Gentle Reminder

My seven year old and I have grown accustomed to walking to school every morning.  It’s just about one half mile from our front door to the school, so it’s only a 10-15 minute walk.  Her class starts at about 7:40 a.m., but we generally leave pretty early so that I can get back home and get myself ready for work after everyone else is already gone.  So we usually leave home a few minutes after 7:00.   When I was in the first grade, school started at 9:00 and ended at 3:00.  I rode the bus to school, which was an experience in its own right, but I was always jealous of the kids in elementary school who lived close enough to walk to school.  The father/daughter walks to school will be something I will cherish in my later years I am certain.

I usually carry my cell phone with me when we walk to school and use the pedometer app to track my walking distance.  I bring along my earbuds and pop them in on the walk back home to catch up on the news or to listen to one of many different podcasts I subscribe to.  Even though we don’t always talk while we walk, I make it a priority to not listen to any sound bites on the way to school in case my daughter decides she has something insightful to say, or just wants to be a chatterbox with nothing particularly “urgent” to say.

Leaving at 7:00 in the morning, it was always still pretty dark as we walked to school those first few months.  But with the return to Standard Time a week ago, it was finally sunny and bright for our morning walks to school last week.

As is sometimes the case, I had a pretty hectic few weeks in store for me at work.  As is true for most of us, sometimes the anticipation of hectic work week on a Monday morning can be a bit stressful for me.  Because my office is just a block away from my daughter’s school, I was thinking to myself that maybe I should just get ready for work early and go to the office right from walking her to school and get an early start.  But as I got my daughter ready for school Monday morning, I argued with myself that I didn’t want to go into work early.  There were a few tasks on my phone that I wanted to accomplish that morning and a short podcast or two that I had been listening to over the weekend that I wanted to catch up on and a few other things around the house that I wanted to accomplish.

I talked myself out of going to work early and into the possibility of staying late (even though I am generally much sharper at 6:00 a.m. than at 6:00 p.m.)  I talked myself into listening to the interesting podcast I’d started but hadn’t yet finished.  Those decisions didn’t relieve my stress at all, but I made them nonetheless.  As I continued to stress out about the week to come and the selfish reasons why I wanted to wait and go to work at my typical hour, the thought popped into my head that I had not been listening to Annunciation Radio much recently.  Through a good bit of the summer, I had fallen into a pattern of listening to Pittsburgh sports talk radio with the resurgence of my beloved Bucs on the baseball diamond.  When the baseball post season ended, I found myself listening again to an old favorite Wills and Snyder in the Morning on AM talk radio.

As my daughter and I walked to school that Monday morning, in full daylight, I continued to debate with myself what audio, if any, I would listen to on the walk back home and while getting ready for the work day to begin.  About two blocks before we got to school, we passed a white Cadillac in a driveway and this is what we saw:

Holy Bible

I took the hint.  I did not go into work early that morning, but I found myself listening to Annunciation Radio on the way back home and throughout the morning as I got ready for work — and throughout the week.  On Tuesday morning, the car was still in the same driveway, but the bible was gone.  That was when I first noticed the license plate:

FUS plate

The letters F, U, and S always jump out at me when I see them together in that order.  FUS will always stand for my alma mater Franciscan University of Steubenville.  I’ve never experienced Catholicism and spirituality anywhere like it is at FUS and was blessed to grow up in the same town as that institution.  I failed to notice the license plate letters the morning before.  I was too preoccupied with the bible sitting on the trunk of that white Cadillac.  Seeing the FUS license plate the next day was somewhat of a double “coincidence.”

I think it was later that Tuesday morning that the morning show on Annunciation Radio broadcast a brief segment on dealing with worry and stress in our lives.  The host observed how we often forget to turn those worries over to God.  I think it was Tuesday and Wednesday that my week-load seemed to get a little bit lighter.

Praise God!!!

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Pick Up the Trash

When I was about five years old, I told my mom that when I grew up, I wanted to be either the President of the United States or a garbage man. Nearly four decades later, I am an attorney — someplace roughly in between my dream jobs as a five year old — with certain correlations to both career paths.  Recently, my daughter’s kindergarten class of 20 each had to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Those drawings were then collected together into one booklet which was sent home with each child and collectively shared with each family.  Many of the girls, mine included, would like to become teachers.

I wrote before about my good fortune in living close enough to my office to be able to walk to work during the summer months.  Although the neighborhood I live in is far from ideal and actually has a fairly high crime rate (two arrests earlier this week that I was able to watch from the comfort of my bedroom window) — it has some benefits being less than a half mile from my work and from my daughter’s school.  We walked to school on many of the nicer spring days this year, but yesterday was this first day of summer vacation and the day care center is a bit farther from home at about one and a quarter miles away.

Even though it is more than twice as far as she is used to walking, I was able to talk my six year old into walking to day care yesterday morning instead of driving and we enjoyed the morning sun and some daddy/daughter conversation along the way.  When we walk, she often notices and comments on any trash or litter that we see in the street or along yards and fences that we walk past.  Yesterday morning she commented about a cigarette butt rolling down the road and was genuinely distressed that people throw those into the street and sidewalk rather than into the trash.  She has become very litter conscious through her first year of school.

A few weeks before, she asked me about the different trash containers that people had in front of their houses — some are green, some are blue, some are just loose piles of plastic trash bags with no container.  I explained to her that different families have different companies pick up their trash based on which service they sign up with.  (In this area, trash pickup is not a city provided service — it is independently contracted with a number of different providers vying for our dollars.  So there are often 3 or 4 garbage trucks that service a single neighborhood.)

Because of the shape of our house and garage along the front sidewalk — with the front steps to our house recessed behind the extended garage wall — quite a bit of paper wrappers and other light weight litter accumulates at our doorstep as the wind blows.  With our house being the school bus stop for the whole area and the fact that many of the kids don’t seem to share my daughter’s aversion to litter, we always have a fair share of trash to pick up and throw away through the course of each day.  Yesterday morning was no different.

After dropping my daughter off at the day care, I returned home to get myself ready for work.  With the sun out in full force by the time I was prepared to leave, I put on my sandals with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.  I folded up my “attorney appropriate attire” and put it into my backpack along with a packed lunch.  I generally keep a single pair of dress shoes at my office to change into so that I don’t need to carry those back and forth.  I tossed my watch and wallet into the front zippered section of my pack, plugged in my earphones to listen to the morning radio news, and was off to work.

As I came out the front door, I saw a garbage truck turning the corner onto our street — my five year old dream job!  I crossed in front of the truck to the other side of the street and made my way down to the next intersection.  The garbage truck slowed as it approached my location and the guy on the back hopped off to pick up a load of trash bags.  He was a young guy, probably only I few years out of high school if I had to guess.  We made eye contact and nodded acknowledgement to each other as I approached the corner, my attention already moving toward the street I needed to cross with morning commuter traffic and the Cedar Point tourists driving through town toward the park.

I then heard a guy shout out twice from behind me. As I stopped and turned around, the young garbage man leaned over to the sidewalk about thirty feet behind me and picked up my wallet where it had fallen out of my open backpack pocket.  He looked back up to me and reached out in my direction to hand my wallet back to me.

I thanked him a few times and then I thanked Him a few times.  If I had been just a minute later leaving the house or the garbage truck had been 30 seconds earlier down our street, I would have never known that my wallet fell out of my bag.  It’s certainly possible that someone might have come along and found it and my identification inside and turned it in.  It is also just as likely, if not more in that neighborhood, that someone would have found it, helped themselves to the debit cards inside, and dropped the unwanted stuff into one of the trash bins along the street.  What’s more, given that I sometimes leave my wallet at home or lock it up in my car’s glove box for days at a time if I don’t need it, I might not have noticed it missing until this weekend or later.  What a coincidence (*not*) that the man coming to pick up the trash — just doing his job — came along at the exact moment he did and only had one stop to make at the end of my street where my wallet decided to try to escape!

Praise God!!!

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Disney Diversion

My father’s health has declined a good bit over the past few years in a number of ways.  I wrote about that to some extent in Blazing 80.  Unfortunately, the therapy I mentioned in that blog post was unsuccessful and the feeding tube has become permanent.

In addition to his lung issues, my dad has developed some other health issues, including the onset of dementia.  So when the opportunity presented itself last fall, my wife and I began planning a family vacation to take our two daughters to Disney World. Even before dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, we decided to take my parents with us to Disney World.  Because we love to travel by train, we booked tickets for the whole family to take the train to Florida.  Although it still takes much longer than flying, the train adds another leisurely facet to the vacation experience.

My wife and I each scheduled our work vacations to coincide with our younger daughter’s spring break from kindergarten.  Our 21 year old daughter managed to do the same with her job, but she could not get quite as much time off, so she skipped the train ride and got airline tickets instead to shave a few days off either end of the trip.

We decided to ride the auto train from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida so that we could have our own car with us while in Florida.  So rather than a 20+ hour car ride from Ohio to Florida, we only had to make a six hour drive from Ohio to Washington D.C. to catch our train.  In order to build in enough lead time we figured we needed to leave my parents’ house no later than 5:00 a.m. to be sure we got to the auto train in time.  So the plan was to arrive at their house as early as possible on Thursday evening, get the entire car packed, and get everyone to bed as early as possible for an early rise on Friday.

Without a minivan, we knew it would be a cramped car ride with the back seat occupied by two adults and a six year old in a car seat, plus whatever extra items we needed for the trip that could not be packed in the trunk.  Dad’s breathing machines would also occupy space equivalent to a small suitcase.  It concerned me enough that I made a special solo trip down to my parents’ house the week before our vacation — just to pack up the trunk and back seat to see how much (if any) wiggle room we had.  I expected a tight fit.  It was even tighter than I imagined!  To generate more room, we planned to move the car seat from the right side window to the center of the back seat and allow my parents to each sit on either side.  During the week in between the dry run and the real deal, my wife and I bought a booster car seat to use in place of the regular seat.  Problem solved!

The day for our departure came and we got to Grandma’s at about 7:00 in the evening.  After a quick dinner, I began packing up the car — just as I had planned it the week before!  This suitcase in the trunk facing THIS way; that suitcase on one edge facing THAT way; one of my dad’s medical devices on top of another one in the left nook behind the wheel well, etc.  Everything fitting together like a puzzle.  But when it came time to put in the new car seat, we discovered for the very first time that the base was too wide to fit in between the two seat belt sockets on either side so that there was no way to secure it in the center of the back seat of our car.

We talked about adjusting the back seat arrangements, but I didn’t like the idea of EITHER of my parents sitting in the middle in back from both a comfort and a safety standpoint.  My dad even talked about staying home by himself instead!  Ultimately, we measured the car seat and the clearance between the two seat belt sockets, and decided to take a trip to the local Wal-Mart to see if we could find a seat with a narrower base.  By this time, it was already past 9:00 (my intended bed time), but there were no other better options.

We left the six year old with Grandma and Pop and my wife and I drove out to Wal-Mart.  Once at the store, we started walking toward the area where car seats are displayed.  I put on the brakes, thinking we might need a shopping cart. So I went back out to get one while my wife continued on to the car seats.  As I pushed a shopping cart back down the aisle a few moments later, I saw my wife laughing/smiling as she was stopped and talking to someone.  My wife did not grow up in my hometown, which is over three hours away from her hometown where we currently live.  There are literally only a handful of people there that she could know.

As I took a few more steps, I then saw the broad smile on my cousin Lori’s face.  She and her husband, Jeff, were doing some late evening shopping for Easter.  You know that feeling you get when you are out in public and you see someone who looks like someone you know, but it really just resembles the person and is not him or her?  You know it can’t be who you think it is, because either you or they are out of town and not where you would expect to see him/her.  Lori thought that she recognized my wife from a distance, but obviously did not see me with her (since I had gone back for the shopping cart).  She thought it unusual to see Linda in Steubenville late on a Thursday evening.  But she still approached her and once they made close eye contact each recognized the other right away.

So the four of us ended up chatting for probably 20 minutes or more in the main aisle of WalMart.  We talked about our trip to Disney the next day, they discussed their son’s upcoming high school graduation, we each gave updates on our parents’ conditions, and  generally had a good time catching up.  When it was all said and done, I probably ended up getting to bed around midnight, but the surprise catch-up meeting with my cousin and her husband was well worth it!  Had we taken the time in advance to check the width of the seat belt sockets to the booster seat (we did find another perfect fit on the Wal-Mart trip), we would have never had that chance meeting.

And Disney World was a fabulous trip — the very first visit for ALL of us other than Linda who went with her mom and sisters when she was 10.

Praise God!!!

Waiting for the Bus

Waiting for the Bus

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Pennies from Heaven (revisited)

I have what many would consider the luxury of working in an office only ½ mile from my house. That makes my daily commute about 3 minutes by car on a bad day. But in the summertime it often means a leisurely ten minute walk. With the uncharacteristic early spring weather we’ve had in March and the recent spike in gas prices, I’ve been contemplating an early start to my annual transition from car tires on the street to shoe soles on the sidewalk. The threat of rain and the few days where I’ve had appointments or appearances away from the office outside a reasonable walking distance have kept me from making that transportation transition until today.

Walking is often a spiritual experience for me. Rushing off in the car to  get to work or school, or to the bank and post office, or any other errand is often so hectic and stressful. When I take the time to slow down and walk somewhere — as compared to the regular rat race rut — a peaceful calm feeling is profoundly evident. Driving the final three blocks of my morning commute to work, I rarely see much other than the two traffic lights and the flashing SCHOOL 20 MPH sign before turning into the driveway to my office. But in walking those final three blocks, I see and smell the trees and flowers; I see and smell newly applied mulch to a front garden; I see evidence of squirrel activity in the buckeye trees; I see individual house numbers; I hear dogs barking and children laughing as I walk past a school or two.

When I commute to work on foot, I sometimes pop in earbuds and listen to some music or listen to a short news report podcast. Other times, I leave my ears naked to the world and its natural noises. But naked ears or not, the morning foot commute is always a time for me and my thoughts to get reacquainted. This morning was no different.

I had a lot of things (people) on my mind today. For those who have experienced the death of a close family member, you can understand the deep sadness and sense of loss that such separation can bring. For those who have friends or “past friends” who experience the death of a close family member, you can understand the sorrow or sadness that accompanies hearing that news. This is not nearly as life changing for us as it is for the immediate family members. It many cases it is not life changing at all. There may not be any tears or internalized sense of loss, but there is a melancholic reflection and genuine sympathy for the surviving person you know (or knew) and a feeling of sadness for the family.

The past week has been rife with such occurrences for me. The City of Sandusky is remembering the loss of police officer Andrew Dunn who was violently taken away from his wife and young boys one year ago on March 19, 2011. As you would expect, and justifiably so — the first anniversary of such a tragic event brought forth a number of reflections in local news media and brought the tragedy back to the forefront in the minds of those who do not live with the tragedy every single day.

In addition to the first anniversary of Andy’s death, I’ve seen what seems like an unusual number of “deaths once removed” for lack of a better phrase over the span of about 4 days.

On March 16th, Leo Buffone, the 96 year old father of my former co-worker in college passed away. I did not know him, but his daughter was similar to a second mom in the workplace during my first real job. Fifteen years after I left that job, I still get a birthday card from her almost every year in the mail.

On March 17th, Michael Leoni, the eldest son of my parents’ next door neighbor to the north passed away from cancer. His own father died from cancer nearly 20 years ago — not long after my dad’s own throat cancer scare.

On March 18th, Jack Jenkins, the son-in-law of my parents’ former next door neighbors to the south passed away. When my dad was laid off from his job in the early 80’s, our neighbor pulled some strings and got my dad a part time job delivering fish takeout at Jack’s restaurant. I also started out in the cub scouts with Jack’s son Todd — with his wife Dotty as our den mother.

March 18th and March 19th took Eugene Garay and Donald Sinclair, respectively. The fathers of two of my high school classmates. I didn’t know either of these men and have not spoken to the children they left behind in years. But through the wonders of Facebook, I still see from time to time the things going on in their lives that they feel are worthy enough to share — even if not directly — with me.

On March 19th, a good friend Betty Kurtz left us. I first met Betty in the spring of 2001 when a parish retreat at Sts. Peter & Paul arbitrarily (but not by mere coincidence) put us together at the same table for a weekend. We shared a few faith stories and experiences that weekend and a lot of hugs. A few years later, when I began dating my wife (who I met through another parish retreat), I learned that she was in a weekly bible study group that met at Betty’s house. Betty belonged to a different Sandusky parish, so we did not see her regularly at weekend Mass, but we each had the opportunity to share with her in different ways.

When Linda and I got married, it was Betty who sewed together the black elastic garter and stitched on the gold STEELERS lettering that Linda wore for me to find during that wedding reception ritual.

<IMAGE PLACEHOLDER> (I have a photo of the garter, but can’t find it at the moment)

After a long illness took Betty away from her house for various surgeries and recoveries, she finally returned home earlier this month and seemed well on her way to recovery. That recovery came to a sudden end late Sunday evening and she went to her final home early Monday morning. Tuesday evening, as Linda and I contemplated our schedules for the rest of this week, we decided to skip our weekly Lenten ritual of Wednesday evening soup and prayer at our church to make sure that we were able to attend Betty’s calling hours at the funeral home without feeling rushed trying to do both.

We then prayed a rosary together for Betty. Although we regularly attend weekend Mass and are both involved in different parish ministries throughout the week, regular praying of the rosary has not been something we have done together. Through my recent regular listening to Annunciation Radio, I discovered the daily evening broadcast of The Rosary is a Place which is a fantastic way to get back in the practice when you’ve fallen away from the devotion of praying the rosary.

So this morning, I had a number of people to reflect upon during my foot commute to the office. That didn’t consciously factor in to my decision to walk to work today for the first time this year, but it did give me more of an opportunity to reflect.

If you’ve read the old posts in the blog, maybe you recall Pennies from Heaven. It may just be superstition — call it what you will. But today, about 2 or 3 minutes into my walk I spied a penny about a dozen feet ahead of me at the intersection of the sidewalk and a driveway. Naturally, I stopped to pick it up. After examining it, I discovered that it was a Canadian penny. Was it just coincidence for me to find a penny with an Elizabeth on the face?

Canadian Penny

Betty, if you can hear me: Message received!

Julie; Anna Marie; Jean & Karen; Dotty & Todd; Steve & Jamie; Amy: I can’t even remember the last time I talked to any of you in person and don’t know where some of you are even at these days. But let me take a moment now to remind you [and all others in your families, as well as ANYONE else who has ever lost a close loved one]: Don’t forget to look all around you every day for signs from and reminders of your recently passed loved ones. They are there. Maybe you don’t believe in the idea of pennies from heaven, but I believe it was no coincidence I found the penny that I did this morning. It was finding that particular penny that inspired me to write these thoughts today.

Maybe you aren’t looking for pennies.  Maybe instead you are called to watch for the smile or unique expression on the face of your child, grandchild, or niece/nephew that gives you a quick flash of your lost loved one. Maybe it is a favorite saying or phrase that they often used in life that you hear repeated by a stranger, or a favorite story or joke being retold again. Maybe it is a familiar smell or sound that triggers a memory from long ago that you shared from that special someone now passed on.  Don’t fall into the trap of mis-labeling those moments of recognition as mere coincidences.  There ARE NO coincidences with God!

A friend from my college days writes and sings some of the most beautiful Christian music you will ever have the chance to hear. In writing this post, I am reminded of his song We’ll be Together Again. You can read the lyrics here, and although I am not certain, I believe you can buy the individual song here at iTunes.  Take a listen and take it to heart.

They all live on in each one of us!

Praise God!!!

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Blazing 80

Earlier this week my dad turned 80 years old.  I am now 40 myself so I guess you could say I am half the man he is.

The past month has been pretty rough on dad.  He was hospitalized just a few days into the New Year with pneumonia. It wasn’t his first bout with pneumonia recently as he was also hospitalized in late June with it.  In June he was diagnosed with COPD and has been on oxygen treatments since then with doctor’s orders to stay away from anyone with colds or other easily transmittable/airborne infections.

It turns out that his recent bout with pneumonia arose because he has been aspirating everything he eats and drinks into his lungs (a long delayed side effect from his throat cancer surgery 20 years ago which claimed a portion of his vocal cord and caused some swallowing issues).  Although undetected at the time, I suspect his June pneumonia may also have been related to this.

Because he was now unable to swallow without taking fluid directly into his lungs, the doctors advised that he have surgery to install a feeding tube directly into his stomach.  For the past month, he has not taken any food or drink orally — even his daily medications have to go in through the feeding tube.  Dad was released from the hospital in mid-January and has been getting along, for better or worse, at home with mom.  He was not able to celebrate his 80th birthday with any cake or ice cream, but he has kept his sense of humor as best he can.  I talked to him on the phone on his birthday and told him it was 80 years ago that the doctor cut his umbilical cord, and here he was 80 years later with the damn thing back in again!

The doctors told him that once he was a bit more recovered and feeling stronger, they would refer him to a therapist to work with his throat muscles and try to “re-learn” how to swallow correctly.  If that therapy proves successful, he may be able to have the feeding tube removed and eventually have his birthday cake.

I got an e-mail from mom earlier this week informing me that they finally got the therapy arranged and he was due for his first session on Friday morning (today).

Switching gears slightly, you may recall from my last post that I discussed my radio listening habits. Over the past month or so, my “listening percentages” have changed somewhat.  Depending on the day and the events, I still listen to AM talk radio and Pittsburgh sports talk radio, but I’ve been increasingly listening to Annunciation Radio.  My car radio is tuned to WHRQ.  On my [less than half a mile/less than 5 minute] commute to work this morning, I heard the radio announcer mention today being the feast days of St. Blaise and St. Ansgar.  My heart leapt in my chest when I heard that!  I confess that I do not always keep myself aware of the specific feast days and had forgotten the feast of St. Blaise.

For those unfamiliar with St. Blaise and who don’t have the time to click through the above link, he is the patron saint against throat ailments. At Masses on his feast day, many Catholic Churches offer a blessing of the throats of parishioners.

As soon as I got to work this morning, I called mom to tell her. With everything else going on and his inability to go to Mass around so many other people who might have infections — I wondered if the feast of St. Blaise had escaped their attention as well.  After talking with her, she decided to contact their priest and see if they might be able to have a special private blessing of throats later today.

While it by no means guarantees that the therapy will be successful, it certainly cannot hurt!

Saint Blaise, pray for us that we may not suffer from illnesses of the throat and pray that all who are suffering be healed by God’s love. Amen.

Was it coincidence that the first day of dad’s throat therapy just happened to coincide with the feast of St. Blaise?  Was it just coincidence that I happened to have my car radio tuned in to Catholic radio?  Was it just coincidence that the radio program happened to remind listeners of the feast of St. Blaise during the small fraction of time that I was in the car driving my half mile to work?

I know that the answer to each of those questions is a resounding NO! — do you?

Praise God!!!

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Random Radio

In my transition from high school to college and then to law school, my tastes in music and radio changed.  I always will be a child of the 70’s and 80’s and I will always love the music from my days as a young boy and young adult.  I still sometimes break out Wild Cherry playing that funky music (a band from my hometown area and still remember meeting one of the band members who I think had a son or nephew or other young relative in the other 1st grade classroom when I was at Stark School), and I have all of the 80’s 1-hit wonders in my collection.

But in my early 20’s I began a transition away from those genres.  I didn’t STOP listening to 70’s and 80’s, but I broadened my listening horizons to include acoustic guitar and contemporary piano.  Some of my favorites quickly became Phil Keaggy, Will Ackerman, and Michael Hedges on the guitar end; and pianists Michael Jones, George Winston, and probably most of all: Jim Brickman.

In just a few short years, my already extensive CD collection almost doubled in size with these and other artists from the Windham Hill and Narada record labels and a few other similar labels.

In that same time frame — during law school and the years that followed, I made the major transition in my radio listening habits.  Probably because I had no cable T.V. subscription and very poor reception on my 13″ rabbit ear television, I turned to the radio as my primary source for news and entertainment.  I switched from being an almost exclusive FM music radio listener to predominantly following talk radio.

Over the past 15 years — 98% of the time — my radio dial has been tuned into one of four places: AM talk radio, NPR radio shows (one of my early favorites was Echoes which played my new-found favorite acoustic piano and guitar), sports talk radio, or Catholic radio.  In my estimation, about 2% of my radio time is tuned in to local or regional FM radio where current pop music or classic rock rules the airways.  I sometimes give it a listen when the mood strikes me, or more often — when control over the radio dial is in the hands of someone else.

When I started dating my wife, (one month after having seen Jim preform live at the Sandusky State Theatre) I influenced her to listen to a few of my Brickman CD’s and we soon fell in love together while listening to him. Our first dance together as husband and wife at our wedding reception was to Jim’s song Love of My Life.

More than six years later, our lives feel more hectic and stressed with the demands of a five year old at home and the typical stresses and struggles of a 20 year old newly out on her own, but still very much a part of our lives.  The difficulties in scheduling a regular date night far outnumber the opportunities. But when we took our five year old trick-or-treating in her local surrogate grandparents’ neighborhood a few weeks ago, they cheerfully asked when they would again be able to keep her overnight for a visit.  I put that comment into my “brain pocket” but didn’t expect to have any plans in the near future to make use of that offer.

Two weeks ago Wednesday, I was at my office going about my regular day.  In the front office reception area, we have a radio tuned in to the local FM music station.  I was only out there for 15 seconds to pull something off of the front printer before scurrying back to my office.  While out there, I heard the final 10 seconds of an advertisement for a show on November 19 in a Tiffin, Ohio theater.

Jim Brickman was coming to town for a Saturday evening show in Tiffin — about 45 minutes away from Sandusky.  I never listen to this particular radio station other than during my occasional exposure at the office or when it is played in other local establishments.

A quick communication and call back confirmed an overnight baby-sitter and a recent small bundle of money saved from online survey earnings paid for two tickets without denting the tightly stretched budget.

I hadn’t heard the radio ad before or since that one occasion.  Had my random trip to the front office printer been 30 seconds sooner OR later — I would have missed the advertisement completely.  And because the theater is not IN town and I rarely go to Jim Brickman’s site to view his tour schedule, my chances of hearing about this concert some other way were quite limited — virtually non-existent.  That GodIncidence of hitting the front office at just the right time to hear that Jim was playing nearby allowed me to enjoy Jim’s music LIVE with my wife for the very first time.

It was a fabulous show and a very nice way to spend an evening with the Love of My Life. The audience got to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jim (who turned the big 5-0 today). We were also entertained by Jim’s long time friend and vocalist Anne Cochran and newcomer, former NFL tight end Ben Utecht. The big guy with the sparkly SuperBowl ring can sing!

Praise God!!!

 

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Debit Delays

My younger daughter recently had a birthday. The first of many milestones, she now has a full five years under her belt.  I mentioned before that she was born on the same date that I proposed to my wife. She also shares her birthday with a very good friend of mine.  Oscar was in our wedding six years ago and, in turn, I was in his wedding a few years later.  We  were both part of the bible study group I’ve written about previously and Oscar is the one who put together the Three Steps to the Fountain site I’ve mentioned before as well.

After Oscar and his bride wed, he moved to her fair city about half an hour away.  We keep in touch with occasional e-mails and Facebook check-ins.  But busy lives, evolving families, and additional miles made it difficult to continue our regular weekly meetings, so I hadn’t seen a great deal of Oscar over the past couple years.  But I always remember his birthday when my little one’s comes along.

To celebrate my daughter’s birthday this year, my wife decided to make some cupcakes for her to take to pre-school.  We decided to celebrate her birthday as a family with a trip to see The Lion King in 3D at the local theater on Sunday.  Later that evening, we went to the grocery store to get the cupcake mix and frosting and planned to go to the local ice cream parlor afterward as another birthday treat.  We don’t usually carry a lot of cash, but this ice cream store only takes cash.  So the plan was for my wife to get some cash back at the grocery store checkout with her debit card.  On this particular occasion, I left my wallet at home.

One thing my wife forgot, since we always transact as credit rather than debit, was that she needed a PIN# to authorize the cash back.  Her new debit card issued a new PIN# when it recently renewed and she had not yet updated it to her familiar PIN#.  She could not remember her PIN# and could not get any cash back.  So in order to get our birthday ice cream, we had to drive back home to get my ATM card, drive to the bank ATM to withdraw cash, and then drive to the ice cream shop — adding another 10-15 minutes on to the trip.  I almost suggested we go to a favorite soft serve ice cream shop that was closer and wouldn’t require cash.  But we went through with the original plan with the additional stops.

When we finally made it to our destination with cash in hand, someone sitting at the sheltered patio waved in my direction as I got out of the car.  It was Oscar and his wife, with his mother, sister, and brother-in-law.  He was in town to celebrate his birthday with them and they had decided to go to the local ice cream parlor for some birthday ice cream.

Had I brought my wallet from the start or had my wife remembered her new PIN#, we very likely could have missed them.  Had I suggested the alternate location, we most certainly would have missed them.  But through the circumstances as they were, we had a nice unexpected visit with an old friend to end our special day.

Praise God!

 

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New Beginnings

When I started this blog in 2008, I envisioned it would be a place where I shared my ongoing  experiences that there are No Coincidences with God (which I later referred to as “God-Incidences” after hearing that term from a friend).  I’d had quite a few of these experiences prior to initiating the blog — some more profound than others.  But as it turned out, I failed to keep my eyes open and keep myself as aware as I could have.  I still believe that God-Incidences happen to each of us every single day — there are just so many that slip by while we remain oblivious – our attention focused on other worries and concerns.  I found myself no longer tuning in to my own God-Incidences on a regular basis, so my blog posts ended rather abruptly in the summer of 2009.

That, coupled with a really poor blogging interface on my server, kept me from making the regular posts that I had originally hoped for.  In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have limited my comments to only those times when I recognized a profound God-Incident.  God-Incidences are only one small part of sharing the presence of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

After setting up a new blogging interface and porting over the older stuff, I’ve decided to expand my focus.  Utilizing blog categories, I can still showcase the God-Incidences as they filter in among the other events and occurrences which are equally strong testaments to His presence in my life and in our world.  Truthfully speaking, this blog is probably more for my own spiritual growth and reflection — something that I sometimes overlook in the daily grind and often fail to work on the way that I should — than it is for anyone who accidentally stumbles across this site.  If I generate any followers along the way who get any sort of inspiration from my observations, that is just icing on the proverbial cake.

I hope to resume this blog and post on a more consistent basis.  I plan to expand beyond God-Incidences, but still keep it tied to my personal awareness and relationship with Father, Son, & Spirit.  I don’t intend to write about the mundane experiences of everyday life just to get in regular updates.  I have to hold something back for Facebook and Twitter!

So as I explained it above, I felt compelled to write about my date earlier this month. . .

A few weeks ago, I went on a “date” with my four year old daughter.  I had nothing planned other than getting something to eat and then ‘killing some time’ while her mother hosted her group of bible study ladies at our house on that particular week.  Because our house is very small with only one central area that the other rooms all extend from, an active and talkative four year can be a pretty significant distraction when she feels that she must “perform” in front of any house guests.  So I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take her on mini-dates every few weeks for a couple of hours when the bible study rotation comes to our home.

On this particular day, I just decided to let it happen as it happened.  After eating dinner, without a plan — I found myself just driving down the road with my backseat chatterbox interrogating me on what we were going to do on our date.  We ended up near the location where I asked her mom to marry me.

Sheldon Marsh is a small wildlife preserve in Huron, Ohio and a great place to walk with only your thoughts to keep you occupied.  I have yet to go there and not experience God in all His Glory in the beauty of His creation.  We decided to go there for a nature walk date.  This time, I had much more than my thoughts to keep me occupied — I had a little chatterbox that barely stopped to take a breath the entire time.  At one point I even asked her if she had a string in her back and politely suggested that she stop pulling it.  Of course the reference completely escaped her, but she still thought it was quite funny that I suggest she had a pull string in her back.

I didn’t experience a specific God-Incidence at the time, but I had a wonderful time with an inquisitive four year old sharing a Daddy-Daughter moment.  Her amazement at the frogs, turtles, birds, and dragonflies was such a fresh look at the beautiful things God gave us to delight our senses.  The sights, sounds, and smells were such a relaxing break from the struggles temporarily left behind.

Now I suppose I could force a God-Incidence to this story if I felt I really had to.  It wasn’t a God-Incident of that particular moment, but actually one of nearly seven years ago.  My wife and I had no reason to know at the time that the very day I chose to propose in September of 2004 at Sheldon Marsh would be exactly two years before our daughter’s birth.  I was able to share that God-Incidence with my daughter on our “date” — that mommy and daddy got engaged on her birthday in the very spot where we were then standing.  She didn’t quite grasp the significance.  Instead, I think it just got her thinking about the fact that she has a birthday coming up!

I hope she had fun on our date.  I know that I certainly did!

 

Since my younger daughter was the focus of this post, I would be remiss if I did not plug her Words of Wisdom pages that always get a chuckle out of me.  In the few years that this blog was on hiatus, I’ve tracked some of her quips and giggles to share on that site.  Two of her more recent comments (Talk to the Animals and Thunkin Thunkin) came straight from our date at Sheldon Marsh.  The photos below also came from our date.  Unfortunately, my cell phone camera doesn’t have zoom capability, so this was the best I was able to get.  These are two of the frogs and one of the cranes that we saw on our date.  They are each roughly centered in the respective frames.

 

Praise God!!!

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The Last Race

I got a call from my mother this afternoon.  Everyone else in the house was asleep and I was laying down browsing around on the computer.  I’ve been using a freeware bible study program called eSword for a time and I just upgraded to a new version release which completely revamped the process.  It required a reinstall of all the other free addons and I was having trouble with a few of them until I finally figured it out yesterday.  In the process, I found a users’ group web site for the program.  So today while everyone else was sleeping, I went back to the user group and created an account.  I was just looking around and stumbled upon some amateur videos giving instruction on using eSword.  I was in the middle of the second video when the phone rang.

Mom told me that a cousin of mine, who was six months younger than me, hadn’t shown up for work this morning and was later found dead in his home. It is still too early to know the cause, but he just commented on Facebook last night that he had been out running 20 miles and on his run was stung by a bee.  He was an avid runner, but I wonder if he had a bee allergy that he wasn’t aware of.  I suppose we will find out eventually.

Joe and I were baptized together as young babies.  I just kept thinking to myself that he made it home first.

After getting my bearings back and talking the situation over with my wife, I eventually settled back down to what I was doing before mom called.  I was much more reserved and contemplative, but I thought about the prayer journal portion of the eSword program and decided that I could make good use of it and do some additional prayer and bible review in the process.

I then went back to the video I was watching.  It wasn’t until I started the second video again and tried to find where I had left off that I experienced a powerful God Incidence.  The exact moment when my mom called with the sad news, the instructor in the video was demonstrating the search feature of eSword.  His term search = Heaven.  Because of the shock of the news, I didn’t recognize the connection until after I went back to it.  Could it just have been coincidence that the user in the video “found” heaven in his electronic bible search at the exact moment that I heard the news of my cousin’s passing?

I don’t believe it to be coincidence.  I believe it to be a message from Joe that he was finally home and found heaven.  Congratulations on finishing that last marathon, Joe!  I hope to reach the same finish line myself and be with you again one day.

Praise God!

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The New Homestead

About seven or eight years ago I was introduced to a nice restaurant in the area.  Just south of the Ohio Turnpike is an old Victorian style house that was converted years ago into a beautiful restaurant.  A friend of mine introduced me to the Homestead Inn one year during Lent.  We had a large group going to Norwalk to attend a community production of the Passion Play.  Being a Friday during Lent, I had the salmon and it was easily the best I had ever tasted.

The Homestead Inn wasn’t a franchise restaurant or a fast food chain.  It had tablecloths and linen napkins, but it was not an astronomically expensive place either.  It was a nice place to take a date or to take friends or family visiting from out of town.  I did all three.

My parents enjoyed Homestead Inn on one visit.  Some friends of theirs from the neighborhood back home also had a good meal there when they made a trip up to the lake.  I took my wife there on one of our early dates and that may have sealed the deal for me.

In 2006, the Homestead Inn closed down after years of business.  I had not gone there often – probably less than ten times, but it was always a nice change of pace from the strip of franchise restaurants in Sandusky.  I was disappointed and hoped that someone else would open the place back up, but after a few years of being vacant that seemed unlikely.

In early March of 2009, a co-worker of mine mentioned that the Homestead was going to reopen under new ownership very soon.  I was excited to hear the news and actually called my wife at work to let her know that one of our early dating spots was coming back into business.

Wanting to get a little more information on the details, I tried to search the local newspaper’s web site for the story.  Initially I was unsuccessful, but I eventually found the information in the online version of the Norwalk paper.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the names of the two new investors opening up the restaurant!

One was none other than “Brandon” (listed in the article as being from the Cleveland area) who was the subject of my earlier November 10, 2008 blog post!  After that God-Incidence when I met up with Brandon in the Cleveland Justice Center underbelly, I hadn’t heard back from him after I giving him my business card.

I wasn’t certain that it was the same person, but decided two God-Incidences in less than six months was a greater sign.  So I did a search online and found an e-mail address that likely belonged to Brandon and asked him if he and the new restauranteur were the same “Brandon” that I knew.  He replied to my e-mail with his phone number and I called him in early April.

It turns out he had misplaced my card back in September and wasn’t able to reach me, but had just located it earlier that week in his office – and then he got this e-mail from me out of the blue!

We chatted for a bit and talked about the restaurant business.  A few weeks later, I was able to take my wife there again for a fine meal and catch up a little bit more with an old friend.  My schedule and family keep me pretty busy.  Brandon’s work and family keep him busy also as he makes the commute each day to the restaurant from the Cleveland area.

I’ve only had the opportunity to stop in that one time, but what an ironic God-Incidence to first hear that old an favorite was going to re-open, and then find out that it was being re-opened by an old friend of mine with no connection to the local area. . . an old friend that was the subject of another amazing God-Incidence just months before!

If you are ever in the North Central Ohio area and need a place to eat a nice meal, find the Homestead Inn on route 250 just south of the Ohio Turnpike and ask your waitress to tell Brandon that Tom sent you!

Praise God!

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