Beam Me Up

March 31, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Don’t get me wrong, I love working from home. Even though I have a second office where I do some consulting, the majority of my work is done at a table in the corner of my basement. You would think I would be safe there and free from distraction. That is not always the case.

 

First, the upside. I have two basic outfits, one for winter and one for summer. My winter outfit consists of a sweat suit (I own five)  and a pair of slippers. I have an elaborate rotation system for them which is much more detail than I need to get into here. My summer wardrobe consists of several pair’s of shorts and a drawer full of T shirts from various sources. All of them match my flip flops perfectly, although those of you who are really fashion conscious would quickly point out that I wear slides, not flip flops.

 

Whatever!

 

Also, coffee is readily available, I have a private bathroom, and I can take my breaks anytime I want to. I have no time clock or office supervisor who thinks he’s one. I eat lunch when I’m hungry, not when I’m scheduled to and I shower when the mood strikes me which is usually when even I can’t stand myself anymore. A lot of the times that happens mid afternoon. If I remember something that I need to do, I just get up and do it. I don’t need permission and I don’t have to wait until after work or the weekend. Every day is after work or the weekend. As a friend of mine says, the only thing you have to remember is that the big paper comes on Sunday.

 

So, what could possibly be wrong with this? Maybe wrong isn’t the right way to look at it, especially when it’s my wife, daughter and to some degree my friends who are involved. How do I say this delicately? There are distractions when you work at home and sometimes it seems as if those distractions work together almost as if they are part of a conspiracy to frustrate you.

 

Granted, some days are worse than others, but the consensus seems to be that a person working from home doesn’t really have a job; therefore, they don’t really work. To some degree that problems exists for everyone who works from home, but for those of us who write, it is especially bad. As writers know, much of our time is spent pondering the greater truths of our day, or imagining the details of the next scene in the endless Saturday afternoon matinee that passes for thought in most writer’s heads.

 

We are not day dreaming; we are creating. Why is that so hard to understand? We need large blocks of time strung together without interruption so that we can make all the characters in our mental soap operas behave. Who knows what they might do if we didn’t keep our thoughts focused on their every movement, sigh and desire?

 

So when your spouse says, “Honey, you seem to be taking a break. I need to run something by you; it will only take a minute,” it really is hard to keep from screaming. Sometimes even if they just walk through the room it is enough to take you out of that moment you spent so much time finding. “Sorry,” doesn’t help. Now you have to hunt for that moment again and hope you can find it. No matter how good a spouse’s intentions are, or how innocent, those interruptions are like serial killers for all those creative thoughts you need to have.

 

Then, just when you get going and are about to jump your story to hyperspace, some kitchen Klingon shouts, “Diner’s ready, Dear. Bring up some bottled water from the frig down there will you?” It’s not their fault…really…but it does make you wish you could just have Scottie beam you up for a day or two  so you could get something done.


How many times out of a hundred?

March 30, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

You may have noticed (or not) that there was no blog on Thursday.  Well, there’s a good reason for that… I was laid out with something that wiped me out with no real evidence that I was in fact sick.

I had been called to substitute teach in the music classes on Thursday, and feeling fine on Wednesday, I agreed.  Then I woke up Thursday morning.  It’s hard to describe this feeling because it’s like being sick without really BEING sick.  My stomach hurt like it had done 2,000 push-ups.  My legs just hurt.  My chest hurt.  I would have moments were it was hard to breathe.  But I didn’t LOOK sick.  I wasn’t sneezing or coughing.  I wasn’t even really sick to my stomach.  I just did not feel good AT ALL.

But I had agreed, and I didn’t want to let them down as I had when I woke up with my son sick.  So I got ready.  About every three or four minutes, I would have to stop and regroup, and I kept saying, “Holy Spirit, You’re going to have to do this because I don’t think I can.”  I ate… kind of.  I corralled the kids together… kind of.  I was about 1/34245th of an inch from totally losing it, but determination kept me moving.

We got in the van and headed to the first school.  The fight to convince myself that teaching would be possible continued.  First child dropped off.  We headed for the second (destination) school.  I was praying over and over that the Holy Spirit was going to have to do this when my cell phone rang.  Thinking it was some poor excuse for a joke because I was already struggling to drive and stay sane, I answered it.

It was the school secretary. “I’m really sorry but we just had a music teacher show up.  We didn’t know she was coming.  I’m sorry. I’m sure you were already on your way…”  I told her that was wonderful news because I felt so awful bad.  So she told me to go home and get some rest.  When I told my mom what happened later, I said, “Now, seriously.  How many times out of a hundred would that happen… where a music teacher would just show up without having been called by the secretary to sub for a class?!”

Don’t tell anyone, but my theory is the Holy Spirit figured out I was serious about Him having to do it, so He found someone else.  But let’s keep that between us!


Dancing with the Star

March 25, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

I’m going to depart from my usual subject matter today and address something that all of America has to be asking itself. How in the world is that fat computer geek still on “Dancing with the Stars”? I mean, come on. As writers we are taught to rely heavily on the willing suspensions of disbelief, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept bending all credulity to the point of shattering it into a million pieces.

 

The guy can’t dance. He can’t even gallop around the stage in a socially acceptable manner. Let me emphasize one point here. Of all the dancers on the show I look the most like him of any of them, absent the simple minded smile he always flashes. I should feel for him and I do, but embarrassment doesn’t count.  He is making a mockery out of the show, and that’s hard to do when the bar is set so low to begin with!

 

And, evidently, America is buying it. Let me make another point clear here. I don’t like these shows, and don’t usually watch them but my wife makes me, calling it quality time together. Really. Not that I minded Carrie Underwood on American Idol a few years back, but I watched her because she sings great. Yes, I did notice that she is more than a little attractive too, but it’s the singing. Honest. I have two daughters older than she is, not to mention several pairs of socks.

 

I like Shawn Johnson on Dancing this year too. She’s an Iowa girl, one of my peeps, so I watch her because she is one of the best things that has ever happened to this state. I am an unabashed homer, what can I say? I support the Hawkeye state and all of us bold enough to still claim it as home. You will find a lot of people all over the country who are from Iowa, but the emphasis is usually on the word “from.” I am proud to say I still am.

 

So why all the frivolity today? Sometimes I just think we take ourselves too seriously. Maybe that is the point of the computer geek. Add a little levity to the show to keep our levels of righteous indignation at the full mark.  It has to be something like that because it isn’t about dancing.

 

As believers we do sometimes forget that we are supposed to make a joyful noise to the Lord; we forget that David danced through the streets to celebrate. We think sack cloth and ashes is the uniform of the day instead of the dress for times when we need to repent. Why do we think we can win others to Jesus if we walk around with sour looks on our faces all the time? Who wants that? I don’t.

 

The book of Romans tells us to be joyful in hope and patient in affliction. The Bible has scores of references to joy, joyfulness and happiness.  So, why do we insist on being so somber all the time? If Christians can’t be happy and enjoy themselves knowing they are saved by grace, why would anybody want to join us?

 

Dance with David, raise your hands and praise the Lord for He is good and his steadfast love endures forever. Dance with the real Star.


Hope in the Lord

March 24, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

There are some things you just can never really know until you experience them. Some of the “bonuses” of getting older cannot be understood by younger people. For example, my father used to say that the worst thing about getting older was all the aches and pains. None are all that big, except they add up when they all decide to join forces and play at the same time.

 

So this morning when I got up and my shoulders vied with my knee for the most painful joint in my body, my thumbs and my fingers got jealous and decided to be extra stiff themselves. Throw in a sinus headache caused by weather that can deviate as much as 30 degrees in an hour and I understood what Dad was talking about. I never had any of these problems when I was younger; why now?

 

Young people just don’t get these things, but for most of them, their day is coming. It’s no wonder now that I’m older that one of my favorite passages in the Bible comes from Isaiah 40:28-31:

 

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and His understand no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increase the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

 

These verses are woven into a book I hope to have out one of these days. There is hardly a week that goes by that I don’t go back and read this passage. If you want to soar, hope in the Lord. If you want to run instead of be weary, remember the eagles. We are never alone. Our God does not grow tired or weary. He is the everlasting God.

 

How can you not have hope and feel energized when you pray on these verses?

 


Drifting

March 23, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

I woke up this morning and realized Spring Break is over.  All in all not a bad thing exactly.  At least I don’t have to sit here and listen to my kids fight all the time.  Today, they are the teachers’ issues.  (And we simply don’t pay teachers enough, I’ve decided after last week.)  However, the end of Spring Break means that life begins again, and since you’re here, I’ll confess.  I let many things go over Spring Break.

Like a good blamer, I will say that a lot of that is not my fault.  My primary “tool” is the computer, and when my kids are home, my time on the computer is squished in between, “Phineas & Ferb and the Great Roller Coaster” and Webkinz and the newest outfits to dress your make-believe pet.  So I let the bank statements go, and the bills, and sending the bills (and the blog, but no one noticed that… right?).  We went skiing and then camping.  In my defense, I did some laundry.  Not all.  Some.  So there’s that to catch up on as well.

Of course, cleaning with children in the house is pointless, so I let that go too.  And I couldn’t make my CD’s for tonight’s meetings because that required the computer.  Ditto the song sheets.  Ditto the chords for the songs.

In a previous life, I would have been freaking out about now, but this morning, I decided to drift instead of freak.  So far, it’s worked out pretty well.  Somehow I got the CD’s done while I was doing the bank statements.  I still have to do bills, but those won’t be terribly hard.  Cleaning house will take some time, but I’m vowing right here to do a little at a time.  Laundry?  Well, that you just have to do in loads, which I promise I will do as soon as I get up from here.

It’s amazing to me how complicated life can get, and how complicated we can make it.

It’s a good thing God has taught me to drift rather than to freak.  Today, it’s a really good thing!


The Wonder of the Dark

March 18, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

There is something humbling about staring into the darkness before the sun comes up like I am right now. The blackness of the night has its own master and no matter how hard you stare or how loud you yell, it simply won’t be hurried. Even looking straight east from my window there is no hint that light will ever come and yet I know it will, but only when it is good and ready. It’s schedule is steady, constant and mindlessly consistent unlike mine which has me up hours before I normally get up. There is comfort in that.

 

I can shine a flashlight into the night, turn on the porch light or light the biggest bonfire you can imagine, but it won’t change the fact that the sky is still dark until it says otherwise. It will only be light again when the sun pops up over the horizon and proves that it’s still there as it has been all my life.

 

I like knowing that. Unlike the ancients who feared the dark, the blackness doesn’t scare me. In fact, it does the opposite; it lets me know who is really in charge and who isn’t. I’m not. Believe it or not, once you realize that and even more importantly, once you accept it, life gets a whole lot easier and a lot less frightening.

 

There is an old joke that the only thing better than owning a boat is knowing someone who owns a boat. The same statement can be made about the dark. The only thing better than being able to control the darkness is knowing someone who can control it. In my case I know someone who does control the darkness because He created it to begin with and then overcame it when it refused to acknowledge the superiority of the Creator over the creation.

 

Before the light there was darkness, but before the darkness there was God who created it all, including the darkness. All of that came before Man was created on the fifth day. If you still don’t understand where you fit in try a little experiment. Get up before the light comes  tomorrow and stand at the window. Shout as loud as you can, “Let there be light,” and see what happens. Shout it as many times as you want and see if you can coax even the slightest hint of daylight to show itself.

 

Then go read Genesis 1, verse 3. God didn’t shout and he didn’t repeat himself. He didn’t know, as we do now that daylight will come because it never had before. But God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. It was really that simple for Him. It’s still not light outside where I live because it isn’t time for it to be yet. God said so and I might as well make coffee and accept it. The morning will be a lot less frustrating for me that way.

 

 


What is Funny?

March 17, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

A few years back one of the most popular television shows featured a standup comic named Jerry Seinfeld doing what was essentially a parody of himself. He made fun of his lifestyle, the neighbors around him and the city of New York, but he did it in such a clever way that it made people tune in and that meant ratings, which meant it was a hit. It lasted for approximately 10 years and is still seen in reruns on many channels.

 

Somebody once asked him what the show was about, and he is reported to have said “It’s about absolutely nothing.” Several of the episodes bordered on the genre known as “blue comedy,” which means it dealt with topics traditionally thought to be obscene or offensive. Several more episodes crossed that border, as far as I’m concerned, and I am not exactly a prude when it comes to humor or most everything else.

 

I have to admit that a few of the episodes were extremely funny to me, and several will become classics, but I was never a huge fan, and I’m still not. To be fair, I have to say that a lot of the shows and movies that pass for comedy today are sophomoric, crude, and tasteless in my opinion. Can anyone out there say Will Farrell, Ben Stiller or Jack Black for starters? All may have talent, but so far they are hiding it.

 

Compared to them, Seinfeld’s humor is cerebral.

 

As someone who admittedly appreciates good British bathroom humor on occasion, I must say that what I see in modern day comedy is bathroom humor pushed to the extreme without the benefit of the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” that makes it acceptably silly but not totally offensive. Where is Benny Hill when we need him or Monte Python, for that matter?

 

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t trust somebody who has no sense of humor. They’re hiding something. However, what we laugh at tells me a lot about our values, or lack of them. And when we laugh at nothing or worse at coarse, tasteless material that doesn’t wink back at itself, we evidence a lack of belief in much of anything. Laughter has to believe in something or it’s pointless and empty.

 

Yes, society and humor change with the times like so many things do, and I have to accept the fact that some of my disdain for what passes as humor today may be a function of age. But humor has many functions, and one of them is to help us deal safely with ideas, concepts and hurts that are too painful to deal with any other way. So we laugh, and through laughter frequently we are allowed to heal. God knew what He was doing even in that realm.

 

 

 

 


Safe, Sound, and On Time

March 16, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Here in the Texas Panhandle it’s been a mild winter.  No. Scratch that.  We haven’t really had winter at all, and it’s now the middle of March!  We have had one “ice storm” that hardly qualifies as minimal and no snow.  I mean like… NONE!

The other thing you have to know is that here in the Panhandle, we don’t do the first winter storm of the year very well.  People have just forgotten after eight months of sun that you can’t drive 70 on ice.  They forget to allow extra time.  They forget the bridges freeze over and don’t unfreeze.  They forget to give everyone else leeway.  And guess what, we end up with a mess of wrecks and emergency vehicles.

Well, we had our first real winter storm last Thursday (March 12).  And to be honest, it wasn’t even a storm.  It was a half inch of snow followed very closely by really cold temperatures–right before everyone headed out for work and school.

We headed out too–to school, as usual.

Now I knew the roads might be a little bad, and they were… a LITTLE bad.  But nothing to write home about.

I was driving; the three kids were with me.  Two schools, 45 minutes, routine as usual.  As we got into town, we could see the dusting of snow, and the CARS.  Everywhere.  I didn’t think anything of it (in fact, I didn’t even realize any of this was at all extraordinary until two hours after I got home!).  The center lane at our turn on Washington was blocked off due to road work.  The cars trying to get through the light were backed up for 3/4 of a mile, at least.  But we weren’t going through the light, and there was no one in the center lane, and no one in the turning lane, so we went right on through.  No big deal.

We got to first daughter’s school after having prayed as a family, took phonebooks in for their phonebook drive, and hopped in the van for the second leg of the journey.  When I got on I-27, there was a flood of cars, but we got on without incident because I told my kids, “You’d better start praying that the Holy Spirit helps us out here!”  (It should be noted I’m not a big fan of traffic.  Especially traffic that flies like it does in the morning.)  So we headed around I-27.  At the exchange, we went one way, most of the other traffic went the other.

At the top of the winding bridge, I looked back to gauge where to get on, and there was no traffic.  None.  Four lanes and no traffic.

Okay, wait.  There was one car.  It was a little white four door that was “parked” next to the pylons that keep people from crashing into the concrete bridge barriers.  Think guardrails on steroids.  Only after we went by did I realize, the white car was “going” in the wrong direction as if it had just driven from Los Angeles on I-40 against traffic and decided to park on the road-side of the on ramp for the fun of it.  There were two guys walking around the car.

Now you have to understand why I didn’t think any of this was terribly odd–because I was already focused on the other side of the center concrete-guardrail-on-steroids at the cars, trucks, pickups, ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks jammed together.  I could tell this was no simple wreck.  This was a douzy.  There were trucks stopped, cars backed up for miles.  It looked like a huge mess.  And yet, here I was on the OTHER side, the only car on the whole four lanes, driving as if the whole world wasn’t going nuts around me.

We got to school.  On time.  Maybe even a bit early.  I let the kids out and headed home.

Going home, I drive back out of the city.  Everyone else is driving into the city.  As I crossed I-40, there were cars and trucks lined up on the access road, on the Interstate, everywhere.  But I was on the other side (because I don’t go back down I-40, I use the city streets to go home).  The intersection was crazy, but the green lights ushered me safely through with no delay.  Back down on Washington, the center-lane-is-out mess had gotten WORSE.  Now there was not only a mile of cars trying to get through the light from a single lane, but there was another half-mile of cars waiting to turn onto Washington from the side street.

Again, with no delay at all, I drove home.  I arrived safe and sound and called my mom so she wouldn’t worry that I had been on I-40 during the wreck.  She had already heard about it on the radio… and she lives an hour away!

It was only after I found out WHY my side of I-40 was clear that the Holy Spirit’s Staci Protection Plan came into clarity.  You see, not only was there a huge pileup on the OTHER side of I-40, there was also a huge pileup on my side… one mile behind where I got on.  Then as I thought about it and was explaining to my husband about that strange little white car, I began to realize that THEY had also just had a wreck, or at very least spun out of control.

There are some things I would like to do in Heaven.  One of those things is to see the events of my life and watch how the Holy Spirit put Himself between me and danger.  I know He has–on numerous occasions.  I would also like to witness like on some Heavenly-TIVO how He moved the World to let me pass unscathed as I know He has also done.

Thinking back on the whole morning, seeing again in my memory the lights, the cars, the snarled traffic, I have to say I can see it for the metaphor of my life.  The World is a snarled mess.  Everywhere there is drama, drama, drama.  People are less honest, less caring, less helpful.  They think of me, me, me and no one else.  They refuse to turn their face to God and surrender to His plan, and so they stay stuck in the traffic of the world.  They get into wrecks that are avoidable if they would follow the road maps of the Commandments and the Bible. And life in that World traffic is frustrating and spirit-straining.

I’m not saying I’m perfect… ha!  Far, FAR from it.  What I am saying is that if you can learn to let God be your pilot, if you can learn to let Him drive, if you can learn to surrender to His plan, things just work so much better.  I can tell you that because I’ve also been stuck in traffic and instead of letting my blood pressure go through the roof, I have had the presence of God in me to say, “It’s okay.  Breathe. This too shall pass.  Enjoy this time–it won’t be here forever.”

God is so cool!


Rocks

March 12, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

It’s Lent.  For those of you who don’t know, to a Catholic that means giving things up and reminding ourselves of our sinfulness.  Now let me make one thing very clear.  We are sinners.  None of us could ever get into Heaven on our own.  I don’t care how gracious, how scrupulous, how holy you are, we have ALL fallen short of the glory of God.  On our own, we’re sunk.  It is only by reaching out to Jesus and accepting the salvation He offers us that we can bridge the enormous gap between where we are and where God is.

I believe this with everything in me.  I know it is only by falling on God’s mercy and love that I could ever be worthy enough to stand before the throne of God.

But sometimes I think we take this a little too far, or hold onto it a little too long.

Recently I went to a service that featured rocks–the kind we throw at each other, the kind that have been thrown at us.  Now I believe that to be true.  We have thrown rocks at each other, and we have definitely had them thrown at us.  But after the service we were asked to take a few rocks with us as a reminder of the times we have thrown rocks and to remember not to throw them in the future.  To some extent, I can see the validity in that, but since going through God’s Intense Love Training Bootcamp, I just don’t believe that’s the way we were meant to live–holding onto rocks.

God designed us to be a channel for Him into this world.  We are to relinquish our hold on everything so that He can work through us, and that includes the rocks.  Of course we’re not supposed to throw them anymore, but to commit yourself to holding onto them to remind yourself not to is, to me, to miss the point.  If you are walking in God’s love and grace, walking in the joy of having been set free by what Jesus did on the cross for you, you don’t have to “remember not to throw rocks,” you wouldn’t throw them even if you had them.  You just don’t see people that way anymore.  You don’t see their guilt.  When your guilt has been removed, you only see God’s great love–for you and for everyone else.

God did not mean for us to live burdened and weighed down by rocks of sin and guilt.  He came so that we can be FREE.

So while I understand holding the rocks to understand what we do to one another, there comes a time when you need to put the rock down, to exchange it for what God is holding out to you–a life you simply can never live by holding onto the rocks.

What God holds out to you is life and His love in abundance.  So I encourage you today to take your rocks to God, tell Him you are really sorry, and then accept the forgiveness He gives you in return.  Stop holding onto the rocks.  Step into new life!

That’s the way God wants you to live!


Born Teachers

March 11, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

First, you have to understand that my mother was born to be a teacher. Even before she had a teaching license, she taught in country school. You could do that in rural areas back then. I remember watching her study when she went back to finish her college degree so she could teach in a city school system. And I can remember all the years she taught in the local school system before she retired. Even after she retired she went back to local classrooms and read to children.

 

Lots of men and women have done that. But I wonder how many made up games when their families took summer vacations, so they could each them new words, how to read, multiplication and long division. My mother did. When we took summer vacations, we drove; we never flew. And in those days there weren’t a lot of interstate or even four lane highways. There were narrow, two-lane roads that went through the heart of every city and every small town in between the cities. Travel took a long time then, so three kids crammed in the back seat of a car that had no air conditioning needed to be distracted. Obviously the DVD player hadn’t been developed yet, so there were no movies or cartoons to numb us into a quiet stupor.

 

So my mother used the time to teach us, even though she tricked us by calling our vacation activities games. We loved every minute of it because we thought we were playing; we didn’t realize we were learning. One of the games we played involved memorizing short poems and reciting them back. When we were smaller, we memorized nursery rhymes and I can still recite most of them even though I am 62. Believe me, if you want to have fun at your next adult party, start reciting Little Boy Blue or Humpty Dumpty for no particular reason and see how fast people move to the other side of the room. I dare you.

 

When we got older, we memorized short poems, and I can still recite a lot of those to this day also. There is something about memorizing that commits the words to the hard drive of your soul. Unfortunately, educators have overlooked the value of memorizing as a legitimate teaching tool in many of our schools.

 

When my mother realized she was terminally ill, she sat with my brother, my sister and me and told us exactly how she wanted her funeral to be. She even made notes like she was writing out a lesson plan for a substitute teacher. For one thing, she wanted us to sing “Joy to the World.” Even though it is a Christmas carol, she insisted that it was how we should feel when she died, and besides it was one of her favorite songs. She also wanted someone to read one of the poems I remember learning on those summer vacations.

 

It isn’t the greatest poem that was ever written, but its simple message is profound in a way, and it shows that to the very end, she was a teacher. I never learned who wrote it. My mother wrote on the top line of the page: The Poem I’ve Tried to Live By.

 

The rest follows:

 

A Little Fellow Follows Me

 

A careful person I ought to be;

            A little person follows me.

I do not dare to go astray

            For fear he’ll go the self same way.

 

Not once can I escape his eyes;

            What’er he sees me do he tries,

Like me he says he’s going to be-

            The little chap who follows me

 

He thinks that I am good and fine,

            Believes in every word of mine;

The base in me he must not see,

            The little chap who follows me.

 

I must remember as I go        

            Through summer rain and winter snow;

I’m building for the years to be

            That little chap who follows me.

 

When I look back upon life’s way

            What joy ‘twill be if I can say,

I’ve led him in a path I’ve trod,

            A way that leads to Heaven and God.

 

We are all born to be teachers, like my mother was; the question is, what will we teach?

 

 

 

 

 

 


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