Saturday, March 17, 2018

Baby Shower #2

Baby shower number two is upon us here at the Dunnevant house. The place looks immaculate, pastel colors everywhere. By noon, eleven ladies will sit at this table for a sumptuous lunch....

...which, sadly, will not be serving beef jerky, nachos or hot dogs. By the time lunch is served, I will be long gone, banished from the premises by the hostess, for good reason. My presence would be risky since, while I might be helpful in a pinch, the chance that I might say or do something embarrassing far outweigh any help I might be able to offer. So, my dismissal is just one more example of my wife’s excellent strategic planning skills.

The guest of honor will be the former Jessica Stroup, now Jessica Rodriguez. This will be her first child. When she and her husband arrived here Thursday evening, the sight of her...pregnant... placed a surprising lump in my throat. This young woman has been a staple in the Dunnevant house for over 25 years. We met her and her parents serendipitously at a nursery school open house when she was probably 4 or 5 years old, discovered that they lived just down the street from us, and soon a lifelong friendship was born between her and my daughter, her and my son, and her family and ours. 25 years later, after a hundred sleepovers, a thousand meals together, a couple dozen concerts, road trips, vacations and assorted adventures great and small, this little blond girl walks into my house...adorably pregnant. Where did the years go?

When you become lifelong friends with an entire family, you literally help raise their kids just as they help raise yours. This is one of the great benefits of living your life in one community instead of adopting the life of the nomad, chasing new jobs and new opportunities every which way the wind blows. When you put down roots, it allows for the development of deep bonds between families. When there are other adults who you know and can trust with your kids, it makes it easier to be a better parent yourself. There are a small group of other kids who start to feel like your own. You become protective of them, start to love if they were your own. Even after they grow up and move away and become fully functioning adults, get married, and start having their own kids, and even after months and even years go by when you don’t see them, all they have to do is show up at your house for a baby shower...and it all comes rushing back. It’s really a quite beautiful thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pam’s World

If the month of March were a baseball game, it’s boxscore would be a hot mess, even though we’re only in the 5th inning. Since I now live in a country that with each passing day becomes more baseball-illiterate, this metaphor probably makes no sense to most of you. But, since this is my blog, I’ll use baseball metaphors whenever I want. If you’re a book. 

Anyway, yeah...March is like one of those crazy games where the pitchers are getting shelled, there are lots of errors and pitching changes, walks and homeruns, double switches, a rain delay and even a bench clearing brawl. And through it all, my wife is serving as umpire, manager of both teams, public address announcer and the foreman of the grounds crew. Watching her juggle it all has been like reading Donald Trump’s Twitter’s right there in front of you, but you just can’t freaking believe it!

Over the past thirteen days she has had her identity stolen, scrambled together one baby shower and is now working on a second. Her Mom has had carpal tunnel surgery, and this morning her sister goes in for abdominal surgery. In the meantime, she has been in the process of redecorating the house in preparation for shower #2...(out with the winter decor, in with spring which required a trip to Hobby Lobby)...while trying to figure out a way to make something Irish for our small group meeting tomorrow night, which happened to coincide with the arrival of a couple of out of town guests. Two batches of homemade designer cupcakes have been baked and decorated, new table linens ordered, the guest half of our upstairs, (fondly designated The Dunnevant Inn), cleaned and buffed. Since she has a day job teaching under performing elementary school children who struggle with math and reading, all of these activities have been done after work. 

Of course, since this is my wife I’m talking about, she has done all of these things while simultaneously struggling with the twin burdens of inadequacy and a daughter, sister, teacher, friend, party planner, hostess and wife. Knowing her, she’s probably also beating herself up over her pet owner skills as well since she’s not had a spare second to pet Lucy! 

When it gets like this around here, I try my best to help out and sometimes I even succeed. My area of expertise is purely incidental, since I possess no actionable skills that can be brought to bear on the tasks at hand. I can’t cook, I know nothing about party planning. Some of the things I can actually do, she is hesitant to entrust to my care. My wife isn’t a very good designator. There’s the way I do things, and then there’s the right way to do things...and seldom are they the same. But, I bankroll it all, so that counts for something, right?

I watch her juggling all of these chainsaws and I marvel at her skill and tenacity. No matter how daunting the task, at the end of the day everything gets done, but not in a helter skelter, slip shod fashion, but with beauty and grace and a level of loveliness that is sometimes hard to believe. After this coming weekend, her calendar clears up. Nothing huge will be happening for a few weeks. She will be able to relax a little, return to a less tumultuous life. I say this...but just her luck the game will go into extra innings!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Fourth Floor at St. Mary’s

My friend was released from the hospital yesterday, three weeks after being admitted at death’s door. What an incredible story she has to tell. The fourth floor at St. Mary’s hospital is where many such stories start. When I arrived three weeks ago to sit with the family as they waited, it was my first trip back there in fifteen years. Back then, it was my anxious family waiting, wondering and filled with fear. 

I had just turned 45 and along with the arrival of my birthday, a nagging cough. For several weeks it got steadily worse, until finally I couldn’t sleep. Although, I wanted to wait until the following Monday to make another trip to the doctor, it was Pam who had insisted that I go to the emergency room on a Saturday. It had been that insistence that essentially saved my life. Once admitted, it was discovered that my nagging cough was being caused by a defective mitral valve which had been coming apart for several weeks. Blood was pooling around my heart whenever I laid down...congestive heart failure. 24 hours after being admitted, a surgeon with the bedside manner of an orangutan, was performing open heart surgery.

The details don’t matter, and I would rather not get into them anyway. Suffice it to say that it was a staggering event that had life changing consequences for me. But, as my friend returns home, I’m remembering things that I’d forgotten about when I came home after just a week at St. Mary’s. The primary emotion was a profound disorientation. What the heck had just happened to me? It’s like all of a sudden I had forgotten how normal was supposed to feel. I was grateful to be alive but not quite sure what this new life was going to be like. I felt damaged, the ugly 8 inch scar down my chest the physical manifestation of that damage. My emotions were all over the map. Poor Pam had never, ever seen me cry in our 20 years together, and now suddenly I was a water works. I remember wanting to see people...right up to the minute they arrived, then I counted the minutes until they left. It was such an odd feeling, having visitors. These were people who I loved and who loved me...but I remember feeling strangely embarrassed, wondering how people were seeing me. Did they think I was damaged? 

Then there were the kids from church. Back then I was a teacher of high school students in a very large and active youth group at Grove Avenue Baptist. Ordinarily, our house was full of such kids on the weekends. Now, Pam struggled to manage their visits. I’m told that many of them tried to visit me when I was still in the hospital but Pam had thought that unworkable and unwise. So instead, and I can’t remember if it was her suggestion or one of the kids, someone provided them with a piece of poster board which they all signed with their well wishes. Every time I looked at it, I would get choked up. Finally, I rolled it up and stuck it in my closet. Too many memories. 

But, watching my friend go though a far worse ordeal over these last three weeks, many of those memories have come roaring back. Although she possesses a far greater faith than me, I’m sure that she will experience some of the same disorientation, the same wide ranging emotional swings, the same mental exhaustion.

So, I couldn’t help myself. I found one of the two posters. It feels like a million years ago...

The other one had a big thing in the middle of it that said Braveheart. I remember feeling everything but brave. Terrified? Confused? Rattled? Yes. Brave?? Not a chance. My friend is brave. And everyone who prayed so fervently for her survival must continue praying for her complete recovery.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Horrible Discovery

I glanced at my calendar today and discovered something truly horrible. Actually, I discovered two bad things, which combined equal one horrible thing. So far 2018 has been a year to forget, filled with one calamity after another, and now...this....April Fools Day falls on a Sunday....not just any old Sunday, but Easter Sunday!!

Words cannot possibly express the depths of my disappointment. The first day of April has provided me with a lifetime of unending thrills. I have pulled off so many epic gags on this glorious day, it is impossible to count them all. My performances throughout the years on this day have made me a first ballot practical joke Hall of Famer. But as bad as this news is for me, it will be a day of great rejoicing for everyone at my office, who no doubt will view this tragic quirk of the calendar as some sort of year of jubilee thing. But, I should have known this would happen in 2018. I mean, everything else has gone wrong...why not?

Some might ask, why does the fact that April Fools Day is on Easter Sunday mean that the day is ruined? See, that’s the sort of rookie question I would expect from people who just don’t understand the significance of April Fools. 

Listen, it would be hard to explain to a coworker how you managed to take apart the headset of their phone to jam a clove of garlic down in the mouthpiece...on the day that our Lord and Savior rose from the dead. Filling several strategically important cabinets with 500 orange ping pong balls, then making sure that it’s Lynwood Atkinson that opens the cabinet first is a great gag...but might seem considerably less funny when it’s discovered that I did all this booby trapping on the same day that our redeemer was crucified. Installing a scramble program that disables the keyboard of someone’s computer might produce a profane outburst which would seem especially egregious the very day after the resurrection. 

So, this year there will be no Vaselined doorknobs, no cling-wrapped toilet seats, no phones hidden above the ceiling tiles. No buckets of ping pong balls will be hanging precariously by a fishing line above anyone’s office door. No one’s family pictures will be hanging from the ceiling by duct tape. There will be no fake summons, no phony arrest warrants, no inflated telephone bills, open cans of sardine cat food will not be hidden beneath anyone’s car seat. All because the Stone was rolled away.

Two days later, I’ll turn 60. 

I’m telling you...2018 stinks.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Baby Shower and a Miracle

All week my wife has been burning the midnight oil, preparing and planning a baby shower. I know nothing of such things, having never attended a baby shower. It is quite an involved process which includes but is by no means limited to...a nursery rhyme game, wisdom cards, assorted teas, something called cucumber canap├ęs, and of course, Pam’s famous designer cupcakes. I’m sure it will be a glorious affair, since nothing that my wife has a hand in could possibly be anything but.

The beneficiary of this shower is Lacey Fort. It will be Lacey’s first child. Unfortunately, Lacey’s mother-in-law will not be able to make it in person, but she will be Skyped in to the proceedings. See, Lacey’s mother-in-law has been in the hospital for the past seventeen days fighting for her life, fighting and winning, I should say. Against a mountain of odds, she has astonished us all with a miraculous recovery from a series of dangerous operations. She has done so with all of her trademark humor, tenacity and faith firmly in tact. Her husband sent me a text a couple of days ago with a picture of her scooting around with the aid of a walker. Knowing everything she had endured in such a short period of time, the picture took my breath away. Yesterday Pam received a text from her. It was full of encouragement...for us, along with gratitude for our friendship. Again, a miracle.

So, tomorrow she will attend the shower via technology. Her presence there will be a testament to many praiseworthy things...

1. The incredible skill and tenacity of gifted surgeons.
2. The tender and practiced care of a team of dedicated, compassionate nurses.
3. The love and devotion of her husband.
4. The steadfast affection and loyalty of her children.
5. The selfless devotion of so many of her friends, but in particular, one Kim Davis.

But, it was not only these things. In this particular case, despite the skill and proficiency of the doctors and nurses, there was something else. There were several times early on when the doctors prepared for the worst, their abilities finding themselves up against long and seemingly insurmountable odds. Indeed, her prognosis seemed to shift between grave and hopeless. Her astonishing recovery has all of them baffled, and all of us amazed and humbled. I don’t know enough about the biology and science involved, but those who do can’t fully account for her recovery. Here’s what I do know.

This is a missionary family, a tribe of multigenerational preachers, teachers and doctors who have followed the call of God to serve in Africa and elsewhere. Consequently, the Fort family is known and loved by groups of people literally all over the world, in every time zone, on every continent. When news of her sudden illness began to spread across that world, suddenly, word began to trickle back to Richmond of groups large and small gathering to pray. A pastor in South Korea, a church in Africa, congregations all over America, friends in China. The relentless, fervent prayers of thousands of people went up on her behalf simultaneously in every corner of the world. 

Just as I don’t understand the biology and science, I must also confess that neither do I fully understand the ways of God. I have no explanation for why he chooses to heal some but not others. To say that he is sovereign and is free to do as he wishes will not satisfy the atheist, nor frankly does it satisfy me. Yes, there is science involved here. But the God who created the science, sometimes inexplicably overrules the science. In this case, I believe he did just that. 

So, tomorrow everyone will celebrate the pending arrival of a new and precious life, along with the miraculous preservation of another.

I stand amazed...

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Minor Prophet Zingers

Day 67 of Reading Through the Bible in 90 Days lands me in the midst of the minor prophets, which is kind of like an off, off, off, way off Broadway play in the Catskills which a handful of people watch while trying to choke down really dry chicken cordon blue. It’s a lot of the same thing, repeated over and over again...Israel is an unfaithful brood of covenant breaking ingrates and their comeuppance is close at hand. But, as I have discovered at least a dozen times during this exercise, even in the dullest, driest parts of scripture, one skims at their own peril, because if you do, you’re likely to miss this:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

Would I really..rejoice and be joyful...if I lost everything? I very much doubt it. So, the conclusion is that maybe my faith in God is basically a transactional relationship...he blesses me with abundance, and I believe and have faith in him. I know it’s not that simple, but the whole Job thing has always given me pause. And now the same idea gets thrown at me by this Habakkuk guy. 

So, I ponder all of this and it occurs to me that when Pam and I were young parents and she had just made the decision to be a stay at home Mom, we were as broke and unstable financially as we have ever been...and yet, I’m not sure that we have ever been as close to God as we were during that time. During a season when every month was a struggle to pay the bills, every week a balancing act, our faith was real and sustaining. 

Maybe what makes this passage from Habakkuk sound so impossible is imagining what it would be like now to lose it all, after a couple decades of plenty? Maybe if you don’t have much to lose having consistent, passionate faith is easier. Maybe this is why you don’t see a lot of religious-themed bumper stickers on Maseratis.

The lesson here? Don’t throw shade on the minor prophets!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Bird’s Song

I’m told that we are only two weeks away from the arrival of Spring. I’m also told that it is always darkest before the dawn. These two rumors seem connected. Glancing at my weather app this morning, I see two snowflakes beside this coming Sunday and Monday. My heart sinks.

It is fair to say that I hate Winter. It has not always been so. When I was a younger man, I loved it, the more snow the better. Now, it is something to be endured. February, always my least favorite month of the year, was terrible this year. It seemed like every day was either cloudy or raining. Now, the whole world is damp and chilly. Shriveled brown leaves cling to the oak trees in my yard. Sticks and pine cones are scattered everywhere from the recent winds. And now...snow’s coming.

Winter is a time devoted almost exclusively to my professional obligations. After 36 years I have developed a routine that front loads most of my client meetings into the first five months of the year. This intentional scheduling allows me the flexibility to travel during the summer months, before ramping up again during the Fall. So, March 7th finds me half way through the busiest, most hectic part of my year. It’s a good thing too since there is literally nothing else to do which involves venturing outside. Dismal low clouds, 40 degrees and misty rain conspire against outdoor pursuits.

But, this morning there is one bird in my backyard who hasn’t gotten the memo. Despite all the dreariness, this guy is perched on a limb singing his heart out, the brightest, happiest little warble you’ve ever heard. No other bird replies, his is a solo performance. Still, he persists with enthusiasm. It’s as if he knows something that nobody else knows. Pam says it’s a Carolina Wren. The more he sings, the more I think perhaps he is a she. Optimism, I have found, is most often a feminine quality.

Regardless, a bird has given me encouragement this day.