Category Archives: The Ordinary

Take Care Now

Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death. -Henri Nouwen


Wisdom and modern psychology says that taking care of yourself looks like this—

  1. Get an adequate amount of sleep
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Maintain a healthy diet
  4. Nurture meaningful relationships
  5. Allow for leisure time

History says that to ignore the list above puts you on the course of a train wreck waiting to happen.  I’ve been there, I know, and I fear I’m heading there again.  I’m trying to heed my own advice but not doing so well with it.  There are a lot of things in my life i have no control over, however these 5 things for the most part I do, with the exception of #1.  Insomnia wakes me up around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and doesn’t allow me to go back to sleep.  Though I think if I did 2-5 well that #1 would fall into place as it has in the past.

In my early 30’s, I lost 2 of my best friends and their deaths act as a gift to me to tell me that life is short and fleeting so create meaning in the here and now.  Nothing is guaranteed, life doesn’t owe you anything.  We live in a culture that is obsessed with the future, obsessed with future goals, obsessed for more and not content in the beauty of now. In ancient cultures, their orientation was towards the past, they understood who they were and what gave the present meaning by remembering where they came from.  In western culture, we don’t live in the meaning of now because contentment is wrapped up in unattained goals in the future.  Always wanting more without taking the time and sitting in the beauty of now.  I say this a lot, but our present western culture is full of crap.

You can take care of yourself because ancient wisdom says we have value to care for now, we are quite worth it. Life and the meaning you are looking for is what is in front of you right now . . . today . . . this breath . . . these relationships . . . this ordinary moment.  So, take care now.

40to40: The Train Wreck Waiting to Happen

There is a common story and I’ve lived it.  There are things they don’t tell you when they play the emotional praise songs and try and convince young folk that if you really were serious about your faith that the only option is to go into full-time ministry and then you’ve arrived in spiritual seriousness.  What they don’t tell you at church camp when your dehydrated and sleep deprived and then encourage you to come forward to throw your stick in the fire because this time you REALLY mean it and will give God your entire life in order to save the entire world . . . etc. There are things they don’t tell you when you are buying your sweatshirt at the bookstore from “Jesus loves you” Univeristy (tip to the hat to Bishop for that phrase).  What they don’t tell you is how incredibly hard, lonely and isolating a life in ministry can be.  You have no stated work hours if you’re really spiritual; the unwritten expectations are that you give your mornings, afternoons, evenings, late nights, weekends, whenever anybody calls, summers etc., you are always on call and need to be ‘on’.  When spirituality is your job, you rarely take time to take care of yourself . . . so I didn’t.

For years I ran as hard as I could, I gave as much as I could, I served as much as I could, I taught as earnestly as I could, I planned as diligently as I could, I lead as dynamic as I could and at 26, I found myself crumbling inside.  I had no category for it, on the outside I had all the successes one would look for, on the inside I was absolutely dying.  I had no center, I was depressed and heading towards despair.  I didn’t know who I was in the grand scheme of things, I felt utterly lost.  There were some leadership challenges that were happening behind the scenes and I lacked the rooting, the foundation or the energy to cope with the storm well.  I kept most of this internalized because I didn’t have a category for being weak and falling apart.  I was afraid of letting everyone down, afraid of beling left alone if I wasn’t valuable to run the show anymore, I feared I had become a failure and eventually all woud find out.  I got kudos for being strong and dynamic, so I kept that impostor up front.  I was a train wreck waiting to happen and my prayer was that when I wrecked, it wouldn’t hurt anyone else.

**Disclaimer:  The churches I worked at didn’t do this to me, I did.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my sickness was within me, it wasn’t without.  The common story in evangelical stories though is we hire young leaders and profit off their dynamism and when they get used up, we replace them.  I’m not at all alone in that story.  In fact many of my closest friends today are that story.

I decided I would go to seminary to leave the ministry.  Yes, you read that right.  I figured if I left ministry to go to school that everyone would assume that was natural, i was getting really serious now about becoming a ‘real’ pastor.  The reality was that I didn’t want to hurt any of the young people I had worked with for a decade and had the privelege of leading.  If I was a role model to them I did not want to disappoint them but I couldnt’ do it anymore.  I was broken and needed saving myself.  Nicki and I scrounged up whatever money we had and maxed out a credit card for me to fly to Colorado by myself to visit Denver Seminary because I liked their website and philosophy.  They believed as much in character and competency as they did in content. I visited Denver Seminary in a 1/2 day and quickly realized it was not where I could see msyelf figuring my life out.  I still had 2 days or so left so I headed for the mountains.

I drove up to the mountains to find myself and pray every honest prayer I could.  I needed God to speak clearly and tell me what to do with my life.  I hiked, i drove, I stomped through 4 feet of snow, I skiied, I walked, I thought, I listened . . . nothing.  God had nothing to say.  So I remember sitting in my hotel room my final night all packed up to catch an early flight home.  Here I came to the Rockies to find myself and hear from God and I failed, he had nothing to say.  I was not only lost, I spent our last pennies, we were broke.  So I turned on the news in my hotel room and the footage was rolling across the screen of the latest school shooting massacre, the one in Arkansas that time.  I watched the dead count of teens, I watched the horrified look on the faces of students and parents, I watched the blood stained bodies being pulled out of what was supposed to a place of safety and fun.  Personified evil had stolen what was not an intended part of Creation, innocence was lost.

To say that I wept would be an understatement, those images completely undid me.  My heart broke that night in deep, profound and haunting ways.  I could no longer do church the same as I had.  If God was true, if God was the center of all reality, if God’s Kingdom was actually the hope that we claimed it was, I could no longer do church the same because the church I was doing could not touch that dark world.  Everything I had been taught was how to convince people to go to church, I wasn’t interested anymore.  I became convinced that church needed to be sent to where people were.  I had no idea how, but business as usual was broken for me.  At 26, I was completely unsatisfied with church as usual, it simply wouldn’t do.  If these are the issues of my generation, of my culture, things needed to change.  Through a desperate weeping prayer, God spoke.  He didn’t speak in the beauty of the snow capped mountain, but he spoke in a cheap and lonely downtown Denver hotel room.  I asked him what could I do, and he said:  “Chris, what do YOU want to do?  What do you dream about, Chris?  What do you long to do with me, Chris?  Tell me everything on your heart, I will listen.”  I don’t know about you, but in the deep and desperate times in my life, when I pray the honest kind of prayers, God calls me by name and it undoes me.

I got out the cheap hotel notepad and ballpoint pen and started writing and crying.  I did that for 4 hours, I counted.  When I read over what i wrote I realized I just wrote the business plan for a church start, but not one I had any experience leading or even knew if anyone ever attempted before.  God said dream, so I did.  The dreaming became a longing, the longing became a vision, the vision became a virus that I’ve never been able to rid myself of.  That dark and painful night on March 24, 1998, in a lonely hotel room, through tears, my honest prayer turned into a dream statement that eventually gave birth to Ordinary Community Church in May, 2001.

My train wreck was resurrected, isn’t that the way God works?  #elpida

40to40: Shining in Michigan

Newly married and after serving in 2 different churches through our 4 years in college, Nicki and I decided two things:  1) We didn’t want to live in Chicago long-term and 2) We couldn’t afford to live in Chicago long-term.  So I sought after full-time work in student ministry and Nicki drew a 5-6 hour circle around Cincinnati and said that was my searching radius so that we could still be within a reasonable drive to home.  As I searched through the binders of jobs at Trinity, I came upon a job description for a Faith Reformed Church outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan that really intrigued me.  I had a couple interviews that went reasonable well and then when they narrowed it down to 3 people, they brought us all in on the same Sunday to interivew with 3 different committees at the same time on a rotating basis.  I remember this being really awkward for Nicki and I to be sitting with these 2 other couples we were competing for the same job for.  Apparently the head of the search committee was much more enamored with another canidate because when he called me to offer the job, he kind of stammered and eventually said, “I guess we want to offer you the job”.  My response was, “this is a good thing, right?”.  So our first adventure as a newlyweds and college graduates was to move to southwest Michigan and see if we could make a difference with the teenagers who were in the church ane eventually into the community. 

Not sure how or when it started, but we called the high school youth group “SHINE” and my pet-name for them was the “user friendly youth group”.  We fell in love with these kids and I think they did the same with us.  We just clicked really well and worked hard at not having the usual barriers of cool/uncool, jocks, musicians, academics, gamers, etc. etc.  We wanted a flat community where everybody belonged, all had equal value and got full share of the community resources of love and care.  We had a blast with these kids at camps, retreats, sledding hills, ballgames, service projects, conferences, concerts etc. etc.  We began to pick up momentum and the youth group really grew in number and in depth of relationships.  I vividly remember our mission trip to Toronto to learn about the real issues of homelessness and street kids involved in prostitution.  We served them for a week and listened to their broken stories.  An experience I’ll never forget.  More than that, I felt so honored to lead this group of aspiring young leaders.  Honestly, some of the coolest kids (now adults with kids) I have ever had the privelege of working with, I absolutely loved them and still do. 

3 signficant ‘aha’ moments as well happened to/for me in this time in Michigan:  

  1. On November 9, 1996, Nicki gave birth to our firstborn, Alison.  One of our dearest friends and fellow youth-leader, Stacie Weesies was our nurse in the delivery room and it was so reassuring for Nicki and I to have such a trusted friend in the room with us and throughout the experience.  When they put Ali on Nicki’s chest she was turned away from us but pronounced her a girl.  They took her over to the bin to clearn her up and measure her length and weight.  I couldn’t quite see her as another nurse was in the way, and then she moved and I made eye contact with Ali for the first time, I fell immediately in love.  Nicki asked me what she looked like, I said “she’s perfect”.  Never will I forget that first glance.
  2. In our 3rd year at Faith Church, I was informed that money was really tight within the church budget and that there would be a spending freeze on ministry budgets for the year.  With a youth group that was exploding, I now had no budget to carry on.  So two things happened.  We moved our meetings to our spacious, old, ranch home instead of at the church or other places.  Immediately I noticed the vibe changed and the students felt even more comfortable sharing and bringing their friends.  It was as if it removed some barriers to authenticity by being in our home.  Nicki and I look at this time as the seeds being planted in our minds and hearts about hosting church out of our home and offering hospitality for all who wanted to belong. 
  3. Somehow in this time, I had several kids who were either involved in demonic oppression or satanic occultic practices and I found a ministry to them.  As a kid myself in my young 20’s, I was counseling extremely dark and broken teens and performing exorcisms against powers I had very little experience with but their manifestations were enough to scare me into a closet.  However, that Philly kid in me wasn’t afraid of a fight and I saw the demonic realm as a bully that had no right to any heart/soul that was in the image of the God of all Creation.  I did share what I was coming across to the elders who were 3 times my age and they looked at me with blank stares, I was hoping for help and advice, at that point I knew I was on my own and had to resort to books and trial and error.  (oh yeah, and that Bible was really helpful)  I have often said that ministry is a lot like picking up rocks, if you pick up enough of them, you are going to find snakes.  I learned that the reason the majority of my panic attacks in the night at 1:00 a.m. were because that was when the occultic services in Kalamazoo were concluded and they would send out the demonic forces to work their evil and intimidation.  Because a couple of the teens I was working with were directly involved in the local satanic occult, I would at times get cryptic notes placed under my windshield about town and sometimes strange messages left on our voicemail when I was out of town to scare Nicki I guess, I definitely felt like I was being watched.  But being watched meant I was a threat to their plans so in the words of Doc Holliday in Tombstone, “I’m your huckleberry.”  I learned that ministry was not about dodgeball and funny stories to keep kids attention, rather ministry was a declaration of war for the hearts and souls of all of God’s Creation.  If you want in, you better be all in or you will get eaten up. 

I loved our time in Michigan, it was some of our best days.  SHINE will forever be the coolest youth group in our hearts and minds.  You know who you are.  😉

40to40: Trinity College Days

It was about February or March of my senior year of high school that I even began thinking about where to go to college or what I wanted to do.  At the time I was pretty obssesive about missions and thought a good option might be to forgo college altogether and die a martyr’s death on the mission field in some foreign land.  That was about my thinking at the time.  I recall during a time of prayer one night hearing God say, “Chris, I know you would die for me, but will you live for me?”  Now I had to make some decisions about next steps.  This Nicki Long girl from youth group seemed to have her act together and had some college visits set up, so we drove to Liberty Univ. in Virginia for a weekend and neither of us found that a fit.  What was a fit was the drive home for 9 hours talking about our lives and our futures and finding that we shared all of the same thinking.  A good friendship over the years was becoming immensely more than that, this Nicki Long girl was the ‘catch’ any guy (and several tried) wanted to marry.  The sparks were a flying and I think it started on this drive home from Liberty.

It turned out she was also going to visity Trinity College in Chicago soon for another weekend so I made the calls and got myself a spot on that trip as well with the local recruiter.  Nicki was dating some dude named ‘Charles’ who was a junior and also on the recruiting trip in the van.  Poor, poor, Charles, he didn’t stand a chance.  Nice guy, but Nicki and I had far too much in common and he would soon be past history.  We listened to the education chair give a recruiting appeal and we weren’t impressed.  Then we decided to go listen to some guy over the Youth Ministry dept. give his talk about what they had to offer.  His name was Rick Dunn and he would soon become a mentor and a dear friend.  He talked about personhood and not programs.  He shared about spiritual formation of the leader and a vision to reach the broken teenagers of our culture.  I’m not sure he was even done giving his talk that I was looking for the dotted line to sign on, Nicki and I both were in.  We would both be going to north Chicago to attend Trinity College and at the time, we were just friends.  Shortly that would change, senior prom would be our first date (sorry Charles, I beat you to the ask) and by the time we moved into Trinity our freshman year, we were a package deal.

I walked onto the baseball team and Nicki was on scholarship for volleyball.  I played a couple years but found my passion in serving as a youth pastor in local churches throughout my college days.  Our closest friends became our youth leaders in these places and we had a blast just doing what we could to care for teens who were hurting.  My fondest memories were being the volleyball boyfriend driving all over the region to watch Nicki play.  She was/is an awesome player, she achieved being a 2 time All American in her junior and senior years and though sports was a huge part of my life, I lived vicariously through her accomplishments.  I kind of regret not playing baseball my junior and senior year of college, choosing rather to work in ministry.  Perhaps I could have enjoyed the whole time a bit more and not taken myself so seriously, but se la vi.

The community around the youth ministry department was as well it’s own niche in a small college.  Rick and Jana were incredibly intelligent and compassionate professors and we were honored to study under them.  My roommates Jason and Shane were not altogether normal (like me) and we had some great times.  Floor hockey in the dorm hallway, late night skiing in Wisconsin, Spring Break baseball trips to Florida, Chicago deep dish pizza, movies and other shenanigans.  I fondly remember Shane buying a gas station booklet in the bathroom on our way to Florida for a baseball tournament on Spring Break of awkwardly named sexual positions and giving it to me as an engagement gift.  We then worked in the awkward phrases into our infield chatter to get in the head of our own pitchers cracking them up.  Sounded something like, “hey now, Edmunds, here we go now buddy, one more strike, one more strike, whatta ya say now, standing bliss??”

Ahh, the colllege life.  We learned a lot, we grew up some more and we made choices that would effect our future.  Thanks to Trinity College for some good days.

40to40: Turning my life around

(*Steve Wasson, Chris Hancock and myself after serving a week with Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina.  We were ‘legends’ in our own mind.)

Outside of high school, I got involved in the high school youth group at Faith Bible Church in Cincinnati and these relationships would have the power to turn my life around.  I was a kid who was kind of private and independent and had become quite good at hiding the pain and anger that was witihin and only at times acted out on.  I put on the front that I had it together and I didn’t want to be messed with.  I grew up in and around church but to be honest, I didn’t buy any of it.  If you asked me how I really felt about it, I’d tell you it was a joke.  No one actually lived what they said they believed, it was purely lip service you do because you feel obligated.  You look and act nice in church and then do and live however you want to outside of the pristine and clean walls.  However, as an impressionable teenage boy, I was a mixture of pride/ego/testastrone and a heart/mind that was thirsting for something true.  I played the part of going on missions trips and serving others in the name of Christ, getting involved in the leadership roles of youth group, while not sharing that I didn’t buy any of it.  Rather, youth group gave me a place to belong and I found that refreshing for a kid that felt otherwise lost. 

Part of my role in leadership within the youth group was being matched up with one of the youth leaders who would ‘disciple’ me.  I had grown up to this point with little to no relationship with my Father so this was an interesting idea that someone who was a well respected member of the church would pay particular attention to me to help me develop as a young leader.  I found it all curious and went along.  The man’s name was Greg House and I’m not sure I could underestimate this statement, ‘his life changed mine’.  He was the first person I ever met in or around church that lived exactly what he said he believed.  I don’t mean he was perfect, it was just that his pursuit of Christ was also his actual life and that really messed me up.  I suspect he knew about my double life, he was no dummy and often asked me spiritual questions that would haunt me when I tried to go to sleep at night.  After a New Year’s even bender of a drinking night my junior year of high school, I went to meet with Greg and he asked me some very pointed questions that I tried to deny.  I left his house and remember vividly that it was a pouring rain.  This is where the story gets a bit mystical, I had the overwhelming feeling that God in the person of Christ was in the car with me.  This was the beginning of many spiritual experiences throughout my life that would shape the person I am and the life I live.  I felt an incredible amount of love that night from the presence of God in my life and all I can say is my heart changed.  He became a Father to the fatherless and it was an offer I wanted to receive.  It wasn’t about me anymore, I was caught up into a thirst for the things of God and his Kingdom.  That was my conversion experience and to this day, I haven’t stopped that pursuit.  My life became defined by my faith and ongoing spirituality of being a follower of Christ.  Greg would pass away a few years later to brain cancer and I miss him greatly.  I carry the legacy of his life in me and I’ve been able to travel the world and give away the same faith he impacted me with, for this I’m incredibly grateful. 

To be active in this youth group at FBC led by the most ‘go getter’ youth pastor of all time, Keith Missel, meant that you would have numerous opportunities to go on short-term missions trips and these trips were formative to me.  I learned about poverty first-hand, that the world was not my suburban bubble.  I learned that when I was serving others, I felt incredlbly fulfilled and purposeful, that living the life of a spoiled American teenager really didn’t satisfy.  I also received an evangelical foundation of the teachings of the Scriptures that have become what I would organize my life around.  Keith was so passionate about his faith that it was infectious to the rest of us.  He as well played a huge role in mentoring and shaping me at a time where I was vulnerable and an ‘open book’.  It was also in this youth group that I would serve with in leadership roles a certain stud athlete named Nicki Long.  I will share on this in a future blog, but it was predicted by Keith that Nicki and I would marry, and he was correct.  Keith would have the honor of marrying us a couple years after high school.

I have 1,000 stories about my time at FBC.  I’m thankful for a place to belong at a time when I needed it.  I’m thankful that belonging led to my believing and a faith that would be the center of my life.  I’m thankful to have had such rich experiences at a young age that opened my eyes and helped me see the poverty of our world and what grave need was all around us.  I’m thankful for rich friendships with peers and leaders that last a lifetime.  I’m thankful for inheriting a legacy of spiritual leadershp that propelled me to a life of the same everyday since.  Though I pursue my faith differently today than they do at FBC, I’m thankful for this foundation.  None of us come to where we are in a vacuum, we particpate in a received tradition.  FBC is a formative part of that for me. 


40 to 40, pt. 5: What’s an Aviator?


In the summer of 1987, my parents got transferred to some city called Cincinnati in the middle of the US to which I knew almost nothing about because some guy named, Carl Lindner, bought their company.  All I knew about Cincinnati was WKRP and that Eric Davis was a stud of a center-fielder.  A few days before my frehsman year in high school we moved into a home that was a far cry from the trailor in Levitown.  Large brick house with a pool and satelite dish, our own rooms and bathrooms.  Definitely felt like the hard work of my parents had paid off and they had ‘made’ it in terms of American provisions.  I spent a lot of time in that pool and mastered the art of manipulating that old-school satelite dish. 

I would go to a place called Sycamore High School that had the reputation for being a ‘high-end’ school district with excellent academics.  Apparently they were the Syacamore Aviators and my first question was, “What’s an Aviator”?  Such a strange nickname having not grown up around it.  I was not only the new kid having no connection with these people from middle or elementary school, but I was clearly an east coast punk compared to the Ralph Lauren polo wearing Sycamore crowd.  As well coming from a tiny school to a huge school, It was quite an adjustment, I didn’t understand them and don’t think they understood me.  I was fairly content keeping to myself and I made my observations from a distance. I do remember thinking one upside to being in such a large school was that the multitude of attractive young ladies would make the school days much more bearable and Sycamore was not short in that category.  I had the ‘fade’ haircut with steps shaved into the side of my head, soon I would have to change my ways and figure out how to fit into this preppie crowd.  In the vernacular of ‘The Outsiders’, I wanted to be perceived as a ‘greaser’, but now I was in school full of ‘Socs’.  Time to change.

I made most of my friends through sports teams but for the most part, I stayed on the peripheral of Sycamore High School.  Rarely went to parties or games and kept to myself.  I tended to engage my teachers in dialogue more than my classmates, a trait my eldest daugher has taken on fully.  I think I felt that I was going somewhere, I knew what I wanted and I didn’t need anybody to help get me there.   The popularity thing didn’t interest me, I’d prefer to play my games on the field.  But we certainly had a lot of fun.  Each day I believe the lunch order was the pizza and fries boat, with a side or ranch to dip the fries in.  Nutrition at it’s best.  The fries were of a different planetary substance altogether, the really greasy ones would bounce off the cafeteria floor to at least hip level if you snapped it just right.  Mr. Rudisell was an unbelievably difficutl history teacher and I had no study skills but he was so passionate and talented in his approach.  He made me love history and want to do well in his class, though I couldn’t.  I had to cheat on the final exam just to pass his class and that would have worked fine if I didn’t cheat off of the kid who set the curve. Mr. Rudisell was so ecstatic with my exam grade and congratulated me in the hallway, I felt like such a moron.  Though I didn’t confess, from then on out I decided to take my lumps and just take the grade I earned.

My main group of friends eventually would come from the church youth group that I will address in the next blog.  Sycamore was kind of a neutral experience for me, I have not been back since the last day I left there with the exception of a soccer match last year.  I did attend my 20 year reunion this past year and it was awesome seeing people I had totally forgotten about.  Facebook as well has started new friendships that weren’t that fruitful as teenagers, we share more in common now as adults and parents. 

So what’s an aviator?  I am, for life, class of 91! 

40to40 pt. 4: Connecticut Days


I don’t remember the year, I want to say 1982, that we moved from our mobile home in Levitown, PA to an actual house in Norwalk, CT as my Mom and now step-Dad were transferred to their new office in Manhattan, NY.  Southern CT was the chosen place to live so that my parents could commute by train to NYC daily.  It was a big deal I think for my parents to buy their first home together and we had our own rooms, a wooded backyard and a creek running alongside to be a kid in and around.  In particular, that creek ran into a pond area that would be roughly frozen over during winter months for neighborhood hockey.  I was never a good skater, but I’d put in the effort anyways, hockey was one of my favorite sports of the time.  We weren’t city dwelling anymore, it was the first taste of suburbia.  With my parents working and commuting long hours, I recall having a lot of time to just figure things out by myself, perhaps ingraining in me the independent nature that I have.  Though I’m an extrovert, I really like as well being by myself and enjoy going out to the pub, to movies, to games, to parks, to the country etc. just by myself.  I suppose it just gives me time to think and process.

I finished 2nd grade at Brookside Elementary where I recall quite literally walking a mile uphill to school, through a few yards, over a plank in the woods to traverse a creek and pond, up another hill and across a main road to get to and from school.  3rd grade I believe was at Colonial Christian School which was a Christian Scientist based school.  I remember they didn’t have aspirin or band-aids because healing was mind over matter.  Starting in 4th grade was a new school for the remainder of my time in CT, that was the late-great St. Philip’s Catholic school.  We weren’t Catholic, so that was a strange transition to have to learn the ways of Roman Catholicism but that didnt’ take long.  Being in such a small school is both a hazard and an opportunity.  I’m not sure the quality of education we got, to be honest I never remember having homework or taking tests, though I’m sure we must have done something.  I remember recess, myriads of school assemblies where we’d watch old black and white movies in the basement and doing gardening and odd jobs at the convent for the nuns.  I had a knack for talking back and getting myself in a lot of trouble with the nuns and teachers.  Spent copious amounts of time in Sister Catherine’s office and being ‘suspended’ from school on a few occasions which I think just meant go home and we’ll see you tomorrow.  Apparently, our 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Hauptman, didn’t like dog excrement in her blazer pocket where she kept her chalk.  In our defense, it was April fool’s day and she must have lacked a sense of humor . . . orrrrrr we were obnoxious junior high boys.  Nah, it was probably her fault.  😉

The upside to such a small school is knowing everybody and being known.  We were big fish in a very small pond, but it was our pond.  Del, Manny, Josh, Dom and the other guys, we were just growing up trying to figure it out and survive witin a ratpack.  The school had one sport, basketball, so we played and represented as best we could.  If I recall, as 8th graders we did quite well in our parochial league and played a playoff game up at the University of Bridgeport where Manute Bol was playing at the time.  The girls cheered us on as best they could in cheerleading uniforms that I believe were leftover from 1946.   

This was a time of first girlfriends, first kisses, being social and with the free time I had without parents in the home, to host the junior high parties at our house.  I recall Friday nights at the movies I think in Westport, gatherings at the Oyster festival and playing my best baseball at the beach for East Norwalk.  On one occasion for my 14 year old all-star team, I was one of two caucasian kids on an otherwise African-American team.  I got picked on quite a bit at practices and games as they referred to me as the “Philadelphia Cowboy”, which I guess was their reference point for the white-boy.  😉  During a game, in between innings, I snapped.  I walked up to the one on the bench that had the most to say at the time and just started swinging.  I’ll never forget being pulled off of him by coaches and looking at the field of our opposing team watching us fight ourselves on the bench knowing they had the game in the bag.  Boys will be boys I suppose. 

I have fond and hard memories of my time in CT. After our 8th grade graduation, my parents were transfrerred and we were moving to a strange foreign place called Cincinnati in the middle of America and off the East coast.  We left abruptly and I never really had a chance to say goodbye to many good friends I made along the way.  Facebook many years later has reunited some of us from that ratpack and that’s a pretty amazing thing, thankful for it. I think I’ve only been to CT one time since we moved away, that’s something I’d like to rectify someday and walk some of the old stomping grounds and tell grand ole stories of the late-great St. Philips.  (to my understanding it is now closed)   

40 to 40, pt. 3: A Shout Out to Strong Women


Today’s post is a shout out to 2 strong women that laid the foundation of provision that gave me the oppportunities I’ve had in this life. 

First, I was largely raised by a single Mom.  Not a popular vocation in the early 1970’s and particularly not in conservative church circles.  My Mom undoubtedly endured some scorn, judgment and condemnation at the hands of those who were ignorant of their own shortcomings.  We love to judge others, it’s a human sickness and poisonous to our souls.  My Mom made some choices in those early days that I’m sure were not easy, but they provided a foundation for me that I could build off of.  My earliest memories are of her working all day and going to school at night so that she could acquire better work, better herself and better the opportunties for my siblings and I.  We lived with my grandparents in the Phladelphia duplex where I learned about life.  My earliest Christmas memories are in that little duplex and only have some 8mm movies to document that time.  I remember what a big deal it was when we moved from my grandparent’s duplex to the mobile home in Levitown when my Mom acquired it.  She was making a go of it on her own with 3 kids in tow. She commuted by train to work in downtown Philly and arranged different childcare options for us while piecing together I imagine a small income. I don’t remember ever being without, though I’m sure that involved some tough living and budgeting on her behalf.  Though the woman can not cook (this is not debateable 😉 ) we had food in the house.  On birthdays and Christmas, we had a budget to work off of to make our selections out of the Sears and J.C. Penney’s mail order catalogs.  I used to gaze at the Star Wars figures in those catalogs like it was made of gold, circling my strategic choices.  As well, she arranged for me to start at an early age what would become a love in my life . . . baseball.  It was one of the first things I did that I felt really good at, something that would be a personal confidence builder for me as I developed through adolescence.  She somehow accomplished for me a normalizing of growing up with a single parent at a time when it wasn’t popular, it couldn’t have been easy.  She’s a tough broad.  She displayed a work ethic and a sacrifice to do the right thing to provide for others that has served me well as I seek to be a provider in my own home.

Secondly, with Mom working and going to school, I spent most of my time with my Grandmother whom we just buried a little over a year ago.  I had a special connection with my Grandmother, she was and still is my hero/heroine.  She was a mix of tough love and nurture.  Let me start with the tough part . . .Virginia Povey was a baaaaad woman!  I don’t mean that in a behavior way, she was my Irish grandmother to whom regardless of my stature  in life, even in her dying breaths I’m quite certain she could whoop me silly and then non-chalantly go back to her coffee.  One does not cross Virginia Povey, the woman was as tough as they come.  I remember talking to the nurses and doctors in hospice who couldn’t understand how she just kept laboring on without any of her faculties and I said: “Have you ever met a super human?  Virginia Povey will pass on at the point she damn well pleases and not a moment before or after.  You can throw your medical books away with this one.”  I marveled at the fire in that woman, completely inspiring to me. 

Her and my grandfather got married on Dec. 25 during WWII when he was home on leave for a couple days from the Navy in wartime.   She told me that her Father would only let them wed if she would stay married to him if and when he came home with no arms or legs.  She agreed.  That generation exhibits a kind of stubborn committment that our culture is DYING for and if we don’t find it again, this nation will only be great in its past, not its future.  I remember being carted around with her as she ran 4 businesses at hospitals, ran the Women’s auxillary, taught Sunday School for over 60 years, sang in the choir and raise her 3 grandchildren.  I watched as people who worked for her treated her, they kind of feared her and deeply respected her.  This woman got things done.  When something needed done, put Virginia on it, she’s a workhorse.  She took on responsibility and was not afraid to lead even in a culture dominated by men.  At the same time, she was reverent and respectful of my grandfather’s leadership role in the home and they had a kind of storybook marriage.  They respected, admired and loved one another deeply, this is the marriage that I have modeled my own after.  She taught me to fight back, if I was ever being bullied, to hit them back.  To stand up for myself because the world is a tough place.  This is not the kind of parenting skills found in today’s psychology textbooks, but man has it helped me over the years.  Our thousands of car conversations, summers spent at her home, fall/winter/spring breaks at her home in Florida, numerous trips to Disney world ‘Povey-style’ were the formative times of my life.  To be honest, I don’t know if she ever slept.  We’d wake at 4:30 a.m. to make the trek to Disney world from her Sarasota home and she’d already be up, dressed and a full breakfast was on the table.  And she wore heels with skirts . . . everyday and anywhere, she was old school.  She was as strong a woman as they come, so thankful for the strength she provided me when I was weak. 

 I’ve largely been unimpressed with male leaders throughout my life.  I could count on one hand the ones who have earned my deepest respect.  Perhaps its the underdog obstacles that women face and have to overcome that earns my respect.  Undoubtedly it’s because of being raised by the 2 women mentioned above.  I am not silent about the fact that the male hierarchical structure of Church is not a Scriptural mandate but rather cultural.  The first sermon of the church was not Peter after Pentecost, it was Mary running home from the tomb on the first Easter Sunday proclaiming “He is Risen” while the supposedly strong men (apostles) were still asleep and cowering in fear in the upper room.  If you want something done really important, you might want to send in a strong woman. 

I won’t lie, I have a ‘thing’ for strong women, so much so that I most assuredly married one.  I look forward to my blog on that one.  As well, I see the genetics of strength of my Mom and Grandmother in my 2 daughters.  I could not be more proud of the strong women they are becoming.  Watch out world, the Marshall girls are coming to get some stuff done, I wouldn’t cross them if I were you. 

40 to 40, pt. 2: We Are Marshall

Today I’m reflecting on my surname, being a ‘Marshall’.  Birthday memoirs are not a place for airing the family dirty laundry, so let’s keep it to the good stuff.  The photo of the ‘old man’ above about sums it up, normal is just not part of the ‘We are Marshall’ mantra. 

Being a ‘Marshall’ in some counties is a convictable offense.  In some neighborhoods and most board rooms, the very name harkens a response of excommunication and a circling of the wagons.  They are a clan of trouble-makers.  Almost by definition, the characteristics of a  ‘Marshall’ are:  brash, opinionated, obnoxious, loud, trouble-making, talk back, question authority, cynical of systems and systems thinking and often does nothing considered status quo.  They color outside the lines, ask too many questions and expect that what you say is actually what you mean.  They are ardent Protestants, with protest being the key term.  Agitators, the whole lot of them. 

With their emotions on their sleeves, Marshalls can also be known to cause a scene and perhaps . . . and I may be stretching it here . . . they may have a tendency to over-react and exaggerate their response to a given scene.  In general, Marshalls exaggerate like it’s their native tongue.  It may not be all true, but dang, it’s a good story.  In terms of a scene, I was never quite sure in any public gathering at what point my Dad would break into a rousing chorus of “We are Family” and start doing his mummers 2 step dance up a sidewalk.  You are left with a choice to be humiliated, or join in.  If you’re a Marshall, typically the rythymn gets you and you join in and only wonder later why others think you’re odd. 

With all the extroversion, Marshalls by nature are fun.  They know how to throw a party and tell tall tales.  There will be a lot of talking . . A LOT of talking, the clan never shuts up.  They know it all, they have a story to tell and a punchline to give.  In general, don’t give them a microphone, they like the spotlight and may not relinquish it.  The jokes are bad but they are given in genersosity of spirit.  Humor is like air they breathe, making others laugh is a building block of life.  Generally, even if their opinions are at times over-the-top, Marshalls are fun to be around and others will gather around. 

Whether right or wrong, Marshalls take their faith very seriously.  They pursue their spiritual longings with a ferocity that is at times unsettling to the systems of religion that claim the same pursuit.  They have a long history of trouble-making when it comes to the things of church on earth.  Perhaps at times a family pride, and at others times a prophetic and apostolic call to the truth of a Kingdom that has come.  We are all perhaps a mix of both.  But what I highly value is the intensity of the pursuit that is genuine and all consuming. 

No family lineage or make-up is perfect, sometimes all we have is the purity of our heart’s pursuit and let the results come what may.  Over the years, I’ve tempered and harnessed some of my ‘Marshall’ ways.  I strive to listen to others viewpoints (listen in general), be less brash in communicating my convictions and be more respectful of institutions and systems of religion.  At the same time, I am not afraid to be the agitator or trouble-maker in the room if that’s what’s called  for and under God I have to trust my instincts on that.  Leading against the flow is in my nature, I am ‘Marshall’. 

40 to 40 pt. 1: A Philadelphia Story

So in 40 days, I will be turning 40.  I am hoping to write 40 blog posts of formative people/events/places along my journey that helped get me to this milestone of sorts in my life.  I’m supposing this may be therapeutic for me and perhaps entertaining for others.  I’m not fearful of turning 40, I’m somewhat thankful. 

Firstly, I’m reflecting on my roots and my beginnings come from the city of ‘brotherly love’:  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Born in Frankford Hospital on the northeast side of Philly, I’m told after my early morning birth during a snowstorm that my Mom immediately ordered a cheesesteak, that’s what Philly is all about right there.  By the way, for the record, Tony Luc’s is my favorite Philly cheesesteak.  After that, anything mafia-owned has the best food, whether it be cheesesteaks or a good slice of pizza pie. 

I have this poster pictured above in my home office to remind me of my roots.  I’ve lived in the midwest now since 1987, but there’s a part of me that will always be Philly.  And yes, I believe Rocky was real, not just a movie.  If you think otherwise, you’re entitled to your wrong opinion.  One of my favorite books as a kid was a photo picture book of the story of Rocky II, I read it daily and got jacked up everytime Adrian came out of her coma, turned to Rocky and said:  “there’s one thing I want you to do for me, Rocky . . . win . . WIN!”  And then after the gongs, Mickey steps in, “Well, what are we waitin’ for?”  I think that somehow through the Rocky story and narrative I learned a couple things about life that have served me well.

First, I learned that life is largely about managing conflicts.  Fighting is a bit of a metaphor for life.  It’s really hard, you will get knocked down, it’s painful, there will be opposition, there will be times when it seems that everyone is against you.  That you find yourself in a fight, is a given, the only question is how you will deal with it.  Do you stay down or do you make a choice down deep within you to get up?  Do you have the heart and the guts to stand when no one else is standing with you?  When you get punched by life, is there any life in you that determines a way to punch back?  Do you have a stubborn voice buried deep within that says lying down is not an option, not getting up is not an option, giving up is not an option.  When you get bullied, do you measure your response?  Do you have the pride, character and resolve to compete in the fights of life?  One of my childhood memories was falling asleep with my finger in a bullet hole that was over my bed in our double-wide trailer in Levittown that we lived in that was caused by a stray .22 shotgun of a neighbor.  It didn’t harm us, but I would literally fall asleep with my finger in the hole perhaps ingraining in me that life would be a fight.  Growing up in Philly, this was a reality.

Seondly, I learned that fights aren’t won on fight night.  They are won in the cold morning dusk when you decide to get up because your heart won’t let you lie down any longer.  Training and hard work is a blue-collar value that I learned at a young age is a given in life if you want to accomplish anything.  Nothing that is worth having is given to you, if you believe in it, you work harder than anyone else towards your goal.  Achievement of goals as well is not always about hard work, there are many other factors, but hard work says you gave it everything you had, you left your heart out there.  Giving something everything you got is a ‘win’ in an of itself, hard work is it’s own reward.  In a world strife with entitlements, I pray we remember the value and reward of hard work, there are no shortcuts. 

So I’ve long left Philly, but Philly has not long left me.  I am often far more intense than my reserved midwestern coworker/neighbors, my passions are on my sleeves though I think father-wisdom has taught me to channel them towards productivity rather than a raging river or emotion.  As well though, I’ve embraced this, it’s part of who I am.  If I can’t live life out loud, I’m not really present in it.  Passion, heart and stubborn determination are things I hope to pass on to my kids, being reserved just doesn’t work for me.  So to the city of brother love, I thank you, you remain a part of who I am. 

I leave you with the beautiful romantic poetry of Rocky Balboa on the day he proposed to Adrian:

“Cuz you’s gots gaps, and’s I’s gots gaps . . . but together, we ain’t gots no gaps.” 

(sniff, sniff, it’s like Shakespeare)