Monday, January 21, 2019

Remembering Jeff Gravon on the ten year anniversary of his passing.




A lot is going on in our household that could lead to blog topics. Amy and I went to see Nicola Benedetti play the violin this past Friday night at the Ordway; the football games yesterday were incredible (now the Saints now how the Vikings fans felt in 1975 when the Purple lost a playoff game on a ref’s decision), today is the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (he is one of heroes.) And Chain of Lakes celebrated our first same-sex marriage yesterday. I talked about same-sex marriage at the conclusion of my sermon yesterday. Check it out at: https://vimeo.com/312403324

But today I can’t help but write about my friend, Jeff Gravon as today is the 10th anniversary of his passing.

He was one of my longest friends.  I think our friendship started in second grade. Miss Anderson was our teacher. 



We both loved sports, we both loved to talk about sports, and we both loved to win.   In fifth grade we were on the same team in the famous Worthington YMCA flag football league.  He was the quarterback and I was the receiver.  We never lost a game in two years.

We would compete without fear against each other.  One year his baseball team played my baseball team in the famous and very important Worthington YMCA Junior League baseball playoffs.  Baseball wasn’t my best sport, but that day I had a hot hand at the plate.  I was belting everything.  His team got ahead, but in the last inning my team was rallying.  I came to the plate in the last inning of the game.  I knew that I was going to win the game for my team.  The other team knew that too.  So they brought Jeff in to pitch.  And on the first pitch he reared back and threw it and drilled me. He hit me on purpose.  He had no shame in doing this because this is what competitive boys did when they played to win.   The next batter struck out.  His team won, my team lost.

He was the most competitive people I ever knew. One year in grade school a choir competition was set up between the difference classes in our grade.  Each class sang a song; someone judged the winner. Jeff wanted our class to win the choir context. He gave us a pep talk before we sang. What is incredible about the story is Jeff couldn't even sing! He loved to compete just for the sake of competition.

We stayed friends after high school.   He moved to Missouri to be a basketball coach.  I went on to be a pastor and served a church in Plainview, Minnesota, near Rochester.  One day he called me out of the blue and said he was moving to Rochester.  He had met a woman and wanted to get married.  Would I marry him?  Sure.   So we had an impromptu, outdoor wedding at Silver Lake Park on a beautiful day of sunshine. 

He was one of the most devoted fathers I knew.  The woman he married had two children.  He treated those two kids like they were his own flesh and blood.  And then he had two children with his wife.   If his kids needed anything, whether they were his biological kids or his step-kids he was there. 


Jeff stood next to me in my wedding.  It was a glorious day.  He moved to New Prague, Minnesota to be the high school boys basketball coach.  Life was good.
           
And then one day he called and said, “I have cancer.”  Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  “Was it serious, I asked.”  Yes.    And it was serious. 


He would come to the Mayo Clinic and get chemotherapy treatment.  I would sit with him during his treatment, and we would talk about everything.  I reminded him of how he drilled me in the playoff game and how we were champions of the flag football.  We would talk about our favorite Minnesota sports teams. 

Because Jeff was a competitor he fought against his cancer with every ounce of his spirit.  He would do whatever it took to win.  He traveled all over the country to get treatment.  One doctor told him he needed to have his arm amputated.  He did. 


His fight against cancer garnered a lot of media attention here in the Twin Cities.  Some people in New Prague did a fundraiser that Tubby Smith attended; he was featured on a Channel 11 sports program.

He was in and out of the hospital.  One night while in the hospital he decided that he wanted to get out and coach his basketball team.  So he checked himself out of the hospital.  He went to the New Prague gym.  He coached his team.  They won.  He went to a party afterwards.  And then he went to his home.  And he collapsed.  He was taken to St. Mary’s hospital in Rochester.  And he died.  I got a call about 5 in the morning.  I went over to the hospital.  I prayed with his family.  They asked me if I would officiate the funeral.  Of course I would. 

He had two funerals—one in New Prague and one in Worthington.  Both funerals were packed.  I did them both. 
           
After he died his New Prague basketball team was so inspired that they made it to state for the first time in 13 years. 



The summer after he died I raised money and had a plaque installed at the Worthington Y in his honor along with a tree.  It seemed only right to remember him at the Y as it felt like the two of us spent most of our childhood there.


I set up a Facebook page in advance of that celebration which is still somewhat active. 

I would love to call Jeff up today and talk about the two football games from yesterday.  He would understand the dynamics of the game. 

When people we love pass away we carry memories with us. Today I share these memories as a tribute to my friend.

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Monday, January 7, 2019

A Review of "On the Basis of Sex"


On New Year’s Day the two red-heads in my life and I drove to the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis to see “On the Basis of Sex.”  We were hoping to attend the movie at a theater closer to us, but we didn’t realize that the movie doesn’t have a wide release until this Friday, January 11.

I haven’t attended a show at the Uptown Theater for a long time.  This place is far different than the cookie-cutter theaters found in the suburbs.  Just walking into the lobby brings a feeling of history; people have attended shows at the Uptown since 1913.  After waiting in the crowded lobby the three of us entered a classic, large space.  My imagination took over as I wondered about all of the events that took place in the theater.  The lack of amenities actually sets the place apart as special.  No large parking lot to conveniently park?  No problem—this is what people experienced when going to a movie for years.  Seats that don’t go up and down? No problem—the experience connected you to people in the past.  Going to the Uptown was like participating in an active museum. 

“On the Basis of Sex” shares the story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) early life as a lawyer.  The foil in the movie is sexism. Right away in the first scene we saw a group of men walking to class at Harvard Law School.  The fact that they were all men was unmistakable—until we saw RBG, played by Felicity Jones.

“On the Basis of Sex” is more than a movie.  It illustrates a cause.  Watching it is more than digesting something and then going home.  The movie drew in the viewer to cheer for RBG as she lived through the challenges of being a woman attending law school and then facing sexism in the legal system.  The audience watching the movie at the Uptown became active participants. When a man said something sexist, we booed.  When RBG shared an especially tart zinger, we cheered.  We could have been watching a vaudeville show from the 1920’s where the audience was expected to share our opinions out loud on each part of the show.

The sexism illustrated in the movie was appalling.  Despite needing to leave Harvard Law School because her husband was moving, Erwin Griswold, the Dean of Harvard Law School, played by Sam Waterston shared no understanding with her.  He wanted her to separate herself from her family and finish law school at Harvard.  After transferring to Columbia Law School and finishing at the top of her class, she still couldn’t find a job with a New York City firm.  She eventually had to accept an exile as a Law Professor at Rutgers University.

Eventually the movie landed on a story line by centering around a tax law case.  Charles Moritz had to hire a nurse to help him care for his aging mother.  He was denied a tax deduction because at the time a single man wasn't elgible for a tax deduction.  Discrimination?  Of course.  The case was brought to RBG and the fight for justice was on.

The story line became whether RBG could successfully defend Moritz in court, and if a crack in sex discrimination in the law could happen.  In working on the case RBG had to deal with the sexism of Mel Wulf, an ACLU lawyer played by Justin Theroux. I found this relationship to be the most interesting of the movie.  Even liberals aren’t immune to sexism.
                            
The movie had a good versus evil flavor.  And given the good versus evil paradigm that many liberals undoubtedly view the world, this movie will work for that audience. 

I wish the movie would have shared more of RBG’s story of becoming a Supreme Court justice and shared the challenges she has undoubtedly faced there.  Most of us don’t know and probably won’t remember the case of Charles Moritz.  We do know of the dissents that RBG has famously penned.  Stories about those dissents probably would have been more meaningful. 

One of the best scenes in the movie was when the real Ruth Bader Ginsberg actually walked up the steps of the Supreme Court Building.  This scene quieted the audience.  It felt like a wave of admiration came over all of us.  This is the story that I really wanted from the movie.  What led Bill Clinton to appoint her to the Supreme Court? What was it like for her to prepare for those hearings?  What did she experience as she’s written many famous dissents?  These are the questions I wish the movie had addressed.  Learning about an obscure tax case is certainly important, but delving into RBG’s legacy as a Supreme Court Justice would have been more helpful.

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Heaven breaking into earth--Kingdom moments in 2018


One of the purposes of my life is to help bring in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is a realm, a space, an experience where everything for a moment is right.  Heaven breaking into earth.  On this last day of 2018 let me share three moments when I experienced the Kingdom in 2018.  My hope for everyone reading this blog is you will have many moments yourself of experiencing the Kingdom in 2019.

One was on our family trip this past July.  My parents, sister’s family and us decided to go to Ely.  We were able to rent a cabin on a beautiful lake.  On the first night Amy and I went canoeing.  The experience we had is one that calls many to go north in the summer.  We started paddling and stopped talking.  The silence was beautiful. The sound of the paddle in the water was all that we needed to sustain us.  Soon we saw a loon—that beautiful bird that Minnesotans have identified as our own.  The bird that very slowly takes off from the water in an angle that is closer to 180 than 90.  The loon issued its call.  It’s a call that will stop a conversation between people.  The conversation will stop because something feels right about the world when that sound is heard.  Amy and I took our paddles and placed them on our lap.  We listened.  That’s all that is needed when something so majestic is around us. 

Sitting in a canoe on a beautiful July evening watching a loon with silence calling us.  This is heaven breaking into earth--the Kingdom.

A second is a series of moments that took place over time at Chain of Lakes. This past February the Building Team at Chain of Lakes was commissioned.  The Team was asked to develop plans for a first phase building.  As Presbyterians we naturally started brainstorming different types of community partnerships that could be established in the creation of a building that would address needs in the community.  Day Care, Pre School, maybe even a gym.  I volunteered to be part of a sub-group who would examine the possibility of building a gym. 

Our sub-group contacted the Blaine Basketball Association.  We asked them if a need existed for gym space.  Was there a need?  They shared that if we would build a high-school sized gym that it could be rented every night of the week from September through March.  Chain of Lakes could have thousands of people coming into our facility. 

We never would have imagined this.

Over time the Building Team embraced the concept of building a gym as part of the first building.  The Building Team told the Session of Chain of Lakes.  The Session embraced it.  The Session shared this idea with the congregation.  The congregation embraced it.  And over a period of six months Chain of Lakes was united on the concept of our first building.

I’m not surprised because building a gym makes so much sense.  But I’m surprised because reaching a place of unity is never easy.  It’s delightful to get to a place where a group of people can look at each other and say, “We agree on this.”  This realization didn’t happen in one particular moment.  This unity happened among a series of moments that “magically” seemed to be directed by an outside force.  I can’t prove that an outside force was directing these moments,  of course, but the ultimate landing place is so improbably and so delightful that I can only conclude that something was directing us.  This is heaven breaking into earth—the Kingdom.   

And a third moment was when Hannah passed her Driver’s Test in September.  She hadn’t been able to pass her Driver’s Test.  I didn’t doubt her ability to drive a car safely, but it didn’t matter what I thought.  The State of Minnesota made if very hard to even get a Driver’s Test.  As I tried to sign her up for a test in August I discovered there weren’t any openings for three months.  We even looked at driving to a faraway Minnesota town, staying overnight, and taking a test.  A three month backlog for a Driver’s Test? That is a system that needs changing.

One day in September I drove over to the Arden Hills Driving Test with hopes that I might be able to set up a test for Hannah.  When I got there I realized I was too late.  The door was locked.  I saw a flyer on the door and looked at it with hopes that it would have some information.  As I was doing this a car drove up.  A voice beckoned from the car, “Can I help you?” I walked up to the car saying that I was trying to set up a driver’s test for my daughter.  I told the man that I couldn’t get a test for a month.  “I tell you what,” the man said.  Come on Friday and ask for Mark and you can get in.”

Ask for Mark and I can get in?  After going on-line and not finding a test for three months?  After far-away places around the state and considering a road trip?

“Ask for Mark and you can get in.”

I called Hannah and told her the news.  We came on Friday and asked for Mark.  She got in right away.  She took the test.  And, of course, she passed.  For some back-up help I asked for prayer support from a small group of mine while she took the test.  And the date was Amy’s birthday

I couldn’t have planned or even anticipated that this would happen in such a way on this date.  This is Heaven breaking into the earth—the Kingdom. 

I experienced these moments, but they aren’t mine.  I believe they come from God who sustains us and who promises that these moments will continue to happen.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

The Unchurching of America


Yesterday Jean Hopfensperger completed a series in the Star Tribune called “the unchurching of America.” This is the final article of four she ended up writing.

The first was about how a way of life is finishing as churches close and denominations fade away http://www.startribune.com/as-minnesota-churches-close-a-way-of-life-fades/486037461/. 

She wrote about the burden on local churches with fewer pastors http://www.startribune.com/fewer-men-and-women-are-entering-the-seminary/490381681/

And she wrote about the growing segment in American culture that profess “none” as their religion.  http://www.startribune.com/fastest-growing-religion-in-minnesota-the-nation-is-none/498664191/

I wrote responses to in my own blog.



Yesterday Hopfensperger wrote about how no one model fits churches as they take their message to this culture of the growing “nones.” She shared examples of different types and styles of ministry. She wrote about a new church called “New City” a new congregation founded led by Rev. Tyler Sit.  According to their web site New City is dedicated to environmental justice.  It took me some searching on their web site to discover that they are a United Methodist congregation.  She also wrote about a Liberian congregation in Brooklyn Park and the mega-mega church in the north Metro called Eagle Brook.

One quote from Hopfensperger's article that resonated with me was by Scott Thumman, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research who said, “The model that fits with modern society are malls are boutiques. There will be very large churches and smaller niche churches.  Dinner church.  Bluegrass church.  Pop-up church.  We’ll have a greater variety of styles.”

This is the reality of the religious landscape in Blaine.  Here we have the mammoth Eagle Brook who is the large mall.  The rest of us fit in the boutique category.  We have a new church just starting down the road who is committed to starting new congregations. We have a Catholic church and two main-line churches (Lutheran and Methodist), and then we have all sorts of “flavors” of church.

For now Chain of Lakes Church—the congregation I serve—fits the boutique.  We were started using an old model of starting church—the parachute drop.  Parachute the pastor into a new area, who will gather the denominational adherents and then start a church.  With only seven families who came to the first meeting on my first day, this model revealed its flaws.

But since then Chain of Lakes has constantly improvised to learn how we can find our niche in the community.  We’ve become known as the church who will help homeless youth.  Despite our young age Chain of Lakes has received awards for our ministry with homeless youth.  Just recently we started a musical theatre ministry called “Common Good Theatre.” We believe that youth and kids will want to be involved in theatre, even if it’s being led by a church.  As Chain of Lakes moves closer to building a gym in a first-phase building, we will have more recreational ministries.    

As my coach, Tom Bandy, has often told me, “go find what is missing in the community and then create a ministry that meets that need.  And then go do that ministry very well.” 

I have conversations all the time with people who have hard questions about God and church.  They might have had a bad experience in their own faith journey that has caused them to question the need for faith.  A person can just open the newspaper and read about how the Catholic church protected priests who abused children.  No one wants that.  In these conversations I do the best I can to encourage these hard congregations.  Then I share that our congregation (though certainly not perfect) takes the safety of children extraordinarily seriously.  “Check us out and see for yourself,” I’ll say.  Some do; some don’t.

Church leaders who haven’t developed “the mall” will continue to have to wrestle with their own niche in the community.  Finding this niche can work and it can work in an extraordinary way.  Though it takes plenty of starts and stops and changing and adapting.  One of the mantras I share often at Chain of Lakes is “we’re masters at Plan B.”

The good news is that inside almost every human is knowledge that there is something out “there.” Most know at some level that what we see on this earth is not the end.  There’s a force or goodness or “something” out there that wants to connect to us.  It’s the spiritual quest.  Even though the church is struggling that spiritual quest hasn’t changed.

So even though Hopfensperger is right that the unchurching of America exists, church leaders who can respond to these spiritual questions can design faith communities that work.  We can’t just open up the denominational hub and expect the adherents to come.  We must be aware of the needs in the community and then create ministries and experiences from a faith-based perspective that meet them.  Those who do this well will succeed.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Feeling Stressed? Take the Advent pledge


Andy Williams was right in that this is the most wonderful time of the year.  It's also the most stressful. Whether you call this the Advent season, the Christmas shopping season, dealing with family season or “root for the Vikings” season, this time period presents plenty of challenges.   

Statistics bear this out.  According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people said their stress level increases during the holidays.  The Principal Financial Group, revealed that 53 percent of people feel financially stressed.  In my research for this blog I discovered that there is an active debate about how many pounds the average person gains between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Without going too deep into that I think we can agree that the potential for weight gain exists. 

Jesus didn’t come into the world so people grow in stress, financial debt, and weight.

In the sermon I shared yesterday at Chain of Lakes Church I encouraged people to take the Advent pledge.  Everyone present took the pledge.  Let me share this Advent pledge as one way to stay centered during this (wonderful) (stressful) time of year.  If you’d like to watch the entire sermon go to the Chain of Lakes Vimeo page at: https://vimeo.com/chainoflakes

Advent Pledge
I will live complaint-free for the rest of Advent
I will bear with people who push my buttons
I will not lose my cool in an aggressive or passive-aggressive way
I will always take the high road

Are you willing to take the pledge?
Share your thoughts in the comments section or on my Facebook page.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

A New Social Network--Parties for the Homeless


I’m guessing that I’m like most preachers in that Advent is one the hardest seasons to share a sermon.  The story of the birth of Jesus is one of the greatest stories that humans have been given.  Every time I peer into this story I’m touched that God would choose to enter the world in such a way. The setting wasn't one into which I would imagine the future Messiah would be born.  Assuming Luke and Matthew have it right, there were no other adults present when Jesus was born.  Mary was a teenager and not married.  Joseph had planned to divorce her before an angel showed up and told him to get married.  The two had walked about a hundred miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They did this so Cesar and the invading Roman government could received a tax.  After Jesus was born he was placed in a manger or a feed trough. 

This was messy—and Jesus was born into the mess. 

The Advent question I always ask is what is going to change because the world has celebrated the birth of Jesus.  Will the lives of the followers of Jesus look more like the life that God calls us?  Will our spirits look more like the Fruit of the Spirit?  Will we be filled and grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  Will the world look more like the Kingdom that God envisions?  Will there be fewer homeless people, will the poverty rate decrease, will nations give up their weapons, will there be fewer incidents of violence against women?

Okay I get it.  My expectations for the season are high.  And I’ve lived enough of these seasons to know that for much of the time the answer to the above questions is “no.”  Or even worse, the answer is an indifferent, “huh?”  Once Thanksgiving is done many are catapulted into the busiest and most stressful time of the year.  It’s doesn’t help that it is dark and cold.  Most of the time crossing off all that needs to be done on the “to-do” list makes the season a success.  Just making it through Christmas without adding too much more to our credit card debt or adding to our waist line or having a family fight makes the season a success.

But I still have hope.  And I still preach sermons with hope.

Yesterday at Chain of Lakes Church I started a new Advent sermon series called, “The Ultimate Social Network.” The sermon can be viewed at the following link: https://vimeo.com/304128199?fbclid=IwAR2IyYzCKWzJj6Vqpu7t3LCr_oqb19zNHhrPHX8PbkFpcNtJUYfzq9cSU  
In the sermon I shared that as soon as Jesus was born people started to be networked to him.  What’s most amazing to me is the first people who visited Jesus were the shepherds.  Living outdoors, a shepherd will go for extended periods of time without sleeping under a roof.  Watching the sheep, a shepherd will have to risk safety to repel an invader.  Making quick decisions, a shepherd will have to decide whether to risk the safety of the flock to go find a sheep who has gone astray.
           
In sharing the message of the birth of Jesus first with the shepherds I think we learn about the character of God.  There’s a morality to what God was doing. It is as if God was saying, “I have a special place in my heart for those who don’t have a roof over my head.  I have a special place in my heart for those who are vulnerable.  I have a special place in my heart for those who are struggling.  I chose to make my announcement to the shepherds.

Thousands of years later we know about these shepherds.  This is networking on the highest level.  That is the networking that God can do. 

I closed the sermon with a challenge which I’m encouraging you as a reader to accept.  I’m asking people to give $15 to HOPE 4 Youth for every Christmas party they attend before the end of the end of 2018.  The challenge is simple, but could make an impact on the lives of homeless youth in Anoka county.  I’ve started a Facebook page called, “Parties for the homeless.” If you have a moment, consider liking the page.  The link is here: https://www.facebook.com/Parties-for-the-Homeless-535340900314773/?modal=admin_todo_tour

Would you take the challenge?

I have no idea how much money could be raised for homeless youth in Anoka County. And to be honest, this was a spur-of-the-moment idea that came to me.  It would have been better if I had this idea two months ago and had more time to think through how to set this up.  But I’m willing to give the idea a try.  This preacher is always looking for new ways to share and live out the Christmas story.  This new social network could help change the world!

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Monday, November 26, 2018

A tribute to my mom as she celebrates her eighth decade


This past Friday evening my family gathered at the Hubbell House in Mantorville, MN to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday.  The date of her birthday is in January.  She’ll be in Arizona with my dad then, so my family celebrated her birthday early.

I can’t help but share some of her story as she closes in on completing the eighth decade of life.  Here’s to you Jackie (Jacqueline) Ann Moore! 

She grew up on a small dairy farm outside of Mantorville.  As a child she walked about a mile or so to a one-room school house.  She’s the oldest of three.  She was surrounded by family on both her mom and dad’s side.

She met my dad at Mankato State, got her degree in elementary education, got married and began her life as an elementary teacher in Paullina, Iowa.  Female teachers couldn’t teach while being pregnant (someone explain the logic of that), so she stayed home to be with Pam, my younger sister, and me.

My dad took a teaching job at the Junior College in Worthington, so my family moved there.  Her life revolved around faith, family, friends, and the community.  It was a good life.

The two of them decided to move to Kansas City as my dad took a sabbatical in the early 1970s to help out Cross-Lines, a social service agency in the inner-city.  One of her many tasks was to be in charge of an emergency food shelf.  I remember driving with her to take food to people living in what we called, “the projects.”  She was a long way from the rural life of Mantorville. 

She went back to school when we came back from Kansas City to get more education.  She taught children with learning disabilities in the Worthington School District until she retired.

I’ve said often that the best way to be a parent is to have a strong marriage.  She has successfully traveled that journey with love for my dad for the past 57 years.  I don’t remember seeing my parents arguing until I was in college.  Their marriage was like the quality of the prairie grass—deep-rooted, strong, and connected.

As a parent I never questioned her love for me.  If someone had asked me as a child if my mom loved me I wouldn’t have understood the question.  I didn’t know it was possible for a parent not to love their children.  She gave my sister and I the freedom to be ourselves.  When we expressed interest in something she and my dad would do all they could to help us be successful.   

And she showed up.  I can’t remember her or my dad ever missing a music concert, sporting event or any other ceremony that involved my sister and me.

Her parenting touch naturally moved into her being a grandparent.  This past Friday her grandchildren shared stories of “Grandma camp.”  Every year for a number of years she and my dad would take their four grandkids and go on an adventure.  On Friday we heard stories of adventures to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, going to the zoo in Omaha, traveling to Missouri to visit a college, and camping in the backyard of their home. 

If I was limited to one word to describe my mom that word would be “determined.”  That quality came out in a family story that I’ve shared often.  A local builder wanted to put apartments in the neighborhood where my family lived.  Since our neighborhood was filled with kids my mom was concerned about the amount of traffic that would ensue.  She went by herself to talk to the City Council about her concerns.  I remember her coming home from that meeting.  “I don’t think I made any friends tonight,” she said.  She had told the men on the City Council what she thought.  The editor of the local newspaper didn’t like that she was questioning what was happening.  She and my dad owned apartments in another part of town.  The headline of the paper read something like, “apartment owner questioned apartments.”  The patriarchy of the town wasn’t pleased with this determined woman—my mom. 

Her example of determination far outlasted the response of the men of Worthington.

I know I can speak for my sister in saying it’s a privilege to have you as our mom, Jaqueline Ann Moore.  We love you!  Thanks for being everything that two children would ever need!

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