About Craig T.

Craig is a recently retired Financial Advisor, college trustee, photographer, family man and author of "Portraits in Character: Word Pictures of Exceptional Persons."

Funeral Excerpts honoring Watson Tidball

Mom & Dad-1

Watson and Bonnie

On Easter Sunday evening 2013, my father, Watson Tidball died. He lived a rich full life and was adored by his family and appreciated by his colleagues and neighbors. For decades he was known as Mr. Greenville College for his endless promotion of his beloved alma mater.

On April 4, 2013 family and friends gathered to pay tribute to his remarkable life and legacy. This page contains links to those people who shared during the celebration at the Greenville Free Methodist Church.

Scripture by Jim and Leslie Brissenden (1:02)

Tribute by Dr. Robert “Ish” Smith (11:36)


The Watson and Bonnie Tidball Family circa 1969
Leslie, BonBon,Craig, Scott, Curtis, Grumps, Todd, and Jana

Tribute by Curt Tidball (5:45)

Tribute by Jana Tidball Spencer (7:43)

Eulogy by Craig W. Tidball (27:06)

Meditation by Pastor Doug Newton (23:09)

Memories of my Grandfather

Marcie Tidball (1:09)

Jason Ellis (2:14)

Morgan Spencer (1:45)

Tidball Reunion 2005 for Dad's 80th

Circa 2006
Leslie, BonBon,Craig, Scott, Curt, Grumps, Todd, Jana


A Tribute to My Father

Dr. Watson Tidball at the wedding of Sarah and Jason Ellis

Dr. Watson Tidball at the wedding of Sarah and Jason Ellis

(See the audio link below)

On Easter evening my father, Dr. S. Watson Tidball of Greenville, Illinois, passed away at the age of 87 years and eight months. After a busy day at church and dinner out where he was again working the crowd, he and Mom were relaxing quietly at home watching the television special “The Bible”. It was at the scene of the Crucifixion that he slumped in his chair and slipped away.

His funeral was a celebration of a full life well lived in service to his Lord. We shared in the joy of his music, a Missing Man Quartet, and a 60 voice male chorus singing the Navy Hymn followed by the choral benediction which closed every concert of his beloved Greenville College Choir. As the family followed the casket out of the service the audience sang the Alma Mater of Greenville College.

MP3 of Craig’s Eulogy delivered at the funeral of Dr. Watson Tidball

(You’ll be directed to SoundCloud.)


I Could Go for a Biscuit About Now – A Significant Update

When we were kids, on Sunday mornings about once every couple of months, Mom would make bakin’ powder biscuits from scratch. She would begin before we were up and timed it so just before the aroma of the biscuits climbed the stairs to our rooms she would sit at the piano and play these hymns which signaled the coming treat. Then the single word command “Biscuits!” was followed by the sound of ten or twelve feet swiftly rushing down the stairs to gather under the kitchen table.

Hymns have always been part of my life. From the earliest moments of Sunday morning biscuits, to family devotions, to children’s choirs to college choirs and beyond, hymns are the mortar of a spiritual foundation.

In the trying times I often find comfort in the hymns of the faith. The rich soil of their language is solid ground upon which to regain a foothold and re-center. Do you ever go there?

I’m not talking about the “Look at me, You’ve got me feelin’ real good lately” show tunes that pass as worshipful today. (Sorry, I haven’t been able to make the switch.) Rather, I’m speaking of the meat and potatoes hymns served with hearty sauces and beefy words you can sink your brain into with rich chords that bind them to our hearts. Add in some gospel songs written with complete paragraphs and it’s there I find a higher ground.

When I checked in as a patient on the fifth floor of the cancer wing at the Cleveland Clinic in 1988, it was clear this area would be a set aside space for my lengthy stay. It was a highly restricted area. Visitors were carefully screened to reduce the possible risk of infecting the vulnerable patients. Every guest was special because they made it through the screening but mainly, as I was so far from home, each one brought the fragrant memory of my family and my young children whom I missed so much.

In that hospital room that would be home for the next seven weeks, I set up my props from home: photographs, a leather notebook, some books and my electronic keyboard. (I couldn’t play much but thought I could brush up on my chords to keep myself occupied. Turns out just laying in bed was a full-time job.) The nurse gave me a funny look when I brought in the keyboard. She wasn’t concerned the sound might bother other patients, she was worried about theft in this big city hospital. She warned me it would likely be stolen and maybe I should have the family take it home. “It’s OK,” I said. “You’re going to hear my mom play this thing and the music will be worth far more than the keyboard. I think I’ll keep it here.”

When Mom came to visit, to give Sue a break to return home to the children, I asked her to play some hymns while I was bed-fast. She’s amazing at the piano – she can arrange most any tune and play it masterfully by ear – no notes. Even today, at 87, it’s a remarkable thing to hear and to watch her cover all the keys. When she plays, the hymns become a part of you – it’s always been that way.

Now, in my hospital room in Cleveland, she started out at the keyboard with the volume turned very low so as not to disturb the other patients or evoke the smell of biscuits. “Louder, mom. Crank it up a bit,” I said. “I don’t want to bother the others, she replied.” “Mom,” I added, “I’ve been here for weeks. If I can listen to their vomiting all night long – they can listen to my hymns.” Mom became a favorite visitor on the floor as they loved her music and even sent requests to my room.

Having been on this medical merry-go-round for a number of years, I’ve been back to the hymns many times. Sue would often read them to me in the hospital room in Cleveland. Here’s a short sample of one written by Hank Spafford with music by Phil Bliss. It’s always been on the top ten list when I find myself near the bottom.

When Peace, Like a River Attends my Way
When Trials like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well it is well with my soul.

Well, tonight, I’m lost in the hymns again and I could go for a biscuit about now.

I received the one phone call for which I had been both hoping and dreading. Nurse Becky phoned and I heard the news in the tone of her voice before she finished her greeting. The report had just arrived and the viral load is climbing again.

On top of last week’s blood test to monitor my anemia, an HCV count was added ahead of the official one scheduled for late March and the numbers now reveal that the bad counts, once dropping dramatically, are climbing again. A few more weeks on the medicine won’t make a difference and Dr. Bacon is pulling me off the protocol. The stubborn virus won again.

During these few months when the virus count was dropping, my liver received some momentary relief from the steady assault of the virus. But for now, as the numbers climb again, we’ll get back in the waiting line that leads to the promise of the next drug to break the code and beat the virus.

Sue and I began this leg of the journey on November 30th last year. We’ve been through chemotherapy often enough that the emotional and physical routines are almost familiar though each one presents new challenges. As I reflect on this most recent chapter, I can’t say I know what new thing I’ve learned, but I can say I know what I know. And that is that in times of uncertainty and discomfort and illness and pain, that simple touch, the card, the call, the smile, the email, the blog comment, the “how ya doin?”, the “what can I do to help?” – each of these are His hands in my care. Sue and I are so grateful for the kindness of your many expressions of support. When you reach out to someone in need you may wonder if you said or did the right thing – You did.

Thanks for stopping by the blog. I believe it was key in keeping me mentally tough against the potentially serious depression side effects of the medicine. The creative outlet and your kindness in checking in – over 5,000 hits on the site – gave me a sense of companionship and encouragement.

We’re fine. I’m going to take some time to rebuild my energy and muscles while dropping some recently accumulated “no activity” pounds. We’re looking forward to being out and about and on the road again in a few months. I’m looking forward to romping with the grand kids.

We are loved and you are loved. Thanks for your hand in the Master’s work – you’re good medicine!

In closing, here’s a treat for you. Just a few years back at a time Mom was visiting in our home, I was experimenting with connecting my computer to my electronic piano. The software would allow me to receive the input from the keyboard and alter it to then play back as any number of instruments and I could even print out sheet music of every note played.

I asked Mom if she would help by playing something on the keyboard as I tampered with the software. It was a spur of the moment request but she gladly obliged and sat down at an unfamiliar electronic keyboard. They have a different feel than a baby grand. Without a note she began to work through a list of some favorite hymns we share. I realize that when I hear these songs they are filtered through a lifetime of her caring for my coughs and sniffles, and scrapes and broken hearts but I think you’ll agree there is both a magic and a ministry in her touch.

Biscuits anyone?

Old Rugged Cross  (After clicking on each link you’ll need to click on the next link provided.)

No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place

Jesus Led Me All The Way

He Giveth More Grace

Fill my cup Lord

And He Walks With Me

There’s A Deep Settled Peace

Wonderful Peace

Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm
In celestial like strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm
Peace, peace, wonderful peace
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!
What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace
Buried deep in the heart of my soul
So secure that no power can mine it away
While the years of eternity roll!
I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day
And His glory is flooding my soul!
Peace, peace, wonderful peace
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

Whoofie! Revisited

You may recall the story “Whoofie!” written and posted back on December 12 during the early days of adapting to the medicines. Whoofie is a term from Sue’s side of the family to describe something over the top. I used it to describe some of the sensations and physical limitations caused by the powerful drugs – Whoofie!.

Lately, a number of those side effects have returned as I’m back on full dose and the hemoglobin counts have dropped to the lower end of the acceptable range. The last three days I’ve mostly stayed in the recliner. Whoofie!  I don’t have any of the nausea or flu-like symptoms I experienced early on in adapting to the new drugs but the anemia is very evident. Also, I’m finally starting to see some of the skin rashes that were anticipated. These are only slightly bothersome yet worth monitoring.

The cabin fever indicator is in the red and we’re hoping to venture out in the next few days if we can see a change for the better.

I may have written this brief piece for the sole purpose of posting this photograph of Norah which is one of my favorites. Photo by Sarah Ellis.

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.