Monday, June 15, 2009


My grandfather's birthday was a few weeks ago. Some friends asked me to tell more of why my Grandfather was so special to me. So, here's my version of Grandpa's it seemed to me, as a grand-daughter. Subjective truth is still truth, so here goes:

Leslie Harold Whitehead was born on a small farm in Roy, Washington in 1919. One of several boys, the joke goes, his mother (Elsie) wanted a girl and insisted on dressing him in girl clothes. Or maybe that was just a family joke referring to the girlie baby clothes of the day. Either way, my grandpa was always good for a joke and took it as well as he dished it out. Maybe that's why he was such a great runner. He ran track and was apparently quite good at it.

Grandpa went to medical school and served some time in WWII. During his time in the war he spent hours searching his heart and the Bible for truth. Apparently he found it, since he became a pastor and was serving in that capacity when he was debilitated by polio in his mid-twenties. He was wearing a body cast and braces on his legs when He heard God say, "Loose him and let him go." He went upstairs, took off the cast and braces, and never put them back on. I don't think he was ever able to run, again, but that didn't stop him from running "the race marked out" for him (Hebrews 12:1). Let it be noted that I didn't know this about my grandpa until after he died. He walked with a very slight limp, the only sign of having struggled with polio.

Les served as a pastor and travelled more than once to Africa, Haiti, and Israel. He pastored churches all over the northwest and eventually became superintendent of the Northwest Conference of Free Methodist Churches. After that he and Grandma spent a year pastoring in the Philippines and years building up churches here in the Northwest USA. He was diagnosed with cancer and died in November of 1994. The final word: Two memorial services, one in Centralia, WA at a church he pastored there just before his death and one at First Church in Seattle, WA. Both packed out. Completely. My grandfather touched thousands of lives. That touches me.

Things I will always remember about Grandpa:
  • He wasn't allowed to play cards growing up (too much like gambling), but he taught me to play poker (and a million other games, coining the term, "who dealt this lousy mess of cards?" just before winning, with a grin)
  • He traditionally scored at least 200 in a game of Scrabble. He insisted on playing upside down.
  • Grandpa was an amazing storyteller. His three pigs stories will live on in infamy (and on cd). He also read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, much of it on tape, for his grandchildren.
  • He doubted God's word, sought the truth, and found it. In God's word. He didn't always have the right answers, but he was a great preacher. Or maybe that made him a great preacher.
  • In his final years I remember him reading the entire Bible each month. He memorized large portions of scripture, some which he recited on his deathbed.
  • A great sense of humor and a still air of melancholy both defined him.
  • Grandma didn't like his driving. She still talks about it. No joke.
  • "He spent his life teaching people to live, he spent his last year teaching people how to die."- Grandma Esther. He spent time in his last year travelling to nursing homes telling people about Jesus. He led many to Jesus through his own illness and imminent mortality.
  • He did not want people saying untrue things about him in death, such as: "he could fix anything," "he always knew the right thing to say," "he was such a great man." Sorry, Grandpa. You were a great man. But you were never good with tools.
  • My middle name is Leslie.

I would love to read the comments of family who have other memories of him...I'm sure I could write much more, but this is just a snapshot. Here's a link to his obituary. Couldn't find a picture online, but maybe I'll put one on, myself if one of you tech-saavy elders (with a scanner) can pass one on to me. See you soon, Grandpa. Further in and further up.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Small Miracles- Barack and Michelle

I just had the opportunity to read a great book for young readers: Obama: The Historic Journey by the New York Times. This was the "young readers" edition but carried much of the same content as the adult version. Packed full of information about his life, this book brings more miracle to the already miraculous rise of our current president.

I'm inspired by his story, probably in the most pedestrian of ways. Barack Obama appears to be a man who has dealt with the crap in his life and has been able to rise above it. It wasn't poverty that dealt him challenges as much as the lack of a father, instability in his home life, and a bi-racial heritage. He didn't take much time to feel sorry for himself, in life. Instead he chose to dive head first into everything he did. One of his greatest accomplishments, in my opinion, was his marriage to a woman who is probably even smarter than he is (can you tell I LOVE Michelle Obama?). The woman supported him when he was a community organizer and pro-bono laywer. Now she has the strength to step back and be a mother first when she has the opportunity to yield great power as the first lady. The girl knows what she wants!

Ok, but this book isn't about Michelle, it's about Barack. From his childhood through his first days in office, this book covers it all in great detail. I'm sure I'll hang on to this book as a memory of that day he stood in front of all of us and said, for the first time as our President (and I cried tears of real amazement that we managed to elect someone like this):

"We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

A few disapointments about this book:

1) The author doesn't seem to know his audience. The text alternates between incredibly simplified to obtuse and boring. This is a young reader's edition and could have been crafted a little more carefully with the audience in mind. Especially the first chapter, which should be the attention getter (not the overview, as in a short article).

2) A full page devoted to the foibles of Sarah Palin and barely a scratch on Joe Biden. I understand the pop-culture mania around Palin at the time of this book's publication, but it's a little annoying in an intented historical perspective of a campaign.

3) Most of the material in this book came directly from New York Times articles or from Obama's two published books, "Dreams of My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope." These are all great sources, but seemed a little heavy in the annotations.

Thanks to Mom Central and Mothertalk for the great opportunity to review this book and to relive the campaign days of 2008.!