On the Road Again

From the time I was a rug rat playing in my dad’s broken down car, I loved to travel, especially road trips.  Richard and my marriage began with a honeymoon road trip from Troy, NY to Loma Linda, CA. along Rt. 66.  Fifty one years later and we still get a kick out of hopping in the car and zipping down the road to places unknown.  Throw in a visit to the ocean and we’re as eager to roll as is our agingVolvo.

This week we threw caution and loose change to the wind and hit the road.  Singing, chatting, reminiscing, it was a beautiful day.  Except for a couple of examples of road rag, we had the makings of an exciting adventure.  I’m sure it’s not a general rule but the three ‘ignoramuses’ we encountered each drove a tricked-out pickup truck where we could see the road ahead of them better under their vehicles than over.  You know the kind where passengers need an air-lift to climb on board.  And all three drivers were under the age of wisdom.   Two felt entitled to pass our car and other vehicles on the right shoulder of a two-lane road, spitting up gravel and clouds of dust.  The third chose to pass on a double yellow line.  Fortunately he safely made it back in line before a semi barreled down on him.  If we had been driving under the speed limit by 5 mph instead of over by the same amount, I could understand their impatience.

I used to get riled up at such stupidity.  But I’m learning a new technique–maybe its a case of wisdom with age.  With all the death and destruction I see on the highways, the mother in me would love to spank them soundly and send them to bed without supper, but since that is not possible, I now pray for the drivers, for their mamas, for any other drivers with whom they might connect, and that they may live to acquire much needed wisdom, patience, and grace. Proverbs 24:14 NIV, “Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it there is  a hope for you, and your future will not be cut off.”

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Another Star in Another Crown

While my eyes were healing I remembered a very important ‘star’ about which I needed to write.  The problem is I don’t even know their names but God does.  One January when my girls were babies, I drove from Wisconsin where we were living at the time to my parents’ home in New York.  A family wedding and my father’s illness triggered my brave but foolhardy behavior.) Sunny skies accompanied me across the state and into Canada on the return trip.  A few miles outside of Niagara Falls, a bank of threatening clouds settled over us. Huge, heavy snowflakes splattered against my windshield. I glanced at my daughters asleep in the back seat.  It was only mid afternoon.  Should I stop for the night or drive on?  Due to my perpetual shortage of available cash I decided I’d at least drive as far as London, Ontario and then reevaluate my situation.  Within in ten minutes of making that decision the falling snow became a furry, a blinding midwestern blizzard.  I could see nothing, not a house, not a gas station, not a barn.  Grateful to be driving a Saab, I zigzagged my way around and past stalled cars and jackknifed trucks for ten miles and then turned into the large parking lot of a truck stop where my car promptly ‘gave up the ghost’.  It died.

Stuffing a wailing three-year-old under one arm, a diaper bag over one shoulder and a sleeping bag over the other I picked up my sobbing six-month-old baby  and trudged toward a flashing neon sign.  By the time we reached the crowded travel center (everyone else had the same idea) the girls’ tears had frozen on their faces.  The air inside the building from the shoulders up was blue with cigarette smoke. It sounded like a hive of angry bees.  Feeling claustrophobic I headed for the ladies’ room.  The only space free in the restroom was the area under the row of sinks where I spread out the sleeping bag and let the girls play for the next three days!

Finally the storm stopped and the mechanics in the shop began repairing the broken down vehicles.   Unfortunately I was one young mother with two little kids among 30 or 40 irate men, each wanting their automobiles attended to first.  I was running out of clean diapers.  Fortunately Kelli’s meals were homegrown but my older daughter didn’t have that convenience.  I kept her busy eating French fries and such.

This is where the ‘star’ in one’s crown comes in.  Desperate for help I called the SDA church in London, hoping someone would be there midweek.  By chance (if you believe in chances) the pastor answered.  I told him of my plight and he promised to send someone to help me.  A few minutes later the head elder arrived, packed the girls and our retinue of sleeping bags, diaper bags and toys into his car and drove me to his home where his wife had hot soup waiting for us.  After being certain I was adequately fed, she ushered me to her guest room and told me to sleep.  She and her children would take care of my babies.  (I hadn’t slept for two nights.)  In the meantime the head elder assured me he would get the mechanics at the station working on my car.

The next day as snow continued to fall our trusty Saab took us the rest of the way  and stopped dead in the snowbank directly in front of our home in Columbus, Wisconsin.  Matthew 25:35 NIV says, “Come ye blessed of my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…I was a stranger and you took me in…”  So this star’s for you, my Canadian family.  I look forward to thanking you in person one day.

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A Roadtrip to Remember

July 4, 1976–a momentous 200 year celebration for America; an unintended  momentous celebration for the Rizzo family.  Watching the fireworks from the hill overlooking the little desert town of Beatty, we were destined for a cooler location in Yosemite National Park.  Our brave little 1972 Chevy clamshell station wagon had stalwartly hauled our 20ft. Holiday Rambler trailer across the desert of New Mexico and up 95 in Nevada.  With the car guzzling fuel at7 miles to the gallon, we made numerous stops to the delight of our two lovable rug rats, Rhonda and Kelli.

Following the final blaze of glory in the desert sky and the residual plume of smoke wafting across the horizon. we sought a place to camp for the night.  That the town had but one camp ground–filled to the brim with July four revelers changed our plans.  Another possibility could be to pull off beside the road until dawn.   The bullet holes poxing every road sign discouraged us from doing that.  We noted two small mining towns on the map of roads traversing the White Mountains.  Surely they’d have at least one gas station where we could refill before tackling the highest portion of the road to Lone Pine. Richard topped off the tank at the north edge of town after which the girls snuggled down to sleep.

At the turnoff onto the road indicated on the map, Richard pulled into a well-lit parking area, intending to ask for advice.  Quickly determining it was a brothel, legal in Nevada, he thought better of stopping and headed for the first of the two towns indicated on the map.  We didn’t need some entrepreneurial madam copying our license plate and sending a Christian high school teacher a perky little postcard saying, “Thank you for visiting Sophie’s Place.”

As we approached the first town, Richard tapped the gas gauge.  “Hmm, the needle has hardly moved,” he commented.  We gazed out at the silhouettes of wooden shacks and abandoned garages. “Of course, everyone is in town for the July four celebration,”he  commented.  “And they might not return home until Monday.”  With the girls soundly sleeping in the back seat we decided to drive to the second town, a mere 20 or so miles further.  We were doing fine until we reached an intersection where a sign read, “No gas for 150 miles.” Great, we were already beyond the point of easy return.  We didn’t have enough fuel to go back nor to go on.  Our only hope was to stop in the next town and beg enough fuel from some kind soul to make it to Lone Pine.

Our hopes fell as we drove past the other place, a ghost town.  There was little to do but to continue on.  Since leaving the brothel the road had been climbing, but our faithful little station wagon chugged valiantly up the steep winding road toward the summit.  Every few miles Richard tapped the gas gauge.  It hadn’t moved.  Must be broken,” he mumbled and started down the other side toward the valley.  Total darkness filled the abyss between us and the lights of civilization in the distance. The trailer brakes began to sm0ke as the car struggled to keep us from plunging into the chasm on our right.  Before long there were no trailer brakes. That’s when the car brakes began to smoke as well.  We slowly inched down the steep, rocky mountain road, praying aloud in the strangely silent night. We would drive for 5 minutes, then park for 15 to cool the brakes. And every time Richard tapped the gas gauge, the needle remained solidly on 1/2 full.

After several hours we made it to the base of the mountain and across the plain to the first open gas station.  As he parked the station wagon beside the gas pump, the needle dropped to empty. We’d driven more than 150 miles on one tank of gas in a car that was doing exceptionally well to get 12 miles to the gallon heading down hill.  A Highway Patrolman asked Richard where we were coming from.  When he told the officer we’d come over the mountains, he didn’t believe my husband.  “Hauling this trailer?  You don’t know how many camping rigs and automobiles with dead corpses I’ve pulled out of that canyon.  And you didn’t have an extra tank of fuel?  And with no brakes?  Impossible.”

Psalm 91: 11, 12 NIV says, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” July 4 1976–a road trip to remember  forever, at least for the Rizzo clan.

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Life’s Balancing Act

Did you ever try to balance a straight broom in the palm of your hand?  As a middle schooler I used to be pretty good at it though my mother would make me take it out of the house before I broke something.  I learned the secret to balancing the broom by its handle is in the direction of my gaze.  When I concentrated on the spot where the broom handle touched my hand, I couldn’t do it.  The broom fell every time.  But when I focused my gaze on the bristles, balancing the broom became much easier.

Balancing life’s problems is sort of like that.  Keeping my problems from defeating me is impossible when I concentrate on the point where my trougles touch my hand.  But when I change my focus.  When I take my eyes off my problems and look up to Jesus, the difficulties in my life are so much easier to handle.

Theologian Oswald Chambers wrote, “All fret and worry comes through calculating without God.”  (My Utmost for His Highest) Who wants to calculate without God?  I don’t want to do anything, solve any problem, go anywhere without God. Looking up to Him is the only way I can balance the stress in my life.  How about you?   Lamentations 3:41 NIV, “Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in Heaven.”

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A Good Man

“A good man is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. His wife trusts him without reserve and never has reason to regret it…Many men have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all…the man to be admired and praised is the man who lives in the Fear-of-God. Give him everything he deserves! Festoon him with praises!” (portions of Proverbs 31–Rizzo paraphrase)

Happy Father’s Day Richard Rizzo! Every word applies to you. My mom used to say about my dad, “I could trust him to travel anywhere in the world and he’d be faithful to me.”  And I’m so thrilled that I can say the same about you.  An honest, generous, faithful provider and my biggest cheerleader are a few of the fascinating facets I’ve discovered of  your sparkling character.  I love how you ‘stand for the right though the heavens fall.’  You are my best earthly friend.  You are my sounding board and my passionate lover.  Through the years you’ve demonstrated what it takes to be a tender husband and a class act of a dad to our daughters.   And after 51 years, you still dry my tears and make me laugh.  You are the ‘keeper of my flame.’

It’s true.  A good man is hard to find.  Sure glad I found you.

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Simply Put

Simply put, I would describe my dad, Norman Hancock as,”What you saw was what you got.” Never flamboyant or complex, he was a quiet, unassuming man who could be counted on to do an exceptional  job at whatever he tackled.  Whether racing his friend and annual competitor Lowell Wheeler Christmas caroling from house to house, over the icy darkened sidewalks of Troy, New York or giving a much needed face lift to one of Lansingburg’s grand old lady mansions along Second Avenue, his reputation preceded him.  “If you hire Norm Hancock to paint your house, you can count on him to do an excellent job in record time and at a fair price.”  He lived his high school graduating class motto–‘Be fair; be square’.

Simply put, he was devoted to his God though he never preached a sermon from the pulpit or presented special music for the church service. Yet every Sabbath morning, through snow, sleet, blizzard and spring deluge, my dad arrived at the church at least a half an hour to forty-five minutes early to open the doors, fire up the furnace, and turn on the lights.  This was his calling. Once a visiting conference president commented that “Norm Hancock was the only man who ever beat him to church on Sabbath morning.”

Simply put, Norm Hancock cared for his family.  As a middle schooler I found the paint chips still under his nails on Sabbath morning embarrassing though each night I’d watched him scrub his hands with toxic cleanser until they bled.  I didn’t connect the bleeding cuticles and swollen knuckles with the poodle skirt and crinolines on my body or the bobby sox and saddle shoes on my feet.  His sharp mind became evident when playing Rook with his sons-in-law and grandson Ronnie.  He knew who held every card in their hands at any one time.

Dad couldn’t sing a note but on Friday nights he would sit on the sofa and listen as My mom, my sister and I would warble around the piano.  Once he told me that in heaven he would join a choir with 1000 soprano’s, 1000 altos, 1000 tenors and him, the only base needed to make beautiful music for the Lord.

The words dependable and consistent describe Norman Hancock.  If God needs someone to turn on heaven’s lights or fire up the furnace from Sabbath to Sabbath, my dad’s His man.  If  the Pearly gates need a fresh coat of paint, Norm Hancock will do it.  Simply put, whatever God intends for my father it will be simply put. Matthew 25:21, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over few things; I will make you a ruler over many things.  Enter into the house of the Lord.”

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Wax, a Rook Deck and Glittering Stars

A new star in a very special crown:  It’s Tuesday.  Tuesday is Rook night at our house, or at least it has been for several years. When I heard of the ‘passing’ of James Milburn, the fourth member of our Rook team, I retired the deck to a shelf.  I knew I wouldn’t be using it again soon.  Beyond being an Army chaplain, a pastor, a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and an exceptional Rook player, Jim wore a badge of honor in my eyes.  He was the real deal,a  genuine Christian or a man ‘without wax’.

Tradition indicates the word sincere, comes from the Italian combination of  sin for ‘without’ and ceros for the word ‘wax’–without wax. It seems that when the Romans commissioned marble statues to be carved by Greek artisans, some less-than-honorable men would  fill in any nicks or cracks in the marble carvings with wax, making the imperfections invisible until the the purchaser took possession and the hot Mediterranean sun melted the wax to reveal the gaping holes for all to see.  And so the word sincere or ‘without wax’ has come to mean genuine quality merchandise.

That was Jim–what you saw was what you got, the real deal, no sanctimonious mask but sincere, genuine–quality merchandise.  He was who and what he was–warts, imperfections and all-no wax.  It was his vulnerability and transparent honesty that endeared him to family, friends and parishioners alike.  Stars? He reaped many stars during his short time on Planet Earth, but I salute him how, in a world of shiesters, con men, and phonies coated in the wax of religiosity, he stood out as being sincere, authentic and filled with genuine grace.


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A Star in a Crown

Another Star in a Crown:  I’m not sure of the number this star about which I write, but I am of the day–Mother’s Day; and the recipient, Lois Hardt–a true Mother of Israel, the woman who holds her local family together.   She’s the one you look for and when you enter the church each week, the one you ask about when she’s absent.  Like a Mom in the home, she glues the church together.  She’s the one who adds the “heart” to the community.  The only  Lois mentioned in scripture is Timothy’s grandmother who faithfully raise both her daughter an grandson to love God.  Paul  describes her as being a devout, beloved woman of faith. (II Timothy 1:5)

Lois, you are a godly mother of Israel and a godly grandmother who quietly exemplifies wisdom and faithfulness to those with whom you worship each week.  Like a pleasant perfume, your grace and gentleness permeates the atmosphere surrounding your local church family.  “Many women do noble things but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:29.

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Ballroom dancing with God

Today I ball-room danced with God–me, a gal with two left feet and my very own syncopated rhythm patterns in my geriatric bones. Even with my ignorance I know you can only ballroom dance if one leads and the other follows.  This morning, I let Him lead.  I may not be ready for prime time, “Dancing with the Stars” but I discovered a joy gliding effortlessly in His arms through unfamiliar steps of thought and scripture.

Let me explain: On Monday I was asked to fill in on Sabbath morning for our head pastor.  No sweat!  I’d simply tweak a sermon I planned to give at a women’s retreat in Hilo, Hawaii, in a few weeks.  I went to bed last night confident and at peace but awakened in the wee hours of the morning knowing I had to get out of bed and rewrite my presentation on a completely different topic, different texts, different focus entirely.  The minute I sat down to my computer,my sleepy brain snapped awake and the adrenalin flowed.  An hour and a half later my notes were complete and I was ready to go–no rehearsals, no timing, no checking length, just go. I ate breakfast and took a short nap before dressing for church–totally at peace.   Now for me, that’s not possible under normal circumstances. I should have been reviewing my outline and penning unreadable notes in the margins.  Instead it was completely a God thing.  The dance continued during the presentation. I am so grateful I allowed Him to lead and I followed.

Psalm 32:8 says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.  I will advise you and watch over you.”  OK, so there’s no mention of unexpected sermon changes or ballroom dancing here, just letting Him lead and my being willing to follow. I may get the hang of this yet.  :-)

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Counting Stars

Stars in one’s crown #34:  Carroll Johnson, a kind and gentle maintenance man at Blue Mountain Academy.  When I think of him, my heart is warmed.  He had a spirit of service,for which he deserved several stars in his crown.  But I would guess he just did his thing and never thought about the stars he was accumulating.

Of all the homes we enjoyed at all the academies where we worked, our little hunting cabin in the big woods was by far my favorite. Knotty pine paneling straight off the mountain covered the walls of our sunken living and dining room; a 6′ native stone fireplace warmed the living area and open beam ceilings completed the picture of rustic charm.  The one problem was the heating arrangements.  The original hunting lodge portion of the house had a slate roof.  The instant snowflakes touched that slate, they melted.  This made it difficult to keep the house warm.  Our oil furnace needed to run 24/7 during the winter months, a costly proposition.

At 3 a.m. one night, our furnace ‘gave up the ghost’.  Sputter, sputter, chug, chug and nothing!  Silence.  Even with a fire roaring in the fireplace, our little cabin quickly turned from chilly to frigid.  Reluctantly Richard called Carroll in desperation. Our friend was there in ten minutes.  He worked on the machine throughout the night until he got it running again–not a word of complaint, even a sigh of irritation.  That’s the kind of guy he was.  Whatever the emergency he was there, laughing, cheerful and ready to ease our discomfort.

My facebook friends know I’ve been writing snippets about people who have influenced my life in a meaningful way.  And for the most part, they did so in little meaningful ways.  But Mr. Johnson’s gift was big and generous.  Proverbs 11q:25 NIV says, “A generous man will prosper…he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”  Prosper on, Mr. Johnson, prosper on.

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