Memories, Good and Sad

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Two years ago today we had a memorial service for my Father in Law, Andy Hill. To say his absence is still felt is easily classified as an understatement.

In reflection of and in the moment, I wrote a post titled “Grief and Joy”. This morning, as I was starting my day, I kept seeing pictures from the service pop up on my photo memories, and thought it only fitting to share that post again.

I’ve included a clip (and one of my favorite stories of Andy) below, but you can click over to read the whole thing. The reflections are still true today.

With the passing of my father-in-law, I lost an advocate. Every birthday card he gave me was addressed to “No. 4 Son”, and he meant it. I was not a son-in-law. He saw me as part of the family.

As my wife and I were approaching our first anniversary of marriage, she was talking to him one day and made a statement to the effect of “You know, when Wes and I fight, I usually win most of the time” (time warped interpretation, but that was the gist of it). Andy replied as only a father can, “You know sweetie, sometimes it’s just easier for the husband to let the wife think she’s right.”

Click here to read the full reflection, and thanks for sticking with me.

In Memory of My Friend Lori

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I lost a good friend to cancer last week. She was close to my age, and a youth minister. Because this has become something I do, I thought I would process a few thoughts about Lori today. (You can read her beautiful obit here.)

I met Lori a few years back when she started coming to our Horizon meetings because she had decided to join us for camp. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but in the time I knew her, I realized pretty quickly she was sharp.

Lori was a rule follower. I’m not usually good at picking up on things like that, but she was always quick to point it out. I have two distinct memories of rule-following Lori.

First, her first year at camp with us. During student small groups, we have a youth worker meeting. It’s a time to check in and see how things are going, but also a time to brainstorm ideas and what not. The problem was Lori didn’t know we had that time, so she hung out until lunch. When we talked about it later, she was mortified she had missed it, because she was a rule follower. I tried to let her know it was okay, but I don’t know if it helped.

Second, around the beginning of August, I started reading through a book with a group of friends, one of whom was Lori. Early in the book there’s a survey of sorts with the line that says “if you’re not able to answer x or more questions on one level, don’t go to the next.” As I was giving some background on my experience with the survey and why I wanted to work through the book together, I admitted the thing that motivated me most was looking at the next level above where I should have stopped, basically breaking the rule. Lori quickly responded, “Well, I didn’t even look at those because the book told me not to!”

Lori was always ready to be better. Speaking of our unofficial book club, Lori was always willing to grow. When I mentioned the idea of going through that book with her, she responded with an enthusiastic yes. In fact, during the COVID shut down, as churches were having to rethink how they executed ministry, we zoomed regularly with a few other youth ministers to share thoughts and ideas. She touted that her friends started referring to her as the “Queen of Zoom”.

But more than just being better, she made those around her better. I know this because I am a better youth minister because of knowing her. She made Horizon better. It’s hard to put into words, but her quiet determination and creativity were assets.

Lori was an advocate for 3QL, and for my own leadership development. I’ve been writing this blog for going on four years (I think. Math is hard.). My views and visitors are not what I would like them to be, but I keep writing, in part, because of the handful of people like Lori who have stuck with me through the journey. I can’t tell you how many times in a conversation she would reference “some leadership blog I read”, and every time it meant the world to me. Knowing she was a faithful reader helps me stick with it.

When I decided to put on a leadership workshop hosted by Horizon, Lori was on board and a support the whole way. Both times.

When I asked her to help me lead Horizon Leadership Camp, she agreed whole heartedly. When I asked her to lead in my place, she hesitantly agreed, and then hit it out of the park.

When I asked her to participate with me in whatever new idea popped into my head, she said yes.

When I started my new job in March of 2019, I had two notes waiting for me in my new office–one from Lori and one from her intern. That meant more than she knew.

She understood one of the best things about friendship is presence.

And to say she will be missed is a significant understatement.

The Conductor

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I’m going to deviate today. Thank you for indulging me.

If you’ve been around here very long you know that I value very highly my farming heritage. I have shared close to 30 lessons from the farm along the way.

The reality is I was fortunate to not only have a father in the ag industry, but a heritage of it. Both sets of grandparents lived (and worked) agricultural lives.

That meant holidays were spent more often than not in the country. Summer trips at my grandparents were a staple of my childhood, and something that now I am incredibly grateful to have experienced.

One of my favorite memories, and one I couldn’t wait to share with my daughters as they grew older, was going to my paternal grandparents. Hot cocoa, grilling over charcoal, German shepherds, Louis L’Amour books, vintage couches, hot tubs, feeding cattle off the tailgates, and unwanted (and unwarranted) naps merely scratch the surface in summarizing my favorite memories at “the ranch”.

Except for the best memory. And that was the trains.

My granddad loved model trains. He loved them so much, in fact, that he had a “layout” that took up a two car garage. (Side note: I don’t know if “layout” is the right word, but it was basically the world created by his trains, complete with buildings, cars, mountains, carnivals, railyards, cattle, trucks, forrests, and rubber roads. This wasn’t a train running a circle around a tree. It was massive.)

And to any young boy growing up, trains are a magical experience. The roar of the engine running until the power stops. The aroma of electricity surging through the miniature machines (Yes, electricity has a smell, and it’s not toast). The sheer imagination of towns coming to life, and the hours on end that could be spent getting lost in a world so different from our own.

And there stood my granddad. The conductor. The orchestrator of it all. It never occurred to me that my granddad loved to play with trains. They were just there. He was the one in charge. But he was the one who loved to share the experience with me. It was a shared experience for us. It was one of the first things I showed my oldest the first time we visited his house. And something my girls still know about him.

The conductor passed away this week. As I sit and reflect on my memories of him, I’m humbled. I’m overcome with emotions. I’m heartbroken. I’m grateful.

He was not a perfect man. No one is. But he was my granddad. And he will be missed.

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