Minister Dennis Cook
Here is the first chapter (theme chapter)of my book titled:
(Stories between Hure and Hope)
(still in need of editing)
What if people really knew who we are…
When hurt imposes its crabby will on our lives many of us lock up the scars in our private journals. We write down stuff that is for our eyes only. It’s a safe place to hide our fears, failures and frustrations with our self, our friends and even God. Journals are never meant to be read to the world, because if we did they would reveal who we really are… What we really think… How we really feel… Nobody really wants to undress their souls in front of others to be made fun of, me included.
Somewhere behind the Halleluiahs, Praise the Lords and God is Good stuff, there is this real place that only our journals have enough grace to accept. It’s a place where 1+1 doesn’t equal 2. It’s a place where you mix red and blue and get grey, lots and lots of grey. It’s a place where you said “I do” and 2 years later she said “I’ don’t.” It’s a place where it’s always dark even in the light. It’s a place where you are mad at God and feel He’s mad at you. That’s what journals hold, the stories of our lives not the way we always want them but the way they really are.
When God invited me to write a book exposing “my Journal” to the world I politely rejected Him. Okay not real politely. I said “There is no way I am ever going to reveal what I spent a life time concealing.” “God I’m a pastor and theses stories don’t make me look good as you know some don’t even make me look like a Christian.” “God how about you and I make a deal?” “On my 47th book I will let the world snoop around in my journal, but not my first.” I refused to hand over the key to my journal knowing God would just blab it to the whole world. “I will not write a book that makes me look way more human than Holy.”
That all changed one day when four no five strangers walked into McDonalds a few years back. There were four adults by age only and a plump lady chaperoning them. You could see they all got jipped on some of the things you and I take for granted each day. Being a bit bored I watched their every move. These four could do virtually nothing by themselves. One of the guys was trying to Pour Ketchup and let’s just say he got it everywhere but in the tiny white paper cup. (More about that in chapter one)
As I eaves dropped on their flaws, failures and frustration I realized theses beautiful people had no “journals” to hide who they really are in. Everyday this quartet of broken folks are forced to live out their frail lives totally exposed to a world who talks more about them than to them.
It was like God was saying I want you to write like these people live every day, an open journal to the world. The stories you are about to read have been suffocating in beige pages between the covers of my leather journal for years. I no longer am forcing them to plug there noise and hold their breath. With MUCH FEAR I am inviting you into the pages of my life. Being truthful I am very scared of what people will think of some of my less then flattering entries. For me it is easier to just to fake in public and take my chances with my journal.
I dedicate Pouring Ketchup to a amazing cast of characters you will shortly meet. Many of them as you would say are not “church goin folks.” Some have been sucker punched by a life that they didn’t sign up for. Some are standing on the edge wondering if there is a God, NOW would be a good time to show up. Some find life a bit more difficult than the Sunday morning sermons makes it sound. Some are rotting from the inside out because they can’t forgive themselves or others. But most of all I dedicate Pouring Ketchup to four strangers who let me eaves drop on their open journals without fear of what I would find.
Here is the good news about this book crammed with stories. It is a fact that God really does know who we really are and he still Love us. As you start I pray a prayer for you that my young daughter prayed for me when I almost let fear keep my Pen in my pocket. “Dear God Help dad to know you’re with him and you are always in the stories even when he can’t see You, You are holding his hand, Amen.”
I pray you will find hope in your story as you read about others looking for it in theirs. What would it be like if we let people knew who we really are? What would it be like if we shared a few of our entries between Hurt and Hope? Well I’m about to find out…
I’m sitting in a booth at McDonalds in Kalamazoo, Michigan, trying to slop a little black ink on a white page for a book I’m working on. I have a severe case of writer’s block. It is so frustrating to have over fifty years of life under your belt and yet feel you have nothing important to share with the world. I have thoroughly grazed through the card catalog of my past trying to think of something clever to pass on, but with no luck. Feeling like I have all this really profound stuff jammed up inside of me but don’t know how to get it out. I don’t want to write just to write. I never started out to write this book because I wanted to say something, but rather because I have something to say.
The thought quietly kept tumbling through my mind, “Dennis, what if you had the microphone and you could tell the whole world one thing, what would it be?” It was an interesting question, but still no answer. This morning I have occupied this booth for two and a half hours and 27 Cokes. I am kind of whining to God. “Hey, I’m here to write this book that You asked me to write, but you’ve got to kick in a few paragraphs.” There is nothing from Heaven falling on my booth or my book. So I patiently stay cemented in my borrowed office, just watching people.
After a few minutes of this public surveillance thing, a plump middle age African American lady walked in chaperoning four white people, all of whom, you could tell, had been dealt a less than desirable hand in life. They all would be considered adults by age only. The four strolled in giggling and poking each other like they were at a Junior High Dance. Their clothes were as outdated as their hair styles, but they sure were glad to be dining at McDonalds.
My eyes are eavesdropping on their every move. One of the men was trying to pour ketchup in a miniature white paper cup. He kept pumping the button yet always missing the cup and ketchup was flopping everywhere. Another lady was trying to put the lid on her Coke but couldn’t figure out what size fit. Another one kept missing her mouth as she tried to eat her salad. Her face had ranch dressing smeared all over it. One man just kept rocking back and forth, smiling and grunting out more sounds than sentences that only he seemed to understand. After what seemed like four hours of them fumbling around trying to eat a meal that would have taken me five minutes to inhale, they were almost done.
I begin to imagine how different our lives were. I can pour ketchup, pick lids and hit my mouth 99 % of the time. I can order my own food. I can go to the bathroom by myself. I can dress myself and tie my own shoes. Yet all these things are an uphill struggle every day of their lives. My life seems so different from theirs. Who makes that call when a person is born, this one can pour ketchup and that one can’t? This one can eat and that one has to be feed. Though our two booths were only inches away, yet it seemed like the Grand Canyon separated our lives. I felt a little guilty for feeling so blessed.
Then I sensed God nudge me to do something that completely surprised me. He said, “Ask them what they would say to the whole world if they had the microphone.”
“Whoa, God, weren’t you paying attention? Didn’t you see what I saw?” It just seemed odd to ask a person what they would say to the whole world if they couldn’t “pour ketchup.” I was desperate, so I got out of the booth and took the three inch walk.
I politely introduced myself to the woman who was in charge. She was wearing a jet black t shirt with red and silver sequins that boldly spelled out one word, LOVE. It seemed like her shirt fit better in Vegas than in McDonalds but, oh well… I explained to her that I’m writing a book and could I please ask her one question? She cautiously agreed. “If you had the “microphone” and could tell the whole world one thing, what would it be?” She slowly shifts her head towards the direction of her flock. I followed her eyes to her “sheep.” I can tell we are looking at the same thing but seeing it totally different. Some people have the gift of displaying compassion without saying a word. This lady had the gift of love written all over her silent stare.
After a few seconds her eyes moisten and she speaks with the compassion of a veteran saint. Without looking at me, she says, “I would tell the whole world to treat other people the way you wanted to be treated. It doesn’t matter if you’re red, yellow, black or white.” I’m not sure if she stole that from the Bible or learned it on the streets. No doubt she has been forced to witness countless rude stares and comments aimed at defenseless folks who wear ranch dressing like makeup. No doubt she has been wounded by careless comments about color aimed at hers. But I guess it really didn’t matter where she got it, because it was evident she “got it.” I praised her. “Wow, that comes right from the pages of the Bible.” She refused the halo and really didn’t care where “it” came from as long as “it” made it to “her four.”
As I was walking away, assuming my assignment was over, God repeated, “I told you to ask ‘the four’ what they would say to the world if they had the mic?
“But God, I don’t’ think they will get the depth of your philosophical question.” Then almost on cue, while I was informing God about what people do and don’t get, they each gave me their sentence.
“Hey, Mr. It’s cold out today.”
“Do you have a warm coat?”
“Oh, I don’t like the cold.”
Finally I was asked, “Do you like the cold?”
I played along smiling and pretending to shiver saying, “No, I don’t like the cold either.” Then one of ladies’ faces lit up with a smile as big as her ranch covered cheeks would allow. She said something I won’t soon forget, “Hey Mr., you’re just like us. We don’t like the cold and you don’t like the cold, so makes you just like us.” That sentence caught me off guard. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t think I ever would have used my one sentence to the whole world to say they were like me, yet they used theirs to say I was like them. It was so weird; I just spent the last hour thinking I was nothing like them. I can pour my own ketchup, select my own lids. I don’t miss my mouth most of the time and seldom wear ranch dressing like lipstick. I was not thinking I was better, just different.
Without warning, a boulder from heaven came crashing down on my false perception. God relayed, “You are just like them, Dennis. You think because you can pour ketchup, pick lids and shovel food in your mouth you don’t need Me. Oh, you will call on me when you get low on cash, need a parking spot or when the flames get too high or hot. You will whine and complain when you get writer’s block thinking I’m holding back on you. Most of the time you go about your life doing your own thing your own way.”
This really hurt my feelings; not because God was wrong but because He was right. I do tell Him to leave me alone. I’m a big boy and I can get my own lids, feed myself and can pour my own ketchup. Then, like always, my life falls all apart and lids, ranch dressing and ketchup explode everywhere. Embarrassed, I cry out for help. God please help me clean up this mess I made of my life, again.
God seldom answers me when and how I would like, but He does answer. This morning I was whining and complaining about not having anything clever to share with the world. So what does God do? He ushers in four angels dressed in outdated clothes and hair, being led by a plump saint wearing a black t shirt with heavens logo bedazzled all over it. I now know it’s the kind of shirt that fits better in McDonalds than in Vegas.
“Dennis, I sent these people to you this morning to illustrate to you how much you need me even if you can pour your ketchup. They know every day they can’t get dressed, can’t cook, can’t drive, or even tie their own shoes without help. The advantage these four have over you is they know they can’t pour their own ketchup.”
What a great surprise I received at McDonalds that morning. God kicked in way more than a few paragraphs. He sent me the whole story; not mine but theirs. Those five fragile saints shuffled out the way they shuffled in, giggling and poking. I started to cry feeling like God somehow just left McDonalds.
They all supplied me with enough ink to slop over the whole world with just two simple thoughts. One: Treat other people the way you wanted to be treated, whether they are red, yellow, black or white. The second: At times we all need a little help pouring our ketchup.