When The Wheels Come Off

This week marks that it has been 4 years ago that Chrissy and I officially welcomed into our family a new daughter. This past week was the anniversary of my oldest son (Ben) getting married to Brandy, who just happens to be one of the best things that has happened to this family. Good things come in small packages is an understatement when you are talking about Brandy. Now, when you put our fun-size Brandy together with our big, gentle Ben you have a pretty great package. They may look a bit funny dancing, or even standing together, but they are a terrific couple put together by God.

I remember the week before the wedding pretty well. Brandy was not hard to please with what she wanted for the wedding. She was definitely not a bridezilla! Chrissy and I have done big events most of our married lives. Together, we have turned some near impossible places into fun, magical venues. God has wired us in such a way that we are creative, but sensible. I’m creative and Chrissy is the detail person. You could say we’re like mac ‘n cheese. She’s the mac, and I’m the cheesy one!

Anyway, the kids wanted to have an outdoor wedding, and it had to have a camo theme. So, we did our best to get an idea of what they wanted, then we went to work.

Chrissy and Brandy’s mom (Toni) and Brandy went cake shopping to find the perfect wedding cake. They ended up having a traditional round cake with chocolate icing it was decorated as a fall wooded scene with a little toy deer for the topper. Then, they had a sheet cake with a big buck cake graphic on it.

Along with all the camo that was going on in this wedding, Brandy wanted to have a country flair to the celebration. So, Chrissy and I took some old pier sections that I had laying around, and we made a walk-way that led to an alter area. We borrowed a floral arch to use in the altar area, and we decorated it with ribbon and green ivy. Chrissy placed an old wooden chair on the on the side of the alter that held a distressed vintage sign that read “With my whole heart, for my whole life”.  On the aisle walk-way, along the pier, we made posts that mason jars could hang from, holding fresh cut wild flowers. Then we lined the walkway with smaller mason jars holding candles. For some of the seating, we used bales of hay, that we covered with material for seats. We found a very pretty battery operated imitation crystal chandelier at a local store and hung that up over the pier walkway. We borrowed some cool Edison-like clear, round bulb Christmas lights and strung them from the trees to give the yard a bit of a glow when the sun went down.

Side note: After having the lights in the trees for the wedding, we returned them, and the yard looked so bare. So, I went out and bought some strings of lights like them for the yard. I never would have thought how a few strings of lights could make a yard look so great in the summer time.

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Chrissy and I thought it would be fun to put out some board games and cards on tables for people to play as they enjoyed the reception and catching up with each other. So, looking back on how we turned our yard into an open-air chapel for this day, I’d say it was pretty amazing.

The reason it turned out so great was because we had some amazing people help us pull this day off. Our family was surrounded by some very special people who supported us and cared enough to help make this important day one that we all would look back on and cherish. Those who helped will always hold a special place in my heart.

Now, the week leading up to this day, well… that was horse of another color! Chrissy and I were scrambling to get everything done for the big day. The yard needed to be perfect, the walk-way needed power washed, lights needed hung, food needed to be bought, as well as the all the dinnerware and everything else that goes into making a wedding day fantastic.

We were heading into the home stretch. It was the Thursday night before the wedding. We decided to make one last trip to Walmart for the last-minute things we needed. We loaded up in my powder blue F150 Club Cab truck with a full-size bed. This vehicle made transporting large amounts of supplies a breeze. I had a few white plastic chairs in the bed when we left for the store. I let them in the bed because I had to clean them, and I didn’t want to get them mixed up with the other chairs I had already cleaned.

Off we went to Goshen, Indiana to the Super Walmart, about 16 miles from our house. I took my normal bumpy, windy route to get there. Once we reached our destination I parked the truck, and we divided to conquer our shopping list. When we were finished gathering everything we needed, we loaded the bed of the truck, and what we didn’t want out in the back, we loaded the back of the cab with. We had a lot of stuff and had just spent a bunch of money. We were loaded and ready to head back home. Chrissy the kids, and I jumped in the truck and headed back home.

We pulled out from Walmart onto Route 33. This is a very busy two-lane road, lots of traffic. By this time it was around 7:30 pm, right around dusk. We got out of the really busy area and through the first major intersection. At this point the road curves to the right, and we were going around 50 miles an hour when all of a sudden we heard an awful noise. Then, horrified, we saw a big wheel rolling off the side of the road ahead of us.

It took a few seconds for this to sink in to my head that the tire speeding way ahead of us, heading towards an office building, a window to be exact; was the front right wheel from my truck. I would like to say we were so smart that everyone shifted their weight to the left and we balanced out the truck. You know like you see in the car stunt shows, when cars drive on two wheels. Yeah, that was not us. It would have been awesome though!

I remember telling myself to slowly move off the road. As I just got on the berm of the road, the right front side of the truck dropped to the ground and made a horrible noise. I brought the truck to a stop, all the while watching our wheel race towards this window. It hit a bump just enough to redirect it to fly by the building, thereby miraculously missing the big window it was headed for. The wheel finally slowed down, and about 150 yards ahead of us, it slowly dropped over, wobbling until it came to rest on the ground. The funny thing is that it stopped just short of crashing into a newly manufactured home sitting in a storage lot.

I got out of the truck and went to the other side to evaluate the damage. Chrissy tried to get out of her door, but it was jammed. I pulled hard on the door from the outside, and forcefully opened the door, bending the front fender even more than it was from the wheel coming off. I was not a happy Hunter. We just spent all this money on the wedding, and bam! The truck falls apart! I had just had the truck serviced a few weeks earlier and the tires rotated.

Side note: Many months later I found out that the truck had special lug nuts that locked on keeping this from happening. There was even a recall for it. When the service center had rotated the tires, they didn’t  put the right lugs back on the truck.

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Silas retrieved the wheel as I made a call for a tow truck. Chrissy called Ben and asked him to come get us all, telling him to be sure to have room for all the stuff.

There wasn’t much I could do. At that point, I had a choice. I could be mad and let this eat me up, or I could ask one of my favorite questions that I don’t always like to answer. Will this matter in a day, a week, or a month from now? I asked the question, and the answer was like most things…No, it really won’t matter that much, at least that is what I thought, until I got the bill for the repairs. LOL!

Waiting for Ben and the tow truck, I grabbed one of the chairs from the bed of the truck and sat down to get my head on straight and to correct my stink’n think’n. Leaning back on two legs of the chair against my broke-down truck,  I started to replay the event that just happened over in my mind just to see if I could have done anything differently.

Doing this, I came to the conclusion that this was out of my control, and I did everything that I could have. Then, it occurred to me what a blessing we had just received. Yes, the situation was bad, but boy, it could have been disastrous for us! It could have been the left wheel that came off. If that had happened, the wheel could have gone into on-coming traffic and caused a bigger accident or even killed someone. It also occurred to me that being a rear-driven vehicle, when the truck dropped, it could have had so much momentum that it could have spun us around into traffic or even flipped over, which it didn’t do!

As I sat there, my kids laughed at me for sitting in my chair, taking pictures (that no one can seem to find) of me sitting, just relaxing beside a 3-wheeled truck.

How amazing it is when these things happen to us– what could have been a very horrible ending turns out to be just an inconvenience. It amazes me that we can look at things like this, and say that we were just lucky or it was a coincidence. I have to say that situations like this are times when we are shown that we have the favor of God. Now, I also have to admit that God’s favor is hard to understand, especially when we don’t like things that happen, or we don’t understand why things happen the way they do. Believe me, I have had my share of those times also, and someday perhaps, I will be granted an audience with the Most High who might give me answers, but until then, I will have to remember that He is the one who created everything including me, therefore His reasons must be good.

The lesson I learned is this: don’t let the little things of life steal the things that matter the most in life, like the people you when or the special events in life. We have a choice to choose how we respond to what life throws us the truck wheels start coming off. We get to choose our attitude. Take a moment, get a check-up from the neck up, and make the wise choice!

The rollback tow truck came and got our truck.  We somehow loaded everything, including all of us into Ben’s vehicle. It was a very tight squeeze, but we made it. The next day, we prepped for the big day of the wedding. The celebration was a success, and all who attended had a good time.

Meet My Friend Stephen

The other day, I was blessed with an amazing gift. I was given tickets to a concert. Now, not everyone knows this about me, and it may shock some of you. I absolutely love going to rock concerts, especially the ones where I can relax and be myself, the ones where no one cares how you dance or jump or move, just so long as you are having a great time and enjoying yourself. Sometimes, I just like to stand wide-eyed, head bobbing back and forth, totally taking in the experience. Then there are the times that my body is all in; I’m jumping, hands in the air, head banging. Most of the time, I share these moments with my daughter who is not afraid to rock out at all. Our favorite group to rock it out with is Family Force 5, but there are many others like Hawk Nelson, Switchfoot and Skillet, just to name a few.

Before I had Tori to go to these concerts with, it was Chrissy. She likes some concerts, but she’s really more of a listener not a see-er. Most of the groups we have seen are Christian bands, but we have been known to take in a Bon Jovi concert or a U2 concert once or twice. Some of the bands we have seen are mostly ones from our early years in the 80’s, like Degarmo and Key, Mylon Lefever and Broken Heart, The Choir, Rez Band and many more.

So back to the tickets we were blessed with. I decided to surprise Tori with them. Chrissy was going to be away for the weekend, and I wanted to do something special with Tori. So, I asked her if she would like to go on a date? Asking your 22 year old single daughter this question can be awkward, I guess. I  think she thought that I was trying to set her up on a blind date, because she said, “With who?”

Side Note: This was all thorough text messaging. Sometimes things can be misconstrued or not communicated well when texting. This was one of those times.

I said, “With me, who else?”

She replied, “Why are you being so weird?”

I texted, “I’m not. So, will you go with me?”

I almost felt like I was asking for a real date with someone. The struggle was real.

She said, “I guess??”

I replied, “Great! Be ready at 6pm on Friday! I promise it will be fun!

So, I picked up the tickets for the concert from the people who were giving me the tickets. This couple is older, I think it’s safe to say they are senior citizens, but they are amazingly youthful. I love these two people; they always have a positive thing to say and are positively optimistic. Their names are Joe and Peg Leatherman. I had to wonder and laugh a bit when Peg told me that she likes Colton Dixon quite a bit, and really wanted to go see him. The timing was just not going to work for her and Joe to go. She was glad I could use the tickets. She then told me that a friend said that they were shocked that she would want to go to a concert with Skillet. I had to admit to her that I was also a bit shocked that they would want to go!

So I the day came. Tori and I made it to the venue. When we got there, Tori was delightfully surprised at my idea of a date.

Side Note: I may have had it in my head that I wanted to show her what it was like to have a real date with someone who really cared about her.

The concert really was great! As I stood bobbing my head, my mind went back to our younger years and some of those awesome rock shows. Skillet’s stage show reminded me of the REZ Band. The lead singer, John Cooper, put me in mind of another person that never made it to what some would call the “Big Time.” As I watched John move around the stage, I could feel his passion and I couldn’t help but think of my old friend, Stephen Klopp. Steve always sang with everything he had, and it wasn’t for the people, but it was for an audience of one, and that one person was Jesus. When Steve talked between songs he would always bring it back around to who this world needed most, Jesus.

Stephen was in a few bands from when he was a teen, at least that I know of.  First, there was Exodus II, and then he was in another band called Big Ideas. When I first met Steve, I had entered into a lip sync contest for a local outreach ministry. The youth group Steve was in at his church had entered the contest also. After the contest, there was a concert with this local Christian band called Exodus II. Steve was the lead singer and electric guitar player for the group. Two things I remember about Steve was his passion for hard rock music and his intense love for Jesus. If I was asked what other traits this guy would be known for, I would have to say it would be his smile and his laugh. He has one of those contagious smiles that brings joy into the saddest of places.

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I got to know Steve though a youth group we both were a part of called SOS. I have talked about this is past posts. It was group of youth who wanted to make an impact for Jesus and was student led. SOS did all kinds of things, one thing being concerts. For a few years, my singing group opened for Exodus II.

After a while, life changed for everyone. Some went to college, others worked jobs; the bands and groups we were in in high school fell apart. Each one of that group went in their own direction.

Chrissy and I got married, then Steve met Ricki, and they got married. I lost contact over the year with a lot of those that were a part of that youth group. Somehow Chrissy and I were able to stay in touch with a few of the guys. One being Steve and Ricki, both of whom have always been an encouragement and someone to look to for support.

I’m not sure of the details, but the second band I mentioned above, Big Ideas.  Some of those who made up this band were those who were in the first band, including Stephen. They cut a demo and were great together. I’m not sure why, but for some reason they disbanded and went their separate ways. Perhaps, it was just that God had other plans for each of them.

I had a dream years ago to start a music festival that would reach thousands of people for Jesus. I also thought it would be the coolest thing to have those who encouraged me in my faith be a part of this event in some way. I thought it would be great to see some of my friends open for a big name band at a Christian music festival.

I’m fuzzy on how this all happened. I don’t know if if I was asked about it, or if I had the brain child myself, it really doesn’t matter. It just matters that it did happen. The year was 1996. It just so happens that I was, at the time, the founder/promoter of a Christian Music festival called Vision. We had just booked a guy by the name of Michael Row. Before he went solo he played in a few bands, one being the 77’s, and another called Lost Dogs. Both pretty big name bands, and Michael was a big name himself. Then it was a few weeks before the festival, and we had a band back out on us. So, guess who I was able to fill the spot with? None other than Big Ideas—a  reunion concert. It was a great night! They absolutely rocked that night. I wish I could get my hands on some of the photos for that night, but I’m not sure where all the scrapbooks got to.

Perhaps, this was not as big of a deal to others as it was to me, but I felt like God made this happen. Over the years of serving in ministry and life in general, I have these moments where I think back to that night about how God cared enough about some guys that He made them the Rock Stars that He knew they are. It has always brought me a bit of encouragement that God cares about our dreams and hopes. Sometimes, he gives us a little slice of them; it may not last long, but you can always say it happened.

My friend Stephen has been fighting a battle for a long time. His body is just not working, and it’s shutting down little by little. They say he doesn’t have long to be here with us, but as he has said and showed countless people before, we have an eternity to be together. That is because of the message that we have devoted our lives to. I unashamedly say that Jesus is my Lord and Savior and when this body that houses us wears out (and it will sooner or later for all of us) we have hope because of Jesus! You may not agree with me, and that’s okay, but I hope you will someday run into a Steve Klopp and see what it’s like to experience the love of God.

Please join me in praying for my friend, brother, fellow rocker and his family during this difficult time. Steve, Brother, you are amazing, and I have always looked up to you for being the man God asked you to be. Please know that you have made a huge impact on this world for Christ! And you are so very much loved! Rock on Bro here, there, or in the air!

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How It All Started?

So, this week on the 10th of August, I mark 26 years of being married to my best friend. Every year around this time Chrissy and I get asked the question, “How did you two meet?” For this week I thought I would share how we got to where we are.

It actually started 30 years ago.

If Chrissy was telling the story, which she will add her two cents into this before it’s all said and done, this is how she would say it all started…

Chrissy attended a concert that a group of youth put on called “Rock to Reach.” I was a part of this group. Chrissy was also, but we really didn’t know each other. At this concert there were three acts– two local openers followed by a somewhat big-name band. The first act was a group that I started called “The Live Wires For Christ.” We were a vocal group that used backtracks to sing along to. I have to say that we had some of the smoothest group choreography of any conservative Christian kids in the 80’s. We thought we were the bomb-diggity. So, after we performed, we would stand at our table in the hall, available to talk to our fans. Thinking back to all that just cracks me up that we thought we had fans. We even had black and white 8×10’s of the group that we autographed and gave away.

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So, as Chrissy would say, there was this one very cute guy and another guy that was just so full of himself. Chrissy thought the second guy had an way over-inflated ego, yeah well… that was me. The cute guy was my best friend at the time. Well. As the story goes, Chrissy didn’t want to have anything to do with me that night we first met.

Fast forward to four months when our youth group held a Christian skate night at Great Skate.

Side note: This youth group we were in had no adult sponsors. We were made up of a group of Christian teens who wanted to make an impact in our community for Jesus. It was called S.O.S. (Sword of Salvation). We held all kinds of outreach events and concerts.

At the skate night, I was there with my friend best friend, Sam. I loved to skate– if you needed to find me on a Saturday morning, you would find me at the rink. I was pretty good at skating, and Sam, well he could just about stay on his feet. That night there was a couples skate. This was when they slow the tunes down, and only couples would be on the skating floor. This was the time when you could ask a girl or a boy that you may be crushing on to skate with you. Most time you got to at least hold their hand as you skated around. I had just came off the floor when this little girl came up to me and asked Sam if he would skate with her friend. Then she turned to me and said, “Will you skate with me?” So Sam accepted first, and I looked at this little girl and thought, sure why not, what would it hurt? She looked like she was 10 years old. So I skated around with her. As we skated, I found out that she was actually 14 and was in middle school. She was very sweet and funny. When we were done, she gave me a paper with her phone number on it and said, “My name is Carla” as she cracked her bubble gum and smiled at me in a very flirtatious way. Then she said in a high-pitched squeaky voice, “Call me some time, sweetie!” Her friend (Chrissy) exchanged numbers with my friend, Sam.

I thought she was way too young for me to be serious. So, perhaps we could be friends. After all, I had just turned 17. That was a big age difference back then.

Side note: It’s funny how the older you get, the gap in age doesn’t seem that big of a deal. It actually seems more common than not.

Carla who lived like 20 miles from me and she went to a school a few towns over. So, we got to know each other through phone conversations. But Sam and Chrissy’s phone numbers were long distance from each other, so they couldn’t talk as much. See we didn’t have cell phones back then and for our home phone, we had to pay for long distance calls, and they were actually pretty expensive. So, I could call Carla and give a message to her for Chrissy from Sam. This worked fine for a while, but Carla seemed to always be getting in trouble with her parents, and they would take her phone privileges away. That caused me to call Chrissy directly, and then she became the messenger to Carla.

Over the next few months, Chrissy and I became really good friends. We talked almost everyday after school, even if we didn’t have a message to pass along.

Fast forward again. Our group youth group was bringing in a band called “Bash’n the Code.” Chrissy was there, and so was Sam. It was April 17th 1987. (This is the date we consider our anniversary for starting our relationship.) At this time I was beginning to realize that I really liked Chrissy. So, I wanted to make sure she knew I existed. While I was taking every opportunity to flirt with her, I thought that I would be funny and pull her chair out from under her as she sat down. I planned to catch her, but this was one of those times in my life that a prank went wrong. I didn’t get in position to make the catch. She fell to the ground and smacked the back of her head on brick floor. (Which she says she still has an indentation in her head to this day.) I felt horrible. I thought all chances of her liking me more than a friend were totally over. I was in the “Friend Zone,” and I just gave my friend a lump on her head!

But the night was not over. As Chrissy tells it she and Sam went for a walk out on a playground, and he tried to kiss her. Yeah. I think it had a worse impact than me pulling the chair out from under her. So I was back in the game! You have to understand there was really no bro code, so it was all good.

The four of us made plans to hang out together at Chrissy’s house one weekend. The telephone games were getting old for both Chrissy and I, but we still hung out this weekend. At one time when Chrissy and I were playing with the soccer ball, she kicked it into some lilac bushes in her yard. When she ran behind them to get the ball, I followed and as she turned to come out, she ran right into me. Face to face, and I went in for the kiss, and it was received pretty well because she kissed me back. It made things a bit awkward the rest of the day because we were now both very aware that we liked each other.

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At some point my parents came to pick me up at her house. That was when the unspeakable happened for both Chrissy and I. My parents said, “What is Chrissy’s mom’s name? I said, “Jo.” They me if it could be Jo Cott? I said, “I don’t know, why?” They then got out of the car. This was not good for a teenagers reputation. My parents wanted to be introduced, so I did, and as it turns out, Chrissy’s mom knew my parents from years before. Chrissy’s mom loves this part of our story, because we found out that she uses to babysit me when I was a baby. So she likes to tell everyone, even to this day, that she changed my diapers! Talk about humiliation for Chrissy and I both!

Then our parents made plans to get together when they were camping at a place called Kettle Creek.

We met up with them, my family and Chrissy’s family all together. Chrissy and I decided to go for a walk and talk. We decided we needed to be sure we were definitely sure about what we felt when we kissed the first time, so we did again. Because our feelings were confirmed, we talked about what to do about Carla and Sam? As it goes, we each respectfully broke it off with them, and we decided to go steady.

There are many stories to tell from the 4 years that we dated. Like the time she through a plastic bottle of nail polish remover at me, which cut my forehead wide open. She got sent to her room for that one. Then you have the marriage proposal. Chrissy got so mad at me for being late to pick her up. I really wasn’t late; I was just down the street taking pictures of her because I was getting ready to ask her to marry me, and I wanted the area to clear out. But the one story that I love to tell is the first time I told her I was going to marry her. It was after we had been going out for a month. I felt so sure of myself that I looked at Chrissy one day and I said this: (Wait, you should know that at this time I was 17 and she was one month from being 14. Okay, so she was 13.)

I looked deep into her gorgeous brown eyes and said, “Someday I will marry you, and you will be my wife! She smiled at me, then started to laugh. She said, “Yeah, right.” And then she walked away.

30 years later, she is my best friend, my soulmate and my wife. We have been though a lot over the years. With each challenge that has come our way, I thank God that it was you that I was able to walk through it with. You are one of the most creative and fun people I have ever known, together we are a blast. Love you, Chrissy Hunter!

I should have ran off with the circus when I was 5!

The other day when Chrissy and I went to the fair we saw a booth for bounce houses and other cool inflatables. So, I naturally picked up a brochure of their products and services. There were all kinds of inflatables– obstacle courses, Velcro walls, jousting, and themed bounce houses. They had tons to choose from!

If you’re around me for any prolonged length of time you will figure out that I love inflatables. Somewhere deep in me I have the makings of a carnival worker, or at least someone who works or performs in a circus. If I’m getting raw and real here, I will let you in on a secret. Don’t tell anyone though. I think perhaps I should have ran off with the circus when I was 5.

I remember my dad getting me up super early when the circus would come to Williamsport. He would take me down to where the circus would set up. It was right next to the railroad tracks. The circus train would come in, stop, and unload right there. When we would arrive, often the fog would be just lifting and you could hear the men calling out to one another, laying out the huge tent that soon would become the “Big Top” of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Thinking back forty plus years ago, I remember sitting on the dike next to the Lycoming Creek with dad, my sleepy eyes trying to focus on what was happening in the field. Once the tent was spread out and laced, a line of big men would hoist up a humongous pole to their shoulders and make their way in under the tent to place the main support beams.

Then, my favorite part was coming. My dad grabbed my small hand and led me down the incline of the dike into the green, grassy field. We slowly walked trough the field closer to the action, to have a better viewing spot for what would take place next.

With my eyes wide and my mouth wide open, an exciting electricity flowed though my entire being that my small 5-year old body could hardly contain. My dad hoisted me up on his strong, wide shoulders and sat me there, so I wouldn’t miss anything that was happening.

Just then, I heard the trumpeting and felt the ground shake a bit. Out of the fog came the huge white-tusked elephants. Their enormous ears flapping back and forth, and their trunks swinging from side to side, they majestically walked alongside their trainers.

I remember seeing one of the beasts lay its trunk on the shoulder of its trainers as if to say, “Hi, I’m with you.” The man reached across his body and gently patted the elephant’s trunk, looking over his shoulder into its eyes and seemed to speak kindly to it.

I recall each one having a special harness on as they moved past me. Their fire hose like trunks would swing to and fro, grabbing grass along the way as they moved into place. When the trainer told them to stop, they obeyed immediately. The huge pachyderms knelt down instinctively knowing what they were there to do. Each handler hooked up a large ropey strap to an elephant, all the while lovingly encouraging and gently praising the animal.

Then it was time for the magic. With one loud shout from the head man, the elephants all stood up and with their trainers at their side started to methodically walk effortlessly forward, They moved in sync slowly, and as they did, the tent rose to the top of the poles, kissing the sky. I have always loved the circus from that day forward.

The sad part is that if I did steal away with the circus that day, I now would be out of a job with the recent closing of the Greatest Show on Earth. That does make me sad to think about. This show brought wonder, excitement, and even a bit of magic to town. It always made me feel like a kid again, no matter my age.

So the family story I have may not seem too surprising, but then again, we are the Hunter Clan– nothing is ever too easy or dull.

Over the years, I have rented these inflatables for various events, and I have always thought it would be great to own one. I never really did anything with it. Then one year I was working on an annual church event called Trunk or Treat. This is a Halloween trick or treating alternative, where kids get to safely trick or treat out of trunks of cars that are hosted and decorated by a group or organization. At my Trunk or Treats, I always like to have a little more for those attending to do than just walking around asking for treats. So, sometimes I have been known to have games or food for those attending.

One year we did a superhero theme, and I had seen a huge, inflatable slide obstacle course that looked like Superman. The front of it was Superman standing in his classic superhero pose, then alongside of him was this huge slide– it was something like 16 feet. So this thing was big; unfortunately, so was the price tag to rent it. I’m pretty sure it was close to $700.00. These things were not cheap.

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After renting that one, I got to thinking… I wonder how much it would be to buy a used unit like this? So, I started to do some research on the web to see if there were used units out there that I could buy. Well, it just so happens that there are inflatables out there, and incidentally they only cost a bit more to buy then what you rent them for.

So, I thought ‘tis maybe an option someday. Just imagine if I owed my own inflatable. That would just be so cool! I started to do the math. How many rentals would I have to have to do to break even on this? 4 or 5 maybe?

Like most great ideas that I have, but I don’t have the finances for, I put it on the backburner. Then, I had another event that I needed to have an inflatable at something like camp or VBS. That is when it really hit me that I could be saving my ministry amazing amounts of money that could be used in other ways to reach kids for Jesus. So, I when back to my computer and started the search process again. I remember looking on eBay and finding a nice variety of inflatables. Then I saw this one that was simply put– Awesome! It was a huge slide shaped like a parrot. I called Chrissy over, and said, “You have to check this out! She came over and as she usually does when she knows I’m onto some crazy idea she looked at it and said, “That’s nice. What would you do with that?”

That’s all I needed. I told her all my great ideas and uses for this inflatable. I told her how we could use it for ministry and to bring in a little extra cash at times. Then she asked how much is it? I said, “Look it’s only $1200.00! Then she said, “What’s wrong with it?” I said, “Nothing!” I knew at this point I almost had her. I was on the verge of my dream becoming a reality. I was so close that I could smell the popcorn and cotton candy of the carnival.

 

“How big is it?” she asked.

I said, “25 feet tall! It’s giant!”

Well, she said, “That is big! How big is that?”

She’s not always that good at judging how big things are when you say it in feet. So, I told her it was bigger than our house! We lived in a ranch style house at the time.

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“How much do you think we could rent it for?” She asked. I said, “I don’t know. The one slide I rented was $700.00, but I would not want to charge that much, especially to churches!

She said, “Well, let’s see what we have in savings.”

So, we looked and thought we could do it. I went a ahead and bought it. Now one thing you should always do if you are shopping on eBay is look at the shipping price before you bid. Now, this was not my first rodeo with eBay, but we were so excited that we forgot to look at the shipping costs. We just made sure this was not a pick-up only kind of thing.

We were so very ecstatic that we were going to get this amazing parrot inflatable and all we were going to be able to do with it. This was a dream come true!

Then the seller messaged us, and asked how we would be shipping. What? The seller takes care of shipping, not the buyer! Then I dug into the post a little closer, and I saw that the buyer would be responsible for arranging shipping for the inflatable. I looked at Chrissy and said, “Awwww… no problem we will just use UPS, and have them ship it.

So I started make inquiries about shipping our parrot, only to come to find out that an 800 pound heavy duty vinyl inflatable would be very expensive to ship. So, I told the seller that it would take us a bit to figure out the shipping, but we would take care of it.

You may have seen the show Shipping Wars? Well, that was what I discovered online way before the reality tv show was a thought. I put my item up, and potential shippers started to bid on handling my package.

I was still not happy with the results. In the end, our shipping cost was almost the same as what we paid for the inflatable. It was the best price we had gotten though. After talking it through, we still thought it was worth it so, we moved forward with shipping it.

The next bump was that the shipper needed it to be on a skid and shrink-wrapped. The buyer didn’t even want to help with finding a skid. I did pay a little extra for a lift gate on both ends of the shipping. I thought that would help a bit. From what the seller said, the driver was not happy about any of it. But, if you watch the shipping wars show, the drivers never are happy about any of the jobs.

I somewhat understood a bit when it finally reached our house from California. The seller had this thing rolled up in the most inefficient way. It came looking like a wrestling mat. It was about 12 feet long and about 2 ½ feet high. The truck that it came on for some reason didn’t have the lift gate, so the driver went back and changed the load to a lift gate truck but failed to bring a lift jack to take it off the truck and gate. So, I was told I needed to come to the depot and pick it up.

So, Chrissy, the kids and I borrowed a trailer, hooked it up to our full-size conversion van and went to ABF to get our parrot. We got there and they finally found our package– it was really hard to miss. They used a forklift to load it on the trailer. I signed for it, and we were headed home.

We got home and all of us worked together to get it off the trailer. Then we unrolled it in the driveway and called a few of our friends to come over and try out our new slide. As soon as I started to inflate it in the driveway, we attracted the attention of neighborhood kids we didn’t even know existed on our street. They stood at the end of the driveway to see this spectacle, hoping for an invite to slide down our mammoth bird. This was the biggest bird I had ever seen, let alone the largest inflatable. We set up lights in the driveway and played on this thing far into the night. Everyone loved it and had a blast!

The next day, we needed to figure out how to fold it and roll it into a smaller, more compact manner than it came in. After a few tries, we finally achieved a roll that looked like a red and blue super-sized burrito. It sat about 3 foot wide and 4 foot long. It was heavy! This is when we discovered the amazing uses of ratchet straps.

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Side Note: It didn’t take too long for us to figure out we needed heavy duty straps to hold it all together. We used a furniture dollie to make it easy to move in and out of the garage.

Last thing we needed to get our big bird ready to rent was a trailer, and Chrissy found one off of…Guess where? Yup, you guessed it, eBay! This time we made sure to check the shipping. Actually we just traveled a little ways to pick this up.

Chrissy was very smart on picking a trailer for our bird. It was a tip trailer, and it had hand crank winch. We would hook the parrot up and crack away pulling the inflatable up on the tilted trailer. When it reached the tipping point, the trailer would come down flat, and we would strap her on.

We have had our share of adventures with this huge bird. We even rented it to a famous rapping celebrity who lived close to us. He wanted his kids to play on it one afternoon, so he rented it from us. I had to sign a disclosure, so I can’t tell you who he was. I can tell you that I didn’t get his name quite right when I told Chrissy who he was. I asked her if she had ever heard of a guy named Art Kelly. She hadn’t.

Even though we had a bit of a rough start in the beginning, the parrot paid for itself and even help fund a mission trip or two.

Never give up on the dreams that God plants deep in you. If you truly believe He can bring it about, it may just happen sometime in the strangest of ways. Some of those dreams are even passed on and come to being in our kids’ lives. For example think about David and Solomon with the temple. Keep dreaming and believing in the impossible, and wait to see what happens.

Our Candy Rocks

When the kids were young, we always tried to instill in them values that we felt were important. Like having integrity, honesty, gratitude, generosity, honor, self control, conviction, hope, love, respect, and responsibility. Just to name a few.

We also thought it was important to have creativity, ingenuity, and persistence. Always think outside of the box, use critical thinking. You should constantly be on the look out for opportunities to make our world a better place, give a hand up to those in need, and use the gifts God has given us.

We wanted our kids to have opportunities to flourish and make a difference. Lastly, we showed them how to be entrepreneurs.

One year, Chrissy and I decided we were going to teach the kids how to have a business and run it. As a family we decided that we all wanted to go on a mission trip. We wanted to go to Honduras with World Compassion Network. This was a mission we had come to know about and loved supporting. They do a number of mission venues from local to international.

Our favorite was the Family 2 Family Boxes. This was a small Rubbermaid box that you filled with specific things like rice, dried beans, soap, a hand towel, and a few other things. Then you brought the box to church, and it was shipped to Honduras to be handed out to families in need. The coolest part of this was that you could go on a mission trip to hand out the boxes.

Instead of just handing out the boxes, WCN works hard to find credible local churches and pastors to arrange distributions to families in need. Then, when we go to hand out the boxes the local church, the church or pastor gets the credit for helping the community in need, not the North Americans who helped pass the boxes out. This helps to build the church in that community, rather than fostering dependence on WCN.

Most of the boxes are given to families that don’t attend the church, but are members of that church’s community. I almost forgot– these boxes would feed a family of four for about 2-3 weeks. That is pretty incredible, if you ask me.

We wanted to take our kids and go do this all together. Ben and I had just gone the year before, and it was a life-changing experience for both of us. Now, Chrissy and I wanted our whole family to experience this. The issue that we faced was that it was going to cost over $10,000 for our family of six to go.

Chrissy and I also wanted to take the kids on a vacation in the next year, one that they would remember for years to come. Up until this point the kids thought that vacations were just things that they gave away at the radio station. To do both things, we would need to come up with some serious money.

So, we sat the kids down and shared our hopes with them. We thought this would be a great learning experience for them. We shared what we would like to do, and they were all on board with it. The next part was how to get the money. We have always taught the kids and believed ourselves that if God wants something to happen, the doors will open, and a way will be made. We might need to do some work, and it may take some faith in getting there. We just need to be faithful.

So we asked the kids for some ideas we could do to raise money for the mission trip. Someone suggested writing letters for support. We said, “Ok, what else?” Silas suggested collecting aluminum cans and getting money for recycling. (Which he ended up doing for hours and hours with a family friend and his truck.) What else? Someone said, “Maybe we could start a business.” I said, “What kind of business?” Someone came up with the idea of sandy candy. This was a colorful candy that looked just like sand art, but you could eat it. I said, “Okay, let’s put together a business plan, and see if we can do this.”

That was exactly what we did. We saved up some seed money and then invested it in this business. We decided that we would hit the festival circuit. Every town around where we lived had festivals. So we would rent a space, and the kids would sell their sandy candy. Each of them had a job to do. We had 2 people who would handle helping the customers make their edible art project, then we had two callers who would bring people into the stand. They would introduce people to the products and bring them over to the stand, then the table people would close the deal. Chrissy’s job was to be the money and business manager. When someone needed a break, Chrissy or I would fill in.

Most of the fests were 3-day events– Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I was not always able to help with the stand, with me being a pastor those were days that I worked and had to be available for services.

The kids would take turns at each job so no one got bored with what they were doing. It became evident to us who was gifted in which areas. Ben and Tori were great at helping the customers and closing the deal. Jonah and Silas– they were amazing callers. It did help that they both were really cute. Si was about 9, and Jonah was around 11. So, the cuteness factor did help.

Our first fest nearly wiped us out and closed us for good. The town we had booked was known for having a population of healthy eaters. No one wanted their kids to have sugar. Then during the night a tornado came through nearby the fair grounds, and many of the vendors tents and boots were destroyed–including the Candy Rocks tent (that was us!). Our brand new, heavy-duty pop-up canopy was twisted and mangled and ended up a row or two over.

Fortunately, we always took the product and tables down when we left for the evening. The tent was a huge expense for us, but we needed to have it. So, we went out and bought another tent with the money we just made the day before. If we hadn’t booked other events we probably would have ended the business all together. But that is not how the story goes, because that would be just boring.

So as we peddled our candy to people, we started to make some money. The kids started to get into a rhythm. That’s right, we had successfully become a carney family.

The kids came up with competitions to see who could sell the most in an hour or, who could get the most compliments. Not only was this business profitable, it was also a great learning tool. Our kids then started to figure out the best times of the day that sales would increase, and they noticed the best locations to have our stand located in the festivals.

You would never guess where the best spot was. You might think near kids’ activities or other dessert foods. And you would be wrong on both accounts. The very best place to be was directly across from the Beer Garden exits. (At most of the festivals, this was the only area that people were able to buy alcoholic drinks, hence the name “Beer Garden.”)

When people would come out of the beer area, they would often be looking for something sweet to eat, and guess what stand they would stumble over to? That’s right they would come right over to Candy Rocks. It’s surprising how much people who have been drinking will spend on something sweet. Now, you may be saying that’s not right, you were taking advantage of them. We just thought if they weren’t buying our candy, they would be spending money somewhere else. So, why not spend it at our stand?

Maybe it was a bit unfair, because the kids would give a little sample of the candy crack to them in their hand, and then instruct them to eat it. Silas was the best at this part, as they were licking the candy from their hand, he would look at them and very excitedly say “Now, that’s good stuff, isn’t it?” Almost 100% of the time, they would agree with him, and then, without missing a beat he would say, “Follow me over here, and we’ll get you some more.” And they would follow him to the table and buy pretty much whatever he suggested. Crazy!

We did have our share of experiences that were just weird, but too funny not to tell. Like the time we had borrowed a few costumes from a friend. These we costumes that you would normally have to rent. They were high-end mascot costumes.

The kids thought it would be fun to dress up in costumes, and let people take their picture with them. So one of the costumes we had was “Dora, the Explorer.” We thought this would also give the kids an opportunity to practice their Spanish if the opportunity presented itself.

We took the costume with the intent of the kids taking turns in it. Well as it happened, the costume only really fit Jonah well. So, the other kids took turns escorting Jonah up and down our row, meeting tons of people. Jonah loved to be in the costume, because it gave him the opportunity to be as silly as he wanted to be, without anyone knowing who it really was.

He would take breaks to cool down and get refreshed. Then when he was ready, he would suit back up and go meet more people.

As different 80’s bands hit the stage, Dora/Jonah would bust a move. Sometimes he would be dancing with kids, at other times with senior citizens. Some of the funniest people he danced with were the big biker guys who were a bit toasty. As they played and danced with Dora, they were always very respectful and kind.

The one story that has been told over and over was as one evening the beer garden was closing, and everyone was coming out. Jonah was standing out in front of the stand in the Dora costume. Up walks a lady and says “Hola, Dora! Will you be my friend? “She started to have this long drawn out conversation with Dora, while Dora/Jonah just stood there, nodding and gesturing.

Then the lady started to pat herself down, looking for something. She frantically looked in purse, then looked at Dora and said, “Dora, do you know where my keys are?” Then she asked Dora to help her find them. It really was pretty comical. Especially watching Jonah handle the situation.

I may be mistaken, but I believe we helped the lady get to security, and they helped her from that point on. Before leaving, the lady gave Dora a big hug and thanked her for being her friend. No matter what the situation was, we tried to have fun with it.

The kids learned a lot that year, and they raised enough money to go on the mission trip with the help and support of others.

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The following summer, we did the same thing, and this time the goal was to go on an amazing vacation that we all worked really hard for. We made enough money to take everyone to Disney World.

Overall, it was a great experience for the kids and us. Even today we still have a small side business called Tyes of Hope. We help people create their very own wearable works of art. We let people create their own tye dye t-shirts.

We can do all types of events from parties to customer-appreciation events. Big or small, we can tye dye at them all. We can even have a custom logo printed on the shirt before you create your fashion memory.

We have decided that we want to go back to Honduras in the summer of 2018, so we are looking to open our schedules for more bookings. And yes, we do fundraisers too.

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Looking back, it’s amazing to think of all our family has done and experienced, and it’s really cool to see how God has made a way for us to do the things He has put on our hearts.

 

 

Butch -VS- the Jet Ski

We live on a lake channel, so summer means we get to play on the lake. This week we were able to get our pontoon cleaned up from winter storage and have all the necessary repairs done that were needed. We put the boat in and docked it at our pier. It’s ready to go for all the adventures we want to have out on the lake.

To let you know, we are new to this whole boat ownership thing and navigating on the lake. We have had a small bass boat, but having a 24’ pontoon is a little different- mostly in steering it. So, when we’re on the lake, this thing will not turn on a dime.

The lake we live on is normally very busy with all types of watercraft. We see it all from speedboats pulling tubes, to the sail boats that glide effortlessly across the lake, as well as personal watercraft: jet skis, waverunner’s, and so on. Being on the lake means you need to be aware of all these, which way they are going and anticipating what they will do next.

Out of all the watercraft we encounter, my least favorite is the jet ski. These drivers tend to go wherever they want. When traveling on the water, most people follow a pattern, like lanes on a road. For some reason, the jet skis just seem to make it up as they go, and in my experience, can be very unpredictable.

I think I have a healthy respect for jet skis and how powerful they can be. I also know how fun they can be. You can be riding along jumping wakes, then racing like you’re going through a slalom course. Then all of a sudden, you are under water, off your craft, treading water, and trying to get your bearings.

Once you clear your eyes, you try to look for your jet ski. Hopefully, it isn’t flipped over and taking on water. I’m really not sure if they would sink without some sort of damage, but I have had one flip and take on enough water to make it difficult to flip it back to right side up.

So, in my experience they can be… well, let’s just say you need to be careful with them.

The best days on the lakes are those that have little to no wind and there’s not a whole lot of traffic. The sun is shining, and the water is smooth as ice. It doesn’t matter what your watercraft is. It just seems to glide along.

One of my first encounters with lake life was when our family was invited to go on a weekend getaway in upper Michigan, just outside of Kalamazoo. At that time I guess we were what we have come to label people who visit the lake area and then leave as “Lakers.” We were there just for the weekend, a few short days to have fun and relax.

Up to this point, I had never really driven or rode a jet ski. I had done motorcycles and dirt bikes, snowmobiles and other fun land motorsports, but not water. How hard could it be? Right? Famous last words.

So, our friends gave us a crash course on how to use these jet skis, then they took us out on them and we switched places. Kind of the whole hands-on teaching approach. We learned the do’s and don’ts, where we could go in the lake, and where not to go.

I passed the test. We were able to use the jet skis. Once I had the hang of the basics, my friend showed me how to have some fun by jumping your wake and doing power slides. I actually picked it up quickly. It was a lot like riding a dirt bike. We played for hours on these super cool machines. The lake was mostly empty, so we didn’t have to worry about other boats. We could do what we wanted, where we wanted. Then the day was turning into night, and it was time to come in off the lake for the day.

At dinner I asked if there would be any issue if I took a jet ski out in the morning with Tori? She had not had a chance to be on with me, so I wanted to be sure we were able to ride together. They said, “Sure, no problem.”

When next morning came Tori and I got our breakfast. My friend was up too. He said he would help us get the jet ski ready to go out.

Side Note: Tori was about 10 at this time. I was her hero; in her mind, it seemed that I was capable of all the things that Mr. Incredible could do. Yeah, I was pretty great then she became a young adult, and I’m no longer the incredible guy I once was. But, I know someday I will be pretty super again.

So we donned our life jackets, and I saddled up. I slid to the front and reached back to help Tori on. She wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed as she had done countless times before on my motorcycle. Tori was my biker babe– if the motorcycle was out of the garage, and mom wasn’t on the back, it was Tori fighting for the seat.

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We slowly accelerated out onto the lake. The sun was shining, and the water was perfect. It was as smooth as glass. There were a few fishing boats out, but nothing that we would bother or would bother us.

I told Tori, this is just like the bike, lean when I lean, and in the same direction that I lean. She said “Okay.” I told her if you fall off, just wave your hands in the air, and I’ll come back to get you. She said, “Got it Dad, now let’s get going!”

I took my time getting reacquainted the machine and having Tori on the back. I did a few things that I had been showed. With each thing, I asked Tori if she was ready to try it. I wanted to be sure this would be a good experience for her and create fun memories of us together.

The lake started to come to life and more boats started to appear. It made me a bit nervous, so I asked Tori if she was up to exploring the lake a little further away and she agreed. So, we went all around the lake exploring the different inlets, and going around to all the islands that were separating the lake into different parts. Finally, we came on to this one little bay-like area that was deserted. It had a few houses and cottages on it, but they were far apart. I said “Let’s have some fun!” and I started going in circles creating big waves. I would then go outside of them and gun it and go over the wave we created. We would fly over the wave in the air and come crashing down to take another run at it. We would laugh harder each time. Then I decided to try and do a powerslide and whip the Jet Ski around to go the opposite direction. I explained what I was going to attempt to Tori, and she was up for it.

We got some speed up, and then I stood up and shifted my weight and turned the handlebars as quickly as I could and gave some gas. We created a huge spray and wave. Tori was giggling. So I said, “Want to go again?” She was like, “Yea, yea, do it again!” So, I repeated the same maneuver. This time as I stood up to shift my weight and turn, Tori must have felt like I was leaning too much, and she shifted her weight opposite of me. This sent us flying through the air and into the water. I remember hitting the water and then opening my eyes under the water. I was in way over my head. I swam towards the surface. Having the life jacket on increased how fast I surfaced. On the way up, I looked for my daughter. Not seeing her, I felt panic set in as if my heart wasn’t racing enough already.

I came up out of the water and gasped for a breath, then yelled, “Tori! Tori! Where are you?” Then I heard her voice as she shouted over on the other side. The jet ski had flipped and was sitting between us. As I swam to her, I asked, “Are you ok?” She said, “Yea!” As I got to her, we looked at each other and laughed. I said, “Wow, that was crazy!” She said, “It sure was!”

Now that I knew she was fine, I turned to try and get the jet ski righted. I said, “Ok, they told me what to do if this happened.” I reached all the way across the machine in the middle and grabbed the other side with all I had I pulled. It took a few times I’m sure I looked like a fishing bobber being tugged by a fish. I would get to rocking it, and almost get it then I would loose my grip. Finally, I did get it right side up.

The next part, well, that was the challenge that seemed to take forever. We needed to get back on. Now, it’s no secret that I have a bit of weight on me, and at this time I was pushing well over 200 lbs. Pulling oneself out of the water with a life vest strapped to you is no easy task, then add in that the Jet Ski was wet and slippery.

I would go from behind grab the handle and try to pull myself up, only to slip right back off. Then I thought, I’ll try it from the side, big mistake. I flipped it again. But this time, I did have it back up much quicker.

I thought maybe if Tori got on, it would stabilize it enough for me to get on. I got Tori on, but ended up knocking her back off again. I looked at my daughter and said, “Maybe we should swim it into shore and get on there. It was a good 1000 yards to shore; she looked at me and said emphatically, “No!”

By now, about 30 minutes had passed since we flipped. We both were getting tired. I saw in her face that she was not doing well and losing faith in me. So, I said a quick prayer, moved behind the jet ski and put my knees on the back and stretched as far as I could grabbing the handles. The back started to go under the water. Just then I heard a chirping noise and felt a boost up onto the jet ski, it was Flipper! Just kidding! There was no boost, but I did manage to get on the thing.

I then gave Tori very specific instructions on what to do. I stood up to provide counter weight and balanced as she pulled herself up and on . It was really like someone gave her a boost on.

We both breathed deep and thanked God, and I hit the start button. It fired right up. I remember looking back at her saying, “Let’s take it slow and head back. Is that ok with you?” She shook her head yes, and we started back. I said, “We may want to keep this to ourselves.” She looked at me, and said, “No, it was too awesome to do that.” And we both laughed.

This was a scary but fun experience. It really prepared us for some of the future adventures we would have together. Like getting lost under Chicago. Yes under Chicago. We were trying to get to a Family Force 5 concert and got ourselves lost down in the underground streets that run under the city of Chicago.

Still, trust is the big lesson here. Without trust, you have little to nothing. On this day we learned to trust each other at a new deeper level. When trust is broken, it takes awhile to be repaired, but it can be repaired, if both parties choose to forgive and move forward. This is what Jesus does all the time with us. If he can do that for me, I should be willing to try and do it for others.

The #1 Requested Campfire Story

This past week was one of my most favorite parts of what I get to do as a Pastor; I was at camp! Camp is the one week a year I get to build deep relationships with the kids that I minister to throughout the year. It usually takes a year or more for me to plan a great week of camp. Each day is jam-packed with worship, lessons, and the crazy games that you would anticipate at camp. I have tried hard over the last 20 years to keep the theme and everything else. down to the games we play, fresh and original. I have tried not to reuse or recycle these activities. One thing I do find myself recycling every so many years is our campfire stories. Some of what I have written and will be writing on my blog originated as campfire stories.

When I have repeat campers, I don’t get away with not telling one particular story. This story is usually requested by the repeat kids who have signed up months in advance. It is one of my favorite stories to tell, so most times I tell the kids that I will try to work the story in. This year was no different, so at campfire, I told this story.

Years ago, we lived in Maryland. We were attending Bible college, so we lived on campus in the married student housing. We lived in the bottom apartment of the unit. We had come to find out that at one time this building had been a large chicken coop. That was comforting to know that someone was very creative with their student housing.

When we arrived on campus, we moved our 3 children and all our stuff into the apartment. Over the the years, with 3 kids, we had somehow accumulated a lot of stuff. One benefit that we had was that we were able to store stuff in an outside shed behind the apartments. The shed sat about 50 feet out at the back edge of the yard. Behind the shed, there was a field overgrown with grass and weeds.

So, as we found out the hard way, the shed was not critter proof. Whatever we kept in there had to be able to which stand whatever would come in from the yard or field around the shed.

Every once in while, we would need something from the shed. So, when we did, I would go out and and try to find whatever it was. It really was not a big shed. It may have been about 6 foot wide by 8 foot deep. That did not stop us from filling it from back to front.

One day in the middle of July, Chrissy told me that she needed something from the shed. I remember this day very well. It was a Wednesday around 10am. I was doing something outside in the back yard, the kids were playing inside the house because it was already hot outside. So, Chrissy came out the back door and asked me to get something from a filing cabinet that we had in the shed. I moaned and threw an adult fit about getting it, but eventually I agreed to do it.

I walked over to the shed, grumbling the entire time and opened the door to the jam-packed shed. As I stared at the mountain of junk we had, I then realized that the cabinet was all the way at the back of the shed. I really didn’t want to clean this monster out on this sweltering day let alone any other day. So, I decided to do this the lazy way.

I moved a few things out into the yard, then I started to play Tetris with the boxes and toys. I piled some things up higher, and then I would carefully stand in the small area I just cleared. I did this over and over again, zigzagging my way though the shed.

I really didn’t realize that I was blocking myself into the shed the deeper I moved in. The sweat started running down my face as I finally reached the back of the shed. I dug out a small space to open the cabinet and retrieve what I was asked to get. Closing the cabinet, I started to unpile the stuff, carefully putting everything back right where I had removed it from, and if I could get the stacks tighter or straighter I did it. I had everything that was at the back all neatly back in place with room to spare. Honestly, I was feeling pretty accomplished at this moment.

This is when I felt like I was being watched from behind. I slowly turned and looking out the doors I could see that no one was in the yard. Then I focused closer to me and saw it. It was about 30 inches from me looking right at me, with its little beady eyes. Right at the same level of my face, it laid there watching me.

Side note: Most people who know me know that I have a healthy fear of snakes. I have worked courageously to overcome my fear for years now. So much that one year for our anniversary, Chrissy and I took the kids to a small circus and afterwards had our picture taken with an albino python that was about 20 foot long. Chrissy said we had to do something amazing for our special day. So, I obliged her and sucked up my fear and held a part of the snake for a picture. I have one word for it, yuck!

Yes, it was a snake in the shed with me! It was humongous! It was about 12 feet long and as thick as a fire hose– the big kind! It opened its mouth, revealing short pointy fangs dripping with venom. Right then I knew it was facing an Anaconda! I was so in trouble! I immediately evaluated my situation. I had blocked any possible escape route. So I could either become the Incredible Hulk and bust out the back of the shed or just turn green and grab the thing by the head and rip it to shreds. Seeing that I was not David Banner, that option was out. Then I quickly thought if I could create a diversion, I just may make it past it with out it noticing. Then I came to my senses and resolved that this could be the day that I meet Jesus. Now mind you that this all happened within a few moments of the beast arriving.

So, I did what every other grown man would do that had a huge fear of snakes I screamed like a little girl! I screamed out help! Help me, please! It was all for not! No one was out there to come to my rescue. I kept hoping one of my kids would wander outside to see what amazing things dad was up to, like they usually did, but not on this day. I stood there looking at the monster flicking its red tongue out at me then up and down. It was like a little hand waving at me trying to have me come closer, so it could get a taste of me. But I was not moving. I was scared stiff.

What seemed like hours past… I kept yelling, “Help!” It was just too hot on this day for any good Samaritans to pass by and help me with my plight. It was even too hot for a snake to be out in the sun. Instead, he would rather look for some human to torture with his presence in a shed. He was relentless. The more I yelled, the more he flicked his tongue.

I was dripping with sweat from being in the shed, and I’m sure from fear, as well. I looked around me for something I could grab to whack him with, but then I imagined myself knocking it to the floor and as I passed it latching on to my ankle. Now, it’s one thing to have Kankles, and it’s a totally different thing to have to go through life with snankles. I could see myself at a social get together and people staring at my feet as I drag along this thing stuck to my ankle. “Snankles are a serious issue people!” I would say, “Don’t judge me.” Yeah, whacking the snake, not a good Idea.

Finally, just when I was to give in to the mesmerizing tongue flicking and spinning hypnotic eyes of Kaa, I heard the back door of the house open. At that moment, I had a surge of adrenaline. I hear Chrissy yell from the porch, “Butch? Where are you? I could see her looking in my direction. That is when it happened– I opened my mouth to yell help, and nothing came out. The only sound I made was a weird breathy noise. No words at all. I tried again, and now it was like the snake was a bit bored with me. So, he had to do some thing to get my voice back.. it was more entertaining to have me yelling. So, he slithered back a bit all the while not losing eye contact with me. I freaked! Out came a noise that to this day is still indescribable. Chrissy heard it, and that was all that mattered. I think it made the snake happy too because he slid back into the position he was in before. I was like he was saying, “There ya go, you found your voice. Now dance and sing monkey!”

Chrissy slowly came off the porch, looking around like she was straining to see something in the dark. All the while asking where I was, and what was taking me so long, and if I had found whatever it was she needed, and would it be taking me much longer? When she finally made it to the opening of the shed, she peered in at me hands on her hips with a look of disgust on her face that I had kept her waiting. I looked at her with my eyes and looked down at the beast then again at her. Trying to communicate through eye movement.

Side Note: As parents, you become really good at making looks at each other that communicate things you need to say without using sounds at all. You know what I mean. It’s like the look everyone’s parents give them when they are in trouble. “The Look”

Well, that was not working because she was obviously blinded by the sun and could not see that if she made the slightest movement, she too would be in imminent danger of losing her life along with me. So I stuttered out the word sssnnaakke! She put her hand up to her forehead to see better, and that was when I screamed SNAKE!

Her face dropped like she had just been told there was a fire or something. Her eyes got huge and her mouth gapped open, before I could say anything else she was on the porch. Yelling out to me. What do you want me to do?

I’m sure this was exactly what the snake wanted. It lay there saying, “Oh, this is way better than I imagined– I have two humans going now! This is just way better than I ever expected! Woohoo!”

I yelled back to her I need you to clear a path for me! I’m trapped! She shook her head and said no way! I said you have to help me or I’m going to die! They you will be stuck raising all our kids by yourself. After taking a moment to consider that she said what do I need to do? I knew that would get her.

I told her to come over and slowly and carefully take things out of the shed to clear a path for me. Okay she said. She tiptoed over to the shed, reached into the shed, and pulled something out. She immediately squealed and tossed the item in the air and ran back to the porch and asked, “ Is it gone?” I said “Nope, still here. Come get something else!” She repeated the same action, as well as the question running to the porch each time she grabbed something. Piece by piece she moved things out, each time getting a bit closer to me. Still, the snake didn’t move. Finally she grabbed something, and it must have surprised the beast, or it finally really was bored of the game, because it turned around and slid down towards the floor. I immediately jumped up, grabbing the rafters of the shed, I brought my knees to my chest and swung myself back then forward, extending my legs like I was a karate fighter drop kicking someone. I cleared all the stuff. Gravity took me, but I’m not sure I ever placed foot on solid ground until I beat Chrissy to the porch.

She asked me a bunch of questions about the snake… what was it’s favorite foods, colors, when was it’s birthday etc. She said I was in there long enough that I should have known all that. I told her it was a snake, and I didn’t want to be friends! Then she had the gall to ask if I got what she needed, and I looked at her and said, “No, I’m sorry. I just was almost killed trying to get it.”

Later that day, after I recovered from my traumatic hostage situation, and when it wasn’t as hot, I cleaned out the shed and retrieved whatever it was Chrissy needed. My real motive was to see if I could find the snake and dispatch it. It would have made me feel better. I never did find it. I did learn about lots of things that day. Like fear, and that God is with you even when you don’t think He is. Over the years, I have been able to apply this to many things to describe the character of God and highlight His promises to us, and encourage many campers by doing so. Especially homesick campers.

I don’t know if Steve Erwin would have been proud or disappointed in me, but I tried my best to make the best out of a scary situation. Now, I just give God the glory for that little snake that has helped lots of kids overcome fear and have courage to trust that God loves you more than anyone, and that He wants the best for you.

Me overcoming my fears!Enlight9

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Honeymoon Paradise

So, twenty-six years ago, Chrissy and I were in full swing with wedding planning. Actually, it was mostly Chrissy’s mom with some input from Chrissy.  Anyway, at some point we thought, we need to plan a honeymoon.
We thought of amazing destinations where we could go. We dreamed of white sandy beaches in a tropical paradise. We would be in an adult only all-inclusive resort. You know the kind that has all the food you can eat and cabanas on the beach. The beach would have big palm trees, and there would definitely be a hammock strung between them. So, we thought Cancun would be great!
Then, we looked at the price, and thought well, that would be a nice dream vacation someday, but my full-time job as walk-off rug cleaner and part-time job as a stocker at Giant grocery store, plus running a professional photo studio on the side just didn’t cut it– even with adding Chrissy’s almost full-time job at Giant, it just wasn’t going to be enough. This was a dream.
So, we dreamed smaller and closer to a what-we-thought-we-might-get-in-wedding- gifts kind of budget. We thought and thought, and then a friend of mine at work, Mike Linn, told me of a place he took his family for vacation. This sounded like it might work. It was on a beach by the ocean. It was an island. We would be going in August, so somewhat tropical. And check this out, it had wild horse roaming the island freely! It was about 6 hours away from home, so we would definitely be getting away.  Perfect, I thought.
Side Note: I am from the mountains of Pennsylvania. I grew up hiking, fishing and camping… you know, your all around outdoors kind of stuff. I didn’t see any issues with doing whatever I had to, to make thing work.
So I took the idea of this tropical paradise to Chrissy. I told her it wasn’t Cancun, but it was like an adventure island paradise. The only thing was that there were no hotels. Thinking quickly, I said “It will be like our own little cabana on the beach, but it will just look more like a small dome tent.”
Side Note: I really don’t think I said that, but I wish I had– that would have been good!
So I told her about us camping on the beach, having a campfire with wild horses all around. I said, “It will be great, we’ll be able to go to sleep listening to the crashing waves of the ocean. I then told her the best part– it was a national park, so it was inexpensive! So cheap that we might be able to spend one night on the way back home in a hotel! I really think the horses got her, because she said yes!
How cool was this going to be! Honeymooning on the beach! I was so excited.
Our big day came,  and our first night being newlyweds we spent locally. Our wedding party went together and got us a room at a local fancy hotel. I think it was the new Sheriton Hotel in downtown Williamsport. Our plans were to open our wedding gifts the next day, and then head out on our adventure. I had the Subaru all packed and ready to go, we were off!
We had the tunes cranked, the sun in our faces, and the wind blowing through our hair, life was good! We pulled in to the park late that afternoon. We hiked our gear over a sand dune and picked a spot where we could see and hear the ocean, and that’s where we pitched our cozy bungalow for two. I remember it being hot! Not just a little warm, but humid, hot. The kind of hot that made you so sticky and nasty that you just didn’t want anyone to touch you. That is great for a honeymoon. Not really.
Sometime after we decided to go here, my parents reminded me that I had been here before when I was little. They also said something about watching out for the state bird, it was a real blood sucker? Yup– mosquitos! So, I being full of ingenuity, thought we just need a screen tent to go over our dome tent. That would keep the bugs at bay.
I also may have forgotten to mention that the park had showers, but no hot water, only cold. Not bad when you’re hot and toasty, but in the cooler morning air, it was a bit of a shock. Another thing that we didn’t anticipate was all the sand. That sounds really stupid, beach, sand… that’s what a beach is, it’s sand. Duh! So, we spent our honeymoon nights in our hot tent with sweaty bodies that were covered with sand that we just couldn’t seem to get off, and we tried to not touch each other. Because of the heat and dryness we couldn’t have a fire either. So much for a romantic paradise on this honeymoon.
As the days went by, we did create great memories together and had fun exploring the island by day and swimming in the ocean. We even went to the Ocean City Boardwalk. This is where Chrissy begged me to get one of those old fashion type pictures done. I had always dreamed of going there and getting t-shirts that said “I’m hers” and “He’s mine”. I know I’m corny that way, but instead of t-shirts, we got this dorky photo of us looking like we got married in the civil war era. If you look close at the photo you can see the sweat rolling down our faces. But we had fun doing it, and that’s all that matters.
Wednesday, we had a visit from a park ranger. He wanted to let us know that there was a chance of a storm that night, and we should be careful. I thought, oh I have camped in bad weather before, no big del. I remember laying in my family’s old canvas tent listening to the thunder and watching the lightning illuminate the top of the tent. Mom and Dad would say, stay away from the sides of the tent, because if you touch them, it will leak. Ah, those were the days. Storms– no problem.
I reassured Chrissy that it would be fine, and we would be perfectly safe. Well, that night the temperature dropped, and it was cold. As we were brushing off as much sand as we could before getting into the tent, the unthinkable happened. I helped Chrissy into the tent and swung my arm back and I felt something leave my hand. That’s right– it was my wedding band. It was like slow motion, I stood there saying, “nooooo!” Then I thought, don’t move. Just get a light, and you will find it. My fingers had shrunk because of the cold weather, and the ring was just loose enough to fly off. Chrissy asked “What’s wrong?” I said, “I lost my ring, it flew off my finger.”
At that moment I remembered thinking about all the times my mom told me not to were rings in the ocean because she had lost a diamond ring in the ocean one time. Then I was brought back to reality by the sound of our little honeymoon bungalow being zipped up. Then I heard my wife say, “You’re not coming in here until you find that ring!”
I frantically looked through the sand for my ring. Nothing. I said, “Look I’m cold, I’ll find it in the morning.” Chrissy said, “No, you will find that ring now!” I think there was some exchange between us about how much our Wes Freedmen wedding rings cost us, and about how we didn’t have that kind of money to get another one. I think my ring was like $60. So, I continued to look, shivering all the while, knowing that even if I found the ring, she was not going to cuddle with me to get me warm. Honestly, I don’t blame her at all. We had sand everywhere, and it just wouldn’t leave.
Finally, I shined the light down, and saw a glimmer of gold. I reached down, and sure enough, it was my ring. I snatched it up, and pumped my arms in the air victoriously while shouting, “I got it, now let me in!”
The storms never came that night, but the next morning we had anther visit from Ranger Rick. He told us that we would have to cut our stay short because the storms that were coming in were now upgraded to a tropical storm. I guess there was a hurricane somewhere out on the ocean, and now it was coming towards our tropical paradise.
So, we packed our tents and gear back into the Subaru and headed back north. We decided to stop in Baltimore for the rest of our time. We visited Inner Harbor and a few other places, but the best part was the Red Roof Inn. We got hot showers and washed all (and I mean ALL) the sand off. We even had a nice bed to sleep in.
It was a good thing that we did pack it in and leave. The island was hit with a strong tropical storm that I’m sure our bungalow would not have survived.

We have always lived the adventure. We don’t look for it, but it always seems to find us. I try to never complain that life is boring. If I did, who knows what stories would come from that.

Shorts on the Ground

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Over the past few weeks I have been feeling a bit nostalgic, so like any dad who feels like reliving the past, I went out to my garage. Now, why would I go to the garage you may ask. Great question! I went to the garage because, if you know me for any period of time, you will know that, no matter where I live, I have a magic garage.
Side Note: I have a reputation for keeping things. I’m not a hoarder, but I could be. My garage holds some of the most amazing treasures. I had a friend that used to say “Whatever you need just ask Butch to see if he has it in his garage.” Yes, sometimes I did have things that people needed or we needed for ministry. I didn’t get the title of Kid Ministry MacGyver for nothing. That, my friends is another story itself, for another time.
So, I went to my garage and found a box of old video tapes that held our family history. Looking though these tapes made me realize that we could have had a video on America’s Funniest Videos every week for an entire year. It also jogged my memory of our first video camera and the time we took it on vacation.
Our oldest son, Ben, was just turning two. This would have been our first real family vacation. So, Chrissy and I decided to go back to the place where we spent our honeymoon, Assateague Island, in Maryland, close to Ocean City. Since we enjoyed the area so much, we wanted to go back to the place where we created some very special memories camping on the beach.
Side Note: Honeymooning on the beach sounds super romantic, and we thought so too, when we planned it. Let’s just say, sand plus newlyweds in a small pup tent on a beach teeming with wild horses while a hurricane heads inland creates a situation that could test even the strongest of marriages. I almost forgot about the pesky state bird, otherwise known as the mosquito
Back to the vacation. We made plans to vist Assateague Island for a day while camping on the mainland at a nice wooded campground in Ocean City, that sprayed for mosquitoes.
Packing for our big day at the beach, I kept in mind that this was our two-year-old son’s first time to the ocean. All the things that my mom had warned me about ran through my head. “Watch out for the undertow, when you were a baby you got rolled so bad that you had sand for days coming out of you.” And Chrissy’s Nanny, “Don’t forget to put a lot of sun screen on.” With all these voices in my head, I could hardly hear myself think. The biggest thing in my mind was making sure we had the cameras, the regular one and the video camera too.
On this special day, I thought to myself (louder than all the other voices), “I want my boy to have a great time at the beach. He needs a boogie board! Yeah, he’ll love a boogie board!” I really don’t know why I thought that. Still, we stopped on the way to the beach at a small store to buy the cheapest styrofoam boogie board I could find because things were tight on this vacation. Once I had boogie board loaded in the car, we were set to go. Whoo-hoo off to the beach! On the way into the beach area, we saw the wild horses, this was a plus. They just roam anywhere and everywhere they please; it’s very cool! We even have a picture of one sticking its head in our car window!
Finally, at the beach, we grabbed all our stuff and headed down to the water to pick our spot for the day. It was great, the sun was shining, temperature was perfect with a nice cool breeze blowing. As the wind blew off the waves, it picked up salt that you could taste from the mist of the crashing waves, it was a gorgeous July day. The best part was that the beach was not very crowded.
We did all the things you would imagine parents doing with their child at the seashore for the first time. Ben loved playing in the lapping waves of the ocean. Chrissy took pictures and occasionally, we would use the camcorder to capture some priceless moments for our little family.
After a while, I took the boogie board down to the water for Ben to ride. I placed him on it, sitting down. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but here’s what did happen. A wave came in and knocked him right off. Epic dad fail on this one, I thought. So, I marched my sand-covered, squalling son up to his mother, so she could comfort him. After all, I had just let him get tossed around by the ocean tide.
So then, me being me, I decided to show my son that boogie boards could be fun. I said, “Ben, watch Daddy do it!” I grabbed the boogie board, and ran down to the water. I waded out into deeper water and waited for just the right wave to roll in. I looked out to see if Ben is watching, and I saw Chrissy getting the camcorder ready.
And then it was now or never; the water sucked back and I knew it was going to be a big one. I readied the board and jumped as high as my short legs would take me and landed on the crest of the wave! I remember thinking, “This is awesome! I’m riding a wave! Yes!”
I jumped off the board just before the wave crashed down onto the sandy beach. I ran up to Chrissy and Ben, out of breath, and exclaimed “I did it!  Did you see that! I was great! Yeah baby!”
Chrissy said, “Sorry, I didn’t get it you’ll have to go do it again.” I now believe she secretly knew what would happen next and just wanted to egg me on to make sure it happened. I was, oh, too willing. I was like a dog playing fetch with his favorite ball. You know right before the dog’s master tosses the ball, he’s so excited to get the ball. Yup, that was me.
So Chrissy readied the camera, ben sat playing at her feet. I galloped down to the edge of the ocean with the boogie board over my head like I was some champion surfer ready to rip some gnarly swells. I made my way through the crashing waves out quite a bit further than before. I positioned myself, and waited for the perfect wave.
I could see Chrissy recording as I waited for my dream wave. I waved to her with a thumb up. I was ready for this epic moment. Just then the water powerfully pulled quickly past my legs sucking my feet into the sand. I looked over my shoulder this was a huge wave! It was quickly rolling towards me, building momentum. Higher and higher it went.
I bent at my knees and with all I had jumped into the air at just the right moment to be caught on the top of the wave. Cowabunga dude! I was riding on top of this wave! The rush of water around me was exhilarating, the adrenaline was pumping though my body. It was like the rush you get when riding a smooth roller coaster, but a 100 times better. The wave was accelerating, and with every foot it got closer to its crashing destination.
Then, just before I could jump off the boogie board, the wave took me by surprise curling under me only to drop me, fast and hard head-first onto the shore. I hit the sand with an audible crunch. I was involuntarily rolling through the water, gasping for air. I could feel my heart pounding. I clawed at the shifting sand to get my balance and pull myself up out of the water. I shook off the water from my head and wiped the salt from my eyes. I could feel sand in places you never want to feel sand.
What seemed like an eternity only took seconds. I crawled to my knees. Still being pummeled by aftershock waves. The tide rolled out enough for me to get to my feet and somewhat get my bearings.
I desperately looked for my wife on the beach. I thought to myself well, that was definitely spectacular! Though blurry eyes, I saw Chrissy laughing hysterically all the while frantically tring to get the camera lined up with where I was now standing. I waved to her laughing all the while trying to get some forward motion going.
There are those times in life when things happen, and you know you just came through something that could have had disastrous results, only to realize the worst had not hit yet.
That is when I felt it. The cool breeze and water lapping bare skin in a place, well, a place that should have been covered. I looked down and terror struck me to the core only to realize that my swim trunks were gone. I quickly threw myself down into the shallow water. Fumbling around like a fish out of water. I was flopping around as I tried to grab my shorts that had luckily got hung up on one of my feet.
I quickly maneuvered my other leg into my swim shorts and pulled them up, filling them with even more sand in the process. I embarrassingly looked around to see who else had caught an eye full of me in all my God-given glory. To my surprise, I didn’t see anyone running in horror or pointing and laughing, well, no one  except Chrissy.
Side Note: Thinking back to this experience, all I can think of is the You Tube song, “Pants on the ground, Pants on the ground, look’n like a fool with your pants on the ground!” That was me. I was a naked fool!
My attention then turned to retrieving my white Styrofoam boogie board. After paying good money for it, I wasn’t going to lose this thing. Right at that moment, I felt something smack me in the back of my legs. I turned to see what it was– it was a piece of Styrofoam. I bent over and grabbed it for a closer examination. It looked like a piece of someone’s boogie board, I wondered who broke their boogie board.  As I look down the beach, I saw 2 more white pieces being pushed up on the beach and it sadly occurred to me that it was my boogie board.
I gathered my wits, picked up what was left of my pride, and retrieved the rest of what was left of the board. I than sheepishly slogged up to Chrissy and Ben. Chrissy was reviewing her newly captured footage of my major wipeout. She looked up at me, snickering all the while and said “This is going to get us 10,000 dollars!” Then she disappointedly said, “Oh no! I missed you losing your shorts! I guess I just couldn’t find you in the camera. Darn, that would have been awesome,” she said. We both laughed, and I sat down to nurse my wounds.
Not only did I lose my shorts, demolish a boogie board and hurt some of my pride, I also had bright red welts across my chest and under my chin where the board had hit me when it exploded under the impact of the wave. I was a washed-up man.

Life has always been an adventure with the Hunter Clan– even at the very beginning!

The Challenge!

So one day I got to thinking…

Side Note:  Thinking for me is always a dangerous thing because usually this is followed by some sort of hair-brained, crazy idea that either gets me into trouble, or I end up doing something that is larger than life. Go big or go home. Right?
Anyway as I said, I was thinking that I needed an outlet where I could be creative and express myself. I also wanted to get some of the fun, crazy stories my family has experienced on this adventure we call the Life of a Hunter.
Side Note: When I told Chrissy (my amazing, smart, beautiful wife) my idea, She encouragingly said, I don’t think we have a lot of entertaining stories from our lives; of course I had to emphatically disagree and press on.
The last thing I needed was to have some accountability.
I decided to challenge myself to a year of stories. So I made my mind up, I would come up with 52 stories over the next year.  I may do more, and that’s okay, but the challenge is at the end of 52 weeks I would have completed 52 stories/rants/experiences that in some way gives a reader a glimpse into the Hunter Adventure.
To keep me accountable I thought what better way than to post it somewhere for the entire world to see.  Brilliant!
Side Note: Some days I feel like a live in a fish bowl, so why not let the entire world see things from my point of view? 
Not that I would have huge following that would rave about how funny my life has been and send fan mail to beg for more stories of my life.
It’s just the fact, that there maybe someone out there who notices that on one week, I don’t write. Then I see them and they say, “Hey, don’t I know you? Yeah, you’re that guy that challenged himself to that crazy idea of writing a story a week, and then posting it for the world to see?”
Then I will have to say shamefully,” Yes, yes! (emotional crying out loud) It’s me!” I will then hang my head in despair, take the cone of shame, place it around my neck, hunch over,  slowly turn and walk away.
So, yup pretty sure this will motivate me and keep me accountable for the 52 weeks.
I’m not sure it will be entertaining, witty or even funny. More than likely it will not be grammatically correct. It may even have a few misspelled words.  What I am sure of is that it will be authentic, truthful, and full of crazy thoughts. It may even have some raw transparency that shows who I am.
So to start I have a list of topics that well exceeds 52.  If you want, follow my blog and help keep me accountable, this way I don’t have to wear the cone of shame! I would welcome it your help!
You could even subscribe to my blog! That way if you miss a post for some reason and we see each other in public, we won’t have any kind of huge argument, that store management or local authorities would have to break up as we get our pictures on the nightly news. Yeah… so, you might want to bypass all that and subscribe.
Okay, well…  start week is done!
On to the next weeks topic: Frogs, Frogs, and More Frogs!