Shrimpie!

 

They called me a shrimp! That was all I could manage to mutter through the tears and snot running down my face. My mom asked, “Who honey?” With a quivering voice, I said, “All the big kids out there!” I had been playing outside my house on the sidewalk, when I got in the way of some older kids, and they told me to “Move it, Shrimp,” and that just didn’t sit well with this short 5-year old. So, there was a bit of a tussle, and well, I got the brunt of it all.

This is the earliest memory I have of being pushed around or bullied. I was always a bit smaller than the other kids it seemed, but I never let that stop me from trying to join in or be a part of what was going on.

My mom always said that I was special, and no matter what I did, I needed to do my best at it. So, I did. But here’s a bit of something I learned. Even if you are special, and you try your best at things, it doesn’t always mean that you will win, or that you will be the best at things. It also doesn’t guarantee that people will like you.

It was second grade, and my family just moved into the house my dad grew up in. It was older in the sense that it didn’t have the comforts of modern day homes. I was told that my Granddad Hunter built the house with his own hands, but he forgot the water and sewer. Well, he didn’t really forget. they just were not things that he felt to be necessary. There was an outhouse and a well, and that was all they really needed. They had electricity and a telephone. What more did you need?

Along with moving to a new neighborhood came the challenge of a new school. I’m really not sure why I had to change schools, because my old school, Jackson Elementary, was less than 3 miles from our new house. The school I had to switch to was close to 10 miles away, and I had to take a bus. Round Hills Elementary was the new school. Up to this point, I had loved school and all my teachers.

My teacher at this new school was Mrs. Metzer, she was old, it seemed to me. Of course, everyone seemed older then.

I remember the first day like it was yesterday. I found my class and my desk. My desk had a name tag on it with the name “William Hunter” on it. Yuck! No one called me that. I have always, and I mean ALWAYS, been called Butch by everyone. I knew my real name, but I was Butch!

Side Note: How I got the name Butch was that my parents couldn’t agree on what to call me. (I’m just glad it wasn’t Barney, after my mom’s dad.) Until they decided on a name for me, they called me Butch. My dad said, “We can’t call him that; it’s a dog’s name!” But my mom persisted in calling me Butch. Eventually I did become William, but Butch just stuck from that day on.

So, on that first day of second grade, the teacher called everyone’s name out. When she got to me, she called out, “Billy, Billy Hunter,” and I didn’t say anything. I just looked around the room. Who in the world was this Billy Hunter I thought to myself.

Then I wondered if he was related to me? After all, we both had the same last name. She continued calling out everyone’s name. When she was finished, Mrs. Metzger asked, “Did I miss anyone?”I raised my hand. She asked, “What is your name? I said, “Butch Hunter.” She said, “Do you mean Billy Hunter?” I politely said, “No Ma’am, Butch Hunter.” Then she started to get upset. She sternly looked at me and said, “Is your name William Hunter?” I sheepishly said, “Yes, but everybody calls me Butch.” She glared at me as if I cussed at her. She walked around her big wooden desk, and standing in front of the class she said to me, “You will not be called Butch in this class. You need to know and use your real name. You will be called William or Billy!”

She might as well have come over and stripped me down to my skivvies and made me stand in front of everyone. I hung my head and said, “Yes ma’am.” I was totally humiliated and embarrassed. That was the one of the hardest years of my young life. Whether she meant to or not, she made me the target of the class. I was not only the new kid, but now I was the dumb kid too.

I still listened to my mother and did my best and told myself I was special. I tried hard to be accepted, but I just never seemed to break through.

My parents worked hard to provide for me what I needed and wanted. When It came to somethings, I just didn’t have a choice in the matter. Like clothes. I remember looking though the Sears and Roebuck catalog along with the JC Penny’s catalog to pick out my school cloths. They weren’t very stylish, and I had a limited say in the matter. What I got came in the mail, and that was that.

Not all my pants fit quite right, and I had to wear a belt to keep them up. They were husky’s!

One day, I forgot to wear my belt and the top of the waistband of my whitey tities was sticking out. So, one of the popular boys decided to make fun of me. He called me Diaper Man, and he rallied all my classmates to join in calling me Diaper Man. Every time he saw me he would call me this and find something additional to make fun of.

If Diaper Man wasn’t bad enough, I had started having a hard time in class and was falling behind. So, it was suggested to my parents that I should have my eyes checked. Sure enough, I had to have glasses. I hated those things, but even more I despised going to school to hear Mike and Mark call me four-eyes every day.

Like I said, this was a hard year, but after the year passed, I moved into another grade. Unfortunately, so did the bullies. 3rd grade was a bit better. Mrs Lewhaski was my teacher, and she was nice. This was the year that I was given a bit of extra help, because I was slower than the other kids in learning to read and doing multiplication.

My parents thought that it would be good for me to join Cub Scouts as it would give me different ways to interact with other boys. My mom signed up to be a den mother. I was in Den 2. She strived to be the best den mother ever. She even came up with an original Den Yell for us too:

Den 2 Den 2, we stick like glue, we do our best for the gold and blue! We are the best! Den 2 Den 2!

We really did do some of the neatest stuff, from wood working to arts and crafts. Unfortunately, for me when I signed up, so did my nemesis, and we were put in the same den. Ugh!

All the dens met at the leaders’ homes, so our den met at my house. By this time, we had running water and a fully functioning bathroom, but my parents we still fixing the house up as they could.

So, then I became known as the kid who lived in the shack. Not good at all. As the years went by, someone thought it would be a good idea for me to spend more time with my bullies, so I was made to go to their houses and spend time with them. It really didn’t change things at school. If anything, it made things worse. Recess, I would get invited to play football, but always seemed get hit hard or tackled to the ground until I was hurt in some way. When I told teachers, they passed it off that I was not tough.

Finally, something happened and I had to change schools again. I was back at my school– good old Jackson.

This was the year I was tested, and they figured out that I had dyslexia. As a 11-year old, I was told that I would not amount to much. Perhaps, I could become a truck driver, and if I was lucky I might graduate high school. I got held back that year.

From that point on, no matter what, I had a deep drive in me to prove them wrong. I am not a very competitive person by nature, but I will do my best and strive to be the best I can at whatever I do. I never wanted to leave anyone behind or let anyone go through the things I had gone though. So, I avoided the limelight and helped other misfits steer clear of the bullies.

By this time, I was pretty good at spotting them. At an early age, I started to understand a few things about myself.  I learned that I have a big heart and I care deeply for people. I’m a bit shy, until I feel like I can let my guard down. I always give multiple chances to those who hurt me. I forgive and overlook the shortcomings of those around me. I’m very patient and can be a good listener, as well as a good negotiator. I look for the best in people and always try to be positive and encouraging. I never reject anyone–ever! Simply because I had been rejected so much growing up, why would I want to put anyone through that?

The older I get, I wonder more and more why people jump so quickly to judge. I find myself many times bowing out of situations or yielding my agenda while trying to take the high road. Sometimes because I’m quiet, or don’t know what to say to people, I’m told they think that I’m conceited, or I think I’m better than others. This is not the case at all. It’s just that I don’t feel comfortable with you yet.

I actually long to be friends with many people, but because I’m not as outgoing or open, I get pushed to the side. So, yes, it is hard to make friends at times, but if you give me a chance you will have a blast with me.

I have also found that sometimes some people’s lives are just too hard for some to handle. Some people’s baggage weighs too much for others to slow down and walk with them through life. Then you have others who reject you because they can’t handle you, but to make themselves feel better, they buy into a lie that you pushed them away. I have always had a hard time setting up boundaries in relationships, though I have come to understand that if boundaries are not set, everyone can get hurt, and before you know it, no one understands why they were hurt.

This is a small slice of who I was, who I am, and who I’m becoming.

My hope is that every day is new and God’s Grace is sufficient to get me through. Ephesians 2:10 For we are his work, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance · that we should do them.

 

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.

FullSizeRender-2

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!

FullSizeRender-4

 

 

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.

IMG_0970

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.

IMG_0969

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.

img_0732

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.

slide2 3

“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.

image-73327

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.

41031_417166154204_6172482_n

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.

photo 1 (1)

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.

Enlight16

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

18359_292317521828_2817002_n

The Epic Hoagie Shadow Battle

c83e463ac7c368a65a0b327113feb4e0

I have waited long enough to tell this story. Have you ever heard of a hoagie? Well, this is what most in the Midwest here call a sub, but growing up in PA, a sub was called a hoagie. Yeah, so we would go to the sub shop to get a hoagie, not a sub. I don’t know why. It was just the way it was.

Most Friday nights in the original Hunter house, we had hoagies from Newberry Sub Shop. They were arguably the best in the west end of town. I remember going into the shop, placing our order, then sitting at a table or on one of the counter stools. If it was a good week, I got fifty cents to play the jukebox that sat towards the front of the shop. I can still smell the aroma of oil, vinegar and spices mixed with fresh bread while Queen’s “Another Brick in the Wall’’ played.

Fridays were not complete without taking our hoagies home, sitting in the living room eating, and watching The Dukes of Hazzard. This was one of the two nights of the week that we would depart from our traditional eating together at the dining table. This was the best, a regular hoagie and watching the General Lee jump ravines, and then there was Daisy Duke. I don’t know which was better at the time, the car or the girl. Those were good days!

Well, my love for hoagies has not diminished one bit, and I have to tell you that I have not found one place where I live now that can replicate the memory I have of what those Hoagies tasted like. I do have to give props to Jersey Mikes, a national chain of sub shops based out of New Jersey; they definitely do come close. I really think it must be an East Coast thing: hoagies and Philly cheese steaks. We won’t even get started on those.

Side Note: if you should ever want a authentic Philly Cheese Steak and live, say in Syracuse, Indiana, there is a place the next town over, Goshen, that has the best Philly Cheese steaks in the area. It’s called the South Side Soda Shop. It was even featured on the Food Network’s “Triple D: Diners Drive-in’s and Dives.”

You may say I have a bit of a love affair with hoagies. Well, the older I got, the more I explored sub shops to see where the best ones were. You had Riverside Sub Shop, which had the best grinders. Yes, like a hoagie, but it’s grilled. Then, you had Cellini’s who had really good cosmos, again like a hoagie, this was a broiled cheese sandwich. In East End, you had Fred’s Market– they put a ton of meat on their hoagies. Then you had the OIP sub (not a hoagie). This was made with Fresh baked bread that was made from pizza dough. Then on the Creek Road, you had Heller’s Gas and Mini Market. They had great ones too.

Now Heller’s was right on our way home from church. So, Chrissy and I would stop after church, grab some hoagies and head home for lunch with Ben and Tori. This would have been around the time when Ben was 4, and Tori almost 2.

Side Note: When Chrissy was pregnant with Tori she craved turkey breast hoagies and french fries. In fact, that is what she wanted me to leave the hospital hours after Tori was born and get for her. Now, Chrissy also has a bit if a love affair with the hoagie, but not just any hoagie, it has to be a turkey breast. She just can’t eat dark meat or most processed meats.

Now that I have all the background laid out, we can get to the infamous story of the hoagie fight. See we had been going and getting hoagies after church for a while, it was becoming kind of like a bad ritual. I would get whatever kind of hoagie I fancied that day, but Chrissy always got the same one, Turkey Breast.

Well, one day we went and got our hoagies and when we got home and to our surprise Heller’s changed their turkey hoagies. This one was made with turkey roll meat. Very different from turkey breast.

My wife was not happy, but because we lived 40 minutes away from Heller’s, she sucked it up and ate it with the caveat of never getting a hoagie there again with turkey roll, because it was just gross.

A few weeks passed and something happened at church that made Chrissy upset, and if I remember I was not too happy either. It may have been that we were just not seeing eye to eye at the time too. Either way, we both were not in good moods.

So, I fell right into my rut and stopped at the sub shop. Before I got out of our Dodge Shadow, which we only had for a short time, Chrissy said, “Don’t forget, turkey breast. Not turkey roll!” I distinctly remember mocking her in a weird voice, as I closed the car door “don’t forget turkey breast,” then mumbling to myself I walked to the store.

Well, I went into the store and saw someone from church, and of course I had to change my demeanor right away. That’s what good church-going Christians do.

Side Note: this story all took place before we went into the ministry. So we were still heathens. I’m just kidding, we have matured since then, but we still have our days.

Anyway, I had a conversation with whoever and ordered our hoagies. By this time, coming out to the car, I could hear that they kids were not happy either. I thought, great… grouchy kids and wife, what a great day. I got in the car and handed over the hoagies to Chrissy, then pulled out of the parking lot and onto the county two-lane road that would get us home.

As I drove, Chrissy asked, “Did you ask for turkey breast?” Honestly, at that moment I hesitated, and I couldn’t remember… did I ask for a turkey hoagie or a turkey breast hoagie. Oh gosh. I couldn’t remember, so I diverted. “You know who I saw from church in there?” It didn’t work. She said, “Butch, did you get me a turkey breast hoagie?” I looked over at her, and I could tell she was hangry. I said sheepishly, “Yeah, that’s what you wanted!”

That is when everything started to unravel. She pulled out the hoagie from the brown paper bag and started to unroll the white paper that hers was rolled in. I think this is where I may have started to pray. Oh Jesus, please let it be a turkey breast hoagie! This is the point most husbands know that they are going to skate though just by the skin of their teeth or need to start to talk her down.

She looked at the meat, and it was like the kids in the back seat gasped, sucking all the oxygen from the car. I said, “Look, it’s turkey breast.” She looked at me, and I knew I was in such trouble. She said, “I told you to order TURKEY BREAST.

I couldn’t help noticing that her hand was clenched around the 12-inch hoagie, progressively squeezing it tighter and tighter with every word she spoke. I argued that it looked like turkey breast. She was not convinced. Then I said, “If it’s not, they clearly made a mistake, and I will turn around to get you another one.”

By this time, we were becoming pretty loud with our discussion, and it was quickly heading to an inevitable eruption. Chrissy picked up the sandwich. (Remember, I’m driving.) She whacked me in the chest with it, half of it fell on my lap. It was raining tomatoes and onions in the car.

I quickly grabbed the half that landed on my lap, as she is repeatedly smacking me with what is left of the hoagie in her hand. I retaliate in defense hurling my half of the hoagie back at her, all while trying to safely drive. It was like an epic sword battle in the car. It was like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, instead of sparks there were shreds of lettuce. Hoagie was flying everywhere, there was bread everywhere, meat stuck to the dash and windshield.

The kids were in the back seat in their car seats giggling. We both were wearing this undesirable sandwich. I remember Chrissy having mayo on her face. When we looked at each other, we heard giggles and saw the throwing of pieces of hoagie from the back seat, we both busted up laughing.

We both apologized to each other as we wiped off our faces from the remains from our battle. Then we joked about what happened the rest of the way home and for years to come. We still joke that if you don’t watch out, I will hoagie-slap you!

It took weeks to get all the hoagie out of our car, but what I never forgot was to always ask for turkey breast. Looking back we’ve had some big disagreements, but somehow we always managed to come back to common ground, support each other and always put each other ahead of the other. We love unconditionally and try to be authentic all the time. I believe this has gotten us through some of the hardest times, and even some of the best ones too.

One of our favorite artists penned these words that capture a glimpse of our love for each other:

“This love is strong, it will last. It will hold you up when you need it. It will not break, and I won’t give up. It costs too much, and I need you.” (Russ Taff)

The Bear In The Little White Trailer

The Bear In The Little White Trailer
Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! Well, not so much the lions and tigers, but definitely bears. Bears are this week’s blog topic.
As I have mentioned in previous stories, I’m from PA. That stands for Pennsylvania, for all those who are not from the Keystone State. Nobody calls it Pennsylvania; it’s always  “P. A.” I grew up just within the city limits of Williamsport.
Side Note: When we moved in to this house when I was a kid, we had no running water or plumbing. In fact, we had the last standing outhouse within the city limits. The local newspaper the Sun Gazette did a feature story on it before it was taken down. Of course, we had indoor plumbing by then.
Our house was built by my Grandpap Hunter. It sat half-way up a mountainside. Directly behind our house, was an overgrown vineyard that had long since been cared for. It had been overtaken with thick brush and trees, just as the mountain started to incline. We has gorgeous evergreen pine trees that ran all the way up to the top of the mountain.
Side note: I’m saying that we lived on a mountain, which to anyone actually from PA would say “Aw, that’s just a big hill. The mountains are on the south side of the Valley.” And that would be true. But those who live in the Midwest, where I now reside… they would say we did live on a small mountain.  
I had the run of all the area growing up. It was great. I spent summer days exploring and playing, just my dog and me. We encountered many things throughout the years, and I heard a ton of stories about what lived in those woods. Some scary things, and some were just ridiculous.
One such story was about the night my mom was walked home by what she claims to have been a bear. She worked 2nd shift, and got a ride home late one night. The driver dropped her off at the bottom of our long driveway. Halfway up our drive, she was greeted by something big and furry. She thought it was our pet St. Bernard, Brandy.
All the way home she talked and walked with it, giving it encouraging pats on the head as they walked. When she reached our house, whatever it was ran off. She went in the house only to find Brandy asleep on the floor. She swears it was a bear. I don’t know.
That was not the only encounter we had with bears. My mother-in-law hit one with her car once. The car was totaled. She was ok, but the bear didn’t survive.
Another time, which I think is the best story, is when Chrissy and I were living in the real mountains. Our small mobile home sat at the bottom of a mountain close to her grandparent’s home. A small brook ran right behind the property.  In this little community called Proctor, there may have been a population of 150, perhaps a bit more. Our little neighborhood had 4 houses within a stone’s throwing distance from ours. We had two of our kids then, Ben and Tori, and stupid dog named Pepper.
Where we lived, trash pick-up only happened every 2 weeks, perhaps 4, depending on the time of year. So, we had 3 cans sitting out by where we parked our cars. We had been told that sometimes bears would wonder down the mountain and get into things. We had never seen this happen since we had lived in the trailer. The only things we had seen were the occasional deer, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and a flock of turkeys.
One summer night, Chrissy woke me from a dead sleep. This was normal.
She said, “Did you hear that?”
I said, “No, don’t worry, it’s probably a raccoon getting into the garbage.”
She said, “No, it’s not, listen! It’s grunting and snorting whatever it is!
We lay very still in our bed, and I listened. All I could hear was my heart beating and my breathing.
I said, “Nope, nothing.”
Then she said, “There!” as she sat up in bed.
I said,  “Okay, I’ll get up and see.”
So, I got up and got the spotlight. Everyone who lives in PA has a spotlight.
Side note: Spotlighting. It’s a verb. That’s what you did for fun on a warm Saturday night. You drive around shining this huge 100,000,000 candlelight powered spotlight out your car window to see how many deer or other species of wildlife you could see. That, my friends, was a wild night!
I grabbed my spotlight, and I opened the drapes to look out the window. I could see nothing. I shined my light out the window, but all I could see was our cars.  I moved back through the trailer to our bedroom windows. I pulled back the curtains to shine the light out. And there it was as plain as day. The biggest, hairiest, monster I had ever seen with it’s teeth bared looking right back at me through my window. It was a Sasquatch!
No, I’m just kidding. All I could see was the hoods of our cars. Of course, by this time Chrissy is pushing me over grabbing for the light, so naturally I wouldn’t see any thing. Then, all of a sudden, I thought I saw something moving on the far side of the car by our garbage. Then it moved out in to plain sight. It was a big black bear! He was enjoying himself some dinner on us.
I think this is when Chrissy looked at me and said in Scooby Doo fashion “It’s a bear!” I think she may have peed a little too! She jumped from the bed, ran into the kids’ room, and scooped them up. The next thing I knew everyone was in our bed. Chrissy had the covers pulled over her head, asking is it still there?
I said, “Yep, it’s still there.”
This bear was not little– he had to have gone a few hundred pounds. I thought it would be cool if he stood up, but he didn’t. He just kind of meandered around by the garbage cans.
I finally coaxed Chrissy out from under her bear proof covers to watch the bear with me.  We watched him for what seemed like hours, but I’m sure it was nowhere close to that. Then Chrissy said to me, “What if he tries to get in the house?”
Now that thought hadn’t crossed my mind, but she said, “Won’t he smell the food in our house?”
 That’s when I started to be a little concerned, but being the brave man of our small family, I said, “Aw, don’t worry he can’t get in, and besides I have the 12-gauge.
She said, “You should get it.”
So, I grabbed the gun and carefully laid it on the bed.
Side Note: Now, at this time in my life I had only shot this gun maybe once or twice when I went turkey hunting as a teen. Boy, is that a story, but for another time. Honestly, the thing I remembered the most about that gun was that it kicked like a mule. I probably could have better defended our family by beating the bear with the gun.
Then Chrissy said, “You know the front door doesn’t latch very well.”
I knew that front door needed fixed, but I hadn’t had the money or the time to fix it. The more I thought about it, I started to worry. All you really needed to do was push hard on the door, and it would fly open.
As any brave husband would do, I thought fast and said, “We should move all the furniture in front of the door to barricade it. He’s not going to come over here, but, you know, just in case. So we frantically pushed our couch and chair over in front of the door, as well as anything else heavy we could get in front of the door.
When we were done, we scampered back to the bed to see where our furry friend was, and what he was up to.  I shined the spotlight over by the car and nothing. I stared to look around, where did he go? That’s when I heard a snort right in front of the window we were looking out. I quickly pointed the light down to where I heard the snort, and sure enough there he was. He was making his way over to the trailer. We watched as he waddled past us and then over by our front porch. We tiptoed out to the living room, and peeked out the window just in time to see Mr. Cuddles waddling right up our porch steps. Our porch was more of a stoop. It had three steps and then a 4×4 square deck. Not very big at all.
I ran back to the bedroom and grabbed my gun. With trembling fingers I put a slug in and closed the chamber, I was ready. If that bear welcomed himself into our home it was on. As I stood with my heart racing looking out the window. He came up the steps got on the porch. I though this is it, get ready. Then he just turned around and sat down on our porch like he owned the place. I had Chrissy go back to the bedroom with the kids and cover up with her bear protectant sheets as I stood guard.
Again, I watched for what seemed like an eternity. Then all of a sudden he sniffed the breeze and grunted. He flopped forward and jumped off the porch. He waddled across the yard and out of sight to the neighbor’s house.
I thought, I’m leaving the barricade up, just in case he comes back. I walked back to the bedroom with my gun clenched in my hands and pronounced that the bear has left the premises.

The funniest thing was that the kids slept through the entire ordeal. That night we all slept together in our full-size bed with the shotgun within reach. This was a crazy night that will not be forgotten. And that is the story of the bear in the little white trailer.

Happy Meal Christmas

It’s the hard times when I’m feeling alone and discouraged that I find myself going back to the past, when you have no doubt that God brought you through a hard time. This helps me feel safe, secure and it even helps me refocus, it even boosts my faith that God is bigger than anything I will ever face.
One of those memories I cherish is when Chrissy and I started out on this journey of serving God full-time.
Side Note: I know now that we had no clue as to the price we would pay for this calling that we had chosen to answer. This isn’t a bad thing, we just didn’t have any idea what our life was going to be like.
To start this new adventure, we asked God to help us pay off all our bills. With one tax rebate check, He made this happen to the dollar. We proceeded to pack up all of our belongings from our mobile home into a small moving truck.  We loaded our two young children and one Dalmatian puppy into the car. With one last look at our small, safe world, we left our family, friends, and any support systems we had grown up with.
We traveled 9 hours away to the most southern part of West Virginia to one of what they call the Twin Cities, Bluefield, WV. It was nestled in a valley of the Appalachian Mountains. Just across the state line in Virginia was another city called Bluefield, VA. Thus the twin cities nickname.
We moved here to go to Bible collage because, if you wanted to be successful in ministry, this is just what you do. As I had mentioned, we really had no clue what we were doing. I just believed that God was telling me to come follow Him and lead his people. So, since this college was the only one we knew about at the time, we signed up there.
Side Note: At this time, we didn’t have access to the Internet or even a computers, which would have helped us research this better. As it was, we went off of the word of a school recruiter, and trusted that God would provide the rest.
And that is how I became a student enrolled in Bible college. Unbeknownst to us, this college was one of the most conservative, legalistic schools on the east coast for the Church of Christ/Christian Churches. The very contemporary church that we were coming from was a Christian church. So, we figured this should be good. We didn’t know how wrong we could be. We didn’t even understand the difference between contemporary and traditional church styles. We assumed they were all like our great church.
Back in the 90’s, I only wore a button-up shirt and tie with dress pants at three places. One was when I worked as a professional photographer for a large corporation, and it was required. Two was a wedding and thirdly a funeral, where it was expected.  I tell you this because this is what I called “dressing up”. When I had gone to Penn State, I could wear whatever I rolled out of bed in. Not that I did, but I could have. Believe me, no one in the photo dark room cared what I looked like.
Not so with this place. Every day, in every class, I was expected to be wearing dress clothes. That is how conservative this college is. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we didn’t fit well, and many of the promises made to us to help us decide to come by the recruiter were unfulfilled. But that would not stop me I had a call from God, and I was sure of it.
One thing I failed to mention is that Chrissy was pregnant with our Jonah. So, on moving here we needed some support to help us get acclimated and get settled. Unfortunately, none of that happened. I was told that I could work at the school and that there were plenty of youth ministry positions at local churches that embraced the students of the school. Well, I did work for the school but they applied all of that money to my tuition for school. There were no loans or grants not even scholarships, because as we discovered, this school was not accredited. You paid as you went, and they made sure they received their payments.
We did have a few people and our home church who believed in what we were doing and us. The gifts that came in helped us put gas in the car and some food on the table.
After a few months of classes and trying to fit in, with still no real steady income, Christmas was coming and along with it, the time for Chrissy to give birth. Things were pretty discouraging, but I had faith that God would see us through.
Side note: Remember the puppy we took with us? Well, on arriving we were told no dogs. You need to find it a home. This puppy was a birthday gift for Ben, he loved the movie 101 Dalmatians. So we found a temporary home for her with one of the off campus students. We though it was a good home. To make a long story short, within weeks of her going to her new home she was hit by a car and broke her leg. The vet helped us fix her up. He told her that she was fine. A few weeks later, in spite of her vet’s bill of good health, we got a voicemail message from the other student saying, “Your dog is dead and I buried her in the yard.” Click. Wow! Not a good day.
So, at this point, I almost had it but I decide that I would do whatever I could to bring a few bucks in, and hopefully this would help us and make things better.
I also thought that whatever I made a little would go to taking the kids out for some fun. So we went to McDonalds  a few times and bought the kids Happy meals. It was late November, and 101 Dalmatians was the surprise toys in the Happy Meals. So, I had the brilliant idea that we would secretly remove the toys and keep them for Christmas gift for the kids.  
The closer we got to Christmas, our Happy Meal toy stash was growing. We hoped that somehow we would be able to buy a few real gifts for the kids, but it didn’t look good.
The grandparents were going to send some things; we knew that, but it’s just not the same as providing for your family. So, we prayed that God would provide. This is when we received a card in our mail on the same day we also received a discouraging anonymous piece of hate mail in the box too. (That is another story.)
In that card was a note saying, “I wish I could do what you are doing.  Merry Christmas!” with a cash gift enclosed. It wasn’t much but enough for Chrissy and I to get the kids a few gifts. And we still wrapped the happy meal toys and gave them to the kids.
After 20 years our grandkids play with these little toys and the Christmas ones are on display every Christmas as a reminder to us of God’s faithfulness. His Will, will always be done. Even if those around you are coming against you, and things look hopeless, if you place your trust in Jesus and stay faithful to what His Word says and what He has called you to, He will see you through.
It was a skinny Christmas, but it bound our family together and made us stronger. It actually taught our kids and us how to love and put others before ourselves. Look for opportunities to encourage anyone you can and let people know authentically that you appreciate them without expecting anything in return, even if you don’t understand why God has laid them on your heart. If you watch, God will show up and beautiful things will happen.

As I said this was a hard time, but looking back brings joy and hope to me as I hope it stirs up in your soul the same.