Scottish Paws

I’ve been thinking back to the days that I first heard the wobble and whoosh that gave way to the steady beating of a heart in each of my kids, remembering all the emotions that burst through, unveiling the thoughts of the possibilities of the life to come. The adventures that will be had, the love that will be shared, the memories that will be created. All to be cherished and looked back on as a priceless treasure no one could ever steal or destroy.

Lost in a moment of deep memories, my mind flips to memories to the other side. The side of looking at life through the eyes of a child. The memories of what it was like to grow up. The memories of love and pain, adventures and struggles hit me like a wall of water that swallows me to the point of almost drowning. Gasping for a breath, I struggle to the surface, following that familiar beating sound that steadily encourages me to push on up to the breaking point. Pushing through, breathing deeply, I clear my mind to focus on the sound of the heart monitor beating steadily. I’m whisked back to reality to knowing that when I focus my vision, life will not have miraculously changed.

My Dad will still be in the hospital. He will still be on the ventilator, and the future will still be uncertain. I can’t go back in time to change or prevent anything that has happened. He had fallen and hit his head, and then because of that first fall, he fell two more times over a few days causing more injury to his head. This, in turn, caused stroke-like symptoms that needed to be treated within the ICU. That is how we arrived at this point. He had to have brain surgery to alleviate the pressure in his brain that the blood had caused. This, in turn, was making his symptoms worsen. This is where we are now.

I say to myself, one last touch before I’m drug back to overwhelming reality. I reach out and clasp onto the thick, strong, familiar rough surface that I have hung onto for safety so many times before. A dear friend of mine, Gerri, always called these particular type hands Scottish paws. This seems to be a common trait of someone with a Scottish heritage. But this time is different than other times I have held his hand.

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There is no return in the grasp. I breathe deep holding onto the air in my lungs, I clearly hear and feel my own heartbeat, almost in sync with the monitor.

At that moment, it was like all the memories of life gone past flew through me. I tried to lock onto one, but just as quick as they fly into reach, they are snatched away, replaced with others. 49 years of experiences flutter by like fingers skimming the pages of a thick, old book. Some pictures impress deeper than others, causing me to laugh, others make my heart sink a little deeper.

The ones that hung with me were some of the stories I loved to hear him tell over and over again.

Like the time our family went to the shore and brought back crabs. I was young, maybe 5, if that. I can still smell that pungent crustaceans’ odor. As the story goes, there were some stray cats that loved to sit on our porch, singing and wooing the night away. The loud calls of the lovesick felines drove my parents nuts. So, my dad got the bright idea of using his saltwater catch to its fullest potential.  As the story goes, he placed the crabs out on the front porch where the cats would gather for their nightly serenade. I have no clue how he kept the crabs on the porch, but I do remember the occasional screech of a cat being pinched. For some reason, the chorus of cats never came back to our house.  I don’t know why this one has stuck with me so strongly, other than that he would laugh every time he told it.

Another thing that resurfaced was the many times my dad was willing to help me try and achieve a new goal or be willing to do some of the craziest things. Back when I was teen, I started a Christian singing group, and we would use backtracks to sing and added some simple choreography. My dad was our sound guy. He would hit play on the tape deck and adjust microphone levels. He would also flip the toggle switches on our custom light board that he had made. This was his thing, and whether he would admit it or not, he loved doing it. Somewhere along the line, we got him a sunvisor from a Christian music radio station to wear when he was on the job. This was no ordinary sunvisor, folks, oh no, this visor had small chasing LED lights powered by a 9v battery attached to the back strap. He called it his “Kit Hat” because it was like the hood light on the car in the TV show Knight Rider.

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Another funny example of the ends to which he would go to help is when I entered a lip sync contest. There was $75.00 of Christian music at stake here. This was a huge deal! So, I came up with an idea to perform. Just to make sure the odds were in my favor, I entered three different times once by myself, second with my singing group “Live Wires For Christ,” then lastly as a trio. The trio didn’t start out as a trio. At first, it was only my best friend at the time, Sam, with me. I thought it would be fun to do a funny song that had… shall I say an Italian flair. Sam was a proud Italian and loved to let everyone know it. So, the song we wanted to do was by an artist named Carman; the song was called “Spirit-filled Pizza.”

We started to plan out our song and what we would do to act it out and everything was awesome, until we got to the last part of the song, because we needed just one more person to make it really work.

Here is the idea of the story portrayed in the song. Two cousins wanted pizza, so one sends the other out to an uncle’s pizza joint. But the one going to get the pizza got distracted, wandered into a church and got saved. When he returned to his cousin, he “claimed” his life for Jesus. Then six months later the other cousin accepts Jesus. Then all he wants to do is find his little brother, and claim his life for the Lord. And that is the song in a nutshell.

So, we had Sam and me, but we needed a little brother. Somehow, we convinced my dad to play the part of the little brother. My dad has a full beard and is pretty straight-faced. He was not the upfront, on-stage kind of person unless it had to do with being a cub scout pack leader. He was kind of a serious guy. Dad has always worn jeans or work pants, with a pocketed polo, and most of his polo shirts were of a pastel color. You could always find a pen and a small tablet in the shirt pocket, and if you saw him right after work, he would have half a Zagnut or Butterfinger bar in there too.

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So, besides dad being like a fish out of water with this, he had one other issue that no one thought of. On the week of the contest, my dad had his teeth removed, and had false teeth made. He got his new teeth the day before the contest. I recall him having a difficult time with the fit of the dentures. He was saying that unless he clinched his teeth together they felt like they would fall out or worse he was afraid that if he squeezed too hard they may pop right out of his mouth. As a teen, this all seemed very amusing to me at the time. I assured him that it would all be good, and we would go easy on him.

See, when it came to the part of the little brother, dad would come out, sit down. Sam and I would grab ahold of him, kind of doing the revival evangelist routine, pushing him back and forth with laying on of hands and such. We really did shake him a bit, but I promised we would tone it back a bit for the actual performance.

When it came time for our number, everything was going great. We had the audience eating out of our hands. Then it was time for my dad when he came out the crowd erupted and that energy transferred to Sam and I, and we hammed it up. The only thing dad could do was sit there and hold on to his teeth for dear life. He couldn’t help but laugh. So, he sat there looking at us like we were crazy, but he had the funniest smile that didn’t change throughout the whole time. He looked like the Cheshire cat smiling.

He admitted at some point his teeth started to move but he kept them in his mouth. We came away with third place with that song. The song I did alone actually won first place. I have a VHS tape of the contest; I’m sure it would make great YouTube content.

I could go on with other experiences that stick like glue, trains and slot racers, matchbox cars, touring buses. He always wanted his own touring bus/RV. I’m sure as any dad, he had and has dreams and hopes for me and my children. All too much to take in, but in times like these, we long to drink from the firehose to get as much as we can, because the moments are not guaranteed.

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The visions that rush my head are overwhelming, but the one thing that is a common thread that he showed and taught me was love. You work with what you have and do your best to provide for those who God has entrusted to you, all the while loving in a way that is so deep that it’s almost impossible to express. All except when you feel the touch of a rough, strong hand grab on to your hand, and then you just somehow know. You know that you are loved, and have been loved as only a proud pop can love.

It almost physically hurts to let go, but the hope is there that better days are coming. Knowing that three things remain… faith, hope, and love, which love is the greatest of these. Love is all we really have to give and receive. To quote my dad’s favorite band of all time, The Beatles, “All you need is Love. Love is all you need.”

As I write, my dad is still fighting to overcome this place that he is in. My faith stays solid, and I look to the future with the hope that he will recover. I’ve been told that it will be a very long road to recovery. The daily updates give me more hope that this 73-year-old man has a chance to live a vibrant life again.

 

 

Lessons Taught, Learned, And Lived Out

On this night, I’m sitting with a heavy heart and so many emotions that it’s hard to even think. I almost can’t grasp that what has happened is actually reality, though I know it is. It was only a few days ago when I answered Silas’s phone to talk to my mother-in-law, Jo. She was calling to wish the boy a happy birthday.

So, as all of my boys and I do (even sometimes Tori), I acted as if I was Si. After she wished me a happy birthday, I thanked her, after all, it was my birthday only 2 days earlier. After a few comments, she asked, “Is this you, Butch?” I laughed, and so did she. Then her normal response followed, “What am I going to do with you, Butchie?”

We talked for a bit as we normally did about all the normal stuff– the kids, the grands, and her health. She told me that she had been sick with the flu, but assured me that she was fine. She had thought that the Lord was going to take her, but she said it just must have not been her time. Then, she assured me that when that time came, she was ready and willing to go.  I thought nothing of this until tonight. Little did we know, but her time was short, and that fact took the entire family and her friends by surprise.

She went home with the Lord on Feb 24th 2018.

Over the last days, I have heard stories of her life some good, some very sad. They all conclude with how much she loved everyone and how much of an impact she had on so many lives. I have so many things to say about what life was like and memories I have. For now, I have settled for just telling these few.

Now my life story with my mother in law is a bit unique because she knew me from when I was a tot. Oh, she loved to tell stories about that too.

When I was just little, like under 2, she and my dad worked together at a store called The Big N. This is also ironically where my wife’s story starts too. Big N is where Jo met Chrissy’s father.

As Chrissy and I started to date it became known to us that a long time ago our parents knew each other.

I had just started to come over to Chrissy’s house, when her mom started asking the normal parental questions about this kid who was hanging out with her daughter. Now I have to admit, I had just turned 17, and Chrissy was 13, when we met. So, it was normal to have question of this older boy who took a liking to her daughter. Through the questions over dinner she asked if I was any relation to a Bill Hunter? I said, “Well yes, that’s my Dad!” Oh crap I thought, how did our parents know each other? She said, “And your mom– is her name Phyllis?” I said yes. At this moment as I was a bit nervous looking at Chrissy, I could tell that she could have crawled under the table. Then what Jo said next really made Chrissy and me totally embarrassed.

She said, “I know you! I knew you when you were a baby. I changed your dippers!” Oh, my goodness! My new girlfriend’s mom has seen me naked, and I never had a clue! Ugh!

Since then, this has been one of her favorite stories to tell, especially when I was introducing her to new people. Oh, she thought this was hilarious! After 30 years you would think the joke was getting old, but nope, never.

Then she also loved to tell the story of how I would come into the store to find my dad. She would say, “I could hear him coming a mile away, clipity, clop, clipity, clop, running down the aisle in his cowboy boots and hat.” She would say that when you heard those boots, everyone knew here comes Butchie, Butchie, Butchie!

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She loved me, and I loved her, though we had our moments for sure. Chrissy says we’re together today only because her mom always made her make up with me after we broke up. So, I have her to thank as I have so many times for the wonderful gift of the woman I love, the mother of my children.

I will miss her greatly, and she will always have a special place in my heart.

She helped us though some hard times on more than one occasion and encouraged us when we needed it too. Though there were tough times too, for example when we had to go on our own and follow the path the Lord was leading us too 9 hours away from our home. This definitely was not a great time for her.

Though we had heartaches and pain, and in spite of what we disagreed on or had a hard time accepting, there was always love that brought us back. I have learned from experience and by watching others that there will always be difficult times in life, no matter who you have a relationship with, family or not. At some point, you just need to realize that love conquers all.

Oh, there will be scars and broken hearts, but it’s what you choose to do with the brokenness that really matters. It will make you stronger for sure, but you have to choose if you will let it make you bitter or better, that is your choice. We can focus on the negative, or we can choose to look past the hurt and pain, leaving whatever it may be where it belongs in the past, and try to focus on a positive future. This is hard and can be timely process, but life is short and unpredictable, so do all you can to heal quickly and make things right. We are not promised tomorrow. So, with that in mind, I try to live by a few rules.

  1. The problem is never the problem
  2. Hurt people hurt people
  3. You can never own someone else’s problem
  4. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

I have a few others, but these are some big ones that help me process and move forward in life.

Life is so short, and it is such a beautiful gift. We need to use it to its full potential, and help those around us however we can by sharing love and kindness to all.  Don’t throw away or waste a moment.

There will always be thing that should have been said or done, but don’t let that stop you from learning and loving again and moving ahead.

Like I said, I will miss Mom Crossley, a.k.a. eight-toed Jo! Knowing her has been a wonderful thing, and if I were to try to share one life lesson that I have learned from having a relationship with her it would be this for now. Make a difference where you can, however you can, but don’t sacrifice yourself or those you love along the way. YOLO swag for life!

Thank you, and I Love you Jo! You are missed!

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The Christmas Code

I sat there, half asleep on the couch, as the kids excitedly prepared for the day’s festivities. I found myself, coffee mug in hand, staring at a pile of Christmas gifts, thinking, “What did I do to get us in this situation?” Yes, it was Christmas morning. The tree was decorated, as well as the house. This year, Chrissy had the foresight to wrap almost all the presents in advance, which made things easier, but definitely not great. You see, Chrissy was 30 minutes away, laying in a hospital bed, fighting for her life.

Here I was at home, with our kids and Chrissy’s parents, who had arrived in their big RV the night before. Just thinking how is it that I’m in a place where I may lose my wife, best friend, lover once more?

Let me back up and start from the beginning.

It was in the beginning of December 2004 when it all started. Recently, we had received dental benefits with my compensation package at church, so we were on a dentistry kick. Getting everyone’s teeth looked at and fixed, cleaned, you know the drill. Chrissy was in for a simple cleaning, being new to all this dentistry stuff, we really had no clue of things you should be careful of. One such thing is that if you have a heart murmur, you should be medicated prior to dental work. Most dentists will ask you this, and then make sure you have what you need prior to the dental work. Chrissy has a heart murmur, and well, she should have had an antibiotic before her teeth were cleaned. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Chrissy had her teeth cleaned, and everything seemed to be fine, for several days afterwards. That was until she started running a fever; we thought she had gotten the flu. She got sick and then she would seem to gain her strength, only to relapse. Finally, it got worse. Chrissy had a fever and started getting a rash. So, we went to the local convenient care because we had not yet established a family doctor. We had just moved to Chicagoland the year before.

We went to the immediate care, and the doctor who saw her said it was just the flu, not to worry, and get some rest. So, we went back home. A  few days passed, and she still had not fully recovered. Then she started to complain of a crushing pain in her chest. This really scared me. She also started to break out in hives.

We thought this must be an allergic reaction to something. We went back through everything she ate, and if we changed anything like soap or detergents, anything we could think of and the answer was no, so we headed out to the convenient care again.

This time, different doctor. Chrissy was short of breath and on the verge of a panic attack because of not knowing what was going on. She still had a fever and when they went to take x-rays of her chest, she passed out for a few seconds. After all that she tried to explain everything that she was feeling, but the doctor concluded that it had to be a allergy to something.

Side Note: I was not able to go back with her because I was on kid duty in the waiting room.

The doctor prescribed some meds and sent us on our way. Chrissy felt like they thought she was crazy. We got her on the meds and saw some improvement.

Somehow, we managed to Christmas shop, attend work parties, and go to church. Chrissy and I also decided while wrapping presents that it would be a smashing idea if we used a secret code system on the Christmas tags instead of names.

This year, we had not only gotten better insurance, I had also received a nice pay raise, and we were so excited that we could buy some nice presents that the kids really wanted. This was going to be a very special year.

We did have one huge dilemma; we had a peeker in our family. You know the kid who likes to look at their gifts before Christmas and guess what they were. Oh, Ben is a peeker, and a good one at that. He would shake and squeeze things. He had even been known to unwrap things and rewrap them.  If we would hide the presents, he would find them. He could never keep it a secret either, he had to let his sister and brothers know what he did. He was so proud of himself.

So, this year we came up with a diabolical plan. Looking back, I think Chrissy was having some sort of delusion from the fever or side effect to the medications she was taking because this was just a crazy plan. Actually, it was a genius plan.

We thought we’ll code the presents and hide them in the garage. That is exactly what we did. We would wrap the presents. Chrissy would get out the highly secret code key and label the presents, and I would take them to the hiding place in the locked garage.

This code thing really was genius! Somehow each code was different so there was no telling which present would go to who without Chrissy and the key. This was a brilliant plan for sure! We would have our sneaking peeker foiled this year!

Then Christmas week was here, and Chrissy still had not gotten fully better. I was in charge of all the kid’s ministry Christmas services, all 6 of them. We had 2 on what we call Christmas Eve-Eve, and then 4 on the actual Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve morning, we got up, and Chrissy’s body was absolutely covered with hives. She had a high temperature, the shortness of breath and the crushing chest pain. So, I decided to call a doctor I had recently seen and luckily was able to make an appointment for her that day. We arrive at the doctor’s office, and they got us in quickly. The doctor looked at her and told us that she needed to be admitted to the hospital, and that this was very serious. He gave us orders for blood work and told us to go now and they would be calling the hospital to let them know we were coming.

We got to the hospital and they admitted her and had the blood work done and started her on a course of penicillin. Her fever had spiked to 104. My love was white as fresh fallen snow. They hooked her up to all kinds of monitors. They said that they were doing all they could to make her comfortable. When the Doctor finally came in he told us that she had sepsis of the blood and that the next 24 hours would be the most critical. Not the words you wanted to hear. I remember praying as hard as I could.

I called to let my boss know that I would need to call off. I was then told that no one could fill for me, so I needed to be there. On top of that, Chrissy’s parents were on their way in, and I needed to take care of my four children. This was turning out to be the Christmas celebration from you know where.

I left Chrissy, got our kids around for Church, and headed off to work with them. After the last service, we rushed to the hospital to see Chrissy one last time for the night. She seemed to be doing better, but that was just my opinion– the Doctor had an opposing one. He said she seemed to be reacting well to the meds, but needed rest.

I remember Chrissy pulling me in close and whispering that she loved me and not to forget to get the train table put together for Silas and have the clown bike put together for Jonah. I said I would, and I told her not to worry.

At this time, I had not given any thought to the codes we put on all the presents. I was just trying to figure out how I could get the kids to wait for mommy to come home and see them unwrap the cool presents that we had picked out for them.

Presents are a big deal in our family, and there is a lot that goes into choosing the right gift for that receiver. This goes all the way down to how it’s wrapped and even sometimes how it is presented to the receiver.

Side Note: For some presents that are given to special people it takes months of preparation and orchestration, especially if it’s Chrissy giving the gift. She puts her whole heart into making it a positive memorable experience. I absolutely love this about her.

I got the kids home, did all our Christmas eve traditions, and put the kids to bed, As soon as I started to work in the garage on the last presents, in rolled the big RV with the in-laws. I tried to get them welcomed and settled, so I could finish up my projects. I do remember it being around 2 am when I finally crawled into bed and prayed one last payer for my love.

The next thing I knew was that I had four very excited kids bouncing on my bed wanting me to get up. I thought I could buy some time with having the kids go see Grammy and Pop in the RV. That didn’t take long. I was able to get a cup of coffee and get myself dressed.

Now this is where I started this post. With me sitting on the couch. My mind was overwhelmed with thoughts on what to do. I wanted Chrissy to be here to watch the kids open the gifts, but who knew when she would be home, it could be days or maybe even weeks.

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I told the kids to go ahead and open their stockings. This would give me time to seek wisdom from the in-laws. I then remembered the codes. Oh no, those terrific, horrible codes! I thought I got it! The Grandparents always bring tons of presents… I’ll just have the kids open the presents from them now, and then when Chrissy gets home,they can open ours. Brilliant!

So, I thought. But I was shot down by my mother-in-law, and told the kids needed to open our presents. I tried to convince them otherwise even reasoning that I would make the kids wait until I knew when Chrissy would be coming home. That was when the guilt trip started, and I totally lost all strength to fight.

I set up the video camera, and away we went. It was a disaster.  The biggest mistake I can remember is that everyone was opening each other’s gifts, and Ben opened up Tori’s American Girl Doll. Which seemed so funny to everyone, but me and I’m sure to my wife later when she found out. I believe the dog’s present was even messed up.

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Afterwards, I was told that when Chrissy got out of the hospital, the kids could open the presents that the grands brought.  I was so frustrated!

I told the kids to get ready; we were going to see mommy. We got to the hospital and they got to see Chrissy. She looked tons better, but still was super weak. The doctor told us that she was lucky to be with us. They also said she needed much rest and care.

We left the hospital and stopped by a Churches Chicken– one of the only places open on Christmas to get a take-home meal which was our Christmas dinner.

Side Note: We never ate Churches Chicken because of a horrible shooting that took place in one of the restaurants, so Chrissy would never ever go there. She refused to.

So, the next day we went back to the hospital and the Doctor said Chrissy should be in there a few more days. Chrissy’s mom asked the doctor why, in a challenging way. She argued with him that Chrissy would be much better at home with her family. After much banter, he told Chrissy that she could sign herself out against doctor’s orders and go home if she wanted to.

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Chrissy’s mom convinced her that would be the best thing to do.

So, she signed herself out and we took her home.

By now the news that the kids had opened everything we had gotten them sunk in. This was a hard thing for us both as we watch the kids tear into the presents that were brought from Pennsylvania. We tried to make the best of it, joking about the clothes that were always too small for me or the strange presents that one of the kid would get that only someone who didn’t really know our kids would get them.

The next day the RV pulled out of the drive, and was off to Pennsylvania again. Leaving our family to care for each other and hopefully give Chrissy the rest she needed.

Unknown to us, but this was the start of a new battle for Chrissy. This sickness did much damage that in the years to come, we would slowly uncover really how bad it was. This was the start of anxiety and depression, as well as a few other issues that still to this day are challenges for my wife.

We now look back and cherish this year and will never forget how blessed we are to have Chrissy with us to celebrate yet another Christmas.

Don’t Be Anxious! Yeah, Right!

As soon as he walked through the door, he knew that something was not right. The house was quiet, too quiet. He called out her name as he looked around and moved through the house. No answer. Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, he listened for a moment, before continuing up the steps and down the hall to the bedroom. Opening the door slowly, he heard the sound of quick short breaths mixed with whimpers. It was the sound of someone hyperventilating. As he walked through the door, he saw on the bed, in a fetal position, his beautiful bride. Her hands clenched over her face, crying uncontrollably. His heart dropped, and he thought, “This is a serious one.” He felt so unequipped to handle this. He went to her asking, “What’s wrong?” She leaned into him, rocking her body back and forth, shaking her head. She sucked in a big breath. Through a quivering exhale, she whispered, “I, I, I, don’t know.”  He asked, “Are you okay?” She shook her head no. He could tell she was trying to get herself under control, but something was paralyzing her, locking her in what seemed to be a state of fear. As he wrapped his arm around her, he lovingly whispered to her, “You’re safe, you’re okay. Slow down your breathing. Breath with me.” He loudly drew slow, long breaths, trying to get her to match his breathing. He silently prayed, “God, please help her. Give her peace, give her your mercy. Cover her with your love.” After what seemed like hours, she slowly calmed down and fell asleep from exhaustion, in his arms. He watched as her body slowly relaxed and released whatever it was that had captured her.

This was not the first time this happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. Each time seemed to get worse. Each time it seemed like it started with a small thought that just got stuck. Most times it was a “what if” or an “I wonder” thought that was a little negative. Like, “I wonder if they like me? I seem invisible to everyone, no one really cares about me.” Most times, they were lies whispered to herself that grew into screams. All he knew was that they needed some help. Who could he trust though?

This is what it’s like for someone who has a loved one who suffers from anxiety and depression. This is a mild example of a panic attack. The unfortunate part is that, even in a mild attack, the stakes are life and death. For some with no intervention, they can’t take the overwhelming darkness that covers them, and it seems the only way out is death.

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Unfortunately, those who battle this are often tormented when they try to make a heroic comeback because they are only met with opposition. I know that seems ridiculous, but it’s true. Because of the darkness that has been shadowing them, the light is so very hard to see. So, they start with questions like, “Who really likes me, or let alone the big question, is there anyone out there who loves me?” Each step on the road to recovery is difficult; it’s often like having a noose around your neck, constantly pulling you back. They fearfully think, “If I stop even for a moment, I will be pulled backwards and drug back down into the pit.” The thoughts race in their head.

It’s almost like they are stuck in a puddle of quicksand. One false move, and they will be sucked down, but if they don’t reach out for a saving branch, they certainly will die. So, isolation comes into play, keeping everyone at a distance is of utmost importance. This insures that no one can get close enough to hurt them– or love them. The loneliness is better in their eyes than sharing that they need something or someone. Besides, there is the fear that others will think bad of them or think they are crazy. When anxiety covers you like this, you need to seek out professional help, a physiatrist and a counselor is a good start.

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I am not a counselor or any authority on this in the sense of an educational degree. All I have is life experience, and this is what I have come to know and understand through loving someone who faces these issues each day of her life. I’m writing this to give you a glimpse of what it’s like for someone who faces these challenges, as well as how and why we need to help.

Part of the reason for the isolation is that when others find out that you have anxiety or depression some think oh, just get some drugs and move on, or get some counseling.

I have heard people say that it’s not like they have a broken bone or a chronic disease or something, that could actually kill them. The thing is, that’s not true. Anxiety and depression can kill, and they have. It is just like a physical disease or an internal injury. You really can’t see the disease itself, but you can see the symptoms of it.

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Most times when this disease first comes out or when we first notice it, we can easily mistake it as the person being moody or aloof, or even stuck-up. They may even seem shy. All of these things are attributes that could be part of a normal person’s life. So, how do you know?

You need to take time establish a relationship, if you really want to care and try to make a difference for them.

My bet is that you may know someone who is very close to the person, like a partner, spouse, or best friend. Ask them if the person in question is okay or do they need anything? Do this authentically with genuine concern, and they may let you know the truth…if they feel they can trust you, and you won’t hurt them.

Those closest to these people tend to guard them and try to protect them as much as possible. They know that it doesn’t take much to drive them deep into the darkness, even when they are in recovery.

Taking some meds and talking to a counselor may be a great start but unfortunately, it’s not so easy to fix this.

If the anxiety has been severe enough for long enough, they may need to have their self-esteem re-built; they will need to be loved both closely and from a distance at times. They will need help finding out that they are of worth and have purpose. They will need to be shown that their life counts, and that they can make a difference in this world. This takes people who care deeply about the individual.

Yes, some of the drugs and genetic tests we have today can assist, but nothing replaces human relationships. Boy, can they be hard.

As I have stated, being a friend or a partner of someone who suffers with this can be challenging, but let me also say this, it can be very fun and rewarding. In my experience, these people love deeply, they are both passionate and compassionate. They also can be a blast to be around when they are in a safe place or having a good day. Please understand they are not special projects, don’t try to treat them like that because they will see right through you. These people need people in their lives who are not going to try to fix them and then walk on to the next project. They need friends who are in this walk for life, and that is often rare and hard to find.

So, beware, they may try to reject you before you even scratch the surface. This is their litmus paper test to see if you are really serious. Yes, it may seem harsh at first, but you just have to remember they are in a survival mode most of the time.

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These hurting people are no different than anyone else; they have dreams and goals. They have amazing talents and gifts waiting to be uncovered. If given the opportunities and outlets to use those gifts and talents, they will rise to the challenge, and even blow away your expectations.

For this to happen though, it requires that they trust the provider of these opportunities. You don’t have to have a deep relationship, though a close relationship may inadvertently develop because you prove you can be trusted. But, you always have to remember that there is the risk that they may have a bad day or a relapse. And there is always the possibility that because you are associated with this person, well, you yourself may look bad.

All I can say to that is, who cares?

This is when the real question needs to be asked, what is at stake here? To be blunt, it is life or death. That’s not fair, some may say. But t’s true that the one opportunity that you offer may just be a lifeline. It may be the one thing that keeps them from totally giving into the darkness.

Honestly, people who face life with this illness believe they don’t even have a chance because others think they are crazy, or they are just too unworthy of having a chance to share themselves with the world. I believe that those who don’t open a door for these people are the crazy ones. What is a life worth?

So, what can you do? That is the question that should be asked.

First you should know that having anxiety is difficult, and there are times that they can’t communicate effectively to others exactly what they are feeling or going through. So, sometimes, they just need someone to be there for them without judgement. No words– just your presence and the knowledge that you accept them, just the way they are, where they are. Then sometimes it maybe the opposite– just a few words of encouragement and lots of space with open, accepting arms. The key is always to meet them where they’re at and love them the way they need loved in that moment.

Yes, this can be hard, and sometimes you can be hurt (which can be very hard), but it’s never in my experience intentional. Lashing out is sometimes the only way they can get the feelings out that have been trapped and captivating their thoughts.  Sometimes you need to just put your feeling on the back burner to help someone out of a difficult situation. If you’re a Christian, we have a great example of how to sacrifice for someone you care about or even for people you don’t know.

I can’t help but think about all the times Jesus loved people where they were, and because of His love, compassion, and sacrifice their lives and our lives have been changed. The adulteress, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus the Tax Collector, and the list goes on.

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Jesus met people where they were, and he loved them up to where they needed to be. He never worried about what others thought, only what His Father in Heaven was thinking. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy.

I’ve heard it said, “We’re reaching out, but they need to reach out too.” When you’re paralyzed with fear, you can’t push yourself up to grasp an outstretched hand.

There was the time that four friends carried their friend to Jesus. When they were faced with opposition of not being able to get directly to the Lord, they tore the roof off a house and lowered their friend down to place their friend at the feet of Jesus for healing. They didn’t meet him half-way– he was paralyzed! They carried him to Jesus. Sometimes we need to carry our friend to the feet of Jesus.

There are also the times when we need to get dirty and do more than reach out.

We need to get some spit and dirt on us. I recall Jesus spitting into the dirt and rubbing it onto the blind man’s eyes, so he could see again. Jesus did more than reach out; He got dirty. He didn’t dismissively say to those who came to Him, “Oh, I‘ll pray for you.” He took time and ministered to them.

This is part of being more like Jesus. Honestly, I have watched people who suffer actually minister to others hurting in amazing ways that no one else could. It’s because they know what it’s like to hurt or be an outcast, and they can empathize with them.

This can apply to so many things in life I know, but who has God placed in your path to help carry to Jesus or get dirty with in the process of healing? Who are you crying with? Who are you loving and encouraging, near or far?

Has God placed someone in your path that you just stepped over or worse kicked them to the side, because you have been too busy going where you want to go rather than looking where God is leading you? The Bible says that God directs the steps of man. So, look where you’re going. We ask for God to use us, but we miss the opportunities that are right in front of us all the time.

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I have also heard that this is a person’s spiritual issue, and you are accurate. But it’s not just their spiritual issue, it’s yours too.

We are to love one another and encourage one another; sometimes people go to these dark places because we didn’t love like we should have. I know that statement will not be popular, but it’s true. If we took the time to genuinely care, some people may not feel so invisible.

People with mental health issues sometimes need more of the people who claim to have the Light surrounding them. Darkness is the absence of light. How do we make the darkness go away? By bringing in the light. The Bible says we are the light of the world. The light we have comes from the Holy Spirit. If we obey Him, we will be sharing his light with others. He will be working through us. So yes, it is a spiritual issue– ours and theirs. It’s not just their issue, it’s ours too. We need to do something about it.

How can we help? Love them unconditionally the way God loves you. Take a moment to smile and see them, don’t let them be invisible. Be genuine and compassionate.

Provide opportunities for them to come into your light. This takes time, you have to be in this for the long haul. This is not about you; it’s about loving someone else the way we should love one another.

I hope this is an encouraging post that helps some to have hope and to others, perhaps this will challenge them to see who God has placed in their path.

If you suffer from anxiety or depression or any other non-visible illness, please know you are loved and cared about. I know this is not easy, but with the right environment and people surrounding you, things can get better. We shouldn’t have to walk this road alone.

Meet My Friend Stephen

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

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

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

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

I said, “With me, who else?”

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

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

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

She said, “I guess??”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Candy Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The #1 Requested Campfire Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me overcoming my fears!Enlight9

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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.

Each week for my ministry, I write a short devotional thought that hopefully will encourage and inspire those who have made a choice to work with kids. We call the time when we share this VIP (Vision, Information, Prayer).

These devotions are a part of casting vision to our leaders. I want to do everything I can to help them remember that they are making a difference for the kingdom of God and spreading the love of Jesus effectively. All the while challenging them to stretch in their own walk with Christ.

April 5, 2015
Happy Resurrection Morning!
This past weekend I had the privilege to hold one of God’s greatest gifts, a newborn baby. As I looked down on this precious bundle of joy, I became overwhelmed with how much of a huge responsibility I have, no we have, in sharing the gospel message with all that we come into contact with, especially children.
When you think that God has given us the opportunity to share the story of how much He loves each and everyone of His children, it can be an enormous feeling of responsibility.
After thinking about that consider this, we are accountable to God for each child’s safety that we are entrusted with.
That can be scary.
These are just two reasons why we must have training sessions like the ones we offer or require. We are responsible for the well being of these children.
Here is a quick scripture just to show how serious Jesus took teaching children and caring for children.
Luke 17:1-2
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
That’s pretty serious.
In light of what God wants His children to hear and understand, these consequences should be taken seriously. We not only are responsible for their safety and well being, we are also responsible for communicating to them the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. That friends, can make a difference for eternity!
Once you become a follower of Christ it’s our responsibility to do this whether it’s children or adults.  Jesus commanded us to do this Mathew 28:19-20

Thank you for doing all you can, to keep our children safe!

Each week for my ministry, I write a short devotional thought that hopefully will encourage and inspire those who have made a choice to work with kids. We call the time when we share this VIP (Vision, Information, Prayer).

These devotions are a part of casting vision to our leaders. I want to do everything I can to help them remember that they are making a difference for the kingdom of God and spreading the love of Jesus effectively. All the while challenging them to stretch in their own walk with Christ.

 March 29, 2015
This week I had a great reminder of why I do Children’s Ministry.
I was going through the halls as our mid-week service “SPLASH” was finishing up. All but a few kids were still around with their leaders. Then I heard one of our leaders call out to me, “Pastor Butch! I have someone here who wants to tell you something.”
As I leaned over to look this little girl in the eyes, she said to me, “I want to be baptized.”
I was so excited for her. I said “that’s great!”
All though this is great, the best part was when I asked, “Why do you want to do that?”
She peered straight into my eyes and said, “Because I want to obey God and do all He wants me to”.
Wow! In that moment my heart did jumped and melted all at once.
Here we have a glimpse of why we do all that we do. These are the moments we hang on to, especially when you’re asking yourself, why am I doing this?
You may say Pastorb, I don’t have that opportunity, I work in the nursery. The kids I work with are not able to communicate these choices to us as well as they do when their older.
Here is what I say to you, when older kids make these choices and tell us, I want you to understand that you have had a part in their decision to follow Jesus. You have changed their diapers, wiped their tears, you are the ones who have loved on them and rocked them to sleep. You have had a big hand is showing the love of Jesus to them.
This all happens because of our faithfulness to do what God has asked us to do.
I want to say to all of you, Thank you for making a difference!
Whoever wants to save their life must lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:25 
“God did not call us to be successful, but to be faithful.”
Mother Teresa