Much like your parents attic, treasured memories lay within. So, wipe the dust off my ruminations and remembrances, sit back and enjoy!

Merry Christ-mas

The last of the gifts are wrapped, the kids are all camped out in the living room (after a half-hour of wrestling and other shenanigans) and Lisa's in the kitchen doing a little K.P. before turning in. Earlier, Lisa and I sang at our church's Christmas eve service (Lisa posted a video of it on her blog a few days ago) and earlier than that, Lisa and I split up to run some last minute errands. Now, after a full day of running and making preparations, I have a few minutes to reflect...this past year has seen a huge amount of change and while I want to talk about that, I will save it for another time. What does Christmas mean to you? Dig through the commercialism...through the secularism and being honest with yourself, what does Christmas really mean to you? God humbled Himself and being fully God became fully man...He knew full well that He would be despised and rejected. He would be beaten and hung on a cross to die...and He knew all of this would transpire even before coming as a baby...sleeping in a manger. Humble, lowly beginnings for the only begotten Son of God.

May God richly bless you and watch over you and family through this Christmas Season and through the next year.

Seek Him and you will find Him...


I Love Technology

Ok...so there's this on-going network issue at work. For the past two or three weeks, people have been being the good little workers that they are and filling out reports or whatever on their computers when...POOF! The computer either locks up or just re-boots...right in the middle of their work, which of course means that whatever work they HAD been doing is well...um...gone. Yeah...frustrating. It started out just one or two people and by the time I started looking into it...it went away. Then it popped up again...but someone else in a different part of the building. Then it went away for a few days...then it would pop back up again. It went on this way until last Friday when a good portion of the Central Office couldn't log onto the network and it stayed that way...About a week and a half earlier, I had started suspecting one of the pieces of our computer network called a switch, but it was SO random and intermittent, that I couldn't prove it. So, last Friday afternoon, I tested my theory by taking the select group of connections to the switch and moving them to a different switch...it worked! The only issue was that the switch I used as a replacement was too small for everyone to be moved to, so I left half on the old switch and put half on the new smaller switch and then ordered a new switch to be delivered Monday morning.
Monday morning comes...I go into the office early to get things ready for the new switch, which arrives at 9:30...I make all of the cable exchanges, power on the switch...within 15 minutes I get the first call...someone's been kicked off...I get them back on and 30 seconds later, they're kicked off again...AAAHHHHHHH! This issue is REALLY kickin' my behind!
So...tomorrow I'm going in for round three...pray for me as it's starting to get to me...switches and cable wires and network diagrams are starting to visit me in my sleep!

I Love Technology...right...

~ V

Sweet Sixteen!

(designed and made by Vinny)

Today is Trevor's golden birthday...for those of you who may not know what that is, it's when your age matches your birth date...for Trevor that means turning 16 on the sixteenth. Yesterday, Trev and I went to La Crosse where we went shopping and had lunch. Today we continued the festivities as Lisa made him a Twix birthday cake (Chocolate cake with homemade carmel on top, then chocolate frosting and crushed Twix candy bars...yum!). And the kids gave him their gifts! Oh...and we made chicken fettucini (one of his favorites). Honestly...we had one of the nicest dinners we've had in awhile. Everyone went around the table and related one of their favorite memories of Trevor. It was a very close family moment...lots of laughter and smiles...

We love you Trev! 16...wow!

~ V

Cold hands, warm...abduction???

...For the recovery and return of my winter mittens.

A.K.A. (also known as): Shooting gloves, Glittens, The warmest gloves EVER, Freaky weird glove things
Last seen: June 2008, just before moving to Minnesota

Here is a picture of a ‘Person of Interest’ in this crime.

She’s been known to comment on her dislike of the missing gloves and was overheard asking, ‘What would you do if those gloves ever came up missing?’ If you see this person and she’s carrying the gloves in question, DO NOT TAKE PERSONAL ACTION!!! Please call Vince Howard at once!
...ok, seriously now...my gloves ARE missing! (my coat is too for that matter...) I know my attachment to these gloves might seems a little odd, but honestly...they are the warmest gloves I have ever owned! The weather has turned decidedly cold this week and I really could have used them...I don't like my hands getting cold. I was sure that I had packed all of the cold weather stuff together...sigh, oh well, I guess I'll just have to order another pair!!! :)
~ V

Running from the Pursuer (part 2)

‘My child’s feelings are hurt, I tell him he’s special.
My child is injured. I do whatever it takes to make him feel better.
My child is afraid. I won’t go to sleep until he feels secure.
I am not a hero…I’m a parent.
When a child hurts, a parent does what comes naturally. He helps…’ Max Lucado

But what happens when your parenting…your decision is the cause of your child’s hurt…fear?

…After he came upstairs, we told him we needed to talk and asked him to sit down…he said that he’d rather stand. We found out that Trevor was planning on waiting until we fell asleep that night, then he was going to take the car and drive back to Baraboo…We found out that earlier that night, a girl he cared deeply for and one of the main reasons he wanted to move back to Baraboo, had broken up with him. He was visibly upset, emotionally disconnected and very angry at me. We also found out that he planned on going to Baraboo, say good-bye to his friends and then go off somewhere and end it. Lisa asked him how serious he was about that and he said that he was very serious. She told him to get his shoes on, that we were taking him to the hospital…he didn’t argue.

Trevor spent the night at the hospital, in their psychiatric ward, but the next day they would need to transfer him to a facility that was suitable for adolescents and teens. He made no fuss about going…I think he actually enjoyed his ‘vacation’ from school…from us…and thought (as did I) that it wouldn’t be any different at the Rochester facility than it was here. But it wasn’t anything the same…right away they separated Trevor from us. As we met with the intake social worker, the nurse was filling Trevor in on the rules, taking his shoes, belt and everything that was in his pockets. By the time we were done with the social worker and went to see him, it was obvious Trevor didn’t like being here. He didn’t want to stay, but we held firm and told him that we needed to see this through. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to take him home, he shut down and when asked if he wanted us to leave…he simply said ‘Yup…’ and so we did…Trevor would need to be there for a mandatory 72 hours, but that didn’t include weekends…it was Friday and that meant unless we demanded it, he would be there until Wednesday…yeah, he wasn’t happy at all! No T.V., no going into other patient rooms and except for ‘group therapy’ time, they quickly broke up private conversations between patients. This place was supposed to help Trevor…encourage him to share things that he wouldn’t or couldn’t share with us…instead, it was making him frustrated and actually more upset. By Monday he was better…more resolved that this was how it was going to be than happy…but better. Lisa and I were not however…in the three days that he had been there so far, it was evident that he had received no personal therapy and the actual psychologist couldn’t tell us their plan of action for Trevor…we didn’t tell Trevor this, but we decided right then that we were going to take Trevor home with us the following day. Tuesday morning, Trevor was in pretty good spirits. One of the things that needed to happen before he left was the three of us had to have a ‘family meeting’ with the social worker where Trevor and us would share some items that we would like to see changed and then work together to seek a compromise. The social worker did tell us that he informed Trevor the previous day that him moving out before he was 18 and graduated from high school was not an option that would be up for compromise. Surprisingly there were only two things on Trevor’s list…1) School…he wanted to be homeschooled  2) He didn’t want to go to church anymore. Concerning school…honestly, if he has no desire to do the homework he is assigned in school now, what would be the motivation for him to do it with an on-line school? Also, I strongly believe that wouldn’t be healthy for him as he would just be that much more isolated. We pointed out that he’s only been in school for three months. The social worker then asked Trevor what he could do to try and make school at the highschool work? He told Trevor that he didn’t buy that he couldn’t make friends because he saw Trevor befriend all the other teens there in the program (Trevor smiled at that!). Trevor said that he liked sports and that he planned on going out for baseball in the spring. Number 2 was more difficult…I didn’t want to compromise…’As for me and MY house, we will serve the Lord…’ Exactly how does a parent knowingly compromise his child’s spiritual wellbeing? But ultimately in the end…I can’t decide for Trevor. I can force him to attend, but I can’t force him to believe. And if I force him…bitterness and hardness will take root. But even so…I KNOW the Bible says that we, as parents, will be held accountable for the way we bring our children up. So, it was with heavy heart that we reached a compromise…we wouldn’t force him to attend church, but he would attend youth group each week.

And so, we’re home…I do not feel that Trevor would have actually taken his own life, but he did feel trapped, frustrated and angry. He is seeing a therapist (a good Christian woman) and he knows that he needs to deal with some anger issues as well as the death of his mother. I know he’s blaming me for everything that’s gone wrong in his life. After all, I moved him from his friends…the only people he feels were there for him after his mother died. And so the tsunami of emotions pummels me as waves of guilt and condemnation drive me to my knees. Every good and nurturing parent wants their children to be happy and successful…I felt I had failed Trevor and have spent many days in thought, discussion with Lisa and prayer over this and eventually came to the conclusion that I know it was the right decision…He needed to leave Baraboo…needed to be removed from the influence of his friends. These friends who were there for him…who eagerly accepted him, but who also introduced him to ways of replacing or avoiding the reality of his grief. At the age of 15, Trevor had started walking a path not only in the wilderness and full of hazards, but one that was treacherous…perilous even…and without the One who could and so wanted to guide him. So, I knew moving him from Baraboo was absolutely the right thing to do…even so, helplessly watching your child slip into emotional despair is not an easy thing to do…But I’m thankful for the Father who wants to hold him until he feels better, help him until he can live with the hurt and who won’t go to sleep when he’s afraid of waking up and seeing nothing but darkness…if only he’d stop running from the Pursuer and realize that God doesn’t just want to catch him, but wants to carry him through these difficult struggles. To show him that he isn’t alone and never has to be. To comfort him, heal him and show him that it’s going to be ok…

‘It will be at those times that I will be glad I have a guide…a guide who knows the path well and His step sure.’

~ V

Running from the Pursuer (part 1)

At the top of this BLOG under the title, I wrote a short description of what my BLOG is all about. Part of that description reads ‘…and knowing that at times the path will become less clear. More wilderness than trail, hazards and distractions will spring up and will attempt to lead me from the path...’ A week ago this past Thursday evening decidedly started us down a path less clear and definitely full of hazards. A good share of you already know a lot about this, but please read on…

‘Dad, we need to talk…’ I had just gotten home from work and I really just wanted to change my clothes and unwind a bit, but I said, ‘I know…let me change first.’ Earlier in the day Trevor had emailed me to ask me to think about letting him move back to Baraboo. I immediately thought, ‘He’s GOT to be out of his mind! He’s 15!’ I emailed him back, telling him that I wasn’t going to discuss this via email and that we’d talk when I got home. I had already updated Lisa about what was going on, so, I changed my clothes, told Lisa I was going into the ‘lion’s den’ and headed downstairs. Trevor wanted me to allow him to move back to Baraboo and He explained to me that he had already made arrangements to move in with a friend of a friend who was 21. I listened to him, thinking to myself that he’d made all of these arrangements and plans without even once consulting me. Not surprising really, I guess, if you knew deep down that your parent would say no. I told him no, that I couldn’t nor would I allow that to happen.

What ensued was a discussion where he tried everything he could to convince me to honor his request. Through anger, harsh words, tears, pleading and guilt, Trevor used everything he could to try to persuade me that he should be allowed to do what he wanted with his life…at 15 years of age. I must admit, there were times throughout our debate where my emotions swung from my heart going out to him, to just simply wanting to tell him, ‘No and that’s that!’ I feel that I was patient and stayed with the logical approach; that he’s 15…that he’s my responsibility, that he’s my son and there would be no way I could just abandon him and that it’s not even legal for him to be on his own. He countered by saying that he didn’t want to be my responsibility, nor my son and that I basically abandoned his emotions when I moved him from his friends. Round and round it went for two hours with me not budging and Trevor not letting it drop. Sigh…I knew this was NOT going to end well. I finally told him that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere as neither of us were going to concede and that I was going to go eat some supper. He said, ‘I can’t believe you’re just going to walk away’ and then hit the wall with his fist as hard as he could, putting a small crack in the wall (we didn’t find this out until later). A couple of hours later, Trevor came up, rummaged through the kitchen and all but stomped back downstairs. Noticeably he had a bandage on his hand (from hitting the wall) and Lisa seeing it, asked me about it. I told her it’s probably from him hitting the wall earlier. She didn’t know that he had hit the wall and after checking it out and seeing that he’d actually put a crack/dent in the wall behind the bar downstairs, she gathered the computer keyboard and mouse. Then went to Trevor’s room and asked for the phone. He asked why and Lisa said you punched a hole in the wall and you are grounded from the computer and all phone privileges…he told her no. Again, she told him to give it to her…he told her, ‘I don’t think I will.’ That’s when Lisa called to me; so I went down and demanded the phone. At first he told me no, but finally did say that he didn’t have it, that it was out on the bar. I went and retrieved the phone, but as I headed back up the stairway, Trevor’s door opened, he threw something out against the opposite wall and then slammed his door. I went back down to see what it was…it was Lisa’s car keys. I showed them to Lisa and she said, ‘We need to talk to him, find out what’s going on…was he planning on stealing the car?’ So, I went downstairs and told Trevor we needed to see him upstairs now…(to be continued)


Meanwhile, back at the bat cave...

Yes, I'm still here...Yes, I know I haven't posted an entry in awhile and...yes, I got the job! I was unemployed all of three days, but it was a stressful three days as the agency communicated to me that another viable, qualified candidate was being considered and they were having a difficult time deciding. I assured them that I understood and knew that they would need to make the choice they felt was best for the agency as a whole. In the end they did select me and my official start date was Sept 25th. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind as I've been trying to get up to speed with my new duties. My new official title is: Technical Network Administrator and I do the full gambit of IT from support to network setup/troubleshooting and server administration. In this new position, I get to utilize the expertise I earned while working for Foremost Farms and the training I received while working for Mayo. It's truly amazing to see after the fact how God has orchestrated every step. For example, I knew going into Mayo that it was a temporary position, but I thought that after my contract expired, they would find a place for me and that I would find a permanent position there...obviously God had other plans, but I started thinking, 'Why go through that training? Why learn how to setup a phone line in the phone switch or setup voicemail in this huge system if I'm never going to use it again?' And then, my first week there, I find out that they been struggling with how to fully operate the new phone system they just had installed...well, the phone system is an earlier version of the phone system used at Mayo! God is SO good and I thank Him for His continued blessings.
Lisa and I have been working on and off on getting the garage cleared out. With the advent of fall and the eminent frosty mornings, it turned into a race to see if we can finish before we have to start scraping windows...well, I am proud to say that as of this writing, the garage is about 99% done! Only a few more boxes to go through...It's been tiring work, but it's been fun doing it together, just Lisa and I. We work well together and she's a great encourager! ...even when I go off on a work tangent!

~ V

Scenes from the bus...

I had meant to attach some pictures along with my BLOG from last Friday so I guess I'll do that now!

Here is a picture of the main Mayo building downtown.

Here is the bus stop where I waited every afternoon for the route 17 bus.

Here is the view out the front window of the bus.

This is Darryl, the maintenance worker.

The commuters, waiting for the afternoon bus.

This is the older man who chatted with the group of ladies.

Here is the group of ladies...and the older man.

And here is the still pregnant Asian woman.

…All Around The Town

There’s the group of ladies and the one older guy…chatting about finding a daddy-long-legs nest in one of the lady’s basements…do they know? There’s the heavy-set nurse that’s always on her cell-phone, talking loudly about private family matters. Everyone’s trying hard not to overhear, but not quite succeeding…she’s oblivious. How about the still very-pregnant Asian woman, or the large well-dressed man who’s always listing to and ‘wheeling’ through his IPod…are they aware? This is the well-dressed, well-groomed man who always wears sunglasses and carries the trendy coffee thermos’s last time he’ll ride the bus. Does this micro-community, these bus denizens realize this? No, I’m sure they don’t…furthermore, would they care if they did? Not very much, if at all.

As I’ve sat there over the past several months, in my tie, observing them through the security of my sunglasses, I’ve come to realize that even though we don’t know each other’s names or anything else about each other for that matter, we do take notice when someone new starts riding or when someone that you’ve come to expect to show up every morning, no longer does.

When I started at Mayo, I knew it was a temporary position that was back-filling for a person who was expecting. The contract called for me to be here through the end of October. Through out the months that I’ve been here, I’ve been very up-front with them that if at all possible, I would love to have my contract extended and eventually come on-board permanently. The people I’ve worked with here in telecommunications are exceptional! They are friendly, helpful and fun. Carole (my Mayo supervisor) is very professional, but leads her people with an easy grace…simply put, she cares. Three weeks ago, the executive director of the agency Lisa works for came to her and told her that the agency’s computer and network person, after 10 + years of service, turned in his two week notice and wanted to know if I might be interested in the position. Now, there were some items to consider and none of them really made the task of deciding any easier…this position, in essence, would BE the IT group for the organization and where I have a lot of experience in IT, I honestly haven’t had a lot of server or network experience…this is a non-profit organization and the director was up-front with me about their inability to be competitive in the salary area of what a typical systems administrator would make…Having a job here as opposed to Rochester would save us about $2500 annually in gas, wear and tear on the car and two hours out of my day that I could use spending time with my family…Staying at Mayo would provide better salary range and over-all benefits…all of this was floating around in my head and I even attempted to sit down and logically draw out the pros and cons, but how do you weight salary against family time? All the justification in the world won’t matter when your son or daughter looks at you with hurt and disappointment in their eyes, wondering why you, for the 100th time, missed yet another event. Throwing all of that to the side, we brought it to God in prayer. I was honest with them and told them that my training and experience with servers and network support was very lite, but I also pointed out that taking a lower salary didn’t shake me. They knew they couldn’t afford to pay someone with the full experience and training the going rate and I knew given some training and time I would be able to help them. It seemed like a win-win situation. Two days later, the person I was filling in for came in and announced that starting the next Friday, she will be coming back half days…that prompted a whole flurry of activity from me going in and asking about their plans for me to contacting my consulting group and letting them know and asking about my contract! Carole told me that she needed to sit down and discuss things with her supervisor, that they were happy with me and they needed to determine if they could justify keeping me around, but that Steve was on vacation and the following week, she would also be on vacation. So, for the last two weeks we’ve been waiting on and listening to the Lord and as each day went by, we continually felt all of this was no coincidence, that once again, God had orchestrated all of it and in His time-signature. I let them know that I wouldn’t be available until October and set up an interview for next week. My consulting firm assured me that although Mayo wouldn’t have to, they planned on keeping me to the end of my contract (October 31st). So naturally, when I talked to Carole this past Tuesday afternoon and found out that Friday (today) would be my last day, I had a few moments of panic! But I quickly remembered what God had put in motion nearly three weeks earlier…that He was and IS in control. By no means do I have the job locked up, (the interview is this coming Monday morning) but I have peace about it and the confidence that whatever may come, is by His design.

Jeremiah 29:11 ‘”For I KNOW the plans I have for you,“ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope AND a future”.

Philippians 1:6 ‘being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’

Today at approximately 5:15pm; I will board the route 17 bus for the last time and as I sit there, waiting for the bus to transport me to where I parked my car, the bus will be filled with the chatter of weekend plans, work issues and family matters…no one else is aware this will be the last time, but me. Come Monday morning, will anyone notice that I’m not there? Will it matter? I can’t help but wonder; what sort of impact have I had on my fellow commuters? Probably not much…if any at all; not that I’m being cynical, but neither time, nor opportunity presented itself to really have any impact. And I’m certainly not filled with self-importance, but you really just have to wonder…

So, good-bye loud-talking cell-phone lady, good-bye IPod dude, good-bye cackling, chatty ladies, good-bye Asian woman, I pray you deliver a healthy baby! Good-bye student with the attitude, life really isn’t that bad! Good-bye Darryl the maintenance guy and good-bye George…keep on telling them to ‘move on back…’

~ V

Positively poisonous

Written by, Van Walton -
My friend Wendy brought her children and their friends to my house for several hours of play in the backyard pool. We chatted while they entertained themselves. I remember observing young Griffin’s curious mind as he ventured into the woods. His busy and energetic body refused to adapt to the games the other children wanted to play. Following his heart, he crept out of the pool and found purpose after strolling around the yard. For a few minutes he handed branches to my husband, helping him feed the chipper. Then he picked up a rake. In no time he began to change the landscape. He cleared a path for my dog and piled leaves creating a soft bed. He set stones in place creating a protected space for the food dish and water bowl.
What an industrious boy! He amazed me with his vision, strength, and positive attitude. I wanted him to come live with me - surely his presence would keep the atmosphere in my home lively. I remember thinking, “What a good boy!” When he completed his project he asked, “Would you like to see what I did?” In single-file we followed him, listening attentively as he pointed out each accomplished task.
Then I spotted it. I never expected to find what I stumbled upon while admiring my newly landscaped yard. My delighted heart turned to dread, for there surrounding all of Griffin’s hard work … was Poison Ivy! My countenance grimaced and my stomach flip-flopped.
Innocently, without suspecting, Griffin had walked through a bed of nasty plants. Never mind that he was involved in good works or that He had done nothing wrong. He had not purposefully stepped into a bad place. It just so happened that the vine had crawled along the ground, hiding under dead leaves and climbing tree trunks, camouflaged by other clingy vegetation.
We had no idea whether Griffin had come in contact with the poisonous plant. Regardless, we had to devise a plan to protect him from the outcome: miserable days filled with an itchy rash. I grabbed Wendy and told her to get Griffin into the tub. Mixing a concoction we hoped would bring relief; we doused that unsuspecting boy, hoping to rid him of any residue that might leave its painful mark.

This devotional really brought home the fact that every day we wake up and step out into life with a plan to accomplish our goals. Whether it involves work, school or play, we set out to do good things, to make some type of impact on the world or at the very least, upon those within our influence. And many times, unbeknownst to us, lying just below the surface or around the corner, temptation and sin can be lying in wait, looking to grab hold of us and spread its poison all over our best-laid plans. The author goes on to say, ‘We need to know and teach our children what poisonous plants look like. But even more, we need to teach them to recognize sin and run from it. Even a minor brush with sin can leave its poisonous mark.’ We need to teach our children not only how to identify sin, but also the practicality of how to avoid it. Now, with a poisonous plant that’s easy, you familiarize yourself with what it looks like, then just walk around it making sure you give it a wide berth. But with sin, we live in a world where wrong is right and right is wrong and everywhere we go, we find ourselves inundated by visuals and sounds, situations and ideas that tempt us almost on a constant basis…and yet, we are called to be in this dark world and not separate ourselves from it, but this is a fine, razors edge to walk.

This hadn’t become quite so obvious and real to me until a few weeks ago when I was talking to Brittany. This is her first semester at college and she was struggling with not having met any new friends. For the first week, night after night she would sit on her bed in her dorm room, not doing anything, so I was pushing her to get out…meet people…make friends. She kept telling me that everyone was so worldly, that she wanted to make Christian friends and I kept telling her, to not isolate herself…to reach out, take the opportunities that she has to meet new people and let God use her. But she was persistent, and wasn’t budging on it. Honestly, I became a little frustrated with her and kept pressing her back…until I asked her what the deal was and she said she was afraid. That surprised me…it wasn’t like Britt to be afraid of rejection, so I asked her what was she afraid of and she told me she was afraid of succumbing to the pressures of sin. In the struggle to be accepted and ‘fit-in’, she was afraid that if she didn’t surround herself with a core group of believers, she might very well compromise her own beliefs. WOW…and here I was ‘tossing’ her into a patch of poison ivy without any protection! Now, I still do believe that she shouldn’t seal herself off and make ONLY Christian friends, but I can’t argue with the wisdom she’s showing in building a foundational support system, before branching out!

I Peter 5:8 ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.’

Hebrews 12:1 ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’

~ V

You make the call.

Do you remember pay-phones? Yeah, I know, airports and shopping malls still have them, but with the advent of cellular phone technology, you see less and less of them. When I was a teenager, before running out with my friends, or being dropped off, my mom (she was a great mom!) always made sure I had a dime in my pocket. When I needed to get a message to someone back home that the ball game was over or that I was ready to come home, I dug for the dime she gave to me, reached for the receiver, dropped the silver coin in and dialed. Soon help, or a ride, was on the way. I rarely had to use those dimes, but it always provided a sense of security knowing that help and family was just a quick call away. Contrast that with today’s cell phones and most teenagers…at times it seems the cell phone is either glued to their ears, or their thumbs are moving 100 mph texting! These kids don’t make a call once or twice a day, but closer to once or twice a minute! They feel free to dial or text at any time, call at their convenience, and to use their ‘phone a friend’ lifeline at the drop of a hat. Now, I agree there is a time and place for the use of these devices and teenagers and adults alike need to exercise appropriateness and courtesy while using them, but this isn’t about nagging on these kids for talking too much, actually, I think they are on to something. They are in constant contact with their friends and family and literally have help at their fingertips.

When it comes to my relationship with God, I’m afraid to admit that often I am much more like a teen in the 80’s when it comes to calling upon the Lord. I reserve my spiritual dimes for the times I need Him, coming to Him in times of need and not so much in times of blessing. When I fear I will be spiritually stranded without a ride, feel a bit scared and need someone to rush to my side, or any other such divine emergency, I call upon the Lord. But in times of plenty and blessing, I must admit my spiritual cell phone sometimes stays shut. Instead, my prayer life should mirror the actions of the cell-phone-grafted-to-the-side-of-your-head teens of our current culture. He wants us to feel free to call, text and mobile-to-mobile Him about any and everything and, as a result, stay constantly connected to Him throughout the course of our day…everyday! We need to realize that His line is never busy, we will NEVER get His voicemail, His ear never tires and He longs to connect with us more than on an as-needed basis. We can call (pray), text (journal), save a message (memorize Scripture) or return a message (praise Him) no matter the time or place! And by doing so, we will draw closer to Him and He to us…

Oh, if only God’s presence in my everyday life became as precious and desired as a teen’s cell phone use addiction!

Psalms 86:3 ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.’

~ V

On the Slow Cooker ~ part 3

Ok…I’m growing tired of this subject…and I know if I am, I’m POSITIVE you are as well!

My point in all of this is this: If we are Christians and we are to be unified in the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3 ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’), and we’re called to be like-minded (1 Peter 3:8 ‘Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous’, Philippians 2:2 ‘fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.’, Romans 15:5 ‘Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus.’), how can fellow Christians, bothers and sisters in Christ, stand so vehemently on opposite sides of the political spectrum? I honestly believe that we CAN NOT and SHOULD NOT leave our Christianity outside of the voting booth. Come this November, we MUST go in prepared and not just because we are Christians, but it's our responsibility and priviledge as citizens. As a Christian, we should prepare ourselves by discovering what the candidates believe and what their character really is. But beyond that, we need to be in prayer. We need to be on our knees asking God for wisdom. Wisdom in our choice, wisdom for our leaders and wisdom for the people of this Nation.

I see so much hatred and anger each party holds for the other, even those who don’t live in this great country have expressed their hatred…especially for conservatives. What is our response to this? As Christ’s children, should we get caught up in the ‘drawing of lines’ or passionate ‘mud slinging’? Please tell me you know how to answer that...I can't believe that it makes God happy to see His children acting in such a way. His message, through His son Jesus Christ, is one of love and compassion.

So, talk about it! Call your pastor, visit with a friend from church. Enter into good, healthy discussions on the subject of what a Christian's response to America's political system should be. How do both main parties align with the Bible and where do they not? Then search out God's will in His Word and through prayer.

~ V

On the Slow Cooker ~ part 2

We are in the home-stretch of this political process we call the Presidential Election and that has me contemplating what my role both as a citizen and a Christian should be. I don’t particularly like how this process draws out the bitterness and anger in people and the focus of the campaigns involve less of what a candidate will try to do to make this country and our lives better to mudslinging and pushing the agendas and ideologies of the extremists and special interest groups. Somewhere along the line, we’ve gone from being proud of America and being a citizen of this great country to It used to mean something to be called a patriot, now when it’s mentioned, a good share of people just laugh or sneer as if it’s an insult. It’s not my purpose to sit here and try to persuade you to vote one way or another. Quite honestly, both main-line parties have pros and cons. I am, however, going to broach the subject of politics, religion and what's the Biblical perspective. What IS my…our… responsibility as Christians in this process?

I’ve heard everyone from political pundits, journalist, ministers and friends, some of them Christians, say that religion shouldn’t have anything to do with politics. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! Why would the God of heaven desire a personal relationship with us, ask us to bring all of our burdens to Him (Psalms 55:22 ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.’ Matthew 11:28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’) and desire to be involved in every aspect of our lives, except for political matters? God tells us to search out His wisdom (Romans 11:33 - Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!) and honestly, you can’t get more plain than what Proverbs 3: 5-7 tells us, ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.’ Our beliefs don't exist in isolation. They concern and shape our fundamental view of the nature of human life and how it is and should be lived. Romans 13:1-7 tells us, ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.’ 1 Timothy 2:1-3 - 'I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Savior.' Titus 3:1-2 - 'Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.' It bothers me to see people, supposedly in the name of Christ, speak what amounts to hate and spite against the leaders of our nation, no matter if those leaders are adequate or inadequate, just or unjust, fair or unfair. By doing so, you are, in essence, either calling God a fool or incompetent…remember, Romans 13:7 tells us that God has placed those people in authority.

Sometimes I think we forget ourselves…God has a very distinct plan and goal for this world and at times the things that He puts into motion can confuse us or might even be painful, but we have to keep in mind the character of God. He is in control, knows what’s best for each of us and ultimately it will culminate with the return of Christ.

“Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord.” Col. 3:23

To be Continued...

~ V

On the Slow Cooker ~ part 1

I’ve had something ‘brewing’ in my thoughts over the past several weeks. It’s complex and some of you might find the things that I’m going to talk about, uncomfortable & controversial, while others might get angry or upset. It’s not my intent to offend, however I do know that I’ve come to believe that God has been pressing this onto my heart to share and because of the depth and magnitude of it, I will spread this out over several posts as they will build on each other or provide background information aimed to support the subject.

Before we go any further, I need to make a few statements:

1) This series is specifically intended and directed towards those of us who are Christians, that doesn’t mean that if you’re not a Christian, you can’t read or comment, but I will talking from the perspective of a Christian to a fellow Christian.

2) It’s important to note that I am an imperfect person. I frequently make mistakes, stumble in my walk and absolutely make NO claims that my life, my walk or my relationship with Christ is greater or better than anyone else’s. Isaiah 64:6 couldn’t put it anymore plainly as I apply it personally, ‘I have become like one who is unclean, and all my righteous acts are like filthy rags; I shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind my sins sweep me away.’ I fully recognize that on my own, there is nothing good within me; Romans 7:18 - I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.’ So, it is with that in mind and a great deal of humbleness in my heart that I approach this.

3) As a Christian, I must assume that you believe the Bible is the true, relevant, immutable and inerrant Word of God. Consider the following syllogism: If truth is an attribute of God (Jeremiah 10:10; John 1:14; 14:6; 17:3). And by that attribute, we can be assured that God speaks truthfully - that is, He does not lie (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Titus 1:2 & Romans 3:3-4). And if we believe that all Scripture is "breathed out" by God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20 & Psalm 12:6). We can conclude that God’s Word is therefore true, complete and without error (John 17:14,17; Psalm 119:142; 151; 160; & Revelation 21:5; 22:6).

That brings us to the first part; what DOES being a Christian really mean?
Theologically speaking, a Christian is someone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior (John 1:12 - Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God), believes He is the one, only and true Son of God (1 John 4:15 - If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God), trusts Him alone for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 4:12 - Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved), has put no trust in his own efforts to please God (Isaiah 64:6 - All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away), and repented from his/her sins (Mark 1:15 - "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!").
But, being a Christian consists of more than theological knowledge. In being a Christian, we strive to live a life that is pleasing to God in mind, body and action (Micah 6:8 - He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.). Notice that I say ‘strive’…Philipians 2:12 says - 'Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.' God warns us against the following: 2 Timothy 3:2-7‘…lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.’ But rather, He calls us to love each other: John 13:34-35 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." He also goes so far as to tell us how that love should appear; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us this, ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’ And the Christian life will be evidenced by the fruit that it bears. In Galatians 5:22-23, it tells us, ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’ As members of the body of Christ, we are called to: Colossians 3:12-16 ‘Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.’ And last, but certainly not least, as Christians, we are called to: Mathew 28:18-20 ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

If you do not believe this to be true, then you need to be honest with yourself…search your heart and thoughts…1 John 2:3-6 says, ‘We know that we have come to know Him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.’ And in Matthew 7:15-18, 20-21 - "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’

If you, as a Christian, disagree with anything that I've related here, I'd really like to hear from you. Tell me what you disagree with and why...and if you could use the Bible to show where I am wrong, that would be very much appreciated!

...What kind of fruit have you been producing lately?

~ V

Vote for Pedro...

Brittany moved into her dorm room this past Wednesday. We would have loved to have gone with her to help moved her in, but I didn’t have the time to take off from work. So instead, this past Saturday we packed everyone up in the van, along with a few boxes that Brittany wanted us to bring, and traveled the 3 ½ hours to Whitewater. With the exception of needing to stop 50 million times (ok…4 times) for bathroom breaks, it was a pretty peaceful trip with Kyle & Hope watching a movie on one DVD player, Vinny & Nick watching their movie on another DVD player and Trevor watching a movie on my IPod. We drove through Baraboo, dropped Trevor off to visit friends for the day and stopped at Wal-Mart to put together a care package for Britt. We arrived in Whitewater about an hour later and after taking a few wrong turns, eventually found the campus and Brittany’s dorm.
After unloading and resting a few minutes in her room, we took her out for a late lunch. We let her choose and she chose a Mexican restaurant named, Cozumel. The food was ok and the interior was over-the-top gaudy, but the highlight of this outing was our waiter (and quite possibly, the owner) Martin. If you’ve ever seen the movie, Napoleon Dynamite, you know the character, Pedro…well, Martin sounded just like Pedro, so I kept talking to Brittany and Lisa like Pedro. After lunch, Britt took us on a walking tour of the campus; the field house and the student center were both very impressive! It was good to see her and we could tell that she enjoyed showing us around the campus. We miss her.

Today, the rest of the kids started school. Trevor is now a sophomore, Vinny & Nick are both in 6th grade and Kyle & Hope are in 2nd grade. Hope is both excited and nervous…which is pretty normal. She’s been having a few ‘stress’ dreams and has been asking Lisa and I a lot of questions, but if you know Hope at all, she’ll be just fine! This year will be a new experience for all of my kids, not only are all of them are starting new schools, but Trev and Vinny will also be riding a school bus for the first time ever! I’ve really been thinking about the new people they will meet, friends they will make and relationships they will establish…how often do you pray about your child’s friends and relationships? Lisa and I went through a valley (still going through, actually), concerning the friendships that Trevor had made back in Baraboo and speaking as a parent who’s been through the rough seas, prayer IS your lifeline!

There is NO other area in your life that can make you feel more like a success when things are going well, or more like a failure when things go wrong, then parenting. Sailing this ocean we call parenting, we have all experienced the smooth as glass calm as well as the full blown tempests with dramatic 30 foot swells where we hang onto the rigging and fight to keep the boat upright. There is nothing as fulfilling and exhilarating…there is nothing as depleting and exhausting. In Stormie Omartian’s book, ‘The Power of a Praying Parent’, she relates of herself, ‘I had countless agonizing concerns for my child’s social, spiritual, emotional and mental growth, but most compelling of all, I feared something bad might happen to him. Kidnapping, drowning, disfigurement, disease, abuse or even death all played across my mind as possibilities to his future might hold. And with each newspaper or magazine article or TV newscast that told of the rising crime rate against children, my concern for his welfare grew. It was more than I could handle. One day in prayer, I cried out to God, saying, ‘Lord, this is too much for me. I can’t keep a 24 hour a day, moment by moment watch on my child. How can I ever have peace?’ Over the next few weeks the Lord spoke to my heart about entrusting my child to Him. We had dedicated him to the Lord at our church as an infant, but God wanted more than that. He wanted us to continue giving him to the Lord on a daily basis. This didn’t mean that we would abdicate all our responsibility as parents, but rather, we would declare ourselves to be in full partnership with God. He would shoulder the heaviness of the burden and provide wisdom, power, protection and ability FAR beyond ourselves. We would do our job to provide discipline, teach, nurture and ‘Train up a child in the way he should go…’ What God really wanted was for us to depend upon Him to enable us to raise our child properly and He would see to it that our child’s life was blessed.’

We, as parents, really need to move past the ‘basics’ of prayer. Prayer is MUCH more than giving a list of desires to God as if He were Santa Claus…Prayer is acknowledging and experiencing the presence of God and inviting Him into our lives and experiences. It’s earnestly seeking the presence of God and releasing the power of God, which gives us the means to overcome any problem.

OH!...remember earlier when I told you about how nice and peaceful our trip to Whitewater was? Well, the trip back home was the polar opposite! Nit-picking, arguing over how someone said something...yes, HOW, not WHAT! Whining and tattling and snapping at each other....it was pretty close to a full two hours of it. Needless to say, we were getting pretty close to being certifiable!

Before I was married I had six theories about raising children. Now I have six children and no theories (John Wilmot, earl of Rochester)...oh well!

~ V

Culture Shock!

If you’ve ever traveled to a different country, one of the things you can’t help but noticing is how the people of that land do things differently. When I traveled to Austria, one of the things I noticed was that people only drove on the main thoroughfares and walked the side streets. I also found out that a lot of the towns only have one or two church buildings, so the different denominations share the same building and schedule their services at differing days/times. How a person is brought up…their manners, the way they dress and even the way they treat others…is determined by the person’s familial, peer and cultural influences. When I went to Italy and experienced my first truly open market, I noticed an older Italian woman having a heated discussion with one of the vendors. I could tell by the tone of her voice and what she was pointing at, that she was trying to negotiate a cheaper price for the Italian leather shoes she was interested in. After what seemed like a long 3 or 4 minutes, she nodded her head, paid the merchant and went on her way, happy with the price that was determined. This really caused me to think about being back in the states and how this would play out in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart. The cashier tells me my total is $120 and I counter with, ‘Really? I don’t think these items are worth $120…maybe $70, but not $120.’ Can’t you just picture the look on her face?

We don’t even need to go outside of the United States to experience cultural differences; just go East or West, North or South and you will find a wide range of differences in attitude and culture…sometimes traveling just across the street can jar our cultural senses…or maybe just to our teenager’s bedrooms!

Today I read 1 Peter 2 where verses 11 & 12 stood out to me…‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’

As Christians, we need to remember that our citizenship…our culture (and that of our children), are not of this world. As Christians, our customs and values should be remarkably different from the world. Christ calls us to act in a way that reflects our heavenly citizenship.. They should be reflected in our words and actions and displayed in our parenting. Sometimes we may feel like we’re not the ‘cool’ parents…or not the ‘in touch’ parents and eyebrows may be raised when we say “no” to inappropriate movies or provocative clothes…but maybe, just maybe, someone will be intrigued by our family’s ‘unusual’ values and culture.

My prayer for me and my family is that as we continue to BLEND our families…we don’t blend in with the ‘culture’ of this world to the point where no one can tell if we’re tourists or locals…

~ V

The Wheels on the Bus...

For as long as I have been part of the American work-force, I have been fortunate enough to have worked for employers that had their own parking lots and actually had enough parking for everyone. I have also been fortunate enough to have always lived within 10 minutes of where I worked…that is until now. Employee parking at the Mayo Clinic is extremely limited and from what I’m told, if I signed up for the waiting lists for Mayo parking and for Packer season tickets…I’d get the season tickets before getting the parking!

So, I drive about 35 miles to the edge of Rochester, where I park my car and ride the free Mayo shuttle into the heart of downtown. Riding the bus is a new experience for me and to be honest, the thought of not being able to leave work, hop into my car and drive straight home does bother me a little and I guess being able to drive to and from work provided a little bit of freedom that I took for granted. The bus ride in and of itself is quite the experience. For an observer of people like myself, it’s a veritable moving laboratory with a wide variety of subjects; Muslim women in their Hijab’s, Nurses, Business people and Med Students are there. Men, women, young, old, Asian, Russian and Latino all ride the route 17 bus. The bus makes 4 stops along its route and at our stop about 10 people regularly stand in the early morning light, silently waiting for the sound and smell of the buss’s diesel fuel. After the last stop, the bus is usually full with about 40 people; 5 to 10 of them standing. Some people greet each other like they’ve known each other for years and they set next to or near each other and chat the time away. Others come in, sit down and stare forward…never saying a word or looking at their fellow commuters.

I find myself somewhere in between…there is a maintenance guy by the name of Darryl that I’ve said hi to and I always say hi and thank you to the bus drivers, but I’ve pretty much kept to myself and my self-appointed role of sociologist. In the morning, there is the nurse who is always talking on her cell phone and talking loud enough that people sitting near the front can hear her quite plainly…people tend to avoid her…There’s the group of three women and 1 old gentleman who always sit near each other and talk about the books they’re reading, or they’re children…at first I was convinced that they worked with each other or knew each other from outside of the bus, but now I believe it’s because they’ve been riding the same bus with each other for years and during that 10 min ride, each day, every year, have developed a bond…maybe not a real friendship, but 10 min a day over a 10 year period comes to 26,000 min spent together. That’s 433 hours or 18 full 24 hr days. The ride to work in the morning is much more subdued than the ride to our cars in the afternoon and Friday’s are markedly more lively with discussion about who’s going on vacation and what people are planning for the weekend. Some of the people are the same both in and out of work, but quite often, they are different. In the afternoon, there’s the student who always looks like she’s not amused and in a horrible mood. Then there’s the lady who told half the bus that she had a staff infection and just about lost her leg. There’s the VERY pregnant Asian woman who causes a lot of discussion among the other women when she misses a day… OH and the older lady who past out copies of her recipe for Hawaiian Flatulence Bars….yeah. And the one (there’s always one) I haven’t figured out yet is the young woman, who I can tell by her badge works for Mayo, who every morning pulls out her bus punch card and has the driver punch it…why? She can ride for free and yet pays for a pass…

Like adults going on a field-trip, we carry our lunches, our IPods, books and umbrellas. We file on and off the bus and scurry to our offices or cars…for 10 minutes a day; some 40 strangers come together and become a community…the community of route 17.

So here’s the dealio, people move about us everyday of our lives; the man who held the office door for you, the woman you rode in the elevator with…the family in front of you in the grocery line. What do you know about them? Their lives? Their struggles? And you say…’But Vince! They’re strangers and going up to them…well, it would be really weird!’ Ok, fair enough…but what will it cost you to offer up a quick prayer for that man, woman or family?

The funny thing about praying for and blessing others that you don’t know is, that quite often you’ll find that you yourself are blessed!

Now if I can only figure out which one of them prayed for me?!

~ V


Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace...

5:45 AM…my alarm goes off this morning and clear as if someone was singing in my ear, that song came to my mind…

The weight of everyday life; we all experience it from day to day in differing situations and in differing intensities. Whether it’s financial, kids, work, household environment, spouse or just simply feeling like you’re being pulled in 20 different directions at once. Over time the weight, the pressure, the expectations (either self-imposed or external)…bogs you down, distracts you from the things that are truly important and steals your joy. And as you continue to focus on these distractions, you can pull those closest to you down as well and before you know it, you’ve created an environment of defeat and depression.

Lately I’ve been guilty of this very thing, allowing the ‘road bumps’ of life to accumulate and distract me. I focus on the minute and lose focus of the big picture. Daily, I walk through my life, putting the cares and burdens I come across on my back. Each day that I don’t go to the cross of grace, they stay piled on my back and the next day, I pile more on…they get heavier and they slow me down. I worry over the insignificant, momentary troubles and forget the blessings that God has so richly showered on me…can you say, ‘Loss of Perspective?’ This DEFINITELY isn’t the way God wants us to live life! In John 10:10b Jesus says, ‘…I have come that you may have life and have it to the full!’

Once we grasp the fact that God's power literally resides in us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can see the weight, the distraction and sin that would otherwise ensnare us, and say "Wow! Why is that such a struggle; it’s such a ridiculous little thing keeping me from getting close to God and the joyous life He intends for me." Colossians 3:2 tells us to ‘Set your mind on things above, and not on Earthly things.’ So, daily I need to remind myself and pray for God to change my mindset. Basically it has to do with setting my mind on things above, and not thinking about all the struggles around me, which is what I found myself doing. Reading the Word and prayer are essential in accomplishing this. 2 Corinthians 10: 4-5 says ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’ But what is the practicality of this? How do we do this? Philippians 4:8 tells us, ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.’
The pattern of this world is to say that we need to take care of our own issues…that we need to help ourselves because no one else will. Christ says in Matthew 11:28 ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest.’ We need to break our concern with horizontal Earthly issues and re-establish our vertical Heavenly relationship. Once we turn our eyes and focus back to Jesus, the weight of this world and the cares of our present time will fade like smoke in a breeze.

Hebrews 12:1-2Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’

It's about time that I cast off these weights and run my Christian race with endurance...
It’s time for me to stop allowing Satan to entangle me in his lies and hampering my effectiveness for Christ...
It’s time that I turn and fix my eyes on Jesus...

He is waiting - won't you join me?

~ V

In the hands of the Gardener

I’ve taken on a new project/hobby. Awhile back, through one of the kid’s Schoolastic book orders, I ordered a Bonsai kit. Now, I’ve had this kit since last winter, but hadn’t opened it until last week. For those who aren’t really sure exactly what a Bonsai is OR what’s involved with growing one, here’s a short explanation: Bonsai is the art of growing and miniaturization of trees through the use of cultivation techniques such as: shaping, pruning, watering, and repotting in various styles of containers. Bonsai growing originated in China during the Han Dynasty (200 BC), but quickly spread throughout Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The tree is kept to a desired size by the size of the container it is planted in. As the plant grows and new tender branches emerge, they can be pruned back to maintain the look of a completed work, can be allowed to grow naturally or with the use of copper wire, can be tied, holding the new branch at specific angles to create a specific look (after one growing season, the wire is then removed). Changes to the Bonsai are slow and takes many years and careful attention to grow into a mature, living work of art.

Jesus tells us in John 15: 1-6 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.’
Through discipline, God does the same thing with us. Hebrews 12:5-13 tells us; ‘And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.’

He prunes us back when needed and shapes our lives to fit the pattern of His plan so that we will be ready for the work He sets before us. No, it’s not always fun, this shaping and pruning, but I have found that resisting His discipline and direction is usually more painful and He promises that He will never abandon us, nor forsake us. And what better hands to do this delicate work, whose hands more loving, more skilled, then those of our creator?

Whose hands are shaping your life or the lives of your children?

~ V

A weekend at home

If you’ve been keeping up with my BLOG, you’d know that the weekend before last ended the baseball season around here, leaving this as the first weekend in awhile that we didn’t have to run somewhere for an all-day tournament. So, Saturday, Lisa and I slept in then got up and decided to run into town to go to the farmers market, the meat market and the fruit market. We never did make it to the farmers market, but found some good deals on fruits and veggies at the fruit market. We came home and I ran back to town with Trevor as he wanted to go to the bookstore and get a few books and spend some time with me...yeah, this is the same teenager, who not that long ago was angry at the world! After going to the bookstore, we went to a favorite restaurant of Lisa’s downtown…Trev and I ate and joked and laughed and it felt good to see the ‘old’ Trevor back…I hope he stays for a good long while.

When we got home, Lisa and I worked on the house; she got the basement living room cleaned up, Trev and I brought the last piece of furniture down from the garage…the recliner! And as Lisa finished up, I went out and started to breakdown the 100 lbs of cardboard boxes flat and then bound them together like two small bales. We also hung up more pictures and just generally continued with settling in. I grilled steaks along with some veggies and grilled some fruit too! I’d never grilled fruit before…it was yummy!

Lisa and I were sitting on the deck the other night while Kyle and Hope played in the backyard. Listening to them play make-believe (Kyle was the Ninja master and Hope was his student), I heard Hope say, ‘Master, I want to learn more…teach me some more moves!’ Lisa and I laughed and I thought to myself…’The kids are happier than I’ve seen them in some time.’ I voiced this thought to Lisa and it came to me that for the past year, we were ALWAYS gone on weekends. Either Lisa and the boys would come to our place or we’d go to hers. It's nice...no, it's been GREAT being together on the weekends and not having to run to see each other. In spite of the petty bickering or picking...pretty normal sibling issues...we see happiness, we see silliness and more importantly, we see everyone bonding together as a family! Trevor, Nick, Vinny and I went over to the back ball field and spent about an hour just hitting golf balls. We had a great time laughing, teasing and just having simple fun.

Here's the thing...in amongst our simple family fun, I learned something important; in this age of PSP's, Ipods, IMs, Face Book and 200 + cable channels, kids still value simple play and personal connection with their mom and dad. The games systems, music players and TV shows can only offer them momentary escapism. We as parents can offer them SO much more...a reality without the need to 'escape'! And parents? The payback on this investment is immediate...in the smile on your son's face or glint in your daughter's eye. Now THAT, my friend, is priceless...

~ V

…You’ve got some ‘splaining to do!

Ok…I know yesterday’s BLOG falls into the ‘Where’d THAT come from’ category and most assuredly raised some questions. It was the external expression of an internal issue that I’d been wrestling with which concerns Brittany and I. Without going into detail, she’s been receiving a great deal of pressure from external forces over an issue that is extremely important to her. Being under this type of pressure at 18 is tough, but when that pressure comes from someone you should be able to count on for support and understanding, it becomes almost unbearable. So, Brittany turns to me and my first inclination is that Papa Bear’s fur bristles and the furnace of anger starts to stoke. But I know that allowing that anger to build won’t help me, wont help Brittany and honestly wont change the situation. Psalm 46:10 says, ‘Be still and KNOW that I am God…’ So, I quieted myself, cleared my mind as best as I could and waited on Him and His leading. One simple word came to me…’Forgive’. I sat and thought about that for awhile and thought about this, what can I change about this situation…what is within MY control? Neither Brittany nor I can control the people that are putting this pressure on her. We can’t control what they think, what they say or how they feel. We, however, can control how WE feel, how WE react and how WE approach the situation. Does that mean we have to ‘roll over’ and be a door mat? Not at all! But we can, by the grace of God, be compassionate and understanding. We can disagree, stand our ground and still treat the situation with respect and love. And so my BLOG ended up being the sounding board for my thoughts and my need to guide Brittany to a correct mindset and heart. So, I offer up the following for Brittany, for myself and for anyone else that may need to hear...

There can be no forgiveness without love and no love without forgiveness.

Peace is finally forgiving a person and setting the prisoner free, only to discover that the very prisoner you set free was yourself.

If We Are The Body ~ Casting Crowns:

It's crowded in worship today

As she slips in Trying to fade into the faces
The girls' teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

But if we are the Body
Why aren't His arms reaching
Why aren't His hands healing
Why aren't His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren't His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
There is a way

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat
And quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances tells him that his chances
Are better out on the road

But if we are the Body
Why aren't His arms reaching
Why aren't His hands healing
Why aren't His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren't His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the Body of Christ

If we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching
Why aren't His hands healing
Why aren't His words teaching
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
Jesus is the way

If we don’t show that there’s a different, better way, then we’re not showing Christ’s love. And if not us…who? And if not now…when?

~ V

A Legacy...

Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die…it is self-indulgent and self-destructive. ~ Anon

We make choices each and everyday. We choose what we’re going to wear and what we’re going to eat, what bills to pay and even who to forgive. Just as forgiveness is a choice, being bitter or not is a choice we also make. By choosing not to forgive, you hyper-focus on the action and fail or at times even refuse to take a person’s intentions into account or demonstrate simple compassion and understanding.

Researchers at the Mayo clinic studied the negative heath effects bitterness and resentment has on the human body. In an article on their findings, Dr. Katherine Piderman said this: When we hold on to pain, old grudges, bitterness and even hatred, many areas of our lives suffer. When we're unforgiving, it's we who pay the price over and over. We bring our anger and bitterness into every relationship and aspect of our lives. Our lives may be so wrapped up in the wrong (actual or perceived) that we can't enjoy the present. This study concludes that holding on to grudges and bitterness results in long-term health problems such as:
§ High blood pressure
§ Increase in stress and stress related ailments
§ Increased risk of heart disease
§ Increased reports of chronic pain (headaches, joint pain)
§ Increased psychological incidents such as anxiety and depression

By choosing to be bitter, you are sabotaging your emotional, physical and spiritual health and personal relationships by clinging to past anger, hatred & resentment. Bitterness causes you to walk through life with the full weight of the situation pressing you down and the sour taste of unresolved pain and regret lingering in your mouth, while your heart, like a helpless prisoner of war in which no one wins, is being held captive in this iron grip. Continual focus on painful recollections of past disappointments, frustrations, unresolved conflicts, shattered dreams and desires left unfulfilled, slowly spread like a cancer, taking up residence inside the heart and soul, creating dark blots where clean, healthy tissue used to exist and obstructing the natural flow of love, peace and joy that God intends.

Hebrews 12:15 ‘See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.’

1 John 4:20 ‘If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.’

The only path to true forgiveness is through God. When you pass through life chained down by an unforgiving heart, it is impossible to hear God’s calming, leading voice and walk the path He intends for you to walk. Ephesians 4:31-32 tells us, ‘You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.’
It takes a major effort of the will to "forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" because most of the time, we don't feel like forgiving. The first step we have to take in order to do this is to tell the Lord that even though we don't want to do it, even though we aren't willing to do it, we are willing for Him to make us willing. When we choose with our will to obey God, He will give us the power to do what is necessary. God wants us to be honest and come to Him saying that it hurts too much for us, in our own power, to forgive and move on. He wants us to realize that we can’t stay angry and bitter and still be in His will…ultimately He wants us to give the anger and bitterness over to Him so that in His strength, not ours, we can forgive…’

When you chose the path of forgiveness you allow the light back into your heart and soul. The dark blot intruding on your heart and in your soul will be washed clean, the chains of bitterness, anger and pain that weighed you down and held your life hostage, will fall off like sand.

…My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace!

Bitterness or mercy…which will be your legacy?

~ V

Happy Birthday Nick!

Today is Nick’s 11th birthday! Lisa made his favorite cake, which is; chocolate with chocolate chips in the cake and cool whip frosting with chocolate chips on top…I think Nick likes chocolate! 11 years ago was 1997. That was the same year that I started at Foremost Farms. Brittany was 7, Trevor was 4 and Vinny was not even 1. The cost of a gallon of gas was $1.22, the average American made $37,000 a year and a movie ticket cost just $4.50. In 1997, Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, Princess Diana died in a car accident while in Paris, at 21 years of age, Tiger Woods becomes the youngest golfer to win the Masters. The films Titanic, Liar Liar and As Good As It Gets are hits. Walking On the Sun, Crash Into Me and Candle In the Wind were 3 of the most popular songs of the year. Nick, I love your love of life and your kind, sensitive heart. I love how you seek out private time just to talk and I love that you want to do that with me, and I hope this will go down as one of the best birthdays you’ve ever had!

We have what I would call a sizable yard. Not huge mind you, but big enough that it takes a good hour to mow. We have been rotating the job between Trevor and Nick and have been paying them for this service. Well, a few weeks ago Vinny, knowing they get paid, started asking about when HE could start mowing so that he could earn some money as well. I kind of hesitated at first and then after Vinny kept asking about it, I finally said that he needs to shadow Nick and Trevor, observe what they did and how they mowed, before I would allow him to do it on his own. So, after walking around and ‘observing’ Nick mow last week, Vinny asked if he could do the job this week. With a few reservations, I agreed and off he went. About a half hour into the job, I stepped out on the deck to see how he was coming along. Vinny had mowed a diagonal swath from one corner of our property, to the center of our back yard, then looped back around cutting through the diagonal in what looked like an attempt to write something in our lawn. Half smiling to myself, I went down to provide some tips and guidance. When I got down there, Vinny shut the mower off and instantly said, ‘Dad, this is HARD! I don’t want to do this anymore!’ I told him to go get a glass of water and come back out. When he came back out, we walked around the yard and I showed him where he had missed a few strips, pointed out how to use the previously mowed lane as a guide to help keep straight and how to mow around the base of trees. I told him that in spite of this being his first time, I thought he was doing a good job. He wanted to quit. I told him that it’s important to finish the job you start. He was hot and he had no idea that mowing was so hard. I told him that he needed to press on through. He said ‘But dad! I can’t!’ Looking at him, my heart very nearly broke…for some reason, I KNEW this was a defining moment in Vinny’s life and I told him; ‘Vinny, yes you can…I know you can, now finish the job’ and with that, I walked back inside. It took Vinny another hour and when he finished, he threw his fists up in the air and yelled…’I’M DONE!!!’ Was it the best I’ve ever seen? No. Was it the best he can do? Mmm, probably not, but with experience comes improvement…But all of that didn’t matter. I told him, ‘Good job Vinny!...I’m proud of you!’ And the look of success on his face and the smile of pride in his eyes, told me right then and there that making him finish the job was the right decision. It was harder work then he had ever done before, but he pushed through, didn’t give up and finished. He now knows the feeling of completing a difficult task and the sense of accomplishment it gives you. Better yet, he’ll have more confidence to do other tasks that he feels might be too hard.

I spent some time thinking back to the different things my dad taught me and my need for him to be pleased with the job I did. There was instruction and correction (sometimes patiently, sometimes not!), but if I took an honest interest in the job at hand, dad was always willing to show me. Then I started thinking about my heavenly Father…how many times in life have I gone off at an angle across the yard of my life, mowing letters in the lawn, seemingly wandering aimlessly and not following the straight path laid out before me…and then the Father steps near and tells me there’s an easier way. He gently guides and corrects me, helps me find my way back to the right path. At times I have told Him…’God! This is TOO hard! Why have You asked me to do this?’ ‘I’m tired and I don’t feel like do this anymore!’ and that’s always when He tells me; ‘I never asked you to do more than I knew you were capable of…and I never asked you to do it alone…I know you can and I’ll never leave you!’

~ V

Sowing Seeds

Today and Sunday Nick has a baseball tournament and this will mark the end of the season. I remember going to this tournament last year and after the first game, it basically rained ALL day! We were SO wet, cold and miserable! This year the weather is supposed to be very hot…we’ll see. They’ve had a great season; right now his team is 10 and 2 and we are SO proud of Nick and his team! We’re looking forward both to the tournament and the end of baseball as it really has taken many of our evenings.

The other night while Lisa and I were getting Nick and Vinny into bed, I decided to give them a little Bible challenge. I challenged them to take the time today to find where the parable of the sower was and read it. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story where the farmer goes out to his fields to sow his seed and some fell on the road just to be trampled or eaten. Some fell on some rocks and once it grew, withered away. Some fell among thorns, but the thorns choked it out. Lastly, some fell on good soil where it grew to maturity and produced a great crop. My little challenge is designed to get the kids familiar with how to look things up in the bible, do a little study and make it fun! We’ll see how it goes.

I know this parable is specifically talking about planting the seed of God and the result of what happens or what can happen depending on who hears it, but this got me to thinking. As Christians, aren’t we responsible for the TYPE of seed we sow? And further more, can the type of seed we sow effect the crop that grows from it? I mean, this goes to OUR witness doesn’t it? People are watching us all of the time…our actions, emotions and even the way we handle our everyday lives. If I went to a bar every night after work and had a drink with ‘the regulars’, how effective can my witness be to those very same people? Now, there is something to be said about meeting people where they are, but I think we all know the difference. What I’m trying to say is that WE, as Christians, need to make sure that the seeds we spread are not tainted. That the examples we set and the impressions we leave are God honoring.

Oh, be careful little mouth what you say...
Oh, be careful little feet where you go...
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see...

Hmm...actions, attitudes and our tongues...powerful tools to either build up or break down our witness...

Oh Lord, please examine my actions...my attitude and my tongue so that the seeds I plant daily might be fruitful and pleasing to You.

~ V

Shaken...not stirred

The other night, after a long day of work, baseball, supper, clean-up and getting the kids to bed, Lisa and I finally had some time to ourselves. Now, before the move and the wedding, our daily contact was by phone when we would talk for a couple hours each night. Now, however, our talking is spread out over the 6 to 11pm hours and we’re discovering that we miss that concentrated talk time…anyway, I digress…So, we read a devotional, talked about our day and well, basically chatted like we used to. And during this seemingly mundane act of communication, Lisa took a bottle of lotion and taking one hand at a time, rubbed lotion into my hands. I turned my head and looked at her and what I saw there in her eyes…in that moment…stunned me. I saw complete and unfettered love and devotion. I am an ‘eye’ person, always have been. I look into people’s eyes when I talk and observe them and most of the time am able to discern a great deal and so, I have seen many things throughout my 45 years, but never that! If I would have been standing, I am positive I would have crumpled to the floor. It humbled me and shook me to my core…there I was, imperfect, fault ridden and yet that didn’t matter to her. In her eyes, I am a hero…I am her husband. It was simply one of the most incredible things I’ve ever received.

I wonder if that’s the way we’ll feel when we see Jesus look upon us. A love so deep, a happiness so complete and a pride so encompassing that we’ll be too taken a-back, too moved with emotion to turn our face’s away. Our eyes drop to the ground as our minds try to fathom just how we ever came to deserve that type of look from the Son of God.

God With US ~ Mercy Me
Who are we--- that You would be mindful of us?
What do You see--- that's worth looking our way?
We are free--- in ways that we never should be.
Sweet release--- from the grip of these chains.
Like hinges straining from the weight,
My heart no longer can keep from singing.
All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified:
Emmanuel, God with us.
My heart sings a brand new song.
The debt is paid, these chains are gone.
Emmanuel, God with us.
Lord, You know--- our hearts don't deserve Your glory;
Still You show--- a love we cannot afford.
Like hinges straining from the weight,
My heart no longer can keep from singing.
All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified:
Emmanuel, God with us.
My heart sings a brand new song.
The debt is paid, these chains are gone.
Emmanuel, God with us.
Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary;
Nevertheless,We lay it at Your feet.
Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary;
Nevertheless,We lay this at Your feet.
All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified:
Emmanuel, God with us.
My heart sings a brand new song.
My debt is paid, these chains are gone.
Emmanuel, God with us.

~ V