Three Days

Day 1: September 1st, 2008

We met in the parking lot of Case de Pico, in Grossmont Center.

Jenny and I had been talking on the phone for a little over a week, and the conversations kept getting better and better. We knew we wanted to meet, and soon. She decided one weekend that she needed to get out of town, and it seemed the perfect opportunity for her and David to come to San Diego.

We decided we’d get some breakfast, and then head over to the San Diego Zoo. David would be there, and we wanted our first meeting to be something he’d be interested in, because we wanted him to feel included in whatever was happening with us from the very beginning. At least, as much as he could be.

I told her to message me when they were getting close, and me being me, I got there early. I only lived about ten minutes away at the time, anyway.

I waited in my car and I remember getting more and more nervous. We’d been talking, and getting along awesomely, but what if it wasn’t like that in person?

What if I couldn’t talk, or said something stupid?

What if she didn’t like me once we met?

What if I didn’t like her?

When she pulled up in her car and got out, I remember the first thing I thought was, “well, she really is six feet tall.”

I think I said something like “Hi,” and then gave her a hug. I remember that she smelled good, and that I thought I could look at her smile for weeks.

David got out of the car next, and I remember kneeling down and shaking his hand (at 4, he was actually little then—he’s my big guy, now).

I wondered if he would like me, too.

We all piled back into Jenny’s car and started driving. I know we went to Denny’s for a late breakfast (or early lunch), but I couldn’t tell you what I ate, or a single word I said. I just remember being nervous, and not wanting to sound like a jackass. I am certain I fell victim to my “nervous talking” thing, which is awesome. There are times when my tongue goes completely apestuff, and I can’t shut my mouth to save my life. Maybe Jenny remembers some of the conversation, but I don’t.

Then we went to the Zoo, and I remember driving down Park and having to call my brother-in-law because I couldn’t remember how in heck to get there. My sense of direction has not gotten much better since I moved to Yuma.

But I digress.

We found the zoo, and I remember getting on the tour bus, and driving around the zoo with our arms just barely touching. It was like having my hand on one of those shock things at the nickel arcade at Disneyland. I badly wanted to put my arm around her, but I didn’t want to be THAT guy.

Again, I’m certain we spoke to one another in the few hours we walked around the zoo, but that whole afternoon is lost to me as well. I do know that it felt right walking around with Jenny and David at my side.

We walked around the park for just a little while, and took David on that little train that runs near the zoo. At the time, he was all about Thomas, and all things train-related, so he had a pretty good time.

And then the afternoon was over and we were headed back to Grossmont Center to pick up my car. Neither of us wanted the afternoon to end, so we decided to have an early dinner in Case de Pico before Jenny headed back to Yuma.

I know the conversation just flowed from one thing to another easily, and it was as if we’d always talked. I didn’t feel any of the awkwardness I expected to for a first date, especially one with a kid involved. David was so funny, and energetic, and not afraid to talk at all. We had dinner, and I remember looking at her across the table and just thinking that she was beautiful. What was she doing with this big, bald-headed slob from Santee?

We walked outside when we were done eating, and David climbed into his car seat (he was 4 at the time). We stood looking at each other for a second or two and then I think we both realized that however long it took for us to get together again was going to be too long.

“I’ll come to Yuma next weekend,” I told her.

Then she moved into me and I felt her arms cross behind my neck. I just held her for a minute, and then in the parking lot of Case de Pico, with twilight just creeping into the horizon and a dollop of guacamole drying on the front of my shirt, we shared our first kiss.

It was quick, and fairly chaste, but I realized right away I wanted another one.

Next weekend was an eternity away.

Day 2: October 12, 2008

I can remember the exact moment I “knew” with Jenny. The moment I realized that was it, and I knew there was never going to be anyone else for me.

Jenny had come to see me in San Diego, and we were saying goodbye by her car. We were fairly early on in our relationship, and we wanted to see as much of each other as possible, but our time together was restricted to weekends—and it was tough.

We alternated visiting between Yuma and San Diego, and this particular weekend in October we were in my neck of the woods, because a friend had an extra ticket for the Chargers vs the Patriots, which was a rare opportunity for me—professional football games were expensive.

So we spent as much time together as we could, but eventually, it was time to say goodbye—I had to get on the trolley to Qualcomm Stadium. And for some reason, on this day, my stomach was bothering me. I was fidgeting a fair amount as we stood by her car, because I knew I was going to have to sneak one out eventually.

I didn’t want to hurry the goodbye, but nature is nature, and unless I got back inside my house soon, she was going to experience a part of me I didn’t think I was ready to show her.

And because life is just ridiculous sometimes, there came a moment when we were just standing there, not talking.

And it happened. It came on like a freight train, and I was helpless in its path. It sounded a little bit like when a sailor on one of those old pirate movies jumps from a crow’s nest and stabs his knife into the sail, sliding down to the deck with a loud rrrriiiippp.

I just sort of stood there turning red, and I remember Jenny’s eyes getting really big. Then she just sort of threw her arms around me and started laughing almost uncontrollably.

I love my wife so freaking much.

So here we are now, working on our third year together. It’s been awesome, and such a blessing. And yes, I still let one go every now and again. Except now, it doesn’t embarrass me nearly as much. Who doesn’t like the smell of freshly baked cookies?

Let me also say one thing God has not changed in me over the years is my sense of humor. I still enjoy “bathroom” humor above all other kinds.

And that’s ok. My wife, my best friend, makes me laugh every single day. She gets me like nobody else ever has. She enjoys a good gas joke, too.

Day 3: August 24, 2011

I was thinking about those 2 days this morning when I was getting ready for work. Three years since our first date next week.

I’d done my daily reading and packed my lunch. I realized I’d forgotten the novel I was currently reading on lunch, so I went back into the bedroom to get it. I turned on the bathroom light and in the column of light from the slightly opened door, I watched Jenny sleeping for a second or two, and it blew me away anew that I’d been blessed with a woman like her. It was like that Brad Paisley song, “…and I thought I loved you then…”

Hard to imagine loving her more.

I thought about our baby sleeping in the next room, and David across the hall.

That moment was like a snapshot of perfect happiness. I might have a tough day at work, and a hot ride home, but when I got there, I really was home, with my family around me.

I am so lucky—so blessed.

The Depths

One of my SD friends wrote something today, to the effect of she was who God made her to be. A simple statement, certainly, but not so easy to get your mind around. At least, not for me.

I am who God made me to be.

I think the problem I have with that has more to do with my self-perception than anything else. Why would God make me to be…this?

Aren’t I supposed to be a new creation? So much of the time I don’t feel like one.

And if it is true that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all, then why is it that sometimes when I look into my heart, I see darkness?

Even today, knowing Christ, that is often what I see. It’s true that I’m a new creation, but it doesn’t take much for me to fall into old thought patterns, belief patterns, and even sin patterns. And it is certainly easier to believe negative things about myself than positive ones. It’s easier to believe the worst of God, because it makes more sense.

Grace makes no sense at all. Jesus didn’t die for us when we were at our best, or as we should be. He died for us at our worst, at our farthest from Him, when we needed him most.

Who would do a thing like that? Certainly not me. Who wants to do anything for a person that deliberately rejects them? You can almost understand it for people who are good, who do things for others at great cost for themselves.

That isn’t me. Because at my core, at the innermost depths of my heart, it is much easier to believe I am not a good person.

But is that really true?

Am I a bad person?

There are times when I feel like I am. Maybe I have a tough and stressful day at work, then I come home and snap at my kids or my wife, who are just happy to see me.

Someone who is good, who knows Jesus, would not do a thing like that.

There are times when I don’t give very cheerfully, either. It’s my money, and I earned it. I sweated for it, and lifted heavy things, and stayed up well past my bedtime.

A good person, a good Christian, gives and then gives some more. So why do I hold so tightly to the things of this world?

If I was made new and clean by the blood of Christ, then why do I feel dirty so often?

What does God say about that? I know that when I made my decision for Christ I “put off the old man.”

And was made a “new creation.” And even before that, I believed that God made me.

Didn’t I? And isn’t it true?

So if God made me, and if I am a new creation, then if I think I am a bad person, isn’t that like saying God made me bad? And does God make bad people?

I think that maybe God makes people good, and for whatever their reasons are, people make bad decisions about their lives–I know I did, for a very long time.

So that being said, and with the knowledge that I’ve “put off the old man,” why is it so easy to remember the old man, the one with the heart of stone?

The one with darkness and ugliness at his depths.

Hard question to answer, but I think basically, because it’s hard to totally surrender to God. It’s easy to remember the old me–and to feel like him. That’s what I knew for so long, and that’s why it’s so easy to slide back in that direction.

But because I know Jesus is there, there really isn’t any darkness. In Him there is no darkness at all.
I am in Him.

And there is no darkness–even if it feels that way every once in a while.

I think of the Chris Tomlin song “Indescribable,” and the lyric that sums up Christ’s love for us, his beloved Children.

For me.

“You see the depths of my heart, and you love me the same.”

He loves us the same, even if when we look at ourselves we see darkness. He loves us the same, even if when we look at ourselves, we see ugliness.

He loves us the same.

Because His perception is not ours. He sees us through timeless eyes not colored by lies about ourselves, and about Him.

He died for us while we were dead in our transgressions.

He died for us broken and disgraced.

He sees the depths of our heart and he loves us the same.

Beloved

I wrote this a while back, before Jenny and I were married, but it meant something to me then and it means something to me now. Maybe it will to you, too

I was just thinking that one of the things I love best about God is the feeling of peace that knowing him brings to my life.

Peace. And also being loved, really loved.

I never had it before, or at least, I was not aware of it. I used to always, always worry about stuff. I used to spend so much time wondering what would ever become of my life. Would I ever get a decent job? Would I ever marry, or even be in love, for that matter? Would I ever really be loved?

That was the worst, I think. Wondering about love. I knew my sisters loved me–they’d always taken care of me, and had showing love down to a science. But family love is not the same as other love–it’s almost primal in nature, and in many cases, taken for granted.

But it’s not the same as other kinds of love. It’s not the same as being beloved.

I think that was the main thing for me. I needed to know I was beloved by someone. I think the friends I’ve had in my life–from the time I was a kid until now–were about as close as I’ve come to it. The love of my friends has saved my life more times than I can count.

And it helped me to find God myself.

But even that is not the same.

There’s something about being able to share the hard stuff with someone that makes it less hard. Sometimes life is just….horrible, and frantic, and scary. Sometimes life is colder than an arctic winter. Sometimes so utterly packed with bad circumstance after bad circumstance. It can consume you with business, and worry, and pain, and when that happens, all you want, all I want–is to just have it melt away.

When that happens, I want to step from the autobahn of my life into a valley full of peace. I want to rest, and rest, and rest.

When that happens, I want to be warm, and quiet, and still.

It wasn’t until I knew God that I knew any of that. Until the noise in my heart was quieted a little. Until the emptiness was filled.

Brennan Manning spoke at my Church once, and he told a story about a woman he met at a leper colony–Yolanda. She was young, only 37, and prior to her leprosy, had been stunningly beautiful. She had long, dark hair, a perfect body, and a perfect face. When she began to lose her perfection, her husband left her–the leprosy was too much for him to live with.

The leprosy took her beauty, little by little. He nose and lips became twisted. She lost fingers. The only part of her untouched was her eyes–they remained a beautiful and shining brown. One day, Brennan had just gotten to the colony when they called him to pray with Yolanda–she was dying. It was a dark day–cloudy and cold, with rain on the way.

He went to her room, and was preparing to pray. He faced away from her, near a window, and as he began to take his vestments and oil from his bag, he felt warmth on his face, as if the sun had broken through the clouds. He briefly that God for the sunshine, and thought that Yolanda would enjoy it.

But then he looked up, and there was no sunshine. He turned to Yolanda, and saw that the light was coming from her–her face, once beautiful, was shining, and it was beautiful again.

She told Brennan that she was happy.

Why, he asked.

She told him that Jesus was going to take her home that day. He’d spoken to her.

Manning asked her what Jesus had said.

Yolanda said that Jesus had reached out to her and said, “Come now, my love, my lovely one, come. For you, the winter is past. The rain is gone. The flowers appear on the ground. The cooing of turtledoves is heard in the land…”

Brennan recognized the above as from the Song of Songs, and assumed that she’d heard it or read it before. He prayed for her a few minutes, put his things away, and left. Later that day, Yolanda went home.

The next day, Brennan was speaking to a nun, and found out that not only had Yolanda been illiterate, but she had very little familiarity with scripture. Yet Jesus had reached out and spoken to her, to his beloved.

I was thinking about that this morning when I started to write this. I was thinking of how much different my life is now. I still have amazing friends, and family. And I’ve finally met the woman God always intended for me to meet, and am beloved on earth. But even more than that, I know that someday (hopefully not for a long time), my body will begin to wither. I might be sick, and scared, and in pain, and it might be too much to handle.

But I will still be beloved, and I hope to rest with the knowledge that my Abba is calling me home.

And then, like Yolanda in Brennan Manning’s story, I hope to fill a room with light.

from the Song of Songs, Chapter 2:

10 My lover spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, and come with me.

11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.

12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.

13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

I think also of a snatch of an old hymn–at least I think it’s a hymn. Something about Christ being the lover of our souls.

The lover of our souls.

And we, the beloved.

45s

One of the first things I remember is that my oldest sister’s first husband went to Viet Nam when I was four or five. I’m not sure. Jerry was lucky in one sense, in that he didn’t have to fight. I’m fairly certain he brought home some things from the war, though, that likely didn’t make things easier for him and my sister.

If I remember correctly, he was a clerk of some kind, or a driver, much like Radar on M*A*S*H. The only reason I remember it, I think, is that before he left, he gave my older brother Tim a box of 45rpm singles in a battered cardboard box that was secured by a chrome clip. I remember how shiny the clip was, and it seemed not to fit with the box, which had a black top, and some random pattern of colored squiggles on the sides.

The singles were all oldies, ranging from 50’s artists like Ricky Nelson, Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry (I used to know all the words to his masterwork of innuendo, “My ding-a-ling”), and many others, to early 60’s music, like Dion and the Belmonts, and Tommy James and the Shondells. The original version of the song “Last Kiss,” by the Cavaliers that Pearl Jam would later cover was in there, too, along with another car crash anthem “Tell Laura I love her.”

My brother would play them for hours on end, and I grew up with the sound of oldies in my ears, along with the country my mom would play (it wasn’t until much later I would be introduced to rock by my older sisters). Yet while I heard these types of music it would be pretty fair to say they went in one ear, and out the other, without making much of an impact. At least at first. They were just pleasant noise.

I’ve mentioned on several occasions the difficulties I’ve had over the course of my childhood with my brother, but in all fairness, he’s pretty much responsible for helping me through one of the toughest times of my life, as well, and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t even know he did it.

What happened was that I was always a scared kid, jumping at shadows, and almost anything else. I would watch the tamest cartoons you could imagine–mostly because they were funny, but also because they weren’t scary. I knew there were darker, more adult forms on entertainment out there, but I was most definately not interested, at least not until a little before my ninth birthday.

Sometimes my sister’s would spend the night at my house–mostly for holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. One time they were there, and watching a movie on TV in the living room–a rebroadcast of The Exorcist. I remember walking into the room just as the camera zoomed in on Linda Blair’s dessicated-looking face and yellow, demonic eyes.

It scared the crap out of me, but it was also somehow fascinating. I think that was my first look at anything in the horror genre, which to this day both repels and excites me. It wasn’t long after that I got hold of my sister’s copy of Stephen King’s Night Shift and read a short story called “The Boogeyman,” which terrified me to the extent that I could no longer go to sleep at night without first inspecting my closet for demonic, child-killing monsters. And then I couldn’t close my door. Like the people in the story, I had to leave it open–just a crack.

I began to read other stories along the same vein, and they were all scary, but it was The Boogeyman that stuck with me the most, and very soon I began to develop a very serious case of insomnia. What happened was that every time I would begin to fall asleep, I would see (or think I saw), my closet door begin to swing open, and a slimy, clawed hand scratch its talons along the surface. The first couple nights, I just lay there, too afraid to sleep.

The third night, I crept into the kitchen, figuring that I could find something with which I would be able to defend myself from the claws–somehow, a kitchen knife seemed like just the thing–hey, I was a kid!

So while I stood in the kitchen, searching the silverware drawer for a weapon, I heard my brother’s voice curse softly from the garage (his main hobby when I was little was buying junk cars, fixing them up, and selling them. He did this from when I was 8, until I turned 18). Then another curse, and silence. A few seconds after that, Del Shannon’s Runaway began playing on the record player’s single, battered speaker.

I found a chef’s knife that looked reasonably well-edged, and sat in the chair by the door to the garage. I listened to Runaway, and then Chuck Berry came on after a couple seconds more cursing (those little adapters for the 45’s were a bitch) by Tim. I ended up sitting there listening to music, and my brother’s swearing at various car parts for the better part of an hour, and eventually went back to bed, falling asleep softly humming Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party to myself.

The next night, I crept into the kitchen again, and took up my position in the chair, listening for about an hour, and eventually going back to bed, singing softly to myself, and once again falling asleep. And again the next night. And the next.

After about a little less than a week, I was able to procure a small transistor radio from my dad’s collection of junk that I would play quietly next to my bed when I hit the sack, and after only a night or two, I didn’t even look at the closet anymore.

But it all started with those old records in the garage, and listening to my brother’s cornucopia of profanity. I didn’t even know I liked music before that. And while I will always have some degree of difficulty with my brother, I will also always be grateful to him for helping me find music, and stop worrying about the boogeyman.