My Story

April 10 was a perfect day! That day will live in the memory of my family for years to come, because that was my daughter’s wedding day. The weather was perfect. It was eighty degrees and sunny. (How many sunny eighty-degree April days do you remember in northeast Ohio?) The spring flowers were in full bloom. The flowering trees were breathtaking. The bride was stunning. The groom was handsome. The ushers and the bride maids were both well dressed and attractive. The music was outstanding. The ceremony went off without a hitch. The receptions, one at the church and one in the community, were perfect. It is safe to say everyone had fun. There is no other way to say it. It was a perfect day. This is also true.

April 12 was not perfect! The bride’s mother and I decided to go to Chicago to escape the post wedding blues. We decided to fly because it was cheaper to fly than park our car in the Windy City. I was at Cleveland Airport when I began to grow sick. That evening I knew I had a problem. The next day I found myself at an urgent care. They sent me to the Emergency Room at the Northwestern Medical Center. They told me I needed emergency surgery because I had an intestinal blockage. The next day, I woke up in pain with a long incision. The problem came from scare tissue from a surgery I had in 1958. I do not remember that surgery because I was only eighteen months old, but I do remember the pain from this surgery. I was told the surgery was successful, except they nicked my bowel during the procedure. Unable to fly home, a good friend came to Chicago to drive us home. I was not home for long.

Forty-eight hours after I got home, I had an intense pain like I had never had in my life. I found out later my bowel was working its way to the surface. I went to a local hospital, who sent me to their downtown location. It was there I met the surgeon. There were more tests and painkillers. In time, the surgeon returned and said to me, “Reverend Adams, you seem like a really good guy. You deserve the best care, and you are not going to get it here. I am sending you to the Cleveland Clinic. I have performed four surgeries that you need. They have done thousands.” That night I was sent to the Cleveland Clinic by ambulance. I was admitted in the middle of the night. In the end, I spent over a week in the Cleveland Clinic, but I never had a second surgery. It was decided my nicked bowel would have to heal on its own. I was warned it would take time and it would not be pleasant. Those words were not untrue. It did take time and it was unpleasant.

I spent my 64th birthday and Mother’s Day, May 9th, at home. It was great to be home, but I had souvenirs from the hospital. I had a port in my upper right chest for my three hours of antibiotics. I had three holes in my abdomen. One that needed to be packed daily. One was covered by a drainage bag. I was exhausted doing the simplest task. The visiting nurse came to twice a week. That means Kathryn and I were on our own for five days a week. I have said it a million times since April 13th, every family needs one medical person, not two, to do those messy medical things. My family has no medical people. I will always be thankful for two people. The first is my ex-neighbor Amy, who came five days a week to pack my wound. She is a practicing nurse. The second is my wife, Kathryn. She cared for me, flushing the port, and giving me those three hours of antibiotics daily. She was way out of her comfort zone. This is the truth. Without her, I would have been placed in a nursing home.

I am glad to report, things did get better. On our wedding anniversary, May 27th, I was released by the infectious disease doctor. The next day it was ruled I no longer needed the drainage bag. At some point, the antibiotics were stopped. My port was removed at a branch of the Cleveland Clinic, Akron General Hospital. In time, the three holes in my abdomen healed and the packing ceased. Today, my pain is gone, but my abdomen looks like a West Virginia Roadmap. The chills, caused by an infection, I was told, may have been the worst part, are no longer. I have no problem sleeping through the night or napping during the day. June 7th was another good day. I woke up and felt like a tired version of myself. I received no physical therapy, but I was encouraged to walk. I was told to eat my normal diet. I am not at 100% yet, but I am making progress. It has been a long four months. On my darkest days, I was thankful for two things. First, I was thankful I was in America. If this would have happened when I was in Slavic Eastern Europe, I would have died. Their medical care is archaic. Second, I am thankful for my hospitalization. Between Kathryn’s heart surgery and my abdominal surgery, we have spent more than $453,000 in medical care. I do not have that figure on hand.

Several years ago, I went to the suburbs of Cleveland to visit a parishioner. He was having heart surgery. Prior to the surgery, we talked for a while and then I prayed. After the prayer, he looked at me and asked, “Russ, have you ever been the one in need?” I that point, I answered, “No.” Today, I would answer differently. In the last nine months, I have struggled with the Coronavirus and had major surgery. Being in need is uncomfortable, but it positions you to learn about yourself. In the last four months, I have learned several things. Let me give you part of my list.

First, I learned I am not John Wayne.       In the weeks, I was at home I discovered something you know. We may get 200 television stations, but there is nothing to watch on TV. We watched a great deal of old westerns, especially old John Wayne movies. In one of his movies, he got shot in the back and the bullet was longed near his spine. A doctor pulled out the bullet on the open range. Being John Wayne, after being shot and having the bullet expelled, he jumped on his horse and road off. It really was impressive. Let me state the obvious. I am not John Wayne. He rode off on his horse, I laid in bed or on my couch feeling all the pain. I am not John Wayne.

Second, I learned I do not do painkillers well. After my surgery, I was in a great deal of pain. The painkiller I was offered was oxycontin. I am told many try to steal oxycontin. I do not know why. I did not handle it well. I imagined all kind of things. One night, I imagined the walls around me were melting. One night, I imagined I was at the Parish House at Saint Monica’s Church in Garfield Hts. (I have not been there for twenty-five years.) One night, I imagined I was at a Burger King and tried to order a Whooper from my nurse. She reminded me I was on a clear liquid diet. I asked to get off the oxycontin because I needed to think clearly. It was the beginning of my recovery. It was a good day when I got off all the painkillers. Let me state the obvious. I do not do painkillers well.

Third, I learned life is hard. On Saturday, I was dancing with the bride and hosting my world. It was a perfect day. On Tuesday, I was having emergency surgery in a foreign land. It was a horrible day. Most of the next four months were horrible. I could preach on this theme weekly, and it would never get old. You know it is true. It is one thing to hear about someone else’s hardship. It is a completely different thing to experience the hardship yourself. When was the last time you experienced hardship? Maya Angelou (1928-2014) once said, “You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.”

Forth, I have learned our society has a surplus of kind people. I am humbled by the kindness shown to me. I was in three hospitals during my saga. Everyone, from the housekeeping people to the surgeons, were kind to me. Fellow patients who heard my story, and they were kind to me. My neighbor mowed my lawn. My neighbors gave me food. One day, a stranger showed up with a casserole dish. I asked her the question, “Who are you?” She answered, “My friends and I were talking about your story, and I thought you may want to eat tonight.” Even my mailman, when he heard my story, said, and still says, “I am praying for you.” We have a surplus of kind people in our society because Christianity is part of national DNA. I have been to other parts of the world where kindness is rare. Let me take it one step farther.

We have a surplus of kind people within this church. The word spread fast about my emergency surgery. On the day after my surgery, I looked at my cell phone for the first time. I had 162 texts. Each one said, they were concerned about me and were praying for me. I received well over 100 cards. Some came from people who have moved out of the area. Some cards came from people who left the church because they were mad me. At one point, I lost 31 pounds, but you cannot be blamed. For weeks, food was delivered to my home. I cannot tell you how many people have offered to do something during my time of need. We have a surplus of kind people within our church.

One day, I was texting someone about all the kindness I had been shown. Her response made me think. She texted: Of course, people are kind to you. What else can we really do? She was right! Kindness of not optional in the Christian faith. Kindness is demanded! It is required! It is dictated! Your kindness is a sign that your faith is sincere, and it has been that way from the very beginning. Do you remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Galatians all those years ago? Galatians 6:10-11 says:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

So today I am not going to reprimand you for some poor behavior or habit. Today, I am going to encourage you to keep doing what you have been doing. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ, and you know the truth. We are not saved by our good works. Even non-believers can be kind. You are saved by grace and by faith in Jesus. You are saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus. He died so we could live. Your kindness is a way of thanking God for saving your soul. How are you going thank God today?

The Power of Kindness

Twenty-two miles outside of Lynchburg, Virginia is Appomattox Court House. Still undeveloped, it is one of the great spots in American history. For it was at that place on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) surrendered to Commanding General of the United States Army Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), effectively ending the American Civil War. History tells us when the day began, Lee expected to be arrested and charged with treason. However, instead of experiencing incarceration, Lee, and his remaining army, experienced kindness. The terms of the surrender revealed Grant’s kindness. The Confederate Army was permitted to return home. The officers, cavalrymen, artillerymen were permitted to keep their swords and horses, and their men were asked to lay down their weapons and swore an alliance to the federal government. Food was shared generously. Lee never forgot that kindness. History also tells us he refused at hear a negative word about Grant after the war. On several occasions, he defended Grant. Can I ask a question? How many people defend you because of your kindness? Never underestimate the power of kindness. That leads us to today’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves today in the Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In our time, we call Galatia north central Asia Minor. For our use, let me say it was written about the year 50 AD. The issue is Old Testament traditions and laws. Should new converts observe Old Testament ways? The Galatians believed they should still be practiced. Men should be circumcised, and Old Testament laws should be enforced. Paul believed differently. He said we were new people born again in Christ, so the Old Testament ways had passed. All believers were liberated from Old Testament ways. The entire fifth chapter has been called Freedom in Christ.

Our reading for today has been called Life in the Spirit. As a believer in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit should be making a difference in your life. How much of a difference is the Holy Spirit making in your life? Paul says there is a sharp contrast between those who are living without the Holy Spirit’s influence and those living with the Holy Spirit’s influence. Let us look at them both briefly. Those who are living without the Holy Spirit are living sinful lives, sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, and the rest. The Holy Spirit, within believers, produces certain Christian virtues. What are those virtues?




          Forbearance or patience






Let me say it again. It is the Holy Spirit which produces those virtues within us. They are not produced by obeying Old Testament law. That is an impressive list. If I had more time, then I would turn that list into a sermon series. Unfortunately, I do not have time, so I am going to only focus in on one, kindness. The reason is obvious, during my time away I experienced the kindness of this congregation and I will never forget what it meant to me.

This is not the only place in the Bible where kindness mentioned. The theme of kindness is peppered throughout the scriptures. In the Old Testament:

Proverbs 11: 17 says, “A man who is kind benefits himself, but a man who is cruel hurts himself.

Proverbs 21:21 says, “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life.

Proverbs 31:26 says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teachings of kindness are on her tongue.”

In the New Testament:

          Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.”

          Colossians 3:12 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

          1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient and kind.”

You cannot debate the fact that Jesus was not kind. Jesus was kind to the leper. Do you remember? Jesus came down from the mountainside and the crowd met him. In the crowd as a rule breaker, a leper. He was supposed to stay at a safe distance. Instead, he kneels before Jesus and asks to be healed. Then, Jesus broke the rules when he reached out and touched the man. It is a great healing story. It is a great story of kindness. (Matthew 8:1-4) Jesus was kind to the tax collector, Zacchaeus. Do you remember the story? Short, Zacchaeus is sitting in a tree so he can see Jesus. He is also in the tree for protection. The general population hated him. He sold his own people out for profit. In the end, everyone is happy. The people are reimbursed for the tax collector’s misdeeds and Zacchaeus is happy because Jesus dines with him. It was an act acceptance. It is a story of great kindness. (Luke 19:1-10.) Jesus was kind to the woman at the well. Do you remember the story? Jesus is traveling and stops at a well to rest. He encounters a Samaritan woman, a half-bred. She is a sinner, married five times and now living with a man who was not her husband. Jesus did not condemn her. Jesus showed her kindness and offered her salvation. It is a story about evangelism, but it is also a story about kindness. (John 4:1-26) Jesus was always kind to common people, like us, who had been forgotten by society. This is the point. As a disciple of Jesus Christ you are expected to kind. So, be kind. Aesop (624 BCE-564 BCE) once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

There is an old preaching story about a woman by the name of Mamie Adams. She is not remembered for anything special in history. She was just an ordinary person, like me. One the things she enjoyed doing was going to the post office. She went there to buy stamps just before Christmas one year and the lines were particularly long. Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know,” said Mamie, ‘but the machine won’t ask me about my arthritis.” Never underestimate the power of kindness.

We are always hearing that America is changing. That is not debatable. America is changing in many ways. I am not just talking about science, technology, and medicine. I am talking in the heart of the average American. Is America as kind today as it was decades ago. It is a fair question. I have my personal doubts. I feel like every other person I know is taking a stand or telling you the way it is. They are more interested in being heard than anything else. They are more interested in being heard, then they are how their harsh words affect you.

Sociologists tell us the issue is more an old-fashioned selfishness. They say our national problems are weighing us down, smothering our national kindness. They may be right. Consider these facts with me. According the U.S. Census Bureau in 2016, 43% of Americans are living in poverty. How would your life change if you were forced to live on minimum wage? Americans are taking on more debt, and they are saving less. Wages have been at the same level since 1999. Student debt is exploding. Did you know as a country we owe $1.6 trillion in student loans? As a country we owe $1.03 trillion in credit card debt. Household savings are non-existent. Medical expenses are out of control. Add in the national election, racism and the pandemic and we are in quite a mess. The amount of national stress is at pandemic levels. Our national stress is eroding away at our national kindness. That is why when we experience kindness it affects us profoundly.

Kindness is important for several reasons.

  1. Kindness makes us happy.
  2. Kindness lowers our stress.
  3. Kindness improves ourself-esteem.
  4. Kindness lowers our depression.

This is my pastoral advice for you. Keep being kind. Keep sending those cards. Keep sending those texts. Keep baking those meals. Keep praying. Keep caring. Do not ever underestimate the power of kindness. Each act of kindness is a small light who is living through a dark day.

It must has been three weeks ago as of tomorrow. I was home from the hospital, but I had a long way to go. I felt like a broken person. The highlight of that day was a phone call from my doctor. My family and I have gone to him for years. He has seen us through various illnesses. We trust him because he cares about us. At some level, I like to think of him as a friend. However, I would never call him by his first name, Bill. I respect him too much. When the phone rang at 2:45, I mustered all the strength I could gather. At first, we reviewed my recent past. I told him about my trip to the hospital and my trip to the emergency room. At some point he asked me about how I was doing on that day. I told him I was exhausted and a felt like I had let everyone in my life down. I let my wife, who was also recovering, down by being a burden. I worried my children. I let my church down. I let God down because I just could not function. This was the first time being in need. Do you know what I did next? I cried. I do not mean a few tears. I mean, I cried like a baby. Ok, I wailed. I had told others that, but they just dismissed emotions. The theme was, “Don’t be silly, you haven’t let anyone down. You just got sick. It is a worldwide pandemic.” As I wailed with my doctor, he said something new.” He said, “I understand.” He said, “Russ, do you know what I fear? I do not fear getting the virus and dying. I fear getting the virus and not being able to work. People are dependent on me and people are dependent on you too. You are overwhelmed with responsibility. It is hard to be a giving person when you cannot give.” Those kind compassionate words were like pouring salve on my open wounds. I felt like there was one person in the world who understood. I cannot do this job at 30%. And, I have no clue how to do this job in isolation. Then, he said, “Russ, give it time. Everything is going to be fine. Just give it time.”

When I got off the phone, I thought about is kind words. We did not talk about my oxygen level. We did not talk about my drugs. We did not talk about my heart rate or my blood pressure. I know those things are important, but we are more than a science project. All I did was talk and all he did was listen. He gave me time and and compassion when I needed it. He showed me kindness when I needed kindness. He gave me a small light on a dark day. Never underestimate the power of kindness. Perhaps, it was a coincidence, perhaps not. A few hours later I turned the corner, and I began to heal. Never underestimate the power of kindness.

Do the people in your life consider you kind? I believe they do because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. It it the Holy Spirit who creates that virtue within you. Aesop was not wrong. He said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”