Thursday, March 31, 2005

Dwelling On Houses

I've been thinking about houses today.

We had Glenn Beck "in the house" at the radio station today. Glenn, although a widely syndicated talk show host, at one time was only on the air in Tampa, Florida and for five years - long before the story was national news - he called attention to the Terri Schiavo case, much to the chagrin of radio programmers nationwide who had no interest in the story.

He eventually became a friend of Terri Schiavo's parents and perhaps the harshest critic of her husband, judges, and all sorts of other folks who made decisions which contributed to her death today.

So Glenn will remember that when Terri Schiavo died he was "in the house" in San Antonio.

I'm not going to further mention the Schiavo case, I think everyone likely has made up their mind by now and I'm not in the business of changing people's minds anyway. I only wanted to talk about houses.

Specifically God's house, our house, and the Beer Can House.

Our church is cleaned by volunteers. Until recently we had two other churches using our facility and their members did some of the cleaning. One church disbanded and this morning Gordon called me and told me the second church was moving on as well. That prompted a brief "cleaning rotation" panic which ended in a very nice way. The couple who started that second church apparently left it a few weeks ago. However they called today saying they wanted to clean our church "one last time." Later they said they actually wanted to stay on our cleaning schedule for the remainder of the year.

That may sound a church which you don't attend, but it made perfect sense to me. This couple is without a place of worship and they believe you can't worship God without performing acts of service.

I learned that lesson too.

This weekend volunteers from our church will be working to clean up some of the areas on our property. Mostly it's moving piles of debris from one place to another, relocating our storage shed and general landscaping stuff. I will gladly take part. I work on God's house before I work on our own home because I consider it a form of worship.

That also goes a long way toward explaining the state of disrepair of some portions of our house - most notably our back patio which needs a new roof and other carpentry work. The church gave Amy a cash gift a while back to thank her for her years of volunteer service leading music and we've set aside those funds for the patio repairs.

Amy thinks she could do the work herself, and in truth with some help - from someone other than me - and the proper tools she probably could, but I'd prefer to "hire" someone and get the job done without taxing Amy's strength. We'll see. We may end up with a compromise where we tear down the old stuff and we hire someone to make the repairs. Tearing down stuff I can do...admittedly it's not always intentional.

The other house I've been thinking about today is this one:

Click to enlarge.

That is the "Beer Can House" on Malone Street in Houston. I'm not certain if it's still the case, but well into the 1990's at least Houston was the largest city in the country with no zoning laws. That resulted in some eclectic neighborhoods to put it mildly. One such neighborhood was home to a beer lover named John Milkovisch. He died in 1988 at the age of 75. That same year I visited his home and met his widow.

That was back in the days of radio when I was allowed to travel Texas roadways once or twice a year to do stories on oddities, eccentrics and drunks...some of those categories overlapped...actually most of them did.

In any case I did a feature piece on the Beer Can House which I resurrected today. It's long, too long to run on commercial radio today...and muddy at spots. This was before digital technology and Mrs. Milkovisch was up in years and not strong of voice. However if you have a broadband connection and want to listen click here.

I don't know if Mrs. Milkovisch has joined her husband and Terri Schiavo by now - she'd be 90 years old next year - but I did read recently that the Beer Can House is still standing. In fact it has been targeted for major restoration by an Arts group which considers it "folk art."

Click to enlarge.

I've been thinking about houses today...houses of death...houses of life...houses of disrepair.

Houses of restoration too.

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. - Psalm 71:20

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rock On - In Balance

Click to enlarge.

I'm killing time...about to take Amy to yet another doctor for yet another procedure I'm glad she's having and not me, which is all I'm going to say about it.

The above picture is from the website It's one of those sites I saw somewhere and sort of banked away in my brain to mention one day when I was short on time. It's fascinating. Those rocks are balanced...not stuck together. This is what this particular sculptor does, which would seem to indicate to me that he either doesn't sell a lot of his art work or most folks only get to enjoy the pieces they buy until they attempt to carry their purchase to their cars.

I really don't know...I didn't read very far into the site. I go there sometimes to look at the pictures and be reminded that we can often balance the seemingly impossible.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Clutter Happens

To put it mildly Amy and I are not neat freaks. We're not even close, and we're okay with that.

We can clean a room and in about 30 minutes it would be hard to convince anyone that it had been cleaned in the past month.

Clutter happens.

I was mentioning this to our friend Erin, whom we've got to come up with a moniker for beside "boarder" or "roommate" ...she's more like a surrogate daughter except she's quiet and neat. Erin "likes" to organize. I don't mean she likes to be organized...I mean she "enjoys" organizing.

It's a completely foreign concept to us, but a pleasant surprise when we open the fridge and realize everything in it you could eat without risking food poisoning. Or we open a cabinet and step back in our normal defensive posture ready to catch pots, pans , Tupperware or whatever that we've crammed in there, and realize everything is neatly put away and there's even room for other stuff.

Erin has struck again.

We're encouraging Erin to become a "Professional Organizer" and so far her forays along those lines have been profitable, although I'm not sure she's ever going to comprehend our mastery of clutter.

Some people are clutter people and some people are not. I notice on my daily walks that some people have garages you can actually walk into...heck even park a car in.

We have a pathway through our garage that if you twist sideways and are prepared to take a few giant steps and maybe one leap along the way you can reach a doorway or exit relatively unscathed.

Anyway the other day Erin and I were talking about her recent adventures in one of our usual two minute conversations before she headed out the door to one of her many jobs (this is another reason we can not be blood relatives, she works too much to be a member of our family). That's when she actually coined the phrase, "Clutter happens."

It's been on my mind ever since.
I suppose you could say my thoughts have been cluttered by that concept.

I'm not revealing any secrets here when I mention our friend Gordon will occasionally read Thoreau's Walden prompting a mad scurry among his family members to protect their belongings as he becomes infused with the desire to rid their lives of "clutter." Even if he is marginally successful, more clutter appears.

Clutter happens.

One of the radio stations I work for has undergone some changes recently requiring me to write very brief newscasts.
Writing a 60 second newscast is harder than writing a 5 minute newscast. I used to put out writing memos to our reporters advising them of such and then I noticed they simply piled up my wisdom on their desks.

Clutter happens.

Nonetheless the gist of some of my well thought out yet oft ignored advice was that knowing what to leave out of a story was the most difficult thing about broadcast writing. I suppose the same is true in blogging - I'm proving that point as I type.

Clutter happens.

The other day when I wrote about the family that came to our church on Good Friday seeking work, I received several emails from people all mentioning basically the same thing - interestingly no one left their thoughts in the comments area - I suppose out of a sense of gentleness, but that's another topic. All of the emails in one fashion or another warned me that there are people who "scam" churches with this exact type of scenario.

I was actually well aware of that...I've been scammed plenty. I didn't put my thoughts about that in that post because it was too long already and...I didn't want to clutter it up any more. However it's also been cluttering up my mind.

Our little church actually has a policy in dealing with people in need. In general terms all requests for aid must go through the Deacons. Our church budget is too tight for a benevolence fund these days, but in the past we've always been able to work something out when we felt called to do so. The policy says we try to help people in need in our congregation first, and that we don't normally give cash...we give food "gift" cards, or fill up someone's gas tank. Usually we make it clear to people who approach out of the blue that if we help them it will be a "one time" thing, simply because we're a small church and we don't have much money.

There's one other aspect of our policy which we don't mention at all...the policy is written on the wind.

I've violated those rules multiple times, knowing full well the people our church were helping were likely hitting up another church or three and might have even been making a career out of it.

I have no idea if that little family the other night was conning us - Amy is rather insistent they couldn't have been and Amy is a pretty good judge of character if you consider her association with me to be the exception to the rule. I do know that if a family is so desperate that they are using their children to "con" churches out of money...they qualify as "needy" in my book, that's why we had no reluctance to help them any way we could.

Too often I think our churches and spirituality get sidetracked by policies and committees...guidelines...rules...and even theologies. We complicate our religion by trying to make sure we're not being taken advantage of and in the process we literally bury our beliefs.

Clutter happens.

Easter Sunday we spent much of the day with some friends in their new home. At one point when most of the guests had left we had an impromptu prayer session. This is not something to which Amy and I are accustomed. The woman who suggested "we all pray right now" started asking each person individually of their was awkward for a few moments and Amy and I had some reservations about it but we went along willingly...goodness knows we've had enough practice at prayer. Some personal things came up for one or two folks, getting past grief, I mentioned a family friend who has been diagnosed with cancer...and then the woman who initiated the prayer session prayed for "three airline tickets to California."

Clutter happens.

Amy and I gave each other a look and later I noticed our host, who is a man of some monetary wealth, was writing that woman a check to pay for airline tickets. I felt a bit more uncomfortable and later in the evening after the others had left Amy and I tried to broach the subject gently but quickly backed away after we learned a bit more.

The folks who had prayed for airline tickets were friends of our hosts - they certainly knew them better than we did. They had also spent part of the afternoon talking with our host's twin 16 year old daughters, who I came to gather are not believers and with his son from his first marriage, who is my age and an avowed atheist. They were apparently rather extensive conversations...about God.

Our host considered the mere fact that those conversations took place to be miraculous...and I certainly wasn't about to argue the point. He was ecstatic that the "seeds" of Christianity had been planted with three of his children on Easter Sunday. In our circle of prayer he asked for only one thing...for those seeds to grow.

I suspect he would write a thousand checks if he thought that would actually help.

I mentioned he is a man of wealth, but let me clarify that...he has more than money....he understands what money is truly worth.

His deepest wealth is that of wisdom.

It's true...clutter happens.

But if we allow it....if we don't clutter it up...grace happens too.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter

He is risen!

Happy Easter my friends!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Way

I started writing something else last night but I became distracted along the way.

That's how people once referred to believers of Christ...before they were called Christians...they were known as followers of "The Way."

San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest continuously used cathedral in America. The first cornerstone for the church was put in place by 15 families in 1738 in what is now the heart of downtown San Antonio. It's a stone's throw from city hall - I'm not certain if that was deliberate, but it often seems appropriate for any number of reasons - it's also only a few foot steps from one of the area's original Spanish "missions" - San Antonio de Valero Mission which most folks now simply call the Alamo.

As you might imagine San Fernando has a deep rich history, not only among Catholics, but among Texans. There have been fires and floods. Ursula de Veramendi had her wedding there in a man named James Bowie. Five years later a Mexican general used the cathedral as a lookout at he wrested control of the Alamo from men who vowed to defend it to their deaths. General Santa Anna ordered a red flag be flown from atop San Fernando as a signal to those Alamo defenders...a signal that they would be shown no mercy. He was true to his word. Ursula became a widow.

A year or two ago a crazed man who disagreed with aspects of the Catholic faith went on a rampage inside San Fernando (until then they never locked the doors) and destroyed some of the statuary. Some was repaired....some replaced. It was senseless as so many things are these days.

Long before Mel Gibson put the images to film or video or digital dabbles, the community at San Fernando was graphically performing "the passion play" along the dusty streets of downtown San Antonio on Good Friday for hundreds of years. The performance was halted for several decades in the mid 1900's, I'm not certain why, but it resumed 21 years ago. It has since become one of, if not the largest such reenactments in the country.

The "Passion Play" winds through San Antonio's downtown streets - Jesus, battered bleeding and abused, is cursed and mocked by both actors and onlookers alike as everyone gets into the "spirit" of the event. It ends at San Fernando as Jesus trudges down one of the primary east west roads of downtown - Dolorosa street. A thorn crowned Jesus staggers down Dolorosa to the church towing the heavy cross upon which he is then hoisted to die.

It is a horrible event...beautifully performed.

Photo by: Nicole Frugé

Our little church has stood for five years. I helped clear the land with members of a few other families using everything from cheap loppers to machetes. We have no cornerstone per se, there is no statuary and usually we remember to lock the doors.

But we too have a service on Good Friday. It is very simple...very solemn.

Last night I was preparing to leave for that service when Amy called, somewhat frantic. A family had shown up at the church as she was getting things ready - a husband and wife with their three young girls. They parked in the lot and then the woman came to the door and asked Amy for only one thing - prayer. Amy described them to me in a rapid fire wave of one sided emotion. They were dirty and hungry and the man was hoping to find some quick work to earn money for gasoline. He had a promise of a steady job in the valley if the little family and their beat up car could only make it there.

Amy was anxious - wound tight and scatter shooting offers of aid which I was trying to interpret as she repeated them to me over her mobile phone all the while rushing home to change clothes for the service. I prayed she wasn't driving as fast as she was talking.

Finally, I thought I understood enough. I told her that some things were unreasonable - we couldn't hire the man to fix our roof that night or dig our garden - but we could bring towels and soap to the church so they could shower in our education building. We could bring food. Gordon had already convinced them to let him fill their car with gas, and they accepted some money from him but the husband repeated he wanted work not charity. I knew we could provide the family with additional funds and if they insisted on working that night I could find something for the husband to do at the church while the girls and his wife showered and ate.

When we got to the church I learned Gordon had already told them no matter what they would have to wait until our small Good Friday service was over. Amy was under the impression they agreed, and I assured her we would take care of this family as best we could, while admitting that I wasn't certain what form that aid would take.

They weren't at the church when we got there, but Gordon said they had promised to return around 8 p.m. if they hadn't found work elsewhere. They had thanked Amy and Gordon for their prayers and support. Amy calmed herself and began to focus on the service, but I knew she was watching closely for that little family.

Our service went on. It was not an elaborate passion play. Four members of the congregation read an account of the trial and Crucifixion of Jesus. We stripped the church of its decorations. We extinguished candles and turned out the lights.

Amy stood under a cross and sang...a cross draped in black.

The song was in both English and Spanish and it was called "Via Dolorosa."

Our service ended with everyone leaving silently in the dark.

Amy and I, along with our youngest daughter Lisa, Gordon and his youngest daughter, Lillian, stayed behind. We waited to see if this needy family might return. By then Gordon and I had arranged to have cash and explanations at the ready. Amy had brought food and an assortment of shower accoutrements - towels, soap, robes.

We wanted to help alleviate some of this small family's pain.

We wanted to pray.

We needed to help.

We waited but the family never came back.

Eventually I turned out the lights of the church, much as we had done during our service and dimmed the lights to the parking lot as well.

The moon provided our only illumination.

The word "Dolorosa" means suffering. The street which borders San Fernando Cathedral is essentially named "The Way of Suffering" although I would doubt the thousands of people who traverse it every day ever give that much thought.

As we drove out of the emptied darkened church parking lot last night I was mindful of it though.

No matter how we try to avoid it... at some point... we all will confront suffering along "The Way."

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday...Bad Idea

I am planning on writing more on Good Friday today...but that will have to come later.
I'm at work and came across this story from the Associated Press:

Forget the chocolate Easter bunny, you can now buy chocolate crosses. Russell Stover is offering something "new" this Easter season, six-inch crosses filled with caramel made of goat's milk.

I'm not even surprised...I'm a little sickened...but not surprised.

Actually I'm wondering what took them so long.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Maundy And The Misunderstood

This week has been sort of an experiment in writing for me. For the past few days I've written about whatever was on my mind when I woke up. Knowing I had very little time - I have given myself a 20 minute time limit - I simply went with it. Today was no exception.

I love writing in the mornings - by the way I consider 2 a.m. to be morning, I know some folks differ in their assessment of this hour and have referred to it in other ways.

In any case I had two things on my mind when I arose today...mountain laurel and Maundy.

This is Maundy Thursday, but I realized when I woke up that I had no idea what the word Maundy meant. Some places I looked said simply "Holy." That seemed appropriate but somewhat inadequate, so I went to my pocket dictionary which I keep on my didn't have the word at all. gave me this response:

1. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper. [Obs.]

2. The ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday.

3. The alms distributed in connection with this ceremony or on Maundy Thursday.

Note: In England, the foot washing is obsolete, but the ``royal Maundy'' is distributed annually on behalf of the sovereign. Since 1890 this distribution has been made from Westminster Abbey.

Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.


n : a public ceremony on Maundy Thursday when the monarch distributes Maundy money [syn: Maundy]

Personally, I'm still at a loss as to what the word actually means. I know Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday but I still found the definition for Maundy lacking - admittedly I'm not spending a great deal of time searching this out since I don't have the time and I figure someone will likely give me a better definition, should one exist, if I merely post my curiosity.

Yes, I'm that lazy.

Also on my mind this morning were the mountain laurel trees on our church property. Last year at this time I wrote about how the number of mountain laurel blooms were one could recall the trees ever blooming with such fanciful furor.

Click to enlarge.

This year there are blooms too, but not nearly as many.

They are the same trees though and they are still beautiful.

Tomorrow night we will gather at our church to remember the night when Jesus died. It will have great meaning to me. That has not always been the case - some years Good Friday passed without me even acknowledging its existence.

Every year is different. Each season brings its own surprises.

Recognizing that may the most important thing I don't understand all day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Sleeping With Amy & Morgan Freeman

I wake up several days a week with Morgan Freeman and a man swimming a river of muck.

I probably watch as little TV now as at any time in my life and I don't miss it too often - not seeing Spurs games has even become something I can contend with, especially lately.

Amy is one of those people who can watch a movie a thousand times, where I will occasionally watch a movie twice and only then because I burned so many brain cells when I was younger my short term memory makes the second viewing seem "new." Amy is also the type of person who likes to sleep with the TV on. I am the type of person who simply likes to sleep whenever possible. In the past, this dichotomy of dozing philosophies has caused some restless moments for me and Amy - resolved lately with earplugs, a sleep mask, and a tall glass of red wine before bed. However when I do awake it is invariably to buzzing alarms (I have two alarm clocks- I'm paranoid that way) as well as Morgan Freeman and a man swimming a river of muck.

The Shawshank Redemption.

There was a time in Amy's life when Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or some other film of that ilk would be named her "favorite." No's The Shawshank Redemption and if there is nothing on TV - and really in a world where two networks air programs based on Mary Poppins on steroids is there ever really anything on regular TV? - she will throw The Shawshank Redemption into the VCR.

I love this movie too; I'm only curious why my alarm always seems to go off when the film is at the same place.

If you haven't seen the movie, I don't want to ruin it for you. You should watch it though.

Start at the beginning too.

Waking up to a man gasping for air in a sea of sewage is not easy to make into a metaphor for life.

At least it is not easy for me...and I hope it stays that way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Dirty Little Story

I watched for a moment as she raked dirt from a huge mound piled in her yard. I thought back to the days when our first church building was nearly complete and it seemed like every week another truckload of dirt would arrive, dumped unceremoniously in the most inconvenient and obvious spot in front of the building. I spent any number of hours, along with a handful of other volunteers, shoveling that dirt...spreading the soil to cover the jagged chipped limestone that seemed to litter every inch of what is now our "front lawn."

It was back breaking work that seemed to take forever and there always seemed to be another truckload of dirt show up as soon as we made headway with the first one.

But she was different. She was raking the soil into her yard down the street from my house as I walked yesterday afternoon. She was in no great hurry, the dirt was meant to fill in trenches where a sprinkler system had been installed but there was far more soil than that job required, so she was raking the rest into her grass as nourishment I suppose. What caught my eye were her children...a small boy and girl...who climbed what must have seemed to them to be a giant instant playground. They climbed. They slid down its sides. They giggled and climbed some more.

I kept walking and soon came across a man digging up the grass around a freshly planted tree. It was a small task but he had a lot of help, his three small children...twin girls I would suspect were about four years old and their older brother...wiser and more helpful to Dad at the ripe age of 6 or so. They hovered around their father watching his every move as he used a spade to cut back chunks of grass and toss them aside, obviously making room for landscaping rocks or something similar. The children were anxious to help and their father was making certain they were part of the project. He asked one of the girls to go grab a trash bag and for her sister to help discard what he had dug up. Broad smiles appeared instantly on their faces as they scrambled to do his bidding. His son meanwhile held the shovel as Dad got down on his knees to pull up some of the unwanted items by hand. The boy watched, sometimes asking questions, but most of time standing stoic and alert as if at the ready to be called into action.

The father was making certain his children were involved in the project; whether they actually accelerated his tempo was debatable at best.

I only watched for a minute, I was keeping pace, determined to get in my daily walk but I had left my earphones and music player at home deliberately...wanting to hear the sounds of the neighborhood again.

I listened to the kids shooting hoops, the children giggling, and couldn't help but hear the grey bearded cocker spaniel down the road who barked incessantly at me as her owner gestured that she was so old and deaf she couldn't even hear herself bark. I smiled and thanked God I was able to hear her and wondered how many years of pleasure that little dog had given that family even before her face turned grey.

I thought about the children sliding down that great mound of dirt and the other kids eager to do whatever they could to be part of their father's "chores."

And I remembered.

I recalled sore muscles and shovels. Great piles of dirt at our church and long hours that always ended the same...with aches masked by a sense of satisfaction. No matter the pain it was always nice to be able to look at my day's work and see what I had accomplished. In my real "job" there are many days I come away unable to know that I have done anything of value, and certainly I can not often "see" results. The words go out into the ether...where they land and their impact is measured in broad strokes that have little to do with satisfaction and more to do with competition.

Suddenly I longed for those back breaking days again; the mounds of memories now covered any recollection of my grieving back muscles. In my memories I was like those children, enjoying simple pleasures of soil and eager to "help" their father. Every moment full of joy.

I found myself wondering how often my Father had made sure there was "work" for me to do back then with that rich loam, for it was there He planted some of the strongest seeds of my investment in our little church.

I must remember to walk more...and listen for the memories.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Time Tunnel

I don't have time to write right now and I'm wondering when I will. I have to be at work in 30 minutes which means any thoughts I have need to be written in about 10...make that nine, I stared at the screen for the past 30 seconds.
After work there is a hospital visit, then Amy wants me to go with her to a new doctor but if I do that I won't have any time to sleep so we'll get home and I'll have to crash so I can get up and be out of time again.

There are some aspects of my life that I had down to a routine which now I'm not finding time for...important aspects like walking, time for self reflection. They are the easiest things to sacrifice though when I realize I am "needed" elsewhere or there is a job half finished.

Eight minutes.

Writing every day is a discipline which is very important to me, it's helped me maintain my sanity (what little is left) and helped me work out my thoughts, but now I fear I'm not doing it justice...there are too many interuptions and no one understands the importance I place upon that time.

Six minutes.

Today there are new changes at my office which will change my routine there once again...I do better with time when I control it...but I never have controlled it really.

Five minutes.

All this really leaves me two choices, either I abandon or at least put less emphasis on "writing for me" or I find more time, set my alarm for a half hour earlier (ugh) so I will have time to write at the start of my day. In a way that's appealing...except the getting up earlier part, I wake up at 12:45 a.m. now.

Three minutes.

I can't give up writing though. I feel if I do I will have given up my last "me" thing. Perhaps that's selfish.

I don't have time to consider that any more though.

I'm out of time.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Second Degree

I have about 15 seconds to write, since we have a couple of dinner guests expected at any moment and I've only now completed my usual role for such events, "Michael...GET OUT OF THE WAY!"

However I really must take these few seconds to boast about one thing. Our eldest child Tiffany (pictured below) called this afternoon to tell us she has been accepted to an accelerated graduate degree program for teachers interested in public education policy.

It's going to be very demanding. A one year Masters program.

At Harvard.

I think this is deserving of a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

Thank you God for providing us with a child we can hit up for cash in our golden years after she pays for her student loans. Amen

Thursday, March 17, 2005

All's Well

What a difference 20 hours sleep makes. I think sometimes my body simply says, "I'm shutting down now."

Amy posted yesterday so I felt no obligation to write.

I'm hail and hearty today. We have our crappy car back and said goodbye to the PT Cruiser although the insurance company still has not paid us for any repairs - the check is in the mail as they say.

We had another run in with medical creditors. We didn't have to scream at anyone this time. They cut some bills in half with no prompting at all. I paid most of them. I hate to say this, but if you have mounting medical bills, it seems relatively insane to pay them in full. They don't charge interest. Why would I pay any medical bill in full knowing that if I don't, some semi to extremely nasty debt collector will eventually call and depending on their level of nastiness offer to "settle" for 30 to 50 cents on the dollar?

I'm assuming there may be some tax implications but the savings seem worth the wait and they can't really harm our credit at this point.

Anyway, on the way to return the rental car I agreed to a sideline writing job over the phone which will, if it works out, pay off the amount we paid that particular debt collector in one month, almost exactly. Oddly enough I'll be writing about money and jobs.

God will make a way.

There are still two undented quarter panels on our car if anyone wants to take a shot at required.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

If Memory Serves Me Correctly

This is a surprise post from Amy.

Michael is sick. He's asleep and has been asleep ever since he got home from work. He even came home an hour early which is unusual for him. I can't tell you how many times I've heard him say, "ya gotta learn to play hurt" or "that's why they call it work." So when he comes home early, he's hurtin' bad.

He got up long enough to quasi-mingle with our daughters (argh... we no longer have teenagers... they're all in their 20s. Someone catch me before I faint).

I'm sure he's posted this picture before, but here is our family -- FYI, the wind is blowing my hair straight up... I haven't gone for the "punk" look just yet. Left to right... Lisa (20 today - the Ides of March - oboist and sophomore at Baylor), Tiffany (23, 8th grade math teacher but applying to Harvard for a masters in Educational Policy), Amy (me - happy homemaker, bread baker, and computer maker), Joey (almost 22 and soon-to-be-graduate of Columbus College of Art & Design - Bachelor of Arts - Illustration), and in the back, Michael -- the love of my life, my rock, the one who completes me.

Michael will be up in just a little over an hour. I'm installing new memory in his machine. Another 512 MB of RAM. I'm hoping it speeds things up for him a bit. I feel a little guilty with my new hot-rod computer. But the client who wrecked our car also financed our daughter's birthday (a shopping spree), her airfare to Ohio where she will spend the summer, the memory for Michael's computer, and a few triple venti nonfat three Equal extra-hot lattes. This wasn't from the accident... I did actual computer work. I earned it.

But Michael has earned this and so much more. Everyone pray that nothing blows up. Yes, I do this for a living. But for some reason, when I work on the computers of family, friends, and other loved ones, something usually goes wrong.

Anyway, Happy Whatever. Anniversary, Birthday, Christmas, Valentines Day, Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, Passover, Easter, Flag Day, Columbus Day... Whatever Day.

I love you, Michael.

Sick Day & Search Engines

Spent the day in bed. I did find a thing to search only the blog's archives. A few bugs which I think I've worked out, but for those of you really bored who want to find any time I wrote about our dog Klondike or mentioned someone named Wayne, the searchbox on the sidebar should do the trick.

And I thought I was sick.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Knowing When

I'm still waiting to get my car repaired...not even repaired, I only want a mirror replaced...but the body shop told me they gave me a wrong estimate, we dickered a little and I came up on price, they came down but I assumed they'd get the part they needed today. I was tired after work so I didn't want to wait for their call. I called them...they called me back...told me they'd call back again later. I took a nap....they didn't call, so I waited for a while longer and then called back.

Hopefully we'll get it all worked out tomorrow.

This has been a recurring thought in mind lately...this idea of knowing when the time is right to do certain things...draw boundaries, say goodbyes, take on new work...take chances.

I suppose these thoughts are because there are a lot of areas of our lives in limbo. Amy's health is much, much better...but not we live a little on the edge of worry and there are some aspects of her health she finds frustrating if not flat out maddening.

The kids are all grown up and need us less, yet we seem to need them more.

Portions of my job are in a state of flux and more could be on the horizon.

The weather is changing too...becoming a little less consistent as we enter the season of spring, which often lasts for about seven hours in San Antonio...then summer arrives with unrelenting vigor.

I believe our church is experiencing a new season as well.

Amy and I went out to the church property Sunday afternoon, her to plant flowers and me to do some mowing. The church has purchased a new lawnmower...a real lawnmower, finally not the cheapest lawnmower you can buy. This one has some horsepower, it is built for someone taller than the tallest person in China since Yao Ming left, plus it is "self propelled."

I felt like I was driving a new car for the first time...I mean a real nice new car, like when your rich relative lets you drive their Cadillac with all the fancy stuff, cruise control and power everything. I was mowing over areas I hadn't been over in years simply because I knew I could. In recent years I avoided mowing most of those little used parts of the property because I knew the amount of energy I would have had to expend would sap what I needed to mow the primary areas around the church. I burrowed down an old road on the side of our church land that leads to a clearing. In that clearing, long before we built our church building, we would occasionally come and hold service.

We once piled rocks in an altar before which Gordon preached. The rocks are still there, along with a lot of memories and more cactus than you can imagine.

I thought about the families that have come and gone from our church since that time. People whose lives led them elsewhere - either through circumstance, spiritual growth, family crisis, and occasionally theological difference or indifference.

I also remembered the people who stood with me on that patch of ground whose lives have long since ended.

I thought about our church and its future, and I wondered what it might bring.

Earlier in the day, in Sunday school, we had looked at a portion of the life of John The Baptist and the passage where John watches many of his own disciples leave to follow Jesus, yet John stays behind saying, "He must increase and I must decrease."

It struck me then how odd that must have been. Here is this wild man who has been proclaiming the coming of the very Son of God and then there He is! He knows it...he points his followers directly at Him and says, "Behold the Lamb of God!" but then John doesn't follow Him.


You've spent your whole life preparing a path for the Son of the very Creator of the universe and then you stand and watch Him walk away...taking a bunch of your friends with Him?

That's what he did. He let Jesus continue His journey and John stayed behind.

He stayed and kept on baptizing people.

He kept doing the work God called him to do.

Many people come through our church doors, but I suspect we will never grow very large- that's not our calling.

For some we are a waypoint...for others we are the final stop on a long journey of faith.

I think about our church, and really all of us as individuals, and wonder if we are not to a small extent like John the Baptist...called to do what God has asked of us, and nothing more.

If we can remain faithful and true to what God called us to do, I suppose there is no sense worrying about the timing.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sorry Deb

Deb left a recent comment somewhat bemoaning the stark contrast in weather (she's still shoveling snow), so my apologies in advance for this, but it's sunny and 85 degrees here today so Amy and I are headed back out to the church to play in the dirt. She's going to plant flowers, I'm going to play with lawnmowers and the like.

It's too glorious a day for writing or being inside for any reason.

That's probably the wisest thing I've written all week....which doesn't say much, but it's true.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Making McGriddle Amends

I removed the "my favorite posts" section from the blog yesterday, since I really hadn't updated it in a long long time, and since I wanted to add something else, the agreement for which essentially prevents me from even mentioning.

Anyway it also prompted me to see where I ranked on Google for folks searching for the coveted McGriddle recipe. That's a long story that has now spanned nearly two years, but for the record I'm still number one.

However I noticed there is now someone listed who actually HAS the McGriddle recipe! It's the Recipe Circus website. The downside is I believe it's for a "diet McGriddle" but I'm assuming you can simply substitute "real" ingredients instead for everything that appears to be heart healthy and you'd have something close. Then again, I really don't cook.

In any case, since McGriddle recipe still shows up as one of the things that attracts people to my website most often I thought I'd post the recipe here, stolen from the Recipe Circus and make amends to all those ravenously McGriddle craving web surfers I have offended by my innocent little gag.

Here is the recipe, I make no claims as to whether it's accurate or not...because I've never eaten a McGriddle in my life nor have I any plans to do so.

List of Ingredients

1 cup Bisquick Reduced-Fat Baking Mix
1 egg
1/4 cup light maple syrup
1 cup egg beaters,
1/4 cup fat-free skim milk
2 Tbsp fat-free skim milk
4 slices Kraft 2% Reduced-Fat American cheese slices or laughing cow cheese
8 thin slices Canadian bacon
Cooking spray

Mix bisquick, egg, maple syrup, and milk to form a pancake batter.
In large skillet cook egg beaters, cut into 1/4's, set aside,

Pour pancake batter into hot skillet coated with cooking spray - 1/4 cup per serving. Cook as you would a pancake.
When done, top with 1/4 cooked egg beaters, cheese and 2 slices Canadian bacon, and continue flipping on hot skillet until cheese is melted.

Happy breakfast...I can hear your arteries hardening from here.

Once Around With Winston

I'm up and everyone's asleep but there's a lot on the agenda today, cleaning the house, mowing the forest - we at one time called that our lawn but it has now grown so tall some of the neighborhood children have been found daring each other to climb to highest limbs of some of the weeds - a hand bell rehearsal that Amy is leading and requires a lot of set up and hopefully lunch with some friends before I take another friend to the Spurs game tonight. Amid all this Lisa, our youngest daughter, may pop in as she shuffles between parents, step-parents and shopping centers on spring break...not necessarily in that order.

In any case I should start some of the housework but I only now did my morning dance with Winston. I suppose I write about Winston, our special needs dog, a lot. Amy and I are convinced his thinking is different than other dogs - Amy actually thinks he's autistic because of his almost irrevocable tendencies. He won't jump off a chair to his left for example...if something is below him on the right and he wants down he simply can't force himself to jump to his left. His fascination with socks is beyond explanation. I've written about that before but we've done pseudo scientific studies putting various items on the floor and with the exception of food, Winston will always grab the sock.

The morning dance is another one.

Each morning I let the dogs out since I am always the first person awake be it a weekday or the weekend. I let them inside a short time later (during the week right after I'm dressed for work, on the weekends when they start to bark and wake the neighbors). Winston and his sister Avery have crates they live in upstairs. They love their crates. They are their ultimate comfort zones. When we have them out running about the house playing invariably they will retreat to their crates. If they get caught doing something they know they shouldn't be doing (which is often) they high tail it for the crates. However during regular mornings Winston always makes a ritual of it. I'll order the dogs upstairs (where the crates are) and Avery will stop whatever she's doing and dart past Klondike who will always be sitting on the stairs in her way. Winston will be right behind her until he gets to the bottom stair...then he will look back at me and race around the house back into the kitchen. This happens EVERY morning, and really every time the dogs come inside. I will then stomp back around and point my finger at the stairwell and order Winston to bed. Most of the time he'll then comply although once in a while he'll make one more race to the kitchen.

This used to frustrate me, now I simply expect it. If Winston heads up the stairs on the first try I go up and check to make sure he's not looking sick - or that he hasn't smuggled a sock into his crate.

It's become our morning dance. I give an order, Winston disobeys, I give the order again, and Winston complies...wagging his tail all the while. I smile when I come upstairs and see him in his crate, happy we have danced together once again, even if it was brought about by his own disobedience.

I learn a lot about my relationship with God from my dogs.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Divorcing Our Burdens

I didn't write yesterday so I'm dashing this out quickly before I leave for work. The reason I didn't write was I got caught up in a home improvement project.

I know this violates rule number one at our house...that I don't do home improvement projects. Amy actually has a standing order from me to say, "Michael if you do that I will divorce you" when I try to do anything more mechanical than empty a trash can.

My excuse in this case was that the project was at the church and it wasn't my idea. My friend Roy had taken it upon himself to repair the water heater at the church. He seemed to know what he was talking about it. Roy is 70 years old with many a story to tell, but that's another story. Anyway he determined the heating elements in the water heater needed replacing. I had gone to the church to clean but felt obligated to help Roy since the water heater is crammed in a tiny very awkward space in the storage room upstairs and Roy has bad knees. He can really barely fit in there to work on it.

The problem with this thinking is that I once again forgot I am really of no help.

Yes, it turned into a fiasco. We couldn't get the water cut off properly and water started leaking through the ceiling. I quickly went downstairs to put water catching containers in place. We had to go out to the water meter to cut off the water supply which is a good hike since it's on the street and our church sits well away from the highway in a small thicket of oak trees.

The water cut off valve was filled by dirt and fire ants which meant I had to dig it out while under attack - this is why Amy has the standing order, I should have been hearing it loud and clear by this point. Apparently the dirt, fire ants, and my lack of technical prowess combined making the cut off valve virtually immovable, but after repeated attempts with every tool imaginable and a few magic words...okay not necessarily magic words, but words that a church deacon and elder rarely say out loud in front of each other, we finally got the water cut off. In the process I nearly broke my thumb.

That resulted in a few more "magic words."

Anyway, we did eventually manage to get the corroded heating elements out and Roy went off to buy replacements telling me he could do the rest and I could go home if I wanted.

I don't like anyone working at the church alone and still had a few things to do so I hung around until Roy's return.

Back we went into the tiny crawl space and Roy screwed in the first heating didn't fit. I tried. It didn't' fit. I tried cleaning out some of the lime build up and screwing it in. It didn't fit.

Roy tried again...and again...and again.

Then Roy sat down on the semi-dry floor and said, "You got a phone?"

I handed him my mobile phone and he called his wife and said, "I need my son."

She gave us his number and Roy called and they agreed to meet at the hardware store.

Apparently Roy's son is well versed in these types of issues.

At this point I decided Roy's son could assist his dad and I could go home.

I was exhausted and crawled into bed, sleeping for 5 or 6 hours.

I'm hopeful they got the thing fixed. Roy didn't call to say he had flooded the church.

This morning I thought about that scene: a church elder trying to do his best and then sitting down on the floor in a cramped uncomfortable area of the church - frustrated, fatigued, fed up and realizing he couldn't do it alone.

So he called upon his son whom he knew could help.

The metaphor is thinly veiled - in fact to me it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.
Selah - Psalm 68:19

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Pacing Facts

It was a busy day. We settled the claim on the car...or at least the insurance company is mailing us a check. Not quite as much as I had hoped, but a fair enough settlement for a car that's been beaten like a slow running thief already.

Safeco is certainly a slow paced insurance company...we could have settled this on the day it happened but they insisted on setting up appointments, etc. They're going to pay us about 1300 dollars, which replenishes our emergency fund.

I'll spend about 100 of that fixing the one thing on the car that absolutely has to be repaired, the driver's side mirror.

God works in mysterious ways.

In the interim because of Safeco's foot dragging they've had to provide us with a rental car. So I've been driving a PT Cruiser

I'm sure they're going to call and ask when I'm going to return it and I'll tell them they'll get rental back when I've made the repairs, which now can't be done until Monday because they were so slow in setting up appointments. I should say, "When I get your'll get your car" but that really isn't necessary. The repair I want done won't take long, but they'll have to order the part, wait for it to arrive, etc.

They're paying a lot more because of the pace of their service - that's their choice.

I've learned not to mess with the corporate mind state...especially if I get to drive a new car in the interim.

Anyway...dinner is ready. Amy and I want to spend some actual time together.

We did a little business for another couple of attorneys today and saw Amy's surgeon. Although there are still some issues to be resolved, Amy is doing well and I'm hopeful we can get her lingering health issues fixed too.

In the interim…I'm going to sit back and continue to enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Charles, Chuck And A World Gone Crackers

I realized after I started writing this that for the second time in a week I'm writing about guys named Charles and Chuck...I should probably run this by my new found name fanatic friend, but there's no telling what rabbit trail I'd end up going down then.

My blog buddy Chuck is vowing (ahem again) to start walking and I'm trying to offer him some encouragement without sounding like too much of a hypocrite since I haven't been near as diligent about walking in the past few weeks as I have for the past year or so.

Part of it is simple laziness, but it's also been grey and drizzly almost every day for the past three weeks here...which of course doesn't really prevent me from walking but it does make being lazy easier.

We had some big time hail yesterday (which by the way decapitated the tulips Amy and I planted at the church), something I didn't relish informing her about but that's really only another distraction from the point, which is that I should be walking instead of writing.

Today has been beautiful, at least in comparison to the past few weeks so I've vowed to get out and put a few miles on the keister. There were some things on my mind - please spare me the quick retorts about finding it hard to differentiate my mind from my keister...I beat you to it - collective clutter that I wanted to unburden myself of here before I stretched my legs.

One of the things on my mind was this:

Please no jokes about "isn't that two things?" I beat you to that one too.

Actually that's a picture of a woman arrested in New Zealand "protesting" Prince Charles while he was visiting. Apparently she was upset that a breast screening van had been removed from an area for the duration of the Prince's brief stay, temporarily denying her a breast screening or the opportunity to breast feed her baby - I'm not quite sure which. The newspaper article is confusing and for some reason my mind keeps wandering when I read it.

In any case, I am certain that she obviously considers this is a serious matter; however I must admit I have never quite understood this idea of getting naked in public to make a political statement. I don't oppose it mind you, although there are any number of mental images of naked protesters I am trying to blot out of my psyche even as I type (Chuck please keep your political thoughts to the written word, at least until you get a few hundred miles on your pedometer), yet I still wonder how you get to that level of decision making.

"Hmmm... Prince Charles is sense writing a letter or holding up a sign...I think I'll scrawl something across my naked chest, surely that will cause him to alter his world view."

Then again Charles is marrying Camilla Parker Bowles...

Perhaps a flash of flesh could cause him to rethink his priorities.

The body certainly has played a large role in much greater decisions.

Which brings me to the second distraction from walking story I've been somewhat intrigued by today. It's out of Copenhagen. In this neck of the woods you mention Copenhagen and the first image that comes to mind is men spitting.

At least you hope it's men. People in these parts still use chewing tobacco, a decision I find even harder to fathom than dropping your drawers before Prince Charles, but I digress.

The Copenhagen I'm talking about is in Denmark where this story first came to light. Bakers are competing to find "tastier" communion wafers. Now our church uses bread for communion rather than wafers so perhaps I'm simply not exposed to this issue enough either, but I have had wafers before. I will admit sometimes they do have all the flavor of a postage stamp, but is this really necessary? I mean they're tiny little wafers. They're in your mouth for all of a few seconds. Certainly their meaning should feed you much longer, but I don't think even Chuck in his carb craving worst would make a meal of them - sorry Chuck it was simply too easy to pass up and I really do need to find a way out of this and go walking - shouldn't you be walking by now too?

I don't know. I suppose it's another one of those things of which I obviously am missing the point.

It's also putting images in my mind that have no place at the communion table...then again that might convince Chuck to walk to church on occasion.

Sorry, I'll stop now. I promise.

Did I mention Chuck has a book you can buy?

One good plug can cover a multitude of sins...I hope.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I'm Full

We had our first meeting tonight with our newly elected Deacons (one of which coincidentally is Erin who shares our home). It was a good experience and although I've loved everyone I've served with in the past, it's nice that we have a wider spectrum of other words some younger folks... on our Deacon board. In a year or so I will rotate off the Deacon board and leave it in others hands and I already feel quite comfortable with that prospect.

We also have some very specific goals and hopes for accountability which is something of a radical departure for our little church that tends to do things on the fly. I think it may very well be a nice turning point for us.

In any case, when Erin and I came home Amy had a wonderful meal already prepared and I am stuffed.

I am ready to spend some time away from the computer....digesting a fine meal and some very fine thoughts.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Chuck & Charles

Talk about your fun times...I spent a good part of this weekend with two old men.

Friday night Amy and I went out for our anniversary and were joined by one of Amy's former co-workers who is my age and the "guy" she's been seriously dating. That guy, whose name is Chuck, turned out to be an Oncologist.
Upon learning that I honestly thought, "great Chuck and I are going to have oodles to talk about." On the way to dinner Amy also told me Chuck was 63 years old. Later in the evening I found out she was wrong.

Chuck is 74, although he certainly doesn't look it.

He didn't make a big show of it, but Chuck is also obviously wealthy. My tip off came when he mentioned moments after we met that he knew "my boss" and his wife very well. By "my boss" he meant the recently retired CEO of the company for which I of the few billionaires in town. That "boss" and I haven't exactly shared too many intimate meals. I'm a little lower on the social ladder not to mention the food chain.

I truly thought I was in for a long night of strained conversation with an old man with whom I had nothing in common while Amy and her friend "caught up" and gabbed away.

I couldn't have been more wrong. We had a wonderful time, discussing all sorts of topics from how the internet is making new medical advances possible, to fine wine, to our personal hardships and our deep individual needs...primarily for God. Chuck is a brilliant yet humble man - I later learned he is an Oncologist of great distinction - he is also a very good listener.

As the night came to an end, we were alone for a few moments and I told Chuck it was one of the most enjoyable nights Amy and I had spent with any couple in a very long time and then he asked me if we couldn't do it again soon. I told him I certainly hoped we could...and I meant it.

After church today, Amy and I took our friend Charles out to lunch - we had a coupon for a free "family" meal at a local bbq joint otherwise knowing Charles he would have turned us down thinking we were taking pity on him. Charles is 73 or 74 years old. I've written of him before and his wife, Barbara, who died in December.

Charles is quite blunt, especially for a "retired" minister. We too have never been at a loss for words with each other. The conversation comes easy and no topic is off limits from money to death to sex. I think we hit on all of them and a few others today before reaching for a second helping of brisket and smoked turkey. Charles has opinions, advice and great wisdom on almost everything and I revel in listening to him. Charles is not the listener Chuck is and he is certainly more outspoken. I suspect that may in part be because he still carries very fresh wounds of loss and loneliness which provoke a certain sense of urgency within him to impart his knowledge to people he hopes it will benefit, but I also think to a great extent he's always been that way. That's Charles; all his cards are on the table.

I certainly don't mind, I like people who are direct. I love people who are honest. I count Charles as both and his wisdom speaks to me.

So I spent a good chunk of the weekend with two old men.

I will spend part of tonight praying for the opportunity to have more conversations with both of them.

I only hope they won't consider that a waste of their valuable time.

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Flowers Of Patience

We planted tulips in the rain tonight.
It was silly.
It was muddy.

It was fun.

We planted them at the church and had to quit halfway through because the rain became too much and Amy started to tire. In truth she was doing most of the work.

It's not the first time we have begun work at our church and realized it would take more patience, more time and more effort to complete the project. In truth from the outside looking in, it must seem a bit crazy.

But we've seen some wonderful things bloom.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Did I Mention Amy Was Insane?

The title of this post is rhetorical.

It's 2:20 in the morning and I am sitting here late for work with a warm home made latte, a cold diet pepsi and a pair of SpongeBob Squarepants boxer shorts.

And tears in my eyes.

These three things are symbols of sorts. Symbols that my wife loves me. She made the latte, knows that I also like something cold to drink in the morning and the boxer shorts are fun.

Something warm, something refreshing, something fun.

The tears are something I brought to the party.

Appropriate gifts to remind me that 11 years ago today Amy was crazy enough to hold my hands, stand before what now appears to be a somewhat anorexic Minister* and agree to be my bride.

I couldn't believe it then, and I stand as amazed today.

Time flies when your loving every moment of it.

Happy Anniversary Darling.



*No, that's not Gordon before hair plugs.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Answering Kim

I started to respond to Kim's question about tithing in the comment section where she left it, but it turned into a long rambling diatribe so I figured I might as well post it here where people are used to my long rambling diatribes.

I hope it makes a small bit of sense because I'm dashing it out rather quickly, but I think this is an important issue which almost everyone I know has had struggles.

First off Kim, I don't think it's too personal, I'm glad you asked.

The answer is yes...and no.

There was a time when I had a hard time writing any check to a church and in truth what persuaded me at first to give a lot more was when I realized the tax benefit. I might as well be honest; I'd rather give my money to God than the government.

In the past we have had years where we have been able to give 10 percent of our income to the church, in recent years we have not. You can get bogged down by this issue in a lot of ways. Do I give ten percent before taxes? After taxes? At one time our church was so small and both the church and our home finances so tight Amy and I vowed to give ten percent of the entire church budget.

Last year and the year before I don't think we gave anywhere near what we hoped, much less ten percent of our income...we couldn't...wolves were at the door.

We rationalized it well though. I do a lot of yard work at the church. Amy puts in many hours, more than most people realize serving as the church music Minister for which she has never been paid. This year, anticipating tough financial times I doubled the number of times I volunteered to clean the church.

Still we want to be a tithing family.

I will tell you this...we have NEVER been disappointed, NEVER gone hungry, NEVER been unable to meet our basic family needs when we have written a check to the church even in the most tenuous times. Yet I still quite often put a check in the collection plate thinking, "Please God, don't let this bounce." Last August I wrote about one dicey experience which actually became a turning point in my thinking...if not a divine kick in the butt.

Our church budget works like this...we ask people to pledge -anonymously- what they think they will be able to give each year and then our Elders add up those pledges, factor in a few other things based on past history and that total is our budget. We don't pay our Pastor anywhere near what most churches do. Every other position in the church is a volunteer post although this year we're adding a part time "administrator" to try to organize Gordon...there's not enough money on earth to make that possible, but she'll be paid a very token amount and earn every cent.

This year I vowed that we would be faithful in our giving, maybe not ten percent, but every dime we could and certainly what we pledged to give. The other day I wrote about having a breakdown at church and rushing out the door after flinging a check into the collection plate...that check was for 10 percent of our income tax refund. I already have earmarked 10 percent of the money we'll get from this recent car mishap for the church as well.

God has proven to us over and over that He will provide, yet it's still hard for me to put my faith in writing...on a check.

I don't believe God punishes people who can't give any more than He rewards those who give a lot. In truth Jesus left little doubt about His thinking regarding wealth. Ironically He was far clearer on that issue than He was on the "big issue" dividing Christians so often these days. Gordon mentioned that exact thing to our Sunday school class last weekend... Jesus said nothing about homosexuality that we know of, but He was pretty vocal about the evils of money.

Some years ago, a young couple started attending our church and the husband pulled Amy and me aside and said, "We want to join, but I don't think we can....I don't think we can make the financial commitment." This couple had three small kids, one job and a real need for God. We told the husband what I will tell you - we do believe God is keeping count...of our faith.

Tithing is certainly important and it's a very demonstrable way for US to keep tabs on such things, but God knows our hearts and our circumstances.

So what's all this rambling mean?

To me it means we should give as much as we possibly can and then give more. Give money, give time, give your love, give of yourself. I think that's what God is trying to teach us through to give.

He doesn't need our money, He needs US.

Not 10 percent...100 percent.

And when we come up short, the books in Heaven balance out thanks to His immeasurable grace.

Miracles & Dragons

We're a family of dragon killers.

Some background: Amy removed herself from our financial dealings, at my urging - and without a fight - some months ago when I stepped up and acted like the man I should have been far sooner. She had been trying to juggle our money or lack thereof amid the throes of her health problems and I had let her for far too long. So Amy agreed to simply let me worry about it. I've documented many of the struggles here before, but they're not uncommon. We lived beyond our means too often and were poor stewards of our finances.

We've still got a lot of debt but thanks to God's many mercies - new job opportunities for me, a few financial windfalls, selling everything of any value we could part with on Ebay and the miraculous generosity of loving friends at times of pure crisis - we've been able to get it under control. Let's say we're at least paying the BIG DRAGONS on time and very few creditors are hounding us, with the exception of some medical thugs. Honestly some of those bills are in insurance limbo and we're not paying them deliberately...also they don't charge interest so that lets us let them slide when we have to make such choices.

We will pay every cent we owe. We have made this vow to each other and to God but we know it will take time.

Anyway suffice it to say Amy has been hands off the money. She'll put her hands up over her ears and scream, "LA LA LA LA LA" whenever I even try to discuss such things because she's put her faith in me (this is a sign of insanity I know, but so was marrying me).

For some reason though today Amy watched a TV show she normally doesn't which mentioned that a lot of credit card companies were more anxious to lower rates these days. Minutes later she happened to see a credit card bill sitting on my desk. The bill was for one of the two remaining credit cards we have which are still charging us an outrageous interest rate: 27.24%!

It's our Chase card and not too long ago I called them personally and politely requested they cut us a break. Their response then was not only, "No" they actually raised our rate the following month because I called them. Really.

So Amy, who has steered clear of our finances and my dealings with creditors like they were a pack of raving rabid wolves, for some reason decided to pick up the phone and call Chase this morning. She spoke to some very nice woman named Judy (presumably not the one from Time Life books) who told her since the card is in my name that I would have to talk with them, but she believed the interest could be lowered now.

I came home to an anxious Amy who explained what had transpired and we called Chase. In all honesty I wasn't expecting much but in a matter of seconds the gentleman I spoke with agreed to lower our interest 7.99%...for the life of the loan as long as we stay current, which we can do! I literally asked him if I had to kill someone for that to really happen and he laughed for a second before adding, "Is there any other card charging you a high interest rate?"

Seconds later, we killed another dragon.

Our other high interest credit card (18 plus percent) which has been my primary target for elimination in recent months is dead. Chase agreed to transfer that balance at a permanent rate of 5.99%.

Our daughter is the math whiz but Amy and I figure we can pay off the total debt on that Chase card now in two years making reasonable payments and save something like 5 thousand dollars in interest!

I'm stunned.

I know it's only money shuffling to a great degree, but one credit card is dead and a bank that only months ago I had equated with the mob has suddenly become one of our least demanding creditors.

I'm proud of Amy for taking a chance and peering into our murky financial world, I know it still frightens her. I'm delighted by the outcome.

There's more I could write about all this...a lot more, but we have to go take care of some business.

There is one thing more that I really have to add though: we are still in debt and will always a gracious God...who deserves all the credit.

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
- Psalm 73:24-25

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Dog Gone Him

The problem with having three dogs....let me rephrase of the problems with having three dogs is that I often feel I haven't given them enough individual attention. Klondike gets more than the other dogs because he has the run of the house. I remember when we used to consider him needy now that I think about it. Now all he needs is a place to plop down and sleep, which he does quite often.

The little dogs, our two West Highland terrorists Terriers are brother and sister. Usually when they are let out or in, or when they're fed or watered it's done together. I rarely sit down and simply pet one without the other or give them individual attention.

I thought about this afternoon and when I let them out of their kennels purposely grabbed each one individually. I rubbed their bellies scratched behind their ears, pet them all over, etc....and then I noticed something: they didn't know how to react.

Avery, the queen bee of the house ran off...not too far but far enough to assert her independence. Winston, our special needs dog, would roll over, rush away for a second then come running back wanting to be petted, craving attention, but then he too would run away...only not as far. In a little while he'd coming running back, wagging his tail, bark at me and then run away.

I thought how often it is that I act the same way with God.
In truth God is reaching out, grabbing me, holding me, constantly seeking a relationship, and quite often I revel in His glory...but often I ignore Him, sometimes I even run away.

Why do I run away?

They're only dogs. It's simply a question that sprung to mind, but really...why would I ever run away?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Our car is turning into the biggest money maker we own. Amy and I were back working all day fixing computers at a lawyer's office. We finally made a break through enough where Amy suggested I go out to the car and take a nap.

I had just dozed off in the driveway of the law firm when the head lawyer backed out talking on his cell phone and rammed my car with his giant truck.

It wasn't the most pleasant way to wake up...but my adrenaline was certainly going.

Some months ago something similar happened, it was on the other side of my car and a little more bizarre. I took the cash from that driver, but never made the repairs. This time at least a mirror will have to be replaced, but once again I'm going to live with a dented car. Now both sides match, and we'll have money to put back in the bank. This time was worse than before and the previous accident caused about a thousand dollars in paid for our summer vacation last year.

The lawyer was very nice about it, quickly offering to get his insurance company to handle it. I'll get him some estimates, and I'm sure we'll work it out.

Can God rain money on us this way?

I suppose so.

This week I squeezed 1300 dollars out of our emergency fund to pay off medical debt collectors/potential members of the Sopranos. The very next day a fairly wealthy lawyer backs into my parked car causing what I would estimate is going to be at least $1300 in damage, if not substantially more.

Less than a year ago I'm driving Amy home from the hospital when a very wealthy guy clips my car. He writes me a check which made it possible for us to go on our annual family vacation two months later, something which at the time I was very worried I was going to have to say would not be possible.

No one hurt in either case. We get money for a car I am planning on driving into the ground anyway.

Sure, it's going to be the ugliest car around soon, but every time I look at it I see another of God's many blessings.