December 29, 2004

Back from SC, BTW

We got back Sunday night from Greenville. It was nice to actually have enough time to visit with family and friends throughout the week. We spent a fair amount of time with our 5 1/2 month-old niece Charlotte. (Pics coming online soon, I'm sure.)

I also collected five geocaches in the Greenville area and learned some things about the Upstate in the process. Three of the geocaches were before Christmas, and two were Christmas day. I had to try out my new Garmin eTrex Personal Navigator GPS unit. It's so much smaller, lighter, and faster than the 8+ year-old unit I'd been using.

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I think it's interesting to see the variety of major internet sites (such as Amazon) giving prominence to tsunami relief efforts.

Anyone know of any good Christian response to tsunami relief efforts? What are your churches saying/doing?

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Groanings & intercession

Joy and Jen both blog about their reactions to the overwhelming loss of life in the Asian earthquake/tsunami.

Both have put some good thoughts on their blogs for which I am grateful; its better than I can do. I've thought about what to say, but I can't get my brain around this event.

It's times like this that we're reminded of our own powerlessness and the all-powerful God who created us. But of all the Scripture that I could think of in such an incomprehendable situation, I'm repeatedly drawn to Romans 8:26. Thank goodness that we have a Savior who can step in with groanings which cannot be uttered when our own words fail us.

May that intercession bolster our own prayers for the untold numbers of people impacted by the tsunami.

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December 23, 2004

Sovereign providence, still

At the beginning of December, I sent a quick e-mail to my parents and brother to let them know about a big meeting I was going into that morning. They were aware of the project that I'd been working on, so they understood the importance of the meeting. It was my biggest meeting to date at the newspaper.

I joined my boss that morning to present to the board of directors over our newspaper a plan to upgrade our masthead on the top of our front page. In the process, we were basically redesigning our paper's logo. Not something to be entered into lightly--especially with the VIPs present.

So we made a presentation to the men, showing that we'd planned carefully and that the paper's history (since 1867) was important. After seeing our concepts and discussing them between the five of us, one of the board members said that the press (at our sister paper) would print up some dummy pages for us so that we could see how the masthead options would look on a page of newsprint. They would be discussed further in another meeting two weeks later.

My boss and I took that as a good sign. Apparently we were on the right track and they wanted us to proceed. My boss was a happy man after that. And that's a good thing.


I went back to my office after the meeting and immediately sent a message to Darla and an e-mail to my family to let them know that the meeting went well.

Mom responded a while later.

Neat, especially when you hear this. On this important and busy day, one of the grads prayed for in Chapel was John Collins, an '01 grad, who is the sports editor at the newspaper in Luray, VA.

After hearing 10 years-worth of chapels growing up, I'd wondered more than once what my situation would be on the day that my name came up on the list of grads to pray for. And with BJ praying for two grads on Tuesday and two on Thursday, how long would that take?

"I was thrilled," Mom said in her e-mail.

Me? I was simultaneously awe-struck, thrilled, and rebuked. I quickly messaged Darla with Mom's news. "WOW!" I said at the end.

"WOW is right," came Darla's reply.

The Lord reigns over all. And I'd just been sent a powerful reminder.


To close out the story...

Two weeks after the first meeting, the board members returned for the next meeting, where I reprised my presentation. With samples of our current paper and the dummy front pages to peruse, the men came to agree on the same masthead that my boss and I liked the most.

We had done one dummy page, thinking it was what they would choose after hearing their feedback in the first meeting. But they didn't choose it, and instead agreed that our favorite had "grown" on them since seeing it the first time.

At the end, the chairman thanked me for my work and shook my hand. The other men followed suit and then the chairman thanked me again.

"Thank you for your leadership on this improvement, John," he said.

Yeah, well, I had help from Above. And I owe several thousand people a thank-you for their prayers on the morning of that first meeting. Some have mentioned to me that I was prayed for recently in chapel.

I still have the postcard from Bob III saying that I'd been prayed for in chapel. I got it a week or so after that date. Seems to me like a good reminder to keep -- maybe in my Bible.

Now you know the rest of the story.

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Yesterday we went to Atlanta Bread Company to catch up with some friends from our NYC days. They're back in Greenville working on a degree and going to Heritage. We met them on the sidewalk out front and walked in to place our order. As soon as we entered the restaurant, we saw another NYC friend. She still lives in Brooklyn, but was down to visit family. Coincidence?

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December 20, 2004

Home for the holidays

We're in SC for the week, having arrived on Saturday for my cousin's wedding. Our weeklong stay will be our longest spell in Greenville since our wedding 3 1/2 years ago.

It was a real blessing to go to Community on Sunday morning and then to Heritage on Sunday night. I saw some of the other Bensfriends there, whether they know it or not.

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Christmas in the city


SmokeEater (aka Kurt) at En Fuego has a post on about Christmas lights in Chicago versus in the South. I'm not sure how to weigh in on his post, but I was inspired to share a photo from our old Brooklyn neighborhood.

We lived in Dyker Heights, which was known throughout the city--and beyond--for its Christmas decorations. The well-to-do residents there would hire contractors to decorate their mansions with thousands upon thousands of lights, life-sized Christmas figurines, moving parts, etc. Some folks would take donations that allegedly would go to a charity. As a result, the power company didn't charge for the light show.

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December 16, 2004

Obligatory post

This post is the typical I'm-OK-just-busy-will-blog-when-I-can blog entry. Like everyone else, I've been really busy of late. It's too bad because I've got a list of top-notch things (I hope?) to post. It's eating at me. But alas, I'll soon have plenty of time to do all that stuff--let's just hope I can remember all those ideas until such a time. ...and to think, I'm not a Bensfriend who's coming out of exams (thankfully).

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December 07, 2004

7 December

May we not forget the sacrifices made by our military forces on this date, 7 December, in Pearl Harbor, 1941.

A date which shall live in infamy.
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December 03, 2004

A real hero

A NEW York City firefighter remembered by his wife as the "ultimate patriot" died near Baghdad when his army vehicle rolled over a bomb, killing him and wounding another of the city's bravest. [Article]

On the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, my Dad and I scoured my neighborhood for all the different newspapers we could find about Sept. 11. One of the first ones we bought contained a moving photo of firefighters securing a tattered American flag to a light pole as smoke billowed from the remains of the Trade Center in the background. It was in the NY Daily News, and while ultimately another flag-raising photo became more famous, it was a wonderful sight. After the horror of seeing the burning towers and living in the cloud of smoke and ash overnight, we were thrilled to see that, indeed, our flag was still there.

NOTE: I have the photo on my computer, but due to copyright issues, I am not posting the photo here. If you wish to see the photo, go to > Browse Galleries > New York's Bravest. You're looking for "64j00l0s.jpg." It should be the third photo that comes up. (Sorry, you can't search for that filename for some reason.)

The final chapter has come to an end for one of the heroic figures in that photo. Christian Engeldrum, of Ladder 61, was killed in Iraq this past week. Engeldrum leaves a pregnant wife and two teenage boys--one of whom turned 16 the day his father was killed.

On Monday, the courageous father was part of a convoy of Army National Guardsmen protecting a bridge from insurgents fleeing Fallujah when his unit came under attack and his Humvee rolled over a bomb.

The explosion ripped the armored vehicle in two and hurtled the wounded soldiers on to the street. Three soldiers were killed and 16 more were seriously injured, including city firefighter Daniel Swift, 24.

Mr Swift's face was bloodied by shrapnel. A fragment lodged in his right eye, leaving him temporarily blinded, while his legs were peppered with scalding metal.

Despite his injuries, Mr Swift, the unit's medic, crawled over twisted debris and knelt next to his FDNY brother, nicknamed Drum, as Iraqi insurgents showered them with gunfire.

Mr Swift desperately tried to save Mr Engeldrum, but the 39-year-old sergeant did not survive the attack.

Mr Swift was flown to Germany for treatment, where he was expected to recover. He called his parents and fellow East Harlem firefighters at Ladder 43 yesterday just to hear "a friendly voice", his father said.

The bravery and dedication of soldiers like Mr Swift was what drew Mr Engeldrum, a five-year FDNY veteran who served at Ladder 61 in the Bronx, to Iraq, his widow said.

"He was the ultimate patriot, my husband," Sharon Engeldrum said through tears from the family's Bronx home.

"He loved his country, he loved the Fire Department. He was very brave.

"He went to the Gulf War and made it through that. He went through 9/11 and made it.

"He died doing something he believed in."

While the liberals try to tell us that Iraq is not part of the war on terror, New Yorkers know; they suffered through the paralyzing attack. I'm quite upset that there has been little--if any--national media attention. This is a big story, beautiful in its tragedy.

Engelbright's widow was at the Ladder 61 fire station when the department read a 5-5-5-5 message announcing his death in the line of duty. I heard dozens of those messages read on the FDNY radio in the year after 9-11. I can only imagine that Engelbright's widow was honored to hear the department's recognition of their fallen brother. But the FDNY story doesn't end there. [More]

Mayor Bloomberg is pushing a bill through the NY state government that will declare that Engelbright's death was a line of duty death as a member of the FDNY. The bill would entitle Engelbright's widow to a lifetime pension from the NYC government. [More]

"He is the 344th casualty of the terrorist attack," one firefighter said outside of the firehouse.

Christian Engeldrum: a true American hero.

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'I can't believe he survived that'

pettit stares.jpg

Paul Eddy, 33, of Norfolk, Va., survived a fiery car crash on Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 25 when he apparently knocked his car into gear while sleeping at the Franklin Cliffs Overlook on the Skyline Drive. The car went over the cliff at the overlook and fell 150-200 feet, bursting into flames with Eddy inside. A Page County Sheriff’s deputy saw the flames from the valley below at about 6:30 a.m. and alerted Shenandoah National Park rangers and the Stanley Volunteer Fire Department. A passerby found Eddy on the drive after Eddy escaped the burning car and climbed the cliff, according to Stanley Fire Chief Terry Pettit. Eddy was airlifted by Pegasus helicopter to the University of Virginia in serious condition with chest injuries and lacerations. His status is not known. Pettit said he’s never seen someone survive such a fall. “I don’t see how he survived that,” he said.

Staff photos by John Collins | Page News and Courier | Nov. 2, 2004

Fiery crash.jpg

We were just getting up on Thanksgiving morning when the fire department was toned for a "mountain fire." (To which I thought, 'Huh. A volcano?!') The dispatcher didn't have a precise location, just that the caller saw flames on the mountain. Almost immediately, volunteers responding from the nearest town (several miles away) reported seeing the fire and a glow in the pre-dawn sky.

I decided to respond, thinking that if nobody knew where the fire was but almost everyone could see it, it must be a real fire. Several minutes of confusion followed as units went several ways to find the fire on the mountain. Dispatch reported numerous calls about the fire, which is a sure sign of a real job.

Before I even left the house, I began to think a plane had flown into the mountain. With that in mind, I grabbed my North Face backpack, some flashlights, a knife, and my GPS in addition to two camera bags, jackets, etc. Eventually, the firefighters began thinking the same thing. The weather was windy, with ever-changing cloud cover around the mountains. And with about an inch of rain during the overnight, a forest fire was very unlikely.

Finally, the fire department found the fire--caused by the crash mentioned above. As I drove in the valley below, I saw the flashing lights of the firetruck on the scene miles away. I snapped a few basically useless shots with my telephoto lens before continuing on. (Studying the photos on the computer later, I think I see the flames from the burning car.) I reached the scene several minutes later. It was probably 2500 feet or more higher in elevation than our house. And with strong winds whipping over the ridge, I was glad for each layer of clothing I'd brought as I held my hat on my head to keep it from blowing away.

The scene was kind of surreal. The sun was rising behind us, illuminating the far side of the valley below. The previous night's rain left the pavement at the overlook wet, adding a Hollywood-style feel to the setting. It was perfect scene for the fire department's big Freightliner engine--just like a commercial, especially when the early sun flooded a mountain peak behind the driver's side of the truck.

As I walked to the cliff, the chief looked over at me. He kind of did a doubletake when he saw me.

"Well, hey, John," he said.

He knows me from previous fires and accidents, but I guess that he wasn't expecting to see me at this one.

I left the scene after snapping photos on two cameras and talking briefly to a few firefighters and a ranger. Meanwhile, Darla was at home prepping the turkey and getting it on the grill in my absence. I felt bad to leave her to do that, but she was gracious about it.

The ride back was so peaceful. There was hardly any traffic, and deer were everywhere. I must have seen 24-36 deer in my 30-minute drive back. The scenery was breathtaking. Pushing the reason for my trip to the back of my mind, the drive back made a wonderful start to my Thanksgiving day. I guess I wasn't the only one with something to be thankful for that morning.

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