It was a Colorado spectacular last Sunday of October in 1998. There was a buzz on at the church, and we were headed after worship to a Bronco game.Mary Kay got a phone call from her brother Dan.Her face fell, I knew something was wrong. “My Dad was hit by a car and he is in surgery”. He was making his usual Sunday rounds taking communion to ‘shut-ins’ and was one block from home when a truck came over a hill way too fast and broadsided Joe.We gave our Bronco tickets to our daughter Amy and headed to PUEBLO.
We got to St. Mary’s hospital to be met by all 9 of MK’s siblings, and lots of nephews and nieces.Sitting quietly in their midst was my mom Pat, who came to be with the family.Her Dad was in surgery with a broken neck.A couple hours after our arrival the surgeon came out to tell us he had died.Just two days before I had played golf with this very vibrant 81 year old.Joe Wodiuk did not know a stranger.He sang lead in a barber shop quartet, built a steel fabrication business from the ground up, and survived three years of combat in the South Pacific in WWII. His parents had immigrated through Ellis Island from Poland. Joe was kind, generous, funny, smart and loved by an entire community.I was privileged to conduct his funeral at St. Pat’s Catholic Church. It was a laughter through tears day.
The following Memorial Day my Momgave us a little sprig of a Blue Spruce which which she had gotten at her church where they were given to plant in honor someone who had died. It couldn’t have been 4 inches long in a clear plastic tube with instructions as to how to grow it.We named the tree ‘Joe’ and it was put in a little pot on our back sun porch.In about four years Joe moved to our Capital Hill garden. By 2009 it was about two feet high.In April on 2009 our house was left hanging on a cliff when 14 shoring piers collapsed leaving our 105 year old house hanging on a 30 ft. cliff. Joe, was clinging to the edge of the abyss. The story of our destroyed house would fill a 12 volume book set.We potted Joe in a big pot and asked our friend Johnny P. to care for him until we figured out where we were going to move.A year latter we transplanted Joe to park at South Broadway Christian Church. It was a slow start but Joe adjusted.
Last week a group of 12-steppers met in the park on a Sunday night.This photo is our“Joe” taken last week. I told a group of people the story of Joe as we sat in a circle, six feet apart, with masks, sharing in our recovery. One of the group texted me later to say how much the story of Joe served as a symbol of hope and resilience.
Joe grew from four inches to ten feet in 21 years, and has moved four times.Every Christmas my friend Rod puts Christmas lights on our Joe. It stands alone in the yard.50,000 cars a day drive by Joe who is just another handsometree🌲 pointing to the heavens.
Last Wednesday we drove to Colorado Springs to have a life time friend do our taxes. South of Castle Rock, a red warning light came up on my dash— YOUR TRANSMISSION IS OVERHEATING SLOW DOWN. This is sort of like getting an almost flat tire while driving to Dental 911. We feathered the car in to The Springs, the light went off and we got our taxes done. Now to deal with a sick car. Red was a 2014 Outlander Sport with 161,455 miles on it. This car has been a supporting actor in this blog. Nearly 9,000 different people have ridden in it, oftentimes commenting “What a nice car”. I have had three cars in my life that I truly bonded with; a Gold 1963 Chevy Impala Super Sport convertible, a 2001 Montero SUV, and this simple 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport named ‘Red’. It’s a silly thing to bond with a car, but I spent some of the most interesting, joyful and sometimes painful moments driving Lyft riders or commuting to Greeley. Red was not fancy just reliable, easy and cheap. Until Wednesday. I got the call from the mechanic Thursday afternoon, “We thought it was an easy fix, sorry you need a new transmission”. “How much are we talking (thinking three to four $thousand). “Well, we tried to find a used one, the new one will be right at $10,000”. Mic drop… “Well, it’s time to get a new car”. “Yep, probably. Sorry”. “Oh, I am not going to blame the messenger. I can’t get it until Saturday”. “No problem, we will see you then”. Today I said my goodbye to Red. It’s just a thing, a car, but not!!! It could drive through blizzards better than any car I ever had. About four years ago we had a huge March blizzard. I remember picking up passengers that said “Everyone else cancelled on me”. I went past two big 4-wheel drive trucks who couldn’t negotiate a hill. I patted Red on the dashboard. 2020 has been full of good byes: no trips with my boys, no gatherings at church, no baseball, no Lyftingmeup Lyft rides, no golf, no having coffee with friends, no in-person 12-step meetings, no Balkan cruise. Okay, today I picked up the nicest car I have ever owned. I told myself before this happened that when the day came to say “Bye Red” I was
going to get a “once in a lifetime car”. It’s beautiful, comfy, and it comes with training sessions to teach me all about the ‘bells and whistles’. Ok, it’s a BMW X3. Right now, it doesn’t have a name, it’s too smart for its own good, and not exactly a preacher mobile. I can hear Red say “Okay Mr BMer you will never give a Lyft ride to a 40 year old going to her third round of chemo. Onward and Upward, Mark
In 1955 my parents built a home in Belmont. It was in the middle of a long block at the top of a spacious hill, on Alexander Circle. I can still remember moving in and the smell of brand new everything. It was a two story ‘Cape Cod’ house that became the ‘hub of the wheel’ for fifty years of Pumphreys and innumerable folk who were welcomed with the gift of hospitality. The backyard of our house faced East. You could see all the way to Kansas (almost). It was what we called The Prairie, which was a dream playground for a young boy. It was there that we built forts, caught lizards, bull snakes and tarantulas. Each morning you could watch a sunrise the way God intended without one structure on the horizon. In 1962 the dream ended—roll out the houses.
When we moved to the edge of Northwest Arvada it reminded me a bit of 60 + years ago. This time I was the interloper who was so happy we had a little but fun “West Mountain” View. If I sat just right at our dining room table or outside on the North Patio, there were the mountains. Well, goodbye View. The few acres between us and Indiana Street are being turned into a strip mall with two story slabs. I can’t wait…not!!! I had hopes that it would be an irritant but not block the view. No such luck. So, for the second time in my life the wheels of progress have run over open space.
As I sat out on the patio yesterday with my cup of coffee, watching them erect I-beams directly in my line of sight, I took pictures with my heart. I still have the ones from my childhood, they can’t be erased, destroyed or ruined. Progress…not perfection.
This Monday is June 15th. It was 43 years ago that I found myself experiencing a paradox that has shaped my faith since then. Molly— I was her chaplain at the Enid State School. At that point in history what was “normal” seems crude at best and inhuman at worst. She was one of 1000 residents who were “placed” in an institution. It’s official name was— and I share this to remind us how ignorance haunts us— “The Enid State School for the Mentally Retarded”. She was a ‘ward of the state’. She was born with spina bifida and was raised in public institutions. Molly was really a delightful young teen who pretty much won the hearts of the whole campus. Everyone knew Molly. She negotiated her wheel chair all over the campus. She was a ‘star’ at The Chapel where I led a team five seminary students. As chaplains, we were given carte blanch support from the superintendent to be creative advocates for all of the residents. Molly got sick in April. It was a mystery to the medical staff. One courageous social worker decided to try to find her family. They were found, and seven of them came 200 miles to meet their daughter, and sister. I was given the task to be in her hospital room when the reunion took place. It was a very beautiful and bittersweet moment. “We were told by the doctor when she was born to pretend she never existed”. They spent every day for two weeks with her as she slipped into unconsciousness. However, she shared the joy of a few days of being with her family. On June 15 my son Mateo was born at a hospital three blocks from where Molly had slipped into a coma. That morning I held this most amazing 8 pound 10 ounce boy. I cried with joy. Then I went those three blocks to pray with a family who circled the bed where a 15 year old girl was living her last day. Afterward I headed to my office at ESS. It was early afternoon and I sat by my desk trying to grasp life and death. I heard the door to the chapel open. The sound of braces dragging across the floor and down the concrete steps meant it was “Sparky” (Albert) who came by every day to inquire about his friend Molly. I dreaded the conversation. Sparky had CP. He was another resident who had no business being in an institution. He was bright but his body struggled to
do what I took for granted. He crawled on the couch in my office and he asked “Hoooowwwwwssssss Mollllllllllyyy”? I looked him straight in the eye. “Sparky, she’s not going to make it”. He looked at me and spoke these words “Theeeeerrrrrreeeee iiiissssss aaaallllwwwwaaaayyyysss hhhhhoooooppppeee”. Silence was all I could offer. We went up the stairs together, Sparky would never allow me to help. He got in his wheelchair and I said “Thanks Sparky, for being Molly’s friend”. He smiled. Today I know it is still true—hope in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest, and political chaos is hard to find, yet it keeps me going. Happy Birthday Mateo!!! Onward and Upward Mark
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
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 forbidif 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, andnephew 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’splay 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •