Thursday, October 30, 2008

Baseball's Off Season Begins Today

Last night when Philadelphia Phillies closer, Brad Lidge, struck out Tampa Bay's Erick Hinske on a swinging 3rd strike the 2008 Major League Baseball season was over. Congratulations to the Phillies and all their fans on their second World Championship.

My mom and dad were Phillies fans and if they were still part of this world they would have been thrilled. As a matter of fact the ending of the series was a little sad for me because I would have loved to have gotten a phone call from either of my parents so they could gloat about their team winning and not the Yankees. But wishing they were still here was is a little selfish of me. As I have stated in previous posts my parents right now are in the presence of God and the trivial cares of this world no longer have any merit to them at all. While that's a fact it's not the point of this post.

Today is one of the most depressing days of the year for me as a baseball fan. For the next 5 months there will be no games to watch, no highlights to catch on Baseball Tonight or Sportscenter, no standings or boxscores to review. Baseball's off season has begun. Oh there are still remnants of the 2008 season still to be revealed like the MVP and Cy Young award winners. There is a crop of over 65 free agent players who are going to test the open market to see what kind of salaries they can get. There's the winter meetings in Las Vegas in December and the off season trades that will happen during that time. But those events for me are like giving a thirsty man water with an eye dropper. It's just not enough. I already miss baseball.

During this past season I became a different kind of baseball fan. Instead of just rooting for and following the Yankees I became a fan of other teams as well. I followed the Cincinnati Reds as they ushered in their new youth movement. I pulled for the Cubs as they won more games during the regular season than any other team in the National League. I even had the opportunity to visit Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field in Chicago. I started to watch any and all baseball games that I could find on my TV; not just Yankees or Reds, or Cubs games. I watched the Red Sox whenever I could just hoping they would lose. I pulled for my favorite non-Yankee players like Ken Griffy Jr. and Alfonzo Soriano. To sum it up this season I became what I would categorize as an overall baseball fan with strong Yankees loyalties. That only makes facing this year's off season more difficult.

NFL football will serve as a substitute for me until the Superbowl but only because it's the only other sport I'm interested in. During the winter 3 of the major sports (The NFL, NBA and NHL) play the majority or most important portion of their seasons. But as I said the only one I've got an interest in is the NFL. The main reason for that is because it's so popular with so many other people I know and the Superbowl is like a national holiday every year.

On April 6, 2009 all 28 major league baseball teams will play the opening game of their 2009 campaign. Between now and then I'm certain that God has a lot of things He wants to do in my life and a lot of things He wants me to do. Probably all of them will have a much greater value in the spectrum of eternity than watching a baseball game. But one thing I'm sure of is that 5 months and 7 days from today, God willing, I'll be reclining in my living room watching the greatest game in the world again and being thankful for yet another season of major league baseball.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seven For Safety

This morning at 10:30 I went once again to our local library to perform a ventriloquist program. I was asked to do something for preschoolers about Halloween. Of course not being a fan of the occasion I decided take the avenue of providing "trick or treat" safety tips.

As it turns out my program wasn't exactly age appropriate for the group that was there. The children were between 2 and 4 years old. My program would have been better suited for an older age group. I need to pay closer attention to the specific age range of my audience in the future. I'm still learning about my craft.

The program itself was pretty good. I taught the children 5 rules to follow when they go out to trick or treat. I also used 7 puppets to illustrate those rules. That's a new record for me. As a matter of fact it was the first time I'd ever used more than one puppet at a time. Although I practiced it was still difficult to keep the voices straight during the show. I used the wrong voice a couple of times.

Out of those seven, two of the puppets made their public debut. I used Rodney, my clown fish, (see September 16 post) and Skyler, my sugar glider puppet for the first time. The most unique thing about the presentation, other than that I wore a multi-colored neon wig, was the costume I put on the sugar glider. It was a ghost costume. The picture above is what it looked like.

The children seemed to enjoy the show but because of the length of the program and their ages they got a bit restless toward the end. After the show I stayed at the library and spent some time getting to know the children and their moms.

In the past after my time was over I just packed up and left. This time I decided that I wanted to stick around the library for a while and spend some time with my audience. Janet, the librarian, as usual, was grateful for my talents and interest.

I really like doing shows at the library. The audiences are always so much fun. I look forward to doing something for Christmas in a couple of months

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Trip To Toastmasters

Tonight I did something I've wanted to try for a couple of months. I went to local meeting of an organization called "Toastmaster." It's a national organization with local chapters designed to help an individual improve their public speaking confidence and skills.

Our local chapters is called the "Thoroughbred Toastmasters" and it meets in the community education wing of a local hospital. I went there not knowing exactly what to expect. I knew one person there. He's someone I'm familiar with because I worked at the same company as he did about 6 years ago and he currently works in the same division of the company where my wife works. He's the president of the Thoroughbred chapter. Although I hadn't seen him in a while he did remember me. Everyone else was friendly too as they said "hello" and welcomed me.

The meeting had a set agenda and several people had the opportunity to speak in one form or another. Although it was my first time there I was asked to be the timer. It was my job to time the speakers and let them know when their designated time limits were up. I was somewhat impressed with the structure of the meeting and the supportive atmosphere given to everyone who participated or got up in front of the podium to speak. There was polite applause for everyone and a politeness when one speaker turned the meeting over to another.

During the "table talk" portion of the meeting I was asked to speak from my place about what sport I considered to be "America's pass time." I talked about how I thought football was the most popular sport. As evidence I pointed out my frustration with how the coverage of NFL training camps overshadows baseball's pennant races as early as the 2nd week of August each year.

To me the most interesting thing about the meeting was the critique of the speakers by other members of the group. It was done in a very constructive manner. It helped me realize that I could possibly learn to be a better public speaker with their help and the Toastmasters "training program."

What bothered me about the meeting was the difficulty with which they dealt with humor. There didn't seem to be much familiarity with how do deliver a joke. Perhaps the reason their coarse delivery stuck out for me is I do so much of it I take it for granted.

In addition most of the people who got up and spoke were not used to doing it and were obviously nervous with speaking in public. Most did a good job of working through their nervousness to get their points across. I guess that's why they are there. It made me realize I should consider myself blessed for the many opportunities I get to speak in front of a group. However I don't make speeches in front of groups very often and that's what I need to learn from Toastmasters. And perhaps I can teach them a thing or two about the presentation of humor.

I enjoyed my first experience with Toastmasters. I am not totally convinced yet that it is for me but I'm going to give it another try or two. I feel I just might be able to learn from being a member. Only time will tell.

A Peck of A Performance

This past Saturday night I got the best opportunity of my ventriloquist career. As part of the week of revival services our church held a concert at 7PM this past Saturday. The group singing was the 2008 Grammy nominated group: Karen Peck & New River. I had the opportunity to do a ventriloquist sketch as an introduction.

I used the increasingly popular puppet, Cecil the turtle, and an script with several original jokes. I used an Abbott & Costello like exchange between Cecil and me. Here's a sample of the script:

Cecil: What's a Karen Peck

Me: No, It's "Who's Karen Peck?"

Cecil: You mean you don't know either?

Me: I know who Karen Peck is. I met her before we came up here.

Cecil: How many?

Me: How many what?

Cecil: How many Karens does it take to make a Peck?

The 5 minute routine got several laughs including a joke I added right before I went on stage. It was about the pastor and his wife. In the middle of the performance Karen Peck thanked me for my performance and got everyone to give me a round of applause. She also mentioned that it was the first time she'd ever been introduced by a turtle.

Cecil has become the most popular character I use these days. He's also the easiest to write jokes for. As I look toward working other venues over the next couple of months I think he'll probably turn into my "headliner."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

CEO Greed: The Height of Moral Decay

Our nation is in a financial crisis. That’s not news to anyone. Financial failure, potential collapse, and government bailouts of multi billion dollar companies has become SOP in the USA. The congress is busy using our tax money to save poorly managed businesses in the name of keeping “Joe the plumber” and all of the rest of America from financial ruin and loss of hope for the future.

Then of course there are the reports of lavish salaries, severance packages given to, and excessive spending by, the top executives of those failing companies. You may be asking along with me: “How did things get this way?” Are those CEO’s people absolutely corrupted because of their absolute power? How could they take such exorbitant amounts of money that they haven’t earned and have no second thoughts? One possible answer to the question of why corporate CEO’s do such things could be because they can get away with it. They are selfish and greedy and are in a position to manipulate and take the excess to which they have access. They go after something they don’t deserve but can acquire through deceptive means because they know no one will call them on it. Everyone does it.

My question is, while they are proportionately above you and I in regard to the degree of money and power available to them are they that different from us? Is their moral ethic different from ours? Are their actions just our multiplied exponentially to the ultimate level?

What I mean is I believe there is a thread of immorality that runs through every aspect of American life especially when it comes to money. How a person handles money, and decisions on how to acquire and spend it, effects the way they deal with everything else in their lives.

There is a cultural pressure in this country, now more than ever, to “keep up with the Jones.” In today’s culture there are so many more costly possessions a person needs to be considered culturally relevant than ever. To even be considered average in today’s culture a person is expected to own two or more late model cars, a wide screen TV and surround sound system, the latest edition high tech cell phone or Blackberry, a state of the art desk top computer with a broadband ISP connections as well as a laptop with WIFI connection, a house with nearly twice the square footage than the average home just a generation ago and more. Then there’s the social involvement of the children. If you have kid’s they’re expected to be involved in at least one if not several extra curricular activities (athletics or some type of arts programs). Involvement in those programs also cost money. Even school base programs make a considerable financial demand on parents.

Just think about it. What if you met someone who told you they didn’t have at least some of those possessions or their kids weren’t involved in any “outside” programs. How relevant would you consider them? You probably would think of them as “poor” or socially incompetent or some kind of “religious fanatic.”

Truth is all the cultural pressures feed into the pressure to produce financially. If a person does not have some source of absolute morality in their lives to which they are faithful and committed the temptation to gain financially by immoral means is not only attractive it appears to be the only avenue of action.

Specifically a person looking to gain financially no matter the means finds ways to gain through dishonesty. It starts on a personal financial level and spirals upward until it reaches the level of the top CEOs and business executives. As it grows and becomes standard practice for everyone at every level no one “blows the whistle” on anyone for fear of being caught themselves.

Here are a few examples of financial immorality at the personal level. Making an expense seem like it was done for business purposes so it can be used as a tax deduction. “Sweetening” your resume by just slightly exaggerating your degree of experience so the possibility of getting that job might be better. Taking credit for other people’s actions at work or fabricating accomplishments at your job in order to gain a promotion. Manipulating the numbers to make your financial status look better on a loan or mortgage application to increase your chances of having it approved. Not disclosing a problem or potential difficulty with the car you’re trying to sell so you can get a few extra hundred dollars from the potential buyer.

There are many more examples I can come up with but won’t take the time to include them. In today’s society those practices are not really something people would ever question or give a second thought about but they are still dishonest. They are all lies in practice and by God’s standards they are sinful.

As a Christian it is my obligation to be truthful, honest and fair in everything I do. This includes they way I handle money. All those things I just mentioned are done to gain in some small but significant way.

If as a Christian, I believe that God is in control of my life and works all things toward the “good” that he has planned for me (Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11) I should have faith and be patient enough not to try out maneuver God’s sovereignty by attempting to acquire through dishonest means something I want or believe I need. If God has not seen that I have the financial means to get that loan, or car, or house or whatever honestly and according to his standard of truth then as Christians to seek it for myself is a direct sin against God.

So while the dollar amounts and degree of greed that are being associated with the CEO’s of failing companies and institutions in this country is the apex of immorality; the decision to live life immorally is totally a personal matter of the heart. Our country's economic crisis the resulting consequence of a countless number of personal immoral decisions and behaviors that have snowballed into a problem of colossal size. The financial crisis while manifested in financial ways is the result of a catastrophic degree of sin.

There may not be much any individual can do about what the CEO’s get away with. However a Christian can keep his mind and heart on God and His absolute truth and live his or her life in obedience and according to those truths. Do what you know is right and let God take care of the results. Teach behaviors based on God's truth to your children and fellow Christians and it will have a profound effect on society.

Of course that’s just my opinion.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Time With The Senior Adults

Just about every Friday during the year a group of older members of our church gather in our fellowship hall for lunch and a “program”. The program part is presented by a member of the group or a special guest. The program can be a bible study, a testimony, singing or playing an instrument.

Last Thursday afternoon I got a call from my pastor asking me to be the guest speaker at the Sr. Adults meeting the next day. The scheduled guest had to cancel at the last minute. I’d been thinking about asking to go do something for the group for a while but hadn’t taken the initiative to set it up. The pastor suggested that I sing or give my testimony, or a short Bible devotional. I decided to do a combination of them all and more.

The next morning I took my old man puppet, Sherman, my harmonica and my Bible to the church. First thing I did was a ventriloquist sketch with Sherman. Because I was asked to speak with such a short notice I asked the group’s indulgence as I used a printed script for the performance. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that. The sketch had jokes about being old and the stock market. I used the old “look at that bunch of cows/not bunch, herd” joke. If you’re not familiar with that one ask me and I’ll let you in on it. I got quite a few laughs and everyone seemed to enjoy having Sherman there.

I played 2 of my favorite hymns, “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” on my harmonica. Finally I gave a testimony in which I about talked about 5 things I have learned over the last year that have helped me be a better Christian. They included: the fact that Jesus still has a physical body today, the importance of living with a Godly perspective, the evidence and components of true salvation, looking for God’s creation of the fruits of the spirit in your life, and God’s sovereignty. I ended by thanking the group for their help and encouragement in my walk with The Lord. I stayed and ate a delicious lunch of roast beef and vegetables with some black forest type pudding for dessert.

I enjoyed my time with the Senior Adults and look forward to going back and speaking to them again. The experience of being up in front an audience of older people exclusively for the first time helped me realize that I am now ready to go to a nursing home to do a show. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time but didn’t think I was ready. Now I know I am. God used my fellow church members to help me take one of the next steps in my ventriloquism ministry.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

James Goes Back To Iraq

This morning the last of our family's big events this month came to an end. I'm talking about my son James' leave from the military. His time away from his duty in Iraq was over about 8AM this morning when his fiance and I said "goodbye" to him at the Nashville airport.

James squeezed a lot of things into the 10 days he was home. He spent a lot of time with his fiance and his friends. He got together with his high school buddies a couple of times. When one of his friends was involved in a extremely serious motorcycle accident; James gave support to his friend's family by going to spend time with them at the hospital an hour away.

He went to church each Sunday morning he was home and attended the Hallelujah Hoedown; a special event and chili supper held at our church each October. He even roasted a hot dog over the campfire for me that night.

He spend a couple of evenings with his mom and I; watching movies and playing the game "Scatagories" and carving jack-o-lanterns . He and his fiance went to look at a house they were interested in buying and they announced their wedding date: May 16, 2009

In my opinion the 3 most important things James did while he was home are these. He attended his brother's wedding; he went to see the movie "Fireproof"; and he gave us an opportunity to spend time with his fiance, Brandi.

Michael and Heather's wedding was the main reason James came home on leave when he did. He requested the time off even before he left for Iraq back in April. It was really important for him to be here for the biggest day in his brother's life and he was. The picture at the top of this post was taken at the wedding.

The movie, "Fireproof", currently in theaters is the 3rd film produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia (see September 27 post for more about this wonderful film). Because of their plans to get married before the middle of next year we highly recommended that while he was home, James and his fiance go to see it. Although it took them several attempts they did see "Fireproof". Without going into detail let me just say that God's timing in regard to when they did go to see it made it a very effective tool in growing their relationship.

I'm ashamed to admit but until this visit home for James I really didn't know much about his fiance. I hadn't been very nice to her until now and I am very sorry for that. However, the amount of time she spent here at our house with James and visiting with my wife, my family and me gave me an opportunity to see her for the person she really is. I made an effort to develop the kind of friendship and rapport with her that I should have had all the time.

As I said she rode with me to take James back to the airport and on the way home it was just the two of us. I don't think I've ever had a more pleasant conversation while driving on I-65 than I did with Brandi. I don't know how she feels but over the last 2 weeks I've come to feel that she is already part of my family. I won't go on much more than that because I don't want to get over emotional or corny about it. I am just happy that we are now friends. I'm thankful to God that he has changed my heart and allowed me to show kindness and a caring spirit to Brandi.

So James' visit is over and by the time I post this on my blog he will be well on his way back to Baghdad. He will only be gone a little over 3 months this time. Still I would like to ask that you continue to pray for his safety and emotional state. This will be the first time he will be away from his family during the holidays. He'll probably be very lonely come December. Paula and I both appreciate your prayers as does James.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Free Cell Update

163 days ago, on May 11, I started playing the Free Cell solitaire game on my computer. There are 1 million different games to be played. I started at game 1 and have played them in order until I have won them. As of the writing of this post I have completed 463 games. Do I know how to have fun or what?

I have averaged 3.5 tries to win those games. 212 of them I have won on the first try and 89 of them on my second try. The game I had the toughest time winning was game #169. I had to play 84 times before I won. So of all the games I’ve played so far 65% of them I’ve won in 2 tries or less. I have averaged playing 2.8 games a day. At that rate it will only take me 912 more years to play all 1 million games. I guess I’d better get busy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mr. Anonymous Update

Several of my blog readers have asked me about what has happened between me and “Mr. Anonymous” after the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

I have exchanged a few emails with “Mr. Anonymous,” Even after challenging him to come out from “behind the curtain” of anonymity he sent me emails as “Mr. Anonymous" with an email address created on Yahoo that doesn't have a profile; so I still don’t really know who he is.

His emails were just as vicious and insulting toward me and Christianity as his comments on my blog. I wrote back to him each time and explained some of the things he didn’t understand about God’s truth. I shared with him as best as I knew how the gospel and God’s plan for salvation. I challenged him to evaluate his own life and decide what god he was serving and what the purpose of his own life might be.

I also told him that I would continue to use our correspondence as an opportunity to share and explain God’s word to him. I also told him I would never stop telling him emphasizing the urgency with which he needed to consider the fate of his own sinful state in regard to the brevity of his life and his relationship with God.

The last email I got from him, after my 2nd lengthy email back to him, was just one word: “Hallelujah” underlined.

I replied to that email letting him know that during this week of revival services at our church my prayers for him would take top priority in my heart and mind. So that’s where things stand with “Mr. Anonymous.”

Finally I just want to say “thank you” to those of you who have expressed concern and supported me during the time I’ve been corresponding with him. At first his insults and expletive littered opinions about me bothered me a lot. Then I read a booklet by John MacArthur called “Found: God’s Will.” In one chapter he wrote about the boldness with which the disciples, Peter and James, initially preached the gospel despite being persecuted and threatened by the Jewish leaders.

Realizing that God wants me to continue to preach the gospel every opportunity I get no matter what the circumstances I did my best to continue my consistent message to my email “buddy.” I stopped taking the insults and angry statements personally and saw them as the opportunity to share Jesus with someone who so badly needs it.

That’s the update for now. I’ll let you know if anything else happens. Thanks for your support.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Morning Departure

All too quickly the time for my family from Pennsylvania's departure arrived on Monday morning, October 13. In the past they have stayed a total of 5 full days during the summer. They made this trip in the fall in order to attend my son's wedding. Because of school and job responsibilities they were only able to stay through the weekend.

At 10AM a group of 9 drove from the small hotel in our town to a Cracker Barrel restaurant about 30 miles north. We chose to eat our breakfast there because it was the direction the family had to travel anyway.

For about an hour we sat and ate and talked. We laughed and remembered the last 4 days together. When our meal was over we gathered in the parking lot and said our "good byes." Hugs and phrases like "I'm gonna miss you" and "wish it could have been a longer stay" were exchanged. I was so caught up in the moment I forgot that I wanted to say a prayer of blessing over my family before they left.

As everyone got into their vehicles and were about to leave I turned on the radio in my car. The song "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" was on the radio. I thought it was rather ironic so I drove up to each of the vehicles my sisters were in and made sure they heard the song playing.
With that we got back onto the interstate heading south and the six from Pennsylvania headed north.

Our family visit was over and there was a bit of sadness in the air. But there was also a spirit of joy in my heart. That joy stemmed from both the chance to once again spend time with some of the people I love the most and the hope that I would see them again, God willing, next spring. That's when they plan on coming back again to help us celebrate yet another family wedding.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Super Sunday

For the second time since they have been coming down to visit on their vacation my Pennsylvania family went to church with my Kentucky family today. It was really cool that there was so many of us we filled one pew and part of another.

What was really special for me was that I got the opportunity to perform a ventriloquist sketch for my family for the first time. I did a sketch I had written a while ago using Cecil the Turtle as my puppet. The biggest laugh I got was a joke I wrote myself about “Reynolds’ Wrap.” My brother in law, Bob, was very complimentary to me telling me that after just a few minutes he really felt like he was watching two different characters having a conversation.

After church we went back to our house and had lunch from the Subway restaurant in our town. Since this was the Pennsylvania family’s last full day with us Paula and I decided to make them a special dinner. As I wrote in my post a couple of days ago my wife did most of the work for this meal.

About mid afternoon my niece, nephew and my two brothers in law and I went into town to do some food shopping for dinner. We went to Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart. Also on our trip was a stop at a couple of local book stores to get my niece and nephew belated birthday gifts. They each found books they were interested in reading. After about 3 hours or so shopping we went home so we could begin preparing dinner.

On the menu for the last dinner of the family visit were: grilled chicken breast and pork tenderloin (James did another wonderful job with the grill), southern style green beans, deviled eggs, Mexican style and regular corn bread with Chess cake for desert.

After dinner we relaxed for a while to let our food settle. Some of us sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and relaxing. Soon we divided up into teams (women vs. men) and played a game called “Cranium.” It was a game that was a combination of charades, Pictionary, Name That Tune, and more.

The game was fun but everyone grew tired as it got later. I believe everyone was a little relieved when the woman finally won the game.

Soon it was time for everyone to start thinking about the PA family’s pending departure the next morning. As we gathered the things they had here at the house, including their dog’s crates and some things I had given them, we made plans for breakfast the next morning.

We would leave our little small town and go to a Cracker Barrel in a town just north on I-65 for our final moments together as a united family.

As the evening came to an end and I was very grateful to have had such a Super Sunday. As I went to be that night I realized that within 12 hours our much too short visit with my sisters would be over.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Going To The Chapel

The most significant event in my family in nearly 6 years happened at 2 PM on Saturday October 11 at a small chapel in Nashville, Tennessee. My son, Michael and his fiancé, Heather, became husband and wife.

The chapel was the Bridal Path Chapel just off Briley Parkway in Nashville. If you have ever driven to the Nashville airport you have seen the sign for the chapel on the left a few miles after you passed the Opryland hotel and Opry Mills Mall complex. It was a simple but lovely ceremony. About 30 guests attended and the bride’s grandfather walked her down the aisle.

After the ceremony the chapel photographer took a series of posed pictures. Then all the guests showered the newlyweds with bubbles as they exited the chapel.

Although there was no formal reception planned a group of about 20 or so guests, mostly family members from both sides went to an Olive Garden restaurant, just outside the city for a very nice late afternoon meal together.

The waitress’ service and the food were terrific and made for a memorable ending to the day's events. It was great to be a part of this wonderful day in my son’s life. Having, James home from Iraq, and my family from Pennsylvania here made it very special for me.

The newly married couple will spend their honeymoon at “The Happiest Place On Earth”, Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. I pray God’s blessing on their lives and on their marriage.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Full House Is Best

This is not a post about a playing poker. It’s about last Friday October 10. That’s when my family from Pennsylvania arrived for their weekend visit. They stayed in a hotel about a mile from our house.

Having spent the morning finishing our preparation for their visit (you never really feel that you’re ready) we awaited their arrival for dinner. They had to unpack their vehicles and get settled in before they could come to the house.

I couldn’t wait until they got there so I drove down to the hotel to see them. The reunion was terrific. It was wonderful to see them all. My sister, Shari, looked great having lost over 90 pounds since her gastric by pass surgery last February. My sister, Peggy, was walking much better than she had since the last time I saw her. She had knee replacement surgery back in May. It was great to see both my brothers-in-law again too. My nephew was taller than when I last saw him last June and my niece had grown from being a little girl to being a tall preteen.

The family’s arrival at our house created an atmosphere of excitement busyness that hadn’t been there for a while. There was yet another reunion as my wife greeted everyone.

The reunion of our 4 dogs (2 of mine and 2 of theirs) didn’t go so well. I hadn’t thought ahead about the dogs getting caught up in the excitement of everyone arriving at the same time and it making them "edgy". There was some growling between my dogs, and my sister’s dog, Blossom. I quickly realized that I had mishandled the pet reunion. I put my dogs on their leashes and created a slow and calm greeting time in our back yard. This put an end to the growling for the most part. The dogs got along fine over the course of the visit but they never “played” with each other like they had the last time they were here.

There were two more “reunion” sessions as my two sons and their fiancĂ©s arrived at our house for our evening meal. We had a wonderful dinner of hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on the grill by my son, James.

After dinner we sat around and talked. James made some special Turkish coffee for my family to try. Some of them liked it and some of them didn’t. I don’t drink coffee so I didn’t even try it.

Pretty soon it was time to sing “Happy Birthday” to James and cut his birthday cake. As I stood there with everyone gathered in the kitchen I looked around and realized I was in a rare moment. Nearly everyone I love most in the world was gathered in my kitchen. I had a full house. It was a moment to treasure. I knew that there are very few times in my life that things got any better than they were at the moment.

The rest of the evening spent catching up and spending time with the family. We watched “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader” and “Don’t Forget The Lyrics” on TV.

My nephew, Bobby, showed me how he could play the guitar and I brought out all my ventriloquist puppets to show everyone. Paula introduced our niece to the world of Webkins by giving her her own stuffed animal and letting her get online to register it.

There were a lot of other things that went on during our first day together but I can’t take the time to write all the details here. By the time it grew to be 10 o’clock or so the weary travelers from the Keystone State were ready to head to their hotel, get a good night's sleep, and get ready for the big event the next day.

We said “goodnight” and made the arrangements to meet at the hotel at noon the next day to drive to Nashville for Michael & Heather’s wedding.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wonderful Wife, Wonderful Life

It’s been well over a week since my last post and what a week it was. I’ll be writing several posts with the details of our “Big Weekend” over the next few days.

The first thing I must write about before anything else is what a wonderful woman I married. Starting last Wednesday my wife had 5 days off from her job. Most of that time was spent preparing for and hosting my family here at the house.

From Wednesday through Friday morning we worked diligently to get our home ready to serve as a place of rest and relaxation during the time my family from Pennsylvania would visit. Paula made sure everything was ready.

During one of those days she even took the time to go into town. She spent several hours with our son, who is home on leave from the National Guard, helping him take care of a few things. We went to lunch with him; then she helped him get service put on a cell phone and take care of some business at the bank.

Other than seeing our son, Michael, get married on Saturday her best moment came on Sunday when she served my family some of her wonderful southern cooking. She prepared southern style green beans, deviled eggs and Mexican corn bread to go along with the chicken and pork chops James cooked on the grill. Other people helped make it but it was my wife who provided the menu and the recipes. She’s a great cook and loves making dishes she knows people will enjoy.

Having returned to work just yesterday, my wife now begins the busiest time of the year for her department. She’ll be working long hours from now until the end of November, probably longer.

While she would have liked to have just sat back and done nothing during her time off she gave of herself to make sure that both our Kentucky family and our Pennsylvania family had an enjoyable few days together. She didn't have to do it but she did.

I am truly blessed to be married to a woman who loves me so much that she gives of herself to make me and the people important to me happy. I want to let everyone know that the main reason I have a wonderful life is because I have such a Wonderful Wife.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The "Best Week" Begins

Yesterday was the first day of the biggest week of the year for our family. By the time next Sunday comes around my 20 year old son will be home from Iraq on leave, my 27 year old son will be married, and my sisters and their families have arrived for their visit.

James will be home either Tuesday or Wednesday. Michael & Heather will be getting married on Saturday. Thursday morning my sisters will leave eastern Pennsylvania and make the nearly 800 mile journey to south central Kentucky. They should be here by Friday.

Today I did some housecleaning. Tonight Paula and I cleaned out the habitat of my son's bearded dragon, Spike.

I am extremely excited about all that's going to be going on. I pray God's blessings on everything and everyone. I may not be posting as often as I usually do this week. Rest assured, however, that by this time next week I'll have plenty of things to write about because of what I hope will be the "best week of the year."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Coming Home On His Birthday

Today is my son, James, 20th birthday. He's on his way home on leave after being stationed in Iraq since April. He'll be home for two weeks. Because he's traveling no one has gotten a chance to say "Happy Birthday." It's a bit of a landmark birthday too. He turns 20 today so he's no longer a teenager. So let me take this post to wish my youngest son "Happy 20th Birthday." I can't wait to see him in a couple of days.

A Special Message To “Anonymous”

This post is written for one specific person. That person is the one who has been leaving comments as “Anonymous” on my blog posts since the beginning of the month. I ask that those of you who read this blog on a regular basis and aren't "Anonymous" allow me this one specifically addressed post.I feel the need to write a very important letter to someone who doesn't agree with what I write in this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

Mr. Anonymous,

First of all I would like to say “thank you” for going back and reading all my blog posts. When it comes to blogging the key is to get people to read what you’ve written. You have helped me accomplish that. Most importantly you are reading about the things God is doing in my life.

You are entitled to your opinions and I respect your right to express them. I can understand how a man who is blinded to God’s truths by the sin in his own life would consider what I write to be foolishness. The Bible mentions in several places that those who are “of the world” (meaning not followers of Jesus Christ) see God’s wisdom and truth as foolishness.

If you think your comments hurt me you are right to some degree. The things I write about on this blog leave me vulnerable to the insensitivity of those who disagree with what I state as truth. However they are not my truths they are God's truths. Your harsh words may be aimed at me but they are really directed toward God and His Son. The conflict you have with Him you’re going to have to fight apart from me. (I’ll give you a hint: God will win)

If my words stir up such negative feelings in you perhaps it’s because I’m hitting a nerve somewhere in your soul. I’m declaring the truth to your sinful nature and it’s rebelling against it. Satan has a strong hold on your life and he doesn’t want to let it go.

Nevertheless I don’t have any negative feelings for you. Your words are evidence to me that I am being persecuted because I am proclaiming how God’s truth is transforming my life. I want you to know that even though I may not know who you are I love you with the love of The Lord. I will pray for you. Why do I say that? Because Jesus Christ commanded in Matthew 5:44 “…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

In Romans 12:14 the apostle Paul writes “Bless those who persecute you.” If there is any way I can show you kindness or friendship I will not hesitate to do so. My goal is to find a way to bless you, Anonymous

Just one last thing I want to tell you. I have adjusted my blog settings so that any future comments you send will not be displayed until I approve them. However they will come directly to my email box. You can also email me directly by using the contact link in my profile. I’m not cutting you off completely but I am monitoring your activity on MY blog. I will be glad to engage you in debating ideas and truths but I won’t let my blog become a forum just for that purpose. It’s intended to be something other than that and it’s my responsibility to maintain its integrity. So you will no longer see your comments on my blog.

I’m challenging you to come out from behind the screen of anonymity and start a two sided dialog about your opinions and beliefs. Are you up to the challenge?

God Bless You. Remember God loves you. Jesus Christ died for your sins and I’m praying for you.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Humazoo Makes A Comeback

Okay, what’s A Humazoo? See the disk shaped device in the picture to the right? That’s a Humazoo. It’s a smaller round version of the better known kazoo. While holding it in your hand you hum into the open side which vibrates a piece of cellophane underneath the white area and makes music..

The reason I have this somewhat unknown novelty instrument pictured here is because this past Wednesday night I used it again for the first time in over 35 years.

I discovered the Humazoo back when I was 11 years old. I was at church summer camp. The gift shop had humazoos for sale. My cousin and I each bought one. Later in the week during an afternoon hike to an area playground area we used our small round disks to pace the groups’ walk by humming the song “Colonel Bogey’s March” (better known at the theme from the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai”) into our instruments.

If you aren’t familiar with that song you can hear it and see it played on an old phonograph on You Tube by copying and pasting the following web address into your web browser.

All the kids liked our playing and the marched to our tune. It was one of the first moments in my life I can remember what it felt like to be both a leader and popular among my peers.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago when I was preparing to be one of the music leaders for my church’s Wednesday night children’s ministry called AWANA.I knew what songs I wanted the children to sing but I had no music for them. I looked for a way to draw them into thinking singing with no music was fun. I had used kazoos in children’s ministry before but wasn’t all that crazy about them. Then I remembered the Humazoo.

It had been more than 35 years since I’d used one but I was convinced that it would be the hook that would get the children interested. A few years ago I had found a place to buy Humazoos on the internet. Back then I had gotten one for me and sent one to my cousin in Pennsylvania. When I went looking again, found them, and ordered some to use during AWANA.

This past Wednesday night was my night to lead the singing in the opening session of AWANA. While leading a song called “The Hot Dog Song” (it’s a song about Jesus set to the tune of the old Oscar Meyer hot dog jingle)I had two children come up front. I gave them each a Humazoo to use then I let them keep them. It was a way to introduce the instrument to the group. I will use them again when I lead the singing portion of AWANA once a month for the rest of the school year.

I’ve written all that to tell you this. If you are looking for new or different but effective way to present the gospel and minister to people draw on your own life experiences. Think about what has sparked your interest in hobbies, events, people, or places and use it some way in your ministry. God is the designer of the tapestry of our lives. He has already provided us a lot of the things we need to glorify Him for the rest of eternity. Talents, experiences, interests, assets God has blessed us all with these things. His word promises that we’ll receive many more; but only if we give them back to Him through service to His glory. The first way we can do this is using our blessings to spread the gospel.

After you read this post pray and ask God to show you something in your life that can be used for His glory. You may have never considered what He shows you to be a means of spreading the Gospel but it can be.

I never thought a small children’s toy instrument could be used to help children sing praise to Jesus but now it has. To me a Humazoo was not much more than a tangible part of a fond memory. It brought back a remembrance of leading a group of 11 year old boys to a playground. Now with God’s help it may be a part of leading a child to Jesus. Seeing that happen is always a blessing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An Answer To The Prayer Of A Princess

This past Wednesday night was the season finale of the show “America’s Got Talent.” While many of you know that my favorite contestant, four-year old Kaitlyn Maher, (who I’ve dubbed AGT’s Little Princess) was not part of the final competition she was part of the final show.

Although I knew that my favorite little girl singer was from a Christian family because of the mentions about Kaitlyn’s singing in her church and a scripture reference displayed near her picture on her “My Space” page. Her "My Space" blog entry copied below confirmed it. It also reaffirmed for me the fact that God answers our prayers in ways far beyond what we could ever dream about.

What a gracious and wonderful God He is to all of us. His Love is so encompassing that He even takes the time to listen to the prayers and desires of a 4 year old. This post just goes to show you that there really is something to having “the faith of a child.”

I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to see and hear Kaitlyn sing one more time on the AGT finale. I am also thrilled that she knows, loves, believes in, and prays to the creator of the universe.

The following article was written by her father and posted on Kaitlyn’s “My Space” page on Thursday October 3. Read this blog post and see if Kaitlyn Maher doesn’t touch your heart one last time.

Kaitlyn got to see the "sparkles come down" !
It was April of this year and we were driving up to New York getting ready for Kaitlyn's first audition. "America's Got Talent" had contacted us and asked us if Kaitlyn would come audition for their show. We thought, "Ok, this will be fun. Kaitlyn will get a chance to sing before some folks who will provide her some great input and then we'll be on our way and get some dinner with family in NYC." It was on this drive that Kaitlyn piped up from the back seat about what she was hoping to experience out of this process. She obviously had much bigger dreams -- you gotta love the blue sky imagination of a 4 year old.

You see, Kaitlyn's whole goal when she started "America's Got Talent" was simple. From the back seat she told me, "Daddy, I just want to see the sparkles come down at the end", meaning, she wanted to see the confetti drop at the finale. And so, she did what she knows to do about something that's important in one's life -- she prayed to God. Yes, my 4 year old daughter said a simple prayer to God asking that He please let her see the sparkles come down.

That was back in April of this year. Last night, the first of October, now six months and many performances later, she stood on the stage at the finale and did indeed get to watch the "sparkles" rain down on her. This may not be a big deal to some, but to her, this was her goal accomplished... her prayer answered. I mean, think about the odds of a 4 year old girl participating in a national talent contest with contestants of all ages and all talents and making it onto the finale. I know statistically that is beyond any odds you'd ever think remotely possible -- except for the simple faith of a child.

I want to encourage you that when you have a need in your life that is bigger than you on your own should be able to accomplish, remember the faith of 4 year old child who knew that God is not too big to care about something so small. Take your need to Him in prayer and He will meet you there. He promises that He has an awesome hope and future for you with plans to prosper you and not to harm you and that when you seek His face, you WILL find Him. The key, though, is that you must seek Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

If He cared enough to let Kaitlyn see her sparkles come down, don't you think He cares for you?

Counting Calories Pays Dividends

So far there has been one highlight of the month of October for me. I’ve been looking at the nutrition plan guidelines that I was given last month then marking down what I’ve eaten by those guidelines. The customized spreadsheet I’ve created looks like a ledger from a disorganized small business. Decipher it and you’ll find tangible evidence of everything I’ve put in my mouth since Wednesday. Looking at the tally proves to me that the old saying isn’t true. There is an accounting for taste. Okay, that’s a really bad pun but I had to write it.

I realize I’ve only been tracking my caloric intake and trying to eat the right foods for 2 days but already it seems to be working. Today I went to see my primary care doctor for my second visit in the 6 month weight loss effort required by my insurance company. The good news is that I’ve lost 6 pounds over the last month.

Although my visit to see the doctor was no joke it did come with a punch line. If you go back and read my post from a month ago today you’ll see what a difficult time I had finding a place to check my weight. The reason I had such difficulty was because my doctor said that the scale reading had to be verified by someone with medical authority like a nurse or physician’s assistant. That’s why I went to 3 different places for help. Finally I bought my own scale to use.

I took the scale with me today. While I was with the doctor I told him the brief version of the “trying to get weighed” story. I pointed out to him that I had the digital scale with me. In an offhanded manner he said “that’s okay you don’t have to bring it with you. Just get on it before you come in and tell me what the number is. I’ll take your word for it”

Why didn’t he tell me that a month ago? I still would have had to buy a new scale anyway but it would have saved me the frustration of the events of September 2nd.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. The things that happened to me while trying to get weighed had a very serious emotional impact on me. I realized how extreme my situation is and that it’s time to do something about it.

Of course I write that now in retrospect but I didn’t see it at the time. I know now for certain that the frustration with my initial weigh-in was a set of circumstances that God put before me. They were to help me realize the degree of seriousness with which I needed to approach my weight loss effort.

It has taken some time but now I am sure I understand. I’m so glad the The Holy Spirit kept working in me over the month until I finally opened the eyes of my heart and saw what I really needed to do. I’m just 3 days into it but I believe that this time being on a diet is going to be different. This time it's because I'm being obedient to God and His will for my life.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Finally Getting To Work

A month ago I wrote about the start of my short term weight loss effort with the ultimate goal of getting the lap band device to help me be successful in the long term.

Despite the fact that I recognized a specific sin in my life that keeps me from fulfilling God’s will for me I did not make any effort to stop over eating or lose weight. I kept putting it off until “tomorrow” or “next week.”

I could give you my reasons for procratinating but they would all just be excuses. The real reason I didn’t start my new diet in the month of September is because of a flaw in my faith.

I wrote on September 2 that it was with certainty I believe God wants me to make a serious effort to lose weight. I didn’t put that belief into action. I am a classic example of the verse James 2:17. My faith without action is dead or useless.

Realizing that I need to come to a place where I decide to shut my mouth put my faith into action; I made today the first day of my new weight loss effort.

I followed the eating recommendations of my plan and counted calories. I got the proper amount of nutrition from the “good” sources. I consumed the proper proportions of carbs, proteins, fruits and vegetables and more. Any of you who are familiar with various diets know what I mean.

So once again at the beginning of a month (2 days before I go back to my doctor for my second appointment) I am taking a stand and actually starting a weight loss effort. But this time I’m using my faith to motivate my actions. As I’ve already stated it is my belief that that combination will be blessed by God.