I’ve previously blogged about my past experience teaching the Sacraments to 5th graders about 15 years ago. It’s odd to think it has actually been that long ago, but the wall calendar behind me verifies this is true! I’ve already admitted that I wasn’t the best fit in the role of trying to keep that many ten year olds under control, but I still tried my best to make it interesting for the kids. Sometimes it was playing hangman with vocabulary words, sometimes it was play acting the different Sacrament ceremonies.  One time it was helping the kids to put the Lord’s Prayer into their own words.

When I was an RCIA sponsor a few years before, one of the other candidates, named Dean, often shared tremendous insight and quite a sense of humor during our group meetings. I considered myself fortunate that my own candidate and I were assigned to the same table as Dean and his wife Lena, who was sponsoring his initiation into the Church. We shared with the same small table group each week over the course of the full RCIA year and Dean was always a great contributor.

One week Dean shared with our small table a story about his son’s prayer life as an adolescent — I’m guessing he was maybe about twelve years old at the time.  As I recall the story, he would say one line of the Lord’s Prayer and then paraphrase it into his own words. He would then go on to the next line and repeat the process through to the very end of the prayer. Dean admitted that his son’s motivation in this exercise, as you would probably expect from a young man at that age, was essentially just to act silly. But Dean’s point in bringing this up in the first place was to recognize the unintended result of his son’s actions. Through this self-imposed “prayer-a-phrasing”, his son had to truly process the sentiment and meaning of the words rather than just rattle off the memorized phrases. How often do we recite prayers or the pledge of allegiance, or sing a school fight song or alma mater without ever really thinking about the words passing through our lips?  For my Catholic brothers and sisters, since the Church made the most recent subtle changes to the Nicene Creed and some of the responses at Mass do you find yourself more consciously concentrating on the words than you did ten years ago?

So rewinding back 15 years again, on one particular occasion while teaching a religious education lesson, I recalled Dean’s story and decided to integrate his son’s exercise into a class project. I don’t independently recall the suggested lesson plan, but no doubt the primary focus for that week were the words given to us by Jesus in Mt. 6:9-13.

I had a class of about 20 kids pair off into groups or two or three. Each group was assigned one line from the Lord’s Prayer. I had each group randomly pull a slip of paper out of a hat to determine which phrase they were assigned.  They each spent about 10-15 minutes discussing the meaning of their assigned paper slips and to rephrase that segment into their own words.  I remember explaining to them that we could never improve upon the prayer that Jesus himself gave to us, but that we could enhance our own understanding and awareness of what Jesus taught us with those words.

At the end of the class, I collected all of the papers and put them all together into a single collective class prayer that we prayed together during our lesson the following week.

I shared that prayer again during an adult education session a few months later and then filed it away.  I am a digital pack rat and tend to save every scrap of paper from any meetings or gatherings that I think I might have a later use for.  I take most of those prayers, papers, and presentations and scan them into digital pdf files saved to my hard drive.  Years later I searched and searched my laptop for a copy of this prayer. I wanted to share it with another ministry group, but I could not seem to find my original draft of it anywhere in my computer files. I finally resigned myself to the fact that it was not there anywhere and that I had lost it forever.

After work on Tuesday of this week, I came home to find a short stack of old papers sitting on my desk.  I soon found out that my wife had come across them in the bottom drawer of our filing cabinet.  They were all about 10-15 years old or more and had been there undisturbed for most of those years — forgotten.  My wife (rightfully so) often takes the position that if you’ve lived without an item for X years and haven’t missed it or realized it was missing, you probably didn’t need it anyway.  This philosophy is obviously 180˚ opposed to my own save-everything-at-all-costs mentality (which I truly believe I inherited from my father, who is now in Heaven).

My wife admitted to me she was just going to throw those papers out or shred them, but that something made her stop and think about that decision.  For whatever reason (which she couldn’t even explain herself) she decided to put the stack of papers on my desk for me to sort through — knowing that I probably wouldn’t get to it right away and that they would likely just sit there for the next several months or more.  Something told her that was the right thing to do, even though it went against her own nature.

Included in that stack of papers was this prayer. There may be a slight loss in the translation of a few lines, but this is still a pretty remarkable prayer-a-phrase in my opinion when you consider the source.

Was it just a coincidence that my wife changed her mind against putting these long forgotten papers through the shredder? (The irony is that I HAVE since shredded the physical copy — after scanning it into my digital computer documents).

Praise God!!!  (and maybe do that by offering a prayer-a-phrase of your own!)

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Faith, Hope, and Charity

Unlike many of my other blog posts, there is very little background or build up to this particular episode of GodIncidence.  It is pretty simple really.  Today is Christmas Eve. Sometime between 10 and 11 o’clock this morning, our doorbell rang. I was in our home office at the time, working on an another blog post – Follow the Yellow Brick Road – that I just published a short while ago. Our daughter went to see who was at the door and my wife followed behind her.  I heard voices, but couldn’t hear specific content. A few minutes later, my wife walked in and handed me our January 2017 church offering envelopes. She said that a woman, named Faith Smith, was just at the door and she gave her our church envelopes.

(Her last name was not Smith, but her first name was Faith. To be honest, I don’t remember what her actual last name was, but it was not a widely common name like Smith and it is important to the story. Regardless of her real last name, I would have changed it here for privacy either way.)

Faith told my wife that she lives on another street several blocks away from us with the same house number as ours. Apparently she is semi-regularly getting our mis-delivered mail and she has just been bringing it past our house and putting it into our mailbox.  But for whatever reason — maybe because they were church envelopes; maybe because it is Christmas Eve; maybe because she is growing weary of silently doing the post office’s job behind the scenes; or maybe for no identifiable reason in her mind, but merely as part of the mystery of GodIncidence — Faith Smith decided to ring our doorbell and personally hand those envelopes to someone in our house.

My wife then told me the ironic part.  She said that Faith Smith closely resembled a mother she knows through our daughter’s dance studio — close enough that they could be sisters. That mother’s name is Hope Smith (where Smith is again a substituted name for privacy purposes of the exact same privatized name above).

But for now, these three continue: faith, hope, and charity. And the greatest of these is charity. 1 Corinthians 13:13

What are the chances that these women named after the first two of the three theological virtues share an identical last name and bear a striking resemblance to each other? What are the chances that Faith came to our house on Christmas Eve delivering our church offering envelopes? What are the chances that there is a similar looking Charity Smith out there who has not yet crossed my wife’s path?

Okay, maybe that last one is taking the GodIncidence too far, but really who’s to say? While I would not necessarily expect it, I’m certainly not willing to disregard it. As the State motto of Ohio (drawn from Matthew 19:26) says: With God, All Things Are Possible.

Today God sent Faith to our household on the day before we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. May God Bless everyone who reads these comments. I pray that He has sent Faith to many others on this day, as well as Hope and Charity. Merry Christmas to all!

Praise God!!!

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Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Every year around this time of year, along with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, comes the popular topic of whether stores and restaurants and the like should be open on Thanksgiving Day. I am not going to delve into that topic specifically, but it was something I heard debated once again on talk radio recently. The point of view being aired was that other than necessary services (and God Bless all those who have to give up family time to protect, serve, and give care to others) there is no reason why people need to be out and about shopping on Thanksgiving when Black Friday is only a few hours away.

While I don’t have one of those service jobs and I do typically get a four day Thanksgiving weekend, over the past several years I’ve noticed that there always seems to be either a unexpected figurative fire to be put out or some other demanding deadline looming at my day job always smack dab on and around the Thanksgiving holiday.  Sometimes it is right before, sometimes it falls just after.  Sometimes it impacts my ability to have a relaxing four days with my spouse and kids. So while I don’t have to be at my desk at work on turkey day, I often find myself bringing work home over that period.

2016 proved to be no exception as an important deadline reared its ugly head and my attempt at meeting it early on was quite unsuccessful.  This was one of those kind of deadlines! You know the type… where your ability to meet your end is impacted by how quickly or efficiently someone else handles their own deadline and gets usable and manageable information to you (that you then need to re-work for several hours to several days into a different acceptable format which is not as simple as printing, signing, and submitting).  I actually brought work home with me over the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, but could not get much accomplished on it without the initial groundwork I was relying upon from another source.

The Monday prior to Thanksgiving arrived and I went into work about 90 minutes early. Believe me when I say that it would have been even earlier than that, but 90 minutes is about as early as I can make it due to my daughter drop off duties during the school year. Once I got to the office, a good part of Monday morning was spent fighting with computer files from a recent email containing volumes of documents 90+% of which were in an unrecognized file format which I could not access.  As that proved unfruitful — even the sender of the email was at a loss, I opted to work on the stuff that I could access and assimilate into my part of the process — piecemeal as it may be.

I was twice interrupted (not rudely by any means and I tried very hard to be sympathetic and helpful) by a tenant with sewage coming in through his bathroom drains with no clue how to diagnose or fix the issue.  I am no plumber and don’t have the authority to make that call, but my efforts to reach the owner — tied up out of town in a meeting — were eventually responded to with a text message that someone was coming to get the key to get into another vacant adjacent apartment unit.

Making little progress on my computer files issue and having lost the morning to the afternoon, I quickly realized that I was fighting a losing battle. Playing telephone and email tag with the guy on the other end of those uncrackable documents and waiting for the apartment “key master” (who never arrived) — I had my own out of town appearance scheduled for 3:30 at a location 30 minutes away. So I left the computer files, I left the unclaimed apartment key, and I left the sewage stained apartment all behind.  I drove 30 minutes to the next county, checked in for my 3:30 appearance and waited, and waited, and waited some more.  Finally at 3:50, when the other side didn’t show up, I checked out and started my drive back – the time all wasted.  It was ironic because I knew in just 2½ short hours later I would find myself driving right back to almost the exact same location with my wife and daughter for an evening appointment.  By this time I literally felt like Dorothy in a whirlwind tornado and I definitely was not in Kansas anymore.

On Tuesday of that week, I planned to go into the office early again. I usually do not shower until after I take our daughter to school – giving me sole access to the single bathroom in our house. But on this day, I planned to shower early. I was fully prepared to jump in at 6:00, but I missed my mark when my wife had a brief emergency need for the bathroom.  Since her workday regularly starts at 6:30, she has bathroom priority at that time of the morning. Rather than get in right away after her, I directed my attention to my work issues on my laptop. After another 40 minutes passed by and my wife was already gone to work, I tried my shower again.

As is my habit, I turned the bathroom radio on while starting up the shower.  Usually it is just background noise that I can’t always hear clearly while under the running shower head. But I am sometimes able to hear the news or the teaser naming an upcoming studio guest interview. I thought I heard a particular name mentioned that morning, but I wasn’t really sure. The combination of the shower head water noise and the weak reception of AM radio in the wintertime made it very difficult to know for sure. A few minutes later, I heard a familiar piano riff leading in to the studio interview and then knew for sure that I’d heard correctly.

Jim Brickman was coming to Cleveland for his 2016 Comfort and Joy Christmas concert tour and I was able to finish my shower and hear the end of his interview to learn that after Cleveland, he was finishing up the tour on December 23rd in Sandusky.  Had I taken my 6:00 shower, I would not have caught the radio interview and probably would have missed the announcement altogether.  But that simple delay and my decision to do some work rather than jump in at 6:05 gave me the opportunity to hear this interview and act on it – one major Christmas gift down!  Three tickets later (and an additional early Christmas surprise for my wife* – see below) we solidified our plans for the Friday before Christmas.

Always a good show, Jim’s focus on Christmas music was extra special and made for an all around fun evening with the family — one that I might have missed if it wasn’t for some work stress over the Thanksgiving holiday. Great music along with Anne Cochran, Tracy Silverman, and Kris Allen.

I am so thankful and thank God every day for the family he has given to me. I don’t believe it to be coincidence that we were able to share this evening together last night on (as Jim put it) Christmas Eve … Eve.

Praise God!!!


* We got to meet with Jim briefly before the concert courtesy of the surprise VIP membership gift I got for my wife!

For a unique “déjà vu-like” experience, take a look back at Random Radio for a non-coincidence imitating a non-coincidence.

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Vacation Bible School

Back in 2000, I was talked into teaching Religious Education classes (or PSR) to 5th grade public school children one night a week for about an hour. The primary focus of the 5th grade curriculum was the Sacraments. When approached, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to do it, but a co-worker talked me into trying it out to see if I was a good fit. I wasn’t the best teacher, but I did my best to make things fun — not many kids are very enthusiastic about an hour of religious training after having already spent an entire day in school.

I sometimes had difficulty keeping 12-20 energetic 10 year olds under control, so I was grateful to have a parent assistant to help me out most weeks.  We used the classrooms at the local Catholic school, but we constantly had to remind the students that they were not allowed to mess around with the property belonging to the regular Catholic school students and teachers. Nevertheless, that first year, one of my students broke the chalkboard pointer which belonged to the daytime teacher.  He was goofing around with it when he wasn’t supposed to.  If I remember correctly, this was on a night when my parent assistant (to whom the role of the primary classroom disciplinarian fell) was unable to attend.  It was pretty clear to me that I was not cut out for a career in elementary education.

The second year, I had a different parent assistant, and her attention was primarily occupied with trying to keep one particular student focused and on track.  I am not sure what type of condition Giorgio had, but his speech was very difficult to understand (he sometimes seemed to have a language of his own).  He did not read, and he had some other special needs issues which made it extremely challenging for him to keep focused — even with a full time attendant.  He was sometimes prone to disruptions and outbursts — never violent or angry, thankfully — and the other kids in the class (including a female cousin who often helped to translate when Giorgio spoke or had a question) were all familiar with him.  They accepted his condition and treated him like a normal kid.  I never witnessed any mocking or mean spirited comments and Giorgio was never made fun of in my class.  I attribute that more to the kids’ own well behavior than to anything I ever said or did.  The thing is = I never HAD to say anything to any of the other kids about how they should treat Giorgio.

In my third (and last) year of teaching the Sacraments, I had no parent assistant in the classroom.  I did my best and I think I made an impression on a few of the kids, but I knew that I was not the best person for that job.  I was involved in several other parish ministries and I was spreading my time a bit too thin. So when I saw that I needed to cut back on my over-extended efforts, I knew that religious education was the one I had to drop.  This was approximately the same time that I met my wife — through one of those other parish ministries.

Several years ago, we signed our daughter up for Vacation Bible School. I think she was maybe 5 or 6.  Somehow in the process, my wife ended up staying for a few nights to help as a parent volunteer.  She didn’t sign up in advance to do that and she had no duties in organizing or running any part of the program, she just answered the call when one of the program’s directors needed a few parents to help.  (I chose not to commit myself, although I was asked also).

Earlier this spring, the person who had been running the bible school program for several years had some other summertime commitments (involving her certification for another unrelated religious education program) which made running VBS at the same time just too much on her plate all at once. Although she committed herself to assisting with VBS (she still took a lead role in the planning and promotion, but just wasn’t the program director in name), another church friend of ours was asked and accepted the responsibility to run things.  Her husband and my wife work together at the same company and we are all social friends of sorts — so she asked my wife if we would like to help with a couple of the presentation themes.  Knowing my love for being involved, our history of being drawn together through adult parish retreat ministry, and my past efforts with religious education, my wife agreed to help and said she would ask me also. She was not directly aware of my reasons for stepping down from teaching 13 years ago since we were not yet dating at the time.  My wife had already committed herself, but I was not tremendously enthusiastic about the prospect.  Rather than come right out and say that, I more or less kept silent as the “think it over and get back to me with a decision” time passed by.

So as the time drew closer to needing an answer, and I remained wishy-washy — not really wanting to do it, but not wanting to disappoint and say “NO” either — somehow, I’m still not exactly sure how, a “YES” response was transmitted from me to my wife and passed along up the channels.  I was quite relieved to later find out that my wife and I could work together as a team rather than be split up each at different stations with different responsibilities.

As the planning meetings were scheduled, they conflicted with my wife’s other volunteer commitments at our daughter’s dance studio, so I was tasked to attend those meetings on behalf of us both.  I was encouraged by the experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm of the other people involved, but I was still not overly enthusiastic about the time commitment with it being a few hours each evening for a full week (which I knew would also be a very busy work week for me). The actual location setup was spread out over two different Saturdays.  The first day involved some room preparation, and it turned out that our room was one already in use during the regular school year for a religious education program, with many items belonging to that instructor remaining in the room over the summer months.  With a few minor exceptions, the items in the room were largely unavailable for us to use, but could not be removed from the room and stored elsewhere.  So we had to cover them up and keep them hidden from view and away from the curious fingers belonging to the kids in our VBS program.  I immediately had déjà vu visions of that broken chalkboard pointer from 16 years ago!

Our second Saturday setup (just this past weekend and the day before we began the program) involved additional room and prop setup and several hours of theming other hallway areas.  On Sunday morning we discovered that most of the hallway theming work, done by several children volunteers, had come down overnight and was not easily repairable.

Our particular VBS station dealt with Bible stories and scriptural themes which help to illustrate the over-riding theme for the night.  Because each night had a different “living the Bible” experience, we had to make wholesale prop and theming changes each night in preparation of the next day’s lesson. Upon seeing what did and did not work with the kids during the first session Sunday evening, and upon additional review of the rest of the program guide, my wife and I realized that we had a lot of additional prop and theming work to do in our room over the next several days.  So Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. — when I would normally be bedding down for the night (especially knowing that I had to be in court bright and early Monday morning), instead I found myself walking around our local WalMart with a cartful of necessary items we had overlooked the first time around.

In re-creating some of the bible stories or images, we have a pre-written script to follow, with some ad-libbing thrown in for variety.  My role has generally been that of the helper while my wife presents the main content.  My job that first night was to pretend that the lights in our room weren’t working. I had to lead the kids to believe that I was trying to track down the problem while my wife continued on with the lesson.  I would then return to the room at key points with different artificial lighting solutions (first little battery operated flicker candles, then mini flashlights, etc.)  So MOST of my time was spent outside of the room with very little interaction with the kids — just listening from the hallway for my audible cues to enter the room with my lighting options.

This left my wife with 90-95% of the overall interaction with the kids in our Sunday sessions.  I was hardly even seen or heard, but after one of the groups finished their shift in our room, a girl of about ten years with Down Syndrome came over to me (not to my wife who shared with them for over 20 minutes, but to me who shared three lines with them and “fixed” the lights).  She grab/hugged me around the waist and said “Thank you,” before following her group out into the hallway moving on to a different station.

Although I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the program as I could have been before we started, she reminded me what the time, effort, and late night spending money at Walmart was really for.  This may turn out to be our only commitment to Vacation Bible School, I don’t know, but it was in reflecting on that ‘thank-you’ hug and telling my wife about it hours later at home (she had not seen it herself and did not get a similar hug of her own) that I realized I was where I was supposed to be.  I am posting these observations just before our fifth and final night of VBS.  Each day has had its challenges and its rewards, which I suppose is just a microcosm of everyday life.

Praise God!!!

To bring this full circle, about a year or so ago, I was sitting in Applebee’s with my family having dinner. At some point while we were eating, I noticed a young man and someone I assumed to be his father sitting at the bar, chatting and eating some sandwiches. I thought I recognized him, but I wasn’t 100% sure until we made eye contact. I didn’t see any recognition in his face when our eyes met, but there was no doubt in my mind at that moment that it was Giorgio all grown up.  He had to be in his mid-twenties by now.  I had not seen him since he was in my classroom, but I sometimes had wondered over the years how he was doing and what paths his life had taken.  I guess I still don’t know the full answers to those questions, but I do know that he was alive and well — and enjoying some good food at Applebee’s!

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Language Barrier

I’ve blogged many times about my family’s and my love for Cedar Point and what a blessing it is to have such a fabulous place to visit and walk in the summer months. We got season passes again this year in anticipation of the new Valravn ride.  I may or may not ride it this year because the lines will no doubt be quite long all the time!  There are still plenty of other rides which pack quite a thrill but at a shorter wait.

This past weekend, my older daughter and her brother came home from Florida for a visit and we went over to the park with them on Saturday for several hours.  We hoped to ride Valravn, but the lines were just too long for our liking.  We also discussed Top Thrill Dragster, but it was a little long also given that it is only a 17 second ride.  So instead, we hit Magnum, Rougarou, and GateKeeper.  I also let my older daughter talk me into two rides that terrify me — Power Tower and maXair.  Her brother then talked her into a ride that terrified her – SlingShot! See videos of that experience here!

File May 24, 2 14 51 PM File May 24, 2 15 11 PM

I may get in trouble for saying this, but our older daughter caught the eye of a tall, dark, and handsome food service worker at one of the dining options at Cedar Point. It was a build your own Mexican style menu, much like you would see at Chipotle or Qdoba, but he apparently spoke no English and we had to point at the ingredient options we wanted on our burritos. When another another worker came over to check on us at our table, he commented to our older daughter that his co-worker said that she was very beautiful, but that he only spoke Spanish and was unable to tell her himself.  All in all it was a very full Saturday and a fun time.

We have been talking about getting our front garden back into flower shape, and this happened to be the only weekend where that would be possible due to other weekend plans and commitments on the schedule.  So when Sunday rolled up on me, I woke up around 6:30 and considered whether I wanted to get started.  We typically go to 10:00 Mass, so I had a few hours I could devote to pulling weeds.  (It turns out I needed more than just a few to get at all the clover growing right along the fence line).  At first I was tempted to just leave the garden go and instead spend my morning on my laptop doing clicks. But I decided to get motivated and get moving and went out to the garden instead.

I donned some old jeans and t-shirt and some work gloves; I grabbed my iPhone and earbuds and downloaded a few of my favorite podcasts; I started working. I didn’t know how my wife would feel after the walking we did at Cedar Point the day before — that sometimes aggravates her chronic back issues, but I could at least get started and hope that not too many new weeds would sprout up if we weren’t able to finish the garden that day.

I was just about finished with what I had planned to accomplish — maybe another 5 or 10 minutes more, when I turned around/was startled by a young girl in her late teens or early twenties standing right behind me on the sidewalk.  I was so wrapped up in what I was listening to that I never noticed her or her friend walk over.  I pulled out one of my earbuds as it was clear she waned to say something.  She began speaking to me in broken English — saying something about a work form.  I held up an index finger and pulled the other earbud from my other ear so that I could hear more clearly.  That was when I was able to make out “phone” (not form) “work” and “taxi”. Clearly frustrated that she was unable to speak better English, I tried my best to understand.  As she slowed down and tried again, adding in some additional details, I finally got the picture.  She and her friend were Ukrainian and work at Kalahari, a large water park in the area.  They were supposed to be at work by 9:00 (it was about 8:30 at the time) and they had just discovered that the bus transportation did not run on Sundays. When they saw me outside working, they thought I might have a phone and might be able to call a taxi for them to get to work on time. Because their English was not very fluent and they didn’t know well enough where they were to explain to a taxi dispatcher, she asked if I could call and make arrangements for them.

Foreign workers are very common at Cedar Point and the hotels and water parks in the area during the summer.  Cedar Point is large enough that I think they have their own employee transport busses, but I suppose Kalahari likely doesn’t employ enough people to make that service worthwhile.

I found a local taxi company, called and gave them the particulars, and then let the girls know that a car would arrive shortly in front of our house to pick them up.  They thanked me and took a seat on the street curb as I went back to my weeds.  Even though a few minutes before I intended to wrap up and go back inside to shower for church, I decided to stay out a bit longer to help translate when the cab arrived.  As the girls spoke back and forth in their native language, I glanced up each time a car drove down our busy street, but none were from any taxi service.

By 8:45, when the taxi hadn’t yet arrived, the first girl walked back over to me — nervous that they would still not make it on time.  She asked me if I knew when the taxi would arrive. She explained that if they were late — “we will get 2 points and then we will be fired.” Clearly concerned that they would be late, I gave the index finger “hang on just a minute” gesture a second time.  I then went inside to ask my wife if she would mind if I drove these two out to Kalahari and asked her to tell the taxi driver if I wasn’t able to cancel and they arrived at our door looking for a fare.

I then went back outside and told the girls if they wanted that I would take them to their work.  They were both relieved at the offer and quickly tried to get into my neighbor’s car which was parked in front of our house!  I laughed, shook my head “no”, and pointed to the older beat up car further up the street.  One of the girls commented: “but you’re busy?” pointing at the weed patch in front of our house.  I told her it was okay.  I didn’t tell her that I have experience giving rides to strangers.

Once in the car, I tried to call the taxi company.  There was a recent call in my phone log, which I assumed to be the company’s number.  That turned out to be the person who MIS-dialed MY number a few days earlier, but was still showing up in my missed calls list! I then re-ran a Google search for taxis, but could not remember which company I had called! So I had to dial each one until I got someone who recognized the request!  Once I finally got the right number, the woman/dispatcher was a bit annoyed at the cancellation, but she got over it without much difficulty.  When she asked why it was being canceled, I simply told her that the girls who needed the taxi were no longer there.  They probably would have been charged at least a hour or two of their wages just for the taxi ride into work…

That resolved, I then tried to communicate a little bit more with them.  I learned that this was only their second day on the job at Kalahari and they had only been in the United States for five days.  I debated the decision to talk to them about the dangers of accepting rides from strangers and I ultimately decided not to say anything as I did not want them to misunderstand or make them scared and uncomfortable.  Later that morning at Mass, I prayed that I had made the right choice.  Cleveland and Toledo are each only one hour away from Sandusky and both cities have reputations as gateways for human trafficking, being close to largely un-patroled international waters on Lake Erie.  The large volume of foreign students in the Sandusky area tourist workforce makes them an ideal target for the trade.

Only being in the country for five days, I don’t know if they were warned about those dangers or if they have the awareness necessary to stay safe. Hopefully that is something they know to be careful about.  But with the language barrier, I was afraid a friendly lecture might only confuse them into thinking I intended to abduct them rather than drive them to Kalahari.

Ultimately I was able to get them to work on time and we eventually understood each other enough to locate the correct drop off point at the employee entrance.  (If you’ve never been there, Kalahari is a pretty big place with a lot of potential drop off points!)  I was still able to get back home in time to shower and make it to 10:00 Mass.  After Mass, we bought some mulch, soil, and flowers and a few new bird feeders.  We got the front garden weeded, planted, and mulched and made some progress (but not finished) in the side and back yards; and still had time to cook dinner and visit with our older daughter and her brother. In the process, our younger daughter was able to discover that she does like steamed crab legs in small quantities.  That will be good to know in advance of our trip to Ocean City later this summer!

What would have happened had I decided to be lazy Sunday morning and stayed inside? Would these girls have found someone else to help them get to their jobs? Would they have been fired two days into the job? Maybe, maybe not… Was it just coincidence that they encountered me just a few minutes short of going back inside?  Was it just coincidence that the clover had grown so thick along the fence line — which kept me out there longer than I had originally planned?

Praise God!!! (and continued prayers for my Ukrainian passengers and all foreign workers willing to take the service jobs at a pay scale that so many able bodied young workers in this country simply turn up their noses at).

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“Back” Home

I grew up in the Steubenville, Ohio area and still enjoy making the 3 hour drive back home to see the old haunts now and again.  I don’t do it as often as I should or that I would like. Whether it is a family reunion or a class reunion or a holiday or just because, home is always home. It is amazing how often I am reminded directly and specifically of home through encounters that happen 150 miles away.

I spent countless hours as a child and teenager in my back yard with an old basketball and an older backboard and rim bolted to yet an even older tree/pole. I was not an athlete in school.  With a little bit of effort and a lot of perseverance, I may have been able to ride the bench on the school basketball team, but I was more interested in the less structured “backyard ball”.  I still remember that old hoop that my uncle — Tom Beany — put together years before. I suppose it was for my older cousins when they were boys, I don’t really remember that far back.  He found a perfectly straight tree with a “Y” shaped crook at about the right height and bolted a backboard and rim onto the crook bracing it with a 4×4 block of wood. I was just a kid when my cousins had outgrown it or lost interest and I had always begged my parents for a hoop, so somehow I inherited that old wooden pole hoop!

I still remember helping my dad to dig a hole in the ground near the edge of our yard.  Dad and Phil Lunger, who lived across the street raised that behemoth into place and I spent thousands of hours over the next decade plus hoisting up shot after shot at that rim.  I recall that the first very first shot of the day would usually clank hard off of the backboard and usually sent a poor songbird screeching away in terror after my rude and unannounced intrusion violently rocked her nest — improvidently constructed in an old tree crook with the added protection provided by a large flat board on one side and a 4×4 block of wood on the other.  I often started my marathon basketball sessions with a sprinting heave from 25 feet away with little to no chance of going in, but a strong likelihood of a jarring collision with the backboard!  It wasn’t until after the bird’s angry departure that I would remember someone lived on the other side of that hoop! Ironically, even though my intrusion was a regular occurrence, that same bird (or one just like her) continued to build/return to that same nesting spot year after year.  I guess my rude interruptions were a favorable tradeoff for the other security the spot provided.

{PHOTO PLACEHOLDER —> I am trying to locate an old
photograph of that hoop to insert here}

Not being a participant in school athletics, I didn’t develop very strong relationships with any of the coaches in high school outside of the classroom. I had several coaches as teachers over the course of my four years in high school: Yanok, Radakovitch, Opatkin, Bahen, Fararr…  They each had different teaching styles and varying limits of what you could “get away” with. I could probably tell stories about each one of them, but that’s not really what this blog post is about.  I had Coach Fararr for an Economics class my senior year.  I recall him being a fun teacher and generally not too harsh.  Maybe just ‘coincidence’ but the two independent memories I still recall from Coach Fararr’s class 25 years later have nothing to do with economics or any course instruction, but instead relate to getting him off topic.

One was the time someone in class managed to get him off topic and spend almost the entire class period discussing stories about his prior employment as a security guard at the amusement park in his home town of Sandusky, Ohio.  Of course, that now is one of my family’s summer “go to fun spots — we are patiently awaiting the new 2016 season opening only a week away!

The other was the time all of the boys in the senior class not on the football team wore flannel shirts and ties (in place of our uniform dress shirts) on the day that our football team was to play Jefferson Union High School. J.U. was a school that drew its students from a more rural part of the county — many of whom were farmers or at least lived in farming communities.  So someone came up with the idea of wearing flannel shirts to school as a school spirit/joke kind of thing.  The team always wore their football jerseys to school over top of uniform clothes on game days, so they weren’t really included.  We didn’t have specific uniform clothes colors that we had to wear — just a shirt and tie and dress pants. So plaid flannel shirts were still within the dress code and all of the non-football players wore their flannel best that day to school.  Being an assistant football coach, I recall Coach Fararr having a good laugh and a very positive reaction to our showing of support and solidarity, while still remaining within the spirit of the dress code.

I don’t recall my final grade for Economics that year, but I know I did fairly well.  I’m not sure how much longer Coach Fararr taught at CCHS, but at some point during or soon after my college years, he’d moved on to another teaching job in some other location.  To be honest, I didn’t really keep in touch with many of my teachers after high school — I probably had a stronger ongoing relationship with the cafeteria lunch ladies!

Fast forward ten years to 1999.  In the summer or fall of that year, we had our ten year class reunion and it was a good time getting back in touch with some friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while.  As everyone shared their updates and experiences, I relayed my news that I had recently graduated from law school and was living and working in Sandusky, Ohio.  I got a few responses along the lines of: “Oh yeah! Coach Fararr was from there! You probably go to Cedar Point all the time.  Remember the times he would spend entire class periods telling stories about working there as a security guard?”  I had to admit to everyone that I had not visited Cedar Point at all because all of my free time was devoted to studying for the bar exam!

I am a bit fuzzy on the exact timing of the next event because I have no independent recollection of it and the details come from my mother. At some point over the next several years, my parents were up to Sandusky for a weekend visit.  If you know anything about Sandusky’s geography and layout, you would know that Route 250 is the main thoroughfare in town for shopping and dining.  Route 250 snakes generally in a southeast direction from Sandusky through the heart of Ohio amish country, and ultimately runs through Cadiz, Ohio (Clark Gable’s birthplace) which is about 20 miles from Steubenville — so most trips to and from Sandusky/Steubenville are spent traveling Route 250 virtually the entire way.  This is a beautiful summer drive if you’re ever looking for one.

At the time of that visit from my folks, I was living in an apartment a few blocks away from 250 just beyond a local Sandusky church.  The weekend ended and dreaded Monday arrived. I got showered and dressed and left for work and my parents gathered up their things and started their trek back home on 250.  But just before they got to 250, they saw a church bazaar advertised at that church just beyond my apartment complex.  On a whim, with no hard schedule deadlines, they decided to stop and browse the tables of wares.

As mom tells the story (dad has since passed and even alive he would not have remembered the details), she was at one end of the area and dad was at the other end enthusiastically waving her over to meet someone.  It was not uncommon for my dad to strike up conversations with complete strangers for no particular reason, so it was not surprising that he was talking to this woman he had never met before. The best my mom could figure, he somehow started talking to this woman behind one of the tables, likely with an opening line something like: “We’re not from around here, we are just visiting my son, he’s an attorney.”  Maybe he volunteered, or maybe she asked, either way – she discovered that my parents were from Steubenville.  She then likely replied that her son used to teach at a Catholic school in Steubenville and my dad soon discovered that he had struck up a conversation with one Mrs. Fararr.  Upon my mom joining them, they then proceeded to talk for several hours — as mom tells it, at least as long as it would have taken them to drive home had they not stopped “just for a few minutes to take a look.” Through the course of that conversation, Coach Fararr’s mom told my parents that he was teaching/living in a small town on 250 (which coincidentally is just about the exact midpoint between Sandusky and Steubenville).  She apparently told my parents the exact street and house where he lived and even encouraged them to just stop and ring the doorbell on their way past — that he would be so happy to get a visit from someone from Steubenville.  My dad, being the way he was, probably would have stopped and rung that doorbell without a second thought… but they really only knew of him and didn’t actually know him on a “stop unannounced many years removed” basis.  So that 250 reunion has never taken place.

I cannot recall whether I have blogged about my wife’s chronic back problems, but it is something that she lives with everyday — some are better, some are worse.  She is able to treat it with medication and massage therapy and periodic chiropractic treatment.  She has been treating with a local chiropractor, Dr. Marty, for a while and at some point a year or two ago, she went in for an adjustment just before or just after a difficult car trip to Steubenville.  That drive came up in discussion of her treatment and the doctor told her that a friend of his from high school used to teach in Steubenville… (Yep, same guy!)  He had been down to Steubenville a few times when Coach Fararr was still there, so he and my wife have periodically swapped Steubenville stories.

Mom came up to visit us for Easter weekend this year and we discussed with her some short and long term plans for her house and the possibilities of downsizing to an apartment with less maintenance and yard work.  She ended up taking our daughter back home with her on Easter Monday to spend her spring break week together.  That same week, I began treating with Dr. Marty in effort to alleviate some leg and foot issues I’ve been having.  So during my treatment visits I’ve discussed my former high school and hometown with him as well.  I had a Friday afternoon treatment a month or so ago, with the plan to drive down and pick up my daughter afterward at the end of her week with my mom.

I drove down and severely tweaked something in my low back while moving some furniture for mom on Friday evening, which put me out of commission for the rest of the weekend.  It was in discussing my chiropractic treatment with mom and Dr. Marty’s friendship with Coach Fararr that she reminded me of the above story with Mrs. Fararr and dad.  We talked some more about downsizing her house and things that could stay and go if she moved into something smaller.  One of the things we talked about was wall space and her large framed scenic paintings, some of which she was still trying to decipher the artists’ signatures.  There is a beautiful waterfront/sunset scene on her living room wall that I always liked, but wasn’t sure of its origins.  Just out of the blue I asked her “Where did that painting come from anyway?”  She laughed and said that she and dad bought that painting/frame when they were in Sandusky at the church sale when they met Mrs. Fararr. How’s that for a coincidence?!?

I had a followup visit with Dr. Marty the following week.  He was able to fit me into his schedule one morning before I had to be to the office.  I had a court appearance scheduled for that afternoon — just a minor routine matter for a local church which took all of five minutes, but courtroom decorum still requires wearing a suit jacket and tie for those five minutes.  Rather than get fully formally dressed (who wants to get on the chiropractor’s table in a dress shirt and tie?) I arrived at my appointment in sweat pants and a t-shirt, which prompted Dr. Marty to ask if I had the day off.  I explained my outfit and that I intended to change into a suit after my adjustment.  I told him about my back injury the weekend prior and about my mother’s story of meeting Mrs. Fararr.  As I was finishing up my visit, Dr. Marty’s next patient came in — a deacon from the church I was representing in court that very afternoon!  When he realized we knew each other, Dr. Marty commented on how funny it was — living in a small world where we are all interconnected.  Perhaps his comment also had something to do with the fact he was leaving for Florida for a few days to attend a friend’s wedding and was going to be in roughly the same area where our older daughter now lives and works.  He had been a regular at the local Applebee’s restaurant where our daughter worked before moving to Florida so they knew each other well.

Not to be confused with a popular sit-com that ended a couple years ago — in the precursor to this web blog, I tell the story about how I met my wife.  The short version is that we worked on a retreat team together at church.  I’ll never forget my first experience with that retreat ministry in 2001.  This was before I met my wife.  As a participant, I was assigned to a table with a few other people.  I briefly touched on that retreat experience in a blog post from several years ago, but left this part out.  Even though it was a God-Incident, it did not really add to that particular story, but it comes into play here…

In 2001, I was still a relative newcomer to Sandusky.  I’d been here a few years, but most of my circle of friends still came from the few people I worked with and some of the people who attended my church. As I encountered different people through my office duties, I had some dealings with an attorney who worked at the county courthouse to help mediate cases.  It turns out that Nancy was also a member of Sts. Peter & Paul and she was part of the retreat team when I was a new participant at the spring 2001 retreat. As part of the early sharing, everyone was encouraged to introduce themselves and give some basic personal information. Nancy had lived most of her life in Sandusky, but for whatever reason, she commented that she was originally born in Steubenville!  I was a little bit surprised, so after introductions were done and we were invited to get a little more familiar with those at our assigned tables, I commented on how ironic it was that Nancy mentioned being from MY hometown.  That was when Ford said, “Wait a minute, you’re from Steubenville too?”

Ford then talked about how his family moved from the Steubenville area up to Sandusky many years before. He asked me about my family and some other details.  He didn’t recognize the Lucas name, but when I told him my mom’s maiden name, which isn’t very common, he asked if she had a “Tom” in her family.  It turned out that Ford’s dad and my uncle, whom I have to thank for my hours upon hours upon hours of backyard basketball, were best friends in their younger days.  Ford later remarked that he wasn’t even supposed to be at the retreat that weekend.  Someone else on the team had gotten sick at the last moment and they needed Ford to step in to take his place.  Had Nancy not mentioned her Steubenville connection, had the other gentleman not fallen ill, had I been assigned to a different retreat table — I might have never known Ford’s connection.  (I later learned that he was also related in some way to my mother’s best friend from grade school through high school and still to this day lives right down the street from mom).


Last week I had another pre-work morning adjustment scheduled with Dr. Marty. We talked about his Florida trip – unfortunately unable to make a connection with our daughter at the Florida Applebee’s she transferred to.  At some point, somehow our conversation turned to the topic of high school class reunions and our various experiences with them. Dr. Marty’s next patient came in while we were talking.  My back was turned and my eyeglasses were not yet back on my face (I can’t see far away without them so I couldn’t see the face of the next person coming in).  Dr. Marty said, “C’mon back, Ford.  I’ll be with you in just a minute.” as he continued to talk to me about his last class reunion.

Ford heard the conclusion of our conversation and volunteered that he had a class reunion of his own coming up pretty soon. He said he would be heading back home to see some friend from his old alma mater — J.U.  Yes, it certainly is a small world, isn’t it? Don’t forget your flannel shirt, Ford!

Praise God!!!

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Stations in Life

We are in the season of Lent.  I often forego the traditional practice of sacrificing, or giving up, something for Lent, but instead try to do something proactive to help other people during that time.  In our parish, we also promote performing Random Acts of Kindness whenever possible.  While these practices can be fulfilling, still it is sometimes quite easy to get caught up in ourselves and forget to take the extra effort.  For that reason, I decided to return to the traditional Lenten sacrifice this year, while continuing to look for situations where I can be more selfless.

I’ve also committed to attend weekly Wednesday evening sessions at my church during Lent this year. At 5:30 each Wednesday, our parish presents a prayerful Stations of the Cross in the church, followed by a light meal of soup and bread in the Gathering Space and a lecture session by one of our parish priests. I’ve attended these Wednesday Lenten sessions for many years with my wife and daughter, although we missed several last year during the weeks that followed my father’s death and funeral.

As a side note, but important to the story, I have two nephews and a niece through my sister and her husband.  They are currently in their teenage and preteen years.  They live three hours away, so we do not often see each other outside of holidays or other special events, but I do send birthday cards every year to each of them on their special days. I’ve always included money with their birthday cards, but about ten years ago, I decided it would be a good/fun idea each year to include an amount of cash equal to the age they turned on that birthday. So that has become a tradition for my wife and I.  Over the years, all three kids have become very excited with the expectation each year — even though it HAS led to some counting of chickens before the eggs have hatched.  Last year at a family gathering for dinner, my niece commented on something she wanted to buy for herself and that the money she had already saved, plus the birthday money she would be getting from us, would cover it with X dollars left over.  (This was about 3 months BEFORE her next birthday, but she was already factoring in that birthday cash amount!)

So on Wednesday of this week, I was at work and got a text message from my mother. She had been having some major computer issues recently (with a computer which was just brand new in late January).  I was on the phone with her for a while on Tuesday evening, but we were unable to resolve the problems.  However, her Wednesday morning text informed me that after saying a prayer that morning, her computer did an automatic update and everything seemed to be working fine again.  So I called her from work when I had a free moment Wednesday afternoon just to make sure everything was still working well.  After we got through that discussion, she began to talk to me about her daily happenings which is not unusual.  She had gone to morning Mass and stopped at the dollar store to pick up a birthday card for my nephew.

My mind immediately began racing… What day is this? Are we into March already? How did I forget? Finally I asked my mom in a panic, what day is his birthday? I had been so wrapped up in other things that I just plain forgot! She told me that Ryan’s birthday was on Friday and that I had better have 13 dollars for him!

Relieved that I hadn’t missed it, and thankful for the coincidence in calling mom that afternoon and her decision to mention something as mundane as buying a birthday card for Ryan, I developed a plan in my head. I had to be at church by 5:30 that evening for Stations of the Cross, so working backward from that deadline, and realizing that I already needed to get something mailed out for work which required an inside counter visit at the post office, I arranged to leave work at 4:20 to go and buy a birthday card to get into Wednesday’s outgoing mail which should result in delivery on his birthday Friday.

As I left work closer to 4:30, I realized that I would be cutting it close because I did not have enough cash on hand to put into the birthday card.  I rarely carry ANY cash with me because I seldom NEED it and without any I am less likely to spend it on things that I don’t need.  As it happens, I DID have four dollars in my money clip, but not enough to buy a card AND add $13 to the envelope. Because this meant I would have to make multiple stops before the card would be ready for mailing, I decided to hit the post office first to make sure I got my work related mail out before 5:00.  Although the inside service counter closes at 5:00, the last pickup from the mail boxes is not until 5:15, so I could always swing back with the finished birthday card afterward and still get it out that day.

I did my first post office drop, then drove to a dollar store around the corner and found something appropriate in their card section.  Having that small amount of cash on hand, I just paid for the card with a few dollars from that cash.  In hindsight, I suppose I could have used a debit card and asked for cash back, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I also didn’t contemplate at the time that would have made things much simpler and moved me along my other subsequent stops more quickly  — which would have never led to the events which inspired this blog post…

My bank has a ATM/branch nearby, so I waited in that line (and there WAS a line ahead of me) to get a $20 bill. A few hundred yards further is a Kroger store, so I decided to pop in and buy a package of snack crackers to break my $20.  As an added benefit I would then have a snack to take in to work the next day. (I gave up sugary snacks and desserts for Lent, but not the salty snacks!)  So by the time I got out of Kroger, in addition to the birthday card, I had a small carton of goldfish crackers and increments of cash which could be combined to make up the $13. I was less than half mile from the post office and it was not quite 5:00, so I decided to just sit in the parking lot and sign/address the card. Thankfully I already had a pen in my car’s ashtray. It was unseasonably warm for early March in northern Ohio, so I rolled my front windows down about ¼ of the way, turned on some talk radio, and got to it.  I just got the envelope sealed and addressed and was about to write my return address on it when I was startled by a woman’s voice calling out to me “Sir?” from the parking lot.

A 30 something young black woman apologized for startling me and then proceeded to tell me that she had been panhandling at the Kroger store and asked me if I had any money I could spare for food.  This is the same Kroger store where I had an earlier encounter years ago, described here: the same store location which will be closing in a few short weeks when a newly built and larger Kroger store opens up down the street.

This woman was eating a bag of corn chips and apologized when a small bit of chewed up chip spewed from her lips onto the outside of my car window.  She then told me that she had been at the homeless shelter and got into a fight with a white woman there who called her and her children the N word (although she used the actual word in relating the story to me).  She said she was not going to lie to me and that she had been taken to jail for it and spent three days there.  She also told me that the authorities at the shelter informed her that she was not welcome to come back.

I had already put the $13 birthday money in the card and sealed that envelope, but I reached down to my feet and grabbed the extra six dollars from my Kroger purchase and gave it to the woman through my window.  I told her that was all that I had at the time, but that she was welcome to it. She was very gracious and asked me if I knew of any other place in town where she could get assistance.  I asked her if she had tried visiting any of the local churches.  She indicated that she had, but they had all told her that they couldn’t help because of being low on funds, but that she didn’t really know what that meant.

The woman then asked me if I would be able to give her a ride. I was instinctively very cautious at being asked that question, but something made me pause.  I considered telling her, “Sorry, I have a few errands to run and someplace to be” — both of which were true, and not simply excuses to refuse her request.  But instead, for whatever reason, I asked her where it was she needed to go.  She responded with the name of a neighborhood that I recognized.  It is not in a good part of town and generally has a negative reputation in town. I’m not overly familiar with it myself, but I knew exactly where it was which was only about a mile or so away from where we were at the time.  I glanced at the clock, quickly weighed the situation and my prospects of getting my nephew’s birthday card mailed out in time, and I told the woman, “Sure. I can give you a ride.”  She smiled and thanked me and said there was a woman there she had stayed with before and thought that she might be able to get some help from her.

As I cleared off my passenger seat, the woman got in with her corn chips and a small knapsack.  As we pulled out of the parking lot, she told me that she was a Christian and showed me a small book or prayers someone had given to her. She said she hadn’t always been a Christian and that she used to worship Satan because nobody had ever told her before when she was growing up that that was wrong. Next she pulled out a plastic drink mixing cup that she said a “nice white… caucasian woman” had given to her with some tea.  She said she did not realize it was a cup for mixing alcoholic drinks and that she wondered why she got so many strange looks from other people as she drink tea from that cup, until somebody finally informed her that it wasn’t a tea cup, but a mixed drink mixer.

She then thanked me again for helping her and told me that a lot of people wouldn’t have agreed to give her a ride because “you’re not supposed to do that sort of thing — it’s not always safe” that you never know if you can trust somebody.  She also admitted that she could just as easily be in danger by asking for/accepting a ride from a stranger.  She said she didn’t know for sure that I wasn’t a crazy person, but that she felt like she could trust me after I was so kind to her in the Kroger parking lot.  I laughed a bit and told her that I wasn’t a crazy person, even as I wondered internally why she felt it necessary to raise those issues in the first place and whether I made a mistake in agreeing to give her a ride.

She showed me a cell phone with a shattered screen but still worked that someone had given to her.  And she let me know that it had some prepaid minutes on it. She also sort of whispered out loud — didn’t really say to me directly — as we drove past a Burger King, McDonalds, and Taco Bell that said she should probably make sure that she had something for her children to eat and she hoped that nobody was going to turn her in to children’s services.  I wondered for a split second whether I should offer to buy her a few hamburgers or to let HER buy them with her six dollars, and perhaps I should have, but I was in the wrong lane of traffic to pull in to those restaurants, so I continued to drive to her requested destination.

Just a few seconds later we approached the neighborhood where she was going and she directed me through a few streets to get to her destination.  As I pulled to the curb, she thanked me again and shook my hand.  She said, “God bless you” and I told her that he always does and replied in kind.  As I drove away, I still had a few minutes to get my nephew’s birthday card into the mail boxes at the post office.  I then stopped back at home to change into some more comfortable pants and shoes and got to the church right at 5:30.

I have no way to know for sure the true reality of this woman’s story. Was she going to use the few dollars I gave to her to buy food for her children or would it go toward something else?  Were there other issues with her children which would cause her to casually comment to a stranger about protective services? Was it really just tea that she was drinking earlier in her cup? Was there more to the story about her altercation at the homeless shelter or the shattered cell phone?  Was she really a former worshipper of Satan?  Was I just a “mark”?

As we prayed through the Stations of the Cross, using the same booklet that we have used for years at our parish, a few of the reflection prayers that we all recite as a group spoke a little bit louder to me this time.  I have reprinted a few of those below.

Fifth Station – Simon helps Jesus
Jesus, our brother,
We have to admire Simon.
He took up your cross and followed you.
He had so little doubt, so little hesitation.
We see you suffering in all around us,
in the poor, in the powerless,
in the misunderstood.
We are so hesitant to come to your aid.
We find so many excuses.
We remain aloof.
Grant us the wisdom and the courage
to help the least of your brothers and sisters
and so help you.

Sixth Station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Jesus, our brother,
You rewarded Veronica for her courage.
You left your face upon her veil.
You will reward us for our courage,
you will leave the imprint of your face
upon our lives.
“By this will all know
that you are my disciples:
that you love one another.”
Help us to forget our fears and reach out
to serve our needy brothers and sisters.

Eighth Station – Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
Jesus, our brother,
In the midst of your sufferings
you had compassion
for others and their pain.
We are often so self-centered.
We do not see the suffering of others.
We want pity, kindness, and understanding.
We are willing to give so little in return.
Help us forget ourselves.
Awaken us to the pain
in the lives of others.

Tenth Station – Jesus is stripped of his garments
Jesus, our brother,
There is something fearful
in thinking of you stripped before the crowd.
Even the privacy of clothing is taken.
You have given up everything for us.
We give so little in return.
May we have the grace to give,
to give of what we have,
to help our brothers and sisters
suffering all around us.

Eleventh Station – Jesus is nailed to the Cross
Jesus, our brother,
the pain of those nails was unjust.
Your hands which did such good,
your feet which walked on errands of mercy,
are now punished.
You received little gratitude
for the good you did.
Why should we expect more for the good we do?
Help us give and ask nothing in return.

Twelfth Station – Jesus dies on the Cross
Jesus, our brother,
You have the greatest love for us.
What can we say in the face of it?
We can only try to imitate you,
by responding to
the brothers and sisters
you have given us to love.

After completing Stations of the Cross, we moved into the other room for soup. Each week, they have a goodwill offering basket for participants to leave donations to defray the costs of the soup, salad, and bread provided.  As I mentioned above, I rarely ever carry cash with me.  On the other hand, my wife often does, so in years past, I’ve always just relied on her to drop a few dollars in the basket at Soup & Prayer on Wednesdays during Lent.  But this year I’ve been going solo because Wednesday has become one of our daughter’s dance class evenings and my wife stays at the studio to volunteer in the studio office on our daughter’s dance nights. Each of the previous Wednesdays this year, I’ve forgotten to bring any money with me to donate to the cause.

On this particular Wednesday I would have had change from my store purchase, but I gave it to the woman in the Kroger parking lot instead.  As I was sitting at the table waiting for our turn to go up to the soup and bread table, I was a little bit discouraged that I failed to keep a dollar from my change to add to the pot, but quickly decided that my interaction with the woman and offering her a few dollars was more important than adding a few more dollars to the already full goodwill offering basket at the church. It was then that I remembered the change I gave to the woman at Kroger was just sitting on the floor of my car after I pulled out the birthday card bills from my store change.  I had forgotten that there were still two dollars left from my original money clip/pocket change that I used to buy the card.  That money clip was in my jacket pocket and still had $2.00 in it, so I WAS able to make an additional offering this week.

If I had not called my mother, chances are I would have missed getting Ryan’s birthday card mailed out in time. If I’d had enough cash to put $13.00 into his birthday card of if I’d just gotten cash back at the dollar store where I bought the card, I would have never driven to the Kroger store where I lingered for a bit in the parking lot.  If the weather had been colder like it traditionally should’ve been in early March, I would have been bundled up with the windows rolled up as I sat in the parking lot.  If I had let fear or prejudice impact my response to a woman asking for help, those words of prayer during Stations of the Cross would have likely haunted me.

Sometimes, it only takes a simple gesture of kindness and compassion to make a difference.  As I said above, I don’t know if my few dollars to the woman were used for selfless or selfish purposes on her part.  But she was a reminder to me that I can always do better when it comes to being charitable.  It just sometimes takes a gentle reminder — a reminder from Jesus on the Cross.

Praise God!!!

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Thankful Prayers

Several years ago, I found myself in the local emergency room suffering from what turned out to be a kidney stone attack. In the process of scanning me for kidney stones, they also discovered gallstones. Because the gallstones weren’t causing me any problems at the time, I was advised to just leave them alone as long as they weren’t bothering me.  So I left them alone and passed my kidney stone after a few days of misery.

In early September of this year, one morning as I was getting ready for work, I experienced some severe stomach pain and difficulty breathing. If it wasn’t for a court appearance scheduled for later that morning, I would have gone to the ER.  But I decided to try to ride it out.  Coincidentally (as if there really was such a thing as coincidences) my pain subsided 15 minutes before my court hearing. The appearance was short and sweet and I was back at my office in half an hour.  Within five minutes of my return, the stomach discomfort rose up again.  By lunchtime, I was resting back at home scheduling an appointment with my family doctor for the next day. When I woke up mid-afternoon after a short nap, the pain was gone and I truly felt good as new.

I kept my appointment even though I wasn’t in any discomfort.  Some poking and prodding didn’t reveal any issues, but blood work results with elevated liver enzymes and an ultrasound confirmed that I was having gallbladder issues and my doctor decided to refer me to a surgeon. Unfortunately, the surgeon’s schedule wouldn’t allow my visit until early October.  I did tell my doctor that if I needed to have any procedures done, that I would like to get something scheduled before the end of the year since everything should be covered 100% after meeting my insurance deductible with the sleep apnea testing.

Aside from the initial attack and a very severe case of nausea the following week, I really only experienced irregular onset of stomach pain and discomfort.  It was difficult at times, but still manageable for the most part.  In fact, I was still able (most of the time) to continue visiting Cedar Point and riding rides with my daughter.

Every year in late October, my sister-in-law hosts a Hallowine party at her home outside of Cincinnati. We weren’t committed to going this year, but with our daughter’s new-found love of roller coasters coupled with the fact that our Cedar Point passes also allowed us free entry into Kings Island, we were really hoping to make a trip down there this year to spend an evening at that park.  Assuming that my surgery would be scheduled around mid October, we arranged for an early October visit a few weeks before the Hallowine party, when both of our daughters could go.  Our 24 year old had decided over the summer to transplant herself to Florida when her apartment lease was up in November, so this became a last hurrah outing for the entire family before her departure.

Between a cold and rainy Friday and Saturday, we managed to ride most of the rides at Kings Island and I only had mild discomfort driving.  I then met with the surgeon the following week and he scheduled my surgery for November 4th — not as quick as I had hoped, but on the bright side, this allowed us to visit Cedar Point a few more times before they closed for the season and it also gave us the opportunity to return to southwestern Ohio for the Hallowine weekend and another night at Kings Island the weekend of October 20th.

It really was a special time as my wife’s oldest sister celebrated a milestone birthday and four of the five sisters were able to be there together to celebrate with her.  Spread across the country, it is very rare for all five to be in the same place at the same time, so taking liberties to paraphrase Meatloaf four out of five ain’t bad.

Over the weekend of our second Kings Island visit, my wife received news that our friend, Sue, back in Sandusky, had fallen and broke her leg. Sue was another of my wife’s bible study members — I blogged about their group leader, Betty, a few years back. Upon further examination, Sue’s doctors discovered that it happened the other way around. Unbeknownst to Sue, her bones were full of cancer and her leg broke as she was walking causing her to fall.  It was then that her doctors also discovered spots on her lungs and other organs and she was given a diagnosis of stage four cancer.

My gallbladder removal surgery on November 4th was supposed to be done laparoscopically and as an out-patient basis.  But when my surgeon went in with the scope (as I understand it) a rather large gallstone was right up against the bile duct and blocked his view/access, so he had to open up a full incision to remove my gallbladder.  I wasn’t aware of it yet, but my out-patient procedure had turned into a hospital stay of a few days.

I was pretty groggy coming out of recovery as they wheeled my bed up to a room. My wife tried to explain to me what happened and that I would be staying a few days. I recall trying pretty hard to comprehend her at the time, but I was still pretty loopy from the anesthesia. My extended stay gave my wife the opportunity to visit Sue for a short time that evening. Given how she feels about being in hospitals, she probably would not have had a chance to visit Sue had I been sent home the same day as originally planned.  I asked her to send my positive thoughts to Sue and offered up (Sue was in a room one floor above mine) a prayer or two as I drifted in and out of conscious thought.

I was going to visit Sue myself once I became mobile, but upon my discharge from the hospital on Friday I was not able to go up to see her. My mobility was still quite limited that first week home as I was still under the influence of pain medication and unable to get back over to the hospital.  Sue died on the following Saturday.

I started back to work for half days on the Monday after Sue passed.  On Wednesday, I had a two week followup visit with my surgeon and had my staples removed two hours before Sue’s calling hours at the funeral home.  On the Thursday a week before Thanksgiving, I took the morning off to attend Sue’s funeral with my wife. This was the first funeral I’d experienced since my father’s 9 months before and the emotion of it caught me a bit off guard.

Five different priests (presently or formerly assigned to our parish) celebrated Sue’s life.  I cannot remember ever seeing that many priests celebrate a funeral of a lay person. It was clear that these priests were there, not because they were Sue’s current and former pastors, but because Sue was their friend.

It was our former pastor Fr. Frank who eulogized Sue with his homily. He mentioned how thankful he was to have had the chance to visit with Sue a few different times while she was in the hospital and to talk to her about the trials she was going through.  Among many other things, he talked about Sue’s faith and prayer life. He talked about her acceptance of the illness that took her so quickly upon its first diagnosis. He talked about meeting with her family after her death and their discussions about Sue’s prayer notebook where she wrote all of the special intentions that she prayed for every single morning.  Fr. Frank’s homily caused me to take an introspective look at my own personal prayer life and how lacking it has become when compared to what it could or should be.  I realized at that moment how far short I am falling — letting other distractions keep me from achieving the personal prayer life that God calls each one of us to.

After Sue’s funeral, the parish had a luncheon for Sue’s family and friends.  I had the opportunity to briefly speak with our two prior Pastors, Fr. Frank and Fr. Marty.  By this time — two full weeks after surgery — I was walking about freely with very little discomfort and without my protection pillow. So I was a little bit surprised when Frank asked me if I had had surgery recently. I explained to him what happened and the coincidence that I was in the same hospital at the same time as Sue for a couple of days during my recovery. That was when Fr. Frank said that it was Sue who told him during one of his visits that I’d had some surgery and had been in the hospital. Even in her final life struggles, she was not solely focused on her own suffering.

Just over a month ago, Sue had no idea what she was in for and was probably starting to plan how she would celebrate Thanksgiving with her family.  In just a few weeks’ time, Sue was no longer with us.  Life is short.  We never truly know how much time we have left.

I did my half day at work last Thursday in the afternoon after Sue’s funeral. I prepared a document which I needed to file in the local municipal court — which requires a short 5 minute drive from my office.  I considered taking it at 1:00 when it was initially ready, but I had another client appointment scheduled for 2:00 which still required some additional preparation from me.  I decided to wait.  I considered taking it at 2:45 when my client meeting was finished, but a question from a co-worker and the resulting discussion delayed that decision.  I later glanced up at the clock and realized at 3:15 that my time was running out to get to the courthouse before its 4:00 closing.  As I hopped into my car for the short drive, my radio was already tuned in to Annunciation Radio.  While stopped at a traffic light, I heard a quote/question which I believe was closely tied to (and just may have come from) Sue. I wasn’t initially listening all that closely, so I missed the context of the story, but believe the station host was speaking with a priest from the Diocese of Toledo.  He may have been talking about getting a point across to school children, but it really was a universal point which further drove home the message to me earlier in the day.

I may be paraphrasing slightly, but the gist is the same:  “What would you do if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

Is there a more powerful illustration of how important it is for us to make daily prayer a central focus in our lives?  Is there a stronger statement than this to demonstrate how easy it can be for us to take for granted the things and people we hold dear?

The following Monday before Thanksgiving, I had a parish committee meeting for the social concerns ministry that I am involved with.  One of the committee members made Christmas CDs for everyone and our parish staff member on the team gave some appreciation gifts to everyone.  They were wrapped and I do not know if they were different items for different members, but when I opened mine up at home, I saw this:


Message received.

Praise God!!!

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See Pop, CPAP

I’ve never been in top physical condition and have had my share of minor issues over the years, but I try to stay active and I thank God as often as I can for the blessing of good health which I have had in general.  I did not visit the doctor very often or regularly after high school.  I felt okay and rarely had any problems, so I figured it wasn’t really all that necessary.  For a number of years after college I didn’t have any health insurance.  I worked in a small office which didn’t offer any employee coverage.  When I did finally wise up and got an individual policy, it wasn’t the best, but it was there in the event of a catastrophe.

After I met my wife, but before we were married and not yet covered under her insurance, she talked me into going in for a check-up.  By this time, I was well settled into a desk job and had added a few pounds onto my old high school weight.  The doctor let me know that my blood pressure was a little high and he eventually put me onto a prescription to control it.  That was over ten years ago and I am still taking blood pressure medicine and in a constant battle with the bulging waistline, but both have remained under relative control.

In May of this year, my blood pressure prescription needed refilled. When we called it in to the doctor’s office, they reported that the doctor needed to see me for a visit before he could refill the prescription. As part of that routine visit, he ordered blood lab work which disclosed a few elevated levels which warranted a follow-up visit.  Two of those results had simple fixes that I won’t get into, but a third result gave him a bit more concern and he referred me to a hematologist to determine why my red blood cell count was abnormally high (the technical term for it that I learned that day = polycythemia).

In June, I saw the hematologist and she laid out all of the possibilities (some of which were a bit scary), but I had done a little bit of research on my own and gave her my “suspicions” that I might be suffering from sleep apnea.  Although not a definitive sign of sleep apnea on its own, I’ve always been a shoe-in finalist if anyone ever came up with a snoring contest. My mom had been bugging me for years to go and get tested, but it is just so darn expensive.  Even with better insurance coverage (which has gotten progressively worse each year) through my wife’s employer, I always was reluctant to make the call.

Now that decision was no longer mine to make.  It turns out that a sleep study is one of the standard tests ordered when trying to diagnose the cause of polycythemia.  After ruling out a few other possible causes through more specific blood tests, I was on to my third doctor specializing in sleep disorders.  I was scheduled for an overnight sleep study in July to determine whether I have sleep apnea.  The morning after my procedure, the technician advised me to buy flowers and chocolate on my way home to give to my wife based upon the snoring she observed that night!

I got confirmation a few weeks later of the diagnosis.  I was scheduled for a second sleep test with a CPAP machine to determine the pressure levels necessary to keep my airways open at night.  The procedure wasn’t completely foreign to me.  My dad was diagnosed with sleep apnea several years before he died and he used a CPAP machine every night himself up until his final illness.  So I went back again in August for the second study.

After the second study, I was given a few different options of medical equipment suppliers to secure my CPAP machine, mask, and accessories.  I made an appointment with one of them.  Because of the way our health insurance works, I qualified to get a CPAP machine for free once I met my deductible for the year.  Thanks to two separate sleep studies, that wasn’t going to be a problem, but because they were a bit slow in actually processing the billing, I was not yet officially qualified when I had my appointment with the medical equipment rep.

I knew I was going to surpass my deductible, but I also knew I wouldn’t get reimbursed if I paid out of pocket for a new CPAP machine if that transaction happened first.  Instead, it would just decrease the amount I owed to the sleep doctor and technicians.  I knew that I could make payment arrangements on the doctor bills, but that I could not take possession of my CPAP machine unless it was paid in full up front.

So I found myself in a quandary. I wanted to start the CPAP treatment as soon as possible to give it enough time to start regulating my apnea before my scheduled followup visit with the hematologist.  I figured the less time spent on the machine, the less chance it would have to affect my polycythemia before my visit.

The ultimate solution came when I called my mom and asked her if there was any chance that she still had Pop’s old CPAP machine.  I knew she had gotten rid of most of his medical equipment after he died, but it turned out that the one device she still had packed away in the closet was his CPAP machine.  Actually what he had was a BiPAP machine, but when I met with the medical equipment technician, she said that she could adjust the settings on it so that it acted as a CPAP instead of a BiPAP.

It was only a couple of weeks before the sleep study billing came through and I was able to return and claim my [free] CPAP machine.  It was only a couple of weeks that I used my dad’s old machine to transition over to my new sleeping procedure.  Of course, if dad was still alive at that time, that wouldn’t have been an option for me and I would have had to wait.  It wasn’t anything life threatening or critical, but it still was a helpful gesture from my dad from the grave.  By the time I went back to the hematologist in early October, my blood count had come back closer to the normal range.

Right up until the very end of his life, the first thing Pop always wanted to know when I saw or talked to him was “How are YOU doing?”  The last time that I spoke with him (over the telephone) where he was able to vocally respond to me, he asked me how I was doing.  I like to imagine what his reaction in Heaven must have been to see me using his machine to help keep me breathing at night — even if it was just for a few days until I could get a machine of my own. I am thankful that my mom kept his machine and that he was able to share it with me even after he was no longer here with me.
















See Pop? I’m using your CPAP!

Praise God!!!

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Family Time

(This entry was first drafted in late June of 2015, but I failed to finish or post it at the time. Adjustments and edits have been made with more to the story).

When I moved to the Sandusky, Ohio area in 1998, I was apprehensive on multiple levels as I settled into a new life phase and took on some relatively major life changes.  At the same time, I was grateful for the multiple graces and good fortune that came with the move.  I was fortunate to have found a good job and eventually found a fabulous parish family = two of the most important grounding factors necessary for a solid start in new and otherwise unfamiliar territory.

An added bonus exclusive to my “new hometown” not to be overlooked, is that it is also home to the best amusement park on the planet.  Cedar Point isn’t as well known as Disney World, but when it comes to roller coasters, you cannot find a better place in the world than Sandusky, Ohio!  Nine years prior to my relocation to Sandusky, I made my first and only prior visit to Cedar Point — during the summer of 1989 when Magnum XL-200, the world’s first roller coaster to eclipse the 200 foot mark, opened on the shores of Lake Erie.

Fast forward to 1998 again, I now found myself living in the shadows of this wonderful park! Although it took more than a full year of getting settled in to my new life before I would venture over to the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, I made quite a few trips to the park in 2000 when the Millennium Force coaster debuted.  I bought a season pass to the park for the next five years and promised myself that I would never take for granted the fact that I was five minutes away from a place that many would willingly drive hours upon hours just to visit for a day or two.

In 2003, I met my future wife and step-daughter.  We began dating in 2004.  I think the very first thing the 12 year old young lady ever said to me directly (the day of my very first date with her mother) was “Do you go over to Cedar Point very much?”  Of course I told her that I went over as often as I could.  But she and her mom didn’t have passes and the primary focus of how I spent my spare time soon changed from Cedar Point to these two ladies, so I did not go over to the park very often in 2004.  In the summer of 2005, we were saving up to finance a wedding, so I did not renew my season pass.  In the summer of 2006 my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, so we did not get season passes.  Over the next eight years, we made occasional visits to the park, but finances and other obligations/choices kept us from investing in season passes and single day admission ticket prices were also cost prohibitive.  We were able to change that in 2012 when we again got season passes, but we still did not make it over very often with a six year old who was afraid of most of the rides.  So we chose not to buy season passes in 2013 or 2014 thinking that we would still not get our money’s worth when money was very tight to begin with.

Earlier this summer we took a look at the season pass plans and options and decided to bite the bullet — season passes for the whole family. We had gone over at least ten times before the 4th of July weekend – including a visit on Father’s Day when I rode the GateKeeper for the very first time with my then 23 year old daughter!

Her 8 year old little sister was still terrified at the thought of riding any roller coaster in June, but by July she begged and pleaded with us on every visit to ride the Cedar Creek Mine Ride! Shortly after, the Iron Dragon became her absolute favorite.

I present that long introduction to share the joy that has come with the simple pleasure of spending quality time with my wife and daughters logging miles and miles of walking back and forth through the best amusement park in the world on a regular basis.  That introduction also lays the foundation for the “consequences” of walking a few extra evening miles on a warm Saturday evening in June.

With season passes, we were able go over to Cedar Point as often as we liked.  Even if we only stayed for an hour or two, we never felt like it was wasted time or money. Often we went over in the early or mid afternoon with the intention of only staying for an hour or two. Even with that plan, we often found ourselves still wandering around the park well into the night, even up to closing time!  That happened to us twice on a particular weekend in June.

When I first went to Cedar Point on a summer Saturday in 1989, I was able to withstand a full dawn to dusk day with little consequences, but I’ve noticed now as one of the “older folks,” late Saturday nights at Cedar Point can turn into sleep-in Sunday mornings.  So on that particular June weekend after two late nights, when I didn’t wake up on Sunday until after 9:00 and was the first one up, I knew we weren’t all going to make it to our usual 10:00 Mass.  I started to get cleaned up anyway and my other two ladies both got up while I was showering. We decided to go to the 10:30 Mass at another parish and we barely made it just as Mass was starting.  I spotted a half vacant pew near the back on the right side and we settled in.

Once before I blogged about a specific incident when our family attended a different weekend Mass than we normally do and the profound experience I had with the message delivered in the homily at that particular Mass.  Once again, we found ourselves at a different Mass than our usual — this time with a visiting priest who apparently was ministering at a young men’s retreat at Holy Angels parish.  Just before the first reading began, a young mother arrived with three young children in tow and found the empty pew right in front of us.

As Mass progressed, it was quite obvious that she had her hands very full.  The two older children (a boy and a girl who I would guess were maybe about 4 and 2 years old) had to be separated a number of times — each taking turns in the roles of instigator and victim. Meanwhile the youngest child (probably about or less than six months as I didn’t see any teeth) alternated between being fussy and content as his mother held him throughout the Mass.  In contrast to the profound message received from the homily of my earlier blog post, I was not able to hear a significant portion of this particular homily message due to the commotion in the pew in front of us.

Some people may have been annoyed by or disapproving of the older children’s behavior. They certainly were distracting  Had the mother just ignored them and let them run amok, I confess I may have fallen into this category.  But it was clear that she was attempting to juggle all three children and keep the older two in line and at peace with each other as best she could.  She did a much better job of it than I could have had I been in the same solo situation.  I found myself thinking that she could have chosen to not even bother coming to Mass.  Surely she knew that she might be in for a challenging 60 minutes or so. But rather than choose the easy way out, she took up the challenge and brought all three of her young children to be in the presence of Christ in the Word and in the Eucharist.

At one point while kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer (with the older brother tormenting his little sister), the little one spit out his pacifier.  I noticed it glance off the pew and roll under the pew two rows in front of us. The mother was trying to figure out where it had fallen, but it was out of her line of sight.  I whispered to my 8 year old to wait until it was time to stand back up and to then get up and retrieve it for her.  While still kneeling, the mother finally figured out where the pacifier went and tried in vain to reach for it with one arm while holding the little tyke in her other arm.  So my wife directed our daughter out to get it.

Within a few minutes, the little girl became a little bit loud and very defiant of her mother and it was clear that she needed some direct corrective measures.  In obvious desperation at the situation, the mother happened to make eye contact with my wife and asked her if she could hold her baby for a few minutes.  Without even waiting for a response, she handed him over while she marched the girl to the back hallway out of the church. They was gone for a good five minutes or more.  Without knowing us at all, this mother felt secure enough to hand over her small baby to a perfect stranger.  Thankfully, she was in a safe place with safe people, and I suppose she knew that or at least was comfortable enough. When Mass was over, we took a few minutes to chat and discovered that she was a former area resident now living in Michigan, in town for the weekend visiting her mother.  Her mother was not Catholic and so she did not attend Mass with them.  She told us how thankful she was for us being there and that she doesn’t know what she would have done in different circumstances.  Had we been disapproving of her children’s behavior rather than understanding and tolerant, surely she would not have been comfortable handing over her young baby.

On our way out the door, my wife turned to me and said, “I really like 10:00 Mass at our church and was really looking forward to going there today, but I think we were truly meant to come to 10:30 Mass at Holy Angels this week.”  I was only able to agree.

Praise God!!!

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