Thursday, January 31, 2008

Handling Success: My Church Work Is Rewarded.

I sat in church and the announcement was made that there was a vacancy on the board. If interested, please apply. I have scant notion of what the Board does, or what they would need, but I was interested. I figured a "no" on this would just be God letting me know that He had something else for me to do.

I got the polite rejection letter, and after a few minutes of feeling sad, I prayed for whoever had been nominated and went on with my life. It isn't like I don't have enough to do. I am still struggling with time management and not surfing my day away on the Internet. I am amazed how EASY it is to get lost on the computer and get nothing doner on my to-do list.

One of the things I love about my current church is their utter transparency about the business and money side of their operation. In the traumatic world of Dr. Scott everything was hidden and one learned quickly the safety of NOT asking questions about anything on the business side of the church.

My current church hands out a complete balance sheet for the year. You are free to ask about anything during the business meeting. Basically the Board gets recommendations from Pastor and after they pass on something, they bring it to the business meeting for a vote. I LOVE that!

The new board member seems like the perfect fit and I am truly happy for her. We than moved on to "salaries". I am now to get some money every month in appreciation of the work I do on the website and in creating out bulletins and most other printed material. Not everyone doing work for the church is getting paid. They combined all the salaries into one yes, or no vote and the room went crazy.

I was stunned. Unlike receiving money from a secular business, this money would be coming out of tithes and offerings given to the church. This is the first promotion of this type I've ever received. I have a bit of trouble actually accepting what has happened.

It is like my church family is giving me a vote of confidence. I'm going to keep on doing what I've been doing all along. I am deeply grateful to a friend who has been my mentor from the beginning of my website mastering. I am now a mentor for another less experienced Christian. Mentoring is its own reward, but with my friend's help and encouragement, I'm doing things that amaze me.

I have been asked to tell the story of how someone who is darn near blind is deeply involved with computer graphics and website tinkering. Some of you will see God's fingerprints all over the following. Only God could have put it together.

Back in 1999 I purchased my first computer. A 1993 G3,Power PC Macintosh with 1 GB of disc space running on System 7.5. (Had no idea what a GB was, but it seemed like I had an amazingly huge disc drive to play in).

I soon discovered that I could draw a box around the cursor and reverse the video on my monitor. Print white, background black). I turned the screen magnification up to the max, but did not actually use it. I just requested the "preview rectangle" option. Since the magnification was so high, the result was a lovely 1 inch square box neatly drawn around the cursor. Now I could really see where the cursor was and I could read for hours with no pain. I still refused to get on the internet because of having so many "getting lost" (and confused) issues, whenever I tried it.

I started playing around with all the software they gave me at the store. Calendars, children's games, accounting software and word processing software. I really liked how much easier it was for me to "draw" on a computer as compared to drawing on real paper with writing tools.

Since I have mild Cerebral Palsy my writing quavers. Even with a ruler a truly straight line is difficult for me to create on real paper. On this computer I could draw a line and hold down the shift key (forcing the line to remain straight, or at a 45 degree angle). My work didn't look like I had Cerebral Palsy any more!

I then discovered a magazine from England called Mac Format. This issue had a CD taped to it and featured that year's world wide winners for excellence in software. Oh man, this was HEAVEN. My system was too old for some of the latest and greatest, but there were some awesome applications I discovered and fell in love with immediately.

Nisus Writer was a Word Processing/drawing/slide show presenter and some other stuff I had no clue about. It also had a spell checker that didn't block the text you were trying to proof. But what made me swoon was in their drawing area, they provided a lovely grid that looked exactly like a sheet of graph paper. You could control the size of the squares and now I could draw objects to a size I KNEW was correct! Only problem, this gem cost $100. Oh, well... How many of you would like to drive a Rolls...?

I had begun to copy printed material and clean it up for my pastor's wife. She knew nothing about computers and considered me some kind of genius because I could work a computer at all. I invited her to my room and showed her all my new discoveries. Earlier that year she'd given me the money to purchase a printer, so I could get her work back to her. Now I prepared her for the fact that I was just "window shopping" when showing off Nisus Writer. I knew I'd never be able to justify the price. But I showed it off anyway, because I loved it so.

She asked me about the cost and when I told her it was $100, she cut the check right then and there! She wasn't buying it for the church, but for me. I owned both my printer and now this amazing software.

I laid out fliers, meeting agendas and attendance lists for various departments. I also transcribed some notes I'd occasionally take as a fill-in secretary. Nisus Writer was just so beautiful. It made me look ever so good with an amazingly small amount of effort on my part.

I also bought some very serious Bible Research software. Accordance. The kind of program Masters Program students in Seminary would need to use. Hey, at that time I actually thought God might want me to be a Pastor! NOT!

My old church had about 400 members, lots of little committees and a sophisticated counseling program. It was the counseling department which gave me the core of my graphics experience. Last minute is my specialty. I don't like it, but what can I do? I receive 100 xeroxed, marked-up and chewed-up pages. I'm sitting in pastor's Wifes'
car and ask the stupid question: "when do you need this?" It is Friday afternoon.

Haltingly she responds: "Sunday?" I resist the temptation to reply: "Are you out of your flipp'in mind?" and foolishly agree to it! But I know that God, Nisus Writer and I will get it done.

Nisus Writer was made for college professors who are writing things like Calculus or History texts. I had very easy ways of adding check boxes, arrows or blank lines to forms and having everything line up like a dream. I know the team at Nisus didn't really understand why I'd gush to them from time to time my gratitude for their program. But that program made me look totally professional.

So after several years I changed churches and landed at my current location. I had graduated to an eMac, system 10.3 with 40 GB of disc space and the ability to connect to the internet. Since I no longer had the visual hassle of "loosing the cursor" the internet was like a candy store for my mind. I just went nuts for news, music, ebooks and podcasts. Podcasting is where I met my wonderful padre back east. A rich friendship which continues to flourish.

I sent off my first email to a musician begging for information on where I could buy a song that was demoed on another Mac Format CD. To my shock, his answer appeared in my inbox almost immediately. And within minutes I had his great music on my machine.

Nisus was trying to move their creation over to the new system architecture. Oh, how I miss their lovely graphics! But I have been forced to mostly abandon them for Apple's Pages. I get calls from my old church from time to time:

"I know you can get this out. We need it tomorrow at 7:30 AM." (it is now 8:30 PM the night before the morning deadline) ,"Can you make us 6 place cards?"

"sure" I reply. "But what's a 'place card'?" If I know what it is to look like and how big it is, assuming my printer can handle the size, I'll come up with pretty much anything.

"Pastor's mother-in-law just died. We need place holders for the pews for the family and close relatives..." I got the layout, but color scheme was mine to choose. (sigh, I don't always do color "guessing" too well).

I went to my clip art collection and found a tasteful cross with flowers for the artwork, done with light blue/gray accents. I put it together and my work was picked up at 7 AM.

Watch God on this one. I just happened to pick the exact color scheme used by the people decorating the church! Hello Holy Spirit, how cool is this?

My current church is a teaching church using the OLD King James Bible. Church Of God In Christ is conservative, but we are at the far end of conservative, even for them. I fell in love with their strong emphasis of teaching the Bible and teaching you to dig things out for yourself. I wanted to make them a website. I Had no idea what that involved, but I know I'm smart and ought to be able to knock it out...

Another member was assigned to do the website and they came to me looking for educational websites. I was sad that I wasn't going to get to do the site, but I did what I was asked to do and (amazingly) kept quiet about my personal dreams.

Next thing I know Pastor has assigned the website to me! I took off running. I scoured the web for education and BROTHER did I find it! HTML is the basic language of websites, but there's more. Oh so much more... I was referencing websites written by professional web DESIGNERS for professional web DESIGNERS. Like teaching yourself to cook starting at the Ph.D. level in France! I whined and cried to my friend back east, who gently informed me that if I wanted to create the site in the next decade, I could continue as I was. If I wanted to get it up and running, use a program like "iWeb".

iWeb lets you lay out the page in English, just like any document and then the program does all that HTML/CSS voodoo... Yeah, I came to myself and still use iWeb to this day.
My friend mocked up our basic layout and I went from there.

Compared to the other church, their printing requirements were a breeze. Not 100 pages of fill-in-the-blank exercises, but one flat page in black and white. Woa! I could get that out in under an hour! But I wanted to show pastor what else I knew how to do. Soon I began producing color, fold-out bulletins. They are hard to set up, but once set up as a "template", are easy to reproduce.

I found a professional website for very good looking clip art. Save yourself some time. If it's free it looks like you made it, but when you were on drugs! I find great satisfaction in coming up with the ideas God puts in my mind. I just see it in my head and attempt to reproduce it on paper. I love making quality things for God's work.

One of my pet peeves is some of the substandard work that is produced for God. It would never pass in the most easy-going secular situation! I didn't ask for pay because we are a tiny church and another pet peeve I have is how some people who do work for the church almost blackmail the pastor: "oh, you like what I did? That'll be ...". I figured I could use any church work I did to get work elsewhere.

But now I'm getting paid. It is a small amount, but it is still pay. This is the first non-animal-care work I've gotten in over 10 years. It feels very, very good.

So this is how God took someone who is nearly blind and turned me into a graphics and website person. Only God, only God.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Quick Life Update: Great Holidays But Minor Eye Problem.

I am declaring myself officially "well". My life has gone from totally dysfunctional to normal as you have been following this blog. I have been made Program Director in addition to my webmaster duties for my church. By Program I mean the printed bulletins that are produced for church meetings.

This is the first "promotion" I've ever earned in my life. While I'm still in a volunteer mode, my church is struggling to make arrangements to pay me for my work. For me, what I do is part of my "giving" to God. I put Him in charge of what I do and what I receive. Takes my emotions out of it and I stay calm and focused.

Christmas was amazing. I received 22 pairs of earrings from an amazingly creative friend. She did such a beautiful wrapping job. I will show pictures of the wrapped boxes. I am trying to find the time to clean up my pictures of all my earrings. They are beautiful and I want to do the best I can with their photos.

In the last week I have been having some eye trouble. It scared me, as it felt like I could have had an eye infection, or a Glaucoma Pressure problem. My HMO got me seen within 24 hours of my call. I have bleeding from the Retina. So I see a retina doc next week. But my regular doc just wants to get a 2nd opinion. He doesn't feel I'm in serious trouble.

I feel my life has moved into the normal mode because my issues are the mundane things everyone deals with. How do I get everything I want to do done on time? What about life balance? (Not good to work all the time). I have a rough time making time to do this blog. I also have difficulty figuring out what to share with you all. Things are calm and interesting, but how many times can I tell you all that I'm making a new bulletin? BORING!

Here are the pictures of the beautiful wrapped earrings from my friend. Wait till you see all my new and older earrings - 42 pairs. Yeah, its a lot and I love them all.

As far as the current political scene goes, I am underwhelmed. I truly don't like or trust ANY of the people running in either party. I also distrust 99% of news sources to learn about what is REALLY going on. I am heartsick about the continuing slide of the dollar. I'm sure as we get closer to the actual 2008 election that I'll have more definite opinions. I am finding it hard to resist the temptation to just walk away.

Doing that, however, is very wrong. At least in this country I can decry anything and not fear being taken away in the dead of night, never to be seen again. So, I will read The Voters' Handbook and do the best with what we've been offered as citizens.