Sunday, October 29, 2006

Holy Ghosts

Because Halloween is near, I thought I'd post a ghost story. And ghost stories don't get any better than the ones told by my dad. For Church of Christ folks, we were pretty tuned into the paranormal back in the day. Anyway, here's my dad's story about a church we used to attend:

"This story would not have frightened the living daylights out of me had it been untrue or had it been presented as a fictional narrative. But the story is true and remains to me as great a mystery now as when it transpired more than thirty-three years ago.

Lovington, New Mexico, was a peaceful community with a population of 9,000, including women and children. The Church of Christ was located on the corner of 3rd Street at Central Avenue. Their first building was constructed during the 1930s. Some years later, they added another building alongside that first one. Then in the 1960s, they constructed a new auditorium (sanctuary) alongside the second building. The three buildings were connected by a hallway running along the backside of the complex.

Across the street from these buildings was an old funeral home the church purchased to serve as additional classroom space. This was called the Brown Building. Why? Because it was brown. Next door to the Brown Building was a little white house that was called the White House. Why? Oh never mind. The White House was the home of J. D. and Roma Smith. J. D. was one of our elders. Also he was the local undertaker.

I moved my wife and son to Lovington in February 1971 to become the new youth minister for this fine congregation. Brian was 3. Deana was born in August of that year.

In 1973, the elders agreed that I could spend every Tuesday in Portales, NM, taking graduate Bible courses at the Church of Christ Bible Chair located on the Eastern New Mexico University campus. My agreement with the elders included that I would not allow school to conflict with my duties of serving as youth minister. This meant that I would be doing most of my school work after 11 p.m. several nights per week.

Since Deana was only two years old (terrible two’s) I did not wish to disturb her night’s rest with my necessary typing of research papers. So I would go down to the church house to study in my office. The offices were situated in the middle building between the new auditorium and the old original building which, by this time, was a nice fellowship hall.

One night, I was in the church office typing away on my old Adler electric typewriter. I thought I heard something but paid it little notice. There it was again. I quit typing and listened more intently. There was singing. Congregational a cappella singing. They were singing, “Blessed Assurance.” My immediate concern was that I did not know who the “they” were. The singing was so clear and near, at the same time seeming vague and far away.

I eased over to my office door and listened. Yes, there was singing. I opened the door a little and peered into the hallway. The singing stopped. All was quiet. I mulled that over for a few moments then closed the door and returned to my typing. The singing started up again. This time they were singing, “My Faith Looks Up To Thee.” I became a little frightened. No, I became really scared and even found myself fearful of walking out of the building to get into my car. After all, it was midnight. But I made it home in one piece.

Several nights later while studying in my office, I heard the singing again. This time I just sat at my typewriter and listened. They sang several hymns. And yes, they consistently skipped the third verse. But then it got quiet.

Anyway, a few days later, I happened to see J. D. and asked him about the singing. He replied, “Oh that’s the old congregation. They still meet over in the old building where they met back in the 1930s.” Then he added, “I step over there from time to time just to hear them sing. It’s just plain beautiful.” J. D. never cracked a smile and neither did I. Maybe He loved to hear them sing but they scared me half to death.

That dear old elder has “crossed over” but I suspect he still attends regularly with that original Lovington congregation. He loved to sing bass. One of his favorites was “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”

I would like to visit there just one more night and listen to the old church sing again. Brother Smith was right. It was just plain beautiful."

Winston Hamby –

(Deana’s Dad) …

Friday, October 27, 2006

Little Rockin'

Chad's mom has been here this week so today we took her to downtown Little Rock. We ate at Sticky Fingerz, where I had their yummy veggie quesadillas, and then we headed over to River Market Books and Gifts, where you can hang out all day looking at books and art. They even had Marie Antoinette action figures ("With Ejector Head!"). I'm really liking downtown LR. When you're used to a place like downtown Houston, a smaller -- but fun -- downtown like LR can be quite relaxing. I'm having visions of dropping Jenna off at MDO some time and spending the day down there.

As soon as I don't have seven deadlines staring me in the face. Like I do right now.

Lately I'm also digging Evanescence, a band that is, incidentally, from Little Rock. Bet they used to play at Sticky Fingerz. That's their picture up there. Amy Lee has an amazing voice, and they ROCK. Go to my myspace to hear a song from their new album.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Coffee and Me

I'm back to blogging about coffee today. I was thinking about how, at 35, I'm finally drinking coffee on a regular basis. Starbucks, with their "heaven in a paper cup," probably helped bring this about. But I have another theory on why I shunned coffee for so many years.

The truth is that coffee caused one of the most jarring disappointments of my life.

Lovington, New Mexico: During the late '70s/early '80s, we lived in this little southeast N.M. town. Wasn't much there. When I was in 6th grade, we got a Dairy Queen, and you would have thought the Pope had moved to town. Anyway, on the way out of town towards Hobbs, on the left side of the highway, between the vet and the farm and ranch supply place, was the Pioneer Steakhouse. Because my parents ate there the night before I was born, the Pioneer and I go way back. I didn't love the Pioneer for the steaks (a vegetarian in the making even then,) it was the salad bar that kept me coming back. On the salad bar was a huge hunk of cheese with one of those cheese knives so you could cut off your own slice, and next to that was a steaming vat of beef broth. That beef broth was rich, warm, yummy, and the best thing to put in your stomach on those cold, windy, New Mexico nights. And it looked just like coffee.

"That must be what coffee tastes like," I thought.

Years went by and we moved to Beaumont, Texas, when I was in junior high. One day my dad was having coffee and he asked if I wanted to taste it. Remembering that dreamy beef broth of my childhood, I eagerly jumped at the chance. Imagine my surprise when that bitter taste hit my mouth. It almost tasted like hot liquid dirt. "Never again," I said, handing my dad's cup back to him.

And I didn't. Not until my thirties, when I found a way to make coffee not taste like coffee.

So now I've made peace with coffee. And I wonder if the Pioneer Steakhouse is still open. And I realize how disturbing it is that the Pioneer was right next door to the vet who cared for all the local livestock. Hmmm...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

True Confession #13

Yesterday, in an attempt to get healthier snacks into our house, I bought a two-pound bag of trail mix that includes peanuts, raisins, almonds and M&Ms.

Last night in front of the TV, I ate every last M&M right out of the bag.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Gettin' Jiggy with JBU

A couple of weeks ago, the board of trustees revised the rules at John Brown University and guess what? Dancing on campus is now legal. This article tells the story and includes a list of other Arkansas colleges -- including Harding -- where dancing is banned.

The whole dancing thing has been on my mind lately because this Sunday night, we're having Hay Daze. This is a kind of fall gathering for our youth group that includes a square dance. Chad even hired a professional caller. In fact, Chad is in charge of the whole thing. This is funny to me (funnier than square dancing is by itself) because Chad was one of those Church of Christ kids who had to sit out of square dancing in P.E. I was one of those kids, too. It seems like a lot of people who grew up in the CoC heritage have "I-got-pulled-out-of-square-dancing-in 5th-grade" type stories.

Here's mine: In 6th grade, square dance week was coming up in P.E. My parents didn't really have a problem with square dancing, but the preacher at my church pulled his daughter out and my dad, the youth minister, felt like he should do the same to keep peace at the office. ("Peace" was a relative term in his office situation, but that's another blog.) So I had to sit out. I didn't mind missing the square dancing, but I did mind a girl in my class asking what in the world was wrong with square dancing that my parents wouldn't let me do it. "You're going to flunk P.E.!" she said. That wasn't true -- I guess the P.E. teacher was used to CoC kids skipping out on square dancing every year so she was cool with it. A couple of days later, the girl came up to me and said she was sorry she had bugged me about it. I got the feeling her mother had one of those "You should respect other people's beliefs, even when their beliefs are weird" talks with her. I really appreciated that mom.

So what's your CoC-kid square-dancing story?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Who needs Starbucks?

International Delight is making special holiday edition flavors of their coffee creamers and the Chocolate Mint Truffle one is YUM. Seriously, I wouldn't drink coffee at all if it weren't for these wonderful creamers that make your coffee taste like you melted a candy bar in it. I also like Coffee Mate's Creme Brulee.

OK, I still need Starbucks. But still.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thank Ewe

I'm proud to announce Keith Brenton as the winner of the Weirdest Comment Ever Posted on My Blog. Congratulations! He wins dinner with my family at his house.

The other day, Chad was grieving the special moments we will never share again now that I'm a vegetarian. "Like what?" I asked. "Like when you would order a barbecue plate and couldn't finish it," he moaned. So I guess what he's really missing are the special moments he shared with my leftover food. Somehow, he'll make it through.

From the oatmeal improvement department: Thank you to everyone for your ideas. I'll try some of them in the future. For now, my strategy is to find something really interesting on TV (there's always something on "E!") so I can get engrossed in it and forget what I'm eating.

Highlight of this morning: speed-shopping through Target with Jenna because we were out of food at home and I needed to get stuff for her lunch on the way to her school. In the checkout, Jenna got really excited and started waving at the guy behind us in line, saying, "Hi, PaPa!" I looked at the guy and he really did resemble my dad. As we were walking out, Jenna kept turning around and looking at him. I had to reassure her that he did LOOK like PaPa, but the REAL PaPa was actually in Houston. I think she understood. Or she went to school wondering why PaPa came all the way to Arkansas only for us to leave him at Target.

There are worse places to be left.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday night in small-town AR

Tonight our dear, lifelong friends Tod and Jan Traughber and their boys came from Searcy to hang out with us. We introduced them to Larry's Pizza (which Tod said was the best pizza he'd ever had) and then, naturally, we went on to Bryant's week-old Target. Jan is one of my sisters in Targethood, so she understands why going to Target would be a fun thing to do on a Friday night. Would you believe Tod and Jan live in a town that doesn't have a Target? And they're not even missionaries!

Oh, and for those of you tracking my meatless diet, don't worry. I had Larry's veggie pizza.

And now, the news from Arkansas. This story appeared in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Zoo sheep’s kidnapper hospitalized
A 33-year-old homeless man caught with a Little Rock Zoo sheep in a garbage can earlier this year was ordered into the State Hospital on Thursday after a state psychologist found him to be psychotic.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza committed Grady Allen Carnahan for treatment at the State Hospital until doctors can determine if he will ever be fit to stand trial.

“He immediately evidences paranoia delusional thought processes,” psychologist Ed Stafford wrote in his three-page mental evaluation provided to Piazza on Thursday. “Mr. Carnahan acknowledged a number of psychotic thought processes, including his perception that he could hear thoughts or voices emanating from this examiner’s head, including the number seven.”

After a Sept. 15 interview with Carnahan at the county jail, Stafford diagnosed him with psychotic disorder because he could not respond to the psychologist’s questions “in any sort of logical, coherent or goal-directed manner,” the report said.

Carnahan was arrested Feb. 21 after zoo security guards saw him dragging a trash can with a sheep in it through the park. He had been warned to stay off zoo grounds two days earlier after he had been caught on the grounds and security found indications he had been sleeping in the sheep barn, the report said.

Carnahan told police he was a doctor and the sheep was sick, but the 85-pound ewe was too heavy for him to carry so he put the animal in the trash can to take to his car. He later told officers the sheep belonged to his grandmother, the report said. Police reported that he also claimed the Southdown Babydoll sheep was his mother, Dolly.

Zoo officials said the sheep lost some wool in its encounter with Carnahan but did not suffer any serious injuries.

Asked to explain the incident, Carnahan was not able to discuss it rationally, Stafford wrote.

“He attempted to explain, at length, a very elaborate and at times bizarre delusional belief system regarding the sheep in question, most of which this examiner could not understand,” the report said. “He was hyper-verbal and this examiner had to interrupt him several times, just to attempt to explain the purpose and reasons for this evaluation.”

Carnahan had to be removed from the courtroom Thursday for being disruptive when he refused to stop talking. Carnahan is charged with felony violation of farm animal and research facilities, and misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and resisting arrest.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I'm trying

I'm really trying to be healthy by eating oatmeal a few mornings a week, but let me be honest. Eating chunky slime is not my idea of a fun way to start the day. I got some granola to put in it, which helps a little. Any other ideas?

In other news, Julia went outside the other day to ride her scooter, then came back in announcing the presence of a spider on our front porch. "It looks like a black widow," she said. I almost didn't even go look at it. I figured it was just one of those little fat black spiders we had in Baytown. I should have known better. If Julia knows anything, she knows her marine mammals, her insects and her arachnids.

So I went outside to take a look, and sure enough, there was a black spider with the red hourglass on its body. I called the office of our townhouses and described to the manager what I was looking at. I hoped to hear, "Oh, that's one of those spiders that looks just like a black widow, but it's harmless. There are no black widows in Arkansas." But no. She said, "Oh, yes. Everybody's been calling me about black widows on their porches. I've never seen so many black widows in my life."

I squashed the spider before she was even done with her sentence. I've killed two more since then and sprayed ammonia into the hole I saw them crawling out of.

It could be worse. In Baytown, we had the occasional alligator walking around the neighborhood.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Soccer Saturday

With Julia playing soccer and Chad coaching, we've been spending every Saturday at the soccer field. Here's a picture of Julia the goalie.

Hanging out at the soccer fields is fun. There are friends from church, a concession stand, and, if you're in the market for a house on wheels, you can check out the offerings at the mobile home dealership just south of the soccer complex:

I kind of like the deck on this one.

Afterward, we had lunch at Firehouse Subs. They have a yummy veggie sub and fire hats for the kids.

Target's grand opening is tomorrow. I've already been there three times this week (soccer team needed snacks this morning) so it's not going to be as exciting as I once thought, but still!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Happy days are here again.

No more driving into West Little Rock to go to Target.

No more of Jenna mournfully saying "Tah-get not open yet" every time we drive by.

The new Target in Bryant, Arkansas, is open for business.

True to form, I've been there twice in the past 18 hours. I took Julia and Jenna yesterday, where we made our first official purchase of... Band-aids. Julia apparently got carried away on the monkey bars at school and has experienced her first really big blister. Today, both girls are in school so I went back. This time for diapers and Go-Gurt. (I will make an exciting purchase soon -- I promise.) It's really a nice store. Everything is new and shiny and the carts don't have that layer of gunk on them that you find at older stores. Oh -- and today they were handing out store maps with the little Target dog on them. I will forever cherish mine.

The only thing wrong with this brand new Target is that it hasn't been open long enough to have clearance racks. I don't think there's one little red sticker in the entire store. Oh, well. Like all things worth waiting for, it'll happen in its own good time.

And why stop at two Target trips in one week? Tuesday Julia was out of school for teacher conference day. So we took Jenna to her school and headed to West LR for a Target shopping spree. Julia needed some clothes for cooler weather and I had some gift cards that were burning a hole in my purse. Julia was so excited because we never get to shop without Jenna anymore. She tried on clothes and we settled on ...

...this shirt,

...this shirt,

...these jeans,

...and these pants (except in blue):

Yes, Julia's on a blue kick right now. She says it brings out her blue eyes. She's right.

Then it was time for lunch. I told her we could go anywhere she wanted to. I was thinking of a somewhat nice place since we would be able to eat without having to chase Jenna around. But Julia insisted on Sonic. I said, "We can eat anywhere in Arkansas' capital city. Why would you want to sit in the car and eat French fries?"

"Because that would make this the best day of my life," she said.

So there we sat in the car eating French fries and cheese sticks. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Facing the Giants

Saturday evening, I went with a group of women from my house church to see "Facing the Giants." This movie was produced by two brothers from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. I understand all the actors are members of that church who volunteered their efforts for the movie. I'm guessing that's why the acting is really, really, really bad. I felt like I was watching a high school play.

Anyway, the movie is about a burned-out high-school football coach who is on the verge of losing his job because of his losing football team. And his wife can't get pregnant. Oh, and his car barely runs. (Oddly enough, the guy only makes $24,000 a year and his house is nicer than anything we have ever dreamed of living in. I made just under that while Chad was in grad school and our house looked nothing -- NOTHING -- like this guy's does.)

Anyway, on the brink of despair, the coach walks out into the woods by his house and gives his life to God. He then changes his coaching style from focusing on winning games to giving glory to God -- whether the team wins or loses.

I didn't want to give away too much about this movie, but it is pretty predictable, so what the hey. The team ends up winning the state championship. Of course it does.

Initially, I came out of the theatre feeling like I basically liked the movie. I liked the message of how drastically things in your life can change when your focus is on God instead of yourself. I could also appreciate the coach's wife's unwaivering faith through negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test. And if you like the idea of the little guy beating the big guy despite overwhelming odds, you might like the movie.

But after I thought about it a couple of days, here's what I didn't like. The movie promotes a concept that we see all too often in American Christian culture: If you give your life to God, your life will pretty much be perfect. Let's see what all happens to this guy:

- his team wins not one, but TWO state championships
- his wife, who has been told her only options for having children are in vitro or adoption, gets pregnant -- not once, but twice
- somebody anonymously gives the coach a brand-new truck
- his tough-guy, bad-attitude player gives his life to Christ, setting off a student body-wide revival
- he gets a raise

*POOF!* No more problems! See why you should be a Christian?

The truth is that many people out there sincerely give their lives to God but still can't have children or hang on to their marriages or their jobs.

I'm sure there are clusters of believers around the nation who have hope for this movie to spur a nationwide revival. Call me a pessimist, or maybe just a realist, but I can't see that happening. First of all, I don't know why non-Christians would go see this movie in the first place. Of the Christians who do go, I'm sure some will be uplifted and encouraged. But I'm afraid some will leave the theatre thinking their faith must be inferior since they still face major problems despite having given their lives to God long ago.

The producers of this movie likely wanted to send a message to America through "Facing the Giants" that if you give God control, he will do amazing things in your life. And I believe that's true. But I'd like to send this message back to the movie producers: Christ never promised us a problem-free life, or even happiness for following him. What we DO get is eternal life. That's where the perfect life will be -- not on this earth.

Two more notes: if you see this movie, watch for the token FBG (Funny Black Guy) and the come-from-nowhere star kicker named David who saves the championship game for the team against the reigning state champions, the Giants (David vs. the Giants...get it?)

I did have a great time with my new friends, though. Afterward we went to CozyMel's and briefly considered running away to Colorado. But we went home to our families instead.