Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Cabin (A short break from Presque Isle)

It has been almost a year since I have been to our cabin in Maine. If all goes as planned, around midnight on Sunday I will be listening to the Penobscot River rush by the front of my rustic dwelling. On Monday, the eagles screeching up and down the river will awaken me. The day will be spent getting the boats in place, buying supplies, and taking a walk along the river.

On Tuesday some guys from Georgia will join me. We are going to do lots of fishing, lots of lying, and trying to eat our own cooking. We will catch 100 bass a day for six days straight. No, that is not one of the lies I referred to. I have planned a little deviltry. I will wait for Robert C. to visit the "outhouse." Once he is comfortably seated, I will strategically place a firecracker and light it. I have plans for the others I will not divulge at this time.

The guys from Georgia will fish for ten to twelve hours a day; that is no exaggeration. After a couple days, they will continue to fish, and I will kayak about 8 miles from the Howland dam back to the cabin. Another day, My 80 year old dad and I will canoe from Passadumkeag stream, back to the cabin. He refuses to give in to advancing years. One afternoon, when the sun is high overhead, I will explore a world very few ever see; the bottom of the river. I will put on my mask and snorkel, shorty wetsuit, and float down the Penobscot.

In the evenings, we will sit around the fire pit and talk about each day's adventure, our journey of faith, and stare with amazement at the black sky studded with diamonds. Jim P. will keep an eye out for bear; he is convinced that bear roam around the cabin at night. Believe me, no respectable black bear would bother with any of them.

When it is time to go to sleep, the guys will head to the cabin. I will go to my tent. "Your tent?" you ask. "Yes, my tent!" Trying to get sleep in the same quarters with those guys, is like trying to get sleep on the firing range at Fort Benning!

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Wild Bunch!

David R. was quiet, organized, disciplined, athletic, and a very good hunter. He was also secretly impish. He knew the "County" like the back of his hand. David would get us newcomers to the County all primed for hunting. For weeks leading up to the season, he would give us reports on how many partridge he had seen. By the time opening day came around we were rarin' to go!

David would take Kevin M. and me to "prime" hunting spots. He will not admit it to this day, but we finally figured it out. There were no birds where he sent us. David would show up later on; he would have his limit. It took a couple of hunting seasons before Kevin and I figured it out what he was doing.

Kevin was competitive. It could be a board game, basketball game, or a game of darts. Kevin's motto was, "If you play, play to win!" Kevin hated to lose. When he played David, he always did!

Kevin and I bantered all the time. During the building program, I would often get to the bottom of my coffee cup and find nails, staples, stones, or other things I won't describe. One day I went to put on my work boots and he had nailed them to the floor. I felt bad (not really), when I tried to cut his boot laces and cut his foot instead.

Then there was Marty C. He was one of the top recruiters for the Air Force. If David was impish, and Kevin was competitive, then Marty was sneaky! Marty got a great kick out of sending taxis to our house, kicking your golf ball into the woods, or inciting Ted J. into a rage during work days. Marty was very intelligent, but would purposely mess things up just to make sure boredom didn't set in.

We were all in our twenties or early thirties, and best of friends. It was rare to see one of us without the others. We visited together, prayed together, served God together, and enjoyed every minute of it. God had given us a challenge, and by His grace, we were up to the task.

As they say, you can't "go back." But if I could, I would revisit those days with The Wild Bunch.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Rabid Red Fox

In the summer of "85" we started building. Every Saturday we had work days; entire families would sometimes show up. One Saturday, a rabid red fox joined us.

Several children were playing in the driveway away from the construction site. Little boys had their dumptrucks and shovels. Little girls had their dolls and sand buckets. All of a sudden a fox came around the corner of the buildings, rushed in among the children, grabbed one of the toys, and began to shake it violently. The kids didn't seemed alarmed. I believe they thought it was a small dog. The parents came rushing to the scene. The fox snarled and ran off.

We alerted the proper authorities and also decided to keep my shotgun around, just in case. Here's where a very serious situation takes a comical twist.

Do you remember me talking about Ken? By now, we had grown to be pretty good friends. Neither of us gave quarter when it came to giving each other a hard time.

Ken witnessed the incident with the fox and told me to just leave my shotgun where he could get it. He would take care of the situation. His resolve was filled with his typical bravado. Well, the fox showed up again. Ken ran to my truck, put a shell in my shotgun, and charged the fox.

What Ken didn't realize is that I saved my spent shotgun shells. One of the other guys in the church used to reload them for me. When Ken grabbed my gun, he loaded it with a shell that had already been fired.

You had to be there!

Remember the first scene, Ken running after the fox? Now the fox was running after Ken! Fortunately, Ken made it back to the cab of my truck and reloaded.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Waiting for the Mud to Dry

Everything was in place. We had plans, financing, and a congregation that continued to grow, both numerically and spiritually. We would start our new building as soon as the mud season of "85" was a memory.

Sometimes, congregations are divided about God's direction. At New Life, everybody was excited. There was plenty of evidence that "God's good hand was upon us." God was the catalyst of our step of faith. You might ask, "What kind of evidence are you talking about?"

The facility we were meeting in could not contain the number of people God was sending our way; we needed a bigger container. People were coming to Christ at an unusual pace, and those coming to Christ continued to bring more people. There was a sense of anticipation; everyone was hearing the same thing from God, "Trust me, I will provide. Take the step of faith, and I will see to it that you have the resources to sustain you."

It was during this time that I picked up a saying, "Straight ahead, and never mind the mud!" As we were waiting for the summer sun to dry the fields, Ted was looking for bargains on plywood, trim, and electrical supplies. During that long winter wait, Ted would often say, "I can't wait! It's straight ahead and never mind the mud!" By the time the mud did dry, Ted had located and secured bargain prices on many of the construction materials we would need.

Pyramids of Cash!

Every spring, farmers skimmed their rolling acres of potato fields with mechanical "rock pickers" hauled behind their tractors. The growing season is short, the weather is notional, and dutiful farmers take great pains to keep their fields bringing maximum yields. Rocks took up growing space, devalued the soil, and were constantly being removed. Wherever there were potato fields, there were piles of rocks.

Remember, we were looking for ways to cut costs in construction. Those pyramids of stone resembled piles of cash to me. We would use them to put down the base for our parking lot and for the foundation of the new church.

I met with Don Kirstead, who owned all the farmland that surrounded us, and asked him if we could have his rock piles. He responded, "What on earth for?" When I explained our reasons for wanting them, he shook his head, smiled, and said, "Yes." He asked me to wait for the ground to dry out before we got on the dirt roads that criss-crossed his livelihood.

The next person we talked with was Eddie Michaud. Eddie lived less than a mile from our church; he and his sons were in the trucking business. We got in his pickup truck and went to survey the fields. While we were in the truck he never said a word except to ask me if I minded if he smoked. We returned to his driveway and negotiated a cost on the project. Eddie was Catholic, drove by our church everyday, and was very interested in the way we "Baptists" got things done.

Many church volunteers worked on this project. Out of respect, Eddie had his son remove the silver silhouettes of naked women off his truck's mudflaps.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Will He Co-sign?

Ken Knight and Jim Ouellette taught in the Vocational Trades program at Presque Isle High School. Ken taught drafting, and Jim taught students how to actually build. They were also respected builders in the area. Each summer, they took on one major construction project.

The two men had distinctly different temperaments. Ken had "sowed his wild oats" in his day, was still a little fiery, and was never shy to share his thoughts on any matter. Jim was quieter, steady, and meticulous. Both men had great senses of humor.

I met with them, got their construction history, and gave them a hand drawn sketch of the building we had in mind (I still have that sketch). The design was simple; we were basically building a big open box. The only partitions needed would be for the foyer, a sound room, an infant nursery, baptism changing rooms, restrooms, and my office. The sanctuary would have a cathedral ceiling. The entry and carport would have to be on the east end of the building; the winter winds blew from the west. That was a little disappointing; the entrance to the church would be unseen by the traffic that traveled Route 1.

Ken and Jim agreed to take on the building of the superstructure of our new building; we would finish the interior with the laborors we had in the church or subcontract the work.

Ted Jackson would do the electrical and Byron Harmon would do the plumbing and heating. We would sub-out the sheetrocking. Volunteers from our congregation would do all the painting; carpet installation; lug tons of shingles, studs, and siding; and keep the construction site clean as a whistle.

Soon I was at Washburn Trust, armed with architectural plans and financial information. Our meeting was with Albert Hobbs and Glenn Carson. During the conversation about a loan, Mr. Hobbs asked, "Bill, New Life has made a remarkable recovery, but you have a short financial history. What are you going to do if the church falls on hard times? How are you going to meet this monthly commitment?"

I assured him that I would personally collect bottles if necessary to make the payments. Then I added the famous preacher promise, "God will provide!"

Without blinking, Albert responded, "Can you get Him to co-sign?"

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Rise Up and Build

Toward the end of 1983, we began to experience something I have never seen repeated since. Nearly every Sunday, someone came to Christ! We stood in awe of the work of God in the lives of those He brought into our fledgling congregation. The following year was one of spiritual growth and maturing both individually and as a body.

The spiritual and financial stability of the church improved week after week. The existing property had gotten all the face lift it was going to get; we were using every available nook and cranny for ministry. We also found ourselves in the strange position of having a surplus of money!

The entire congregation wanted to build a new sanctuary. In the last few months of 1984, we began talking to Washburn Trust about getting financing to build.

If we were to construct a new sanctuary, we would have to do much of the work ourselves to keep costs down. We surveyed the congregation and found that we had the following skilled labor: an electrician, a plumber, a flooring installer, a framer, roofers . . . and a number of "wannabes!"

As the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Out of necessity, the preacher also became a general contractor. That challenge was the beginning of an exciting adventure. I felt like Nehemiah -- and those I served were saying, "Let us rise up and build!"

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Transformers! More Than Meets the Eye!

"You are paid to be good. We are good for nothing!" A church volunteer once said that to a pastor. I believe it was November of 1984 when the church put me on a salary of two hundred dollars a week. We were thrilled and relieved to have a more stable source of income. Finally, someone recognized I was no longer -- good for nothing!

I have not spent a lot of time talking about the financial strains of starting a new church, but our family experienced some serious challenges that first year.

Very often we found ourselves praying that God would provide us with enough money to buy groceries and a few necessities for a family of four. My memories might be a bit rose-tinted, but it seemed that whenever we prayed for those needs, we would go to the post office and find that someone had sent us some money.

Does the jingle, Transformers! More than meets the eye? sound familiar to any of you? Transformers were toys that transformed from a truck into a rocketship or some kind of superhero. Our oldest son, Justin, wanted Optimus Prime in the worst way; he was into Transformers. He would often get down on the floor and go through all the movements and sounds pretending to transform. It didn't matter if we were in a store, church, or anywhere. His imagination would become inspired and he would "Transform!" We kept trying to put off his request. Finally we said, "Justin we just don't have any money to buy Optimus Prime." Without skipping a beat, Justin said, "Yes we do. Just go to the Post office!"

That was the way his young heart saw it. We had prayed many times for God to provide and then gone on to the post office. Time and time again, Justin had seen us return with just enough money to meet the need. He concluded that God had transformed the U. S. Postal Service into the Bank of Heaven.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Bobolinks

My Texan wife longed for the warm sunshine of summer. Sandy grew up in the desert Southwest. Her dad was a geologist; he constantly sought the black gold of Texas -- oil.

Until she moved to Maine, Sandy had only seen snow fall once before, but by the time we finished our first winter in Northern Maine, she had seen more snow than she ever dreamed existed. As the calendar moved toward the summer months, she longed for the sight of green grass, walking barefoot, and warm sunshine drenching her from head to foot.

One afternoon in June, I returned home and found Sandy standing outside. Her right hand shaded her eyes as she intently focused on the field behind the parsonage. In her left hand she held a book. The book contained pictures and descriptions of all the birds in North America.

"Bobolinks! Those birds are Bobolinks! See their coloring and the way they hover in the sky! Listen to their song! Those birds are Bobolinks! This book says that they have one of the longest migratory routes of all the birds. They come up to the northern areas of North American and then all the way to the southern tip of South America every year. This field is one of their nesting spots!"

Her attention was captured by these little creations of God. Sandy was like a child. Those Bobolinks brought her such joy and pleasure. I teased her and told her there was no such bird as a Bobolink. From that time on, everytime we saw a bird we could not identify, I would say, "Maybe it's a Bobolink!"

Every June that followed, Sandy watched for the migration of the Bobolinks. It became a ritual, one of the little serendipities of life we enjoyed in "The County."

We are like the Bobolinks. We have learned to live where we are, but realize that there is a destination we have not yet arrived at. We will continue our migration until the Lord says, "You're home now."

Sunday, June 5, 2005

The View from Higher Ground

Spring of 1984 finally turned into early summer. The snow was long gone and the mud season was history. Farmers were up at the crack of dawn working their fields. Life began to emerge as the sun finally reached Northern Maine.

The warming temperatures and greening of the earth beckoned me to the high ground that was due east behind the parsonage. Three or four times a week, I would trek up the dirt road that crossed a drainage ditch and led to the top. Once there, I was on one of the highest points in Presque Isle. It was a great place to sit and dream. With little effort, the smells and sounds of more than 20 years ago come back to me anew.

In the early summer, there was the smell of freshly turned dirt and clover that had been harrowed into the ground. Clover is generally grown between the potato rows; each year they are churned into the soil to replenish lost nutrients. There were usually smoldering piles of last year's vines being burned; in small doses the scent was not unpleasant. The clang of a plow bottom glancing off a rock or the low moan of a tractor were ever present. Voices of workers talking over the roar of their machinery came to me from somewhere in the distance. Up on that ridge, sound would carry for a mile.

My vantage point on the ridge let me see for miles in all directions. If the wind was right, the hollow sound of vehicles crossing the Aroostook River bridge on Route One could be heard. Looking due west, I would watch Don Kirstead and his son work their fields, giving meticulous care to their source of living. From their storage place, the last remnants of the prior year's crops were constantly loaded into 18 wheelers and shipped off. Occasionally, a deer would sneak through one of the thin patches of woods that separated the properties, oblivious to my presence. Sometimes I would lay on my back and watch the clouds slowly drift by and fall asleep with the warm sun regenerating my soul.

There was one thing I always did. I would look down from my elevated perch at the turn-of-the-century farmhouse, the garage-turned-chapel, and the stable. I would try to envision what the property would look like with a steepled church surrounded by a parking lot jammed full of cars. I believed with all my heart that God was going to make a way for New Life to thrive.

I would survey the land to the north and south of our property. We would need more land than the three-plus acres we owned. Which directions would we buy? Many times I would bring a sketch pad with me and begin to make simple drawings of how we would one day lay out our buildings. I was a rookie pastor and church planter, but I knew that, due to the fierce winds and snow, where you put a door or driveway was important!

There were times on that hilltop when I sensed the presence of God so profoundly that I was overcome with tears. Other times I just had to walk, sing songs, and pray. God began to teach me to recognize His quiet voice and helped me to develop eyes that could see and ears that could hear what He was saying to His Church.

Twenty years later I hunger for times of solitude, intense prayer, and eyes to see what can easily be overlooked.

A New Blog

I have added a new blog called Devotions for the Adventure. It can be accessed by clicking on the link to the right.