This box of love

One of my biggest imperfections is my soft heart.

I am a sentimental pack rat.

I find it difficult to let go of pieces of paper that bring back memories and emotions.

My wife, the Commander Supreme, is trying to see the future.

She tells me, “William, our children are not going to want to sort through all this stuff when we’re dust.”

I know she is right. 

But, the other day she raised the degree of difficulty for my paper departure decisions.

The commander gave me a box of cards, letters, photographs, and some paper scraps.

I think she knows in her heart that going through this box will be tough for me. She has given me time and patience.

I did my initial skim of the contents, and I had to stop. 

So with February giving us a lousy stretch of winter weather, I sat down to take another look.

This deeper look only tugged at my heart more.

I started with notes of thanks from two elderly neighbors from when we lived on Stuart Hall Road. Immediately, I was captured by the remarkably beautiful penmanship. Those notes really made me think. The notes confirmed their love for our children, the Commander’s baking, and the assists we gave with yard work in the fall and winter.

But, one of those notes really stuck with me. The writer stated in appreciation of our kindness that we must have had really good parents. That was a keen observation as the Commander and I were blessed with good, kindhearted role models in our parents.

In this box, are a couple of cards from one of the sweetest ladies ever to grace this planet, Margaret Harrod, my grandmother. The cards were signed in pencil, but the words are still clear. Time has not smudged her love. 

We called her Granny, and the more I age, the more I respect her perseverance and endurance. 

She raised my mother, and my mother’s sister and brother on her own. When abandoned by her husband, somehow, Granny with her children made the journey from Mississippi to North Carolina.

Another sweet lady was my Aunt Evelyn, one of my father’s sisters. The program for her funeral, postcards from traveling, and birthday cards are in that stack. In one note she apologized for not being as quick on her feet as she used to be when she and my father met our family at Disney World.

My mother’s sister, Mildred, and her daughter, Lora, loaded the box too. 

Mildred was one of a kind. 

She reminded me of Shirley MacLaine’s character Ouiser in the movie Steel Magnolias. But, under her tough veneer, Mildred was one brilliant woman, with a heart that always said in those notes that she loved me.

Lora still is one of kind.

She and her husband Graham were life long educators in Greensboro. They are two peas in a pod. Lora’s notes and cards convey love too, especially toward our children and in news about her grandchildren.

A newspaper clipping announcing the marriage of my sister is in the box. She is stunningly beautiful in that photograph, and she still is today.

There is card from students I taught where my teaching career started at Martinsville Jr. High School. They were acknowledging my marriage to the Commander Supreme. 

Reading those names took me back 46 years. Some of those students really challenged my classroom management. But, in a unique way, I learned from their toughness. And reading those names made me wonder how they have managed life. 

The box also has 25 Christmas card photographs of my Uncle John’s family. Each photograph shows John and his wife, Hedy, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Those cards are all about the progression of love.

Shoved in a big envelope is a large assortment of cards and notes. 

One of my favorites is a postcard from Ocean City, Maryland. It is from Jeffrey Callow, son of our college friends, Dan and Judy. Jeffrey is thanking me for a tape I made for him of songs by the Beach Boys. Now, Jeffrey has a son who I’m told has an ear for the Beach Boys too.

Seventeen years ago, I turned 50. Two cards in the box honor that occasion. 

One is from my wife’s oldest sister, Susan, and her husband, Larry. And the other one is from Amber, the secretary at Lakeside Elementary School. I will never toss those cards. Susan and Amber have something very sad in common—the demon of darkness pushed them to take their own lives. 

I expect to take some more time and go back through the box again. If I really work at it, I reckon I might be able to reduce the contents a tiny bit.

But, the more I think about the box, the more I realize the box contains something very, very special—love.

Nothing in the box is hostile, toxic, or negative. 

That box, its contents are grounded in love.

How fortunate I have been to be surrounded by that love at every stage of my life. I imagine my life would have been quite different if not for that sustaining love.

Makes me wonder about some of the difficult people and the challenges of the moments I encountered with them. I wonder if anyone had loved them— even a tiny bit. 

One of my favorite songs on the Beatles Rubber Soul album is “The Word.” The song is simply about the word—“love.”

In the song’s lyrics, the writer ask this question: “Have you heard the word is love?”

Is it possible that the troubling headlines we read everyday might be solved by asking a question about love at that very moment?

I know what you are thinking, Bill, you clearly have lost your mind.

That is quiet possible, but ask yourself this—what might the world look like if we were better at inserting love into our decision making?

Should love just be boxed up as a bunch of cards, notes, and letters passively stored on a shelf in a basement or in the corner of an attic? 

Or should love be a word of action, a word of change that pushes us to reassess how we make decisions in difficult situations with people who haven’t been loved?

I think I’m obligated to share the love from that box.

How about you and your box of papers that show how you have been loved—aren’t you obligated to share that love too?

This box of love photo by Bill Pike

Hey God, thanks for the disruption

On Friday, February 5, I had lots on my mind and lots to do as I headed to work at Trinity United Methodist Church. But little did I know God had other ideas about my day.

When I walked into the church office, our Preschool Director was there. She quickly introduced me to a young lady sitting in a chair. I did not recognize this person. But, I was told she had gained access into the building, and needed some help.

This young lady who I’m going to name Audrey, did not waste anytime in telling me she had already reached out via e-mail to our senior pastor. Audrey was surprised that she had not heard back from him.

So, I explained that COVID-19 had changed our day to day operations, and most of our program staff works from home.

With that said, I asked Audrey what was her need? I wanted to know if there was a way we might be able to offer assistance.

Quite simply, she was looking for shelter.

 Audrey had been staying at the Regency Inn at the corner of Parham and Quioccasin roads. Her credit card had been compromised in her attempt to pay for lodging.  Audrey believed this breach had been the fault of the management of the motel. 

She further explained it would be the first week of March before she would receive her monthly distribution from some type of retirement account she had. But, Audrey also made it clear touching one of her pockets that she had $250.00 in cash.

I listened. 

My mind was trying to sort out fact or fiction, truth or not quite the truth. But, then Audrey had also tossed God into the mix. 

This whole departure from upstate New York— south was on God’s shoulders. She described her trek like Jesus when he asked his first disciples to stop and drop what they were doing to follow him.

That is what Audrey told me, God had taken over her life, pushed her to follow his leads, and I could detect no hesitation in her commitment. 

Now, hearing all of this, my brain is in a deep struggle.

So, I hit the pause button. 

I asked Audrey to sit tight while I made phone calls to local agencies who might be able to offer her assistance.

At this very moment, I knew that the nonprofits and the systems in place to work with the homeless in the Richmond area were maxed out. But, I had learned enough over the years that it is about getting a homeless person into the system—that is the starting point.

I started with the crisis hotline and left my contact information. 

Next, I called CARITAS, a local nonprofit that we have supported for years. They do practical, good work with the homeless, and now they have a new program and facility designed specifically for women. Left my contact information and a brief description.

Then, I reached out to a caseworker in the Social Services department in Henrico County. One of our Sunday school classes had worked with her in assisting two local families in December.

God must be watching my dials, the caseworker answers her phone. 

I explain the circumstances, and I ask if she has a listing of local motels/hotels that rent to the homeless. She did, and she sent me the list via e-mail.

I saved the last call to our senior pastor. He picked up too. 

Again, I gave him the background, and I asked if he had received an e-mail from Audrey. He confirmed he had received an e-mail from her. However the message only stated these words—“do not be afraid.”

I suggested that we consider putting Audrey in a room at one of the local hotels for five days. I would provide her the key phone numbers so she could get into the local systems, and I would gently explain to her this would be the only financial assistance the church could provide. 

Our pastor agreed, and I headed back to the church office.

Back in the office, I pulled up a chair and explained to Audrey our plan. She seemed pleased, and I handed her a piece of paper with the phone numbers for the two nonprofits we needed her to call.

She was agreeable to this proposal, and once again, I departed to try and secure a room for her close by. I was sensitive to find a place near the bus line and also some restaurants within walking distance.

About three miles from the church at the intersection of Broad Street and Glenside Drive, I located an Extended Stay America. I made a phone call, explained the need, and secured a reservation.

Then, I sat down with Audrey again and informed her about the arrangements that had been made. Audrey reported she had made the two recommended phone calls, and I thanked her for her initiative.

In prepping for the drive over to the Extended Stay, I asked our church office manager to ride with us.

We learned a bit more about Audrey on the drive. 

When we arrived, I found the office, confirmed the reservation, made the payment, and brought Audrey in so she could complete the required registration and be directed to her room.

With that, I made sure she had my information card, I wished her luck, and I departed.

At some point on the ride back to church my phone rang. We were stopped at an intersection, I did not answer the call. But, I assumed it was Audrey. When we arrived at church, I checked the the call, and it had been from Audrey. The message she left was simply one of thanks.

Two hours of my day were gone. 

I spent the afternoon catching up my to do list, and thinking.

I thought about all of the needy people who had trickled into the building during the last ten years. Most, we never saw again despite their promises to repay us. 

One person on a Sunday morning, we found out was a scammer. There are three other churches  near us, and this person had visited all three and had been successful in securing a nice chunk of change from each.

But Audrey was different. 

She was articulate, bi-lingual, sounds like she had a successful career at a community college, and yet, I wonder what was really going on inside her head. 

The suspicious part of my brain, anchored by Deputy Fife took over. 

Was she on the run? Had she committed a crime? Was law enforcement looking for her? Were her parents and her brother aware of this nudging by God to drop everything and follow him.

Was she a con artist? Had she really been at the Regency Inn? Did she roll some innocent companion for the $250.00? Did she use the God assertion for a soft touch like me, knowing that a church person would easily buy into that line of thought?

Next, I questioned myself. If I was any kind of real Christian, why didn’t my wife and I offer her the hospitality of one of the empty bedrooms in our home? 

Was this God plucking the wiring in my brain? Was he nudging me to second guess my decision making?

Hey Bill, don’t use the Pastor’s Discretionary Funds to help Audrey, put her up at your house for a few days. 

God continued—I thought you trusted me. I thought you cared about people. What kind of heart do you have?

About mid-afternoon, I took a break to check my e-mails, and there was an e-mail from Audrey.

The e-mail was basically a thank you note with a lot of heartfelt dignity to it.

But, there was also a paragraph where Audrey shared an experience in her life. In that experience, she put a stranger up in an empty room in her home. And in that paragraph, Audrey cited verses from the Bible to affirm her reasoning by opening up this room for a stranger.

After reading that paragraph, my brain really tore into me for how I opted to assist Audrey.

Before her checkout date, we exchanged a couple of brief e-mails. One was to confirm to her that I had spoken with a staff person at  CARITAS about her. 

As of this writing, we are four days past her checkout date, and I have not heard from Audrey.

Recently, our youngest daughter recommended that my wife and I watch the movie, The Dig

The story takes place in England just as the British are anticipating war with Hitler’s Germany. A widower with a young son hires an excavator to unearth some mysterious mounds of earth on her property.

There is a scene when her son, Robert Pretty is in distress because he realizes his mother’s health is failing. Upon the death of his father, people had said to Robert that taking care of his mother was now his responsibility.

With his mother’s health declining, Robert sees himself as a failure, that he has let his mother and family friends down. He says— “And I failed. I failed.”(Moira Buffini)

The wise and patient excavator, Basil Brown, who is with Robert in this moment of self-torment says to him—“Robert, we all fail. Every day. There are some things we just can’t succeed at. No matter how hard we try. I know it’s not what you want to hear.”(Moira Buffini)

Screenwriter, Moira Buffini, words about failure ring true to me.

 But they are hard to accept when God disrupts my day with a stranger. 

Because I want life for this stranger and all the strangers in the world to be all right, ok, and safe.

I wonder what these words from Philippians 4:13 really mean to my heart now:  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

After today, I wonder if I really can do all things through him who strengthens me?

How will I react the next time God disrupts my day?

Who knows maybe God is done testing me.

Perhaps, I failed his test today with this stranger.

Second guessing is part of the learning from the unexpected, disruptions, and interruptions in life.

And even though I might be frustrated with myself and God, I think he knows in future circumstances that I will not stop trying to help strangers— even if I fail.

Hey God, even though I don’t understand you—thanks for the disruption.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“Holler, if you need help”

On Saturday, January 30, 2021, Richmond and the central Virginia area were all wound up.

This being wound up was courtesy of our local television weather forecasters.

 For the last couple of days, they have been whipping us into a frenzy. Chattering with a nonstop obsession, like people who had consumed gallons of coffee and caffeine loaded energy drinks.

Over, and over, and over again, this mantra of excessive repetition kept pounding into our minds this winter weather phenomenon—snow, snow, snow, snow, snow.

I felt like I was listening to a reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells.” Like Edgar with the ringing of ‘the bells, the bells, the bells,’ I was teetering toward the edge of mental instability with the cries of ‘the snow, the snow, the snow, the snow!!’

For me, the only forecast I need to know that snow is on the way is when the huge front in loader arrives in the back parking lot of our church. 

When that massive piece of machinery is dropped off, I know the guys at the company who clear our parking lots believe the forecasters—it is going to snow.

So, on Saturday morning, I made a stop at our local hardware store. I was looking for a snow shovel to use at church that was designed to push snow off a sidewalk.

As soon as I entered the store,  I saw all of the snow shovels positioned near the entrance. But, I walked deeper into the store, back to the aisle where all the long handled tools were displayed.

Once in that section, a friendly clerk asked if I needed help. 

I told him no, and further explained I was just looking around.

He responded with, “Well if you need help, just holler.”

The clerk’s comment stuck with me.

Americans, myself included are good at hollering.

We hollered a lot in 2020, and we’re still hollering as 2021 begins.

In truth, we are a wounded and worn nation. Our hollering isn’t going away.

We need help in all kinds of ways.

I see it everyday in my work at our church. 

As Brian Wilson sang in his song “Love and Mercy”—‘a lot of people out there hurting, and it really scares me.’

He was right. At this very moment, there are a lot of people hurting.

We’ve been hollering for a long time about housing solutions for the homeless, jobs for the unemployed, food for the hungry, equity in education, health care, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

The pandemic has pushed these systems beyond their capacities, and in all of those challenges there is one little holler that keeps gulping for air—mental health.

I can’t tell you how many Zoom meetings I have participated in since last March, but I can assure you in a lot of those meetings mental health surfaces. 

The pandemic has frazzled people. Their thinking, emotions, reasoning, anxiety, and fears have been singed by this stress.

The instability created by all that frazzling is significant. There are a lot of people out there hollering—I can’t take this much longer, I need some relief, I need someone to listen, to hear me, to acknowledge me, —I am worn out, broken.

The movie Captain Phillips is based upon the real life hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. Watching this movie is intense. It is not for a fainthearted viewer.

As the hijackers take over the ship, there is a lot of hollering. When the lead hijacker begins communicating with Captain Phillips, this scrawny, but fiery teenager tells Captain Phillips:  “No problem, Irish, everything gonna be ok.”

At the end of the day that frazzled friend, neighbor, co-worker, stranger wants someone to assure them—“everything gonna be ok.”

As I continue to age, the word snow frazzles me. I no longer have the heart of a kid for it.

But, I will tell you this.

Last Sunday morning with the snow still falling, we ventured out into our yard with some happy guests—two of our grandchildren. They were visiting for the weekend with their parents from Summerfield, North Carolina.

And at some point, I stood still. 

For a few brief seconds, the world was quiet, peaceful, motionless—the snow had silenced the hollering.

Oh, how I wish helping all those who are hurting was as simple as snowflakes falling from a gray sky.

All that hollering out there isn’t going away.

But, maybe we can help.

Maybe, in our hearts, we can be a kinder, more considerate people, as graceful with those who are frazzled and hollering for help as a gentle January snowflake.

The snow forecaster Trinity UMC parking lot photo by Bill Pike

“for the Bible tells me so”

I was a lousy, lousy, lousy high school student. 

I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief when I walked off the stage with a diploma in hand. And, I am just as certain, the faculty and staff of Walter Williams High School silently cheered, or internally asked themselves how did he graduate as I exited the stage.

Thankfully, one institution of higher learning in America took a gamble and admitted me— Greensboro College. 

After granting my admission, it is still hard for me to believe that the director of admissions kept his job. 

Even though he is no longer living, my entry into Greensboro  College had something to do with Don Gumm. Don was the associate pastor and youth director at Davis Street United Methodist Church. Don took me for a tour and an interview. 

Maybe the fact that I was Methodist had something to do with my acceptance. Greensboro College is a Methodist supported school. Perhaps, the school has an unwritten rule, we take all Methodists even if their performance in high school was as low as a submarine snoozing in the deepest canyon of the ocean.

I didn’t deserve to go to college. I wasn’t a troublemaker in high school, I was just a goof off. 

Prior to high school, the last time I worked to my potential was in the sixth grade. Only school year in my life when I made the honor roll and had perfect attendance. 

So it should be no surprise  that on March 24, 1972, I received a Student Progress Report in Dr. W. P. Weaver’s Religion 102 class for failing. So much for the Sunday school classes, vacation Bible school sessions, and the Methodist Youth Fellowship meetings, none of that religion was helping me now.

Somehow, I turned things around in Dr. Weaver’s class and finished with a C.

And in truth, that C is probably my grade even today as I continue to work to understand and apply the Bible to my life.

Clearly, I am no theologian, and I really don’t want to be a theologian, but at times I struggle with the Bible.

Who knows, maybe you do too. 

I wonder if that struggle accounts for the 61 translation of the Bible found on the website Bible Gateway?

Does that mean these translations were attempts by theologians and translators to make the Bible a better fit for real life application?

With my brain being the size of spider mite, I do not have the capacity to answer that question. 

But, all these translations are an indication to me— that someone besides me was wrestling to make the Bible relevant—to make sense of it— and all of its “good, bad, and ugly.”

Additionally, I wonder if anyone has ever considered editing out all of the bad in the Bible? Just give us the good. But then, we would miss the stories of hardships, the misery experienced by people. I guess this would limit our learning.

I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with verses from the Bible like these two from James Chapter 1:  “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing, but joy. Because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

How can a trial like life threatening cancer be a joy? 

In that same line of thought, how can dying from COVID-19, being homeless, being unemployed, being falsely imprisoned, a life altering auto accident, abuse of any type, starvation— how can these be “nothing, but joy”?

I do not understand how these severe trials that people encounter everyday can be joyful experiences.

A creature of habit,  earIy every morning, I read the daily devotional printed in the Upper Room. I also spend time reading and pondering the scriptures linked to each devotional. 

Recently, I read the recommended scripture from Deuteronomy 10 verses 17-32. Iread a translation from the 1973 New  Oxford Annotated Bible Revised Standard Version. That translation uses the word “terrible” twice in contrasting descriptions of God:

Verse 17—“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God,”

Verse 21—“He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which your eyes have seen.”

Just so you know, in current translations of  the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the Common English Bible the word ‘terrible’ has been edited out.

I wonder what the reasoning was behind this edit? Maybe the editors saw it as a public relations move for God. How can we have a good God and a terrible God?

Remember, I’m no theologian.

And I guess for me that is my struggle, my questioning— if God is so good and if he is there with us in every nanosecond of life—why do these non-joyful things continue to happen to people?

I know. 

God did not promise us a rose garden.  

But, I will wrestle with that verse from James until I croak.

And, to be perfectly honest with you, I struggle with the division that the Bible causes. How we interpret and apply the Bible can often create divides in churches and in denominations. 

I distinctly recall that the Bible directs us to love one another. 

How can we love when some of the scripture interpretations in the Bible divide us?

Again, I will wrestle with this division until my last heart beat—wondering why we can’t overcome our divide with love?

If I even come close to entering the pearly gates, I imagine there will be quite an inquisition as my life is reviewed. 

For certain, there will be lots of black marks by my name. 

At least that’s how Alma Coble, our childcare provider, when I was a kid explained it to me. 

God fearing Alma with no hesitation said when you do something wrong down here on earth, God, Jesus, or your designated guardian angel puts a black mark by your name.

All my black marks will be troubling for sure, but I anticipate hearing a more dangerous question like this. 

Mr. Pike while on earth did you publish a blog called Might Be Baloney

I will answer with a yes.

In those blog posts, did you ever on any occasion question the work of God, Jesus, or the contents of the Bible?

Again, I will answer yes.

And then, there will be an uncomfortable, extended pause of silence. 

In that profusely perspiring pause, eventually, a throat will clear to inquire further, Mr. Pike, why did you question in such a manner?

Silence will reappear. 

Impatience is ticking.

The guardians of the pearly gates are quietly thinking we’ve got him now.

My mind will stumble back to my childhood at Davis Street Methodist Church.

 And I will mumble out this innocent reply: “Yes, Jesus loves me—for the Bible tells me so”.

Failing proof Photo by Bill Pike

Quick run, Mr. Whine is coming!!

At one time in the teacher’s lounge at Lakeside Elementary School, these words were posted:  “Thou shall not whine.”

Sorry boys and girls, but I’m going to break that commandment now.

On Saturday, January 23 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I read the following headline:  ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season sought in Oklahoma. (From wire reports)

Yes, a state lawmaker in Oklahoma wants to create legislation to allow a hunting season that would coincide with a Bigfoot festival held in the forest of the Ouachita Mountains each year. The legislator sees a hunting license for Bigfoot as a boost for tourism.

Perhaps, Representative Justin Humphrey has forgotten or never heard these words from another famous person from Oklahoma, Will Rogers:  “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

In an attempt to insure that my body will be properly prepared for my annual physical in April, I recently purchased a pack of sweet Italian sausages at Kroger. I figure anything I can do to assist my doctor to buy another vacation home is good for the economy.

 Perhaps I missed this change in how foods are categorized, but I was surprised to see a sticky label on the sausage packaging that said “seafood.” 

Photo by Bill Pike

Does this mean these sausages were made in a kitchen environment where seafood was present? 

Or, does this indicate Kroger needs to revamp its food group identification training for employees? Maybe, Kroger should seek the counsel of third graders about food group categories.

And while we are talking about food groups, lets talk about beer, you know liquid bread. 

As a long time follower of the craft beer industry, I am still in shock over the Total Wine insert in the January 17 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch

On page 7 of that insert, three well-established craft brewers had photos of their low-calorie beers. 

Unbelievable, craft brewers brewing low-calorie beers. For brewers who worked so hard to establish their independence and to shun the footprints of the beers made by the big box brewers— this is a disappointment. 

And with the hype of the Super Bowl upon us, here is another disappointment. For some reason, National Football League Commissioner, Roger Goodell, continues to ignore my pleas for changing the rules on how a touchdown can be scored.

 Mr. Commissioner, eliminate the rules that allow a player to score a touchdown by breaking the plane of the goal line or diving to touch an orange pylon on the corners of the goal line. To score a touchdown, a player’s entire body must be in the end zone with the football intact—nothing else.

On Friday, January 22, my wife, the Commander Supreme, ventured to our local post office branch. She was mailing a package to her mother who resides in West Hartford, Connecticut. 

The Commander paid for two-day Priority Mail. As of today’s date, Tuesday, January 26, the package is in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Not counting Friday, this is day four. We could have driven the package up the east coast in one day.

From Richmond to Las Vegas is 2,405 miles, and Las Vegas to West Hartford is 2,621 miles, and of course, Richmond to West Hartford is a mere 452 miles. 

I am truly thankful for our postal workers. And, I am sure some postal executive has a reasonable explanation for Richmond to Las Vegas to West Hartford, but I’m not buying any explanation that defies the logic of real fifth grade geography.

And I know you will be disappointed that you missed it, but Monday, January 25 was National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. I’ll be sure to mark that on my calendar for next year.

But alas, keep your composure, don’t be too downhearted because the most important national appreciation day will be here on Sunday, December 26, 2021—National Whiners Day.

According to the website National Day Calendar, National Whiners Day was established in 1986 by Reverend Kevin Zaborney. 

The good reverend created this day with the hope of encouraging people to be thankful for what they have instead of being unhappy “whining” about what they do not have.

I know that I’m a whiner.

But in truth, I have no right to whine.

Here are some reasons, I should not whine.

Believe it or not, and despite my still growing list of  imperfections, I know that I am surrounded by love. Some people in our world will never experience love.

I can go to my kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, and pour a glass of clean, fresh water. Not everyone can do that in 2021.

A long time ago, in the first grade at Elon Elementary School, my teacher, Mrs. Hughes, taught me to read. Try as we might, illiteracy has not been solved.

Within easy driving and walking distance to our home, there are six grocery stores. And yet, food deserts are plentiful in our community.

I live in an imperfect country that sometimes struggles with its understanding of freedom. But, I am free to write this gibberish. In some countries that freedom doesn’t exist.

Sure, whining might make me feel better.

But here is the question I need to ask myself—is my whining helping to solve any of the millions of challenges we face?

I know the answer is no.

I need to stop the energy burn on whining. 

That energy must be redirected.

I wonder if I can do that?

Photo by the Commander Supreme

Hey Jimmy, how are your “psychological insults”?

In the spring of 2020, I submitted an article to the American School Board Journal for publication consideration. Surprisingly, the article appears in the February 2021 issue of the magazine, as a part of their Online Only section. 

If you are interested in reading the piece—Hey Jimmy, how are your “psychological insults”? here is the link: https://nsba.org/ASBJ/2021/February/psychological-insults.

Thanks for your time, be safe, Bill

Be safe in your viewfinder

My pal, Joe, knows a lot about the cameras used to cover sporting events for television. His career behind the camera covering athletic events has taken him around the world. 

We grew up in Burlington, North Carolina, and I’m sure in his tar heel brain there is a treasure of stories about all that he has witnessed through the viewfinder on his camera. 

That viewfinder sees people in real time. They are up close. And sometimes, we see the best and worst of their human emotions unfold.

In a sense, our eyes are like viewfinders.

 We peer out into the world everyday. 

We see a lot in our scope of vision.

But, our viewfinders only present the surface. They can’t scan deep into a person’s soul.

That outward appearance might seem perfectly normal, all looks well, not a care, no worries—as the t-shirt says—“life is good.”

But, I know, you know, that life isn’t always good.

Sometimes, I daydream about winning a big lottery jackpot. But of course to win a big jackpot, you have to play the lottery, and I rarely play the lottery. 

And in those daydreams, I list out all of the ways I would use this resource to help people— make the world better, make a difference. All of that daydreaming looks good from behind the viewfinder. 

Gradually, daydreams like that come to an end and reality returns.

During the course of 2020, I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken or written the words—be safe. I continue to use them today. I want people I encounter to be safe no matter who they are, what they are doing, or where they are going.

Every Friday at our church, we have a food drive. In turn, the food collected is delivered to local food pantries.

Recently, one of the pantries we have served for years made a decision to temporarily shutdown. The pandemic caused them to hit the pause button. They needed to rethink how to more safely distribute food to the people in their community.

With this pause, we shifted part of our distribution to a different food pantry. On my first delivery to their site, I met their caretaker,  Curtis.

In my viewfinder, I could tell that life has worn hard on Curtis. But despite life’s wear on him, Curtis has a refreshing energy and spirit about him. 

As we were finishing the load out from this first trip, I thanked Curtis for his help, and I said to him—“be safe.”

Curtis quickly, without any hesitation responded with these words—“God keeps me safe.”

Upon hearing those words, I thought to myself as I looked at him, you know Curtis is absolutely correct.  Somehow, someway, through the wear and tear life has put him through God has kept him safe.

And I wonder why?

What did God see in his viewfinder when he saw Curtis?

How did Curtis see himself in his viewfinder? Did he say to himself, I’m not safe, I need some help?

Perhaps for our viewfinders, the most challenging part of their work is the personal introspection. What do we see as we scan our past, our present, and our future? 

And, maybe the most important viewfinder question is this—is God in our viewfinder? Has he consistently been on our journey through life?

My truthful answer is—no.  During my lifetime, my interactions with God have been inconsistent.

I think God was always available in my viewfinder, but I often failed in seeing him.

This quote from Helen Keller really makes me think:  “The only thing worse than being blind is to have sight, but no vision.”

No question I have sight, but there have been plenty of times in my life when I have failed the vision test, my viewfinder skimmed over what I really needed to see.

How do I correct this fault?

Maybe, I correct this malfunction by learning from Curtis.

He clearly affirmed that God is safely in his viewfinder.

I guess I need to find out if God is really in my viewfinder.

I have no idea how much longer God plans to keep me around.

But in the time I have left, I need to make sure God is in my sight lines, in my viewfinder.

Be safe.

Photo by Bill Pike

The wobble of life

A few days before Christmas in December 2020, the Outreach Sunday school class at Trinity United Methodist Church was searching for more ways to assist families in our county who had a need.

They reached out to the director of Henrico County Social Services. Quickly, he connected the class with caseworkers who knew of a couple of families who needed support.

With no hesitation, the class made arrangements to provide Christmas gifts for a young girl whose mother was not able to make this happen. Provided with clothing sizes and some gift ideas, two class members paired up and went on a shopping trip. Being wise shoppers with their purchases, they were also able to provide a gift card for the mother.

A couple of days before Christmas, the gifts were all wrapped and ready to be picked up by the caseworker. When the caseworker made the pickup, she was extremely appreciative of the support provided by the class.

The second family in need of assistance was going to require a different approach. The class was asked to provide help for a refugee family living in a local apartment who basically had no furniture. Whatever arrangement the family had for receiving furniture fell through.

The caseworker for this family provided us with a list of the basic furniture needs. With this information, the class started rummaging around their homes, and checking with neighbors and friends for furniture that might need a new home.

Trinity Hall at our church became the site for dropping off and storing the items until we could coordinate a delivery date with the family. Immediately before Christmas and into the early days of the new year, furniture began to arrive in Trinity Hall.

Via the caseworker and the class, we were able to coordinate a delivery date.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, January 13, I took a ride over to the apartment complex where the family resides. I found the apartment and knocked on the door.

Promptly, the door opened, I was greeted by a very nice lady who apparently did not speak English. She called out a name, and a young man, in his early teens appeared. He spoke English with an easy command.

I explained who I was and told him we were planning to make a furniture delivery tomorrow afternoon. He confirmed that tomorrow afternoon would work with the family’s schedule. I could detect a bit of excitement on his face. I handed him my card with my contact information, and asked him to call me if there was a change in plans for the family.

So just before 1 p.m. on Thursday, January 14, members of the Outreach class showed up at Trinity Hall. They had rented a U-Haul truck to load and transport the furniture. Another class member was going to bring his trailer for loading any pieces that would not fit on the U-Haul.

It didn’t take long for the U-Haul to be loaded and packed. A few extra items remained, and once the trailer arrived, those pieces were loaded.

Drivers were given the address, and eventually we were organized and departing.

Luckily, the apartment was ground level. But, we still needed stable footwork to maneuver along the sidewalk and some steps to arrive at the front door.

I have no idea how long we were there. But, upon reflection, I think the scene of unloading the furniture probably resembled the frenzied chaos of comedy found in a classic Marx Brother’s movie.

Essentially, I think we overwhelmed the family with the assortment of furniture that had been collected for them. But, I also believe it was a mild collision of Afghanistan and American cultures.

One minute a piece of furniture was a good fit for the family. But, in the next minute, thinking changed, and a piece of furniture would be removed and carried back out side. This back and forth bartering took place a handful of times.

Donations that we believed to be potentially very useful from our eyes did not have the same match with the family we were trying to help.

Eventually, final selections were agreed upon, and the shuffling of furniture back and forth came to an end.

I know at times, we were pondering in our noggins trying to understand the rationale of the thinking from the refugee family about certain things. But, I wonder how we might have felt if as Americans we were suddenly thrust to live in an unfurnished apartment in Afghanistan.

We culled the remaining items into two loads—one for Goodwill and one for the county dump.

I rode with the team going to the dump.

Even COVID-19 has turned the dump upside down.

 Prior to the pandemic, there was a section at the dump named— Too Good To Throw Away. All kinds of items were dropped off under that shelter. During the course of daily operating hours, clever scavengers would visit and claim those items for resale or repurposing.

This afternoon, we had only one sad option—heaving our load into a large dumpster. To our left and right, people were doing the same as us tossing junk into dumpsters.

 Maybe some day after I’m long gone, the world will finally spin off of its axis. And as observers watch this spectacle from outer space, they will conclude this demise occurred because the amount of waste buried in the earth created an imbalance. The gyroscopes below the crust could no longer handle the stressful, wobble of being out of alignment—kaboom—another big bang theory.

I learned a lot about the wobble of life on this unusually pretty January afternoon.

If our class ever helps out a refugee family again with furniture, I think we will have some options to consider on how we make this happen in a different way.

Despite the fact that we are rapidly aging, we can still move furniture around with the best of them. 

Added to that, we haven’t lost our sense of humor in working with each other in circumstances like this afternoon.

And most importantly, our hearts still want to help, to give, to make a difference, and I sense that desire will be with us until we take our last breath of life.

In the chaos of the afternoon, there was one constant at the family’s apartment, a son, who was called “D”.

 A freshman student at a local high school, D was our interpreter. He was the negotiator, the go between. He had the tough job of telling us “no” when a piece of furniture or some other donated item did not pass the test. 

D played his part well. We and his parents would have been lost without his skills.

Just as we were about to depart, D got my attention. He had a request. 

D wondered if we might have access to a bicycle. I told him we would work something out, but it might take a bit of time. A slight smile creased his hopeful face.

Maybe the following scripture sums up what took place this afternoon: 

3 John 1:5:  “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you.”

Good words for me to remember as I try to faithfully wobble through life.

Loaded truck at the back of Trinity Hall 1/14/2021 photo by Bill Pike

Psychology, people, love

In the spring of 1975, I was doing my student teaching at Aycock Junior High School in Greensboro, North Carolina.

My supervising teacher was Mr. Wallace Pegram. I have never forgotten what he told me one day:  “There is a lot of psychology in teaching.”

Mr. Pegram was a wise man. 

I have also discovered there is a lot of psychology in life too. I think the year 2020 confirms that statement.

On the afternoon of Friday, January 15, I am 46 years removed from my student teaching, but I’m still working. I haven’t departed the people business as I work as the director of operations at our church. 

Today has been a busy people day.

We had the walk through to develop a punch list for finishing up a construction project.

The church’s old, but useful pickup truck failed its annual inspection. I spent time on the phone with our trusty mechanic figuring out how to get the truck back in shape.

Our Kids Director, along with an architect, and I walked an old section of the church to ponder how we might modernize the space.

I had a Zoom call with our assistant pastor and the leader of our French Swahili congregation. The pandemic has turned this community upside down too.

Since 9 this morning, church members wearing their masks have  been dropping off groceries in Trinity Hall. These groceries will be distributed to two local food pantries we support.

Late that afternoon, after finishing up some e-mails, I was ready to head home.

When I walked into the church’s back parking lot, the predicted rainfall had arrived. I saw the leader of the Greenwood AA group setting up tents for the 5:30 meeting.

Since late March of 2020, Greenwood has been meeting on our church grounds. They are an amazing resilient, resourceful group of people.

Somehow, their leader and the members have not let the whims of mother nature deter them. When weather created an obstacle, they adjusted.

With winter here, they have crafted a two tiered meeting system. 

Members following COVID-19 protocols can opt to meet in the fellowship hall, or with similar protocols, they can choose to meet  in the parking lot under tents with a portable heater.

I asked their leader how the two meeting sites had been working out. His answer was honest.

He told me it took all of his patience and diplomatic skills to reach consensus on some of the essentials of the meeting formats. But, with time, most of the group has adjusted, complied, and attendance has been consistent.

In his own unique way, the Greenwood leader was saying to me—there is a lot of psychology in working with people who are worn down by COVID-19, America’s political unrest, and their own personal challenges with alcohol.

With this environment, it doesn’t take much for a person to be overwhelmed with the pressure generated from these unprecedented circumstances.

Reports I hear in the media indicate that our mental health systems both public and private are maxed out. This means many frazzled people do not have access to the help they need.

The Greenwood leader with an open and trusting heart said, “On several occasions, I have said to myself, I’m not going to wrestle anymore with some of my challenges, I’m going to hand them over to God to help me.”

And speaking of God, this has been an exceptionally tough week for friends of our family. 

One lost her daughter to an aneurysm.  

Another had her healthy mother die unexpectedly.

 But the saddest, friends from church have a grandson who received a preliminary diagnosis of the incurable mitochondrial disease—he just turned one.  

Yes, there is a lot of psychology in life.

Even with our mental health systems and their personnel tapped out, I will still hold out for hope.

My hope is grounded in one word—perseverance.

In all my years of working with people in all kinds of situations, circumstances, and environments, I am constantly amazed how individuals find ways to hang on by their perseverance.

I guess that doggedness comes from deep inside their souls.

Maybe, it is a reserve of energy tucked away in the quiet chamber of a restless heart.

Or perhaps, their perseverance is unknowingly supported by you, me, we, us when we reach out to them in their time of need.

That reaching out comes from love tucked away in our hearts.

In an interview about his new film, News of the World, Tom Hanks said this about the character he portrays: “When you have love in your life, you are a different human being.”

Right now, maybe more than ever,  we need to use the love inside of us to make us different human beings.

1 Corinthians 13 reminds me—“if I don’t have love, I am nothing.”

Yes, there is a lot of psychology in teaching and in life. 

And while we might not always recognize love in the moment, it is there hanging around waiting to be put to use.

Without question, love needs to be put to use now.

A stubborn Beautiful Woolly Sunflower (I think) clinging to life and sharing its love in the Eastern Sierras of California photo by Bill Pike