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.

Dec 11, 2016

Time Together

"Daddy are we going to have our Time Together?"

For the past few years, this has been the question from my boys whenever there is a change in our daily routine--when we've come home late or have been traveling.  Usually, the answer is a grudging yes. Invariably I have list of things to do that could easily take me into the early morning hours and I am itching to get started.  But before I can do that, there must be: Time Together.

They don't mean time together, which might include cleaning his room or washing the car together.  They don't even mean me reading a story to them. They mean Time Together and this has a very specific meaning.  Time Together, which is always 15 or 20 minutes before bed is when we play (even if we play together earlier in the day that doesn't count as Time Together--it has to be before bedtime).  With Elijah, most of the time we are playing the inscrutable games of childhood, stories involving his stuffed animals or his My Little Pony collection,  which I often have a hard time following.  It can be very frustrating trying to make sense out of and keep up with a nonsensical game.  With Ezra, we'll play similarly opaque games with his Hot Wheels cars, do jigsaw puzzles, or color. I've tried suggesting activities that I might enjoy more (like the above mentioned reading them a story) but these ideas rarely meet their criteria for Time Together (one exception is that both boys are more than willing to count watching videos or playing Farmville or other games together on our devices, but in the end I think we all sense that this isn't really true Time Together).

Elijah has had Time Together for years now, but Ezra has only become involved in the last year or so.  On most nights, the goal is that I have Time Together with one son while the other is reading with their Mom, and then we switch.  Elijah prefers this as Ezra doesn't play the games the way Elijah likes.  On occasion, if Babs is away in the evening, or she is unable to be with the other child for some reason, both sons have their Time Together at the same time.  Ezra likes this, although he often wants to do his own thing so I ended up literally doing two different activities with the boys at the same time--solving a jigsaw while at the same time solving a mystery with the Ponies, and both boys getting annoyed if they feel I'm not paying proper attention to their activity.

From our Time Together tonight, December 11, 2016. Usually we are in their bedroom but for someone reason they wanted to come out to the living room.  Maybe it was the tree?

Elijah as usual calling the shots on what's happening during our play in Time Together. Couple of things to note here:  We do not have a My Little Pony (or MLP as we refer to it around here) theme for our Christmas tree (though Elijah would love that).  In fact we put up the tree last Sunday but haven't gotten around to decorating it.  The ponies in the tree were part of the game which involved some sort of building of high-rise rooms according to Elijah. You may also note that we are now the only family left in America that does not yet have a flat-screen TV.  The old 1-Ton TV has never stopped working and I can't bring myself to go spend money to replace a TV that works. We don't use the VCR on top of the TV. It's just sitting there, unconnected.

Honestly, while I love being with my sons, Time Together can be a little stressful.

Time Together fell away for awhile when Elijah started first grade.  Elijah was staying up later, While his little brother was being put to bed, he did his homework, and then had cozy time with his Mom while I spend valuable time on my school work--planning for the next day and entering grades.  There wasn't really time for Time Together, and he voiced no complaint.  But  I found I'd begun to miss that Time.  So, one night while Barbara was in the boys' room with Ezra, I called Elijah over to the living room for some Time Together.  His eyes lit up with joy.  He raced to his room to gather an armful of stuffed animals so the playing could begin.  His happiness was undeniable; our Time Together was back! And so it's been more or less a part of our schedule again since.

I guess I realized that our Time Together is limited.  There will come a day that they'll lose interest in that kind of Time. While playing together brings them so much joy, I feel I can't afford to miss a single minute of our Time Together.

And what's true of Elijah, Ezra and me, is true for all those we love.  It's important to have that Time Together.

Dec 8, 2016

The Face of Jesus

 A few weeks ago I came across this article about describing how forensic anthropologists have determined what Jesus looked like. 

Initially, instinctively, I almost recoiled at the picture.  He was just so. . .ordinary looking.  And why did they make Him have that kind of "deer-in-headlights" look?  Couldn't they have done more to make him look wise rather than a bit flummoxed? Couldn't they have had him smiling at least, made Him look more inviting? Where was the charisma? Where was the charm?

And then I remembered: "He had no beauty or majesty that we should be attracted to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected of mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised and we held Him in low esteem" Isaiah 53:2-3

And I realized:  Never mind the science, this may be the most Biblically accurate picture of Jesus we've ever seen.  As I continued to study the picture, I was struck by the extent to which we have sought to remake Christ not even in our own image, but in the image of our idols.  Even after he came, lived a peasants life and died a criminal's death, we still want a conquering hero, a good-looking man that reflects the pinnacle of our cultural values.  That idolatry becomes so lodged in our faith, that it becomes almost sacred. But this picture. . .this picture demands that we see Jesus as he declared Himself to be rather than what we would wish him to be.

I was also reminded anew through this picture, that Jesus truly became a human being.  That somewhat blank gaze is that of a real man.  Someone who got tired, hungry, distracted, dazed.  And I was able imagine that face laughing, crying, angry, and at peace. I imagined how one could sense divinity not in his charismatic mug, but shining through his ordinary face. More than any of the cute little Baby Jesuses that we see in Nativity scenes this time of year, in this picture I saw the Incarnation.

Finally, I was awed and humbled and amazed by the familiar Gospel story,

Read the article in Popular Mechanics for details on how they developed this image.  Despite certain caveats, I think you'll find the science seems pretty sound.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace"