Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Firehall and the New Year

As I sit here listening to the humm of the butane heaters, clanking of forks, plates and coffee mugs I am comfortable and at home. I don’t know everyone around me, I recognize a few, but I don’t have to know names – we are family just the same. This ole place is where so many have come over the years to sit and visit and gossip and laugh. The common thread is the food and the family that serves it and I have a chair at the table in the back to watch life happen in this small town gathering spot.

The new years is here and America is set on a course of the unknown, un-chartered policies of a new president. We have many who are embracing his ideas and policies and just as many who are concerned that they are going to be harmful. Times are hard for more folks than not and it is imperative that the promises he made and the things he does to right this ship are effective. That was the package the majority of Americans bought in November and all of America is counting on their judgment.

My heart goes out to the elderly who have lost so much in the financial markets. These are the people who can’t go back to work and rebuild. They are the ones who have worked long and hard, saved and planned and now are devastated and in despair.

I have little tolerance for those who can work and don’t. I have little tolerance for programs that feed into the mind set that the government owes anyone something. We are all going to have to work to dig ourselves out of this mess.

Clarence Vogel has been arriving here at the Firehall Restaurant every morning for the last 41 years. His day starts at 5 a.m. and he locks the doors after a late dinner service at –9 p.m.. years old. Vogel, 80, has worker hard all his life as well as his family who serve the meals, wipe the tables and sweep the floors. They have a small handful of loyal employees who work hard as well to take care of their families. Their life is about serving others.

David Vogel, Clarence’s son, is a big boy who likens Hank Williams Jr. in appearance. David has a bum knee he has struggled with as far back as I can remember. David is also in-charge of the catering trailer. A big heavy behemoth that they pull all over the area serving up their world famous fried catfish dinners. You can see the discomfort in David’s face, but you have to look through the smile. He gets up and gets the job done because that is what you do when you’re a Vogel.

I know the Vogel’s have had their ups and downs, good times and not so good. But you don’t hear them complain. They smile and chat with customers, they order the food for the week and wash the dishes and clean the pots and pans. They make a payroll and pay their taxes and try to put a little in the bank on those rare days when there is something left over.

I personally learn best in lean times, hard times, times of pain and despair. I am working on trying to change that, to live my life looking for God’s direction and seeking Him out in good times, times when things are just OK, but it is hard. When I am doing well I tend to put off my quiet time with God and forget to rely on Him.
As we begin a time of transition and change, a time of rebuilding and rethinking our lifestyles and priorities, lets remember to live each day, each moment grateful for the small things as well as the rest. We are all going to have to pony up, Vogel up, and get the job done.

I am going to pray for the new president and his team. I am going to pray they seek Him in their decisions and at their meetings and at night as they lye in bed. Thanks to Steve, Ronnie, Jr. and the Vogle family for your inspiration and hard work, may God bless you in every way and may God bless America.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"You Sit On A Thrown Of Lies"

I am laughing as I sit here just thinking about my current old favorite Christmas movie. My son Jon-Michael and I have sat and watched it over and over again this season. There are so many good movies to watch during Christmas, “It’s a Good Life,” “Rudolph,” “Charlie Brown Christmas,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and more.

I remember growing up watching these same movies; I even remember watching them in black and white. To get them tuned in I had to get up and walk over to the TV set and turn the antenna back and forth for the best signal. Now that dates me a bit.

I love a funny movie. I have seen a few dark and heinous movies in the last couple years and left the movie house feeling bad and mad I spent money on them. I am not a movie buff like my wife, she remembers actors names, their role, what movie, when. I just want to enjoy the movie, the experience, the time with my family and friends.

“Elf” with Will Farrell is my current favorite; it has been every Christmas since we got it. I love the story line, Farrell is absolutely brilliant in the movie and it makes me laugh every time I watch it. My kids and I quote different lines all holiday season, “You Sit on a Thrown of Lies,” Cotton Headed Ninny Muggin,” and more are daily phrases we work into everything we are doing and we laugh every time.

This is Christmas week and I am trying my best to stay in a good mood, enjoy the moment, laugh and reflect on my blessings. There are so many folks who are having a hard time seeing the silver lining this year and I think it will just get worse as we move forward into the next year.

God has forged me through tough times and my accountability partners and friends hold me to my resolutions. Iron sharpens iron. Find someone in your circle of friends or find a church to help you work through the things that keep you unhappy, frustrated or angry. God’s wish for us is to be happy. He loves us dearly. Many of us are blessed and if you don’t think you are, spend the night outside under the closest overpass or fast for a few days – it will show you simple blessings we totally overlook.

On Christmas day God is offering us His son. He eventually dies a brutal death for you and I – do you know the story? Do you know the joy of a child’s birth? Do you see the innocence and happiness in a child’s eyes? Can you image offering your child up to die for folks like us? Do you honor that sacrifice He gave us?

Smile, pray, know that God loves you and today is a new day, a new opportunity for you to laugh and enjoy life the way He planned it for you.

Merry Christmas you “Cotton Headed Ninny Muggin!”


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Merry Christmas Y'all

It chaps me that some retailers and even whole city governments are choosing to call Christmas shopping “holiday shopping” or “winter holidays.” You have all heard about it over the last few years, and many of you have felt the same way.

When researching this, I went to my favorite search engine and found a delightful Web site: merry-christmas.com. They had received an e-mail from some lost soul ranting about them needing to remove the term from their site or he would not shop there. He also ranted that he would search their site and not shop with any of their advertisers. I loved the response from the site editor, “Before you read further, please remove the aluminum foil that you've taped (or SuperGlued) to your head. This will allow my ‘Happy-Happy, Ho, Ho, Ho’ Christmas vibes to penetrate your thick skull... Whether you like it or not we want you to have a Merry -- Um, Erm...Merry Chr...ahhhh, you know what I mean... We agree that you should boycott us. Puh-Leeze!”

Washington, D.C., buses have appeared with an ad campaign proclaiming, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” The American Humanist Association is spending $40,000 on the provocative holiday ad campaign. (foxnews.com) That would buy a lot of coats for kids or food for the hungry.

School teachers are another group who, in many cases, have to tip-toe around the issue of Christmas. Using the word Christmas in one school district took a school board vote and a ton of their attorney’s time and energy just so they could say “Christmas Break.”

Last year a special task force in Fort Collins, Colo., recommended banning red and green lights during the Christmas holiday because they fall among the items that are too religious for the city to sponsor.

"Some symbols, even though the Supreme Court has declared that in many contexts they are secular symbols, often still send a message to some members of the community that they and their traditions are not valued and not wanted. We don't want to send that message," Seth Anthony, a spokesman for the committee, told the Fort Collins, Colo., Coloradoan.

He said the recommended language does not specifically address Christmas trees by name, but the consensus was that they would not fall within acceptable decorations.

What will be allowed are white lights and "secular" symbols not associated "with any particular holiday" such as icicles, unadorned greenery and snowflakes, the task force said. (World Net Daily)

Many remember the removal of Christmas Trees from the Seattle Airport last year. That was a tradition that had been honored there for many years.

I am all about the gift giving and happy spirit most folks have this time of year. My friend owns a garbage company, and he has to love it. According to Garbage Magazine, Americans used 28,497,464 rolls and sheets of wrapping paper; 16,826,362 packages of tags and bows; 372,430,684 greeting cards; and 35,200,000 Christmas trees during the 1989 Christmas season, almost 20 years ago!

I can easily let this get me angry. I can rant and rave, without a foil hat, for hours on this topic, but, alas, I will leave you with this: We will have red and green lights. We will give gifts and wish everyone we can think of a merry Christmas. Christ is the reason for Christmas for our family. We will worship His birth because without Him, we (our family and millions of other believers) would be lost. We rely on Him more each day, and I hunger to live more for Him each minute. I am far from perfect and make mistakes each and every day, but thank God he loves me enough to have given His son to die for me. Wow, the gift of gifts. Merry Christmas, y’all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Little Boy Who Wanted Everything

The virtue at Sunday school for the 4th and 5th boys this Sunday was giving. It was all about the gift of sharing with others and this time of year it makes sense. The basic principal of giving is truly of God and Christmas just concentrates a lot of it in one short time period for many folks.

Now at our home we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas. My wife bakes a birthday cake for Jesus, we pray together and try and savor each and every moment of this, the true meaning of the holiday.

That is my disclaimer as a believer. We as a family do the whole Santa gift-giving thing as well. Even now my kids are older but I asked them, “do you like Santa and the idea of Santa and that he continues to bring you presents,” they always answer “yes” with a twinkle in their eyes – so Santa continues to come to our home. I do not find anything wrong with the commercial side of Christmas – the holiday side.

I love my family. I want to give them everything they could possibly want and Christmas is a wonderful time to make a big deal out of blessing them and loving on each other and having fun – concentrated fun in a month long festival with days off and lots of happy people, what can be wrong with that?

My son Jon-Michael is one of the kindest, biggest hearted little guys you could ever hope for as a kid. He is however a little boy living in the world today and he struggles a bit with the concept of a limited gift list. He wants video games, dirt bikes, computers and the list is almost endless. I laugh to myself with each addition.

We have had long talks about giving and caring for others; he has a heart the size of a small car. But alas he is just a little boy growing up in America. He gets it, but does not want to get it. He still wishes for it all – and I wish he could have it. Jon-Michael and I both know he won’t get everything on his list, not even close, but it is fun wishing.

I took three of the boys after church this Sunday and went to lunch, that included Jon- Michael. After lunch we went to the dollar store and bought two street bags, bags full of things someone living on the street might need. We also purchased toys for the toy drive in town. We ended up at the grocery story and collected a bag of food for the local food drive. We sat on the porch assembling the items into the bags then struck out to bless some folks. We found a homeless couple right down the street from our home. They were asking drivers for coins.

Now I have to tell you, I usually do not give these folks anything. I have lived where they are and for most, they have made a choice. I know this sounds hard and you can argue with me if you like – but I know the streets and the life the folks are living. Ask me about it sometime. But I digress; we found them and invited them over to the truck.

The boys were scared of the homeless couple until they began talking to the boys. It turned into a pretty magical experience. The last thing we did was pray for them. Cool thing for the boys and I. We then went by the food bank and they went in and dropped off the food. This morning I dropped off the toys.

The point in doing this was to show the boys some folks who have little to nothing. To teach them how to give and gift and think about others in a compassionate way. I was very proud of them. They understood the Sunday school program a little better.

God has blessed us with so much. I am in awe of the gifts each and every day. A friend told me recently that he is happy every day he swings his feet out of bed and feels them touch the floor. Simple things we so often over look.

Job well done Jon-Michael, Tanner and Spencer, Gods servants indeed.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Road Trips

I have done my share of road trips – long drives where you just get bored out of your mind and want to pull your hair out, well I guess I would have to do something different nowadays, but…. I have sworn my life against ever doing one again many times. This Thanksgiving I somehow forgot I had promised myself that and planed a drive to Georgia from Texas, not a long drive but over 1000 miles each way and in a small Toyota instead of my big dual cab diesel. What was I thinking?

Most of the credit for the trip going smoothly goes to my wife – she packed everything, assigned seating and planned out stops. She is also one of the most cheerful people you would ever want to meet. I don’t see how she does it but things bounce off her and her attitude is always positive. There are a few exception to this rule, she struggles with other drivers and tends to be a tad, well, mean. But besides that she is a loving, caring, smiling machine and I figured I would do most of the driving, except when there would be no other cars around, like when we were asleep.

One of the things that worked for us on this trip was splitting up the trip with over nights at hotels, one night both ways gave us a road break. I was a tad retentive with trying to find a hotel that was inexpensive. The cheapest night was $76. with a continental breakfast and I had a hard time with that – but the others were at least $20. more so we stopped.

The next thing is a movie player for the kids. OK, so I have tried the “you need to be watching out the window and see things” attitude, not a working model in today’s world. I figured if they had their faces buried in a book it was no different than them watching a movie. I watched most of a movie one day as well and two hours go by fast. So movies are now approved – for a part of the trip. I still do the “look outside” but just not as rigged.

Snacks, drinks and more help. I polished off different energy drinks like Red Bull and Rock Star. They had some effect on me and helped get me through the end of one part of the drive. Buying stuff at gas stations is way too expensive and gets my goat. I will do it in a pinch, but not if I can avoid it. My wife did a great job with drinks, snacks and things – nothing red, nothing covered in chocolate.

Pillows and blankets make for nice comfort items. Bring a few.

An absolute must is to bring along a good attitude. Go into the trip remembering the objective, the memories you are about to create. I have done plenty of these where I was a tyrant and just an unpleasant fellow to be around. This may take a bit of effort, but make the effort. Let the little things slide – a messy car, a dropped cracker, a little grumbling from the kids must be expected and I can assure you it will not be the end of the world.

Finally, pray. Pray with your traveling companions before you leave. Pray over your home, your pets, your drive ahead. Pray when you arrive, give thanks for a safe drive and the ability to take the time to be on the trip.

This last trip was just at 1100 miles each way and was pleasant and uneventful. One day it rained the whole time we drove, a mess, but we never broke, we kept going and it went very smooth. God is so good. You have to open yourself up to being in a good mood and pleasant to those around you. Us guys are especially grumpy and mean for no apparent reason nowadays – so work on that – know that your kids will mirror your attitudes and moods as they grow up and we need fewer grumpy folks in this world – find someone who inspires you to be happy, be it Sponge Bob or Jerry Lewis - for me it is my wife, most days.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Food Food - Red and Blue – I Like to Eat - I do, I do

Well as much as I profess to needing to watch what I eat and exercise more – I keep slipping backwards. It just seems I have a sweet tooth that is hard to break and if bacon is within a couple hundred yards, I am on it. I just love to eat.

I could not believe a report I read recently that Australia is now the world’s fattest nation, with 26% of adults labeled obese, a new report said Friday. The report, titled ‘‘Australia’s Future Fat Bomb’’ was undertaken by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, and revealed that some 4 million Australian adults are now classified as obese. The alarming new figures mean the nation has officially overtaken the United States, which has a 25% obesity rate.

While the report said Australia had overtaken the United States as the fattest nation on the planet, recent U.S. studies show around 34% of Americans are overweight or obese.
In all, there are currently 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world, a number that is expected to grow by 40% over the next decade, according to the World Health Organization.

The report proposed a number of recommendations to curb Australia’s expanding waistlines, including a national weight loss strategy similar to the high-profile smoking and skin cancer campaigns and the subsidizing of gym memberships.

“If we ran a fat Olympics, we’d be gold medal winners as the fattest people on earth at the moment,” Institute preventative cardiology head Professor Simon Stewart told the Age newspaper.

Australia and the United States blame the fast food industry for a lot of the issues. I don’t eat that much fast food. I guess some people do, and I admit I see some folks and just wonder how they can be at that particular restaurant with that food – when they are that unhealthy. But alas we have the opportunity to make healthy choices or live unhealthy lives in most cases. Mine is a choice when it gets down to it.

I am one who struggles with an occasional cigar, bacon, cookie dough ice cream and pie of all flavors. The Thanksgiving holidays will take me to mom’s house. Mom is the best cook ever. She makes fresh breads of all flavors, fresh bread pudding, cookies, cakes and that is just a sample of the sweets. I love it all and I will eat some of everything this week.

God’s gave us free will. The ability to make choices and that is what separates us from Him. We chose to sin or skip church or reading the bible or what ever it is that is inconvenient and doesn’t fit our schedule for that moment or that day.

I don’t mean for this piece to be a condemning comment on others – I choose poorly everyday. I think the way we live today makes it hard for us to make healthy food choices every meal. But this week – I have a little poem:

I will eat pie I will eat cake
I will see my belly bloat and ache

I love to eat I love to sleep
I will lay on the couch in a heap

I will try a diet I will try a fast
But if it is like always it won’t really last

Thank you Lord for my family and all the blessings
This holiday of Thanksgiving, stuffing and dressings

Take time to savor the moments of family. The go by way too fast.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Emailing Emotions

I get a hundred or more e-mails a day. Most of them are impersonal advertisements or solicitations from who knows what – if you have e-mail you know what I am talking about. For me, for the most part, if I did not ask for the e-mail or am not expecting it – I delete it before I even open it. I don’t look at funny pictures or videos or stories. I don’t pass on your prayer e-mails or touching stories to nine of my friends, I just don’t.

A former business partner told me once that the reason he sends e-mails is because they are emotion free exchanges of information or directives. That people do not have to argue or misunderstand what is expected of them or what you are saying to them. I think he was wrong; many e-mails are often taken emotionally.

I have sent e-mails that were totally misunderstood, or it was what I meant at the time but almost immediately wished I had not sent it. Most people have done that. Recently I wrote an e-mail just ripping apart a guy I was upset with, however, I sent it to a friend instead of the victim. We got a laugh out of it, I got it off my chest and out of my head and the victim was none the wiser. I got to think about things a little more and decided a bit of grace was in order before the chopping block.

I have several e-mails from friends who have passed away over the last two years as well as my father. I feel strange when I see them and wonder what would happen if I e-mailed them. I read the e-mails and remember the things that were going on when I sent them. What do you do with those? They are huge emotional e-mails for me now.

I have a few handwritten letters from my dad before he died. I cherish those. I look at his penmanship and his choice of paper. It is all classic dad. You don’t get handwritten letters too often anymore. I would guess if we all sent our moms or a friend a handwritten letter today, they would be thrilled and the letter would be a cherished momentum.

I never really liked getting cards, either. The ones that have the words inside partially underlined by the sender and then an “I Love You” at the end. I have always thought that was cheesy. At least write a paragraph and say something personal in regards to us. E-mail cards are even worse.

So I guess the point I am trying to make is that e-mails are best used to transfer benign information to another. When you really need to get something done, use the telephone. Don’t cop out and expect huge results from an e-mail – if you sent it to me, chances are I deleted it before I even read it. Try calling, writing a letter or write inside that card next time.

I think it shows that you care for some one more when you show them that you gave them some of your time. That you had to think about them only for just a period of time. God gifts us when we give of ourselves.

God Bless and share His love.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Backyard Camping a Possum and Time Well Spent

Those who know me know I spend a lot of time outdoors and teaching kids about hunting and fishing. I don’t always take them far and away to exotic lands and lakes, a lot of times I teach them urban outdoor skills. Al it really takes is a backyard, a creek, a ditch, a tree or just a patch of grass if that is all there is. But outdoors is the key word.

We ended up with three boys last night. Darius, Kyle and Jon-Michael. Two of the boys are boys I have been mentoring for a while, JM is mine, he has been part of the TJ way since his birth. The plan was to let them hangout after church and with no school on Monday we could go late. The plan morphed into a sleep over then a camp out in the backyard. This gave me another chance to kick in the TJ urban outdoor living program.

After a grilled cheese lunch the plan was put into place. BB guns were handed out and loaded to capacity. If we were to ever cash in on the copper content of the BB’s we keep at our house we would be rich. First the mandatory safety lesson and then they were off down the deer trail. The deer trail is a well worn path along the electric substation heavily wooded on both sides. No animals but cans and leaves and stuff to shoot at.

Hours were spent exploring and plinking. They ended up at what they call the sewers. This is an intersection of large concrete drainage ditches. They came back and swapped the guns for bikes and skateboards and were off again until sundown.

Just as it was getting dark we cleared a spot under the outdoor kitchen area, a tin shed where I use my grill, and put up cots. Then we put some wood in the burn pit and sparked up a campfire. They grilled deer sausage from sticks and heated a can of beans for dinner. The rest of the timeline goes something like this.

At 10 p.m. - I told them time to go to bed. The fire had burned down and I was beat, so they needed to be in bed.

11: 40 p.m. – Checked on them through the back door window, they were sitting by the all but gone fire again, throwing small sticks in for short bursts of flames. “Go to bed," was the cry from the kitchen door.

12:30 a.m. – “Get him” was the warrior’s cry. Bang, clank, bang again….."here he comes run".. they had seen a possum and were chasing it around the yard and throwing rocks and sticks and laughing hysterically. My wife awoke to hear me laughing out loud. She told me in no uncertain terms to go and quiet them down. I let them have fun. She rolled over and went back to sleep knowing it was a lost cause.

1:15 a.m. – “Bang, get him, pop, over there, run - there he goes.” Rocks were flying and hitting everything including the house and wood fence. OK now I was going to have to tell them to go to bed. “Dad, there he is get him,” my son yelled as I walked around the corner of the house. The possum was hanging on the fence. I tailed him and took him out across the street and released him to the woods. “Go to bed or else,” was my hollow charge.

2 a.m. Checking out the back door again I saw Darius up on a chair with a big stick in one hand and the flashlight in the other. JM and Kyle were asleep. He was scared of another possum attack. I had him to lay down and it was only minutes before he fell asleep.

3:40 a.m. – Checking again through the back door they were up again sitting by the fire. Small flames flickering on their faces, I walked out to check on them. They asked what time it was. I told them a quarter to four and to get back into bed. “We thought it was almost time to get up.” They had no watch or TV or radio to check the time. “Go to bed, I will get you up early.”

6:15 a.m. - Sunrise, I drag myself in to the kitchen and pour a cup of coffee, ours begins brewing automatically at 5:30 a.m. I look out back and two of the three were up. I wander out and help them set up the Coleman stove. The one sleeping camper had makeup on his face, that is what happens at camp if you sleep in I guess.

They cooked a big breakfast outside, cleaned up and resumed the BB gun and skateboard outing all day. At about 4 p.m. the two visiting campers went home, school tomorrow. Mine showered and crashed out. When I checked on him he woke for a moment and said, “man dad that was awesome,” then fell back asleep.

I may not always do it right but this time, score. I built a memory for the boys, one that includes me. We learned stuff, played, chased a possum and ate food cooked over the open fire. Man what a deal.

I am absolutely beat, I had meetings till late tonight, thus the late posting of this blog. God was good this weekend, and I loved it. Don’t pass up a chance to live your life and thank Him for each and every day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Season of Learning

Recently I spent time in a corporate setting and time after time I met unhappy people who felt stuck. Many expressed feeling they came to the job creative and energized only to be squashed and stuffed into a box.

I also met some great people, upper level executives, who were looking at the corporate ladder and the wonderful opportunities that were ahead of them. They liked their jobs. For them I was happy.

I remember once driving down the interstate one morning and looking over at a guy in a nice pressed shirt who was driving a clean car on his way to work. I thought that would be nice, a job where when you leave for the day you leave it there. For most I met recently, that was not true. Blackberry’s and email keep it going till all hours of the night, seven days a week.

I talked with one guy who was so proud of a camping trip he took his son on, the whole time monitoring his Blackberry for emails and messages. I told him I thought his son probably knew he wasn’t really there, not completely.

You know who I liked the most there though, the kitchen help in the corporate cafeteria. The little Hispanic ladies who worked so hard every day to feed the white-collar employees that worked from their cubicles.

I found out early on that one of the ladies made a fantastic picodigio. I also found out that the kitchen staff ate lunch at about 10. If I happened into the cafeteria for some coffee about then I was likely going to get offered something really traditional and tasty they had prepared for themselves.

I started bringing in smoked meats and fresh fish from hunting trips and gave it to the kitchen staff. They would prepare it and at 10 we ate. It was always wonderful. I learned a little spanish as well. I loved it.

I remember one day at lunch there was a guy who was just angry and frustrated with one of the ladies because she could not figure out he wanted his meat on top of his rice or something stupid like that. He was a rude and obnoxious crap-head. I don’t know if he was generally a creep or if his hemorrhoids were just flaring up that day. I was close to punching him for picking on my little ladies.

I believe life is a series of seasons. We have harsh and hard ones, easy smooth ones. But I have also found that some of the harshest times provide the most fertile time for learning and growing. We are given the opportunity to come closer to God or push him away. We are given the one thing He always allows us, free will. The opportunity to choose.

I am grateful to have found out I am not who I thought I might be. I was given the chance to explore the world from a different angle, a differnet perspective. I am blessed with the relationships that came from the experiences in the last year and I will be praying for those I met.

I do have a few regreats though. I wish I had been more open with my faith and asked more folks if they were believers or if they needed prayer. I also wish I had gotten that recipie for the picodigio and those spicy steamed vegatables.

God is good. Look for Him today.

Mercyme Bring The Rain
I can count a million times People asking me how I Can praise You with all that I've gone through

The question just amazes me Can circumstances possibly Change who I forever am in You

Maybe since my life was changed Long before these rainy days It's never really ever crossed my mind

To turn my back on you, oh Lord My only shelter from the storm But instead I draw closer through these times

So I pray

Bring me joy, bring me peace Bring the chance to be free Bring me anything that brings You glory

And I know there'll be days When this life brings me pain But if that's what it takes to praise You Jesus, bring the rain

I am Yours regardless of The dark clouds that may loom above Because You are much greater than my pain

You who made a way for me
By suffering Your destiny
So tell me what's a little rain
So I pray

Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty


Monday, October 27, 2008

Weather and God's Time

The first time I remember weather was as a kid living in Houston and Hurricane Carla came across the top of us. I must have been 4 or 5 and I remember during the eye of the storm playing with my Tonka trucks on the front porch. In the yard out in front there was debris scattered all about. – I don’t remember being scared, just how calm and quiet it was.

The second time I remember weather was when I was about 8. We were camping on top of a mountain in Colorado watching a storm in the valley below. Suddenly a tornado dropped out of the clouds. We were above the storm and could see everything happening as the tornado whipped trees and wrapped branches and long grasses around power lines. Then it was gone. I was frightened and wanted to know what we would do if it came up the mountain.

A few years ago I took up bow hunting. One evening as I sat in a tree I had chosen as my hunting stand, I heard a rumble. It sounded like a large truck or train off in the distance. I looked across the field adjacent to my tree and beyond at the hills in the far distance. I could see clouds moving my direction; a front was moving in.

As I sat there, the clouds came closer and the sound grew louder. I could see in the far distance the treetops begin to bend toward me and sway. Then it got closer. I could see the tall grass in the field I was looking over bend and whip as it came at me. Then it hit me, the cold front blew over me and the temperature dropped. It pushed past and kept going up the hills until the front consumed everything I could see in both directions. It was awesome.

A year or so later it happened from that tree again. The second time I knew what was coming, so I was giddy with excitement. There was nothing at that moment I could think of but how God was blessing me with a view of His power and His wonder.

Today, I was on the balcony of my hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas. The week of meetings now over, I had risen early to drink coffee and reflect on the day ahead. I looked over the bay and saw a grey blanket that encapsulated the horizon. I could see the water tossing and turning at the front edge, the sails on the docked sailboats begin to flap hard and fast. The wind, then rain, came over the hotel and soaked it in a shower of cool fresh air and water.

I know there are times when I truly cannot for the life of me figure out what God is doing in my life, why he is not answering prayer when I think He should or why the pain and struggling. Recently I am trying to learn that the hardships are a time of learning and a time to draw closer to Him, to rely on Him. Amazing thing is, through that, I get a lot of relief.

We are all going to have hardships and struggles, bad things happen. But I wonder how those who do not have a Father, who don’t have God in their lives ever make it? I find I lean on Him more every year. I hunger for Him, like that front I watched from the tree the second time. I knew the experience like I know the joy of relying on God. I anticipated the weather change and wonderful, exhilarating feeling. If I never get in the tree, go outside or pay attention, I surely will never experience it. I want to live my life with as many of those moments as I can get. Unafraid of the tornadoes in the valley or the beginning and end of the hurricane – but the wonder of His love for me and how I can have it come over me each and every day.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The War at Home

Jason has been a warrior his whole life. I have heard stories of his childhood obsession playing with green army men for years. He would play for hours in his room or in the yard strategizing and destroying the enemy. The most recent story I heard was when his soldiers would die, he would bury them then forget where and they would be lost.

“I didn’t just dig a hole and stick them in it; I had a service and all. I did it right,” he explained. I can tell you somewhere in south Austin, buried in the yard of his childhood home, are possibly thousands of small green army men. The graveyard.

It seems that some people know their destiny early. They, I believe, are the lucky ones. They are driven to be whom they know they are. After high school Jason went straight into the National Guard. A week or two into it he called home and wanted out. His mom and I talked and she decided to put the kibosh on his leaving.

“No, you don’t want to regret this,” she coaxed him. He knew in his heart she was right. He completed the time with honors.

Not long after returning from his National Guard training and duties he was milling around trying to figure out what he was going to do next. Police work became his next objective and he started his education at cop school. Upon graduation he found a position in a small town east of Austin and went to work. Police work was good to Jason. He shared story after story of his days and nights on the job. He loved his work and you could hear it in every word.

As he began his emersion into police work, each month he would report for National Guard duties. Then came 9/11. The world was thrown into frenzy. Americans raised their hands over their hearts and were proud to be Americans as we took on the terrorist of our world. They had attacked us all around the world and we were detached, but now they were in our country and everyone felt the heartache and patriotism. We are Americans and this is our country and that cannot happen here. Jason was standing tall ready to go should they call.

Eventually he moved to a bigger city and a new position in their police department. There he had drug duty and sting operations -- he loved all that. He always said, “I want to be in the tough part of the city – the rough side.” He usually was.

After years of weekends and summer training Jason’s time with the National Guard was coming to an end. He had never been called up to fight in Iraq, some don’t. He was well into his new job and had gotten married and had a newborn baby girl. Everything was in place. Except for one thing -- he had to decide, do I re”up” with the guard or not.

Resigning with the guard meant a lot of things. It meant he would be able to continue to work on the pension and other rewards he would eventually receive when he completed his service. But it also meant he was probably going to go to Iraq for a period of time, most likely a year or more. A decision that meant leaving his wife, new baby daughter and other family. It meant months of boot camp style training with long days and short nights.

We had long talks about the pros and cons of going to Iraq and the chances he would take. He went to council with others and prayed about it with his wife. When he told me he had decided to go and that they had a date for him to leave, I was mad. How, why, why now with the baby?
But I know why Jason went; I know why he is there. He is there because since he was little boy, he has been preparing to be an American soldier. He is there because deep inside Jason, ingrained in this young man with everything going for him, is the desire to serve his country. He is old school patriotic. He is willing to give his life so others may be spared the tragedy of 9/11 or something even more horrific. He is, like so many of our American soldiers, committed to the calling of God and country.

Don’t tell me American is anything less than great. Don’t put our president or our soldiers down in front of me. I stand next to my nephew who is headed to Iraq; I am humbled by his bravery, his honor of country, his willingness to die to protect his nieces and nephews. He is willing to sacrifice all he has for you and me. He is a man. I pray a legion of angels will protect him as he goes forward and that God will use him to minister to others in His great commission.

We can agree to disagree here in America and not have our hands cut off, our families killed, our daughters beaten and raped because of the freedom our soldiers have sacrificed for. So, tell me, what are you doing?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lee and I

Lee and I meet in the kitchen each morning at about 5:30 for our morning coffee and to discuss the way of our world, as it is that day. This routine just recently restarted from days gone by, over 17 years ago.

Lee is a friend I met at a 12-Step meeting way back in the late ‘90s. I had a few years clean and sober; he was trying to get a few days. We have built a friendship since those days, which is very special and important to me.

Lee has done some amazing things in his life. He is the only person I have ever met who actually ran away from home and joined the circus. At 14 he and a friend dropped out of school and were headed to Kemah, Texas, to work on the oyster boats. Along the way they passed a circus. For the next year they worked as setup and tear down hands for one of the big Shriner Circuses of that time. He traveled the country that year, and his stories and photos are wonderful.

When Lee got back from his jaunt with the circus, he wasn’t home long before he signed up for his next adventure as a merchant marine. Lee, at the tender age of 16, was off on his first ship and toured India and Japan, including Hiroshima. That was in the mid ‘60s when Hiroshima was a strange and rare place to visit. What a trip.

I can tell countless stories, Lee stories, but I won’t here. Just suffice it to say he is the most energetic and adventurous person I have ever met.

Since I have known Lee, his life has been centered around his daughters. He had custody of them both and his biggest joys, tears and wishes have been centered around them. Now both are young women with kids. When he gets hugs and kisses from his granddaughters, he absolutely lights up. A single dad raising girls is one of the most difficult things I could imagine. So much to teach them and lots of girls things that frankly I don’t think most men can even talk about aloud.
So as we sit and drink coffee, my workout partners at the gym go on without me. They don’t wait, and I am not rushing off. I love this time of day, and to spend it talking with Lee makes it a great day – no matter what happens after that.

As I write this I am planning a meeting with the CPA and some doctors. We also have to work in a visit to the hospital and talk with Hospice. Both daughters, their kids and Lee’s sister are at our home, and we need to get back to the grocery store sometime today, too. On most days this stuff would be just another day, but right now nothing is trivial or without cause. Planning and making sure things are taken care of and at the same time keeping the wheels on the family cart is tedious and wearing, but through it I find a peace from God and things fall into place.

Lee has cancer of the liver and stomach and I am not sure how many more mornings I will be able to sit with him and drink our morning coffee. By the time this is printed, he may be better, he may not. The doctors couldn’t administer his chemotherapy this week because he is too weak; I expect he will remain too weak for the treatments.

As we prayed over him Tuesday night he gained a sense of peace. Everyone saw it and it was so clearly God’s hands holding him. I know that Lee has accepted the Lord as his personal Savior, and I will see him in heaven. I can just imagine him there, in perfect health and all his glory. Planning adventures and exploring the depths of heaven and what it has to offer. If you can get in trouble for pushing the limits there, he will. God will be spending overtime on my buddy Lee when He finally gets him, whenever that is. I did my part down here, Lord. When you get him, don’t say I didn’t warn you -- he gets up early, likes his coffee strong and has a lot of things to do. Until then, it’s one teaspoon of creamer and a teaspoon of honey with Lee’s coffee about 5:20 a.m. and I will be there.