Wednesday, January 30, 2013

good day, sunshine

“Good day, sunshine. Good day, sunshine. Good day sunshine…” That’s all I can remember of that Beatle song. My kids complain that they know the lyrics to every pop song ever recorded during the 1970’s, but only the first line. . –But wait, I do remember another line: “I feel good. You know she looks so fine. I’m so proud to know that she is mine.”  

Roxanne and her mother flew in to Orlando while Henry and I were on our fishing trip. When we left the boat, we drove to Andy and Erica Ramsaran’s house—Erica is the daughter of Henry and Lisa. As we opened their front door I heard a sound that I could pick out in the Metrodome, my wife Roxanne’s voice. The past week had been a good one. But to hear her voice was like sunshine after a long stretch of cloudy days. I gave Roxanne a hug. Then I gave her mother a hug. (I tend not to be a hugger, but a few years into our marriage, Roxanne said, “You can at least hug my mom.” So I do hug her mom. I like her mom. I’ve liked her ever since she said to Roxanne about 35 years ago, “I can see what you see in him,”) 

Andy had supper ready for us: London broil, grilled chicken, brats, pork chops, and I think he had some sort of a vegetable. I tried not to just sit next to Roxanne. As in most social situations, the boys were with the boys and the girls were with the girls.I think that's because women talk about people and relationships and men talk about things and significant events--like food fights. Henry says he loves being a grandfather. During the day Henry has a whole lot of things going on. But at meal time, his grand kids get his full attention. "Woooow!" he shouts as another piece of broccoli goes flying across the table and makes a crash landing against the bib of three year old Gio.

We spent the next couple of days at the Sardina house where I interviewed Henry for a biography. (By the way, this will be my last blog for a while. I am putting Henry’s biography in blog format which can be found at Henry kept on channeling over into preacher mode, and, of course, we had to take a little time off to argue theology. Also Henry is involved in many people’s lives. So thankfully, our interview time had many interruptions. Even so, one of my fingers is still cramped from so much writing.

The Sardinas are wonderfully hospitable people. Their house is about three blocks from the beach where Roxanne and I walked a couple hours each morning. She saw a dolphin jump. I saw hardly anyone on the beach because the temperature was a frigid 68 degrees. We attended their church fellowship where Roxanne’s mother shared her testimony with the ladies. One lady there was deeply moved by the Holy Spirit during this time.  She expressed great interest in what this “saved thing” is all about. Two days later she drove over to visit Henry and Lisa to find out more.

We visited Roxanne’s nephew and wife, Brent and Lisa Olson. Brent is an officer at the air force base about five miles from the Sardinas. Brent was born a leader. As a high school student he coached the Lake of the Woods Bears to their three winningest seasons ever despite being handicapped by an interfering high school coaching staff.   My son-in-law Daniel Triestman had Brent in his first cabin counseling at Story Book. After the second day, Daniel moved out of the cabin because he said there was nothing to do. Brent got the campers up in the morning; he made sure they all pitched in during cabin clean-up and that they all made it to chapel on time. And Dan said Brent's night time devotions were excellent with good participation from all the campers. “You can’t move out,” I told Dan. “But Bubba (Brent) is doing such a great job.” I finally persuaded Dan to move back into the cabin, and to fill up his time Dan wrote some of his best camp songs ever. (A CD of these songs can be obtained by e-mailing Billy Howell at
Brent is being promoted to Captain this next month, then General in July. And I think Commander in Chief sometime in 2014. 

On Thursday morning the three of us took off for home. Roxanne and I shared driving. Roxanne’s mom sat in the back reading the biography of Harry Truman. We stopped overnight at the Great Smokey’s National Park where we hoped to do some hiking. But when we woke up, there was a quarter of an inch of ice on our car, so we did the only sensible thing and drove through the freezing rain over the winding Appalachian Mountain roads. In beautiful Hammond, IN we stopped at a hotel very reasonably priced and with such special amenities as bullet proof glass for their desk clerk. 

Then on to beautiful Story Book Lodge Christian Camp. It wasn’t until we passed through Cloquet that anxiety again rolled over me. “Now what am I going to do?”  I could tell you I would have a colonoscopy, which I did, just this morning. It wasn’t too bad. And I could tell you I’m going to write the biography of Henry Sardina, which I’m in the process of doing. And I could tell you a host of other things I’m thinking about doing. I have nearly infinite possibilities. But I wish I could just go back to work and do my old job. It would make my life so much simpler. Several of the carriers that I supervised have told me they think I was the best Circulation Manager ever. Several of our carriers predated me at the Mesabi Daily News and they had been though 27 different managers in 27 years. My tenure as manager was 6 years, twice as long as any other. I appreciate their kind words. But I realize I won't be going back. 

Elijah in his discouragement saw the Lord display Himself with great power through wind and an earthquake and a great fire. Then we read, "After the fire came the sound of a still, small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he got up and stood." (I Kings 19: 11-13) The Psalmist writes, Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire more than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For to me the nearness of my God is my good." (Psalms 73: 25-28).

I really do know that it's not about circumstances, it's about nearness. Being kicked out of my comfortableness, my routine, has made me desire so much for the Lord to be near me; and in quietness, to hear His voice.

So for right now, I’m going to write and see what jobs might be available. And every morning when I wake up, I do get hear the voice of my wife and I will listen for the Lord's voice. And I'll push the anxiety aside and I'll sing, "Good day, sunshine. Good day, sunshine. Good day, sunshine..."--maybe I should Google it and find out the rest of the words. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


“Pull it up. Don’t jerk it but pull up hard and don’t allow any slack in your line. Now reel it in. Don’t let up, just keep reeling.” Those were the instructions I received over and over by anyone who was near me. We were on the Atlantic Ocean three miles beyond Jupiter Island in Florida. Bobby, a friend of Henry Sardina had taken us out on his launch. On the way to the ocean, we went past the homes of the rich and the famous. Tiger Woods had the fanciest place. He had his own four holed golf course, even though one of the world’s most exclusive (and most expensive) golf courses was just a few hundred feet from his property.

During supper the night before, Henry pushed a box of pills towards me. “You have to take one of these now and then take another one tomorrow morning.” I’m not a pill taker so I tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. Henry is not easily steered. “Take one of these, I mean it,” said Henry. “It will make your time on the boat a much better experience. It will keep you from getting sea-sick. And if you’re sea-sick, you’ll ruin the trip for everyone else.” He persuaded me. I popped a pill out of its package and swallowed it.
Henry looked at me quizzically, “What pill did you take?”
“The one you gave me,” I told him.
“What does it say on the package?”
I took off my glasses and read the fine print. “Imodium.”
“Lisa,” Henry hollered, “What’s Imodium doing in the Dramamine box?”
I think she said she did not know, but she was laughing so hard, it was hard to tell.
“You need to take another pill,” Henry said. Which I did. This time I read the tiny print on the package before I popped it out and swallowed it. 

The fishing trip was a life time experience. Never had I experienced fish hitting my line so often. Every fish I was able to keep on my line gave a fight, and every fish I actually pulled into the boat—I think I caught four—was a sight to see. Ocean fish are exotic with blazingly bright colors and beautifully grotesque mouths and eyes and shapes. George Lucas’ aliens never looked so alien. 

Bobby’s son-in-law Brent caught something that hit hard and then took off, pulling most of his line from his reel. Bobby followed the fish with the boat so his line would not snap. Brent reeled with all his might standing on the top deck of the boat. Henry yelled, “Brent, let Larry take your pole. He needs to experience a real fish on his line.” I didn’t want to take his pole. Brent didn’t want me to take it either. This was his fish. He was hoping for a sail fish, but, from the way the fish was pulling, he suspected a shark. It was a long and good fight, at least a half hour fight. We never found out what it was for suddenly his line snapped.

Henry also caught something big. He pulled his pole back, his muscles rippling—or something was rippling. Then, wham, he almost fell backwards. “Something huge just got my fish,” said Henry. “What I had on my line was just bait for him.”
What a great trip! If fishing was always like this, I could be a fisherman. 

I don’t think it just happened that the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples were all fisherman. Jesus told them He was going to make them fishers of men.
Some similarities between spiritual and physical fishermen. They both:
Figure out where the fish are.
Use the appropriate bait.
Are patient.
Don’t let up once they hook a fish.
Love to share their stories.

Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from this earth, I will draw all people to me.” (John 12: 32)
Have we got our lines out? Every real fisherman is out fishing whenever he possibly can. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

christian love

Before my uncle went to bed he told me, “coffee at 8:00, breakfast at 9:00.” So I waited until the second hand on my watch let me know it was five seconds to 8:00 and I walked into their kitchen. “Dean has a big breakfast all prepared for you,” said my aunt and she pulled out plates from every direction. He had made crepes, waffles, scrambled eggs and some sort of topping to put on the crepes. There was also  fresh fruit and salmon. 

“On your way back from Florida, be sure to bring your wife,” he told me. I told him I was not sure, as Roxanne was flying down to meet me in Florida with her mother and it would be the three of us driving back.
It was Sunday morning and I dressed with the hope of pulling off the interstate to catch a church service. Just past the gas stations and the fast food restaurants on Exit 87 was a Baptist Church. 

“Welcome, friend,” said the usher.  The worship team had already started clapping. “Celebrate, Jesus is alive,” they sang. The lead singer played the keyboard which included drums, horns and a full orchestra. She had a voice rivaling any I had heard in any Southern gospel band. The other singers had a perfect muted harmony. “You are worth of my praise,” they sang. It was an emotional song that clearly touched all of us in the congregation with an age span of 3 to 93. After a few more songs, the preacher got up and walked down the aisle. “Did your son get that job we’ve been praying for? How’s Maribel? Is she feeling a little better after her surgery? Any news on Patrick over in Afghanistan?” He prayed for everyone by name and then gave a sermon that was well prepared and well delivered. He spoke on courage and standing up for God’s Word in a world that no longer has much tolerance for Christians. After the service, several came over to me. They were interested in where I was from and wanted to share with me some of their good Southern cooking, for this was potluck Sunday. I was glad to have been there. Wherever there are Believers, one feels at home.

 I counted 27 people in the church. From several allusions made in the sermon, I understood the church had just gone through a split. They were a very warm, seemingly spiritual group. Their program was excellent. So what happened? I’m afraid I could guess: one or two strong egos, hurt feelings, words said in private that become public; probably a divorce with different families taking different sides—blood runs thick you know. 

Eight hours later I missed the turn-off to Satellite Beach. I got off at the next exit and my GPS directed me into the parking lot of a Catholic Church. I called Henry Sardina and after a few more wrong turns, I pulled into their driveway. Henry had one of his classic Cuban meals prepared. “We’re going fishing tomorrow, you ready for that?” he asked.

Friday, January 25, 2013

what's your story?

Just as I was pulling into my Uncle Dean and Aunt Brigitte’s driveway at five minutes to six on Saturday evening, my uncle came out his front door. He wasn’t walking real fast. He had a nasty fight with colon cancer the year before. But he was wearing a sort of a ‘I don’t laugh at my own jokes’ sort of look. “You’re five minutes late,” he told me. He directed me where to park and brought me into his house where I was greeted by my Aunt Brigitte. “It’s so good to see you,” she said as she pulled me in for a hug. “You should have brought your son David. He was such a sweet boy.” She showed me his wedding picture on their wall. “Isn't he beautiful?” she said. “And so is his wife.” She told me they were taking me out for supper and had reservations at 7 pm.

We walked into the country western restaurant at about 6:30. The wife of the owner gave my Uncle a hug. She then gave my aunt a special hug, and quietly shared with her some bit of information that women in the know always seem to be sharing with each other. “Happy birthday, Dean,” said the waitress as she brought us to our table. My Uncle acknowledged the greeting as he teased her about the name on her shirt. “That’s the name of the band that is playing here tonight,” she said. “I can bring you over to take your picture with them.” She said to me, “They are really good. Have you seen them on TV?” I couldn’t remember that I had, and her attention went back to my uncle.

I was asked about David, and my mom (my uncle’s sister). They both were very concerned about my mom. They asked what I was going to be doing. I told them I was hoping to write a short biography of a friend of ours. I gave him some of the details of Henry Sardina’s life and my uncle asked me if that was all there was to it. “You’ll have to read the biography,” I said. My uncle suggested that maybe his life would make a better one. I agreed with him that he had lived an amazing life. Then my aunt said, “I have a story too. I will tell it to you.”
Throughout the dinner, different ones would come over and wish my Uncle a happy birthday. “Does he get a cake?” I asked. “We have something for him,” the waitress said. The owner of the restaurant came over wearing a shirt embroidered with the name Lannie. He also wished my uncle a happy birthday. My uncle could no longer take it. “Larry,” he said to the owner (whose name was Larry) “Why is everyone wishing me a happy birthday?” Larry shrugged his shoulders. “My birthday’s in May,” said my uncle. The waitress came by and he asked her. “It’s on your reservation,” she said. “It says ‘Dean/Bir’ (Dean/Brigitte).
When we got back to their house, my aunt said my Uncle was going to bed. “He goes to bed early since his cancer,” my aunt told me. “Now I will tell you my story.”

She was born into Nazi Germany and her father was a chief engineer on Germany’s hydroelectric plants. She was an only child and when she was six (1940), her father tried to find a place for her and her mother outside of Berlin because of all the bombing. They moved several places, all of which became dangerous as the Russian army was moving down, so they moved in with her father into the underground bunkers in Berlin. One night the Allies firebombed, and for days everything outside their bunker was in flames. In the ensuing years her mother discovered an affair of her father. She divorced him and her father married his mistress. This left her mother without money. Brigette was sent to boarding school in Switzerland.  At age 11, she went on a cattle-like railroad car to visit her mother’s family. The trip took two weeks. When she was dropped off at her destination, only coincidentally did her grandmother see her on the sidewalk and brought her ‘home.’
After the war, all of Germany was desperately poor. Brigitte went to England to work as an au pair, but the situation was deteriorated to the point where she had to sneak away in the middle of the night. She walked to the headquarters of the international power company that then employed her father. The first person she met there knew her father and needed an au pair. Several months later she met this shy American soldier on a train when she was travelling to meet her German fiancĂ©. It was love at first sight. “Everyone loves Dean,” said Aunt Brigitte. “He was such a quiet boy.”

“That’s my story. I hope you don’t mind,” she said.
“I’m glad you told it to me,” I said,
“I think my early days made me ready for anything," she told me.

I'm guessing about everybody in the little town of Murphy, NC know my Uncle and Aunt. My uncle makes fun of everybody he meets. Even though he's old, even teenagers (maybe especially teenagers) respond with amusement to him. And my aunt is so friendly and so poised and so likes every person she meets. But few people know my Uncle was an oil company executive who lived all over the world overseeing drilling projects. On an island 50 miles off the coast of Vietnam, he worked with the United Nations to find safe haven for 5500 Vietnamese boat people after the collapse of South Vietnam. At a drilling station in Saudi Arabia, he worked with the CIA to move stinger missiles to the rebels in Afghanistan to shoot down Russian fighter planes. Few people in Murphy know the life stories of my Aunt and Uncle. Unlike the stories of most of us, they have big stories. But like all of us, they want their stories to be heard.

It touches my heart to know the Lord knows and is interested in every detail of my life story. David tells us in Psalm 139: "You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You are acquainted with all my ways."

Nathanael was incredulous when the Lord Jesus said on meeting him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile." "How do you know me?" he asked. "Rabbi, you are indeed the Son of God!"

I think part of our job as Believers is to be listeners of life stories. In this curiously anonymous age we live in, people have stories they want someone hear. Like our Lord, we are interested; and like our Lord, we are concerned. And when that person is ready, we need be ready to share with them the life (and death, and resurrection) story of our Savior.

ometimes when one Have you heard any good stories recently?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the limelight

So I’m sitting in a hotel room that I think is in Evansville, Indiana. I left my sister’s house at noon and I hope to be at my Uncle’s house in Murphy, North Carolina at 6 pm tomorrow evening. Murphy is where Eric Randolph was captured behind the Save-A-Lot grocery store while digging through the dumpster looking for food. Randolph was the bomber of the Olympic Games in Atlanta in the summer of 1996. He also bombed several abortion clinics and a gay bar. Until surpassed by the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, the hunt for Randolph was the FBI's biggest ever. And all the time, he had been living out behind my uncle’s house, sustaining himself on salamanders and out-dated food. Randolph was suspected of being part of an ultra-right wing Christian cult known as the Identity Movement. But actually he was simply part of that common segment of humanity who want people to look at them. While Randolph was on the run, he brother took a video of himself cutting off his hand with a band saw—supposedly to make some statement about his brother, but ostensibly because it gave him a chance to grab some of his brother’s limelight. (Thankfully, the American medical profession was able to reattach his hand and the Lord graciously healed it.)

I suppose I’m a limelighter too. Otherwise, why this blog? But, typically, when in a group, I look for a good comfortable spot within the woodwork.

My niece had a birthday party at my sister’s house a couple days back. A group of about 15 people were there. My sister’s youngest daughter has a passion and a gift to make sure that everyone is included, so she would pointedly ask questions to the quieter ones at the table to bring them into the group conversation. As part of this process, she asked me several good questions and, to my great annoyance, I was tongue tied. I could stammer out one or two words and only after the attention went to someone else, I could think of something to say.

 But on my trip, I’ve been able to listen to others without any coercion to converse. At the continental breakfast nook I heard one stranger talking to another man who, moments before, had been a stranger to him. “I’m so sorry to hear you mom died. My dad died about a year ago. I was surprised how I didn’t take it all that hard. He lived a good life. He was almost 100.” The desk clerk (I think he was also the manager of the Hotel) came in to greet the three of us in the continental nook room. “Good morning,” he said. No response. (I never respond) “Good morning,” he said again. I looked up and saw he was Indian. I nodded at him and smiled an acknowledgement. The talkative man looked up and went on with his conversation. “I don’t know why they call this life. We’re all dying. And it goes so fast. They should call it like ‘short term life’ or ‘this is your moment.’" The man continued, “I’m not a theologian or nothing. But I really like—do you read the Bible? I know I swear like a sailor, but I really believe this stuff-- Well, there’s this Psalm 121: ‘I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence commeth my help? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.’ You think about that.”

Before going to back to my room I did go and talk to this Indian man. I could tell from his accent that he was an immigrant. “Where are you from?” I asked. He told me he came here from Mumbai ten years ago. I told him my son-in-law was also from Mumbai. He asked what my son-in-law did and I told him. “But,” I said, “his brother returned to India.” When I told him he was working for a Christian organization, his faced dropped. Perhaps he had already encountered too many Christians America. Perhaps like me, the limelight was not his thing, but to be disregarded was not his thing either.