Mickey High Fives

Lisa and I just returned from a week at Disney World where we met up with our daughter, Heather (seven months pregnant) and our son’s girlfriend and fellow Disney freak, Lori Johnson.  We were also able to spend time with our good friends Steve and Michelle Luck who are now living in the Orlando area.  This was a trip a while in the making and was even written into Lisa’s contract when we came to California having been planned since late last year.  It was good to get to a place we were familiar with and to see everyone.

With the exception of a stomach virus I contracted while there – it was a wonderful trip.  There is nothing quite as bad as being sick at the happiest place on earth.  I came back to California ten pounds lighter and still recovering.  I told Lisa I would like a “Disney do-over” since this trip was such as disaster for me.  We now get back into the swing of things here in California with a little more than five weeks remaining of our time here.  Having been gone since December 7th – we are looking forward to getting home.  Life in Loma Linda is comfortable and easy-going.  But where Gettysburg was full of history and activity – Loma Linda has very little to see and do that does not cost an arm and a leg.  We still enjoy the weather and breath-taking mountain views and will certainly miss the vistas that only California can provide.  But our hearts are in Kentucky.

Now back to Disney World.  It’s funny how my mind works – that is I tend to see things and get stuck on images that others may see but soon forget.  During an evening at Epcot something happened that really impressed me about how Disney works that made me think it should be the way of every company and organization in the world.  We had just finished watching the night-time fireworks show, “Illuminations”, and were exiting the park along with the other thousands of guests.  As we were herded along, someone in our group spotted a group of Disney workers lined up along the side of the shuffling crowd.  They were wearing those large, white Mickey Mouse gloves and giving everyone a “high-five” as they walked past.  I could not help myself but had to move to the side and smack hands with them.  Their smiles were infectious and I quickly realized from the brooms they were holding that they were custodians.  Further upon hearing their dialect – guessed they were of Haitian descent.  They were so happy and having so much fun saying good-bye to everyone and I thought how great it was that they had been allowed to be such a sweet part of the “show”.

Over the course of the week we watched some fantastic stage shows that featured some amazing performers.  Some received standing ovations for their performances and deservedly so.  But my mind kept going back to those workers at Epcot.  Wouldn’t it be great if organizations had a way of being more inclusive of all their staff – not just the ones with degrees or certificates of achievement or letters behind their names?  How cool would it be for custodians in a school, for example, to be given Mickey Mouse gloves in the morning and slapping “high fives” with every student that enters the building.

One summer years ago my brother worked at a Baptist conference center in North Carolina called “Ridegcrest”.  There he worked in the cafeteria washing dishes.  I remember him telling us that they called their large, industrial size washer “the dragon” and before each shift, the workers would gather and sing the National Anthem before starting it up.  It became a tradition.  I actually visited him that summer and witnessed for myself their singing the anthem and guess what?  I wanted to be a dishwasher at Ridgecrest.  It was the coolest thing I had seen – they had made washing dishes seem like fun.

Businesses and organizations seem so focused on efficiency, production and outcomes that they may forget the importance of first making every employee feel valuable.  But beyond that it may be necessary to find a way to make a workplace fun.

If nothing else – just give everyone Micky gloves.

High Five!

Steve and Lisa

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Life in the Empire

We have been told that Loma Linda Ca. has been declared the healthiest community in the United States.  In particular the community is proud of the health quality of the senior adults here and boast about the extended life expectancy here in comparison to the rest of the country.  People eat better – exercise more – and have the best health care available.  They also will tell you they worship on the right day.  I’m telling you these people have got it together.  Which is why Lisa and I just don’t fit it.

I really can’t speak for Lisa – but I am writing today to admit – I don’t have it together and I never will.  If not for God’s grace and forgiveness – I would not have a chance.  The positive influence of living a healthy lifestyle that Loma Linda has pressed on us is to be appreciated and perhaps will rub off.  But of late I have thought about driving my gas guzzling SUV past the health club with my windows rolled down playing AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” while eating a Big Mac.  There will be no beating or joining them – so might as well piss em off.  Perhaps that is why Jesus hung out with sinners – the people who had it together were just too boring.

We live in what is known as the “Inland Empire” (or the I.E.) which is the metro area of Riverside, Ontario and San Bernardino in southern California.  Of course “valley” would be too quaint a description for Californians.  They would never want to be in the same category as the “Ohio Valley” by which our home in Kentucky and surrounding area is known.  Nor would they want to be equal to the beautiful “Susquehanna Valley” which is the area in central Pennsylvania where we lived this past summer.  Here it is an “Empire”.  Give me a break.  But enough sarcasm – people here have been nice – just a little different.

The old adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” has certainly held true for us as we think about home.  Entering our sixth week here we are glad to be at the halfway point of this assignment.  We miss some things about home that may be a surprise.

You may not believe this one – but part of us misses the Kentucky winter.  According to the locals we are experiencing an unusually brutal winter here in southern California with highs in the mid 50’s.  (We may need to get dog sleds).  During the writing of this post, I understand it is sleeting in Owensboro and students and teachers are right now praying for enough to shut down the town tomorrow.  Not here.  Kids (and teachers) in southern California will probably never know the joy of a snow day.  And as bad as winters can be back home – springtime is all the more welcomed.  Here in California the January weather has reminded us of spring in Kentucky.  That’s great, I admit.  But what is there to look forward to.  Here it seems one season sort of blends in with the others.  Kentucky (for the most part) has distinct seasons and with those seasons it easy to turn a new leaf – set a new goal and landmark your life and time.  I would miss that.

So Lisa and I have about six weeks left here in California and we will soak up all the sunshine and fat dripping calories we can.  Just leave us a little really bad winter when we get home.  Maybe even throw in a snow day for old times sake.

Peace!

Steve and Lisa

Owensboro High School Class of 1977 – Memorial Speech

This past summer, as part of our 35th year reunion of the Owensboro High School class of 1977, I was asked to speak at a memorial service in honor of classmates who had passed away.  I have been humbled by the response and feedback I still receive regarding that speech and decided to post those remarks here for people to read.  Perhaps something here will be a blessing to you as you consider the loss of friends or family members.

Thanks for reading!

Class Reunion Memorial Service 6-2-2012
Speech by Steve McFarland at First General Baptist Church

The poet John Dunne once wrote the famous line – “Every man’s death is diminishing to me for I am part of mankind – therefore never ask for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.” There may not be a better word to describe how I feel as I think about classmates who have passed away than that of ‘diminished’. Certainly we are diminished in numbers as a class and we are diminished in spirit having lost one of our peers. Part of us is taken away when we lose a loved one – there is a piece of us that dies a little bit along with the person we have lost. To lose a peer and a classmate is to lose a little of ourselves.
It is an honor for me to be asked to speak this morning at this special occasion as we come together to remember our class mates who have left us far too soon and unexpectedly. It is one thing to speak at memorial services for a person much older – even one of our parents or grandparents who many of us have lost – seems somehow easier to talk about than memorializing our peers – our friends and classmates.
You and I will forever be connected by a common experience. We went to school together. Many of us attended the same elementary school, the same junior high and all of us graduated as Owensboro High School Red Devils – class of 1977. Nothing will ever take that experience away from us. We began this journey together and as the theme of our weekend states – we are “continuing the journey”.
There is something powerful about sharing a common experience. Several years ago I was in Louisville Kentucky at the Executive Inn (West, I believe) sitting in the lobby waiting on a friend that I was to meet and attend a meeting there with. And while I waited I noticed some people arriving wearing insignia that indicated they were military veterans. I overheard some of their conversations and learned that they were veterans of the Korean War and were at the hotel to celebrate a reunion with other Korean War veterans. As I sat there and watched as they arrived I noticed the way they embraced one another – some cried, some laughed and it was obvious that they were ecstatic to see one another. But as I listened I came to realize that they did not necessarily know one another. Although at first I assumed they were old friends the way they embraced each other – I soon realized they, in fact, had no knowledge of who each other was (in most cases). But they were still embracing, crying, laughing, talking, and genuinely glad to see each other.
They were bound together by this common experience. They had fought a war together and they were alive to share their memories and celebrate their lives together.
That is exactly what reunions do. They celebrate life. Here we are – alive, living in perhaps different parts of the world, but alive and we share a common experience. We were class mates. God in his infinite wisdom – designed our lives to intersect in a particular time and place. And nothing will ever take that from us.
Not long ago I was in an antique store (if I may say parenthetically here – no better indication of getting older than hanging around antique stores) when I spotted the famous poster of Farah Fawcett. You remember the one – her in her one piece bathing suit looking at the camera with that flowing hair and white toothy smile. If some of the ladies here don’t remember that poster – I can promise you all the guys do. The picture was from 1976 and I’m sure it hung in many of the men’s bedroom walls when we were juniors and seniors. But as I looked at that poster I thought about how Farah Fawcett had recently passed away after a lengthy illness that ravished her body and beauty. She’s gone. But here in this picture she is captured forever in her beauty. We may always remember her as she was in that famous pose.
There is obviously something very misleading about that image. And it is that life lasts forever. The endless summer, the eternal youth, the perpetual senior year, the party that never ends, the life that never grows old. The image of Farah Fawcett in light of her tragic illness and passing is a hard reminder of our mortality and we come here today to accept the reality that life is not forever. Many of our classmates – who we remember in the hallways of Southern Junior High and Estes and Foust and Longfellow and all the places where we lived our youth together are gone. And so as we remember them – and as we celebrate their shortened lives, we should celebrate our life – because we know it does not last forever. The Bee Gees sang “Stayin Alive”. “whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother you’re stayin alive – stayin alive. Feel the city breakin and everybody shakin and we’re stayin alive – stayin alive”. How ironic that just a couple of weeks ago, Robin Gibbs – who co-­wrote that famous song – died after his own battle with cancer.
Perhaps no generation before or since ours has looked upon themselves with such a sense of permanency. We were the baby boomers – going to change the world – make love and not war. We would have seasons in the sun – forever. I have often thought that the many educators in our lives that we owe so much – failed to teach us one thing – our lives will not go on forever. I heard one speaker once say the greatest lesson he learned in his life is what he learned from (of all things) potato salad. As he put it – when we die people will gather and say nice things about us, some may even cry over us. But then they are going over to the church and eat potato salad.
So where does all this leave us? Are we to give up as we embrace the reality of growing older? Are we to be depressed and despondent over our mortality? Absolutely not. What we should do – is what we know how to do perhaps better than any generation ever – live. And let’s live now. Let us really ‘continue this journey’.
You know if we are anything we are survivors. I think our memorial of our fallen classmates needs to be done in such a way that we reflect upon our own lives. And when we think about us – we have to agree we are survivors. Think about it – We lived through bomb shelter scares, nuclear attack drills, school lunches, paddles, jock straps, jock checks, jock snaps, mandatory showers, bombardment, student street crossing guards (by the way – can you imagine us doing that today – putting a stick in the hands of a twelve-year-old and tell them to go stop traffic?) playing football in the streets, riding our bikes all over town without helmets, second-hand smoke, bullies, black and white television without remote control, telephones with cords. As boys we survived Wood Shop and with the exception of Ben Hill managed without cutting off fingers and the girls managed Home Economics without sewing theirs together. We went barefoot – stepped on rusty nails, climbed trees, and swam in the Sportscenter pool all without catching hepatitis. We survived spin the bottle, post office and truth or dare. We rode in cars without car seats or seat belts, if we wanted to hear a certain song on the radio we had to wait until Kirk Kirkpatrick would play it during “Memory Marathon” on WVJS.
But on a more serious note we have survived even more than that. We survived the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. We have survived earthquakes, tornadoes, and 911. For many of our class there has been survival of failed marriages, broken relationships and broken promises. Many of us have survived raising children and some have had to survive the heartbreak of burying them. We have survived incredible wealth and spectacular failures. We have survived unemployment, and personal illness.
We survived. Brothers and sisters, classmates of 1977 here we are – survivors!
I believe if we could talk to the classmates who we are memorializing today – they would say something like – enjoy the time you have – you may not have tomorrow. Live in the moment – continue the journey. Now before you think I am about to suggest you live up in some hedonistic, self-centered way let me say this: the thing that those veterans I witnessed in Louisville taught me was how blessed we are to be able to say to those we love – I love you! How blessed we are to be able to hold our children, perhaps tell our parents how much they mean to us – embrace a friend, love thy neighbor, forgive an enemy. That’s what we are left to do – that, I believe would be the message of our deceased classmates.
My favorite verse of scripture is John thirteen and fourteen. There we find Jesus foretelling Peter’s public denial- foretelling Peter’s failure, his weakness, his sin. Peter must have been personally devastated at the thought that he would fail his Lord so spectacularly. But Jesus, perhaps sensing Peter’s sorrow says in the next line – broken up by the chapter heading at 14 but really should be read straight through – “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God believe also in me, in my father’s house are many rooms – and I go to prepare a place for you.”  It may very well be that Peter experienced survival guilt. Perhaps he on occasions wondered why he was spared. Why did Jesus die and he live on? Some of us may feel that way as we reflect on our deceased classmates. I suggest you hear the words of Jesus as he says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Do you remember how we would make plans to meet up with each other at different places when we were in school together? We would say, “Hey! Meet me at the Sportscenter” or “Meet me at Rash Stadium”. We’d meet up at the ice rink or cruise Wesleyan Park Plaza or CW Skeeter’s Boogie Shack. We always had a plan and place to meet up with each other.  As I close I would like to share with you a story I heard about a father and his family and the way they decided to say good-bye to one another if they were to be separated for any period of time. As we enjoy our reunion this weekend – we realize that our numbers will continue to dwindle and that there is no guarantee we will see each other again. It was in that spirit that this family had decided rather than say the words “good-bye” when they parted company the father would say, “I’ll see you just inside .. ” and his children and wife would respond, “the middle eastern gate.” In the bible heaven is described as having four walls with three gates on each. This family realized that if they were to be separated by death – they would have a plan to meet up again in heaven – just inside the middle eastern gate. The father would say, “I’ll meet you just inside” and the others would respond, “the middle eastern gate.”
As we leave here today – let us do so remembering life is not permanent, and since there is no guarantee about our next reunion lets enjoy the time we have and continue the journey as long as God allows. And after our time is done -let’s not say good-bye but – ‘ I’ll meet you just inside ‘ – (class respond) ‘the middle eastern gate’.
Let’s pray.

Haven’t I Seen You Before?

He was the first person we saw when we entered the church.  Hispanic, older, dressed in mismatched button down shirt and polyester pants – he offered us coffee and donuts.  I never got his name.  My intuition immediately was that I had met him before – men and woman who had what looked liked menial roles in life – who performed tasks in church and out that would never qualify them for monuments or statues or shrines.  Yet, they were people who found a place in their church to serve – to be relied upon – to be needed.  Yes – I had seen this man before.

The Cornerstone Bible Baptist Church is located in Redlands, Ca. only a few miles from our apartment here in Loma Linda.  Surrounded by Seventh Day Adventists – we decided to try another church and after unsuccessfully locating a Southern Baptist congregation in the area – I suggested Cornerstone after researching them on the internet. Obviously a small church – it would be much more intimate than the high church atmosphere of the SDA in Loma Linda we had attended before Christmas.  Furthermore it was described as a “New Covenant” church which I found to my liking and Lisa agreed to go along with my suggestion.

The website said the morning Bible study began at 9:00AM with the first fifteen minutes being “fellowship time.”  We arrived about five before nine and began looking for a way into the church.  The building had two upper entrances and a lower entrance to choose from.  We saw no indication of anyone in attendance and after I unsuccessfully tried to open one of the upper doors, Lisa headed back to the car – thinking this church was closed for good.  A man across the street standing on his front porch noticed our attempt to enter the church and yelled for me to go through the basement door.  I walked into the church and met the Hispanic man in his mismatched attire who welcomed me and invited back to a larger meeting room.  Lisa then joined me and soon the Pastor and his family arrived and we introduced ourselves.

It was after we settled into our seats that the little man, (I’ll call him, Philip) in charge of opening the church and getting the coffee started, offered us donuts and, I noticed, continued being busy around the room, getting all the needed cups and spoons for the coffee.  After about twenty minutes of small talk the pastor asked Philip to begin our Bible study with an opening prayer.  Philip spoke with a heavy Spanish accent but his earnest prayer made me think that he was asked to pray often in public here in this little church and he did so without hesitation.

After the Bible study we moved upstairs to the main sanctuary where Lisa and I counted as two of the thirteen people in attendance on this particular Sunday.  The Pastor, his wife and four children made up six. The service began with prayer and then the Pastor led us in singing “How Great Thou Art” with his middle school son controlling the accompanying track on a small sound system toward the back of the room.  There were long, almost uncomfortable pauses before each song as we waited for the music to begin.  The thirteen of us sang every verse of every song that morning from hymn books that looked like they had been in a flood.  The crinkled covers and brittle pages had seen better days – but the meaning of each of the old hymns – was still the same.

The message was fantastic – the Pastor, a professor of engineering at a local college, we learned, talked of God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and God’s sovereignty.  We loved it!  Following the sermon, Philip stood in the front of the church without being prompted and gave the offertory prayer.  He then, alone, collected the offering  We were soon after dismissed and went our separate ways.

As Lisa and I were driving to get some lunch – we talked about the positive message, the few people in attendance but what nice people they were.  But my mind was on Philip.  I could not quit thinking about him.  Being in an unfamiliar place it is a wonderful thing to see people you are familiar with – see people you know.  When we were in Pennsylvania – it was beyond words how great it was to see our kids when they came to visit or friends who drove up and spent time with us.  It is hard to describe that feeling.

I felt that to some degree as I watched Philip at church.  I had seen him or people like him before who serve and work behind the scenes.  They would never be comfortable on center stage.  While others are praised and glorified for a great singing voice or being a great speaker or teacher or writer – we tend to not even notice the Philips of the world.  Theirs is the widows mite of service and importance.  I remember a man years ago in my home church whose job it was to count the number of people in attendance during Sunday night services.  His job was not even to count those during the more popular Sunday morning services – his job was counting the Sunday night crowd.  He kept a little book with him and made tally marks as people entered the building.  It was his job – his place and position of importance.

In our short time of traveling, Lisa and I have seen some marvelous things.  We lived in Gettysburg Pa. where heroes are glorified with statues and monuments.  We have worshipped in churches where Presidents have attended and whose seats are marked  with plaques.  We have attended churches with seventy voice choirs trained to hit every note with perfect pitch and timing – flawless and polished.

I met a man in Hanover who I wrote about that took care of his wife day and night who had Alzheimer’s disease – he did so without resentment or sense of great sacrifice.  He did that because he loved his wife.  His name is John.  Here in California I met a man whose name I don’t even know – and I’ll bet he was the first one to arrive and last to leave church on Sunday.  He fixed coffee and took up the offering.  There probably won’t be monuments for either one of them.

When you are away from home it’s just good to see something or someone familiar.  And it really is true that in Philip I can say – I have seen him somewhere before.

My Rant – Part 2

…,and another thing –

what is the deal with the bicycle riders?  Here in Loma ‘Tofu’ they have bike lanes on most major streets (which I like) and plenty of bicyclists – whom I do not.  Would someone once and for all please explain to me why all bicyclists have to look like Lance Armstrong competing in the Tour de France?  What is up with the spandex and is that absolutely necessary to ride a bike?  Can I not get just as good a workout wearing a t-shirt and shorts?  Someone please tell those middle-aged guys – they don’t look like Lance.  They’re are some bulges that would be better hidden under a loose t-shirt.  I’m just saying.  Please stop it – please!  Keep riding – that is great!  Just lose the stupid bike outfits.   What good is it to be less wind resistant if you are working out?  Is this a race?  Just stop it!!

One thing I know about is bicycles.  Mine was the bicycle generation – I mean who of my generation did not own or wish for a Schwinn “Sting-Ray”.  Then it was on to the “Varsity” 10-speeds – the original street bike.  I know bikes and I know I could ride with the best of them and would not be caught dead in spandex then and certainly not now.  I am tempted to go buy a Schwinn “Heavy-Duty” – one like I delivered newspapers with growing up – attach a newspaper bag to the handlebars and show up at the next bike club ride – wearing jeans, sweatshirt and a football helmet.  I have to wonder if they would even let me ride.  I can see them now kicking their $1,000.00 bikes into the highest gear and trying to lose the ‘weirdo’.

All this goes back to the fact that the fitness craze is really big business.  It is not enough to just ride a bike for fitness – you have to buy into the whole “package”.  You need the high-dollar two ounce bicycle, the proper uniform, a helmet made by NASA engineers, a stationary bike at home for the bad weather work-outs and all the other gadgets that can be wired to the high-tech, graphite frame.  You don’t just start riding the old bike in your garage – are you crazy?  Better take out a loan for a few large – you will need it to just get started properly.

Are you thinking about walking for fitness? – well you need these special Nike walking shoes, a membership at the health club that has the Gyro-7000 treadmill with heart monitor, EKG read-out, television and for an extra fifteen dollars a month – a personal trainer teaching you “proper” walking techniques since you have been doing it all wrong since you were two.  Then you may want to stop by the vitamin store and pick up the special “Walking” supplement – designed to give you stronger calf muscles.

I suppose fitness only works if you are doing it in the proper “style”.  We are first expected to be “consumers”.  Once we have bought into everything the fitness industry is selling – we either become too depressed from all the money we have shelled out to exercise or we neglect other parts of our lives because we have shelled out so much money that we feel we must exercise to get our money’s worth.

I had a great-grandmother who lived to be one hundred years old and she cooked with lard, used only real butter and ate fried chicken twice a week and gave birth to seven children.  She never walked on a treadmill, probably never rode a bike in her life, and never joined a health club.

She also never wore spandex.

Now – I feel better.

Red Meat and Caffeine – Please!

I heard it said once that if God wanted us to be vegan he would have made us with teeth like cows.  As it is we have canine teeth – designed for ripping and cutting meat.  If you want to be vegan – go ahead – but don’t say God told you to because He didn’t – because He did not equip you that way.

We are living in what has to be the vegan capital of the world.  Seventh Day Adventists are all vegan and do not consume anything with caffeine.  God bless them for their healthy lifestyle.  But mark this well – Lisa and I will never be vegan or caffeine free.  Trust me that decision is self-preservation.  If we could not get red meat or caffeine – one of us would kill the other one within 24 hours.

This is a beautiful place – Loma Linda California.  Some really nice people are here.  It is very safe, the mountain ranges all around us are breath-taking and we can see lemon and orange trees from our little deck at our apartment.  But – these health freaks around here are getting on my nerves.  Get me back to southern cooking where fat is dripping from the steak sandwiches and real butter is slathered on every hot roll and biscuit.  Eat, drink and be merry – this ol’ boy ain’t never gonna eat a vegan hamburger or tofu.  Forget it.

Lisa and I went to the local fitness club tonight with the idea of possibly joining.  Nope!  If we could have seen just one person who was as big a fat ass as Lisa and I – we may have considered it.  Since when did health clubs not allow fat asses in the door?  Is it not for the people like me – people who need to get into shape that these fitness centers exist?  Not here apparently.  I am certain there were people still talking about us when we left.  “Did you see those two fat asses come in?  I think they’ve been eating red meat.”  One lady was so proud of her muscled bottom – she had it stuck up in the air in some spider-like pose – in the hallway.  Do you think she wanted us to look at her tight protuberance?  I think she did.  Let me get down in that pose in spandex and see if anyone is looking.  Oh – they’ll be looking alright and then talking about it for weeks.  “Did you see that fat man having the seizure in the floor the other night at the club?”

This place is like “Stepford wives” only with robotic fitness freaks.  Maybe if Lisa and I were here longer we may be inspired to “drink the water”.  But we are holding out for good Owensboro Bar B-Q, Dipper burgers, New China, and a good Briarpatch steak.

Gosh – we miss Owensboro.  Gosh – we miss Gettysburg.  Gosh – we miss people who need to lose some weight like us.  Here is to the fat asses – eat up!

Love, Steve and Lisa