Monday, July 23, 2012

Adventures in Firefighting

Photo - The Author

I was rudely awakened at 4am one morning by the tones of the paging system of our local volunteer fire department. Blurry eyed and trying to shake myself into consciousness, I heard the address of a reported brush fire. As I crawled over the side-rail of the waterbed, all I could think was “how in the world does a brush fire get started at 4am?” The majority of the brush fires I had responded to had been caused by someone burning trash and letting the fire get away from them. Who in their right mind would be burning trash at 4am?

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I stumbled my way down the hallway to the utility room and stepped into my bunker gear pants and boots, pulled the pants up, and threw the suspenders over my shoulders. I pulled on my bunker coat, grabbed my helmet, and stumbled out to my pickup. As I drove down the driveway, I was still fixated on the cause of this blaze. I picked up my radio and called our department volunteers and cautioned them to check carefully for downed power lines. The last thing we needed was a volunteer firefighter getting killed stepping out of a vehicle trying to extinguish a brush fire.

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I flipped on the red strobe lightbar, flashing headlights, and siren, and quickly made my way to the fire scene. I made no apologies to my sleeping neighbors I passed for all the noise. Abiding by state law, no siren would make me liable for any possible accidents enroute, and I was not opening myself up on that one.

Arriving at the fire scene, I saw four of our volunteers already working with hand tools to extinguish the fire. I took out my flashlight and began carefully inspecting the overhead power lines. Everything was intact - no down power lines. What could have started this fire? Content the scene was safe, I stepped out of the truck, retrieved a fire flap out of one of the tool boxes, and began fighting the fire.

Once we had the fire completely knocked out, as the senior officer on scene, I knew my next responsibility was to determine the cause and write the report. So, I began walking and observing the burn pattern. A couple other volunteers joined me walking and observing. We quickly noted that there was a very apparent “V” pattern which pointed to a point of origination. At the base of the “V” was a severely burned carcass that I would estimate at 7 to 8 lbs. Looking at the remainder of the carcass gave me pause as I attempted to identify the animal. A group of firefighters circled the carcass and a heated discussion ensued.

“It looks like a possum”, one guy noted.

“Nah, I think it’s a raccoon”, another quickly disagreed.
The possum vs. coon discussion went back and forth for several minutes. Those who were steadfast in their beliefs that it was a possum were basing their conclusion solely on the diameter of the tail. I tried to interject that the tail was probably much thicker before it had been burned, but they were hearing none of it.

Those on the other side of the argument countered that raccoons climbed trees and phone poles and possums did not.  Unable to arrive at a consensus, I steered the conversation away from what kind of animal it was to constructing a hypothesis of what had happened. I suggested that this animal had climbed the utility pole which was 5 feet from where the carcass was lying, and somehow had gotten across both terminals on the transformer which blew it off the transformer and set its fur on fire. When it hit the ground, the burning carcass had set the broom straw field on fire.
Everyone present seemed content with accepting my hypothesis as plausible. So, we were back to the argument of identifying the animal. One of my good friends had remained silent up to this point of the discussion. He spit a large amount of tobacco juice on the ground, pulled on the suspenders of his bunker pants, and said, “It’s obvious it’s a coon.” Everyone stopped the conversations mid-sentence and looked at my friend. “OK, why is that?” one asked. “That’s simple”, he replied, “If it was a possum, there would be sweet taters.”

(For the curious, possum and sweet potato recipes can be found here: Southern Cuisine: Baked Possum with Apples and Sweet Potatoes)

No one seemed to have any further arguments. I wrote the report noting a raccoon had apparently crawled across both terminals of the transformer, setting its fur on fire and blowing it off the pole into a broom straw field setting it ablaze. I have always thought it would have been an amazing sight to have been driving down that county two lane road in the middle of the night and to have seen a flaming raccoon flying through the air.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Modern Day Idols

Several years ago, I was a very determined dirt track stock car racer. I was bound and determined I was going to make my way into a NASCAR traveling circuit as a full-time paid stock car racer. I ate, breathed, and slept stock car racing. I would work all day at my day job and go home and work all night on the car - a 1970 Chevelle.
Photo Source: The Author

One of the biggest events every year was held in Phenix City, AL - the East Alabama State Championship. It was on my calendar marked in red. It was a three day event with hundreds of cars showing up to compete. I had hotel rooms reserved and had our entry fee already sent in months in advance.
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One Sunday, a couple friends of mine approached me at church about attending a spiritual renewal weekend retreat. After listening to them describe it, I agreed. The told me they would submit my name and it might be a while before I was selected for a weekend as it was only held once a year. ''No problem'', I thought.

One afternoon, I pulled onto our driveway and pulled the mail out of the mailbox. In the day's mail was a postcard saying I had been selected for the next retreat weekend and listed the date. I immediately recognized the date, the same weekend as the big race in Alabama. I did not give it a thought. I did not pray about it. I did not seek insight from my wife, my crew chief, or friends. I just quickly checked the box that said ''I cannot attend, please schedule me for another weekend.'' and tossed in back in the mailbox.

When the weekend of the big race came around, nothing seemed to go right. When the gates opened, four lines of waiting race haulers were trying to funnel into a single gate with no one directing traffic. When it was our turn, another crew decided they were tired of waiting and tried to move in front of us. Before it was all over we had trailer fenders rubbing and heated tempers. We managed to get the two trailers separated and everyone calmed down. Once we were signed in and issued arm bands, guess where the track officials directed us to pit for the weekend. Right next to the team we ran into at the gate. I do love a little irony.

While unloading some tools out of the back of my pickup, I jumped off the tailgate to the ground - something I had done a million times. But this time it had terrible consequences. My heel hit a dimple in the ground and shot out from under me. I heard a loud pop and immediately felt excruciating pain. I collapsed in a heap on the red clay dirt. A couple of guys next to us said they heard it pop and were sure my ankle was broke. After a few minutes rolling on the ground, a couple folks helped me onto the tailgate of my pickup. I managed to get my boot off which made my ankle hurt even worse. It was dislocated. I took my foot in both hands and relocated my ankle. The sudden pop told me it was back in place. The increased pain made me want to vomit. After lying in on the tailgate a few minutes to let the pain subside, I managed to put on my boot. I took a couple handfuls of ice and poured into my boot and resumed preparing for the qualified race. Since it was my left ankle, my clutch foot, I reasoned I was OK to race.

Once the qualifier race started, I was quickly one position from a transfer spot. The leaders got together and began to spin. I moved high and started to pass. The car behind me had jumped low when I had checked for the wreck. He was headed straight for the wreck, so he swerved to miss them and slammed into my left from wheel breaking the upper ball joint leaving my car nondriveable. In a matter of seconds I had gone from having a chance at qualifying to being hauled to the pits on a tow hook. During the race, I had quickly recognized that I did not want to use the clutch because every time I did, it felt like bone was going through my foot.

Back in the pits, we inspected the damage and determined what parts we needed to repair the car. My wife and crew chief then turned their attention to my ankle. I suggested a visit to a local Emergency Room. My resourceful crew chief got us to a hospital, managed to park our race hauler, and negotiated with a security guard to watch it for us. After two hours the Emergency Room staff declared my ankle not broken. They wrapped it, gave me a pair of crutches, and told me to stay off of it. We got to the hotel around 3am, took showers, and passed out.

Around 8am the next morning, we were up and out to a local auto parts store. We returned to the track and began repairing the damage from the night before. My ankle resembled an ASA regulation softball but purple. So, I limped around on the crutches and set on a bucket to work. We managed to complete repairs in time to make track inspection and entered the last chance qualifier or consolation race. We drew a horrible starting position something like 26th, and they were taking the Top Three finishers for the main race or as we called it, ''the show''. I think we spun or got spun five or six times over the course of the consolation race finishing a disappointing 12th. We had not made "The Show" and would collect no money for our troubles. Zero Dineros. Nada. The empty set. Null.

On the long ride home, my crew chief confided that he had not felt good about the whole weekend even before we left. I found this odd as he was always excited to go racing. He began to explain that he had felt a knot in his stomach from the time we loaded up, and it had persisted all weekend long. I had to admit that I had felt a bit peculiar when we left for the track, but I could not put my finger on why, so I had brushed it off. But while discussing it with him on the ride home, it hit me. I had gotten my priorities all out of line. Racing had taken priority over everything in my life. I had let it become an idol. I had brushed aside the spiritual retreat for racing, and it had gone horribly wrong. We had our shares of bad nights at the track, and I had always left saying a bad night racing beat a whole week at work. But not this time. We all regretted even going, and I had a messed up ankle to boot. I thought of the story of Jonah.

In Jonah 1:1-3, we learn about Jonah's situation. "The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish . He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord."

I could totally relate. I felt like I knew where I was supposed to have gone that weekend, but I rebelled and went for something that sounded more important and more fun. You probably remember the rest of the story. The boat that Jonah gets on gets in a really bad storm. The crew draws lots to decide who is responsible. It comes up Jonah, because he was. They throw him overboard and he gets swallowed by a whale. While in the whale's stomach, after 3 days and nights, Jonah realized he should have obeyed the word of God that had come to him.

Jonah 2:1 says, "From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God." During his prayer, Jonah says, “Those who cling to worthless idols  turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord'" Jonah 2:8-9.

It obviously was the right thing to do, because verse 10 says, "And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land."

I have wondered what it was like to wander around smelling like the contents of a whale's stomach. I think this weekend was as close as I will get to sharing that experience. I am pretty confident I do not want to know. Getting vomited from a whale's belly, eww. I would want to shower in bleach for a month.
The following week my ankle was put in a cast which I wore for two months. It served as a constant reminder to me about making good choices, priorities, and the idols in my life to which I had been unwittingly bowing. It gave me a lot of opportunity to evaluate what I was doing and to the blinders I had been wearing. As I limped around on crutches, I was able to consider what the priorities were in my life and what the should be. Changes did not come over night. But a light had come on that I needed to start paying more attention and get things in proper order.

The next year, I received another post card in the mail for the retreat. I immediately recounted my ''Jonah Experience'' from declining the last opportunity, checked the ''Yes, I will attend'' box, and tossed it back in the mail. That retreat weekend served as a catalyst for reconciliation of my relationships with my Dad and my brother. I often wonder what it would have been like if I had gone the first year.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Pet Possum

The company in this commercial has not paid any advertising fees on this site

I cannot help but laugh every time I see the commercial. I have seen it enough that I usually chime in with the Dad when he says, "There he is." The reason it is so funny to me is that it is absurd. If your kids asked for a puppy, would you say, "Nah, they are too expensive have a possum!" Probably not.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! - Matthew 7:8-11

We all know how to shower the people we love with good gifts. We did not have to attend a three day seminar at the Hyatt Regency to learn to give good gifts. And most of us are humble enough to tell you we struggle to do what is right and to do good. So if we can pull it off, how much better can God, being the ultimate definition of what good is, be at giving good gifts to those who ask? Is he going to give you a Ferrari and a $50 million lottery winning if you ask? Probably not. He is interested in what is best for us - not setting us up to be self-indulged. But how about providing for our families? How about helping us become better husbands and dads? He is all about it.

But come on, how about the rich thing?

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. - Luke 12:48

 So, if you do make the big payday, keep in mind much is expected of you. Sorry to break that one to you, but there it is. So where does that leave us? According to this article: The World's Top-10 Richest Countries in 2012, The United States is the Seventh richest country in the world with an "Average income per capita: 46,860 dollars a year." We have been diluted with the middle class, upper class, nonsense that we constantly hear on the evening news. As bad as it may seem with the current economy, the fact is that the middle class citizens of the United States are rich compared to the majority of the planet. We do not carry our water in buckets for miles to cook, we have HVAC climate controlled homes, and we have cars to drive. So, much is expected? How are we doing on that part? Working to relieve suffering? Providing for the needy? Taking care of orphans and widows? Ouch! While we are fussing about how long our commute home is, someone is worried about where their going to get their next meal if at all. While we are fussing about the city's water restrictions impinging on our ability to spray drinking water on our yard, someone is wishing they had clean drinking water.

So what is it that has been a major struggle that has been burdening your spirit? Have you asked God for help or are you going at it on your own? Does pride flair up followed by the words, "I got this!" Marriage Struggle? Problems with a teenager? Health issues? Have you asked God? Matthew 7 says much more is given to those who ask Him. So ask!

Monday, July 02, 2012


Photo Source: The author

I stand in silence looking out on the Gulf of Mexico. No matter how many times I have stood in this exact same spot and looked out upon the rolling green waters, I never cease to be amazed at how vast it is - reaching infinately off into the distance. I remember making a joke as a high schooler standing in the water at Jekyll Island that England was just over the hill - that ridge on the horizon. I think about how vast this body of water is and it is just the Gulf, it is not the Atlantic Ocean. I gaze up and down the beach to my East and West and think about how many millions of grains of sand make up the beach. I cannot help but think of the hand that created this magnificant body of water and each individual grain of sand. I am amazed how peaceful it is, how everything else that has weighed on my mind over the last several months seems to melt away as I stand looking out on the rolling waves.

I suddenly feel very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I feel much like one of the grains of sand under my bare feet. From anyone elses' perspective, I am a tiny dot on the horizon. How much even smaller I must appear from the heavens. I am humbled and amazed that the maker of heaven and earth - who created all of this that I am taking in - wants a personal relationship with me and cares for me.

Photo Source: The author

A sandpiper quietly walks past me unconcerned that I am near. I am reminded of a piece of scripture, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? " - Matthew 6:26

The storms of life bang against my shores, and I have to make decisions on how I will respond. The sandpiper stands with his back to the crashing waves not paying any attention to the water or how close the waves crash against the beach where he stands. I am reminded that worrying about things I cannot control is futile. I cannot trust in my own abilities but in the one who controls all things.

Photo Source: The author

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