The Door Opens #7

36 years ago, come this July, we picked up, lock, stock and barrel, and headed East,   Gilgal Bible Chapel agreed to let us stay in one of their apartments while I returned to school.

I have been reliving that season in our lives the past several posts. This is the 7th installment.

I knew my dad would struggle with our decision, although he and my mom have never meddled in any of our decisions,  (and still don’t).

I wanted to break it to him easy and give him another perspective.

When we got back from our week on the east coast spying out the land, He asked, “Well, what did you decide?”

I’d given it some thought (what to tell  him) so I said, “We’ve decided  to move to Africa as missionaries.”

Dead silence.

I let the words hang in the air for about 15 seconds, then,  “Just kidding.  All the details have come together so we are moving to New Jersey for a year.”

(That was SO out of character for me, as his compliant first born).  🙂


Shifting gears….

To my regular readers,   Thank you for being so gracious and reading along the last several posts!

I don’t plan  to relieve the whole 5 years we lived on the East Coast with you here.  Just knowing  several of you have been following along has encouraged me to take the time to get this stuff down in print.

I do plan to write one or two more installments  on a few life lessons that were drummed into me while living and working in New Jersey.


Any of the following interest you?  (If I threw in a few short stories.)  Just trying to get a feel if any of these would be interesting to anyone but me. 🙂


Addressing issues rather than ignoring them. (house meetings)

Transparency. (Living life w/o a mask)

People pleasing and boundaries.

Balance or (living with margin) for the long haul.

Mentoring.  (A lot like what goes into good parenting)



Take care and have a good week! DM





Living In Community? #6

You’re reliving with me (if you’ve been reading the last five posts) our move to New Jersey in 1985.  Not going to repeat any of that.  I am assuming you’re up to speed.

I love history.

I loved thumbing through a very old McGuffey Reader, where I discovered the name Sara Ann Strawn in the front cover.  She had also written  Hopewell Township District number 8  1838 where she was attending school.  That sent me off to the Genweb ancestry website to see if I could find her.  I did, and much, much more.

Later, while reading a book with the  personal correspondence of Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)  she wrote about  her time living in a Unitarian Universalist community with her family.  What a nightmare that time in her life was.

It’s called original source material,  not revisionist poison pablum where someone from today takes their current worldview prejudices and tells me what to think about something written 100 years ago.

Back when we were doing the home school gig,  we were doing  unit studies on early American history.  I remember reading  about original source documents (from the Pilgrims) being stolen from the Library of Congress.

Several of them.

Who would do such a thing, I thought?  Why????

Sometimes it was as simple as greed. They would sell old manuscripts on the black market.

Other times the purpose were more nefarious. Revisionist history/ erasing/ removing/ censoring…..1984 here we come.


Shifting gears slightly,  when I started reading portions of the Bible, (filled with dozens of original source documents)  the letter written by Luke, usually referred to as “Acts” stirred something in me.  I  remember being struck by how different   1st century Christianity seemed compared to what is currently called “Christianity.”

They (the early/ 1st century Christians) had a depth of relationship with each other, I rarely (if ever) saw in to days setting, and I wondered why?

Why not?

What is the disconnect?

Going to give you just one example:

Acts chapter 2:  Selling their possessions and goods, they shared with anyone who was in need.  With one accord, they continued to meet daily…to break bread from house to house, sharing their meals with gladness…. “

I remember having a conversation on the construction site with Lester Zimmerman when I was younger, about this disconnect.

“Why don’t Christians today have that depth of relationship/ interaction as those 2000 yrs ago?”

Lester,  a semi retired farmer who attended a small local church said he didn’t know.

Couldn’t really give me a good answer.

So in the back of my mind,  I’d had these questions, wishing I could experience  life/ relationship/ on the order of what I was reading.

Next thing I know, I am in New Jersey, sitting in the dorm room of a place (church?) that has some of the ingredients of the early church….

This place sat on 10 acres of prime real estate.  Several families living on the same property,  plus a men’s dorm, a woman’s dorm, communal kitchens,  etc. etc)

It felt a little surreal.

And you better believe the word “cult” flittered through my mind a time or two.  😉


After the Fourth of July picnic where Dorothy suggested I could work for her son who had a construction business,  there were still a couple of days left on the calendar before it was time to get on the plane and head home.

Sunday was the turning point in our time there. They had a traditional church service in the morning,  (sit in chairs/ sing/ listen to a message/ etc.) then broke for lunch (a pot luck), then back to a second more informal gathering that was called “an open meeting”.

I had no idea what to expect, fortunately, a young lady, Nancy Hunter,  took us under her wing, sat by us and explained the format.

Not going to unpack that part of our time right now, not sure how interested you are in some of these details…Other than to say, there came a point in that meeting where I felt it was now or never,

I remember standing up and  saying something to the effect…“It says, ask and you shall receive, knock and the door will be opened..I’m knocking…we were wondering if you (the church assembled in that room) would consider renting a room to us for a year, in order that I could attend classes @ CCEF?”

Dead silence….

Then one of the pastors responded:  ‘We’ve been discussing this,  I’ll talk to you more  after the meeting.”

to be continued…

Now What? #5

Picking up where we left off…

We pull into the parking lot of CCEF:

It had been an emotionally exhausting day.

We’d left home early that morning.  Flew into Philadelphia, Been accosted by some crazy guy in the terminal.   Drove through the heart of the city (pre-gps/smart phone),  and now, finally sat in the parking lot of the school….

As I recall,  it was almost closing time. We talked to the receptionist and said Jeff ? knew we might be stopping.  He had been the supervising teacher I’d interacted with through the correspondence classes.  As we talk with Jeff, when he learned we were planning to find a hotel room, he invites us to follow him home, we were welcome spend the night @ his place.

We accepted.

Next morning we were back @ CCEF talking with Earl Cook.   His area of expertise was children’s counseling.   I can still remember sitting in his office.  Earl  had a deep voice,  and infectious sense of humor.

Earl leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head and asked me to tell him our story.

“What had brought us there?”

I recounted everything I’ve told you over the past few posts, including writing the letters I’d sent ahead to the dozen or so pastors who lived in the area, putting out feelers for a job, etc.   None of those inquiries had generated any leads, which brought us up to the present.

Sitting in his office, trying to figure out what to do next.

Earl looked at us and said,“I have a thought.”  There’s a church located in Northern New Jersey, about 2 and 1/2 hours north of here that regularly sends several of their staff for classes.  It isn’t  your typical church.”  (I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that, but would find out soon enough).

He continued, “You and your wife strike me as a couple of free spirit types. You’d fit right in with them.  If you want, I would be glad to make a couple of phone calls. If they say OK, you could  run up for the day, and spend the night… What do we have to loose?  You have a week..”  😉

Few minutes later, we were on the road again.  Heading north to West Milford New Jersey.

When we pulled onto the property of Gilgal Bible Chapel,  there were kids running everywhere.  Here’s a picture of me just after we pulled into the church parking lot:

Notice the map 🙂

We were given a tour of the grounds….

Yes, it was a local church.  In addition, they  had apartments for missionaries on furlough.   Were currently housing  a couple of  families from Viet Nam.  They also  ran a large day camp for kids in the summer.


View of the gymnasium when you first pull onto the property.

There was a  mechanics shop, man made lake…10 acres of “Water shed” property. (Water from this area, would eventually winds up in large reservoirs for Newark I was told.

Here’s a picture of the main house:

The smell of pine trees, was in the air.  We were to find out later, black bear also lived in the area,  not exactly how I envisioned New Jersey when I was sitting back in Iowa.

It was beautiful!

We had been given permission to spend the night in one of the guest rooms, and as it turned out, the next day was the 4th of July. Someone (I can’t remember who any more)  suggested if we wanted, we were welcome to come to a church picnic.

The 4th of July, 1985 we went to  the home of Gay and Pat Brandeal.  Pat was a general contractor, and Gay a teacher.  There were  25 to 30 people at the picnic.

I remember visiting with Dorothy, Dorothy Gunther…  As she and I sat in our  lawn chairs, she asked about us.  I told her we were on a mini vacation, thinking about moving East to attend CCEF, if the details could be worked out.

She looked at me, “Well, my son Mark has a construction business.  If you do decide to move, you could work for him.  I know he would hire you…”

That night after the  picnic, wife and I were sitting in the guest room.  I  picked up a bible and reread the account of what happened after the nation of Israel had wandered around in the Wilderness for 40 years. (Remember in my last post, 10 of the 12 spies had said, they didn’t think they should go  into the land that the God of Abraham had said he wanted to take them into.  They were afraid.

They spent the next 40 years wandering in circles until all the adults of that generation had died off.

All except for the two who had been willing to go in…Joshua and Caleb

So now, 40 years later, the nation of Israel crosses the Jordan River and enters “the Promised Land.”

(You can read it yourself in the book of Joshua chapter 4).

Joshua chapter 4 verse19 “On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21

As I read the account, the name Gilgal jumped off the page.

At this point, I remember feeling overwhelmed with emotion.  The name Gilgal had never registered  before that day.

There I was sitting  in the guest room of a church called Gilgal Bible Chapel , with a possible job offer…

to be continued…


Spying Out The Land #4

Picking up where I left off on my earlier post  of January 6th 2021…

So there I was,  married with two toddlers,  entertaining thoughts of walking away from the family construction business and go back to school part time.  The program I was looking at was 1000 miles from home, in a suburb of Philadelphia.

There were three things that needed to come together if this would become a reality…

Money, housing, and a part time job

We had absolutely nothing in savings.

Secondly, housing.  While I didn’t want to live in some rough part of Philadelphia , that was a real possibility.

Thirdly,  I would need to find a job with  flexibility, preferably construction related.

About this time in the decision making process, an account from the Bible took on a whole new meaning. It is the account of the 12 spies sent out by the newly created nation of Israel, to spy out their possible future home land.  (Book of Numbers chapter 13, and part of chapter 14.)

Like I mentioned a couple of posts ago, if you’re tagging along and are curious about our move to New Jersey, you’ll have to permit me to tell you what was really happening in our lives, including references to my faith.  If talking about my faith is a turn off, you’ll probably want to exit this series right now and check back  later.

12 representatives (spies) (one for each tribe),  were sent to check out a new land that the God of Abraham, was asking them to move to, after just leaving the slavery of Egypt. (Ever hear of the story of Moses?)

Twelve men are sent to “spy out the land.”

The twelve, discovered it was  a land overflowing with bounty.

Just one small catch.

The people living there were a tough lot, with no intention of moving (obviously)  so 10 of the 12 spies come back and say, “Nope.”


“Not going there,”

“The place is too dangerous!”

 “What will happen to our wives and children????

Only 2 of the spies, (Joshua and Caleb) have a different perspective.

Yep, it is an intimidating place, but if God is in this move, then we trust that he will work out the details.”

“Let’s do it!”

You’ll have to read it for yourself, if you want to know what happens next.   It’s not good.

So there I was thinking, if, (and it was still a big “if”) God was in fact asking me to consider moving East, then I didn’t want to let fear be the deciding factor.

I wanted to be neither irresponsible nor make our decision based solely out of fear.


Side note….

Most of us have probably never given much thought to the training of therapists and counselors.  I know I’d never, until this point.

Dirty little secret. -There are literally dozens of schools of thought when it comes to the “how to” of counseling.  Depending on your worldview of how people look at life, that will determine how you counsel.

In simple terms, if you believe that your brain is the end product of a brain evolved from a lizard, that will affect how you counsel an addict.  If on the other hand, you believe there is a spiritual component to change, that too will affect how you approach addictions, (or any other issue.)

I already knew,  I wanted training that incorporated the Bible and had a spiritual component to it, which was why I was looking @ CCEF.    

(Remember that spiritual stirring I alluded to earlier)

The school was located in a northern suburb of Philadelphia, attached to campus of Westminster Theological Seminary.


My thought was, let’s take a week, fly out to Philadelphia, spy out the land, figuratively speaking and see if the details come together so we could move there for a year.

In preparation for our visit to CCEF and the Philadelphia area,   I asked the school, for the names of local pastors who were attending  classes.  As I recall, I sent out about a dozen letters, explaining we were coming to the area the first week of July.  Did they know anyone in their congregations who might be interested in hiring me part time, or have any rental property?     I felt  if God was really in this whole idea  then it was reasonable to believe He could bring together the details we would need for it to happen.

On July 2nd 1985, my wife and I flew into the  Philadelphia International Airport .

We picked up our rental car  and took off in the direction of CCEF

Our route took us down town, on Broad Street where I ran into the biggest round-about, I had ever encountered in my life.  It is actually square. 😉    I know we made at least one complete circle before I spotted the correct exit.

A view of North Broad Street in Philadelphia.

photo compliments of Google

to be continued….

Snapping turtles and a stop at the bar #3

As I have been reliving those years we lived in New Jersey, my mind has been thinking about our time leading up to our move East.  As I mentioned in my last entry, we were living just behind our local county home (Care facility).   I could probably do a mini series just on those 3 and 1/2 years, but that will have to wait.  I did have a couple of memories connected to another one of the residents we got to know pretty well.

His name was Don.

Don Kibbermeier.

Smallish man.  He moved with a quick nervous energy.  Wore bibs all the time.   You’d see him out and about, scurrying here and there.

One of the things Don loved to do was catch snapping turtles.  There were (are) 7 ponds on the farmland surrounding the  County Home.

Don would bait a treble hook with chicken liver, attach it to a wire fishing leader, stake it to the bank, and attach a  plastic milk jug for a bobber.

One day he stopped over to our house and told me he had something he wanted to show me.  It was in  the garage.   In the bottom of a garbage can was a humongous snapping turtle!   Filled up  the bottom of the can, and  boy was it was pissed off.

“How much?” I asked.

“Five Dollars and it’s yours,” he said.

“Does that include killing and cleaning it?”

“Nope, that would be another $5“,he said.

“Deal.  I’ll take it.”

I bought it in honor of my grandpa Conley.  He was an outdoors-man who knew how to catch and clean snappers.  I can still see my Grandma Conley standing over her stove frying turtle, dipped in eggs and cracker crumbs.   The leg muscles still moving, I am not kidding you….

Have you ever eaten snapping turtle?


One other quick story about Don and I.

He approached me one Saturday morning and asked if I could give him a lift into town. (The care facility was 6 or 7 miles from the nearest town)  I was required to sign him out @ the front desk, meaning I was taking 100% responsibility while he was in my care)  The guy was in his 60’s  and I was in my 20’s.

It seemed a little weird and degrading for Don,  but I did it.

As we were driving down main-street, he said,  “Could you pull over?  I’d like to run inside and buy some chew.”

“Sure,” I said.

Sat there a couple of minutes before he came back.  We made one more stop and headed home.

Later in the afternoon, I got a call from the head nurse on duty.  Don Kibermeier was drunk and out of control. 

“Did I know anything about that?”

Had I given him alcohol?

Was I with him 100% of the time while we were out????”

“Well, no, I said, he had  asked me to stop somewhere so he could run in and get some chew.”

“Well, that’s not all he bought.”

To be continued…

Why (Second in a mini series)

The Winter of 1984, construction slowed down as it often would, so I enrolled in a correspondence class  on  marriage and family  counseling through CCEF.  (This was way before on line classes. 🙂 )

We were renting a house just behind the County Care Facility at the time.  (see picture below).

The County Home as it was called locally, housed the young, the old,  the physically and mentally disabled, those struggling with alcohol addiction, etc.  It was a safety net for people who might otherwise have no where else to turn.

Our two girls, both toddlers at the time, would go with their mom over to the kitchen window of the care facility  and visit  the cooks.   The kitchen was in the basement, and Sandy, or  Lori, (the cooks)  would hand them a cookie through the window.

County home

We lived in that little house 3 and 1/2 years. Got to know many of the residents on a first name basis.  Hap Steiner, Don Kibermeyer, Freddie, Melvin,  Jerry…and Dan.

Dan was just a couple of years older than myself.  At the time I had no idea why someone like him would be living at the County home.    He wasn’t retarded, nor physically disabled.

Dan and I got together every Monday night after I got home from work for two years.  He and I would sit at our kitchen table while I mostly listened to him.  I secretly had this hunch that if we talked through some of his life issues long enough, he could be set free from whatever in the world it was that had him living here in this care facility, and then he could go on to enjoy a normal life.

That day never came.

I do know Dan consumed  an awful lot of my Nestles Quick chocolate milk as we sat at the table.

Then there was a second person in our life at the time who was also a mystery. Her name was Jodi.  She was in her late 20’s.  Walked with a slight limp, slightly overweight.  I think maybe she had a mild case of Cerebral Palsy  She lived just a couple of miles from our place with her mother.  She too struggled with an assortment of mental and physical issues and at certain times would lapse into this sing-songy voice when talking.   Her struggles (it seemed to me) were more in the realm of negative thought patterns.   I had a hunch maybe she’d been bullied as a young girl.    Jodi would stop by randomly for a visit, and sometimes we’d go to her moms.

There is one more piece of this story I need to tell you, otherwise I’m going to keep tippy-toeing around it, and it will drive me bonkers.

I am not a religious person.

Never was.

If that is your thing and it helps you navigate life, more power to you. No disrespect intended when I say that.

But I was experiencing a spiritual stirring in my life that wasn’t always in play.

Shortly before we were to be married, we were required to attend a pre-marriage workshop through the local church my wife attended.  Workshops on everything from communication skills, insurance,  money management, etc.

There was one guy that got my attention that afternoon.  He did not look like a “church guy”  He looked more like a college football coach or a construction worker.    He looked at this auditorium full of young couples in love and said he was going to give it to us straight.

He said,   “If you want your marriage to have a chance in this day and age, when one out of two end in divorce, then Jesus Christ, needs to be in the center of your relationship, the cement in your marriage.”

I had not idea what that meant practically speaking but as someone who was pouring a lot of cement at the time, that word picture really resonated with me . It left me wanting to know more.  The best way I can put it, is a  year and 1/2 later,  the lights came on spiritually.

The more I grew spiritually, the more I wanted to know…

What would it take to help someone like a Jodi or Dan, both of whom seemed obviously stuck?

I finished my first class through the mail and wanted more.

To be continued….