Tuesday, June 30, 2020

June Closes with Lots of Letters

Last night's letter-writing party (an advocacy/fellowship/prayer ministry that Vital Signs Ministries hosts every quarter) was a very encouraging outreach with 17 participants, 73 cards and letters written, and 28 colorful art pages done by the four kids in attendance.

Our letters went to an a lot of people. For instance, many of us wrote to President Trump (and the First Lady), Vice-President Pence, Attorney General Barr, other cabinet members, Senators, and a good array of more local politicians. Still other letters were addressed to business leaders, heads of organizations, diplomats, and even a local body of mini-tyrants from a park who had a 63-year old blind woman banned from the premises for 2 years because she was talking to people about her faith in Jesus Christ.

And the topics covered? Oh, my; here's just a few: voter fraud; the Supreme Court making laws (and really bad ones, at that) instead of applying the Constitution; the desperate need to break the monopolistic powers of Big Tech and the education establishment which are destroying freedom of speech; the ongoing violence perpetrated by Planned Parenthood; Democrats blocking critical legislation like the police reform bill and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act; Israel pulling the plug on a new Christian-run TV channel; and the Disney corporation's latest forays into the promotion of sexual confusion and perversion.

There were a lot of thank you cards and letters sent too. There always are at these parties. Thus, there were “shout outs” to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem; Franklin Graham, Tim Tebow, Joni-Eareckson Tada, Clarence Thomas, and Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, the new President of Malawi who is a principled believer in Christ.

And the kids' artwork? Well, some will go to the police officers and firefighters in our neighborhood while others will go to residents of senior living facilities.

In the days ahead, I will share a few of the letters sent as a stimulant for you to write a few of your own.

Thanks to all who came and joined in the fun -- Rik, Debbie, Jim, Jean, Matt, Isaiah, Luke, Anna, Lydia, Patrick, Quint, Carol, Keith, Carol, and Don.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Vital Signs Ministries’ “Sweet Treat” Outreach

Yes, the quarantines are still in place and thus keeping us from presenting our popular “When Swing Was King” shows in 12 senior care facilities every month. In fact, there is no end in sight to this “great hunkering down” as it concerns nursing homes and other senior living facilities.

Our response to this sad situation was to start preparing what we called “Anti-Boredom” packets that would not only serve the residents of “our” 12 facilities but also, by posting our work on the Vital Signs Ministries website, for anyone around the country (and beyond) who wanted to take advantage of the fun, the encouragement, and the inspiration they provide. That ministry, we are delighted to report, has been extremely well received.

However, we decided to try yet another front in our outreach to these seniors; namely, one that would have us “go super sweet” by assembling for residents special packages with different candies (sugar-free for diabetics) as well as personal notes, Scriptures, and even artwork provided by kids.

Well, today (as you can see in these photos) saw our first two attempts. And we are very encouraged by the response so far. One required us to prepare packages of mixed candies for 124 residents and the other for 35. We will keep you posted how things go with this effort.

And, of course, if any of you want to be involved -- helping us buy candy and other snacks, assembling the packages, securing artwork from children, delivering the packages to the facilities, and writing notes of encouragement, please let us know. Please consider it for it is a needed, practical, and wonderfully do-able ministry opportunity for kids, churches, small groups, and families.

By the way, if you're interested in the “Anti-Boredom” packets (the collections we've created of trivia quizzes, quotations, photos, and personal letters) as something to share with family, friends, older church members, neighbors, etc., please check out any one or more of the 17 that are posted on our website.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Here' s the Latest (That's #17) in our "Anti-Boredom" Packets

I know Father’s Day is behind us but sparked by our conversations and prayers about our fathers last weekend, Claire and I thought we’d share a couple of quick stories before we get to the quiz questions and quotations in this latest “Anti-Boredom” Packet.

 My “Dad story” for today concerns a really nifty lesson he taught me – a lesson that has been an extremely helpful one my whole life. I still lived at home when this happened; in fact, I had just started learning how to shave. And one day Dad, while walking through the hall, looked in the bathroom and saw me with a face full of shaving cream. And I mean full! He stopped, smiled, and said, “For a second there I thought Santa Claus was in my bathroom!” He then proceeded to explain that I didn’t need as much lather on my face as I had piled on. “But Dad, this is exactly how guys look in the shaving cream ads on TV and in the magazines.” He chuckled and patiently explained, “Son, they do that to make you think you need that much even though you really don’t. You see, the company wants you to use more than you need so that you’ll buy more than you need. And so their profits go up.”

Wow! This was a real revelation to me. It was the first time that I realized 1) how subtly persuasive ad agencies can be (not to mention even more sinister tempters) and 2) how easily duped I could be if I wasn’t careful. Like I said, it was a very valuable lesson. Thanks, Dad.

 Okay, Claire here. My “Dad story” involves fudge. You see, my father was
the best fudge maker in the world – well, at least in Lincoln which was all the world I knew! On Saturday nights, while all the kids were cleaning and polishing their shoes for church the next morning, Dad made fudge. Because I had patent leather shoes, I got done quicker than the others and was able to hang out with Dad while he made this delicious treat. We couldn’t wait to get some, so he would give spoons to all 8 kids so we could clean out the pan after he had poured it out to harden. What joy! And the second blessing was getting yet more fudge later that night.

That’s just one example of how my Dad liked to make special treats for us. For instance, there was also his famous “Three in One” dish -- hamburger, elbow
macaroni, and tomato sauce. Doesn’t sound terrific now, maybe. But we were kids and it was our Dad making it special for us and so we were delighted. And the memories are still rich.

So…let’s get to your memories now with #17 in our series of activity pages.
We’re praying to see you in person soon with a “When Swing Was King” show!

Denny and Claire 


Friday, June 19, 2020

Have You Thanked a Cop Lately?

This morning we sent out a few letters to the law enforcement agencies in our area. That included the Omaha Police Department, the State Patrol, Douglas County Sheriffs Department, and a couple of others near us. We suggest you do the same. Perhaps get your kids and grandkids involved...maybe your church, Sunday School class, or small group. The letter below is one of those we sent.

Dear Police Chief Schmaderer,

Just a quick note to pass along from not only my wife Claire and me but from the Governing Board of Vital Signs Ministries, a Christian pro-life work headquartered here in Omaha, our deep appreciation for the ongoing professionalism, courage, compassion, skill and dedication you and the forces of the Omaha Police Department daily invest in the service of our community.  You have richly earned our respect, admiration, and gratitude…and you remain in our frequent and fervent prayers.

We know too that the numbers of citizens who feel this way constitute the majority.  They know that an ethically responsible police force is absolutely indispensable to social order.  So thank you again and please pass on our sentiments to the men and women serving alongside you. 


Denny & Claire Hartford

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Panther Patrol's Last Mission

As those of you following our ministry in creating "Anti-Boredom" packets for distribution in senior centers and nursing homes know, we have recently been including personal notes, encouragements, photos, and personal stories in the opening letter. Below is the letter that went out today to 12 different facilities (hundreds of seniors being residents there) along with #16's quizzes, questions, and quotations.

(And #16, along with all of the series to date, can be found at this link.)

Hey friends! For #16 in our series of activity pages to help with the isolation and boredom imposed by the quarantines, my reminiscences take me back again to the days of my somewhat misspent youth. Indeed, this time around I’ll tell you about my oh-so-brief tenure in the Boy Scouts in a little piece I’ve entitled…

The Panther Patrol's Last Mission
(or Confessions of A Boy Scout Dropout)

The first outing of the season for Troop 448 took us up into the Colorado mountains to learn some outdoorsman skills, play a wide-ranging game of Capture the Flag, and cook our own dinner. One of our simple duties was to get our water from the stream at the foot of the hill. Always on the lookout for an easier way of doing things, I opted to open the spigot on a water tank near the Forest Ranger tower to fill my canteen. Fortunately, I decided to test the quality of the water with just a sip. Yipes! It wasn’t water at all – it was gasoline! And for that one hesitant sip, for a couple of weeks, everything that I ate, drank, or even smelled seemed like it came from a refinery. Yuck.

The other disasters happened on our very next outing a few weeks later. My troop visited a place we called “Paradise Valley” where we planned to spend a whole weekend camping out. My group of 5 was the Panther Patrol. Cool name. I must confess, however, that several members of the Panther Patrol would eventually represent a kind of “rogues gallery” in our neighborhood.  True, one of these Panthers would spend a successful career in law enforcement, but three of us would end up traveling on the other side of the law for awhile. Looking back, one wonders if the way the weekend turned out wasn’t some kind of foreshadowing of things to come.

First of all, the Panthers were denied their choice spot of a campsite because the Beaver Patrol (our troop's elite corps, comprised of older and more serious Boy Scouts) was given rights to the spot by our adult leaders. Feeling wronged, we decided on revenge and so that night we used our little shovels to dig a trench from the stream straight into the Beaver Patrol's tent. The results were pretty satisfying at first (to the Panthers, not the Beavers) but we were quickly discovered to be the culprits and we were scolded, shamed, properly punished, and warned that we had only one more chance. 

But, like I hinted earlier, there are some boneheads that just aren't cut out for the Scouting life. We behaved ourselves well enough the next day but with the evening, things took a turn for the worse for the Panther Patrol. First of all, they tried to teach us how to make something from small logs that would reflect a campfire's heat back into one’s tent. It was a nifty idea, all right, but instead of reflecting the fire’s heat, ours simply caught on fire itself. Three times.

Next, we got to cutting up a little while making dinner and somehow I managed to brand Jimmy D. with a hot wiener. Now it was only an accident. Scout's honor. After all, Jimmy lived across the street from me and was my friend. In fact, he was so good a friend that I wasn’t even bothered that he used to wear a nylon hose over his head (weighted with a bar of soap in the toe, no less) in order to train his curly hair to lay down a bit. Anyhow, Jimmy played the good Scout about the whole business and didn't snitch me out. Thanks, J.D. What's a smoldering hot dog scar between pals anyhow?

I’m afraid that the comedic complications of the camping trip were not yet over for the troubled Panther Patrol. For that Saturday night, it rained. And I mean, a hard and abundant rain. The other patrols (bless their hearts) stayed dry and warm in their tents. The Panther Patrol didn’t. We were sloppy in pegging our tent down; we didn’t pile dirt over the tent edges; and we had erected the tent on a pretty steep-angled slope. So, when the rain came down, the water ran into our tent, and even beneath the polyethylene sheets we had placed under our sleeping bags. Two of us woke up in the middle of the night thoroughly drenched – and brother, I mean thoroughly. Because not only were we being rained on, the water beneath those plastic sheets had carried us downhill and into the stream just as easy as being on a Slip n’ Slide.

That was the last straw for our Scout leaders and, the way I remember it, the entire Panther Patrol was dismissed from Scout duty -- permanently. In fact, what I heard later may be true; namely, that our names and photos were distributed to the Boy Scouts of America with the warning, “Under no circumstances should a troop undertake to make Scouts out of these rascals. They are a serious danger, both to others and to themselves.”

There you have it – a candid, first-person testimonial that not even the Boy Scouts can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Or, more to the point here, they can’t make a Paragon out of a Panther. But, thanks be to God, His mercy CAN accomplish such a miracle. And I’m pleased to say as a postscript to this story that at least two of those problematic Panthers would discover God’s love and forgiveness later on in their lives. And one of them is sending along his heartfelt greetings and prayers with this latest “Anti-Boredom” packet. We miss you and hope we get back to presenting “When Swing Was King” shows very soon. 

Denny (for Claire too)

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Recalling "Back in the Day" Days

# 15 in our series of “Anti-Boredom” packets has been sent to the 12 senior living and senior care facilities where (in the pre-quarantine era) we showed our “When Swing Was King” shows every month. And all 15 are available to anyone through this link on our soon-to-be-revitalized website.

But here, to spark the nostalgia in you that makes for the best motivation to tackle our “Anti-Boredom” page is the opening letter from # 15.

Dear friends,

Isn’t it funny how so many of the most insignificant, even silly, incidents in our lives clutter up our memory banks? While we’re desperately trying to remember the day of our high school graduation or our wedding or some other truly important happening, our minds are cantankerously indifferent to our wishes.

In my case, for instance, instead of being able to remember details about being on the White House grounds for one of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural balls, my mind seems determined to bring up other junk…like a memory of me throwing aerosol cans into the backyard incinerator when a silly lad OR falling off the Jet Ski and thinking I was going to sink to the bottom of Lake Okoboji OR trying to persuade that truant officer that I was swimming in the quarry as part of a high school study project. You know what I mean. Sometimes, your memory is a downright unreliable pal.

But, then again; that’s alright by me for I have learned to be content and even to thank God for having any memories at all. In so doing, I find all of them (well, most of them) genuine gifts that I truly cherish. Examples? Well, I’ve been told that as we age, we are better with long term memory than short term. I certainly find this true in my own experience.

So I tend to especially remember things from my youth – things like spending Saturday mornings scouring the ditches along south Denver streets looking for pop bottles – bottles that were worth 2 cents each. A good morning’s haul could net you candy and pop money for a few days and maybe even a comic book. There’s also the bike rides, baseball games, skating at Roller City, Christmas excitements, dogs, sledding down Rattlesnake Hill, football, shooting hoops all alone for hours, Green Mountain Swim Club, and playing kick the can until the streetlights came on (which meant you had to go home). And of course, there are plenty of wonderful memories of Mom and Dad and Grandma Ellsworth and, if I’m brutally honest, even some sweet memories of my 4 siblings! In fact, there’s one special one I think I’ll tell you about another time.

But for now, have fun with “Anti-Boredom Packet” #15. I sure hope it triggers some marvelous memories of your own! 


Friday, June 12, 2020

Calling All Creative Kids!

Because of the quite legitimate concerns over the spread of the China virus in senior centers, our “When Swing Was King” shows remain grounded. Indeed, we have not been allowed into any of the 12 facilities on our regular monthly schedule for the last 3 months. Now June is closed too and the rest of the summer very much in question.  We are really saddened by this.

However, as many of you are aware, at the very beginning of the quarantines, we came up with the idea of creating “Anti-Boredom Packets” to send over to the activity directors in the places we normally present our "When Swing Was King" shows. They could then copy these activity pages and hand them out to residents. Our purposes in this project were to encourage, to lift spirits, to be winsome and useful in our Christian witness, and to give seniors some serious points to ponder along with a lot of fun stuff. And, in all of this, we hoped to show them that our love for them remains very much in place. 

Our activity packets are really pretty neat. They generally consist of 9 pages: 60 or 70 pop culture quiz questions (and answers at the back), quotations and Scriptures, photos, and a personal note from Claire and me.  We are delighted to say that they have won rave reviews from both residents and activity directors, as well as from many others who have copied them from off our website. And, though it takes quite a bit of work to put each packet together, we are really thrilled and will keep them coming. As a matter of fact, a couple of days ago, we sent out our 16th “Anti-Boredom” packet. Yes!

As great a blessing as these activity packets have been, however, we have decided to open a “second front” in our ministries to seniors. That may yet involve the Donut Dodge that we had been planning since last fall but, at least for now, our plan is to “get sweet” by assembling special packages for residents with different candies (sugar-free for diabetics), personal notes, and artwork provided by kids. We did a test run of this idea at Easter and everyone involved found it delightful.  But here's the important pitch in this post -- we need help with getting the artwork to the lonely grandmas and grandpas in the facilities. And that's where your kids come in!

If you have kids who can draw, color pages from a coloring book, and/or write notes of greeting, please connect with us soon because we’re already preparing our first 150 sweet packages. This opportunity is for families, churches, individual kids who are willing to 1) color pages from a coloring book and/or create their own artwork and 2) to give it a heading or caption somewhere that could say “Happy Summer” or “We are praying for you” or “God loves you” or “I hope you enjoy my picture” or anything else they might want to say? We will then gather up every masterpiece created and include them in the “sweet packages” we will give to residents.

We think this is a cool way to get kids thinking about ministry and it would be a big help to Vital Signs Ministries' outreach to seniors. So, what do you say? Can you get your kids to sharpen their crayons and help us out?

Friday, June 05, 2020

A Letter to the President

I'm wrote this quick letter to the U.S. President early this morning over a coffee at Paradise cafe. Claire has typed it up nicely and it's already on its way. However, I'm posting it as an "open letter" in hopes that it might motivate you to follow with a letter of your own.
What do you say?

Dear President Trump,

I write you this morning to very briefly comment on ten items relating to your service to our nation (and indeed, the cause of freedom around the world).

1) We are praying for you every day.  We pray for protection, strength, wisdom from God, and success in all of your endeavors.

2) We are deeply grateful for your bold, compassionate, and just promotion of the sanctity of all human life.  We especially applaud your actions against the mega-abortion corporation that is Planned Parenthood.

3) We urge you to move even stronger against the very real threat of voter fraud.

4) You have served America’s interests well in standing up to the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Democrats in Congress, the irrational and enraged media, and the corruption of the Deep State.  Many, many thanks. Stay the course.

5) We appreciate your moves to contain the China Virus AND to open the country as soon as possible to reduce the horrific effects of the quarantines, shutdowns, and fear.

6) We also appreciate your spirited defense of the citizens’ freedom of speech and freedom of religion against the dangerously stifling censorship of giant monopolistic companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook.  Press that fight all the way, please.

7) Speaking of Twitter, please be more prudent and winsome in this arena. It is the one area in which your genuine friends find irksome and counter-productive.  But, believe me, it's the only area where your genuine friends want you to ease off a bit. Everywhere else...full steam ahead!

8) You have worked hard and skillfully to bring back America’s military strength and its economy.  Thank you too for standing strong with Israel and other trustworthy U.S. allies even as you refuse to be cowed by the antics of the downward-spiraling, socialist-dominated nations of Europe.

9) Thank you for pursuing so diligently the appointments of judges who have clear records of respecting, preserving, and applying the U.S. Constitution as it was intended by its original writers.

And 10)  Please pass on to Melania our heartiest thanks for the excellent, inspirational, and kind-hearted leadership she has shown.  The United States has never been blessed with a lovelier, more modest, more gracious First Lady.


Denny & Claire Hartford
Omaha, Nebraska