A Problem Or An Opportunity

Hello again!  Glad we could hook up one more time as we venture together (here lately there hasn’t been any need for snowshoes!).

I recently had a situation occur that got me thinking about something (it was actually as recent as this morning).  We have a fifty-five gallon aquarium in our carpeted living room.  I woke up one morning to find a couple of six-inch-diameter wet spots on the carpeting that were about a foot away from the aquarium.  I knew I had just done a water change the day before, but found that the water level was lower than it should be.  My heart skipped a few beats as I opened up the doors on the front of the aquarium stand to find that the panel-covered bottom of the stand was all wet, as was the bottom of everything that was under there.

After looking everything over, I still don’t know where the water has come from.  The aquarium and aquarium stand have every appearance of being solid and dry (save the wet paneling on the bottom of the aquarium stand).  So one would logically assume that the water filter is to blame (that’s what sits under the aquarium and cleans up the aquarium water).  But everything around the lid’s seal was dry–no sign of a leak of any kind!  So where in all of God’s great creation has this water come from??

I still don’t know the answer to that question.  So as I sit here puzzling this out and taking the necessary steps to get this cleaned up, dried up and all that jazz, my thoughts go to something my wife told me that was very encouraging.  She gave me a big hug and told me how proud she was of me and my behavior during this unplanned and potentially huge problem (at one point we were having to seriously consider a complete tear-down to get at wet carpeting).  She said that I kept my cool and didn’t react anything like I would have when we first got married–or even as recently as a year ago.  That’s hard for me to see.  Of course, when you think about something like that, when you’re under your own microscope you usually don’t see what others see.  But hearing that simply lets me know that God is indeed at work in my life.

So why am I telling you this?  Well, we all face things every day that we have a choice in how we go about handling.  Do we choose to just react like the ugly side of us wants to do?  (That’s certainly the easiest option.)  Or do we choose to respond in what we all usually know is the “better way”?  I’ll say this:  Responding is definitely harder to do than reacting.  And the “better way” is usually, if not always, the harder of the two paths to go down.  But we both know what we should do…don’t we?

What is a similar situation you have found yourself in?  Did you succeed in choosing the better way?  I’d love to hear from you!


Bagels Anyone?

I’ve had a boatload of jobs over the years.  One of those jobs was for about six to eight months in my early twenties.  There was a Jewish delicatessen in the area called Bagel Haul Deli that had absolutely fantastic bagels!  Of course, they also had other goodies like muffins, cookies and croissants to tempt the taste buds.  I was looking for a different job at the time and saw one day that they were hiring for a baker.  Thus begins our tale….

I lived about twenty minutes away from the deli–assuming traffic was good–so it wasn’t just around the corner.  My hours as a baker were 2:30a.m. to approximately 10:30-11:30a.m.  My first four hours were spent baking everything up and my last four hours were consumed with delivering everything I had just baked (minus the stash kept at the deli to sell there) and cleaning everything up once I got back.

A second baker would come in somewhere around 3:30a.m. to assist, namely with the bagels.  Why?  This style of  bagel was known as “Chicago-style bagels” (this is what I was told, although I understand that they are actually known as “Montreal-style” bagels).  This style is more dense than the other style, known as “New York-style” bagels, which are puffier and more airy than their counter-part.  Either style, though, gets boiled before being baked.  So at this particular deli, the boiling was done in a huge circular vat of boiling water that stood about four feet high and was about two feet in diameter.  Once these were boiled for a specific amount of time, they were put back on the trays where toppings such as garlic, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and salt were put on.  Once this was done, they were wheeled over to the oven where the other baker took over.

This wasn’t your Grandma’s oven, by the way.  The oven itself was a room about six feet wide, ten feet long and eight feet high.  It had at least six metal racks that were a good three feet deep and ten feet long, all rotating like a drum around the inside of the oven.  The oven baker accessed those racks by opening an oven door that exposed an opening about two feet high and eight feet long.  So between these two bakers, everything got baked up and ready to deliver by 6:30a.m.

The more pleasant of the two jobs was manning the oven.  Since I was the new guy, I usually got stuck with the first job.  To this day I cannot eat an onion bagel.  Go ahead…ask me.  “Why is that??”  Well, imagine yourself getting up at 2:00a.m. in order to get the baking process started by 2:30.  Now imagine yourself an hour later, standing over a vat of boiling water with all kinds of steam getting all up in your face.  Then imagine yourself dumping tray after tray of onion bagels into that boiling water and steam that is now saturated with onion-stench enveloping your sinus cavities and overwhelming your olfactory senses.  It about made me want to have a puke bucket nearby.  That wasn’t the only one either:  Cheese bagels gave off some rather obnoxious fumes and rye bagels had a weird and nasty smell when put in boiling water.  On the bright side, blueberry bagels gave off a rather pleasant boiled aroma, while cinnamon-raisin bagels just about made you want to crawl into the water with them.

One thing you didn’t want to do was be late!  If you started late, you never got caught up–and that also meant that you had to call the owners and have one of them meet you there to help you.  That happened to me twice while I worked there.  The anxiety of that possibility, coupled with a habit I had at the time of reading in bed by lamplight, resulted in the culmination of my quitting that job.  I know, I know…how does reading in bed add to a person’s stress level?  It’s supposed to be relaxing, right?

To answer that question, I should probably tell you that I had another habit.  This one involved my alarm.  When it would go off, I would sometimes hit the snooze button and turn the lamp on that was by my bed.  Mind you….sometimes.  Not all the time.  And sometimes I would find myself falling asleep while reading.  Which meant that my lamp never got turned off.  So I would stir in my sleep just enough to realize that the lamp was on and then fly up and out of bed, standing in the middle of the room hyperventilating with adrenaline, because I had no idea whether I had dozed off from reading or if I had hit the snooze button and was now late for work!!  Usually I had just dozed off, but how do you recover from that and just go back to sleep?  I remember many times just sitting on the edge of my bed, rubbing my temples and trying to get over that “post-adrenaline-rush” headache that always followed.

Bagel anyone?

Chicken Little

Remember that house in Bath that I told you about?  After we moved there, my parents apparently thought it was a great idea to have our own chickens.  Fresh eggs and fresh meat when they got old enough and big enough.  Ok.  But then my brother and I found ourselves unwillingly and unwittingly elected and appointed as assistants to some pretty disgusting stuff.

Let’s start with the obvious.  To a couple of kids who had lived their extensively long and productive six and eight years in a city suburb, moving out to the country where we were able to have chickens was a new adventure!  What glorious and unknown excitement awaited us?  That excitement was to start in an old chicken coop that was on our property (probably the reason for the sudden realization on my parents’ part that we could have chickens of our own now….yay).  It was pretty big for its age.  My Dad put in the two-by-fours and chicken wire needed inside the old chicken coop to keep the chickens where we wanted them to stay, along with homemade roosting and nesting places to give it a homey, lived-in appearance.  They fell right in and made it very homey by pooping all over and making a distinctly odorous mess for my brother and I to clean up.  Oh, the fun!  Especially on hot and humid days when we had to help clean it all out.  Sure, the manure on the garden made for absolutely huge vegetables, but that smell….makes me feel like gagging just thinking about it.

There were a couple of roosters that hated my brother and I–mostly my brother.  When these two roosters were alive, we were the ones sent in to the hornet’s nest of a chicken coop to get the eggs each morning.  You could cut the stress level in that little building with a dull axe.  So we did!  It only took my brother coming back from the chicken coop in tears, talon marks on his arms or legs (or both), for my parents to see that we had a hierarchy issue and that one or both of these feathered bullies was going to be put in his place.

Thus commenced one of quite a few festivals over the years at our place.  People came from miles around to witness the execution of such a fowl and evil creature.  Bets were made for the distance covered by a headless feathered body running around the yard and fresh donuts from one of many concession stands were devoured as people told jokes and laughed at the court jesters goofing around on the gallows that were built next to the chicken coop.

All fell silent as the chicken–a black bag over its head–was led out of the chicken coop on a wagon slowly drawn by two pigs.  It knew its time had come, yet nary a tear escaped either eye of this merciless beast as it looked cruelly about at the bystanders–especially the children.  Little six- and eight-year-olds cowered behind their mothers as the chicken was led to the chopping block on the gallows.  My Dad, wearing a black hood with eye slits in it, stood at the ready with his dull axe in his hands (this rooster deserved no mercy).  Then, as its head was placed between the two nails on the chopping block and its neck was drawn tight–it was just like him try to pull something like this–he looked up at my Dad with great big puppy-dog eyes, just as sad as could be!  Which on a chicken looks pretty weird and grotesque, so my Dad promptly ended its life then and there.  After just a second or two of shocked silence, the crowd whooped and hollered, a “wave” broke out at one end of the crowd and  swelled to the other side as the school band belted out Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” song.  A parade commenced and the first “Miss Beheaded Queen of Bath” was named.  The Superintendent of Bath officially named it “Exoneration Day” for the whole community–even so far as to establish a “no school” policy for that day so that all children could celebrate their freedom from feathered tyranny.

Say, are you familiar with Dr. Seuss’s book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”?  Vaguely familiar to me.  Yeah, none of the above really happened.  Well, no, there was a nasty rooster (or two).  And we did have us a beheading one morning shortly after my brother showed the cruelty of at least one of those idiot birds.  But the rejoicing that day was rather subdued, shared only between my brother and I.


Passing Gas

I don’t recall if I have mentioned it before, but I used to work for an armored truck company.  Interesting job, to say the least.  And potentially one of the most dangerous.

I worked for them for two months shy of fifteen years.  The first question that is probably floating through your mind right now is, “Did you ever have anything happen to you?”  I had a lot of things happen to me, but thankfully none of them involved being robbed or shooting anyone.  The closest I every got to anything going down actually happened twice in the fourteen-plus years that I was with them.

My wife and I pray every morning over each other and our family, but we especially did that when I had that job!  I’ll tell you this, God certainly came through–both times.  Here’s how it happened:  I typically rode in the back of the armored truck.  As my driver pulled us up to our next stop, I distinctly felt the Holy Spirit impress upon me, do not get out of this truck.  Even though a couple of years separated these two events, that is exactly how it happened both times!  I’ll tell you what, that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.  The first time it happened, I told my driver that something didn’t feel right about this and that we would move ahead to our next stop and come back.  We did exactly that, came back and everything felt very normal.  The second time, I just sat there and waited.  It was a solid minute or two before that impression lifted and I knew that whatever–or whoever–it was that was “wrong” about this situation had passed.

Something else that also happened twice was our truck breaking down out in the middle of nowhere–literally.  We were out in the middle of nowhere.  Nothing but cornfields and cows.  Not a good situation to be in.  And it just so happened that both times that this occurred,  I had the same driver–in the same truck!  Hmmm…that should have told me something right there.  You know what was really cool, though?  The first time it happened–no exaggeration, it was within the first minute of being stranded on the side of the roada sheriff car pulled up behind us and stayed with us the entire time (which happened to be from around 2:30 in the afternoon to somewhere around 8:30 that night–yes, that’s how long it took to get a tow truck big enough and out far enough to where we were)!  You’re not supposed to ride in a towed vehicle, but we had too many bodies and not enough seats in the tow truck, so I got the short straw and had to ride in the front seat of the cold armored truck as it rode along hoisted up on its back wheels.  No heat in a solid metal cubicle on a cold October night equals a very cold ride back to the shop–even stopping along the way for something hot to drink.  Then the second time it happened, the local police showed up within the first five minutes of being broken down.  Talk about being “on-the-spot-Johnny”!  That time it didn’t take nearly as long and it was just outside of the town we had left.  Comparing the first break-down to that one was like comparing sleeping in a tent to sleeping in a five-star hotel.

Now I don’t know why, but I was thinking when I first started to tell you this story that we had run out of gas when we were stranded like that.  Obviously, that wasn’t the case.  But I had been with some drivers that definitely pushed the envelope in that regard–so much so that my beady little eyes would be glistening with sweat as I looked through the glass  window that separated the front of the truck from the back at the gas gauge as it dipped below the “E”.   I had already been stranded on the side of the road enough on this job–I sure didn’t want it to be for such an idiotic thing as intentionally running on vapors.  It never got to that point, but come on…..

Well, let me finish with this true story (this didn’t happen at our branch of the company, but it supposedly happened at another one):  A  police officer was sitting in his cruiser watching traffic  go by.  He watched one of our trucks drive by and immediately noticed something very peculiar:  The driver of the truck was fanning his door back and forth!  Not knowing if this might be a signal that the truck had been hijacked (not to be laughed at–that does happen), he called for back-up.  The armored truck eventually was pulled over to the side of the road with four to five police cruisers surrounding it.  So what did they find?  No hijackers.  No immediate threat to anyone’s lives.  Well, maybe that’s slightly incorrect.  Those trucks are notorious for having very little air movement.  The guy in the back of the truck had gas so bad that the driver was fanning the door in a desperate move to get fresh air into the front cab!


Reflection And Vision

It’s that time of year again.  Through the fun times with family and friends, there has probably been a growing sense of something drawing to a close and something else starting anew inside each one of us.  Whether they want to admit it or not, everyone is–at least to some degree–reflecting on the previous year and looking ahead to the new one.

But what does that really mean for you and I?  Some people out there genuinely don’t care about this.  Come what may, they’re simply focused on their next paycheck so that they can party some more.  I’m sure you’d agree that if that’s all they want out of life, they’ve already reached their goal–with nowhere else to go from there (and if that’s where you might be, just know that “You can’t get there from here.”)

I think most of us, though, are keenly focused right now on where we’ve been and where we’re going.  So what does that mean for you?  I’m all for expressing my sense of humor, but there’s also a time for expressing some meaningful questions:  Where have you been?  And where are you going?  I wish I was face-to-face with you right now–as we walk this northern trail together in our snowshoes!–because I would love to hear your answers to those questions.  Maybe you don’t even have decent answers to either one of them right now.  That’s OK–at times, I haven’t either (and for years, the answer to that second question constantly eluded me).

This is just my opinion, but I can assure you–based on many years of experience (remember, a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with a theory)–that there is a world of difference between a person trying to figure out the answers to those questions on his own and another person relying on the God of the Bible to reveal those answers to him.  If you don’t believe that, don’t be offended that I do (because I’m not offended that you don’t).  We simply respect where the other is coming from, right?  Many of us believe different things.  That’s our God-given right and ability:  Choice.  But it’s at that point that everything separates and branches off into all kinds of different directions.  So how do you know which one is the right one?  Is there more than one?  These are things no one likes to address or bring up–mostly because they make people feel uncomfortable, and who likes to feel that way?  But doesn’t everything begin there?  If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there is a void inside of us that we are constantly trying to fill with something or someone (even if it’s filled with nothing but ourselves).

I’d like to avoid a deep and philosophical exchange today, but given this contemplative time of year, wouldn’t you agree that it’s almost unavoidable?  Regardless, I trust that you can at least see this:  Everything has to have a foundation.  If yours is shaky, whatever you build on it will fall (Jesus told us that).  He also told us that everything bears fruit……everything.  If you take an honest look at the lives around you–including your own–those that show the healthiest and largest crops of fruit are going to be those that have a vibrant and intimate walk with Jesus Christ.  (A couple of things to note:  look deeper than the surface at the fruit you notice in others’ lives; it may not be as healthy as it looks.  And secondly, note those key words: vibrant and intimate.  It’s sad but true that many of us know plenty of people who claim to have Jesus in their hearts that live dull, lifeless and boring lives.  Rest assured:   That is not what truly having Jesus in your life is like!  It is the most exciting–and dangerous–thing you could ever decide to do.)

As you look behind you to glean what you can from your previous year and look ahead to what potentially lies before you, are you going to choose to go at it alone?  Because if that’s what you want, God will honor that (just know that it was never meant to be that hard).  Maybe you’re even struggling with the feeling that life is ultimately meaningless and pointless.  If all we’re living for is to try to better ourselves and those that live around us, what lasting value does that really bring?  Don’t you know that you were meant for so much more than that?  Wouldn’t you like to reach the end of your life and know that you fulfilled everything you were meant to fulfill with it?  And then to hear the King of Kings and Lord of Lords tell you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  Enter into the joy of your Lord!”  Talk about an eternal purpose!  That certainly gives your life true meaning.

I am excited for you!  What will your life look like in a year?  What are you really living for?  What changes will you make this year that could have mind-blowing, far-reaching effects that you can’t possibly imagine?  Let me know what you think and let’s find out together!