Come Help


My four and one half year Lyft career ran from October of 2015 until the first week of March 2020. Yesterday I got a message from Lyft that they would pay me $400 to start driving again. My heart was ready to roll, however the reality of being a 70-year-old, type 2 diabetic overruled my desire to do my part. It wasn’t the money that was the draw, it was clearly the human connections. I am soon to begin month four of this unwelcome “stay-cation”. Lyft was very clear that the demand was far outstripping the availability of drivers. I am still conflicted. When I figured out just how difficult and dangerous Covid-19 is I listened to the scientists. We have a long road ahead. I also have heard it said again and again that I am in the high risk category. My first priority when I came to my senses was that I am no good to anyone dead. I have dodged many bullets in my life, some self inflicted and others random fate.
In the summer of 2010 Mom was hospitalized with a heart condition. Most likely while visiting her I contracted MERSA— aka “the flesh eating bacteria”. I spent six days at St. Joe’s Hospital running from the grim reaper. I never thought it was the end, however a couple of medical folks told me “You are very fortunate”. Mom died the day I was released and I went to that strange place of grief and grace. In 2013 with the help of Daughter Amy, Mary Kay, and my wonderful church at South Broadway, I went to the New Start program at the Weimar Center near Sacramento. In those 18 days I changed my health. I became a plant based eater. My diabetes is now completely managed without insulin. I have lost a whole lot of weight and my doctor calls me a ‘medical miracle’. However, I am not bullet proof. Two of the things I love doing the most—singing in a choir, and driving for Lyft are “very dangerous” in Corona World.
So… I sit here on my back patio watching birds coming to dine at our bird feeder. I have watched a family of Golden Finches grow from two to six. The back patio has become an Audubon exhibition that grows every day. Each day I watch a squirrel pretend that I can’t see him raid the birds’ food. I continue to enjoy the health of plant based living. My 12-step life has made me a ‘master zoomer’ as I attend meetings on screens, which are okay but not the same as “being in the rooms”.

Yes, Lyft, I hear you. I can’t help and that makes me very sad. You are a great company who gave me a chance to learn so much from complete strangers. In the mean time bird feeder needs refilling.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Memorial Day 2020

For me Memorial Day will always be May 30th.  It was good enough to work from 1868 until 1970.   Blame the change on those who cash in on three day weekends.  It started out as Decoration Day where Civil War veterans were honored.  Growing up in Colorado the Civil War was something that happened back there. About five years ago I visited Gettysburg and spent a day with a private guide.  It was there that I began to grasp the horrific realities of civil war.  Brother versus brother, with no real winners.  I fear today that the divisions we are experiencing are the residues of wounds flamed by the incendiary rhetoric of us versus them, coded racism, and calls to arms. God forbid  if we descend to those times again.  It became Memorial Day officially in 1967, a day to honor all those who have passed before us, especially Veterans.

My best Memorial Day memories go back to riding with my dad and his buddies to go fishing on Memorial Day. It was was also “opening day” for getting after the tasty trout who used to take the winter off from being the object of flies, worms, spinners or dough balls. We would get in my dad’s  ‘53 Chevy pick up (complete with port windows and starter on the floor).  It was 1960 and I had just finished the 5th grade. We were coming back from Lake San Isabel with a nice bunch of rainbows and brookies. The AM radio went to KCSJ 590.  We listened intently to the Indy 500.  Jim Rathmann beat Roger Ward to the finish line. My dad was a Roger Ward fan. The announcers made the race feel like it was running through our truck cab. I can still hear sounds of cars racing by as the 200 laps kept this 10 year olds attention.  Today I went with my sister Rita Jo, and  nephew Jed and great niece Emily and great nephew Westin, to Ft. Logan to “decorate” the grave of my dad Bill, and mom Pat. I watched as two of their heirs knelt and placed flowers at the simple white military tombstone.  MK, uncle Dave and mom Allie all respectfully observed.

They honored grandparents they never knew except through stories.  We were all were wearing masks and standing our 6 feet apart.  After a circle of prayer we headed to a local park where yellow tape was placed around all of the kid’s  play equipment.  It was surreal.  Jed hauled out his grill and we had an innovative “tailgate” complete with “Sloppers” ( a PUEBLO favorite) grilled burgers smothered in green chili. Jed hit it out of the park. We had vegan meat and chili especially prepared by Jed. It was a beautiful time… maybe the most special I have had in months.   Jed said, “My favorite meal in the world is a “slopper” first introduced to me by Grandpa Bill when I was a little kid”.

Whatever it is called, whenever it falls, Memorial Day is for memories both past and present.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

ZOOM Birthday

Until a couple of months, ago the word zoom was an onomatopoeia that I remember using to get my son Mateo to open his mouth. This happened while a spoonful of mashed green peas flew into the”hanger”. “Here comes the airplane Matt— Zzzzzzzoooooooommmmmm open the hatch”. Worked every time. I am not saying the peas stayed in but they went in. This past week I hosted a Zoom: Men’s Coffee, Staff Meeting, two Bible studies, a Leadership team, a Board Meeting, along with attending five 12-step meetings. All of the aforementioned on ZOOM. Today I went to my granddaughter Sophia’s first ZOOM birthday with family and friends from four time zones. It had a unicorn theme, complete with cake, costumes and singing. It’s not the same as being there… but it is better than a phone call with 30 people chiming in.

Now a word about Sophia. Her mom Stephanie became my kid in 1984. She is an amazing woman. On May 14, 2019 she gave birth to the biggest surprise ever in our family. Stephanie was 45 and dad Patrick, 50. Subsequently, Mary Kay made seven trips to California to grandma it up. The eighth trip was planned for late March— enter global pandemic. We have had to shift to Sunday afternoon FaceTime calls. At first Sophia was bewildered at a familiar voice and flat screen. Now, every Sunday she greets us with warmth and screen grabbing. I always end my part of the time by singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider🕷”. Occasionally Sophia gets her chubby fingers out there with her radiant smile.

Today we celebrated the birth of a beautiful smiling little one year old. The screen looked like a large version of “Hollywood Squares”. In all 16 spaces I could see smiles as Sophia picked up her first piece ever, of cake, tore it in two and threw it on her high chair. This week I was complaining that I had “ZOOMitis”. Today I quickly was over it. Happy birthday 🎊🎁🎈🎉🎂 sweet Sophia.

Onward and Upward

Mark

Habitat

If you are in pastoral ministry very long, you recognize you are called to fill a variety of roles in a community.  Prayers at: kindergarten graduations, the renaming of a street in honor of a beloved teacher, honor assemblies, memorial services, and one I will never forget— the “pregame prayer” at a college football game.  That prayer went something like this: “God we prepare ourselves to do our best. We know you don’t care who wins (I could see the coach grimacing), but you do care about us (whew).  Help us to bring our best to the field today…”.  The coach came to me and said “thanks, you had me worried for a minute”. I said, “No worries, I don’t think God takes sides otherwise Norte Dame, BYU and the Raiders would never win a game”. He laughed and they won.

One of the great joys of my time at First Christian in Greeley is that I have become the Weld County Habitat for Humanity ‘official blesser’. They are an amazing organization who cranks out client owned housing at a speed that honors the “many hands make light work” axiom. We are currently working on our third Faith Build where 25 churches work together with a family to build a home. Thrivant Financial has put up $100,000 each time and the churches together match it.  There is a ‘ground breaking’ and then about four months later, if all goes according to plan, a blessing.  Every house whether it was a faith build or not has a house blessing.  Today was a blessing for a single mom and her 15 year old son. Together they put in over 800 hours of sweat equity.

I was contacted last week about my willingness to do a reduced size, social distancing, mask wearing dedication.  I could not wait for today.  It was a moment I will never forget. Tears streamed under the masks and down checks. I read from Psalm 91 which begins “Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the All Mighty…” I listened to a mom and a son give a little speech, hers in Spanish and his in English, Gracias—Thank You are two words that need no translation. Our third faith build is on half of a duplex.  The two people occupying each half are quadriplegic. We had a crew of six there last Saturday.   We will be providing lunch for a team next week.  The show must go on.

Today I saw the resilience of a people and a community. We will continue to give thanks “Because you have made The Lord your refuge, The Most High your habitation” vs 91:9.  Yes, I miss my Lyft driving a lot. But today was a 120 mile ride worth making.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Burger King Drive Through

This past Monday I “got” to drive to Greeley to pick up my Mac notebook, donated hand sanitizer, and really cool homemade face masks. I was also getting my Bible commentaries as the reality that Zoom Bible study was going to be the standard for a looooooonnnnngggg while. Going into the church building is a strange… surreal…sad… experience.  It reminds me of going into my Mom’s apartment when she was no longer there.  It was filled with memories but absent of life.  I sat around in my office for about two hours listening to my own sounds.  That was enough, it was time to head to my home.  It was lunch time and the Impossible Whopper was speaking to me… vegan junk food was in order.  This was only my second drive through in seven weeks. The idea of dining in my car alone with fries and fake meat seemed very exciting. 

There is a Burger King a mile from the church and when I got there the line was about 11 cars.  I was on a mission.  I made my order and then pulled up to the window ready to seize my prey like the hawks I watch on this 120 mile round trip commute. The young man in gloves and mask handed me my $9.77 ‘meal deal’ and then looked me in the eye and with a kind voice said, “Have a Blessed Day”. Not what I was expecting from a front line pandemic $11.23 an hour worker.  I did have the presence of mind to say “You too”.  I stopped at a curb and savored my plant based prize.  Some how it took on a holy presence. It was blessed by a servant of the people.

I want to give a shout out to Burger King. Yes, the Impossible Burger 🍔 is now outselling meat.  True!!!  I have enjoyed the “Couch-potariot” adds.  They are also giving free meals to health care workers.  Thanks again to the young man who showed grace to me… the Impossible Burger made my sad day a new possibility. 

Onward and Upward

Mark

The ‘Ex-bucket List’


The 2007 movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman probably made me aware that I was living on the BACK NINE of my actuarial chart. Somewhere in my notes I actually compiled my own list. It would be interesting to revisit it. I do remember having these: visit Israel, China, Africa and South America on the list as places I wanted to experience. Say goodbye Africa and South America. Flying a glider was on there, as was winning Broncos Super Bowl✅✅!!! I have created in the past seven week a list of things I Do Not Want to do. Here they
are:
Sky dive
Take a learn to draw class
Own a restaurant
Be in a Control Group for a Covid 19 treatment
Coach Pee Wee anything
Learn a new language
Foster anything
Buy a pet monkey
Do a Senior Triathlon
Ever live in a care center
Take an around the world cruise… or any cruise for that matter

Learn Ball Room dancing
Drink Bleach
Do a cartwheel (never could anyway)
Practice Scientology
Run with the Bulls
Break 90 in Golf
Be George Clooney’s stunt double
Own a 3/4 ton pickup
Take an RV trip anywhere
Retire
Move
Attend The Kentucky Derby, Indy 500 or Mardi Gras
Ride an E-scooter
I will be adding to my list I am sure. Feel free to share the things you no longer want to experience.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Onward and Upward, Mark

Tony Died


I started 1st grade at Ben Franklin Elementary in 1955. Mrs. Hance was the teacher and last year she celebrated her 100th birthday, which meant she was 34 when she taught us. She seemed like she was at least 80 to a six year old. She was a great teacher—strict, fair, caring, and occasionally fun. I did spend time in the “coat room” but I never had to go to the principal’s office to meet his paddle. It was in the 1st grade that I met my dear friend Karna. I often joke when I introduce Karna, “I knew her the first time she didn’t have teeth”. I can still see the front four missing in her zesty smile. We were blessed. Our families of six all skied. From about 1962 on, we spent many a weekend and break at Monarch Ski Mountain. Karna and I were pretty good, but our little brothers Charley and Tony, were fantastic. We were never boyfriend/girlfriend, however I was her date to Winter Sports 1967, as her real boyfriend was about 30 (true). We have stayed connected all these years. Karna is my friend.
Wednesday I got this text— “Mark.. I want you to know that brother Tony died from Covid this afternoon. I’m bereft beyond measure and pray God has him!” Later that evening we cried with each other on FaceTime. Tony, was a cowboy — movie star handsome. He was gone in three days. We talked for a few minutes, laughing and crying in the same sentence. Tony was a risk taker, seemingly fearless, at least on the slopes. Two months ago the only Corona (beer) we knew I had sworn off in 1987. Now it was hunting down, and yes killing indiscriminately some while scaring others. “Mark, this sh__ is real. You’ve lost a brother, you know”. “Yes, I do”.
Well the theme of the current blogging for this ‘now retired Lyft driver’ is the ongoing “grief and grace”. This week my grief moved from the loss of personal contact and vacation dreams, to the tears of a lifetime of friendship. I fear there is more to come.
Tony Serfling, thanks for sharing your life with all of us. “Hey, Pumphrey how have you been”? Then, Tony would listen thoughtfully as we laughed about gravity and its toll on our bodies. I can still see Tony sailing through knee deep powder, zigzagging by the fir trees on a brilliant early spring morning. The Stellar Jays and Ravens mocking us as we thought we owned the world… on that day I think we did.
Onward and Upward Mark

Easter 2020

I write today because it is what I have been doing nearly once a week for the last three years. I ask myself ‘what do you have to say that matters anyway’?  I have no ‘rides to share or unique takes’ today.  I am reminded of a family monopoly game we played back in the early 60’s.  It seemed to go on for hours.  I am not sure what precipitated my younger brother Charley, to pick up the whole board and launch it across the living room, but memory of paper money, green houses, and pewter pieces strewn on orange shag carpet lives.  I do remember that after a “recess” we reassembled and played again. I have no idea who won but Charley regrouped and stayed in the game.  Right now it feels like the game is flying through the air in slow motion.

At its core Easter is about hope.  I spoke last week about my day with Elizabeth Kubler Ross. I remember her telling us about how she found her path into both the study of, and care for the death and dying.  She was an identical triplet.  She described feeling like a third of a person with no real identity of her own. It was right at the end of WW2. She convinced her father, a physician in Switzerland, to let her go volunteer in Poland.  At 15 she got on a train to Poland.  She described pulling into Triblinka, where the death camps for children were headquartered.  She described seeing huge piles of little shoes and coats outside of the barracks.  She then described getting out of the train with other volunteers.  They walked all around the camp. Graffiti was everywhere.  She said there were no drawings of skulls or fires.  No, rather there were flowers, butterflies, clouds with rainbows and smiles on kids.  “It was in that moment that I realized the human spirit is bigger than suffering and death”.  She told us story after story of grace in the midst of grief.

Today there are no lilies, or colored eggs, or chocolate bunnies in my sight. I can however, still hear my Grandma Opal singing in her warbling voice “Up from the grave he arose”… as her grandkids giggled with warmed hearts.  Today I will draw from the well of both memory and hope.

My line: “Praise the Lord— CHRIST has risen.”

Your line: “He has risen indeed!”

Onward and Upward

Mark

Tuesdays


When I began this marathon on March 6th of ‘life at home’ I sensed I
was in for the long haul. I had given my last Lyft ride and prepared my church for the ‘no touching hug fest’ that we tend to carry off each week. By the following Thursday I had called the staff and leadership team together to let them know I had decided ‘no gatherings at the church’ for the foreseeable future. After sharing with them the information I had been given by very credible sources, they unanimously agreed. “Do you think we will be back by Easter”? It was an honest question and my answer was, “Under the best circumstances we might be back by Mother’s Day”. I have now amended that to Father’s Day. The journey began. The following Tuesday I noticed a hint of sadness in my being. Each subsequent Tuesday it has gotten progressively deeper. I talked with my son Mateo, a couple of days ago and he shared with me that he too found Tuesday blues showing up.
Forty years ago I was privileged to spend the day with nine other chaplains and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross MD. It was a remarkable time as she walked us through her personal journey in the study of grief. DABDA was how she taught us to see the identifiable stages of grief. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This I have come to know— grief is a gift— and it strips you away from attachments to what we thought we had. This past Tuesday my grief was deep. There were the personal losses like a road trip with my boys in June, the loss of routine, human connections. Then there was the deeper grief of scenes of refrigerator truck morgues at hospitals, nurses pleading for help and the ongoing parade of lies, meanness, scapegoating and self congratulating narcissism from______. It was a sad day.
Today is Saturday, I have already walked my neighborhood loop which takes me by ponds, birds, kids on bikes. Everyone, and I mean everyone waves and greets from a distance. This is as if Mother Nature has hit a giant reset button. I in no way want to minimize that loss, pain and grief. My sense is my ministry, in and through my congregation, will be to walk with the world as we slowly heal, while never forgetting just how much we need each other.
My daughter Amy read me her Palm Sunday prayer for tomorrow. I share it in closing, with her permission—

God our Hope, today is a Palm Sunday like no other.
The separation in our lives is undeniable – when we would usually gather to
remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem by waving palms and singing hosannas, today we stay home and wait for the angel of death to pass over us.
When we would usually enter this Holy week journey toward Easter with a sense of reverence and anticipation of resurrection, today we stay home fearful and locked away.
And yet – all of this is your story. None of this is new to you, God. We’ve heard about your redeeming grace that saved the Israelites who marked their doorposts, but now we pray daily – “Mark us by your love, oh God – that we would be spared from suffering!”
We’ve heard the story of the disciples who fled the crucifixion and locked themselves away, but now we long to hear Christ say, “Peace be with you,” and to “Receive the Holy Spirit” from his breath in the room.
We’ve heard so many times about when the people raised their palms and threw their cloaks on the ground with shouts of “Hosanna!”
But today, they are more than just words from our sacred past. They are the cries of our hearts – “Save us!” Save us, Jesus. Save us…
Help us to follow you in the way that leads to new life; the way of the cross. Hear our prayers for our community and for the world.
Unite us in your love, that even in this time of isolation and suffering, your grace will be revealed. Guide us all, in the ways of your justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.
Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources responsibly in the service of others and to your honor.

Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as You love us.
Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them the joy of your salvation.
Give strength to the caregivers – the doctors and nurses, the sanitation workers and first responders, the grocery store workers, truck drivers and mail carriers who are keeping our communities alive. Comfort all who mourn in grief, who suffer loneliness in isolation, depression or anxiety in the stress and weight of this difficult and painful time.
In mercy, receive all who have died, that your will for them may be fulfilled; and we pray that we may share with all your saints in your eternal love. Hear our prayers, oh God. Save us. We ask all this in the name of your son, Jesus. Amen.
Onward and Inward, Mark

Hero


It has been two weeks since my last blog. There is a part of me that says “Mark, what could you possibly say or add to this cacophony of voices, memes, videos, posts, emails and news reports that has any importance”? I have set a goal of reaching out to every household at First Christian Church in Greeley every week. This experience has given me so much it feels like I am drinking out of a ‘fire hose of grace’. I want to share with you one story that has been circling between my heart and head.
I was talking with a recently retired member who sings a great tenor part in our choir which I really miss. He has a sister in Seattle who was in a rehab nursing home recovering from surgery. She now has Covid 19. She is the sole caregiver for a son with limited ability. He is home alone without food. In our congregation is a young woman named Amy, who decided to take a year off before college to be an Americore worker in … you guessed it — Seattle. Amy was home last week in the relative safety of Greeley. She headed back to Seattle to do her job with kids. She took on an added task of bringing food to the son who was home without support or resources.
I have only known Amy for a little over three years. She was the top student in her class, sought after by many colleges. When I asked her where she wanted to go she said, “I am going to do this thing in Seattle and sort things out”. Little did she know she was heading into the first epicenter of the pandemic. I had the privilege two years ago of touring Israel with Amy and her parents. I could see then that a call had landed on her shoulders. For what and with whom, is still being revealed. Today a man eats because a young woman brings him food.
The heroes of this time are in the trenches.
Onward and Upward (and week three of house arrest).

Mark