Friday, June 30, 2006

Shaking Out The Notebook

*Keys jingle in the lock, the door opens (ringing the bell), and I flip the lights on. I turn the sign around that says "OPEN" and The Diner is back in business. One addition to the Wall of Fame is the bridal oil painting my grandfather had made of my mother. Below it is a sign that reads: "Charlotte--in her 'pre-Scar' days." The machine makes the coffee on its own, so there isn't anything to do other than wait on customers*

Lots of notes from over the week:

After my mom died late Saturday night there was a flurry of activity. Hospice nurses lovingly caring for my mom's body and dutifully destroying the medicines in view of police witnesses. Paramedics filling out paperwork. Funeral home directors fulfilling the necessary tasks. I stepped outside before they took Mom out. I have enough visuals stored on my hard drive that won't make me happy, and I didn't need one more.

We had a meeting with the funeral home director first thing Monday morning to plan the memorial service. I think that's a hard job because you have to show compassion and care while at the same time you're trying to run a business. Money's involved...and in some cases lots of it, and I don't think love & compassion and money mix well. My higher-order life-liver sister Jilly, true to form, got the guy to start telling us stories about brawls and the like from memorial services. We were mesmerized. The guy should write a book.

Later that day we helped Mom's husband Will with the tasks he wanted to do, such as clean out closets and attics and such. Jilly, Barstorming Brother-in-Law Shane and I went through the clothes and all that...and promptly took them to charities. It also helped that we "de-hopitalized" his bedroom and made it look like a home again by moving the medical stuff to the garage for a hospice company pick-up and getting the furniture back to the original places. There were some small discussions regarding bank accounts and such as I'm the executor of the estate, but there really isn't all that much to execute, so the discussions will remain small and relatively easy.

Note to self: Make my children's paperwork stuff after my demise as easy as my mom made ours. She took all that stuff seriously and it's made things pretty darn easy in that regard.

Tuesday was small chores...and we took the afternoon "off" to go see Nacho Libre. Perfect stress-relief.

Wednesday was the memorial service...and it was a blur. Lots of people. Lots of family. People I hadn't seen in years and people I hadn't seen in hours...and no time to talk much to any of them. Note to self: Never say "I remember you when you were this big" to anyone for any reason. I heard it. My daughter heard it. The highlights for me were seeing Hal and Smitty (who apparently flew in from the Carolinas for the hour, a gesture truly deeply appreciated) who--true to form, and much needed--provided comic relief as well as providing a reminder of great friendship. I've known them since middle school. A family from my church stopped by to tell Tracy and I how much they cared--which meant a GREAT deal to me that they would put a parenthesis in their vacation for such a task. The best part of the service was when her pastor--from Ireland with a thick accent, who also has trouble with his "r's", would say things like, "Hewwo, and good aftew nyoooon..." He reminded me of the minister in "The Princess Bride" and I almost started to giggle, but I kept it together pretty much.

I've come to the conclusion that most people aren't really listening to the speaker at memorial services. My Uncle Jack sat in the back. I asked him if it was because he planning on heckling, and he said, "No. Always...ALWAYS...leave yourself an escape route."

TRUE DEEP SOUTH MOMENT (or further proof that area of the country is football mad): My mom wanted her ashes scattered at Denny of the landmarks at the University of Alabama. So, my aunts and cousins, along with her husband, reconvened there. I showed up wearing an Auburn hat (the rival school, which I attended) and the first playful words out of my Aunt Sherry's mouth: "I can't believe you'd wear that hat from hell right here in heaven!" My reply: "My mom finally figured out an iron-clad way to make me come here, but she left a loophole by not telling me what to wear."

I said a few words and picked out a nice spot in the flower bed next to the cemented handprints of Joe Namath, Captain, 1965. Apparently, the Crimson Tide team captains from each year get to put their handprints in the sidewalk around the landmark, and since he was the most famous quarterback from the time when mom was there--it seemed like the best place. My cousin Robert was the family lookout as we checked the laws on ash scattering and suffice to say they were vague. The funeral director said it's legal anywhere except within a mile of water as long as no one objects. So, really, Robert was making sure no one objected. No one was around to object anyway, and I can't imagine anyone cared, nor that this doesn't take place AT LEAST once a month or more at any SEC school.

Then we went to the football stadium, which again was wide open. We had my cousin Jody--the smart one with the Ph.D.--to read the list of signs next to "Home Team Family Pass Gate" that told us what we couldn't bring into the stadium. Jody: "Well, we're pretty much the only team here, so we'll be the home team. We can pass through this gate. She isn't in a cooler. She's not an umbrella. She isn't a video recording device. She isn't a handgun. I think we're okay...except once we go in we can't come out and re-enter without another ticket." My Uncle Bob went through the stadium and found a locked gate and actually said, "Uh-oh, the gate is locked." It was a four-foot fence. I just climbed over it, took the remaining ashes, dodged the sprinklers and scattered some on the 50 yard, now when they toss the coin or I'm watching an Alabama game, I'll have a nice reminder. Of course, I went to the area where the visitors will enter the field and put the last of the ashes there so she could get a good look at my Auburn Tigers when they enter the stadium next November. I wore my Auburn hat to the stadium, too. I think my mom would've playfully objected, but not had it done any other way. My family members applauded...and then the aunts told their children they wanted the same thing done.

Shelby called from her dance intensive (of which she's doing very well and learning a lot of cool stuff) and she was out of class at the time. We asked her if she wanted us to stop by as we could easily turn around and be there in 10 minutes. She said, "No, I have to go to dinner with some friends." And so it begins. I'm amazed at her self-confidence, her self-sufficiency and her maturity in being away from family for three weeks. She calls and text messages plenty, but she's on her own on this deal.

We had dinner with Will and Jilly and Shane.

We said goodbye to my in-laws, who we left Kelsey with for a few weeks of vacation.

And Tracy and I drove back with Lloyd all day yesterday.

And today I'm drinking coffee out of my dad's old mug. Makes me feel a little more connected to family today. And I think I need that. Yesterday, for one of the few times ever, I felt a little sad about leaving Alabama...

...because leaving this time felt like I was leaving more than leaving Alabama.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Charlotte Childress McKinney Simmons, 1942-2006

Daughter...Moody & Jeannie Childress' third. He worked in management at U.S. Steel. She was a homemaker. Born in 1942. Her father nicknamed her "Fireball" for reasons that would later become obvious.

An average student.
A social butterfly.
A lover of dance...or at least a lover of dances.
A cheerleader.
Dated Eddie...who she'd later marry.

An average student.
A sorority girl. A D Pi.
A Bama Belle...which was awarded to girls who were precisely that.

A wife.
A teacher.
A mother of two.
A widow at age 37.
A lover of dogs.
A keeper of friendships.
A focuser on family.

I walked past the A D Pi sorority house today after dropping her grandaughter off at her summer dance intensive being held at Mom's college.

I stood in the football stadium where she likely cheered the Crimson Tide to victory. In fact, I was in the very corner of the student section, ground level.

I stood in front of Denny Chimes, landmark of the quad at The University. Sure, there are footprints and handprints of football heroes in the sidewalk, but I'd imagine she spent more afternoons enjoying college life on that quadrangle than she did in the library that is adjacent to it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either.

Little did I know that on my last day with her I would spend more time walking in her memories than I ever have in the past.

And it seems very fitting. I think she would've liked the reality that her son was spending time where some of her happiest memories took place.

She died at home.
Last night, around 11PM.
In her sleep, comforted by her husband Will.

And, if my theology is anywhere close to correct, her new stomping grounds are a lot more joyful than even her wildest dreams or pleasant earthly experiences. This gives me comfort beyond imagination. Really. It does...because I'm quite confident that my theology is correct. And I'm confident that hers was (and now is even moreso), too.

So, goodbye, Mom.
I will miss you.

And with your indulgences, friends, in honor of my Mom, The Diner will be closed for a while. Thanks for understanding that even though writing is how I process and deal with things, I'll need some time to live in private for a few days.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cats-In-The-Cradle And The Silver Spoon?

She's packed...well, except for the stuff she's sleeping in and the iPod gadgets and such that she's using. She'll put that stuff in this morning.

She's been talking about it ever since she went to the audition and made it.

She's gone food shopping for various dorm-room type non-perishables.

What's even worse is that she's doing all this at the loathed and detested University of Alabama. Loathed and detested by those of us in the Auburn Family. I guess it's pretty well-respected by most others...and truth be known, even those in the Auburn Family loathe and detest the football program and not the university at-large.

This American Ballet Theater is borrowing my daughter for three weeks. They stay in dorms, dance during the day, eat meals together and all that. I'm guessing it's like a short-term "Fame." You remember. That school where everybody was uber-talented and they allegedly went to school during the first part of the day and then danced or sang or played music or painted the other half?

These are kinda like that, except it's all dance. All day. They're called "summer intensives" which I've heard is an apt description. And they're pretty important in building your dance resume...which is pretty important if you'd like to dance for a living at a later stage in life.

Now, she's 12. It's hardly a career move at this point. She auditioned for a prestigious one just for the experience and landed a spot almost accidentally. We wrestled with the decision as this is for girls between 12 and 18. That's a pretty big gap.

But we think it'll be a unique and fun experience for her. Any dance resume stuff for us is just gravy. Lots of kids go to camp for two or three weeks in the summer, some for canoeing and such and others for computers or what not. So, this seemed doable from our perspective and with family 40 minutes away it became a slam dunk. So, even if it's 600 miles from Dallas it seems too good to pass up. Safe for Shelby to say that the parental planets aligned for her.

But I don't know.

When she's sewing her pointe shoe ribbons or packing her dance bag or styling her hair to get stage ready...

...or packing her own suitcase or going over her own checklist and the like...

...she seems so...

...I dunno...







...not young anymore?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Vacation Driving

We arrived in Birmingham, driveway to driveway, in 10 hours and 25 minutes. I'm one of those dads who firmly believes in arriving at the destination. I'm not much for roadside stops and whatnot...and I have a healthy cynicism for billboards advertising things like Texas Oil Museums and the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum.

And I got to thinking about my family's vacation drives growing up. They weren't all that memorable. Maybe it's because we pretty much went to the Gulf Coast each summer and the drive was ultimately the same that we didn't stop much.

Sure, every now and then we'd stop at a roadside stand to get some peanuts that had been boiled in the shell or because my aunts needed some vegetables or fruit for various dishes they might be "fixing" once at the hotel or house...depending on what my grandfather had rented for that 10 days deal. But we were pretty much staying in the car or staying within a 15-foot radius of it.

In fact, the only real stops we made in the 4-hour drive was when we crossed the state line. It was the same deal every year: We get out, we stand in two states at once, the parents took pictures and then faked like they were leaving us. There was comfort in the hokey familiarity. When we saw Florala signs, we'd start getting pumped.

So, I tell you all that to say we didn't stop...except as necessary for meals or pit stops for Lloyd, and those are mostly at the state-sponsored rest areas because they have dog runs and such. And, kudos to Mississippi for having a dog-walk area near the rest-rooms. A sign post has rest-room stick figure people with arrows pointing, and one of them has stick-figure dog on it with an arrow pointing to a grassy area. Around this grassy area were little fake fire-hydrants. Like 10 of 'em. Pretty funny if you're asking me.

While I'm not much for stopping, I am big on interaction. We chat...well, when the girls aren't sleeping (they're teenagers now...they do that). We listen to music (of which Shelby helps us all dance, and in this case did an interpretive dance to R.E.M.'s "The Great Beyond" and The Talking Heads' "And She Was"--which had me in stitches. She's one funny kid.) and the new form of interaction is checking in with various family members through text messages. My niece wanted us to take the shortest way--I assured her we were. The Barnstorming Uncle Shane bemoaned the U.S. loss to Ghana with Kelsey. Shelby informed Mom where we were and took a ton of photos from her phone.

I remember putting my foot under my dad's seat and lifting up my toes until my dad said, "I can feel that! Knock it off!" I remember my mom agitating my dad with driving suggestions. I remember the imaginary line down the back seat we couldn't cross and I would look for loopholes, such as putting my finger into my sister's airspace (to which her response would be to throw her face into my finger and then yell that I'd hit her).

But I don't remember many stops.

And I guess I just repeat what my parents did. I mean, we've crossed the Mississippi River at least 15 times and don't have a photo there. The only stop we've ever made is at the Capulin Volcano in Colorado, and that was only to get the kids out and let them walk around...and it's only a state park parking fee.

Maybe that's where I got the "gotta make good time" mindset.

But Lloyd and I were exhausted last night and went to bed at 9PM. We didn't move until 6:45AM. We made good time, though.

So, you're task today at The Diner, is to fill me in on good roadside stops along the way so I might re-think the making time philosophy...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On The Road...Again

Flower Mound.

I know the drill.
All too well.

But at least this time it's with the girls!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

25 Things I Want To Do (stolen idea from the blog prompt web site)

I want to see a baseball game in every Major League Park.

I want to get my doctorate.

I want to write a book or two or three or four.

I want to use my vacation days and off-days every year.

I want to re-decorate the house--inside and landscaping.

I want to get a tattoo.

I want to learn to cook 14 complete meals and do them all well.

I want to train for and finish a half-marathon.

I want to lose about 15 more pounds...maybe 20.

I want to be a better husband and father.

I want to be an agent of change within the evangelical subculture (which may work hand-in-hand with getting the doctorate and writing books)--both locally and globally.

I want to eat better.

I want to find my old baseball card collection...which, in today's dollars, might be valued at around $15,000.

I want to find a few more mission trip locations to take my teens on.

I want to play the guitar MUCH better and maybe write some songs.

I want to see my wife get big-time recognition for her talent & work.

I want my daughters to travel the path the God has for them and nothing beyond that (and I want the grace to let that happen).

I want to get another dog eventually...probably another Shih-Tzu, but Black Labs are fantastic.

I want to visit New York City more often than I do.

I want to live to see bullet trains all over the U.S. like there are in China and Japan.

I want church folks to understand how much pastor's families sacrifice so that we can do what we do and do it well.

I want to have more energy to read than I have lately (I haven't finished a book in two weeks and I feel mentally sluggish).

I want to have more friends my own age...but I gotta say my friends who happen to be students or former students are pretty darn good ones.

I want 2006 to go away faster than it is.

I want to live more abundantly in the truest sense of that word.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Dining Experience Like None Other

It's a local landmark. One natives of Birmingham, Alabama refer to with pride: "Best hot dog in the world. Not really arguable, either. Even national magazines say so." They take friends there.

First of all, it's downtown in a downtown that's seen better days. Restaurants with better ambiance or menus have come and gone. Department stores across the street have been vacant. But it's still downtown...which is cool. And don't bother trying to find a parking place close between 11AM and 2PM. I usually park around the block to the south and walk around. When I worked downtown I'd stop and get a shoe shine between lunch and the car.

Secondly, it's what the kids today call "old school." There's a neon sign above a screen door, but during the lunch hour, that screen door is propped open by whoever is waiting to get in. Here's what you'd see from across 2nd Avenue:

Is it sick that I have a painting of this on my wall in my office?

Anyway, when you go in you'll notice that Gus and his wife are still slinging the hot dogs. He's a gruff, tough old guy who slouches because of how he's been doing this for 40 years. See, the restaurant can't be 12 feet wide. His counter takes up six of that.

That means diners get the other six feet. Well, three feet actually. He uses the oppposite floor space against the far wall to keep crates of sodas and other things he needs to store. The length of the place is probably 60 feet. You'll see 10 or so folks standing shoulder to shoulder in order to eat lunch.

He'll ask you what you want and call you "buddy" unless he knows your name. When I was going in more regularly he referred to me as "Little Ed" because he knew my dad somehow. "What's it gonna be, buddy?"

"I'll have a special, Gus. Make it two."

"All the way?"


"And you want a pint of milk with that?" (Gus pushes the milk. It has an expiration date.)

"Nah. A Coke'll be fine."

"Grapico?" (It's a locally bottled grape-flavored drink that's pretty well known. Gus pushes the Grapico once you turn down the milk--I think he's buddies with the distributor).

"Sure, Gus."

"Kathy (his wife), get me a Grapico will ya and hand it to my buddy here."

Keep in mind that Gus is doing this with 10 or 12 people at a time as well as filling orders that have been called in, too. He's constantly in motion cooking the hot dogs or putting the special sauce on them or whatever. He'll push milk and Grapico like nobody's business.

Then when your order is done about 3 minutes or so after you order, he'll just put it on the counter in front of you like this:

You'll eat and most of the time you'll read the bumper stickers on the wall behind him while you're doing it. "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." "An ARMY of One." "These Colors Don't Run (emblazoned with an American Flag)" Local football schedules. Magazine covers he's been on. Above him on a shelf are the buns.

If somebody orders a hamburger, he'll ask them if they read the sign outside. '

"Yeah, Gus. But my kid doesn't like hot dogs. Can you make him a burger?"

"Kathy, can you go into the fridge and get one of them buger patties out of there?" This will be accompanied by his eye rolls and Kathy's "Sure, Gus. Comin' right up."

"You want another special all the way, buddy?"

"Nah, Gus. I'm done."

"I already made it. Here. Eat it." It hits the counter top.

"I'll need another Grapico, then." The bottles he pushes only come in the 8 oz. size. Smart man, that Gus.

"Kathy, get my buddy another Grapico, too."

When you pay, you have to nudge past the other patrons to get to the back to the cash register. No one is annoyed by this...not the person with the cash or the other folks eating. It's part of the drill.

"What'd you have, son?" Kathy calls everybody "son" or "girl."

"Three specials and two Grapico's." You could easily lie and get away with it. No one does. Even the drunk fraternity guys play it straight on this deal.

Kathy punches buttons and tells you it's $8.74.

You hand her $10. She makes change and says thanks. I've never gone away unappreciated.

As you shoulder past everybody who's eating or trying not to fall down on the crates of root beer (which may have been there for two decades for all I know because I've never heard anyone order anything other than Coke or milk or Grapico), when you get near the door, Gus says, "Hey, thanks, buddy. See ya next time."

"Sure, Gus."

And the screen door widens. The next person comes in, and everybody dutifully slides down one spot towards the back near the cash register. The line outside shrinks by one.

They don't complain about the heat or the cold or whatever happens to be seasonal weather-wise. They know it's part of the penance you pay for getting the best hot dog on the planet.

They don't come like this anymore. And Gus actually takes vacations these days. You have to call from day-to-day to see if it's open...but most days it is. But when he passes (I heard Kathy has some sort of degenerative illness, but I can't verify that), Birmingham will lose the best eating experience it has. And that will be a shame.

Monday, June 19, 2006

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that Hollywood's blog was there one minute and gone the next, just when I thought a prolonged and intelligent discussion was going to thread through the comments.
...that I need to clean off some bloggers in my links and add some others of interest.
...the Mavericks lost and they can't get a break from the officials on anything, while Wade gets looked at harshly and whistles blow.
...that I shouldn't have tried to teach my class last night. It was awful.
...that Slingbox is one of the most practical inventions for folks who travel a great deal and might just revolutionize the way television is done.
...that my Father's Day was perfect: Homemade cards, lunch with the family, a nap, thoughtful & inexpensive gifts, kisses and hugs from the girls. It really couldn't have been better, unless I'd taken the day off.
...that I have to take my car in to get serviced and it's so hard to read in the waiting area of the car place and the TV is always on Headline News.
...the congregation at my church is a very caring lot.
...the team going to Holland isn't ready yet and we leave in 23 days. I'm not really worried about that, just focusing on it more now because Juarez is behind me.
...I feel like I'm doing a lousy job at all my jobs: husband, father, minister, brother & son. No one or thing is getting the attention deserved at the moment.
...that the World Cup or Stanley Cup finals are the best kept secrets in American sport.
...I should go get my tattoo today so my friends Mike & Joye can see it before they leave for Russia on Thursday.
...that I'm bummed because I have this pass to AMC Theatres that lasts for one year and I was taking it to Alabama and going to treat various family members to movies while I'm back there. There are no AMC Theatres within a two-hour drive.
...that I'll finally get to see my nephew play baseball next weekend if the times work out.
...I should mow my lawn today but I might wait until Tuesday.
...I need to get on with my day, but I want to get back to bed.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Creative Writing Exercise

Every now and again I get a huge case of writer's block and there are gazillions of sites out there with blog prompts or quizzes to get the brain engaged. Most wind up as forwards on MySpace bulletins, but here's one I liked since I'm having creative brain freeze.

Your Autobiography

Part 1: The Birth of You
--Were you a planned baby?: Yep. My mom and dad were planned to the nth degree when it came to family planning. They even had my sister by design five years later so they wouldn't be paying for two college tuition bills at the same time.
--Were you the first?: Yes.
--Were your parents married when you were born?: Yep, in 1963.
--What is your birthdate? I was born in February, on the 15th in 1966.

Part 2: The Family
--How would you describe your family?: My "nuclear family" growing up couldn't have been more suburban normal, my extended family on my dad's side had the best quirky relatives, but my mom's side provided my Uncle Jack who kept every holiday interesting.
--Are your parents married? My dad died in 1979, and my mom remarried many years later.
--What are your siblings names?: Jill is my sister, and she married Shane. My sister-in-law Jodie is married to Stephen.
--Which parent do you get along with best?: My mom...but then again I don't really have other options. But when my dad was alive it was easily him.

Part 3: The Friends
--Do you have more than one best friend?: My wife is truly my best friend.
--What do you like to do when you are together? Laugh and goof on each other, mostly. But there's something about being in the same room with her, even if we're not doing anything, that I like.
--Do you share the same interests?: Not really, but it's the differences we have that really attract me to her.
--Which friend can you tell anything to?: There are things that go on in my brain that I hold to myself so I don't tell anybody everything. However, I can tell my wife most everything.

Part 4: Your Personality
--How high/low is your self esteem?: Oh my gosh. Deep down I have a huge ego. I've learned to keep it concealed in a general sense but it oozes out more than I care to admit.
--Do you get depressed about things easily?: Way too fast. I can go from 60 to zero in seconds.
--Are you happy?: I never envisioned myself being this happy on a consistent basis.
--Do you live life to the fullest?: As full as you can living in the suburbs.

Part 5: Appearance
--Are you comfortable with the way you look?: More or less but I really don't care. There isn't anything I can do about it.
--Would you change anything about your apperance if you could? I'd drop 20 pounds and get back to where I was in college.
--Do you have any piercings? Not anymore. I've considered getting four or five in my left ear on occasion but I don't even take myself seriously on that front anymore. I doubt I'll ever do it.
--Describe your hair? long & strawberry blonde. It's a strange color, though. I've had complete strangers, ladies, who've walked up to me and asked me where I got that particular color. My response usually goes, "Ma'am, I'm a GUY. I don't color my hair, unless Pert Plus over time has some secret coloring agent that blends in over about 20 years."

Part 6: The Past
--Were you a strange child?: Frankly, I was the all-american kid next door. I was redheaded, played baseball and was always outside playing something. Any strangeness evolved when I was in college and got into philosophy classes and religion classes.
--What did you use to love that you no longer do? Playing baseball. I don't even play softball anymore.
--Do you have the same friends? I still keep in touch with my friends Hal & Smitty from high school and I still keep in touch with a few college buddies...but mostly my circle of friends has changed as I move into different stations in life.
--Was there anything in your past that was traumatizing?: My dad's death, obviously. My break-up with my high school girlfriend rocked me for a while, too, but not nearly as much as my dad's death. Good long-term results came from both times, though, so I don't fear the storms of life much.

Part 7: The Future
--What is your dream?: To see my kids be happy, strolling down the path that God has laid out for them (and not the one that cooks in my brain). To support my wife as she becomes one of the best photographers on the planet (she's diligently working towards that end, and I gotta say it, she's very good). Personally, to write books and get my doctorate, which might actually go hand in hand.
--Are you scared of growing old? Not at all. I'm actually just starting to figure life out a few more years could only enhance that reality. I'm looking forward to it, actually.
--Do you want to get married?: Well, I already am.

Part 8: The Outdoors
--Do you prefer indoors or outdoors? Give me Manhattan, outdoors or indoors. I took this question to mean stuff like camping. I detest that kind of outdoors.
--What is your favorite season: Winter and fires in the fireplace.
--Favorite weather?: Rain. Thunderstorms in particular.
--Do you like walking in the rain?: With an umbrella.

Part 9: Food
--Are you a vegetarian?: I'm a full-blown carnivore.
--What is your favorite food? Spaghetti.
--What food makes u wanna gag?: Collard greens & squash.
--What is your favorite restaurant?: Pete's Famous Hot Dogs, Birmingham, Alabama.

Part 10: Relationships and Love

--Do you think love is the best feeling in the world?: Love is not a feeling. It's a choice. It may result in feelings, but those feelings follow the choice. But those feelings can be pretty nice.
--Do you believe in love at first sight?: Not at all. That's just attraction.

Part 11: Experiences
--What was one of your greatest experiences? Marriage is an ongoing great experience. Watching my children be born, even if I was a lousy husband during the process. My first trip to Holland. Skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Game 2 of the 1999 Stanley Cup playoffs where I got tickets. Various Auburn games (college itself for that matter). Manhattan twice. A week at Disney World. I could go on and on.
--Have you ever done drugs? Never even tried one. Mostly out of paranoid fear of being arrested when I was in high school, and then once I'd formed firm moral convictions it never seemed all that interesting.
--Have you ever thought you were going to die? Only in when I fell off the high dive (we were closing our eyes and walking off the end and I fell off the side rather than the end, missing the concrete ledge of the pool by about 6 inches). Once a fraternity brother was chatting while he was driving and wasn't paying attention at one of those railroad crossings in rural Auburn that have no gate or warning and he leisurely went over the tracks and a train was blowing it's horn about 30 yards or so from us and he punched the gas. When my drunk uncles (we were 10 or 11 and didn't know they were drunk, and why our moms let this happen I have no idea) would pull us on inner tubes behind the ski boat brought some pretty scary moments as they TRIED to cause magnificent crashes to amuse themselves. Pretty much anytime one of my college friends started a sentence with, "Hey, watch this." Stuff like that. But I never had a premonition.


I guess the writer's block is gone, but the creative vibe still isn't there.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Liner Notes

I'm hooked on iTunes "Celebrity Playlists." I've always been a big fan of the mix CD that you make for friends and they make for you...we used to do that in college religiously. So, it's only natural that these intrigue me because it's like a celebrity is making a mix CD for you...

...the added bonus is that they usually put some liner notes along with the playlist. You know: The song, the band, and why they chose it.

Well, I made a mix CD for my seniors who graduated this year and then I realized that I forgot to tell them why I chose each song or whatever.

So, I decided to do that today...

The first thing they needed to know is that I really loved the movies "Garden State" and "Elizabethtown." The soundtracks for both those movies could not have been better as far as actually enhancing the flicks...and so I decided the "theme" of the CD for them would be to add a soundtrack to the last year of my life.

And, well, like both movies, they involve introspection on the part of the main characters due to the death of a parent. In Garden State, the mom died. In Elizabethtown the dad died. So, for those of you that know me, I related deeply to both those movies over the last year or so.

Hence, the soundtrack that would accompany my life (my own little celebrity playlist) over the last year would go as follows:

"The Late Greats" by Wilco. The line "the best bands will never get signed" sorta signifies that sometimes life doesn't go the way that it sometimes deserved or even expected. This song set the tone of my year. It had to go first in the mix.

"If I Had A Boat" by Lyle Lovett. He's fantastic, and this song more or less describes the desire to wish for things to be better and then getting away from it all.

"Loose String" by Son Volt. The best band nobody ever heard of or listened to. I accidently saw them live because I bought tickets for our anniversary so Tracy could see John Mellancamp. I had no idea who was opening or whatever and turns out Son Volt was. Now, my night has been made and Tracy to this day claims my truly altruistic gesture to go see a show I wouldn't enjoy is tainted. This song talks about how "sometimes the pieces don't fit in" and sometimes you're just "coming up for air again." It fits my life at times, and it gives me a chance to spread the gospel of Son Volt.

"I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" by the White Stripes. The quiet words and the violent chorus highlight the various mood swings over the year, plus the title is apt.

"Unsatisfied" by The Replacements. I think Paul Westerburg is a genius. This song is about how others can see what you're going through by looking in your eyes.

"Muzzle" by The Smashing Pumpkins. When you have various fears, you fall back on what you know. I love that section of the song where he talks about what he knows...everything from the distance to the sun to the "echo that is love." One of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar.

"Lightning Crashes" by Live. A soulful & haunting song about how fast life can change and the emotions you go through when it does.

"Driver 8" by R.E.M. We all need a break every now and again. In this case the train conductor tells Driver 8 he's been on the tracks too long and needs a break. Manalive I felt this way more often than not this year.

"Angel of Harlem" by U2. This is where the CD gets a little more upbeat. I love this song reminds me of how even when the day is cold and wet that an angel can brighten it...including about how even though New York is a busy city with hustle and bustle there's still an "angel" that can get you refocused.

"Heroes" by David Bowie. Sometimes a hero is needed. And, yep, we could all be heroes...even if it's just for one day. Even if it's only in a small way.

"Brilliant Mistake" by Elvis Costello. Sometimes we try to hard to say the right thing or do the right thing or whatever. "It was a fine idea at the time now it's a brilliant mistake." Who hasn't felt that?

"Karma Police" by Radiohead. We all need police to check our karma every so often, and sometimes we need to remember that we'll reap what we sow. Plus, Radiohead is a really cool band.

"The Only Living Boy In New York" by Simon & Garfunkel. I don't like being a grownup somedays and trying to revert to childhood seems like the most wonderful escape. Half of the time we're going and we don't know where...

"Yellow Ledbetter" by Pearl Jam. The greatness of Pearl Jam gets lost because they're from Seattle and most associated with "grunge." But this song shows all the members and their who hasn't felt whether they're the boxer or the bag? And when you see your friends and it doesn't seem like they wave back and that you simply don't want to stay? And lonely guitar is beautiful.

"Oh Me" by Nirvana. Actually the Vaselines wrote it, but Nirvana did it on their "Unplugged" session. I get the feeling that others are looking at him and wanting to see his emotions and such but you don't know how how to verbalize them or make them appropriate to others. The line that he "formulates affinities formed deep inside him" and that he tries to "touch feelings" seem to fit me most of the time.

"Catapult" by Counting Crows. Ever felt like you're sitting in a catapult waiting to be flung? You just can't believe you're in the situation you're in and you're about to be scattered and you need some help from your friends? Great song.

"Footprints on my Ceiling" by Social Distortion. Since when did Social Distortion start using sythesizers? It's a song about relationships and how you want the best but you don't give enough to them. "How do you talk without speaking? How do you hear without listening? How do you live without feelings? How do you take without giving? How do you keep it all inside? I felt like that a lot...that I wanted to talk but just kept it all bottled up.

"What A Wonderful World" by Joey Ramone. He remade the Louis Armstrong classic while he was dying of cancer. Joey Ramone was my John Lennon and this song he did in classic Ramones style but the circumstances he recorded it under make it meaningful. Ultimately it's a wonderful world full of beauty in the normalcy of things.

"Time To Move On" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. This song was a fitting end to the CD with my seniors--who, this class turned out to be wonderful and special--graduating. It was time for them to move on...even if you don't know where you're headed, but you know that grass is growing under your feet so yeah, it's time to move on and time to get goin'.

So, gosh, all of a sudden this blog entry seems so self-indulgent...but I guess in reality they all are at some level. But anyway, it's a rainy Saturday and I needed to do that anyway...

But it was the soundtrack of my year, and it might be the best mix CD I ever made...even surpassing Tracy's Fundamental Tunes I made her while we were dating in college. But it's close.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again

My 16th birthday was rainy and cold.

In fact, after school I was running up Columbiana Road with some guys on the baseball team--and if you live in Hoover you know that running up the hill from the old tuxedo place to the high school is a pretty steep climb after running from the school around Star Lake 3 times and then back--thinking "This has got to be the worst 16th birthday ever."

I came home. My sister Jilly (who hadn't even thought about higher-order life-living at age 11) was on the front steps and ran inside when my grandmother dropped me off at home after picking me up from school. I don't remember much else that happened except at some point I opened a small package that contained car keys and I was off to show Hal and Jimmy Baker my new wheels: A 1977 Cutlass Supreme Brougham. A guy at church who was a head mechanic for a NASCAR driver fixed it up, too. I loved that car.

Granted, the circumstances are WAY different this time. But my Mom surprised another teenager with a car yesterday:

My mom wanted the give Kelsey the car she can no longer drive due to her health concerns, and I wanted to do so in such a way that Mom could see the joy on another kid's face when they got their first car. In this case a 1993 Honda Accord...106,000 miles, but well-kept. Should go another 100,000 miles.

Shelby was also given a pretty darn nice gift: A set of cultured pearls that my dad gave my Mom for Christmas around 1968 or so:

Here's the two of them doing pretty much all they'll be able to do in that car for about 3 months until Kelsey gets her permit:

Anyway, Mom's already seen the pictures. Sent them in an e-mail hours after I arrived back in Dallas yesterday. Just thought I'd tell you all again how Charlotte the Scar has a knack for doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.
Juarez Photo Frenzy

Here's everybody loading up at the hotel on Monday morning...getting 9 vans full of travel gear (the advance team has already taken the camping gear at this point) and departed by 7:30AM is no easy feat, but the teens did well getting going:

Here's the site getting started:

The foundation is built and we're getting ready to frame the walls:

The roof is on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning we're firing up the roofing crew for tar & shingles so they won't be in the heat of the day:

Here's the beginning of Wednesday morning & what that looked like:

Here's what the house looked like when I had to leave to visit my Mom. I don't have any of the finished house, so if anyone on my team has one they could send I'd like that.

It's no secret why I love this trip so much...look like fun? Make plans to come along June 3 through June 9, 2007!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Big Drive...Again

I mentioned in an earlier blog that my Mom has become, in the nurse's words, a bit more "stable" in the last week or so. She's got a little bit of an apetite and been trying to drink some more and her vitals are...well, stable...I guess.

What that means is that I feel okay about stealing a week back in Big D. I'll return to Birmingham next Thursday, but for today I'll drive through Tuscaloosa, Meridian, Jackson, Vicksburg, Monroe, Shreveport, Longview, Tyler, Dallas and on through to Flower Mound.

And, I'll be back in my own bed tonight.

That thought alone makes me happy.
My Celebrity Love Match

Usually, I'm not much for quizzes online, but I took a pretty extensive one from Jokes and Humor. Nathan sent it and I was bored.

Turns out my perfect celebrity love match was...

According to our test, you would be a perfect match for Natalie Portman.
Born: June 9, 1981
Natalie Portman has been featured in: Heat, Beautiful Girls, Star Wars: Episode 1, and Where the Heart Is. Natalie is a vegetarian and can speak four languages.
Your next closest matches were:

Angelina Jolie
Mia Hamm
Wynona Ryder

I'm pretty cool with all of 'em except for Angelina Jolie. What's up with that?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Can I Have Your Attention, Please? I've Just Been Handed An Important And Horrifying News Bulletin!

(first of all, 17 points to the Diner patron who comes up with the movie I stole the "headline from")

I'm stunned.

First of all, the senior pastor at our church--and a writer in his spare time--has officially started a blog. When I last checked there wasn't anything on it, but you can get it here. He's also a deliberate thinker and will measure his words long before he publishes them. But I thought you'd want to know. I'm really looking forward to it after hounding him about it for about two years or so now.

And the cherry on the ice cream is that his wife Deb has her blog here. She's got a couple of entries up already and well, let's just say that she has loose-canon tendencies, which I like. Anyway, I hope you'll check 'em out and let them know that The Diner sent ya.

Welcome to the blogging community, Tim & Deb!

So, the Mavericks lost last night in an exciting game by two points in the NBA Finals.

I'm trying to care.

Really, Mark Cuban, I am. I like my adopted hometown of Dallas. I kinda want them to win, too. There will be parades. Even Disney figured out that parades are fun for everybody so they throw them at the end of every day to tell you to go back to your hotel room because that's IT. It doesn't get any better than a parade.


...NBA basketball might be the most tedious and boring sport I've ever seen. And these are supposed to be the most exciting playoffs EVER?

I really want to care about the Mavs and Jet and Queesy and Dirty Dirk and the boys.

But I'd rather help a friend move furniture than watch anything more than 5 minutes of an NBA game.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mom Update

The L.P.N. came by yesterday and went through her checklist of stuff to check on and throught mom was a bit more "stable" than she was in previous days, and while the nurse was wary of telling me that I could come back to Dallas for a few days, she seemed to think there might be more time than previously thought. What that means is anybody's guess. When a nurse says "time" it's a pretty vague concept.

Mom tried to eat some and drink some yesterday, too. So that's good. We got to chat some, too...about what was the best stage of our lives. I said right now. Mom didn't concur from her vantage point. I couldn't argue...but we laughed about it. That's good, too.

I think I'm learning an awful lot about living day-to-day these days.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Eugene Peterson Is At It Again

The days seem long around here. We wait until Mom wakes up, visit until she gets tired, and then we wait some more until she wakes up again. As my barnstorming-pilot brother-in-law Shane so aptly put it yesterday: "So, let's see. Start with Krispy Kreme's and the Sunday paper. Then we got the Netherlands vs. Serbia at 11. We got Mexico vs. Iran at 2. We got Angola vs. Portugal at 5. We shop for groceries. We got Mavericks vs. Heat at 8. Then bed. We start over again on Monday." He's pretty much nailed it.

Except for today, just put in the names of different countries in the time slots and erase the NBA Finals and you have today's schedule.

At any rate, I've been doing some reading in a new Eugene Peterson book. He's one of my favorite theological/philosophical writers. And his new series of books is designed to teach theology through a devotional approach and making doctrinal statements applicational. If you're asking me, it's just what the Church needs exactly when the Church needs it. Here's a few nuggets for you to chew on for a bit:

"There comes a time for most of us when we discover a deep desire within us to live from the heart what we already know if our heads and do with our hands. But 'to whom shall we go?' Our educational institutions have only marginal interest in dealing with our desire...Meanwhile, our religious institutions...prove disappointing to more and more people who find themselves zealously cultivated as consumers in a God-driven marketplace or treated as exasperatingly slow students preparing for final exams on the 'furniture of heaven and the temperature of hell.'"

"(Nicodemus, in John 3) wasn't looking for theological information but for a way in, not for anything more about the kingdom of God but for a personal guide/friend to show him the door and lead him in: 'How do I enter...?'"

And now for the REALLY good thought-provoker for your day:

"You would think that beleiving that Jesus is God among us would be the hardest thing. It is not. It turns out that the hardest thing to believe is that God's work--this dazzling creation, this astonishing salvation, this cascade of blessings--is all being worked out in and under the conditions of our humanity: at picnics and around dinner tables, in conversations and while walking along roads, in puzzled questions and homely stories, and blind beggars and suppurating lepers, at weddings and funerals. Everything that Jesus does takes place within the limits and conditions of our humanity. No fireworks. No special effects. Yes, there are miracles. Plenty of them. But becuase for the most part they are so much a part of the fabric of everyday life, very few notice. The miraculousness of miracle is obscured by the familiarity of the setting, the ordinariness of the people involved...when it comes to dealing with God most of us spend considerable time trying our own hands at either being or making gods, Jesus blocks the way. Jesus is not a god of our own making and certainly not a god designed to win popularity contests."

So, Diner readers, there you go.

*fixes another cup of coffee, and waits your input. The owner had plenty of time to loiter around the Diner these days*

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Air Travel Nuances

I have no idea how business folks and rock stars do it.

I got up early to make my 6:45AM flight to do the wedding (which was both beautiful and fun...I'm a sucker for weddings anyway, but Liz was beautiful and Matt was excited and funny). I got at the security gate 45 minutes in front of the flight, which is usually plenty of time...but, in a cosmic payoff of sorts, I got in line behind...

...a church youth group.

They were traveling to New Mexico to work with World Changers (they do work in low-income housing areas making basic home repairs and such). Somehow they got in a special line and got priority. All of a sudden I've become highly sensitive to making sure my teens have their shoes off and all sorts of security-clearing "tricks" that speed up the process. This youth minister had no clue. Made the flight with ease nonetheless.

Landed and had to do yardwork...been gone for a week and some things just gotta be done.

Got to the wedding which was longer than most...loaded with worship songs and such...and I didn't get to stay long at the reception.

The Juarez mission team got back in there and I got to see a few of the vans (buses didn't get back in time) unload. Mission accomplished. I'll post photos when folks send them to me.

I was about two hours in front of my flight. 15 minutes after I got to the gate the departure gate changed. From A-35 to C-39. If you know anything about DFW, that's about a mile long haul. I decided to walk it about halfway and grab a bite to eat, and instead of waiting for the little travel carts (all of which seemed full of people that actually needed to ride them--elderly, injured and the like) I just walked the rest of the way.

Once got it...another gate change. This time to D-23. Again, if you're familiar with DFW, this will involve a quarter-mile walk to get catch the little skyway tram which let us out directly at the gate so it wasn't too bad.

Then the unloading and re-loading of the plane. Thanks to Bonnie I was in the exit aisle and had the door opening responsibility if things go haywire. The flight attendant asked me if I was up to the challenge--I assured her I had it covered--but she asked me to read the instructions in my safety manual. I pulled it out of the pocket with her watching me and I gave that the exact same level I give the seat-belt/emergency-exit schpiel they give. My seat cushion can be used as a flotation device even though they'd have to make a special effort to water-land in the Mississippi river to apply that little bit of information. My friend Bonnie also made sure the only empty seat on the plane was right next to me. Beautiful.

Read my pre-season football magazines brought along especially for that purpose. Sporting News picked Auburn 3rd. Athlon picked Auburn 9th. Athlon's looks more reasonable if you're asking me.

Uneventful flight into Birmingham. Car drive back to mom's house.

Got up this morning and made a Krispy Kreme run. It's nice to be back in a land where such shops are within a 15 minute drive of wherever you happen to be. Flipped through the Sunday paper over coffee...and Mom woke up in a good mood and was chatty so I visited with her a while.

But, I'm exhausted. Again, I don't know how business-minded folk and rock stars do this...and I don't even have anything really to do today.

And, to top it all off, my good friend & co-worker Dave's dad passed away quietly this morning in Missouri so he's up there now working with the family to make arrangements.

So, I'm exhausted and kinda bummed. I miss MY family. I'll try to recover and be more chipper tomorrow. I'm not a business-minded person or a rock star, nor do I have a desire to be either right now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Racking Up Sky Miles

Yeah, I'm in Flower Mound.

I'll mow the lawn.

I'll perform part of a wedding ceremony.

I'll eat some cake.

I'll be back in Birmingham at 10PM tonight.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sports Intensive Entry


I started getting into the World Cup in college. Of course, I got into professional wrestling in college, too, but I digress. See, I grew up in Alabama where we used to make jokes about the soccer players. Football, the American kind, better be your sport of choice. You could roll with baseball if you were so inclined with little worry. Maybe even basketball. Hockey made an acceptable inroad in the sports fan echelon. All were societally acceptable.

Not so much with soccer, though. My crowd frowned heavily on it...although my high school had an excellent student foreign exchange program and had a pretty decent soccer team because of that if memory serves.

Well, I roomed with a guy my first semester who was on that soccer team and he would explain the nuances of soccer to me...and sometime in there the World Cup came on. ESPN apparently had nothing better to do so they showed pretty much as many games as possible. Greg and I apparently had nothing better to do and clipped out a set of pools and brackets from the USA today and put it on our refrigerator. We'd come in from class and hand-write the updates and all that.

I was hooked. I was drawn to the pace of the game, it's much like baseball in that regard, and the passion of the players and fans was something I'd experienced at Auburn so I was drawn to that, too. It seemed so cerebral and passionate at the same time--a rare mix.

And, I gotta say it: If I were making a list of the generally most exciting moments in sports, a World Cup goal would top it. There'd be a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded or an interception return for a touchdown in the last moments or an overtime goal late in the hockey playoffs, too. But, those are more because of the flow of the series or importance of the moment. But, in the World Cup, every goal within the ebb and flow of the game matters and every one of them draws adrenaline.

So, I'm pretty excited about one of the few tournaments that takes two years to play and will truly crown a "world champion." Starts at 11AM today if you're interested.

Mavs win.

I don't really care, but the Mavericks won in game #1 of the NBA Finals. I watched it last night out of generic interest because my city is involved as well as the reality there was nothing else on. I maintain there's no more boring playoffs in the world than the NBA's--and everybody's talking about how exciting these particular playoffs have been. I went to bed early.


I'm in Alabama. It's June.

That's right.

The pre-season college football magazines are out on the shelves!

I picked up two: Athlon's SEC issue and The Sporting News national issue.

I haven't even looked at them yet to see where Auburn is ranked or who they have picked for number one. The anticipation is half the fun...and I have two flights tomorrow to read them both cover to cover (I'll be able to make it back to perform the wedding ceremony for my friends and then get right back here--once again, props to American Airlines on that deal).
Update On Mom

It's my understanding that the nature of this stage of mom's illness involves various peaks and the accompanying valley here and again. Yesterday was more or less one of those peaks.

She was lucid for a while. Her sisters came to visit during that time and chatted with her. She ate a tiny bit of sandwich. She did have a moment where she fell--despite strict orders NOT to get out of the bed without help. We got her a bell and invested in a "baby monitor" to keep better tabs on such actions...and some bed rails from hospice care will be coming today.

Here's hoping for more peaks...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Light Side of the Moon

Technology facilitated all this.

See, it used to be that when I took my student ministry to Mexico, it was like being on the dark side of the moon. You know...that 30 or so minutes when astronauts would lose radio contact with NASA once they got behind the moon?

We'd work for the entire week. No phone. No lights. No motor cars. Not a single luxury. It was nice to get that focused on our ministry.

Now, for better or worse, we still have cell phone contact with the outside world. The adults check up on work or sports scores when we get back to camp. The kids say goodnight to parents or boyfriends/girlfriends or stay attached to their social grapevines.

Despite my loathing appreciation of mobile phones, I took mine with me. It came in handy Sunday on the bus ride down to do a bit of problem solving with the team that came down early to set up camp. I kept it at camp in a baggie to keep sand out of it.

Checked it Monday night. Nothing.

Checked it Tuesday morning. Nada.

Checked it Tuesday evening. Text message from the wife: "Call home now." It was from an hour earlier.

I don't know about you and the dynamics of your house, but for my wife to send a message like that spurs immediate and direct action.

The long and short of it is that my mom has taken a turn for the worse. My higher-order life-liver sister Jilly flew from San Francisco ASAP (after a layover in Dallas in which her husband Shane-the-barnstorming-pilot purchased her some gaudy socks with Texas flags all over them as a gag when she said she needed extra socks) and said she'd give me an update on mom's condition. I told her that what I needed was good information--my preference would be to finish the trip, perform a wedding ceremony on Saturday for a couple I dearly love, and fly in on Saturday.

She said she'd get me that good information after visiting with Mom and her husband, chatting with the hospice nurse and the like. She'd call me when I got off the work site yesterday...which would be three or four hours after her arrival in Birmingham.

Well, after visiting Mom and her husband, chatting with the hospice nurse and the like, she called me about half an hour after her arrival in Birmingham.

The mesage was similar to the text message. It was more or less "get here now."

Cell phone calls went in and out. My sister. Work. The airline.

At 12:45PM mountain time I was standing in a barrio in Juarez watching my daughter put tar on a roof.

At 1:45PM, after a shakedown by some of Juarez' finest in which Ian (an elder in my church, by the way, which makes the story that much better) was speeding to get me to El Paso's Airport--he opted to pay the $20 "fine" rather than have his license confiscated)--I grabbed my passport and backpack at the campsite.

At 2:25PM I crossed the border.

At 3:00PM I crossed security, which took longer than crossing the border.

At 4:07PM I boarded an American Airlines flight...who gave me a tremendous "emergency price" on a one-way ticket. I'm terribly thankful for that. I felt an urgency to make the plane go faster. I'm not sure American Airlines was feeling that same sense of urgency.

At 10:00PM I landed at Birmingham International Airport. I think it's only "international" because mail goes through there--but whatever, man.

I was picked up by my barnstorming-pilot brother-in-law and higher-order life-liver sister who gave me a barnstorming/higher-order update on that day's conversations with all the necessary parties.

So, technology started all this.

And it'll help today, too. I've got to buy some clothes and toiletries and such. I'm still wanting to perform that wedding for that couple I dearly love (we'll see, though) and if it's possible that'll require all sorts of airlines and such.

But now we wait.

Which may be harder than getting from a barrio in Juarez to a bed in Birmingham in under 12 hours.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Gone Fishin'

Well, not exactly gone fishin'.

We're actually going to Juarez today...building houses for the homeless. 6 of 'em. Two singles and two doubles.

So, The Diner is hanging the "closed" sign out for the week, and we'll re-open next Saturday.

See ya!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Night of the Dance

We got there early. Gotta get good seats for such a big night.

We chatted beforehand with all the friends we've made over the years. The dance community is small and committed and, well, there. Small talk...mostly of the "which-ones-is-(insert child's name here)-dancing-in?" variety.

The lights flickered. We scurried to our seats, which we'd saved by placing our playbills over the chairs.

Then The Little Humpback Horse began. It's a Russian ballet, and the storyline involves a farmer who is trying to find a specific ring as the girl he wants to marry can only marry if the suitor has that specific ring. Shelby danced two parts in different acts. She was a villager early on and a fish in a later act. The fish was by far and away my favorite because it was the first time I'd seen her en pointe on stage. Plus they did this really cool arm flourish to simulate fishes swimming that was cool, too.

This was her first recital that she was in the opening production, too. That made this one much more bearable than having to sit through a ballet of 45 minutes waiting on the flurry of dances and age groups that come later that all take about 3 or 4 minutes. Plus, we knew almost all the girls in it this, that was cool, but I couldn't help but think about the parents of the other girls.

Her first dance in the flurry was the "The Year of the Dragon" as her class' modern selection. Suffice to say I don't think I "get" modern dance.

Then her tap class did "Sock Hop Party" and I like tap because it makes so much racket and everybody looks like they're having tons of fun and it's all very upbeat and happy.

Her last dance was jazz, and "Time Goes By" was the theme. I liked this one, too.

But I couldn't help but think that time really does go by. It seems like just yesterday that we were thrilled with her just being on stage and doing the very basic ballet moves that 4-year-olds do. Now we're worried that she'll stick the complicated move that I can't pronounce that she's been working on all week and nailed 100 times in practice.

And, since they don't allow flash photos I couldn't get pics in all her get-ups ("Costumes, Dad. Costuuumes. Not uniforms."--old sports habits die hard, I guess) but I got this one right after her curtain call:

And, as always, I don't "get" dance. I've tried. I really have.

But, I "get" her. I don't have to try. I just do.

And because this makes her happy...

...I'm happy to be there and drink it all in.

Friday, June 02, 2006


I don't know very many youth ministers who are excited about summertime.

For most of us, it's busier than the school year. See, for us, there's trips in which we're responsible for kids as we take them to other locales for mission trips or retreats or service projects. These require all sorts of logistics and responsibilities that make for lots of detail oriented work. One guy I work with was talking about how he couldn't stand summer because he's got two trips scheduled and a couple of weddings he's in (he's at that age...well, come to think of it, most youth ministers are that age) and he's just waiting for summer to be over.

I'm in the same boat. I leave on Sunday for a week in Mexico, come back to be in a wedding, home to visit my mom, drop Shelby off at a three-week intensive dance program, back for another wedding, home for a week, off to Holland for three weeks on a mission trip, and, well, then...summer is pretty much over in our community on August 1 since they start school the 14th and all the extracurricular activities get started early.

So, yeah. Yesterday, amidst all the detail work that me and my staff are going through (try getting paperwork from 134 people together, along with all the tools and camping gear and water and food necessary for those same 134 people to camp-out for a week and build roughly 8 homes--well 4 singles homes and 2 double-sized ones--and you'll find yourself waking up at night needing to make that phone call or get that check request signed or whatever) I took a step back to check out the forest. I freely admit I was way too close to the trees.

I got to visit with some graduates of my ministry. They're back from college or whatever and they stop by my office. This, I take to be a good sign.

One was married, living in the Pacific Northwest and happy as a clam. Her husband is coming in next week sometime. We set up a lunch date for all of us to get together.

Another one was filling me in on his career choices...and giving me an update on where he is in his walk.

Another was telling me about an unexpected summer ministry opportunity and their new college they're attending next fall.

A bride-to-be popped in because she was looking over some last-minute details for her wedding. Her fiance bear-hugged me. I tried to bear-hug back but he's bigger than me.

Then it "hit" me:

Those are the reasons that we put up with all the paperwork hassles and cover all the details necessary and plan all the mission trips and make all the bank deposits and keep up with accounting and busy summers and sleeping with a notepad beside the bed so you won't forget to make the phone call.

Because they create "mileage" together. In fact, I've been over 33,000 miles with one of those former teenagers on various youth ministry related endeavors...we counted them up on a plane ride to Holland in 2003. We had time.

Because of that "mileage" we have a relationship. One in which they've encouraged, challenged and even rebuked me, and I'm sharper for it all. I like to think I've returned the favor.

Because of that "mileage" we get to share a life together.

And that's what a church should be.

And my church is.

Today will be busy. Rookie moms will be wondering about flashlights and release forms and bug spray and packing lists. Staff will be popping in and out with various questions and dilemmas and news and such. Receptionists will be asking me about bus times and hotel lists and a host of other things.

But all that will result in an entirely new crop of former students popping in about 7 years from now and reminding me of this lesson all over again.

It's worth it in spades.

I lead a charmed life.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ordinary To Extraordinary In Two Hours Or So

My oldest daughter and I have spent a good deal of time together lately...fallout from the incredibly busy rehearsal week activities my youngest daughter is going through. Kelsey and I went shopping for some supplies for our upcoming mission trip to Juarez, then did dinner and a movie two nights ago.. a nice night out.

Her day involved working on the kitchen team for our Mexico mission trip. Ordinary stuff.

She finished her responsibilities about the same time as I got off work and she wanted to practice her driving skills, so we did that. Still not much out of the ordinary.

After that we shopped for bug spray, sunscreen, chap stick and other stuff for the trip. Painfully ordinary.

Dinner at the house. Ordinary.

We had a project that involved hooking up our TV, DVD player and PlayStation into one "switcher" so we can stop turning the television set around to disconnect one device and hook up another. Mission accomplished. A little out of the ordinary, but certainly nothing really exciting, either.

Then it happened:

The "painting jeans" were put on.
The studio door closed.
The music came on. I think it was "creative mix."
The door opened aboout two hours later.

This was the result:

I like having an artist in my house (and secretly wish I was one) even if I cannot explain how ordinary events transpire into creative juices.