Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Believer's Budget

I've never lived on an actual budget and we're still not really because I haven't figured out how to do it yet. The result is that I watch our bank account pseudo feverishly out of the fear I might have underestimated or forgotten something.

One result of my paranoia paid off today. A week or two back I sent an email to our local power company asking if there was a way to average our monthly utility bills for the year and therefore make it simpler for the mathematically challenged to budget expenses. It was one of those passing thought, shot in the dark emails. I sent it because I was paying bills and the idea crossed my mind. It took all of 10 seconds to find an email address and dash off a note. I had actually forgotten I had even done it.

Today the power company called and said, "Sure, no problem." The net result, at least for the next year, is that our power bill is going to be static at 116 bucks a month. Astounding. Something for which I can actually plan knowing we're not going to get hit with a 400 dollar bill and have to scramble to keep the lights on.

Knowing what to expect is nice...but that's not how life usually works.

About a year ago, some months after Gordon realized Amy and I had discovered his then secret blog life, we began conversing a bit about the frightening aspect of him having such a popular blog. I did my best, as always, to keep him humble by pointing out that his blog often came in behind a blog called "World of Crap" and barely beat out another entitled "The Devil's Excrement" ( they may be fine blogs, but I've never been to either...part of me rightly or wrongly senses I've already had my fill of both).

Anyway, what was really on Gordon's mind at the time was the way Real Live Preacher had taken on a life of its own. He expressed feelings of being out of control and somewhat frightened. My sage advice (I still have the email, although I'm modifying the language some) was "Face it God is using you...God has given you a real chance to reach people who thought themselves unreachable. In fact, from my perspective, it seems more like God is giving you an order.
Scared? No ...um...kidding, who wouldn't be? Know anyone else God is personally kicking in the butt?"

We've talked many times since then about how Real Live Preacher has turned into a Real Live Ministry and these days I believe Gordon is much more at peace with it, maybe even a little anxious to see where God shoves his rump next.

Some folks have lately left kind comments here saying they don't know how many people read this blog, but they're glad they've found it. To be clear, a tiny fraction of the people who read RLP read my musings, but the number is growing. What's also increasing is the number of very heart felt emails I've received. I've had great discussions with fellow bloggers about shared hopes and failings. Some people have taken the time to tell me of the gut wrenching and extremely personal battles they've endured. Still others have written to me of great loves...and grievous losses. Almost all of these people took the time to write, to Amy and myself, simply because they wished to provide encouragement and personal prayers for strength.

I have also corresponded with new Christians I met through writing who've taken huge, often frightening steps...like going to church for the first time or buying and actually reading a bible. Others have written to tell me they still don't trust church, but they're starting to trust God again after experiences that shattered their faith.

I've also gotten to know new friends who have decided to face themselves honestly in the mirror for the first time in far too long. It's truly been exciting and amazing to be a small part of this admittedly unorthodox and varied community of faith.

The other day I forwarded Gordon an email which I thought was applicable to both our lives, sent to me from a woman I never met along with my response to her. He replied, "I guess we'll send each other emails now that you've started your own online ministry, one that was just as unintentional and now unavoidable as my own."

That was very flattering. I never considered this blog a ministry; I certainly didn't intend it to be one.

Then again, what is a ministry?

Throughout all of time, God has asked of us really only one thing - utilize the gifts He's graciously bestowed upon us to help Him have a true and loving relationship with humanity.

The means and the opportunity are already in the budget...all we have to do is stop underestimating Him.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. - 1 Corinthians 4-5

Monday, August 30, 2004

Home Is Where The Mob Ain't

Amy came home this afternoon. I sort of feel like stopping there, but there's more to update although at times I feel like I'm writing a Christian soap opera.

Amy is conked. We'll see how well she adjusts to being at home, and handling her feeding schedule and gizmos.

I know I'm better adjusted already.

A few weeks ago I wrote that I was trying to convince our local credit union to increase our credit line so that I could transfer some of our debt from the mob-like rates we were being charged by Citi Card and Chase to something more reasonable. Over the weekend I received a form letter saying that the request was being denied because the credit union was "unable to verify my employment."

I thank God they gave that excuse, because that's the one thing I knew I could verify, next week I start my 20th year with the same employer. If the letter had said, "Sorry...but your credit sucks," I never would have pursued it further.

After talking my way through some woman who simply said, "Well, obviously you didn't qualify", I was able to speak with an actual loan officer. She told me the letter was wrong and it was my income level that primarily prevented an increase in credit. I asked what she had my income as being, and...although I ain't raking in the dough, I make substantially more than what she had been told. She said that could make a difference if I could prove it. I asked if a federal tax return showing how much Uncle Sam says I make would serve as proof, and she said, "yeah...that would do it." She also suggested I send a letter telling her the same things in writing I had mentioned on the phone, that Amy had been ill, etc.

I pay my taxes.

I write good letters.

Besides I had nothing to lose except a 28+ percent interest rate from Citi Card, "the card preferred by Don Corleone."

I wrote the letter as soon as I got off the phone and Amy faxed it from the hospital Sunday.

Today the same loan officer called me and said, "I'm approving your request. Your credit isn't that bad. Your income is higher than we thought, and I'm making a few exceptions because you actually followed through and that's worth something."

I stopped myself from asking, "You are from Earth right?"

For a moment I felt like I was in Frank Capra's Bedford Falls... a real human being listened to my story and was taking a chance on my character. I was beginning to think they didn't exist.

Luckily I wasn't allowed to wallow in idealism long...I had to call Citi Card. I think I spoke with a customer service rep named Vito or Wayne but I can't be certain. He couldn't care less that I was a 20 year customer of their organization (evidently to make your bones with Citi Card you have to demonstrate something more than loyalty...I'm not sure what but I get the feeling I'd have a better idea if I ever watched the Sopranos).

I told Vito, or Wayne to close the account immediately. He made no effort to convince me to stay with them. Yes, I was still on Earth...smack dab in America.

I then filled out an on line balance transfer form at my credit union which will reduce our interest rate to less than 8% from 28.49%.

If we pay what I think we can, we'll wipe out that particular debt now in one year and ten months, and pay about 900 dollars in interest. If I tried to make the exact same payments, which will be substantial - I know the minimum won't get it done - to "Yo, I'll Make Youse An Offer Citi Card" it would take me 2 years and 4 months and I'd be paying about $4500 in interest.

Oh man it was nice seeing Amy walk through our front door today...it's also nice to know you can leave Citi Card without going out "feet first."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Walking Into Fear

Fear crept in like smoke under a doorway and within seconds choked her.
I watched it happen today to Amy.

As I was packing up some of the truckload of stuff that Amy's managed to acquire while hospitalized for the past month, she burst into tears. It was obvious she was suddenly intimidated at the idea of leaving tomorrow.

It's understandable, as much as she wants to come home; she also is leaving the comfort zone to which she's become all too accustomed.

I drove home and called Amy as soon as I arrived.

I told her what she already knew, but needed to hear again.

I reminded her that we understood fear...and knew how to conquer it.

So together we sobbed and soothed each other quoting scripture and song.

And we did the only thing God has ever truly asked of us.

That's how we conquered fear today...we surrendered.

Surrendered it all to God.

All to Jesus I surrender;
all to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
in His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

"I Surrender All"
Text: J.W. Van Deventer
Music: W.S. Weeden

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Let The Countdown Begin

Spent most of today ridding the house of clutter...and clutching my stomach after obviously eating something that has a life of its own.

I stayed up too late last night, and got up too early this morning....but I couldn't sleep and there was so much to do.

I can't keep my eyes open now....so I'm calling it a night. I look forward to my dreams.

Monday...Amy is coming home!

Donuts And Discipline

For a year or two when I was attending college, I lived across the street from a donut shop. I worked morning radio in college too, so I was an early riser even back then. On an occasional weekend morning I would go to that donut shop and sit with the "old men" who gathered there. Two of these men were World War II veterans who invariably spoke of how the young people of the day (the 1970's) didn't understand what was important in life...at least that's what they spoke about whenever I sat with them. I was an unruly sort in college...long hair, shabbily dressed, and thinking myself unconventional while surrounding myself with folks who were almost exactly the same. It was easy for these men to look at me and see, rightly or wrongly, what they envisioned were the flaws of the next generation of America. It was equally easy for me to overlook their wisdom.

The discussions were always friendly, but quite often they'd end with one or both men reminding me that "discipline" was the key to life.

My thoughts of discipline centered on being swatted on the rear by a high school coach wielding a board, or some other form of punishment. It wasn't until years later - far too many years in fact - that I came to understand what those sages truly meant.

Today I sat down with my Pastor for lunch. Gordon and I have lunched together often, but normally our conversation revolves around sports or writing or the general strange observations we have of the world. Today's lunch was requested by Gordon, "my Pastor", some days ago. He essentially wanted to know how I was doing, and also make certain I knew that he was willing to help me shoulder the burdens in my life. I knew that of Gordon already, but it was good to sit face to face with a dear friend and acknowledge I needed help as he admitted he felt called to help me.

So I vented, and blubbered and rambled. I told him about the amazing number of ways I have seen God at work in the past month and that spiritually I was floored by it all. There are so many things that have happened, in such ways that they defy all explanation except one: God.

I should say that although I am someone who often can interpret a message from God in the smallest incident, I am not what I have referred to as a "wooie Christian" who gives God credit for the everyday happenstances of life. I mean if I'm driving to work and the first few traffic lights I come to are green, I don't pull to the side of the road, fall to my knees and shout praises to the Lord for it. I don't see God in clouds or crystals. That's not my theology or my nature.
I would really almost be more comfortable describing myself as something of an embarrassed believer. I know God is there, I believe in His promise of salvation, but I am not overt in expressing my faith in most circumstances. I believe the best witnesses for Christ are people who live Christ-like lives. I know those are the people I saw and said, "I want to be like them." I don't succeed often enough at being that man...but I'm getting better.

I also told Gordon of my strategy for coping, not only with our recent struggles, but with life and stress in general.

I adopt disciplines.

Lately those disciplines primarily boil down to two: I walk...everyday - to focus my mind off of myself, and in all honesty off Amy, for a little while; and I write...every day - in hopes of giving organization to my thoughts and perhaps find meaning in them.

This is not new. In years past I have adopted many disciplines...to quit smoking, to quit abusing alcohol, and drugs. Those are disciplines I have maintained so long they are now simply my nature.

At one point in the conversation Gordon said something along the lines of, "Considering all you've been dealing with, you seem to be doing remarkably well."

That's when I told him about what also helps me cope, a gift I received long ago...the gift of suffering.

My parents died when I was 14. I suffered. I believe that loss led me down some very dark paths for a very long time...paths that led to more suffering, most all of it self imposed. I have been through hard times, times I did not think I would survive, but I did.

While I may not praise God for an easy commute to work, I will give Him credit for guiding me through those dark times, even when I didn't acknowledge His existence. I also can now recognize that quite possibly God was preparing me for future struggles by giving me this gift....the gift of suffering for it now provides me with something invaluable...perspective.

A tiny glimpse of time...of life...as perhaps God sees it.

I'm certainly not the first to see it...long ago 12 men also saw it. In fact, almost all of them suffered and or died exactly because they saw it, but they knew what they saw was real. They believed...those disciples.

It's real to me too, and I stand before you now pointing to the view.

If you'll take the chance and look with me, you'll see that there is only one thing visible: hope.

...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. -Romans 5:2-4

Friday, August 27, 2004

Dissin' You

This is the time of day I normally sit down to write. I have wrapped up my afternoon walk - yes, I know that's crazy in the afternoon South Texas heat but I really have no problem doing it now - and my mind is always clearer. Walking has become a discipline for me, as has writing.

In part discipline is what I want to write about, but right now I know I can't give those thoughts justice.

This is Friday.

That means I can shower, grab a pillow and some crossword puzzles (another discipline lately) and head back across town to spend long hours with Amy without worry of work or household chores.

So this post is more of a reminder to me to write later about discipline and discipleship; about lunches and unconditional love; and about how the gifts of God can oftentimes be encased in suffering.

It's dangerous to publicly proclaim my writing intentions, I may not be in the same state of mind when I next sit down here, but perhaps such declarations should be a new discipline for me to consider.

I don't know...I do know right now my time can be better spent at my wife's side, so that's where I'm heading.

After all, I adopted most of the disciplines in my life in hopes of becoming the man Amy deserves in hers.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Lighter Burdens

Today was a good day...didn't start that way, but it's been a good day.

Got in my car this morning to a glowing red "low coolant" light, which was not a good sign considering I had the coolant replaced in a 300 dollar repair job earlier this week. I should also add that when I say "morning" I mean 2:15 a.m. Having recently sold Amy's van, I had no other options but to hope for the best and see what happened as I drove down the road. What happened was the temperature gauge rose faster than a gaggle of reporters hearing the words, "free donuts down the hall."

I pulled into a gas station, cautiously filled the overflow tank with water, and decided to drive to the shop where the repairs had been made. They weren't open of course but I decided I would leave it there and call for help.

Luckily, Rhonda was staying at the hospital with Amy and she came and fetched me. I got to work late...but life worked out. In terms of burdens this was a minor one...by the time I got off work the car was fixed at no cost to me.

I've been thinking about burdens since the other day when I read about Kailashgiri Brahmachari.

His name may not be familiar to you, but he carries something of a burden every day...his mother. He is carrying her across India on his back to visit Holy sites. He's been carrying her for eight years, over 3800 miles, and figures it will take him another nine years to complete their pilgrimage.

His mother is blind and he considers the trek "the will of God."

Who am I to argue with him?

I do wonder though if the first words he says to his mother upon arriving at their final destination might be, "Ma, will you finally get off my back?"

Now Mary Dhume of Summerford, Ohio believes God was telling her to essentially "get off your butt." The other night she was watching TV in her living room and the phone rang. The phone is in another room so she got up. Seconds later, some guy in a pickup lost control on a curve and smashed into her living room, the truck came to rest on her chair. The errant driver was well enough to run away, although he was eventually caught. Mary was fine...and when she answered the phone, there was no one on the other end.

She sort of thinks God may have made that phone call.

Who am I to argue?

I do wonder what long distance plan He uses though.

I think Amy and I are seeing the light at the end of this most recent tunnel. When I spoke with her this afternoon she was unfettered from her "pole" which has been pumping her with everything from morphine to iron over the past month. She's still got some work to do, but her burdens seem lighter today.

More importantly there's a good chance she could be home in a few days. I'll get off my butt and carry her here if need be.
FYI- I've passed along to Amy many of the emails, comments and encouraging words so many of you have sent recently. She can be emailed at the hospital.
She's in room 520. The emails are hand delivered by little old ladies I call "bluebirds", but they dress in pink.

I'm sorry this is the only picture of one of the bluebirds I have available.

Well, I'm not that sorry...sometimes you have to see the humor in things in order to have a good day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Amazing Grace And Randy

When Gordon, Chuck and I were having dinner the other night the talk turned to writing, and specifically that odd sensation each of us had felt, quite often, when we've sat down to write, not necessarily knowing where we were going and then suddenly everything seemed to fit together as if it were our intention all along.

It's a mysterious and wondrous feeling.

In days gone by writers and people of a creative spirit gave credit to muses, personally I believe we are guided by a much higher power.

I believe God bestows upon us all certain gifts and creativity is one of them. When we utilize those gifts it is a form of worship as far as I'm concerned.

It needn't be artistic...I think I've mentioned before that I believe service is also a form of worship...I've scrubbed toilets for God...still do.

I suppose everyone has their own way of worshipping God...we each differ a little, even those of us who share denominations and doctrine.

For me, writing is another form of worship. I am reaching out with my thoughts, certainly to you, but also to God.

For Amy, singing is how she worships God.

The first time I saw her sing, there was no mistaking it. I could hear her gratitude and wonderment in every note.

She hasn't had the chance to sing much lately, even before she was in the hospital it was touch and go each Sunday as to whether she'd be well enough to lead our music team.

The other day, my friend and longtime morning partner on one of the radio stations I work for, Randy Carroll, asked if I thought Amy might enjoy him coming up to the hospital with his guitar and singing with her. Randy is the music director for his church as well and lately has been anxious to involve himself in our lives.

It was a wonderful idea, so wonderful I didn't even have to ask Amy (which is a big step believe me). I told her though and she was thrilled.

Today it happened.

There's not much more to be said.

I wish you could have been there to hear it. Amy wasn't in a very strong voice. She is still tied to IV's and has various gizmos protruding from various parts of her anatomy, but she was ready...to worship God.

Occasionally a nurse would pop her head in the door and smile. We asked if it was too loud and were told to please continue.

I recorded some of the songs on my Pocket PC but the quality is too poor to post, and the files are too long in their entirety anyway.

So I'll leave you with this small sample of worship.

However believe me that it reflects a large measure of grace.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

On Debt And Doubt

When we found Covenant, it was a struggling church. In some ways it still is, but back then the struggles were perhaps more tangible.

The members were meeting in a school cafeteria. Covenant had been founded by folks who had money, but most of them had left by the time our family joined.

Not long after we became members, the church family was called together and the message was clear - there wasn't enough money to pay the bills...including Gordon's rather modest salary. We were asked to pray about it....pray hard.

Amy and I had only recently bought our home, more home they we could really afford, but we went over our finances and came up with a dollar figure far above our usual offering. We said we would "live lean" but get by and help our new church out of the hole. I wrote that check and without hesitation put it in the offering plate.

Only a day or so afterwards Amy came to me in a panic. She had looked in my wallet and found a wad of ATM withdrawal slips. Something she was certain hadn't been factored into our finances. Although our check to the church might still clear, we were not going to be able to live lean... we were going to have live on nothing.

I think Amy even emailed Gordon saying we were afraid we may have over extended ourselves.

Yet we didn't try to get the check back. We believed in this little church, we knew we were closer to God there than any other place we had been, and we knew the church needed us to be faithful.

It was scary. Several days went by. I vaguely recall a few dirty looks from Amy and repeated reminders spoken as if to a child that if, "we take money out of the bank account, we have to write it down." I deserved them, which sadly is often the case with Amy's little reminders.

Amy stayed vigilant on the bank balance, watching to see what cleared and when.
Then she panicked some more and went back over our finances line by line, entry by entry. Suddenly she shouted to me to come running. In truth I thought she had discovered even more unrecorded ATM receipts wadded up in my pant's pockets.

She pointed to the entry of the check we had written to Covenant to remind me of the amount (not like I was having any trouble with that) and then she said, "I went back over our entire account and guess what?"

I was certain I was about to nailed to the cross of the check registry.

"You did record all those ATM receipts you had in your wallet!

What's more, so did I!"

This was indeed a miracle all by itself, but then Amy pulled out a calculator. She entered in each of those ATM receipts and hit total.

The amount of money in our bank account, which we didn't know was there, was the exact same amount as the check we had written to the church...down to the penny.

It was a convincing moment.

Right then, Amy and I decided the first check we wrote each pay day would be to the church.

For many years, we were able to do that....I must confess in recent years it has been tougher. I could rationalize it easily. Amy is sick, lost her last good paying job years ago, and can work infrequently at best if she's not in the hospital. There are a lot of bills.

I could even reason that both Amy and I give much of our time and energies to the church whether it's leading music or mowing lawns, which is worth something, though it won't pay the light bill.

The church understands. Our budget is based on anonymous pledges. No one is going to call us from the church and say, "You're behind in your giving."

I feel God calling though.

He's not saying, "You're behind!"

He's saying, "You're blessed!"

The pledge we made may have technically been to our church, but in truth it was to God.

God has made a pledge to us too.

He has been faithful.

We will be faithful too, no matter the cost - not because I expect "barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine"
...rather because I think they are already.

We have lots of debts these days which we're working through, but the one we know we can never repay is the one to which I'm certain we should be paying the most attention.

Tiffany is 23?

My eldest stepdaughter turns 23 today. It seems like she's been more grown up than me her entire life.

I don't think I want to dwell that though.

I thought for certain when she was young she'd grow up to be a trial lawyer - she can argue a point - instead she's a math teacher, a seeker of God, an observant and caring force in my life.

Happy Birthday, Tiffany! There is no gift I could give you to equal that which you have given me.



Monday, August 23, 2004

Monday Monday

It's Monday isn't it? I could tell with my eyes closed.

Amy called at 2 a.m. to say she noticed she wasn't getting her IV drip of morphine...and when she asked the nurse why had been told, "the doctor changed the orders." She knew that wasn't true, I knew that wasn't true....we've been down this road before and there is a standing written notice in Amy's orders that if there is a change regarding narcotic medication by anyone I am to be called as well as her surgeon...I know it's there, I watched them put it in with my business card and phone number.

The nice thing is that Amy was handling it, being rather insistent that the nurse was wrong. When they doubted her, she got more insistent. Someone finally checked the orders. The nurse was indeed wrong.

Still starting any day with Amy not here is crappy enough, starting it knowing Amy is fighting unnecessary battles, is worse. Later in the day, Amy spoke with the surgeon and the charge nurse. There's now an email out to all nurses that only "seasoned nursing staff" will treat Amy...even on weekends. What if that nurse had misread the orders in a way that would have given Amy too much of some drug?

Father God, I'm sorry...I don't thank You often enough.

When I got to the office, I was told the computers were down and no one noticed they'd been crashed since 5 p.m. Sunday until 5 minutes before I walked in the door. It's sad how used to this situation I've become, but it's still a pain and it takes time away from my schedule which I keep pretty tight.

Got off work, went to see Amy...got on the freeway and steam started pouring through my air conditioning vents. It's been humid, but not that humid. I hoped a radiator hose had broken as I waited for a tow truck.

Amy signed us up for some off brand of Triple A so waiting was the only price I had to pay.

Really Lord, I do need to praise You more often.

Wasn't sure how I was going to get home from the repair shop but Amy managed to reach Gordon, who was coincidentally with Matt Sturges who writes the blog Correction. They were virtually waiting for me at the repair shop when I arrived.

I'm not complaining mind you, Lord, but sometimes You make it seem almost too easy.

The car repair is going to be more expensive than I would have preferred, but in terms of car repairs it's about as good as it gets. Still I feared I was going to have to pull out the Citibank card...at 28 percent...because of my recent juggling of accounts to get the maximum on cards with the lowest rates.

However checking our bank balance I don't think that will be necessary, not if I'm brave...and faithful.

And honestly, I'm thinking being faithful is the lesson I'm clearly supposed to get from today...even if it is Monday.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Afraid To Look

When I am afraid, I will trust in You- Psalm 56:3

I don't remember a lot about my father, I mean about his personality - his inner thoughts. I remember his features and his flaws, but he died before I was old enough to have deep discussions with him. The types of talks where you gain true insight into a man and his beliefs. The long talks.

In most areas of my life, I've always been cautious. I was never the kid who climbed to the highest branch in the tree...when I've been atop buildings or mountains I stay a little further from the edge than many folks I know. I tend to avoid things that make me uncomfortable.

I do remember talking to my Dad about my fear of heights. We were overlooking something and I said I was frightened...frightened I might fall.

He said, "I have a fear of heights too, but you know I'm not afraid of falling...I'm afraid I might jump."

It was a stunning thing to say really...especially to one's child, but I don't think he was thinking about the potential repercussions of the remark, he was simply being honest about what it was he really feared.

My blog friend bobbie wrote recently about some new struggles in her family's life. She was afraid of what's to come, and she wrote about the temptation to jump...into what at first blush might look like an easy solution. Ironically it's the exact place she and her husband literally spent years clawing their way out of not too long ago.

It was passing thought. Sensibility returned when bobbie looked at it...honestly.

Last night, as Gordon, Chuck and I sat around my living room -three guys in their 40's - as pitiful as it sounds, the conversation turned to prostate exams and how many men fear them. Most guys I know, if they even get around to discussing the subject, will invariably say they haven't had one because they don't want to be "manhandled", some have even acquainted it with prison rape. Others tell excruciating tales likening the process to torture.

I'm certainly not going to tell anyone that a prostate exam is enjoyable (although I'm sure if you search the Internet there are probably entire web pages devoted to people who are thrilled by them- if you Google that and find that to be the case, don't tell me, please), but in truth the tests aren't really painful, a bit embarrassing certainly and awkward, but the entire ordeal lasts maybe 15 seconds. I say this from the perspective of someone who has had more than one and still is not the type of person who climbs to the highest limb of the tree.

So why do men fear them so?

I believe what they really fear is not the awkwardness, or the embarrassment, or even some warped assault on their masculinity...I believe men don't really fear prostate exams at all.

They fear the results. They fear finding out they might have cancer.

I personally know at least 4 men who have had prostate cancer...men who are alive and doing fine. Cancer free. I have known several others who died from the same disease. They were all afraid....but those four men who are alive looked over the edge, into the abyss. They saw their fear and named it honestly.

There's more power in that than I think we realize.

Seeya Sigar

That was fast...too fast I think. Such is the pace of life I suppose. Chuck Sigar did get a chance to see our small community of believers...and worship with us. Gordon and I pointed out a few areas and people of which Gordon has written...and then he was gone, driving off to help his daughter move back to college, a fine university I might add where I spent many a year studying beer, and eventually radio t.v. film.

Chuck didn't truly have time for anything else, which was a little sad, I especially wish he and Gordon had more time together, but there were highways ahead and I've known the feeling...the anxiousness to get to where you know you're going to have to be sometime.

I did get one picture of our rather sorry looking trio at least.

Click to enlarge

Who knows...when those two guys are rich and famous authors I'll get them to sign it...or perhaps blackmail them to take if off my blog :)

Adios Chuck and God's speed.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Chuck Con Carne

There is only one redeeming quality to this picture...I'm not in it.

It was the only photograph I took tonight, taken inside in bad light.

Yet I did want to post proof that Chuck made it to San Antonio safely, and met up with Real Live Gordon.

Despite the obvious fact that Gordon and I, who have lived in this area for years, couldn't give concise directions to Chuck's hotel one mile from my home, I'm fairly certain Chuck made it back safely.

We spoke of writing tonight...of family and faith. The talk turned to this strange community connected by our beliefs and as Chuck said, "Our bandwidth".

It is a bad photo...but the food was good. The conversation was as well.

There were no strangers around our table tonight.

The same will prove true tomorrow...in worship.

It holds the promise of far more redeeming qualities...and perhaps better photography.

For Your Planning Purposes

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent." -Acts 18:9

I woke up this morning with a plan...I even wrote it down.
1. Get stuff together for Amy
2. Buy a newspaper
3. Go see Amy
4. Wash car/dogs
5. Walk
6. Clean the house
7. Take a nap
8. Have dinner with Gordon and Chuck.

I got through the first three, no problem.

I only now got in my walk though and the sense of urgency about the other stuff, except dinner, is fading.

Plans are like that a lot...they don't always work out as we planned. It's realizing that at the time, which is difficult.

In truth, that's what's going on with Amy right now. We have a long term plan for addressing her medical problems that included what we expected to be a relatively minor procedure. Well, that became something more major. It's been painful, and tiring, and frustrating. It wasn't in our plan.

But we do still have our plan.

We lost sight of that I think...or at least I did.

The next time I develop a plan...right at the top I'm writing : "keep it all in perspective."

By the way, Amy did indeed go back and ask if she could go sit with the woman who screams and sing to her, but the nurses wouldn't allow it. Knowing Amy, I think she's planning to keep asking.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Songs, Screams And The Girl Of My Dreams

Down the hall from Amy's hospital room is a woman who screams. She screams all the time. I don't know her ailment; I suspect she suffers from a form of dementia. Her screams make no sense, but they are constant and they are loud.

Today Amy and I were walking the hospital hallways and she asked me if perhaps the nurses might allow her to go sit in the screaming woman's room and sing to her softly. Amy worships God by singing...and she sings beautifully.

I didn't know. We kept walking but I got the feeling that Amy was going to ask for permission eventually.

I was able to spend almost the entire day with Amy, which was a treat. In truth, with my work hours, and the stuff that has to be done at home, there are many days I can only stay an hour or two and then we speak on the phone a bunch.

Today though after work, I had Amy sign more papers than we signed for our mortgage for the law firm that will handle her disability claim appeal. I delivered those and some forms for a couple of doctors and then I was able to simply sit with my wife.

Anyone who has read this blog can tell that in recent weeks my mood has changed.

Believe it or not, I'm usually a pretty lighthearted guy. But these days have been tough...there have been dark moments that stretched into dark days...and weeks.

I believe this is the toughest time Amy and I have ever gone through together. So it's going to come out here.

I can't help but reflect my mood here...in all honesty I write for me...not you - sorry if you thought otherwise.

Amy and I sat today talking about how our time of suffering has brought us untold blessings. I know that sounds weird, but it's true. I have a co-worker, with whom I've done a morning show for 18 years. He's the famous one on the show...I'm sort of the third or fourth player down. He knew me when I wasn't a Christian, he knows me now too. We've had a great working relationship, but never much of a personal one.

This week out of the blue he called me when I was alone, at home, and falling apart. He never calls me. He said, "I've had you and Amy on my heart. I don't even really know what is going on, is she back in the hospital?"

We spoke for about an hour about Amy...about faith and friendship. Then he asked, "Would you guys mind if I did a better job of keeping tabs on you?"

The next day he showed up in Amy's hospital room to visit. The other night he called to offer to mow my yard.

I have two brothers I love dearly, but with whom I've never been especially close, even when we were kids.

I mentioned Stan, my outgoing eldest brother, the other day; my other brother, Derek is in California. I talk to Derek's wife more than I do him. Derek is pretty closed mouthed to everyone...me included. The other morning, while I was at work, Derek called me and said, "I felt I needed to see how you were doing today." He's never done that...ever. He doesn't call me on my birthday, or Christmas...I don't call him either.

I sure did need him to call me that morning though.

As Amy and I talked we rattled off nearly 10 other examples of true blessings we have received in these hard times. I don't mean, "gee, I guess if you squint that might look like a blessing", I mean, "I defy you to give me any other explanation for this besides the hand of God at work type of blessings!"

Over the past weeks I've written about a couple, made vague references to others. There have been many more though, not the least of which is the love we've received from family. There are some I'm not prepared or perhaps not worthy to try to write about...at least not yet.

My dear friend Gordon called me last night on his way to the hospital to visit Amy. He knew instantly I had been through the ringer all day...work, doctors, lawyers, bills...I was weighted down. I had to end the call and attempt to sleep...something I failed at, but at least I tried.

This morning I was greeted by an email from Gordon asking that we set aside time to talk...he wrote in part, "On the drive home (from the hospital), you kept coming to mind. I feel like God was saying, "Amy is in Michael's hands and my hands and the doctor's hands. I need some help holding onto Michael. Can you lend an ear and a hand and some love?"

It was God, so what was I going to say?"

I suppose that could sound like a normal thing for someone's Pastor to say, but Gordon and I have an interesting relationship. I consider Gordon one of my closest friends, who happens to also be my Pastor. I'm certain he sees me as a friend before a member of his congregation or a Deacon. We rarely talk spiritual matters outside of church.

We'll have that conversation though...hopefully soon. It will be good because I will feel comfortable unburdening a bit to my friend, the Pastor who felt God speak to him about me.

I suspect Gordon could be worried that Amy and I have so much to deal with now that it might put a strain on our marriage. I look forward to telling him he's wrong.

There's no doubt that Amy and I are both frayed and fragmented, and each day certainly isn't rosy, but we've also both realized that these last weeks have been some of the best in our marriage as odd as that sounds. We've always had a good marriage, but right now there are no barriers between us...they've all been broken down.

Everything is out there...all the emotion, all the pain, all the worries....and all the hope.

My Aunt Kathy, who took me in as a teenager has been in constant contact with Amy and me. That's not too unusual for her; she's an unbelievably caring soul.

I email her updates on Amy...she calls us both. The other morning I sent her an email telling her the latest and she replied, "You and Amy are my heroes! At the risk of embarrassing you, you are a true love story. I talked with her yesterday (thought she sounded really good) and her number one concern is you. Your number one concern is her."

Amy is making progress. I think we both are actually. She still has some tough times ahead, but my optimism is back now. Amy is growing stronger and more determined.

Besides, how could I doubt that God will help us through all this when I am in love with a woman who, while hobbling down a hospital corridor attached to 3 or 4 different IV's, wonders aloud if she could get permission to sit next to a woman about whom she knows nothing and sing softly about God. A woman she's never met or even seen. A woman she's only heard...screaming.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

May You Never Understand

I lashed out at someone I love today.
I had to.
To protect myself and Amy.

It's hard...and it's lonely.

One day I will have enough strength
To apologize.
But now it's focused elsewhere.

I know this is cryptic.
Intentionally so.
I pray you never understand what I mean.

It's hard...and it's lonely.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Post Poof!

I had only moments ago finished writing and was literally reaching to hit the "publish" button when our power went out.

I'll take that as a sign since I was writing about storms, both meteorological and mental.

Today wasn't an especially good day in terms of Amy's condition and my frustration.

Amy's pain still seems to mystify the medical community....the medical community increasingly mystifies me.

There was anger and sleeplessness....more pain and helplessness.

Additional medical tests...but no answers.

I've taken a few other steps, opting to explore some other options, perhaps I'll elaborate upon those tomorrow, but I think tonight sleep is more important.

The storm at our home has passed... the storm in my mind is for now at least off shore.

The Battle Of the Banks

I've got to stop doing this in the afternoons, sitting down with Quicken and really looking at the numbers.

Narrowed down the major credit cards to five and then checked their interest rates. The Citibank card I have held since 1985 is charging us nearly 29 percent interest! Capital One, a card, on which we owe nothing today offered to transfer a good chunk of the Citibank balance to them at 5.99% - with the guarantee that rate will remain the same always.

No brainer. Done.

Still there was some left, and since I have literally had a longer history with Citibank than I've had with my wife, I thought I might be able to schmooze them a bit, explain how Amy has been out of work due to illness for some time, and that I've worked to get us caught up, etc. I figured they'd budge a little.


They said they'd drop the rate in a couple of months...maybe, but today...nothing.

Thanks Citibank...you succeeded in making me more determined...you also screwed up my planned nap.

Seeing how this was going to work, I called another bank which has been running a similar scam on us. I got connected to India. They were very polite, but thought an interest rate of 26 percent was perfectly fair.

They did tell me if I made the minimum payments for 12 months they'd reconsider my request. Of course I would not have actually paid off any of the balance by doing that, but that didn't seem particularly important....to the folks in India.

I then called our local credit union, where we bank. I asked to up the credit limit on our Visa card which charges 9 percent interest. They were extremely kind, a little scary actually; they kept asking if I didn't want to ask for a higher limit. I said I was wary of doing too much since I was fully intending to max out what they gave me, if anything, with balance transfers.

Then the operator told me the balance transfer rate would be different.

I feared the worst...instead their rate for balance transfers is 7.99 percent...fixed.

I don't know how it will go, but they're a local credit union. They've helped us before. All our money, what little we have is there. They probably won't go as high as I requested but who knows.

Reducing our rates from 29 and 25 percent to 6 and 8...that would be a pretty good day's work.

I think this must be similar to the feeling of escaping the mob...and I've still got time for a nap.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A Visit With Distractions

I am not easily distracted. I'm not talking about distractions from the every day...if you start talking during a movie...that distracts me... and everyone else by the way.

When it comes to more important things though, like Amy, my work, and lately our finances, I can be very focused. It's a blessing in many ways, but sometimes I over do.

Lately I've been guilty of that I think, so it was nice for my oldest brother Stan to drive in this morning for a visit.

Stan and I are very similar in many ways. He has worked in the radio industry his entire adult life, as have I...albeit he made money doing it. We're both dog lovers...although his are all brighter (which really isn't saying much).

We have both battled demons.

As we grew older, we grew apart...in physical distance first. We kept in touch on birthdays but that was about it.

Then eight years ago Stan moved from Rochester, New York to Austin and suddenly it was odd. In the many years in between I had become a searching Christian, a stepfather, and certainly more conservative than in my youth.

Stan had become very liberal - today he thinks liberal describes him as too right wing - passionately political, and there were other issues that made it hard to simply be brothers...even though we were now less than 60 miles apart.

It was rocky for a long time... we both tried, then we both agreed not to try so hard....and the distance seemed to grow.

Eventually, we both made subtle overtures and things got better.

Living in Austin, Stan has seen the inner workings of politics up close now and I suppose that may have humbled his idealism a bit. I lived in Austin for a few years, and have certainly been around enough politicians to know it can happen.

Stan is still very passionate. He's active in extreme liberal causes, but also in some ventures that are outside the boundaries of politics, he works to help and comfort people in need.

He still gets in an occasional jab about "Those blankety blank Republicans", but those remarks don't dominate our conversations.

Stan has become more spiritual. We have differences there too I suppose, but they haven't come up.

Today, Stan met me at the hospital to visit with Amy... we went to lunch....he listened more than anything else.
He provided a willing ear, and a much needed distraction.

The reason I mention Stan at all today is that this weekend Chuck Sigars is coming to town. Chuck writes the blog, "The World According to Chuck" which I found through Gordon's blog some time back.

Gordon knows more about Chuck than I do. They have a lot in common; both are writers, dreamers, and deep seekers. They've communicated a lot in the past year. I know a little about Chuck. We've spoken once on the phone and exchanged a few emails this week in advance of his trip. We're about the same age, and from what I gather we have perhaps shared some of the same demons too.

I also know his political alignment differs from mine.

I know that primarily because it was his sister, Jeanne with whom I first interacted.

Last May, Chuck had written a blog about political differences of opinion and I had left a comment which mentioned my brother Stan. My exact words (ain't Google grand by the way?) were: I have a brother who is a vehement liberal Democrat. He wonders why we're not closer. It's not because I don't love him dearly, or that his opinions are so alien to me that I can't be around him. It's because he's so caught up in the fervor of his beliefs that he drowns out his being...it's all he talks about.

I think most of us share far more common ground where we could have very peaceful times, if we weren't so busy defending small pieces of turf in our minds.

Chuck's sister wrote me a very kind email out of the blue and I gathered that she and Chuck have had their political disputes too. I also could tell she loves him a great deal.

I wrote back saying in part that is one thing that makes family interesting and perhaps God figures until we learn to live with each others differences, flaws and failings in small groups, we're never going to get the big picture.

I don't expect to talk politics with Chuck this weekend. I really think I'll probably spend more time watching him and Gordon interact.

No matter what though, it's going to be a nice distraction.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Time & Temperment

I discovered today that half the stores in the world turn over their credit card stuff to one bank in Georgia. I got through to a woman this afternoon about some obscure bill. I opted to find a human to talk to, no easy trick, because the automated voice designed to save me so much time said, "your total balance is 20 dollars and 50 cents....your minimum payment is 50 dollars".

The woman I spoke with laughed...it took a while even for her to figure it out, but she finally determined the automated voice had a southern accent...it was trying to say 15 dollars. In any case I learned during our talk that this same bank handles credit cards for all sorts of stores and I asked - admittedly gun-shy about customer service - but still game enough for some abuse - if she could simply look up every store that had my name or address listed as having account which used their bank. She said, "Sure!"

Yes, I was amazed.

Boom....gold mine. She rattled them off...most I knew about, the others I knew were long gone. No outstanding balances on any of them. That was a relief.

I also discovered today that Exxon Mobil is a weird outfit. Amy is convinced we owe them more money than I can find any record of, and I spoke with a human being there too. I said I have a bill in one hand with one number on it and a credit card in the other hand with another account number on it. She said, "There's only one Exxon Mobil"...part of me was grateful for that as visions of Joseph Hazelwood danced in my head. I had to take her at her word. She said we owed 22 dollars...total. I then noticed the bottom of their bill which reads: "The finance charge on this statement is a minimum charge permitted by state law which results in an ANNUAL PERCENTAGE RATE of 86.59% on this billing."


What state allows that? Oh....Georgia. I have a feeling all our hard to find debts are going to lead me there.

There's no real point to this stuff today... I'm rambling. I realized this afternoon I'm letting this take up too much of my time. I barely get to see Amy in the mornings, come home to this, and then....well, I start to whine.

So I'm going to go walk it off.... thank God for giving me a modicum of patience and perhaps pray for a bit more.

I'm also going to remember that one day, when we're out of this mess - and we will be - I'm going to put my money in bank stocks in Georgia.

FYI - Amy is improving a little but will remain hospitalized until next week, hopefully then I'll get to spring her.

I'd pay anything for that....with interest.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

To My Friend

My friend,

I know you well enough to know you do not wish to be named...so I will respect your wishes.

I have already mailed a more personal note to your home, but I had to state something here as well, because when I write I often feel I am declaring things to God - despite knowing He hears my heart with ease.

You have blessed me and Amy in so many ways over the years, yet today you found another way to do so.

I learn much from you about how to quietly reflect God's love to others while giving all the glory to Him.

For that gift foremost I am grateful.

Today you reminded Amy and me to trust in God always...a lesson we can't hear enough, and we needed to hear today.

God bless you my friend...as you have blessed so many.


God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. - Psalm 46:1

Four Bucks & Foley's

With the sale of Amy's van this week and my paycheck, I was able to go on the attack in our war on debt. I'm still a little hesitant to sound too high and mighty, but I'm fairly certain I knocked out most of the little niggling bills, caught up the big massive bills, and continued to ignore the medical bills for another day.

It is amazing though how some stores make it hard for you to pay them. I can't help but think this is because they want you to incur their enormous late fees, etc.

I'm only going to briefly mention one, because it's a gorgeous day and I want to get out and take a long walk appreciating it before I head to the hospital, but also because I already allowed that one company, Foley's, to steal too much joy from me this week.

It was a piddling bill... 38 bucks. It wasn't overdue; I simply wanted it gone and the account gone. I called "Customer Service" (and believe me I'm convinced now that you don't have to understand what "customer service" means to work in customer service) and said, I had the money, wanted to do a check by phone, debit card, whatever.

"We're going to charge 4 dollars more if you insist on doing it that way!", was the response.

I'm not going to get into the conversation but I spoke with a "customer service rep" and her "supervisor" who both showed zero compassion or courtesy.

I absolutely refused to fork over what amounts to a 10 percent fee to pay them the way every other company I've dealt with this week actually prefers to be paid, and for no extra charge.

The supervisor said, "The company that handles checks over the phone for us charges us four dollars per check, we have to charge you that!"

If that statement is true, Foley's is absolutely insane. Four dollars per check? Someone at Foley's signed that deal? With who? Their brother in law's Check by Phone Company? They're being robbed.

The supervisor finally said I could pay the bill on-line which made me wonder why he didn't mention that earlier, then he added, "but you might need to talk with our Internet specialists to do that."

Huh? I'm going to need a specialist to figure out how to pay my bill on your website? This doesn't seem odd to you?

He was right though. I'm an Internet savvy guy, but I couldn't figure out Foley's website billing at all. I gave up.

On the way home from the hospital yesterday I simply went by the nearest store and asked to pay the bill and cancel the account. The very helpful woman I first spoke with said, she could accept payment but to cancel the account I'd have to go to "Customer Service" upstairs.

I dutifully rode the escalator upwards wondering if I was about to be confronted by the same people I had spoken with the day before. I was greeted by a very nice woman who informed me that she could take my payment (which I allowed her to do) but to cancel the account I had to go through customer service...and they don't exist... except...over the phone. She pointed me to the direct line phones nearby.

It's true; Foley's has no customer service people inside their stores that deal with customer financial services.

I was amazed, but I tried...for about 60 seconds. I heard all sorts of excuses why I couldn't cancel the account...it's in Amy's name...that although it's been paid in full, and I have possession of the credit card, know all of Amy's identification information and even her Foley's password....they could do nothing.

Knowing where this was going...no where, I asked, "Can you do one thing for me?"

"Well, maybe."

"Can you listen real close?"


"This is the sound of a Foley's credit card being snapped in half!" CRACK!

I hung up, cursing myself for letting these folks foul my mood at all.

Then the nice woman I had dealt with moments earlier...the Foley's employee with whom I paid the bill said, "They really charge 4 dollars to take a payment over the phone and they wouldn't even waive that when your wife is in the hospital? That's amazing. I had no idea they did that.

To tell you the truth Mr. Main...I cancelled my Foley's card too. Those customer service people were too aggravating."

I laughed, and thanked her for her kindness.

As I was walking away, she literally yelled after me - despite the fact I was amid a throng of shoppers, "Mr. Main, make sure and hang onto that receipt for your last payment...they'll probably screw it up! I can almost guarantee it!"

I giggled and wondered if any one ever said a proper eulogy for customer service.

Michael 7:25

The shortest verse in the bible is one of the most meaningful, John 11:35 -"Jesus wept".

This morning I was tempted to write my shortest blog ever..."I slept".

There is nothing like 7 or 8 hours of straight sleep following such an irregular schedule to improve my attitude.
I've got plans for the day, most if them revolve around Amy, a couple of lattes I think our budget can spring for this once, and the Sunday paper.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Thou Shalt....Well In This Case...

I'm at the office this morning. The normal anchor wanted a weekend off.

Normally when I'm here, I'm scrambling from the second I walk in the door. It's a lot different on Saturday's. Only having to do news for one station, I'm doing a crossword puzzle and now blogging in between newscasts.

For this they pay me overtime.

I almost feel like I'm stealing...but I'll get over it.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Priscilla Forgive Me

First off, I want to thank everyone for their prayers and for the suggestions folks have left recently. In truth I think what I wrote yesterday was misinterpreted a little, due to my failings to express myself adequately. Moments ago I received an email from my Mother-in-law, Priscilla. It was very encouraging and I started to respond privately, but instead I'm going to violate her privacy a bit by sharing her thoughts, and also my response.

Priscilla wrote in part:

Maybe it would lighten your load to realize we aren't responsible for some one else's well being or happiness. Amy has to find the Lord to be these very things for herself in this situation, just as it is so obvious that you have found Him to be faithful. We can help someone carry the burden but in the end it is the Lord who will be her burden carrier...

Love, Priscilla

This is absolute truth. I agree 1000 percent.

When I wrote the previous post I was very tired, and didn't elaborate very much but actually I was thinking about some very little things. Tiny things that add to Amy's frustration which I hoped to find a way to resolve for her. Less spiritual and more practical, or so I thought.

Amy's "gastric tube" has leaked constantly since they started feeding her through it. It has been upsetting her to no end to wake up "soaked" and have to change clothes constantly. I've been doing a lot of laundry. Yesterday, before I wrote that blog piece, I mentioned to one of the nurses that I couldn't believe there wasn't a better way.

Amy was also very frustrated yesterday by the fact that she was hooked up to 4 different electronic gizmos that all had to be unplugged if she gets up for any reason...and the outlets are 10 feet apart. I mentioned to that same nurse that she should have a power strip in her room. That's against hospital policy.

That's what was on my mind when I sat down to write yesterday.

That's what was on my mind when I got on my knees and prayed last night. I prayed for those frustrations to end.

At 1 this morning Amy called me and told me her surgeon had called in (he's out of town but checking on Amy every day), someone mentioned the "leaking" issue and he brainstormed a solution. Amy was ecstatic.

When I went to visit her this morning....there was a power strip attached to all her gizmos.

Priscilla you are so right...Amy is going to have to find the Lord to be these very things for herself...

I'm only praying to cast a little of God's light her way to make that journey a little easier.

Fixing a leaking tube...a six outlet power strip.

I don't think most folks would consider that the work of God...but I do.

It's exactly what I prayed for less than 24 hours ago.

I also prayed for wisdom...God answered that one too.

God bless you Priscilla.



"Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:29-31

Thursday, August 12, 2004

5,4,3,2, One

I rack my brain nightly for hours trying to think of ways to help Amy. It's not been very productive. I lose sleep and still I fail to find an answer or a plan.

I walked into Amy's hospital room this morning to find her inconsolable. I can't blame her. She's hooked to so many machines, they're pumping her full of drugs...she doesn't feel like she's making any progress and it's hard.

I work very hard to try to maintain composure when I'm with her. I try to reassure her. Too often I fail at both.

In practical terms, this week sucked. There were too many life challenges, too much fatigue, and so much frustration.

It also was perhaps the most enlightening week of my life spiritually. I honestly have never felt God's presence more.

I'm not going to write any more tonight.

I have four things left to do. I need to go deposit the check I received from the couple who bought Amy's van this afternoon.

I need to call Amy and reassure her.

I need to pray, and I need sleep.

One day at a time...growing through discomfort...trusting God.

Okay, five things to do: try to remember the plan was never mine.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Ask Me

From the time I was 15 until almost 18, I lived with my Aunt and Uncle in the Dallas area. I moved to Dallas from New York because my parents had died. Also living with us was my Aunt's mother, a woman by the name of Silvey Harris. Silvey died last year. She had lived a long, sometimes hard, but good life.

Silvey was a tough woman, with simple, hard working values. She was probably in her late 60's when I met her, but at the time appeared to me to be much older. A life of hard work will do that to you. However she was always puttering around the house, wanting to do things. Taking care of plants, washing dishes, doing laundry...etc. I aggravated her a great deal because she would always ask if there was something she could do for me, and I'd invariably say, "No, I'm fine."

As she got older...okay, as we both got older, she'd often say, "Mike, your brothers would always let me do things for them when you boys were younger, but you...you never did want anybody doin' anything for ya"

Silvey wasn't an educated woman...but she was a perceptive one.

I'm still that way. I find it very hard to accept help, much less to ask for it.

One of the things that Amy and I decided to do some time ago was to sell her van - she doesn't really drive anymore. Once again, life got in the way...and I put that on the back burner. I placed a newspaper ad, but got no serious response, and I used a freebie through my company to list the van with an on-line service. No one called....not one person.

Yesterday, as part of my financial frenzy, I decided to get serious about it. I went around to a couple of car lots knowing they wouldn't offer me anywhere near what the van was worth, but I thought if someone offered me enough I might, considering our circumstances, simply take it and be grateful. I ended up not liking the offers - or the used car dealers for that matter.

Early today I sent out an email to the church family. I asked for help. It's still difficult for me to do, but I felt I needed advice from someone who had more experience in selling cars. I wasn't looking for someone in the church to buy the van - in fact I said I wouldn't even consider that - I was only asking for guidance if one of my fellow church members had any in matters such as these.

I also said a prayer asking God for help. I asked He help me find someone who could really use this vehicle.

Amy and I don't need a 7 passenger cargo van. A family, with little kids and a tight budget needs this van.

I came home from the hospital today and one of the church Elders called me and said he had a friend who had helped him sell some cars, and might be willing to work with us. I felt relieved not only for his assistance, but also that I had finally asked someone for help.

He told me he'd contact his friend.

Moments later I called him back and asked him to wait.

You see our answering machine had a message from a woman who lives not too far away. Her husband had seen that on line ad that's been running for months and they wondered if the van was still available.

We made arrangements for them to come over. They arrived in a tiny little car...two parents, three very small children. They've got a tight budget and a big need. We drove the van around and I could tell the Mom was dreaming of having room for the kids and working air conditioning. They asked if there was any way they could take the van to their mechanic...I insisted that they do that. They left me a deposit, their other car, and their keys...not only to their car but to their house. I finally had to literally say, "We're going to have to do some of this on faith...I believe you'll come back with the van."

Then came the serious talk about the price. I had listed the van at $4200.00 in the ad, which is 400 below blue book value already and that's if I compromised on the low side when it came to the condition of the vehicle. Despite that I said I'd drop the price for them by 500 dollars more.

I could tell right away that was still more than they had and they readily admitted it. The mother said, "If the van checks out, I can give you $3000 dollars tomorrow....but I can't pay the other 700 right away...not until my husband's next paycheck in two weeks. Is there any way?"

I laughed. I laughed and said, "All you have to do is ask."

They drove away in the van, tomorrow they'll take it to the mechanic and we'll see if it works out. I certainly hope it does...but even if it doesn't....even if their mechanic says, "Don't buy this van"....I still hope people will ask me to tell them this story...again and again.

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. - Psalm 37:25

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

One Day At Dragon's Tooth

Score one for the dragons.

I slept well last night thinking I had begun the attack and made some progress...too well actually, I woke up at 3 a.m. My alarms should have gone off at 12:45 but I was so exhausted, I called Amy to say goodnight, and evidently immediately fell asleep...never setting the alarms.

When I cracked my eyes open, there was panic, followed by a very brief moment of hope that I was disoriented and it was really 3 p.m. or the weekend...then there was mad panic.

The one thing nice about radio though is once the day is done, especially if it's a bad day, it's gone out into the ether with little evidence left behind.

I came home from an all too brief visit with Amy at the hospital in which the last thing I did was to remind her we would get through this...one day at a time.

At home I found a letter from the Social Security Administration. I was actually on the phone with Gordon at the time and had moments earlier said the one thing I feared was that Amy's disability appeal was going to be turned down....not because of the money, but because it would add to Amy's general disillusionment.

Yes, they did turn her down. In essence the letter said that a woman who can't eat, drive, who is in constant pain despite massive amounts of multiple narcotic medications taken daily and who has undergone multiple surgeries as well as other procedures; who has been hospitalized more times than I can count and who faces more surgery in her future...should be working.

Gosh, the work ethic of those government folks, I never noticed it before...who knew?

I thought about not even telling Amy, but it's pretty evident now that God is impressing a theme upon me this week: in discomfort I grow stronger...every day.

I called her immediately and reassured her we were ready for this eventuality and we would get through it.

Since the day had been so swell thus far, I decided I should double check our bank balance to make sure I hadn't made any mistakes yesterday.

I got slammed.

Big Dragon. A big mean ugly debt inducing Dragon blew fire into my eyes. Our mortgage payment, which I had for some reason assumed had cleared before yesterday, hadn't....until today.

Mad panic - the sequel.

I scrambled, there was no other choice. I ran to the credit union and sat in the parking lot for a few moments trying to compose myself. I prayed, "God, I need an angel to carry me over this one."

A credit union employee saw me come in, sat me down and calmed me down as well. He did his best to alleviate some of my suffering. Although we didn't have the money to pay our mortgage, the credit union had paid it anyway. They charged us 20 dollar fees for each overdraft, but this guy wiped those charges out immediately.

I had to use a cash advance on a credit card - a card I only today learned I had - to clean up this mess, but I did it with the understanding that this was my fault for not being thorough enough in examining our finances before I started "dragon slaying."

Now I know better.

Today I created another dragon in order to avoid being eaten by a bigger one.

Tomorrow I will be smarter.

Before I left the bank, the gentlemen who had assisted me said, "Remember, Mr. Main...this is only one day and there will be better ones."

I came home to a call from my wise attorney friend - I had contacted him when I got Amy's denial letter. I told him I couldn't fight this battle alone, even with God's help. I needed someone who knew how to really fight, someone I could trust too. He agreed and pointed me to a Christian attorney specializing in Social Security appeals. I spoke with the attorney's assistant and tried to give him a general overview of Amy's history. He said for me to get some stuff together and come in next week if Amy was still hospitalized and couldn't come herself. Then he said - completely out of the blue - "Mr. Main...I don't know why I'm telling you this, but my wife and I separated six months ago. I am distraught and destroyed by it, but I have hope that we will get back together. I know you are really feeling it today too, but I truly believe God has a plan for us. Truthfully, on days like today I don't understand it so I simply remember to live one day at a time."

Father God? Message received. I don't see how You could have made it any clearer.

The dragons may have scored one today...but the angels...and salvation, are still ahead.

Thank you, Father.

Because to me this reads like a corny over sent Christian email, I have to say this; I have taken no creative license with this story. The quotes are exact. I couldn't forget them if I tried, and I certainly wouldn't want to anyway.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Slaying Dragons

I spent all afternoon slaying dragons...okay, I didn't actually slay them...I really didn't even wound them, but I did at least face them.

Long ago in a place far too close to home, Amy and I realized we were a financial mess completely of our own making.

It was easy to see that soon it was going to become a major train wreck. I started to deal with it then, but not seriously enough. Amy's health was too much of a priority. Now I wonder how much her worries about money have contributed to her health problems.

I remembered again how God has shown me repeatedly that doing that which is the most uncomfortable is often the only way I seem grow. Amy didn't want to hear it, but I sat in her hospital room and told her I was taking over...today...now, effective immediately. The bills, the creditors, the worries are mine.

I then spent all afternoon rooting out bills, calling companies to find out what we owed them, and in some cases how far behind we were. I paid some, explained to others, negotiated a few, and bluntly told one or two folks who seemed especially nasty that they had now fallen to the bottom of the pile.

I also put all the medical bills into a huge box all their own. I want to examine those line by line....that fight may actually be fun, but I need to slay the smaller dragons first.

When the smoke cleared one or two small dragons were gone, perhaps not dead, but at least chased away.

I also inadvertently managed to put us on a very easy to follow budget. I used every dime so we have no money until I get paid. We'll be fine.

I will build an emergency fund soon enough, but for now we haven't got squat...except the beginnings of a plan, a great deal of discomfort, and each other.

If I were a dragon...I'd be very worried.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Discomfort Me, Lord

Church was uncomfortable today.

Gordon was out town, so we scrambled to get our service together - something I had volunteered to organize - and in all truth, it was about as messy as church ever gets...although there's still time for our little group of believers to aim even lower.

I misprinted the orders of worship so the inside was upside down. I managed to leave the last line of a song out of the song sheets.

No one signed up to bring donuts.

The music team was down to only three members.

And that was only the beginning...

Many of our church leaders were absent so I ended up having to recruit folks for roles in the service at the last minute. For some, it was the first time they had been asked to do those particular duties and it was disconcerting to say the least. That being the case, it only seemed fair to me that I volunteer for the job which I dreaded the most...the taking of prayer concerns. It's a role I have never done, and it's no secret why, it scares me to death.

I speak on the radio to well over 200 thousand people a day, in 3 cities...I never give a second thought to how many people are listening and I actually work hard to find ways to get more people to tune in.

I doubt there were 60 people in our sanctuary this morning and I was petrified.

You see, speaking on the radio could easily be compared to certain forms of insanity, even some of our rooms are padded. Each day I sit in a little booth and essentially talk to myself. Through the wizardry of electronics, a lot of people may be able to hear what I say...but I don't see them listening, for all I know I could be babbling to myself...some days that would probably be best.

Standing in front of people, looking into their eyes and talking....I don't do it well. I do it even less well when I'm not really prepared. I could throw in a few other excuses like sleep deprivation, etc...but in truth I stink at public speaking even on my best days.

Today there was no alternative...and unfortunately no little booth in which to hide. I stood at the front of the congregation. I was shaky at the start, but not too terrible. I even managed to provoke a few folks to laugh...at things at which they were supposed to laugh.

Then came the first prayer request: mine.

Game over...score it composure: zero...confusion: well, they may still be tallying the numbers.

I became emotional in simply attempting to ask for prayers for Amy. Two loving members of the congregation immediately came to stand beside me, but there was no mistaking my discomfort. One look out into the seats, and there was also no mistaking the sense of ill ease of some people in attendance.

I spoke in sobs about the need for healing, and patience. I tried to get across the idea that I also wished for prayer to make sure Amy and I don't lose track of the many kindnesses with which we have been blessed during this ordeal, but I'm not sure anyone understood that. It made sense to me...I hope God managed to translate it. I asked for prayer for members of my family and our church family and then requested those in attendance to state their concerns. A few did. Little Chloe first...unphased as always...asking for prayers for "the gypsy people and our missionaries working with them."

That was about the only time I felt at ease during the entire process...the familiarity of a child's unquestioning love.

Other requests, praises, and such were to follow and there were also some folks very obviously shifting nervously in their seats. I could tell they were uncertain as to exactly what they were witnessing. They weren't alone...believe me.

When my shaking countenance was met only by stares, I asked that these same people now subject themselves to me leading them in prayer.

At least then I could bow my head...close my eyes and simply speak to God. I do that all the time these days, and I'm used to crying when I do it. Admittedly it's not usually in front of an audience, but most everyone else had their heads bowed too, so it wasn't like my personal display was getting worse, not that I'm certain it could.

I'm not sure what I said beyond asking God to help us with our burdens and to help us understand that we often don't understand. I remember saying that God is our hope, and that He has a plan for each of us...but I prayed that we remember that plan is on His time and that hope is for eternity.

After that all I remember saying was, "Amen." I wouldn't be surprised if some people who witnessed it all said the same thing, but not until after I sat down.

There were additional glitches in the service, nothing too severe. The fill in Pastor managed to deliver a good sermon despite the opening act.

No one ran from the church house screaming when services ended.

One young woman spotted me locking the doors after everyone had left, and ran back from the parking lot simply to hug me. She said nothing at all.

The church was now empty, but my thoughts stayed behind.

Church was uncomfortable today...most certainly for me, and indeed for others.

And I'm glad!

Church should be uncomfortable. Our faith should challenge us. Our worship should not be synchronized and staged...it should be heartfelt and humbling.

In all honesty, if I had to look for benchmarks in my Christian journey, all of them would be highlighted by events which at the time frightened or confused me. Certainly I felt ill prepared for each and every one of them.

I feel no shame in falling before my Maker and crying out in need.

In truth, I wonder how so many us manage not to do that same thing everyday.

Yes, church was uncomfortable today...and that was good.

My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your word. - Psalm 119:81

Solvent The Handyman Problem

I'm posting a lot today (and still have a rather lengthy post to work on later), but I wanted to get some quick stories out there before they faded.

I fixed something else!

Yes my friends, the tide has obviously turned. Evidently some passing faerie has inadvertently dropped at least a grain or two of "handy dust" upon me.

Yesterday, after realizing I had done little except nap, talk with Tiffany, and then relish in thinking about my talk with Tiffany, I decided I would at least get the lawn mowed and the leaves out of the front yard before going up the hospital for the night.

I accomplished the front yard project and was halfway through the back when suddenly the lawnmower quit. I checked the gas (hey, I at least know that much) but it had gas. I thought it might have been bad gas, so I replenished it with gasoline which I had recently purchased. Nothing. The mower would not start.

I checked the spark plug wire - yes, there was a day I spent a good 20 minutes yanking the lawnmower cord before some stranger walked by and said, "Um...the spark plug wire isn't attached" but we needn't revisit that day now...or ever again.

The wire was attached, and the spark plug looked fine.

I decided to get ambitious (Amy was in the hospital and couldn't stop me). I removed the air filter and cleaned it. No luck. I even removed the two hoses that feed gasoline into the engine and made certain they were not clogged.


It seemed like the mower wasn't getting gas at all.

This is where the story takes a twist where I'm certain some warning label should probably apply but what's done is done. For whatever reason I decided to pour gasoline directly onto the engine. Glug, glug.

I yanked the cord and the mower started!

Then it died.

I did this several more times - no doubt violating several EPA, OSHA, and Amy rules in the process - but the mower would not stay running for more than a few seconds. I'll admit I used each of those seconds to try to cover as much ground as possible, but I soon realized I would run out of gas very quickly that way...literally and figuratively.

I gave up. I sat down on one of our crappy looking plastic chairs and said out loud, "God, I know people say You never give anyone more than they can handle, but right now I have to tell You I've had it. I can not handle any more!"

I decided the backyard could remain half finished and trudged dejectedly to the garage to return the tools I had used.

As I left the garage to retrieve the mower I grabbed a can of WD-40. I honestly have no idea why, except that it is really the only other thing in my garage that is "handy" related.

I had already dumped gasoline all over the stupid machine, why not add another flammable liquid? I sprayed various parts of the lawnmower with WD-40. There was no rhyme or reason to it. I had no idea what I was doing much less why.

I then gave the cord a yank.

I swear to you, my lawnmower has never run better. It ZOOMED to life and it stayed running!

I finished mowing the yard, completely amazed.

Before I drove up to the hospital last night I realized that maybe the WD-40 fix was only temporary, that if I attempted to start the mower again, after it had recovered from a binge of solvents and fuels, it likely wouldn't work any more.

Tempting fate, I went out to the garage and gave the cord a pull.

It still worked.

You're going to have to excuse me, but I'm beginning to think I may actually be developing some mechanical skills.

Of course, it would be nice if I knew what those skills were and how to repeat them if need be...but I'm not going to press the point.

I am going to buy another can of WD-40 though...who knows where else it might come in handy?

Norman Rock...well maybe not

On a regular basis on my daily walk I see two young children, a boy and a girl. They are absolutely gorgeous children - blonde, big blue eyes. The girl is perhaps 4 or 5, and her younger brother is I would guess 2 or 3. They're often in their driveway as I march past and quite often they will wave. Occasionally the little boy will have something in his hand - a ball, or toy - and start to approach me speaking rather fervently in a language which I'm sure I'd understand better were I two or three years old. The kids are so very beautiful I have been tempted to stop and take their picture, but have always opted not to because....well because in the world we live in today I suspect that could easily be interpreted as "creepy."

Usually their Dad is nearby in the garage, but we've never made eye contact.

Yesterday I was walking by the house and noticed the whole family...Mom, Dad, and the two kids. The kids waved again. The family was obviously preparing to go out somewhere, but it crossed my mind that I might stop and simply say, "I have to tell you, you have a beautiful family."

That would be uncharacteristic for me, but I remember it happening twice when our kids were younger, both times at restaurants, where a complete stranger approached us and said those very words, and then went about their business. It made Amy and me feel very proud.

I thought about those times and as I neared the family, I made the decision and worked up the nerve to actually do it.

Then, when I was only about 15 yards away, I noticed the Mom - an attractive woman - pull out a cigarette, stuff it in the side of her mouth and spark it up in a manner that betrayed her obvious long fed addiction to tobacco.

I kept walking. The perfect picture tainted.

Storm Lessons

Last night, before I went up to the hospital, I wanted to get in a walk to tire myself out as much as possible in anticipation of another night of Naugahyde cruelty. As I prepared to leave, a sudden rainstorm hit. I'm not big on walking in the pouring rain...I've done it when determined, but I decided to wait a few minutes, and sure enough the storm passed over quickly.

As I walked in the freshly cooled air I noticed birds out in force....I mean they were everywhere, flying all over the place.

I thought, "How cool...the birds having been stuck in the heat all realized that there are blessings in some storms." I figured they were out frolicking. I gawked at them as I walked, my mouth literally agape as I marveled at how they swooped and sailed.

Then a bug flew into my mouth causing me to choke and cough.

It was then I realized that although the birds may indeed also see blessings even in stormy times...their definition of blessing differed from mine.
This morning, I left the hospital at about 5:30 with a plan to come home...deal with our dogs, read the paper, and still have time to get to church early since Gordon is out of town (more on how that went in another post). An almost identical thing happened. I was about to take my walk when a rain storm hit. I decided to wait a while and sure enough the rain passed, so off I went.

I took my usual route and came upon a dog, which I've mentioned before. I hadn't seen him for more than a month now and quite honestly I thought he had probably been picked up by the pound since he was always running free in a neighborhood cul-de-sac. Although he would occasionally follow me a brief distance, and act a bit playful, never before had he followed me very far.

Today was different. I suppose it was the rain which had him fired up. He spotted me and immediately starting tagging along, seeing how close he could get before I'd turn around. Whenever I did he'd scamper away. I supposed we had elevated our relationship and kept walking. He kept following. He never got close enough to let me pet him, but he was always within 50 feet of me. I tried to spook him back toward his cul-de-sac a few times to no avail, and then decided to ignore him. He stayed with me for the entire three-mile walk, in fact I was so concerned as I got closer to my home - requiring a turn onto a busier road - that I opted to cut across a yard to make sure this stupid dog who had made up his own game after a morning rainstorm, didn't get penalized...or pulverized, by a passing car.

As I reached our house, the dog spotted two other dogs and went chasing toward them, apparently intent on starting a new game.

I went inside and couldn't help but think that there was a lesson there.

Often in my life I have been stuck in raging storms, and there have been many times when I have passed through storms unscathed.

I realized in all those circumstances, I've never really been alone.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
to Him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
- Psalm 136:3-5

Saturday, August 07, 2004

When Zero Adds Up

I have accomplished absolutely nothing today. I came home from the hospital, napped, wrote a little and then was planning on working in the yard. I got sidetracked by an effort to set up something on one of our websites, but was about to let that be, when the doorbell rang.

It was Tiffany, my eldest stepdaughter.

She said, "MI hadmpth uh denthist appointhmenth andth thoufth I'd droup by to thee you"

Translation: she had been to the dentist and was still a little numb.

Anyway, we ended up talking for a long while. She asked some questions about how her Mom was doing and told me she was heading to the hospital next. She let me vent quite a bit.

Then she said some of the kindest things to me that she's ever said.

I pretty much fell apart.

We hugged. She went on her way.

I cried a little as she drove off.

I haven't accomplished anything today...

This is a day I will never forget.

Short Circuiting Sleep

Let's be clear on this....hospitals are lousy places to sleep. They're fine if you have a ready supply of drugs, but for those of us who went through our entitlement of pharmaceuticals in the 70's, a hospital is a very difficult place to get any rest.

I'm not sure how many Naugas had to die to make the Naugahyde bed/chair/torture device upon which I camped last night, but I'm certain of this much, although I've never seen one, Naugas certainly can't be fluffy little creatures.

The real issue in trying to sleep in a hospital is the constant noise. There are various devices monitoring Amy at all times. For the first few hours I was attempting to sleep, one of those gadgets, a PulSox meter - which measures her oxygen and pulse rate - kept sounding an alarm. I don't mean a weenie little "I'm a car alarm wailing you can ignore me alarm", I mean a "WAKE UP!!! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE! ALARM!"

It's very effective... unless apparently you are the person hooked up to it

I bounded out of my modern day torture rack each time it happened and rushed to Amy's side, initially I actually thought it was a hospital fire alarm. Amy slept through it.

I finally figured out that we had a defective PulSox machine which believed it had a bad battery. Amy's breathing and pulse rate were fine... as evidence I'd work in a mention of snoring here but she's already going to throttle me for the above photo....so let's forget I mentioned snoring okay?

I will mention I leapt out of bed a short time later when I noticed Amy getting up. I thought she might have needed help with something, but then I noticed her eyes were closed. I cautiously said, "Amy?" She opened her eyes, smiled at me adoringly and said, "Oh, I was dreaming I was shopping at Aldies."

I tucked her back into bed wondering why she would be dreaming of Aldies, which for those of you who don't know is a grocery store chain. A grocery store chain we don't have in Texas...never have. Amy has not shopped at Aldies since before we were married to the best of my knowledge. I'll let the family dream interpreter figure that one out, although I suspect he'll beg off citing the morphine as a factor precluding any Jungian analysis.

I crawled back into my makeshift bed...did a crossword puzzle, and started to drift back into slumber...


Okay...it was time to do something about the PulSox machine gone haywire. Moments later Amy's very attentive nurse - who hates cameras by the way...the things you learn on the night shift - eventually found us another PulSox machine and I again attempted to sleep. I did manage to dream for a moment or two but my thoughts were haunted. Do you know what a PulSox machine looks like? Did you ever see the movie "Short Circuit?"

Maybe in the bright light of day no one sees the connection, but last night for me it was the stuff of nightmares...at least the brief ones I managed to squeeze in between interruptions.

Following the PulSox pulmonary experience - which by the way sounds like a great name for a theme park ride - I was awoken by various other alarms indicating fluid drips had stopped dripping and also by a male nurse who wanted to know if Amy had used the restroom recently. He actually inquired if I had perhaps taken a measurement "of her output." I pointed him toward the chart on the bathroom door where this vital information is dutifully recorded by Amy, and rolled back over thinking discomforting dreams of PulSox pariahs couldn't be much worse unless of course the pee measuring male nurse made a cameo appearance in them.

Then a woman came in to the room...to clean.

It was 3 in the morning. All the lights were off, and this very delightful woman - also not keen on cameras by the way- came in and quietly removed the trash, picked up some other debris, and lovingly checked Amy making sure her blankets were covering her. I found it very sweet...odd, but sweet. She didn't inquire about body fluids, but noticing I was now wide awake she did ask about the picture I had brought of the family.

Having given up any hope of sleep, I began doing crossword puzzles. I knocked out two and then foolishly thought, "I bet I could get in an hours nap now."

I gently closed my eyes and rolled over onto the only spot on my back which wasn't throbbing from previous attacks by the Naugachair-creature. I prayed a little, thanking God that Amy was resting well and that despite my minor discomforts, she was getting good care. I started to drift off and then...


I couldn't believe it. I went over to check the PulSox meter and this time it was actually doing its job, Amy's breathing had dipped one notch below what is deemed acceptable. I nudged her, and the numbers quickly rose.

I started another crossword puzzle and then the nurse came in. I asked about the PulSox alarm and she showed me that she carried a pager-like device which gave her continual read-outs of Amy's PulSox machine. She wasn't concerned by one ear-splitting alarm at all. I, of course, wondered since she had a pager that gave her such information, why it was necessary to have an alarm on the thing that rattled the plaster from the walls. I decided it was best not to ask.

About that time, Amy woke up briefly and the nurse checked her out. She gave her some medications, and then it was back to normal...unless you consider sleeping to be a normal activity at 4 a.m. on a Saturday.

I polished off the puzzle I was working on, feeling rather proud of myself - of course I now realize I may have written complete gibberish in the puzzle squares because I was so sleep deprived.

I knew I couldn't stay much longer. I had to get home and tend to the dogs and my original intention was do some yard work at the church in the cool of the morning.

I went over to Amy's bedside and prayed again. That certainly seemed like a better use of my time and I knew even if I was speaking gibberish God would know what I meant.

I packed up my stuff, folded away the blankets and the Nauga cruelty device before waking Amy to tell her I had to leave. She cried a little, the general frustration crying of someone who has been through an awful lot and doesn't really understand. I held her hand and kissed her.

Then I assured her I would be back tonight.

There's nothing that could keep me away.

For the record: I got a nice nap in when I got home, and plan to nap more before going up to the hospital tonight. I don't want to sound too sleep deprived, or too noble.