Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tomatoes and Potatoes

Many years ago my wife and I were sitting on the couch in our living room watching a movie on TV which took us way past our normal bed time. The movie had just ended and before we knew it we began to be intrigued by the next movie that came on which was called; “Tomatoes and Potatoes”.
In the movie there was a small country diner located in a little town in the Midwest complete with the typical vintage round chrome bar stools bolted to the floor with red vinyl seats that you could spin around on while you sat and ate your food. The diner was obviously open for business and across the crushed lime stone parking lot there was a two story brick machine shop probably built 1940’s with a rusty retractable metal fire escape mounted on the side of the building. As you passed by in your car you could see there was some activity happening inside the diner. Since we were hungry we decided get a bite to eat and just like that We pulled into the parking lot complete with deep mud puddles and found a place to park with a perfect view of the activities going on inside. As we sat there in our vintage car that seemed more like a big room with a big simulated wood dash board and steering wheel in front of us, this unusual story began to unfold in front of our eyes.

The dim lit metal diner was visible through the windshield wipers as they were flapping across the big window of the car as the rain continued to pour.. Just then the air driven factory whistle blew and without hesitation the steel door on the side of the building burst open and bounced off the wall as a herd of men began to pour out across the parking lot to the diner in the rain to get some food. One guy covered his head with a news paper to avoid getting his head wet. As the men arrived in their dirty baggy bib overhauls, they placed their hats on the hat rack and one by one went into the restroom to clean up before they went to the food line to be served.

The waitresses were already in place behind the counter in anticipation of their arrival. Each waitress who had a hair net on and wore a typical apron from the 50’s and would take turns asking the men what they wanted on the cafeteria style buffet and then they would plop it on their plates.
All night each waitress had her hot metal food trays to serve in front of her and would ask, “ chicken or ham”, “Corn or beans”? Someone else would ask, “tomatoes or potatoes”?
As the night wore on one waitress who had been there for several hours was somewhat tired and aloof as she was preoccupied from thoughts of her boy friend that had just dumped her, ask the man; “Tomatoes or Potatoes”? The worker with a stern face and messed up hair promptly said, “potatoes” but she thought he said “tomatoes” and she quickly plopped a helping of tomatoes on his plate. Then the worker dude became enraged and said, ” I said Potatoes”!!!. Then the waitress stared at him and her eye’s became glassy, her jaw dropped, her face turned beat red and she began crying uncontrollably and then hesitated for a moment and then screamed at him, as she belligerently banged her spoon on the tray she shouted , ” tomatoes!!!….Potatoes!!!! Humiliators!!! Just then the other waitresses came to her rescue and tried to calm her down but then she saw the embroidery of an alligator on his designer izod shirt under the dirty baggy bib overhauls she went ballistic ….. “Alligators!!!!, Agitators!!!!, and with that she took a butcher knife and stabbed one of the waitresses that was trying to calm her down.
Just then we drove off into the rainy night as the ambulance arrived and everyone was going crazy inside the diner trying to cope with what had just happened.
This story reminded me of a situation that happened to me this week as I was staying up late because I had a lot on my platter namely a mid night snack of Chinese food leftovers. It was so good that I said , ” if there was more I’d eat it”, but instead I scraped out what was left in the bowl and took the one and only last bite and went to bed at a little after 1:30 am
As I tip toed quietly into the bedroom I notice that my wife was very much asleep so I carefully slipped under the covers to avoid detection. As I lay there I could hear her breathe with a soft snore and I relaxed enough to fall into a deep sleep within moments. Then about 4:45 something woke both of us up and as we tried to fall back to sleep we engage in some small talk and begin to review our concerns of the day, namely the state of our business which has totally come to a halt therefore throwing us into delinquency with all of our bills. As we lay there we try to think of different ways to get out of this embarrassing mess because we realize this time it’s a bigger problem than we can handle by ourselves. I made the comment about how many businesses have collapsed and how people can’t pay each other off. The conversation goes straight to Obama and “how dare he get our nation so screwed up so quickly”. If you are in a hole don’t dig it deeper to get out!! Then I said, ”well if for some reason he gets booted out of office Vice president Joe Biden will take over, but he is just as liberal. And If Joe Biden gets the boot then it’s Nancy Pelosi speaker of the house will take over. And if Nancy Pelosi gets the boot, then it’s Hillary Clinton Secretary of State would become the next President”. Knowing that I was thinking in terms of a scenario, all I could do was say, “boy what a mess our country is in, there’s not a lot we can do”.
Then I start to review a current customer who said, “My wife and I are in Florida with the family and we won’t be back for two weeks”. I said in my mind, “yea but I need to be paid now, I did the work and I’ve got a ton of bills to pay and the phone is not ringing accept for the bill collectors.
Then I review each one of the bills out loud with my wife! “Home mortgage is past due by two months going on three, rent at the shop is due, Two electric bills, (one for home and one for the shop), two phone bills, two water bills , two gas bills , fuel for the vehicles, food bills and medical bills that seem to reach the clouds and the list goes on as I conclude that this is one time I need help”! I can feel my blood pressure mounting! .
Then I start to think about my kids and how they are trying to find jobs in this suppressed economy as they look to us for advice and return home for a place to stay. Then I think about selling the house or our contents and that becomes an issue of, “no one will give us a dime for it because there are other homes that are more expensive that aren’t being sold for what we are asking for ours”.
Then I think about the condition of our situation and run a quick compare and think about others who are living in far worst conditions in the world and I become shamefaced and feel guilty for ever investing in a home or furnishings which are typical in most homes of America.
I say things like “boy what a mess our country is in, there’s not a lot we can do”. If customers don’t come to the shop because they are afraid to spend their money I can’t pay the bills and we are stuck in a real jam.
Then I find myself reviewing verses in the scripture such as: “come unto me and I will give you rest”, or “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding”. I think of Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the [sons] of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples fishing all night and how that’s what I’ve been up to….not catching a thing!!! No fish/ no customers no money no food. Then Jesus comes along and says, Cast your nets to the other side…..boom!!! they’ve now have more fish than they know what to do with but Jesus has something better for them to do and that is to become fishers of men.
I told my wife, “ya know, I think I’m beginning to sound like the waitress in the movie “Potatoes and Tomatoes that took it all too serious and went postal”.
Just then my wife says Mark let’s get some rest and before you know it the alarm goes off and it’s time to go to church.
As I review my own situation, I realize that Jesus has the ability to say, “Cast your net to the other side”. I realize that I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and yet I have a lot of earthly burdens that are seemingly a noose around my neck. Somehow I’ve got to learn to reach up and unclasp the latch on the necklace of burdens and place it all at the feet of Jesus.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Buiness on the rocks

Business on the Rocks
Have you ever stood barefoot on a sandy beach along the shoreline as the waves came in and washed up on your feet? Well if you have, you know it is so relaxing to have such a moment of pleasure whether you are young or old. One thing you’ll experience while you stand there as the water subsides, is the mysterious movement and inevitable disappearance of the sand under your feet. Eventually you become buried up to your ankles in the sand that you once stood on. Those were the days when life was simple and we all look forward to such pleasure each summer. Like anything else we relate such highlights in our lives to events that seem to correspond with things that affect us on a daily basis.
I once had a bar tender job and it wasn’t too long before I was serving things like Scotch or Jack Daniels on the rocks. Now I’m learning to cope with “Business on the rocks”. As my business seems to crumble like the sand under my feet on the beach, my phone and home phone constantly ring with creditors trying to “schedule me for a payment”, my personal credit and business credit have been ruined. At this point I try not to think about the several credit reports that now show me as a risk and how this record will haunt me until the day I die.
Every day as I drive to and from home the only thing that consumes my head is “the business”. I constantly review the direction of the business, the stagnant money flow, the stack of unopened bills and the lack of projects out on the floor to pay for them. I constantly worry about how my business will survive and how it will recover or how I will get my feet back on the ground in this “greedy self serving political self-imposed economic bottle neck” that we are all experiencing in this great land of America.
I’m concerned about the vendors that I owe, and I am truly aware that they are rightfully due monies from me, but they can’t be paid without customers bringing work to me to be done. One year ago there were eight employees working in the business and it provided a well known respected service to several hundred surrounding miles, one year later I have two part time employees.
In the mist of this huge world financial crisis, two wars being fought, threats of nukes from North Korea, and riots in Iran, my customer base is predominately, financially conservative, economically stable but I came to realize that these same people no doubt have taken a recent financial beating or they know someone who has lost allot of financial investments. I also realize that they have been “economically T-boned “, and are now spooked and don’t want to spend their money. With the constant rising of gas prices and lying politicians and a na├»ve misinformed population, we now have a newly elected president who thinks the only way out a hole is to dig it deeper and play the blame game with well designed flowering speeches. As a result it has created an unbelievable economic monster that will need to be feed and pampered with uncertainty for years to come.
As my business has almost come to a customer standstill, I find myself saying things like:
• “ Things must get better”
• “Try to be positive”
• “hang in there”
• “This can’t be happening to me”
• “Where will I work if my business fails?”
• “ This is too humiliating”
• “I refuse to be embarrassed”
• “ I hate being in debit”
• “I hate being tested”
• “ I hate going through this”
• “I’m not going to feel guilty, I didn’t do anything wrong”
• “Where are my customers?”
• “How did this happen?”
• “ I’m just out of energy”
• “It’s too exhaustive”
• “I could cry but I’m out of tears !!!!!
• “I could scream but no one would listen”
• “I could pound the pavement, but I would only hurt my fist”
• “I could get angry but it wouldn’t solve any problems”
• “ if I sell everything I would take a great financial loss” ”,
• “How will I close my business if it goes belly up?”,
• “I know God cares about me by why isn’t He doing something about this?”
• “cast your cares, for He cares for his own”
• “Be patient”
• “Stop worrying, it’s all in God’s hands”
• “Where is your faith?”
• “Don’t give up”
• “Keep pushing”
• “God knows my needs”
• “God will never leave me nor forsake me”
• “It’s in His hands”
• “Thirty years from now none of this will matter”
• “if Christ returns it won’t matter”
• “God has provided for me this long, what makes me think He’ll dump me off mid stream and abandon me?”

Then I talk to others and they give me advice.

• “You need to pray about it”. My response is ( “I do”)
• “You worry too much”. (“that’s easy for you to say, you’re not the one losing ”)
• “File Bankruptcy”, (‘that’s not my first choice, but I will if I have to”).
• “Start selling things”. (“would you like to buy something…it’s all for sale”, and besides no one has any money”).
• “Sell stuff on EBay”. (“I need big bucks to survive at this point not twenty dollars at a pop and I don’t have the time to monitor the items and box them up and mail them”).
• “You need to think smarter and not harder” (“thanks….i really do try to do that, but if the new ideas aren’t there, then I can’t just come up with a solution”.)

So as I’ve tried to be patient and trust that things will stabilize I’m trying to figure out what to do to rescue the business as it consumes my head to a level of constant anxiety even though my dignity as a man has been challenged and the fear of the unknown has set in.

I know there are still things that I can do and yet I realize that this is a colossal problem bigger than me. This same grief is being felt across America as thousands of businesses are closing their doors; people are losing their jobs, people are going bankrupt and are being forced out of their homes. They are faced with similar bad news and millions are feeling the stagnation in the economy nationwide just as much as I am and in many cases more than I.

Last week as an example my wife had a knock on the front door and the electric company informed her that they were there to cut off our power unless we could come up with money to pay our bill. She had to write them a bad check just to keep them away. Then she called me at work with the news and I had to transfer funds from the almost empty business account to cover the check. She was also informed that they had cut off several homes that had small children and they couldn’t do anything about it, there is truly something wrong with this picture.

Today I got an unexpected phone call at work from a Christian friend of mine who also has a business. I shared some of my concerns over the phone with him and he decided to stop what he was doing and he came to my shop and I took me out to lunch. Both he and I related to the seriousness of the challenges we were both facing and neither one of us walked away knowing what tomorrow will bring. One thing we both agreed to is that Christ has a plan and a purpose for each of us and He cares for us. We also know that if we do nothing we will be buried up to our ankles in debit as our business are washed away like the sand on the beach. This is not a time for complacency but rather determination and attentiveness. It’s a time to trust in the Lord and to be patient.

When Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were fishing all night they could not catch anything. Then Jesus appeared along the shore line and called out to them to cast their nets on the other side of their boat. When they did, they had so many fish that their nets could not hold what Christ provided for them. I believe that if Christ can direct the fish of the sea He can also direct my customers and the flow of my business in spite of what is happening in the world around us. I wrote this because many of you are experiencing similar issues and wish someone would hear you concerning your trials in life. My trials may be the same as yours or slightly different from yours but yours are equally as painful and hunting. I believe that Christ has the answers for each of us and we need to let go and trust God through these difficult times. I know that I am a strong willed person who has lot of energy and wants to succeed, but I also realize that without Christ I am nothing. Life can be humbling and the needs can be staggering but when we look at the bigger picture we realize that God has everything under control and we need to take our hands off the wheel, learn to take a back seat and watch God deliver us.