Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bedtime prayer

Flickr photo by Dean Hochman
For a while now

ever since our firstborn went off to college

when our family began to have 2 or 3 under our roof

instead of 4

I’ve been saying a short bedtime prayer

which goes something like this

Father
please bless Kate and Cal
and Cheryl and me

almost the exact same words every night

monotonous really

but it made me feel like I was doing my part

to hold our family together

at the end of the day

to present us, as a group, before the Lord

to ask for a small blessing


This routine changed, slightly

back in January of last year

when Mom’s health began to decline

I decided to add her in

to make her a part of the group

and so my bedtime prayer became

Father
please bless Kate and Cal
and Cheryl and Mom and me

and it felt good to remember her as well

to present her in this small way

at day’s end


And now that Mom’s gone

among the things I miss

I miss having her in my prayers

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

See the women

Flickr photo by Lawrence OP
I met a fellow the other day
who told me a story
about growing up in a church
where the men were in charge of things
and the women were not

And then one weekend
many years later
after the fellow had grown up
and married
and become a father
he took his family off to visit a friend in the big city
where they all attended a church
where things were much different than the fellow was used to

At this church
there were men in charge of certain things
and women in charge of others
without any discernible rhyme or reason

And during the worship service
which was a solemn event
the fellow’s wife began doing the strangest thing

From time to time
without advance warning
the wife would reach over and grab their daughter
a little girl
and lift her up high over the pew

And when the fellow took notice of this
a thing he’d never seen his wife do before
he motioned
with his eyes
and with his hands
for his wife to stop
to cease and desist
from this particular activity
immediately

But the fellow’s wife did not stop
She just kept lifting up the girl
holding her high in the air
so many times
that after the service
the fellow could hardly wait to ask

What in the world were you doing in there?

And the wife looked at the fellow
and calmly replied
I wanted our daughter to see the women
I wanted her to see
all of the women.

Monday, February 15, 2016

100 days in Bosnia

Sarajevo - Bosnia Herzegovina
I spent a hundred days in Bosnia

But who’s counting?

A hundred days in the winter

in a rundown resort

with snowflakes falling

as big as half dollars

At least that’s the way I remember it

Cold and lonely and beautiful

with a few laughs along the way

Stark memories of my time there

One of which was that I often carried a gun into the city

Sarajevo

Now that was something I’d never done before

But our military bosses wanted us to “carry”

and so carry we did

I worked every single one of those 100 days

Mostly 12 hour shifts

except for Christmas

and maybe 1 or 2 other shorter stints

Getting up early and going to bed early

so that every single day felt like the last one

Waking up and eating and working and emailing home and sleeping

and that was about it

except for one other thing

This thing

In the mornings, I’d pray for a little bit

and then head outside

to ascend a set of rickety stairs

that led to our workspace

I’d climb each step, with more than a little dread in my heart

and then walk down a breezeway to the door

of my “office” without windows

And just before turning the knob

I’d look off in the distance to see mountains

Snow-capped mountains

and this verse would come to me

rising up like a mist in my brain

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

I didn’t summon it

It would just come

again and again

A breath of hope in a foreign land

helping me face the day

for a hundred straight days.


Monday, January 18, 2016

For All the Saints

Standing in the foyer

Just before the funeral

Waiting for my pallbearer instructions

When my friend, the daughter of the one who’s passed, comes over to chat

I nod to her and say, I hear we’ll be singing For All the Saints.  That’s one of my favorites

Really?  She says.  My dad picked it out, and we told him, ‘Dad, nobody knows that song!’

Then she says, Mike, come with me

So I go with her

Across the foyer to where her father is seated

And when we reach him, my friend says, Dad, Mike knows For All the Saints!

I smile and say, We sang it in my high school chorus

And he brightens … for just a second

And then we move back to the business of the day

After a moment of comfort

At the mention of an old hymn

***

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Surgery day


Cheryl in sweatpants and a comfortable top

Me in comfy clothes also

And a baseball cap … this is definitely a day for a baseball cap

The doctor comes in to talk about the thing that will be removed.  He describes it in great detail

And, in the hours leading up to surgery, a bunch of nurses file in and out as well

One of them—a practitioner who’s been shoved out of the way by someone who’s working on the IV—looks over at Cheryl and says, “How are you doing?”

“Pretty good,” Cheryl replies.  And she is doing pretty good, especially for someone who’s about to go under the knife

Then the practitioner looks at me and says, “How about you?  You doing okay?”

Me?  Well, I’m not doing so good

The color has drained from my face.  I know this, because the practitioner tells me so

And it can be blamed on the warmth of the room and the in-depth medical descriptions, but mostly it’s due to anxiety—plain and simple.  I’m worried about my wife

We’re not spring chickens anymore

You never know how these things are going to turn out

The negative tapes in my head are running wild

Even so, a couple of hours later, Cheryl emerges from surgery unscathed (except for a 2-inch incision on her leg)

And this mix of doctors and nurses and God and prayers … well, it carries us through the day

It lifts us up and over another hurdle in the journey

12/28/2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let’s go see the baby

Image from Fairfax.cc
One night long ago, some shepherds were in a field, keeping an eye on their flock.

And, in an instant, an angel appeared to them—with a bright light shining all around him—and the shepherds were terrified.

And the angel said, “Don’t be scared.  I’ve got good news for you.  Today, this very day, the one who’ll bring joy and salvation to the world has been born in Bethlehem.  And this will be a sign for you:  You’ll find the baby bundled up and resting in a cattle trough.  Yes, a cattle trough.”

And then, suddenly, the angel was surrounded by a bunch of other angels, all of them saying—shouting really—“Glory be to God in heaven, and on earth, let there be peace and goodwill toward mankind.”

And when the angels had finally departed, the shepherds looked at one another and said, “Let’s go see the baby.”

***


Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas countdown



Mom used to hang a piece of white flannel on the wall beside our refrigerator.  It was short in width and long in length, and had red numbers—from 1 to 25—stitched into the cloth.  The flannel went up on December 1st (or maybe even earlier, if we couldn’t wait) and came down just after Christmas.  On each number, Mom would hang a small candy cane.  Or more accurately, she would tape a plastic-covered cane on top of each number.  (She was a Sunday school teacher and always had plenty of tape on hand, both of the Scotch and masking varieties.)

25 days and 25 candy canes to go before Christmas.

Mom and I had a conversation, each year, about the best approach to removing the candy canes.  We would quickly agree that it was more fun to start on day 25, and remove the candy from the bottom of the chart to the top.  This would show us exactly how many days were left until Christmas.

(Personally, I never really liked candy canes much.  I didn’t mind sucking on them and creating a sharp point with the long stem-piece, but they made your hands sticky, and I would have much preferred Hershey’s Kisses instead.  So the taking down of the candy was my job, but the eating of the candy was open to anyone in the family.)

I must have walked by that chart a thousand times, and each time I would think something like, “16 more days until Christmas.  I’ll never make it.”  I wished that there was some way to speed up the process.  To go from bottom to top in a day, or even better, in a minute.  To make it Christmas right now.  The waiting was terrible.  Can you imagine having to endure such an ordeal?

But, the day would finally come when only one cane remained.  The best day of the year—Christmas Eve.  The best day for our family, because we opened presents on Christmas Eve—a thing considered to be blasphemous by many of my friends.

And how did Santa get the presents to us before Christmas Day, you might ask?

Easy!  He came to our front door (we didn’t have a chimney) and handed the gifts to my parents.  He was Santa.  He could do anything he wanted.

And then, in a flash, Christmas would be over.  We’d take down the tree (or take it apart, plastic piece by plastic piece, in later years) and carefully place all of the decorations into a box.  The box would eventually make its way up to the attic above our carport until the next holiday season, when we’d open it up again and pull out—first thing—the Christmas countdown calendar.