Monday, December 5, 2016

The blue pitcher

My wife keeps a blue pitcher in the kitchen.

If you look inside, you will find:

2 marbles

2 seashells and one fragment of a seashell

a round, pink pencil sharpener

2 key chains, one which says “USA”

a 2013 rabies vaccination id tag, which belonged to—but was never worn by—our previous cat

3 paperclips, two small ones and a big one

a golf ball marker

2 extra keys

a basketball air pump needle

a silver trinket of unknown origin or potential usage

a metal square which says “Calvin Klein”

a tiny binder clip

a small plastic bag with a gold button inside


$1.70 in change,

plus one cent in play money

Why does my wife keep these things in a blue pitcher?

I do not know,

but there is something about it

that helps me understand

why she likes

the bits and pieces

inside of me.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Marriage advice

A while back

Cheryl and I were sitting in the middle of a group

finding ourselves to be the oldest ones in the room

—which for some reason, seems to be happening more and more—

And during a lull in the conversation


—who happens to be 15 years our junior—


Mike and Cheryl, what’s your advice for marriage?

And we laughed

because we almost never get asked this kind of question

Want to hear our response?

(which took us about a week to come up with)

I say, Be faithful to God and be faithful to your spouse

—which sounds kind of preacherish—

and Cheryl adds, Don’t forget to be kind

And you know what?

—Now that I think about it—

in the day-to-day living of marriage

Cheryl’s part 

might be the best advice of all.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A communist in the audience

Flickr photo by TEDx UniversityofTulsa
As a teenager, I spent a couple of summers working in the Harding University media center.

(If you need an overhead projector set up, I am your man.)

One of the perks of the job was setting up AV equipment for various seminars on campus—the best of which was the “Youth Leadership Forum.”  Interesting speeches, plus a good number of high school girls in attendance.

My favorite part of the forum?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

As I recall, Harding president Cliff Ganus would kick off a session talking about some patriotic theme.  He wouldn’t get too far into his speech, though, before a man in the audience would stand and interrupt.

How dare the Harding president fill these young people’s minds with such terrible ideas? the man would ask.

And it would soon become apparent that the debating gentleman was actually a communist, and he would begin to put forward—somewhat convincingly—the benefits of the communist system.

And we media center workers—sitting up in the audio booth of the American Heritage auditorium—could see all of this unfolding below us.

Now, Dr. Ganus handled the man in stride, but the students in the audience … well, that was a different matter.

The more heated the communist got, the more heated the audience got.

Some scattered boos.  People jumping up from their seats.  Questions being yelled.

A few students singing God Bless America.


I worried about the communist.  Would he be okay?  Would he make it out alive?

At the peak of the unrest, Dr. Ganus would regain control of the situation and ask everyone to be seated.  He would then properly introduce the communist—who happened to be a member of the university faculty.

You see, the communist was a plant.  He was only pretending.

And, in the end, the students were encouraged to think about their experience and were reminded of how important it is to listen to other people’s perspectives.

A lesson in showing civility … in being respectful … even when we disagree.

Monday, September 26, 2016

More grace

Flickr photo by faungg's photos
I had this dream
I’m not kidding
a real nighttime, fast-asleep dream

I’m seated at one end of a conference table
surrounded by old friends
Some of them are sitting on top of the table
Why are they sitting on the table?

We’re wrapping up some sort of seminar
and we’re discussing potential topics
for our next get-together

The conversation slowly winds its way around the room
and then, suddenly, all eyes are on me
“Grace,” I say
“I’d like to hear more about grace”
and I start to cry
Why am I crying?

And all of the people
around the table and on top of the table
nod their heads
“Yes,” they say
“We’d like to hear more about grace.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Growing up
I looked forward to the day
that I would shave

So when the time finally came
in junior high
as I stood at the sink
in the middle bathroom
lathered up a Santa beard of
Barbasol Shaving Cream
broke out a brand new plastic razor
began to shave

And soon after
a dream began
a dream of growing a mustache
like Coach T at school
Full Fu Manchu

So that by my late teens
I was trying regularly
to grow the perfect stache
Just check out my senior pic
Sport coat
Big grin
Tiny stache
like a worm crawling across my upper lip
a sickly worm

And I refused to quit

One time
in college
a minister’s wife
came up to me and said
Mike, you give it a good try in about 10 years, and you will look just like Tom Selleck
Tom Selleck!  Magnum, P.I.!
Now in the mustache world, that IS the peak
as I’m sure you know
And this minister’s wife was being completely serious
and sincere
I think

So I pressed forward toward the goal

Until one day
I met a girl
a really cute girl
who shook her head and smiled and said
Um, no
No stache

Can you believe it?
How dare she kill the dream?!

Which brings me to today
this very day
30 long years later
when I know, FOR A FACT, that I could achieve killer facial hair
and that same girl smiles
and shakes her head
and sweetly says
No, Mike
No stache.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Woman on a plane

Sitting next to a woman
on a plane
from Charlotte to Dublin

We’ve been in the air a few hours
and neither of us can sleep much
so we talk
to kill time

I tell her about where I’m from and what I do
and she shares the same
I gather a few extra details along the way
like that she’s almost a decade younger than I am
and a mother of 5
and eventually
we discover some common ground …


She grew up Mormon
and I grew up …

“Church of Christ?” she says,
“I’ve got some relatives in Mississippi who are Church of Christ!”
and we chat some more about church and families and our travel plans

She’s heading to England to visit her brother-in-law’s family

Her brother-in-law—she later tells me—is married to her brother
It embarrasses her to say this
I can tell
Then she adds, somewhat fiercely,
“I love my brother.”

And the conversation
from there. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

World’s largest pizza

When I was a kid
our local Pizza Hut
decided to bake
attempting to set a record
a Guinness Book of World Records record
And they were going to assemble this amazing pizza one block away from my home
in the “New Gym”
which is exactly what happened

So that one morning, we all trekked over to the gymnasium
like pilgrims
to see a pizza the size of a basketball court
all laid out on a plastic sheet
a pizza so big
they had to bake it in sections
because no oven on earth could even cook a quarter of it
And we slowly walked around the pizza
soaking in every detail
because this was historical

You don’t want to rush through something like that

There was no doubt this would make the Guinness Book
the same book we ordered every year
to study people who were the very best in every category
Longest fingernails
Largest twins
Most days spent in a treehouse
And much much more
Including—of course—the world’s largest pizza
a record we would now own
This was going to put Searcy, Ark on the map
Seriously exciting
I’m not even kidding about that

And after the humongous pizza was finally completed
we bought some of it
You could purchase it by the square foot
It was cheap … a lot cheaper than regular pizza
Can you believe it?
World record pizza at an affordable price?
We SAW and ATE the world’s largest pizza
No one could ever take that away from us

Except that someone did

Just a short time later
some other pizza joint in some other town made a larger pizza
and we never even made it into the Guinness Book
But even so
we knew
there was a space in time
when we had been a part of something big

There was a day when the record belonged to us.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Film Festival

Flickr photo by Larry Lamsa
One day

our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Sears

told us a story

the kind of story that fills in the time between math and lunch

She told us about attending a film festival

with her husband

all the way down in Little Rock

50 miles there

and 50 miles back

to see a movie about coyotes or whales or some other kind of mammal

a wildlife film

I think that’s what she called it

And I believe she said they grabbed a bite to eat on the way

… and heard a little lecture

… and sat through a question and answer session

But even though most of the details elude me now

I remember this particular story

for a reason

because it wasn’t just a tale about my teacher going off to a film festival

It was a lesson in companionship

Boys and girls, when you grow up

this is the kind of person you want to be with

the kind of person

who will drive 100 miles

on a school night

not just to see a movie

but because they want to spend the entire evening

with you 

Mrs. Sears' 4th grade class, 1976

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

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

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

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


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