Day of Remembrance Part 1 – Challenger

challenger_crewThe following is a re-post from January 28, 2011 and the 25th Anniversary of the Challenger Disaster….

It’s a beautiful, January-winters day in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Yesterday’s mix of rain and snow has left us with a wonderful coating of heavy whiteness –you know, the kind that sticks to everything and makes good snowmen!

I love working in the outdoors, always have. Whether it’s in the spring, summer, autumn, or winter, using my hands and getting close to nature affords me the special time to dream,  think, and de-clutter my mind. This morning as I wondered outdoors to remove the icy accumulated precipitation from our driveway, I found myself entertaining a strange sense of déjà vu – looking to the sky and wondering back to an oddly similar day 25 years ago.

It was some of the greatest news a young boy could receive – no school!  A winter blast had left our small hometown buried in a heap of snow and there was no time to waste! I bundled up – well, as bundled as teenage boys like to get, and hurried out to do my part in clearing up the neighborhood and securing my piggybank to pay for more flying lessons, all while my mother yelled at me to cover my ears. Ears? Who needs ears? Did you hear something? Ah, wintertime…it was grand!

Now my parents and I had an unspoken deal; if I shoveled out the walks and parking spaces first, I was then permitted to make a few extra bucks by offering my services to the neighborhood. I had done this for years, and today was no different. My customers were expecting me, and neither snow nor freezing rain would keep me from my appointed routes! I started at our front door and quickly worked my way out to the street. It was a heavy, wet snow. I remember stopping to catch my breath and listening to the silence of this gorgeous morning. The sun was peeking through the intermittent clouds of what was left of the storm, and my eyes squinted in an attempt to look at the sky. It was an awesome sight, but as much as I loved it, today my heart and head were in a relatively warmer, tropical paradise on the shorelines of mid-Florida.

Today was the BIG day! NASA was launching a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, and her astronaut colleagues into space aboard the Shuttle Challenger. Having no school, combined with the fact that I was a spaceflight enthusiast and astronaut-wannabe, made the deal even sweeter. It didn’t matter how heavy that snow was, I was on course to set a record so I could get back inside to catch the liftoff.

I promptly and thoroughly cleaned our portion of Penn Street, and headed back inside. The warmth of our home clashed with the coldness of my weather-beaten face and ears setting them on fire, but I didn’t dare complain. I’d just get a look and an “I told you so”, so what was the point in being wrong and heaping a sack of self-humiliation on my day?  It was better to make a cup of hot chocolate, appear to be right, and head to my room to lick my wounds in private.

Since there was no cable television or streaming live internet video to watch at the time, I settled for my shortwave radio and listened in on the pre-launch activities. I took a sip of hot chocolate from my warm mug, put my warm hands over my ears and then pulled out the mission packet I had received from NASA. I had the opportunity to see some of the crew prior to this mission and I had watched all the news interviews, read all the papers and national magazines that were covering this important flight. Now here I was, fact sheets, photos, and radio – imagining myself onboard or at least in launch control waiting for ignition. Launch time finally arrived and Challenger headed for space – all throttles up.

Much has happened and my life has taken its own course since that cold, January morning. I’ve not flown into space, and chances are that may not happen in this lifetime. But other adventures and doors of opportunity have presented themselves. I still have my ears, and I’ve learned the value of listening. I still shovel snow, and I’ve learned the value of hard work and the pursuit of excellence. I still dream, and I’ve learned the value of adventure, courage, and persistence. I still look skyward, and continue to learn the daily lessons of faith, hope, and love. I look at their photos today, and I know the value of remembering.

Thanks for the inspiration Dick, Mike, Judy, Ellison, Ron, Greg, and Christa. I’ll always carry a bit of you with me!

©Copyright 2011 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Unopened Gifts

It was a cold, January night in the valley of coal. A fresh coating of snow covered the hills and glistened brightly in the light of the full moon, as tiny plumes of smoke wafted skyward from the chimneys in the valley below. For a moment, time stood still, as if the entire universe wanted me to know I was a part of something larger. The silence would have been deafening had it not been for the crunching and squeaking coming from beneath my partner’s boots. “Nice night, but it’s cold, and we have work to do,” he said, as he grasped my shoulder. I nodded, turned, and opened the door of the ambulance to retrieve a rescue bag and a bottle of oxygen.

Now there were numerous ways one could contribute to the needs of our small community. We had our share of non-profit organizations, religious charities, ethnic and social clubs, and the volunteer fire department or ambulance service. My father was a volunteer firefighter, but since my idea of adventure did not include imitating a roasted hot dog, I opted to invest my efforts as part of the local emergency medical squad.

3:00 A.M. calls weren’t uncommon, especially during the extremes of weather, and so here we were again. My partner and I made our way up the unshoveled walk and onto the front porch of a tiny home; an old company row house left over from the big mining era that swept through the valley decades earlier. We knocked at the door and let ourselves in, because everyone made themselves at home with Miss Annie Krinksy.

Annie Krinsky was an elderly lady, a retired elementary school teacher who never married and she was without a family. Her parents, John and Beulah, had immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and came to our town in search of what everyone else had come for – work! Her father was a coal miner, and her two brothers, John and Jack, soon joined him in the mines after completing the 8th grade. While they labored to survive the Great Depression, they soon succumbed to the dangers of the earth below. Annie quit school and took a job at the local company store in order to keep the house where she and her mother would live out their days. After a long day at work, Annie would visit Sister Maria Theresa Coppelo, a local teacher who would tutor her for the purposes of obtaining a teaching certificate. Annie soon became a teacher.

Annie met us at the door and offered us the usual coffee and cookies. She was a frail woman, bent at the shoulders and joints. I looked at her hands in amazement and wondered how she could care for herself. The years of hard labor and coping had left a mark and while 3:00 A.M. calls weren’t uncommon, 3:00 A.M. calls to Annie Krinsky’s house usually meant one thing – she was lonely.

This wasn’t my first visit to Annie’s house. In fact, everyone on the rescue squad knew her by name and she knew them. Responding to an emergency call at Annie Krinsky’s was like visiting an old friend. She never had a real complaint. We would simply check her vital signs, call the doctor at the emergency room with report to get signed off, and then radio the dispatch of our availability while we stayed a few moments to chat.  Her house was amazing considering her condition; it was spotless and smelled of Pine-sol and Lemon Pledge. But there was one thing I will never forget about Annie’s home – someone had given her an artificial Christmas tree, and she never put it away. In fact, she would turn on the lights at any given time (even in July), and you could always see unopened packages underneath the tree.

I remember the last call to Annie Krinsky’s house. A neighbor had reported that she would not answer the door and called for help. Albert, the town police chief arrived and led us inside where we found her in her favorite rocking chair facing the Christmas tree. She was covered with a puffy, homemade quilt, but it could not keep her from the chilling arms that enveloped her body. Annie Krinsky had died.

It’s Christmas Eve, and as I look at our tree and the wrapped gifts underneath, I am reminded of Annie and her oddities. I’m not sure what happened to her home, her possessions, or to her tree. I am curious as to what and for whom those unopened packages were intended. I never asked, but I am saddened to think she had gifts to share that will never be known.

Perhaps you and I have unopened gifts under our Tree of Life; talents, abilities, and spiritual fruits all waiting to be consumed by a world in need. Perhaps we hold back because of fear, guilt, unforgiveness, or other circumstances that make the joy of giving seem like an impossible feat. During this Christmas, I hope you will resolve to empty your tree of unopened packages as I will. The world is waiting for us!

©Copyright 2011 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

*My life and experiences are real, but I have used artistic license in the telling of this story. Names, persons, and situations have been changed or combined with other personalities or events to offer you some perspectives of my life and community while protecting the identities of those involved.

In Everything Give Thanks

It’s a crisp, frosty Thanksgiving Day here along the ridges of the great Allegheny Mountains. I for one have secured a cozy spot next to the fire where I can relax, sip from a mug of hot chocolate, and prepare to engage in holiday traditions passed on to me from generations past. The consumption of food, the celebration of parades,  the time spent with family and friends, and yes, even the watching of football have all woven a fabric into the festivities a national holiday. But to be honest, I’m not sure I’m ready for this day to begin.

I’ve had a difficult week wrestling with the entire concept of thankfulness. You see, it is not my desire merely or whimsically to “be thankful;”  I want desperately to “BE THANKFUL!” I want to know more than the definition, I want to know the experience. I want a heart overflowing with sincere and blatant gratitude.  I want to know what it means to recklessly abandon any sense of self reliance so I may savor the results of placing my faith and trust in the One who knows my tomorrows.

This morning I am reminded that perhaps the answer to my dilemma is right in front of me. As I search the scripture, it turns out the Apostle Paul’s First Thessalonians 5:18 message to the church is a memo addressed to my personal attention: “Dear Scott, In EVERYTHING give thanks. Not just for the all the goodness you will celebrate today or even in your lifetime, but for the times of crisis, trial, challenge, and adversity.”

As I process the words of the Apostle Paul,  I think of the subtle hints God has given me over the past several days: When I stood in front of a crowd and sang the words “…I hope you win, I hope you lose, I pray you’ll realize that both are good for you…” When I ran into a friend who shared similar problems and situations from which we simply conclude “lesson learned.” When I wrote about legacies and remember my grandparents and the generations of men and women who marched on in spite of the difficult circumstances of two global conflicts and a great depression. In EVERYTHING give thanks.

On this Thanksgiving morning, I am thankful for adversity, uncertainty, challenge, and trial. Without them, I would not understand who I am, who I am not, and who He is. I would not have a deeper understanding and perspective of the journey. I would not be able to appreciate, cherish, respect, or admire had I not tasted from the bitter. I would not really know what it meant to experience a thankful heart. Today, I am thankful for EVERYTHING!

©Copyright 2012 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

The Final Fight For Home

United States Army Medic/Private First-Class (PFC) Thomas Greene’s knuckles turned a ghastly white as he clung to the frame of his temporary cot. A cold sweat covered his pale face as his head and neck pulsated with pain from the clinching of his jaws and his rapid heartbeat. An overwhelming sense of nausea continuously swept over him as his body tried to determine left from right and up from down. The sounds and smells emanating from his 4,412 comrades and the lower deck of the ship certainly didn’t help the situation. He tightened the closure of his eyes, laid his head back and tried to remember the pleasantries of life; his wife, daughter, and his home in the hills of west-central Pennsylvania.

It was December 1945, and Operation Magic Carpet was in full motion. The transfer of millions of military troops and equipment from the World War II fields of battle was an enormous undertaking for the United States War Shipping Administration, and was not without its risks. Battleships, aircraft carriers, attack cruisers, and floating hospitals were all re-tasked to deliver GIs from around the world safely home to their family, friends, and communities. Operation Magic Carpet commenced in October of 1945, and now, after three and a half years of service with the Medical Detachment 355th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army’s 89th Division and a two month wait, it was PFC Greene’s turn to head from home. He opened his eyes once again and looked around the deck. He wondered if they would make it and if they had made the right decision.

On the 13th of December 1945, PFC Greene reported to the ports of Southampton, England for his final assignment to Operation Magic Carpet. It was a cold, brisk morning on the English coast, but nothing could distract the thousands of men who were waiting to embark on their journey home.  The line was long, but the wait would be worth it! After processing the final paperwork, he clutched the straps of his bag and walked towards the waiting ships. His eyes widened as he looked at his paperwork and looked up again. It was the largest ship he ever laid eyes on, and in spite of her numerous battles, wounds, scars, and refitting, she was here to carry him home…the United States Navy’s own Yorktown Class Aircraft Carrier – USS Enterprise CV-6!

The Enterprise’s reputation was second to none. Affectionately known as the “Big E”, the Enterprise was the final aircraft carrier (commissioned prior to World War II) to survive the war. Assigned to major Pacific battles, such as Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Doolittle Raids, this massive ship and her crew helped turn the tide of the war. Now, after a complete restoration, she offered herself as a transport of honor. The Enterprise, her crew, and 4,413 passengers departed Southampton on her second magic carpet mission, a mission that would test the courage, stamina, and strength of a GI just one final time.

A few days into the Trans-Atlantic journey, the Enterprise encountered a fierce oceanic storm, causing Captain William Rees and his crew to change course northward to Greenland; delaying the GI’s pre-holiday arrival. Frustration and anger set in and opposition to the course direction were voiced across the massive boat. Captain Rees and his officers met to discuss the situation. After nearly four years of war, the men longed to go home, especially for the holiday. Believing they could indeed navigate the raging sea, Captain Rees gave the order: Course correction, westward! The final fight was on!

PFC Greene opened his eyes once again and caught a glimpse at the outside conditions. Walls of water enveloped and washed over the decks of the mighty Enterprise. The boat rocked forwards and backwards, left to right, and then right to left. As the men groaned from the sickness enveloping their bodies, PFC Greene pulled a pre-deployment photo of his family from his top shirt pocket and held it closely to his heart. As a tear ran down his face, he once again closed his eyes and prayed a silent prayer. After three and a half years of survival, liberating men, women, children, and fellow soldiers from the atrocities of war, he needed to survive this final fight; he needed to go home.

On Monday, December 24, 1945, the USS Enterprise pulled into the docks of Bayonne, New Jersey. Lifeboats, jeeps, tanks, planes, and other equipment secured to the flight deck of the ship were all but gone, broken away and tossed into the sea by the ominous waves and prevailing winds of the storm. In their place stood 4,412 GIs, along with PFC Greene, who waved and cheered as they reached their final destination. They endured the battle, and now they were home.

On this Veterans Day, I salute Captain William Rees and his officers for successfully carrying out their mission and thank them for their leadership and courage in bringing home these thousands of soldiers and my Grandfather, PFC Thomas Greene.

©Copyright 2011 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Trick or Treat?

I love everything autumn – the changing of the colors, the coolness of the temperatures, the playing of football, and the celebration of the festivals. It continuously reminds me of opportunities to embrace positive change and moments in which to savor the fruits of hard labor. It reminds me that life is full of decisions and choices; ones that can make the trip a miserable and bitter experience, and others that can only serve to sweeten the journey.

This chilly Halloween morning brings back fond childhood memories. While the thoughts of disguising ourselves as a favorite character or occupation was certainly on our minds, the anticipation of filling our plastic jack-o-lanterns with tasty morsels topped the list, and we had a plan. Having years of experience tucked under our belts, we knew just what candy tickled our tongues and satisfied our tummies and we usually knew how to get it –  completely fill the plastic pumpkin with an assortment of loot in order to  trade off your less than favorite flavors with a brother, sister or friend. The challenge was selecting the right places to pick up more of your favorites and avoiding the pranksters lurking behind the trees and hedges.

Trick-or-treating sounds a bit like life. We’re all reaching for God-given dreams and we’ve planned and schemed on ways to reach our goals. There are times however when we stray from the plan. We repeatedly knock on doors not meant for our visitations and become distracted by the pranksters who try and scare us from the path. We reach for brightly colored, temporary treats that usually leave a bitter taste in our life. We grow afraid, scared, enslaved, and imprisoned, and soon life can become the literal Nightmare on Your Street.

As you travel this wonderful journey, walk wisely. Pray for discernment to discover the tricks and the treats. Listen to the still, small voice inside of you calling you to the open doors. Profile the pranksters and walk away. Keep your course straight and true. You might just give up the bitter to savor more of the sweet.

©Copyright 2011 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Faith & Sight

A while ago I was driving through our small university town, when I noticed a blind student walking on the sidewalk using his sensing stick to safely navigate along the street. I immediately whispered a short prayer thanking God for the wonderful gift of sight. I couldn’t imagine a life without seeing…but then again, maybe I could.

I’ve encountered numerous individuals with physical disabilities; it comes with the territory in my line of work. In my opinion, these folks are exceptional and more in touch with the world around them than the average human being. Scientists have told us for years how the body compensates for the lack of certain physical abilities. In this case, the blind have a unique ability to perceive the world and their surroundings by enhanced hearing; a sixth sense if you will.

While many of us are not physically blind, we’re all visually handicapped when it comes to life. Biblical scripture refers to it as walking by faith, and not by sight. As we journey through life, we do so not knowing the end results. We make educated guesses and take calculated risks, but in the end, it’s really a simple matter of faith. The question becomes, “what do we place our faith in?” There are those whose paradigm revolves around the objective matters of mathematics and science, and there are others whose worldview surrounds the subjective essence of the unseen. Still, most individuals walk through life trying to maintain a balance between the two.

Biblical scripture describes faith as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. “  It lends credibility that while math and science have their merits, there is substance to believing and trusting in the intangible. When it comes to everyday living, there really is a sixth sense. Do you recognize it when you feel it – a sense of peace, a sense of concern, a sense of guilt, a sense of contentment…all an enhanced feature of an internal, spiritual compass with which we were created to compensate for our lack of sight. It simply makes the way more clear.

Are you going through a period of life where things aren’t clear or you can’t see the road ahead? Have those traditional navigational aids you have relied on for so many years finally failed you? Do you trust the still, small voice inside calling to you to differentiate the real from the illusion? We all have our blind spots, so pull out your sensing stick and trust the One who will faithfully guide you on the next leg of your journey.

©Copyright 2012 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios