Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Selection

As I rest a bit today, I want you to read a post from someone who is making an attempt to write. My friend Jose is my interpreter in the Dominican and a leader in our Missions Ministry at our church. He is originally from Mexico and has lived there and in the U.S. He is a manager in the agricultural industry. And he has a wonderful family. He wrote some time ago about an adventure on the other side of our international border. The church he describes in less than 20 miles from us, but in a completely different nation and culture. Check this out.

I plan to be back with you tomorrow!

Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Called "Margin"

It won't butter toast (ar ar), but it makes life smoother!

I told you yesterday about buying a car. I left a part out. I didn't mention the dealer, except to commend his business reputation. I didn't leave with any question about his honesty or integrity. In fact, I would choose to do business with him again and have no trouble recommending him.

But I left less than fully satisfied. The deal was fine. The salesperson was good and I felt comfortable with him. The experience left something to be desired.

I am usually busy during my work week. This week was even more hectic. The easiest, most efficient way for me to communicate with the dealer was through email. My salesman answered my questions quickly and thoroughly. I was met, shown the car I wanted to see and taken for a test drive. I followed up with a request for the final price with all fees. It was promised the next morning -- the time I requested -- and arrived as promised. So far, so good.

I knew the salesman was checking to see if they could come down further on the price and wasn't surprised when the answer was "no." The price they quoted was well under their wholesale value already. I then asked only for one addition to the listed equipment on the car. I requested a minimum of two keys -- three if possible -- and two remote openers. Most of you know that keys are now electronically encoded and they aren't cheap!. I also know that they are a huge markup item when sold to the public.

I received two. The minimum.

I provided some basic information by email in order to speed up the paperwork process. Upon arrival, they had a few more items they needed from me. I provided those and sat down with my father-in-law to wait. We sat in the showroom, which was amazingly quiet (probably short-staffed due to the economy and and off-site sale that day). Still, no one offered us anything to drink and water or a soda would have been appreciated -- it was warm that day.

I felt like we were "outsiders", even though I had just handed them a rather large check. There were none of the little extras that say, "It's great to do business with you!" At the end, as I took the keys, the salesman thanked me for the way I handled the transaction. I walked away and that was it.

Margin. It's what happens when a person keeps their promises "and then some." It's the second mile. It's the candy on your hotel pillow. It's the unexpected bonus.

With Jesus Christ, it was "Come on down, Zacheus, for I'm going to your house today." For a girl in Genesis 24 named Rebekah, it was, "Here's some water. Wait and I'll water your camels, too!" Margin is when you reserve the time, energy and money to forsake the good and do the great.

Margin happens because we make it a priority. We don't try to blacken every square millimeter of our life parchment with the ink of activity.

Then, when we encounter others, we have something extra to give them.

Do you have Margin?

Or are you spread too thin?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Much Does It Cost?

I'll buy it!

I mentioned yesterday that Cathy and I bought a car this week. The story is -- I think -- worth telling. I'm going to give price details here, because I think it adds to the example of how we made our decision. It's a little awkward giving out that much info, but I decided to risk it.

It begins with the fact that we needed a car. Over the 36-plus years of our marriage, we haven't needed every car we bought. Cathy will tell you that I'm quite skilled at coming up with reasons we need something we don't really need. In times past, it's amazing how often I had great "reasons" for purchasing a vehicle, but those same features no longer meant anything when I wanted something newer.

This time we did need one. It's not because the wheels had fallen off the one we are selling. It's because the highway distances we must travel to see family -- it's 800 miles to Cathy's parents' home -- require something reliable. The car we have driven on those trips for the past six years (and which had 50,000 miles on it when we bought it) has become increasingly questionable. We had significant repairs done before we took it on a long Christmas trip and realized that this was the last time we were comfortable with it that far from home.

The combination of personal preference and reliability led us to choose a Toyota Camry. We had a couple of secondary choices if the Camry didn't work out. Either of those might have been the preference except the higher cost made them less likely.

We set our budget for what we could pay in cash. We haven't had any debt for a long time, which was the result of many years of careful money management (I thank Cathy for that!). Our hope was to buy a late-model used car with low miles.

Over the weekend, I discovered just the type of car and deal which sounded promising. As you probably know, buying a used car means you might get some of what you want, but you probably won't get all of it. I made a mental list of the equipment that I would like to have and one or two "deal-breakers". For instance, a dark color meant "no deal" for us. Why? Think 115 degrees in the summer. In the shade. (What shade?) Over 50,000 miles was a deal-breaker -- I hoped for significantly less. Finally, it had to fit in our budget.

I had been watching the local marketplace for possibilities and to get an idea on current pricing. I researched price and reliability on sites like Consumer Reports and Kelley Blue Book. Finally, I started a serious search in the local paper, Craig's List and AutoTrader.

To my surprise, the best deal I found on a car that met most of my equipment list was available -- at a good price -- at a dealer. This particular new-car dealer has been in business here for many years and has a good reputation in the community. I was shocked to find a 3-year-old Camry, very well-equipped, with less than 15,000 miles for less than $15,000. My research on Carfax indicated a one-owner car, meticulously maintained and never in an accident. It's beautiful! We're grateful! Bought it yesterday.

I commented on the irony of the 15,000 number for both the miles and the price.

My father-in-law said it's good the car didn't have 80,000 miles!

If his logic were sound, I'd have looked for one with less than 100.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Speed Of Life

As you all know, life happens...sometimes fast! This is certainly the case for me right now.

Remember my boyhood best friend I wanted to find, then finally discovered his location for our first contact in 30 years? I get to go see him soon.

Remember the Volunteer Appreciation Event we had last week? If not, here is a certain pastor's wife in the Hula Hoop Contest. (Shhh. We think it was rigged.)

Well, since that time we bought a car (more on that later?). I had a regular chaotic Sunday schedule, a significant leadership meeting Monday night AND a large time deposit because of something one of our staff is walking through. PLUS, Cathy's folks are here, which is always a hoot!

I will try to drop in here each day with at least a few words.

But the fun seems to have a ways to go before it slows down!

p.s. I was made aware yesterday of a problem with the program which carries this blog and at least one reader couldn't make a comment. If that happened to you, I'm sorry. I have changed settings so you can get right in now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When You're Down In the Dumps...

...pick up your trash!

I was just looking back over your comments from my trashy blog Sunday. I agree with Rachel about the "comprehensiveness" of Heather's thoughts. Heather said, "Most of this to my mind points to a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be part of a bigger picture, part of community, to be connected to the larger populace in some way as opposed to be the center of your world and therefore not having to give anyone else a second (or even first) thought."

The truth is that those who live in the First World tend to be more aware and less tolerant of people's "trashy" habits that those I have encountered in the Third World. I wonder if that's because people in the Third World are so much more consumed with just getting through life a day at a time. My Dominican friends, for example, are some of the most community-minded and socially-connected people I know. They are also much more focused on the bare necessities of life. Consequently they seem largely unaware of how much trash exists along their roadsides.

On the other hand, it's possible that the uncaring attitude many people have about such things as trash is really a matter of heart. The idea that someone else will pick up after me, that what I'm doing is my business (mind your own!), or that my actions have little or no consequence for the rest of the planet are heart issues.

A friend of mine has been reading a book about being a good dad. He told me that the primary lessons he is responsible to teach his young sons are "a)they are the 'apple of my eye,' and b)they are not the center of the universe."

Scriptor told us Sunday that his wife thinks the problem is the former, a "low self-esteem."

I tend to believe it's the latter. Why hasn't anyone told them that they aren't the center of the universe? Why aren't they smart enough to figure it out for themselves? More "why" questions!

What do you think?

Monday, February 23, 2009

How Many Words Is It Worth?

1,000? 10,000?

You decide!

This is Cathy and me "hamming it up" just before the beginning of our Volunteer Appreciation Event last Friday. Does it look like fun?
I wish you could have been there!

p.s. Back to our "trashy" subject tomorrow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Even Oscar Would Be Grouchy

"I love trash! Anything dirty or dingy or dusty..." So sang Oscar the Grouch from a recording we listened to when our kids were young.

Well, I don't love trash.

I grew up in one of the least populous regions of a not-so-crowded country. When I was in college, I can remember traveling back and forth from my hometown on 2-lane highways. At certain times, I could drive one stretch of about 160 miles and count the cars we met on the road with my fingers, having some left over!

Consequently, I have many memories of time spent in mountainous regions with no other human in sight. The only sound was the wind whistling through tall pine trees and the chatter of Blue Jays and squirrels. I recall one such moment when the thought struck me, "I wonder if I am the first human to have walked over this ground. Could it be that this is genuinely a pristine, untouched part of the earth."

Within (literally) a couple of minutes of that glorious and noble idea, I stumbled upon an rusty can. Oh, well. So much for "pristine."

The question that plagues me is, "Why?" Why do we live in a world where people dump trash out their car windows as they drive down the highway? Why do kids drop their empty water bottles, soda cans and candy wrappers on the sidewalk as they trek home from school? Why do construction workers drive onto an undeveloped part of our church property and offload the remnants of that day's job? Why do people load up old furniture, drive into the desert near here, and just dump it? For that matter, why do people walk their dogs and let them poop on neighbors' yards with no thought of picking it up?

Honestly, today's post isn't meant to be a complaining rant about the trashy habits many people have. I'm asking a thoughtful question...


I have a thought or two about this. Before I share it, though...

What do you think?