Marion

Marion—Never took a Lyft

A 95 year old woman passed to the other side today. One of the privileges of spending the last 40+ years in pastoral ministry are the times I have gotten to spend with widows in their 80’s-90’s. If I ever write a book about my life in the church, I might title it “The Strongest People I have ever known— are little old Ladies”. A little over two years ago I made the standard pastoral visit to meet Marion. Marion, who “let go” this afternoon was grace, beauty, wisdom, humor, and ornery wrapped up in what ended in a 78 lb body. To be in her presence was the essence of grace, joy, wit and wisdom.

Marion ran a pre-school in her home. I have heard many stories from Weld County folk about how she helped to shape their children as they began to live life independently from home. She was a great story teller, the essence of Colorado, made up of farmers, miners, ranchers, steel workers, shop keepers, field workers and “live and let live” Western grit. Just last week an 89 year old guy said, “Our four year old daughter was very shy and afraid of most anything or anyone outside of home. We sent her to Marion’s preschool. In no time at all she was meeting the world, and it has never stopped”.

She died at home. Last Sunday I had taken her communion which we shared with the living room that was full of family and friends. She said, “Well Pastor Mark, I am in hospice. I will stay here and if it comes to where I need to go to the care center, so be it. I am ready”. We gathered in a circle and I said, “Marion, what would you like us to sing”? She pondered and then said, “You can’t beat ‘Jesus Loves Me’.

Jesus Loves me this I know, For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, They are weak,

But he is Strong!!!

Marion never took a Lyft… but her whole life lifted others. Onward and Upward,

Mark

Hot July

4 Rides on a Friday Summer afternoon

Ride1– Llama Racer— I picked her up in the midst of a very busy downtown afternoon. She hopped in the car and began a pleasant interchange. “I have got to get home because we are going to the Burro Races in FairPlay this weekend. My boyfriend has a cabin up there and we went last year. I had no idea how much fun it is. Now what I am really excited about is the Llama race on Saturday. Last year I took 4th place”. She the explained to me that people think they ride them, but just like in the Burro race they carry a pack. I said, “I knew the inside story of Llama racing. 25 years ago she sent our four nephews and our son on a 1 week Llama trek in the San Juans”. She than began to ask me lots of questions about growing up in Colorado and how I felt about all the change. I said, “As long as it keeps bringing in people like you I am all in. Be sure to drink the right fluids before the race”. She laughed and said, “This year I am shooting for 3rd”.

Ride 2–The Almost Bride— She had one of those names that can be either gender. I was to pick her up on East Colfax which means it could really stretch the Bell Curve. I pulled up at a stop sign looking north across Colfax. Siri had my passenger standing right on a spot in on the corner of an alley. There stood a most elegantly dressed young woman who looked like she was going to 4pm tea at the Brown Palace. She was looking at her cell phone, which is a Big Clue in Lyft world. I called her to confirm and tell her I would pull in the alley for safety. She got in the back seat and with my saying a word she said, “I am headed downtown to my rehearsal dinner. I am getting married tomorrow”. I replied, “I love doing weddings, I have performed over 500 in the past 45 years. The conversation took off. “What advice would you give me”? “Well, first of all have fun tonight and tomorrow, you are with your best friend. Don’t be in a hurry, let life come to you. Travel, play, take lots and lots of walk. My wife and I figured in the last 35 years we have walked together around the earth 🌍 at the equator”. “Thanks, this has really been a gift, I still have to write my vows, you really helped”. She hopped out in front on the restaurant and thanked me very graciously. I said, “Your best friend is getting beauty from the inside out”.

Ride 3– A Mechanic— He got in the front seat and we began a 30 minute ride to the SW. Quickly he told me “I am a mechanic who thought because I loved working on my car as a kid and I am really good at it that I would love working full time on cars… nope. After 9 years I am creating my exit plan. I am in my second year at Red Rocks Community College and I hope to go to either Colorado School of Mines or CU to become a mechanical engineer”. We had a very honest and real conversation about life, values, change and yes God. We pulled up in front of his house and there was a beautifully restored green Volvo. “Is that your work”? “Yep his name is Terry, I have had it since high school. It’s the one car I won’t ever sell”. “Well, I have no doubt a grey haired old engineer will take it on Sunday drives in those mountains”. GIANT SMILE

Ride 4– Two Forty something moms headed to a concert— I picked them up right after the mechanic. They were headed 17 miles to Fiddler’s Green to hear Jason Aldean and Kane Brown, I have no idea who they are but they were girl giggly over them. I often play Sirius #26 Classic Vinyl on weekend Lyft runs. I was thrilled when Crosby, Stills and Nash came on with “Teach The Children”. I said, my last concert was at Red Rocks with those guys. The all had to sit on stools”. “Who are they, we have never heard them”. I almost pulled into the Sunnybrook Assisted Living Center to check myself in. I just said, “Well, I just turned 70… I guess this my life from here on”.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Seventy

Birthdays are usually something I enjoy. When I turned four I had a “firecracker” 💥💥💥””” cake 🎂, and a

backyard full of kids playing in plastic swimming pools. The day I turned 16 I passed my drivers exam, and I had already saved up enough money to buy a car. I turned 18

in Belgium$ , where the Lecocq family hosted an

amazing dinner in my honor. I realized on that 2nd day in Europe that the world was way bigger than Pueblo. I turned 21 in Boulder, and let’s just say it was a “Rocky Mountain High”. I still remember the fresh hot baked sunflower bread at the local bakery named (I am not making this up) “Magnolia ThunderPus___y’s”. 30 – on Gerald Ediger’s farm, he had taken in this ‘recently made single’ dad and his two kids, two and five. We had a tire swing hanging from a huge tree. 40 – was a real gift at our mini farm in Alamosa, I was two years in recovery and I was present. 50 — I was rebuilding a community center with a group from South Broadway CC in El Salvador. 60 – I don’t remember (a sign of things to come). 70 – this past Tuesday, where I went on a great hike in Eldorado Canon State Park. My day was made by the folks at my credit union who told me that I looked great for an old guy. Yes, turning Seventy is messing with me.

70 is—

***A great golf score (never come close)

***An average basketball score for college

***Just getting started for a Galapagos Tortoise

***20 ft for a Sequoia

***Times 7 for how I have to forgive

***The decade of without a doubt “THE BEST MUSIC” ever!!!

***The passing score for Dr. Glen Rose’s Biblical Content Exam, which was my exact score — you had to pass it to Graduate

***The only temperature MK and I can agree on

***The number of Hot Dogs Joey Chestnut shoots for in the world hot dog eating contest

***1-70 construction project— a never ending nightmare *** a gift

I am aware that I am living an amazing life. Statistics say that a man has a really great chance of making 80 if he gets to 70. That will only matter if I make today count.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Under Repair

Last week I was headed out of town with my grandson Miko on a road trip to Enid, America (Oklahoma). Miko had agreed to go with me to the headwaters of my college life for a Phillips University reunion. Phillips closed 20 years ago, and I’m not sure I have yet fully recovered from the sadness that I thought I would never have to feel. Anyway, we were headed down 17th St. going to I-70. I was in the left lane of three lanes. At Franklin Street a big A__ truck decided to make a left turn from the center

lane… crunch, crackle, damn!!! We were able to drive RED 🚗 — on through a most verdant last day of spring. We had a fantastic time,

however RED is now sidelined until we can get it fixed. I guess it’s a good time to take a breather from Lyfting and focus on all the things I can do in Colorado in the summer time. I am dealing with two insurance companies, a repair shop and a timeline that I don’t control.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Carpet Cleaner

In 1964 after completing my freshman year my dad informed me I was going to work at the family owned business—Cleaver Carpet Center. I said, “But I planned on playing baseball, going to the pool and being 15. Instead, I got to ride my bike to work at 6:30 in the morning, prepare the previously washed area rugs for delivery, and head out to return them, picking up another 12-15, cleaning homes with wall-to-wall carpet, scrubbing the haul from the day, and figuring out how to survive the 100’ Pueblo summers. I often worked 55 hours a week for $1.15 an hour. I got an awakening of how people live. The good, the bad, the… !!! The good news is that I made a lot of money, which allowed me to buy a car. I did this four years in a row and my learning curve went far ahead of most of my peers.

I picked up Justin at 5:30am, at Regis University. He hopped in and we began a vulnerable interchange. I asked him what he did all night at Regis. “I clean floors – wax and strip, carpets, hardwoods, and whatever else. I moved here to take care of my mom”. “Is she sick”? “She is mentally ill. Nobody in the family wants her, it’s either me or the streets”. We began a very honest interchange about bi-polar, Schizophrenia, addictions and all the other challenges she faces. He was in no way resentful or a victim. We talked about cleaning floors, and how quickly feet make them dirty. “I really appreciate this job because I can do it at night when she stays in”.

He was very bright and I doubted that this is a career for him. “So what are your dreams”? “To get my mom to a place where she can be safe. Right now I am it. It’s ok, I read a lot, have a couple of great friends, and she is safe”.

The world could use a few more folks who quietly serve and clean up and take care of our messes.

Onward and Upward, Mark

D-Day “Special Addition”

25 years ago today, I sat in my parents’ living room and had perhaps the most vulnerable conversation I ever remember with my dad, Bill. He was in his recliner lounge chair we called ‘control central’. He had his remotes for TV and VCR, along with his portable radio.  He was a WW II pilot 👨‍✈️ and this was his cockpit. It was the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion and for some reason I was up visiting from the San Luis Valley. He had just turned off the TV news coverage remembering D-Day. No one else was around and I asked him how he felt. “Mark, I am a very fortunate man.  I got to come back after the War. I met your wonderful Mom, had four great kids, built a business, did amazing things, went to wonderful places, had great friends”.  Then he said, as he held back tears, “The heroes never came home”. 

My dad was a glider pilot. Actually, he was an instructor pilot at the glider base at Alliance, Nebraska.  He taught hundreds of young pilots how to fly the huge gliders. We had a few thousand gliders. Each glider made of plywood and canvas, would hold 13 troops and a half-track tank. They were towed up by a C47 transport plane. Half way over the English Channel they were cut loose and given orders to land behind German lines in France.  During the first 24 hours of the invasion, twenty five percent of all glider pilots were killed.  Two that survived were my dad’s Colorado buddies, John Ballentyne, from Pueblo and Carmel Lopez, from Alamosa. After they got back home in 1945 they found each other and formed a bond that continued to death.

My dad did not go in on D-Day.  He was still training pilots in Nebraska. By August he was dropped in on his only combat mission, in Holland. He was then promoted to co-pilot on a C47 transport plane. “What did you do”? “I flew supplies up to the front line”. “What kind of supplies”?  “Oh, gasoline, ammunition, food, water… all the things our men needed”.  “Did you ever get shot at”? “Everyday. The hard part was in the morning in the briefing room, when we would get our orders, and you could see who was missing from the day before”. Then he began to openly cry.  “Those were some great young men, they never got the chance I had, Mark. I have tried to live my life in gratitude”.  This is the truth— I never heard my dad say an unkind thing about anyone… ever.  He died six years later with a heart that was full. Today we try to remember those who did not come back and to give thanks for those who did.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

May 30th (Real Memorial Day)

Monday is a ‘day off’ from Greeley pastor duties. So when a holiday falls on a Monday I get to pick another day. My Memorial Day was the “original” one before our political leaders decided they wanted ‘three-day weekends’. What had been just fine from 1868-1970 was changed. Well, this year I had an old school Memorial Day. I picked Jeremiah up by Union Station and we headed to the Cherry Creek Mall (15 minutes). My passenger started the conversation by asking if I was retired. “No, I flunked retirement. This is my Memorial Day, I do this for fun. I was just thinking about how, growing up, this was ‘opening day’ for Colorado

fishing 🎣 ”. He said, “I’m all in”.

I then shared, “What I really remember is riding in my dad’s ‘53 Chevy pickup with a wooden bed and port windows. He would put the AM radio on KCSJ ‘590 on your radio dial’ and we would listen to the Indy 500”. Well, the conversation was amped up to red-line speed. Jeremiah was a “gear-head”. He began to talk about the Monaco Grand Prix which just happened. He explained that Mercedes was doing the impossible, “Best racing team ever”. “Listening to a great race on the radio is the best – sounds in the background and the announcers keeping you on the edge of your seat”. “I remember Roger Ward, Parnelli Jones, AJ Foyt and the Unser family”. Then in 1970, they moved Memorial Day to the last Monday of May, Colorado went to year round fishing, and the magic faded.

Jeremiah continued to fill my car with all kinds of car racing facts. We had our holiday right there going down Lincoln Street. He was easily half my age. I have become that ‘old guy’ with stories. In the end the only ‘memorials’ that matter are stories about experiences and relationships.

Onward and Upward Mark

Courage

The last time it snowed like this in May in Denver was 1974. May of ‘74 was the beginning of my life as a Dad. Amy (my kid), was born on the 20th and 45 years later this past Monday, I was greeted with 5” of snow. Monday is my Lyft day so I headed out into the snowy darkness of predawn with a sense of adventure. My first ride took me 17 miles south of Arvada to Englewood. We had a spirited conversation about the loss of civility in politics. Within seconds I had my next ride. I spotted my passenger standing out on the curb, bundled up like it was January. She had a backpack, a water bottle in one hand and a white cane in the other.

I pulled up to the curb, rolled my window down and identified myself. She met me with a warm smile and before I could ask if she needed assistance she worked her way into my back seat.

It was a 25 minute ride to the tech center and we began to work our way through the slushy streets. I was in the presence of a very engaging young woman. She asked me questions about my life, Lyft driving, and then she said, “The way I feel right now I wish I could stay in my pajamas and stay home”. Somewhere in the midst of the conversation she shared she was struggling with a health issue. I asked her “Were you born blind, or did you see at one time”? She told me in the most beautiful way, her story. When she was 10 she started getting headaches. She had a tumor on her optic nerve. I asked her “Was it a meningioma”? “You know about them”? I said, “Yes, my wife had one removed from her frontal lobe in 2010”. They are non-malignant tumors that affect the lining of the brain. They can be fatal and often return. She went on to tell me that after two surgeries she became completely blind. There was a remarkable depth of honesty and character in her countenance. She told me she works for a tech company where she helps to consult about how their applications work with folks who have extra challenges.

“What I really want to do is be a ‘motivational speaker’. I told her “You have inspired me”. I asked her if being able to remember what life was like when she could see, was hard emotionally. Her reply was quick and confident. “I adjusted to be blind pretty quickly. My friends would say ‘the clouds are covering the mountains today’ I would laugh and say ‘not in my mind’.” We pulled up into the drop off area of the big building where she worked. Slush and snow were everywhere. I asked, “Could I walk you to the door”? “I would love that”. I took her by the hand and walked her to

the door. I asked her for permission to write about her. She said “Sure, I would love that”. I have revisited this ride all week. On that snowy 45th birthday of my Amy, I was given a gift, her name is Emily.

Onward and Upward, Mark

5000 Rides

I hit 4000 rides in less than two years, and the climb to 5000 has taken almost that long. My goal was to hit 5000 rides before I turned 70, last night I reached it with six weeks to spare. LYFT has promised me a gift when I hit it and as I can be easily motivated, I pressed on. At 1000 rides I got my favorite jacket of all times. It fits perfectly, is sleek black, mid weight, with lots of zipper pockets and a 1K LYFT logo. At 2500 I got a black, pink trimmed polo shirt, not quite as cool as my jacket but thanks anyway. So yesterday I had 12 rides to get to 5000 and the countdown began.

It was about 6pm when Luis “pinged” me. It was fitting that the ride was in the Baker neighborhood just west of my old congregation South Broadway. This is where I began this Lyft career 3 1/2 years ago. Luis was standing on the corner in shorts, ball cap and flip flops, the warm weather uniform for Millennials. He was looking at his phone intently which is code for “ride share pick up”. He hopped in the front seat. I smiled and said “Congratulations – you are my 5000 ride”. He smiled and said “Do I get a free ride”? I laughed and said “How about a La Croix and a snack bar”? He said “No thanks, I am headed to the movies and a giant

popcorn”. 🍿 He told me that he was going to see the latest version of the ‘Avengers’. He suggested, when I told him it had pricked my interest, that

I would be wise to see the other shows in the series first or I might be lost. I replied “Sort of like watching the last two weeks of ‘Game of Thrones’ after missing the last seven years. “Pretty much” with a smile. He began to ask me about my Lyft career and life before Lyft. I then asked him what he did, (I was not expecting the answer I got) “Believe it or not I am a rocket scientist”. I laughed and said “Working undercover… where is your slide rule and pocket protector”.

He shared in detail the current project he is working on. It was more than fascinating. He said “I am the luckiest man alive, I get paid for doing what I love”. “That makes two of us, Luis – tomorrow I go with my Greeley church to help build a Habitat for Humanity home and tonight I head towards 6000 rides. I will always remember ‘5000 Luis’. I hope you do help colonize the moon. By the way, the moon is full tonight”. He smiled and hopped out of the car.

I give thanks for: servers, baristas, students, pilots, construction workers, software whatevers, tourists, concert goers, hospital workers, retired folk, musicians, exotic dancers, immigrants, nannys, ride of shamers, ball players, engineers, chefs, therapists, actors, work at homers, administrative assistants, mechanics, day laborers, and the many others

who have shared their lives in my red car 🚗 ! Onward and Upward,

Mark

4-20

Today is April 20th.  Downtown Denver is preparing for 20,000 happy weed smokers to gather in Civic Center Park. Native Foods, my favorite vegan eatery, sent out a 4-20 Munchie Special— I am in, even though the last Pot I smoked was before Bill Clinton “did not inhale”.  I am also remembering 20 years ago when I had been at South Broadway Christian Church for two years as pastor, and my “dial-up” internet sent out a news bulletin that there had been a “mass-shooting” at Columbine HS in Littleton.  We opened the church doors to 100’s of folk who just needed some place to go.  Twenty years later the “norm” has shifted. The skunky smell of marijuana is a daily occurrence and I am grieved that just in the US, we have had 11 mass shootings in 20 years. The paradox (too small a word) is not lost on me.

So today, (the Saturday between ‘Good Friday’ and Easter 🐣) this pastor-Lyft driver will live and drive in the crucible of stoned passengers and memorial flowers.  I am learning not to try to resolve this cacophony of memory and experiences into something that I can understand. Rather, my Lyft driving keeps me in the moment. Between rides I will be thinking of my sermon tomorrow, “Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead”?  I am going to opposing directions with that question.  1.  I am thinking of all the ways I (we) try to find life where there is not life.  2. And all of the times when life (grace) has shown up in the voice of those who just say “Thanks for the ride”. 

For the next two weeks I am headed to Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Montenegro. I hope to write a bit while I am there. The Cystine Chapel awaits, but I am just as excited to grab a local taxi and say “Show me the places in your home that bring life to your heart” .

Onward and Upward and ARRIVEDERCI❤️,

Mark