Pardon My French

Sue and I were traveling in NYC with my sister, Jana. We were in town for the U.S. Tennis Open and had a free afternoon due to a rain out of the tennis events. The three of us chose to tour the famous American Museum of Natural History at Central Park.

After a morning of wandering through the diverse exhibits it was time for a lunch break. We found the main cafeteria and made our selections from an inviting line up. Once through checkout we found our way to a quiet corner to continue our family visit.

Sue with Tennis stars - The Bryan Brothers

Soon a group of three young families found tables near us. The three couples sat at one table and the children gathered as friends at the table next to them which happened to be right next to us. They opened their permitted outside sack lunches and set up their indoor picnic. Each spoke French and displayed what I would consider French characteristics including their European physical appearance, lively conversation and an appreciation of fine food. The children were comfortable with their museum mates and talked quietly amongst themselves as they appeared to know each other rather well.

Sue meets up with Kelsey Grammar at the US Open

After about fifteen minutes of sharing the space my sister thought she might venture to try her French-speaking skills on the children. At a lull in our conversation she turned to the oldest child sitting nearest us. She was about seven years of age. In a motherly and tender manner and displaying a pleasant smile, my sister addressed the child in French. Jana had taken language courses in high school and college and had traveled in France.

She began, “Êtes-vous Charles De Gaulle d’avoir du merci beaucou bon oui oui au musée?” (With which she thought she was saying “Are you having a good time at the museum?”‘)

The child looked puzzled but out of deference to an adult politely

Sue and Jana in the Diamond District

responded without a word but using international body language indicated “I don’t understand – please say again.” And Jana repeated the phrase in a more precise manner to help the youngster absorb her question. The young girl continued to position her eyebrows in a question mark shape.

We smiled amongst ourselves at this delightful young French child who had the courage and willingness to speak with us –  harmless foreigners.

But Jana was not about to give up on breaking through the language barrier. She continued her gentle questioning . . . “Ce sont Eiffel vos amis baguette ou vos culdesac Monet frères oui oui et merci champs élysées soeurs ?” (Thinking she was asking “Are these your friends or your siblings?”)

The child responded politely – “Je suis désolé, je ne comprends pas votre question.” (Meaning – I don’t understand your question. And I, too, would have to admit Jana’s French was Greek to me.)

Jana shifted into her combination favorite aunt-school teacher mode and turned to the children as if she were recreating the role of Miss Nancy on Romper Room. Using deliberate hand gestures to accentuate her French words she began very simply by pointing to the young boy sitting next to her and very distinctly said “Est-ce petite oui oui votre sacre coeur cancan jeune souffle frère?” (Well meaning to say – Is this your younger brother?) We paused for her reply as she took thoughtful sips on her carton of milk.

Then out of a sense of frustration the young French girl stood up in her chair and deliberately pointed to each one at the table and said in perfect English “Look, this is my brother, this is my sister and those two are my cousins!”

The three of us burst out in laughter at her resolve and at our limited assumptions that she could only speak one language. The parents, sitting nearby, were at first alarmed at this outburst near their children but quickly returned smiles as Jana, through her laughing tears, explained what had just happened in this innocent exchange. The parents then opened up to explain the educational experience of their children. A delightful conversation with the adults followed. For the rest of the weekend the catch phrase for us was “This is my brother, this is my sister and these are my cousins!”

Actually, Jana’s French is much better than I attempted here but still it was just shy of the young girl’s understanding. So, Jana, please Pardon my French.


Friends for Dinner

I was so encouraged by a visit from my long time Edward Jones partners. We’ve been sharing careers and life for over thirty years. They are dear friends. Through the years we’ve worked together, taken ski trips, Hawaiian vacations and African safaris together. We’ve also shared in watching our families grow. (Another wedding coming this year!)

Part of the uniqueness of our firm is being organized to support each other as opposed to seeing each other as competitors. For these many years we’ve operated in each others best interests. I’ve conducted business seminars for Steve when he was called out of town and he’s done the same for me – in fact he stepped in to put on a program for me the day we were called to fly to Oklahoma to pick up our new son, Alex. Dan has been a trusted partner and mentor through the years. But aside from the business, these are just great people to count as friends for almost 33 years.

After dinner at a local restaurant we visited in Sarah’s new home and met with Norah and Will. Dan was my crutch as I held on to him and shuffled along after dinner. Later, Steve and Lyn insisted they drive me home to make sure I arrived safely in my anemic state.

Sue and I say thanks to Dan and Nancy and Steve and Lyn. Let’s do it again.

(PS. I love the banner photograph above of the Van Voorhis family as they toured with us in Italy. Here we are waiting to go in to the Vatican with Amy, Steve, Lyn and Katy.)

A Lesson on Literary License

Alex ran cross-country in high school and he committed to the sport. It was inspiring to watch him do the hard work and be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment at meeting a goal and improving his physical capabilities.

Either Sue or I were at every meet both home and away. We couldn’t coach – we hadn’t paid our dues on a cross-country course – but we could encourage and show our support for his efforts. He was with a great bunch of guys and as cross-country runners score higher academically we were pleased he was in good company.

One particular Saturday, I could not attend a conference meet in nearby Goshen. I was in St. Louis on business but sticking close to my phone for updates on the morning’s competition. As I drove home with my partners, Steve and Dan, I received a phone call from Sue announcing Alex had won. It was time for great celebration! I followed up with Sue, “Did he win best score for his team or for his heat or his grade level?” “No, Craig,” shouted Sue, “you don’t understand – He won the whole conference meet!! He beat everybody?!!”

They had to rush off to the awards ceremony and I had few details to go on but my mind raced with the thrill of victory. In the past Alex seemed comfortable in his usual fourth place position for the team and even now, having won everything, he simply took it in stride without much fanfare.

He didn’t talk much about it when I got home – he’d rather play video with his buddies and Sue couldn’t add much of the detail as the race was largely run in the woods, out of sight. I was anxious to sense the parental euphoria I had missed. I wanted to know more of the story and how the competition unfolded but I only had a few facts. It seems the best way to experience what I missed was to recreate the event on paper but I only really knew three things: First, Alex was comfortable placing third or fourth on a regular basis among his more senior teammates. Second, there was a brief moment in the middle of the race when spectators could get a glimpse of the runners through an opening in the trees. And third, Alex won.

Armed with these three points I sat at my desk that Saturday night and wrote the following story which appears in my book Portraits in Character – Word Pictures of Exceptional Persons.

The next morning as we got in the car to go to church, I asked Sue to drive so I could read something I had written about the race. Alex sat in the back and listened to my opening paragraph. He’s a very literal person – just the facts – and so he quickly interrupted me and wanted to argue with my perceptions and details.

“Alex,” I inserted at a pause, “do you know what literary license means?” He did not. “That is when the author sees as his task to help the reader or listener emotionally feel and better understand the moment at the climax of a story. There may be a fact that is omitted or slightly enhanced and yet, on balance, the spirit of the story is meant to portray an honest reflection of what happened.” I added, “I’ve got very little to go on here but I do know what victory is and we just shouldn’t let this significant accomplishment go unnoticed.”

“Now, let me make a deal with you. You let me read this story all the way through as we ride to church and if when I’m done you don’t agree it fairly depicts the race then I will trash it. Fair enough?” “OK,” he responded while knowing he was only committing to five minutes of silence and not having to yield his bent to a literal view of life.

I started again and I could sense the tenseness in the backseat as he bristled at another of my interpretations. Unknown to him, I subtly adjusted the cosmetic mirror on the passenger visor so I could sneak a peek of his reaction to my written words. “Just hang on, Alex, it will be over soon.”

Sue turned the car towards town as Alex stared out the window with a posture just short of an eye roll. I continued to read the story. As author of the story, I was able to affect the cadence and add a bit of drama to the reading. Sue brightened as she recalled the thrilling race of less than 24 hours ago. The more I read, the more grin came to his face and his eyes widened as he gazed out the window and silently relived the competition.

As we neared the church, I read the closing paragraph. “Now, Alex, there you have it. I knew very few facts, but I knew what the thrill of competition feels like and so I utilized literary license to help recreate the scene. How’d I do? Does it meet your approval?” “Dad,” he demurely beamed from the back seat, “that’s fine.” Then he added, “Actually, that’s just the way it happened. You can keep your story.”

Here’s the story that begins on page 193 of my book. I hope you enjoy the race.

A Personal Mission – Subject: Alex W. Tidball

Cross-country running is a grueling sport of personal commitment and sacrifice. It calls for individual effort among like-minded teammates. This unique mixture fostered an attitude that suited my son Alex’s interest in athletics.

What a day for racing in northern Indiana!

Alex was in Goshen, Indiana, for the Cross Country Invitational pitting Warsaw against six other schools in the Northern Lakes Conference. This was an important race for the conference standings and as it’s late in the season, this is the last shot for individuals to achieve their personal best performances.

You may recall that in recent weeks, Alex earned a fourth place finish among his Warsaw teammates. On the heels of that great race he entered last week’s Manchester Mega Invitational looking to best that record with a first place finish among his freshman and sophomore partners. Although he came up short in that quest with a third place slot, he did obtain a personal best time. It was a satisfying performance.

On this mid-October morning in Goshen, Alex prepared for what he planned to be a memorable run in the classic setting of a Hoosier autumn. The rewards of the recent performances were fresh in his mind and he felt good. Maybe his time had come.
The field of runners crowded the starting line for this 5K race of underclassmen. More than 65 harriers found their starting mark for the single loop run. The course textures would include gravel, grass, pavement, mud, and sand. Any slopes would be minimal and gradual. Warsaw’s mood was somber as the girl’s team had just finished with dismal results against the six other schools. These were strong opponents including the cross-country powerhouses of Northridge and Wawasee high schools. And contributing to the tension ahead of the starter’s gun was the ever-present thought that this was for the Conference Championship. The top ten finishers would be candidates to advance to the State sectional and compete at the varsity level. Would a strong finish among his teammates put him in the running for post-season competition?

The start was familiar. Runners quietly found their line to the first turn. They measured the pace of their competitor’s steps. The usual questions began their mental 5K: Am I too fast? Are my feet landing properly? Are my strides too long? How do my thighs feel – is that about right? Are my arms relaxed enough – too much? Should I be breathing this hard already? Is that a hole in the pathway to avoid or just a shadow? The rush of questions all point to a normal start. Now let’s race!

Soon after the gun the harriers entered the woods and were out of view of gathered friends and family. Now there was only the gentle thumping of the swift and quiet runners as they ushered the change of seasons into a grove of Hoosier maples.

When the runners first emerged to the open field, something was different. The lead pack had a higher than usual number of jerseys displaying the orange and black of Warsaw. More than autumn was in the air. Warsaw parents exchanged puzzled but expectant glances. Something is going on. Back to the woods.

The next view for fans came at the halfway mark and would set the stage for the final moments. Warsaw was clearly dominating the lead pack but most noticeable were the two runners locked in a steady cadence at the front. They appeared strong. They looked determined. The field of 65 was now down to a race of two.

But Alex was in no mood to share a crown on this October morning. Yes, Alex Tidball led at the halfway mark! Not just among his teammates but for the whole field of runners. Even at this distance, his eyes revealed a personal mission at work. A clear objective was front and center. Alex had never held this position in a race – not even for a moment. He saw himself as a finishing sprinter. He was a tactical competitor lying in wait to strike near the finish with that familiar burst of speed. He always held back a little something extra for the fans at the finish. He thought of it as his signature. But now he owned first and it felt good, it felt right. Would there be anything left?

The Northridge runner, however, was not feeling sentimental this day. This was his race. He had been his team’s top JV runner all season. And furthermore, this was Northridge and no team and nobody beats Northridge.

The final meters were ahead. Alex knew he was ahead of his normal pace but he also knew that if fourth place on his team tasted so good a week ago then first place for the whole field must be like a feast of BonBon’s (his grandmother’s) cream puffs. It is now clearly a race for two and they are rapidly running out of fuel and out of course. The time has come to make a move.

The pace quickens and it’s lock step. There is more than a gentle Indiana breeze around him; there is a fiery breath upon his back as the Northridge runner battles for the inheritance of his commitment to the sport. Alex can feel him right on his back. “Am I going to get spiked?”

And then the sprint is on – only moments to go! He can feel the victory just steps away but the problem is – he can’t feel his legs. The fans are on edge. Watch the eyes! Watch the eyes! Is it there? Does he have it?

The following Monday, Alex’s proud parents stopped into the local art shop and asked the owner to mount three items in a single frame: A race tag bearing number 354, a small finish-line ticket with a handwritten “#1,” and the Northern Lakes Conference First Place Blue Ribbon!

More than a Sound Bite

I’ve always wanted to attend a presidential rally. It’s red, white and blue hype packaged with fanfare, colors, energy, and logistics and yet all put together knowing full well the candidate might have to cancel the event on short notice.

In Indiana, with its May 8th primary, the thrill of the race for the nomination is usually over by the time the voting gets to us. We still go through the motions for local elections but the “hang in the balance” nature of the presidential campaign is lost. With Michigan in the news ahead of next week’s critical primary, however, the candidates are making a number of stops in the state just next door. This contest or next month’s Ohio primary are our best shots at participating in a town hall meeting or presidential rally.

While my goal was to attend a presidential election rally, I’m glad this one was Republican. Had it been a Democrat rally, I’m pretty sure I would have needed to wash my hair that day and the opportunity would have been lost.

My heart says go but the rest of me is feeling pretty wasted today – my red counts must be down. As I throw some essentials into my overnight bag, I have to stop every few minutes to catch my breath, then begin again. But there’s a silver lining with these lowered red counts as this will require I take a wheelchair to handle the long walks and unknown seating options at the site and a wheelchair may give us an opportunity for better seating.

Sue and I set off for the Hope College campus in Holland, Michigan, the site of a Rick Santorum Town Hall meeting. This past week the Senator jumped ahead in the polls following his three state win while Romney’s numbers have declined. The media, sensing blood in the water with former front runner Romney, is keeping the storyline alive as Super Tuesday looms just weeks away. Furthermore, the media is fanning the flames and watching for Santorum to buckle under the increased spotlight. This Michigan vote will be looked back upon as a decisive moment in the 2012 election campaign and that likelihood adds to the rally’s energy.

We arrived 2 1/2 hours ahead of the scheduled start. Though there are only a handful of attendees milling around, the volunteers are fully engaged – scurrying around with banners, yard signs, smiles and open arms that direct us to the sign-in desk. Sue wheeled me into the rally’s meeting room – a space capable of holding 300 people – and we’re politely told it’s too early and the doors aren’t officially open. As we maneuver the wheelchair to exit, I ask that we be considered for seating to allow us a clear view of the platform. The guy who appears in charge of the main logistics (he’s the one with the most communication equipment but not the one with the poorest fitting suit) gives us a wink, throws a thumbs-up and indicates he’ll take care of us.

With an hour and a half before the doors open students begin to arrive . . . good looking kids with bright faces and colorful laptops. To my surprise, the phoning and texting, so common among this age group, is minimal. As they sit on the floor outside the main doors they actually engage in conversation. They test out the questions they’ll ask during the expected Q&A. As the lobby continues to fill the noise level gradually escalates.

We’re positioned behind the sign in desk next to an outlet to charge my camera battery. Another wheelchair attendee enters the lobby which reminds me to once again catch the eye of my front man as he passes by with a stack of Santorum placards. We’re still good.

With an hour to go, my man gives us the nod and leads us into the octagonal shaped room and to the front row where he makes room for my wheelchair and indicates where Sue can sit next to me.

Gradually, a few others are given early seats. I figure they’re significant donors to the local Republican party or else persistent gate crashers like myself. Emily and her campus Republican Club Leadership Team take to the platform to rehearse their part in the preliminaries. This is huge for them to be able to coordinate a town hall meeting for a front running presidential candidate. They make adjustments to their script and perform sound checks for the technicians squeezed into the gathering TV sound trucks located just outside the room.

Security arrives. These are the same men who give tickets to students with red stickers who parked in a blue parking lot on campus. They are physically fit and uniformly dressed with clean shirts and creased khakis. The Hope College anchor logo is smartly displayed on their shirts and windbreakers. The one with the fancy communications holster must be the chief. After checking in with the event coordinators the security team eyes the room and assigns themselves to corner positions.

They are not armed and their faces show it. They have no desire to be armed but at the same time they know they’re on patrol for a front running presidential candidate. Their minds replay old news reels of George Wallace, Gerald Ford, Bobby Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and other candidates who faced protestors or just plain crazy people. They shift in their stance. They are honored to be present but know their limitations. Oh for a streaker – I can handle that!

I was reminded of the Barney Fife clip where he deputizes some locals to ward off potential violence at the annual Mayberry Day Festival. Meaning no disrespect to these who came to help but I think you’ll enjoy the parallels.

There is increased buzz in the room as the anticipation grows. Even the doors are giving off signals. The main doors don’t swing as much indicating the room is at capacity. The door to the side entrance is guarded for members of the media and the technicians carrying cables and mics. But most eyes have identified the storage room door through which advance people increasingly pass. A frequent face at this door is a man dressed in a sharp business suit who initially gives off a vibe he will be making introductions or at least posting us on the Senator’s arrival. But all he does is look at camera angles, adjust the mic (up, down, back up), shuffle papers and plug in his phone charger. Early on the crowd catches its breath at his appearance but soon they grow disinterested in his charade and he’s no longer a signalman. The platform committee and staffers gather – the local Republican Party chairman, a high ranking State Senator, a local pastor, the college Republican Club leaders, my logistics guy and the Senator’s advance man. They huddle in the corner and check their watches and cell phones for updates on projected arrival times.

The room is completely full with most attendees standing. A few manage to sit on the floor near the front so as to not block the TV camera’s view. The crowd is excited, talkative and pleasant. Many people are known to each other. The state senator calls many by their first name.

Sue turns to me and says “I think we should sing God Bless America.” I say, “go for it.”. She turns to the lady on her right and suggests it and asks if she’ll join in to which she agrees. The people seated behind Sue are in on it too so she finds the pitch and we start in. It’s rather quiet at first – there’s only a small pocket of us singing under the higher level of conversation in the room. But gradually she gains singers and by the time we reach the final phrase the conversations rapidly stop and about 80% of the room gets in on the last phrase and starts to applaud. I pick it up and right away start the song a second time and now the whole room is in chorus as they offer a rousing rendition of the song followed by loud applause and cheers. Several people reach up and pat Sue on the back.

There is new excitement as a couple on the local advance team enter at the last minute with a banner reading “Made in America” to be hung on the wall behind the platform. The young man, unaccustomed to wearing a suit (and a badly fitting one at that) is armed with a roll of gray tape. He’s assisted by an attractive young lady who wishes now she hadn’t worn such a tight skirt this afternoon. It wasn’t designed for hanging posters. The crowd welcomes the change of pace and watches the two attempt to stick the weighty sign to the brick wall. It won’t hold but a few moments on the brick and the crowd collectively gasps. I can envision a clip running nationwide on the nightly news showing a hard charging Santorum addressing an enthusiastic crowd as “Made in America” comes crashing down behind him. It could later become a symbol of a faltering campaign and comedic fodder for an SNL skit.

As the sign falls the crowd cheers in sport and the young man turns to wave and smile at the crowd – he’s not done yet – more tape. He adjusts his suit and finds a more solid surface and adds extra gray tape and the crowd cheers its approval. The stage is set.

But the wait continues. Santorum’s previous meeting was up the road at Muskegon and yet no one is surprised by the delay now some 45 minutes past the projected start time. The crowd is still growing. The planners anticipated 250-300 would attendance but that number was quickly surpassed and an overflow room with a video feed was arranged for another 200 who were turned away at the door.

But now it’s clear the Senator and his party are in the building. The security staff checks their walkie-talkies and shift their feet once more. A sound technician leans forward and claps his hands while eying the TV cameras.

The family enters first followed by two body guards and after a quick invocation and brief introduction Santorum appears through the storage room doors and the crowd is on it’s feet. Rick plants a big kiss on his wife and heads to the podium.

For the next forty-five minutes he has the audience in the sway of his campaign cadence. He’s a gifted speaker. Sure, he’s familiar with the routine and speaks entirely without notes, but his ownership of his message outline and his passion are engaging.The three of his children traveling with him watch respectfully as they listen to their father’s familiar stump speech which they could probably recite verbatim.

In summarizing his remarks I would note how different it is to hear a candidate speak conversationally in complete paragraphs without a Teleprompter. Concepts are presented, reasoned, supported and concluded. It’s in clear contrast to the headline news sound bites or the time pressure format of debates. The pace of campaigning has changed so much. In the 1968 presidential campaign between Nixon and Humphrey the average length of a soundbite on the evening news was 48.9 seconds. In 1988 that measure had dropped to 8.9 seconds and in the 2000 campaign it was down to 7.3 seconds. So to be able to listen as the senator developed his thoughts was a special experience not afforded the average voter who takes the spoon fed clips from the news media.

What struck me most about the Senator’s presentation was the way he positioned the overriding themes of his candidacy. Where most of us are familiar with the “Vote for me – I’ll promise you this” format, Santorum was different. He didn’t jump from catchy topic of the day to the latest buzzword of politics but rather he laid out the case for those themes that guide his thinking as he tackles the many issues facing the country. He always carries a mini copy of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in his pocket and frequently referenced its guiding principals. It was a clear contrast to Clinton’s poll driven presidency and Obama’s personal agenda and blatant disregard for The Constitution. I found the Senator’s pro-American, pro-principled, and “leadership versus maintain the madness management” philosophy to be a welcome change from present day rhetoric.

As he wrapped up the Q&A session I noticed his aide (the last person to arrive) nudging the college Republicans to take the platform to make their gift presentation. It took three or four pushes to get the students to finally intrude on the Senator’s podium. After a brief presentation of a Hope College sweater vest the Senator and his wife came down to the front row of the crowd to shake hands and sign autographs. We were able to greet him with a handshake and good eye contact as he passed toward the media door for his exit. (That’s his son off his right shoulder in this picture of him greeting the crowd.)

It was a worthwhile and enjoyable experience and one I hope to repeat in Ohio and possibly Illinois in the coming weeks as the candidates make the rounds. Maybe a Romney or Gingrich event will afford other comparisons.


All Knees on Deck!

Sue and I appreciate your encouragement and the many expressions of prayer support we’ve received. Today we would ask that you pray in a specific way for these next few weeks.

My viral counts are dropping but they need to drop more in the next month. This is the measure of the bad virus still in my system. It’s dropped dramatically from the start – these are powerful medicines – but in order to stay in the program for the best chance for a cure I need to show counts under the 100,000 level in the next few weeks.

One of the traits of the HCV virus is its constant mutation. It can significantly change every couple of weeks and acquire new resistance capabilities. The medicine created to fight HCV is designed as a wide pattern shotgun blast in an effort to kill such a moving target. As I have one of the tougher strains of the virus it’s challenging the protocol but if we can get these numbers under the 100,000 mark the science indicates we are in the hunt to beat the virus. Now is the time.

I know there are many prayers on our behalf for endurance and for a cure and that is our prayer as well. But there are different ways of getting there. I can open the door today and step into the sun and be miraculously freed. Or, this medical treatment can run a successful course throughout the rest of this year. Or, it may be I just have to wait for the next development in the science of fighting HCV. As always, I remain in His care and timing.

People look at me and instinctively want to pray for my physical comfort and stamina and I appreciate the generous thought. But the outward physical condition you see is like a band-aid – it’s bothersome but in a few months I’ll remove it. You see the outward evidence of the powerful medicine at work in my system. That will pass. What you’re really praying for, however, is for what you can’t see – it’s the battle against the insidious ongoing effect of the virus. It’s almost a metaphor for evil. The silent, sometimes symptomless yet relentless effect of HCV is how it continually attacks the good.

Yes, my medical clock is ticking, the effects of HCV are detrimental and that’s a concern, but if I fail this treatment, I’ll regain my strength, return to active and productive status and get in the waiting line for the next miracle drug a couple of years away.

But I’m not ready to give up on this one!  Some of the people sitting with me in the waiting room are beating the virus with this breakthrough routine and while I have a stubborn strain of the virus, I can be cured as well.

My hand is raised. I’m doing the work. To date, I’ve taken 1,408 pills on a strict every-eight-hour schedule never missing the appointed hour by more than ten minutes which is well within the guidelines. I’ve given myself twelve injections and my legs have large red circles as proof. I’ve given about seven blood draws and quietly wish for a time that will likely never come when I might give my blood to someone who actually wants it.  But for now, it’s time for the science to show its stuff. Let’s play ball!

My friends, if you’re inclined to prayer (and you know who you are) – today you might offer a blessing for the miracle of the science and for the researchers and doctors behind it. I am grateful for their efforts. And then, get righteously mean and join the fight against the virus. Maybe today’s prayer is for healing outside of any scientific flow chart and I can certainly live with that. Simply pray as you are led.

Towards the end of March we’ll learn if we’re tracking toward a successful treatment or if statistically we are not going to be in the running this time. This is the time for All Knees to Be On Deck!  I am thankful for your many expressions of care and I appreciate your taking time to visit the blog today.

Waking up on the Wrong Side of the Grand Canyon

It was one of those days that occasionally happen when raising little ones. Alex was around three or so and Sarah was about eight years old. We were traveling as a family in Arizona and staying at the fabulous Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.

Alex - Age 4

Our adventure that day was to rise early and make the journey to the Grand Canyon and back. Along the way we would see the colorful rocks of Sedona, the Indian cliff dwellings, and of course one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Grand Canyon. It would be my first time there and I was excited to share the experience with the family. Sue and I prepared the kids for what they would see in an effort to build their anticipation of this marvel of nature. We hoped it would make the long journey worth the wait.

But this was not to be Alex’s day. Maybe it was the hassle of travel or being taken out of the shallow swimming pool he enjoyed at the Biltmore, but there just was no pleasing him this day.

The stop at the cliff dwellings north of Phoenix held some promise for a change of attitude as he liked Indian stories but he remained unsettled. He was in search of an unknown satisfaction that eluded him. He continually complained and griped and moped and it put a damper on travels for all of us. Three year olds are intelligent enough to know the right buttons to push and yet just out of the reach of reason to negotiate a settlement. We couldn’t determine just what it was he “wanted”. Obviously, a trip to the Grand Canyon (whatever that meant to him) wasn’t it.  Sarah made the best of it and was fascinated by the unusual scenery and the various exhibits along the way.

We finally reached the tourist trap area just south of the Grand Canyon and I stopped at a souvenir shop to pick up a toy tomahawk or Indian headdress – hoping to get his mind shifted to the adventure of the day. It only bought momentary interest. Finally, we made it to the parking lot at the Grand Canyon rim and were excited for what we were about to see. We paused to gather our thoughts after the long drive – cameras were  ready, a word of caution about the dangers and about staying behind the ropes, and another word about the wonders of nature and the privilege to be able to travel.

We walked toward the rim and the scene collectively took our breath away – that is, all of us except Alex who at his young age turned to me and said, “Dad, you brought me all this way to see a hole in the ground?!  Dad!, it’s just a big hole!”

The rest of us made the best of it and explored various observation points though constantly dogged by Alex’s negativity. It was a day when you continually weighed your choices for parental action. If I spank him early in the day, even when you know travel can be tiring and confining for a kid – it associates family trips with spankings and it could simply serve to lock in the bad tone for the day. You’re never guaranteed a good spanking will fix a rotten attitude. Or, do you try to work through the situation hoping something about the adventure will turn the corner on his outlook?

On the ride home we pulled into a family restaurant for an early dinner. While three of us shared our impressions and marveled at the sights of the day, Alex remained mired in his “off day” madness and now complained about what he wanted to eat and then threw something in anger. Well, that was the final straw and I told him his attitude and actions were wrong and unacceptable and now the time had come for the long forecast spanking. I pulled his booster seat away from the table, placed him across my lap and gave him a firm spanking within the bounds of good taste.

It was all I could do to hold in my laughter when he turned to look up at me and without missing a beat let everyone around us know the three-year old was still in charge as he said, “Now look what you’ve done . . . I’m crying!”

Better Travel Day - Trafalgar Square - London 1996

It was one of those traveling days. Someday, I’ll return to the Grand Canyon with him. I hope it’s a day when he wants to take along his kids to see the wonderful sights. That day, I’ll be content to sit the back seat and sneak candy to my grand kids.

But, as I mentioned, it was an off day – not an off week and certainly not an off person. Alex enjoys the fun of just being a kid. The next day, I took the family to an Old Western Town which featured animals, cowboys, a chuck wagon dinner and stories of the Wild West. We roamed the grounds and enjoyed the various attractions including an opportunity to pan for gold.

Alex was in a great mood. He carried his new tomahawk everywhere and was fascinated by the cowboys with their chaps and lariats. Somehow, he knew about gold and quickly picked up on the process of panning. Put some pebbles in a tin pan with a screen on the bottom and watch for gold. Unknown to him, the schtick for the attraction was that a few pebbles were covered with water-soluble brown paint so the constant shaking in the pan and splashing of the water would slowly wash off and reveal a gold painted rock underneath.

Alex was intent at loading up the rocks, filling it with water and vigorously shaking it in search of gold. Maybe he was looking for redemption for the Grand Canyon incident but panning for gold now became his life’s work. It wasn’t long before the abrasions of the washing revealed glimpses of gold and he shook with more resolve. And then, with wide-eyed wonder, he turned to me across the way and without regard to anyone else in the area shouted at the top of his voice, “Dad, we’re rich! We’re rich!”

What a difference a day makes.

An Inverse Intervention

Sue and I count among life’s treasures the relationships we continue to nurture with a small group of college roommates. The journey began almost thirty-six years ago when my roommate, Al, and I became next room neighbors with Jim and Marc in a college dorm. We were an unlikely foursome with diverse backgrounds, interests and life experiences but a shared set of core values and a shared bathroom launched a lasting friendship.

Throughout the years we’ve met almost every six months at various locations to share the stories of life. It’s just a continuing conversation. If we kept a diary of the stories shared it would reflect the roller coaster nature of living similar to yours. But when four couples share openly and intimately from their experiences the richness is multiplied. Each one is enriched by the joys and yet supported in the disappointments shared. The diary would hold many chapters including stories about marriage, career, children, miscarriages, loss of parents, raising teenagers, cancer, job changes and setbacks, marriage of our children, medical concerns, grandchildren and even the contemplation of retirement. When shared by a factor of four each story almost becomes our own.

Carol and Marc

Little has changed at our reunions. Yes, we used to stay up later, eat more and spend less but whatever we have done is intended to be relaxing and encouraging. Our shared meals and group excursions reflect our broadening yet shared interests and, as always, the men still rise early on Saturday for a guy only breakfast.

Al and Lori

For all the fun we create when we’re together – it’s in the crunch times that this group insurance plan kicks into high gear. When there’s a medical issue or a business set back or a family crisis – the phone calls increase between our face to face times together.

At our most recent gathering in a riverfront hotel in St. Louis, we concluded the reunion by taking the short trip to join in worship at Jim and Mandy’s church and then on to their farmhouse home for a Super Bowl party.

Mandy and Jim

Once again, we experienced that each gathering is an affirmation of our common interests and our commitment to each other.  Shortly before kickoff, Mandy and Jim called for a group meeting. Soon Sue and I were directed to the sitting room as the other couples gathered to form a circle. I didn’t know what was in the works but it had all the makings of an intervention: close friends, all hands on deck, a spot for us to sit in the center, its premeditated and I don’t have a clue what’s going on. What’s being intervened? I was sure I used deodorant this morning. What’s up with this?

Mandy quickly led off by saying they all wished they could do more to help during this medical journey but at least wanted us to know how much they love us and support us. Then, one by one, each person took the floor to give a tribute to Sue and then to me. There was a word of encouragement, a recognition of a trait or action they had admired, a recollection of some shared exchange from the past that had been meaningful to them. Everyone had rehearsed in their minds what they wanted to say, some spoke from notes to be sure not to miss some sentiment. We heard stories of fond memories together, stories of our support for others when the tables were turned, and we learned of the influence we had on their children. They were piling on and it was simply the best boost to my weary bones I could have experienced. Sue, too, was so encouraged as she bears much of the brunt of my physical shortcomings. But our friends spared nothing in words of honor and tribute to her. Then it was time for a group hug. It was an Inverse Intervention – we came away changed for the better through affirmation.

If you are looking for a means of supporting a friend we can recommend the medicine found in common encouragement. Thanks to our dear friends for your love and care.

Sue and Craig – February 2012

In earlier times:


Check Your Luggage Receipts

Sue and I have been privileged over the years to enjoy great travel to interesting places. As much as we enjoy the  destinations, the “getting there” part can present issues. It’s either a change in the schedule or something forgotten in the packing process or another flight delay but the transportation alone is often as much the adventure as is the final destination.

This particular year we selected Iceland. It promised rugged beauty, large colonies of those adorable puffins, volcanoes and an interesting culture. But first, we have to get there.

Our morning began early at Fort Wayne International Airport and it stayed there a while because the crew didn’t show up for the flight. We had allowed ample time for normal connections but now we already know we won’t make the connection at JFK. The travel agent is working the system but tells us we’ll be delayed a day in getting to Iceland and we’ll spend the day in New York City ahead of the next available flight tomorrow night.

While it wasn’t part of the original itinerary – travel is about adapting and going with the flow and now we have a full day in NYC although our hearts want to be in Iceland. Not being that familiar with the Big Apple we hired a guide for a day trip to the main attractions to kill the time. Before long Brother Andre, a part-time Baptist minister, showed up in his Ford Econoline van and picked up about six of us stranded travelers for a day in the city. We took in Battery Park, Times Square, and other signature venues plus a stop at the deli of a friend of Brother Andre billed in the brochure as a “well-known NYC hotspot” – my coke was warm.

By late afternoon we’re at JFK for our evening flight to Reykjavik but now we need to negotiate the airport reservation system. Sue’s a great traveler but she’s frustrated and tired from the travel diversion. As I approach the ticket counter she says, “Tell the clerk about our situation and maybe we’ll get bumped to first class.”

As the clerk begins to unravel our saga, I put on my good game face and comment to him about the genius of computers and flight and scheduling and my amazement at how it all comes together at his fingertips. After his hunting and pecking at the keyboard I worked in a comment about our struggles to get to this point.  “It’s been quite a day and what a set back to plan this long for our week in Iceland only to see a full day of it just flit away like this. I’ll tell you, if you ever needed candidates for a bump to fill some first class seats – we’re your team.” I winked and added, “I’m just saying, we’re available” and I left it at that.

After more taps on the keyboard and the whir of the printer he tags our bags and hands over our tickets and says with a smile, “And here are your luggage receipts.”  I thanked him for working through the changes, looked down at the cattle class seats we’d been assigned and paused momentarily to consider the coming marvel of traveling across the frigid Atlantic in hours with modern comforts when my forebears risked their lives to do the same in tiny ships.

Sue had been standing about five feet away during this booking process and when the clerk said “and here are your luggage receipts” at her distance she heard “Here are your luxury seats!”  And she lit up. After all, we’re deserving and it’s such a simple thing to flip a switch and move these weary travelers from last class to first class . . . Icelandic Air is now my airline of choice.

I let her savor it a few more moments as I reached for the shoulder bags and headed to the gate. She grabbed an extra bag with her new-found energy and nearly skipped to the corridor. I softly mentioned what the clerk had actually said about “luggage receipts” and she wasn’t convinced – she wanted to see the tickets – I’m the one that heard it wrong. Now she shifted a bag to me and the two of us shuffled toward the gate. Moments later it was a joke to share about the misunderstanding and how we were so close and could almost feel the real metal flatware of first class in our hands.

Now, in the gangway to the plane the ticket exchange still brings a smile to our faces and Sue says, “wouldn’t it be something if they came down the tunnel right now and changed our seats?”  I kick the bag further along in front of me . . . “It’s only a five-hour flight – we’ll be fine.”

About ten feet from the door to the plane I hear a rustling behind us and turn to see a ticket clerk with a clipboard full of documents making his way to the plane with the final manifest of passengers. I step aside to let him pass and after talking to the flight attendant he turns to those of us in the gangway and announces “Tidball, Mr. and Mrs. Tidball? Please raise your hand.”  As I acknowledge our presence thinking I must have left my passport at the desk, he steps towards us and hands us our “luxury seats”.  In almost a whisper so other passengers can’t hear he says to the two of us, “Mr. Tidball, we appreciate what you’ve been through these past 24 hours and hope this will help you enjoy your trip.”

Now Sue takes an extra bag and we enter the plane and turn to the left rather than the right and soon find ourselves in the wide open spaces of first class. We were so excited with the extras we couldn’t sleep that night. We enjoyed real food, our own individual movie libraries and our recliners. Iceland can wait just a bit longer, thank you very much.

Iceland proved to be a fascinating land with beautiful vistas set among the unusual landscape of volcanic rock but with no trees. The guides offered this word of advice that if you are ever lost in an Icelandic forest – just stand up. I’ve included a few photos from the trip and would encourage you to consider Iceland when you have the opportunity to travel for adventure and wonder. Oh, and take the luxury seats.

I’ve included a video on travel from one of my favorites: Brian Regan. It’s about 8 minutes.

I Found an Offering!

Supporting causes greater than ourselves is a longstanding American tradition. The proof is in the numbers. Most notably in times of disaster like the tsunami of Japan or the Haiti earthquake or Hurricane Katrina – Americans open their checkbooks and set generosity free. Last year, driven by tragedy in Japan and Haiti, eight in ten Americans gave money or time to a charitable organization. And it’s exciting to watch the Millennials and the Generation Xers being clever about giving. Even though they haven’t established steady incomes or accumulated wealth, they are creating innovative programs that provide others new ways to support charitable concerns – like building wells in Africa. Among so many donors to both faith-based and community charitable endeavors you’ll discover a variety of giving patterns and perceptions. Do you have a plan for giving to something greater than yourself?

Over the past decade Vice President Joe Biden and his wife averaged donations of $369.00 per year. That’s .3% of their income. Is this his plan? This past weekend I learned of an individual who announced he didn’t give to charities because he was paying taxes. What’s his plan? In his mind is there nothing greater than himself?  In a recent article about presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the reporter tried to embarrass the candidate by writing that while his church encouraged giving 10% of one’s income – he had only averaged 9.7% over recent years – a full .3% under his target! They tried to use his generosity as an attack on his integrity.  Whatever our position on the matter of donating our time, talent and treasure, we can agree a variety of perceptions exist.

In church, much of the worship experience consists of corporate activities – things we do together – such as singing, sharing in a public prayer, or meditating on common thoughts during the pastor’s sermon. But part of worship is individual in nature and that’s our personal worship as we give our offerings and tithes. While the ushers pass the offering basket to everyone at a designated time, how each person responds is known only to them. Often, sealed envelopes are placed in the basket. Some churches use a velvet bag suspended from a handle so gifts are quietly and privately given out of view. In the church in which I grew up, the ushers would deliberately turn their backs and look away from the parishioners as the plates were passed down the row to add to the sense of privacy. While a time of offering is corporately observed it is an individual act. Support for charitable work in a community can be either private or public but the vast majority of donations are given with little fanfare.

There are varying reasons as to why and how people give to the church or to charity. Some bring family traditions to bear, some call upon varying interpretations of the Scriptures, others have ulterior motives and crave publicity more than philanthropy. Some jump from one emotional appeal to another. Others want to quietly make a difference in their community and support the need that will always be with us. And for some, giving is an afterthought – they put in what they won’t miss or the loose change left from a week of eating out.

Here’s another perception to add to the mix.

One Sunday, our family came early to church an hour before the worship service. Sue needed some extra time ahead of the service to practice that morning’s music. To fill the time I took our daughter, Sarah (then three and a half), to the church library for some books and then up the stairs to the balcony to read. I thought she might enjoy exploring the area and seeing this perspective of the beautiful church architecture. To a child’s eye a view from the balcony must appear as if gazing into the Grand Canyon. We rarely sat in this area as we usually were involved up front in the choir or with special music. Fascinated by the newness of this space, Sarah kept busy exploring the sloping floors and sweeping views the balcony as I quietly read.

After a few minutes I heard a cry of excitement and turned to see her running down the center aisle of the balcony with raised eyebrows of amazement and waving a dollar bill over her head.

Her bright eyes spoke before she opened her lips but she soon blurted out, “DAD, DAD! I found an offering!! I found an offering!!”

It was profound in the singleness of the thought. I was overcome with the joy reserved for parents who sense our simple instruction about giving and priorities are taking hold in a young mind. She hadn’t found a dollar for her piggy bank or for candy or a dollar for new crayons – she had found – an offering! Now here was a cheerful giver.

There is unparalleled beauty in a child’s innocence and in the humbleness of a pure thought. What a thrill to tarry in the presence of a simple idea for a dad whose mind is pulled by the mortgage payment, the food bill, and the unexpected dentist’s bill.

I encouraged Sarah in her discovery and told her we would put it in the offering plate during the service. But she couldn’t wait! She had to give it right now!

At her insistence, we went downstairs right then and she crawled under the back pew where Mr. Keener, the head usher, kept the offering plates. She tucked the dollar into the bottom plate of the stack so it wouldn’t be seen. “Jesus likes that, doesn’t He Dad?”

It’s easy for us adults, with our busy schedules and sophisticated budgets and our long-range plans – to easily overlook need and scale but at some point wouldn’t we be well served to contemplate a child’s idea of giving – a pure and simple expression of priorities.  Do we dare compare it to our own?

Whatever our perception of giving, I hope Sarah’s story at the least would cause us to adopt a plan or an attitude about giving.  Do we offer the left over change on the top of the dresser or do we give from what is left after the bills are paid or do we just let others support the work of the church and the community?  Are we looking for a good feeling or do we make a deliberate commitment to regularly write a check because somewhere out there is a cause greater than ourselves?

What can we learn from the simple heart of a child that would lead us to the joy of giving?