Potatoes Of Change

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Those of us who have vegetable gardens in the Northeast, enjoy the seasons as they come. Each has it’s own design in the life of any piece of ground. For us, winter is the time of rest for the soil. It freezes up and specific kinds of plants die off, while other plants, like garlic, go into hibernation until the spring thaw arrives. The frost and snow-filled days of winter kills off many kinds of bacteria and fungi that are a problem to those who garden in the warmer climates. This dormancy of the land, though it appears to be a wasted, non-productive time, is actually very good for the soil. Beyond that, it is good for those types of seeds that need the cold to germinate. The fact is, what you see all around you is not always a true reflection of what you will get.

In the Adirondacks, especially around the little village of Gabriels, NY, potatoes are a very important crop. The Young and Tucker farms have both been successful in growing these tubers for several decades. These families realized that the rocky, well-drained soil of the area is ideal for growing “restaurant” grade potatoes. Each year, they ship their produce to local stores and restaurants all over our area, and around the nation. Both farms specialize in large, mealy, white potatoes that have a rich texture, and a nice full flavor. The qualities I mentioned are present due to the unique minerals in the soil, and the unique abundance of clean rain that falls in the Adirondacks.

More than that, what makes these potatoes so desirable is the impact of climate on their growth. The harsh Adirondack winters are actually a blessing in disguise when it comes to producing this particular crop. Certain kinds of bacteria, and specific fungi that attack potato crops in the warmer climates, are not found here. As a result, these farmers don’t have to spray for those things, or be concerned when shipping their crops to other markets. The long, frigid, mountain winters kills off invading species that might try to adversely affect the potato crop when it is still in the ground. This keeps the stock pure, and makes these specific potatoes very unique, and highly sought after, in the market place.

Consider carefully what I just said. The harsh conditions, and huge heating bills that drive the less hardy from the area, are not a problem for these framers. What makes it inhospitable to the bulk of the population, is the very thing that produces such an amazing potato. Think of that for just a moment. A major problem for one person, actually is the solution for the success of another. Why is this? One person sees a problem to be avoided, but another sees an answer that avoids a problem. In other words, how you look at something, and adjust to get the benefit it offers, really determines the outcome of everything. Want to change your life? Change the way you look at life’s problems, and your future will be a success.

In your current situation, what do you see? Is it an overwhelming issue you are trying to avoid?  Is it a problem you just want to get past and hope to forget about? Try looking at your current situation as something that actually has the potential to bring future success. What caused the issue in the first place, and what can you learn from it? What benefit can this be to you in the days ahead? How you look at what you are now facing really determines the future more than you imagine. It will cause you to either be a victim, with your head hung down, or you will uncover the hidden benefit and have a life-changing victory. That choice is up to you, and no one else.

Years ago my father told me, “Bill, the life you have is the life you made. Don’t blame others for what you have done, and don’t expect others to bail you out of what you failed to do. If you want a better life, then make better decisions today and things will be better for you tomorrow.” That was good advice for me, and it holds true for you as well. Use the current problem to make changes that will give you a harvest of “potatoes” tomorrow! The issue at hand is not a problem, it is an opportunity for change. If you will see your “winter” of distress as an opportunity for change, the advantage you gain will let you reap an amazing harvest. This can be your time and place to have success, and thrive, where others have failed. It just depends on how you look at it. Now… go plant some “potatoes”!

A Season Of Being Alone

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Deuteronomy 32:10 says “He found him in a desert, and in a howling waste of a wilderness, He encircled him, He cared for him as the apple of His eye”. What a powerful picture is painted here of God’s concern and care for those who are wandering in a wilderness of life. It does not matter if they chose it for themselves, it happened because of others, or God Himself actually took them there. The point is, they were in it alone, and in His own time God came to them, and cared for them, whether they deserved it or not.

There is a time in everyone’s life when we find ourselves totally alone. This is not so much a physical thing, but it’s more of an emotional and spiritual season of isolation. When it comes upon us, we cannot avoid the impact it has on everything we hold dear. The empty, wandering time of our soul and spirit, might last a few weeks, a few months or even longer. Once it arrives, it does not depart until it’s work is fully done. This lonely plateau in life is identified in the Bible as a place called the “wilderness” or the “waste-howling wilderness”. The point is, we arrive there unaccompanied, in a distracted and unrefined condition, and we do not leave there the same way we came.

In this empty season, no one is there to carry us, guide us, or give us the companionship we have always needed. No friend is there at our side, providing step by step instructions to bring us into the new place we need to be. The fact is, every man or woman who is destined to fulfill their calling, will make this journey. Even those who do not know God, but are hungry to do better in life, will be taken to this place. The truth is, I believe this trip into the wasteland of our soul, is a necessary part of healthy personal and spiritual growth. It is my conviction that there are no short cuts through this, and more importantly, these times of barrenness should not be avoided. They should be looked at with clarity, embraced with sincerity and walked out fully.

It is only during our wilderness experience that we are fundamentally changed within. Our metal is tested, our character is developed and our flaws are painfully exposed. It has the potential to be a powerful time of personal evaluation and transformation. The excess baggage and wrong thinking we picked up in life, is finally thrown off. Those things that are really important, and genuinely necessary, come into clear focus, perhaps for the first time. For some, this brings a shocking revelation of how shallow and self-absorbed they have always been. For others, it is a grand adventure where they rediscover who they are, and begin to build upon that good foundation, to become even better. These are powerful times we enter into alone, and in an unsettled condition, but we emerge from them focused, and quite comfortable in our own skin.

I was in such a season not long ago, right after I got back from a powerful ministry trip to the Philippines. Myself and Apostle Rick Callahan did two national conferences and ministered at numerous church meetings in that country. When I returned home, my wife then flew off to California to be with our daughter, who was having our 10th grandchild. I was alone in our house, after all the attention and activity of successful ministry, and I was surrounded by the “stuff” of our lives. There was an absolute quietness all around me, and the impact it had went deep within me. It became a time of introspection, where I sought God, ponder my life and ministry, and consider what brought me to this place. I reflected on the family I grew up in, the wilderness seasons I had been through, and the lessons I learned that made me the man I am.

I had time to think about my father, and the example he set, both the good and the bad, that served to shape me in ways I am just now discovering. Among other things, he taught me the wholesome value of a strong cup of hot, black tea, and a slow cooked venison stew. He taught me the blessing of honest work, and the need for personal sacrifice when it comes to family. He showed me that failing to plan for retirement meant you could never really retire. He showed me how to love the wife God gave me, and how to care for my family, no matter what the personal cost might be. He demonstrated the value of living debt free and within our financial means. He also showed me why it was important to pay cash for the things we needed or wanted, rather than go into debt by using credit cards. In essence, my father taught me how to be a real man by the way he lived, loved and died.

Because of that, I became the kind of man my sons could look up to. I showed them it’s OK to not always be right, but it is good to always try to make things right. They learned how to be the leader in their own homes, and the voice of reason to their own children, when it is needed. They were shown how to love their wives and children in ways that were meaningful to them, and to do what must be done to provide for their families. Most of all, I taught them not to see the government as a source of income, but to seek God, plan with care, work hard and invest well. These good things brought them all the provision they have ever needed.

How did I learn the above, you might ask? These truth’s were life lessons learned during my wilderness wanderings, when there was no one but Jesus to prop me up and carry me to safety. It was forged in the time I found myself needing a teaching job. I prayed and sought God, and the perfect job just opened up where there had been none the week before. It was the time I quit my teaching job, at age 35, and my family followed me to Plattsburgh, NY where I went back to college to get my Master Degree. I learned the lesson when we needed a place to live in Plattsburgh, and out of nowhere a place opened up near the college that we could afford.

Fresh instruction came when our cupboards were totally empty, and I gave my sons the last of the powdered milk and instant mashed potatoes for breakfast. I went to school hungry, but when I returned home in the evening, food filled our shelves, our hallway and every counter top in our kitchen. I told no one but God about our need that day, and He showed me how His faithfulness went way beyond my imagination. It came when I quit a great teaching job in Westport, NY, where I was loved and wanted, because God called me to pastor a church of 3 people in Johnstown, NY. Three years later the brand new $250,000 building and all the surrounding land was given to my 60-member congregation, debt free.

New lessons were learned about forgiveness when those I trusted, lied to me, lied about me and then stole money and financial records from the church to cover what they had done. Then, to add insult to injury, they systematically went after the good people in the church and spread gossip in the community in order to pull away even more people and further hurt those who remained. That was a tough one, but we got through it and grew in love and kindness because of it. 

Without those wilderness journey’s my knowledge of God, and experience with Him, would be sorely lacking. Unless I had been willing to walk through those barren wastelands, I would have never seen God’s ability to bring such abundant provision and healing. My faith was built up, my trust was properly anchored, and my life story was enriched, all because of a desert journey. How grateful I am that many times God has led me into a waste-howling wilderness, to be emptied, tempted, tried and tested. At times I failed, but even in my failures, I learned valuable lessons that changed my life forever. The truth is, I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money, because they made me, and my family, what we are today.

Right now are you looking at a dry, sandy landscape, where there is no water, and everything looks dead? Are you feeling alone in a barren land, with no answers, and lots of questions about where God is in all of it? Let me suggest to you that your current condition is actually designed by God to change you in ways you don’t yet understand. He is simply doing with you the very thing He did with Jesus, Moses and David. Like them, you also need to walk it out one step at a time, and pray with an honest heart. You need to gave your weaknesses, and find the place of rest God has for you. Until you are willing to change, embrace your own flaws and exchange the whole mess for God’s strength, you will find yourself a resident of the desert, time and time again.

Perhaps it’s time to embrace the truth about yourself, and be willing to change so you can live out the rest of your life with passion, clarity and vision. Remember, there is a whole world out there waiting for someone just like you to emerge from their dry season. Why? Because who you really are, will emerge as well. The best is always ahead for those who are able to grow in their season of drought. It’s time to enjoy the journey, and let it change you along the way.  By doing so, you can finally break free from your cocoon of self-doubt and secret failures.

Remember, it’s the fight to get out of the shell that makes every chick healthy enough to survive in this world. When people “assist” in that shell breaking process, the young bird will be weak, under developed and prone to sickness all it’s life. But, when they are left alone to struggle their way out of the confining, restraining shell, they will emerge exhausted but strengthened to meet the challenges of life. So, let me encourage you to walk through your wilderness with great expectation. Look to emerge from your shell really changed, and with strength to meet and overcome every challenge that may come your way. Enjoy your season of being alone, because you will not be there forever!

The Aroma Of Love

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            Many of the memories I have fixed in my mind from my childhood come directly from our home. It was a place of activity and laughter, but it was also a place that was clean, quiet, neat and orderly. We never had what the world would call wealth, but our life was still abundant. Many in our community had a great deal more than us, but we still felt like the richest people in town. No doubt this was a result of the tireless efforts of my mother. Her touch was upon everything, and our home was a reflection of the beautiful things God had placed within her. She, in turn, poured out that rich treasure upon us in many different ways.

            Our home became a sanctuary of security that was filled with the most delicious smells. My mother was continually trying out a new cookie recipe, pie filling, stew or delicate pastry. She took great delight in getting our opinion on each new creation, and we enjoyed tasting each and giving our expert advice. This was a normal part of life for me as I was growing up and I never considered that some day it might come to an end. For me, two things were absolutely certain, no matter what else happened in this uncertain world. I knew that my mom would wake long before the rest of the family and spend time in prayer for all of us. The other thing we knew, as sure as the sun came up each day, my mother would be in the kitchen making fresh Italian bread or soft roles for us to have with breakfast.

            I can still remember waking up in bed and smelling the delicate, moist aroma of yeast and flour as it baked in the oven. I knew something wonderful was waiting in the kitchen, and my mouth would begin to salivate before my feet ever hit the floor. I am sure mom knew exactly what she was doing, since she never had to call anyone down for breakfast more than once. Before the first loaf of fresh bread was out of the oven, we were sitting at the table waiting to get a soft, steaming slice of that mouth watering delight. The smell of hot bread, and the anticipation of what it signaled, was the best alarm clock anyone could have. It never failed to do it’s job on even the sleepiest members of our family.

            Another thing fixed in my mind is that we never knew what delectable things awaited us when we arrived home from school. Because of this, most of my friends got in line to go home with me when the school day was over.  Many had parents who worked two jobs and our home became an island of consistency, and a haven of family life the way it should be. Little did we know that very quickly this would be eaten away by the fast food lifestyle of a rapidly changing world. Had we realized just how fast those days would be gone, I am sure we would have cherished them all the more.

            When the school day was over we ran home from our three-room school house, by running up a winding dirt path, crossing our back lot and bounding through the back door of our house. Naturally this turned into a contest of speed and agility that was a daily ritual we knew so very well. We would line up at the end of the school yard and dash across the old bumpy macadam road. Once the race was on, we jockeyed for position on the narrow path. Soon one or more of us landed in the bushes with scratched arms and legs. Those who were behind tripped those ahead, and jump over them to take the lead. In a few minutes it was over and whoever reached my back step first was the winner. Even though there was no tangible prize, the knowledge of being first gave a sense of male prowess and personal worth that was unspoken but very real.

            Upon entering my home, the words “Mom, I’m home!” would echo through the rooms. My mother’s reply was always the same, “O.K. dear…I just made cookies, you and your friends can have some, but don’t spoil your appetite! Dinner will be ready at 5:30, when your father gets home from camp.” Smiles of anticipation would sweep across every face. There on the counter was a plate of fresh-baked cookies, covered by a milky sheet of wax paper. We often stood at the door and sniff the air, trying to guess what was waiting for us on that plate.

Each cookie had a distinct smell of its own, and most of the time we were able to identify what chewy delight awaited us. The few days we missed it were the result of a secret “healthy” ingredient my mother was always slipping into the mix. Ground pumpkin seeds, ground flax seed, raisins, coconut, walnuts or ground sun flower seeds were among her favorites. As the years went by, her list of secret ingredients grew, along  with her imagination. Almost to the day she died, at age 98, we never knew for sure what might be in moms “health bars”, “12 grain nut bread” or “sugarless date cookies”.

            Love in our home was made real by wondrous smells. Every holiday, anniversary, birthday and change of season had its own mouth-watering aromas. Venison stew in a wine sauce, roasted partridge, baked turkey, roasted butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes ushered in the fall. Fresh hot soups and stews, pots of beans with maple cured ham hocks, honey smoked bacon and the rich taste of Biscuit Tortoni topped with ground walnuts told us winter was here. Roasted chicken, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and baked apples with cinnamon called out at holiday time. Hot rice pudding with cream, or tapioca pudding, fresh baked trout, wild mushrooms and wild leeks announced spring. Apple Rhubarb and cherry pies, watermelon, hand made ice cream, sweet corn and the smell of camp fires told us summer was here.

            In each of these smells, I still find the endless aroma of my mother’s deep, rich, boundless love. Her faithfulness at making a simple meal, a plate of cookies or a loaf of bread demonstrated in a tangible way God’s continuous love for us. It comforted us when we were sick and calmed us when we were scared. It patiently believed the best of us even when we were obviously going the wrong way. It quieted our minds and brought consistency to us in an ever-changing world. No matter what the circumstance, pain or problem, the phrase “have a cookie”, touched us again and again. It transformed our hearts, broke down barriers, showed no favoritism and ultimately changed us in ways I am now just beginning to understand.

            When I am brokenhearted and crushed by grief, when I am feeling alone and betrayed, overwhelmed and misunderstood, do not be surprised if you find me baking a loaf of bread or standing in the door of a bakery. No doubt my eyes will be closed in respect for this private sanctuary as I am being drawn above this earthly realm. Even if a tear is finding its way down my cheek, you must understand what is happening. I am no longer as sad, or hurt, or broken as I was before I entered that place. I am smelling the odor of memories, and feeling my mothers love, that gave me this gift so many years ago. I am being touched and healed in the deepest part of my soul, and the pain of this world is being washed away by the rich, delicate smell of flour and yeast.

Just like the loaves of bread that are rise as they wait for the oven, I always rise in that warm, moist, sacred place. It is here that the aroma of love does its timeless work in me once again.  I find healing for my soul, a refuge in the Lord and peace of mind. Here I feel the heart and prayers of my mother reaching across time, and they are still holding me up before God. There is no doubt that Jennie Emmons knew exactly what she was doing when she showed me Gods perfect love through a loaf of bread and a plate of cookies. Thank you mom!  I am so grateful!

When the time comes for me to meet the Lord, I am sure that the rich, sweet odor of fresh baked bread is the very thing that will fill the portals of heaven. I think it will be the thing that ushers me into His glorious presence. In fact, I will not be surprised at all if His first words to me as I draw near His throne are “Welcome home Bill,… oh….and over there, Jennie is waiting with a fresh plate of cookies”.

Memory Maker

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Here in the Northeast, we are quickly moving into the fall season. The last day or so of August brings a change that says, “Get ready”, because there is a coolness in the air that is unmistakable. We have already seen a few leaves show a seasonal color change that will eventually rival the best imagination. Splashes of red, brown, orange and yellow have come out as the evenings have come more quickly and the morning dew has laid heavy and wet on the ground. Early morning fog now blankets river-valleys and fields in a wispy shroud of white, and the melancholy music of a string of geese overhead adds a hauntingly ancient sound as a backdrop for what is yet to come.

These things herald in a very nostalgic time of year for me, and for those who live in the Northeast. We look forward to it, and even though it means winter is moving in our direction, there are still plenty of clear, brilliantly colored days and brisk nights yet to be enjoyed. We are a hardy bunch, and this seasonal change stirs something in our blood and emotions that is hard to explain. It moves upon us quietly and brings an unspoken inward cry to come home, start the fire and gather the family around us. It causes us to remember life as it was, and as it should be, and we yearn to pass that on to the next generation.

I tend to be the first, of the first, to spot and announce those initial splashes of color that show up on the hills of the Adirondacks. In the later part of August I walk the banks of my trout streams and begin to look for those early “turners”. That’s the lone Maple, or the solitary Birch that seems to jump the gun and just has to change before the rest. I make my way around a bend in a stream and there it is, in all it’s glory. Overnight, an entire branch of brilliant red, orange or yellow leaves is waving in the chilled breeze saying, “Here  I am! Now you can tell everyone that Fall is officially on the way!”

From that point on, every new day brings more and more vibrant colors to the land. I see it move from tree to tree, and hillside to valley. I can smell it on the cooling wind. The aroma of moist earth or a yellow blanket of newly fallen tamarack needles floating  on a cold stream, are all part of it. The perfumed crunch of leaves under foot, and the hint of wood smoke in the air blend together into a rich mixture of smells, sounds and sights that permeates my clothes, my heart and my soul. Long forgotten memories of past autumns are stirred up, when family and friends gathered together and shared life. They bring to mind the laughter, the meals and the stories that were told over a mug of spiced cider or a slice of bread just pulled from the oven.

Fall is a time machine. It comes in on the breath of chilled Canadian air, and catches us up in brisk, clear, sunny days. It wraps us in the echoed gunshots on an autumn hillside and the earthy smells of an October forest. It is filled with change and visual images that enrich our lives down to the core. Winter is cold and barren. Spring is lush and muddy. Summer is hot and dry. But fall, …… fall is the memory maker. It is the Creator’s paintbrush, carried on the cooling breeze to the canvas of the earth. It is nature’s perfumer, experimenting with earth, leaves, water, soil and wood smoke. It is the primal symphony of winds that lift the song and the winged wonder of a string of geese as they “v” their way above.

Fall is the time we slow down and enjoy the last, lingering daylight hours of sun and warmth. These remind us that the beauty all around is a fleeting and wondrous thing, and it needs to be savored in the moment. It is the amazing sight of a huge orange moon rising above a harvested field. It is the scurry of squirrels collecting the last of the bounty they will need to carry them through the winter. It is the sight of wood stacked, the drumming a partridge and the smell of stoves and fireplaces set ablaze to drive out the dampness of frost kissed air. It is the smell of apple pies, sweet cider, roasted potatoes, corn, squash and meat cooking in an oven-warmed kitchen. Most of all, it is sharing the food of life with family and friends, and making memories, one slice of pie and cup of hot tea at a time.

This fall, slow down and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Make a few memories of your own. Connect with friends, neighbors, family, food and drink in a deliberate way. Choose to set aside some time to share a meal, or a cup of hot coffee, with those you love. Begin to enjoy the glory of making memories in the colored blaze of an Autumn world. All too soon your time on earth will be over, and then you will wish you had done more. Why? Because, then it will hit you that soon you will be the memory of others. I have learned that many things which seem so important, can actually wait, but making memories is not one one of them!

So in this wonderful season of colored change, put down the cell phone, turn off the TV, shut down the internet and close down your computer. Go meet with loved ones face to face. Share a meal, enjoy the view, tell stories of life well lived, breathe in the aromas of fall and become woven into the fabric of all that is to come. Let the sound, sight, smell, food and feel of autumn get inside you. Let it soak into your clothes, your thoughts, your bones and heart. Once it’s there, it will change everything, because  you will become the stuff of fall memories for those who will follow after. Become the memory maker of others, and you will leave a great legacy behind. Fail to do so, and life will simply move on and fade into the future. Now, go make some memories and enjoy the beauty of this amazing time of year!

 

Some Things Should Not Change

 

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I have lived a few decades at this writing, and during that time, the things I have witnessed are amazing. So much has happened so quickly, that at times it’s hard to keep up with it all. Thus, I am convinced that some things should not change. Those truths that anchor us to reality, and remind us about life as is should be, need to remain a constant beacon of light in a darkening night of endless change.

Let me give you some examples of the changes that have happened during my brief time on earth. The Beatles upended the fabric of music, men walked on the moon, lap-top and hand-held computers arrived. DNA was discovered and the genetic manipulation of every organism is now possible. We have had numerous wars, the internet was birthed, smart phones revolutionized communication and spacecrafts traveled to and traveled on other planets, while other crafts went to every planet of our solar system and beyond. Mega-typhoons slammed the earth, men began living in orbit above the earth, the fall of both the Berlin Wall and communism happened. Terrorism by demonic religious fanatics murdered thousands, and 70 million babies have been murdered in the US through abortion on demand. Meanwhile, riots and unrest have been spread because any person with a cell phone and an agenda, can now do a live broadcast any time, and any place they want.

With all this change, distress, growth and development, I am so glad that some things have remained the same, and they needed to. Why? Because people still have to know the basics. They need to know how to have honest, personal communication. They need to know how to express their feelings, and recognize and respect the feelings of others. They need to know how to make a good meal, and enjoy it with loved ones. They need to know how to show compassion for those around them, and how to help those who are genuinely in need. They need to know right from wrong and how to spot a liar or a con-man, or when it’s time to go the extra mile for someone, even when it hurts. These are the things that make us uniquely human, and they hold life together in many wonderful ways.

The problem is, we all feel so pressed, pressured and rushed that we have nearly lost the art of doing the basics. We are distracted by cell phones at play, at home, at work and on vacation. We are bombarded by endless advertisements which encourage us to buy more and go deeper into debt, which means we have to work more to pay for it. From childhood we are entertained by violent and sexually oriented video games, movies and tv programs. To make matters worse, over the last 15 years, televisions have found a place on the wall of every store and restaurant, livingroom, bedroom and classroom. Companies have now put them on gas pumps so we are forced to listen to their annoying, self-serving drivel even while gassing up to get away from them.

The art of conversation, and building meaningful relationships, is nearly dead. Anything other than a brief Tweet or a condensed lettered text, (LOL, OMG) is considered unnecessary. A hand written letter in beautiful penmanship…..what in the world is that? It would be time-consuming, take days to deliver, and growing numbers can no longer read hand-written script. Beyond that, it’s not free. You have to go to the post office, buy the stamp, put it on the envelope and put it in a mailbox. Who has time or money to waste on that? All I can say is, if I receive a computer generated, spell checked and instantaneously, electronically delivered email to my inbox, it better be a short. I mean, get to the point, or it goes into the massive pile of spam that automatically is deleted daily from my four email accounts.

How bad has it gotten? Well, I have observed couples, or at least I assume they are couples, stopping at my local diner. This is where I go to enjoy reality with my wife, or one of my friends. There we sit, typically engaged in focused, meaningful conversation , solving the worlds problems. So, into this place comes a younger “couple” and I brace myself for the show that is about to begin. First of all, they must pry themselves away from their phones, long enough to glance at the menu. This is confusing and unsettling, because the menu is printed on paper. It’s not back-lit, there is no scroll button, and there is no instant electronic points to apply, or code to be scanned. Just as they adjust to this reality check, the next shock comes. They discover the menu is two-sided and they uncomfortably hesitate as they flip the page over to read what’s on the back.

I watch in fascination as they look at each other wondering what to do next. There is no kiosk, no electronic voice telling them how to place an order, and no flashing, ever-changing menu rolling across the wall. There is no place to tap their phone, insert a credit card or beep for service. They look helpless and bewildered, and they are about to leave this alien environment as the waitress walks around the counter and comes to their small wooden booth. When she says, “what would you like to drink hon?”, a look of relief floods over their faces and they say, “we will have a double, low-fat latte made with almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon”. Then a desperate confusion sets back in when the waitress says, “We have hot tea, coffee, orange juice or water. What will it be?”

In all honesty, this floor show is well worth the price of my morning tea. The facial expressions, the confusion and misplaced curiosity that shows up as the waitress hand-writes their order on a green order pad, is priceless. However, that is not yet the best of the morning’s entertainment. No… that comes when it’s time to pay. As they near the end of their coffee, the waitress, who is the only one ever on duty, places their bill on the table and just walks away. It has been hand-written, the total has also been added by hand, and it has simply been left there without a word. What they don’t understand is they have to physically get up, take it to the old red mica-topped counter to pay.

After I watch them impatiently waiting another ten minutes or so, because no one has come back to their booth, I usually point at the counter to indicate that’s where they go next. So up they go, phone in hand, and the grand finale is about to begin. I watch their stunned faces as the price of each item is separately pressed into the ancient cash register, and the hand crank is pulled back to add everything up. With a final flourish of two pulls the bell rings, the total flashes up on hand-lettered metal cards in the glass window, the cash draw pops open.  With a smile the waitress says, “that will be $3.00”. This is a pleasant surprise, because these two usually pay $5.50 a cup in some overpriced, cafeteria style coffee barista.

Then it happens, they look for a place to swipe, or tap, or insert, or scan, but it’s nowhere to be found. There is an aquward moment of question until the waitress says, “oh, we only take cash”, and then the fun begins. They frantically look at each other and begin to dig through pockets, wallets, purses, backpacks and shoulder bags. Eventually, they may pull together enough money, but at times I will chipped in an extra dollar or so, because they came up short. When that happens, just for the extra entertainment value, I let them sweat it out for a few minutes first. Finally, in true Adirondack hospitality, I come to the rescue and they thank me profusely. Once the cash is handed over, they leave the coffee shop, which has been the same for over 60 years, having had a new experience with the old, unchanged ways.

Yes, some things should never change, because they remind us of who we are, where we came from and what’s really important. They slow us down so we don’t get where we are going, too fast. Life can be rushed, it’s true, but we don’t have to be caught up in it 24/7, and miss the best that living has to offer. Find time every day to slow down, and decided for yourself what things you will hold fast. Is it a coffee shop that is frozen in time? Is it a friendship that holds conversation at a premium? Perhaps it’s a special weekend meal or a family tradition or a desert at holiday time. Whatever it is,  keep it close, enjoy it to the fullest, and let it be like a rock in the river that the rush of time must move around.

All of life may have to change, but every one of us must keep a few things forever anchored in the rich fabric and heritage of the past. These things hold us to reality and give us a point of reference to go back to when life gets too busy. From these unchanging places of stability we gain rest in the moment, insight for the present day and clarity for the days to come. Without them, we are caught in the rush of life-to-fast, and are swept along in unending change that rules over way too much of the precious time we have.

Are you feeling the crush of speed living, and the rush of constant change? Have you been over-run by adds, programing, distraction selling and the push to buy more, do more and be more?  Let me suggest that it’s time to find a small local diner, or a mom & pop coffee shop that is locked in time. These are wonderful places that have no TV’s on the wall or music in the back ground vying for your attention. They are gems from days gone by, that harken back to a time when phones hung on the wall at home, and conversations were savored over a cup of coffee and a fresh made doughnut.

When you find such a place, go there on a regular basis with a loved one, get a cup of coffee or tea, turn off your phone and just sit a while. Dunk a doughnut, eat a piece of pie and begin to enjoy the unhurried atmosphere of this unchanging place. It will do something within you that is desperately needed in this high pressure world. Here you will rediscover yourself, and the art of honest conversation. Here you will find words that are anchored in the past and bring clarity to the present. This is where your thoughts will finally begin to settle, and the push to live someone elses idea of life, will give way to the joy of living life the way you see it.

Now, if you will excuse me. My booth at Petes Coffee Shop is waiting!

 

Walking In Your Wilderness

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Deuteronomy 32:10 says “He found him in a desert, and in a howling waste of a wilderness, He encircled him, He cared for him as the apple of His eye”. What a powerful picture is painted here of God’s concern and care for those who a wandering in a wilderness of life. It matters not if they chose it for themselves, it happened unexpectedly or God Himself actually took them there. The point is, they were in it alone, and in His own time God came to them and cared for them, whether they deserved it or not.

I say the above because there is a time in everyone’s life when they find ourselves totally alone. This is not so much a physical thing, but it’s more of an emotional and spiritual season of isolation. When it finds us, we cannot avoid the impact it has on everything we hold dear. This wandering might last a few weeks, a few months or even longer, but once it arrives, it does not depart until it’s work is done. This isolated plateau of the soul is identified in the Bible as a place called “the wilderness”. We arrive in this place by ourselves, distracted and in an unrefined condition, but rest assured, we will not leave it the same way.

In this empty season no one is there to carry us, guide us or give us the companionship we think we need. Not one person is there at our side, providing step by step instructions to bring us into the new place we need to be. The fact is, every man or woman of God who is destined to fulfill their life calling, has to make this journey. Even those who do not know God, but are hungry to do better, will be taken to this place. The truth is, I believe this trip into the wasteland of our soul, is a necessary part of healthy personal and spiritual growth. As a result, it is my conviction that these times of barrenness should not be avoided, but they should be looked at with clarity, embraced with sincerity and fully walked out.

It is only during our wilderness experience that we are fundamentally changed. Our metal is tested, our character is developed and our flaws are painfully exposed. It can be a powerful time of personal evaluation and transformation. The excess baggage and wrong thinking we have picked up in life are finally thrown off. What is really important and genuinely necessary comes into clear focus, perhaps for the first time. For some, this brings a shocking revelation of how shallow and self-absorbed they really are. For others, it is a grand adventure as they rediscover who they are, and begin to build upon that good foundation to become even better. These are powerful times we enter into alone and unsettled, but emerge focused and quite comfortable in our own skin.

I was just in such a season not long ago. I got back from a powerful ministry trip to the Philippines. Myself and an Apostle did two conferences and ministered at numerous church meetings. When I returned home, my wife then flew off to California to be with our daughter, who was having our 10th grandchild. I was alone in our house, after all that personal attention and activity, surrounded by the “stuff” of our lives. I was totally alone for two weeks, and the impact this had on me was quite deep. It became a time of introspection, where I was able to seek God, ponder my life and consider how I got “here”. I reflected on the family I grew up in, the wilderness seasons I had been through, and the lessons I learned that made me the man I am.

I pondered how my father was a strong presence of security in our home. He made us feel wanted, valued and safe. He was an intelligent, slender, quiet, thoughtful man who spoke very few words, but meant every word he said. He was kind and gentle, filled with internal strength yet tender. He had a will of iron and a backbone that could support it. He was an outdoors-men to the bone and loved the woods, but could still carry his own with any city dweller. His word was his bond. He had a peaceful stability about him that filled our lives, and had the power to make everything alright, even when it wasn’t. On his death bed, his bright blue eyes looked at me with a calm resolve and they were able to reassured me that even this would be fine.

His example, both the good and the bad, served to shape me in ways I am just now discovering. Among other things, he taught me the wholesome value of a strong cup of hot, black tea and a slow cooked venison stew. He taught me the blessing of honest work and the need for personal sacrifice when it came to family. He showed me that failing to plan for retirement meant you could never retire. He showed me how to love the wife God gave me, and how to care for my family, no matter what the personal cost might be. He demonstrated the value of living debt free, and within our financial means. He also showed me why it was important to pay cash for the things we needed or wanted. The truth is, my father taught me how to be a real man.

Because of that, I became the kind of man my children could look up to. I showed them it’s OK to not always be right, but it is good to always be willing to make things right. They learned how to be a leader in their own homes, and the voice of reason to their children, when it is needed. They were shown how to love their wives and children in ways that are meaningful to them, and to do what must be done to provide for their families. Most of all, I taught them not to see the government as their source of income. Welfare is NOT a lifestyle, it is an emergency crutch until someone who needs it can get back on your feet. They were taught to seek God, plan with care and work hard. They learned from me that these things are more than enough to bring them all the provision they will ever need.

How did I learn these things, you might ask? These truth’s became life lessons during my wilderness wanderings. They became real when there was no one to prop me up or carry me, but Jesus. It was the time I found myself needing a teaching job. I prayed and sought God, and the perfect job opened up where there had been none the week before. It was the time I quit my teaching job, at age 35, and my a wife and three boys followed me back to college. We needed a place to live in Plattsburgh NY, and out of nowhere an apartment opened up near the college that we could afford. It was the time our cupboards were totally empty and I gave my sons the last of the powdered milk and instant mashed potatoes for breakfast. I went to class hungry that morning, but when I returned home that evening, food filled our shelves, our hallway and every counter top in our kitchen. I told no one but God about our need, and He showed me His faithfulness.

Without those wilderness journey’s my knowledge of God, and experiences with Him, would be sorely lacking. Unless I had been willing to walk through those barren wastelands, I would have never seen God’s ability to bring such abundant provision in my desperate lack. My faith was built up, my trust was properly anchored and my life story was enriched, all because of a desert trip. How grateful I am that many times God has led me into a waste-howling wilderness, to be tempted, tried and tested. At times I failed, but even in my failure I still learned valuable lessons that changed my life forever. The truth is, I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money or fame, because they made me, and my family, what we are today.

Right now, are you looking at a dry, sandy landscape, where there is no water and everything looks dead? Are you feeling alone in a barren landscape, with no clear answers, and you wonder where God is in all of it? If so, let me suggest to you that your current condition is actually designed by God to change you in ways you don’t yet understand. He is simply doing with you the very same thing He did with Jesus. What a privilege that is!

You need to walk it out, one step at a time, and pray with an honest and pure heart. You need to get real about your weaknesses until you find the place of rest in God. Once you are open to change and ready embrace your own weakness, you can then exchange your whole, weak mess for the strength God offers. Until then, you will find yourself a desert dweller. Perhaps this is your time to finally change and fully embrace the truth about who you really are. Once that’s been done, you can move on. Never forget that today’s wilderness is the perfect foundation for the God-ordained life you will walk in tomorrow !

The Power Of Restoration

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Over the years, I have fished streams, lakes and the ocean around NY State, Canada and in Alaska. Every trip has been a blessing and a privilege I genuinely enjoyed. Although I appreciate every kind of fishing, my favorite will always be a small trout stream like the one in this photographed which I took yesterday. I am sure this is because I spent many hours as a boy, with a trout rod in my hand, standing beside my father. He took me into the little-known trout ponds and hidden streams that he had fished since the early 1900’s. These places, in the heart of the Adirondacks, were untouched natural gems, where we went to get away from people, be together in the woods, and bring home dinner. Dad was one of the last old-time guides in Northern New York, and his love for trout fishing was no secret. Fortunately, he instill that same love within my heart and soul as well.

A pristine trout stream, like the one above, is a thing of beauty and mystery. Each rock in the water, overhanging bank and deep bend in the river presents a new challenge, and a new possibility for catching Speckled Trout. Once you learn to “read” a particular stream, it begins to feel like an old friend that will give up it’s secrets and bounty, every time you go. That friendship can last a lifetime, but it has to be maintained, nurtured, and cared for from year to year. You steward that stream, which means you never abuse it, over use it, or neglect the signs that it may be in need of rest. I have a number of these in the Adirondack Mountains, and I cherish each one.

Over the past 30 years, I discovered these old friends through many different avenues. Some were found by driving back roads on my old 1980 Honda CX500, while others were located by searching topographic maps. Some I found during hunting season, and others I just stumbled upon as a blessing from God. One in particular, is very special to me, because I found it on a day when I was ready to give up. I stopped my motorcycle on a back road, just to rest, clear my thoughts, talk to God and settle my heart after going through a very painful divorce. The moment I shut the engine off, I heard the unmistakable sound of running water, yet there was nothing in sight to indicate it was there. When I pressed through the heavy brush, a small, healthy trout stream caught my eye, yet I had never seen it on any topo map. For a fisherman, this is the equivalent of hitting the lottery, and it changed my life.

Regardless of how a stream came to my attention, each is a treasure to me, and I guard their location with everything in me. Once a kid in our neighborhood tried to follow me to a stream, but I knew his car. After seeing the same vehicle behind me for several miles, and several turns,  I took him on a trip through the mountains.  Eventually I stopped at a diner for a very long breakfast, while he sat in his car on the road side. Upon leaving the diner, I walked up to him and handed him a cup of coffee, saying, “Hope you enjoyed this scenic Saturday morning drive”, then I drove home.  My friends have seen pictures of the trout I catch on a regular basis, and many ask me to take them fishing. My response is always the same , “sure, where would you like to go?” If they want me to reveal one of my streams, my response is something like, “If I did, I’d have to kill you”.

My reason for being so secretive about these streams is rooted in a harsh reality that showed up a few years ago. I broke the “Emmons family rule” and took a friend with me to one of my local streams. The time together was fun, but it brought out an unhealthy competition in me which destroyed the solitude, and sense of unrushed peace I  long for in those places. Worse than that, I didn’t realize by bringing another person there, I doubled the fishing pressure on that stream, which upset the management I had established for it over the years

Within two years, the size and number of trout caught in those waters dropped way off. For all practical purposes, I knew I would probably have to write that stream off my list. Then, to add even more problems into the mix, he took others to my stream. Soon I saw that several people had found this stream. There were other sets of boot tracks on the bank when I arrived to fish, and a bit of trash left behind which I picked up when I left. I realized this was the death knell to a stream I loved, and had fished successfully for more than a decade. It also sealed in me the absolute rule that I never reveal a productive trout stream to anyone.

Yesterday I decided to try one of my other dead streams again, as I traveled north on my cx500 for a morning of fishing. I stopped at my favorite diner for breakfast, and while eating my eggs and rye toast, a thought crossed my mind. I wondered if one of my old “friends” had come back to life. You see, I have not driven on this specific dirt road, past that stream for the last 4 years. I knew it had basically been fished to death. Since it was empty for so long, I wondered if everyone else had abandoned it as a lost cause. If that was the case, there might be a chance it had come back to life, and was restored to it’s former productive state.

I drove down the old familiar dirt road and parked out of sight. Then I hiked the half mile back into the woods where I knew the stream took a sharp bend. At that spot there is a deep, clean pool of water that undercuts a glacial boulder which sits right in the middle of the stream. I pulled the ultra-light rod from my creel and baited the snelled hook. The moment my nightcrawler hit the water, there was a splash, and the line was rapidly pulled under that rock.  My heart pounded as I set the hook, and sure enough, out of the water came a beautiful 9-inch speckled trout. That was the first of many I caught on that stream. I kept four, and the rest I threw back. I am pleased to say that my stream has been restored, and the power of that restoration has revitalized something in me as well.

You may be in a place where something you once loved and cherished has been lost. Perhaps it happened through a mistake you made, or through something someone else did in ignorance. Whatever caused the problem, let me suggest that the best thing you can do is relax, give it time to rest, and let things heal.  Stop second guessing why things happened as they did. Does it really matter at this point?  Embrace your situation and accept the fact that they are what they are. Just let it go!  Like my trout stream, if given enough time, everything in your life will work itself out as it should be. Restoration, in one form or another, will surely come to you. Be encouraged! If God can restore a trout stream to better than it was before, then he can surely bring restoration to you!

Now go have a great day and enjoy every moment of the life you have.