Sunday, July 10, 2016


"Mr. Pool, we've found something unexpected."

One year ago today, stretched out on a gurney in the emergency room, I gathered myself for what the doctor had to say. A couple of hours before life had been proceeding as expected. Clocked out of the evening shift at work, I took a moment to go to the restroom before driving home and putting my aching back to bed.

Blood red urine tends to focus one's attention.

I decided not to worry my co-workers, went to the car and headed to the ER, phoning my wife along the way. I wasn't in any pain, just concerned. I parked, walked in, and started plowing through paperwork. My wife and daughter arrived shortly, and I went through the hoops of giving samples and having a CT scan to see if it was an infection or kidney stone.

"The CT scan shows a cancerous mass on your right kidney."

Cancer tends to focus one's attention.

The doctor's ordered more CT scans to refine the view of the mass. Night melted into dawn, and I was finally put in a bed and then in a room. Doctors moved in and out, expressing concern, going over the situation, giving options. The mass is good sized and invading toward a major vein leading back to my heart. The only real option is removal of the kidney. Because of the location of the cancer, the surgery needed to take place at a larger hospital Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

It so happens that a dear friend of my wife's aunt is an administrator in the oncology department at Hopkins. My wife made a call, and Gail took me on as her personal mission. She got us in touch with one of the top kidney specialists at Hopkins. Appointments were made.

And here I was, at the precipice of... I didn't know what. No one plans for this. Everything was in flux. But there was nothing to do but move forward.

Next: Surgery

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I Believe I Will

He was a little boy lost.

Born into the rough and tumble world of 1880's Texas, his first few years were marred by tragedy. He had already lost both parents, first father then mother. Her death, as pneumonia finished the work of the massive burns resulting from her apron bursting into flame while making soap, left him and his siblings alone and vulnerable to the vagaries of frontier life. They were divvied up within the community, and could only hope for the best.

For him, the best did not come.

They were a surly, brutish lot. Their love for alcohol was only matched by their cruelty. Daily the little boy was subjected to beatings and berating, forced to work while they lounged about, drinking and carousing. He endured as well as a 5 year old could, but his life had little hope.

Then, it happened.

They were in a general store, ordering the little boy around, laughing as he tried to carry something too big for his little hands to carry, cuffing him if he dropped it, calling him names cruel and profane. A day like every day.

A typical day.

That turned atypical.

Because that day, Mr. Hampton was in the store. A businessman of some standing in the community, with a fine family. A decent, church-going man.

And at that moment, an angry man.

He looked at the little boy's tormentors levelly, and with even, forceful tones said, "You ought not treat that boy that way! Stop it!"

They stopped, then turned to meet his gaze with scorn, that curled slowly into sneering derision. They scoffed. They grabbed the little boy roughly and threw him at Mr. Hampton's feet. "You don't like it," they growled, "you take him!"

Time stopped. Looking down at the ragged, dirty little boy, Mr. Hampton had a choice. He could walk away, go back to his life with reputation intact, if slightly tarnished. It would have been the easy thing to do. No one would have thought the worse of him for not wanting to get involved. When you think about it, that is the most reasonable, rational choic

"I believe I will."

Four words. Four words that revealed the character of the man. Four words that demonstrated love. Four words that offered hope and possibility to one broken and helpless.

Mr. Hampton reached down, picked up the little boy, and brought my grandfather home to be raised as one of his own.

I must confess that I sit here, almost 130 years later, overcome by magnitude of that simple, unfathomable act. The trajectory of my family was forever altered by that single act of kindness and grace.

I doubt I will ever be faced by that particular circumstance, for these are different days. But I do know that every day the world harasses and harries the poor and hopeless and helpless. Some are well-to-do, some are down-and-out, but all tossed at my feet, crumpled and crushed, by a cruel world, with the words "You don't like it, you take 'em" echoing in my ears. And I am faced with a choice.

Then I will remember my great grandfather Hampton.

I believe I will.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

D-Day Eve

My dad's painting of one of the P-47s he flew during World War II.
Today, June 5, 2013, marks the 69th anniversary of the day before D-Day. For most people, from those who lived it to those who experienced through movies like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan, tomorrow is the day to remember. And they wouldn't be wrong. But for my family, this is day that matters.

I was born into an Air Force family. My dad was a fighter pilot, whose career spanned from WWII to Vietnam and beyond. My mother also served as an officer in the USAF. In fact, that's how they met and married. So I grew up surrounded by stories of war and honor and sacrifice. But the one story my dad told about his experience as a pilot in WWII, that was The Story.

The day before the invasion, my father's squadron was tasked with taking out a bridge over the river Seine, to prevent German reinforcements from getting to the beachheads. Though fighter pilots, this was not an unusual assignment because they flew P-47s. The heaviest fighters in the war, they were big, burly and virtually indestructible, which made them ideal for tactical bombing. Besides, intelligence told them they could fly in under the German anti-aircraft fire, hit the target, and get home with little problem.

As my dad told the story to us as children, he would chuckle and say "Of course, intelligence was wrong." The Germans could depress their guns, and my dad's squadron was shot up mercilessly. They managed to knock out the bridge, but my dad's plane was severely damaged. He nursed it back over the Channel to England before having to bail out, losing a new shoe in the process. Parachuting in a field, still fuming over his lost shoe, he was picked up by a British farmer in a truck converted to coal power. My dad returned to base later that evening, where he was given an aspirin, debriefed, and prepared to fly air cover for D-Day the next day. And that was the story I grew up with, full of drama and adventure and, yes, even laughter at the vagaries of war.


Several years after my father died, I was talking with my mother and the D-Day story came up. She stopped me and asked if my dad had ever told me the whole story. I said, "There's more?" So she told me the rest.

As mentioned above, my dad's squadron was getting cut up by flak. But they had to knock out that bridge at all costs. Then my dad saw one of his friends take an anti-aircraft round directly in the cockpit. Blood spattered the remnants of the canopy. My dad's headset crackled to life, and he heard the dying words of his fellow pilot: "I'll get it." My dad watched as his friend heeled that massive fighter over, with bomb still attached, and dove straight into the bridge, destroying it with the blast. Objective achieved, and shells still exploding around them, the remaining pilots turned back toward base, my dad included.

Now that I know the whole story, I always set aside time on June 5 to give thanks for the bravery and sacrifice of that young pilot, who likely saved my dad's life and helped make my life possible.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Little Townhouse on the Peninsula

Yesterday was one of the largest snowfalls recorded in my little corner of the world. And since there is no system for naming winter storms, a la hurricanes, the scramble to encapsulate it with a single word was, to say the least, a free-for-all:




and my personal favorite - SNOMG

And since my little corner of the world includes the nation's capital, the 30+ inches that blanketed the area made for news. Local news. National news. Wall-to-wall news. Breathless, frantic news. Endless shots of snow plows and snow falling and snow drifts and reporters standing out in the snow sticking yardsticks in the snow when they weren't interviewing people standing out in the snow. I'm not sure if the news coverage of the snow wasn't more fatiguing than shoveling it.

(Wait. I calculated I moved 2.5 tons of snow off my deck alone. Shoveling was definitely more fatiguing.)

So we collectively bent our backs and tackled the elements. It was epic and exhausting and, in a way, exhilarating.

Today, however, is another story. Muscles ache. More work needs to be done. The comfortable habits of life, from getting a morning paper to worshiping side by side with friends, are disrupted.

And yet, after the whirlwind of yesterday there is the still small voice of today. The glitter of sunlight on the fallen snow. The quiet. The solitude. The smell of a roast in the crock pot. The warmth of a mug of coffee cupped in my hands. The peace of knowing God is with me, no matter the storms of life.

I realize this will not last. It is, after all, Super Bowl Sunday. And the snow will not shovel itself. But for the moment it is good to abide in His Presence, and remember it can be this way everyday.

And I don't always need 32" of snow to remind me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

This Is The New Year!

It's been too long since I posted. This song expresses my hope for 2010!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fear is the Mindkiller

I was driving home the other day, and started thinking about fundamentalism and fear. It seems to me that there are three things that terrify fundamentalists (at least the Christian ones):
  • The Mystery of the Father
  • The Mercy of the Son
  • The Movement of the Holy Spirit

Fundamentalism at its core, no matter the stripe, lusts for control. They strive to keep everything in a nice, airtight compartment that answers all questions, defines all doctrines, and allows for a paint-by-number approach to life. This closed system approach is threatened by the idea that God the Father cannot be bound up by our clever theologies, that God the Son would offer grace to all (even the enemy-du-jour), that God the Spirit would breathe life into His people and at the same time blow over their house of cards.

But as I reflected further, I decided it goes deeper than that. This appeal of control in the face of a fear-filled world is what attracts people to fundamentalism. We are all uneasy with a God who is transcendent, who doesn't fit our little schemes of fact, exposes them as schemes. It is much easier to find a rule book and try to follow it. The only problem is, rule book living creates narrow, rigid people who either become hateful, spiteful religionistas or collapse into disbelief and indifference when life throws them an exception to the rules.

It seems to me that the only way forward is to forsake fear of the world and return to a fear of the Lord (which, after all is the beginning of wisdom). The decision I have to make every day is whether I am going to seek the Lord and His will, no matter what, or shuffle along following after my own wants and desires. God is Mysterious, and Merciful, and Moves across His creation.

Open my eyes, illumine me, Savior divine.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Garbage and Grace

Last Saturday I got to mark something else off my life list: picking up litter in northeast Washington, DC. Bright and (fairly) early, eleven of us gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC, located at 8th and H NW, to participate in the local 11-on-11 mission project.

Note: The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Young Leaders Network (who thankfully go by the shorter name Current) decided several years ago to commemorate 9/11 by doing something constructive in local communities. The first year they did this September 11 was on a Saturday, and there were 11 projects: hence 11-on-11. It has grown to more projects across the U.S., including our area.

We proceeded to Calvary's sister neighborhood at 8th and H NE. Mary Andreolli, one of the ministers at Calvary, had us organized, handed out trashbags, gloves and water, and we all headed down the block. There is more about the nationwide 11-on-11 event in the news story below, but here are some things I observed that morning:

1. Young adults are serious about putting their faith into practice. They gave up a beautiful Saturday to pick up garbage on several blocks of DC streets. They saw it as a ministry to the community.

2. People brighten up when Christians get out of the pews and do something nice for them. I had several folks ask why we were cleaning up their street, and when we told them, they smiled and thanked us...and wanted to talk to us.

3. Sometimes being the presence of Christ can be dirty, smelly work. If fact, if you were to go back to those blocks today, they would probably look like they did when we showed up. But in that moment last Saturday, as a group of young adults humbled themselves and served, lives were touched, seeds were planted, and I believe that the Kingdom of God was advanced.