Monday, November 10, 2008

I'm (Going to Be) A Mainiac

So... I moving to Maine. I finally know where I'm going next. I totally thought God was going to tell me what to do next before the end of the bike trip. Obviously, that was not the case. At that point, God lovingly slapped me upside the head and was like, "you haven't finished what I already told you to do!" I felt pretty lame about that and redoubled my efforts to complete my tasks. It was pretty ridiculous of me to think that I could just move right along to the next thing when I wasn't done preparing for it. Sheesh.

A week later, a missionary couple from Maine, the Godins, came down to stay with my parents. They've been working with Pleasant Ridge for several years now. One thing led to another (there was free food involved), and I ended up inviting myself to go hear them share with the missions committee. When they were sharing their struggles and joys, I had one of those moments. I can only call it the Spirit moving. I don't know if this is the way God works in your life, but for me, there are instants when I just know something. I don't necessarily understand it, but I am sure of it. That's what happened. I was like, "Of course I'm moving to Maine. Of course." It was the most obvious thing in the world. That night I didn't understand anything beyond the fact that I was going to move up there to serve the Godins. Everything had clicked in my spirit. My mind has been a little slower in coming around, but I'm slowly starting to see the wisdom and purpose of God (i.e. the last year of my life is making a whole lot more sense).

At this point, I'll hold off saying anything about what I think is going to happen. All I'm completely confident of is that God is moving as always.... and laughing at me, but I don't mind.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Revelations From the Saddle, Part 1: Creativity

As promised, I'm going to share with you some of the interesting things I thought about/realized/were revelated upon me. Part of the awesomeness of the trip was getting into a focused rhythm and having very few distractions. For instance, I did not once get onto a computer. I normally check my email/facebook/myspace about 5 times a day, plus read blogs, news articles and the like. I also am a music monger. At some points in my life, I've listened to music averaging over 10 hours a day. That's when I was an accountant. I didn't bring any music with me whatsoever. All I had was what was in my head or playing at whatever diner we were at.

As a result, my imagination/creativity was going nuts, in a good way. Every night, I had at least 3 or 4 vivid dreams that I remembered in detail when I woke up. It was awesome! I was so intrigued by it that I wrote them down every day. One dream in particular, I felt like God was speaking to me through. That may be another post altogether.

Besides crazy dreams, my musical creativity was piqued. In those 3 weeks, I began writing 4 songs without even having a guitar as an aid. I've been writing songs since my junior year in college, and I usually don't even write 4 songs a year!

I came to the realization that my habit of passively taking in so much stimuli via Internet and music (I don't really watch much TV, but that fits, too), was essentially numbing my brain and stunting my creativity. That's a pretty big deal for me, because I feel like exercising my creativity, through music or other means, is a very real calling on my life and one of the ways that I reflect the image of God. Now that I'm aware of this consequence, you better believe I've cut back on Internet and music. It's been great. Not only have I been about %1000 more productive in songwriting, but when I do listen to music, I notice everything that's going on. I hear all the lyrics, what the drums, bass, and guitars are doing, etc.

If you hadn't picked up on it, I'm pretty excited about this and I'll hopefully have some of my music for y'all to listen to in the not so distant future. If I keep going like this, I'll finish an entire album's worth of songs during this year. Get excited.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Overview of the Bike Trip

Man, I've had a really hard time putting the bike trip into words, especially story form. It's weird, because nothing exciting happened on the trip, in an event sense, yet the trip was amazing and most enjoyable. I'm going to try and tell you more than, "we rode from here to here in this many days and averaged this many miles" without going into every detail of where we slept, what we ate, who I talked to, what I felt, what I dreamed about, etc, because that would be pretty boring after about 3 days (like I said, it wasn't exciting as far as stuff happening). So I'm going to keep it to an overview for this blog and fill you in on important thoughts/dreams/revelations/themes in later blogs. Now that I've sufficiently danced around without actually writing about anything yet, here it goes...

Well, before I really get started, you can see pictures from the trip on my Facebook albums here and here. I pared it down from 350 pictures to 100.

OK. We left from DFW airport on the morning of September 4th. United airlines charged us $120 to fly our bikes! That's just immoral. On the way to Vancouver, we had a planned, 4 hour layover in Chicago, because I realized I could go see my friends, Mark and Katrina, for free! It was good to see them, as always. We and our bikes successfully made it to Canada in working order. After eating massive amounts of continental breakfastses, we assembled our bikes and hit the road the next morning from our hotel.
We had maps made by Adventure Cycling that we mostly followed on the trip. We had some trouble getting on route in Vancouver, especially with the construction and faulty directions from a stop sign holding guy. But, once we made it out of Vancouver it was smooth sailing. We didn't really didn't hit any big cities after that until San Francisco, 2 1/2 states later. It was quickly apparent I had aquired a nice little poison ivy allergic reaction the day before we left. That'll teach me to weed eat in shorts. It was also quickly apparent that my dad is a beast. I already knew this to be true, but it was reinforced after a couple days of biking, and every day henceforth.

The weather for the first few days in Washington was amazing. It was sunny and beautiful, but not too hot. The natives thought it was burning up, but it felt quite pleasant compared to the upper 90's in Texas. On day five, my left knee started hurting a little. We adjusted the left pedal position which seemed to help... for about half a day. My knee would end up being a problem the rest of the trip, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the trip.On day 7, we made it to Oregon and decided to take a day off in Astoria. I think it's safe to say that the Oregon coast trumps the Washington coast. The rocky cliffs and beaches are so beautiful, like this:

We met my friend Dan, in Newport on the 14th. He's a totally rad guy that I know from my time in Alaska who's down in Oregon for seminary. Towards southern Oregon, we got into some chilly/foggy weather. We were disappointed, because we couldn't see the ocean most of the day. On the 18th, we made it to California. Northern California lived up to our expectations. Both of our favorite days of the trip were going through the redwood forrest along the Ave of Giants. There will definitely be an entire blog about this day in the future.

I'll sum it up for now by saying that there are awesome, massive trees and an ease for connecting with God. That day changed my life and the way I see the Creation.

The best day of the trip was followed by the hardest day of the trip. We started around a couple hundred feet above sea level and went up and down until we made it to 2000 ft. above sea level. This was followed by 5 or so miles of racing downhill riding the brakes half the time to keep from flying off the road. It was nuts. We ended the day with 5400 ft. of vertical climbing over 70 miles. So tired. We had a couple 87 mile/day days after that which were just gorgeous.

After 11 days of straight riding, we took a day off in Corte Madera (which means something like "cut wood" in Spanish). On my day off, I realized I was just about out of money. Whoa. The next morning, I talked over with my dad whether I should borrow from him and keep going or rent a car in San Francisco and call it good. After praying about it, we both felt pretty good about stopping a week early, so that's exactly what we did. We had pretty much accomplished what we had set out to do. So we rented a car and drove the 1800 miles back to Arlington straight through the night in 30 hours.

Funny story. When we decided to come back early, we played with the idea of not telling people we were back yet, so that we could be sneaky and stuff. So we told my mom to not tell anyone. She told my brother and sister, not thinking to tell them not to not tell anyone. I mean, it's not like my brother was hanging out with a bunch of my friends in Abilene that next day or my sister was hanging out with some of my friends in Dallas the day after that. Oh ya, no one's going to find out. So ya, a lot of my friends knew I was coming back early before we hit Texas. Good times.

Monday, September 29, 2008

We're Back

It'd be hard to try and sum up what happened in the last few weeks in a single blog entry, so I'm not going to try. I'm just going to write about it as it comes. I still have a lot left to process and figure out how to put into words. So hold your horses, and it'll surely flow. I mostly just wanted to let everyone know that we're back safe and sound. It was a great, life-changing adventure. More to come soon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cycling Monk

It is almost here. It's less than 2 days until my dad and I board a plane for Vancouver. As you can see, our heads and faces are now ready for the trip. Like any other time you make a plan for months in advance, it seems so far away until it's right on you. It's only 4 weeks of my life, but it feels much more epic than just another month of being alive. That might seem obvious, because I'm going on an adventure that few people get to experience. But, it's not just that. I can't explain it very well, but I have a feeling that something momentous is going to happen. Now that I think about it, I had a similar feeling before I left for Ecuador. I don't mean to freak you out by saying that. I don't have an expectation of any sort of bodily harm. I guess I could sum it up by saying that I'm expectant and excited about the potential of this trip. Because of the nature of what we're doing, there's going to be so much space and time to listen to, know and move with God. In order to further facilitate that function, I'm planning on doing a fast of sorts for those 4 weeks. Essentially, I'm going to take a break from everything that is not within arms reach. This means I'm doing away with phones, TVs, movies, and internet (and cars, too). I'll be sort of a cycling monk, living simply and fully where I am. In this time, I don't want to miss anything that's going on around me. I want to be completely available to see, hear, do and say. Just to be completely honest with you, I will have my cell phone with me. I'll have to make a call or 2 to hook up with my friend Dan in Oregon. Other than that, it will remain off unless I absolutely need it for an emergency or something. I won't be checking my voice mail or text messages no matter what. I know you're probably disappointed that you won't be able to keep up with my trip via blog, but don't worry. I'm keeping a journal on the trip, and I'll post blogs about my trip when I get back. It'll be like a game show on TV where they tape the whole series in a matter of days and then show them over the next few weeks.

So, yes, I am very excited about my trip and all that will happen in the month of September. You'll hear from me again when I return.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exhale. Inhale.

I have officially left Abilene. My last few weeks there were odd. First of all, it started when I drove back from the airport, upon returning from Alaska. I think it was the first time I had ever entered Abilene with little feeling of any kind. Countless other trips down I-20 West found me feeling expectant, nervous, tired, happy, nostalgic, anxious, excited, disappointed, restless or content. This time was strangely void of any such emotion. At the moment I realized this, I pondered what it could mean. The only conclusion I could come to was that God was showing me I was completely done with a season in my life. That seemed to square with everything God has been showing me. I expected to coast through my last couple of weeks without incident. I would say goodbye to people, finish my last 2 weeks at Los Arcos and quietly transition towards the ride, all in one big exhale.

All those things did happen. I had friends over for pizza, I diligently completed 2 more weeks as a waiter, my brother and I watched the last episode of a TV series (Babylon 5) we had been working our way through for months, and I packed. In the midst of all those endings, there were unexpected beginnings. I suddenly realized how much I loved the handful of recovering addicts I worked with. While I was gone to Alaska, they hired another white guy to replace me (making him the 3rd white male to EVER work at Los Arcos (me being the 2nd)) and we became friends. On my last day, I realized I really wanted to continue friendships with those people (but not continue working there) and somehow continue to be a part of their healing and growing. My church trickled back from their summer travels, and I was excited to see them. As I heard tales of their summers and the ways God was moving in their lives, I discovered I was sad I wasn't going to get to join them on a daily basis in walking out our faith in the coming months. I also found I had a new appreciation for friends that I've had for years and valued them more now than I had back when I was, perhaps, a little more focused on myself. On top of that, I made new friends and saw potential for great things. And then I did the dishes, removed my house key, took a deep breath and left.

So now I'm in Arlington for a couple weeks, working with my dad and hanging with family and friends before I head up to Canada. My season of preparation and isolation is pretty much over. I feel satisfied that I have been obedient to God's calling for this summer. Consequently, I feel prepared for what's next. Though I don't know what I'm doing once I've trekked across the U.S., I'm at peace and feel perfectly positioned to move with God in that new direction when He gives the word. It's going to be interesting for sure.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My First Century

I finally completed my first 100 mile ride today. Good thing, too, because that's what we're going to be riding pretty much everyday down the west coast, which is in less than 4 weeks! It looks like I'll also be riding the Hotter Than Hell Hundred in 2 weeks up in Wichita Falls with my dad. I can't be any hotter than it was today.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bachelor Party + Kabobs - Flat Tire = Bear Chase

I'm back from Alaska and trying to get back to my routine. I'm tired now, but my trip was great. I got to see almost everyone I wanted to see. I went all over the place: Anchorage, Girdwood, Seward, Eklutna Lake, Hatcher Pass and everywhere in between. I also got to eat at all my favorite restaurants: Coast Pizza, Jack Sprat, Burger Cache, Moose's Tooth, and Gwenie's. The wedding was fun and the weather, though mostly rainy, was most enjoyable. I could bore you with all the details of my trip, but I'll just tell you a good Alaskan bachelor party tale instead and call it a day.

On a cloudy Thursday night, 6 bachelors (1 of them soon-not-to-be) gathered at the Chugiak house to do what must be done. After fiddling with an assortment of bikes, finally six were found (or made) worthy of riding, and the quest could begin. The grocery store would provide the remainder of our trip's necessities. We had in mind a simple list upon arrival, but as you may know, six men with food on the brain can quickly go astray. Somehow just hot dogs and bagels turned into hot dogs, bagels, 2 kinds of cream cheese, 12 kabobs in 4 varieties, a box of cookies, an apple pie, a summer sausage and some beverages to wash it all down. $100 later, we were again on the road to our final destination: The Eklutna Lake Cabin.

We careened up a mountainous path with tires squealing and engines a-chugging. It was getting towards 7 p.m. when we finally reached the trail head and got our packs on. We mounted our steeds of varying trustworthiness in anticipation of mounds of food cooked over a raging bonfire. It was quickly apparent that Woodsen's front tire would not last the 12 mile journey. The valve was busted and required a little prodding, poking, and fiddling, plus more air every mile or 2. He and I ended up falling far behind the rest of the food-crazed pack... and that's when the bears came... DUN, DUN, DUNNNN!!!!

As we quickly rounded a corner, trying in vain to catch the other guys, what would we behold but 3 bears: A mother and her 2 cubs! If you don't know anything about bears, you don't want to run across a momma bear with her kids. They tend to be a little protective. We quickly squeezed the brakes with force, sliding on the gravel to a complete stop. After whooping and hollering at the bears, they retreated back into the woods, much to our relief. When we could no longer hear anything romping around in the woods, we felt it safe to continue on. Not too much further down the trail, it was time for another tire fix. I would be lying if I were to say that I wasn't thinking about the bears we had just left behind and the raw meat strapped to my back.

Sure enough, after a minute or 2, here came the bears moseying down the trail towards us. We again entered another session of whooping and hollering, this time adding some rock throwing to the mix, but the bears kept coming ever so slowly. I got a tad bit nervous. When it was apparent we weren't scary enough to deter the bears, Woodsen got back to fixing the tire, while I continued putting on a show. They kept coming, and Woodsen started pumping. When the bears were still a good 40 feet away, Woodsen finished and we rode on in haste leaving our new friends behind none too soon for my taste.

We made it safely to the cabin, having to walk the last 4 miles, as the tire finally and completely gave out. Good times were indeed had by all, and mounds of food cooked over a raging (okay, mild-mannered) bonfire were indeed consumed. And then came the snoring... DUN, DUN, DUNNNN!!!!

Monday, July 21, 2008


I'm sitting at my parents' house in Arlington, relaxing a bit before I head out to Alaska tonight. I'll be there for the next ten days. I'm pretty excited to see friends I haven't seen in over a year and enjoy the beauty of the Alaskan summer. And it will be in the 40's when I get there. That sounds so wonderful right now. Following that, I'll have 2 more weeks in Abilene before I "visit" my parents for the remaining 3 weeks before the CanAmeXican Ride. After much deliberation, I decided to go ahead and leave Abilene a little sooner than I had anticipated. The major deciding factor was that Chris is moving back into the house August 16th or 17th. So it was either move or try and cram my stuff in with my brother's stuff in his room. I broke the news to my boss at Los Arcos yesterday and I'm breaking the news to the rest of you now. So I'll have plenty of planning time with my dad before we fly out. We just bought our tickets last night for the flight to Vancouver, BC on September 4th. We'll wait to buy our return tickets from San Diego, CA until we're halfway through the ride. We're estimating it'll take us about a month. So I'll be all over the place in the next couple months. Beginning October 1st, I have no idea what I'm doing with my life. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Frustrating Afternoon

I set out to ride 55 miles miles yesterday. A few miles down the road, I decided I would ride 40. Then I decided to ride 60. Then somewhere along the way I became very confused and decided to ride 90. To top things off I decided I would even stretch for a few more miles to hit an even 100. At 45 miles, I got a flat and it wasn't fixable. So I threw on my spare. At mile 72, I got another flat. I patched it, but it was already flat again by the time I got to my rest stop at mile 75. I decided that the hole was more than I could conquer, despite still feeling quite feisty, and I was out of spares. I threw in the towel and went for my phone to call for a ride... only discover there was no phone to be found. I had used it back in Cross Plains at mile 45 of the trip and apparently left it sitting on the table at Subway. Lame. A guy offered to let me borrow his phone and then offered me a ride back to Abilene. I accepted. It turned out that he's the dad of one of my friends from ACU, Kendra. Weird. I called the Subway to see if they had found it, and they hadn't. I guess someone jacked it. The person who stole it had to figure out that it would be useless to them after about 2 days when the phone died. That's just being plain inconsiderate. So, I'm back to my old phone minus all of my phone numbers. Unless you give me your number again, don't be offended if I don't call you ever again. So ya, yesterday was a frustrating day.

In other news, I started learning how to play the drums a couple days ago. My friend Drew is being kind enough to teach me and let me use his set. The first song I'm learning is "Brain Stew" by Green Day. If it weren't for that bass pedal, the song would be easy. Drums are harder to play than you would think.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Miles and Miles of Bubble Wrap

Pop pop.
Pop POP pop pop POP pop.

I started to get a little worried and adjusted the Gatorade bottle.

POP POP POP pop pop pop.
pop. pop. POP POp. PoP. POP. POP POP POP POP.
Pop pop pop POP. Pop.

This was not normal. 25 miles into my 60 mile ride, I was sure my tires were about to disintegrate mid pedal. I stopped and inspected my bike. Everything seemed to be in working order. I hopped back on.


What the?!?!

I stopped again and called my dad thinking he would surely know. He did. Apparently, when the asphalt gets hot enough, it gets covered in tiny little air bubbles. Weird. Assured that this paved rapid-fire-machine-gun popping was normal, I continued on my way enjoying the thought of riding over miles of bubble wrap.

Pop. pop pop pop pop POP Pop poP PoP pOp POP pop pop pop. POP.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alaska, Here I Come!

I just bought my plane tickets for my little vacation to Alaska. My friends, John and Becca, are getting married, so I'm going up for the wedding and to hang out with friends. I'll be there July 21-31. I'm pretty dang excited. Get me out of this Texas heat!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

FINALLY (Four Useful Words)

Finally, it has happened. The numerous phone calls, hours on hold, serenades by awful elevator music, transfers from answerless claims representative to answerless claims representative, stacks of mail, monthly payments, and endless frustrations have finally come to an end. The insurance company finally reimbursed us for the Ecuadorian medical expenses from nearly a year ago. I've been waiting for that money to pay off the remaining bills from in the U.S. You don't know how happy I was to be able to call up people I still owed money to and finally pay them off. I am so relieved. This whole time we were only missing four seemingly innocuous words said in just the right order: Texas Department of Insurance. As soon as they heard those four wonderful words, the insurance company suddenly knew exactly which claim we were talking about, knew what currency is used in Ecuador (US dollars), could translate the claim from Spanish to English, and even send a check that same week. Hmmm... very curious. Nothing like a little motivation to promote productivity! Don't get me wrong. I'm so thankful I had insurance at the time, but equally, if not more, thankful I won't have to talk to them again (well, hopefully not any time soon). So, if you're ever getting the run-around from an insurance company, remember these four feared and useful words: Texas Department of Insurance.

if you live in another state, you may need to call your own state's board of insurance.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Found the Hills

I began by checking the weather. Threat of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Wind from the south. Next, Google maps. No, not that one. Not that way. Wait. It could be. Maybe. Diversion here, change there. Aaaand yes... it's perfect. I checked the time. Ten thirty. Oh no, that means... I quickly did the calculations, accounting for distance, wind, stops and potential threats. That's what I thought: 5:30. I pulled out the phone and begrudgingly pressed the correct keys finishing with "save". I did a double take. Yes, 5:30 a.m. as in "the morning".

I tried to get out a little energy by playing guitar for a bit. No luck. I got into bed fully awake, praying I would somehow fall instantly to sleep and become wide awake again at 5:30 a.m. I put on The Working Title's About Face and popped in the headphones. As the final song on the album ended, I was thinking there was no way. I resisted the urge to change my alarm right then and there.

I heard this annoying buzzing and organs softly beginning to play. It was "Marching Bands of Manhattan" playing on my phone alarm. How and why? I peaked through a crack in the blinds. The sky was just starting to show some color. Ya right! Not a chance! Changed the alarm to 7:30. I closed by eyes expecting to be hearing Death Cab playing once again my next conscious moment. Nope. Just lied there. It seems I had received the second part of my prayer. I was thrilled (read sarcastically).

The oatmeal with crunchy peanut butter and honey mixed in was tasty as usual. Can't go wrong. The water had that same old off flavor you come to expect in Abilene. I filled my CamelBak with the same water after breakfast and donned my cycling gear, yes, even the spandex shorts. They're a necessary evil. As I put on and tightened my recently acquired Keen cycling sandals, I pondered upon the tan line conglomeration that was beginning to come in from the combination of my Keens, Chacos, flipflops and ankle socks. "Cool." Yes, deep thoughts at 6:30 a.m. Checked the tires, made sure all necessary tools and spare parts were in their respective homes, tucked some snacks, money, a hand-drawn map and cell phone into my pack and headed out the door.

I was about to ride 80 miles.

Despite it being only 75, the humidity forced a sweat to break quickly. Oh, Texas. My first destination was Oplin, TX. I passed Shotwell, Nelson Park, The Abilene Zoo and the Abilene Regional Airport and headed south on highway 36.

Good Idea: Keeping nasal passages clear and free during aerobic outings for optimal intake of oxygen.
Bad Idea: Farmer's blow at 15 mph against a 25 mph head wind.

There was little in sight besides a handful of cemeteries, cows and hills. So many hills. I rolled slowly into Oplin looking for my first rest stop: the Jot-Um Down store. I can only imagine it was named this many years ago when people were on the honor system and would just jot-um down and pay later. Who knows? After passing by the school gym turned "The Grand Ole Oplin", I spotted it on the right. I knew I was about to have a cultural experience. I was most definitely a house at one point. It looked dark inside, but the sign said 'open', and it didn't seem a place like this would overlook such a detail. I pulled the screen door finding no resistance. It took a minute for my eyes and ears to adjust to the darkness and blaring TV. I realized there was someone sitting behind a desk. The dim light from the window revealed an elderly woman in her 80's dressed in a night gown. I was relieved to see she was also wearing shorts. I gave her the cheeriest 'hello' I could muster and she responded with, "The sodie-pops are over there", as she pointed to the fridge in the corner. I took her cue and walked that direction. I found a Gatorade and went in search of a snack. The aged owner was not content to let me look on my own. She started telling me where the apple pies, peanuts, chips, etc. were and pointed as if I could actually see and understand what she was telling me. I politely nodded and made agreeable noises as I dodged and weaved through boxes and shelves occupying the 10x10 food area. As I perused the selection, I caught a sound byte from the TV saying, "I know he goes to church, but does he gooo to church?". Not sure what that was all about. It was something from the 60's I think.

I made my decision and gave her the $3.40 she asked for. She then began asking me about where I was riding from/to, if I was in school, where I worked and why I was riding so far, etc. She raised her eyebrows, shook her head and tilted back in her chair all flabbergasted when I answered her final question. I never get tired of that response from people. She then advised me that I should go back up 604 to 36 and take that east to 283 instead of going down 2926 so that I could go around all them big hills. I assured her I needed the practice, thinking she was exaggerating as I assume all near senile people do, and she agreed it would be hilly in the Northwest. After finishing my drink and snack, I asked to use her bathroom. She gave me weird instructions that went something like, "Go out back. Go ta yer left. Pull the hook out and close the curt'un. Make sure you stay until the toilet stops runnin." Confused, I nodded as if I understood exactly what she meant and went through the back screen door hoping I could make sense of it later. Did I mention there was no AC?

I spotted a metal flat-roofed storage building. It indeed had a hook running through 2 holes keeping it shut. I pulled it out, peaking in to make sure it was the bathroom. I ducked in through the door and tried to close the door behind me. Wasn't gonna happen. Guess that's what the curtain's for. I did what I had come there to do, made sure the toilet stopped and then exited, finding out when the store's normally open on my way out. Mon.-Sat. 6 am-5 pm. Back to riding.

Ya, about those hills... She was right. Wow, she was right.

They were the kind of hills where you brake on the way down and hit 35 mph against the wind and then struggle to keep a 5 mph pace on the way up. As I undulated between hanging on to my handlebars for dear life and chugging and puffing, I thought that maybe the elderly woman was more with it than I had given her credit. As I just barely made it up the 4th or 5th hill (I had lost count), I conceded that she was in fact more sensible than I was. I was only 35 miles into the ride and already my muscles were burning. This wasn't looking good.

Thankfully, that was the last of the monstrous hills for awhile, and I reaped the benefit of my labor as I coasted for most of the next 7 or 8 miles. I made it to Baird, now 60 miles into my ride, without a hitch. I decided to go ahead 6 more miles to Clyde before I stopped, because there's a gas station with a Subway in it that I like to stop at. I saw I was approaching another big uphill, but it didn't seem near as steep or tall as I had remembered. Wonder why?

I was elated as I pulled into the gas station in Clyde. I needed some food, Powerade and at least 30 minutes rest before I made the final push back to Abilene. As usual, the gas station attendant was curious about my riding, and when she realized how far I was riding, exclaimed, "Are you training for that Ter da Fraaance?" Man, I love small town folk.

As I rode the final 14 miles, I got sprinkled on a bit, but there was nothing of the thunderstorms they were predicting. I made my way into Abilene and down EN 10th, then heard a repetitive "ch" sound coming from one of my wheels. I thought it was something caught in my spokes rubbing against the frame as it made each rotation. No, it was a flat. A half mile from my house, I got a flat. Not letting a little thing like that get me down, I made the tired and triumphant walk back to my house as I my bike rolled along beside me. I was just thankful it hadn't happened 50 miles ago. Done and done.

...and then I went and played (and won) 3 games of racquetball.


Saturday, June 7, 2008


Just as I was beginning to feel a little at home in Abilene, everything got all turned around again. Many of the people I've grown closest to here have recently departed (or are about to depart) for other cities, jobs and lives. This includes college friends, coworkers, my church and new friends. It's just starting to hit me. I can now count on one hand the people I have more than a skin-deep relationship with here in Abilene. Though I'm here until the end of August (as far as I know), I already feel like I'm between here and the next place. That disconnected feeling makes it hard to find reason to invest and construct. The things I have to do over the next few months seem to be already pulling me away. It's going to be a trying summer.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Back to Grayskull

"The prodigal son returns!" I exclaimed, as I once again entered the doors of the mighty Grayskull as one of its inhabitants. Josh just sat there looking all confused and said, "What?" I said, "Nevermind."

And that's how it all began again...

Friday, May 23, 2008

She Took the Bait

They caught her. My boss set a trap and she totally fell into it. It was the girl I had accused. I feel pretty relieved and a little vindicated, but at the same time, more sad than anything else. I don't think I'm supposed to know all of what's going on, so I don't feel I can share it on my blog. All I'll say is that this girl is caught up in bad stuff and it's taking over and ruining her life. I've felt such a heavy burden over the last few days to pray for her. I don't know that I'll ever see her again, but I really wish I could help her. It hurts to see the enemy bringing death to those around me and feel helpless to stop it. I pray that we, as God's holy ones, will be equipped with righteous weapons to face and defeat the enemy. So be it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...

My second day back from vacation was an interesting one. It didn't have anything to do with having a busy night at work (it was) or comical customers (there were). A few hours into my Saturday night shift I (*AH-E-AH-E-AHH* the GOOD) saw something strange and suspicious. On my way back to the kitchen from a table who needed something, I looked to my left, across 3 tables, towards my now vacant table #18. I was beginning to plan my next few minutes thinking of when I was going to clear off that table when I saw the new waitress standing by it. But, she wasn't just standing. I saw her slide her hand off the table and slip it into her apron pocket (*AH-E-AH-E-AHH* the BAD). Just as her hand entered her pocket, I passed into the next section and didn't see anything else. I did a double take only to see wall. Did she really just take the tip from my table? I wasn't completely sure, but the next time I saw her, I nonchalantly asked if she'd taken the tip off my table, thinking she was planning on giving it to me or something. She said she was just grabbing napkins. Hmmm... I did not see any napkins in her hands. I wasn't completely sure of what I had seen, so I continued on my way. Maybe the customers had left my tip at the register. Nope, they hadn't.

As the night progressed, I noticed there were 2 or 3 other tables I didn't get a tip from. It is a rare thing that I get completely stiffed, much less multiple times in one shift. It just so happened that I had actually seen the customer leave the tip on one of the now tipless tables. They were some of my regulars who I'm on a first-name basis with and pray for me every time I wait on them. At that point, I was completely sure someone was stealing my tips, and I had a pretty good idea of who it was. To top things off, another server asked me if I had cleaned off her table. Apparently, she had seen the customer leave the tip as he complimented her on a job well done, and then it was gone when she came back to clean the table.

After hearing that, I went into plan mode. I began thinking and praying about how I should proceed. The first passage I thought of was Luke 6:28-30: Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. So first off, I knew my objective shouldn't be to try and get my money from her.

The next verse I thought of was Matthew 18:15: If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. I wasn't sure that she exactly fit into what Jesus was talking about as your "brother", but I decided I should confront her about it nonetheless. I waited until close to closing time so that I could talk to her without others hearing. I don't think I ended up saying it very well, but I pretty much asked her why she was stealing my tips and offered her more money if she wanted it. She fervently denied any such activities. I guess I was actually expecting her to come clean. I don't know why. She walked away mad. I continued cleaning up, and I could hear her telling the cashier that I had just accused her and the reasons why she didn't need to steal. A couple minutes later I heard her saying the same thing to another server. I've got to be honest. The tiny sliver of doubt I had that she was the thief swelled. I began second guessing myself, wondering if I had done the right thing or hastily accused an innocent person.

When I got off, I called my family and a couple friends to get their wisdom and advice. I was pretty sure I needed to talk to my boss about it even if I had accused the wrong person. If I was wrong, she needed to know there was a thief. There was only 1 other person it could be, but she had worked there for the better part of 4 years.... and had just got out of jail... again. Okay, so maybe she had a few strikes against her, too (*AH-E-AH-E-AHH* the UGLY). My family and friends confirmed what I had been thinking and gave me a bigger scope of things to consider. I needed to tell my boss.

I showed up to work early so I could talk with my boss before the other servers were around. She wasn't there yet. She arrived a half hour later and asked me what had happened last night. She had heard from the cashier who just happens to be one of her daughters. I gave her the rundown of what I had seen. In a roundabout way, she basically said she believed me and would also suspect the new waitress considering who was working. She said that she didn't even think that girl would come back. She did. She strolled in as if nothing had happened. Ya, I felt pretty awkward considering the previous night's happenings. The next day, there was a hand-written sign put up in back saying something to the affect of, "To all waitstaff, Someone has been stealing and we know who you are. You should just leave and not wait to get caught and embarrassed... Thanks" Wow, so tactful. That girl kept coming to work. A couple days later, I found out that the other girl who had been stolen from thought it was the ex-con (some customers had maybe seen her do something suspicious), not the girl I had accused. I talked to my boss and apparently she doesn't know which one it was. The sign was a bluff. Gotta love it.

So, I've just been workin away waiting for the deviant to get caught in the act. It's been weird, because both of the suspects have been acting like I'm their best friend. So strange. I don't know what to do at this point but love them. I don't know if I'll find out who it was, but I don't care much anymore. It's just money afterall.

If you didn't understand The Good, the Bad and the Ugly references, you really need to go watch that movie. Love. It. Great Clint Eastwood western. I'll even let you borrow it, you dirty son of a AH-E-AH-E-AHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Seattle Rundown

I just woke up from an 11 and 1/2 hour slumber. Oh dear goodness, yes. What a great way to end my vacation... well, sort of. I did work a lunch shift yesterday, but had last night off, so it still feels like I'm on vacation. I know you're all just dying to know exactly what I did during my Seattle trip, so I'll give you the complete rundown (as best I can remember).

Sunday: see my last blog.

Monday: Slept in and then Ross and I went to this excellent Thai place called Djan. I highly recommend the Curry Chicken. Oooooh, so good. Next, we headed to the U-district to hit some thrift stores. I was pretty surprised by the Seattle thrifting scene. Apparently, used clothing is so cool there that they think they can charge real-clothes prices. Lame. I couldn't find anything under my $5 limit. I definitely saw a pearl snap shirt, which Wal-Mart sells around $10 new, selling for $17 used! No thanks. So we hit up one of Ross' favorite coffee shops, Zoka's, and he studied while I wasted time on the Internet. Then we headed to an intramural Ultimate Frisbee game, and they even let me play! Despite not much digging of the long ball, we won, finishing out an undefeated season for them. Since it was Cinco de Mayo, of course we went out to celebrate. We tried to go to a place that had a live band, but there was a huge wait. So we ended up going to Jalisco's. I had suspected, but became fully aware that I have become a Mexican food snob. Their Huevos Rancheros were not up to (Los Arcos) par. After getting blasted by Latino music for a while, we moved a couple doors down to Pies and Pints to hang out, then headed home.

Tuesday: Ross had a class breakfast thingy, so I walked down the street to the Rusty Pelican to eat breakfast all by me onesy. Next, we grabbed a bus downtown to check out Pike's Place Market. We didn't buy anything, but we did get free samples and get to see the fish guy heckle onlookers who were obviously there to see the show and not purchase any fish. We proceeded to wander around downtown in hopes of finding an ever-elusive Goodwill where normally priced used clothing abounds. No luck. Defeated, we ate some sub par Chinese and made our way back home via bus. Greta and her sister Heidi came over and we did a little jamming, playing some of our original songs, before getting pizza at Romios. We then headed over to the Tractor to catch a couple bands, J. Tillman and The Monahans. J. Tillman was pretty sweet, playing low-key acoustic folk. The Monahans, from Austin, sounded like the Wallflowers but not as good.

Wednesday: Ross decided he actually needed to go to class, so I spent the morning back at Zoka's getting some stuff done. We met up for a late lunch at the Ram, then hit a used music store before I joined him for his Emergency Medicine class. Fitting. I was surprised by how practical and not-above-my-head the class was. The prof was pretty funny, too. We even talked about wound care, which I could validate some of the info firsthand. Next was a surprise party for Teja that involved a homemade Puerto Rican dish and birthday cake. The plan was to go to swing dancing, which somehow turned into going to Babalu, where they were doing some kind of Cuban dancing I had never heard of.

Thursday: We drove down to the town of North Bend to do some hiking. We wandered around for quite a while before finally finding the Snoqualmie Falls, the ranger station and finally, the Little Si trail head. It turned out to be an easy, 5 mile round trip hike. It wasn't anything amazing, but quite enjoyable all the same. On our way out of town we hit Twede's Cafe for some burgers and shakes. The Breakfast Burger was quite tasty. After a much-needed nap we went to Ross' intramural soccer game. They also won their game, making them undefeated. We finished things off by watching In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. Wow. I don't care who you are. That was a bad movie. But, it was bad in the cheesy-great-guy-night-movie kind of way. It featured a myriad of lesser Hollywood stars including one of my favorites, Jason Statham. It was one of those movies you just can't believe made it to theaters. Oh how. A great way to end a great trip.

I flew out around midnight and got into DFW at 5 a.m. Mark was gracious enough to pick me up me up at 6:30 so that I could make it back for the lunch shift. I ended up getting about an hour of sleep during the car trip back to Abilene, making a total of 1 hr 8 min the entire night. Ya, I can't sleep on planes, especially when a middle-eastern man is trying to cuddle with me. It was a great trip, but I'm glad to be back to being productive again.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Shouldbe Birthday Rule

I've never really made a big deal out of birthdays before. At most I usually hang out with friends and maybe get a meal payed for. This year has been quite atypical. I had 3 birthday parties in 3 days. It all started on Friday when some of my friends, who are part of my church, threw me a post-work-Lord-of-the-Rings-turned-fiesta-complete-with-dinosaur-birthday-cake party in Abilene at 10 p.m. after I worked a double at Los Arcos. It was a small gathering of Abilene folk. The only thing that came close to equaling the excitement of plastic dinosaurs cohabitating with 25 burning wax candles on my b-day cake was being treated to a viewing of a homemade, cheesy, err, I mean, quite well-made scary movie with Erica starring as the frightened babysitter. Quality. We capped the night off with a game of Cranium. There's no need to talk about the outcome of said game.

On Saturday, my birthday eve, after a few games of ultimate frisbee and football, Jonathan and I headed to Arlington for birthday celebration #2. Before the festivities started, my dad, brother and I squeezed in a trip to R.E.I., because I was in desperate need of some cycling shoes/a birthday present. After much debate, I ended up going with some Keen cycling sandals, just in case you were wondering. Man, I love not having to wear socks. Upon return to my parents' house, my family and a couple of my friends ate a quite enjoyable dinner of homemade chicken tenders, Strychnine fries, green bean casserole, tomatoes and red velvet cake. Mmm, so good. Oh ya, I guess I should mention that we were also celebrating my sister's birthday from the day before. It was good times and great oldies all around and ended before the party from the night before had even started. Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind. I had to get up early in the morning.

On Sunday, my actual birthday, my parents gave me a ride to the airport at 6 a.m. not forgetting to sing their annual Happy Birthday Duet. I hopped on the plane to Seattle and arrived by 9:30. We went to church where Ross goes, then grabbed some Gyros and took off for Exit 38 for a mile or 2 hike to my first ever rock climbing site.
(That's me!)
Admittedly, I've never been a huge fan of heights, which would probably be the reason I had never been rock climbing before. I'm pretty much over letting fear keep me from enjoying life or doing something of value, so I decided it was about time. The rope was already set up for a 5.9 climb (translation: not exactly easy, but not terribly difficult for someone who's climbed before) so I decided I'd give 'er a go after seeing Ross go up first. I made it 2/3 of the way, so I was pretty proud of myself. My hands were shot after that. I belayed Ross on his next climb and then watched the other climbers for a bit before hiking down and heading back into town for dinner. A successful first climbing experience all around.

We went over to the house of a family who the dad is in med school with Ross. They're so great. Their 3 kids were hilarious and couldn't get enough of playing with Ross and me. I even got to jump on a trampoline for the first time in I don't know how many years. As if that weren't enough, for dinner, they made steak, Alaskan king crab, shrimp, scallops, fries (which caught on fire), salad, and birthday brownies in a heart-shaped pan. Wow. I couldn't believe they made all that for a complete stranger's birthday. They're such generous people. After exchanging stories for a while and getting in one more game of pentagonal-barbie-dodge-baseball with the kids, we ended the night watching Brick back at Ross' place. Not a bad way to spend your birthday (and the 2 days proceeding it). I think I've officially decided that it should be a rule that you take a vacation on your birthday every year. We'll see how that works out for me next year.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bolillos, Güeros y Gringos, ¡Ay Mio!

I asked to get off early from work yesterday to go pick up Mark and Katrina at the airport in Dallas. After deciding on a plan of action, my boss started asking questions about if I usually stop anywhere and how long I stay in the Metroplex when I go. After a few more questions, she asked me if I ever went to the Mexican bakery. Of course, I said no and she just couldn't believe it. Not going to the Mexican bakery when in the Metroplex did not fit into her world view. When she got over the shock of me never having graced a Mexican bakery with my presence, she started talking about how her family always goes when they're in town, because apparently the bread at the Mexican bakery here in Abilene isn't near as good or long lasting. At that point, I knew what was coming. Sure enough, she asked if I wanted to stop by a store and pick her and some others a certain kind of bread. She wanted some "pan bolillo". Her and a couple waitresses started giggling. They started talking rapidly in Spanish and laughing so that I couldn't understand what they were saying. Finally, they came out and said that pan bolillo loosely translates to "white bread" and "bolillo" is also slang for a white person. For instance, once might say, "Trabajo con dos bolillos", meaning, "I work with 2 white people". She quickly defended herself saying that she doesn't use the term. I guess it's not a nice thing to say. Nevertheless, she and the other servers were giggling away. Sending a bolillo to pick up some pan bolillo. Very funny. So I agreed, and she told me where in Ft. Worth the bakery is.

I googled it and found it using Street View, then headed out. As I exited 820 and made my way south down Main Street, it was as if I drove into another country. I was not aware that part of Ft. Worth was so steeped in the Mexican culture. Most of the signs were in Spanish and there weren't many gringos in sight. I easily found the store and wondered around inside until I found the baked goods. There they were, just as my boss had described, labeled "Bolillo". I tonged 20 bolillos into plastic sacks and headed to the register as confused customers looked on. Sadly, the cashier spoke English and I didn't bust out my Spanish. Mission accomplished.

When I brought the bread into work today, they all started smiling and giggling again seeing the bolillo carrying bolillo. When I told them I bought some for myself, they were all pretty interested in telling me how to make tortas, which are sandwiches, and what I should put on them/how I should prepare them. It's so funny to see them get excited about me taking the smallest step into their world. I even got invited to go down to Mexico with them the next time they go. I told them that of course I would want to go. Not sure if they were really being serious or not, because they were laughing when they asked. Don't be surprised to hear I'm taking a trip down there in the coming months.

P.S. Güero also means white person, literally "fair-haired". I get called güero all the time by the cooks and occasionally by customers. I guess it's nicer than saying bolillo or gringo. You just don't learn this kind of stuff in school.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two Steps Back and a Step or Two Sideways/Diagonally

If you haven't heard, yes, I'm moving back in Greyskull. For those of you who weren't aware, that's the name of the house I lived in my junior year of college which spawned He-man Nights, many a game of Smat, Greyskull Ride, the Pirates vs. Ninjas party, the 4 Room Challenge, and yes, the infamous Greyskull Soundtrack (featuring the hit single "Jezebel"). As of June, James, Brandon, Jonathan and I will inhabit this most modest of dwellings on E.N. 12th. James, Brandon and a few other guys (who are moving out come end of May) are already living there. It's pretty funny to think about. It seems that every move I make these days is reverting backwards. Watch out Mom and Dad! You're next (not really I hope)!

This upcoming Sunday, I'm flying up to Seattle to hang out with Ross. Happy birthday to me! Not only is it exciting because this will be my first days off in 6 weeks, but also because I really miss that guy. Our friendship is something I value deeply, and it'll be great to have some face-to-face time. I can't wait to see what kind of trouble we can get into this time around!

Aside from that, I got a new phone a couple weeks ago. I had my last phone for nearly 3 years. They've made a few advances since then. My new phone has a camera, mp3 player and pedometer. So fancy. It even came complete with a pair of little speakers. Don't be surprised if you're around me and I suddenly bust them out. I'm a little excited.

Also, I broke my personal bike record again. I hit 63 miles yesterday. Man, was I tired. Only 4 more months of training left!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

From "Rider" to "Biker"

I feel like I can officially say that I am a "biker." I'm not longer just a casual "rider" meandering through city streets or doing a Ride and Decide. The reason: I hit the 50 mile mark for the first time today, making a total of 90 miles this week. I think I'll always be more of a runner than a biker, but there's a slight possibility that, as I train for the ride in September, I might be won over. I don't think I've told everyone about what the ride entails, so here it goes. My dad and I are going to ride from Canada to Mexico down the west coast this September. As you may know, this is the kind of thing my dad does from time to time. He's been from Seattle, WA to Portland, ME, from Montana to Alaska and various other trips all over the U.S. I'll be the rookie on this trip, but I'm counting on my youth (and a lot of training) to aide me in keeping up with the ol' man. I've never been to the west coast before (unless you count AK or the Seattle airport) so I'm pretty excited about seeing some new ground. If there's anything I absolutely must see in Washington, Oregon or California (somewhat near the coast), please let me know. Needless to say, this is going to be a sweet man trip.

Riding 50 miles would have been a great way to spend 3 hours of my Saturday if it weren't for the fact that I had work 20 minutes after I arrived back at the house. Oh dear. Upon arriving at work I scarfed a taco salad and went along my way cleaning and filling "the new section." I wasn't looking forward to my 6 hour shift being as tired as I was, but I found surprising clarity and spiritual focus. It was great. There was a kid going crazy and screaming and his parents were getting mad at him. I prayed that peace would overtake the table, and seconds later the kid stopped crying and soon after the whole table was laughing and having a good time. Realizing I was in sync with God, I took advantage of it, and for the first couple hours, I had a great time of prayer for my coworkers and friends. It ended up being a moderately busy night, so I'm exhausted now. I'm going to sleep hard tonight.

Sunburn from bike ride=bad. Cookies and cream ice cream from the paleteria=good.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Money In the Dryer

You know how sometimes you find money in the dryer and you get excited about finding 50 cents. Today I found 50 dollars. I had left my tips in my work pants.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter and Stuff

On Sunday, Jonathan and I hosted an Easter potluck. I was expecting 10 or 15 tops, but we ended up with about 25 people. If you've never been to our house, it's pretty small. The kitchen/living room was piled high with food and people. If anyone else showed up, they would have had to sit in other people's laps. It was good times. The potluck was complete with casseroles, Mexican food, deviled eggs, lasagna, fried chicken, cookies, pink salad dessert stuff, fruit, tea, veggies, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, and probably other stuff I'm forgetting. Needless to say, everyone got plenty to eat. I was struck by how great my friends, both new and old, are that live here in Abilene (of course, like a father loves his children equally, I cherish my other friends equally who live in AK and scattered everywhere else). I hope to make the most of my time and deepen friendships before our stays in Abilene are over. I know these are people who will encourage and affect me the rest of my life.

Other than that, I've been chuggin away on the Spanish, working on finishing up some song I've been writing and buckling down on my training for the Canada-to-Mexico ride with my dad this coming September. This is obviously a major training time in my life where I'm being equipped for the future, near and far. It's requiring a lot of self discipline, but I'm finding a surprising amount of energy to complete daily tasks. God's definitely pourin on the grace. It's been extremely helpful/motivating to feel a sense of purpose in my daily activities. Good seeds are being sewn, and surely there is a harvest of good fruit coming.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oh Dogs!!!!!!!!!

Just to warn you, I'm not going to talk about anything important in this entry. I hope you will be mildly amused if you so choose to continue reading.

You would think that my daily 0.3 mile walk to work would be a nice, quiet stroll where I could mentally prepare myself for the imminent onslaught of salsa-crazed patrons. Ya, that's the expectation I usually start out with.... but then comes the dogs. Dun-dun-duuuun!!! I kid you not. On a good day (or bad day depending how you look at it) I walk by nearly a score (that's 20 if you're not Abraham Lincoln) of yipping, skipping, yapping and snapping little critters who have nothing better to do than interrupt my peaceful, little 3-block saunter. That's almost one dog per house passed! To me this seems a little disproportionate for a west Texas city block. I know you're dying to know about each moment of my day (you must be if you're still reading), so here's the rundown:

1. First comes Rightie: I have named him this because he lives to the right of my house and has no other distinguishing feature. I've actually never seen this dog. I only hear the occasional bark, sniff or shuffle. I usually forget him.

2. Next comes Leftie (Brownie to his friends). You guessed it. He lives to the left of my house and is a medium-sized chow-like animal. During the day hours, Brownie (that's right, I consider myself his friend during the day) lies dormant. I have come to discover he's merely saving his energy for the smallest noise to provoke him once I go to bed. I think Leftie thoroughly enjoys barking ceaselessly in the wee hours of the morning, especially right by my bedroom wall (Jonathan can verify this). While Brownie rarely directly affects my daily walk to work, I will sometimes remember my angst from the preceding night and glare in his direction as I pass by. That'll learn'em.

3. The rest of the way down my street is uneventful with only the occasional dog siting, and I only have my favorite dog trio coming into sight to think upon. As I turn the corner, an elderly woman releases the hounds. I'm totally serious. This lady waits for me to pass by every day and lets her dogs out to briefly keep me company. If her dogs weren't so sweet, I would resent this. Ok, I lied. Really only one of the dogs is sweet. The other 2 are pretty useless. As the door cracks, Puggie, Lil6 and Lil7 burst forth in all their canine glory. Puggie is a little scruffly pug. For literary purposes, I call the other two Lil6 and Lil7, because they're just little nondescript black things with no personality (I'm assuming Lil1 through Lil5 have already come and gone in the long line of Lil-dogs I presume this lady has owned). I usually don't give Lil6 and Lil7 much attention, because Puggie is putting on the real show. Puggie quickly scales down the ramp into the front yard and gracefully puts on the brakes just before running into the chain link fence. Puggie ferociously kicks leaves and grass backwards as he grunts and sniffles heavily. On a good day, he might get one bark out. He's an introvert. Lil6 and7 start off on a mission, but quickly lose resolve and train of thought and abate to wander around the yard in confusion occasionally attacking a helpless leaf. Take that plant! I'm pretty sure they're blind and senile. Make no mistake, Lil8 (and possibly Lil9) will be soon in coming. I laugh, give a wave to the old lady and continue on my way.

4. The next block or so is a little sketchy in my mind because of what dominates the balance of my walk. Looming a few houses down on the left is "The Pack and Friend". Oh dear. More than filling the presence of their 1000 square foot yard, Collie, Grayie, Blackie, Labbie and Spottie prepare for full-auditory assault with their across-the-fence friend, Yippie in tow. Collie is a medium-sized collie, Grayie is a midrange, shaggy gray dog who's shaved in weird places, Blackie is an averaged-sized, black post-puppy, Labbie is a black lab, Spottie is a small black dog with gray spots and Yippie is a tiny brown dog who has a really high pitched bark/yip. Here's how it starts: From a long way off Grayie will spot me and start barking to alert "The Pack" of pending danger. Ya, I'm pretty dangerous. Then, from the four corners of the globe, the rest of "The Pack" rushes the fence in hopeful expectation of ruining the peacefulness of my walk. This alerts Yippie who, without haveing a clue of what's happening chimes in with his painful yipping and starts bouncing up and down. All the dogs give it a good bark, except Blackie. Blackie is the only good dog in the mix. As I walk by, I usually say, "Blackie, you're the only one I love." After I pass by, most of the dogs give up the dream and let me be, expect Collie and sometimes Grayie. They continue barking at me until I am completely out of sight and/or earshot. I have different strategies for dealing with "The Pack". On somedays, when I'm feeling a little feisty, I'll act like I'm not paying attention, and then out of nowhere, I'll quickly turn to look at them and pounce toward the fence. That really sets them off. I then proceed to quickly glance around to make sure no one saw me provoking the dogs. On other days, when I'm feeling a little more annoyed, I'll just simply stare them down and shake my head in disapproval. When I'm feeling a little apathetic, I'll just walk by slowly and stare off into space thinking they'll lose interest.

5. In the heat of "The Pack's" attack, I get caught off guard by Scrufflie and Scrafflie. They're 2 small, gray rat-dogs who give a yelp or 2 and quickly back down when I look in their direction. Domination.

6. After that I'm home/work-free and quickly navigate by a few uninteresting dogs and enter the safety of Los Arcos.

It's as exciting as it sounds.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Where the Mop Hits the Tile

The last few weeks have been great. I've again learned how important it is to work and have some semblance of structure in my life. It enables me to be so much more productive in everything. One of the biggest things has been motivating me to learn Spanish. I've settled into a nice little routine M-Th which usually goes something like this:

1. Wake up at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m
2. Check my email, play guitar and eat breakfast
3. Work the lunch shift
4. Play more guitar
5. Go to the library to study Spanish for a couple hours (I'm 1/3 of the way through La Quinta Montaña)
6. Workout/run/ultimate frisbee.

As you can imagine, I'm learning a few things working as a server. I won't go into all of them now, but being that I'm a server, I've been thinking a lot about serving, both in and out of work. Despite what you may or may not think, I don't naturally just love to do stuff for people all the time when it gets in the way of what I'd rather be doing. When I'm enjoying a conversation with someone, I don't want to go do the dishes. When I'm resting after a hard day, I don't want to jump up and take out the trash. Shocking, I know. I've recently been making a point to read through the gospels repeatedly for some help in that area (since Jesus dominates in that area (and in just about everything else (that's worth doing))). I'm learning the beauty of being the least, the last and the lowest.

One of the biggest places the rubber has been hitting the road has been interacting with one of my coworkers who can be a bit, shall we say, unpleasant sometimes. She is eager to give advice (whether you want it or not), but not so eager to take it. I started to find myself, during and after work, getting stuck thinking about how annoyed I was with her and about what I was going to say the next time she told me to do something again. I was reminded to pray for those who persecute you, so I started praying for her (I know there are much worse forms of persecution). I was reminded to do to others what you would have them do to you, so I helped her out knowing the favor probably wouldn't be returned. I was reminded give to the needy in secret so that I would be rewarded by my Father, so went out of my way to do things for her and not even hint that it was me who had done it if possible, because I didn't want my reward to be her approval. I was reminded that he who wants to become the greatest must become the least, so I started to intentionally take the worst jobs and keep her from having to do them.

It has been so incredibly freeing. My attitude has changed so much. Through an ample supply of grace, I'm starting to judge the success of my day not only by how much I make in tips, but also in how much I was able to serve those around me. Today I finally felt these labors taking root in my heart and become pure and life-giving. I can feel my love growing for the rudest, dirtiest, cheapest, and hardest-to-get-along-with coworkers and customers at Los Arcos. As if that wasn't enough satisfaction, I'm even starting to see small, positive changes in the behavior of my aforementioned coworker. Man, Jesus knew what he was talking about with all that foot-washing stuff.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Two and Two

Los Arcos is so local. What I mean by that is that many of its employees and customers live and/or work within a couple miles of it... like me. Los Arcos is in a large residential area and borders (or is in, I don't know exactly) what I've heard called "Little Mexico". I'm sure you're smart enough to figure out where that name comes from. All the time, I see people walking from across the street to come in and eat. The owners' house is literally right across the street. One of the dishwashers lives 4 houses down from me. It's a restaurant's for the people, by the people. I've already started to notice there are several people that frequent Los Arcos. It's very apparent that the majority of our customers come weekly, if not more frequently. I've definitely even seen some people eating there 3 or 4 times in my first week of working there. There's always a buzz of conversations going on between multiple tables and servers. Everyone knows somebody. I never know if they were previously friends or have just seen each other every week for the last some odd years and conversation has deepened beyond razzing each other for always ordering the #10 (The 2 and 2 plate). I'm sure it's a combination. It's weird for me to see the same dozen people every day (coworkers) that I don't even live with. I've been dropped into a tight knit community that I have no choice but to become part of, not that that's a bad thing. Speaking of which, I better get to studying Spanish so I can understand half of said community.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Apurate Cocinera!!!

Work has been going pretty well. Every day is increasingly easier. I still have a lot to learn, but I am starting to feel comfortable in knowing what I'm supposed to do. When I originally talked to the owner about how many shifts I'd have, she said she only had 3 shifts per week, but she'd see if she could get me some more. Man did she. I'm working 7 days a week with a double on Fridays. Just in case you're interested in coming to see me at work, here's my detailed schedule:

Sun: 9:30-3:00
Mon: 10:30-2:30
Tues: 10:30-2:30
Wed: 10:30-2:30
Thurs: 10:30-2:30
Fri: 10:30-2:30 & 5:00-9:30
Sat: 3:00-9:30

It's been very interesting being in a different culture. I've found out that almost everyone loves it when I try to use Spanish. It's been pretty great having so many people around who are speaking Spanish and more than willing to help me learn, customers included. There are a couple regulars that told me next time I wait on them, they're going to speak to me entirely in Spanish. It's so fun. I'm adding a handful of words to my repertoire daily. The most diverse interactions have been with the cooks. There's only one cook who speaks English, but I think he's only part-time. The full-timers only seems to know food/kitchen related words. Jose, the head cook is my favorite. He's got a sweet, curly mini-mullet and 'stache. He totally dominates. He loves to razz me and talk to me in Spanish. A couple of the other cooks haven't been won over so easily. At first, it seemed like Maria (not to be confused with Maria the server) refused to believe I could speak any Spanish. When I'd ask her a question in Spanish, she'd get someone over to translate. When I'd answer her finger pointing in Spanish, she would just repeat the choices in English even though I had already said "pollo" (chicken), "res" (beef) or "queso" (cheese). Finally, after 4 days, I think she's finally starting to believe I know some Spanish. As I was leaving today, she actually said see you later and asked if I was working tomorrow in Spanish. It's only a matter of time before we're chattin away. I also found out there's one other person I work with who isn't fluent in Spanish... but this is her last week. It seems learning Spanish is God's will for my life.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Los Arcos: Not to be Confused With "The Golden Arches"

Four or five months ago, when I realized I was moving to Abilene, I started looking for a job. I had little idea what kind of job I was looking for. What I had was more or less a list of what kind of job I didn't want: jobs I've already done that I was pretty sure weren't my "calling" (i.e. accounting). You may remember I got pretty far along in the screening process for an insurance job before I was abruptly sent an email saying "they were continuing their search". After that fell apart, I pretty much lost all my job momentum. I applied for all kinds of jobs, some I was qualified for and some I was overqualified for, but to no avail. At this point, I was pretty discouraged. I've never had any trouble getting a job before. Somewhere along the way, I thought, "why don't I just get a job at Los Arcos?", but I didn't apply. A part of me even felt like maybe that's where God was leading me. I didn't trust that feeling though. I thought that I had to be making it up. Then I got in a wreck and just like that, no longer had transportation. I again thought to myself, "I should just work at Los Arcos. I could walk to work from my house and work on my Spanish." That voice came back again, and still I pushed it away. After all, I do have a college degree and they'd probably laugh at me for applying, because I'm unmistakably white. I didn't have much trust in my ability to hear God's voice, so I gave into fear and didn't make a move. I narrowed my search to places close by and applied for a couple jobs that I thought should have been a sure thing. Nothing. I became really discouraged and tried to think of reasons why I couldn't seem to get a job. Was it because I had a gap in my work history that looked suspicious? Was it because I shouldn't be living in Abilene? Was it because I didn't know the right people? Was it because I had moved so many times in the last year? Was it my fault, was it someone else's fault or was God behind all of this? As January came and went, I aimlessly looked for any answer and finally just had to come to the conclusion that I had no clue. For the first time in 2 or 3 years, I couldn't see where my path was at all. I had to admit that I didn't know what obedience looked like in my life anymore and I was botching the whole thing. I could think of so many possible next steps, but didn't know which was the first step (or if there even was one right choice). It was a time to lean into God's grace and hope for His hand to be clear and visible. It was all I could do.

A few weeks ago I was having a time of prayer and decided to read out of the Bible a bit hoping God would reveal something to me. I ended up in Jonah reading about how he ran away from God's call and those around him suffered because of it. Don't you know reading that sent my mind a million directions. I could think of half a dozen possible meanings to that, so I logged it away until further notice (which it turns out was while I was writing the previous paragraph) when hopefully that would make sense. Shortly after that, after some more hopeful job opportunities had fallen through, I decided I would get away from the job search and work for my dad for a week. During that week, I felt a little bit of healing and some hope returning. This Sunday, my last day in Arlington, I was eating some Chinese food with my mom and the fortune cookie said, "You will finally make a long overdue personal decision." Now I must say, I do believe God speaks through all kinds of things, including fortune cookies. I half jokingly, half seriously thought, "I guess I should finally apply at Los Arcos and get a job." Two minutes later, Katrina calls me, but my phone's on silent, so I don't realize it. She leaves a message saying her and Mark are eating at Los Arcos and the waitress complained that she had to work that day, because someone was quitting and I should apply. No joke. I still wasn't confident that this was God speaking to me, but I decided that I was going to apply this week.

So, I picked up an application on Tuesday (I thought they were closed Monday, but it turns out they're open for lunch that day). After I filled out the application, I was still doubting that this was for real. I halfway decided that if this didn't work out, I was going to work for my dad for a little bit to save up money and then take a trip to Costa Rica (you can get round-trip tickets for $350 in February!). The next day, I stopped by during the slow time with my application hoping to score an interview right then and there. I had been going through hypothetical questions and answers in my head, so I was ready. When I gave my application to the owner, she looked it over for a second and we talked about what shifts were going to be open. She said she'd call me that afternoon when she knew for sure the shifts that I could work. No interview. As the afternoon came and went, I started thinking about how she seemed amused when I was talking to her and how she was probably planning on blowing me off. Stupid gringo. When 7 o'clock rolled around, I gave up the dream. I popped in The Sting and wondered what to do next. Obviously, my imagination had gotten the best of me, and I had been making the whole thing up in an effort to make myself feel better or something.

At 9 p.m., the my phone rang. Before I fished it out of my pocket, I tried to think of who could possibly be calling that I wasn't going to screen. I wasn't in the mood to chat it up. It was a number I didn't have in my phone. It had the Abilene area code. Here came the final nail in the coffin. Sure enough, it was Los Arcos. Instead of telling me something like "they were pursuing other candidates" or "they're continuing their search", she asked me if I needed to work. Surprised I said, "soon would be good." She told me to come in the next day at 10:30 a.m. After finding out what I needed to wear, I hung up and wondered, "what happened to having an interview?" I sat in disbelief. Did I just get a job?

Sure enough, when I showed up this morning, they put me to work (after asking if I was there to pick up a takeout order). The first thing the owner asked me was if I had been a server before. I could tell she was expecting a yes. When I said no, she paused for a very long second and awkwardly smiled saying, "Well, I hope you like it." Later on, after asking me some more questions, it was clear she hadn't really read my application. After going over the menu, their policy on substitutions, where to drop off tickets and where to put dirty dishes, she said, "The next table is yours. If you have any questions, ask Debbie." Nothin like hittin the ground runnin.

I felt a little overwhelmed today at times, but I'm pretty excited about it. It's 3 blocks from my house, I don't have to wake up early, I don't have to sit at a desk, I get sweet Mexican food for free and I get to work on my Spanish. I'm most assuredly the only gringo who works there. No one in the kitchen really speaks English aside from the names of food. I don't know exactly what shifts I'll be working or even how much I make an hour. All I know is I've got a job, I'm pretty sure God's behind it, I made $27.72 in tips today, and it feels good. It'll be interesting to see what happens over the following months in this cozy, very authentic Mexican joint.

Just to clear things up (in case you're wondering) Los Arcos means, "The Arches."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back in a Tent

This last weekend, I slept in a tent for the first time since I was shot. As you might guess, sleeping in a tent again made me think about everything that went down last summer. Many people have asked me what I learned, how I've been affected, or what's changed as a result of being shot. It's been hard to give answers because of how many different and interconnected answers there are to those questions. In this one post, I am going to attempt to answer all those questions in no particular order, so buckle in. It's a short novel.

1. Awesome People - Firstly, in everything that happened, I was so encouraged by the reaction of the body of Christ: my brothers and sisters. From the very start Ross was there. Night and day, he was there. There's a good chance I would've died if Ross wasn't on top of things that night and didn't get me to a good hospital when the 1st one didn't even have a real doctor working. In the next couple weeks, Ross was a stud (as usual). He had to deal with every bodily fluid you could imagine, plus get woken up by me repeatedly in the middle of the night. On top of all that, he was my bouncer, interpreter, doctor, closest of friends and tons of other things. Right behind Ross were tons of Christians in Ecuador. There were people from the church we had gone to the night before that would come to visit me almost every day. Eduardo came twice a day usually. There were other Christians I had never met who brought us things like flip flops, cells phones, food and money, gave us rides to places and interpreted for us. There must of been at least 50 Ecuadorians who visited me in the hospital. My parents dropped everything and made it to Ecuador a few days after I was shot. That's pretty impressive considering my dad was all the way in Africa at the time. Their presence was so encouraging and their attempts at communication in Spanish were entertaining to say the least. Also, I was so blessed to have them get me back to the U.S. and continue taking care of me. When I got back to Texas, my family was awesome (not that they weren't before and don't continue to be still). My sister, brother and aunt Sara took turns staying with me in the hospital. They picked up where Ross left off. They all got a chance to read to me as I would inevitably fall asleep several times requiring them to go back a few pages each time and reread. My mom and dad went back to work but still came to the hospital for several hours a day. Sara got to deal with me for a couple months after that back at our parents' house. She took such good care of me, walked me at the mall and drove me all over the metroplex. I also had some awesome doctors who not only worked to heal my body, but prayed for my well being. Next came the thousands and thousands of Christians who prayed, visited, hugged, sent cards, gave money and made food. Their response, both in quantity and quality, was shocking. I expected my friends, relatives and a few people from church to visit and send cards. Instead, I received dozens of visitors, 100's of cards, 1000's of dollars and 10,000's of prayers, if not more. It was amazing. I saw first hand how powerful and mobile Christ's body can be when called to action and united in purpose. It is incredible to have 1000's and 1000's of people caring about and fighting for your life, many of whom have never met you. So, thanks to each one of you. I feel like God gave me a peak into what He sees everyday from His children and into what He desires for his church to be doing daily. Huge blessing.

2. I Had It Coming - I don't mean that in a I-was-bad-so-I-should-have-been-punished kind of way. What I mean by that is that God had been hinting that some kind of persecution was waiting for me in Ecuador. In one of the blogs I wrote shortly before I left, I indirectly talked about that. Of course, I hardly expected to be shot. Who grows up in suburban America and really expects to ever be shot? I was picturing something more like people not being my friend or getting a bloody nose. I see being shot as a spiritual attack more than anything. It shouldn't surprise us that when we do follow God, we become Satan's target. As a result, I haven't had a hard time coping with the fact that God allowed me to be shot while on a trip to serve Him. I'd even say I was joyful about it at times. Those verses about rejoicing in suffering and enduring trials are real, though I know it can sometimes be extremely difficult to rejoice in the midst of suffering.

3. Not Gun-Shy - I'm surprised and thankful that being shot hasn't caused me to be fearful. Quite the opposite actually. For instance, when I was in a wreck spinning out of control last month, it just didn't phase me at all. I jokingly told a few people that when you've been shot, a car wreck just isn't that big of a deal. I just can't get my kicks pulling 180's and running into trucks anymore. In a real way, getting shot has freed me. My perspective on pain and suffering has been a bit tweaked. Related to that, I have no apprehension in going back to Ecuador. For the sake of people who care about me, I probably wouldn't stay in a tent again. I wouldn't want to cause them unneeded worry.

4. No White Picket Fence - When I saw a flash, heard a bang and the tent stopped shaking, the first thing that went through my head was, "did I really just get shot?" It wasn't panic or fear, but disbelief. I suspect this is somewhat normal even for those who live in dangerous places or fight in wars and know their life is on the line. Days, weeks and months after it happened, I would still have moments when getting shot didn't seem real. I'd look down at my scars to make sure it wasn't just a vivid dream I had woken up from. This might be normal, too, but it made me think about the paradigm I grew up in that still shapes how I view the world. I don't know whether everyone explicitly said it or it was just something implied by people around me, but my expectations for life were pretty simple. Growing up I thought I'd go to college, get married around graduation, get a normal 8 to 5 desk job, work my way up, buy a house, have a few kids, coach little league, go to church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays, be a deacon and then an elder, rarely leave Texas, except on the occasional mission trip somewhere in the contiguous 48, raise my kids to do the exact same thing, retire and die. Up until my junior year in college, I still believed that's where my life was headed. My girlfriend at the time and I even decided we should break up, because she wanted to travel all over the place and do missionary-type stuff, and I knew I'd never do that... So you're probably all laughing now. I had no clue. The life I just described is a great life. That's exactly what a lot of people were made to do. But, I've come to the realization that my life will look almost nothing like I thought it would 4 short years ago. Suffice it to say, getting shot was the final nail in that coffin. I've given up on trying to predict my life anymore. All I've got to go on is what God lets me in on.

5. Did I Think I Was Going To Die? - This has perhaps been the most asked question. The answer is "kind of." I really didn't think about it right off. I lied in the tent bleeding for 30 minutes without it crossing my mind. It wasn't until I was getting carried to the ambulance on a stretcher that I realized I might die that very night. What a weird thought to have... well, not considering the circumstances, but in general. The surge of panic only lasted for a moment and then I felt God saying something to the effect of, "I'm not done with you yet" and peace washed over me. From then on, I didn't think I would die again. I sure came pretty close though.

6. What Was God Up To? - More than anything, I felt protected by Him. That sounds pretty backwards, but it's the truth. Any of a dozen variables could have changed and I wouldn't be writing this blog right now. For starters, the way we set our tent up was strange. It was so awkward, we almost moved it. I'm convinced the banditos couldn't figure out where the door to the tent was, because it was between 2 small banana trees. Who knows what would've happened if they had got into the tent while we were still asleep? Second, where the bullet went in was like hitting a bull's eye. If it had been a 1/4 of an inch in any direction, I probably wouldn't have made it to the hospital alive. Third, if Ross didn't know what was going on, who knows what would've happened in the first, poorly-staffed hospital we didn't end up staying at? Also, after 9 or 10 days, the doctor had decided he was going to do a colostomy if my white blood cell count didn't go down to a certain level by the next day. Thankfully, it did and I didn't have one. Months later, when I was having a follow up visit with one of my doctors, she told us how impressed the surgeons were with how bad I was when they operated. Serious nasty infection. We asked her what would have happened if I'd had a colostomy in Ecuador, and she said that would have sent the infection out of control. Seeing all of that gives me confidence that God was protecting me from death each step of the way. 6b. The second part of what I think God was doing is a little harder to communicate. I guess I feel like my trip to Ecuador and getting shot was an initiation into a new stage/season in life. In other words, I feel like that was something that needed to happen so I would be prepared to do the work God has prepared for me in the future. The details of said future are fuzzy at best. If getting shot on a mission trip in a foreign country is a starting point for something, that could mean a myriad of different life directions. I could guess what those are, but that would be a whole other post. In whatever happens, I'm confident that God is straightening my paths by whatever means necessary.

7. New Insights - Another big outcome of this is my new understanding of what people who are dealing with tragedy and suffering are going through. Previously, I had no clue what it felt like and how people would react to you. It was so interesting to see how people I didn't know felt intimately involved in my life and would come hug me and ask me all kinds of questions. Conversely, some others, even among people I know well, just didn't know what to do or say, so they didn't do or say anything. I definitely have a new spot in my heart for people in hospitals and for people who are dealing with a long term illness. I had no idea before.

I'm not thinking of anything else to say right now, but I'm sure there's more. If anyone has any other/similar insights they'd like to share with me, I'd love to hear them. All in all, I feel strangely blessed to have gone through all that and thankful for all the people who have been along my side throughout the journey.

(I eagerly await the day that I get to play 2 truths and a lie with people who don't know me. No one will ever guess getting shot in Latin America is one of my truths.)