Monthly Archives: December 2012

At Age Twenty-One, Santa Blew It Big Time for Me

three

Usually my parents gave me clothes for Christmas presents during my years at the University of Illinois, but my mom surprised me in my senior year.

“Son, what do you want for Christmas?” she asked.

Her question caught me off guard so I thought a bit. “Well, I’d like a stereo,” I finally said.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, we’ll think about it,” she said, dropping the conversation.

I didn’t think any more about what my parents might buy me for Christmas because they were farmers.  Their incomes depended on corn and soy bean prices and sadly both grains were down in price that year. So, I had no idea what they had in mind.

A few days before Christmas, I arrived home. In the living room, the tree looked great as usual with numerous presents under it. As I sat on the sofa watching TV, mom walked into the room and stood next to me.

“Well, son,” she said, “what do you think you’re getting for Christmas?”

I rotated my forefinger above my other hand, indicating my gift would spin around in circles.

She smiled. “You always amaze me by being able to guess your present ahead of time from us,” she said, heading back into the kitchen.

My enthusiasm for Christmas soared at that moment. I’m actually going to get a stereo, I thought.

We opened presents two days later. As usual, Dad handed gifts to me in the order he wanted me to open them. Socks. Underwear. Ho hum! Striped shirt. Sweater. Double ho hum!

Then, he handed me a small package, maybe two inches by three inches.

The size shocked me, but I’m a lot like that little boy whose father believed he was the most optimistic child in the world. To prove his theory, the father covered the son’s bedroom with horse manure for his birthday and put a red ribbon on the door.

The boy came home from school, tore the ribbon off, opened the door, and screamed with joy. He ran around the room, jumping up and down in the manure.

“Why are you so happy?” asked the father.

“Because I know there’s a pony in here somewhere. I just have to find it,” said the boy.

So, I slowly removed the gift wrap, looking for my stereo and wondering where I would find it. But there in the box was a wristwatch. Although I was disappointed, I put it on.

“You figured out our surprise gift ahead of time, son,” dad said, shaking his head.

Praise God! My parents could not read my mind at that moment.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. See you after January 1st.

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A New Novel? Why Not? (Part 11)

2 cats asleep

Chapter 6

While Luke struggled at Maxi Toyota, God heated up another special project in His iron furnace, preparing her for the future. Although her name was Catherine Ann Thakkar, everyone called her Cat.

Cat’s journey began years earlier in Durban, South Africa, when her Indian mother, Leela, met a handsome musician at a concert. The short romance resulted in a pregnant Leela. But sadly, the musician caught a boat back to Mangalore, India, leaving the beautiful teenager behind to grapple with the consequences of her family and culture.

At the time, Durban’s Indian culture valued sons because they could earn money and help families with financial struggles in the South African apartheid society. Any value daughters had, depended on marriages being arranged with other families, especially wealthy ones. Unmarried daughters with children were considered a curse, often shunned by their own families.

Although the pregnancy enraged her mother, Leela remained in the small family home. Yet, the stress of working long hours for a few rand per week and the cultural shunning hurled Leela into a deep pit of despair. Each day, she struggled to put one foot in front of the other

On one especially bad day, Leela and her three year old daughter trudged home after cleaning a house. The home owner promised ten rand for the job, but ended up paying only two rand. When Leela complained, the home owner slammed the door in her face and said, “Take it up with the police, coolie.”

As Leela walked down a dirt road in Durban, she heard music and saw a well-worn tent. The lively music lifted her spirits.

“Cat, let’s stop here and rest for a bit. My legs are tired and the music is lovely.”

Leela and Cat sat in the back row on folding chairs. They listened to the music and then to the gospel message spoken by the evangelist. Leela rushed down the aisle at the altar call, praying with the evangelist for her salvation.

The two dashed home afterward to tell everyone about Jesus. Leela’s mom and brothers, all Hindus, reacted to the good news by grabbing machetes and chasing them out into the street. Standing there in the road, Leela made up her mind to follow Jesus no matter what the cost might be for her.

This decision by Leela eventually led to her marrying Raj Thakkar whom she met on a mission trip. Thakkar, a second generation Indian-America businessman, lived in San Francisco and taught economics at San Francisco State University. Although leaving her family and native land was a difficult decision, America offered a new beginning for Leela and her daughter.

Cat’s reaction to the decision brought smiles to Raj and Leela.

“San Francisco? Is that near Bollywood?”

 

Raj Thakkar’s favorite story about Cat as a child came about while he was mowing the lawn at their Mission District home in San Francisco. The five year old galloped her broomstick horse straight at him, motioning for him to stop. He turned the Toro’s engine off.

“What’s up, Princess?” he asked with a big smile.

She pushed her black cowboy hat back on her head with one hand while holding tightly onto the broomstick horse’s reins with the other one.

“Guess what, Daddy?”

“No, what?”

“Now, Daddy, don’t laugh.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“I’ve just decided that when I grow up I’m going to ride in the Kentucky Derby and also be a cartoon runner.”

“Princess, that‘s great. You’ll be the best jockey in the whole world. But what exactly does a cartoon runner do?”

“Oh, Daddy, everybody knows that,” she said in a style reminiscent of Shirley Temple. “Cartoon runners show the Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny cartoons at the movie theaters. And Daddy, promise not to tell anybody, but I’m going to let all of my friends in free.”

She giggled and grabbed her hat, waving it back and forth, content with her career goals. Then, she wheeled around and took off, seeking new adventures in the neighborhood.

(The above is the first part of Chapter 6 for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)

(Continued in Part 11)

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Christmas in Nashville With Red Hot Chili

dolly tree

Christmas in Nashville. Don’t the words evoke thoughts of Hank,  Dolly, and country in the grandest sense for the best season of the year?

Now, imagine spending Christmas in Nashville with no money, no jobs, no friends, no relatives, little gas in car, rent due, and no prospects in sight?

That’s exactly the dilemma, Honey and I found ourselves on Christmas Day, 1998. How did we end up in such a mess?

It all began a few weeks earlier in Louisville, Kentucky, the city we had just moved to in September. We had jobs and were settling into the city. But then, we felt the Lord said, “Go to Charlotte and be a part of a prayer community.”

We packed up and headed east.

The prayer group had its exciting moments, but then we felt the Lord said, “Go to Nashville.”

Thus, five days before Christmas, we arrived in Nashville with enough money to rent a studio apartment at the Residence Inn and buy a few groceries.

On Christmas Day, Honey cooked her famous chili for our feast. As far as presents, we had none  and couldn’t even afford to phone family.

To say the least, it was a long-faced holiday for us.

On December 26th, we had to move out, but where? We had no clues.

At 9 AM, I went down to the office for clean towels. The desk manager had just received a Christmas card for us with a check inside it.

Honey and I were so excited, but still we did not have enough money to continue staying at the Residence Inn. We prayed and felt the Lord wanted us to head back to Louisville, Kentucky.

On the way to Louisville, Honey phoned her former boss, asking if he needed a sales person at his furniture store. He said, “Yes and we also have a check waiting for you from the November sales period. You forgot to give a forwarding address.”

Both checks were surprises and allowed us to rent a place in Louisville.

So, why would the Lord supposedly make us jump through all of these hoops?

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land (Isaiah 1:19)

Willingness and obedience needs to be our life styles, not an every so often event. And God knows just how to uniquely develop these life styles in us.

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A New Novel? Why Not? (Part 10)

2 cats asleep

 

Chapter 4

Our sales training class consisted of eight new sales people. After introductions, we spent the morning with the human resources manager, filling out paperwork, and reading through a company policy manual. The manager’s monotone voice did little to stimulate our attention spans, but I noticed he mentioned at least ten times about our first six months of employment being probationary periods.

Ted Hopkins, the sales manager, led off the afternoon session. Hopkins, a former Navy SEAL, was a no-nonsense walrus of a man with a flattop hair cut. His red Toyota golf shirt bulged with muscles, straining to break through the fabric. His voice complemented his physique with an authority which bordered on rage, ready to be unleashed at any time and on anyone.

“Welcome to Maxi Toyota,” he said with his hands on his hips, “you have been selected to attend our sales training class. It will not be easy, but those who pay attention will excel at our dealership. Some of you may earn a $100,000 per year. Some may even be promoted to sales management positions with earnings of $200,000 to $300,000 per year. It’s up to you what you do with your training.”

He picked up a black marking pen from the table.

“Rule number 1: all auto buyers lie,” said Hopkins, walking over to an easel with a large paper tablet sitting on it. “The only time they don’t lie is when their lips are not moving. If you ask them questions about their trade-in, they’ll tell you it’s the sweetest machine they’ve ever owned. They’ll conveniently forget to mention the blown transmission and head gasket. So, how do we combat their lies?”

Oh my! I thought. What has God got me into?

Hopkins proceeded to lay out the Four-Square sales program which all of us were required to use with customers. At the heart of the program was the 4-square, a sheet of paper divided into four boxes for: the trade value, purchase price of vehicle, down payment, and the monthly payment.

But as I listened to Hopkins explain the Four-Square, it reminded me more of a street hustler’s shell game than it did a sales program. You know, three shells, a pea, and the hustler’s sleight of hand while the poor sucker ended up losing all of his money. Just like the shell game, the whole idea of the Four-Square was ripping the customer off through confusion.

Every cell in my body screamed for me to run out of the dealership and never come back, but my butt glued itself to the chair and my feet to the floor. I could not move. Yet, I felt an inner peace which caused me to relax after a while.

Two hours later, Hopkins laid his marking pen down on the table.

“Let’s take a fifteen minute break,” he said, looking at the clock on the wall. Then he added, “Stoner, could I see you for a moment?”

I stood up and walked over to him as the other sales trainees left the room.

“Stoner, I checked out all eight of our trainees on Google this morning, just to see if there was anything happening with you guys. The other seven lead pretty dull lives, but you had 150,000 results. Care to tell me a little something about that?”

My face felt hot as blood rushed to the surface.

“I was a writer and a preacher before I came to California.”

“That’s an understatement. Why didn’t you tell me you were a big deal Christian preacher?”

“The interview was short and you didn’t ask.”

“What if I tell you I don’t like preachers?”

“That’s up to you.”

“Let me ask you,” he whispered, invading my space so his face almost touched mine, “will you have any problems with the Four-Square System?”

“If I don’t ever have to lie, I’ll have no problems.”

He wrinkled his face as if I had slapped him with leather dueling gloves.

“Well, Preacher, truth in car sales is a vague, hazy concept. To the customer, it means one thing and to us sales managers, it means another. All we want you to do is be an actor on a stage and tell the customer what we tell you to say. It’s just that simple.”

We exchanged gazes for a few moments.

“Preacher, I can see I’m going to have trouble with you,” he said, backing away and shaking his head. “And I don’t like having trouble with sales people. It upsets me and makes me want to kick their butts all over the parking lot. Understand me, Preacher?”

I nodded and walked away.

For the rest of the day, we role played customers and sales people, using the Four- Square System. Hopkins acted as the desk manager and critiqued us on our presentations. None of it felt comfortable for me as Hopkins constantly referred to me as Preacher, no longer calling me Luke or Stoner. The other trainees followed his cue and likewise called me Preacher. Soon, the whole dealership followed suit and the nickname stuck.

Walking home afterward, I felt miserable. It seemed like the Lord intentionally dropped me into a den of thieves. Why would He do that to me?

(The above is the second part of Chapter 4 for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)

(Continued in Part 11)

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Christians: Let’s do the Stuff Again!

Lucy and dogs

In 1963, John Wimber (1934-1997), the founder of Vineyard Churches and Vineyard Music,  was radically saved out of his booze and drug abuse life style. He made a 180º life-turn and began studying the Bible and attending church.

One particular Sunday, after a boring service, Wimber cornered a lay leader of the church.

“When do we get to do the stuff?  You know, the stuff here in the Bible, the stuff Jesus did, like healing the sick, raising the dead, healing the blind – stuff like that?” asked Wimber.

The lay leader explained how Christians did not do that anymore, but instead, they had weekly services like the dull one Wimber had just suffered through.

“You mean I gave up drugs for that?” replied Wimber, pointing to the pews in the sanctuary.

Let’s admit it, okay? Most of today’s churches are boring.

That’s why people, especially men, are staying home on Sunday mornings. Oh, you can change the music, hire a charismatic pastor, perform Powerpoint sermon presentations, jump on the social media bandwagon, and attempt countless other slick ideas.

But when the dust settles in the sanctuary, the church will still be a last place finisher to the world’s pleasures and entertainment systems. And then someone will certainly say, “You mean I gave up drugs (or alcohol or porn or gambling or other vices) for that?”

Well, hello Christians!

“As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

If twelve bumbling, ignorant fishermen and assorted laborers who had no Bibles or formal training could turn the world upside down with miracles, what’s our excuses?

We have the only message the world needs right now and like John Wimber often said, “Everybody gets to play.”

So, let’s do the stuff again!

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