Skip to content

We think our house really, really doesn’t want us to move away.

1

It looks like a welcoming homestead, doesn’t it?  Nice new roof, floor-to-ceiling windows, two fireplaces and a front that is gently smiling at you, inviting you to be a part of the warmth and love inside.  It boasts a gorgeous Japanese maple and a stately Chinese elm tree out front, with ornate ironwork fencing surrounding the front porch.   I mean, with over 4,000 square feet, the Ponderosa would be an easy sell, wouldn’t it?

Don’t you believe it.

The house knows we’re trying to move away.  It’s angry.  It’s plotting revenge on us.

We all got along so well for nine years.  We even gave our home a nickname, Ponderosa, alluding to its size and homeyness.  We shortened that to “Pal,” because we loved the old place so much. We treated Pal with great respect.  We had cookouts, and birthday parties, and even my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner, complete with a canopy tent and little chicken drummies.  We even had a bounce house in the back yard one time.  Those were great memories.  We used to be such good friends.

We repainted Pal’s deck and cleaned out old hornets’ nests.  We put on a new roof and I constructed a playhouse for my little girl.  We tore up old carpet and replaced two sinks’ plumbing.  We gave the best care we could give Pal.

Christmases.  Thanksgivings.  New Year’s parties.

And now this.

“I told you  we should have talked in low whispers,” I told my wife.  “It overheard us talking about the sale.”

“That’s nonsense,” countered Jill.  “Besides, it saw the real estate agent’s sign out front.”

We heard the house creak.  I believe it was chuckling.

“Somehow Pal’s doing something to the potential buyers whenever we’re gone,” I said, looking around.  “Something we can’t figure out.  I wonder if it puts footprints where we just vacuumed?”

And mess up all of my nice carpet stripes?”  Jill growled.  Yes, she actually growled.  Jill is obsessed with vacuuming these neat little rug rows before a new real estate showing occurs.  Messing up her carpet stripes is one of the Rules of the Family That You Do Not Break.  It’s up there with Putting Bread in First When Bagging Groceries.  And Not Covering Chili in the Microwave.  Any of these offenses can bring about punishment worse than death.

But the house knows this and doesn’t care.  We’ve had ten showings and the only offer was over fifty thousand below what we were offering.   We sent back the contract proposal covered with cartoon frownies all over it.

“This last showing ended up with nothing,” I said, reading the Feedback Received report online.  “They said the downstairs shower was leaking when they came through. And the guest bedroom light was flickering…”  Our eyes met.

Jill spoke slowly.  “We’ve never had a problem with the downstairs shower. ” She gulped.  “And the guest bedroom…”

“… has never had an electrical difficulty,” I finished.  We looked around slowly.  A door slammed somewhere in the house.  Sweat beaded on my forehead.  Jill leaned forward and murmured.  “It’s like HAL,  You know, in your favorite movie.”

I blinked.  “You mean 2001 A Space Odyssey? The computer that figures out that the astronauts don’t trust it?”  Jill looked side to side and slowly nodded.  I can’t be sure, but it felt like the ceiling lowered a bit, as if it were trying to hear us.  I shook my head.

“It can’t be… I mean, the movie is about a computer that thinks and reasons and …”

Jill’s gaze stayed steady on me.  She spoke airily.  “Say, Brad, why don’t we go for a ride… or hey, don’t we need to go to Aldi’s or Kroger’s for some groceries?”  Fighting the impulse to scream maniacally and dash headfirst toward the door, we casually picked up our keys and strolled through the front door and got into the van.  Only until we left the subdivision did we breath out.

I shook my head.  “Look, we’ve got to be imagining this all.  A house can’t do this, can it?”  Jill giggled and we both relaxed.  We went down to Aldi’s and stocked up on groceries.  Nothing like some MacIntosh apples and Happy Farms mozzarella to get your spirits up.

The evening went great.

Until I pulled up and unloaded the groceries.

The front key wouldn’t work.  Neither would Jill’s.

I looked through the windows at all of the well-lit rooms shining into the darkness.

I stepped forward and cleared my throat.  “Open the front porch door, Pal.”

No response.  I tried the key again.  Nothing.

“Open the front porch door, Pal.”

The lights went out one by one.

I am currently writing this blog in the local library.  The ice cream in our van is melting. If anyone would like a nice large overly sensitive house, please call me soon.  Very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Love Letter to the Graduating Class of 2017

1aAs you know, on graduation day we teachers are honored to be part of the ceremony, wearing our robe and regalia as we march up onstage and sit at either side of the festivities. Last week I sat in the third row and had the honor of watching you get your diploma. Congratulations, good friend.
One year they allowed me to be part of the first row of teachers and get a close view of the grads stepping across the stage – in front of the packed auditorium – and receive that beloved piece of paper that says you have completed your secondary school education.

I was seated near the ‘entry steps’, the ones where you stand as you are about to ascend to the platform and make your walk.  Just for fun, a fellow teacher (who shall remain nameless) joined me in whispering to each of the seniors who stood waiting:
“Walk carefully.  Everyone’s watching you.  Don’t stumble.  It would be embarrassing  if you fell in front of all of these people.” 

It made a nervous wreck out of a few of the seniors, and I now regret these actions. Well, not really.

But as I watched you walk on Sunday, I began remembering my own high school graduation and the gentle fear I had of tripping over my own feet…not only onstage that day … but in the days and years ahead.

Well, I made it across the stage that day.  But as for afterwards  … wow, I did fall in the years ahead.  Mistakes, miscues and errors dogged me all along the path like so many tree roots.  It seemed like a monthly requirement for me, and I’m surprised I haven’t broken my nose, I face-planted so many times.

However…

… I realized that I wasn’t the only one stumbling on the path.  As I rose and rubbed my raw knees and elbows, I saw a lot of friends and co-workers and neighbors and family members … and, well, everybody.

This tripping business was more common than I thought.  

I began to understand the Necessity of Tripping.  In this life given to us by God, we will slip and trip more than we like, but it will be a learning process – to teach us to be wiser in the future and to be an aid to those alongside us.  It’s part of life.

In this age of selfies and self-promotion, few of your generation want to harbor the thought that they could be anything less than perfect, but that’s just foolish.  We all falter, Christian friend.  We lose our balance more often than we’d like to think, but there it is.  And no amount of doctored Instagram or Facebook pictures will disguise the fact that we’re all folks created by a loving God who have faults – and that’s okay. One day we’ll reach perfection, but for right now we have a bit of a path to negotiate.

Boxing06.jpgMy prayer for you is this:  be honorable and stay true to Jesus, and don’t quit.  Be real, for goodness sake, and understand that failure opens up the opportunity for learning and courage.  2 Timothy 1:7 reminds you that God did not give you the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.  Well, use that sound mind to take a step up, not a step back.

I don’t want to hear of you quitting on life because you haven’t achieved perfection. Welcome to the world of the rest of all of us who live on this planet.   Get back up – you’re better than to crawl away, sniffling.  You’re made of sterner stuff.

The scholar of Proverbs wrote: “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…”  It’s not whether you will stumble – that’s a fact of life – but what you do when you are flat on your belly in the dust.  Some people will whimper and roll away.  Some will have a tantrum and start a blame game.  Others will get to their feet and shake off the dust.

And start walking again.

In the right direction.  I see you in this third category.

Now, go, my good friend.  I hope you remember some of the Biblical teaching I shared with you in the classroom.  Take God’s truth and get on with your life.  It’ll be a good life, I can assure you.

Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, don’t be afraid.

You can do it.

With love and great respect,

Dr. Brad Kent Zockoll,
a guy who is pretty dusty but still enjoys life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The time someone broke into our house

1a1Our off-kilter family had settled into the Delaware side of Delmar, having moved across the state line from Delmar, Maryland (Town motto;  “The little town too big to be in one state.”  Look it up.)  It was now time for Delaware to enjoy some of the Zockoll kids’ antics, whether the Diamond State wanted to or not.

We’d had some small incidents over on the Maryland side, like the time Gwen and Brent got into a shoving match and knocked a hole in the 50 gallon aquarium, and when my junior-high brain  mistakenly assumed that you could boil a two minute egg in a microwave.  Mom wasn’t home and I got the idea to explore various microwave possibilities.  Don’t laugh – I nearly went blind.  I can still feel the scalding of the egg white on my eyelids after the initial poke.  It was a traumatic experience, but over the years I’ve put it behind me and now use a microwave once again.  You gotta move on with your life.

We’d had some big incidents in Maryland, too, the kind that caused the townfolk to come running.  One was when we three boys – Bruce, Brent and Brad – were scooting all over the second story roof, scaling ladders and painting our home a fresh spring sky-blue color for Mom.  We had a twenty-something good-natured guy named Dave who gamely came along to help us finish up the top story in order to have some progress to show Mom before dinner.  Dave wanted to do the finishing touches on the very top lattice work of the roof and threw a short ladder on the second story porch roof, but he forgot to secure his ladder with chock blocks.  I was putting the finishing touches on a bedroom window when I heard a sickening scraping – his ladder sliding off the roof.  I looked up to see Dave in mid-air, flailing about.  He fell directly over my head, bounced off the porch roof with an “oof” and fell to the ground.  Miraculously, he only broke his foot.  As he was being put into the back of the ambulance, I could see neighbors nodding in our direction.  The Zockoll household again.  This time they’re slinging people off the roof.

Our move to Second Street on the Delaware side was relatively uneventful – only a few neighborhood scuffles with bullies and retrieving dogs who broke off of their leash.  Fairly calm.

Until a few months into the school year.

I walked home from a high school wrestling match on a dark October evening and came into a mess. The scene was bedlam. Middle schoolers Wendy and Sheila sat with elementary age Tammi and Kandy on the couch.  All of them were bawling like crazy.  Mom was livid over something, stomping about.  Bruce, the oldest of our siblings, was sitting at the dinner table, unusually quiet.  As usual, whenever there was trouble I ran upstairs to the boys’ attic bedroom and got the lowdown from Brent – he was the Associated Press of the household, always aware of every incident.

“Mom left Wendy to watch the three little ones while Mom went shopping,” Brent said.  “And somebody broke into the house and went after the girls.”  He paused.  “They came up through the cellar – broke through the basement window and then kicked the cellar door open.”

What?”  I was stunned.  Our little country town didn’t have this kind of problem. Maybe a speeding ticket on Bi-State Boulevard or a little vandalism at Flo’s country store, but not this sort of crime.

Brent raised his hands.  “Let me finish.”  He looked down and I could see that he was trying to measure his words.  “Sheila heard clawing on the cellar door and  starting screaming.  The wall phone was too close to the cellar door, so they couldn’t call the police.  Tammi and Kandy tore upstairs and hid under their beds, but were also screaming, so the intruder could hear them.  Wendy crawled out of Mom’s second story bedroom window and scrambled over the porch roof, screaming to people below to get the cops. The whole neighborhood was scrambling for help.”  He blew out a breath.  “Cops came.”

He paused.  I waited.

“It was Bruce.”  His mouth flickered.  “He thought it would be funny.”

He went on to explain that Wendy had gotten mouthy with him earlier in the evening before he went to a Scout meeting, so when he found out Mom was going to be gone until late, he unlatched the cellar window before leaving the house and under the cover of darkness when he came home, slipped through the basement window and began crashing and banging through the coal cellar and stomping up the wooden steps.

Pause for a moment:  For a deeper study on why my oldest brother would think this would be funny, please look up the psychological backgrounds of comedians Bill Murray, Jonathon Winters, and Moe, Larry and Curly.  Bruce had one comedic speed and it was wide open to Nearly Insane.

Why he thought that clawing on a cellar door while shrieking maniacally would be fun for a group of pre-teen girls on a dark October night, I’ll never know.

Man, did he ever get in trouble, but it actually could have been worse.  He endured the police lecture and the Wrath of Mom stoically.  He was dutifully remorseful, but I only think because it didn’t get the laugh he expected.

“Bad timing” was all he’d tell Brent and me.

Bruce is in Heaven now, having suffered a fatal heart attack years ago at the age of fifty-six.  We lost a dear brother and possibly one of the funniest guys to live on this planet.  We kids all grieved  … and we still do, but our comfort is in knowing Bruce is in the family of God in a much, much better place than this.

And even now, once in a while, we smile …

… because we can’t help but wonder if he’s not looking around Heaven, trying to see if he can pull a prank somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The time that Jill and I stopped traffic at West Town Mall.

1a1My wife Jill and I were walking through West Town Mall in the winter of the early 1990s with a lot of things weighing heavily on our minds.  I was changing careers, our house needed to be sold, and Jill’s fibromyalgia was escalating in alarming rapidity.   I did a lot of worrying; our future seemed uncertain and even tenuous, especially in the area of finances.  We sought the Lord’s directional signal but had not had any green light that was clear enough to follow with settled assurance.  Finally, we took a one-day break.  Exhausted, we walked through the mall, not intending to buy anything, really – we just needed to escape a fit of cabin fever, get out of the house and clear our heads.

We were silent most of the walk through Sears and the pet store.  My mind began to relax as we passed through the crowded hallways.  We took a collective breath as we were strolling past Barney’s coffee shop and Yankee Candle, and we didn’t even chat at that point; we knew each other’s thoughts.  God was going to take care of us – He always had, and no matter what lay ahead, we would be okay.

We walked through the Food Court and looked to the left.  A small piano and organ company had set up shop at that time, and they had some sort of a jukebox apparatus that filtered music out into the mall’s walkway.

I started and met Jill’s eyes.  She broke into a wide smile.  The strains of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” caught our ears – our song!

Jill looked at me as I stopped in the middle of the mall traffic and took her hands.

She never argued as I took her close.

And slowly danced with her.

The funny thing is, I don’t even know how to dance.  But I tried.

The foot traffic stopped.  We didn’t care.

As I slowly swung her around I caught a glimpse of a young African American couple moving near us.  The twenty-something young man gathered his wife into his arms and joined us, quietly dancing nearby.

An elderly man did the same, taking his delighted wife’s hand and moving onto the “dance floor.”  Before the third stanza, there were five couples all slow-dancing in the hallway of the mall.  The foot traffic slowed, and many stopped to watch.  Nobody said anything.  Perhaps we were all quietly lost alone in our own moments there, each couple.  I was actually quite surprised that the onlookers remained silent as we all danced.

As we finished, the shopping crowd politely applauded as each couple smiled to the other dance couples nearby.

And we then smiled to our partner.

And then we slowly melted back into the crowd.

And Jill and I held hands the rest of the afternoon.  Nothing else needed to be said.

Except that I knew I loved her even more than ever.

 

One of the few times in my life when I was left speechless.

imageI drove to work last week in the early morning in my 1992 Jeep Cherokee with the coughing engine and the gas tank lid that’s held shut with a wadded piece of paper.  I pulled up in the school parking lot at 6:05 a.m. and looked out over the quiet empty campus.   How long have I been getting up at 5 a.m.?

I came into the classroom in the silence, turned on the lights, and wiped down the desks with a cloth sanitizer – we’ve been battling the flu on the campus.  I emptied the trash cans and sat down to a pile of quiz papers and essays to grade and realized how how many years  I had been in this classroom routine – was it now almost three decades?

Was it a routine?  I sat there and pondered this. Lord, is this making any difference in these teenagers’ lives?

You know, you get to wondering about your abilities sometimes.  I think all teachers come to a time of self-inspection, especially Bible teachers.  Are we making any kind of an impact?  Are we properly teaching God’s Word and ways?  This was one of those times for me.

At 7:55 students started shuffling in quietly before the first period was to begin.  Some were blinking and yawning, some rubbing their eyes and others glancing at an assignment they hadn’t yet done.

Soft-spoken Stefanie sat down at her desk nearby and turned toward me.

“I want to thank you,” she said abruptly.

“Well, that’s very nice,” I replied, “but why?”

“I want to thank you,” she responded quietly, “for teaching my brother.”

Quickly in my mind I recall that I had taught her brother Carl about three years ago.

“Because,” Stefanie continued, “when I was growing up, he would never talk to me at home.  He wouldn’t share with me – nothing.  He stayed away from me.  He ignored me all through my childhood –  just sort of tolerated me, but mostly disregarded me altogether.”

She shifted in her chair.

“But then when he was in your class he was taught the Greek word agape – the word about self-sacrificing love, the ‘giving’ love,” she paused for emphasis, “…and that changed him.  He realized that he hadn’t been loving.  He realized a lot of things that day, and one of them was to love me and be close to me.”

“And from that day on he’s been my brother.  And I want to thank you for teaching him.”

Very few times in my life have I been speechless.  I choked a bit and thanked her.

And I thank you, Jesus.  Thank you for this privilege of instruction to these wonderful young people.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

I love being a teacher.

Probably my favorite memory in the ministry.

I stepped up to1a1 speak before sixty middle school children at a fall retreat.

“I want to talk to you about Heaven tonight,” I said, picking up the PowerPoint remote.  I pushed the button and a picture of a gorgeous white beach with clear water and curved palm trees lit up the room.

“Hey,” said Charlie.  “That looks like Hawaii.”

“Heaven will look like that?” asked Camryn, raising her eyebrows. “I thought Heaven was like … well, you know…”

“Like clouds and boring stuff, right?” I replied.  Some of the kids nodded their heads.  I continued.  “Like you may have heard that we will all have to be in one big praise service for thousands and thousands of years?”

“Yeah,” someone called out.

“Well, let me show you another picture,” I said, clicking on a picturesque village tucked away in a green valley in Norway.  “And you tell me if it looks like it’ll be boring.”

“Ooooooh,” said Charlie and Mark.  “Lookit that.”

“Oh, Heaven will be better than that, “ I said.  “Man made that little village.  God will make our village.   It’ll look better than this –“ I clicked on a Grand Canyon picture – “and this” – an Alaskan mountain range – “or this” – the Danube River. I ran through other slides of an Italian street festival, a New Year’s celebration, and a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

The little eyes were taking it all in.

“In the book of Revelation it says there will be no more sickness or death,” I continued.

Whaaaat?” I heard someone murmur in the back.  Clearly this was news to them.

“No more sorrow, either,” I said.  “Or pain.  You can play football and never get hurt.”

Steven laughed delightedly.  I clicked through some more pictures.

“And Matthew chapter 8 talks about a feast that we’ll have.  And oh, the grand food that we’ll be able to eat!”  I ran through a maddening display of pictures of steaks, chicken, french fries, souffles, cakes, pies, and mounds of ice cream.  Randy clapped his hands and laughed.  He was from a broken home and lived in a decrepit trailer park.

I showed them the grandest castles of Europe.  “And Jesus said that God the Father has a mansion – a mansion, ladies and gentlemen – that has room enough for all of His children.”

The room was absolutely still.

“Because that’s the best part, you know?  Christians have a special treat waiting for them.  We’re going home to be with our Father.  Home. We’re going to sit down for some home-cooked meals … and you know what?  I looked up Luke chapter 12 and found a shocking thing.  Our very best friend in the whole universe – the One who sacrificed everything to make our Home possible – will actually seat us and serve us.”

I turned and looked at the picture on the screen – a huge country lodge dining hall loaded with smiling, laughing people of all colors, shapes and sizes.  They were happily passing plates of food along a long, candle-lit table.

“We’ll laugh and joke with Jesus.  We’ll thank Him and we’ll listen to Him.  And we won’t have to turn off the lights and go home.  We are home.  The fun will never stop.”

I turned around.  The kids were all standing.

Their eyes were shining.  They were grinning.

And they started cheering.

They started cheering.

That, my friends, is one of my favorite moments in the ministry.

TED talks? We had Mom’s DREAD talks.

1a1So I’m hearing all these people making comments about TED talks.  You’ve probably heard of these short speeches that convey ideas and wow an audience.  They’re supposed to be the most dynamic verbal presentations that mankind has ever encountered.

Phooey.  They’ve never heard my mom.

You have your TED talks.
We had Mom’s DREAD talks.

Hers weren’t onstage presentations, either.  They were in-the-kitchen orations that held us captive.  Truly captive.  And they weren’t short.

I’ve heard some TED talks, and I guess they have their place in promoting and directing the course of higher learning for the betterment of mankind and all that.  Mom’s DREAD talks, however, were superior.  Her deliveries were so much more powerful.  So much more dynamic.

So much more terrifying.

Allow me to illustrate the huge comparisons:

TED talks are scheduled according to the calendar, a tightly adhered-to schedule for each presentation.
Mom’s DREAD talks were spontaneous, mostly organized on the fly when we kids broke something or shamed the Zockoll family name somehow.

TED talks lean toward a positive shift of venturing into new horizons.
DREAD talks dealt with the negative shift of the penalty of us trespassing into the forbidden horizon of the McGlocklin’s fenced yard.

TED talks deal with the northward impact that technology can have in the distant future.
DREAD talks dealt with the southward impact our rear ends would get with a Fli-Back paddle in the immediate future.

TED talks are more conceptual, designed for the listener to walk away and ponder.
Nobody walked away during a DREAD talk and lived to tell about it.  And her talks weren’t conceptual either – hers usually ended with an impression that was far more than cerebral.

TED talks brags that they cover global issues — hey, Mom dealt with global issues as well.  She promised to knock us from here to Europe if we ever tried to pull a stunt like jumping off the porch roof again.

What an elementary school-age audience we were, the six of us.  Bruce, Gwen, Brent, Brad, Brian and Brock.  We stood in awe.  We stood in respect.  We stood because if we moved she’d go Godzilla on us.

Oh, don’t think we were innocent captives.  We brought on the DREAD talks with actions that invited dynamic rhetoric followed with bombastic conclusions.

  • Brent spitting out of the treehouse right on top of the head of neighbor Lorianne – that brought out the speech on Respect. And a paddling conclusion.
  • My attempt to make Pop Art by melting plastic remnants of our airplane models together, using kitchen matches. While lying on a wooden floor.  In probably the driest wood frame house in Pennsylvania.  That brought out a superb speech on Safety.  And the climax to the presentation was my reunion with the wooden spoon.  (Mom couldn’t find the Fli-Back paddle at the moment.)
  • Bruce’s experimentation into profanity introduced the message on Language. It also introduced Bruce to the taste of soap.
  • The full-house argument over which G.I. Joe won The Battle of the Front Stairs (which resulted in a shoving match and a round of excellent fisticuffs) brought on the DREAD talk on Fairness. And Sharing. And Go to Your Room and Think About It. For Four Hours.

 

My mother’s generation was not one for the social media and the glitter of the world stage, where people seek to register the response and popularity of their discourse. Mom couldn’t care less about how popular her speeches were.  No, Mom’s was more of the down-home straight-to-the-heart (i.e. jugular) message that portrayed a Life Lesson whether or not it was popular.  The message was more important than the messenger, and looking back, I liked that.

I also think we turned out okay.

I like the great Winston Churchill quote on public speaking:  If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

Winston and my mom would have been very, very good friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Brad Zockoll

Zockollthoughts

A year's blog as a Bible teacher

Kindness Blog

Kindness Images, Videos, True Life Stories, Quotes, Personal Reflections and Meditations.

Special Education For Teens But Special Rules for Parents

Tips and tools to support teenagers who learn differently while they transition to college.