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Capturing Christmas

‘Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.’   Norman Rockwell

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There is a, magic, to the paintings of Norman Rockwell.  His capturing of the world that he grew up in depict a, marvelous expectancy, when illustrating the joys and mysteries of Christmas.

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I catch myself jumping up to see if the Fed Ex truck or the UPS delivery person…is delivering a Christmas gift to my home!

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‘Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Rockwell always wanted to be an artist.  At age 14, Rockwell enrolled in art classes at the New York School of Art (formerly the Chase School of Art).  Two years later, in 1910, he left high school to study art at the National Academy of Design.  He soon transferred to the Art Students League, where he studied with Thomas Fogarty’s instruction in illustration prepared Rockwell for his first commercial commissions.  From Bridgman, Rockwell learned the technical skills on which he relied throughout his long career.’   Norman Rockwell Museum

I remember my friend, Steve and I, driving to Eldorado, Illinois to celebrate Christmas with my mom and stepfather.  This was during the first years of my venturing out on my own…with no money and, seemingly, less prospects.  Steve had a 1940’s Chrysler and we had Christmas melodies on the radio.

I had a painting that I had purchased for my mom…from Down’s and Son Furniture store in Elkville…where I was employed as a furniture delivery assistant and warehouse person and store custodian.  At the time I believed the paining to be the most beautiful that I had ever seen, and my benevolent boss, David, sold it to me at cost and let me pay it off at $5 per week.

Mom had her foot tall Christmas tree, erected, and coffee cake prepared and she welcomed us with the joy of the season.

In those days…coffee…was the strongest holiday drink that we indulged in, and mom woke up Steve by announcing for him to, ‘Hit the deck you rubberneck!’

Then…you knew that it was Christmas!

 

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Or, our first Christmas Eve service at First Presbyterian Church, that had the atmosphere and the ambiance and the mystery of a Dickensian Christmas!

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Mary Jane and I were speaking with our friend, Brenda, earlier this week and we commiserated about the vagaries and challenges of, installing a live Christmas tree in your home.

When we first moved…to what we still call…the new house…in 2001…we swore that we would either place a cut tree or a live, Christmas tree in our home…each Yuletide season.

One of our first years, at our Carbondale address, we traveled with zest and holiday determination…to the local nursery and bought a, majestic, live Tree!

Now, the plan was to store the tree in our garage until we were able to place it in a number 3 washtub and install it in a place of significance and focus…in our Great Room!

We were advised to not have the tree, erected, for more than two weeks…to prevent it drying out.

The other half of the master plan for the, Glorious Tannenbaum, was to plant it in our front yard…and to watch it grow for many years…

The day that I began to dig the hole to plant the, first of many Brooks Christmas Trees, the ground was frozen…as is often the case in winter…

Finally, the hole was dug and the, giant root ball, of the holiday beauty, was placed in its forever home.

When I asked Mary Jane and Aaron and Jonathon to come outside to observe and, hopefully, marvel, over my handiwork…Mary Jane commented that it appeared to be leaning…

For a half dozen or so…Christmases…I faithfully placed Christmas lights on my Tree…and noticed that, each year, it seemed to lean…a bit more?

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Note: Downloadable Rockwell photos are courtesy of Google search.

Advent

Advent began, Sunday, December the 2nd and will end on Monday, December 24th.

‘Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the Second Coming.  The term is a version of the Latin word meaning ‘coming.’    Wikipedia

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And so a; suffering and divided human family awaits the birth of the baby, who was forced to be born in a manger…because there was no room for him in the Inn.

‘No one is really sure when Advent was first celebrated but it dates back to at least 567 when monks were ordered to fast during December leading up to Christmas.

I recall, vividly, our first Christmas Eve Service at First Presbyterian Church.  It began at 11:00 P:M:.  Our pastor, in 1998, had a bit of old world panache and a helping of Dickensian aura, about him.

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I had always been a lover of all things Christmas…but I had never experienced the emotionally moving celebration of the birth of Jesus…on Christmas Eve.

The service concluded with the singing of Silent Night…by candlelight.

As we exited the sanctuary and wished each other a Merry Christmas…it felt like Christmas…in my heart…in a profound way!

As the years have flown by…we have made it a practice to attend the Christmas Eve Service…whenever possible.

I remember Pastor Janice asking Jonathon to participate in the candel lighting ceremony…and how she put her arm around him…and he could not refuse.

One advent, I was asked to participate with the choir…as a reader of Christmas related passages.  I had a bad knee, that was hurting terribly, but I soldiered on, and it was one of my most memorable advents!

Our afflicted world cries out for the birth of the Prince of Peace.

‘For a child will be born to us, as son will be given to us;

And the government will rest on his shoulders;

And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.’    Isaiah 9:6

I wrote in my last blog; but I must say again…that the kindness of our fellow congregants as Mary Jane is recuperating…and their, demonstrated concern, is unparalled in my religious life…that has reached 50 years!

When we tell people about the birth of Jesus…let us demostrate…by our deeds…what the baby born in a manger…means to us.

 

The Remedy of Joy

Please enjoy a great, holiday blog, by my son, Jonathon. 🎅🏻🎄

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Love is the most appropriate word for how I feel about Christmastime. I’m in love with the cards and the parties and the candlelight Christmas Eve service and the days off of work and, honestly, the entire season. December twenty-fifth doesn’t excite me as much as the twenty-four days leading up to it, but I enjoy it as well.

Some people become depressed around this time of year. As a man who has manic depression I sympathize and have empathy. This world’s darkness is all too real. However, what is that old, inspirational quote? “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” Be that candle this season for someone else. Shine through kindness and love. Joy is the ultimate remedy for melancholy and depression.

The reason I love this season so passionately is because I live it the other eleven months of the year…

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Small Blessings

My wife had back surgery, Tuesday.  She came through, good…and we are grateful!

Illness…changes your life…and illness is an integral component of life.

I passed two at the Herrin Hospital, women of the housekeeping staff, this morning, on my way to retrieve Mary Jane’s charger cord for her I Phone.  I could not help but here one of the ladies speaking to the other about her difficulty in purchasing toys for her autistic son.

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In our, good times, when we, as far as we know, do not have a major health situation that we are dealing with…we tend to be rather blasé regarding our…temporary reprieve!

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We are mortals…we are all made out of the same, corporal, substance.

So much of life is Ordinary Time.  It is not dramatic nor stressful nor, extremely, joyous.  During this Ordinary Time…we tend to become disconsolate or bored…or unappreciative of our…peaceful and regular lives.

I know that I want to pay more attention to people who are suffering.  Many members of our congregation, at First Presbyterian, have brought us food and checked on Mary Jane on a daily basis…and I have never felt more a member of this wonderful church!

When you have health concerns or life stressors…you feel alone and, often, unloved. There is nothing, more special, than an email or a call or an offer of assistance…to let you know that people care about you…and their, demonstrated concern, sticks with you…long after the challenge that you faced…has passed.

Aaron, Jonathon, and I, purchased a, little lantern filled with water and silver snow flakes and a cardinal sitting on a tree branch, that can be lit up and the silver snow flakes fly, and it created peace and assurance and love…for Mary Jane and our family.

Ron and Ira Kaye came to sit with us and brought a, little, Christmas Tree.  Their visit was so welcome.

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‘Time passes all to quickly, my dear. ‘

Former President, George H. W. Bush, passed away at the age of 94…and if you were afforded the opportunity to ask him…he would have told you that his life went by quickly.

We become immeshed in the cares of life and the struggle to exist, financially, and the challenges of raising a family.  We want to climb the corporate ladder…and we desire to leave our mark in the world.

It is possible to be so engrossed in making a life…that we neglect the life that we are making.

Someone is facing a health challenge and perhaps a health crisis.

Someone has an autistic child…an they are trying to give that child a good Christmas.

Someone is lonely…and a simple call or visit…would mean the world to them.

Someone is a caregiver…and a word of encouragement or, just a little assistance, would bring tears of joy to their tired eyes.

Life is a book that has multiple chapters.  Many of the chapters require, of the participant, a, dramatic, change in lifestyle and goals and a re-discovery of one’s place in the world.

The happiest humans are those that adapt to the changes that life brings and hold on tight to the, rollercoaster of life, and they enjoy the hills and valleys and curves and the, breathtaking, hodgepodge of the human condition!

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Morale and Leadership

We have lost a great, former, President.  George H.W. Bush was a leader of ultimate class and dignity.  I remember watching his first press conference, after he was inaugurated, and being impressed that our country had a humble and strong leader.

It has been said that when, young, George would come home from school and announce to his mother what he had accomplished in a sporting event…his mother would reply, ‘that was good, but what did the team do.’

When I began, in supervision and then in management, at SIUC…I experienced members of my staff that were complimentary of my efforts and, often several, people who were critical.  The compliments were welcome…the criticisms…stung.

I, subsequently, set out to discover why, good, staff members were critical.  I spoke with them, at length, and investigated their concerns.  I wanted to, know, these valuable professionals and seek what I had been missing that caused them to feel left out or not heard or not a part of the organization that I managed.

Jody, a member of my leadership staff, told my wife that, if she did not know, she would not have been able to distinguish who were my friends and who were my enemies.  She mused that, perhaps, I treated my enemies better than my friends?

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Upon investigation of staff members who were critical I found a plethora of reasons for their unhappiness…and many of them could be fixed by such efforts as; better support, a clearer understanding of their area of responsibility, poor supervision or management, and a failure to, properly, recognize their achievements.

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I have also discovered, challenges at home or in the employees personal life and health, that, shadowed, their work experience.

I had not been a manager long…when one of our fine staff, who had suffered from health issues for some time, committed suicide.  From that day…until now…my management style became much more considerate and I became available for anyone who needed to speak with me…for however long that they needed to speak with me.

Some of my most vehement critics…became my greatest friends and supporters.

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A minister friend once said, ‘to hold power and leadership… with a loose grasp…as we are but stewards of delegated authority…and soon it will be someone else’s turn to lead!’

I have known some tremendous team leaders!

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Former Chancellor of SIUC, Dr. Don Beggs, was a leader who brought the campus together.  He and his wife, Shirley, had the unique ability to make each person, that they encountered, feel that they were vital to the university community and that they were family.

Former Chancellor Jo Ann Argersinger was as adept at ‘drawing people in’ as any leader that I have witnessed.  Dr. Argersinger, dropped, the academic community requirements, of referring to her as doctor or professor or chancellor and welcomed the campus community to call her Jo Ann.  She took time to walk into the yards where the Grounds staff were cutting grass and introduce herself and shake the person’ s hand, who was mowing, and inquire about what they thought about the campus.

Former Physical Plant Director, Duane Schroder, had an open door policy and he invited visitors to some popcorn and colloquial conversation that, simply, telegraphed to the recipient…that they were valued by him.

My friend, former President of Southern Illinois University, Glenn Poshard…was a master at remembering everyone’s name and something about the person…and eliciting your help in the success of SIU!

My friend, Brad Dillard, has a great ability to lead, extremely loyal teams!  I spoke with my friend, yesterday, at Kroger’s supermarket.  Brad always greets me with a warm smile and handshake and I leave our encounters feeling that he was, genuinely, happy to see me.  He was a great supporter of mine when I was working at SIUC…and I have always admired his enthusiasm for our school and his energy to find, workable solutions, in a, financially, cut-back environment.

If there is a problem or a need at SIUC…it is the continued need…for leaders…to bring everyone in to the family…and recognize the place…that their abilities demonstrate!

 

 

 

A Golden Calf

‘Now when the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.  As for this Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’

‘So Aaron told them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that are on your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.’

‘Then all the people took off their gold earrings and brought them to Aaron.  He took the gold from their hands, and with an engraving tool he fashioned it into a molten calf.  And they said, ‘O Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’   Exodus 32:1-3

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And so it goes…

There is something in our, human nature, that seeks to; believe in and follow…and even worship…a tangible god that we can see and feel and hear.

There is an easy, foxhole, to fall into…and that is the search for the extraordinary or divinely called…leader.  A person with a little magic sprinkled on them.  Someone who is above the rest of we, poor, mortals.

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There are leaders who have a ‘god complex.’

This complex can exhibit itself in a variety of forms.

A supervisor or a manager can be, adept, in the, art, of manipulation.  In other words they manipulate members of their staff to fulfill their needs or goals…and not the staff member.

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Often, managers are proficient at pitting members of their staff against each other in order to facilitate all members, looking only to them for direction and amelioration of disputes.

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A minister or pastor may demonstrate the, complex, by instructing their congregation that, ‘they are hearing from god…and therefore they must be obeyed when it pertains to your life!’

I saw a photo of a, faith healer, demonstrating his, god given gift, in a large arena that was filled with thousands of people.  The caption read…’why do we never see this minister healing people in the hospital?’

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I admire leaders who inculcate, some, ‘gut feeling’ or empathy…or who take a chance, this is a mark, in moderation, of a good leader and a, calculated, risk taker.

However, to believe that you gut instincts are better than the considered study of a majority of scientist…is folly…

The greatest leadership that I have found is the leader that endeavors to lead by a consensus of logical opinion.

The day that I was asked to be a supervisor, of a crew of 12 people, I was humbled and honored and, knew, that I was but a steward of SIU and not an owner of my crew or their allegiance or abilities.  I, always, found that I learned much more from the staff that I was assigned to lead or manage…than they ever learned from me.

Remember, God talks to all of his creation and supervisor and managers and administrators and ministers and presidents…are working under…designated authority from a higher authority.

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In the case of the President of the United States…the higher authority is the American people and the Constitutionally mandated checks and balances from the other, co-equal, branches of government…the Congress and Senate and the Judiciary.

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In the case of a minister or pastor, there should be a church board of Elders and or Deacons that manage the individual.  This, governmental group should represent the congregation of the church…not the minister.

A supervisor should have a manager…who should have an administrator…who represents the good of the organization and the well being of all employees that are under their direction.

‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad-men, even when they exercise influence and not authority:  still more when you superadd the tendency, or the certainty of corruption by authority.’   John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton

 

Effective and Hard…Communication

During my thirty-two + year carer at Southern Illinois University, I was honored to have been a manager/administrator for over twenty-five years.

I had noticed, over my work life, that what a, supervisor or manager or administrator or boss…said to me and my colleagues had influence over our happiness and well-being.

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If you are not independently wealthy….you have a boss that you are attempting to please and have a, working, relationship with.

I witnessed, others, and, at times, myself, having our carer influenced by a supervisor, who had the manager or administrator’s ear…and subsequently were lying to that person about our job performance.

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The, common, or most utilized management team philosophy, was and still is, whatever the supervisor or manager said about an employee…was, good enough, for the administrator.

In all of my management positions…I had an open door policy.  This, simply meant, that anyone in my organization could feel welcome to come and have a meeting with me.  Not with their supervisor…but alone.  If the evidence supported that a; student employee or a BSW or a Sub-Foreman or Foreman… had been wronged…I would support them.

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At times, I have been told that an employee; ‘was trouble’ or that they ‘were lazy’, when upon examination of the empirical evidence…I found just the opposite.

I have been told that an employee, ‘had a bad attitude’, when after my inspection of the work and, attitude, of the person in question, I discovered that they simply were, guilty, of speaking up for themselves, when they were being, grossly, mistreated!

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When you are a leader…your staff seeks one element more than any other from you.

You staff seeks consistency in what you say and in your policies that you implement.

Many times I have counseled an employee and did not tell them what they wanted to hear.  I told them…what I, truly, thought about the issue we were discussing.  Candor is not, always, pleasant but it is a reality that everyone will mark as to your management style and your truthfulness.

Fairness…is vital to the health of a manager and the organization that they manage.

When a manager looks at candidates for promotion they must use the same criteria for each candidate…and the criteria must equal the most qualified.  To, cherry pick, reasons for promotion or the lack thereof is demoralizing and wrong.

During my management years…I promoted, many people, who had criticized me…but who exhibited the qualifications necessary for the upgrade.

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Seniority is not the, controlling criteria, for upgrades or promotions…but it should be considered when, ‘lifting up, staff who have little time with the organization…and little demonstrated ability.

The time served with an organization is an important component when the employee has demonstrated, faithful and effective, service.

I promoted a woman, years ago, that had not experienced many breaks, come her way.  I saw her colleagues ignore her and make, snide remarks, behind her back.  This woman was a faithful and effective, workhorse and not a show horse, and I upgraded her…and she was an excellent supervisor.

When I became superintendent of Building Services…my first promotion was an African American woman, who, managers and supervisors, told me was; ‘nothing but trouble!’  This, wonderful woman, was one of the greatest foreman that I had the privilege of working with…she was wise and just and I sought her counsel…on many occasions.

Look beyond what people say…and examine the empirical evidence…for yourself!

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Old Memories on a Campus Stroll

We were enjoying a terrific Thanksgiving dinner at Kokopelli restaurant in Marion, Illinois.  The food was delicious…and they had wonderful, Dirty Martinis, that were, poured, by a bartender who knows the nuances of a, fine drink.

I noticed that someone had messaged me…and when I looked, I was so pleased to see that my former colleague and friend, Mark Wetstein, had asked if I would like to join him for a stroll around the SIU campus on Saturday.

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I was delighted that Mark had reached out to me and wanted to spend sometime, walking and reminiscing about our, employment, at SIUC.

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Mark and I, first met, when he was the associate director of Shryock Auditorium and I was the assistant superintendent of Building Services.  I noted, quickly, what a professionalism that he exhibited and his, tremendous work ethic.  Mark worked around the clock.

For a few years, during the 25 years that we have known each other, we were both members of the Civil Service Council.  At one time, Mark was the vice president of the group and I was the president…and, just, prior to my retirement…he was the president and I was the vice president.

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We spoke of the wonders of retirement and how much we enjoyed it…and many of the interesting occurrences that we had experienced during our SIU careers.

Southern Illinois University has been the beneficiary of dedicated professionals, like Mark, and has not always know how to best utilize their strengths and, sadly, at times, taken them for granted…when they needed them desperately.

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It was pleasant and rewarding to reflect with my friend on the glories of our campus and to speak with a colleague that loves our school.

SIUC is a beautiful and serene and majestic location.  There are so many, brilliant ideas that are awaiting a leader to have the courage and foresight…to implement.

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Many, wrong turns have been made in the steering of the great ship of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  The first, Chappaquiddick type, wrong turn that we made was the giving away of many of our associate degree programs in the 1990’s…when they were the most popular courses at SIUC.  The vision of, leaders at that time, was to create a…second University of Illinois.  The mission of SIUC and the vision of it’s formation is totally different than U of I.  Our campus enrollment dropped, precipitously, at that time…and it has never recovered; but rather continues to careens off of the, winding and narrow cliffs of Monte Carlo!

Many years ago, Physical Plant administration, thought that they were spending the State’s money effectively when they hired consultants to evaluate the Building Services operations.  Now, these, (experts), did not know anything regarding our housekeeping operation…and they did not see the need to ask anyone’s opinion regarding what could make our, cleaning business better.  The day that the, several thousand dollar plan for cleaning our campus, was revealed and was to be implemented, was my first day as foreman in the department.  I, quickly, noticed that the, area assignments for my staffs, in all of the custodial areas that I was responsible for, were either much to large or…extremely small.  When I asked our, new, assistant superintendent, what I should do…he responded that I should remake the areas to fit my crews.  In other words…the costly housekeeping plan…was useless.

The day that I became the superintendent of the department…I threw all of the, Georgia Plan, in the trash…and my entire staff…rejoiced!

Mr. O’Hara, the superintendent of Building Services at the time of the, high dollar consultants visit, said that for the price of a cup of coffee…Physical Plant and University administration could receive all of the ideas and information that the required to facilitate the improvement of the department.

And, so it goes.  We abdicate our, profitable and high sought after and students standing in line for…classes…to obtain our dream of academic nirvana.  We seek leaders from across the country…who have the expertise and the credentials and curriculum vitae…that our school requires…when there are leaders in our midst…that would love to be asked….

Thanksgiving

Don’t we all have, so much to be thankful for?

For over thirty years, Mary Jane has hosted Thanksgiving, at our home.  For many of those years; we lived in a four room house in Elkville, Illinois…and, often had over twenty guests to the feast!

Mrs. Moore, my sister-in-law’s mom, attended every year…and enjoyed the gathering, immensely!  I woke up this morning…thinking of Mrs. Moore.

I can remember, Mary Jane and Ron coming with their, beautiful, daughter Tara.  Mary Jane, so enjoyed watching the, annual Thanksgiving Dog Show, and she smiled, broadly, as she watched the many breeds of performing canines.

I think of Mary Jane Hickam…often…and recall her kindness to me.

In, more recent years, we have enjoyed traveling with Ron and Ira Kaye.  We have had many adventures…including Ira Kaye and I standing by the submarine that was filmed in our favorite show. Lost, in Hawaii.

I can shut my eyes and see, my precious mom, and my stepfather, Earl…and hear their laughter as they listened to Earl’s ‘tall tales!’

Berl, Mary Jane’s, father, and Earl…had to, always, be called to the table…more than once…as they so enjoyed swapping stories and reminiscing about their, glorious youth!

So, this year, we are unable to host the celebration…but there will be many around our table…as we think of our loved ones.

 

 

‘Keep On The Sunny Side’

I had a great compliment from a fellow blogger when they said, ‘that my blogs were always so positive.’

 

Being positive, toward life, is a decision that I made when I was a youth.

My mother and father, divorced when I was 6 years old.  I loved my dad…and could not understand how he left mom and I.  Mom suffered from the separation…for years…and really…church and a dedication to the christian life…was our salvation.

I found myself, during my childhood years, being able to think quite negatively about an abundance of subjects; including the lot that life had dealt mom and I.

 

I remember, distinctly deciding, to focus my attitude on the positive outlook of life and to ignore the negative occurrences that trouble all of us…along the path of life.

I am a worrier.  I worry about everything.  However, it has occurred to me on numerous occasions, that God is in control of our lives and we really need not worry about anything.

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We did not request entrance to this world…and our opinion has not been sought as to our time of exit…and so…enjoy the ride!

At one time…I was hungry…and now I understand and empathize with my brothers and sisters when they do not have enough to eat.

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At one time…I could not pay my bills…and I was working…18 hours per day.

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At one time…I was lonely…and God gave me a wonderful family.

 

At one time…people made fun of my clothes…and thought me less than capable of their achievements.

Through keeping an upbeat and positive attitude I have been able to trust God and work for; food and clothing and housing and land and positions of respect in the work and, general, community.

I learned that there is more that unites us…than divides us.

I have learned that my; Gay friends and my African American friends and my Jewish friends and my Latino friends and my Muslim friends…are true friends…and I am honored that they consider me their friend!

I learned that hard working, hard scrabble people, have some of the largest hearts!

 

I worried about my sons…but they have turned out to be, stellar, adults…and professionals…and gentlemen.

I worried about my, dear, wife and various health issues that she has battled…but she has always came through in good shape and with her, inherent, dry sense of humor.

I worried about, SIU’s Building Services, and the fear that we would be contracted out or that a member of my team would not be treated properly…but, we made it through…and I hear that some of my former colleagues…miss me.

I was asked to speak, a couple of Sundays ago, regarding  Stewardship…and what it means to me.

The governing body of the First Presbyterian Church is called the Session.  I was a member of the Stewardship, area, of this group, for 3 years.  I was asked to speak regarding the subject, what the church means to me, and I reflected on the many, precious, parishioners, that have passed away…since my, first attendance 20 years ago.

If I speak in church, which I have done seldomly…for many years, I ask God to help me and speak through me…as I am convinced that my, simple, words will have little meaning to the congregation.

We, humans, seek meaning for our lives…and assurance that someone is watching and that someone cares.