CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “dominican republic”

Interesting.

“May you lead an interesting life.”

I have no proof of this, but I have always been given to understand that this is an old Chinese curse.  I used to think that such a thought was silly; who wants to lead a boring life.  Then I understood just how stressful and difficult it can be when one’s life is “interesting,” and I longed for a life that was perhaps a bit less “interesting.”  I even found that for a while.  However, I find myself at a place now where my life is again a bit interesting.

For a while I’ve been in a bit of a quandary.  I have wanted to post here, but was finding it difficult to develop a relevant topic.  And then I heard Jeremy Riddle’s “Sweetly Broken” on our local Christian radio station, WCTL (BTW, they also stream and can be found at www.WCTL.org).  This song touched me, and after pondering for a while, I realized why my life is currently interesting and why this song resonated at this point in time.  There are several components to where I am right now.

First, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in an odd state of mind.  It occurred to me that I was quite frightened of a situation in which I am close to finding myself.

In previous posts I have discussed our Pastor, Bob Klecan in one reference or another.  I have had the privilege of grabbing an occasional cup of coffee with him on several occasions.  We have discussed everything from theology and “the church” to The Beatles, Vietnam, and sports.  And two things I have noticed: First, Bob Klecan is extremely smart.  And second, he is often underestimated.  He is a very humble man, able to discuss a variety of topics, understands deep issues, and can preach the word in a way that is understandable both in theory and in application.

I once asked him, “How do you deal with people underestimating you all the time?”  The look on his face was priceless.  He was shocked, first of all because it is true, he is consistently underestimated, but also because someone noted that fact.  He asked me how I knew that.  My reply was that it was easy for me to recognize that in him because I am underestimated all the time as well.

Note to all.  I am not bragging here, and this is not a “How cool am I?” piece.  Puffing myself up is not my style, far from it.  But I need to acknowledge  some things in this post which could look like bragging.  Not so.

Anyhow, with that proviso, I admit that I’m a fairly smart individual.  I enjoy learning and I enjoy experiencing new thoughts and new situations.  However, I come from a blue-collar family, solidly middle-class; not intentionally identifying ourselves as intellectual.  My Father was a non-commissioned officer in the army in WWII, and after that a farmer.  After selling the farm (where I grew for the first six years of my life), Dad purchased a service station in Springboro, PA.  He later took a job as a tool and die maker, working in that job until he retired.  Dad also did tax work on the side, which is about the only post-High School education he had.  Mom, due to family situations prior to marriage, did not have a chance to complete High School.  Relatively common in her era.

My point in giving some description of my family’s levels of education is to show that I do not come from a background of  higher education.  Some people come from families of doctors, attorneys, accountants, whatever.  Those families more or less expect their children to also get an education, the key word being also.  I did not grow up in that situation.

Although they had no college background, my family expected me to go to college, and it was just understood that I was going to college my entire life.    It wasn’t until decades later I discovered that when my parents adopted me, the judge granting the adoption made my parents promise that their son would get an education.  My parents were two of the most honest and honorable people I have ever known and when they made that promise, they were determined to keep it.  And they did.

My high school years were spent in Saegertown Area High School (they called it Penncrest, but we that went to Saegertown knew better).  I kind of coasted through high school, and struggled through my undergraduate work at Penn State.  I wasn’t much of a student at that time, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find new stuff fun.  I did.  Leaving home and going to Behrend College of Penn State for the first time was cool!  Going to Main Campus from Behrend was cool!  Getting into my major class work as a junior and senior was cool, and I did a lot better, gradewise.  Within a few months of graduating from Penn State, I got a job as a policeman, my dream job, and I have been a policeman for over thirty years.

All this background is to get to this:  my entire life I have hidden my intelligence, my drive, and my love of learning and knowledge.  Cops are the best bunch of people one could ever find outside the military, and I am honored and privileged to belong to that fraternity.  And cops hate a peg that sticks out.  If someone is unique, cops will do whatever it takes to pound that person back into the hole.  This isn’t necessarily an “I’m threatened” kind of thing, either.  We depend on each other for our lives.  Very few professions worry about some knucklehead deciding for whatever reason to put a bullet into them because they had a bad day.  Cops have to know, viscerally, that the guy next to them is dependable, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.  A fellow officer’s oddities and uniqueness makes cops nervous, so they do what they must to feel secure that they are safe.  And that includes figuratively beating on intellectually minded people (I was also different from most cops because of the “peculiar and strange” values I brought with me due to my understanding of Christianity, but that isn’t what I’m discussing here).  So I learned (at least to some degree) to suppress that part of me.  Note:  This is not a value judgement or a criticism.  I understand the necessity of what cops do, and it is what it is.  It’s just not all that pleasant sometimes.

So here I am, thirty (plus) years later, and I find myself in a new position.  I am the Chief of Police at a University in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edinboro University of PA.  I enjoy this stage of my career, partly because of the position, of course.  I think I am doing some good where I am, and I have the chance to make a great police department even a bit better.  But for me, part of the uniqueness is being on a college campus.  I am an administrator at an institution that not only appreciates intelligence, it encourages people to apply that intelligence and to develop it.  I have found myself on various committees that I would have never dreamed of a few years ago, and I am enjoying that.  I find myself in debates with friends on the far end of the political scale from me, and have loved the debate.  My wife and I have visited an “Athiests and Agnostics” meeting, and I now have a couple of acquaintances that intrigue me and I look forward to developing a relationship with them.

And here is where I found myself frightened.  I find that I am close to being seen as a “smart” person, someone who, if not exactly an intellectual, enjoys intellectual debate and can hold his own in that area.  And not only seen as smart, but valued because of that.  I have suppressed that part of me for so long that it is scary to tap into it.  As a couple of examples, when we attended the Athiest and Agnostic meeting, the discussion was based on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” an essay he had written in 1849.  It is a philosophical treatise on Utilitarianism, and definitely not light reading.  I read it for the discussion, and I loved it!  I have not participated in philosophical readings or discussion in over ten years, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that.  I also took college level Spanish 101 and 102 this summer, and my comprehension of a foreign language was better than I have ever experienced.

There are also a number of events occurring this summer.  I am stepping out on a number of issues: instead of sitting in one place, Beth and I took the conscious step to confront some issues that had been effecting us.  So instead of just passively standing still and taking shot after shot from life, we decided to deal with it, and consequently we are in a much better place now.  I decided to have needed corrective surgery that I had been putting off for some time (healing nicely, thank you).  We are dealing with the loss of my Mother last fall, as well as other family issues.  I volunteered to be on a council that is quite frightening in and of itself, but I felt led to do volunteer, and so was obedient.  And we are going back to the Dominican Republic in January.

If you have read my posts regarding the one-week missions trip to the Dominican Republic which started this blog, you already know how astounding it is that I would want to go back this year.  I didn’t just kind of not want to go to the DR, I did not want to go, and I was angry that I had agreed to go and was being held to that agreement.  But, being the son of honorable people, I was determined to honor that commitment, even if I hated every single second of the time I was there. Read my posts in chronological order to see the progression, but suffice it to say that God worked in amazing ways in me over that week. I came back from the DR with a renewed spirit and huge gratitude for God’s love for me.

This year, I felt that we needed to go back.  However, no one at church had made any effort for that to happen and I felt God’s prompting to be the driver.  I contacted our team leader from last year, we conferred with Pastor Klecan, and we got a game plan together.  Last Sunday at church I made an announcement regarding the trip, and seventeen people showed up to discuss their participation in the DR trip in January.  Fifteen want to go, but only four can fund the trip for themselves, and the deadline for the down payment (and thus one’s ability to go in January) is two weeks from tomorrow.  This past week, an anonymous donor paid for five to go.  We have six to fund.

I have been battered and bruised.  Crushed, numb.  But I see changes in me, in the way I view things, in my outlook.  I see healing and the return of my desire to excel, to learn, to push myself and to “push the envelope.”  Although I am more than a little uneasy at where I am right now, I feel my sense of God’s presence returning and it is far from boring.

An interesting life?  Yeah, it sure is.  And for now, I love it.  Sweetly Broken?  I’m not sure I completely understand that concept yet, but I’m far closer to understanding it than I was.

Check out Jeremy Riddle’s song “Sweetly Broken” here: http://youtu.be/fyJuKHvoPGc.

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

Chorus:
At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled

Chorus:

In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness

(2x’s)
Chorus:

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I want to go diving!!!!!! (fini)

Being a scuba fanatic and a NAUI certified Training Assistant, I have worked with a few students, and I have talked with a number of new divers at diving club functions (Blue Dolphin Skin Divers of Erie, PA).  One of the things I often say is that as divers in the Erie, PA area, we are privileged to learn to dive here.  I then ask, “And do you know why?”  Always my answer is that we are privileged to learn to dive here because in Erie, the diving sucks!!  And I’m quite serious.  While I would not consider us diving experts, my wife and I are fairly good divers, and have dived in a number of miserable conditions; cold air, cold water, poor (or literally no) visibility, unexpected currents.  And we dive relatively frequently in similar conditions.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know several people who enjoy diving, but are “warm water divers,” many of whom give themselves this designation.  So this is not a slam, but an observation.  Warm water divers enjoy diving, and often plan vacations around diving.  But they do not dive much at home.  At home, the water is usually cold, the visibility poor, the comfort level less than optimal.  Critters aren’t as spectacular or as colorful as in warmer climates.  A thicker wetsuit or even a drysuit is mandatory.  True story: some time ago, a national magazine, as part of an article, sent a professional diver to Erie to take some photographs.  One of our Instructors went with him, and offered several times to dive with him if he desired a guide.  The professional answered rather bruskly, finally telling our Instructor that he was a professional, and could handle it alone, thank you very much.  Our buddy just waited on the boat, and within about five minutes, the professional fairly exploded to the surface, ripped his regulator from his mouth, and yelled, “You people dive in this $#it???”  Yep, that’s right, we do.  And we like it.

And that’s my point with my somewhat crude statement regarding why we are privileged to learn to dive in Erie.  I believe that diving in cold water and poor visibility conditions (such as our area) produces divers of the highest caliber.  When one can dive in poor conditions, dive well and enjoy it, that diver can dive well and enjoy their dives anywhere in the world.  I am not saying that warm water divers are by definition not as good as us “cold water divers.”  Many warm water divers are fantastic divers, and I am not worthy to tighten their fin straps.  But many are not nearly as good as they could be if they dived “cold.”

Our younger daughter dives, and has been certified for a few years now.  However she gets cold while diving in the Caribbean, let alone around here, and absolutely refuses to dive at home in central Pennsylvania.  Beth and I have a doctor friend that dives warm water only.  He’s a weight lifter, body builder, and is in amazing shape.  But Beth and I could dive circles around our daughter and our friend.  We are more comfortable and more confident in the water than either of them, and that is due not only to the number of dives we have in our log book, but very much because of the conditions in which we have dived.

I have written extensively about the one-week mission trip that Beth and I took to the Dominican Republic.  My posts included my difficulties, as well as how God worked on me through that entire experience.  What I did not write about is how that entire time affected my desire for diving.

This past November, Beth and I went to the Caribbean island of Bonaire, and it was perhaps the best vacation we have ever had.  Prior to the vacation, my Mother had recently passed away after a brief illness, and we had a number of other “life issues” we were dealing with at the same time.  For whatever reason, we really needed that vacation, and our time on Bonaire was absolutely fantastic.  We came home refreshed and healed.

But after we got home, the only thing on my mind was that “stupid mission trip” that I had committed to.  I was so focused on going to the D.R., I enjoyed little to nothing between returning from Bonaire and the start of the mission trip.   I didn’t think about diving, and had no desire to even participate in our annual New Year’s Day dive.   This lack of excitement was entirely out of character for me.  I am usually buzzing with anticipation for the next dive, wherever it may be, and I constantly think and read about diving.  Subscribing to three dive periodicals, I usually can’t wait until the next dive magazine comes to the house, at which point I devour the entire thing.  And through this period of time, I barely touched any of the magazines that did come.

And then the time of the mission trip came, Beth and I experienced it, and we came home.  It was an unbelievable trip and as I said, I have written extensively about it.  But my passion for diving didn’t return.  We went to club meetings, and talked with diving friends, but I didn’t feel the “burn” to get wet.

One of our Divemasters was going on a dive vacation to San Salvador in February, and asked me to cover for him with a Scuba Diver certification class while he was gone.  My role was to assist the Instructor, mostly in the pool, with the students.  The Instructor was Gene Krahe, who was also the Instructor that taught me in my first certification class.  So I guess that makes him my Scuba Dad.  Kind of fits, he is a lot older than me.  Ahem.

Anyhow, I wasn’t even looking forward to helping with the class.  And that worried me a bit.  As nutty as I had been about diving in the past, I couldn’t even work up excitement about getting in the pool.  As much as I have loved diving, I was worried that I wasn’t all that excited about it now.

Until I got in the pool.  It was so good to get wet again.  It was only a pool, but wow, it felt great!  I enjoyed working with the students, and Gene is easy to work with.  He gives great direction, and really connects with his students, so that was fun.  And the diving!  Feeling so fluid, my movements so easy, it was great!  I remembered how much I loved the sport, and the excitement returned.

And this is how the past few posts got started.  Scuba diving is a great sport, and I love sharing it with Beth.  I love being in the water, I love the joy and challenge that it brings.  We have a trip planned later this summer to Grand Cayman, but right now it is only March.  If  Beth and I want to dive before then, we will have to dive here in Erie, where the diving “sucks.”  We can look forward to typical Erie diving in cold water and low viz.  And I want to go diving!!!  Man, I can’t wait.

Lessons from the fast.

Our week of fasting was interesting.  I am not naturally inclined toward fasting, it is not something toward which I am drawn.  The fact is, I like food.  I like the smell, the taste, the texture.  There is very little that I do not like about food.  Beth and I have fasted in the past, including two Daniel fasts in conjunction with our church, and the infrequent day of fasting through the years.  So I am somewhat familiar with fasting, at least to some degree, but I do not look forward to the times I go without food.

I think I was looking for some sort of “breakthrough” moments like I experience during our week-long missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  That was not a mountaintop experience, but more of a consistent, gradual healing of my spirit, one that I have needed for some time.

But that was not what I experienced during the fast.  That fact alone was a bit disconcerting, which is my fault for setting up expectations and not just waiting for the week to unfold.

The hunger was a great reminder to pray, and I did.  I prayed a lot through the week, on a variety of topics: family, friends, my wife, myself.  I seriously prayed a lot over the week, and that was very good.  Further, my daily readings in the Bible were also very good, very nourishing, if you will.  I found a real enjoyment in the reading, in the praying, and in the closeness that I felt with God.

And there were several other good things through the week.

For quite a while I was a Facebook junkie.  Keeping up with friends and family was very enjoyable, as was posting my opinions on topics and the give and take  with people who had different opinions or political persuasions.  It was a good opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends as well.  One of which was an acquaintance from high school.  I can’t guarantee this, but I believe he had friended me.  We weren’t really close way back when, but going to a small school we knew each other, and he was ok as far as I was concerned.  I remember him as a good-natured guy, easygoing, rather quick-witted and fun to be around.  However, something changed.  I noticed that on FB he was frequently acerbic, and rather taunting in his posts on my page, both with me as well as with others who posted on my comments.  I tried using humor to tone down his anger and pointed posts, but apparently my efforts were not appreciated.  It culminated in a post I made on a very controversial topic.  I posted what I thought I was simply a throwaway line on a topic that I am very passionate about.  In retrospect, I should have known what a backlash this would generate, but at the time I was caught completely by surprise.  What a firestorm!  A friend of my daughter questioned my Christianity, and would not dialogue.  Others blasted me as well, including my high school acquaintance.  Here’s what he wrote:

“It must be comforting in your black and white world, clark. One victim is obviously too many…you think you know me because we went to high school a long time ago…you don’t. I don’t know anything about you since then either…this is not a jibe, a bait or even sarcastic humor….it is adios. I have better things to do in this short life than read your self-rightous bullshit…good luck….”  (I’m not sure he really meant the “good luck part”)

In and of itself not that big a deal, but combined with his sarcasm and rather mean replies to my friends, it was a bit much.  He then un-friended me.  I attempted dialogue, but he refused.

This type of issue is very difficult for me.  I do my best to get along, and much prefer reconciliation to discord.  And for him to act in this manner was disconcerting to say the least.  It has been very difficult to let go of this, and it has been bothering me to some degree since around mid-January.

This has all been background for me to explain how huge it was that God laid it on my heart to let go of this whole thing during our week of fasting.  I noticed that early in the fast I seemed focused on this incident, and it seemed to be affecting my spiritual life.  I had no peace, just a jangled sense of disturbance, and it seemed to focus on my old acquaintance.  I realized (yeah, I can be a bit of a slow learner sometimes) that I needed to let the incident, as well as my acquaintance, go.  I’m not certain I was able to do so one-hundred percent, but I am much, much closer than I was before the fast.  And boy does that feel good!

Further,  as I had stated in an earlier post on this blogsite, I experienced some fairly intense kidney pain right around day three through day four or five of the fast.  I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it lingered, and prevented sleep for a couple of nights.  I had intended to take no analgesics at all for the duration of the fast, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and so on.  However, with the pain I experienced, not only did I need some pain relief, I loaded up.  I was quite disappointed in myself for that.  Also, I was at a local shop about mid-way through the fast, and they always have a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses for the customers.  I always have one or two, and without thinking, I picked one up, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth.  Enjoyed it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had unthinkingly broken my fast.  And that frustrated me as well.

But as the week went on, I kind of changed my thoughts on this.  I think I’m kind of grateful that I did “fail” in those regards.  I could easily become a bit proud of the fact that I completed the fast, and that I did so to the very smallest detail or requirement that I had set for myself.  Which, of course, would have been completely contrary to the entire intent of the fast itself.  So I wound up being thankful that I had not had the “perfect” fast.

Various other insights were also given to me through the week.  I will describe just a couple here.

As part of his Sunday message on March 4th, Pastor Bob Klecan shared a text he had gotten from a friend, talking about the fast we had just begun.  The text said, “Do you think this week of fasting is causing people to realize that they’re actually not replacing food with a fast but rather that they’re actually replacing food with a feast?”  I found that to be profound, and this thought was echoed through the week with my reading in the Word.  One example is from Phillipians 1: 9-11.  It says, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

This passage calls to me.  This is exactly what I want my life to look like.  This is exactly what I want to be.

In the end, the week of fasting was not a spiritual rocket taking off.  If anything that “liftoff” was what I gained from our week in the Dominican Republic.  The week of fasting was instead, a booster attached to that rocket.  The fasting did not give me liftoff, but it kept me going.  I am grateful for the lessons learned, and for the spiritual applications I gained.  In fact, as unbelievable as this is to me, it is likely that Beth and I will be much more regular with fasting.  We have discussed making this a quarterly event, with our next one as early as sometime in June.  And for someone who loves food as I do, that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Next spiritual adventure coming up…fast!!

Ok, that’s a bit corny, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Our church leaders have called for a week-long fast starting at 6:00 PM on March 1, 2012.  I have fasted in the past, usually for a day, consisting of water only, or water and Gatorade.  Beth and I have also done the “Daniel fast” for ten days during Lent.

The Daniel fast is based on the book of Daniel in the Bible, in which Daniel and his companions ate only vegetables for a time period.  The fast consists of fruits and vegetables only; no meat of any kind, no dairy.  No processed anything.  No processed flour (white or whole), no baked goods.  In my viewpoint, if it tastes good, you can’t have it.  No coffee, no tea, no soda pop, no milk, no juice.  Just water and veggies.  Basically, if it grows in the ground or on a tree it’s fair game.  Other than that, forget it.

Ok, I’m not a big veggie fan, I take multi-vitamins so I don’t have to eat veggies.  So a ten-day period of time in which that’s all I eat is not exactly something I’m going to jump up and down for.  The Daniel fast is basically a vegan diet, only more restrictive.  Joy, rapture.  How about instead of the fast, I just give myself a papercut and squirt some lemon juice on it?  It’d be kind of painful, and over more quickly.  No, I guess not.

This year the fast being planned is a bit different.  It’s only a week-long, so that’s a bit more palatable (pun intended).  However, it’s not precisely like the Daniel fast.  Here’s the schedule for this year’s fast: Day one is water only.  Day two and three is water and juice only, and the juices are 100% fruit juices only, no preservatives or additives of any kind.  Day three through seven are then Daniel fast oriented.

From a physiological perspective, I know that this will be good for me.  There are all kinds of physical benefits from a fast such as this.  Spiritually, I know this will be good for me as well.  Fasting is a spiritual sacrament that is assumed.  In other words, the Bible doesn’t say, “If you fast,” but it says “When you fast.”  It is assumed that we will fast.  Just as it is assumed that we will pray.  The fact is, I don’t fast enough.  Not that I’m looking for a regular schedule for it…

See, I’m not just fond of food, I love food.  I love the taste, the texture, the smell, the appearance, everything.  I’m certainly no gourmand.  I love all kinds of food, from hot dogs and beans to a nice roast and boiled potatoes to squab and asparagus.  If you need to get classified information from me, there’s no need for torture.  Just set me down in front of an “everything” pizza and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.

With that as background, I think it is easy to see that I am not looking forward to this fast.  I am really, really, not looking forward to it.  But.  I have committed.  And I know God is here.  And God uses situations that appear to be unsavory (another food reference, there) in huge ways.  As an example, I seem to remember reading something about a missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  This is going to be interesting.

(for more information on the Daniel fast, check it out at http://danielfast.wordpress.com/)

Thank you, Father.

I think it was probably clear that God did a great work in me during our recent week-long mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Unbelievable, awesome, needed, wonderful. But then we come back to the “real world,” with all its distractions, troubles, irritations, frustrations, and on and on.

The past couple of weeks have been good, but not necessarily easy.  I have been reconnected to God in a way that I haven’t been in years.  But the tendency, I think, is to fall into accustomed patterns, familiar habits.  Kind if like slipping into a comfortable pair of boots that you’ve worn forever.  But sometimes, even though they’re comfie, they are useless, practically speaking. They are no longer waterproof, and maybe not even eater resistant. They have holes in them, no tread, and can only be held together with duct tape.

We had planned this trip last fall, but my mother began her final adventure here on earth, and Beth and I had to postpone this trip.  At the time we were a bit frustrated.  We needed that time for major decompression, just to regain some strength to continue.

But isn’t God’s timing amazing?

We came down to Black Bear Cabins Thursday evening and will be leaving tomorrow, Sunday morning. Although I gave a good attempt, I cannot tell you how much we were looking forward to it. The solitude, quiet, woods, winter, everything. In that, we were not disappointed. The cool thing is that it has been more than we expected.

Yesterday was a day of introspection for me. Beth notices and remarked that I was “reflective.” Good word. I had a song running through my head all day. It was Kari Job’s “We Are.

Kari Jobe sings “We Are:” http://youtu.be/f0vKeICJBMI

I’m not sure why, but it just kept playing over and over in my mind. And it was great to reflect upon.

Today, the song in my head is Sidewalk Prophets‘ “You Love me Anyway.”

Sidewalk Prophets, “You Love me Anyway:” http://youtu.be/f0vKeICJBMI

The emphasis here is on “How You love me.” And that is sweet water, pure music, balm to the soul.

God used the D.R. as a foundation to bring me back closer to Him; a huge rocket engine to gain liftoff. This weekend has been a booster to keep me from falling back to earth, to keep my trajectory toward the heavens.

I am refreshed. I am renewed. And I am in love with my King.

I am just not used to this (part one).

When we returned from our short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic, we talked about sharing our experiences at church, First Baptist Church in North East, PA.  I know this is pretty standard fare for people serving in this capacity.  One goes on a mission trip, comes back, and talks about the trip at church.  What isn’t standard is that I was “volunteered” to speak.  I kind of thought we would all speak for a couple of minutes, but was unanimously (minus one) voted down.  It was decided that I would speak for the group.  Lovely.

Our pastor, Bob Klecan, agreed that a presentation would be appropriate, and he figured ten minutes would be a good time for the report.  He scheduled me to speak yesterday, February 19.  I wasn’t too worried about it, I write fairly well, and I belong to Noon-Time Toastmasters in Erie, PA.  So I was comfortably confident I could turn out something coherent and present it in an acceptable fashion.  This isn’t to brag, I’m just saying that the basic skills required were not a huge concern.  I just wanted to honor God with what I did.

Through the week I worked on it, and as of Saturday I had about four minutes, thirty-eight seconds.  Wow!  Expanding this would not be difficult, I was happy to add stuff that I had been afraid would not fit.  Beth made a couple of suggestions which I incorporated, and I got the talk ready to go.  I made a few fine-tuning changes later on Saturday, and even Sunday morning until just before service started.  I prayed about it, Beth prayed about it, and we prayed about it together.  I was confident that I would at least present it ok, and not embarrass myself.  Good enough for me.

I have been fighting a cold for a week or so, but getting better.  I did not think that would be a factor.  However, on Saturday I sneezed for about five minutes straight.  When I was done sneezing, my nose became a faucet and my sinuses were completely clogged.  Beth and I serve on the worship team at church, with Beth being one of the guitarists, and I am one of the singers.  With the unbelievably nasty cold hitting like a blizzard (uh, flood?), I was doubtful I could sing, and was concerned about my ability to talk on Sunday

The cold hit me mid-morning Saturday, just before I started working on the talk.  So, I did what I would expect anyone in that position to do.  I took my laptop, got a cup of coffee, and headed out to our unattached, unheated garage to work on the missions report.  One might ask why in the world I would do that?  Well, the answer is that I had determined to smoke one of the Dominican cigars I brought back while working on the report.  And I’m not permitted to smoke my cigars in the house.  So, I was left with no choice but to work in the cold, cruel wastes of northwestern Pennsylvania, sheltered only by an unheated garage, and with a nasty cold no less!  See how cruel my wife can be?  (Kidding, honey!!)

In any event, I was fairly calm about the whole thing, cold and all.  We went to bed Saturday night, and I prayed (and we prayed) that God would take away the cold for Sunday morning.  Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea tea, NyQuil, and lights out.  Interestingly, Saturday night I wound up doing an all-nighter; I’m at the age where that means I don’t have to get up even once to use the bathroom.

Not just solemn lessons learned.

This has been a very interesting journey.  On this blog  site, I have chronicled my frustrations, my reservations, my anger at going on a short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  And I have posted that much to my surprise and gratitude, it was a fantastic trip.

But in reading my posts about the trip, it might seem like this was just a solemn, pious, boring trip.  And it was anything but that.  I haven’t laughed that hard or that often in a great while, and my wife Beth said the same thing.  Of course, some of the stuff wasn’t funny to me except in retrospect, and I was so cranky about the whole thing that the laughter didn’t start until at least Tuesday or Wednesday, but that’s ok, I’m a bit slow sometimes.

It started on Sunday.  Saturday night when we arrived, we were told some of the rules, with a full orientation to be given on Saturday at 3:00 PM.  One of the things we were told right up front is that the septic systems in the D.R. cannot handle toilet paper, and they have a strict rule about not putting used toilet tissue in the toilet and flushing it.  We had to put it in waste containers beside the toilet.  In fact, our friend Jen told the entire group that if you forget and put the tissue in the toilet, “Don’t flush.  Go fishing.”  Hardy-har.  Real funny.  Especially since I forgot (just once).  Any idea how gross it is to have to retrieve such an item and put it in the waste container?  *Sigh*

At the Sunday meeting, we were introduced to the various areas available for us to volunteer our time during the week.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but at least I would be with one of my teammates from our church.  I was not real comfortable being in that place with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and took comfort in knowing I would be around at least one of the other four from home.

I am not a handyman.  I’m not too bad at home projects big or small, but I don’t enjoy them.  And (speaking in my attitude at the beginning of the week) if I had to go on this stupid trip I’ll be hanged if I do anything that smacks of handy work.  So when they said they had light construction and painting, I was able to rule them out in about a nano second.  Beth, my lovely, supportive, wonderful wife, who I held tighter on that trip than Linus held his security blanket, pipes up in a chirpy, cheerful voice, “I’m gonna paint!”  Say what?  Great, just great.  One down, but I have three to go.  Out of the remaining three, I’m fairly sure I’ll be with someone from home on one of the groups.  Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the kids in the village?  Not likely, before the end of the week, I’ll likely wind up in a Dominican jail, and wouldn’t that be just lovely?  Steph decided that was for her.  Two down, two to go.

Then there’s the prayer team, which went into the villages with the medical, dental, and optical teams (and VBS).  Ok, I pray frequently, but walking around asking strangers to pray wouldn’t likely happen at home, let alone in a place that, as we all know, I was not real thrilled to be at in the first place.  Debbie, John’s wife, decided to go with the prayer team.  Three down.  Now I’m getting nervous.

I asked John what he thought he might do, and he said he was thinking about going with the medical team.  Whew!  That’s what I was thinking, so now I’m a bit relieved.  Wow, I was worried a bit there, God, thanks that John’s going medical with me.  John and I went and sat down, and listened to the presentation by the medical team leader.  After, oh, maybe five minutes, John leans over and says, “I’m gonna go see what the prayer team’s gonna do.”  Are you kidding me??!!?  Real good, God, way to maneuver me into a position of maximum discomfort.  Was that really necessary?  Well, yeah, I guess in retrospect it kind of was.  And I have posted on what God did with it.  I can kind of giggle about it now that I’m on this side of the situation, but I gotta tell you, I was less than happy at the time.

John often wound up riding on the same cattle truck that I did, since the prayer team travelled with the medical team.  So I did have the comfort of a friend nearby, at least for the ride out and back.  But after he left me sitting on the bench, I shoulda heaved him over the side.

…more to come…

Friends (part two).

When we got to the Dominican Republic on Saturday, January 28, we got our bags and went to the parking lot where they had a cattle truck waiting for our bags, and a school bus for us to ride to the Meeting God in Missions facilities.  I think Beth told me that the truck was one that we would likely be riding on that week.   Remember, at this point I was still very much unhappy with this whole concept.  So here I am in a country I don’t want to be in, waiting in a parking lot and loading my luggage in a truck that really don’t want to be riding in for an entire week, getting on a school bus that I don’t want to ride in to go to a place that I don’t want to have anything to do with.

The driver was a rather big guy that didn’t smile at all.  We sat in about the second or third seat, and I had a real good view of him in the mirror above his head.  It seemed like his eyes were at half-mast for most of the trip.  At this point in our adventure, I am not impressed.

Later on, I learned his name is Victor, and he drove for us quite a bit through the week.  He didn’t seem overly friendly, and as I loosened up, I just kind of figured he simply wasn’t real outgoing, and let it go at that.  Maybe around Wednesday, I saw him smiling and laughing at something, and remember being a bit surprised.

While travelling, I made a couple of jokes with him as he was driving, usually on a difficult stretch of road.  I asked Beth how to say “go faster” in Spanish, and would holler it out to him.  He looked back in the mirror kind of surprised, I guess, that someone would be talking to him, and when I told him to “go faster,” his eyes got real wide, and he kind of smiled and shook his head.  Well, well.  I got to where I liked Victor quite a bit.

At the end of the week, Beth and I sorted our clothes, which to take home, and which to leave (we had decided before leaving home to donate what we could before we left).  I’m a fairly big guy, and in talking with Brian, I realized that there aren’t very many Dominicans or Haitians that could possibly wear my clothes.  It’d be more likely that a family could get a couple of my shirts and make a tent.

In any event, one of the guys I thought of was Victor.  He’s a big guy, too.  I had an Edinboro t-shirt, so I gave it to him at the end of the week.  Makes a great photo.

Braulio was one of the drivers, and it seemed like he was one of the senior drivers there.  He drove when Beth was in the D.R. a couple of years ago, and she really enjoyed riding the trucks with him at the wheel.  He also is a big guy, easy-going, and has a good time with the people at MGM.  Just a lot of fun.

Tito is the brother of Meirka, a Dominican woman who Beth connected with last time.  Tito is really athletic and muscular; you should see him swing a ball bat.  He was kind of the door guard, making sure that unauthorized people didn’t get in, and that the gates were locked/unlocked at the appropriate times.  I had a chance to sit and talk (kind of) with him a couple of times, and really, really got to enjoy being around him.

I was honored to give a couple of shirts to Braulio.  Tito got my suitcase.

I know that it could look like the “rich” American giving cast-offs to the “little people.”  Yep, I am an American.  Yep, by D.R. standards I’m probably wealthy.  Yep, I gave from my surplus.  But in my case, I was honored to give good stuff to people who I considered to be my friends before I decided to give them anything.  I refuse to apologize for where I happened to be born, and I like to help my friends wherever I can.  And thanks to God’s mercy and grace, I was able to serve for a short time in the Dominican Republic.  I was surprised to become friends with a few of the Dominicans with which I came into contact, and I was pleased to give them items that they could find useful.  And I am the richer for all that.

Friends (part one).

We were fortunate that when we went down to the Dominican Republic, we were able to stay with some friends of ours that are full-timers with Meeting God in Missions from our Church.  Brian and Jen Heinrich have been with MGM for a year or so, and we haven’t had a chance to spend time with them for quite a while.  Actually, we didn’t have much of a chance to do that last week.  They were busy doing their jobs, and we were busy doing our stuff with MGM for the week.  But it was nice to grab a few minutes here or there to talk with them.  It was nice to get to know their kids a bit better, too.  Their oldest daughter, Jamie, is a really sweet kid, and it was pretty cool to get to see her moving in and out with the people down there, both DR nationals and visitors from the ‘States.  It was also neat to see their son Elliot running around, too.  He’s seven, and still a kid.  he has a bit of a hard time with the Dominican kids, and hung around with the visitors a lot.  I like him.

It was also very interesting to meet new friends, too.  There was one young man who went out with us every day and helped translate between the staff and the Haitians.  His English wasn’t great, but he worked hard at helping.

Through the week I had taken several of those packaged peanut butter/cracker  snacks to hand out to kids or to anyone I felt “led” to give them to.  I also took Kashi bars and peanuts for me to eat.  No lunch, so I would grab a handful of peanuts when I felt like I needed something.  I would usually eat one pack of the peanut butter crackers and a Kashi bar through the day, too.

On Monday, I had been handing out some of the peanut butter crackers, and I thought it time to open one for me.  I looked over, and Tommy was sitting kind of between helping.  I went over and gave him one of the peanut butter cracker packs to eat, and he seemed to appreciate it.  Through the week, we made a habit of this, when I ate one for me, I gave him one, too.  It only took a day to start to feel a bit of bonding with him.

I noticed a lot of the other young interpreters were wearing ball caps.  But not Tommy.   He was “capless,” with his hair just running wild.  I had taken a cap to wear if I needed it, but found I didn’t need a cap, so I just kept it in my backpack.  I considered giving it to Tommy at the end of the week, kind of a “grand going away” present.  But by Wednesday, I felt prompted so strongly (actually I felt like I was being squished, the feeling was so strong) to give Tommy the cap, that I did just that.  You would have thought I just handed him the keys to a new Lexus.  He put it on his head, but it was sized for me, so it kind of looked like a shopping bag would on me.  But the next day, he came in wearing the cap, and looking proud.  I was, too, a bit.  My new friend Tommy.

At the end of the week, he came into the dining area, and handed me a note.  I will type here what the contents were, and as they are in the note.

“Mr: Clark Peter

I hope God bless you greatly going to find a nice week here in Hato Mayor.  For me was a nice Pleasure to share with you During this week and Establish a Friendship much appreciate that.  You know someone special treat others will back here and I hope that we can see a lot more time.  For you and your wife blessings and other family blessings much… Thank you for the attention that you gave me during.  Not at work never forget you for the cap.  God fill you and your rich blessings, barns be filled.   God will save you and yours.  Te Quiero Amigo!!!”

I love you too, Tommy.  You touched my heart.

The enemy is alive and well on planet earth…

I am of the persuasion that once “saved,” always “saved.”  That is, once one comes to a real understanding and acceptance of God‘s plan for salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ, one can not lose that salvation.  I believe that even if someone saved falls into a worldly lifestyle, when they die they will enter heaven, even if their clothes “smell like smoke.”  They have attained salvation, but just barely.

I am not looking for debate on this subject, nor will I entertain debate on this right now.  I am offering that as a backdrop to say the following.  I believe that Satan recognizes that he cannot claim someone saved by God’s grace.  So his efforts in our lives aren’t, I think,  intended to re-claim a soul; he cannot do that.  His desire is to make the Christian ineffective.  If I, as a Christian, am living a life that is not vibrant and Christ-centered, I am nearly useless for furthering God’s designs on those around me in my life.  And that is pleasing to Satan.

On Saturday, February 4, we came back from the Dominican Republic from a short-term missions trip.  The trip was unbelievably fantastic, and God reached me in several wonderful and unexpected ways.  We had been warned that Satan would attack when we returned to the ‘States, and I kind of already figured that out myself.  But it was good to be reminded.  Because Satan didn’t waste any time, he got right to it with me.

Beth and I live in a small town outside Erie, Pennsylvania.  To get to the D.R., we drove to Buffalo, NY, and flew to JFK in New York City, then to the D.R., and the reverse to get home.  The road to Buffalo from Erie is nearly a straight shot.  You just get on Interstate 90 and head east for a while.  Easy.  As is the reverse.  But not, apparently, for me.

I have been to Buffalo, NY, multiple times in the past few years, travelling into Canada, travelling to the Niagara River for a drift dive, whatever.  The route home is the same each time, and I know the route fairly well.  However, on Saturday we got back from the D.R., I got the truck, got back to the airport, and loaded up.  Beth and I were satisfied, content.  I was looking forward to the ride home, just being easy with Beth and talking about the past week.  And as we started for home, I somehow (I have no idea how) missed the turn to get on I90, and wound up in downtown Buffalo.  Anger!  Frustration!  Bad words!  And I hadn’t been back on American soil for more than, what, half an hour?  We quickly got back on track and things settled down, but thus it started (clarification: the route error was maybe Satan’s, the reaction mine).

Beth and I missed church on Sunday, and spent the day trying to catch up on rest.  I also took Monday off work for the same purpose.  Through much of Sunday and into Monday, I just felt useless; ineffective; a failure.  In short, I felt just as I had before we left.  And what really depressed me was that it all happened so quickly.  We just got back, for crying out loud!  Geez!  Couldn’t I even have one stinkin’ week feeling ok?

And then it hit me.  Oh, yeah, Satan is going to attack!  And he has.  If he can just get me to slide into the way I used to be, I will be as ineffective as I was.  Focused on the wrong things, depressed, and not living the abundant life that God promises.  Oh yeah, I forgot!  Well, we don’t want that to happen, do we?  No, we do not.

So what do I do?  I remembered the promises God had reminded me of the past week.  I spent time in God’s Word.  Prayed.  Reflected.  And I remembered, God doesn’t want my accomplishments, He wants me.  He wants me to have relationship with Him, not for me to be focused on success, even success as a Christian.  And how freeing that is.  I am basking in His love, resting in His grace.  I am learning this, and for me it is a huge paradigm shift, an entirely new mindset.  I figure I will have setbacks, and times that I forget.  But I’m working on it.  Working on letting go of me, and letting God do as He will in me.

Gal 2.20: I am crucified with Christ and I no longer life, but Christ lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

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