The fickle finger of fate

Here’s a story that will leave you in stitches.

I know it left me that way.

I was eagerly anticipating driving to Beersheba Springs tonight for a cookout in honor of the 20th anniversary of Mountain T.O.P.‘s Adults In Ministry program. There is an AIM camp going on this week, and the traditional Wednesday night program was opened up to guests in celebration of AIM.

I did not know about the corresponding event which took place during the June AIM week until after it had taken place, and I would have loved to have been there. So I didn’t want to miss this week’s event.

I slipped away from work at 3 p.m. and stopped by the apartment to pick some things up and do a little, um, business before heading up the mountain. I was re-buckling my belt when the reversible buckle broke.

No problem; I would stop in Tullahoma, on the way, and buy a new one at Walmart. That’s just what I did. I was in the parking lot, putting my purchases into the back of my car, and I wanted to cut the plastic hanger off the new belt so that I could wear it right away. I had a retractable utility knife, which my father had given me for Christmas, which would do the job quite nicely. I used it to cut the plastic hanger, and I also cut a three-centimeter gash in the side of my index finger.
Continue reading

Busy weekend

Well, I went to the Mountain T.O.P. year-end party Saturday night at Cumberland Pines in Grundy County. It also served as a tribute to Jeff Grammer, who’s leaving the ministry after several years of faithful service.

Even though LEAMIS and Mountain T.O.P. have no official connection, there’s some overlap between the pool of volunteers for one and the other, due to the fact that LEAMIS co-founder Gail Drake is the daughter of Mountain T.O.P. founder George Bass and worked for Mountain T.O.P. for many years. I saw two members of my LEAMIS Kenya team at the Mountain T.O.P. party last night. The first was my dear pal Jan Schilling. I already knew Jan was coming with us to Kenya. But then I saw Sandy Hayostek, who told me that she will be coming along as well, and bringing her sister, whom I don’t believe I’ve ever met. Sandy was part of the 2006 Kenya team on which I served, and it will be good to be in mission with her again.

Andy Borders from my church had been on the mountain since Friday night helping with the pig roast. I rode up and back with his wife Edna Lee.

After getting back into Shelbyville at 10 last night, Andy and I both had to get up very early this morning to cook men’s club breakfast at church.

Then, this afternoon, I drove to Tullahoma to — well, I don’t think I’m going to tell you yet what I did in Tullahoma this afternoon. We’ll wait and see how it turns out.

Anyway, it’s been a busy weekend.

Pig on the mountain

For many years, Mountain T.O.P. has had a party or gathering in early January. The main purpose of it is to serve as a reunion for people who have served on the ministry’s summer staff, but invitations go out to a variety of groups — current and former board members, recent campers from our adult ministry, and so on. The event used to be in Nashville back when the ministry’s offices were in Nashville, but now it’s held at Mountain T.O.P.’s base camp and headquarters, Cumberland Pines, in Grundy County.

This year, Andy Borders from my church — one of the best cooks I know, and a big Mountain T.O.P. supporter — was asked to do a pig roast. Andy’s never roasted a whole pig before, but I can guarantee you it will be delicious.

I thought I was going to have to miss the gathering, but my work schedule changed and I’m able to go after all. Edna Lee, Andy’s wife, called me yesterday. Andy went up to the Mountain on Friday to get things started, and Edna Lee will be joining him today. She asked if I wanted to ride with her (and ride back with Andy, whom she suspects will be quite tired by the end of the evening and who will be pulling a trailer).

I’m hoping that my books arrive in the mail today so that I can take them with me to the event, in case any of my Mountain T.O.P. friends is interested in one. (I may even wear my “Ask Me About My Novel” button.)

Should be a fun evening. Then, after we return to Shelbyville, both Andy and I will have to get up early Sunday morning to cook men’s club breakfast at church.

I take back my haiku

There was a haiku contest at BarCamp. Here, from memory, was my entry:

My door prize ticket
Flew away on crimson wings
I can win no swag

I don’t know if I would have won or not; it probably doesn’t matter, because I think you had to be present to win the prize.

The haiku was about the fact that I misplaced my red door prize ticket shortly after going through registration. I went through my pockets, through the tote bag that each attendee received, and through the pages of various handouts in said tote bag. I couldn’t find the ticket anywhere. And there were some good door prizes, and lots of them!

At about 2:30, I realized it was an hour until the only remaining session that I was interested in seeing — and I wasn’t interested enough to kill the hour. So I got in the car and headed home.

Just now, I dumped out the contents of my tote bag, and do you know what I found? You guessed it. Ticket #284037. It looks like I had not won any of the prizes announced at the time of this blog post.

Anyway, I’m very glad I went. I saw some terrific sessions in the morning and early afternoon, and I got to have lunch with my Mountain T.O.P. buddies Gavin and Erin Richardson and Chris Smith, all of whom were at BarCamp. I knew Gavin and Erin would be there; Chris, who now works for a company that designs web sites for recording artists, was a pleasant surprise. Chris and his wife Amy gave me a brief introduction to geocaching a few years back, and so we talked about the huge geocaching event that will take place next year in Bell Buckle.

I plan to write news stories about at least one, and possibly two, of the sessions. I may also look at setting up a Twitter account for the Times-Gazette.

I was also near sports royalty and never realized it. BarCamp was held in meeting rooms at the Sommet Center, the home of the Nashville Predators. A well-known Nashville blogger posted on Twitter that he had seen Terry Crisp, the former NHL manager who is now the beloved color commentator for the Preds, walking down the corridor next to the meeting rooms accompanied by … Gordie Howe. Depending on which of the meeting rooms I was in at the time (or perhaps I was elsewhere in the corridor), I couldn’t have been more than 50 or 100 feet away.

On board

Gail Drake, co-founder of LEAMIS International Ministries, the group with which I take my foreign mission trips, and Frank Schroer of the LEAMIS staff stopped by the Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry weekend I attended. Gail’s father founded Mountain T.O.P. and she was its director of adult ministry for many years, and Frank worked for a good while with the AIM home repair ministry. So it was a great chance for them to catch up with old friends whom they don’t see that often. I enjoyed sitting with Frank at dinner.

At one point, Gail came up to me in the dining hall.

“When do you rotate off the Mountain T.O.P. board, John?” she asked.

“I rotated off at the end of last year,” I told her.

The next thing I knew, I had agreed to serve on the LEAMIS board of directors. My first meeting will be at the end of the month.

My AIM weekend

I had a terrific time. Here are some highlights:

I was on a great MPT, and it was a wonderful weekend, a time of spiritual renewal and a great time with old and new friends. But it was long, and tiring, and I’ve spent part of today over at my parents’ house with my sister and her kids — also a wonderful time. I’m pooped, and glad I don’t have to go in to work tomorrow. But I do have a lot to accomplish in the next couple of days: work on my sermon for Sunday, work on my lay speaking lesson for Wednesday, get ready for a radio interview I’m doing on Wednesday morning, and try to clean up the pigsty that is my apartment right now. Some vacation!

First day

Emotionally, I felt at times like I wasn’t contributing enough at the job site today — but I sure am tired this evening.

We were working on a very small trailer, and at times there just wasn’t enough room for everyone to be inside and busy. Early in the morning I took it upon myself to cut the linoleum for the bathroom, and I spent several hours after that worried that it would be wrong — and we know Mountain T.O.P. is trying to make the best use of materials this time of year, and another job site was waiting on the other half of our sheet of linoleum. Happily, it all worked out. I was very pleased.

Unfortunately, not everything in the bathroom was as successful. We had trouble re-connecting the3 sinks, and with a bad leak right at the time we had to leave we had no choice but to leave the water off at the job site. The woman for whom we were working was fine with that, but her son, not so much.

We had to rush back to camp, and I was scheduled to host a table for dinner tonight. I didn’t have time to shower before dinner– I just changed T-shirts and hoped I didn’t offend my guests too much.

Gail Drake and Frank Schroer were visitors at dinner tonight, and it was nice catching up with them. I sat next to Frank at dinner.

A quick note

I’m here at Camp Cumberland Pines in Altamont for my Mountain T.O.P. weekend. It’s a good group. I wound up on a team with Andy Borders from my church — normally, we try to keep too many from the same church from serving on a team together, but in this case it worked out. I think it’s a great team, and we have a lot on our plate for Friday and Saturday, including drywall and linoleum.

My learning disability

Mountain T.O.P.

Mountain T.O.P.

For the past few weeks, I’ve thought several times about Mountain T.O.P. Although it’s been less than a year since I rotated off the board, it’s been several years since I’ve been able to attend one of the summer Adults In Ministry camp weeks. They wind up falling right around the same time of the summer as my foreign mission trips. But I really miss Mountain T.O.P. and want to go back at some point.

Meanwhile, I had to cancel my plans to travel to North Carolina next weekend, but I held on to the vacation days. It will be good to have a few days off, but I didn’t want to just lay around the apartment for six days straight.

It plays out like a sitcom scene. I was just too stupid to put two and two together until yesterday, when it occurred to me that Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry is having some of its fall weekend events this month. In fact, one of them will take place … next weekend.


I’ve made last-minute arrangements to attend. Unfortunately, the fall weekend events are home repair-only; I won’t have the option of working with kids or teenagers from the Cumberland Mountains the way I do when I go during the summer. And you don’t get exactly the same experience from the long weekend that you do at one of our week-long camps. But it will be great to be back up on the mountain, in the unique Christian community that characterizes a Mountain T.O.P. event.

The AIM weekend will run from Thursday night through Sunday morning. So I’ll still have a few excess vacation days (most of Thursday and Sunday, all of Monday and Tuesday) in which to relax and perhaps to clean up my pathologically-filthy apartment.

There’s still time and room for any of you reading this to join us, if you’d like. More information is available at the web site.

End of an era?

I have served three separate four-year terms on the Mountain T.O.P. board, with one-year breaks in between: 1994-97, 1999-2002, and 2003-07. I’ve been secretary of the board much of that time. Tonight was the last board meeting of my current term.

It’s time for a break, and I wanted one. This has been an unusually difficult and stressful term; several years ago, the board was forced to make some gut-wrenching decisions that upended the ministry. During this term, the ministry relocated its offices from Nashville to Altamont, went through a near-complete changeover in staff, and reinvented itself in ways that have both taken it into the future and restored it to its roots.

Under the leadership of our new executive director, the Rev. Ed Simmons (and, boy, am I proud to have served on that search committee), the ministry has stabilized and is on the upswing. We are ending the year in the best financial shape I’ve ever seen as a board member.

As we discussed during tonight’s meeting, the very fact that our programming has been simplified and stabilized, coupled with the need to keep the ministry financially healthy, means that we need a board which is less active in programming and more active in fund-raising. And since fund-raising is my great weakness as a board member, maybe this is a good time for me to step aside, at least for now.

But I’m still a little melancholy about rotating off. I don’t plan to disappear; I am sure that the staff will still call on me for things like press releases, and I certainly plan to encourage them to do so. Because of my foreign mission trips, I’ve only been to Mountain T.O.P. as a camper once in the past three years, and I need to change that.

I’ll hopefully be going to the year-end party on Jan. 5, and they’ll probably say something about the departing board members at that time.

Our board meeting tonight was unusually festive — board member Sally Chambers invited us to have a dinner meeting at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, where she is youth minister. It was a great meal and a great way to celebrate the ending of a successful year.

And maybe, for me, the end of an era.