Monday, November 19, 2012


I went to market today. All I wanted was just to buy some bread, maybe a few figs; the usual, boring ordinary. I got swept up in a crowd, though, saying they'd seen a prophet. Skeptical, I sat and listened. Couldn't really hear anything - too many people in the way.


Then these guys started handing out lunch. I realized I was hungry, having not made it to the market yet. Bread and salmon. Free meal in these tough times? Twist my arm, I guess I'll have some. Wonder where they got it all? I mean, there are a LOT of people here, thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Math isn't my strong suit. That had to be expensive. Must be someone important from Rome or something. No matter. Good food.

I never made it to the market, but I came home with my basket filled of leftover scraps of bread. Guess they overbought for the crowd. It all worked out: my neighbors have been hungry for a while, maybe I can help.

Never did figure out who the man was that was speaking. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Plumbing Mayhem

Aka, "when you think it can't get worse, you're wrong."

Murphy took a dump on my house's plumbing mid-October. It all started innocently enough: shortly after midnight on Sunday night / Monday morning, I noticed a small pool of water around the basement floor drain. As far as I could tell, not raw sewage, just accumulated H20 from the de-humidifier and the furnace drainage tubes. I mopped it up, and emailed the plumbing company we've used in the past. I also emailed my boss and let him know I'd have to work from home Monday morning while I waited on the plumber.

The plumbing company called me bright and early, and said they could have a guy out there that morning. Whew! Good.

He showed up on time, we found the main line access, and he started snaking out the line. Meanwhile, I moved my computer upstairs to work, because once he opened up that access pipe, an awesome smell began permeating the basement.

Zach the plumber was great - he was friendly, explained everything clearly, and kept me updated on his progress. Unfortunately his progress was slower than he'd hoped: he was pulling out, in his words, more tree roots than he ever seen. So it was going to take more than the one-hour he'd originally quoted. "That's fine," I said. "Do what you need to do."

He ran his snake out a half dozen times, pulling more and more roots off each time it came back, and then... it got stuck. No going forward, no going back.

What does that mean?

Well, first it meant having another plumber dude come out with a camera, to sneak a peak at the pipe and see why the snake was stuck. The camera was an additional $200ish (on top of the plumber's original $99/hour). They discovered the pipe was completely filled with roots, and that the bottom had rusted or somehow dissolved away almost completely, so it would need to be replaced.

Zach got on the phone with his office, and within hours a series of trucks started arriving: one to paint and flag the gas line, one to mark ... I don't know, something else, and so on. Then the giant backhoe arrived with a digging crew, and they dug a ten-foot-deep hole in my front yard. The cost? $4,500. (they did at least deduct what I'd already paid for the morning's plumbing work).

Meanwhile I'm still trying to get work done. Email my boss and tell him I'll be stuck at home all day with this catastrophe. Also called my parents and kept them in the loop.

The hole got dug, a giant pile of dirt appeared over the rest of my lawn, and my 4-year-old neighbor and her grandma parked their chairs out front to watch all the action.

By evening, the digging crew couldn't quite dig deep enough, and so told me they would have to come back the next day with a different backhoe that could go further. They put metal barrier walls in the hole and covered it up so no one could fall in, then left.

Next day I went to work; the plumbers came, dug, and then called me with the cheery news that they would need to dig a second hole, under the sidewalk, to replace a second section of pipe that was also broken because of the invasive roots. This would double the price to a total of $9,000.


At this point, I called Dad and said, in so many words, "Your turn, I don't trust myself to deal with this anymore." He and the plumber talked, approved the work, and the company started getting more city permits in order to dig up the sidewalk. Because it was late in the day, they weren't able to get approvals to start that night, and had to wait until Wednesday. However on the plus side by this time they'd freed the first plumber's snake, so he could get that out of my basement. And they'd unclogged from the yard to the house, so at least we could use water again, though sparingly. "Military showers" and minimal flushing were the rules.

Wednesday... nothing happened. The crews must have been dealing with even larger emergencies, because they weren't at my house.

Thursday when I came home from work I had a second giant hole, this one in the middle of the sidewalk. That day they successfully replaced both sections of pipe, and used an extremely-high-pressure thingy (technical term) to blow out all the roots in the line. We could once again use water in abundance! Showers, laundry, dishes, toilets, sinks, LOTS OF WATER!

End of story, we lived happily ever after.

I wish. This story's only half done.

The city inspector couldn't make it out until Friday morning, so the crew covered both holes again, and came back Friday to "backfill" - put all the dirt back into the holes.

But Thursday night, after taking my first shower in several days, I found a 1" LAKE of water in my downstairs bathroom. Leaking from the ceiling.

I called my parents, and started mopping. At least the drain worked this time, so I didn't have to fill a bucket and lug it outside. Mom and Dad showed up, and my friend Peter, who I'd planned to hang out with that night, also came and helped out. Dad turned off the electricity to the bathroom, pulled out the heating / fan unit in the ceiling, and identified the source of the leak as the pipe leading to the outdoor water spicket. Fortunately, this meant it wasn't the upstairs bathroom leaking again. (a few months ago we'd just had the tub replaced because it was leaking into the basement - another costly venture).

We put a cup under the pipe and I emailed the pluming company again. Parents went home, Peter and I hung out, I went to bed exhausted. On top of the plumbing chaos, my two co-workers who are the resident experts on the software I am charged with testing, were both on vacation that week. And there were lots and lots of bugs in the software. And a new site was just going into acceptance, and needed that software. Trial by fire, and I rocked it! But still: long week.

Friday afternoon a different plumber came to look at the bathroom ceiling pipe. Embarrassingly, all he did was tighten a nut. Though he refused to concede, my / my parents hypothesis is that, when the digging crew high-pressured out the roots from the main line, some of that pressure came back into the house, through the slightly loose nut, and flooded the bathroom. Because the total amount of water that leaked overnight was minuscule compared to what was on the floor Thursday evening. In any case, the plumbing company didn't charge us for the extra trip, which (since I'm still sure they caused it) was the right thing to do.

Three-quarters done.

Now, let's talk about the state of my yard. When the crew left Friday evening, in my yard I had: two giant mounts of dirt where the holes used to be, two missing panels of sidewalk, yellow marker flags left from the gas line guy, wooden retaining beams askew, a blue glove left over from a worker, and clay all over the sidewalk. I mean ALL over the sidewalk. And, to top that off: no communication whatsoever from the company about when this giant mess would be cleaned up. For $9,000, I expected more. I was pissed.

My parents came by and reassured me they [the plumbing company] couldn't possibly leave the yard like this, and that the crew must be coming back Monday to finish up. It was late Friday, after all. Okay, fine, I'll buy that. I mean, I was still mad they were leaving it in this embarrassing state over the weekend, but, if they come Monday and make it right, that's okay.

Monday I got home from work and... nothing had changed. I called the company and asked when the cleanup crew was coming. They had Zach, my original plumber and apparently the point person for the entire project, call me back, and he asked if they hadn't filled in the holes? I explained yes, they did the backfill, but everything was a mess. He explained the mounds of dirt need months to settle - okay, I'll accept that, but I asked for them to clean up the rest of the mess. Ugh. Long story short, he had a supervisor come out that week, who agreed it was kind of messy, and said they'd send some people to do something about it. My parents' largest concern was the sidewalk, with Halloween coming up it presented quite the tripping hazard.

Then I went to LA for a week and a half, and when I came back... hardly anything had changed. They filled in the sidewalk a little better, enough so it's not a major issue until the city comes to pour new concrete. But all the other issues were not addressed.

In the end I hired a friend to do some cleanup, and then spent half an hour out there with a hose spraying the clay and dirt off the sidewalk. I got most of it looking decent.

I sent a letter of complaint to the plumbing company last night, and Zach called back within a few hours. I re-explained the situation to him, particularly emphasizing how, when we used this company to replace the tub, our plumber was exceptionally consciencsious about cleaning up after himself inside the house, vacuuming, leaving it better than he found it, etc. For $9,000, I expected the same or better from the outside crew, but they blatantly didn't even try. Zach said he'd pass this along to his manager. I doubt anything will come of it; they probably think I'm just a huge whiner. I don't think I'm whining, I've taken great care to speak facts, but I just find their behavior unconscionable.

On the plus side. At least all the house plumbing is working swell.

The end?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Only the Beginning of the Adventure

Blast from the past: this post should have been written and published in May 2012

"Welcome to the Adventure" is just something I have to say anytime I talk about AWAKEN. Also, listening to the AWAKEN soundtrack seems almost mandatory while writing about the drama. So that's what I'm doing right now.

AWAKEN's final performance was Sunday, April 29, at Riverside chapel in Story City, Iowa, the very same venue where the ministry was born seven years ago. By the end of the show there was not a dry eye amongst the cast or crew, because this was the end of the adventure. AWAKEN isn't happening next year. It may never happen. Jon and Tiffany feel God's calling to devote themselves wholly to serving their church, where Jon is a lead pastor. The other three AWAKEN leadership folks are 1) moving across the state next year, 2) having a baby, and 3) getting married. All good reasons to need to step away. Thus, AWAKEN is entering a "season of discernment" while the board discerns God's call for the future of the ministry.

We arrived, set up, and performed Saturday the 28th, then spent the night in the Riverside cabins. Sunday after church, the team ate lunch, and gathered for the end-of-year party. Normally this event happens several weeks after the last tour stop, but since there are always a few people who's schedules conflict, having the party during our last tour weekend allowed everyone to be there. Unlike most tour stops, we had lots of extra time - because we were performing in the same venue two nights in a row, we hadn't needed to tear down Saturday night, drive to a new tour location, and load-in and setup on Sunday.

I don't remember the exact sequence of events. But in roughly this order, the end-of-year-party started with Jon and Tiffany reading to us from "Oh, the Places You'll Go!," by Dr. Seuss, followed by a mini-sermon. We had time for team members to share memories from the season, funny stories, what AWAKEN has meant in our lives, how we've been changed. Then came the AWAKEN awards - ridiculous "awards" presented to each team member. Mine, for example, was the "I spend more time listening to audio books than being at AWAKEN," award (I listened to a lot of audio books during my drives). Afterward, per AWAKEN tradition, we went outside to play whiffleball. Everyone was "required" to enjoy it and have fun for "at least 15 seconds", even Beth, who hates whiffleball. It was cold and a little rainy, so we only played one inning. I had fun (even past the requisite 15 seconds).

Inside we had a large group prayer, and an hour of free time before dinner. "Team Bad Guys" (the demons) met backstage for a small group prayer. And that's when I first started crying. I'd been doing okay denying "the end" up until that point, but large group, and especially our small group time after, my tears started coming. Reality sunk it and it sucked.

Dinner happened. I snuck over to leave thank you cards backstage and on the control center, all signed by the team the previous night. Make-up happened. Family photo (all the cast together with our makeup) happened. Prayed out our voices. Then walked over to the chapel and took our places for Creation, one final time. Surreal.

My memory is a blur. Months have gone by now, which, added to the emotional finality of that night, means my specific memories are scant.

I remember in the 'calling of the disciples' scene, normally Howie, who played my fisherman son, gives me a bear hug when he is called to follow Jesus and leave me - this night, he literally picked me up off the ground when we hugged. He's done that during rehearsals as a joke, but never in a live performance. I had to resist the urge to laugh out loud.

I remember hearing someone from cast saying, after the show, how easy it was to bring out tears during the mourning scene while Jesus hung on the cross, because the tears [of mourning AWAKEN] were real, not much "acting" required. I remember a lot of people crying in the back of the venue during the mourning, and into the resurrection, scenes. I was near Kindra and Jess, and I gave them both a big hug right before their cue to go back into the scene. And when Haley, as Satan, was cast out after the resurrection, I made sure I was waiting to catch her as she ran out - I knew how very, very emotionally difficult that role had been all season for her to play.

And my favorite memory from the show itself: during the resurrection song ("Take Heart" by Hillsong), Jon walked up to the sound board, and he and Blair turned up the music as the tomb light faded and Jesus prepared to come back on stage, resurrected. Jon and I both, independently, gave a little punch into the air as the music climaxed and Jesus appeared. Maybe you had to be there.

As the show ended, we angels left the stage, but instead of heading to the makeup room like we normally would, everyone stayed in the sanctuary to listen to Jon's final closing talk. He was choked up, but somehow held it together; the entire cast/crew though were sobbing. It is finished.

Pause for a moment of silence, please

As Jon spoke, many hugs were going around amongst the cast and crew. Somehow, I wasn't crying, not at that moment. My "pre-mourning" earlier helped me keep it together at this moment, so I could try to support my friends. An understatement would be saying we were heart-broken. AWAKEN is more than a performance, more than a show; it is a community. It is Church.

Walking back to the makeup room, it had rained, and the ground was wet. My slippers were soaked and muddy after only a few steps. My brain works in funny ways: the metaphor I drew was that my slippers, much like me, had given their all, and might now be ruined. Weeks later I could look back and say that my slippers, much like me, had given their all, and then after a good washing, were ready to tackle life again.

As usual I was the last one to finish taking off my face paint. Beth waited for me. We shared a moment, not ready to go back into the chapel to start tearing down for the last time.

We were the last two back; I was about to put my gloves on and start wrapping cables, but... I couldn't. I walked over to Beth and Amanda, gave them a big hug, and Kindra, seeing me tearing up, came over and gave me a huge hug.

Blair commented to me that, "let's be honest, tear-down's gonna take a lot longer tonight than normal." I concurred. Marginally because the venue was not well suited for moving road cases around; but mostly because no one wanted to make it real.

While putting away the feeder (a ridiculously heavy cable that feeds electricity to all the equipment), I found a penny. ... Apparently I never blogged about this in the past: the backstory is when my Grandma Sue was dying, she promised to throw pennies down from heaven as a reminder that she's thinking about us. It makes finding a penny a bit more meaningful.

Loading the truck took longer than normal as well, because carpools were leaving, and that meant lots of goodbyes. With many of these friends it is not goodbye forever; I know I'll see them individually, maybe in twos or threes, but not again in this entire large group. So taking time for goodbyes was important.

There was a funny sight of Jon, Tiffany, and Chad driving around with a ridiculously large ladder on the back of a truck - I can't do it justice, other than to say they were having way too much fun.

Truck loaded, the few of us remaining took a short breather. On our way back out to the cars, Jon and Tiffany had just finished locking the chapel - we said our goodbyes, though I knew I'd see them again in a few weeks.

Blair, Alica, Levi, Jacob, Lyndsay and I caravanned from Riverside to the locker in Ames, where we unloaded everything back into storage for the last time. What I feared would be a somber task turned into quite the laughter-filled time with friends; sad, yet joyful, simultaneously. I think, too, we are all people of the mindset "get things done, then process emotions later." We really did have a blast, lots of jokes, lots of laughter.

That night I stayed with Blair and Levi in Ames, planning to drive home in the morning. Morning came, and I couldn't bring my car to get on the freeway toward home. Instead, I ended up back in Des Moines, to visit Beth at work. A 40 minute drive for a 10 minute conversation, but it's exactly what I needed: to see her in "normal" life, carrying on. After Beth, I went back to Blair and Levi's apartment, where they, and also Jacob and Alica, were hanging out, watching a sports game. You know how much I love me a good sports game. Spending time with people who were wrestling the same emotions as I, who knew exactly how I was feeling - invaluable. Even though we didn't talk much about AWAKEN, just being there, not being along, was what I needed.

I finally left Ames at 4 p.m. Along the way I needed to stop at a gas station and take a nap, because I was just so emotionally exhausted from crying - I had cried most of the way to DSM, remained on the brink of tears while talking with Beth, and then cried most of the way back to Ames. It reminded me of the 2010-2011 mime, after Jesus died, when I was playing a disciple and all the disciples hugged each other goodbye, and tearfully went back to our normal, every day status quo lives. In a very real sense that's what we all did at the end of AWAKEN, too.

What's amazing about that parallel, what gives me hope, is that our mourning wasn't the end of the story: in the mime, a few minutes later, Jesus resurrects, and called us back to living a meaningful life. I would like my life to parallel that. Like the disciples who walked and talked with the living Jesus, in what is perhaps an indescribable way, our lives from being in AWAKEN are changed and marked forever.

In the months since AWAKEN, Beth and I wrote a proposal for continuing the ministry, essentially volunteering to take over Jon and Tiffany's roles. We met with Jon and Tiff, during which they were exceptionally open and honest. A month later Beth and I met with Jon plus two members of the board to talk about our vision, and get to know each other. Beth and I felt the meeting went incredibly poorly (though later we were told the board members had not felt that way at all).

Two months after that, we met with the entire board. In the end, they said "no," they do not feel God's calling for Beth and I to become the core leadership. That is not to say the board doesn't see AWAKEN continuing, only that we are not the ones they see in those roles. Which is okay, for three reasons: They said "no" for [what I consider to be] the right reasons; neither Beth nor I really wanted to be the "buck stops here" people in AWAKEN leadership (our desire to see the ministry continue overruled that non-desire); and there are at least one or two other proposals on the table from others interested in seeing AWAKEN continue, and even though Beth and I will not be the "it" people of leadership, that does not preclude us from being on a larger leadership team, were it to happen.

The board's answer, while it could be seen as disheartening and disappointing, was neither to me. People who know me know how much I need "one more thing" on my plate, and, though AWAKEN would have become my priority over all else, it is admittedly a relief not needing to make those time-management choices that would have been required in my life.

My prayer after AWAKEN ended, and again after meeting with the board: "God, I don't know what my future is in AWAKEN, what you have in store, but, here I am. That's it. Here I am."

That applies to life, as well, not just AWAKEN. Major life changes from 2012 have included: a new job, starting a new company, the end of AWAKEN, acceptance into candidacy for seminary, a new roommate, a relationship starting, and ending, and, most recently, a major house plumbing kerfuffle (blog post coming soon). When I look at how much change could happen in a matter of two or three weeks, I realize I have no idea what to expect from the next two or three months, years, etc. God only knows. It's not something I need to solve, I just need to keep myself open to possibilities, and understand that reality will look vastly different than anything I dream up; my imagination is limited, His is not.

On April 29, before shutting down the sound system the final time, Blair and I played the song "Only the Beginning of the Adventure", from the Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack. It seemed fitting.

Welcome to the Adventure.