Early Returns for The BOAT

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Readers share their impressions of The BOAT:

Hi Ron
I read your book the last few days. Great job! It was well written and definitely captures the essence of teenage boys. It is not the type of novel I would normally read but I believe young adults would thoroughly enjoy the story.

Terry Hughson

Ron,
 
I read your book “The Boat” Sunday.  It has been a long time since I have read a book cover to cover in one day. Your book kept me captivated throughout.  I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read your next book.
 
Congratulations on a wonderful story!
 
Gary Hill
 

Hey Ron,

I just finished Reading “The Boat”. Incredibly well written. A Great Story! Can’t wait to see what you do next. I have already and will continue to recommend all of your books to family and friends. Write on my friend!

Patti Anich

Ron,

Just finished the book. Man, that Alec was a bad ass!
Great story!  The ending was a good one and fitting for the story.
 
Andy Thomas
What are you waiting for? Order your copy here.

Dave and Joe

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joseph-flees

My wife often shares her opinion with me about men. Perverts all.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time disputing her. Men can be dogs, if allowed to go unchecked in their behaviors.

What she doesn’t understand about men, the urge, the drive for sex ingrained in the male of the species, is quite understandable. After all, she’s a woman. The flower to the honey bee. But without that built-in urge within man, the human species would not flourish. All men have this desire, but the godly man knows when it’s healthy to act upon it. Just because the urge is there, doesn’t mean we have to give in to it. The overriding check on man’s desire for sex, and what keeps him from being like the animals, is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Self control.

Not an easy one, self-control.

I learned long ago in my management career that I could learn just as much from a bad leader as I could from a good one. And so it is true in God’s word. There are good and bad examples to learn from. In this case, a man who gave in to lust and a man who exhibited self-control. Dave and Joe. King David and Joseph, son of Jacob, to be specific.

Both men were powerful, David obviously the most powerful as King, and Joseph, second in command to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguards and chief executioner. However, when presented with an opportunity, each man’s actions were quite different. And because of their different responses in similar situations, we have been given two lessons to learn from.

King David, instead of going off to war with the other men, stayed behind in the palace and one evening, with plenty of idle time and a wandering mind, he spied a woman, Bathsheba, on an adjoining roof, bathing. And he saw she was beautiful. And he desired her. David let his lust overcome him and subsequently, after a series of bad decisions, David committed adultery, lied, and conspired to murder Bathsheba’s husband.

David, after being confronted by the prophet Nathan, later repented of his sin, but the deed was done and negative fallout from his sin was felt for generations.

Joseph was also presented with an opportunity. He had found favor in Potiphar’s eyes and was put in charge of his entire household. Potiphar’s wife, surely a beautiful and attractive woman, came on to Joseph. At first Joseph resisted her, but she continued in her pursuit. And then, alone in the house with her, she grabbed his garment and demanded he sleep with her. What would Joseph do with this opportunity? Would he give in and have relations with Potiphar’s wife? It would be so easy to give in. With no one there to catch him in the act, would Joseph behave as King David had?

Joseph knew that his master trusted him with all that he had, including his wife, but even more importantly, he knew that giving in to her would be a sin against God. Joseph pulled himself free from her grip and fled the house, leaving her behind with his jacket clutched in her hands.

Unfortunately for Joseph, she turned out to be a woman scorned and accused him of trying to rape her. Potiphar believed her and had Joseph thrown in prison. But he had done the right thing and later he was given even more responsibility as second in command to Pharaoh.

I often wonder how I would have reacted in the same circumstance. Would I have given in to my impulses or would I have enough self-control and awareness of sin to turn and run away?

So, what are the lessons to be learned from these two men?

From Joseph- 1 Corinthians 10:13- No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. God has promised me a way of escape from my temptations. It is up to me to look for the way out and like Joseph, run like the dickens.

From David- A number of lessons to be learned from David; as I mentioned earlier you can learn as much from bad leaders as you can from good. Avoid idle time. Stay busy and don’t let your thoughts wander to places they shouldn’t. Don’t allow yourself to be put in compromising situations. And lastly, in Psalm 51, David prays a prayer of repentance. In that prayer he says, For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me. 
David recognizes his sin. 

In my prayers, as a flawed man, I pray that God will keep my sin, my weakness, ever before me, so that I won’t become complacent and fall into the trap David did. I pray that when I am tempted, that he not only show me the way of escape, but that I would run like Joseph when presented with it.

All you men take heed, recognize your weaknesses and run like the wind when temptation comes calling.

The Big Easy

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homeless-dog

I had the opportunity recently to extend a New Orleans business trip for a few days vacation. Not having visited NOLA prior to this occasion, I thought I would indulge, and brought the wife along. I love Cajun food, history, and music, so this trip seemed to have it all going.

After the four-day convention, I had already begun to tire of jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, and fried seafood (the grilled oysters are to die for). And the beignets, cafe au lait, and pralines all tasted wonderful. But everyday?

Post convention, we searched for and found a local club where zydeco music plays non-stop, me not being much of a jazz enthusiast, and near Jackson Square enjoyed an impromptu performance by a street band, and I found my music longings fulfilled (too bad I didn’t run across Fats Domino).

Years before, Johnny Horton had given me a history lesson when he sang about taking a little trip with Colonel Jackson on the “mighty Mississipp”. But I felt there were still things I needed to know. We decided to purchase a two and a half hour, narrated tour of the city, and the tour, in addition to numerous walks through the French Quarter, gave me most of the history I needed to fill in the blanks. All in all, we had a good time, but I doubt I’ll ever return.

You see, amidst all the food, music, and history, an undercurrent, an oppressive feeling weighs on you, as if an unseen being hovers around and above. I saw more “homeless” people on the streets of New Orleans, by far, than I do walking Michigan Avenue and State Street in Chicago. And these homeless people are of a different type than those I’ve experienced elsewhere.

I had this funny feeling that the majority of them were just playing the part, and at night they would throw away their cardboard signs and I would see them partying up and down Bourbon Street with the rest (some hints they were fakers may have been them appearing to be recently hungover, many holding handwritten signs uniformly stating “recently homeless, anything a blessing,” an unusually young demographic, many of them accompanied by “homeless” pets, and a general energy level and lack of physical wear and tear not previously seen in the homeless). The truly poor people of New Orleans live nowhere near the French Quarter. I’ll delve into Bourbon Street in a moment.

The oppression I felt has a spiritual source, ala Frank Perreti’s This Present Darkness and Paul’s descriptions from Ephesians:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

The ubiquitous Voodoo and psychic peddlers add to the dark undercurrent, and I indeed needed to wear my armor of God and be prepared for battle. The Prince of Darkness may roam to and fro on the earth, but his home base must surely be located in New Orleans.

Along with the bizarre sights, including the overabundance of homeless lining the edges of and sometimes plopped in the middle of the street, the stench that fills the nostrils is pungent. The bouquet of aromas includes a combination of urine, vomit, garbage, alcohol, fried foods, cigarettes, cigars, sewer, I think you get the idea. Cities in general have an odor, but the French Quarter out stinks them all.

I noticed early on that in front of every store, restaurant and bar, plastic trash bins or open air dumpsters line the street. For a time I couldn’t figure out why these displays seemed out-of-place. But then I thought of Chicago once again and realized that in Chicago, these trash receptacles are stored in the alleys, behind the storefronts. New Orleans doesn’t have alleys. So, the trash lines the street, day after day, morning and night. In other words, their streets are their alleys.

But maybe the entire oppressive feel can be attributed to Bourbon Street, and what goes on there 24/7 spills over into the rest of the French Quarter. My first encounter with Bourbon was in the middle of the day, and with my wife at my side, I was both apprehensive and nervous as we strolled down the street. I won’t describe everything we saw, but needless to say, Las Vegas has nothing on Bourbon Street for decadence and an anything goes attitude.

It seems everyone has something to sell and in their eyes, everyone walking down the street is a buyer. One guy approached me and my wife aggressively, and before we knew what had happened, we wore strings of plastic beads around our necks. Although not accustomed to wearing beads, I thought “why not, they’re free” and we continued down the street. But the guy chased us down and said we needed to give him a donation in exchange for the beads, as was apparently the custom in New Orleans. I gave the guy a $10, From: Jesus, To: You, McDonald’s gift card and that seemed to placate him. Needless to say, beads being thrown around my neck didn’t happen the remainder of the trip.

I have to say that the “homeless” in New Orleans are much more creative than in Chicago (maybe the homeless in Chicago are too cold to be creative). One guy, with his homeless dog in tow, had trained the dog to lie spreadeagled in the middle of the street, completely motionless, wearing a hat and sunglasses, with a cigarette dangling from its mouth. Next to the dog was a bucket for donations. Somehow I wasn’t moved to donate.

We saw topless girls painted in white, who for a price will have their picture taken with you; boys dressed in drag and painted from top to bottom selling the same thing, and more; acrobats; statue people covered in silver; old, haggard women scantily dressed, dancing in the street to music blaring from a boom box held in a hand pulled shopping cart; peep shows; Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club; a boy asking if we would like to hold his fifteen foot long boa constrictor (which I’m sure came with a fee and which we kindly declined); and at one point along the route heading northeast, the point at which most people turn around and head the opposite direction, numerous rainbow flags adorn both sides of the street, it not requiring a genius to know what lie up ahead. I could go on and on. One thing for sure, it doesn’t have to be nighttime to be dark on Bourbon street.

Back to the smells. In the book of Revelation, the prayers of the saints are described as “golden bowls full of incense,” the idea being that our prayers are a pleasing aroma to God. I wonder if the pungent smells wafting up from Bourbon Street, the decadence, debauchery and hedonism, mixed with the vomit, urine and garbage, are equally pleasing to the God of heaven?

In a Dark World

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Copy of Cross Roughed In

The message from the preacher on Sunday focused on the dark world we live in, seemingly darker than ever, and how followers of Christ should live within it. But, is the world any darker than it has ever been? My generation certainly thinks so.

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi over 2000 years ago, “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”

It seems as though the world was dark, and is dark. The difference in degrees of darkness we cannot measure. But the admonition from Jesus for his followers is clear:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Why would Jesus ask his followers to be light, if the world was already light? No, the implication is, we live in a dark world, run by the “Prince of Darkness.” Will it become darker? Probably. Should Jesus’ followers be concerned? He knew the persecution his followers would undergo, and yet wrote these words of encouragement,

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

So, how should followers of Christ live out their lives in the “midst of a crooked and perverse generation?” I think the answer lies in Jesus words when he gave us what has been referred to as the model prayer.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Some might wonder what Jesus meant with those words. I think the book of Revelation gives us a unique view of what goes on in heaven.

“…and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.’ And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.'”

I could go on and on with John’s descriptions of what heaven is like, but I believe when Jesus prays for God’s will to be done here on earth as in heaven, his vision goes back to the creation. Man was created to worship, praise, and give glory to God. Unceasingly. In the midst of the darkness. In the midst of all sorts of trials and temptations.

The darkness will be here until Christ’s return. We may not be, but until we go home, we have our instructions.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”

It’s been a while.

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Writer's Inspiration

Where have I been? Well, I haven’t been on my blog in quite some time. Seems as if I’ve been busy. Writing yes, but not on my blog. After sending my manuscript to an editor for review, I received it back and now I’ve gone to work.

The Boat (the first of three different titles I’ve toyed with) is my first fiction. It’s a coming of age suspense featuring three teens, Alec, Jason, and Robbie. During the process of writing the story, I’ve probably read and re-read it twenty times. Each time I think I’m finished, I go through it again. The story is so engaging I find it very difficult to edit. It’s also hard to be objective when I get caught up in the characters and plot line. And not just once, every time. I actually like these guys.

While the manuscript was with the editor, I also had a number of Beta Readers read the story and give me feedback. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. They also became attached to the characters and hated to see the end as I had written it. And so, based on their feedback and that of the editor, I’m doing rewrites. And the story keeps getting better.

Here’s a teaser in the form of something you might read on the back of the book:

How far can someone be pushed before they’ve had enough and push back?

Alec Thornton is fifteen when he shares his dream of building a sailboat with his best friends, Robbie and Jason. They enthusiastically sign on to help. But when the Winston brothers indiscriminately harass and terrorize the boys, they strike back and the conflict escalates.

Their lives become even more complicated when Robbie and Jason discover that Alec sells drugs for the father of the two bullies. And the harassment is relentless.

Alec plans the ultimate payback when the barn that houses his boat is set on fire. On the night he and his friends exact their revenge, events take a dark turn.

How will the boys end the conflict and how many relationships will be ruined along the way? And in fulfilling his lifelong dream, what price will Alec have to pay when vengeance comes around?

The next step is to finish the rewrites, have a couple of trusted advisers read the final manuscript and then make a big decision. Will I seek a publisher or will I self publish? That my friends is the question that is still unanswered.

One way or another, The Boat will soon be available for your consumption.

I can hardly wait to read it again. In paperback.

Always a Little Heathen- A Book Excerpt

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The Parking Lot Full of Incredibly Clean Automobiles

Ivory Soap

I seldom looked for it, but trouble had a way of landing smack dab in the middle of my lap. Ray Lamontagne could have been thinking about me when he sang, “Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born.” It seemed like I was always getting caught in my mischievous hi-jinks, dragging others along in my wake. Eventually, word got around town: “Don’t run around with Bay. No matter what he’s doing or who he’s with, he always seems to get caught doing something he’s not supposed to.” Even when I wasn’t caught, there were often unpleasant circumstances surrounding many of those adventures, one of which I will relate here, and many of which I will leave out to protect the innocent among my friends.

At a certain age, around seventh grade, kids begin to ask their parents a question that will be repeated numerous times over the next few years: “Can I spend the night with ‘fill in the blank?’” The answer usually depends on who “fill in the blank” happens to be, and a follow-up question from the parent is something like, “Did ‘fill in the blank’s’ parents say it was okay?” Another one of those strange parent questions. Why would ‘fill in the blank’ ask me to spend the night if it wasn’t okay with his parents?

Well, it finally became my turn to ask the question of my parents, so I did. “Mom, can I spend the night with Jim?” Mom asked the required parental follow-up question, “Is it okay with Jim’s parents?” Trying to avoid a yes-or-no answer, I evaded the question with “He said it was.” Mom then did what moms of all generations have done; she deflected the decision and said, “Did you ask your father?” Why did Mom have to do that? She always made the mountain that much more difficult to climb, and I hated to ask Dad permission to do anything, mainly because he was often prone to say no, and I wasn’t partial to that response.

I finally worked up enough nerve to ask Dad if it was okay to spend the night with Jim, and he had his usual questions. “Who’s going to be there besides you and Jim?” You see, Dad was not only keenly aware of all my friends and their shortcomings, but he was also savvy and liked to put me on the spot. Even though I knew there would be others, others that weren’t on the approved list, I lied and responded, “Just Andy,” knowing that Dad would react favorably to that name. Not only was I a known liar, I also knew when to leave out information that would be detrimental to my agenda. If I told him that Jimmy would also be there, the whole deal would be off. Whereas I was a sheep and usually followed the other sheep off the cliff, Jimmy was known to be a leader, a mischievous one at that, and Dad assumed that where Jimmy led I would probably follow. He knew and trusted Jim and Andy, so his answer was favorable, but with one condition; I could not leave Jim’s backyard at any point during the night. I knew better than to challenge his restriction and also knew that our intent all along was to leave the backyard, so I agreed to the stipulation.

Once the four of us had finally settled in the backyard, tent up, sleeping bags in place, and Sam, the dog, ready to have some company out by the doghouse, we began to plan our escape from the fenced-in backyard prison. We didn’t have any grand plans; we just knew we weren’t staying there all night. Jim’s mom should have been suspicious when he asked her if there were any spare bars of soap lying around, but if she was, she didn’t let on. As usual in these “spending the night” affairs, we didn’t sleep, but spent the first few hours talking and teasing each other, with girls, sports, and life in general being the topics of conversation. We had to give Jim’s parents plenty of time to fall asleep once the final light had been switched off.

When the right moment finally arrived, we each, bar of soap in hand, headed out the back gate, and down the street we went. The first thing we saw was a “For Sale” sign in someone’s front yard. The sign called out to us, “Please don’t leave me here,” so we didn’t. It was removed from one yard and planted in the yard of another, a few houses down the street. We really thought we were hooligans. We hadn’t gone very far when we noticed an apartment complex down a side street. For our soaping plans, this complex was a veritable gold mine, with multiple cars parked out behind the building.

We slipped into the parking lot and noticed that the complex was dark, and then each of us took our bar of soap and began soaping car windows, whispering instructions to each other and giggling as we lathered up car after car. After quite some time, we returned to the street with our bar of soap worn down to a small stub, and then we stood back and surveyed our masterpiece— satisfied at the work we had done. The windows in every car in the parking lot were covered in soap (Ivory, Dial, and Zest fully clean!). We figured that since all of the cars were dirty and needed a washing, our soaping, instead of being a detriment, would assist each owner in keeping their cars clean.

The first sign of daylight had yet to arrive, but we noticed lights being turned on in the windows of the apartments, and we ran back to Jim’s house, through the backyard gate and into the sleeping bags, and once Sam was settled back down, fell off to a short morning of sleep. Since the lone tent was a “pup” tent, most of us slept on the open ground under the stars. We discovered that waking up in a sleeping bag covered in dew is a chilling experience. When the sun became visible in the eastern sky, we packed up our sleeping bags, deciding not to stick around for breakfast. Then each of us walked or rode our bikes back to our own homes where we crawled into bed to get some much-needed sleep.

That evening, upon Dad’s arrival home from work, he asked me how my previous night had gone. He seemed genuinely interested in whether or not I had enjoyed the experience. I told him that we all had a great time. The line of questioning then took an ominous turn as he said, “Did you stay in Jim’s yard like I told you to?”

As usual, in order to avoid punishment, I lied and said yes. Dad, knowing full well I was not being forthcoming about the previous evening’s events, continued, “Well, the reason I asked is the guy I work with lives over at the apartment complex, right down the street from Jim’s house. He was late for work today.”

There was a long pause as Dad stared right into my soul, and I grew nervous and suspicious at the same time. Dad continued, “He said that he had to remove a layer of soap from all the windows of his car. He also said that every other car in the parking lot had the same layer of soap on their windows. Are you sure you stayed in Jim’s backyard all night?” Dad was being gracious by offering me a second chance to come clean.

At this point, I was caught, and any further lying (I was a terrible liar anyway) would just deepen the hole I had dug for myself. In the remaining interrogation, it also came to light that it wasn’t just Jim and Andy that had spent the night—Jimmy was there too. I was in deep “doo doo,” which was par for the course with me. It would be a while before the subject of spending the night with anyone would be broached again. At least, there were a lot of cars driving around town with sparkling-clean windows.

Purchase your copy of Always a Little Heathen here.

“Boy’s Club”

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jake

Something odd happened the other day. It probably doesn’t seem odd to most people, but for me what happened was never supposed to happen and when it did I was shocked and delighted at the same time. What happened was I took my grandson to the store. Just me and him. No Gigi, no Mom or Dad, no chaperone, no nanny; it was just Jake and me. How had it come to this?

The back story is that when my grandchildren were born, and this to two different sets of parents, there were whispers, not so subtle that I didn’t hear them, that Pops, that’s me, would never be allowed to be with the grand kids alone. At first I thought they were kidding, but over time I realized that they were dead serious. This “no Pops allowed” movement was led by no other than my sweet wife, Julie. After all, she knows me better than anyone and I believe the prohibition stems from a deep fear in Julie, based on solid historical data, of just what might happen if either of the grandchildren were to ever be left alone with me. You see, I have issues.

Some would call me careless. But that’s only from those who know me. I can think of a few other words that describe me. Here are some: irresponsible, risky, unfocused, scatterbrained, dangerous, reckless, unsafe, negligent. The list could go on, but I think an accurate picture has been painted. Whereas others see me as all of the above, I see myself as carefree and fun. A little mischievous admittedly, but where’s the fun in life if you take out all the risk? And besides, I’m actually more dangerous to myself than I am to others. But collateral damage is a strong possibility. Take the other day.

My son Christopher, Jake, Julie and I went to a local hamburger joint for dinner. As we were leaving the restaurant, Julie took Jake and was busy buckling him into the booster in the back seat, while Christopher and I took our seats up front. While we were loading up, the conversation was centered around how good the food had been at the restaurant and how we were sure to return and try it again. Meanwhile I started the car. And then I began pulling out into the road. Screams from the back of the car caused me to slam on the brakes. It seems I was pulling out with Julie still buckling Jake into his booster seat. I had nearly run over my wife. [She doesn’t have life insurance so don’t think it was on purpose.] I must have had something on my mind that caused me to overlook the small detail of Julie not being in the car as I pulled away. Oops.

Well, it’s been over five years since Jake was born and four for Cara. And the prohibition was in place and diligently enforced; until one day it wasn’t. It happened on a Friday night. Julie and I were watching Jake for a couple of days and we planned on going fishing on Saturday. We had just returned from the store after buying a few fishing supplies. Loading up his tackle box upon our return I discovered Jake was out of hooks. When I informed Julie she said, “You two can run back to Wal-Mart for the hooks.” I did a double take. I waited for a moment to see if she was going to start laughing and tell me that the joke was on me, but she didn’t laugh. Before she had the time to reconsider her foolish decision, I told Jake to put his shoes on and climb up into the back of the car. We were heading to Wal-Mart.

As we left the neighborhood, Jake in his booster and me diligently concentrating on the road in front of me, I said, “Jake, it’s just you and me. Jake and Pops heading to Wal-Mart.” I was giddy and began to laugh. It was as if I had pulled something over on someone. The next thing I heard came from the back seat.

Jake said, “Boys club.”

I started cracking up and said, “Yeah Jake, boys night out. Just you and me kid.” The grin didn’t leave my face, at least until we got back home.

The good news is we returned home with the best hooks available, Eagle Claw, and the next day we caught a boat load of fish.

The even better news? I returned Jake to his Gigi safe and sound and didn’t run anyone over in the process.

gigi and kidsS

So, when do I get Cara?

Redemption

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Redemption

This letter is to you my old, long time master. You owned me once, back when I was your slave. And I was your slave for such a long time. And I was an obedient slave, doing all that you ever asked.  But you were a cruel master, reveling in my misery and pain. You loved to see me crushed under the weight of the burdens you heaped upon my back. You, Mr. Sin, were an evil taskmaster and I would cry out in my pitiful state, asking for mercy, but you had none to give. You owned me and there was nothing I could do about it. For where could I go? I was left to weep in my bed, awash in my tears, alone and unheard. But then one day, someone did hear me.

One day an innocent man died for me. It was the price you had set Mr. Sin, in order for me to be free. It was the cost of my redemption. The blood of the innocent lamb. The lamb without blemish. It was his blood that redeemed me. It was him who set me free. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ who paid the price to you once and for all, and now I am free. I have been redeemed.

I now have a new master. A master who loves me and whose yoke is easy and whose burdens are light My new master never wants to see me suffer. He goes to the Father on my behalf. He cares for me. He is busy preparing a place for me. He is always with me and will never leave me. He was tempted in all things, but never gave in and was never beholden to you Mr. Sin. The cost for my redemption was steep, but I am grateful. For without redemption I would still be in bondage to the evil slave master, you Mr. Sin. And I would be lost and alone.

As this song, Redeemed, by Big Daddy Weave attests, I’m not who I used to be. The heavy chains have been removed and the many stains wiped clean. The outside scars may forever be there, but I no longer feel the pain. Inside I am healed, clean and whole. An unworthy man has now been made worthy. I am a free man! Hallelujah!

For it is by Grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. 

Unfinished Business

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Christopher Graduate

On Saturday my wife Julie, daughter in law Sarah, and I watched my son Christopher receive his bachelor’s degree from St. Francis University. We all are very proud of him and I feel compelled to write down my thoughts regarding his accomplishment. He’s not going to like the fact that I’m writing this and recognizing him in public, but that’s okay, i’m doing it anyway. Some might ask why I’m so proud of him, since receiving a college degree is a relatively common occurrence these days and also due to the fact that it took him sixteen years to complete the task. But that’s just the point. Christopher has been a bit distracted over the past few years.

When Christopher was a sophomore in college, 9/11 happened and it wasn’t long afterward that he made a decision; fighting for his country was more important to him than completing his college education. He dropped out of school and joined another one; the Marines and Camp Pendleton. From there we watched him graduate from Marine boot camp and we were very proud.

Over the next seven years, Christopher would serve two tours of duty in Iraq and participate in many fire fights; enduring the worst that combat has to offer. After his experiences in war he came to us and said he was looking for a new challenge and had decided to become a Green Beret; and we weren’t surprised. I often wonder how getting blown up thirteen times in a Humvee isn’t challenging enough, but then again, I’m not wired like him.

Transferring from the Marines to Fr. Bragg, he spent the next two and a half years becoming a Green Beret, enduring grueling physical and mental test after test and finally graduating. And when Julie and I attended his graduation, we were proud.

Since then he has become a Joliet fireman/EMT, while at the same time serving the military in a reserve role, never knowing when his number will be called to go and serve his country again. I won’t even go into the many challenges he has faced in his personal life. We are and have been proud of and supportive of him in all his endeavors and accomplishments.

But something was bothering him. He felt he had unfinished business to attend. When the subject of his education was brought up, he would laugh with the rest as he was teased about being a lifetime college student. All of his friends had graduated from college long ago. And as far as most people are concerned, his accomplishments over the years speak for themselves. But Christopher loves a challenge and while serving as a fireman, a reserve in the special forces, a father and husband, he persevered and took class after class, continuing to pursue his degree. He took many online classes and would study every chance he got.

But he never gave up or quit. He continued to study and finally earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. And that’s why I am so proud of my son. Most people would rest on their laurels and not worry about having a piece of paper that in reality, doesn’t add to or detract in the least from all that he has accomplished and gone through. Christopher saw his bachelor’s degree as unfinished business and pursued it until it was obtained.

It may have taken him a little longer than most to finish school, but considering the numerous distractions he’s dealt with along the way, I have to say, “Good job son and I’m proud of you. For your grit and determination and perseverance.” What’s up next? Who knows? With him, whatever it is I won’t be surprised. And whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll be proud.

The Trout Whisperer

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Tim with Trout

The Trout Whisperer

I’ve now had a couple of days to reflect on my recent four-day fishing trip to the Current River at Montauk State Park in the Ozark Hills of Southern Missouri. And boy, what a four days it was. Fishing is the main event on these once or twice a year trips, but in this case it was a mini-family reunion, with my brother, two brothers-in-law, son, and two nephews in attendance as well.

Since I don’t fish as much as I used to, I’m a little antsy by the time the trip arrives on the calendar. I told my son Christopher to meet me at my house and that we were leaving at four in the morning; the idea being that after the eight-hour drive we would have the entire afternoon to fish. Needless to say, I was so excited that I woke up at one thirty a.m. and paced back and forth until he arrived. And then out the door and down the highway we went.

For many years my brother and I have fished together,n a real joy for me, mostly for smallmouth bass and mostly in the Big Piney River. Until recently I was a spinning reel enthusiast and loved to wade up and down the river catching bluegill, goggle eye and smallmouth; at least until I was introduced to fly fishing and the hard fighting rainbows and brown trout. Now that I’ve tasted fly fishing, I doubt I’ll ever go back.

Well, my brother Tim and I always keep score when we fish. And to make it interesting, we have a couple of different challenges; who will catch the most fish and who will catch the biggest. On many occasions I would catch the most and he would catch the biggest. Not this time however, this time Tim earned the nickname The Trout Whisperer, mainly due to the fact that he caught the most, by more than double, and he also caught the biggest fish.

Christopher with Trout

Christopher with brownie

The first day was slow and it was just three of us that afternoon. We started in the park and fished above the dam; I was using my favorite bead head prince nymph and at the end of the afternoon the score was three for me, two for Tim and one for my son. I hoped the action would heat up the next day as this wasn’t a good start.

As was our routine, we awoke the next morning at five fifteen, had breakfast, and then headed outside the park to the natural river and so-called “trophy” area. [We fish until noon, go back to the cabin for lunch and a nap, and then return to the river by three thirty and fish til dark. At the end of the day there is only enough energy left to sit around the campfire, have a nice cigar and engage in meaningful conversation until hitting the sack around eleven each night.] In the Current River the brown trout reproduce naturally and the Rainbow spill out of the park and are semi-natural in the wild. The first area outside the park is labeled a “blue ribbon” trout stream, by whom I’m not sure, but after fishing there a few years I would concur. I like it outside the park for a number of reasons; it’s natural and beautiful, the fish are more active, and there is always the chance to land a three or four pound fish, not something that is likely to happen within the park.

Because I don’t fish often anymore and because fly fishing is one of finesse and technique, it usually takes a couple of days for me to get used to the art of casting and catching fish. This year was no exception and at the end of the second day Tim was way ahead, at well over twenty to my nine. I wasn’t discouraged, but knew it was going to be hard to catch him. I was hoping I could at least win the big one. And I was also hoping my son would get some action. This was his first time fly fishing and he wasn’t doing well up to this point.

Bill fighting a good one

Bill fighting one of many

The next day was better and we discovered that due to the caddis hatch, all of our other flies were not as productive as the cream-colored nymph; a fly we could only find in the pro shop at the lodge. I ended the day with eight fish and was still miles behind my brother, but I felt things were going to get better. As the day was ending, we all were beginning to walk back to the car when someone said, “Where’s Tymon?” Tymon is Tim’s son and he had gone ahead of us, downstream, and had not returned. It was getting dark and we began to get worried. What had happened? Had he run into some rough and mean rednecks? Had he fallen and gotten hurt? Or drowned? Tim was worried. He handed me his pole and headed down the river looking for his son.

Meanwhile, Christopher and I went back to the car with the idea of getting some supplies and meeting Tim back on the river to help in the search. Christopher is a Green Beret and being with him brings me confidence on any rescue mission. As we crossed the rapids to where our vehicle was parked, in a part of the stream that’s swift enough you have to pay attention to each step, I became distracted carrying the two fly rods and lost my balance; and I fell into the river and filled the inside of my waders with water. Christopher laughed, but I didn’t think it was funny. The water was cold and my clothes were soaked, but they would dry and I was lucky to not be washed downstream, or worse. When I changed and we grabbed blankets and other supplies, we drove back to the river. On the way we came upon my brother’s vehicle returning from the opposite direction. Inside was Tymon, and he had the biggest grin on his face. Apparently he had come across a killer hole downstream and had slaughtered them. Everyone was pumped for the next morning.

Tymon with Trout

Tymon with brownie

The next day was our last full day and we quickly headed to Tymon’s honey hole. It wasn’t going to disappoint. A good walk downstream, we found that bypassing the river we could reach the spot much quicker via land and a ready-made trail. A few thorns and thistles later and we were there. It was a beautiful stretch of swift, waist deep water that ran along a fifteen foot limestone bluff. The morning air was crisp and a mist was hovering above the water. We almost ran over each other as we each picked out the perfect place along the bluff. Tim caught one on his first cast and it was a free for all from that point. Everyone was catching fish, even Christopher. And they were all good size, many in the two-pound range. One of us however was doing far better than the rest and that’s why Tim earned the moniker of Trout Whisperer. I ended the morning with fifteen and a good size rainbow.

To put things in perspective, Tim was catching fish at a two to one ratio over the rest of us and it was so bad that the following scenario sums up the entire week. I was fishing in a hole for fifteen or twenty minutes without a single strike. Meanwhile, down the river thirty yards from me was The Trout Whisperer, and he was hauling them in one after the other. He finally must have tired of the spot and he said, “Let’s trade places,” so I stood in his hole and he in mine. For the next twenty minutes I had zero hits while up river, in the hole I had just left, Tim was slaying them; shouting “fish on” every few minutes. We all got pretty fed up with him announcing he had a fish on each time he hooked one. All I could do was shake my head.

Taylor with Trout

Taylor with brownie

(Notice the limestone bluff in the background)

At one point I hooked what I knew was a really good fish. My nephew Taylor was downstream and as I fought the fish I asked him to net it for me. I could see the fish a couple of times as I fought it up and down the stream, and it was a nice brownie. When I steered it toward Taylor, I made a classic mistake and tried to horse it in and before Taylor could net it, fly popped loose and the fish swam away. I was livid and my wailing could be heard for miles. My one chance for the big one and I blew it. Maybe next time.

When all was said and done, the master had delivered a performance that left the rest of us speechless. Final tally: Tim- 91 trout, including one three-pound and one three and a half pound brown trout; Tymon- 42; Me- 36, including a nice two-pound rainbow; Bill- 34 (two days); Christopher- somewhere near twenty; and Taylor- 15. Mark and Randy didn’t stick around long enough to figure in the overall contest results.

Me with Trout

Me with nice rainbow

(Notice over my shoulder and barely visible downstream is Tim, who is more interested in catching fish than getting his picture taken.)

The best parts of this trip? I got to spend time with my family away from civilization and emails and computers and televisions; I watched my son catch trout for the first time on a fly rod;I smoked some good cigars around a campfire and enjoyed the company of people I love; and I caught a bunch of fish. It won’t be too soon when I get to do it again. Next time the game is on. Watch out brother, a new Trout Whisperer is waiting in the wings.