ShipOfFools_web_10042015The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,

to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good, not even one. (Ps 14:2-3)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Fifth grade was a confusing time.

In the Cub Scouts I had earned my Wolf, Bear, and Lion badges and distinguished myself in earning my Weblos badge—Weblos is short for “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts”. But most Cub Scouts that I knew were not loyal—they skipped Weblos to graduate directly into Boy Scouts at age eleven.

In fact, most Cubs that I knew were not serious about earning badges. Neither were many Boy Scouts that I knew. Instead of earning badges, they played with their friends making trouble during meetings and running wild at camp.

At school during the week I had Mrs. S again where I enjoyed singing and was among the first to volunteer for the glee club—

Singing was just natural for me. Sometimes when I would get involved in my studies, I would forget myself and start singing or whistling to myself—Mrs. S reminded me not to.

Honesty was another natural for me. Without giving it any thought, I described myself as ugly in an essay—Mrs. S smiled after reading my essay and called out—hey ugly—to tease me.

—when attending glee club became popular just to get out of class, I quit. It was no fun being in a glee club with a bunch of cut ups.

On Sundays, we attended Grace Presbyterian Church. The Sunday school classes were well-attended and had lots of activities. One Sunday my folks got mad at me for cutting in front of the pastor as he walked down the aisle to the back of the sanctuary after the benediction. I was supposed to wait, but the pastor did not seem to mind. Later we started attending Riverdale Presbyterian Church where I joined the youth group, sang in the choir, and took voice lessons.

At home I watched a lot of action shows in the evening. Shows like The Gallant Men [1], The Untouchables [2], and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. [3] At school some of the guys started hanging out and being all secretive. So I asked what they were doing and was invited to be a member of their secret society that acted all serious, looked out for foreign spies, and carried water-pistols filled with salt-water in case of attack.

And that’s how I met my friend, Jon.




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ShipOfFools_web_10042015Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone
when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Eccl 4:9-10)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the second grade Mrs. S. quickly learned that asking me to stand in front of the class
was not a discipline strategy that worked well with me—I had too much fun!
So I went back to standing face in the corner
And getting wacked on open hands with a ruler.

Still, it was an interesting year.

At one point my class—the whole school—was dismissed to watch Astronaut John Glenn fly overhead.
His space capsule looked like a daytime star racing across the sky—
I don’t remember if we saw him fly around the earth all three times.

It was exciting—how could I forget?

Second grade was the year that I met Phillip.
Phillip was special because he lived on a farm down Good Luck road
Past all the new neighborhoods that had been built.

My mom used to drop me off afternoons or on the weekend.

The farm wasn’t much—just an old farmhouse, a garage, a shed and a lot of fields.
They didn’t have any animals or machinery—
no one seemed to care for the hay fields that it had
But the gravel road out front was just like Iowa.

And we wandered together around those fields shooting his BB gun and just being boys.

Phillip said that I was special because I did not run wild
And shoot BBs in the air like the other boys.
But I never saw all that.

Further down the road in the woods someone built a plywood treehouse
It seemed out of place and whoever built it left a lot of flares behind
Which we confused with dynamite.

It was scary.

Phillip’s mother didn’t mind us—she always made lunch
while his dad mostly sat at the table working on papers.

Phillip and I were friends until the fourth grade
When his father put a 22 caliber rifle to his head and shot himself.
Phillip and his mother moved to Bethesda.

I missed Phillip.

After a bit, I looked him up in the phone book
and called a bunch of folks until I got his number.
We talked a bit, but never spoke again.

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The Farm

ShipOfFools_web_10042015So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are fellow citizens with the saints
and members of the household of God
(Eph 2:19)

The Farm

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The farm was a home.

Neighbors cared. Family was near. The church was always open.
People knew you and you knew them.
Small town life was available, but not too available.

The farm was more than a farm.

It was a safe place where plants and livestock grew
From spring into summer into fall
And winter was a time to rest and prepare for a new season.
Life was regular and predictable and people enjoyed each other’s company.

When I was young, we moved around.

My father was first a student and then an Air Force officer.
We lived in different places.
Home was where you hung your hat.

The farm grew from a place to a destination.

In the city, some neighbors knew you.
Sometimes family visited.
Sometimes churches were open.
Often we knew just a few people, mostly from church.
City life was ever-present, but never really present.

Home became illusive.

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Music Lessons

ShipOfFools_web_10042015For if you forgive others their trespasses,

your heavenly Father will also forgive you . . .

(Matt 6:14)

Music Lessons


By Stephen W. Hiemstra


My father and mother met during a couples skate in August 1951

at an roller-skating rink in Guelph, Ontario where she grew up.

At the time, mom worked as a singer with an orchestra

and she played popular music on the piano.


My piano lessons came about more by accident.


One morning as my dad was backing out of the driveway on Trexler Road,

He ran into one of the neighbors—a Mrs. C who was a piano teacher.

I still remember the tail lights shattered and scattered all over the road.

Not long thereafter, my sister, Diane, and I began lessons with Mrs. C.


At the time I was in fourth grade.


Mom used to play hymns and Broadway musical hits in the evening

On the old, second-hand piano that we kept in the recreation room.

Hymns like How Great Thou Art that George Beverly Shea used to sing

Hits like One Enchanted Evening from the Broadway musical, South Pacific.


I was never that good.


I would have loved to play piano and lead folks in signing around the piano

Like they did in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life.

But instead I practiced half an hour a day,

And fretted about not seeing a favorite television show.

Later when I took up trombone lessons, I gave up the piano

Until about 20 years later when my kids were born.


Still, I remember Mrs. C and her accident . . .


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Trexler Road

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy,
he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

Trexler Road

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

My room on Trexler Road backed up to Greenbelt National Park.[1]
It was on the ground floor so I could look out the window
To see the tree line against the stars at night
As I lay in the comfort of my bed.

The night’s darkness set my mind to racing—
Like a doe pursued in the underbrush by a hungry cougar
Or a soldier lost in an unfamiliar jungle and separated from his team.
But, the stars brought me comfort: I was not alone.

The break in tree line against the stars was the key
To walking paths in the woods at night without a flashlight
Except on cloudy nights or when you walk too fast
As I learned later as a counselor in camp.

People do crazy things when they are alone in the park.
The impulse to run in gangs led kids in the neighborhood
To arm themselves with homemade swords and shields
And build forts for protection.

But forts offered little protection.

On summer days, we attacked each other without mercy
Tossing rocks and dirt clods up into the air above roofless forts
And congratulating ourselves on the screams we heard from inside.

Vicious. We were vicious.

On school days, the streets were safe from bullies
Who preferred to pick fights on narrow bridges. [2]
If they challenged you to meet them at the bridge,
Then it was best to take the long way home.

So one day when my parents took me to see a movie at Constitutional Hall [3]
About a gang member[4] who was vicious and got into fights—

I could see myself.

When he bled, I bled.
When he was afraid, I was afraid.
When he finally came to Christ, I came to Christ.

From that day forward,
my fighting days were over.


[2] Charles Carroll Junior High School, now a middle school, sits on a hill surrounded on three sides by creeks that could be crossed only on fallen trees or, much later, bridges built for students on my end of town.

[3] The Cross and the Switchblade is a book written in 1962 by Pastor David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. (


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Cowboys and Indians

ShipOfFools_web_10042015But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was,

and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn

and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The best games in grade school were played outdoors. Baseball was great, but it took a lot of pounding on doors to get enough friends to play. And the girls often did not want to play … the girls preferred playing Red Rover or tag.

With Red Rover, you picked teams which stood about 30 feet apart. On your turn, you chanted: Red Rover, Red Rover, please send Stephen over! Then, the chanting team locked hands and Stephen ran over trying to crash through. If Stephen crashed through, he returned to his team. If not, he joined the other team. The game ended when one team acquired all the players [1].

Another fun game was Cowboys and Indians. All that you needed were a few cap guns and maybe some bows and arrows. Then we just chased each other around. No body really won or lost—it was all about the chasing [2].

Some of my favorite books and television shows were about Cowboys and Indians. I must have read every Lone Ranger book that I could find and never missed a show. The Lone Ranger’s best friend was Tonto, an Indian who saved his life after he was shot by outlaws and left for dead.

I always wished that I had a friend like that.




Cowboys and Indians


Also see:

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The Prince George’s Post

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“For it will be like a man going on a journey,
who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.
To one he gave five talents, to another two,
to another one, to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.” (Matt 25:14-15)

The Prince George’s Post

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was seven we moved to Trexler Road
which begins with Good Luck Road and backs up to Greenbelt Park [1].
We were the second family to move to the neighborhood
and the houses were brand spanking new.

About a year later when I was eight
someone asked if I would carry papers for the Prince George’s Post.
I was new to the business,
but it seemed like a good way to earn some spending money
So I said okay.

The Post came out on Thursdays and cost a nickel.
Once a month I collected twenty cents and earned a nickel.
With 120 customers that meant about six dollars
to spend on building model airplanes and collecting coins—
Things too expensive for my allowance alone—
I even opened a saving account at the bank.

The papers came tied up in a bundle.
At first, the bundle would seem heavy
But pretty soon the carrying bag would be more manageable—
Even when riding my bike.

Most of my customers were on Trexler and Nashville Roads,
But I had a few customers on Wihelm Drive and Jodie Street.
I tried leaving sample papers with houses on other roads,
But things never seemed to work out.



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King Street

ShipOfFools_web_10042015It is not good that the man should be alone (Gen 2:18 ESV)

King Street

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I learned to ride a bike when we lived on King Street,
but I mostly remember the wall that I ran into first.
The wall was next to a turn in the sidewalk
And it was made of brick—I simply went too fast around that corner.

That was the year that President Kennedy was inaugurated,
but I mostly remember the snow drifts that I jumped in
which were almost as tall as I was.
Dad and Mom preferred to watch the speeches and parades.

I attended first grade when we lived on King Street,
My teacher used to read us stories sitting on a chair
while we sat on the floor
wondering why she did not wear any underwear.

That was year I learned that guys were supposed to have girl friends,
but I do not remember why.
So I walked around the cafeteria table and
Asked each girl—will you be my girlfriend?—until one said: yes.
After that we played together in school and out.

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Bugs and Shells

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens
and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. (Gen 2:19 ESV)

Bugs and Shells

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Dad collected things that were just amazing.

He shot rabbits and squirrels, but the best thing he ever shot was a bright colored pheasant. He had a turntable and about a hundred albums with all sorts of music. For a long time, an album came in the mail about once a week. And he played them just about every evening after I went to bed.

He brought home a television set with black and white pictures of all these famous people—Like Billy Graham who was always asking us to come on down—he’d wait—he was a patient man because so many people did come on down to pray with him. And like President Eisenhower who was a general and who came on now and then to let us know how things were going here and there. But I mostly watched RomperRoom and the Micky Mouse club and Captain Kangaroo.

Dad had a great rock collection, some big shells, and many, many stamps and coins. I collected those things too, but I really liked the butterflies and bugs that the teenage guys upstairs collected. I had my own net and I chased every bug in town—I even caught a green parakeet one time! The guys upstairs also had all kinds of neat model boats and planes that they built—too bad that they moved away. Dad helped me build models too, but I am not sure that he cared much for the bugs…

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The Seat

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you
that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
(John 14:1-3 ESV)

The Seat

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Kindergarden in California was unsettling.

To get to class I had to walk east down the street,
out of the neighborhood,
across a big road and left around the cornor with lots of palm trees.
Then, it was just around the  side of the building,
up the steps and into the room.
My seat was in the middle.

But I missed my friends.

They all attended a school on our side of the road.
It was north through the neighborhood,
Then you just followed the street up a hill.
Then, it was just around the other side of the building,
Up the steps and into the room.
The empty seat was against the wall on the left.

My friends told me about it and there it was.

…On the way, a man in a car offered me a ride.
But my mom told me not to accept rides with strangers
So I told him: no thanks…

My friends were happy to see me.

The teacher at this school seemed a bit worried and upset.
She asked me a bunch of questions
and did not seem at all interested in teaching.

Pretty soon my mom came to get me.
She took me back to the other school
where they told me that I missed the Christmas party.
But because there wasn’t any snow I did not believe them

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