18 November 2017

God's Word at 5° F. - Saturday, 11/18/17

Good morning. It's 5°, forecast to ascend to a dizzying 10° this afternoon, before the next snowstorm moves in. So let's warm our hearts with this, which Jesus prayed to His Father about us:

Now I’m returning to you. I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing so my people can experience my joy completed in them. I gave them Your word; the godless world hated them because of it, because they didn’t join the world’s ways, just as I didn’t join the world’s ways. I’m not asking that You take them out of the world but that You guard them from the Evil One. They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world. Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth; Your word is consecrating truth. In the same way that You gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I’m consecrating myself for their sakes so they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission. 
John 17:17 MSG

17 November 2017

Why Alaska? and Memories from the Road

When I left Adak, Alaska in April '77, I wasn't sorry to be headed back to the States.

What I didn't know at the time is that Alaska has a way of getting under the skin. The military has a saying ... wait, the military has lots of sayings. Okay, they have a particular saying about serving in Alaska: "Once you visit Alaska, you never go all the way back."

The longer I stayed in Missouri, the more I wanted to head back north.

My wife and I got engaged in '78, and I tried mightily to convince her that we should move to Alaska. But that was pre-internet, and the only things she knew about the Last Frontier were those she'd seen on TV, or in magazines. I had my pictures from Adak, but Adak is rather stark. I found it strangely beautiful, as do most who got stationed there, but it's not for everyone. And those pictures didn't sway her opinion at all.

Still, I never gave up the strong desire to return.

Then the church in St. Louis, in which we served as music ministers, opened a sister church in Anchorage. My heart leapt in my chest, so to speak, but another couple was asked to move there to establish and pastor the church.

After 30 years, during which I'd prayed many times for a way to come back, I finally did the smart thing: I laid my desire at God's feet. In other words, I gave up trying to figure out how to make it happen, and turned it all over to Him.

A couple months later, the senior pastor announced that a) the church in Anchorage would start a Bible school to train up pastors and leaders from around Alaska, to start other churches, and b) he and his family were moving there.

The four of us, including our daughters who were 14 and 8 at the time, all got the same message at the same time: "We've been left behind, and we're going!"

About three weeks later, we had a new truck, a trailer on which to pull my wife's car, had given nearly everything away, and were ready to go.

* * * * *

We drove to Alaska from St. Charles, Missouri in late September of '03, arriving in Anchorage on October 2. There were many interesting sights along the way, as anyone who's ever made the trek will attest.

Just some snippets of things that come back to me:
  • Younger Daughter, having been told we'd drive through mountains on the trip, asked "Is that a mountain?" at every small rise on the roadside. For five days, until we reached the Canadian Rockies. When she finally saw real mountains, her face took on an "Ooooohhh" expression that lasted for hours.
  • Older Daughter handing us CDs from her collection. The trip took seven days, and that collection got mighty old by the time we reached Anchorage ... but we'd have gone nuts without 'em.
  • Not every place we stopped was, let's say, wholesome. There were a couple of places where we wouldn't let the girls use the bathroom. But there was always another place, a little farther down the road.
  • Travelling after Labor Day, through Canada, confirmed what we'd been told: two out of three hotels, restaurants and gas stations were closed for the season (meaning until the following May). In fact, the advice we'd received was "never pass a gas station, because you don't know where the next one is. The hotel rooms go quickly, so get off the road by 5pm, because all the rooms will be booked by 6:00. Then you can find something to eat."
  • We hadn't made any advance reservations. I bought a Rand-McNally atlas of North America, and planned our stops based on how far I thought we could drive between 7am and 5pm daily.
  • Not all the hotels were particularly attractive, either, but we only walked away from one that was too run-down to even consider. I should point out, however, that some of the hotels were spectacular; I don't mean to imply otherwise. And we had no problems getting a room each night, because of the advice we'd been given.
  • Gas prices in Canada were all over the place - high, low, and everything in-between. As soon as we crossed the North Dakota border into Manitoba, my wife and I decided that "whatever it costs, it costs. Let Visa figure out the exchange rate, and just keep on truckin'."
  • The Canadian people were very friendly. Everyone wanted to know where we were headed, since my truck was pulling our other car on a dolly, and it was stuffed to the gills - literally - with bedding and clothes.
  • In British Columbia, we were delayed several times including once by a herd of grazing buffalo, by a small herd of horses running loose in the Yukon, and more than once by various elk and other critters walking along the highway.
  • The best meal we ate on the whole trip was at Buckshot Betty's in Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory (about 16 miles from the Alaska line). The gal at the reception desk was the cook, too, and MAN she could cook! Betty's has cabins for overnight travelers, and that was the last time we slept in what could be called a single-family residence until we bought our house last year.
  • We'd heard that many in Alaska were less than thrilled about the growing population, but the most pointed reminder of that was about an hour north of Anchorage, on the last leg of the trip. There were three large, round hay bales on the side of the highway, with a banner painted in red letters: "Welcome to Alaska - NOW GO HOME."
But we stayed, anyway. And more than 14 years later, we're still here.

God's Word for Friday, 11/17/17

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order. Everything’s falling apart on me, God; put me together again with your Word. Festoon me with your finest sayings, God; teach me your holy rules. My life is as close as my own hands, but I don’t forget what you have revealed. The wicked do their best to throw me off track, but I don’t swerve an inch from your course. I inherited your book on living; it’s mine forever— what a gift! And how happy it makes me! I concentrate on doing exactly what you say— I always have and always will.
Psalm 119:105 MSG

16 November 2017

DIY with Simon's Cat

While I cast about, looking for my next topic, here's a new Simon's Cat to help you pass the time. :)

God's Word for Thursday, 11/16/17

Be generous with me and I’ll live a full life; not for a minute will I take my eyes off your road. Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle-wonders. I’m a stranger in these parts; give me clear directions. My soul is starved and hungry, ravenous!— insatiable for your nourishing commands. And those who think they know so much, ignoring everything you tell them—let them have it! Don’t let them mock and humiliate me; I’ve been careful to do just what you said. While bad neighbors maliciously gossip about me, I’m absorbed in pondering your wise counsel. Yes, your sayings on life are what give me delight; I listen to them as to good neighbors!
Psalm 119:18 MSG

15 November 2017

Navy Memories #16: Rounding the Edges & Filling In the Blanks

Previous installments:
  1. Boot Camp Memories
  2. About Those Navy Memories
  3. First Orders
  4. Anchor's Aweigh
  5. Man Overboard!
  6. Reflections of a Black Shoe
  7. Destroyer Life and Ports of Call
  8. Warships vs. Big Waves
  9. The Accident, and More Ports of Call
  10. The Black Sea - Operation Silver Fox
  11. 1975, A Year of Change 
  12. North to the Future
  13. Adak Outdoors
  14. Adak Life
  15. Adak Work, Winter, and More

We're nearing the end of my recollections of Navy days. Here are a few things I've left out along the way:

Memory #1:

While I was in Greece, there were two military coups. A third had occurred six months before I arrived, but the signs of it were still visible at the Athens national airport. The political climate was somewhat unstable during my 18 months there. Actually, that's putting it mildly, given the riots and the attempted fire-bombing of the U.S. Embassy. But here goes:

This would be the event which left bullet holes in the airport walls, which I saw when first arriving in Athens at the Greek National Airport.
This was three days after my arrival. Nothing says "Welcome to our country!" like an armed uprising. :)

This was three months after the last one. By then, it was starting to feel familiar. ("What? The Greek army is shooting again? Must be Tuesday.")

* * * * *

I had been invited to an apartment taken by one of the petty officers I worked for, and one of the ship's two Hospital Corpsmen. (Note: Navy Corpsmen, like Army medics, are always called "Doc".) It was a part of Athens called Faliron, a rather-upscale neighborhood. That morning, I was supposed to walk the block or so to the neighborhood grocery store for something-or-other. But we awoke to reports on Armed Forces Radio of turmoil, scattered skirmishes, and general warnings to stay put, wherever we were, and wait for the "all clear" before attempting to travel.

The Palaio Faliro (Faliron) district of Athens - this view is only a few blocks from the apartment in this story.

The apartment building had a roof access, being only a couple of blocks from the Mediterranean, so we immediately went up to if anything was visible. A mile or so to the west, along the King George Highway, there was a very large roundabout. There were a few half-tracks, and a couple of tanks, blocking traffic. We could see troops milling about.

But directly in front of the apartment building was a man in a black trench coat, with an ugly-looking black machine gun. (In my experience, any machine gun pointed in my direction is ugly.) He waved it in our general direction and shouted something in Greek. "What did he say?" I asked as we retreated down the stairs.

"He said 'get your butts back in the house'," Doc said. And so we did, post-haste.

The next day, AFRN gave the all-clear, and we traveled the 17 miles back to the city of Elefsina where the ships were ported, without further incident.

* * * * *


Soon after, we traveled to Souda Bay in Crete. While there, a shipmate apparently consumed a bit too much of the Greek or Cypriot drink called ouzo. The clear stuff they sell in the States is available there, but what the Greeks drink is a black liquid. It's based on opium, so we were told at the time, and the locals sip at a shot of the stuff over the course of an evening.

The shipmate in question drank a lot in a short time, or so we were told, and totally lost it. He threw Doc's office chair overboard, and had to be restrained ... okay, handcuffed to a chair on the main deck where others could keep an eye on him. He indulged in some other behavior which resulted in being also covered with a blanket. 'Nuff said. Once back inside the ship, he was first restricted to a small compartment with a cargo net over the doorway, and eventually handcuffed to his rack (bunk). The next day, or perhaps later that same day; I've forgotten, he was taken off the ship in 'cuffs. I personally never heard about him again.

* * * * *

Now, fast-forward a couple of years ... 

You may recall me mentioning that while McDonald's eventually made it to Adak, it wasn't there during my two years on the island.

In the Mediterranean, one nickname we had for "the States" was "the land of the round doorknob." The European lever-type knobs hadn't made it to the States yet. But both in the Med and on Adak, we also called it "the Land of the Big Mac". Sailors ... okay, American enlisted, period ... always wax nostalgic for whatever they can't acquire locally.

The 1970s ... remember, kids?

The idea of a Big Mac and McDonald's fries was a very appealing daydream to sailors stationed on the wrong side of the planet, where such was not available without making a very long flight, across multiple time zones. We talked about them frequently; you can trust me on this.

An example: in 1974, a shipmate brought back two Big Macs in his suitcase when he returned to Athens. Even 18 hours old, and a little smashed, it was the best thing I'd eaten in weeks. At least I thought so, at the time.

Before inflation...

So in late '75, a rumor began circulating wildly across Adak: some entrepreneurial officers had pooled their resources, requisitioned or chartered a cargo plane, and would fly in with 5,000 Big Macs.

This wasn't just a big deal; it was a BIG. DEAL.

The day the plane landed, there were hundreds and hundreds of sailors and civilians lined up. As soon as the plane taxied to a stop, the line formed almost at the foot of the stairs.

They sold those sandwiches, several hours old at that point, for five bucks apiece ... and sold out very, very quickly.

Me? I only bought five.

What's that?  Why yes, I did eat them all that evening. Didn't want 'em to get stale, don'tcha know.

* * * * *


The remainder of my free time on Adak was spent enjoying the out-of-doors. Hiking, camping, and occasionally fishing.

And of course, there was the four-wheelin' off-roading which all those dirt roads and jeep trails provided.

Of course, that required a four-wheel drive vehicle. I spent so much time putting chains on that old Galaxy 500, the first winter - and subsequently taking them off, every three days; wash, rinse, repeat - that I was determined my second winter there would be different.

I watched the Adak Eagle's Call (the base newsletter) for ads, and checked the bulletin board at the Navy exchange. Eventually, I saw that a Lieutenant on the Coast Guard cutter had a '67 Bronco for sale. We met, and I drove and bought it.

Solid mechanically; the body was bit the worse for several years of Aleutian weather, and Adak drivers. Still I thought it was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen.  "No more tire chains!"

There were about 12 or 13 miles of actual roads on the developed part of the island. That first weekend after buying the truck, I covered 189 miles ... literally a kid with a new toy.

The truck was a beater, but it had a powerful heater, good brakes and clutch, and the wipers worked. On Adak, those were necessities; anything else was icing on the cake.

I tried to stay on the established roads and paths, but not everyone did.

There were two off-road clubs: the Aleutian CB'ers (remember those?), and the Adak Four-Wheelin' Mud-Slingers.

The Mud-Slingers made a name for themselves - the wrong kind of name - in the fall of '76. They decided to take all dozen or so of their Jeeps, Land Cruisers, and pickups across a wide-open field. Travelling in a line abreast, they sank all 12 vehicles up to the frames in the thick, viscous mud gumbo which underlaid the tundra.

They radioed for help. Public Works sent a road grader to pull them out. It sank, too.

Then a Caterpillar 'dozer, which also became mired. Finally, two 'dozers, the grader, and several volunteers with four-wheel-drives were daisy-chained together, and pulled the Mud-Slingers out. One at a time.

The mess was horrible.

A side-note: tundra doesn't grow back. Well, to be fair, it does ... but very, very slowly. On Adak, there were bomb craters from WWII. The muddy bottoms were still exposed, more than 30 years after the war.

Captain Childers, Commanding Officer, was apoplectic, and issued a new directive. Henceforth, off-road travel was prohibited. We were free to follow any existing trails, but the next person to create a new one would be court-martialed.

Alrighty, then.

* * * * *


Yesterday, I solicited reader input for any final details, so I'll address a few now.

Q: Did you ever have something that constituted an actual military action or emergency (if such a thing can be told)?

A: I think being strafed by the Russian MiG in the Black Sea came pretty close. While 'Nam was winding down, we in the Mediterranean were in the Cold War. Our destroyers provided off-shore bombardment a few times, and coastal patrols (Yom Kippur War in '73, Cyprus uprising in '74). But the tin cans were primarily tasked with protecting the flat-tops - the carriers - so we chased a lot of submarines, and forced a few to the surface. But the number of times we fired ammo at live targets was pretty limited.

Q: How was your Christian persona received?

A: To be completely honest, I tried hard to run away from God in those years. He never let me get too far away, though, and always pulled me back ... sometimes kicking and yelling. But even at that, those closest to me knew I was a Christian, and I like to think that's responsible for the lasting friendships formed with those shipmates.

Q: How did you come to the pastorate?

A:  I was called to ministry at the age of 12; I still remember that day very clearly. At 18, our local church licensed me as a minister. I had been serving as a lay minister, co-pastor and/or music minister for 15 years when I was ordained in 2000.

That's all there is, folks. I've written now about everything that wasn't classified, so unless I suddenly recall something else ...

Thank you for reading these posts. It's been fun playing "Remember when ..?", and I'm glad you enjoyed it, too.

God's Word for Wednesday, 11/15/17

You are right and you do right, God; your decisions are right on target. You rightly instruct us in how to live ever faithful to you. My rivals nearly did me in, they persistently ignored your commandments. Your promise has been tested through and through, and I, your servant, love it dearly. I’m too young to be important, but I don’t forget what you tell me. Your righteousness is eternally right, your revelation is the only truth. Even though troubles came down on me hard, your commands always gave me delight. The way you tell me to live is always right; help me understand it so I can live to the fullest.
Psalm 119:143 MSG