Friday, December 30, 2011

iPAD Case by Portenzo

I got an iPad2 for my birthday/Christmas present this year, and plan to use it for business (it's a GREAT tool for salespeople) as well as fun. Then I began the search for a case to wrap around it. I am, by nature, a person who researches things to find exactly what I want before I buy it. I read multiple online reviews of just about pretty much every case you could buy for the iPAD until I found the Portenzo, the reviews of which were very nearly unanimously positive.

So, I decided to investigate a little deeper. I had several questions so I contacted Darin, the guy who runs Portenzo. Yes, the owner of the company answers his own e-mail. His responses were quick and thorough, and I felt I could proceed with confidence. Let me tell you why I decided to buy from Darin.

In comparisons, the Portenzo was a little more expensive than the mass-produced Made in China models I saw everywhere, but not by much, honestly. The Portenzo case is hand made, to order, and you can choose the outside cover color and material as well as the inside colors and materials. It's also made in America. Seriously. When was the last time you were even ABLE to buy something handmade in America?

Second, there is something artistic about Portenzo cases. The case is made in the style of a Moleskine notebook (Dodo Cases are similar, but reviews were sketchy on how well they hold up), which I have always found to be classy and elegant, and also serves to disguise the computer to help prevent theft. Quite simply, it is beautiful. The leather is luxurious, the inside fabric is vibrant (I ordered the blue) and it is unique in its iPad presentation.

Last, the details are just a little more thought out (a stylus holder) and the attention to detail is almost perfect. The strap on my case covers the camera on the back, providing one more level of protection). The only quibble I have, and it's a small one, is that the volume controls are hard to adjust.

Like I said, you may pay a little more for a Portenzo case. But what you will receive is a well designed, well thought out, well constructed, Made in America work of beauty. Check it at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Feeding the Homeless - Not What I Expected

Mrs. Fish and I went out on Friday night last week to feed the homeless. There is a local Mission in Harrisburg, where young men and women can stay to get back on their feet. They have a van to reach those people who don't want to stay at the Mission and it carries hot food out to the homeless throughout the city. They need volunteers to help man the van so we signed up with another woman from our church.

I honestly didn't know what to expect. The van leaves at about 8pm drives to places where the homeless congregate, with about 10 stops throughout the night, across the city. At each stop, Mrs. Fish and another volunteer passed out blankets and clothes, including gloves, socks, underwear and sweaters. There was sometimes a rush, and sometimes scuffling, but they did well to keep things going smoothly. It was cold out, but not frigid/freezing, but that weather is surely coming and the warm supplies will be more and more important.

When we stopped, I jumped in the back of the van and grabbed the soup crates and set up a mini mobile serving area. I then started passing out toiletries including razors, shaving cream, soap, wash cloths. Then, I got on the soup ladle to pass out hot soup and pour hot coffee. On a night like that, it was very much appreciated. All of this set up and activity also gave me a chance to talk to the people as they came up, to hear their stories. It was humbling.

Carl, the Mobile Mission leader, has a rapport with the people of the city and a knowledge of where they are. It's weird, I have worked in the city for 15 years and never really saw the places he took us to. I mean, I had been past them, but I didn't see them as places where people lived, as homeless communities. I've never been one to turn away from the homeless, but I know I never sought them out, either.

I thought this trip would be depressing, but it wasn't so. I talked with the men and women and heard their stories. There is a camaraderie and community among the people, a sense of looking out for their common welfare. I'm not saying it was easy, just that it wasn't sad, like I think I was expecting it to be. In the end, I came to recognize a quiet, simple dignity that I wasn't expecting, and their kindness and generosity to me and to one another was uplifting.

We got home to our warm house about 1am and I was so grateful for what I have - family,, friends, clothing, a warm house. I definitely think I will do this trip more often.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Happy Anniversary - 18 Years

Today Mrs. Fish and I celebrate 18 years. I honestly couldn't imagine doing this crazy trip with anyone else. We are raising an amazing daughter, continuing to grow and learn together, and we are still friends after all these years. I am a blessed man, to be certain.

What I've learned:
1) Be friends - We've had ups and they're AWESOME. When things get tough, we needed something to fall back on. I fall back on the fact that we were friends first, and that friendship was based on mutual respect.

2) Be lovers - Kids, jobs, family, bills, all have a way of draining the love from a marriage. If we don't fill that bucket, things go south. It doesn't have to be big extravagant over-the-top declarations or acts of love, but if we don't set aside that time, look out. And, when we do, even when we think we're too tired, too distracted, too ___________, our marriage gets better.

3) Talk about money - even when we didn't have any, we still talked about it. I think there is very little that will rip a marriage apart as quickly as being on different pages about money. I'm still learning how to do it, but some of the best conversations and best moments of closeness I have had with Mrs. Fish have been over conversations around money.

4) Grow. I have grown with my wife and without her. I want to keep on learning new things, and I think that has made me a better husband. I am learning about my health, writing and art. She learns about music (something I know hopelessly little about), books (she reads a TON of books), and fashion.

5) Know your purpose. I have a strong faith and it's been deepened over the years. It hasn't always been easy, and God has called me to some challenging places. Mrs. Fish wasn't always as faith-focused as I, but she has supported me through that walk, even when she didn't understand or necessarily agree with it. God continues to work on us, and also through us, because I have trusted that He has a purpose for me. Mrs. Fish's faith has deepened and expanded because I have stayed true to that focus over the years, and God is rewarding it with new challenges and opportunities. That grounding, that sense of purpose, has been my rudder through marriage, raising a now 13 year-old daughter in today's society, cancer, conflict, friendships and the challenges we have faced together.

I'm not saying we have it figured out, just my observations of what has worked for us over the past 18 years.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Many of you know that Li'l Fish, my 13 year-old daughter stutters and has done so since shortly after she began speaking. It has rarely slowed her down, to the point where she is now actively participating in the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and even gave a Keynote speech to nearly 600 people at their annual conference two years ago.

Through the course of all of this, we have met some AMAZING people who stutter. One of them is Philip, a remarkable young man who has a lot to say. He's in a college class where the teacher would prefer he didn't. His story just made the New York Times. You can read the story by CLICKING HERE.

The central message of the NSA is this: If you stutter, you are not alone. I just wanted to pass this along, because so often people who stutter suffer in silence and never find their voices. My daughter, and Philip, have been empowered to find their voices, and to USE them, through the NSA. You can find out more about the NSA at

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Mr. Fix-it

I had my article posted in Family Voices, the official magazine of the National Stuttering Association! Very cool!

We're dads. We're programmed to fix things. It's irrevocably built into our DNA, more than our love or hatred of the designated hitter, our desire for an engine with more horsepower, our need to get rid of ALL of the crabgrass our lawns, or even the quest for the perfect barbeque technique (HINT: it's timing - don't turn things more than once). So what does a dad do when presented with a kid who is "broken"? These tiny little beings don't come with an instruction manual, and not having a manual is so much worse than those multi-lingual, poorly drawn pamphlets that inevitably come with our Summer weekend do-it-yourself projects. At least with those instructions, some of the Swedish words bear a faint resemblance to English and you can almost, if you squint, make out where the thingamajig screws into the whatsit.

So you can imagine my confusion when my daughter, Katie, began stuttering around age 3. Surely there must be a manual for this. There has to be a way to fix it, right? My wife, Joan, and I jumped on the Internet and began looking around. Fortunately, we quickly found the source of the problem. Unfortunately, according to the all-knowing 21st Century oracle, the problem was us. We talked too fast. and we talked over each other. And we talked a lot. If we just slowed down, listened, had long pauses where Katie could interject, her stuttering would go away. "Well, that was easy" I said to Joan. Surely this Jersey-born guy and his Philadelphia-born wife could speak slowly. Even if we were both raised in gift-of-the-gab Irish families. You know, the type of family where conversation was equal parts Formula I racing, fencing match and blood sport. We can so do this, I thought. So Joan and I slooooowed down (This took more than one try. A lot more than one try). Only, Katie kept right on bumping away.

Well, there was still no manual available, so we took the next logical step. We went to an expert, in this case our doctor. Surely, the doctor would be able to tell us what was wrong and then we could set about the task of fixing it. Once again, we found the source of the problem, and we were told that it We were putting too much pressure on Katie. We were too demanding. If we could just relax about EVERYTHING, Katie would be just fine. This was nothing to worry about and it would just fade away if we could just relax. Have you ever tried to relax, knowing that something depended on your relaxing? That one did not come easily to any of us, but we managed to be MORE relaxed and that was going to have to be enough. But still, Katie stuttered.

So surely, I thought, there must be some sort of expert who specializes in this sort of thing. It was then we found the National Stuttering Association and I felt like Galahad finding the Grail. Surely these knowledgeable professionals with their years of training and experience would be able to cure my daughter. So we packed the family up and headed out to the NSA's annual conference in Atlanta. I was wondering, on the ride down there, just how long it would take to fix Katie, to cure her of this malady.

That was more than five years ago, and Katie still stutters. What I learned in that first Conference, and what I am reminded of each year I go, was that she didn't need to be fixed because she wasn't broken. Like the kids, teens and adults I met at the conference, Katie is smart, funny, beautiful and talented. What is broken, what needs to be fixed, I am learning, is a society that treats people who stutter as less than what they are. And so, I am going to acknowledge the nature of my DNA, that the need to fix things is an integral part of that, and I am going to set about changing this society to a place where my daughter's voice can be heard, because she has a lot to say.

Friday, August 26, 2011

LiveSTRONG Ride for Five: Part III

You are riding hard now, trying to make the cutoff. You can feel the lactic acid building up in your legs, particularly on the hills. You remember your friend Kurt saying the world is flat when you're in a car. Not so much when you're on a bike. You're breathing a little heavier now, too, but you still labor onward, and also upward. You're in some bigger hills now, and trying to remember where the cutoff is, how far you still have to go, and you're trying to do the math in your head. Your head which has begun to ache. Badly.

You felt it coming on at the last rest stop and asked at the first aid station if they had Tylenol or ibuprofen. All they had was aspirin, and you're pretty sure it's just in case someone has a heart attack. You are not going to have a heart attack. But you're starting to feel like this headache could kill you. How does one run an event like LiveSTRONG and not have ibuprofen or Tylenol? You remember from previous years there is a rest area just past the cutoff area, and if you make it, you might be able to find some relief. You pedal harder.

You find yourself looking at the clock. It is past 10.00 now. If they've moved the cutoff up, you won't be able to ride the 100 mile course for the second year in a row. You look at the sky and while there are clouds in the sky, there is certainly no sign of threatening weather. You take some solace in this fact and get out of the saddle for a bit to change your position on the saddle. It feels good to pedal from a standing position for a while. Then you see the cutoff area. You pedal up, hopeful.

You see hordes of riders being directed to the left. The 70 mile course. It occurs to you exactly what has happened. They have closed the 100 mile course. Again. It is 10.13. You're somewhat perplexed because the skies look fine. There have been some light sprinkles, but nothing worthy of rerouting. You are disappointed. Many of the people surrounding you are bitter. And angry. And vocal. A couple of riders go through the rerout, with the understanding they will be alone, unsupported, on the course. You think about it for ten seconds and then think better of it. You turn to the 70 mile course and pedal away from the complaining. Your head is still pounding.

A guy pedals up next to you and strikes up a conversation. He starts complaining about the 100 mile course being closed and you bite down on your tongue until you taste blood. After a couple minutes of this, the man reads your silence, then says cheerfully, "But it's not really why we're out here today, is it?" A glimmer of hope lights on your ride and you start to talk easily with this guy, whose name is Vinnie, from New Jersey. Two years ago, he had a rash and it was really bugging him and his girlfriend was nagging him and nagging him to go see a dermatologist. Finally, he relented, to get her to stop whining (the irony was not lost on me at this point) and he went to the doctor. The doctor took one look at the rash and said, "That doesn't concern me, but this mole, this mole, and that mole do. We're going to cut them out, today." So they cut out his moles and they tested positive for melanoma. A silly rash and his girlfriend's badgering had saved his life. Now he tells people that if things don't seem right, they should go see a doctor. It's the same thing that saved your life five years ago. It's the same you've been preaching ever since.

You pull into a rest area and say goodbye to Vinnie from New Jersey and you're glad you were able to share stories. Now, you need Tylenol. You locate the first aid station and mercifully they have some. The guy asks if you want three or four. Two will be loads, you assure him. He is surprised. You are surprised that people would take more than 2. You toss them in your mouth and knock them back dry. Relief is on its way.

Sean and Jennifer pull in and now the remaining Team Fish riders are all together. You leave together and talk lightly, focusing on the riding. Sean decides to stop and take pictures, so you and Jennifer ride on. Jennifer is a strong rider and your pace matches each other well. The miles flow beneath you as you talk of her three children, how different they are, how precious they are to her. You think about your own Li'l Fish and how much you love her, how the fight you had five years ago almost took so much from you. You realize again she won't be at the finish line for the first time this year, that she and Mrs. Fish are home getting ready for school and a Selena Gomez concert. You miss them immensely, but you know the love you have for them will bridge the miles.

Overall, you are feeling solid, and your headache is gone. Your commitment to eat when you can, even if you have to force it a bit, has served you well. The switch from Gatorade to a more complete drink, Heed, this year has kept the cramps at bay and you feel energetic. You are in good shape. You enter the last miles and the rolling hills. You realize you are almost finished, and as with last year, you are surprised at how quickly this has happened with the 30 fewer miles. You pull over to TXT Mrs. Fish and Li'l Fish, then head for the finish line, tell them how much you love them.

The finish line is divided to the left for riders and to the right for survivors. When you finish down the chute, people are going nuts and screaming for you when they realize you are a survivor. It's all a little much and you feel the tears come again, for the five more years you have had to fight this awful disease. For the five more years you have had to live your life. For the five more years you had had to spend with your friends, and to see your brother become a father. And most of all for the five more years you have had to love your wife and hold your daughter. The Ride for FIVE is over, and you look to the skies and thank your God for FIVE more years.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LiveSTRONG: Ride for FIVE Part II

You ride easily over the starting area. The first ten miles are lightly rolling hills, and you can feel your legs, the power in them that you've built over this season's training. You trained hard this year, and it is paying off already. You realize you've forgotten only one thing, but it could be major. You're a redhead and you've forgotten sunscreen. It's still early, so the sun is barely up, and you're relatively sure they'll have sunscreen at the first rest stop. You choose not to worry about it just yet. One of the things you have learned is that the people who do well in this event are adaptable and tend not to panic. Check and check.

At the first rest stop, you drop off to get sunscreen and they do indeed have some. And, of course, the booth is manned by a redhead, who immediately sets about scolding me for not having any on. "Don't forget you're ears," she says to you. She realizes your mother is not hear to make sure you get them. On the whole, Lance's sunscreen is awful. It never, ever soaks into the skin. It just lays on your arms, legs and face with a pale white covering. You quip to the volunteer that it's a good thing this is not a beauty contest. On the plus side, for the remainder of the day, you will not need to reapply a single time. It is both wonderful and terrible.

The first stop is also an opportunity to regroup. Your friend George is hurting, can't get the legs under him for the ride. He can't figure out what it is, and you're equally confounded, as you know he has done some decent riding in preparation for this event. He is hurting to the point where he decides to cutoff at 20 miles, the legs simply unable to do what his mind and spirit are trying to will them to do. You remain puzzled for the rest of the day about exactly what just happened.

You catch up to your brother, Pat, and ride with him for a while, talking about his one-year-old twins and the joys and terrors and general sleeplessness of parenthood at that age. It's a juggling act, and you remember back to when your own daughter was that age. It was so long ago, before cancer, actually,. Sometimes you divide your life into pieces like this, before and after cancer. Most of the time, though, you're just grateful there is an after cancer, so you can ride with your brother and talk about his kids.

At the 45 mile cutoff, your takes a left and heads for home, for his children, while you stand up and rise to the next hill. Jennifer and Sean are up ahead somewhere, and you're confident you'll see them soon. You pedal a bit harder now, the 10.00 cutoff looming in your head. You still find time to toss BUTNZ! to the people who have come out to support the ride, especially the kids, waving like maniacs and cheering us all on. And, the cowbell people, who support you every year with their encouragement.

You speak with survivors who are riding with you. Like Tracy, the four year survivor of Ewings Sarcoma, a cancer that attacks the tissue and bone of your body. You speak with Ron who tells you he is a testicular cancer survivor. You ask him, "Did you lose Lefty or Righty?" He is taken aback until you explain you lost Lefty and he says, "I lost Righty, so I guess between us we make a whole man." You say simply, "I suspect together we make a great deal more than that" and he nods in tacit agreement. There is Carl, a runner who got the biking bug and now rides in events like this because he is in love with cycling. He wears the Navy jersey in support of his brother, who is in San Diego on active duty, and he talks about how much he misses him because they were always so close.

You also see people you know from previous rides. Jon's Crew rides in memory of Jonathan a young man who passed away. You see Jim, who fought with you through the last stages of last year's ride, over the last hills through driving rain, each of you encouraging the other. He has added another year under his brain cancer survivorship belt.

On and on it goes, thousands of people on a single road, pedalling to fight cancer because of these stories. Eventually, you catch up with Sean and Jenny, and you start focusing on making the cutoff. It's going to be close. Sean pulls for you for a bit, then tells you just to GO FISH GO! You race ahead to try to make the cutoff so they will let you ride the 100 mile course.

LiveSTRONG: Ride for FIVE Part I

Your alarm goes off at 5:15 am. Every year you think you're prepared for just how early this is, but you never are. In situations like this, you have two go-to songs: the Triathlon Song...

...or the one by Mark Knopfler for which you can never find a video. You choose Knopfler. Your body has some creaks that you're certain weren't there last year, perhaps weren't even there yesterday, but still you rise. Quickly, you don the gear you have laid out the night before, everything designed to streamline the process and get you out the door more quickly. You have a mission, and you cannot be late. This is your focus, now.

Your jersey is the seafoam aqua of The Lounge, an inside joke for many of the cyclists you know, emblazoned with the code that is both an impetus for humor and an odd badge of welcoming. You double check your shoes and your helmet, because you realize without these, you won't be allowed to ride. Quickly, you pack up the sleeping bag, the air mattress, your belongings are tossed in a knapsack with the LiveSTRONG logo. It's a gift awarded for the fundraising you did last year, for the efforts of your friends and family and a host of people who care about you and hate cancer. Many of them you have never met, but you will spend all day thinking about them. But not now. You are packed up and ready to go. It is 5:30.

You walk out to your car, make sure your bicycle is secured on the back of the car and drive out of the garage, probably for the last time. You think of your mother-in-law and the kindness she has shown you in allowing you to crash at her place for the past 5 years. You say a prayer for her that God watches over her.

You stop at the Dunkin' Donuts on the way out, another tradition for the past five years. The coffee cannot come soon enough, and you also order a bagel with ham and egg. You know it's going to taste awful, but you also need the calories. The coffee is the first sign of hope you have had today, black and perfect. There is hardly any traffic at all and you get to the event venue ahead of schedule. Your friend George is already there and you get texts from the rest of the team they will be there quickly.

You speak easily with George, you've known him for almost ten years now. He's a good man, and a good father, and always trying to be better at both, so you recognize in him a kindred spirit, as you also did when you first met him. Your friend Jenny shows up, and it's good to see her again. You have seen her for nearly two years, you guess, when you ran in a race to celebrate her brother, Tony, who died of colon cancer. Your sure she's thinking of him now, and you say a silent prayer for her as well. Your brother Pat joins the Team Fish group, the illustrious Patfish Hunter who has ridden every LiveSTRONG with you. You're glad the tradition continues, and you're glad his coworker Sean has joined you yet again. Team Fish is now together and assembled.

You pedal down to the start line and you think about the Team Fish people who are not there this year. Family commitments have kept Kurt and Randy out this year, as well as a host of others who had "maybe" circled for this date. You're hoping they'll be with you again next year, then you turn to face the sea of bicycles and the task before you.

You secretly curse the idiots who set up the announcing booth, with all of the speakers facing away from the cyclists. You're sure it makes sense to someone, but to you it sounds like that etacher in the Charlie Brown series who just goes on in a monotone, "WAH WAH WAH WAH WAHHHHHHHHHN..." It might be amusing in the Sunday comics, less so for an event like this. You can't hear a thing until music begins to play and thousands of bikers go silent. last year they had a jazz singer and this year an opera singer. Both times you were moved nearly to tears. You think of your friends Eric and Kurt and the rest of the people you know serving this country to keep you and your family safe. You recognize a feeling most people would call gratitude, but you recognize that only scratches the surface of the thanks you feel.

Normally, they run a pretty tight ship with regard to start times. This time it is handled poorly, and you actually start 20 minutes late. As you roll out, you catch people discussing the possibility of storms coming in. The normal cutoff time to ride the 100 mile course is to reach a certain checkpoint at 10.30. The organizers reserve the right, it is said, to redirect 100 mile riders onto the 70 mile course if they don't make the cutoff by 10.00. There is not a cloud in the sky, so you don't worry about this. You're happy to be riding, finally, with Team Fish. And off you go onto the course.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

LiveSTRONG: Ride for FIVE Prologue

On Saturday, I arrived at the LiveSTRONG Expo center. It's an easy stop, and I walked through the various booths, checking out the scene en route to picking up the packets for Team Fish's riding cadre. This year was the most organized it has ever been, and the volunteers were, as they always are, anxious to help and incredibly friendly. I have been in a lot of events like this, and the volunteers are what make it, from the people staffing the tables to those guiding people as they arrive and those handling the parking lot. LiveSTRONG is very well organized in this respect, I have to say.

I passed out the first BUTNZ! to the two women who helped me gather the bags for Team Fish. Five bags is a lot of swag, so it was quite a bit to pull together, and they were so appreciative of the BUTNZ! It also led to conversations about team Fish and why I ride; which I thought was pretty cool. They were quick to congratulate me on 5 years as a survivor.

I also was able to visit at the Caring Bridge booth. Caring Bridge is an online website that enables people fighting cancer to keep in touch with friends and family about the ongoing treatments they are going through. It's a fantastic site that Collin, the 2 year-old boy who passed away from Lymphoma, used, and it was also the site my buddy Doug used to keep us apprised of his situation. I was able to plant a couple of flowers in the garden in their name.

This is the Trek Tent.

I visited the Trek Tent and was able to ask a question that has plagued this generation of cyclists like no other. While philosophers ponder whether existence or essence comes first and scientists wonder what the ideal number of wolves is to ensure survival of the species, our question is simpler, more esoteric, yet no less important. "Does Trek make good bikes?" I asked and was told, unequivocally by the representative from Trek, that they do indeed make good bikes. Very good bikes, in fact. I feel like I can sleep now, knowing that.

I always make it a point to visit the Wall where you can post the names of survivors and those who have passed. I made a point to include this year's Team Fish. In past years, this has always choked me up, and it still did, but it was different. This year feels more like a celebration for both those who have survived and for the memory of those who have passed. Based on the conversations I had with Team Fish, I know we carry them with us, and no matter how much we miss them, they are, in so many ways, still with us every day.

So, I packed up the Team Fish swag and schlepped it over to my friend George "The BUTNZ Czar" sister's house. She was kind enough to host us for dinner and I had a great time hanging out with George and his family. George and I also took a brief 15 miler just to keep the legs active. I was also grateful for the steak dinner, which was delicious! We swam for most of the night, and discussed economic philosophy, then I headed for my "home".

I stopped for some takeout Chinese food on the way back, as a friend had suggested not only carbo-loading but also aiming to increase my calorie count the night before. It was good advice because I always find it difficult to eat the morning of an event. I always stay with Mrs. Fish's mom (Gram Fish?) and this year was no exception. She has had some health issues and is in the process of moving into assisted living, but her apartment was still open, so I was free to crash there. I realized this would be the last year I would be able to stay here, and it brought on a melancholy I wasn't prepared for. I brought it back to the room, ate it, set my alarm for EARLY and hit the proverbial sack (in this case, an air mattress). I fell asleep immediately.

Friday, August 19, 2011


We are ready and I reached my personal goal of $2,500! Thank you to everyone who has chosen to be part of Team Fish!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Today is the Day!

It was FIVE years ago today. I went to see my doctor and mentioned to him that I had some pain and discomfort. So, we did a quick check and he let me know it was probably due to a lump and that lump was probably cancer. He was right on both counts. Today, five years later, I am blessed. I am a survivor.

My friend Bill, a survivor himself, talked to me early on about the responsibility we have when given the cancer diagnosis. There are two parts. The first is to fight every single moment of every single day until you're cured. Reminders come in strange places at unexpected times. I remember one time when, late in my radiation treatment, when I was feeling particularly tired and sick and more than a little weary, I had to go for yet another treatment. I was not looking forward to it. When I went in, I got to talking to a kid in the office waiting room and he was heading in for his chemo treatment. At 11, his burden seemed so much greater than mine, yet he was there and ready to go. Fight every moment of every day.

The second thing Bill talked about was the responsibility of the survivors. When you come out on the other side, you carry the light for those who are being diagnosed with this disease, to pass along the help, the inspiration, the courage, the knowledge of what it was that helped you become a survivor. I caught mine early. I had friends and family who supported me in amazing ways. I received incredible prayer support. I had amazing doctors and I live in the country with the most advanced healthcare system in the world. Beyond that, I had support from other people who had survived, who helped me understand what I was dealing with. They helped me understand doctors, become an advocate for myself, find information about the disease (I am one of those people who wants to know MORE, not less), access resources. Now, I find myself doing that for others, in the hopes that I can live out that part of Bill's vision.

It's also why I ride. In the past five years, with the formation of Team Fish or Cut Bait, we have now raised nearly $20,000 to fight cancer. This year, the Ride for FIVE was formed to commemorate my fifth anniversary as a survivor. My friend Alwyn, a two-time cancer survivor, calls it Carpe Diem Day, the day when he chose to seize control of his life and live it.

To Bill's two commands, I would add a third. Remember. Remember both those who have survived and touched our lives because they understand what it is to be a survivor, like Bill and Alwyn and Bev (who mentored me through so many ups and downs). And, remember those who have passed. As long as we remember their stories, their fight, their lives, and how they touched us, they didn't fight in vain. I choose to remember the good things they taught me, what they showed me of courage and humanity. I remember Bob's unyielding faith, how he felt not that he was passing this world so much as he was simply going home. And Terri's light, her humor and her smile, the way the whole world seemed better just because she was in it. I remember Collin's bravery and the joy of how much he loved his family, and was loved by them, and how that love continues to spread. I remember Lucy and how brightly she shone, if only for a moment, like the world could not contain that much for any longer than it did; but like the brightest shooting star, I can still see that light when I blink my eyes and think of her. And Beth, who brought so much love to every thing she did, and when she left, she made sure it stayed with the people she touched.

I promise to carry the light. I promise to fight. And, I promise to remember.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Team Fish: Ride for FIVE Update

Just a quick update. Team Fish is now INTERNATIONAL with contributions from England and Bulgaria! We have reached our rider total of FIVE riders with my friend Jennifer signing on! And, we are more than half way to our goal of $5,000. Absolutely awesome!

That being said, we still need your help! Won't you please consider supporting usa by clicking THIS LINK?

Thank you so much, everyone, for all of your support. Onward and upward!

Training Ride

I put in a training ride across the area today, packing in about 78 miles. All in all, I felt pretty good throughout the ride, though I got a little sore at the end. I saw a boatload of animals, including dairy cows out in force, an unusual preponderance of goldfinches (not sure what that's about; I've seen a LOT of them this year on my rides) and a heap of sheep. I also managed to pick up a hitchhiking praying mantis.

I've said before if you can ride in Pennsylvania, you can ride anywhere. I hit a lot of chipseal. In this area, they lay down a layer of oil, then spread chipped gravel on top of it. The chips stick to the oil and the passing of cars presses it into the existing asphalt. No. I am not making this up. The problem is that when they first lay it down, it is, as you might imagine, a complete mess. Not to mention the vibrations from the chips before they get pressed into a (semi) flat state.

Riding into Boiling Springs, a small town near me, I saw a bunch of cones and some people standing near them. I asked what was going on and it turned out there was a triathlon in town. So, I pedalled forward and ended up doing the course in reverse, cheering the competitors on as they went by. It was very cool to see their faces light up as I cheered for them.

Taking stock, I have two minor concerns. I am getting a a vibrating in my right elbow and I have a shooting pain, albeit manageable, down my left leg. I am thinking some ice and yoga should make a difference.

One last shot of my buddy - I see COWS!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Check them out: BUTNZ!

Check out this year's BUTNZ! They are AWESOMENESS!

Team Fish supporters get one for supporting Team Fish and the Ride for FIVE. And, wait until you see the rim stickers! Huge thanks to Kurt at for this again!

As always, you can support Team Fish in The Ride for FIVE by CLICKING HERE.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


One of the cool things that happens with Team Fish is that my friend Kurt makes BUTNZ! for us. Last year's looked like this:

Kurt has been making BUTNZ for years, and they make a great toss out to people as we ride through the course. I also give them to the people who support the ride, and who support Team Fish. You can not believe how much BUTNZ! brighten someone's day.

Kurt has made BUTNZ! for us all five years. On my first ride, I met a woman named Diane who was undergoing chemo and had timed her treatments so she could ride LiveSTRONG. We rode for quite a while together, talking about surviving, and she was in that place where doctors weren't sure what kind of odds she had, but she was certainly sure. She just KNEW she was going to survive. I rode on, but not before I gave her a BUTNZ! and told her I would be praying for her. The tough thing about these rides is that you meet people and then you don't know what happens next, you aren't able to follow their stories.

The next year, my friend Kurt (a different Kurt, not the one who makes BUTNZ!) rode with Team Fish and, after the ride, was walking through the food tent. A couple sat down next to him and he struck up a conversation with them, then gave them a Team Fish BUTNZ! They asked about the significance of Team Fish, and Kurt went on to explain that it was kind of my rallying cry when things needed to change: It's time to either fish or cut bait. Well, there was a woman sitting behind them who overheard the conversation. "Did you say Team Fish," she asked. Kurt replied in the affirmative and the woman introduced herself as Diane. She had indeed made it through, and was, at that point, 8 months cancer free. Today, she would be approaching her five year anniversary.

BUTNZ! Kurt just mailed out this year's edition, and assured me they are going to AWESOME!!!! With Kurt, I have no doubt they are and I can't wait to see this year's BUTNZ! I cannot recommend his work or thank him enough for his kindness and support of Team Fish. If you want to know more about BUTNZ! or would like to order some for an event, you can find him at www.BUTNZ!.com.

You can Support Team Fish by CLICKING HERE!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Miles, Finally

I managed to get to the doctor today. After nearkly two weeks of feeling absolutely terrible, I was diagnosed with (drum roll please) the common cold. I was hoping for something a little more exotic, like Scarlet Fever, but it turns out I just have a cold. Oh well. The good news is that I feel like I am finally getting better.

In fact, I finally felt well enough to ride today. I put in almost 30 miles, but it was 101 degrees when I left the house at 6.30. Jeez! The ride was actually two very different rides. Heading out, I was just spinning and trying to get my legs under me. They were most decidedly not cooperating. With a combination of the heat, the layoff and the lingering sickness, I just found it very difficult to find any kind of rhythm.

At the turnaround, I took on a little fuel and cooled down with a bottle squirt over the head. As soon as I hit the pedals, I felt a difference. The legs were responding and I could feel the bounce in the pedals. It was back, and it felt good to be riding. I covered the return ride nearly 2 miles per hour faster than when I went out.

I'm going to try to get a short ride in tomorrow morning as well. Perhaps it will be cooler. Perhaps.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Team Fish: The Ride for FIVE is Dancing!

Team Fish has it's first official rider for this year. My buddy George is officially on board for our LiveSTRONG Ride for FIVE! Last year he kicked in the Team Guppy experience. This year I am promoting him to Team Fish for sure. It's so good to have you with us again, George.

On the fundraising side of things, Tom Kilgore has stepped up in a HUGE way and it will be my honor to ride for Joan Lewis. Big ups to my friends E, J. Scott, Kyle, and Marvin. After just one day of official fundraising, we stand at $775 toward our goal of $5,000. We're up early and DANCING ON THE PEDALS!

On a separate note, I was lamenting my lack of training. Yes, I am still sick. My friend Kurt gave me a word of encouragement which I would do well to remember, in cycling and in life. He said, "Sometimes in life you just don't get to prepare for what comes next. You are quite aware of that. Make the best of it. Push down, move forward, repeat..."

If things work out the way I hope, I'm going for a short ride tomorrow.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ride for Five: Update

In every battle, there is always that calm which precedes the clash of arms. The two armies face off across an expanse, sizing one another up, usually acquainted with the damage the other can inflict, the tactics they might employ, and trying to get some insight into exactly what is coming. You see it a lot in movies, in Gladiator when the Romans are facing the Germanic hordes, or the Orcs facing the Riders of Rohan at Helm's Deep for those of us who are Lord of the Rings geeks, or even the Scots and the English at Bannockburn as portrayed in Braveheart. And then there is that moment when someone lets fly with an arrow or a spear or even tosses a sword and the battle is joined.

So it is with Team Fish as we prepare for the fifth annual LiveSTRONG rideride, dubbed the Ride for Five. It's my fifth anniversary of winning against cancer. It's my fifth year of taking the battle to this monster. And once again we stand across the distance, facing off against each other, sizing one another up.

Once again, my friend Greg Woods has shot the first arrow into the battle. He has pledged the entire cost of my entrance for the LiveSTRONG event (and then some!) to get things roling for Team Fish. Words cannot express my thankfulness, and it will be my joy to ride in honor of John Woods.

So, with one month left before the battle is joined, and we're wading into it. Now, WHO'S WITH US?

Support us by CLICKING HERE.


One of the unfortunate side-effects of the National Stuttering Association's Annual Conference was the flight out, sitting next to a guy who had Captain Trips (or some such thing). I'm not sure how I always find "THAT" guy, but I do. And, as (my) luck would have it, I picked up the bug and have been laid low for about a week and a half, hacking, coughing, and generally not sleeping as an added bonus.

As a result, I am clearly behind in my training, having been sick for about a week and a half. This is the second sustained sickness I have had this year as I have prepared for the fifth annual LiveSTRONG ride. Still, I actually feel a little better today. I am hoping I can get in the miles necessary to do this right. And to survive it.

Thoughts and prayers are always welcome.

National Stuttering Association Annual Conference

I went on vacation with the family to the National Stuttering Association's annual conference (frequent readers of the Fish Blog will recall theat Little Fish stutters, but it never seems to slow her down). We had the honor of meeting and listening to and meeting David Seidler, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The King's Speech.

We also had a great time reconnecting with old friends and also meeting new ones. There were almost 1,000 people this year and more than 300 were first time attendees. The momentum gained by The King's Speech has really given a push to the awareness of those who stutter. Further, that awareness has led to more and more people finding the National Stuttering Association and getting resources, help and support. It's a great place for those who stutter, or if you know someone who does and the organization continues to get the word out: If you stutter, you're not alone.

Once again, I laughed, I cried, and it changed my life. Not to mention the incredible things it continues to do for my Li'l Fish. Pretty amazing time, to be sure.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Team Fish: The Ride for FIVE!


FIVE years ago I was given a diagnosis that would change my life forever. FIVE years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was FIVE years ago I dedicated myself to beating cancer at every turn, whenever and wherever I could. FIVE years ago, I became a survivor. FIVE years ago, Collin was still with us. So was Bob. And Terri. And John. And Lucy. And Beth. And a great many others.

FIVE years later, I am still here. And I am still riding in the belief that we can create a world where 28 million people can live lives of hope, of dignity, and of cancer-free joy.

This year, we have set a goal of FIVE Riders. We have set a fundraising goal of $5,000. It's our Ride for FIVE. We would love it if you could ride with us for Team Fish's LiveSTRONG Ride for FIVE. We would love it if you could support us in our Ride for FIVE.

So I'll ask again...Time number FIVE: "WHO'S WITH US?"

Support Me: CLICK HERE

Join Team Fish: CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 02, 2011

What I Learned Riding My Bike to Work

1) The world is flat when you're in a car. Those hills are bigger than they seem from behind the steering wheel, but, oddly enough, aren't as large as I thought when I was pedaling. Maybe I'm not in as bad a shape as I thought. Speaking of which, there is nothing like a ride in Spring to remind you that you promised you would be in shape this Spring. And that you have once again failed.

2) People in Central PA are generally respectful of cyclists. I have heard horror stories from bike commuters, and I have to say that most of them are great.

3) Pursuant to point 2, I do want to say to the motorcyclists out there to please remember that in many respects, we are brothers. We both ride on two wheels. We're both regarded as second-class citizens on the road. We're both always seen as going to slow or two fast. I would also like to point out the utter ridiculousness of questioning the sexuality of a cyclist while riding past in leather chaps. Just sayin'...

4) I don't generally think of a bra as optional equipment for a run on the MUT. For that woman that did, you might want to reconsider.

5) The world moves at a slower pace from a bike, and I find I am much, much more in tune with my senses when I ride. I can smell the flowers in bloom and the fresh cut grass, hear birds singing in the early morning air, feel the wind change direction and even taste the gnats that just flew into me in a frenzied swarm.

6) I really can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Lorica of St. Patrick

Lorica of Saint Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

St. Patrick (ca. 377)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cycling in PA in February

I went for a ride this weekend, my first of the new year. It was an altogether awesome experience, but it occurs to me a primer on riding in Pennsylvania might be helpful. Some things to know:

1) The myth of tailwinds. There is a belief that if you ride into a headwind for the first half of your ride, it would necessarily follow that you would have a tailwind for the ride home. That rule applies where the rules of physics have, at the very least, some hold. That being said, this is the state that delivered Rick Santorum to Washington, so if you're thinking the rules of physics, or any form of what might be loosely construed as common sense, applies here, you're clearly mistaken. It was about 65 degrees, but with a front moving in, the winds whipped up to more than 50 miles per hour. At one point I almost got blown off the bike. The ride out was into a headwind. The ride back was spent dealing with a crosswind. The tailwind that should have been blowing me homeward, like a cycling Odysseus, was nowhere to be found. Still, I pedaled onward, clipping out after 20 miles.

2) There are three distinct seasons in Central PA. Summer, which is characterized by 90+ degree heat and 90+ percent humidity. Winter, which would be that season of ice, snow, slush, near Arctic temperatures. It's said if you can survive these two seasons in Pennsylvania, you're pretty much prepared to live anywhere. They neglect to mention the in-between time, known locally as Pothole Season. You'll recognize its beginnings when black ice and permafrost are no longer a daily thing; there is an occasional day where a bright orb, known in America as the Sun, can be seen occasionally in the sky; and people actually go outside for activities other than shoveling snow. This may or may not coincide with advice given by a certain groundhog from Punxatawney, PA which people recognize not so much as a prediction of future weather so much as one more excuse to drink and form a liquid barrier from the cold. We grow potholes in PA, and we grow them both large and plentiful. There are not a lot of advantages to testicular cancer, but one of them is that when you hit a Central PA pothole, you have a 50% better chance of surviving it intact than the average American male. Score one for me and Lance.

3) That first warm day is a lie. We had 65 degrees on Friday. It was 40 degrees on Sunday. Tonight we are looking at another 6 inches of snow. They say if you don't like the weather in Central PA, wait fifteen minutes. I don't think you usually need to wait that long. Honestly. Still, I got my ride in on Friday and a run in today, in anticipation that any semblance of outdoor-friendly weather was just a mirage. Sure enough, the mirage his rapidly disappearing.

So, if you're looking to ride in the area, I'm hoping this helps. And, if you're looking for a riding partner, I'll be the guy in the parka on the blue Cannondale. look for me at the bottom of a pothole.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Odyssey of Pastor Mike: Part V

Pastor Michael prayed and asked God what the next stage was, what more God might demand of him. “Go to Belarus,” was God’s reply. After five years of preaching in the prisons, hospitals, and streets of Russia, God was calling Pastor Mike to a new ministry.

The transition was difficult for Pastor Mike and for his wife Lena and his son Sasha. But God sustained them through the trials of the move. He started a church. God gave him power to heal the sick and to preach with authority, restoring families who had been broken by drug addiction and the rampant alcoholism in the country. Through it all, Michael remained a steadfast servant of God. His efforts, and the results they were bringing forth, attracted the attention of a local woman, Galina Samusenko, who would join the church and exhibit the same passionate fervor Pastor Mike had for serving others. She would go on to serve as an assistant Pastor.

Galina helped the church grow, and soon the worship services were overflowing. They opened a new church, then a third. They continued the Biblical commandments of feeding the poor and the needy, caring for orphans and widows. All of this activity began to attract the attention of the local authorities, who intimidated some of the parishioners. In Belarus, the only accepted religion is Orthodox Christianity, and to worship in the style of Pastor Mike and his parishioners is a jailable offense. Further, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought not liberation, but a tightening of the stranglehold the government of Belarus inflicted on its citizens. Times grew tougher for Pastor Mike's church.

Yet Pastor Mike and his congregation continued to worship. Further, their farms were prospering, and they began to feed the people of the local village, then the surrounding villages. Pastor Michael petitioned the local government to approve his church as an official church, and finally, after many years, it was accomplished. The church continued to face discrimination and injustices, but it also continued to grow.

Pastor Mike's church formed an alliance with my church, Aldersgate and things continued to prosper. The churches supported one another, and the financial support we were able to provide helped build a new church in Krichev. It was placed at the top of the only hill in the town, a shining beacon on the hill, and a sign of just how much things had changed. Further financial support from Aldersgate enabled Pastor Mike’s congregation to purchase a tractor, allowing them to grow more crops, and feed more people. And still the church grew.

The church garnered more land and set up pens for pigs, geese and ducks. Pastor Michael created a Church Camp, a safe haven for kids who no longer had to be at the mercy of predators in the streets. The Church created a children's Sunday school, a Bible school for adults, a daily prayer service, a women’s and men’s group, youth services, and Praise and Worship services. Today, the three churches have more than 200 people attending.

God continued his work of redemption with Pastor Michael right until the end. Shortly before his death earlier this summer, Pastor Michael received a message from God that He was going to call him home. True to his nature, Pastor Michael called his team, including Galina, the young woman who had so enthusiastically joined the church and served as his right hand, and told them they needed to begin preparations for a time when Pastor Michael would no longer be with them. They worked together to institute a transition plan, and the Krichev Church was accepted as a member of the International United Methodist Churches. Shortly thereafter, Pastor Michael was called to his rest.

The Odyssey of Pastor Mike: Part IV

Michael Kazimirov was wrapped in the arms of a forgiving God, weeping and appealing to God because he wished to live. To truly live. It was a sincere plea, born not out of a selfish need for preservation, but out of the realization he had not served God to this point in his life, and there was much to do. He pledged his life to God, begging for forgiveness, for direction, for absolution. And it came upon him in waves.

Several months later, as the date of Michael’s execution drew close, the military tribunal reconvened, unexpectedly. Michael faced the court, unafraid, knowing that God was moving, and was not surprised when he heard his sentence changed from death to a life sentence. He saw the hand of God moving now, committed himself to following where it led him. But where would it lead? What would happen next? How would he know where to go? He had so many questions, but this time he sought the answers, and he had a place to turn.

Michael returned to prison that day, and began to read. He picked up the Bible from his cell, seeking God’s words, devouring it like a meal set before a man who had been starving for years, which was, in effect, what he was. God continued to move, but now Michael knew who was in charge of his life, recognized the force of God. Michael was allowed to mingle with the other prisoners and began to share the word of God with the lost souls who occasionally surrounded him, men just as lost as he had been.

And Michael Kazimirov spoke with authority, showing the men how God was working in his life and the power of God’s forgiveness. Not surprisingly, his fellow prisoners began to listen. At first, just a few came, huddled close to hear the story this former Special Forces soldier, this murderer who had been redeemed by God’s love. Word spread throughout the prison of a man with the fire of God about him, and Michael was preaching with the fire and zeal of a new believer, a man who had experienced the redemption of the Holy Spirit. His ministry continued to grow in the prison and he became the prison pastor. After 12 years, he had 50 people in his group of believers.

The tribunal convened again, and Michael’s sentence was declared complete. After twelve years, God released him from his chains, and Michael was a free man. He went back to school and applied himself in the study of God’s word and was ordained as a Pastor. He preached in his native Russia for five years, building churches, visiting hospitals and prisons, bringing good news to all who would hear it. Michael looked at his work and felt satisfied; he was bringing the Word of God to his people, as he had promised to do.

But once again Michael began to get the feeling he was missing something, that there was a question he was not answering, that something was about to change.

The Odyssey of Pastor Mike: Part III

The dungeon was a perfect place to wait for execution, if such a thing can exist. It was cold and there were no windows, no visible way to the outside. There was very little light, save what was offered by a single, bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Michael tried to warm his hands by the heat of the bulb, but it was hung just too high. It was a place devoid of hope. “Perfect,” thought Michael Kazimirov. But there it was again, that feeling that he had missed something. Only now, Michael had no place to shoe it away to. He was a condemned man, a hard worker with no work to bury himself in, a soldier with no battles to fight, a boxer with no opponent on the other side. It was all gone: his career, his honor, the respect he had earned. He had nothing but the icy, inflexible floor of this prison and his life, and he recognized he would soon lose both. The recognition was without bitterness, only a slow resignation to his fate…except for that feeling. What was it?

The cell was sparse. Michael. The light bulb. A blanket. A book. Absentmindedly, he picked up the book, undoubtedly left by a previous inhabitant, who put it down as he walked (or crawled, or was dragged) out to die, as Michael himself would do when the time came. He wondered grimly how many men before him had done this exact pantomime. He did not open at the front of the book, but rather let it fall open, as he slumped down on the floor to read by that dim bulb.

It flopped open to Psalm 91 and Michael Kazimirov read:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the LORD, who is my refuge- then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."

…and the arms of God came into his prison, wrapped Michael in love and comforted him. It was that sudden. Michael Kazimirov had found the answer to his question, to his doubts, to his fears, to what was missing all those years. The suddenness of the realization shook him. First, there was no God, then there was God, though later Michael would realize there had always been God, it was only that he had not been looking for God, and therefore was not seeing Him. Michael Kazimirov once a hard worker, Special Forces Operative, and Champion Boxer of the Baltic fell into the arms of God and wept the tears of a Child of God.

The Odyssey of Pastor Mike: Part II

Michael Kazimirov had it all: a solid career, renown, respect. But still there was a nagging in the dark recesses of his mind that something was missing. He had managed to brush it off and put it out of his mind, but it kept coming back. One night, while he was out with his comrades, he decided to go to dinner at a restaurant. There was a disturbance and the police were called. Two militiamen and an officer tried to quell the disturbance, but the situation escalated with the police and a full-on fight quickly began.

In the mind of Michael Kazimirov, the world went red. All of his professional training took over and all of his Special Forces hardness and boxing prowess came to the forefront. And, it was over. There was an odd stillness to the room. This was a restaurant after all, used to the bustle of tables being waited upon and food being ordered, of diners laughing at the days events or discussing their plans. The din was interrupted by the even louder conflagration of the fight, a rowdy soldier's brawl. And then there came that long, terrible silence. In the quiet, the red drained from Michael’s eyes and he looked around, and more accurately, down at the damage. Both militiamen were completely disabled, lying on the floor, their chests heaving from exertion but unable to move. The officer lay in an unnatural position, the kind that, had he been conscious, he would have immediately shifted his position for the pure discomfort of it. Looking intently at the officer, Michael suddenly realized what was different about the man: the heaving breaths, the signal of life exhibited by the two militiamen, was absent from the officer. A quick check revealed the man was dead.

There was a trial, performed in the Soviet style. Either you did something or you didn’t, and Michael had killed a man. An officer. The trial proceeded quickly, and at the end the court was “inclined to the maximum measure of punishment.” Michael was sentenced to be executed and was sent to the chamber of condemned men, a cold dungeon where he was to wait for his execution. He was alone, a man without hope, and it didn’t matter. He was just waiting to die.

The Odyssey of Pastor Mike: Part I

Pastor Mike was the pastor who welcomed me into his church family when I went to Belarus. He was an incredible man of faith, and I was asked to share his story with my congregation here, as a way to help my church understand the church in Belarus. While I was writing his story, he passed on to the next life after a massive heart attack. This is his story.

Michael Kazimirov was born in the Soviet Union near Bryansk, a small village nestled up to a dense and beautiful wood. Growing up, he busied himself with helping his family, as was the custom of children there. It was a physically demanding existence, but Michael was a strong boy. He took a keen interest in gymnastics, especially the horizontal bar, and soccer. He was a natural athlete and excelled.

At 16, he left home to go to Riga for school. It was here that he studied seamanship and joined the military, but it was his athletic prowess that won him initial recognition. Michael turned his athletic interests to boxing, and his strength and fearlessness led to many bouts…and many victories. Michael was relentless in his pursuit of excellence, and he finally reached the pinnacle of his boxing career when he was crowned Champion of the Baltic for his weight class.

Similarly, his military career was taking off; the incredible drive that made him successful at boxing also led to advances in his job. He was promoted to the highest level of the Spetsnaz, the Soviet Special Forces which are the equivalent of Soviet commandos. Their training is incredibly harsh, and the demands placed on Spetsnaz commandos are among the most rigorous in the world. In short, they are the elite fighting force of the Soviet Army, and Michael had risen through their ranks.

He was given the toughest missions and traveled throughout the region, meeting and exceeding the requirements of the most demanding assignments. Michael Kazimirov had it all: a solid career, renown, respect. But as is so often the case, something seemed…wrong. It occasionally nagged at him, creeping into the backdoor of his consciousness and gnawing at the edges of his mind and his…what was it? Michael tried to brush it aside, to shoe it out like a rodent and then plug up the hole. It was his nature to increase his efforts at work and his boxing, convinced that sweat, effort and focus would keep whatever that gnawing thing was at bay. Boxing and work, work and boxing, boxing and work: surely that was the solution! But, it always found a way back in, quiet as a church mouse.