Saturday, January 24, 2009

The 800 lb. Gorilla Revisited

So... About 2 months ago, I posted an entry entitled "The 800 lb Gorilla and the Pretty Barista". If you haven't read it-- or if you don't remember it-- click on the title, there, and catch yourself up. It's a wonderful segway into the thoughts I have to share in this particular post...

I realize that it's been a week and a half since I've contributed to this blog. It's been crazy busy at work and at home. (Work is going great-- very busy. TJ is doing very well-- happy and challenging as ever. No updates on the "book deal" yet. Basement will be renovated and restored at the end of this week, and the hardwoods on the main floor will be finished mid-February, in case you were wondering.) But the truth of the matter is that I haven't posted because I've been wrestling with how (or when, rather) to pour out my thoughts into words for all to see on this blog, concerning this most significant event of my life, which is basically the only thing worth updating you all on...

I'm "seeing somebody".

Rather, more significantly, I find myself "in a relationship". With a woman, that is. A "significant other". An intentional "romantic relationship", complete with all of the emotions, statements of intent, talks about future, and so-on... ...and the 800 lb gorilla stands on its hind-quarters, beats its chest, and ROARS. (Or grunts... or... what noise does a giant gorilla make, anyway?)

No, it's not the pretty barista. Now stop asking me about her! :) She was a metaphor. A case study. Not somebody I had truly considered dating. No, the woman in focus is an acquaintance from the past. A "family friend", I guess you could say. She is somebody with whom there was a certain foundation of familiarity... Her sister was one of Leslie's best friends. Through that connection, she'd been following "Leslie's Journey", and had logged some seriously intense hours in prayer for us throughout the past year. She joined her family at one of Leslie's memorial services. I had met her before-- in the context of her being Leslie's friend's sister, and had actually shared some close emotional ties with her family-- although I did not really know her until the events of the past few months.

Goodness, it's a great story! Complete with prophetic movements of the Spirit, unlikely events, and very obvious compatiablity. The stuff a great "romantic comedy" is made of. (Or is it a coming-of-age drama?) I'll share more of it in future posts, should God continue in the "good work" that He's started here. But I just needed to "break the ice", so to speak... I bring it up here and now because this new relationship is in GREAT need of some serious prayer. There is so much to consider and discuss-- so much at stake-- and she and I are WELL aware of all of the "issues". There are hurdles in our path which we are jumping or stumbling through as we come to them. It is a relationship with its foundation in Christ, built with the bricks-and-mortar of brutal honesty and compassionate trust. So far, the hurdles-- though challenging-- have only proven to strengthen us, in retrospect.

Yes, it is soon... 6 months since the completion of Leslie's and my marriage, this coming Monday. And Kate (that is her name) and I have been talking for almost 3 months already. (Don't worry-- there was no "intent" in the early stages, although I confess it didn't take long for the "potential" to reveal itself, at least on my end.) But it wasn't until we spent some time together over New Years that the relationship truly entered this realm of... whatever it is you call this realm. (She was the friend from a former post who gave TJ and me a ride back from the airport, when we splashed back home from vacation. She ended up staying around for a couple of days, entertaining TJ while I dealt with the insurance company, contractors, etc...)

I did not go out looking for her. But I found her. It's ironic, really. In the early stages, I'd expected my "flesh" (my earthly desires and human understanding) to push me into a relationship-- you know... kind of the "rebound" effect. And I expected my faith and "wisdom" to kind of tug on the reigns... "Whoah, boy! Slow it down! You're not ready!" But the irony is that from the beginning of this relationship, my "flesh" tells me that it's "too early", but the Spirit, in all honesty, has another thing to say about it. Our first phone conversation (she lives 3 hours from us, in Indianapolis, so the relationship started via email and telephone), was spent in prayer. From the beginning, we have sought God, and been completely open-handed in our intentions and feelings for one another, just taking a day-by-day approach to encouraging one another in Christ. I just cannot deny my thoughts, feelings, nor the evidence that has me on the path on which Kate and I find ourselves sharing. Our families (including Leslie's) are all aware, and completely supportive. TJ is even on board. He ADORES this woman, at virtually no prompting or provocation on my part. Several of our close friends know. The feedback thus far has been unanimously positive and encouraging. It just seems to be right.

I just need to unveil the truth of this relationship... because it opens up an entirely new door which begs exploration... which I will want to dive into, in the venue of this blog. Complex concepts have been brought to startlingly simple clarity-- ideas such as "healing"... "redemption"... "grace"... "hope"... "rebirth"... "the meaning of earthly love as compared to that of the etranal"... and so-on. And all of these things are being uncovered or discovered with the complete recollection, understanding, and ownership of everything we have been through, over these past 16 months. It's been truly amazing. And remarkably intense. There is SO MUCH to catch up on, my friends. It has been building over the weeks and months to the point where it is basically just plain dishonesty for me to continue to keep it from being known in this venue. So... here it is. Pretty crazy, huh?

Again, I ask for your prayers. (And your grace as you consider the concept of me "moving on".) There is so much at stake here. New romance has been known to cloud better judgment-- the potential results of which are a proposition I dread. But there is so much to gain. Could it be that God would... Well... I'll save those thoughts for another blog entry. Just know that day-to-day, Kate has truly been a blessing, whom God has used to lift my spirits and draw me further into His loving arms. My joy again knows happiness. My peace is no longer weighed down by the burden of solitude or the prospect of loneliness. Kate has simply been a sweet blessing-- a miracle really. God has-- whatever His purpose or reasoning (as if God needs to declare His intent or make an argument on His own behalf)-- led our paths to cross, and indeed share the same course, at least for today. Who knows where He will take us tomorrow. I could venture a guess, based on what He's revealed to us... but for now, we'll just call it "hope".

Time to sign off for tonight. I've got a phone call to make.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Catharctic January

It's frigid in Chicagoland. Frigid isn't a good enough word for how cold it is. It's "arctic", according to The Weather Channel. The "blizzard" we were supposed to get (according to the aforementioned experts on the topic) was actually no biggie. I'm thankful for my snowblower and my fireplace, to be sure. But it was no blizzard. But now... it's cold. The kind of cold that cuts right into you. So cold that when I walk to my car from wherever I'm leaving, I draw in one last warm breath of air before heading out into the parking lot, exhaling ever-so-slowly while I trot to my parking spot, so as not to have to breathe in again until I'm safely behind the steering wheel. And then, I let it out with a scream, which invariably is clinging on to a blast of steam from deep within my throat. Somehow, that makes me feel warmer.

I was watching the beautiful snowfall last night, sitting by the fire, TJ fast asleep upstairs, and I thought for a bit about Leslie. She hated the winter. Hate is a four-letter word that I avoid using even more religiously than other four-letter words that most other people would deem far less "religious". But hate is just a horrible word. And Leslie hated winter. (Which tells you how much she loved her family, as she could never get herself to honestly consider moving out of the Midwest.) The post-Christmas months were particularly hard on her. January's cold snow and February's gray slush would invariably bring about a cloud of depression onto our home, which she would fight until her birthday in mid-March. And last night, as I considered all of this while watching the snow and the fire, (it was all the more frustrating to her that I love the winter as much as I do), it made me oddly happy for her that she was missing all the snow and bitter cold this time around. Sure, she would have loved cuddling on the couch under a blanket with a glass of wine by the fire... But undoubtedly, if she was looking down on me last night, she was in NO way wishing she could join me. I'm sure it gave her plenty of reason to throw her head back and laugh her contageous laugh once again, just thrilled to be warm and joyful, in the presence of Jesus. If there is snow in heaven, not a single flake ever falls on our Leslie, we can rest assured.

The house is coming along, and I am eager to have our "new home" put together. With the added bathroom in the basement and the newly finished hardwoods throughout the first floor (a necessity, according to insurance, in order to match and blend the newly replaced portions with what remained from before), it will be an even grander place than the one into which we moved a year ago last August. And as I mentioned before, the floodwaters took care of many hard decisions for me I was certain to face down the road... "What do I do with THIS...? I can't throw it away... but it's just taking up space..." Well... none of that stuff is taking up space any longer. At least not in my house. Am I happy about losing all of those things? No. Am I better off without them? I believe this is what they call "catharsis". "A purging of emotional burden." It just seems so fitting this all should happen at the onset of the new year, you know?

All the churning of "stuff" around the house has drawn some interesting reactions from TJ lately. The photos that have been spread around the house to dry, so many of Leslie's old things dug out of boxes, the general disorganization and chaos of the house... all of these things have indeed been hard on him. Or perhaps, they have provided an opportunity for him to experience his own catharsis, of sorts. Prior to all the "churning" around the house, I'd been so thankful with how he'd been doing. He just seems so happy, and "at peace" with our new life. He and I talk about Mommy almost every day. We pray and thank God for her, and that she is all better. We ask God to give her a great big hug for us. We talk about what she's probably doing today... "She's prob'ly playing band," TJ usually says, and that usually gets him talking about the drumset she's preparing for him. Routinely, he asks when we can go to Heaven. He wonders how old he will be. A couple of days ago he announced, "Daddy, when I'm a little bit older, I don't want to go to high school. I just want to go to Heaven."

Last week, I was picking him up at Dana's house (again, Leslie's sister, where he spends 3 days a week playing with his cousins), and Dana, Curt (her husband) and I got into a very good, emotional discussion about "moving on", "closure", missing Leslie, and the usual "healing" stuff. There were tears-- not the messy, bitter kind... the sweet, warm kind. On the drive home, TJ asked why we were crying. I explained to him that we were talking about Mommy. And that, even though we're so happy for Mommy now-- that she is all better now and having fun in Heaven with Jesus-- we still miss her, because we're still here, and not in Heaven with her. And sometimes, that makes us sad, even though we're happy for her... and sometimes it's okay to cry when you're sad... especially when you're happy and sad and all kinds of things, all at the same time. That set off another in-depth discussion (on a 3-year-old level) of Providence, Eternity, and the Scandal of Suffering. :) Later that drive, I looked back, and he'd fallen asleep, certainly with visions in his mind of Mommy laughing and dancing in Heaven. He woke up very late from his nap that afternoon-- well after sunset. He'd wet through in his bed, and was cold, cranky, sleepy, uncomfortable and inconsolable. After struggling a little, trying to get him changed, I gave up and just decided to give him some space until he could get his senses about him, and warm up to the idea of waking up and getting on with the evening. After he'd calmed, I returned to where he was sitting, 2/3 of the way up the stairs to his room, overlooking the mess strewn across the house (the photos, things, etc... all drying out and awaiting their fate). I just asked gently, "What's wrong buddy? What can I do for you?" He just looked at me, and broke down, beginning to cry, "I want my mom!"

He's been so unbelievably resilient throughout the past 5+ months since Mommy "went to Heaven", that the little melt-down completely caught me off guard. I just went up the stairs, scooped him up, held him tightly and began kissing his head. "I know, buddy. I miss her, too. I miss her, too." There's so much that little kid holds... So much that spins through his mind. As resilient as he is, this stuff will undoubtedly continue to bubble to the surface from time to time... Forever, most likely, until he is again united with Mommy in Heaven. This time, it was seeing Dana and Daddy cry about Mommy, and then seeing her things strewn about the house, that brought about this particular "bubbling-up"... this "catharsis", I guess, to stick with the theme.

Lord, be gentle. Have mercy on this child's heart. Certainly times like these are necessary for him to go through, in order to remember and love his mother, as we learn how to live without her. But God, hold him in Your arms when mine aren't warm enough. Let him touch your face when mine is not soft enough. Whisper peace into his ears when my words fall short. I do thank you for this winter, Lord... it is truly beautiful. And it is good to abide in Your warm shelter, as we weather the icy storm outside. I will abide. But I will also ask that you don't delay in bringing the spring.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When Life Gives You Lemons... Write a Book

Well, things are coming together at the house. The water damage has been fully "mitigated". They did not have to remove nearly as much drywall or insulation as they had originally predicted, and no sub-floor had to be removed. They're just squeezing the last bit of moisture out with dehumidifiers and industrial-strength fans in the basement, now. All of the basement flooring is a loss, which we'd expected. And all-in-all, only about 1/4 of the square footage of the hardwood in the main floor had to be torn up.

I'm blessed to have a friend from church, Bryan, whose family is in the contracting business, specializing in basement refinishing and remodeling. I've used them before, to do my basement in the townhouse we lived in when we first moved to the area 4 years ago. (Nantom Construction is their company's name, by the way. Let me know if you need their number. Absolutely the BEST in the area-- good, trustworthy people who do great, efficient work.) (Kozor-- do I get a discount for that shameless plug?) Anyway, Bryan agreed to take on my job, and is going completely above and beyond-- he has some great ideas for upgrades (ie, an additional bathroom in the basement), and cost-cutting in other areas (ie, the kind of flooring in the laundry room), so overall, with minimal additional investment, my house is going to be WAY better off when he's done than before it was flooded. ALSO!! The GREAT news is that what the adjuster told me would take months will only take weeks. (Yes, Bryan is THAT GOOD.) :)

Also, I'm starting to realize it is going to be a bit of a blessing to have all of the storage area cleared of things-- even as invaluable as some of the things were. Less clutter. It seriously is like a fresh start-- a new house, less stuff... Not like I had a choice in the matter, but I do see the "upside"... as I tend to. Leslie is rolling her eyes right now at this confession, if they have access to in heaven. Anyway... deep breath... it will be alright.

So, yes, I'm all about making lemonade with the lemons that life deals me. After all, the more I live, the more I learn that, indeed, "...all things work together for good for those who trust the Lord, and are called according to His purpose." But additionally, as you, my loyal friends and readers, have learned very intimately about me... I also like to WRITE about the "lemon-to-lemonade" process, and my experiences therein. I've learned there is something extraordinarily therapeutic about seeing my thoughts in writing... and then sharing them... and then actually reading the heart-felt and thoughtful responses that result. The whole thing is so humbling... so encouraging... It's like the truth that I'm learning becomes even more important-- the beauty I'm witnessing, more glorious-- the more the original report echoes off the walls and finds its way back to me. All that to say, thank you so much for sharing these "new chapters" with me. I am so grateful to God for each set of eyes-- every heart and mind-- that takes and indeed absorbs the stuff that spills out of me onto this keyboard.

Ironically enough, I'm going to ask you all for prayer for something specific on this topic of "writing" or "blogging" or whatever it is we call this phenomenon. It's ironic, because that's how this whole thing started... as a desperate call for prayer. I'd always written-- journaled, wrote song lyrics/ poetry, memoirs, etc... But I'd never shared it publicly. When Leslie was first found to have a cancerous tumor behind her polyp, 15 months ago, that all changed. I simply sent out a mass email to friends and family, asking them for prayer... giving details as to the medical intricacies and the logistics of her diagnosis and pending treatment plan. As people learned of Leslie's condition and the numbers of people wanting to be "in the know" grew, I simply sent out one more email, asking people to check in on my private message board on my MySpace page, as they so desired. From there, our friend Ginny, wanting to do something-- anything-- for Leslie, asked if she could beging to copy and paste my postings in a more public venue, in order to perhaps drum up some more "prayer warriors". And the blog known as Leslie's Journey was born. And here we are. I'm not sure when the tone of our entries morphed from that of offering more cut-and-dried prayer requests to one of a more therapeutic, reflective, journalistic nature. (But is there really much of a difference between the two, when you get down to it?) But I came to view my postings no longer as an obligation to keep family and friends informed, but rather, it was becoming a personal NEED... an escape... therapy. And it was so humbling to see what God began to do with it. When things went from bad to worse... and then in turn from worse to utterly horrible... I asked Leslie what she thought of her growing "audience", and the public nature of her suffering. I offered to "pull the plug" on the blog... essentially, that she may "die in peace", (although of course, we didn't ever say it like that). Her response will always remain monumental in my life. Here's a paraphrase of what she told me, as she struggled for breath (even with the help of her oxygen line) that bittersweet morning:

"I've come to realize that this is my ministry. My calling. I don't like it. It's not what I wanted for a life-purpose. But I've always asked God, 'what do you want of me?'. And I realize that this is His answer. I don't know what He's got up His sleeve. We hope it's a miraculous healing. But whatever it is, I've got no choice but to give Him glory in it. It is my ministry. Look at all the people watching! And look at all He's taught US through this! We all have so much to learn from each other. God WILL reveal Himself through this. Whatever happens."

Praise God, amen! What a woman! Yes, YOU, our readers and friends, were indeed used by God Himself to give Leslie a vision and purpose in her suffering. YOU were the answer to so many of her questions, "WHY?" And indeed, YOU are the ones to whom God is still ministering through her. You are her legacy. I will never be able to show my full appreciation for this.

So... What is the prayer request I mentioned, in this instance, you ask? Good question, is my reply, and here's the deal...

I've developed a relationship with a publisher. While he will not be taking on our story to publish himself, he will basically be acting as my "agent". So weird to say... "I have an agent." I am just putting the finishing touches on a book proposal, which for now is entitled, Leslie's Journey. It is subtitled: God’s Story of Love, Life, Suffering, and Redemption in an Average American Family. And friends, I need prayer. I have no idea what to expect. It just seems as though a door has swung open before me, and I'm compelled to walk through it, to see what awaits me inside... (or is it "outside"?) My primary goal is to amplify and honor Leslie's ministry that I spoke of in a previous paragraph. But I'd be lying if I said I don't get excited, personally, about what God could have in store, lying on the other side of this door way. I need prayer for discernment. For protection. For humility. That I might just continue to follow Him into what could be the pending adventure, and not grasp at idols along the way. That the right opportunities might come along... and that the primary, secondary, and tertiary purpose, mode, and result of these opportunities might be that God is glorified-- that He reveals Himself, en masse, in the same way He has up to now, in this "ministry"... and then some.

I just wanted to share this all with you... ask you for prayer... for your wisdom and feedback. Jason (the publisher/agent dude) thought it'd be a good idea to kind of "unveil" the idea here, in this venue. Many of you have asked or made suggestions about this very thing, and indeed, I heard those words... and I thank you for your encouragement.

Well anyway... thanks for your consideration, compassion, and prayers. Back to work... and rebuilding a home.

p.s. Ginny- If you're still checking in on the "Leslie's Journey" site... do you mind giving a little "news brief" there? Thanks! :)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Starting the New Year With a SPLASH.

TJ and I are happy and tan from our holiday get-away to Florida. We're now back home... least what's left of it.

We were there for about a week and a half. We frequent New Smyrna Beach, FL, where my family has been vacationing since I was a little guy. We had a wonderful time with my family there. We figured it'd be a good thing to get out of the house this holiday season and get some sun. It turned out to be a great decision, on more than just the emotional front. My mind and body were just in GREAT need of a vacation, by the time we left, a few days before Christmas. I had no idea how stressful the holidays can be for a "single parent". Shopping was a debacle this year. Decorations? HA! Just a tree and a nativity scene. And then the special church services, family get-togethers, etc... and work got really busy, too, at the end of the year. I felt like I was chewed up and swallowed by the holiday season and then spit back out... but was happy to land on the beach to dry out a little. It was SO good.

Coming back from vacation is always a tough thing for me. We had planned on returning home in time for my big New Year's Eve plans (tongue-in-cheek... from a former post). It's hard enough to leave the beach, the ocean, the sun, and of course, the family-- we have such a good time together down there. And then, of course, there's the stress of traveling all that way back-- fly or drive, it's always an adventure with luggage and a 3-year-old in tow. And then, upon returning home, there's all the mail to catch up on and tidying up to do, settling back into home before heading back to work and the day-to-day routine. All of that is certainly compounded when the particular vacation from which you're returning is over the holidays-- a tree to take down, decorations and presents to put away... etc... This is what was on my mind as TJ and I spent last Tuesday traveling back home. Those were the thoughts that were on my mind as I opened up the garage door and carried TJ into the house. That first step is always a pleasant one-- you breathe in and smell the smells and feel the air of your own abode... it's like comfort instantly washes over you. "I'm HOME..."

That is, of course, unless that first step is accompanied with a SPLASH.

Chicago had near-zero temperatures, and wind-chills in the -30 to -40F range while we were gone. (Made me happy to be in Florida!) That weather was followed by 50-degree weather with a thunderstorm, I hear... which was in turn was followed by more freezing rain and snow. All of that was enough, as it turns out, to freeze, thaw, and re-freeze the pipe that goes from the water main in my house to the main-floor bathroom toilet. Which was enough to burst a plumbing joint.

I stepped into 2" of standing water on my main floor on Tuesday, when we returned home. The water was coming out with about the force of a high-pressure shower-head, straight out from the bathroom wall. I sloshed my way down to the basement to turn off the water main. On the way down, I realized that the stairwell walls were bubbling up like water baloons. Then, I splashed through my finished basement's carpeted floor to check the sump pump, rather in shock. The cellar/ sump room door was warped so badly that I had to nearly jerk it off its hinges to open it... Yes... It was that bad. It was literally RAINING in the cellar. Water pouring from the rafters, onto all of our belongings we had stored there. 2" of standing water on the unfinished concrete floor. All of our photo albums, collages, wall-art, keep sakes, knick-knacks, decorations, TJ's cradle and crib... all the things we hadn't had time to move into place in the month that transpired between our purchase of the house and Leslie's diagnosis, over a year ago... All destroyed. The "rain" from the bathroom above had filled every box, soaked every bag, saturated everything that was in the room... Boxes were literally pouring off of the shelves, into a soggy heap on the floor, they were so full of water.

Welcome home. And happy freaking new year.

Anyway... all is under control now. We're living in about half the house we were before we left for Florida, and will continue to be until February or March. That's the amount of time it will take them to get everything back to normal. They're currently "mitigating" the damages-- preventing mold, dehumidifying, drying, etc... Knocking out drywall and saturated insulation, tearing up flooring and sub-flooring. Reconstruction will probably start next week sometime. Fortunately, my guitars, all the furniture, recording "studio", pool table, etc... (all things if value that find their homes in the basement) were miraculously spared. But almost all of what was in the storage/sump room is completely a loss, or at least irreversably damaged. These are the things that will bring in the least amount of insurance benefit reimbursement. Just as well, because all of the money in the world can't buy those things back into existence. The men from my "small group" at church came over yesterday to help me go through everything-- trashing what was unsalvageable, inventorying it for insurance, and trying to save the rest of it. Insurance is taking care of the rest of it, minus my deductible. So there's really nothing else anything can do to help... It's just a matter of putting up with the inconvenience of having only half of a house (and a dusty, noisy, cluttered one at that) for the next couple of months.

Oddly enough... I've found the whole ordeal to be rather comical. The friend that brought us back from the airport that Tuesday even congratulated me for not letting a single "naughty word" fly, as we walked into and in turn assessed the mess. I admit there was a bit of a falling out with God over it. "Are you FREAKING SERIOUS!!?? I mean REALLY!!!!!???" I just kept on laughing/shouting, out loud. Yes, I was unbelievably frustrated... but it was more being "annoyed" with God than it was angry. I'm not afraid to get angry with Him... dont' get me wrong. But, hey, it's just a house, right? It's just "stuff". And it's even stuff I haven't used or even thought of for many months, at that. Everything that is important is still intact. TJ and I are safe, healthy, and actually "bonding" quite well, as we embark together on a new year... a fresh start. We still have a roof over our head, and most of our walls around us. We still have heat and water and comfy beds and an unscathed kitchen... not to mention the TV, computer, and all kinds of luxuries that 95% of the world will never possess. I'm thankful we've got good insurance... and a friend who's a plumber and just happened to be on his way home from work, 15 minutes away, when I called him that fateful Tuesday December 30th... and another friend who is a contractor specializing in basement finishing and reconstruction... and a bunch of friends who can come over and help me knock out about 3 weeks of sorting and salvage work in about 3 hours. The optimist in me even is looking forward to "starting over" with a clean basement, cleared storage area, new floors, new paint, and basically half of a new house, come March (or whenever the restoration/ reconstruction is finished).

I guess all we've been through this year has given me a new perspective on what is important... what is valuable, and what is "live-able"... What is a need, and what is a luxury. What is a "loss", in insurance terms, and what truly is a LOSS. Yes, 2008 will live forever in infamy, in the collective memory of TJ and me, family, and our friends. Might as well send it off with a bang. Or at least with a splash.