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.)

 

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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!

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.

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!

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.

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?

The Faberge’ Egg Redemption

Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Remember the old prank? When the unsuspecting clerk would reply “Yes” about his inventory of the popular chewing tobacco tins, the prankster would say, “Then why don’t you let him out!?”

Beaver Cleaver got in trouble with Ward for pulling that on the local grocer but not before he and his chubby buddy, Larry Mondello, phoned another grocer to ask if they had frog legs. When the grocer proudly responded “Yes”, the Beave said, “Well put some pants and shoes on and no one will notice.” The boys then quickly hung up the phone and rolled on the floor in a fit of laughter over their witty comedic success. There must be something about the tween-er years where this simple phone prank can generate such a thrill. It may be evidence of a budding independence.

The Prankster

My daughter, Sarah, then in sixth or seventh grade, was drawn to the rush of a seemingly harmless prank during the idle hours after school.

Equipped with a phone, she and her girlfriend, picked a name at random from the city directory and set their plan in motion. Unbeknownst to the girls, they had picked Marie, an elderly widowed client of mine, who just happened to be an early adopter of Caller ID. While they thought they were hiding behind the anonymity of a random phone call and a lowered tone of their voices – it was my name that appeared in bold letters on Marie’s phone.

On the first call they started to pose a simple double entendre question but got cold feet and hung up. Marie dismissed it as a wrong number or a miss-dial but she had seen my name.

The girls took five minutes to work up their nerve then re-dialed. By this time, Marie had returned to the far end of her home to resume a task. It took quite a few rings before she could get to the phone. The girls made some goofy statement and hung up. Now Marie, tired and frustrated from having to run to the phone for a fake call, looks at the Caller ID again and sees the same perpetrator. She called my office and politely asked through veiled frustration why Craig or his staff would contact her and then hang up. Sensing the edge in her voice my secretary forwarded the call to me and though bewildered, I apologized for the hassle she experienced. While I knew nothing about it – I promised her I would look into the situation and report back to her.

I called home and asked Sue if by chance she had dialed a number in error. No, she hadn’t been on the phone. I asked if she would check on Sarah and she soon found the girls upstairs and yes, they were giggling and they had a phone. I left the office and headed home.

When the girls admitted to making the calls – I sent the friend home – play time was over. While the other girl would not be punished – Sarah was far from being out of the woods.

She froze when I told her we were going that afternoon to visit Mrs. Robinson to apologize. As we got in the car I painted a picture of the ramifications of her actions: The stress on an elderly woman, the frustration in upsetting Marie’s schedule and mine, the potential harm to my business to risk losing a client due to her actions. Sarah rode along quietly as we crossed town to Marie’s. As we sat in the car outside her home, I explained to Sarah what would likely happen in the meeting and what it means to apologize if we wrong someone. This was not a matter of a simple “I’m sorry”, a quick In-and-Out, because too often “I’m sorry” can be a throw away line – like accidentally bumping into a stranger on a crowded street. The guideline for the afternoon meeting was we would not leave Marie’s home until I heard Sarah say the words “Will you please forgive me.” She hesitated. Forgive is not a word commonly used at her age but then this is not about the convenience of youth, this is about a lesson on the road to young womanhood.

First Day of School

I repeated the rule of the day – We will not leave the home until you say those words. If you think there will be a lull in the conversation and then we’ll make an exit, you’ll be forgetting that I know how to talk with people. I talk with people all day long. I can carry on a conversation for a long time and will just keep things going until I hear those words. Is that clear?

We slowly walked the long sidewalk from the curb to the front door. I was encouraged anticipating my client’s sweetness to help us through the visit but Sarah walked to the door expecting to find the electric chair on the other side.

Marie met us at the door and with a cautious smile invited us into her living room. After some pleasantries I began with my apology that my family would cause this situation to occur. After a pause I suggested Sarah had something she wanted to say. Sarah, looking first at the floor, began with a weak apology that included an “I’m sorry” to which Marie offered an obligatory acceptance. She explained why it’s difficult for an older person to move around quickly and the frustration of having to hurry to the phone only to find a prankster involved. She was ready to accept this “sorry” as a technical concession and move on.

But I stalled – Sarah hadn’t met the standard yet. Sarah made another attempt and included an off the cuff “I’m sorry” that sounded more to me like her heart was still hanging on to “how could you get so bent out of shape to cause me this grief, you know the other girl didn’t have to be here.”

After another pause in the conversation I began talking about the family pictures around the room and about some of the artwork she displayed. It was engaging conversation about things important to Marie – but Sarah knew what I was doing. She shifted her position on the ottoman. I asked if there was anything else she wanted to say to Marie. Sarah paused, lifted her eyes to meet those of the beautiful, silver-haired Marie, and said “Mrs. Robinson, I’m sorry this happened . . . and . . . will you please forgive me?” Marie, who never had children of her own, leaned forward and with a perfect grandmother’s smile patted Sarah’s knee. “My dear,” she said, “I’m so proud of you and yes, I forgive you and I honor you for having the courage to come and see me. Would you like to see my art collection?”

Now, in the time it took to complete a simple phrase, Sarah had gone from perpetrator to an honored guest on a home tour.  Marie, led Sarah into her bedroom workshop and showed her handiwork of creating decorative ostrich and goose eggs. These exquisite pieces are adorned with sequins and gemstones and complete with hinged doors and windows. They were inspired by the world-famous Faberge’ Eggs collected by early 1900s Russian nobility. Marie’s works of art are another example of the talent often hid among the main streets of our communities.

Marie is rejuvenated in offering forgiveness, making a new young friend and now to be showing her pride and joy artwork. Sarah is gracious in listening to the presentation and is fascinated by the handiwork of the woman who, a couple of hours ago, was an unlisted victim of a prank. What began as a number in the directory has become the code to unlock a door of understanding to Sarah’s future.

All Growed Up

And then it happened. Marie took an exquisite finished egg off the shelf, told the story of its creation and the unique problems it presented. And then she turned and presented it to Sarah. “I’d like you to have this, Sarah.”  We were both dumbstruck. Sarah hesitated at her unworthiness but Marie affirmed her bravery and maturity in coming forth to apologize. It was humbling to be in the presence of an earthly expression of a heavenly gesture – a gift – undeserved, unmerited, and freely given.

Bonus Link

Here’s a link to a favorite speaker of mine, Dr. Kevin Elko, a sports psychologist. This short talk he presented January 30th is called “Separate the Who from the Do” and talks about our reaction to making mistakes. I think you’ll enjoy his thoughts as you start your week.

http://www.drelko.com/Recordings/30Jan12Inspiration.mp3

The Importance of Seat Selection

It was the start of my college career. Everything was new . . . new subjects to study, new organizations, new friends and new opportunities. There’s even a new flavor about classes . . . the predictability of high school instruction is gone. Subjective studies are explored within a framework that satisfies classroom curiosity – dialogue is used as an instructional tool.  Sure, some disciplines, such as accounting, work within normal parameters but now allow for a deeper understanding of financial theory. (In my dad’s Accounting 101 class, however, they will still begin with this rule: The debits are on the same side as the windows.)

I enrolled in a class under the general heading of English Composition which promised to engage this new approach to education. The possibilities were inviting and the professor of my early afternoon Creative Writing 101 class has a doctorate in the subject, so I’m all in. Setting a relaxed tone, he sat on a stool before the group of twenty or so students and after a brief review of his class rules and a cursory introduction of the subject it was time to jump in to our first assignment in Creative Writing.

We were to turn to the person next to us . . . close our eyes . . . and feel their face with our fingers. Then, with eyes still closed, describe to that person what their face feels like and have them write down our thoughts. From these notes we would then prepare a paragraph or two to paint their portrait in words.

This college thing is better than I expected for, you see, the room is full of lovely women and seated next to me is a beautiful first year coed from Indianapolis. I’ve seen her around campus and for days I’d been working up the nerve to ask her out.

This assignment was my ticket. Even before being told to begin I was at work on the subject matter. It was all there . . . exquisite complexion, chiseled goddess like facial features, rose-like lips, and her eyes were the window to my future. The promise of spring was at hand. My creative forces were launched – this is the start of something big.

Here I was, worried about how to ask her out and now the professor is handing it to me on a silver platter. The stars were aligning – I knew she was from a good family, although I had yet to learn if her father had money. This brilliant, insightful, class assignment might include a proposal of marriage before I could get to that delicate chin. College is so much better than high school.

I was mentally editing my third draft before the assignment even began. I remember thinking something poetic about unborn children. For a moment I contemplated a Departmental Honors Paper and was already outlining my graduate coursework in modern poetry. I knew now, because of the inspired and gifted teaching of my college professor, I would become a writer . . . wear tweed and live near a pond in Massachusetts.

But then, the professor said a significant thing and it’s stayed with me all these years.  He said “Now, please turn to the student on your left and begin.” And there sat . . . Bob . . . a smiling, greasy faced, pock-marked, pimply headed guy from a Chicago suburb over whose face I had to run my fingers. But remember, the assignment didn’t stop there. I then had to describe out loud to him what I felt. Later I would have to read my prose to the entire class and Bob and I would relive the moment. What began as an assignment in Creative Writing became an extra credit exercise in diplomacy for a Political Science class.

It was then my career options re-centered and what can I say . . . I became a stockbroker. Today, I mostly wear a cotton/polyester blend and the closest I am to a body of water is after a heavy rain – the basement at my office floods.

I can’t blame the professor. I’m sure he doesn’t know he taught something far beyond the objectives of the day’s lesson plan. Come to think of it, this is the same English teacher who taught me a double negative is a “no-no.”

I never had a date with the girl from Indianapolis. Every time I saw her in the future my fingers got greasy and tingled with the tactile memory of Bob’s face. From then on, I made it a point to always sit next to the windows with a pretty girl next to me in anticipation of another adventure in Creative Writing.

The Waltz of the Barbers

I would often follow my nose or simply kick a stone up the alley to 409 Wyatt Street, the home of my maternal grandparents – Edwin and Loverna Barber. I was often there after school or on Saturdays. The ranch house, just a block and a half from our home, was physically small but large in terms of creativity and affection. You would always find approval there.

I would enter through the car port door, say “Hi” to Bama (BAH-muh,Bama dressed up for the towns historic celebration my grandmother) and usually head straight to the basement workshops. There was the silk screen painting workshop, the tool bench where I made telegraph sets, the photography corner, and the roller skating area.

But if not going downstairs, to the right of the basement door, you entered the living room with its simple maple furniture, picture window and paneled walls.

At the far end of the living room, where the hallway led to the bedrooms, there was the in-the-wall bookcase that held the stereo equipment. This is where Bapa (BAH-puh, my grandfather) kept the classical music recordings. The collection of 33 1/3 LP records stood on end. A few of them were made of red vinyl which you could see through when held to the light of the picture window. Nearby were the reel-to-reel tapes for his beloved Wollensak recorder. They were recordings of other classical music, sermons, and a copy of the soundtrack he used when performing his “ventriloquist” act with Jerry the puppet for Sunday School kids.

Our ever artistic Bapa - dressed up for the town's sesquicentennial celebration

It was common to enter the house and find Bapa working on some creation in the basement and Bama cleaning the house or ricing potatoes. Whatever the activity, you could count on the house being filled with the rich sound of classical music but most often, the waltz.

I heard more waltzes than any other type of classical music. What was it about three quarter time that thrilled him so?  Was it that most waltzes sound like a celebration or that waltzes are rarely, if ever, in minor keys? Or was it because the waltz just naturally lifts a person’s spirits? What made them so engaging?

One spring afternoon I went for a regular visit at 409 Wyatt but upon entering the home I found Bapa in the living room in tears . . . sobbing. Having just turned ten this was very unsettling. I had seen Bapa cry before but they were always hallelujah tears . . . tears of joy and blessing usually expressed at church or when the grandchildren would gather at a reunion. But today he was openly weeping and running his hand nervously through his silver hair as he paced back and forth. What could be wrong?

He didn’t wait for me to ask. Upon seeing me, with his arms raised, he blurted out dramatically that General MacArthur had died. He’d just heard it on the radio. He continued to pace as he told me about this great man who led our military during two great wars. He had been a divisional commander when Bapa served in the Army in France during WWI. Maybe memories of that time of his life were fueling his emotion. He continued his uncharacteristic pacing with an occasional exhausting sigh of “Oh . . . oh, my!”

I kept reverent and watched. It went on. I had never experienced such an expression of grief. I had never seen such a display of love and loss at the passing of another person. It’s clear even to my youthful heart, because I know my grandfather so well, that great men have the capacity to move people.

Later that afternoon, as I tinkered quietly in the basement workshops, I heard the sounds of the waltz drifting down from the living room stereo. The volume was a little higher than normal. His grief had turned to a grateful reflection of a life well lived. Now, it was the grand and sweeping pomp of the waltz that allowed Bapa to celebrate the life of a man in whom he recognized greatness.

To this day, whenever I hear a waltz, I think of Bapa. Each one is the Waltz of the Barbers.