Sunday, April 28, 2013

Birthday #29

I am blessed.  This year has had its rough spots, but I am consistently amazed at how God provides.

I turned 29 on Tuesday.  It was a wonderful birthday, but a very different one.  I'm just more conscious of getting older I guess.  I know that probably makes many people want to slap me, but that was my main reflection.  I've always been told I'm wise beyond my years.  Now I'm purportedly catching up to that wisdom in years.  Am I still as far "ahead" as I was credited with being as a teenager, or has my advance in wisdom slowed down?  I feel like I’ve made more stupid mistakes in my 20’s than I did as a teenager, which I don’t think is the normal trend.  But it did take until my 20’s for me to start taking more risks.  Too many variables in this dilemma.

I can't remember if I've done this consistently the last few birthdays (I know I did it for one of my birthdays where I was working in Modesto, probably my 26th), but I like the idea of literally running into my next year of life.  So at 11:45 p.m. on the eve of my birthday, I donned my running shoes and shorts, and hit the pavement.  Everything was lining up for a perfect run.  My Garmin watch found the GPS signal inside my house (I often have to wander outside for it to pick up my location).  My music player put on "’Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus" as the first song, one of my favorite hymns.

I started running east along the canal, one of my normal routes, but I realized a half mile in that I wanted to break up the routine, so I veered off the canal bank onto Dakota to continue running east.  When I arrived at Blackstone, the busiest N/S street in Fresno, there were NO CARS in sight.  Even at midnight, it's usually not deserted.  I continued until I got to Fresno street, and actually turned south into a subdivision just prior.  I was now officially in new running territory.  I zig-zagged through the neighborhood.  I encountered a small dog barking, but even though it appeared to be unleashed in the front yard (Ugh!), it didn't come out into the street and chase me.  I made it across Shields and turned west when I arrived at Princeton, another new neighborhood.  I made it back across Blackstone and turned south when I passed this guy, presumably homeless, walking north.

As I was running, I felt God telling me to turn around and tell this guy that God loves him.  I struggled with that for a moment, not wanting to break my awesome pace thus far.  But eventually I dutifully turned north and started to catch up to this guy.  As I ran past, I pulled out my ear bud and called to him that God loved him.  Then he enthusiastically responded to me.  I forget the exact wording, but he called me God in thanking me.  So I'm pretty sure he must have been high on something to think that I was God, but at least I passed on the message.  He called out to me to be careful running out here this late, concerned for God's well-being I presume.  I turned west on Michigan, then north on Maroa, west on Shields, and back into my neighborhood on Harrison.  I had been planning on three miles, but I got in five.  Perfect kickoff to training for my first half marathon of the year next month.  Pace was excellent, mid-8's!  And the closing song as I sprinted back into my neighborhood was Jo Dee Messina’s “My Give-a-D*mn’s Busted,” one of my favorite country songs.

It took awhile to wind down for bed, but I eventually showered and crashed.  I ended up sleeping until 9 a.m. the next morning.  Mixed up some fruit smoothies for breakfast and headed off to work a little later than planned.

My staff wished me a happy birthday, and all day long my phone was buzzing with Facebook greetings.  I know 90% (maybe) of those are from people who wouldn’t otherwise remember my birthday, but I am always touched by those posts nonetheless.

The best text I received by far was from my sister Joy.   “Hey big brother!! Happy birthday! Just wanted to say you are awesome and a huge inspiration to me. I appreciate how you've always been there for me and am amazed at how well you exemplify Christ through serving with hard work and diligence while somehow finding time to maintain social relationships at the same time! I hope you have an amazing day! Love, your littlest sister!”

I had planned to go to my chiropractor after work, but he had to reschedule for tomorrow.  So I went home to get ready for Bible Study.  We do a potluck every week, with an assigned person bringing the main dish and everyone else bringing an unassigned side.  Sometimes we end up heavy in one food group or another, but usually it’s pretty balanced, so it all works out.  I was planning on claiming a birthday excuse to not bring something since I would be at my chiropractor, but this gave me time to steam up some vegetables so I didn’t have to go empty-handed.

This Bible Study is a new one I just joined in February.  It’s a group of career-age (25-35) singles that is part of another larger church in Fresno.  I found out about it, decided to try it out, and it was a great fit.  Phil & Sandy, an older couple in that church, host it in their home every week, we all bring the food, and Phil leads the group in a discussion on our topic the Harmony of the Gospels.  The group even sang Happy Birthday for me during the dinner portion before the study.  It was an impressive rendition!  The found the right key to start in so that it didn’t get too high or low out of anyone’s register.  Heidi even brought cupcakes for dessert.

Finally I headed over to Amy’s house to cap off the night.  Her kids had made me a card, but afterward, Noah and Aislynn each decided to make an additional card for me and each of them wanted to stay up to give them to me in person.  I was so touched.  It’s those cool moments when you give them free expression that you see that you really mean something to them.  Noah’s card had me almost moved to tears as he read it to me.

Then Amy and I sat down to watch an episode of Army Wives.  She’s finished the series already, but she’s very graciously (because she usually hates watching anything a second time) watching them again at my pace. So we’re in Season 5, and this was the episode where Trevor is grappling with being home from war and all the changes that went on while he was away.  It was looking pretty bleak, but the reconciliation and the communication between him and Roxy toward the end as they finally saw the other person’s point of view.

We could have squeezed in another episode, but I was so happy not to have a cliffhanger on this episode, that I decided not to press my luck.  Amy and I talked and caught up for awhile longer and then I drove home.

It was an awesome birthday, but the celebrations didn’t even completely end there.

On Wednesday, my staff surprised me with cake and ice cream (well, frozen yogurt, I guess, because we’re all trying to eat healthier).  It was a combined party, because my A/R clerk Jeannie’s birthday was on Monday.

And on Saturday, Amy cooked brunch for me: an amazing egg bake, fruit salad, and apple pie.  I brought over orange juice and champagne, because what is brunch without mimosas?  We invited a few other friends over and planned to eat out on her deck, but none could make it, so we just ate in her living room and watched a couple more episodes of Army Wives.  Then we went to pick up her brother Aaron and join her parents to watch the movie Home Run, the movie promoting Celebrate Recovery.  It was pretty well done in my opinion, but it rushed through the main character’s transformation at the end, which took away from the believability and build-up of emotion.
By this next year, I want to say I left less undone.  I don’t know exactly what that’s going to entail, I’m sure seminary will be a part of that, but I’m excited to see what God’s going to reveal in my last year in my 20’s.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Derek & Griffin's 6th Birthday

I love children’s birthday parties!


On Saturday, Derek & Griffin turned 6, and my friend Alicia (their mom) asked if I would help direct the games for their party that afternoon.


Our friend Amy was out of town on women’s retreat, so I picked up her two youngest kids Noah and Aislynn to bring them to the party.  Their aunt Andrea was watching them at their house.  Noah is 9 and wasn’t originally on the guest list, but Todd (the birthday boys’ dad) had sad a couple kids had called in sick unable to attend the party, so I brought Noah along too since he has no problem getting along with kids younger than him.  Noah is so sweet and tenderhearted, he asked three times if he was really invited when I asked him if he wanted to come too.  For a kid that is normally the most distracted and slow to get ready to go anywhere, that kid changed clothes faster than I have ever seen him do it any other time.


We arrived at the party, and I wished Derek a Happy Birthday and promptly asked Griffin why he was at Derek’s party.  I love that Todd and Alicia (more Todd’s influence) have raised these kids with such jocularity, so a joke like that didn’t result in tears.


There were three other kids at the party: only child Emma, and brothers Caden (6) and Coleton (4).  Emma’s parents were there, but the mom of the other boys wasn’t able to stay for the party.  We also had Alicia’s parents Steve & Joann visiting from New York.


I got started with “Pin the Tail on Perry,” a Phineas & Ferb spin-off of the traditional game.  I have never seen a whole episode of this show, but I have learned an impressive amount about this show from the kids I hang out with and watch periodically.  This game included cardboard Agent P eyes blindfolds instead of requiring us to use a bandana.  However, the seal over the eyes wasn’t perfect, so all the kids got suspiciously close to the target spot by just tilting their heads back.  After we had let the first kid go, we realized it was too late to change process, so lesson learned for next year.  Emma ended up winning.


Then we moved onto some variant of Bingo with monsters.  This apparently referenced another T.V. show because the kids knew these monsters by name.  Spaces were called to mark off by rolling two paper-fold-yourself dice: one with the BINGO letters (plus a wild) and another with the six different monsters represented.  Noah won the first round.  A couple kids cleared their boards in defeat before we could announce that we’d keep going for 2nd, 3rd, etc. places (Todd and Alicia had a lot of prizes).  So we played again.  Emma has the potential of being a professional gambler.  She was jones-ing for another win.  Every roll was “I just need [“G” and “Cy(clops)”].


Then we brought out the cakes.  Derek’s was a Captain America cake, and Griffin’s…I can’t remember.  It might have been baseball themed.  Both were white cakes, but  Derek’s had strawberry filling and Griffin’s had raspberry.  I made sure we got pictures of just the cakes and then the boys with their cakes before I started cutting into them.  Todd loaded the ice cream while I did the cakes.  Since I didn’t have any kids coming home with me, I let every kid have a piece of each cake if they wanted it.  I don’t normally try to sugar kids up, I just rationalized that I’d burn off their energy later.  Even with feeding the adults, we didn’t cut more than halfway into each cake.  The most phenomenal statement of the day came from Noah, “I’m full.”  All of Amy’s kids are ravenous eaters, but Noah probably out-eats the other three and is still pretty lanky.  I’ve never heard him admit defeat to more food before.  So now I know the formula: one scoop of ice cream and two pieces of cake.


We let the kids run around for awhile so that we could clean up the food.  It took some maneuvering, but I am pretty impressed with how I got the cakes non-precariously into Todd & Alicia’s fridge.


Then we brought the kids back to the table to watch the boys open presents.  I have finally come to the realization that I don’t need to buy presents for every kid’s birthday party.  I hate shopping, and I never know what they want, and if I did, a grandparent is probably already getting it for them.  And parents don’t want more needless toys around.  So I just like to help out with the party and occasionally throw kids up in the air and catch them.


When that was done, we took the kids out to the empty field adjacent to Todd & Alicia’s property to play kickball.  Coleton wasn’t playing, so I split the kids into two teams of three and then put Emma’s dad and myself each on a team.  For the most part, the kids did pretty well kicking from my pitches.  Except Emma, who I later learned has never been exposed to sports.  Every encounter was a meltdown moment, from kicking to base-running.  Because the other kids were all pretty patient it was easy to coach her through next steps, but she did not like getting tagged out and that resulted in running over to mom.  We finally got her on board with running to each base in the proper order, and each arrival was met with an out-of-breath choking through tears.  Noah was a solid kicker and even beaned me square in the face all the way out past second base.


The kids made it through two innings and then were all clamoring for shade, so we took them back to Todd & Alicia’s backyard (they have a huge covered semi-enclosed patio with fans that stays really cool.


That was the end of official activities, so the kids just played from that point.  Todd and Alicia have a huge yard with a lot of cool things to entertain kids.  They played with their party favors, the boys’ presents (including a rocket launcher that resulted in Todd doing some roof retrieval), and over at the goldfish pond.  Emma and Caden & Coleton left soon thereafter.  At one point, Derek came running up to me to report that Aislynn had said “D*mn.”  I called her over in a lecturing voice only to see her arrive in sobbing tears proclaiming that it was an accident.  For as rough-and-tumble as she is with her brothers, she turns sensitive and feels remorse pretty quickly if she really knows she’s done something wrong.  She’s a pretty open book, so I know it authentic because she will still claim it’s an accident but tries to pull off the cutesy “I was just kidding” if she doesn’t feel remorseful.  So I made sure she knew that I still loved her, wanted her to speak better words, and we decided “Oh shoot” or “Aw shucks” would be a better choice the next time she’s going to blurt something out.


My kids were having fun playing with the birthday boys, so I just stayed to hang out & talk with Todd, Alicia, Steve & Joann.  I figured Andrea would appreciate the break.  We ended up ordering pizza, so Alicia picked up the pizza while I went out for some paper plates from the dollar store.  It was hard to get the kids to stop playing and eat, but they finally did.  We had a small incident where Aislynn ran up to say that Noah fell and “wasn’t kidding this time.”  I ran over to find that he had fallen through the jungle gym and was lying in the fetal position on the grass.  I lifted it off him and he was able to crawl out.  I checked his visual tracking and overall mobility, and he appeared fine, so he got right back to playing.


The party started at 2p, and was scheduled to end at 4p.  We ended up going home around 7:30p.  Now that’s a happenin’ 6th birthday party!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Officially a Seminarian!

I received the acceptance e-mail last night.  We had just finished karate class, and I was hanging around the dojo to get some reading caught up for the class I’d been taking before I needed to head over to church before AWANA.  I checked my e-mail on my phone, and the words “Congratulations on your accept…” were in the subject line of my inbox.

I’m kind of floored.

I knew I had a pretty solid application, but ever since I submitted it last week, I’ve been questioning if I’ve been pushing this too much in my own selfish desire to have a master's degree.  Classic self-doubt.  So I had started praying that if God didn’t want me heading down this path, that I wouldn’t get accepted.  Not to brag, but I felt rather confident that He was the only reason I wouldn’t get in.

So I was really in this limbo of not knowing where my life would be taking me for the next few years.  But when I saw that e-mail, I suddenly felt peace.  I don’t know everything that’s coming ahead of me, but I have a plan now.  And the Type-A part of me loves having a plan.

This is going to be an awesome crazy ride!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Tragedy

I’m still processing my reaction to the bombings today at the Boston marathon.  When I started seeing status updates on Facebook today, I rushed to a news website and saw the horrific news.

Thankfully one of the local running stores that I follow on Facebook immediately posted that all of the runners that were there with their group were okay and accounted for.  Another friend posted a Fresno Bee article confirming that most of the Central Valley runners were confirmed safe.  I know a few of them.

I am still just shocked.  As a runner, I started wondering what it was like as someone not yet across the finish line at the time of the blast.  The Boston marathon is a pinnacle racing achievement, and to be told you can’t cross the finish line had to be devastating.  Not to be unsympathetic to the actual victims of the race, but having run a marathon, the emotion in that is so high, and the thought processes dull to basic needs.  Runners call it “race head.”  You have the attention span and cognitive functions of a 3-year-old.  In a normal race, the worst thing a volunteer can call out is a full sentence, such as “Gatorade up ahead, I have water.”  They need to just yell “water.”  To have to stop and process a volunteer or police officer’s instructions that it is not physically safe or possible for you to finish the race you’ve been training months—maybe years—for, is unfathomable.

How much worse for the runners and spectators actually injured or killed.  Another race group posted on Facebook asking everyone to wear a race shirt (almost all races give out a shirt as part of your entrance fee) tomorrow in support of those who died today.  One of the three fatalities was an 8-year-old boy.  Over 100 people were injured.  I’m crying watching the news reports online.

I wouldn’t be able to qualify for the Boston marathon as my time isn’t fast enough for my gender and age, but it was pretty sobering to read the timeline on a news story and realize that there is a very good possibility I could have been at the finish line or near it when the bombs went off.  I would be running about a 4h15m marathon.  Non-elite runners were released in waves between 10:10 and 10:40.  I would have been in the middle or toward the back of that pack.  The bombs went off at 2:50.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Energy Lamp

My first week back from Mexico, I found myself incredibly tired during the workday, and couldn’t figure it out.  I break up my eating through the day, so I wasn’t suffering from an afternoon “food coma” following a big lunch.

I think it’s because I’m inside all day and get no sunlight.  From my office in the middle of our processing plant, I have no idea of the weather during the day.  My doctor has been telling me my Vitamin D levels have been too low for over a year now.  I’ve tried taking Vitamin D pills and even making more effort to get outside, but no change.

I finally decided to buy one of those artificial sunlight anti-depression lamps.  I still can’t believe it considering I live in California, but I’m rationalizing it because of my work situation.  I figured I would need one of these if I ever moved to the northwest because there’s so little actual sunlight, but not here.  I bought the smallest model I could find, a desk-sized one.

Still, I’m really self-conscious about using it, so I keep it at home and use it before I go to work.  I have amiable coworkers, so any ribbing that might come would be good-natured, but still.  Per the directions, some people only need it ten minutes a day.  So I just make time to sit at my kitchen table and read for ten minutes before I leave for work.

And as much as the product sounds like a gimmick, I really think it’s working.  It arrived Monday, and I used it Tues-Thurs and felt more alert throughout the whole day.  I was feeling tired this morning before church, and sat down to read near it for a few minutes, and wasn’t fatigued at all through church.

After finally adjusting for my sleep apnea by having my tonsils removed, taking melatonin, and using snore strips to keep my air passages open, I was frustrated to still be so exhausted through the day.  I’m just relieved that it seems to be helping.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Resettling & Easter

I've been stateside for three days as of this morning, but only back Fresno since Saturday afternoon.

When we pulled into Fresno, I had energy.  After unpacking and distributing kids, I headed home and started moving.  I committed to sub in a Spades group that evening.  Laundry was put in baskets ready to run a couple loads through.  Car was cleaned out.  Did a little yard work.

Spades was fun, except that there were seven of us subs, so I didn't get to see a lot of the regulars I was hoping to.  We play 12 hands of Spades (in three rounds of four hands) in a night.  First round, pretty low score.  Second round, awesome score.  Then, on hand 3 of round 3, the fatigue started to set in.  I barely made it to the end.

I stuck around (we were playing at Amy's house) to hold Krissy for a little while, and Amy and I talked a little more about the trip after everyone else left.

As I started to drive home, I remembered I had nothing "easy" in my fridge for a quick breakfast the next morning, so I forced myself to make a stop at FoodMaxx for some milk and toaster waffles.

I came home and crashed.

I woke up and showered.

Easter was wonderful.  My Fresno church abandoned their Sunrise service this year (maybe taking the hint that I hadn't attended once in my ten years of being here).  They inserted a brunch in between the two morning services, pulling 1st service back to 8a from normal 9a, and making both services shorter.  Marie Callendar quiche, apple turnovers, strawberries, cereal and orange juice.  Made that FoodMaxx stop totally unnecessary.  Oh well.

It turns out we had a two-part Easter musical.  I had thought it was all on Palm Sunday and I had missed it being in Mexico, so that was a pleasant surprise.  I was a little antsy listening to the mini-sermon that followed, but I think that was due to over-stimulation from the trip and trying to get back to regular life.

I went over to Craig & Sarah's for Easter lunch.  They have a very laid back home, so much so that they know if they don't see me for awhile, I'm upstairs taking a nap.  They also had his parents, her mom, her sister & bro-in-law & 2 kids, and Katie & her family from Modesto over for the afternoon, along with their three kids (Bailey 13, Matt 11 and Torin 2).  And Darrin, a church friend of Matt's, had been dropped off to spend the night.  Awesome mix of people.

Craig put his slack line up, and a few of us tried it.  I haven't been on one since Bijan's 2nd birthday in August, and Craig's is a bit higher off the ground.  I was expecting the overhead guide rope to be taut, so when I slipped off the slack line and hung on to the rope, I was very surprised to get the wind knocked out of me as my back slammed into the dirt instead of doing some in-air acrobatics.

Craig had a pile of dirt in the front yard.  Best thing in the world for boys, he told me.  Matt and Torin had been playing in it for three days, and now Darrin was enjoying it too.

Craig BBQ'd tri-tip and asparagus, and Sarah cooked pilaf and green beans on the stove.  Three desserts: Shelly's (Craig's mom) banana pudding pie, Amy's (Sarah's sister) lemon cheesecake with gingersnap crust, and Sarah's peach pie.  All delicious, but I think I liked the lemon dessert the best.

When Torin needed to go down for his nap, Craig carried him past me to show that even Uncle Karl thinks naps are a good idea.  Melts my heart to hear Torin say "Unctle Tarl."

Katie's family got back on the road to Modesto, Amy's family and the parents all left, so it was just Craig, Sarah, their kids, Katie and me.  Craig showed me some new things he had been doing on his property (he and Sarah just purchased this huge lot a year and a half ago).  Some lightning showed up in the distance, promising more rain, so Craig pulled in or covered tools and equipment.  We talked about playing a game of Settlers of Catan, but the lightning show became more fascinating.  Katie, Craig & I climbed up on his turn style of pull-up bars he had built out by the chicken coop.  They lightning was still pretty far off, so we figured we were safe for awhile.

We all talked for awhile longer, Katie left around 9 and I left around 10.  I was glad I had taken Monday off work as well.

Now Monday morning, I have finally turned on my computer to catch up on life.  100+ work e-mails have poured in, I received an "A" on the seminary paper I turned in last week, I learned that Fred went into and was released from the hospital, and I'm slowly working through bills and e-mails.

I kept a shorthand journal of the week in Mexico.  Now I will attempt to turn it into one of my traditional travel journals, but we'll see how that goes.  I filled up about 3 pages of a composition notebook each day just in my bullet point reminders.  Some highlights from the trip:
  • Enjoying God make me eat a "never" in working with junior high students
  • Being lauded as an awesome driver in the eyes of the kids (and even adults) in swerving across two lanes of traffic to make our exit when the caravan didn't properly plan space for me to get back over, changing positions from caboose to lead car as we exited the freeway.
  • Learning to be flexible through the MANY glitches in our construction efforts to transform some dilapidated bathrooms into showers at the church we were helping
  • Getting to know our junior pastor Lee & his wife Bri better and being even more excited about them overseeing the youth in our church.
  • Being blessed and prayed over by the pastor and his wife after a week of serving with them
  • Getting pulled over by la policia due to a misunderstanding of traffic signals in Mexico and ALMOST having to go down to the Mexico police station.
  • Feeling enriched and spiritually strengthened from a dynamic chapel speaker that had a gift for reaching both adults and junior high students
  • Getting flagged for 2nd stage inspection (full car x-ray only, not bag search) coming back across the border
  • Seeing my parents and sister on the last leg of the trip home
  • Maintaining my 100% return-rate on children entrusted to my care
I'm still processing all that God did in me.  I loved it there.  If I had more clothes and the time off work, I would have gladly stayed longer.