When I think of the term ‘bleeding heart’, I simply look at one of our Ponderosa pines we planted over 25 years ago in an environment which they weren’t meant to thrive in. The prolonged drought which ended about three years ago almost killed all of them. Today, many bleed sap. Sap covering trunk bark is usually a sign of a tree defending itself against invasive insects and fungus’s. Pruning also causes sap to occur to cover the wounded trunk and branches. Since these pines are mature and were weakened by the lack of water and extremely hot summer temperatures, they are unhealthy. At this stage in their lives, there is little that can be done to make them thrive again. They have already exceeded their life expectancy for our temperate zone. They are not native to Kansas and are more vibrant when located in cooler and higher altitude climates. Yet, they have survived. Speaking of survival, pine tree sap is an excellent wound salve and has other beneficial medicinal uses.

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It is wonderful how nature protects herself. From a strictly vision perspective, the bleeding sap looks like an abstract painting of sorts. All of this gooey, slowly dripping sap gives the pine a fighting chance to survive another year. Although their branches aren’t as full as when younger, and the ability to withstand drought and pestilence aren’t as good as they used to be, these out-of-place trees know a thing or two about life and stress. They adapt. The sap is like liquid artwork to me-gradually changing color and shape as time marches on. Although I know something is wrong, I can’t help but admire the ever changing covering of bark. Strange, perhaps, but also encouraging.


So, why talk about sap? Because it reminds me of people…of me. The bark of a tree provides an outer protective shield much like people do with their words and actions. Get too close and the bark may scratch. If one could peel off or bore into the bark then the tree (person) becomes vulnerable to a host of problems. Since sap is created to protect the tree when the bark has been damaged (much like people respond to pain and injury as they reveal their emotions in a myriad of ways)  a protective balm is produced. People  will do almost anything to protect their souls from being injured further.

Often, we lash out against those who have injured us-and in the process create more harm to ourselves by striving to keep them away. Sometimes we curl-up emotionally and drive away those who care for us by simply closing them out. If we understand our condition and desire healing we are usually clueless as to where to find it. So, rather than produce sap, we humans look to other methods to bring about wholeness. Occasionally, we get it right and bounce back, but this is not easy and usually requires the aid from others.

There is something magnificent about the human spirit…each unique spirit God has given to mankind. We so much desire to be vibrant. We desperately want to be noticed. We vie for attention and when we don’t get it from where it should come from we do all sorts of silly things. We want to be understood, and appreciated simply for who we are. It doesn’t matter if we are fifteen, twenty-two, forty something, sixty or eighty-eight. We all crave the same thing-to be acknowledged…to be appreciated…to be recognized (with or without fanfare). Validation. We simply want to be acknowledged and valued.

So, we instinctively protect ourselves when our egos have been walked on or our ambition has been perceived as arrogance. Whether we are hurt, belittled, misunderstood, have been treated unjustly or are ignored we struggle to deal positively with what has been done to us (or perceived to have been done to us). Hence, sap. Just like these pine trees striving to live-we humans go through all sorts of mental, emotional and physical exercises to survive, as well. Being very complex beings, most of the time our self-protective actions are misunderstood or self-destructive. Quite often, our defense mechanisms return to a default position that only ourselves or a few others are even aware of. How sad. How true.

So, rather than end this post on a negative note, I choose to flip the record over and play a happier song. Sap is a good thing. Period. If God didn’t give each human the ability to produce ‘sap’ then we would be doomed to a life of pity…often self-pity. This statement is not to imply that some injuries are beyond our control to heal. However, each of us experiences a suppository of defensive mechanisms to deal with the pain; whether they be crushed egos, betrayals, personal attacks, mockery, physical deformities or a myriad of other conditions. We are resilient.

My God has stated that we are the Apple of His eye. In other words, the most vulnerable place in the human body is valued by the Creator in such a way that He loves us and desires to protect us. I admit that I am not an expert in this area. I know His love, yet fight to make things better by my  own will. The result is usually not so good. However, when I release all to Him, the result is one of inner healing which, in turn, results in outer blessings for others. To be human means to be a family. It doesn’t matter what one’s philosophy is, nor what religion, nor what influence one may have achieved. I wish there was equality among all people everywhere, but such is not the case. We all know this.

Let us become the Sap for the sake of others. Practice applying the balm of forgiveness, of understanding, of empathy, and sacrifice when it is called for. Go the extra mile as Jesus preached and surrender yourselves to the greater good…mankind. I speak to myself most of all. Do not despair, my friends, for there is a power far greater than our own which governs all things. In particular, this Power loves humans more than trees or sap. He loves each one of us simply because He chose to. You are wonderful.


P U S H & P U L L

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It is difficult to believe how quickly two years have gone by since Elliot was born…October 16th. With each passing week he increases his vocabulary, his skills, his appetite, and his independence!

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Now that he has a baby sister, Elliot will go through the tough days of letting go of things which he thinks are strictly his. I think little Audrie will have a wonderful big brother, once he shares his grandparents with her. Haha!!


Matt, Ramie, Elliot & Audrie, September 17, two days after Audrie’s birth.



I would like to share a story with you. It is a story about life, and about a quest for answers. As a disclaimer, I have read more impressive and improbable stories that caused me to shake my head in utter amazement. This story is not so grand as that. However, it is a pleasant story which has several obvious and noteworthy events which could be construed as serendipity.

As you can discern from my blog page description, my mother was a war bride. She was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (Serbia’s capital). She had one parent who was Serbian and the other who was Croatian. My grandfather joined the Yugoslav army to fight the Nazi’s and was never heard of again. My grandmother died of a digestive disorder, perhaps cancer, during WWII. My mom had a sister, Milice, who stayed in Belgrade while my mom left home (after the Nazis occupied Belgrade) and wandered about Europe for nearly five years during the war. Her story is amazing in and of itself. Milice eventually married a good man named Tommy in 1963 and they lived in the same apartment for the next thirty-plus years until they both passed away. They did not have children. In 1980 my mom visited her sister and brother-in-law in Belgrade. Below is our photograph of them together. This is relevent to my story. Mom is second from left, next is Tommy, then Milice. The others are friends of the family. As a side-note, my sisters and I visited our aunt and uncle (with our mom) when we were children, but never saw them again. We never knew our maternal grandparents. IMAG0055This story begins in May of 2013 when Cheryl and I vacationed in Croatia. Due to a missed flight connection we ended up being rerouted to another city with a five-hour layover before we arrived at our intended destination, the Split airport (if interested, I wrote about this in my first post about Croatia). It was midnight when we arrived and an hour later when we checked in at Le Meridian Hotel in Podstrana. Due to the late hour and exhaustion, we slept in later than anticipated. We were rather bummed because we wanted to eat a hearty breakfast after traveling for so long. However, our delay turned out to be a blessing. We had a late lunch on the veranda of our hotel which overlooks the Adriatic Sea. There were but a handful of people eating at 2:30 pm so we had a generous amount of time with our waiter, Ivan, from Omis. Ivan was wonderful, and was willing to discuss anything we asked, including politics and the aftermath of the 90s war. He was charming and most helpful, and was a very fine waiter. He is also a martial arts instructor and excels at both of his careers.Croatia 457I mentioned to Ivan that my mom was from Belgrade and that my sister, Tracy, was going to tour much of the former Yugoslavia in early September, and that she was going to Belgrade to learn more about our aunt and uncle. To my surprise, Ivan has family in Belgrade, including a cousin that he offered to assist my sister, her husband and their companions when they arrived. As the date of my sister’s arrival grew closer, Ivan contacted his cousin, Marijan, who in turn interacted directly with Tracy. Upon their arrival in Belgrade at the end of August, Marijan was contacted and he offered to assist Tracy and Dale in locating the apartment building where our aunt and uncle lived for so long a period. DSC_0139He took them to the building, but there was no Tommy or Milice. They died in 1993 and 1997, respectively. With little hope of gaining any new information, they almost left. However, Tracy noticed a woman hanging laundry in the courtyard of the complex and decided to visit with her. When Tracy approached Jelena she told my sister that she normally hangs her laundry on the roof, and didn’t know why she chose to hang it in it the courtyard that day. Tracy, with the help of Marijan, began to question Jelena about our aunt and uncle. She showed her the photograph, and to Tracy’s amazement Jelena knew the people in it. On top of that she identified the girl in the photo as her niece (husband’s side of the family). The woman next to my mom is Jelena’s mother-in-law. Her husband, Dan (not in the 1980 photo) remembered my mom’s visit, as he was about twelve years old at the time. Below is Jelena with Tracy and another photograph with Dan (Jelena’s husband) and Tracy.DSC_0153DSC_0171As this encounter between not-so-old friends continued, a new revelation was revealed by Jelena. Milice’s best friend, and a friend of her family, Selena, is still alive and lives in an upper room of the same apartment complex. In fact, Selena opened her window to hear what was taking place and then came down to greet my sister, her husband and their friends, Mike and Pam. By the way, Mike took all the photos, except for Ivan’s.DSC_0160Selena invited my sister and companions to her apartment for tea and conversation. She shared photographs, stories and details about Tommy and Milice. Below is Tracy, Selena and Pam inside Selena’s apartment which she has lived in for over forty years.DSC_0183 Selena told Marijan which cemetery our aunt and uncle were buried. He then took them to this famous cemetery where politicians, heroes, and dignitaries are interned. It took quite some time to find the location of the burial plot. Tommy and Milice were so poor they didn’t even have a headstone or an inscription on the concrete slab which was placed over their bodies. The cemetery employees were very helpful, as was Marijan who went above and beyond all expectations to assist my sister.DSC_0234There are still many unanswered questions about our mom’s early years and her family, especially because the war disrupted so many lives and eliminated most records. So, to have located the graves of Tommy and Milice is rather spectacular. In fact, I find this whole affair to be remarkable. Please consider these points. What are the odds that Cheryl and I would miss a flight, be rerouted to Dubrovnik, have a five-hour layover, then go back to Split before arriving at the hotel after midnight? This type of thing happens regularly, however, without this delay we wouldn’t have met Ivan who we didn’t see again while at this hotel. What are the odds that Ivan had a cousin in Belgrade who would help my sister? What are the odds that they would encounter Jelena who was hanging her laundry in an unusual place at just the exact time my sister arrived? What are the odds that Dan’s daughter and mom were in the photograph from 1980? And, what are the odds that Selena was home, provided insightful information about our relatives and mom and was able to direct Marijan to the cemetery where our aunt and uncle are buried? There has been a six month period since Tracy had this experience which has given me time to reflect and consider the odds. The odds are pretty good if each instance stands alone. But, that is not the case as they are a combined set of circumstances that fit together to reveal one remarkable story. I simply cannot attribute this experience to chance, coincidence or luck. I believe that the Grand Conductor orchestrated this entire scenario. I believe each appointment was divinely directed by Him. So, the next logical question is why? To be totally honest I don’t know why He would do such a kind thing for my sisters, Valerie and Tracy, and for me. Certainly it is not because we deserved or earned this gift. Instead, I simply accept this to be the truth: a loving God saw fit to bestow a blessing, borne out of love, for some of His children. And for that I am most grateful, and humbled.DSC_0164

What Was He Thinking ?

Dad 1945Dad 1949I was clueless. My dad wanted to take me to his barber on my sixteenth birthday. I was petrified of what the end result would look like!

I came of age in the early seventies, and grew up with my mom, two sisters, two dogs and an ever-changing number of cats. All but one life form in our house was male, plus me. However, our male dog bonded with my mom rather than the only other male in the house. Oh well.

My mom was rather progressive and liked my hair long while my dad was a bit more old-fashioned (WWII veteran, but not over-the-top). The oddity about his request was simple…I never went to the barber with my dad since we didn’t live together and he let me take care of my haircuts and clothing choices.

I protested to my mom that dad’s request was strange and that I was a candidate for a buzz. She assured me that he simply wanted to be more involved in my life which scared me at the time. Sure, I wanted to spend time with my father, but not at his barber’s shop!

Because I couldn’t get my mom to help me out of the situation, and I couldn’t give my dad a good reason not to go with him, I acquiesced. From that moment until I sat in the barber’s chair a week later, I fretted about the outcome. Worry never helps, though. I even discussed this with my best friend, but he was no help. Rather, he thought the whole thing was funny. That’s what good friends do…they laugh at stuff that’s funny to them, but menacing to you and me. Interesting how time changes our perspective about the humor in such experiences.

The moment arrived. Dad and I walked into his local barber’s shop-a throwback from the 1940s. I sat down with men three times my age as I watched the stealthy barber practice his trade. Before I was ready, he called me to his chair. I was surprised when he asked me what type of haircut I wanted. I assumed my father told him to whack the bushy pile of hair off my scalp, but he hadn’t. I was relieved, but still skeptical.

Then the most bizarre moment occurred. After being leaned back in the hydraulic chair, the barber began to lather my face with shaving cream! I barely had peach fuzz so I knew I didn’t need a shave. But, a shave with a straight razor is what I got, plus a pretty good haircut, too. I looked at my dad, and he just smiled. We didn’t really talk about the shave. He just paid the bill and we walked out of that shop side-by-side, father and son sharing a moment that probably meant more to dad than to me (at least at that moment).

Actually, I was aware of what my father had done for me, but it still took time for the impact to really sink in. To be honest, I didn’t think of my dad as being the type to create a sentimental experience. He was a wonderful man, and a good father, but not one to get too intimate with his children. A lot of men were like that in his generation; loving, but a bit formal.

It is rather amazing that his “gift” has had  such an impact on my impression of my father. You see, what he did was give me a ‘rite of passage’ so-to-speak, from a teenager into early adulthood. This was my father’s way of saying, “Your growing up, son, and I know it. In fact, I want to be a part of this transition from child to man”. What he said to me the most, without speaking a word, was this… I love you. Period.

I miss my dad. He died in 1984. My children barely knew him. Fortunately, my wife remembers him well. What really counts is that I knew him, and the love that he had for me. What a tremendous truth to know and experience. So many don’t have this pleasure. I never take it for granted.

Make a memory. Happy New Year.