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In the summer, when our family visits my home town in Vermont, I visit the cemetery. Actually, when I was growing up, I spent quite a lot of time up there, in that quiet place nestled up in the mountains. I would read books and walk amongst the old gravestones noting dates and names, just as my father liked to do.

This year, as I was visiting my father’s and grandparent’s graves, I took a walk with my 18 month old through the other markers. I began to think about how everything they did mattered.

I remembered the story of my grandmother’s first date with my grandfather. She watched for him and rushed down the stairs to greet him, but he had different ideas. He snuck around her and rushed up the stairs. His intent was to see if she had made her bed and to check on the cleanliness under her bed! Thankfully, for the sake of my existence, she passed his little test. That day, what she did mattered.

A few years ago, I was introduced to the Butterfly Effect, which Andy Andrews uses as an example to prove that what you do matters. The Butterfly Effect essentially states that when a small butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, it can cause a weather pattern several weeks later, such as a hurricane, in another part of the world. Technically speaking, the butterfly effect is the “sensitive dependency on initial conditions in which a small change at one place… can result in large differences in a later state.” (1) I know this might sound ridiculous, but it is a scientific fact that was ridiculed for decades before proven to be viable.

Since I’ve learned about the Butterfly Effect, I’ve been reflecting about what it means in my life. For sure, it is a lot easier to look back and see how what you did mattered than it is to look forward. I think of my father’s story as an example of looking back.

When my Dad was 11 years old, he fell down the stairs in his Ohio farmhouse. His open wound was soon infected, and it resulted in a condition called osteomyelitis, wherein his leg stopped growing and caused him to limp for life. He found himself in a wheelchair for 12 months in which time his love for education was born as a result of staying home with his mother. Because of his love for education, he went to college (not as common in the 1940’s as it is now. During college he accepted Jesus and began studying to be a missionary (he was a missionary for 32 years). It was about this time that he received the first of three letters from the War Department informing him that had been drafted to serve his country during World War II. Though he was willing to go, his injury prevented him. Because of his injury, his education and his missionary work, he was allowed to remain at home. His initial condition, like a butterfly flapping its wings, affected the outcome of his life. (2)

I’m sure my Dad couldn’t imagine how his life would change because of losing his footing on those stairs. Through his story, I’m reminded that it is critical to examine my daily life, and what I do, because my choices will matter, even if I don’t know exactly how. Lately, I’ve been trying to be very intentional about the things I do, even little things.

For example, the other day I was behind a driver, who sat in my right turn lane and forced me to wait for the light. I tend to mumble about “dummies” on the road, and as I began my little tirade, I started thinking about my kids in the backseat. What was I teaching them? As they watched me in every day life, what would they learn? To be critical? To be impatient? To not take things as they come with a good attitude? What long-term effect would I have on them….and, on myself?

An update: after I wrote this blog, I had another opportunity to sit behind a driver in my lane. As I started to mumble, I caught myself and instead said something positive…whew! (Next time, I’m going to pray for the driver.)

What I do matters. It effects other things in my world. Who knows? Maybe God will put drivers in front of me who need to be prayed for that day. I need to be intentional about how I effect this world. So, the introspective questions I’ve been asking myself lately are: What is my current butterfly effect?, What do I want my butterfly effect to be? and How can I get there?

This summer as I strolled through the cemetery, I considered how all of those people who had lived created certain weather systems in their world by what they did. I wondered about all their little choices, and also about the big decisions they made. And, I contemplated how what I do matters, even things like visiting a cemetery.

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1. Found at:

2. A paraphrase of my brother’s (John Clinger) tribute given at our father’s funeral. The text below is the entire story if you are interested.

I remember the day I was looking at my Dad’s shoes that were neatly placed side by side just under my parent’s bed. I was around seven years old and had gotten up early one morning. He was still in bed but awake. I asked him about the wedge that was in the heel of one of his shoes. He told me, “That’s for my bad leg.” “What’s wrong with your leg?” I asked, and he said, “Haven’t you noticed I have a limp?” “I guess so,” I replied, but I always just thought it was normal for him to walk that way. In fact, I often found myself walking with a similar short step, one foot on tip toe and the other foot flat. I would especially walk like that when I was trying to walk quietly, like on Saturday mornings at 5:00am sneaking downstairs to watch cartoons. Years later I found out that my brother used to walk the same way when he was a boy.

“I hurt my leg when I was just a little older than you,” Dad continued. Then he began the story of his “bad leg,” a story I never forgot. When he was 11 years old, he fell down the stairs in the little Ohio farmhouse he grew up in. He bumped his leg and had an open wound that was soon infected. These were the days before penicillin so the infection grew worse and worse. It resulted in a condition called osteomyelitis, and my Dad found himself in a wheelchair for a full 12 months during the height of his boyhood years. His lower leg bones were fused together, and his leg didn’t grow longer which caused him to limp.

Even though I was often thankful that I could easily outrun my Dad when I needed to be disciplined, for a long time I felt bad about my Dad’s painful experience as a child. I contemplated how difficult life would be with a severe limp. Until one day, I told my Dad how I felt about his situation and how it wasn’t fair that God allowed that to happen to him. Then he quoted a verse that has been meaningful to me ever since. Romans 8:28 “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” He told me that God used that experience to shape his life and even develop his love for reading and for the Bible.

The year he spent as an 11 year old cripple, taught him both patience and the importance of serving others as he watched his mother so faithfully tend to all his needs. She had an education degree and had previously taught school. She became both teacher and nurse, and together they spent a year diving deep into the stories of the Bible as well as other subjects, especially reading and memorizing poetry.

This is a story of how God works all things, both good and bad, for the good of those who love him and to accomplish His will and purpose. This is the story about a humble and gentle man who surrendered to the Lord’s plan for him and simply said “yes” to His will and to His way.

Because he had become a great student, by the time he had reached the 8th grade, Dad was teaching the seventh graders on almost a daily bases. This also freed up his teacher to work with the younger students in the one room schoolhouse he attended. After graduating from high school, he was off to college: first to a Junior college, then to one year of Business School and after, to Ohio Northern University where he majored in Education. All of his pre and post graduate studies after high school totaled eleven years. But, it was during his first years of college that he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and found new life in Him. After Ohio Northern, he landed a teaching job close to his hometown of Upper Sandusky teaching the 5th and 6th grades. He also pastored a small Methodist church during this time.

It was around this time in Dad’s life that he received the first of three letters from the War Department. He was informed that he had been drafted to serve his Country during World War II. I remember my Dad explaining how he was willing to go into the Service just as his younger brother Richard had, but he knew that with his bad leg he would never be able to keep up with the infantry. After receiving each letter, one in the beginning, one in the middle and one toward the end of the War, Dad responded with a letter which explained his condition. He also referenced his teaching career and later his missionary work and was allowed to remain uninlisted. God had worked all things for Dad’s good and God’s purpose, even if it meant limping along the way.

His love for both teaching and sharing the gospel led him to attend Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. Toward the end of his second year, the Seminary had a guest missionary who spoke about the work that was underway to reach the lost in Columbia. Soon he and his wife, Arlene, were off to teach and preach the good news of Jesus in a distant and often dangerous land.

Most of the work in Colombia was centered around one little mission that was nestled in the heart of the Andes Mountains. It had a few buildings clumped together, there were some school rooms, sleeping quarters and it also had a chapel. After learning some Spanish, Dad taught children in the classrooms and preached to many in the little chapel. He would often take his accordion, travel through the country side and set up little services in various villages. Sometimes he drove a truck, but often walked, I mean, limped from town to town and many received Christ.

God’s protection was very evident throughout Dad’s years of missionary work. In both Columbia and Mexico there was much opposition from non protestant religious groups. He often recalled hearing the sound of bullets hitting the buildings and churches where he was preaching. One time he was shot at through the windows of a small Mexican church. He had to keep moving around as he preached so they couldn’t get a target on him. Once during a service in Colombia, four men rushed into the church and went to the front with guns drawn. Dad didn’t know what to do, so he just kept playing the accordion and singing. Suddenly men from the congregation drew knives and approached the gunmen. Dad prayed a silent prayer and surprisingly, all the men stood down. The gunmen left, and the service continued.

Dad also told stories like the time there were men with guns just outside the door of a church he was preaching in. One of the Mexicans gave him his hat, and Dad turned up his shirt collar. The men encircled him, and they left as one big group, Dad with his head down but with God’s reassuring presence in his heart. Other life threatening circumstances included: a bus accident in Mexico when he and the other passengers took an axe to the window of the overturned bus to get out; a flight through a hurricane from San Antonioni to Mexico when the wings flapped like a bird and the Mexican pilots held the nose of the plane at a vertical angle to keep the plane from spinning out of control. All the passengers clapped for the pilots when they landed. Dad also experienced three to four major earthquakes in Mexico as well as a devastating one in Nicaragua along with my mother and sister. In that earthquake 15,000 people lost their lives, and a girl who lived just below them also died.

Close calls during Dad’s missionary work began even as soon as he arrived in Colombia. On the very first bus ride to the mission, people had placed nails on the road to stop them from reaching the village. A flat tire resulted, but other locals from the area came out to help repair the tire. The small group of missionaries on the bus told them about Jesus, and they received Christ. Those villagers later set up the first church in their town, and Dad often went back to preach there. Once again, God had worked ALL things together for their good.

After only a year and a half of serving in Colombia, Dad and Arlene had to quickly escape due to civil and military turmoil because of World War II. After returning to the states they were informed that other missionaries from the area had been killed because of local unrest and crime. A couple, friends of Dad, hid in the attic of their home, along with their child, for days without food or water until they were able to escape.

Back in the States, Dad pastored a number of Spanish speaking churches and ministered to Mexican Americans in the following locations: Kansas City (where he also attended the Nazarene Seminary), New Mexico, Santiago and San Antonio. After these seven years of ministry including Colombia, He obeyed the Lord’s call and went to Mexico. He served for 3 1/2 years in Ensenada and then 19 years in Mexico City. While in Mexico he preached, taught at the Nazarene Seminary, managed salaries for over 100 Mexican pastors, oversaw missions and coordinated incoming American missionaries bound for various Latin American countries. One of those missionaries was a spunky gal from Vermont, whom he married, and they ministered together in Mexico for over five years.

By the time I came along, Dad’s ministry of foreign missions was almost over. We left Mexico when I was only 2 1/2, but his experience and memories are still fresh in my mind from the years of stories and from some of his writings. As a boy and young man I witnessed my Father’s love for God, His Word and His people. He kept learning and kept teaching and often met one on one to mentor other believers. He was never too shy to share the good news of Jesus to those who didn’t know. As a father, his patience and unconditional love for me have never ceased to exemplify that of my Heavenly Father’s.

As I think about the limps in my own life, but feel God’s calling to love and to lead those around me to Jesus, I can’t help but be inspired by the loving man I had the privilege to call Dad. My prayer is that his story and his life have inspired you as well. We simply need to say “Yes” to God’s will and to His way… bad legs and all.

Now to summarize my dad’s life, ministry and retirement are his own words from one of his memoirs:

“It seems that my life divides into three parts which are preparation, service and retirement, although there is a lot of overlapping. So, now I’ll speak of those golden years of retirement. Life may not be all golden, but it can be satisfactory and worthwhile. We should have the mind of Christ in our attitudes.

“Some people can’t find time to be old. I think I am one of them. I painted several houses and buildings. My wife, Merilyn, went back to teaching Spanish in a large high school, so together we have a decent living.

“What are some of the needs of us older folks? Our feelings, desires and needs change very little as we go through life. We need to love and be loved. We need emotional and spiritual security. It’s great to have good friends and good health. Having these values are so important. It’s good to look back to my beginnings and see how the Lord led me along in preparing for life’s work. Then for 30 years or more I was in active missionary work. Then after just 60 years, I retired. Now I am awaiting that glorious day when I see Jesus and receive my rewards.

“Life has been good to me…and to you?”

– by John Clinger

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