Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Guest Post: Thunder Dog by Kramer James Madding

The Author - Kramer James Madding (photo credit: Allen, you know the guy that lives here)
Allen has been really busy lately with a new job, working with an editor to get his first book ready for publishing, and his infernal need to leave me and Sadie to fend for ourselves while he and mama go traipsing off to the beach. So I got my paws on his login and managed to reach the laptop and figured this was as good a chance as any to try my paws at a little writing. I have laid in that pillowy thing next to his chair and watched him do it for long enough. I figure how hard can it be. I lie around here on the back of the love seat all day looking out the window at the squirrels eating seed out of the bird feeder thinking about all the great stories I have to tell, so why not?

The author and Sadie (photo credit: Allen)

I thought I would write about my biggest fear. Nope, its not the possum that was in the backyard Friday night when I went out to relieve myself before crawling up the big ramp to the big bed and snuggling down between the pillows. Nope. I was not scared of that thing a bit. It looked like a hairless cat to me, and I have plenty of experience scaring cats. A couple of times now I have walked out the back door to see some cat interloping on our deck or in our yard, and I know just what to do. I run toward them, let out a loud and deep WOOF, and then roll on the ground laughing at how fast that run and leap over the fence. So, no. My biggest fear was not that possum. He did not bother me. I did not bother him. Besides, it was late. I was tired and ready to crawl into the big bed. I peed a small pound next to Allen's grill and quietly told the possum to be gone by morning. Silly hairless cat looking thing.

And no, it is not the mailman or the trash truck that comes down our street two days a week. I lay a few bow wows on them from my perch on the back of the love seat, and they quickly move on down the street. You see, they fear me. They recognize the true terror I represent and wisely do not stick around to see me unleash my inner rottweiler.

So  what could strike fear in the heart of a 13 lb long-haired dachshund, you ask? Thunder. Yep. There it is. I admit it. Thunder drives me out of my ever loving mind. Originally as a small pup, I thought it was just me. But after joining TSMA (Thunder Scares Me Anonymous), I have met a few other guys that cannot deal with thunder as well. I cannot reveal names, but one big Marmaduke looking guy in the group says that everytime it thunders, he wets the floor. I am glad I do not have it that bad, but I can sympathize.

When I first moved in with Allen and mama after my first human mom passed away, I was afraid they might send me back to the halfway house when the first big storm came. Fortunately, they did not. I barked and growled and ran out in the rain and barked some more. When I came back in, I was soaked and felt a bit silly. They dried me off with a towel and blocked my flappy door where I could not run back out in the rain.

I kept going to TSMA meetings, but it did not seem to help much. The meetings just seemed to turn into a bunch of butt smelling and everyone wetting on things. But then one day mama showed me this package that the brown truck guy delivered. Yeah, I laid a few bow wows on him for ringing the doorbell while I was trying to sleep. What the hell dude? When she showed me the box, I got all excited. I was hoping it was some more of those pieces of cows I like to chew on, but it was not. It was some piece of cloth. I sniffed it over and said, "I can't eat that" and blew my nose in disgust.

Mama called me back over and put it on me. It was a cape with my name on it. She told me that all heroes wear capes. You know like Underdog! Here I come to save the day! I had my reservations about this whole thing, because I could not draw a real deep breath to lay a good bow wow, and I could not shake real well wearing it. So, I blew my nose in disgust. Mama said when I have it on I am Thunder Dog. I elected to contemplate on that idea a bit after a nice nap. A couple big thunderstorms moved through Atlanta after acquiring this garment of super powers and honestly there may be something to it. As Thunder Dog, I am brave and relaxed during the storms.

For some reason that I have not quite figured out, Allen and mama packed up everything and loaded me and Sadie up and moved us to Florida. It has been interesting. I kind of like it because there are all these neat lizards running around and I can scare the daylights out of them without evening laying down a single bow wow. Those silly things scatter at my mere presence. But Florida weather is a little different than Atlanta. In Atlanta a big storm came in and lasted a day or so. Here, they blow in, the thunder crashes, the lightning flashes, the rain falls and 30 minutes later the sun is shining. So mama has pulled out the cape several times since we moved, and I have gotten to prove my metal as Thunder Dog.

I am beginning to believe this writing stuff is a little harder than I thought. My paws are getting tired, and I am getting sleepy. I think I am gonna sniff Sadie over and make sure she is sleeping OK on the couch and take a nap before Allen and mama get home. If you have something you are afraid of - something that makes you scream and run around like you have lost your mind, I empathize and suggest you ask your mama to buy you a cape. Y'all take it easy.

The Author napping after writing this post (photo credit :Allen)

Thunder Dog
aka Kramer James

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? – Eugene Cho

"We do what we do because we love God and we love the people whom God loves. We love the things that God loves and what reflects the character of God. We do justice not because it is sexy, glamorous, or trendy, but because God loves justice. Justice isn’t a clothing accessory we wear when it becomes fashionable, but rather it is something we live into because it reflects the character of God."
- Eugene Cho

Eugene Cho challenges us to truly pursue justice, and to be willing to make the personal sacrifices that the pursuit will ultimately force us to make. In an age of short-term mission trips and numerous opportunities to change the world, many people love the idea of justice and doing good until it begins to require some sacrifice, and it always will. Pursuing justice will come with a cost, and it will change us. Change is painful, but if we stick with it, the changes are good. Instead of pursuing justice because the world is broken, we need to recognize we are also broken. By serving others, we begin to get a better glimpse of God’s heart and His character, and we begin to change.

Over and over again, we read in the Bible that God loves justice. It goes on to command us to pursue justice and to live justly. Instead of watching the evening news and recognizing the injustice in the world and in our communities, we are called to pursue justice. Why? Because ultimately justice reflects the character of God. If we are truly a follower of Jesus, then we are called to love the people He loves and our hearts should break for the things that break His heart.

Finally, Cho challenges us to take time to “go deep” in our convictions. Study, research, and become an expert in the area of our passion. Instead of simply blindly launching out on a mission to do good, to consider the impact of what we are considering and ensuring that it does in fact have a positive long-term result.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who truly wants to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: How Sweet the Sound: A Novel by Amy K. Sorrells

In her debut novel, Amy Sorrells has established herself as a story teller and poet. How Sweet the Sound is a story of an Alabama family, the Harlans, and their generational struggle to bury the ugly pain that haunts them. All of their lives come crashing in around them when two brothers kill each other. The tension between the two had been brewing for years from dark family secrets of rape and abuse. Anniston, who lost her father in the double murder, struggles with all of the upheaval in her young life and her cold and hard-hearted grandmother.

I highly encourage you to read this well written book in a place where you feel safe to weep and have an ample supply of Kleenex at hand. It is a story of redemption and hope for those dealing with the brokenness in their lives - a stirring story of amazing grace and encouragement.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: Identity Crisis - 21 Days of Discovering Who God Says You Are by Michael D. Perkins

Identity Crisis by Michael D. Perkins
For years many of us have struggled with trying to measure up to others standards for us and for our own. We walk around calling ourselves failures. We tell ourselves we are not smart enough, good enough, nice enough, and on and on. After spending years telling himself similar things, Michael Perkins discovered that none of those things were what God had to say about him. In his book, Identity Crisis, he provides 21 short devotionals that each highlight something God has said about who we are. At the end of each of the 21 devotionals, he provides a suggested prayer emphasis for asking God to affirm His words about us in our hearts and he provides a challenge to share what God is doing in our lives.

Identity Crisis is an excellent tool to assist us in moving away from the lies we have been listening to for years and towards the truth that God is speaking about us. This is an awesome piece of encouragement in a world where we are bombarded with criticism. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: Building a Life Out of Words by Shawn Smucker

Building a Life Out of Words

Often times when life throws us a curve ball, out natural tendency is to find some corner somewhere, cry in cup of coffee, and sing our favorite verse of poor, poor me. But what if we drew a deep breath, stepped back, and considered for a minute how we could use this opportunity to make a positive change of direction in our lives?

Shawn Smucker was faced with such a situation. After returning from four years of managing a large business in England, he felt lost working 10 hour days painting houses and living in his parent’s basement with his wife and two children. When his aunt called out of the blue and asked him to write her life story, he had no idea how his life would be impacted. He approached the project tentatively lacking the confidence of a career writer. But when a publisher reviewed the initial two chapters that he had written, the publisher contacted him wanting him to write the book. Had he pursued other unrelated temporary opportunities, his writing career would have never launched. That first published book led to a second and eventually to a successful career in writing.

Building a Life Out of Words is a transparent look at the struggles of a 29 year old husband and father attempting to establish himself as a professional writer and the self doubts and second guesses that come along the way. It is a very encouraging story to those of us writing and wondering where the path will lead us.

His final line in the book is the most encouraging of all, “I hope that you will be known as a person who lives. Really lives. Someone who makes decisions, not based on what’s expected, but on what’s possible. Someone who does things, not because everyone else is doing them, but because it’s what you want to do more than anything else in the world. Now that would be a life worth living.”

For all of my friends that blog, write, or even think about writing, let me recommend that you read this book and consider the encouragement to move forward with your pursuit of writing. And if you have ever considered having your writing published, let me throw in another recommendation. You should have a conversation with my friends at FistBumpMedia. I can say nothing but good things about their  service, support, and affordability.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Beach

(photo credit: the author)

One of my earliest childhood memories is a Christmas in the early 1960s. My family made a road trip to visit my grandparents who were spending the winter in Ft. Myers, Florida. When we arrived, their Airstream trailer was parked on the beach with colorful patio lights draped through the neighboring palm tree. Believe it or not, the Red Coconut RV Resort actually still has RV spots on the beach beneath the palm trees all these years later as it has since 1920. I have pressed my memory as hard as possible several time trying to remember more details, but that is as much as comes back into focus.

Red Coconut RV Park - Photo Credit: tripadvisor.com

Growing up, we made several more trips down to visit them when they made the traditional migration of the blue hair. Eventually, they began settling on a spot across the road inside the Red Coconut RV Resort's main campground. I can still remember being in complete awe watching the manager, moving patron's travel trailers with his antique tractor to their spot within the RV park. My granddad and my dad would often get up early and walk the beach and come back displaying gorgeous conch shells. Granddad had taken up the traditional sport of the migratory blue hair, shuffleboard, and he was always eager to take us along to teach us this sport. Other shuffleboard players would grumble about the small kids being on the court, and he would tell them they could "pound sand." One related memory, Granddad took his shuffleboard stick and harvested a coconut out of the palm tree next to his Airstream, which I thought was an amazing feat. But then he took an electric drill, bored a hole in the coconut, and gave us both a drink of coconut milk - crazy!

Granddad had a boat stored nearby, and on one trip he took me with them on a fishing trip. As a small kid, I thought it was amazing to see a huge forklift go into this huge warehouse and come out carrying a boat and then put it in the water for us. The most vivid memory of the fishing trip was that under the covered bow was a stack of orange square life jackets like the one tied around me. The stack of life jackets made a great place to crawl into, curl up, and take a nap out of the sun.

So maybe we can blame  it on my granddad for planting this fascination with the beach and the ocean in my soul. But it seems so deeply anchored I have to believe it goes much deeper. I can feel all the restlessness in my being settle when I am walking the beach or wading in the surf. The cares of the day, the worries of life, they all seem to melt away and a feeling of peace floods over me. Every time I experience this feeling of peace, I imagine this must be a small glimpse of what heaven will be like.

Apparently, my fascination with the beach did not skip a generation. After our family settled in South Georgia, I fondly remember several trips with my family in a Midas mini motorhome to Panacea, FL and Alligator Point. On our first trip, we arrived to find a KOA under construction at Alligator Point. The main office building was only partially completed, but the owner allowed us a spot bordering Alligator DR facing the Gulf of Mexico. While it was not on the beach, we could sit in the cab or in the booth dining table of my dad's RV and look out across the two lane road onto the Gulf. In the 1970's, you could cross the road, climb down the huge rocks that protect the roadway from high tides and walk on the beach.

On one of these trips, my dad was fishing from the beach and caught a saltwater catfish. He advised us that it was not good eating as the freshwater catfish that we were familiar. He tossed it up on the huge rocks and told us to leave it alone. But as a 10 year old boy, I was soon stomping the catfish with by dingo cowboy boots. At some point the fish rolled onto its side and one of its barbs went through the side of my foot. I screamed bloody murder. My dad ended up carrying me back to our RV, and our trip was promptly cancelled. I remember him telling me if I was not hurting so badly he would beat me with a belt. A barrage of painful shots in my foot followed at our local medical clinic. Lesson learned.

One of the more pleasant lasting memories of our trips to Panacea and Alligator Point was the Oaks restaurant. Every meal, they brought out a little boat filled with crackers and garlic butter which I thought was the best appetizer in the world.
The Oaks Restaurant, Motel, and Shopping Center
Photo credit: knightofswords.wordpress.com

I still remember the first year,I was allowed to go to the beach on my own. It was my junior year in high school. Two friends and I loaded up early one morning in my 1974 Chevrolet El Camino and headed to Panama City Beach, FL. It was one a perfect trip. None of us had the money for a hotel room, so we got up before the crack of dawn and drove down for the day. I can remember tons of details from the trip. At one point we were approaching a U-haul pulling a large boat. The trailer ball broke on the truck and the tongue of the boat trailer hit the road producing a shower of sparks. The trailer violently darted left and right suspended only by the safety chains as the driver slowed and pulled off the roadway. We stopped in a rest stop and a couple was fast asleep in a Corvette. It did not look like the most comfortable way to sleep. But finally, we reached Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach, and we were cruising the beach. We had overlooked the fact that this portion of Florida was an hour behind us in the Central Time Zone, so we were cruising along Thomas Drive by ourselves. By the time the Sun set that day, I did not want to leave. Since then, I have experienced that same sad sickening feeling every time I have left the beach to return home.

Many years later, my family made the journey to visit my granddad in Melbourne, Florida one Easter weekend. He was in the closing stages of a long hard fight with prostrate cancer. But he had insisted that he be allowed to make his traditional migration to Florida for the winter.  Hospice was gracious and coordinated between their organization in Indiana where he lived and their sister organization in Melbourne. My dad had driven him and his trailer to Melbourne, then flown home and drove his own trailer down. My daughter was still in diapers but walking, and I knew this would probably be his last chance for him to see his great-granddaughter. During the trip, my dad took us out to the beach. It was chilly so we were all wearing jackets, but the thrill of introducing my daughter to the beach was a memorable one.

One of my fondest memories is the first time I took my daughter for a weekend at the beach. With the sands of Alligator Beach all but completely washed away from being battered by several hurricanes, we had begun visiting Mexico Beach, Florida - a gorgeous and quiet little fishing town situated between Panama City and Port St. Joe. Her fascination with the sand, the sound of the surf, and picking up seashells told me that she too felt the peace, joy, and tranquility that the beach and the ocean brought to my soul.

The Gulf of Mexico - Mexico Beach, FL (photo credit: the author)

Every time I stand at the surf's edge and look out at the massive Gulf of Mexico, the white sandy beaches, the seagulls, cranes, and pelicans, I marvel at the beauty and the hands that created it all. I can hear a couple of scriptures:

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand
when I awake, I am still with you.
- Psalms 139:17-18

(photo credit: the author)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? - Matthew 6:25-27

Sunset - Mexico Beach, FL (photo credit: the author)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Finding My Place

One of the most painful processes associated with a new move is finding a the place where you "fit" in the new community. And in our case, after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for many years and spending the last three years serving with Feed Forsyth, we knew a big struggle would be finding a nonprofit to serve. I mean you cannot just work furiously for three years addressing struggling families and then go to nothing, right? So once I could access my own deodorant and there was a clear path through the living room to the front door, we began the search for a new church home and a nonprofit that aligned with my passion.

The second church we visited was Pinellas Community Church. We parked in the parking spots labelled "First Time Guests" and started walking down the sidewalk following the signs to the auditorium when I was stopped dead in my tracks. I casually glanced to my right and was speechless. There was a building with a huge sign on the front of it, "Feed St. Pete". I could not speak for a minute. To suddenly see a food pantry named so closely to the nonprofit we had founded was overwhelming. I could feel tears rolling down my cheeks. Wow. I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook. Within minutes, friends in Atlanta saw it and started posting comments like "they are going to be so glad you are there".

Feed St. Pete - the image that stopped me in my tracks (credit: The Author)
Once seated in the service, I quickly found how to contact their staff for volunteering and sent an email saying I was interested in serving with the food pantry. On Tuesday morning, I received an email saying to arrive at the pantry ready to work at 4 PM that afternoon.

When I arrived at 4 PM that afternoon, I saw a sign that said they distribute food at 5 PM, and there was about 20 or 30 people sitting under the shade of the trees waiting for the food distribution. I knocked on the door of the pantry, and when the door opened, I told them I was there to volunteer.

The person I met said, "OK, come back at 5."

So, I said, "cool", and headed back to sit in my vehicle and surf the internet on my phone in some air conditioning.

When I got to my vehicle I looked up and saw three men talking and walking down the sidewalk from the church office towards me. I recognized the pastor from Sunday. He looked up at me and introduced himself and shook my hand. He asked what I was up to, and I told him I had come to volunteer with the pantry and had been told to come back at 5pm. We started up a conversation, and he invited me into the office. We chatted for 30 or 45 minutes, and he seemed to be stunned when he learned I had been managing a food rescue organization. We walked back over to the pantry, and he introduced me to a couple of the volunteers and mentioned my work at Feed Forsyth. To say that I was warmly welcomed would be a huge understatement. 

By 7 PM, we had given out food to over 120 families. I was impressed with how many families they had served, how they were managing the food distribution, and how friendly everyone was to me and how welcomed they made me feel. In the midst of things, I was introduced to the pantry manager and had a brief conversation on how they wanted to expand what they are doing and how I might help. To date, I have been volunteering with them for seven weeks. Together we are working on plans to increase the amount of food they have available to provide the families, how many families they serve, but also providing services from business professionals like resume writing assistance, job search/placement, counseling, etc. The vision they have is exciting, and I am glad to be a small part of how they are serving the community around them.

While a lot of other things have not been completely settled in this transition. Finding my place with a local nonprofit that shares my passion for struggling families has made this feel like home really fast, and for that I am very grateful.