3, 2, 1, You’re It!

It was about 9:30 at night when my wife looked out the window as I backed into the driveway. She was shaking her head when I walked in the front door. I told her, “ You go to bed. I need to sit and pray for a while”. Without a word, she went off to bed.

My friend Jack and I had many “adventures” together, mostly because the word “impossible” was not in his vocabulary. We served in Appalachia Service Project (ASP) work missions for a few years, and helped them out in other ways from time to time. This time, ASP needed trucks to haul materials from their central warehouses to the various work centers throughout the Appalachian region. Jack and I and a couple of representatives from the Project went to a truck auction in Chicago to buy four used trucks that would suit the need and fit the limited budget. We found just what we were looking for in four used U-Haul trucks. Two of them were driven immediately to Johnson City, Tennessee, while we took the remaining two back to Racine, Wisconsin.

The plan was two remove the cargo boxes, and  then drive the two bare framed trucks back south where they would be fitted with flatbeds for hauling lumber and building supplies. Jack had it all figured out. His driver would drive one truck, Jack would drive the other, and I would follow in a chase car to bring us all back home again, about an eleven hundred mile round trip. That was the plan. God chuckled.

First, Jack’s driver quit. On to Plan B. It consisted of Jack and me each driving a truck with one of us towing a car for the return trip. God giggled.

Then, Jack had a work obligation that could not wait. That left me. We had gone from a three man task, to two guys, to one lone ranger; 3, 2, 1, you’re it! Belly laughs were heard in heaven.

We conjured up Plan C. It called for me to drive both trucks to Corbin, Kentucky and leave them at the truck stop. People from ASP would come out the next day and take the trucks from there. Then, from the bus station in Corbin, I could catch a ride back to Racine.

Jack obtained a saddle from somewhere. It’s a thing that allows you to piggyback one truck onto another. The guy who owned the saddle told Jack “If anything goes wrong, you didn’t get that thing from me.” One afternoon, Jack and I removed the truck boxes, installed the saddle, hoisted one truck atop the other with a forklift, and cobbled together some wiring for brake lights on the towed vehicle. I remember Jack drove the rig in circles over rough ground to test the integrity of the saddle.

Not my trucks, but that’s what the rig looked like.

So it was that I came home that night, driving a rig that looked perilously unstable, and told my wife I would be leaving at four AM the next morning. Then I prayed, “Lord, these are your trucks, intended to serve poor people in Appalachia. Please help me get them there safely. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Leaving at four AM would to get me through Chicago before the morning rush, to arrive in Corbin while it was still daylight, and to get there before the next bus departed at about seven PM. I threw a change of clothes and a big crescent wrench into a small bag and headed out the door. These Ford trucks were about twenty years old, and they were made for city driving. Equipped with a V-8 engine and a four-speed manual transmission, the trucks were stripped-down basic vehicles, noisy and under-powered. Pulling out of my driveway, I headed west to the interstate, then took I-94 south toward Chicago.

There were five or six toll stations going around Chicago. After paying the first toll, I pulled off to the side of the road, grabbed the big crescent wrench, and gave each and every nut on the saddle a good tightening twist. After that, I felt better. By now, however, the sun was up. And every time I looked in the rearview mirror all I could see was the big letters D-R-O-F. The backwards Ford name was tilting gently from side-to-side. It was unnerving! Why was that truck tailgating? Oh, yeah, that’s my other truck.

So, other than the roaring of the engine, the spooky mirror image and the heat, it was a nice trip. I did pull into an open weigh station, unsure if it was necessary, but they waved me through. I drove in to a truck stop for fuel, but couldn’t use the big-rig pumps and had to settle for gassing up with the cars and RVs. Later that afternoon, the Corbin exit came into view and I pulled off the interstate and rolled into the truck stop. I found a parking spot way in the back, grabbed my bag and locked up the truck. At the desk inside, I handed the keys to the clerk, and told her about the pickup the next day. Then I asked, “Could you tell me how to get to the Greyhound bus station?” Since I had plenty of time, I planned to walk there. She looked at me and said, “Oh, the bus station is at the next exit off the interstate.” And it was not in walking distance. You could not get there any way except to get back on the interstate. Apparently, Plan C was somewhat flawed. (I think I heard a little chortle from above.)

“Don’t you worry honey,” she said, “I’ll get you a ride.” Then she picked up the mic and announced to one and all, “I got a trucker here who needs a ride south!” She called me a trucker! I felt like I’d just been promoted. Up walked an amiable guy who said he was headed south, and we walked out to his tanker truck and boarded. We traded small talk about the relative merits of conventional cab versus cab-over-engine, and in no time flat we got off at Corbin exit number two and he drove me right up to the bus station. Which was actually a gas station. With a little window on the side of the building labeled “Greyhound”. Which was closed. The guy at the gas station assured me that the window would be open later, and that the bus was due about seven PM.

Across the road was a small diner. I ambled over and ordered the fried chicken which as I recall was mediocre at best. And greasy. For which I suffered on the ensuing ride back to Racine. Just a side note. Corbin is the home of the first Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. That diner I ate in was not his.

The bus came on time. Hot, sweaty, and now, queasy, I found an aisle seat next to (what else?) a very large woman. Neither of us had any desire to experience the other, which worked fine as long as we could maintain the appropriate tilt. But when sleep overtook us, well….

Anyway, this bus was not on the express route. We visited towns with bus stations even smaller than the one we just left. Every last tiny town between Corbin Kentucky and Chicago Illinois! I began to loathe the sound of air brakes – it meant another stop. 

Around the crack of dawn, we pulled in to Chicago, where I had to change buses to get home. During the wait, I tried to wash up and change in the restroom so I’d look and smell a little better. It was a wasted effort. I boarded the bus, and two hours later, it pulled up in front of the Racine bus station. I called my wife and asked her to pick me up. She arrived shortly and I got in the car. She never said a word. I don’t think she was impressed with our plan…..or me.

Nevertheless, the trucks were now in the hands of the Appalachia Service Project. And that summer they were put to work hauling needed building supplies to eager volunteers who applied their skills to make homes “warmer, safer, and drier” for poor folks in Appalachia. Thanks be to God!

Learning To Drive – Part Two

As I left off the story last week, I was sitting in the cab of my friend Jack’s eighteen wheeler, recovering from the embarrassment of selecting reverse gear by mistake. Flashing a sheepish grin at the anxious crowd (which included my daughter, Robin) I found first gear and started down the mountain toward Jonesville, Virginia.

Now I mentioned that this monster truck had a long hood, which is a distinct disadvantage when descending a steep, curving, mountain road. Basically, I could not see exactly where I was going. So I practically stood up in the cab as we crept forward and downward. Reaching the bottom and turning on to a paved highway was a great relief – for a while.

The next challenge was to get through the town without hitting anything. One car in front of me slowed abruptly and I hit the brakes. All the trailer tires grabbed, screeched and smoked. So that’s how air brakes worked! Finally out of town, it was all tranquil until we came up on an old pickup truck moving along at a snail’s pace. The driver waved us by. You’ve got to be kidding! I gulped, caught a lower gear and floored the nine jillion horse engine. Slowly we crept by the pickup and again it was smooth sailing.

Did I mention the Cumberland Gap? The road through it climbs slightly and then plunges down toward Kentucky. On the downhill side I remembered seeing signs somewhere saying “Trucks use low gear!” so I tried to find one. It seems I missed something though, because between moving the little three-position lever on the shift knob. putting in the clutch and moving the shift lever, I found the truck was stuck in neutral. Neutral as in no engine-braking. Going downhill. Fortunately the trailer was empty, so I kept the engine RPMs up to maintain air pressure and feathered the brakes gently, and soon we were on level ground again. I turned to the Pastor and said, “I missed a gear back there.” He replied, “I thought something was wrong, your eyes got kinda big on the way down.”

As we approached Middlesboro, Kentucky, I mentioned that we needed to fuel up the beast. Pastor asked, “What kind of gas station are you looking for?” “ A big one” I replied. After spying one with sufficient acreage, I pulled in, fueled up and handed the proprietor a big wad of cash.

Then it was a pleasant drive up highway 25E to Corbin, Kentucky. The team vans were ahead of us, and we caught up with them at a rest stop along I-75. The Pastor decided to give up his seat to one of the high-schoolers. I was never sure if Pastor’s faith had been so sorely tested during that ride that he needed some relief, or if he was so impressed that I didn’t wreck that he figured the kid would be safe. The vans left and were soon out of sight as we made our way north, blissful in the thought that there was nothing but interstate all the way to Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Up ahead, the interstate split. I-64 goes west to Louisville, Kentucky, and Jeffersonville is just north of there over the border. I-75 continues straight north to Cincinnati, Ohio. But a state police car with flashing lights blocked the I-64 lane, forcing us to go north on I-75. Nothing against Cincinnati, but I really wanted to go west where there was a motel room with a soft bed waiting for me. Now, in a car, this would not be a problem. Just find a back road going west; take a scenic detour. But I was driving the beast.

I exited the interstate and found a big parking lot. The kid and I had to do some thinking. We opened up the big road atlas and I told him, “We’re looking for wide roads”. We identified US 460 as a likely route and cautiously made our way west toward Frankfort, hope not to encounter any low overpasses. Eventually, we found our way back to the interstate. I saw the Jeffersonville exit, took it, and quickly realized I was heading right into the city. You see there are two Jeffersonville exits. This was not the one I wanted. So I told the kid we had to turn around. I hung a left hoping to circle a park there, but it was a little tight, with cars parked on the street. At one point, I had the kid get out and guide me as I backed up to get into position to make the turn. 

A few minutes later, as we pulled into the motel parking lot, I saw a large group of people standing there. Some cheered. I think my daughter had tears in her eyes, And there was Jack, eyeing his truck for damage. Glad to see him up and around, we all reunited and headed off for supper and sleep.

The next morning began with a bit of tension. My friend Jack, having been released from the hospital felt he was ready to take back his truck. Our Pastor had other ideas. “Where are you going, Jack?” he asked as Jack was walking toward the truck. Now, Jack was about six-five and had a strong body built for hard work. Pastor was about my height, five-nine or so and with a build better suited for academic pursuits. Would reason prevail? Jack simply muttered a bit, and turned around to find his wife and car.

Pastor seemingly had regained a measure of faith, and decided to ride shotgun with me again. So we convoyed out of the motel parking lot and got on I-65 North.

Once, when we were on a different adventure, Jack told me a joke. “Do you know how a trucker spells relief? C-L-O-S-E-D”, as at the entrance to a truck weigh station, where the potential for legal trouble abounds. Unfortunately, the next sign I saw read “O-P-E-N.” Now I have to point out that by driving the beast I was doing nothing illegal. Stupid maybe, but perfectly legal. I also knew we could not be overweight, since the trailer was empty except for some luggage. Nevertheless, it was with some queasiness that I slowed to enter the scales and subject myself to the scrutiny of law enforcement.

I tried to look like I’d been there before. I slowed to the posted speed and slowed to a stop when the sign flashed “STOP”. Then a voice came from the loudspeaker, “Um, would you back up a bit?” Oh, good, now I’d drawn attention to myself! An officer emerged from the building, and approached the beast. I rolled down the window and he said, “Can I see your log book?” As a private hauler, one who only hauled his own stuff, Jack just kept records in a pocket calendar. He’d shown me how to do it once, so I had written down my start and stop times, locations and mileage. The lawman looked at the calendar and asked, “Don’t you have a real logbook?” At this point the pastor panicked, and he blurted out, “We are on a church mission trip, and we’re on our way home.” The officer replied, “You’re empty now, right?” Then he waved us on.

Relieved and grateful, we moseyed back out onto the interstate and headed for Chicago.  I had driven through the Windy City many times, but I could never get used to the driving style, which is a characteristic of both the Indy 500 and your local Saturday night demolition derby. The death wish is strong. Being from New York, you’d think I wouldn’t be fazed by the traffic, but in the Big Apple, we mostly honked our horns and yelled at each other, while hardly moving at all. In Chicago, I felt I needed a crash helmet.

Our practice as a mission team (we had done this for several years) was to stop at the last oasis (Illinois’ fancy name for rest stop) where the leader would call someone back in Racine to alert them of our arrival in about an hour. That way, anxious parents could rush to the church parking lot and worry until the first van appeared. So we stopped, took a bathroom break, and walked back out. “Give me the keys.” said Jack. I looked up, way up, to where the voice was coming from and said, “Let me finish what I started.” Gulp.

Two male egos were about to ruin a great friendship. Jack graciously gave in, but then insisted on riding shotgun. What little confidence I had built up in the last day and a half wilted under the watchful eyes of “The Boss”. Every shift (remember, there were thirteen forward gears), every movement of throttle or application of the brakes, every glance at the mirrors, every detail being scrutinized by the guy who owned the truck! As we approached the last toll booth, Jack told me to be careful because he’d had an accident right at this very spot when some eager driver cut him off. Then he told me I should downshift. It was agony.

Soon however, we spied the “Welcome to Wisconsin sign, and we were on the home stretch. I flicked on the right turn signal, braked, downshifted and took the Highway 20 exit. A few minutes later, I turned right two more times and drove up the hill to the church. My younger daughter and wife were standing there, and when she saw me, my wife exclaimed “Daddy’s driving!” I turned to Jack and we shook hands, then with one last whoosh of the airbrakes, my journey was over.

This little trip didn’t change the world, but God saw to it that Jack’s truck would get home. TBTG

For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 (CSB)

Learning To Drive – Part One

How many of you know how to drive? Raise your hand. Of course, we know how to drive. It’s not only a necessity in most of the country, but getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage we all looked forward to at a certain age. But wait a minute! Maybe we’ve been driving for years; but what would happen if you or I encountered a completely different driving challenge?

That happened to me once. It was on a Saturday morning in August, 1986, on the side of a mountain in Jonesville Virginia. Now Jonesville is about thirty five miles east of the Cumberland Gap. A crowd of people stood watching as I got behind the wheel and started the engine. My hands were sweating and my heart was pounding a little as I shifted gears and prepared to drive forward down the mountain. As the vehicle began to move, well that’s when I noticed I’d put it into “reverse” by mistake! 

Now most of you raised your hands before. Do you remember what it was like when you first learned to drive? Of course here in the midwest, most kids get a license at sixteen; sometimes earlier if they live on a farm. I was born and raised in New York City. They made us wait a little longer there. In fact, many New Yorkers never learn to drive – unfortunately some of them own taxicabs!

Nevertheless, once the basics are learned, and with a little practice, driving was relatively easy. We rarely even think about it.

In 1986, I was an adult group leader of a high school work team involved in the Appalachia Service Project. There were four teams from our church that year. We brought with us tools and vehicles and collected building supplies. My good friend Jack, donated the use of his eighteen wheeler; a diesel tractor and forty foot enclosed trailer. So we loaded our materials in the semi, and Jack drove it. There was only one problem. One the way down from Racine, Wisconsin to Jonesville, Virginia, Jack became ill. By the time we arrived in Jonesville, he was burning up with fever and in a great deal of pain. He tried rest and aspirin, but by Tuesday it was clear he was getting worse. So that evening, his wife loaded him into their station wagon and hauled him off to Lexington, Kentucky, to the hospital there. I walked over to their car, to say goodbye. Jack rolled down the window, and reached into his wallet for some bills. He handed me three hundred dollars and said: “Please get my truck home.” And then they drove off.

Have you ever felt really lonely? There I stood on the side of a mountain, my best friend was seriously and mysteriously ill, and on his way to a hospital over three hours away, and just below me on the dirt road by the supply barn sat this truck!

Now this was not a new truck. It was a 1975 International, conventional. “Conventional” means it had one of those long hoods, about the length of your average Toyota Prius. It was powered by a nine jillion cubic inch diesel engine. The exhaust stack was the size of the chimney on a small house! You had to climb ladder-like steps just to get into the driver’s seat. It wasn’t an automatic transmission. No, it had a five speed manual transmission and a little lever on the shift knob with three ranges. When these were used in combination, you had thirteen forward gears and two in reverse. There was a chart on the dashboard showing the shift pattern. It looked like the organization chart of a medium sized company, and was about as easy to understand. The brake pedal looked like “Bigfoot’s” foot print. Of course, the brakes were air brakes. The steering wheel was twice the size of the one in my car. And there were guages, little dials all over the dash. Temperatures of the engine, transmission, axles; pressures in the air tank, vacuum; tachometer, fuel (two tanks). The tanks each held 80 gallons of diesel fuel. The driver’s seat was air operated, so you could raise or lower it and ride on a cushion of air. That was so that instead of fracturing your back when you hit a bump, you merely suffered spinal contusions. And behind all this hung a forty foot long, thirteen foot high bright yellow trailer, with a canvas top and barn-like doors in the back.

I knew how to drive, but this was going to be a little different. I had one thing against me and one thing in my favor. Against me was the fact that the day Jack left me in charge of his eighteen-wheeler was Tuesday, and we weren’t leaving until Saturday. After all, there was work to be done, floors to be repaired and ceilings to be sheet-rocked. So I had four days to think about it. The one thing in my favor though, was that I knew exactly where I wanted to go. My destination was Racine, Wisconsin; specifically the north parking lot of Christ Church, United Methodist. I also knew that the trip would take two days and that the distance was about 650 miles. I knew there was to be an intermediate stop in Jeffersonville, Indiana; at a Days Inn. And I knew which highways would take me there.

If ever there was a time for prayer, that Saturday morning was it. “Lord, I know Jack’s name is on the side of this truck, but it’s really Your truck. Help me to get it home without wrecking or killing anyone. In Jesus name, Amen” My pastor was in the passenger seat, so we were good to go. Then we started moving, backwards!

Next week: “Comin’ Around the Mountain” or “How do I slow this thing down?”

Happy Birthday! (To Me)

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Actually, I don’t remember being born. You probably don’t either. My birth just happened, no-one asked my opinion, there were no instructions about “How to be Born”. My mother and father married, joined together in love, and I happened. There I was, warm and safe in Mom’s womb (it was January). getting fed without having to eat. But then suddenly, and without any warning to my unsuspecting self, things started moving around, the calm fluid became a surging stream, there was pressure and pushing and out I came. I gurgled and sputtered, and drew my first breath. It wasn’t warm anymore. My life line to Mom was severed, and there I was, a brand new human ready to go. Too bad I didn’t have an iPhone to snap a selfie and take some notes about the experience.

Now if someone had asked me beforehand, I might have had a few suggestions, like let’s make it May, so it’ll be warmer outside and the flowers would be in bloom, plus my birthday wouldn’t be so close to Christmas so I’d get more presents. And how about that tall gene? Let’s go for about six foot one inch at maturity. (On a good day I could stretch to five nine, and at this late date it’s more like five eight.) The brain size was OK, but I could have used an improved attention span. A little better hand-eye coordination, and that attention thing would really improve my golf game. But nobody asked, so here I am.

But that’s not the birthday I’m celebrating this week. No, last Monday morning, I had a little private celebration with my Father, the one who is in heaven. This birth I remember.

“…one Saturday morning I was at the bus stop in front of my grandparents’ house. Dan Plitt drove up in his 1952 Ford convertible with the top down. “Hey, we’re going to see Billy Graham again tonight. Want to go with us?” I said, “sure,” and that was that. It was August 31, 1957, the very last night Mr. Graham would preach in the Garden.

II do not remember one word that Mr. Graham spoke, but I do recall the large banner above the platform that proclaimed, “Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life.” At the end, when the invitation was given and with the choir softly singing “Just as I Am, Without One Plea,” I looked at my friends indicating that I wanted to go. They smiled gently and nodded as I turned to make the long trek from high up in the arena to the front of the platform. There were tears in my eyes as I confessed my sin and received God’s gift of salvation in Christ Jesus.

When I returned home late that night, Mom was still awake. “I’ve been born again!” I said and told her everything that had happened. She told me years later that my face was shining that night. I had been in the presence of the Living God, convicted by the Holy Spirit and saved by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. This was and is the biggest save that God ever worked in my life. Nothing would ever be the same after that night.”

Excerpt From: Robert Frohlich. “Aimless Life, Awesome God.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/aimless-life-awesome-god/id1129891739”

You don’t hear the term “born again” much these days, but according to Jesus, every Christian is born again.

‘Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again.” John 3:5-7 (CSB) 

Now for some Christians, this comes at a time of crisis, when confronted by their sin, their eyes are opened and God works a miraculous change in them. For others, the moment is barely a whisper. Just a sweet working of the Holy spirit in them that moves one from death to life. And for many of us, it’s somewhere in between. But it is always a work of God who moves us from death to life.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, …But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:1-9 (excerpted)(CSB)

So if you’re a Christian, you’ve got two birthdays. One you celebrate with cake and candles and presents and friends and family. The other you celebrate quietly with your Father, thanking Him for the best present of all. Even if yours was not the Hollywood blockbuster event, but just a still small breath that you hardly noticed, take just a minute to say, “Thank You”, because for you and me fellow Christian, it was the most earthshaking event we will ever experience. Until Jesus returns that is.

1942 Plymouth — Joy Neal Kidney

Here’s a post link to my blogging friend Joy Neal Kidney. She has the most interesting stories about Rural Iowa during WWII. And it turns out our grandfathers had the same make car.

Circa 1945 My Granpa’s 1941 Plymouth

While Donald Wilson was home in November 1941, AWOL, his family traded off their “old smoking Buick” for a brand-new gray, 1942 Plymouth four-door, 95-horsepower, Special Deluxe sedan with concealed running boards. 287 more words

1942 Plymouth — Joy Neal Kidney

Bad Road Trip

It started out well. We camped for a week in the Grand Teton National Park in a platform tent, cooking most nights at the fire pit (If you can call heating up Dinty Moore Beef Stew cooking). The mountains were awesome. We explored the lakes and falls in the area, drove up to Yellowstone where we viewed elk, bison, eagles and coyotes. Took a horseback ride through the woods. It was peaceful, relaxing, and refreshing to be in such beautiful country. Our daughters were twelve and fifteen years old, and although they complained about the public showers and the inability to maintain 80s hairstyle standards, it was an unforgettable experience for all.

It was late summer when we left to return home to Wisconsin. Traveling up Bear Tooth Pass, we found snow on the summit, before driving on down into western Montana. Stayed overnight in Cody, Wyoming, then continued east on Interstate 90, stopping at Devils Tower, before proceeding to Mt. Rushmore. We never made it there. First, I had only a vague idea about how far it was. Second, we were running out of time because I had to go back to work in a couple of days. Third, I’d never heard about Sturgis, South Dakota. It was mid-afternoon when I pulled off the road and stopped at a large chain motel to get a room for the night. There seemed to be a lot of motorcycles in the parking lot, but then I figured that’s what it must be like in the wild west. At the front desk I was told, “No rooms available”. Decided to press on, clueless about some big annual gathering of motorcycle riders. Drove around some more, and as dusk fell, heard some rumblings from the back seat about hunger. I pulled off at the next exit; Sturgis, SD.

The streets were filled with tents and vendors and more Harleys than I’d ever seen in one place. We found an A&W drive in, went inside, and noticed that we were the only patrons not clad in black leather. I was probably wearing dorky shorts, accompanied by two wide-eyed teen girls and my petite wife. We gulped our hamburgers in haste, and left the way we came.

Now it was dark on the Interstate, and I looked for motel signs. Spying one, I pulled up, full of hope, and asked for a room. The guy at the desk mumbled something about, “Nothing for a hundred miles”. Desperate now, I asked if he could find us something, anything further east. Kindly, he made some calls, and booked us a room in Pierre, SD, two hundred thirty miles away.

It was a carload of crabby as we pulled in at the motel at about one thirty AM. The family was not happy with my lack of planning and foresight. Yet here we were, in an air-conditioned room with crisp cool sheets and clean towels. All because we had a reservation.

Life can be hard at times. Right now we as a nation are frustrated and fearful about the virus. We are  dismayed and bewildered about the violence and destruction in our cities; appalled by the incidents that fuel this rage. Politicians throw mud, and point fingers, but they offer no solutions and precious little leadership. Like that long day out west, I wonder where and when this will end. I need to remember, that I have a reservation.

Jesus, as He was about to face death on the cross, knew that after His resurrection He would return home to the Father in heaven. His disciples needed some comfort, some hope in that dark hour. Here’s how Jesus encouraged them:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:1-3 (ESV) 

In other words, Jesus followers have a reservation. I can make this journey, no matter how tough, tiring, or terrifying it may be, because I know at the end, there is a place for me with my name on it. Even better than cool sheets and clean towels, I will find there eternal rest from striving, freedom from sin and death, and the bright presence of God my Father, and Jesus my Savior. There’s plenty of room in that place. Is there a reservation in your name? I hope so. See you there!

Seeing Stars

You may find this hard to believe, but there are people in this world that take great delight in cutting fabric into little pieces. They take yards of perfectly good cloth, chosen for its color and design, then mercilessly slash it into tiny squares, rectangles and triangles.

Then, as if to make up for their destructive acts, they carefully sew all these little bits together again, but in the process they mix up all the colors and patterns. producing something that looks nothing like the perfectly fine bolts of cloth from which the pieces originated.

These people call themselves “quilters”. My wife is one of them. I have accompanied her on trips to the fabric shops, watched her spend time agonizing over this shade or that. Should the pattern be bold or subdued? How much of this one will be enough? Then she takes her selections home and begins slicing & dicing.

My wife, Marleen, has quilted with the Amish in Shipshewana, Indiana. We have traveled to Paducah, Kentucky where there is a National Quilt Museum devoted to the works of these deranged people. We visited Missouri Star Quilt Company, where the whole main street of Hamilton, Missouri is nothing but fabric and sewing stores. (Fortunately for me, right in the middle of the block the have a “Man Cave” equipped with leather recliners, sports books, beverage machines, and two Mens’ restrooms.)

Marleen has sewn quilts with other ladies in our church. They cut, sewed, quilted precious handmade gifts which they sent with mission teams to Appalachia. Our children and grandchildren have received quilts. Our home is graced with quilted wall hangings and table runners and lap quilts. (The latter make for comfortable napping.)

In the basement of our home, there are two rooms devoted to this creative destruction. The process begins at three cutting tables, moves to one of three sewing machines, and ends on a ten-foot wide long arm quilting contraption. Scattered around are sketches of ideas, scissors, cutters, needles, bobbins, thread in every color of the rainbow, batting both natural and manmade, and fabric, lots & lots of fabric.

Only once has Marleen submitted a quilt for judging, and that one earned her a ribbon.

Marleen & her prize winner

But the one thing missing in all these years of effort was a quilt for our bed. A couple of weeks ago, my dear wife remedied that situation by finishing a beautiful, king-sized bed quilt. The thing was so huge, that I had to help her maneuver it around the table as she sewed on the binding. But what a gorgeous creation it is. It’s too warm to sleep under now, but it decorates the bed in daytime, and it will be welcome on those cold winter nights. I am blessed to be the husband of this wonderful woman.

“She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands…She makes coverings for her bed;”

Proverbs 31:13, 22 (NIV)

Wood Chip Washout

What a day was Monday!. A fun morning playing golf with my buddies. A satisfying afternoon mowing the lawn. But things took a turn for the worse when in the evening I watched five and a half inches of rain fall in about one hour. I also watched about a truckload of wood chips float past my window, down to the ditch, into my neighbor’s yard and out into the street three houses down from ours

As I wrote a month or two ago, these wood chips had been meticulously placed by me under our trees as mulch: “It took two days of sweating labor to deliver about fifty or more barrows-full to place the mulch where it was needed. Shovel, trudge, dump, rake, repeat.” Now I watched helplessly as all that work washed down the drain (or out into the street).

Tuesday was bright and sunny, as was Wednesday. Each of those days, I grabbed my rake and shovel and an empty garbage can, and scooped up the chips and schlepped them back where they belonged. While the FitBit recorded ever-higher heart rates, and I drank pints of water to replenish my dehydrating body, there was time to think, “I’m really grateful.” 

First, although the winds were fierce and the rain torrential on Monday, our home was undamaged. I’ve seen floods on the TV news, the appalling scenes of homes washed away. The helplessness is always evident in the faces of the people and my heart aches for them. A couple of days of raking is nothing compared to the tasks that lie before those folks.

Second reason for gratitude is the attribute of God we call long-suffering. When God steps in and saves his people, as when He took the Israelites out of Egypt; or when He save a wretch like me, He has done a once-for-all time thing. I’m saved, end of story. But afterwards begins a process we call sanctification, perfecting me inch by inch until that glorious future day when my Savior, Jesus returns. Until that day, God is loving and patient to put me back in place when I sin. When the waves of temptation come and wash over my resolve to live a life pleasing to God, God steps in, rakes me back into place, and forgives me once more.

The Bible tells how patient God was with Israel, how they tested Him with their stubborn disobedience. I often wonder how they could do that given their miraculous delivery from slavery. But an honest assessment of my life shows I’m no different from that desert-wandering people. I trip and stumble, groan and mumble, yet my Father forgives and keeps on working in me to make me more and more Christlike. My favorite Psalm reads:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our iniquities. Psalms 103:8-10 (CSB) 

So when temptations come like a flood, dislodging me from my place, God the keeper of the garden picks me up and puts me back where I belong. Thanks be to God!

Now That’s Perfectly Clear!

“Eschew obfuscation.” I read that phrase and laughed. I think it was in Readers’ Digest that I first read it many decades ago. I would make little signs with that phrase, and post them in my workspace or office. I wanted to see who might come in, read the sign and then laugh out loud or chuckle a bit. That didn’t happen very often. Maybe it was too subtle, just posting it like that. Maybe I should have said, “Hey, what do you think of that?” while pointing at the wall. 

Just in case you’re not laughing yet, here’s how the dictionary defines these two gems:

es·chew | əsˈCHo͞o, iˈSHo͞o |verb [with object]

deliberately avoid using; abstain from:

ob·fus·ca·tion | ˌäbfəˈskāSH(ə)n |noun

the action of making something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible

OK, now you’re rolling on the floor with laughter. No? Still too subtle I guess. But no less important considering the state of verbal communication today. Not speaking of lies here, but about speech that is deliberately unclear or unintelligible. The world is full of it. Why don’t people just say what they mean? Use one-syllable words? Throw in some punctuation? End a sentence already!

For instance, listen to a politician speak; either party. “Steps are being taken to protect the rights of citizens to speak and assemble while making certain that all applicable health safeguards are put into practice.” Which is it? Rights or safeguards? What steps? If, after a politician speaks, you have to scratch your head, you’ve just experienced obfuscation. A ‘climate scientist’ says, “…it’s possible therefore that there may be a significant increase in global temperatures by (pick a year) which may lead to wholesale changes in the climate that could threaten life as we know it, unless we (do something) to stop it right now”. Where I live, near Lake Michigan, we were warned just a few years ago that climate change would lower the water level of lake to “unprecedented” lows. But today, all Wisconsin government officials are begging for federal money to help lakeshore erosion caused by the highest lake levels in recent history. “Possible”, “may be”, and “could” are all weasel words which generally mean “I haven’t a clue”.

It’s possible, even in preaching, to lose your way in an abundance of words. Certain “progressive” types, substituting their human reason for biblical truth, can use familiar sounding words to mean exactly the opposite of what the Bible states quite clearly. 

J. Gresham Machen, in his book Christianity & Liberalism (written in 1923) has this to say about that type of preacher, “He offends, therefore, against the fundamental principle of truthfulness in language. According to that fundamental principle, language is truthful, not when meaning attached to the words by the speaker, but when the meaning intended to be produced in the mind of the particular person addressed, is in accordance with the facts.” I had to read that a couple of times because the language is direct in an old-fashioned way. But the two key words are “truthful” and “facts”.

I like  what the how Apostle Paul writes:

“For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (CSB)

There it is, the whole gospel in one sentence. Not one weasel word. How hard can it be to just hear this, believe this, and repeat this?

My little sign reminds me when I speak (or write), to be clear and precise. And to listen for the same when others speak.

Car Keys

It wasn’t in the plan, not even on the radar screen. In fact, every time we drove our twelve year-old car, we’d each pat the dashboard and say “Good car” because we anticipated keeping it for many more years. We bought it new, and kept it in good shape. It rewarded us with reliable service.

But then we got the word that our grandson’s car died; by drowning no less. It seems there was a gigantic puddle at an intersection during a day-long deluge, and his car stalled right in the middle of the puddle and expired. Now Ben, our grandson, earns his living at the moment by delivering pizza (school to resume at a date TBA). So for him, no car equals no money.

Grandfathers exist to fix things so I looked at my wife and she looked at me, and both of us thought what a fine car ours would be for Ben. We texted ideas, then got on the phone and a deal was made. Ben would buy the car and grandma and I would find something new for ourselves (our “last car” as she put it.) The grandson would get a good, safe car, and pizzas would continue to reach the hungry.

You can buy a car on the internet, sight unseen. Do the whole deal online and take delivery right in your own driveway. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, how can you tell if the seats are right, or determine how easy it is to enter and exit? We drove three different cars and chose the one that suited both of us. My, how things have changed in twelve years!

First, the motor in the new car is about two thirds the size of the one in the old car, but it generates about fifteen percent more horsepower. The car tells you when you depart from your lane (“Stay in your lane, Bro”), stops you if you get too close to the car in front, warns you if another car is in your blind spot, and don’t get me started on Bluetooth. Then there’s the “Thingy.”

The “Thingy”

A common phrase in years past was, “Can I have the keys to the car?” (I know, I know, it’s supposed to be “May I”, but getting to drive was more important than grammar.) Every teenage boy longed for that moment when that question would be answered in the affirmative, and off he would drive, window down, arm out, proud as can be.

We didn’t get keys with the new car. We got a “Thingy.” You can just put it in your pocket and it knows what to do. As I approach the car, the Thingy talks to the car. It tells the car, “It’s OK, let him in” and the door unlocks when I touch it. Then the Thingy tells the car to let me start the engine, so that when I touch the “Start” button, the engine purrs to life, all one-point-five liters worth. It’s almost supernatural.

But now I think, “Hey, that concept is Biblical.” In Romans, chapter eight Paul writes:

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit

that we are children of God…”

Romans 8:16 (ESV) 

The Holy Spirit, who I cannot see, communicates with my spirit, which is also invisible to me. The Holy Spirit tells my spirit, “It’s OK, you are God’s adopted child. You’re not alone, the doors of heaven are open to you, you are welcome here.” I don’t need a key to heavens’ door, the Thingy is already inside me. Thank you Jesus, my Savior;! Thank you God my Father! Thank you Spirit, my Comforter and Guide!