Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Rest Of the Story

Some weeks ago, I told you about some financial happenings in my life. After you read the original post, entitled "Bank Error (Not) In Your Favor, I will tell you the (current) "rest of the story."

We learned something in the young fires of adversity: God always provides!

I was one of those guys who squeezed four years of college into ten. Let me clarify... I went to school for three years and mostly goofed around. Then we got married, I worked in a local church -- during which time our son was born -- and I felt God wanted me to become a pastor. Soooo, after a four-year hiatus, I went back to college as a serious student. Taking classes as much as possible while I held down a full-time job, I graduated after three more years.

It was during that time that Cathy got pregnant with twins and we didn't have health insurance. To say that money was tight was understatement.

I'll never forget the conversation as we drove home one afternoon. Cathy said she needed us to stop and pick up a few groceries. I explained that we had no money. We kept a minimum balance of $5 in our checking account and we were down to that. She told me that we couldn't do without a few very basic necessities and that our son's piggy bank contained a little bit of change we could "borrow" until payday.

We headed home, took the money from the piggy bank and drove to the grocery store.

Arriving back at our house, frugal supplies in tow, we picked up our mail. Opening it, we found a nice card from one of Cathy's aunts. It said, "We remember how tight things got sometimes when your Uncle Don was in seminary. We thought you might need this." It contained a check for $20. Other than our wedding, that may have been the only time we heard from them. That card and money was such a message of hope! (AND that's only one of the times that we received unexpected financial help during one year of our own personal recession.)

Fast forward to yesterday. I was standing in my office talking to someone about an accounting error that is costing me some dollars. We had already discovered the mistake and had taken steps to correct it right away. I found out this week that it will cost more than we originally thought and yesterday afternoon I was being told that it might still be more than I understood in the morning.

Literally in the middle of that conversation, my cell phone rang. I had picked up my car following an $800 repair job just an hour before. My mechanic was now calling to tell me that Cathy's car, which was in for a normal check-up, needs $1500 worth of work. This auto repairman has demonstrated integrity over the last 20 years or so. I know the work must be done and gave him the go ahead.

Just a moment or two later, my Blackberry buzzed, telling me I had an email. It was from a computer company that was sending me a rebate. The email said that, if I have received a check from them, don't cash it. It will bounce!

I went home a short time later, knowing that God is faithful, but feeling a little shell-shocked.

I told Cathy about it all and, when I finished she asked if she could tell me about her day. She went on to describe something that happened yesterday morning. She was able to buy some much needed quilting fabric [it's her addiction :o)] for a tiny fraction of the cost. Because she uses her hobby to make beautiful gifts for loved ones, she actually saved a bundle of future dollars.

As she told me what happened, tears were forming in my eyes.

You see, we have enough right now to take care of all these unexpected expenses. I was struggling because, just maybe it has been too easy lately to depend on my own resources to handle financial problems. My false security was being whittled away. Quilting material reminded me of words spoken by King David in the Psalm where this blog gets its name... The little that the righteous person has is better than the wealth of many wicked people.
(Psalm 37:16 GW)

These are difficult financial times. How are they affecting you?

Now, back to the latest...

The accounting error looks like it's not as bad as I originally thought. The car repair had to be done and is paid for. Hey, it's a lot less expensive than payments! The bounced rebate check? The company I bought the software from took the hit and issued new checks without us having to even ask. The rebate is safely in the bank.

I have much to be thankful for in these tough times. How are you getting along?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hoo, Hoo, Who?

We're on the fast slide to Christmas, sooooooooo...

Oops, had to catch myself! Anyway, I thought it would be fun to find out your favorite Christmas Carol. Now, I know I'm a pastor and all -- I'll be "spiritual" in a minute -- but I'd love to know your current favorite NO MATTER WHAT IT IS (remember: family friendly).

When I was young, I loved Joy To The World. Somewhere about high school it became The First Noel (I loved the bass part). By my junior year, our German Club was learning some in that language. I still remember more German words to O Tannenbaum than English words to O Christmas Tree. At about the same time, I was learning substitute words for some of the popular carols. Which, in turn, I taught to my kids. Totally messed them up.

In the past few years -- spiritual now -- I have loved the following...

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.


Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

You see, I know some people have accepted the ransom of Immanuel. Including me.

Now, it's up to you. Whether it's Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer or Silent Night, please tell us your favorite. And, if possible, a word or two why. We will probably be humming along with you!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deadeye, The Dangerous Outlaw...

...had a pair of shiny guns. (Sung to the tune of "Rudolph".)

Ol' Deadeye shore can shoot them guns. He puts on quite a show. It's plumb interestin' to watch until you notice Deadeye's Bullseye. And it's you!

I felt as though Deadeye had me clean in his sights the other day. One of our ministries is struggling and word has been filtering back to me about unkind things being said. I value the ministry leader and am grieved over the struggle that leader feels. Many of Deadeye's bullets are aimed in that direction, but they hit me on the ricochet.

Somehow the whole weight of the situation started getting me down. I long ago memorized this verse...
Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.
(Proverbs 14:4 NASB)
I wrote in the margin, "Where there are no people, there are no problems. The ministry I'm talking about has plenty of people... You figure it out (smile).

In my bullet-dodging fatigue, I found it difficult to focus on important tasks and finally gave up after posting yesterday's blog. Cathy and I watched a show on television and I made a phone call to one of our leaders who is ill (which lifted my spirits).

Still praying my way through the emotional pain I was experiencing, I got up to do something in the kitchen. That's when I heard a sound outside.

Strange at first, I suddenly realized that we had a group of Christmas carollers in our front yard singing joyfully. Cathy and I stepped out and discovered people from two of our Small Groups belting songs with huge smiles on their faces.

As the music ended, they each greeted us with hugs and warm, "I love you's." They had no idea the healing oil they had just poured on my wounds!

Take that, Deadeye!

Before I leave you today, please stop by and see the new blog created by our daughter Becki. I'm an old fashioned "meat and potatoes" kind of guy, but I'm still excited to follow their adventure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hello, My Name Is...

We hosted our annual Christmas Party for Office volunteers yesterday. Cathy plans and prepares the food for the whole thing. It's a hoot saying, "Merry Christmas" to very special people who make it possible for us to do what we do.

Problem. Second time in less than a week.

Our church has multiple services with quite a few people coming and going. These volunteers work on different days in different ways so this was bound to happen. Most of them didn't know everyone at the party.

But one very sweet lady hardly knew anyone. She knew a few staff, but no other volunteers.

I could tell when she walked in. It was that "deer in the headlights" look. She probably thought, "What am I doing here?" As people were getting food, I spoke to her. I made light of her being a stranger and promised that, by the time she left, she just might know some of us better than she wanted .

After lunch, we gathered in a large circle for one of those "White Elephant" gift exchanges. I saw her sitting with another lady. A woman with the same name as hers. They had each found a new friend.

It was obviously hard, but she's "in" now. The parting hug she shared with her new friend told me so.

Many times I am the one left out as friends gather in little groups for lively conversation. My work has a way of putting me in such places. Occasionally, a kind stranger will notice and include me.

I'm grateful. I want to be an includer, too.

How about you?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dirty, Rotten Scoundrel!

That's what he was. Or not!

Something happened recently that stirred up a memory. A hard lesson. Hopefully well learned.

I was on the Board of a Christian organization. Accusations were made against the CEO, who was also a founder.

Immoral? No.

Illegal? No.

Incompetent? Maybe.

Some staff members were bending the ear of our Board Chairman. He called us together for an emergency meeting. Then another one. Then another.

I rolled up my "idealistic young man" sleeves and prepared to clean house. But which house were we supposed to clean? The Chairman was sure it was the CEO who needed straightening out. The more I listened, the less certain I became.

Leadership is a hard job. Done well, it requires someone to keep multiple tasks and personalities in balance. If I have learned one thing over the years, it is this: the leader must make decisions for the best of the organization.

AND not everyone gets their way all the time. Even those close to the leader.

It's a bad thing when a green Board Chairman allows people within the organization to do "end runs" around the CEO, then takes the leader to task. It took days of prayer, including some fasting, but I figured out that was our situation. Others on the Board made the same discovery.

The staff members ended up leaving. The Board Chairman resigned. The CEO stayed.

It was the right thing to do. And that ministry is still serving people.

Monday, December 15, 2008

But, if I really say it...

...the radio won't play it.

With apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary, we never taught our children to "lay it between the lines." (You "kids" who are reading this and who grew up hearing any and everything on the radio, check out the song: I Dig Rock And Roll Music. It's from ancient times before you were born.)

Anyway, we made a premeditated choice about how we would answer questions concerning anatomy when we raised our children. "Daddy, what's that?" The answer would always be the real name. We knew they would learn the slang words later from some other, less "saintly" kid. (Right!)

Obviously, our offspring liked the idea. At least that's what it seems from the conversation between mommy and Chickie posted yesterday on C. Beth.

Chickie, however, has nothing on her Uncle Sean. Here's the somber scene...

We were together at the home of my parents after the death of my 20-year-old sister. When "Cabby" died of a heart infection, we joined as family and friends to comfort each other. A large group of us were in the living room when Sean, age 2, needed a diaper change.

Cathy gathered the "gear" and laid him down off to the side as adults sat around visiting. I guess the moment was just too quiet for him. He, using the appropriate name, said "Sean has a _______!"

"Yes, that's right," his mother replied. Sensing her openness, he looked around the room and started announcing rather loudly, "Daddy has a _______! Grandpa has a ________! Uncle Jimmie has a ________!" By this time, Cathy had snatched him up and hurried from the room.

At least, he understood that the particular body part only belonged to males!

The wounds of sadness at that time in our lives have healed. That funny story, though, still brings laughter to family gatherings.

Do you have a story that relates? Remember, this is a family-oriented blog!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Look! Up in the sky!

It's... It's... Just look!!!

Sometimes the best way to help someone understand the wonderful thing you saw it to show it to them. Several years ago, Cathy got the idea that she wanted to make a replica of an award-winning quilt called Little Brown Bird. (The name, by the way, totally understates this thing.)

LBB became a part of life in our home. Cathy meticulously selected fabric, used a variety of techniques and made it -- one square at a time. Her labor of love became a chore after the first 1,000 or so hours. Then it became a monster. Then an obsession...

This small image will never tell of the tiny stitches all done by hand. It can't really show you the brightness of the colors. I can tell you this: I have stood in large halls where scores of quilts are hanging and watched people just stop and stare at this one, trying to take it all in. I hope you all get to see it up close and personal sometime.

You see, when you have seen -- experienced -- something bigger than words, you just gush phrases like, "Come and see!" That's what Andrew did when he met Jesus.

And it's, I think, what the Angels were doing that night when they appeared to a group of shepherds...
10 The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide:
11 A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.
12 This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
13 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:
14 Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
(Luke 2:10-14 MSG)