Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Write Time

I'm in the middle of a computer rebuild...which is to say Amy is rebuilding my computer. The computer has been sort of limping along for a month or two with various hiccups, multiple Microsoft personality disorder and we knew it was time...for a new hard drive....a fresh start.

I haven't had time to write much lately...I considered for a while if it was time to simply pull the plug on the blog, but I don't think I'm there yet. I'm going to let it limp along for a while yet.
Maybe I'll get a fresh start too.

One reason I haven't written too much is that my life revolves so much around the Gomez family these days and I don't want to invade their privacy...I haven't decided on where the dividing line is yet between their lives and my thoughts.

I've found keeping my mouth shut is a wise approach when put in that situation.

I could write today about a little miracle of hope which has unfortunately become a major source of sorrow, but there are boundaries and the sorrow has not been fully shared, so that story will have to wait.

I suppose I'll know when it's the right time.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's All Relative

On my side of our family -in the traditional sense - I don’t really have much family.

Since Amy and I have been married, the Thanksgiving holiday has always been reserved for my side of our family which amounts to an eclectic bunch of folks most of whom I'm not related to by blood in any manner no matter how far up the family tree you climb.

My Aunt Kathy is the heart and soul of this bunch of misfits and fit-givers, and although she's my Aunt, technically I'm not related to her either. Kathy's ex-husband was my mother's half-brother - my Uncle - a man with whom I rarely if ever communicate. My Uncle and I never did have much in common and we've both allowed time to widen that gap to a point that really amounts to a one sided Christmas card relationship – Amy and I buy a lot of Christmas cards…mailing them is something we’ve yet to master.

Kathy is my surrogate mother and has been since I was 14 years old. I suppose I treat her like too many sons treat their Moms...I don't call often, certainly I don't visit enough and I take her for granted far too much. Yet Kathy forgives me…like most mothers do I suppose.

It's confusing even for me to keep up with but in simplified terms my side of our family is a non-traditional gaggle of friends, friends of friends, and folks who somehow got in the door but no one really remembers how. The only time I normally see any of them is on Thanksgiving.

This year was the first of the past three that Amy and I have been able to make it to Dallas for this gathering of "kinda cousins" and it was joyous...and sad. Some members of the bunch have passed away, others are in too poor of health to travel, and still others couldn't be with us for reasons of their own making.

We were determined to be there although Amy was sick the entire trip and she felt horrible about being sick. As a result, she was drained from the emotional beating she was giving herself on top of being feverish, and generally miserable.

Our first night in Dallas, I was physically sick - personally I think Braums poisoned me but Amy says I caught her bug - whatever it was I felt like...well there are several words that come to mind all of which may be literally correct but none would be polite to use. Suffice it to say one of the things I was most thankful for Wednesday night was the little wrapper across the toilet seat in our hotel bathroom.

The Gomez family members say they liked Dallas, but Amy and I didn't have the time or energy to do a lot of things we had hoped to do with them which I'm sure added to the general awkwardness they felt of being in a strange town amid strange people... not to mention the even stranger noises emanating from the bathroom down the hall in our hotel.

Everyone was out of sorts in one fashion or another.

In terms of food, Thanksgiving went was not an issue. No one went away hungry...

Yet I know Lee, John and Ana still felt somewhat ill at ease. They didn’t know that it's normal for people on my side of the family to feel a little out of place. We're an odd knotted tangle of humankind leaning on each other like there's nothing unusual about it at all.

Quirky as it may be, I am thankful to have Kathy and all my "kinda cousins" as well as a place to call "home" in Dallas. I'm thankful that Amy and I were able to give John the birthday present we had hoped - thanks to my quasi-cousin Michelle.

Michelle and I took John and Michelle's son to watch the Cowboys/Denver game at Texas stadium. John is not particularly loquacious on the best of days and amid the strange surroundings in Dallas he didn't exactly open up. When Amy and I told him about his birthday present he sort of shrugged it off which I confess initially surprised and disappointed us. I know I expected more…but now I realize that was because I wasn’t seeing the situation through John’s eyes. I was deciphering his behavior and seeming lack of enthusiasm from my perspective – the wise old man who already has quirky, inexplicable situations all figured out…except for this one.

The only time John said anything indicating he was appreciative of the gift was after we had already arrived at the game. We were trudging up the 84 miles or so of ramp-ways to our seats at Texas stadium. During that trek - from which I'm still sore by the way - John mumbled, "You know going to a real NFL game is probably the best birthday present a boy could ask for..."

It was John's way of expressing both thanks and awe...and I almost missed it because of pride and the fact that I was breathing so hard due to a lack of oxygen at the stadium's highest level.

John didn't react the way we expected initially because John had no point of reference from which to react. This was all unfamiliar territory to him: Dallas, my weird collection of family, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with unrelated folks who call themselves family, and then being surprised by tickets to a real NFL game – his first - all on his birthday.

Truthfully, Lee and Ana were in much the same boat. They didn’t come to the game, but they were unsure how to act in unfamiliar surroundings, unsure who everyone was and how I was connected to them, unsure of almost everything. So they were quiet and kept to themselves more than usual. This is also something I think Amy and I nearly misinterpreted.

God didn’t have to kick me in the butt to help me figure it out...instead He used His usual tactic: He gave me time...He was patient.

Weaving along the back corridors of Texas yesterday as we drove home we admired the small valleys filled with trees bursting with color as they prepare to drop their leaves for winter. At one point Lee said, ”I really liked this Thanksgiving…but I think the best part was the driving.”

The driving was her favorite part. Five pretty much full grown people crammed quasi-comfortably in one car, journeying together, laughing, napping, and playing road games while admiring the beauty of God's was during that time that Lee felt we were “a family” of sorts. An odd quirky little family, but family nonetheless.

It made perfect sense to me.

Today I realized this is how I am too often in my relationship with Christ. I don't know how to act.

I had a Pastor once who was fond of saying, "When people first get saved they should be locked up for 3 years until they settle down." He was only kidding...I think...but his point is well taken. I have seen a lot of newly born again folks who could easily be mistaken for escapees from the nearest nut hatch.

It’s easy to feel out of place in my relationship with God, like I don't really belong. I've seen Christians change radically in all sorts of "outward" ways from the clothes they wear to peppering their conversations with every "churchy" word imaginable, but inside I suspect many of them feel undeserving of a place at the table…like they’re not family...not blood relations.

I know I have felt that way and it’s understandable because it’s true.

I don't deserve to be there. I don't deserve to be surrounded by loving people who care about me and whom I call “family” even though we're not related.

For a very long time I didn’t know how to say, "Thank You" to God. I had no reference point.

Technically, I don’t spend Thanksgiving with “blood relatives.” Lee, Ana and John are not blood kin to Amy and me in any way...if you look at things that way.

However how you look at things is all relative.

This mixed up bunch of oft-times confused travelers with whom I journey through life toward a destiny with God are part of my family. They are in fact my closest relations.

We are blood kin.

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Revelations 12:11

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Miss Me?

I suppose I should write something huh?

Blogging hasn't been on the top of my list lately. It's taken a back seat to fear and frustration as well as general fatigue.

However if I don't write something tonight I won't be able to until the weekend since - God willing - we're actually going to pack everyone up in the car and head for the Dallas area tomorrow morning. We haven't been able to make this trip the past two years because of Amy's health.

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving if Amy wasn't sick...and that holiday tradition is going to continue. In a few minutes, I'm taking her to a nearby "Doc In The Box" because it appears she has come down with strep. In truth, that's such a minor thing compared to year's past we're not even going to worry about it - but I want her to get on some antibiotics pronto so she'll regain enough strength to go shopping Friday before dawn like an insane person. You don't want to be around Amy is she misses the post Thanksgiving sales...I could show you scars. traditions.

Thursday - besides being Thanksgiving - is also John's 14th birthday. I think I've mentioned before that 14 is the age which I've found to be the hardest in dealing with kids. My kids, your kids...anyone's 14 they start to want to assert their independence and become frustrated by reality: they're still kids and don't have any indepedence.

John is pumped up about the trip although he is doing his best to appear moody and disinterested. This is also a character trait that blooms at age 14. My plan is to keep the kids up late tonight...leave early tomorrow and hopefully they'll sleep most of the way to Dallas.

For several weeks, I have been trying to finagle a certain birthday gift for John calling in all my markers, begging, tossing about the phrase "poor 14 year old Katrina evacuee" with abandon and I've discovered one thing: I have no juice whatsoever.

However a young woman who is technically related to me in some obscure fashion and who has a son about John's age, came through today which I think is going to make John's birthday a little extra special and a lot more bearable than taking him 300 miles north to visit people he doesn't know.

I'd reveal more about the gift, but John is fooling around behind me as I type. Although the odds of him actually reading something without the threat of torture are highly remote, I don't want to take the chance of him finding out too soon. Suffice it to say it's a gift that can only be redeemed in the Dallas area on Thanksgiving day. That should be clue enough for any budding Sherlock Holmes out there.

We have much to be thankful for this year. Amy may be a little under the weather now, and there are still some medical tests lurking ahead which are frightening if we dwell on them, but in general Amy's health is better than its been for a long time and we're hopeful once the wheels of the medical bureaucracy start to creep along we'll receive some reassurance that all is well. Until then we pray...and distract each other.

This week was a little more chaotic than usual but we've enlisted the aid of several church members to help the Gomez family members develop and stick to a plan which will lead to their independence eventually. Amy and I and even our three dogs are fairly easy to get along with, but a place of their own is...well is still a place of their own.

Anyway, no profundity here...several folks have written me with concern because I haven't posted a lot lately. Thank you for that, I appreicate your prayers and concerns, but rest assured we're doing fine.

We hit a few potholes in recent days...but that's all they are...bumps in the road.

The road is still there and Amy and I are locked arm in arm as we walk forward.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

" I Can't Hold 'Er Cap'n!"

There are days when the world makes more sense to me than other days. Today is one of those days when I have to squint my eyes and cock my head for things to look like they're not all akimbo - which I might add is a word that always makes me and Amy laugh.

Days when you hear pshrinks recommend sending a cop-killer to Wal-Mart - for "therapy"- as the holiday shopping season begins...well, I must admit I had to close one eye and twist my head almost completely around to see the logic of that.

Okay, in truth I still don't see it but I could be on the wrong medication.

Luckily there were meatier issues to take my mind off of that the hopping debate over what to call kangaroo meat to get more people to eat it. The Kangaroo Raisers Association or whatever says if cows can be called "beef" and pigs "pork" than kangaroos should have a more palatable name too. They've already determined that "Skippy" would be a bad doubt averting a lawsuit from Mattel the first time someone said, "Hey Mate! Toss another Skippy on the Barbie!"

Speaking of skippers, you did hear about James Doohan's ashes - you know "Scotty" from the original Star Trek? The story about how his cremated carcass crumbs were grounded due to an engineering snafu...well, that seemed to put the world back in perspective for me...if I squint just right..

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Jesus Is A Gas

I'm sure this story is all over the blogosphere by now...rather than link to it I'll simply reprint it without the express written permission of the Associated Press.

AUBURN, Calif. (AP) -- Jesus saves -- at the gas pump? Two rival California congregations are feuding over a cheap gas promotion. Leaders of the New Life Christian Church offered discounts on gas worth about 50 cents a gallon.

Pastor Bill Jenkins says the idea is to show God is interested in everyday issues. But members of the Church of the Divide in Grass Valley protested Sunday outside the New Life services. They counter the gas discount is a marketing gimmick that cheapens religion.
The protesters carried signs reading: "Jesus cares more about your sin and burning in hell than gas prices."


First off I wouldn't be surprised to learn this was all a hoax - New Life vs The Church of the Divide?

In any case, in radio having cheap gas giveaways or other attempts to get free news coverage is called "stunting" and I suppose the term applies here as well. Occasionally in big markets radio stations will actually try to sabotage the stunting events of their competition.

I've never heard of churches doing it though...however if the "Church of the Divide" wishes its ministry to be centered on revealing "gimmicks" used by churches the field is certainly wide open...that is if the congregants can ignore those little voices in their heads saying, "Hello pot...kettle're black!"

What I really find fascinating is that this is apparently unabashed "competitive Christianity." I mean wouldn't you give almost anything to have listened in on the "battle plan" conversation that took place at the church that opted to use guerilla warfare tactics against another church?

Competition Christians. .. I think this is a market we have really ignored.

There's got to be a reality TV series or movie in this somewhere...

Maybe a game show would be better...

This of course leads us to the larger philosophical question: Can Jesus have gas pains?

That's rhetorical by the need only look around to see the answer.

We are a silly bunch sometimes...thank God for grace.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Seeing Rage

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:40

I raged at God today...the Creator of all the Universe.

Yes, we had words, for many reasons but primarily because the past week has been a tough one in our home.

Tonight there will be a "prayer walk" on our church land, the second of such exercises and I understand the first was very good. I won't take part because of my odd sleep schedule and because I walk our church grounds in prayer more than most - although I am often pushing a lawn mower or some other piece of lawn equipment, I am always in prayer or conversation with God.

There is nary a nook on the land where I have not prayed to God, sang to God, or raged at God.

I suspect of the members of our congregation, only Gordon knows the land more deeply.

When I heard tonight another prayer walk was scheduled my foremost thought was, "I need to get up here with the mower after church so people can walk more easily. To discover the land's treasures. They will walk and pray tonight... made easier because this afternoon I will rage."

Gordon was out today so Tim was preaching and it so happens he was preaching on that very chapter of Matthew. A passage I have heard and said more often in the past month than any scripture I can ever remember.

Tim was excellent discussing the obvious connotations of finding God in ourselves as well as in the least among us while also exploring the verse in context which poses a dichotomy - God with and within us and those around us, but also a God who is removed from us - on a throne ready to leave those who passed by the needy in this life to "eternal punishment" with the swipe of His hand.

As I marched behind the lawnmower being pelted with debris I wanted to swipe back.

So I raged.

I raged at God because we are waiting for more medical test results and doctor's explanations of them which is terrifying Amy and me. In truth they will likely amount to nothing, but we don't need the stress...not now when we are being so "noble" and all by opening our home to a "Katrina" family.

I raged at God today because even though we cherish the Gomez family, they are high maintenance and at times that too can get to me and I am ashamed.

I raged at God today because this morning I wrenched my back - spare me the lecture about the foolishness of doing yard-work afterwards...I was careful and I needed to rage.

I raged at God today because yesterday, my middle brother, Derek, turned 50 years old. In a phone call to him I found out our eldest brother, Stan, who "disowned" me prior to the last Presidential election had in fact New York...because he wanted "to be in a blue state."
Take note, he had been living Austin, Texas which is not exactly a bastion of conservatism. He never even sent us a change of address card.

So I raged at God while chopping down brittle knee-deep grass in the summer heat of the South Texas "fall."

Our two small church buildings are housed on a fraction of the over 5 acres of land the church owns. The land is populated with majestic oaks, wild persimmon, gorgeous mountain laurels...and dreams. Sometimes, right in time for Lent, the mountain laurel bloom with such abundance to bring a tear to even the most hard hearted.

But sometimes our dreams are forgotten too.

There is also plenty of ugly brush country scrub and prickly pear cactus so pernicious is seems like it was planted by Satan himself. You can cut it down, try to burn it, tear it from the ground...but it will return.

Additionally the grasses grow wild and in 6 years or so we've succeeded in truly taming only a small area of the property.

Often times I will cut down a tall patch of grass and find an animal carcass. Yes, there is death on our church land too.

And of course rocks. Every inch of the ground is covered in limestone, which if you pick up and discard will only allow another rock to pop to the surface.

I thought about these things and raged at God.

"Why is life so tough so often? What did we do to deserve such stress? Are we not 'lambs' instead 'goats' in the mind of God?"

I was in the middle of my rage and my mowing...cutting down the straw-like grasses that grow along the Farm to Market road upon which our church sits, when I saw it - a 20 dollar bill.

It was faded and appeared to have been trapped in the weedy gnarl that can quickly ensnare anything flicked from a passing car or blown out a car window or pickup bed. I have found many items in that patch of grass...but never before cold hard cash.

I bent down and snatched the 20 as my mind screamed, "AHA! There that shows you Lord! You can beat me down with stress and aggravation, but sometimes I still get the prize!"

It was as if God had become sick in listening to me rage and tossed a twenty to the ground to silence me.

Still, for the record, I was up 20 bucks and when I called Amy to tell her I was coming home I mentioned that fact.

Her response?

"You found it! I lost 20 dollars in the church parking lot last weekend!"

I had absolutely no reason to doubt her.

That's when I realized it.

My relationship with God is not too different than my relationship with our church land.
At times all I will see is the beauty and grace of the other times all I will see are the harsh things, the hard things...even the dead things. At times I will dream of the potential, and at other times I will fear the dreams will whither.

Within all of such are still God's blessings given to me without question or merit.

I merely have the duty to see them.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Oddities I Meant To Mention

Back in the 90's....yeah, way back then...there was a site on the Internet (you can still find it but it doesn't work) devoted to "Blue Dog."

It was all the rage for a day or a month or two...a cgi script where the dog barked.

It was the 90's...we were easily impressed.

Real impressed actually...

I don't know if that's where the Blue State vs Red State thing came from...but anyway that dog didn't hunt...

The only reason I mention the blue dog, besides the fact Amy is sleeping away and John is playing with his new turtle (it's about a half inch long) that I read a story this week about a green dog...which if it not the name of a modern rock band it should be...

The green dog is actually a golden retriever puppy...and the owner swears he didn't dye the poor dog green for publicity.

Guess we'll have to wait for that one to come out in the wash...

The other oddity I meant to mention this week was Jesus Juice...seriously.

This has apparently been in the works for some time...a wine actually bearing Jesus name.

One problem...the label bears the image of someone else:

Michael Jackson isn't pleased...imagine how Jesus must feel.

The guy who came up with the idea, a CBS News Producer, now says it was all a gag...he never meant to market it.

To tell you the truth, I bet a bottle of that on the Communion table would bring a lot of bleary-eyed Sunday-only Christians to Christ pretty quick.

Okay Maybe I'm Not Handling The Stress So Well

Those irrational moments...

Thanks for the thoughts and prayers...the previous post was a bit melodramatic...okay, greatly melodramatic.

I slept last night....maybe 8-9 straight hours. It's probably the first time I've had the chance to do that in two months. I can do my job - although Amy and I are now giving serious consideration to me changing careers - but I can only do it "well" if I have a schedule...a schedule to sleep...a schedule to work...a schedule of sorts to spend time with the things that keep me grounded God, my wife, my sense of service.

I will confess I have not had a schedule for any of them lately. There are constant interuptions...peace is hard to find.

Also there are some new health concerns lingering with Amy - nothing to freak out over - simply tests we must await results on and that's ratcheted the general stress.

So writing seems more like whining.

This too shall pass.

Bless you for your kind comments and emails.

The body of Christ strengthens me so.

Friday, November 11, 2005

No Time

I have no time.
I seem to spend every hour working or trying to put out some "fire."

Pray for Amy.

Pray for me.

I don't know when I'll blog again.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Boundaries & Bungles

"We do not torture." - George W. Bush - 2005

I don't write much about politics or the war and I don't plan to start, but I must say when I see quotes like the one from the President today I have to wonder...why? Torture comes in many forms...I find it torturous listening to a few minutes of some types of music, while others will scream if forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh. To say, "We do not torture" is to make yourself an easy target.

Didn't the President see that? Didn't everyone on his staff see that? Doesn't everyone in Washington see that?

The President certainly should know better by now but he gave every political, philosophical and or military opponent of his and of this country "fresh meat."

Let's all put on our swami hats here....what do you see?

Let's guess.

A bunch of reporter's are going to look for - and find - someone who claims to have been tortured.
Members of Congress are going to hold hearings that will keep the torture issue alive and on the front pages of the newspapers because of their true concern about the matter...until the mid-term elections.
Every military adversary will push someone out into the 24 hour news cycle with a limp, a broken nose, missing finger, or other "good visual" disability who will tell a tale of how their injuries came at the hands of sadistic Americans.

Perhaps your mind has to be on the other side of that line they call "inside the beltway" to see a reason to make such a statement, but from my seat out here in the outer reaches I see a bungle.

In truth, I don't have time to concern myself with political bungles but it did give me pause to consider lines....and boundaries.

Finding the line to insure "alone time" with Amy while still making time for the Gomez family members is not always easy. Finding time for me to blog without being interrupted is hard, but Amy has actual "work" to do on her computer and she is an easy target for conversation...for distraction. Determining how to draw a line to make certain she can do her job without offending anyone is difficult - especially for a people pleaser like Amy - so we're working on strategies. Drawing a line that's honest and firm...yet still bends on occasion because it's basic component is love...takes an artist. It takes will take time.

Even after nearly two months, our relationship with our "blended" Katrina family is still new.

However God is the Ancient of Days...we have faith in His time.

Lord knows God has been excessively patient with us.

Besides there's one thing that's abundantly clear...we don't want too many boundaries.

They can easily become walls.

Everyone can see that....right?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Stressing Relief

Well so much for that...I had just completed a post about stress and how I wasn't allowing stress to intervene in my life and was trying to reduce stress for our growing adoptive family, then my computer locked up. Word, which is supposed to save your writings automatically apparently decided this particular bit of wisdom was unworthy of saving.

Maybe I was getting a bit too haughty about not getting stressed out.

God you have a wicked sense of humor sometimes.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Meltdown

I knew it was coming.
A 13 year old boy whose family was torn apart.
A 13 year old boy who apparently has not had a decent adult male role model for much of his life.
A 13 year old boy who saw everything he ever knew wash away and in the swirl of that tide he was eventually carried by buses and pickup trucks to a new city, a new school, a new home, a new church and a new life.
A 13 year old boy who has tried very hard to act like nothing can harm him, like he doesn't care about anything or anyone.
A 13 year old boy who has done everything possible to avoid looking like a vulnerable, wounded, lost...13 year old boy.

I've been so proud. His grades aren't good, but he's taken it upon himself to find tutors. He didn't have any friends, but he's been aggressive in meeting kids in the neighborhood. He has tried very hard and shouldered many a burden that no one should ask of a 13 year old boy.

He's far from perfect. His behavior can be maddening at times. He's 13.

He has set goals and this week he thought he had achieved one...but he was mistaken. A teacher counted a grade against him which he thought was unfair. It resulted in him not passing one course, which kept him from going with the band to football games. He got angry...real angry.

He cried and fumed and stomped around. He raged at teachers and life and perhaps even God.

Finally! Thank you God...finally!

When I saw him after school yesterday, he first mentioned a horn he'd been eying on Ebay and I mentioned the sky high mound of pizza rolls he was eating. Then he mentioned what was really on his mind, the only thing on his mind...the thought that had dominated him all day... festering and feasting on his delicate self image. He told me how "Mr. So and So failed me because of one stinkin' grade that should have counted in the last grading period not this one!"

I acted like I didn't already know. That I wasn't aware about the crying and fuming and stomping and rage earlier in the day that prompted a call from a school counselor to his Mom.

I told him I was very proud of how much he's been able to do and how well he's doing in other classes. I told him I knew he'd do better in that one class.

He said a few more things about that teacher.

I mentioned we were going to church and he told me he didn't want to come along. I said I wanted him to - that we were going as a family.

He said okay.

I was once a 14 year old boy who lost a great deal and was tugged and tumbled into a completely unfamiliar world. I raged and fumed inside for a very very long time.

Oh Father...I don't believe there has been a time in my life for which You have better prepared me. I pray I do right by You...and by this 13 year old boy.