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Friday, October 23, 2009

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

I was at Sam's on Tuesday and passed by the book, The Shack. A hundred friends have told me to read it but I simply ignored their pleading. I was headed for a 200 pack of Mach III razors and since I was about to drop $150 on keeping my face smooth, I thought I could spend $10 on a book. And this is where it gets interesting.

Last Sunday a friend of mine invited me to speak at his church. The Path is a new church plant by the Dyer Baptist Association. The building was donated, or abandon, by the former members. The church literally died. As Jason took me on a tour he pointed to books on the shelf, diapers in the pantry, and coffee creamer on the table. It was as if the people had disappeared and left a fully furnished building.

I started my message like I always do, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst (I started crying). But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life (crying harder). Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." I could have stopped right there but I had something else to tell them.

I spent the next fifteen minutes telling them I am man who is prone to wander, a man who needs spiritual discipline to keeps the wheels on, a man who struggles with loving God and loving people. I told them how I am working toward defining my life by my love for God and my love for people, and how I hope that this is what defines their new church start up. I told them the paneling on the walls and the burgundy carpet to some may look like the sanctuary needs an update but to me they could choose to preserve it allowing it to serve as a testimony that they have decided to use their finances for more important things. I asked them to pray for me and I would pray for them. I said, "I'm not sure who needs it most, probably me."

I thought a lot about that empty church later that afternoon. The church decor reminded me of my younger years at Madison Baptist and the people who loved me growing up. I thought about how people disappear and I thought about how our love for God and sinners disappears even when the people stick around. I'm sure some of the members died, some of the members left for the fancier church across town, and eventually one Sunday two people were sitting there looking at each other. But it was here, at The Path, I felt God more with 20 people than I have I have felt in a very long time. God was there, in the middle of paneling and burgundy carpet.

I've been struggling to finish my new book because frankly I've been needing a jolt of God, and Sunday prepared the soil of my heart for some very dear time with God this week when I read The Shack.

Earlier, when I was checking out at Sam's, I noticed a woman buying tons of canned vegetables. She had a cute little girl with her. I looked over at the little girl and asked, "Do you eat your vegetables?" She smiled at me and shuffled her feet. Her mother replied, "We're getting ready to make stew." After our exchange the girl kept watching me and smiling. I told her bye and she waved. I love kids.

After stopping by the Jackson store and Ja Ja's on Tuesday, I started reading on my drive home to Dyersburg. I know...stupid to read while driving. I am a multi-tasker, can't help it! Anyway, I read eighty pages, and cried three times. The book is about a guy who has an encounter with God, about a guy whose daughter has been brutally murdered by a serial killer named the Lady Bug Killer, about a guy who has a lot of questions for God. The book is amazing.

The problem with reading it for me was every time I read something about the girl's abduction and murder, I immediately thought about the little girl at Sam's. Her face was stuck in my head and it ripped my heart out to think about her being that girl. Once you read it, you'll understand why I was an emotional wreck at the end of it.

There are so many things I liked about the book but one quote stuck in my head, "You cannot produce trust just like you cannot 'do' humility. It either is, or is not. Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved. Because you do not know that I love you, you cannot trust me."

I struggle with trusting God. There I said it even if it is embarrassing. I've always thought of trusting God as a component of my spiritual disciplines, as a result of my effort in forcing myself to be obedient, kind of like eating my vegetables. For example when I tithe I often do it to impress others and impress God, not necessarily out of love for God as a cheerful giver. It just hit me like a ton of rocks that trust is the fruit of the fact I know God loves me. And once I thought about it, I have always been more obedient when I have felt loved, not when I have been motivated by guilt or judgment.

The interesting thing is this removed the obstacle blocking my heart and now I am finishing my next book. When I write, I am not writing to tell people what I have experienced, rather I write to tell people what I am experiencing. I am a work in progress, a soul under construction, if you follow me for any length of time you will learn to wear a hard hat.

I went to Sam's to get supplies for the stores; a smoother face; and I confess, ten pounds of Whatchamacallits. I got the sweet gift of a child's smile, a blessing in a book, and inspiration to trust God more...because he loves me...and you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

THE DEVIL DRIVES A SALT TRUCK

Chapter 11 from The Chicken Whisperer

I can’t really talk about growing up without talking about snow days. Snow days were God’s way of saving me from the monotony of math and his way of punishing my mother for hiding Oreos in the freezer. For me, these snow days were a welcomed reprieve from sitting still, sitting up straight, and breathing chalk dust. For my mother, these snow days were a dreaded refresher course on what it felt like to be a monkey trying to survive a plunge into a river of piranhas. However, for my father, these snow days were a seasonal sacrament that reconnected his heart with his spirit of survival.

Snow days resulted from two types of precipitation: snow and ice. While snow presented its own set of problems, ice had the power to paralyze a town. And that is exactly what happened in 1976.

When I was six years old a major ice storm shut down our school system for five days when falling trees cut power throughout the county. Iced in, we spent the daylight hours sliding down hills and watching icicles grow. Without power, we spent the nighttime in the dark huddled around our fireplace reminiscing about noodles and barbequed rabbit. After four days without power, our hunger got the best of us and my mother set about cooking a pot of chili in the fireplace. Starving, we patiently watched my mother stir the steaming chili for four hours while we munched on crackers in anticipation of the feast to follow. At the precise moment the chili was almost finished there was a sudden shift in the logs and my mother’s attempt at saving it sent a ball of soot and ash flying into our dinner. It felt like I was watching my dog get run over. Indeed the ash was fatal. We threw it out and snacked on potted meat and pickles. I think I remember crying about it.

Seeing how difficult is was to cook in a fireplace, Timex eventually invested in a wood-stove to ensure his family would stay warm and not go hungry. His memories of frost on the rafters during his own childhood motivated him to often run the wood stove wide open achieving an ambient temperature of ninety. Sometimes my sister’s couldn’t sit in the den because it melted their makeup. Now that he is older, Timex enjoys keeping it hot enough to melt the M&Ms in the candy dish but cool enough to avoid my mother’s fuzzy housecoat spontaneously combusting. It does smoke at times.

Although unlikely, I would love to see my parents retire to Florida, buy a wonderful condo on the beach, look around, and hear my father ask, “Where’s the wood stove? Quarter of million and no wood stove!” I guarantee my dad could learn how to burn pineapple trees and clams in a wood-stove. He’s a genius.

Timex believes the art of surviving in the winter involves staying warm and having a plentiful supply of pecans to shell. Shelling a pecan is like cracking a safe to get a penny. Timex likes pennies. He has a light in his eyes when winter intrudes and he sits in his living room, fire roaring, socks steaming, shells flying, and Paul Harvey talking. He looks like a famished but happy Santa.

When I was child, Timex prepared for our winter survival by cutting enough firewood to heat the Whitehouse and by loading the 1972 green Dodge with cinder blocks for traction. The woodcutting consumed my Saturdays for about two months in the Fall but I didn’t mind being serenaded by a chainsaw and anointed with sawdust because I wanted to be a lumberjack. But before I could throw a hatchet into a tree I had to learn to split firewood with an axe. I broke a dozen wooden handles trying. Eventually Timex got tired of my miscues and welded a metal handle to my axe head. After that, a miscue was like hitting an iron pole with an aluminum baseball bat. At first it felt like I was getting electrocuted and then it felt like someone was sticking needles between my fingers. As numbness ensued, a high pitch ring developed in my ears while my eyes vibrated in their socket. It was motivation to learn to hit my target. Sometimes the way a father affirms his son is by trusting him to do something dangerous but important. At the time it felt like I was in charge of the fort and there were about a million Indians. When he handed me that metal axe handle it was as if he was saying, “Son, I’ll be gone for a long time and it’s going to be a hard winter. I may not make it back in time but I know it will be ok because I am leaving you here.” We never ran out of wood in the winter and now I can slice a tomato with an axe.

While my father showed his love by giving me an axe with a metal handle, God showed his love to me by giving me a long hard winter. My favorite thing to do in the winter was eat supper. My second favorite thing to do was watch the weather forecast for hints of impending icy doom. All I needed was a ten percent chance of snow within a one hundred mile radius and immediately I would start selling the idea of the storm of century to my family, friends, and anybody who would listen. With the bible verse, “With faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain,” I tried to catapult the small chance forward by begging God on my knees and promising I would serve in his Kingdom. I had no idea He would hold me to it.

With snow in the forecast it was difficult to fall asleep. It felt like Christmas Eve, like I was waiting on Santa to come and leave me presents. I wrestled all through the night, in part because my mother made me wear a t-shirt which I hated, and in part because I was expecting a miracle. My dreams took me inside snow globes to find myself pleasantly trapped and munching on a gingerbread house. My nightmares took me inside greenhouses where I prayed with Frosty the Snowman as he melted in my arms. Shortly after I would wake up sweating in that #$%! T-shirt!

Early the next morning, tired from my dreams and wet from my nightmares, I would crawl out of my bed, wipe my eyes, and rub the condensation off the windows to squint and see a world of white. There, peering through my portal, I would sometimes cry because I believed God was listening.

The next thirty minutes were spent with my two sisters huddled not around the fireplace but rather around the radio. We were simply waiting to hear, “Madison County schools will be closed today.” Those seven words sounded like holy scripture to me and I was aware they were God breathed. After a few victory laps around the house, we were busy layering up with clothes and pairs of rubber boots. I dashed outside as if I was running to meet my bride on my wedding day.

Outside, I was greeted by a completely new landscape. One good thing about snow was it covered all the junk in our yard and made even the most dilapidated shed fit for a fairy tale. I always believed if tax assessments were done on snow days, no one could afford the payment. It was simply the best the world will ever look and the best I thought God could do. Yet with all there was to see, my fondest memory of a snow day was the silence. I think the silence magnified the beauty much like a deaf person has a better sense of sight. The absence of sound helped me listen to my spirit. It renewed me and reminded me there was a heaven and a God who loved children.

The mornings were spent sledding, building snowmen, and constructing forts. The occasional sting of a random snowball to the face would interrupt an otherwise perfect time that ended with hot stew and a glowing red wood-stove. It was after lunch when all #$%! broke loose.

Just as we would be preparing for another round of throwing snowballs, the faint sound of the salt truck would freeze us in place with the look of horror on our face. It reminded me of an old movie where the children are at play when the air raid sirens go off warning that there are warplanes approaching and everyone screams and runs for the bomb shelter. With tears in our eyes, we simply watched the county truck drive toward us and throw salt on God’s perfection. I was never brave enough to look, but I am certain the driver had horns and red tail. The devil drove a salt truck. There were enough of us that we could have ambushed the truck and set it on fire but that would have just aided the melting. If the county was really concerned about safety and kids they would have sent an ice cream truck with a really loud bell.

These snow days, these answers to my prayers, these silent white miracles, were the highlight of my childhood. They brought my family together, simplified our lives, and huddled us around a wood-stove. Without electricity neighbors checked on neighbors, workers stayed home, and conversations and memories came out of the dark. Impeding doom turned out to be a blessing.

One obstacle I know I face is the fact that I am in such a hurry. When it snows I am busy at the coffee shop rather than spending time around the fire eating potted meat and pickles. My life is filled to the brim with business, cleaning, and yard maintenance. My house is beautiful and my life is full but my heart is empty. I sit in important meetings craving stimulating conversation. I sit stoic in church dying for laughter and joy. I sit at home with the TV. on and the radio playing but I sit in silence. My knowledge of real, meaningful conversation is fading into the future. Now I text instead of talk, email instead of entertain, and drive thru instead of sit down. If I am lucky a cold icy disaster will descend upon me and rescue me from my busy life. If I am brave I’ll attack the salt truck. If I am smart I’ll ask God to help.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A SUCCESSFUL FAILURE

Our mission was called a successful failure, in that we returned safely but never made it to the moon. In the following months it was determined that a damaged coil built inside the oxygen tank sparked during our cryo stir and caused the explosion that crippled the Odyssey. It was a minor defect that occurred two years before I was even named the flight's commander. And as for me, the seven extraordinary days of Apollo 13 were my last in space…I watched other men walk on the moon and return safely all from the confines of Mission Control and our house in Houston. I sometimes catch myself looking up at the moon remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the moon and wonder, when will we be going back? And who will that be?

…from the movie Apollo 13


CHAPTER 7 FROM THE CHICKEN WHISPERER


My mom, Joan of Arc, is a northern girl married to a southern man, Timex. It would be very funny to say their marriage was like a tiny version of the civil war but it wasn’t. I can only remember a couple of fights, and one of those put all of us in sleeping bags.


Camping was a compromise between my father and mother after my dad had spent a few too many evenings hitting a softball and was confronted about spending more time with the family. The man worked two hundred hours a week. A weekend of camping helped him relax as much as a weekend of re-roofing the house.


Camping is where you leave the comforts of home (television & toilet paper) to rediscover how a battery operated radio works and how pine cones have multiple uses. Sort of what the pilgrims did, except they did it to escape persecution and taxes. They also almost all died the first winter (hint, hint).


Camping, in spite of its reputation, has several advantages. First, it increases your appreciation of food (takes hours to cook) and cold soda (because the sun is usually hotter than Hades). Second, it gives you a fond affection of shelter, even if it is a musty, damp tent (anything to get away from the mosquitoes). Third it teaches you to honor warnings about flammable clothing (never wear a sweater around a campfire, or if you do, just speed up the inevitable and soak it in gasoline).


To understand camping you divide it into two parts - what the adults do and what the kids do. The adults spend all week planning for the weekend (they usually forget something important like ketchup). Kids spend all week dreaming about the weekend. Upon arrival, adults construct a small city of canvas. Kids suffer a hearing loss and run towards water. Adults start the fire. Kids play in the fire. Adults cook the meals. Kids eat the meals. Adults apply first-aid. Kids get hurt. It’s a beautiful relationship.


Ninety percent of my family’s camping weekends simply involved loading the clan into a 1971 Dodge van and driving a short two miles through our farm to the family lake. Immediately Chris and I would jump out and start making a fort out of pine needles while Terry would start walking home.


A golden rule for Terry was she had to go. She could leave when she wanted to, but she had to go. It was family time. Of course she started walking home as soon as we got there. And, believe it or not, she walked the two miles home on a dirt road reading a Harlequin Romance novel. I guess “Scarlett” thought she was too good to bunk with us wretched farm hands.


Life ran in reverse at the lake. My dad did the cooking. I didn’t have to fight over the bathroom, which turned out to be a makeshift outhouse. There was no bedtime, no grass to mow, and rarely did I have to brush my teeth. It was a place for rowing a boat, sinking a line, skipping a rock, lighting a fire, roasting a marshmallow, and catching fireflies. It was the way father Abraham lived.


Two camping trips were the hallmark of our family’s experience in the wilderness: Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch and Walt Disney Land.


Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch had everything a kid could ask for: a creek, a pool, a magic show, and a Frostie Root Beer soda machine. The cans were so cold if you licked your hand the cans would stick to your flesh. For several summers this was our destination of choice. My dad even went to the trouble of building a camping trailer out of plywood to store our gear in trying to mimic an aluminum pop-up trailer. Loaded with a week of supplies, it put our little white van to the test. As a matter of fact, during our first attempt to climb the hill at the entrance to Loretta Lynn’s, the clutch overheated and filled the interior with smoke. Everybody probably thought we were a bunch of hippie’s smoking weed. We actually didn’t make it up the hill and had to get a little help from a ranch hand and a tractor. I wasn’t embarrassed. I was just glad the Pringles didn’t burn up.


While my dad started adjusting the clutch and my mother got busy setting things up for our week of fun, I’d put on what I would wear for the entire week- a pair of swim trunks. I’d run down to the creek and dive into the icy water where I lived for seven days. I got out of the water to roast hot dogs, eat Oreos, and drink Frostie root beer. It was a trial run of Heaven.


We really didn’t do anything the whole week except catch a few camp shows at night. A guy named Ricky Rebel would sing a couple of songs and then a magician named Phewy Lewy would saw someone in half or pull a rabbit out of his hat. I grew up raising rabbits and wasn’t too impressed with the rabbit trick. I could put two rabbits in a cage and show you 200 a week later. I’d also seen my father saw off his own body parts and just tape them back on.


On the hill, along with the camp show, were the rich people with their fancy Airstream campers (all aluminum luxurious RV’s built to last a lifetime) hooked up with electricity, running water and sewage. Literally their RV’s were a little nicer than my house. Ok, I’m kidding…they were a lot nicer than my house. My dad, however, is a genius who can build anything. He built our house… by himself. Building a house requires several people, unless you’re Timex. Imagine if one person had built the great pyramids, they might be a little less than perfect. So our house has imperfections but is unique and belongs in a museum.


The fact he had built a house gave him the courage to build his own Airstream. He went out and found a couple of old axels, took a welder and made a trailer. He then took a camper that fits in the bed of a truck and bolted it to the trailer. Then he took plywood and built a shell around it. To authenticate the Airstream look he painted it with silver roof paint. We took the invention to Florida.


We pulled the six thousand pound contraption with a 1972 green Dodge pickup with no air and an AM radio. I think we got about four miles per gallon while we drove 45mph for thirty hours to get to our first KOA stop in Tallahassee. My two sisters and I rode in the back of the truck, blinded by the sun glaring off the silver paint of the camper in tow, all the way to Florida. We turned a few heads in 1983.


We did the whole Florida thing. We went to the beach and drank some salt water and ate some sand. After almost drowning, we put a few seashells for souvenirs in a zip lock bag for later (should have never opened it when I got back). We drank some fresh orange juice at McDonald’s and ate some fresh seafood at Long John Silvers. We went to Walt Disney Land and discovered Mickey Mouse can’t talk.


We limped back home because the camper started having axel trouble and the truck started having engine trouble. The truck pulling the camper was the equivalent of a remote control car trying to pull a diesel truck (with the brakes on). The only thing worse than riding in the back of a truck across a hot Florida highway is riding in the back of a truck that is not moving. Like Apollo 13 we began to wonder if we would make it back home. This was the critical moment. Would the homemade axel hold? Would the truck engine survive the intense heat of the July sun? Would the family dehydrate before re-entry? We made it back and celebrated by eating a steak and ravaging the salad bar at Western Sizzlin.


A successful failure, you look at life and a lot of things don’t work out as planned. But in those moments of challenge we forge some of our finest memories. A family who suffers together, stays together. We were tested and we all passed. We learned often what brings us comfort in the midst of discomfort is the trust we have in those around us. It is our decision whether we stay or leave, just like it was Terry’s. If I were me again, I’d climb back into that truck and do it again, not only because in some weird way it was fun but also because in some weird way it was fundamental to my story.


Our family time was called a successful failure in that we returned home but never perfected the art of traveling around the country in our homemade Airstream. In the following years I have determined our limited resources prevented us from achieving our goal of becoming professionals. It was beyond our control and impacted most of my childhood, in a positive fashion. As for me, these early years of camping were not my last… I have continued to confront the elements and assume the challenges nature presents. I sometimes catch myself staring into a campfire and remembering my changes of fortune on our family trips, thinking about the parents who worked so hard to take me there. I look at the fire and wonder, will I continue to come back? And who will I bring with me?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

TIMEX- THE SCREW HARVESTER

I was pushing 200lbs of groceries out of Sam's the other day when I walked by a shiny new black Ford Zephyr. Interested, I peered through the smoked glass to check out if it had a radio. The Zephyr has come a long way since 1979.

Thirty years ago I was six feet tall and in sixth grade. I was in love with my teacher. Making perfect grades was just as much about impressing her as it was about impressing my parents. Simmer down, she was single, and we were the same height.

One day I found out my mother was picking me up at school and I was relieved just to know I wasn't riding the bus. The bus was a difficult place when your tall and awkward. It felt like riding in a tank with a bunch of rabid squirrels. And I was the nut.

I couldn't believe my eyes when my mother pulled up in a brand new baby blue Ford Zephyr. The fact that my parents would spring for a new car was a sign of hope that they were slowly adjusting to the twentieth century. Beaming from ear to ear, I quickly assumed my position in the back seat and started memorizing the dash- big slick gauges, speed control, air conditioning, a rad.... where's the RADIO! My dad opted out of the radio to save money!

It felt like someone gave me a bunch of french fries with no ketchup. Kids today probably would think having no radio is like opting out of the steering wheel. "Oh,give me a silver Hummer with chrome rims but lets knock off the steering wheel to keep it under $50,000." My dad was frugal, he understood the meaning of sacrifice, and he believed in torturing his children.

Six years later, I put the baby blue Zephyr on its side in a steep ditch. With no radio, I left for high school one morning with a portable five inch television/radio combo. Not only could I listen to music but I could also watch Good Morning America. Well, while I was trying to watch the weather I ran off the road, and of course I blamed it on a non-existent drunk driver. Sorry Mom and Dad.

It's weird that you can now buy a car with a television already in it. A friend of mine and I tried to pioneer this concept way back in 1989. I discovered the warning on the back of an old t.v. picture tube that says "risk of electrical shock or death" is no joke. I had decided we could pull the tube out of a television, cut all the wires going to the tube, put the bulk of the t.v. in the trunk, extend the wires, and mount the screen in the dash of my 1984 Dodge convertible. I'd be the only kid in town that was cruising around watching the Waltons. It was a great idea until, while I was cutting the wires, a blue flame wrapped around my arm and punched me in the face like Mike Tyson. Capacitors are real folks. Leave them alone! My arm was numb for four hours.

So I was obviously worried last year when my Dad bought a 2008 Dodge Ram pickup. I just knew it wouldn't have floor mats, a tailgate, or a radio. It wouldn't have been a shock if it didn't even have a truck bed, but to my surprise it had all of these annndddd a CD player. He even got it fixed when he ran a mailbox down the side of it three weeks later. Don't tell me people never change.

A few months ago the miracle I was talking about in an earlier blog involved my father helping me navigate the difficult waters of the Great Recession by allowing me to use his farm and house as collateral. Let's just say he affirmed me financially. I never saw it coming. Don't tell me people never change.

I love my frugal father. The man who harvests screws before discarding appliances has a mystique about him. He is legendary in his own right. The man builds furniture from trees. He still burns wood in a stove. He refuses medical care and he is Baptist. He cleans his ears with a pocket knife. He believes helping his neighbor means growing an extra garden and killing Blue Jays with a pellet gun. And by the way, his nickname is Frog. He got it from the Jackson Fire Department because of his deep voice while dispatching.

I have many memories of Frog, who I call Timex because of his ability to escape death and disregard injury. He is a man of few words. We have thirty years left together if he lives to be 105. Our time is short...and I must unravel the mystery of the man who is my father. I must go deeper into the forest to find the spring. The winter is coming and laughter by itself will not keep me warm. I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

KING KONG LEFT SOMETHING IN MY YARD

One of my morning rituals is to take a quick peak at what is new on You Tube. Typically I scan through the favorited or feature videos. This morning a featured video was the birth of an elephant named Riski. In spite of the fact I grew up on a dairy farm, the next five minutes were a roller coaster of emotion as I watched an intense struggle for life in the middle of an intense puddle of fluids. Woke me up better than a cup of coffee. Ruined my breakfast.

Hungry but queasy, I walked outside to observe my pair of Ginkgo trees in the front yard, one male and one female. The female Ginkgo trees have a reputation for smelly fruit, a mix between rotten eggs and dog feces. And this year is a boomer crop. I read in the news that several cities are removing the trees from their parks and sidewalks because of the foul fruit. I also recently found out that 1 in 100 male trees goes through a metamorphosis and also produces the smelly fruit. Well I just figured out I won the lottery: both my trees have a bumper crop of rotten eggs!

Ginkgoes were originally planted because their wonderful green fanned shaped leaves turn bright yellow in the Fall. These bright leaves typically all fall off within about a 48 hour period, leaving behind a fantastic yellow skirt. It is almost as if someone shoots the tree and, like a cartoon cat getting hit by a cannon ball, it reveals it's bones. I think I might sit on the porch this year and wait for the gun to go off. At least the sight of the majestic yellow frenzy might compensate for my yard smelling like King Kong took a squat.



Yet this is were it gets serious. Within this Ginkgo dilemma is a lesson for life: hard things often lead to beautiful things. Blessed are they that mourn for they will be comforted. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs' is the Kingdom of Heaven.

I have a heart for the poor because four years ago I had 37 cents to my name. I am now far from wealthy but I fell asleep last night in a king size bed staring at an electric fireplace. I have a heart for the homeless because four years ago I was homeless. My stint at homelessness involved me intruding on my parents or other friends for a place to sleep for about six months while transitioning from ministry. While working part-time as a barista at Java Cafe (the real beginning of my dream of Green Frog Coffee) I slept on a mattress on the floor in a garage of a house for sale. I remember several nights in the garage wondering where my life was going and at the same time being thankful for what God was teaching me. It was during that time that I finished my book Chainsaw Preacher.

Two recent events involving customers prompted me to write this post. One was a homeless couple simply seeking a place to land in between what were probably difficult nights. The gentlemen appeared to be quite a few years older than his younger pregnant wife and they were wrapped in mystery. They had been frequenting the shop for a few weeks always scanning the paper for affordable housing while sipping on a dark roast coffee. Yesterday this gentlemen began thumbing through my book and started asking me questions. The first question was, "Is Bartholomew still alive?" in reference to a cat I mention. I said, "No. Steve accidentally ran over him two weeks after the book came out." After reading a few more pages he asked if I had an old copy laying around that he could borrow. I told him to take a new one. Ten minutes later he told me gave his life to Lord 13 years ago and just needed to get back on track. Up until this moment they had just been a couple of people taking up a little too much couch for a little too long but after our short conversation I guess you can say- the leaves turned yellow.

Another event happened on Saturday when I was in Jackson outside cleaning off tables and was about to throw away a fourth of a Coke someone had left behind. A gentleman in a long gray beard dressed in a trench coat and dirty jeans approached me and said, "May I have that?" I paused and handed it to him and came inside. A very attractive woman dressed to attend a wedding observed the exchange and proceeded to remind me to wash my hands because of the threat of swine flu. I assumed she was concerned with the man being unclean. I tried to explain to her how we don't let beggars bother customers but admit I was distracted with her perfect face being highlighted by a small smear of chocolate from her fried pie (nobody's perfect). It was an incredible contrast: a thirsty beggar cherishing a swig of Coke and a pretty woman concerned about my safety while helping a thirsty beggar. I left thinking about how while some struggle for life the rest of us sometimes struggle with watching them struggle.

I guess what I am trying to say is don't let the smell fool you. I think life teaches us more often than not that what we see is not always what we get. The smelly Ginkgo turns into Cinderella. Too often we believe that Christians have nice homes and drive nice cars and that financial blessing is a promise to those who "truly" follow God. We forget that Joseph and Mary were once the same as the pregnant couple seeking shelter (perhaps minus a few tattoos). We forget that their Son, our Savior, was also homeless, also hungry, and also thirsty. We expect the Kingdom to be clean and full of pretty people. I have the feeling the Kingdom might actually be clean and full of pretty people but I wouldn't be surprised if it is actually our perspective that has changed and not the people we hate to love who might be exactly the same... and I imagine we'll be fascinated by their yellow skirts.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

FRANTIC MOM DEMANDS COFFEE FOR DAUGHTER IN LABOR

I couldn't resist the temptation to share this. This morning a frantic mother bolted into Java and said, "My daughter is in labor and needs a white mocha!" I looked and here and asked, "Do you need decaf" She said,"No, regular. And make it two!"

I'm not the father of the child but I am beaming with pride because the first smell that child may encounter will be the smell of Green Frog coffee in the delivery room. I always talk about how we want to be a part of people's lives but I never thought we would get this intimate. I couldn't help but smile and wish her well on the birth of her grand daughter.

An hour later I went to Ja Ja's and found Flora plopped down dead center of our walkway into the store. Flora is a long haired white dog that redefines friendly. Now this is something you don't see at Starbucks. I spent some time giving her attention and went around back and tested our new tire swing. I was tempted to jump out in midair like I did when I was about six but realized one small misjudgment would put be in the hospital and I'm not so sure anyone would bring me a white mocha.

Some of you may have heard that Tennessee Crossroads is coming to Ja Ja's to film a story next Thursday, Oct 8th. I hope they capture the Flora and tire swing atmosphere. And I hope you make time to discover this hidden treasure on HWY 412 for yourself. We're now open at 7am and close at 5pm.

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