Wednesday, November 23, 2011

50 Thanksgivings

This Thanksgiving Holiday marks my 50th. I turn 50 years old in December, and since my first Thanksgiving happened before my first birthday, I am about to celebrate my 50th Turkey Day.

In honor of that fact, I am going to share 50 things I am thankful for…by the year in which they occurred.

1. 1962—Diapers. Cloth diapers to be more accurate. My mom used them and I wasn’t traumatized too awfully much.

2. 1963—My first dog, Sugar. She stayed with me until I was 17 years old, and was my loyal companion and confidant. It still hurts a little when I think of her…still miss her.

3. 1964—Rides on my dad’s shoulders. I remember him carrying me on his shoulders as we would walk the nine blocks north on Hackley Street to Heekin Park.

4. 1965—Guiding words from my dad. As he held me one night: “Mike, the most important thing you can ever do in your life is to love God.” Those words have stuck with me ever since. I wish I could fully fulfill them.

5. 1966—Saturday morning cartoons. A ritual that continued for another ten years or so.

6. 1967—Roller skating with my friend Cheryl. Gibson’s Skating Rink held lessons, and my friend Cheryl and I used to go every week. I’m still frustrated by the fact that I never learned to skate backwards.

7. 1968—My brother, Freddie. He gave me a red stuffed dog from the Delaware County Fair. He was 19 years older than me, and was a good big brother until his death in 1969. Also, that year: A red Schwinn Stingray bike…I had that bike until middle school. I wish I still had it. It would be worth some money now.

8. 1969—My mom. It was a really tough year for her with my brother’s death. It took her a long time to get through the grief, but eventually she emerged on the other side. She’s been gone for eight years now.

9. 1970—Collarbones. In August of 1970, I was racing my buddy Jerry down the alley on my bike. I looked over at him and when I looked back, I was headed off the alley path toward a bush. I hit my brakes, slid sideways, and hit a concrete post. I can remember flying through mid-air, doing an aerial somersault, and landing on my shoulder. I snapped my right collarbone. My neighbor, Emma Ogletree came to my rescue.

10. 1971—Glasses. My dad took me to get my eyes checked. I didn’t know I had a problem with my vision until I put my new glasses on. Oh, wow! I could see so much detail that I had been missing! My folks were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to get me to wear them, but that was not an issue. Maybe they would have helped me miss that concrete post the year before…hmmm.

11. 1972—Baseball. I discovered the Cincinnati Reds and the sport of baseball. Johnny Bench became my hero, and I became determined to be a pro baseball player…a dream that stuck with me until my fourth year of being cut from the team when I was a sophomore at Muncie Southside High School.

12. 1973—California and Amtrak. My mother, my grandma, and I made a journey by Amtrak from Indianapolis to San Jose, California and back to visit my brother Bob and his family. It was a fantastic trip worthy of its own blog post.

13. 1974—Minnie Alice Terrell. She was my grandmother and the only one of my grandparents that I got to meet. She passed in 1974, but we became very close prior to her death. I have wonderful memories of her living with us for the two or three years before she died.

14. 1975—Star Trek. Thanks to my friend, Jerry, I discovered the moral teleplays known as Star Trek. It became my afterschool ritual to watch the exploits of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy as they solved the problems of the universe. I once had a poster that said “Everything I need to know in life, I learned from Star Trek.” As crazy as that sounds, when you read the list the poster gave, it kind of makes sense.

15. 1976—Mike Runcie. He was the youth minister at the Fairlawn Church of Christ. In October of 1976, he baptized me on a Monday night. I was incredibly nervous and self-conscious.

16. 1977—Erector Sets and the ultimate mouse trap. This is another story worth of its own post. (Between Star Trek and Erector Sets, I was headed toward a role on The Big Bang Theory, but I was saved by the next year.)

17. 1978—Toni, my first girlfriend. What she could have seen in my goofy personality, I’ll never know, but she took a liking to me. We are still friends to this day, and I very much appreciate that fact. Another item from that year: Drivers License….Oh, yeah! Freedom!

18. 1979—The Fairlawn Church of Christ Youth Group. My closest friends in high school weren’t actually at my school. My closest friends were part of my church youth group. This group helped me overcome a number of personal insecurities. It gave me a place where I could experience the responsibility of leadership in a way that built my confidence. A special “thank you” to Neil Parsons, the youth minister who pushed me to be a leader in the group.

19. 1980—Williamstown Bible College. If I had it to do over again, I don’t know that I would go there again. However, this place holds so many formative memories and experiences that I have to be thankful for it.

20. 1981—Nancy!!! I met the woman who would become my wife in the fall of 1981. I was home for a weekend from college, and after church I saw this lovely girl with long, curly, dark hair. Flirtations were required. Over the next year, we became great friends…despite my initial flirting.

21. 1982—Home. After two years away in West Virginia, I came back home again. Not just to my folks and their house, but also to my friends and to my home church. At the end of 1982, I had my first official date with Nancy.

22. 1983—Great friends. I picked up a couple of new friends, and developed some that were already there. Rick Anderson. Sheridan Wright. Phil Dargo. My friend, Jim Wilkinson was in and out with trips to India…at least I think that was true that year. Also, it was in March of this year that Nancy agreed to “go steady” with me.

23. 1984—Bearings, Inc. I got a job so that I could have money to go out on dates. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was to become the beginning of my lifelong career. Also, Nancy agreed to marry me. Hurray!

24. 1985—Marriage. Nancy and I tied the knot and began our life together. We started out in a small house on East 14th Street in Muncie that we rented from my friend, Phil.

25. 1986—Columbia, South Carolina. We moved there in August so that I could become a ministry intern at the Shandon Church of Christ. It was the start of our love for that state; a state that we will likely return to one day. Also, I met another of my key friends that year in Columbia, Bill Buffington.

26. 1987—Calvin Conn. He was an elder at the Shandon Church of Christ, and even though I never got to know him as closely as I would have liked, his example is one I reflect on from time to time today. He passed that year from colon cancer.

27. 1988—Diet Coke. I started drinking diet soda that year, and between that and the exercise I was getting at work, I lost almost 50 pounds!

28. 1989—Angela! My first daughter came into the world in July of that year. If you have no children, it is impossible to imagine the joy you feel when you hold your first baby. I am very proud of the woman she has become.

29. 1990—My first promotion. I had returned to Bearings, Inc. when we moved back to Indiana in late ’87, but it wasn’t until this promotion that I began to climb upward in my career. The promotion took us back to Muncie where I worked as an outside sales representative.

30. 1991—Steve and Tammy Martin. They came over to our house every Wednesday night after church to watch Quantum Leap with us. It was such a blast!

31. 1992—Andrea! My second daughter was born. I worried beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to love her as much as I loved Angela. However, from the moment I held her tiny body in my hands, I understood the capacity for love that the human heart holds. As with Angela, I am very proud of the woman she is becoming. Also in this year, I received my second promotion and was moved to Columbus, Indiana to become a branch manager for Bearings, Inc.

32. 1993—My third promotion. Bearings, Inc. sent me to Indianapolis to become the branch manager at one of their two Indy locations. It was here that I finally started making enough money to be dangerous.

33. 1994—California with the Krebs. Nancy and I flew to San Francisco with our good friends, Steve & Brenda Krebs for a nice little vacation before we attended a conference in LA. We toured the Wharf, we had a cookout with my nephew David and his family, and we drove down the coastal highway. When we reached LA, we visited Hollywood and drove around the Hollywood Hills. We were there when O.J. allegedly murdered his wife, but didn’t know about it until we were home.

34. 1995—Sanibel Island. This was a tough year for me, and I was feeling quite depressed on our 10th anniversary trip to Florida. That was tough on Nancy. As tough as it was, I enjoyed the natural beauty and the pleasant surroundings of Sanibel. It was soothing to say the least.

35. 1996—David returns. The one person that has been the closest to me my entire life is my nephew David. For a few years, he lived in the Bay Area of California, and I missed him a lot. During this year, I flew out to help him drive his possessions home. He and I drove a full-size Ryder truck towing a trailer with his minivan all the way from Tracy, California to Indianapolis, Indiana.

36. 1997—The ole homestead. Thinking about this year reminds me of the house I grew up in on Hackley Street in Muncie. Mom & Dad moved to an apartment in 1997, and we sold the old house. David and I worked together to get the place ready for sale. There are memories for me in every corner of that house, and even today when I drive by, I feel like I ought to be able to stop, walk in the back door, and plop down on the front sofa.

37. 1998—NSK Corporation. After over 13 years of service with Bearings, Inc./Applied Industrial, I decided to make a jump to a new position with a new company. It was a great move for me, my family, and finances. Also that year was a fantastic family vacation to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Diego, and Disney World.

38. 1999—Dad. This was my last full year with my dad. He and mom moved in with me and my family in January and we got to care for him and enjoy his presence in our lives for a whole year. He passed in early 2000.

39. 2000—Catalina Island. Nancy and I took a cruise for our 15th anniversary and the highlight for me was waking up just off the coast of Catalina. It was a beautiful sight from the balcony of our suite on the Carnival ship.

40. 2001—The United States of America. Obviously, this was a pivotal year in the history of the United States. It just proves how precarious life and security really are, and it makes me thankful to live in a land where freedom is still a cherished possession.

41. 2002—The Indianapolis Mini-Marathon. For the first time…and only time in my life…I ran a mini-marathon. My wife had been running in it for a few years already, and I wanted to be able to say that I’d done it. So, here I am saying so. I did it. I was in great physical shape after that event and the 70-mile bike ride I finished a month later, but I never had much interest in running 13 miles again. I can say the following things about that event: I never stopped, I never walked, and I ended up losing a toenail.

42. 2003—Mom. My mother passed away in early December of that year, but it was all the stuff that occurred prior to Thanksgiving for which I am thankful. She fought throat cancer and beat it. At 81 years old, she finally began to look toward God, and I baptized her in my friend Brian Holeman’s garden tub in August. It ended up a tough year, but mom’s turn toward faith made it all worthwhile.

43. 2004—Grace. In 2004, I rediscovered the healing power of the Grace of God.

44. 2005—Arizona Raft Adventures. The year started tough with a herniated disc in my neck, but by late July, Angela and I were rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on a trip organized by the AZRA organization. It was a father/daughter adventure for the two of us and an adventure of a lifetime. By the time we were done I was also thankful for hot showers, beds, and air-conditioning.

45. 2006—Yellowstone National Park. Three friends and I took a week-long adventure to South Dakota and Wyoming that culminated with three days in Yellowstone. What a magnificent place! Magical!

46. 2007—Hawaii. We took a family vacation to Maui and Oahu for some fun in the sun. Technically, this took place after Thanksgiving that year, but another thing I’ve discovered is that I don’t have to be legalistic about everything. Hawaii is going to see my face again. I don’t know when, but I’m going back.

47. 2008—Salmon, Idaho. Andrea and I took a father/daughter trip also. We toured around south central Idaho, southwestern Montana, and Yellowstone National Park. One cool place we stayed was The Greyhouse Inn in Salmon, Idaho.

48. 2009—The eldership. In late 2008, the Southeastern Church of Christ expressed their confidence in me and asked me to serve the church as an elder. I have never felt up to the task, and I often feel very undeserving, inadequate, and unqualified, but I am honored to be of service to my church and my God. I began serving in January of 2009.

49. 2010—Being able to walk. In late 2009, I tore my right Achilles Tendon and had surgery to repair it. I spent 2010 trying to recover. In fact, I’m still working on getting my abilities back. When you are stuck in a chair for hours, or have to hobble around on crutches, it gives you a new appreciation for mundane things like just being able to walk or run. I’ve always said that I hated to run…now, I kind of wish I could run.

50. 2011—An empty nest. It is a joy to see your daughters grow up and begin to spread their own wings to take flight in their own lives. It is also a joy to have life take you back full circle to where it is just you and your spouse again. Nancy and I have been enjoying our time together, and the freedom to go places and do things again without needing to consider the school year or kids’ activities.

That represents 50 Thanksgivings in my life. I have lots more to be thankful for, and many more friends I could have mentioned. As I worked my way through the years, I did have a few where it was tough to find something to be thankful for, but if I thought long enough and considered things carefully, I could always come up with something. God has been good to me.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful Christmas season!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fairlawn-What Church is Really About

I’ve been thinking about church a lot lately. Not my current congregation and not church in general. Rather, I’ve been thinking about the Fairlawn Church of Christ in Muncie, Indiana. I attended there from sometime around 1974 until August of 1986, and it will always be a special place for me.

For many I think, church represents sort of sterile, holy place…maybe a little cold and dark. For others, church is just a place to go once in a while to keep your spiritual credit in good standing. Perhaps church is synonymous with dogma, ritual, and inhibition.

I see it differently.

For me, church is about relationships.

My first experience at Fairlawn was as a child attending Vacation Bible School with my neighbor. Later, that same neighbor asked the minister to visit my mother in the hospital; then the two of them conspired to have the youth minister reach out to me. Soon, I was riding a JOY Bus to church each Sunday. At first, I agreed to go so I could get the side benefits of going with the youth group to places like Kings Island, Cincinnati Reds games, and summer camp, but later on as I built some friendships, that began to change.

In essence, I went from being an unchurched child to a Christian man at the Fairlawn Church of Christ. The majority of my teenage friends were there. My first real girlfriend was there. I met my wife there. I learned to overcome my insecurities there. I learned sincere faith there.

But, for some reason, sometime in the late 1980’s, I let my relationships with my Fairlawn family wane. I didn’t plan it. I just didn’t make it a priority anymore. I had moved away to another city, and I had a family and career to consider. I was busy in another church in another city and I just made no effort toward maintaining those bonds.

Years went by with no contact. A whole decade passed with practically zero interactions.

Did the bonds of relationship fall away? Did they forget the young goofy kid who used to walk their halls?

In February of 2000, after over ten years of neglecting my former church family, my dad died. We were planning to hold the funeral in Muncie, and we had no place to gather after the funeral for a meal. Hotels are too impersonal. My sister’s house was too small. I thought it over and decided to approach Fairlawn to see if they would allow us to use their building. I was prepared to pay a fee. I was just hoping that someone would be willing to come by and let us in.

On February 8th, 2000, I walked into the office of Paul Cunningham…a man I had known from my many years at Fairlawn…I had been friends with a couple of his sons in the youth group. He was the administrator at the time. We hadn’t spoken in a long, long time.

I’m going to paraphrase the conversation:

“Paul, my dad has passed away.”

“I’m sorry, Mike. How can I help?”

“Well, we have the funeral planned, but we don’t have any place to hold the reception,” I explained.

“When is the funeral?” he asked.


He turned back to his desk and opened a drawer. He reached inside and pulled something out. It wasn’t a datebook. It wasn’t a rental contract.

He handed it to me….a key…a key to the building.

I had not been a member of that congregation since August of 1986, and I hadn’t even visited them for church in over ten years. Yet, there he was holding out a key to the building.

“You’re giving me a key to the building?” I asked with some disbelief.

“Of course,” he replied. “You’re one of us.”

I can’t think about that meeting with Paul without feeling the tears well up in my eyes. It moved me. It gave me new insight into what it really means to be in the family of God and the body of Christ.

You see…church, when it’s done right…is really about relationships.

And, by the way, I didn’t really need the key because on the day of the funeral, when we arrived at the building…Paul had arranged for several women to be there to serve the food to my family…and they had made the food too.  They really took care of us that day....because I was still one of them.

Let me just say that if you live near Muncie, Indiana and you’re looking for a church family, you can’t do better than the people that call Fairlawn their home.

Link to the Fairlawn Church of Christ

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood: Stock Boy in Ladies Apparel

The old K-Mart South building on South Walnut Street in Muncie, Indiana
Looking back on it now, I’m having a hard time deciding if the stories I’m about to share took place during my junior year or senior year of high school. There are some factors that make me think junior year, and others that make me think senior. I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, but it is frustrating to not be able to pin it down. There’s a saying that time heals all wounds, but I think it should be restated as “time fuzzies all memories.”

I had two jobs before I graduated from high school. First, I worked at my uncle’s gas station…Keith’s Union 76…located at 18th and Macedonia Avenue. I pumped gas, added oil, sprayed off the lot, and played poker with Roach, the old guy that usually ran the place. It was a pretty easy job most of the time, but I did have a couple of interesting situations.

For example, I was asked to drive down to some lady’s house to charge her car battery. I was given the electric charger and sent on my way. The trouble was that I was never trained on how to operate the charger, so I hooked up the cables opposite of how they were supposed to be hooked. I knew something was wrong when the little needle that was to show the progress of the charge was popping back and forth instead of just steadily moving to the right. It all worked out. No harm, no foul. But, I think someone told me later that I could have caused the battery to explode.

That would have been bad.

My second job was at K-Mart South in Muncie, Indiana. As a teen boy in the late seventies, there weren’t a huge number of options for jobs. My cousin worked at one of the grocery stores, and he did really well. He earned enough money to buy his own brand new Chevy Camaro! Cherry red! Can you spell J.E.A.L.O.U.S? After I saw that, and the fact that I got tired of bumming money off of my dad every time I wanted to go out on a date, I decided I needed a job. K-Mart was a logical choice, so I went and filled out an application. Soon, the phone rang, I had an interview, and I got the job…

Stockboy in Ladies Apparel!

Now, depending on how you look at it, this could be a teenage boy’s dream or a teenage boy’s nightmare. I mean, I had to hang, tag, and display women’s clothing, lingerie, and underwear. On the other hand, I had to hang, tag, and display women’s clothing, lingerie, and underwear. Both exciting and embarrassing at the same time.

K-Mart was set up in departments. Each department had a manager, sales staff, and often a stockperson. In addition to the departmental stocking staff, there was a set of storewide stock boys and general managers. This fact will be important a few paragraphs down.

Ladies Apparel had one stock boy. Me. I had a number of general duties, but the primary reason for my existence was to carry the heavy boxes of clothing up and down the stairs. A shipment would arrive, and I would have to carry all the bulk boxes upstairs and stack them up. As we needed to replenish the display racks, I would have to carry the boxes back down, open them up, put the clothing on hangers as needed, and add the price tags.

Initially, I was supposed to only work maybe four days a week and only maybe three or four hours a night. Soon, that morphed into five hours every night, and then started to creep into Saturdays. After a while, I was working right up to the limit of the number of hours possible without being considered full-time. Good money for a teenage boy…too bad I had a little bit of a lazy streak.

Here’s a few stories from my Ladies Apparel days…

The first time I was asked to work on a Saturday, I learned that the crew had a meeting in the cafeteria an hour before the store opened. Part of the time was a meeting, and part of the time was a few games of bingo…played for prizes…and these folks took their bingo game seriously. So, here I am, the new guy, playing for the first time, playing the first game….and I won!

I thought.

I yelled “BINGO!”

I was wrong. Oops. My mistake, but by the time that was clear, everyone had dumped their cards. My name was mud.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

An interesting feature of the Ladies Apparel stockroom was its proximity to the security office where they took people caught shoplifting. More than once, I was tagging clothes in my area and listening to interrogations at the same time:

“You’re in big trouble, son,” said the mean-sounding security guy.

“I’m sorry,” said the sobbing boy.

“It’s too late to be sorry kid!”

Another time, a boy called his mother:

“Mom,” the boy said meekly. “I’m at K-mart.”

Quiet moment.

“I got caught stealing.”

Loud crying.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

It is amazing how many messes people can make in a department store. Gum on the floor. Spilled drinks. Dropped hotdogs. Puke.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

My manager didn’t want me to spend my time tracking down a mop and bucket to clean it up, so I was supposed to use the storewide intercom to call for a “stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop…stockboy to Ladies Apparel with a mop.” I thought that was the way things were supposed to be done, and I was happy to not have to do the clean up, so I did what I was told. I don’t think that made me very popular with the other guys though.

One bright spot of working in this department was all the cute girls. They ALL came to my department to shop. Even one of the girls I worked with was cute…really cute. In fact, I thought she was the cutest one in the store…by far...and she even talked to me. We took our breaks together a lot and became kind of friendly. It didn’t take long for me to develop a little crush on her, but I was too chicken to ask her out. I wanted to. Even my boss knew I wanted to. But, nope…I was too scared.

After I quit K-Mart, I came back in for a visit and my boss asked me why I didn’t ask her out. I told her that I didn’t think she’d go out with me, and that I thought she liked another friend of mine who also worked in the store. “You oughta ask her out anyway,” she said.

I decided to do it. I was going to face my fears. I was going to ask her out.

“Hi Julie.”

“Hi Mike.”

“How ya doing?”

“Pretty good.”

“Hey. I was wonderin’…would you like to go out sometime?”

“Ah, thanks Mike, but I don’t want to mess up my chances to go out with Pat.”

Insert needle into balloon and let all of the air stream out. Deflation.

Under my breath, I said: “Well, you can’t say I didn’t ask.” (Insecurity talking.)

“What?” she said.

“Oh, nothing. See you later.”

At a ninety degree angle from my stock room were the dressing rooms where women would try on various garments. Now, it may come as a shock to you to know that some girls would take clothing in there to try on, and then just leave it on under their regular clothes when they walked out. Thieves. So, there were rules for dressing room use. The girl had to check in with no more than three items. If they had more than that, they had to leave the extra garments with the attendant. They could then step out and exchange items to finish the fitting.

As a rule, one of the girls in the department acted as the attendant, but once in a while, if everyone else had to be elsewhere, they would ask me to step over and check women in and out. Normally, this wasn’t a problem. After all, the attendant window was open to the store and open to the stock room. One day, though, wasn’t normal. The store was busy. Lots of customers. Heavy traffic in the fitting room. Women checked in. The attendant had to step away. I stepped up.

One woman had gone into the first room, but had one too many tops to try on, so she left one with the attendant. The thing is, since the attendant was another woman…or so she thought…she didn’t bother to put her own shirt back on before stepping out to exchange garments.

Ooops. Can you spell E.M.B.A.R.R.A.S.S.E.D?

I nearly snapped my own neck by turning away as fast as I could. The woman ducked back in, dressed, and quickly departed…leaving her garments with me.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

Right before summer began, I decided to quit K-Mart and give up the bundles of cash (they paid us in actual cash, which often didn’t make it out of the store), so that I could enjoy all the summer activities with my youth group buddies. I gave my notice to my manager, and worked out my two weeks. On my last day, I found myself sitting in the break room in the rear of the store. I can’t remember what I was doing. I was just sitting at a little round table waiting for my free time to end on my final day hanging and tagging ladies clothing. In walked one of the storewide general managers.

“I need to talk to you,” he said.

“Okay.”  I replied.

“From now on, you need to clean up your own messes. I don’t want you calling my guys with a mop anymore. You can clean up your own department. You got that?”  He ordered.

“Sure. No problem. I won’t do it again, I promise.”

A couple of hours later I went home, and I’m sure that within a week there was a new guy just following orders on the intercom saying:

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop. Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop.”