Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Marriage and Capital Punishment

Based on excellent comments on my "Prayer Chain" post I was going to blog today about gossip in more detail but my day was taken up with life stuff and sadly I have run out of time. Since I want to give it careful thought I am going to delay it a day or two. In the meantime, I will relate a story:

The other day we were over at a surprise party for my friend Jake who has recently graduated from University and is now a teacher (Jake if you're reading this well done!). While there we were hanging out with a couple of other couples. We were joking around about stuff and one of the couples related about how she couldn't talk with her husband about a certain issue without getting totally enraged with him. The thorny topic? The issue was free will (Arminianism) vs predestination (Calvinism). Apparently when they had been dating at college the professor asked them to both stand up and debate the issue against each other (they were dating at the time) and she totally got exasperated with him (she felt quite strongly on the issue and he knew this and pressed her buttons). Amazingly they got married but apparently that one topic (free will vs predestination) is one of the few topics that they can't talk about as a couple. We all laughed and thought this was quite funny.

The truth is is that in even the best marriages there are occasionally topics of opinion that cannot for some reason be spoken about without serious discord coming up. I'm not talking serious stuff like sex, communication, in-laws, etc. I'm talking opinions; like say theology, politics, or people's acting abilities. One day during our first year of marriage I discovered one of these areas. I forget how the topic came up but I made some reference to capital punishment to Jobina. Suddenly she got very tense. "What do you think about it?" she asked me in a tone that should have warned me bad things were coming my way. I proceeded to describe all the reasons why I thought capital punishment was sometimes justifiable (and Biblical!). As I talked on and on Jobina got more and more mad. Finally she boiled over and was almost shouting at me! I can't remember exactly what she said but it was something like this: "I can't believe that you think capital punishment is OK! What's wrong with you, aren't you a Christian? I never should have married you!"

Keep in mind that I have switched my view on this topic several times and am open to different views but that Jobina and I had never discussed it before. For some reason "capital punishment" had never made it into our dating conversations. So now suddenly I had a very angry woman on my hands who thought I was evil and was questioning whether or not she ought to be married to me! Eventually after much discussion she calmed down a little but still stared at me like I was the devil. I don't think we've ever had the conversation about capital punishment again - I'm too scared! We can discuss pretty much anything else - but not capital punishment. I won't betray my current views on the topic - that would spoil the fun - but I'm pretty sure that Jobina prayed for me much after the initial conversation! Luckily, I can always use more prayers. . .

May Light increase!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vacation Books Unboxing!

I don't know about you, but I like getting mail. There's something about the magic of someone far away addressing something to me and a few days later it arrives in my mail box. I love it. Our kids even love it. Often they'll ask "Has anything come for me?" Sometimes if there are some flyers I will give on to each of them and they get so pumped! Ah, simple pleasures.

The bliss of getting mail is great but it is nothing compared to the joy of getting a package. Today I experienced this. The "ding dong" of the doorbell, the UPS man at the door, and then the satisfying feel of the brown box in my hands. I had ordered a book for Jobina too so we both got to share in the moment. A few seconds later Jobina attacked the package with a steak knife (yes, it made me nervous) and out came my four new books. New books are great! They are so shiny and promising and always look better then the pictures on the website. They even smell good! Ah, the sweet aroma of an unopened and brand new book and its promise of escape, enlightenment, or adventure!

I feel like I made really great choices this time around. Sometimes I'm tempted to go with discounts and deals (especially on which has lots of bargain books) but its usually hit and miss with these. This time I didn't care about the cost, I just chose books that grabbed me. Books that I know I will read more then once and probably lend out to many people as well. Classics. Books that make me smile and get excited when I'm telling others about them.

Now I have to decide which books to take with me since taking all four would be overload. We will have lots of downtime waiting in airports and such and of course I intend to spend a few hours laying in various hammocks reading too. So which books should I choose? Or better yet, which books would you choose? And what would you base your decision on? I'm interested to know. Also I have another dilemma: would it be "bad" to read one of my "vacation" books before I go? It would kind of feel like cheating but on the other hand it might get me more psyched for our adventure. Having new and enticing books just sitting there on my shelf will be pretty tempting . . . I'm not sure I have the willpower to resist cracking open at least one. Maybe instead of just succumbing later on I should choose to read one now? Decisions, decisions.

May Light increase!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Prayer Chains

"The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
they go down to a man's inmost parts."
-Proverbs 18:8

I found this latest postcard sent into postsecret refreshingly authentic and yet quite sad at the same time. I hate gossip - I hate when others do it and I hate when I do it. I don't know if there is anything that can poison a church or relationship faster and more severely. In some ways it is the ultimate betrayal. Unchecked it will absolutely kill the morale of any good organization. Come on Christians; admit your guilt, ask others to keep you accountable, and speak up when you hear someone doing it. No one likes to be confronted with the fact that they are gossiping, but if you love someone you'll tell them . . .

May light increase!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Invitation: Put Some Iron In Your Diet

Only a couple of more days! I have waxed long and somewhat eloquently (perhaps) about my excitement on the upcoming Iron Man movie. Even if you are not familiar with this under appreciated super hero (or the genre), myself and Jay would like to invite you to come watch the movie with us next Thursday (the 1st) at 8:30 pm at Silver City St. Vital here in Winnipeg. The more the merrier! Iron Man is the first "blockbuster" movie of the summer to come out, so why not bring in the summer in style? I'm picking up tickets tomorrow night in the evening, so if you'd like to come, contact me (or leave me a comment) and I'll pick up a ticket for you as it will undoubtedly be a sellout on opening night. Then we can meet at my house or the theater early and get a good place in line for this momentous occasion. I am so pumped about this movie!

P.S. If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, check out the trailer for the movie below:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Poll Reminder

Just a quick reminder that my poll on the Chronicles of Narnia is ending soon! So if you haven't voted, please do, I'm interested to see how may have read them and which are the most popular. If you want to praise your fav, just leave your comments on this post. Currently I am reading The Horse And His Boy to Riker (which was always my favorite). It's kind of like a cross between Arabian Nights and King Arthur . It's got everything: political intrigue, fierce battles, journeys across the desert, class/race tensions, moral dillemas, and subtle Christian allegory. I identify with the main character Shasta, a peasant boy who has always longed to see what's around the corner of his world. I find when I'm reading these books to Riker that Jobina is often listening in; I think we are enjoying them as much or more then Riker!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Books to Travel By

Well last night I have finally ordered my books for our upcoming trip. I probably won't read (or even take) all of them but I thought they were all appropriate in some way to me for a trip to Belize. The rest will be summer reading fodder. Here they are:

"The Mosquito Coast"
Paul Theroux; Paperback; CDN$ 12.37
There are few books of any kind that are written and set in Belize but this piece of fiction takes place close by. Paul Theroux's The Happy Isle of Oceania is one of my favorites. The Mosquito Coast is about a man who swears off the modern world and relocates his family to the wild jungle of The Honduras. Apparently the main character is one of the most intriguing and complex ever written. I saw parts of the movie (with Harrison Ford) when I was a teen but I don't remember anything about it. Looking very forward to this one!

"Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World"
Ewan McGregor; Paperback; CDN$ 11.21
I gave this book to my father in law a couple of years ago for Christmas and he said he enjoyed it very much. Written by Ewan McGregor (aka Obi Wan Kenobi), it is supposed to be an authentic story of two men and their trip by motorcycles around the world. I've wanted to pick it up for awhile and so it was a natural choice. Hopefully in the story they will travel through Belize.

"The Shack"
William P. Young; Paperback; CDN$ 11.20
I know very little about this book except that it is fiction and has made a lot of good Christians whom I respect cry. A book about faith, I've heard only good things about this first book by Young and I'm hoping that God will speak to me through it. I have found Christian writing to be less challenging and engaging lately so here's wishing that that will change with this one!

"A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America Along the Appalachian Trail"
Bill Bryson; Mass Market Paperback; CDN$ 10.79
Billy Bryson is one of the most popular travel writers in the world. When I was procrastinating on my schoolwork in the library at Prov I would read a chapter two from his hilarious Notes From A Small Island, about his travel experiences in England. I remember people looking at me disapprovingly as I would spontaneously laugh out loud at the witty way that Bryson would describe the irrationality of the British people (my ancestors no less!). I know little of the world of hiking but I know enough of Bryson that this should be an entertaining and satisfying read.

Now that school is over I can actually have more time to read, just for fun and I'm looking forward to it. Summer is usually a good time to read. Are you looking forward to reading something good soon? If you would like to read something but have no idea where to start, check out some ideas on my Amazon bookstore. Yes, it's a shameless plug, but my goal is to get at least one person to buy a book from it before I die!

May Light increase!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Inspiring People: Cliff Young

Every now and then a story touches me deeply and fills me with joy, hope, and optimism. This is one of those stories that shows you that nothing is impossible:

In 1983 a 61-year-old toothless Australian potato farmer decided to try running the first Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon, an ultra-tough 544 mile race. He would be competing against world-class athletes. All over Australia, people who watched the live TV updates kept hoping that someone would stop this crazy old man from running because everyone believed he'd die before getting even halfway to Melbourne! It all started on the day of the race when a guy named Cliff Young showed up. At first everybody thought he was there to watch the event as a spectator as they were. He looked like anyone's grandfather.He was 61 years old and wore overalls and rain covers over his work boots. As he walked up to the table to register, it soon became obvious to everybody he was going to enter. He was going to join a group of 150 world-class athletes! His trainer? His 81-year-old mother.

Before the race started everybody thought that it was a crazy publicity stunt. But the press were curious, so as he took his number 64 and moved into the pack of runners in their special, expensive racing outfits.The camera focused on him in his overalls and Wellington gum boots and the reporter asked:

"Who are you and what are you doing?"

"I'm Cliff Young. I'm from a large ranch where we run sheep outside of Melbourne."

They said, "You're really going to run in this race?"

"Yeah," Cliff nodded.

"Got any managers or trainers?"


"Then you can't run."

"Yeah I can." Cliff said. "See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or four wheel drives, and the whole time I was growing up, until about four years ago when we finally made some money and got a four wheeler, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 head, and we have 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd catch them. I believe I can run this race; it's only two more days. Five days. I've run sheep for three."

Every professional runner in the race knew the accepted race pattern. They had trained knowing it took about 6 days to finish this race, and that in order to complete the course, you would need to run 18 hours and sleep 6 hours. But nobody had told Cliff Young, didn't know that, nobody had thought to tell him you had to sleep, so old Cliff just kept on running!

When the marathon started, the pros left Cliff behind in his galoshes. The crowds smiled because he didn't even run correctly. Instead of running, he appeared to move leisurely, shuffling like an amateur.

Just as he would chase the sheep on his farm in the storms, Cliff ran without thought of sleeping. It came natural to him. When the next mornings news of the race was aired, people were in for another big surprise. Cliff was still in the race and had jogged all night down to a city called Mittagong. Apparently, Cliff did not stop after the first day. He was still far behind the world-class athletes, but he kept on running. Waving to the spectators who watched the event by the highways. When he got to a town called Albury he was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. He said he would run through to the finish, and he did. He kept running, and running, and running! Every night he got just a little bit closer to the leading pack. By the last night, he passed all of the world-class athletes. By the last day, he was way in front of them. Not only did he run the Melbourne to Sydney race at age 61, without dying; he won first place, breaking the race record by 9 hours and became a national hero!

The Australian nation fell in love with the 61-year-old potato farmer who came out of nowhere to defeat the world's best long distance runners. He finished the 875-kilometre race in 5 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes. When Cliff was awarded the first prize of $10,000, he said he did not know there was a prize and insisted that he had not entered for the money. He said, "There're five other runners still out there doing it tougher than me," and he gave them $2,000 each. He kept none of the prize money for himself at all! Cliff was a humble man, achieved the impossible and became a national hero in Australia.

Cliff died 2nd November 2003. He was 81. But Cliff lives on, certainly in the memories of those who witnessed this incredible event. Cliff also left his legacy in what is now called the "Cliff Shuffle." The pro marathon runners found that Cliff's Wellie boot running style was an energy efficient method of running, and adopted it. What a way to be remembered!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Perfection and Weakness

I was talking to one of the waiters at work yesterday about deep matters. I told him that I think that one of our biggest problems that we as humans face is that we keep choosing to believe that people won't fail us. We cling to the illusion that someone (especially those close to us) can achieve near perfection when it comes to their dealings with us. Yet everyone fails everyone else. Sure, some people do more then others (and some of those people are in jail!) but the truth is that none of us is capable of really living good. We are all sinful, as the Bible says, broken and unable to do the high and mighty things we know we ought to. Deep in our hearts we realize that we can never really be good but oh how we have high expectations of others!

We desire grace for our weakness with others, even if we won't admit or accept it. But we certainly want it. We want others to forgive us, to love us anyway, to look past our sins and mistakes. Yet at the same time we have a hard time giving that kind of grace to others. Even though we recognize our own weakness, we assume that others can or should be better. Certainly my spouse, parents, pastor, boss, children, neighbor, etc. ought to do better then me. We are continually shocked when those around us fail us. Why? Maybe because if we really accepted how messed others are, we'd have to face that these people can never ever truly make us happy. Or maybe because if we accepted our sinfulness we'd have to find some other (daily communion with God perhaps?) coping method to help us survive a sinful and depraved world? Sticking to our illusions most of the time is a lot easier!

In the church we certainly do this. We love to judge people! We often fall into the trap of believing that we saved by God's grace but then we (and others) need to earn our salvation with perfection. And if you mess up you'd better confess fast before you get hit my a bus or something! Somehow we believe that after we become believers we shouldn't really mess up much anymore. This, even though Paul (yes, Saint Paul!) talks in Romans about his wretchedness and inability to do good even when it is his hearts desire. In all of our illusions the core message of Christ gets lost: that we are sinners depending totally on the Christ's redemption of us to be reconciled to God. We need to somehow live in the discomfort of accepting our sinfulness so that we don't lose our dependence on God and so that we can treat others with grace instead of judging them. How do we do this? Don't ask me, I'm as sinful as you are! By the way, the image is "Man as Gutter Spout" a sculpture in tin by June Leaf.

May Light increase!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Saying Goodbye To An Old Friend

Tonight we said good bye to an old friend. Yes, we finally sold our 2002 Mazda Protege! Actually Jobina sold it while I went to work at OG. I was thinking about this on my way from from work and I realized something; I don't feel bad about selling it. For some reason I never developed an emotional connection to this car. There was nothing wrong or bad about the car - it was all around a good car, maybe even a great car. Very reliable, decent looks, good on gas. The problem was that I never really fell in love with it.

Compare this to my old 97 Suzuki Sidekick. This was not a "good" vehicle! It had so many problems. One by one, all but the most essential engine components began to break down or malfunction. I could never get it clean, the paint was so bad. Often I would drive somewhere and wonder if I would arrive. But I absolutely loved that vehicle! It was my adventure truck. I remember the day I sold it (well, donated it to Teen Challenge). It was devastating and I almost cried. I still miss that stupid truck. The Sidekick represented a side of myself that I cared about deeply - the adventurous, wild-loving side. Maybe that's why I felt like I was losing a piece of myself when we had to get rid of it.
Getting a car is kind of like going out with someone. Sometimes people make a practical choice in their mate, other times you go completely with your heart. I suppose the best choice is one that honors both sides of the equation. Consumer Reports rates customer satisfaction with their vehicles by asking them "would you buy this vehicle again?" What is interesting is how some of the most popular vehicles are also among the least reliable (ex/ Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Corvette). I think the perfect car is one that satisfies both the heart and the mind.

Fast forward to today - I just feel happy about saying goodbye to our car. Farewell dear Protege, you were a decent car but I shall shed no tears for you! And hopefully some day I can get another vehicle - one that like the Sidekick will make me smile whenever I look at it. A guy can dream can't he?

May Light increase!

Forget Hybrids, Prepare . . . For Air.

This blog is about things I find interesting and sometimes someone has a great idea that is worth noting. One such idea is this: what if a car could run on compressed air instead of oil-based fuels? What would be the benefits? Here are some:

1. Costs way less to get around
2. Better for the environment.
3. Less initial cost for the vehicle itself.

Air cars are something you may not have heard about, but you will soon. The first ones are said to be introduced into the U.S. in 2009 or 2010. MDI, a French company has been working on perfecting compressed air engines for automobiles since the 90's and has several working prototypes. More impressively they have signed a deal to produce cars with Tata Motors, one of India's biggest automotive corporations to begin producing cars very soon.

The cars still have various engineering issues to work out but are looking rather impressive. Will this be the end of the gasoline engine? I don't think so, at least not completely. It does mean however a much more ecologically sound means of transportation will eventually take much of the marketshare away from gas powered cars, especially as the technology improves and becomes mainstream. My next car won't be air powered, and probably not the one after that. But the one after that most likely will be. Yours may be too.

May Light increase!

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Blog Is Born: Check It Out

A few times on this blog I have been away or busy and I have relied on my good friend Jay to be an excellent "guest blogger." Ironically when he first filled in for me, my hits went up higher then when I was authoring it! Now Jay has his own blog and I encourage you to check it out: The Red Pill. Jay is a talented writer, thespian, and thinker so I assume his writing will be marked by greatness and just a tad of controversy. Welcome to the world of blogging Jay (finally)! We look forward to being enriched, enlightened, and entertained.

May Light Increase!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's Sad When . . .

. . . you are walking through Wal-Mart and when you see the clothes there you think , "Wow, those are pretty stylish!" This is when you know that what little fashion sense you used to have has now deserted you. I'd like to think that Wal-Mart has just really improved the look of their clothes but I think the reality is that I have no sense of style. Though it was not a large amount, I grieve the loss of the little I had. Woe is me!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"It Is Finished . . ."

"It is finished." - Jesus Christ

I've always thought those were the most dramatic words ever spoken. Every time I read Jesus saying them I feel a little shiver run through me. Today I spoke them myself. Today I graduated. Of course, unlike Jesus, I am not saving the human race, nor even accomplishing anything outstanding really. And I have two more classes to polish off during the summer. But something changed for me today when I graduated.

First, I think I accepted the truth; I am now a counselor. Whatever that means, I am it! Somehow in my mind I had convinced myself that I was just a guy expanding my theological and psychological knowledge. A course here, a course there. The self-deception felt necessary sometimes - to protect myself. I'm in a program where the practicums are pass/fail; you either can do it (counseling) or you can't. I've seen the pain of those who didn't make it. After surviving three years of it, I feel like I guess I'm somewhat "legit." At least my school think so!

Secondly, now that I have graduated, I can feel the responsibility to do good with what I have learned. It is time to "get in the game," to reengage in ministry. Not only this, but I feel like a new chapter of my life is beginning and that so many things in my life need to change. I am excited about this new inner drive to serve and improve, I love change.

Thirdly, I am extremely humbled and thankful My family (my poor family!) has supported me greatly the past few years. Jobina's sacrifices alone could fill an entire book. My kids have put up with a lot. And my parents and Jobina's have been so supportive, caring, and understanding, that when I think about it I get pretty emotional. And to my friends who I've most ignored - thanks for not giving up on me. Seriously, thank you to everyone who's supported or encouraged me - I don't honestly think I could have made it without you.

Lastly, I realized that I need to recharge. My frantic pace combined with too many responsibilities and my penchant for procrastination has left me feeling "thin" and tired. Tired emotionally, physically, socially, and above all spiritually. I need to reconnect to God, my family, my friends, and even my self. I look forward to a season of refreshment.

I'm not sure what God will have for me after the summer, but I'm praying that I will be open to it. Whoever you are reading this, May God bless you today as he has me. Adieu.

May Light increase!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

GPS Deals In Winnipeg

"Not all those who wander are lost." - JRR Tolkien

Ah, spring, when a young man's thoughts turn to . . . outdoor adventure? OK, what did you think I was going to say? Anyway, if you are into the outdoors (or want to be) perhaps you should think about getting a GPS. A GPS is a great way to:

1. Keep yourself from getting lost.
2. Find that special spot and figure out how to get there.
3. Find out how far or fast you've gone.
4. Estimate how long it will take you to get somewhere while driving.
5. Know all sort of mostly useless information about your trip that will annoy your friends.

For me a GPS is kind of like insurance. You can explore a totally unfamiliar territory and not worry that you won't find your way back. Once my friends Jay, Mike, and I decided to canoe out to a little isle off off Grindstone Point called Goose Island. The "trail" to the lake was very poorly marked and when we found it we barely made it down to the waters edge. The island wasn't that far away (less then an hours canoe) but since I had my GPS I thought I might as well mark where we had left from. I was glad that I did! When we finally got to the island (that is a whole other story for another time) and looked back at the mainland we had no idea where we had left from - the coastline all looked the same. You would have to be right on top of the small opening in the trees to actually know it was there. This meant that we would have had to spend lots of time combing the shore looking for a small opening in the woods and the car that was hidden out of sight of it. With the GPS it was no problem though, when it was time to leave we just followed the digital trail back to the marked point - no extra paddling/searching required. It was a beautiful moment.

I sold my old deluxe GPS about a year ago. Lately though, I've thought that I'd like to buy a new one for exploring the jungle in Belize, so I've been sniffing around for some deals. I'm ending up buying one in a private sale but I found two good deals that I thought I'd tell you about. First of all, London drugs has a good deal on the entry level Explorist 100 - $80 (usually over a hundred) this week. Also, Alcom electronics is selling the eTrex H (again, entry level) for $85 ($125 at Canadian Tire). It's a toss up, but I would actually go for the eTrex H, I think it has a better interface, better customer service, and better battery life.

May Light increase!

Book Review: The Cruise of the Snark

Book Review: The Cruise of the Snark by Jack London

The Cruise of the Snark is the true and hilarious story of Jack London's bumbling attempt to sail from San Francisco and around the world in a seven year journey on his custom built boat "The Snark." To say things didn't go according to plan is an understatement. Though highly entertaining, London's journey never did make it completely around the world. How far did he go? Well I won't spoil it for you, you'll have to read it to find out.

Are you familiar with Jack London (1876-1916)? After Mark Twain, he is perhaps one of America's most famous writers. He wrote such classics as "Call of the Wild," "White Fang, "The Sea Wolf," and hundreds of short stories. His books sold millions of copies and he received over 10,000 letters from fans every year. Jack London was a man who did everything in excess. This included writing, traveling, drinking, gambling, etc. Even though he was a famous author, London lived most of his life attempting to pay off his many debts. Often noted for disciplining himself to write a thousand words a day it should be remembered that he had to - his creditors were always at his door! During his journey on the Snark, London wrote the whole time as way of financing his adventure.

And what an adventure it was! London's trip takes him island hopping through the South Seas and the reader is treated to take on what life in paradise was really like - nearly a hundred years ago. His stories on the perils of navigation are amusing. He was also the first person to ever write about the sport of surfing, a sport he tries himself while in Hawaii. I was touched by the generosity and tribal customs of his new found friends in Tahiti. I also found myself amazed at the riskiness of his adventures as he nonchalantly describes being on boat that is floundering on a reef with a contingent of murderous islanders in canoes waiting to attack them if they can't rescue themselves. All of this is delivered in London's whimsical and self-deprecating style that makes you smile and see the humor in all situations whether he is feasting or suffering.

The best parts of this book are the humor and his cultural portraits of island worlds that we shall never have the opportunity to experience as he did. London also reflects nobly on the Leper Colony at Molokai and his friend, "The Natural Man" who "goes native" and by doing so saves his life and his soul. For those not into sailing, some of struggles with learning this art may bore you (it did a bit for me) but I would not let this dissuade me from rereading the book. This was my second read of it and I enjoyed it more the second time. Strikingly honest at times, this is a fine adventure told by a master story teller. I rate it 4 ninja stars out of 5.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Being Paid To Counsel

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I'm graduating this coming Saturday. Not only that, but I'm taking a contract counselor position at Turning Point, the YFC Counseling Center that I've been doing my practicum at this year. Even though I only plan to take on 5-10 clients per week max during the summer (I want to recover from school), it's still pretty exciting. Yesterday was a landmark day as I set up an appointment for next week with my first paying client. Turning Point has a reasonable sliding scale for paying fees (the less income you make, the less of a fee you pay) so I'm not sure I'll be making lots of money or anything but it will be help put food on the table.

Although I'm happy to finally be able to make some money off of this counseling thing, I struggle with the idea of charging for my services. Should I really be charging to minister to people? It feels kind of wrong. When I read Proverbs, I hear Lady Wisdom offering words of wisdom freely. I've been offering counseling for free for 2 years now, what is so different now that I will have a piece of paper? Also, I wonder, are my skills and abilities actually worth anything yet? I'm still so new at this. I wonder how awkward it will be to charge people for a session where not a lot of progress is made. And I wonder how God feels about it all.

I wish I could offer counseling for free. If I had a salary for instance (like a pastor), at least it would feel better. Unfortunately many counselors who are on salary are often pressured to take on more clients then is healthy or wanted so salary isn't the perfect idea either. The terrible thing is that even if I could offer free counseling, I'm not sure that it would be therapeutically wise as its been proven that clients who don't have to pay anything work less hard, skip more appointments, and report less desirable outcomes. Client who pay have way more motivation to put more effort into their own healing, to make changes in themselves. Turning Point used to offer free counseling, but they began to charge because they thought it would be better for the overall good of those they ministered to. So I guess I'll be stuck with charging for my services. Hopefully I will get more comfortable with it . . . but not too comfortable.

May Light increase!

Monday, April 14, 2008

7 Days of Adventure, 2 Days of Relaxing

When Jobina and I first decided that we were going to go to Belize, we thought we'd spend a week in the jungle and then unwind for two days on a beach somewhere. Thus began our epic journey of trying to find a cheap beach cabana that would work for both of us. We found several places which all happened to be either:

1. Too long in travel time to get there.
2. The beaches weren't that great.
3. The places would take a minimum of three nights (and we were only staying for two).
4. The places were full, shut down, or in one case the owners were going on vacation.

We were trying to decide what to do with those last two days (our flight plan said we had them) when we thought about staying about staying in Punta Gorda, the major town that is about 20 miles from Cotton Tree. There are no real beaches here, but hey, I grew up in Gimli, MB which has tons of beaches so its not like beaches will be a huge luxury for me. And if we really want to do the beach thing, we can hire someone to take us snorkeling off of one of the many sandy islands close by. PG (as Punta Gorda) is known is right on the Ocean and overlooks the Caribbean Sea.

We looked around and found a nice looking small inn, The Coral House Inn - 4 rooms with a pool (a rarity in Belize), complimentary breakfast, air conditioning, bicycles to ride, hammocks and gardens on site, and lots of "style." And it's right on the coast. All for $90 a night. The only thing was when we contacted them, they said they were booked for our days (doh!) but that they were finding out in a week if the company who reserved all the rooms would still need them (faint hope springs up). Thus we waited a long week and today I got the email: a room opened up! So now it looks like our vacation plans are set. Sweet! I'm getting pretty excited about this upcoming little adventure of ours . . .

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Blogging: It Might Kill You

Here's a story saying that blogging can kill you. Here's a story saying the first story is hogwash (mostly). What do you think? I'm not sure what to believe but I think that the stress and pressure some people put on themselves to blog is not good for them.

May Light increase!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On Turning 18

Last night at Olive Garden I heard two young female bussers talking. They were both excited, very excited, about turning 18. "I can't wait to turn 18," said the first "it's only three months away!" "Oh yeah, well I'm less then a month away from turning 18," said the second. I wish you could have seen the rapturous anticipation in their eyes. To these young women, turning 18 is pretty much one of the most important milestones in their lives. "So why is turning 18 so important?" I asked innocently. They looked at me like I was an idiot, paused, and then both said in unison "Because then we can go to the bar!"

Like most teenagers these girls are no strangers to alcohol. They are both acquainted with inebriation and drunkenness. With their social networks getting access to booze is not the issue. The issue is that for them the bar is currently a forbidden zone. It is a social context that promises to allow them the opportunity to be accepted and to increase their social fortunes. Perhaps also a place to meet a great guy, have fun, and experience some excitement.

Personally, I have nothing against the idea of a bar (since I am not against alcohol per se) yet I admit to having a certain uneasy feeling when I hear teens looking forward to going to them so much. I have rarely graced bars in my life but I have had many friends who have. I think what I don't like about them is how for many they become the center of their entertainment and social lives. People get fixated and "stuck" in it. This is combined with the easy ability to get drunk, something that to me is pretty clearly contrary to God's will for us. Also there is the idea of finding someone at a bar. I know some people who have found a good mate in a bar, but it seems to me the majority do not. Meeting someone when you are both under the influence of alcohol seems like an unwise way to start a relationship. It also leaves you more likely to do something you'll regret. Bars are supposed to cut people off when they have too much but the truth is that there isn't enough incentive to do this. Inebriated people (as long as they aren't disruptive = more profits for bartender and bar). Drinking to excess is way too common.

Of course if I'm honest I can't really claim to be any sort of expert on the bar experience since I so rarely frequent them. And perhaps I'm overly biased against them. But for young, impressionable teenagers it doesn't seem like a good thing for most and downright dangerous for some. What do you think? Hopefully for these two young ladies they will enjoy their bar experience responsibly and in moderation and eventually find better places to spend most of their time.

May Light increase!

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Miracle Question

"Insanity: repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
- Unknown

Sometimes when people come into counseling, they know something is very wrong but they don't know how what it is and they got lost in their confusion. One way to help them figure this out is to ask them the Miracle Question. This question comes from Solution Focused Therapy and I find it is very useful to help clients (or myself) focus on what is really bothering me and what I would like to see changed. Basically the question goes something like this:

"If you could wake up tomorrow and a miracle had happened and you no longer had all of these problems, what would be different from how things are now?"

From here, people will go on to say what they would want to have changed. Sometimes, you can't do anything about things (like if they say they want a person who has died to alive again) but often they will say things that are somewhat possible. From here you can come up with solutions for many of these things. Two ways solution focused counselors do this is by looking for exceptions and finding what's worked in the past.

For instance if in answer to the miracle question someone said "I would have a happier marriage" the therapist might ask them how they would know that. "Well . . . we wouldn't fight so much." The therapist would look for an exception: was there ever a time when you weren't fighting? "Yes, when we first got married." What was different? "Well, I didn't nag my husband so much and try to control him. Also my husband and I talked a lot more." Suddenly, you have something to go on. Can you imagine not nagging him now? "Possible." Maybe a solution would be to stop nagging him, does nagging every work for you? "No." Well let try a new solution, no nagging no matter what. . .

What's worked in the past is similar. "Well, in the past, we went out for dinner once week, I didn't watch so much TV, and we both didn't work so much. " From here, you can look at solutions that worked in the past and try doing them again. It's amazing how we as people forget/ignore what used to work in our lives! If you feel "stuck" in a problem try the miracle question and look for exceptions and what's worked in the past.With a focus on personal responsibility "What can I do to change the situation" I have found this approach helpful with couples and individuals. A good book on the subject of SFT with couples is this one.

May Light increase!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's Nice To Come Home To Someone

Tonight I got home from my counseling sessions around 8:30. I was tired and feeling drained. The sun was just about to go below the horizon as I walked up to the front step of my townhouse. As usual the door is locked. Jobina and I have this thing when every time I get home at night I knock and she lets me in (I'm way too lazy to use my own key). Anyway, as I waited I watched her come running to the door through the little window in it, time seemed to slow down. As I watched her approach in slow motion I had an epiphany: "Wow, it's really nice to come home to someone." Most days I take it for granted but today, just for a moment, I bask in the wonderful grace that I, Mark Westman, have Someone to come home to. Seriously, how can I ever complain about anything? I am blessed beyond what words can ever describe.

May Light increase!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Vacation Book Ideas

Jobina and I are just over a month away from going to Belize and it's time I start thinking about packing. Yup, I need to bring some books along. Any suggestions? I don't care if it's fiction or non-fiction, classics or new stuff, but if you have any suggestions of books that you simply loved when you read them please let me know. Also, if you have a moment, please tell what you liked about it/them. I look forward to wiling away long hours reading in a hammock and enjoying the tropical breezes. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Self Care

I was talking to a friend a while ago about his recent trip to a tropical locale. After describing all of the fun things he did and the sights he saw he got quiet. "You know," he said, "I didn't realize how much I needed some self care. I didn't realize it until half way during the week, but I needed a break. I was starting to break down." In psychological circles we often talk about self care (a person actively doing things to care for their own needs).

I remember a similar time. I was a youth pastor and I had an incredibly intense weekend with one of my youth. This student (in my mind) needed my further attention, even though I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I was scheduled to go on a multi-day mountain biking trip with one of my friends in a few days, but I felt like I couldn't, that I should stay behind and be a support for this student. Ironically I too needed support (and rest and rejuvenation) but I had developed this over-developed sense of responsibility (a common symptom of burnout). Somehow I thought in my mind that cancelling my trip (a trip I really needed) was the responsible thing to do. Luckily my friend convinced me that I needed to take care of myself, that it wasn't just up to me to help this student, and that I deserved a break myself. I went on the trip and realized a day in exactly what my friend did - I needed this so bad! I hadn't realized what bad shape I was in. Thank God I was able to get away and be rejuvenated. God ministered to me hugely.

In counseling, ministry, and other helping professions it is so easy to get used up, burnt out, and lose yourself as you try to help others. Instead of giving ourselves self-care constantly many of us helpers are quite frankly morons, we wait until we are almost too far gone (in our pride) to minister to ourselves. Self-care is a discipline and should be undertaken daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and after a few years. If you don't take the time, you will eventually run out of fuel. And it's not just for professional helpers. Everyone needs to care for themselves. God doesn't want any of us to serve him at the expense of our own bodies, sanity, and relationships. Yes, we are called to sacrifice but not to destroy ourselves. The best way you can be a true servant of others is to make sure you are healthy enough to serve. If you're not, you know what you need to do. No more excuses. Do it! If you won't, you are putting yourself in others in great danger . . .

May Light increase!

Death Prank

A truly genius prank is one which preys upon our deepest thoughts and fears. This one is a bit cheezy but does both very well!

Monday, April 7, 2008

An Elephant Story

One day a boy came to his Father and asked "You know Dad, our teacher just showed us that the world is really round and that is it just out there alone. Gee Dad, what holds it up?"
His father, thinking that his son would be satisfied with a child's answer, said, "Well Son, a camel holds the world up." His son, always trusting his father, looked puzzled but walked away satisfied - for awhile.

The next day after he thought this over, he came back to his Dad and asked the obvious question. "Dad, you know, you said yesterday the world rests on a camel. But what holds the camel up?" His father, a bit perplexed, quickly thought, "You know, this kid's got a good question. I don't know the answer to it, but I'd better make up one - and fast." Like most fathers he knew instinctively that a quick answer turneth away further questions. So he said with confidence, "Son, a kangaroo holds the camel up."

So his son returned a short time later and said, "Hey Dad. I've still got a problem. What holds up the kangaroo?" His father was now desperate, so he thought quickly and figured he'd make one last try. So he searched his mind for the largest animal he could think of, and he put a capital on it and said loudly (if you shout, people believe you): "An Elephant holds the world up." "Come on, Dad," his son said, having now caught on that his father was not getting to the bottom of things, "What holds up the Elephant?"

So His father came back down in an exasperated stroke of pure genius, "Son, it's elephant all the way down."

This story (taken from James W. Sire's Discipleship of the Mind) illustrates the idea of presuppositions, assumptions we hold that may be true, false, or partially true. They are the beliefs we have about the way things are. You know you have a presupposition on your hands when the only thing left to do is shout, like an exasperated mom who finally just says "Because I said so!". One cannot pile animal after animal, or reason after reason on top of each other. Our beliefs about God are presuppositions. Eventually when trying to "prove" or explain His existence, we come to the place where we run out of explanations. This is where faith stands alone. Whether you are a believer, unsure, or atheistic, your beliefs (which cannot be once and for all proven) require faith. To me, this should keep all of us pretty humble.

By the way, the image is a sculpture by Salvador Dali called "Elephant with Long Legs."

May Light increase!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Little Surprise In My Sink

While getting ready for work yesterday I went to the bathroom so I could shave. I was in a hurry and didn't look down until the last minute. I don't think the picture is that good, but this is what I saw:

Yes, there was a decapitated, naked doll in my sink. This was disturbing on several levels. First there was the brutality of it all. What did this doll do to to hurt anyone? Was was it's crime? Also, it's a doll. I hate dolls! They are just so freaky and creepy. It always amazes me that little girls like to play with something so repulsive. Anyway, this doll must have done something to cross its master because here it was, headless in my sink. Ah, but what was the cause of death? Perhaps the decapitation happened afterwards. Maybe the doll was drowned first, then beheaded? Sure enough the doll's skin seemed faintly wet. What was most confusing was the cloth over the doll's neck. Did the attacker feel remorse after the deed was done and decide to offer the doll a little dignity by covering up her neck? I suppose since I don't know how to bring up this tragedy with my daughter ("Um, sweetie, did you drown and behead your doll for any reason in particular?") it shall remain forever a mystery. And why my sink? One thing's for sure, I'm going to be locking our door at night for awhile.

May Light increase!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Procrastination Cycle

Here is my Paper Procrastination Cycle. Ironically I am blogging about this as I procrastinate on a paper! Anyway, here it is:

1. I find out I have a paper due. I decide that unlike past times, I will get it done on time.
2. I establish a "fake" due date before the actual one and set aside time to do the paper, well in advance
3. I do not do the paper. Instead my life grinds to a halt productivity wise. I get nothing done except whatever absolutely needs doing. My desk is a mess. Personal hygiene falls by the wayside. I procrastinate by spending time blogging, playing video games, or looking at real estate listings. I become more miserable and annoyed with myself. Nothing is enjoyable. All is misery and rising tension.
4. Eventually I come up the real due date. I have one day left. I spend the whole day procrastinating. Then I do the paper in the evening and stay up all night.
5. I hand the paper in on time. Because I completed it so late I don't even proof read it (although I do spell check it as the computer can do that for me). I feel so bad about my paper and think "this is for sure the worst paper I've ever written).
6. Get back the paper - did quite well. This is always shocking and I imagine how good my mark would have been if I had done the paper during the day and had actually proofread it. Guilt haunts me. Decide to do next paper earlier.
7. Repeat.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Beautiful Place vs. Helping The Needy

In my theology class the other day, our professor asked us what we thought the church should spend their money on: an esthetically pleasing sanctuary which will draw people closer to God or put that money towards the poor/needy/hurting who are in the community and world. I think he leaned towards not ignoring the poor but he thought that money spent on a beautiful church that was designed and decorated by Spirit gifted artisans was also something worthy of our investment. He gets annoyed by plain and ugly rooms/churches that do nothing to life one's Spirit towards God. Keep in mind he comes from an Anglican tradition which has built some of the most beautiful churches in the Protestant world (one of which we specifically chose to get married in - All Saints Anglican Church here in Winnipeg). So . . . what do you think?

May Light increase!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tales of A Gum Lord: Part 2

What did I learn from my little adventure in candy vending? I'm glad you asked. Most people who go into this business don't make money. Here's what I learned:

1. Don't buy new machines. The machines I bought retailed for over $700 each. Most vending machine companies are seriously unethical in the way they sell their machines (especially Wrigley's who makes the Excel machines): they justify the huge cost of their machines by inflating the "projected sales" numbers. The people who we bought the business off of paid over $30,000 for their entire business! We bought it off them for $4000. It's terrible! Only buy good quality used machines. Personally I wouldn't pay more then $150 per machine for any vending bulk vending machine.
2. Buy machines already on location. Unless you are a natural salesman and have lots of time on your hands buy already established machines. It's way less work and hassle. Of course if you do the work of locating well, you can make some serious coin. . .
3. Don't buy wall mounted machines. Why? They're hard to move and if you do, you'll have to pay to repair walls.
4. The location is everything. Some locations do well and some don't. It's almost impossible to predict. One of the biggest reasons why people get out is they spend thousands of dollars on machines that are poorly placed and they get discouraged and sell. Instead they need to move the location. A route that has premium locations for all machines can be a very profitable business. It takes work to find those locations though.
5. Don't buy a route that won't pay for itself in 6 months. Seriously. It's difficult to figure out how much money any route will make and records are usually scarce. This is a higher risk business and so you need to project profit after 6 months: make your offer accordingly. That way if it takes you longer, you'll still be OK. If a route makes $6000 profit in a year, offer at most $3000. Remember what Donald Trump says: The money is in the deal.
6. People who are getting out of this business want out bad. Some people (myself included) don't like servicing machines. I tried it a few times and delegated it to Jobina (who didn't mind it) and we were all good. People who don't like it can't stand the thought of doing it again. This puts you in a good bargaining position. Also if people are moving, use that to your advantage as well.
7. A good way to find a route to buy is to look at the phone number on a vending machine at some place, call the owner, and say "Hey, would you like to sell your route?" Maybe they aren't enjoying it and would give it away for a song. It doesn't hurt to try.
8. Get all the info. Here's what you need to know about the route: make and model of machines, product cost, monthly net/gross sales, places to buy product, specific or general location of machines, time it takes to service the route, how often machines need to be serviced, etc. Also, ask "how many machines should be located to new locations?"
9. There are a lot of "sheisters" in this business. We almost got taken quite badly with a con artist here in the city. Also, people fudge their numbers, lie about their reasons for getting out, or forget to give you very important information. Be extremely careful. Use your gut and your mind when it comes to dealing with people.
10. For the right people and the right price, this is a good business. It can produce passive cashflow and for a day or two a month a couple hundred dollars in income (depending on the size and success of the route). People are always looking to sell and so there is lots of opportunity. If you are interested in purchasing and would like some another person's counsel on how good the deal looks, let me know.

May Light increase!

Tales of A Gum Lord: Part 1

About a year ago, Jobina and I bought a small business. I had been looking for a source of passive income and had about a $1500 of my own personal money to spend. One business that you can actually buy for such a small amount of money is a candy vending route. So I started looking for one on and other classified sites. Soon I found one that looked promising: 24 Excel gum machines (on location). The problem was the asking price: $6500. I emailed back and forth with the person and realized that they were asking way too much money for it. Since it was only bringing in $500 every two months in profit I thought a more likely price would be $3000 as then I could pay it off in a year (of course I would have to borrow money from our savings - with Jobina's permission - to do this). The people were moving so I waited until just before they left and made the offer, less then half of what they were asking! I was quite nervous about doing this as I hoped they wouldn't scream at me or anything. Instead they countered - for an extra $1000 they'd give us an extra 11 brand new in the box machines. This seemed like a great deal and after more discussion with Jobina we accepted: $4000 for the route, the extra machines, and over $3000 worth of gum.

After I bought the machines I realized something, these things were difficult to install. They were wall mounted on not many businesses want you to put holes in their walls. So instead of installing the new machines, I decided to sell them. Our cost on those was about $73 but since they retail for around $700 (it's a huge rip off to buy vending machines new - more on that in part 2) I thought I could sell them for around $250 a piece. Two months later they were all sold at a nice profit!

We serviced the machines every two months (which was a very interesting experience!) and although the machines did OK, we never did get what the past owners said we would. At this rate it would take us at least a year and a half to pay it all back (not including our sales of the new machines) and I wasn't sure how long our gum would be good for. So after about 8 months we decided to sell. We sold the route two months ago for a lot less then we paid for it but in the end (after all of our expenses) we made about $2000 in net profit. Of course if we hadn't got those extra machines I would still be paying it off, but I think we got lucky with that. Anyway, that's my tale of being a Gum Lord, in part 2 I will tell you what I learned from this little entrepreneurial experience.

May Light increase!