Wednesday, February 28, 2007

To Shell & Back

Our "Upper Room Ministry" is empty again. Sort of.

After five months, Shell has moved out, or has sort of moved out, or is in the process of moving out. Over the past couple of years we've had eight or nine people living with us almost constantly, and with each person, or family we've been both blessed and left wanting, wishing we could do more for them but also knowing our limits.

Shell has by far been the hardest to deal with, and for those of you with intimate details of some of our other "temporary family members" that should speak volumes. Shell is a street smart young woman who is used to living on the edge and skimming around corners. In some cases that meant she was living a life that conflicted with our growing sense of deeper Christian values.

With almost everyone who has stayed with us, my rule has been, "I know they need guidance, but I'm not going to shove it down their throats, if they ask for my input I'll give it to them...but they have to ask."

In most cases, certainly with Lee and her kids from New Orleans, and to some extent Simon and Katrina, they did seek my counsel, they didn't necessarily follow it, but they sought it.

Shell was a different story and I made an exception to my rule knowing that her life on the streets, shelters, foster homes, etc. made her wary of anyone she considered an "authority figure."

So a few weeks ago I took her out to Starbucks for "the talk." The you've got to choose whose you are talk. The you've got to face your addictions talk. The you never fooled me I've been there talk. The since you got my car impounded, you can't drive it anymore talk. The I can't change you talk. There were a lot of other components, but along the way I asked her to list her goals for me, and then prioritize them.

She rattled off a number of things which will stay between us, but when she was done I had one more "talk."

The -"Where are you and God?" - talk.

She'd left God off her list.

She teared up a little, talked a little, listened quite well and seemingly agreed with virtually everything I said.

Then she disappeared.

Oh she was around, sort of....kind of rushing in and out at all hours for several days, but never stopping long enough to have a real conversation.

Then she came back a little more often, but still we saw no change in her behaviors.

So I was preparing for the other talk, along the, "We love you but we can't enable you" theme, but she was gone again.

Amy had a few intermittent phone conversations, some rather unpleasant, and Shell eventually announced she was moving out.

She showed up last night, I was asleep and tried my best to stay that way, and packed some of her things. She's apparently found a new "boy" and they're deeply in love, moving away, and yada, yada, yada.

She's supposed to be here now to finish cleaning out her stuff, but I don't expect she'll show. She tends to arrive when she's sure I'm asleep for some reason.

She needn't hide from me, I've done all the talking I can do.

When our eldest daughter, Tiffany, spent a college semester in England, she was literally tossed into a house a la MTV's "Real World" with a bunch of kids with values very different from her own. At first she was very uncomfortable. She emailed us saying it was extremely tough for her to relate to these other folks, and she felt compelled to share her values and beliefs, but also believed it would be a fruitless effort.

I remember writing her back and saying there was a time in my life when I was one of those "wasted" young adults with some mixed up views of the world, and gradually I came around to seeing life another way. I asked if she couldn't be a simple mustard seed, walk the walk, and let that speak for itself. I don't really know if that helped Tiffany or not, she's pretty much been ahead of me in this adulthood thing since she was 8 or 9...however that's how I have to view life with Shell, and our other "temporary family members."

We can't change them, we can't turn their lives around on a dime, we can't solve all their problems. We can only show them how we live, give them some time and space to make their decisions, and hope that maybe that seed will land in a fertile place in their hearts to be watered by the love and compassion of others, and nurtured by God.

As I was writing this today, oddly enough I got an email from Katrina, who lived here with her husband Simon and their delightful daughter Emmy just prior to Shell. We haven't heard much at all from them since they left, but we've prayed they were well and we know they are loved. Katrina simply sent a link to some photos of Emmy.

She's still a little heart stealer.

She looks happy and healthy, and the photos made me feel much better, realizing they're obviously doing okay.

It was an extremely timely reminder.

We're not here to be God...God is God. We can only be a way-point at best...our goal should be to be the best way-point we can.

So sooner or more likely later, Shell will finally clear out the rest of her stuff and continue on her own journey...I only hope a little seed of love will cling to her along the way.

And maybe one day she'll send pictures...

"God's kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it." - Mark 13:31-32 - The Message

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Amid The Silence

I've been silent lately.
I've been listening.

We've had some "issues" to deal with, as well as some spiritual searching in this Lenten season.

I noticed a story this morning of a woman in San Mateo, California who is risking a fine of 50 dollars a day (up to 5 grand) if she doesn't remove the scrawlings from her roof and other parts of her home.

Estrella Benavidas is refusing saying the messages are, "straight from God."

I'm not in a position to doubt her...however I would think the Almighty's handwriting would be a bit better...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

All Ready?

Lent is here already?

In all honesty, I haven't paid much attention to the calendar lately. Days come and go, weeks fly by and I seem to be doing a lot of things by rote.

Lent is here already?

The church we've been attending doesn't mark the Lenten season, no Ash Wednesday service, no emphasis on setting aside this time to make room in our lives for God. I will miss that formality, although I don't need a "church" to lead me in this time of repentance and self-reflection, I only need God.

The details of this journey are personal...there's no need to outline them here.

The goal is very public, to become more Christ-like and remove the obstacles that prevent me from communing with God in the way I wish.

So, over the next 40 days and likely beyond, I am embarking on some avenues which I believe will strengthen my relationship with my Creator.

Lent is here already?

That's fine.

In my case, I believe the participants are all ready.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

$39.95+Tax, Expedited Shipping & Handling

I know this person whose generous spirit is infectious.
I know this person who has never met a stranger.
I know this person who loves me unconditionally.
I know this person who sometimes needs reassurance.
I know this person who is bright and engaging and funny.

I love this person.

I married this person.

And today is her birthday...and as always, I am the one who feels he has received the best gift today, for she loves me.

Happy Birthday darling...



Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Giving A Hoot

I hope this doesn't turn into a piece of vaporware, a gadget that someone promotes but never really becomes reality, sort of like Windows "Live Writer" which I'm giving another try as a blog editor. ***Update*** Live Writer still fails to work.

The gadget is called "Horntones" and the hawkers claim it can make your car horn play any audio file you wish. It was originally supposed to come out this week, now they're saying April, and their web page is still not up to date, so I'm not holding my breath.

However it did get my mind to thinking what "sound" I would want to blare at another driver. My first thoughts were of songs, something that would get their attention, ya know, John Philip Sousa or Janice Joplin.

However now I'm thinking more subtle...something like this might work.

Short, but to the point.

Any ideas?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Just What I Needed

Let's see, I spent today working, then coming home and going to set up a computer for a client, then "counseling" Shell, then working at the bugs in the blog...then working out more bugs in the blog...and more bugs.

My shoulder aches from being hunched over my laptop. I'm tired.

Luckily in the mail today I received a book.

A book I didn't order.

A book I have no idea why I received.

However, as I now head off to bed I'm taking it with me...I have a feeling I may need it.

Oh yeah, just what I needed.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Little Casket & Big Questions

It hasn't been the best of weeks. I've had a lot on my mind, but have resisted writing out of respect for some boundaries, and due in large part to a general weariness.

Amy and I have both been battling this on again off again bronchial infection, and the medications that are now being heaped upon us to try to kill this little bug before it kills us. A lot of folks in San Antonio are sick with the same thing.

In the interim, I spent one morning this week standing in a hazy gray drizzle amid a cemetery crowded with loving mourners all eying a tiny casket.

The granddaughter of a friend, born premature with a mountain of health problems who was initially not expected to "live through the night," fought a valiant battle swathed in prayer for two months, and then, in His inexplicable way, God said it was time for her to come home to Him.

So I stood there staring at the casket.

There were tears and words and hugs and my thoughts drifted between young lives lost and young lives wasted.

I wanted to ask God about both.

I don't have to scratch deep into my memory to dredge up the reality of last month when the troubled 19 year old son of our friends, opted to end his personal torment. The trigger he pulled triggered a tsunami of misery the ripples of which continue to expand today, and will for a long time to come.

We did our best to help that family then, I spoke words at the funeral, and Amy sang.
We are staying in touch and trying to guide them in their grief.

And I remember staring at that young man's casket too while crying out to God to help me make sense of the senseless.

For close to two years we've opened our home to people who've had life rush in on or atop them in a number of ways and found themselves in a need of stable ground. We have little to offer: safe haven, time, a place to sleep, food, and advice when asked for it. Our friend Katy at dubbed it our "Upper Room" ministry.

Since we've opened our house in this way, we haven't "solved" anyone's least not completely. However I think God has used us exactly as He intended and the people who've passed through here are seemingly all doing better than when they arrived.

Our latest resident, "Shell," who's been with us for three or four months, has provided a new set of challenges. She's got more than her barely 20 years of living in her soul. A lot of anger, resentment, and unhealthy defense mechanisms honed from years of dealing with foster care systems, institutionalized settings, as well as disheveled time periods carving out a daily existence - not a life - on the streets .

Suffice it to say, life with Shell has not been easy and the time is rapidly approaching when Shell will have to choose, as we all do, who she is going to be...

I've been praying to God for wisdom and discernment as I hope to deal with her in a frank and loving manner.

And thus my thoughts have been dominated by young lives on a dangerous cusp, young lives taken, and little lives lost.

Yet in the drizzle at a forlorn cemetery I gazed upon that tiny ivory casket which held a cherished child taken so soon...and I was comforted by words written in an email from the child's mother after her daughter had died.

She wrote that as it became apparent that her baby's valiant struggle to gain a grip on life on this earth was faltering, the devout Catholic family called in a priest. The priest was ill, battling what he assumed was the same bug Amy and I have been trying to fight off.

Despite how poorly he felt, he went to the hospital to be with a little two month old girl in the last minutes of a life than can be counted in mere hours. He comforted the family, blessed the child...and soon afterwards collapsed.

Apparently his blood sugar was at a level that doctors said that had he collapsed at home, he most certainly would have died himself.

But he wasn't at home...he was in a hospital...because he felt it was his duty to do God's work for a tiny little girl who would never know life outside of a hospital.

Because of that, doctors and nurses were able to quickly treat that priest.

He is alive thanks in large part to a child who is not.

Could it be that God's purpose for that little girl's fragile fragment of a life was to save the life of another?

I don't know the answer.

I don't have all the answers for Shell either...

But I have realized again that I must trust in God...and pray that I am always open to being used for His purposes.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. - Psalm 37:5-6

Monday, February 05, 2007

Press Release O' The Day

I get a lot of news releases, or pseudo-news releases. Many of them are boring, or bad....but this one...well, I don't know, maybe it's because it's 2 a.m. on Monday, but if I didn't know this was from a legitimate source, I'd think it was a gag.


St. Petersburg, Fla. - Jeffrey Saut, managing director and chief investment strategist for Raymond James & Associates, a national financial services firm, will be speaking on, "Making Predictions is Always Difficult, Especially about the Future," to guests at an invitation-only dinner at the San Antonio Country Club on Wednesday, February 7, 2007.

It would seem that being a swami who made predictions about "the past" would be an easier gig...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Post Game Ramblings

Da Bears...Da Bad...and Da Ugly...

Not the most exciting Super Bowl..

Nice to see two Christian coaches going up against each other.

Nice to see the Colts owner and Coach giving credit to God.

Sad to see Rex Grossman no doubt being renamed "Goatman."

Nice to see Peyton Manning get the "can't win the big one" monkey off his back.

The commercials? The E-Trade "finger" commercial was at least humorous...sort of...I guess the NFL & FCC have gotten over their wardrobe malfunction phobia...if the price is right.

I think I was most impressed with the Coca-Cola commercials, especially the one simulating the Grand Theft Auto video game...thought that was done well.

Better than the Madden video game prediction, although they did pick the winner and the spread was on target...29-17 vs 38-27.

Glad to see the hype we can get down to serious business...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Triangles & Truth

Two bone.

Doesn't work.

As we continue to try to avoid hanging a sign on the door warning strangers of the danger of TC - "The Crud" - Amy has busied herself making her Amish Preaching soup. The end result, besides a messy kitchen, is a ham bone which she somehow managed to cut in two, to give to the dogs, the only creatures in the house not coughing.

Unfortunately, although Avery and Winston are sister and brother, Avery is the Alpha dog and Winston is our "special needs" dog.

Avery will take her bone and savor it, while Winston will devour his, or lose it, in a matter of minutes. This makes for an eventual show down as Winston circles Avery and her bone, while Avery delights in taunting him, snarling and growling if he comes too close. Soon tempers flared enough that I had to intercede, taking the bone away amid their frenzy leaving both dogs looking accusingly at each other.

It's the same way with tennis balls. If I toss a tennis ball, Avery will run like the wind and snag it before it stops rolling, Winston meanwhile will still be looking at my hand wondering when I'm going to throw the ball. His vision is fine...his mind, well, it's in a place of Winston wonderment. We've gotten used to him...actually we've learned to love his peculiarities.

To resolve the tennis ball dilemma, I've taken to using two tennis balls. One I throw far across the yard for Avery, and the other I toss a second or two later, not quite as far, which Winston can retrieve.

This is one of those rare situations where a triangular relationship works.

I don't believe there is truth in triangles.

Having a child who teaches math, allow me to stress I'm making that statement from a relational not a mathematical perspective.

Triangles are not truth.

When I served as a church deacon, I found myself counseling with a young family that had so many problems they could have made it on the Jerry Springer show...or COPS...or both...They probably had a shot at making the "best of" shows actually.

At first I tried to be someone they could talk to, and tried to help them, but I often found myself on the phone talking with the young wife, younger than our eldest daughter, who was at that time a mother of two. Or I found myself having one on one conversations with her young husband. The net result was that each would "unload" on me their various grievances against the other. Soon, even with the intervention of other members of the church, I found the situation seemingly impossible, and we pushed them toward couple's counseling where they'd have to actually talk to each other.

Honestly, I don't know how that turned out...they had a lot to deal with, but I knew I wasn't being used by God in that situation, although I do believe God was teaching me a lesson along the way.

One of the reasons Amy and I embarked on a search for a new church home is because we felt our communication with church leaders had become triangular. They had their truth, we had ours, and neither was being communicated directly. It led to misinterpretations on both sides and no real attempts at healing. One thing was clear, we didn't have true communication...we didn't have communication at all.

Distance and time have reaffirmed that belief and have given me reason to think long and hard about truth and relationships. As a result, Amy and I are traveling along a different path spiritually, which perhaps was God's plan all along.

I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit...but my communication and relationship with that Trinity is still one on one.

Folks say, "You can't put God in a box."

I guess I'm saying I don't think His Truth fits in a triangle either.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Bums, Bowls, Bloggers, and Bloatware.

I am liking the "new" blogger. It allows me to label posts under categories, something I don't need, but I might find amusing at some point...I'm easily amused.

The best feature is that when someone leaves a comment it tells me which post they are commenting on. I have folks leave comments about stuff I wrote years ago and I have no idea what they're talking about, now at least that confusion is cleared up.

It also let's me write stuff in advance, with the option of setting a date and time for it to post. I thought I might pull an Art Buchwald and write my obituary and then each month or two push back the date...but with my luck we'd have a power failure or something and it would accidentally post, and then I'd have all those sympathy notes to respond to, and I haven't written proper thank you notes to our Moldova contributors, and I still think some of the kid's Christmas presents are lost amid the chaos of our bedroom waiting to be mailed.

I would like to write my own obituary though, but I suspect Amy would frown on my using my time on earth for that purpose.

Shifting gears...I have no dog in the Super Bowl hunt.

Having been spared the Cowboy's final (for this season) embarrassment by our Moldova outing, I really have no favorite. We've been invited to watch the game with some friends, I think that will depend on whether we're coughing and wheezing...although Amy's cough at times sounds more like a "honk," so we could possibly pass her off as an air horn, though I doubt she'd appreciate that comparison.

In fact I'm fairly certain she won't...someday I'll learn.

Rapidly moving the subject along...I did get a news release from the folks at EA Sports who apparently already have played the Super Bowl using the video game Madden 2007.

If you care to make a wager based on the results of a video game, the folks at EA Sports are predicting the Colts will win, beating Chicago 38 to 27. I have no idea of their accuracy in predicting game outcomes and I'm not really the type to wager on football...unless you wanna bet the Cowboys lose by doing something stupid.

On the upside, one advantage to not having enough energy to get out of bed, I have spent several hours today upgrading my laptop (after finally commandeering Amy's old laptop, after giving my laptop to our youngest child for Christmas - Lisa was here, so she didn't have to rely on us mailing it to kid) to Windows Vista.

I didn't have any significant problems, I had to remove a lot of stuff to make room for it, and at one point it brought up what I think was a message thanking me for upgrading, but it was in Spanish. I somehow got it to return to speaking my language and it imported almost everything without any real hiccups.

I did have spend a good amount of time turning off all the stuff Microsoft put on Vista to make it so idiots don't screw up their computers (I mean every time you want to make a change, install something, delete something, a dialog box pops up essentially asking you, "Just in case you're a moron, are you sure you want to do this?"

In their defense, I suppose they have to take everyone into account when developing something like Vista, even members/owners/coaches of the Dallas Cowboys...

I also changed the interface back to "Windows Classic," so my initial opinion of Vista is it's nice, once you turn off all the stuff Microsoft added to it...then again when you do that you really have a freshly installed copy of Windows XP.

Admittedly, I only now started tinkering with it. Our lil' web company is a registered Microsoft partner so we got copies for free - if you don't count the fees we pay to be Microsoft partners - so I suppose Vista is well worth it at that price.

Then again, I thought the Cowboys had a chance to make it to the Super Bowl this year...