the big picture

Earlier this year, Jason and I volunteered to take on the childcare portion of our life group's service project [objective:  minister to the ministers]. Compared to the other less entertaining (albeit more adult-ish) options of preparing a lunch spread (definitely not up our [my] alley), lending a hand with the back massages (despite all of the experience I gained in SAGA, I'm still pretty sure the certified masseuse was better equipped for the job) or ministering to the leadership through conversation and prayer (there were definitely more than enough enthusiastic people filling that role), taking care of the short-in-stature energetic ones seemed like a no-brainer choice for us. And, turns out, I think it was the best choice.

Basically, we got to goof off for a few hours with a handful of the kids of our church's leadership. It was quite entertaining. I'm absolutely awful at guessing ages, but I would say the age range was from 1-1/2 years old to...12? Somewhere amidst the nonstop I'm-never-going-to-stop-running energy, the "look how loud I can make animal noises," and the diligently-worked-though-not-always-accurate math problem-ing [side note:  almost all of this was produced by 2 rather engagingly cute sisters, made doubly fascinating by the fact that they were twins] were me and Jason. It was immensely fun. Of course, the youngest kids seemed to necessitate the most one-on-one attention while the older ones seemed to desire/demand it more. However, since we wanted to make sure that we could hand over all of our charges to their parents at the end of the afternoon in as close to the same condition that they were given to us, I think Jason and I definitely gravitated most of our attention towards the little guys since their potential for crying/getting hurt was obviously much greater than the older ones.

The littlest fellas were rather adorable. Eli and Ethan. Eli liked to color. Ethan liked to eat only half of each of his grapes. They were buddies.

Life is kinda like any book or movie (which makes sense since I'm pretty sure life is what book and movie writers are trying to portray [though that is a pretty generalized statement, and it sometimes seems like that may not be the case anymore, given the current trend of what is considered popular entertainment these days]). That first scene or chapter opens up with some scenario that captures your attention and you sit back and wait to be taken to all kinds of pleasant places. However, if you've read any number of books or watched any number of movies, it doesn't really surprise you when the plot takes a turn for the worse. In fact, you're expecting it. Because conflict is inevitable and it just feels like something that has to happen in any kind of successful [predictable?] entertainment medium*. You can usually figure out ahead of time what conflict the story is going to be centered around [with that amount of time being determined by a) how many reviews/trailers you've seen and b) how well it was written overall].

That's the difference, though, between real life and a movie:  It's hard to predict when and how that terrible moment of conflict is going to raise its ugly head. (Perhaps that's an interesting indication that life is pretty much the most well-written-est story ever?) Life's conflict comes completely unexpected. Completely unwanted. Like in the case of the car accident that Jason talked about in his last post. Or like the movie theater shooting in Colorado this morning. Or, like in the case of the story above, when we found out that 1-1/2 year old Ethan had one day slipped into a coma and died.

You just never see it coming.

I can't quite wrap my mind around handling the pain that comes with your first and only child just... dying. Or how you can, as the mourning father, get up on Sundays and continue to lead worship as passionately as ever. I can't fathom being that strong. And yet, I can. Because of one rather significant detail:  God is with us.


I suppose the harder thing to imagine is how those who don't have a relationship with God handle the grief that comes with those abrupt moments of conflict, those moments that give you no choice in the change of life's story. Yes, knowing God may not keep the bad from happening, but I so entirely believe that it is the most impacting factor in how we handle (and get through) the bad that does happen.

Knowing God doesn't immediately take away the tragedy itself or even the resulting pain or grief. He's not a quick-fix band-aid. But He does offer something that helps with the aftermath of it all:  Peace. The peace that comes from His Presence.

Peace is an odd thing. You don't always know it's there at first. Sometimes you have to really dig deep to find it. Sometimes you just can't imagine peace possibly infiltrating that one particular chaotic-filled moment. But it's there, because He's there. Sometimes all it takes is re-acknowledging the fact that the One who made the world is entirely in control. No matter how out of control everything might seem.

If I was little Ethan's mom, I absolutely know that the only way I could get through the grief would be by daily reminding myself of the bigger picture. The picture that, compared to eternity, this life really is just a breath. That saying good-bye to someone on earth, as painful and heart-wrenching and seemingly life-shattering as it is, isn't a forever good-bye when God is in the picture. That's the neat thing about being friends with the Creator of this story called Life:  Despite the absolutely pointless tragedies that cry out in injustice or those completely unexpected turn of events that cause intense moments of doubt and heartache, you can come to know peace in the midst of it all knowing that He knows the Ending. And even though, to us, it may feel like it's chapters away, I think it can sometimes be just enough to get us through knowing that the upcoming Ending most definitely is going to be a Happier Ever After kind of ending.

Sure, not all of life's conflict moments are death and grieving [thankfully], but even little things have the ability to shake you up if they're unexpected enough. I think the key [and, thus, challenge] is to think bigger than ourselves. Of course, this is easy to say when I'm more removed from the situation, when it's not my baby boy dying or my friends being shot at or even myself in the totaled car. But I hope that even with the [comparatively] less significant bumps in life that I can still remember to embrace the bigger picture in the midst of the tragedies. In my mind, the Bigger Picture is a numbered list, so...

  1. God is always in control, no matter the magnitude of the conflict.
  2. God embodies peace and justice, clearing the way for us to handle grief and pain in a way that allows for His healing in all of its forms.
  3. God wrote the story, so He knows the ending, and it's so much greater than we can possibly imagine.

The One the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.
- "Strong Enough to Save" Tenth Avenue North

As always, thus ends yet another rather roundabout rambling about... life. It's nifty how you can pretty much sum up any topic under the category of "Life."

And now, if you made it through this whole thing, feel free to take a nap. You earned it.

*I think I'd like to write a book that has no wait-for-it! conflict... perhaps have it run like a series of journal entries. Boring? Mayhaps. But I think it'd be intriguing in an odd sort of way.


teaching and learning

I had planned to make a blog post last weekend to talk about the class I'm teaching this summer, since it was to start the following Monday (a week ago today).  I'll still make that post after I explain why it's a week late.

Last Saturday, a guy ran a red light and hit my dad's car, totaling it and landing my dad in the hospital. He broke 4 ribs, 4 vertebrae, his sternum, his right shoulder, and several bones in his left foot. In the accident, several fingers and his left ankle were dislocated, he got burns on his hands and arms from the airbag, some glass lodged in his right hand, and plenty of cuts all over, many of which should have had a few stitches, though once he was stabilized the hospital he initially went to didn't do much of anything for him, so he never got the stitches. He's now at a rehab hospital and working hard at getting better. We're taking it a day at a time. Any prayers would be appreciated. We're believing for full recovery.

That Saturday morning I was working on my lecture notes for the Calculus class I'd be starting on Monday. I got through Monday's notes, and was about to start the next day, when my mom called with the news of the accident. Obviously I didn't get anything else done before class on Monday, bright and early at 8am. Let me just say I'm already tired of getting up at 6:30 every morning. Anyway, each night this past week I've been working on more of my lecture notes, and I finally finished last night. I've also made 3 of the exams (one of which they took on Friday - the whole semester only takes 5 weeks, so every Friday they get an exam, including the final exam on the 5th friday). Hopefully I'll get the last exam and the final done tonight, so that I can go back to studying for my exams, which will probably be at the beginning of September.

Some people think Calculus is a little dry. Ok, so it is. Add to that the fact that the class is 8-10am, Monday through Friday, and you've got a recipe for... pain? Sure. Pain. Oh, speaking of pain, all the chalk in my classroom is always super short, so it gave me a blister on the tip of my index finger. Pretty uncomfortable. My dad had no sympathy when I told him about it. Anyway, before my class started, Sharayah was worried my students would find my class (or me?) too boring so she came up with the idea that I should have them vote on what kind of facial hair I'd grow throughout the course, and I'd keep it the whole course. Here's the picture she drew for me to use as a ballot:
Man, I'm just glad mustache didn't win. Anyway, now I'm growing mutton chops. Maybe it'll get me better teaching evaluations from the students at the end of the semester. Or at least I'll have gotten to have mutton chops for a few weeks.

This isn't the post where I get completely into this, but it's interesting what repeated tragedies in your life will do to shape your faith and worldview. Obviously bad things happen, but usually that's a distant abstract idea. My family's gone through some pretty tough times in the past year or so. If Amber was still alive, today would be Shawn and her 7th wedding anniversary. My dad is thankfully still alive and will get better, but he was essentially brutally attacked. If any one else had been in the car with him, they'd be dead. My mom had to witness the horrifying accident from the car behind his. What kind of world is it that we're living in? Again, these are things that we're all aware of occurring, but they don't happen to us or the people we love.

We're not promised anything here. And this is one fallen world. I wanted to end this with some kind of uplifting, non-cliched encouragement, but I think most of the apt things to say have been overused in situations where they really just don't apply. They've lost meaning. So just live. Love God. Love your family. Love people. "Life is but a breath, don't waste it." - The Wedding.

don't abandon the ship


people pegs and [i wish] pogo sticks.

I like to make stories all kinds of long and rambling, and this will be no exception. Honestly, the following bajillion paragraphs can be summed up in the following points:

  • I'm an odd duck and I luckily found someone who not only tolerates my weirdness and neediness but also participates in it.
  • Game of Life is entertaining if you dig past the trauma [stemming from the duckness aforementioned] of "living" a life that is not real life.
  • I do so love my Jason.
  • My stories come out through my fingers heavily peppered with parenthetical thoughts [or bracketed ones], which often increases the difficulty of reading them. I do not apologize. (And anyway, I think they're way easier to follow in reading than they are if I'm telling them in person [since even though there are quotation marks for appropriate times in speech, there isn't really a way to indicate "Oh, this is a side thought that is kinda related, but it might lead down a rabbit trail of goodness or confusion, and I don't know which one it will be before I just go ahead and just say it, so I'm just going to go and say it." what an oversight of society.], so you should be thanking me for writing it out instead of calling you up and telling it to you that way.)
  • I'm an odd duck.

The rest of this post all somehow or another manages to squeeze itself into one or more of the above points, so, if you are short on time or interest, you can stop reading here and feel like you didn't miss out on anything. It's all good. However, since the point of our blog is to just jot down random stuff that may or may not be found entertaining to us in the future, this story [and, thus, the inevitable rambling] must be told.

And begin.

Last night Jason and I played Game of Life. As soon as we started setting up the game, a predicament immediately presented itself that I had somehow managed to overlook. I will explain [and most likely sound ridiculous in the process].

If you know us at all, Jason and I are rather... attached to each other. We like to be with each other. All the time. Now, of course, this just sounds like any normal husband and wife, no? Well, I am afraid [and also, admittedly, pleased] to say that we might take the "we prefer to be with each other" sentiment to a clingy level of "oh, now that's just a little ridiculous."

Let me count the ways [by demonstrating just a few random tidbits here and there]:

  • Sleep apart? Never. We have somehow managed to avoid all situations that might involve separating us at bedtime. No overnight trips apart allowed. We hope to keep this up for as long as possible. Fingers crossed.
  • Same team buddies! Playing a game? Teammates! No questions.
  • Must.sit.together. This coupled with the previous bit tends to present a problem if we're playing a game of canasta with a group since you don't sit next to your teammates. It's a sad game.
Now, those are the only ones I'm going to mention because it can start sounding weird really fast. There are a lot of little things that shall go unmentioned that would most likely just result in a head tilt and slightly perplexed, "Hm. Interesting." 

Anyway, really, those 3 things aren't all that odd, right? You might almost think they sound pretty normal for a couple to want to always sit together, play on the same team, and stay together as much as possible. I mean, you can just put the Biblical spin on it of two becoming one and it all makes sense. We're a unit. We stay together. I suppose the thing that might cross the line from normal to odd is that not being together (and by together, I mean actually next to each other [be it at night, in a game, in a car]), actually makes me sad

Yes, I realize this is ridiculous (and stupidly clingy-sounding [fortunately, Jason doesn't mind his girl clingy. whew.]) and ridiculous, and a little ridiculous. But we're an Us. And separation of an Us is just not natural. It feels weird. And sad. Which I like to think should be the normal response of an Us when threatened with impending doom [ie. 15 minutes or more of not being within hugging distance], though I recognize this is probably just me trying to pretend we're normal [a very fun game, if I do say so myself]. Anyway, all this just to make the point that we have a different definition/life style of being together. And while I realize it wouldn't work for a lot of people, perhaps coming across as overly dependent, stifling, or just a ridiculous expectation overall, it works for us. It's like we were made for each other. Or something.

Okay. I feel like that was a tangent. Back to Game of Life.

So, the thing about Game of Life is that all players are [obviously] living their own individual lives. Which includes having your own car filled with your own spouse "peoples" and kid "peoples." (In the game instructions they call the peg people "peoples" [with the quotes], which I found to be entertaining for some reason.) For two people who are bound and determined to do everything in as together of a fashion as we can pull off, putting our little peg "peoples" in our separate little blue and green cars was actually pretty traumatizing. 

The fact that Jason sped off through college (I believe he spent 1 turn in there as opposed to my 3 or 4?), landed on the "elope! move ahead to get married!" space, and landed the 2nd highest paying/best potential job available (real-life Lawyer Jason would be rather intense, I think), all whilst I'm just plugging along through college working a part-time job, was a tough pill to swallow. Little blue "peoples" Jason was supposed to put his life on hold [up to a couple of years doesn't seem like too much to expect!] and wait for me and my green car to get through school so I could join him at the altar. He wasn't supposed to find some little pink "peoples" named Nancy to join him on his journey through Life. This was not working out the way it was supposed to.

But, it was too late to turn back and rethink our playing of the game, so onward we spun and moved. Let me tell you, there were many a face-buried-in-hands and [semi] angrily-thrown game cards as Life just kept plugging along in the most not-at-all ideal fashion. We [obviously] both ended up retiring at the Millionaire Estates; me with my 5 sons and a husband named Ronald, and Jason with Nancy and their 1 daughter [who, of course, went to college and had a kid of her own along the way]. 

My life, though full with everything that actually matters [lots of kids (both adopted and not), some rescue pets, a little log cabin, and a $45,000 cruise vacation (it was $5k a head for each kid! ishk)] had many a setback, including being fired from my job twice. I had my college-degree-supported veterinarian job, was fired and [as per Life rules (which, thankfully, do not actually reflect life rules)] banned from any other college-degree-required job, became a lowly athlete [poor base salary but unlimited potential salary], was fired yet again, and eventually retired as a police officer [how do you support a 7-person family on $40k a year?]. 

Meanwhile, Jason and Nancy were living it up with their $100k+ salary (by the end, he was making $150k), winning a couple hundred thousand in various singing/performing competitions, and buying up Executive Cape homes. Now sure, Jason's life sounds like an appealing one, but you have to know that his "peoples" were practically jumping out of that little blue car. Seriously. He had to keep putting his little pegs back in the car each turn. He had all the fame and fortune in the world, but no love.

So, moral of this drawn out story:
  • Despite the sadness of not getting to play "together," Game of Life is an entertaining way to learn life lessons, such as:
    • Love and family are worth more than those orange $100k bills.
    • It doesn't matter how much money you make, you still get to retire at Millionaire Estates.
    • The only profession that beats a lawyer is a doctor.
    • If you have to have 2 minivans to cart around all your kids, some mountain passes may not allow you to drive side by side.
  • I don't care how ridiculous it is that I can "miss" Jason when he's just sitting across the table from me. I don't ever want the day to come that I'm not affected by his distance from me. We're a packaged deal.
  • Lastly, God makes a way better life planner than a 10-colored spinner [though I was totally reminded last night of how much I like that clickety noise that the spinner makes when you spin it really fast... ah. childhood.]
I am going to find a way to play Game of Life in 1 car. I am. It will be entertaining. Oh, I do so like making up new games... :)

Alright. Done. 

What you may feel like if you successfully read through this entire thing.