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.