Sunday, March 25, 2012

Global Cafe

So I've avoiding God on something for awhile now, and He finally got me to step in line.

Our church has a strong relationship with nearby CSU Fresno, particularly with the international exchange students who come here to learn English.  On Sunday nights, we host Global Cafe, where we serve dinner and provide conversation partners for international students to come and practice their English speaking skills.

According to our church's website and weekly bulletins, no experience is required.  Sounds easy.  But yet, I have always found countless excuses not to go over the last year-plus that we've been doing this ministry.  I did legitimately have a Growth Group with church start up in 2012 that was meeting on Sunday nights.  But we take a 2-week break every quarter, and God started tapping on my heart.

I tried to make another excuse: 5 hours at Awana Games yesterday, teaching 19 4-year-olds in Sunday School this morning, Amy's kids giving her attitude as I was making dinner at her house, etc.  But I knew God wanted me at Global Cafe tonight.

I went and, not surprisingly, had a great time conversing with a student from Korea studying business.  My friend Mary cooks dinner for the event and made a delicious taco soup.

So I can make dozens of excuses, but I'm learning that when God wants something done, He keeps prodding until my heart bends toward obedience rather than resistance of His development plan for me as His servant.

Monday, March 19, 2012

High School Reunion

This past week has been a rendition of my Fresno church friends exclaiming, "You're only 27?!?"  When I shared that my ten-year high school reunion was happening, they did the math and it shattered the mass illusion that I am in my mid 30's.

I will be fortunate enough to experience this twice as I graduated from a public high school but spent my freshman and sophomore years in a home school program.  The home school group is having their reunion in June.  But my public school had theirs last Friday.

I was on the fence about attending this one.  I hadn't kept in touch with anyone from that high school, aside from a couple teachers.  I didn't remember many of my relationships being that significant.  But it became a I'll regret it if I don't go, so I went.

I went through my yearbooks in the days beforehand, and was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of amazingly complimentary signings in regard to being a nice person, a Christian, a good student, a good friend, etc.  I didn't think I had been an unkind or miserable person, but somehow I had developed this idea that I had been extremely shy and withdrawn to where no one knew me, and to where I had little-to-no impact on my classmates.

I took Friday off work, and was pleasantly surprised by being able to leave work on Thursday at 2 p.m.

It was nothing like what I expected.  I think I was one of the few coming in from out-of-town.  I saw several people I recognized: some friends, some acquaintances.  There were many people I was sad to realize hadn't attended, but everyone makes their choices about these events.  There were several people whom I had no memory of from high school.

The reunion had a casino night theme.  I went over the blackjack table, and exchanged the play seed money ($500) I had been given for chips.  I was about a breakeven player.  I rarely busted, but usually I'd stay and the dealer would end up with a higher count.  And I would watch the next hit after me and note that the next card more-often-than-not would have busted my hand.

Where I shined, however, was in the dealer's quiz.  He was only using one deck of cards and shuffling it every hand.  He would tell us to watch the aces.  After he had collected all the played cards to a discard pile, he'd ask each player how many aces were left in the unused deck in his hand.  If you got that right, he gave each correct player a $100 chip.  The other guys and occasional girl at the table were mediocre to terrible at this per-hand quiz.  I batted a thousand, including one hand where he thought I was wrong but rechecked his hand, and subsequently handed me a chip.

The chips ended up being exchanged for raffle tickets ($100 for 1 ticket) for prizes donated or purchased for the event.  I had 21 tickets, but unfortunately, no winners.

The rest of the night was mingling and dancing.  Christina, the class president, dragged me and a few others onto the dance floor.  I'm grateful for all the times I've been pulled out onto a dance floor for contemporary (or hip-hop?) dancing in the past so I didn't feel too self-conscious.  I've come to realize that as much as I like order and structure, there is no pattern to this style of dance, and all that is required is a series of ridiculous movements in some seemingly random order.  Now that I've accepted this, I feel generally comfortable out on the dance floor because I don't look any more ridiculous than anyone else out there.

I stayed until about midnight, and then got on the road for home, because I had a 10K to run in Fresno at 8 a.m.

All in all, our class officers did an amazing job putting this together.  I'm grateful for an awesome night of memories!

A high school reunion is an interesting phenomenon: an opportunity to revisit a pivotal time in your adolescence.  As I speak to so many friends today, most either loved or hated high school (the majority having hated it).  Very few express ambivalence.  I count myself blessed to be one of those who loved high school.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mental Health Weekend - Part 2

I woke up around 8.  Not completely rested, but enough.  I took my time getting ready, and ultimately decided not to try and fit church into my morning.  So I went in search of a hiking trail Evan recommended: Bishop's Peak.  He said it would be about 45 minutes up, 30 minutes down.  Just in case, I packed my bags so I wouldn't have to worry about not checking out in time.  If I did return in time, I could come back for another swim or just a shower.

It took a little while to find the trailhead.  As it turns out, there were two, but neither clearly marked as the trailhead.  There was the "straight up" route, or the scenic route.  I opted for the scenic route.  Took me a little longer, but I wasn't rushing.  Quite a few people were out on the trail, but not so many that it was unpleasantly crowded.  Most people either just moved on past me, or I passed them, but I did strike up a conversation with one couple, Allen and Lori.  We briefly spoke as they passed me on their way up, and then sat and talked for a little while at the (almost) top vista point.  I found out that while they live nearby in Arroyo Grande, but are originally from Garden Grove and Anaheim.  Allen even went to Garden Grove High School.

I tried climbing up the rocks to the very top, but ultimately backed off since I wasn't confident that I'd be able to get back down as easily.  I met up with Allen and Lori a third of the way back along the trail.  I found out that they had worked as florists down in Orange County, were Christians, and that they had retired early and elected to move out here.  I shouldn't have been, but I was amazed at how God kept putting encouraging people in my path this weekend.  When we returned to the trailhead, Allen and Lori gave me a ride back to my car since I had needed to park further down the hill.  We exchanged contact info and extended invites for the other to visit in the future.  Hard to explain, but I feel like God had a clear purpose in me meeting them.

I arrived back to my car at 11:52.  Checkout would have been at noon at the hotel.  Praise God for the instinct to pack up.

From there, I drove over to Apple Farm Inn & Restaurant, a recommended place to eat in the AAA Tourbook.  I had deliberately wanted to avoid chain restaurants on this trip, another oddity.  Normally I don't care where I eat.  But this time I was craving different experiences.  I had the salmon scramble, which was delicious except for the annoying texture of the onions cooked into the eggs.  I walked around for a little bit afterward, but there wasn't much to see, so I stopped for gas and got on the freeway to head home.  I had thought about driving out to Pismo Beach, about 15 miles away, but decided to heed the wisdom I had been given when planning my first big road trip with Road Trip America: save something for another trip.  I had gotten out of this what I needed to.

I stopped in at another winery for a tasting on my way home.  Bianchi Winery, very good selections, but I decided I had purchased enough wine on this trip, so didn't buy any bottles.  I enjoyed talking to the girl (I forget her name) working the tasting bar.  I found out something interesting: bottles opened for tasting can only stick around for two days.  So after the second day, employees are allowed to take home whatever's unopened.  At first that sounded like a bummer for the winery and a huge advantage to the employees, but then she explained that it actually gets the wine out more (the idea being that employees take it home and share it with friends and family) rather than just having to be dumped down the drain.  Another interesting fact: only 1 oz can legally be poured into a glass for each tasting.  I didn't find out the exact reason why (risk of intoxicating drivers possibly?), but I did learn that it's a personal liability to the employee, not a liability to the winery.

As I headed home, I started to realize something.  I am home too much.  Back at D&T, the travel admittedly wore on me (forgetting where the thermostat is means you travel too much), but it was a good variety of life for me.  Now I sleep in my house almost every night except for when I travel to Orange County.  And having my tonsils out over Christmas left me housebound way too long.  Back at FPU, my roommate Phillip talked about how he needed to get off campus at least every three days, even if it was to the gas station across the street for a slurpee.  I thought he was crazy.  Now I realize the wisdom in his statement.  I need to make a concerted effort to get away from home for a night or two every now and then.  I have started to resent my house instead of seeing it for the blessing God has entrusted to me.  I think that's where the itch to rent it out and move was originating.

Coming home, I felt more refreshed.  I listened to some music, prayed out loud, and also got in a few more chapters of All the President's Men via audiobook, which I am determined to eventually finish.  A very insightful historical account, but I now know that I like fiction because there is a controlled quantity of characters and I do better keeping people straight.

I don't have a solution for my work frustrations, but at least I felt capable of coming back to work.  I will need a longer vacation soon, but this will help me hang in there for awhile longer.  I am going to figure out my next steps somehow.

It was also nice to get back somewhat early in the day so that I was able to get a load of laundry done, blog about this awesome weekend, and buy some groceries.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mental Health Weekend - Part 1

I think *fingers crossed* that the audit at work is finally over.  That four-week project took four months.  I despise our banks that kept getting in the way of us getting this done.

Well, actually, it's just in a final draft form.  I again despise our banks.

So I was mentally done.  The stress had been unbelievable.  It's completely different than what I underwent at D&T.  There was more work to do there, but I was detached from the numbers.  It didn't matter to me whether my clients made or lost money, just as long as I could report on it.  Now these are my numbers and the presentation matters.

I needed to get away.  I needed to see something completely different for awhile.  I didn't even want to be at home even though I have countless projects to work on there.

So I finally used some of my Marriott rewards points from all my traveling days at D&T and booked a night at the Marriott in San Luis Obispo.  I would have booked the whole weekend, but I had committed to running a 10K in Sanger with my coworkers.

The 10K was a great stress-reliever too.  I was the second-fastest (also the second-youngest) from my company, and my time of 53 minutes is probably a personal best for me.  Under 9-minute miles the whole way.

I came home, showered, and loaded the bags in the car.  The beginning of the trip was frustrating.  I had bought a John Grisham book on cassette at a thrift store, only to realize in the car that I only had the second half of the cassettes.  So there weren't two copies in the store, they were Parts 1 & 2.  Then I got a speeding ticket.  Then slowing down to ~5 miles over the speed limit on the two-lane, cars were tail-gating me.  My GoogleMap print-out was vague and led me off-course twice for about 20 total miles.  I was asking God why, regailing Him with everything that led up to needing this weekend away.  I think the answer I received is that He never promises us that things will be easy, not even that they'd ebb and flow to give us some "easy" after a season of "hard."

But things picked up from there.  I stopped in at a winery and did a tasting.  The San Antonio Winery offered three tastings free, but I ended up getting five free.  They had a huge range of reds,whites & sparkling; sweet and dry wines, clearly classified.  I really appreciated that since I generally go for sweeter white wines but had the chance to branch out into some reds that I really liked.  While I was doing my first tasting there, a woman (another patron, not an employee) almost jumped up alongside me and asked me what I thought of it.  Her name is Amy and she was here with three coworker friends, Yessinia and two Debbie's celebrating her (Amy's) birthday.  I talked with them for awhile while they started their tastings.  They had rented a limo, and this was the last of four or five wineries they had visited that day.  They are all working on various aspects of the start-up of a new solar power plant.  Talking with them and the employees started to turn the trip around for me.  I bought a few bottles of wine and kept going.  I stopped at another winery for a second tasting, but most of their wines were so dry that I really didn't enjoy it.  I did meet another patron there who used to work for PwC as an attorney, so he and I were able to talk accounting for awhile.

I needed to use my phone's GPS to navigate successfully to the hotel.  But once I arrived, I turned the phone off.  I was done and disconnected.

I arrived at the hotel and checked in.  Evan helped get me all setup; he was a really good pick for a front-desk man.  Positive and upbeat, and he was also a Christian.  I got some info on restaurants, hikes and churches, grabbed a couple cookies, and headed up to my room.

As I brought my bags in from the car, the elevator was taking awhile to arrive, so I started talking with Tom, another guest who was also waiting for the elevator.  It turns out he also used to work for PwC.  The crazy chance meetings.  We talked for awhile, and after about five minutes, realized the elevator was not coming, so we took the stairs.  I called the front desk from my room to let them know about the problem.

It was a weird feeling being back in a Marriott.  While I had never been to this one for work, all of it came rushing back to me even though I hadn't been to one in 11 months.  It was weird how "home-y" it felt.  It felt as though I was going back to visit my old apartment.

I read my Bible for a little while.  I've been working my way through all the Bible passages in my Fresno church's doctrinal statement.  It's been an amazing encouragement and validation to my faith as to why I believe what I believe.

Then I took a short nap.  I decided not to live on the clock: I was going to sleep when my body was tired.  When I woke up, I drove over to Splash Cafe for some clam chowder.  It had been four years since I had been here on a previous road trip, and I still remembered how good it was.

After eating, I meandered around downtown SLO for the evening.  I spent about an hour in a used bookstore, and was very proud of myself for not buying anything.  Then I went into a record store, and ended up buying The Karate Kid off their DVD shelf.  I've been wanting to see this movie since taking up kenpo karate and hearing my friends in the class mention it.

Then I drove back to the hotel.  The pool was open until 11, so I went down to get some laps in the pool.  It was heated to a nice moderate temperature.  I'm not a hardcore swimmer, but I was happy that not all of my technique I had practiced for my triathlon last year had disappeared.  I had said that 2012 was going to be my running year, but maybe fitting in a Sprint Tri at the end of the month wouldn't be a bad idea since I currently don't have another long race scheduled until May.

While I was swimming, a woman and her two teenage sons came into the pool area.  She sat in the jacuzzi while they got in the pool.  After I was done doing laps, I went over to the jacuzzi as well.  The mom's name is Suzanne, and she and her boys were visiting from Antioch up north to see her brother and his family.  I found out that she's Catholic, and we had a nice time talking for awhile, before I went back up to my room.  I caught the movie Overboard on TV by accident.  I had been seeing it advertised as being on sale somewhere, but it never looked appealing from the DVD cover I recall seeing, but it was a funny and insightful movie about a rare chance to experience life from another point of view.