Photos on My Office Wall

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Some of the items that I will need to take home when I retire are these 11 framed photos hanging on my office wall. I cannot even begin to fathom how long they have hung on my wall, but I know they have moved from one office to another each time my office changed. Considering that I have worked at the same site and in the same building for over 30 years, they are probably quite old.

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A close up inspection reveals that these are really cheap, 8” X 10” metal frames with a “faux-wood” finish.   I think I probably bought them at Target years ago. At least once when I moved into a larger office, which had a larger wall, I had to search for additional frames of the same design to expand my gallery.

Over the years, I would occasionally change out a photo for a newer one but with one exception, the photos were always either of my family (wife and kids), travel, or my cars. And the reason I know this is because each time I added a new photo, I simply put it on top of the photo previously displayed.

I recently took down each frame and took off the back just to see what treasures were hiding inside the frames.

In some, I found just a few photos but in others, the frame contained four or five photos. As I looked through the photos “archived” in each frame, I saw some of these images for the first time in many, many years.

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Harahan Bridge over Mississippi River

The earliest of these photos were black and whites. Prior to getting married, I had bought all the equipment necessary to develop and print my own black and white photos from black and white film. But some of the ones in the frames I realized I had printed from color 35 mm negatives as I recognized the image as a familiar color snapshot from my first year of marriage (back in my “artsy” pre-digital camera age when the only way I could make a black and white photo was to either print it this way or to use black and white film).

Based on finding just four black and white photos, my earliest wall gallery must have only included four frames.

Once I started traveling internationally, I began to add pictures from my travels, replacing all of my black and white photos with color photos.

Aquaduct of Caesarea (Israel)

Aquaduct of Caesarea (Israel)

And as my travels increased, I needed to add additional frames to accommodate photos from all my trips.

Lisbon Oceanarium (Aquarium, Lisbon, Portugal)

Lisbon Oceanarium (Aquarium, Lisbon, Portugal)

When family members traveled with me on these international trips, they appeared in my displayed photos as well.

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Sometime in the early 2000s, I began to display photos of my cars (at first two and then three cars in 2006) and then in 2011, I added photos from my two oldest children’s weddings.

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As my travels continued, I began to replace old travel photos with newer ones.

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In May of 2016 when I bought my latest car, I planned on replacing the picture of my Mini, which we no longer owned, with my new WRX.

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But then just days later, I got word that my work site was closing.

So rather than adding to my collection, I began to think about what I was going to do with my photo gallery when I left. Since the frames are so cheap, I wouldn’t want to display them inside our house unless I invested in much nicer frames.

And then I came upon the idea of hanging them all in our garage over my workbench. After all, once I retire, I will be spending a lot more time at my workbench doing one of the things I love doing, working with my hands.

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I’ve wanted to take down these shelves for quite some time since they just end up becoming a storage space for old paints and chemicals that are not even good anymore. Now I have a good reason to.

So rather than boxing up these old frames and sticking them in the attic or worse yet, throwing them away, they will simply relocate to one of my “new” office walls. Because after all, every time my office moved these gems moved with me. And so they will!

Miniature Car Moving Day

Not long ago, the day came that I needed to transport my 1/18-scale model cars home from my office. This was in preparation for my final office move before our site closure and my retirement. Last year I posted that this would be a necessary step before I retire. While my eventual idea of a miniature garage for them in the back yard was not well received by wife, I needless to say needed to bring the cars home.

The first step was getting down their original boxes from the attic. As you can see, they were quite dusty with some having been in the attic for almost 20 years. Donning a respirator mask to keep the dust out of my lungs, I climbed into the attic and began to search for all of them. Before I brought them into the house, I wiped them off as best I could with a damp rag. Some of the boxes were a bit damaged from the time when squirrels got into our attic (who would have know squirrels like to eat plastic).   Others were covered by blown insulation, which actually protected them quite nicely from the dust and the squirrels.

It was a bit of a treasure hunt to find them all and in the end, I found 27 of the 28 boxes I knew I should have. The one missing may turn up whenever we get other things out of the attic.

With the boxes cleaned fairly well, I loaded them up into the trunk of my car for the drive to work.

The next day, once I got to work, I loaded them onto one of our stability sample carts and wheeled them into my office.

Next began the process of removing the Styrofoam base from each box. Because the clear plastic had come loose in many of the boxes, this proved a tedious task for some. In a few with the loose plastic, some of the blown insulation had gotten into the boxes and so I had to clean this out as well. One of the more damaged boxes might have been a temporary home for a squirrel as when I dumped out the insulation; an acorn and something else I won’t mention fell out (For your benefit, I chose not to photograph that).

Each car is attached to this Styrofoam base with a bracket and two screws (I actually managed to find all but three screws). Some of the boxes still had the small catalog inside the box, this one being almost 25 years old.

A few of the boxes still had the price tags on them. This one I could see that I had purchased at de Bijenkorf, the large department store in Amsterdam that Anne Frank shopped at.

Prior to putting the car inside, I gave each box got another good wipe down to get rid of the residual dust and then I stacked the car filled boxes on the cart.

After I got half way through, I realized I had been putting the cars in backwards. I confirmed this by going to the BBurago website and seeing all of the cars facing left with the front angled forward. I had screwed them all in with the back angled forward. Obviously I had to redo those.

For some of the cars, it was bitter sweet to box them up. This Mini sat on my desk for over 10 years…

…a daily reminder of one of the most fun cars I ever owned.

And this is probably the nicest car I collected, complete with soft rubber seats and even carpet on the floor. I fondly remembered finding it on a trip to Lugano, Switzerland in 1998 with my wife and youngest son.

Throughout the afternoon, it was interesting to see the look on coworker’s faces when they stopped by seeing what I was up to. Even my boss had an odd look on her face when she walked in, no doubt wondering what I was spending work time doing. But none of them understood what an emotional task I was undertaking.

After I had screwed the last car into its box frame, I was left with this one car for which I could not find its box. So I decided it would just have to be on display somewhere at home until I did further searching in the attic.

Rather than taking them home, I decided to keep my two Miatas on my desk to the very last day. I knew it was going to be traumatic enough to walk in and not see my collection so I would at least retain these two…

…miniature reminders of the two fun Miatas I owned.

With my task complete, I placed all of the filled boxes on my cart and wheeled them down to my car.

As I carefully stowed them in the trunk of my car, I was glad to realize that I finally owned a car that they would all fit in to. Over the years, I brought the cars into work one at a time. Until I bought this WRX, none of the small cars I had would even hold them all.

Knowing that for now, I did not have a space to display all these cars at home, I stored many of them in this large box I found in the closet and the rest I put on top of this shelf in the same closet.

I was determined I was not going to put them back in the attic knowing the damage the boxes had incurred from their years’ storage there.

And I was encouraged by my wife’s comments when I told her I had brought them home. She said maybe we could find a glass enclosed cabinet to display them in, not so much to keep the dust off of the cars, but to keep them safe from small grandchildren hands which would no doubt be fascinated by all these miniature cars.

So hopefully one day, my cars will be on display again so that I can enjoy seeing them and recall to the times when I purchased them. Until then, I’ll just have to be satisfied with the memory of them in my office for so many years.

SIBSAB XI – 2017

The first weekend in May, I got together with my three siblings for our annual SIBSAB—the once a year event when just the four of us go off by ourselves for some sibling bonding time. We’ve been doing this since the year after our dad died (preceded by our mom’s death three years before that) and we figured out this was the 11th such activity. We typically travel somewhere to get a break from our everyday lives and to enjoy activities of the locale. The granddaddy of these was two years ago when we went to Amsterdam. But even when we do not venture far from home, these are always special times.

This year was one of those “stay close to home” times as we celebrated our SIBSAB during the Bentonville Film Festival in Northwest Arkansas, close to where my two sisters live.

Driving over from Memphis in my still new car, I got to Bentonville in the afternoon just in time to meet my siblings at the house we had rented just a few short blocks from the downtown square where all the festival activities would take place. After getting settled into our house, we walked back to the square and took in one of our favorite activities, for our sisters having a great cup of Joe and for my brother and I, a great beer.

Then we wandered through the BFF tents and booths set up by the sponsors and vendors, getting lots of freebies and enjoying the splendid weather at this third annual event, cofounded by Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis.

The first day of our SIBSAB also coincided with it being the Bentonville First Friday, which is a monthly outdoor block party on the square with live music. This afforded my sister a chance to dance to the music with her grandson when we ran into him and his mom at the square.

The next morning, we had tickets to one of the featured films Mully. What an incredible story! Without giving out too much details to spoil it for you, it is a true rags to riches story but with a twist as it documents how one man forsook those riches and saved the lives of many orphan children in Kenya, as told in his own words and with some of his own home movies. It was an unbelievably moving story that left most of the audience in tears, myself included, that only got that much more emotional when Charles Mully himself…

…strolled up the aisle after the film for a Q&A session with the director and producers.

A story of the film along with its BFF award, and a snapshot of Mully made the front page of the local newspaper in a photograph in which my brother also happened to be captured.

It is scheduled for release in October so watch for it. You will not want to miss it. As we left, still wiping a few tears from our eyes, Geena Davis strolled by cordially speaking to everyone, as this was the film she chose to attend that morning.

We followed up the film with a delicious lunch and beer at the restaurant at Crystal Bridges before wandering through some of the exhibits.

In the early afternoon, we had guided tour tickets to the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house that has been relocated from New Jersey to the Crystal Bridges property.

On my visit to see my sisters last fall, I was able to go through on a brief self-guided tour but this hour long guided tour was outstanding. With one of the most knowledgeable tour guides, we gained an immense background insight into this home, its construction/move to Arkansas, and its owner’s history. If you are ever in the area, this house and Crystal Bridges as a whole is a must see.

That evening, just before sunset after a fabulous dinner at Press Room, we wandered back over to Crystal Bridges to experience James Turrell’s The Way of Color. This Skyspace is one of several he has created throughout the world where observers experience color as well as your own unique perception of color as dusk turns into night.

Blue sky before dusk

As the sun sets, photography cannot capture the color of the sky we see through the open aperture, as it only exists in our minds. With the walls tinted pink from hidden LED lighting, the sky turns a beautiful emerald green color before transforming into yellows and blues as the wall color changes.

Only in your mind could you see the emerald green sky

It was an incredible experience, captured only as an image in our minds as these photographs documented just the projected colors and not the cerebral ones.

As a nightcap, we made our way over to the front entrance of Crystal Bridges to view Leo Villareal’s LED lighted sculpture Buckyball. Around the base, the museum has provided comfortable wooden chaises upon which to recline and watch the multi-colored light show.   I don’t know how long we stayed as the color pattern never repeated it self but it was a wonderful conclusion to an absolutely fabulous day.

Our last day together started with my sister’s grandson’s third birthday party…

…a great time made even more fun as the birthday boy captured our images with his own camera from his shorter perspective.

That afternoon, we went through some old photo albums of our mom’s divvying the photos up among us.

It was a trip down memory lane with some photos reaching back 50 years, saddened only by the images of our mom in the late 1980s as her health deteriorated just months before her death.

The saddest part of our annual SIBSAB is always the saying goodbye, which we had to do at the end of the evening since we were not all staying at the same house before traveling home Monday morning. But our experience was uniform as we all upon parting expressed that we each thought it was one of the best SIBSABs we had had. And our time together was enhanced further by a greater sense of closeness to each other even though we live many miles away. And has also become tradition; we selected our next SIBSAB venue even before this one ended so we would all have a full year to look forward to our next Sibling Sabbatical.

See you next year!

What, Me Worry?

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No doubt that phrase will be very familiar to any baby-boomer from his or hers days of reading Mad Magazine in the 1960s. Interestingly, as I was pondering exploring this topic of worrying from my past, this catchphrase popped into my mind. For long ago, I was a worrier, an extreme one.

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As a young adolescent, I worried about a lot of things. I don’t specifically recall why or what I worried about but I know I did. Whether or not this worrying was somehow related to fear as is sometimes the case, I do not know. But I do know my mother was afraid of a number of things (fear of driving, fear of flying) and maybe I picked up some of her fears (although I am not afraid of either driving or flying). When I became a teenager, this worrying ratcheted up to almost become an obsession.

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When I bought a motorcycle, I recall worrying at night if I had remembered to lock the handlebars so it couldn’t be stolen off our carport. Since locking it was a daily habit I did without even thinking about it, off I would run outside before bedtime to check since I couldn’t consciously recall. Admittedly this was not rational as I am certain it was insured but that didn’t cross the mind of me as a 13-year old.

In college, a little more respectable without the big wheels

When I bought my first car in 1973, I used to worry if I would make enough money each month to pay my car note ($107 I seem to recall). At the time, I was in high school working part-time at a local department selling ladies shoes. But today, looking back over my earnings for those years while in high school and college, I actually made enough money each year to pay off the car in less than 12 months. In hindsight, needless worry but nonetheless enough worry at the time that I even had to seek medical attention for a stomach ulcer.

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After I got married, bought a house, and started a family, I had even more potential things to worry about.

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Later in life, I figured out that a lot of these old worries were rooted in a fear of not having enough money. I used to get very upset whenever something broke (cars, AC, etc.); not so much as I was literally expected to fix it myself but that there might not be enough money to repair it. But there always was.

However, somewhere along the way, and I can’t place a finger on particularly when, I developed a strong faith.

I don’t want you, my reader to think that this is turning into a proselytizing post but this construct is important to the outcome of my worries. For me, growing up the son of a Presbyterian minister, this is faith in God but for others, I recognize that this could be faith in a higher power.

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Whichever form this might take for you, I developed a strong faith that what was meant to work out would work out. I know this belief borders on predestination and I am not necessarily supporting or disputing that theory. I simply believe at any given moment in our lives that what is meant to happen will happen.

With this strong faith, there is no need for worry. But that is not to say that occasionally I don’t slip back into my old ways and worry about something. I do. I just have to remember to step back and recall my faith.

Knowing now that fear of not having enough money was the root of a lot of my worries, I have tried very hard to make sure our three kids know that I have their back, that they can come to the “Bank of Dad” in a crisis. Sure, as all parents do, I wanted them to grow up to be financially independent on their own. But I never wanted them to experience my fear. Hopefully they haven’t.

So returning to my title, “What, me worry?” While it came to mind when I thought about this topic, it is not the laissez faire attitude this question might suggest. Rather, it’s faith that overcame my worries.

Unquenchable Thirst for Reading

I can’t get enough of reading. For someone who read very little for pleasure up until about the age of 25, I’ve sadly missed a lot of years that I could have been reading. But a reader I have turned in to! These are some of the bookcases filled with books I’ve read over the years.

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Once I started this blog several years ago, I began to keep a digital list of all the books I read in a calendar year. And for several years, I’ve been keeping an Amazon “wish list” of all the books I wanted to read. I’ve written before about all of the books I have in waiting on that list, but unfortunately that list is growing faster than I can read.

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Not long ago, my sister-in-law introduced me to BookBub, a service you can sign up for in which you pre-select the types of books you would be interested in reading (I signed up for both fiction novels and non-fiction history books.). Once activated, you then get a daily e-mail message that lists digital books that are on sale—just for that one day—priced from “Free” to $3.99. Who can pass up these kinds of prices? So far this year, I’ve purchased eight BookBub books, each for $2.99 or less. Even with the current price of gas, I can’t drive to the public library and check out a book for much less than that.

My problem is, as always, I am a slow reader. I marvel at my wife for how fast she can read.

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My Wife’s Bookcase

Often when our evening is almost over, we will each get up on our bed and read a digital book on our iPad. It is amazing how quickly she is touching her iPad to move to the next page. Sadly for me, I often end up falling asleep while reading being so worn out by the end of the day.

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One of the best times for me to get to read is when I am traveling by air. I honestly don’t mind sitting in the airport waiting to board when I have a good book to read. And once on the plane, I often put ear buds in to discourage any conversation from fellow travellers so I can have hours of uninterrupted reading pleasure. Thank goodness we can now use our e-readers below 10,000 feet and while waiting to depart.

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My favorite flight is on my return trip from Amsterdam each year when I typically have a seven to eight hour flight during day light hours when, despite the 7-hour time difference, is still when I would normally be awake (The flight to Amsterdam is overnight so I usually try to sleep as much as I can rather than read to better acclimate to the 7-hour time loss).

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Another favorite time of mine is on vacation when I can also spend many hours reading non-stop.

Having turned 60, an age I’ve always thought of as “old” (although less so now that I am actually 60), I’ve had the sad thought of wondering just how many more years of reading I have left.

One of the items on my “to do” list once I retire is to read more. So even though knowing each of us has a limited number of years to live, I plan to accelerate my reading. Not that I will necessarily become a speed-reader to rival my wife. But with more hours available to read, I’ll be able to read even more books. But I suspect that even with that change, I’ll still have trouble keeping up with all the books I want to read. Because there are just so many great books out there, and the universe of books continues to expand ever larger.

Old Files

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Even though my retirement is still months away, I have already begun to clean out some old files as the archiving staff will be leaving before my last day. I have been the head of Stability for over 25 years so some of my files go back that far. On the first day of our site-wide clean up, I began to go through some of these quarter century old files.

It was really interesting looking back at some of the reports I approved in 1991. Even more interesting was seeing the names of fellow workers from that period that I had not even thought of in probably almost that long. Sadly, a few of them are not still alive so as I ran across their names, it was with a touch of sorrow.

But as I thumbed through documents from some of the other companies we worked with in the past, it was joyous to see names of people I know now that back then were just another name on a report. It is truly amazing how small the pharmaceutical industry really is.

That first day, I only managed to clean out one 5-drawer lateral file cabinet so I have a number of other files still to go through before I’m done. I fortunately didn’t come across any original documents that would have to go through the lengthy archival process. I did, however, generate a lot of recyclable waste. I can’t image how many trips I made to the recycle bin but I know I met my Fitbit 10,000-step goal that day (I even had to search for additional bins as along with fellow employees, we filled up all the ones close by.).

In advance of this clean-up day, I actually started going through some even older files that dated back to when I first started working.

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I ran across this photo of me that I think must have been taken for the company newspaper (remember those?).

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When I pulled out this file labeled “Programs”, I didn’t quite know what would be hidden inside. I was floored when I opened it.

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Inside was a Basic computer program I had written to crunch method validation data. My boss, when I first started, was very much into computerization (this was 1982) and challenged me as one of my first special projects to come up with a program to perform these method validation calculations.

When I was in college in the mid 1970s, I had studied Basic programming in a calculus lab course I had to take. Back then, the computer we had was a mainframe the size of two deep freezers end to end. We hand wrote out our program (there were no word-processors) and then typed each line of code onto a punch card (e.g., 100 cards for a 100 line program). Our task was to write a program to take multiple inputs of student’s individual test scores, generate a semester average for each student, assign a letter grade, and then rank order the students from highest to lowest average. I had had no exposure to computer programming in high school so this first semester freshman class proved to be a challenging assignment that I ultimately was not able to finish.

Imagine my chagrin when my boss assigned this project to me, a task far more challenging than my college assignment. Maybe it was the motivation of wanting to impress my boss (or the fact that I was being paid to do this rather than just earning a grade) but I remember taking home books on programming in Basic and hand writing my program at the kitchen table. Fortunately less than a decade after college, we were working on a “mini-computer” using a text processor that could take our lines of code and compile them into machine language—no more punch cards—so once my program was complete, I typed it into the text processor.

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Turns out writing it was a blast! I had to write several subroutines to perform the actual linear regression and to output the data in a table. I even figured out how to sort the data with a single pass through the calculated results, a functionality that had eluded me in college.

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In the same folder, I also found that I had started writing a computer program to manage our family budget. Only problem was this predated the invention of personal computers and so I had no computer of my own on which to run this program. But for a more “legitimate” business use, I did find that I had written a program to track our golf league participant’s scores and total them up to determine the season’s winners. It was almost like that student’s test score program I never was able to write correctly in college, only with golf scores rather than test scores.

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As I looked over these 34 year-old documents, I recalled the fun I had had writing these and the sense of pride that on my own, I had taught myself how to successfully program in Basic. It seemed that once I had slayed that old nemesis from college, I was bubbling with confidence to try even more.

I wonder on our next clean-up day what other treasures like these I may uncover that bring back such fond memories. I guess only time will tell.

A Sermon a Day

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This year for Lent, I did something different. Rather than the usual approach of giving up something for Lent as a sacrifice like chocolate or adult beverages, I chose the alternative approach and started doing something instead. I don’t recall how I came up with this idea but I decided that I would read one of my dad’s sermons every day during Lent. Having received and organized my dad’s over 700 sermons in 2016, I knew that I wanted to read them all so I thought this would be a good way to get started. And since I had them organized in numerical order from 1 to 710, I naturally started with number 1.

As I sat down that first time to read sermon number #1, I felt a closeness to my dad holding the same pages he had held over 70 years before.

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I also read the cited Bible passage upon which the sermon was based in my dad’s tattered “work” Bible, a chain-reference Bible published in 1934. After reading just the first sermon, I knew I had chosen a wise activity for Lent.

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I don’t know when my dad wrote this sermon but according to the date on the folder, he preached it for the first time in August 1946 in Duncan Oklahoma, a time when he was still in Seminary. It is entitled “Jesus, the Door” and is based on the scripture in John about the shepard’s fold and the single opening where the sheep went in to and out of the fold. It is the parable where Jesus states that he is the door. In the sermon, it was enlightening to read an actual shepard’s response to the question why there was no door in the fold, only an opening. The shepard’s reply was that after the flock went into the fold, the shepard would lay down in the opening acting as the door, preventing the sheep from leaving the fold and predators from getting in.

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For me, it made a clear revelation of this parable like I hadn’t recalled before. Looking at the seven dates my dad gave this sermon, only once could I have even possibly heard this one, a time when I was about 10 years old. But what really sent chills all over me was when I read my dad’s closing comments describing the Holman Hunt painting, “The Light of the World.” It was a copy of this very painting that I remember hanging on my dad’s church office wall. And it is the same painting that my sister got to see on her visit to Europe and which she brought a copy back to me that has now been hanging in my office ever since.

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I never knew the significance of that painting. That it was a direct tie back to my dad’s very first sermon, a talisman of where he got started. What a way to begin Lent!

And just five days into Lent, I came across another significant sermon: number 5 entitled “If Christ Be Not Raised!”

As I thought about it, I realized that writing a sermon about Easter and the Resurrection was probably one of the most important ones ever written by a young minister. As any Christian knows who has attended an Easter service and experienced the crowd, this one Sunday is the most widely attended of any in a calendar year. So a minister would want this sermon to be one of his better ones. And with Dad’s, I was not disappointed.

Based on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:1-20) where Paul writes about doubts that have arisen of a resurrection, Paul addresses three aspects that would be anathema to early Christians if Christ had not been raised from the dead; namely that their faith would be in vain, their sins not forgiven, and the dead gone before them perished with no hope of life ever after.

Then in archetypal fashion of including three main points in a sermon, Dad proceeded to build very logical arguments around each of these three that for a Christian would leave no doubt of their importance in supporting a belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

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In all my years of attending church/mass, it was the best Easter sermon I recalled hearing, and for my private reading, one with no crowds. My Dad must have agreed as he gave it almost annually every Easter for his first ten years of preaching.

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As I wrote previously about my dad’s sermons, also included in the numbered folders were the church bulletins from the services in which he gave the sermon. I delighted in seeing the “retro” cover image of some of these bulletins.

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In this one from April 17, 1949, there was a bonus: a note of welcome to my mom and dad on becoming the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Tallulah, Louisiana, his first church after graduating from Seminary and just months after his February marriage to my mom.

Then I realized that not only would I learn some things from reading my dad’s sermons, but I would also get a bit of family history from the stories told in the bulletins. Another bulletin announced our family’s vacation to Richmond, Virginia, a trip I well remember.

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So this is how I spent my journey through Lent, reading my dad’s sermons, learning from his words written long ago, and feeling as close as I have to him since his death over 15 years ago.