Friday, May 31, 2013

A Note Before I Go

Our youth group is leaving for Phoenix, Arizona today. We are pumped.

We were advised to select a prayer partner for our trip, and I immediately ran to my former pastor, John King, to ask if he would pray for me. He gladly accepted my proposal, and asked if I might write him up a little bit about what we're going to be doing. This post is a gist of what I wrote to him. 

Please pray for our noisy tribe! We've got lots to do during our short stay in Phoenix. We'll be doing work projects by day and directing a VBS for inner city kids by night. Also please pray for:

Our leaders, Leon & Wanda and Anthony & Shaina.

Health and energy for the group as we work in 100+ degree temperatures.

Unity amongst each other.

A moving of the Holy Spirit.

Pray that we would be able to pack and transport everything we need. We're trying to travel with as few check-in bags as possible, because we're Mennonites.

On a more personal note, please pray that I would live 2 Timothy 2:21, which states "Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work." 

I desire to be used by God on this trip. I want to lay down my preferences, my plans, and my priorities and adopt His. I already expect that I'll be stretched in this aspect.

In the VBS sessions, I'll be managing the Kindergarten-aged children along with Dylan Martin and Harmony Headings. I'm looking forward to interacting with the kids, and I pray that they will see Jesus through the staff. I'm not sure if the children will understand the Bible stories, but pray that they do. The stories we're teaching (Lazarus, Calming the storm & walking on the water, Healing the blind man & the lame man, Zacchaeus) are life-changing!

Normally I'd be worried about taking care of kindergarteners, but Harmony is especially good with kids. Also, Dylan is a super young man with his heart in the right place, so I foresee good things.

During the trip, we will be fasting from our cell phones in order to bond together as a group. Please pray that goes well! 

This is a silly prayer request, but pray that my toe won't hinder me from serving Jesus. I lunged full-speed toward the kitchen the other night, and all my toes made it past the couch corner except the littlest pig on the end, who decided to slam into the couch and go backwards. Due to the purple bruises forming throughout the toe, I'm fairly certain it's broken, but 1) there's no time to go get it checked and 2) there's nothing that can really be done for it anyway. I've done a fair bit of traveling, a decent amount of work projects, and a few mission trips in my day. What they all have in common is a colossal amount of walking. So pray that my littlest toe wouldn't get in the way of God's plans for this week. 

We will be returning on Saturday, June 8th.  Thank you in advance for all your prayers!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Man with All the Books

     "Do you smell sewer?" The Homeowner asked.

     "It does smell a little musty down here." I replied, peeking around a teetering stack of books.

     "I've been working down here for five weeks straight, ever since the water came up, to clean up this mess." He said.

The Great Flood of 2013 had backed up city drains and filled our customer's basement with two inches of water. Normally, a basement can handle two inches of water with only minor damage to property. But not in a house filled with books. I didn't doubt him when he said he'd been working for five weeks.

I glanced around the well-lit basement in the customer's home, searching for the furnace room. Books, piled everywhere, kept me from identifying where one room began and another ended. A single well-worn path in the carpet wove between veritable mountains of knowledge and learning. Hundreds of books. Thousands, maybe. Given no choice, I followed the path. It curved right over to the utility room, so I poked my head in. My coworker, Stan, was working on the furnace, checking the filter. He was having difficulty pulling the filter out due to the lack of space. Once he had seen that the filter was good, he began to head back toward the surface. But the thin path did not allow for passing, so I backed out of the furnace room, all the way to the stairwell. Then, remembering that each side of the stairs were stacked with books, I ducked behind a door so Stan could exit.

     "I lost a book worth $1,000." The Homeowner sighed.

I imagine he finds value in every book he finds. Why else collect them?

     "It was damaged beyond repair." He continued. "Completely soaked."

     "Do you sell books?" I asked.

     "Oh yes. Yes, I sell books." He replied.

     "How do you sell them? Book shows?" I queried. I wasn't entirely sure if a man in his 60's would use the internet for selling books.

     "Oh, here and there. I sell them online, mostly. Right now I have 2,400 books for sale online. Occasionally I take some books to Crowded Closet and other places."

    "Twenty-four hundred books!" I exclaimed. "So would that mean you have around 4,000?" I tossed out a conservative estimate as I glanced at the stacks and stacks of books.

The Homeowner smiled.

     "I suspect I have a little over 40,000 books."

     "Forty thousand!" I gasped.

     "Oh yes. I've been collecting them since I was in my 20's. Now my boys are selling them, and they're in their 30's."

I did the math. Even if he sold every book in his place for $0.50, he'd have 80,000 quarters rolling around in his piggy bank. $20,000.

The Homeowner's sons were there, sweating and generally unhappy with their labors, which included transporting tremendous quantities of books from one location to another. But they silently kept at it.

I ran outside to see if Stan needed anything with the air conditioner. After all, that was the reason we had stopped by. The Homeowner mentioned that the air conditioner wasn't operating properly. We quickly found the source of the problem: the 220-volt wiring to the outside condenser had arced and burned a wire. The electrical disconnect box would need to be replaced. But first, I would have to locate the fuse panel and shut the electricity off to the box. I ran back downstairs, keeping careful check of my elbows lest they swing out and initiate a deadly cave-in.

I explained the situation to the Homeowner, and told him I was searching for his fuse panel. He smiled apologetically and pointed to a far corner of the basement.

     "There's a path to the panel behind the computer desk, if you can squeeze back there." He said, indicating a miniscule break in the towers of books, looming over a simple computer desk. The desk had a dusty computer monitor on it, running what appeared to be Windows 97. I squeezed behind the desk and arrived at the fuse panel. I located the proper breaker and switched it off. Squeezed my way back to the main floor path, glancing at book titles on my way out.

Whale Talk. A Box of Bees. Event 1000. Queen Sends for Mrs. Chadwick. Sudden Mischief. I'll Take Texas. Tuesdays with Morrie. Fire in Beulah. If I Die in a Combat Zone. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. "C" is for Corpse. The Last Catholic in America. The Intelligent Investor. The Wapshot Chronicle. Roosevelt in the Badlands. The Imagination of Disaster. Elsie's Holidays at Roseland.

I saw two copies of The Cat and the Curmudgeon stacked on top of each other. Both hardcovers. I noticed other books, nestled beside their duplicates.

     "What determines a valuable book?" I asked the homeowner.

He chuckled.

     "Quite a lot of things. Date of publication is one. With popular books, it should be a copy of the first printing run. Or a book of historical or sentimental value. The value of a book raises if it's signed by the author. The value is very dependent on the condition of the book. If the book came with a cover sleeve, it should probably have its cover sleeve."

In the background I heard the soft hum of dehumidifiers, working hard to remove a book's worst nightmare: humidity. With the air conditioner arcing and burning wires and generally misbehaving, the homeowner had to turn to small dehumidifiers to help keep his books dry. 

I glanced at a nearby mound of books and noted that there was half a dozen books by the same author, piled on top of each other.

     "Do you have these books categorized?"

     "Oh my no!" He smiled. "I don't have enough room. I have a small amount categorized, but I would need much more space to do them any sort of justice."

The homeowner's garage door was open. Floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed with every conceivable topic known to man, bound in book form. There was a minivan parked in the driveway, also full of books. I glanced down the hallway on the main floor, only to be greeted by the sight and smell of thousands of books, filling every available spot. What I saw in that single glance would have caused any competent librarian to succumb to cardiac arrest. 

We repaired the air conditioner and said our goodbyes. The Homeowner was grateful for our service and made some vague comments that suggested he was slightly apologetic for the state of his basement.

We've worked for this customer for years, but this is the first time I've set foot inside the house. Dad tells me it didn't always look like that. It's grown worse and worse every year. There was a wife at one point, and she insisted that there were to be absolutely no books on the main floor. But over the years they piled up and overtook the main floor by force. I saw no sign of a wife.

I'm dreading the day we have to replace the furnace, because I suspect we'll have to tear it into pieces no larger than a basketball to get it out.

 The Homeowner's garage.

The Homeowner's basement.

As we drove away from the house, I felt a strong urge to write a biography about the Homeowner. I imagined making multiple trips to chat with him, asking him all sorts of questions about his love for collecting books. Does he have any favorites? Any obsession for a particular genre? Although he seemed tired from the labor and bothered by the wet books, his general countenance was a man entirely content with his surroundings: thousands and thousands of books. I'd write a sensational story and enthrall literally dozens of readers with a book of my own, titled "The Man with All the Books."

But after 2 minutes and 30 seconds, I realized that writing a book for a man who hoards books is probably unwise. The Homeowner would probably take a copy of his own biography and just add it to a stack somewhere. He'd have 40,001+ books then.

So instead I wrote this blog. He's welcome to read it here, provided Blogger works on Windows 97.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thank you, Mom


You're roughly 1,988 miles away right now, visiting your grandchildren in Oregon, and I miss you.

I'm babysitting your children, but you've made that incredibly easy for me by preparing a whole refrigerator full of meals in advance. You cleaned the house and got everything in preparation while packing for your trip, WHILE hosting a missionary family and feeding them. You are incredible.

This Mother's Day, I think about all the things you've done for me, but Google has informed me that blog posts are not allowed to be infinitely long, so I'll have to keep things brief.

Of the seven children God gave to you, I see your influence especially in Shannon and Shelley, who have matured into strong, caring, awesome mothers of their own. They take after you in many ways, and the world is a better place because of it.

I see your influence in Shelby and his love for music, and I know the Maust ancestors would be especially proud.

I see your influence in Shane, Sheryl, and Shaylon, who are already becoming self-sufficient and able to help others in need. Granted, they can't seem to get to bed before 2am, but I think they get that from you too.

As a young boy, I was the frail child. The weak one. Because of this, I saw an entire side of you that the other children only saw glimpses of.

At age 6, I wiped out while goofing around on a bike and tore up my knee. I came in bawling like I had ruptured a lung. You bandaged it and held me all evening while we ate that potluck in the Kalona park.

At age 9, when I was diagnosed with Diabetes, you stayed by my side in that dreadful hospital room we shared with a wheezing, elderly man. You slept uncomfortably in a ghastly armchair for the three nights that I spent trembling in that pitiful general-issue hospital gown. You held my hand when they drew blood samples, because I hated needles. After we were released from the hospital, you gave me my insulin injections for 6 months because I couldn't bear to watch, much less administer them myself. Because of your strength, I am no longer scared of needles, and I frequently take injections while driving. (That isn't wise or safe or anything, so I won't attribute that to you.)

Two weeks later, when I was officially diagnosed with Celiac, you cried with me but spent no time whining about how it changed your life, how you'd have to learn the diseases right alongside me in order to feed me. You'd make food similar to what other the other kids were having at school so I didn't feel so left out.

During the frequent hospital visits, you wouldn't allow me to have pity parties for myself. You'd constantly point out other children my age with amputations, cancer, leukemia, or allergies worse than mine. Because of that, I will never think of myself as unfortunate.

At age 15, thanks to some bumbling homeschooler that ran into me and fractured my wrist, you spent 6 weeks helping me bathe so I could keep my arm cast from getting wet and itchy. It still got wet and itchy and I was too busy whining to notice all the extra chores you did so I didn't have to.

At age 17, when you caught me looking at pornography, I expected (and briefly hoped) to get straight-up murdered but instead you prayed with me. I will never forget that.

Because of you and Dad, I've never lacked anything I've needed. I've always been clothed, sheltered, fed, and loved. I have received Godly counsel and wisdom from you both on just about every subject there is, including (but most certainly not limited to) theology, dating & relationships, setting moral boundaries, respect, obedience, driving habits, purity, helping others, sticking to a task, and table manners. Well, you've administered the counsel and wisdom of table manners, but I'm still working on applying it all. :) 

You took care of me and let me stay at home rent-free while I went to college for two years and figured out that was precisely the wrong place for me to be. (Dad, thank you for encouraging me to stick with it and keep going, because you didn't want me to feel obligated to stay with the family business.)

At age 21, I moved away from home. I would claim to be a self-sufficient adult, but you still help me with so much. You stop by my place to clean the yards and the trailer. You regularly "accidentally" purchase too much food and give me loads of it. You go shopping and find me cheap shoes and work boots, which still astounds me because I can never find size 13 ANYWHERE second-hand and I usually have to end up special-ordering it from Neptune.

"I love you" is a pretty weak phrase when I'm trying to convey the depth of gratitude I have for all that you are and all that you've done for me, Mom.

But really, I love you.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

All that and a Crate of Grilled Chicken

Our youth group just hosted a fantastic fundraiser.

Fundraiser? Oh yes, I forgot to mention it. We had to raise some money for our upcoming mission trip.

Mission trip? Oh yes, I also forgot. Our mission trip is going to take us to Phoenix, Arizona for a week in June, where we will be leading/orchestrating a VBS for (inner-city?) kids.

Since we'll be going to ARIZONA in JUNE, I've declared that our trip motto will be "Sweatin' for Jesus."

The fundraiser consisted of chicken, potatoes, beans, and a dinner roll, thrown into a handy-dandy carry-out container.

But ya don't just throw food into a box and call it good!

We marinated the chicken quarters for 36 hours in some ultra-secret marinade. Actually, the marinade isn't a secret, I just don't know what all went in it. I DO recall, however, that we spent a lot of time debating over how to pronounce "Worcestershire sauce." The final verdict was to just call it "WR sauce" because the camp was divided over "Warr-Chester-Shyre" and "Werr-shesh-ter-shrrr".

We washed the potatoes and started wrapping them in tinfoil until someone pointed out that wet potatoes will get moldy when stored in tinfoil. And here I thought tinfoil was the food-preserving material of the future! Perhaps it had to do with the fact that we were wrapping them on Thursday and the fundraiser was on Saturday. So we let the potatoes dry completely and then wrapped them.

We put the green beans into roasters. Green beans and me, we understand each other.

On Saturday, we took the giant loads of deliciously marinated chicken

Interrupting Cow: HOW MUCH CHICKEN?

Thank you for that pertinent question, Interrupting Cow. A lot. A whole heap o' chicken. So much chicken, that when we cut out the little flap of fat from between the thigh and leg of each quarter, the excess fat filled one-and-a-half 5-gallon buckets. To be precise, eight gallons of fat trimmings.

As I was saying, we took the giant loads of deliciously marinated chicken and grilled them in the parking lot at the church. I had feared that we would be flipping chicken until our wrists fell off, but no! Someone had done some crafty crafting. The leaders (Anthony, Leon, and Myron) had summoned up half a dozen grills made from steel barrels. You cut the barrel in half, stick it up on legs, fill the half-barrel bowl with charcoal, lay a grate on that puppy, load the grate up with chicken, slap another grate of equal proportions on top, then use that handy grate-sandwich to flip roughly 32 pieces of chicken over the glowing coals simultaneously. Awesome.

After we flipped the chickens a couple of times, they reached their necessary bacteria-killing internal temperature of 140 degrees. After all, we didn't want our First Annual Chicken Munch to kill off the attendants of our Second Annual Chicken Munch. The overcast, cool morning worked highly in our favor. The heavy atmosphere kept the grill smoke low to the ground, while a slight breeze transported that awesome marinated-chicken smell through all of Kalona. Literally, people came from the other end of town and said, "we smelled your fundraiser and stopped by to see what was up." Also, those of you that have slaved over a hot grill/stove/fire in a blazing, unmerciful Summer sun truly appreciate the cool breeze of a slightly-chilly-yet-not-cold day. I thank God for the perfect weather we had.

The chicken wasn't quite ready after coming off the grill. In fact, there was still blood inside them hunks o' meat. So they were immediately transported into large insulated coolers lined with tinfoil, where they finished cooking while staying moist! Tinfoil, you truly are the food-preserving material of the future. Forgive me for ever doubting you.

[Photo Missing!] 
Here's where I'd have a picture of this revolutionary redneck grill sensation, but I was too busy permanently permeating my favorite sweater with the smell of grilled chicken to take photos. Please ask Shaina for some of her photos.

The potatoes were all getting baked by wonderful Sunnyside ladies that live close to the church. They put their ovens into service for us, and we're grateful. Even though the potatoes were shipped out to a dozen locations, they all turned out delicious.

The beans were getting their very own buttery spa in the roasters.

The bread that we purchased sat in bags. They were made fresh by some bakeries near us. The Kalona Bakery, perhaps? I'm not sure. Maybe I should invest more interest in where wheaty items are produced. After all, if a Cyanide-and-Anthrax factory was opened up in Kalona, I'd pay pretty close attention to their wares.

OHYES,IFORGOT. Our youth group handed out a bunch of tickets before the fundraiser, to get a rough idea of how many meals to make. We handed out around 600, and therefore produced 850 meals. In the back of my mind, I had been estimating that for every 2 tickets given out, we should make 1 additional meal for those people that hear about the fundraiser from friends/family, see the signs, or smell our delicious chicken. Therefore, the proper amount of meals produced should have been around 900. I wasn't aware of the ticket numbers, because those were a closely-guarded secret. What better way to get youth to sell tickets than to have a competition to see who sells the most? It certainly worked for me! I handed those puppies out left-and-right (one stipulation of the competition was that you had to give tickets to people who actually planned to use them) and managed to shell out about 50. I'm not sure how Myron did it, (cheating? bribery?) but he gave out over 100.

I'd call someone and ask if they would be coming to the fundraiser.

Them: "Why yes! But we already got tickets from Myron."

Me: "That's fantastic! I'm glad you're coming. It doesn't matter, the funds go to the youth group, no matter who sells the tickets."

Them: "That's true! We'll see you there."


Me: "Growlgrowlgrowl Myyyyyyyyronnnnnnnnnnnnn...."

The carry-out setup was another brilliant idea. We had the meal-making assembly line set up underneath the carport, and when people drove in the parking lot, several of us guys would run out (sometimes jostling each other) to take their order and bring the meal(s) to their vehicle. The operation worked really slick, and only the curious souls that wanted to nose around our operation got out of their cars. No need to continuously clean tables or wait to seat people as others ate! (Although we did set up several tables in the Fellowship Hall for anyone that desired to sit and eat.)

So there we were, handing out meals like we were the only restaurant in town, and we glanced at our sale sheet. We shouldn't have glanced. Only one hour had passed during our 11am-2pm fundraiser, and we had sold 300 reserved meals and 300 "extra" or unreserved meals. We had the Kalona Garage Sale Day to thank for bringing in hungry out-of-towners. We'd already blown past our 250 planned "extra" meals. So the leaders began to sweat and fuss. What do we do?

Throw out the ticket plan and go "first come, first served"?

Turn away pleasant strangers by saying "Well, we gave away all these tickets for free but we didn't call you and um you can't have a meal because you didn't get a free ticket."

We decided to pray. God had multiplied a meal of loaves and fishes in times past, and there were leftovers! We weren't sure of the molecular differences between a fish and a fowl, but we were pretty sure God could handle it. 

We kept selling food, but refrained from eating any just in case someone might buy it and somebody else might not get any. After the fundraiser ended, our youth group was planning to eat a free meal. Might as well sell the food instead and get a few extra donations.

We feared we'd run out of bread, so we quick went and bought some more.

We feared we'd run out of baked potatoes, and we still had 150 raw ones ready to bake, but they wouldn't be finished before the fundraiser ended. 

We really feared we'd run out of chicken, but it's difficult to run, purchase chicken, thaw it, marinade it for 36 hours, grill it for 20 minutes, and then let it sit in a cooler for another 20 minutes, when we only had 90 minutes of fundraiser to go.

We didn't really fear about the beans. There were extra we could throw in a roaster. Worst case scenario, some meals wouldn't have green beans in them, and people would have less to throw away at the end of their meal. (Not me, I eat all my green beans!)

We also didn't fear about running out of vinegar. Somehow, a mistake was made in the ordering and we had 50 gallons more than we needed. We joked that we could have a vinegar-selling fundraiser if all the food ran out. 

As many of you wise followers of Christ already know, God never does things half-way. OBVIOUSLY we shouldn't have worried at all, but when you're seized in the moment, scratching your head wondering WHERE all these strangers without tickets came from, it's fairly easy to worry about food shortages.

2pm came, and we had leftovers.

Plenty of bread.
Plenty of potatoes.
Three coolers of chicken.

Thank you, Lord.

The fundraiser brought in more than enough funds to get us to Phoenix, and even enough to get us back.

Thanks go to our fearless leaders, Leon and Wanda, (read Wanda's blog here. Do it now. She's the best.) as well as Anthony and Shaina (they don't have a blog but they should HINT HINT ANTHONY).

Thanks go to our church, who love and support us and let us turn the parking lot and Fellowship Hall into a Den of Thieves (or, more accurately, a marketplace.)

The church members that fed us a meal while we prepared on Thursday, thank you.
The church members that baked potatoes for us, thank you.
The church members that ate our meals and donated a whole lot of money, thank you.

The families and friends and relatives and everybody else that came out of the woodwork to eat some first-rate chicken, thank you. And you're welcome, for the first-rate chicken.

Fundraisers are difficult enough, but this was the first time our youth group did a Chicken Barbecue. Now that we have some solid numbers (attendance, food supply, vinegar requirements), the next years' fundraisers won't be as daunting.

Arizona bound! 

Thank You for supplying everything we need, Jesus.