Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review

As I was wrapping up the last few months of this year, I was reflecting on how I’ve felt closing out past years, particularly by looking at my past Year-in-review blogs.  What I disliked the most was being relieved that the particular year was finally over.  I didn’t want that to be my mindset anymore.  I want to celebrate what’s going on now, not just be waiting for rest “just up ahead.”  So I decided that 2012 was going to be a banner year, and that I would be happy about it coming to a close only because of the wonderful memories it contained.  Yes, some horrible things have happened this year, two in particular, but here is not the place for dwelling on that.

One overarching highlight to this year is that I finally got around to doing a lot of things I’d been putting off for a few years, things like household repairs.  No more waiting.  Life is now.

What have God and I have gotten done this year:

·         Survived a tonsillectomy, kicking off the best year of sleep in my adult life to date
·         Joined the singles small group that my Fresno church started
·         Unrelated to the above note, met an awesome girl with whom I had almost nothing in common, we dated for a few weeks, and then she got a job transfer to Denver.  It was a short-lived but valuable relationship in that God showed me that His spectrum of relationship compatibility is much bigger than mine.
·         10-year high school reunion
·         Took first place (among 7 guys) in our church’s 10K
·         Coached Sparks for the Awana Games this year, completed and started another year as Games Director.
·         Per my Garmin watch, ran over 400 miles this year
·         Completed five half marathons, but only two Rock ‘n’ Roll races (my goal was three to beat 2010)
·         Completed my first year at my new job
·         Survived being on the other side of the audit table.
·         Two unsuccessful attempts at half dome.  Oh well, I tried.  Next year.
·         Emceed for VBS
·         Acquired a cat in June
·         Lost a cat in October (I am not discussing this further)
·         Celebrated four years of home ownership on September 1.  Oddest fact: I’ve removed three interior doors (two closets and one bathroom).  Doors just start to get in the way when you live alone.  This has been my longest stint of no roommate, a year and three months so far.
·         Started (and ended) an ASL class taught by a friend in my church.  I enjoyed my three months in it and would have liked to continue, but I have other activities I want to pursue in 2013.
·         Attended the annual AgOne Foundation BBQ in Madera as a guest of my auditors.  I was great to become more connected with the Ag community here in the Valley.
·         Took Aislynn on my Fresno church’s Father/Daughter campout.
·         Orange and then Purple belts in karate (February and November, respectively.
·         With the help of my friend Mike (plus Phillip and Seth), did a valve replacement on my engine
·         The wedding circuit ramped up again this year: attended four after seeing them trail off in the last couple years.  Yeni & Megan, James & Amy, Jordan & Molly, and Daniel & Hanna.  Only caught one of the garters.
·         Celebrated the signing of a new and better bank deal at work and oversaw/survived the horrific implementation process.
·         Acquired a lot of new-to-me furniture this year.  Still trying to figure out how to arrange it all and what to give away.  A little more furniture matches than before, which I’m not thrilled about, but I’m accepting.
·         Did the most Christmas decorating in my house to date, but still didn’t get outside lights up.  So close!
·         Set a new record for shortest time in Orange County: 17 hours.  Really wanted to come down for the VBC Christmas service, but I had Christmas caroling in Fresno Saturday night and work Monday morning.  Beats the previous record of 22 hours in 2005 for Joy’s late notice baptism.
·         Hosted a Christmas craft day for 17 kids in my home
·         Completed my first year in my own Spades group (while continuing to regularly sub in two other groups).  My group has seven singles who got tired of waiting to get married so they could join a group.  So we just find enough single and/or married friends to fill the tables each month.  For December, we actually combined with another group I sub in for a massive Christmas Spades night at my house.  It was so much fun!
·         Published my first Christmas letter!

What’s in store ahead:

·         Taking a seminary course.  This is just a sample course through Corban University’s School of Ministry.  After this I’ll decide if I want to pursue the full degree.  If I do, it may lead me toward a career change into ministry utilizing my finances background.
·         Coaching Kindergarten Upward Basketball at my church.  This one’s a big stretch for me.  I played basketball on a home school team during my sophomore year.  I was probably the most disciplined but least talented guy on the team.  I’d do whatever the coach said, but lacked that natural rhythm on the court.  But our children’s pastor assures me that the Kindergarten team is just about teaching them a few fundamental skills and having fun with them.  I'm still skeptical.

For 2012, my goal set last year was to gain a better understanding of God’s ministry plans for me.  I feel good about my progress in this goal.  I finished another year of teaching Kindergarten and serving as Awana Games Director.  I enrolled for a seminary class.  I’ve helped several friends move or with home & yard work.  Another thing I’ve been trying to do is help single moms in our church.  It breaks my heart to see husbands/dads give up on the responsibility they “didn’t realize” they were signing up for, particularly what it does to the kids.  I had signed up with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but didn’t really feel like I could work with the structure of that program.  There are a couple single moms in my church, so I’ve been informally helping them out as time allows.  I took Aislynn on the Father/Daughter Campout with our church.  Noah got a turn to spend the night in my spare bedroom.  And just a bunch of afternoons/evenings at my house or around town doing errands with each of the kids.

I’ve been holding this post back (drafted on 12/29, now 1/3) because I haven’t been able to figure out where I want to direct my focus for 2013.

I have some smaller goals: I want to do well in the grad school class(es) as I take, however many there end up being.  I coasted through some of my undergrad work and didn’t learn as much as I could in some of those classes.  I also want to make some healthier eating choices.  I run off whatever junk I consume, but I’d like to be more disciplined in portion-size and healthy choices.

I keep pondering a question my friend Terry asked me back in April.  If you were to look back on your life ten years from now, how would you evaluate your life?  In some areas I think I’d be very proud of myself.  In other areas, I should really be doing better.  Details on that are for another blog post, but I want to be more content with my retrospective review by this time next year.  Too vague, I know, but that’s all I’ve got for right now.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Interrupted Christmas

This Christmas was yet another reminder that God is God and I am not.  I spent this Christmas sick.  Very very sick.

I came down with it on Sunday evening.  I knew it was coming.  I had pushed too hard the week prior, not getting enough sleep one too many nights.  I kept it away by sheer force of will, which usually holds it at bay a couple days and gives me time to fortify my immune system for the attack.  I figured it wouldn’t be too bad, that I’d feel a little “blech,” and be over this thing no problem.  I was wrong.

Warning: complaints of maladies for this entire run-on sentence/paragraph: worst sinus pressure ever experienced, spurts of sleep lasting no longer than 70 minutes (but usually only 15-20 minutes) at a time, ear infection resulting from inability to sleep, vomiting, loss of appetite, inability to focus or concentrate, sensitivity to light, hallucinations, bumping into walls, coughing, sneezing, headaches, chills.

God has graciously given me short-term true memory of physical pain.  I remember surgeries and illnesses and merely knowing that I was in excruciating pain, but I don’t recall the depth of the pain sensations that I felt in those instances (I think it joins how I can have people describe disgusting things while I eat and not be phased by it).  But I do remember only once or twice having any significant sinus pressure with any head cold, and that those instances were minimal compared to this.  That was the base of all of this.  My body couldn’t handle the pain from it and wouldn’t let me sleep through it.  Then every time I’d wake up I couldn’t remember if I was in my bed or on one of my couches and almost crash into something trying to re-orient myself.

So I clearly did not go to my church’s Christmas Eve service.  I didn’t go to Daniel & Hanna’s place for dinner with their families afterward.  And I didn’t go to Matt & Barbara’s on Christmas Day for dinner and games at their house.  These were the plans after making Christmas Dinner at the children’s hospital with Haig & Valerie were canceled because of Valerie recently having wrist surgery.  I couldn’t watch T.V. or read.  It was miserable.  I have never seen time tick by so slowly.

The funniest part of this whole thing is that as I was spiraling downhill on Sunday night, I watched an episode of The West Wing, the one where the president is approving pardons.  The hallucinations mentioned above were related to this.  In my stupor of not sleeping enough for coherency, I imagined that I was the president in the show and was being prodded by my senior staff into granting pardons in my ill-minded state (“Just four more, Mr. President.  We’ll leave these right here next to you.  Just sign them.”).

On Monday afternoon, I was running low on all my sick supplies.  Living alone, it only makes sense to have an arsenal of feel-better food and meds on hand so I don’t need to go out on a store run when ill.  But I still managed to run short.  So I texted Greg, one of the few friends I could on Christmas Eve, and asked if he could help me out.  Greg however is without a driver’s license currently, but I figured he could at least do the driving part of the store run if I could wait in the car.  It was rough, but I made it.

Restocked on tuna, waffles, Gatorade, 7-Up and Afrin, I crashed and endured another miserable night.  But finally at 7a on Tuesday morning I fell asleep and stayed asleep for three blissful hours.  I woke up and my sinus pressure was finally reduced, and everything else had settled into a common cold.  This I could handle.

I stayed in and continued to rest, but was now able to focus and concentrate.  I slept about six hours last night, but still woke up congested this morning, so taking a sick day today, Wednesday.

Probably the roughest Christmas yet, but oh well.  Somehow missing the expected celebrations didn’t mean as much.  I poured a lot into the preparation and had some great time with friends leading up to it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Car Repairs

Back in September, when I took Aislynn on the Father/Daughter Campout, I had my car looked at again for various minor issues I was having, the most notable being a cloud of white/bluish smoke that would come out the tailpipe every time I started it up cold.  The mechanic diagnosed it as needing a valve replacement and head gasket, with an estimated cost of $1,800.  But he also said he didn’t know if it was worth doing to the car since it was still running fine and was likely to still pass smog.

I was deliberating over what to do, and decided to run the scenario past my friend Mike, who’s very savvy with cars.  I ran the details past him, and he said everything sounded legit, but he also said that while it’s a long job, it’s a doable do-it-yourself job, and he offered to do the work with me.  He enjoys working on cars, and likes helping educate people about their cars.  I was thrilled.  I would like to know more about my car, and I’d also love to save the money.

So I acquired the parts he told me to, he bought the service manual on my vehicle (1999 Toyota RAV4), and we planned for Thanksgiving weekend to do the work, starting Friday at 9 a.m.  We were hopeful it could be done in a day, but had Saturday for overflow just in case.

Friday morning I drove to his house, and we got started.  He showed me how to disconnect the fuel line, drain the coolant and the oil, and walked me through removing various pieces from under the hood.  This was going to be a beast to put back together, but we were both enjoying it, and I was learning a lot.  I’ve seen parts of my car that I never knew existed.

Foolishly, I had committed to play Spades Friday evening, with this ridiculously optimistic idea that we’d be done by then.  Around noon or 1 I was starting to clue in, and texted my friend Josh to ask if he could take my place so that we wouldn’t lose momentum working on this.  Mike and I had a couple trips out for tools, which was impressive given Mike’s plethora of equipment.  Thankfully Mike’s brother Phillip and our friend Seth kept stopping in amidst Black Friday shopping and errands, so I was able to give them money to grab us lunch.  Mike and I did a dinner run on one of our errands out.

Heading into the evening, we started to get to the challenging parts of piece removal.  We hadn’t even gotten under the cams to the valve springs.  One of the pieces anchoring the engine block to the frame was in the way of getting the timing belt off.  That piece was wedged in so tightly that we couldn’t get a socket wrench in with enough clearance to loosen the bolt from either over the hood or underneath the wheel well.  And there was enough of a lip around it that we couldn’t get a box wrench around it.  We finally got it off by buying a smaller socket wrench head that would fit in the small space.

At a later point, we needed Phillip’s brute upper arm strength to break the seal between the timing belt pulley and the engine cams.  We were grateful he was around, even though he was pestering us as to when we’d give up to come watch the Grinch with him.

By then it was 10 p.m. and we were then stuck with figuring out how to get the idler pulley off to free the back plate of the timing belt.  I came up with the plan to run home (Mike only lives 6 miles from me) to save Mike doing another trip, and then him picking me back up in the morning to start again.  Around 11, I received a text from my friend Greg asking me what I was up to, and I asked him for a ride.  As much as I could have done the run, this would save me an hour of sleep.  So we called it a night at 11:30 and Greg took me home.

This morning, Greg picked me up (he only lives down the street from me thankfully), we did an Uncle Harry’s pick-up and he dropped me back off at Mike’s at 8:30.  The morning went slowly as we ran into obstacle after obstacle in continuing to take pieces off.  We even had to borrow his dad’s air compressor to create a seal in the engine so the valve seals wouldn’t fall down into the engine once we got all the way in to our work area.  By 11 a.m., I was getting to the “what are we gonna do?” concern point.  Mike is the Facilities Coordinator at our church, and I’m teaching Sunday School, so we both have to be there, and he often has afternoon commitments.

Then I had the idea of borrowing a car from my parents.  I could take Amtrak down tonight, pick up my dad’s extra car, and drive back.  That way I’d have continuing transportation through the week for work as needed, and we wouldn’t have to put the car back together unfinished only to tear it apart again later.

Around 3, we ran into a problem of needing a valve spring compressor.  Mike has the new “universal” one that’s shaped like a wine bottle opener, but because my springs are recessed, we needed the old c-clamp style.  As we soon found out from O’Reilly’s, Autozone, Pep Boys, Harbor Freight and Sebring’s, no one makes or carries that style anymore.  It looked like we were sunk.  We even started thinking of people at church, but the one name we both came up with now lives at Hume Lake.  On a whim, I decided to call my neighbor Haig.  By some miracle, he had one.  He used it once, back when his sons (my age) were in jr. high.

Before Haig had come through, I had successfully made arrangements with Mom to borrow the car.  When we got back to Mike’s house with the valve spring compressor, we sadly learned that this style only works if you take the whole engine apart, and we were trying to get away with taking the top off.

Well, God bless YouTube.  Some videos had already helped us this weekend, but this one was the miracle worker.  Some kids playing heavy metal music had recorded a video of how to make your own vsc with a 3/4" socket and a pen magnet.  We were saved.

But then we realized that this tool is only half a tool.  It helps us get the valve springs off, but will likely not work to re-insert them.  So I booked a ticket on Amtrak, and found a sub for Kindergarten teaching tomorrow.  Mike drove me home to pack and dropped me off at the station.  He’ll keep looking at YouTube videos and the manual tonight to figure out our next steps.  Right now it looks like we’ll need to order a part online.

I haven’t taken a train/bus down to Orange County in a long time, probably since my college days.  The nice part is not having to be attentive to the drive.  I dozed off and napped from Fresno to Hanford.  And now I can just sit here chronicling this weekend’s adventures.  This is kind of nice.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Men's Retreat 2012 Day 3

Woke up, took a shower, packed up, and went down to breakfast.  No new snowfall  this morning on my car, but a decent layer of ice had frozen the towel to the windshield.  So I decided to walk rather than wait for the car to thaw out.

This breakfast was amazing.  Lots of great options at the main entrĂ©e bar, but an omelette station was set up as well.  I put back two heaping plates full.  I should have gone for a second omelette, too.

I sat with Adrian, one of the college-age guys, at breakfast.  While we were talking Nate C. came up and asked Adrian to pop his back, so I asked him to pop mine too.  I was lamenting having to go pay my chiropractor to unlock me again after I’d just seen him Thursday night.  I think it was a combination of the extensive driving and a softer bed than I’m used to.  I love that cracking sound.  Adrian probably got six or seven vertebrae on me.

Instead of group devotions, Sundays are individual devotions because some years, a lot of people leave Saturday night, so some groups can be significantly dwindled.  This one was on Psalm 73, where the author is in anguish over the perceived success of the wicked, but then comes around to remember God sovereignty, and that following Him is worth more than any earthly temporal success.

We started the morning session with worship, and then invited our weekend host Sarah up to talk about the developments with Hume.  They’ve opened up an east coast location to reach kids on that coast as well.  Overall, I think it’s a great idea, but too much expansion in a non-profit always concerns me.  I was excited to see the video on it and get some information that the first run of it had gone well.

Justin then wrapped up Job with God finally chiming in.  A convicting question this morning was What if God’s answer to my personal plea for relief in some circumstance would mess up the universe?  This message made me think of the movie Bruce Almighty.  While crass, it had some very insightful points.  When Bruce lassos the moon for his girlfriend, it creates a tidal wave overseas.
Another point Justin hit was how God doubled the replacement of everything lost, except for Job’s children.  Doubling the original lost children would have been crass in making them seem replaceable.  And at the same time, there was no restoration of lives lost.  God didn’t come back and say, “Just kidding!”  The lost was real and difficult.

We took communion as a group and spent some time in prayer before being dismissed.  We loaded up the car, ate lunch, and then took off the chains.  The roads within Hume were thawing out, so we decided to start sans chains and put them back on when needed.  We only hit two mild patches of ice, and I was going slow enough that we held our traction and arrived safely back at my house.

Another great retreat.

Men's Retreat 2012 Day 2

Melatonin has to be one of the most wonderful pills in the world, next to ibuprofen.  Now having my tonsils out, I sleep better camping and/or in the mountains, but I still tend to wake up a few times in the night, but it’s easier to fall back asleep now.  Now that I’ve figured out melatonin will work for me (it didn’t as a teenager), it just helps keep me asleep through most of the night.  Six glorious hours of sleep.

We woke up to a beautiful thick blanket of snow.  Absolutely breathtaking.  I was glad I remembered to put a towel over my windshield to make the car that much more ready to get started in the morning.  I love having a vehicle up here.  I know the exercise is good for me, but I just enjoy the freedom of being able to drive back and forth from all the location changes we make throughout the weekend.

Saturday morning we have small group devotions over breakfast.  I was a little disappointed in the breakfast though, which shocked me because I have never had unpleasant food or insufficient food options at men’s retreat.  The egg bake was vegetarian (apparently there was a meat one that went early), and the pancakes and monkey bread were both pretty dry.  But the bacon, the fruit and yogurt were all pretty decent.  It just surprised me to need to depend on the fruit and yogurt bar.

I don’t typically enjoy the small group devotions we have at retreat, but it feels somewhat heathenish to say so.  We’re matched in deliberately random groups for the weekend, and it’s nice to bring a variety of viewpoints to a Scripture passage, but it’s difficult when we haven’t had any significant bonding time to have a trust in sharing with the group.  Some guys I would know very well, but there are always a few new faces.

The morning message from Justin continued in Job and discussed the wager between God and Satan.  Job’s trial went through the fingers of a loving God.  It was not out of God’s control.  God didn’t and never doesn’t see something happen in our lives and say, “Oops, sorry, my bad, wasn’t watching on that one.”  We were challenged with the question Who/what do I worship in the midst of adversity?  After a rotten day at work, do I come home and read my Bible and spend time with God, or do I veg in front the TV to unwind?  Also Is there anything about which I pray, “God, please just don’t take ______?”  My home, my job, my car, my intellect, my health, my reputation, my friends?

After the morning session we went to the small group challenge.  In the past we’ve created BBQ sauce recipes, built birdhouses, geocached, etc.  This year it was a series of circuit obstacles.  Marc is blind, so they added the element that during each phase of the challenge, a different member of every other team had to be blindfolded.  The first challenge was a relay race across the room to spin around a baseball bat four times and tag the next teammate.  I decided to get my blindfolded turn over with.  I went second in the relay because the first person had to carry the bat across the room (not a good job for a blind person).  I couldn’t spot, so I was depending on someone else physically stopping me or yelling at me to stop when I had turned four times.  I was SO dizzy afterward.  Other challenges included eating a lemon, flying paper airplanes, lighting a fire and frying an egg on top of a coffee can, making a three-man pyramid to reach the highest point as possible inside the Ponderosa dining hall sans furniture (two guys climbed up the support beams however), chugging contents from a random grocery store jar (ours was nacho jalapenos—I was no help), hot dog eating contest (I gave up after three because Daniel Y. was already on eight, and I didn’t see the point in making myself sick), and Pictionary.  Our team wasn’t dead last, but somewhere in the bottom half of the twelve groups.

Lunch was a remedy from breakfast: hamburgers with bacon, mushrooms, and chili for topping options.

The snow had wiped out two of our optional afternoon activities of Suzuki four-wheeling and the Screamer, but we still had the giant swing option.  It didn’t start until a little later, so Dave A. and I sat and talked at lunch for quite awhile.  He’s in my Sunday School class, but I really hadn’t gotten to know him that well yet.  He and his wife Lisa have a 16yo son, and they came back to Campus because they weren’t feeling connected in their former church and they wanted a youth group for their son to get connected in.

I had some trepidations about this swing, but I knew that I had passed on a few activities over the years at Hume that I usually regret not doing.  So I went to check it out.  A cable connects two trees, probably 50 feet up.  Two cables descend from the original cable and merge into one, which is strapped to your harness.  You have to climb up five rungs on a ladder to get strapped in, and then they remove the ladder to suspend you in air.  Another cable is attached, and that feeds through two pulleys, up to the height of the first cable and then down to the other participants, who run out to ratchet you up.  There’s a rip cord on that last cable, and you have to pull it to release yourself into the swing.  Absolutely terrifying to start, but awesome by the second swing when centripetal force takes over.  My biggest fear is falling, not that I would actually be harmed, but the actually feeling of falling.  So I know I have to push myself, and I’m so glad I did.

The really nice part of this activity is that it was very quick and done.  I stayed to help ratchet up other guys, but it didn’t absorb the whole free time like other activities have in the past, like paintball.  I went back the cabin and talked with Sam and Chapman for awhile.  Chapman left to study, and Sam and I were reading, but then we each dozed off into some nice naps before dinner.

Dinner did not disappoint.  Seasoned broccoli, mashed potatoes & gravy, roast beef & carrots, and chicken.  Dessert was chocolate brownies with caramel baked in.  I sat with a few guys in our church’s Men in Action class, and we talked about their hypothetical elder assignments, their case studies of the “messy” situations that can come up in a church that the elders need to address.  Jeff’s was being the only elder who knows something significant about a potential future elder, and Lee W.’s was being the lone dissenter on an elder decision that went horribly wrong, and having church members come up to question him about it.

We started off the evening meeting with some video footage of the giant swing.  My screams were the star of the show at the evening session, along with a few of the other guys they taped.  We’ve also had this four-part YouTube video series they’ve been playing just for laughs: “Guy on a Buffalo.”  Tonight they showed part 3 and we were left with a cliffhanger.  Short ridiculous video segments.  The evening meeting was about when Job’s friends came on the scene, and was entitled “How to Be a Lame Friend.”  Justin touched on some what-not-to-do’s, particularly with someone grieving.

Pastor Mike came up afterward and asked us to get in groups of 2-3 and pray over some specific needs.  I grouped up with Daniel T. and his brother-in-law Vadim.  Two really great guys it was a pleasure to pray with.

Afterward most of us headed over to the Ponderosa Dining Hall for our evening snack.  Last night’s had been some coconut dessert bars, which I even tried just to make sure I still didn’t like coconut.  Very disappointing considering the variety of snacks they’ve usually had for our evening hang-out time.  There were eight pies awaiting us when we arrived.  All banana cream.  I like banana cream pie, but I was bummed not to have some other choices, especially for the guys who don’t like that type of pie.  They brought out a plate of chocolate chip cookies later, but they weren’t warm and fresh like in years past where they keep them under heat lamps all evening for us.  Yes, we’re spoiled up here.

Lee S. got a game of Spades going, and we all taught Kyle how to play.  Kyle was my partner, and I was grateful when Dave A. came over to watch and ended up coaching Kyle.  We played three games of four hands each.  Kyle and I lost pretty miserably on the first game, but came back strong in the second and third.  Other groups had other games going too, but we were the last ones standing.  I’ve never been the one to turn out the lights in the dining hall.

Men's Retreat 2012 Day 1

For the first time in nine years of attending men’s retreats with my Fresno church, I drove.  In the past I’ve always caught a ride with another friend.  Hume requires you to carry snow chains this time of year, and I don’t have them and didn’t want to buy them.  No one I’ve ridden with in all those years has ever needed to put them on, so when Garry asked me if I would drive, I agreed, conditional on the weather forecast showing I wouldn’t need chains.  And it didn’t, until Friday morning.  By then, it was too late for us to make other plans, so I sucked it up and purchased chains.  Chains are non-returnable, so I was almost hoping we’d have to use them to make the purchase worth it.

Actually, when I heard the forecast, I wanted to cancel.  In the last few years, I have come to like cold weather less and found the heat more bearable.  I can remember a few retreats (always the second weekend of November) where I’ve been absolutely miserable from the cold, but others that were warmer (t-shirt weather in the afternoons even) and had a wonderful time.  But I knew I needed to go.

Garry and Jeff “Chops” showed up at my house at 2 p.m.  I had originally said to meet at 3 p.m., but with snow in the forecast, I wanted to get up there well before dark when the temperatures would drop and the snowfall would increase.  The car was loaded by 2:20, and we went to pick up chains, gas and food.

The roads were clear up until the entrance to Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park.  Snowfall had started a few miles earlier, but not enough to consider the chains.  At the gate, there is a longstanding question of whether it is required to pay to get into the park if you are just going to Hume, since that is a private camp exempt from the National Park.  Different people have different answers.  When Amy and I visited for the day last month, the guard still charged us, so we went ahead and purchased an annual pass since it was only a little more.  It put my conscience at ease just to have it and not debate in the car whether it’s required or not.

This guard did require us to put chains on as we entered the park, so we dutifully pulled over.  The story of this was a total God-thing, because after I put mine on (Garry and Chops didn’t know how, never having done it before), there was another group struggling with theirs, so we stepped in to offer help.  It turns out that one of the key hooks was only shaped to 90 degrees instead of looped to actually hold another chain link.  They were planning to attempt to trudge onward 30 miles with a chain set on only a single tire.  I don’t know exactly the potential consequences of this, but I knew this was a bad idea.  So I walked back over to the guard station to ask if he had blunt-nose pliers for us to attempt to bend a proper hook.  The guard didn’t, but the group at the front of the line for the Park did.  Well, they offered me needle-nose pliers, which I knew wouldn’t work, but took anyway because arguing with someone who can’t see the situation, regarding the necessary tools to complete a task often feels fruitless to me.  They would be pulling over to retrieve their pliers, at which point I planned to point out the need for something else.  They then pulled out a hammer and channel-lock pliers, and we deftly pounded out a hook.  We got the car on their way, and then found out the truck of guys with the tools had made a severe wrong turn.  They were heading to Hartland for their church’s men’s retreat, which means they should have taken a southward turn a long time ago.  God brought both of our cars there to help out this other group that could have otherwise been stranded or injured.

As those cars left, my former roommate Daniel and his friend Marc had pulled up and started fiddling with their chains.  They had never done this either, so I helped fasten theirs to get them on the road.  It was an odd feeling to be the most experienced person at an automotive/mechanical skill in a group of five of my guy friends.  It made me feel proud for having acquired the skill (6 years ago, no refresher since) and being able to re-perform it when needed.

After that, we finally took off, slowly, down the road.  We had to stop a couple times to retighten ours, but it was otherwise an uneventful ride in.  We arrived at 5:30 and went straight to dinner.  Check-in could wait, we were hungry.

I love Hume food for men’s retreats.  I always eat well here, it’s a week after the Fresno half marathon so I never feel guilty gorging myself, and as we say up here: calories don’t count over 4,000 feet.    The salmon and beef were both good, but dessert was even better.  Chocolate soup (not sauce, but a soup, Abby’s special creation up here), with cookies & cream ice cream, and a stick of biscotti.  WOWOWOW!

At our first session this evening, we broke into our small groups for icebreaker competitions.  I received the challenge of getting an Oreo from my forehead to my mouth sans hands.  I figured there was no chance of success, but I tried, and on the second attempt, took third place of twelve teams.

Justin Greene is our speaker this weekend.  He’s a pastor up in Salem, OR.  Our theme this weekend is “From wrecked, wasted and wallowing…to Worship.”  Justin is talking through parts of the book of Job.  Tonight’s session was on Job’s assurance of his relationship with God.  Not sinless, but that he kept “short accounts” with God, sacrificing regularly “just in case” he or one of his children sinned.

I think this will be a good weekend for me.  Something that God’s been putting on my mind even before this retreat: Even if things never improve from a bad situation, would I still worship Him if it NEVER gets better?
I do think I have a pretty easy life.  I may have some extreme work situations from time to time, but I really have comparatively little to complain about, and I probably complain much more than I have cause to do so.  But if I were going through trial after trial, with no relief, would God be enough for me?

After the session was our annual Spades tournament.  Mike “Moose” and I decided to be partners.  Bad decision.  Well, more bad cards than on the decision for our partnership.  We just had lousy, non-complementary hands and lost 18 to 200-something to Jeff and Adam.  But Mike and I called it a victory because it meant we were then free to go to bed.  And since I had awoken at 3 a.m. to give my friend Greg a ride to the airport this morning and not gotten back to sleep, I was ready for bed.

I’m rooming with Chapman and Sam.  There was some mix-up over the cabins we normally stay in.  Those accommodations have always been pretty nice.  Five sets of bunk beds to a cabin, linens provided, a heated cabin with its own bathroom of two showers and two stalls.  But instead we were routed to Black Oak and Hickory lodges, which are very much like hotel rooms.  One queen-size bed, one twin and one trundle with a full bathroom per room.  Pretty much the nicest places they have up here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Karate Purple Belt Test and Two Cities Half-Marathon – Part 2

Friday Flashback: I left work at 3:30 to get to the expo by 4p when it opened.  I had to get in and out before karate class at 6p, which is always a struggle for me to leave because the expos are so much fun, and I usually see a lot of people I know at the Fresno race expos.  I picked up my full marathon race bib and then got in the race changes line.

Getting sick after the Exeter half marathon in August and then just generally being lazy after I finally got well really messed up my plan to build distance in my training.  By the end of September, I realized it wouldn’t be safe to do the full marathon.  I always say that I want to be able to run until I die, and trying to run a marathon with too little training unfortunately wouldn’t kill me, but might injury me to the point where I’d have to give up running.

So I was dropping down to the Clovis half marathon.  Thankfully Fresno was offering two half-marathon courses this year instead of just one.  The recurring half course is miserable.  I think some people run the full marathon just to avoid that half course.  Some very loud and deep pockets have protested the course going by their homes one day per year, so it has severely limited the options for the race directors to outline a better course.  So when they offered a course going out to old town Clovis, I was excited for the change.

The rest of the expo was great.  I saw a few people I knew.  My chiropractor was there with a booth, and he popped and cracked me again.  There seems to be this one spot in my upper back that isn’t unlocking.  He got some good pops Thursday night, and again Friday at the expo, but even that didn’t seem to get all of it.  Hopefully it just needs time to settle out.

Then I went over to karate class, and we were doing ducking exercises, killing my quads.  And then we learned a new form, very overwhelming the day before the test.  But oh well, here goes nothing.

Back to Sunday

I woke up with plenty of time and dressed quickly to get out the door for the race.  I was in such a hurry that as I parked I realized I had forgotten my cell phone on the living room table.  I actually had enough time to go back and get it, but decided it wasn’t worth the stress.  I had a great parking spot close to the start line.  I was very early, so I popped in an Adventures in Odyssey cassette and stayed in my car to keep warm.

When I got out and started walking around, I started running into countless people I knew.  This is my favorite part of Fresno races: reunions.  Seeing friends from other churches, from FPU, from karate, from my old job and clients is a real boost for me.

Since I had a new race bib from switching races, I didn’t have an assigned start corral, so was free to start wherever I liked.  I decided to start with Olga, Katie and Olga’s sister Mira.  Olga and Katie go to church with me.  They pace a little slower than I do, but we’ve been excitedly talking about this race together for the last few months.

Our first mile was a 10:12.  Starting out, I was feeling tight but not too sore from the test the day prior, but after that first mile all the pain was gone.  So I decided to pull ahead and see what I had in me.  I started flying.  I hadn’t had this kind of speed since before the Exeter race.  I don’t know what happened, but I finally unlocked it all.  It was awesome!  I had been in the mid-10’s this whole 2-month training period, so frustrated to have lost my speed, where normally I’m in the low 9’s.

Dave & Cheryl were cheering for us outside their house just before mile 2.  Then I saw Amy, Christine and their collective broods of 7 children, and they had signs and a line of high fives waiting for me, Olga & Katie.  I love it when strangers are out there cheering, ringing cowbells and holding signs, too.  My favorite sign from this race was “Run like you stole something!”  Amy, Christine and their kids relocated to another spot around miles 5 and 7 (same spot due to the loop), so I got to see them three times during the run.  Around mile 8, I saw Jolene and gave her a high five as I flew past.  And then Garry brought his girls out to cheer us on at mile 9.  I was able to chat with a few of the other runners around me when we were pacing with each other.

I flew across the finish line in 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 8 seconds!  Average pace of 9:12/mile, with some laps in the high 8's!  I was so excited to have done that well after being nervous about wear-down from the test yesterday.  I was just four minutes shy of my personal best time.

I always take a lot of time in cool down, unwinding from a race.  And this race feeds us so well, so there’s no motivation to leave.  Ice creams sundaes; full breakfast of eggs, hash browns, bagels and orange slices; frozen fruit cups; water & Fluid (a less-pleasant, but not disgusting version of Gatorade).

They offer massages, but I never bother because the wait is so long.  I always end up sticking around long enough, but I don’t want to be tied to watching my watch.  I stretched, ate and talked with friends as they finished.

Katie and I walked over to get our free beer from the pavilion area.  Our race bibs said a free beer or glass of wine, but we couldn’t find the wine, so we settled.  Still a refreshing reward.  Then I gave Katie a ride home since she had walked over to the start of the race.

I cleaned up, rested a bit, and then headed out again to a fundraiser dinner for Young Life, a youth outreach that my friend Tiffany supports.  Sadly a very boring and poorly structured presentation, but the food and company was good.

An awesome whirlwind weekend.  I was a little stiff through Monday, particularly my quads, but I was pretty much back to normal by Tuesday.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Karate Purple Belt Test and Two Cities Half-Marathon – Part 1

This was an intense weekend: purple belt test in karate on Saturday and then a half marathon on Sunday.

I had known my purple belt test was coming up.  I just didn’t know exactly when it would be.  If I had still been planning to run the full marathon, I would have asked ahead of the announcement that it not be scheduled within two weeks of the test.  I did my orange belt test in February a week and a half after one half marathon and two days prior to another, and that was hard.

The biggest thing I was worried about was how long we’d have to stand in square horse stance.  For my orange belt test, I had to hold the stand for two sets of probably 10 minutes and 15 minutes.  But to my surprise, he refocused the testing.  We only had three sets of two minutes, two minutes and five minutes.

I was also nervous about the sparring element of the test.  Sparring is difficult for me.  I just don’t seem to have great instincts in defending, or finding an open shot.  I took about six punches to the side of my head from Bryan S. in our one-minute round.  In all of our practice sparring, we had never been allowed to hit the head, so while I was used to keeping my guards up, I wasn’t used to having to block shots up there.  My ears were ringing by the end of it.

But Bryan S. was testing for his blue belt (the next level up).  His test involved stripping an attacker of a weapon.  Three of us went in there (one at a time) with a two-foot padded training stick.  First, he took it away from Bryan L. in 17 seconds.  Third, he got it away from Dan W. in 24 seconds.  But I went second, and I beat him front and back nonstop.  He couldn’t get it away from me!  Finally he knocked me over and braced my striking wrist with his knee.  I was trying to twist around and use my left leg to slide him off of me (because he weighs nothing), when our Sensei called it a truce at 31 seconds!

The rest of the test wasn’t easy, but was pretty doable.  We were on the mat for three hours, and there was about an hour of dead time within that from all the individual testing vs. group testing.  Everyone earned their next belt.  Three were promoted to yellow belt, about six to orange, seven of us to purple, and one to blue.

I then hobbled out to my car, stopped at Arby’s for some sustenance, and then went home to prep for the race.  I had never tried it, but I heard an ice bath works wonders for rapid recovery from intense workouts.  I didn’t want to lug a bag of ice home, so I just ran a cold water bath.  I was able to survive that for about 15 minutes, and I do think it helped.  I had some pasta at Amy’s to carb up for the race, and chilled out the rest of the evening at home.

I also had to set all my clocks back.  I was nervous about this.  Last year I had a new phone and I wasn’t sure how it handled DST.  My prior phone didn’t turn back/forward until you slid it open to reveal the keypad, so I always had to set my alarm assuming it wouldn’t reset.  So last year, deciding not to trust the phone’s ability to handle this complex time change, I turned off the “auto update item” option and manually changed the time back.  Not a good move.  It still rolled the time back an hour at two a.m. (but didn’t “auto-update” to the correct time) and I was an hour late getting ready for the race.  Thankfully I give myself a lot of lead time for races.  I recall that I had even set a clock alarm but I don't remember why that didn't help.  So this year, I knew I could trust my phone to handle DST.

Friday, October 26, 2012

An Extraordinary Life

I read this article in Relevant Magazine today  Very unorthodox, I don't think it's going to be my new handbook for life, but it it has some valid points to it.  I love the idea of #5 the most.  Good thing it's Friday, so I have the maximum amount of time to gear up for it.

10 Ways to Live an Extraordinary Life by Bob Goff

When Bob Goff answers the phone, it’s a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t be. His phone number is one of the world’s most easily accessible—available at any bookstore in the country. He printed it in the back of Love Does, his best-selling collection of stories about a few ways he’s managed to turn each day into a “hilarious, whimsical, meaningful change to make faith simple and real.” As you dial the number, you might expect a hotline, or a secretary, or at least a voicemail. But you’ll get no such thing. Call the phone number, and you’ll be greeted with, “This is Bob Goff!”
If it’s possible for someone to become famous for no other reason than that he loves genuinely and lives fully, then Goff has done it. He’s a lawyer in Washington. He’s the Ugandan honorary consul to the U.S. He’s a professor at Pepperdine Law School and Point Loma Nazarene University. He’s the founder of Restore International, which serves underprivileged children in Uganda and India. His endless supply of stories charm, his overseas work inspires and his demeanor encourages—but the most truly fascinating thing about Bob Goff is Bob Goff.
Somehow, using the same 24 hours in a day the rest of us have, Goff has crafted an extraordinary life of adventure, joy and love. It’s an appealing prospect for anyone, and we wondered: What are his secrets? And: Will he share them?
The answer, as with most things in Goff’s life, was an emphatic yes.
1. Don't Let Anyone Go to Voicemail
“We get really busy,” Goff says. “But the less time Jesus had on earth, the more available He became to people.”
So when Goff put his phone number in the back of Love Does, he made the promise to himself to answer every call—regardless of whether or not he knew who it was. There are practical limits to this, of course. “I don’t feel guilty if I’m on the other line, or on a plane,” he says. But from where Goff sits, Jesus wouldn’t have ignored many phone calls. So neither does he. “If I get a call, I answer it,” he says. “And it’s been terrific!
“There’s a God we can talk to anytime, anywhere, about anything, and I’m so glad He doesn’t screen my calls—because I don’t have anything that’s particularly interesting to say. And I’m understanding that better because I’m available to people.”
2. Don't Make Appointments
Goff says, “When someone calls me and says, ‘Can we meet two Tuesdays from now at 3 p.m.?’ I say, ‘How about now?’ If you call me two Tuesdays from now at 3, I’ll probably say the same thing.”
That’s right. As implausible as it sounds, Bob Goff, lawyer and Ugandan consulate, doesn’t set appointments.
The benefit of this thinking becomes evident even now—he is, as we speak, driving home from an impromptu meeting with a young man who needed to talk.
“Guess what!” he says, laughing. “I didn’t have any appointments that I needed to cancel ... I’ve got all the time in the world because I don’t have any appointments.”
Goff insists when your life is appointment-free, your time is at the service of others instead of your personal demands. Plus, you become a different person when you structure your life around others’ needs.
“Can you imagine a lawyer who doesn’t make appointments?” Goff asks, recognizing the absurdity of it. “But it’s been great.”
3. Be Incredibly Inefficient at Love
“Don’t do an efficient brand of love,” Goff says.
Then he does what he does best—launches into a story without missing a beat.
“The woman who lives across the street from us has cancer. She called me up and told me the bad news, and I told her, ‘I’m not going to call you ever again.’ She’s like, ‘What?’
“I went to Radio Shack and got us two walkie-talkies, and it was terrific. For the last year, we’ve been talking on walkie-talkies every night. It’s like we’re both 14-year-olds and we’re both in tree forts.
“She took a turn for the worse about four days ago, so this morning, I woke up about 5, and I went to the hospital. I sent the nurse in with a walkie-talkie, and I sat in the next room and called her up. I heard her just start crying—because there’s something inefficient and beautiful about it. We were sitting in a hospital, separated by a room, talking on walkie-talkies.”
Here he breaks off and seems choked up for a moment.
Then he continues. “Be inefficient with your love. The more in-efficient, the better. It would have been a lot more efficient for God to not send Jesus to die for us. That was very inefficient love. But so sweet and so tender.”
4. Don't Have a Bible Study
When it comes to Bible studies, Goff says simply, “I’m done. I’ve got all the information I need.”
But this doesn’t leave the Bible out of his daily routine. To the contrary, he’s upped the ante.
“I’ve met with the same guys every Friday who I’ve been meeting with for a decade,” he says. “And we have a Bible Doing.”
The idea, Goff says, is basically that memorization is only effective if it motivates you to action. It’s great when believers meet together to internalize the Bible, but why not externalize it as well?
Goff is likewise unconventional in his approach to a morning quiet time. “I can’t do them,” he says. “I think I got sent to the principal too much when I was a kid.”
“Instead, I take Scripture, I let it wash over me, and I say, ‘What do I really think about this?’” Then he shares his reflections by sending out a morning tweet.
This morning habit helps his day start on the right foot in front of God and everyone else. “It helps me dwell in Christ,” he says. “But it also helps me not be a pill midday. I can’t send a beautiful tweet in the morning and then be a pill.”
5. Quit Stuff
“Every Thursday, I quit something,” Goff says. It’s one of his more infamous habits, one that he follows faithfully—and, often, dramatically. He’s been known to break apartment leases, throw out furniture and quit jobs. “You can quit cussing if you want,” he says, “but go a little higher up on the tree. It can be something really good.”
His most recent Thursday resignation was from the board of a prominent charity. “I called the guy that runs it up and said, ‘I’m out!’ And he said, ‘How come?’ And then he paused and said, ‘No! Thursday!’”
The idea is not to be a liability to charitable organizations (although that might be part of the fallout). It’s to give yourself room to grow and to give God room to work. The patterns of life can weigh down and hold back. Quitting things forces you forward to explore new opportunities, to try things you wouldn’t have time for otherwise and to fill your life with things that are fresh, different
and dangerous.
6. Do What You're Made to Do
In today’s functional culture, the common question is, “What am I able to do?” People take tests to determine skill sets and aptitude and then march off to pursue a career based on the results.
But Goff says the better question is, “What am I made to do?” He goes on to say, “It’s as simple as asking, ‘What are the things you think are beautiful? And you want in your life?’ ... And then there’s other stuff you stink at, and they cause you a bunch of stress. I just try and do more of the first and less of the second.”
7. Get More Unschooled, Ordinary Friends
For most people, friendship is accidental. You see someone often enough, find a few common interests, hang out and strike up an easy friendship. New friends probably come from the people you work with or go to church with. The childhood idea of “making friends,” a proactive pursuit, has been replaced with the idea of “letting friends happen.”
Goff suggests making friendship intentional and, moreover, risky. Because sometimes you can learn more from friends who stand just left of center than those with whom you share everything in common.
One of Goff’s dearest friendships began with a simple thank you, for example.
“They call me Mr. G at the airport, because I’m there just about every day,” Goff says. And before every flight, the same TSA security guard—Adrian—checked Goff’s ID. After a few months of this, Goff decided to extend his appreciation.
“You start every day for me,” he recalls telling Adrian. “When I think of you, I think of God. You’re so tender and kind to everybody!”
And just like that, the diminutive security guard put his arms around Goff and held him, in front of a line of waiting passengers. “It started this terrific friendship,” Goff says. “We spent the next six Christmases together with his family at our house.”
Adrian tragically passed away last summer, but not before coming to Jesus. “And now, when I think of heaven,” Goff says, “I don’t think of St. Peter. I think of a guy like Adrian, who’s checking IDs. And all of that came because I decided to get more unschooled, ordinary friends.”
8. Jump the Tracks
Goff spends most Wednesday mornings at Disneyland, prepping to teach his courses at Pepperdine University. From his vantage point on Tom Sawyer Island, he watches hundreds of park visitors board the monorail, content to be whisked wherever the train takes them.
And their park experience, says Goff, suffers because of it. The real adventure, both in Disneyland and in life, is when you venture outside the fixed loop.
But Goff is quick to point out there’s a difference between fighting the system and choosing to explore new paths outside the system. He says everyone should be jumping more tracks: “Not with a militancy. Not with a black arm band around your arm, just saying what you’re against. But with a resolve.”
And what can you expect to find off the beaten path? Adventure, and good company. “I’ll know more about my character, and I’ll know more about Jesus,” he says. “I’ll meet a lot of cool people.”
9. Crowd-Surf Each Other
At a speaking event, Goff met a man who had just received word that his 8-year-old son had been diagnosed with leukemia. Someone suggested everyone lay hands on him and pray for healing.
“That means the four dudes next to him put hands on him, and the guy in row 50 is really just putting hands on the guy in row 49,” he says.
Not satisfied with this set-up, Goff called out, just as the group was bowing their heads, “Let’s crowd surf this guy.”
So the man was passed up and down the rows of the auditorium. “That’s the picture that’s etched in my mind,” he says. “This man in agony and delight.”
Goff, who is big on physical touch, doesn’t shake hands. “If we say we’re the body of Christ, let’s act like it,” he says. “Let’s stop treating this faith thing like it’s a business trip. I want us to treat it like it’s a family. Family picks up the phone. Family surfs each other. Family hugs each other.”
Goff’s personal policy is to hug whoever he meets. It doesn’t suit everyone’s comfort zone, but he says it’s part of his identity as a believer. And the benefit of breaking through these bubbles of security is being opened up to a deeper understanding of community.
“I’m the big winner,” Goff insists, on crowd-surfing others. “I understand more about my faith and the idea of being a body.”
10. Take the Next Step
Many people are passionate but often have no idea how to get where they want to end up. Goff says you don’t really have to. You just have to start.
“If I could do this Jedi move over a lot of people, I’d just tell them to take the next step,” he says. “And then the next step. You don’t know all the steps, but most people know the next step.”
And even if not, Goff says that’s no excuse. “I’m not that freaked out about knowing what the next step is. Because I know that if I trip, I’ll fall forward. I’ll be moving toward the next thing.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012


A friend from my Fresno church passed away suddenly on Sunday.  She was 64, but other than being a diabetic, always appeared to be in excellent health.  Her heart just stopped beating, three times over the weekend while in the ER after going because she wasn't feeling well.  She passed during first service and they announced it in church.  We were all stunned.

She and her husband Gary were raising their two grandsons, Shawn (8) & Andy (6) after their daughter Colleen had become unable to take care of them.  Colleen had just gotten her life back together and regained custody of the boys.

Nancy was a children's ministry worker like me, but she had the 2-year-olds while I had the 3's, 4's or 5's.  And she had the Awana Cubbies, while I was in T&T or the Games Director.  She was one tough cookie, but fiercely loving.

In the memorial program was a 1" x 3" scrap of paper.  None one knew what they were for.  When Pastor Jim gave the message, he provided several anecdotes about Nancy, the most notable one being knowing when she had entered the sanctuary because she sat in the 2nd row behind him and he would smell her perfume, Red Door by Elizabeth Arden.  The scraps of paper were scented with that perfume.  It was a wonderful way to remember her.