It is now my final week signed up on that one site, and there are still a few posts that I am copying over here. These are a few that dealt directly or indirectly with living here in West Plains for the past 5 years.
December 30, 2013 – Stood in line to pay taxes today and my Social Obsessive Compulsive Disorder alarms were going off so loudly I could barely contain myself. People were lining up straight out the door, no curves to allow that the line was ending at a closed door ten feet from the door we were going into. Then the only place for the line to go, because of a bench, was down a dead-end ramp blocked off by railings at the entrance. Really!? I was trying my darndest to make people line up at an angle behind me, but it wasn’t working: they insisted on keeping it straight. I even almost turned around and said, “Okay people: move to the right and let’s line up against this wall here so as not to block entrances and exits. Keep all doors free from us standing in front of them.”
June 10, 2014 – I know West Plains thrift stores, you’ve been struggling. You’ll do anything to catch my eye, because you see the writing on the wall. Even the discount store is closing down. Your sales are practically nil and you’re not sure if you’ll make it next month. But hoping to sell that one item to get you over the top won’t help; let me tell you what will: Mark Down Your Prices. Yep. Just mark things down and people might actually buy more things, and maybe even more things. You might even make some money! Yes, I don’t know your struggle. “Who are you?” you think. But trust me on this: selling something is better then selling nothing, right?
June 11, 2014 – Now, West Plains Greenhouse and Nursery is a completely different story. If you didn’t know, every Wednesday they have .15 plants for sale, and every Wednesday my dear wife sends me there to buy her plants because it’s right by my work. They were crazy busy selling plants all over the place, and you know what, people were buying more then just what was on sale. That’s the way you do it, boy!
April 15, 2014 – State of the restaurant update in West Plains – So my lovely wife and I had an opportunity for a date lunch today. With the number of restaurants in town, as well as the number I won’t enter, it is difficult to find a new one to try, even when we don’t go out much. A couple of weeks ago we walked around the square and saw in a window, “Coming Soon, Ozark Pizza & Bread.” We decided to see if they were open yet and what it would be like. As we drove past we saw through the window people eating at tables. We went around the Square to find a more convenient parking space and was reminded that Red Apple Grill has new management, and thought if OP&B doesn’t work, we’ll go to the RAG. We walked into the OP&B and it smelled lovely but the decor, or lack of it, was off-putting. There was a couple of high tables by the window, but down the side were second-hand booths that looked like they had been transferred from one of the many out-of-business restaurants around town. Nothing was on the walls, and there was just a “blah” feeling about the place. We looked at the menu board and saw that two of the three sandwiches they were selling was sold-out. One of the ones sold-out was a “Cuban”. From what I’ve seen on Food Network, a Cuban is a sandwich I’d really like to try. However, I wouldn’t get to try one today, and I’m not confident I would have enjoyed it anyway. I didn’t look much more over the menu as we decided to go, but the prices were fairly good, dependent upon the size and if there was any side items.
We hiked on over to the RAG. We walked in, saw a menu on the greeting counter, and decided to peruse it. Prices weren’t bad, and an interesting list of specialty hamburgers were listed. We decided to take a seat. We had heard the RAG was under new management and it was insisted upon us to try it and see if our opinion had changed. As we walked back, a lone worker told us to take a seat. She was taking some dudes order and as we sat down we saw her go back to the kitchen, flip a few burgers and dunk a couple basket of fries. We sat there for a few minutes and noted that nothing had changed in the decor from when we visited some four years back. You’d think under new management, if they were trying to change their reputation, that they would try and put their own stamp on the decor; something that says, “We’re not the same place!” It had the same grimy feel, the same silly Coke and Disney decor, same color scheme. The longer we sat the more we noticed that the girl was the only employee in the place. With our disappointment in the look and feel, as well as not being sure if we were going to be served in a timely manner; we decided to leave this place too.
I am not going to leave you with two negative, if uncomplete, reviews today, for there is a positive one to note, but first I must say something about the lack of effort as well as the difficulty in running a restaurant business here in West Plains. First off, if you are really wanting to succeed in the restaurant biz at all, you want to have to look like you’re putting forth some effort. Sealing up a wall and coating it with a bland color of paint is not an effort at decor that says, “Sit down, relax and try some of our fresh food that we care about.” I am sorry to say, but we first taste a restaurants efforts through our eyes on the decor as well as the smell. OP&B smelled great, but we didn’t want to put the effort in to try something we didn’t necessarily want to, because the effort on their part was not there. It is a give and take: you give us nice things to fill our periphery vision, fill our senses with tantalizing aromas and we’ll give you our money to eat there. I’ve already said what needs to be said about RAG, but also note that if new management means one person working, than good luck on that one. I suppose RAG has been a staple in the community for long enough that they will have their standard customers, but if that is all you are striving for, then I hope you enjoy your mediocrity. It seems that only a chain restaurant can only succeed in a town that likes their flavors not too extravagant, although the shutting down of Papa Murphy’s was quite a shock to me. Maybe, as a friend told me, people don’t understand the concept of taking your food home and cooking it yourself. The other place of note that has closed down is the “A La Carte”, but I found out today that the reason they left is that they didn’t garner the success they were hoping for, and not for health reasons we had thought. They offered fresh and local food albeit at a much slower pace than we’re use to, and they did run out of their favorites before we got in there at 1pm, which is our usual lunch date time. I don’t even want to mention the other places that people recommend around here, other to say, “really expensive and will just run out anyway” to “chocolate gravy? Really?” The difficulty in running a restaurant here is that it is so expensive to rent space. I’ve been told it costs as much as it does in California! Before anyone can really make a habit out of coming to your place as well as pulling customers away from a number of Buffet’s, you run out of money and have to close up shop. It’s a sad, sad situation.
The final place I want to talk about is the Almost Famous Grille, formerly Potter’s Dawg House. This restaurant has also changed hands a number of times as well as grossly expanding its menu to gargantuan limits. However, they have since trimmed it down to a reasonable size and kept to just the standards, with a few notable exceptions. I’ve been there at least four times in the past three months and I must say with each time I’ve been impressed with the tasty fare. I’ve had their ribs and brisket, but the thing I’m most impressed with is their burgers. I’ve only had the one, twice, called a “Baby Sasquatch”. It’s rather spicy, but you must note that it is the meat that makes this burger. It is Angus beef and is grilled well, very juicy and tasty. I’ve brought my coworkers there, out-of-town business associates, and friends, and they have all been impressed with the taste. I don’t know if any of this qualifies for a visit from Guy Fieri, but it is good for those of us who need to have something not from a chain restaurant. This restaurant will earn a like from me on their facebook page, if they have one, a rare thing for me to do, after I publish this note.
Strange Confessions: Problems come about at work: “Ugh! I hate that I have to deal with this all the time! Why can’t work ever be easy? Please Jesus, come back now…” Problems come about while doing ministry: “Oh this is so exciting! How are we going to figure this one out? We’re going to have so much fun *squeal*! What a great time for bonding with God’s people!”
It rained yesterday in Charleston, Missouri: a lot. Two weeks ago the forecast was calling for freezing rain, snow, and low temperatures. As the days went by, outlooks became a little brighter. It was going to be warmer and final percentage for chance of rain: 80%. Nice. I am usually the one who drives the bus for the two and a half hours it takes to get to Charleston and back on the third Saturday of the month for food distribution day at the Shining Light Mission located there. Having 15 people’s lives in your hands can sometimes make you a little tense, especially when the weather turns ugly. It rained the whole way there, but just a fine to moderately heavy drizzle. Once we got to the low-lying plains of the Southeastern corner of Missouri, water was standing high in the ditches on the sides of the road, and my eyes were pealed for chances of a hydro-planing situation. This made me grip the steering wheel tighter and my shoulders try to disappear into my ears. But, we got there safely. Praise God.
We were going to be short this month for help. The only other church with major volunteers were out and most of the experienced players on our team were going to be gone. This third Saturday of the month fell harshly: four days before Christmas. I was volunteered back in November to head up recruitment for this month of trial-like small numbers. Blessedly, I had help. It ended up we scheduled 21 people to come. Hallelujah! That should be enough. We got to the church parking lot at 6:15am to get the bus all warmed up and ready to leave. Our main connection showed up and said several people weren’t showing up, but, there was some unexpected people there ready to go. It ended up being 26 people! We took the smaller bus of 15, someone else took 7 people in their van, and another family of 4 just ended up going on their own.
Once we got there, the pantry was jam-packed with donations for distribution. I told everyone that the first half-hour there was a little slow until we all found our position and our groove. It took a while to get organized because we were so crowded with extra people and donations. What a blessing. My spirit’s were starting to soar. I was getting excited about getting the problems solved that were beginning to show their face. People were looking lost. Others wanted to look around. We needed some organization, some purpose. Moving around pallets and boxes of food with so many people standing around was fun, sort of. Once my wonderful wife got pantry goods sorted for bagging, then things really got moving. I was with a new guy I recruited from my bible study, and a young, eager, local kid who usually only benefits from the distribution. We were busting open boxes of a rice mixture getting them in bags, tying them off and handing them over to be counted. The kid was all, “Slow down!” and I was all, “No way! Keep it coming, we can take it. We got strength and skill from God.” We packed 310 bags from the pantry, 306 for the USDA, and we had boxes full of mini-sausage biscuits, bags of potatoes, containers of bleach, and assorted frozen meats (including chicken feet) to organize and give away.
We broke for lunch at about 11:45 and came back before the distribution time of 1pm-4pm. The head of Shining Light told us to close the regular door we go out of to load the groceries, for he had a new plan. The fields and playground were already flooded and the front was growing; but the rain was staying at a slow drizzle, which didn’t seem much of a threat. Generally, ministers and ministered to, go in circles and arcs to keep things moving, but this rain was causing a problem we had to figure out. The only exit was the front and we had to let people in early to stay out of the rain. We had to reroute the line through another room to clear the hall and had several checkpoints so only 5 people could come back at a time. The teens are usually the grocery herders, bringing goods out to people’s cars. I wanted to do it this time, so I could talk to people and give others breaks from getting wet. It took a while to get those teens inline so we could go past each other and not cause too much chaos; because there was going to be chaos! I would yell at them every time I saw them, “To the right! To the right!” “Hold still! Wait until this group goes through!” “Move it out! Get those loaded!” “Not here! Open up the cart at the back of the line.” All in good-natured commanding, I hope. Someone gave me a full weather rain slicker, so my top stayed dry, but my jeans and shoes? They weren’t going to be dry until next year. These kids though: they were getting soaked, but their spirits stayed high! I had to yell at a couple, including my own daughter, to make someone switch with them. There was some teen boys in the food packing area I made switch out. There was even a determined girl who was having so much fun being utterly drenched, she got mad at me for caring. Can you believe that? No good deed goes unpunished, yes?
At around 3pm, God opened up the heavens to pour the rain down in sheets. Even the raindrops were shedding rain. By this time we had finished most of the line, for our numbers were lower than usual: I wonder why… Anyway, from 3pm-4pm is my favorite time: we’re not too busy, for the line is shorter and not as urgent, I can talk with all the other workers and especially the teens, there is just more time for great fellowship and fun. I was singing carols and cracking jokes, (I am always my best audience) just enjoying myself. My wife told others I have two types of natural highs: the 2am highs and the “just served a ministry” high. It was a tough day for a lot of us, but I felt like I was on both. Santa was there giving out candy canes, and we had this little routine. “Merry Christmas Santa,” I’d yell as I went along on my errands. “Merry Christmas Mark!” he’d yell back. I would turn in shock, surprise, and utter joy in my face saying, “How do you know my name?” He’d laugh and others would giggle. It was a lot of fun. I heard someone say that a group of teenagers could really sing. I searched them out and asked them to sing some Christmas carols. Much to my disappointment, they wouldn’t agree. Hey, I was having fun. Some didn’t like my singing, but they had a smile on their face.
Getting ready to go, I had discovered that the front lot was covered with at least 8 inches of water. It was a shock: how was I to cross the street to get the bus. One of the other drivers and I were scouting out the path of least resistance, or perhaps it was most resistance we were looking for: strong, sure footing. I glanced across the lot and saw the last driver striving purposefully across, wading in water past his ankles. He was unknowingly heading directly toward the now hidden ditch carrying a large bag of clothes, when suddenly he pitched forward into the ditch throwing the bag in the road in front of a moving truck. The truck squealed to a stop and I ran across the water, soaking my shoes to get to him. He went up to his chest in water and pulled himself up, out and to his truck before I was even half-way there. I know if I was in his position, I would have wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I don’t know him that well or I would have called him today to see if he ever got dry. Hopefully he got to some store for some dry clothes before trekking the 3 hours back. I successfully got the bus across the pond and everyone piled inside when we were off. The roads in town were flooded and I was thankful to get to the freeway. Water was higher in the valley than when we came, but the road didn’t have any standing water. Thank God. With the slower speeds we got home a bit later than usual, but with our hearts filled at working together with great purpose at working for God.
I discovered that I just love serving when there is some problem that needs to be solved. We talked about it later, how there was always some obstacle we had to overcome to get the job done, and that is what makes it enjoyable to me. Yesterday was the most difficult day we’ve had there since starting there this year on a regular basis. I cherish these moments of purpose, fellowship, serving, and mission. Yet I wonder why I don’t feel that sense of good, that sense of right, when I do my daily duty of supporting my family, trying to help and guide the companies I work for, giving the employees a good sense of caring and doing a job well. Then I consider the minister in the field; every day filling such a great sense of purpose. Do they look at the problems that arise the same way? Do they groan under the same pressure, under the same issues that need to be dealt with? Our bible study met for supper and a summary of what God has/is doing in our lives this year the other night. We have a few students in our group who shared that they were frustrated that they can’t just go out and start serving God or that they don’t really know what they should be doing or that their sense of purpose is out of whack. I didn’t really want to tell them that that is the way I feel almost every day I have to go to work, because after all, shouldn’t we imagine that this sense of meaninglessness will eventually go away? I was just amazed and humbled that we had such a thoughtful group of youth, wanting to really get on with their lives. When I was their age, I would stay young and irresponsible as long as I could. It is hard to know that there is a purpose out there for you to face and having to wait and wait and wait. But God teaches us patience, yes He does. He has taught me much here in West Plains, and I’m so thankful to be able to see it all and examine it all and write about it all here. Incidentally, God has given us a great and terrible gift here with this technology. I pray that someday I would have the privilege of finding out if I could maintain my sense of joy in the regular problems that would arise in serving Him or at least see that joy in the day-to-day of the work I find such trouble enjoying one single day of the week.
(By the way, do you like my new signature? Also, see my logo and icon below. I like the picture of the single, lonely tree in the desert.)
Strange Confessions: When I was younger I believed I had the ability to transport myself to another dimension through the sheer power of my will.
Have you ever heard of people having tunnel vision? Well, I think I had some version of that when I was in grade school. You see, I’d be sitting in class staring at the teacher or the blackboard and whatever I was staring at would start to move away from me. My perception would completely change. It seemed as though my soul, or my inner self, the essence of who I was would shrink somehow. and I would find myself somehow looking through the lens of my own eyes. Everything was very far away, with a fuzziness surrounding what I saw or touched. I could feel myself but I felt very large and very distant. My teeth would click together and distant thunder would rumble in my brain. My hands were aeons away from me. I could feel them at the end of these enormous arms, I could control them, touch finger tip to thumb tip and it was miles and days away. The focus seemed to be my hands and mouth and especially my vision. But, it also gave me this sick feeling down in the pit of my stomach and my head would start to swim. I could break out of this experience anytime I wanted. Just close my eyes and shake my head and I’d be back to normal. But, when it did come, and I began staring again I’d go back. With enough shaking my head and not focusing on anything, it would eventually go away for good. Until the next time.
The worst is when it happened at night. I couldn’t look around in the dark or look at different things to shake the feeling, and it made me very uncomfortable. I would press my fists into my eyes and move around a lot, feeling myself rubbing against the sheets: these things would shake the feelings.
I began to think there was a purpose in this. I thought I was extra special when I was a kid: like I was going to be abducted by aliens or be able to go into other worlds, because some power that was in control of those things in the universe chose me to have this power. I thought that this was a gateway for me: to another world, another dimension, and if I could hold it long enough… I… would… get there.
So, whenever I started experiencing this feeling, I tried to go as far as I could. The more I stared the farther I got from myself, the more distressing it was upon me. Slightly jerking my eyes or blinking would take me back a tinge, but I’d constantly stare to try to accomplish the goal of entering unexplored worlds! I never could hold it for more than a couple of minutes. It was agonizing to be so close to the prize, yet so disappointed in myself that my will wasn’t strong enough.
Eventually this went away. I would feel it rarely in high school and college, but I figured it was just some remnant of brain damage or the magic mocking me in what I forever would not experience.
I had forgotten all about it, until last night. Yes, it came on me last night and I was so disconcerted that I groaned and twisted, seeing if my wife was aware of my agony, so I could explain this childhood aberration. It was odd.
But it reminded me of the fact that I will be going into another world someday. For, you see, this world is not my home. By sheer power of will I will not experience it, but it is by the will of God.
Lately I’ve been going through a spiritual upheaval you could say. I believed I was on the verge of a breakthrough if only I could mend some errors of my past. One thing did not go as planned. In fact, my greatest fear came about: my actions only made things worse. I fretted and mourned lost relationships, lost breakthroughs. I couldn’t talk to God. He seemed to be very far away. I was unable to connect with Him. But two very great things happened to me that God showed me He was still looking out for me, and wanted me to experience great joy, even through my failure. One was serving people in a poor area of Missouri. It was awesome! And I hope to be able to talk about it to the congregation this coming Sunday. The other was being a leader at a youth camp. I experienced such joy at worshiping my God, my Creator, my Rock, my Salvation; through being with the kids, through reading His word, through the great music that three great musician youth put on. I am so blessed that I can not help but bless His name.
Even through the difficulties that this major move in my life has brought about, I am so thankful that He has grown me. I will ever praise Him, even when others my mock me, mock my God: I will ever praise Him.