Archive for November, 2016


It’s story time!  So grab a cup of coffee and take just a moment to find a comfortable place to sit and see if you can find the one simple lesson found in these three stories about a snow shovel,  bang bang shrimp, and a painting.

The first story starts this way:  Once upon a time, in fact just a week ago, Warren and Brenda Pfohl left beautiful sunny Florida to return home to celebrate Thanksgiving with their family.  When  they left Florida the sun was shining, the palm branches were swaying, and the temperature was 82.  Sadly, two days before returning home Syracuse was hit with a winter storm dropping over two feet of snow.  Warren had just received a picture of their home with what looked as if an avalanche had filled in their driveway and walkway.  No matter how many little packets of pretzels or mini cans of coke the nice stewardess offered him, Warren fretted and worried about the amount of work it was going to take to dig out his home.  But as they pulled into the driveway Warren quickly noticed that the driveway and walkway were completely clear of snow!   Someone had shoveled his driveway.  Shovel after shovel after shovel of snow was moved to the side so Warren and Brenda could walk into their home with ease.  Was it an angel?  Was is a miracle?  No, it turned out to be a great neighbor who knew they were coming home and wanted to simply serve them.  Thank you neighbor!

Story number two takes place at the Bone Fish Grill in Fayetteville, New York.  Warren and Brenda were exhausted, overwhelmed, and feeling alone.  It had been a very rough day caring for their son David.  His disease continued to ravish his body and mind and the Pfohls didn’t know if they could keep pressing on.  Thankfully, someone stepped in to watch David so they could take a few minutes to breathe and get away.  They weren’t hungry so they ordered two glasses of Pinot Noir and an order of Bang Bang shrimp to share.  As they quietly held hands with tears running down their cheeks their waitress handed them an envelope and said, “Someone asked me to give this to you.”  In it was a $50 gift certificate to the Bone Fish Grill!  They sat there stunned and overwhelmed that someone did that for them.  With it the Pfohls paid their thirty dollar bill and tipped the waitress, a single mom, with the rest.  As they sat there talking about it, the manager came to their table, handed them a card, and said, “Someone wanted me to give this to you.” They opened it and inside was another $50 gift certificate!  They had walked in  feeling isolated and overwhelmed.  They walked out feeling loved and not alone.  Thank you stranger for the best Bang Bang shrimp we have ever had!

And finally, story number three takes place the day Warren and Brenda’s son David passed away.  It had been a long thirteen year battle and it was now over.  David left this world to a much better one around 3:30 am on October 22, 2009.  Later that morning, Warren and Brenda were sitting on the couch making phone calls to let friends and family know David had passed and the door bell rang.  Alison Fisher Cullen stood outside the door with a package that she offered them.  She was a little anxious, not wanting to bother the Pfohls but clearly felt like God had wanted her to come and give them what was wrapped in the brown paper.  As they opened the present they discovered a painting she had done that was titled, Be Still.  Warren had seen the painting months before in an art show and loved it.  When Alison had heard that David has passed she called the person who bought her painting and told them about David.  She asked if she could have the painting back so she could give it to the Pfohls.  They willingly did so!  Thank you Alison for helping us Be Still!

Three stories, one lesson.  Three people who paused long enough to look outside of themselves to serve someone else.  Three random acts of kindness using a snow shovel, an order of bang bang shrimp, and a painting.  The lesson?  The result?  Warren and Brenda Pfohl were reminded they were not alone.  Every time we choose to do an act of random kindness, we tap on someone’s shoulder and remind them they are not alone.  Someone cares for you.  Someone is thinking of you.

I wonder what you could do this week to tap someone on the shoulder and remind them they are not alone by offering some random act of kindness?  Yes, I know you are busy!  Yes, I know you may make someone feel obligated!  Yes, I know you are fearful of being taken advantage of!  Yes, I know you might be rejected!  Yes, I know you don’t feel like you have anything to offer!  Just do it!  Do it!  Do you have a snow shovel?  Shovel!  Do you have a muffin tin?  Bake!  Do you have a phone?  Call!  Be brave and let someone know today they are not alone.




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Thursday will mark the 7th year David will not be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.  Once again I will miss him.

  • I miss his nonstop chatter about girls, the New York Yankees, and the Green Bay Packers.
  • I miss being needed.  I miss cutting up his food, telling him his turkey was at 12 o’clock on the plate, and to keep away from Mom’s rutabagas at 4 o’clock.
  • I miss the touch of his hand on my elbow as I guided him to the table.
  • I miss hearing him say, “Thanks Dad, I love you.”
  • I miss his childlike faith that now I realize was deeper than mine.  With all of his losses he loved God and gave him thanks for every small thing.  I want more of that in my own faith.
  • I miss sitting in his room in his black recliner with his cheese head hanging on the wall being the color commentator as we watched Green Bay defeat the Detroit Lions.
  • I miss helping put up his Christmas tree with the blue lights and the flashing colored star.  We made David wait to listen to Christmas music until Thanksgiving Day.

Once again his chair will be empty, and once again I will be given the opportunity to choose to be thankful or not.

I choose to be thankful! 

What am I thankful for?

  1. I had the privilege to be David’s father.  I saw him come into this world and I held him as he left this world.  No one else can claim this.
  2. David’s story isn’t finished.  The ripples of his life continue to touch and influence people.  I know of marriages that are healed and families that are whole because of David Pfohl.
  3. I am a different person because of the privilege I had of caring for David as Batten disease robbed him of life.  I believe I am more compassionate.  My priorities and the things I value in life have been sharpened.  My faith has grown deeper.
  4. Out of the brokenness of David’s disease and death David’s Refuge was given birth.  Next year we will serve 250 families across the state of New York.  250 families will be reminded they are not alone, what they do matters, and that they are loved by God!
  5. I am thankful for the hope of one day seeing David again.  My faith in a good and all powerful God reminds me of this truth.

I’m not sure what you are facing this Thanksgiving holiday, but you too have a choice to make.  Will you be thankful or not?  I’m not saying you have to say thanks for Batten disease or your divorce or your child’s diagnosis.  But what about the one or two people who have stuck with you?  What about the milestone your child made that no one else would have realized but you?  What about that one teacher or aid who tells their child they are beautiful and loved?  What about the joy of holding your child knowing out of all the people in the world you are their parent?  I hope sometime today you can find a few moments of respite to reflect on the one or two things you are thankful for.  I would love it if you would share that with all of us.

May God bless you and remind you today how much He loves us all!  Happy Thanksgiving.




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where-is-waldoWhere’s Waldo?  I’ll be honest I never liked looking for Waldo.  I would spend about 45 seconds looking for the little man with his red and white striped shirt, knit pom pom hat and glasses and give up.  While some people find it challenging and relaxing, it always stressed me out and frustrated me.  I would think I had found him only to realize it was a woman wrapped in the American flag with a poodle sitting on her head as a hat.  Great fun!

I am sure there are some who have been asking a similar question, “Where’s Warren and Brenda?”  And unlike Waldo, Brenda and I don’t wear a distinctive outfit that allows you pick us out of a crowd (although if you look for the shiny bald head next to the pretty girl you are getting closer.)  To make it even more difficult the background is also always changing.  Are they in NY?  Florida?  or Wisconsin?  I thought I would take a few minutes and update you so it is a little easier to keep in touch with the Pfohls.

We are now officially Florida residents.  Last spring we sold our home in Manlius where we started David’s Refuge and bought a home in Bonita Springs, Florida.  For the past 16 years we have been visiting Brenda’s mom and dad and fell in love with the area.  Yes, we miss the four seasons!  Yes, we miss living close to our children and grandchildren!  Yes, we miss picking apples at Beak and Skiff!  Yes, we miss our church!  Yes, I miss stopping in at David’s Refuge to bother the wonderful staff!  Yes, I miss getting mistaken for my twin brother at Wegmans!  BUT….  No, we don’t miss the winter!  No, we don’t miss shoveling!  No, we don’t miss temperatures below freezing!  No, we don’t miss the taxes!  We loved living in New York, but it was time for a move.

We have been working hard at getting settled and connected to a new community.  We are finding new dentists, doctors, mechanics, restaurants, and friends.  Brenda has been working hard at improving her golf game.  I have promised her I will take a few lessons.  We have partnered with a great new church called Turning Point Church just a few miles from our home.  We love the staff and their vision to serve and love our community and are looking for ways to get involved.  It has also been fun living in the same development as Brenda’s parents.  Living close by allows us to share a meal, watch the Green Bay Packers get defeated, work together on installing a wifi extender, and serve each other.

This doesn’t mean you will never see us in New York.   Thirty years of friends and family, kids and grandchildren, and David’s Refuge are always wooing us for a visit up north.  Thankfully we are able to stay in a condo a family member owns when we come for a visit.  We are still actively involved with David’s Refuge.  Brenda and I of course will always be the founders, but I am no longer the Executive Director.  The organization is run by an incredible staff and hundreds of wonderful volunteers.  I am still involved on the Board of Directors and Brenda and I still serve as hosts for our weekend retreats.

The highlight of returning to NY for a visit is of course spending time with our kids and grandchildren.  Chris and Britney live in Manlius and are chris-britt-boys1doing an incredible job at raising and loving their two boys.  Chris works remotely as a Senior Software Engineer for a company out of Seattle, Washington called Apsis.  Brittney is a Nurse Practitioner and works at the Onondaga Health Center.  Their two boys, Ezra and Levi, melt our hearts every time we talk with them.  It is hard to believe Ezra is 2 1/2 years old and Levi will be one year old next month. We love using Face Time to listen to the adventures of their day.  Dan and Katie live and go to school in Rochester, New York.  They are working hard at finishing their degrees.  Dan is a student at Rochester Institute of Technology getting his Bachelors of Fine Arts with a focus on ceramics.  Katie is getting her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Nazareth College.   Dan and Katie are actively dan-katieinvolved in their local church, love to garden and cook, and both love to express themselves through various artistic mediums.

And finally, you will often find us on the lake in Sister Bay, Wisconsin during the summer when it gets hot here in Florida.  We spend time on the “Family Compound” enjoying  Brenda’s sister’s families, Nana and Papa, and visits from our children and their children.  Sister Bay is in Door County, Wisconsin often refered to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest.

We would love to hear from you and stay in touch with you.  If you mail something, please always use our Florida address: 27170 Shell Ridge Circle, Bonita Springs, FL  34134.  It will always find us no matter where we are.  The biggest challenge of our “new life” is staying connected to our wonderful friends.  Thank you for not getting discouraged as you have asked the question, “Where’s Waldo?”  I mean, where’s Warren and Brenda?




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touch_of_godFor the past three weeks my pastor in Florida has been preaching a series on the power of encouragement. Isn’t it amazing how one word of praise, an unexpected note or email, a smile or hug just at the right time can actually be life changing?  The dictionary defines encouragement as “the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.”  I love the notion that we can breathe hope into the people around us by simply taking the time to say a kind word or to pause for a few minutes to listen to their story.   G. K. Chesterson, an English writer, poet, philosopher, and lay theologian once wrote, “If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.”  Encouragement is one of the powerful tools we have to partner with God to love and serve others.

Yet sadly all too often I am like the frogs in the following story that are yelling down at their friends, “You are as good as dead!”

As a group of frogs traveled through the woods, two of them fell into a deep pit. The other frogs peeked in and told these two that they were as good as dead as it was impossible to come out. Ignoring the discouragement, these two frogs tried to jump out anyway. A while later one of the frogs lost its spirit in the constant discouragement and gave up…and died. The second frog kept on jumping. The more the others commented, the harder he tried. Finally, he jumped out.

“Didn’t you hear us?” asked the frogs. “I am a little deaf. I thought you were cheering me on,” answered the frog.    

So the moral of the story? Our words can make a difference between life and death, success and failure.  We can criticize and judge and promote death or we can praise and encourage and promote hope.  The first is easy, the second is hard.  The first seems natural, the second will require us to be proactive.  I personally want to be known as a hope giver and not a grumpy old man who groans and complains and criticizes those around me.

For the past couple weeks I have been working at being proactive as an encourager. Here are a few things I have been working on that you too could try.

  1. Take Thumper’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.”
  2. If somebody pops into your head who you know needs encouragement call them, write them, or stop what you are doing and hug them! Do it immediately because if you don’t you will forget.
  3. Be bold and start practicing the art of saying something nice to people who cross your path. Watch the eyes of the checkout lady, your mechanic, your secretary or boss as you say something nice to them.   If that is too scary simply look at people in the eyes as you pass by them and smile.  You will make them smile.  Try it!  I dare you!

I hope you will join me in working with God this week to bring one touch of rosy sunset into someone’s life. Please tell me about it!

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Have you ever heard of Kintsugi?  It is the ancient Japanese art of mending broken objects with gold, silver or platinum.   I love the way Kintsugi artists actually embrace the brokenness of the vessel instead of trying to hide it.  They visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece resulting in something more beautiful than the original.

Sadly we live in a world that all to often tells us to hide our brokenness.   We don’t want people to think we are weak, that we can’t do it on or own, or that we are failures.  So we come up with all kinds of coping mechanisms hoping to hide or conceal the fractures that are a part of simply being human.  Here is a list I found that does a great job describing some of the gymnastics we do go through to hide our brokenness from others:

  • Denial: if you don’t have to see it, maybe it’s not broken
  • Blame: discharge the pain by pinning it one someone else
  • Run: just take off – you don’t have to face it
  • Perfectionism: do it perfectly, no one will see that you feel broken
  • Cynicism: just act too cool to care, like you’re above it all
  • Numbing: take a pill, eat another donut, have a drink…
  • Control: if I can control it, won’t look broken

One of the reasons I think David’s Refuge has been so successful is that our weekends are run by Kintsugi Masters!  We simply call them hosts.  These amazing volunteers are men and woman who have been intimately touched by brokenness and have chosen not to hide it, but to share it with others like themselves.  Every time they share their story, every time they weep with a mom whose heart has been crushed,  every time they remind a parent they are not alone and loved by God another layer of gold is added to the masterpiece called their life.  They breath hope into parents who need to be reminded they too are beautiful and that their child is beautiful.  They use their brokenness as a bridge to help others embrace their own fragility and to discover that beauty can be found when we stop hiding and pretending everything is “OK.”  

kintsugi-4One of our “Kintsugi Masters” is Janelle Fields.  She and her husband Jeff have been hosts for David’s Refuge for the past few years.  When I look at them I see the gold that outlines the fractures that were created from the near death of their precious daughter.  Instead of hiding or trying to forget this very painful part of their lives, they now lovingly and compassionately share their story with moms and dads just like them.   Henry Nouwen once said, “Our brokenness has no other beauty but the beauty that comes from the compassion that surrounds it.”  Jeff and Janelle and all our hosts are experts at sharing the incredible compassion that is forged by the pain that is a part of living in this broken world.

You can hear a very short snippet of Janelle and Jeff’s story in this video we are using in local churches as we look for more host to help David’s Refuge grow.  If you know one of our hosts, let them know how they have blessed your life and how you see the gold that mends the cracks in their beautiful lives.

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