Category Archives: Stories

Livin’ the Dream

I started working at the Shreveport Bossier Rescue Mission a month ago and I have to say that this is the most fulfilling and rewarding paying job I have ever had.  (I still have my unpaid job with Mercy Chefs, and God willing, I will be a Mercy Chef living like no one else for many more years.)  My chef friends with Mercy Chefs have trained, guided, and counseled me over the years to prepare me for this job.  It’s certainly challenging, but the opportunity to serve the homeless is why I eagerly get up every morning at 4:30.
It took me many years to learn that one reason God created us is to serve others.  All too often, we get mired in self-importance and lose sight of the fact that we are only dust.  Life is only a vapor.  I don’t want to waste it in selfishness.  Most important, I have my beautiful wife to help me to stay focused on the prize when I fall and throw a pity party.  
That being said, I can’t wait for 4:30!

Is Tolerance Intolerant?

I was engaged in an online conversation regarding the matter of homosexual ‘marriage.’ This is a matter in which many are involved. It is interesting to see how people today are quick to demonize anyone with a differing view. Tolerance is not holding the same view as everyone else. That is called agreement. In order to exercise tolerance, I must hold a view that is different than somebody else. No, I’m not evil if my views are not your views. In fact, if they were, that might make for some one-sided dialogue.

Below is a response I wrote regarding a perceived “tolerance infraction”:

I want to set the record straight that I do not believe homosexuality is an abomination. According to the Bible, God says homosexuality is an abomination. He says the same about lying and a litany of other transgressions. Do I think homosexuality is wrong? Absolutely. Do I believe that people should be able to conduct their lives as they see fit? Unquestionably. But I believe people deserve informed consent so that they may act accordingly.

One issue I do have is the requisition of the term “marriage.” I believe as the Bible dictates. It says marriage is between one man and one woman. Though I disagree, I would be more comfortable with calling a homosexual union something else. The term ‘union’ would work nicely. As for me, it doesn’t matter what it is called as long as it is not marriage. I sincerely believe that marriage is a representation of the relationship between Jesus Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride). This is very sacred to me. So is my marriage to my wife of many years.

If part of the issue pertains to affording homosexual couples the same benefits that married heterosexual couples enjoy, the laws need to be changed so that both groups are on equal ground. Another option is to strip benefits from heterosexual partners.

A possible solution is this: the Church abandons the term ‘marriage’ in favor of a term that accurately defines the nature of the relationship in a God honoring way. Call it a covenantal union or something. I’m not terribly concerned over semantics. I just know that a heterosexual marriage is not the same as a homosexual ‘marriage.’ As much as we try to reshape our perceptions in the name of equality, it doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t equal. Sure, we can pass laws and we can aggressively prosecute Christians who don’t get with the program, but nothing is changed. A homosexual ‘marriage’ is not endorsed by God. Nor will He ever endorse it. I’m not saying this to be mean, but declaring something as true doesn’t make it so. Though a zebra looks similar to a horse, it still is a zebra.

There was a time where I wouldn’t protest. Not because I thought it was the right thing to do. I just didn’t care. I also didn’t care about abortion or really anything else. I was an unregenerate who looked out for himself. I’m still a sinner, but I have repented of my previous life and put my trust in Jesus.

I know many people think it’s mean to tell others that they are wrong. Some behave as if it is evil to use the “w” word. The fact is that it is the opposite. Believe it or not, atheist Penn Teller helped me understand that. Regarding a particular proselytizer he said, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell…how much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” That sums it up quite nicely. It’s okay to tell people they’re wrong in the spirit of love. Not some sappy sentimental love, but a godly love that genuinely cares for people and their eternal souls. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He determined this was so important He repeated this twice in the same chapter. To emphasize, He followed with, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (John 14:24 ESV)

I don’t want anyone to go to hell, but if someone lives an unrepentant lifestyle, the Bible is clear that hell will be his destination. Those are harsh words, and if I was in danger of hell, I would rather hear the truth now than find out when I’m standing in judgment.

I’m sure it’s my turn to hear that I’m wrong. That is okay. Disagreement is not synonymous with hatred. It seems that people use the terms interchangeably. I hear people trying to enforce tolerance through intolerance. Maybe someone redefined ‘tolerance’ when I was sleeping, but to be tolerant of something, there must be some incongruity. If you like cheeseburgers and I don’t, as long as we don’t punch each other in the nose, we are being tolerant of each other. If I try to coerce you into forsaking cheeseburgers through litigation or other means, I’m being intolerant. I see the Tolerance/Intolerance Paradox in the world today. Some homosexuals demand tolerance while being intolerant of some Christians’ perceived intolerance. I can’t speak for everyone, but as for me, speaking against homosexuality (or whatever sin happens to be the flavor of the month) isn’t me trying to throw my weight around. I’m a wretched sinner like everyone else. I’m speaking out against the sin, not the sinner. I do so out of genuine concern for others’ salvation. I wish we didn’t live in a broken world. I’m compelled by my faith to warn of the real danger of sin. I do so out of love for my Savior, not out of hatred for my fellow man.

Dinner Time at Common Ground

It was another culinary adventure at Common Ground Community. My middle child, Chef Zoe’, spent the entire day with me to provide this week’s meal.The rain kept a lot of people home, but we fed around 90 from the community plus all of the volunteers.

I dunno where the 70 pounds of pork loin went, but I’m sure there were a lot of full bellies.I’ll be serving up spaghetti for lunch tomorrow while my wife, Heather, coordinates a sort of mini VBS for the neighborhood children.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

I spent the evening sitting next to a hipster with a patchy beard who appeared to have skipped a shower or two. That’s the look people try to capture these days and I knew I was at some pretentious art scene event when I spied Mr. Shiny Hair sipping a Heineken.

This competition was in the spirit of “Chopped,” with Ted Allen. We selected our “mystery ingredient” Saturday morning at the farmers’ market.

Now that I pause to think about it, this was a hackneyed attempt at trying to marry the vegetable culture with the art world. I’m not complaining as I’m a self-admitted hack. As a matter of fact, Ben Franklin would call me a hack of all trades.

The “mystery ingredient” I selected was tomatoes. Simple enough. I thought about spaghetti, but there were only two mystery ingredients to choose from. I needed something different to stand out from the other tomato infused dishes.

I suddenly realized what I was going to create yesterday after church. I decided upon carnitas (über braised pork that I nestled In soft corn tortillas). I tossed in some tomatoes, but the star was going to be the salsa. Salsa is pretty typical for tomatoes, so I added cantaloupe and mint. It was more cantaloupe than tomato, but it went great with the pork tacos.

I really didn’t think the competition was going to be a big deal but I was competing with sixty-five other contestants. As I waited on the judges to do their work, I was hit with a wave of flop sweat. I tried to focus on a gaunt senior citizen wearing a CamelBak. I couldn’t help but notice his steampunk glasses that appeared to be a horse blinder but I decided it was either a monocle to give him X-Ray vision or it was a tiny rearview mirror. I only wish he had a steampunk time machine so I could skip the waiting.

I often question my abilities as I’m self taught. Granted, I have learned a lot from my chef buddies on Mercy Chef deployments, but I was curious to see how I fared among a sea of strangers.

The panel of judges consisted of chefs at great restaurants and I was competing with chefs. I could tell I was over my head when I saw the presentation of the dishes. I left out the hoity and the toity. Most everything else looked like it belonged on magazine covers.

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I was shocked when I received an honorable mention. Even my great friend, Chef John, congratulated me and called me Chef. That means a lot coming from a chef of his caliber.

I don’t know if I’ll do another competition as the flop sweat is a killer, but I’m quite satisfied with an honorable mention. Oh, and one of the judges from the west coast said that this was something he would serve at his restaurant.

Motor Oil and a Blowtorch

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Grilling or smoking is a relatively straightforward endeavor. At least starting the fire is generally uncomplicated. Who am I kidding? There are as many varied ways to start fires as there are men with pyrotechnic tendencies.

I don’t normally spend time considering ignition methods of charcoal, but when I read Grilling Primer: Fuel and Fire, it triggered a childhood memory that showed me that my dad, though he is from Minnesota, is a redneck at heart.

I was born in Minnesota but spent the bulk of my life in the South. My brother and sister sound like Southerners, but growing up with my dad’s hyper-enunciation, I sound like a Yankee.

I tell you this because people usually connote rednecks strictly as southern jerry-riggers who replace fan belts with pantyhose and rely on duct tape for household repairs. A redneck is a master of backwater ingenuity.

My dad is very skilled with all around maintenance. I’ve seen him do electrical, plumbing, concrete, and even woodwork. It always looks professional. My dad, however, is deficient in the art of cooking.

This man has told me about his time as a cook in the National Guard, but his time as a cook was time wasted. I have had to eat some of the most horrendous concoctions. My dad and his Frankenstein foodstuffs are creative, but not ingenius. Actually his cooking is something that fever dreams and nightmares are made of. He fries great eggs, though. I suppose he had lots of practice growing up on an egg farm.

My dad approached grilling with a laissez faire attitude. He started the fire and put the meat on the grill. He would go watch tv until he smelled the food burning. Then it was time to eat.

We were out of lighter fluid this particular time. At least we had motor oil. He drowned the coals in 30 weight and put the torch to it. Yes, he balanced a blowtorch so that it would ignite the coals. Then he went to wait inside. It’s his tried and true method for grilling meat, only to start the fire to this time. My dad has had his share of sparks of brilliance, but that is one of the best (or worst).

Two summers ago the temperatures consistently hit 110. For me, grilling season is basically over if it’s 85 degrees. I was going to smoke some baby rack ribs, but I was out of lighter fluid and I wasn’t going to use motor oil. Sans propellant, I balanced my blowtorch so that the flame hit the coals just right. Then I went into the house to enjoy the cool a/c and watch tv.

Fundraising With Lasagna

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I adapted my recipe from my mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe. Actually, she said get got it from a friend when she worked at a bank in St. Paul.

Growing up, my mom would make this recipe maybe once a year because it was time consuming. I’ve streamlined the process for my lasagna. Not having to make meatballs shaves some serious time.

For the past three years, I’ve been selling these lasagnas to fund our mission trips to Honduras. People are now starting to come to my door for one. I always have these delights in my freezer for customers. After all these years, I’m still my biggest customer. I eat this lasagna with great regularity.

The lasagnas inspired us to start a small catering business. We haven’t built a site yet, but are on Facebook. The hope is to generate enough money year round to help fund my trips with Mercy Chefs.

Images courtesy of Josh Guthrie from MegaPxls.com.

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A Short Detour

It was on the way home in the early afternoon on Christmas Eve. Two years ago I was lost in thought driving home from my mom’s house in northeast Arkansas. It was the day after I attended my cousin’s funeral.

I hadn’t seen Brian in over twenty-five years, but I had a nagging feeling that I needed to be there. My mom lived 7 1/2 hours from me and I knew the travel was going to be hard because of my chronic pain. Yet, I felt compelled to pay respects to a stranger I barely knew a lifetime ago.

I’m about halfway home and near Malvern I saw this car on the side of the road. It was an old, beat up wreck. The car should have been at the junkyard, not on the shoulder of I-30.

As I passed, I debated whether I should turn back or not. After much inner debate, I finally decided to turn around at the next exit to investigate.

I knew this was going to foul up my time table. We celebrate Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is for tracking down extended family.

As I pull up behind this mechanized zombie, I’m shocked to see a girl. She was maybe 19 on her way home for Christmas break. I expected a meth addict with three teeth.

As I got out of the van I yelled if this young lady needed help. She said she called her uncle in Tyler, Texas and all was well. She had a flat tire. I asked her again if I can help. I could have the tire changed in no time. She refused and claimed she had no jack.

As I walked back to the van, I thought, “Well, I did my job. Time to get back on schedule.” Only I had an uneasy feeling like I had knots in my stomach.

My mind disengaged and I opened the trunk to retrieve my jack. I walked back to the decrepit car and told the girl I found my jack and would have her on the road in no time.

As I was jacking up the car, I inquired about the spare. No spare. Now I have to think fast. I can get a new tire at Walmart in Malvern.

I put the tire in the van and offered to give her a ride. She was being cautious and prudently refused.

I found Walmart and had the new tire put on the rim without incident and I was back on the road.

I find my spot behind this wreck. Ten minutes later the car is good as…well, as good as it’s gonna get.

This girl was excited and gave me a hug as all girls hug everyone. She inquired about the cost. I said, “No charge. Merry Christmas.”

That is among my top five greatest gifts I received. All because I was compelled to attend a near stranger’s funeral.

In the Kitchen

Do you love to dance, sing, write, sculpt, paint, or debate? What’s your favorite way to express yourself, creatively?

(I have to thank the staff at The Daily Post for triggering Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ in my brain.  This will confound me for a couple of days just like when ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ by Cher was unleashed.  Well played, Daily Post.)

 

My favorite way to express myself is through cooking. Who doesn’t like cooking? Apparently a lot of people. My mom was a good cook. I say was as if she is no longer among the living. She is a good cook. I usually get to enjoy her food around Thanksgiving.

Around June, she will ask me what I want to eat. Since we stay three days, there is room for more than turkey. Chicken and dumplings usually hit the list. So do pork chops, egg salad, seafood dip, and whatever else I can get her to make. Still no salmon patties.  I may have to resort to threats.

The short order cooking adventure is always surprising as my mom hates cooking. She despises it. As long as I remember she has always hated cooking. I never watched her cook. I never learned her techniques. This skill is mostly self-taught.

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Black Eyed Peas I made for the Thursday meal at Common Ground Community. The neighborhood along with homeless people from the area come to eat and worship.

I believe I mentioned couch surfing for a couple of years. My friend who lent me his couch was also kind enough to let me watch him cook. I watched. And watched. When I got tired of watching, I watched some more. That’s all I ever did there. I remember I was allowed to stir gravy a couple of times. Woohoo! Actually, I was really jazzed. It took me years to get the gravy just right. It’s simple to make, but it is more art than flour and oil.

Sixteen years later, my fanaticism has only grown stronger.  Yesterday, my wife told me that she lost the three pounds that she gained from my recent cake spree.  She likes my food.  I have friends who take phenomenal pictures who will shoot my food in exchange for a meal.  This would be a bad trade if I made them a pan of Hamburger Helper.

The past two years I have spent volunteering with Mercy Chefs, and now I have finally decided to try my hand at catering. Hence, the name Cater It Forward.  We have a long way to go on, well, everything.  There is a lot more to this business stuff than slinging hash.

Making an income is secondary. The original plan was, and still is, to cater to raise money so I can afford to deploy with Mercy Chefs. The organization is 100% volunteer. This business can help earn gas money, hotel accommodations, airplane tickets, whatever I need so I can serve others through Mercy Chefs.

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Cajun pork loin, rice pilaf, corn and a layered brownie thing. This was one of the meals served in Colorado.

This organization has been to Africa. I went to  with Mercy Chefs. My good chef friend was in the Philippines recently to provide aid.

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On Nehemiah Vision Ministries’ compound just outside Chambrun, Haiti.

Am I starting to sound like a shill? Sorry about that. With all of this cooking, I think of that 80’s drug PSA.  Or was it the nineties.

“I do coke. So I can work longer.  So I can earn more. So I can do more coke.” Cue the sad trombone:  Wah wah wah waaaah. The infinite cocaine loop.

I cook. So I can serve others. So I can do more coke cook. It’s not perfect, but I hope I was able to illustrate my point.

(Featured image was a result of bartering food.  My good friend Josh shot the image).

I Love the Smell of Antifreeze in the Morning (Or Whenever)

This Saturday, I’m taking a little trip to Paris, TX. I’m helping a Mercy Chef, a good friend of mine, with a cooking project. We haven’t worked together for a few months. The last time was a road trip to Colorado. Mercy Chefs was deployed to provide assistance after the flooding in September 2013.

The Colorado trip was probably one of the most eventful deployments I have been on. The funny thing is that the adventure was totally unrelated to Colorado, to floods, to feeding people, to anything we could have ever expected.

I left Shreveport around 10 pm and made it to his house near Dallas around 2 am. This happens to be the most normal leg of the trip.

We left town right after church. We had a lot of ground to cover. We were driving a big Dodge Ram 3500 something. I dunno. Is was a big diesel. We were pulling Mercy 1, our flagship mobile kitchen. Thirty-seven feet of kitchen. We certainly weren’t hauling a twelve foot Jon boat. I felt like Snowman on Smokey and the Bandit.

After a pit stop at Taco Casa it was my turn to drive. I was pretty jazzed. It was my first time pulling a trailer. I was doing okay, but the truck was acting strange. It was intermittent so we just kept cruising. We were on fumes and had to gas up.

Are you familiar with JIT? Just in time. It’s a manufacturing term. The JIT manufacturing philosophy requires a plant to have shallow inventory. Storing inventory costs money. Ideally, the plant will receive materials as they are needed. They receive it ‘just in time.’ No downtime.

Our fuel gauge was below the ‘E’ mark as we were pulling in Dumas, TX. To put it mildly, Dumas is a glorified truck stop. Nothing but rigs hauling cattle as far as the nose can smell.

Just as I was pulling into the truck stop, steam started emanating from under the hood. You never forget the smell of antifreeze in its gaseous state. It surprised me and I cut my turn too sharp. Skillfully using the trailer, I knocked out the trash cans next to the gas pump.

I could barely contain myself. It was hilarious! We are in a big fuming truck and I’m trashing cans. We finally stop and to fuel up and begin our radiator investigation.

It looks bad. Green fluid is pouring all over the ground. I was waiting on the EPA to declare a chemical disaster.

We found a mechanic next door and he tells us that we have a hole in the radiator and he has to order a new one. Great.  Time now to find a hotel.

For two days we take in the sites in Dumas. Time really seems to stand still in Dumas. I actually think Dumas is the initial singularity. As philosopher Scott Weiland said, “Big Bang Baby.” We were in a black hole.  (Just to be clear, I do not think the universe came from a big bang.  Or a big pow for that matter).

Two days later, we are back on the road.  After a really long time (not to get all technical on you), we reached our destination. I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary during our stay, but we did have a blowout on our post-Colorado travels. No, not a beer bash.  A tire that is flattened vigorously.  Good times.

The moral of the story: avoid Dumas if you know what is good for you. Take it from William Shatner…avoid Dumas. Okay, he didn’t say that, but he would have if he didn’t see that man on the wing.

I’m Sorry, I Forgot

As my body gives me more ‘old guy’ reminders with fresh and interesting new body aches, I realize I’m fast becoming an old man. At thirty-eight, I’m struggling with my memory. It’s not just memory. My concentration has gotten so poor I sometimes have a hard time carrying a two minute conversation.

If it wasn’t for the family history of Alzheimer’s, this would be funny. I’m not even trying to imply that I have Alzheimer’s, but did I mention that I can’t give blood?

It’s nothing glamorous like I used to be an IV drug user or I’m moonlighting as a vampire. From 1989-1992, I lived in Germany. The blood collectors don’t want donations that could potentially be tainted with Mad Cow Disease. Nice. Now my over active imagination gets to picture my prions crapping out.

No, I don’t seriously think I have prion disease. I just can’t remember things. It’s even hard to remember childhood moments.

My wife would not normally be concerned, but I used to have a steel trap memory. Nothing seemed to escape it. I had memories when I was two, I used to learn while sleeping, which irritated some of my college professors. My wife could not comprehend how I could be snoring while she was watching tv, only to awake to have a discussion about what she watched.

My wife keeps my appointments. She texts me reminders. I have taken notes to remember errands only to forget I had taken notes or where they might be. Instead of remembering every simple detail, I’ll perform tasks only to forget I ever did them.

My wife is concerned with my ‘condition.’ I actually find it peaceful to be oblivious. I don’t have to worry about as much as the average person because I forgot that I even had something to worry about. It’s certainly not a profound condition, at least not yet, but at least this does have some perks.

Now if I can just find my car keys.