Knowing that there is a poverty issue in Lewis County is one thing, but the ability to see it in a whole new light through interacting with the very people who are in its grip puts an urgency to the need to solve it.
Bethel Church’s Hub City Mission brings people from several churches together once a month to help distribute food to the hungry in the Centralia community, and this morning the ministry served dozens upon dozens of people with food boxes to last a few weeks. People of all ages and walks of life from Bethel Church, Life Center and more all put their heads and hands together to volunteer, doing everything from carrying boxes and making connections with folks to back-of-house work such as bringing more food out and cleaning up.
Generally the last Saturday of every month, people start lining up outside Bethel’s Downtown Centralia church at 8 a.m. — a full hour before the mission begins handing out the food. Delivery teams bring the food to people who generally can’t make it out of their apartments or homes, bringing a completely different aspect to the ministry and reaching people where they are at.
I have had the opportunity to get to know some of the volunteers, but even more importantly while helping with food boxes I’ve been blessed to get to know those we are helping. I sadly admit that I generally wouldn’t otherwise get to know them, and that’s largely because our lives don’t intersect otherwise. I admit that I need to change that and be more intentional about creating connections and community with those who don’t have much.
There’s one interesting component to the ministry that my friend Dave and I started a few months back, and it’s been a tremendous blessing because it meshes in with an activity that I have grown to love over the past few years.
We noticed several people were riding bicycles to the mission to haul their food boxes home, but their bicycles were in very poor condition and needed tune-ups at the very least. So we decided to start a bicycle repair stand at the mission to coincide with the food box handouts. Dave has the equipment and expertise and I had the willingness to learn, and the combo has worked well.
One month during the summer, we serviced about a dozen bicycles with issues ranging from wheels that needed to be trued to a bicycle that needed a new set of pedals. We’ve even had more people help, including Dave at Willie’s Sport Shop who has joined in on occasion.
Today we had two new guys come out to lend a hand, and although we only serviced three bicycles this morning (it was a frigid 28 degrees, and bare hands working with metal isn’t the best), we were still able to interact with several people. One man stopped through to talk for a few about his BMX bike and show us his rather handy way of creating a bicycle trailer out of cobbled-together components including crutches and refrigerator racks.
It was pretty inventive, and I appreciated it simply because this man needed a trailer and did what he had to do to make it happen.
All of this brings me to a point: There are ways for us to serve our communities by doing things we enjoy. I like working on bicycles because of the challenge it brings and because I love to ride. If I can channel that into something that benefits others such as this, then I pray that the Lord uses it.
The need is going to be very great in the Twin Cities as the weather gets colder. There are a variety of groups helping out with food and other needs, and I can think of a few right off the bat including the Salvation Army, United Way of Lewis County, Rotary and more. Contact any service organization or church in Lewis County to get involved.
If and when you do, you’ll make a connection with the people in need. Putting faces, names and personalities on the poverty issue here in Lewis County brings a greater urgency in quashing it, so let’s all do join in and do our part.
“He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” –Luke 3:11
We have a pretty vast collection of waterfalls in Lewis County. One of my personal favorites is one that isn’t dramatic or even really spectacular, but rather it kind of hides behind some of the canopy of the forest and falls from rock to rock until it reaches the creek below.
I shot this photo on a hike last Saturday with a couple friends. It was raining as it usually does in the Northwest this time of year, but a pair of water-resistant pants, a raincoat and a hat provided enough cover to stay relatively dry during the hike. The cooler temperatures made for a great trip too.
To get to Angel Falls, take the Covel Creek Trail across the road from the Cispus Learning Center and follow the signage. It’s about a mile and a half back in the forest, and there is a bit of elevation involved in the hike.
If you know me, you know I like to take and share a lot of photos. There’s a major reason for this: I believe this world is a beautiful place, and I want to share that sentiment with others.
I believe the world was intelligently designed by God, and He has left fingerprints of that design everywhere. In fact, I think he still has a pulse on things that happen in the world today.
That leads me to the difficulties of this past week. On Sunday, a family friend passed away after having been sick. Three days later, a friend and mentor died from a method of his own choice. Add in a couple other unspoken situations and some stress of work and a major volunteer effort, and I’ve encountered the toughest time I’ve had since I deployed to Iraq ten years ago. I don’t say that lightly.
The past 36 hours especially have been a time of introspection and prayer. I’ll be honest when I flat out told God that I believed he could directly intervene when he was needed most, and he didn’t. I later apologized for saying that, but I felt quite angry while still maintaining my lifelong faith in Him.
My mind turns back to the original point I made here: God designed the world, and still has a pulse on things that happen here today. But with that, we as humans have to realize that things happen for reasons we may never understand or, worse yet, even remotely be able to control.
And we have to somehow be okay with that. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.
The photo I’m sharing was one I took yesterday just outside my house in Chehalis. The leaves on the maple tree are a beautiful shade of orange, and the colors are so beautiful that one doesn’t really stop to think those leaves are dying. Instead, we focus on the color and the beauty of the moment.
Which leads me to another point: There can be incredible beauty in tragedy. Instead of being overcome with grief over a family friend’s death a week ago, I committed to try my hardest to minister to others like he did. And instead of being angry about a mentor’s suicide a few days ago, I choose to channel that into a motivation to reach out to others who are going through situations that might otherwise be undetectable.
A friend at church pulled me aside after church today. “I’m worried about you because you’ve posted some things over the past few days that are incredibly dark, and I wanted to make sure you’re okay, especially spiritually,” he said.
I thought for a minute, and I told him that I was because while I don’t understand in my mind why God has let some recent events transpire that have affected me deeply, in my heart I know that I lean on His enduring salvation and constant peace.
If those are all I can cling to, those are still all I need. Anything else is truly just a bonus, and if I take a good personal inventory, those bonuses are many even when I don’t realize them.
To quote from the book of Psalms: the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit. To quote from Jesus himself, many years later: the world will give you trouble, but I give you peace. Both are tremendously great reassurances and serve as a reminder that God is there, and we ultimately need to rely on Him and submit to Him even though doing so is difficult in our never-ending human quest to understand everything around us.
When all is said and done and I work through all my thought processes and endless analyzing of things I can’t understand, I go back to the photo of the maple leaves outside my house.
There is tremendous beauty in something’s end, even if it takes awhile to happen. That serves to assure me that through everything that’s going on, I’m definitely okay — and maybe even more than I was before.
This one really hurts.
I had participated in a military deployment to the desert nearly ten years ago. I returned physically unscathed, and in recent years I thought I would be able to seemingly go forever without personally knowing someone in the military that had taken their own life.
I was wrong.
I learned tonight that a friend and mentor from my time in the Air Force, a little over 10 years ago, took his own life.
There are no words to describe how I feel. In fact, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. Shocked, saddened — those words are much too mild to describe it.
I need to say something, and I need this to come across as urgently as possible: If any of you reading this are contemplating ending your own life, you need to know right now that your life is indescribably precious and you have immeasurable value.
Someone out there loves you. Jesus Christ loves you. Seek help, seek it urgently and seek it persistently. You are worth it. Every single human life has value.
You are needed and loved. No one’s life deserves to be taken away by their own choosing, and you are no exception.
Don’t let the darkness win.
I like meeting new people. I like driving to the Oregon Coast. Today I did both.
Four of us headed to Cannon Beach, Oregon with a goal of just enjoying the day. The weather could not have been better, the scenery more vibrant or the food more good. It was just a great day overall.
We drove from Chehalis down to Rainier, Oregon and over to Astoria, then did a quick north Oregon coast tour before crossing back into Washington and heading back to Chehalis via Raymond.
No time for words, but lots of time for photos. Here they are.
Saturday called for a trip to the Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Oregon, a 21-mile paved rails-to-trails corridor between two old logging towns along an otherwise off-the-beaten-path stretch of highway in rural Oregon somewhere between Portland and the coast.
Vernonia is 30 miles from my hometown of Rainier, but there’s no quick way to get there. The most direct route from Rainier takes you up Apiary Road, a county road that passes nothing but trees for about 12 miles or so until it spits you out at State Highway 47. From there, take a left and you’re in Vernonia in about another 15 minutes or so.
Vernonia was a very sleepy town when I was a kid. It seemed like it was searching for an identity, and more recently it bore the brunt of the 2007 floods in Oregon as the Nehalem River flooded a good majority of the town.
But in even more recent years, it has been reborn with the completion of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, administered by Oregon State Parks. One drive through the town reveals a freshened-up business district with several shops and restaurants that are bicycle-friendly. On this day I would see a few cars parked near the Vernonia Market with dozens of cyclists ready to hit the trail.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m buying a house in Centralia, and that means I will soon be paying property taxes to support several essential services.
Doing such will make me a stakeholder in the goings-on of the city, library district, fire and police departments, and schools. And speaking of schools, there is a very large issue that could crop up in just over a week that affects every taxpayer in Centralia.
The Chronicle reported today that 89 percent of Centralia School District teachers voted in favor of holding a vote to strike in eight days if a new contract with the district isn’t reached.
The teachers’ union and district are at odds on several increases the union wishes to receive, such as health insurance benefits and professional development days, and the district seems unwilling to provide. This is unfortunate because good negotiations require both sides to make concessions.
The frustrating thing is that we will never truly know specifics of what is being discussed because bargaining sessions are closed to the public, and state law allows this to happen. It prevents taxpayers, whose money is funding the school district in the first place, the right to observe for themselves what is going on, which is essential in negotiations regarding taxpayer dollars. The Chronicle did the best job it could to explain the situation and talk to people in person, but I can guarantee that anyone reporting on the issue isn’t welcome to observe negotiations for themselves, either.
We’re provided a glimpse into what currently governs the district and the teachers’ union’s relationship as the district has provided a copy of the contract currently in place. I’ve been reading it, and you can find it for yourself here. Grab a cup of coffee and read it all, or read a couple salient points below.
Page 4, Section H, “No-Strike” states: “The Association, its representative and individual employees represented by the Association are specifically prohibited from engaging in a strike and the District agrees not to lockout its employees for the duration of the Agreement.”
That’s fairly common language and is becoming more so nowadays even in private enterprise. So if teachers are threatening a strike, that must mean there is no contract in place, right?
Not so sure about that. The second paragraph of Page 37, Section A, “Status of Agreement” states: “The parties fully understand and agree that if a collective bargaining agreement settlement is not reached before the August 31, 2015, deadline, then the existing contract remains in force until an agreement is ratified.”
So according to the contract signed and dated Dec. 17, 2014, by the assistant superintendent, union chief negotiator, school board president and union chairperson, that contract is indeed still in effect right now.
If I’m reading the contract correctly, if the union does decide to go on strike, they would be breaching their contract. Plus, Washington state law prohibits public employees from striking; however, there is no penalty specified. The only true way to stop a strike would be to seek an injunction in county superior court, from my understanding — then it would be up to the judge whether or not to order teachers back to the classroom.
As a future property tax payer, this situation concerns me. We all must understand that there is a finite amount of money that flows into the public school system, set by an amount given by such entities as the state, local property taxes including levies and bonds, federal grants and so forth. Increases to some portions of the budget, if more money does not flow in, means cuts to another portion of the budget.
Now all this could be rendered moot by the union and district coming together to approve a contract at the 11th hour. If they do, they should be applauded for not disrupting the school year and causing dozens of parents to spend even more money trying to find childcare for their children.
This comes at a time during which there seems to be a general malaise in public engagement, and I used to observe this when I used to cover education as a reporter. Very few people showed up to the school board meetings. Even fewer engaged in public comment, which is provided at every regular public meeting of the school board.
This situation is happening in Centralia right now, but it should serve as a wake-up call to members of any community to get involved in their schools in any way they can. Volunteer, call a school board member and talk policy, donate some money to the classroom — there are dozens of ways to get involved.
Right now, we’re seeing what happens when enough people don’t get involved, and that’s the true tragedy behind all this. An informed and involved public is the backbone to supporting a strong community.
You may hear people say that if you don’t support the teachers who are asking for what they are asking for in the negotiation process, then you don’t support education or the kids in your community. This is a fallacy, because you can support and appreciate teachers while at the same time asking for fiscal accountability, i.e. being allowed to observe the bargaining process and form your own conclusions.
Not supporting education is to not attend a school board meeting, to not meet your teachers and to just pay your taxes and not be involved in the educational process whether or not you have children. A true supporter of education and the future of the community is active in the educational arena.
It’s my prayer that when all is said and done, a contract is approved that is fair for teachers and taxpayers alike, and that this entire episode shocks the public into becoming more proactive in their educational system.
Very few places in the Northwest exist that are easily accessible by vehicle that allow a sweeping 360-degree view of mountains, valleys, sunsets and more. One of them exists right here in Lewis County.
Burley Mountain isn’t necessarily a short drive from even the closest town, but the road there can be driven the entire way if you have a high-clearance vehicle. You’ll be rewarded at the end and greeted by an unassuming cabin of sorts that is begging for one to come inside and sit a spell while gazing upon the mountains in the distance.
The gorgeous landscapes that surround the cabin have led many people to write about their experiences and leave notes for current and future visitors to read. A podium of sorts in the middle of the lookout contains capsules of other people’s adventures.
After resting in the cabin for a time, step outside and walk around for a bit. You can see Mount Rainier to the north, Adams to the southeast, St. Helens to the southwest and, on occasion, Hood all the way down in Oregon to the south. Bring a camera with a zoom lens so you can get some great shots of Washington’s majestic peaks!
I could go on, but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves when describing the awe-inspiring beauty of the Burley Mountain area.
Even the trip there and back takes you through some neat stands of forest. Very little traffic makes the drive somewhat relaxing, if not for all the washouts in the road. If you’re in a passenger car, you’re better off hiking the remaining 2.7 miles in from the four-way intersection, though.
So how does one get there? Take U.S. Highway 12 into Randle, then hit State Route 131 south. When you come to a fork in the road, take it left and follow the signs into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to Cispus Center. Pass Cispus and then find the signs for Burley Mountain about a mile ahead. Take the trip slowly and easily up the mountain because of potholes, ruts and other things that make your car hate you. A Forest Pass may be required, FYI.