Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy Goodbye to 2005


I had to write something for today, and since it's getting close to the end I wanted each of us to just reflect on 2005.

For me it's been an incredible year. The two biggest changes for me were:

1. Realizing that the priesthood really may be a reality for my life.

2. Finding again the meaning of friendship, making some new friends which I'll share life with and reconnecting with old friendships I hope will last.

My most amazing moments have all been centered around my daughter and the incredible things she's done this year. From taking her first steps to learning to run (I think running came before the first steps actually). Learning to talk, I can't tell you how awesome this is, and being able to listen to her communicate (it's amazing being able to really understand what your daughter is saying).

So, here's to the end of 2005 and here's to:

The other Melissa (I miss our every-other day calls already)
Everyone in youth group (no favorites)
Everyone else at church (see, I DID remember you)

The extended family
Especially Phylicia and Aunt Beth, you're top of my prayer list

Last but not Least
for a reason, you're last on my mind at night and first in the morning.
& God

Peace all of you, you're all in my prayers, even my blog readers I've never met and don't even know about, especially you mister anonymous blog commenter (I love those Budweiser ads). Be safe this night. Be as unsafe as possible through 2006 (we can't change and grow by living it safe)!


Friday, December 30, 2005

Don Pablos

I was talking to my friend Amber last week about restaurants and something interesting happened. I was truly surprised.

Ok, I am surprised often. But in this day and age I kind of figured everyone had a restaurant from the national chains within 30 minutes of their house.

So I mentioned a restaurant like Outback, Logan's, Don Pablos or Chili's and Amber'd never even heard of them. I guess that's normal but it really kind of shocked me. I mean, who's never been to an Outback (and now 100 people raise their hand, look what happens when I assume).

I figured I'd throw together quick descriptions and my own opinion of places I visit. Today I'll start with Don Pablos, which I visited for lunch. I was there with 4 other people for a lunch meeting.

It's a Tex-Mex chain which means they sell a little bit of everything. They focus on things like fajitas, enchiladas (meat or cheese rolled up in a tortilla shell) and, of course, huge margaritas.

I kind of like Don Pablos just because they have a decent selection and they're not incredibly expensive. For lunch I think we spent $7 per person, which included a drink. Well, mine was $8 for my burrito, but all about the same.

Anyway, here's one picture from inside of all their flags. It's this huge warehouse looking thing. It's kind of weird looking and I can't say the ambiance is great. But the food is pretty good.

So, when I finally sucker Amber, Abby and Dave to come on down and visit we may hit Don Pablos. I'm not a huge fan of Tex-Mex though, so we'll see.

I'm wondering if this restaurant idea is such as good one, since this seems all scattered. But it may be that I wrote while watching Batman Begins, which was probably a mistake.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Starbucks Miracle

If yesterday was spent complaining about kids around here, tonight balances it all out.

Every Thursday night I sit at Starbucks for anyone from youth group to just show up. I've been doing this for almost 2 years now and it actually brings quite a crowd. In the Winter it peters off a bit, and yet we still had 17 people come.

This past Sunday I talked to one couple at church who was going to have their 15 year old grandson come and visit from Alabama. They wondered if he should come to Starbucks. "Well, of course" says I.

Really that's the whole purpose, for someone who may not want to be part of a formalized setting like our weekly meetings, and may believe nothing about God but want to meet some friends for the evening. I see it mostly as a way to get kids a little more comfortable with me and realizing if they come Sunday they'll know some people to hang out with.

So, Jonathan comes in with his grandparents, we do quick introductions, I make a few jokes to relax him, and they all go to get drinks. Now, this group can sometimes be hard to break into during Sunday youth group. But none of that was evident tonight.

Jonathan came back and grabbed a seat with us. We all just started talking and he really hit it off immediately. Stephen was great at bringing him in and chatting. As other people arrived they came over and said "Hi" to Jonathan and carried on some conversations together.

Next thing I know Tegan (another youth) is planning a party at her house until 11 and they are all pushing Jonathan to come. He even considered it and after I left they finally convinced him to ask his grandparents if he could go. How awesome is that, to find friends who want you to come with them after meeting less than 2 hours ago?

Sure enough they let him go and hopefully they are all having a great time even as I write.

I can't tell you how good it makes me feel. Or how incredible God is to make people so welcoming and energetic. What a wonderful evening miracle that I got to watch.

When is the last time you've welcomed a stranger into your group of friends?


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christmas Present Perspectives

I will warn you right now that I will probably upset someone with this post. I'm not sure how to avoid making someone upset with it. So, if you are easily upset just stop reading now and shoot me an IM or e-mail to talk about it.

All right, now that my friendly service warning is out there, I'll continue.

After Christmas I love to find out what other people got from their friends and family for presents. Sure, the season is about Christ and celebrating his life. But I'd be stupid to think presents didn't come in there as well. And besides, everyone loves to talk about what they got and stories from around the tree.

My friend Amber was one of the first people who I was able to talk to about Christmas. She got everything she hoped for this Christmas, and more. She got to go shopping Monday for some clothes and a purse, and under the tree she received candles, Golden girls and Everybody Loves Raymond DVD sets, books, a calendar and an iPod Shuffle.

Not bad at all if you ask me. It was wonderful to hear her talk about how excited and happy she was.

I couldn't help but think about the teenagers around this area though, and how they would have reacted to those gifts. If you think about it these gifts probably came to about $200. One teenager from our group got a slew of presents which may come to around $600. For this teenager this Christmas "haul" is about average (slightly above maybe) for her, with similar gifts for her birthday.

I know without a doubt that some of our youth would not be very thankful if they received an iPod Shuffle. In fact they'd be upset and it would be on the immediate return list. Why you ask? Because it's not cool enough, something everyone else has. The iPod Nano is "in". Heck, one of my kids was hoping to get an iPod Nano to replace her iPod Mini. $200 to replace a $200 gift they received a year earlier, how insane is that? How crazy is it that some parents find that an acceptable request?

When I think about it I know I would never buy such expensive gifts for Rachel. I'd also insist no one else spend so much on her. There's something to be said for not getting everything on your list.

Where am I going with all this you ask? I'm simply trying to wake us to the realities of the world. In my Northern Virginia area we have such an insane perspective on what's acceptable. There's just so much money flying around everywhere that buying extravagant things is common place.

I even started falling into this trap this season. Before Christmas I was 90% sure I was going to buy a new Buick Rendezvous. This was because I'm kind of unhappy with my Nissan Quest, the doors stick (a design flaw) it doesn't have AWD and the interior feels cheap.

After Christmas I really started thinking about it and realized I don't need to start another huge car payment when so many people are driving cars far worse off than I am. But in an area where Lexus, Mercedes and high end SUV's are the norm it's hard to think it's ok having something that's less than the top of the line. I'll have to stick with Erin's AWD I guess.

We need to watch what our lives are teaching one another. Outside Northern Virginia it's almost unheard of to have your parents spend more than $300 on their kids. Why do we think it's ok here? Why aren't we teaching our kids and one-another that it's better to go without. That we actually will need to learn to compromise in this life?

I look at my friends Amber and Abby and my mom and brother in Iowa. None of them have the same expectations that we seem to have here. They don't have everything they want, but they are mostly content with the lives they have. These are the people I really try to look to when keeping perspective. I thank God for bringing them into my life to keep it real. I only hope I can be a better example to tohers.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My Twin

One of the most amazing things happened to me yesterday. It was kind of a mixed blessing, but for me, yesterday morning was one of the best late Christmas gifts I could have received.

My daughter Rachel had a great Christmas day. So great she ended up not taking a nap until 3 p.m., and that was only about an hour. Compared with going to bed at 11:30 and sleeping for 2 hours, this was downright scary. She went to bed a little early and slept wonderfully.

She made noise around 8 a.m. so I got up and picked her up from her crib. She was so cute, just holding me and looking around. We went downstairs and got some milk which helped her out a bit and we went over to the sofa so wake up a bit.

We sat for 45 minutes.

It was just like those lazy Saturday mornings I remember as a kid. Sitting in the living room and just zoning out as I watch the trees and birds outside or just take in the room. Sitting in the peaceful silence and letting the world go on by while I watch.

Rachel, at 18 months, did just the same thing. She said in my lap facing out toward the room. Her eyes moved around a little but we just zoned out together. Looking at the Christmas tree, looking at the trees outside, looking across the kitchen. Just zoning in silence together.

It was one of the best moments of my life. Even after I got up and started in the fireplace 30 minutes into it, we just sat and watched that as well. She did sip her milk after a while, but even then we just lazed around. It was one more example of something she and I shared, she can even eat through an entire pint of raspberries or blackberries in one sitting too!

Now, anyone who's a parent knows this isn't such a great sign. Rachel was pretty sick and needed a ton of sleep that day. If Erin went to her she cried. After a bit she just cried for no reason, just wanted to go outside even though it was 30 degrees out. She even took a 3 hour nap and went to bed early, really abnormal.

But yesterday morning was one I'll never forget. I saw for the first time my little girl sharing some of my own traits. I saw that little girl as a teenager, sharing the same personal times. I saw her as a woman who visits and just sits with me as we watch the world go by.

Everyone says having a baby is miraculous and changes your life. For me I felt it immediately, but it took me a few months before everything sank in. Yesterday it was concrete. I knew this little girl would grow up with some of my own traits so ingrained she does them at 18 months. What a miracle that is.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Streaming Media

Today at church we started our annual (2nd year in a row counts as annual, right) Bible reading Marathon. What happens is that people go in and read the bible in 15 minute increments. We go 24 hours a day from Genesis through Revelation. I think last year we finished up around 2pm Thursday. So now you know that it's possible to read through the bible in less than 4 days. I haven't actually read, but I have found it neat to just sit or stand and listen.

This year I was asked to set-up live audio of the marathon over the Internet. Thankfully I had a months notice for this one. Truly though I was stymied. What the heck do I know about streaming live audio over the Internet? All we had was the microphone and sound board.

I didn't know if we needed a dedicated computer to send the audio, and I was pretty sure our DSL connection wouldn't let more than one or two people connect at once. But then really, how many people were going to listen? I still have no idea.

Obviously I was lost. I got some information from one e-mail. As it always seems to be, if someone knows how to do something they have a hard time explaining it to someone who knows nothing at all about the field. I mean, what's DSM, or ShoutCast, or Bit Rate? Trust me, these are all important things to know.

I saw a bunch of hosting sites willing to do this, for $400 or more a month! This was way too expensive. But it was hard since I wanted to stream audio 24 hours a day where most services do it for an hour or so, during a meeting or maybe one church service.

I did get one other hint after searching the Internet for ShoutCast and came across one of those great gems of a site called Here they had pretty inexpensive hosting and broke down the price exactly how I wanted it. To top it all off they had a page walking you through what to download and how to configure everything on your local computer. It was perfect, and at $5 a month for 10 users (and easy to increase) it was definitely cost effective.

So I got everything set-up and running. So, right at this very moment you can listen to someone at our church reading the bible. It'll also let us stream the entire church services. When you think about it, wow incredibly awesome is that?

The sound of someone's voice is getting broken apart into little bits of data, shot out over the Internet available for the entire world to hear. Truly, you have to check it out.

So, give it a try. It probably doesn't seem as cool when you're listening. When you're standing in a room with people and hearing their voice come back over the Internet (after a 1 - 2 minute delay) it's just awe inspiring.

Do me a favor and give it a listen. Let me know what you think. All I know is that God works some pretty amazing things through this gift of technology.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day

It is the closing of Christmas day. My wife, daughter and I have been sick all day, but had some great family to make it all fly by. Plus Rachel loved the gifts Santa brought, especially an Elmo you shake and who talks. Go figure, a daughter who watches almost no TV has latched on to Elmo because of the Sesame Street books we read.

It was a great Christmas all around. While I am feeling crummy, and exhausted, I knew I'd want to share that with someone. It just feels good to have 10 people filling up the house, opening gifts, sharing stories, cooking and sleeping (great-grandpap dozed a bit, I did for the two seconds I could).

Even Rachel, who wouldn't take a nap, did great. She was happy, running around opening presents and saying "pull" while pulling the wrapping paper off.

So, it's not 8:20 and I'm finishing this up and enjoying a quick conversation with my friend Amber while I write. I did want to share one story which came out today and I thought was pretty amazing. Possibly not a miracle, but then to some of the people affected, they could see it that way.

So, I like food. I love going out to eat, especially when someone else is paying. That's probably why I liked this story so much.

My father in law Jeff works as a manager for the IRS. He test software applications, so don't go thinking he can answer tax questions. He's only been there about 20 years or so, so he's lucky he can even spell IRS.

Each year they give the managers a bonus based on the successful work they do. It encourages them all to do a good job and save you tax dollars, so don't complain :) This year he did receive a decent bonus and came up with an idea of what to do with the money.

He took out to lunch all of the people that work under him.

that may not sound like such an incredible thing. But having worked as a contractor for the government you see pretty clearly that government workers get very very little benefits besides a good retirement plan. I mean, if they want water from a water cooler they have to pay each month to be part of the "water club".

On top of it, this was a bonus Jeff received. If I take people I manage out to lunch I generally have the company pay for it (something the government will almost never do). If I pay for it I may be taking one or two people out, not an entire team which Jeff did.

So, it may seem small to some people. But to some of the people invited to lunch it must have been a small miracle. So many other managers pocket the money, chalking it up to their own good leadership. Knowing my manager saw that the money he was given really was due to the work the team did would make me feel so incredibly special and recognized.

So, while it may seem small, I'm sure it was big to some people. I'm so glad to be related to people like that.

Peace and Merry Christmas,

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Miracles

With it being Christmas Eve, it's gotten hard to find time to write. Today there was a story I wanted to share. I am going to mention something which will give away a little bit of the story from The Notebook. So, if you are worried, then skip this entry :)

I was watching the movie "The Notebook" a few days ago. While I was watching the movie I also had the great privilege to talk to Abby over IM during the whole thing. Since she was at work I gave her the blow by blow. I yelled at times when the girlfriend was stupid or when I thought the movie wouldn't go the way I wanted. We talked about the sad, crying moments.

Anyway, one character in the movie has Alzheimer's. A man goes to her each day and tells her the story, the one the movie is all about. It helps bring a life to her.

At the end of the movie this woman does move on from this world into the next. Before she went she looked at the man with her and had all of her memories and senses back. She knew everything, remembered the story, recognized her visitor and understood everything about her own life.

The two had a good conversation and lay down together in bed, holding hands. Both went to sleep, together and happy until the woman passed away sometime in the night.

When I talked to Abby about it she said that this is actually something that does occur in real life. That before people die some really do gain back some of the senses which they lost later in life.

Abby shared with me that she was with her grandmother when she passed away. This woman had lost most of her hearing years before. But in the brief moments before she passed away Abby was able to talk to her without hearing aides. She'd gotten back her hearing as though she had never lost it.

Now, I have no idea if there's some medical term for it. I can't possibly think of a medical reason for it to happen, other than a pump of adrenaline. In any case it sounds like the body knows that the time to be with God has come. It's time to gain back those senses which were lost in this world and move into that heavenly place.

I can't think of any real explanation besides that it is a miracle. It is a gift given to us by God, that we should see this world with the senses of a teenager and the knowledge that a full life brings.

So, this Christmas Eve, know there really are miracles out there. God (however you see him) works every moment in this world. I can't think of a better story to keep in my mind as I head off to sleep of the eve of this miraculous day.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Favorite Part of the Job

This is probably the last question/answer I'll post from the report. There was one other question, but I'm not sure whether I want to answer the question of whether I'm in a good or bad place in life yet. We'll see if there's an answer tomorrow :)

In case you somehow missed it, these are answers to questions helping a out out with her school project.

For tonight the question is:
What's your favorite part about being a youth minister?
With my answer:
Wow, my favorite part?

Ok, my favorite part is being able to talk to someone about a question or problem and really make a difference in their lives and in the way they see the world.

I love being able to have youth do something they wouldn't normally do and find out they love it. Getting people to see the world as something much bigger than just themselves.

Just helping individual youth grow up seeing the world as a place they want to help and heal instead of a place where they can just get what they want.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Life Changing Events

Continuing on with the questions I answered to help one of our youth's project. Here is today's question and my answer. It'd really be neat to see some of your own answers, in comments or in person, but it seems I'll just have to ask people in person.

Today's question is:
What is one of the most life changing event's you've had?
And my answer is:

Oh wow...

There are a lot.

Lets see...

One that first came to mind was being molested growing up. After it was all over and he'd been convicted I talked with some people who did make me see that Don (the man who molested me) did love me in his own way. It made me realize that we all do things because we think they are right or we love people. But that doesn't mean that what we do is right. People can be really messed up, but I still think they do things because they think it is the right thing to do.

Another one most recently would have been our mission trip to Montana. Coming back from that trip really changed my thinking about money and material things. It also kick-started my own thinking about beginning to look into the priest hood as a career and leave my current job.

That's just started, but it will be the point where my life changes long term.

I probably need to explain the molestation a little bit. Please, please don't feel bad for me. This happened years ago, ended when I finally came forward at 14. My parents, the church, the police,the DA and everyone was so caring and helpful. It was the beginning of the fall for one friendship of mine, but other than that I have learned so very much.

I've also found that people can move on past some of the hardest things which happen in their life. Having friends and family to talk to about the issue is part of that. Having almost everyone on your side, defending you also helps a lot.

There are a ton of stories and details on this one. As I've said to youth group before, what is said in youth group stays in youth group, except my life. That is an open book and can be shared with anyone. So most people that know me know about this. Those that don't I'm happy to talk about.

It was a very, very dark time in life. A hard 8 years, because of Don but also with school and things. But it's also influenced the person I am today. While I am not glad of it, and if I had it to do again I'd do it differently, God has brought some real insight into my life from it. So, for the growth I've gained I'm thankful.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Two Hardest Obstacles

I'm continuing to write on my own responses to questions raised when helping Jessica with her school project. After asking me "As a kid what were your dreams for the future?" the next question was:
"What do you think are the two hardest obstacles you've had to overcome so far in your life?"
For which I responded:
Balancing life with money. Things always seem too expensive, or life just costs so much I can't leave to do what I really feel led to do.

Second obstacle would probably society. Our society puts a lot of importance in working, making money, and being a high level executive. My dad definitely agrees and he continually tells me I should get an MBA and be a high level manager. Being a youth minister or priest or other low paying area is looked down on by society.
I've been giving that second obstacle a bit more thought since I wrote it last night. I'm not sure it is explained well enough.

People think it's great when I tell them I'm a youth minister. I know that people look at priests and think it's a very noble cause. Heck, people even look up to them sometimes. There's also the sometimes unspoken thought of, "how in the world are you going to live". Or in the case of higher level managers, "you can't live financially secure that way, why would you decide to do that".

So, with that little bit of clarification I'll leave this as it.

What have been the two biggest obstacles in your life?


Monday, December 19, 2005

Dreams of the future

I'm helping Jessica with a school report and she asked a couple of questions about me. I thought it was interesting so I'll probably write about them over the next few days.

It's late tonight, so I'll throw in a quick question wit the response I gave.

Here was her question:
"As a kid what were your dreams for the future?"
The answer I came up with 30 seconds to think was:

Growing up I wanted to teach, be an astronaut or a pilot.

When I was a teenager I taught elementary and middle schools and realized I needed to rethink teaching.

Which began me looking at priesthood or other ways I could work with youth.

Mainly I've always wanted to help people in some way. I considered being a negotiator between nations, psychologist, priest, teacher and counselor.

I'm still working to figure out what I should do with my life.

But really my longest dream has always been to somehow get all people to get along with each-other.

And go into space.

So, since I'm curious, what were your dreams for the future when you were a kid? I heard from Abby already, but would love to hear yours.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Football Insanity

I’m just now getting in the car after the Redskins vs. Cowboys football game. These are two rival teams which we’ve (the Redskins) lost against for the past bunch of years. Well, this year we won the first game (just barely). Now we’re coming off yet another win, 35 – 7.

What amazed me this game was the insane amount of energy within the stadium. FedEx field (where the Redskins play) seats the most number of fans in the NFL, at an insane 93 thousand people… Yeah, that’s 93,000. I don’t even have that many pennies to rub together.

So, imagine a room full of friends at a party all yelling together at the middle of the room. Now intensify that by 1,000. I’ve never heard it so loud. My shouting was drowned out by the people around me, and if you know me, that’s pretty impressive.

On top of it there was a sheer insane intensity from the fans. People were actually really nice to each-other, compared to our losing seasons where I always saw at least one or two bloody fights being broken up during a Cowboys or Eagles game. Everyone was just focused on the field and what was going on there.

We’d get a touchdown and high fives and high tens went all around. We’d sing the Redskins song at the top of our lungs!
Hail to the Redskins
Hail victory
Braves on the warpath
Fight for old DC

Blah, blah, blah
Bl-blah blah blah
Blah blah blah
(thank goodness they put the real words up on the scoreboard)

Blah, blah, blah
Bl-blah blah blah
Blah blah blah
(again, a scoreboard with words is great!)

Fight on, fight on
Till we have won
For old Wash-ing-ton

Hail to the Redskins
Hail victory
Braves on the warpath
Fight for old DC
The whole stadium is singing together, clapping and cheering.

Any time the Redskins had the ball we were quiet. But it was an electrifying quiet. You could feel the energy pouring out onto the field, people were just wired. We didn’t sit for more than 30 minutes during the whole game, and that included a 15 minute half-time show.

I was just amazed to see the incredible push and activity from everyone. People clapping strangers’ shoulders, jumping around and just being insane about this one game.

Even when Randy Thomas broke his ankle, some players went over and prayed with him, the stadium was quiet for the entire time (usually about 5 – 10 minutes, forever in stadium time) and everyone was just pushing their good thoughts and prayers. When the cart began driving him off everyone was cheering “Randy! Randy! Randy!” (again, something I’ve never heard, we just cheer or clap). Even when the Cowboys player was hurt near the end, though the stadium was emptying out, people still sat and looked worried about him.

Why don’t we bring this same intensity to the other areas of our life?

When you go to work, do you and your co-workers get pumped and excited for the work you’re doing as a team? If someone gets hurt do you all band together to help them?

When you’re at church do you grab the people around you and just cheer on God? Do you jump up and down and push for people to take part in some church activity?

Do you tell your friends how needed they are? Even in the “normal” times, do you pray or keep each friend in your thoughts throughout the day?

Do you go home in the evening and show your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend how insane you are for them? Do you high-five the whole family when you kids do something special? Do you tell the world how awesome the people around you are?

At Christmas and beyond I’d love it for you to really bring that insanity to your life. Let the intense energy come off of you to build up everyone, people in your life or strangers around you.


Secret Santa

For those who have been on the edge of their seat to hear about Amber’s party, I finally have the answer. Apparently it went better than she ever hoped or expected. We talked in disgusting detail which I won’t give you here.

Sufficed to say, Amber walked into the party feeling a bit nervous and sitting with her boyfriends parents. She did build up her confidence enough and actually got out on the floor and danced. She danced whether her boyfriend was there or not, and even went up to groups of people and had some good conversations with them (even making some friendships where she thought none would exist).

Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts, they worked! She came away feeling better about herself then when she went in, and it seems like her relationship is even stronger. This was such great news we just kept talking for forever. Truly though I’m more excited for her than I can even put into words.

That led me to thinking about this party we just had for youth group. Lauren (one of the teenagers) put together this great idea of having a Secret Santa exchange within youth group. In the end about 25 people signed up, which was great. So we all met at a small Italian restaurant called Pomodoro’s for lunch today to share pizza and exchange gifts.

21 of us piled into the restaurant, complained about how seafood be pizza must be gross (Lauren was good enough to try it and liked it), and talked for over an hour.

Doing this today though, I really looked around the table more and looked at each individual. I kept seeing which people around the table were feeling the same way Amber did last year, nervous, quiet, huddled in the corner not sure what to do or what to say.

I wish I could say that I found those people, went right over to them and brought them into the conversations. Unfortunately I wasn’t that good. I did talk to people a bit and try to bring them into other conversations around the table. I already know I missed two or three kids, but someone else may have stepped up there.

I know Lauren did an awesome job making people feel welcome. One person said that Lauren is probably the nicest person they know, which I would definitely agree with. She gave up her seat, offered pizza and generally worked herself around the table talking to everyone. I don’t know what they were all talking about, but I just loved seeing someone “working” the table.

I wonder if, after reading some of this stuff, will look at parties differently. If you’re part of the “in” crowd will you look at individuals you know and don’t know, and go to them if their off in the corner? I know I’m looking at the people closer.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Christmas Presents

This year I’m really excited about Christmas. And for the first time in a long time, part of the reason is because I can’t wait to see what’s under the tree for me.

Now, I didn’t ask for a lot, so I have a decent idea of what will be there. But I think that’s only making the anticipation worse.

I was trying to figure out why I’m really anticipating this year since I haven’t been all that excited about Christmas presents for as long as I can remember. I think it’s come down to my small change in lifestyle over the past few months.

I went on a mission trip in August to Mississippi. When I returned home I really started to notice how much I wanted all of the time. I wanted the latest DVD of he week, whatever new book was out, a new backup drive for the computer, some new video game (even though I have no time to play them).

I also really noticed how much other people around me feel that they “need”. One of my good friends at work and his wife had been looking for a TV for their bedroom. Now, they do watch a lot of TV in their bedroom, so it made sense to have a TV there. Well, on black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving when the sales are on), Scott and his father in law headed out to Circuit City to buy a TV he knew would be on sale. A 40 inch plasma TV. It was a “steal” at $950, on sale from $1,700. I’m still reeling at the thought of spending so much for a TV in the bedroom.

At the same time, 6 months ago I was pretty similar. If I saw something I wanted I bought it. I might have thought about it for a while for big purchases. I always researched all around to find the cheapest price. In the end though I essentially bought whatever I wanted.

Last Christmas we were making up lists and I had a really hard time. I found a bunch of DVD’s I wanted, a bunch of books and things, but nothing significant. Again, the semi bigger things (Photoshop elements, Flash memory for my camera, etc…) I’d already bought.

Going into that Christmas it just didn’t matter much. If I didn’t get what I’d asked for I could buy it the next day if I wanted it. If I did get something that was all cool, but it just didn’t feel all that special.

After the mission trip in August I started looking at everything differently. This rampant consumerism really started bothering me. I mean, why did I think it was ok to buy a new edger simply because the plug in my old one broke? I really slowed down significantly my spending (slowed down, I’m not perfect yet).

Even today I left a work Christmas party thinking that I’d really like a digital SLR camera (starts around $1,000). Why do I think that the top of the line digital camera I had and the nice small one Erin had just aren’t good enough.

I wasn’t buying every DVD on Tuesday (the day they come out at a discounted price). I mean, I used to buy movies I’d never heard of and had no idea about, like “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton” (admittedly a cute movie, but I’d never even heard of it before I bought it). Now even some good movies I wanted to see I passed up. I haven’t been buying books by my favorite authors since I’m already so behind in my reading.

As Christmas rolled around I started thinking about what I wanted. This year it was pretty hard to come up with a list. But that was mainly because I have everything I want. I have an incredible daughter who’s absolutely brilliant. I have a wonderful wife and amazing extended family. I have a good job and a house at least 80% of the world would be envious for.

I wracked my brain and came up with a few items, especially more storage for my camera and XM Satellite radio. Those are things I knew I could just run out and by. Honestly, a year ago, I would have done just that. I was researching XM Radios to find just the receiver I wanted. But this year I didn’t hit the “Add to Cart” button (I buy almost everything over the Internet, if you haven’t done so, you buy things by adding them to your online cart) even though I thought it would kill me.

So now Christmas is coming and I’m really excited for the first time in a long time. I’m excited for so many reasons. The one reason which surprises me most though is my excitement for the presents which will be under the tree. Things which I won’t buy if I don’t get them for Christmas because I am just trying to save money.

What about you? What things are you waiting anxiously for under the tree? If you can’t think of anything, is it because you have all you could want, or is it because you buy everything that comes to mind? I’ll be praying this Christmas that you find you have everything you could possibly need.


Mississippi Memories

If you remember yesterday I’d be surprised (I know my memory doesn’t go back that far), heh, heh. Anyway, yesterday I was talking about Amber and her Christmas party. About how she’s going to feel uncomfortable around all these strange people.

We were talking about how quickly she started talking to us in Mississippi. She paid me (at least I assume it was me, she didn’t actually use my name) another of those great compliments that always make me smile. She said:
“someone talked to me and showed an interest in me... and Rob was joking with me too... it made me comfortable”
It felt good knowing that we made someone comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation.

I kind of wondered why more people aren’t interested in others. Or, if we’re interested, why don’t we actually express that interest?

I mean, when I’m in a room full of people I know and I see someone new I like to go up to that person and say hello, hopefully get to know them. If nothing else I want to try and make them feel welcome.

I won’t say I’m always like this. There are a lot of times when I’m happy to cling to the people I know and just talk to them. Even today at our work Christmas lunch I spent a lot of time with Erin and my friends Scott and Janet. Far more time then I spent with people I didn’t know.

In one way I did this because I didn’t feel like it was my job to meet the people I didn’t know. It’s just easier to think it’s someone else’s job to meet new people and make them feel welcome. I also assumed that the other people there had their own group of friends and I wouldn’t be able to jump into the group.

In the end I did meet most of the people there. I certainly could have done a better job, but just didn’t feel like it. Those that I didn’t meet still certainly had their own group of friends so I didn’t feel all that bad.

So it got me to wondering... What would it take for all of us to welcome strangers, even when we’re the stranger?

In Mississippi the very first night people were welcoming us in. I remember passing a group of 6 people playing cards by a fire. They offered a hot dog and asked if we wanted to play with them. Honestly, that took me all off guard. It felt weird compared to DC where a stranger won’t even look at you, much less invite you to something. If they’re inviting you to something the person generally isn’t to be trusted.

After even half a day in Mississippi I started going up to strangers and welcoming them. Heck, Thursday night after our Thanksgiving dinner I went from table to table offering them some apple pie. A completely crazy thing since everyone had already had dinner and desert. But it got me to talk to people at some different tables, which was nice.

I don’t have a ton of thought on this, besides some of what I’ve already said. Feeling comfortable makes it easier to welcome others in. But what about when you’re the one who doesn’t know anyone? Or what if no one knows anyone? Or, especially, what if you’re in a group of people you know and see someone you don’t?

Will you be the one to step out and introduce yourself? Ask that person’s story? Show an interest in the person and make jokes with them? If not, why?


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Better Half

The Country singer Keith Urban (I know, don’t stop reading just because I like Country) has a song out called “You’re My Better Half”. In it he refers to an age-old saying as well as the update people have made recently. The lyrics go like this:
They say behind every man is a good woman
But I think that's a lie
'Cause when it comes to you I'd rather have you by my side
I have no idea how recently the addition “when it comes to you I'd rather have you by my side” was put in. I think I first heard it either in high school or college. Really though, this addition bugs the heck out of me.

As I mentioned in my post about whiners, not a lot irritates me. But here’s another one that does kind of get to me, when people misuse or misunderstand the English language.

Now, I’m pretty patient about this actually. If I’m just having a conversation with someone and they use the wrong work, use it incorrectly or even use a saying incorrectly I have no problem with it. What tends to bug me is when the masses begin to use a saying incorrectly.

The original saying is this:
“behind every man is a good woman”
The modification is simply to say the man would rather have the woman by his side instead of behind him.

This bugs me so much because it actually minimizes the importance of the woman you’re referring to.

Now, if you want to make the woman seem less important, then I’m fine with it. I also understand why the saying was changed, it sounds so much more romantic to say someone is “by your side” instead of “behind you”.

You’re forgetting what she’s doing behind you… She’s not just supporting you, but she’s actually doing to work to make you the amazing person you are. This doesn’t minimalize her as a person.

The original message is that I would not be the man I am today without the support of my wife. If I try to do something we will not only talk about it together, but regardless of my decision she will support me. She will not only cheer me on but will also help out in any way she can to make what I am doing a success.

So, let’s look at the addition (I feel like an English teacher). Instead of her supporting me in my decisions, Erin is now beside me. She’ll hold my hand, but we are equals in the work being done.

Here’s the important part there, my contribution to the work is just as important as her contribution. Sounds cute and romantic right? Well, what about the original saying.

I am working my tail off to do the work. But, regardless of how much I do, Erin will always have made more of a contribution. Anything that I do, I need her support for. That’s not true in the addition, now I can go and do things, but I don’t NEED her to make it a success.

How I support my wife on the other hand isn’t mentioned. There’s an assumption that she cannot be the person she is without my support. That anything she does, she needs my support and love just as much as I need hers. This may be true, but in my life Erin definitely puts forth the real effort and support. I try and help in any way I can, but she always seems to know the right thing to do to make things “happen”.

For all I know I am just stuck being “beside” my wife in her life. But what I do know is that while Erin will walk beside me, she will always be part of my foundation. Why would I want to change that?

Those are just my rants on the saying. I may be way off base, and I’d love to hear people who disagree. I’ve had years to think about this and I do think I’m correct. Or you may think the same thing my wife said, “Umm, ok…. Who cares?”



I was talking to my friend Amber yesterday about a Christmas party she’ll be attending with her boyfriend this weekend. She’s feeling a bit reticent (nervous, self-conscious) about attending since she knows there will be times when she has to entertain herself.

You all know the situation. You attend a party with someone you’ve been dating, thrown by their friends. It’s just so hard to feel like you belong when there are 50 other people there who already know one-another.

I go through the same thing at youth group each Sunday night. We have 30 kids show up (sometimes 50 depending on the event) and within 2 hours we need them to have connected to someone outside the person who brought them. Of course we’re always working on it, but forcing them into a group of 6 – 10 people for an hour helps a lot! Unfortunately you can’t so that at a party.

Growing up I was incredibly shy. Not just “kind-of” shy, I would always sit in the corner, wonder why I couldn’t have fun like the people dancing, and just watch those around me and try to learn from them. There are a ton of reasons for this, which I won’t mention right now (I’ll bore you with those stories in some other posts).

Once I’d been at a place for a while I did get more comfortable and opened up a bit. After being at our church for a few years, I really felt comfortable there. I was able to welcome anyone new because I felt like I had a good group of people behind me. The same was true of family. After I really got comfortable spending time with my extended family (which took quite a while) I was willing to talk to other people coming to visit.

Another example might be something as obscure as visiting friends of the family once a year. The first time I’d go I wouldn’t talk to anyone and would hang somewhat close to my parents if I could. The second year it’d get a little better and I’d start to open up. By the third year I knew their house well, knew the people well, and felt comfortable enough to talk and not care if they thought I said something stupid.

I got a little better in high school when I realized that I’d have to get comfortable in a new situation pretty quickly, otherwise I’d just be on the sidelines all the time. When I went to lunch with my girlfriend and her friends the first time I really felt out of the loop. It took a couple lunches before I started talking. Now, I did tick some of them off, and we had very little in common. But it made things much easier for me, since I just wasn’t as stressed about what they thought of me.

I really consciously worked on getting comfortable quickly when I went to College. I was going into school a year older than anyone else (I’d taken a year off) and without knowing a single soul. Somehow, that first day, I made the effort to meet someone. During orientation we were asked to introduce ourselves to someone in the room. So I immediately turned to the person beside me knowing she was probably as nervous as I was (or more nervous, I was older and so more “experienced”, heh heh). We started chatting and had a hard time stopping. Melissa and I are still good friends to this day.

Just having Melissa there as someone who I could fall back on helped. Sometimes I worried that I latched on to her too much, but it all ended up fine. She lived on campus (I commuted) and I soon met a bunch of her friends.

Throughout life we continue to get thrown into new situations. The trick is to find a way to make those situations comfortable.

Right now at church I am so comfortable that whether I’m at church or away from church at some event I feel pretty at ease. Even at a restaurant with Rob or someone I end up being very outgoing and actively chat with our waitress. It just feels like I own the place, so why shouldn’t I talk to the other people who are there with me?

Even when we went down to Mississippi I had that generally comfortable feeling. I was there to lead the teenagers who’d come on the trip, so I quickly got an idea of what the schedule and plan was for the next day. I then got a quick idea of the area we were in and then just told myself that people will be coming to me for things, so I need to appear at ease with everything going on.

That was a bit different the first day of work, when I was put into a group of people and was not leading any youth. On top of it I was simply told to move a car and load it up, not knowing what to load it with, what we were doing or even who was in charge. Honestly, I got pretty quiet then. I just stood off on my own a bit, helping if someone needed it, but mainly waiting for some direction to come (kind of like a lemming without his header, walking around and bonking into walls). I was not looking forward to the trip at that point and was definitely feeling uncomfortable.

Soon enough Tim Tracy came by with forms on what we were doing. We loaded the trailer and headed out. With some direction and a plan I found it easy to get back into a comfort zone and talk. To see myself as the leader in some ways and I quickly went up and introduced myself to the home owner.

What I’m really working to realize is that no matter what situation I’m in I should feel secure. I may not be comfortable, since it’s hard to change when you’re comfortable, but I am safe. I have God there behind me to rely on. That’s definitely hard for me to remember sometimes, but I’m working on it.

So, getting back to Amber’s party this Saturday. The best I could suggest was to find some other people who might be a little lost. She’d been at the Christmas party the previous year and while she is still nervous about this year, there will be others more nervous than her.

She can also work herself into conversations with other people, almost being a little bit of a pest since she’ll have to continue talking to someone even if a friend of theirs shows up. But that is a great way to be introduced to others.

Like me, Amber really dislikes parties. I’ve found that a lot of people are more interested in one-on-one conversations instead of huge events. We have to do certain things for the ones we love, that’s part of how we show them that we care. Life isn’t comfortable, but God will keep it as safe as possible. The next step is changing perspective.

Instead of walking into the room nervous that you won’t meet anyone the entire night, maybe it’s easier to go in repeating to yourself that you are going to be comfortable and you’re going to meet a new interesting person. You may have no idea who that person is, but there will be at least one person you’ll meet and hit it off with.

I’m curious though. How do you get comfortable at parties or with big groups of people you don’t know? What do you say to yourself when going into a meeting of people you don’t know? What do you ask God for in these situations?

I’m sure any comments and advice you have would help Amber and probably a many teenagers when I repeat it to them.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lunch Time

I just got back from a lunch "date" with our youth leader Melissa. It was great, I bundled up in my jacked and walked over to P.F. Cheng's for what I knew would be some great food and good conversation.

That lunch was typical of any lunch I share, we were there for 2 hours. I'd told Abby it'd be about a 2 hour lunch which did kind of surprise her. She who was probably wondering what in the world you'd talk about for two hours, especially with someone you know somewhat well.

The funny thing is, every time I go out to lunch with someone we never spend much time talking about what we were supposed to discuss. This time I'd had a few things I wanted to talk about regarding youth group. We didn’t even start talking directly about youth group until after the check arrived (so, we'd had about an hour and a half already).

We ended up spending another 20 minutes or so in the hallway outside the restaurant (it was clear they wanted us to leave, they took Melissa's water away instead of refilling it) finishing up the talk about youth group.

I walked away from that lunch like many others, feeling some accomplishment in what we'd set out to do, and like I only scratched the surface of who Melissa is. People just have incredible life stories to tell.

Even a person considered incredibly boring will have an interesting story for whoever will listen, because their life is interesting to them. So they'll always have insights and stories to tell which they care about.

It was a successful lunch in any form of the word. We got a few things cleared up, shared some great food and got to know one another a bit better.

I only wish I could do lunches like that more often. Being able to set-aside some real time for another person makes such a difference. It's a time when cell phones are ignored, work is put on hold, and two people dedicate their time to one-another.

In our lives where we go a million miles an hour (sometimes I think I may hit a billion mph) we forget to dedicate our time to an individual. It just feels like bad time management. Why spend hours with one person when we could be checking e-mail, on a conference call, on IM and doing some work at the same time?

Lunch though made me remember that efficiency isn't the name of this game called life. We're here for God first and one-another second. We're here for two hour meals to talk about life. We're here for walks along the beach. We're here to simply share life for a while.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Doing What I Can't.

I get a weekly news feed about the Internet and Windows XP. Okay, I get about 5 or 10 feeds like this a week. WXPNews happens to be one of my favorites (I also like the New York Times Circuits e-mail). The article had this quote in it.
I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
I've really just read the quote and got to thinking about how I've been living my life.

Growing up I was convinced any one could do anything. If we start early enough or put enough time into it, we could be whatever we wanted. If I wanted to be a concert pianist I could do it. It may be easier for some people to do, it'd probably take me decades, others are born with it. But I do believe that given the energy and time I could do it if I set my mind to it.

Lately I've been coasting. There's no other way to describe it. I've been working at a job which fluctuates between being ok and being awful, mainly feeling like I'm not really impacting individual lives. I've been volunteering as a youth minister doing an ok job, but not putting forth the effort I could to make it a success. Even with my family life, I definitely don't put forth the time and energy I should (though that has been changing a bit lately).

In short, I haven't been putting my mind into anything. Instead of doing what I can't do, I find it easy to find reasons why I can't do something, and just shouldn't try.

So, right now, this is another wake up call. It's time for me to go back to school and learn about all the things I can't do. It's also time for me to be a great husband instead of a good one. It's time for me to keep up the friendships I'm making, and keep them strong.

What is it that you're not doing because you "can't"?


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cookie Dough Possibilities

Every year around Christmas Erin's parents come over to bake cookies. Believe it or not, this is a two day affair. One day is dedicated to making the cookie dough. This time we had 6 containers packed with dough. Then the next day is all about baking.

Yesterday was the dough day. Erin, her mom and dad made a bunch of different types of dough. I think we some chocolate chip, some peanut butter and chocolate chips, some walnut and chocolate chips, some snicker doodle and (a first this year) some sugar cookies. The sugar cookies are their attempt to appease my craving for Pot Belly's sugar cookies (so big and chewy in the middle).

Today is baking. Hundreds and hundreds of cookies are balled up and put on cookie sheets. Then hot trays are constantly swapped out of the oven for cool, unbaked ones while our dining room table is converted into an industrial kitchen cooling counter. This is the day anyone would love to be in our house, smelling the fresh baked cookies as the scents fill the air.

Now, I am a huge fan of cookies. I always have been. But I'm a bit finicky about what makes for a good cookie. If it's really going to be great it should be baked on the "rare" side (by that I really mean... Raw). I've never had a baked cookie that can compare to chomping down on a cool, crunchy, sugary, dense dough ball.

I was talking to Jeff (Erin's dad) and we got on the topic of ColdStone Creamery. They have a cookie batter ice cream, which is awesome if a bit sweet. Cookie Batter combined with some chocolate chip cookie dough, fudge, chocolate chips and maybe some caramel (everything's better with caramel) to make for an awesome ice cream. Jeff suggested that I should bring some cookie dough for them to mix in with their ice cream... maybe sugar cookie (or peanut butter for my wife). Maybe I will get some ice cream and mix the dough in myself later!

Well, that entire story is really to simply say, I love cookie dough. I love it more than cookies. Now, to be honest, I don't love it as much as fresh fruit, or even pie, but when it comes to ice cream there's certainly nothing better than one with nice big chunks of dough.

One of the reasons people seem to think I'm a little off is because I tend to look at the world a little differently. I like to look at a tree and see everything, the individual leaves, the intricate branches, the sun shining through and even the small hole which will open into a whole other world if you knock in the correct order. I love to see the unique possibilities in the normalcy.

Right now I'm just beginning "The voyage of the Dawn Treader" from the Chronicles of Narnia and got to thinking about Eustace. Eustace is so literal that he just can't imagine something more than what he sees. He just doesn't have the imagination to look at a picture and see much more than paint.

There are so many people in the world like Eustace. As we grow old we tend to look at the world and accept what we can see. I've met fewer and fewer people who can look at a bridge and see the troll living underneath or people who look at the cookie dough and only see cookies (instead of ice cream).

With Christmas coming, the thrill of possibility fills the air. The wonder of what is really in that box under the tree. The miracle that is the birth of one man who will save us all. The understanding that the kindly old man in a white beard at the mall (or even on the street) is going know where you live and leave you something special to wake up to.

Why don't we share that perspective with those "ordinary" people around us? Why don't we look at that person beside us in class, the one on the metro or the one on the bus. What about that person who just always seems to rub us the wrong way (oh, you know who I mean, I have them too). Why can't we look at that person and see the possibilities that the person can become (or even change our perspective on who they are right now). Can't we see that while we may not get along well with someone, they are a gift to this world. They have the same potential I do.

Why do we look at one another and only see the surface, as Eustace sees the world. Why do we only see that the person can become one thing, a cookie. Why don't we see the sugar cookie dough of that person is, and swirl it in ice cream instead? This Christmas I hope you'll take just one individual and notice their possibility, and the gift they are to this world.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Mississippi Trip – Saturday

Today there would be no early morning doughnut run. No awesome frozen coffee drinks from some place that like anime. No breakfast discussions about a rowdy spoons tournament. Not even any discussion about getting showers in the morning.

Today was our day to head home.

The youth (myself included) were set to meet up with the adults for breakfast. Once we met up we'd all grab breakfast and get right on the road.

So, while we were leaving the building, we got a call that the adults were almost to the meeting point (they must have been running early since, for once, we were actually on time).

We got to Hardee's and everyone piled out of the van to get breakfast. There were a bunch of police around the restaurant. In fact, there were a couple right in front of us in line, from Virginia! So, being the shy person that I am, asked where they were from in Virginia. Now, of course, I'd never heard of the county. But they did know where we were from. They didn't seem so interested in talking (maybe they needed their morning coffee as much as some people in our group did), so we let them get their food and eat in peace.

Another interesting thing happened at breakfast. On the way down to Mississippi, Hugh drove his SUV with a hard camper on top. Needless to say, it killed his gas mileage and we ended up stopping a lot to make up for it. So Hugh decided that he would give it away! He asked the entire restaurant if they wanted the camper top, and one man hopped up very excited. The next thing I knew Jen and Hugh were carrying the camper off of his car and over to the other car. While it did help us, it certainly wasn't necessary. This was an incredible cap on a great trip, one final act of selflessness for a state which needs as much of it as we can give. I only met Hugh a few days ago, but he truly is a great example of what a Christian looks like.

With all that done we got back on the road.

Now, my mind was reeling. It was early morning and I still had Amber and Dave on the mind. I already missed having them around. I couldn't help but wonder how much better the ride home would be if they were with us. It got me thinking about this one picture someone took after we'd played spoons a bit...

It's a picture of the floor. Those are all the marks that one or two chairs made with people sliding around and getting excited.

At first I was horrified. Look at the mess we made of their floor I felt kind of bad... But then I considered where they came from. They aren't just our game, but also from all the over volunteers who move in and out of there every day. The people who have been there for months and the others who've come for a day or two. These are the permanent marks they've left in the wood, just as those volunteers have left permanent marks on me.

With all these thoughts on my mind, it was a relatively quiet first leg. Some people slept, some read, others talked in the back. One vent in the middle of the van didn't have a cover, and through some great team-work they figured out the right object to stuff in there (a t-shirt I think). I just listened to music and headed up the road using new directions.

So we continued on and on up the road. Waiting impatiently for I-20 to come along. It took a really, really long time to come along. Since this was different from the way we came, everyone was getting nervous. In the end we did find it, but probably added an hour onto our trip. With people already eager to get home I decided not to share this news with the car. Besides, what's one more hour on top of 17?

Honestly, the ride home was relatively uneventful. Probably the most interesting thing after leaving Mississippi was Jen eating a McRib for dinner in Tennessee. Apparently the McRib is back at McDonald's.

To be fair, I loved McRib's when they first came out in high school. Then I had one in London and it was awful. I don't think they put any sauce on it, and I have to tell you, the meat in a McRib isn't something you really want to taste.

The second most interesting thing may have been the change of radio stations on XM Radio. Our Christian rock station was gone, replaced by Traditional Christmas music. Someone will have to explain to me why it makes sense that a station which plays hard rock music (even if it is Christian) should be replaced with Barry White, or folk music. Marketing executives can really be morons sometimes. It didn't help that the pop Christian station now plays much slower stuff, and still mixes in a lot of Christmas songs. So I ended up jamming to the music in my mind more often than not.

We arrived back at church around 12:30. Tim was driving, which helped me a lot. I probably only drove about half the trip this time, and it felt good to relax and read, even if I didn't get to sleep.

So we unloaded the vans quickly and headed on home. Since we all had to go to church in the morning and Rob even had to give a sermon at all three services. I definitely have to give him credit for that.

I dropped Roland off at his house, got home about 1 or 1:30 and went in to watch Rachel sleep for a little while. If you don't have kids, you may not understand. But if you go into a room with a sleeping infant, you could just stare at them forever. The even breathing, smooth skin, the most uncomfortable sleeping positions you can imagine (Rachel often sleeps with her head jammed in the corner of the crib at a 45 degree angle and her butt up in the air.. I can't sleep if I breathe on my arm). It's just so peaceful.

I slipped into bed and Erin was great enough to actually wake up a little and welcome me home. Then we were out for the night. I tossed and turned again, thinking about everything over the week. But I also enjoyed having Erin and Rachel so near.

So, this was another of the most memorable trips in my life. The summer mission trip reminded me that there is so little I need or want to make life happy. This trip brought in a support team I needed and reminded me what the community of Christ can look like when it's done right.

If you're reading this, I will hope and pray that you'll come along and help out next time. If you're not sure, or barely know me personally, drop me a line. I'll convince you!


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mississippi Trip – Friday Cont'd

As I mentioned earlier, we spent the morning working on two houses, one of which didn't necessarily feel quite as rewarding as others. I was looking forward to getting back at the work site, since it meant I could talk to a bunch of people pretty easily. But I wasn't quite as sure about going back to the same house, and it wasn't until later that I figured out why.

I went down to Mississippi to help people who'd been devastated by the storm. I'd seen homes which has been completely destroyed, and others which had either moved or been ruined from water damage.

The house we were working at didn't seem to have those problems. It seemed more like they were somewhat low income and saw a way to get some of the work done which they couldn't afford to complete. That's perfectly fine, and we really did impact their lives tremendously. But when you head down to support damage victims and it looks like there was very little water damage, it's hard to feel like you're really making a difference.

Again, looking at the earlier post, these people have gone way out of their way by allowing us into their personal things. I can't even imagine how hard it must be. And truly, I am glad we were able to help.

So, returning to our exciting drama...

We went on back to the home to tear out the walls and ceiling. We all arrived and set right to work. Since we were pulling down walls we all had to grab masks and pry bars. Thankfully I stayed outside and helped move the detritus (big word, means rubbish) to the street. The masks were uncomfortable but left your face with very stylish grey spots on either side of your nose. Look closely at Abby and Christine's nose and their stylin grey spots.

It was interesting, the afternoon went relatively quietly for me. With a bunch of people in the house tearing down walls, and others carting things back and forth, there just wasn't a lot of chance to talk. I also know I was getting a bit tired from going to bed late and getting up early. On top of it all it was beginning to hit me that this was my last real day, and this was the last job we'd do. This was the last bit of time I'd have to kid with Amber and Dave or to talk more with Abby. I was just kind of down and quiet that afternoon.

I did a couple different jobs through the afternoon. I actually did jump into the house and sweep up a bunch of the dust. I'm also sure tons of people were shocked to see me with a pry bar trying to get the sheet rock and nails out of the studs. I felt like such a man!

I did carry a bunch of the sheet rock and other things out to the people bringing items to the street. But it was so dusty and stuff was falling around so much I just couldn't take it. So, my manliness went out the window after the third time stuff fell into my contacts and I began the high honor of sweeping. But it did feel good to get the floor nice and clear.

The only real item of note was when one of the home owners came in and shouted "what's what you're doing, you almost took out the electric". The entire place (all 15 people in the house) fell silent. No hammering, grunting or anything. We were all just stunned. We soon realized he was yelling at one of the teenagers who lived there and was helping us out. It didn't take long before we were all back to work and moving things around.

Rob shared a great story from the homeowner. Since I wasn't there I can't do it justice. But apparently after uncovering a wall one of the owners saw a picture of their grandmother from years and years ago. The person just stood there and said they didn't even know it was still there. They put their hand on the picture and just stood there for a minute. I'm just so glad we made a difference for that one person. Isn't a day of work worth it to impact a life?

We finished up there around 4 o'clock having done as much as we could. The most fun part was probably carrying whole wood veneers from the wall up to the street, or carrying entire doors over our heads. Michael and I kept arguing over who was stringer... Amber or Abby. Of course, we know it was Amber!

We then headed over to one last place. This was a house pretty far off the beaten path. As we pulled up there was a bird walking around and I just couldn't remember what it was called. So I asked Dave, Missy and Hugh who were in the car with me. Of course that was no use. In the end I somehow figured out they were pheasants (Someone probably told me, my memory has never been my strong suit), which got me to thinking about dinner. Truly, if you've never had pheasant you should try it.

We said hello to the family by essentially asking if we could use their restroom. The previous site didn't have one that was usable, and it'd been a bit of a drive. While the insanely long line of people used the restroom I ended up talking to the homeowners (shocker, I know).

There were about 5 people living in the home that I could tell. We pulled up and I got to talk to Scott, a teenager there for a little bit. Turns out his house was a trailer across the way which was completely flipped over and unlivable. Beside it was the steel framing for another house, which it turns out his dad had been building. With all the water the steel was ruined and they just don't know what they were going to do. For the moment they were living at the neighbor's since it was taking a long time to get a FEMA trailer.

We began picking up wood from a pile and moving it over to the dirt road. I found out later we were supposed to bring the wood to the paved road, but that was a good 100 feet down, and we'd never get it all there before dark.

We were able to work together and pull down a huge branch from the tree which threatened to fall out and possibly on the dog house and shed with the next storm. It was great, everyone lined up and just pulled with all their might from different directions to get the branch down. I was sure to keep myself busy by taking pictures. But really there wasn't much room left on the rope.

After this was done Scott (the guy from across the street) brought out their bunny rabbit and soon a circle of people gathered around. It worked great until we had to leave and I had to be the mean adult who says we have to go.

We headed back to the work camp for our last night and last supper.

On the way Missy, Dave, Hugh and I got to random threads of conversations. It started with some of the best movies we've seen and morphed into any decent movie we could think of, then onto movies with Robin Williams in them to comedians we like, and how Robin Williams is too profane now in his stand-up. I took forever remembering Sinbad, who I really like, and reminds me of a worldly Bill Cosby. Which got to discussing Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Then I mentioned another comedian who was in Casual Sex? (how could I remember that awful movie but not the comedian) which I had to search on my phone and finally figured out was Andrew Dice Clay.

So, with arriving to the work camp our random conversation, which I've just bored you with, came to an end. I sat and had dinner with a bunch of friends, I think Dave and Amber, and we decided to stay until lights out (10:00 p.m.). It was our last night and I had no intention of leaving early (much to some people's chagrin). Amber asked if we were staying and whether we'd be playing spoons.

By the time I got things together one table was already full (like 13 people at a table for 8 full) so we started our own game. We still got about 10 people at our table. Now, I'd never played spoons before. If you're curious, the idea is to pass cards around the table really quickly and find 4 of a kind. If you find one grab a spoon. If you see a spoon get grabbed, grab one yourself. Just make sure you're not the last one to get a spoon.

So I sat across from Amber and Michael so that I could better distract them. Of course, that didn't work, I was too busy being distracted myself. So we all just played spoons for a while. People were jumping over tables (mainly Nate one table over and I) and just having a blast. I swear, every time I went to grab a spoon three came back. At one point I'd grabbed two spoons and held one high for Amber while she and Matt fought for the one on the floor (Don't worry, I did hand over my spoon to Michael before I knew who won the contest). It was awesome fun. The picture on the right is my holding up my spoons in triumph (only to be beaten out early on in our next game by what I'd call a foul).

9:45 came far too quickly and we had to say goodbye. We were leaving at 5:00 a.m, so we knew this was the last chance we had together. At the time I had no ideas what would happen.

On our mission trip in August I got e-mail addresses and screen names for a bunch of people who were with the other group which joined us. I talked to one person a couple times, but haven't said anything to them since. I do miss that group, but I knew I'd miss Dave and Amber more.

I almost didn't give Abby a hug, since I felt like I'd just met her that day, and had no idea how she'd react. But in the end hugs were shared all around (I even think Michael and Rob hugged, and they were going to see each-other in a few hours).

We chatted for a few more minutes (they were gracious enough to delay lights out for us), just saying goodbye while I was hoping against hope that we'd keep in touch. Thinking about how boring tomorrow would be without them, and wondering what I will need to do to keep everything going. In the end that proved very easy, since Abby, Amber, Dave and I talk almost every other day.

We all headed back to the preschool and headed off to bed. We were set to meet the other car first thing in the morning and head back home.

I had a really hard time going to sleep that night, feeling really conflicted. I didn't want to leave, just for one more day which I could spend with the Lock Haven group and to keep making a difference. At the same time I missed Erin and Rachel desperately. Since I didn't have a choice, I decided to wait impatiently to get home and see Rachel and Erin.

Tomorrow is the last day, thank goodness. I'm ready to start writing on my mind wanderings again. To be able to talk about how awesome Amber, Abby, Dave and Missy are. But that story will have to wait. Until morning....


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mississippi Trip – Friday

I woke up on this last day of the trip with a mission. It would seem to be a simple mission but, trust me, it wasn't. I was off to get doughnuts! I'd promised everyone on our group doughnuts and by golly I was going to come through.

So I took to the streets again at 5:15 a.m. Again without contacts (don't tell the police, what is the statute of limitations?), though with clear windows. After driving around the local area I found nothing. The coffee place I found yesterday was actually a restaurant, and didn't open until 6.

I expanded the search area and headed down some big looking road (I didn't know the name then and I sure don't know it now). I lucked out, I almost immediately hit a Winn Dixie (a grocery store). I quickly park and go jogging into the building. I get into a decent conversation with the check-out lady on my way in. She lets me know that they have no doughnuts... Seriously, no doughnuts in a grocery store? The south is crazy! She suggests that a Wal Mart a few miles down the road may have some. So I'm off again.

Thankfully I hit a coffee place before going much farther (I was getting nervous about time). I park this 12 person van in front of the coffee shop with lots of stares from the couple having their morning brew. I got in and, guess what, no doughnuts. I'm never going to Mississippi again without bringing 3 dozen myself! Anyway, I got myself a frozen fru-fru coffee drink and Melissa a black coffee (we can tell who the real man is) and 12 muffins. In my defense the muffins were really good.

I headed back to the daycare to let my bright, shining morning voice wake everyone up. They greeted me with cheers and excitement as I walked through the door brandishing my drinks and muffins in conquest!

Ok, the last part didn't happen. I got all them grumbly people up by throwing them the muffin they wanted.

We all got ready for the day and headed out. We arrived in the middle of breakfast and sat with friends for the morning. I again headed out with the same awesome group of friends, plus a few new people, to clean up.

The first place we went was relatively close to the work site. This was a family from St. Patrick's. It really felt good to help clean up the house of one of the parishoner's from Melissa's old church.

The job was relatively simple, move the rubbish to the street. We dove in. Amber and I tried turning on the radio, but we didn't want to disturb the neighbors. So I decided to regale everyone in some song of my own. People would name songs for me to sing, and I'd tell them I didn't know it. So I just picked my own music. I won't play it here because, honestly, if I did, your computer screen would shatter. Pretty soon everyone got to digging and moving, and I'm sure it's to get some other noise in their head.

Thankfully other people did sing, and did a somewhat better job than I did. The best thing though was that people just sang.

At a retreat one saying came up regarding our singing. It was simply this: "Sing out loud. If you can sing, thank god for the gift he's given you. If you can't sing make God wish he'd given you the gift!" It was more eloquent than that, but there's the gist.

Anyway, a lot of us were singing. On and off key, probably making God's eardrums burst. We did finally stop when we couldn't even think of song titles and half the people didn't want country (crazy, miseducated fools).

I remember moving a huge refrigerator, which took most of the group. But more than that I remember the well which I thought was some concrete to be move to the sidewalk. In my defense, it was covered in branches. But when Dave and I both tried to move it, and it didn't budge, we decided it belonged right where it was.

I did get to stand on top of a pile of tree branches pulling out the branches beneath me while we tried to uncover a roof top. It really was a fun morning of hard work and good smiles.

We then drove about 20 minutes and ended up at a gas station where we all piled out and took over the place.

As I walked in the door I noticed a sign saying "We have boiled peanuts". Now, I'll be honest, I was ignorant in the world of southern living. Not only had I never tried boiled peanuts, I couldn't even imagine what they were. So, of course, I had to try them.

I looked all over the store and couldn't find them anywhere. I finally asked and was directed to a counter in back with two pots with unshelled peanuts in them, one marked regular and one marked Cajun. Well, I was feeling daring... but not that daring. Plus, if regular is what everyone eats then it's good enough for me. So I got three big cups (the smallest size was a big cup) of boiled peanuts and shared them between the cars.

Now, I've never had anything like it before. Judging by the people's reactions, they hadn't either. The closest thing I could say is that they tasted like baked potato. One or two people said it was ok, but were glad to have tried only one or two.

We set off to the work site with Missy and I constantly eating the boiled peanuts. We both got sick of them but , like all peanuts, you just can't stop shelling and eating them.

We finally got to the work site and freedom from the forced peanut eating.

This was a home where a couple families lived together in a circle of trailers and homes. They needed the walls and ceiling torn down. So we formed long lines and moved all of the personal belongings out of the house. Then we started handing out parts of wall which were carted up to the road. I generally carted wall up to the street.

Honestly, this was an ok project for me, but I didn't really see any water damage. What I saw were people similar to those who lived around me in Washington, DC. People who lived essentially in the projects, where one person worked to support 4 or 5 people who had a hard time getting job (or even finding the drive to find one).

This didn't go over so well with some of the people in our group. At one point the people living there were sitting in lawn chairs and watching us work. While I understand how this might bother some people in our group, I also had a hard time empathizing with the upset people. I tried to keep on a considered face but all I could think was to see the point of view of the home owners...

25 people show up and with very little talking and begin moving all of my personal things. Thinking that these white, middle and upper class kids and adults are looking at all my belongings and forming an opinion about me without understanding anything about me.

And honestly, I was doing just that at times.

It was also easy to forget that some of the people living there did try and help. But there were so many of us that it was hard to take part without feeling in the way. Truly, how hard must that be? To have a bunch of people who know each-other working in your house. For you to feel like an outsider in your own home?

It did give me time to just talk though. To focus on the person on either side of me and talk about things. I even got to move farther back in line and stood with Abby for a while. That was great since it was the first chance I really had to talk to her. Now we talk all the time over IM, the Internet really is the geographic bridge.

After we got everything out of the house we headed back to the work site for lunch. It was easy to tell that feelings were a little gruff. But we got together in different groups at lunch and just talked about ourselves and the day.

I'll post the incredible afternoon and evening later.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mississippi Trip – Thursday Cont'd

As promised, there's the afternoon and evening of our Thanksgiving Day in Mississippi...

So, we got back to the work camp at about 1 starving and ready for lunch. Silly me, I again hadn't considered it was Thanksgiving. So, what do you do during a church led service project but have a full communion service to really remember the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us. Honestly, this started and I couldn't help but groan a little. In the beginning I at least hoped that it would be a relatively quick service.

Well, God worked his magic and made sure it was even longer than some Sunday morning services (there are some services where Rob just goes on and on, but it would be rude to mention that here, right?). We had a couple songs, a good sermon (that time when someone gets up and talks) and a decent communion.

What really did make me see God's hand in this was with Communion and Malik. They were preparing for communion and this guy a row down from me looks around kind of lost and with some real questions on his face. So I hopped down a few steps and chatted with him. He just wasn't familiar with an Episcopal communion, so I walked through what it meant and why we did it in 3 minutes or less. For those who may not know...

We all gather together at the altar so signify that we are one community and share Jesus' communion as one body (in this case we lined up to get communion instead of kneeling/standing at the altar rail). We do have communion every Sunday (instead of once a month or less often as some denominations). Most shocking of all, we do serve real wine (even to minors as Malik asked), though the wine this time wasn't incredibly great... but then it never is. That anyone who is a baptized Christian can receive communion, they don't have to be Episcopal (another shock to some). Lastly, no, he did not have to drink the wine if he preferred not to. He could either skip it, dip the bread in (called intinction, or you intinct the bread) or drink directly from the cup.

Seriously, aren't you immensely impressed I know all that, and knew it off the top of my head? I tell you, the one thing I love most about church on Sunday morning it's the significance of us all publicly gathering together as one Body in Jesus' name. But then, I am kind of a people person I guess.

So with that Malik looked pretty freaked out. So he and I went down together, cutting in line (Carl was very gracious to let us in) to make it happen. We went through, both got bread and both had wine. We headed back slightly more experienced and less nervous.

After the service (and probably more than a few rumbling tummies) we headed up the line to have Thanksgiving dinner together.

I need to point out here that the food was prepared almost exclusively by our St. Matthew's group. Families cooked about 32 turkeys and tons of gravy the weekend before we left. Tuesday people prepared vats of spinach casserole, mashed potatoes (I think that's what's in the picture on the right), sweet potatoes, cranberry something (it was warm and tasty and had cranberries in it, but too soupy to be referred to as "sauce") and rolls.

When I saw the work going into it all I ran around and started keeping all of the trays full. There were about 170 volunteers there plus maybe 50 or 60 people from Melissa's old church (if you didn't know, Melissa came to us from St. Patrick's in Mississippi once the church was destroyed). So a bunch of us just ran back and forth making sure everything (including Heather's awesome spinach casserole) was eaten.

After most people had eaten I grabbed some food of my own and went up into the bleachers to eat. I hung with some people from youth group, but also enjoyed spending some time talking to Malik. I won't go into his story here, but I tell you, it's an amazing one. In the 20 minutes we talked all I learned was that there was so much more to this big, quiet man. So much spirituality... He was one person whose life God completely turned around.

I also was lucky enough to get a phone call from home right after I finished eating. Turns out they were just beginning Thanksgiving dinner. So I did get to share a few minutes with them and I still got to say grace for the family. I can't even imaging what it was like on their end, with a speaker phone in the middle of a table with 9 people all listening to grace. Rachel piped up saying "daddy" a few times... I almost started crying. This was definitely the hardest part of the trip for me, being away from family. Anyone who talked to me ahead of time knew I looked forward to the trip, but really didn't look forward to leaving Erin and especially Rachel for a week.

Anyway, with grace said and eating begun I headed off. It was time to have a little dessert of my own. Michael asked me for a whole apple pie. So being the mature adult I was (see my entry on Tuesday at Arby's) I grabbed a pie from the table and brought it back. Of course, he didn't want any. So I set off to give it away. I hit every person at every table asking if they wanted some pie (not like they hadn't already had tons). I only got about 3 takers, but I loved an excuse to float from table to table.

I returned the pie and started helping people box up the remaining food. One van headed out early to bring lunches to people living in a tent city. Another headed out to give food to whoever they found. We just kept boxing and boxing.

Kyle, her brother Andrew and her friend Taylor came while we were boxing up. We all got to joke with Taylor a bit and tell Kyle about Michael's "obsession". Truly, she took it really well.

After more boxes had been filled we headed out to give the dinners away. We tried people in the area, but we'd started so late that most people had already been offered food (though some really nice guardsman took a few off of us). We then headed out to a hospice home near the daycare where we spent our nights. Here we were able to hand off almost all of the food.

We packed their refrigerator so that you couldn't put anything else in. The lovely receptionist (sorry, I don't remember her name... Betty maybe) called each room and asked if they wanted a dinner. Christine and Bethany and others kept running back and forth to bring hot meals up. Other residents came down to talk with us and pick up meals. It made for an awesome night.

While we headed back Kyle and Michael actually sat together (Taylor went back later) and talked. I really felt good seeing that, since I really was convinced we'd freaked Kyle out completely and she'd never talk to Michael.

We got back after dark and had been getting hungry. Thankfully there was still food out and... it wasn't turkey!!! We enjoyed some ravioli... ummm, and other things (I wasn't very hungry and instead spent my time talking).

We spent a while talking with people while a lively game of spoons went on a table over (I'm sad I missed it, but glad I got to talk to others AND get a shower). I was pretty beat and just wanted to chill out a bit. I grabbed a shower, helped make sure we had the right things in the right vans, and just relaxed until about 9. Then the high schoolers and I headed off to the nursery school to sleep.

I did have a pretty good conversation with Heather that night, but I'm sure not going to talk about it here :).

We all went to bed with very little complaint. Ready to get up bright and early to get breakfast and head out to work sites.


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