Friday, December 26, 2003

Maybe it's just me. Today seemed more like Christmas than Christmas did. I didn't have to cook anything. (We served Chicago style deep dish pizza for Christmas dinner this year. The kids asked for it. It felt odd ... but tasted great. I missed the stuffing though.) I didn't have to wrap anything. I didn't have to help set a nice table or worry about getting all of the used wrapping paper up off of the floor.

No, today I just was. I slept late. 9:40. That is a good way to celebrate Christmas. Do you think Jesus would sleep late on His birthday? I think He would. Then I played with "Bailey The Killer Beagle." We got in the car and I introduced her to life in a Mustang. I think it's going to be fun with her in there next summer when the top is down. I can see her long ears flopping in the breeze now. It's a match made on ... Christmas. After that we went and had lunch with an former youth group teenager who is now a youth pastor himself. I watched as he and his wife coped with their two small children and tried to eat lunch. They reminded me of my own life 15 years ago. What a gift. It felt a bit like ... Christmas. Let's see. Then we came home and did a little more of nothing. That was a gift to ourselves. A gift like you give on ... Christmas. We ate dinner. It consisted of leftover pizza from yesterday and a wonderful deli tray brought by a dear friend two days ago. It was her way of saying ... "Merry Christmas." Finally, I went to the gym and worked out while Debbie did whatever Debbie does when I am not around. At the gym I ran my 1.5 miles and did a few weight machines. I talked to a friend from church and then slid into the hot tub where a man that I don't know told me about Jesus. I listened. I let him tell me. It was the story of ... Christmas.

Yeah, I'll take today over yesterday. Yesterday I went to bed tired. Tonight I'm going to bed happy. Happy because today ... finally ... it was Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Now that I am the official "Teaching Pastor" at FBC I am learning all sorts of new things. Like for instance ... oh ... this person mentioned today that I am speaking out of Luke 2 during the month of December. They noted that they have heard many sermons out of Luke 2 previously this time of year. Yeah. Well. Is this a shocker to anybody? It is Christmas, after all. Does anybody really expect me to teach out of the book of Job to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child? I'm thinking the deacons or the leadership team might want to talk to me about that. Luke 2 it is. Deal with it.

And then there is the whole counseling thing. I'm a lousy counselor. My wife disagrees but she is wrong. I really am bad at it. It's not that I don't care about people or their problems. I do. I just think that most problems would, you know, go away if people would just pay attention. It isn't that hard. Now some people have REAL problems and they really need advice. And I wanna be there for them. If I can't help, by golly, I'll find somebody who can. But some people ... I mean, come on. Life DOES come with an instruction book, you know. That is what the Bible is. Read it, for cryin out loud. It might answer your questions. And if it doesn't ... well ... why don't you ask God about it? He's a lot bigger and smarter than I am anyway. So go ahead and ask Him first. It isn't exactly a toll call. If God chooses not to answer then you probably shouldn't expect too much out of me either. But if you think He's answering and you just can't hear Him or figure out what He's saying, maybe I'm your man. I hear pretty good. God doesn't speak that loudly but I've finally learned to shut-up and listen-up. It took me 47 years to manage that. But I finally think I have got it down pretty well. Somedays better than others, of course. But that's the key. Shut-up and listen. As a matter-of-fact, that is the key to much of life. It's right up there with "read the instructions" and "chew 15 times before swallowing." Have you noticed that most old advice is good advice? There is a reason why it has lasted so long.

Ok, well, that's about it. I stepped in Beagle doo-doo twice today. Once with each foot. It happened about 5 minutes apart. The net result is that I have clean feet, chapped hands, and the dog is in bed early. I'm learning to stare at the carpet while I walk and she is learning how to get locked-up ahead of schedule. It could be a long 15 years.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Aww, geez. (It seems that I'm using that exclaimation more and more lately.) I just noticed that it is December 18. That means one week from right now we will be celebrating ... Christmas. The birthday of our Lord and Savior. And actually I am just a little bit jealous. Seven days before His birth He didn't have to worry about gifts and ornaments and parties. All He had to do was lay there, absorb nutrients from His mother, and sleep. Can you picture that? God sleeping inside of a human tummy? (Ok, womb. Don't you dare get technical on me.)

Contrast that to the situation I am facing today. I have not entered a shopping mall since, ohhhhhh, October. October? Yeah, I think I picked up some kind of halloween trick to use on the person I share "the big bed" with. She didn't laugh. Another ten bucks down the drain.

The point is this. I haven't purchased any Christmas gifts yet. None. Zero. Santa's bag is empty. And I have one week left. And my calendar is not "shopper friendly." What ever happened to those services that you paid to go out and shop for you? Are they still out there somewhere? How do you find them in the phone book? Are they listed as "Shop for You" in the yellow pages? Or maybe, "I'll Bail Your Lazy Butt Out You Bum?" I need those people now. Still, Bethalto is not a hot bed of cutting edge societal evolution. The closest thing we have to a coffee shop is McDonalds. God help you if you want hot cider with a hit of cinnamon or carmel. Back to the point ... no gifts.

Oh, wait. I did make one purchase! I got what the kids wanted the most. (By the way, the "kids" are 18 and 21. But how do you say "I got what the mini-adults wanted?) I was tripping through Petsmart one week ago today and happened across a woman pushing a shopping cart full of ... Beagles. Baby Beagles. All of them were sold, save one. She was the runt of the litter. She looked so sad ... her face wrinkled and her tail quivering. I looked at my wife. She sighed. I bought the dog. She is now known as "Bailey the Killer Beagle." The only thing she has killed thus far would be dust mites in the carpet. She has drown her fair share of them. No, not with drool. There are other ways a puppy puts moisture in the carpet. Don't ask.

Now that the adult-kids have a dog they don't seem so anxious to claim her as a Christmas present. Ha! Like they are going to get away with that. Not happening. I'm tying a red ribbon around Bailey's little neck and hanging her from the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. I might use a "noose knot" if she doesn't stop killing the dust mites.

Well, it feels good to be blogging again. Hope somebody is still out there reading. Either way, I have to go now. The malls are opening but there is no time on my calendar for it until tonight. Maybe I'll pick-up a parakeet.


Monday, December 15, 2003

Well, blogger fans. It has been way too long since anything has been posted here. Since October 27 (the last post) the world has changed. If you know me personally you are aware of that. I hope you won't give up on this spot and I long to begin recording history for posterity sake in this little corner of the web. Be patient. check back occasionally when the urge hits.

Can't wait for sanity to reign supreme once again...

Monday, October 27, 2003

I almost killed a nun last week. That's right. A nun. I suppose the story requires some explaination. Here's the best I can do.

I am currently on vacation. Two weeks. Actually 15 days but who's counting? (I am.) I decided that I need to get away. I felt the call to silence. The call to solitude. All I really wanted was to spend some time alone with God. Is that a bad thing? Is that asking too much? I think not. So I mounted my Mustang and drove to Villa Maria. This is a truly wonderful retreat center/convent owned by the Ursaline Sisters. In other words ... nuns. It is about an hour southeast of Minneapolis. I have been there twice before for youth pastor retreats led by Youth Specialties. This time I was going it alone. I soon learned that I was the only guest on the premises. Cool. That, my friend, is the route to silence and solitude. There are about 50 guest rooms and I mine was the only one filled. Just me and a handful of nuns. Selah.

Things got interesting as soon as I arrived. It was about 9:15PM last Tuesday, October 21. One little nun waited up late for me to arrive. You see, they usually hit the hay at 9PM. But the call to be a nun is a call to sacrifice and this wonderful little sister waited up for me to arrive. She took me to my room.

Oh my. I have always stayed in rooms on the upper floors before. Those rooms are very sparsely appointed. Each has a bed, a chair, a desk, a dresser, and a sink. The bath is down the hall. But tonight, since I was the only person there, they gave me the premium accomodations. That means I got my own potty. Sweet. But I almost choked when she led me to my room. There was only one way in. In order to get there you have to go through the sanctuary. I'm not a catholic. But I know enough to realize that they take their sanctuaries very, very seriously. They have little coin boxes at the back. As we entered the sister knelt and crossed herself. I removed my baseball cap. She stood and led me down the aisle and onto the stage. Huh? We went past the communion table, past the harp, and made a hard left at the candlestand. There we went through another doorway and into the sancricity. I'm not sure what this room was really for but it was sure scarey enough. A short walk across the sancricity brought us to three guest rooms. They were named. There was peace, hope, and faith. I got peace. I had hoped that I would. I even had faith that I would. It was peace for me. My sister friend took her leave of me and returned to her own room hidden deeply within the bowls of this castle-like structure. I went and got my luggage and made myself at home ... 50 feet from the altar.

Fast forward. Friday evening, October 24. The sun has gone down and the dark, Minnesota night has fallen hard. It's more than cool. It is totally crisp. Very fall like. Most of the leaves have faded to a deep brown and some have even taken their suicide plunge to the forest floor. I have been walking, wandering through the countryside across the maze of trails for a couple of hours. It's a great way to talk with the Creator of the Universe ... walking through it and checking out his handiwork. We had a nice walk and a nice talk. It was nearing 10PM when I arrived back at the front door of Villa Maria. I had been given the numerical code to punch into the key pad. This unlocked the front door and allowed me inside.

The nuns were well asleep by now. I owned the place. But there was not a lot to do to entertain myself. It is, after all, a convent. Only dim lights burned in the lobby. I climbed the marble steps and made my way to the entrance of the sanctuary. The wood framed glass doors were closed. I made a mental note of this oddity. I do not think I had ever seen them closed before. No big deal though. I pulled on the handle and they opened easily enough. Inside the sanctuary it was even darker than it was in the moonless night outside. At least there were a million stars out there to shed a bit of light on my path. In here there was a single candle burning steadily at the very back of the altar area. I was, in effect, blind. I felt for the first pew and found it with my left hand. From that point it was easy to find the second pew and the third and so on until I reached the front of the seating section. It was blacker than ever now. I pointed myself toward the candle and began to shuffle my feet ... moving slowly forward without lifting them off of the floor. I continued on this way until my toes found the first step. I knew that there were two steps leading to the stage platform. I took them one at a time and then I began moving to my left. I also knew that just before I reached the wall I should find a large harp. I had never actually touched a harp before. My hands found it quickly. My first thought was to see if I could rip off a few chords of "Dueling Banjo's." For once I made a right decision and resisted the temptation. I reached out again and found the wall behind the harp. Almost home free now. Just follow the wall to the right until I feel the doorway. I moved so slowly. By now I was near enough to the single glowing candle that I could actually make out vague shapes in the immediate area. The first thing I noticed was an area that was blacker than the rest of the room. I guessed correctly that this was the doorway. The fingers of my right hand reached out and curled around the door jam. I took one final step in that direction and paused, preparing to step into the darkest place I had been all evening . Remember, this is being done by a man that had just completed a walk in the woods without a flashlight in rural Minnesota. My walk had taken me through a cemetary of deceased nuns. They are buried in circles ... facing outward. I do not have the slightest idea why. But this room was about to redefine "dark." I clearly remember telling my right foot to get up and get in there ... when I glanced down. Down to my feet. Down to the floor. Down in the dimmest of light. Down at the head of a nun resting 6 inches from my Nike. DOWN AT THE HEAD OF A NUN RESTING 6 INCHES FROM MY NIKE! DOWN AT THE HEAD OF A NUN RESTING 6 INCHES FROM MY NIKE!!! I didn't think. I didn't act. I REacted. I plunged through the doorway into the pit of the sancricity. I glanced back. The sanctuary looked positively glowing in comparison. Laying between the glowing candle and my present position was the body of a nun, facedown on the floor of the stage in the sanctuary. Her nose was actually pointed into the floor. Her body formed the perfect shape of a cross. She was praying? She was sleeping? She was dead? I have no idea. I do not have any desire to know. My heart rate was breaking all of the laws of physics. It was located in my throat and it's speed was absolutely unhealthy for a 48 year old man. I trusted my memory of the room having a clear path from door to door and I relatively cannoned myself toward the next dark hole. I hit the light switch. I was in love. No, not with the decor. Certainly not with the nun behind me. I was in the room "Love." AAARRRGGGHHH. I turned the light off and moved one room to the left, pounced on the switch, closed the door and collapsed on the bed. Peace. At last. Peace.

I confess that I did not sleep well that night. I also did not leave my room until long after sun up. When I finally peeked my head out the doorway I had my luggage in my hand. I walked across a clear stage ... no sign of last nights fiasco. I passed by the nun/innkeeper's desk and dropped $100 on it. She stuttered something about my leaving a day early. I stuttered back that she should keep the change. Luggage met Mustang. Mustang met highway.

It has been 50 hours now since my run-in with the phantom nun of Villa Maria. Who was she? What was she doing there long after her bed time? Didn't she know that a poor, tired, stressed out, pastor seeking only solitude and silence would be making his way through the doorway by her head when she lay down there? Did she know that she would be the catalyst of my early departure from her convent? I do not know. I will never know.

As I turned into my driveway later, after the next moonless night had fallen, I took another walk. This one was across my neighbors front lawn. I knocked on his door. On my way home I had recieved a phone call that Chris, his wife, had died. He wanted to know if I would do her funeral. Of course I will. Bob and Chris have been my neighbors for 10 years now. I knew that Chris had not been healthy. He thought he was going to lose her several times in the past months but she always had a way of bouncing back. Not this time. My first walk began at a cemetary. My next walk will end at a cemetary. Vacations can be odd things. Some people go to the mountains. Some go to the beach. I go to convents and cemetaries. I really need to rethink the way I handle my free time.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I hate baseball. I've had days to think about it now. I didn't even have the energy to watch the Rams win today. The Cubbies just broke me. I did watch the news tonight and saw ... at the world series, in the stands ... Dusty Baker. Yup. The manager of the Cubs. He seemed happier than I feel about the past week.

So I officially hate baseball. We'll see what spring brings. But at the moment I'm thinking it's gonna be really, really, tough getting "up" for it.

I don't believe in the curse of the goat. I just believe in physics.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

It's physics. Plain and simple. It's like gravity. You can fight it but it wins. It always wins. There is this place deep inside of me that knew it all along. You cannot beat it. It is just going to be that way.

The Chicago Cubs can never, ever win the pennant. Ever. Not in my lifetime. Probably not in the remaining history of the planet.

5 outs. They were 5 outs from the World Series. It was not the Florida Marlins they were battling. It was ... physics. It wasn't an exuberant fan down the left field line that grabbed a playable ball. It wasn't a botched grounder to short. It was the laws of the universe. That poor guy could no more have grabbed that ball and turned a double plan than Niagra Falls could reverse it's flow. You cannot beat the laws of physics. I know. I tried. I begged. I pleaded. I wore every piece of Cubs clothing I own. I was abolutely layered. I went out into my backyard barefoot. I looked up through my trees at the stars God has planted in the sky. I asked him ... out loud ... "Please, Sir. Just once. Just this one time. Please." I went back inside to the horror of the 8th inning. And God said, "No."

It isn't the Cubs fault. They are a very good team. They deserve better. It isn't the city. It isn't the fans. It isn't the curse of a billy goat. It's just the law. I don't know why it is that way. It just is. The sun will come up tomorrow. The snow will eventually fall. The Grand Canyon will be there. The Cubs will weave back and forth season after season. They will sometimes come close. Maybe even closer than 5 outs. But they will never win it all. Never.

Do not gloat Cardinal fans. It isn't you. It isn't that you have a better team than we do. It isn't a battle of cities. It isn't even a battle of fans. You are just observing a phenomenon. It's much like the eclipse of the sun. It's just the way it is. When you beat us you can be happy. When we beat you we can be happy. But you can expect to win the big one. We can't.

It's physics.

Monday, October 13, 2003


1. The Cubs. 'Nuff said.
2. I have become addicted to Taco Bell's "Zesty Chicken Bowl" ... and now it occurs to me ...Zest is soap.
3. I start 2 weeks vacation at 4PM on Friday. Something is going to screw it up.
4. I'm craving a dog again.
5. They just told me that my broken wedding ring can be fixed but it won't stay that way because of ... chlorine. Nobody told me that you shouldn't wear gold in a hot-tub or pool. Now I have to choose a new ring. I'm not very good at that.
6. For the first time since June 2000 I have felt "normal" for an entire month. No dizzyness. No extreme fatigue. No disorientation. It can't last...
7. The St. Louis Bread Company keeps running out of Cinnamon Crunch Bagels before 6PM. They aren't taking this seriously enough.
8. I take more pill every day than Ashley Brown.
9. I got "dog bit for Jesus" in July and it still hasn't healed.
10. The Cubs. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Keys are important. They open doors. They unlock locks. They allow us into an “inner sanctum” denied to all but a few. If you own one of these sacred places and you want another key, no problem. You take your original key down to the hardware store, drop a couple of bucks on the counter, and they make you a new and identical one. Sometimes they even work. But if they don’t you just keep going back and they keep re-trying until eventually they get it right. This is one of the cool things about living in America. You can get your own place and only people that you want inside can get inside. And you can get them in cheaply.

This “law of the land” has been violated. My Mustang key cost $85.00. Each. I own three. I actually had to NEGOTIATE extra keys into the price of the car. How absurd is that? I use to negotiate on air conditioning or reclining seats. Those things now come as standard features. But if you want a new key … you have to deal.

You see, they put a special computer chip in these keys. When you put your key in the ignition something with mystical, magical, powers knows that chips is there. The engine is allowed to start. If you make a key without the chip it will only cost you maybe $2.00. But that key will only open the door. No way will it start the engine. No chippie chippie … no go-ee, go-ee. It’s called a “passive theft deterrent.” I think that is a good name for them. Passive thieves will no longer steal your car. They will not be bothered wasting time busting open your window, unlocking the door by hand, and hot-wiring the car. That is to active. So I have a “passive deterrent” on my car. That’s fine … as long as I don’t need any more keys.

When I gave Debbie a key to my Mustang she lost it within a week. It was my fault. I do not know why or how. But it was ruled that way. She found her key a few months later. All was well in the house again. And then I lost one of my keys. I always carry two car keys on me. One is too easy to loose. And, true to form, one of my keys turned up missing. I looked for weeks and did not tell anyone. No reason to give them cause to laugh. They seem to find enough reason to take pot-shots at me. I don’t want to help them along.

The key I lost had a worthless little blue laser light on its key chain. I say “worthless” because I never once used it. But it looked cool when you turned it on so I popped for the $3.95 in Target one day and bought it. I had not turned it on since. So now I was actually out $88.95, this being the cumulative cost of one key and one laser light.

But sometimes God has other ideas. Sometimes He wants to teach me something. Call it a “Holy Pop Quiz” if you will. He never puts it on my schedule or asks my permission. He just does it. I know God well enough to pray and ask for help with a problem. And so I prayed about my key. I prayed about it for maybe … oh… 10 times. Then I put the thought away. If God cannot hear me in 10 attempts either He isn’t listening or He said “no.” I can live with that. I asked. He answered. Good enough for me.

And then the rain came.

It had proven to be a boring Saturday afternoon. Rain on Saturday is wrong. It should be against the laws of nature. But it is not. I believe that statistics would prove that it rains more on Saturdays than on any other day of the week. But I digress.

It was raining. It’s a fact. I was sitting on my mega-cushy-chair eating re-heated pizza. I was watching a ball game. Upon finishing the pizza I walked through the dining room toward the kitchen. I simply wanted to put my dirty dishes in the dish washer. As I was praying that the dish washer would contain dirty dishes (so that I would not have to empty it before putting mine in) I glanced outside into the front yard to see if it was still raining. It was. Hard. As I turned to walk away, something in the grass caught my attention. Something … blue. Bright blue. Electric blue. I made a mental note about the oddity of that and went on to the dishwasher. As I returned to my chair I checked again. It was still there. A bright blue, glowing, something-or-other. Hmmmm.

I went into my bedroom to get my binoculars. They were nowhere to be found. So I did the next best thing. I grabbed my rifle. It’s a mere .22 caliber semi-automatic with a 10X scope. Nothing to get excited about. I suppose in a pinch I could pick-off a squirrel a football field away but I had never wanted to. I removed it from its case, went into the dining room, stood on a chair, and took careful aim through the scope at the blue object. Sure enough. It was blue. And it was powered by something.

Debbie entered the room. Debbie does not like guns. No, wait. That isn’t strong enough. Debbie is horribly terrified of guns. She only let me buy mine because it was a family heirloom and my dad was about to unload it on an Arkansas policeman. (“Unload” as in “sell.” Not “unload” as in “Unload.”) He wanted a 9mm pistol so that he could … so that he could plug whoever came through his back door in the middle of the night. No matter that in 18 years NOBODY had tried to make an unauthorized entrance. His mind was made up. This wonderful rifle that I remember my mom giving him for Christmas 30 years earlier was going on the block. I beat the cop to the punch and bought my own family memory. Thanks a lot, dad.

Where was I… oh… Debbie entered the room. She let out a squeal much like … well, like a girl when she sees a gun. I had expected that.

I put the gun down and told her something was blue and glowing in our front yard. She pretty much didn’t care about that. She just wanted the rifle out of her dining room. That glowing blue thing could have been invading aliens from the center of the earth for all she cared. Just get RID of the stupid GUN.

So I did. And I went to the garage. I raised the door. I opened an umbrella. I ran into the grass. I looked down. I saw my car key. My $85.00 car key. It was attached to my $3.95 blue laser light. The light was on. It was pointed at my house. More specifically, it was pointed at my dining room.

It appears that several weeks ago I had dropped my key in the front yard. I mowed over it once or twice. It lay there, bothering no one. It was a dry month. There was no reason for it to be upset. And then it rained. It REALLY rained. It rained enough to penetrate the hard plastic case of the laser light. When the light fell it pointed directly at my dining room window. Or it didn’t. Maybe the lawn mower blade spun it until it pointed that way. Maybe somebody kicked it and it pointed that way. Maybe God reached down late one night and directed it Himself. Maybe He sent Michael the angel. I will never know. But it WAS pointing that way NOW. The water shorted out the wiring. The light came on. I finished my pizza. I looked out the window. I saw it. I found my key. My $85.00 key. What were the odds?

100%. It was God. Of course it was God. It is ALWAYS God. He orchestrates everything. He is in control of my life. Every event and every occurrence is sifted through His hands. There are no exceptions and no mistakes.

So why did God go to the trouble? He could have just allowed the event to teach me a lesson. “Be more careful with your keys, son.” That’s why my worldly dad would have done. Why did my Heavenly Dad go to all of the trouble?

The question isn’t that hard. He wanted me to relearn how much He loves me. He wanted to remind me that every little detail in my life is under His control. He wanted to put my mind and my heart at ease in the middle of difficult and tumultuous times.
And I think He just wanted me to smile. To not take life so seriously. You see, there are not many things I life I can fix. He planned it that way. He wants me to trust Him. Because when I trust Him I smile more And He likes it when I smile.

Isn’t God crazy? Yes, He is. He’s crazy in love with you and with me. If you’ve managed to lose your way in the current struggles of your life, don’t worry. He’ll leave the light on for you.

Monday, September 22, 2003

If you are reading this I hope you will understand what this BLOG means. Maybe you had to ... be there. You figure it out.

I woke up this morning feeling desperate. Debbie was suppose to wake me up in time for me to accompany her to her doctors appointment. She didn't. This is Monday and I'm off and I wanted to go with her. She had other plans.

Ok. It's not a big deal. She's a big girl and she'll be ok.

That is when I realized that I was desperate. I had determined not to eat today. It was a fast concerning a particular situation that I wanted to bring to God's attention. As I lay in bed I prayed for that situation. But I didn't feel particularly pressed about it. I got up and showered. As I dried off I talked to God. It was a one-way conversation. I wanted to sense His presence. I wanted to know that He was in the room by hearing Him, or feeling Him, or SOMETHING. I was hungry. No, not hungry for food. I seldom eat breakfast. I'm afraid to even write this because it is going to sound "holier than thou." Please do not take it that way. I know I am not very holy. Nobody sees my issues and problems as clearly as I do. So I hope you understand. Either way, here goes ...

I was hungry for God. I was desperate to sit with Him. It was not that I felt like I had to have the answer to a problem. I just needed Him. Here. Now. And it did not feel like He was around. As a matter-of-fact it had not felt like He was around for quite awhile.

I remember sitting on my mega-chair, pulling on my Adidas. As I did I told Him that I needed help. I needed to get on my motorcycle and "get out of Dodge" and I needed to do it before someone caught me. So I hurried. I grabbed my IPOD, put the earphones in my ears, dialed it to play songs at random (meaning it had 1,722 songs to choose from.) I do that often. When I do I ask God to program the IPOD to play what He knows I need to hear. I ask Him to minister to my spirit through the music that He chooses. Not surprisingly, He often does just that. It amazes me how He meets me inside of my burgandy helmet time after time.

This time was no different. The first some was strictly instrumental. Actually it was the theme song from the movie "Pearl Harbor." Nothing too spiritual about that. But it was restful and relaxing. I focused on the orchastra as the wind blew through my open face mask. The next few songs were a mixture of praise songs and semi-rock songs declaring the Glory of God. I listened and as I did I prayed. I knew where I was heading. I took the long way around, stopping at a Casey's gas station in the country near Fosterburg to buy a bottle of Vanilla Coke before heading on.

As I rode I prayed. "God. I need you to meet me. You know where I am going. I don't want to ask You anything. I don't have an agenda. But I feel as if I'll implode if I don't spend some time in Your presence. Please, please, please, show up. And let me KNOW that you are there."

After about 15 miles and 20 minutes I stopped in the middle of the country. The roads had been winding and patches of gravel had played havoc with my sense of security. But I arrived at the ancient "Wood Cemetary." As I dismounted I grabbed the bottle of Coke and walked out to "my spot." I had been here more than once. In the middle of this small, old, country cemetary is a bench. It is made of marble. The bench itself is a tombstone. On the left is the name of a husband. It tells me the day he was born and the day he died. On the right is the name of a wife. Her birthdate is listed. There is no date of death. I assume she is still alive. It is odd that this bench is actually a grave marker. Often when I am meditating on God I imagine myself walking down a road until I see Jesus in the distance. We always walk toward each other until we meet at a bench in the country. I began this exercise long before I found Wood Cemetary. Long before I knew that this bench existed. In my mind Jesus and I would sit and talk. I always asked and He always answered. Or sometimes we just sat quietly. Once you have been with Jesus you realize that words are superfulous. They are usually not needed. Mother Theresa was once asked what she talks about when she prays. She said she seldom says anything and that God seldom says anything either. She then said that if you don't understand that ... you have never been with God. I understand that.

I sat on our bench. I took my helmet off and tossed it onto the grass, making a mental note to check for tic's before putting it back on. I turned the IPOD off and pulled the headphones from my ears. The cemetary was not silent today. An engine of some sort ran in the distance. It might have been a lawn mower but it sounded more like an ATV. I really don't know. But mainly I heard the wind. It sprinted through the trees like a million sparrows on a cross-country journey. It was restful. I heard God in it. But was He really going to show up in a tangible way... the way I needed Him today?

I reached to my belt and pulled out my Palm. I have two seperate versions of the Bible installed on it and I chose to open the modern translation of "The Message." I felt compelled to do something I had done many times before. You see, if you tap the name of the book of the Bible that is open you will suddenly see the names of every book of the Bible appear before you. I did. Without looking I tapped the screen. The next thing to appear was blocks with numbers in them. The numbers represented each chapter in the book I had spontaeneously chosen. I closed my eyes and tapped a number. Now the screen showed the same boxes but each one had the number of a verse that appeared in the chapter I had tapped on. I blindly chose a verse. Only then did I glance down at the screen. I read what was before me. Here is what it said...

"Phillipians 2: 10 that all created beings in heaven and on earth - even those long ago dead and buried - will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father."

I sat in Wood Cemetary for 90 minutes. I did not pray. I had nothing I needed to say. I didn't really hear God "speak" after reading those verses. He did not need to speak anymore. He was there. Jesus joined me on my bench and we sat together and listened to His wind play His music in His trees. I found myself raising my hands to Him much as a little child raises his hands to his Father when he wants to be held. I felt His strong, gentle, embrace. The problems, the battles, the scars, the stresses, the tensions, the angers, the disappointments, the questions, the emptiness, the guilt, the fear, the sadness ... all faded in the presence of my Jesus.

As I stood to leave my eyes fell on another tombstone a few yards away. I was looking at the back of the tombstone. Engraved in it were the words, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that god raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10: 9" I walked to the front of the tombstone. The name of the deceased was prefaced with the word "Reverand." He had been dead for a long time. And he was still preaching after all of these years. May I be as faithful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Oh, I am SO excited! My last blog that might have been worth reading was posted over two months ago. And yet you, the faithful few, continue to drop by in search of (meaningful / meaningless - select appropriate descriptive term) reading. THANK YOU! I am truly honored.

Or maybe you are just really, really, bored. Either way, glad you dropped by. But the last person that needed killen is safely ensconced in my crawl space and maybe now we can continue our drivel in peace. (Hint that Heloise won't tell you ... 3 hepa-filters nicely disguise the smell of rotting flesh wafting up through the floorboards.)

So let's see. Where were we? Oh yeah...

The CUBS. Completely Unbeatable By September. What a team. There's just one little problem. And no, it's not the Cardinals. It's the stinken Astro's. Why in the world can't ANYBODY beat these guys? I mean, come on. They won by 10 runs tonight. The destroyed the Redbirds 3 out of 3. Do you have any idea how much this TICKS ME OFF?

Two weeks ago I drove through inner-city Chicago late at night. I mean SERIOUSLY late at night. After midnight. At that time of the night in St. Louis you just assume any other car out is driven by a drunk or a cop. At that time of night in Chicago you are still likely to get stuck in a traffic jam. I don't know why. My lovely wife, my oldest son, and his lovely girl friend, and I drove around Wrigley Field. Yum. It's delicious even in the dead of night. The we drifted casusally southbound down Lake Shore Drive. The top of my electric green "Smile Machine" was in the reclining position. Debbie shivered under an afghan (the blanket not the arab.) Amanda was finding her warmth from Scott. Me? Ahhhhhh... the ball cap came off, the wind wafting in off the lake split my hair down the middle, and all was right with the world.

Surprise #1 of the night was that the downtown skyline was mainly dark. Who would have thunk it? I've never seen the Chicago skyline dark before. Come to think of it ... I still haven't. It was dark. You can't see dark. But you get my point.

And so I guided the "Roving Den Of Iniquity" (aka: Mustang) down to 35th and Shields, just off the dangerous Dan Ryan Expressway. Comiskey Park occupies the southwest corner of this intersection. It use to occupy the northwest corner. Then some loser got the brilliant idea of tearing it down and building a shopping mall of a ball park across the street. You've heard a song about it before. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Ok, the song was not written about that particular event. But it surely applies.

Anyway, it was time to treat my son to something really special. I parked the car on the west side of "Bill Veeck Drive." I led him across the street into the dimlly lit parking lot. It's a vast expanse this lot. It use to house "Old Comiskey." And so it's as big as a baseball stadium. Ask me someday and I'll show you my pictures of the old ball yard. I have pictures from it's hay day and pictures of it experiencing it's death throes as they wrecking ball tore it in half. Oh, what a painful year that was for me. 1991. I'll never forget it. But I had to show Scott two things.

As I said, it was dark. VERY dark. It was now pushing 1AM. So what. We were standing on hallowed ground. The Babe himself played on this very acre. So did Dimaggio, Gherig, Mantle. You name it. I scanned the asphalt, squinting through the dim lights posted high above the ground. I had trouble finding what I was looking for. Their were lines everywhere. Parking lines. These were not the lines I looked for. And then, about 50 yards away I thought I saw it. I started jogging in that direction.

YES! Here is was! You see, when the destroyed baseball heaven they only did one thing right. Somebody took the time to set-up a surveyors scope and mark the exact spot of the old home plate. And now, 12 years later, they realized what they had done. Today home plate is back in its exact location. Now it is made of marble. The batters box and foul lines are marble slabs. They run all the way from home plate to first and third bases. At that point they turn into painted lines. Yes, the foul lines of wonderful Old Comiskey Park are now the targets where people line up their mini-vans before a White Sox home game.

I love Scott. He's a man after my own heart. As I dug in at the batters box he paced off the 60 feet 6 inches and stood tall on the mound. In my mind he was the old knuckle baller, Hoyt Wilhelm. Hoyt is in the hall of fame now. But his autographed baseball is in my office. Stop by and I'll show it to you sometime. Hoyt went into his wind-up. The ball fluttered out of his hand and danced toward the plate. No problem. I had seen this pitch a thousand times from the stands with my dad. I simply waited. Scot couldn't figure out what I was waiting for. He never saw Hoyt pitch He's never seen a ball float up to the plate like a butterfly on meth. It danced it's 30 mph dance until it touched the outer edge of the plate. And just before it dropped into the dirt ... I creamed it. High, high, higher! Far, far, Farther! The imaginary ball soared into the night sky until it smacked into the famous "exploding scoreboard" constructed by Bill Veeck himself. Wow. I've waited a lifetime to do that.

My son and I stood in silence for a moment. He had only attended one game at this old ball yard before they knocked it over. But he understood. He knew that this was a holy moment for me. I told him that I had one more thing to show him. As we walked back to the car I stopped. Scott stopped with me. I was looking up. I smiled. I pointed upward and looked at my son. "Up there. About 20 feet directly up. That's where I use to sit with my dad. We were about 10 rows behind home plate and just to the 3rd base side." You see, my dad owned his own storm door and window company. He did work for the man, Tony, who owned "Melrose Fireworks Company." As fortune would have it, Melrose was the company charged with setting off fireworks everytime one of the Sox hit a home run. And, as a thank you to my father, Tony provided killer tickets. And right there ... just to the left of the big dipper ... that's where we sat.

Scott understood. Someday he will go to Wrigley Field with his sons. He'll pay for the Cokes and the ball caps. And somewhere in the middle of the game he'll take them by the hand and they'll go for a walk. He'll point out the entrance from under the stands that spills out behind home plate. He'll tell my grandkids about how I held his hand one day in that very place. Together we walked out into the sunshine, his brother in my arms, his mother and sister following along behind. And with wide eyes he'll tell them about the first pitch he ever saw delivered in Wrigley Field. He'll tell them that Slammin Sammy Sosa deposited it into the left field bleachers. The same bleachers where he and I sat on many sun drenched afternoons waiting ... waiting ... waiting for that elusive Cubs championship.

Maybe this will be the year. Probably not. I'll probably not live to see that World Champion Flag fly above Wrigley Field. Maybe my son will. But it doesn't really matter. Cardinal fans are rabid about their team. And that's not a bad thing. They should be. They have a solid history. But they will never really understand. They think they do. But they don't. You see, to be a Cub fan and to pass that passion along from generation to generation ... well, it's a sacred trust. I have longed believed that in order to bring out the best in people you must find a way to rally them against a common enemy. Lincoln understood that as he faced down the Confederate Army. So did Churchill. against the Nazi evil. On a somewhat lesser level so did Bill Veeck, planter of the green vines climbing the brick walls of Wrigleys outfield. So did Harry Carey as he leaned out that press box window and led his army in another chorus of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." So did Ryne Sandberg. That's why he couldn't stand to stay in retirement. Same story with former Cubs pitcher and current television announcer (for the 2nd time) Steve Stone. They came back because of their blood. It's thick with blue. They can't help it. Neither can I. Neither can Scott.

Cardinal fans have their 21 year old world championship to revel in. Cubs fans? We are encamped against the enemy. In the dead of night. We are surrounded. It's us against the world. Fathers and sons. Sometimes even mothers and daughters. And don't forget an entire world class city of steel structures stretching toward the Cubby blue skies, and mom and pop neighborhoods where kids still race to grab a hot dog and snatch a seat in the front row of the bleachers, ready to pick one out of the air or out of the basket, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

September in Chicago. And I'm homesick.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I am a lousy blogger. Sorry. I'll be back soon. Life's just been too busy. If anybody is still reading this please LET ME KNOW!

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

This is our year. It is in the air. The Cubs. The Chicago Cubs. And maybe even the White Sox. Cross town. You've heard of the "subways series" in New York. How about an "El-Series" in Chicago. It's in the air.

God bless you boys.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Now I know why they call it a "spoiler." When somebody rips it off of your car... it spoils everything. It spoils the way the car looks. It spoils your mood. It spoils your bank balance (can you say "deductable?")

I was only in the hospital for 45 minutes. The poor woman was not well. They had yanked out her shoulder ... ball and socket both ... and put her in a new one. If that doesn't deserve a pastoral visit, nothing does. She was a little goofy with medication but I would be too if I were her.

When I walked out of the hospital it was laying on the asphalt parking lot. If cars could bleed this one would have. The electric green wing was cracked and upside down. The top of the trunk lid was cracked. There were scratches up each side of the rear quarter panel. When I went into the hospital 2 skate boarders complimented me on my shiny Mustang. I thanked them and moved along. Did they do this dastardly deed? I dunno. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the wind. I've never seen a squirrel with this kind of lifting power. No ... it had to be a "someone." Not a "something."

Well, since buying this gas powered smile machine I have been careful to point out to myself and to others ... it's just a thing. A hunk of steel and rubber. Ok, a cool hunk of steel and rubber, but still, just a hunk. I would like to thank my Alton Memorial Hospital vandalism bandits for proving me right. I did not ruin my week. (Yes, my day was a bit shaky... but not for long.) It has not changed my opinion of God nor has it altered the values He has given me. I slept just fine last night, thank you.

I can't help but think about the words Jesus spoke while He stood there on that hill preaching to the crowd. He told them, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

He was right, you know. I'm just a normal, everyday Christian. Nothing super-powered about me. If I can figure out the truth of His statement there is truly hope for ANYBODY. Billy Graham I ain't.

The car will get fixed and it will look cool again. But everytime I look in the rear-view mirror and see that spoiler on the trunk lid I'll remember ... it's just steel and rubber.

But do you think it would be ok if I ran over just one skate boarder?

Answer: Less than 7 months.

Question: How long does it take a newlywed female to turn from a bubble gum popper to a full fledged adult woman?

How do I know: My lovely daughter, Kelli ... wife of Mr. Joseph McGill ... confided in me this week that she now listens to AM talk radio.

Issues raised: Is this genetic? Is it hormonal? Is it cultural? Is it a desperate attempt to survive the hectic pace of adulthood? It is rush hour boredom?

Conclusions: None. But you have to admit ... it is hilarious.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Do you ever feel like you just turned around for a second and God left the building? He was here just a minute ago. I looked back to see where we had been and when I turned back, He was no where to be found.

It is all preception. God is here. God is there. There is no place that God is not. Except, I suppose, in hell. That is, after all, a very good definition of hell. "The absence of God." That doesn't mean there won't be fire and brimstone too. But God IS here. Right here. He is in the room I where I am writing this and He is in the room where you are reading this. Whether or not He is "felt" is not at all the issue.

And yet it is the issue. Because I like feeling Him. I like the assurance that comes from sensing His hand on my shoulder. Guiding my decisions. Directing my life. It makes me nervous to feel that I am in charge. I do not trust me. I do not recommend that you trust me either. I have seen what happens when I follow my own advice. It is not pretty. And so when I feel Him I am more relaxed. I am more at peace. I am more confident. I like me better. I like you better too.

So what is the deal? Why is God so "feelable" at some moments and virtually "unfeelable" at others? Is it always the recent history of my actions that becomes the determining factor? Is it strictly His choice? Is it a combination of the two? Are there other mitigating factors. Things like ... oh ... my success rate at having a "quiet time" each day? Or maybe whether or not I have listened to theologically solid worship music? Could it have to do with how successful I have been at keeping my mouth shut and listening for His nearly silent whisper?

I wish I knew the answer to all of these questions. I am one of the pastor's. I am suppose to know. But the more I know the more I realize I have a very, very, small handle on the truths that matter the most. I can teach you biblical fact and I can point out heresy. I can quote more scriptures than I realize, though God help me if you require that I also remember the exact reference. I can barely remember where I parked my car at the mall. But I figure that Jesus didn't memorize the old testament chapters and verses so I'm not going to let anybody make me feel guilty if I'm not too good at it.

The real problem is that I have a hard time distinguishing what God is doing today. You want to know what He did yesterday? No problem. I can help you with that. But just ask me what He is doing now ... and I'll either lie to you and tell you ... or I'll admit that I don't really know.

And so I confess it here and now. I am right where you are. I am busy wondering about God. I am trying to understand what He is saying and what He is doing. Sometimes history proves that I got my guess correct. Sometimes history shows that I don't know any more about what He is doing than I know about nuclear fusion. Or is it nuclear fission? See. I don't know.

Here is what I do know. What He is doing is not dependent upon my understanding ... or even recognizing ... His actions. He's God. I am far less than God. I am made in His image. But somewhere along the line I forgot exactly what that means as far as how it works it's way out in my everyday life. (Note: Anybody that tells you that they have a handle on that is not telling you the truth. They are on an ego trip. They want you to think that they have it all together so that YOU will do what THEY want you to do. That is dangerous. I suspect that it also ticks God off. Though He will have to tell you for sure.)

I also know that God is ultimately going to have His way. He is going to have it with our without my cooperation. He is going to have it with or without my approval and understanding of it. He loves me (and you) very much. But if we get in His way ... He just might decide to go over us instead of around us. I am doubting the pleasantness of that experience.

And so, as for me, here is the plan. I am going to cooperate. During the times when I feel Him ... the times when I know He is present and I know what He wants me to do ... I am going to do it. And I am going to enjoy it. I have learned that when I am near to Him nothing else matters. In Jesus I find stillness. And in the stillness of Jesus ... what else matters? Answer: nothing. When I sense His nearness I relax. I find satisfaction in simply breathing. All sense of rush and hurry vanish like a vapor. When I sense His nearness I want nothing else. I just want to be with Him. I do not crave food. I do not crave drink. I do not crave action or entertainment. The moment is enough. And I want that moment. I want it now.

The second part of my plan involves those moments when I do not feel Him ... the times when I know He is present but only because He told me that He always is. In those moments I am going to do the last thing that He told me to do. I am going to do it until I get it done. And then, if possible, I am going to keep doing it anyway. If not possible, I am going to find a quiet place and listen very carefully. In hopes of hearing Him again. If I do not hear Him I am going to look for Him in the places where I have found Him before. In continued stillness. In His Word. In serving others. He will show up sooner or later. He loves me. He enjoys me. The only "fault" I can find in this God of mine is that He seems to have very poor taste in those He chooses to call His own. I am really glad about that.

I know He is here tonight. But I do not feel Him. I do not hear Him. But He isn't hiding. He isn't lost. I just live in a noisy world of my own creation. There are 11 teenagers in my living room. The air conditioner hums. Somebody has a stereo on and a DVD is playing on a television. Even the ceiling fan above my bed whooshes louder than He talks. But He is here. He left His deposit in my heart and it promises me that He will be back.

I'll just wait until He comes before I make any major decisions.

Monday, June 23, 2003

AUGUST 2001 To say that I was apprehensive as I climbed into the back of the jeep would be like saying Neil Armstrong had a bounce in his step when he climbed out onto the moon. It is an understatement of the highest order. I looked up at “the high country.” I had been higher. I had even skied higher. But I had heard enough about the roads in this area to know that this was no place for the weak of heart or the frail of body. And I was feeling pretty frail. Our “Marble experience” had been an excellent one to date. New friends, new surroundings, and a healthy dose of wise counsel had brought refreshment to the weariness that had taken up residence in my bones and in my soul. Still. “The high country” sounds so… well … high. High and untamed. I was a man with shaking hands and pounding heart. My vision had cleared but my confidence had been reduced to rubble. And now I was, of my own free will, climbing into the back of a vehicle that looked as though it had seen far worse days than I had. Our little lodge was already located at 8,500 feet. Why did I feel like I had to prove something?

Not to worry. We barely made it out of the Marble driveway when “Old Betsy” sputtered, coughed, and died. It was a sign from God! Stay home! Take a nap! Read a book! But no, it was not to be. Henry, our tour guide for the afternoon, sent one of the guys back on foot to retrieve … "the old jeep." It seems that Betsy had been the newest vehicle in the fleet. In moments I was climbing … again … into a vehicle that looked like a holdover from the dustbowl evacuation of the early 1900’s. This Land Rover looked safer because it had a roof. It turns out that roofs are over rated. I was soon to learn that the backcountry highways of Colorado … mainly dirt ruts that they call “roads” … required a man to bounce up and down. I was wearing a baseball cap. Baseball caps have little steel buttons right in the top center as an anchor to their construction. Six inches above my head was a metal roll bar. Every bounce that required me to rise 6 1/16 inches or more out of my seat brought crushing pain to my skull as the steel button punched its way deeper toward my frontal lobe.

As we proceeded up the mountain the scenery went from simply stunning to awe inspiring. Between flashes of white hot pain on top of my head and the relative calmness of those “in between gaping holes” moments I noticed that at times we were a mere foot from the edge of eternity. But what an eternity it was! The side of the “old” jeep opened up to an unlimited view of … well, of the world. Henry pointed out the sights as we drove along. Over that mountain is Aspen. And over there, those mountains are called … something. He gave us the name during one of my white-hot moments. But they were big enough to have their own identities. And here you’ll see elk or deer or God knows what. We walked back into the trees a short distance to find one of natures unspoiled waterfalls. I actually took my hand out of my pocket where I had been rolling my Xanax back and forth long enough to reach out and splash it in the frigid pool. Climbing back into the ancient Land Rover we came face to face with a nice new jeep with a dummy driver. He was going counter-clockwise in a clockwise world. The narrow ruts were not wide enough for vehicles to go in both directions at once and so local rules stated that everybody drives in the same direction. (Interesting sidelight: The loop was roughly 12 miles long. If you happen to live one mile to the left of “town” and wanted a gallon of milk to wash down your Frosted Flakes … tough luck, baby. You still had to drive 11 miles of terror-laden terrain for your drink.) But good old Henry knew just what to do in these circumstances. Only sissies and flat landers really need roads. He simply made a sharp left and drove up the side of the mountain. Once our tail end cleared the road he stopped and waited for the ignorant city slicker to drive by and then he slid back onto the “highway” and we continued on our way.

My head was bruised. I was woozy. Oh, it’s not that I was not fascinated with what I was seeing. I just was not really prepared to pay the price that was being exacted. This was a pretty rough place!

And then it became worthwhile. Suddenly the cost was not so high. We rounded a corner and the most scenic moment of my life came into view. To our left was the Crystal River and on the other side was a dilapidated old mill, long since shuttered to the world. It’s vacancy gave it a charm … a mystery … a beauty that would not have been there if it had still been cranking out whatever it use to crank out. Henry, my wife, my pastor friends, and I all got out and walked to the rivers edge. The only sound to be heard was the rushing of the cool, clear, water making its dash over the boulders.

We walked silently, each lost in our own thoughts. The world was awash in the beauty of God. Our stay at that river was far too short. For once I actually wanted a tent and a sleeping bag. I did not want to leave this place. It was a cathedral of water, mountain, and sky. I just wanted to worship here.

And yet the moment passed and it was time to go. As we climbed back into our trusty transportation to continue our beating I realized that I had just experienced one of those moments in which God defines our current reality. Life had been so hard. Those were days of illness and frustration. The pain came in flashes and then receded, allowing me to see God’s hand and presence for just a bit before the next wave washed over me. I took the remainder of the ride without so much as a thought of regret or despair. The short minutes spent at the mill had made it all worthwhile. The occasional whacks on the head or crashes into the nearest pastor didn’t bother me so much anymore. I had been in the presence of the Almighty.

And so there ya go. That is life for you. You move along and you take what comes at you without really having the opportunity to pick and choose. You do your best. Sometimes life is great and sometimes it really isn’t. But I have learned that the best views of the Father’s hand at work are seen from the roughest roads. Oh, I think He does His best to reveal Himself day after day after mundane day. But we are oblivious to it because we are too focused on the pain or the trial de-jour. And so Abba takes us off of the expressway and detours us on the backcountries mountainous roads for awhile. He allows us to get beaten and bruised. Some decide it isn’t worth it and they go back. Those who do miss the view God has in store for them.

Today I am very, very, glad that I did not go back on that August afternoon. I survived the event. I came away stronger, though bruised. I came away more appreciative of the easy, smooth highways that I travel most days. And yet I miss the view from the rutted road. I am traveling too fast to catch a view of the cathedral. If the mill were to appear on the side of the highway right now … I don’t think I’d see it. I am too entranced with the taillights ahead of me. It’s a shame, really. Sometimes the most beautiful views are seen from the roughest terrain. And you have to be willing to pay the price in order to see it. I do not think that God ever sends ... or allows ... a pain or an anguish without a reason. I think that He always sees our path out of the agony before we ever enter into it. I imagine that God will let me get beat up a few more times before He calls me home. I am sure I’ll complain and ask Him why it has to be so. I trust that in those moments He will remind me of the mill. And I hope I will be wise enough to shut up and enjoy the bruising.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

There were things my momma taught me and there were things she forgot. I always thought she got all of the major bases covered. Wear clean underwear because you might be in a car accident and have to go to the hospital. Eat your vegetables. Flush and put the seat down. These things have served me well throughout my life. But just when you think you have the rhythm down reality jumps up and bites you.

It was a cool evening and I had just finished a hot meeting. I drove home and nobody was there. Perfect. I dumped the briefcase and dockers, changing into jean shorts, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. I put the earphones of my IPOD mp3 player into my ears, my motorcycle helmet down over my head, tossed a fresh piece of bubble gum into my mouth, climbed onto my "Hardley" and tore off into the crystal clear night air. Sweet. There is no better way to burn stress than a late night bike ride through the winding country roads north and east of town. I hit the play button on the mini-stereo attached to my belt and the soulful voice of Sara Groves filled my cranium. Heaven. I turned my brain off. Sara sang. Occasional "thuds" interuppted her as unfortunate bugs slammed into my helmet and face shield at 50ish mph. There was no traffic to speak of, the roads were dry, the stars were out. Even the moon cooperated by beaming it's nearly full face down on me.

I snapped the gum. Sara sang "Jesus, bright as the morning star." I cracked the gum. "Jesus, how can I tell You how beautiful you are to me?" I worked the gum into a frenzy. "Jesus, song that the angels sing." I was on a curved section of Sieler Road when it happened. "Jesus, dearer to my heart than anything." I blew a bubble with my gum. It popped harmlessly and I sucked it back into my mouth. "Sweeter than springtime, purer than sunshine, ever my song will be, Jesus you're beautiful to me." I blew another one. A little bigger this time. "Jesus, bright as the morning star." I felt it touch the inside of the mouth guard on my helmet and burst. Hmm. "Jesus, how can I tell you how beautiful you are to me?" The next bubble was big. Really big. "Oh, oh, oh, You are so beautiful." I could see this bubble. It hit the chin guard and moved up toward my nose. "So beautiful. So beautiful. So beautiful." And it popped. The hole evidently developed in the bottom of the bubble. This is significant because it means that the backlash of the stretched gum rocketed upward. Upward... toward my nose... toward my eyes... toward my closed, lightly tented, face mask. "Jesus, You're beautiful to me. Beautiful. Beautiful. Jesus You're beautiful to me." It crossed my line of vision and attached itself to the cloth material on the inside of the helmet above my eyes... above the face shield. At this point I could only see... bubble gum. Stretched thin and sealing off my vision of the road ahead of me. "Sweeter than springtime. Purer than sunshine. Ever my song will be, Jesus You're beautiful to me."

The following moments are a blur in my memory banks. I ripped open the face shield. The gum held fast to its material. (Pause for a teachable moment. Do you remove your right hand to tear away the gum, leaving yourself with no throttle and no brakes? Do you remove your left hand to tear away the gum leaving your clutch unattended? Obviously that depends on the circumstances. The circumstances depends on what is ahead of you. I had no idea what was ahead of me. I was blind, remember?) It was a gamble but at 50mph in the dark in the country on narrow winding roads you have to do SOMETHING fast. My left hand deserted the clutch and tore at the gum. The onrushing wind had already pushed it into my glasses. The easiest and quickest thing to do was to remove the glasses... and the gum went with it. Yes... thank you Jesus. I held onto the gum, the glasses, and the re-discovered clutch as I shut everything down and coasted to a stop on the dark side of the road. It took a few minutes but I managed to remove the gunk and get on my way again.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the bubble gum industry for degrading its product over the last few years. As a kid the quality of the gum was much higher and a motorcyclist would have been doomed. His tombstone would have called him "Mr. Tree."

So. It would seem that mom missed one. A really big one. Boys and girls, listen to old uncle Ron. Don't chew bubble gum while riding a motorcycle. If you do perhaps God will be gracious to you and spare your wretched life. Or... maybe he will say, "I warned you through old uncle Ron." And it will be tree time for you. In the meantime I am switching to Life Savers.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Twas the dark of night. A chill was in the air. Dampness clung to the earth like a used Huggy on a 3 month old baby. The clock on the gymnasium wall told me it was 10:30PM. My instincts told me it was midnight. The opposite of "high noon." At high noon the good guys win. They come out with guns blazing and the bad guys fall face first into the dusty street. The locals and the shop keepers return to their stores and saloons to talk about the latest guy who needed killen and how he had got what was a'comin to him.

But this was my midnight. I was the bad guy. The good guy was my wife. She stood opposite me, in the huge, inflateable jousting pit. Together we hovered 4 feet off of the hardwood floor. The pit was surrounded by similarly aged adults. We were all here for one reason. It was prom night and our children were juniors. That means that we... the parents of the juniors... were in charge of "after-prom." It was going to be a safe night for all high school students involved. There would be no drunken brawls. No back seat, estrogen/testosterone charged lovers. Just fun in the gym served up with food and music in the commons. But for the moment all eyes were on Mr. and Mrs. Woods. At the prodding of other scaredy cats we had tossed our shoes and jewelry into a corner and picked-up our jousting thingys. (Not the technical name.) And here we stood... facing each other. She had a smile on her face because she knew what I knew. She had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I, on the other hand, had nothing to gain and everything to lose. No matter that she is a trained aid in a behavior disorder classroom. No matter that she's had hours of training and experience in taking down unruly young people. I am a man. She is a woman. I am suppose to win. She is suppose to lose.

But there was a problem. This dainty little blonde standing on her perch several feet from me was my wife. I have sworn to protect and honor her. I promised her father 25 years ago that I would do an admirable job in replacing him as the primary man in her life. And now here I stood with a padded stick in my hands... and my job description was to knock the living daylights out of her. Every man in the room cringed for me. Every woman in the room glowed with expectant anticipation.

As I thought about these things I felt the air rush by my face. I looked up to see a red padded jousting stick fly by my head. It was in the hands of "Debbie the Crusher." She didn't even slow down before a "whump" landed on my knees and I staggered slightly backward. Women cheered gleefully. Men were silent.

I remember thinking that I could not do this. I can't hit her. My children nursed at her breast. I pray with her every night before we fade off to sleep. (Ziiiiiing... another violent thrust caught my left shoulder.) I walked into her classroom one day to find her back turned toward a charging young man with pointed scissors raised above his head. He was intent on having a substitute for the next day. I took him out without even blinking an eye. He looked up at me and said, "Hey! You can't do that to me! I'm a kid!" I drooled on his face. (Swish! The bill of my hat went cock-eyed as she almost took it off my head.) She got desperately sick once with a furious case of mono. I nearly carried her into the doctors office and then nursed her back to health. I fed her Chinese carry-out that year for our wedding anniversary and then tenderly tucked her into bed. I spent the rest of the night with Moe, Larry, and Curly. (WHAM! This time it was my right shoulder.) I looked up. She was smiling at me. I could tell she smelled it... victory. Bragging rights.

Suddenly, in the theatre of my mind I watched a video. I was in my rocking chair and "Gramma Debbie" was in one next to me. She held our little grandson on her knee and told him the story of how she decimated me in front of a crowd of my peers back in our younger days. He looked at me... with disdain. He hugged his gramma. I excused myself and went to take a nap.

Across the pit she took careful aim. I let her. She swung her stick even harder than before. She missed cleanly and her momentum caused her to lean to the left. I decided to help her out. I grasped my padded stick more tightly, took careful aim, and swum from my right. My blow caught her mid-section and helped her regain her vertical stature. It also caused her to take her eyes off of me. For just a second. A short second. Just enough time to swing one more time... at her shins... hard. This swing was from the left. He upper body was still moving toward her right when my latest swing sent her lower body to her left. You don't have to be a physics major to figure out that this is contradictory movement.

What I remember most is the groan from the females in the crowd. The men didn't cheer. They didn't dare. This time they had nothing to gain and everything to lose. The crowd quickly dispersed. Nothing to see here folks. We climbed back over the edge of the pit and onto the gym floor.

Nothing more was ever said. That's ok. That's more than ok. It's a relief. You see, in the world of masculanity vs. feminity you do not have to win. You only have to not lose.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

I’ll always remember the very first time I saw her name in print. “Kelli Sue Woods.” It was written on the little pink card affixed to her clear bassinet at Hinsdale Hospital in Hinsdale, Illinois. She was not yet twelve hours old. Kelli was one of those kids that like to keep you up late at night. The night of her birth was the first time she pulled that trick, making her introduction at 12:08am on September 9, 1980. It was well after 3:00am before I hit the sheets. And then I was back at that little window staring into the hospital nursery just a few hours later, reading that card. “Kelli Sue Woods.” As we left the hospital a couple of day later they gave us her tiny arm bracelet with her name on it and, of course, a copy of her birth certificate came in the mail a short time later. All of them carried the same brand… “Kelli Sue Woods.”
When she was about three we took her to Central Hardware to get her fingerprinted. They were doing one of those special “don’t let your kid get stolen” emphasis. Some elderly lady sat behind a folding table, rolled her little hand on the ink pad, and pressed each finger gently onto a piece of paper. There! Now she is safe from the world and all of its evils. If somebody kidnaps her we’ll be able to show the police what her fingerprints look like. And then all we’ll have to do is check the fingerprints of every blond haired, blue eyed, kid in America to find the one that matches. Then we’ll have our Kelli back. Somehow I think they were hoping we would buy a wrench or something before we left the store.
I remember some year later as she came home from school and proudly showed me her Social Security card. Social Security? She was maybe… I don’t know… seven? But sure enough there was her name all typed neatly in and signed in ink underneath. “Kelli Sue Woods.” This little bundle of energy and cuteness was now officially backed by all of the authority and power of the United States of America! Impressive!
High school came around all too soon. With it came a driver’s license. Ugh. She and I went out in frequent spins around the neighborhood. One of those drives accidentally ended up in Jerry Edmonds front yard. That’s another story for another day. She drove and I prayed. We got through it. A short time later a crazy man at the Drivers License Bureau gave her a laminated card with her picture and name on it. “Kelli Sue Woods.” She was now an officially sanctioned driver in the state of Illinois. Who came up with this system? She was just a kid. Barely a kid! And now she was a kid driving my car.
On graduation day they called her name from the stage, formally proclaiming “Kelli Sue Woods” as a graduate of Civic Memorial High School. I was a little fogged and shocked on that day. My wallet was twitching under me… sensing something huge was about to happen. That something was called… college. Kel started out tamely and ended up like a lion. One and one half years at Lewis and Clark Community College flew by. Then came the transfer… the dreaded transfer… to Greenville College. I had nothing against Greenville. It was just that she wanted to LIVE there. This was totally unacceptable! And yet her mother took her and they moved her into a sleazy little dorm room. Every month I got a bill for the tuition of “Kelli Sue Woods.” She finished college like she finished high school, walking across an over-sized stage to receive a diploma declaring “Kelli Sue Woods” as a graduate of Greenville College with a major in education.
And then just as quickly as she came into being… she ceased to exist. It took Debbie’s mother nine months to make her. I’m not certain exactly how long she was engaged to Mr. Joseph McGill. Maybe it was nine months. Maybe it was longer. But I am absolutely sure it was on their minds for much longer than that. January 11, 2003 found her standing on a stage again. This time she was there with pen in hand, signing “Kelli Sue Woods” for the last time. When she put the pen down I uttered some magic words and turned her into Kelli Sue McGill. One second she’s Woods and the next second… POOF…she’s McGill. She probably never realized it but I was always working magic in her life. Whether it was helping her mother get her started, Loaning her the name “Kelli” (my middle name is Kelly,) letting her make her first road-kill in my car, (a former skunk and now merely a horrifying, crippling, odor,) or baptizing her into her faith and signing her certificate, I really tried my best to make Miss Kelli Sue Woods all that God wanted her to be.
About two weeks ago I finally got use to her being Mrs. Joseph McGill. It took awhile. The dainty smell of cosmetics and girly stuff in her room has been replaced by Scott’s gym socks. That will drive reality home in a heart beat. And then yesterday the most wonderful thing happened. Something good actually came out of the Alton telegraph. Yesterday I saw for what I am certain is the very last time the name “Kelli Sue Woods” in official print. Her former name was in the paper declaring her a “Greenville Scholar” because she had made the deans list at least three times.
Wow. My Kelli. She was gone for more than three months and then she dropped by, quite unexpectedly, to visit. There she is, for the entire world to see. Kelli Sue Woods is a scholar! I never doubted it.
You know how when they build a new ship the navy takes her out for a “shake down cruise?” They go out and sail around the high seas for a while, never getting too far from home, just to make sure all systems are functioning well. Then they drop back by home one more time and then it’s off to see the world. Well… that was my yesterday. Kelli Sue McGill has completed her “shake down cruise.” She dropped back by the old shipyard yesterday, appearing in the newspaper as Kelli Sue Woods, just to let us know that all is well. And then she sailed back out into the world. And hey, it’s ok! She’s ready for whatever comes her way! Because my little Kelli… she’s a scholar…

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

I needed gas. That is all. I didn’t need a phone call. I didn’t need a lecture. I needed gas. Why can’t a man just get what he needs anymore without having to take everything else the world has to offer along with it.

It was noonish. Yesterday. I had to be someplace. It was not far away but that little “gas pump” light was on and I’ve never seen it light up before on this particular car. So I really did not know how far I could go before the light became battery powered instead of gasoline powered. Know what I mean? So I stopped at my friendly, local Amoco dealer.

The weather was good and the top was down on the car. I slid my debit card through the “pay at the pump” slot and it told me to fill ‘er up. I let the pumping begin. I strolled around to the front of my car. It was covered with bugs and I was just checking to see if I needed to clean anything off with Mr. Friendly Service Station’s squeegee.

My cell phone rang. Actually it vibrated. I can’t hear ringing phones in my car because my stereo is too big. My stereo makes me smile. So I keep the phone on vibrate. As it did I leaned against the front of my car and answered it. (Note: The front of the car places me approximately 7 feet from the nozzle which continued feeding my thirsty gas tank.) The phone call was long distance. So what? Like it matters anymore. When you have a cell phone you can call Bangor, Maine, or you can call East Alton. Same price. This is one of the good things about cell phones.

While standing against the car, seeing the digital numbers drive me toward bankruptcy, talking to my friend on the cell phone, a pick-up truck pulled up behind me. I noticed him right away. Something did not feel right. For some reason I just didn’t think this guy was here for gas. I don’t know why that thought entered my mind… but it did.

(Teachable Moment: For those of us who consider ourselves “Born again children of the Living God,” we need to take these moments seriously. You see, God’s Spirit now resides in us. And sometimes He has a hard time keeping quiet. Sometimes He wants to tell us things. Once we learn to hear Him, if we keep in practice, it isn’t really that hard. So when you get “that feeling”… pay attention. Head’s up. Something just might be about to happen.)

So I turned toward the pick-up truck and watched a man get out. It was a black truck. Nothing fancy. Rather used and slightly beaten is the way I remember it. So was the man. He wore jeans and a “feed and seed” ball cap pulled low over his eyes. I was not even slightly surprised when he began walking toward me. Again… I do not know why. I just was not.

“You are breaken the rules.” He said. We were face to face.

I lifted the voice part of the phone away from my face and said the most brilliant thing I could think of at the time. “What?”

“You are breaken the rules,” he repeated.

I asked the man on the phone to hold on for just a second. I intentionally did not cover the mouthpiece. I wanted to make sure that if I were about to meet my Waterloo, somebody would hear it.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you are talking about.” The man stared at me. I stared back at him.

“The rules! You aren’t suppose to be atalkin on the phone while apumpin gas!” He wasn’t belligerent. He was simply insistent. And he was not happy.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know that.” I smiled. I turned away from him and resumed my phone conversation. My friend asked what in the world just happened. I told him that I had no idea.

My pick-em-up buddy continued to stare at me. Ok, I guess you could call it more of a glare than a stare by this time. The seconds slowly ticked away. I would suppose that probably 15 or 20 of them passed by before he turned away, walked past my gas pump, got in his truck, and drove away. He did not buy any gas. He did not go into the station. He just left.

This event requires summarization. Here is the best I can do: “While purchasing gas and talking on the cell phone a man pulled up in a truck, got out, and yelled at me three times for doing so. Then he got back in his truck, pulled onto the highway, and left.”

Yep. I just re-read it and that about covers it. I called the owner of the gas station. He happens to be a very good friend of mine. I told him the story. I think he hurt himself laughing. And really… it was funny. But I can’t help but wonder… does this kind of thing happen to everybody? What the heck was that all about? When was the last time you picked up a newspaper to read that an idiot on a cell phone blew up a gas station? You know, maybe if I was smoking a stogie while inhaling the fumes from directly above the hose I would understand. Maybe if I were wearing cotton flannel and climbing back and forth, in and out of my car with cloth seats and then running my hand along the hose of the pump I could understand. Consider this… if it were really that dangerous… don’t you think ALL terrorists would give up on exploding shoes and just start making cell phone calls from rental cars? I dunno. I mean, really. Maybe it’s time to set up security at gas stations similar to airports. You just can’t be too careful these days.

By the way, if you call me on my cell and I answer… and all you hear is a loud KA-BOOM!!!! and then nothing… forget everything I just said.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

"Sometimes I sits and thinks. Sometimes I just sits." I don't know why I remember that saying engraved on a wooden plaque in a Ozark souvineer shop when I was a kid. But I do. I didn't understand. How can you "just sit"? I mean... how can you just sit without thinking? How can you do anything without thinking? To turn off your brain is an impossibility. To suspend your predisposal to be the one directing it is almost as hard.

Now, at the age of 47, I think I've got it. I have it figured out. It has taken approximately 3,650 Xanax tablets, over 100,000 milligrams of Zoloft, thousands of dollars in medical bills, and a whole world of patience. Oh, and some pain. Yeah. Pain.

But here's the deal. I was playing with my Pocket PC today. Really... not working. Just playing. And I got bored. How many games of Solitare can you play before your brain shuts off? I sat for about 5 minutes and then... BLINK... the unit turned itself off. Hmm. I don't usually sit around long enough for that to happen. I run a program, read an article, or make an appointment note, and then I turn it off. But this time I didn't and it turned itself off for me. I knew it would do that. I had read it in the instructions. But this was the first time I saw it happen while I was staring at the screen. When the Pocket PC turned off... my brain turned back on. A game of electromagnetic tag. That was a revelatory moment for me. I realized for the first time that everything is built to turn off occasionally. A car cannot run forever. You have to turn it off, gas it up, rotate the tires, maybe put in new spark plugs, and then it will run again. If you don't do those things it will die an early death. A computer has to stop and recharge its battery. It must be "de-fragged" and viruses must be rooted out. Then she's ready to recompute. Why should I be any different?

Not too long ago I "blinked off." I had done a lot of work. Things had been really, really, busy. Craziness abounded. When it all slowed down for a little bit I forgot how to recharge. I couldn't find a way... a place... to plug in and recharge. And honestly, I forgot that I was suppose to. And then one day I just... shut down. I might as well have been a 1965 Rambler in the Indy 500. I wasn't going anywhere. I HAD to sit. But I never stopped thinking. I thought too much. I struggled to understand, I wrestled in prayer, and I read and studied in order to get well. It didn't help. None of it made any difference.

And then God told me what to do. He told me to stop. Just stop. He told me to be quiet. Stop wrestling. Stop studying. Just stop. And I did. I found a place and I didn't talk. I sat. I walked. I listened. I stopped. And when I did I learned that God was there. Sometimes He spoke to me and I heard Him. Most often He did not tell me to do anything. He just revealed things to me that He wanted me to know. Those things quietly changed my life. They rearranged my understanding of what life is about. They gave me my soul back.

I'm talking too much again lately. Worse yet, I am thinking too much. I am not doing enough sitting, walking, and listening. But today God turned my Pocket PC off... and I remembered. Sometimes I sits and thinks. But I think... for awhile at least.... I'll just sits.

Friday, March 21, 2003


One of the sweetest words in the human language... vacation. I just finished one up. Two glorious weeks with a new car and a full tank of gas. Sweeeeet. The first week it pretty much rained. No problem! I sat around, read, rested, recuperated. By Thursday though it began to get old. Sooooo... I checked out the old Weather Channel and found that just 250 miles away... in Memphis... it was gonna be sunny and in the 70's all weekend! Woo Hoo! I quickly informed Debbie that she needed to pack a bag because after she got off of work on Friday we were Tennessee bound. And so we went!

You ever been to Memphis? No? Well if you go... don't bother leaving downtown. I mean, there is Graceland. Tacky, tacky, tacky. Trust me, just stay downtown. You'll be much better off. Ok, do go to see Bellevue Baptist Church. But then run... do not walk... back downtown. And be sure to stay at "The Peabody." They have ducks there. They keep them on the roof most of the time. But at 11am each day the "Duckmaster" brings them down the elevator where they exit at the lobby and walk across a red carpet before sliding into a lovely marble fountain. At 5pm they go back home to the roof. Why, you ask? I don't know. They just do.

It rained in Memphis that weekend. All weekend. But it was ok. Even convertibles have tops. So we kept ours up. We walked Beale Street and ate pork sandwiches while watching a pseudo-Elvis serenade us with "Blue Suede Shoes." We dined at the world famous Rendevous and the ribs were supurb. Still... it rained. We went home on Sunday evening. Chris met us at the door. He said it had been sunny and in the 70's all weekend. Hmmmm. By the time we got home it was cloudy. Drizzly. Yukky.

I settled down in front of the weather channel again. It was going to keep on being ugly. But.... Chicago... was going to be nice! Sunny and in the 60's! Poor Debbie had to go back to work but I loaded my own luggage and headed north on Monday morning. It was cloudy when I left Bethalto. It was cloudy in Springfield. Same in Bloomington. Ditto for Joliet. In Chicago... I had to turn the wipers on to keep the snow off of my windshield. The next day, Tuesday was more of the same. I called home. Scott answered. I listened in dismay as he sang "Blue skies!! Nothing but blue skies do I see!" I spent the night, got in the car, drove home. Through the rain. It was still raining when I got there.

I was down to one last weekend of vacation time. The Weather channel. Cindy Pressler. They all agreed... it was going to be cloudy and not so warm. But Kansas City! Kansas City was going to be NICE! West was definately the way to go!

Fool me once... shame on you. Fool me twice.. shame on me. Fool me three times... just shoot me. I stayed home. Saturday I put the top down and cruised town. I fired up the motorcycle and sped up and down the highways and byways. I basked in the rays of God's own sun. Sweeeet.

When will I learn? When WILL I learn? I'll tell you when I'll learn. As soon as I figure out what the heck happened... that's when I'll learn.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

It's official. I'm having my mid-life crises. Woo Hoo! I've waited for this for so very long! And the cool part is... I'm not miserable! It doesn't hurt! If this is a mid-life crises I STRONGLY urge you to have your own!

I found myself in Alton today. Had a nice lunch all by myself at Carver Southern BBQ. Yum. That's a great way to kick off a crises. With a virtual one man banquet! I sat and read Newsweek Magazine while munching on dead pig soaked in sweet and mild sauce. Add a bit of baked beans and some potato salad and life is gooooood. I learned while reading an article about MY president that he and I use the same devotional book each morning, "My Utmost For His Highest." Nothing quite like starting your day with the same briefing that the president gets, huh?

The next stop in my crises was to get back in my car and begin driving. Where to? That's the cool part! When you are suppose to be coming apart at the seams you don't have to have a destination in mind! You can go anywhere... or nowhere! And everybody will understand! So I cut back behind the mall and shot down Alby Street. That's where I noticed that the sign on the bank said it was 58 degrees. Now we all know that bank thermometers are lying dogs. But this was just possibly true. I was willing to give it the benifit of the doubt. So I pulled my green Mustang into the parking lot and dropped my top. Then I put it back on and dropped the top on the car instead. It was a tough decision but I think I made the right one. I indulged in several scenic (by Illinois standards) drives, culminating in Sieler Road while winding my way back to Bethalto. The stereo was up loud enough that my hair parted on its own. Sure it was cloudy but so what. This was my first top down experience in my own vehicle. No cloud was going to ruin it.

When I arrive in my driveway I put the top back up, opened the garage door, and warmed up the motorcycle. Mmmmmmm. You gotta love the smell of exhaust in the garage. The roar of the little engine warmed my heart even more. After a few minutes I put the headphones of my IPOD in my ears, hit the "play" button, pulled my helmet on, zipped the cord under my jacket in order to fool any law enforcement professionals (aka: Mike Hogan) and took off. I was only going to Amoco to put gas in the tank but it was just too darn nice. Amoco turned into Meadowbrook. Meadowbrook turned into Edwardsville. Edwardsville turned into back roads easing through the countryside and back into Bethalto. It was a 23 miles gas station run by the time it ended.

Now my crises took me to my mega-chair located before the fireplace in my very own den. I plugged the IPOD into my killer JBL "Creature Speakers" and listened to quiet praise music. Sweet. And then I did my duty. "God. I'm on the front end of a two week vacation. I just took a drive in my long awaited Mustang with the top down. Then I rode my Honda all over, hither and yon. And now I find myself sitting before you... worshipping... all alone... in sweats. God. Life doesn't get any better than this. Amen. And amen."

Friday, February 14, 2003

You know, I'm really not sure how it happened. I was driving along one day in my putrid green Neon, enjoying a sunny day and great gas mileage. Sure it was small, unexciting, and a tad underwhelming. But cars are for transporting... that means "transportation"... and that means getting from one place to another. That really is the essence of what it is all about. I remember the moment. I was drving on I-255, southbound, nearing I-64. I was in the right lane. My plan was to exit eastbound and proceed to "Best Buy" near St. Clair Square. So here I am, cruising along at an altogether legal 65mph (really officer, I was....) and I had crept up next to an 18 wheeler "Smasher of Neon's." I was actually about half way up his trailer and passing him, on the right, at about 2mph faster than he was going. True, HE should have been in the right lane. Not me. But he was not. So you gotta do what you gotta do. (This is technically knows as "mistake #1.) And then... his right turn signal came on. Not good. I glance up at his cab and saw the drivers face in his mirror. I still believe that we made eye contact. When that happened I stopped worrying. (This is technically known as "mistake #2.) I increased my speed to finish going around him so that he could enter my lane. I assumed that he too wanted to exit onto I-64. After a second I glanced to my left... and his trailer was about 18 inches from my car and closing fast. I don't know if I hit my horn first or hit the shoulder of the road first. It is immaterial. I did both. Thank God for the wisdom of the Illinois Department of Transportation! Placing car-sized shoulders on expressways is a great idea! I began to decrease my speed to allow the trucker to go on past me. (This is technically known as "mistake #3") I was almost even with his cab at this point and as I glanced at him again... he was 18 inches from my little car AGAIN and still closing fast. It seems that friendly Mr. Truck Driver did not want the right lane after all... he wanted the shoulder of the road. Now, I never was much at physics. I only learned one thing that entire semester. I think it has a fancy name. You know... "Bobbie's law of singular objects" or something like that. But what it means is that only ONE thing can occupy any given place at any given moment. Mr. Truck-From-Hell had decided to occupy MY space. I honked again and did the only thing left to do. I left the road. Completely. Totally. I departed the kind world of asphalt in favor of green weeds and mud. Serious mud. The lawn that I found myself on was strongly slopped to the right... toward a ditch, about 10 yards of ugly looking bumpy space, and then a state owned barbed wire fence that seperated the highway property from ... from... something. I'm not sure what. It's all kind of blurry because, well, I was still doing well over 50mph. I drove through that ditch and came up on the other side. I crossed nearly all 10 yards of lovely green space and came perilously close to the fence before I was able to make a quick adjustment, fish-tail a little, and head back toward the expressway. By now the mud was taking it's toll on my little 14 inch tires. All 1,500 pounds of Neon really wanted to sink axle deep into the mire. But, as I'm sure you understand, that was just not acceptable. At this point I need to explain something. I learned to drive in Chicago. Lake Shore Drive is my favorite street. I have navigated the Dan Ryan, Stevenson, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Eden's expressways, at rush hour. I have handled every toll-road that city has to offer. I have driven school buses full of kindergardener's as well as high school students through raging blizzards. But never... NEVER... have I been chased off the road... much less have I ever stalled out in some slimy, mud-infested, ditch. I have two modes of driving. There is my "Country Mode." I use it in and around Bethalto. I drive politely. I wave. I smile. I let people in front of me. I do the speed limit. Well... close to it anyway. And then I have my "City Mode." I use it when I have to go to Barnes, or St. Lukes, or one of those other "take-a-lunch-with-you" hospitals. That mode came in handy in the ditch. It is a fearless.... get outtamywayyoubigdummy... mode. I punched the accelerator (as much as a Neon's accelerator can be punched.) Mud flew. I fish-tailed. I pointed back toward I-255. Unfortunately, in my exuberant adrenaline filled lust for asphalt, I pointed DIRECTLY AT I-255. It quickly became obvious that the term "merge" would not apply. It was going to be more of a 90 degree angle of attack. And it was coming fast. Without bothering to signal I glanced to my left, silently praying that nothing was coming. My will is in order but I have no desire to use it today. The demon-truck was only yards to my left. It had finally come to a stop. I strained to see past it in order to determine whether or not to bother keeping my hands on the steering wheel. That's when I saw him. The truck driver. The man that tried to kill me. His left window was down. His arm was extended out of the window. His hand was pointed in my direction. His middle finger was obviously cramping because it stood out from the rest of his hand. If I didn't know better I would think... well... you know what I would think. I suppose it is possible. Jeffery Dahmer might have flipped-off his victims before he killed and ate them. Jack-The-Ripper might have flipped off the prostitutes before he strangled them and slashed their throats. It is conceiveable that this gentleman was extending his subtle greetings to me in hopes that he had removed me from the gene pool. I was too busy dodging chunks of human-filled steel to pay much attention.

But now I'm paying attention. And I'm not at all happy. And I'm wondering... what the heck was that all about? He looks at me in the mirror... he signals that he's coming over... he runs me completely OFF the expressway... he watches me go where only farmers combines have gone before... he sees me hurtling toward a car-filled expressway at an unholy angle... and then he flips me off? Is there no justice in the world? In Washington DC tonight there are "Stinger" anti-aircraft missles pointed sky-ward. They are connected to computers and radars, searching, ever searching, for planes that shouldn't be approaching downtown. In New York, roving radiation detectors drive the streets trying to find nasty explosives before they can be blown-up. And in southwestern Illinois truck drivers are trying to kill Neon's.

I gave my little jade Neon to my youngest son this week. Earlier I had given my oldest son my purple Neon. Earlier still I gave my daugther my cobalt blue Neon. (Hello. My name is Ron and I am a Neon-a-holic.) I'm now driving a bright green Ford Mustang. I didn't trade because of the truck. And I don't expect anybody will try to run my sons or daughter off the road. But wouldn't it be sweet to have one or two of those Washington heat-seeking missles mounted to the front of your car? These are the things I dream about. These are the things that make America... America. Some people will call it revenge. I call it.... justice.