Monthly Archives: December, 2019

You Must Resist the, ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers!’

In 1956 the Drama//Fantasy movie entitled, ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ was released.

‘In Santa Mira, California, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is baffled when all his patients come to him with the same complaint: their loved ones seem to have been replaced by emotionless impostors.  Despite others’ dismissive denials, Dr. Bennell , his former girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) and his friend Jack (King Donovan) soon discovered that the patient’s suspicions are true: an alien species of human duplicates, grown from plant like pods, is taking over the small town.’    Google

I have witnessed several people, over the course of my 62 years, hat have succumbed to dramatic changes in their lives and subsequently become a different person.

When the path of life has a fork in the road, that is he result of a job loss or devastating reversal of fortune…it is easy to follow the fork in the road of least resistance and say to hell with it all!  Of course at the end of the fork in the road is the, ‘Slough of Despond.’  In the Slough we begin to sink, as if in quicksand, and many of us…never extricate ourselves from our deserved anger and depression and despair.  It becomes an identity for us.  It becomes a hat rack and a clothes closet that we dutifully, hang all of garments upon.

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I knew a wonderful person who lost her position of leadership.  She never recovered from the damage that the, unjustified, loss did to her charisma and can-do attitude.

Draconian reversals happen in all of our lives.  We may have every reason to believe that we are on top of the world and have so many friends, and that we are supremely happy in our closed environment.  Then, a life changing event happens to us and, suddenly, we are all alone…and those who care about us and endeavor to reach out to us…are an irritation.

We become, Great Garbo and “we want to be left alone!’

Perhaps you have separated from your spouse.  You think, now is my chance to be me!  But, soon you find that the bedrock of your happiness was inextricably entwined with your spouse and children.  Your ‘Me’ identity was reflected in the eyes of your loved ones.

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I have know people that their poor heath has become their new identity.  They talk of their maladies incessantly and when they are not talking about their illnesses…they are thinking about them.

My mother and father separated and soon after divorced when I was 5 years old.  I began to feel that she and I were just going to have it tough for the rest of our lives.  I took a dim view of humanity and they’re, apparent, better lives than mom and I had.  I spoke negatively of those that I met and felt that the world was not my friend.  One day I decided that I did not enjoy living with such a profound negative mindset.  It dawned on me that I could change that…if I wanted to!  So, I did.

I recall being diagnosed with a heart murmur, as a very young child, and later being told that I had rheumatic heart disease.  I decided, when I left home at the tender age of 17…that I was going to do any and all physical activity that came my way.  I am now 62 and I still have that philosophy.

It is true that life events can bring us a ‘new normal.’  But, there is a difference in adjusting to the inevitability of life changes…and allowing your personality and outlook and sunny disposition being altered by reversals that were beyond your control.

As a wise person once said, ‘Don’t let the bastards…get you down!’

 

 

Sadness @ Christmas

‘It is the most wonderful time of the year!’ But, perhaps it is not for you or your family or your friends?

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Christmas has always been a joyful time for me.  I like the entire idea of the holiday!  When I first began attending First Presbyterian Church, in Carbondale, Illinois, it was during the holiday season.  We are having Cookie Sunday at our church,… this Sunday is Cookie Sunday.  This is a time where our deacons take cookies to all of our ill and shut in members as well as the communal enjoyment of holiday treats after the Sunday service.  It was Cookie Sunday the first Sunday that we attended First Presbyterian, in 1998 and a wonderful, elderly couple, Evelyn  and Harold Engilking brought us Cookes to our home in Elkville, which is a full fifteen miles from Carbondale.  They told us how much they enjoyed our visiting the church and invited us back next Sunday…and we returned the next Sunday…and we felt wanted!

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I have been made aware of three deaths this week of family associated to people that I know or am friends with.  Death always carries a heavy burden on the loved ones that remain…but it seem especially heavy at Christmas.  We were talking last evening and reflecting on the importance of life.  So often we are actively planing our next move on the ladder of success and do not realize that, ‘this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’

The scripture tells us that we, ‘tear down are barns and build bigger,’ while truly we do not see the forest for the trees.  We believe that it is all about wining!  The current political discussion surrounding impeachment is a stellar example.  Truth and facts and logical systematic evidence seem not to matter….But rather the reflexive rhetoric of a team who wants to win.

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Illness can change our perception of our role on earth and the purpose of life.  The holidays exacerbate the feeling of loneliness the death of a loved one or the illness of ourselves or someone that is close to us, or the loss of a job.

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We have loved Arnold’s Market in our town, Carbondale!  We heard, the last time that we were there, about a week ago, that they were closing their doors on the 18th of the month.  We were devastated!  I pondered the feelings that the employees must be experiencing at this sudden news.  Christmas is a large magnifying glass!

Last year at this time MJ had just undergone spine surgery.  We were hopeful that the operation would be successful in alleviating her terrible pain…and it was.  Many members or our church stopped by to visit and bring us dinner to eat and cookies for our encouragement and sustenance!

So, what is Christmas to you…if you are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation?  Or what is Christmas to you if your father just passed away or you spouse or your child?  Statistics illustrate that suicide are up doing the holiday season.

How do the elderly feel as they watch the Christmas movies on television and see the cheerful and bright holiday decorations on the Christmas Tree in their Nursing Home or their assisted care facility?

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What do the homeless think as they sit by the door of Macy’s in New York or watch as the holiday partiers enter the Ritz Hotel or many other upscale establishment for the numerous Christmas parties that are occurring at the writing of this blog?

Two years ago MJ and I were the invited guests of Park West Gallery’s art show.  It was at the lRitz Carlton in St. Louis, Missouri.  There were the most magnificent holiday decorations…and Christmas Teddy Bears that were the size of real bears!  The food, that was provided by the Gallery was divine and the complimentary drinks were wonderful.  Needless to say we did not have, a seeming, care in the world for the four days that we were there.

But, how is the holiday enjoyment for the sick person who is battling a chronic illness?  I doubt that there is a Ritz Carlton or a bar that you can order any drink that you desire, complimentary, or Christmas Bears?

Let us remember that the holiday season that brings us so much joy…brings others…loneliness and pain.

Shall we welcome them in their pain?  Shall we demonstrate Christ’s love at the celebration of his birth?

 

 

 

 

Divinity and Fudge and Coffee Cake

The time of year that is full of delicious odors and confections is here!

The Brooks family, my chapter at least, began in Chicago.  Permanently imprinted on my 62 year old brain is our visit to the city to watch the release of the Disney favorite, Lady and the Tramp.  It was during the holiday season and the sites and sounds of the yuletide are as real to me now…as they were on that cold afternoon.

There was the massive theatre and a throng of holiday shoppers and the bright strobing lights of the marque.  There was a Salvation Army soldier, with his kettle, at the front entrance and as he rang his bell, I thought that I am witnessing something special.  The theatre was resplendent with poinsettias and Christmas Trees in the lobby along with free candy canes and popcorn balls being given to all of the movie goers as they made their way into the cavernous auditorium.  It seemed that I had left my construct of reality, living in the suburb of Sauk Village and had entered a heightened state of Christmas Bliss!

Laughing Santa was a Christmas tradition in Chicago.  He as a little stuffed Santa with a crank on his back, whereby when it was turned…created the most effusive and compelling Santa Laugh that I have ever heard….and I hear it to this day!

Mom’s Christmas speciality was coffee cake.  It is difficult to describe the pure nirvana of taste and texture that this marvelous baked good created in the mouth of the recipient!  The cakes were long vertical affairs with an abundance of delicious jams in their center and perfect white icing on the top!

It took Mom most of the day to make her coffee cake.  She only made it once a year, Christmas!  As she labored her dark eyes gleamed and she smiled a knowing and wicked smile!  Mom understood how delicious that her special holiday treat, was.

Christmas day, there was a massive Christmas Tree, to a 3 year old, erected in our living room.  There was Burl Ives singing, ‘Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,’ and the Christmas episode of I Love Lucy, and a palpable feeling of warmth and love and the endless possibilities of the future that stretched, endlessly, before our little family.

We moved to Eldorado, Illinois that is located in the deep southern part of the state.  Mom and dad were having marital problems and soon after our move they separated and divorced.  Eldorado was the home of my mom’s mom, Grandma Askew, and her sisters, Guelda, and Vema, and Wanda.

Christmas began to be celebrated at Grandma Askew’s.  Grandmas Askew was a woman of deep christian faith, who read her Bible on a daily basis.  Our first Christmas in Eldorado, I experienced sensory overload.  Aunt Wanda, who’s children were, Billy and Brenda, brought a white and sweet confection called divinity, and it was sublime!

We moved, several times, during our first years in Eldorado.  My favorite residence had a long and enclosed front porch that I recall smelling a unique and profoundly Christmas odor in…during the holiday season…and I have searched for that unique fragrance ever since!

After a year or two of Christmas celebrations in Eldorado, mom began to make homemade fudge.  It would melt in your mouth!  Some years it was either the homemade fudge or the coffee cake…while during the good years….we had both!

For several years, in Eldorado, we took to the aluminum Christmas Tree with the turning light wheel that when pointed toward the shiny tree caused it to change colors as the slow rotation of the wheel occurred.  You did not place lights on the aluminum Christmas Tree….the lights were the colored rotating wheel.

One special Christmas, I received the Big Swinger Polaroid camera.  The Swinger camera first took life as a small white camera that printed a developed photo of whatever the photographer had snapped in about two minutes.  The photo emerged from the front of the camera, and had to have a top cover removed from the image and then the process of waving it back and forth to aid in the developing fluid drying.  After the picture had clearly come into view…you had to apply, fixative, to the image to ensure that it did not fade.

I received the Big Swinger, which was larger than the Swinger and was Grey rather than white.  It took a larger photo than that original Swinger!  I took it on a school trip when I was in the 6th grade, to New Harmony, Indiana…and snapped a lot of Big Swinger Polaroids…which I have to this day!

A little bird told me…that I may be receiving a Polaroid One Shot…for Christmas.  More instant photos are on the way!

Christmas Hope

Pastor Kerry was speaking, this past Sunday, about the dynamic strength and comfort of hope.

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Would you enjoy conversing with your, younger, self?  Perhaps at 20 year intervals.  What would your 20 year old version of you…tell the 40 year old model?  Would the fresh and full of life Mr. or Ms. ’20’ expound to the slightly graying ‘new and improved 40’, all of the possibilities and adventures and victories that were ahead for them as they journey together in time?

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Would the older version of you, kindly, tell the younger…’you don’t know the trouble I’ve seen.’  Would, old, Mr. 40 tell his youthful image that life is hard, with little sleep, and working two jobs or overtime…and struggling to keep it all together!

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Now would, slow moving Mr. 60 admonish, still physically active,  Young 40…to take time to smell the flowers.  To focus on enjoying every minute with his family….because the minutes become months that quickly morph into years?

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So it is with our hope for the future and our expectations for our faith walk.  As we age we become certain that the hopes and dreams of our youth…were a bit overblown and full of the manifest exuberance of hormones and 20/20 vision.

There is a profound variable in our lives journey, and that is God’s perception of the passing of time and our understanding of the experience…is much different.

Did you always believe that God has a plan for your life…look back and you will see his hand.

Has your faith amounted to a study of small things?  Often the small things are the most intricate and ornate and beautiful in this life.

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I heard a minister preach, in 1970, that Jesus Christ was going to return to the earth and set up his kingdom…in 1975.  That was the year that I graduated from Eldorado High School.  That was 44 years ago.

If I have learned anything over my 50 year christian journey, it is that God is love, and he loves all of his creation, and if we want to follow in his footsteps, ‘we need to build a bigger table…not a wall.’

‘Jesus said, ‘Because you have so little faith.  Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.’    Matthew 17:20

 

 

 

Lives Worth Reading About

Holiday thoughts from Jonathon Brooks.

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One of the aspects of reading a book that I like is that a book causes me to slow down and pay attention. Our world is in a rush. Whenever I sit down to read a 300 page novel it is quite a time investment. I’m not the fastest of readers. If I’m sleepy I’ll be lucky to even finish the third page in that sitting before I’m forced to head to bed for the evening. People ought to slow down and pay greater attention. So many of us seem to think we have little or no time for reading. Although it seems like we have time for everything else the world has to offer. There’s time for fighting on social media and time for our beloved TV shows and time for video games. We do have time to read books if we invest our time differently.

I set a…

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Patch

So, it is Neal’s 90th birthday and he is a picture of health!  He is one of the nicest and kindest people at our church and has always been an encouragement to me.  He had a multitude of his family with him in service, today.  They all love their dad and their grandpa!

Pastor Kerry preached this morning about the stress between visiting the gravely ill and hearing from their family members that they were going to recover…while at the same time the doctors telling him that their loved one was, clinically dead.  His story was one of the most moving that I have heard in some time.  He was caught in the middle as the chaplain for the hospital that the young woman, who had been in a devastating automobile accident, was having her body temperature, slowly, warmed until she  reached the number that she could be declared, deceased.

 

Kerry went on to speak of the tension of believing in miracles and the physical reality of accepting what the medical experts tell us.  He spoke of how the father of the young woman insisted that God was going to bring his daughter back.  While each time he heard from the doctors the scientific evidence was that she was brain dead and all hope was lost for a physical recovery.

The young woman died.  Yet, the dynamics of the faith system of the family was real and compelling!  We read in the scriptures that Jesus healed many of the people that he encountered.  He raised Lazarus from the dead.

‘And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.  And his disciples asked him, saying Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents but the works of God should be made manifest in him.  I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.  When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.  And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.  He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.     John 9:1-7   KJV

I have witnessed many people die of their maladies.  People of faith and years of christian life and works.  I also have been present in the miraculous healing of two individuals over my 50 year christian walk.

The first experience was, Pat, who was our church pianist, during the 1970s.  Pat is one of the sweetest people that you will ever meet.  She was married to my cousin and her children are my second cousins.  Pat had cancer in her face and she had been told by her physicians that there was no hope for her other than disfiguring surgery, immediately.  She and her husband, David, were devastated.  One church service we  prayed, believing that the God of the Bible had the power to heal.  At one point, during the lengthy prayer, I uttered that I had seen the hand of God touch her face.  When she retuned to her doctor…she was cancer free….…

I had a pastor, many years ago, that I loved and respected.  He was stricken with liver disease and when Dean and I want to visit him in the hospital…he had the appearance of a Skelton with the skin stretched over it.  I have never seen someone so close to death…that was not dead!  John told us that he had made peace with the fact that he was dying, until he had noticed a plant on his hospital windowsill that was close to death.  John said that God had spoken him and told him that all living things struggle to remain alive and that he wanted to do the same!  So, Dean and I prayed for John’s healing…and his health condition began to improve…quickly !  John began to gain weight and his appetite retuned to him…and her lived until he could obtain a liver transplant.

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I am not a person who looks for signs and wonders.  I am not given to emotionalism or grandiose demonstrations or supernatural occurrences.  Instead, I have described my 50 year christian walk as a one day at a time event that is neither marked by fireworks or desperation.

But, I have witnessed two healings…two miracles…and I know what I saw!

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And, so, Jonathon and I were sitting in the church fellowship hall waiting for Neal’s 90th Birthday Party Revelers to disperse so we could lock the church doors…since I was elder of the week.  In came Patch.  He looked around as if he was comprehending his, new, surroundings.  I noticed that he made his way to the coffee urn and poured himself a cup of java.  When asked by, Marta, twice if he wanted some cake…he demurred.  Patch was looking for a warm cup of Joe and a friend or friends to talk with.

It, soon appeared that Patch was either homeless or down on his luck.  He spoke of heaven and hell and being abused and seeing many celebrities in Carbondale…including Larry David and Kevin Hart.  He asked for some financial assistance and when I gave him a little…his demeanor took an upbeat measure.

Patch had, obviously, been around and not received the good graces of compassionate people.  He spoke, ninety miles an hour, but was touched by someone who would take the time to listen to him and help him…a little.

Helping the homeless or the needy or the destitute is not written in a Fairy Tale Book.  I t is gritty and, at times, full of curse words and visions of a psychotic episode.  Helping those who have been forgotten by our society is tedious, and patience, and the willingness to leave your comfort zone.

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Patch told Jonathon and I that he might return next Sunday.  He remarked that we already had the coffee prepared and that was awesome!  He thanked me for my loan to him.  He noted that we were Presbyterian…and that was cool!

 

A Christmas Present

Around this festive time of year I reflect back, nine, years ago when I retired from Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.  I had been employed for 32 years and 2 months and 3 weeks.  I was so happy to have finally reached a milestone that I, sometimes, thought would never happen.  But, I was sad to leave a department that I had put my heart and soul into and the members of the department that I had cared for, like family, for my 25 years in management/administration.  When I looked at the nice crowd that had gathered to tell me goodbye…I feared what would happen to them, once I was gone.

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Now, I was not worried because that I was extraordinary in management skills or any particular abilities that I had, rather on the contrary…my meager abilities would not make a good short story!  My concern was regarding the dangers that lay ahead for my colleagues that I had identified myself with for over 32 years.

I understood the place that the housekeeping department has in the university community and the team work that we had accomplished to raise that profile.  I knew the professional motivation of the Building Service department and the dedication that each member had for the success of SIUC and our most precious citizens, our students.

I understood that the wolves of budget shortfalls, poor management, and the insidious proclivity of Departments, and Schools and Colleges consuming each other in order to save themselves.

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I feared that some would compromise their principles and sedate their moral code…to facilitate their advance.  I worried that leaders would stand silent while people were abused and intimidated and cowed down by fear and a hostile work place….

Principle should be more important than; profit, or patronage, or promotion,  or the peace of those who lack courage.  There are janitors that love SIUC as much as chancellors….And both are equally important to the success of the institution!

One of the most difficult hurdles that many managers have to jump is the ability see past personalities and peccadillos, and focus on people.  I was extremely wary to not crucify a co-worker for a slight infraction that I had been guilty of!

There is macro/management and micro/management.  In good management…’Less Is More!’  When you illustrate and model and empower members of your staff and embolden them with your candid confidence in them…’the sky is the limit,’ as to how high they will fly!  If you sit on them like a mother hen…you will demoralize them and both the person and their work performance, will suffer.

When management philosophy is clear for all  to see that, some people can do no wrong….And others can do no right…everyone that can….Will flee the work-place!

I have spoken to thousands of people in my life.  One of the peculiarities of the university setting was that, more often than not, I found myself speaking to their representative, rather than the real person.  I do not mean their assistant…I mean the person with whom I was speaking was tailoring their words to fit, either what they thought that I wanted to hear. or what their vision of their position dictated for their speech, or they spoke ‘down’ to me as an individual of low culture or education or position in life.

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The key to what little success that I enjoyed in speaking with chancellors and presidents and university elite…it that I never brought my representative…they always heard Jay Brooks…unvarnished.

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What if as a Christmas Present to each other, that we vow to recognize excellence wherever we find it?  What if we forget the past and and little hang-ups that have caused us to see others through a distorted prism?

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To this day, when someone asks me what I did at the University….I answer that I worked in the housekeeping department.  I was, simply, the janitor that was honored…for a time….to perform the management duties.

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

A Chicago Christmas Story.

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The wind was especially chilling along Michigan Avenue.  December the 5th was winter in the Windy City.  Billy Bump and Carl and Steve and Susie, were on their way to see the new release of the Disney movie, Lady and the Tramp.  The bright lights of the city and the Christmas Carolers along with the Salvation Army workers and their kettles, at every store front…created another worldly atmosphere that was compelling and unique!

As they entered the massive theatre and walked under the strobing lights of the marque…Billy and Carl were a bit overwhelmed.  As the movie played, Billy fell in love with Lady, and felt good about it!  There were intricate carvings on the walls of the movie palace, and ornate sconces and angels and gargoyles and mystery.

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Billy became sleepy and sat on Susies lap, who was 15 years old…while he was 6.  The combination of being close…

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Do You Feel Forgotten?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to play Santa Claus.  It was not only extremely enjoyable and enriching but educational.  Our, elected, church government, called the Session, in the First Presbyterian Church, has the tradition of collecting donations for our staff and then giving them a Christmas gift at the conclusion of the year.  One of our staff told me that she had not received a gift, recently, and that this year’s gift meant so much to her!  She asked me if she could give me a hug…and I replied that she certainly could.  Her joy at being included and not forgotten…was palpable and it made my day!

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How many of us feel forgotten?  Whether it is in the workplace where our opinion is never sought, or in our community, where we feel invisible…or in the church….Where we seem to be unseen?

Our country applauds  financial success and the perks that it brings.  We see the fine home or the stellar resume…or the smooth and dulcet tones that the leaders of the community or the church…communicate with.  We know our friends….Our social circle and our colleagues.  But, do we see those who do not fit the paradigm?

I have the distinct life-story of experiencing both the abased and abound components of a 62 year old life experience.  I lived poverty!  I understood, clearly, what it was for the CIPS gas worker to knock on my front door and tell me that he had been instructed to shut my gas off, for the heating in my home, if I could not pay him…immediately!

I know what it is like to be hungry.  I do not mean enjoying a McDonalds cheeseburger at lunch and awaiting a steak at dinner.  I am talking about nothing to eat other than potatoes and Cremora, at work, which I consumed by the spoon full!

I understand what it was like to walk…while all of my friends were driving their new automobiles.  I know how it felt to live on one sandwich a day…from a vendor at the church that I was helping to build.  I know what it was like to be the goat at the garden party!

God blessed me and helped me…and I became a success at SIUC.  I began as a Building Service Worker I and was promoted to the Superintendent of Building Services.  I was able to obtain an  upper middle class lifestyle  and the blessings that are associated with the moniker.

I did not forget where I came from… nor where I am going.  I am headed to Jerusalem…along with the broken and the beaten and the besmirched!

I recall walking in Elkville, Illinois while, it seemed, everyone passed me by.  I, vividly, remember my teenage friends telling me about enjoying steak and ribs and pork chops…while I had potatoes to eat!  I know what it is like to believe the no one sees me!

Also, I know what it is like to be called Mr. Brooks.  I understand how it feels for my opinion to not only matter but be the construct for my department’s operational policy!

I have had university chancellors and presidents as my personal friends.  The encouragement and mentoring of the university community was an immeasurable gift!

When I see the poor…I remember my mother not having enough money to purchase milk…and saving my pennies until I had a dime to walk to the local restaurant and buy a glass.

When I see the hungry…I remember not having the 20 cents a day for the grade schools hot lunch…and being the only student in the first grade to bring my lunch in a brown bag.

I have been honored and humbled to have the title of elder or trustee in almost every church that I have been a member of.  I think titles have an insidious affect of separating work and faith communities.  When someone asks me what I did at the university…I respond that I worked in housekeeping.

‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.    Philippians 4:12   KJV

 

 

And Keep Spinning Joyfully

A great Christmas Blog from Jonathon Brooks!

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This season I’ve begun to send out Christmas cards and buy presents and spin holiday vinyl records. I gave thanks on Thanksgiving like I do every other day of the year. It was tremendous fun to catch up with family recently. And four day weekends are always a great time. This afternoon I have relaxed at home after breakfast out with a friend and then church following breakfast. I am in love with life and the true spirit of the Christmas season.

Christmas cards and presents are best when given out of a joyful spirit. I give them out because I want to do so. I’ve been giving out pop-up Christmas cards since Christmas 2008. These pop-ups are by Robert Sabuda who also creates pop-up books. One of my favorite elements of this season is passing out the pop-ups. Honestly, I give out more cards than presents around Christmastime. Friends…

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