Important (Part 4)

My adult life as been one long love-hate relationship with “stuff”.

I’ve spent a lifetime collecting my stuff.  It clutters my house and gives diminishing returns on the pleasure I thought I’d get from it, yet I still clamor for more, half the time not knowing I’m doing it.

I’d like to invent a new word; there needs to be a word that describes the phenomenon where you leave Walmart in frustration because you realize there’s nothing new and cool there for you to buy – you have everything at the store somewhere in your house.

I am guilty in the worst way of materialism, and I don’t just mean my routine of lustily perusing the Best Buy circular every Sunday.  I have subconsciously bought into the idea that there is an amount of money and stuff I can acquire that will equate to happiness.  Or, if not happiness, security.

I know intellectually that neither can be had through any means on this earth, especially “stuff”.  But, my heart and subconscious betray me, and I succumb to the thought that the folks on Madison Avenue pay millions to get me to think:

If I only had x, I’d be happy.

How many lives have been ruined by this one thought?  Wasn’t it the emotional root of the current mortgage crisis?  How many have bought houses they couldn’t afford, and then they had to fill them with fine furniture they really couldn’t afford because their mortgages were so precariously arranged?  How many credit card balances are carried forward to pay for a closet full of hip, funky shoes (I’m sure the RIGHT people were impressed with those!), or the latest electronic gear – when the card holder had perfectly good existing shoes or electronics in working order?

How many marriages have been ruined because someone thought, “If I only had a new relationship with x, I’d be happy”.  “If that sexy, young person were only attracted to me, I’d be happy.”

How many of us wise guys have convinced ourselves that if we just arrange our lives so that we are “secure” – that we won’t fall prey to the coming crisis like all those other suckers – that we’d be happy, especially saying “I told you so”?

Every day, God tries to remind me that the “if only x, I’d be happy” mindset is totally flawed. 

In the store, my heart races as I think about buying the new item I’m looking at.  I envision what I’ll do with it.  I feel a type of euphoria as I’m paying for it.

I get it home, and I enjoy it for a few days.  But then, the euphoria wears off.  Then, I hate the item.  I hate that I spent so many days working to get the money to get it(or I’ll be working may days to pay it off), and now I’m just looking for a place to store it, because it’s messing up my house.

Why can’t I ever learn the greater lesson from this? It’s happened a million times or more in my life!

Then there’s the whole economic “security” thing.  I can tell you, there was a time when you could ask me if one day in the future I’d make the money I make now, have the amount I have saved, have a paid for house, investments and insurances for almost every situations, that I’d feel secure and “happy”.  Let me make one thing perfectly clear: the more you have, the more you worry about what you have.  Call this a character flaw in me, but it’s one I share with all humanity, whether humanity wants to admit it or not.

And the impulse isn’t even true.  I’ve lived long enough to know that “security” is an illusion.

Many do not want to hear this.  Even we do-gooders have convinced ourselves that if only the poor had a closer amount of money or stuff that the rich have, they’d be happy or contented, and the world would be perfect.

I am rich by no means (as I am constantly reminded every time I pick my kids up from school).  But I’ve acquired enough to tell you that it’s all crap in the end.

This knowledge is not depressing  – it’s liberating, believe it or not.

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Important (Part 3)

So, my Titans season tickets came last week, and I literally jumped for joy.  They are now in a safe place, arranged by date.  I’m very much looking forward to getting back into my football routine.

It’s so funny, in the off-season, you eventually emotionally forget why you got so worked up a few months prior.  At least until the first regular season game, then you remember.

Preseason games don’t count.  They are at night, and they are the only games I can attend where I’m not constantly stressed out about what’s going on down on the field.  I can leisurely evaluate the new players, enjoy the action, and speculate on what kind of team we’ll have this season.  This is how I watch NASCAR or baseball: casually.

However, once the NFL season starts, it’s a whole new ballgame, so to speak.

Every game, every series, every down is of utmost importance, (Unless of course, a team like Indianapolis is beating the Titans in a blowout – then, I’m disappointed, but I can watch a little more casually). 

I swear, sometimes I get so wrapped up in the utter importance of the next play, I come pretty close to losing my lunch.  It sometimes takes me hours to purge the stress from my body after a game.

And this is how I have fun ūüôā

Only other sports fans will understand this strange phenomenon.  It isn’t until February (good season) or January (bad season) that I start to unwind from having been all wrapped up in the drama of it all during the season.

Then, of course, we have the second half of the Predators season.  My wife and kids don’t see the carefree me until at least May.

Sure, you can sit there and snicker, but I’ll guarantee there are things in your life that seem to be the most important thing on earth at the time – maybe the stress even makes you physically ill – and then later you wonder why you let yourself get so worked up about it.  On a less extreme scale, think of movies.  Any well made movie will get you excited or stressed out during the suspenseful parts, for instance.

Not to mention teenage drama, church drama, work drama.  And then later, you wonder why you let yourself get all worked up over it all.

But, probably nothing compares to how I get when the Titans are on TV.  My kids know to just avoid me.

Let the fun begin!

A Crazy Week – In Other Words, Normal

This will be long, but it HAS been a while.

It has been quite a week.

We managed to over-schedule ourselves again; we have a hard time saying ‘no’, and the things we signed up for, individually, are no big deal.  But together, they just about killed us earlier this week.

Of course, I’m doing the blog-a-thon, and I’ve been scrambling this week to put together enough posts to meet the required 24.

This is VBS week at church.  There are a few ‘big things’ our church’s children’s ministry does throughout the year, and this is one of them.  Lintilla and I have become associated with the 4th and 5th grade kids (we’ll be teaching a new group on Wednesday nights next year), and we volunteered to shepherd these kids through VBS.

This group of kids is incredibly bright, and problematic at the same time.  They are 95% boys.  A good number are ADHD (or at least they act that way), and their age means that normal VBS activities are too childish for them.  So, we adopted a curriculum that takes them out of the normal VBS activities, and involves them in “service” – little mini-missions (More on that later).

So, this past weekend, we had family activities planned (some of them fun!); that meant that household chores had to be put off.  Monday and Tuesday, I worked my butt off getting the house clean, doing the laundry, getting groceries, mowing the lawn.  I knew that starting Wednesday, there would be no time for any of that.  Our days, through Saturday, would be packed morning-to-bedtime.

And then came Wednesday.

After work, Lintilla and I had to meet with her doctor (the urologist this time).  A few weeks earlier, the oncologist had found a “spot” on her kidney.  We weren’t sure what it was, so we kept quiet about it.  But I had a good idea what to expect when the doctor asked me to come in with Lintilla for the consultation.

The doctor took forever to see us (don’t get me started about that), so we were already running late.  She told us that Lintilla had a small tumor – something called Renal Cell Carcinoma.  It wasn’t related to the tumor she had last year.

There is a surgery to remove it, that involves cameras, robotics, and all kinds of high-tech stuff, and it is 93% effective (the tumor does not return).  The doctor does not want to perform the surgery right now (neither do we).  She wants to look at it again in Aug/Sep, and, in her words, “the tumor will tell us what to do.”  If it has grown, we’ll schedule surgery soon thereafter.  If not, we’ll wait till early next year, because she just had another major surgery this past December, and I’d rather not her have to go through two painful Christmases in a row.

Both of us are just a little weary right now.  So, if we can wait, and no harm come of it, we’ll wait.

So, in the middle of the consult, Lintilla notices it’s after 5, and I have to pick up the kids in Bellevue at 5:30, or they’ll get taken back to Camp Renaissance in Dickson and I’ll have to pay a fortune.  So, I rush out to Bellevue, and barely make it in time. (One thing I learned delivering pizzas – driving smart routes is infinitely more useful than driving fast).

The kids are now upset that I can’t feed them – I have to take them directly to VBS at church.  We do get there about 5 minutes before the start of VBS, and wolf down some food the director generously saved for us, then get to the proceedings.

I can’t begin to tell you how awfully the children (all of them, not just mine) behaved.  The first night of VBS, in this curriculum, is supposed to be a time of learning just what service is.  But there are no activities, and I think this was a mistake.  It was simply chaos.  We never really got them under control, and Lintilla at one point lost her temper and yelled at them (fun VBS, huh?)

Then we had to stick around and make sure every kid (in all levels) left with a parent.  We got home at 9 and crashed, exhausted.

Then yesterday, things started to turn.  Work, for me has actually been light this week, so at least I have that going for me.  Lintilla’s boss let her shift some patients around so she could leave early yesterday and today and have unwind time before VBS.

For VBS, we took the kids to a nursing home to serve ice cream and cookies and visit.  Y’all – it was such a turnaround, it was just incredible.  To see these kids – the ones who had been totally incorrigible the day before – display a warmth and tenderness toward Alzheimer’s patients, well, it brought a tear to my eye.  I’ve dealt with Alzheimer’s patients before; many times they can’t speak back, but the look in their eyes tells you how they feel.

They were beaming.  Perhaps the presence of the children kindled feelings for their own kids and grandkids.  It was quite a sight to see.

Today, I am somewhat more at peace.  Plugging into that awesome love of God will do that.  Yes, there will be upheaval in the coming months, but we’ve become old pros at living through upheaval.  And we have an incredible network of friends who are eager and willing to help. 

Having a spouse go through cancer surgery is like single parenthood – plus .  You have the short-term pressures of single-parenthood (the household still has to be run), plus a spouse that needs looking after, along with the added worry of navigating our archaic health insurance system.  It can be a lot of worry.

But, Jesus says “Do not worry”, so, dadgummit, I will not worry.  It’s going to be all right.  It’s going to be better than all right.

Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.  He will turn our sorrow into dance.  The words of my favorite Psalm are always there to comfort.  Soon, I’ll be dancing a jig.

I do not know, specifically, how we will get through all of this, but I know we will get through it.  I don’t *believe* it, I *know* it.

Lintilla, as usual, has a great attitude about all of this.  She prefers to deal with things by diving into distracting activities, so that’s what we’re doing. (My only regret is that we haven’t had time to sit, absorb, and talk about what all of this means) 

Tonight, we take the VBS kids to cook and serve dinner for the folks at the Ronald McDonald house.  Now that they are getting this service thing down, I have faith that it will go well.  I will have my eyes open, looking for God. 

I also have some stuff going on at work that might be very, very good.  Do I dare summon up the courage to switch departments and start all over again at my age?  We’ll see.

I know, I know.  It would be much better if I posted short, one subject posts every day instead on one giant post every couple of weeks.  What can I say?  I’ve been BUSY.

Unable To Move

I know I haven’t posted much lately, but I’ve been out of sorts.¬† Yes, there’s the usual busy-ness, but there’s also something that has been haunting me.¬† I think I need to talk about it, as this seems to help sometimes.

I recently Tweeted that I’ve been feeling guilty for not calling my mom in three weeks.¬† Shortly thereafter, I got an email from her with some good news.¬† You see, my mom injured herself badly about 4 years ago, so badly that she is in constant pain.¬† If you stand close to her, you can hear a suppressed whimper of pain under every breath.¬† She tries to be brave, and every now and then she gets a shot in her spine which seems to help, but it’s hard for her to carry on.

Well, after a LONG battle with the Social Security Administration, she finally had her arbitration hearing, and the ruling was in her favor.  Both my mom and my dad have been out of work for a few years, so this is a blessing beyond measure.

I was so happy to hear this news, so happy that my folks are finally getting a reprieve from the heavy burdens they bear, happy that their luck finally seems to be turning.  I decided to call, get over my guilt, and congratulate her.

When she answered the phone, there was something not quite right in her voice.

Mom and Dad had been feeling great on the way home;  they were so excited, when they got home they went straight to the back yard to sit in the Florida loveliness (my parents are outstanding landscapers) and relish their victory.

It was then that they heard a faint, frightened cry for help from within the house.  It was the voice of their son, my younger brother Scott.

Scott has a form of Muscular Dystrophy.¬† He’s been wheelchair bound since his early 20’s.¬† Apparently, he had fallen out of his chair in a freak accident, shortly after my parents had left that morning.¬† He had hit the ground hard, and bruised himself up pretty badly.¬† Due to his disease, he was pretty much unable to move.¬† His cell phone had fallen with him, and lay useless on the floor across the room.

He had been trapped, on the floor, by himself, unable to move, in pain, for four hours.

My folks took him to the emergency room, and he’s banged up but nothing is broken, but I want you to read that last sentence again.¬† I just can’t get that thought out of my head.

I feel an incredible amount of guilt about this myself; I can’t imagine the guilt my parents are going through about this.¬† Now, you have to remember that Scott is a grown man, and he’s done fine by himself during the day for years and years.¬† My father has made their house entirely wheelchair accessible.¬† But there it is:

He had been trapped, on the floor, by himself, unable to move, in pain, for four hours.

Damn.

¬†I do NOT blame my parents.¬† I know they blame themselves, but they shouldn’t.¬†¬† It was a freak accident, one that hasn’t happened in 20 years of my brother being in a wheelchair.

My parents have a tendency to overreact, and I have no doubt they’ll never leave Scott alone again, no matter how difficult the circumstances.¬† This brings up issues that my older brother and I have always spoken about in hushed tones.¬† Scott is a full grown man, and he doesn’t have the strength to help when he needs to be transfered from his wheelchair to the bed, or the tub, or his easy chair my dad set up to help his legs rest.¬† And my dad turns 65 this year.

Dad has always been a big bear of a man, but he wont be able to lift Scott forever.¬† Plus Scott, deep down, does not want to be in Florida.¬† He wants to be with his brothers, where he can go to Titans and Predators games, and generally hang out with people close to his age.¬† Even though he needs professional semi-skilled care (which we can’t afford because my older brother recently lost his job), we might could come up with some arrangement where my brother could be cared for in our homes.

But my parents are stubborn people, and it may sound funny coming from a 43 year old, but I don’t want to disobey them.¬† I think that deep down, all of us, parents and children, know that a day is coming when the two able-bodied sons are going to have to sit down with the parents and say, “No disrespect, but you’re going to have to let it go and let us take over”.¬† But for now, we have instead, this uneasy silence where we sons know what we have to say, but we don’t say it.

I think it’s going to take Scott telling them to let the brothers take over.¬† Ironically, they’ll listen to him.

Sorry, I know all of this is a downer, but it’s been eating away at me since¬†my mother told me, and I had to get it off my chest.

Just A Little Clarification

I have a menopausal wife, aging parents, and two kids who are entering adolesence. 

I don’t see how you could have any questions, but I’ll continue.

It’s all drama around here, all the time.

I hit a moment yesterday, when I had just completed a horrible day at work.¬† Our kids’ school presented us with an unexpected bill for $1600, which we do not have right now.¬† I’ve never, in my entire adult life, had someone tell me I owe them money, and not be able to pay it immediately.¬† We also just paid a $450 electric bill.¬† That’s not a typo.¬† We’ve ¬†had car repairs, extra doctor bills, kids that need shoes.

Our finances are so screwed up, we’re two months behind on our tithe.¬† Don’t worry, I’ve worked out a debt repayment plan with God.¬† In fact, we’ll catch up with everything in time.¬† But it’s a punch in the stomach in the here and now.

So, back to yesterday.¬† All of this is simmering in the back of my mind, and I’m exhausted from the hard day at work,and I’m frantically trying to get the kitchen clean and get dinner ready, while at the same time trying to get a post done for UBN (I have to get six done per week), and watching the clock because I had to be somewhere at 6 and I knew I wouldn’t be back home till after my normal bedtime.¬†

I have to be somewhere or host someone for the next 7 nights.¬† Then it begins again.¬† I just can’t say no, and somehow I end up volunteered to be somewhere every night.

Anyway, the kids were fighting and yelling and screaming at each other, like they have been doing nonstop for the last 6 months or so.¬† Lintilla called, and started in on me like she has for the past couple of months.¬† The doctors¬†will not let her take hormone replacement therapy, and she’s been wildly emotional for quite a while now.¬† I know it’s not her fault, but it’s tough being on the receiving end of it all the time., with everything else going on.

Folks.

I had a meltdown.

My mind simply refused to allow any more stress into it, so it just shut down.

I’ve have a really weird habit since I was a kid: when folks I love are upset or mad, I cook, clean, and do laundry.¬† I’ve been doing a lot of this lately – but the people in my household are still constantly upset.¬† Like my mother, I’m wired so that my happiness is directly tied to the happiness of the people I love.¬† I’ve run myself ragged trying to will three people (whose hormones are all out of whack) into happiness.¬† And I’m making myself miserable in the process.¬† See what’s wrong with this picture?

I’m stretched so thin, you can see through me.

And I feel guilty for feeling this way, because I know many have it far worse than I do. 

Funny, my mom absolutely lost her mind when she was about my age – and I’m just like her.

So anyway – I can’t go on like this indefinitely.¬† I can’t do ALL of the housework, and all of the cooking, and be responsible for the happiness of each member of the household, and be ‘the man’ at work, and fully devote myself to band and church and ministry, and play peacemaker to every friend and family member, hell, every person on the planet.¬† There just isn’t enough me.¬† I have to draw some lines.

So, I need to take a step back, to find a way to undo my wiring that causes me to be depressed when any member of my family or any of my friends is anything but happy, to finally get the kids to help around the house, to tell church, or the band, or my kids’ school¬†every now and then that I just can’t make some event or other without feeling guilty.

I can go forward this way or that way, but what I cannot do is continue going the way I was going.

That’s what I meant.

On a happier note: Warrior is home already!¬† 6 days in the hospital – it’s a miracle.¬† How can I be upset in the face of that?¬† I’ll post more on that tomorrow.

Sorry about the vague post earlier.¬† I hate those.¬† I hope I’ve cleared some things up.

Dear Life, You Win

There are two things I am absolutely sure of.

1) In all of history, there has only been one person capable of absorbing all the pain and troubles of the world and making everything right.

2) I’m not Him.

I need to do some thinking.

Bravo, Kevin

He doesn’t have comments enabled so I can’t tell him at his place, but this post by Kevin (the Homeless Guy) is outstanding.¬† A sample:

People in this part of the country can be deeply biblically religious, and they will either give thanks to God for being spared from the storm’s devastation, believing their faith saved them, or they will call on God for the strength to carry on after suffering greatly, as the storm devastated their lives.  There will be some who will lose their faith in God because He did not protect them, as they felt He should.  And, they may chose to no longer believe in God, and may carry a heart of anger towards God for the rest of their lives. 

But, is any of this really about God?   Is it really about us humans?   Do the natural forces of our planet act against our immoral tendencies?   God is sometimes said to be capricious Рthat there is no rhyme or reason to His actions.  But perhaps that is because we give God too much credit for what happens in our lives.  Do we succeed because God likes us?  Do we win against others in the competitions of life because God prefers us to others?

This is deep stuff, and many clergy struggle with these questions.¬† As I read the entire post, I found myself nodding along.¬† I have some minor quibbles on some of the theological aspects, along with a couple of philosophical questions (I think mankind is at once insignificant and of greatest importance to God -that whole triune things gets people every time).¬† But that doesn’t take away from how profound and eloquent Kevin’s post is.¬† Go read it.

On a related note, y’all (and you know who you are), LAY OFF the Union students!!!!¬† They are mere kids, they just survived a traumatic event most of us will never have to go through, and they are trying to make sense of it all.¬† Let’s discuss the philosophical ramifications of their saying that God was “with them and protected them” some other time.¬† I think criticising these kids,at this time, is of the suck.¬† Like you were some great philosophical and theological mind at 20 years old.¬† Give them a little leeway.¬† Later, ‘k?