Sunday, June 30, 2013

Christmas in June

I hardly know where to begin to share the many stories that took place on our mission trip last week. We were in small groups that worked at different sites through most of the week. Many of the stories are stories that belong to the other members of the team and I can only share them as I remember having heard them. I guess I should just start with my own stories and experiences.

As an unskilled laborer in the areas that involve construction and remodeling, I knew that I was going to be more of a gopher-boy than anything else. My jobs mostly involved things like fetching lumber for one project (we had a car and the lumber source was about five or six blocks away--downhill to the lumber, uphill when I was carrying it), cleaning up, sorting clothes at a second-hand store, working with kids at the school and wrapping Christmas presents.

Yes, I said wrapping Christmas presents.

I spent one morning at the home of Muggins and Naomi. For the last 32 years, they have been providing meals and gifts to families that would otherwise be without. Muggins told us that in December of 1980 he was laid off from working in the coal mine. He knew that they would be getting unemployment benefits and food stamps and that they would survive okay. He worried about the people that were going to have a difficult time and the families that would struggle to provide at Christmas time. He contacted some of the other miners that were laid off and had a little time on their hands. That first year they provided Christmas dinner for 15 families and managed to collect one box of presents.

The following year, even though he was back to work, he worried that there would be families that were in need during the Christmas season and went back to those miners to see if they would help him for a second year. Even though nobody wanted to continue the Christmas charity, Muggins and his wife have faithfully provided gifts and food every year since then. Last year they provided meals for more than 600 families and gave away more than 3,000 presents. A church group from Louisville has been bringing some food and teams of people to help pack and deliver the meals and the presents for several years. The food package (a ham, a bag of potatoes, flour, canned goods, etc.) weighs about 25 lbs.  Each child gets two presents to open.

Naomi still works a full day at a local nursing home, comes home for a shower and dinner and then wraps presents until bedtime. This is the first year that she has had help wrapping the donated toys! Muggins is on oxygen and said he gets pneumonia several times a year. I assume that has to do with a career of working in the coal mines.

The truly amazing thing about this story is that up until last year, Christmas was a holiday that Muggins celebrated as a day to have dinner as a family and exchange some presents. About a year ago, Muggins made the profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Last Christmas was the first time in all of the years of his giving, that he celebrated the birth of his Lord and Savior!

Right now, we have plans to return to Cumberland KY next year. I have a feeling that we'll be bringing some wrapped presents with us and providing people to wrap presents everyday.

I imagine that there is poverty or need right where each of us lives. I know that poverty knows no season. Maybe there is something that you could do this week that will make a difference for somebody--donate to a food pantry, work in a homeless shelter, provide fans in the summer heat (or blankets and coats in the winter). You get the idea. If one laid off miner can make a difference to 15 families (and now to hundreds of families and thousands of kids), what could we do?

Merry Christmas!
John <><

Friday, June 28, 2013

On Mission: Day...whatever

I know that I've missed posting for a couple of days. It's not because of having nothing to report. It's more about limited access with my phone and limited time to write.

There have been some great moments this week that I'll share when I'm able to sit at a full keyboard. I'm really looking forward to sharing stories of the people we've met and the blessings we've received.

I'd better get some breakfast before it's gone.

Have a great weekend!

John <><

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Mission: Day 3

I'm back to our base a little early today.
Today I went with the team that is working at the middle school.

In both cases (yesterday and today), I find myself way out of my own comfort and calling. While I expected to be doing exactly what we are doing, the evangelist in me wants to put down the tools and the sporting equipment and start telling people about God's great love for them and how He has demonstrated his love in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I'm looking forward to hearing what the other teams have accomplished today. I know that we are meeting real needs in the area.  I am needing to trust God on this. He is using us to meet physical needs. There will be others to meet spiritual needs.

John <><

Monday, June 24, 2013

On Mission; Day 2

Though today was our second day in Cumberland, it was our first day on the job. An old carport with a rotting roof was taken down and rebuilt. A huge project that involved the demolition and rebuilding of a porch is underway. A bathroom project is almost completed and a kitchen pantry is being rebuilt. These projects took place in neighboring Lynch.

In addition to our building work, we have a group working at the Cumberland Middle School during their summer school.

It was a busy day and plenty of work was done. Tomorrow will be another work filled day. We are all looking forward to seeing how God works through us during the coming days.

John <><

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Mission

Today we arrived at our destination, set up our rooms, prepared and had our first meal together, went to evening worship and received our work assignments for tomorrow.

There are a couple of other mission teams that are also working with us or along side of us.

Cell coverage is limited and WiFi is available in our boarding facility near the office.

I'll try to post when I can and offer apologies in advance for the typos that go with phone blogging.

John <><

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Little on Our Incredible Design

It's pretty amazing. Our bodies are designed with the incredible ability to adapt to the challenges and invasions of living in a dangerous world. While many of the assaults on our bodies come from outside, there are dangers that come from within.

We can often (knowingly and unknowingly) aid these internal attacks through the lifestyle choices we make and chemicals that we add to our bodies through diet and exposure. Sometimes, our bodies can turn on ourselves through auto-immune diseases or some other form of self-destructive attack from within.

Sometimes the dangers lie silently in wait, striking without warning. Such can be the case in the event of a stroke.

I've listened to this ad several times on the radio. After listening to a friend that experienced a stroke on Wednesday night, it sounds as if the ad is right on target. She knew that she was having a stroke, but was unable to communicate that to the person in front of her.

The night of the stroke was pretty freaky. It was obvious that she could hear and understand us. It was equally obvious that she was growing frustrated with herself for not being able to respond to us or accomplish some of the simple tasks that were given to her. After finding and removing an offending clot in her blood stream, the recovery began immediately.

Each passing hour demonstrated how her brain was re-growing or re-establishing the neuro-pathways for physical activity and speech. Today she is walking well, speaking better and progressing better than expected.

As adaptable as our bodies are, they are also extremely fragile.

I recently posted (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) this little bit of info:

Did you know...while only 2% in weight, the human brain requires 15% of the body's heart work, 20% of oxygen and 25% of all glucose?

If our brains are deprived of any of these critical elements, affected areas begin to shut down. After only moments, it can cause permanent damage or even death. Such is the case with stroke.

It would appear that my friend will make a good recovery. I don't know if there will be any permanent damage or not. We are thankful for a design that many would attribute to mere chance. I give God full credit for our miraculous design.

John <><

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Accentuate the Positive

I hesitate to write the following words that condemn actions and attitudes that I have been guilty of in the past. As I have grown older, it would appear that I have accidentally matured to the point that I no longer want to be the negative, hateful, complaining person of the past. Oh, I still have my moments to be sure; I just no longer want to live that miserable life in general.

And I don't want to be around it, either.

How do you protect yourself from the negative people that worm their way into your life? Some of them are hard to avoid. Some may be your neighbors, co-workers, friends and even family. Avoiding their presence is not possible. Is avoiding the joy draining negativity possible? How do you deal with it/confront it/eliminate it from your day?

Does a positive attitude and disposition shine a little light into the gloom of their life or does the gloom eclipse the light?

My problem is that is so easy for me to get caught up in that negativity; to find fault in people, things, work, life. I have to work pretty hard at being a nice guy. The natural John is kind of a jerk. He's the kind of person that I try to avoid--and really don't want to be.

How about a little bit of help from my readers? Tell me how you maintain your positive attitude in the presence of such people.

John <><

Monday, June 17, 2013

Looking Ahead

Next weekend will find two groups of Hopedale members (around 50 in all) in the fields of services. One group will be headed back to Nicaragua with Project Hope and one group will be headed to Harlan County, KY in the Appalachian Mts. I'll be with the latter group.

Harlan County is one of the poorest counties in the country with a per capita income of less than $12,000/yr. (that's less than half of the per capita income of my home Christian County, MO). The 2000 census had the median household income at  $18,665.

The work that we'll be doing in and around Lynch, KY, will include clean up and minor home repairs for homes that have been identified by a local team. We will be bringing or buying the necessary materials and tools needed and providing the labor to get the job done. At this point, I have no idea of what I'll be doing. I bring no skills to the table other than a willingness to serve as directed. I imagine that I'll fall into the category of general labor, taking on the role of toting barges and lifting bales or whatever general laborers do.

I might pack a few magic effects to share in the moments that allow for such diversions, we'll see.

For myself, for my friends, and for those that we'll be serving in Kentucky and in Nicaragua, we covet your prayers. If I have time to update here, I will. Otherwise, updates can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

John <><

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Google+ Comments have been disabled

Well it's one of those things that happen when a not so computer savvy guy tries to do something new with anything that has to do with computers.

In tying my blogs to my other Google accounts, I also failed to check the box that would allow non Google+ people to comment. I think that problem has been fixed.

If you've tried to leave a comment over the past few weeks and were unable, please accept the apologies of a bumbling blogger. Also, please go back and make whatever comments you may have--other than the obvious--"You're a bumbling idiot and shouldn't be on the internet" kinds of comments.

And of course, you could get a Google+ account or comment via Facebook or Twitter. (I haven't messed those up that I'm aware of!)


Saturday, June 15, 2013

An Apple a Day...

I like apples. Growing up it was mostly Red Delicious. I think that apples were mostly divided into eating apples and baking apples. As a kid, there were red apples and green apples. I'm note sure how old I was when I realized that some apple were always green. I thought it was just the ones that weren't quite ripe.

Today there are many new varieties of apples. Several years ago, I read an article that talked about the genetic engineering of red delicious apples and how they had managed to produce a larger, redder, more crisp apple, but in the process had lost the flavor that also had made it the once king of apples.

I'm thinking about this now because one of my co-workers (actually a supervisor) brings her apple of choice to work every day-- a Jazz apple. I decided to try one. It was a good apple--crisp, not too sweet, tasty. Generally speaking, I usually choose a Gala or Fuji. It may be that they are common, popular and available. Or it could be that I would choose them because I like the flavor. I think that the Honey Crisp are too sweet so I don't usually choose them.

Here is a link to a site that lists many apple varieties, their characteristics and the time of year that they are at their best.

All of this has been to ask--What is your apple of choice? And Why?

I'm thinking that I will need to conduct a taste test of sorts--several slices of a variety of apples. Maybe I'll use my co-workers as guinea pigs or maybe I'll just conduct it for myself and trust myself to not to be prejudice based on my pre-test preferences.

Any takers?
What is your favorite apple?
What do you like about it?

John <><

Mid-June Notes

Saturday morning, the 15th of June.

I figured that I'd write a quick update on how the "new John" is progressing.
On June 1st I weighed in at 258# and (once again) decided that something has to be done to get some of this weight off. Since I recently shaved the grey beard and mustache off, I have a daily reminder as I look into the mirror and see a fat, round face staring back at me.

I'm not trying to overdo the weight loss by hitting it with a quick loss--been there, done that in the past. I am trying to develop some good habits around eating and exercise. Other than the weekend at kids' camp, I've managed to eat much healthier foods (it helps that Chris is also eating healthier) and in generally smaller portions. I haven't really made the decision to cut anything out, but am pretty aware of the impact any "bad" foods will have on my progress and have managed to talk myself out of the occasional candy bar or ice cream snack.

Since my family has a few regular runner/cyclists that post their daily exercise habits via RunKeeper, I've joined them in doing the same. Too bad I haven't figured a way to document stair climbing on it. The app even bugs you if you haven't done anything in a couple of days!

I also have the advantage of a brother that keeps encouraging me to keep up with it by checking up on me and sharing his own progress and struggles. All-in-all, after the first 14 days of June I weighed in at 250#. I am pleased with the 8# loss for the first two weeks, but don't expect it to continue to come off at that rate. I would really like to see another 12# come off in the next six weeks so that I could make our end of July family reunion at -20# and on the low side of the 240 mark.

I don't know that I have an end goal in mind. I'm sure that I would feel good at 230, but realistically still need to drop another 20#. 228 would make it an even 30# loss which is a good number if I decide to "set a goal." In the end, I think I'll be happy with the weight that healthy diet and exercise places me.

Today's scheduled exercise will be mowing the yard and some less strenuous hanging out at a friend's pool. I'm pretty sure that I'll manage some time on the exercise bike as I watch the UFC fights later tonight.

I'd better get out there and attack the yard before it gets too hot (or starts raining)!
Enjoy your weekend!

John <><

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happy Birthday!

Well I have successfully managed to put another year in the history books--not that anything historical happened, it's just that I am another year older.

For those of you that are Facebook friends, thank you for all of the birthday wishes that I received. For those of you that are not, you can find me here or on Twitter, here.

I have celebrated the passing of another year by: sleeping about 3 hours after working the mid, watching an afternoon Cardinals' baseball game, spending about an hour on the phone talking to my kids, wasting the afternoon so that I wouldn't have to mow the lawn (it'll be there tomorrow and who wants to do that on their birthday?), putting in 40 minutes on the exercise bike and now waiting to go out to dinner with Chris and some friends before catching a brief nap and heading in for another midnight shift!

I guess you could say that I'm not much of a party animal.

Tomorrow I'll start my 54th trip around the sun by cutting the lawn and getting on with my extremely blessed life. Earlier this week, I made the comment to somebody that had asked about Children's camp that I've been doing Hopedale's kids' camp for about 15 years and we have never been rained out--not even for a day! I said that I think that we are His favorites! That's not to say that we won't get rained on next year or that we will no longer be God's favorite. It's just the overall attitude of the camp staff is that God is going to show up and manifest Himself in the lives of the kids and the workers in a way that is unmistakably God.

I pretty much feel that way about my life, too. I know that God loves you--that He loves all of His children, but I really feel like I'm his favorite! Though not a man of great wealth, I have been blessed with more than I need. Though not a man of great education or knowledge, I have been blessed with understanding and an ability to share His Word. Though not a man of influence, I have been given the opportunities to witness the work of the Holy Spirit of God change hearts and lives through the words He has given to me.

I have no idea what this next trip around our sun will hold for me. Nevertheless, you are invited to drop by Out of My Hat often to find out what God is up to in the life of a favored servant. Feel free to follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook. Thanks for checking up on me.

John <><

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Notes from 2013 Kids' Camp

Our weekend Children's Camp is now history--and a life changing history for some of the kids and adults that were there.

Every year that I've been blessed to be a part of Hopedale's camp, there have been kids that have made professions of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. This year was no different. I frequently tell people the main reason for our success in this endeavor is that we arrive at camp fully expecting God to be with us, to work through us, and to accomplish great things.

This year's camp was a little bit different in a couple of ways.
For one thing, we were at an unfamiliar camp ground. A new location carries its own challenges as we scope out the areas for our activities and try to work with an unfamiliar staff. In the end, it was the camp logistics and staff that brought the greatest challenge to our having a successful weekend.
Another thing was that it was our first time at doing camp with another church. While we were very familiar with the camp director from the other church, the kids and other adult workers were all new. And it was their first time doing camp the "Hopedale" way. In the end, this brought some of the greatest blessings of the weekend.

While many camps are professional camps that host dozens of groups at a time and thousands of kids throughout the summer, ours is just us. Professional camps have their own activities staff, musicians, speakers/preachers, curriculum, cooking and cleaning staff, the whole range of people necessary for the week or weekend. We have us.
At a professional camp, the adult leaders of a church are mostly responsible for getting kids to and from activities and then leading through the small group curriculum. At our camp, they are responsible for pretty much everything. They plan all of the lessons, the activities, the meals, the worship, even the free time so that each activity is supervised. They pack the trailer with the food (this year's camp did have its own cooks so we didn't do meals), with all of the necessary equipment for our games and everything for lessons and worship. We assemble all of the packages for the kids with their T-shirts, team bandanna, study material and pens and we make all of the teams, cabin assignments and small groups. Our leaders are very much a part of the kids' weekend. It is a working weekend for the adults.

As this was different from most camps, I think it was a little unexpected from some of the adults from the other church. BUT, it was very cool to watch them catch on and begin to really serve the kids. As they became the servant leaders, they began to reap the blessings of interacting with the campers and seeing the experience through their young eyes. One leader was able to talk to a child (friend of his daughter) as she made her profession of faith in Jesus. He was so blessed and so excited to be a part of that. I didn't think that anything could have topped his true joy until he came to tell me that he had another experience with one of their boys making that life changing declaration of trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior!

Sometimes, knowing ourselves and our ways can be a downer. He shared that his fear was that he was going to get home and go back to his old ways and forget the joy of sharing Jesus with others. "I don't want to do that," he told me. I gave him my card and told him to stay in touch so that we could encourage one another. I hope that he does.

We had one of our youngest campers raise her hand during worship, indicating that she wanted to talk to somebody  about professing Jesus as savior. I asked one of our ladies to talk to her and received back a great testimony of a tender heart inside of the tough exterior of this little girl. The woman told me that the little girl understood very well and made a genuine acceptance of Jesus.

I found out that the guy that was doing all of the video (from the other church) was a professional videographer that had a ministry of doing videos for missionary organizations around the world. I don't know what that would normally cost for a weekend, but he gave of his time and professional skill to provide that to our churches for free. I'm really looking forward to seeing the end product.

In spite of the great blessings of the weekend, this was really the first time that I began to think that I'm getting too old for this. I often fear that one of the reasons that I get asked to pastor children's camp is that somebody is afraid that my feelings will be hurt if they ask somebody else. I know that there is a different John that stands before the kids during the message time. I know that God has given me an ability to speak to children in a way that they can really grasp the concept of how much He loves them. I don't know why He chose me. (As I've said before, "I don't even like being around kids that much.") And I know that I will continue to serve as I am called to serve. I just hope that when the time comes to call another person as camp pastor, we can all recognize that it is that time.

For today--I'm rejoicing! There are new members in the family of God! There are new workers in the kingdom! God continues to shower this servant with blessings that I do not deserve, could never earn and can never repay.

John <><

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

Friday, June 07, 2013

A Couple of Oldies

Hopedale's Children's Camp begins in a few hours. As I am finishing up preparing for my part of the weekend, I was once again thinking about how I ended up as camp pastor for the past decade+ of a children's camp. For those of you that haven't been following Out of My Hat since its beginning, here is a post from seven years ago (just after I started blogging) about how I feel about working with kids. If you are a parent of one of the kids going to camp this year, you might want to wait until next week to read it.

The post that followed was also a pretty good one, so I'll give it an encore link as well.

Pray for me.
In a few hours I'll be with 85 (or so) kids from 2nd to 6th grade.
Pray for them, too.

John <><

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Too Busy to Write

In spite of my desire to write each day, I find that I'm too busy to write here. Of course that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm not writing; just that you're not seeing it.

On the blog list for next week: Dad's Honor Flight, children's camp (both pre-camp and camp stuff), fitness goals (again), and of course any other random thought that comes to mind.

Camp starts tomorrow.

John <><

Monday, June 03, 2013

June 3; a quick note

Two nights of three of poor sleep. A rare occurrence in my world. I know that Friday night was my own fault and was due to too much evening caffeine. Last night was mostly due to allergies that kept interrupting my rest. The good news is that I feel rested enough and since I didn't have to get up for anything (either morning), sleep in a little later worked out well.

Now, on with the day (and week).

Most of what would normally be free time (breaks at work, baseball watching time at home) will be devoted to getting ready for Kids' Camp. Messages are outlined, some written, but some with work to be done.
And the rest of life goes on as well...grass to be cut, walks to be taken (my new daily exercise), etc., etc.
Busy week.

So, in keeping with a small resolve to write, I've written. Now to finish my coffee and attack the lawn before heading into the tower for another day of ATC.

John <><

Sunday, June 02, 2013

June 2

Sunday mornings always provide a few quiet moments to read my favorite blogs and make a check on Facebook. I'm usually able to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, review my Sunday School lesson and keep up with my daily Bible reading.

This morning I'm also taking a little time to force myself to to write--even if it's only for a brief moment.

After returning from a vacation in Mexico, I shaved off my beard and mustache. I was going to shave it before we left, but opted to wait since my passport photo (and every other photo for the past decade+) has facial hair and I already seem to get "randomized" more than usual by TSA.

I've been asked why I decided to go clean shaven and have avoided sharing the vanity of the truthful answer. A month ago I had an encounter with an old family friend that I hadn't seen in quite some time. The comment was made about how much white was in my beard.

I've always known that the white was there, and that it did make me look older than I feel. I've thought about shaving it off before but always hesitated because I felt like the beard tended to hide an otherwise fat face. So now the facial hair is gone, the fat face looks back at me from the mirror and I have an added incentive to  get a little exercise and eat a little less to drop some of this weight.

So, along with writing more often, I'm also going to make the time to get a little bit of exercise everyday--a walk, the stairs, the exercise bike, something. I even bought a new pair of walking/running shoes even though it appears that the running part will be somewhat down the road (so to speak).

Have a great Sunday!
I'm off to meet with my church family at Hopedale. You're invited to come and worship with us!

John <><

Saturday, June 01, 2013

June 1

June first seems like as a good a day as any to get back to blogging.
Truthfully, I think about writing often, but usually just don't feel like taking the time to think out a good post. I need to get back to my original intent of this blog and just write to write. It's much easier to write for self and share than to try to write what others might want to read.

Since Out of My Hat began about seven years ago, I've followed a number of blogs that have faded into oblivion. I know how life circumstance, desires and demands change and alter our daily habits. I've never been a regular writer that sticks to a disciplined schedule of time at the keyboard, but I'm not ready to give it up yet, either.

Maybe it's time to be more disciplined about writing. I have to admit that I've tried that from time to time and only stick to it for a short time. I'm not really a very disciplined person.

While I'm not ready to quit blogging, neither am I ready to commit to a daily habit of posting. Over the past few weeks, even my daily reading of the blogs I follow has become irregular. I think I need to re-evaluate some of the many blogs that find their way into my reader. There are a few that I no longer read even when they post; I just skip ahead to the ones that I look forward to reading as often as they might post.

Somehow, I think that the step up to a smart phone has played a part in my blogging less. I am easily able to access and read the blogs I follow by phone, yet I don't really care to write and post via phone. That translates into not using my computer as often as I used to and less time on the computer equals less time for blogging.

I'll apologize in advance if this turns into more of a diary of life events and less of what you are used to seeing here. That may not be much of a change, but it may be enough to push a few readers to move Out of My Hat from their regular blog feed. So be it.

John <><