Men of Valor

At exactly 9:00 this morning, that phone call came. My mother-in-law was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted from watching her once strong husband, struggle for each breath. My dear sister-in-law, who is a registered nurse, said to my MIL “Why don’t you just tell him it’s okay to go.” My MIL wasn’t sure. But minutes later, after my SIL had stepped out of the room and then returned, my MIL whispered to her that she had done it. She had leaned over close to her husband’s face and told him it was okay to go. About 10-15 minutes later, he gently sent out his last breath and stepped into the arms of Jesus. Blessed be.

The Ohio Veterans Home has a beautiful tradition of sending off one of their own. They call it a “Red, White and Blue Ceremony.” The funeral home comes to retrieve the body. It is rolled out with an American flag draped across the top. Residents who are able, come to the front of the building to give a final salute to their fallen comrade. All is silent, except for the solemn sound of Taps playing in the background. These vets come out in their wheelchairs, on their walkers and any other mode of transportation. It is a truly beautiful tribute to the brotherhood. 

It was one of the most moving things I have seen. 

The staff at the home told us that the last comrade went out at 2:00 a.m. and these WWII heroes insisted on getting out of their beds and coming to the ceremony. One even hobbled on one leg, wanted no assistance and stood at attention while his brother was carried away from his earthly home.

The reason these men take this stand and make this effort is for their brothers but it is also for themselves. They know that they may be the next one being rolled out beneath the mighty flag and hope their brothers take the same stand, literally, for them.

And they will. 

Waiting by the Phone

As mentioned in a previous blog, my father-in-law lives at the Ohio Veterans Home, at least for now. He is close to passing from this world into the sweet arms of Jesus. We have been spending hours with him, simply watching him take breath to breath, his thin chest rising and lowering. So very difficult. So very difficult.

Tonight when we were heading out of the building, I saw this on the wall. A pay phone. A pay phone! I loved that. I love that the Ohio Veterans Home did this thoughtful thing for their residents. Ninety-two year-old heroes wearing WWII Vet baseball caps do not need an iPhoneX. They remember when the purpose of a phone was to call someone you care about. Done and done. And it is low enough on the wall for a person in a wheelchair to have access to it. Perfect.

Twenty-five cents for the first five minutes is a pretty good deal. And just because, I pushed my finger through the change return to see if there were any coins in there. Of course I would have left them but it is always fun to make that discovery. 

These days are long but they are important. Sometimes being seemingly inactive is the most proactive thing one can do. There is great power and grace in waiting. It is not for sissies. Though, not one person at the OVH is a sissy, not the staff, not the vigil-sitting family and definitely not the weak-bodied ones lying in wait for the general of all generals to call them home.

D-Day

On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than victory.” 

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion and by day’s end, the allies gained a foot-hold in Europe. The cost was high. More than 9,000 allied soldiers were killed or wounded but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the slow, hard trek across Europe to defeat Adolph Hitler’s troops. 

I am amazed when I think of the courage of these troops, marching bravely into a situation, knowing they may very well lose their lives. Somehow these young men and women had the ability to see the big picture. They were able to look ahead and conceptualize the truth that their deaths could change history. They did it for their moms and dad and brothers and sisters and wives and babies. They did it because they knew that nothing, nothing means more than freedom. 

I am ashamed to admit that I have never known what the ‘D’ in D-Day really means. I did a little research.

The ‘D’ simply stands for “day”. In the military, D-Day is the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. The designation was traditionally used for the date of any important military operation or invasion. For example, the day before June 6, 1944, was known as D-1 and the days after were D+1, D+2, and so on. 

Tomorrow morning when you awaken with the freedom to go to work, call in sick, participate in a yoga class, attend a bible study, take your grandkids to the park, worship your God in any way you choose, or order a venti vanilla, extra hot, extra foamy, half caff caramel macchiato at Starbucks, remember that it is D+27,011 and someone fought and died bravely in order for you to do that.

Accept nothing less than gratitude.

Vets and Pudding

Today we visited my 87 year old father-in-law in the veterans home where he now lives. My head is full of thoughts. It is difficult to put them into words.

The room was a smattering of old men sitting in chairs, some sleeping, some staring, a couple smiling. A few were wearing World War II Veteran caps, which told me they were most likely over the age of 90. 

These men who were once strong and brave and fought against evil ideology and lost friends and brothers, sitting here in a room snoozing at 11:00 a.m. while Twister runs on all three large screen TVs. What a sad ending, not of Twister, but of their lives.

My father-in-law was a builder. As he shuffled down the hall toward his room, he paused to examine the wooden banister. He looked beneath it and twisted and tugged on it to test its strength. I am certain that somewhere in his clouded mind he was examining the craftsmanship.

That was momentary. Those thoughts flew away like a startled sparrow and he went back to mumbling and shuffling. 

The staff is pleasant. But there is a disconnect when thirty-something year old women in ill-fitting multi-colored scrubs are treating these heroes like children at a day-care center. 

I get it. I often deal with my own mama in the same way.

The answers to these issue evade me. Perhaps it is as uncomplicated as simply the circle of life.

Twenty years ago I was 40, it feels like a blink of the eye. Twenty years from now I will be 80. I am oh so hoping that that eye blink will be in super slo-mo.  

It’s the circle of life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the circle

The circle of life

As long as young, brave Simbas keep coming along, maybe there is hope. 

Jeff Ruby, a real Gem

This evening I attended a fund-raiser, as a photographer, for the Jeff Ruby Foundation. It was a huge event held at Jack Casino in Cincinnati. Honestly, I was not excited about going. One of my favorite Sunday evening events is sitting at home in my sweats, eating pizza with my family. But duty called. And now, I am glad I went.

I learned a lot about Jeff Ruby, a well-known, flamboyant Cincinnati icon. Yes, he showed up in a colorful jacket with a spring green scarf tied around his neck. Yes, when he put his hands on the podium, his four or five rings and diamond studded watch nearly blinded me. But also yes, he has a great story.

Ruby was a troubled kid. He was failing school and getting drunk by the time he was 12 years old, following closely in the footsteps of his alcoholic mother.

At age 15, he decided to go it alone. 

After sleeping under the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey, for a while, Ruby managed to work enough to pay for a tiny room in a house that he shared with senior citizens. He starting supporting himself.

Every morning before school, Ruby worked at Perkins, where he ran the grill and became a master at making eggs.

By his senior year, he was a straight-A student, captain of his football team, undefeated at wrestling, and says it is all because one man was there for him.

Ruby’s football coach took him under his wing. He said it was the first time in his life he wanted to make someone proud. 

Several serendipitous things happened and eventually Jeff Ruby ended up in Cincinnati. He was a huge Reds fan and Cincinnati was his city of choice. 

As they say, the rest is history. In 1991, Jeff Ruby’s first restaurant, The Precinct opened. It is the longest-running fine dining restaurant in Cincinnati. Ruby’s steaks have made him a household name. 

But that is not his true claim to fame. Jeff Ruby believes in giving back. He has a huge heart for kids with no father role model. Ruby considers himself a father figure to countless children he mentors. 

“If you got enough disposal income, you should give some of it back to the community that gave it to you in the first place.” States Ruby. 

And he certainly has. And he plans to continue, in a big way.

I was a bit star-struck this evening, seeing multiple local TV personalities as well as Cris Collinsworth, Andy Dalton and Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals. I also was thrilled to see Urban Meyer and Chris Mack. Musical entertainment was provided by Kool & the Gang, Kid Rock and Mr. Lee Greenwood. Yes, he most certainly did sing “I’m Proud to be an American”. The crowd went crazy. 

But the real star of the evening was Mr. Jeff Ruby. He did not need his fancy rings and diamond-studded watch in order to shine. He does that all on his own, every day of the week.

Keeping at It

As a general rule, people admire steady performers. However, we are drawn to sensation. We pay to see unpredictable entertainers or players.

It is part of our human nature to welcome erratic adventure. Yet, we need leaders who stay the course and keep true purpose in view.

If I am on a boat in a stormy sea, I do not want a captain who is adventurous and daring. I want a captain who can find the destination and get me there.

I once read that most medical breakthroughs do not come from charismatic individuals who stumble upon a cure then party like it’s 1999.

Instead, life-changing research often occurs because people stayed with their business.

Steadiness by itself is boring. We often link it to complacency. Steadiness also occasionally connotes old age. Tsk!

*Steadiness with purpose is what makes all the difference. That purpose, however, must be true. Steadiness with pure purpose always requires a discipline to keep us from meandering.

When faced with the uncertainties of life, I want to look to one who is steady and I also want to be that one.

Steadiness + pure purpose – complacency x discipline2 = a calm as we follow truth.

The key word there is follow, insinuating movement. That is not a passive plan.

My math skills have never been strong, but that is one formula I get.

 

*Inspired by When True Simplicity is Gained

King of the Hill

Golf season is underway. Though, if you live with a golfer, as I do, golf does not have a season. It has a lifestyle.

This weekend is the Bay Hill Classic, a favorite on the PGA tour, due to its honoree; course developer, (and sentimental home of) Arnold Palmer.

Arnold Palmer was born on September 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His father was a country club groundskeeper, which brought the game of golf to Arnold from birth. He had a simple start, working at that humble golf club in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to superstardom as one of the most beloved golfers, and men, around the globe.

Palmer was a highly successful business executive, skilled aviator and author. Besides his golf performance record, his magnetic personality and unfailing sense of kindness and thoughtfulness to everybody with whom he came in contact endeared him to millions throughout the world. This led to the informal formation of the largest non-uniformed “military” organization in existence – Arnie’s Army.

Palmer was a “stay-at-home” guy when he wasn’t on the road traveling. He would awaken each day at 5 a.m. at Bay Hill, go for a jog or a walk with his dog and then get in a workout before having breakfast. At his desk by 8 a.m., Palmer would attend to a business empire eventually worth around $700 million, featuring golf course design and ownership, a clothing line and the iced tea and lemonade concoction bearing his name.

“Business first, golf second,” longtime friend and Bay Hill resident, Howdy Giles said while describing Palmer’s routine.

Rarely did a day go by when a member of Arnie’s Army did not approach him for an autograph or photo.

“People would come up and say, ‘Mr. Palmer, I hate to bother you…,’ while he was eating lunch,” pal, Giles, recalled. “He would always stand up and shake their hand; if it was a lady he would hug her. Most of these pros would blow you off.”

“That’s why he was The King; he did things other people don’t do.” People were attracted to Arnold Palmer because of the kind of person he was.

He never lost his common touch. He was a man of the people. He looked people in the eye and had a handshake that was genuine and passionate. He had strong hands. A fellow golfer stated: “He had some mitts.”

Palmer spent countless hours in his workshop grinding soles, re-gripping clubs and even building them from scratch. He certainly could afford to have those things done but that was not his personality. He loved to discover and build and create. He loved to tinker.

Palmer died on September 25, 2016 (shortly after his 87th birthday) while awaiting heart surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Arnold Palmer had some great quotes. One of my favorites is this: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

Success did not come easy for Arnold Palmer. He did not even have the prettiest of golf swings. However, he worked hard. He never forgot his commonality. He made every person he met feel special.

It’s Serious Sunday. On this day, let’s take a lesson from The King. Kindness and respect can dissipate tension, end arguments, prevent fights and even stop war. They can make you a hero, even a king.

What a mighty power for something that is completely within our grasp.

 

St. Patty

Saint Patrick’s Day is a religious and cultural celebration held on March 17, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in Ireland in the early 17th century. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.

Patrick was a fifth century British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. It is believed that he was born into a wealthy family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to the Declaration, which Patrick allegedly wrote himself, at the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and it was during that time that he “found God.” The Declaration says that God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.

According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. And he did, converting “thousands”.

Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to pagan Irish. I love that.

What courage. All heroes are full of courage. When God says a thing is a certain way, well, it is that way. The real courage is saying “yes” and joining in.

Today I attended the funeral of a good man. He was not a missionary. He does not have a day named after him. He is not honored by a country.

But he was a hero, the biggest kind of hero. He first and foremost loved his God. He then lived his entire life, of 84 years, serving his family every single day.

I did not wear green today. I wore black.

But in St. Patrick’s honor, I am going to make myself a steaming cup of green tea. I am going to thank God for choosing this man to do good work. I will also thank God for Govel Thornberry who lived his life as heroically as St. Patrick. I will lift my mug of green tea in honor of them both.

Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

The Reverend Billy Graham

When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, all is lost”    ~ Billy Graham

For 99 years, he kept his character. He wasn’t perfect. He admits moments of deep discouragement, at which time he stated: “I go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’” Simple.

Billy Graham was certainly a man ahead of his time, in many ways.

During his 1953 Crusade in Chattanooga, when the head usher insisted on segregated seating, Mr. Graham personally tore down the dividing ropes between the races. From then on, all of his Crusades would be integrated.

He developed a warm friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. and strategized privately with him about their respective roles in the civil rights struggle.

On a scorching July 20, 1957 (about one month before my birth), approximately 100,000 people packed the stands and outfield of Yankee Stadium for what was intended to be the final day of the New York Crusade. Another 20,000 people were turned away.

The Crusade had already been extended once, for an extra three weeks. But seeing the overwhelming hunger for the Gospel, another extension was discussed. Mr. Graham was already exhausted from the first six weeks of preaching, but he felt no peace about stopping.

The decision was made to extend the meetings for as long as Madison Square Garden was available: Labor Day weekend. Amazing.

I love the truth of what Billy Graham saw in those thousands of people: a hunger. Powerful.

A word that could describe Billy Graham’s life is consistent. He had one pressing goal in his life and he stayed at it and at it and at it.

As the news stated, Mr. Graham provided spiritual counsel for every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. His love for God and for people crossed all political, racial and societal lines. He didn’t judge. He just loved the Lord and that covered all conversations.

Billy Graham died in his sleep early Wednesday morning. Though no family members were present, his passing was peaceful, stated Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

DeMoss said Graham’s personal physician, Dr. Lucian Rice, described it this way: “He just wore out.”

Graham’s beloved wife, Ruth Bell Graham, died in 2007. She is buried at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway in the woodsy Prayer Garden at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Engraved on her memorial stone are these words: “End of construction ~ Thank you for your patience.”

The story goes that Ruth was driving on a long stretch of highway, under construction work. There were lane changes and arrows and lots of things that needed full attention. At the end of that stretch of highway, there was a sign that stated those words: End of construction. Thank you for your patience. Ruth thought that was a befitting statement on her grave.

Clever and true.

Billy Graham, like his wife, will be buried in a birch plywood coffin built by inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. The coffins cost $215 each.

I love that so much. Thoughtful and simple and caring till the end.

What an incredible legacy. He is personally responsible for changing millions of lives. And we well know that those lives translate into generations of changed lives. Now THAT is a legacy. We are forever grateful, Mr. Graham.

 

Loving Lincoln

Yesterday was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I have a soft spot in my heart for him. I think there are several reasons.

First, a bit of history. Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. His mother, Nancy Lincoln, died of milk sickness in 1818, leaving his sister, eleven-year-old Sarah, in charge of a household that included her father, nine-year-old Abraham and a nineteen-year-old orphaned second cousin.

About a year later, Abraham’s father married Sally Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with three children of her own. “Here’s the story of a lovely lady…”. I couldn’t help it. It is not noted in research, but I can well imagine the relief and help this was to poor sister Sarah. Abraham became very close to his stepmother, whom he referred to as “Mother”.

As a youth, Lincoln disliked the hard labor associated with the frontier life. Neighbors and family members often dubbed him ‘lazy’ for all his scribbling, writing, ciphering and poetry. He also loved to read.

Lincoln was largely self-taught. His formal schooling from itinerant teachers was intermittent, yet it gave him a lifelong interest in learning.

As he grew into his teens, Lincoln took responsibility for his chores and became adept at using an axe. He was tall and strong and athletic and participated in various wrestling and other competitive matches.

As years continued, Lincoln taught himself law, passing the bar exam in 1836. For the next few years he worked in the newly named capital of Springfield, Illinois, earning the reputation as “Honest Abe”.

He later met and married Mary Todd, the daughter of a wealthy slave-holding family in Lexington, Kentucky.

There is far too much to tell between this time and the date of his first inauguration as President of the United States. I encourage you to read his whole story.

On the personal side, Lincoln was an affectionate, though absent husband and father of four sons. Two of their sons died at young ages, probably of tuberculosis. Abraham and Mary were considered to be very lax in the disciplining of their children, though they loved them dearly.

Even prior to the deaths of his two sons, Lincoln suffered from “melancholy”, a condition which now is referred to as clinical depression.

Like his heroes, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, Lincoln opposed the spread of slavery to the territories, and had a grand vision of expanding United States, with a focus on commerce and cities, rather than agriculture.

In his second inaugural address in 1865, Lincoln addressed the need to reconstruct the South and rebuild the Union: “With malice toward none; with charity for all.”

That is such a great line.

We all know how his story ends. On the night of April 14, 1865, the actor and Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, slipped into the president’s box at the Ford Theatre and shot him point-blank in the back of the head. Lincoln was carried to a boarding house across the street from the theater, but he never regained consciousness and died in the early morning hours of April 15.

I see Abraham Lincoln as extremely self-motivated, mentally focused in spite of his depression, kind and gentle, yet extremely bold and courageous. I think what I love most about Lincoln is his humanness. I love his pushing through all of his tough days to reach his goal. I like his writers heart and his love of poetry and even his blues.

My boys and I visited Washington D.C. two summers ago. It was my first time there. I loved that visit. We saw many things in a short amount of time. I had the opportunity to tour Ford’s Theatre, as well as the boarding house across the street, where Lincoln was laid across the bed. It was all very moving.

My very favorite place was the Lincoln Memorial. It is beautiful and massive. It deserves reverence. It feels like a holy place. I actually shed a few tears.

I’m not exactly sure how to wind up this blog. It is solely meant to make you think about Abraham Lincoln, The Great Emancipator. For me, that is probably one of my biggest admirations of him; he loved freedom. He wanted it for all and for all time.

Freedom is one of the sweetest words we know or speak. In Lincoln’s case, and for many others, it often comes at a great price. Let us not forget.

So Happy Belated Birthday to you, Mr. Lincoln. May you be experiencing the truly greatest freedom of all.