Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Taking Refuge in Hanford

Ah, Hanford.  That sleepy little town on the way to Fresno that everybody seems to know. 

That bustling little farm town home to the only WalMart in all of Kings County.

Hanford.  The only place of human habitation that has only one Starbucks.

Whilst the fumigation professionals take care of our little termite problem, we are visiting our family up here in the San Joaquin Valley.  Life is different here.  Not better, nor worse.  The pace is slower and from time to time I need that.  I need the family I have up here.  They are normal.  Something I wasn't used to growing up. 

We went fishin' today in the Kings River. 

Sat smack dab in the middle of a river and fished. 

Can you imagine anyplace down in L.A. where this is possible?  Or safe?  Me, my father-in-law and my oldest boy just dropped our lines in the water and waited for a bite.  There were frogs, polly-wogs, beautiful dragonflies, bass, catfish, carp and easily a half dozen different kinds of birds flying overhead.  We could hear huge bull frogs from a distance.  We let the wind and the subtle current take us down the river and try different locations.  Sadly, we didn't catch a thing.  But I guess it really didn't matter.

I hope all of you are letting the subtle little currents in life take to you to new places, meeting new people and embracing those you've loved forever.

I won't be blogging much until we get back.  Peace to all.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

What took five years. . .

Recently I mentioned that the circus is coming to town because we have termites.  Well, in preparation for the fumigation (yes, I'm aware of the rhyme), we have had to rip out a lot of our landscaping around the house to make room for that big, beautiful tent that is coming.

That wonderful, flowering vine on our front porch that framed out the the front of our house. . . gone.

The beautiful hydrangea in the corner flower bed that is bigger than my oldest son?  Slashed and trashed.

The three kinds of jasmine that sent a fragrant aroma wafting into our dinning room during meal time. . .  a fond memory.

Our six foot tall butterfly bushes no longer give refuge to those amazing winged creatures.

Even my wife's prized rose bushes on the back of the house which made the place seem like less of a tract house are now pruned back to stumps.

What took five years to grow and develop has been wiped out in three days.

I mention all this because it got me thinking.  How often in our lives does God spend years working on us, feeding us and delighting in the flowering of our growth, only to have random circumstances allow us to cut all that down?

As I look at my garden, it is depressing.  But I know in time that with care and hard work, the beauty that once was will be restored.  How much better to know that God will always be there to pay even more attention to our growth and beauty, to restore us, even when we slash and burn what he has created in us. Thank you Lord.

Peace and good health to all.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

I have survived

It was stressful. It was scary. It was. . . my son's seventh birthday party.

We haven't had a party for my son for a couple of years so apparently the memory of how painful it could be had escaped us. The party started at eleven a.m. but that did not stop my son from getting up at 6 a.m. ON A SATURDAY and ask us every three minutes when people were coming.

We spent the next few hours getting things ready. And then came the flood of children. There were a total of 13 children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old in my house for over three hours. They came in innocently enough. But once I turned on the ultra-super cool slip and slide all you know what broke loose. People were cutting in line, screaming and jumping. A couple of kids became air borne when they slid over a bump in our uneven front yard. It was quite a sight.

Then came lunch. They descended on the patio much like the locust of biblical times. They devoured 16 hotdogs, 24 hamburgers, three huge bags of potato chips, three cantalopes and one honey dew mellon. All of them of course insisted on talking with their mouths open so for the adults present lunch became an excersie in dodging projectile food products.

After lunch came the cake. As my wife brought it out from the kitchen, all the kids surrounded her chanting "I want that piece, I want that piece!" each pointing to various parts of the cake. It was like a scene out of Lord of the Flies. I was about to get a stick and pry some of them loose from my wife's pants when they settled down. As more parents arrived in the house they helped with crowd control and we all sat and ate and visited while the kids played. Time simply just passed by.

And then I started looking around the room and taking in the whole situation. My son was surrounded by friends who cared about him, they were having fun. They were living the joyously unencumbered life of children. The adults were all together, many from the neighborhood, many of them I consider friends. We were talking, sharing, laughing. I had an opportunity to tell one of the dads who is looking for a new church all about ours. My son was marking the passage of another year in his life. He is growing, becoming I pray the the person God wants him to be. This is the stuff that life is made of. Moments of just being thankful. All the stress of the morning, the heat, the anxiety of entertaining all melted away.

I will never be a rich man, when it comes to money. But yesterday I tell ya, I felt like one of the most sucessful people in the world. To see my wife, children, friends and neighbors all together enjoying the day was all the fortune I need.
Be well all.


Monday, July 12, 2004


This is a story about a student of mine. We'll call her Christy.

I first met Christy four years ago when she was a 15 year old student in my history class. She was smart, sarcastic and personable, but always seemed as if something were bothering her below her outward projections. Over the course of the year she was in my class I learned a lot about Christy. Her mother died when she was 11 after a long and painful battle with cancer. He father was thrown in jail(still there) for drug related violent crimes. Christy had scars she hid well, until you got to know her.

For some reason she trusted me and over the course of the following year she would visit my room often and we would talk at length about a variety of things, including her problems. She shared with me how she had started drinking in middle school and used drugs occassionally. Upon hearing this I did the teacher thing and told her that I would have to let appropriate people know and they would follow up at home. She commented that she knew that and that it would not do much good. Apparently Christy had been living with her aunt since her mom's death and dad's incarceration. The aunt had tried to get he straightened out before but to no avail. Christy was right. Two weeks later she was back in school. Still drinking, still using. People knew and nothing seemed to change.

Christy continued to come by my room on a weekly basis to talk. She would usually mention what was going on in her life and I would show my disapproval and tell her she did not have to live like this. As her junior year went on her drug use got worse. She would disappear for weeks and nobody, including the aunt would know where she was. She had picked up a nasty little addiction to crack and speed and was spending a lot of her time with her dealer. When she finally returned to school, her aunt had kicked her out and sent her to live with her older sister who happened to be shacking up with her boyfriend.

When Christy started to come by again she began to tell me that she never forgave herself for how she treated her mother before her death. She hated herself for being mad at her mom for dying. That anger manifested itself into the crack, speed, the alcohol. Now though, Christy was cutting herself to relieve the pain.

Back to the school psychologist for a referral.

The call went home.

The sister had her put in a program.

Christy ran away.

By the beginning of her senior year, Christy was back. Still living with the sister with none of the real issues resolved. This young lady was a permanent fixture in my classroom. Every time she would tell me how she felt about herself and what sorts of things she was doing I would listen. I would tell her that no matter how much she de-valued herself, she had great value in God's eyes. She always got quiet after I said things of that nature. Sadly, those statements never seemed to alter her course of action.

By Christmas of that year she was doing better or so it seemed. She turned 18 and decided to get sober. It lasted about three weeks. After her relapse she came into my room crying. I did what I could. I listened. She said she just didn't know how she could stand to look at herself anymore. She left my room that morning saying "maybe I'll just kill myself and get it over with". Red alert.

I got somebody to cover my classes. I rushed down to the office and found an administrator I trusted and told him what just happened. He issued a call slip for Christy and had the school psychologist sit in with us. When Christy came into the room and saw me I could read the look of betrayal on her face. For the next three hours the four of us sat while she cried and showed us the scars on her arms from the cutting. Her confessions of substance abuse and how she didn't know how to stop or where to begin to stop.

By the end of that morning Christy agreed to let the psychologist get her into a program that might help. She couldn't go home, her sister had apparently kicked her out. She was 18 and legally responsible for herself. Where else could she go?

Her senior year ended with her in a 12 week recovery program that she left twice. She found her crack dealer again. I didn't hear much from or about her for the next year. I knew she had several false starts toward recovery, but that is all I knew.

A few days ago I happened to go into my classroom to get a few things for the summer school class I am teaching. I noticed that the light for my voice mail was blinking. It was Christy. She left a number where I could reach her. It took me some time to catch her, but I talked to her today.

She sounded. . healthier. She is living in a recovery home, has a full time job and has been sober for over six months. The longest she has been sober since she was twelve. As we talked I got the impression that things might be different now. Christy talked as if she knew what the problems were now and that she could and was doing something about them.

My whole point in this post is that people are hurting. Children are hurting and they so want somebody to care. Please pray for Christy's recovery. She is so fragile right now and I really get a sense that she wants this to work this time.

Peace and good health to all.

Friday, July 09, 2004

So, exactly when did this all happen?

I was recently elected head of my department at school. Now normally I would be filled with excitement at such a great opportunity to pad my resume. However, I follow no ordinary man. You see, my predecessor is a literal legend. He was named by the city of Lakewood as a 'Lakewood Legend' for his 38 years of service. To make matters worse, he is a great guy. Probably the most sincere, polite, professional and generous person you'll ever meet.

And here I come.

I'll grant you, I'm no slouch. I'm not a bad teacher. I even have a good reputation at my school for not screwing things up. But come on man. How do I follow a class act like the one I'm faced with? My collegues assure me that nobody expects me or anyone to be able to fill the former dept. head's shoes. But I've got to think if I'm doubting myself, I can't be the only one. What were they thinking when these people voted for me?

Perhaps it is some kind of vast, complicated conspiracy(everybody loves one, eh?). Maybe the senior dept. members figured they knew they wanted the job but knew they didn't want to follow a legend.

The solution? Lets feed Mike to the lions and after he has sufficiently ruined things, we can swoop in and be the hero. Hmm...

To add fuel to the fire, there are people in my dept. who have been doing this job almost as long as I have been alive. How do I lead a group like that? The administration seems supportive, but that only makes me more suspicious.

Besides, isn't this a job for an actual grown up? The label 'dept. head' implies that I'm mature enough to guide the 18 members in my department. Would my colleagues have voted for me if they knew that I am so mature that I am visibly depressed if someone else in the house gets the last bowl of Lucky Charms? Or at times I insist on winning arguments with my six year old? Or that I still play with my Star Wars action figures?

I feel like I'm wearing my father's clothes and pretending to be someone I'm not. There is so much diplomacy involved in this position. Managing personalities, schmoozing certain people and avoiding others. People are going to look to me for leadership. How did I get to this particular place in my career at the tender young age of 34?

Then it all hits me (again). I'm a grown adult. I'm supposed to be a grown up.

Now, you are probably thinking I'm a complete idiot for not realizing this somewhere before now. Being married, having two children and a mortgage should have been clues. But I tell ya, I know I have responsibilities, but I never thought of it all as being a 'grown up'. I've just been having a blast playing with my kids, loving my wife and being thankful that I have a job I love that also happens to pay the mortgage. With this new position there is this perceived notion of maturity and respect that I only associate with other people. Am I truly one of those people?

Time will tell.