Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Be Like the Turtle

When our kids were younger, they spent a lot of time in churches, courtesy of parents who were so often there themselves (sometimes because one of us was being paid to be there, but frankly we would've been there all the time anyway). Just like fish don't really "notice" water, they got to the point where, as I was forever reminding people, they saw the church as "just another room of the house."

Of course, I was really trying to insulate all of us against the kind of disapproval that results when kids behave like they do at home but they're someplace else. But even when I was trying to excuse them, or at least protect them, I felt like I had stumbled on a semi-profound truth.

Maybe I wasn't really talking about them at all. You see, my children and I have something very important in common: we have a parent who's a pastor. In my case, it was my dad, and though the leading occupational hazard of being part of a "parsonage family" is frequent moves, he had relatively long tenures, so I was spared repeated upheaval.

The first move was when I was 11; the biggest issue with a summer move is that the kids aren't in school, so it can be tough to locate a new peer group. As it turned out, I hadn't had much of a peer group to begin with, and I was spending a lot of time listening to baseball on the radio as the Mets accidentally won a pennant, so in some sense I didn't notice much difference. And there was the new church, and new friends there, so I adjusted pretty quickly.

When I went away to college, my Christian school held Sunday services in the chapel/auditorium, but while I attended, I didn't have a real connection; it was almost like watching "somebody else's service" on TV. In fact, in general my time at school was marked by a vague sense of disconnectedness.

As a graduate student, I ended up at the church where I was born (not literally, but pretty close). I didn't really know anybody there, since I had left on my 3rd birthday, but somehow it felt familiar. Then after getting married, the first thing we did was find "a church for both of us," and were blessed to find a place close by that was not only a great spiritual home but also gave us a peer group that we're still happy to call our friends 30 years later.

At that point I felt really grounded, really comfortable in who I was, so when my wife announced that God was calling her to go to seminary, I almost didn't even give a second thought to what it would be like to pick up and move 678 miles to a new home 3 states away. Just another new adventure...

... until we actually got there. It was a new world in every possible way; among other things, we had a very hard time finding a church where we felt at home. And I also ended up in a depression that necessitated counseling before I began to pull out of my tailspin a little.

For several years I understood those two facts as "two things that happened in Ohio," but eventually I grasped that they were 2 sides of the same coin. I have been formed in such a way that -- although we lived in a quite comfortable apartment -- without a church I could really call my own, I was for all intents and purposes homeless.

Being married to a pastor means that, since that trying time, I always have a church readily available to me, one that has at least some level of commitment to me because I come as an accessory to the one they're really invested in. Or I thought it would be an "always" thing, until she had to take a year off from ministry because of a health issue.

We knew we would move back to a familiar area, and also knew we would need a church; it was there that I put my foot down. With so much disruption and upheaval, I believed that I would only survive if I had a church where I was instantly at home.

We went back to that same church from my teen years, and it was the best decision I ever made. Many there remembered me, and still fondly remembered my parents; at the same time they (mostly) didn't make me stay a teenager but allowed me to be an adult. Perhaps it helped that even as a teenager I was pretty much a middle-aged man.

So I'm writing this not only because of my unwavering gaze in the rear-view mirror, but also to thank those folks for being home to me at a time when I needed one almost like I needed oxygen. And also to thank them for most recently graciously sending me out, since we are beginning a new adventure in a new church.

This time I know I'm going to be fine... since I know I have a church to call home, it feels as if, like the turtle, I'm carrying my own home with me on my back.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sculpted from Cheese

Not long ago, a Facebook friend posted a video of the number 11 song from the year after I was born. Now keep in mind (additional clue) that it was the last year before Beatlemania, when JPG&R would have nine top-100 songs, so "number 11 song" doesn't make it all that hip.

My comment on the post was "I don't 100% understand why, but this is a long-term favorite of mine..." which, looking back, I believe to be untrue. In fact, I'm pretty sure I do know exactly why but I just didn't want to admit it.

The household I grew up, while very musical, was not very attuned musically to Beatlemania or any of the downstream effects of that; I wrote about that here:

When I was a kid, my parents were "easy listening" devotees. If you're not familiar, easy listening is basically elevator music, (occasionally) with words. While this has come in handy recently, since the "easy listening" music of the 60s & 70s makes up most of the "easy piano" books of the present day, it didn't necessarily help me develop a sophisticated musical palate.

In fact, I was surrounded; since I lived outside the school district I attended, I was transported not by a standard bus -- nor even by the now-legendary Short Bus -- but in fact in a regular station wagon with the rest of the literal outcasts (how sad is that, that I didn't even merit the Short Bus?). Every afternoon, all the other kids were called by bus number; then the voice intoned, "Station wagon, please... station wagon." Not that I'm bitter.... anyway, Mrs. Dickenson, the driver, was an aficionado of that same easy listening station. Narrow range of musical exposure -- that, and hymns! -- is what I'm getting at here. I was in high school before I figured out you could do a song with an electric guitar and drums.
Not only that, but I can remember watching quite a bit of Andy Williams' show in the days of 3 channels/1 TV set. So I probably heard this song a million times between home and The Station Wagon (or wagons, counting the one at home).

I'd like to think it was pure immersion that made it a fave, and maybe it was, but the environment I was in is impossible to separate from the man it created, and the man it created ended up with the kind of tastes in entertainment that I am still learning not to apologize for. I captured that more than 8 years ago (wait, WHAT??) in a post I called "Behold, the Power of Cheese".

And of course, I've also been very open about my fondness for looking back. If you doubt that, click on the Rewind tag in the right margin for all the times I have written using reflective verbiage...

When you put it all together, it would probably be weird if I didn't love the song.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Time Jump

Even though I haven't posted here in who knows how long, this blog never quite totally disappears from my thoughts... I can't tell you how many entries I've written during my morning shower. Only in my head, of course; I probably use up enough hot water without trying to rip out 800 words or so at the same time.

Despite the aged-in-the-cask nature of the 200+ posts here, it's not uncommon for me to send a link to one of them to some unsuspecting passerby -- I can find a periodic excuse to pass on this one and this one in particular -- but that always reminds me that I kinda miss doing this thing.

It takes intentionality to create a blog entry, however, and since my blog has never been big on the 'feedback' end of things, it's difficult to muster the concentration, effort, and time it takes to post. Next thing I know it's seemingly a whole lifetime later -- it would probably take a lifetime to recap all the water that's gone under the bridge in the meantime.

I decided to resurrect it at least temporarily (who knows, maybe I can get a little something going here at least sporadically) for the purpose of posting our family's holiday letter here. This way I can easily link to it in Facebook or an email and anyone who would venture a click can read it (while at the same time, it's fairly unlikely that anyone who doesn't care would wander in).

Anyway, I find that I haven't lost the knack for writing half a page without even remembering my original objective... but the following is what I ended up writing about the year 2017:

Merry Christmas to you and a Happy 2018! Writing this is literally the first thing I’m doing in the New Year. We’re off to a strong start already; my son’s first words to me on Jan.1 were not “Happy New Year” or even good morning, but rather “Where are the donuts?”

Having located them, he’s (munching, &) watching YouTube videos on his laptop; his mom is curled up with a cup of coffee and a podcast on her new iPad; the young woman among us is still sleeping; and I am determined to capture an entire year, or at least the State of the Family as the calendar changes, in a few paragraphs.

We’ve been a little lax in our longstanding holiday letter discipline, but this year’s was inspired by a few pieces of news we wanted to make sure our whole circle of connections were aware of.

Kelly has the biggest news this year. As she observed her third anniversary as pastor of Hartford UMC, and the fifth anniversary of her traumatic brain injury, she began to feel a readiness for a fuller ministry.   After much prayer, she told the Bishop she was ready for ¾ time status as a pastor.   That seems like the ideal “balance” right now; allowing her to pastor and still spend meaningful time with our two teens and her husband.   As of today Kelly is appointed to serve the Ballston Spa UMC on a ¾-time basis.

Because that church has been without a pastor for 2 months, she had been getting started with some things there, but yesterday marked her final worship service with the gracious folks at Hartford.   How well they thanked her and honored her ministry among them.  They also did a great job blessing our family with support and kindnesses.   The parting is sorrowful, but the small country church sends Kelly onward with their blessing.

Mark, Katie, and Jonathan have been involved at Hudson Falls UMC since we left Colonie, but Mark & Katie have made the decision to join Kelly at BSUMC, even as we all remain in our Moreau home.  Jonathan will continue at HFUMC, both because he has such a “home” there and as part of his continuing transition toward independence. At this point we anticipate a likely move to the Ballston Spa parsonage in the summer of 2019.

Meanwhile, Mark reached the 20th anniversary of beginning at IDX Systems Corporation, which eventually became part of GE Healthcare. He’s blessed to have maintained this position through a change of role, corporation, and five physical moves, having worked 100% from home for more than 14 of those years. He’s saddened to transition away from being Staff-Parish Relations chair and praise team leader at his hometown church, but excited for the opportunity to share in ministry with Kelly once again. We’ve missed each other.

After spending a year in the high school program at the Wildwood SchoolJonathan transitioned this summer to the school’s Young Adult Program, just before his 18th birthday. YAP seeks to give young adults on the autism spectrum the living and working skills they need to achieve maximum independence. His teachers consistently remark on how he’s become a leader and the example they often use with the other students. Visitors to his bedroom consistently remark on the many Lego creations he has assembled and is displaying on every horizontal surface.
Katie celebrated her 15th birthday at midyear and is now a sophomore at South Glens Falls HS. One of the highlights of her freshman year was her first participation in the school’s legendary Marathon Dance, which really has to be seen to be believed. This year she and the rest of the student body raised over $800,000 to help people in our local community, most of whom are facing a life-threatening health crisis.

This fall Katie took up tennis and had a winning season as part of the varsity team’s first doubles pairing. As the year came to a close, she suffered what was somehow her first broken bone in a gym class mishap, a right pinky-finger fracture that required the insertion of 2 pins. At this writing she is anxiously awaiting the removal in a few days of the cast and the pins, so she can resume writing and drawing (and full household chores, of course).
This summer we also celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a trip to Rhode Island, including some fascinating time in Newport, and had a couple of quick getaways to Lake Placid which resulted in Mark becoming obsessed with waterfalls.  And as with all of you, this year did hold its share of heartaches, but we won’t chronicle these.  What we do want to convey is this:  we’re here on the other side - by the grace of God.  We cannot help but remind you whom we care about that God is our source of strength and peace; He heals us and restores our hope.  It is well with our souls.

As we close out this year and anticipate a fresh new one, we pray that each of you is well.   We’d love to hear your latest news, for you are important to us.  One of our New Year’s resolutions is to see as many people as we can in person.  So reach out soon so we can plan a simple meal or host you for an afternoon or evening.    We’ll set out some “sweet treats” and savor them and your good company.   Do let us show and share our love, and God’s love with you in 2018! 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Father's Hands

I wanted to post a song today to honor my Dad on Father's Day; I am lucky to have him for the 54th Father's Day of my life.

But since I am old, the song I wanted does not live in any online form -- no youtube video, no online streaming, not even a sample in iTunes. Totally out of print.

In fact, the lyrics aren't even online anywhere. So I am presenting the lyrics in this form, actually transcribing as I listen to the song. I believe this is the perfect Father's Day tribute.

The song is called "My Father's Hands"; the album is Floodgates and the artist is Glad.

At the age of five I was taking on the world,
Every day was a reckless adventure unfurled
Never gave much thought to any consequence
When I was testing my boundaries and peeking through the fence

When the time would come, as it always did,
That I'd outstep the stride of a five-year-old kid,
And it would crumble like a castle of sand,
I'd go running to my father's hands

My father's hands could fix anything in my world
If it all lay in pieces, without a hope or a prayer
It was never beyond the loving repair of my father's hands

Looking back, I can only admire
The things he could do with patience and pliers,
As trivial as broken playthings could be,
He could sense it was the end of the world for me

From broomstick horses and bent handlebars
To the mechanical nightmare of my first car,
If it crumbled like a castle of sand,
By the magic of my father's hands...

My father's hands could fix anything in my world
If it all lay in pieces, without a hope or a prayer
It was never beyond the loving repair of my father's hands

Now here I am and I'm feeling scared
'Cause for the very first time I am aware
Of these ruined hopes, and these shattered dreams,
But my father's hands cannot fix everything

A broken heart is not a broken toy,
And though I'm a man, I am still much a boy,
And my daddy's done all he can do.
So Lord Jesus, I'm asking you,
Could your father be my father too?

Now my father's hands can fix everything in my world
If it all lay in pieces, without a hope or a prayer
It's never beyond the loving repair of my father's hands
Oh, my father's hands
My father's hands...

Blessings on Father's Day to all the dads, and God's comfort to those who have lost their dads.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Facing Backwards

I don’t believe the American Motors station wagons of the early 70s were considered classics at the time, or even in hindsight – although like with every other topic, particularly 70s-related, if you look online you can find a small community of obsessives. Like them, I remember ours pretty fondly, though.

It was dark green with the mandatory faux-woodgrain paneling, and if your family had anything similar, you know what was the most cool about it: it had 3 seats, and the third one was rear-facing.

While the Council on Bubble-Wrapping Our Kids has decided that’s a no-no (like everything else we enjoyed as kids), in those days parents & kids both welcomed the opportunity for a little space between us. So the third seat (at least in memory) was my sanctuary.

In a sense it was kind of wasted on me, because on a trip of any length I was absorbed in one of two things, and didn’t notice which direction I was facing – either I had “my nose in a book”, as Mom would say, or I was rummaging through/examining/obsessively re-sorting a thick stack of baseball cards.

Baseball cards weren't yet considered a ‘collectible’ – the day when they would be considered a legitimate hobby and then an investment and then worth zero again was still far in the future – but kids of a certain age always collected them. I don’t know why they fascinated me instantly; the cards of the early 70s are considered more or less the ugliest in card history. But anytime I could lay my hands on a dime, I’d walk the block to the drugstore for a pack.

Baseball cards were in some ways the Microsoft Excel of my childhood, because a pile of cards could be sorted and resorted – alphabetically, by team, by position, by card number… this did cause one huge problem for me, however, because in order to keep the ‘team’ category current, I would cross out the team on the card and write in the new team every time a guy got traded. So a large number of my cards are in the opposite of mint condition (and yeah, I mean they are; you bet I kept ‘em all to this day).

As a guy who is (probably genetically, certainly temperamentally) predisposed to Collecting and Sorting Things, I have been very much in a state of heightened alert since I got an iPod. The iTunes library allows for easy slice-and-dicing, and it’s even easier to carry my songs with me than it was to carry my baseball cards.

Not only do I like to make lists, though, but I also like to look at other people’s lists. When I came across the Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time, I immediately copied the list and checked it against my library. As of today, I have 187 of the 500 – which is funny, because it seems like I always have about a third of any list I find.

The more I looked, though, the more I realized that the reason I didn't have more of the songs was because I didn't want them. When it comes down to it, and I've mentioned this before, I’m just not oriented toward critically-acclaimed music. I’m not really seeking out Nirvana or the Sex Pistols or Eminem.

Still, I like to collect, and I’m always on the lookout for reminders of songs that I enjoyed and would like to add, so I decided to crowdsource: using Wikipedia’s pages for the Billboard year-end top 100 charts, I was able to compile essentially the top 1000 most popular songs of the (guess which decade?) 1970s. And as of today, I have 474 of them, which I believe is a testament to (a) how much I love 70s music and (b) how exactly straight down the middle my taste is. I’m not claiming that’s good or bad, it’s just the Undisputed Truth.

Of course, the problem is that this plays into my obsessive nature and I spend much of my time trying to figure out how I can get more and more and more of these. Since our library subscribes to Freegal, I can get a few tracks free each week so I am scouring the database to see how many of them are on the list, as I had previously done for the Rolling Stone list. Also, I have a lot of secondhand vinyl & cassettes I’ve picked up along the way but not ripped yet, so I’m mentally scanning to see if there’s anything there.

So I guess I haven’t really come very far since baseball cards in the backseat; when it comes to entertaining myself, it seems I’m still facing backwards.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Unkindest Cut, Part 2

The kidney stone episodes I alluded to in Part I were plenty painful, but I can tell you that the day they took off my splint and fitted me for a cast was for me a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day  The nurse jostled my arm a little taking off the splint, and it was as if she'd clubbed me with a baseball bat.  In fact I almost threw up and I had to lie down for a few minutes to recover.  Then they X-rayed it, forcing me to twist this way & that and I suddenly discovered: my arm didn't do that any more.  By the time I got the cast on, I was grateful for the respite.

When I finally got the cast off, I had 'only' a long brace, and I got to start PT.  Here's where I started: if a 'handshake' position is 0 degrees, and palm-up is 90, I was at -5.  I could only bend it backward & forward about 15-20 degrees.  For 3 weeks I was stretched hot-packed, ultrasounded, and electrically stimulated; I did all manner of exercises both in PT and at home.  Then I went back to the doctor.

He was Not Happy, and he muttered darkly about "never getting it back" if I couldn't step up my game. He wanted me to hurt myself.  I protested that I had always heard pain was a signal to back off, but he said it was time to push through the pain.  When I asked him how far to push, he replied, "I want you to push until you want to punch me."

Cue the Rocky training montage (hold the raw eggs).  I worked as hard as I could, and I did push myself, although I'm sure I didn't do "enough" home exercise.  There's only so many times a day that you can block off a 20-30 minute chunk of time; since I had to work the weaker hand with the stronger one, both were occupied and it sure is hard to get much else accomplished. You can't keep up with a blog, I proved that.

Finally at the end of March I was released from PT -- but he warned me that if I didn't keep working, I'd start going backwards.

On the one-year anniversary of the surgery, I see that it's probably never going to be "normal" again.  I still walk around a lot of the time, holding my wrist with the other hand, rubbing it, stretching it... hoping to make it feel less tight, less stiff, less sore, stronger.  If I bend it hard, just the right way, it makes exactly the same sound a bowling ball makes when it comes out of the chute and smacks into the other balls on the rack.

So you can see what good it did me to be positive for once.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Unkindest Cut, Part I

In some ways I suppose I resemble Linus; while I never carried a blanket or sucked my thumb, he's kind of a nerd who wears glasses, seems pretty introspective and is comfortable with his spiritual side.  I'd also have to guess that, though I don't recall seeing this in a strip , like me he ended up with a TRS-80

That may even be a little flattering to me, but I also must confess that I identify as much or more with Charlie Brown.  Like the round-headed kid, I was not necessarily popular with my peer group; I always loved baseball even though I was not always noticeably successful at it; and I was more than a little crazy about a red-haired girl.

I wouldn't be surprised if Charlie Brown had the same dream I did as a kid, over and over.  I'm playing the outfield as the red-haired girl watches, there's a deep fly ball and I race back back back... at the last possible instant I leap to snag the ball as I crash into the fence.

A hush falls over the crowd as I am carted off the field and the red-haired girl rushes to my side with, you know, like shining in her eyes.  I think she smiles at me, maybe touches my hand, as they wheel me off to... I don't know, rebuild me, make me better than I was.  As long as I impressed the girl, I didn't much care what came next.

In real life, I never made that kind of catch and I didn't get very far with the red-haired girl, and I also never spent much time at the hospital.  Never broke a bone, never had my tonsils out, never even had a cavity.  I've racked up a couple of ER visits for kidney stones -- which, ouch, but pain meds for a few days and a lot of water, and the pain more or less, um, passes.

Then a couple summers ago, I noticed a sharp pain in my right wrist when I lifted or pulled something; one night I pulled hard on a heavy object and got a blinding flash of pain.  The orthopedist said I had injured the TFCC in the wrist, basically a repetitive-stress injury caused by the outer bone of the forearm (ulna) being longer than the inner bone (radius); the imbalance basically causes the head of the ulna to pulverize the cartilage.  This is called being "ulnar positive", which refutes all the people who have said I don't have a positive bone in my body.

I had a couple cortisone shots to stave off the pain, though the doctor made it clear that I was only postponing the inevitable -- since they weren't making my ulna any shorter.  Finally -- last Halloween -- I experienced the first medical procedure of my life.

When people hear "wrist surgery", they usually think (1) carpal tunnel, which this wasn't, and (2) arthroscopic.  My wrist actually was scoped to clean up the cartilage tear, but since the real problem was the length of my ulna...

The other part of my procedure was called an ulnar osteotomy, which like most uses of medical terminology is meant to camouflage the fact that they open up your arm, cut a small wafer of bone out of the ulna, and put it back together with a plate and screws.

Maybe your favorite ballplayer came back in a week or 10 days after a scope, but I ended up in a huge & cumbersome splint for 2 weeks, followed by 2 weeks in a cast running from my knuckles past my elbow.

I couldn't drive, or type, (that is, work) for the entire month of November, but I was OK with that because I figured I'd get the cast off at the end of November, do a couple weeks' PT, and be good as new by Christmas!

I figured wrong.