10 Days of Hurricane Florence

On Tuesday, September 11th, several of us gathered at the church to pray for God’s mercy on the people of this area. Our area was where Hurricane Florence was predicted to make landfall and hover – perhaps for a couple of days – and at the time of our prayer was a Category 4, very nearly approaching a Category 5. The storm was moving toward us over warm water, and anyone with knowledge of hurricanes knows that they generally get more powerful over the water. We prayed for the storm to diminish and be still that night.

Sikki seemed worried about the impact of the storm and told me the next morning that she wanted to flee the area. I told her I would not leave southeastern NC. I have a conviction that God called me to this area, and I did not feel right about leaving it in a time of trouble, especially when many were staying. However, I told her she had my blessing to go to Delaware if she wished, and take the kids and pets with her. My sister in New Bern NC was also considering moving further inland, perhaps to my mother’s place in Kernersville NC. I told Sikki I would go and stay at my sister’s house in New Bern with my brother-in-law, and we decided that I would take Garrett with me.

We boarded up the house on the oceanside and did all we could to get our few possessions up as high as we could, anticipating that the garage at least would flood, and praying that the flood waters would not reach the house itself, which would most likely leave us homeless. Sikki left for Delaware, and Garrett and I headed to New Bern.

My sister decided to stay as well, with her seven children. I watched and listened to news reports when I could and, “inexplicably,” the storm was lowered to a Cat 2, and then a Cat 1. No one – not even the oldtimers in our area – could ever remember a hurricane diminishing in strength over open water. It was the goodness of God answering our prayers, and the prayers of many others who remembered us. As it turned out the storm surge hit New Bern very hard and the entire downtown was flooded; several people had to be rescued. But at my sister’s house we simply lost power for three days. The winds weren’t bad enough to even keep us from going outside. The kids played and laughed in the rain. My brother-in-law had borrowed a generator and we were able to have running (cold) water, refrigeration, and lights for a few hours each day. At night I slept in a puddle of sweat, and everything inside was humid and sticky, but we were all safe. I saw my brother for awhile on the second day.

The storm dumped an immense amount of rain because it moved very slowly over the region. On the fourth day, I was reading news reports that the rivers near the coast were expected to flood and overflow several roads as the water from inland moved toward the ocean. A family friend left a message on my phone not to attempt to return to Brunswick County – he said it was impossible to get back. My brother-in-law also advised against me and Garrett trying to go home.

So of course on the morning of the fifth day Garrett and I left to try and get back where we belong. It is typically a 2.5 hour drive from New Bern, but the trip took us 11 hours. I was trying to make a swoop from the Raleigh area down into the western part of the county, but the roads were just an impassable mess. It was like being a rat in a maze. I used two navigation apps and a state website that was supposed to have current road information with closures, etc., but all of our information was faulty and incomplete and it just became an endurance task. We came down in the central region and met failure. So we moved west. Then we came down in the western region. Again, everything was blocked. Finally I told Garrett we were getting the heck out of NC completely and set a route for Myrtle Beach SC. We had to cross a couple of roads with moving water, and at one time I disobeyed a “Road Closed” sign to get us out of the gridlock. Throughout the journey it was tough to find food, open gas stations, and gas. But eventually we made it to SC and drove north into Brunswick County without any problem. We had encouraging news when were an hour from home: a neighbor texted that the power had been restored. Perfect timing. As soon as we got home, we walked around the property with flashlights, looking for damage. There was an immense amount of tree branches and leaves, and two large trees were down in the yard, but nothing had hit the house and the flood waters had not risen very far at all. Not a single window was broken and everything was in order inside and out. We had a ton of cleanup to do, but I was really glad to be home.

On the first day back, Garrett and I went shopping and bought a lot of canned goods. There was no cold product of any kind at our local grocery stores. We took down the plywood from the windows. I cleaned out the fridge, which had been left with food and milk in it – all too gross and horrible to recount here. I bleached the shelves. We swept and vacuumed and straightened the house. There was so much debris in the yard that the driveway was impassable, so we raked and picked up all around the driveway. We cleaned up the garage. Then some friends from church came over for dinner and brought hamburgers, which was nice because we couldn’t buy meat.

The second day we spent 8 hours in the sweltering heat trying to repair our driveway, which had a massive trench caused by the erosion of water. We laid bricks and concrete and toted load after load of wet sand up the hill to put it back where the waters had removed it. We were both pretty beat afterwards, but we went to a “thanksgiving service” that night at the church to thank the Lord for His goodness.

The third day Garrett went to work for his employer and I stayed home, putting things away and working on fixing my chainsaw, which wouldn’t start. I did laundry and went sort of easy that day, as I was sore from the driveway work the day before.

The fourth day, I worked on cleaning the front yard. Garrett went to work on the island again with his employer. I spent the whole day piling up branches and still didn’t finish even the front yard.

The fifth day home, Sikki set out from Delaware to return home. It took her over 16 hours to get back, but she made it. I spent the day working on the front yard, cleaning the bathrooms, organizing the garage, doing laundry and dishes, and generally preparing space.

Sikki and I lost eight days of work from the storm and its consequences, but our family was kept safe throughout the time of Hurricane Florence. There is massive flooding in the interior of NC – just as there was with Hurricane Matthew in 2015 – but I cannot imagine the devastation we would have seen if the Lord had not been merciful and “shortened the storm.”

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Psalm 5:12

Eighth day on the job and I sold a $5000 piece of equipment. It was a bit of shock, even to me. But the Lord brought a scripture to mind after I’d sold the machine. It was quickened to me as I read it this morning, by which I mean my attention was drawn to it and I took special note of it as being significant, though I didn’t know why at the time:

For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord,
You surround him with favor as with a shield.

The Lord is good and gives us little reminders sometimes that our lives are in His hands and He knows our situations. About six weeks ago, after I lost the dispatcher job with the trucking company, I woke up one morning with an old Pentecostal chorus in my head:

Jehovah Jireh
My provider
His grace is sufficient
For me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh
My provider
His grace is sufficient for me

My God shall supply all my needs
According to His riches in glory
He will give His angels
Charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares
For me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me

Throughout that day the Lord sent me several confirmations that He is my provider, and that I needn’t worry about how I will feed myself or my family because His economy is different than this world’s. So I didn’t worry (though I did wonder) and now looking back I see He had everything well in hand. He is my father, and I’m His son. That means He has certain responsibilities and I have certain privileges. We don’t usually understand where He’s leading us until we arrive.

Anyway the boss was really pleased and perhaps it bodes well for my future at the company. I told Jessica when I was looking for work that whatever the Lord led me to would probably be temporary, because I think eventually I’m supposed to be in full-time ministry. The laborers are few, but I am one of them, and Father knows I would like to have greater influence and reach in service to the Body of Christ. (But of course I don’t know His definition of “temporary.”) For now at least this job affords me the opportunity to get acquainted with all of southeastern North Carolina.

Here As In Heaven

When I picked up the kids from the camp in Virginia, I had to take the little boys with me because it was early Saturday morning and it didn’t seem necessary to get a babysitter to watch them. We left around 5. I thought they’d get antsy on the ride but they slept for four hours on the way up, and when I stopped for gas I got them some breakfast sandwiches. We arrived at the ranch around 10. Catherine spotted us first and ran out to greet us. She and Garrett walked us around the ranch so the boys could see the animals. They had goats, pigs, chickens, sheep, donkeys, little horses and big horses. Winston liked the goats best, and the boys kept pulling grass to feed them. The kids were all fairly quiet on the way home: the older ones had been up late so they napped. My concern about the little boys was unwarranted, as everyone behaved and there was not a single argument.

Rebekah and Garrett had good things to say about the experience, but Catherine was still in a mood, as she was when I dropped her off. That bad attitude carried over to the next morning, when we were supposed to lead the worship service. During practice her negativity was so obvious I had to take her in a back office and chat with her. “You need to make a decision,” I said. “Standing before God to worship Him is always a decision we make – it’s an act of the will, separate from our emotions or whether we FEEL like worshiping.” I told her we could talk about whatever was troubling her later, but I couldn’t have her up front with us if she wasn’t going to participate from her heart. I told her to take a few minutes to decide, then I went back out to finish practice. I saw her walk toward the back of the church somewhere and figured she’d decided to sit one out. After the service one of the deacon’s wives told me that she talked with Catherine for about 45 minutes, and she hoped it was helpful. I didn’t even ask her what was said because I trust that woman.

Rebekah and Garrett shared some of their testimony from the camp. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place, including mine. The audio link is here: https://app.box.com/s/t1xb7j0plfs2h0iy8g9dz0qf3jqu0dej

I wrote Catherine a long letter this week before I left for Raleigh, just trying to express my love and concern for her and hopefully get her talking to her mother and I. We did talk yesterday and a lot of what I hear her saying is stereotypical “middle child” stuff. She just doesn’t know who she is, and she has an iron will. I told her that will can either be a blessing or a curse to her life, depending on how she focuses it: I mentioned Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, and the fact that sometimes our emotions and natural proclivities run contradictory to our Father’s will. She said the problem was drama with her boyfriend, and that she dumped him and has already started setting her affection on another boy, a dude I know was raised as a Mormon. I told her she needs to learn discernment. She will only receive hurt and disappointment as long as she is focused on boys rather than on the healing and wisdom she needs to receive from the Lord, and a real relationship with Him – especially if those boys do not share her faith. But even though she’s listening, I feel like my words are just splatting on the ground. It pains me to think she might be one of those people who just has to learn truth the hard way – by having it fall on her in its awful crushing power.

Yesterday and today I spent some time cleaning out the work truck. It wasn’t super-dirty, but I am averse to putting my hands on other people’s sweat, oil, and sneezes, so I wiped out the interior surfaces really well and threw a bunch of junk out, organized tools and papers, and generally put things where I’ll be able to find them quickly. The training in Raleigh was very useful, but I have to apply myself to serious study in the next couple of weeks as I need to become an expert about pressure washers in order to answer questions and sell them effectively. Everyone is off from school and work tomorrow, which is Labor Day. So hopefully we’ll have some family time together.

Better Covenants

I’m writing this in a hotel in Raleigh because I had to come to the main office for work to get some personal training from the owner of the company, who is also my direct supervisor. Throughout my working career in various places, I have often heard from long-term employees that “this used to be a good place to work.” For once I think I finally got in on the ground floor of something before other people come along and ruin it.

The owner is a very smart guy, probably in his early 60s. He has a fast way of talking and I can tell his mind moves from one thing to another quicker than he can get the words out. I think he might also be a little OCD…like, legit OCD. He has the worst dipping habit I have ever seen, and has an entire box of Grizzly Wintergreen snuff in a cabinet of his office. He’ll put a big ball of dip in his mouth and talk with ease, spitting occasionally into a trash can. He uses the f-word in nearly every sentence. Apparently he noticed that I don’t cuss too much, and said he could switch to Spanish if I preferred. I didn’t tell him that I don’t really believe there’s any such thing as a bad word – only bad uses for words – because people just get weirded out when I say things like that. Anyway he spent 20 years with Pepsi, took a year off, and then started the current business with a couple of golfing buddies back in 1998. But the venture based in Wilmington targeting southeast NC has only been going since January of 2017 and I am the first person with a sales background that’s been on the job. There is only one other competitor in the area and I have some strategies in mind for how to get their established customers to switch to our company, but the first thing to do is raise awareness and let them know we’re there.

He walked me through some of the product lines, talked about pricing and financing, and showed me how to access various selling tools online. We went to a Verizon store and he purchased a new iPad for me to use. He also gave me a stack of polo shirts with the company logo and a 2013 Dodge Ram 2500 ST, which is an enormous pickup truck that I’ll use for toting machines and chemicals to prospective customers and doing demonstrations. It will take some work to fit that thing in our garage back home. He also gave me a company credit card with a $30,000 limit to buy gas, keep the truck maintained, purchase anything I need to get the job done, buy lunch for customers, etc. It’s a report-from-home deal with a lot of freedom to figure things out and go get the business. I’m looking forward to learning the job and the area, and there’s a lot of potential to make good money. So far it seems promising. He said, “I don’t want your effing head to explode, but you’re the best sales candidate I’ve ever hired.” Anyway I feel very supported and I hope I can do a good job in growing his business. I work for the Lord, really, so I’ve tried to do my best for every employer, but after a decade of mostly thankless, back-breaking labor for Pepsi and the bad experience at the trucking company, it’s nice to think maybe this job will be one I actually enjoy. When I told Pastor what happened at the trucking company on that Wednesday evening, he just said, “Well, I guess the Lord has something better for you, like it says in Hebrews.”

I want to write about the things that transpired with the big kids at their camp, but I don’t have time right now. I’ll do that when I get home and can upload an audio link of Beck and Garrett’s testimony about the event that they shared with the church last Sunday. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the building. But Cath is still presenting some challenges.

The family and I lead worship on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month now. This past Sunday we just worshipped for nearly the entire service: it was pretty amazing. More later.

Hebrews 10:25

Last Tuesday the 21st I drove my three oldest children to a ranch in Chesapeake, VA, where they are staying at a camp run by Bethany Bible Training Center. They all paid their own expenses for attendance, which was very reasonable at $165 each for five days. Rebekah and Garrett seemed excited, but Catherine was miserable and crying for the first leg of the journey because I insisted they leave their tablets and phones at home with me.

Catherine has spent nearly her entire summer talking to a boyfriend, hidden in her room from the rest of the family. When it was time to leave the house, she was the last to get off a video call with him and get moving. In the past year it has been her pattern to talk for hours to her boyfriend and other peers from school and say nothing to anyone in her family. I know that she is aware it’s a problem, because when she and the others went to Delmarva around Father’s Day she sent me a text saying she was sorry that her relationship with Sikki and I has become almost nonexistent. We’ve talked about it since, of course, but I pointed out to her that it is always at my initiative. Recently I sat her down and asked if she was happy with the way things are and she responded, No. I asked her to consider what had led to this state of “disconnectedness.” She seemed unable (or unwilling) to conjure up a reason, so I suggested that perhaps it is because she never reveals anything about herself to her family, that her entire force of life and energy is spent on people outside our home. At that she was fairly silent. I tried to explain the dynamics of relationships to her: that it is impossible to have a relationship with anyone (parents, family, God) without spending time with those people. Her life has been out of balance. So for the trip to camp, I requested that she leave the devices behind. She cried and acted physically sick during the five hour drive.

When we arrived at the camp, I met the Picataggis again. I had not seen them since I was 18 or so – 25 years ago. The two of them have given their entire lives to serving the Lord in the administration of a Bible school and pastoring. Joanne in particular (along with Jack Buskey and Wade Taylor) affected a change to the course of my entire life during a convention at the now-closed Pinecrest Bible Training Center in Salisbury Center, New York. Joanne greeted me with a hug and said it was good to see me again. When I parted to leave, she said they loved me and asked me to pray for the school in Chesapeake.

On the ride home, I spent a good deal of time waiting on the Lord and praying for the teens and staff who were attending the camp – about a hundred people. I asked that the Lord would reveal His love to them. The Word tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” because God is only known by revelation and experience, and not by mere theology, perfunctory prayers, or Christianese catchphrases. It’s been my experience that a person needs a moment when he or she is “hooked” by the Lord because of a new understanding of His mercy and unending faithfulness on a personal level. Though I was raised in a Christian home, for me that process began to happen when I was 15.

As I continued to watch and pray behind the wheel, a phrase came to mind: “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; yes, the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.” The cedars of Lebanon were among the strongest and most desirable of building materials known to the ancient people of Israel. Cedar wood is not prone to warp or sag with time, and it smells good too. It represented the best the world had to offer a builder of temple, palace, or home. But in Psalm 29, King David sang that the voice of the Lord smashed them to pieces with an awesome display of lightning in a devastating storm.

Talking with my wife recently, I expressed my frustration about Catherine, who seems to be completely enveloped and enamored with this world and its ways: her friends are people who also love the world, and she has never had a moment when she was “hooked” on Jesus. My wife said she feels like there is nothing she can do to help our daughter but pray for her and hold her before the Lord. She said, “Catherine is not outside of His reach.” That was a powerful statement to me. It shot through me and inspired faith.

There is no one who is outside the reach of the Lord’s voice. Even one who has sheltered himself in the “best the world has to offer” cannot resist the force of God’s Word when the King displays His power. And for some, the point of hearing will not come without a storm. In the car I found myself praying for the generation to come, and for myself, that the Lord will break through our hard places with His awesome Word. It is only after that breaking that we can build something – together with Him – that will stand.

“Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).

The day after their arrival, my oldest daughter contacted me and said they weren’t having a good time. They weren’t connecting with anyone there and the kids there were young and stupid. The girls were boy-crazy and social-media obsessed. The boys were mean-spirited. This came as a surprise to my oldest daughter, as this was her first experience of a “Christian camp.” I offered to come get them if they chose to leave, but I prayed that God would change their hearts and reveal Himself and His purpose.

There is always a great chasm between our expectations of church life and the reality of the experience. I have seen countless people get offended by that dynamic, resulting in their ultimate withdrawal from the Body of Christ. They get into a situation that makes them realize that not everyone is like them, not everyone appreciates their specific talents or calling, and because of this their love grows cold and they fall away. The kingdom of God is now populated by “a mixed multitude,” just as the congregation was that left Egypt. There are good fish and bad, good fruit and bad, wheat and tares. The angels of the Lord will make a separation of these at the end of the age. Much ado is made in Christian circles of the early church, but even a cursory reading of the book of Acts and the epistles will show that our current problems in church are not new. Yet the apostles through the unction of the Holy Spirit admonished us to love one another and not forsake the actual, physical assembling of ourselves together, to strive for unity in spite of the splinters and factions and even heresies. The church suffers from a deep identity crisis, and anyone who thinks more highly of himself than he ought and departs fellowship only exacerbates the problem and cuts himself off from the grace and administration of Christ’s power. The life of Christ functions through the life of the church, and that is by His design, not ours.

That being said, there is much that must happen OUTSIDE of the normal functioning of church, apart from Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. From my observation, this is what is lacking in the operation of the Body of Christ in my country. Often an established church is like a little kingdom unto itself, with all its focus inward. A person who wants to make a difference in this world will probably not be able to do so operating solely within the strictures and boundaries of a local church body. Indeed, that group of people who are focused inward will sometimes become the point of greatest resistance to the work of God, because the labor in the vineyard is often messy. And that’s where a Christian youth camp falls (or orphanage, or food ministry, or missions, etc.): outside the normal parameters.

Last week I was talking with a friend in the back yard. It was night and the moon shined on us as the cicadas and frogs sang their praises. From his heart the brother expressed his frustration with church, saying repeatedly, “Something is wrong.” I agreed. He mentioned that he no longer “feels fed” in church. I told him in all honesty that I have very rarely “felt fed” in church, and that most of my spiritual insight and strength is found in reading the Word and seeking the Lord in quiet places, in my “inner room.” I told him that when I go to church my prayer is that nothing I do or say will be fake or mechanical, and that my goal is to light other people’s wicks and express the love and witness of Christ to them. In other words, I keep gathering with my fellow believers (going to church) because it is the expressed will of God, and to make myself available to His purposes by serving His Body. You cannot serve Christ without serving people. I don’t want to be found a wicked servant, burying his Master’s talent. I go, though some are kooks and crazies, some are uncommitted, some are angry, some are impure, some are religious after the traditions of men and Babylon itself, some are lukewarm, some are cold, and some are white-hot with passion for Jesus Christ. As we conversed he admitted that he is not spending quality time with the Lord because he is “too busy,” and that is the true origin of his troubles.

These were the thoughts in my mind when I admonished my children to stay at the camp – though not against their will since I left them a way of escape if they wished – to make themselves available to the Lord and His purpose during their time there. The next day, she contacted me again and said they’d chosen to stay. I haven’t heard from her since, but I have continued in prayer for them throughout this week. Tomorrow morning I plan on rising very early to go retrieve them. I’d like to arrive in time to sit in the morning chapel service which begins at 9:30.

Delmarva Trip, Part 4

The plan when I left the pastor’s place was to hang out with his son Danny and one of my best friends in Delmarva: Jules. We had loosely made plans to get some good grub and maybe some brewskis and just sit around and chat. I was pretty certain no one would get drunk or act overly stupid, since we’re all believers. I went to a liquor store and purchased some suds to contribute and drove to Danny’s. He had moved closer to Rehoboth Beach since I was there last, and Google led me down some of the craziest back roads I’d ever seen in Delaware – roads I’d never seen even though I lived there for 23 years. My face was feeling very hot and pulsating because I hadn’t worn sunblock at the beach earlier that day.

These two guys are both about seven years younger than me. Danny is single and owns a successful construction business. Jules is married to the sweetheart of his youth, and he’s a law enforcement officer. He seemed excited to see me. He and I were especially close, having shared a lot of tough times with each other, but since I moved to NC I’ve only spoken to him on the phone a handful of times.

I had food on my mind because I hadn’t eaten anything since my breakfast at Denny’s that morning. We talked options and eventually Danny drove us to Rehoboth Beach to – of all things – a taco truck that was in front of a bar. I thought he must be out of his mind but he insisted it was the best Mexican food you could get in the area. I ordered a steak burrito, Jules ordered tacos, and Danny ordered a burrito bowl. I was about to sit down at one of the picnic tables near the place when Danny said, “Let’s go get a drink while the food’s cooking.”

We walked into the bar. A live band was playing. It was obvious that the people who worked in the place knew Danny well. He was schmoozing with everyone and ordered us a beer, then he went up front and tried to sit right behind the band. Jules said, “This is too loud. It’s stupid!” then he sprang up and left us, walking away from the band closer to the entrance. We followed him to a table. Danny told me this was where the locals hang out. Something dripped on my head. I looked up and it was an A/C duct that was dripping condensation. It wasn’t a downpour or anything so I didn’t move.

They asked what brought me to Delaware. I think Jules was hoping I would move back. I told them I came to see Danny’s parents, to deliver their Bibles and apologize for the way I left the church years ago. I told them some of the trials that have occurred since I left: getting sick and being out of work, and the story of how I went back to work and ran into trouble when the boss asked me to drive illegally. When I told them how he offered me a thousand dollars to work for six hours and I had to turn it down because it wasn’t legal, they both made a face at each other like I was the biggest fool at the table. I said, “Well, if I’d said yes, it would’ve never ended, the things he was asking me to do and when. It was a test.” I told them I am a son of God and shouldn’t have to beg or violate issues of conscience for my daily bread.

Jules said to Danny, “Yeah, he’s right, man.” But I was thinking of all the other Christians I have told that story to, and how all of them were very supportive and said, “Brother, you did the right thing” like immediately. After that I just sort of listened to them, to their conversation. I was taking their temperature, if you want to know the truth. I wanted to hear what their hearts were focused on.

Danny went outside to get our food from the truck. When he came back, he laid the burrito in front of me. It was the most gargantuan burrito in history. It looked like an infant wrapped in aluminum foil. It was delicious – perfectly spiced to be hot, but not so hot it burned all your taste buds off and made the rest of the meal taste like wet iron. Jules’s tacos looked great too: he said they were the best he’d ever had.

After eating, we rode back to Danny’s and sat at his dining room table. I cracked a brew. Danny’s roommate is a tall boat captain whose name I forget, but man was he tall. I’m 6’4” and he towered above me: I’m not used to looking up at people when I meet them. He seemed like a nice guy. Danny had several huge bookshelves filled with books. The bookshelf in his dining room was so high it had one of those ladders that you can slide to access books on the top shelves. There were books on shelves in his living room and in a lot of bins in the room I ended up sleeping in. I asked if he’d read them all. He said, “No, not too many.” He told me about a non-profit he was trying to start to build orphanages, but said that had taken a back burner to some other pressing matters in his life.

I let them steer the conversation, which was pretty fluffy. Jules was clowning around with crude jokes as he always does. It was getting late but around midnight Danny’s cell phone rang. It was someone named Ryan, and Ryan was phoning us from Danny’s driveway. He came in and went to the refrigerator and grabbed some of the beer that I’d brought. He was a nurse and he’d just finished a shift. I thought it was a little weird to have people coming to your house at midnight and drinking your beer, but Jules said, “That’s just the way it is at Danny’s house.”

In the course of conversation, I learned that Danny always has people coming to his house – including girls. It was clear I was at a bachelor pad, but what I found myself wondering is whether I was at a Christian’s bachelor pad. Jules made jokes about some girls that had been there, at least one of whom Danny had slept with. Jules talked about his relationship with his wife, and honestly his words were very destructive. He talked about the house they’re building. He talked about the things they’re fighting about. He called his wife names that made me squirm. He complained about money, although he and his wife have no children and make probably $150,000 a year in their household. There’s real talk, and then there’s the flaming fire of the tongue, and his was setting things ablaze. The conversation never got to anything very substantial, though I tried to steer it that way by asking them if they’d ever heard any Christian teaching in church about sexuality. Beyond “don’t have sex before marriage,” I mean. I asked them about what they’re reading or studying.

The bond of fellowship in Christ was there with Scott, with Jerm, and with Danny’s parents. We three bonded, yes, but we were bonding in exactly the way the world’s children bond, at the same level. No one was drunk, but between the beer, the foul and destructive language, and the lack of passion I observed, it was no wonder that people could come and go from that house at all hours and not feel uncomfortable or convicted. I wondered where their old thirst for truth went, their zeal for service that seemed now choked by fellowship at a bar and focus on personal business and houses. There was no praise and no glory. I was disappointed. I felt out of place. Maybe it was because I fresh on the heels of the conversation with Danny’s parents, but I found my time with my old friends to be lacking. It lacked grace, power, and life. It was surprising because hanging out with them was the thing I’d most looked forward to in my preparation for the trip. I wondered whether I was being judgmental, or too uptight. I wondered whether our conversations had always been this way and I just remembered them differently. Though I enjoyed seeing them, I felt like something in me had changed and I couldn’t enjoy things like I used to.

I didn’t tell them any of this – I’m still debating whether I should – but it was very clear to me that when the Lord led me away from Delmarva, He was wise to do so. It was necessary. It was like another confirmation that I am in the will of God being where I am.

Danny allowed me to crash in one of his spare rooms. I went to bed around 3, but before I went to sleep I set an alarm for 7 because I wanted to have time to say goodbye to Jerm – who lives an hour away almost – before I left for NC.

Next morning, I got out early. I drove to Jerm’s and had a cup of black coffee, and we chatted for a bit. Then I hit the road. Somewhere near Virginia Beach, Jules called. He said he wished I’d given him more notice before coming, because he’d rather have sat down just the two of us for breakfast or something. He said there was no way we could’ve had a serious conversation the night before, because it was a mixed crowd or whatever. I didn’t say so, because I wanted to think on things before I spoke, but I knew he was wrong about that; the night before was a missed opportunity, and it wasn’t my fault. I told him I couldn’t talk to him long because I was about to go across the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel, which is 26 miles long and has terrible phone reception. He asked me to call him back sometime.

I haven’t yet.

The trip back was mostly uneventful. I stopped at Stuckey’s to get some salt water taffy for the kids and a pecan log for myself. I ran into some very heavy rain and hail near Emporia, Virginia. I listened to Kishi Bashi, The Naked and Famous, and The Postal Service. I mused about the main thing I’d learned: I am in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. There is nothing to do but wait on the Lord. I won’t really know the destination He has for me until I get there. In the meantime, there is a joy in the journey.

Delmarva Trip, Part 3

The truck shop shower was spartan, but adequate to the task. I texted the pastor and his wife before I left Laurel to let them know I was running a few minutes late – I was only about 20 minutes from where they lived. They greeted me with a hug, but I was a little self-conscious that I was still slightly damp from my shower and I figured they’d suppose I was sweaty. Anyway I presented their Bibles to them. John’s was a 1964 Thompson Chain-Reference, King James Version. When he sent it to me the cover was falling off, but the pages were in good shape, though slightly yellowed with time. I rebound it in olive/brown distressed goatskin.

Alice’s was also a TCR, but New King James Version. Hers was much newer and was filled with notes and highlighting and, at first glance, appeared to be in much better condition. In fact, she’d attached a note that she didn’t think it needed a new cover at all; she just wanted the pages resecured to the binding. But when I looked at it, I could see that its signatures (the folded layers of pages that are sewn together through a book-block) had failed in addition to the glue, which meant that the Bible would soon come apart, even if I reglued it. Through texts and phone calls I informed her of the Bible’s actual situation and that I thought the best solution would be to rebuild the whole thing. After a bit of back and forth, I learned that she wanted the archaeological supplement left out of the rebind to reduce the Bible’s girth. I suggested that we just rebind ALL of the Helps section separately, and she liked that idea. The result was that it was like rebinding two Bibles. So hers took a lot more time and problem-solving, but in the end the main Bible itself was reduced to two-thirds of its original size. I rebound it in navy blue goatskin, with raised hubs on the spine, and I rebound the Helps in the same material, but without decoration.

I’d suggested the idea of rebinding a Bible for each of them as thanks for their many years of ministry into my life, and Sikki’s life. I chatted with them for some time about things that had happened since we left Delaware, and John and I talked in particular a good while about the Word and what God is saying to the churches. I was amazed that many of the things he was relating to me were almost verbatim what our pastor in NC has been teaching recently. It was really nice catching up with them.

Before I left, I got to the real point of why I wanted to see them. I recounted how so much of my life in Delmarva seemed to be about losing things: how it felt like God was stripping things away. Many of these things were iniquities and sins that needed to be exposed in the light, but others were just difficulties and a sense of emptiness – even with church life – that I just couldn’t understand at the time I was going through them. I told them that God had helped me see that when He wants to build something eternal in a person (or marriage, or group), He begins with the foundation. The wider, taller and more powerful the structure, the deeper the foundation needs to be. But before a good foundation can be laid, a lot of rocks and roots and impediments must first be removed. I told them much of our time in their church was just that: removing of things. False beliefs, assumptions, traditions of men, expectations. John and Alice were extremely loving and helped me and Sikki through many difficulties. Whenever I called, they answered. But towards the end of our time there I became critical of many things in the church, and even of him (the pastor). I was upset that the men of the church were so disengaged and that there didn’t seem to be any passion for Christ in the congregation. As I did in my situation at work, I tried to change things from the inside – even if that meant making some waves. But I was frustrated and even angry that so one seemed interested in what I was trying to say. We left the church without really saying goodbye, and the members of the church whom I had known for nearly two decades knew we were offended. Perhaps it was a relief to both parties when we left, but there wasn’t closure because we left without a word. That was wrong. That wasn’t love.

I told them it was wrong, and that I had always regretted it. I told them of the huge part they played in “laying the foundation” of my life, marriage, and ministry, and thanked them for their faithfulness. I wanted them to know I loved them and was sorry for how things played out. John and I were near tears, and he was very gracious (as I knew he would be). We parted with hugs again and I felt right then that my trip had not been a waste of resources, but was a redemptive moment in the timeline of my life.

Delmarva Trip, Part 2

Before leaving Trap Pond, I decided to call my oldest friend, Scott. I have known Scott since I was 15, longer than I have known anyone else on this earth besides my family. I met him at a Pentecostal church, and my earliest memory of him is when he was cracking jokes at a potluck-type gathering on a Sunday night. I looked up his cell number in my phone and tapped the button to make the call. He answered right away, but I was in the boonies and had bad reception. He said I sounded like I was calling from the other side of a stargate. He and I loved the movie and show about Stargate-SG1 years ago and he’s still a big nerd about it.

I got back to civilization and called him. He was just getting off work. I told him I wanted to stop by and chat for a bit, and not to clean up on my account. I drove to his house and let myself in.

I used to worry that Scott was a bit of a packrat. He was always toting old junk around with him whenever he’d move – stuff that no human being has any real need for. But he always seemed to have some scheme of selling the junk on ebay or restoring the old car he’d totaled at age 16 and has been with him ever since, now that he’s 50. But now I saw that he had acquired even more shelves and they were all packed out with stuff. There was a little path through the living room leading to a couch. As I made my way to the couch I said, “You might be a hoarder.” I have never known a single guy to have so much STUFF. I wondered to myself whether any of it really brought him any joy.

He went to shake my hand but I gave him a big hug. Then we talked for a few hours, just catching up and discussing our families and recent happenings and the Word of God. He surprised me when he informed me that he had gotten rid of his television and internet. Of the two of us, he was always more into television. But he said the cost wasn’t worth the payoff. All said and done, we had a good time in the Lord, though I felt concern for him. He remarked that I was the first company he’d had to his house since the last time I was there – which must’ve been five years ago at least. Since I’d left his mother had died, and most of his family is dysfunctional. I suggested that maybe it was time to visit me in North Carolina, or even to move somewhere else. I felt a little trapped in his living room and wondered if he felt the same way. I prayed with him before I left, and then hugged him again.

I left his place around 7 and then drove to Salisbury, MD, where I was supposed to stay at Jerm’s that night. He had all his kids and their significant others there. I had rebound a bible for his daughter and presented it to her on my arrival. She seemed pleased with the work. I chatted with Jerm and his wife until 11:30 or so, then I went to sleep in a room they had prepared for me.

Next morning, Jerm treated me to breakfast at Denny’s. I had country-fried steak and scrambled eggs, hash browns, extra bacon, and black coffee. We got back to his house around 8:30. They were planning a trip to Assateague Island for a beach day. The island has a lot of wild horses living on it. They walk up to you on the beach and on the roads lining the island. I live very close to the beach anyway, so I wasn’t really enthralled with the idea of leaving the air conditioning and sweating my balls off in the hot sun, but I went to spend time with Jerm because that’s what I was there for. I hadn’t brought flip flops so I was wearing my Vans skate shoes over the hot sand, which ended up giving me blisters on top of the blisters I got the first day by walking around Trap Pond.

I felt a little guilty that I didn’t eat any of his wife’s food while I was there. I was fasting on the first night, when I visited Scott. The second day I planned a big meal with some other friends that night so I skipped lunch after eating that big Denny’s breakfast. On the third morning I was fasting again and only drank some black coffee at Jerm’s house. His wife is the type that likes to feed you and goes to a lot of effort to make nice homecooked food. I tried explaining to her that I’m trying to get control of my body again and cut weight, but I felt like I disappointed her nevertheless. She’s really a very cute and sweet lady and you can tell she really loves the Lord.

At about 2:30, I started thinking about the primary task I’d come to Delmarva for: to deliver two bibles to the pastor and pastor’s wife – John and Alice – whose church I’d been a part of for over 15 years. I took my leave of Jerm and his family and walked over the sand to my car, which was boiling hot in the midday sun. I was sweaty all over and sandy besides. I wondered how I would shower before getting to their house at 4, which was the time we’d agreed on. I turned the car on and got the A/C blasting, and then I remembered that there is truck stop in Laurel. I thought they might have showers there. While I brushing as much sand off myself as I could with an old t-shirt, I called them to confirm.

“Do you guys have showers?” I asked.

“What’s that?” the girl said.

“Do you have showers for truckers?” I asked again.

“Do we have what?” she said. Clearly not many folks call asking to bathe.

“SHOW-ERS,” I said. “Like a bath that you stand up in and water falls down upon you.”

“Oh, showers,” she said. “Yes, we have them. They’re eight dollars, or free with a truck fuel-up.” I thanked her and said I’d be there in about 45 minutes.

Delmarva Trip, Part 1

So last Wednesday, the 8th of August, I had to go to Raleigh for a bit of training and job interview. The training was finished around 2:30, and from the parking lot I looked at hotels.com and booked a room in Newport News, VA. I was heading north because for about a week all I had been doing was working on two Thompson Chain-Reference Bibles that were sent to me by our former pastors in Delaware. One was nearly 30 years old and believe it or not it was in much better shape than the newer one, which was filled with notes by the pastor’s wife. The big companies don’t bind Bibles with any integrity these days, or American’s aren’t willing to part with the money it would cost to buy a quality Bible. Anyway I did the work pro bono because I sought occasion to speak to them face-to-face.

The hotel in Newport News was a very nice Holiday Inn, if I now remember correctly. When I arrived, I went to the hotel restaurant and bar and ordered a ½ pound cheeseburger with onions and fries, and an appetizer of chicken tenders. The food was stellar. I also ordered a local Virginia craft brew – I want to say it was something called Black Walnut IPA: it was really wondrous with the fresh beef burger. I sipped it for a few minutes and then ordered another. I didn’t finish the fries, but I did order a shot of Woodford Reserve bourbon. I nursed it for several minutes, observing that hotel bars are always populated by middle-aged men in wrinkled shirts. Then I went back to my room and flipped through the television channels. There was nothing on – there never is – but I think I landed on a M*A*S*H rerun and kept it there because it’s a good show. But I turned it off and fell asleep around 8:30; I was tired because I woke up at 3:15 that morning to get through Raleigh traffic in time for the training.

I was up about 1-3 A.M., just generally praying and seeking the Lord, but I went back to sleep and didn’t awake until after nine. I decided to shave and get a bath. I never take baths at home, because the tub doesn’t really fit my rather massive outer shell. I could hear housekeeping out in the hallway, and occasionally some voices as my room was near the elevators. I used my fingernails and a washcloth to exfoliate the begeezus outta myself in the tub, and I just sort of sat there listening to an old sermon by Walter Beuttler – one of my spiritual fathers in Christ though he died a year before I was born. Once I was pruney, I drained the tub and turned the shower on to rinse off, then I packed my stuff and went to check out around 10:30.

It was a beautiful day to be in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. There were big white cumulus clouds ambling their way across the blue sky, yet the sun never stopped shining. I used Google to set a course for the Eastern Shore of Virginia and set out without feeling like I was in any rush. It was a Thursday at 11 o’clock, so the traffic through Virginia Beach was minimal.

After all these years of life I still love to drive, I love being on the road. It gives me a sense of discovery and zest that I rarely feel when I’m stuck in one place. I wish I could be somewhere different every morning…just keep following an endless, winding highway through mountains, plains and deserts until I reach the gates of Zion, the New Jerusalem.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is as it has always been: wondrous. Except the idiots who’d never been on the bridge before ignored the signs that read “Maintain Speed” and they slowed down in the tunnel and created just the sort of conditions which can get a person killed. I drove like a madman, about nine miles over the speed limit, until I reached Salisbury, Maryland. Then I decided I’d go for a walk around Trap Pond State Park near Laurel, Delaware. Sikki and I lived in Laurel for four years, and I used to go to Trap Pond nearly every weekend and run around the Loblolly Trail: 4.5 miles. They’d renamed the trail the “Bob Trail,” which didn’t sound as majestic to my ears, but the trail was the same.

Towards the end of the trail, I was getting blisters because I hadn’t brought shoes appropriate to the task of walking nearly five miles over stone and root and puddle, and though there was an occasional biting green fly, the trail was mostly deserted and peaceful.

Romans 8:22-23

Back in June I started working for a local trucking company, as a dispatcher. Most work days were 7:30-5. Basically I was learning to bid on government loads, which were mostly hazmat flatbed loads and – because they were government operations – the most lucrative for the company. After winning the bid, the load would be assigned to one of the company trucks to haul. Though I was hired as a dispatcher, the owner of the place was aware that I still have my class-A CDL license and he suggested that I get my hazmat endorsement and renew my DOT medical card. The day I did so fell nearly four weeks after my start date. I was tidying up my work station and preparing to leave when one of the three other dispatchers informed me that I was supposed to drive four loads into the State Port that evening.

“Are you joking?” I said.

“No,” he answered.

“But how can that be?” I said. “I haven’t done any training with any of your drivers. I’ve never done flatbed loads and don’t know how to even confirm whether the load is secure. I don’t have personal protective equipment.” I turned to a different dispatcher: “Miss Ginny, are they joking with me? Razzing the new guy?”

“No,” she said.

“What time would I even get done?” I asked.

“About 2 or 3 in the morning,” said one of them.

“No,” I said. “I’m not doing that. I haven’t been trained, I don’t have the equipment, the boss hasn’t said anything to me about it, and then there’s the law.”

“What do you mean?” said one.

“It’s against the federal hours-of-service laws for me to be driving past 14 hours of work,” I said. “My day started at 7:30. Even if I agreed to do run these loads I’d have to be done and back here by 9:30.”

A few minutes later the owner called my line. “I don’t understand what’s going on here,” he blustered. “I thought you understood you were running freight tonight.”

“No I didn’t understand that,” I answered, “because neither you nor anyone else told me that until five minutes ago.”

He was very flustered and got angry when I tried to explain the law to him. All I said was that if I got in an accident or got pulled over, the fines and consequences would fall on me – the driver – and not to him. Finally he said, “I’ll give you a thousand dollars to run these loads tonight.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t do that. I’d be happy to do so with notice in the future. But I can’t knowingly break the law even if you offer me ten thousand dollars.” At that, he hung up. I asked one of the other dispatchers to have him call me after he calmed down, so we could have a conversation and communicate clearly about my role at the company. Then I left.

I called Sikki and explained what happened, and said I wasn’t sure whether I had a job now. She just said, “The Lord knows.” The owner of the business never returned my calls or email.

I spent about two weeks feeling sort of shocked and depressed. I didn’t get much done at home, not even with looking for jobs online. Every time I’d muster up the energy to scope out the job scene, this sort of weariness would wash over me as I realized there just wasn’t much out there that would be a good fit for me. After two weeks went by, I started applying for more jobs in earnest – even for jobs I knew I’d hate. I made sure I was qualified for everything I applied for, and I even had years of experience with most of them.

Nothing. Not a single phone call. Just computer generated rejection emails, every morning. I felt like I was wasting my time. Then one Saturday, I was taking a break from working on a Bible rebind in the garage when I checked indeed.com and found an outside sales rep job for the Wilmington area. It had been posted an hour ago. I applied immediately. About three hours went by and I received an email I knew was from a human, requesting a phone interview. At 9 A.M. Monday morning, the call came and the guy’s first words were, “So, you were a Pepsi guy?” I told him I worked for Pepsi for ten years. He said, “I worked there for 20. So I know you aren’t a guy who f**ks around.” He said he knew I would hussle and be accountable.

Long story short, he asked me to come to Raleigh and meet with him and some of the other team members, and offered me the job right there. It comes with a company vehicle, phone, tablet, laptop, and 100% health insurance. Report from home. But the thing that kicked me was that it was the Pepsi connection that opened the door. There is no way he had time to consider any other candidates.

So God is faithful. Sikki’s words were true, “The Lord knows.” Getting let go from the other job (or quitting – I’m still not sure how I would classify that madness) felt like a real blow, but if I had bent to Mammon at the moment of testing it would have never ended. It was one of those times when I really knew I was suffering because I’d done the right thing — because of integrity. With that knowledge, I didn’t get flooded with anxiety and go crazy with worry. I just sought my Father’s will. I am a son of God. Sons do not have to beg and plead when they are seeking the kingdom: His government in their lives. Begging is for orphans, and I am not an orphan.