The Office of Life Improvement: The Life of Becky Goshorn

On Monday, March 7, the recorded high temperature in Richmond, Virginia where we live hit 81 degrees.

Five days later on Saturday, March 12, those warm temperatures were gone.

That Saturday morning, I met a team of volunteers at our church. Their task was to remove old carpet from the church’s parlor, and to use a special fabric to recover the worn speaker screens in the Sanctuary.

By midday, we were finishing the chores. The cold rain that had been pelting down all morning had changed over to snow. With the falling temperatures and gusty winds, the snow managed to repaint the landscape.

Snow covered front lawn at Trinity UMC March 12, 2022 photo by Bill Pike

Early on the morning of Sunday, March 13, I arrived at church to make sure that sidewalks and steps weren’t icy. Turns out we were clear of ice, but we had a couple of other challenges.

The still relatively young steam boiler that heats the Sanctuary did not want to start. Luckily, an experienced technician from the HVAC company that services our building persuaded the cantankerous boiler to fire up.

Later that morning, I was summoned to a newly renovated Kids Church classroom. A heating radiator in one corner of the room had decided to leak. Before I could spew out a hot hissing line of harsh words, I caught myself—there are children in this room.

Once, the class was over, I pulled up the wet carpet tiles. I wrapped a towel around the suspicious pipe dripper, and aimed a box fan on to the damp concrete sub-floor.

Just before, the start of the 11 a.m. worship service, we received notification that a long time member (who was loved by all) was taking her last breaths courtesy of a crummy intruder—cancer.

Later that afternoon at home, our friend, Pat Rollison, called. She had some more disturbing news. Our mutual friend and educator, Becky Goshorn, had passed on Saturday.

This news about losing Becky tugged at my heart.

Becky had been an outstanding math teacher at Hermitage High School in Henrico County. Hermitage is where I also landed after teaching four years in Martinsville. And after we both retired, our paths crossed again as we worked with the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Improvement.

Becky and I were part of teams that visited schools in Virginia who were struggling to find success with the state’s Standards of Learning tests. Again, Becky was an excellent teammate with her expertise in math helping the teachers in these schools retool with practical instructional strategies and techniques.

We were also part of a group of Virginia educators who worked with teachers in the Department of Corrections schools. These incarcerated students had no exemption from the Virginia Standards of Learning tests.

For Becky’s children, Anne and Jack, losing their mother was an untimely challenge. Just six months earlier on September 17, 2021, they had dealt with the unexpected passing of their father, Larkin.

Becky was in her second battle with cancer. By all accounts, she was making progress.

I know that I will not be lucky enough to make it to heaven, but if by some miracle I sneak into the pearly gates, my first question to God will be this—“If a person pushed cancer out of his/her body once, why in the world should a woman, man, or child have to endure another wretched round of this awful disease?”

Monday, March 21, was a pretty spring afternoon. A visitation was held for family and friends to honor Becky. The setting was perfect. The clubhouse for the recreation center allowed guests to mingle inside and outside. My wife and I saw many of our education colleagues, and we met Anne and Jack.

Even though, I was not a math major, in Becky’s obituary, I counted at least nine community and professional organizations that Becky helped during her lifetime.

Combine those organizations with her career in public schools, and there are multiple opportunities for storytelling about Becky.

Here is a Becky story from our work with the Office of School Improvement.

I was preparing for a school review in northern Virginia. At the last minute, a team member had to bow out. I called Becky who was in another part of the state finishing a review.

I asked if she would consider filling the math spot on the team. With no hesitation, she agreed to pinch hit.

But, she did have concern. Becky like me had been living out of a suitcase. Becky was worried that she might not have enough clean underwear to finish out the week.

I have never forgotten that story for many reasons. First, her humor, but more importantly this was an example of her loyalty, dedication, and heart.

A teacher can’t survive in public education without a heart, and Becky had a heart. Just ask her family, former students, co-workers, and community.

Recently, I listened to an interview on the NPR show Fresh Air with Frank Bruni. Bruni has written a book, The Beauty of Dusk. The book chronicles his journey of losing sight in his right eye due to a unusual stroke that impacted the optic nerve.

In the interview, these words from Bruni caught my attention:

But after going through a period of shock and terror, Bruni saw himself at a decision point: He could fixate on what had been lost, or he could focus on what remained. He chose to do the latter.

“I feel like once you’ve recognized what’s happened, … it is so important and so constructive and so right to focus instead on all the things you can still do, all the blessings that remain,” he says. “I ended up determined — determined to show myself that I could adapt to whatever was going to happen.” (NPR Fresh Air 3/22/22)

Frank Bruni’s words make me think of Becky’s children, Anne and Jack. They must be in shock having lost both parents so quickly.

I hope Anne and Jack sense in Bruni’s comments that Becky always did in life what he suggests.

Despite the cancer, Becky constructively focused on all the things she could still do. She knew her blessings. She was determined to adapt to whatever was going to happen.

In her obituary, Becky offered the best advice to us all—“live life to the fullest because it is shorter than you think.”

Becky’s work in the Office of Life Improvement is an example of what one person can do to make a community better.

Whether she recognized her skills or not, Becky understood and embraced three lines of scripture from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:

“To everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven: a time to build up, a time to speak, and a time to love.”

Becky’s talents helped to build up many community organizations.

She understood the importance of using her voice to speak up for the good of the cause.

And most importantly, she loved even in life’s difficult moments.

In the time I have left on this earth, I hope I can follow Becky’s example.

We will miss you, Becky.

A Man With No Heart

I am certain there have been moments in my life when my actions, my decisions have left this impression—that guy has no heart.

Sometimes, I have thought the same related to people I have encountered during my lifetime.

How does a person become heartless?

What is in the person’s makeup that forms an unkind heart?

I would like to ask Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin about his heart.

Because as far as I can tell, Mr. Putin has no heart.

If Mr. Putin had a heart then there would not be a cesspool of human atrocities swirling about his leadership.

Greed, power, control rule his thinking.

Mr. Putin is an unchecked demon, a fiend with no redeeming qualities.

He enjoys wrecking the lives of innocent people, including his own Russian citizens.

Mr. Putin excels in lying through misinformation.

Fear must be one of his favorite words.

His ego must thrive on the fear he invokes.

Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is like all of his other senseless acts—shameful. Shame doesn’t bother him.

Perhaps during the destruction of Ukraine, you have asked yourself this question—“Why did America and its coalition come so quickly to the aid of Kuwait when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops invaded in 1990?”

What’s the difference now with Ukraine?

My guess is that Putin is crazier than Saddam Hussein, and the other part of the answer is nuclear weapons.

I’m glad to know that sanctions imposed by countries around the world are having an impact on Russia.

Apparently, military weapons sent to Ukraine from thirty countries are allowing Ukrainian troops to fight back with an unanticipated tenacity against Putin’s army.

On Wednesday, March 16, the same day that Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed the United States Congress, we held a day long prayer vigil at our church for peace.

President Zelenskyy’s speech was a heart tugger. His passionate points referenced significant challenges in our American history. He used those challenges to help us to understand the urgency of his country’s immediate needs.

Before Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected President, he was a professional comedian. I know there is never humor in the tragedies of war, but I believe the ghost of Ernest T. Bass could take out Putin.

Putin would not know what hit him. A properly hurled rock from Ernest T could take Putin down just like David did with Goliath.

Song lyrics have always intrigued me. For lots of different reasons, I admire the Billy Joel song—“All About Soul.” Two lines in the lyrics describe Mr. Putin. Joel wrote, “There are people who have lost, every trace of human kindness.”

It is quite possible that Mr. Putin never had an ounce of kindness in his body. Clearly, his assault on innocent, defenseless targets in Ukraine prove he is an unkind human being with no heart, no soul, and no conscience.

According to one source (Bible Gateway), the Bible contains at least 430 verses that use the word evil. I did not review each verse, but I did stumble upon this one from James 3:16: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Those words accurately describe Mr. Putin.

With 430 references to evil in the Bible, I concluded that God and the world have been dealing with evil for a long, long, long time.

I wonder what God is thinking about Ukraine and Mr. Putin?

Over the years, anyone who has read my baloney, knows that I am not a Biblical scholar. But, here is something I don’t understand. In the Bible, Lot’s wife, and a gentleman named Uzzah are taken out by God.

Lot’s wife was told not to turn around to view the city she was escaping, and Uzzah was told not to touch the Ark of the Covenant.

I’m sure theologians have debated and written much about these stories, but here is my question for God—hasn’t Mr. Putin done worse than these two Biblical characters?

I guess that leads me back to prayer, and continuing to pray for those things in life that I don’t understand.

I pray that we can avoid a global war with Mr. Putin.

I pray for the people of Ukraine.

I pray for the people of Russia who have been suppressed by their evil leader.

And God if you are listening in your heavenly headquarters, I pray that the 430 verses in your book about evil will prompt us to arm our hearts with persistent prayer, support, courage, unity, hope, and love for the people of Ukraine.

After all there are 686 (Bible Gateway) verses in the Bible that use the word love.

Of course, Mr. Putin, the man with no heart, has no understanding of love.

And that is a bad formula.

No heart minus love equals evil.

God, we can’t let evil beat love.

Help us.

Photo by Bill Pike

Baseball’s imperfections

In Summerfield, North Carolina, late on the afternoon of Thursday, March 3, our grandson attended his first baseball practice. Hudson turns four in April.

When I was four, I had no idea that baseball existed. The world has changed.

We received a full report regarding Hudson’s practice. This included photographs with a brightly colored glove. Video showed him hitting the ball off the tee and scurrying down to first base. Like his grandpa and Aunt Lizzie, Hudson swings from the left side of the plate.

Growing up down the road in Burlington, I developed a love for baseball. Behind our house was an abandoned field. Our next door neighbor, Ken Simmons, transformed that field into a place for us to play. Ken had the vision.

Once we cleared out loose rocks, Ken mowed the broom straw grass and weeds. His father helped him form a rusty rectangular metal frame with chain-link fencing into a backstop. Plywood, cut with a hand saw shaped home plate.

Left and center fields had a tall stand of hardwoods and pine trees. Today, in my imagination that would remind me of Fenway’s Green Monster. No tree line in right field— a worn, narrow lake trail formed a boundary.

We had no helmets, nor batting gloves— just an odd collection of wooden bats, and a few baseballs.

Didn’t matter if you were a girl or a boy, we all played. Sometimes, friends from a few streets away would join us for a game.

We played nonstop. Of course, there were multiple delays as we searched for batted balls that had landed deep into the woods.

Way back then, the New York Yankees were my favorite team. I read short biographies about baseball players from the May Memorial Library, scoured box scores in the afternoon paper, read every printed word on the back of baseball cards, and at night listened to games on my transistor radio.

As an adult, I followed the game from a distance. I became a fan of the Boston Red Sox. Had the privilege of attending major league games in Boston, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Chicago.

At some point, like a slow roller down the third base line, my interest in baseball began to subside.

I was thrilled when the Red Sox and the Cubs won the world series. However, the players strike in 1994-95, combined with the steroid challenges pushed me away.

I’ve read enough about baseball history to know that salaries, benefits, and a tug of war between owners, players, and now a player’s union have always been around.

Clearly, I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but I have no comprehension for the salary that Max Scherzer will be paid to pitch for the New York Mets this baseball season. Mr. Scherzer is scheduled to be paid $43,333,333 million. He has a three year contract valued at $130 million. I need to get on his payroll.

And that is my gripe about this most recent baseball lockout— who really is hurt by this lockout? I’ll tell you who is hurt—the fans and the people who work behind the scenes to make sure that a baseball game and its season happen.

Prior to this lockout being resolved on Thursday, March 10, both the union representing the players and the owners made nice comments about baseball’s fans. I’d call those statements shallow flattery.

Because if the owners and players really cared about the fans, no lockout would have occurred.

And if the players and owners really cared about the game, instead of raising the guaranteed annual salary of a major league player, why not significantly raise the salary of all stadium workers who do the dirty work before and after every game?

I wonder how the players and owners would feel if at some point in the future fans and stadium workers locked out owners and players at every major league stadium?

Sometimes on a perfect spring day, my mind daydreams back to that field behind our house. I hear the chatter of my friends, the unmistakable sound of a wooden bat hitting a tired baseball, and the sighs of relief when a lost ball was found. I wouldn’t trade anything for those priceless memories.

For our grandson, I hope his coaches are patient, kindhearted.

In teachable moments, I hope sportsmanship is the takeaway, not winning.

And despite baseball’s imperfections, I hope he has fun learning about a storied game.

My old glove Photo by Bill Pike

Washing Machine Drip, No Act Of God

Part I: The Incompetent Repairman

Early one morning during the last week of February, I was sitting at my desk in the basement. Hunched over my laptop computer, I was distracted by a drip.

Sometimes a drip is a singular random drip, but then I heard it again. And just to be sure, I wasn’t hearing things, I waited to hear the drip again, and I did.

So, I got up from my chair, and moved in the direction of the drip. My ears took me to our three year old washing machine. I looked inside the silent, empty tub, and I saw the pooling of water from a steady drip.

I put a small bucket inside the tub to catch the water. I didn’t want that water to load up the drainage system.

Of course, I went to the internet to search, and in a few minutes, a diagnosis was deduced—a faulty water inlet valve.

I went further, and watched a step by step video that even an incompetent washing machine repairman like myself could do.

In her efficiency, the Commander Supreme, located the owner’s manual. It contained the essential model number and serial number for the leaking washer.

I contacted the parts department at a local retailer. I explained the drip, my amateur internet assisted diagnosis, and provided the model number to the patient clerk.

After a few minutes of his own investigation, he agreed with the diagnosis, and confirmed that he had the part in stock. I requested that he hold the part until I could pick it up.

On the afternoon of Friday, February 25, I picked up the part.

Based upon the internet video, I had the proper tools, and I was ready to start my nonprofessional surgery.

My first correct step was to unplug the machine from the electrical supply. Even with my limited skills, I know that water and electricity are not a good mix.

Next, I turned off the shutoff valves for the hot and cold water. I had placed a towel and a bucket under the stainless steel hoses where they connect to the back of the washing machine.

As I started to unscrew one of the hose connections, I took a shower. Water spewed at me like a lawn sprinkler. Clearly, an auspicious start, as molten words collided in midair with the spraying water. I retightened the shutoff valves, and the shower stopped.

After toweling off, the real surgery started. Somehow, I successfully removed the control panel. I gently leaned it on the lid of the washer.

I spied the water inlet valve. After several minutes of fumbling around, I removed this blue plastic contraption from its secure perch.

The next step was to remove the two wire harnesses that snap into the solenoids. The first one cooperated. The second one failed to cooperate. That harness was as stubborn as a child in a terrible two meltdown.

I pulled, tugged.

I used gentle words of encouragement like a horse whisperer.

I used harsh, volatile words like Coach K burning the ears of a referee.

The Commander Supreme from the top of the basement stairs asked if I was ok. I politely directed her not to come down the stairs.

I called the part supplier. He was baffled. But, he guessed that the harness had been installed too snuggly at the factory.

I decide to wrap the plastic coating of the harness in a rag. With pliers, I gripped the harness and pulled like I was in a playground tug of war, and the harness released. One side released cleanly, the other side failed to budge. I had to pry it off.

It took a few minutes, but I finally was able to get the new inlet valve in place and secured. I reattached the control panel, and screwed it back in place.

I reconnected the water hoses and tighten them to the washer. I turned on the water and I had a leak on one of the hoses. Tightened again, still dripped. It appeared that the drip was from a faulty hose.

So I turned off the water, and quit for the night.

On Saturday morning, I picked up two new hoses at Lowes. I installed them, turned on the water, and no leaks. Also, the new water inlet valve appeared to be working as no water was dripping inside the washing machine.

I know your are dying for this rubbish to end, but I’m sorry to disappoint you.

The Commander Supreme on Saturday had made an overnight trip to North Carolina for a lunch gathering of Pike related women.

After church on Sunday, I decided I would wash a load of clothes to make sure that my repair had been successful. I loaded the washer, selected the proper setting, and pushed the start button.

The control panel lit up, I could hear the tub filling with water, and inside I was quietly cheering. I went back upstairs for a few minutes, and then came back to the basement. I took a few steps toward the machine, and on the floor I saw a stream of water.

I grabbed some old towels and tossed them on the floor to stop the stream. No leaks at the hoses, but the top back corner of the washer was wet with water droplets. The tub was still filling, so I let it cycle through the complete run.

I dried everything off on the surface, and waited for the next cycle of water fill. Again no hose leaks, but water was still leaking from the machine.

When the run finished, I disassembled the control panel, and found a small pool of water where a tiny hose fit into the inlet valve. Everything look to be properly in place. With paper towels, I soaked up the water, and quit.

Part II: The Experienced Repairman

On Monday, I made arrangements for a real repairman to come out. Of course, the next appointment opening was on Tuesday, March 8. Cussing internally, I took the appointment.

I decided to call my former Hermitage High School pal, Bruce Bowen. Bruce is a savvy consumer. Maybe, he knows a repair company that can get to us sooner. Sure enough, Bruce had a name and number.

I called this company, and luckily they had a cancellation for Wednesday morning.

A few minutes before the appointed time, the repairman arrived.

As we walked to the basement, he recapped what had been reported to him about the washing machine. He acknowledged that water inlet valves had been a problem for the manufacturer of our machine.

He plugged in the washer, turned on the disassembled panel. The machine started the fill cycle, and immediately, he saw what was causing the leak.

The narrow hose going into the water inlet valve was not properly seated. He shut down the machine, and asked if I still had the faulty valve, and I did.

He looked at the old valve, and in the porthole where the hose was to properly fit, he removed a tiny “o” ring. He placed the “o” ring into the porthole, pushed the hose connection back into place, started the washer, and no water leaked.

As I beat myself up out loud for not catching the “o” ring, he stopped me.

The repairman shifted blame to the manufacturer. No new “o”ring had been included with the new valve, and the old “o” ring was the same color as the old valve making it difficult for the untrained eye to see.

With grateful thanks, I wrote the check which was also a nice surprise— he only charge us for the trip.

During the whole ordeal, a question had been burning inside of me. I asked the repairman, “Why are you so busy?”

He did not hold back. He told me—“The quality in the manufacturing of household appliances is not what it used to be.”

He further stated, “Unless you are lucky, the consumer can expect something to go wrong with an appliance during the first three years of ownership.”

I thanked him for his honest assessment.

Part III: Acts of you, me, we, us, and love

As I fumbled through the owner’s manual for our washing machine, I read with interest what is not covered in the manufacturer’s limited one year warranty. Number six read: Damage to the product caused by accident, fire, floods, or acts of God.

Interesting to me that in 2022, when as a society we appear to be more removed from God than ever before, yet “acts of God” is still part of an owner’s manual for a washing machine.

I guess that means the author of the manual, or perhaps an attorney who reviews the manual still acknowledges the unseen power, or perhaps the fear of God’s ability to cause problems.

Made me think about my own personal owner’s manual. Do I have one?

Do I have a limited warranty?

Do I have multiple pages of troubleshooting tips to guide me through difficult moments of operating through life?

How was I molded and formed on the assembly line from birth to where I am now?

And most importantly, who creates my challenges—me or God?

Yes, I know, those questions make your head spin.

But, my old noggin has come to this line of thought—you, me, we, us, our county, city, state, country, and world need an act of God.

God needs to grab us, shake us, and say to us—“Hey, you knuckleheads, this isn’t working, this has got to stop, you can’t continue like this, your stubborn hearts are not loving like I constructed them.”

In truth, we don’t need an act of God.

We need an act of our hearts.

Our hearts were constructed to love.

But, we have selfishly moved away from that love.

That inlet valve didn’t work properly without the “o” ring.

Right now, our hearts aren’t working properly.

Our “o” rings of love are missing.

Might be the most difficult challenge our hearts have experienced, but unless we figure out how to love, the messy world is not going to change.

God isn’t going to act.

He is waiting on you, me, we, and us, to change our reluctant hearts.

The faulty intake valve Photo by Bill Pike