“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” – Psalm 39:4-5
“But a Breath”
Oh, those days of youth, that childhood mine,
No watches, no schedules, no checking the time.
A meander, a frolic, afternoons stretch a mile,
Surely hours of play; no, ‘twas just a short while.
Seventh grade, eighth, still young and growing,
A clock on the wall, must I get going?
Still plenty of time, a deep reservoir of breath.
An endless horizon, so many years left.
Don the gown, toss the cap, then do so again,
A glance at my gal, is she more than a friend?
Time rushes on, a watch claims my wrist,
Bosses and pressures, “to do” headlines my list.
Tears flood my cheeks, loved ones laid to rest,
They warned life is short, once thought that was jest.
Happier moments too, our nest graced with a son,
Then another one joins him, yes, parents we’ve become.
But you never see the culprit, it all happens so fast,
Leave the pedal unguarded, time steps on the gas.
The thirties rush by, the forties even quicker,
I’d argue too fast, but I’m not one to bicker.
The nest soon empties, must be some kind of trick,
The clock simply smiles, and whispers… tick, tick, tick.
Still much left to do, “bucket” headlines my list,
Ample time remains, I defiantly pound my fist.
Oh, but time rushes on, the years start to show.
More wrinkles, more pounds, no longer a sprite beau.
The memories pile up, next to a regret or two,
The realization comes, our years here so few.
I get it now, friends, how fleeting my life,
Still blessed by a Savior, and a beautiful wife.
Won’t run out the clock, still much left to do,
A poem still to write, this message for you.
Cherish each moment, till your final date with death,
The psalmist was right, each man’s life, but a breath.
An interview with Colonel Brad Johnson, Vietnam Veteran
Steve: “So, Dad, it started off as a routine mission?”
Brad: “As routine as a flying mission in a combat zone can be.”
Steve: “Late 1967?”
Brad: “Yes, not long before the Tet Offensive, which began in early ’68.”
Steve: “How did the day begin?”
Brad: “Pretty routinely. I was stationed in Saigon, piloting C-123 Providers. We hauled troops and cargo all around the country…wherever they needed to go to take the fight to the enemy. I don’t recall what our planned mission was, but we got an emergency call on the radio while in the air.”
Steve: “An audible.”
Brad: “That’s right. Emergency calls came on the Guard channel with the call sign “Hilda”. The Guard channel overrode all other frequencies.”
Steve: “So when you heard “Hilda,” you knew something had gone down or was about to go down?”
Brad: “Exactly. Our new mission was to change course and fly about 20 minutes to a remote, dirt airstrip, pick up 20-25 soldiers and transport them to another dirt airstrip near the front lines.”
Steve: “Something you had done many times before.”
Brad: “More than a thousand times that year. But this mission would be different.”
Steve: “How so?”
Brad: “When we landed, we were supposed to stay in the cockpit, keep the engines running, pick up the soldiers, and depart. But as I was taxiing, I noticed two morale vehicles with Donut Dollies nearby.”
Steve: “Donut Dollies?”
Brad: “Six or seven Red Cross ladies serving coffee and cool-aid to the troops. So, I lowered the stairs and exited the plane.”
Steve: “You were the pilot and yet you exited the plane in a combat zone to get a cup of coffee and visit Donut Dollies?”
Brad: “It was good coffee.”
Steve: “What happened next?”
Brad: “I spotted the shortest soldier of the bunch standing in line for coffee. He stood out because he had several rounds of ammunition draped over his shoulders. I walked over to him and asked, ‘Sergeant, how did the shortest guy in the company end up carrying all the ammunition?’ He replied, ‘Captain, I wasn’t this short when I started carrying it.’”
Brad: “I then had a quick cup of coffee, said hello to the Donut Dollies, and got back on the plane as the soldiers entered on the ramp in the rear.”
Steve: “And you were supposed to take them to another dirt landing strip closer to the front lines?”
Brad: “That’s right.”
Steve: “And that’s when the trouble started?”
Brad: “You could say that. About 10 minutes into the flight, sharp pain shot through my stomach causing me to double over. Something had shifted in my digestive track and it began to fill with air. The pressure on my bowels was intense and unsustainable. It was the kind of feeling you get when you’re about to experience the worst diarrhea you’ve ever had.”
Steve: “Guess that coffee wasn’t so good after all.”
Brad: “I don’t know if it was the coffee or something I had eaten back in Saigon that morning. But it was doing a number on me. I writhed in pain, which caused my co-pilot to get a little flustered.”
Steve: “So what’d you do?”
Brad: “I clenched my fists and sphincter and decided I was going to land that plane if it was the last thing I ever did.”
Steve: “The essence of bravery.”
Brad: “There weren’t a lot of options.”
Steve: “Were you able to land the plane?”
Brad: “With sweat pouring off my face and my colon bursting at the seams, I landed the plane on that short, dirt airstrip. The soldiers in the back began gathering their gear. I looked over at my co-pilot and told him I was about to literally explode. He replied, ‘Captain, go take care of it.’ Being this close to the front lines, we were supposed to drop off the troops and get out of there as quickly as possible. But I couldn’t afford to crap all over myself and the cockpit.”
Steve: “So you once again left the airplane.”
Brad: “Yep, we lowered the ramp for the soldiers to exit and lowered the stairs for me to exit.”
Steve: “But you’re essentially in the middle of a large dirt field?”
Brad: “Yes, but about 50 yards away, I spotted a small bush. It was one of the prickly ones common in Nam that you try to avoid. At this point, I figured I had about a 1 in 5 chance of being able to sprint to the bush to take care of business before the floodgates opened and my bowels emptied.”
Steve: “Bad odds.”
Brad: “Bad odds indeed…and a bad outcome. About 10 strides into my desperate sprint, I heard the terrifying sound of mortar.”
Steve: “Enemy fire?”
Brad: “No, my digestive dam had broken. I collapsed to my hands and knees as a thousand brown waterfalls exited my butt.”
Steve: “Oh my.”
Brad: “I struggled to my feet, but the aftershocks caused me to run in a zig-zag fashion toward the bush. With diarrhea cascading down the inside of my pant legs, I scrambled toward the bush, flush with embarrassment.”
Steve: “It’s a wonder you made colonel.”
Brad: “That’s the truth. Anyway, I finally made it to the little bush and positioned myself behind it. I looked up and spotted the soldiers beginning to exit the rear of my airplane. Huffing and puffing, I surveyed the damage, noting that my underwear and fatigue pants were completely soiled and would never be worn again…in Nam or any other war zone. The boots had sustained heavy collateral damage, but only on the exterior.”
Steve: “You were in Purple Heart territory.”
Brad: “Technically, no. The wounds were self-inflicted.”
Steve: “So what’d you do?”
Brad: “I stripped completely naked and tossed my soiled pants, socks, and underwear into the bush.”
Steve: “Where they remain today.”
Brad: “Probably. I then took off my fatigue shirt and t-shirt and used the t-shirt to wipe off my behind, legs, and boots. And then I tossed the t-shirt into the bush.”
Steve: “Leaving you with one shirt and a pair of boots.”
Brad: “And 50 yards back to the plane.”
Steve: “A plane with soldiers exiting out the back.”
Brad: “Exactly. I put my shirt and unlaced boots back on and began my second 50-yard sprint of the day, back toward the plane.”
Steve: “Naked from the waist down.”
Brad: “That’s right. I learned later from our loadmaster that one of the soldiers exiting the plane spotted me running across the dirt field and asked his buddy, ‘Who’s that?’…to which his buddy replied, ‘That’s our pilot.”
Steve: “But at least you made it back to the plane.”
Brad: “I did, although my co-pilot told me I stunk to high heavens. Once again, going against standard procedure, we lowered the windows for our departure and 20-minute flight back to Saigon.”
Steve: “So you piloted the plane naked from the waist down.”
Brad: “Well, I had boots on.”
Steve: “That makes me feel better.”
Brad: “We landed in Saigon and my co-pilot hollered out the window for one of the maintenance guys to loan me a poncho. I wrapped the poncho around my lower half, exited the plane, and headed toward Base Ops. The guys at Base Ops asked why I was wearing a poncho skirt. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them.”
Steve: “It’s not an easy thing to share. So, what happened next?”
Brad: “Wearing nothing but a shirt, poncho skirt, and unlaced boots, I got on my motorcycle and drove off-base to where I lived…the House of Joy, as we called it.”
Brad: “Stood for Just One Year.”
Steve: “Did you ever replace the maintenance guy’s poncho?”
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a Leadership class at Foundation Christian Academy in Valrico, Florida. In addition to discussing leadership principles and completing service projects and classroom exercises, we invited various guest speakers to visit and offer words of advice to our students.
One such visitor was Rex Dutton, long-time preacher for the Bell Shoals Church of Christ in Brandon, Florida. Rex spoke to us about life, leadership and careers. He challenged us not to settle for mediocrity, but to strive to make a difference in the world. The students listened intently, and I furiously scribbled notes from the back of the room. I later transferred those notes to the back page of my Bible.
While recently working on a writing project, I came across those notes. They are as relevant today as they were several years ago. As we prepare to embark on a New Year and the fresh start that it brings, perhaps we can find a word or two of wisdom to encourage and challenge us to make 2018 our best year yet.
Do something you’d do for free—believe in it.
Keep up with your successes—there will be offsets.
What you end up doing may be different than what you planned to do.
Don’t be dull and boring at what you do.
Have a compelling story—how God called you and is using you.
As a leader, don’t be timid. Be a lion, not afraid and confused. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Prepare yourself—know the subject. “No one in this room knows more about the subject than me.”
Expect criticism and handle it.
Speak boldly, raise your voice. Even when you don’t always feel brave, at least sound brave. (2 Timothy 2:1, 4:1-2)
If you are creative and work hard, you can make good money.
Focus…really focus. What is the most important thing I do? What is the cause within me? What am I really doing this for?
Live humbly, but pursue excellence. If your name is on the project or presentation, people should expect it to be good.
Find someone, early on, to rip you apart—seek honest criticism.
Don’t just be in the herd. Anybody can read a book, but can you write one?
Be original—you’re only a leader if someone else wants your name on their shirt. (2 Timothy 3:10)
Don’t be superficial—it won’t work in front of a real lion.
Do an inventory of your attitudes. (Matthew 5) How do I measure up?
Do an inventory of your virtues. (2 Peter 1:5-9) How can I improve?
Do an inventory of your fruit. (Galatians 5:22-25) How can I become more like Christ?
Refresh, encourage, and inspire people. (2 Timothy 1:16)
If you write annual Christmas letters long enough, you eventually arrive at the “XXX” edition! No worries though. There will be no seductive pictures of Steve’s colonoscopy scans or the two of us in our matching Elf leggings, passionately smooching under the mistletoe. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Instead, you’ll have to settle for our 30th consecutive holiday missive…a recap of two adventurers living in a 300-square-foot house on wheels.
The first big event of 2017 was the 80th birthday celebration for Steve’s dad, aka Grandpa. Grandpa’s year was highlighted by finding love again and marrying Gail, who we happily welcomed into the family. He also is courageously battling cancer which, to date, has been kept under control. He appreciates prayers but tells us not to worry about him because, “I’ve had a great life…made it to 80, which is longer than anyone in my family has. I’m not going to start complaining now.” There is peace in knowing your future is secure.
We returned to Tucson, AZ and our RV in mid-January, where Steve, aka Fob, with Janet’s superb editorial assistance, published his first novel, which chronicles his 2016 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Many reading this letter have supported and encouraged Steve’s fledgling writing career, and for that he is grateful. When we weren’t stalking extraneous commas and dangling participles in the Arizona desert, we volunteered with the Tucson Food Bank…where we learned about food bag assembly lines, harvesting broccoli and chard, and building and maintaining earthworm farms. Steve found cultivating earthworms to be remarkably similar to his Pentagon tour.
In March, we pointed the RV west and then north on an ambitious Wild, Wild West Tour. Over the next 6 months and 8,000 miles, we…
Volunteered, as Sojourners, at…
Yosemite Bible Camp, CA – tended to the mother of all burn piles at a camp heavily damaged by floods & fallen trees
Delano Bay Christian Camp, WA – prettiest spot on the Sojourning circuit; during play time, Steve learned to harvest giant clam-like gooey duck nostrils with a shovel
Yellowstone Bible Camp, MT – returned to the beautiful mountain camp we had visited 25 years ago, where Robert Redford once filmed A River Runs Through It
Rupert Church of Christ, ID – painting & VBS & more painting & more VBS
Mountain States Children’s Home, CO – home to some of the coolest kids and staff on the planet. Steve was invited to make his first Lessons Learned on the AT presentation, and has since shared versions of it at churches, schools, and civic organizations around the country.
Hiked and were inspired at 15 national parks…
Joshua Tree – named for its trees (plants), but it’s more about rock climbing
Yosemite – stunning! Our favorite overall national park!
Sequoia, Kings Canyon, & Redwood – you have to see the trees to believe them
Crater Lake – 2nd only to Yosemite in its beauty, especially with 12’ snowfall banks framing the rim
Olympic – incredible variety, including a rainforest
Yellowstone – 2nd favorite park and the best for wildlife and geothermal activity
Grand Teton – visited on an overcast day, but did see a mother Grizzly + 2 cubs
Zion – features the Narrows…best national park hike we’ve done and one of the best canyon hikes in the world; also featured a visit from relatives Dana & Cody
Arches – turns out the park is not named after parts of the foot formed by the tarsal and metatarsal bones
Capitol Reef – go for the history and 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold; stay for the warm, homemade pie at the Gifford Homestead
Bryce Canyon – went to the hoodoo-filled amphitheater & sang Bryce, Bryce Baby
Canyonlands – teared up at the spot where Thelma & Louise plunged to their deaths
Rocky Mountain – John Denver got it right
Explored several cities…
San Diego – easily our favorite CA city. Nearby La Jolla, with its magnificent shoreline and hundreds of seals, belongs on everyone’s bucket list.
Los Angeles – not fans. Horrendous traffic, smog, over-crowding, the Lakers, etc. We did enjoy attending the filming of America’s Got Talent…and the behind-the-scenes look at movie-making on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour.
San Francisco – featured Steve’s favorite West Coast city attraction…Alcatraz Island!
Portland – every city should have a Powell’s used book store
Astoria, OR – Da Goonies met Da Johnsons
Seattle – did we watch them toss salmon at Pike Place Market; ascend The Needle; and visit the first Starbucks? Of course, we did!
Hill AFB, UT – a great military RV campground to finish Fob’s Vol 2, so we did
USAF Academy, CO – another great military campground, where we watched the eclipse
In September, we traveled to hurricane-ravaged Beaumont, TX, for a week of relief work with the Church of Christ Disaster Response team. If you ever think you’ve got it bad, spend some time with people whose every last physical possession was under water. With God’s help, they and others affected by the ’17 storms will get back on their feet.
In October, we finally sold our Virginia house and happily relinquished the landlord title we’d held for 9 years. We also returned to Marshall, TX for our annual Sojourner workshop, where we caught up with “old” friends and made an appearance (along with our RV) in a few Sojourner promotional videos…viewable at sojourning.org or on Facebook at “Sojourners Evangelism.” We then traveled around the Southeast visiting friends and family we hadn’t seen in a while.
In November, we gathered with our sons and their wives for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend in Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountains. Despite arranging them private rooms, there are still no grandbabies to announce. We are excited that Jason & Rachel will be moving to Winston-Salem NC in January where he’ll begin his second year of residency in Prosthetics & Orthotics. Meanwhile, Kyle continues his ministry work with the Lafayette church near STL as he and Laci both work to finish their graduate degrees and raise Pita (a precocious Bichon Frise with her own Instagram account).
This holiday season, we’re thankful for family and friends around the country. We’re thankful for our little home on wheels. It forced us to downsize and simplify, and that has opened up opportunities around the country to travel, serve, meet incredible people, and write a few books. Mostly, we’re grateful to God for sending Jesus, a gift that keeps on giving. Merry Christmas!
The American flag represents the United States of America. I love our country and am proud to be an American. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to stand and salute the symbol of our great nation.
More than 1.1 million Americans have given their lives defending our nation and keeping it free. We fly an American flag, and not some other, because of their sacrifices. We dishonor their memory, and their next of kin who have also sacrificed, when we dishonor the flag.
I come from a long line of patriotic Americans. My grandfather served in the Army under General Patton in World War II. My dad served 29 years in the Air Force and transported troops and equipment in the Vietnam War. I served 23 years in the Air Force, including a tour in Afghanistan. Those who have stood at attention in a war zone and saluted the flag-draped coffins of their brothers and sisters in arms who have given the last full measure of devotion…are usually going to continue standing up for the country and its flag. (Exhibit A: Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
Colin Kaepernick and presumably others kneel during the National Anthem to call attention to the oppression of blacks. According to Kaepernick, “there are bodies in the street and people [police officers] getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” While 2% of black people are killed by police officers (some justified and some not, all tragic), 97% of black deaths are at the hands of other blacks. Let that sink in. If, hypothetically, 97% of any ethnic or racial group’s deaths were caused by cigarette smoking and 2% from vaccinations (some a result of malpractice), where would you devote the bulk of your protesting energy? I’d go after cigarette smoking. That doesn’t mean criminally administered vaccinations don’t matter and shouldn’t be addressed…they just make up a much, much smaller percentage of the root cause.
As far as I can tell, kneeling during the National Anthem hasn’t worked. It has divided families, sports teams, and communities. Many are now boycotting the NFL. Race relations, as far as I can tell, haven’t improved. Blacks still face oppression, as do other identity groups, most recently Christians worshipping in Antioch, Tennessee. People who are racist are unlikely to have a change of heart because Mr. Kaepernick and others kneel during our National Anthem. If anything, the protests have probably made racist people even more racist.
If racial problems/oppression justify kneeling for our Anthem, where does it end? There has been racial/ethnic oppression as long as there have been humans. It may get better…it may get worse…but it will NEVER end. There will always be crime and poverty and a host of other problems in our nation. If an imperfect nation is grounds for kneeling during the anthem, then every citizen from every nation should be kneeling. In fact, don’t even play the Anthem…or even have an anthem. And while you’re at it, don’t respect the symbolism of the cross because churches aren’t perfect. Don’t honor your deceased relatives’ graves because they weren’t perfect. Don’t respect ANY role models because they ALL have imperfections (except for Jesus Christ).
To be clear, NFL players and others have a right to kneel during the National Anthem. Many brave men and women have fought to preserve their freedom to protest and dishonor the flag. I don’t have any issue with their “right” to do so. But I also have some rights…the right to not respect them, the right to not wear their jerseys or go to their games, and the right to blog my opinion while sitting at a Starbucks in South Texas. And employers, including NFL owners, have a right not to hire them.
Rather than protest the symbol of our great nation, take action that actually addresses the problem. (To his credit, Mr. Kaepernick has done some of that.) Make friends and spend time with someone who has a different skin color than you. Volunteer in disadvantaged communities/schools to improve the lives of others, including those of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. If you’re white, spend some time with people of color and you’ll eventually witness a fraction of the discrimination/oppression they experience. If you think “cops are bad,” spend some time riding in a police patrol car to see the challenges they face in crime-ridden communities. Teach your children to evaluate others based on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. Let’s direct our energy at changing hearts, including our own, rather than disrespecting our country.
A little something for Florida youngsters to complete during the storm.
Sometimes we question where God is during a storm. But this question is about finding the ugly, nasty, hairy Irma storm in God’s Word. In Psalm 23 (New International Version), it’s possible to spell “Irma” six times sequentially without duplicating the same letter. All six “Irma” spellings have to be in order, although there will be letters between them. The first one is in the phrase “The Lord Is my ShepheRd, I lack nothing. He MAkes…” Can you find all six of them?
The state of Florida has 3 National Football League teams, 2 Major League Baseball teams, 2 National Basketball Association teams, 2 National Hockey League teams, and 1 Major League Soccer team. That makes 10 professional sports teams in Florida. One of them is the Lightning—but we don’t want to talk about lightning right now. Of the remaining 9, 6 of them have an animal mascot. Can you name those six mascots?
Why did the practice of naming hurricanes after women come to an end in 1978?
Unlike hurricanes, women are generally sweet, peaceful, calm human beings.
Meteorologists ran out of women’s names.
It made more sense to save women’s names for volcanoes.
In most regions, bad, scary wind gusts come from the men.
I’m guessing hurricane preparations in South Florida are really stressful. But stress affects different people in different ways. List the members of your family in order from the coolest and calmest to the one who freaked out and has completely lost his/her mind.
If your parents decided to evacuate Florida and take you to one of the following places for 2 whole weeks, which place would you choose? Explain your choice in excruciating detail to the person sitting next to you. They’ve got the time. They’re not going anywhere.
Suppose your parents decided to hunker down and ride out the storm in your home. They also decided you would have to eat the same meal for 7 straight days, but you get to choose a meal from the following options. Which would you choose?
Corn dogs and tater tots
Macaroni and cheese
Your favorite cereal
Unscramble the following words to get 10 named hurricanes:
If A=1, B=2, C=3, etc., what is the total point value for the following phrases:
Go Away Irma
God is with me in the storm
Be still and know that I am God
My brother smells like a manatee
Okay, so you evacuated to some random hotel. You’re not even sure what state you’re in. Pets aren’t allowed so your dad hid the dog in a suitcase under the bed. Then you find out mom only brought one movie to watch. It better NOT be…
Garbage Pail Kids
Ninja Turtles 3
There are plenty of not fun things about Hurricane Irma. But maybe some good will somehow come from it. Check off your 3 favorite things from this list of things that Irma may cause:
You get to meet and help a neighbor you never knew before.
You get to miss school.
You get to learn to operate a chainsaw.
You get to hang out in a closet or bathtub with your siblings.
You get to eat a TON of donuts and pizza and snacks and mom just doesn’t seem to care.
You get to learn new words/phrases like feederband, eyewall, storm surge, and “did we remember the cat?”
Your dad spent 2 hours in line at a gas station with the windows down and now he just sits around smiling.
Hotel hot tub!
You get to do lame Hurricane Irma quizzes!
I hope you enjoyed this little distraction from things going on outside.
If you complete the entire quiz correctly, turn it in to mom or dad after the storm is over to get a Dairy Queen Blizzard!
As we near publication of Sir Fob W. Pot’s Journey to Katahdin, Volume 2, Mob (the Mother of Boy) sat down with Fob for an interview…
Mob: “So, Fob, you are about to publish the second and final volume of your AT journey. Tell us how you feel?”
Fob: “I feel a sense of joy, relief, and excitement…like giving birth.”
Mob: “Believe me, you know nothing about giving birth.”
Fob: “Valid point, Mob. But from what I’ve observed, both processes are messy, with hopefully a good outcome.”
Mob: “How does the second volume differ from the first?”
Fob: “I think Vol 2 paints a more realistic picture of how physically difficult an AT hike is. In the first half of my journey, everything was new, exciting, and mostly fun. In the second half, we get down to business. The White Mountains and southern Maine opened a jar of whoopin’ on Fob. It was really tough at times, and I hope I captured that in this latest volume.”
Mob: “Anything else?”
Fob: “It’s longer…60 pages and 27,000 words longer. Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better, but in this case, I hope it does. I think I dug deeper and had more ground to cover.”
Mob: “You decided to self-publish both books. Why did you choose that route?”
Fob: “Three reasons. First, I wanted to get both books written and published relatively quickly…within a year of completing my hike. I’m told it can take months to even hear back from publishers (if at all), and years to see the books in print (if at all). Second, I wanted complete control over content. I didn’t want a nature-based publisher telling me to take out all the “God stuff,” nor did I want a religious-oriented publisher telling me to take out the embarrassing stuff related to bodily functions. I happen to be a Christian who had bodily functions and other embarrassing incidents happen on the trail. That was all part of my journey…my story…and I wanted to tell all of it.”
Mob: “And your third reason?”
Fob: “Writing, to me, is a creative outlet, a ministry at times, and a hobby. Like a teenager who considers working on cars his hobby, I wanted to learn the process from A to Z. Can I go from a blank sheet of paper (screen) to a published book? Can I (well, we) edit the manuscript, design the cover, create an author Facebook page, market the book, and the rest of the process? All that has been a challenge…an opportunity to learn and grow. Like that teenager, I wanted to do my own oil change and change my own spark plugs. I also want to become proficient enough to help others self-publish their books.”
Mob: “But are there downsides to that approach?”
Fob: “Absolutely. I don’t have a team of professionals doing the editing, designing and marketing for me. I also don’t get to take advantage of the distribution and marketing channels of big publishing houses. I remember walking into Powell’s Book Store in Portland, Oregon…the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world…with 68,000 square feet of books…and my book wasn’t there. Pretty humbling. If I want it there, it’s all on me.”
Mob: “And your friends and family.”
Fob: “Exactly. I rely on the word of mouth of family and friends who believe in me. They tell a friend about my book, or buy the book as a gift for someone, or order the book for their local library. I suppose if my goal was to be a “professional writer” and make a living doing it, I might have gone with a publisher. Instead, I’m a hobbyist. My goal is to encourage people…to make them laugh, to make them think, to let them experience a trail they may never get a chance to thru-hike. I love the idea that someday, my great, great, great grandchild will be able read these tales. I would love to have something…anything…that my great, great, great grandfather or grandmother wrote about his/her life and adventures.”
Mob: “For those who might be interested in self-publishing, how much does it cost?”
Fob: “Aside from hundreds, no, thousands of hours of time, it cost me $139 per book. $99 for an ISBN (which can be gotten for free but there are downsides which I won’t get into), $30 for a Facebook boosted post (also optional), and $10 to order two proof copies of the book to review (also optional). So, literally, using Amazon’s CreateSpace, I could have published both books without spending a dime. By not having to pay an editor, book cover designer, web/Facebook page designer, etc., I recouped my investment on the day of publication. That was kind of important for a fixed income couple like ourselves.”
Mob: “So, for someone who wants to write a book, they can self-publish and not spend any money?”
Fob: “That’s true. The much bigger hurdle is having the time. And having a story worth telling. There are a lot of great stories out there still waiting to be told.”
Mob: “Without giving away too many details, what else can you tell readers about Volume 2?”
Fob: “Well, Fob dies at the end…just kidding! Let’s see…I can tell you there will be some new characters…I think readers will enjoy meeting Allan from Colorado, Cousteau from Louisiana and Li, my Chinese hiking buddy. I still laugh thinking about Li. There are more flashbacks to my life…what it was like growing up a Johnson. And a few more short, historical lessons on places I hiked through.”
Mob: “And more Fob Fundamentals.”
Fob: “Of course! I learned, or was reminded of, so many lessons during my hike. So, once again, I’ve captured them as Fob Fundamentals. I got really good feedback from readers on them from Vol 1…along with one guy who thought the book was well-written but too religious for his taste. Anytime you put your creative work out there for the world to see…especially personal beliefs related to matters of faith, you can expect some pushback. I’m okay with that. Not everyone sees the world from a Christian worldview. But I’ll continue to write from that perspective, because that’s who I am.”
Mob: “Any surprises in the book?”
Fob: “If I told you, they wouldn’t be surprises. But readers may be surprised to hear my re-writes of songs from artists ranging from John Lennon to the Ooompa-Loompas. I also take on a Billy Joel classic, which I renamed, “We Didn’t Start the Campfire.” It’s amazing what enters the mind when one is alone in the wilderness for long periods of time.”
Mob: “So when does your book tour begin?”
Fob: “There’s not really a book tour, per se. But, I’ve accepted invitations to speak about my AT journey to various groups and churches in Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida, beginning in October. If we’re in the vicinity of a group interested in hearing about my tale in person, I’ll do my best to visit.”
Mob: “With all our travels, how would someone know what vicinity you’re in?”
Fob: “On our web page, bigsteveandliljan.com, there’s a link called “Current RV Travel Map” at the top. I try to keep that updated.”
Mob: “Last question. Now that you’ve completed your second and final AT book, do you have other writing projects in mind?”
Fob: “I actually have 5 or 6 book ideas swirling around in my head. The most compelling is an interesting and unique approach to a 365-Day daily devotional book. I’ve been thinking and praying about that. If I think long enough about something, the book tends to write itself.”
Mob: “One more thing…earlier, you mentioned oil changes on a car. I don’t remember you ever doing one of those.”
Fob: “Now hon, that was just an analogy. You know cars aren’t my hobby!”
“I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad Buy all of the things I never had.” – Billionaire, Bruno Mars
Janet and I are slowly making our way up the West Coast towards Washington state, where our first sojourn begins next month. We’ll be attending a workshop and then working at Delano Bay Christian Camp, getting it ready for summer camps. Along the way, we’re taking long walks on beaches, visiting historic sites, and doing other touristy things that TripAdvisor tells us we can’t miss.
We recently stayed at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, southeast of Los Angeles. Before missiles and ammunition are loaded on Navy ships from the Pacific fleet, they are stored here. Surrounded by bunkers and other restricted areas, we were about as heavily protected as RV dwellers can be.
Being movie buffs and in the vicinity of Los Angeles, we signed up for the Warner Brothers Studio Tour followed by the driving tour of celebrity homes. Warner Brothers was amazing…a behind-the-scenes look at how movies and tv shows are made. We toured the Big Bang Theory sets, the massive movie props archive, and the fake outdoor neighborhoods which are transformed into something that looks real. We played Quidditch and rode Batman’s motorcycle against green screens and sat on the Friends’ couch. While passing Kathy Bates’ RV positioned behind a soundstage, I wanted to tell her, “Hey, we live in an RV too!”
Next came the celebrity homes tours. Most celebrities are well off the beaten path, protected by high fences and manned security gates. I suppose they are trying to avoid people like…us. I can’t blame them. Other homes are partially visible at certain angles, or fully visible but off in a distance. As we drove along Mulholland Drive, our tour guide rattled off a who’s who of celebrities…
“To the left is Sacha Cohen’s home…he’s better known as Borat.”
“Over there…Drew Carey’s home.”
“Off to the left and down, along the canyon, that’s where Katy Perry lives.”
“Up on the cliff…way up…with the American Flag flying…that home belongs to Capt. America…Chris Evans.”
“Look down this driveway. Oh, check it out! I think that’s her getting out of her car! Yep, that’s Charlize Theron!” (Upon seeing us, she ducked back into her car until our tour bus departed. That might have been her only chance to meet Fob!)
“Way down there in the valley…the big one…that’s Bruno Mar’s $18M mansion.”
“Up on that ridge, the big one on the left…Gwen Stefani’s mansion…used to be owned by J-Lo.”
“Off to the right…see those big gates? Behind that is the mansion where they tape The Bachelor.”
This list went on and on…Tyler Perry, Adam Levine, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Warren Beatty, Sting, Justin Bieber, Donald Southerland, Jaclyn Smith, Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, etc. As we drove through Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and other high class neighborhoods, I was struck by the over-the-top luxury and million dollar views. Janet and I discussed what it would be like to live like that…with a personal staff attending to every need and millions of adoring fans. Lush gardens, multi-level swimming pools, luxury cars, fountains…the entire world at your fingertips.
It was impressive, to say the least. For a moment, I got caught up in it. I picked out my home…sorry, Bruno, you gotta move. I imagined living the celebrity lifestyle and having what they have. I’d get a daily massage, for sure. I’d drive a different high-end sports car every day of the week. Or maybe I’d have my chauffer drive me. (I’d probably keep the Honda Fit as a reminder of my humble beginnings.) My personal chef would fix all my favorite meals (OK, so I kinda have that now). My clothes would be designed by Ralph Lauren, rather than Bob Dorsey. No wonder these people are always smiling on the Red Carpet, happy to be alive.
My fantasy celebrity bubble burst towards the end of the tour. Our guide reminded us that things aren’t always as they seem…
“That mansion to the left…that’s where Michael Jackson lived. When he overdosed and died, they took his body by ambulance right through those gates.”
“Behind that hotel over there, the Chateau Marmont…see the bungalow behind it? That’s where John Belushi injected a mixture of cocaine and heroin…it killed him.”
“See that purple awning over there? That’s the Viper Room. River Phoenix died there of a drug overdose. Collapsed on the sidewalk just underneath the awning.”
“Off to the right…the glitzy Beverly Hilton. Fifteen years ago, in room 434, Whitney Houston overdosed and drowned in the bathtub.”
Had we had more time, I suppose we could have morbidly driven by the homes of other celebrities who died tragically…Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, Anna Nicole Smith, Nicole Brown Simpson, Chris Farley, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, etc. An even longer list would include celebrity families ravaged by divorce, infidelity, and other issues.
I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with being super wealthy, or that all (or even most) celebrities will overdose on drugs or have messed up families. There are good and decent celebrities…Tom Hanks comes to mind. Many of them give large sums of money to worthwhile causes…a good thing. I’m also not suggesting that normal, middle class people don’t have drug overdoses or messed up families. These problems affect all classes of society.
My point is simply this: be careful who and what you idolize. God doesn’t call us to be rich, famous celebrities. He calls us to be humble servants, taking care of the needs of others. While it’s possible to do both, that’s no easy task. No wonder Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:23) He didn’t say it was impossible…just hard. With so many distractions and so much luxury surrounding you, I can see where it might be hard to find a need for Jesus. With so many adoring fans and so much seemingly going for you, it might be hard to turn your life over to Jesus and let him call the shots.
If you’re not a follower of Jesus, then perhaps you’ll consider the words of a mere mortal who has “been there, done that.” Jim Carrey once commented, “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they dreamed of so they can see it is not the answer.”
“The answer” is not found in an $18 million mansion on Mulholland Drive. The answer comes from Solomon, another rich man, in Ecclesiastes 12:13 – “Now all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”