29 June 2015

S'up, he said

During the time that TMFKATB served in Mexico, his English grew worse and worse and that was reflected in his weekly emails. They were an exercise in translation frustration as I tried to make them readable for his blog.

Now that he's Stateside, one would think that with the English influence, things might improve. One would be wrong. Now, to give credit where credit is due, it is a little easier to read his letters but as this week's email showed, he's using his Spanish enough to still impact his English syntax. That's fine by me, as I want him to hone his Spanish-speaking skills. They will be a blessing to him for a long time to come.

I was reminded of that today as I led a video call with my team, who stretch from Canada to Argentina. Our newest team member, an Argentine, is much more comfortable speaking in Spanish. Most of my team speaks Spanish but one does not so I was able to translate and was grateful to have been given that gift of a second language. Thirty years ago, as I hoofed it through the streets of 'locura' that was, and let's face it, still is, Miami, I had no idea how that language would serve me for the rest of my life. It's been a blessing. A straight-up blessing.

Reeling it back from Memory Lane, TMFKATB had a good week. He is really happy. He had a couple of experiences that reminded him why he's serving. He feels like they were pointed to people this past week to help them specifically and not be happenstance. He sees the hand of God in those encounters. It's an impactful lesson for a nineteen year old.

In spite of being in the heart of the Zion Curtain, he's not wanting for all things Latin. He raved about Salvadoran food and a place he wants to take me to some day. He couldn't say enough about the chuleta. Here it is:

That, my friends, is one well dressed pork chop. He's being well fed. Given that he lost thirty plus pounds, Salvadoran pork chops and the homemade bread that gets tossed their way isn't a bad thing. Until it is. He'll know when it is. It'll be the moment one of the buttons on his white shirt snaps off as he exhales and hits the kid across the table from him in the eye. I know this can happen from sad experience.

May he learn from my mistakes...

27 June 2015


Springfield's finest
Cops. Police. The Fuzz. The Po'po.

No, this is not an ode to that old Fox Television gem that still lives on today. Seriously, new episodes are still being produced. If I learned nothing else from that televised train wreck, it is that there's nothing a crackhead loves more than a set of pink curlers in their hair, ill-fitting t-shirts, and a trailer park. If you see any combination of the three, grab a seat and a bucket of popcorn, because it is about to go down!

My history with crackheads is decidedly light as is my interaction with the police. I have several friends who are former police officers and they are some of the most stand up, decent people I know. Two of them in particular have an empathy and a love for their fellow man that you don't often see in others, let alone former cops. I think that empathy comes from seeing people at their lowest and seeing what happens when redemption occurs. It's fascinating and encouraging.

In the media, you don't often get to see that side of the police. Too often, in television and movies, they are buffoons or criminals themselves. In our era of 'always on' news, it is the rogue or murderous cop that deservedly gets the headlines, not the ones who do their jobs, and do them well, day in, day out. As is typically the case when anything gets painted with a wide brush, the truth lies somewhere in between. Most cops are good cops. They want to do a good job and they care about the lives they are entrusted to protect.

They also like a good Asian burrito. Wait...what? What about the donuts, you ask? Ah, you slave to stereotypes! Let it go. Earlier this week, as I slipped out of my midtown office to head to the heinous Hell that is Penn Station for my slog home, I had one thing on my mind - getting dinner at the pop restaurant extravaganza that is Broadway Bites. A riot of taste from Colombian to Turkish delights, there are all kinds of options here to sate one's hunger, so of course, I was eating there. As I roamed around the stalls assessing my options, two of New York City's finest were doing the same. As I finally sidled up to Domo Taco, the two cops got in line behind me. After I placed my order, in a tone that could only come from someone capable of crushing someone's head in his bicep, I heard, "Sir, what do you recommend?" I turned around and what ensued was an awesome conversation with two cops about the finer points of Asian burritos and tacos. Turns out these two were beat cops from Brooklyn who were in the midtown 'hood on a special assignment. They were like kids in a candy store with all the food that was on offer. We debated the burrito versus the rice bowl and I convinced them that Korean-infused version was the way to go. After they got their food, we went our separate ways. They must have liked what they got because I didn't get arrested.

There are good cops and there are bad cops. There are good and bad people in every profession and in every walk of life. I'd like to think that they good outweighs the bad. In the end, it does. I'll take the good every time.

By the way, speaking of good, get the braised five spice pork burrito whenever you see it on a menu.

If you want a really good read on life as New York City cop, read "The Job" by Steve Osborne

22 June 2015

What's cracking? he asked

Monday, as it now does once again, brought us news from behind the Zion Curtain in the form of a fairly brief update from TMFKATB. His letter opened with the following statement:

"What's cracking?" Suddenly he's a Brit.

The trio is no mas.
He was quick to update us on the status of his trio companionship, which is now no more. Normally, missionaries run in companionships of two but because TMFKATB basically helicoptered in mid-transfer, he was dropped into an existing companionship. No more though. One of the three was assigned to a new town, leaving TMFKATB as the designated driver (not what you think!) of their mission car, which he described as a "sweet Corolla." Given that he drove a 2003 Ford Taurus with a faux spoiler in high school, the bar for 'sweet' cars isn't exactly high. He expressed his displeasure that the car has a little machine, or telematics, on it that makes speeding or taking sharp turns a bit of a problem. I weep for him.

Can I just say had telematics been around in the last century when I was a missionary, it would have made for a world of hurt for most of the missionaries who drove in our mission. I cannot even begin to describe the atrocities that were inflected on our motley collection of Ford Tempos and first generation Chevrolet Cavaliers. I wouldn't know since I wasn't allowed to drive. My alleged driving record pre-mission put me in a risk category normally reserved for Lindsay Lohan coming off a four day bender, so I didn't drive. Suffice to say, I don't have much sympathy for his telematic restrictions.

One of the bigger highlights was this statement: "I'm feeling healthy." This was confirmed by a phone call from his specialist here in Connecticutistan this past Friday who had just gotten the results of TMFKATB's tests. He told us that there was no evidence of illness / disease any more and that no further testing would be required. This, my friends, is something of a miracle and a true answer to prayer. So many of you when you heard about him coming home and the medical issues he was potentially facing offered to raise your voice in prayer on his behalf. I am so pleased that we can report those prayers were answered! Prayer works, my friends, prayer works. Our heartfelt thanks to each of you.

So suffice to say, it's been a good Monday and a fine belated Fathers Day 'gift.'

Oh, and he's getting this goodness for free from the good people at Waffle Love. Yeah, he's healthy again.

21 June 2015


These three...

There are very few words that inspire moments of sheer terror in the mind of a man like that word - fatherhood. The word is defined as the state of having one or more children. Whether it's one child or nine (not nineteen, have we learned nothing from the freak show that is The Duggars?), becoming a father is an extended ride on the scariest, terror-inducing, exciting and most fun roller coaster on the planet.

Fatherhood is a cacophony of awesome.
Fatherhood is moment after moment of heart-bursting pride.
Fatherhood is moments of gut-wrenching pain, mostly the pain you wish you could absorb for your children.
Fatherhood is messy - countless ties ruined by projectile vomiting, shirts stretched wildly when acting as the shoulder to cry on, knees on pants torn up sliding to stop someone from hurting himself.
Fatherhood is anxiety-inducing. Seriously, why is she dating that boy? Why did the state issue him a drivers license?
Fatherhood is joy, sheer joy. Dancing with your daughter at her wedding. Sitting and cheering with your daughter in the cheap seats at an MLB game. Watching your son walking down a jetway to serve his fellow man for two years.
Fatherhood, while it may spark moments of terror, is, in a word, AWESOME.

It is a wise father that knows his own child.
William Shakespeare

You're welcome to argue just how wise I am but I can tell you this. It has been the joy of my life to get to be father to my three children. I'm glad I know them. To be their father is the highest honor I will ever receive. Other than being good to their mother, nothing else matters. Nothing.

Happy Fathers Day

20 June 2015

Hand in Hand

A few nights ago, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML returned from her week-plus long stint behind the Zion Curtain. After a long day of flying, made longer by everyone's favorite She Hag, Mother Nature, and her latest havoc wreaking playmate, Tropical Depression Bill, SML was famished, so we made a beeline to Bear's Smokehouse to enjoy an inappropriate amount of meat. I can't say enough good about their burnt ends, but I digress, as this is not meant to be a gushing ode to their fine barbecue.

We got home and went about the normal things that are the hallmarks of a couple that have been married for nearly twenty seven years. We puttered around, got unpacked, debated as to whether we should start a load of laundry, and noted again how much TV sucks, because it does. Sleep sounded like the best option.

As I started to fall asleep, I did something unusual, at least for me. I reached over and took my wife's hand and held it. I'd missed her and I wanted to hold her hand. As I held her hand and as I began drifting off to sleep, I thought about the past few days wherein I watched my wife interacting with her adult daughters and saw her grandmothering (PS - not a word, right?) the heck out of her grandson. I reflected on holding her hand as we saw her cousin married a few days earlier. With these images in my mind lulling me to sleep, I squeezed her hand and fell asleep, hand in hand. All was right in the world.

Hand in hand. I do not take that for granted, not for a second. Circumstances are different for each of us. Our time hand in hand with someone may have been limited for whatever reason. There's always a hand to hold, be it an aging parent, a friend in need, or even if it's just a memory for now.

I know that I am ridiculously lucky to have the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML to march through this life hand in hand. So as we go about the most mundane of tasks today, like go to the nightmare that is Costco on Saturday, I will happily hold her hand.

15 June 2015

Notes from behind the Zion Curtain

Not a bad view from behind the Curtain
Thanks to a pilot who must have traded his soul to that she hag, Mother Nature, what was going to be a two-hour plus delay was only 30 minutes today, getting me back from the Zion Curtain with time to spare earlier this evening.

It was a great three day trip for me, although the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML gets eight days. I don't want to turn this into a horrible blog version of your Aunt Shirley's three week trip to the Holy Land with her friend from Bingo, Ruth, you know the one who's husband had the thyroid...you get the point. So here are the highlights:

Week Two from the Zion Curtain
Most importantly, it's Monday, which means our weekly update from TMFKATB. This week's letter was great to read. He's settling in well and is very busy. Health-wise, he feels really good and we are so grateful for that. Service opportunities abound and he's getting to work with Spanish speakers. He doesn't like arepas (he's working with several people from Venezuela and Colombia now) which was a blow to me. They are delicious. It was very odd for me to drive by the exit for the city in which he's serving on Saturday morning. When I saw it as I hurtled down the I15, I, of course, started to cry. I knew he was out there, getting ready to go to work. I resisted the urge to veer off the freeway and go find him. He's got better things to do.

The Greek Wedding
The purpose of our trip was to attend the wedding of the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's cousin. SML grew up close to her cousins and we couldn't miss this event. Our daughters joined us so it was a mini-family reunion. Alison's wedding was in a Greek Orthodox church and it was amazing. Alison was a beautiful bride and it was so fun to see family. The whole shindig was somewhat reminiscient of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in a lot of ways. If I'm being honest, though, I was saddened to not see a tidal wave of Windex. The homemade Greek pastries at the wedding dinner more than made up for it. Here's some scenes from the event:

Just missing The Boy and The Grandson

The women in my life - how did I get so lucky?

Glad my hair is as gray as my suit

The Grandson
One of the bonuses of having a family wedding in the Zion Curtain is that we get to stay with The Awesomes. This means hanging out with our grandson. It doesn't get much better than that, I have to tell you. He's just turned two and has become incredibly verbal. One of my favorite parts of the trip was to hear him hollering, 'Bampa! Bampa!' Each time I heard it, his wish was my command. Whether it was riding his bike, walking his neighborhood and finding every ant on the sidewalk, swimming, or sneaking fruit snacks, we had a good time. I had to say goodbye to him last night and again, I shed a tear or two, allegedly. As I drove to Salt Lake, I muttered repeatedly to myself, 'I can't keep doing this.' It's tough to be this far away from him. From the Awesomes. From CAL. I'm turning into an old softie in my middle age. I've got to do something about that.

Riding dirty

08 June 2015

He's back out there

With TMFKATB's return to missionary service, Mondays just got interesting again. We anxiously awaited the email 'ding' sound around midday, alerting us that news from behind the Zion Curtain had arrived. Sometime after 1PM our time, the emails started to arrive. They did not disappoint.

Young MC? Throwing shade? I don't even know.
In a word, he is happy. He is so glad to be out working and serving again. His letter made us smile and brought us a great deal of relief. His first few days have been a bit like Dorothy after she was kicked to curb by that pesky tornado when she mused, 'I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.' As he settled into his basement apartment and got a hot shower in a clean bathroom, our missionary had to say, 'I'm not in Mexico anymore.'

He's currently serving with two other missionaries but that will only be for about another week until the next transfer. He's really happy to be working with these two and says they are getting along great. He's delighted to be busy and talked about how much they've worked since he got there. He's using his Spanish and is already working with people from Colombia and El Salvador. He's really excited about that.

It was funny for me to read his letter and to note how easy it was to read. Amazing what an English keyboard will do. There was punctuation and capitalization. I nearly died.

There's a little bit of me that will miss the letters from Mexico. But I realize that and to borrow a well-worn phrase from 1847, 'This is the place' for him. He's excited. He's happy. I can't ask for much more.

Yeah, so not Mexico anymore

06 June 2015

"If a free society"

I decided to take this past Friday as a vacation day. Because work. One of the good things about our location here in Connecticutistan is our ability to flee get to either NYC or Boston pretty painlessly.  So the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I opted for day in Boston.

I'd wanted to get to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for quite some time and we were able to spend some quality time there. Although I was born just a few years after his assassination, I know much of what he did in his three short years as President shaped the politics of the world in which I grew up. For example, his stance against the Russians and everyone's wacky Cuban uncle, Papa Fidel, ensured there would be a world for me to be born into. It's chilling just how close to the brink we were during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wow, just wow. One of the cool things about the museum is the placement of many of Mr. Kennedy's quotes on the walls. The following, from his Inaugural Address in 1961, struck me:

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,
it cannot save the few who are rich.

Those words were spoken more than fifty years ago and resound even more powerfully today. The chasm of poverty, intolerance, and unkindness that divides our society grows ever larger. It is a gross irony that our country will wrap itself in hysterics over a fundamentalist family that excuses molestation in its own ranks but demands death sentences for others accused similarly but we as a nation forget, or worse ignore, the plight of those in our own neighborhoods who go hungry nightly, or are marginalized because they can't afford medical care, or are kicked to the curb for any manner of 'offenses.'

We spent some time this afternoon with a few folks who have been marginalized and it was a profound reminder of how easy, and rewarding, it is to help our fellow man. The stunningly patient SML and I joined a few of the young people from Church that we work with at a shared residence in Hartford called Peter's Retreat. We had the chance to make dinner for the residents and, in a nod to our Catholic friends, throw down a few rousing games of Bingo. The residents, most of whom are living with HIV/AIDS, have been given the chance to get off the streets and get the care they need in a safe environment. It was a simple dinner of burgers and dogs and the usual accouterment but what was more valuable than the meal was the time together. It was great to sit with the residents and see how this place has impacted them for the better. Much of what is done at this place is volunteer-driven and I realized if I could have just recorded some of the laughter we heard and the thank you's and hugs that were shared, how much easier it would be to get people to share of their time here and places like it. 

I can remember when AIDS was a death sentence and the mere mention of it struck fear into any and all who heard it. No more and we saw that today. One of the other 'adults' in our group brought two of his children and they were active participants and to see them embracing people afflicted with HIV/AIDS with no fear (and why shouldn't they?) was beautiful. They simply saw them for who they are - people, their brothers and sisters really.

After all, that's what we are. Brothers and sisters. Our lives are made better as we do something good for one another. A simple act of kindness can make all the difference in someone else's life. Do something good.

03 June 2015

That Escalated Quickly

Proof! He made it.
Yesterday was an unusually good day in the City, aside from losing my brand-new Metro card (if I hear the MTA lament their budget woes one more time...they are sitting on a gold mine o'cash from all the unused balances on those stupid cards...but I digress). In spite of the rain, my train back to Connecticutistan, the one that is usually an hour plus late, was on time. That set off a little alarm bell in the back of my head. The other shoe was going to drop. Soon.

It dropped as I started down the escalator to my train. A text from the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML came in, asking 'Can you call me?' Something was up. I lose all phone service in the bowel of Penn Station so I couldn't call her. As I texted her back that I would call her as soon as we were out of the tunnel in Queens, I got an email but only the title would download (thanks again for the CRAPTASTIC wireless, Amtrak #firstworldproblems). The title read as follows: ITINERARY ELDER PARKER T LYONS

Wait?! What?! He only got his formal assignment Friday. Suffice to say, that escalated quickly.

Thanks to the aforementioned wireless (less being the operative word), I could not download the email until we got to Queens. Never has any one been so delighted to be in Queens than I was at that moment. At a little after 6PM, I read that The Boy would once again be called The Missionary Formerly Known As The Boy (TMFKATB) because he was leaving the next day at 830AM for his new assignment in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission. I immediately called the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and upon hearing her calm voice, I was reminded why I am married to the most amazing woman in the world. At this point, she'd known for about 30 minutes that her son would be out the door in twelve hours. She'd already outlined what needed to be done and was heading out the door with The Boy to pick up what was needed. Her voice betrayed not a hint of panic. She, as she always does, had it under control.

So I spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out if there was any way I could weasel out of the two conference calls I was hosting the next morning. They were starting at 6AM and would go to 930AM and The Boy needed to be to the airport early as he had no seat assignment for the first leg. I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to be taking him to the airport.

When I got home, we spent a few hours together, packing and doing last minute things. The Boy called family and then he was set apart (religious ordnance) once again as a full-time missionary, so it was lights out at 1030PM for him. Suffice to say, it was not lights out for his mother and me.

This morning dawned early. We had a last family prayer and I dashed into my downstairs office as TMFKATB and his mother left for the airport. It was a flurry of emotions - pride, sadness (because I'm going to miss him), melancholy (stupid, stupid conference calls), love, gratitude - for me as they drove away.

Having him home for three short weeks was an amazing experience. We saw a young man exercise faith in such a powerful way. Several times while he was home, I could see him kneeling in prayer at his bedside. We prayed for his quick recovery and that he could serve again as he so deeply desired to do. Once he got his new assignment, he prayed that he wouldn't have to wait long before he could leave. His prayers were answered.

And so were ours this afternoon when an e-mail arrived from his new mission president. It included the picture you see above, I'll share the first paragraph of the letter:

What a pleasure it is to welcome Elder Parker Lyons into the Utah Salt Lake City
South Mission. I am impressed by his desire to serve. He is well and in high spirits as he 
anticipates the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Please be assured
that we will be watching over him while he is here.

So all is well in our world. So starting next week, it will be back to regular weekly updates from the field here and in his mission blog. I'm glad will be able to share those things again. Thank you all for being a part of this experience.