Sentimental Pack Rat

My parents and their siblings lived through the great depression. Those were rough times. Thankfully, they survived.

I think those challenging moments left a mark— don’t be wasteful. They held on to things, thinking at some point a use would be found for an item.

Maybe because of my parents or the fact that I worked in schools for 31 years, I tend to hang on to things too. I think I could be labeled a sentimental pack rat.

This past summer, we had significant work done to our basement. My wife, the Commander Supreme, gave me some stringent orders about my so called junk—get rid of it.

So, I have been chipping away at my accumulations. I have made progress, but I know I have room for improvement.

Some items, the decision to toss is easy. Others, I’m 50/50, but I usually end up tossing.

The toughest to toss or not to toss decisions are the personal notes I have received. When life is going wrong, revisiting a heartfelt note from the past can be a reminder that at one time I had some good in this old sack of bones.

Back in October 2019, I noted the name of a person in the obituary section of the Richmond-Times Dispatch. That name sounded familiar. There was also a photograph.

My brain is slowing down, but gradually I recognized his face and  his name meant something to me. I remembered this young man as being a student at Lakeside Elementary School where I served as principal for nine years.

His name was Terrence, and he was a very nice young man, a joy to be around.

The obituary gave no details about his passing. I did a search and found the dismal news account. 

Terrence, then 21, ran off a road, hit a ditch, overturned the car, and was ejected. He was not wearing his seat belt. The state trooper doing the investigation found no evidence of alcohol or drugs contributing to the accident. 

Sad, sad story with the misery of the what if question hanging around—what if Terrence had been wearing his seat belt?

As I have continued my basement clean out, the other day I came across a small framed photograph of Terrence. 

In the photo, he has a wonderful full smile on his face. It was a sincere smile— full of life and happiness. A smile that showed he was loved by his parents, family, and friends.

There was also a pale yellow rectangular shaped sticky note attached. 

In pencil, Terrence had written:

Dear Mr. Pike thank you for beliveing in me. Love Terrence (no spell check here)

I have no recollection of anything I did to deserve this sweet note.

But, I’ll tell you—it is ok to be a sentimental pack rat in moments like this.  That note and photograph will never be tossed.

What do you think, Vince?

On Monday, February 3, 2020, I went for a run in the afternoon. The temperature was 70 degrees in Richmond. I ran in shorts. 

This can’t be right. Something is out of wack. It should not be 70 degrees on the third day of February. But, it was.

That Monday was the day after the playing of Super Bowl game #54.  The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs gave us a roller coaster of a game. I’m happy for Andy Reid, the coach of the Chiefs. I thought he deserved to win a Super Bowl game.

Deep inside, I was cheering for the Green Bay Packers. I think that can be traced back to my youth. I still recall Bart Starr, Fuzzy Thurston, Jerry Kramer, Elijah Pitts, Max McGhee, Willie Wood, Jim Taylor, and maybe you remember their coach, Vince Lombardi.

A long, long time ago, the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs played in the first Super Bowl game. The Packers won.

That was 53 years ago. Perhaps, you have noticed that the Super Bowl has changed just a tiny bit since that first game was played. 

From my perspective, the focus of the Super Bowl is not the game. It is all the wackiness that is now associated with the game.

Two weeks of media hype, over analyzed analysis from sport commentators and former players who are now commentators, the much anticipated commercials, and the halftime show.

If you have not watched a Super Bowl halftime show recently, let me warn you—marching bands are gone. 

Halftime shows are now a Las Vegas style production. I can only imagine the pennies, the logistics, and coordination it takes to transform the field into a stage. I am no prude, but the attire and gyrations by the two ladies who performed their music this year made Elvis’ gyrations look like a choir boy’s antics.

I enjoyed the short film just prior to the coin toss. The young man who did the acting, the running, and ran the game ball into the stadium was a winner. Whoever put this together did some clever thinking.

Having the four 100 year old Veterans from World War II to be honored as part of the coin tossing ceremony was special. But, how much more special would that moment have been if the players representing both teams at midfield had gone over to these men to shake their hands and thank them for their sacrifice?

From the commercials, I like the one with actor, Bill Murray. His honest wackiness make me laugh. Personally, I don’t think the commercials should be leaked out to the media before the big game. That takes away from watching them in real time.

We are a sports crazed society now. But, how much analysis does a fan need? Does all of this nonstop chatter really amount to a hill of beans? 

Maybe, the NFL should ask the reliable Punxsutawney Phil. He knows a lot about weather forecasting. I’m sure he has some insights about predicting a winner in the Super Bowl.

All of the media hype is essentially about money—generating interest, creating attention. How much of this hyping do we need? After all this game has been played every year since 1967.

So, if NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, asked me how he could improve the Super Bowl, I would offer him this.

Roger, you need a rule change. 

To score a touchdown a player’s complete body must be in the end zone, and the player must be holding, not bobbling the football. Do away with the pylons and the concept of breaking the plane of the goal line. That sounds like geometry to me, not football.

But, Roger, in all seriousness, you need to seek out Vince. I think he is probably rolling around in his grave about the game. You might recall, Coach Lombardi was pretty intense at times. I don’t think you want a midnight encounter with his ghost.

Also, I think you know, Coach Lombardi was pretty wise. 

Think about this quote from him:  “Morally, the life of the organization must be of exemplary nature. This is one phase where the organization must not have criticism.”

Well, Mr. Goodell, that’s what an unusually warm February afternoon will do to an old wacky runner. 

Even with his imperfections, I hope you will take Vince’s wisdom to heart.

Respect The Sun

The appointment was scheduled for Monday, January 27 at 7:15 a.m.

My dermatologist had already taken a whack at the top of my left hand. There was a slight rise of a dry spot between the knuckles for my pointer finger and middle finger. When the report came back from the lab, there was no surprise— it was skin cancer.

Per my dermatologist, an appointment  was set with a dermatologist who specializes in mohs surgery. The mohs process allows the doctor to cut out a section of tissue and have it quickly analyzed by specially trained lab technicians.

As a patient, my hope is that the doctor gets all of the unruly cancer out in that first whack. Then, I can be sown up and sent home.

I arrived on time, handed off the layers of a now dead tree of paperwork, provided my ID, insurance card, paid the co-pay, and waited.

When called, the first nurse played the confirmation game based upon the stack of paperwork I had turned in. She was very patient with me. This was especially true— when she asked for clarification about my medical history and my reason for being present this morning.

Interestingly, during my visit, I was asked a handful of times to verify my birthdate. I’m not sure if they were trying to trip me up. Aha— we have a possible impostor! Or if my appearance befuddled them—this guy looks a lot, I mean a lot older than his birthdate.

Anyway, the doctor came in, asked questions, and talked about the procedure. Based upon the location of this pest, she was concerned about closing the surgical spot back up. Her first instinct was to grab a chunk of skin from another part of my body for a graft.

We had quite a discussion about this possibility, and I basically encouraged her to try and work her magic without going to another part of my old body for some skin.

Before she left, the doctor temporarily became a first grader. She took out a marker, and drew on my left hand the core of her perimeter margins.

I was prepped. A section of my left hand numbed up. She returned, did some gentle pokes to insure the numbness, and the whacking started. 

Soon, I was temporarily patched up, and whisked into a separate waiting room. 

While waiting the results, I attempted to read Barney Hoskyns’ book— Across The Great Divide:  The Band and America. My childhood pal, Joe Vanderford, and I are teaching a class for the Osher Institute at the University of Richmond in April about The Band and their first three albums.

Sadly, one of the members of The Band, Levon Helm, lost his life to cancer.

It is no secret—I dislike cancer. Cancer needs to die. It needs to leave our planet immediately now, scram!

 So, a skirmish with a skin cancer makes me worry. Mentally, I play what if. 

I take a look around the waiting area. I wonder about my fellow patients— are they worried, nervous, and playing what if too?

For some reason, the time seems to pass quickly, and I’m called back. I get settled down into the chair, and the nurse gives me the good news. The doctor carved out the troublesome cancer in the first whack.

The doctor hustled in and reconfirmed the news. Now, she turned her attention to instructions for the nurse to prep me for being sewn up.

Before she started, the doctor had me move my hand in assorted configurations. She wanted to see how my handed responded to her plan for stitching me up. Pulling skin from another spot on my body wasn’t going to happen. Her plan was to use existing skin to form a graft with a bolster.

Soon, her work was complete. I learned quite a bit about the mohs process as she worked. And, I also learned about her compassion in helping her patients.

Indications are this skin cancer had been caused by the sun hitting my left hand while driving. For all the good the sun does, it can also be bad when a person fails to respect its rays. When I was a lot younger, I wasn’t respectful.

Before the nurse dismissed me, he thoroughly discussed the protocols for taking care of my hand. I was ready to reconfirm my birthdate if needed as my pass for escaping. But, I wasn’t asked. I guess they finally agreed this guy isn’t a stunt double.

I had my follow up appointment set. I walked out to the car. I made a call home and shared with my wife the good news.

I needed to stop by Trinity to let them know the doctor told me to spend the rest of the day at home.

In the church office at Trinity, a surprise was waiting for me. 

Two friends from my days at Lakeside Elementary School had dropped off an original copy of the Beach Boys Concert. This live album recording was released in October 1964. I was 11 years old. I am grateful to Amy and Cindi for thinking of me. Cindi knows all about cancer. She has beaten it out of her body once.

I look at the young faces of the Beach Boys on stage.  They looked so happy in their trademark striped shirts. Sadly, my favorite Beach Boy, the youngest Wilson brother, Carl, lost his life to cancer way too early at 51.

So many of the band’s early songs, put people out in the sun. They sold America and the rest of the world on California and all its golden grandeur. 

Little did we know in that youthful exuberance—that someday we might just have a price to pay for the sun and its harmful rays.

I’m thankful my news was good on Monday. I hope the news was good for the other patients in the office that day. I’m thankful for the skills of the nurses and doctor who worked on me. I’m thankful for two friends who remembered my affection for some musicians from Hawthorne, California.

And I hope that as I continue to age that my respect for the sun will never leave me.

And I pray that our children and their children will be wiser than me with the sun.

For we all know:  “The sun rises and the sun goes down,  and hurries to the place where it rises.”Ecclesiastes 1:5

Thanks

With the help of our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, back in June 2017, we launched the Word Press blog site Might Be Baloney: https://mightbebaloney.blog.


At some point in the last couple of weeks, we hit post 100.


I want to thank Eiizabeth for your patience with me. She taught me a lot. I rarely have to bug her now to assist with a post.


But, I want also to thank the loyal readers of the blog on Word Press, Facebook, and Linked In. I apologize for the post that have annoyed you, bored you, and made you scream out loud: “Bill has lost his mind.”


And while I haven’t always responded to your comments, I sincerely appreciate anytime you read a piece. Additionally, I am thankful for the times you share a post with a friend.


It is my sincere hope that the good Lord will allow me to continue to carve out time to tinker with words.


Finally, a recent post, Down By 3, was run as a op-ed piece in two North Carolina newspapers. I appreciate the editors who had the courage to accept my baloney. But, also appreciate the opportunity this gave me to reconnect with the Walter Williams HIgh School Class of 1971. I am certain the faculty and the school board were thankful to see me walk across the stage. I know my parents were!


One more finally, a special thanks to my wife, Betsy, the Commander Supreme, for putting up with me all these years. And to our oldest daughter, Lauren, our son, Andrew, and their families for putting up with me too.


And one more finally, if any of you have any interest in learning more about our three self-published books for children: The Last Pumpkin, Murray and the Mudmumblers, and The Principal’s Pink Tutu Run let me know. A goal in 2020 is to redevelop a web presence for these books.


Be smart, be safe, may God bless, and thanks for reading the baloney, Bill Pike

You Can’t Go Wrong With A Minneola

Ok, this is not a paid piece of advertising from the Florida or California citrus industry.  No, it is a simple testimony to encourage you to try a splendiferous fruit—the minneola tangelo.

If there was a minneola tangelo tree in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve could have avoided a lot of heartache by sampling a minneola instead of succumbing to that other tree.

Sadly, there was no minneola around during Adam and Eve’s time.

According to several reliable sites, the minneola was given a public debut in 1931 from the USDA Horticulture Research facility near Orlando, Florida. The minneola is a cross between a Duncan grapefruit and a Dancy mandarin. The fruit is named after Minneola, Florida, a town in Lake County with a population just over 12,000.

The minneola has an unusual shape. On the stem end there is nipple/neck which gives the fruit a bell shaped appearance. For this shape, some Florida packing houses call the minneola a honey bell.

I reached out to a citrus organization in Florida via e-mail asking some questions about the minneola. But, no one ever responded back. Maybe, they are too busy marketing, packing and shipping, or eating minneolas. 

Every January, I anxiously await the arrival of the minneola in our local grocery stores. And thankfully, they keep showing up. Apparently,  minneolas have an availability from December into February. 

The cold, bleakness of winter usually gets a bad rap. But in truth we also, moan, groan, and whine about miserable humidity and heat in the summer.

But, if you have the winter blues, I have a cure.  Go buy some minneolas. I promise you that the sweet, tart taste of a minneola will brighten the most dismal gray, frigid winter day. 

This citrus fruit is worth making the drive to the grocery store. 

You will not regret it. 

Don’t wait. 

Go now, before I selfishly beat you to the store and buy more.

Down By Three

I will forever cherish my introduction to basketball.

 It was a spring afternoon on a Saturday. From out of nowhere two of my fourth grade classmates, Johnny Huffman and Tommy Hinson, were at my house. The invitation was to walk back to Johnny’s house to play basketball.

Permission was granted for me to make this journey. We made the walk along West Front Street to Ridgecrest. The Huffman house was the last on the right corner. In the backyard was a concrete driveway in the shape of a capital “T”. At the top of the driveway was a perfectly placed basketball goal.

All I can tell you is I played horribly that afternoon, but I had the time of my life. And even though my skill sets limited my future play to the church league at our local YMCA, my affection for basketball has never left. 

Of course when you grow up in Burlington, North Carolina, you are in the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) territory, and I quickly became swallowed up in all things related to basketball in the ACC.

Because my parents were hopeful that I might eventually become a Methodist minister, I developed an allegiance for the team who wore the darker shade of blue uniforms. And, I will also admit that in recent years, I follow the college game from a distance. I get too wound up when I watch a game. There is only so much verbal abuse that a non-responsive TV monitor can take.

I still grumble about the expansion of the ACC. This from my perspective was all about money with no logical consideration given to geography.

The game has given birth to recruiting outstanding players who play the college game for a year, and then depart for the pros—money. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Coach K has bought into this approach. 

From the number of NCAA investigations, the recruitment of college athletes who end up playing basketball appears to be a septic tank. And of course, the NCAA rationale in some of its decisions makes people question— are all of their brain cells working?

And if that isn’t enough, how about the wonderful exhibition of sportsmanship at the end of the game on Tuesday night, January 21 between Kansas and Kansas State. 

In case you are wondering, there was no sportsmanship. In the closing seconds, with Kansas way ahead—a brawl erupted between the two teams. You can go back and watch the replays—a very sad, embarrassment.

I know nothing about the finer points of basketball, but in the last minutes of a game and your team is a head by 20 or more points—why are starting players still in the game for either team? 

Don’t the other members of the team deserve some real on court time? How does the parent of a bench rider feel after traveling hundreds of miles hoping that their son might enter the game for a couple of minutes? Wonder if in those closing minutes a star player is injured? Would the ending of the Kansas/Kansas State game been different if both teams had their starters out of the game?

I’m not sure, but I am slowly coming to the conclusion that there just might be more important things in life to worry about than being down by three points with only seconds left in a college basketball game.

Over the last year, a friend at my local YMCA has been in a battle with prostate cancer. It has been a roller coaster. Good moments, lousy moments, hope, no hope—you know cancer, it is a real septic tank.

At some point in the last couple of months,  I saw my friend, and he reported good news. A recent test revealed his prostate readings were down three points. He was thrilled. He had hope. His doctor had new optimism.

Made me wonder how many people out there are hoping their prostate readings will drop by any amount. Sadly in many instances that hope will never happen. The readings will never drop.

The madness of March will be here before we know it. 

And I am certain that the lives of many fans will be destroyed by the 18 and 19 year old players who couldn’t make a three point basket in the closing seconds of a game.

If this happens to you, hit your personal pause button.

Think about that individual out there in our world who needs a different kind of three in their life. 

Making a three point basket to win or tie a game is nothing compared to the hope they need.

 Especially, if this means living or dying.

How is your thermostat?

Before I drove my mother-in-law back to Connecticut on December 27, I shut the boilers down at our church. The National Weather Service was forecasting mild temperatures for these early days of winter. So, I figured to save the church a few pennies with this shutdown.

Of course, well-intentioned plans in a church might elicit push back.

I will admit the Sanctuary was cool on Sunday morning. But, it wasn’t in my humble opinion bone chilling cold, the temperature outside was 44. My hope was that our congregation could adapt.

As soon as the first service was over, a very nice member of our congregation complained about her cold discomfort in the Sanctuary.

Next, at the 9:30 service, as soon as a couple walked in they made a comment about the Sanctuary being cold.

And to top it off, the head usher at the 11 o’clock service noted on the attendance card that the Sanctuary was cold.

On Christmas Eve, I did not fire up the boiler for the Sanctuary at all. It was too mild outside, plus we had lots of 98.6 bodies in the Sanctuary. That wasn’t the case on the Sunday after Christmas. Lots of our congregation were MIA (missing in action).

So, if it took you several hours to warm up on Sunday afternoon once you departed our church, I apologize. Don’t blame God, you can blame that knucklehead, the Director of Operations, me.

Our building has at least five different types of thermostats. My favorite ones are in some of the classrooms in the children’s wing. The best way to raise and lower the temperature for these thermostats is by using a pencil eraser.

No matter where I have worked in my career, thermostats can be a source of frustration at times. A room can be too hot or too cold. When you factor in our own human thermostats finding comfortable middle ground can be a nightmare for an HVAC technician.

I would imagine that thermostats are not a worry for God and Jesus up in the blue yonder.  But, I wonder what they think about how we manage our personal thermostats on a daily basis down here on earth?

Today, I don’t think it takes too much for our incivility to raise our thermostats to dangerous levels. Often, it appears that a very tiny disagreement can rapidly agitate a person’s thermostat. Sadly, that agitation might make a person react in an unreasonable and sometimes harmful manner. 

 Every year, we seem to have more and more encounters where civility is missing. In those situations, sometimes, a person makes a decision that will potentially not only ruin his/her life, but the lives of others too.

I wonder where the Golden Rule was in that person’s thermostat settings? Maybe God and Jesus are wondering the same as they look down upon us—“Have our friends on earth completely forgotten the Golden Rule?

At times, myself included, I think we have forgotten the basic premise for Matthew 7:12: “you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you.”

On Sunday morning, December 29, I didn’t apply that treatment to those in our congregation who were shivering. I was attempting to be a good steward of resources, but I failed.

I’m sure the seasonal changes in temperature will continue to challenge thermostat controls in our church building. Certainly, those who were a bit chilly on Sunday morning hope that I learned a lesson.

But, as I move into the early days of 2020, keeping my own personal thermostat grounded to the basics of the Golden Rule will be an important test too. 

I can’t let the frenzied pace of daily living relinquish the merits of the Golden Rule. In those moments when the pace of life is pushing my thermostat in the wrong direction, I must be willing to hit that pause button.

Pausing to recalibrate my real thermostat—my heart, can’t be overlooked when I need to apply the Golden Rule.

Those Golden Rule moments for my thermostat are out ahead me in 2020. 

I pray I’m ready, how about you?

A God Prank On Christmas Eve

It was 12:58 a.m. when I walked into the house.

Christmas Eve at Trinity was over. Or at least that’s what I thought.

About an hour later, our house phone rang. 

It was the security company for the church. Multiple alarms were going off at the front entrance of the building. I had no clue, so I asked for the police to be called, and told the security dispatcher I was in route. 

Who needs sleep on Christmas Eve? Maybe, I would catch a glimpse of Santa.

When I arrived at Trinity, I found no police cars. Instead, I was greeted by three fire trucks. 

The building that was dark on the interior when I had left it—now had some lights on. A fireman who was driving one of the trucks spotted me and asked if I was responding to the alarm.

My day at Trinity started around 6:30 a.m. I wasn’t on site long. Basically, I opened the building, and then departed for some Santa errands.. 

I returned after 9 to stage chairs in the Welcome Center along with a few other chores. My pal, Jack Berry, an ex-officio member of the altar guild was there to help his wife with some details for communion prep. He also helped with the chairs. In Jack’s profession, he knows quite a bit about staging chairs.

Around 1, I was heading back home for a nap, a shower, and an assault on the head cold that ambushed me.

 I was back at Trinity a little after 3. My mental notes kicked in on some final details. Then, I had orders to save a pew. I wasn’t the only pew holder following orders.

At 4 p.m. the family service started. The Sanctuary was packed and some of the overflow seating in the Welcome Center was taken.

It appears that the family service has become our most popular offering.  And, the demographics show that more than young parents with their children attend.  

We had a tiny technology glitch in the Welcome Center with the monitors—we had sound, but no video.  Our youth director, Bryce Miller, coaxed the technology gremlins to cooperate—after all, this is Christmas Eve.

Soon the video feed was restored. I camped out in the Welcome Center. It was interesting to watch the pattern of meltdowns from youngsters who had already made their parents weary. 

One young lady had insisted on wearing her tap shoes. She was a perfect match for the ceramic tile floor. She clicked and clacked so loudly that her apologetic father picked her up quickly.

Squirmy boys needed to roam. Parents attempted to corral them, but exploring the Welcome Center, and its perimeter hallways was more intriguing.

We had one big crash when the metal top of a trash can accidentally tumbled to the tile. If you had been dozing, you were now fully alert.

There was one miraculous escape. 

The young daughter of our associate pastor scrambled out of the Welcome Center. She made it all the way up the center aisle of the Sanctuary to the chancel. At this stage of the service,  her father was leading the last part of the worship. 

Like all good fathers, Hung Su didn’t miss a beat. He swooped her up in his arms, and held her until the end.

Somehow, the clock hands started moving in his favor, and eventually this service was coming to an end.

A family dinner kept me from attending the Modern worship service at 6, but I was around for the next two traditional services.

There was a large crowd for the 8:30 service. When that service was completed, this crowd didn’t want to go home.   They stayed a long, long time as they chatted in the Sanctuary and Welcome Center with great enthusiasm.

Luckily, we didn’t have to pull out any fire extinguishers with the candle lighting. Although, I think the congregation might be surprised at the mess the wax drippings cause for pew cushions and carpet.

A small crowd was present for the 11 o’clock service. These die hards love this late worship setting.

Soon, the last verse of “Joy To The World” was being sung in candlelight, and the final service for Christmas Eve was over.

Ronnie Johnson, our chief building caretaker, worked with staff and volunteers to try to bring some composure back to the worked over Sanctuary. We made progress, but we left the details to correct before Sunday’s services arrived. 

I think the building wanted us out too. I sensed the building was weary from the intrusion of four straight services. It is a tough old building, but it needs its rest too. 

Ronnie and I had given the building a thorough security walk before we left. When I set the alarm, I knew the building was tight.

About an hour after my departure,  the interior sprinkler system (our fire protection) had other ideas. Something related to water flow inside its pipes and controls wasn’t happy. So, the appropriate sensor tripped, the alarm signaled trouble, and our fire department responded.

Personally, I think this was a God prank. 

Clearly, God wanted to entertain his new born son. Three fire trucks, with shiny equipment, flashing lights, and firemen decked out in all their protective gear walking around a church building—that’s quite a show for an infant.

Maybe someday, I’ll have a little chat with God about how his entertainment choice only wears down weary old grumps like me.

The firefighters outlined the steps I needed to take for our local service company to make the repair. I thanked them for their help, and wished them a Merry Christmas and a quiet rest of the night.

I contacted our service provider for the sprinkler system, and we mapped out a plan for correcting the problem. By e-mail, I notified the staff and key church leadership about this God prank. 

Then, I retraced my steps to turn off lights and re-lock doors.

I reset the security system and headed back to my car. 

Clearly, we had been lucky, no fire, and no sprinkler heads emptied.

During this season of Advent, my brain has been holding on to one line of lyric from the hymn “O Holy Night.” The line—“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” has been pinging around quite a bit. But, I will also confess so has “Mele Kalikimaka.”

At this stage in my old, old life I don’t think I have witnessed such a weary world. I sometimes wonder what might bring us to our senses. 

I think it is going to come down to this—finding that thrill of hope, and never letting go of it.

Finding that hope will depend upon the flicker of light in our hearts. That flicker of light  must be an eternal, action hope. Hope is potentially rekindled every Christmas, but in truth hope needs to be reborn everyday.

And that is why we should hold on to John 1:5 every second of the day:  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

That light is the hope for a weary world. 

That light if we allow it can overcome a weary world.

And I think, you, me, we know that, but we must pursue the action found in that light everyday.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cookie Baker

Every year, as Christmas approaches, our kitchen turns into a production facility for the making and baking of Christmas cookies. 

Let me say right up front, I have nothing to do with this annual event. I have over those years helped with the clean up, and some of the deliveries, but that is it. 

 Thankfully, my wife, the Commander Supreme, is in charge. I could never reach the level of perfection required to master these recipes. Even if a new recipe is tried, the Commander conquers it. She is a pro. 

These cookies are coveted. 

A fairly reliable source has conveyed to me one friend’s story. When the cookies are delivered, my friend basically hides the plate of cookies from the rest of his family. That is how much he enjoys the Commander’s culinary skills. I have never been offered a bribe for extras, but nothing would surprise me.

There is something special about the aroma of baking cookies in an oven. Those sweet smells drift through the house. They transform the soul.  My favorite aroma comes from the ginger cookies. 

I would imagine that the Commander Supreme has turned out thousands of cookies in our 44 years of marriage. I sense she doesn’t care about the quantity. She is committed to quality.

Even though it was a potentially dangerous line of conversation to pursue, I have suggested that she might take a break one Christmas—no baking of cookies. I don’t remember her response, but I’m still breathing.

In truth, I sense the Commander Supreme will never take a break from baking Christmas cookies. My reasoning is tied to one recipe. 

It is a sugar cookie recipe from the Commander’s great grandmother, Abbie Parker Wood Thompson. She handed off the recipe to the Commander’s grandmother, Bertha Avery Thompson Crosby (grandchildren called her Nammer), who handed it off to her daughter, Elizabeth Crosby Cloud, the Commander’s mother. You get the picture, I’ll spare you the remainder of the Biblical begetting.

Over the years, our children, nieces and nephews, cousins, and children of cousins either in the Commander’s kitchen or their own kitchens have used Nammer’s recipe and made the sugar cookies.

The dough is just the correct texture for cookie cutters, and the Commander has quite a collection of cutters. If you have a favorite seasonal Christmas shape, chances are the Commander has that cutter for you.

Once cut, those shapes are placed on a lined baking tray. Next, comes the fun part—dusting the cookies with all kinds of confections.

On Friday, December 20, 2019, the last batch of sugar cookie dough was going to be used. The Commander had saved just enough for what might be a historic generational day for our family.  

Around the kitchen table were my mother-in-law, Big Liz (who is not big, it is a seniority thing), the Commander Supreme, our son, Andrew, and his two year old daughter, Josie. They had fun. You couldn’t have anything but fun with Josie holding court.

That special family moment came courtesy of the Commander Supreme.

I have never thought that my Commander Supreme ever baked Christmas cookies for adulation. 

No, I think she does this every Christmas because she likes sharing her heart, and I think she is also planting seeds for future bakers. 

I am certain that deep inside her heart—she quietly hopes that the sugar cookie recipe and the experience it brings will live into the future for a long, long, long time through her children and grandchildren.

Come to think of it, a long, long, long time ago a little heart came to life in a miraculous story under a star lit sky. That little heart too was full of love and hope. Hope that his story would live for a long, long, long time too.

Merry Christmas Commander Supreme—I love you and your sweet seed planting Christmas cookie heart! I pray your hope and love will live in the hearts of those you touch for a long, long, long time too.

Never Take For Granted

Without question, time is spinning out of control.

Saturday, December 14 arrived much too quick. Our CARITAS guests will arrive this afternoon for their one week stay at our church.

CARITAS(Congregations Around Richmond To Assure Shelter) started their work with the homeless in the 1980s. The premise  was to find temporary shelter for the homeless by asking churches to be host sites.

 The church facility and their congregation would provide a place to sleep, shower, provide a home cooked meal, a bag lunch, and fellowship. Churches agreed to host this daily routine for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, the CARITAS clients would move to another church.

While this template has been successful, there are lots of moving pieces. Each evening guests are transported to a church, they spend the night, and the next morning they are picked back up. Some are employed so they find their way to work, and some work with CARITAS staff to find employment. But, each guest has the same goal—finding stable housing.

Our planning for our CARITAS guests started in the late spring. The last few weeks, we have been working with our congregational volunteers and the CARITAS staff to make sure we were ready to host our 32 single women. 

On Saturday morning, a move in crew had assembled in Trinity Hall. We would be unloading bedding and the personal items of our guests. While we waited for the CARITAS truck, we put some finishing touches on the readiness of Trinity Hall and its kitchen.

Right on time the big CARITAS truck arrived. CARITAS also supports a local furniture bank for its clients, so this truck  doubles during the week picking up donated furniture.

The driver properly positioned the truck. He and his assistant gave us some instructions, and then we started.

 Mattresses, bedding, towels, and the personal suitcases for each guest were unloaded off the truck. That’s right, I said personal suitcases. Each guest has one suitcase to cram all of their life’s belonging into.  

After the truck was emptied, we staged the mattresses on the cold, hard, tile floor of Trinity Hall. Next, we made the beds. A bottom sheet, a top sheet, one pillow, and one blanket at each space. 

I thanked this group of volunteers and sent them off into their  Saturday.

The next team of volunteers would arrive around 5 p.m. The Outreach Sunday school class had the responsibility for preparing the evening meal. They also would prepare the bagged lunch for the next day, and stage breakfast items for Sunday morning.

Just before 7 p.m. the big commercial style bus rumbled into the parking lot. 

We introduced ourselves to the CARITAS staff member for the evening and walked him through the set up. He gave approval for how the room was set, and he gave us permission to place a gift on each guest’s bed. These gift bags had been organized by our United Methodist Women and children from Central United Methodist.

Providing dinner had no hitches. Our guests started acclimating to their new environment. Some showered, some asked questions, and some were tired and turned in early.

I was the designated person from our congregation to stay over night. So, I had some organizing to do too. I coordinated the lights out time with the CARITAS leader and secured the doors for the night.

I slept, but I also had forgotten just how hard a concrete floor can be. 

Perhaps, you recall the movie The Blind Side. It is about a future professional football player, Michael Oher.  Oher is taken in by a family during his unstable high school years. The movie is based on the book by Michael Lewis—The Blind Side:  Evolution of a Game.

In the movie, there is a scene that has always made me think. Mr. Oher is shown his bedroom. The mother of the family who has taken him in makes a comment about the newly purchased bed for this massive young man.

He asks his host, “Its mine?” She affirms the bed is now his, and he shares that he had never had one of his own before—that being a bed.

I wonder how many of our guests in Trinity Hall have never had their own bed?

Daybreak always comes before daybreak for me. My internal clock wakes me at 3 this morning. I’m warm and safe on this hard floor.

I reflect. I have always had a bed, a roof, a job. My story is a story of being blessed. 

The stories of our CARITAS guests are unlike mine. For them, something went wrong. Maybe it is was their own fault, maybe someone  else is to blame for their misfortune. I leave that reckoning up to God.

But, you know and I know, we all need a place called home.

American singer/songwriter, Michael Martin Murphey, has enjoyed an interesting career. You might recall his first hit song—“Wildfire” about a horse.

A few years ago, Mr. Murphey helped to rejuvenate his career by recording an album of cowboy songs. And in this trek into the American west, he has even recorded a couple of Christmas albums with a slant toward the cowboy’s life in winter.

HIs second Christmas album Acoustic Christmas Carols is a simple, but beautiful collection of traditional carols. The album opens with an unusual selection—a short rendering of “Home, Sweet Home.”

Murphey’s long time friend, John McEuen, originally from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band plays exquisite acoustic guitar to back the bare solo vocal. In the intro, McEuen teases with the beautifully aged hymn “Blessed Assurance” and somehow transitions into “Home, Sweet Home.”

If you are as old as me, you might recall some of the words to “Home, Sweet Home.” It dates back to 1823. Murphey only sings these words:

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home

There’s no place like home

There’s no place like home!  (Payne and Bishop)

Those words ring true. There is no place like home.

And yet, our guests in Trinity Hall do not have one.

Do you ever ask yourself a question like this—we have sent space missions to the moon and back, and yet we can’t solve homelessness—why is that?

On Sunday morning, our guests departed for the day. Coffee was a big request at breakfast.

I mistakenly thought I would be able to go home take a shower, change clothes, and come back to church. That never happened, I too much to do around the building.

As I was checking on things in Trinity Hall where our guests would be spending their week, I noticed one bed. It was neatly made. Propped up on the bed’s pillow was a familiar character—Mickey Mouse. He was sitting there relaxed, like he didn’t have a care in the world. Beside him was a sign with these hand printed words:

Happy Holidays Wish You A Merry Christmas 

That bed, Mickey, and the note tugged at my heart.

I wondered about this guest’s life, her story, and her heart.

Her heart had clearly touched mine.

Isn’t that what Christmas should really be about? In a quiet, unassuming manner— touch someone’s heart.

At some point after lunch, I did make it home.

My wife and I had been invited to a neighbor’s home for a birthday celebration and a viewing of a completed addition to their home. So, I took that shower and changed clothes.

At our neighbors, I noticed a properly placed piece of wisdom on a freshly painted wall. Here are the words:

the things

you take for

granted 

someone else 

is praying for

Well, God you’ve done it again. 

For the second time today, you have smacked my heart.

You have taught me that our CARITAS guests have hearts with a better understanding of the hard lessons learned from not taking things for granted. 

Thanks for pointing out to me that my old heart has more learning to do about taking things for granted.

This is an appropriate Christmas gift for me.

May I never take for granted— that there is no place like home.