245 Square Miles of Needs

It was dark and cold on the morning of February 1. I had to be in the overflow parking lot at Hermitage High School by 6:30. I was going to take a ride on school bus #851. When I arrived, the driver was working through a required safety checklist making sure the bus was ready to be driven. 

Five times from February through the end of May, I rode school busses that took me all around Henrico County. On those rides I saw sections of the county I had never seen before.

Each driver’s assignment was different. I learned quite a bit. 

I learned how students from the western half of the county are transported to high school specialty centers in the eastern half of the county. Experienced the coordination needed to move students to special programs in a variety of educational settings. Saw first hand the care given by the bus drivers and the bus aides in working with special needs students and their parents.  And, experienced the traditional end of the school day ride for elementary, middle, and high school students.

Driving a school bus is no easy task. The application process is rigorous. This includes a driver learning and understanding every mechanical part of the bus. Once an applicant has met the requirements, driving that big yellow bus really tests a driver.

If a person is a daydreamer, attempting to become a school bus driver might not be the correct career path. It takes lots of focus. Eyes on the road, monitoring the passengers (yes, school bus drivers have eyes in the back of their heads!), cuing safety equipment, and listening for important radio communication are daily requirements. 

 Additionally, some busses are equipped with lifts designed to assist students in entering and departing the bus. In these situations, the communication between the driver and the bus aide is critical. 

 On some of the rides, I was amazed at the skills of the drivers as they maneuvered the big yellow box on wheels through incredibly tight spaces. 

Communication via radio is on going. Information between pupil transportation supervisors and drivers is critical. Weather conditions, traffic challenges, and insuring that all routes and runs for the school day and beyond will be covered are a part of this essential dialogue. 

There is no perfection in the choreography of pupil transportation. However, without the coordination of this constant teamwork and planning, the needs of the students, parents, and schools could not be met.

And while these routes did not cover all of the 245 square miles in Henrico County, the school bus rides did leave me with a snapshot that will not be forgotten. There are a lot of needs in our county. 

Meeting those needs is challenging work. But school bus drivers and their aides can be a critical part of meeting these challenges. This is done by building relationships.

During each of the five bus rides, it was clear to me that the drivers had been diligent in establishing a rapport with parents and their children. Establishing that rapport is grounded in carving out a trust.

Trust is a two-way street. 

I saw that trust at work for students,  drivers, bus aides, and parents on every ride. But, I really witnessed those trusting relationships one Friday morning. A young lady with special needs who attended a traditional high school was having a rough morning. She did not want to go school. It took a bit of time, but everyone worked together, and eventually the young lady made the ride to school.

The start of a new school year is upon us. Those 245 square miles of needs have not departed. In fact, as we look to the future, I believe school systems and the counties and cities they serve will be challenged to meet even more student needs.

We will have a better chance of meeting those needs if we can follow the example of the bus drivers and bus aides—build relationships.

Words of Encouragement: “It’s gonna hurt!”

I have never forgotten the words from the nurse who worked with my eye doctor. She had completed an assessment of my eyes. She quickly surmised that the chalazion on one of my eyelids would need to be surgically excised. The nurse did not hold back, she bluntly told me—“It’s going to hurt!”

That was 16 years ago. The nurse was correct. It did hurt.

Today, Monday, August 19, I have been dreading. 

The Commander Supreme has driven me to the eye clinic. I have a chalazion on my upper left eyelid. Despite my recommended medically approved tactics on the chalazion, it has not gone away. It never showed any signs of wanting to retreat. Stubbornly red and angrily inflamed, the chalazion would not withdraw.

For 16 years, I have battled an annoying eye lid condition called blepharitis. Blepharitis is a fairly common inflammation of the eyelids. Symptoms vary, but for me one of my challenges is the tiny oil glands at the foundation of each eyelash. If one oil gland gets clogged, that can lead to the formation of a chalazion, which is a fancy word for a stye or cyst.

My original eye doctor put me on a regimen for preventing the development of a chalazion. This includes daily eyelid scrubs using warm water and q tips, warm water compresses with a bath cloth, gentle washing of the eyelids with soap and water, and adding ground flax seed to my diet.

Now, I have had the sporadic chalazion pop up, and I’m usually able to make them go away. But, this one would not cooperate.

To add to my anxiety on this hot and humid August morning, my reliable, trusted eye doctor has retired. While I’m happy for her, internally I’m crushed. But, I guess there is only so much chalazion excising that a doctor is able to handle during a career—especially with a wimpy patient like me.

With a bit of uneasiness, I check in with the receptionist. Even though I had completed all of the registration paperwork on line, I’m still required to sign my life away. Plus, I make a bandit driven insurance co-pay. Grumps like me must make the receptionist rethink why she chose this line of work.

Soon, I’m called back. The Commander Supreme offers me a hopeful good luck. This nurse confirms my information related to my overall health and my eye health. I often wonder why they go through this routine. All of that information is already out there, stored in a computer cloud somewhere. She checks my vision, and for my left eye, I am certain she is stunned. My guess is she wonders how this old guy walked into the examining room without crashing into a door frame.

Satisfied with the information I provided, she tells me the doctor will be in soon. Soon is tough to define in a doctor’s office. Soon could mean 30 seconds, 30 minutes, 30 days, 30 weeks, or 30 months. In this case, soon was somewhere between 30 seconds and 30 minutes.

When the doctor came in he was accompanied by another nurse. The doctor greeted me. A rapid round of questions were directed toward me. Then, the doctor grabbed a hold of that chalazion with his fingers. Quickly, he assessed that there was about a 20% chance with some different techniques that I might be able to get the chalazion to go away.

I thought to myself—I’ve been trying to get this booger to go away for two months. I have failed, and that’s when “It’s gonna hurt” starting screaming through my memory banks. 

I received permission to walk out into the waiting area to tell the Commander Supreme what was transpiring. I had on my running shoes, if I had really been thinking I should have sprinted out of the building. But, I was a good boy, and returned to the nurse who walked me into the room where the excising would be performed.

The only good thing about the next few minutes was the chair. Thickly padded, it could be manipulated to fit the contours of my old sack of bones including my neck. I’m sure when I receive the itemized bill for this procedure there will be a chair cost, and it will probably be $10,000.

The nurse prepped me and the room. I had to sign some more giving my life away forms. I think the fine print on this one required me to forfeit my shoebox full of craft beer bottle caps.

The doctor entered. He tweaked the chair, more dollar signs. Numbing drops plopped into both eyes. To my left I saw a palm sized blue ball. The nurse put it in my  right hand. 

I could see the syringe full of a numbing agent heading toward my left upper eyelid. The fine tip of the needle was poised to intrude and inflict pain. It was successful. In a nano second that blue ball in my right hand was flatten. I never gave it a chance to regain its breath. The ball became flatter than one of those awful communion wafers.

I winced at some tugging on my eyelid. The doctor told me he was clearing other oil ducts in the lid. Several times the doctor asked the nurse to wipe away the vile oozing from the chalazion.

Soon, he was finished. My eye was cleaned up. A swath of ointment was applied, then packed with cotton gauze. Next, the nurse taped me up with an eye patch. The tape did not want to stick to my perspiring facial skin. The nurse doubled up the tape.

Slowly, the chair was manipulated to  bring me up right. The nurse went over the post operative instructions. She gave me the instructions sheet, and she sought my assurance that I was not going to topple over. 

I walked out into the waiting room.

Through me right eye, I could see the people in the waiting room look away or down when they saw the eye patching.

A calm Commander Supreme walked me out to the car. 

I could not take off the eye patch until Tuesday morning. So for much of Monday afternoon, I stared into darkness. I did not want to strain my right eye.

It wasn’t long before the numbing agent wore off. I had permission to take an over the counter pain killer. Every four hours I took ibuprofen, and by bedtime the pain was gone.

The Commander Supreme had picked up the prescription— an antibacterial ointment for me to apply to the eye for the next two weeks. A regimen of cold and warm compresses would be required too.

On Tuesday morning when I removed the patch my left eye looked gnarly. I had a busy day ahead of me between Trinity and school board assignments.

I had my words rehearsed for explaining my appearance. Contrary to what you are thinking after almost 44 years of marriage, my wife did not finally lose patience and slug me. 

One thing I did note on Tuesday was even after taking a shower, some of the stickiness from the double taping of the eye patch remained on my skin. I worried that flying insects might land on me and not be able to escape. That would have only added to the comedy of my appearance—human fly paper.

Per our wedding vows, the Commander Supreme rendered good care to me. I am grateful that somehow she still tolerates me and all my faults.

Each day the eye looked a bit better. 

Compared to what some people endure with health conditions, a chalazion on an eye lid is nothing.

There is no comfort or encouragement in the words—“It’s going to hurt!”

And while I am far from perfect in loving the Lord and the people he surrounds me with each day, I was drawn to these words from Psalm 116 verses 1-2:  “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

I sensed during this little medical skirmish that the good Lord heard my calling. This included the prayers of the people around me.

As we all know, at times life does hurt. But, perhaps those hurts are soften a bit when the Lord hears our cries.

Frozen In Roanoke: Love One Another

Mark Twain once said:  “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Fransisco.”

For me, the coldest first day of summer I ever spent was at the Berglund Center in Roanoke, Virginia on Friday, June 21. I was attending the annual conference of the Virginia United Methodist Church as a Richmond district delegate for Trinity Methodist my home church in Henrico County.

A family of three sitting up behind me was wrapped in fleece throws. They might have well been sitting outdoors in a football stadium on a cold, gray, blustery December day. 

It was so cold in the Berglund Center that I’m certain I could have churned and made a quart of ice cream. 

A side of beef could have been hung from the rafters with no fear of spoiling.

 And while I didn’t witness this, I reckoned that spilled hot coffee might have turned immediately to a slippery patch of ice as soon as it hit one of the concrete steps on the aisle leading to my seat.

Kudos to the engineers who designed the system. It works. The largest rain forest in the world could have been cooled down with these chillers. 

But, I suppose from a preacher’s perspective, the frigid Siberian air kept attendants awake!

So just before 5 on Saturday morning, June 22, I awoke to ready myself for the conference sponsored 5K run. I was still chipping ice off my old frame as I found my running gear. Out of all of the races I have signed up to run, this one had the earliest start time— 6:15.

From the Hampton Inn airport location, it was a short drive over to the Best Buy parking lot. That was the gathering point for the runners, walkers, and bike riders who had signed up to participate. The group was hard to miss. Everyone, but me was wearing their bright yellow t-shirt commemorating this first annual run.

I wore a bright blue t-shirt from the Mission Footprint 5K that we organized for a few years at Trinity. Despite not wearing the new shirt, I was treated kindly.

About 300 had gathered, and shortly after the announcements, we started walking toward the Lick Run Greenway trail. We walked parallel to the interstate and then crossed over the highway via a sturdily constructed footbridge with all of the safety trimmings in place. Some truckers and motorists seeing this lemon colored mass shuffling across the bridge tooted their horns in approval.

At the end of the footbridge the path started, and slowly participants began moving out.

The first steps of a 5K are like being jostled in a bag of pinto beans. We are all looking for a bit of elbow room. It takes some maneuvering, but gradually the path opens up.

I overheard an early comment about the terrain. We started off going down hill. The course is a loop. So that means getting back to the finish line will require recovering this ground, but going uphill at that time.

The course is nice. A wide path of asphalt, lots of green vegetation on both sides. There is even a quietly chatting creek running with us for a while. Birds are chirping a greeting  as I slog into their domain.

Must have run under a walnut tree as I see a good sized green walnut laying on the path. I recall an early childhood lesson about how the oil from a walnut hull can stain clothing.

I admire the vision of the planners who carved out this trail. I wish I had that kind of foresight. Saving green space like this is good for all Roanokers.

There is a short trek on a quiet neighborhood street, and then we reconnect to the trail. Further along we loop into the Brown/Robertson Park. Briefly, we leave the smooth asphalt for a terrain of worn turf and dried mud.  I grabbed a cup of water at the water table.

Course marshals keep us properly directed, and out of the park we return to the trail. We have already encountered the really fast runners who will finish this 5K in a blink. On the way back, we encounter walkers and runners plodding along. All appear to be content.

Slowly, I work my way back over the course. Finally, I’m at that downhill section where we started. My old body can feel the pull of going up hill. But somehow, I keep lifting my legs. I cross the bridge, and push toward the next incline.

A good crowd lines the path on both sides as I approach the finish line. Gentle applause and words of congratulations greet the participants. My goal for any race is to cross the finish line.

That too is the goal for everyone who works behind the scenes for the annual conference, get to the finish line.

But, just because annual conference has a natural ending, that doesn’t mean our work as Methodists comes to a stop.

Out on that 5K course, I remember a section of posted signs about Kids Soar, but also some significant scripture on a sign: “love one another.”

Just like that singular walnut out on the trail had the capacity to stain my clothing, I hope my take away from annual conference is that I need to be stained by those words—“love one another.”

If we Methodist expect to endure the challenges we face as a church, we must embrace those three words—“love one another.”

Cheering and Clapping For #6


At this very moment in America, a new child is being born. Chances are the parents are cheerfully happy about this arrival. 

And in America today, a person will die from being shot by a person with a gun. Chances are the parents never expected  to lose a loved in this manner.

No matter when or where this shooting occurs, one individual cheers and claps with sincere happiness. That individual would be the devil. The devil cheers and claps because #6 has been broken.

You know #6—from the Ten Commandments—“Thou shall not kill.” 

Yes, the devil cheers and claps when #6 is broken—every time.

But, there is something worse. Too frequently, when America experiences mass shootings like El Paso and Dayton, the person responsible for breaking #6 is cheered. Cheered by people who have the same disconnected beliefs as the shooter.

Charles de Gaulle once stated, “ We may well go to the moon, but that’s not very far. The greatest distance we have to cover still lies within us.”

That distance within us and that distance between us is troublesome.

And in truth, there is a distance between me and the Ten Commandments. I rarely think about them. And I am a so called Christian, who attends church regularly, reads scripture everyday, and prays everyday.

 And I suspect, no trigger puller for any of the mass shooting we have experienced in our country thinks about #6 either.

Why is this? 

Perhaps, the answer has something to do with distance. 

That gap, that space, that span what does it create within us and between us?

On Sunday, July 28, my wife and I drove to Clarksville, Maryland to attend A Celebration of Life for the youngest son of dear college friends. Their son who would have turned 34 on August 1 was gunned down at a boat marina in Arizona on May 24. This was an unexpected, senseless tragedy, the nightmare of nightmares.

We left Richmond early to drive up I-95. Luckily, our travel time wasn’t disrupted by heavy traffic.

Off I-95, we skirted around Columbia, Maryland, headed toward our destination. A traffic exit sign caught my attention with the traditional green background and bold white letters, it read—Broken Land Parkway.


I thought to myself, “America—we are a broken land.”

Despite all our accomplishments and all of our good, in truth, we are a broken land. Perhaps, a prideful distance keeps us from admitting this. One thing is clear,  we have been very good for a long, long, long time at ignoring #6.

I wonder what distance within us and between us has to do with our broken land?

What is in the heart of that distance in our broken land?

Is it the crumbling of the American family,  a widening economic divide, abuse of our freedoms, lack of education, overloaded mental health systems, a need for role models, systems of support that have become ineffective, a reluctance to rethink our predictable responses to societal challenges, or the diminishing influence of churches?

Perhaps, the answer is all of the above.

For sure our country has many foes who would like to see us destroyed by their force. Yes, there is a lot to worry about from our foes. But at this stage, I think we have become very efficient at destroying ourselves.

Singer songwriter, Christopher Cross’, first hit single “Ride Like The Wind”  is a song about an outlaw making a run for the Mexico border to save his life. One line of lyric sums up his walk through life :  “Always spoke my mind with a gun in my hand.”

Sadly for some in America that is their diplomacy.

And the devil cheers.

This quote from Aldous Huxley recently caught my attention: “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”

I fear that I have started to take America’s ailments for granted.

I can’t do this. 

Remember, the devil cheers.

My capacity for wanting to help my country should be infinite.

If the devil is cheering over #6, then God’s heart is breaking.

The capacity to stop that cheering and the heart breaking is within me and you.

My heart must work to reduce the distance within me and between us.

 Hard work—yes.  But it beats hearing the devil cheer.


Last Walk In Chicago


The predawn light creeps in early to the condo. This old air mattress has been good to me since Thursday night. I have slept, despite all of the thoughts that race through by old noggin’.

At some point on Tuesday, July 2, we’ll head back toward Richmond. Lake Shore Drive, U.S. Highway 41, and interstates 65 and 64 lie ahead.

Life is a blur.  The seconds are always ticking. They never stop.

 I remember, my wife, the Commander Supreme, and I driving our oldest daughter, Lauren, to Chicago years ago. She was starting graduate school at DePaul. Lauren says it has been fourteen years. I had lost track of counting those years. 

Remember life is a blur.

A lot has transpired in those years.

 Lauren earned her master’s degree from DePaul. Started a career that allowed her to successfully work in assorted capacities with three different non-profits. 

Made life long friends, met her husband, married, and now is the mother to Caroline also known as (momma my nose is running), and Hudson (the block tower crasher).

Now, a new chapter in the book starts. Goodbye to Chicago and your comfort zones, Raleigh here we come. 

I quietly move about the condo. Finally organized and equipped with my hand me down camera from our son-in-law, Doug, and my iPhone, I head out for a walk. 

While far from professional, I like taking pictures. Architecture in Chicago, interests me. I have no expertise, but something usually catches my eye. I point and click.

During the last few years, I’ve learned my way around this Lincoln Park neighborhood. I can still get lost, but I can find my way back to 1947 North Hudson. The River Shannon bar at the corner of Hudson and Armitage is an easy landmark.

This morning, I’m focused on doors and doorways, and how the angles of early sunlight might cast upon them.


I’m on Lincoln Avenue near Ranalli’s a good pizza restaurant. It was near here that I encountered a wayward soul who asked for spare change. 

He was polite and seemed overly humble toward me. I was cautious, lots of questions speeding through my mind.

With some confusion, he showed me an Indiana ID. He was hungry. 

Our interaction was brief. I expressed my reluctance to help. My heart was conflicted. But, I opened my wallet, and I gave him a dollar. 

I interpreted his body language as disappointment with the dollar.

I walked off. He walked off.

Now, my conscience was all over me.

You should have done more.

You should have been more cautious. 

After all you have been blessed with, you only managed a dollar?

What kind of so called Christian are you? 

He was a big, young strong kid. You’re lucky he didn’t rip your wallet right out of your hands. What were you thinking?

I kept walking looking for photographic opportunities—better known as distractions to quiet my grumbling self-talk.

 The ground I covered failed to silence my internal voices. I worked my way back to North Hudson.

Inside the condo, chaos was about to erupt. Our son-in-law was waiting for a phone call from the moving company. That call came earlier than expected. 


Bedlam, havoc, pandemonium prevailed.

Lauren, the two grandkids, the Commander Supreme, and I had an escape plan. We left Doug to work with the movers. 

We headed into the city for breakfast and a series of distractions while the movers worked their magic.

All I can say is that I’m thankful our daughter was driving.  If I had been driving, the ears of the grandchildren would have been scarred for life.

We found a place near the famous Water Tower for breakfast.

The amount of food we were served was sinful. I thought about my earlier encounter with the hungry young man. 

I looked into the faces of the waitstaff and table clearers. Each was so polite and courteous to us. I wondered about their lives. I wondered how they survived with their pay. I wondered how many jobs they string together to make ends meet.

After breakfast, within walking distance, we checked out a park, a farmers market, and the most dangerous retailer for grandparents, American Girl.



From there, we loaded up again and headed to the world famous Cloud Gate, better known to visitors as the Bean. The bean shiny, bright, and reflective has become a Chicago icon, always a photo op.


Crown Fountain is a part of this park as well. On this hot, humid sun drenched morning, this place was full of kids and adults taking advantage of the spraying water. Caroline and her Nahna took off their shoes and enjoyed the water too.


Lauren checked back with Doug, and the movers had made lots of progress. It was safe for us to head back to Lincoln Park.

As Lauren drove back into the quiet streets near their condo, I noticed a large construction dumpster outside a home. A tired looking pickup truck was parked beside it. 


I saw the owner of the truck scavenging through the dumpster. He was pulling out any large piece of metal he could find. His truck bed already contained some other bulky metal items. 

Once he had a full load, my guess is this man would head to the scrap yard to collect money for his finds. 

I wondered about his life— scavenging construction dumpsters for metal to convert to cash. I wondered how many days he does this? I wondered if he had other employment? I admired his determination in this cycle for survival. I wondered how many others in the ‘city of broad shoulders’ are out doing the very same thing.

My conscience started working on me again. 

What did Jesus mean when he said, “You will always have the poor with you.”

While the speed of life might be a blur for me at times, the societal challenges that surround me are not a blur.

The poor are not a blur. They are very, very real.

I don’t think Jesus had blurry vision with regard to the poor, the weary, the downtrodden, the burdened.

I’m not so sure about my vision. I can write about these societal challenges, but what am I doing to help?

In the introduction to Lynne Olson’s book Citizens of London, she quotes a 1945 speech from American Ambassador, Gil Winant. He was speaking at the dedication ceremony for a monument that honored Americans who participated in the D-Day landing in France.

Olson wrote:  “The ambassador declared that if man was to survive in the perilous new period, he “must learn to live together in friendship,” to act “as if the welfare of a neighboring nation was almost as important as the welfare of your own.” Winant acknowledged that the accomplishment of such goals would be a supremely difficult task. “But,” he added, “So was D-Day. If that could be done, anything can be done—if we really care to do it.”

Perhaps, we could solve the cycle of our societal ills in that D-Day reflection—“anything can be done—if we really care to do it.”

That’s the question for me and maybe for you to answer—do we really care to do it?

Remember, Jesus cared.