Thinking Out Loud

July 2, 2015

Family Games Night

Filed under: Christianity, family, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:09 am
Admittedly, I wasn't doing well in last night's game of Settlers of Catan, which meant I had time on my hands to construct this fortress.

Admittedly, I wasn’t doing well in last night’s game of Settlers of Catan, which meant I had time on my hands to construct this fortress.

For some of my US readers, the kids have already been off school for a month now. So… how much time have you spent together as a family?

Trips to the cabin, road trips and similar adventures will often pull parents and children together for a time, but even there, smart phones and personal computers take us into different physical and mental spaces.

The question is no longer, ‘Does the motel have a pool?’ but rather, ‘Does the motel have good wi-fi?’

Much has to do with the ages of your kids. Younger is better when it comes to bonding and creating experiential memories. But as the kids get older, you often have to force the issue, and one way to facilitate that is through what is usually referred to as table games or board games.

Our ‘kids’ are actually now in their 20s, but they’re both home this summer. Most of that time is spent staring at screens. I’ve done everything I can do to break this routine, but not with much success and honestly, I am just as guilty as everyone else on this. I’d love to pack the whole family on an airplane and fly to Europe, but that’s just not in the budget.

I’m also big on the idea of giving children a Christian camping experience, but that’s only one or two weeks out of the summer. What happens when they return? Does everyone just take off to their rooms and switch the devices back on? That’s just not ideal. Movies are an option, but much of what popular culture offers is not helpful to spiritual nurture. Our family DVD of choice last month was episodes from classic television, in this case Green Acres. For some reason, as it did in another season when the kids were in their early teens, it works.

So we play games. Rummikub is a favorite of mine, because it involves numbers, and is not so dependent on luck. Right now the favorite for everyone else is Settlers of Catan. I join in for the aforementioned reasons of family unity, but this one is not my preference, and I’ve only won once. Still, it’s not a video game; and as I don’t bother with such — I get enough adventure driving the freeways — at least we have a lingua franca in discussing Settlers strategy.

We have others, and the camp that my wife and I met at often sees the adults breaking out board games during the evenings in the dining room. Ticket to Ride is one I can enjoy just watching, and we recently purchased Bohnanza, a card game where you buy and sell crops of every type of beans imaginable. (Grammar police: I know that should be ‘every type of bean’ in the singular, but I liked it the other way…)

To jump in, it’s helpful to have a friend who can recommend something or let you sit in as they play, but a good games store (i.e. not a department store or toy store) can usually tell you what might be best for your ages and interests. If your kids are younger, you can get the routine started with classic standbys such as Monopoly and Clue. If your kids have been to a Christian camp, they’ve also probably encountered Dutch Blitz, which is available in Christian bookstores and is now available in an expansion pack for up to eight players.

The time you spend together is priceless, but the kids grow up fast, and the opportunities become fleeting.

Don’t let personal computing and online diversions rob you of simply being a family.

June 7, 2015

When Interpersonal Relationships Break Down

Six years later, I honestly don’t remember what it was that precipitated this column…

Lately I’ve been keeping track of a number of relationships in my personal life and business life that have been changing. Some of these represent cases where there have been relationship breakdowns, usually precipitated by something external that I did not instigate, but often compounded by my reaction(s). I’m a very principled person, and I’ve never let a great friendship stand in the way of taking a stand for an ethical or moral precept, at least not among people who I expect should know better.

But some of them are relationships which have been in a wonderful state of repair and healing. Enough time clicks by on the magic clock and both parties say, “Who cares?” and pick things up where they left off. In one case, I can no longer remember what the issue was between myself and the woman concerned, though when we do meet up, I hope she gives me some kind of clue. I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but I’m dying to know what the deal was. It must have been a doozie, but with God, forgetfulness — which we regard as a human failing — is actually a divine attribute.

So here’s my five rules for surviving relational breakdowns:

  1. bizarrobelieverjerkNothing should be so severe that it would cause you to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road if you saw that person coming down the street. Civility is always the higher good.
  2. You should never have relational estrangement with more than five people at a time. To get a sixth person on the list, you have to be willing to call up the person who has been on the list the longest and make peace. You may prefer to use four or three as your magic number. It should never be more than five.
  3. Treat the whole thing as if it’s entirely your own fault, even if it wasn’t to begin with. Sometimes that can be difficult. A pastor I know took great issue with something I sent him in an e-mail a year ago; then just weeks later got up and gave his congregation the same message. I know that I was right, but if I ever happened to run into him, the first thing I would probably say is, “Look, I’m sorry…” In fact, I have nothing to apologize for, but it can be a great opportunity to practice humility and thereby model Christian charity.
  4. Ask yourself if there’s some other factor at play that you haven’t considered. For about 15 years, I knew that a particular individual was angry with me. A mutual friend said, “He’s never going to forgive you.” I always thought it concerned something in our professional relationship, but about a year ago, my mind flashed back to something that happened at a party involving our children. I immediately contacted him to make things right.
  5. An irreparable situation means the relationship can’t be fixed for now. The bible is very clear that as far as it is up to you, you should live at peace with everyone. Elsewhere, we’re told that loving our brothers and sisters means believing the best. I interpret that as believing the best is yet to come.

P.S.: I’m still working some of these out, so don’t expect to see my book on this on the shelves anytime soon!

In heaven above
With the saints that we love
It will be glory

But on earth here below
With the saints that we know
Well… that’s a different story.

 

June 6, 2015

Duggars: Should Sins Committed in One’s Early Teens Destroy an Adult Life?

Filed under: family, morality, parenting — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

After a rather informal podcast, Phil Vischer raises the issue of the Duggar Family scandal. His take on this may rile some, others of you may resonate with this. Stay with it until 57:07. Do you agree with Phil’s opinion?

The subject matter of this section of the podcast is not appropriate for young ears.

The United States has a very high rate of teenagers who are registered sex offenders because of things they did when they themselves were children. The things they did were wrong and often violated another person. But they are prosecuted under laws intended for adults, and many of them have their lives ruined and their futures destroyed because they have been so labeled.* Does the punishment fit the crime?


*I’ve deliberately opted not to link to the various stories and websites that concern this issue, but some of the stories are heartbreaking. In many cases involving a heterosexual act, the couples today are married, but face a lifetime of stigma essentially for having premarital sex. I know that some will say that I’m taking a liberal position by raising this issue, or that Phil is, but in a country where there are already a disproportionate number of people incarcerated, I think the laws needs to be revisited. (I’m guessing the podcast will get a lot of mail on this one.)

May 23, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part Two of Two

You need to click back to yesterday for part one, but knowing a few of you won’t, I’ve begun by repeating the introduction. Thanks again to Martin and Nancy for allowing us to run this. To read the whole thing at their blog, Flagrant Regard, or leave them a direct comment, click the title below.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century (2)

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

Nancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favourite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.


We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Adapted from the article of the same name by Nancy Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

So said my girlfriend the other day when we were chatting over lattes. Luke had divorced Laura to be with Michelle who had likewise divorced her husband to be with Luke. They were hopelessly, madly, in love and, barring unforeseen health or employment issues, they were set for life in the happiness department. My friend continued giving her opinion that it was abundantly clear that neither Luke nor Michelle had been happy in their marriages. It didn’t matter that they were in love with their exes at the outset – because life happens, time passes, and looks get lost by the wayside. Things had changed.

There are any number of reasons why marriages fail and people get kicked to the curb but it does always seem to be an outworking of someone in the relationship deciding that they have the right to do what makes them happy.

Sadly, Laura committed suicide some months after her marriage dissolved. Of course, Luke was distraught but never showed regret that he had left the marriage. He always maintained they had grown apart and were floundering in the proverbial loveless marriage. When Luke had serendipitously met Michelle, she was like no one he had ever met before and leaving his marriage was, as he saw it, his only chance – his last chance – at real happiness.

I began to think about the idea of having the ‘right’ to be happy.

We live in a world where our happiness and, conversely, our misfortune is often predicated on circumstances beyond our control. That being the case, it seems that to expect – to have a ‘right’ – to be happy doesn’t seem like something that can or should be depended on; any more than we can expect or depend on perfect weather every Saturday in June so that all brides will be smiling. You pick your date, send out your invites, and take your chances.

I believe we can have ‘rights’ as far as what is legislated and guaranteed by the laws of the society we live in. For example, we have the ‘right’ to basic education because, here in Canada, we are given that privilege through taxation and public policy. That is why it is called ‘public’ education.

I can also understand a ‘right’ as it relates to a contractual obligation. If someone hires me to design a logo for them and I design it and charge them $100, then I have the ‘right’ to expect to be paid $100 for my work.

Back to my friend’s statement – “Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

What my friend was not saying was that, however you need to find happiness, whatever you need to do to be happy, is not to be held up for criticism or judgement beyond a bit of neighborhood gossip – because nobody knows the ‘whole story’.

The American Declaration of Independence laid down at the outset that one of the basic rights of any American citizen is the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. That did not mean that people should be entitled to pursue happiness outside of the law (i.e., through murder, rape, robbery, etc.) – but by lawful means. But this is too broad-based for what my friend meant. My friend is not philosophically deep. She watches The Bachelor and thinks the Tea Party is the party at Witzend in Alice in Wonderland. What she simply and solely mused was that people have the right to be happy when it comes to sex. Her view has been ‘trending’ for some time now and you have to look no further than the plethora of partnering change-ups in Hollywood at large.

There is no room for a counterpoint in today’s society. But, if you could get a word in, the counterpoint would be that, happiness aside, Luke’s leaving Lisa for Michelle was done in direct contravention of their marriage vow. That overarching solemn promise made up of subsets of conditions wherein two people promise that they will never leave each other – no matter what. This promissory social contract is sealed either in a civil ceremony or before God and, in both cases, before witnesses. Happiness is not even figured in to the marriage vow which is one of duty of care for the other – again, no matter what.

Today, our sexual impulses and proclivities have been put on a pedestal of preposterous privilege. And where sexual ‘happiness’ is not the order of the day, heinous acts have occurred. When lack of sexual happiness has been the motive behind murderous and unjust actions, the headlines have still – even in this day and age of post-modernism – spoken loudly and clearly in defense of the innocent. We don’t have to look past Susan Smith and the drowning of her two young sons so that she could pursue a relationship with a local wealthy man to find where the utilitarian doctrine of the ends justifying the means is so egregiously lopsided in favor of the means.

The problem with sex is that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. All our desires make promises – that new car, that new house, that new job, that next You Tube video with over a million views – but none more so than the promise of sex. To be in love involves the irrational yet irresistible conviction that it will last forever and that our beloved will supply us with deep-rooted, passionate, lifelong sexual happiness. Everything is at stake. If we miss the chance to be in love or, as we are speaking of here, to get back in love, life will not have been worth living. Anything in the way has got to go – and fast. So thought Luke and Michelle. So thought Susan Smith.

But, if we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness’ which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we are chasing after the wind because the object of our behavior (erotic passion) is illusory and wishful. In the movie, The Life of David Gale, in a soliloquy on happiness, the main character portrayed by Kevin Spacey warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Not because you get it, but because you’re doomed not to want it once you do. Living by wants will never make you happy.”

As time permits, those experienced at long-term relationships know that erotic passion can sometimes last a good long time but that it will most certainly wane. For those relationships that continue long after erotic passion has waned, it is not because of the promises made at the outset. It is because the two people have found true love and contentment outside of the sex act, and have otherwise strived to make their relationship both mutually beneficial and sustainable.

In a few years, it is likely that Luke will leave Michelle to fulfill another last chance at sexual happiness. Or she him. And, again, my friend will say that she believes they have a right to be happy. That is, if her husband, Chris, doesn’t decide in the meantime that he has a right to be happy with that bubbly new hire in the Corporate Marketing Department. That could change her perspective.

For the here and now, the ‘right to happiness’ is predominantly the dominion of the sexual impulse. But, what if this ‘feel good’ principle creeps into other areas of our lives to the point where every impulse in every person has the ‘right’ to be indulged?

I hear the ticking of the doomsday clock …

————————————————————-

For the original article and other incredible essays and thoughts from C.S. Lewis, you can purchase “God In The Dock” at your local Christian book seller or online via any number of online book retailers.

May 3, 2015

Institutionalized Seniors Lose Independence, Privacy, Dignity

Last night my mother was attacked by another resident in the seniors complex where she lives. He entered her room, sat on her bed, and then hit her about seven times, in her forehead, face and torso. She screamed and screamed for help.

seniorsIt’s not the first time this has happened.

Each time it’s been caused by a different resident.

There are three levels of care in this facility:

  • independent living
  • assisted living
  • long term care

Just over two years ago, she went from the first directly to the third, skipping the assisted living experience entirely. It was a rather abrupt transition. She went from basically renting an apartment to experiencing the regimen and routine one would expect in a hospital. From doing her own thing to doing their thing.

While I have great respect for the nurse in the independent living section of the building who made the decision, and while there were short-term circumstances that seemed at the time to warrant it, I will always second-guess that decision and our willingness to agree to it.

In the meantime, there are no locks on her door.

While many people she lives with are experiencing different levels of onset dementia, she is still totally with it. She has all her own teeth, bladder control, and reads without glasses. Moreover she sees everything that takes place on her floor; she knows the staff members who care, and which ones are just punching a clock. She is aware of the many instances of injustice that take place in that community, and is a victim of several, including being forced, for 27 months now, to sit in the dining room with her back to everything going on there, despite various requests by her and us for a seat change.

Because she is hard of hearing, she sometimes blends with the not-so-higher-functioning people on the floor. She struggles with remembering nouns and peoples’ names, but this is not a new thing. So she uses pronouns without having qualified them, or introduced a name at the beginning of a new spoken paragraph.

Sometimes, on the phone, she gets philosophical and describes the boredom of her day-to-day existence, in terms not unlike how one might describe a prison experience. Some day, as a writer, I may share her story in a broader forum.

Last night she was scared. They said she didn’t want to go back to her room, but a caring PSW agreed to be her “security guard” until she got to sleep.

The family of the man who attacked her was also notified. After we were called, I pretty much identified who the man was. He’s new to the floor, and was wandering around all day acting weird when I made two rare, twice-in-one-day visits. He will probably need a greater level of restraint, possibly on another floor of the building.

My mother has no alternatives, no other options. What do you do?

 

May 2, 2015

Making Your Prayers More Specific

This ran here a year ago, but I wanted to return to it in case you missed it. This is a genuine weakness in my own prayer life; we read or speak a ‘laundry list’ to God of names without any qualification of what it is we’re asking. I can almost here God saying, “Yeah, Tom. What about him?”


 

Praying the ScripturesI think sometimes our prayers seem to be ineffectual because we don’t really specify what it is we’re asking for. We remember people in prayer, but it’s more like reciting a list than it is standing in the gap on their behalf or interceding, that is, coming between them and God. I picture God wishing we would engage him more on the particulars.

“So Lord, please be with Mike and Darla.”

“I’m always with them; I will never leave them or forsake them.”

“But Lord, just be in their marriage.”

“Their marriage is wholly committed to me.”

“Yes, Lord, but help them to reach out to you.”

“They speak to me as a couple each morning and evening and throughout the day.”

“Well, just be with them this week.”

“What would you like me to do?”

“Well, they’re going through a rough time right now.”

“Yes, what things specifically are you wanting to bring forward.”

“Mike’s job at the warehouse is looking unsure, and Darla’s job ends next week.”

“Okay, that’s a specific.”

“And the kids are really stressing them out.”

“Yes, parenting is like that.”

“And they need to fix the roof this spring and the money’s not there.”

“Yes, and there’s a section over the end that’s going to get worse really soon.”

“Wait, you know that?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then Lord, I pray you’ll send them the money, or someone willing to repair the roof.”

“Isn’t your brother-in-law a roofing contractor?”

“Yes, but he lives three states away and he doesn’t know these people.”

“Well, you’ve ruled out that possibility, haven’t you? Which part of the prayer request do you think I should deal with first?”

“Isn’t that your responsibility?”

“Yes, but what would you do if you were me?”

“I guess I would…”

“…Yes?”

“I guess I pray you’ll help them both realize that there aren’t really any jobs in their field anymore, that technology is shifting and they need to look for a different kind of work.”

“Now that’s a really specific prayer request I can work with.”

“How are you going to answer that one?”

“I’m going to send you to talk to them about the job market.”

“Oh.”

“Anything else?”

“No, I guess I’ve got some work to do… In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

 


 

February 14, 2015

Love That is not Recognized: Thoughts for Valentine’s Day

Filed under: children, family, marriage — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:06 am

heart sandwich

I have a favorite lunchtime sandwich consisting of at least two types of lettuce and a mix of tomatoes, peppers and cheese.  My wife makes them for me, and if my schedule required me to need to take a lunch every day, I could eat them every day. Sometimes they’re on a Kaiser bun, and sometimes, they’re on a whole wheat bun like the one in the picture.

Not too long ago, I was having a post-lunch phone call with Ruth and I commented that the way she had cut the bun and placed the sandwich formed a heart shape.

“Did you know that today’s sandwich forms a heart?” I innocently asked.

“Yes…” she replied but there was something implicit in the short reply that I needed to pursue.

“How long have you been doing this?”

“Years.”

And then after a long silence, I said, “I guess I never noticed; I just opened up the package and started eating.”

We have a word for love that is not returned, unrequited love, but what about unnoticed love? What about the person who pours love into a spouse, a child, an elderly parent; and that love simply flies over their head?

Using The Five Love Languages as a template, this would consist of words of affirmation that aren’t truly heard, physical touch that is misinterpreted, gifts that are not appreciated, quality time that isn’t seen as an investment in the other person, or acts of kindness that are written off due to a sense of entitlement or are simply missed as in the example above due to distraction?

Put yourself in my place for a moment. I would have to ask myself, What other little acts of love am I missing? Probably more than just than one. What about similar ‘messages’ from my children, or my co-workers, or people in my church?

But then again, perhaps this is partially about unrequited love. Simply put, we talk a lot about the ‘I love you return.’ Someone says ‘I love you’ and there is an expectation that the context or the relationship is such that the other person will say it back. When they don’t, there’s that awkward silence.

So basically, there’s a situation here where someone has been saying they love me to me every workday at noon, and I wasn’t responding. Instead, I would phone after lunch and say things like ‘Did you remember to pay the water bill?’ or ‘We’re having a really slow day today and what’s making it worse is that…’

So I need to say something like, ‘Thanks for today’s sandwich; I love you, too;’ and by rough estimates, I need to say it about 500 times to make up for past deficiencies.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Ruth.

I love you.


For everyone else, here’s a summary of the love languages from FierceMarriage.com; click the image to read the accompanying article and check out the book by Dr. Gary Chapman where you buy quality Christian books.

love languages


We were also married on Valentine’s Day.  I’ve written about that twice before:

Given the nature of Canadian winters, we celebrate on a 6-month offset, on August 14th.


The weekend link list appears tomorrow

 

 

February 6, 2015

Rethinking The Baby Factory

This article first ran here 4 years ago, but seemed timely given Pope Francis’ comment last week, “Some think — and excuse the term — that to be good Catholics, they must be like rabbits.”  So we found this article and as a bonus, all the links still work!

This is the second of two blog posts inspired by subjects covered by Ken Gallinger, ethics columnist for The Toronto Star. This one, at this writing, is still available online under the self-explanatory title: It’s Time to Rethink Call To Go Forth and Multiply.

He begins:

Back in the days when my wife and I were spawning our three kids, that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Indeed, back then, couples who failed to produce were looked upon with suspicion; we wondered “what was wrong with them,” even opining, if only in private, that if they were “able” to have kids and chose not to, that was pretty selfish.

But today’s truth is self-evident: There are enough of us. Likely too many. And if there aren’t too many now, there soon will be.

The reason for this discussion of course, is the sheer size of the number of us that populate this planet vis-a-vis an ever decreasing stock of natural and physical resources.

Gallinger is concerned about this, but equally concerned about the ones, “judging those couples and individuals who choose not to spawn their own replacements.” He finds both positions somewhat untenable.

I remember feeling that judgment one time about a dozen years ago when, after explaining that my wife and I had two sons, was told by an individual, “So you replaced yourself.” He meant those words in the sense of, “You’ve accomplished nothing so far.” We had clearly violated “Go forth and multiply” in his eyes, I’m not sure that our two offspring constituted having gone forth and added.

There are still denominations of Christianity wherein people are encouraged to have large families, and I’m not simply referring to old-school Roman Catholics or Mormons. In typical tongue-in-cheek style, Darrell at Stuff Fundies Like notes that “fundies” (i.e. conservative fundamentalist Christians) join the Amish in this category. (Of course, he points out that this becomes more cost-effective as the kids get older if they all learn to play a musical instrument.)

However you smile as you read SFL, there is another view, as stated by Craig Carter, professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale University in Toronto, that God has never rescinded “go forth and multiply.” He bases this on the idea that the Genesis commandment predates Israel, and is thereby not Old-Covenant specific. (In an earlier blog post, he speaks in terms of what he calls “The Contraceptive Mentality.”)

So the question — with the paragraph below notwithstanding — that I intended to ask today is this: In light of the population stats and the depletion of scarce resources; but also in light of the command given to Adam and Eve; should Christians keep making babies to the height of their ability, or is there a time when we say, “enough is enough?”

…And now the twist.

Views on this subject in the last couple of decades have been moderating lately because of data showing that the Muslim population is expected to double worldwide in 20 years. There is an us versus them mentality that would want to suggest we must continue to procreate lest we be outnumbered.

Should this be a factor in our thinking as we try to answer the “How many” question?

About the first chart: Not all experts agree. Some see an industrialization of the rest of the world contributing to a slowing of birth rates with a peak population of about 9.5 Billion.

January 31, 2015

They Never Talked About It

Filed under: Faith, family, marriage — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

They were married for 37 years.

After she passed away, he says — and friends confirm — he cried ‘buckets and buckets of tears.’

“I don’t know where she is right now;” he told friends, referring his lack of insight into her eternal destiny.

They never had that conversation.

They simply never discussed faith-related subjects.

And here’s the surprise ending: They went to church almost every Sunday.

November 18, 2014

The Baptist and The Bar

Filed under: Church, family, marriage, prayer, Uncategorized, writing — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:07 am

Just three short months before they asked him to consider being on the short list for appointment as a deacon, Ray got into a habit of dropping into McGinn’s Wings on the way home from work. Although he had a more liberal attitude toward drinking than some in the church, it wasn’t about the alcohol. On about half of the days he went with a bottled grapefruit drink they served that was non alcoholic. It was more about having a buffer zone between work and home, though during the process his Sunday morning church attendance was starting to wane.

McGinn’s customers tended to walk around more than sit. There were some novelty pool tables, one sized extra long and the other extra square; not to mention some vintage pinball machines, foozball, and a prototype of a Wii-type game that never made it to market. There was also a red-haired woman who said her name was Blaine.

Short Stories“Isn’t that a man’s name?” Ray asked.

“I’m all girl;” she replied, “Want me to prove it?”

Ray made a fist with his left hand and aimed it toward her. “See that? That’s a wedding ring. Don’t forget that.”

And then, two days later they would repeat the same dialog, almost word-for-word.

Ray’s wife Kallie was aware of all this. What was obvious by the smell of his jacket when he came home after 30 minutes at McGinn’s — a mixture of the hot sauce served with the chicken wings and the smell of beer — was also confirmed by Ray. He made no attempt to hide what he called his “new hobby.”

“What happens,” asked Kallie, “If someone from North Hills Baptist sees you coming out of there?”

Ray didn’t care. The pastor arranged for a joint meeting of the current deacon’s board along with all six people on the short list for serving the following year. Only three of those would be chosen, but they got to see an actual functioning meeting which dealt with a couple of budget issues, a few room rental requests, and the issue of a member who had written a rather strange letter to the editor of the local newspaper which, while it was mostly political, had the potential to do some damage.

Ray enjoyed the meeting and even made what all considered some good suggestions during a time when the prospective members could make comments; but the next morning he called Pastor Clements to ask that his name be removed from the short list and curiously, the pastor didn’t ask for a reason.

Ray made some friends at McGinn’s. He helped one guy move on the condition that it not involve a piano, and another was a mechanic and did some electrical repairs to his passenger side car window for free. They told him that Blaine was harmless, she actually had a different birth name which she hated, and every few years she came up with a new identity that she field-tested on bar patrons. Still, her flirting messed with his head, and she wasn’t the only woman at the bar who enjoyed playing mind games.

But several months down the road, McGinn’s closed. They were facing three civil lawsuits, there was a threat of a sexual harassment charge by a former waitress, some health code issues, and the proprietor was dealing with charges of federal tax evasion; though it must be said that the last item — the tax dispute — got cleared up really quickly when the owner sold the property to a condo developer for what everyone felt was far above market value.

Ray spent a week visiting other bars in town, but found them “shallow” and decided to go back to driving straight home from work. He also resumed a more regular pattern of church attendance.

Ray’s employer had a deal where if there were five Fridays in a month, they got the last one as a day off. So he was enjoying an extra hour’s sleep when Kallie informed him that she needed him to drive Claire Gibbons from her house to a florist shop to order the decorations for the women’s fall banquet.

“Why can’t you do it?” Ray asked.

“I’m on a writing deadline for one of the magazines.”

“The fashion one or the cooking one?”

“The parenting one. And I have some bad news, you have to take my car.”

“I can’t drive your car, my knees start killing me after two minutes in that thing. Did you tell Scott he could take the SUV?”

“No, you did.”

“Your car is too low.

Claire Gibbons was a weird blend of hipster and 1950s Baptist and you never knew which version of her you were getting at any given moment. Her contrasting themes ran through everything from her opinions on church matters to what she wore. Ray thought Kallie should be giving her some of the complimentary copies of the fashion magazine that were delivered each month, because her fashion style could best be described as contradictory.

The route to the florist shop from Claire’s house went by the former home of McGinn’s Wings. The windows were boarded up and there was a large ‘For Sale’ sign in the parking lot, even though the locals knew about the property selling to the condo company.

“Glad to see the end of that place;” Claire said.

Ray gulped. “How’s that?”

“Our Bible study group was praying that place would close.”

Ray took a slow, deep breath and asked, “Is that the group Kallie’s in?”

“No;” Claire offered, “She goes to Tuesday, I lead the one on Thursday.”

Ray kept his eyes on the road.

They were praying against the bar.

They were praying against the place where I spent my time.

A few minutes later the route took them by the home of a longtime member of North Hills Church.

“Look over there;” Claire said with much excitement, “Alan Richards got his car back.”

“I didn’t hear this story,” Ray responded, “What happened?”

“Alan got his license pulled when the eye doctor told him he couldn’t drive anymore until he got glasses, and the frames he wanted took six days to come in. In the meantime, his son borrowed the car and immediately heard and felt something not right. The mechanic found some kind of brake issue that could have been disastrous. I forget what they called it, something about –“

Ray had to slam on his own brakes when a dog ran out from nowhere, retrieved something from the road, and disappeared again.

Claire didn’t finish her sentence and Ray’s mind went back to Alan and his car.

His six day inconvenience prevented him from driving a broken car.

His inconvenience meant he was prevented from something worse.

Buds, Bulbs and Blooms, the florist shop was now in sight. Ray wasn’t sure where the women were getting the money to decorate the church multi-purpose room with expensive flowers, but the $28 they were charging the women for tickets offered a clue.

For her part, Claire noticed a silence had descended inside the car, and felt she should say something or do something, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Ray…” she began. But then she stopped unsure where she was going with this.

She started up again, “…We’ve been praying for you. Kallie told me about…” but then she suddenly seemed distracted as Ray pulled in the lot.

“Yeah;” Ray began, “I don’t know; I guess–“

Claire interrupted, “We’ve been praying since Kallie mentioned the thing about your knees. I really appreciate you doing this even though your son had your SUV. I don’t need a ride back, but you should park and walk around if they’re hurting.”

With that Claire hopped out and shut the car door.

They were praying for me.

They were praying for my healing.

Ray was deciding to where he could walk nearby and was just getting ready to shut off the engine when he noticed something.

His knees weren’t hurting at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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