Sunday, September 30, 2007

Susan's not done yet

Susan's funeral was yesterday afternoon (I wrote about her a few days ago). It was very beautiful, very sweet and very emotional.

The pastor did an outstanding job during the service, taking us all through the entire range of emotions -- grief, joy, laughter, contemplation, solitude and connection.

To emphasize connection, he talked about the story of Jesus and the family of Lazarus (found in John 11 for those following along at home). The pastor noted that when Jesus arrived back in Bethany, Lazarus' sisters immediately told Jesus the news. Lazarus was dead.

Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus, but Jesus didn't show grief. He knew that Lazarus would live again, so there was no sadness there. But then he saw that Lazarus' sisters and friends were all crying. He felt their pain, and did the human thing, the thing recorded in what is the shortest verse in the bible.

Jesus wept.

In that moment he was very connected with the other people there, and they were hurting, so his natural reaction was to hurt with them. That's exactly how it felt yesterday at Susan's funeral.

Several different people spoke, and they all told great stories and shared very personal reactions to the death of Susan. One woman in particular shared a poem entitled "My Thoughts, from Susan", which was a beautiful list of statements that Susan would say to us now. Things like, "Exhale, release, love again" and "Laugh and live today".

Most of us in the room believed, in whatever form, that Susan's story is not over. That her adventure continues in some way. It's an inherent belief that spans denominations and doctrines, and it's one that provides great comfort and perspective.

As the poem was being read, it really felt like the room connected. From Susan's children to the people who only knew her by association, we all felt the pain together. Susan's work was still going strong. She had brought us together.

And we wept.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's fun to stay at the... (all together, now)... YMCA!

Jamie and the kids have headed out of town for a few days, so prepare to see daily posts here until Monday.

I got quite a few comments/emails about the naked YMCA guy last time around. You don't know the half of it. There are just so many more YMCA stories to tell, so here are a handful more.

Let's start where we left off in the last post: nakedness. There are no less than three habitual nudists at our local YMCA. All in their 70s, all black men. It's probably just coincidence. They spend hours just sitting and hanging out naked in the small locker room area. I think they're lonely and like talking to people, and if they were dressed if would be hard to find an excuse to just sit in there. But obviously, if they're naked, they have to stay.

I'm not so naive that I would deny there are men who are at the YMCA to "hook up". I mean, good grief, the title of this post is a Village People song. But if that's what these guys are going for, they're going to have to stay there a lot longer than a few hours to increase their odds.

Continuing with the nudity theme, there are two other guys lately who have used the wall-unit hair dryer on their entire body. The last one was on Tuesday, and he didn't miss a square inch of his frame. I had Jack in the locker room with me, and little Jack normally spends his time there opening the lockers, going inside, and closing them on himself. But even he was hopelessly distracted by the hairy asian man bent over at the waist, holding a hair dryer behind himself.

That's the predicament of my YMCA visits. The exercise has physical benefits, but the locker room puts me at risk for mental illness.

You want more stories? Okay. You asked for it.

Two weeks ago I was in the locker room when an elderly Jewish man walked in (he was wearing a yarmulke). He was wearing a shirt with a huge picture of Cosmo Kramer, the character from the show Seinfeld. This discussion ensued:

Me: I like your shirt!
Him: WHAT!?? (he was evidently hard of hearing)
Me: Uhh.... yes?
Me: Okay?
Me: That's nice. Sounds like her.
Me: Yep, that's her.
Me: Yes.
Me: Uh huh.

Then yesterday, we had this conversation:

Me: Well, my wife said it rained some on the southwest side of town, yesterday afternoon.
Him: (blank stare)
Me: (blank stare)
Me: Sorry, I misheard you. I don't know Ray.
Me: Haven't seen him.

We were interrupted by his cell phone ringing. More ensued:

Him: HELLO?!

He hung up as another guy walked in. This is a 40yo black guy (as seen as the "fit man" in this previous post) who's pretty high on himself. So now we have a redhead, a black guy and a Jew in the locker room. Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it? It was.

Mr. Fit saw deaf man and said, "Hey, I've got a joke for you. I was watching Discovery channel, and there were hieroglyphics on a cave wall, and nobody could translate them. There were four pictures -- a cross, a cow, a donkey and a hen."

(Oh, crap, I thought. This genius is telling a joke with a cross, to a Jew. Bad juju. He proceeded.)

"Nobody could translate it. Finally, one guy said, 'I've got it!' The four pictures mean, 'Holy cow, look at the ass on that chick!'

Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Random rants

1. While watching football last night, NBC kept showing previews for Journeyman, their new show about a man who time travels to the past, with a chance to right the wrongs and change his future. Here's an idea -- how about he goes back to the late 1980s and makes it so that Quantum Leap never aired, making his show seem original?

2. My office building's parking garage has an entrance gate, where you have to scan a keycard to get into the garage. It's always there. Every day. And every day I'm in a line of three or four cars, waiting to get in. One at a time we go through. Then the driver in front of me realizes, "Oh! I need a card! When did that gate get installed?!!" They proceed to rummage through purse/glove compartment/pants until they find their keycard. Then roll down the window. Then open the door slightly and lean out because they're not parked close enough to the scanner. Then they finally get in.

Here's an idea. Tomorrow you'll need the keycard again. Put it somewhere you can find it. Have your window rolled down and ready. You just gained two minutes of productive office time. Thank you, drive through.

3. If you wanna smoke, then smoke. It's a free country. If you wanna dial cell phone numbers, go right ahead. I like my quick-dial shortcuts, but you can dial the whole number. Free country. But dialing and smoking at the same time while driving on the highway? I'd like to infringe on your rights for a minute.

Here's an idea. Get off the road before you kill somebody.

4. If you're in the YMCA locker room, I understand that at some point you're probably going to be naked. Changing into workout clothes, taking a shower, and so on. But you were naked when I arrived. You stayed naked while I put on workout clothes. You were still there, still naked, when I returned 35 minutes later. Still naked again when I got out of the shower. When I dressed and left, you were still there, still naked, and reading the paper, sitting on the only bench in the dressing area. You'd better be homeless.

Here's an idea. Read the paper in a public place, while clothed. Or in the YMCA locker room. While clothed. Even if it's just underwear.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fallen friends

My company is very small, around 65 employees. Two of them passed away last week.

First was Lonnie, who was a pretty good friend of mine. Lonnie was a profitability consultant for banks, and had been doing the job for 25 years. The first 5 years he did it for a consulting firm, then he went out on his own for 20 years and created a whole new set of analyses to help banks run more efficiently. He was incredible at his work, did projects for more than 200 banks, and created close friendships with every one of his clients.

I met Lonnie 18 months ago when he was doing a project for a bank in California. I happened to be at the same bank, tagging along with a Sales Executive and our CEO as we were on a whirlwind sales trip where we gave four presentations to four banks (in three different states) in 36 hours.

Bank #3 of our tour was the bank Lonnie was consulting at, and we had dinner with him that night and visited for a while since we were all staying at the same hotel. I liked him right away. As time went on it became clear that Lonnie was getting ready to retire (he was 65 years old), but his sons had their own careers and weren't looking to take over the business. Lonnie wanted to make sure his clients were taken care of, and he also wanted an exit strategy that paid him some more money into retirement. Our company stepped in and bought his business, fulfilling both of his needs.

Lonnie had continued working with us, hiring more people and passing on his decades of experience to them. He was almost ready to begin stepping away and taking a break when his heart failed him. That's the saddest thing to me.

I got to accompany Lonnie on a client visit and spend a few days watching him and learning from him. We also had some spare time to just talk, and that's when he showed me pictures of his home, his family, and his Winnebago that he was looking forward to using a lot more often. He wanted to take a big road trip with Jeri, his wife of more than 35 years. I don't think he ever got to do it.

Lonnie died on Tuesday. His funeral was Friday afternoon, but as we got to work on Friday morning we learned that Susan had just passed away. Susan was our company's personal trainer. We have a small gym in our office, and the company gives us two hours a week to use it during the workday. Most of us take advantage of that, and most of us also looked to Susan to help us optimize our exercise programs.

Susan was in her early 50s and had always been the model of health, as expected of someone with her profession. She was in amazing shape and was diligent in her nutrition and rest. As far as I know she never smoked, but last year she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She fought hard but in the end none of the treatments were effective.

Obviously something like this will really hit our company hard. What's strange is that it hasn't seemed to personally hit me yet, and I don't know why. I was fairly close to both of these people.

I assume that Susan's funeral will be tomorrow or Tuesday, and that will make my fourth funeral in 10 months. First was Julian, age 16. Then Kim, age 31. Now Lonnie and Susan.

May all of their friends and family find peace.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Forgive me for teasing you

For some time now I've been dropping hints and promises that I would be writing a lot about my evolving faith. After all, the name of this blog is based on a word in the bible, and my subtitle at the top of the page mentions that I "look to God" for guidance in life. My spirituality is an integral part of me.

Yet there haven't been many faith-related postings lately, mainly because it just didn't feel right. I've written several long posts about my views on life, the universe and everything, but in review they sound defensive and still don't quite portray how I really feel. So they languish in my "draft" folder and never get posted here.

That's when I started reading more of Romans 14. Especially the latter half of the chapter. In that section of the letter, Paul writes a beautiful yet strong piece of advice on how to love and encourage one another, even if your beliefs are different. Your own beliefs, he says, are between you and God. Keep them there, and use your energy to help those around you. That's what I want to do.

Obviously I'll still write about my faith -- just not in a direct, sum-it-all-up treatise that wraps up my theology in a nice package. I can't seem to put that together, and it keeps evolving anyway. So instead of wrapping it all up and blasting my views to the world, I'm just gonna note the truths I see in day-to-day life. God is everywhere, and in trying to write the ultimate faith text, I may be missing the little miracles all around me.

If you've been anticipating a view into my take on specific doctrines... sorry! Not gonna happen. But here's the super-short essence of where I am:

God exists. God is good. We have God in us. Things are going to turn out very, very well in the end.

That's it!

And to finish up, here's the latter part of Romans 14, as translated in The Message:

So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault. You're certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God's work among you, are you? I said it before and I'll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don't eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe--some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them--then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wiggle me this

So Jamie and I win the "Parents of the Year" award. Well, we win it along with the other 10,000 families who attended The Wiggles concert in Houston a few weeks ago. They were only here for one day and did two shows. Sold out both, in the Toyota Center. You know, where that NBA team called the Rockets plays their games. Crazy. When they go to Madison Square Garden they outsell Bruce Springsteen (12 sold-out Wiggles shows vs. 10 for The Boss).

If you don't know who The Wiggles are, then you're not the parent of a toddler. They are an Australian musical group who write and perform children's songs. Kinda like the Beatles for kids. They're extremely popular because their music is fun for the kids while still being catchy enough to be palatable for the parents. It's a delicate balance, but they manage to pull it off.

What I admire about the Wiggles is that even though their success has brought in millions of dollars from DVD sales, they still perform more than 200 tour dates every year, and many of those performances are in small venues. They seem to genuinely enjoy singing and dancing to make children happy.

One sad thing was that Greg (a.k.a. the Yellow Wiggle) got sick with orthostatic intolerance 9 months ago, and has been unable to perform since. He was truly the leader of the group, so it was a big blow to lose him. His understudy, Sam, has taken over the Yellow spot and did a really good job in the show. If you have a few Wiggles DVDs at home, you may know Sam as the opera singer, complete with cape. His voice is obviously excellent.

The concert was such a blast! It ranks right up there with SeaWorld as one of the family highlights of the year. There's nothing like seeing the look on your kids' faces when you explain that they're about to see The Wiggles. The real ones, not just a video. They were in total shock.

Here are some pics, and below that is a funny story:

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We got to the concert 30 minutes early, so Jamie and the kids went to the seats while I hit the concession area for popcorn and a drink. While I was there, a guy in his mid-40s came up to the counter and quickly said, "Beer, please."

The young cashier looked at him and said, "I'm sorry, sir, we're not serving alcohol today."

The man's face slowly evolved through states of confusion, desperation, anger and finally acceptance.

I could practically hear his thoughts... "Wait a minute, here. I'm already forced to sit through a freakin' Wiggles concert. Now you're saying I have to do it SOBER???!!?"

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Camera tricks

I don't have a single artistic bone in my body. Well, maybe the equivalent of some small bone, like the fifth metatarsal or something. I did have some artistic flair in my pickoff move as a baseball pitcher.

But when it comes to drawing, painting, sculpting or carving, I'm useless. Photography too... or so I thought.

Our new camera has a "color accent" feature, where you can select a single color to show up in the picture, while everything else stays black and white. Sounds weird, but we've enjoyed playing with it. And who knows, after another few hundred pictures we might even discover some buried artistic talent:

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Picture time

The next few posts will include pics!

First up is a display of what our family would look like if we were on the Simpsons TV show. A friend showed me this site that can take any digital face picture and turn it into a Simpsons character.

I present the Wilsons!

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