Saturday, June 30, 2007

One Life Touched . . .

Jeannette Clift George, that wonderful actress who was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance as Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place, has written a delightful endorsement of My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story. . . .

"Like a giant sized Peter Pan, the memory of Jim Vaus will joyfully shadow the future. I am delighted that there is to be a new book about him. I recommend it as the continuing of his work, his echoing story deserves this generation’s full attention. The time I spent with Jim was short but its effect on my life will be long lasting. I first met him when he spoke to a group of Christians active in the business of New York City Theater. He was a champion of Godly newness and our stumbling beginnings responded to the certainty of this wise man who dared to begin and accomplish a new ministry. That ministry would shake up the world’s acceptance of the tawdriness of misguided young people and offer instead the surprising validity of hope. I returned to Houston to work as an actress in the Alley Theater and started a small group Bible study within Houston’s theater community. I asked Jim to come to Houston to speak to a gathering of that group in my home and invited a few guests. Jim’s name and the impact of his work brought a crowd to my house that immediately out distanced the amount of food I had prepared. Jim joined me in the kitchen and laughed at my dilemma as I divided the considered portions and literally watered the cups of soup. My living room was crowded and no comfortable chair was left for our guest of honor. He perched awkwardly on the arm of an undersized sofa and spoke to a wide-eyed group of under fed guests who never noticed the scant service in the midst of the wonderment of Jim’s abundant words. Later I realized how appropriate that evening was. Jim was seldom confined within the expectations of the ordinary and much of his work was spent in undersized accommodations serving those whom society had underfed. God had a special place for Jim. No other ministry served as Jim’s did and in a manner seldom equaled, Jim did not require agreement or fellowship; with or without it . . . he served in obedience to God . . . and that ministering service had and still has performance.

"Many years have passed since that season of my life. I have become the Artistic Director of a Christian Theater that began at a time when I knew no similar ministry offering the pattern of fellowship and scant recognition of its purpose. Now, in our 40th season I see my work as an outcropping of what I learned from Jim: when God calls unto a new ministry we dare not wait for the future to catch up with us. God had a word for Jim: authenticity. I am grateful for the men and women who have illustrated that word in my life. It is a demanding word. Jim was authentic in his faith, authentic in his friendship, authentic in his love for his family, authentic in his humor, authentic in his sorrows and authentic in his joy. That authenticity defined his ministry and reflected the One absolute God in Whom we can trust absolutely."

Jeannette Clift George

Founder & Artistic Director

A.D. Players

Houston, Texas

Friday, June 22, 2007

Remembering Ruth Graham

I am ever so grateful for Ruth Graham. Without a woman like that, who let her husband Billy roam the earth preaching the Gospel, someone like my father might never have committed his life to follow Jesus Christ.

The blessing of being with Ruth only came to me a few times. Back in 1986 I served as a summer intern at her home church in Montreat, North Carolina. Ruth was gracious enough to take time out of her busy life to encourage a young man preparing for Christian ministry. The first time we chatted together was in the car on the way back home from her hair-dresser! We got to talking about our beloved Presbyterian Church. For all of its faults she felt it was important to remain active in the church and thereby try to make it better. Her father, of course, was a medical missionary to China. Growing up on the mission field Ruth never lost that sense of being a missionary in all situations--even being a missionary to her own church.

On another occasion Ruth invited me to her mountain-top, log cabin home for dinner, along with a small group of people from the church. I don't remember all we talked about that night. But I do remember the meal was delicious and Ruth showed far more interest in everyone else at the table than we did in her. She was asking too many questions to let any of us ask her questions about herself. She obviously lived by Paul's maxim: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

On yet another occasion I had the privilege of sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Graham on their porch, overlooking the beautiful North Carolina mountains. We chatted about so many topics I don't remember them all. And Billy showed that same interest in me that Ruth had. It was very hard for me to get in the questions I wanted to ask him. I especially enjoyed watching how Ruth entered into the conversation. She wasn't afraid to disagree with her husband or make her opinion known on certain topics!

Ruth was also a woman who displayed great compassion towards others. When Ruth heard about my father falling and breaking his hip, back in 1997, she immediately wrote a telegram to let him know that she and Billy would be praying for him.

Later that same year she wrote a delightful letter to my parents congratulating them on their fiftieth wedding anniversary:

"Dear Jim and Alice,

"You are one of the happiest memories we have of the Los Angeles crusade. God did incredible things at Washington and Hill. (To this day I love the smell of sawdust.)

"One of the neat stories I remember was told me by the little night watchman who slept under the platform. One night he heard someone stumbling around among folding chairs and when he called out, 'Who goes there?', the voice replied, 'I just came back to find Jesus.' So the little night watchman led him to Christ.

"God certainly has had His hand on your lives and the lives of your three sons. What an incredible ministry you have had and are now having as people see how a Christian handles Parkinsons. Bill does not shake much but he does have some hilarious memory lapses.

"Did I ever tell you the day after Daddy was buried the family was gathered around Mother in their home when the phone rang. I answered it. It was Mickey Cohen on the other end of the line. He simply said, 'Please give your mother my darndest condolences.' I loved it. And God certainly gave her 'His darndest condolences.'

"Have a happy celebration together. It has been a blessing just to count you among our dearest friends.

"Our love to you both

Ruth (for Bill too)"

Now, I am sure, the angels in heaven are having a celebration of Ruth's homecoming. But we who are left behind here on earth will certainly miss her, until we too get to go home.

My thoughts and prayers, alike with the thoughts and prayers of many around the world, are with the Graham family at this time, and especially with Billy. May the Lord comfort them all as only He can.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

More Stuff

Here is another bit of memorabilia . . . a creative invitation to one of my father's speaking engagements back in the 1950's. And here's the flip side . . .

During the past few days I have been selecting photographs for the inside of the book. There is no final decision yet about how many photos will be included. Narrowing the choices down to a manageable size has been a Herculean effort. I have hundreds if not thousands of photos of my father's life tucked away in the nooks and crannies of my house. Consequently I have far fewer nooks and crannies. Perhaps in some upcoming blogs I will share some photos that may not make it into the book. . .

Saturday, June 2, 2007


No, this is not a photograph of my typewriter. It was the typewriter belonging to Sheldon Vanauken, one of my favorite authors. It is, in fact, the machine on which he typed his bestselling book, A Severe Mercy.

I can't imagine writing a book on a typewriter, let alone writing a book in long-hand. I have seen the manuscript of A Severe Mercy. It was quite a sight to behold. The typing looked much like the typed letters I received from Vanauken during the last year of his life--with his neatly penned notes to himself, or to his editor, in the margins. I think Van liked writing on his typewriter. Whereas C. S. Lewis liked writing with pen and ink. By this method he penned six or seven words at a time, then he had a moment to think about what he was writing and craft his next phrase while dipping the pen in the ink again. Well, I'm sure I'll never be as good a writer as C. S. Lewis, partly because I will never use that method of writing.

I like my computer. I like word processing programs. It took my father many years to convince me of the value of computers; I'm rather a stick-in-the-mud for a man of my era. It takes me a while to latch on to new-fangled things and ideas, if ever I do. But now I like computers. Lewis thought the sound of a typewriter was distracting to the mind of the writer. To me it becomes helpful background noise. I don't even think about the sound, except for right now while I am writing about it!

One reason I really can't imagine writing a book on a typewriter, or by the pen and ink method, is because of all the work that goes into editing. I guess if you are a genius like C. S. Lewis you don't have to worry about that. I have read that he seldom made corrections once he set pen to paper. If you are looking for evidence of this you might want to view his original manuscript of The Screwtape Letters at The New York Public Library. For my part, I am quite happy to edit my writing with a word processor; being able to cut and paste so easily is a heaven-sent gift for a writer.

All that to say, I haven't written any blogs recently because I have been working on editing My Father Was a Gangster. The book is coming along well, shaping up nicely with the help of my editor at Believe Books, and hopefully it will be in print later this year. I'll keep you posted on that. . . .