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


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let’s go see the baby

Image from
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.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Love that cat

Some people are dog people and some are cat people.

I’m a cat person.

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t.  Like the fact that it seems more manly to be a dog guy.

But I am firmly in the cat camp.

There are some things about yourself, you just can’t change.  Some things you are hardwired to be.


More than a decade ago, we adopted a white feline with black spots named “Lady”.  That’s the name she came to us with, and she even had a couple of heart-shaped spots behind her back paws.

She was a sweet young thing.  And naughty at times.  More than few times.  But at some point, she became fully grafted into the life of our family.

There she was for all of our family gatherings and a few vacations.  She hopped onto the table during meals.  She messed up pieces on our game boards and ate portions of our puzzles.  She left messes everywhere—everywhere—nuff said.

Lady even made it into a couple of Christmas card pictures along the way, and she eventually possessed a good number of nicknames, for some reason.

Lades.  Lady Ladester.  Wady Wadester.  You get the picture.

She was always underfoot and waking us up much earlier than we wanted.

And we loved her, one and all.


On a bleak day, back in April, I got a call from my sister.  Our mother was not doing well.  She likely only had a few days left to live.

I was sitting there on the phone, despairing … as sad as a person could be, when old Lady—arthritic Lady—jumped into my lap and curled up.  Just as comforting as anything you can imagine.  Like the spirit of God coming to rest.

I will never forget that moment.  Or, if I do, you can remind me.

Of Lady.  Our precious pet, who left us last week—went to sleep or passed away … however I should say it.  We were sad to lose her.

But grateful too, for this small and tender blessing.  One of many, from the Father.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My go-to costume

As a kid, my go-to Halloween costume was “cowboy.”

Snap-up plaid shirt.  Blue jeans.  Sneakers.  10-gallon hat.  (Okay, maybe 5-gallon hat.)  Cap gun in holster.  Bandana.

And a couple of special effects that put me miles ahead of the other cowboys.

What were those, you ask?

Well, first, there was a genius concoction that Mom had come up with.  Something that she’d read about in a magazine or heard about from another mother.  It was our secret weapon during the Halloween season:

A stubbly cowboy beard.

How this worked … Mom mixed coffee grounds with some sort of sticky substance—which may have been Elmer’s glue, I’m not sure—and then gently sponged the mixture onto my face.

Cowboy stubble—voilĂ !

Then, there was my own killer addition—a big wad of bubble gum in my check which I worked like chewing tobacco, even spitting from time to time to make my character come alive.

I believe I was the most convincing cowboy around those parts.

Except for the sneakers.

I probably could have used a pair of boots.

Cheryl’s go-to costume, Pippi Longstocking

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The golden king

For some reason, when I was a kid, Mom was intent on my memorizing the names of the Old Testament kings … in chronological order.

She had even drawn out a chart, on poster board, with


at the top.

And then 2 lines branching out, with


of the Judah kingdom on one side and


of the Israel kingdom on the other.

Plus a bunch more names were under each branch.

Some of the kings, I’d heard of before, and some of them … well, no one had ever heard of.

PEKAHIAH” … I rest my case.

And then, right next to each name was a chess-piece drawing of a king:

So a guy like DAVID was a gold king (obviously),

AHAB was a green king (duh),

and JEHU was striped.

I think you get the picture.

And for a time, this poster somehow made its way into our bathroom.  I’m guessing the theory being that I would learn names while brushing my teeth or combing my hair (which were both, sadly, rare occurrences).

But eventually, I did memorize the chart.  Because, you see … there was a dollar bill waiting for me at the end of each list of kings.

(Ah, Bribes and the Bible, now there’s a book I could write—mostly from my own employment of this method as a parent.)

And at the end of all that memorizing, and of the receiving of my just rewards, I was surprised at just how much of the information I retained … especially from those images of gold, green, and stripes.

So that later, much later, when I’d hear stories about David (good king), I’d think, “Wait a minute, didn’t he do something inappropriate with Bathsheba?  And didn’t he have a man killed?  Are you kidding me?”

And I’d also ponder Manasseh (bad king) and say, “Hold on, that guy repented in jail.  He should get some credit for that.  Right?”

And then, one day much much later, it occurred to me.  Maybe it would have been more accurate to have all of the kings colored in stripes.

Just like all of us … striped.

Looking forward to the day—with some Help—when we become gold.