Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 was a year for busting out the Shackles

Mary Mary Lyrics
Shackles (praise You) Lyrics

Like a lot of people, I like to end each year and look back at the happenings that may or may not have an impact on my life. After scary 2006 and 2007 years, 2008 became the year of breaking the chains of what non-Christians would call bad karma. I call it breaking away from certain attitudes and people that were making me and my family less than the best.

By January, I had two solid months of teaching as a substitute in Effingham and in Beecher City. The first two months were still busy until after the heaviest of flu season. In mid-February, things began to slow down and some of the other teachers at Beecher City Grade School found out that I had a background in youth ministry. Jason, who had become one of my closer friends in teaching kept inviting me to his church and I just never really felt comfortable with the idea of going because of the lack of instruments and music within his denomination. Around the same time, Becky Doty invited me and the family to come over and try out New Hope.

The funny thing about New Hope was that we almost ended up there five years ago when we first arrived, but the look was a little different at the time and my wife really wasn’t that comfortable with the surroundings. So when I suggested it this time, I was surprised how easy the yes answer came. That should’ve told me something. God was about to do something fun. We went and found the sanctuary much more normal than before and it was enjoyable. Seeing a few of my students there also seemed to help. Adam and Jaci were great about showing us around and the kids came out of the nursery in great shape. Truthfully, by the time we left the first time, we knew that we had to go back.

The Sunday School was between services and we tried out going to the pair of Newcomers classes. You tend to know the devil is playing with you when the kids get sick one weekend and I got sick in one of the other first two weekends of 101. So not only did I not get a lot of history, I have to take the class again to become a member. No biggie! I’ll explain that later. The second class was helping people get connected and finding their ministry and we became the guinea pigs for a newer guy (no newer than us) Tyler Sterchi.

After spending one class with Tyler, I knew I wanted to stay. I felt such a passion connection with him. He threw off the electricity just like I was when I got to Florida eight years ago and started at Bible Baptist. He’s a guy in his 20’s and was just about to get married at the time and still had the energy to connect people to their gifting. I just liked what he was about. I can’t explain it other than that. He was also the lucky guy to come to my home and talk about all the fun times (note sarcasm) of ministry I had while I was living here in Effingham. Part of me felt sorry for him, but he handled it like a champ and after that conversation I felt more encouraged to be at the church.

Whilest all this was going on, we gave birth to our third bundle of joy, Maggie, on April 10th. Mindy hates this story, but I will tell you that I also have nicknames for the kids. Megan is Einy, James is Meeny and Maggie is Miney and there will be no Mo. Yes Alvin, I got that from Steven Curtis Chapman circa 1994, but it’s OK. Maggie was born with a smile that reminded me of my grandmother. I melted instantly. Mindy tells me that we are so lucky to have three beautiful children and that is so true.

The end of May came and that meant my first season of teaching as a sub was done and I took on a summer job as an umpire for the Parks and Recreation. I met some great people, but I also met some people that could use classes in manners. I realized that minor league baseball is cut-throat here in the Ham. I got threatened to be run out of town by one coach and pushed by some guy in his 70’s for not calling games to their satisfaction. I understand that as an umpire you take criticism, but I think those two cases crossed the line. Would I do again next year? I’ll definitely have to pray about it some more.

During the summer, my wife allowed me to get involved in the men’s ministry outings at One Eighty. The first one was a sports competition get together and I did OK for not touching a basketball, foosball table or table tennis racquet in years. I didn’t embarrass myself and for that I was thankful. I tried out the Wii at one of their gaming stations and liked it so much that I bought one. It’s just one more time living the dream in the home run derby and at the bowling alley. The second was a steak outing and let me tell you, these guys can pick steaks. I hope to find a few guys for next summer that can come over and teach me how to do steaks on a grill because they were awesome. I’m not good at grilling yet, but I will be.

Out of the second meeting came an offering of a men’s group to meet on Saturdays starting in September. For a while, I was the only one meeting up with Peter Brown, but it was a true blessing. I’ll explain in a minute.

Over the summer, we ended up having to make a major decision of faith. Mindy and I came to realize that subbing would not pay for itself to send three children to daycare. So unless I got a full-time job, I was going to stay home with the kids and we were going to live on one income. No jobs were available and we prayed to make sure this was what we were supposed to do. Honestly, I knew something was happening. We never prayed about anything together until this. Both of us came to the idea that yes I would stay home.

So I did and I will never regret the decision. Sure money is tighter, but I am getting something I never had with my dad until I was an adult, time. The kids love it. I’m growing into it. But honestly, I was feeling missionless at home with three kids. I know parenting is a hard responsibility and for anyone that does it, you know what I am talking about. I was growing bored of Dora, Diego, Elmo and Barney though. I started asking myself what was I gonna do with MY time. Yes, there is laundry, dishes and garbage. But there was more to life than that for me.

And then as I prayed it hit me. I have a laptop sitting in front of me that I am reading emails all day long off of and I used to be a writer. I’m oversimplifying how God hit me like a hammer. I began to ask God and the wise counsel of Peter if this is really what God wanted me to do with the time. Did God actually want me to encourage people combining his words and mine? One Man Revival was born. The song had been playing in my head for 12 years and now I was adding more purpose to those words that Bob Carlisle put to music. I just needed a little more convincing first.

God never takes long when you ask for conformation. The following Sunday, PV (Pastor Van Brooks for you non-New Hope readers) preached and brought a message on finding your place. He wanted people to come forward that felt they had a ministry to give. Yes, I realized this was more for volunteers for the church ministries, but I felt this was the confirmation that God sent me. I had something to do. I had purpose and for a man that has struggled to find his place in the middle of the Crossroads of America for over five years, this was it!

So there you have it. Those were the highlights of a year of chain breaking. God has allowed me to come off the shelf and be a servant again. God has also allowed me to feel purpose at home with no money coming in as a full-time dad to my wonderful kids. I understand the pressure on my wife to produce week in and week out at work and she needed an outlet too. Two things came in the final weeks of the year for her. First, a friend gave her a free month at a local gym. She has been wanting to shed a little of the baby fat from three kids and be in better shape. She liked it so much that she’s signing on for the new year. The second was something we both enjoyed doing at other times in our lives. We’ve both been journalers. PV suggested a couple weeks back that people begin to journal the good times of God for them to remember when things were tough and I took the challenge seriously. I bought journals for both of us as Christmas presents to start journaling immediately. There are gonna be many great memories in 2009 and I’ll talk about those hopes and dreams next time.

I love you guys!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Keeping it real is What This World Needs

Casting Crowns Lyrics
What This World Needs Lyrics

Hey gang,

I would like to say it was a really great Christmas, but then I’d be lying, well a little. I spent Christmas Eve and Day on my back with the flu. You know the drill. Feeling like vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, couldn’t eat all the goodies, wondering how long until you pass back out. To top that off, my wife and kids got out of Dodge and left me for northern Illinois to spend the day with relatives. That’s right. Fin for yourself, fatman.

It could have been worse. They might have stayed home and expected me to build all the toys and/or wanted me to drive them up there. Instead, I got peace and quiet. It wasn’t Silent Night, but Silent Day wasn’t all that bad either. I slept for part of the day then became a couch potato and watched some TV. I did enjoy parts of the Rocky-thon on Versus. Why is it that you always feel invigorated after Rocky beats up his opponent at the end of the movie? I felt better just watching Rocky take that beating from Ivan Drago.

I also flipped through and caught VH1. When did MTV and VH1 stop showing videos? I remember you could watch music videos almost any time of day and now, never. I wasn’t sure how offended I should be after watching Kid Rock sing his Rock n’ Roll Jesus. It’s a Christmas special and you are proclaiming that you are Jesus (at least of the rock n’ roll world). What is wrong with that picture? Then they had a show called Best Week Ever which pretty much made fun of everyone that was in pop culture. I have to admit that I did laugh at this show quite a bit. It was either the dizziness or my brain went back to junior high in flashbacks. It helped me realize that most of television has gone to the dogs.

Anyhow, the gift haul wasn’t bad. I did get some comfortable clothes and our new digital camera. I hope everyone did as well as my kids did from the grandmas. I don’t ever remember seeing that much garbage after a Christmas unveiling in my life. I think I’m still taking out bags as I put stuff together. I will say that my kids are being spoiled far worse than I ever was which is either an indication of jealousy or the fact that in keeping it real, I am getting old fast.

In other thoughts of keeping it real, I actually enjoyed the notes I got from several of you after my last two writings. The last one was just sharing my story of how God finally found me. Most of you thought the story was great and want me to write more about what has happened since to see the fruit of my years and I will do that. I’ve shared and will continue to share pieces in everything I write. Some of the best stories for my writings are dumb stuff that has happened to me to help me grow in God. Sometimes it happens to others, but I think (and I’m sure most of you do) that it is funnier when it happens to me. I did get a note from one of you asking me why I’ve been so serious in my writing lately and I will honestly say that it is part of the story I am telling. I naturally like to be funny when I tell a story, whether in person or in print. Sometimes, life and what God is teaching me don’t allow for it.

Next, I do want to address what several of you called picking on someone. In the blog on gifts, I talked about how being bounced out of journalism was a gift and some of you thought I was picking on my high school teacher, Mrs. Rowe. I want you to know that was truly not the case. Mrs. Rowe and I may have disagreed on my talent at 16 and while if you had asked me then how I felt, let’s just say I wouldn’t have been nice about it. But it truly was a blessing. I entered the AV Club with Mike Davis and learned a lot of talents that I used in television in the late 90’s and the spurning of my talent did inspire me to get better. At 23, I was writing sports for a little newspaper and whether most people know this or not, Mrs. Rowe was very helpful as I needed a contact to help get me back into BHS to do some of the fun stuff I got to do. She and I also talked at length and we ironed out our own differences of opinion. We’re cool and I totally mean it when I say I grew because of Journalism I in 1985, even with John Rappold and Brian Posey singing to me every day. That part I don’t miss, even though I have heard that Brian has become an accomplished local singer back in West Virginia. I just wanted to clear that up for you guys.

Back on to the present day, I did get two more cool gifts over the holiday weekend. On Wednesday night, before I starting having conjugal visits with my toilet bowl, I heard from a pal that I had been missing for almost eight years. It might even be closer to nine. My buddy Tom Palmer joined me on the MySpace version of the One Man Revival website and I was so glad to hear from him. Tom pulled me out of a pretty rough patch in my life as I was going through a divorce back in 2000 by getting me to a church that so helped me recover from the hurt I was feeling. I spent only eight weeks there, but being a part of that church helped get me ready for the great things that happened at Bible Baptist when I moved there in April 2000.

On Sunday, I heard from one of my oldest friends from grade school. My buddy Brenda, now married to a guy I went to high school with that loves sports as much as I do, Jody Hinkle, said hello to me over on Facebook. I’ve been having a reunion with whole Hopkins’ clan this past week. Just to think it’s been 30 years since we became friends at little Linden Grade School. The school isn’t there any longer, but there were so many good memories. Being with that group at Linden was probably the closest group of friends I’ve ever had. I remember actually crying the last day of the school year in 1980 because they all moved on to Washington Irving and I was headed to Bridgeport. It was truly the closest community that I’ve ever shared.

Which brings me to the final question that most of you have had. Frank, where are you going with the ministry of One Man Revival? I’m most glad that several of you asked. Truthfully, in the end, I hope to go many places with this ministry. I hope that it becomes a place of encouragement and growth in faith with Christ. But I do have three areas of concentration that I am thinking about most going into 2009.

First (and I should say only in speech, not particularly in order of coverage), I want to try to develop community amongst those of you that come here to read. I am grateful that I already have seen 13 people join the thread through the blog network on Facebook to read what I’m talking about. One of the major problems I have had with the church as a whole is the fact that many churches are not community for people. When I was young, even though my family wasn’t in church, many of the kids that went to Mt. Zion and some of the families were getting together to do things besides meet twice a week in a building for praising God. If all we do as a church is come and praise and never hang with each other besides then, the church will become the acquaintance capital of the universe, not a real community of believers that is in each other’s lives.

Hebrews 10:24-25 shares these thoughts; “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Church is not a weekly high school reunion of the saints. We are supposed to be involved in each other’s lives and helping each other become better people of the world for God’s kingdom.

Secondly, I want to press ideas about building good marriages and family. I do this partly in selfishness because I want a better marriage for myself and my wife, Mindy. We’ve been married for six years and we want our marriage to get better as we get older. We want our kids to see that they have two parents that love each other and them. I’ve reunited on the internet with so many friends who have come out of divorce with children. I want to learn some of the tricks of being a better dad. I do pretty good, but I can always get better. Believe me, being a writer with three kids under four flying around my head every day is a very intense and sometimes overwhelming job for me.

The third area of concentration is on becoming a better Godly man. Many of my high school mates remember a guy named David Farrell that a lot of people made fun of because of his strong belief. They called him Reverend David. If you feel that you have to call me Reverend Frank or whatever, then do as you must. All I ask is that you think about what I write and the songs you hear. I do not have a clergy degree, however I am only nine hours away from a Biblical Leadership Master’s at Greenville College. The program is now defunct, so I’ll be searching other schools to finish that degree someday. For now, I am as I’ve always been, just a little more determined with a larger desire.

Ever since I heard a sound bite of Gary Chapman saying, “I want to be God’s man,” that has been a desire I have flirted with. That soundbite was on a Time-Life record commercial over a decade ago. I have to determine to quit flirting and get serious and anyone who reads what I am writing is now on notice to hold me accountable in what I say, and sometimes in what I don’t say.

I am presently reading a book by Jim George called A Man After God’s Own Heart. I found one thing truly astounding in the first chapter. God never look for the crowd to find men after God’s heart. He didn’t look to the popular opinion or Hollywood. He looked for individuals that were seeking God with everything they had. They weren’t perfect men. If you’ve read the stories of King David, you will know that he was not even close to perfect, but God told Samuel that David would do as he said. I can only pray that I will too.

I love you guys!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

An anniversary of sorts, I'll share my story, long read

Hey gang,

I am not doing a video with this one because this is a long read. I almost died 16 years ago today after falling into a diabetic coma, but am still here so I figured I'd tell you how Christ saved me today. I'll also be blogging more this week about the present and future in what I will call Keeping It Real week to get ready for the year of One Man Revival in 2009. Enjoy the story of how a Savior found me. This is a repost from my MySpace personal blog of two years ago.

Repost: My story, enjoy the read!
Current mood: grateful
Category: Life

This is a repost of my story. I figured since it was an anniversary of sorts that some of you might enjoy reading this one.

Hey gang,

I am less tired tonight, so I figured it would be a good sharing time. To say the least my church experiences have been weird, but for those of you that care or may want to find inspiration to talk to others, here is my story. It's the unadulterated truth. It's not always pretty, but I will keep it clean. I realize I'd like to keep at least a PG-13 audience.

My church life started out as a small boy in Anmoore, WV at a church called Mt. Zion Community Church. Why did I go? Because a cute girls took me. I was 4 and my best friend at the time was this little blonde named Sandy Fogg. Her sisters, Teresa and Darlene, took us to church on Sundays for the better part of 4 years, at least off and on. I met a few interesting kids along the way. I met a kid named Joel. He seemed to think this was the business because he kept talking to me about getting saved. When I asked him how, he told me to keep coming every week to find out. Unfortunately, he wasn't a great salesman for Jesus yet.

I also met the troublemaker kid. His name was Billy and it seemed like he always created chaos in Sunday School. He picked on everyone and had a promising career as a little A-hole. After several Sundays of his typical attitude, I decided to set him up and see if I could get him tossed out of class. All week at regular school, we had learned about money and the teachers gave us paper quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. So I took mine to Sunday school and sat next to Billy. When the offering plate came around, I threw in the paper money. The Sunday School teacher, a nice lady named Joy Adams, caught the incident as she was counting the money. She asked around as to who did it assuming what all of them did. Billy did it. I let him hang. He was tossed out of class for a month and no one knew the truth except me and God.

That summer we went to a public pool at one of our state parks and most everyone had a great time. All but me. See, I hadn't learned how to swim like all the other kids. They swam and I sat around. So I thought I would be big stuff and dive into the kiddie pool. Let's just say I didn't have Michael Jordan abilities and my head hit the concrete as I went in. I had a huge gash on the back of my head and I had to be taken home 75 miles to go to the emergency room. My mom was working at the hospital and as soon as I arrived, we found my mom and went straight to the ER. Eight stitches and a big cup of humble pie later, I was sitting at home having my mom tell me what a stupid head I'd been.

As I said, after several years of off and on attendance I stopped going. Why? It has nothing to do with the church. Seems Sandy and I were playing on picture day in the third grade and as I was chasing her around, she fell into the neighbors' car. Let's just suffice it to say he had just come home last evening from what rednecks would call mudding. Her mother had a fit, called the school, tried to get me taken care of by the Board of Education, if you know what I mean. This caused my mother to go ballistic and the families didn't speak for about five years. By that time, Sandy and I had both lost the attractiveness of our youth and neither was interested in rekindling our childish games.

So from about nine to sixteen, I had nothing to do with any church. This was not of my choice, but because again I had no one to take me. During that time, my family got closer to another family called the Weils. My mom worked with Mildred at the hospital and her husband's name was Carl. They took me in like a lost child literally. They had two daughters that lived with them, the other was married early and lived in Ohio. That daughter came home every summer and that's how I met her sons. We played wiffleball the first summer. My biggest memory was hitting home runs to Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters".

Anyhow, the local family decided that they wanted to show me a "good church". So I went with them for about six months and I had a great time. I felt like I was learning about religion, even though I hadn't made any real friends in the congregation. That's when it got weird.

About that time, I noticed that this couple that I knew through a girl I went to school with started standing up and saying that the church was going in the wrong direction and that the pastor needed to go to accomplish that direction. They continued a very ugly public feud for over a month and finally the pastor resigned and half the church left with him, unfortunately including me.

After that I began to think about the church in a very negative light. I saw that if the church fought and hosed good people over that I didn't want anything to do with it. So I quit. Quit period. I remember saying "if this is how church is, I want no part of it." That was my hard head at 16 talking and I meant it. It was almost seven more years before I had another thought about the church.

Even though I hadn't got back into church, my life changed drastically in the six years since my last church appearance. I seemed to go through one psycho after another in my dating life. There were mild exceptions, but crazy women were the rule. The crowd I hung out with at Hardee's made jokes about it and even developed a psychoanalysis test that they wanted each woman that went out with me to take. They weren't even shy about asking questions off of it.

I also met my dad for the first time at 21 when I took a two-week trip to Alaska. Yes, the cold one. Except that it wasn't that bad in the summer. While I was relaxing in 70 degree weather, West Virginia and most of the midwest were going through a major 110 degree plus heat wave. In a lot of ways, it was theraputic to meet my dad, but even now which is 16 years later, my dad and I are not anywhere near as close as I thought we would be. My life with my dad is a 5-minute call every other Sunday. It's sad, but it is something that has motivated me to be a great parent to my Megan.

I graduated Fairmont State College with a degree in Elementary Education (Multi-subject K-8) in 1991, but really didn't want to teach at the time. So I went back and took journalism for 1992-1993 year as a favor to a friend of mine. Eddie Gennoy asked me to come back and be his Sports Editor of The Columns, the FSC paper. I did go back because I have a love of writing and sports journalism. For the first semester, I had fun writing. The rest of my life, well, was not as pretty.

I was still having no luck with the ladies and I was told, indirectly of course, that it was my fault. See, I had a little weight problem. I had been picking up a little every year I was in school. I was now nearing 300. So I threw myself into my work. I was working, for free mind you, a 50 hour week for a school newspaper. At midterms, I got sick. You know, one of those nice nasty flu bugs that kicks your butt for a week. It was the first week of November and I had lost 11 pounds getting rid of the flu. That week, all I did was drink fluids to keep me going and I thought why not try to keep going on fluids and see if I could lose weight.

This became known as my ultimate crash diet. Over the next 45 days, I lost 85 pounds. I became skin and bones. At 205, I looked more like The Scarecrow out of the Batman comics than myself. It got bad. I couldn't stop the diet. I tried to eat bread and it took me four glasses of milk to get one slice of bread down. I knew I was in trouble. On Christmas Eve, my mom took me to the ER and the doctor diagnosed me with a severe sore throat and a cold. Let's just say he couldn't have been more wrong if he just opened his medical book and picked a disease.

I went home and two days after Christmas 1992, I collapsed and crushed my end table in the living room. I was rushed to the hospital. No one told me that it would have been better if I had been drinking sugar-free drinks. In about the ninth hour of what would become almost 42 hours of a comatose state, the pinch-hitting doctor replacing my own figured out the problem. She announced, "Don't you smell him, his sugar content is so high that his sweat smells sweet." I didn't ask for a definition from my mother as to what the hell that meant, but it was real bad. The next test she did discovered my glucose level at 1400. My body was shutting down. I probably had so much insulin popped into my body over the next couple days that it probably took the lives of a couple sheep that made it.

I woke up during Monday Night Football. To normal people, that would be no big deal. To me, it was huge in two ways. The first was my favorite QB Joe Montana was making his return to football after being injured for a while. The second was the fact that before I collapsed, I turned in my fantasy football lineup to my friend Rodney and he told me my opponent was starting Amp Lee. As I wake up, Amp is amping up for a TD run and as he goes into the end zone, I start screaming "No, not Amp Lee! Not Amp Lee!" My nurse came running into my room thinking I had more problems than diabetes. They probably called the MENSA hotline and they told them that I was too crazy for them.

While I was in the coma, I didn't have a It's a Wonderful Life experience either. All I saw was darkness. Charlie Murphy-Rick James darkness. I heard voices occasionally. I didn't understand them, so I couldn't tell you if they were people at my bedside or people on the other side. I'll make no guess.

Anyhow, the next morning, my doctor was back off his little vacation and told me that I would be on shots for the rest of my life. I wasn't thrilled. I hated needles. I was terrified of them. Then he told me I would have to give myself the shots. I told him to kiss my butt goodbye cause there was no way I was giving myself a shot anywhere.

So he sent in some very ugly, I know that's probably not PC, but for nurses, she was very ugly. She showed me an orange and gave it a shot. She then egged my manhood and said it didn't hurt the orange. "Was I a bigger pussy than the orange", she says. I gave myself the shot thinking I had kept my manhood and then afterwards realizing my testosterone played right into her hands. I never had another fear of a needle from my hand. I still to this day don't like anyone else shooting me with a needle. Not to draw blood, not to give me a flu shot, nothing. If you have a needle and are coming to use it on me, I still don't like you much.

After watching two days worth of diabetes education videos in one day, my doctor would let me out of the hospital only if I could get the supplies I needed at an open pharmacy. It was New Year's Eve and the clock was ticking. If my mom couldn't get my supplies by 3:00pm, I was watching Dick Clark on hospital television. She got my supplies just in time. I went home and started 1993. A new man, but an unsure man of why I was here and what I was going to do next.

By the way, I won that fantasy football title 20-16. I'd like to thank my kicker John Carney. He was a Charger then.

This is part three of my salvation story. I broke it up into parts so that I wouldn't lose it all because my computer likes to puff out on me.

Anyhow, 1993 started off with a bang as several of my friends got together at my house to see that I was OK and that I had a pair of glasses. I would love to be a contacts sort of guy, but these were only going to be temporary anyway. I looked like a geek, but again after a few weeks I could throw them into the Monongahela.

I went back to school in January to a new pair of editors. My friend Eddie jumped ship and left me with Julie Love and James Lee IV. By May, I really wanted to put up a wrestling ring and take both of them to the woodshed. Even though I lost all that weight, I was still in the same weight class if both of them fought me together. I still would've taken them too.

My college newspaper life was still long, even though I backed off to 30 hours a week. I found a new job working as a sports reporter for a new version of an old paper. The Shinnston News was bought from Jim Jackson by two business guys, Mike Queen and Bernie Dearth. They were looking for a sports guy and I fit the bill. I worked part-time for them and finished my semester at FSC. They had long range plans of turning the paper into a county paper instead of a town paper which didn't thrill the reading populace.

While at school, I took two classes. The first was a writing class to a complete moron. This guy had about as much talent as a green bean. He thought he was the world savior of writing and found cronies in his class to help him follow the dream. I hated that class and I didn't like him much more than that.

The other class I ended up taking was a Bible as literature class. If you ever want to understand the Bible in its truest form, never take it as a literature class. The guy that taught was one of my favorite people, Dr. Richard Sonnenshein. He was a devout Catholic and once expressed to me that if his 72 year old mother in a wheelchair could give an hour to God, why couldn't I. At the time, I joked that he probably forced her to go which of course he didn't find funny.

But I met a gal taking the course that interested me. Her name was Kylie Churchwell and I was taken with her immediately. She and I talked about anything, except not a lot about God yet. I sent her a dozen roses for Valentine's Day because she had been sick for most of the week. She then told me that she was seeing another guy and that we were just friends. I wasn't happy about it, but I accepted it. I was having more conversations with a real girl for the first time in several years.

By the end of the semester, the story with the boyfriend had changed. She was showing interest, but because I was working I was too blind to see it. Plus, I had been told by a couple gals in the journalism department that she was really unstable and I had a thought in the back of my mind that I didn't need that. Sometimes I just wish the back of my mind had shut up. We started going to events with the town paper as a couple even though it was me putting the friends touch to it. I was featured at the paper's local high school as a contributor to a more positive atmosphere and recognized with a plaque. I had really worked well with the students there and they showed their appreciation at the dinner. I was so high from the event, that I missed that she was trying to tell me she was interested when she began serenading me later in the car. A few months later, she got bored and walked away. I let the first normal Christian girl of my life walk without so much as a whimper.

Later during the summer, the minister of the local Baptist church came by and began talking to me and my new general manager, Kim Gemondo. The pastor expressed that he was very pleased with a sportswriter with such a positive attitude about his town and that he thought that I wrote from a Christian perspective. What? I write from a Christian perspective. I thought whatever he was smoking I wanted some of it. Looking back at my writing now, I realize he was right, I just didn't realize it. He had a daughter he wanted to introduce me to and I already knew her from the play company at college.

I went and visited his church and he formally introduced us. I just happened to be calling Canton that day to get Hall of Fame press passes, so I got bold and asked her to go with me. She agreed. That week was the Little League championships in West Virginia, so I lived at the ball field during the day and at the office cranking out info from the tournament each night, way into the night. So I asked if she could drive. She did until we got close to Canton and since I knew the area from previous bowling tournaments, she asked me to drive through town. As I drove, she decided to change clothes. I felt like I was in a Girls Gone Wild video with a preacher's daughter. I thought surely I was going to hell for this one.

We went to the event and drove home afterwards. On the four hour drive home, she begins to talk of how sick of religion she is and that she just wants to live a normal life. She then told me that she was sick of her dad fixing her up with guys that are living a good life. The only reason she went with me was the fact she knew I was doing publicity dates at local taverns and that I had to be a bad boy compared to the other guys she was hooked up with.

Oh, I was a bad boy alright, but I wasn't confessing my sins to her. I was out at the local bars on a nightly basis after work including the new local strip clubs. My name got me a few drinks (Diet Cokes only, I have never had a passion for alcohol, stories for another time) and a few lap dances. My popularity was not only getting me into trouble, it was bankrupting me at the same time. The paper was the only job I spent more money than I made. I spent many evenings talking to a gal that went by the name Tracy and spending more money on her than any date I ever had. She would just talk to me. Oh, I was interested in her, but she would sit and listen as long as I was buying the drinks. When the money ran out, so did she.

I was going broke and I almost took my whole family down with me. I was living with my mom, grandma and great aunt at the time and was spending more money than I ever should have. Then, a real friend reached out and started pulling me back to my destiny.

When last I left you hanging on Saturday, we were up to November 1993 or so. As I closed last time, I was starting to drown in my loneliness and debt. During this time, my friend Alvin invited me to a concert. The concert included Petra and Cindy Morgan. I like soulful, brunette singers. Always have, always will. I listened to about half her show and was really enjoying it when Alvin drags me backstage to get autographs from Petra. At the time, that didn't really impress me. Looking back on it over a decade later, I was amongst musical greatness and was too dumb to know it.

After the concerts, I bought a poster of Cindy's Reason to Live tour. OK, honestly I bought it because she was hot and I would've milked cows just to meet her. I get up there and we talk for a moment about her show. She signs my poster and gives me no pressure about my Christianity. Years later, when I went to another of her shows and had the chance to talk to her at length, thanks to her sister Sam (that's another story), she was so glad that her music had an impression on me to think about Christ more from that moment.

I did think a lot about it. I was still working at the paper and putting in more hours in. In the meantime, Alvin would pass me a CD of different Christian artists every chance he got. He would come visit me when I was writing stories after midnight at the office and would just talk about life.

I spent Christmas and New Year's that year just happy to be alive. Alvin told me to take New Year's Eve off and go with him to another concert. This concert happened to be in the Southern Gospel vein. I remember the Kingsmen, Gold City and Tony Gore and Majesty (I think, they could have been there the following year, I know Alvin will correct me). For me personally, I like some Southern Gospel, but I can only take it in doses. After six hours, I was ready to go. We went to a restaurant afterwards nearby (I am wanting to say Shoney's) and threw up everything I ate there soon thereafter.

I hate bad food. I don't like food poisoning, but it seems that after suffering from it I always have clarity. Decision making clarity. I knew my life was going nowhere. My resolution was to make 1994 better than any year I'd had in a long time. I think I can say without a doubt I did. But I was slow about it.

Twelve days into 1994, we were hit with a two-foot snowstorm that shut everything down for a week. That meant no sports. That meant no sports section locally. I finished my one page for that week and believe me, I had nothing else. Just as I dropped print to the page, I got a phone call. My great aunt that lived with us for the past eight years had a stroke and was being taken to the hospital. I told Diane, my super working layout lady to finish the ad space any way she wanted because I was on my way to the hospital.

Six hours later, I got a call at the hospital. It was one of my three bosses asking why I hadn't done a second page. No asking how my aunt was, no voice of compassion, just more of a where's my f'n second page. Remember the snowstorm I asked. He told me I was slacking. I lost it.

For the last four months, I had worked for $175 a week and usually had put in 60 or more hours per. Yes, I was cheaper labor than Mexicans and he had a problem with me slacking. The next day I went to the office and told them I was cutting my hours in half. Two of the three bosses told me they were cutting my salary in half. I told them to fly a kite and that's being really nice about it.

I went home and told my mom that I just quit my job. I didn't get yelled at. I got an encouragement speech. My mom has never been known as an encourager, so this was way, way weird. She told me not to worry about a job. Huh? She told me that my life had turned bad so she wanted me to focus on two things, my aunt that was coming out of the hospital and then to figure out what I want with my life. She reminded me that I was spared for a reason. I was stunned. Not so much that she said it (even though that was pretty shocking), but that she placed emphasis on me and my need for a life for myself.

Over the next two and a half months, two things happened. One good and one that people would say is bad, except that the bad got a point across about my personality and compassion. The first was that I began to hang out with Alvin more and go to the bookstores and other concerts with him. He took me everywhere and PAID. I will tell you that Alvin is not rolling in money, but he's probably the smartest financial person I know (yes, that does say something since I've been in financial areas for almost six years now) and he just doesn't blow his money. I think subconsciously, he knew what he was investing in. The funny thing was that I was realizing it too. I probably owe him more money than most of my credit cards, but he has never once even asked for a dime.

The second thing I did that I didn't share with most people was that I took up bartending and bouncing at this little redneck bar a couple nights a week just to have some money coming in. Folks, honestly, I don't drink. I kid about it all the time that I should start to relieve stress, but I don't. So you could imagine me making drinks for people. Some people were really happy about it because they told me how to make the drinks. As far as bouncing, there was not a fight in the two months I worked there. The first reason was that the bar was owned by an old lady who would've banned them if they got into a fight. She didn't like trouble and she usually offered a free drink to avoid it. The second reason I believe was divine intervention.

It's not a problem of where I wouldn't fight, it was more of a fact that I couldn't fight. Being raised by four women led me down a road of slapping, not of kicking some butt. If there had ever been a fight with real fighting going on, I probably would have been killed or seriously hurt.

Anyhow, the real problem I had at the bar was I heard some of the saddest short stories I ever wanted to hear. Some people drank to escape their lives. Some drank to drown the pain. The saddest ones were the ones who drank because they thought that this was life. The last weekend of March, I was sitting at the door (it was a Saturday and I left the drink pouring to the pros) and this knockout of a gal sat next to me. She went on and on about how she wanted this guy sitting across the room and that he would do her and then find other gals to do and he had a couple victims sitting with him. I asked the general questions. Why put up with it? How can you say you love him? Why don't you date someone else like me? She ends with "He is so good to me." What? Did you just not hear the last half-hour of chat that we'd had. That almost got me to take a drink in the confusion. That might be one of the top WTF's of all time.

That night, I went to Hardee's after work and hung out with Alvin and shared the story of my working there and the gal's story. He then invited me to go to a concert on Tuesday. Since I was off, I said sure.

The concert was of Audio Adrenaline and DC Talk. Charleston Civic Center, Charleston, WV, April 1, 1994. Anyway, I went to the show. I listened to Audio A and they weren't bad. I would eventually love these guys as one of my favorite groups, but I just OK with them after their performance. We moved to the balcony for DC Talk because my ears were ringing. Alvin has this little knack of getting good seats, really good seats. We were originally in the fifth row to the left, right near speakers. Huge honkin' speakers.

We moved to the balcony and during the intermission, I fell asleep. DC Talk came out and did four songs before I woke up. They were doing their version of Jesus Is Still Alright (no apologies to the Doobie Brothers, this version kicked it). My brain found the song familiar and I was wide awake. I watched the rest of the concert and was pretty impressed with the music. But what came next changed my life as I knew it.

My friend Kevin has always criticized me for having to hear things from alternate sources even though my closest friends would tell me things. That night, I heard DC Talk share their testimonies and Toby Mac ended the evening with the theme. Jesus loved me and still wanted me. I know, Christians are going "no big shock", but to me, it was a foreign concept. At least somewhat. My friend Alvin and other friends (Kylie Churchwell Young, Kim Novotny, just to name a couple) had tried different approaches to tell me, but I am sometimes a little slow.

I found myself weeping now. Realizing that this is what I was allowed to live for. I had almost died 16 months earlier, from super high diabetes. I would also have died without Christ. But Toby, K Max and Mike had put the start to a final week in which I would give my life to Him.

After the emotional ride home, I continually thought about what I heard. On Friday, I was invited to a church by my friend Rob Fancher. I told him that I would if I could wake up after my job Saturday night. I left the house after that quick invite and began listening to 88.1. It was a station out of Maryland called He's Alive radio and they aired Christian talk shows during the day. James Dobson was on and he was interviewing a baseball player I liked so I listened. The player's name was Tim Burke. I don't remember anything he said that day, but it was his wife's words that shook me to the core. She talked about being raised by only her mom and how hard it was for her to come to Christ because she had a hard time seeing God as Father because the father example she had was missing. I knew that story, I lived it. She went on to talk about how God finally reached out for her. I knew the same thing was happening to me now.

I went to work that Saturday night and it was pretty uneventful, except that it ended at 4:30am instead of the normal closing time of 3:00am. I went home beat, but something odd happened. I woke up at 7:30am on my own. No alarm, no grandma reminding me to get up. I was ready. I was focused. I was shook awake by a gentle hand.

I went to church and it was fun. I met the pastor and he invited me to stay for a new members luncheon. It didn't matter if I was or not, but an opportunity to see a film on church history and a chance to meet some other people. I met a few people that day. The one that surprises most is my eighth grade home room teacher, Mr. Lanzy. People thought we didn't get along in school, but I think we both respected each other's opinions. I was outspoken and was sometimes misunderstood. Lanzy never called me on the carpet publicly, but we talked one-on-one and he always made me understand the errors in my thought patterns. He was never vicious, just to the point and that gained my respect.

That evening, I returned to the church and was in the middle of service when Mr. Lanzy came to the seat next to me and told me I needed to come to the back. What he told me was that my aunt was back in the hospital and that I should go. While I got my jacket on, he handed me a few papers to read. He just said to read them when I had a chance.

I went to the hospital and sat. My aunt was being treated and began resting comfortably around 11:30pm and I told my mom that I was going to the car to get something. I grabbed those papers. I thought I had nothing else to do and that I might as well read. The last of these papers was the story of John. At the end of the pamphlet, the author stated several times that John 3:16 was for ME. I took wholeheartedly what was being said.

I prayed. I realized that my road hadn't been perfect, way from it. I also realized that I had been left alive for a purpose. That purpose at the moment was to find Christ and admit I needed Him. I had a friend ask me if I needed Christ a few months earlier and I almost laughed. But I knew now that she was part of the plan too. There were many people praying and reaching out for me in the spirit of Christ. I remember the last line I said to God that night. "Obviously, I am living the direction that you wanted me to and that I am now willing to do this life your way. Take me where you want me."

That was over twelve and a half years ago. I haven't always been so willing, but I understand it a lot better than I did at 16. The church isn't always right. That's because it's human ran, rather than God ran at times. The same way each of us makes decisions. We don't always know. God tells us to strive to live as Christ. Why? Because if He told us to live as Christ, we'd all fail. I still do sometimes. I am appreciative that I get it right more often now than I used to.

One final note for those of you that followed this story from the beginning. I saw Joy Adams that day that I started at the church. She told me a little story. She told me that she had prayed for me since the day I left Mt. Zion. She added that she also prayed for Billy. She also prayed for a little boy that she wished had told the truth that day when Billy took the blame for some fake money in the offering. Yeah, I understood. I'm glad she loved me. Glad she loved me enough to want me to have what she had all along.

I love you guys,


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Remember All the Good Gifts, Merry Christmas Everyone!

Jim Brickman Lyrics
The Gift Lyrics

Today is probably the last time I’ll get a chance to write before Christmas and I would totally be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the great gifts I’ve received and given over the past 39 years of my life. Some of these may surprise you, but most won’t.

I guess the earliest gift that I remember jumping up and down over was a Six Million Dollar Man. For those of you unfamiliar with the series. It looked like Lee Majors even with little bionic pull out pieces. I loved that show so much as a kid. The fad came and went and the poor little bionic man didn’t last long.

To begin my teenage years, I received a gift that shaped my life to be lazy. For the Christmas after I entered junior high, I got the Atari 2600. Admit it, you remember that combat game with the two tanks that tried to shoot each other for points. I bought every sports game that went with it and made myself a superstar.

This might be the first of gifts you might not expect. As my sophomore year ended, I had a dream. That dream was to go into sports journalism and be the next Lanny Frattare. Those of you not from the Pittsburgh area probably don’t know that Lanny was the voice of the Pirates for 33 seasons and retired after this past season. I wanted to be like him at the broadcast booth. However, I was told that I probably wasn’t ready for Journalism II and was out of the program to pursue other dreams. Thanks to that, I joined the audio-visual club and became the voice of the Indians basketball program. The only people to enjoy the feed were the coaches and I will always remember Coach Bill Kerns cracking up after Chuck Steele scored a basket and I smarted off about it being his first two of the season. Sorry Chuck, but I remember the comments being funny.

After what I would call a disasterous junior year, I was given the gift of a teacher that really inspired me. Not only did Mrs. Booth help my confidence by telling me that my writing was better than average, but she helped my mom find my dad and get back child support so I could go to college. If it hadn’t been for her, I’m really not sure where I would be today.

The next gift that I received is commonly looked at as negative, but I see now that it was for my good. At age 23, two days after Christmas in fact, I almost died. I’ll talk more about this in a blog next week, but I found out that I was diabetic after a coma that almost killed me off. It began a journey that culminated in figuring out what was important in life and the beginning of my walk with the ultimate gift anyone can get, Jesus Christ. That gift came April 7, 1994. Carrying that gift of diabetes hasn’t always been easy, but it has taught me many lessons in life that have made me a better person.

I’ll save the gift of Christ for last and move on to some other gifts. I’ll thank Jack Kincaid for my first ministry job as a switcher for WLYJ TV. I was able to learn from some really great teachers as I aired some of the best to the public. It’s why you may see influences in my writing from people like Charles Stanley, Joyce Meyer and John Hagee.

Moving to Kissimmee, Florida was another unexpected gift and it has kept on giving even up to today. I found the church that changed my life. It made me want to be a follower of Christ. It was what my friend Tom Zawacki had helped build. I got the same offers from him that came at BBC, but I mentally wasn’t ready to receive those gifts six years earlier. BBC made me shine. I got involved in the singles ministry and helped people, including myself, recover from divorce and move on to do things for God.

I also received the gift of stepping into the greatest ministry I’ve been in before or since. Being involved with the teens at BBC has been the gift that keeps on giving. It was great to go visiting with Pastor Jackson and see these kids grow into fantastic adults. Even this morning, I visited one of my former students’ web page and saw that he had a beautiful little girl. To see that he has matured into a loving father just blessed my soul.

And without BBC, I would never have met my wife. There are times we may not exactly call each other a gift, but for over six years now, she has been the gift of my lifetime. She has given me three other gifts that sit in the next room watching Peter Pan today. Well, two of them are. Little Maggie for some reason is trying to crawl under the couch. At eight months, I am happy she is crawling though.

I will admit that Tom was right about one story he told me. I remember during 1994 sitting in his den and his telling Alvin, Scott Hamilton and myself about the day his daughter Lisa was born. He said, “It was just amazing. I remember it hitting me on the way home. I have this little girl that I love so much. God you love me so much more than that. I am just amazed.” Every time one of my children was born, I thought of that story. Here I am holding this beautiful child and God how glad I am that you love us both more than I will ever be able to show them. Oh, I’ll try. My mom and my wife both tease me that I spoil them. How can I not? A good father believes in good gifts. They may not be the most expensive, but they have been awesome enough.

The best of the gifts my wife has given me has been the ability to stay home, type these little commentaries and be a full time dad to my kids. It’s not always been easy. As much as I love my kids, I miss working some. I’m a natural people person. I love interacting with people. But the gift of being the one to see them walk, talk and do other silly and awesome things first has been more than I can ever describe with less than honor. It’s nice to see that I have three caring, loving children. Sure, they struggle with sharing their toys now and then, but they love each other and that is something I missed as an only child.

The next to last gift I’ll talk about is one of people who help influence my writing today. You never realize how someone is going to touch until you’re already in the friendship. As much as Alvin helped me become a Christian and start my walk in 1993-1994, my friend Peter has really helped encourage and take me to the next level with One Man Revival. He was the guy who helped me shape the idea of how this ministry that I get to sit at my laptop and do came into being. He’ll say I give him too much credit, but after God and Van put the idea in my head, he was the one who gave me wise counseling by telling me that I wasn’t crazy and that the internet is the next great mission field for Christ. Truthfully, he’s the first person since I moved to the town over five years ago to give me more time to talk my way through this walk with Christ. You may find that amazing, but it’s not always easy to find a friend in a new town. Next to marriage and parenthood, I consider my friendships the most important relationships of all on Earth.

I say on Earth because the relationship with most value is the one I have in Christ. I’m moving in on 15 years with Jesus and we haven’t always been best buddies. I have yelled, screamed, kicked, shut him out and been a pain in the butt at times and he still loves me anyway. But He has walked me through some great memories. They weren’t always what I would call great memories at the time, but they have become sweeter as I get older. He helped me grow up and accept responsibilities that I’m not sure I would’ve taken any other way. Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit, but sometimes I do overdo it. Believe me, he’s always willing to tell me to take that hand off of my shoulder that I’m patting myself with when I do.

He gave his life for me over 2,000 years ago when I couldn’t do anything about it. I’m awfully glad He did. Because if I had to go through this life and even attempt to be as good as He was, the only writing you’d be reading is either the most depressing crap in the world or my obituary. He keeps me honest. He keeps my nose clean and with sinus problems, that isn’t always easy. My wife is looking over my shoulder and asking me if I have started a new Psalms 23, He keeps my nose clean. This might also tell you why she’s with me. She gets me and knows how to use sarcasm on me. Smartaleck. But I love her anyway, just like I said earlier.

So as we celebrate this Christmas season, that’s right people, it’s Christmas whether the non-believers like it or not, remember the good gifts you’ve gotten, intended that way or otherwise. They will spur you on when you don’t feel like it. They will help with the confidence that’s been shaken. Finally, they will help you give the love you’ve received back out. That’s what the holiday is all about. Loving each other as we go around on the big blue marble.

I love you guys!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I love knowing there will be a day of No More Pain

Point Of Grace Lyrics
No More Pain Lyrics

It was 4:30 am when my wife and I arrived at St. Louis’ Lambert Airport. My wife looked at me knowing how I felt and said, “For what it’s worth, Happy Anniversary.” I looked back and told her how much I’d miss her while I was gone. We’d been together for two years and had never been apart from each other for more than twelve hours at a time.

But that morning, I was boarding an airplane to head back to Orlando. This was not going to be a pleasant trip home. By the time I reached the airport in Orlando, my mind was made up. As much as I wanted to bring my grandma back to Illinois to live her final days, I would allow her to go where she wanted. Home. Back to the hills of West Virginia. My mom’s best friend was allowing mom and grandma to move in with her and it was my job to drive them there. My grandmother had been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and we knew she only had a few months.

At the hospital, my grandmother smiled at me and said, “I suppose I’m gonna die. That’s why you’re here. So how long have they really given me?” I told her that the doctor told me six months. She knew I’d tell her. Mom just never was good at delivering bad news and left it to me. “Well, I hope that I don’t live to see another cold winter.” I didn’t want to hear that.

We made the drive to West Virginia and I helped get her settled. After a couple days of getting through doctor appointments and arrangements, I had to go back to my pregnant wife. It was several months before we had Megan and I was praying that my grandma would live long enough to see her. It was hard leaving West Virginia knowing it might be the last time I’d see my grandma alive, but deep down I knew that was possible.

Six weeks later, the call came. My grandmother had died at 93. She lived a long life. It was four years ago today. It still hurts me that I didn’t get to go to the funeral, but two feet of snow had more to do with that than anything else. There are people who are still a little upset by the fact I wasn’t there, but they have to deal with that.

I admit I still miss not calling her on the phone a few times a week and getting wisdom and cooking tips. My marriage had made me a metrosexual and I was the domestic god. Thanks to her, I became a decent cook. I still do laundry my own way and my manliest duty is taking out the trash. I do mow the lawn in the summer, so I still keep my masculine side.

My grandmother was more like a mom than my own. She raised mom and I together. While I grew up, so did my mom. The great thing is watching things now. My youngest daughter, Maggie, looks and acts so much like her that it astounds me. She smiles just like her. Do I believe in reincarnation? No. I do believe in heredity and that Maggie got most of my grandma’s traits. I kid my mom that my son reminds me of my great uncle Ernie and that Megan reminds me of my great aunt Agnes. My three kids act like those Russell kids of long, long ago.

My grandmother did beat that stomach cancer. When I see her in heaven, she will be cancer free. How do I know? That’s the best part. After the Great Throne Judgement in Revelation chapter 20, chapter 21 tells us how heaven will be, starting with verse 2. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with me, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Death dies. It’s not he with the most toys wins. It’s he (or she) who knows their God will enjoy eternity with him and each other. That is a real pick me up from missing my loved one.

I love you guys!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do you hate missing the point of stories?

Steven Curtis Chapman Lyrics
The Great Adventure Lyrics

I love stories and I love to tell them. Most of us do. The thing I hate the most is when I forget part of a story someone tells me or I miss out on a story only to hear the punchline.

I remember back in 1995, I was at a concert seeing Pam Thum. For those of you unfamiliar with Pam’s work, my personal favorites are I Will Stand and In the Middle of It All. However, Pam tells a story about one of her songs called Starting to Rain. She went to a foreign country and it hadn’t received rain in a period of time and as she began to perform the song, the rain started to fall. I can tell you that Pam Thum is not a weatherman and there was not rain in the forecast. But I forget the rest of the story. To me, I will always remember how awestruck I was as she told the story. The song is quite beautiful, but I could not find a video or audio of it to put on the page, so unfortunately, you’ll have to go look for the song yourself today. As you can see, missing the story doesn’t have the full impact.

In reading my bible, I have the same struggles. I love reading the New Testament because of the stories of Jesus. I also love hearing the stories of Paul because he is so interesting. He changed so drastically in his life after his conversion. He went from killing Christians to loving them and speaking truth to save them. But admittedly, I struggle through the Old Testament. I get through some parts just fine, but I just seem to go into trance mode somewhere after hearing Psalms and Proverbs. I’ve even started at the back of the Old Testament and can’t get back either. I’ve made one of my goals for 2009 to read through the entire bible once. I’m hoping that at 40 (by the time I finish), that God will open my eyes to see the parts I struggle through as important to the entire story.

I chose Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Great Adventure as today’s video because I couldn’t find Starting to Rain and because all of us are on our great adventure in this life. (I debated between that and Toby Mac’s Stories. I recommend that one too.) We are on a great adventure. A new adventure starts with each new day because we never know who we’re going to meet or exactly what we’re going to see. I can tell you if you are a believer of Christ what you will see when He comes to take us home. If you read Revelation chapter 21 you’ll get a fuller picture. One of the verses that gets me excited as a people person is about the Holy City. This is verse 16. “The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long.” The measurement for 12,000 stadia is about 1400 miles. For those of you that struggle with math like I do the Old Testament, that is like St. Louis to Baltimore and down to Miami. The other point would be somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Texas. Talk about long commutes. Then I thought about height. How about 1400 miles up? That makes the Arch in St. Louis look like a curved Pez.

So I hope you enjoy your journey and think about streets of gold that are pure. Yeah, that means you could see under the streets. Isn’t that really cool?

I love you guys,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

He Is God of This City Whether I Like It Or Not

This is part 2 of 2

Last time, I talked about how God is so very forgiving and that we as people of God aren’t always that forgiving. That unforgiveness can cost plenty. I’ll tell you my journey to that humbling forgiveness and peace.

I’ll be honest when I say that I haven’t always loved my life here in Effingham. I’ll explain. My wife and I arrived here in May 2003 after six months of blissful marriage and craziness in the deep south of Atlanta. We wanted to make a move to a smaller town after living in the downtown of our discontent. It was so bad in downtown that we thanked God daily for living in a gated community near the Atlanta Medical Center.

We lived two blocks from Ponce de Leon which is where quite a bit of the underbelly happens in Atlanta. If you junkies and pimps and prostitution (OH MY!), you could find it there at night. The greatest story that I can tell you was the night that my wife was sick with vomiting at 3:00 am and I had to go Kroger about two miles away. I went into the Kroger and grabbed the medicine I needed. I heard a noise that I mistakenly thought was a light shattering that was in fact two guys fighting over some of the fine meats and they ended up shooting each other over it. I remember going to the checkout when this large black lady that was behind the counter said, “Don’t worry about payin’. Run, cracker, run.” I exaggerate not. It might be one of the scariest things I’ve ever been involved in.

Anyhow, on to Effingham and the promise of a new day. For six weeks, we lived in a hotel and we had thought about having to move on as we found a church for us to become involved in. I had talked to the pastor and his music minister and told them that I felt God was leading me to help out and reignite their teen ministry. Within a week, my wife was offered a permanent job with the company she works for and we decided, quite easily, to stay.

Over the next six months, the teen group went from 0 to 58 at the second overnight lockout. We averaged 25 most of the time on our Wednesday night service. Kids were growing, but room wasn’t really available for this growth. We were meeting at the pastor’s house and his wife was due with a new baby and we were wondering where to go next. In trying to get a new location and some help, I crossed over into the politics of a church that wasn’t ready for that next step quite yet. We weren’t getting any more adults to help out and that left my wife and I working with one other couple.

The other problem was politics. As we were growing, the pastor began praying with a couple that really wanted to take over the ministry. By February of 2004, we were unceremoniously removed from the equation and the other couple took over. The removal left me angry, bitter and confused. I had done everything to grow that ministry and as soon as it was thriving, it was taken from me.

After we left the church, we focused on having children. That helped bury my discontentment for a while. In April 2005, we had our daughter Megan and still had not found a church home. By this point, the only job I could get in the town was likely at our local McDonald’s. I found a four-month a year job at a national tax service. I was successful, but could not really ground into a church and I felt out. I felt abandoned by God and felt like somewhat of an outcast to the town I lived in.

After another season at the tax service as a manager, I could feel the bottom dropping out of the good tidings from management and by the end of 2006, I was unemployed yet again. This time, we were just about to give birth to our son James in January and during my wife’s time off, neither of us were working. Not only could I not find a new job, but the church we were going to was really not opening any doors to build relationships. A touch more bitterness and my family almost completely fell apart.

Finally, someone suggested to put in my licensure from teaching from my wife’s work. I put in my information and got a job as a substitute teacher for the 2007-08 school year. It was a great fit for me. I loved the kids and the kids liked me almost as much. God was giving me a voice to touch lives even though I had to be somewhat quiet about it. It was a great year, but daycare costs went up even more as we had our newest baby girl Maggie in April 2008. Simply put, the costs of daycare were going to do in the paycheck I was receiving. I felt bad, but something else happened that made life better.

We found a church. Not only that, but it was a church that wanted us. I’ll honestly admit through all the struggle that we (me moreso than my wife) became very skeptical that any church would have us, that just maybe God didn’t want us. I knew in my heart that God wants all of us to come to salvation and follow him, but there were times in the early days that I almost felt that I was looking for bad signs to run away.

And that bitterness. Oh, did I ever struggle with that. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be friends with people in this town after five years of trying to find my place here. I joke with people now that I was feeling sort of similar to Jonah for a while. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Jonah, I’ll explain. Jonah was told by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach and save the people of the city. The problem was that he hated them. He would rather have done anything else than save them. He got on a boat that was going in the opposite direction and when God shook things up on the boat, the people tossed him overboard.

God wanted him and he did not let Jonah just drown. He let Jonah be swallowed by a whale. Jonah stayed inside the whale for a time until the whale spit him up, you guessed it, right outside Nineveh. Jonah was tough, but he realized what God wanted and he finally relented and did what God asked of him. His preaching was fantastic and wouldn’t you know it, the people actually decided to follow God and were saved. Jonah was upset over it. He went outside the town and sat under a tree to complain about it.

If you’ve never been to Effingham, you will see an awesome sight if you come into town from the west on Interstates 57 and 70. There is a very tall cross there. Very tall. Close to 200 feet tall. No, you won’t find me underneath it lamenting that the people have Christ, even though I thought about it during the summer of 2008.

It’s kind of ironically funny that the church I go to is called New Hope, because in truth that is what I really needed, a new hope. I got involved in the men’s program during the summer and met many new friends. For the first time in a church, I made real in the trenches friends. However, I was still grabbing to hold on to some of the bitterness of the past until a fateful Sunday morning.

It was early September and if you know families with young children or teens, you realize that it is very difficult to get to church on time. We arrived just as the praise band was starting to play. The song you hear at the top of this blog, Chris Tomlin’s God of This City, was the song they started with. I remember standing and thinking about the song. I’d never heard it before. But, the song was right.

God is still God whether or not I like my circumstances. He’s still God of this city whether I like it or not. I’ve spent my whole life wanting to make a difference. As you read in the last blog, I spent a great deal of my high school and college years feeling not good enough too because others made a joke of who I was. God wasn’t laughing. God brought me here for a reason. Especially three of them. I have three lovely children that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t come here.

The other great thing about my church is that they have an awesome nursery that teaches my kids. There are many adults here, but one of the church’s primary focuses is for kids. They are the dominate force in youth ministry for the area. There may be a couple churches in the town that may argue with me, but it won’t be much of an argument.

Am I involved in it? Not yet. I think in time, I’ll find my helping spot in the church. Right now, I have three kids to focus on at home. Someone once said that you have to have your house in order before you begin to claim other territory. If I were out doing other things right now instead of focusing on my kids, my house would not be in order.

That’s what brings me to the internet. I can be a dad to my kids and still touch lives here when I have a few minutes, or an hour or two. Sometimes it is very hard to get a thought between diapers, feeding and playing (along with crying and fixing boo-boos), but God seems to know when to let me think. Mike Murdock once said that “If you make time for God’s plan, he will make time to include you in it.” He’s so right. This is my mission, for now. I love to write, I love people and if I can combine the two in presenting a true Gospel lived by a non-perfect, mistake making, fumbling, bumbling stumbling, humbling man sincerely, then it is a true gift from God to let me back in to ministry.

I love you guys!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Third Day Lyrics
This Is Who I Am Lyrics

If you haven’t figured it out in the first few blogs, this ministry is about encouraging others on their walk with Christ. Some days are much easier than others. Most days I can’t wait to get to the computer and start typing away. Today, was not one of those days.

I talked to a long time friend this morning and I knew from another conversation with a different friend that we wasn’t feeling too good about life. So I called him on his cell phone and got the message again. So I hadn’t called his family’s house in about five years, but since I thought I remembered it, I called there. The good news is that I hadn’t forgot the number. That’s really all the good news other than he was happy to hear from me.

We began talking and I could tell he is having a hard time lately. He has been going to work, paying bills and not much else. A lot of us can relate. We started talking about the old days and how I’d ran into many of our friends from the past and it was like I hit a wall. He did relate a story of running into some people from the 20th reunion that he didn’t attend, but hung out at a bar the night before with some of his friends. He told how much that he felt people hadn’t changed much in 20 years and that he really didn’t miss any of them, other than the friends he was with.

I pressed in a little further and he told me that he didn’t really care to discuss much of the past that they were a part of because most of them weren’t a positive part of his past. To that I do agree. I was there. He then asks me why I try to be friends with them. Then, he sharpens to this.

“Don’t you remember high school? You were not most of their friends. You were the comic relief. They laughed at you. They didn’t take you seriously. You were a joke. You tried to be everyone’s friend and they tried to run you into the ground. You were naïve and thought that people loved you. A few did, but not many. You weren’t Rick-A-Do, because you had a line of pride. You let people push you too far before you wrote them off and all it got you was disappointment and hurt. You think they’ve changed?”

I don’t know, but I do know two things. First, I’ve changed. I’ll still admit to being a tad too naïve with people and I’ll admit to wanting to have people like me. I still believe in people, for better or worse. He was right about the part that a lot of people treated me poorly in high school and even the part that some people didn’t take me seriously. At the time, I left high school vowing never to go back and to never let people treat me like that again. But again, I changed.

In high school, I didn’t have the second thing I know, that being Christ in my life. The beautiful part is this. God does take me seriously, does not take me as a joke (even though I used to joke that he did) and he truly loves me for who I am. I’m not perfect, not even close. He loves me anyway. So there can be hundreds who don’t like me from high school and it doesn’t matter, really. The one who does love me is consistent. God is the same yesterday, today and forever and that is what keeps me believing in the good of people, even though in the world’s mind, I should doubt that any good is there.

I still hope that people change. Some of them won’t. That’s too bad. But I don’t give up on them now. I go back to a day that ten or so people tried to drag me into the gym to make me wear a dress for a spirit day. In the scheme of life at 39, it really wasn’t a big deal. They almost broke my ankle in my fight not to go. I limped for days afterwards, but I won. I didn’t wear a dress and I made fun of those who did. I became them for a day. I don’t feel better about that today. I will admit, I felt pretty good that day though. I realize at 17, I also didn’t do myself any favors. Do I justify the abuse I took? No. But I’ve put that abuse in its place. It was 22 years ago and 99% of those people aren’t even in my life today. The only people that know about it are the people reading this. Truthfully, most of those people in my life may not remember the day either.

I still believe in attempting to make the world a better place. It’s why I do what I do now and that is write about a savior that loves me and that he loves you too. It’s why I’m honest about some not so pretty moments in my life because I want to be real and human with all of you. I’m saved, but only by a grace that forgave me laughing at boys in dresses. I’ve been taught to forgive and forget. As you read, the forgiving is much easier than the forgetting. God tells us in Psalms that he takes our sins and throws them as far as the east is from the west. I’m glad his memory is farther and longer than mine and he can still forgive the dumb things I do every day. It’s why I love him. He’s so much more forgiving than I’ll ever be. I’m just grateful for the example.

In the next edition, I’ll talk about the humbling journey that brought me to that inner peace.

I love you guys!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wayne, You're In Better Hands Now


I got a call yesterday from my dad. It’s unusual. My dad and I normally talk only on Sundays, so I knew something really good or something really bad happened. I could tell he was upset. He found on Friday morning from his brother Richard (I know him as uncle Butchie) telling him that his younger brother Wayne had died. We talked for several minutes about how Wayne was really the good one of the family of 12. He didn’t drink or smoke, was a devout Christian and had been the one that helped take care of his mother in her final years.

My dad is normally not a shakeable guy, but I knew something was really bothering him. Other members of his family had passed and he took it as water off a duck’s back, or at least seemingly. I finally asked what was bothering him so much about Wayne. He told me that I reminded him a lot of his younger brother. He sees that I try to live closer to Wayne than to him. My dad has had his own troubles, but he is being worked on in his later years.

I was impressed that he saw the comparison, but the real disappointing thing is that I never met the man. I’ve only been lucky enough to meet a couple members of my dad’s side of the family. The things I learned about Wayne I learned yesterday. We are common in being diabetic and we are common in having struggles in our lives that turned us to Jesus. Wayne had a tough time dealing with his mother’s death and his wife left him over it. He went on as a single man and never remarried. He kept the faith and loved people. What it came down to in the end it seems, that he died of a broken heart.

From my father’s conversation, I would really have liked to have met Wayne. It sounds as if we might have been friends. But it made me think of how much of my dad’s side of the family I’ve missed out on since dad decided to leave at age 3 and seemingly never look back until my adulthood. I’m trying to catch up. I have three half sisters that I have never met. The twins, Stephanie and Christie, would be 36 or 37 now. I know Christie was in Arizona, the last I heard of her in the late nineties and Stephanie and my youngest sibling Ember, were rumored to be in Oregon. That was in 1992. Earlier this year, I thought I had found them. A man in Oregon told me that he knew them and that they were interested in meeting me. Nothing materialized and I was disappointed. But it does make me wonder.

Back to uncle Wayne. I feel bad that life was tough for him in those final years. I can’t imagine losing my wife in later years and living alone. It always happens to one spouse or the other though. I can’t wait to see him in heaven though. Revelation tells us that Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes on the day of judgement. Don’t misunderstand me though. I know those tears will be wiped because of seeing the people that we could’ve potentially saved and did not. However, I think there will be a whole lot of other tears of joy that Jesus will let us handle. Those will be from seeing loved ones in heaven and knowing that we will walk together in eternity. In the meantime Wayne, I do know one thing. You’re in better hands walking next to a Savior that loves you. I know that you are walking with other relatives that went on before you. I know that you’re probably sharing stories right now with my mom’s parents about a little boy that your big brother says lives a little like you in the present. Just be careful not to buy everything they tell you.

I love you guys!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Do you know where The Door is?

The Door

In a world that's lost direction
In a time that's so unsure
I was longing for a refuge
A place my heart could be secure
But, every day would end just like the one before
Until someone took me by the hand
And led me to the door

And the door is always open
For all who will come in
Though the path is sometimes hidden
With the darkness caused by sin
And though countless lives have found their way
There's still so many more now it's clear what I'm
on this earth for
To stand here and help them find the door

For every heart that aches for comfort
For every child who longs for love
For lonely nights that last forever
For peaceful days not long enough
For everyone who wonders what they're living for
Got to be someone who cares enough
To lead them to the door

Lord help me be the one today
To clearly point the way
Everything they're looking for
Is just inside the door

For those of you who have seen the pictures on the page, they are mostly of me, my wife and kids. When I first started working on this ministry a couple months ago, I argued with myself and some of the people who are part of my accountability team that I didn’t want pictures or even my name mentioned with the project. Why you ask? Because it’s not my name that I worry about as you read my thoughts. Sure, I share some nice stories of my life, but I am only a messenger.

The name that really matters of course is Jesus. I thought about putting pictures of Him everywhere, but I also wanted the music that I use as part of this site to have an influence without being overtly Christian. Slightly sneaky, I know, but I tend to believe that music touches the hearts of people and helps them find their way toward Him.

It did in my own story. My friend Alvin (one of the members of the accountability team), started helping me toward Christ after I almost died in 1992. He started taking me to concerts. He knew that part of me was seeking and that part of me was just happy to be alive. The first concert he ever took me to was in November of 1993. I saw Pray For Rain (later known as PFR), Cindy Morgan and Petra. Every chance he got, he introduced me to more music since I liked some of the softer stuff. He led me to Point of Grace, Rebecca St James and the artist for this video, Al Denson. I’ll talk more about the video later.

On April 1, 1994, I was coming to a break point in my life and he invited me to see Audio Adrenaline and DC Talk. Admittedly at the time, I was not crazy about AA (they have become one of my favorite groups though) and I was half asleep when DC Talk started. Have you ever had a holy shake? I think I did that night. During Jesus Is Still Alright, I was woke up out of my chair in the balcony and started getting into the concert. But the end of the concert was what became important. Toby, Mike and Kevin shared part of their testimonies and the emphasis was simple; God loved me. That’s right. He loved the guy who almost died of depression and loneliness in 1992. He loved the guy that came out of the diabetic coma and wanted him to become His friend. He loved the guy who fell asleep at a rocking, rapping show. I went home that night in the final days of a decision.

Five days later, I ended up at a church in central West Virginia. Invited by two of my neighbors, I went. I ran into a man that had influence in my life in junior high, even though I scoffed at his religion during that year that he taught my home room in 1982. That night, Al Lanzy came to tell me that my great aunt was back in the hospital and that I needed to leave church and go there. But before I left, he handed me some papers. The one I read became the most important. It led me into the book of John. John shared the life of Jesus and that he loved us so much that he gave his life so that I might live eternally. At 11:30 that night, I prayed that Jesus take what was left of a 24 year old man that had thrown two careers away (one as a teacher and one as a sports journalist) and lead him into what he wanted. I will tell you entering that doorway has taken me on a wild ride through a lot of territory. Fourteen and a half years later I can tell you that it’s been worth the ride.

Toby Mac writes a song on his Welcome to Diverse City CD called Stories. Yes, we all have one. Good, bad, sad and maybe a little ugly. For Christians, every story leads to a doorway of accepting Christ. However, it’s not us that is knocking. Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” The more important verse is the verse before that, verse 19. “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”

At that doorway, our lives change forever. When we accept, He steps into our lives to begin the process of making us more like him. The process never stops, at least while we’re here on Earth. People might tell you they’ve arrived, but they’re wrong. If God told us everything that we did wrong on the day we accepted him, we’d never make it. We’d turn around from the door and walk away. Thankfully, he is patient with us. If you need to know how patient, read the Love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. Jesus is love so everything that it says about love, you can count on Jesus for it.

If you’ve come through the door and feel like you still aren’t there yet in your walk with Christ, it’s OK. He’s still working on us. Yeah, me too. I’ll never sit here and tell you I understand it all. I just know one thing. Keep walking with Jesus.

If you don’t know him, find a friend that does. If you don’t have friends, then visit a local church. Most churches have at least one person that will come up to you and say hi and introduce themselves. If someone helps you to that relationship, let someone in your life know. I’d love you to share it with me and my readers, but do that only if feel passionate to do so. God will know and that’s what matters. Over the next week, I’ll add a few websites that you can go to as well. I want you to have every opportunity to know the Savior that I do.

Finally, I’ll say this. I want you to be encouraged. We’re all in this walk of life together. If you’ve come here for a friend, you have one in me. Thanks for coming in and reading. I hope that every time I find a song and the words I type that go along with it are an encouragement to you.

I love you guys!