Mar 19, 2017

One: To the Class of 92

"Once I thought I knew everything I needed to know about you. . .but I really didn't know that much"
                                               Bruce Springsteen, "Lonesome Day"

25 years later. . .From left to right Jeff O'Conner, Tyrone Walker, Pamela Foard Jansen, Tracy Truitt Mastrapa, Anita Hodder Jimenez, and me!

This weekend was wonderful. I saw a total of 9 people from the hundred that graduated with me in 1992 and it was wonderful.

I guess most people would consider a reunion with those numbers a bust but I don't.  It was a blessing and I'm glad I came.

On Friday night I arrived at the FLA gymnasium with it's fancy wood floors--the green ones I remember from our time there long gone, along with Coach Fulbright's offices that used to hang high over the entrance to the gym  (Now it's his name that hangs over the entrance).  I looked at the yearbooks on our forlorn, unadorned table, looked at the picture of our class, of us when we were young and the future still lay ahead.  And then one of my oldest friends in the world, Paul Wood showed up and we had the best time.  We laughed and talked through the whole program and then after as well; ended up closing the place down.  We were the last to leave and then talked in the parking lot where I used to park my car alongside the other members of The Group twenty-five years ago.

This guy right here is one of my heroes. I've known him since third grade but we barely spoke in for much of high school.  It was my loss. Today I count him among the best of friends.  Paul's dedication, his boldness, his good heart are all things I aspire to.

We saw some other people that night--none of our classmates--but people that brought back warm memories nonetheless.  We talked for awhile with Tom and Jeanie Brevig, our old Pathfinder leaders at Central church in the days before high school, and I gained a whole new appreciation for their joyful, loving, Christ-like hearts.  We talked for a bit with the mother of one of our classmates--who insisted we call her Loretha now.  It felt a bit weird--I was so used to Mrs. Collins from my childhood, but she's not Mrs. Collins anymore and I'm not a kid anymore.  She was completely charming and I loved chatting with her.  And we talked to Melissa Keller, the alumni and development director at Forest Lake Academy, who also happened to be one of  my wife's good friends in college from the days when. . .well, when I was still a senior at FLA.  A senior who had no idea that in five short years he'd be getting ready to marry an amazing woman from the class of '89.

It was #2for92 and it was so fun.


On Sabbath our numbers tripled. Pamela, Anita, and Jeff O'Conner showed up. A full half of our old junior year clique!  Ty joined us later and Tracy popped in just in time for the official class picture.  The program was nice.  The message from Benji Leach was good, but the part that stood out for me the most was the In Memorium segment--two names for our class of 92.  Becky Hall and Frank Modeste, and I felt a real sadness, a true loss.  I hadn't been close with either one of them, but in that moment I felt their loss keenly.  They were too young.  They never had a chance to pass on going to even one of our honor year alumni reunions.  And I never had a chance to know them.

The room where Paul Viar taught me how to study.  The man darn near killed me in sophomore biology and I am forever grateful.  I remember A&P class with Chandra Maloney our senior year in this room too.

After the program, Ty, Jeff, and I stayed for a tour of the campus with our former teachers Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. And  it was nice, but it was then I realized I really wasn't here for the building or even the teachers (as good as they were).  I was here to see my old classmates.  So we cut the tour short and headed over to Sweet Tomatoes to meet up with Pam and Anita and their husbands and children for lunch.

We were there for four hours.  We laughed, shared stories, relived memories, brought each other up to date.  These were friends I'd spent four years with--studying at Anita's house on a Sunday afternoon, talking for hours with Pam on the phone, hanging out with Jeff at Geri's house on the regular, with our cars parked in a neat row on her front lawn.  And these were people that I'd only known in passing--Ty was the tall guy that was friends with J in the dorm.  Yet 25 years later talking to them, to their spouses, and their children I felt I got to know them all in ways I never had when we shared classrooms and teachers.  I saw in the them the familiar struggle we call life--raising kids, caring for aging parents, dealing with tragedy, with endings and new beginnings.  I was reminded that we are all in this together, doing the best we can.  It was good.  And something you just can't get from a status update or vacation pics on Facebook.  I used to think I knew everything I needed to know about my class of 92.  It was all on Facebook right?  But this weekend taught me that there some things you can only learn, a connection you can only gain when you sit down with someone and talk, face to face.

Pamela was one of my first friends at Forest Lake; we met when we were both freshman. I remember being so struck by her kind spirit and I found that hasn't changed in more than 25 years.

Today, I met up with Heather and Jennifer at the Crepevine and again, it was so nice to simply take some time together.  We couldn't have been more different--me, the left-leaning Obama supporter appalled by what's going on the White House these days;  Heather and Jennifer, rejoicing that the Age of Obama has at last drawn to a close, eager to see what the new sheriff in town will set right.  And yet we couldn't have been more the same--we have struggles and sacrifices, love and sorrow.  We have friendship.  That we have in common and it was more than enough to make two hours feel like not enough.  It was time well spent.

With Jennifer Everett Jeffers and Heather Dunkel Rice at CrepeVine.  Jennifer was one of my first friends from the legendary Tampa crew, and Heather was one of my last.  I don't know what they put in the water down there but the Tampa girls were always the coolest!

You know our class never really could get it together.  We never won much of anything (except for Anything Goes our senior year--you would have thought it was the Olympics the way we celebrated).  We were terrible joiners.  We took a kind of perverse pride in our dysfunctional status.  It showed in our "sacred cow" class flag, with a mutated Panther looking far more bovine than feline.  The flag was so unusual and I guess so controversial that it was eventually replaced by a more conventional one that hangs in the gym today.  That's pretty much the class of 92 for you.

 If there was ever a class less stereotypical of seniors, it was the class of 92.  Those who came before us were the epitome of 80's cool (I still can't get over that class of '89. When I was a freshman--those men and women--you couldn't think of them as kids--were so cool. I admit I still feel a little proud that I married one of their number, even if she went to SVA instead of FLA).  We were the first true class of the 90's. Nirvana to their stadium rock.  They had golden locks and burnished skin, the bodies of Greek gods and goddesses, wowing the crowds. We were scruffy, with stringy hair, wearing a ratty sweater, hunched over a beat up guitar, making a noise like no-one ever heard.

 I never, ever got the sense we hated each other.  There were no fights that I knew of.  No enemies or frenemies (well, okay there were--but they were all within circles, not between circles as I recall).  We were just always kind of disconnected.  We had our little Groups, and we weren't against anyone else--we just didn't connect much outside of our circles.  It's why I didn't show up for the 20th.  It didn't seem necessary, I guess.  And maybe it wasn't, but what I found over this alumni weekend, is that it was absolutely worthwhile.

You see we weren't so bad at everything.  In looking through my  journals from our senior year, I was reminded that we put on one of the best Senior claas plays anyone had ever seen.  I'd forgotten how good we were at that.  We had an outstanding class trip to Chicago, Tennessee, and Atlanta.  And there was Senior Survival--one of the coldest on record.  It was one of those rare times when I feel like as a class, the walls came down a little bit.  The cold forced it, all that hugging and snuggling that the sponsors simply had to let pass. It was just too damn cold!  But that's when I became friends with Poupa Marashi (she went by Jenny back in those days).  That's when the misfit band of fellows that didn't really "fit" anywhere came together to form the Wild Turkeys (all hail the god of smoke!)--those guys, many of whom I'd never really spent much time with until then became my brothers, and to me, they represented our entire class in microcosm.  A bunch of misfits, thrown together, somehow making it work.  And then there was graduation.  Maybe I'm biased, but I remember our graduation as pretty special (even if the all night "party" after wasn't--with the exception of when Rey and companny ripped into "Enter Sandman" for about thirty seconds before the sponsors shut them down).

At our graduation, we decided every class officer would have a chance to speak (I'm sure the audience wished we hadn't).  We all did well, and Mark Reams, in the way that only that wild man could, set a standard for speeches from the president.  It doesn't surprise me at all that he found himself called to gospel ministry.  That passion, that wild heart of his could have only found a Home in one place, in one Person.  I spoke early in the lineup, sharing the office of class historian with Ly Nguyen.  And what I said then, I will say again now:

As a historian, it's my job to look back, to remind our class of our past, of it's weight, it's value.  There are three things from the past that we must always carry with us.  Our friends, our families, and our God.  The latter two we can carry, each on our own.  But the first we can only carry together.  You remember the song that was all over the radio our senior year. "We're one, but we're not the same.  We get to carry each other."   We get to.  We don't have to.  Nobody is making us.  But it's a privilege offered, and one worth taking, I think.  We are busy, we have lives, and kids and work and our own circles, like we always did.  Some of us have stayed in touch, fewer of us have stayed close.  But I gotta tell you there is something to be said for reconnecting with old friends, with getting to know classmates we barely knew existed before.  It's worth noting that some of the people I now count good friends, I spent little time with during our four years at FLA.  Poupa, Paul, Heather are just three that come to mind.

I'm ready to put down the story of our dysfunctional tribe.  I'm ready to write a new story. By the grace of God, I hope in five years we'll still only be down two, and that many of you will choose to come out, reconnect with old friends and  connect with new ones.  And I hope that beyond the 30th  and others that will follow,  I will see  the class of 1992 finally one, when the class is truly and fully whole, all fractures lovingly repaired, and we have all the time in the world.

I love you guys,


"One life
with each other
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
 carry each other
carry each other

One. . .life


--U2, "One"

Feb 28, 2017


About a month or so I came to realization that I'm entitled.




Usually when we think entitlement we think of the shiftless poor looking for a handout.  We think of kids today who get everything they want and expect a trophy for every non-accomplishment.  We think of a generation of self-centered narcissists who think everything is about them.

But hardworking grown-ups entitled?  Those of us who sacrifice daily for our families?

Yep, us too.

I was listening to the local Christian radio station and they had this little "insight"from a Christian recording artist.  He talked about about how he'd come to the realization of how entitled he was.  He described coming home every day and finding his son's bike parked in the middle of the garage.  Every day he'd have to get out of his truck, move the bike and then pull in.  Every day he'd remind his son to please put his bike away so he wouldn't have to go through this ordeal just to get his truck in the garage.  And yet the next day, he'd find the bike left in the middle of the garage again.  One day as he was about to launch into a terrible tirade at his son over his thoughtless negligence (or maybe it was after the tirade, I can't remember), God spoke to him.  And God reminded him that there were millions of people who would give anything to have a son to leave his bike in the garage every day.  And that's when he realized that all too often he felt convenience and ease were his due, his right. He realized he was entitled.  And as I listened, I realized I was too.

There are three specific things I find I often feel are my due.  They are things I tend to feel that the world, life, God owes me, somehow:

The first thing I tend to feel is my right is time.  I often struggle when things don't go according to plan, when I can't possibly fit everything I want into a single day.  I feel that I should have enough time to get everything done, and I get irritated when I don't have enough time to do it all.  Right now as it approaches 8:30 and I still have laundry to fold and the kids aren't in bed and will surely want Time Together and I need to get to sleep at a decent time but I also want to get this blog in so that I have at  least one entry for the month of February and if I don't get up early enough (which won't happen if I can't get to bed early) it will be another day when the grading didn't get done. ...deep breath. I am tempted to feel the entitled anger that once again I can't get it all done.

The busy life of  a teacher's kid.  Elijah draws in my classroom while I rush to get more stuff done before leaving for home later than I planned.

But I'm learning to realize that time is a gift, not a right. Each day is not promised or owed.  The point of life is not to get it all done, but to simply appreciate living.  Solomon said it well:  enjoy your life, enjoy your wife, your kids, the people you care about in your life.  Enjoy your work.  Because when it's done, it's done.  And there's no one who leaves this earth that doesn't leave something unfinished. In short, I will never get it all done.

I'm self-aware enough to realize that it's absurd to feel entitled to wealth.

Or am I?  I tend to grow frustrated with the slow slog of getting out of debt--one step forward, two steps back it seems.  I'm tired of driving old cars, living in a too-small apartment, always having to pinch pennies, and the constant drip of medical co-pays and bills after insurance and car repairs.  I'm aggravated by taxes, and savings accounts that just don't seem to grow. I tend to feel I should be comfortable, that I shouldn't have to "trust God" all the time with our needs because we just aren't flush.

A full wallet, yet somehow it somehow often feels so empty!

And then the other day, I noticed someone driving by in a beat-up old Chevy sedan and I thought, like the Pharisee at prayer, "Thank God I don't have to ride around in that."  And it hit me.  Who ever said being financially flush was my right? (Especially when I am where I am largely because of my own choices!)  Here I was inclined to gripe about my own situation and yet quick to look down on someone with presumably far greater struggles.  Talk about entitled.

I'm coming to believe that a comfortable life is at best a blessing, and at worst a curse.  Either way, it's  not something I'm entitled to.

I'm not talking about fame or extraordinary accomplishments.  I'm  not talking about accolades or awards.  I'm talking about simply being able to feel that I am doing excellent work.  I'm talking about an organized, engaging classroom, a neat and clean desk.  I'm talking about staying on top of my grading and planning,  I'm talking about reaching and teaching every child.  I'm talking about always being patient and professional and proficient.  That's not too much to ask, is it?

A messy desk and a wall of fame. If I look at the desk, I feel a failure.  If I just look up at 17 amazing classes I've had the privilege of teaching, I feel like the world's greatest success.

It may not be too much to ask or to strive for.  But it is too much to demand.  I'm realizing that I can either let my personal and professional shortcomings dishearten me, or I can recognize them as part of the process of growth, a cost of learning.  I'm learning that success is a process rather than an endpoint.

The Christian recording artist on the radio said that he was learning to cultivate an attitude of gratitude rather than one of entitlement.  "The more grateful you are the harder it is to feel entitled," he said.  And I have to agree.  Over the past month I've been trying to focus on being grateful.  Some days I'm more successful than others, but on balance it's been nothing short of revolutionary.  Those good days--good because of my attitude, not because  of my circumstances--are absolutely wonderful.

I am grateful. . .for time--another day of life with my boys and my best friend for life, Babs. I'm grateful for full days and beauty all around me in gray or blue skies, in an early spring or a late winter.  I'm grateful that my needs are richly provided for, that we have enough to eat.  I'm grateful for a comfort zone and grateful for the need to get out of it.  I'm grateful for the little successes of today and the lessons I'll hopefully learn from my failures.  I'm grateful for the students that have blessed my life: Even if I haven't always been the perfect teacher,  I'm still enriched by the time I've spent with them.  I hope they feel the same.  I'm grateful that I'm loved more than I love.  I'm grateful for the goodness of God.  I'm grateful for grace and for the hope of heaven.

"I can't complain." That's what I usually say when someone asks how things are going.  And I'm realizing:  I really and truly can't.

Jan 21, 2017

New Beginnings: Gone but Not Forgotten

I'm feeling a  little nostalgic today, a little emotional.  I've been thinking about a great and wise man who is no longer with us.

No, not this guy.

Although, I admit I am sad to see him go.

No, I've been thinking about this man.

This is my grandfather, William W. Thomson.  Just recently I fell into conversation with one of our officers at the Allegheny West Conference and discovered that he had worked for my grandfather when he was president of the North Caribbean Conference. He shared with me wonderful stories about his time working for my grandpa, and it awakened wonderful memories.  Grandpa was well-known throughout the Caribbean by those of a certain generation and it's not uncommon for me to come across people who knew who he was.  But it's a rare and precious gift to meet people who actually knew him and could share stories of their experiences with him.  And ever since then, Grandpa has been on my mind a lot.  This morning, I actually got a little teary, wishing that I had talked to him more, regretting that I'd somewhat taken him for granted when he was alive and with us (his departure began several years before he died as dementia slowly took him from us).  I wished that I could ask him more questions, hear more stories, spend more time with him.

It's been almost 13 years since he died, and a few years longer since I could have spent time in conversation with him.  But today, the grief felt fresh.

Today is also a day of new beginnings.  Today we welcome someone new into our lives.

No, not this guy.

Not so much rejoicing here, I confess. Resignation, perhaps.

No I was thinking more about my newest nephew, born early yesterday  morning.  I haven't met him yet--it will be a few months yet before I can do that, but I'm excited that he's here, excited to see his life take shape in the years to come.  He, like me, carries a little bit of his great-grandfather.  I hope that little Alex and I will be able to live in such way that someone may someday think of us as great and wise too.

Dec 31, 2016

The Tenth Annual Inspirations List: 2016

In a year marked by division, dissension, and disillusion, my heroes were those that stood out for  their strength of character.  They are not a flashy bunch, not inclined to grand gestures or loud pronouncements.  But they are bedrock. Now more than ever we need heroes like these.  Heroes who echo Christ in their kindness, gentleness, humility, joy, generosity, patience, and self-discipline.

This years' heroes are seven men and nine women. They include a trio of young people, a wonderful couple, and a beautiful family.  Most I know personally, but one hero I met only once briefly, and another I've only seen from a distance flanked by secret service and surrounded by an adoring crowd as he gave his stump speech. Yet another hero, was a close friend who I saw every day, but now have seen only once in the past twenty years or so.  And for the second time in ten years of Heroes and Inspirations, I honor someone posthumously.  

There are some unique family connections this year. Father, Mike Wimberly, and son Aaron Wimberly,  are both nominated individually. And Shirley Benton is nominated the year after her daughter, Valerie, made the list.  Between these two ladies, the Wimberlys, and the Proutys it's clear that heroism is a family affair!  I also, for the first time have a hero with back to back nominations.  Way to go, Anastasia!

Together, all of these incredible people have blessed my life this year.  I'm excited to share them with you:

The Prouty Family: Alex, Marga, Genna, Asher, Eva, Joey
Brianna Raymond, Aaron Wimberly, & El-Ryck Kendrick
Michael Wimberly
Beth Michaels
Shirley Benton
Albert & Anastasia Bailey
Pamela Foard Jansen
Barack Obama

Alex, Marga, Genna, Asher, Eva, & Joey Prouty
I'm inspired by their gentle kindness

The Proutys are more than merely nice.  Alex, Marga and their children have a kindness and gentleness that is evident in their words and actions, but goes beyond that.  It is who they are. I've always known Alex and Marga were amazing people, so I guess I shouldn't  be surprised that they produced amazing children as well. During our stay with them in the fall of 2015 and again when they came to Ohio for the Xenia Marathon in April, I was so charmed and so grateful for the warmth they extended to our boys. The Prouty kids are genuinely interested and interesting, and unfailingly polite. I remember Skyping with the Prouty family for the first time and being amazed that their kids sat through the entire conversation and seemed genuinely curious about us.  And when we arrived at their home in Michigan, the kids were waiting in the yard to welcome us.  Once inside, their son Asher and I immediately got into a fascinating conversation, very similar to the types of conversations I used to have with his dad in our younger days. The children are not prone to violence, mean talk, or teasing which  we often write off as "normal" among kids of a certain age. They are confident without being cocky or disrespectful. Alex and Marga hold all of these traits themselves, so it's clear the apples have not fallen far. The entire family is an absolute joy to be around.  Theirs is a house where kindness rules, and being with them you can't help feeling right at home.

Brianna Raymond, El-Ryck Kendrick, & Aaron Wimberly
I am inspired by their appreciation

I can't do my job well if I'm worried about whether I'm liked.  But it sure does feel good to be appreciated.  I've had many students through the years have been an unknowing encouragement through their positive attitude and appreciation for me.  But these three have been that blessing most recently.  Aaron and El-Ryck were part of that very special class of 2012.  Though it's been four years since they left my classroom, these young men regularly remind me of why I love my  job.  Aaron always has a smile for me and I always enjoy his occasional stops by my classroom to visit.  El-Ryck still calls me up at the end of every summer to see if I need help with heavy lifting in setting up my classroom for the year.  Brianna was unique in that I felt this positive regard even while she was my student. Her bright smile, shining personality, and frequent expressions of appreciation made so many days easier for me.  Whenever I'm inclined to think that all my best efforts have fallen flat and that I've not managed to make a dent, much less a difference, these kids remind me that I'm doing all right.  Brianna, El-Ryck, and Aaron inspire me anew to keep doing and being the best I can.

Michael Wimberly
I am inspired by his solid character

Calm. Dependable. Good-natured. Wise.  Ask me to describe Mike Wimberly and those are the words that come to mind.  Over the years I've had the good pleasure of interacting with Mr. Wimberly as I taught his two children, and worked under the leadership of his wife, Angie, our school board chair.  Now that Aaron and Alisa are in high school I don't see Mike quite so often but whenever I do, it's always a pleasure.  In a world where negative stereotypes of black men abound, especially when it comes to the roles of husband and father, Mike explodes those stereotypes.  Furthermore, he is not the exception to the rule when it comes to black men.  I would like to argue--and I'm sure that he would agree--that he is merely representative of the many black men who stand strong, who stand in the gap, who are men of character and integrity, who are men of honor.  I could have named dozens of men just like Mike in my church who defy the categories the media and racist culture would place them in.  But I chose Mike, because I know him best, and can attest that he is the kind of man I aspire to be. You might say I want to be like Mike.

Beth Michaels
I am inspired by her choice to live

She lived right up until she didn't live any more.  I hope I might live fully as Beth seemed to. Most would have said she was dying, that she was losing her battle with cancer. But as we read Beth's Facebook posts and updates, she didn't sound at all like a woman resigned.  She was positive, upbeat, full of life.  And it wasn't just social media posturing. At her memorial we heard more stories of how she had encouraged and blessed even her caregivers during treatment. As I watched from afar Beth joyfully raging against the dying of the light, I was inspired to take stock of how I approached each day.  For in truth, all of us are, in a way, terminal.  Some, like Beth, have been told the time left is definitively short. But the rest of us live each day not knowing if it is our last or if we have months, years, or decades to go.  My goal is to do, each day, what Beth seemed to do right up to her last: Live.

"Life is short. I want to live it well."
                                         -- Switchfoot

Shirley Benton
I'm inspired by her joyful generosity

She radiates joy.  Shirley Benton has seen her share of sorrow in recent years but I have been moved and inspired by her peaceful, joyous soul and her generous spirit towards everyone she meets.  Her generosity isn't measured in dollars per se--though I don't doubt she is generous in that way too--but she is generous with her time, generous with her good will.  As the chair of the board for the  pre-school where my youngest son goes to school I've seen her handle the most demanding of circumstances with grace and patience.  She, along with a small coterie of other ladies, generously donates her time to provide lunch supervision at our school so that we teachers can have a short respite in our teaching responsibilities. I have never seen her complain. If she has an ugly word to say or a piece of idle gossip to pass along, I can't envision  it.  Every time I'm around her I feel valued and appreciated. I suppose it's no surprise that her daughter made this list last year, and now she appears.  It would seem that she has passed her generous heart on to her children (and grandchildren) as well!

Pamela Foard Jansen
I'm inspired by her commitment to fitness

I'm running to keep up with her.  The last time I saw Pamela in person was back in 2011 when we were both running in the Disney Princess Marathon.  I guess I must have found out via Facebook but we managed to meet up briefly in the starting line corrals before the race, and then again after the race.  She was in a higher starting position than I was--it's common practice in the big races to have the fastest runners start first.  I could pretend that this was just because I was running with a group that had trained at a slower pace than I typically ran.  But the truth is that based on the average time for her wave and her finish time, it's unlikely I could have kept up with her.  Neither of us were particularly athletic in high school, where we were very close friends.  We discovered running independently as adults, and I've always admired her running accomplishments.  A little more than three weeks ago Pamela set the pace for a new level of physical fitness for me, when she challenged me to participate in the 22-Day Pushup Challenge.  Once again she was already out in front, already five days into the challenge.  I accepted the challenge and it became the catalyst for a broader commitment to exercise beyond just running.  I'd been feeling the need to diversify my exercise. It turns out Pamela was the just the motivation I needed to make it happen.  I'm pretty sure she's still ahead of me when it comes to fitness, and I may never catch up to her.  But in the process, I'll go farther and do  more than I otherwise would have.

Barack Obama
I'm inspired by his leadership

His term may be over but he still gets my vote. It saddens me that some may find the President's place on this list controversial or "divisive."  I understand that some people see a version of this man that I personally find unrecognizable.  But I can't pretend that President Barack Obama hasn't inspired me more than perhaps any public servant in my lifetime.  His calm demeanor, his personal character, and his belief that it's possible to find common ground with even the staunchest opponents all resonate with me.  There are those who say he was angry, but I found him to be one of the coolest heads in politics.  People said he was divisive, but these days even gentle support for the concerns of black America is interpreted as rabble-rousing, and I found his addressing of racial issues to be incisive yet tactful. Some said he was too liberal, others said he wasn't progressive enough.  I found his center-left approach appealing and refreshing in an age of hyper-partisan politics.  There are those who endured the eight years of his presidency, blaming whatever bad happened on him and imagining what good might have been achieved under a different administration.  I tend not to blame presidents for troubles or credit them for good times. And no president is perfect. I haven''t agreed with his every decision.  Still, what inspires me about President Obama is the grace and humility with which he handled the most powerful office in the land.  I may not hold his power, but I think if I can manage to lead in my classroom the way President Obama has led this country these past eight years,  I'll be doing pretty well.

Albert & Anastasia Bailey
I'm inspired by their welcoming friendship

You would never have guessed they were new in town.  Their house was packed and they seemed to know everyone.  For us, it was such a blessing to be among friends.  It might not seem like much, to have folks over to your house on a winter Sabbath afternoon for good food, and fellowship.  Or to invite a a group of people for a hike at local park. Or plan a spur-of-the-moment play-date for the kids at some new, interesting spot in downtown Columbus.  But those kind of gestures meant the world to us when we first moved to Columbus and  didn't know anyone. Even though they'd lived in Columbus for even less time than we had,  Albert and Anastasia Bailey reached out to us and welcomed us into their world. It was through them that we met many of the people we now call friends here in Columbus.  They were the tent poles of our social world.  The people that met up at the Bailey house came from all walks of life--the  one thing they we all had  in common was our friendship with the Bailey family.  Albert and Anastasia both recognize that hospitality is an important spiritual gift, one often neglected in our busy, heavily social yet highly unconnected society.  They seemed to understand that there's no such thing as virtual hospitality--it has to be practiced in person.  Now that they've moved away, all of us, the friends they gathered, are left trying to figure out who will hold up the tent they pitched.  Meanwhile, in New Jersey I gather their mission continues, to reach out a welcoming hand of friendship to all they come in contact with.

Dec 25, 2016


Everybody loves our veterans.  You might not be particularly enthused about our nations foreign policy or military engagements but every one understands its  not the soldiers fault.  They simply do the job they've signed on to do.  And we are all very proud and we are all very grateful for their service.

But we are  all also somewhat distant from our soldiers.  We kind of have this vague notion that they are out there, somewhere dangerous and foreign, representing and defending our country.   We are too often unaware of what our soldiers  are facing.  I don't think this lack of awareness is intentional.  For one,  the clear-cut wars of old seem to be a thing for the history books.  From Korea on our, all of our wars have been asymmetrical in nature--wars not against another nation-state, but against an ideology--Communism early on, and terror, more recently.  There hasn't been a clear cut enemy that we could all unite against and clearly defeat.   Also, after Vietnam, ours has been all-volunteer army.  The ordinary citizen no longer has reason to feel "that soldier could be me. "  The modern soldier is like a police-officer or fire fighter, a man or woman working in his or her chosen field, rather than a citizen soldier plucked from civilian life and placed on the front lines of battle,.  All of this adds to our sense of disconnection from those who serve in our military.  We are blithely unaware of what they are doing or the sacrifices they are called upon to make.

We tend to think of those sacrifices as that which ends in a flag-draped casket and solemn graveside service.  But I sometimes wonder if there is an even higher price to pay for those who come home physically alive but wounded in body and spirit.  It would be presumptuous of me to speak with any kind of authority on what these men and women go through.  But I think it's important even if I don't  understand what they've been through to be aware, to look for ways to serve those who served us, to give back to those who have given so much.  Some will sneer that doing push-ups doesn't help anyone--and they are right.  But if over the past  22 days I've prompted anyone to do something: to give money, to reach out to a veteran they know, then it hasn't been "just doing push-ups."  Let the people most annoyed by another internet challenge fad be the first to make a real difference by donating their time or resources.  My goal hasn't been to make you do push-ups, my goal has been to draw attention to an issue, that will hopefully spark you to action.

Here's an organization, Disabled American Veterans, that  I'm lending my support to  I invite you to do the same, or find another reputable organization you can get involved with that is working to support our veterans.

Dec 24, 2016

Falling Short

So I'm in to the final third of the my second 30-Day Challenge.  So far, I've failed to meet two challenges and a third is looking daunting.  But I'm still glad I tried.

Here's the update:

1. Under Budget. I blasted through the last of my budget this week buying ingredients for a fantastic Mexican spread for the family--homemade salsa, and guacamole, fajitas, tacos with all the fixing, Spanish rice, and enchiladas.  Now granted, I have some extra money because of the refund of our airline tickets when our flight was cancelled, so I now have a source from which to replenish my budget.  But to me that doesn't count as staying under budget.

2.  Read. I have purchased the book The Goldfinch and began reading this week.  It's a lot bigger than I imagined, and at least so far the time to read has been less than I thought.  If  Donna Tartt is as good as I remember the reading should go quickly. Then again one of the blurbs on the back praised the book as Dickensian, which would not imply a quick read.  We will see.

3. Write.  I missed  two days--this past Sunday, when we ended up driving all afternoon and all night to get to Florida, and again this past Thursday when the time just got away from me. The truth is I missed a day during the November 30-Day writing challenge--also due to travel--but because I had specific writing prompts, I just "caught up" later.  Without the prompts, a day missed is a day missed.  I'm finding this month's 30 days more difficult though.  The prompts made it easy.  Without them, I tend to forget until just before bedtime that I'm "supposed to write."  Many days I don't "feel like" writing.  But I still value the discipline, and even though I missed a day, I still feel successful because writing is now a regular part of my life.

4. Rest.  My phone and laptop free Sabbaths have been good. I've gone four Sabbaths now without social media and e-mail and it's been nice.  I have found, at least the past two Sabbaths that I've gotten "busy" with other things and haven't noticed the restfulness of the break from the internet as much.  I think this challenge will become a regular practice in my life after the 30 days are over.

5. Push-ups.  I'm at day 21 today and have one day left to go.  Monday was really the only day where I struggled to finish, due a new stance I tried. I definitely want to continue doing push-ups once this challenge is over.

Dec 13, 2016

Third Person: "One for All"

This is the last in a series of very short pieces of Christmas fiction that I did several years ago.  I held off on publishing this one for awhile.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it seemed a little dark for the season.  ()Though now that I think about it, none of the stories are exactly warm with comfort and joy. ) But I've decided to go ahead and post it now.  It is dark.  But there's light at the end, I think.  

You can click on the links to read the companion pieces from 2012: "Did You  Hear What I Heard?", "First Served", and "Wanted: One Good Shepherd"  To be honest, I'm kind of proud of them!

This is not what I signed up for. I expected to fight and kill men; but this?  This. . .

But my job is to follow orders, not to question them.  So I did as I was commanded.  That is my job. And if I am to have the kind of career that I want to have in the military I must follow orders.  Eventually if all goes as planned, I will someday be a commander in the Roman army, a centurion, perhaps and I will give the orders.  Then, I can assure you, I will not order the death of the defenseless, I will not preside over the execution of the innocent.

What I wish is that we could have found him.  So many could have been spared if we'd only know where to find him, if we'd only known where to look.  One town is too broad a net, it allows for too much. . .collateral damage.  Yes, that's the word we use.  It makes what we do seem defensible, at least to those who give the orders.  For those of us who have to live with what we have done it provides as much comfort as a baby blanket provides protection from a sword--a flimsy shield.

Somewhere, the child lives, of this I'm sure.  Will he be a threat to the throne? I doubt it.  But if we had found him.   It haunts me every time I shut my eyes, this idea. One life for the many. One cut down so that all the others could live.