The Sneakers – by Mark LaGrone

Exciting for me this is my first fictional short story that has been published! I was not sure what to write so I Googled “trigger words” and picked the word “sneakers”.   I hope you enjoy the story.

The Sneakers

by Mark LaGrone

 

Standing next to the trashcan, his hand hovered above the dark hole. How could he just nonchalantly drop them into the bucket like leftover coffee grounds? He looked intently at the shoes. He remembered the first time he pulled them from the box. They were bright and shiny and had that awakening smell of new leather. Now they looked more like a shoe version of the velveteen rabbit. Why was this so hard? They were just an ordinary pair of sneakers, nothing special. His mind drifted back to the day he first saw them.

He had seen them in the window. Nothing in particular made them stand out. They were dull by some standards. Yet, something triggered a feeling inside him. Maybe it was a throwback to his childhood or some form of subtle advertising that reached only his subconscious, he did not even remember. But oh, that feeling of oneness and comfort; it was like meeting someone for the first time, yet feeling like you’d known them all your life. He just knew he had to have them no matter what they cost.

Five years out of college and he still dressed like he was a sophomore: jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. Who needed more than that? Change and growing up was hard. Not wanting to conform, but still not wanting to stay the same. A lot of life had happened since the first day that the shoes came out of the box. Gradually his peers had transitioned their wardrobes. His best friend from high school, Toby, was not even recognizable. He always had longer hair, not quite ponytail length, but longer than the average man’s. He looked as if he should be on the cover of a Nashville music album, scruffy stubble on his thin muscular face, ripped jeans and shirt halfway tucked into his jeans. After graduation, Toby had landed a job in a law office, and suddenly he changed overnight. Toby became Tobias. The hair, corporate cut; face, clean-shaven; nails, manicured; clothing, Brooks Brothers and Hugo Boss. His friends were making changes and growing; why did he hate it so?

His sneakers were still new and could be worn to events, especially by a recent college graduate. Getting married seemed to be the only traditional thing he was doing in his life. The ceremony was a casual affair held in the park where they met. There were no creases in the leather, yet somehow it seemed appropriate to start their marriage relationship together wearing his sneakers. He looked at his bride and wondered how God had blessed him with such an unbelievable person. They had started dating his senior year in high school and continued their relationship through college. She was a vital part of everything on campus: cheerleader, Editor of the paper, and high-ranking member of some sorority whose Greek letters he could never remember. She was outgoing and the exact opposite of him. He preferred to stay in the shadows. He only had three real friends growing up, but they were closer than brothers were.

Now he was standing across from her in his new pair of sneakers, jeans that were dark, and a starched shirt.  Wearing a white summer dress, she looked more beautiful than ever. They were starting their new life together. The minister finished the ceremony, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Six weeks later when he was interviewing for a new job, he woke up that morning and laced up his sneakers. If his mom knew he was wearing sneakers to a job interview, she would have killed him. He did not care. It was a casual environment, and he thought if they wanted him, it needed to be based on what he could bring to the job, not what he looked like. Besides, when he dropped off his application, he had seen some guys around the office wearing Khakis with sneakers.

He always thought that was a weird look, but he thought he would give it a try since it was an interview. When he walked into the office he began to feel out of place, but it was too late now. Everyone had on a coat and tie. He gritted his teeth and walked into the interview. They glanced down at his shoes as they were making notes. Forty-five minutes later, he walked out with the job, shoes and all. It was a good feeling. After his marriage and the job interview, they had become his “lucky” shoes.

Three years later as he was walking down the hall of the hospital, his shoes squeaked and made light noises. He turned into the room where his wife was laying. There was a slight noise like the cooing of a dove. He looked down at his new, healthy, infant daughter. Thankfully, she looked more like her mother than him. They both looked beautiful as the baby snuggled next to his wife. They had been trying to have children for two years, and when he got the news, he was both nervous and excited. People asked, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” all the time. Truthfully, he did not care; he only wanted the baby to be healthy. Now in this moment, he realized that he did not know anything about girls. He was raised in a family of boys who wrestled and punched each other growing up. His thoughts were every parent’s first thoughts. “I hope I don’t screw her up.”  Yes, they were his lucky shoes.

The shoes ran out of luck two years later as he sat beside his dad in the hospital. Of course, even lucky shoes could not overcome bad eating habits, two packs a day, and no exercise. Still, hope lingered. His dad had been his mentor, advisor and friend. He was always vibrant and full of life. Now he lay here in the bed, pale and drifting in and out of consciousness. For the first time in his life, his dad looked helpless. The two of them had always been able to fix any situation and problem. This time there was no fixing. You just had to accept. All he could do was pray and trust God. He knew that one day he would see his dad again in heaven, but it still hurt to lose someone you loved and admired.

He thought about the day they buried his father. He endured the pain of the tight dress shoes that were appropriate with a coat and tie. Funny how he felt numb everywhere except his feet, they were in pain. How did people wear this kind of shoe every day? All he could think about was getting out of these shoes and back into his sneakers. Finally, after the last person left he made a quick exit. He laced up the shoes that, after five years, perfectly outlined his feet, imperfections and all. Together they raced out the door, running with no particular direction except only to escape. Twenty minutes, thirty, forty-five, he kept going. Tears streaming down his face and the cold wind blowing, he just wanted to keep going. When he could run no more, his lungs burning, out of breath, he bent over at the waist looking down at the shoes that had been his daily companion for so long. They were becoming worn and scuffed.

His wife said, “Things don’t last forever, you need to replace your shoes.” Yes, he knew that—just as he knew they had developed a “certain smell”, but still they had been through so much together. How could she suggest that he throw them away? Did she not know they were his lucky shoes? They had been together through their marriage, his job, and their child. All of that was due in part to his lucky shoes.

Looking down at the dark hole once again, he began to notice the fading whiteness, the numerous holes, and the paper-thin rubber soles of his shoes. Thump! The sound seemed so loud when the shoes hit the bottom of the trashcan. Maybe they were like a certain Velveteen Rabbit from a children’s story where they were worn down by being loved too much. Crazy to be an adult and miss a pair of shoes; yet, to him they were a friend and a constant companion.

There was a pair of leather Alden shoes that had caught his eye in a window yesterday. They cost more than four pair of his sneakers added together. Maybe it was time for the pendulum to swing the other way. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to grow up and change.

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“Doctor Who – The Blood Trail” by James Goss

dr whoReading is not just what I do to stay current at work, but it is also the way I relax. Therefore, when an opportunity came to review a book that would be just for fun  I was excited. I have watched several of the TV shows on the BBC of Doctor Who and always enjoy them, but I am not a true fan that knows all of the details about the show.

When the book arrived I was surprised how short it was when I thought about how complex the TV shows are. However, in today’s world this length is probably a requirement. I begin my reading with great expectation. The author did a good job of writing in a style that is easy to read.

The story felt a little long on the front end. What I mean by this is the author spent a lot of time setting up the story and laying it out. However, the ending felt rushed because of this. Again, this may have been due to the length. I enjoyed the story and there were moments at the end of each chapter where I continued to read the next chapter to find out what was happening next. Overall this may be one time when the TV show is better than the book.

** Full disclosure. I was given a free copy of this book for review.

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Your Wild and Precious Life

UnknownIn the closing line of her poem “ The Summer Day” Mary Oliver asks the question “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”. There are times when we are faced with tragedy that we realize just how precious life is, but I would imagine very few of us consider our lives to be wild and precious. I love the way she puts these two words together and how they play off each other. When we think of wild we usually think of reckless abandonment, unstructured, and not knowing what crazy thing will happen next. The word precious con jours up the idea of something that is valuable, prized, and protected. Putting the two words together to describe our life is interesting.

However, as Christians this should describe what our life. Precious we understand. Most of us realize how precious life can be and we value life. Being reserved is something we seem to strive for. Wild is what we have a hard time with. Yet when you look at Jesus’s life and others in the Bible your see that their life was wild. Following God should be wild in the best sense of the word. What words would you use to describe the lives of people in the Bible? Words like: unsafe, unknown, and unconventional come to mind. The Disciples never knew what the next day would hold. I think that was part of the attraction.

By most people’s standards my life would seem pretty boring. Our family’s favorite things are eating out and going to a bookstore. Every weekend you will find us at some local bookstore just hanging out. I am also a pretty regimented person. I have my morning routines and my calendar has my appointments. It is all pretty straight forward.

I got to thinking what would have to change for my life to be described as wild and precious? Remember you are talking about the guy who for his mid-life crisis got his first pair of Kakis. ( I wanted a Blonde and a Harley, but my wife would not let me have those ) I do not think we are necessarily talking about tons of activity, but rather a shift in attitude. It is approaching each day and each hour with “God what do you want me to do or who do you want me to talk to today?” As the Holy Spirit leads me my life will take on the characteristics of Christ. I will have conversations that I would have never had, and served people I would have never know before. None of us need more activity in our lives. We need the right activity in our lives.

Tell me – what changes would you have to make for a wild and precious life?

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Storm by Jim Cymbala

UnknownIt is hard not to like Jim Cymbala’s books. He has a great blend of theology and real life stories that help you relate to what he is saying. This book is no different. It has been a long time since I have underlined this much in a book. If there were ever a book that I think is for this time in the life of the United States it is this book. The statistics he uses in the first chapter are mind opening and challenging. This set of statistics is now being used in other books that are out at the moment as well. What sets this book apart is that he does not have the same gloom and doom mindset that some of the others portray.

The main emphasis is how we need to get desperate before God and cry out to Him for His leadership. Not better programs, not slicker services, but a genuine broken heart before God. The days may be dark ahead, but Cymbala reminds us that God does some of his greatest work when everything seems at it’s worst. Our man-made systems do not hold the key, but God alone holds the key for the future and what lies ahead. No one seems to disagree’s that the church of the future will look different. God will always have a remnant.

 

** For full disclosure I was provided a free book for a review.

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A Tale of Two Singing Groups

A couple of weeks ago we had a group that was on tour that sang at our church. For the first time there are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe how incredible they were. The blending of harmony, the songs they chose to sing. There was not a person in the worship center that was not touched. To be honest my taste in music runs a little more contemporary but this was at such a high level of professionalism that you could not help but be impressed. Remember I have been in the ministry for almost 30 years so I have seen my share of groups. This was by far the best I have ever seen. I walked away from that experience thinking to how really incredible music will transcend styles of music and even ages of the people. I could truly listen to these people all day. Admittedly I have a low tolerance for music that is halfway done. I have had to listen to it my whole life.

This past Sunday night was completely different. The crowd was small, different room in the church. The group was completely different. Our senior adult choir joined in with a group of Special Needs adults from a local mission. To see these individuals worship was an experience I will never forget. They sang a song we all knew from our childhood, “Jesus Loves Me”. There was no blending of voices, no harmony, no fancy movements. Just people singing straight from their heart. Yes, my snobby music heart melted. I found myself remembering a quote from C. S. Lewis:

 

“I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”

imagesI truly got a chance to worship. It was one of those services where God touched your heart and you will not forget it. We all have preferences when it comes to music, and I do not know how the Minister of Worship survives in most churches. However, we must never forget that worship is not for us. I often hear people comment how they did not get anything out of the service. It was not for you to get anything out of; it was for you to give something to. Our purpose in worship is to give God glory.

I still believe in excellence. God wants our very best. However, we cannot forget the heart. The problem was not that one group was more spiritual than the other. Trust me, they were both worshipful. The problem was my heart. The moment it is about me, my preferences, my disdain for weak music, is the moment I have lost the focus of what I am supposed to be doing. True worship know no boundaries. I am grateful that God still teaches and speaks to me.

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If God Is Good by Randy Alcorn

ggodMany people will find this book hard to get through. Not because of the level of writing, but at almost five hundred pages it is longer than most people in the modern world are used to reading. In this day and age most people want quick answers. My suggestion is that you may want to use this book as a reference book and read the sections where you have the most questions.

The author does a good job of explaining suffering in our world. He makes an interesting statement “If God allowed less evil in the world, there would also be less good.” You eventually understand what he is trying to say, but it this book does not necessarily give you instant comfort. You have to think about what he has written and process it. This is not a bad thing in my opinion, but again the modern audience may not want to spend that much time. It is impossible to fully explain the concept of suffering in the world. There is always an element of faith and belief in God’s sovereignty. I do think he does a great job with his research and quoting of other writers. This book will help those who are struggling with the problem of evil and suffering.

Full Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for free to review by Blogging For Books

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The Numbers Do Not Tell The Whole Story

I spent time this past month at the hospital with a man who was saying goodbye to his wife. The family had been called in and she had just a little while to live. As we stood there he said “the numbers do not tell the whole story. ” He began to walk me through the numbers on the blue box above her bed. In every category that showed on the box she was within a normal range. If you just went by the numbers you would think she was in good health, but there was something going on behind the scenes that those numbers did not show. Evidently there were numbers that mattered, but they were not on the blue box.

imagesAfter I had prayer with the family I left and thought about what he said. There was a lot of truth of what he said in the church today. I have seen churches that when you looked at the numbers they looked like they were healthy, but there was something going on and they were close to death. I have seen churches who were small in numbers and you would think by just looking at their numbers they must not be healthy, but lives were being changed, marriages healed, and people growing and reaching others.

Never confuse numbers with the hand of God or the lack there of. What we measure makes all the difference. Yes, total number of people attending on a Sunday morning, and offering are indicators, but we cannot stop there. Most churches stop there because they are easy to measure, and sometimes you can get a quick “win” in those areas. Drawing a crowd is not that hard. It depends on what you are willing to do. What about markers that are harder to measure?

When I was growing up in church we used to use an envelope system to check on people’s spiritual progress. You would get so many points each week for reading your Bible every day, studying your lesson, attending worship, etc,,,, There was some accountability built in. Many times I would read my Bible only because I knew my teacher would be asking me about it on Sunday morning.

UnknownThe culture has changed and in some ways we have not kept up. When it comes to lives being changed and transformed those numbers are harder to measure. What are some areas that need to be addressed?

I believe prayer is one of those areas we need to develop ways to measure. I hardly ever meet a pastor, staff member, or church member who does not think prayer is important. Yet when you call for a time of prayer in most churches you will see the parking lot clear out. Maybe once a year you could survey your membership and see how they are doing. How many of the staff in your church have an extended time of prayer? How many fast on a regular basis? How many people are involved in our prayer ministry? How much training goes on each year for prayer such as conferences, special times of study, and sermon emphasis?

Discipleship is another area I believe we need better numbers. We can look at how many groups and people we have meeting each week. That is a good number, but a better number is how many of those groups are groups that reproduce and have gone to at least 3 generations? We always track those who attend our Sunday School and we should. However, more churches are moving to counting unique numbers. As our culture has changed more people need options than just the basic times we always offer. So they attend at other times during the week. Maybe it is a community group, or some other form of Bible study. This becomes important due to the fact of jobs, travel, and other priorities.

There are many other areas in which you can build measuring points such as marriage and family. You have to decide what is important for the health of your church; not the one down the street. Once you have decided what is important then you have to develop a system for measuring what is important to you. What will the numbers on your blue box be?

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Happy Grandparents Day

imagesToday is National Grandparents Day. I was blessed to live within two miles of my Mother’s parents. We were a small, but close family.

I think about my grandparents all the time, but especially on Sunday afternoons. I would go visit them, drink a cup of coffee, and just talk with them. Since I lived close to them they were a huge part of my life and they taught me many things. One of the greatest things they gave me was my spiritual heritage. They taught me the basics of how to live a Christian life, how to love family, give to others, and they were an example of what a Christian should be.

My Grandfather was a deacon and he spent many hours visiting the hospitals and leading people to the Lord. He was a machinist by trade, but he did more work for the Lord than most of us professionals do today. He taught me not only by the words he spoke, but the way he lived his life.

My Grandmother was a woman who knew her Bible! Very few people study like she did. She could discuss anything with you. Even in my years at seminary she still could engage me in what I was learning.

Perhaps most of what I remember is all of the laughter and love. I promise you there is not another family that laughs as much as ours. Attending family reunions was like attending Vaudeville. We taped it one year so my daughter would be able to see everyone in action when she got older. That tape is priceless now.

None of us was perfect, but you knew that no matter what happened in life you were loved. You cannot put a price on that. I thought everyone’s family was like that. However, when I got older I learned that what my family had was rare and special. As my daughter grows up and has her own family one day I hope that she can look back and see love, laughter, and a Godly example of how life is lived out.

So to all of the grandparents out there – Have a great day.

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“She Calls Me Daddy” by Robert Wolgemuth

daddyAs a father of a daughter I was eager to receive a copy of this book. I wish I had this book when my daughter was growing up. As a parent there are always things you wish you could do better. However, life does not come with do-overs. The author covers the basics in an easy to read format with a style that people enjoy reading. The book is not too long and the chapters are a good length so you can finish a section easily.

My wife and I teach a “Young Marrieds” Bible study class at church and I will be recommending this book to the fathers in the class. The author covers topics such as protecting your daughter, discipline, conversations, and faith. I liked the fact that his book was based on his experiences and not just a collection of articles he had read different places. Every child is unique and has to be related to in certain ways. This book gives you a great handle on the basics so that you can adapt the principles to your individual child.

 

This book was provided for free to me for an honest review by BLOG-NETWORK-BADGE

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Book Review: “A Caregiver? Me?” by Linda Bush

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** I was given a free copy of this book for an honest review. These are my thoughts.

This was a book written by someone who chronicled their journey in learning how to take care of their spouse who had cancer. Ms. Bush wanted to give an open and honest process of the journey. She admitted that they may have done some things that seemed different to others, but it was the way they chose to face the journey together.

I loved the way she wrote this book. There are many lessons on how to properly care for a spouse going through a journey with a chronic illness. This story is broader than one person’s journey with cancer. The couple grew up together and then drifted apart after college each having a family. Years later they began to correspond and rebuild the friendship. When she flew out to meet him was the day he found out he had cancer. She continued the relationship and loved him till the end.

This was a refreshing account of the good and the bad. Ms. Bush held nothing back. This book is a great reference for those just starting the journey or words of encouragement for those who are further down the road. My only complaint about this book is that it is only offered in an e-book format. There is a market for those who are older that need this book and may not be able to download it to read. Not all senior adults can make this step. That is a same, because everyone should have a copy of this book.

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