Miracles Are For Real

This won’t be a long rant about miracles. It will be a short one to  encourage you. 

The other day, Elizabeth Webster and I were having a discussion about how God is speaking to us and we just need to listen. We’re all so busy talking that we drown out the important things He’s saying to us.

The conversation came about when we were going shopping for our Good Neighbor Meal. And, thus the miracle story.

This meal, sponsored by Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, with the funding coming from one of my friends, Mike Beer, had been scheduled for a year. Yes, an annual event. We had no idea that there would be a confused world-wide panic evolving around a virus when this was all put in play. 

About two months ago I enlisted some other people, young leaders at the church, to come help and use this as a training ground. I knew my usual cast of helpers would be there, but I plan on retiring some day and wanted to get the wheels rolling on handing over some of these things. A month ago, I put out a notice on social media for my usual volunteers. The virus was just starting to ramp up, but nobody was insane quite yet. 

I left for a two week vacation/meeting in Florida, planning on ordering the food when I got back. I’d had a menu of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, salad, and ice cream sundaes in mind for many months. I got back from Florida, made up the ingredients list, and kept it under the budget that Mike Beer had so generously donated. 

I emailed the list to the church secretary, Elizabeth, and she was going to order it from Sam’s Club on the church card. No problemo, pick it up Friday at 7.

Yeah. 

Well, the world spasm of insanity hit, and to top it all off, Elizabeth couldn’t get the Sam’s Club system to take the order. It wasn’t anything exotic, but it just wouldn’t go. I found out about it on Thursday evening. Okay, we’ll fly by the seat of our pants and go out Friday to get the stuff.

Friday, I decided that the joint would be empty when we got there, so I bolted from work after two hours, grabbed Elizabeth, and we made a provisioning run.

I needed three things on the list – the rest I could improvise. First item gone. Now it’s time for plan “B” and a quick shuffle. I parked her with the cart, zoomed to the alternative item, and since it was there we switched menus on the spot. I had the shopping list on my phone because we’d done it many times before. 

Friday was different: most of the inexpensive brands we usually buy were gone. We had to go upscale, and it added almost 40% to the tab. So, one of my more expensive meals got really expensive fast. But we got all the supplies needed except bar towels – handy for wiping up spills – and dragged the supplies to the Good Neighbor Center. 

After stowing them away, I took her back to the church, and went home to send out some broadcasts reminding people to stay home if they were sick, or had frail family members, and essentially begging my other volunteers to show up. Then I ate pizza.

Nine that night, my phone rings. It’s the building administrator. I’d called her while at the store to see if they had a couple of things already on hand – wanted to cut down my bloated budget. But she was busy at the time and got back to me later on.

Turns out, the ovens are broken. Oh, crap. But the stove top and grill are working fine – which is all I needed to do the new menu. The old menu? Couldn’t have pulled it off without the stove.

Saturday I got there extra early and got going. I had the first volunteer waiting outside when I arrived! Cha Cha, you were a sight for sore eyes. 

Over the next four hours a core of my volunteers showed up. Some I would have seen otherwise didn’t show, but the others – God bless them.

Elizabeth, Minnie, Lucy, Mary, Billy, Cha Cha, Francesca, Bianca, Barbara, Gregory, Mike, Matt, Darrail, Suze, The Murphy Kids (minors, no names), Kip, George, Caroline (my onion queen), and a slew of others who I didn’t get a chance to talk to – and so names are missing. Sorry, I was focused on churning out food.

And, most of all, Pam. She runs the meals and allowed me to focus on cooking a good quality meal. 

We served more people than usual, because as it says in Matthew 25:35 we are obligated to feed the hungry. They are scared, because the homeless and marginal are afraid that institutions will close down during the duration of this virus, and they will be left without. But we showed up and showed out.

Don’t let fear rule your life. Wash your hands, cover your cough, and don’t be a jerkwad. I think that covers it. 

Oh, the miracle? Our order started failing at the time the stove failed. Nothing could make it go through. We got all but the last box of hamburgers, all but the last  2 packs of hamburger buns, and all of our key volunteers showed up. 

If God wants something, He makes it happen. Ain’t no coincidences.

And, now, a picture of Chewy, because everyone likes dogs.

 

 

 

Not Fun At All

Today’s post is kind of a whiny one. So be it.

I have never discussed where I work. You don’t know the name of the company. That’s the way I want it to stay. This blog is about other stuff, not specific corporations.

However, I have a friend who works at a big company that is downsizing. Why are they downsizing? I’d guess that they want the stockholders to be happy. They might even be preparing the place for sale. That always starts with “trimming the fat” and making the place more attractive to purchasers.

Whatever the reason, along with downsizing there always comes the “We need to work smarter, not harder” phase of stupid. 

What is that phase? Well, in my personal experience, it has meant that in 7  of my 7 employers (including different groups within the same companies) there is inevitably the battle cry from management “Cross Train!!!!!” 

Ugh. Let me explain, for those of you in management around the planet: it is no longer 1750 in the British Colonies of the Americas. That’s when the industrial revolution started, and this crazy thing called “specialization of labor” kicked in. The theory, crazy as it sounds, is that if you have people do a single set of unified tasks they will get better at those tasks. If you have everyone do everything, they will commensurately suck at some of them.

I might add that in 7 of the 7 times I’ve personally ridden that train, the cross-training/work experiment collapsed in about 30 days. Why?  Because not everyone is good at everything. If you have people knocking it out of the park every day, why would you take them from the batting rotation and hand them a lawnmower? “Here, Dunlap, take this mower and make sure the field is properly striped for today’s game.” Dunlap then has to learn how to operate the mower, have someone explain the technique for “striping” turf (harder than it sounds), and then let him screw up until he gets it right. 

In the meantime, Reynolds has to put down his landscaping tools and find a uniform and cleats. He hasn’t swung a bat since his junior high school days – a solid couple of decades before. He’s nervous and upset that he’s not done at noon on game day, and instead has to go out in front of 10,000 fans at the park and face an experienced pitcher. The other team, you see, didn’t cross train this week. 

The game gets going and the field looks like crap. Missed tufts of grass all over left field, the lines between the bases are wavy and have gaps. After the first inning, the cross-trained team is down in 3 outs and takes the field where they make 57 errors. Only the fact that the manager kept a couple of ringers in reserve to rescue the thing from a total fiasco makes it even bearable to watch the game. We don’t even want to talk about the hygiene levels in the concession stands where the team’s trainers are making snacks. The first inning ends with the score 27-0. It would be higher, but the other team was tired from running the bases. 

How else does this impact the players, concession stand workers, and groundskeepers? Well, all of them are stressed from having to learn new tasks. We all get comfortable in our grooves, and most of us select our jobs based on what we like to do. Each resents being uprooted from their routine and comfort levels. Some mutter for the entire day about how they liked what they did and wish they could do it again.

Thirty days later they all go back to what they should do. Except for two of the groundskeepers who just retired instead of putting up with the stress.

My friend is miserable at work. He hates his job, whereas a week ago he loved his job. I feel for him. 

Nice move, big company.

 

Writing Stuff – About Writing

Greetings from the keyboard. 

I have been on a tear the last few weeks, working on two different projects. One of them is slow-going, but about to quicken quite a bit.

The other? It’s a secret. But there’s no secret about how much fun I’ve been having while cranking out the words. It’s a story about something completely different, and because it’s out of my usual genre/genres, it’s fun to write. 

It is not Christian Fiction. I have grown to hate that term, and all that it implies. It is fiction that is well written and has an underlying base of Christian values. The hero is a Christian. But he’s very unlikely to show up at a church tea. Nor, unlike Kurtz, he’s not going to use his military skills to solve the problem with high-explosives or a ton of bullets. He could, if he wanted, but that’s not who this guy is. 

Christian Fiction is an unfortunate designation that some authors hide behind when they want to just blast out a story that wouldn’t sell at Barnes & Noble. “It’s really good for Christian Fiction” is a phrase I never want to rely on in marketing my work. Most of the authors I know writing “Christian Fiction” are good. Some are excellent, and deserve far more in the way of sales and recognition. But, sadly, there is a “it’s good enough” mentality in the mix and it’s painful. If it’s Christian Fiction, some overlook the poor writing. Hungry for stories that don’t offend them, they buy badly written books. 

That has led to a narrowing of definitions, and forces out people at the edges. This is not to say I’m abandoning my values and faith, but that I’m working on a project that doesn’t neatly fit in the box. Okay. So it is. 

 

I have written two novels with explicitly Christian themes. In neither of them was the hero a “Bible-banger” or a preacher when the story started. In Assault on Saint Agnes, Kurtz just gets more deadly with every chapter, and wrestles with his values as a believer. In Nicholas of Haiti, Nick has no faith at all, and God calls him out for a very specific role. Kurtz is a long-time believer, and Nick is fresh out of the bottle. 

But all the writing was from a faith perspective. This new book is never going to sell in a Christian book store. That’s too bad. It’s a story of redemption as much as either of the first two. It’s given me liberty to add a few words that you can’t use in the industry. Nothing awful, but it allowed me to accurately write dialogue for a couple of characters who were not exactly Deacons at the local Baptist church. I’ve noticed there are way more people like these characters than there are Deacons. Funny, eh?

In the past two weeks, my candle has burned brightly. I’ve put out over 10,000 good words while working full-time at the day job. Not on the clock, but by getting up at 0500 and annoying Chewy by putting him in his box and stealing off to the coffee shop, an unused conference room at work, and other hidey-holes where I can listen to the Bangles on my headphones and just write uninterrupted for a few hours. My boss and coworkers know that if they find me hiding in a corner I will not make eye contact and they should back away slowly while I continue to type. I just tune them out.

I only tell you this because I’m getting ready to do some power writing and I’ve neglected to blog this week. I like this blog. It’s sometimes inconvenient to crank one out, but other times it’s as easy as opening the page. 

I hope you enjoy all that I write. If you haven’t yet purchased the books linked above, it would be nice if you’d do so. And, if you’re an audio book listener, and can handle some real-world words and sexual situations, there’s a page here, and the books are listed on the right, of my work for both my books and Mr. Michael DiMercurio. Give them a listen. Good stuff.

 

See you next week. But first, the gratuitous dog picture. Because everyone likes Chewy.

 

Checking for spinach.

Prayer War

I’m old, and may have mentioned this before, but I changed my prayer life a few months ago, and it’s been the most wonderful thing.

I’d been contemplating how I responded when people asked me to pray for them, and wasn’t satisfied with my answer. I always did pray for them right on the spot. I’d usually remember to pray on at least one other occasion, and then randomly if they popped into my mind. Post it notes on the desk kept the more prominent needs front and center for a while, but they faded into routine as well. 

So, I promised God I’d up the game. I did nothing about it until we watched The War Room one rainy afternoon. 

This move has been out for a few years, and I somehow managed to miss it. I like the Kendrick product line, and so I sat down with high expectations. 

Listen, this isn’t a movie review, but you should watch the movie. It’s way better than the 3 stars the general populace gave it. I suspect this audience will love the movie. 

I finished the movie and proceeded immediately to start searching for prayer applications. I wanted one I could load on my tablet/phone/windows computer. Nothing I found synched very well. But, as is usually the case, God provided an answer in a note-taking software on all three. 

I started adding people to the list as I thought about them, or they asked. I would take them off the list once the prayers had been answered. The list grew from 1 minute to about 15 minutes now. 

Do I pray like I should every day? No. But I pray more than ever. I even bust out the phone and work on the list when I’m stuck waiting on something/one. I pray on my knees before I go to bed- Chewy licks my face if I get too engrossed in it, and that’s an okay distraction.

Overall I feel closer to God, pray more, and have more hope than I did a few months ago. 

I’d strongly suggest you try this – after watching the movie – and see how you feel. It’s one thing to say you will pray for someone, or put up praying hands on Facebook, and quite another to take the time to do it. 

 

I’m glad I did.

Amish Werewolves Of Space – A Book Review

Quiet out there. I know you people are all laughing at my taste in books. But while you’re laughing, I’m enjoying some darned fine science fiction/speculative fiction works which you, with your snoot in the air, will miss. 

Now, let’s start the tale at the beginning. Several years ago, Kerry Nietz wrote a book that broke the mold, or set the tone for the future: Amish Vampires In Space – Or, AVIS for the fans. What he did was take some deep insights into the Amish culture, and religious beliefs, and introduce space travel and vampirism. It was well written, fun to read, and spiritually sound. It even made the Tonight Show as the worst cover of the year – and helped Kerry sell a lot of books.

 

A couple of authors (myself included) jokingly said, “Any idiot can do vampires. Can you do Zombies?” It was at the height of teen vampire books, and Zombies were just ramping up.

Kerry, being Kerry, ramped up with Amish Zombies From Space. Now, “Take that!” was implied, and it was even better than the first – because now he’d created a universe for the Amish with Zombies AND Vampires. I mean, seriously, how could you top that?

The answer is his latest book, Amish Werewolves Of Space

You’ve probably read my reviews before and trust me if you’ve gotten this far. So, listen closely: reread the first two before picking up the third. Not that the story doesn’t stand alone, but it’s not as much fun if you don’t have the other two in your pocket. That’s the struggle with any series. You might get the second one to stand alone without the first, but by number 3, especially in a true trilogy, you had best have read the first two.

I enjoyed it immensely. It was fun, logical, fit in the universe he’d created, and answered a lot of questions. The only down part was that I don’t know how he’ll extend the series. But since he’s messed with me twice already, I’m expecting great things.

But even if he doesn’t come up with another member in the series, he’s a heavyweight in the writing world. If you want to read great science fiction, with a light Christian undertone, you have to read Kerry’s work. He’s a very good writer. So, try some of his other books as well – I have. And I enjoyed them.

Now, Kerry – can we do something with Cuckoo clocks?