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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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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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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