Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Milk & Funny

I should be packing, getting ready to head to Dallas, but we're not rushing and well, I couldn't resist posting one last thing before I pack up my computer.

First off, did you see "Dear Abby" today?

Here is one of the queries:

Dear Abby:

I have been dating "Leon" for a few months. He is smart, cute, ambitious, caring, a great kisser and has a fantastic sense of humor. The problem? He gives new meaning to the phrase "Got milk?"

Leon still has the remains of the first gallon of milk he ever purchased when he moved into his apartment. (He had overestimated the amount of milk he would consume and before he knew it had a gallon in his fridge that was three weeks past its expiration date.) Time passed, and still it remained there. Soon it was 6 months old and a novelty.

Abby, Leon has kept this container of milk through two roommates, three girlfriends, seven jobs and two refrigerators. It will soon be five years. He seems to have formed some sort of sentimental attachment to it. Can it still be classified as milk? Leon is entertained by the reaction he gets when people hear about it and even has a blog about it with a picture.

If our relationship is to get serious, I see a "me or the milk" ultimatum in our future. Is it asking too much for him to leave his life of keeping expired dairy, or should I cut my losses and seek a dairy-free bachelor? Or should I just accept it as a souvenir or a pet?

in Oregon

Seriously! Her response was cheesy, and you can hunt it down for yourself if you're really interested, but essentially Abby said the guy had to choose between his love of stale dairy products and his girlfriend. I'm amazed he's had ANY girlfriends, but that's besides the point.

I really wanted to track down his blog, but that would be even more of a waste of time. However it did seem ironic this morning, after reading that column, I was at Starbucks ordering some badly needed quad lattes for Amy and myself and I asked that mine be made with soy milk.

The "Batrista's" response?

"Sorry, we're out of soy milk. We do have organic milk though, would you like to try that?"


I'm sorry...but I burst out laughing.

Yes, I am aware that they sell non-pasteurized milk for folks whom I guess want to die like thousands of their ancestors, however I sort of thought ALL milk was "organic."

Well, it struck me as funny...and I figured I'd milk it for all it's worth.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Surrender's Serenity

As Jim astutely surmised in his comment to my previous cryptic post, I have been struggling with some issues with my job. Mercifully I am on vacation this week, and was able to take advantage of some of my 45 accrued sick days last week, so I didn't act on my "feelings" and instead spent a lot of time in prayer and reflection.

Amy's parents have been attending one of the programs offered by their church which deals broadly with the topic of addiction - although it certainly could apply to alcoholics, drug abusers, and the like - it really is for everyone, to help them understand how we all can be led astray not only by substance abuse but even by our best intentions. I say that in part to clarify that Amy's folks aren't standing up saying, "Hi, my name is Bernie and I'm a ________aholic," but also to explain why they sent us some of the literature from the class. I found myself leafing through some of that material the other morning at about 1 a.m. when I couldn't sleep because my thoughts were overwhelmed by concerns about my recent work woes, problems involving some of our friends, a great deal of self-pity, and - after a while - almost anything else about which I could think to worry.

It was good timing.

The readings helped lift many of the burdens I had placed upon myself and reinforce what I already know, but too often forget, that I'm not in control - God is.

When I surrendered to that reality, I was immediately at peace and, I might add, soon afterwards soundly asleep.

This week Amy and I will be making a brief trip to Dallas to be with my "eclectic" family - the odd little group of people whom I'm actually not related to except by the binding ties of love we've established over the years. It could be hectic, it could be wearisome, it could be an unnecessary strain on Amy's could be a lot of things...if I let it. I don't plan to allow that to happen, because I'm not in control of anything except how I react.

Keeping that truth at the forefront of my thoughts I believe will make this little road trip restful and enjoyable.

Hopefully maintaining that perspective will provide a guidepost for a far longer journey as well.

Therefore, this may be my last post until after Thanksgiving - I should be working on making the house presentable since we have some overnight guests coming in later today whom I haven't met. I know God is in control, but so far He hasn't volunteered to vacuum and I would prefer this family's first impression of us not be dominated by concerns that their immunizations are not up to date. So, I need to wrap this up.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring in terms of health, work, finances or anything else. If I were psychic, I'd be in Vegas. I do know that when I turn over my "worries" about such matters to God, I am immensely unburdened.

I know there will be challenges, but there is a great deal of serenity in knowing that I am never facing those challenges alone, nor could I.

So I am thankful for much this Thanksgiving. The blessings of true friends, the reminder that sometimes we have to loosen our grip if not unleash our hold entirely on relationships or things or jobs in order to understand their true value, and foremost I am thankful for a loving and forgiving God who has blessed me in so many unexpected ways, including the relationships I have developed by my odd little writings in this undefined space of digital gadgetry.

May God bless you this Thanksgiving, may He keep you safe, and may He allow you to partake of the feast of awareness that you are free from all worries by the faith and foundation of His abiding love.

Grace and peace my friends...I am truly thankful for each and every one of you.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. - Psalm 119:105


Sorry - one, postscript. The photo at the top of this blog is one I took many years ago of a little shack not too far from our home. Today the story behind the home that stands behind that little shack is in the local newspaper along with a photo which unfortunately they didn't publish in their on-line edition.

Luckily, I happen to know the photographer...Thao, our most recent "Upper Room" family member.

You can see that photo in a higher quality and some other shots she took of the property on her blog - you'll need to scroll down to October 30th. Thao and I talked about that shack after she had taken the pictures and she mentioned she knew she had seen it somewhere before. I mentioned my blog was a light bulb moment :) We hope to have time to visit Thao and her parents during our brief pilgramage to Dallas this week.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dilbertian Dilemma

I can't write what I want to write.

Suffice it to say, I am at a turning point...possibly toward poverty.

I'm off work for 10 days or so, and I can't think of anything right now for which I am more thankful this Thanksgiving season.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Death Be Not Shamed

We've decided to meet for breakfast at least once every couple of weeks, more often if the need arises. Grief is a lonely process for anyone, in this man's case I believe being alone could be toxic.

He's a funny guy, a former neighbor...his wife died, and I didn't know. We'd been in touch since her cancer diagnosis but when last I spoke with her she was upbeat, the treatments seemed to be defying the odds, and...well, I made the mistake of thinking "no news is good news."

Turns out she died on August 29th, the same day I was in Dallas for the funeral of a dear family friend. It wasn't until two weeks later that I thought it had been too long since I'd made contact so I called only to have her husband tell me his wife was dead, buried, and he was alone out in the country where they had built their "retirement home."

He hasn't handled it well, and it's been made worse by circumstances so distasteful I wish I could distract my mind from dwelling on them. I will have to force myself to do that, because I know that's what God wants me to help my friend do.

Suffice it to say his bride's "adult" children from her previous marriage robbed this poor man before his wife's funeral was even finalized. They stormed into the house and ransacked the place, taking almost everything that wasn't nailed down. Things they had no right to, things that were just "things"...their mother would be heartbroken. My friend was too absorbed in the aimless morass of mortality's reality that he didn't know what to do, or say...they even took the family address book, so he didn't know who to call. So he suffered...alone...for far too long.

These "kids" never accepted my friend during his 16-years of marriage to their mother and made that quite obvious at every opportunity. He tolerated it, because he loved their mother. Now it's all different.

We've had several long talks over the phone, over dinner a week or so ago, breakfast this morning. I think I'll be eating out a lot more in the months ahead.

When we talk, I do my best to remind him there is justice in this world and beyond...and in this world he has lawyers who can right some of the damage, while in the next world the ultimate justice will be fulfilled. Still he is angry and he is so very lost.

We've talked about the true value of money, that the things that were taken are not worth anything if they take away from his time to grieve and grow, and we've talked about his desire for revenge. It's natural to feel that way. We've had heartfelt conversations about God, and Heaven and forgiveness...but I can tell it's going to take a lot more conversations and more coffee than either of us should be drinking these days.

There's no disputing he's been robbed, but because of that bit of petty thievery, he's suffered a grand theft. The memories of his wife are now dominated by a few remarks she made months if not years ago which suddenly have planted a deep seed of doubt in his mind about his entire marriage, usurping years of memories of a deep abiding love to which I was a close witness.

There are stages of grief. I know them well. However I never have walked those stages before with someone who has literally been robbed of the actual onset of heartbreak.

Greed trumped his very first grapplings with grief.

So very much was stolen that day.

Those "children" may have a pile of "things" all of which will eventually crumble, fade or be forgotten.

Due to their selfishness however, none of those "things" will tarnish as quickly as their mother's memory has in the heart of the man who devoted so much of his life to loving her.

I'm going to be having a lot of breakfasts in the months ahead...

God help me to find the wisdom and patience to help my friend make those meals fulfilling, sustaining and far easier to swallow.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Evolution of Erik

I've been saddled with some crud for the past week which has pretty much laid me low, but today we were determined to get in a visit with Erik, since this is the first weekend since he made the choice to go into rehab that he was allowed to have "family" visits.

To put it in perspective, I slept all day Saturday and then crashed at around 8 that night thinking I'd be fully energized for church and then a visit with Erik. I ended up waking up at 9:30 (missed the first service) and Amy took one look at me and said, "Maybe we should just make it our goal to visit Erik...and not infect the entire congregation with whatever disease you're carrying"

Okay, she didn't say it quite like that, but the gist of her message was for a guy who normally sleeps 3 to 5 hours a day to sleep for 36 hours almost straight through that perhaps we should consider that a 'sign' that I needed to slow down a little.

I think I mumbled something which was supposed to sound macho....and then took a nap.

We did manage to get a few items together for Erik - a CD player and a CD of tunes which I realized later he really wanted less for the music but more for the headphones to drown out the noise so that he might get some sleep.

It was a wonderful visit. It's an amazing program the Salvation Army runs and Erik seems much better (albeit he's still adjusting to waking up at 6 a.m. ) - I commented on the dark circles under his eyes and he said, "I'm a night person, but my body is slowly convincing me that I'm not going to be able to stay a night person."

He's working the program, taking full advantage of almost everything offered (he hasn't hit the gym yet) and he says he's having no problem surrounding himself with guys who are not destined to fail and drag him down in the process. In fact he says once people see you are committed to changing your life, you tend to attract people who are equally committed...the guys who are just "playing the system" write you off pretty quick.

I was happy to hear that, and ecstatic to see him rapidly advancing up the system - the folks in charge apparently are well acquainted with the hard cases and the people who might only need some solid support to get their lives completely turned around. They've obviously devoted considerable resources toward Erik after determining he is highly "salvageable."

He's got a mentor but says really everyone he's living with is helping him. He's working 40 hours a week, going to classes, going to meetings, doing homework and has a schedule for every day. He's busy and he's blessed to be so. It's been a long time...of drifting. He also knows despite the miraculous changes he's already made, he's got a long way to go.

He reinforced that point to us as we discussed the fact that next week he should essentially be off his 30 day probationary period. Amy and I were hoping to get permission to take him to Dallas for Thanksgiving, but he told us that wasn't going to happen. Although we might be able to pull a few strings - play our "ordained" cards and such - Erik said he wanted to stay within the guidelines, not cut any corners...yeah, I was even prouder of him then.

Although I had been with Erik for his "intake" this was my first time actually inside the facility. It's amazingly clean, comfortable, there are lots of activities from ping-pong, to video games, a gym, computers for 'games', and computers for 'business', plus a TV room devoted entirely to sports - 60 inch TV's - comfortable chairs and the like. I asked if I could check-in ... only half-facetiously. Amy asked too...for her, not me.

Erik is considering becoming a Salvation Army "soldier" - meaning he'd go through the program and then attend two years of "in house" schooling in what is the Salvation Army equivalent of Divinity school, becoming an "officer" committed to devoting his life to the "Army." Certainly a noble ambition...and one I don't want to dissuade whatsoever.

However, Erik and I discussed this some via emails earlier in the week and I admittedly tried to steer him into not making any additional life changing commitments at this point - again, not discouraging him, but wanting him to give God time to work in his life. Today he said he decided he was staying enrolled on a tract that will allow him to take that step to becoming an Army officer if he decides to, but also gives him the flexibility to choose another course if he hears God calling him in a different direction.

Erik is making decisions about his life...I don't think I have the words to express how huge that is for a young man who has really been avoiding decisions for far too long.

It was good to see...very good.

As we were leaving, Amy and I were trying to set up a time to take him out for a "family Thanksgiving" in the next week or so. He was anxious for that to happen, but when it came down to picking out a day he said, "Well, let's not decide this now. Let me make sure of my schedule and we'll 'take it one day at a time'"

Yeah, Erik's doing well. I am very proud and I expect he's going to make us even prouder in the weeks and months ahead.

I shouldn't be surprised...after all, Erik's not making these changes alone, and certainly it's not Amy and me...this is a true God thing.

God never fails to astound me how quickly He'll mold us, when only we allow Him to handle the clay.

Your grace still amazes me
Your love is still a mystery
Each day I fall on my knees
Your grace still amazes me

Phillips, Craig & Dean

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Random Updates, Snakes And Stuff

Yeah, I know...I'm still not writing here much. I've been preoccupied a bit partially in the land of bizarro, and partially by some slight reconfiguration of my work duties which require me to rejigger my schedule.

Anyway, I figured I'd give a rambling update of some recent events.

Today I stopped by the Salvation Army Rehab Center where Erik has pitched his tent and future hopes for the next six months. I stuffed a little money and some other sundries in his "account." He's now able to email us - hence the pitch for cash - and we'll be able to visit him Sunday for a couple of hours I think. He's seemingly doing well and working through some of his issues...hopefully we'll have a better read on the situation after Sunday.

It appears we're going to have a completely "empty nest" very soon. We're taking Thao out for a "birthday lunch" - a couple days late - shortly. She just told me she thinks she's going to be moving out tomorrow! We knew she was leaving within the next week or so, but apparently the new job she's going to attempt is going to start sooner rather than later. We're going to miss her, but I suspect we'll keep in touch. Anyway, that bit of news, along with other things has Amy in a bit of a frenzy.

Amy had already starting hunting for new "Upper Room" ministry guests, but I asked her to hold off on that for a bit. Maybe we can use this time to get our Upper Rooms a little more orderly...I'm speaking both literally and metaphorically.

I sort of want some time with "just us." Plus, it would be nice to have a little while when I know I can walk out of our bedroom in my underwear without worrying that I'm going to gross out the cat. That's a family expression, we don't actually have a cat but you get the picture.

Speaking of pictures, I noticed this story today about a guy in Central Texas who has set the world record for sitting in a "bathtub" full of rattlesnakes.

I'm not sure what the record was before, or who held it...more importantly I'm not sure why anyone would want to hold it...or a rattlesnake. However I couldn't resist putting up a picture of a guy in a bathtub full of rattlesnakes.

I was hoping to find another photo...of a guy I received a letter from today. He's running for President. His name is Daniel Kingery.

His letter reads in part:

I am a Presidential candidate. As much as I would like to be with you and as I would like to take the time to speak personally with every citizen in these United States to answer each of their concerns.

Apparently, he decided to stop that thought rather than risk a run-on sentence.

The quickest way I can reach the most people, while I sell my laundry business to help fund my campaign, is to do telephone interviews at all hours of the day and night.

I haven't done an interview with him, although I might because he does sound intriguing and he sent me his phone numbers.

He also enclosed two newspaper articles, one from a New Hampshire paper and one from an Arizona newspaper. One mentions that he "turned a junkyard into a makeshift outdoor strip club, and that he was a frequent litigant in the region's (N.H) judicial system, donning kangaroo and clown costumes (sometimes simultaneously) in court proceedings."

He does sound intriguing...doesn't he?

His letter goes on to direct me to his website - with the explanation that the site was originally set up for the publishing company he was starting when "the need for me to run for President became clear."

No sense wasting a good website - he must be a fiscal conservative - although I suspect is probably still available if and when his campaign really takes off.

Apparently he's already written a book - hence the publishing company - since the other article mentions it. The title is: How I Became President in 2008.

A fiscal conservative and obviously an optimist - with the bonus that he occasionally dresses up in clown and/or kangaroo costumes.

Yeah, he's winning me over quick.

There is some fascinating stuff on the site though, including his proposed re-write of the U.S. Constitution - well actually he says, "The need for this re-(w)righting our Constitution is long past due." Especially because of,"Past Abusses." Presumably, that doesn't include past abuses of the English language.

Who am I to judge? He's a former Marine, who says he used to work on Presidential helicopters - okay, let's not dwell on that...

Alas, I can't find a picture of him anywhere..., but at least you know you have some other choices out there....some way, way out there.

If I do find a photo, I'll make sure and post it.

I mean after all, anyone who volunteers to run for President amid the nuts already running, certainly deserves as much space here as some guy in a bathtub full of rattlesnakes.

In truth, they probably have a lot in common.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Goodness knows we've had all sorts of leaders with bad habits/character traits.

This video is of Kevin Rudd, the likely next Prime Minister of Australia. The video is some six years old, but thanks to YouTube it's come back to life.

Further explanation is unnecessary...but it is somewhat comforting to know American's aren't alone in knowing how to pick 'em.