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Lowell Brueckner

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What Our Hands Have Handled, chapter seven


Yesterday evening, Margaret and I were listening to Joni talk from her wheelchair of her 40+ years of suffering. Since she made that tragic decision, as a teenager, to dive into the water, until now, she has known much pain. First, she went through depression and, while she sang last night, she spoke of shortness of breath.

As a child, I watched my 18-year-old sister suffer and die from leukemia. As a teenager, I saw my dad grip his heart, run for bed, groaning, at least once a week. “Christians don’t need to suffer,” some say. I think they need to do a little more careful study of the Bible and get some revelation, as to what the Christian life is all about.



Our home in the Chippewa National Forest, where Jean died in 1957.
(When this photo was taken a few years ago, it was abandoned.)
It takes a whole lifetime to make saintly Christians and in our day, all too few of them are being made. Modern Christianity, at least in the western world, does not allow for it. It requires discomfort, inconvenience, suffering, much faith and a keen sensitivity to the Holy Spirit working in the life to produce that indescribable something, which cannot be learned in seminars, nor produced in assembly-line church activities.

There is no beauty on earth like that, which is worked deep into the recesses of the human personality by the Holy Spirit. I have already written in other chapters of an outward ministry, the thrill of God working through a life to touch others. It does not tell the whole story. How can it be told? Who can outline those mysterious inner dealings that break the heart, yet cause the face to glow and instill a magnet in the soul that draws others to that person?

My parents were not perfect. I remember smiling, as I would listen to Mom and Dad’s friendly arguments coming from the open door of their bedroom over a game of Chinese Checkers. They almost invariably played before retiring at night. Long after their mothers were dead, they would still fuss over which of the two was the best cook. I recall the tension in the car on a trip, when a wrong turn was taken. They were human. That is what endeared them to our hearts and made the imprint of God upon them so wonderfully evident.

Each of my five brothers and sisters (one sister died when she was eighteen) honor them and the grandchildren look back with fondness upon their memory. We are thankful for such a rich inheritance. People still recall the brightness of Dad’s smile and the strength of his handshake. Mom adopted as daughters all the younger ladies around her and applied home remedies to their sick children. The children, in turn, were always coming to ‘Gramma’ Brueckner for cookies or other handouts. Young Christians gathered around Dad and Mom like bees around clover.

Quinney Chapel didn’t need a lot of specialized ministry for the young. We did not have children’s church. We didn’t even have a nursery. There was tolerance for babies that cried and if they persisted, they could be taken outside for a few minutes. The front steps of the chapel were often the place where a father’s hand struck a boy’s backside and none of the neighbors had learned to report child abuse to the local police. Dad and Mom were part of the young people’s skating parties and games. So were the other adults of the church.
Old-fashioned saintliness did not come easily. Dad worked with his hands and his boys helped him. He built additions and remodeled houses and churches. He dug wells. He was a good carpenter. We always had a big garden, from which most of our food came.

Then, there were the dark moments – the kind for which many evangelicals today rebuke the devil. There was sickness and death. One morning in prayer, Dad was rededicating himself, his family and everything he owned to the Lord. The old car wasn’t much to offer, nor were any of his earthly possessions, but he gave them joyfully over to God. Then without warning, a darkness engulfed the room. With the eyes of his spirit, he saw his wife before him in a casket, then one-by-one, each of his children. He was about to cry out, “No, Lord!” when the Lord addressed him. “You gave them to Me. Do I not have a right to do with them as I please?” The commitment was not easy and pain wrenched his heart, but finally the transaction with the Almighty was made and they became His. He offered up his unborn grandchildren as well. Then, God spoke again, “I love them more than you do.” The love and peace of God filled Dad’s being, as he realized that the Father in heaven would do nothing to harm him or his family.

I alluded above to my sister’s death. Still a teenager, Jean was smitten with acute leukemia. I will never forget the evening that my oldest sister, Ruth, called me out of a meeting at Medicine Lake Bible Camp to tell me that Jean was in the hospital and was not expected to live. It was the summer of 1956. What an upheaval this brought into our family! That year, I attended three different public schools. My parents were by Jean’s side, of course, throughout her suffering. They would run for the nurse, when an attack of pain came. She described it as a needle being poked into her eye. They and my older brothers and sisters gave blood, because she needed transfusions frequently. People prayed around the country and Jean actually lived eleven months longer.

God allowed her to survive through an unusual, spiritual time. Dad was the principal of an Indian Bible school in northern Minnesota. The year before, a spirit of prayer came upon the students. Dad would find them on their knees praying together in the wee hours of the morning. Picnics and parties would become prayer meetings, as the students disappeared into the woods to talk with God.

It was a communion Sunday in the local church, when a particular breakthrough came. As the bread and drink were being distributed among the congregation, a married Cree student from Canada came weeping to kneel at the altar. Soon, arising and facing the congregation, she asked the ladies to forgive her. She had been holding bitterness in her heart against some of them. Then our neighbor, sitting near the back of the church, walked to the aisle on the far side and up to the place where his sister sat. They attended the same church, her husband was the former pastor, but she had not spoken to her brother for two years. He asked her to forgive him. There was no sermon that Sunday. Hearts melted and made room for the Holy Spirit to work.

The following summer, while Jean lay in the hospital, God began to move over the whole area. Raw pagans found Christ. Religious people saw their own spiritual emptiness and came to reality. God mightily poured out His Spirit, especially upon denominational pastors throughout the region and their ministries were dynamically changed. Some of them eventually found their way to foreign mission fields. Yes, exiting miracles happened. However, they were not really the outstanding feature in this move of God. It was the invisible work that was so intriguing, so breathtaking. It was the sense of the presence of God with His people. It was the love that they had one for another.

What a difference it made, as far as priorities were concerned! Just the winter before, the high school basketball schedule occupied most people’s free time. Basketball was the chief form of entertainment in our small town and some of the Christian boys played on the team. Now, the believers felt there was not enough time to get together. They could not praise God enough and there was little else, about which they cared to talk.

I had been raised in church and, being the son of a minister, I attended meetings almost every day or night of the week all my life. I was not very fond of meetings. I found it difficult to sit through Sunday morning services, in particular, and, consequently, my dad saw to it that I would sit quietly most of Sunday afternoon – on a chair, without being permitted to get up. But, I couldn’t wait for these meetings to begin and I hated to see them end. They were a delight for young and old. The youth, who experienced that special time, remained faithful to God throughout their lives.

One night, a leader asked a Methodist dentist and a dignified man, if he would like special prayer. He was blind in one eye. As he made his way out of his seat and before anyone had a chance to pray, suddenly his blind eye was opened. Needless to say, he became quite excited. “I can see!” he shouted as he held his hand over his good eye, “I tell you, I can see!”

However, God was not only in the meetings. Whenever there was a chance, the Christians met with one another in homes. The Lord’s presence seemed to permeate the atmosphere. While sitting around a table drinking coffee, the Lord was there and often made his presence known. On such an occasion, one lady suddenly became nauseated and ran for the bathroom to vomit. Shortly before, cancer had been discovered in her stomach. The next doctor’s appointment revealed that the cancer had disappeared.

What took place those months in a concentrated form was typical of my dad’s entire life. There was no limit in his mind to what God could do. Dad had a way of interrupting conversations with, “Let’s pray about it right now” and consequently miracles often took place. Yet, there was room in his theology for enduring pain. This, I believe, produced the magnetism in his character. In his mid-fifties, he suffered a heart attack. For weeks, he was flat on his back and it took months to recover. For most of the rest of his life, a couple times a week with regularity, he would grip his chest and make a beeline for his bed, while my mother ran for the nitroglycerin. There he would groan in pain, his face gray, his feet ice-cold, until the pill took effect.

When Jean died, we lived in the Chippewa National Forest, well off the highway, five miles from the nearest town and over a quarter mile from the nearest neighbor. My father sought privacy and retreated into the woods. Yet, inside our house, Mom and I overheard his anguish, as he cried, “Oh, Jean, Jean!” In this old world, we can never expect to be free from tribulation and trouble.

Yet, our great High Priest, touched with the feelings of our infirmity, has many ways of compensating. I was sick with mumps and Mom and Dad, along with our godly neighbor lady, were with Jean as she made her departure from this world. She was ready to go, in fact, had made it known that she wanted to go. She lay quietly in bed in her final coma with her eyes closed. Then, she opened them and scanned the ceiling of her room from one side to another. A smile crept over her face. She closed her eyes for the last time and at that instant, my parents and the neighbor heard music.

Mom, as usual, said the first thing that popped into her head. “Did you leave your car radio on?” she asked the neighbor. “No,” the neighbor responded, “it hasn’t worked for a long time. Did you hear that music, too?” Then Mom came into my room. “Did you have your radio on?” she asked me. I had not. There was no natural explanation for the music that entered our home in the Chippewa National Forest. We had to conclude that angels, who came for Jean’s soul, had brought it. Jean was taken to be with her Lord.


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