Saturday, December 24, 2016

I Am Santa Claus

The following post has become a Christmas season tradition on this blog because it is so full of great memories for me. I hope it brings back a few for many of you as well. Only 1 more sleep 'til Christmas...

Way back in 2010 I put together a little slideshow featuring pictures of kids from the various youth ministries I served over the years and jolly old Saint Nick. Most of these pictures were taken at youth group Christmas parties. Some of the "youth" in these old photos are over 40 now. Many of them have children of there own. Others are still in college. The point is, I can look back at these pictures and remember all of the love and Christmas cheer we would all share this time of year and it is very special to me. For you see in every single picture in this slideshow, I am Santa. It's me under the beard. I always loved doing the Santa thing, and looking back at these memories is great fun.

I chose the song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday from one of my favorite old school bands, All Star United. This song is full of energy and joy, but it also carries an important message. How much better would this world be if we were the people all year long that we try to be at Christmas? Enjoy the slideshow. And if you happen to be in it, thank you for some unbelievable memories. I would love to hear from you all. Have a very, merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Christmas Pickle

Today is the birthday of one of my heroes, my dear friend Lisa Jewett. In honor of her special day and this special time of year, today's post is an ornament story that concerns a special (although a little strange!) gift she gave my family back in 2005. Here is the legend of The Christmas Pickle!

According to Lisa, the idea of putting pickles on Christmas trees goes back to Germany during one of the World Wars. Soldiers marching through the German countryside would often enter house looking for food and take all that a family might have. One Christmas Eve a family, trying to save some food for themselves, hid some pickles in their tree, where they went unnoticed by the scavengers. As a side note, we do not know if these were individual pickles or the entire jar. In any case, the family had a pickle feast! Over the years that followed it became tradition to hide one pickle in the tree on Christmas Eve as a reminder of that night. The child who could find the pickle on Christmas morning would receive an extra gift and much good luck for the coming year. The Christmas Pickle became a symbol of blessing and prosperity. So when Lisa presented us with our very own pickle ornament, we hung it on our tree. Even though it seemed quite odd. It's there every year, and she has already been over to look for it in 2016- even thought it's not Christmas Eve yet. Will hid it from her but she found it anyway- although this year he made it tough on her! And the tradition continues...

Lisa is a part of our family. We all love her very much and love that we get to spend so much time with her. Tonight our extended family will be celebrating at Kobe's, where despite the fact that she will be the guest on honor my son Will is not going to let her play the big drum! Lisa is one of the best friends anyone could ask for, and she means the world to me. She continues to need to our prayers and out hugs in her ongoing battle; cancer won't quit, but neither will she!!! That odd pickle hanging on our tree is a reminder that we have indeed been blessed by her friendship and her love. Happy Birthday, Lisa! And may Santa bring you a case of pickles this year!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

NYC 2016

In November of 1976 (my senior year in high school)I went with a group of friends to a seminar at the United Nations sponsored by Friends United Meeting, a national organization of Quakers. That was my first trip to New York City. Over the years that followed there would be 15 more trips (We think this made 11 for Marilyn) to the Big Apple. I took small youth groups and large ones. I went by myself to plan trips on 3 occasions. I went with a group of friends once, and with my parents and Marilyn once. But the last youth group trip was in March of 2005, and I had not visited since- and had never been able to take our now 21 year old son, Will. Last week (Nov. 10-14) we fixed those two problems with one glorious trip. It was a triumphant return! The city keeps evolving- the old Milford Plaza is now called Row NYC and looks like a boarding home for hipsters (even the spiral staircase and chandeliers are gone!)- but it is still so familiar. It was an interesting time to be there, with thousands protesting our new President-Elect and disrupting traffic, clogging 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower and filling Times Square and Central Park at times. It is sign of how universally disliked Mr. Trump is in the city he calls home that the cabbies were complaining about him- not the traffic problems. New York is a city like no other.

My years of planning trips and my knowledge of the city allowed for us to do some incredible things, as did having set aside a LOT of money (shout out to my Mom in heaven!) to spend! After flying to Newark, we surprised Will and his girlfriend Michelle with a limo ride (see picture at top) in to the city and our room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located at 47th and Broadway- the heart of midtown Manhattan. Our 29th floor room, complete with a view of Times Square, set a great tone for a fabulous few days together. We began our adventure with lunch at Planet Hollywood and an exploration of Times Square.

Thursday evening featured dinner reservations at Carmine's, a classic family-style Italian eatery so authentic you expect to run into Don Corelone most any moment! The restaurant was long a favorite with the groups I traveled with over the years. A long, leisurely meal was followed by front row seats to see The Lion King, one of two shows chosen by Will and Michelle. It felt like Ed the Hyena was laughing at us- personally! And yes- that's us with the actors who played Mufasa and Sarabi. So cool!

On Friday we did a Movie/TV On Locations Tour, visiting famous spots around the city. We saw the apartment building used for outside shots on Friends, the Ghostbusters firehouse and a variety of other great sights. Our guide was an actor and stuntman who really knew his stuff.  The tour ended at McGee's Pub, the real life version of McClaren's Bar from one of our favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother. We had a great meal there, with Will proclaiming the McClaren's Steakburger one of his all-time favorite hamburgers.

That night we had VIP passes to the Empire State Building, which allowed to skip as 2 hour wait and head straight up to the observatory levels (TOTALLY worth the extra bucks!). As many times as I have been up there, the view never ceases to amaze me.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at Ellen's Stardust Dinner, where Broadway bound servers serenade you with show tunes while you eat- and they were awesome! Four of them even did an amazing version of One Day More from Les Miz- it was like they knew I was there! We then took the new and improved NBC Studios Tour, which was great fun and included Will and Michelle being filmed as part of a make-believe talk show. After boarding a doubledecker tour bus and seeing Central Park, Harlem and the Upper West and East Sides while nearly freezing to death, we grabbed some pizza before heading to our second show of the weekend.

Show #2 was Aladdin, which none of us had seen before. The music was wonderful, and once again being on the front row made us feel very much a part of Agrabah. James Monroe Iglehart, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Genie, was simply a tour-de-force. The rest of the cast was stellar as well, and the changes to the story from the animated movie worked very well. There was even an actual flying carpet. And just as a bonus, Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the villainous Jafar in the animated version, played Jafar on stage! It was an incredible night for all of us.

Sunday was filled with more sightseeing, shopping and adventure, including seeing Battery Park and the Freedom Tower. The day ended with a fabulous meal at Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station, followed by one final visit to Times Square. It was a perfect ending to a nearly perfect trip.

We flew back to Tampa on Monday, tired but ready to do it all again as soon as we can! It was truly a blessing to get to share one of favorite places with Will and Michelle, and to share it again with Marilyn. And it also reminded me of the hundreds of others that have shared that adventure with me over these past 40 years. What do you think, old friends? Reunion trip? I'll buy dessert...

Have a blessed day!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Meet the Deplorables

You may already know that imagining Donald Trump as our President scares me. He has zero experience in government or in leadership outside the dictatorships that are his businesses. He is morally bankrupt, as shown through his business practices, his attitude towards women and his total disdain of anyone who is not white. He is not a true Republican, has never been anti-abortion (and is certainly not pro-life- he a self-confirmed lover of war) until it became convenient, and could not be a worse example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus (Think I'm being too harsh or judgmental? Go to Matthew 5, read The Beatitudes and tell me when you get to one that describes Donald Trump. Just one. I'll wait. And while you're at it, find a Fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control- that he exhibits. Again, just one. Still waiting...). In the big picture he has failed at everything- marriages, his University, businesses gone bankrupt, treating other humans with respect- he has ever done, if you don't include looking out for himself. But most of us, myself at the top of the list, make mistakes and have personal failures. My fear of a Trump presidency goes beyond his own failings. You see, as much as The Donald scares me, over the past few weeks I have been reminded that some (although certainly not all) of those who are supporting him actually scare me more. Witness the following accounts. 

* My wife works in downtown Tampa, and a few weeks ago there was an afternoon rally for HRC  in a nearby park. One of the women she works with attended. This lady is a well respected attorney and one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. She is also of Asian heritage, although she was born and has lived her entire life in the the USA. As she left the rally, she was approached by an elderly Caucasian couple wearing Trump buttons and carrying protest signs- as is their right. As she passed them, they begin to call her names, using the ethnic slur "Chink" and questioning if she was here legally. Their language became foul as they screamed at her, and by the time our friend returned to the office she was in tears. Deplorable is too kind a word for such people.

* I sat in the food court of an Orlando mall eating lunch and people watching. A father and son walked by my table. The father- approximately 35 years old- was wearing a Trump hat and button. On the front of his blue t-shirt was a picture of a rifle. The back of the shirt read, "George Zimmerman is a Hero!" His son- around 10 years old- wore a red t-shirt with a target logo on the front pocket area and the following inscription on the back- "Shoot first, ask questions later!" I knew these people existed. My fear is that a Trump presidency will bring them out of the shadows and empower them. And that is horrifying.

* I sat alone in the local Dairy Queen eating lunch as four men talked at a table close to me. They were white men in their 30s or 40s, clearly on lunch break from a job that required them to work outdoors in the hot Florida sun. At first they talked about sports and especially the Buccaneers early season woes. I tuned in, always curious to hear the opinions of others. From football they moved into a discussion of the Black Lives Matter protests currently being raised during the national anthem at various sporting events. They were offended by the protests, as is their right. In fact, they were very angry about it. The conversation then turned to politics and how much they hate...and I mean HATE!- Hillary Clinton. They were confident that Trump will win, because who in their right mind would "vote for that lying bitch." President Trump will turn things around, they declared. And then they revisited the Black Lives Matter issue. "When Trump is elected," the best dressed of the group declared, "he'll send snipers to ballgames and shoot those f***ing ni**er bastards. Let's see 'em protest then." There are so many parts of that statement that offend me I don't know where to start.

Donald Trump did not say or do any of those things. But as we keep seeing over and over, the things he says INSPIRE his supporters to say and do those things. He seems to want them to say those things, and creates an atmosphere where such things are perfectly acceptable. And that is why this election scares me so badly. If he wins- and that could happen- that mentality wins along with him. And everyone who does not think like Trump and his Klan (yes- intentional!) will be caught in the cross-hairs. 

Donald Trump is unfit to be President. He was fired from his job hosting a reality TV show, for Pete's sake! I wouldn't vote for him to be dog catcher. And for those of you who support him, please give me a rational argument that doesn't begin with, "But Hillary..."  You say HRC is liar and a crook, yet Trump is caught in a lie nearly everyday and has actual court cases awaiting him. Hillary has none, and she has been investigated for the past 25 years. She's a long way from perfect, but she is qualified, experienced and ready to serve. DT is none of the above. Recognizing that Hillary has issues and that Trump is a madman are not mutually exclusive positions. It's just that one is far more significant than the other! While on our Hawaiian vacation 2 months or so ago I overheard our election being discussed by two men, one a Brit and the other an Aussie. They were both very confused as to how someone like Trump could be a finalist for the most important job in the world. The Australian gentleman asked, "You don't really think he could be elected, do you?" The Brit pondered the question a moment and replied without much certainty, "No. Not even the bloody Yanks are that stupid." I pray that my British friend is right. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

God Bless Our Teachers

Today, teachers in Hillsborough County (Tampa, FL) go back to work.  They have been preparing their classrooms, preparing lesson plans, receiving training and getting ready for a new school year. Today, the students arrive!  In a few parts of the country this has already occurred; in other regions it is yet to come. In any case, these dedicated men and women prepare to face a new group of students under increasingly difficult situations.  Many are not paid as well as they should be. Some face budget crunches that force them to purchase many of their own supplies. They will encounter difficult students, difficult parents, difficult school boards...and local politicians who simply don't get it. The simple fact that so many of them return to their schools today to fight these battles should earn them our unending respect and admiration.

It should also earn them our prayers. Wherever you are, whether school has already begun or doesn't start for a few weeks yet, make today a day of prayer for the teachers you know.  Ask God to bless them, protect them, encourage them and inspire them. And then ask the teachers in your life what you can do to help them this year. We count on teachers to make a difference in the lives of our children. Let's use today as a springboard to make a difference in the lives of those teachers. To those of you who continue in this most noble profession- and I am blessed to call many of you, from all over this nation, my friends- may God grant you wisdom, energy, insight and serenity as you go through this school year. You are loved!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 7, 2016

We All Fall Down

The following lesson comes from the ragamuffin soul of the late Brennan Manning. I believe that you- just like me- will be able to see yourself in these words. We all fall down. And then Jesus picks us up, dusts us off, and we start all over again- fresh, clean and new. Have a blessed Sabbath.

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school. 

'But how?' we ask. 

Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' 

There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” 

― Brennan ManningThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Trump In the Temple

"Be smart," they told me. "Avoid politics and religion," they told me.  Smart was never my strong suit...

There seems to be a lot of confusion and debate in both the media and the Christian community about why Donald Trump has become an acceptable candidate for the Evangelical church. There should be no confusion at all. It's a simple matter. Since the rise of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, Christian leaders have been consistent in voice and committed to the idea that real Christians vote Republican. That's nearly 40 years of indoctrination for the average Sue and Joe who fill a pew on Sunday morning. Many of our pastors and leaders have made it very clear- a vote for a Republican candidate is a vote for Jesus. So the logical conclusion- and this reckless course we are now on- was inevitable. The fact that Mr. Trump has nothing in common with most conservatives, evangelicals, Christians or even many Republicans doesn't matter. Trump has no relationship with the church; he seemingly discovered the need for a belief system just in time to run for office and lure in voters. The leaders  have spoken for 40 years, and we have learned. He is a Republican. So vote for him. And based on poll numbers, much of the mainstream evangelical Church seems prepared to do just that - or at least they did until he began once again showing his true colors these past few weeks.

My point? We've spent too many years listening to the wrong voices. We have bought into the thinking that voting for a specific party is the way to "return our nation to God." Many of these leaders may have meant well, but the fact is they forgot the most important thing. Only one voice should speak for the Christian community. And that voice belongs to Jesus.

What would The Christ have to say about The Donald? Obviously I don't know. But there are things we do know. We know that Trump has said that winning is all that matters, that he lives for the art of the deal and that money is power. We know that he singles out specific groups of people that he finds unworthy of love and support. We know that he considers himself as a superior human being to many on this planet. We know that while Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," Trump responds to every situation with confrontation and bomb slinging. And we know that all of those things are in direct contradiction of the teaching of Jesus. It is true that most politicians (indeed, most people) do poorly when their character and beliefs are compared to the Messiah. Hillary is no exception; her faults are many. But at least she is not pretending to be a Christian for the purpose of being elected, having spent her life as an active part of the United Methodist Church. All of us fall short of the example of Christ. But few fail the test as completely as Trump.

So how should the Church view the Republican nominee? Here's my take- and I fully confess it is a judgmental one. I think we should recognize that if the Christian community backs Trump, then we are opening the door to a money changer in the temple. You remember the story of how Jesus responded to them. He overturned tables, scattered their followers and threw them out of the temple. If we put Trump in the White House by allowing him into the temple, thinking he will lead our nation on the path of God, we should do it with the full knowledge that Jesus will probably have to throw him out. Or at least remind us that we should...

I wish I thought the Church would come around to understanding that politicians and patriotism cannot save us, only Jesus can- and he came for the world, NOT just for USAmerica. I wish our leaders would acknowledge that Trump may be a good politician but he's a horrible human being, and that the latter is much more important than the former. I wish the believers who scream "SOCIALISM" at every mention of the right sharing of resources in our nation would pause and read Acts 2:42. I wish lots of things. But right now, my biggest wish finds me in agreement with something my old friend Jacob Lupfer posted on Twitter a while back. I wish a year ago we had lined up behind Jeb Bush and given our nation a rational choice in November. Instead, we are starring into the abyss that would be a Trump in the temple. Vote for Trump if you must. But do not do it because he represents Jesus is any way, shape or form. Because he does not.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tuesday Playlist: Billy Joel

Can't really explain why (well, I could....but you don't really want to know) but this past weekend I found myself setting my iPod to "Billy Joel" and just letting it play. I even bought a few hidden gems I had been missing since the days when I owned most all of his albums. I have been a fan of Billy since the mid 70's, and my wife is one of his biggest fans. I first saw Billy in concert when he was the opening act for The Beach Boys in Greensboro back in 1974. We have seen him numerous times since, including twice in one week in April of 1994 in NC and with Sir Elton John in Chicago in 2001. We love Billy. 

Listening to so many great songs made me wonder if I could possibly narrow the list to a Top 10. It was quickly apparent that the answer was NO. So instead, I set my trusty iPod to shuffle and let it pick 10 great Billy Joel songs for you today. Hope this will bring back some memories for you as well- or send you searching for some great new (to you!) music! Sing us a song Billy- you're the Piano Man!

  1. Matter of Trust (from the album The Bridge)
  2. The Ballad of Billy the Kid (from Piano Man)
  3. The Longest Time (from An Innocent Man)
  4. Entertainer (from Streetlife Serenade)
  5. We Didn't Start the Fire (from Storm Front)
  6. This Night (from An Innocent Man)
  7. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (from The Stranger)
  8. You May Be Right (from Glass Houses)
  9. Just the Way You Are (from The Stranger)
  10. Prelude/Angry Young Man (from Turnstiles)

Monday, August 1, 2016

HIMYM Monday: Robin Sparkles

In one of the classic early episodes of the great series How I Met Your Mother (Slap Bet, Season 2 Episode 9) Barney asks the gang to go with him to the grand opening of a new Sharper Image store. Everyone is in- until Robin learns it is at the local mall. She balks, refuses to go, and refuses to tell them why. After a wild series of events in which Barney thinks she was a mall porn star and Marshall thinks she got married in a mall, Ted tries to pin her down- but to no avail. Marshall and Barney make a Slap Bet as to which of them is correct (more on that in a later post). Finally, after much research, Barney discovers a video (which he thinks is porn) and they all sit down to watch together. They discover that to Robin's great embarrassment that in the early 90's she was a teenage pop star in Canada, performing under the name Robin Sparkles. And this was her big hit... 

As the seasons pass, they gang discovers that there are more videos of Ms. Sparkles floating around. Sandcastles in the Sand plays an important role the first time Robin and Barney hook up. P.S. I Love You introduced the world to Robin Daggers, a darker version of Sparkles who "invented grunge music" at the Grey Cup halftime show, years after Kurt Cobain thought he invented grunge. Robin Sparkles was that important to music history. We also learn of her obsession with Paul Shaffer and the wonders of Tim Horton's doughnuts. 

There was one other Sparkles story. Robin and her best friend Jessica Glitter had been on a children's TV show in Canada called Space Teens- a show about math. The big song from the show was called Two Beavers are Better Than One. Seriously. Needless to say, Barney goes back to assuming it is porn. We also learn that Robin and Jessica have lost touch over the years. The gang reunites them a New York's premier Canadian themed bar, The Hoser Hut. And a musical reunion ensues as well...

As I have mentioned many times, one of the things that set this show apart for me was the great continuity. The Robin Sparkles stories, spread out over many seasons, are a huge part of that. And on a personal note, my old friend Steve and I still text random Sparkles lyrics to each other just for fun. Have a "Sparkling" Monday. And should go to the mall. Today.

Monday, July 18, 2016

HIMYM Monday: Sunrise

Welcome to another How I Met Your Mother Monday! For a die hard fan like myself, choosing a favorite episode from the the series is like picking out which hot glazed doughnut in a dozen from Krispy Kreme you will eat first. You cannot go wrong! In a later post I will choose my top 10 from the over 200 episodes, but today I want to focus on one from the final season that is right at the top of any such listing. It's the episode entitled Sunrise (season 9, episode 16) and the more I see it, the more I love it.

To set the stage, we are only hours away from Barney and Robin's wedding. Barney, having gotten really, REALLY drunk that night, has wandered away from the Farhampton Inn. Ted and Robin begin to search for him. A wandering Barney discovers two lonely young men in need of a mentor and begins to teach them the ways of awesomeness. These two threads rum simultaneously through the show.

Robin and Ted make their way out on to the beach in search of Barney, where they begin to talk about Ted's old girlfriends. Robin inquires about several of them, asking if Ted talked to them lately. We learn through a series of flashbacks that Ted has talked with each of them- all in his efforts to find a locket Robin buried as a young woman and planned use as her "something old" for the wedding, but cannot find. In the course of this, Robin lists her Top 5 of Ted's ex-girlfriends, and does not include herself. Her top choice is Victoria, whom Ted dated two different times and who ditched her own wedding to run away with Ted. When Robin says that she never really understood why they broke up, Ted hesitates to tell her. When she pushes the issue Ted blurts out, Because of you, Robin. We broke up because of you." When Robin inquires "Why?" she gets the following answer:
Ted: I'm not gonna answer the question, because you know the answer. You want to talk about my Top Five? There's no Top Five, Robin, there's just a Top One - and it's you.

Ted wanted Barney and Robin to be happy. He was determined not to undermine the wedding in any way, and he eventually saves the wedding with the locket and a pep talk to both parties. But he knew the truth that he could not turn off his feelings no matter how hard he tried. More on that later...

Meanwhile Barney is schooling his young proteges in the fine arts of visiting strip clubs and talking to women- including introducing them to the game Have you met Ted? At the end of the evening, as the young men debate just who this genius is, Barney delivers the following speech:
Barney: A few final thoughts. Don't get married 'til you're 30. Play laser tag at least once a week. Give as many high-fives as you're gonna get. Teacup pigs are lady magnets but very hard to care for - not worth the effort. The same goes for dogs and babies. And most importantly, whatever you do in this life, it's not legendary unless your friends are there to see it. Good luck, boys. [gives them napkins detailing pages of his fabled Playbook] Take care of the Game for me.

For all of his posturing and narcissism, Barney understood one very important things. Friends make the world go 'round. Whatever you do in life, it's not legendary unless your friends are there to see it. Now that's awesome.

Back to the lost locket. Ted tracks in down with Victoria in Germany (looooong story!) and she overnights it to him- but it is intercepted by another of Ted's exs, crazy Jeanette. She meets him on a bridge in Central Park and upon learning why he wants the locket accuses him of trying to ruin the wedding and win Robin back. She accuses Ted of being crazy. And Ted responds with what to me is one of the greatest definition of romantic love ever spoken...
Ted: I'm in love with her, okay? If you're looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want, no matter how much it destroys you, it's love. And when you love someone you don't stop- EVER! Even when people roll their eyes or call you crazy. Even then. Especially then. Just don't give up! Because if I could give up, if I could just, you know, take the whole world's advice and move and find someone else, that wouldn't be love. That would be, that would be some other disposable thing that is not worth fighting for.

Of course Ted does eventually give up and finds "the Mother," but that doesn't change the fact the he stole a blue French horn for Robin- and as he says, would have stolen her an entire orchestra. There is nothing easy about letting go of true love, even if it is unrequited. It's just a magnificent episode that never fails to move me. The 3 quotes I featured today are among my favorites, and the scene with Ted and Robin on the beach at the end- when Ted finally lets her go as the Bangles song Eternal Flame plays behind them- is beyond perfect. It's this kind of humor combined with this kind of heart that made HIMYM so amazing to me. 

Join us next week for another HIMYM Monday!!!

Saturday, July 16, 2016


July 4th @ Margaritaville  (BTW- the beard is now history!)
Will Jones turns 21 today. Our little boy has grown into a fine young man. He's a loving son, an honor student, a faithful boyfriend and a caring friend. He has has always (well...MOST always!) been a joy to be around, but I have never enjoyed his company more that I do today. We are much alike in so many ways. We share passions for music, movies and grand romantic gestures. We are of one mind when it comes to the politics of the day. And we both believe there are few things in life better than a good sausage gravy!

Tonight we will celebrate this momentous occasion with a dinner with family and friends at Maggianos. It is hard to believe 21 years have passed since Will joined our family, but it is even harder to remember that there was a time before that. I could not be more proud of the man he has become and the son he has always been. We all know that the bond between  mother and son is always special, and Will and Marilyn certainly share that unique connection. I am just so thankful to be able to say that he and I have something very special as well. I love you buddy, and can't wait to see what then next chapters of life have in store for you. Have a wonderful weekend of celebrations!!!


Thursday, July 14, 2016

When Nothing Else Could Help...

I'm sure that many of you are familiar with the classic hymn of the church called Love Lifted Me. Today I would like to share with you an exercise in gratitude that uses the chorus to that simple song as its basis. The lyrics to the chorus are as follows:
Love lifted me, love lifted me
When nothing else could help, love lifted me

In the song, "Love" represents the love of God whose name is Jesus. And that love does indeed lift us out of many difficult situations and give us hope when all hope seems gone. But there are many times when that love comes to us through other people in our lives. And today, I want you to remember those special people, who have lifted your heart and your spirit when you needed it most. So sing the entire chorus, or if you don't know the tune, just read the words aloud. Go ahead.  "Love lifted me..."  Now do it again. But this time, instead of the word "love," substitute the name of someone who has given you love and hope. For instance at various times in my life I have sung "Steve lifted me" or "Denise lifted me." Again, sing the entire chorus. Keep going, substituting a new name each time. Recognize how often Jesus works in our hearts through the people he places in our lives. Finish the exercise by singing the name of Jesus in place of love. Then take a few moments in prayer, giving thanks for all of the names you have mentioned.

I do this exercise several times a week when I am alone and aware of how important the people in my life who love me are to my spiritual growth and mental health. I encourage you to make this a regular part of your prayer life as well. We all have known so many people who are blessings from God in our lives, and we should live with an attitude of gratitude. Have a blessed day, and thanks for being among the many who have "lifted me." You are needed today more than ever!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Happy Birthday, Krispy Kreme!

Today is the 79th birthday of the Krispy Kreme doughnut. This is an auspicious occasion in my life. Even at my advanced age, it's hard to remember a time when Krispy Kreme was not a part of my life (they were in NC before they were much of anywhere else), including some fairly momentous occasions. Witness the following examples:

  • We sold them by the dozen as a fundraiser for my Cub Scout pack when I was around 10 years old. Yes, I was that young once...
  • In college there would often be midnight runs for hot doughnuts. Sometimes I delivered them to friends and sometimes we all piled into tiny cars and went together. One of those nights was the first time I ever met my future wife Marilyn.
  • Stopping by the local 24 hour KK was a regular part of my youth group's Rec Around the Clock event for many years in many places. I particularly remember a large group standing outside the one in High Point, NC and watching the hot doughnuts roll off the conveyor belt at 5 am as we ate them by the box full.
  • I once served hot glazed doughnuts and OJ as communion on a youth group beach retreat we took from Springfield Friends Meeting. There's a lot in that statement to process, since Quakers don't traditionally practice communion at all...
  • I have eaten hot glazed doughnuts for LUNCH with a friend- and I am not ashamed to admit it!
  • Before the KK opened in Kissimmee, FL I would sometimes drive to Orlando on Tuesday mornings so we could have fresh doughnuts for our Breakfast Club. It made me a hero to those youth brave enough to get up early for the meeting!
  • I have purchased hundreds of dozens of hot doughnuts from the KK in North Myrtle Beach, SC over they years and delivered then to the Betsy B, often risking my life to get them in the house before people started ripping boxes from my arms!
There are few things in life that conjure up as many fond memories for me as Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I have eaten more than my share of chocolate cream filled and chocolate
glazed, of blueberry and of jelly filled. But there is nothing like seeing this sign, snarfing down fresh manna from heaven and licking that glorious icing off my fingers. Even now, as a diabetic, there are times when they are just totally worth the cheat. There's only one problem with today's big birthday deal, featured in the ad at the top of this post. If I got a dozen hot glazed right this minute and had them here all by myself, I would eat every stinkin' one of them! And be very, VERY happy! So go get some doughnuts today. Make your own memories. And tell them Carl sent you!

Monday, July 11, 2016

"How I Met Your Mother" Mondays

"Kids, I'm gonna tell you an incredible story..."

It's now been over 2 years since my favorite TV show of all-time, How I Met Your Mother, aired its final episode. But thanks to syndication, and especially to FX, it is never off the air. I own the entire series on DVD, and I can watch every season over and over again without growing weary of the great comedy and friendships shared by Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall & Lilly. I read recently that McGee's in Manhattan, the bar that was the inspiration for McClaren's (featured in nearly every episode of HIMYM), still changes there menu every Monday (the night the show aired for 9 seasons) to feature themed items that celebrate the series. I recently re-watched the final season again and was amazed at how emotional it still makes me. These things combined to inspire me to write a series of posts about the show to be featured on Mondays here on the blog. So welcome to the first HIMYM Monday!

Each week I will attempt to capture the true spirit of the show and explain some of its lasting influence on my my heart. There will be flashbacks to entire episodes and to brief moments in time. There will be exploration of some of the ancillary characters who helped make the series feel so real. There will be lists of things that should not be forgotten and favorite things that never will be. Friends, it was would be a stretch to say that anyone I know has been asking for this series of posts. But I need to write it. So I trust you will enjoy reading along.

Today, I want to share some words I wrote in the final days of the original 9 year run of HIMYM. It explains why the show mattered to me, and why it is my favorite. It seems like a great jumping off place and an easy way to let you know the WHY of my need to write about this show. This is from March 31, 2014- the day the series ended.

You see, HIMYM has been the rarest of TV shows- 9 years with the same cast, the same writers, the same director and the same story line. It has more continuity than any show I have ever watched. Just this past week I watched the pilot immediately after watching the most recent episode, and they feel completely connected- 206 shows later. Plus (as I have written here before) HIMYM has always rewarded faithful viewers with inside jokes and references. And nowhere has that been more evident than in this final season. Every show has been a treat for those of us who have watched faithfully, full of little things that let us know the writers remember us. It is brilliant. And it makes HIMYM my favorite show ever. Sorry, Seinfeld.

So as we say farewell, HIMYMers will remember the classic moments that will stay with us long after the show is gone. We will always suit up, always give high fives and never forget to be legen...wait for it!- dary. We will fear the cockamouse while believing that Nessie is a gentle creature, and that Sasquatch is very real. We will continue to search old music stores for vintage Robin Sparkles vinyls. We will treasure last words and understand the importance of being there when friends are hurting- even if it means dancing Christmas lights set to AC/CD music. We will occasionally hum Bang, Bang, Bangity Bang and Marshall Vs. the Machines. And I, for one, will have Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit as my default ringtone. We'll remember that we have indeed met Ted, that nothing good happens after 2 am, that new is NOT always better and that most anything can be "the dream." We will remember the crazy eyes and that there is a "hot/crazy scale." We will still be expecting one more slap to finish off the bet. We will remember that nothing is more romantic than stealing a blue French horn for a girl the first night you go out, throwing 3 parties in 3 days just to see her again, or making it rain (by doing a rain dance!) so you can get together with her again. And most of all, we will remember that nothing we do in life is legendary unless our friends are there to see it. To call this show a comedy is to miss out on the many dramatic moments and life lessons that have been offered up along the way. To not see it as a comedy is to miss 9 years of hilarity. HIMYM is the complete package.

If all of that is nonsense to your brain, then come back every Monday and learn about the wonders of HIMYM. If that started your heart on a trip down memory lane...then ditto. Join me next week and we'll explore what has, with the passage of time, become my favorite episode, complete with the ultimate definition of romantic love. See you at Sunrise. You don't think I can write about the show most every week for a few months? Challenge accepted!!! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Let It Shine

Every now and then the lyrics to an old familiar song jump off of my iPod and smack me upside the head, bringing some clarity to feelings or thoughts I might be struggling with at any given time. Yesterday featured one of those moments. The song was There's A Place In the World For A Gambler by my old favorite Dan Fogelberg, and these were the words that hit home. No further explanation is needed.

There's a light in the depths of your darkness,
There's a calm at the eye of every storm.
There's a light in the depths of your darkness...
Let it shine, oh let it shine!

Now if only I can heed Dan's advice...

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Hogwarts School of Youth Ministry

Bob in Spanish Wells, 1997
This post was first shared in May of 2014. I share it again on this Flashback Friday in it's original format (slightly edited) for a couple of reasons. One, I was recently asked once again how we were able to do all we did in our student ministries and this post is my favorite answer. Two, I wanted you to see the original comments. And three, I have been talking with a lot of old Kissimmee friends these past few weeks. It got me thinking about the good old days...

"Most folks these days don't have enough faith to see that God's magic is happening all around them..."

I have a dear friend named Jennifer Kuramochi. Some of you know her her Jennifer Minnigan; still others simply as Bob. You can read about her days in the youth ministries of the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee in many posts on this site, including The Legend of Bob, which is her entry into my Hall of Fame! So anyway...Jen and I are still friends. We were talking a few weeks back and she was telling me that whenever she recounts stories from her youth group days people are often in disbelief of all that we were able to do. Her husband Jun just shakes his head in wonder at the fact that a church youth group was able to go places like Spanish Wells, New York City and Myrtle Beach- not to mention the speakers, the concerts, the mission trips and the day trips. We got a lot of that same reaction at the FUMC-K reunion last year. Jennifer told me that once when asked how we were able to do all that we did, she thought for moment and responded, "I'm not sure. I think maybe Carl was part Wizard!

One of my favorite places on Walt Disney World property was The Beaches and Cream Soda Shoppe. I remember not only the great meals and the oh-so-decadent banana split pictured here, but also all the times times we were there with so many old friends and youth groups. This, after all, was the home of the Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash! One of those memories concerns the time in 1993 a group of us from Springfield Friends Meeting headed over mid-afternoon one day to get an ice cream fix and wound up singing Hopelessly Devoted to the other patrons of the restaurant (click But Now for the whole story!). That memory got me thinking more about that amazing '93 trip to WDW, stories of which were told here on this blog under the label Magic Tour back in 2010- and it took me 20 posts! Each of the nearly 50 participants had a 5-day park hopper pass. We stayed at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort. We ate at some of the finest restaurants on property, and saw both the Hoop-de-doo Musical Revue and Polynesian Luau dinner shows. We were special (and featured!) guests at Pleasure Island's Comedy Warehouse. Every day was amazing, and as Marilyn I sat talking on Saturday the words of Bob came ringing back to me. How did we do all that stuff? Maybe I was part Wizard...

Of course we know the truth. We were able to do all that we did and accomplish all that we accomplished because we were blessed by God to do these things in Jesus' name. All of the churches I served had the resources and gave us the freedom to dream, to be creative, and yes- to be MAGICAL with our youth ministry programming! But the adult leadership in each of those ministries deserves credit for this one thing- we believed the magic could happen! We had faith that amazing things could happen. We had the audacity to believe in the biblical directive to pray big prayers and dream big dreams. I learned early on from some brilliant mentors that youth ministry thrives when you live in the Possimpible (thank you, Barney Stinson)- that place where the possible and the impossible meet. There was no doubt in my mind that if we did those things, God could provide the supernatural- the MAGIC. I suppose you could say I attended the Hogwarts School of Youth Ministry! What I lacked in theological training I made up for in faith. I believed in what we were doing and never allowed nay-saying Muggles to steal our dreams. If I were indeed part Wizard, it was only in the sense that I never ruled anything out just because it seemed to be out of our reach or impractical. Big churches or small, we believed in trusting God to take us to places beyond our grasp- but firmly in His. There was never any doubt in my mind that God had great things in store for the churches I served a youth pastor. That's how we did great mission trips over my 28 years to places like DC, Chicago, Nashville, Tijuana and Spanish Wells. It's how we did ski trips, amazing weekend retreats, over a dozen NYC trips, took trips to see the Braves play baseball, spent weeks at Myrtle Beach and had
New York Trip in the early 1990s
amazing adventures together at
WDW. It's how we hosted great bands like Spooky Tuesday, SundryLost And Found and Geoff Moore & the Distance, and communicators like Curt Clonninger, Duffy Robbins, Mike Williams, Rick Bundschuh and Ted & Lee. It's how we did outrageous summer events, had awe-filled worship and built bonds that are still strong to this very day. It's how we changed lives! We didn't get everything right, and we had our share of mishaps. There were times when it became less about God's power and too much about me, and the ministry suffered. But even in the tough times, we never stopped believing in the magic of youth ministry to bring teenagers into the presence of God and into relationship with Jesus and with one another. And when our plans were filtered through a mission for Christ and magnified by God's love for us, all things were possible. 

Looking back now, I still can't explain how it all came together. I don't know how we paid for everything, I don't know how the plans came together so well, and I don't know why God blessed us in so many ways- other than we believed God would! I just know that for 28 years God kept sending waves, and instead of ducking and hiding we kept yelling SURF'S UP!!! It was indeed magical. And if that makes me part Wizard- probably more like the foul-up Mickey the Sorcerer than Harry Potter- so be it. The abiding lesson of the Hogwarts School of Youth Ministry? Never underestimate the awesome power of God to do things that are far beyond your reach. So tell me, fellow Christians- do you believe in that kind of magic? The church so often seems to be full of Muggles...

Because of Jesus,