Saturday, March 29, 2008

Freedom

"I've wined and dined with kings and queens, I've slept in alleys, eatin' pork and beans..." --WWE Hall of Famer "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes

I have a tale to tell, a monetary tale of woe, sorrow, brokedness and redemption. I don’t mind sharing amounts, if only to stress where I was as compared to where I am. This... is my story.

I've been in debt since I was an 17 year old high school graduate. Right after I got my diploma, I signed up for some student loans. When I got to college, in Troy, I got a AT&T Universal Mastercard, with a big limit of $500.

Over the next year or two, I managed a Chase Visa, a Discover card and a Ft. Walton Beach 1st National Bank Visa. My rationale? "I'm a broadcast journalism major. And I'm good at newscasting. I'll get on with a news station in Nashville [where, in 1995, I planned on living after I graduated] or in Mobile [where, in 1996, I planned on living after I graduated, due in no small part to the fact I was dating Chrissy Bullock--Spain Park's Mrs. Roe--and she introduced me to the wonderful town] or in Atlanta [where, in 1998, I planned on living, since I had just graduated]"

Until that time, though, I would be able to pay the minimum payments. AT&T Universal, Chase and Discover was only $10 per month, while 1st National was only $15. Of course, this adds up to $45 in credit card payments... and who has that when you're a broke college student?

As the years went by, the student loan payments racked up, the minimum payments rose from $10 and $15 to $25, then $50, sometimes $75 or $100 per card, each, due to lack of payments, due to overlimit fees, or late fees. When a late fee of $35 took your balance over the $500 credit limit, suddenly you have a late fee AND a over-limit fee. Plus your already growning minimum balance. You read all about this in Rebecca Miller & the Divine Do-Over.

It was depressing. I moved to Birmingham, got into an apartment I couldn't afford, and then my car broke down, so I managed to somehow jig out a National Tire & Battery credit card, and put about $400 on it, and after that, I wrecked my car, so I got another one that I really couldn't afford.

My payments were late, my credit was shot, my stomach was empty, my account was constantly overdrawn, phone calls at work, phone calls at home, my Deucemates were getting calls from creditors, my paycheck got garnished once, when Dubya sent that $300 refund check to every American back in 2000 or 2001, I watched as Tom bought scuba gear, Shawn bought DJ equipment, Ty bought a new cell phone, Michael bought DVDs, and mine never came because I was defaulted on my student loan.

There is not a worse fear than waking up at 2am because you hear a rumble in the parking lot, and you look out the blinds, scared that you'll see a wrecker backing up to repo your car. Its a miserable feeling, one that no one should have to deal with.

To have one of your best friends, Mikey, agitated at you because your rent is late, is pretty crappy. Its also pretty crappy to watch all your friends go out to eat, have a good time together, see a movie together, and have to sit home, broke... or go out, use your debit card for such nights out, wincing because you know there's a good chance tomorrow, you'll see online that something just bounced.

Perhaps the worst was watching your friends head to Evanston, IL, to visit Tommy McLeod, see an incredible Northwestern game versus Michigan, and come home with lots and lots of pictures and memories... and you've got nothing.

I actually did a spreadsheet for the year 2002, looking through my SouthTrust Bank account online, figuring out where my money went. I don't remember what was #1, but I do remember #3 vividly... NSF. Insufficient Funds charges to the total of about $1100, money I had paid to the bank for not keeping my account above $0. I could have just as easily rolled my window down and thrown out $50 bills down Highway 31. This was ridiculous... I had to do something. God had to help me here...

And then two things happened. I discovered that I was going to marry Stephanie Campbell.
I was not desiring to bring all of this debt into my upcoming marriage... so I decided to do something about it... and that's when I met Starbucks. These two things couldn't be seperated, it was God's choosing to put both together to craft my life, even all these years later.


Suddenly, in addition to my day job of 40 hours a week at the radio station, I had a four nights, 25 hours per week job, pulling in an extra $400 or $500 per month... which goes a long, long way.

Working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights (not Thursday... Thursday was Survivor!), every week, suddenly I had money in bank. My rent check was going up on the board 2 weeks early, my cable bill check was up 2 or 3 weeks early, and suddenly, conversations with credit card companies weren't so hard... because I could pay them, at least something.

Through God's guidance, and Stephanie's encouragement, first as my girlfriend, then my fiance, then my wife, little by little, some of the small debt went away. I managed to pay off the AT&T Universal Mastercard (in 2003... remember I opened it in 1993, but hadn't used it since about 1998).

We started working the Dave Ramsey plan, with the debt snowball. With bonuses here, extra money there, we paid close to $3K for my Chase Visa... the same Chase Visa that had a credit limit of $500, and had ballooned about 500% due to over limit, late fees, and anything else they decide to tack on.

Chase Visa... gone. Discover card, suddenly paid off. We started working on paying 50% more on my car payment, then two payments at a time. Lo and behold... the car gets paid off.

The Lovely Steph Leann and I have languished in The Casa de Pesos, watching our friends get houses, and we almost bit at one point... but the student loan was still looming. Like a three headed monster, it was still 5 digits large, and we knew we just had to wait.

All this time, we have been tithing. That's not a bragging statement, not a "look at us!", and I only mention it because I'm totally aware of God's blessing through obedience. Things just... well, they just started working out. We had our small emergency fund saved up, and when my engine blew, the bill was $7 more than our emergency fund. Writing the check didn't hurt because we didn't have it, it hurt because... well, anytime a bill that large is paid, it hurts, but the bottom line is, we had the money.

Sometime last year, The Lovely Steph Leann and I pulled our credit reports, and I noticed something odd... the Ft. Walton Beach 1st National Bank and Trust never got paid. So, I called them, and asked about it.

The guy was pretty surprised when he heard me say, "Okay, what do I owe, so I can pay this off?" The guy told me the bill was about 8 years old, and it was pretty much written off, and the $300 bill had ballooned to over $600 or $700 from... you guessed it, late fees and over limit fees. And interest. Lots and lots of interest. The guy knocked off several hundred dollars of the interest and fees, and after I paid it, he had it completely removed from my credit report.

I owed a friend of mine, from Troy State, some money too... I think it actually ruined the friendship... I told The Lovely Steph Leann about this, and I told her I wanted to pay it back. I owed it. Got in touch with the guy, via Facebook, and offered to pay... and he relieved me of the debt. Said it had been so long, he didn't miss it. Thanks man.

So, finally, the year comes to a close, we go to Disney World with money we'd been saving up, nary a credit card to be used. When we get home, we don't have hundreds of dollars following us back in bills--those Disney pins are mine!!

The student loan is all that is left, and though it seems large, it suddenly doesn't seem insurmountable anymore. Not since we're tossing everything extra we have at it every month. Truth be told, we probably could have paid it off a little faster, but hey, we want to have a little fun before we get married, right?

For me, the hardest part was when our friends flew to Los Angeles for Star Wars Celebration, the convention that happens every four or five years... we could have paid for it, but we just couldn't justify it, not when there were bills to pay off. So we stayed home... and it hurt me, but it was necessary.

When we saw our mortgage guy, it was assured to us that now that our debt was so minimal, we could afford the house we wanted, in the area we wanted... and so we got it!

What's funny is that I've been talking about doing a "Debt Free Party" for a few months now, one big blowout celebration to declare "We're Debt Free!"... but a week or two ago, in the middle of the night, I logged on to Direct Loans website, and made a payment. And after I hit "Make Payment", the orange button at the bottom, I closed the tab. The next day, I checked the website, and saw a beautiful thing...

Balance Owed: $0.00
Payment Due: $0.00

And as I sit here and type this, we are now debt free. Okay, okay, we just bought a house, but beyond the house payment, that's it. We've worked on it for four years, and paid just over $44,000.

For the first time in 14 years, I don't owe a credit card, a student loan company, a car company, a friend, a neighbor or anyone else.

And in the immortal words of William Wallace, in Braveheart:

"FRRRRRREEEEEDDDDDOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I Am Debt Free.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What I Believe, starring Barack, Hillary, McCain and featuring Tammy McLeod

This is a political ramble, that goes nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. Just warning you.

I always get a little nervous when I post something political. I always have this fear that Brad Latta, in his lawyer mentality, is going to throw down on me something either I can't defend, or that it would sound stupid to refute. But, you know, I believe what I believe. And that makes me who I am.

Sometimes its just easier not to pay attention. Seriously, I envy some people who don't pay that much attention, sometimes. Of course, its in my system to try to stay as informed as I can, if not just for me, but also for other people who ask me pointed questions about Barack Obama, or Hillary, or McCain or whatever.

All I know is, as a conservative, these are dark times. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is not a conservative. He's at best a moderate, at worst a liberal Republican who caters and compromises all too easy "across the aisle" with a party that doesn't return the favor, that being the Democratic side.

I'm a Republican for one simple reason--its the party that most closely represents who I am and what I believe. Well, its supposed to be close to that, though with McCain our possible next president, I dunno.

There's no way I can get behind Hillary Clinton. Absolutely not. Now, am I rooting for her to win the nomination? Definately. Only because she is the one that I think McCain can beat--though I will sadly join the millions who are voting not for someone (McCain) but against someone (Clinton).

Obama is another story. He is so charismatic when he talks, he's so charming and graceful and without much scandal and with his deep, manly voice and good looks, he's got America swooning. But I don't like him. Now, as far as Hillary Clinton goes, I think she's a terrible person. I actually think Barack Obama is a nice guy, and would love to sit down and have a conversation with him. I think he's less prone to blow sunshine in my face, and say stupid things like Hillary probably would.

However, I cannot support him as my President. He is a liberal. And the methods and programs that are being pushed by the Democratic party border on socialism. And I cannot support that. Socialism is an idea that states that everyone has the same amount of everything, no matter how hard you've worked for it. You've got too much, so take some of what you earned and give it to those who didn't earn it.

Healthcare is one of the big deals... what makes you think that this government (I didn't say "administration" because this includes our current president, whom I'll get to in a minute, but goes beyond him, and previous administrations) will do a good job with the health care system in America? The same government that refuses to do anything about the social security mess, the same government that is cramming mercury filled lightbulbs down our throat based on the threat of a science that is neither proven nor accurate (that being global warming), the same government that can't balance their own budget and owes trillions to the world... you want them in charge of your healthcare?

And who's going to pay for it? The rich, yes, yes, I know. Raise taxes, make the rich pay for it, because they have too much money, yes, big corporations that gouge the poor and smoke cigars on their 90 foot yachts and throw $100 dollar bills in the fireplace, because that costs them less than getting up to put a log in, right, right. Just don't give me that bit about Barack and John Kerry, who served in Vietnam, and the Clintons happy to pay their share--realize that most of their earnings are not from a paycheck, which is what would be taxes--its from investment earnings, mutual funds and the like.

Why are big corporations the enemy? Why is the rich the enemy? I mean, we all aspire to do well. I just became the manager at Starbucks, and while far from being rich, my salary did in fact, go up. Suppose I keep climbing in the company, and end up making six figures. At what point do I cross that salary line and become "rich" and "the enemy"? I mean, the top 25% of income earners in this country pay 86%, and the top 50% of income earners pay 97% of all taxes in this country.

See, I feel like there are alot of people in this country that need help. They need someone to reach their hand out and say, "Hey, I know this sucks for you, but let me help you". For those people, I have no problem with my tax dollars funding programs to help such people. But I do have an issue with increasing taxes just to fund programs that keep people in the "you owe me" victim mentality.

There are too many people in this country that believe that not only the government owes them something, but that the government is there to give them stuff. Lots of free stuff, be it welfare checks or TV analog boxes or a rebate check.

This is why I'm a Conservative. Conservatism isn't a "political party", its a way of life. Its believing that everyone is worth something, that you don't need a hand out, you need a hand up. Its telling you that you are not a victim, its telling you that your circumstances are hard right now, but I'm going to help you get out of them, being it through education or whatever, be it through getting a job. And you will do better, to the point where you'll be able to help someone else out.

I've made as little as $4.25 per hour working all nights a radio station. At one point in college, I worked 5 jobs--thats 'five'--and went to school. Two different radio stations at the same time, I catered Marriott, I did children's theater and I worked at Dairy Queen. I went probably 15 years with no Healthcare. I couldn't afford it for a while, but after I graduated and moved to Birmingham, I just chose not to get it. I probably could have, at that time, but I chose to use that money to go to the movies with the group, or take whoever I was dating out to eat or whatever. Bottom line is, I bore the responsibility if something happened, because I chose to live without healthcare. And at no time did I think "If I do break my arm, I'll just call on the government to pay me some money."

I'm pro-life. I think abortion is terrible, and I think any politician on either side of the aisle that actually voted against a ban on partial birth abortions should be roundhouse kicked in the face. Its a terrible thing. That being said, I don't think its possible to put a sweeping, anti-abortion law in place. Personally, I think that should be a state issue. Let the states decide. Let the peopel decide. If 48 out of 50 states vote to ban abortions, then those 2 states will have to deal with abortion laws and regulations, as well as any blowbacks.

I think gay marriage is wrong. See, I think you gay people really should have fought your battles over "civil unions", not "marriage". To you, its a word meaning 'legally together', for Christ Followers, its a sacred concept. However comma I think that a constitutional amendment sanctifying marriage is the wrong answer, and a polorizing concept. Once again, I say give it back to states. Let the people decide. If Vermont and Massachusetts are the only places that recognize gay marriage, then its up to the gay community to change our minds in other states. I would love to have the power to vote against gay marriage and abortion in Alabama, just as I know that woman who wore a "Roe vs Wade 25th Anniversary--Women's Choice" button at Starbucks would probably love to vote for those things. Democracy. Its a cool thing.

The war? Sheesh. I mean, its a cop out to say "doesn't matter how we got there, the fact is we are there now", but its kinda true. Do I agree on the reasons we went in? Yes, I do. Do I think Bush has made some mistakes? Many. Do I think soldiers have died in vain? Some, perhaps. Do I believe in the mission now? Yes, if only because the war was never a "war on Iraq", it was a "war on terror", a phrase that has been used and misused so many times, its a punchline. But Iraq is just a start.

If a democracy can be set up in Iraq, successfully, and can continue, it will change the entire Middle East. "Who are we to impose Democracy on other countries?" is what I hear, but my response now is simply, "Why wouldn't you?" Its freedom. Its liberty. It's every race, every color, every gender, every orientation having a say in the way your country is run. Democracy is a beautiful, wonderful thing, and should be adopted by every country.

I know, I know, there are lots of reports that tell you we are failing in Iraq, and the government there is incompetant and collapsing and so on and so forth and so on... and there are lots of reports that say the exact opposite. It just depends on if you are listening watching CNN or MSNBC, aka DNC-TV, or Fox News. I say that Fox News is actually unbiased, and someone else will tell me the others are unbiased. I think Keith Olbermann is a moron. How about that?

You know what else I believe, because I am a Conservative? I think government should collect taxes, fix roads, build bridges, give me my driver's license, protect this country from enemies, both foreign and domestic via the military, and get the $&#^ out of the $*%&ing way. Pardon my &*$^@#.

Seriously. Don't cram global warming down my throat when you can't prove it. Don't force me to buy a lightbulb that contains mercury that makes me call the EPA when I break it, when Sam's Choice 60 watt bulbs are $1.45 for four. Don't try to control my thermostat if we decide to move to California. Don't raise my taxes to fund your programs that do not work. The war on poverty? Has this really helped?

And you know what else? Don't force mortgage companies to give loans to people who clearly cannot afford a house because (mocking baby voice) "everyone should get a house!" then deride those same mortgage companies when those people who clearly cannot afford a house end up not being able to afford a house. Government, don't step in! Let the market work itself out. This is capitalism. It sucks for those people, it sucks for those companies, but the free market always evens out.

I sit here in my house, on my laptop, listening to my iPod. I look up and I see a bookcase full of books, and there is stuff everywhere. I had a conversation earlier with Nikki Brown and it just reminded me how much I love my friends. The Lovely Steph Leann and I just paid off my student loan, which means that aside from The Cabana, we are debt free completely. Free to save and invest for our future, instead of relying on Social Insecurity.

We're also preparing for a future that might be under Barack Obama. Because he's going to try to put in healthcare for the country. Mandatory healthcare. Which means whether you want it or not, you'll have to pay for it. Which means that if you don't have a job, or don't want a job, I'll have to pay for it. It also means that I better not get wealthy for any reason, because Barry wants to double the capital gains taxes. Has he ever even read an economic book?

As far as his speech the other day goes, I have come to believe one thing about Barack Obama. He's no different from Hillary Clinton, in saying exactly what the room wants to hear, only he says it better and it doesnt sound foolish, like when she says it.

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright thing is haunting him now. Have you heard this guy? He's pretty out there, I'll be honest. He's very anti-government, he hates Dubya (an election stealer and a dumb dixiecrat? any of you liberals answer me this--when are we going to get past the 'stole the election' rhetoric? its on par with global warming as still-not-proven nor even logical--I mean, for pete's sake, Democrats were running the voting centers in the Florida counties in question... its your own fault!!), and, from what I can tell is pretty doggone racist. The white man is the reason the black man is held down.

I've been going to Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) for almost ten years. Pastor Calvin his sermons have had a profound impact on my life, and if I didn't believe the doctrine that was being taught, I would leave and go elsewhere. I can't say that I've strongly disagreed with much the Pastor has said over the years... and why? I go to that church because he believes what I believe.

Can you tell me how Obama can stand up and say that, while he attended the United Trinity Church of Christ, pastored by Wright, for 20 years, he hasn't been really affected by what Wright says? And why stay at a church where you "strongly disagree with many of his political views" (his words, not mine). Or that after hearing the Reverend Wright blame the US for 9/11, hearing the word "nigger" being used over and over, hearing "God damn America!" several times, he wouldn't have an issue with this? No, actually Obama had Wright on his own staff, until recently.

Yes, yes, I didn't give the proper context, right right. Here's a great article from The Dallas News on Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I know much of the stuff you hear in the news is just snippets, the worst parts, but the double standard is what kills me... if a Republican had said ANY of this, it would be the end of his political career. No questions asked. Done. If a Republican had a pastor who said such things, likewise. Over.

Plus, how can I pull for a guy who throws his own mawmaw under the bus, by calling her a typical white woman who is scared of black people? You can read the reaction here, which, by the way, is the most I've ever linked to the Huffington Post in my life. I think Ariana Huffington is a dork, but sometimes, they get it right.

We're also preparing for a future that might be under John McCain, who loves amnesty ideas for immigration. Which means that millions of illegal aliens in this country will get that healthcare that he might just put in place as well, paid for by you and me. It really ticks me off to hear that illegal aliens get instate tuition, when I know people, citizens of this country, who go to school and pay the astronomical out-of-state tuition.

We're also preparing for a future that might be under Hillary Clinton. In case you thought it was all anti-Obama, there's always Hillary. I don't even have to talk anti-Hillary... if she gets elected, we might just commit a murder suicide, go home to Jesus and be done with it all.

So why conservatism?

Well, because I believe in people. I believe that people can be anything they want to be, some have to work harder than others to get it. It may not be fair, but thats how it rolls. I believe that the United States of America is the greatest, most free country in the history of the world, and we are the last great hope for this world. If America falls, so do the rest. I believe that Brad Latta is a great guitarist and I enjoy reading his political views. I believe that Rush Limbaugh is a great American, and I enjoy his show because he not only talks, he lets me hear Hillary and Obama for myself, and gives me the tools to research on my own, rather than Air America who just tells me to hate Bush and bring the soldiers home now (I believe that someone who sees the name Rush Limbaugh will automatically assume I have no credibility, much like I have trouble giving cred to someone who follows Algore) I believe we should drop this notion of bio-fuels and ethenol--if it doesnt work in the free market, then it shouldn't exist, and the government shouldn't subsidize it. I believe we should drill in ANWR, and in the Gulf of Mexico. What, some 20 million acres in ANWR and our global footprint there would be less than 2,000 square acres if we drilled? Wonderful.

I believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I believe the UN is corrupt and a joke, I believe that tax cuts work, I believe the economy is not as bad as people are making it out to be, I believe that 95% of people who are out of work can find a job somewhere (McDonald's may not be pretty, but its money, and its not forever) freeing up funding for those 5% who really need help, I believe that there's something wrong with forcing English students to learn Spanish but not forcing Spanish students to learn English, I believe that political correctness is a scourge on this society, I believe the government owes me nothing, I believe other people owes me nothing, I believe that just because I'm who I am that doesn't make me entitled to anything, I believe that I should keep what I earn be it money or whatever, I believe that when a Republican screws up its all over the news as to who they are, but if a Democrat screws up, you have to search like crazy to figure out what party they belong to, I believe that if we pulled out of Iraq now, no matter how we got in there, it would be a catastrophic mistake that our country would deal with for decades to come, I believe that Iran has nuclear ambitions and that we'll end up having to take military action eventually, I believe that the feminist movement in America should speak out against Islam for the mere fact that when a Islam man dies, he gets 75 virgins, but when a woman dies, she has to be a servant, I believe that history will prove Bill Clinton to be one of the worst presidents ever, I believe that George W. Bush was a great president in his first term, but only a mediocre one in his second, I believe that the Seattle Supersonics should not move to Oklahoma City, I believe that while this administration should take some blame for the aftermath of Katrina, I believe there are about a dozen people who should be held accountable before Bush, including Ray Nagin (whom they re-elected in New Orleans, God love 'em), I believe that the rebate check program is a terrible idea (but I'll take it), I believe that no matter who takes office in November, they are going to blame only Bush for anything and everything wrong, I believe that no matter who takes office in November, we're going to be in trouble for four years, but the light at the end of the tunnel is that it opens the door for a landslide conservative win in 2012, a la Jimmy Carter losing to Reagan, because I believe that Conservatism Works Everytime Its Tried.

Now. I'm going to Wal-Mart to buy a Wii. If I can find one.

I was actually going to blog on something completely different, but I was at work tonight, and Tammy McLeod came in, just for a minute. We hadn't talked in a while, because she said something politically, and I responded and she responded and a hundred other people responded and so on, and... well, we differ in ideas. We differ in the direction this country should go in, and who should lead it. And you know what? That's okay. I love Tammy McLeod. She sang at our wedding, a great version of "At Last", to which the Lovely Steph Leann and I had our first dance, and for that alone, Tammy will be in heart. So I decided to write about it.

I just ask, Tammy, that when you do put out an album, let the first few be just good, non-partisan, non-political music that I can enjoy. If you feel the need, you can go all Dixie Chicks, and not be ready to make nice later, but I'd love a few "Fly" and "Home" and "Wide Open Spaces" first. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Idol: The Year of the Cook

It's another week of Idol, after missing last week (you can figure out where we were instead by clicking here). Even though I didn't blog about it, I did get to see last week's horrendous Beatles butcherings (after the first week of magic), and I was fortunate enough to see Simba get the boot.

As for now...

They made their way into the Top 10, and into the tour. Now, can they make their way to the top of American Idol?

This.

Is American Idol.

Tonight's theme is "Songs from the Year You Were Born", which means Young David Archuleta is picking from... 1990. Like, 17 years ago. Like, when I was a sophomore in high school.

Ramiele Malubay
Singing from 1987, the video shows her parents, who might be from Al-Queda.

Oh no. She's singing Heart's "Alone". Oh no. This will be compared to Carrie Underwood's masterpiece of this song a few years ago. The Lovely Steph Leann, who loves her some Heart, says, "This might not be as bad as I thought she wou... wait, yeah, she's really bad."

This is terrible. J Rob looks at me. "I'm not feeling this at all."

The Lovely Steph Leann adds, "She's wearing off the shoulder, with a strap. And that's not what was popular in the 80s.

I was going to post a video of Heart singing "Alone", for the benefit of people like KT or Scotty Latta to see the brilliance that is under that big hair, but I still can't figure out how to embed videos from YouTube. Anyone?

Randy says it wasn't the right song. Carly did this earlier in the season, much, much better. Paula tries to find something positive to say, and finds some sunshine buried down deep. Simon says he didn't think it was as bad as Randy says, but it was shrieky.

Jason interprets what Simon says, "You suck, but people like you enough that you'll fly under the radar."

The Lovely Steph Leann declares Lil' Ramy this year's Jasmine Trias, who was a Top 3'er that deserved only to be a Top 15'er in Season Three. Latoya London and Jennifer Hudson went hom before Jasmine.

On a sidenote, surprisingly, they are doing the songwriting contest again. This is the same contest that gets us "This is My Now". I'm just sayin'.

Jason Castro
He's singing from 1987 as well. The Lovely Steph Leann says he's kinda hot, but not in a Colin Firth Club kind of way. KT still thinks he looks retarded.

His take is Sting's "Fragile", a song I'm not familiar with. The Dreadlocked One is with guitar, and both KT and J Rob says he looks Princess Leia-ish with his hair done like its done.

By the way, The Lovely Steph Leann gots her hair did tonight, and it looks great. Just so you know.

And even after last week's French disaster, he's singing foreign language again, this time Spanish.

Randy declares this song one of his favorites, which I'm beginning to understand Randy has about 12,833,499,228 favorite songs. Every song is one of his favorite songs. Paula blows sunshine, but still kinda disses him on the "wow" factor. Simon says this is the second bad week in a row, and that its time for The Dreadlocked One to take it more serious.

He says, "I guess I could spend a little more time practicing if I'm going to do this..." He looks like he played outside the subway last week in New York.

Syesha Mercado
The Black Julia Stiles was born in 1987 as well... is this '87 Idol?

Tonight, she's singing "If I Were Your Woman", another song I'm not sure I know much about. The good thing is, she's back to the 'fro, and that means she has a real shot at killin' it tonight.

The Lovely Steph Leann points out that with Syesha's 'fro, its almost a Hidden Mickey. The Black Julia Styles is belting it out, sounding great. My favorite of the three thusfar.

Even Jason thought it was good.

Randy says it was her best performance to date, and it was stellar. Paula is backing up a dumptruck of sunshine, ready to dump on Syesha, somehow calling her "dark" and a "horse." And Simon didnt think it was as good as Randy says. I thought it was great.

CheezyDeezy
The other black person in the show, born in 1985. I was ten. His mom's name is Chika. I don't even have a joke here... yes I do, I just can't decide which one of the dozens in my head.

"Its Only For One Night" is the song of choice, yet ANOTHER song I don't know. What the heck? Am I that igernent on music of the 80s?

I do like CheezyDeezy, cause he sounds like Luther Vandross, and he's singing to the chicks in the audience. I think there has been two or three kids concieved in this last few minutes, due to CheezyDeezy.

Randy says that CheezyDeezy sounds like of old fashioned, and not "hip and cool" like Syesha made hers. Paula disagrees, of course. She says CheezyDeezy is a good throwback, which is funny, because Paula talking is like a good throwup. Simon said it was sung well, but the performance was very cheesy (deezy).

By the way, its a Brenda Russell, who sings my #3 song of all time, "Piano in the Dark", featuring Joe Esposito on piano, from 1988.

Brooke White
My Next American Idol was born in 1983, and she's taking on "Every Breath You Take". For once, her hair is gorgeous, according to KT (which, she's right). On piano, My Next American Idol Brooke White starts out... poorly.

Actually, she just had a little blurp at the beginning, but immediately picked up right after. And she sounds awesome... truly awesome. KT and J Rob both aren't fans. They don't know talent.

Randy liked it just okay, not a fan of the arrangement towards the end. Paula liked it much better. Sunshine. Its blown. Simon agrees with Randy, saying that My Next American Idol Brooke White should've stayed on piano only, with the band not coming in.

They actually liked the fact she messed up and corrected herself professionally at the beginning.

Michael Johns
Born 1978, down in Australia, perhaps we'll hear some 70s rock. Or maybe disco. That would be funny.

Crocomichael Johndee is taking on "We Will Rock You" and since Ryan said "two for the price of one", I'm wondering if he'll transition into "We Are the Champions"... which he does.

For the record, you should never, ever hear "We Will Rock You" unless its followed by "We Are the Champions" immediately. It's like playing the radio-friendly, three verse version of "Lyin Eyes" or the four verse version of "American Pie". Its unacceptable. All or nothing, take it or leave it. This goes for you, Magic 96.5 and Hits 101.1.

Randy says "Finally! You use that big voice!" He declares it the best for Aussie Michael this season. Paula declares it "your shining moment". Simon says he finally saw star-potential, and that he just got it right.

Aussie Michael has been trying to recover his magic since Hollywood Week's "Bohemian Rhapsody", and finally, he did it.

Carly Smithson
Born in Dublin, she came into the world in 1983. Here mom's name is Mary Murray, and Carly's name comes from Carly Simon, who was playing on the radio when they were headed to the hospital during labor.

Carly has a big voice. J Rob says she should sing with The Cranberries.

"Total Eclipse of the Heart" is the song tonight. Can Carly take on The Immortal Bonnie Tyler? By the way, this is one of my 100 favorite songs. Ever.

She looks great on stage, though she looks like she's grinding with no one behind her. But she sounds just awesome. Could be one of my favorites of the night... until that last note. Ow. The Lovely Steph Leann is covering her eyes, KT her ears and Jason his mouth.

Randy didn't like the song choice, though I totally disagree... that's the perfect song for Carly. Paula blabbers for two minutes. And she says absolutely, postively nothing. Simon says it was decent, but that she seemed too intense and wound up... it might be the dress.

David Archuleta
Young David was born in 1990. We've been over this already. I was 15, in 10th grade, in like with Stephanie Phillips, and living the high life in Samson. They are showing some video of Younger David dancing as a kid, which means I was graduating high school at the time.

With "You're the Voice", another seemingly inspirational song. First, "Imagine", the "Another Day in Paradise", now this... is he going to do an entire album of "Songs To Make You Feel Good About Yourself"?

Rebecca St. James did a Christian spin on this song on her incredible album "God", her best ever. One of my favorite 10 Christian albums ever.

Randy says that it was a strange song choice, but he worked it out. Paula blows sunshine. Simon didn't like the performance at all, sounding very theme parky. He actually uses the word "ghastly" in his description.

J Rob says Young David looks like he stepped out of a Toon Disney show.

Kristy Lee Cook
Born in Seattle, Washington, KLC was born in 1984. Pictures of her as a teenager makes her look like she had hot potential, though I don't know what happened exactly. Excuse me, Chris Hanson is at the door.

She's singing "God Bless the USA", a take on Lee Greenwood's megahit. J Rob starts laughing. KT says this is a fireworks song. The Lovely Steph Leann laments that the stupid "mosh pit", the giggly teenagers in the very front, can't even wave their arms the same way.

They do this song in the "frickin' laser" show. And through all this, KLC is taking a big crap on this song. Lee Greenwood is beating his wife because of this performance, and the people at Stone Mountain are angered that this song has disgraced their laser performance.

Randy liked it. Paula says, "Its okay, but I've seen better from you." When? She sucks! Simon says it was her best performance by a mile. And he actually says, "It was the most clever song I've seen performed on this show in years..." and he even name drops Lee Greenwood.

Perhaps I am just completely tone deaf, because that was really crappy.

David Cook
In 1982, David Rob Thomas Cook popped out with a massive head--we just saw pictures. And he's taking on Michael Jackson...

"Billie Jean" is the song of choice... you know, he's right up there with My Next American Idol Brooke White as my favorite. He turned it into just a ballad, with a slow guitar behind it. This is just awesome. Seriously.

This is his Blake Lewis "You Give Love a Bad Name" performance... add it to "Hello" and "Daytrippers" and he's working on an entire album of American Idol performances... and I would buy it.

Randy says David Rob Thomas Cook is the one to win the whole lot, on "that joint right there". Paula is standing up for her sunshine. She offers him her official hotel key. Simon says that was "truly brave. It could have been insane or amazing... and it was amazing."

Jason declares David Rob Thomas Cook his next American Idol.

So running down the night... David Rob Thomas Cook takes the cake, followed closely by Aussie Michael, My Next American Idol Brooke White, Irish Carly, CheezyDeezy, Syesha Mercado, Young David, then KLC, and finally Lil' Ramy.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stamford '08: The Deterioration of the Response to Fight or Flight

Anyone who is a "Grey's Anatomy" fan will get the title of this blog. Anyway, we're in Hartford, CT... well, Windsor Locks, right outside of Hartford, at the Bradley International Airport. And there's trouble abrewing...

Later, I will go back and give you the details of Monday night, which was awesome, and Steph & Dave's Manhattan Adventure. But the current events override the need to tell you those two days, so we'll get to that later...

We awoke this morning, both The Lovely Steph Leann and I sore from a full day of walking around Manhattan, combined with a dessert dinner, combined with a terrible bed at the Stamford Suites and Resort Spa. We packed last night, so it was a quick get up/shower and finish packing, and we were ready to leave.

Landon met up with us and Jason & KT (Jillip and family were in Boston for the previous day, and the Smiths spent their night, along with the upcoming few days, in New York City) for breakfast at The City Limit Diner. The breakfast was awesome, though Jason is still trying to wrap his mind around spending $7.50 for two glass of orange juice, and I'm still trying to comprehend spending$8.95 on a, albeit good, waffle.

We piled in the Chrysler Sebring, and made our way to Windsor Locks, to the Dollar Rent a Car establishment, right outside the Bradley International Airport. Jillip was there, kids in tow, and we took the shuttle to the airport. Once in the airport, Philip let us know that our flight had been delayed an hour, due to weather.

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It's a dreary day at Bradley International Airport, in lovely Hartf, er, Windsor Locks, Connecticut

This was okay, because our flight was supposed to leave at 3:50pm, arrive in Newark around 4:30 (it says 5pm, but the flight last time was 26 minutes, so I'm guessing 4:30). Once in Newark, we had a delay of several hours until our Birmingham flight, which leaves at 740p, and arrives in B'ham around 845p (CST). So being delayed an hour meant we spend an extra hour in Connecticut, and one less hour in Newark...

...however comma....

We then got word that the flight was being pushed back to at least 6pm, then 645, then possibly 7pm... which means we may or may not make our 740p flight to Birmingham. We were informed that that's the last flight out tonight to B'ham, and that all other airlines have no seats available.

Which means we either spend the night in a hotel in Hartford/Windsor Locks, or we spend the night in Newark in a hotel (or airport). This is a problem, not because it would kill me, cause heck, what a blog that would make, but because Jillip has Munchkin 1 and Munchkin 2, who won't like the airport floor. Jason and the Lovely Steph Leann both have to work tomorrow as well.

And here's the evening as it goes...

330p... Just got word that the plane that would take us to Newark is now here. But we aren't getting on it? Why? I dunno.

413p… Found out that the reason we can’t leave, even though our plane is here, is that Newark has a “ground stop”. That means that they can’t allow anymore Newark bound planes to head that way, because, due to weather, they are having trouble getting in all the planes they have coming in already. Make sense? Yeah, me too.

415p… Also, discovered that the crew on the Newark to B’ham flight is coming from Syracuse, and they haven’t left yet either. So we’ll see…

430p… We’ve been told that we have an option… we can catch a flight to Atlanta on Delta, leaving at 620p, but we got nothing from Delta to Birmingham. Some options are maybe to call The Lovely Steph Leann’s Mother, Mama Ruth, and possibly Jillip’s parentals, Bob & Linda Waters, to come get us.

Another option is just to wait…

534p… We just got another option, we can catch a Delta flight tomorrow at 715am, after staying overnight, then from Atlanta get a connection to Birmingham. It’s actually a good option, because we could just stay overnight here, keep our luggage, and just get in in the morning. The Lovely Steph Leann has pretty much determined that she is taking tomorrow off, and Jason is about an hour from making that call himself.

537p… The time has come to make a decision, and I think we are going with the Delta option tomorrow… wait… wait a minute…

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Staring out the window at Bradley Int'l runway, awaiting liftoff to Newark

540p… Our original flight is boarding! Yes! We will get on here, get to Newark about, what,
630p, then only wait an hour or so for our flight to Birmingham! I guess I’ll report back while we’re in the air!

603p… Taxiing down the runway, we just stopped. The pilot just told us that Newark has another “groundstop”, meaning they won’t allow any planes to land that are not already in the air. Meaning, we can’t go just yet.

612p… We got word that the Newark Ground Stop is continuing, and we can’t leave until 720p. Supposedly, our flight in Newark leaves at 740p. This means that we not only missed our guaranteed Delta option for tomorrow, this means that we may or may not have a way out of Newark once, if, we get there.

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Just hanging out, for an hour, in a plane on the end of a runway in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Munchkin 1 leads the way, with Munchkin 2 behind her. KT's expression, on the right, is shared by all, while the Jill half of Jillip, smiling in the back left, has the expression we'll all have when we finally get home.

714p… After getting a little toasty, the captain finally got the air running back here (the plane’s engines had been shut off due to the fact that… well, we just weren’t going anywhere).

716p… The captain informs us that we are taking off shortly, and that the flight will be about 45 minutes or so. And so off we go.

8p… Its been quite a bumpy ride, I’ll tell ya… not really turbulence, but just the rain, the plane is really, really loud, some sort of unusual whistling noise going on, and Jillip is having trouble with Munchkin 2. The guy next to me, in the aisle over, is traveling to Ottawa, eventually, but is having trouble too. Apparently, when he ran into travel problems, he called his travel agent. His travel agent fixed it. But the travel agent didn’t call him or email him to let him know the changes. So he’s all goofed up now. The girl sitting about six seats behind me is flying to England, via British Airways. She’s also worried about her connection.

822p… We’ve landed. Now… did we make our connection??

823p… Still wondering. We’re standing in the aisle on the plane, but we’re not moving. The captain says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are waiting for the tunnel to be taxied to our plane…”

827p… We didn’t miss our connection! Whew… it’s been delayed from 740p to 930p, at the end of the terminal. It’s in gate 114A, which is down the escalator, where there are four gates—114A, 114B, 115A and 115B—all crammed together. The people awaiting a 838p flight to Colombia, SC, are sharing this gate with us.

835p… The Colombia flight got pushed back to 9p. Ours is still at 930p. I go upstairs to have an overpriced, undertasty piece of Chocolate Peanut Butter cake and an underpriced overlarge bottle of Poland Springs Water. They loves them some Poland Springs Water here in the North East.

912p… I’m sitting at Gate 112B, at the top of the escalator from 114A. There’s no place to plug in my almost dead computer, so I had to come up here. I haven’t heard anything about our flight being delayed again, though I did hear that the crew that was supposed to fly this plane, the one from Syracuse, hasn’t landed yet—they were supposed to land in a few, but they aren’t here.

914p… I just saw KT and Jill of Jillip go by, assisting a Japanese woman and her two kids, a family they had been connecting with downstairs in Gate 114A. I’ve already heard flights to Baltimore and another city has been cancelled. Just heard an attendant yell “Does anyone speak Russian??”

917p… I just got the call from The Lovely Steph Leann: “Come on, we’re boarding”

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A little blurry... but I do like this shot. Here's KT and Jason, watching the lights of Newark disappear

1101p… I’m sitting in seat 14A, currently 36,000 feet above ground, and about 620 nautical miles from Birmingham, from The Cabana, from all my friends and my church and everything else. This has been one of those crazy days that, a year from now, perhaps on the Stamford trip of 2009, we’ll laugh and say, “Wow, do you remember that?”, much in the same fashion we talk about The West Way Inn, from 2005. Perhaps this day is our West Way Inn.

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The wing above the clouds, almost in Birmingham

There’s a roar of an engine behind me, mixed with a constant whooshing sound of the air vent above me, combined with the utter quietness of it all. No one is talking, Jillip is having no trouble now with Munchkin 2, Jason is sitting across the aisle from me, KT’s head on his shoulder, in 14B and 14C. Jillip are a few rows back, while The Lovely Steph Leann is near the front again.

I’m off tomorrow, that being Thursday, and by the time you read this (or by the time I even post it) its possible I’ll be still asleep, or perhaps doing a ton of laundry, or even venturing out to Wal-Mart to pick up some laundry detergent to do said laundry.

That all being said, two things will happen in the next few minutes--our plane blows up and you never read this, or we land. Let's hope for the latter. Though, after today, seeing Jesus if the former occurs might not be a terrible thing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stamford '08: It's Not Sexy, But Its Got Teeth

(the date on this post says Sunday, but it was, in fact written on Monday, St. Patrick's Day)

It had been determined, due to the lack of promising eats at the continental breakfast that the Stamford Suites & Resort Spa had to offer, that we, perhaps a few, perhaps many, would venture either to Dunkin' Donuts or to Starbucks Coffee & Tea.

I rolled out of bed this morning around 730, and by 810, I met KT down in the lobby. Jason wasn't feeling good, and The Sleepy Steph Leann let me know quickly I could just bring her back something.

It was 32 degrees outside, with the wind chill factor making it feel like 18, so sayeth my weather info on my fairly new phone, so with great muster and warmth, KT and I hustled out the Stamford Suites and Resort Spa revolving door, turned right and headed the three blocks to Starbucks.

Once there, we both shared our common thought: Are we being used? I mean, we've prayed and handed out fliers, but where's the impact? It was a reminder to me that sometimes, we don't get to see the results. Sometimes we are just part of the foundation. In my previous trips to this area, both involved times when I worked in New York, first in Brooklyn in 2005, then in The Bronx in 2006. Previously, I've spent time in Queens and Manhattan, and usually, you can see the impact of what you do immediately, especially when kids are involved. But here, only in Stamford? Not so much.

Still... its planting seeds. Seeds that we may not see grow for a while, seeds that we may never see grow, but that another team, another person, another new Christian and older Believer may come across and say, "Wow... I'm glad someone else planted this seed, because look at this harvest!" Being the impatient people that I am, and that I think KT might be, its hard to remember that.

Our other thought was, when people ask about mission trips, they want to know the stories... "What did you do?"... "Where did you go?"... "Who'd you tell about Christ??"... "Tell me! Tell me!" and for the first time in about six or seven mission trips I've gone on, I have nothing to tell other than, simply, "We handed out fliers. We advertised the church. That's our jobs."

In the movie "The Firm", Mitch (played by still-married-to-Nicole-Kidman-still-sane Tom Cruise) is a young lawyer who accidentally falls in with a law firm with mob ties, and ends up turning his own law firm in--not for the mob ties, but for overbilling and tax fraud. FBI Agent Tarrance (played by the always brilliant Ed Harris) comes in, holding the documents for Mitch to see, wondering whats going on.

Mitch: "I got mine, Wayne, you get the rest of 'em".
Tarrance: "Get them with what, overbilling? Mail fraud? Oh, that's exciting"
Mitch: "Its not sexy, but its got teeth."

It's not sexy, but it's got teeth. Meaning, "It's not glamorous, it's not fireworks and celebrations, it's not angels singing... but this is serious stuff. It's got lasting implications."

And for us... for me... it's got eternal ramifications. It's got obedience all over it.

FYI... the movie is good, but the book is ten times better. Its not a family movie, especially when the Quaker Oatmeal Man drops the F-bomb. That scarred me. Seriously.

We returned with a chai in my right hand for The Groggy Steph Leann, and a skim latte in my left hand for Cindy, while KT held her own coffee and a bag of pastries. The walk back was almost unbearable... we walked fast, which led to a little sweat upon my brow, which led to being even more cold as the wind whipped around and dried the water on my face. My hands were burning at the palm, each wrapped around the hot cup, while my fingers, facing the wind, were cold as ice. KT's hands were numb.

Devotional was good, this time led by Taylor & Cindy Smith, and it touched on feeling unused, to which I shared my conversation with KT. Philip, almost reading my mind and reassuring my thoughts, saying that what we are doing now isn't going to give us the warm fuzzies about how amazing salvation is, but what we are doing is fundamental, and perhaps one of the most strategic things we could do for Encounter Church.

Landon told us a story of a woman who is just starting to attend regularly... apparently, her house burned down last year, Encounter reached out to her and her family, and NINE months later, she came to church. Nine months later. Imagine reaching out, giving food and money to a family, praying for them constantly, and seeing nothing. It's not sexy, but its got teeth. And nine months later, she came to church.

We used a map of the area to break up, and basically, we were going to prayerwalk, put Easter Celebration cards under mats and in doors, and if the Spirit led, and the chance arose, talk to some people. KT, Jason, The Lovely Steph Leann and I hopped into our Chrysler Sebring and headed to the Turner Road/High Clear Drive area, with the Smiths going north of us, and the Waters going northeast of us. Turner Road and Silver Hill Lane went East to West, with Cody Drive, Barrett Avenue and Brinkerhoft Avenue running the length between them.

We started on Cody, and wow... it was freezing. I cannot describe to you how the wind was like ice, and at one point, The Freezing Steph Leann looked at me and said something I'd never heard her say before: "The wind is cutting through my Cuddl Duds. They aren't working"

I had tears in my eyes, the wind was so cold. Jason, still not feeling good, was even more miserable, while KT shivered when she walked. House after house, we walked to the front, placed a small Encounter Church "Easter Celebration" flier under the mat, or for some homes with no mats, into the door or screen door jam. Each corner we stopped and prayed for the families on those streets, that they would just take a look at the flier and not toss it away immediately, and that even if they didn't come, they would remember the name "Encounter Church".

We went up Cody Drive, down Barrett Avenue, and by Brinkerhoft, Jason just stayed in the car, just feeling terrible. We quickly knocked out the small Swan Lane, and all climbed in the car. We had been out about 2 hours and finished our rectangular quadrant, and by 1115, we were all cold, and hungry and figured it was time to get back. Jason, the trooper that he is, finally gave in and decided it would be good to go lay down for a few hours or so.

Once back at the Stamford Suites and Resort Spa, Jason went inside, leaving Steph Leann, KT and myself to decide what to do. We tossed around the idea of just going to lunch, or relaxing, but I felt like there was more to do. We had a stack of fliers left, so I suggested, "Hey, let's go get Ogden Road and Hirsch Road, then go to lunch." The girls agreed, and off we went.

We drove down both Ogden and Hirsch, and decided they weren't for us. Lots and lots of cars were in driveways, and doggone it, we're cold and hungry, we don't want to bother people. The houses looked a little smaller and more rundown, so I suggested we skip these two. KT nodded, and The Lovely Steph Leann agreed. We then decided to drive up Turner Road a bit and knock out Fara, a little side street.

On Fara Drive, the three of us quickly dispatched and finished up, then The Lovely Steph Leann led the prayer. Already, I had been thinking of how quickly we dismissed Ogden and Hirsch, and I think it bothered KT and The Bothered Steph Leann as well. In her prayer, she said, "...forgive us when we so quickly skip some houses because we just don't want to go there..." and that did it. After the prayer, I said quickly, "We have to go back to Ogden and Hirsch. We have to. I feel like God is telling me not to skip those two roads."

KT then chimed in that, "I agree. I feel like we haven't done hardly anything this morning, so I want to get those streets." The Smiling Steph Leann then just piped up, "Sure! Let's go!"

We parked across Newfield Avenue in a small shopping center, and, thinking it would be better to stay altogether, we made our way down Ogden. I would love to tell you that God led us here because we met up with someone, and led them to Christ. Or that we found someone searching for a church, and Encounter was exactly what they were needing.

We didn't. But we passed them out anyway. Including that big hill on Ogden that I didn't notice when we were driving, but definately noticed as we walked up it. It's not sexy, but its got teeth.

We stopped for a quick prayer, then rounded Pepper Ridge Road, then turned back onto Hirsch Street. The girls took the right side, I took the left, which was quite a challenge. Even though I was now doing downhill, the houses that were built upon this hill were a little higher, meaning almost every house had at least a ten-stair staircase leading up to the porch.

This allowed KT and The Friendly Steph Leann to meet the Malomarr, a beagley type dog, and Malomarr's owner. This person added to Denise, the friendly old lady who said, "Whatcha got there, honey?" as KT and Steph Leann approached, and Rick and his little boy Nathan (with the crystal blue eyes). I think God deemed it necessary that I stay silent today, as I had ne'er a single chance to talk to anyone--it wasn't like I avoided anyone, I really didn't run into anyone that wouldn't need running down. Well, save for this Mexican landscaper who I gave a flier to, pointed to Encounter Church and gave a thumbs up. He may or may not have been my cousin.

The Spirit nudged me too. There was one home which had a long stairway, leading to the door on the side of the house. I almost skipped it, not wanting to walk that far up, and felt a tug saying "Get up there, David." So I walked to the base of the staircase, and there was the mailbox (all the mailboxes around here are by the doors, not in the street, causing the mailman to actually get out and walk up and down driveways... weird). I sort of stuck the corner into the dirt by the mailbox, as we were instructed to not put them in the mailboxes. It fell over twice, and that same small voice, this time a little louder, said, "Get up those stairs, buddy. This is part of your job today." I swear I heard The Spirit say, "Remember... its not sexy, but its got teeth", though I don't know if the Holy Spirit uses the word "sexy" in guidance. Hmm.

By the time we finished Ogden and Hirsch, my whole heart had lifted. I felt the encouragment of obedience fulfilled, and we all three felt as if our morning was meaningful, and that we had accomplished something.

Jason still stayed zonked on the couch of his luxurious suite and massage parlor, while The Hungry Steph Leann, KT and I went back to Lucky's Classic Burgers and Malts. We made it back pretty much in time for the big group gathering, and we counted up 30 fliers left from our group. The Smiths had a stack, and Jillip had a stack as well (Jill said, "Our kids lost interest in what we were doing a few minutes into it..."), so we looked at the map again, redivided up the stack, and headed out.

Jason joined us this time, feeling somewhat better, and we mapped out an area to finish up the fliers. Back down High Clear Road, turning on Turner, we parked on Sherwood Road. The four of us went after it, this time with only 93 fliers between us, as opposed to the 150 or so this morning. We went all the way down Sherwood, stopped and prayed, looped around Oaklawn Avenue, and made our way back up to Dann Drive.

Along the way, The Lovely Steph Leann and KT stopped at a home where a big ditch of concrete and rock stood. A man with a shovel came out, and they talked to him. Tony Esposito was rebuilding his retaining wall that had fallen. They discussed the wall for a minute, and the subject of Encounter Church came up. Tony Esposito had lots and lots of questions about denomination, location, what it was all about and so forth, so the girls talked with him for several minutes. Hopefully, Tony Esposito will make his way to Encounter Church.

After the loop was completed, we had about 30 left, and we drove over to Dartley Drive, where we were able to finish up (well, there, and Ecine Street, running into Camore Avenue). Jason and KT even had a good talk with a lady and her dog, Cody (aka Killer), a small terrier.

This was a day I was not looking forward too... I mean, come on, lets do some festivals, or more Eastery Eggy Hunty type things, not passing out fliers door to door... yet, today was great. It was encouraging. Most of all, today, your prayers were felt. Thanks to Andy & Kristi Murry for your encouragement note.

They reminded us that Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared us in advance to do..."

And Matthew 6:20 tells us, "But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust (and wind chill factors of 18, with gusts up to 20 mph) do not destroy..."

See... now thats sexy AND it has teeth...

Stamford '08: Walking on Egg Shells

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Wow its cold. Like, seriously. I mean, I guess it gets Connecticut March cold in December in Alabama, but that doesn't mean either we are used to it, or that we like it.

This morning we got up and got rolling around 730 or so... the sleep wasn't bad, except for the fact our mattress is about as thick as my laptop here, and its only about a foot or so off the ground. Like, you have to fall down to go to bed.

We opened up one of the encouragement notes, and this one was from Scott Latta... and I have to say it was one of the funniest things I've ever read. The Lovely Steph Leann and I headed down for the official Stamford Suites and Resort Spa continental breakfast, and I use the term "continental" very loosely. Like, a rack with a few pastries, a pitcher of coffee, and a tank of hot water. And thats it. No milk. No OJ. Nothing but a single bagel, a single donut (which I grabbed), a few pieces of coffee cake, and some tiny muffins. I was soooo hoping for a waffle iron, but alas, nothing wafflesque to be found.

It was my/our turn to do the morning devotion, so I used what I was going to use--a quick reminder of the WalkAbout team verse, 2 Timothy 4:5, thanks to Rainbow Cheney--and I used what Scott gave us this morning, 2 Peter 1:4. It was good, so thanks to both Rainbow and Scotty.

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The Cold Steph Leann, sufferin' for Jesus, with a bag full of fliers and a parking lot full of misery

The Easter Egg hunt was hours away at this point, so our charge is to go out and hand out lots of fliers not only advertising the Easter Egg hunt at 2, but also the Easter service at Encounter next week. And its cold and rainy... like, really cold and drizzly, misery rainy. There's a shopping center about a mile or so down the road, so the entire group--Jillip Waters, Munchkins, Taylor & Cindy, MCSC (Mary Connor & Sidney Claire), KT, Jason, the Lovely Steph Leann and myself--went there, split up and tried to hand out fliers.

Let me be honest here... and I might have already said this, but I'll repeat... I deplore handing out fliers. Like, I would rather do almost anything than walk around a parking lot and hand people stuff. I like meeting people, I like talking to random people, its the "putting stuff in their hands" that I struggle with. KT and Jason went one way, while The Lovely Steph Leann and I went another. After talking to just a few people, we finally walked to an apartment complex, where we put them on all the doors. KT and Jason, who were having little to no luck finding people, joined us and helped us out.

The Lovely Steph Leann said, "To me, this is suffering" as she shivered. She is NOT a cold natured person, below 60 is cold for her... so the fact it was running around 35 was not too pleasant.

We finished the apartment (Colonial Grove) and then decided to go to Starbucks and get something to drink. We called the Smiths, they were at a grocery store, about to have lunch. The four of us figured we'd enjoy our drinks for a few minutes, warm up, and then head out... when ended up meeting with Jillip and they gave us a few more fliers, which we quickly dispatched with.

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The Starbucks on Bedford wasn't as clean as my Starbucks is, but it did nicely. Some woman ahead of me dropped her coffee all over the counter, and the baristas were frantically trying to clean it up. I left them a large tip. They deserved it.

Lunch was a quick McDonald's trip, which was disturbing because not only was there a big sign that said "Today No Carbonated Drinks", they also didn't have the All American Meal. What kind of sick McDonald's doesn't have an All-American Meal? Typically, its #14 on the menu, but when I asked for #14, I was told, in very broken English "We no have 14... we go up to 13, but we no have 14". I told him its usually not on the menu, but its simply a burger, fries, pie, and a small drink, but since he stared at me with glassy eyes, I sighed, and just ordered off of the $1 menu. I didn't get a drink, cause hey, they have a snack menu at the front desk of Stamford Suites, right? I mean, a Sprite is a buck, but hey, I'm thirsty.

Only, they didn't have a Sprite. They had Sprite Zero and Diet Coke. I pointed to the little snack menu and said, "Oh, sorry, I thought you guys had..." but before I could finish, she snatched it up, "Don't go by that, that's old. We just got Sprite Zero and Diet Coke". Again, I sighed and walked away to the lobby, where KT ate nuggets, The Lovely Steph Leann nibbled on fries and Jason sat uncomfortably (still not feeling his best). I looked around at the lobby decor, and decided that the best way to describe it was simply, "It looks like Beijing threw up in here."

The time came to head to the church, and we all trundled our way down to the Universalist Unitarian Church where Encounter was meeting this afternoon. Our first assignment? Hide plastic eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. What made it rather funny though, was the proportion of eggs to the amount of space to hide them was quite irregular... not a very large lawn, but something like 1100 eggs... and you know when you are talking about something, and you exaggerate the number to emphasize how much it is (ie, "I'm so hungry, I haven't eaten in like, ten years", which is silly because you ate this morning, right?). Well, in this case, 1100 might be conserative. There were eggs EVERYWHERE.

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And this was just part of the lawn... there was an eggceptional amount. Thank you, I'll be here til Wednesday.

On the sign. On the steps. On the sidewalk. On the bushes. On the trees. On the ledges. On the fence. On the dirt. On the shrubs. On the pile of sticks by the sidewalk. On the other steps. On the other fence. And wow, were they on the grass. And just when we think we're done, out walks Taylor, half smiling, with a "you gotta be kidding me" look on his face carrying... more eggs. "You're kidding?" I asked. "Nope," he said. At one point, I just took a bag, dumped it directly on the sidewalk and just started tossing eggs in every direction. Jason was chunking them across the yard.

And finally, the eggs were out. We had nothing else. The best way to describe this scene, borrowing from an earlier joke: "It looks like the Easter Bunny threw up out here".

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Jason, playing Beckett to the eggs that were in his bucket

Time ticked slowly by, and around 10 minutes until 2, the kids started trickling in. I would love to tell you that we had hundreds of children file in, but not quite.... still, it was a good crowd. At one point, we had about 50 kids there, with their parental units, and Landon had said that about 80% he'd never seen before, which means it wasn't just regular kids.

They came in, KT and Cindy manned, er, womanned the snack table, Philip tried to play bouncer on the bounce houses/moonwalks/jumpy jumps or whatever you call them, Taylor and Jason were outside making sure there was not prematurely egg hunting occuring, The Lovely Steph Leann was somewhere, and I forget what I was doing--probably just writing this down on paper.
Sidebar: Its almost 10pm on Sunday night EST, and the wind is howling outside of our 7th floor window. Seriously, I can't remember the last time the wind howled. Literally howled. Back to the Easter Egg hunt...

Landon made the announcement that we'd let the 5-year-olds and under get a few minute head start, then all the other kids could go. He yelled "GO!", and the kids took off around the small year. Two minutes later, he yelled, "GO!" again, and the bigger kids went after them. I kid you not, in about three minutes, all 1100+ were gone. I mean, vanished. I walked around a little while later and found the shell of two different eggs, and that was it. Those kids were egg savages.

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"Wait... I think I see one! Eureka, I finally found an egg!" I told Taylor that if each kid didn't come up with about 30 eggs apiece, I don't know what else we could do for them.

After the three minutes was up, all the kids came back inside, which was good because, frankly, not only was it cold, but it was drizzling and cold. Landon had all the kids open up their eggs, because one of them had confetti in it, and that signified a grand prize, which was a big basket full of stuff. One little girl opened up the confetti, the prize was hers, and Landon introduced a VeggieTales movie, I think "An Easter Carol", starring Rebecca St. James as the Angel of Hope.

From there on, the day just consisted of a complete hodge-podge of activities, and I only say hodge-podge because truly, that's what it was. There was balloon animals, snacks, ring tosses, some sort of jellybean game, the video was going, and of course, face painting... The face painting typically is done by whoever wants to step up for something like this. I've painted many a faces before, and usually you start getting simple requests like "a flag" or "a cat" or "a rainbow", and by the end of the day, its "Denzel Washington in a Santa hat" or "A hawaiian cheerleader in a muumuu" or "a 1967 shiny red Corvette convertable with duel action mufflers and dice in the mirror". These kids are ruthless. Like they even know what a duel action muffler even is. I sure don't.

Landon had this covered, however... he recruited some of them thar young teenage folk to do it, and they had a single sheet of simple designs for the kids to pick from. Good job.

The other event was bounce houses. Or moonwalks. Or jumpy jumps, as I heard them called for the first time today--can we get a consensus on what to call these things? Anyone? Because they weren't the industrial grade, we could only allow two or three kids on them at a time, and we had a big one and a small one, with the latter being for kids under 4. The line for the jumpy jump was continually long, and Jason has the honor of guarding it for a long time. I finally took over, and Philip took over for me, and we noticed that the same kids were coming out and getting back in line, over and over and over.

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A view from above of the madness that ensued. There were about this many people in the back, on the jumpidy jumpers.

The afternoon was all in all a successful one, I think. Lots of new faces, Landon did what he did best, that is to wander around and talk to new people. I got a chance to not only talk to Cindy Smith (a cool chick) more, but also to Taylor (a cool guy), and play with MCSC, their kids, some. Somehow I became a target for the MC out of the MCSC, as she chased after me all day, while KT had fun with all the kids. The Lovely Steph Leann spent time with Munchkin 1, reading Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, which was cute as all heck.

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KT and MC dancing the day away. I'm not sure there was music playing, but it's never stopped KT before.

The afternoon eventually wound down, and families slowly trickled out, little by little, and our group meandered our way back to the Stamford Suites and Resort Spa, just in time for me to see Georgia beat Arkansas for the SEC title, and its third win in 30 hours. Impressive.

Encounter Service started at 6pm, so we left here around 540pm... KT wants me to mention the cool as grits Bobby, who is working the front lobby. I only waved at him as I was walking out, so I don't know that he's cool, but I promised KT a mention.

Taylor mentioned that he had read the blog, and commented about how detailed it was, joking, "Careful what you say! It might end up in the blog!", to which both KT and myself laughed, letting them know not everything ends up in the blog. Well, this conversation did, but besides that...

We had a great time of worship tonight, including a lengthy version of "It Is Well With My Soul", one of The Lovely Steph Leann's favorite hymns. If you've never had a chance to be next to The Lovely Steph Leann to hear her sweet voice sing when she's deep in worship, its amazingly beautiful. Just like everything else about her, but I digress.

The song was great, everyone ended up in prayer, I was forced by The Spirit to my knees to thank God for using me, even though I'm a selfish putz, and Landon finally came up to preach. The sermon tonight was on time, and how we should remember that we don't have a lot of it.

When we're at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), Pastor Calvin teaches his series, usually throwing in an alter call at the end. For Landon Reesor, here at Encounter Church, the plan of salvation and an alter call is pretty much a part of EVERY sermon, because so many times people come once and done, so he's got to make sure that if that person in the back only comes one time, ever, they need to hear The Truth.

To wrap up the night, the Smiths, the Waters, the Roberts and the $s all had dinner at Lucky's, a Johnny Rocket's type place. The food was excellent, as it has been the three times before I'd eaten there, and it was just all around a good time to sit, relax and fellowship. Sometimes you just need that.

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Jillip, kids and The Smiths gettin' their shake (and burger) on at Lucky's.

In closing, the Easter Egg hunt was a success. Lots of new faces, some of which we had seen the day before when we were handing out fliers, and some of which we saw that night at Encounter Church's service.

The Lovely Steph Leann was all smiles after she read Emily Turnbow's note, while I enjoyed Ginger Latta's tonight, and she left me with this:

The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord's face shines upon you, and is gracious to you. The Lord lifts his countenance upon you, and gives you peace.

Tomorrow, we hand out Easter Service fliers in neighborhoods. I can do this. I can do this, right? I know I can!!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Stamford '08: Adventures at the Mall

Would ya like to know what we're working with up here, weather wise? On the top of the links is Stamford's Weather Info. Just so's ya know, and all.

The night has been pretty simple, really. When I last blogged, I was in a chair at the glass table of room 7071 in the Stamford Suites. Now, hours later, I am again.

After I hung up the laptop, I sat on the couch watching basketball, fully intending on going down to the Smiths room to help with stuffing eggs. The Lovely Steph Leann was napping, deservedly so, as she was my MVP today. So, I tilt my head back, and wham! I'm snoozing--which is pretty big, because I never take naps. And since we were meeting everyone in the lobby at 5pm, naturally, I awoke at 5:07, and got Steph Leann awake at 5:08.

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Our humble shelter during this time of prayer and walking. Our pretty much the top corner, and you can see tail end of the car we're crammed into, the second red car on the left side

We hustled down pretty quickly to see Philip & Jill and Munchkins 1 (Bethany, 4) and 2 (Noelle, 1), Landon and Cristy and their entourage of Lauren (8), Lawson (5) and Layton (3), and Taylor and Cindi Smith and Mary Connor (6) and Sydney Claire (7). So yes, our children tonight were 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

While everyone went to the mall, the girls headed to dinner at The Kona Cafe, and the guys just hit the mall food court (Jason & I had orange chicken at The Panda Express). Trouble was brewing when the kids wanted to go to the indoor playground (which was nothing but a bunch of big, giant fruits and vegetables made out of fiberglass that the kids could crawl on... I mean, who wants to sit in a lettice cup or climb over a carrot? Seriously...).

The playground featured Sylvester the Cat standing tall in the front, with his hand out, about four feet off the ground. Those children who could stand under Sylvester the Cat's hand got in. Those who couldn't, didn't. Poor Mary Connor came back in tears to her dad Taylor, as apparently there was a Mall Playground Commie standing guard, making sure no terrorist children over 4 feet got in. Sydney Claire had a better idea... "Why don't we go kick them, then prayerwalk for them?"

After dinner, the families split up, with various members going to see a movie, a few went shopping, and KT, Jason, the Lovely Steph Leann and I started at Barnes & Noble, toured the mall awhile, visited Target, tried their cool cart esculator (its the neatest darned thing), then ended up at Baskin Robbins.

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Jason and I, dazzled by the Target Cart Lifter


We discussed how it kinda looked bad spending the evening at B&N and 31 Flavors, but we decided that tomorrow would be "showtime", as its a full day of prayerwalking and Easter Egg Hunting, so we'll be ready.

Tonight's encouragement notes to both of us was from Nikki, while I got one from Emily Turnbow and Steph Leann read one from Ginger Latta... thank you! You chicks rock!

Pray for two things... huge attendance at the Easter Egg hunt tomorrow, and for good weather. Because we're supposed to have snow showers in the morning.

Stamford '08: A Parade of Prayers

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Want to know how we're doing weather wise? Look to the right, and click on "The Weather in Stamford"

"How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things... Romans 10:15

We managed to sleep in a bit today, which was just really nice. KT, Jason, myself and The Lovely Steph Leann were all exhausted, and Munchkin 1 was half asleep and Munchkin 2 remained sleepy and grumpy well into the night, helping parents Philip and Jill remain sleepy and grumpy too.

After a pleasant continental breakfast (no champan-ya... another SNL joke) we loaded up our stuff into the car for the two hour drive from Hartford/Windsor Lock to Stamford.

Stamford Suites is the name of the place we're in, though we couldn't check in until about 3pm. And strangely enough, there's a St. Patrick's Day parade going on. Like, do they have those in Alabama? After meeting in the lobby of Stamford Suites, still unable to check-in, we met up with Landon Reesor, pastor of Encounter Church. We had bags with a couple of fliers in each, advertising the big Easter Egg hunt that is going on tomorrow at Encounter Church, and because of the parade, there were suddenly families everywhere.

The Egg hunt is going on, rain or shine, and though the possible rain was feared, we are reminded that God is working on His own plan... last night, as Philip was putting car seats in the rental car, Jill has some time to talk to the clerk at Dollar Rent-A-Car. Jill was able to open up, encourage and share with the lady, something that would not have happened had our flights been on time earlier last night.

We split up, with Jason & KT going one way, Taylor & Cindi Smith & kids going another, Philip & Jill and Munchkins going another way, and myself and The Lovely Steph Leann headed another direction.

On trips like this, boldness is always a challenge, and its hard approaching people to shove something in their hands. Sometimes it just seems impersonal, other times I feel like I'm selling them something, and sometimes it even is hard to talk to people of different languages. Steph Leann was amazing, though. Big smile, waving of hands, and a huge, "HI!!" She gave away most of them, though I did talk to a few.

After giving out all of our fliers, we had lunch at this burger joint called The Wedge Inn, which serves burgers, fries, and wedges, which I found out is, in fact, a sub sandwich. The lady behind the counter was a little gruff, especially when I asked for a refill of our Mug root beer--it was $1.80. Jason and I both caught the woman's conversation with a customer about a family member who has been really sick, so it might have explained her demeanor.

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The Lovely Steph Leann and I being blessed over an overpriced cheeseburger, a medium root beer that costs $1.80 to refill and curly fries. Mmm mmm.

From there, we just headed around the block of Encounter Church, which meets in the Universal Unitarian Church building. For those who are unfamiliar with the UU church, its the type of congregation that basically believes that there are many ways to Heaven, and it really doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe something. Hence, the meetings of the Sacred Circle Pagans at the UU Church.

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This is how I blogged before I got a computer. I am actually making notes for tonight's blogs.

As we walked around the huge block, we stopped every little while and prayed over the area, for each other, for a nearby playground and its inhabitants, for at least one person that each of us had come in contact with so far today. We finally ran into Philip and Jill and the kids, and all walked back to Stamford Suites, where we finally got to check-in. I'll just say this... you know when you go on the internet, find a hotel or place to stay, and when you get there, you think "Wow... this looked better on the net"? Yeah...

If you click on the website of Stamford Suites, you'll find benefits like two televisions, full service kitchen and executive sized desk... yes, it has all these things. But the tvs are ghetto, the kitchen has appliances older than me and the desk... its just a desk. Not really that big. Oh, and the whirlpool tub that the computer advertises is pretty sketch. Like, the four jets on either side are rather rusty, and old and I'd be afraid to use them.

What to pray for? The Easter Egg hunt tomorow, that the weather would be cooperatve, and that lots and lots of people would show up...

Coming tonight... Jason & Dave's night with the kids.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Stamford '08: Gettin' There is Half the Fun...?

FIRST TIME to the Blog? Click Here!!

FYI... I just got online at 945p, so I'm about to update several entries from today... so check back soon

1229pm... So, its technically Day One, I guess, because our flight leaves at 435, and we're actually supposed to meet up at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) at 2pm, so its like Day One... but I'll call it Day 1A, with the real Day 1 being tomorrow.

Anyway, make sure you read the blog intro by clicking the link above, otherwise, you won't have a clue what this website is all about.

And for those out of the know, at 435pm today, myself, The Lovely Steph Leann, Jason, KT, Philip, Jill and their two kids will be flying to Newark, NJ, then onto Hartford, CT, where we'll spend the night, then drive to Stamford, CT, tomorrow morning to start working with Encounter Church.

Anyway, The Lovely Steph Leann just hollered out to me that "...you need to come pack, because I want time to unload and load the dishwasher!", meaning that she wants ME to unload and load the dishwasher.

I'll give a shout out from the airport in a few hours.

416p... We're here in the airport in Birmingham, and lucky for us, we got here early! We're sitting here at Gate B2 since 334p, ensuring that we are ready for our 445p flight.

Just so you know, there is jack to eat once you go through security. The Lovely Steph Leann and I had to leave Gate B2, go back out to the little food court, snag an overpriced personal pan pizza, then wait in line again for security. There's nothing cuter than The Lovely Steph Leann suddenly popping out with "No blades... no bows... leave your weapons here" (if you've seen "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", you'll get that joke)

Jason, who has been sick for a few days, is feeling much better now. The bad news, though, is that KT is not feeling so hot. She's feeling pretty shabby at this time, though we aren't sure if she's caught what Jason had, or if its just that she's really tired, because she and The Lovely Steph Leann went to see "27 Dresses" last night at the $1 theater--at 955pm.

More to come

509p... For the first time ever, I'm blogging from 30,000 feet in the air. We're aboard the Continental Air Express (which makes me think of Chris Walken on SNL), a small plane, headed to Newark, NJ. They just came around and handed us the official snack of the flight.

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Jason referred to this as the John McCain Snacktime. I think it was the POW on the wrapper.

When I was a kid, we lived in Texas, and every summer, we would fly down to Florida or fly up to Virginia to visit my sister and her family. I loved those summer flights, and heck, I even loved the airport visit. And I still love airports and airplanes... I would love to open up a Starbucks at the Birmingham International Airport. Put it on a college campus, and get Ashley Judd to fund it, and you've got a dream scenario for me.

Anyway, I mention that only to say that this is my third Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) mission trip to the New York area... and the third time I've gotten a wing seat. I either have to lean way back to see whats in front of the wing, or lean way up to see what's behind the wing. There is no "wow-look-how-far-up-we-are" simple glance out the window on these trips. I have to re:IMAGINE the ground below.

I'm sitting on the left side, in a one seat row, while across the aisle is Jason and KT, who just pulled up a blanket, leaned on the window, and zonked out. Jill is behind them with two munchkins, while Philip is right behind me. I'm seated in 15A. Who is seated in 1A, you ask? That would be The Lovely Steph Leann, who joined the trip late, and therefore had to get a seat not with the rest of us. She doesn't care, though, she'll pull out a book and be gone for the two hour flight.

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There's the wing. And there is a beautiful, God painted sunset just for us, at 30,000 feet in the air.

1012p... We're in Newark, NJ, at the airport. Our flight was actually supposed to leave at 945p, but we got an announcement from the flight attendant that our arriving plane was on time, but our flight had a different flight crew, one that was coming from Greensboro, NC, and wasn't going to get here until around 1020 or so. Making our flight to Hartford, CT, departing around, oh, 1045 or 1050p.

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If you're thinking to yourself "What does Newark's airport look like?", then wonder no more.

We've been here since about 830, with our own plane coming in a little early. So, for two hours, we've just been enjoying the sights and sounds of Newark's premier airport and plane depot.

Most of the little shops around here have prepackaged crappy food, and overpriced drinks, but I managed to get a little snack out of some cheese sticks and some yogart from Miami Subs Grill at the north end of the terminal. Its never a good sign when you bite into the cheese sticks, and the entire stick of solid cheese comes out of the breaded crust. And the yogart was clumpy. Not good times, bad times, bad times.

There is a Starbucks here. Its terrible. Its not a corporate owned Starbucks, mind you, its a licensed store--that means, like Barnes & Noble and Target, that location isn't operated by Starbucks really, its operated by the airport food services here, carrying Starbucks products. The coffee brewers were dirty, there were 9 carafes of milk set out on two condiment stations, the counters were gross, the pastries had expiration day markers (day dots, as we call them) showing to the customers (always a no-no)... The Lovely Steph Leann bought a pastry and a frappuccino, but I declined.

We went into a little shop that had a sign posted "Store Open 24 Hours". We were both contemplating a smoothie, I think... until Habbib the store owner told us "Thastorizclozed". I nodded, not understanding him, and thinking to myself how good a Strawberry Coconut Smoothie would be. Again, he shouted "Thastorizclozd", which I figured out was "the store is closed". I pointed and said, "The sign says the store is open 24 hours". And then he replied, "Thesod ldu apdhheodo nja[pdioh aep ha[dj". I think he said something about oranges, Owen Wilson, Dido and the theory of evolution, but I'm not sure. We left. Found out later Jason ran into the same problem.

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We passed by this on the way to the crappy Starbucks. Think we'd find one that said "Christian Prayer Room" if we looked hard enough?

The moving sidewalks are good entertainment, though. An alarm just went off nearby and my ears are bleeding. And now we wait for the flight crew to arrive, so that we may board and go to Hartford.

I'll update at least once more tonight, probably writing some on the plane.

1114p… We’re in the air! After we finally boarded, we were informed that we would be traveling the length of a Friends episode—about 27 minutes. “Due to this short flight time, we regret to inform you that we will not be serving beverages in-flight”. Darn. No crap trail mix.

It was also rather humorous that the flight attendant let us know we were free to move about the cabin, but when in our seats, please keep our seatbelts on as protection for any unexpected turbulence. Like we are having right now. Anytime we have a flight that gets a little bouncy, I always think one thing… “When planes go down, no one expects it, and it probably always starts like the bumping we’re having now.”

Of course, I think remind myself that I’ve stored up treasures in Heaven, and that my Jesus is waiting, just in case. =)

By the way, we read letters tonight from Little Sister Ashley and Garrett “Rainbow” Cheney. Thanks guys… they were both amazing, and thanks to Barney & Liz for their encouragement via email as well. And while we’re at it, big ups to Tebe & Tiffiany, Brett & Lindsay, Matt & Ginger and the Turnbows, as well as everyone else who committed to pray for us every day. This trip will, in fact, rock.

And finally...

1159p... So, all in all, its been a good trip thusfar. We get off the plane, do the usual stuff (baggage, rental car, so on and so forth). We ended up with two vehicles, with the Waters getting some sort of Hyundai or something, while the Roberts & $s end up with a two door Chrysler Sebring convertable. Which would be great if the trip were in May. Seeing its March, it might be a little too cool to throw the top down.

We're here at the Windsor Locks Comfort Suites (Windsor Locks being the name of the town, as Hartford is actually 20 minutes away--so says Slightly Accented Mark the clerk at the desk) and all in all, its a nice place. KT is simply exhausted, though feeling better, while the rest of us are really tired too.

And... you'll hear from me Saturday night, if not before.