Friday, October 24, 2008

[SPOILER ALERT] We know the sex of the kid...

And it looks like...yep.

We're going to have a boy.  



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday morning quarterback

It's been two weeks since we lost Cricket.  I know that some people might think I harp on her loss too much, but the wound - and her absence - is still real and too painful at times.  Last night, while sitting on the floor with Maggie, I just started crying because I'm still used to having to pet two dogs at once, and having them compete for the title of "No, daddy, I'm the cutest - pay attention to me, and not her!"   

I've had this freaking sinus infection thing in my nose/chest for almost a week and a half solid now.  Normally, were I living in - say - Athens, Jackson, or somewhere where there is a discernable change in the climate which happens during the Fall, I would say it's just a seasonal allergy.  What do you call it and how do you treat it when there ARE no seasons where you live?  I think I'm experiencing ghost pain in my sinus cavity.  My mind is too creative for its own good if it can come up with crap like this.

Since it's been an age since I gave any update on my dad, here's the latest:  he's back in the hospital for the next 48 hours due to - get this - salt deficiency.  Yes.  Salt.  As some of you may know, chemotherapy causes severe nausea.  Well, the medicine the oncologist prescribed for my dad did not mix well with the antibiotics and other chemicals stewing in his body right now, which led to him becoming disoriented to the point of he was acting like he was suffering from a form of dementia.  So, he was admitted back to the hospital where they're dropping a couple of saline packs into him, while encouraging him to eat yogurt, pudding, applesauce and other soft foods instead of just slogging back the Ensure drinks he's been exclusively ingesting as of late.

All the tests that have been run - the MRI's, the CAT scans, the other tests with three letter abbreviations - have all come back negative, which means that he's just had a small hiccup on the road to recovery.  At least, that's the hope/prayer at this time.

I guess all things considered, salt deficiency and the treatment thereof is a comparatively easy problem to lick (yes, that was meant as a pun).  It beats him having had salt deficiency due to running into this (extra geek points to all Trekkies reading this who giggle at this photo):




Now go forth and hug someone.  Show love.  And remember that your smile matters.


Friday, October 17, 2008

October Musings II: "It's like Thursday night at a youth camp."

“It’s like Thursday night at a youth camp.”

For anyone who has ever worked with teenagers – specifically junior and/or high school aged students; in this case, within the structure of a church setting – or anyone who has ever as a teenager attended a summer church camp…you might understand this sentence. If you’ve never worked with, been in this setting, or (like many of my friends) if you may have advanced to the biological age where your own junior of high school hi-jinks are somewhat hazy…allow me to be your guide on your journey with the Way-Back Machine.

First things first, on the backstory of where and why I first thought the above-quoted-sentence: as some of you may know (either through
reading about it or through first-hand experience), for a little over a year now, Ashley and I have hosted a small group/life group/Bible study/thingie called “That Thing @ 8” in our apartment here at UM. Although we do meet weekly during the semester when school is in session, one of the student leaders within the group decided (or, if you prefer, “felt led”) that we should host one night not in our apartment, but just sitting outside, under the stars, and sing. Have a night of singing worship songs. Openly. Unashamedly. And lest we take the human aspect of organizing the night TOO seriously, we decided to call it “That Thing @ Lake,” since we were just going to sit on the banks of the lake on campus and sing.

God blesses me with the presence of Jesus Nerds in my life.

Anyway, the agreed-upon Friday night arrived, and we had two guys with guitars who joined us in sitting out under the smile of God for this time of intimacy. We settled in, sat on the grass (no, unlike almost everyone else, I did not bring a blanket to sit on; I wanted, for me, for this to be as authentic and communal with nature as possible), and began singing. It was a bit of a rough start at first, but soon the music washed over us and – as is apropos for the Spirit to lead some to do – people unaffiliated with our initial group of troubadours began to migrate over. To listen. To ask us questions. All the while, the music and the stories we shared served as a background to life happening around us.

Now, I can honestly and sincerely state with no hesitation that I never considered this night to be any form of witnessing, and I most assuredly did not think about this as a – God forgive me for using this term – “marketing tool” for our little band of miscreants. That people might genuinely be intrigued about us and express an interest in coming one Sunday night to this exploratory group of spiritual seekers, since we don’t really fit any kinda established mold for any affiliated organization, never entered my mind as a reason we were doing this. It was, ultimately, for somewhat “selfish” reasons (we were doing it for us) that God took and turned on its head. We were, thankfully, being unhaughtily selfish, and not seeking our own glory or working in any way to draw attention to us. I believe that this simple idea was honored and turned into something better than what we conceived of it to be.

That was Lesson #1:
Don’t Undersell God. We’re talking about Someone who kinda created all of existence, so I imagine using one night of singing is not outside of His scope of usability.

Now. Why did this night feel, in some ways, like what a Thursday night of a youth camp might parallel?

Typically what happens (and it’s somewhere between comedic and saddening that you can actually plot this out as a template that happens across the country) at these camps is as follows: an assortment of teenagers leaves their home church (or a designated departure site) amid the tears of their biological family at some time on a Sunday afternoon, boarding a church bus or traveling in a fleet of cars to drive to a set destination. After they arrive at this location, there is some kind of goofy opening/welcoming night at the camp that sets the tone for the full week, letting everyone know what the “camp theme” might be, as well as giving them an opportunity to meet/hear from the various speakers for the week. The next four days are something of a blur, spent in small groups during the daylight hours, where all the kids from one church are dispersed into smaller groups (most often with some team motif, designed to inspire cohesion among the individuals within the smaller groups) mixed with all the other students from various geographical regions and other churches. At night, all the students congregate together as a whole, sitting in the groups they arrived in and not the ones they have been broken into, to listen to a speaker address the whole camp, before they collectively spend some time in the group they arrived in and then going back to the barracks/dorms to get hopped up on candy and then completely and utterly ignore ay attempt at a curfew, much to the chagrin and sleep deprivation of the chaperones (who may, in fact, act as bad of not worse than some of the students…or so I’ve heard).

There are traditionally three events that can be marked during this week: (1) the fact that the chaperones [raises hand] will invariably have to go and wake up/find when they skip events/ride herd on the students who are “too cool” for the events of the week, traditionally the students whose parents/guardians forced them to attend in the hope that it would do them some “good;” (2) there will be some kind of crazy outdoor activity held on Thursday afternoon designed to burn off steam as well as to just have some fun. During this time, after the students have spent a good solid four days coming together as a squad, the chaperones [raises hand again] will find themselves the brunt of a water fight/food fight/literal mud slinging or the “victim” of some good-natured prank perpetuated by the students they brought; and (3) the final, tear-filled, Thursday night large-group service, which is ripe with commitments made, rededications spoken, and a plethora of promises to live a better life once they come down from the mountain – be it a literal or metaphorical mountain.

Now, I have been fortunate (so to speak) to see the two sides of the coin of leadership in play at these camps, both from the perspective of a participant (student) and as a leader: the youth leader who respects and rejoices in the aforementioned life changes, and the youth leader who takes a more cynical view, stating (thankfully, not always TO the students) or acting as if they're thinking “We’ll wait and see if this change sticks once camp is done.” Both of these have, to an extent, affected my OWN views, and – as I am coming to realize – potentially have stagnated my growth. And mercifully, God has used them both to teach me, both about how to show grace to myself and to others.  

Looking back to That Thing @ Lake – it was evident, both in retrospect and at the time of the event, that God was there. That there was an almost-tangible feeling of the Spirit moving, seen in the look of peace on the faces of the people singing and listening. Some of the smiles shown could not have been more beautiful. Some of the melodies could not have been more harmonious. And the students there singing were doing so almost oblivious of their surroundings, almost oblivious of the fact that roughly 30 feet or so behind us, people were getting ready to go out clubbing for the night by getting their fill of social lubricants at the campus pub and many would n-e-v-e-r think of doing something so…”spiritual” on a night when they could instead go and
par-tay.

And I thought back to the many, many mountaintop experiences I have had as both as a participant and as a guide (leader). And I remembered the – sorry for the God-slang – “spiritual high” that you can feel on those nights, both in yourself and in the others that you guide and mentor. And I thought about the peace that I felt at that moment sitting by the lake, a peace that I knew was God talking to me about what kind of an example, what kind of a leader I was being to these kids, and to others.

See – I believe that one of the problems with “mountaintop moments” (or “lakeside life-changes,” to keep the alliteration going) is that we can both oversell AND undersell them. It’s easy to take either road: we can discount the sincere, intense, and heart-rending moments on the mountain when they don’t happen to us (and I’m looking at YOU, leaders) because we’ve seen the ones who DO fall – either by the wayside or totally off the cliff – post-mountain, and we’ve become jaded by what we may THINK are half-sincere promises; or, we can – in ignorance – think that “that” moment, the divine instant of a heart becoming open, can and should be enough for some, and we just let it go.

Maybe it’s about both. Maybe we should not be so quick to attempt to intellectualize or just discount the “high” as something brought about by group-think. Maybe we should weigh in to the discussion in the life that has been altered, however big or however small, by reveling in the peace, the beauty, the grace, the redemption of the soul that has just been changed (or at the very least, impacted) by the mountain. 

Maybe we need to celebrate it instead of putting it to a litmus test (as was my cynical thought at the lake to think “Would anyone here, myself included, be doing this exact thing while just sitting outside of a coffee house on any given Thursday if they weren’t surrounded by a veritable cloud of witnesses?”). Maybe we need to demark the moments of these victories just as that – as times when there was a victory, when it is something we can look back to (and not throw in the face of) someone when they DO fall or trip.

And maybe we (collectively) need to better educate the mountain-highers that not every moment in life WILL be or feel this easy, this pure, this close and that we need to remember what this, the high, DOES feel like so when the dark times come (and come they will), that we will have something to draw COMFORT from, and we will not instead try and CONFORM the circumstances or internal mechanisms of our life to mimic the same high we had. That moment is gone, but the memory and the strength we felt at the time can be drawn from, and can be used to draw us closer to God. Kinda like that whole “in our weaknesses” thing that a certain Book speaks to.

Every mountain, every road has mile-markers. They’re there to show you how far you’ve come, as well as far you have yet to go. And in some cases, to show how far you may have to climb back up. No matter in what circumstance they’re being used, they’re being used as a tool to help, not to hinder.

What we did in the dark that Friday night, by the shimmer of the lake and the under the moonlight, did indeed cast forth something into the Light. It cast my mind out of a rut of cynicism. It made me look, and smile, at the assembled lives around me. It helped to inspire me to be more transparent, more real, more acknowledging of my own mile markers, and to not be the cynic that I know I can be.

Just as a caveat:  a number of people WAY more educated than I have written (or spoken) at length about mountains, valleys, hills, faith…and I don’t want to reiterate what they have said. I'm not
that articulate or good of a writer, anyway.  I can only speak to the allegory of what God showed me that night by the water. And to how a follow-up conversation with my beautiful wife has reminded me of it. I owe you, Ash.  This is one conversation destined for a late-night pot of coffee.  For me. Not you. You're pregnant.  


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We be Podcastin', yo

I've just spent the last two days interviewing students for the Fulbright Grant.  While I have a sinus infection.  

You just know I'm in a great mood right now, don't you?

Anyway - in case anyone out there on the world wide interwebnet gives a heck and a half, if you go to iTunes, type in "Mosaic Miami" under the search engine thingie they have there (I'm too tired to get technical with my terminology), you'll find a podcast will pop up.

Two of my sermons are now on-line and free to anyone who wants to hear them.

Be gentle...


Friday, October 10, 2008

October Musings I: Growing In/Going Out

Sometimes, I think God just likes messing with me. 

This is, of course, my all-too human response (filtered through my natural lens of sarcasm and sardonic humor) to the feeling I have that there are times in my life when God spends a bit of “prep time” on my spirit, getting me ready for some of the trials that I will face in my life. Like, for instance, how I got to have a sabbatical of sorts to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the blow to the gut I received when I got the news my dad had cancer (this has been covered in depth in an earlier blog – make with the clicking on the link to read if you’re so inclined). Unknown to me at the time, God was also giving me an extended season to spend with Cricket in what I could never have surmised were the last few months of her life.

With this in mind, God’s been teaching me a lot about balance lately. – no, not in terms of time management (oh, come on; everyone and their momma already likes talking about this through a spiritual framework) nor in terms of the plummeting world market (I can barely pay attention these days let alone pay for stocks).

The lesson in spiritual balance that I’ve been seeing and feeling does not come in terms of how many people codify the duality of some aspects of life (or, to put it in simpler terms: the Newtonian viewpoint of how for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). Rather, the balance the Spirit’s been showing me and leading me to see comes more in the idea of bookends instead of an “A=B” or “A to Z” mentality.

Mistakes. And redemption.

Love. And apathy.

Mercy. And selfishness.

Birth.

And rebirth.

Not death.

Case in point: there is something that is undoubtedly amazingly significant about the fact that it was at the beginning of the summer (or, rather, at the end of the Spring semester of college) that my dad was first diagnosed with lung cancer. My employment had come to a fermata (which is to say an extended pause, not an ending; you’re welcome, music majors) at this time, and although the growth had undoubtedly been in his lungs for some time, this was the first time that it was noticed that he had something growing inside him.

Jump ahead a few weeks. Roughly five to six of them. Ashley and I travel to Tupelo to visit my family. While we are there, we decide that it is necessary to go to the local drug store to procure a small plastic stick to determine if Ashley is pregnant or not. Although the thing in her had been there for some time (say, a few weeks), this was the first time that it was noticed (okay: confirmed) that she had something growing inside her.

Balance.

Soon after we left Tupelo, my dad started undergoing chemotherapy. He began seeing a physician to help him take the necessary steps to remove the thing growing inside of him, which could lead to his eventual death.

Soon after we arrived back in Miami, Ashley started seeing a physician to help her with nurturing the thing growing inside of her, which could lead to an eventual life.

Balance.

The radiation treatments and the chemotherapy my dad has been undergoing has caused him to become weaker physically and much more tired every day. However, at the same time, these treatments have been causing the growth inside of him to methodically, progressively become substantially smaller, reducing the probability of this blackness in his body leading to death.

The treatments (food; including the cravings) and medication (pre-natal vitamins) that Ashley has been taking have been shoring up her strength, giving her the strength to go on every day. Additionally, these things she’s been ingesting have been helping the growth inside of her to methodically, progressively become bigger, increasing the probability that the little spark of life in her will lead to a healthy birth.

Balance.

Birth.

And rebirth.

The eventual birth of my child.

The rebirth of my dad’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

Not that one cannot exist without the other; there are – sadly – many people who live their lives with no mercy for others, but instead only seek the things that edify themselves. Likewise, many people spend all their days without the grace of redemption embracing and cleansing their lives.

The balance is there, like redemption, waiting to be found. And accepted.

This doesn’t mean by any stretch that Ashley became pregnant because my dad has cancer, or vice versa. It just means that there are balances – bookends – that can be found as signposts of God moving and shaping our lives in ways we may not fully comprehend.

For me, I love the idea of synchronicity. Or what others might refer to as the “close a door/open a window” idea.

Birth.

And rebirth.

Not death.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

They've taken their toll, these latter days.

Where…how…do I begin?

Cricket Lemmons.  1993-2008.  Rest in peace, little one.  One more angel called home to make heaven a bit more of a dog-friendly place.

The last four days have been four of the hardest, most emotionally turbulent days of my life. Today has seriously been the first day that my emotions have not been so volatile that I actually almost made it out the door this morning without crying.

Almost.

I had forgotten how much pain…hurts.

Not the rip across your soul that leaves a scar that may never heal. Not the wracking sobs that cause you to not be able to stand on your own, not the fact that you cannot sleep, cannot eat, cannot think, cannot breathe…but the physical pain that manifests itself in and on your body.

I cried for almost 24 hours straight. I cried so hard and for so long that numerous blood vessels burst on my face and on my eyelids…I could not close my eyes because they were so tender and hurt so much that I wound up crying with my eyes open for hours on end…because try as I might, I could not stop. For anything. The fact I have been able to go to work for two days is just a testament to the fact that I know I cannot solely focus on my grief; that “life goes on even after life.”

It just makes it all the more ironic that I do not feel alive in my heart at this time.

I have never felt my age before this moment. Now, I feel nothing but the weight of every hour spent on this planet.

I have been touched (if not slightly overwhelmed, but in a good and uplifting way) by the massive outpouring of condolences from so many people who knew Cricket, me, Ashley or any combination of us. Students, colleagues, friends from all over – from every school I have worked for – it’s been almost incomprehensible how many lives this tiny, little, lopsided, waddling dog touched.

I always joked that the day I adopted Cricket from the Humane Society that it was the best $25 I ever spent in my life. Indeed – no investment possible could have ever yielded such an immeasurable return in love, friendship, or laughter. Her life was truly invaluable.

Ashley and I have been silent in our grief, mourning in only the way a parent can after the passing of a child. And I DEFY anyone to EVER argue to my face that Cricket was not my/our child. Our silence echoes the vacuum in our apartment – never knowing how much we had come to anticipate and expect the sound of Cricket walking from room to room, her collar jingling the whole way…or how soothing the sound of her breathing (okay: snoring) was at night, when we prepared to drift off. How much we had come to expect t see her “dancing” all the time (pretty much just bouncing from one paw to the next) in the kitchen, or when we came home from work…

It’s as if all the joy in the world has been momentarily suspended. There is no need or cause for dancing anywhere.

Maggie has been confused by the ordeal – wondering where Cricket is, confused by the fact we left with her and she did not come back, wondering if we would do the same to her…and she, in her own way, has paid tribute to her memory by not sleeping where she slept, and by not barking at every slight noise outside like she used to. I doubt that this has made Mags more sociable – but it’s almost as if she feels the gulf that needs to be filled and so she is trying to be like the sister she had. For a season, at least.

I can not conceivably be more thankful that I took Friday off to rest at home, and that we got to spend that day together goofing off…nor that on Saturday, we – as a family – spent the day at home, playing and laughing together…and that on Sunday, Ashley got to spend an hour in private playing with Cricket in the back room, and that she (much to my eye-rolling) fed her table scraps – steak, no less, from a leftover burrito – as her last treat. It was an almost perfect scenario for a sendoff she would have appreciated.

Her final hours were spent surrounded by new people and other strange, new animals. Given how much she loved to meet people – the social little penguin that she was (butterflies float, penguins waddle; ergo, she was a penguin) – and how enraptured by the idea of making new friends with other dogs (and, God help us, cats) she was encircled by what to her had to have been a playground of possibilities.

The last time I saw her was at the Pet Emergency Room when she was in the oxygen tent, and in a beautiful, poetic instant…she never looked more like her puppy self than she did at that moment in time. As a puppy, she did not quite comprehend the fact that you do not stand in your water or food dish, so she always had something (water, most likely) dripping from her face. This night was no exception – she was so thirsty that she all but face-planted in her water bowl. I remember that the last thing I told her was she was a good girl, that I loved her, and that she looked utterly ridiculous. Her eyes never dimmed – she smiled in love at me and Ashley as we walked out.

The attending vet said she simply closed her eyes, fell asleep and never woke up. She died with the warm, compassionate hands of the vet on her, assuring her in some ways she was not alone in her journey home.

The one soul-crushing regret I will live with all my life is that Cricket did not live to see her sibling born. Ashley and I time and again laughed about how we could not wait to watch Cricket interact with a baby, seeing the unparalleled joy on her face as the baby laughed at the brush of her fur on the baby’s skin – how Cricket, who always had a toe fetish, would have been enraptured at the feel of the soft skin of the baby’s feet and would have just covered her in oodles of kisses – and how would Cricket have been as a big sister, protective of the baby, uttering that low, completely non-threatening growl of hers, to anyone who dared to disturb the life she would protect…what would she have done the first time she felt the baby kick while laying on mommy’s lap?...would she have tried to steal away with one of the baby’s toys? Or would she nap beneath the crib, staying as alert as needed for the little life above her?

The day she died, I thanked her for teaching me how to be a good daddy. That I felt more prepared to welcome her sibling into our lives since I had 14 years of discovering what pure love looked and felt like, of learning what it was like to have a life that was joyfully and appreciatively dependent on me, of keeping my child-like heart alive and full of life.

I have not truly smiled in four days. I wonder when I will again. I wonder how I will again.

“There’s a tiny spirit in the world above, cradled so sweetly in our Father’s love…” Thank you, Derri. Thank you, Steve. I’ve carried that song lyric with me for almost 20 years, and now I understand it. And I draw some peace and consolation from it.

Healing will come. Healing has to come.

Until then…



Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My apartment has never been quieter...


Cricket Lemmons. 1993-2008.  Passed away unexpectedly and suddenly...but mercifully quietly and peacefully...Monday morning, at approximately 1:30 am.  

My best friend and companion for 14 years.  My baby girl.  My comic relief and my partner in mischief.  



Rest in peace, little one.  

More to come once I wipe away the tears.   

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Shovel go deep, heart be true...

Okay, peeps; here’s the deal…

I have been writing legitimate work-related things for the last week, and in all honest, I’ve been too written-out to even THINK about posting on this monster for the past week. I have 1-2 more days worth of work-related writing (all the while reminding my boss that he should be INSANELY thankful he does not pay me by the word), and after that? It’s back to the cool ideas/themes that have been dropping into my mind during the past week or so.

As a teaser trailer, here’s a smattering of the themes/topics I’ll be journaling about, to eventually translate to the Windshield. The final product may vary, but these ideas will at least be evident in some way:

  • Why Amos is my new favorite prophet
  • The fear of worship
  • “It’s like Thursday night at a youth camp.”
  • Pink Floyd and Egypt
  • Growing in/going out

Yes, If you read correctly, that’s at least five deep thoughts to be explored in the month of October.  Odds are at least one of 'em will find their way into a sermon-ish thing the next time I speak at Mosaic, so I might hold one of them off on the blogging front.  

But the other four?

Yep. This is gonna be fun.