The ‘Selfie’ Too Hard To Look At

Saturday I watched as a young couple pulled their travel-trailer into our campground and proceeded to back it into the space they had rented for the night.  As Lisa and I visited with friends here at the Spring Valley Campground, we were suddenly alarmed at the loud noise coming from the spot the couple was attempting to secure and realized they were struggling to get parked.  Over the next twenty minutes they pulled their rig up and back – again and again – in a frustrating dance of man and machine.  Each of us commented how sorry we felt for the young man and his family – but, of course, we did nothing to help.  We just sat there and allowed his pain to be our pleasure.  It was about the only thing exciting that has happened here this week.  You know you have entered boredom hell when someone running over a sewer drain becomes the hot topic for the next three days.  God knows what might happen if an ambulance or police car drive through this place – people may just die from the excitement.

I do wonder why we seem to delight in the struggles of others.  Now I don’t mean we get all juiced up over real tragedy.  I don’t believe we are that cold-hearted.  No, I am talking about the little things – the back into the pole, run over the curb stop, bend the street sign, and, here in an RV park, struggle to back into a camping slot.  I know why.  Because we are them.  I have well documented that I cannot back my RV into its slot without practically clearing out the entire campground.  But the key is to not let anyone know that.  Which, by the way, is impossible.  If you ever have an RV and struggle to back it into your designated slot – rest assured a crowd will gather to admire the frustration.  Crowds tend to gather in proportion to the number of “up and backs” it takes to get lined up correctly.  Had Lisa and I arrived here in Cambridge earlier in the day – I am certain they would have had to put up a grandstand as people gathered to watch our jack-knifing display of RV backing.  Fortunately we pulled in here in the late afternoon and only had a few spectators on hand.  I suppose the residents here were just worn out from watching all the other poor souls earlier in the day trying to back their RV’s into place.  We must have been the fifth or sixth act that day.

I suppose seeing others struggle in different ways somehow makes us feel good about ourselves.  And is that not pathetic?  What did our parents, public education and Sunday School do to make us this way?  Maybe we have given up trying to be complimented for our good work (which is practically non-existent) and resorted to looking for the struggles of others to feel good about our sorry selves.  I don’t know the reason but it is there.  We have grown more jealous, more prideful, more arrogant, and shamelessly happy about the demise of others.  Facebook has become a place not just to catch up with people but to brag about every infinitesimal thing our children do or say or accomplish.  We have “selfied” ourselves into glamour queens, rock-stars and GQ models.  Our children are not just cute – they hold the record for adorable.  And I am just as guilty as everyone else for that.  But I am trying to be honest about life and hope my writing is reflective of the good and the bad.  I have some good qualities but also warts and stinks and out of shape unattractiveness that only my wife could love and live with.  The truth is I am generally a mess and no ‘photoshopped’ “selfie” on earth is going to change those flaws and failures.

When Lisa and I pulled our RV into the Stone Mountain Georgia campground near Atlanta back in January, we arrived there in the late evening and had to park our RV in in the dark.  A person next door to us came over and offered to help.  He coached me on how to turn the wheel, how far to go back and pull forward.  He worked with me for a good thirty minutes – standing in that cold night air – until we had our RV where it needed to be.  His name was Tim Hammock and he and his wife, Kathy, became good friends to us during our two months in Georgia.  I will never forget him for helping us.

That young couple who struggled to park their RV this past Saturday probably won’t forget me either.  I was the lazy spectator sitting in that lawn chair watching him struggle and run over that sewer drain and work and work and work to get parked.  I was the one who did nothing to help.  And I am sorry about that.

Maybe next time I will remember how pitiful I am and how much help I need at times.

Humbled!  Steve and Lisa.


The “S” Bridge of Cambridge

The National Road was built in the early 1800s and was the first major highway project of the US federal government.  Originally connecting Washington DC with states to the west, the road traveled nearly 700 miles between the Potomac and the Ohio Rivers.  Today that road has been replaced with major highways and interstates including highway 40 which runs east to west  through Cambridge, Ohio.  On a couple of occasions Lisa and I have traveled to New Concorde, Ohio and have passed a strange, curving bridge (now abandoned).  My interest got the best of me and I traveled to the bridge the other day to find out more.

The “S” bridge of Cambridge was part of the National Road and crossed what is known as “Peters Creek”.  The bridge was actually built in 1803 and was tied to what was called “Zane’s Trace” – the original road through the region.  The odd thing about the bridge is that it was built in an “S” shape in order to cross the creek at a perpendicular angle so as to cut down on the construction cost.  Because the road ran almost parallel to the creek, it was necessary to curve the approaches thus creating the “S” shape.  When highway 40 was constructed, the bridge was abandoned and is now just a minor tourist attraction.  In 2005 major flooding in the area damaged the bridge and a reconstruction project took place to preserve its history.

As I walked across the bridge my mind tried to imagine horse and buggies making this passage over a century ago and how far we have come since those days.  Cars and trucks zoomed by just a few feet away on highway 40 and I could not help but notice the contrast of the speeding automobiles to the slow, steady flow of the creek passing under the bridge below.  Society had passed and by-passed the “S” bridge in exchange for higher speeds and faster arrivals.  I took a moment to appreciate the painstaking work of those who curved the stone arch just to save some money and at the same time create an architectural work of art.  Those who labored to preserve the bridge after the flood damage should also be commended.

This place will probably never be one people will travel from miles away to visit.  In fact, Lisa and I almost did not notice the bridge as we ourselves sped down the adjacent highway toward our destination.  The bridge is a reminder of a time that took time.  Whether it be a horse and buggy or a Model T Ford, the “S”-shaped bridge required travelers to slowly move along the curve of the creek and meander in their journey.  If one went too fast they would find themselves toppled into the stream down below.

We need more “S” bridges in this country – places where we can just meander, pause and appreciate.  And go slow.

Love, Steve and Lisa

Barging Into Heaven: A tribute to John Worth

Update 6/19/2014:  It is a reflection of how many people John Worth influenced that nearly 1500 people have read my tribute to John.  Thanks for reading and honoring John in such a special way.  Blessings!

Lisa and I are so sorry that we cannot be with our church family today to honor the life of John Worth during his memorial service.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Judy, the boys and the entire Worth family.  I wanted to honor John the only way I knew how – to write about him.  This is my tribute.

By the time we reached Montgomery, Alabama the line of cars had reached more than a dozen.  Some who had joined our convoy to Panama City, Florida had no idea where our group originated but had pulled in line along the way and remained in formation as we headed south for spring break.  In 1985 one could not travel without the aid of a CB (Citizens Band) radio and we would joke and tease one another during the ten-hour drive while also keeping our eyes peeled for state troopers ready to slow us down. In order to make really good time the group needed a bird dog in front scouting for speed traps and alerting everyone to slow down. We had to have a leader and that leader was always John Worth.

We had met at John’s house at three o’clock that morning and after everyone was in line and accounted for we waited for his signal to begin our trek.  Along the way we depended on John to give directions as to where to stop for gas, where to eat, and how fast we should be driving.  It seems appropriate that John would be the one to head out into that darkness on that sleepy pre-dawn morning and light the way for all the rest to follow.  He never shied away from taking charge and just knowing he was in the lead somehow gave me assurance that I would not have any problems – just needed to follow his tail lights.  The majority of those in that convoy that morning were members of Bellevue Baptist Church and knew John to be a leader not only on trips like these but as an admired deacon and servant of the church.  John’s boldness was instrumental in moving Bellevue forward during good times and bad and his faithfulness to his friends, to his family, to his church and to the God he loved was unwavering.  That boldness would sometimes be confused with brash bull-headedness that would, at times, anger people and rankle even the calmest of members and friends.  But, in the end, everyone loved John and admired his courage. This post is dedicated to him.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of leading the Bellevue deacons through a Ropes course that I built and managed on the campus of the middle school where I worked for twenty years.  My goal that day was simply to get the deacons and ministers to come together for an experience of support and encouragement.  The men were challenged to put on harnesses and climb up to thirty feet while being belayed and supported by a rope held by the other deacons down below.  I could tell that the men were a little hesitant at first (as was common) and after all the harnesses were securely fastened and instructions given, I asked for a volunteer to be the first climber.  It took about two seconds for John Worth to step forward.  That was John.  He may have been scared to death that day, I really don’t remember – but I do remember he was determined to be first.

I don’t think John wanted to be first just to tell everyone later that he was first.  Something in his DNA forced him to step out – to stand alone, if necessary – to lead.  My hunch is John was as afraid that day as everyone else but was not going to let fear stop him.  Fear seemed to be his motivator and I was amazed to watch as every single deacon and minister followed his lead and climbed to the top of every single obstacle that day.

In the thirty-five years I knew John Worth (twenty-eight of which I served with him as deacon) I never found anyone as faithful to the things he loved.  If there was ever a problem – you can bet that John would barge into it head-long and full force without a flinch. Had John lived during an age in which problems were resolved with duels, he would have held the record for either most duels won or fastest duel accepted and lost.  Once I remember him being challenged following a church basketball game by someone not entirely pleased with how aggressive he had played and John offered to settle the matter mano-a-mano and this after he had already played an entire game.  We broke up the altercation and both went their separate ways.  John just did not know what ‘back down’ meant.  He drove through life fast and, at times, furious.  I made the mistake once of getting on a double inner-tube with his oldest son, Johnny II, and allowing him to pull us across Rough River behind his speed boat.  I was so scared by the time he had reached his top speed that my fingers gripped to the handles had practically melded themselves to the fabric hand holds.  At one point I looked over at Johnny II and saw him flying through the air having lost his grip.  I was too afraid to keep going and too afraid to let go.  Finally and mercifully John slowed down and I pried my fingers loose and dropped safely into the water.  John did life full speed ahead and people with him had to learn to hang on or fly off – he never offered a slow ride.

Over the years I came to understand something special about John.  He really loved people.  On several occasion he and I were partnered to visit someone from our church and I was always amazed at his ability to not only talk to people but have genuine interest in their lives.  It is no wonder he was so successful selling – he really liked the people he sold to – and that is a rare find these days.  One could not walk into Bellevue without being greeted by John and he turned the basic task of ushering into an art no one will ever be able to duplicate.  He simply loved meeting people.  John often described himself as a “smart ass” and his teasing was legendary.  One had to learn to laugh at the ribbing he would give you or he could make it brutal.  It was just one of the ways he connected with people he liked and he liked a lot of people.  But with John it was more than just liking people. Through the years John was for me and my family someone we could rely on for help if needed.  On the day my brother died in 1987, one of the first people to meet me at my mom and dad’s house and attempt to comfort our grief was John.  When it was left up to me to gather my brother’s belongings in Frankfort, Ky., (where he had lived) it was John who offered his van for Lisa and I to use on that horrible day.  I will never forget his kindness.

When I connect the dots over the course of my life, I realize that John played a major role in creating an important path in my journey.  In 1978 one of my best friends was hired to be the youth minister at Bellevue Baptist Church.  John Worth was the driving force in having Mike Spencer hired as a full-time youth minister – something extremely rare in those days.  Typically churches hired ministers to fill a combination of roles such as youth and music.  Bellevue was still a relatively small church at the time and yet John knew the need for youth ministry crucial. It has been my belief that the strong youth ministry Mike established was the main reason Bellevue stayed together during what would be a tumultuous few years in the early 1980s.  I credit John Worth for that vision.  It was during Mike’s first summer on the job that he invited me over to Bellevue one afternoon for a youth volleyball game.  One of the high school girls playing that day caught my eye.  She was small in stature but cute and had a huge personality.  Five years later, Lisa Cunningham became my wife and even though we now travel with her job much of the year, Bellevue has remained the orbit in which our lives have revolved and a place we will always call home.  I credit John for being a key instrument God used to carry out His eternal plan.

I loved hearing stories John could tell about his times with Vernon Cunningham, Lisa’s dad and one his best friends.  The two of them had many wonderful experiences riding motorcycles on various journeys, camping in tents along the way and just being together as friends.  John would lean into his stories, literally moving forward in his chair and starting usually with a “I’ll tell you what…” and then proceed to launch into a hilarious yarn about past adventures.  One of my favorite stories was his describing a high school basketball game during his years at Owensboro High School.  The best I can remember Owensboro was playing Calhoun High School (now McLean County High School) and toward the end of a very close game John was fouled and sent to the free throw line.  Owensboro trailed by one point with only a second or two left and as he stepped up to take the free throws – a time out was called.  I don’t remember the details of what happened next but there was an extended delay.  The Owensboro High coach then, Lawrence McGinnis, told John to stay at the line until play was finally resumed and here is where John paused and leaned in.  “Thirty-five minutes later I was still standing at the line waiting to shoot”.  By the time he was handed the basketball he was so nervous he missed everything.

In recent years I noticed John grow mellow and gain a healthy perspective about his life and the family and friends he loved so much.  John asked me to teach his Sunday School class sometime around 2004 and I remained his teacher for the next several years.  I could always count on John being in attendance and offering a comment or a perspective on whatever topic was being discussed. One particular study during my tenure as his teacher was on heaven and I never remember John being more amped up about a biblical subject.  Hardly a week went by that John did not talk about and get noticeably excited over God’s promised after-life.  He just could not wait to get there.

John Worth barged into my life and hundreds if not thousands of other lives as well.  He led into the darkness and went courageously head first into every challenge.  On June 14, 2014 John barged into heaven.  He died riding his motorcycle – something he loved.  He died with friends near him – the people he loved. It was shockingly unexpected and the years of missing him have only now begun.  He leaves behind a wife (Judy) whom he adored and his boys and grandchildren who were – to put it succinctly – his life.  He also leaves behind people who he could call his friends.

There will never be another person like John Worth.  And now he is where he has wanted to be all along.  Open those doors to heaven wide – John is coming through and nothing is going to stop him.

Steve McFarland

The Monster Under My Bed

“A subject for a great poet would be God’s boredom after the seventh day of creation”   Friedrich Nietzsche

I would like to clear something up with our readers in regard to Lisa and I in our travels.  We have been to some wonderful places and seen spectacular things.  The Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Gettysburg, New York City, Washington DC,  Stone Mountain, Ga., Los Angeles and Las Vegas all come to mind.  But in between all the places and exciting events are numerous days and weeks of getting up, getting ready, going to work, cooking, cleaning, and getting ready to do it all again tomorrow.  Whew!  Glad to get that off my chest.  Lisa stays busy with work and, for the most part, I have been able to remain active and busy doing different things in places we have been.  But during idle time there is a search for something to do – something exciting and engaging.  Yet no matter how exotic a location has been – there are days of doing nothing and fighting boredom.  The truth is we spend a lot of our time just living – not really doing anything spectacular.

If there is one thing that we try to avoid in our working/retired relationship and travels it is boredom.  Boredom is for me the scary monster under the bed that is ready to slink out of hiding and attack me at any idle moment.  Boredom is what scared me most about retirement and is why many people continue to work long after they should.   I am certain I share that fear with other people in retirement and I have accepted that the fight to keep that monster tucked away will be mine until the end of my life.  Lisa has made that battle a little easier to fight in that she seems to always find something to do or see or experience.  Most of the time I initially fight against her hair brained ideas – it seems to be my default mode reaction – but have learned to just go with it because I always, in the end, have a good time.  But where she has much of her time eaten up in her job, I have to work hard at finding things to do to fill up much of the hours and (I must say) have done a pretty good job doing that no matter where we have been located.

Of all the places we have lived – Cambridge, Ohio presents the greatest challenge for Lisa and I in terms of finding things to do.  As I have written, Cambridge offers plenty of places to eat and adequate shopping venues.  And in its defense, Lisa’s on-call schedule has prevented us from traveling very far from the area to explore the region fully.  But it is certainly not the most exciting place we have lived.  In fact, it has been a challenge unlike any other.  Where we hardly slowed down while in Arizona and where the fast pace life of southern California and  Atlanta were both exciting and nerve-wracking, here we are challenged to find a lower gear to live with and allow ourselves to be okay with doing nothing.  Which leads to me to the point of all this.

It is okay to do nothing.  Now when I say do nothing I don’t mean sit in a chair and vegetate.  What I mean (and not to sound preachy) is that it is okay to accept getting up and going to work, cooking, cleaning, sitting outside, taking walks and generally living life in small town America.  We have realized we don’t have to be “going” anywhere or “doing” something to avoid boredom.  Here in eastern Ohio we have learned to live small.  Somewhere along the way America has convinced us that we have to be “doing” something to be really living.  My grandparents lived all their lives in a town of three thousand people and their days were spent working, cleaning, cooking and swinging on their front porch watching cars go by.  That is all they did (for the most part) all their lives and they were the happiest couple I ever knew.  Lesson learned.

I was thinking about this the other day: If you would have told me when I was ten years old and absolutely a fanatic about sports (of all kinds) that someday television would offer twenty-four hour sports – I would have been so ecstatic I would not have been able to sleep at night.  Add to that the fact that someday I could watch cartoons any day or night of the week – well, I may have had to be medicated.  When I was ten years old we had to wait until the weekend to see a sporting event on television and could only watch cartoons during a five hour segment of time on Saturday mornings.  In those days we had to wait for those things we really liked.  We did not get too much of anything.  We never got bored with cartoons or sporting events because they were such a rarity.  Too much of a good thing – it turns out – is too much.  And we get bored with “too much”.

Cambridge Ohio is a good thing for Lisa and I.  There is certainly not “too much” of anything here.  We are learning to live with the anticipation of more exciting places to see and more exciting things to do.  That anticipation keeps us from getting bored and has shielded us from the horror of unhappiness.  Often the anticipation of something is the best part.  Planning and looking forward to a vacation or trip is sometimes better than the trip itself.  Our worn out RV is just that – worn out.  But it makes dreaming of a new RV all the more exciting.  I have said before – we need to thank God for the hard times because they make the good times even better.

So – it is good to be here in Cambridge Ohio – where we are living small but never bored.  Now if you will excuse us – it is time to go sit outside and watch the cars go by.

Love, Steve and Lisa

Barbie Jackpot

Lisa and I met a really nice couple while living in Arizona last summer who had moved from Columbus, Ohio to Kingman, Arizona and were living in the same campground as us while their home was being built.  Glen and Kay talked often about how there was nothing to do where they lived in Ohio except go to auctions and flea markets.

Having now lived in Cambridge, Ohio (just 85 miles east of Columbus) the past five weeks, Lisa and I have discovered something.  There is nothing to do here except go to auctions and flea markets.  So it was with reluctance that I agreed to go with her to an auction this past week and it turned out to be the most entertainment she and I have had in a while.  We were so spoiled living in Arizona and being just an hour from Las Vegas and a couple of hours from LA.  Here we are an hour from Wheeling WV and, trust me, Wheeling ain’t Las Vegas.  The country here is pretty, the people are nice, there is just not much to do.  The sale took place at the home of a man and his wife who were moving from Cambridge to – wait for it – Columbus.  There was a little bit of everything at this sale including some furniture, treadmills, lawn equipment, Harley Davidson stuff (which was a big hit) and numerous boxes of sh….stuff.  I was amazed at the prices people were paying for some of these things and Lisa and I discussed the idea of having an auction of our own.  In case you are interested – everything we have is for sale.

Meanwhile (back at the auction) Lisa spotted a vintage Barbie doll case dated ‘1961’.  I could tell she wanted this thing bad and she talked about how she had one just like it when she was a girl.  Collectors we have met have told us you should collect or trade things you like.  For me that would probably be toy trains.  For Lisa that would have to be Barbie dolls and accessories.  Finally – after about three hours of sitting through the auctioning of every kind of Harley Davidson jacket, helmet, hat, vest, gloves, and every possible accessory (I think they even sold some leather underwear) – Lisa’s Barbie came up for sale.  The bidding began at ten bucks and quickly got to thirty.  Lisa was in and I thought this could be bad. I had seen that look in her eyes before and it is always expensive.  The price hit thirty-five and then forty and Lisa went in at forty-five and waited.  SOLD!  She bought it for forty-five bucks.  At least we did not break the bank but I was surprised that more people were not interested and it made me think they knew something that we didn’t – namely that we just bought a Barbie Doll case for forty-five bucks that could be purchased for ten on the internet.  I always find ways to doubt purchases like this but was glad Lisa had what she wanted.  It was time to go home.

Lisa had taken a peak inside the Barbie case earlier during the auction and noticed there were some clothes and even a couple of dolls inside – but really believed they were more or less worthless in terms of monetary value.  It was not until we got home and researched the value of the case and it’s contents that we realized what we had.  We had hit the jackpot.  Now when I say jackpot that does not mean we are suddenly millionaires and no we did not discover hundred dollar bills stuffed inside a secret hidden compartment.  What we did find out was that this little case and it’s contents are worth well over a thousand bucks and that one of the dolls is a rare early sixties model that is itself worth hundreds.  To top it off – everything including all the dresses, shoes, shower caps, soap, necklaces, and other tiny Barbie items are in mint condition.  Many of the clothing items are part of sets that were completely intact which increased their value.  It looked to us like these had never been played with or seldom taken out of the box.  Wow!  I suddenly love Ohio and these auctions.

It certainly makes sense that collecting and/or trading items that you are interested in and enjoy makes the hobby more engaging.  The only problem is once you find that really special piece you don’t want to let go of it.  And I have a feeling this Barbie collection will be in our family a long, long time.

So much for that thousand bucks.

Love Steve and Lisa