Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fat Tuesday & Thin Paychecks

Today is pay day - normally a day of much rejoicing - but due to the thin month of February and a slightly guilty if ill-timed decision to up my 401k contribution, my pay check was less fruitful than normal today.

To add to the lack of joy, I came home to find hospital bill creditor notices that needed to be paid because they've capitulated to the "Main Household Hospital Bill Paying Plan" which is essentially - "Don't pay 'em anything until they agree to cut the entire balance in half." Unfortunately they picked thin pay check time to make their offer and they're not the type of folks who give a lot of leeway.

Still we'll be fine, which is a fairly amazing scenario for us...being able to pay our creditors and still eat, tithe, and keep the lights on. You need only scroll back through the archives of this blog a year or two to find a precariously different financial picture. We have reclaimed a small portion of financial stability...still in debt up to our ears, but no one is chewing on our lower parts...at least not too vigorously.

Amy and I have also been reclaiming our relationship lately and that's been a good thing. With the exception of our wonderful mini-retreat to The Big House, to a large extent this process has meant we leave our house on Friday nights and go to a "dive bar." If I have to define that term for you, think smoky, not super sanitary, with a good jukebox. It's a place where we occupy most of our time playing darts.

Yes, it's a cheap date. I'll have a glass or two of wine, Amy will have some drink that tastes like chocolate milk...our dart throwing ability never improves. We play for fun, only against each other, basically we stink at the game, but winning in darts is not our intent anyway.

That's about the highlight of it. We love it...except for the smoke.

I mention that reclamation process only because today is the last day before Lent and there will be some things I'll be giving up tomorrow - one of which will be wine. I'll also be observing a strict dietary fast and getting back into the habit of walking for 40 minutes every day for the next 40 days, a daily discipline which I have sloughed off entirely in recent months. Amy is vowing to try to join me on my daily walks - if I slow down - I'm not sure how we'll do on that part, but the initial idea is quite pleasing, more time together out of the house.

I was talking to some of the kids at church last weekend about Lent and the conversation quickly seemed to be consumed by the idea of dieting and exercising. I found myself sounding the alarm and wanting to make certain that they didn't mistake my Lenten disciplines for a weight loss plan.

Yes, I'll likely lose weight and yes I'm giving up my modicum of wine drinking, but that's not my purpose. I suddenly found myself blurting out to these kids that the reason I was giving up certain foods and resuming my walking regime was for my "spiritual" health not my physical well-being...although it could be argued the two are closely interwoven. The point I tried to make is that I am taking some things out of my life in order to make more room in my life for God.

I think they understood me...as much as I think any teenager ever understands me...which is not an area I truly wish to explore...ever.

One disclaimer: I am reserving the possibility of one day off from the fast...that will be this Friday.

Saturday is our wedding anniversary.

Amy has been crazy enough to stay married to me for a dozen years.

I suspect she will want to continue reclaiming our relationship on Friday night...oddly enough in a smoky bar with darts. I may or may not have a glass of wine...I probably won't - I'm kind of big on this discipline thing - but I'm keeping the option open for that one night.

It may not be a wild, expensive evening...but it will do for us.

I suppose that's what I should have told those kids...the more God - like the more Amy - I have in my life...the less I need of other things.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Messages Awaited & Received

I'm listening. I'm waiting to hear . . . from God.

I know of too many people who believed they were following God's calling only to realize later amid the ruins of shattered dreams that they were only elevating their wants and desires in an attempt to give them God's stamp of approval.

Perhaps this too was God's will, but I am generally not a risk taker and would be quite happy if God would resurrect the now defunct telegram - brief, to the point, hard to misinterpret messages or instructions - but that's not how God works.

So I'm listening.

I never received a telegram in my life . . . in fact I had never really seen one up close until last weekend at The Big House. You'll have to click on the photo to read it and I've blurred out some words to protect Roy J. and Helen's privacy.

Roy J. was a POW for two years during World War II, but initially he was believed to be killed in action. Roy and Helen were not married but they were in love and Helen says she never came to believe Roy was gone. Last weekend I listened as she told the story of going to a "Spiritualist" when Roy had been reported "presumed killed in action." Such a visit was then and is still quite contrary to Helen's deep religious convictions. Yet she was convinced by friends to go and she "heard" a calling to follow their lead.

Helens swears that "Spiritualist"- who disappeared a short time later - told her not only that Roy was alive, but that he would return from the war, they would marry, and have seven children . . . one of whom would die.

Many years have gone by since that one visit to a mysterious "Spiritualist" but all those predictions came true.

I don't know what to think about that . . . but I'm listening.

I know that Roy and Helen have lived a long and complex love story, two years of which were marred by what must have been a daily sense of fear and apprehension. I can't imagine what that must have been like, yet their story gives me hope.

You see, as Lent approaches I suspect Amy and I may be heading into one of the most difficult times of our lives spiritually. I've already decided to do my "usual lenten thing" - fast and walk - but I have this vague sense that this season will lead us to change . . . more drastic change than in years past.

Lately Amy and I have been struggling with what we "think" we're hearing from God on several levels, calling us to service and certainly calling us out of our comfort zone.

At times we believe we've heard God calling us away.

So we're struggling a bit . . . trying to find a balance between our beliefs, our desires, and what we consider our duty.

When in a place of spiritual uncertainty, my approach is often one of caution . . . to wait . . . and to allow God's will to reveal itself . . . in God's time. Yet there are issues it appears we must address and thus the recent apprehension in our lives.

In any case, my intent this Lenten season is to listen and try to hear God.

But Lord if You'd prefer to zap together a telegram so we get it straight . . . please don't let me stop You.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

An Update Is In Order

There's no way of denying truth...life hosting the Gomez family is not going well. Lee is trying very hard, working and going to school, but she's not a good parent. Amy and I are not John and Ana's parents and they take every opportunity to make sure we are aware of that. For the most part the kids "hide" in their rooms or we hide in ours. On March 10th they'll have their own apartment and we will have fulfilled our promise to God, albeit still feeling like failures.

Prayer is constant. Help is distant. Time is our greatest ally.

"God redeems time" - That wisdom was passed along to me last weekend at The Big House, and I have been reflecting upon it ever since. There is so much in our relationship with the Gomez family that has been wondrous and yet the petty instances of disrespect are almost constant. In all honesty, not a day goes by that I do not regret that we didn't stick with the decision to put them up elsewhere for the past month, but Amy and I are determined to ride it out...even if the unpleasantness continues.

My prayer is that once we get the family settled...hold an "apartment shower" for them (more on that later, because this family still needs help - no matter the status of our personal relationship - and God never said anything would be easy) that a small amount of distance will heal our differences.

God redeems time, and time is a healer too.

Praise God.

We'll Never Lego Of It

Famous people....in Lego form.

Like Dick Cheney.

More here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Small Stories From The Big House

It's called "The Big House" for a reason:

The Big House is occupied by Roy J. and Helen and at various times of year by the many members of their extended family. The family history is on display everywhere inside, as are examples of the family's deep roots and love - for each other and for Christ.

However I must add that Roy J. is something of a character. There is far more to his story than I could ever attempt to tell here, but in brief he's a World War II veteran, a former P.O.W., a believer and a man who doesn't mince words. He has been through a lot, but every time I've seen him he's been smiling, enjoying life with a certain mischievous look in his eyes that I suspect conceals an inner toughness that hasn't always been so well hidden.

This is Roy J. today:

I spent some of my time at the Big House examining some of the hundreds of photographs of family and friends that line virtually every wall. This is one of many that caught my eye:

I asked Roy J. about the photo and he told me that was him (the boy whose cowboy hat framed his rascally smile) and his younger brother. As you might imagine, the picture was taken many years ago in West Texas. Then Roy added that his younger brother was also in the house.

It is a BIG house but I was fairly certain I had met everyone who was with us during our visit until Roy added with a subtle nod, "in the bucket over there..."

Roy J. cuts to the chase.

Roy's brother died a couple of years ago and he is indeed in the house, actually in the room behind the wall where that picture hangs. His ashes are in an urn sitting atop a fine family piano where Helen relishes every opportunity to play hymns.

I must admit I was a little startled by Roy J.'s cavalier response, but then I turned my attention away from the urn and back to his face and saw that ever present smile...and I understood.

Life is what you make it...Roy J. and Helen have decided to fill their lives with family, faith, music, and an amazing array of memories - in The Big House - but they've also arranged their home and their lives in a manner that can always accomodate a little fun.

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. - Psalm 19:8

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Big House

Amy and I returned a short time ago from "The Big House." I know that sounds like the title of a 1940's era gangster movie, but it actually is a very BIG house owned communally by a big family who all work very hard and very intentionally to keep this gem of a bygone era in welcoming condition and to keep it "in the family." It is used by those who need it and most of all it is a shared place to pass along family values and God's love.

It is remarkable. The Big House was built more than 100 years ago and is filled with the type of treasures I adore...antique furniture, old books, photographs, wonderful interesting people and meaningful memories. They occupy every nook and cranny and yet there's seemingly always room for more. Over the next week or more I promise to share many many photographs and stories, but right now I'm going to share the last hour or so of my long weekend with Amy.

There is an abundance of love in The Big House and in my relationship Amy. Our visit couldn't have come at a better time to remind us of that bounty.

Oh yeah... there were also a bunch of kids with us - sort of - the church youth group. Other folks were tending to them both physically and spiritually - we literally were along for the ride - so much so that the kids almost slipped my mind. A dozen or more kids whom I barely noticed...it really is a Big House!

For Amy and I to be guests in someone else's home at this particular season of our lives was a much needed and appreciated blessing.

Anyway, I think I could go on and on, so I'll stick to my original promise to share more later...suffice it to say, The Big House has claimed a large part of our hearts...and there's still a lot of room left.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Truly Blessed

"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." - Ruth 1:16-17

I can spend a great deal of time pointing to specific areas of my life where I feel the strong hand of God. Blessings undeserved. Some of those blessings have come through struggles and some through suffering. Others have simply been given to me freely as I stood in wide-eyed amazement.

The greatest blessing in my life was so given...and how I could deserve such a wondrous thing mystifies me to this day.

This day is her day: February 17th.

I woke her at 1:17 this morning to gently kiss her and say, "Happy Birthday."

1:17 a.m. was the same time she was born 39 years ago, plus tax, shipping and handling. She smiled, kissed me back and sleepily said, "Today's my birthday."

Then I left for work once again wondering why that although this is Amy's birthday, I continue to receive the love of this astonishing Godly woman. Such a gift...a gift I could never earn and certainly never deserve.

Here's to you my love...today and always.

Thank you oh Holy Father for yet another great blessing bestowed upon me by Your grace alone.

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense.
All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you. -
Song Of Solomon 4:6-7

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Knock, Knock, Knockin'

I've squinted and stared...but I don't see it. Maybe you do.

I see Jesus in some amazing places but not in this church door.

Maybe we'll see it in the other pictures...

If not there's always Heaven's gate.

The Bird Shot Heard 'Round The World

A graphic artist in Houston who's married to a reporter I know sent me this today.

So far my vote for silliest news story of the year...but the year is young.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Of Heroes & Ordinary Men

A valley of wildflowers, a distant mountain, an attractive person seen across a crowded room...all of these things can inspire admiration or desire. However oftentimes when we journey to that valley we find its beauty to be marred, and mountaintops are sometimes more inspiring when left unchallenged...beauty seen from across a room often proves superficial or deeply flawed when confronted by something as simple as conversation.

Despite being married and being blessed with a wondrous family, the number of people whom I know well enough to be able to genuinely say,"I wish I could be more like him or her" - to pattern my life after - is discouragingly small.

This is a sad reality made sadder by the acknowledgment that much of it is due to my own failings...to meet and open myself up to more people so that they will do likewise...part of it is due also to the fact that a lot of people talk a good game but a small scratch of the surface reveals character flaws or a lack of character altogether.

This is not a blanket comdemnation of my flaws, mankind, nature or even folks with breast implants. It's simply an observation.

Admiration is often easiest from a distance.

But when you find that rare exception it's startling...it's a privilege, a blessing...a true honor.

Today our church said a simple thank you to my friend, Ben. I've mentioned Ben on several previous occasions...he's provided me with counsel, he's worshipped God with me on our knees before a cross, and while coated in sweat and dirt toting a weedeater. He's soothed my shaky psyche during some of the most difficult times of my life by simply listening and he's shaken up my entire perspective on numerous occasions by listening intently to my babbling and then uttering a few words of profound awe inspiring wisdom.

I am proud to call Ben my friend, but more importantly I am honored that he apparently feels the same.

Our church thanked Ben today for his long service as an Elder, a position from which he recently "retired" so that he could devote his energies to other things - teaching children about Christ's love, working on the church landscaping, perhaps taking a mission trip to one of the cruelest places on earth for children to show them something they've rarely if ever seen...unconditional love.

It's an amazing thing...amazing because of the devotion to God he demonstrates in this way...and amazing because for Ben there is no other way to live.

Thank you, Ben.

And thank You Father, for allowing me the privilege of knowing such a man.

Through him I have come to to know You so much better.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Main Secret

Okay, so you've been wondering where we've been. My blogging has been sporadic at best, something else must be up.

It's time to fess up. I've been holding out on you.

This is why:

That's right, Amy and I have actually been busy as little Richard wannabes producing our own CD. For those of you in "the biz" it's an "indie" effort but we have great hopes for it.

I know you never pegged us for a rock n' roll, stick it to "the man" kind of couple and now are no doubt re-thinking your entire image of us, wondering if we have groupies, trash hotel rooms and sport tattoos.

Not to worry, that tight feeling you're experiencing in your chest is not the onset of a myocardial infarction or even a hernia. It could be heartburn, I'm not privy to your eating habits - nor do I want to be, by the way.

The feeling is the result of the fact that I'm yankin' your chain.

Not completely mind you...The Mains are indeed a band in California and they are about to release their first CD. They have one major thing going for them - I am not a member. But they have one minor problem...someone else owns the web domain TheMains.com.

That simply won't do. If they strike it rich, they'd certainly want to use the Internet as a promotional tool and they can't have the name of their band essentially "owned" in cyberspace by goodness knows who...I mean what would that look like if you went searching for information about the cutting edge rock band "The Mains" and instead found a family picture of a couple of devout Baptists and their over-achieving, non-promiscuous, drug free kids?

That's right - Rock Mama Amy and I own "TheMains.com."

Anyway to make a long story longer, one of the band members contacted me out of the blue a few weeks ago and very politely inquired if I might be willing to sell the domain. In truth we run a few email addresses through TheMains.com but have little use for it anymore. However being the greedy capitalist that I am...not to mention having married more wisdom than I deserve... I did what all men of sound thinking would do under such circumstances - I turned the entire matter over to Amy.

She began corresponding with the very polite young band member who contacted me and quickly reached a compromise: we'll keep the domain but redirect it to the band's website.

If in a couple of years, The Mains are still a band and still want the domain, we'll negotiate a new deal. In the interim they're not paying us any money - Amy drives a hard bargain - but we do have a promise that if they hit it big and gazillions of dollars fall into their laps, some of it will trickle down to us. I think we also get a copy of the CD when it comes out, which personally I find very cool. If nothing else it will have a spot next to the bottle of cheap cologne Amy got me years ago called "Main Man."

Yeah, Main Man cologne never really caught on...even amongst desperate winos. I think I may have the last surviving bottle, and I must confess it's almost full.

However I'm sure The Mains, the rock band, will fare much better. I'm convinced they're going to strike it rich. You folks in California can help their cause by going to see them perform, spreading the word, linking to their website...heck you might even buy their CD.

Believe me my only motivation is to see young talent succeed.

Of course, I think Amy really wants to justify a tattoo.

It's For You Know Who

From the newswires: A church in South Wales is now offering a hotline to God. Pastor Jim Davis of Elim Pentecostal Church in Caldicot says he installed a phone line where parishioners can leave a voice message about something they need a prayer for, and he'll do the praying. The service is free. The only charge is the cost of the call. The prayer hotline number is 011-44-1291-424166.

If only God had an answering machine...we could cut out the middle man.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Speaking O' Weirdness

Two new favorite blogs:

The Strange New Products Blog & The Junk Food Blog.

Odds & Ends

I'm waiting for Ana to get ready to work so I only have a couple of minutes. I was planning to clear out my odds and ends file today. Like this drink for instance.

Love potion #9...or should that be 3-50?

More weirdness later...time to go yell for Ana to hurry up.


I guess I'm out of the loop, I saw that drink being advertised at a gas station as I was driving home.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mission Schitzo

Okay, let's play a little game...we'll call blognesia. I'm going to forget the stuff I've written over the past couple of days, and I'm encouraging you to do the same.

In truth, this shouldn't be too difficult of a task for you...I would think much of my blathering could fall into the forgettable category rather easily.

Let me state first off that I was determined when I came home from work today to stay the course...the Gomez family was going...there was no turning back.

It would be hard, but it was the easiest solution. We have sacrificed and suffered.

Self-pity is in no short supply.

But I also kept thinking back of our time together with our blended family and the miraculous nature of it all. Five months ago this 50 year old woman, her 18 year old daughter, and 14 year old son were literally washed out of their world. They lost everything except each other.

Today, mother and daughter are full-time college students. Both are working part-time jobs...and John is a freshman in high school. In five weeks they will be in their own apartment, paid for with no government help, and they will quite possibly be in the best position to "succeed" in this world which they've ever been in.

We've come a long way in five months. We've got a long way to go.

God help us but we're going to keep going...together.

I'm not going to forget that again.

Harlan, This One's For You.

My old friend Harlan regularly corrects my poor grammar. I noticed this BBC article today and couldn't resist posting a link.

P.S....You're moving up in Google.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Seeing The Light...In Black & White

This was posted before I presented the "contract" to the Gomez family. It was apparent almost immediately that the children might "sign" the contract but they had no intention of abiding by it, or really even reading it. I believe we honestly tried our best. God forgive our failings.
I thought it was over last night.

I thought Amy and I were going to have to part ways with the Gomez clan and I told them so. No details are necessary, but we've had some ongoing issues, primarily with really the only rule I have in my house - respect everyone who lives here.

I can't imagine how difficult it's been for Lee and the kids and we've gone a long way to forgive, forget, and not freak out. Sometimes, though, we fail. It's difficult for us too... often.

Last night, the failures seemed too frustrating and far too frequent to put behind us again. I called Gordon in a panic and said, "ENOUGH!" Within minutes we had made arrangements to move the family to a hotel of sorts down the road until their apartment is ready in a month or so. I hated it, but I didn't see any other way. Amy's health is an issue... I can't have her stressed. My work is an issue; I'm leading a transition team that will alter the way we do our jobs dramatically. With Klondike's health, our foundation failing, and our financial burdens, life seemed to be too burdensome to have to put up with disrespect on top of it. I truly felt that maybe less reliance on us is what the Gomez family needed - and I'm still not certain that belief is in error.

But I was furious at myself for being furious. Make no mistake, I'm still angry, but I also remember what my brother-in-law Mike (all my brothers-in-law are named Mike, but he's the eldest by a year) told me once when I was feeling I wasn't being "Christian" enough in dealing with something frustrating. I don't even remember what I was frustrated about, but he said, "Even Jesus turned over the tables once in a while."

So last night I turned over the tables. I let them have it. I assured Lee we would still stand by her but at a distance. I said we couldn't take living together anymore. Amy cried. I cried. Lee cried.

And that was that.

Then I tossed and turned and thought and prayed and cried and mumbled a few angry things to God...somewhere in between I slept a little. Very little.

And time passed.

This afternoon my heart is telling me that we simply cannot give up... not yet.

I don't want to make Lee's life any more difficult than it already is. She's going to school, she's working, she's struggling with finances, her "husband" is taking every dime of federal money that might help out his family and keeping it for himself, he doesn't pay child support and he sends Lee all their bills. Yet Lee goes on.

This is a strong woman.

So we will be strong too.

We will go on.

Who knows...in two days I may be posting..."So much for that idea," but in the light of day I see promise...and promise is that upon which we will also base the remainder of our time in this house together.

Before I wrote this post, I wrote the following (borrowing a few lines from things I found on the web):

Main/Gomez Contract
* Our goal is to find solutions which will strengthen our family.
* We commit to respecting each other AT ALL TIMES.
* We will work hard at helping and supporting each other in every way possible.
* Our family will participate in church.
* EVERY family member will actively try to make living in our home more pleasant for everyone, by cleaning, taking out the trash, doing laundry, taking care of the dogs, doing whatever needs to be done -- WITHOUT BEING ASKED.
* As much advanced notice as possible will be given for the scheduling of appointments, rides, etc., and we will try to remind each other. Use the refrigerator calendar when possible.
* Quiet time will generally be observed in the house by 10 p.m., as well as when others with different schedules are sleeping.
* We will ALWAYS make certain to let each other know where we are at all times, whom we are with and when we will be back. Cell phones should be kept on wherever allowed.
* When in doubt-common courtesy will apply.
* We will practice forgiveness.
* We will apply these lessons honestly - hopefully experiencing greater happiness, love and peace in our home.
* If any member of the household feels these rules are not being observed, other household arrangements will be made with no hard feelings.

Signed on February 1, 2006
Family Members
_________________________ _________________________
_________________________ _________________________
_________________________ Klondike, Winston & Avery

Please God, let everyone sign it...willingly.

Postscript: The Gomez family will be moving into other shelter within the next few days until their apartment is ready March 10th. Their move will come at no expense to them.