Saturday, October 13, 2007

And Then There Is God ...

Surreal. That is the best word I can find to describe what tonight feels like. I am walking through a Salvador Dali painting. No, the sun isn't dripping in the sky and the chairs in my room are not warped out of proportion. But reality is ... unreal. There is a touch of déjà-vu mixed in with it all too. I have been here before. Yes, it has been 24 years. But this is not the first night I've slept in a strange hotel room knowing that when morning dawns I will be going to speak to a part of God's family that I do not know. I will stand before them and proclaim truth as it is taught in the Word of God. They will be analyzing me. I will be analyzing them. They will be trying to decide whether or not I am a worthy leader. I will be trying to discern whether these sheep will follow. And both of us are praying for divine guidance.

I feel so blessed. One of my best friends, my son Christopher, and his incredible girl friend, Laura, came with Debbie and me. They did not have to. They could be at home right now but they chose to accompany us. All day long they made us laugh. They kept our minds off of the coming task. We ate McDonalds, Skyline Chili, and incredible wings and ribs at a place name "Quaker Steak." It was designed to look like the inside of a gas station. Fun.

But now the room is dark. Debbie and Laura have retired to the room next door. Christopher is beginning to breathe the deep breaths of sleep. And I am left with a glowing computer screen in a quiet room in a strange city. I believe that God is calling me here. And I must obey. But my thoughts turn to...

-A little girl named Elle who holds her arms up to me, spins in circles when I tell her too, and bends over to put her head on the floor so that I can help her do a summersault. I cannot imagine not being close enough to do that at least a few times each week.

-The best daughter on the planet, Kelli, and her rock 'n' roll playing awesome husband Joe. They make me smile, keep me sane, and remind me of the deeper definitions of "family." Living 550 miles from them is unthinkable.

-Jim and Alisha. My brother-in-law who is more like a blood brother to me than a legal one. He and Alisha are some of our best friends. Yes, family can be that way.

-Christopher and Laura. Just because they joined us on this journey is no reason to assume that either of them will be able or willing to actually take up residence here. They know they are welcome to. But sometimes real life is more complicated than that. Honestly ... how can I live in a house without Christopher? He's been a constant in my life since 1985. They are an incredible couple and he is an amazing ... if often challenging ... son. I like people who march to the beat of their own drummer and "Topher" does hear his own.

-And a small handful of friends that have stuck with us through thick and thin. If you are reading this you know who you are. When it's been ugly, you've been there. When it's been good, you've been there. And I will always love you for it. And I have no desire to leave you.

And then there is God. He has always been loving and kind to me but since 2001 he has taken it to an entirely new level. It's been intensely painful and deeply joyous. The pendulum has gone both ways. He is God. And I am His child. And what He tells me I will do. I have a hunch He is telling me to come here. I will know for sure in 8 days. But first I have a job to do. I have a tomorrow to serve my way through. And that is what I insist on doing. Serving. I do not want to be served tomorrow. I do not want to be catered to or impressed. I want to serve. I want to do it with excellence. And then I want to get out of His way and allow Him to accomplish whatever He wants to accomplish.

And I will do what He tells me to do and go where He tells me to go. There is no other way to live.

But tonight? It is surreal.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Design On A Whine - Part 2

Ahhhhhhh. The question has been asked. Thank you, Gregg. If you read the comments from my last blog you will see our good friend Gregg dropped by and asked me to explain, to the best of my limited knowledge, precisely why it is that we don't dress up, renovate, and repair our homes until it is time to sell them, thus depriving ourselves of enjoying the upgrades. Thanks for throwing it out there my friend. Honestly, the answer is not that elusive.

No one makes us.

Yeah, it's that simple. I knew that my laundry room floor looked ... undesirable. Who cares? It's a laundry room. I've even heard them called "mud rooms." Who am I to defy generations of tradition and de-mud the mudroom? No way. I respect my ancestral chain.

When I was in college I supported my family for a while by installing storm doors and windows on the south side of Chicago. For the past couple of years only about 8 screws have anchored my back storm door. The "closure" was destroyed in a windstorm. The anchor chain that used to be at the top was ripped out too. The only reason it stayed on the house was because it was afraid I'd throw it in the garbage if it fell off. And I would have too. Tonight I have a lovely new storm door on the houses backside. Nobody can see it but it's there. Hip-hip-ha-ray!

There are rooms being painted and trim being replaced. A new light is mounted in the shower bathroom. All of the carpets have been cleaned. There is more ... much more ... to come. Tonight an old friend came by. Cindy is an expert mover. We met her and her husband Bob in 1984 when they moved into our burg. Since then they have lived in 7 different cities. They now live about 50 miles from us and Debbie asked her to come over tonight and tell us what we need to do to sell our house fast. Cindy left 3 pages of notes. Poor Bob has had a hard life.

But let's get real for a second. I stand to make a few extra thousand dollars by doing all of this home repair. The de-cluttering will pay off. The new paint slapped on over the old stuff won't hurt. But that isn't really why we do it. ("We" being men. Husbands. Guys.) We do it because somebody makes us. We like sleeping in the big bed. We enjoy getting to hold the remote control. It is nice to get home made cookies every now and then. And yes, we will paint and clean and install and trim and repair and do just about a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g else we are told to do in order to make certain the goodies keep on coming!

I could have lied. I could have said it was about integrity. Making sure the new owners get the best house available, the best bang for their buck. But honestly I'm trying to take them for all they've got. I want to spend nothing and make everything. I could have said it was purely about the money. But I have to use the money on another house. Seriously, I have to. Or the taxman goes berserk. And we can't have that happening, no can we? No sir, we can't. If I could use the money for a new 60" flat screen HDTV I would be MUCH MORE INCLINED to get the jobs done right and with appropriate haste. If I could perhaps invest it in a new motorcycle you would see me hanging out at the hardware store night and day. If I could buy any laptop I wanted with the money Lowe's would name a wing after me.

But I am going to spend it on another house. Another house that I will someday have to paint and repair and dress up. To sell. So that I can buy another house.

Do you see a trend here?

So there it is Gregg. The honest truth.

And honey ... love of my life ... wife of my dreams (yes, really) ... I don't do it just for you. I do it for us. And for the kids. Even though two thirds of them don't live with us anymore. Hey, have you considered that maybe we could use the money to buy a houseboat and set-up our personal effects there? We could point it toward any island you want and hang out until we got bored and then point it somewhere else. If it starts to rain we'll sail away so we don't really need to worry about fixing the roof. The "weathered look" works on a boat so paint won't be necessary too often. And storm doors? Come on. Get real. You ever see a storm door on a boat? I'll trade you the flat screen for a chance to cruise to Key West. You can call me Gilligan and I'll call you Mary Ann. Or, if you prefer, I'll be Thurston and you can be Lovey.

I know, I know. It was just a thought.

(PS. Hi Nicole!)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Design On A Whine - Part 1

Ladies and gentlemen, I am selling my house and moving away. Won't be long and I'll be outta here. So if I am going to sell this place then it needs a little sprucing up. That was not my idea. It was hers. You know. HERS. This current round of "home improvement" has solidified a well-documented fact. I have no e-stinken idea what I am doing when I pick up a tool. And so I think it behooves me to tell you what I have learned over these past weeks. Learn from my mistakes. At least then it will all be for something.

Tonight we are talking about "mitered corners." The dictionary says that a mitered corner is "A joint made by two pieces of wood or other material at an angle of 90 degrees, such that the line of junction bisects this angle."

Oh. I thought it was when you screw up two pieces of wood by trying to cut them on an angle so that they match up in the corner. But now, it turns out that the junction has to bisect the angle." If they had told me that early on it would have saved me a lot of time, money, and sawdust production.

Let Old Unca Ron give you a tip. If you are going to spend big bucks resurfacing a floor (i.e. in a large laundry room) make the baseboards look good too. Buy expensive ones. Tall and white with fancy schmancy curved designs on them. Then get out your cool circular saw. Set it at 45 degrees and cut away. Do this to two pieces of wood. Then take them into the house and jam them into the same corner as if they really do fit together. (Unless you are good.... like Noah good.... it won't even come close to working.) Then do what Old Unca Ron does. Nail them down anyway and schmear whatever kind of putty you have around the house into the gaping holes, smooth it over, and paint it white. NO body will ever know. If I can do it ... so can you!

Oh, and don't forget to wear goggles when you use that saw, boys and girls. Old Unca Ron did every single time but once. And that was when the wood demon jumped up and bit him in the left eye. That then, in turn, led to creative garage dancing and holding my face under the showerhead with my eyes open. Then I used a half of a bottle of some sort of over-the-counter eye drops. Still, every now and then a little wooden piece of crap floats across my eyeball and makes me scream

I know it sounds like a lot of work but having mitered corners might make your house sell more quickly. So get out those saws! Plug that sucker in! Get cutting! You'll be out of your house (and into the hospital) in no time!

That's all for today, boys and girls. Tune back in soon for more of our new series, "Design On A Whine!"

The Mother of All Weeds

A couple of weeks ago I cut down this amazon weed in my back yard. This was probably the 5th or 6th time I've cut it down over the last few years. It is also the last time. It had weaved (wove? woven?) itself back and forth through our chain link fence. It started out as a little sprout of a thing early last August. I noticed it one day and thought that I ought to go and snip it off before it started growing. I did not. I should have.

When I finished removing this weed in late September it was nearly 10 feet tall. My neighbors were complaining. (What? They don't like the shade?) I ruined my chain saw on it. I fell back to my trusty old axe and some massive, industrial strength pruning shears. I hacked and chopped and swore and hacked and chopped and swore. Then I dug around the massive roots until I had a huge hole encircling it and I poured some super powerful "stump killer" on it. After I got it out I had to call the city to come and pick-up the pieces after dragging them around the house to the curb. This was not just a weed. This was the Mother of All Weeds. I would have gotten a picture but I was panicked.

How does a weed get so big so quickly?

And then there are the flowers. My wife grows them in the back corner of the yard. And they take FOR-EVER. I am talking months and that is just for a simple 6" bloom. What's the deal with that? And then they die in a couple of weeks never to be seen or heard from again.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Get a pen. Ready? Good. Here it is...

"Flowers take time. Weeds do not."

Doesn't that sound like life? How many times have you heard that "tragedy beFELL" somebody. "beFELL?" Does that not imply that the tragic event in question dropped from the sky in a mere moment of bad fortune and crushed every one in it's path?

And then we strive to master avoiding "instant gratification." (Well. You do. I gave up long ago.) We teach our children that "good things come with time."

This all seems so unfair to me. You might go to the doctor and hear, "You have six months to live." What he really means is "In six months you are going to die." He's just dressing it up for you. Six months to live and the rest of history you get to spend dead. If anything needs dressing up it's that bit of news.

I don't know for sure what the deal is but it seems that God likes to make His children wait and Satan chooses to strike like lightening. I can think of a ton of applications for this principal (if you missed it the principal is "Flowers take time. Weeds do not.) but I think it would be best if I just let you kick it around for yourself. I tend to believe it has different applications for all of us. I know what it means for me right now. But for you? I haven't a clue. So get to work on it.

It might just make a difference in how you live your remaining days. Maybe not. But it might.