Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Life Happens

There are a lot of times when we would all like to "escape," which may be the reason for the high popularity of things like weekends and vacations. The idea is that we can somehow step away from the world and all its turbulence for a while, let our minds and our muscles relax, and let our spirits breathe.

The concept, of course, is one that was designed into us by our creator who even legislated (at least in the Old Law) a day of rest -- a day of re-creation. Mankind mucked that up by making sure the day was so filled with "don'ts" that the fear of doing something wrong must have made most people even more tense than they ever were at work. I can imagine people all over Israel (and indeed in many other countries) swallowing their food whole to ensure they didn't chew too much and break some obscure Pharasaic interpretation of keeping the Sabbath holy.

But I digress. God's intent, it seems to me (and I'm getting this from Jesus) was to give us a day of rest. The way Jesus said it was, "The Sabbath day was made for man, not the other way around." (LMG translation). Even if you didn't know all that, you did know that time off is a good thing because we need times of refreshing. And a time of refreshing is exactly what I had in mind back in late June, almost a month ago now, when my wife and I traveled to Virginia to see my brother and his wife and their ever growing menagerie.

No, I'm not referring to children in some crude fashion, I'm referring to real animals. More about them in another post. I was also going to play in a golf tournament as my brother's guest at his club. Now that wasn't, and still isn't, my wife's definition of an ideal vacation, but she is a wonderful woman and she went along. She needed some re-creation time, too, and she was pretty sure she'd get it in Virginia.

So we hopped onto one of her planes (she works for an airline) and flew to Dulles International Airport, where my brother picked us up. We hadn't seen him in a while and we had never been to their place in Virginia even though they'd been there two years, so this was going to be fun.

Bill (that's my brother) and Dee Dee (his wife) had both lived in Chicago for many years, so they were no strangers to traffic. But Bill's two years in rural Virginia had pretty much wiped all those honking horns and waving fingers from his mind, and one of the best city drivers I had ever known had obviously been laid to rest and replaced by a small town driver who only honks to get the deer out of the road and only waves with his hand in friendly greeting, and that to almost every car in town. I laughed about it, but it was pretty cool.

There were a lot of other cool things about Virginia and Bill and Dee Dee's farm, and I'm going to write about those in another posting, but for the rest of this one I'm going to tell you why sometimes we can't escape, not even by going clear across the country.

Bill, Dee Dee, Judy and I were in the car leaving their farm to go to dinner when I got a call on my mobile phone, and it was from Jeff, one of the youth pastor's at our church in California. It was early evening on the East Coast, so mid afternoon near Modesto, California, where I knew he was on a water ski trip with the youth group. He was calling to get a phone number from me, and since it was stored on my mobile I told him to hold. While I was looking for the number I got another call from a friend at the church, who said she had just gotten off the phone with Jeff. I told her Jeff was on the other line and she said, "I'll let you go" and hung up.

I reconnected with Jeff, put him on hold again, restarted the search, and this time got the number and relayed it to him. It was for the cell phone of one of my friends at church whose two sons were both on the ski trip. Something was definitely wrong.

Jeff thanked me for the number and then said, "Hey Lewis. Michael drowned."

All the time I'd been dealing with this call, the other three occupants of the car had been talking. My sudden silence made them stop. I asked some kind of question and Jeff said they were taking Michael to a hospital. I asked if he would be DOA. Jeff said he didn't think so, because they got him breathing again. I told him I was in Virginia but that he should call me if there was anything I could do. And then we lost the connection.

Life found me on vacation, and while the time for rest and re-creation did not end with that phone call, it took its own little vacation. Later that evening and the next day we were able to get some sketchy and only partially accurate details, but the most important one of those was that Michael was alive.

Michael is still alive, and he is going to survive this accident, but he had indeed drowned. No one can say for certain how long his brain was deprived of oxygen, but it was long enough to cause damage which may or may not be permanent. He is still in the hospital, and he has shown amazing signs of recovery but he is still not, to use the doctor's phrase, "purposefully responsive." (If you are interested, you can follow Michael's progress on a special page at our church's web site.)

My point of all this is that life happens, even when we think we've escaped. It happened to me in a fairly significant way, not just for the personal impact the event had on me but for the things that it added to my life as a friend of the family and as an elder and pastor at the church.

All of that is as nothing, though, for the life that happened to Michael and his family while Michael was off enjoying time with his friends. Michael's life and the lives of several others, including his family, were changed forever that day. What God will do with it all, how Michael will improve and when, and how we will all respond is yet to be seen.

Those who would ask how a loving God could allow such a thing are asking an unanswerable question. This is a broken world, and things in it go bad and break, including our bodies and our minds. When it happens to a strong young man like Michael it seems inconsistent with our experiences, but it is not inconsistent with this world. My belief is that such things will be inconsistent with the next world.

Nevertheless, I want to add that God was on the job the day Michael went under the water. One of the adults on shore "just happened" to see him go down. The strongest kid and best swimmer in the youth group "just happened" to be closest to Michael, and amazingly found him in 12 feet of murky water, face down on the bottom, on just his second attempt to locate him. One of the youth leaders arrived at the scene (an island in a lake) just as they pulled Michael out, and he had "just happened" to read an article the day before about what to do in such situations and was able to clear much of the water from Michael's lungs almost immediately.

One of the adults and one of the youth group started CPR, and just then a boat with a husband and wife, both trained in rescue (he a former EMT and she a former professional Lifeguard), "just happened" to arrive. They took over CPR and actually got Michael's heart beating and got him breathing on his own, something CPR is almost never successful at doing.

Many other "just happened" kinds of things happened that day, and because of them Michael was not DOA. I've seen him, and I've seen the faith of his family and the positive impact this event has had on many people. It is true that God can use even the bad things of life to bring about good, and that is a good thing.

Still, since that day I've been a little less worried about work and a little more fond of times of refreshing, times with family and friends, and times of reflection. I'd recommend that as a pretty good way to live life. Don't think of vacations and weekends as times of escape, because you can't escape life, but think of them as a very special part of the whole. A day of rest, or several days of rest, for your body, mind and spirit. And somewhere during those times of rest, even if it is just for a moment, be thankful for the grace you've been given.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Air Show

Yesterday was Memorial Day, 2004. I'm in favor of Memorial Day, and not just because I happen to be a veteran. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because of the flowers and other decorations placed on the graves of those who had died in the Civil War, but I suppose the name changed partly with more wars and partly with changes in the culture. Even the date has succumbed to the vagaries of our ever changing culture.

One of the victims of that is what we do with the day itself. As I said, the idea originally was to honor the Civil War dead by placing flowers or other decorations on their graves. That takes one to the actual grave one is decorating, and theoretically one would read the inscription. Whether the person was known to them in life or not, at least the name probably now was and the reality that a person had died for their country would have been hard to miss.

Today we do have a moment of remembrance, the president does place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and some people do pause at least briefly to think of the sacrifice so many have made. But we also use the day as an excuse to display our military might and in a sense celebrate war. Ends of wars are worth celebrating, while the act of war, it seems to me, is not.

But let me get to the point of my story. Memorial Day was observed on Sunday, and it happened that on that Sunday my wife and I, along with family members from out of town, went to one of our favorite breakfast/lunch spots after church. This restaurant happens to be at a public golf course, and it happens to overlook a very large pond. The pond is a safe haven for all kinds of water fowl, including ducks, geese, coots, and a kind of bird I don't know the name of but am enamored with all the same.

On this particular Sunday there was an air show at nearby Moffett Field. The headliners that day were the Thunderbirds from the U.S. Air Force. Six amazing jet planes flying in incredible formations at unbelievable rates of speed. No doubt it takes a great deal of training to pilot one of those planes, and those who were flying them were very, very good. We didn't pay to get in to the show, but we could see a lot of it from our seats on the restaurant patio.

At the same time we could see these amazing birds. I once thought they were swallow-tailed kites, but my research tells me those don't make it this far west. (I did see several of them while in the Everglades earlier this year, and they are beautiful.) Anyway, whatever these birds were they easily captured the attention of anyone who would watch them. They would soar over the pond, keeping a keen eye on the water. When they spotted some food they would (individually) hover about 12 - 15 feet above the water and then dive straight down into hte water, and if they hit the target in a brief moment they'd be up again and ready to go.

So which was the better air show? For me it was God's air show. It was free, it was fun, it was never boring, and it somehow honored God much more, I think, than airplanes painted underneath to look like birds.


Monday, May 17, 2004

The wild west...

When my dad found out my wife and I were moving to California, he good-naturedly reminded me that the whole state was going to fall off into the ocean sometime soon and warned me of all kinds of supposed dangers that are natural and unnatural in the Golden State.

What he really meant to say was, "I'm getting older, and if you and Judy move that far away I'm not sure how many more times we'll get to see each other." I understood where he was coming from, and I appreciated it.

The fact is he did come out to visit one time and he loved California, or at least the part of it he got to see, and he was happy for us. He died about 2 1/2 years ago, but I still think of him often. I definitely thought of him today when a mountain lion was shot and killed just a few blocks from our house in Palo Alto.

Dad didn't list mountain lions in urban areas as a potential danger, and I wouldn't have thought of that myself, but there one was, hungry and in town looking for a meal. The Palo Alto police made the call to kill the lion, and given all the circumstances it was the right thing to do. Not everyone agrees, of course, and that is part of what will help make this the talk of the town for a while.

I'm a little sad about the big cat, trying to make ends meet in a very tough Silicon Valley economy, but he was clearly in a place where he didn't belong. I wonder if his dad told him about the dangers of living here.

Something in the water...

It makes sense that your home town is the town where your home is, and in my case that is currently a place the Spaniards who discovered it called "Tall tree," which in Spanish is Palo Alto. I say currently not because I'm about to move, but because I have been at home in several different towns over the course of my life.

But your home town is also the town where your are from, where you lived when you were young and growing up, and that for me is a place called Carmi, Illinois. It seems a tiny bit pretentious to me for Carmi to call itself a city, having a population that is south of 6,000 and a land area that can easily be traveled by foot in a day, but it is the county seat and the biggest town for at least 30 miles, and it does have a Wal-mart Supercenter.

Pretentious or not, Carmi (pronounced like "my car" only backwards, and with the emphasis on the first syllable) has touched the lives of a lot of people, possibly including yours. Most people don't know that, of course, including people who live and work in Carmi today, but that's why I'm here.

I first started thinking about this several years ago and the thought came up again last week when I was having lunch with a friend from church who is a Vice President at HP. Somehow the conversation turned to a mutual friend of ours named Wayne Lichtenberger. You may have never heard of Wayne, and for many years of my life didn't know where he was or what he had done, but I began to find out after I moved to California.

I had been recruited by Western Athletic Clubs to come to the Bay Area and help turn around one of their clubs that wasn't doing well, and I had accepted. My wife was still back in the Chicago area trying to sell our townhouse, but I was getting into California life. I was living in San Francisco with relatives (wonderful and amazing folks, about whom I must write soon) for the first several weeks, then in a corporate apartment, then in a hotel room. About the only two solid things I had going for me were the work (intense but fun) and church.

One Sunday the preacher was going to be gone, and he asked me to fill in for him. Someday I'll tell you why that was OK, but my point is that in my sermon I mentioned something about growing up in Carmi, Illinois. From the back of the congregation -- and this was not a congregation that normally responded to the preacher with Amen! or Preach on! or much of anything except polite laughter if a line was really funny -- came a loud "No way!" It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that someone in the crowd had a connection with Carmi.

That person was the son of Wayne Lichtenberger. Wayne had grown up in Carmi, and in fact he and I had gone to the same church there. He's older than me by more than high school, which means we probably wouldn't have known each other at all except for church, and he didn't really "know" me or I him but our families certainly knew each other.

Turns out that Wayne had gone to school, at least graduate school, in a place called Berkeley, and that he had been one of the primary students involved in something called Project Genie, a computer research project started in 1964. Now I can't tell you all the stuff that happened with this little school project, but I can tell you that in the annals of computing history it was significant and that it turned into Berkeley Computer Corporation (BCC), a commercial business venture that failed and the employees of which then became the core of Xerox PARC.

Just a few cool things eventually came out of Xerox PARC, including ethernet, the graphical user interface, the laser printer, and the mouse. PARC, by the way, stands for Palo Alto Research Center. When my wife finally arrived in California I took her to see the building. Just to be near a place like that was cool, it seemed to me. Not to her, but at the time she wasn't using a mouse, ethernet, or a GUI.

Anyway, Wayne was there for a while and had an influence on a few of those things, as well as creating some very cool stuff of his own. If I have my history right he went from there to teach in the grad school at the University of Hawaii where he worked on Aloha-net, which was really the precursor to ethernet, and a few folks from UH were involved in something called ARPANET, which of course became what we know today as the Internet.

One of Wayne's students was a fellow named John Davidson, who later became my boss (and my good friend) at a little company he started called Network TeleSystems. John was the guy (at least as I understand it) who really thought up the ideas which caused the founding of Ungermann-Bass, the first large networking company which was independent of any computer manufacturer. John was also one of the authors of NCP, the protocol which was the precursor to TCP/IP. And he was influenced in many ways by a guy from Carmi.

There is much more about Wayne, but there are also many others from Carmi who have done amazing things. Just in "modern day" history we have John Edwardson, a friend of mine when we were kids who later became President and COO of United Airlines and whose many business accomplishments are well documented. If you buy anything from CDW or MacWarehouse, John is your boy. He is also on the board of FedEx. What the general public doesn't often hear about John is that he is a man of faith who has volunteered in a prison visitation ministry with his church and has had a positive influence for good in many companies and for many people.

Back in the day I was (I've heard it from her own lips) the first boyfriend of a girl named Sandy. We were in grade school at the time and the romance didn't last but the friendship did. Sandy was an excellent singer, and one of the cool memories of my high school career was singing backup (with Rick Mitchell and Lloyd Winter) for Sandy as she performed "Boy From New York City" at the Carmi High School "One Niter" variety show.

Sandy went on to sign a record deal with Word Records and do a lot of other very interesting stuff, including hosting a talk show on a big time Chicago based Christian radio station. Today Sandy Rios is the President of the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America. Whether you agree with her political perspectives or not, she has done much with her life and gifts, and she is from Carmi.

So is Brett Kirkpatrick, a biggie not only at the University of Texas Medical Branch but in the whole Medical Library Association, and my brother Bill, whose former company may have helped you get a hotel room for the night if you had a flight stranded in Chicago any time in the last ten years. David Muse's hometown was Carmi and it is again. He sailed to Hawaii shortly after college then built a boat and sailed it single handedly to Australia. He is back in Carmi these days and working at a high level for an international company involved in helping abate the damage from oil spills. The company itself is based in Carmi, although I don't think there has been an oil spill in the Little Wabash river since Les Owen accidentally overturned a drain pan when he was changing the oil and filter on his car in the bowling alley parking lot. Les, by the way, became a fairly well known manager for BP in Alaska but before that introduced me to the delicacy called alligator tail when I visited him and his family in New Orleans.

Another one of my former girlfriends never left town, marrying a local farmer (there were lots of those) and outstanding athlete (there were a few of those), settling down and raising a family. Along the way she also started a very cool business called Pat's Porch, and in addition to all that she became my step sister when her widowed mother married my widowed father many years ago. Drue Pearce is also from Carmi. After school she moved to Alaska where she eventually became a state senator, and today she is the Senior Advisor for Alaska Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior, a role that is certainly not without the possibility of controversy.

There are lots of other stories that come out of Carmi, many of them much older than I. Fred Karch was a Brigadier General in the USMC who led troops in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Colonel Conger moved to Carmi, but that was after he led the soldiers who captured John Wilkes Booth. James Robinson was a U.S. Senator from Carmi, and Orlando Burrell and Roy Clippinger were U.S. Congressman. I knew Roy Clippinger when I was a kid, but I didn't know he'd been a congressman until many years later.

And then of course there is me. Although I'm not famous and doubt that I will be, I have had the opportunity to impact a lot of lives over the years. That is still happening today in amazing ways -- or at least they are amazing to me. And I believe some of that is because I was raised in Carmi, Illinois, a town that may be shrinking in size but is still growing in influence.

So what is it about Carmi? Back in the '50s and '60s were there just some excellent teachers there who challenged us all to excel at what we did? Was there some kind of civic pride that beat deep within us? Maybe the answer is, as the Carmi web site says, just a belief "in hard work, family, religion and community."

Personally, I think there was something in the water.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

In the beginning...

My friend Julie, who encouraged me to become a blogger, said the hardest part of setting up a site was picking a fancy name. So I thought about a name before I started and Word Lover made sense for me because it is what I am.

A hundred years ago our dad used to take us (my brother and sister and me) to the muni opera in St. Louis to see first run musicals. Most people came out humming the tunes, but I came out reciting the words. I loved the meter, the flow, the beauty and the very clever use of words in those musicals, and I still love a good turn of phrase today.

Given all that, you won't be surprised to know that I'm a writer. Not professionally -- at least not directly -- but both of my jobs require me to do a lot of writing, and it is probably fair to say that I wouldn't succeed in either of them if I couldn't write, so I'm a writer. I also write lyrics, and I suppose in the minds of many that in itself makes me a writer.

The second meaning for Word Lover has to do with my faith and belief that Jesus is the Word of God. The very best explanation I ever read about that, by the way, was penned by Dorothy L. Sayers in her book "The Mind of the Maker." No doubt I'll comment on that in a future posting, but not right now.

So this is the beginning of my blog, and my goal is to build it daily, or thereabouts. My hope is that you will find words here that interest you, that challenge you, or that entertain you, and that if you aren't already a word lover you will soon learn to be one.