My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Monday Adventure

The last time we did "spontaneous"
As a rule, we don't do spontaneous very well these days. Just ask my wife. If you ask her how many times she has suggested I ditch whatever plans I have cooking for the day and the two of us jump in the car and drive up to Superior, she'll tell you simply, 'Too many.' I think the last time Linda and I did something spur-of -the-moment was last summer early on during my sabbatical (and that day was memorable in so many ways). So, on the day after Easter, when I woke up and the sun was shining and the air was warmish and most of the family was off of school or work, I suggested we do just that: get in the car and go somewhere. But then boundaries were quickly drawn: Ed couldn't go as he had track practice and Emma had to be back in town for dance lessons by 5:30 p.m. Seeing we all had slept in a bit after a very full weekend and my plan began to gestate only around 9 o'clock that morning, that meant that wherever we were heading it had to be on a relatively short tether. That ruled out Superior (2 hours up, 2 hours back leaving approximately only 2 hours to do anything seemed like a trip only for the very rich). Places like Ladysmith, Spooner and Eau Claire I crossed off, too, simply because there promised too little variety or too much familiarity. I googled Crystal Cave in Pierce County but they were closed. Then I thought a driving tour in and around Pierce County with little interesting stops at El Paso (home of El Paso Days in August) and Elmwood (the UFO capital of Wisconsin) but once again we would be in the car a good part of our afternoon and given our deadline this didn't seem like the best use of our time. In the end, we settled on Menomonie as our destination and after stopping at the bank for some cash and Kwik Trip for fuel (and good thing we gassed up in the morning for by the time we returned home the price of gas had already gone up a nickel), we (that is, Charlie, Emma, Linda and I) were headed southwest on County I by about 10:40ish.

The Grain Bin & Market on FF
We had just turned off of Hwy 64 and were traveling due south on Hwy 25 when we took an unexpected detour. I happened to see one of those informational blue signs that read “Grain Bin Market & Bakery 1” as I zoomed by it. So, I slowed down, did a U-ee and drove back, turned left and followed County FF one mile as directed . The Grain Bin (as we learned later) has been there for four years. It's not a remarkable looking place – just a pole shed on a county road in Dunn County – but inside it are all kinds of wares including humongous jelly beans. I immediately got my camera out and took a picture of these jellied candies much to the surprise of the proprietor. The shop contains pottery goods, some jewelry, all kinds of baking goods, a quilting room with a huge spread come over from Connersville that is 65 years old. They bake fresh bread there daily as well and sell cookies and some pastry. We couldn't leave without buying a few of each, of course, as well as a small case of those big red beans. It was a nice little find. After about 15 minutes we got back in the van, drove back to Hwy 25 and headed south again. 
The Big Red Jelly Beans

Exclusively from Ms ellaneous
When we were coming into Menomonie I asked Linda to hit points-of-interests/restaurants into her GPS informing everyone that for one day only, fast food was out (despite the gravitational pull Culver's has on me). Linda began rattling off the names of several restaurants. We decided on “The Silver Dollar Saloon and Brick Company” on Main Street just a block away from Lake Menomin. But given it was just 11:30 or so, we opted to pop into a few stores first including Bad Cat Bicycles (there were some pretty awesome Trek bikes within on display), the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a free brochure and map of Menomonie and Ms ellaneous, some kind of girl-ee shop with clothes for both the petite and the more mature woman. Linda almost came out of the place with a new pair of shoes (they were on clearance) but thought better of it. I had her pose with one of the t-shirts they sold – Bad Girls of Menomonie – but at $22 it seemed a little steep for a shirt she would wear only for fun or as the mood suited her.

The Silver Dollar Saloon & Brickyard
I don't know what the history of The Silver Dollar is but it looks like you would imagine it – an old time saloon right off some Hollywood Western set with standard lunch and dinner fare. (Sorry, Cassandra, but I don't think they serve Vegans here). We ordered our drinks (lemonade for Emma, cherry Coke for Linda and two root beers for Charlie and I) and took a glance at the menu. Charlie, as usual, went with a cheeseburger and fries, Emma got the french dip, Linda got a chicken wrap (that was huge) and I settled for the “Brickyard” - a half pound worth of meat covered in Swiss cheese and mushrooms. To me, half the secret of a good burger is the bun it's served upon. Most of what we garner in fast food establishments is served up on a defrosted bun. But at the Silver Dollar we were served our fare on fresh rolls. Mmm. Simply delish.
Jewelry from Scrabble pieces. Who knew?

After lunch, we decided to stroll down the street and pop into the various little shops on Main. La Dee Dah is a cute place for interesting items like rings made from small forks, bracelets made from scrabble pieces and pins from bottle caps. The most interesting thing to me about Flowers on Main was the little dog who came to greet you and the bird who liked his head scratched. Of course, we complied.

Scratching the bird's head
If you travel to Menomonie a must-see stop is the historic Mabel Tainter Theater. It is one of the featured landmarks of the downtown area and free to the public. While I was taking pictures, Emma called to be careful about something as she entered the building. Honestly, I wasn't really paying attention and simply said, 'Okay' to whatever she had said. When I went to join them, I paid for my inattention as a wasp was sunning himself on the door handle and promptly stung me for interrupting his siesta.
Mabel Tainter Theater
According to the brochure that is available for your free self-guided tour, Mabel was the daughter of Andrew & Bertha Tainter who died at the age of 19 presumably of an appendicitis. Her parents spared no expense in erecting this memorial in her honor:
Mabel herself
The building is made of Dunnville sandstone and reinforced with Menomonie red
brick. The sandstone was shipped to Downsville by rail and brought to Menomonie
by barge on The Red Cedar River. Hundreds of stone masons, many of them
Scotsmen, split the six to seven ton blocks entirely by hand. The memorial was
estimated to cost $60,000 to complete. But by the end of its construction, the price
had increased to $125,00, the equivalent of $6.5 million today.

Back in the early 1990s, I belonged to the Northern Lights Chorus, a barbershop choir, hailing from Colfax and had the honor to perform once on the very stage that presently is set for the musical version of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The theater has been wonderfully kept and is still very active today.

Practicing the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet

Emma's salute to Tangled


Spinster spinning
Following our tour, we crossed the street and began our slow meandering walk back to the van making stops at the Folk Art Emporium, where a woman proudly referring to herself as a spinster demonstrated the spinning of wool for us, - (I never knew until this moment that “spinster” is a word from the Middle Ages and women got this title because they were unmarried or widowed and had the time to spin wool [whereas a married woman who had to keep house, feed the critters and serve up meals would have zero time whatsoever for anything else]) – and Bookends on Main, a book store selling new and used books. I tried vainly to get Emma to pose with a copy of Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but that was request was dead on arrival. Looking at the cover she failed to see the mirth in parody and simply said, “That is disgusting.” That our family friend Kale found it hilarious only seemed to lower her opinion of his literary tastes. Ah, well...
And this isn't funny?

What's not funny about this?

At lunch, while waiting for our meal to arrive, we thumbed our way through Menomonie 2011 Official Destination & Living Guide of the Greater Menomonie Area and found a coupon for the Eau Galle Cheese Factory located about 15 miles south of Menomonie. We had decided then that this was our next destination and following our little walking tour of Main Street Menomonie we got in the van, returned to Hwy 25 and proceeded south again. About a few miles down the road a green mileage sign informed us that we would travel through Downsville and immediately I suggested we stop at the sign to pose for a group shot. Linda failed to see the humor in that idea so when we pulled up to the water tower just outside of Downsville, she almost refused to get out of the van. But I persuaded her to at least take the picture of Emma, Charlie and I looking as down as we could. Only later did I learn that Downsville actually boasts Dunn County Pottery, Bullfrog Fish Farm, the Downsville Coffee House, Discover Downsville Days (another August festival) and the Empire in Pine Museum. Highway 25 follows the general course of the Red Cedar River and passes through farmland with a few good views of Nine Mile Island State Natural Area on the east side of the river.

Eau Galle Cheese Factory
The Eau Galle Cheese Factory, located on Hwy 25 just north of Durand, not only makes their own cheese but sells all kinds of wares from T-shirts to fresh ice cream to Dept. 56 Village Houses and accessories. For the first 23 Christmases we were married we bought one or two additions to our Dickens Village collection every year until last one. The inn is simply full. Most of the items were 50-70% off, too, which made it slightly tempting to purchase another piece. But $35 is a lot to pay for a nicknack that may not even make it out of the box. We enjoyed samples of fresh cheese and settled on a few different varieties as well as a bag of cheese curds. We each grabbed a cone and sat outside in their patio chairs enjoying the beautiful afternoon sun.

Heading north again on Hwy 25, I suggested we stop at a park we had passed a few miles outside of Durand. The Caddie Woodlawn Park is located about nine miles south of Menomonie and is free to the public. The Dunn County Historical Society has a nice little page about Caddie's park which may be found here: We strolled around the grounds and decided that this would be a great place to come back to for a picnic sometime. Her house is kept open and it looks like there is an attempt to restore it even though it looks it fairly good shape. I remember hearing about Caddie Woodlawn in elementary school but like the Little House on the Prairie books it seemed like a story for girls.

The afternoon was passing by and we still had one last stop to make before heading home. One of Linda's absolute favorite coffee places is Caribou Coffee and every time we pass through Menomonie a must stop is the little shop there located in a strip mall just on the north side of I-94 as you're heading out of town. We placed our order (Linda: the Camp Fire; Emma: Chai Tea; Charlie: Hot Chocolate; me: Banana-Strawberry Smoothie) and sat by the faux fire place in the nice leather seats. Due to the time, we had to take our drinks to go and thus our little excursion on a Easter Monday afternoon came to a close. We came home with cash in our pocket that was designated to return to our small savings account but some school activity quickly claimed that.(for Shel Silverstein fans, “Ching back the Brange” indeed.) Still, it was a wonderful six hours and a good reminder that great adventures do not all need to be found on the far side of the world. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Awakening the Tookish Side in Me

I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

I should think so in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them,” said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring. Then he took out his morning letters, and begin to read, pretending to take no more notice of the old man.”  
Gandalf and Bilbo in “An Unexpected Party”, Chapter 1 of The Hobbit

This past week I had an interesting series of conversations in a 24-hour period with a common theme – faith and how God leads us. Two occurred within an hour of each other and the third happened the very next morning. All of them provoked the same reaction within me: hunger, desire (or maybe jealousy?)

Last weekend, through a serendipitous series of events, we were blessed with the presence of a pastor from Uganda who stayed with us for a few days. We met Pastor John in 2008 through a friend of mine who pastors in the Cities and Brother Lutayaa had stayed with us for a weekend at that time and had preached at Refuge. Ostensibly, he had called me from Chicago last Monday simply asking if I had connections there as he was in-country and looking for a place to stay until our network's annual convention at the end of the month. But given the fact we were a few days from a mission event focused on northeast Africa, I invited him to come and share with us. He accepted my invitation immediately. On Monday morning, as I was taking him to the bus depot in Eau Claire for his return trip to Chicago he shared with me that after purchasing his airline ticket in Uganda he had traveled to America with the equivalent of a mere $120 in his pocket, the sum of which he spent on lodging during his first two days upon arrival (it had to be a dive if he stayed anywhere in Chicago on only that amount). In his thick Lugandan accent he said to me as I drove, “I know it sounds crazy, but when you walk with God you must trust him to provide” (or words to that extent).

The Greyhound stops at the McDonald's on North Crossing and while we were waiting for the bus to arrive, an elderly gentleman came up to us and just launched into conversation. He began by sharing that he felt colder than usual on account he had just returned from an extended stay in Asia (as I recall, he rattled off an itinerary that included Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and the Philippines). When I asked what he did over there I confess I was preparing for him to say something elicit. To my relief he informed me that he had been on a missions trip of sorts. When I asked him what was the nature of his mission (i.e., did he build something or was he working with a ministry there?) he replied: “pack mule.” In response to the quizzical expression on my face he clarified, “I carried medical supplies to people who live in remote areas.” If you're wondering how Larry (his name) got into this line of work, I was, too. He then proceeded to tell me that he was walking down the street one day in the Philippines and some Christians approached him and invited him to join them on this adventure and he had agreed. “Just like that?” I asked him. “Just like that” was his reply and then he began sharing anecdote after anecdote of God's provision and leadership while on his mission that had lasted a couple of months.

Twenty four hours later I was sitting at the table in Bob's Grill at the usual gathering of the Breakfast Club. Along with the usual suspects, we had two friends of David's who joined us, a father-son duo from South Africa. Lynn (the father) was overflowing with stories of God's supernatural leading and provision as they have hitchhiked all over the world. Once a very wealthy man, his riches nearly devoured him. After his wife left him, he was extremely discouraged when the Lord spoke to him through the story of the rich young man (Mark 10) asking him to do the same:
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything
you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow
me." (v. 21)
He did and his life has not quite been the same since. As he shared his story with us (with his son, John-o – a 20-somethingish young man just as excited about life as his dad), the joy he expressed was palpable.

Later that morning while journaling and attempting to discern the significance of these three conversations on the heels of our recent mission event, I thought of something else Lynn had said. “These stories are fun to share now but while you are in them there are times when you're really stressing.” I think of my Ugandan pastor-friend who had a place to stay in Chicago until yesterday. Where he will lay his head next is anybody's guess. But for all that, I find myself wanting the same thing – a sense of His leading in my life that has the touch of the now-ness of God. It's like Bilbo listening to the dwarves' sing in his front room and something stirs within him:

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by
cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire
of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished
to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and
explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of
the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels
of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. (“An Unexpected Party”)

This desire has been awakened before in me but usually it's not the sudden thought of plundering dragons that douses it. No, it's the routine of life (the very one I find myself longing for – see my last blog) that rouses me from my reverie of the thought of “faith adventures” only to find myself “plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.”

The last thing Lynn shared with all of us before we began to pray was “Perhaps sometime the Lord will allow us to return your way and share more of his leading in our life. But even if that doesn't happen ask God for your own stories.” And maybe that's why these three messengers have been brought into my life – to awaken the Tookish part in me (again) that I might ask for this very thing before second breakfasts and blowing smoke-rings distract me once again. Truth be told I want Gandalf to bang on my door and pronounce as he once did to Bilbo:

“I will give you what you asked for.”

“I beg your pardon, I haven't asked for anything!”

“Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it you. In fact I will go so far as to
send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you and profitable
too, very likely, if you ever get over it. “
The road goes ever on and on

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Longing for my old routine

1. a groove or furrow in a soft road, caused by wheels
2. any deep mark, hole, or groove
3. a narrow or predictable way of life, set of attitudes, etc.; dreary or undeviating routine (esp in the phrase in a rut)

Ruts. They are usually places we want to get out of as in, “I'm stuck in a rut.” And we've all been there – following a very predictable flight pattern day in and day out – until grace or serendipitous occurrences get us out of one. But for the record, ever since returning from the Philippines at the end of March I have been longing for my "old" routine.

How so?

I returned on a Tuesday and how wonderful it was to come home to my family, my own bed, hot water and a meal without rice for a change. The next day, I purposefully stayed around the house (in fact, as I recall, it was a “snow” day so apart from Christine, everyone was home). I did pop in at the office in the afternoon only to discover that I couldn't turn my computer on. At the time I figured, 'No worries,' only to discover by the weekend that, in fact, while I was away our building had experienced a power surge of some kind because the hard drive was fried. I could access my Facebook page and blog from home and I had my flash drive and the files contained on that, but it's not the same as working in your own office, in your own comfortable chair, at your own computer without the distractions of a loving wife and the hum of our refrigerator in the next room. At the same time, I was going through the customary week-long jet-lag that I have experienced every time I have returned from the Orient causing me to nap frequently. Besides, when I work at home even though it may be "church"-work it doesn't feel like I'm at work because, well, I'm at home.

In the meantime, a crew of 30-some students and staff from IHOP came to town for a three day prayer event that included a corporate worship gathering at Chetek Alliance on that first Sunday home. The following Sunday was our annual pulpit exchange so that even though I was back in town I was not with my “tribe” yet as I preached at Advent that Sunday. That second week back I worked mainly from home until inexplicably we developed computer issues there as well that caused our internet service to be interrupted (which made it impossible to access our Netflix account, too). By the following week, systems were coming back on line at home and at Refuge but then I discovered that the computer we had been using had Word on it but the “new” system that Kale had built for us did not. Therefore I had to download OpenOffice, a pseudo-Word program that, free though it is, it's a whole lot clunkier and I'm still learning the ins and outs of it. Add to this, all my email contacts were lost in the power surge so last week I busied myself in rebuilding my mailing lists. That was fine until I came in the next day and turned my computer on only to discover that my address book was completely empty. Everything I had replaced was gone again (apparently some anti-virus “deep-freeze” program that Kale installed on the computer also inadvertently affected my address book, or so I learned later). It gets better. So, I replaced the “lost” emails again but during that process the computer froze up so I turned the system off and yes, my address book was absolutely empty when it came back on again. So, until Kale can address that woe, I leave the computer on (now with a note attached because Nancy came in one day and thinking the computer off turned it on only to discover that she had turned it off instead; when she got it rebooted yes, my address book was empty again).

This is sounding terribly whiny. There was a day when I conducted my ministry entirely without access to the computer and the internet. I had a little electronic typewriter that I did my sermonizing on. If I needed information and it was not contained in any of the resources in my office, I went without it. (Where would I be today without Google, Wikipedia or the plethora of resources that I can access within seconds from the comfort of my office?) But for that Sunday I preached at Advent when I had to hand-write my notes my prep time felt terribly awkward and, yes, unnatural.

And another thing, one of the reasons I was hesitant to travel to the Philippines (maybe the only real one) was the break in my running routine. Running is more than a duty for me, something I “have” to do to keep my weight from ballooning (although, there is that). It is something of a spiritual discipline with me. It is a prophetic statement to myself that I am “running the race with perseverance” (Heb 12:2) and while running I am always cognizant of the fact that like Father Abraham, I am marking out the territory for the Lord Jesus (see Genesis 13:17) (which is the reason that running every road in our county is a goal I continue to pursue). But when you travel, your running regimen is usually disrupted. Mine certainly was. I got three days in that first week in-country but when we headed to Palanan given the rain which turned the trails to mud any hope of running went by the way side. And coming back mid-week didn't help much. My first run after something like a 3-week break was a measely 2.5 mile loop during which I had to walk FOUR times. Yeesh. It doesn't matter that I have been running since 1999; when you take nearly a month off when you start again it feels like you're starting all over from scratch. And a lack of regular running routine leaves me unsettled with myself.

The sum of this rant is now nearly a month back from my journey across the Pacific, I feel out of sorts, overweight, and technically clumsy. I am longing for a “normal” week of meeting with leaders, spending time at the Justice Center, writing, preaching and study and at the same time running well and regularly (when the weather turned wintery this week, I suddenly found myself more reluctant than usual to put the shoes on and go; so, I didn't; three days without running = a certain modicum of pain on Saturday when I plan on running next).

Did I mention that my office is a mess?

It is and I'm reaching the breaking point.

In case you're wondering, I don't consider any of this spiritual warfare or the work of some imps trying to mess with my day. If anything, the fact that on the inside I don't roll easily with such lack of routine and inconvenient interruptions reveals I have more issues with “control” than I thought I did.


Anybody seen my old routine? I thought I left it around here someplace.