I’m an usher at my church; officially a minister of hospitality. My responsibilities include greeting people, finding parishioners a seat, keeping an eye out for anyone in need, opening and closing doors as needed, sending people home with a bulletin and a wish for a good week. Simple job for a simple man. I’m qualified.

Most Sundays, things are pretty predictable: same friendly faces, same unfriendly faces, same older folks with their assorted accessories – walkers, canes, etc.; same crying newborns; same sweet-faced babies; same ill-behaved toddlers; same angelic school children; same skulking teenagers; same off-key singers; same beleaguered families doing their best to be there on time (or to not arrive too late). As the hymn reminds me: “All Are Welcome In This Place”

The truth of the matter is that I usually go about my “duties” pretty mindlessly. Oh, I try to be welcoming and accommodating, but often it all seems pretty perfunctory. A cardboard cutout with a “WELCOME” caption might be as effective. I must admit that often my heart and my soul aren’t in the right place even if my body is. My anger or disenchantment or apathy towards the Church (the capital “C” Church – the hierarchy; the dudes who are calling the shots) keeps me distant from the faith community in my midst. Many times, I dig in and refuse to even listen to the preaching. My failure, my loss I suppose. But sometimes self-righteousness feels so damned good!

Yesterday was different. As families were arriving, I noticed one particular family entering single-file. It appeared to be a mother, father, three or four children and perhaps a grandmother. Rather abruptly, a boy of about 5 or 6 years-old stopped, stepped out of the family line and turned around to wait for his grandmother. When she was next to him, he took her hand, and they walked in together. Simple, honest and, humbling. With his loving gesture, that small boy brought Christ to me at that moment. Suddenly the choir sounded more beautiful. Later the Gospel held more meaning. The prayers had greater depth. All because of witnessing this simple act of love. I realized (again) that God needn’t only be found in the piety of churches, and mosques, and synagogues, nor through intense prayer nor profound worship, but in the love of a small boy towards his grandmother. I just need to put down my sword of anger and pick up my plowshare of compassion in order to witness it.

Later I thought about my own grandchildren and how just being with them lifts my spirits and brings balance to my life. And once again, I am reminded of my blessings.



Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Our two youngest granddaughters spent last week with us. This was kind of a big deal because these two haven’t spent any time away from home without their parents. Ainsley is five and Gwen is three. The five year-old thinks she’s in charge but the three year-old is often the one who is calling the shots. We all learned a few things from our week together. We laughed a lot and cried a little bit, too. Most of my tears were silent. You NEVER flinch or show fear or a three year-old will have you over the barrel! When she cried it was because I said NO! In fairness, nobody wants to be told no.

back yardMy lovely wife had the lion’s share of the responsibility, as I worked all week, but in the evenings and on the weekend I joined in the fun, too. We played outside everyday. We would have “dance parties” on the patio. Our inflatable pool was a source of joy and learning, as we tried to hold our breath under water (and learned to spit the pool water out after gulping some of it). We played ball in the backyard – soccer or wiffleball or “chase the ball” or whatever. Sometimes our outdoor play included looking for bunnies in the garden and then chasing the elusive beasts back into the lilies or honeysuckle.

It was exhausting and exhilarating. The girls sometimes pick at one another as sisters often do. Mostly over silly things: “Look what I have!” followed by, “I want it!” Or “Let’s play Disney Princesses” and then the fight would ensue over who got to be which princess. Usually we would let the squabbles play themselves out because really Ariel and Jasmine and Elsa and Tiana are pretty much one in the same. However at times adult intervention was required. One thing is for certain, we all went to bed early every night and slept soundly.

poolI learned that there is a bully at daycare (whose name will not be used to protect the innocent). This girl has been very rude (or WUDE as Gwen explains it). Apparently she has told our adorable granddaughter that she isn’t her best friend. And of course this hideous child has also pushed in line on occasion and says “oh my gosh” – which apparently are bad words in some circles.

One day Gwen told us that her baby doll would need to go to the doctor. This was all the more amusing because Gwen has the raspy voice of a two-pack-a-day smoker and declared matter-of-factly, “My baby’s dead!”  I thought it seemed a little late for the doctor but I’m not three.

Both girls learned a new word: consequences. If you make a choice you must live with the consequences. Crying because you wanted the green cup until your sister asked for the blue cup or throwing yourself on the floor because you didn’t want a hair clip until your sister had one and now you can’t live without one – these are consequences. This is tough territory for a three year-old and five year-old. But someone we all survived.

Truth is, I learned more from them than they learned from me. I learned we should all play outside whenever we can. We should dance on the patio and not worry about who may be watching. Ice cream cones should be served with every meal. We should all take more time just to be silly. We should all laugh more and cry less. And we should all (not just the girls) wanna have fun!

Maybe they should stay for two weeks next summer. I think I have a lot more to learn.



Holding Noah’s Hand

My grandson Noah is a fierce competitor who likes to win. He’s the family’s UNO® champion and I really do try to beat him, but I just can’t. He plays soccer and basketball and baseball. And whether he’s on the field or the court, he gives it his all. He’s a good student, too. He works hard and gets all A’s. He’s quick-witted and loves to tell jokes. He’s thoughtful, inquisitive and he understands things beyond his years. He’s a human dynamo; always on the move; always ahead of the curve; always ready for the next adventure. I struggle to keep up with him. Most times I feel like he’s an adult in an eight- year old body.

And then he holds my hand.

He holds my hand when he feels uncertain about a new place or a new experience. He holds my hand when he feels frightened (although usually he’s fearless). He holds my hand when he meets people for the first time. He holds my hand and he’s a little boy again who needs his grandfather’s love and protection.

Noah meMore importantly, he holds my hand when I desperately need it to be held. I’m not sure if he knows it or senses it, but lately I need my hand held more than he needs me to hold his. He might be the toughest kid on the field or the court or the playground, but he still holds my old hand in his. He doesn’t seem to mind if anyone sees us walking hand and hand together. He takes my hand and makes me feel necessary and loved and blessed.

My Mom’s funeral was last week, and Noah was my shadow. He sat with me and held my hand and eased my pain. His great-grandmother was gone, and he was heartbroken, too. Yet he was more concerned with comforting me than being comforted himself.

Perhaps he is an adult in an eight-year old body. But all I really know is that he’s an eight-year old boy who brought Christ to me on the saddest of days by holding my hand.




Carpooling, Chromebooks, Common Core and Other Confoundment.

This week we had two of our grandkids stay with us. Their parents were on a little get-away. We enjoy having the kiddos spend the night on occasion but full-time parental duty is a bit daunting. Don’t get me wrong. We had a great time and they are great kids but school and extracurriculars today are very different from when our children were students.

schoolCarpool drop-off and pick-up requires special training and following the RULES. You have to wait for your signal and be prepared to “REMAIN IN YOUR CAR” or “EXIT YOUR CAR” or “MOVE OUT OF THE WAY OLD MAN – YOU CAN KISS YOUR GRANDKIDS GOODBYE SOME OTHER TIME”. Those carpoolers don’t mess around. And I suppose giving someone “the finger” at a Catholic school is frowned upon. Live and learn…

A Chromebook (some kind of computer) is required for 5th graders. I don’t understand what happens with it, I just know that whatever it is can’t happen without it. And yes, I had return to school when it was left behind Wednesday morning. For the record: it was my fault. I asked my granddaughter is she needed her iPad thingy. Which she didn’t. What I should have asked was, “do you need your computer thingy in the pink case?”

I have no idea what Common Core is. Probably something that 5th graders do with their Chromebooks. I heard some Moms talking about it at the 2nd grader’s baseball game and pretended to understand. I think I had them totally fooled.

This week there was choir practice and a baseball game and Robotics. Each day was another adventure. We had homework and bath time and bedtime rituals. We shared lots of laughs at dinner as we talked about the school day. Bedtime prayers nearly broke my heart each night with their simple yet eloquent thanksgiving for life and love. Their little poochie slept snuggly between them. And we all fell fast asleep. Some of us were more tired than others.

Their Nana made their favorite foods for breakfast and dinner and I benefitted from the requests. Who doesn’t want to start a day with Red Velvet Pancakes? Lunches were packed with special snacks. I scored some of those, too.

It has been a fun week, but I’m not sorry that Mom and Dad are coming home to take over. I’m reminded once again that there is a time and place for everything and it’s time for me to go back to being a grandfather and to get out of the carpool lane.








Family Values

In our family we have a saying: “Who said it, Anna or Nana?” That’s because our 7 year-old granddaughter often says things that sound as if they’ve come directly out of my wife’s mouth or vice-versa. Example: Upon getting new earrings, “I believe that perhaps emerald has been my color all along.” Or after an exhaustingly long and fruitless shopping day, while being reminded that we did in fact find one of the sought-after items, “But that wasn’t really a present for me!”

I’ll let you decide who said what. The point is that these two often express themselves almost identically. It’s funny and adorable and baffling. Is it possibly hereditary? Or is it learned behavior? What makes a 7 year-old want to be like her grandmother? And what makes a grandmother (at times) behave like a 7 year-old?

Anna NanaSeems mysterious but I believe it can be explained. In the truest sense, these are family values. Not the “Traditional Family Values” which is often a religious or biblical distortion with a thinly veiled political agenda. True family values are the things that your family or my family value. It’s not a list of rules that we’ve been told to follow. Our family values come from our hearts and souls.

In our family we value love above all. “I love you” is a constant in our home and nothing sounds sweeter. Respect for one another. The right to disagree without being disagreeable. Caring for one another. Lifting each other up in times of need and allowing others to carry us on occasion. Joy. Laughing first and foremost at ourselves and sharing laughter, good times and fun whenever possible. Tears. We cry for one another. Our hearts break when one of us is suffering and when one of us cries the others can taste the salt. Honesty. Being true to yourself and being accepted by those who love you as you are. Prayer. We pray for peace, compassion, understanding, gentleness and courage. We thank God for our blessings and our strength in times of hardship.

So if Anna acts (and talks) like Nana or Nana acts (and talks) like Anna, it’s only because they mirror the love that they have for one another. And reflect our family’s values.



Blue Chambray Shirt

One of my favorite shirts is an old faded blue chambray. It’s comfortable. It fits just right. And it’s always there.

blue chambrayI love this shirt for its comfort but recently I may have discovered another reason why I cherish it. One evening last week I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and for the briefest of moments, I saw my grandfather in the reflection.

Tall, lean, a bit weathered by age, gray-haired, and standing straight as an arrow. I looked again but he was gone. Still the physical resemblance remains. I’m tall. I’m lean (although it’s a challenge at times to remain so). My hair is gray. But I could never have his hands. Those hands, so strong, so leathery, so molded by a lifetime of work and love and prayer.

My grandpa was a produce farmer. He spent his life working the fields of his farm and hauling his produce to market. It was rare to visit Grandma and Grandpa and not encounter a houseful of people. He had 13 children, 39 grandchildren and our son Blake Anthony, who was born a few months after his death, would have been his 50th great-grandchild and bears his name.

What I remember most about my Grandpa Tony is the way he reigned over the assembly gathered at his home. Sitting in his chair, his dog at his side, he was a true patriarch. When I was a child he seemed to be larger than life. And it was always a special treat to be pulled up onto his lap. With 38 other grandkids vying for that place of honor, those times were all the more precious. Grandpa especially loved the babies and I can vividly remember him holding my cousins Ron and Laura and my baby sister Kay. More often than not, he would be wearing that old faded blue chambray shirt.

As I grew older I had the joy of bringing my wife and children to visit Grandpa. When we would leave he always had the same send off: “Hurry back, I may not be here the next time you come.” Always standing straight and tall. Always wearing a blue chambray shirt. Always waving goodbye until we were out of sight.

Of course the time came when he wasn’t there. His 93 years didn’t seem long enough for those of us who loved him. But memories can last a lifetime. Particularly when they’re a little faded, comfortable and fit just right.


Noah is Four

Today is our grandson’s birthday. In four short years he has carved a hole so deep in my heart that I struggle at times to remember life before Noah. He is my golden boy!

Of course he’s smart. And of course he’s beautiful. His smile can melt the hardest of hearts. He has his Daddy’s boundless energy and his Mommy’s loving spirit. He may even have inherited a little bit of this old man’s temperament but with good parenting and lots of prayer that will hopefully be overcome.

Noah is fourWith leaps and bounds he has become a four year-old! Church, preschool, swimming, soccer and Little Gym® are all part of his life now. With a twinkle in his eye and a bounce in his step he is both fearless and completely disarming. His neighborhood friends and his backyard fort reign supreme. Swinging a bat or kicking a ball and running provide endless hours of fun. And when he asks me to play, I can never say no (but then, why would I?). Building things with Legos® or playing with blocks or scraps of wood captures his imagination. Playdoh® or construction paper, crayons, and markers feed his artistic spirit. He loves music and cannot help but dance or sing along when he hears a song that moves him. 

Noah is a lover. He is Mommy’s heart and Daddy’s soul. Keeping up with big sister Anna remains his number one priority (this will likely be a lifelong goal) and there are occasions when he nearly surpasses her. Witnessing the love that these two share is a slice of heaven.

Noah brings joy. There are people who carry joy with them wherever they go. Any encounter with these joy-givers always makes you feel better; better about yourself; better about your situation; better about the world. Noah has that gift. He gives joy to all who meet him! And I have been the lucky recipient of that joy for four blessed years.

Happy Birthday to my little man!



 Noah found favor with the LORDGenesis 6:8

Hope For The Future

I had a friend who used to say, “Babies are a great way to start people.”

And it’s true. I don’t think anyone would be excited to bring home a bouncing baby adult. No one would consider a snarky teenager their bundle of joy. There is nothing precious or particularly sweet about a menopausal woman or cranky middle-aged man, no matter how much pink or powder blue they’re swaddled in.

So starting humans out as babies is our best hope for the future of humankind. We fall in love with those adorable, helpless, innocent beings and then we’re hooked for life. Sometimes as parents (on the darkest days of teenage drama) we look back on memories of our babies and remember why we loved them so much in the first place. And we carry on (and so do they). According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology scientists have discovered that the scent of a newborn baby taps right into the pleasure centers of a woman’s brain. So women are programmed to love their newborns (even the ones that cry a lot). I think this sweet baby smell-thing works on dads, too. I’m not a scientist but I can tell you that it worked on me. After all these years I can still remember the smell of our babies. And if I sit quietly for a moment and concentrate, I can still feel their tiny hearts beating against mine. The joy of holding a newborn is simple and profound and truly spiritual. Confirmation of God’s love for us and acknowledgement that we should continue.

AinsleySo it’s with great joy that our new granddaughter Ainsley joins the human race and brings hope for our future. She is already loved and she will undoubtedly fill the world with joy. She may do great things some day but none will be more special than the day that she was born. She is God’s proof that life is worth living and that our world needs more love. We will cherish her and in return she will give us happy days and peaceful nights. We will cheer her and in return she will give us hugs and kisses and good wishes. We will carry her and someday she will gently hold our old hands and steady us as we walk beside her.

We will give her love and she will give us hope. And she will be a constant reminder that God hasn’t given up on us yet.



Nothing Lost in Translation

Two of our grandkids are in England. They arrived here last week and they don’t leave until next week. That’s three weeks of grandparent time! Anna is now four and Noah will be two in September. For the record, they brought their parents along but this week Mommy & Daddy have taken a little side trip to Scotland. So it’s just Anna, Noah, Deb and me at home this week. It’s sublime.

My favourite times with them are the quiet times. Like when Noah sings “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or when Anna tells me, in a whisper, that she has been missing me very much since I moved to England (pronounced Ing-Gull-land). This morning I got Noah out of his crib and his sweet sleepy morning smile nearly made my heart burst. And last night Anna curled up with me on the couch while Deb got baby brother to sleep and gave me kisses that would have melted the coldest of hearts.

The active times are fun, too. Probably more fun for Anna and Noah. They are happy, loving, active children – with an emphasis on active. Noah is like a baby Houdini. He can escape any high chair or car seat and climbs, jumps and runs (even indoors). Anna is a girl who has a lot to say – a whole lot. She often engages in a running commentary and is very well-informed about things beyond most four year-olds’ grasp. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I cherish every moment of our time together. It’s just that I realize now why God gave us our children when we were younger.

Last night I was greeted in the garden by both of them running toward me when I got home from work. You can’t buy that kind of love. Tonight we played in the back garden while dinner was being prepared. It takes quite a bit of energy to keep up with these two. But it’s worth it. They’re worth it! I love them so much.

Angels at Winchester Cathedral

And they’re funny, too. In our family we say, “funny trumps all” and we have shared lots of laughs. Noah thinks it’s hilarious when I make a funny noise (and of course it’s only truly funny when he then mimics me). After being presented with “Union Jack” pinwheels, Anna informed us that they’re called “wind-blowers in her country.” And she thinks that English Olivia is very humorous (Olivia is an animated pig who speaks American English at her house and the Queen’s English on our telly here). This evening Noah dipped his little hand in the bird bath next door, made the ‘sign of the cross’ and started singing Alleluia. O holy Noah! Have we visited too many churches and cathedrals?

We’re having a big adventure with our grandchildren. And we’re all learning some new things. And confirming some things that we already knew. Like how much we love one another. And how it’s okay to be apart for a while because we’ll always be connected.

Nothing is really lost in translation. Love is universal and is not bound by geography, custom or language. Children are called by many different affectionate names in Britain. They might be called dear, dearie, flower, love, chicky, duckie, or wee ain. I like to call my grandkids ‘Tunia & Buster even if their given names are Anna & Noah.  After all, wasn’t it Shakespeare that said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?



Grandsons Are Grand Indeed!

Grandson Noah

This week our dear friends Jeanne and Bob became grandparents for the first time. Their joy – Oliver a healthy baby boy! My school chum Cecilia was also recently blessed with grandson James. Grandsons are God’s assurance that he hasn’t given up on this messy, wonderful world which we inhabit.

Of course nothing is sweeter than a newborn, especially your own grandson. It’s another chance. A new hope. A future. A legacy. So much expectation placed on such tiny shoulders. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. No one else will ever fill that special place in your heart that only he can hold.

As much as we need our grandsons, I believe that they need us, too. We grandparents are the ones who can listen to them, mend their broken spirits, and reassure them that no problem is too big to fix or no disappointment worth their sweet tears. Everything will be alright – with a cookie, a hug, a wiped tear and a kiss. They are perfect in our eyes – and that’s as it should be. Our love for them is unconditional. We may place all our hopes and dreams upon our sons (and daughters) but our grandsons have met our every goal just by smiling at us or speaking our name or holding our hand. I like to think that the way I love my grandson is the way that God loves me – no strings attached.

So Jeanne and Bob and Cecilia and all of you that have grandsons, go grab your boys and give them a squeeze and remind them that you will love them even on their worst days. And that you will always be there to cheer them on; sing their praises; wave their flag; and love them; until your dying day.

All grandsons really need to do is accept our love. When it is reciprocated is when we get a tiny glimpse of heaven. And that’s as it should be…



Here’s a video of my sweet Noah –