So Unfo……what was I talking about?
June 11, 2017

 

forgetful

So, the one thing I am consistent on is my inconsistency. I didn’t realize that it has been two months since my last blog. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, as that rarely happens, but it’s not on my radar. I forget. I’m not focused.

I love writing (or typing) but it appears that I am not doing what I love to do best. Well, obviously, EATING is what I do best, and I do that well, thank you.

But I find I am getting forgetful. Age? Maybe. Too busy? Doubtful. Not focused? Bingo! Hold your cards, we have a Bingo! Again, hold your cards, we have a Bingo!

I am the least focused person I know. Example, just today. I go to pay for something today at the store and you have to put your card in with the chip to pay for it. So I wait…..and I wait…. then I ask the lady, “Does this machine not have a chip and I have to swipe it?”. She says, “No, it has the chip”. So I wait. Bonnie leans over and tells me, “You put the card in backwards.” As she always says, I’m not “in the moment”.

Then I go to the car and as I head for the door, I think, “Why is Bonnie driving?”. Well, she wasn’t, I was, but I apparently was heading for the passenger door. Forgetful. Not in the moment. Unfocused.

I have lived in the Shenango Valley for 55 of my 61 years. I walk in Buhl Park anywhere from 3-5 times a week. I love that park. But like today, I go to head to my car and Bonnie is going a different direction. I realize that I am headed for the wrong parking lot. I quickly catch up to her and pretend nothing happened.

Have you ever driven somewhere and as you’re driving, think, “I don’t know where I am or where I am going”? I’m not talking driving through Moscow, but your town, your county, places you’ve traveled your whole life. I have to focus on where I’m going.

Now I’m not really worried about this as I’ve been this way most of my life. I remember as a teenager driving home from Canfield, Ohio toward my home in Sharon, PA. I’m thinking, “take 11 South”, so I go. And I go. And I go. And I’m thinking, “I don’t remember it being this long”. My buddy Chuck was with me and I say, “are we going the right way”? He tells me that we are. So I drive. I saw a sign that said “Airport 12 miles”. I’m thinking I took a wrong turn and am heading toward Vienna, Ohio airport. It wasn’t until I saw the sign saying “Welcome to West Virginia”, I realized I needed 11 North, and the airport I was 12 miles from was Pittsburgh, PA, not Vienna, Ohio. I stop at a gas station for directions and watch two guys lifting their engine out of their truck with a two by four. West Virginia.

Yeah, that’s me. Unfocused.

Praying is hard for me. As I’m a preacher, that’s not good! I’ll be praying and in the middle say “Is that coffee I smell? Gee, what will I eat for breakfast? Did the Yankees win last night?”.  Then I try hard to go back, and start thinking about the day, the night, the anything, and I’ve spent 10 minutes praying, and the only one prayed for is my dog because he’s sitting in front of me. It’s work.

I start conversations and never finish them. Ben says, “What?”. I ask him what he’s talking about. He said, “You started a sentence and never finished it”. I tell him, “Be quiet and watch the game”. Then I realize he turned the channel and he’s watching SportsCenter now. Unfocused.

So, I attempt to be focused. It’s not easy for me. Maybe for you that is reading this, maybe you can’t relate, particularly if you’re a female. But fortunately for this country of ours, the draft ended and I didn’t have to go to the military. Because, it would be quite possible I would end up wandering into a Vietnamese village asking if this was West Virginia.

 

P.S. I had to edit this blog. I said I walked 3-5 times a day in the park. I wish! It’s 3-5 times a week, so I changed it because, Hey look! A squirrel.

 

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Winter
February 12, 2017

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This isn’t open to debate. I’m telling you the truth. I love all the seasons as there is beauty in them.

But what I like about western Pennsylvania is the beauty of winter. Although fall is my favorite, I truly love winter next.

There is something about winter that is peaceful. I chose this picture as its a picture I took of a beautiful February sunset over the wide open fields. The calmness and the serenity of the photo is what winter is for me. What comes to your mind when you hear the lyrics “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright”? A beach? Nah, me either. I see a snow covered peaceful field, where shepherds heard the glorious news about our Savior.

People complain that it is too cold. Winter here is cold. But that’s ok, I’m not that much of a sissy that can’t handle some cold. This winter and last has been mild with little snow. I love snow, so it’s a bit of a disappointment to me.

Now I’m not saying I like snow on the roads. Untreated roads are nerve wracking, and troublesome, but if that’s the worst of it, I’ll take it.

I remember living in Florida and missing the cold. I went to the movies, saw “The Shining” (NOT recommending the movie). There was a scene at the hotel where it was surrounded in snow. Made me miss it.

I had a friend that lived down  there and he was from Cleveland. He said he hated the winter and that the cars were dirty, you track snow into the car. I didn’t .

I remember Christmas shopping in Florida, and you’re in the mall and shopping with Christmas music, Santa inside, place all decorated, and you go around the corner, sunshine, people in shorts, step outside and it’s 85 degrees. Not my cup of tea.

I lived in Florida twice, and when I moved back the second time, it recorded the coldest actual temperature in the history of Mercer County. This was 1984. And I remember, thinking out loud, “God, why have you brought me here”. I really felt that He said, “Because I need you here.”

That’s the point. That’s when I really fell in love with winter. Because God placed me here, then this is where I want to be. See, people move because they don’t like the area, and they don’t even ask God if this is where they should go. I asked, and He said so.

They say, “I want to live near the ocean”. “I need to live in the mountains”. “I need to live with no humidity”. “I need to live where the land is flat”. “I need to live where their are lakes and streams”. And they never consult God. I want to live where God has me.

I just realized I moved back here 33 years ago. I have lived a great majority of my life here. God has placed me here because I am needed here. I’ve gotten married, have three great kids, two in-laws that aren’t in-laws to me because I consider them my own, and three grandbabies here. And it gets cold.

I see the little ones bundled up, cute as can be. I see the blessings of being able to have a warm house and car, “winter skin” that I can put on, and, on days like Friday, open up the windows because it’s 60 degrees.

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like other places. Southern California, driving along Pacific Coast Highway, is absolutely gorgeous. No humidity. I like it there, but I like here better. Because this is where God wants me. At least for the past 33 years.

People that say “come to paradise” doesn’t phase me or entice me. “Paradise” for me is doing and being what God wants, when He wants. Before I was a Christian, comfort was what I strived for.

I’ve learned that when we complain about the weather, we are murmuring against God. As Paul said in Philippians, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” How? “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me”.

I’m content here. Small little house, nice little church, great church family, great family, and all four seasons. Solomon, the wisest man ever, says everything is vanity. He had chased after fame, fortune, success, yet was not satisfied because his affections left God and focused on other things.

My focus is God. Wherever He wants to send me, I will go. And if He tells me to stay, I will stay, because there are two things I absolutely know.

  1. There is a God.
  2. I’m not Him.

 

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Saturday Nights
January 29, 2017

alcohol

 

I remember Saturday nights when I wore a younger man’s clothes. As I sit here at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, I began thinking of those times.

EVERY Saturday night was a party night. Sometimes we didn’t go out until eleven p.m. and still it was a rowdy night. Let me tell you of those days.

Let’s start with the big one. Saturday, October 2, 1976. My best friend at the time was Chuck Jones (who I haven’t seen in 40 years. Funny how life does that.) My birthday was October 1st, his was October 3rd. We would both be 21. October 2nd was a Saturday, so it seemed the most logical day to celebrate.

My cousin Don Lacey, Chuck, and I decided to hit every bar in Sharon, Pennsylvania or maybe the Shenango Valley. Now, I’m going to tell you about this night, but I don’t remember all of it.

There were many bars in the valley at the time, and I don’t honestly remember where we started. Now, we weren’t rookies as we both started drinking on a weekly basis at the age of 13. We would go to the bars in Ohio every Saturday and they would serve us, usually, as we used fake ID’s to get in. Sometimes we would just get quarts of beer and ride around, or sit on the side of State Line Road  and listen to Yankees games on WGAR out of Schenectady, New York. Night time was the only time we could hear the games. But I digress.

We thought, rather foolishly, we would stop at every bar and have a shot and a beer. I never cared for alcohol, but beer was always good. Alcohol made me angry (except Rum) and beer made me “happy”.

We immediately realized that after the 5th or 6th bar, we had consumed a lot of alcohol. But there were so many bars left, we trudged on. A couple bars didn’t serve Chuck as it wasn’t officially his 21st birthday, which we thought was petty.  So we moved to the next bar.

It gets a bit fuzzy now, but somewhere along the line, Chuck was getting sick. We pulled off, actually, not too far from where I now live, so he could vomit. Don asked us if we wanted to quit and we said no.

Then, Chuck couldn’t walk. We were in the parking lot, and Don and I carried him. Unfortunately, we dropped him two times, with each time he hit his head on the pavement. We had to explain the excruciating headache he had the next morning to him.

I then was told that our final stop was at the Lube downtown, our usual stomping grounds. I was told that my friend Bill bought me a beer, and as I was talking to him, i apparently put my hand down to the side with the mug in my hand and spilled it on the floor. He said I looked at the mug and said, “Oh, that was quick. Guess I better go.”

And we did.

That was Saturday, October 2, 1976. At the time I thought it was fun.

But today is Saturday, January 28,2017. I think this Saturday was more fun.

I stayed home most of the day and read a book that’s been on my shelf for two years. It’s by Tim Keller called “Jesus The King”. Keller has become one of my favorite authors, and I actually got to meet him.

I helped Bonnie make three different soups for what we call our “Super Soup Sunday”, for church, held the Sunday between the Championship games and the Superbowl. Everyone makes a bunch of soup and desserts and crackers and breads and it’s a blast. Actually, she made the soups, I just cut up onions, carrots, etc. I really enjoyed working in the kitchen with her.

I had to pick something up at Jo Jo and Josh’s house and got to see Haniah. She cracks me up, and I love how she greets me. Enjoyed the visit there and came home. Because we were busy, we got a pizza from Francescos, my favorite quick Italian place.

I had ginger ale. No beer. No alcohol. Ginger ale.

I am so thankful that I no longer have to drink like that to have fun. I don’t have to get drunk to get away from my problems. I don’t have to get high, try to pick up a girl, or get into a fight for my entertainment. Jesus Christ took that desire from me. There is no other way I could stop drinking. It was Christ.

When my dad was my age, he was still a heavy drinker. He didn’t have Christ. Thankfully, I do.

Sitting at my computer, am I missing anything out there that would benefit my life? Nah, I’m good right here. I tell people that what I have, I could never give up. My life is very, very, good. Besides, I have church in the morning.

I don’t need a vacation. My life is a vacation, and it’s all because of Christ Jesus.

 

 

Imagine
January 1, 2017

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Well, here we are. In less than three hours on the East Coast of the U.S., it’s goodbye 2016, hello 2017. Oh there’s so much promise in the new year, isn’t there?

We look back and forward at the same time. Look at the past with all its pain and suffering as well as its joys and loves. Look forward to all the hopes and promises that lie ahead.

Face it, it was a good year and a bad year. Family and friends coming together, family and friends having a falling out. Great financial decisions made and poor financial decisions made. Lots of laughter and lots of tears.

Some people say, “I can’t wait until 2016 is over”, as if 2016 had magical powers to create good or evil. We have hope that 2017 will be better, that we’ll be wiser, that fate will be kinder, that there will be peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

It’s a time of resolutions: I’ll lose weight, I’ll exercise more, I’ll be vegetarian, I’ll be kinder, I’ll be whatever. Notice in those, it all comes down to “I”. I want you to look at 2017 in a different way.

How about instead of “I” in us, we focus on “God” in us? We focus more on others instead of ourselves? But we ask for abundance, yet keep it for ourselves. We ask for health for us, but don’t help our weaker or older neighbors. We ask for deliverance, yet look down on others who aren’t delivered.

How about instead of asking God for things, we ask Him to change us? We can look at others that are different and still love them? We can debate without arguing? We can work things out peacefully instead of fighting?

How about we trust God instead of our bank account? Trust God instead of our job? Trust God instead of our wants? This could be an exciting 2017.

The Middle East is exploding. Syria is in shambles. We’ve had the most divisive president and election in the history of the U.S. We are divided in race. We are divided in politics. We are divided in religion. We are divided in class. We are divided in beliefs.

What if, seriously, what if everyone decided that they would be, as St. Francis put it so well, “instruments of peace”? What if we decided to not listen to the negative and find the positive?

I’m not talking about fantasy garbage like John Lennon’s “Imagine”, which states that we’d all get along if there wasn’t religion, governments, property, possessions, and poverty. That won’t happen. Our sin nature, untamed, will never permit that.

I’m talking about the basic biblical teachings of loving the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Just think if everyone followed those rules. We all decide to get along?

Imagine.

 

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Christmas Eve Eve
December 24, 2016

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Well, here we are. As I write this, it is 15 minutes until Christmas Eve, so this is still Christmas Eve Eve. Best time of the year and, if you follow this blog, you know I love living in western Pennsylvania, especially from September first until New Years Day.

It’s just so beautiful, and this year there has been lots of snow, and although it is getting warmer, there will be snow on the ground for tomorrow night, Christmas Eve.

There’s just a special, almost magical feeling on Christmas Eve. There is the thrill of the celebration of the birth of Christ. I know that nobody knows when Jesus was born, but it’s the celebration. It’s the realization that God Himself came to earth, took on human form and becoming 100% man while still being 100% God. Immanuel, God with us.

I love the giving spirit behind this. The anticipation of children. Haniah is 3 1/2, is well aware that Santa is coming but realizing it’s also the birth of Jesus that we celebrate. I have Christian friends that do not celebrate Christmas, and my thoughts are, why wouldn’t we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World?

Church on Christmas Eve is my favorite. All my brothers and sisters in Christ gathered together to worship the King of the world. The music, the companionship, the shaking of hands, hugs, and kisses on cheeks. The realization that this day celebrates the one thing us believers all have in common…..Jesus Christ is Lord.

This time of year I think of the importance of Christ’s birth. I was always amazed as a child that there would be a ceasefire in the Vietnam War during Christmas. Amazing. People trying to kill each other in the name of their governments would stop and take a day or two of peace. All because of Christ Jesus.

People being nicer to each other. But I’ve noticed the election has brought out the worst in people, particularly this season. There is no forgiveness, no tolerance to opposing views, and love is hard to find. People who think differently than others are bigots, racists, stupid, and more.

But that’s where we come in. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Not for peace with each other, but peace with God. We were enemies of God because of our sin and our falling away from God. But when we realize that the One who’s birth we celebrate in two days also is the one who died for our sins, then we find peace with God.

We celebrate that Christ took us, totally not worthy, and made us worthy. No other religion has a God that died for us. No other religion has a Father who sacrificed His own Son. No other religion has grace for our sins.

This Christmas is remarkable. The joy in little one’s eyes as they wait for the day. The joy of giving to loved ones and the joy in giving to those in need. The joy we have in knowing that we will have eternal life with other believers, if truly ourselves, we are believers.

For so long it’s been politically incorrect to say “Merry Christmas”. But there appears to be a renewed Spirit in this land. “Merry Christmas” is welcomed. And in some places, Christ is even welcomed back. He’s always been welcomed in my home. Hopefully, someday, He will be welcomed back to the United States. At least that’s what I pray.

Merry Christmas.

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Old Friends
January 27, 2016

Reflective mood tonight. (Notice how I’m avoiding the weight issue? Yes, astute readers, you are). I was reflecting earlier today and re-reflecting tonight about Old Friends. Probably because of listening to Simon and Garfunkel.

I always thought I’d have boyhood friends forever. Just like the song “Old Friends/Bookends”.

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blowin’ through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends

Old friends
Winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy.

My buddy growing up, Keith, was my next door neighbor. Heck he was class president and I was vice-president of our class. Actually, before I got into counseling, I worked for him in his construction business. He lives in the area. We speak to each other twice a year. I call him on his birthday and he calls me on mine. Funny how that works.

I had a friend Chuck who I was real close with throughout high school. He introduced me to underage drinking. We went to concerts together, ball games, and drove around a lot just drinking and trying to tune in the New York Yankees on WGAR from Schenectady, NY. (If we found the right place at night, we could listen to the whole game). We spent so much time together. He’s in Chicago or somewhere. I was in his wedding, haven’t seen him or talked to him in over 35 years. Funny how that works.

I lamented not having that, but then realized I have four or five people in my life I would call close friends.

Lon is who I see more than the others. Him and Janet, I’ve known for about 20 years. I actually communicate more with them than with other friends. It’s a beautiful friendship, but it will change as eventually they move to North Carolina. Not soon, but soon enough. Funny how that works. I love him.

Jim has been my friend for 40 years. He lives in Florida. We lived together for awhile there. It seems that when we get together, it was like we were just with each other. We have had more experiences than you can imagine, and as he is a CEO of a non-profit organization, we’ll leave it at that. Concerts, parties, girlfriends, video games. We went through break ups with our girlfriends and more Tony’s pizza than you can shake a stick at. I love him.

Cindi, my cousin, who also lives in Florida. We have experienced so many things growing up, and it was always good to bounce things off her when girls drove me crazy.  I was the same to her. I spent summers at her house when she lived near by. So many stories, and we have verbally agreed not to blackmail each other. I love her.

Johnny, my cousin. He lives near by and we don’t see each other near enough. Nobody made me laugh like him, and my goal has and continues to be, to get him to pee his pants. He’s 60, so it shouldn’t be hard. His mom was like my second mother. He’s a chubber like me, and even now, deep down, though we struggled to lose weight by dieting and exercising together, we both hope the other stays fat. I love him.

Bonnie, my wife. We have been married over 30 years. We’ve known each other closer to 40. She knows everything about me. She is my biggest critic and my biggest fan. When I’m down, she builds me up. When I feel full of myself, she brings me down. She didn’t know me when I was going through my struggles, but has kept me from going back to them. My best friend. I am blessed. I love her.

The song continues:

Old friends
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fear

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

But I can see myself at 70 sitting on a park bench with Bonnie or Jim or Cindi or Johnny. In fact I do that now because it’s actually “terribly strange” to be 60.

“Old Friends/Bookends” by Simon and Garfunkel.

 

 

 

Finding Jim Paynter
November 29, 2012

I worked in central Florida for a few years in the late seventies. It was run by a bunch of “born agains” who promoted Jesus continually. It was a family run business, and they talked a good game, but didn’t necessarily live it (except my friend Ray Williams, but that’s another story).

I was never impressed by “born again Christians”, because they were so “mousey”. By “Mousey” I mean timid, meek, quiet. At this place it was “Jesus this” and “Jesus that”. And their focus was on Jesus and money, although, by how the place was shut down, I think the order might have been money and Jesus.

I worked side by side doing construction with my supervisor, Jim Paynter. Jim was a simple man from Maryland, and I’m not quite sure how he ended up in Eustis, FL. But we worked together. Jim never preached to me. Never kept pushing me. He worked beside me, and worked hard.

Jim was married to Judy, a sweetheart if there ever was one, and had seven boys, all their names beginning with “J”. I never asked him why, but it was a blast watching him call his son, and running through the list of names before he got to the lad’s real name.

I knew Jim was a Christian, because we always had devotions before work. Jim would ask me to pray, and as a non-Christian, I got to praying pretty good, not the canned Catholic prayers I was taught. And Jim loved Judy. I remember he would chase her around the kitchen always trying to kiss on her or hug her. I still laugh when I think about it.

He was a strict disciplinarian with his kids. I’m not talking physical discipline, but like “Andy Griffith” discipline. Groundings, taking away privileges, and the one line he used all the time with his kids when they messed up was “what ails you, boy?”

Jim never swore. One time he smacked his thumb real good with a hammer. He jumped down from the scaffold, yelling, “dang, dang, gosh darn it” with blood dripping down his hand. He later apologized to me for losing his temper. I laughed and told him the words I’d be saying instead of what he used.

He lived his life beside me. He never cheated at work, was never mean to people, and was a willing worker. He never brought up Jesus, but his life made me question him about this Jesus he served. Looking back, it was him imitating Christ, and I just wanted to be like him.

My friend Jay and I would go to the Christmas parties drunk, and Jim sat with us and never mentioned it. I thought it would be cool to “show them” by coming drunk, but Jim’s response to us made me embarrassed, because it was an insult to what Jim believed.

I moved north and lost touch with Jim completely. About 3 years later, I accepted Christ’s gift of salvation, and people asked me who inspired me to become a Christian and two names came to mind. My Aunt Mary, and Jim Paynter. I’ve been able to thank, and continue to thank Aunt Mary, but have never seen Jim since. I’m sure he’d be totally shocked to find out I’m a preacher.

So to Jim, I just want to say “thank you” for loving Jesus with your life. Thank you for investing in me. Thank you for imitating Christ. Thank you for loving me as the drunk and the druggie I was. It wasn’t all in vain. I love the Lord with all my heart, and you are a big reason why with the seed you planted.

If anyone ever runs into Jim Paynter, tell him I said hi, but I’m not sure he’d remember me. Or maybe he’s been praying for me everyday. Either way, there’s only one thing I need to do.

I want to be somebody’s Jim Paynter.