Happy Sanity Day!

A few weeks ago, I looked at my upcoming schedule, and I saw “Colts game” and “Emmys” on the same day. 

At that point, I was already near frazzled.  I’ve been basically working one full time and two part time jobs, along with keeping my house sort-of clean and cooking dinner.  I knew that another 16-hour day, on a Sunday no less, would probably be too much (yes, I know the Titans part is leisure, but it still involves having to be somewhere, and having to plan tailgating, etc).  I knew I’d be up late, the night before a work day.

So, I scheduled a sanity day today.

I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t take time off from work unless he’s taking a vacation.  I’ve been extremely fortunate that I don’t get sick very often.  So, I’m always at the maximum of accrued paid time off days. (My company, like most, combines sick and vacation time).  Needless to say, I’ve never taken a sanity day before.

I could get used to this.

I slept late.  I did some extra Ugly Betty blogging.  I cleaned the kitchen, while listening to the morning sports boys on 104.5 – I never get to hear them.  I went to the grocery store, and stayed under budget because there was no one there to impulse buy for.  I made lasagne.  La-freakin-sangne, on a Monday!  With homemade sauce. 

I got caught up.  It sure is nice.

Deep breath.  Now, I’m ready to do it again for another six weeks.  Back to the grind.  Work, church responsibilities, band responsibilities, blogging responsibilities are all calling, all at once.  Let the insanity begin anew!

Because I took a sanity day, I think Im ready to face it.  I highly recommend them.

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A’s and B’s

The young man, a boy really, stood up during prayer requests.  I turned around to look, he seemed about the age of my own children.  Something about the tone of his voice told me this was about somethng very important to the young man.  I didn’t hear the beginning of what he said (many times prayer time is like a press gaggle, with everyone starting at once, with one coming out dominant). 

Anyway, what I gathered was that the boy had been struggling in school, mightily.  And measures had been taken to help him along, mainly giving him a quiet area to study and focus.  And he was glad to report that the changes at home had helped: in the past week he had received all A’s and B’s.

And he was in tears.

I followed suit shortly thereafter.  I was convicted, and I was a little shamed.

You see, my children have never, ever struggled at school.  A’s are pretty much the norm, with the scattered B here and there.  And yet, I never tell the kids how proud I am for this.  High academic acheivement is just something that is expected.  Lintilla and I aren’t “those” parents: think Anthony Michael Hall’s parents in the Breakfast Club.  We don’t push; at least we don’t think we do.  We’ve never doled out punshment for a C.

Yet, because we’ve set up a household where high acheivement is the default, maybe Zaphod and Trillian are under more pressure than I imagine.  I know that I unwittingly feel a tinge of disappointment when they bring home a C or less, and certainly they pick up on that?  And I don’t know how to turn that off.

All  I can do is pray to receive the grace to smile as long as good effort was put forth (it always is).  And tell the kids how proud I am at all they do in school.  And show them, somehow.

Lintilla and I have always had a parental saying “Smart is easy.  Good is hard.”  Well, that isn’t true for everyone.  We’ve been extremely fortunate, we set incredibly high standards,  and so far our kids have risen to them.  We are very lucky, indeed.

So, I want to thank that boy for standing up this past Sunday.  For his tears over his struggle, and his profound joy for gettng really good grades.  His heartfelt praise touched me in a way I cannot fully express – and taught me that I need to work on appreciating my children and their accomplishments more.

Doubts

We had our first week of Wednesday night programming at church last night, and Lintilla and I were assigned to the preschool set.  Well, actually, it turned out the kids ranged in age from two to five.  Even though the term “herding cats” comes to mind, it went extrordinarily well.

Lintilla and I learned something about ourselves last night, though.  When our kids were that age, we did it weird.  We never baby-talked to them (even when they were babies), we had an expectation that they would sit still and listen at appropriate times, we spoke to them, both in tone and vocabulary, as if they were little adults.  We rushed every stage of development: they were on solid food early, potty trained early, in full size beds at 18 months, given independent tasks at two years, and so on.  We were never harsh, we just had certain expectations, and children usually rise to expectations given to them.

Sometimes, a little shadow of doubt creeps into my head.  Maybe we did it wrong.

Maybe Zaphod’s apparent sociopathic personality can be traced to my parenting methods.  Maybe we are the reason Trillian is so quiet and seemingly unsociable.  Eventually, all the other kids will catch up to them academically, so what did we gain by rushing things?

But then again, such doubts go against my parenting philosophy: that a child isn’t a building to be designed and assembled, but a flower to be nurtured.  I still believe this, so I must ignore the doubts.

Anyway, some of the kids last night were so cute.  Sometimes I miss that time as a parent.

Breathe Again

This has been the kind of week where I just need someone to point me to where I’m supposed to be, I do what I do, then move on to the next thing.  Some of it is my fault, some of it not.

 At “real” work, I had a 3-day, all-day class that kept me away from my officle.  And this week, we had a major change to a system we developed move into production.  It’s a big deal, and some things inevitably went wrong and had to be dealt with, class or no.  Added to that, certain things are going on with certain people that caused me to make a sign to hang on my officle wall:

Drama??!!!??  There’s no drama in web development!!!!!

Why do people have to drag everyone else into their own personal drama?  It adds exponentially to the stress level of the week.

On top of this, at the exact same time X-Alt was preparing for our Wednesday night show at Belle Meade UMC.  This made for several 16 hour days for me.  But I don’t want to complain, because Wednesday night was such a blessing to me.  Go to the X-Alt Blog to see Ford’s writeup of this wonderful evening.  It was quite cathartic. 

I’ll write my own thoughts about this soon.

And then last night, I had to go to a meeting at church about our new Wednesday night children’s programming, which Lintilla and I have volunteered for.  One very cool thing came out of this: Lintilla and I will be dealing with 4-6 year olds.  I’ve been dealing with snarky, know-it-all kids for so long, It’ll be a nice change for me.  There is an extra-gentleness you have to display with kids that age, and using that approach is very good for the soul.  I think it’s something I need badly (although it means I’ll be even busier this year).

Somewhere during the week, I fed my family pork chop pie on Monday, and chicken fajitas / cheese quesedillas last night.  Tuesday ws KFC and Wednesday was church food (yum!)

In between all of this, I have posting responsibilites at Ugly Betty News, along with attempting to build a network and community around the blog (which is much harder than writing). My wife is a little wary about the fact that so far, this community seems to be populated with college-aged girls. 🙂

Speaking of UBN, I just posted my first real snarky post over there.  Let me know if you think the last line is funny.  I can’t be a fanboy all the time, and snark doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’m hoping it doesn’t fall flat.

Anyway, hopefully things will slow down enough for me to post regularly again.

That’s the Fact, Jack

My kids and I have mutally decided that if we ever started our own church, we would no longer close the responsive reading with “Amen”.  We like this better:

Pastor: In the name of the Father, of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It’s all good.
Congregation: It’s all good.

Saying Goodbye, and Hello

Being the husband of a hospice caregiver, I have resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to find myself talking about death a whole lot.  Not only is it a fact of life, it’s “part of the business”, so to say.  While we were on vacation, for instance, Lintilla lost almost her entire case load – they all passed on in the same week. 

I find it entirely strange that my planning for the time of our family dinner is based partly on who lives and who dies that day.  Trivialities and earth-shattering events converge on a daily basis.

One thing that comes up in conversations about death is this: sudden, unexpected deaths can cause wounds that linger indefinitely, because those left behind never got a chance to say goodbye.

I thought of this last night as X-Alt discussed and prayed about our upcoming show at Belle Mead United Methodist Church.  7 of the current members of X-Alt (I think I’m counting right) were part of the “worship band” at Belle Meade’s contemporary service – some of us for years. 

I will not air the church’s dirty laundry here (I still belong to BMUMC, proudly).  But I will say that during the turmoil, X-Alt became its own entity, a tangible thing, if you will, and “it” was so intertwined into that contemporary service that when it suddenly ended, it was as if a death or divorce occurred – suddenly.

And each of us – individually – felt it.  We grieved as one who has love snatched away suddenly.

As I’ve chronicled here more than I’m sure you’d care to hear, we picked up the pieces, formally became “a group”, and started our music ministry.  We have been blessed greater than we could have ever dreamed, and I think we have blessed others in the process.  I think we are on the cusp of even greater things (more on that in a minute).

But “it” is still sitting out there, haunting us, unwilling to let us move on as we should.  But that is about to change.

Thanks to an extremely gracious invitation, X-Alt will be playing a short concert at Belle Meade on August 29th.  I can say that both sides are heading into this quite tentatively, but trusting in God.

As for X-Alt, what we experienced was both the death of a loved one and a nasty divorce, all in one fell swoop.  In order to move on, I think we need to make peace with our “ex”, and we need to finally lay a rose on the gravestone of our dearly departed.  The only way we can do this, interestingly, is to NOT focus on our grief, our hopes, or anything else about us.  We will start healing if we go into this seeking and praising God.  We need to do what we do.  See Ford Prefect’s thoughts on this.

As for the greater things to come? All I can say is that X-Alt is starting to resemble the jam sessions at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.  Maybe not in age, yet, but in numbers.  Pretty soon, we’ll only be logistically able to play amphitheaters and megachurches.  We could field a football team.  So, I guess I should tell you:

Ginger has joined us on our long, strange trip.  Her addition to the X-Alt family was also quite sudden, but this time it was a blessing.  She brings a wealth of knowledge, and a heavenly voice to our group.  It goes without saying that I am pleased as punch that Ginger has decided to bless our ministry with her time and talent.  Lord knows, it’s quite a drive she has to make to get to rehearsals.

And we all love fighting for the attention of her beautiful daughter.

Now y’all have no excuse  🙂 Keep a lookout on these pages for dates y’all can come see us play and sing. 

Purified By Fire

Half of the photos you see in this post are from a trip to Destin for our 15th anniversary in 2002.  Most of the time I view them with an extreme sense of nostalgia, but today I view them with an emotion I cannot rightly express.

I see the smiling faces, the moment in time when, after what had been a really bad year, things seemed right with the world.  I look at the smiles, detached from my own self, and think, they have no idea what’s about to happen.  My disembodied self wishes I could time travel to that moment and warn them, or at least shield the children from what lies ahead.

Today is the 5th anniversary of the day that changed my life forever.  On July 19, 2002, a Friday as I recall, I had only been back at work for a few days.  I got a call from Lintilla’s cell, as I did every morning.  But this time, her voice was different.  She was out of breath and quite stressed.

“Get home NOW!”

“Wha…”

“Wendy [our next door neighbor] called.  Our house is on fire!”

My heart raced and sunk at the same time.  I told my boss where I was going and literally ran to my car.  I drove 70 miles an hour down West End, which was easy because rush hour traffic was going the other way.  The police had blocked off our street, and they wouldn’t let me through until I expalined, “It’s MY house that’s on fire!”.  Still, due to fire trucks in the street, I could still only get as close as a couple of blocks away.

I ran the rest of the way.  When I got there, what I saw seemed surreal to me.  There was our house, but half of it was simply not there, and flames were shooting out of the roof of the other half.

I don’t think we’ll be able to sleep at home tonight was my first thought.  Funny.

One thing you have to understand, I had been through this before.  In 1984, when I was at that weird stage in life where you’re half on your own, half still living with your parents, our house burned to the ground, in a total loss.  Also, when I was growing up, we moved a lot.  I did not understand emotional attachments to buildings.

But this just devastated Lintilla.  It was her childhood home.  Her father was gone, her mother had died six months prior, and her remaining connection to them was crashing to the ground in flames.  Seeing her pain and devastation was almost more than I could bear.

And then there were the children.

We decided to leave them in preschool that day, as long as possible.  Let them have “normal” as long as they can, was our thinking.  But they knew when we picked them up that something was different.  We didn’t take our normal route, and there were these new bags in the car with red crosses on them.  So, on the way to the hotel, we told them.  They reacted the way 4 and 5 year olds react.  They asked about each beloved toy, one by one.  After each question about each toy, we responded: it’s gone. 

After each answer, the following question was more and more desperate.  When we finally let them see what was left of the house, they wept in pure grief, and only small children can do.  This is something I’ll never forget.

Lintilla and I had no time for grief.  The insurance company let it be known that if we did not accept sight unseen their lowball offer on our claim, we would have to do it the hard way.  We had to inventory every item that was in the house.  Now, we had to simply use memory to list the contents of the half of the house that was totally gone, but for the rest, which was a total loss due to smoke damage, we literally had to inventory.

Remember – it was the middle of July, in Nashville, there was no electricity, no light, no AC, and I’m standing in a soot-covered closet with water-logged carpet, holding a flashlight, counting what used to be my stuff and writing each entry in a notebook. (I still have that notebook, by the way).  Somewhere in the middle of the third 10-hour day of this, I lost it.

I had never really grown up before this time.  I was the kind of guy who still called his parents to bail him out of this or that mess.  Even though I had children, I was in no way “a man”.  My parents had moved to Florida, Lintilla’s parents had died.  And here I was in this closet, exhausted, filthy, smelly, at my wits end, with a grief-stricken wife and two small children, all of them looking at me, asking, “what do we do, Daddy?”

“Lord, I can’t do this”

I remember, I didn’t just think this, I said it out loud.  “Help”.

I’m glad nobody had taken a picture of me at that time, but if they had, I could look at it now and say to myself, you have no idea what’s about to happen.  Beaten and bloodied, I finally tagged my partner and let Him wrestle for a while. 

What happened next defies description.  Coworker, friends, and especially our new church stepped up to help.  It was like the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and then some.  There was such a joyous, infectious element to the lifting up of my family, I can only say that I have seen the work of the Holy Spirit with my waking eyes.  You could call it mumbo jumbo, but you weren’t there (well, some of you were).  I know what I saw.

Of course, there was monetary help, and it was the lifeboat that got us through.  My employer was stellar, allowing me all the time off I needed to handle my affairs (I wish I could say the same for Lintilla’s former employer).  All of these we will never forget, and we will always be grateful for them.

But amongst all the help we recieved, two things stand out in my mind as lifechanging.  First, a member of our Sunday School class met us in the parking lot at Target one day and handed us the largest bag of toys you’ve ever seen, courtesy of the Sunday school class.  I cannot speak of this without weeping.  I don’t know what it is, but the kindness to my children touches me in a way I cannot desrcibe.

The second was, what would seem to the naked eye, an insignificant event.  Shortly after I lost my mind, we were invited to dinner at church by the husband and wife who were at the time the praise leaders at Belle Meade UMC.  Until you’ve been stuck in a dark, hot, smelly closet working all day, you’d have a hard time understanding how important simple things are like having time to wash the muck off of yourself, having a hot, home-cooked meal, enoying friendship, and having friends pray with you.  They even gave us passes to the movies (it may seem silly but they were trying to help us escape our rough reality, at least for a couple of hours).

I’ve never been the same since that day.  I knew Christ before that day.  But that day, I SAW Him.  He placed His arms around me and my family, He made sure we were fed, both physically and spiritually.

The people who showed us Christ in such a personal way, Tom and Marcy Mulnix now live in Texas.  Tom writes this blog, in fact.  I’ve never really properly thanked them, so I hope they’re reading this.  Tom and Marcy, thank you.  Just, thank you.

And I thank the rest of you who helped us get through that time.  You know who you are.

So, it’s a strange anniversary today.  It’s not a happy one, but it IS an important one.