Stafford in the 1980’s when Bill preached a revival in their church, the First Baptist Church of Amity. An immediate friendship began which continued until Alton and Mabel departed this life. Alton was selected to be on the Board of ICR from its’ inception, and I served on that same board with him.

Alton and Mabel were beloved by everyone who knew them. They were quiet, humble, generous servants of Christ who never sought the limelight. Alton was physically a large man who weighed in excess of 350 pounds, but at his age of about 65 when we first met them, he was still very active and strong. One couldn’t have a conversation with Alton for more than a few minutes without breaking into laughter. He could tell some of the funniest stories I ever heard and most of them related to some event or activity he and Mabel had been involved in. I’m certain Mabel not only experienced the events but had heard Alton recount them numerous times. Still she would quietly smile and frequently laugh out loud as Alton relived each account. Alton’s account of why he and Mabel always travelled Business Class was my favorite story, and despite the fact I heard it multiple times, I usually laughed until I cried when he told it. The word pictures he painted and the gestures he used created a hilarious scene. Here’s the account;

“The reason I started flying Business Class began when my brother Curt and I went on a bird hunting trip to west Texas around 1985. We drove from Amity down to Dallas to catch a Southwest Airlines flight to Amarillo, where we had hunted several times before. On Southwest they only had economy class seats. We already had our tickets and had reserved 2 seats on the back row of the plane which had a row with 3 seats. We were hoping that 3rd seat wouldn’t be taken which was the case on previous flights on Southwest. Curt is bigger than I am, and we not only filled our seats, but most of the other seat also! When we started getting on the plane, there were more people than usual waiting in line. They loaded us first, and when we got comfortable in our seats, I told Curt, “you start praying nobody has this other seat, and I’ll watch the door.” When I saw the flight attendant finally close the door, I told Curt his prayers seemed to be working but keep on praying, and I’ll keep watching. And then I saw her coming down the aisle!

She was a younger woman than us, but she looked to be about our size. As she walked down the aisle, she was touching the seat arms on each side of the aisle. “Keep praying Curt, maybe her seat is not this far back.” When she got to our row she said, “Excuse me but is this where seat 1B is located?” I said, “It sure is, honey. Come on board.” She then said to me, “I can’t sit down until you stand up.” I told her, “I can’t stand up until you back up!” We worked and worked and finally got her wedged in that seat between us. By the time we did, every person on that plane was laughing. I don’t know how we were able to get her seated, because when the plane finally took off I was having a hard time breathing. We made it Amarillo and the 3 of us laughed most of the way there. I told Curt when we got off the plane, in the future I was always flying Business Class! He and Mabel kept his word regarding future flying.

Cathy and I loved our friendship with the Bean’s, and for at least 5 of the 10 years we travelled overseas with ICR, the Bean’s also made the trip. We had a special bond with them, since at that time we were the only couples on the ICR team from Arkansas. They have now both departed this life, and we are confident we will see them again. I believe Alton’s first words to us will be, ” Glory. Come on board!”

Dr. John

 

Praying with Patients

Praying Before the Operation

Praying Before the Operation

I had completed all of my medical training; had spent 2 years serving in the medical corps of the Air Force and had been in private medical practice for 2 years before I witnessed a physician praying with a patient. That was a total of 14 years of training and practice time! What an indictment on the spiritual poverty of the medical profession during my training era. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was the first doctor I ever saw praying at the bedside of a critically ill patient, and I remember at the time feeling embarrassed, because it was such a strange experience. I documented the account in the blog story; “We’ve Done Everything Except Pray,” which I posted on this site in August 2012. It was several years later in 1977 when Cathy and I had a spiritual conversion, I gave my life and my medical practice to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That bedside prayer of Bubba in the ICU at the Medical Center of South Arkansas played a role in the conversion of my heart and life and definitely impacted Cathy and me at the time.

I am so very grateful to Bubba for the kind of man and role model he was for me, our sister Marilyn, my Cathy, his family and countless others. I am also very thankful for the 33 years from my conversion until Bubba departed this life, he was a Christian mentor for me in my practice.  Early on he suggested I begin praying with my patients prior to their operations. Having watched him pray and spiritually minister to his patients, I saw in them a certain peace and comfort other patients didn’t seem to have, so I believed it was the right thing. In the beginning there were so many negative thoughts which were not of God. I suspicioned my patients might think I did not have confidence in my own surgical skills, so I was having to  resort to prayer. Then I was afraid I would alarm my patients to fear since by praying I might be thinking they were going to die. I also worried if I stumbled and stammered in my prayer, they would think that was the way I operated– stumbling and fumbling. These were all foolish fears, and none were true.

My initial efforts at prayer with patients were certainly awkward, but I persisted with every hospitalized surgical patient, and within a few months I was more at ease. I don’t know if other doctors in El Dorado apart from Bubba and me were praying with patients, but I believe some were. There were definitely some committed Christian doctors in town. At the time I didn’t want to ask any of them about praying with patients for fear of embarrassing them if they weren’t, or acting proud and puffed up that I was. I am certain of the impact prayer had on me spiritually and the countless opportunities for ministry with my patients which opened. I became convinced that every patient encounter was a divine appointment, and the more faithful I was in seeking the eternal perspective of that encounter, the more likely I was to discover it.

I never tried to force my faith perspective on my patients and always asked their permission for me to pray. In the 29 years of surgical practice in El Dorado I can recall only 2 patients who refused my offer to pray for them. One was a woman scheduled for a relatively minor operation. On the evening prior to the procedure, her husband was in the room and following my answering of their few questions regarding the operation, I asked if I could pray for her safety and healing. Her husband graciously thanked me, but said, “We are Witnesses and we will take care of our prayers.” Following a brief exchange of the core beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I understood they believed the prayers of evangelical Christians were ineffective and unnecessary. He handed me a copy of their Green Book which I accepted from him, but never read it, and in fact placed it in the trash on my way out of the hospital. She healed nicely from the procedure, and I believe my ongoing relationship with her and her husband was cordial and respectful.

The other person who refused my prayer was a locally well-known pastor’s wife who had suffered the death of her unborn child at the 4-5 month stage of her pregnancy. I was visiting her in the hospital to offer my condolences, and at the end of a brief visit asked if I might pray for her and her husband. She said, “I would rather you would not pray.” I was surprised at her answer and looked toward her husband who was standing at the foot of her bed. He nodded for me to go ahead because he wanted me to pray. I don’t remember what I prayed but briefly asked God to bring healing and comfort to their broken hearts. As I left that awkward experience, I understood she was dealing with great hurt and sorrowful disappointment, and at that particular moment was angry with God. In the months ahead her heart was healed, and her faith in her sovereign Lord was restored.

Through the years of my practice in the same town with Bubba, we were able to encourage and challenge one another in the application of faith and witness with our patients. I loved hearing him tell one account after another of God’s hand at work in the lives of his patients, and it challenged me to remain faithful, not only in prayer but in witness. Those conversations I recall are cherished memories of an older brother who for me, was a hero of the faith. I was challenged by his example and purposed to encourage younger doctors who I knew were believers in Jesus Christ, to pray with their patients and to also consider their patient appointments as divine.

Dr. John

Me ‘n Sleepy

Sleepy LaBeef

I might not have met Sleepy LaBeef had he not had a medical problem that required an operation to correct. When I saw his name on my patient appointment list, I thought the first name might have been misspelled. That was in the late-1980’s when I was a general surgeon in practice in El Dorado, Arkansas. During the initial consultation I discovered his name was spelled correctly, and it was a nickname given him as a child because he had a condition known as “lazy eye” causing his eyelids to droop making him to appear “sleepy” to his fellow students. I’m certain this was the source of lots of teasing, but because he was larger than most kids his age the teasing eventually stopped.

Sleepy was born in Smackover, Arkansas in 1935, the youngest of 10 siblings and was raised on his family’s farm with kerosene lamps and a wood stove. They didn’t have electricity until he was 12. He learned to sing the Southern gospel style music in small country churches and constantly listened to the Grand Ole Opry and radio stations that broadcast rhythm and blues, bluegrass and country music. Sleepy sold his .22 hunting rifle to buy his first guitar and soon upgraded to a Sears & Roebuck model. His first quality guitar was a Gibson. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade and moved to Beaumont, Texas where he worked as a bellhop and began performing publicly in many different venues.

During this period Elvis recorded his first 45 rpm record, “That’s Alright Mama”, and he played often in the Houston area. Sleepy moved to Houston and began playing with a number of top quality musicians such as Elvis, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and George Jones. He often played in opening acts for Elvis concerts in 1954 and 1955 when Elvis performed in the Houston area. Sleepy later moved to Nashville, Tennessee and along with his band recorded for Columbia Records and Sun Records. The musical style he developed has been called “rockabilly’ which is a cross between rock and roll and hillbilly. Sleepy refers to the music as American roots music.

He has written and recorded a few original songs, but mostly has recorded songs of other writers. He has a phenomenal memory and is said to know the lyrics of well over 1000 songs. Sleepy’s records have not made the top of the charts in the United States, but in Europe he has been well-received and at least 2 of his songs; “Good Rockin’ Boogie,” and “Hello Josephine” have been chart toppers.

Through the years he has given a number of young performers their first opportunity by allowing them to join his band. One of the musicians he helped who has achieved his own acclaim is Jason D. Williams from El Dorado, Arkansas. Jason D. joined Sleepy’s band when he was only 18 years old. He plays the piano in the musical style of Jerry Lee Lewis and in the opinion of many is more gifted musically than Jerry Lee. After a period of time, they separated to continue their own careers. Both Sleepy and Jason D. were inducted at the same time in the International Rock-a Billy Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tennessee in 2006.

At the time of his surgical procedure in El Dorado, Sleepy and his wife Linda had not moved back to Arkansas, but soon moved to Springdale, Arkansas where they now live. Despite being in his 60’s in age at the time, he continued travelling and performing in the United States and overseas in Europe. He was drawing very large crowds overseas where his albums were also doing much better than in the states.

When Cathy and I moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2000, I was not aware Sleepy and Linda were in Springdale, until one morning I saw his name on my appointment list at the Wound Care Clinic of Washington Regional Medical Center. Before I saw him, he had told our receptionist, “I am one of Dr. Moore’s former patients from El Dorado.” I was really thrilled to become reacquainted with Sleepy, and because he had a problem that required regular visits over several months to correct, we got to visit often. We talked about everything from faith to guitar playing to the difficult life of travel and playing concerts. I discovered Sleepy and Linda were deeply committed to the Lord Jesus and easily spoke about their faith. We prayed together during many of his clinic visits.

Following resolution of his wound problem, I didn’t hear from them until one evening about a year later, I received a call from Linda saying Sleepy was an inpatient at Washington Regional Hospital. He had been admitted following a cardiac catheterization and was scheduled to have coronary bypass surgery the following day. He told his heart surgeon, “I’m not having any operation until my surgeon, Dr. Moore gives the ok.” The surgeon asked Linda if she would have Dr. Moore, whom he did not know, come to the hospital to talk with him about the operation. I immediately went to the hospital and found Sleepy in amazingly good spirits. He told me about his symptoms which had caused him to seek an evaluation, and the results of the cardiac cath. I simply told him in my opinion, he had no chance of improvement until he had the planned procedure. I also told him his surgeon had a good reputation and was skilled in his ability to do the procedure well. When I told him if I had his problem, I would go ahead with the operation, and in the final analysis God was in control of his life. He said, “That’s good enough for me. Linda tell the doctor to set the time for tomorrow.” We had prayer for his healing and both Sleepy and Linda told me they were at peace.

I was in the waiting room the next day when the surgeon reported to Linda the operation was a success, and Sleepy would be home within a week. I was able to go to their home about 10 days later to remove his sutures.That was over 10 years ago and Sleepy is still singing and performing at age 80 years. Except for the lazy eye condition, the nickname “Sleepy” doesn’t fit him at all!

Dr. John