Almost Messed Up…


I meet a lot of different people in my job at my favorite big box hardware store. It can be easy to go to two extremes for me… socialize with all of the people who come into the store and engage them in conversation which, would be MY choice or, focus on my work and consider the non stop requests for assistance as an Indiana sweat bee circling my head as I try to swat them.

You’re probably thinking if I don’t like the job to move on, but, I genuinely DO love people and I think of the job as the nuisance and the people like the bright spot in my day. Except for today it was challenging.

I was up on a ladder today doing inventory on some chandeliers that are hung up on the lighting aisle when the guy approached my ladder to ask me for help. I had heard him walking down the aisle long before he got to me…cursing and talking to someone on his phone. It was a good thing I heard him before he got there, because I had a feeling there was going to be trouble, so I held on to the ladder as his voice approached.

Arriving at the location where I was perched; instead of saying “excuse me!” he decided to shake the ladder at its base and shout “HEY!” in order to get my attention. At 62, being over 8 feet off the ground with concrete as the floor, the prospect of falling is not a good one. I was a gymnast as a kid at 18 but there would be no graceful dismount from this height and…by the way that was 42 years ago!

Holding on tightly, I turned my head in his direction and scowled. I was not inclined to be friendly to a 40 something guy who was cavalier with my safety. Instead of “What can I do for you?” I came down the ladder and stood face to face with him. In my younger and more foolish days, I would have thrown down…and job be damned, but I looked at him in the eyes and heard the quiet voice inside say, “self-control Doug…self-control…” so I said, “How can I help sir?”

Expletives came pouring out of his mouth…”No employees anywhere…#@%&!…I need help!” My inner smart ass said, “you sure do dude!” (Sorry readers, just being authentic.) Asking him what he was looking for, he stated the item he needed, which; just happened to be directly behind him. I leaned to his left and fetched the item of the shelf behind him and handed it to him. He cursed again…this time, evidently with joy (cursing with joy?), and said: “You must be Mr. Big Box Store himself” (no he didn’t say “Big Box”, he named the store). I asked if that was all he needed and he said “Yeah, that’s it…I guess you can scurry up your ladder and resume dusting!” As he turned to leave he got a phone call and began cursing again…walking toward the checkout.

In my experience, every time I have run into someone with a big temper, there has almost always been an opportunity to either get angry with them or just move in the opposite spirit. You’ll remember if you read my posts that I once was approached while sitting in the cab of my truck at a stoplight by a guy with a clenched fist wanting to hit me because I was playing “Midnight Train to Georgia” in my truck and he thought I was smiling at his girlfriend to flirt with her. When I listened patiently to him, he relaxed and ended up apologizing. Today, I was grateful I kept my cool because I can be get irked to the point of just giving it right back to a smart mouth. I really have to use self-control.

As the man was walking out, it was time for lunch and I was going to the convenience store right in front of the Big Box store to get a big bottle of water. As I walked out of the convenience store with my water, I heard a guy cursing and looked up and saw the same guy kicking the tire of his car, and slamming the car door to open the hood of his car. His pinpoint cotton French cuffs had gotten dirt on them as he tried to twist the cable on his battery. Evidently, his battery was dead. Guess who he was parked next to?

ME.

This past Christmas I had gifted myself a battery jumper, that I carry in my back seat in my truck. Without asking permission, and seeing he was trapped in a prison of anger, I walked to my truck right next to him. He looked at me, wondering what I was doing out next to HIS car and watched to make sure I didn’t ding his car door with my truck door. He cursed again, this time slamming his fist down on the plastic cowl that was over his engine.

I took my jumper box, put it lightly on his fender, attached the jumper cables and said, “Go turn your key” All this time he had just looked at me…not saying a word. His car started immediately. Getting out of his car, he looked at me smiling and said, “You must be a F@#%$! Angel dude!” I hate to say it, but I didn’t even acknowledge his comment with a look, I just unhooked the jumper box from his car and walked back to my truck to put it away.

As I closed my door, I looked at him and he was quietly watching me. As I walked away, he shouted, “Hey, let me give you some money!” I finally looked at him and said, “You are a very angry man…and you were shown a lot of mercy just now…you need to get to the bottom of your anger. He walked toward me…and I figured, “Well Doug, you are going to get hit!” Instead he said, “My wife left me…and took my 14-year-old daughter…” Now that my paradigm was changed, I told him, “The very God you curse jumped your car today…and instead of cursing him, He can redeem your situation.” I turned and walked away.

After arriving back in the store, I looked behind me and he sat quietly at the steering wheel of his car…just staring out of the windshield.

This is why the Lord gave us the Fruit of the Spirit…which I used very poorly, because I admit it, I was ticked off at this guy. But the Lord will use whatever meager offering we have to reach the dying in this world. Moving in compassion is often accompanied by taking risks…

Why God uses less than perfect people…


When it comes right down to it, every morning when I pray and ask the Lord to use me throughout my day, I have to remind myself exactly what I’m asking.

If I look at world history and even more interesting, Bible history…I see the people that God used were the hidden, the unknown, the cowardly and the loud mouths.

God used doubters, shepherds and unlikely rich men…like Joseph of Arimathea. If he hadn’t given away his tomb, we would never have heard of him! Who would have chosen Harry Truman to be President? No one these days…that’s for sure. David was hidden in a stinking herd of sheep and was so unimportant that his father didn’t even consider him when Samuel came a knockin, looking for a king.

So, when I pray in the morning for God to use me, I am asking him to select me from the billions of nobodies in the world who are perhaps the least qualified people. God found Gideon hiding in a wine press, shaking in his boots threshing wheat. Who threshes wheat in a wine press…I’ll tell you who, chicken livers.. that’s who.

God found Jonah, a guy who basically flipped off God and ran the other way! Finally God found a fish with an obedient heart to swallow him and swim him back in the right direction. What kind of God picks such rank losers to use.

Jehovah God… that’s who. The God who sees what you CAN be and not what you are. The God who wants all the glory…not because He’s egotistical, but because He’s the only one worthy of it and can handle it!

Go ahead and judge your uselessness, judge the President, judge the pastor…but know, that God raises up the lowly and makes them great. he picks the unlikely, the one picked last at basketball, The dying thieves, the soldier with a sick servant, proud fishermen. He plucks us from obscurity and gives us His name…and together, we turn the world upside down…

Lunch Box Messages…


I remember the first day of school. It was a tiny classroom in a little parochial school in my little hometown of Columbus, Indiana. I remember the first song I learned at 6 years old.

“God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in Him”

That is a different narrative than most children will have about their first day of school I think. Back in the sixties, growing up Catholic was a lot different than it is today. Yes, I mean it was much more God centered. In fact, I credit the Catholics for planting the seed of love for God in my heart.

As far back as fifth grade, I remember a priest visited our classroom with a filmstrip, (See antiques and ancient machines for the meaning of “filmstrip”) with background music of The Fifth Dimension’s song, “Up, Up and Away” playing telling about a group of people going to far away countries sharing the gospel with them. They were called Trinity Missions. On that day, in my fifth grade heart, I remember saying to myself, “That’s it! I’m going to become a priest and become a Trinity Missionary!”

Then there was a young priest whose name I forget, who came to our religion class in sixth grade trying to tell us about this thing called “Christian Music” that he listened to. He brought a record, (see vinyl record to understand on “Bing” to understand what a vinyl record is) and while it played he furiously scribbled the words on the blackboard, (See oldtime methods for teaching for “Blackboards). I can remember to this day how unique it was that someone had written a song and it wasn’t a hymn or a Catholic song.

“Sunday morning, very bright I read your book by colored light

That came in through the pretty window pictures.

I visited some houses where they said that you were living,

And they spoke a lot about you and they talked about you giving,

They passed around a basket with some envelopes

I just had time to write a note,

But all it said was, “I believe in you.” Hymn by Songwriters: James Mason / Karen Gold / Noel Paul Stookey

Hymn lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc

This was a song performed by a modern folk group Peter, Paul and Mary and it so impressed me that I got something in my throat and my eyes began to well up with tears and I didn’t know why. I quickly tried to stifle the feeling and to keep my eyes from watering but there in that room in that early bud of my life, God reached into a classroom and stamped his name on my heart and staked His claim for this real estate.

This narrative is stuff and nonsense to anyone who really understands “grown up” eschatology. (See “speculative arguments among “learned” Christians about what God says about the end days”.) Of course, God wouldn’t speak to a little Catholic boy. How much blasphemy is that!  Fact is, God has been after me ever since I was in the womb and on good days and bad days, He is still using any method to get my attention and He is doing the same thing with you.

Have you ever heard that special song that plays at the perfect time, maybe when you are sad, or when you needed to hear it, and it lifts you up and you say to yourself, “Wow, what a coincidence! I really didn’t know what I needed and that song played at the perfect time!”  How about when you hear someone speak and you feel inspired and begin to tear up and  you say, “Man, that moved me!” Those “Aha” moments are exactly what those early memories did in me.

As I was placing price tags on merchandise at my favorite Big Box store yesterday, I was surprised when something came to my mind and all I can say is I litereally felt the presence of God down on that floor with me while I was peeling stickers. He got right down with me, and made me to remember how He had gone to so many lengths to show me His love, to show me who He is and what He thinks of me.

Again, tears flowed on that cement floor in this hardware store in Brentwood Tennessee. I am not the most holy person. Not at all. I cuss when I hit my finger, I get impatient when the fast food line doesn’t move fast enough and I get tired of endless political chatter on television. But that doesn’t stop the Lord. He just insists on showing this former Catholic boy filmstrips in my mind about how He has clothed and fed and housed me for 62 years and I just don’t understand why He would waste so much time on a mediocre believer!

In church on Sunday, my pal Mike Spencer; a bass player who doesn’t even live here in Tennessee says during worship he tears up and it so touched me because that happens to me all the time. I think something inside of us as humans feels the atmosphere of heaven at times and it so moves us that we long for the completion of it. We long to enter fully into God’s presence. It reminds me of the words of a different Catholic song I learned as a child,


“I saw raindrops on my window,

Joy is like the rain.

Laughter runs across my pain,

Slips away and comes again,

Joy is like the rain.”

Sometimes, I have to admit the pain of separation from God is deeper than that of a child who is stolen away from his mother at birth but carries with him a sense of loss that he can’t name. I know what that is like. We have been stolen from our mother…all of us, and carried into an evil country. But somehow, someway, she continues to send us messages in our lunchboxes that say, “I’m here, and I’m watching you…I love you…here’s a special song for you today…here is your favorite sandwich.” We look around but we can’t see her, but she sees us.

That is what it is like for God. He is sending you signals secretly into this world so you will know you are not alone. He will bring you through a friend your favorite ice cream, or make you your favorite meal, JUST FOR YOU, as you go through your day. His joy is like the rain…it falls and waters your life, and then, it’s gone, only to fall again on another day. Joy is like the rain. And while this little foolish blog may not mean much to you today, it is proof that the reason God has given me a good memory is to recall all of his lunchbox messages over the years that I have tucked away for that day, when; I finally see my mom coming for me in our family car, to reveal to me for the first time her lovely face and to say, “Here I am!!!” On that day I get to hug her for the first time and thank her for all of the lunchbox messages.

I love lunch box messages.

The Hearts of the Fathers…


My children all live in different states. My eldest who today is 38, lives in Fairfax Virginia, my daughter, in the Queen City, Cincinnati, and my youngest son, on the west coast in Oregon. Suffice it to say that, I miss my children on holidays and well, every day along with my grandchildren.

For those of you who are separated by distance from your loved ones, the ties that bind grow stronger over the holidays. Living in the Volunteer State, I admit to not seeing my children often and due to work, both mine and theirs, visits have to be planned in advance. Those of you in the same situation as I, will understand when I say that seeing other families together fans the flames of familial love and makes the absence of my family even harder to bear at times.

Such was yesterday. I had gone to our neighborhood grocery to pick up some things and had just retrieved a cart (a buggy for those from the South…”No Ninos en la canasta!” for my Hispanic friends) and was walking into the produce aisle when I saw her.

The little girl with her mother was almost an exact copy of my granddaughter Genevieve. She had a tiny shopping cart that the grocery provides for children to walk alongside their parents to “play” shop. Being the softie that I am, I stood back and watched as she would place an apple in her cart when her mother would stop to look at apples, and would clap when the auto sprinklers came on in the produce department to water the veggies. My heart grew heavy with missing my little grand daughter and as they passed near by me, I looked at the little girl and into her cart.

“My goodness, you are being such a big helper to your mommy” I said looking her mother in the eye to make sure she knew I was a grandfather trying to be kind. She smiled broadly. “Oh yes” she said,  “She is my big helper!” I got down on her level and asked her, “do you think you have enough room in your cart for cookies…I’m sure your mommy needs your help with that…” I looked winking at her mommy who nodded. I produced two dollars and handed them to the little girl, who looked at her mother who said, “it’s okay sweetie, you can take it.”

These days with television news reporting atrocities of people kidnapping children and the reality that we live in a perverted and dangerous world, it was a refreshing thing that this mother understood I was simply trying to be kind. As I looked behind the mother, there; standing by her side was an older woman, who I presumed to be either her mother or mother-in-law. The older woman made eye contact with me, looking me over carefully. When my eyes met hers, a smile broke out on her face. She noticed my “Northern” accent, (which is no accent at all) and said, “You must be missing your grandchildren.”

Admittedly, I confessed to her, “it’s been too long…I have 5 that live on the coasts but I have 3 locally that get hugged a lot!” She asked about my grandchildren and I told her the names and ages of each one…a ritual that grandparents understand. Our encounter lasted no more than two minutes at the most, and probably less, then we all moved on to do our shopping. I waved goodbye to the little girl and walked on.

I gathered all the things I had been sent to purchase and got in line at the checkout. It was crowded for a Saturday evening, but I needed to get home for the big Titans game.

After paying and beginning to walk away, I heard the staccato sounds of little feet running toward me and the mother saying, “Sir?” I turned around to seeing the little girl running toward me…grandmother in tow. I knelt down and she gave me a hug and held out for me a chocolate chip cookie. I got a little misty I have to admit and that’s when the daughter spoke up.

“Sir, I wanted to thank you for your kindness…I am often so cautious about strangers” she paused looking at me to make sure I wasn’t offended. I nodded in agreement and said, “We live in a different world than when I grew up.” I said. Her mother, close to my age nodded. The daughter said, “I am always watching when my children are in public for fear of the stories that I have heard on the news…but…” she paused looking down at her daughter. “I wanted to thank you for renewing my trust in strangers…my little one here told me when you walked away, ‘He is somebody’s grandpa and his grandchildren are looking for him… do you think he is lost?”

The young mother smiled at me and said, “Gretchen, my daughter; just wanted you to know she doesn’t want you to be sad.” Well, of course I became a tearful mess. The mother said, “Wherever your children and grandchildren are…they should know you are a good grandpa…and have restored the faith of this cautious millennial in others.” At that the young mother, the older mother and little Gretchen gave me a hug. I melted. I thanked them for the kindness of saying something and heard little Gretchen say, as I walked out the door say to her mommy, “Maybe we should go looking for his grandchildren!”

I got into my car and just sat for a minute. I thought about my son turning 38 years old today…I thought about my daughter in Cincinnati and my son and his family on the West Coast… and said out loud, “How I miss you!” I started the car and said a prayer, “Lord, watch over my family tonight…”. I heard the Lord say, as I drove out of the parking lot and toward home, “Little Gretchen was your reminder that I always have you on my mind…and that I am watching over them.”

To grandparents everywhere…hold them all tightly…and kiss those precious little heads every chance you get. And, for young families everywhere, be mindful that kindnesses from older people toward their children may simply be the heart of the Father, reaching out to the children they miss. Thanks for the cookie…and especially the hug little Gretchen, and hugs to my five grandchildren who are not near me tonight…

Hidden Treasures…


I drove this morning to an apartment complex where I was going to be de-odorizing a vacant apartment before some new tenants rented it. When I drove up, I did all of the usual things I do. Made an inventory of all of my equipment, checked my extension cords to be sure there were no frays or lose wires. I made sure I had my gas mask, because the fumes; even though all natural, can damage your lungs. I also checked and calibrated my air/gas detector to make sure it was charged up.

The air/gas detector is a pretty important piece of equipment. In the business I’m in, the air is measured by “parts per million”. My equipment releases negatively charged ions into the air, unites with the hydrogen peroxide and creates a powerful agent that literally “scrubs” every surface. It is so strong it can pass through drywall, through carpet and into attic spaces. For this reason I wear a full NIOSH face mask with a breather unit on it to protect my eyes, face and lungs. I sound like Darth Vader when I wear it. “Luke…I’m your FATHER”… (Yes, I say it every time I put it on…)

I entered the apartment and began setting up the equipment, trying to be efficient with my time and making sure that AC filters were removed and installing vaporizers to spray hydrogen peroxide into the air to be circulated throughout the two bedroom apartment. When I opened the door where the furnace unit and water heater were located, I saw the cold air return directly beneath the door and headed back out to my truck to get my nut drivers and remove the cover and take out the air filter. Can’t leave an old air filter in a unit, or it just defeats the purpose of de-odorizing.

As I walked out to get my tool box, I had a kind of sad feeling and I couldn’t begin to tell  you why at the time. But the closer I got to my truck, the sadder I became. This had been a good morning so far. It was Friday for crying out loud…who wouldn’t be happy today…right? I stopped and shot off one of my bullet prayers. “Lord, whatever this is, if I’m worrying about my son Josiah, or whatever…please just give me a peace and let joy return.” That was it, no angels appeared singing…just, my tool box and a sip of my water.

As I entered the apartment again, the heaviness came over me so much that I sat down on the floor in the living room and leaned against the wall. “Lord, I feel so sad…so heavy, what is this?” I asked. No answer…no inkling of what was happening. I sighed heavily and started playing worship music on my phone… (right after Rocky Mountain High by John Denver…had to finish that song!) I stood and walked over to the cold air intake and began removing the cover to remove the filter. As the last nut came off I lifted off the cover and it revealed an absolutely filthy filter, filled with dust and wrappers and hair and …yuck! I put work gloves on before I touched that nasty thing, but I noticed a folded half sheet of paper  pressed against the dirty filter and I pulled it off and crumpled it in my hand as I removed the filter and took it outside. The heavy feeling had lifted all was well again.

I put it all down and finished my set up, being sure to set the temperature for 78 degrees and unplugging the smoke detector. All the machines were humming and I put on my mask, checked the air quality in the room started the vaporizers and pulled the apartment door closed and locked it. I would have to return tonight around 10pm to reset my machines since they only have a ten hour timer.

I had locked the door and forgotten to return the key to the maintenance office. I got a call on my cell from the manager explaining that the property had an electronic key monitor and it had gone off telling him a key had left the premises. I apologized and ran it back over from another client’s car lot where I was working.

When I returned the key, I had hastily picked up the sheet of paper I had removed from the filter along with the keys and happened to glance at it quickly before I threw it away.

There handwritten was a short note,

5/12/15

“Sorry I couldn’t run with you today, but my headaches were pretty bad. They seem to be taking me away from my favorite times with you AND your mother. I’ll get back out there in a few days. Love bein’ your runnin’ buddy!”

Dad

I told the guy, I had found an old, expired debit card a back scrub brush and this note. The maintenance manager took the card and threw it and the brush away and was about to toss the note when he read it. He said, “Hey, these people moved to 03-1331…would you just see if they want these? You pass right by it as you leave the property?” I’m sorry but I thought he was being lazy. I said yes but wasn’t really enthusiastic about it. He handed me back the expired card, the brush and the note and I searched for the apartment and saw a lady just enter it and shut the door as I was driving up.

I walked up to the door and here came that feeling again. I knocked and a woman in her late thirties or very early forties answered. I smiled. I told her my name and what I did for the apartment complex and that I had evidently been preparing her old apartment for rental again when I ran across these three items.

“The maintenance manager thought you might like to have these”. She looked at the card and chuckled and said, “thank goodness that’s expired!” and then bent it up and threw it away and told me to toss the brush in the dumpster. I said, “I thought that’s what you’d say, just didn’t want to do it without asking, some people lose valuable things sometimes and want them back!” I thanked her and turned to go as she looked quickly at the note. I was at the end of the sidewalk when I heard her say, “Sir? Could you come back for a moment?” I walked back, thinking maybe I’d dropped something. She looked at me and asked, “Where did you find this?”

I explained the cold air return and how it looked like it had been sucked into it and had been there a while. She was quiet and placed her hand over her mouth while reading the note over and over to herself. I could tell it was an emotional thing for her…that note. I didn’t want to break the silence and so I just stood there. In my head I heard the Lord say, “Just wait.”  So I did.

She looked up at me after she had composed herself and said, “My husband, passed away three years ago. He and my son did EVERYTHING together, they played tennis, and swam and ran together. My husband died of a brain hemorrhage in his sleep the very next day 5/13/15.” She was strong because she did not tear up. She was very deliberate with her words and spoke slowly. “My son graduated and is at Auburn now as a freshman this year…he is a walk on member of the track team.”

She smiled ear to ear. I smiled too and told her how proud her husband would have been. “Oh Yes! She beamed, “Jim was at every single game or meet for our son Drew, they were sports nuts…both of them!” Her eyes narrowed when she spoke next. ” I’m going to frame this and give it to my son…it’s kind of like his dad sent a letter from heaven!” I said, “Only he doesn’t have a headache now!” She laughed and said, ‘You’re right…he doesn’t!” She shook my hand and said, “You’ve given the world to me today…thank you!” I told her about the feeling right before I found it. She shook her head and became serious after I said this.

She bowed her head, took my hands in hers and said, “Thank you father, for giving this man hearing ears…and thank you for your Son Jesus!” Well, I am NOT a strong woman…so of course tears flowed down my face…I’m such a baby!

I walked away, after I had thanked her for her wonderful prayer. She asked if I was a Christian and I told her yes. She kind of shouted as I walked away, “There are lots of us Doug, and there are more coming! God is going to fill this earth with us Doug!” I turned to her and shouted, “Like the waters cover the Seas!” She shouted “Hallelujah!” lifting her hands to the sky. All I could say was, “Hallelujah!” … and walking away, of course, I cried again…baby!

Last Words…


I have been reading about the last words of famous people. You know, the older I get the more I actually look forward to going home. I’m not trying to leave early though. I figure when it’s time, it’s time. There are many who have done things of note in their lifetimes and, their last words are both interesting and important.

I have read about famous last words of Presidents and Mafia bosses, (which, don’t confuse the two although there are some very close comparisons), and people of faith and those who were athiests. All of their last words are important. What we choose to say at the moment of our death may not be a summation of our lives, because some of us have surprise endings…i.e. accidents. But for those who were dying and knew it, some of them said some very profound things.

According to Steve Jobs’ sister Mona, the Apple founder’s last words were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Emily Dickinson, America’s most celebrated poet’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

When I read those things I often try to imagine what they saw. There is no doubt that the veil between life and death is exceedingly thin…less than a breath in my estimation. I wonder in my heart if Steve saw something so incredibly beyond anything he could imagine that the computer genius was reduced to his child like wonder statement…”Wow.”

There are humorous ones. Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When his daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”

When Groucho Marx was dying, he let out one last quip: “This is no way to live!”

Donald O’Connor was a singer, dancer, and actor. He also hosted the Academy Awards in 1954. O’Connor died at age 78 with his family gathered around him. He joked, “I’d like to thank the Academy for my lifetime achievement award that I will eventually get.” He still hasn’t gotten one.

I found that some of them were particularly poignant. Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Lotz says that his last words were for her 11-year-old granddaughter. Lotz’s family surrounded Graham during her final visit with him, and she said her 11-year-old granddaughter told him she loved him as the family was leaving. Graham answered back, “I love you.” Those were his last words.

Football coach Vince Lombardi died of cancer in 1970. As he died, Lombardi turned to his wife Marie and said, “Happy anniversary. I love you.”

O.O. McIntyre was an American reporter. He died at age 53, and spoke his last words to his wife Maybelle: “Snooks, will you please turn this way. I like to look at your face.”

When he was 57, Edward R. Murrow died while patting his wife’s hand. He said, “Well, Jan, we were lucky at that.”

John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.

While I am both healthy and happy at this moment, I can think of nothing quite so peaceful and wonderful to gaze upon; before I leave this earth, as the face of my wonderful wife Mary Ann. I hope it will be so, but God knows.

Now don’t start thinking I’ve been diagnosed with some kind of fatal disease. I have not. But what people say at the last few minutes of life can be a window into what is most important to them. Like John Adams, who lay dying on the 4th of July 1826:

“Thomas Jefferson–still survives”… John Adams, US President, d. July 4, 1826(Actually, Jefferson had died earlier that same day.)

“See in what peace a Christian can die”. Joseph Addison, writer, d. June 17, 1719

“Now comes the mystery’. Henry Ward Beecher, evangelist, d. March 8, 1887

“It is very beautiful over there.” Thomas Alva Edison, inventor, d. October 18, 1931

I have lived my life in such a way, that as far back as I can remember, I’ve always looked forward to seeing the green valley that I believe God has promised me. As a child, I asked my mother what I would see when I died. It was a curious question for such a young child.

She sat at the edge of her 4-year-old child’s bed and stared at me. I remember she looked out the window in my bedroom and; at that moment, she heard the train passing through town over 4 miles away.

She looked back at me with soft tears in her eyes and smiled gently. “Doug, when you are ready to go to heaven, you will hear the gentle call of the heavenly train whistle and there will be a seat, with a quilt on it to keep you warm. I will be waiting on board saving your seat next to me.” I smiled and would ask her to repeat that story from time to time as I grew up.

As my mother grew older, after my father had passed away, we would talk often of heaven and I could tell my mother was so looking forward to “boarding the train for home”. In her last year of life, as she slowly approached the end, she would sleep often, and at least one night, as I sat by her bed in her little apartment, she would say, “Doug, I think the train is getting closer…” this time it was my turn to weep quietly. I held her hand until she drifted off to sleep.

In her final days, I was busy at the winery, but I went to sit in her room at the Hospice. She had been asleep for 4 days straight, and they didn’t expect her to wake up. It was on this day, that I sat by her bed holding her hand and singing “I come to the Garden alone”…her favorite hymn.

As time passed, I stood and had to leave her. “Mom” I said quietly, “I have to go to work, but I’ll be back tomorrow…I love you.” This was when; for the first time in 4 days she awoke fully and spoke to me with a full voice.“Doug, your Dad said, “Come Home”!” Standing in that room I was sure, just absolutely sure, I heard a train whistle from downtown. I choked on my response.

“Mom, you do what Dad wants you to do.” Her eyes smiled at me and she went back to sleep. The next morning, February 14, 2014 just 9 days shy of her 90th birthday, my mother boarded the train alongside my dad…her had called her home on Valentines Day and had come to the station to meet her with a quilt on her seat to keep his sweetheart warm.

What I want is for you, my friend, to know in your heart of hearts that you have your ticket securely in your hand. I want you there…with me, in my green valley. It’s lovely there…the flowers make music and there are levels…oh so many levels in that place where you can visit.

I will be there waiting for you on the train to accompany you if you’d like. I’ll have a quilt sitting in your seat to put around your legs for the journey. We’ll sit and laugh and talk and watch the lovely scenery pass us by until we arrive at the station where everyone we know will be waiting for us.
There will be my wine…the perfected wine I finally have made from perfectly sugared grapes and my dogs will all be there to greet you…yours too! And there will be no strangers there…only friends, dear friends and family.

And whatever you held dear, and whatever memory that comforted you will be real and waiting for you.

I don’t know what my last words on this earth will be, but one thing is for sure…it will be a blessing, a prayer or thanksgiving for having had the privilege of being born on God’s earth. If I survive my wife, we will hold hands and I will sing to her, kiss her forehead and listen for her last words. If not, she will be there holding my hand and I will be looking into her eyes and the eyes of my children and grandchildren.

But until then, there is work to be done, and a kingdom to proclaim…and the train is quickly approaching the station.

Quite literally, a Christmas Carol…


When I was a kid, my parents owned this album of Christmas music that I could swear they got at a gas station. In fact, Terry Hehe’s Marathon Station on State Road 46 West in Columbus, Indiana (right where the Starbucks now sits) I believe is the exact location where he purchased gas and just for filling up…they threw in a Christmas album right along with the S & H Green Stamps they gave to their customers.

My dad was the freebie king and us kids who were in the back seat of the family Vista Cruiser would cringe when he would get in the car and say with pride, “Hey look what I got for free!” To my dad, it was great that someone had given him something free…but to we growing children in the car, we were mortified that someone would recognize us in the car and see our father brandishing this obviously cheap and “not cool” album around for everyone to see. We were such proud little punks…someone should have slapped our little butts and told us to “get over yourselves!”

When we got home, my dad didn’t toss it over to the pile of Catalogs and Western Auto circulars we got in the mail every Christmas. He walked into the house, unwrapped the cellophane from the album and carefully placed it on the record player in my brother’s room. Dad never took a kindness for granted and especially if it was a gift. Even though Terry Hehe may have given out 500 of those albums, Dad treated it like he was the only one who had been given this gift. He walked around the house saying, “Isn’t that just beautiful?” We would all roll our eyes, but especially my sister Terry and she would say, “yeah, sure dad…beautiful!”

When you looked at the album, you would know right away that it was some cheap record… probably recorded in some smoke filled back room by some huckster chewing a stogie and thinking about all the money he would make with this black market record stamped on the cover with Red and Gold. Even the name, “Goodyear Presents: “The Great Songs of Christmas” smacked the word, “cheap”. On the bottom of the front of the album was printed, “Columbia Special Products”. “Yeah,” I thought, “ It’s so special they give it away at gas stations!”

On the cover were 10 photographs and above the photos was the statement, “By Great Artists of our Time”. I wondered if any of these “Great Artists” even knew the little guy with the stogie in the smoke filled room had made an album with their music on it and if they were getting a piece of the action.

Nevertheless, night after night for 25 nights, my dad played that album much to our chagrin. And after Christmas was over, the album would go into a storage area for all the holiday stuff and was forgotten for another 11 months. Year after year, dad would drag that album out and play it non-stop ad nauseum until fruit cake came out our noses.

I grew up, and yes, I DID finally mature. I traveled, went out of the country for a while and was married. Every year when Christmas would roll around, like all families, we would go get a tree, put up lights, (sometimes…when I was threatened I would put up lights), and go shopping. Christmas music would fill the shopping centers and malls we went into. There would be family gatherings and gift exchanges, but even with all of the same traditions…something was missing.

Don’t hate me, but I can’t stand current popular singers making Christmas albums. I mean everyone is doing it! “Korn plays “Little Town of Bethlehem!” “Marilyn Manson: “Oh Holy Night!” Maybe they aren’t THAT obvious, but the market is flooded with celebrity Christmas albums and it is probably why they have to start at Halloween playing these things so everyone gets their ASCAP bucks.

You would think I would be happy since in my little snot-nosed proud punk days I sniffed at the cheap “giveaway” album my dad had played. I should be saying to myself, “Now THIS is Christmas music…Garth Brooks and the Bucktoothed Pumpernickle band play “Little Drummer Boy!” (don’t hate me Garth lovers…I love him too!) However, these modern celebrity albums don’t float my boat. Because, after all my ranting, all my stupid, prideful and judgmental pronouncements over that dumb FREE album…. Christmas just wasn’t the same without it.

I began looking for that album quite a few years ago and it was impossible to locate. It was from a different time and unfortunately since it was a vinyl album, no cassette, no 8 track, and no Compact Disc existed. The music I had poo-pooed all those years had infected my soul…and it’s absence made my heart not so merry and bright. It’s true, I had Bing Crosby and his White Christmas album…but without that album…at least for me, it was like eating a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips….something is missing.

And then…it was a day like any other day when YouTube appeared, and I miraculously found “Goodyear Presents- The Great Songs of Christmas- Columbia Special Products” and heard the music once again. I had to be satisfied with playing over Bluetooth on my computer and it filled the chasm my Christmas has contained all these years.

I discovered that the no-name singers were not exactly no-name singers…and the music was not recorded in a smoke-filled back room…at least I don’t think so, but a good cigar wouldn’t ruin anything anyway. There will be those of you who wonder why I can’t stand modern singers crooning Christmas music but covet this one so much even though they were the modern singers of their day, like Dinah Shore, Steve Laurence and Eydie Gorme and Danny Kaye.

I think it is because this album was made to promote Christmas, not a celebrity. I’m sure the celebrities made some money. Yes, it commercialized; plastering Goodyear’s name all over the place, but I suppose it was a time when the world still honored Jesus, even if; for many, it was just lip service. Today, a lot of the Christmas music seems to be only to promote a singer they make the album to praise THEIR names…not Jesus.. Back in the day, even celebrities bowed their knees even if it was only socially to the Lord. Today, they use him to line their pockets with cash. Jesus is good for a quick climb up the charts.

I don’t begrudge anyone with a singing gift making an album…I just hope in the making it has the essence of gold, frankincense and myrrh and celebrates the newborn king.

This year, Mary Ann and I are going vinyl again. We purchased a vintage 1960’s Hi-Fi in the original cabinet and are re-purchasing a lot of the vinyl albums we tossed back when cassettes became cool and then 8 tracks and compact Discs took over the music store. There is a mellowness and a sound quality that can’t be described with a vinyl album. Listening to the Beatles “Rubber Soul” album on vinyl is a richer experience than a perfectly electronic version. There will be one more album in our “new again” stereo cabinet this year; purchased for $5.95 on eBay. “Goodyear Presents; The Great Songs of Christmas- 1965/ Columbia Special Products.” Thanks, Dad…for never taking a free gift for granted and…for the much-needed slap on the butt as I realize that free gifts ARE the best gifts of all.