Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Changed?

gun racks for pickup trucks carrying rifle in pickup truck in nh archive northeastshooters model
image source: www.fisolazio.info

In 1980, I was 16 years old attending Mitchell County High School. When I pulled into the high school student parking lot in my 1973 Chevy El Camino, I parked beside Ford F150s and Chevy C10s.In the back windows of those pickups were gun racks holding Remington shotguns for dove and quail hunting, .22 rifles for squirrel and rabbit hunting, 30-30 and 30-06 rifles for deer hunting. Many days there was a shotgun behind the seat of the El Camino and a five gallon bucket in the passenger side floorboard with 3 boxes of shotguns shells. We often set in a deer stand before school. As soon as school was dismissed, many of us headed to the fields and the woods. When  I walked down the hall, most of the guys had a leather sheath on their belts which held a lock blade knife for skinning what we shot so we could have it for dinner. If the pop top broke off on a Coke can before it opened the can, those knives were handy for remedying the problem.

I do not recall anyone brandishing a weapon in class. There were no mass shootings in high school or during college. So I am struggling to understand what has changed. There were no gun vaults in homes. Most families had a wooden cabinet with a glass door in the front that held all of their rifles and shotguns. Since that time, locking trigger guards have been developed and sold widely.Heavy gun vaults have been marketed and widely sold. Schools are now gun and knife free zones. By every stretch of the imagination, students should be safer now than we were in the 1980s. But on the contrary, we have seen a rise in school shootings. What has changed?

Several things have happened since 1980 that may have influenced the situation we now see before us. The first was the deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill.

 "In 1955, there were 558,239 severely mentally ill patients in the nation's public psychiatric hospitals. In 1994, this number had been reduced by 486,620 patients, to 71,619." (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/special/excerpt.html)

So where did they go? When the closed the state mental hospital in Georgia, they simply released the residents onto the streets.

"Thus deinstitutionalization has helped create the mental illness crisis by discharging people from public psychiatric hospitals without ensuring that they received the medication and rehabilitation services necessary for them to live successfully in the community. Deinstitutionalization further exacerbated the situation because, once the public psychiatric beds had been closed, they were not available for people who later became mentally ill, and this situation continues up to the present. Consequently, approximately 2.2 million severely mentally ill people do not receive any psychiatric treatment." (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/special/excerpt.html)

Video games came on the market. Without naming titles, suffice it to say that there are a number of games that romance stealing automobiles,running from the police, and shooting anyone that gets in your way. A majority of titles dominate the gaming scene with first person shooter roles providing active shooter simulation.

Respect for adults, authority, and human life has decreased in the last 30 years. Disciplining children has been frowned upon and allowing children to "speak their mind" and "question authority" has been wildly encouraged.

Are these the reasons behind the increase in mass school violence? I don't know. But I am perplexed that 30 years ago, the amount of weapons that were on school campuses across the country were significantly higher and mass shootings were significantly lower.

Something changed.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Social Media Storm



Over the past few weeks, social media has exploded with people upset at what someone said on twitter or what someone said that someone else supposedly said in some closed door meeting somewhere. Social media and 24 hour news channels have taken what was once a somewhat disconnected world and made it a small town.

I grew up in a small town and quickly tired of small town gossip, because it was hardly ever accurate and caused a great deal of unnecessary drama. It was quite reminiscent of the game we played in kindergarten where you whispered something in someone's ear, and you couldn't repeat it. They turned and whispered what they thought they heard you say into the next person's ear until it went all the way around the room. In the end the first person would stand up and say, "I said Sally has red shoes." The last person would stand up and say, "I heard - Jimmy is in love with Mary Lou." Everyone would laugh and shake their heads. I don't think we caught what the teacher was trying to teach us. The point was, if you listened and repeated the story you thought you heard, you would miss the message entirely. And perhaps, you might want to go to the source and verify the story before passing it on, but that wouldn't be any fun right?

Several years ago Pop worked construction and a c-clamp broke holding a cable on a huge piece of equipment a crane was lifting. The broken pieces of c-clamp hit Pop across the bridge of his nose breaking his nose and bruising his face so badly his eyes were swollen shut. His crew brought him home late on a Thursday night. He couldn't see a thing from the swelling and his face was black and blue. We lead him around the house by his hand and helped him get a shower and to bed. The next day, I knew he was going to need some help, so I skipped school and played personal assistant. I completed expense reports and placed his hand where he needed to sign, wrote his weekly report which he dictated, and generally did anything that he couldn't. He needed to go to the bank and deposit his paycheck, so I drove him to the bank and guided him to the teller line. One of the Vice Presidents of the bank was walking through the lobby, saw his swollen face and quickly came over to see him.

"Dick, what happened to your face?", the banker asked.

"My wife,my firewood, my business", Pop replied with a straight face.

The banker scurried off to his office.

Pop turned to me a quietly said, "I bet that stirs up the local gossip hot line."

When we drove up to the house, my Mom came running out the door and to the pickup where we were getting out.

"What did you say at the bank?", she screamed.

We both began laughing hysterically at how fast the rumor had circled town and had already gotten back to Mom.

Well 50 years later, social media and 24 hour news channels eager to have breaking news to share has turned the world into a small town eager to pass the garbled message someone thought they hard. My question is this:

"What good does it do to worry about what someone said on Twitter. Why worry about things you can't do anything about?"

We're not going to force a president or a congress member to resign, because we are appalled by their comments posted on social media or in the news. And we're not going to change a foreign leader's itch for a nuclear missile button.  So, why don't we utilize our energy and efforts for something we can change like the lives of those around us who are hurting, hungry, or homeless? We can't change the world, but we can change things in our corner of the world. Why don't we try to spread a little love and grace to those around us and hope that it will multiply?

Let's quit worrying with what someone said on social media and start worrying with what we say and do with those around us.

-Allen

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Love Wins

Image Source: static.pexels.com

A few years ago we took a winter's train ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The train delivered us to a city split at the Georgia/Tennessee state line - McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee. We stepped of the train to sight see and grab some lunch. We were not prepared for what we encountered - a man standing on the street corner screaming hellfire and damnation to everyone that walked by. I was perplexed how he was so certain that everyone stepping off the train, men, women, children, and elderly were such lowlife sinner scum that we needed to repent or burn in the eternal fires of hell. As we got almost in front of him, he turned towards me and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Do you know Jesus?" I smiled and replied, "As a matter of fact, I do." It did not phase him as he continued screaming from his memorized script. My inner being wanted to grab him and scream back, "Do you realize how much damage you are doing? Do you realize you are pushing lost souls even further with your screaming rant?" But I didn't. We crossed the street heartbroke knowing that anyone hurting and lost who encountered him would not for a moment decide they wanted to learn more about Jesus love and forgiveness for them.

I have a well meaning friend who devotes a great deal of time and effort to denounce Andy Stanley because as he explains, Andy doesn't preach the "truth". I find his claims far from the actual truth as I have listened to Andy for over 17 years and know that Andy preaches that Jesus loves every soul on this planet and yearns to have a personal relationship with them. My friend's frustration is that Andy doesn't week after week preach that if you are a sinner that you are destined to burn in hell. Instead, Andy grew up the son of a Southern Baptist preacher witnessing first hand the throngs of people that have chosen not to seek a relationship with a God the local church has presented as a ominous judge waiting to strike us all dead. Andy set out to create a church where the unchurched would want to walk in the door. A safe place for the person who regularly declined entering the door of the staunch cathedral, because they were certain they were so sinful and bad the building would burn to the ground if they walked in the doorway. Andy realized that Jesus much like any other fisherman didn't try to clean his fish before he caught them. I've set and watched lives changed in front of my very eyes. People who I walked along side of while they listened weekly to messages Andy preached. People whose hearts were softened by a message of love and grace. People who decided to take a faith journey and whose lives have made 180 degree changes and relationships healed and strengthened as a result.

I think the man screaming hell, fire, and brimstone and my friend who wishes to be Andy Stanley's judge and jury would both quickly be able to quote John 3:16 for you:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

But I have to wonder if either could quote verse 17:

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Yes, the Bible clearly tells us the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but God loved us so much knowing we would never be good enough to live without sin, that He sent Jesus to die as the final sacrifice for us that we might have hope and life abundant. 

It would seem to me that if the church, the guy screaming at the street corner, and my friend wanted to see lives changed, they would embrace John 3:17, would welcome the sinner, the prostitute, the drunkard, the drug addict, the homeless, the forgotten, the marginalized with open arms and shout "You are loved. The God who created everything values you, and your life has purpose."

In Luke 15:25-32, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son who one day walked up to his father and demanded his inheritance. He then burned through it in a short period of time and became desolate and broken. He awoke sleeping in the muck and mire with the pigs and decided the hired help on his father's farm lived better. He set out and made his way home. When his father saw him coming, he didn't stop him at the front gate post and begin to tell him what a terrible son he was and how disappointed he was in his decision making. He didn't condemn him of his sins which were obvious to even the most casual of observers. Instead the father celebrates that he has returned and throws him a feast.  

With Jesus sharing this story, shouldn't we follow the example by making a clear path for the prodigal to find a easy rode to the father and restoration instead of preparing a litany of all their sins and failures and telling them how they don't measure up?

Jarrid Wilson has written a book entitled "Love is Oxygen". In it, he tells of the incredible, inexhaustible and boundless love that God has for all people - the broken, the abuser, the forgotten. If you find yourself struggling to want a relationship with an ominous judge, if you find yourself judging and condemning those who sin differently than you do (and we all sin so get over yourself), or if you find yourself frustrated with pastors that aren't condemning people, I recommend reading this book and perhaps contemplating on John 3:16 AND 17. Because if God didn't send Jesus in the world to condemn us all then who are we to condemn?


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Book Review: Confessions of a Funeral Director - How the Business of Death Saved My Life by Caleb Wilde

www.calebwilde.com/

Sixth generation funeral director Caleb Wilde engages the negative narrative that we all seem to engage when we encounter death. Nursing home and hospitals hide the dead. Families pay professionals to whisk the dead from our sight. We use trite phrases like, "time can heal", "they're in a better place", "You need to move on", "its all gonna be OK", "You will move on", and "It will get better". But Wilde suggests that these worn out platitudes do little to comfort the grieving and by trying to rush them through the grieving period, we do them a disservice.

When the funeral industry tends to quickly swoop into a families home and load up the deceased and shuttle them out of sight to a funeral home for embalming and preparations for the funeral, Wilde discovers that the family is better served by being allowed to have time with the deceased. Time to kiss them on the cheek, time to tell them they love them, time to embrace the loss. Allowed the family  unrushed time before the body is removed from their home provides the family the opportunity to have time and space for to address what they are feeling as opposed to being told to bottle it up and quiet their tears. 

For years nursing homes quickly shuttle the deceased to a secluded room near the back of the facility and have the funeral home enter through a back door and wheel the body out of site believing that a "back door policy" prevents residents from being reminded that death happens in their facility. In contrast, Wilde tells the story of a nursing home that shocked him when they informed him that they had a "front door policy". Once he had the body of the deceased on the stretcher, they provided him with an "honor quilt" the staff had made to signify wrapping the body in love and care. When he began to roll the stretcher from the nursing home room to the front door, the staff lined the hallway in honor and respect. By their actions of engaging death in a positive manner with respect and honor, the nursing home staff had reversed the negative narrative acknowledging death to be a natural progression of life and honoring the life of the deceased.

I found the book to be enlightening, encouraging, and changed the way that I view death.

I highly recommend this book for everyone as we all cope with the death of friends and loved ones, and learning a better way to engage death and finding hope through the process is helpful to us all,

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Dark Side of The Land of The Free

image source: http://www.talkofthehouse.com

In Tahlequah, Oklahoma outside of Tulsa, a few weeks after Thanksgiving I met Tony. His ancestors originally lived in the Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina area along with about 125,000 others in the early 1800s. But many of their new neighbors that had moved into the area became jealous of the land they occupied and wanted it for their own. Their neighbors managed to convince their state governments and even then President Andrew Jackson to transfer thousands of acres of their land to white cotton farmers.

In 1831, President Jackson ordered the U.S. Army to evict the Choctaw Native Americans from their land and forced them to walk - some bound in chains and shackles - to the land west of the Mississippi River during winter without food or any assistance from the U.S. Government. In 1836, the President ordered the Army to force the Creeks from their land as well. Of the 15,000 that began the walk to Oklahoma, some 3,500 died on the way. The President then set his sites on the land of the Cherokee Nation - my friend Tony's ancestors.

Image Source: squarespace.com

After seeing what had happened to the Choctaw and the Creeks, a group of self-appointed representatives for the Cherokee Nation began negotiations with the U.S. Government. In 1835, these representatives signed the Treaty of New Echota trading the the Cherokee Nation's land east of the Mississippi River for $5 million, assistance with relocation, and compensation for their property. Approximately 16,000 members of the Cherokee Nation signed a protest to the treaty as it was not initiated, agreed to, nor signed by the leadership of the Cherokee Nation.  The U.S. Congress denied the protest and approved the treaty. By 1838, the government decided they were not satisfied that only 2,000 of the 16,000 members of the Cherokee Nation had relocated. President Martin Van Buren ordered the U.S. Army to speed things up. 7,000 soldiers led by General Winfield Scott forced the Native Americans into stockades while neighbors from the white community raided and looted their homes. The Army organized a march forcing the Cherokee Nation to walk the 1,200 miles to Oklahoma. 5,000 died along the way. In 1907, Oklahoma became a state and the state systematically began forcing the Cherokee to smaller and smaller plots of land than they had been originally granted in the forced relocation.

In the years since, the Cherokee Nation has worked to buy back its land in Oklahoma. As Tony drove us around and pointed to different parcels of land and noted, "We just bought that back." or "We are buying that back." I couldn't help but struggle to understand how a nation of people could be repeatedly forced off their land without just compensation. And then to have to purchase the land back struck me as an insult.

As I talked with Tony, I could sense his pride in his people and his respect for the elders. He works coordinating teams to replace roofs and install wheelchair ramps on homes of elders and those struggling to get by. As he talked about the work, I could sense his pride in making a positive difference in his community. I never sensed any hostility and anger for how poorly his ancestors had been treated, but a genuine interest in improving the lives of those around him. As I traveled home, I thought about his heritage, the unjust suffering of his ancestors, and his humility. I hope that I can learn from his example.

-Allen


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving in the South


This year we made the 5 1/2 hour trek to the motherland where I grew up for Thanksgiving with the family, namely Mitchell County, in the Southwest corner of Georgia - a place where everything moves a bit slower and your choices for going out to eat are a bit slimmer. A place where when a car goes by, if you don't wave it raises suspicions.

My brother and his wife have a beautiful piece of land with a lake, two hogs, potbelly pigs, horses, miniature donkeys, goats, chickens and more chickens, six dogs, and I think the current count in 9 cats, a squirrel, and a rabbit. They both have a heart for animals and keep taking in the strays and giving them a loving home. It's the kind of place where you stoke a fire in the burn barrel and watch the stars come out while the frogs croak, the crickets chirp, and the fish splash in the dark.

We head down to a local restaurant of Thanksgiving dinner. When we arrive the parking lot is already packed with four wheel drive pickups and a line of gray haired people are waiting patiently on the porch to get in the door. Soon enough we get through the line at the counter to pay our way in and the buffet process begins. When everyone has piled up a plate, we sit down, give thanks and begin to eat. Halfway through the first plate, Mom arrives. We've come accustomed to her late arrivals and expect no less. She makes a plate and joins us at the table as some of the rest of the family begins work on plate number two or three.

At some point during the meal after repeating louder and louder to Dad, he says something about his hearing aids. Mom pipes up, "I lost one of my hearing aids. The other is in my purse." We laugh, but are not really surprised. If she has owned it. She has lost it a dozen times.

When everyone is sufficiently full, we head to the parking lot and load up the vehicles to return to the farm. We stop at the local Dollar General, because you can't waste a trip to town without stopping at Dollar General. On the way out of the store, I notice a old rusted go-kart sitting at the curb. It strikes me slightly odd, but I don't pay it much attention. I hear the store door open and a loud conversation. I turn to see two grown men walking out with two bags of items each. They crawl onto the single seat go-kart both of them hanging off both sides and ride off with their purchases. I grin. "Yup, We're in South Georgia alright", I say.

Coincidentally, this year my birthday has fallen on Thanksgiving day. Mom follows us back to the farm and presents a red velvet cake she has made for my birthday. She commandeers their kitchen to mix up the cream cheese icing and shortly we're enjoying a piece of cake. 

Friday we begin work on moving a shelter for the goats to a different pasture so they can begin cleaning up brush, blackberry vines, and poison ivy. We get the shelter unloaded and as my brother pulls away in the truck and trailer, I hear the big dual wheels fighting for traction. I turn to see the truck jump sideways in the Georgia clay and spin to a halt. His wife jumps on a four-wheeler and goes to get the Jeep. We begin digging out the log chains. After an hour or more of spinning tires, repositioning, and slinging mud, we free the big truck from its muddy grave and head for the house.

It's after 3pm and we haven't had lunch. We ride into town to discover four of the five restaurants are closed. Everyone must be Black Friday shopping at the Wal-Mart one town over. We finally settle on the one open establishment, the local pizza parlor. We practically have the place to ourselves eating pizza while being serenaded by Frank Sinatra music.

We return to the farm and begin trying to wrangle the three goats affectionately known as the Three Stooges to move them to their new pasture. But, they're having none of it. As darkness falls, we abandon the attempt and call it a day. My brother rubs the ears on the his 300 lb hog, Miss Piggy and she rolls over on her side to have her belly rubbed.

We have survived the typical family holiday drama, freed a stuck truck from the mud, and had a good time enjoying the quiet peacefulness of the rural countryside. It's been a good trip.

Monday, October 23, 2017

You'd be Angry Too If Your Name Was Irma

When the weather guessers began predicting that Hurricane Irma would impact the entire state of Florida, we took note. I was most concerned for our friends and acquaintances who live in the Florida Keys. On Monday, September 4th, my manager inquired on my family's plan for Irma storm evacuation. I responded that we would make a decision on evacuation on Thursday as the spaghetti model was at the time inconclusive. In fact it looked like a plate of spaghetti from Carraba's Italian Grill had be dumped on a map of the continental United States, but someone had somehow managed to salvage the meatballs. With the weather guessers continuing to say that even if Saint Petersburg, the Sunshine City, did not take a direct hit, we could see wind gusts over 100 mph, I took them serious.

I remembered when we bought our house the house flipper had installed the bolts and wingnuts it the exterior window frames and cut plywood for each window. I also recalled that he had not labelled them other than the guest bathroom window which is the smallest window in the house and quite obvious which board fits it. We contacted our friends that we had originally planned to hang out with at Disney on Saturday and cancelled. I figured Irma wanted to visit the Happiest Place on Earth worse that we did. On Wednesday afternoon after work, I elected to dig all those sheets of plywood out and begin the process of elimination of identifying which sheet was drilled and cut for each of the remaining dozen windows. I knew this would be time consuming, so I thought the more time I gave myself the better off we would be. I figured we would need to have the windows boarded up regardless of our evacuation decision. I went for the obvious win first by boarding up the guest bathroom window. and what do you know, it was labelled correctly and fit. I then spent the remaining four hours of sunlight figuring out the four other windows on that side of the house and labelling them accordingly. As I was proceeding with the task at work, I could not help but notice the looks I was receiving from passers by and some neighbors - glares of disdain as if I had forgotten my pants or was wearing a tinfoil hat.

On Thursday, the weather guessers had adjusted their models and were now honing their focus in on the eastern seaboard of the Sunshine state. I announced that we would not be evacuating since the storm's projected path would be 100 miles to our east, but that we would continue with our storm preparations. Thursday, I resumed my game of Which-Window-Does-This-Piece-Of-Plywood-Fit. As I was now working on windows adjacent to the street next to our house, the glares of disdain intensified. I ignored them and continued my work until all of the windows were boarded up with the exception of the front porch window. If we were staying, I wanted to be able to see out of at least one window. I picked up a case of water and began packing the freezer as full of bags of water and jugs of water as possible so that they would freeze and provide a solid blanket of ice around all the food in the freezer.

 On Friday, the weather guessers had once again readjusted the projected storm path and were now predicting it would pass between St. Petersburg and Tampa. They were also projecting it would continue due north and their map showed the entire state of Georgia and parts of Alabama in warning areas. We began to hear reports of people evacuating and the highways being jammed. A couple co-workers had spent 4 hours to go 4 miles and had run out of gas and the gas stations were all out of gas. We then began to here reports that there were cars littering the sides of I-75 to our north that had also ran out of gas. We decided that at this point the window of opportunity for evacuation had closed. I dug out emergency candles, coolers, checked flashlight batteries, and picked up an extra bag of charcoal for the grill. We received that all the area gas stations were out of gas and all of the grocery stores and big boxes were sold out of water.

 On Saturday morning, I loaded the coolers into White Lightning, my 1970 Chevrolet pickup and ran up to the corner 7-11 store. I bought 6 bags of ice and noted their gas pumps had bags over them and that their shelves were void of bottled water, Cokes, and bread. We took down the American Flag and carried in all of the flowers and plants from the front porch. I tied the front porch glider swing to a corner post with a ratcheting strap and secured the cover on the BBQ grill out back with bungee cords. Saturday evening we went out for dinner and the normally crowded restaurant was half empty. The wait staff announced that they were serving an abbreviated menu. We understood as many had evacuated leaving the restaurant with a limited staff. Sunday we filled the bathtub up with water. We piled blankets in the hallway and created sleeping pallets. We were watched the storm track on the Weather Channel and watched their reports of the storm's damage to the Florida Keys. A friend of ours was posting Facebook live video feeds from his home in the Keys and it looked devastating. The reports were predicting the storm to reach us between 8:30pm and 9pm. At 7pm the power went out. We lit the emergency candles, donned our headlamps and headed to the hallway. I began reading a book by the infamous Jack Riepe while we waited. Around 8:30pm the winds picked up and the noise level increased. The intensity of the wind noise and the noise of things hitting the sides of the house and the boarded windows continued.

Around 3:30AM on Sunday, I heard a noise which I was almost certain was a tree falling near our house. I donned a raincoat and ventured just out the back door and checked the back yard and side yard. All seemed well. There were a lot of limbs down but nothing significant. I returned inside the house and stepped out on the front porch and surveyed the front yard again finding no significant damage. I stepped off the front porch to check the side yard by the street and to my dismay found a tree had split and half of it lying across the hood of my truck. I ran out to survey the damage and was thrilled to discover all of the truck's windows were still intact. A city policeman in an unmarked car was coming down the street inspecting power lines and homes with a searchlight. He stopped and asked if everyone was OK. I told him we were fine, and thanked him for his service. He continued down the street driving over the curb on the neighbor's side of the street to maneuver around our downed tree. I retreated to the house to get out of the wind and rain.

By 8:30AM on Monday, we had clearing skies and reduced wind. I grabbed my sawzall and a couple batteries and began cutting limbs off my truck. After half an hour or so, I had the limbs cut away from the truck and could find no damage. The remainder of the tree was still lying across the street blocking traffic. I grabbed a cold drink and began taking down some of the plywood over the windows so we could get some air moving through the house. I heard a noise and looked up to see a random man getting out of a pickup that had parked just short of the downed tree. As I rounded the house I saw him retrieve a chainsaw from the bed of his truck. He gave the saw a tug, it fired on first pull, and he began cutting up the fallen tree. I grabbed a set of gloves and began pulling brush out of the street and piling it along the curb. After a few minutes, he shut the saw down. He told me he had been sitting at home bored with no electric and decided the quicker the streets were clear, the sooner the electric company workers could restore power. So he was just driving down the street, stopping at every fallen tree and cutting it up to clear the street. I thanked him for the help, and he headed off for the next one.

One of Allison's co-workers who lives in downtown St. Pete called to check on us. They had not lost power. When they learned of our situation, they began searching for ice. Finding all of the convenient stores still closed and all the grocery stores out of ice, they went to a neighborhood bar with a cooler and the owner sent us a huge amount of ice. We had our freezer packed solid and were not opening it. All of the refrigerator contents had been moved to coolers. So, we drained the melted ice in our coolers and repacked with the fresh ice. They invited us and our two dogs to their home to sit in the AC for a while which we gladly accepted.

Tuesday came and went with no word on power being restored. A friend called and loaned us a generator, so we were able to provide power to the refrigerator/freezer, run some fans,and have some lights. But we didn't have enough capacity to run the AC.

Wednesday we were both expected back at work. I tried working remote by going to a local Starbucks which was open and had power but no internet. I gave up and drove into Tampa. Another of my wife's co-workers invited us and our dogs to their house for dinner and to spend the night. I returned home to protect our belongings and keep the generator running.

Thursday after work, friends arrived with a portable AC unit. We plugged it into the generator and closed the windows for our master bedroom and it began cooling things down quickly. About an hour with the portable AC unit running, I heard the sounds of large trucks. I walked out to see four bucket trucks taking positions along the power lines on our street. All of their vehicles had Missouri license plates. I approached one of the supervisors and shook his hand and thanked them for coming down to help us recover. A few minutes later, they threw a disconnect on the pole and restored the power in our neighborhood. Neighbors came running out of their houses dancing and shouting. Strangers were hugging each other and hugging utility workers and tears flowed.

We were extremely fortunate to only have a tree that fell across the street. A couple weeks later, we had a tree company take the remainder of the tree down. We were fortunate to have power restored after 5 days. And we were very grateful. We learned a lot during the storm and recovery. One of the greatest things we learned was what a great group of friends and neighbors we have. We were blessed to have people checking on us, inviting us to their homes, finding ice for us, loaning us generators and portable AC units, and cutting trees out of the street for us.

We continue to pray for those in the Keys and in Puerto Rico that suffered devastating damage during Irma. And pray their lives are restored.

Blessings
-Allen

Friday, October 20, 2017

Guest Post: Andi Cumbo-Floyd - The Teeter-Totter of Discipline and Grace



Dear Beautiful People, 

For the first time in several months, I achieved my goal of writing 1,000 words a day on my work-in-progress this week.  Most mornings, I didn't want to do it. I had other things to do - things that pay me money and aren't as hard - but I did it.  Each time, it took me less than 30 minutes - I draft very quickly because I've practiced for years, but my revision process is quite slow - and when I was done, I felt great because I wasn't going to be carrying the burden of disappointment and guilt I feel when I don't write. 

For me, writing is a calling, a vocation, my life's work, if you can bear that level of grandioseness and not think it some sort of April Fool's Day joke.( I assure you, I'm serious.) So when I'm not using it, I feel a bit like that servant from the parable who buries the money in the dirt.  I don't like that feeling. 
Over many years of practice, after reading many books on writing, through listening to many friends who are further down the path of words than I am, I have learned that a real key to writing is discipline, a regimented putting-of-the-butt-in-the-chair.  I don't believe in inspiration. I believe in hard work, in showing up, in facing the page as often as possible to get the writing done. 

But I also believe in grace.  I believe that it's far more detrimental to my mental health if I walk around on the days I don't write feeling shameful about what I haven't done. I know that shame is too heavy a weight to bear when I need lightness to create.  I am certain that no good - and almost no writing - comes from feeling weighed down by what didn't happen. 

So here's how I keep the teeter-tooter of discipline and grace for myself. (By the way, I am coming to think of balance as shifty, not something you pin down forever like a beautiful butterfly, but something we dance through during the various days and periods of our life.  Hence, the teeter-totter metaphor.)
·         I have a regular goal for writing.  For me, that's 1,000 words a day five days a week.  That goal is achievable for me on a daily basis.
·         I have a regular writing time for each of those five days. Right now, that time is 6am because I can wake at 5, do a little reading, write, check email, and then feed the farm animals.  That time will shift as the sunrise moves earlier this summer.
·         I give myself time off. I don't write on weekends. That's my farm time, my time with Philip, my time to binge-watch Firefly. My time with family and friends.  If I'm making space for things I love sometimes, I don't tend to skimp on writing, which I don't always love, the other times.
·         I look ahead to how I will make this time given what's happening in the rest of my life. If I know I'm traveling - as I as this week - I evaluate whether or not I'll still be able to write that 1,000 words. If I don't see it as possible, I scratch that day off my calendar.  But just that day. By looking ahead at what might make my goals hard to achieve, I give myself the space to not hit the goal that day without derailing myself with guilt for many days.
·         When I miss a writing day unexpectedly, I look at why that happened as soon and as honestly as possible. Sometimes, I just don't get it done, and so when that happens, I take stock right away. Did an emergency arise? Was I sick? Or did I make choices that got in the way? If this was about choice, why did I make that choice? Am I okay with that choice? And if not, what will I do to make better choices to allow for my writing next time?  I find that 90% of my missed writing days were my choice, and most of those choices I would like to not make again.  So I adjust my schedule or my practices - like this week, I committed to not looking online until my 1,000 words were done.  It worked well for me.
For you right now, 5 days a week may not be possible; 1,000 words may be too little or too much.  Mornings may not work. You have to find what works for you.  

I believe you have to make a goal and set a schedule that work for you, and then do all you can to keep to it. And I believe this is possible for everyone most of the time.  You may be tempted to say that because you work a lot of hours you can't set a goal or schedule, or because you have young children you can't keep a schedule, or because you have a chronic illness you can't make a goal or keep a schedule, or because your second toe is longer than your big toe schedules don't work for you.  I get it. Life is hard for all of us a lot of the time and in a lot of ways.
Here's the thing though - people have written books while raising young children. People have written books while working to make partner at a law firm and working 18-hour days.  People have written books while battling cancer for their lives.  The way they do that may not be as fast as I do in my childfree, write-for-a-living daily life (which has it's own griefs and challenges, I assure you), but they do it.  And they do it by committing, by practicing, by prioritizing, and by giving themselves the grace to say, "Today was not the day, but I'll try again tomorrow."

So here's my NO FOOLIN' challenge for you.  
·         Make a weekly writing goal. 
·         Set a weekly schedule for achieving that goal. 
·         Celebrate when you meet your schedule. 
·         Evaluate when you don't and let the "didn't" go. 
·         Try again the next day.
What do you say?  Are you in?

Much love,
Andi

  
Excerpted from Love Letters To Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling by Andi Cumbo-Floyd – Forthcoming on November 14, 2017. 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, 3 rabbits, and 37 chickens. You can read more of her words on writing at andilit.com.


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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book Giveaway!!!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Awakened by Allen Madding

Awakened

by Allen Madding

Giveaway ends September 22, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pause

Thursday night we had a planned maintenance at work which I was asked to be apart, so the workday went from 7AM until 1:30AM. Fortunately, I got Friday comped to recoup. Do I awoke Friday with a list of things I wanted to accomplish personally. Top of the list was getting some Advance Reader Copies (ARC) of Awakened mailed out to members of the launch team. I jumped in White Lighting (my 1970 C20 pickup) and rode over to Walgreens to pickup some padded envelopes as I had a depleted inventory. Much to my chagrin when i crawled back in the truck to head home with the envelopes, the starter refused to cooperate. It wouldn't even click.



I called State Farm Roadside Assistance and found a place in the shade beside the building to wait. before they arrived, a landscaper noticed the hood up and asked me if I needed a jump. He hooked up a jump box and said it showed the battery fully charged. White Lightning refused to budge despite the jump. I thanked him for his assistance and called State Farm Roadside Assistance back and advised a jump was no longer needed, but a tow truck.

I retreated to the shade of the side of the building and began to wait for the estimated 1 hour arrival. At first, I wanted to fuss about the list of things I wanted to accomplish and my predicament that had me stuck standing on a concrete sidewalk in the sweltering Florida heat. I quietly became a student of human nature or as my Granddad would have called it, I began people watching.

From my vantage of the corner of the building, I had a clear view of 54th Avenue and MLK Street as well as the main parking lot in front of Walgreens and their adjoining liquor store as well as the optometrist office to the back of the side parking lot. At 10:30am on a Friday, this parking lot was a hotbed of activity. A man passed by smelling of dried urine pushing a shopping cart full of empty cans and other collected items. Another man pulled up in a pickup and hurried inside only to return shortly and hurry back to his pickup for a few minutes and then back in the drug store. A few minutes later he returned carrying a small shopping bag and a large bag of diapers. A woman suddenly appeared smoking a cigarette nervously pacing back and forth. After six or seven trips past me she disappeared from my sight reappearing moments later on the other side of the street.

As I continued to wait for the tow truck, I began to hear rolls of thunder. I looked to the north and could see ominous black clouds, but the heat and humidity dissuaded from considering sitting in the truck.  When the rain began, I huddled closer to the building to take as much advantage of the narrow overhang as possible. A woman pulled up in a small SUV and made her way slowly into the drug store. While she was inside the rain increased in intensity. After a while, she returned from the store to her SUV with a small shopping bag in hand. She opened the door and disappeared from my sight. She was not seated in the vehicle but the driver's door was standing wide open in a Florida downpour. I could not help but wonder what on earth the was doing. After ten minutes or so, she popped up and headed back into the drug store with the shopping bag. After another ten minutes or so, she reappeared and returned to the SUV. Once again she disappeared from my line of sight with the driver's door open in the steady downfall of rain. Finally, she crawled into the driver's seat, closed the door, started the vehicle, and slowly drove away.

The rain began to let up and the sun began to break through. Within moments it was a light drizzle and then it quit all together. As the heat and humidity began to increase, the tow truck appeared.

Initially, I wanted to feel sorry for myself sitting three hours stranded outside Walgreens. But it gave me a chance to pause from my list of chores and the hectic busyness of my week and take a slow look around me. These are my neighbors. This is my community. These are the people I am called to love. It was a good reminder.