Headlines from First Thoughts

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to spend 5 1/2 hours on I-81 on President's Day Weekend

When traffic stopped at mile marker 65 on I-81 East, I had no idea that we would be moving over five hours later.
Thankfully we were not involved in the tragic accident on I-75 in Jellico. We were simply taking a 28-hour roadtrip to Winterplace.

We have to choose our weekends wisely in the ministry life. Even Monday school holidays usually mean short trips to avoid taking a Sunday as a vacation day. They are precious and few. After the services Sunday, we loaded the mini-van, picked up a McAlister's Sweet Tea, and ate our PBJ sandwiches for a four hour roadtrip to West Virginia.

During "winter storm warnings," they tell you to take flashlights, blankets, and food for a year. I assumed those warnings were for unanticipated snow. I never really factored jack-knifed semi-trailer trucks into the equation. The snow started falling north of Kingsport, Tennessee. Visiblity was low but nothing unusual. Traffic was stop-and-go in some places. When we stopped at mile marker 64, in Wythe County, Virginia, we let the car run for about two hours, assuming the traffic ahead would start moving. This wait turned into more of a German autobahn stall. People were leaving their vehicles, wandering around. We even considered building a snowman.

The people ahead of us were tracking things on the scanner. We were trackinghttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif developments on the I-Pad and twitter. The Weather Channel was reporting from Wytheville. After two hours of waiting, we turned off the car, took care of the necessary things, and chowed down on graham crackers. Darkness was falling, and we began thinking through what a night might be like on the interstate. Fortunately, the snow stopped. I can only imagine what would have happened if a blizzard had dropped 12 inches of snow on us.

The boys had fun bugging each other, and we enjoyed teasing them with stories, songs, and silliness. At the four-hour mark, Parker made a palate. They played every itouch game they could download. Even the wrestling match was over. We cranked the engine and started watching movies again.

Now past five hours, we turned off the engine, leaned the seats back, and began to doze. About that time, the traffic cleared. We passed the semi, now safely on the side of the road, and decided to forge on to the hotel.

When we woke up the next morning, Parker was sick. On the way to the lifts, we saw the evidence. After a brief clean-up in the warning lane, we decided to head to the mountain. The next exit was for Winterplace.

By this time, if you were superstitious, every sign was saying to "turn around and leave immediately." But we're not, and we just go with our instincts. A stranger walked up. "I've got a couple of extra lift passes that we're not using. Would you like to purchase them? They're only $20 (regular $65 on a holiday)." A blessing in disguise? A sign from above? Or maybe just good grace. We didn't deserve the passes, but we were seeing snow. We bought two for the adults. Drake was free. We were going to ski.

We arrived at the lodge and decided to set up camp in the dining area, let Parker sleep, while Kelly and Drake skied. I stayed with Parker in the morning and switched with Kelly for the afternoon.

We left around 3:00 and were home by 6:30. We did not dare exit. Parker is taking a sick day today and recovering. And we are grateful to be home.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Generosity fuels transformed lives @fbcknox when a single mom becomes a social worker @buckner_intl

Wendy Woodward knows first hand better than any one else what it's like to receive help in difficult times. Through our community ministry, she prepares the way for others to change their lives. She is just one result of God's abundant generosity in 2011.

Last year, First Baptist surpassed budget needs by over $27,000 and ended the year over $156,000 over expenses. You gave over $1.9 million to the operating budget. This is the first time in eleven years that this has happened two consecutive years. So what happened as a result of your gifts? People like Wendy Woodward came our way.

Wendy is a social work student at the University of Tennessee's College of Social Work. She's so passionate about her faith, caring in her work, and thoughtful in her studies, she has been at odds with another non profit over the role of faith in her work. She came to First Baptist by her own admission "to gain experience in a Christ centered environment." She spent a semester with us launching a food co-op to assist families with a 45 lb quantity of food for $3 every two weeks. She has met with clients, and assisted with our Christmas Brunch.

She wrote to me a in a recent email: "My experiences as a struggling job loss survivor fueled my ability to help others in my role as the benevolence worker at FBC . Carol McEntyre and I have worked closely in assisting families who are struggling with financial difficulty and have helped individuals and families with food from the fish pantry who are living in their cars and in motels because families are now homeless due to rough economic times. Landlords have been forced to foreclose on rental properties which have resulted in several families being displaced in the area. FBC also assists with numerous energy assistance pledges because of the recent increase in energy costs in the area. In my research project this semester on U.S. public housing policy, I found a devastating lack of investment into low income rental properties in urban areas. This results in higher energy bills for lower income renters. I am seeing this same pattern locally in the majority of clients who call in for assistance from the church. Most have energy costs that are sometimes equal to or exceeding their rent in most of these older units. This is where God uses the benevolence ministry of First Baptist to meet the needs of those around us in our community. I also feel God has truly turned my tragedy into a blessing by giving me the compassion to assist those who are going through similar situations that result when resources are depleted."

Even though Wendy is a volunteer intern, the work is not free. The ministry comes because you invested through the budget in a Buckner partnership years ago, and the fruits of this work continue to flourish.

In 2012, we ask you to give again through the ministry budget of the church. The goal is attainable and virtually the same amount as we gave in 2011. Our priorities are similar to this past year but with greater focus on at-risk children and families, leadership training, small group Bible study, and worship.

If Wendy is any example, the way is already prepared for these priorities and many more to be accomplished right in front of our eyes.

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