image courtesy of

image courtesy of

We’re regulars, she and I, at the red brick ageless restaurant where our paths cross on occasion. Over the course of time, although trying to tune her along with the rest of the world out, I began to take note of the lady the waiters and waitresses call “Sunny”.

Sunny is old. And by the looks of her skin, I’d say she’s spent the majority of her life, if not all of it, fighting the inevitable losing battle with the Arizona sun. Sunny is short with silver hair in strands well above her shoulders. She doesn’t move fast, but deliberately. Her clothes look like she gave up worrying about fashion in the early seventies, but appreciates being comfortable.

Sunny carries an all white purse, smaller than most ladies her age. The handbag looked startling little when I looked close enough to see the clear plastic tubing snaking out of it. A closer glance revealed that tube strapped to Sunny’s head, just under her nose, and ran almost unseen under her blouse and then back to that tiny purse that housed her oxygen tank.

It’s easy for me to say that the kind folks working at the neighborhood restaurant have come to know me and treat me like a friend. If that’s a fairly accurate description of how they treat me, then how they treat Sunny would be like family.

Sunny has taken the time to learn everyone’s names and acts like all of them are her kids. Every last one of the people who work there make it a point to stop by and see Sunny, even if they’re not waiting on her.

Sunny is one of those type of folks that defy a category. To judge her by her cover would be a grave miscalculation. Just because she’s old and looks tired and relies on oxygen to keep her going doesn’t mean she’s not full of life.

Sunny is animated. When she greets each person it’s like long-lost family rediscovered, “Why-there you are! How are you, Nancy?” is typical of what she says in a high-pitched voice that sounds like something from a cartoon as she holds her arms out insisting on a big ole hug.

Sunny remembers details about each person that works there and asks them with sincerity about their lives and family members.

Despite her age, Sunny is the definition of her namesake; she lights up a room. It looks brighter and even feels lighter when she’s in it. Sunny reminds me that despite our world and personal setbacks, the gift of free will is appointed by God to each one of us. It is our choice how we see life and how we live it.

Sunny sat at the table next to me yet again a while back. Just before she left I did something a little out of character for me when I’m hoarding my time to write, “I’d say your name fits you perfectly, Sunny,” I told her.

Sunny beamed the brightest and most beautiful smile, tilted her head slightly sideways, a thankful twinkle in her eyes and said, “Well thank you, sir.”

I couldn’t help but smile back, “My pleasure,” I said and nodded.

Sunny reminded me again that caring for others is a gift. And that gift is ageless.


just in case

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My youngest was curled up on our overstuffed couch in the fetal position, her head pushed against the back of the cushion, hair blanketing her cheek. She had dragged two of the oversized pillows over her for makeshift blankets, one over her bare feet and one over her midsection. There were others within reach just in case.

As I looked on smiling, I had flashbacks to her childhood of bedtime rituals from days long past.

“Can we do whooshings, daddy?” she’d ask almost nightly for a time.

“Okay, babe, whooshings it is,” I’d agree.

She quickly learned how to count to three when it came to whooshings. Numbers one and two were like practice runs for the real deal that was exciting number three. I’d hold my little one, cradling her in my forearms as I rocked her back and forth twisting my body in the process to fling her sailing through the air and onto our king size bed. She couldn’t get enough of it.

Then there was the season of “The wrong bed” ritual.

“Will you put me to bed, dad?” She was a little older, longer arms and legs dangling over my forearms.

“Sure, babe,” I’d say in a serious tone for effect. I’d scoop up my snaggle-toothed treasure and head for odd places, and we tried everything over the years. I’d lay her gently on the dining room table, kiss her forehead and whisper, “Goodnight, babe, love you, sleep tight,”

She’d pause grinning uncontrollably, “uhh, dad?”

“Yeah, babe?” I’d ask.

“Umm, this isn’t my bed,” she’d giggle.

“What?” I’d ask with surprise, “Oh-okay,” I’d add and scoop her up again and whisk her off to the kitchen island, an occasional pinball machine, and even the dog’s bed a time or two.

Eventually, she did end up in her real bed, satisfied, we both were. We’d say prayers and exchange “I love you’s” and put another gift of a day behind us…

Then one day the number of days added up to seventeen years and the nighttime rituals had become just a sweet memory…

I grinned seeing my baby curled up asleep on the couch as I was shutting off all the lights and locking the doors in the one ritual that hasn’t changed. Melancholy filled my heart and eyes as I watched our baby in the same position she slept in as a child. I grabbed a few blankets out of the other room and as I was draping them over her she woke up, her button brown eyes squinting.

“You wanna go to bed?” I asked in a whisper.

She smiled, “I’m so comfortable here,” she answered.

“That’s okay,” I told her softly as I spread the last blanket over her shoulder. I kissed her on her cheek, just like I did in the days of “whooshings” and “the wrong bed” and whispered yet again, “I love you, babe.”

“Love you too, dad,” she whispered back, eyes already closed again. I turned the light on in the pantry and cracked the door to shed light on the course I knew she’d be taking to the “right bed” before morning.

I’ve learned to not pass up the gifts from God in this life that are more valuable than silver and gold and as fleeting as a breath. We never know in this life when we’re participating in the last day of a ritual or gift.

I guess that’s why they tell us to cherish each one like it’s your last… I did a few nights ago… just in case.


image courtesy of photo

image courtesy of photo

I suppose it was due to my blue collar raisin’ that I didn’t get why Mr. Rogers changed his shoes at the beginning of each show. It wasn’t wet or muddy and he didn’t have a mom or wife yelling at him to leave his clod-hoppers outside. I suppose it was a tradition he learned and he was just tryin’ to pass it on.

It may have been like that in Mr. Rogers neighborhood, but not one of our neighbors when I was a kid wore sweaters with ties… In our old neighborhood ties were for marryin’ and buryin’.

Neighbors and neighborhoods are a peculiar affair in our modern world. Who we end up living with around us, and especially right next door, is like playing the lottery or spin the bottle. We’ve been extremely fortunate or blessed with our neighbors over the years and numerous moves, but that’s not always the case.

When I was a kid, our mom and dad’s best friends had a modern day Hatfield’s and McCoy’s type of feud with their next door neighbors. Our parents’ friends lived in the fanciest section of our little town with the perfect cliche name, “Bel-Air Estates”, but that didn’t make it perfect.

They and their next door neighbors couldn’t agree on whose side of the property line the block fence separating them landed on. That was just the fuel to flame their down right disdain for one another’s families.

That family feud finally manifested itself in a good ole fashioned fist-tuh-cuffs that earned my dad’s friend a black eye. It didn’t take long to figure out that there is no such thing as the perfect next door neighbors… since none of us are perfect… but I’ve also learned that you can come pretty close.

Occasionally in life we have crazy opportunities that we’d never even dream of drop into our laps. Our oldest daughter and her husband live in our neighborhood, down and around the block from us. They live on a corner lot so they increased their chances of getting a good next door neighbor by about fifty percent.

The couple next door to them have lived in their home since 1989. During that time the home where the newlyweds now live was occupied by the sister of the lady who lives next door to them. For sisters who not only love one another but like each other as well, that has to be a once in a lifetime gift.

Time marches on and the inevitable happens in life; change… The neighbor’s sister and husband had to move on and then sometime later the couple that lived next door to our kin, time caught up with. It’s time for them to move on as well, rumor is into their daughter’s house who’ll help look out after them in coming years.

The elderly couple that live next door to the kids had three offers the first day their home was on the market. The fact that one of those offers was from the new bride next door’s younger sister was all she needed to pass the baton and gift to our girls. The next generation of sisters live side by side now.

There are no coincidences in life. Hills and valleys, ups and downs. When a Divinely appointed gift falls in place we just need to be thankful for each day we get to share and enjoy it… Then when it’s time… pass it on…


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picture courtesy of

There are some days in life that seem to run together like watercolors in the rain. But there are other days. Those are the days that stand out in life – the ones that refuse to be labeled a typical day and can’t be washed or wished away.

Those one-of-a-kind-days are personal, even if they do blend like a glass of water tossed into a river to folks who can’t see the significance in the particular day of another’s life.

She looked just like another car on the road of life, blending into civilization and traffic like another leaf falling in Autumn. It was another Monday and she was just another commuter running later than she had planned. Some of it her fault, although she blamed her alarm clock, some of it my fault.

We have a tradition and I wasn’t going to be yielding the importance of it or the significance of the day to time. I was proud of her as I watched her pull away. I was a little nervous for her. I thought about all the other days like this one; she was so young she can’t remember the first ones.

I have to admit I worry a bit and am always concerned about her safety as she slipped into anonymity on the busy city streets. I was also somber… Of all the years of our tradition and practice I knew that would be the last one.

I smiled inside at how clean the car was. The sun sparkled off the rims that until the day before looked more like giant chocolate donuts. I stood in the driveway remembering the day before; a triple digit Arizona afternoon and her, less than thrilled to be forced by her dad to run the car through the budget car wash.

Lucky for us one of her favorite businesses and hangout for kids her age was right next door to the car wash. We stood in the sweltering outside line exchanging small talk. We talked about different colleges, and some of the treacherous highways it takes to get to them. We strolled back slowly to the car wash, her sipping her green tea and me my hot coffee that I thought was crazy to consume in the desert heat when I was her age… like she does now.

I hung around the house that morning, the special day, one of those minor milestone days. She was anxious and in a rush to get out of the house and even more so when I first asked her if she wanted to pray.

Our youngest’s first reaction was less than appreciative, but her demeanor changed quickly. She knew the significance of the day and the importance of our actions that goes supernaturally beyond a ritual.

The three of us, my wife, youngest daughter, and I huddled up in the hallway like we’ve done for a decade and a half now as I prayed for her on her first day of school. It was the first day of her last year in high school.

There will be different days and each one will bring reasons to pray. I thought about all the prayers that I’ve sent up on my family’s behalf… it quickly dawned on me how often I’ve forgotten or taken the answer to those prayers for granted.

May the days that stand out, and all the others that blend like watercolors in the rain, paint a breathtaking rendering of the hand and grace of God in the lives of His beloved… including my little one in the car with the rims that tend to look like giant chocolate donuts…


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image courtesy

I was spreading ink above the light green lines on my yellow legal pad of paper in a quaint restaurant in our community when I heard, “I’m so sorry to bother you, but I have a huge favor to ask you,” she said warmly, lowering her head between her shoulders slightly with an awkward and genuine smile.

It was out of the norm for the manager of my favorite writing restaurant to be asking me questions outside the normal, “How was your meal today?”, type of ones. I’m a regular and with enough time, in this case, a couple of years, folks get to know each other in their community.

Most of the employees at the friendly neighborhood restaurant I know by name and vice versa. We know things about each other; marital status, kids, and occupation type of information.

“I know you’re a contractor and I was hoping you could take a look at a problem we’re having in our kitchen?” she asked.

“Sure,” I answered, set my favorite pen down and followed her into the guts of the french style eatery. Things always look different from the inside out, not nearly as orderly as you’d think. The computerized meal ticket screen that tells the chefs what to cook, right smack next to the searing heat lamps, was mounted too high for the vertically challenged chefs to reach and respond.

The mounting bracket had three massive screws in the clamp part of the bracket and someone had almost completely stripped the soft chrome screws. I stood on the chair that the person before me who had failed stood to assess the problem in the sweltering kitchen… This at the place where I go when I get the rare down time to get some writing done…

“You gotta screwdriver?” I asked the manager.

“Sure!” she said enthusiastically and disappeared. She reappeared a long few minutes later and handed me a tiny phillips head screwdriver.

“That’s why the screws are stripped,” I told her, “Do you have a regular slotted screwdriver?” I asked.

“Sure!” she answered and vanished again.

“She put you to work, huh?” some of the employees asked chuckling.

“I’m workin’ off my meal,” I told them.

The manager showed back up with what looked like a toy screwdriver, “That’s not big enough – It needs to be a wide and thicker head… let me check my truck,” I told her with little hope of having the proper tools that I try not to carry anymore…

I fished out a dusty slotted screwdriver that was about half the size I needed out of my driver’s side door compartment. By the time I wrestled the damaged screws loose enough with my undersized screwdriver to slide the monitor down, the heat lamps had me cooking like a Thanksgiving turkey. The manager graciously handed me a towel to dry myself off with.

“Thank you so much!” the manager said as I was leaving the kitchen, “Your next meal is on us!” she added.

Community isn’t always convenient. I suppose if I kept to myself and was short and grouchy with the folks I see often they’d never bother me by asking for help. But that’s not what we’re called to or designed for, not to mention the gratification that comes from helping others, even if in small ways, we’d be missing out on.

When I got back to my table I spotted my pen sitting on the floor underneath the not perfectly level table. I picked it up and noticed the delicate tip smashed sideways…

I’m not sayin’ community is always convenient…