Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mr. Pendergrass's Cake

When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher named Mr. Pendergrass. I have to admit that I was not especially pleased, at first, to end up in his 6th grade class. I had been hoping for another teacher who seemed a lot more with it than Mr. Pendergrass. But no one asked for my opinion and so I spent a year with a southern gentleman who was tall and stern and . . . interesting.

Mr. Pendergrass talked with a southern accent, a lot like most of my relatives at the time. He wore nerdy type glasses and he had thick wavy hair that didn’t behave. You might have laughed at him if you thought you could survive it, but we all knew better. And he wasn’t afraid to tell us we were acting stupid. He never called anyone stupid, but he let us know when we were acting stupid.

One thing that really stood out about Mr. Pendergrass is that he had what used to be called a “sardonic” sense of humor, which is a little hard to explain. Webster says it’s about being “disdainfully or skeptically humorous.” Yep. Whatever that means, that was Mr. Pendergrass. Yet, somehow, by the end of the year, I absolutely loved this teacher. I learned from him. I liked his sardonic humor. Somehow he was really likeable. It made no sense, but there you go.

So. Close to the end of that year there was a bake sale to raise money for something at the school. All the teachers made something. Cookies, pies, whatever. And Mr. Pendergrass had produced, marginally, a chocolate cake, which was my favorite. In all honesty, it wasn’t a very attractive cake. The frosting looked like it had been applied by distracted chimpanzees. But, still. It was made by Mr. Pendergrass, so I wanted it. It just seemed right that I should have it. But they were auctioning this stuff off to the highest bidder, which was bad news for me because my family wasn’t exactly floating in the green, if you know what I mean, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

But, for some strange reason, my mom was with me on this one. The bidding started and I shouted out my bid. But the price kept going up. And up. I would look at my mom with a look of “Yes, I Know Mom, This Is Crazy,” and she would give me a little nod and I’d add another quarter to my bid until, finally, we won the cake. I can’t remember how much it was, but it was ridiculous. I think it was the highest bid of the night.

And it was a very different, very pleasant, Mr. Pendergrass who immediately walked up to me and my mom. Apparently aliens had taken over his body. He was all smiles. He laughed and shook my hand and thanked my mom. He and my mom talked about how they were both from the south. He was blown away that we would pay that much for his cake, and I suddenly saw that he was just a young man who was teaching kids at a little school in Michigan because he liked kids. Kids like me.

So here’s what went down:

1. We ate the cake that night. It was delicious. Well. Delicious enough, anyway.
2. Mr. Pendergrass gave me an A for effort, marked with a note on my final report card saying something like, “Thanks for buying my cake!” Yes, he did.
3. I never forgot him.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I’ve read that author Stephen King listens to heavy metal music while writing in the morning. Why is that not surprising?

Sometimes, I listen to music while I do other things.

But it occurred to me that most people would says something like this: “I listen to music while I work around the house.” For me, it’s more like this: “I work around the house while I listen to music.” I know they seem kind of like the same thing, but they aren’t.

When I listen to music, I listen to it. In fact, I have a really hard time not listening to it. It is a genuinely compulsive response. If I’m driving somewhere with people and they have music on in the car, then I can have a hard time keeping up with the conversation because I’m listening to the music. And I’m not sure how they are managing to not listen to the music.

When music is playing, I’m compelled to listen to it, which makes it hard to focus on other things. So while I’m doing things that take very little thought, like driving or working in the yard, I like to listen to music because I can really listen to it. But if I’m doing something that actually takes some thought, like my work, or reading, or talking to people, I can’t stand hearing music in the background because I’m not supposed to be listening to it, and it becomes a major distraction for me.

Imagine you love chocolate cake. It’s your favorite dessert. And while you’re having a conversation with someone, they have a freshly made chocolate cake suspended with wires between the two of you as you talk. You have to look over it slightly to see the face of the other person. It’s still slightly warm, so the aroma is floating in the air. And the frosting is just perfect. You haven’t had any chocolate cake in a long time. In fact, you missed dinner, so you’re really hungry anyway. And there is this cake, right in front of your face, while they try to talk to you about something important. You feel guilty, because you’re trying to listen, but you can’t help it. You are distracted by the cake.

Your cake is like music to my ears.

I want to pay attention. I want to listen. I want to focus on the people around me. I want to have empathy for people and really understand them. But, for me, that can be challenging sometimes. And it’s not just the music. It’s life. The wants and needs of one person can distract us from the wants and needs of another. The needs of one child can keep you from seeing the needs of another. Our own wants and needs get in the way too. Good things can keep us from seeing other good things.

I have no resolution for this.

Proverbs 4:20-22
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Sufjan Stevens has a song called “Romulus.” I was listening to it today. It makes me think of my grandmother Shelton, my mom’s mom. The song has nothing to do with my grandmother. Not really. But there’s this line where he says...

“I was ashamed. I was ashamed of her. I was ashamed. I was ashamed of her.”

He’s talking about his mom, or A mom. But, for some reason, this makes me think of my grandmother Shelton. I was never ashamed of my grandmother. But that line, for some reason, reminds me of a particular thing that happened.

You need to understand that my grandmother loved me. She really loved me. Massively. She talked about it. She told me she loved me constantly. She called me “My David.” She loved me way more than I deserved. I lived with her and my grandfather for about 6 months while I was going to school at Wayne State University, and it only cemented our relationship. This woman, my grandmother, was like Christ. I’m not saying she was perfect like Christ. I’m just saying. She was like Christ. She was loving and kind and full of grace. I can’t think of a single negative when it comes to my grandmother. She was, to me, a perfect human being, even though I know that she wasn’t perfect.

And when I hear the song “Romulus,” when I hear, “I was ashamed of her,” it makes think of this moment...

My grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. At that time in my life I had no idea how serious that was or what it could mean. I do now, unfortunately. I’ve seen a lot more. But, at the time, I had no idea. I knew she was sick, but it didn’t register how serious it was. She went to treatments. They didn’t seem to help. She went into the hospital. And I failed her. I failed to go see her as much as I should have. In my ignorance, I thought there was time.

But sometimes there’s no time.

There’s no way around it. I failed her. I was in school. I was really, honestly busy. And I didn’t understand cancer. I didn’t understand. So I neglected her.

Finally, I found time to go visit her. I went to the hospital. I was walking down the hall, looking into the rooms. I couldn’t exactly remember which room she was in, so I was looking in to see which room I should go in. There was a young woman in a room. Not Grandma. There was a black man in a room. Not Grandma. There was a skinny, bald white man in a room. Not Grandma. There was a black woman in a room. Not Grandma.

Then it dawned on me. The skinny old man with the bald head. That was my Grandma. It stopped me in my tracks. I had walked right past her and not recognized her. The treatments she had endured over the past week and so many days had reduced her to an unrecognizable person. She had been reduced to skin and bone, hairless, looking like an old man. And, I have to say, it devastated me. I was ruined.

I walked into her room and looked at her. She was in so much pain. Her body shook with the pain. She looked at me with vacant eyes, but she took my hand and held it. Standing there, holding her hand, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I wanted to run away as fast as I could. I wanted to fly away like Bono in Bullet the Blue Sky. But I stood there and held her hand and watched her frail little body shake with pain.

I have since stood in hospitals, holding the hands of dying people, or sick people. And it still wrecks me. It messes me up emotionally. It all takes me back to that moment. And it’s a hard thing.

She died a few days later. It was a mercy. She was with Christ, and that was something.

And here’s the thing. I want to remember her for her smile. I want to remember her for how she called me “my David.” And I do remember those things. But I can’t get that moment out of my head, where I saw her and thought she was an old man. That moment when I didn’t recognize her and I passed her by. I can’t forget how I failed her by not going to see her more often before she became so sick.

I am ashamed. I am ashamed of me. I am ashamed. I am ashamed of me.

Peace to me.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

At the Party

He walked into the dining room. He was dressed a little odd. His shirt was from the nineteen fifties. His tie was ancient. His pants were from the nineteen eighties. But his haircut was up to date. It made him look interesting and odd, in touch and out of touch all at the same time. Or it made him look confused.

The party had been going on for quite a while already, but there was a place at the table. He saw it as an opportunity, so he sat down. He’d never met these people before, but he was kind of an outgoing person, sometimes. Other times, not so much. You could never tell.

He sat down. The people already sitting were in the middle of a conversation about life, you know, everyday things like: family, friends and relationships, entertainment and sports and art, their jobs and their kids and their feelings, which he found kind of interesting. He listened for a bit. As he listened, he felt like joining the conversation, so he looked for an opening. He was hoping to connect to these people on some level. He said...

“I’m a real mess. You wouldn’t believe. I’m depressed most of the time. But I have good days too, occasionally. I hate my job, sometimes, but I work hard at it. I feel like I’m persecuted by family and friends sometimes, and my coworkers, because they don’t really understand me. I admit, I don’t know how to handle life’s ups and downs without serious emotional trauma, but nobody is perfect, right? I mean, I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers or anything. It’s just that I have something to say. But I’m not always sure what it is.”

At this point, one of them felt sorry for him. Another one wasn’t sure what to make of what he said. It seemed kind of too personal given the circumstances. Another one liked his shirt, while another one preferred his haircut. Most of them weren’t really interested in what he has to say. He hadn’t really earned the right to be heard, maybe. Another one didn’t really hear him because they were thinking about something else. A few of them stared at him, vaguely.

After an uncomfortable moment, he said, “But God is good and he loves me.” He thought they’d respond to this, but they just went on talking together as if he wasn't there.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I notice that there are a lot of what I would call “confessional” blogs on the blogosphere. These are blogs where people feel compelled to reveal intimate, personal things about themselves to complete strangers for the sake of being honest. Or something. Which is fine. Perhaps it has a kind of healing aspect to it, like confession can have. This is why they have support groups in AA, right?

I have to confess, I’m not big on this kind of thing unless I know the person. I do a lot of confessing myself, on a daily basis, to God. And I have some people very close to me who I talk to about what’s going on in my life. I try to make them aware of my struggles without milking them for sympathy. I believe in being honest, and I like sharing my experiences with people, but everyone does not need to be all up in my laundry all the time, ya know? That's just me.

Still, I have decided on this day, for no apparent reason, to confess something about myself that I find a little troubling? Disturbing? Maybe just unusual? I don’t see it as a huge problem. Maybe it is, I don’t know. I know it’s not “normal.” Perhaps you will decide. I’ve hinted at it in the past, which I do a lot. I’m a big hinter. It’s part of my passive aggressive personality disorder. If you really want to know me, you are going to have to pay attention. (See, there’s some more confession, but that’s not the thing I’m confessing.)

The thing I’m going to put out there today is the disturbing number of books I read at the same time. I’m simply going to list them here, to show you how twisted it is, and you can think what you will. Offer support? Identify with me? Think I’m nuts? But I will have confessed it and we’ll see if it makes me or anyone else feel any better. Frankly, I doubt it. But I’m willing to try. For the sake of brevity, whatever, I’ll only list the books that I have read at least two chapters of. If I’ve only read one chapter, I won’t include it, but they are there, waiting in the shadows of my own personal Little Library of Horrors. “Read me, Seymour, read me!”

Okay. Here’s the list, compiled from what I think of as my different “reading stacks” strategically placed throughout our house (and in my car) in no particular order. Sometimes I finish a book in a few days, sometimes it takes years, but I’ve finished reading practically every book I’ve ever started, except for a few that I found, well, unreadable.

Please don’t hold it against me:

1. I Walked the Line - Vivian Cash
2. This Perfect Day - Ira Levin
3. Mister Slaughter - Robert McCammon
4. The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
5. Rediscovering Church - Lynne and Bill Hybels
6. The Koran - Muhammed
7. The Strong Willed Child - Dr. James Dobson
8. A Brief History of Time (rereading) - Stephen Hawking
9. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era - James M. McPherson
10. Mountains of the Mind - Robert MacFarlane
11. The Bible (rereading) - God
12. Ray Harryhausen, An Animated Life - Ray Harryhausen
13. The Dark Pond - Joseph Bruchak
14. Raising Your Child, Not Your Voice - Dr. Duane Cuthbertson
15. Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy - Gordon Ramsay
16. Eyewitness to Power - David Gergen
17. Celebration, U.S.A. - Frantz/Collins
18. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bain
19. Calvin’s Institutes - Calvin
20. I Was Right On Time - Buck O’Neil
21. So You Want to Be Like Christ - Chuck Swindoll
22. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds - Os Guinness
23. Shadowplay - Tad Williams
23.Until I Find You - John Irving
24. Blessings In Disguise - Alec Guinness
25. Mr. Darwin’s Shooter - Roger McDonald
26. Art: A New History - Paul Johnson

Read anything good lately?

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth?” It seems to have been a rhetorical question. Pilot’s answer to his own question would have probably been, “Truth is whatever I need it to be” or “Truth is what works for me.”

How about...
    “Truth is what is.” Given some contexts, you might say, “Truth is what is, independent of what we think or know about what is.” Einstein would have agreed with that, I think. If and/or how we know what is, well, that’s a different subject. But if something is, then its existence isn’t shaped by what we think or know about it. If it’s physical, and we touch it in some way, say to measure it, or whatever, then maybe it is shaped by our touch. But to measure it in our minds doesn’t change anything except, maybe, our minds.

So I think about God. God said, “I AM.” Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.”

We can talk about God being there or not, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what we think or say about it. Our “experience” of God (or non experience) may be subjective by degrees, but God is not subjective. God is either real or not.  God exists or does not exist as a person or a thing (though not a physical thing, unless some people are right, thinking the universe is a "god"). If God is “there,” then God isn’t shaped by our opinions anymore than the Grand Canyon is. We can talk subjectively all day long about whether or not we think the Grand Canyon is a beautiful thing or a big, ugly hole in the ground. But arguing about whether or not it’s there wouldn’t change whether or not it’s there. That would be the kind of empty philosophy that makes people want to stay as far away from philosophy classes as possible. It’s either there or it’s not. Opinions don’t matter. It’s not subjective. It just is. Or it isn’t.

I remember once (and I hate to admit this), I was watching the old Sally Jesse Raphael show. She had some overbearing “religious” people on with some carny show types who were completely over the top and she just let them at each other. The conflict was the point of the show. It was quite entertaining in a despicable sort of way. But Sally herself became frustrated with the “religious” people. They were, after all, kind of idiotic. And, in her frustration, Sally put her face right up in the camera and said something like, “I will NOT believe in a hateful, vengeful God.”

I get what she was saying. I get what a lot of people are saying when they try to define God. They want God, if God exists, to be a certain way. They have some personal ideal that’s subjective. And on an emotional level this is understandable. If you’ve been hurt a lot, you want a “god” who will stop the hurt. If you’re full of doubt, you want a “god” who will affirm your thoughts against doubt.

But if God is there, if God is, God can’t be defined by what has been created. God can only be discovered in some way. If God exists, and I believe God exists, our discovery of God does not change God’s nature. God is not whatever we want God to be. If God is there, then God is the one who does the defining.

God is not defined by us. We are defined by God.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


You need to understand: I was not overly blessed with manliness to begin with.

I have never been good at or much interested in team sports. And don’t get me started on the game of golf. What is it with watching golf on TV? How do people do this? I’m sorry, but I will never understand it. And I have a hard time relating to guys who can’t look you in the eye while they talk about how everything is “okay” all the time. I’m not big on hunting, though I do like to go fishing on occasion. But I’m not good at it. And I don’t like pickup trucks. I actually, honestly, really do like my mini van...

I think you get my point. If you don’t get my point by now, I’m sorry, but I can’t keep going with that. Suffice it to say, I’m troubled by the fact that I’m just not in a very good position to turn my lack of manliness around because I have been blessed.

With three daughters. Three. T-h-r-e-e. And no sons. I’m all alone here, people.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my daughters like crazy. I wouldn’t trade them for anything or anyone. They are light in my life. They are beautiful and amazing. But these three daughters are growing up into three teenage girls who will, God willing, become three grown women. And if you add their growing estrogen factories to my wife’s fully developed and highly functional estrogen output, what you have is a prescription for my ending up with a complete masculinectomy.

Example: I get in the shower. Can I find a bar of soap? Not a chance. Do they even make bars of soap anymore? I haven’t seen one in years. So what do I have to choose from? Cucumber melon sparkle something or other body wash with Jojoba and rice juice extract? Something nutty like that. And shampoo? Watermelon lime whatsit whatever with maximizer this and volumizer that.

You say, “Okay, grown man, go to the store and get your own bar of soap.” I say, “Oh yeah! And where would I put it? Every nook and cranny is filled with odd concoctions, scented in every conceivable way.

I get out of the shower smelling like the fruit drawer in our refrigerator.

I sense that my testosterone levels are progressively decreasing, day by day, due to environmental influences, and I may be reaching a crisis point where all that’s left is a shell of a man who should have prepared himself by playing a little sports now and then and maybe chewing some tobacco or learning how to grunt out expletives while fixing my car. That is, I mean, my truck. Pickup truck. With a gun rack on it, right? Something. Anything. I don’t know.

What I do know: I don’t stand a chance.

Philippians 4:13
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Three People

It’s interesting to me, the impact some people can have on my life in just a short time. Big things and small, but still an impact.

A long time ago, my friend Gary managed to get me hired in as a temporary worker at the post office. It was a ninety day thing or something like that. Short term work for students.

The thing was, this post office job required me to get up at some ungodly hour. I don’t remember exactly, four or five in the morning, so we could get the mail unloaded off the trucks and in position for the mail delivery people to sort and slot and pack into their bags. It was too early for me. I was barely coherent.

On that job, in just ninety days, three people really made an impression on me.

The first was a woman who was angry. At me. All the time. Why? I have no idea, but she hated me. It was clear. She made it clear every time she spoke to me. I don’t know what I did, but I think I responded pretty well. I didn’t get mad. I didn’t yell back. I smiled and I was kind and I just wondered why she was so upset. I didn’t let it get to me and I worked hard and got things done.

Maybe that’s why she hated me.

The second person was a young woman who was deaf. She was amazing. She did not let her disability slow her down. She talked with people and made jokes and clearly enjoyed being alive. It was inspiring. She started to show me sign language, but I was slow at picking it up, considering we had to actually work while we were there. But I did learn a few things.

She taught me how to say my name in sign language.

The third person was a young guy who was a temporary like me. I’m not sure, but I think he was Italian. I don’t know. But he had a slight accent that was kind of endearing in a way. I don’t think he was from Italy. It was more like his parents were from Italy (or wherever it was) and he had picked up on their accent. But, anyway, he was a political science major and he always, ALWAYS, had a good attitude. I don’t know how he did it, but every morning he’d walk in the door and move around from person to person saying loudly, with cheer, “Goot morning!” Which, at first, was a little too much. But as time went on I began to admire him. I admired his positive attitude and good nature. I wanted to be more like that.

Nowadays, if I show up somewhere in the morning, you might hear me say, “Goot morning!”  I say it just like he did. And this is in honor of him. It’s a remembrance. A stab at being more cheerful, like I should be.

All of this to say: Don’t underestimate your impact on people. The little things matter. The little things make an impression, they make a difference. And just imagine the difference you can make in people’s lives if you really try.

Seriously. Imagine.

Matthew 13:31-32
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010