Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Truth and a pack of lies fighting for my soul

There are times in life when you are slapped in the face with the alarming fact that your family … is not like other families.

Scene: Mammoth Cave National Park entrance.
Enter: Rangers doing routine driver license, registration and insurance checks; frazzled Olivia and Ruby the Corolla’s expired registration

“Ma’am, did you realize your registration expired more than a month ago?”
I crapped my pants. “No sir…” My mind is already racing to figure up the cost of getting my car towed back to Ohio and I put my forehead on my steering wheel.
The ranger looked at me gently. “Did you uh, take something today?”
I looked up. “Excuse me? Do you mean like drugs?”
“Like weed?”
“No...” I said, blindsided by the question.
“Have you ever been asked that question before?”
“Today? Or ever. Well anyway, no, never.”
“Are you meeting someone here, to get some weed?” he said it in a knowing way as if guilt was written across my forehead. Or maybe in my bloodshot eyes. Thing is, if my eyes are bloodshot that’s how you know I’m breathing. I live in a permanent state of eyestrain, and the tears of frustration I shed on my way to the park when I thought we wouldn’t be able to get a campsite added to the effect.
“OK. Do you mind if I just look around your car?” he seemed really chipper about this task, poking his flashlight around like a new med school student playing with his stethoscope.
“Yeah that’s fine,” I said, bewildered. “Do you want me to pop the trunk? You can look anywhere. Sorry it’s a mess.”

Another ranger asked me to step out of the car for a minute. I knew I was about to get busted.
“Can I ask you a couple questions?” the ranger asked, leading me away from my car as the other rangers searched it. I nodded.
“What brings you to Mammoth Cave this weekend?”

And that’s when I had that moment.

“It’s complicated,” I said.
“Is everything ok?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well not really, but maybe it will be,” I said, as tears of frustration started to choke up again. “See, I know this sounds strange. But my family is driving here from California—well, most recently from Little Rock—to meet me here for the weekend. I’m living in Dayton and I haven’t seen them in a while and they were on this road trip, see and—”
“Are they in a RV?”
“No they’re—“
“They got a big car? A hotel reservation?”
“No, see, they’re all five road tripping in a … Prius.”
He stared at me unbelieving.
“Do they at least have a tent?”
“Oh, yes sir. They’ve been doing this for the last three weeks – camping at national parks. But we kind of do vacations fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style, so we don’t have any camping reservations or tour reservations and that’s why I’m worried because I’m afraid it’s all booked up and we won’t be able to have our vacation.”
“I see. Sometimes that works, but on a holiday weekend…”
“I know.”
He consulted with his partner a few steps away from me while I waited anxiously, noting curiously that the rangers hadn’t bothered to search my trunk. A few agonizing seconds later, they told me they’d decided to give me a verbal warning since I’d cooperated so nicely. I thanked them profusely and promised to get it updated as soon as I got back to Dayton.

I love my family. I was still weak kneed from the fright of almost losing my car when they pulled up into the parking lot and we hugged around. Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants is exactly how we do vacations, and they’re amazing. The memories from sharing a gallon of ice cream and a bag of chips for dinner because you were too exhausted to find other options are priceless. You can’t replace that with a dozen dinner reservations.

Fortunately for this trip, there will still tours and campsites available. We had a lovely weekend, despite torrential downpours as we headed into the cave for our second tour and then the morning we left. After successfully evacuating all sleeping bags and mats from our tents, we gave up and wadded up the muddy, soaked rain flies into trash bags and headed to Owensboro for food and family with a legendary appetite a decade old.

We’d been to Owensboro, where my dad grew up and some of his family still lives, once before about 10 years ago. And we had driven eight hours in one day to spend but a few hours in this little town, but it made a big impression. Specifically, the Moonlite made a big impression. All-you-can-eat pulled pork, barbecued chicken, mutton, fried chicken and who knows what else along with an endless supply of “vegetables.” You know a restaurant is good country cooking when Mac & Cheese is a vegetable.

The famed Moonlite Cafe Inn in Owensboro, KY.

We all skimped on breakfast in anticipation of the 10-pound food baby about to be conceived. As we hugged dad’s sister and brother-in-law, Uncle Mike could hear the rumblies from our tumblies from his porch.
“Enough talking, these kids want to get to the Moonlite,” he said as the ‘my how you’ve grown’ small talk started to plant roots in the front yard and turn into a full blown conversation.

We sat in the same tables we’d sat in 10 years ago. The deja vu was crazy.
“It must be hard to work here,” I commented to the waitress filling our waters.
“It IS!” she said, as she told about how the 30 pounds she had lost before starting work there had magically reappeared six months later.

There’s not much to tell from lunch because we spent most of it listening to the smacking of lips and debating how much room was left in the tank and could a skinny mini slice of pecan pie fit in that stomach maybe just off to the side if I took some deep breaths?

You’d think we hadn’t eaten in a week.

After visiting with Aunt Maria and Uncle Mike, we found a nice Comfort Suites in town and unloaded the cars. Since it had stopped raining, we proceeded to lay out the tents, hose off the rain flies, towel them dry, and repack them. And I’ve never had more fun with such a laborious and slow task. The joy of seeing my family was contagious. We explored the brand spankin’ new riverfront with awesome playground until the rain set in again, then we came back to the hotel pool.

I spent an hour giggling with my two remaining kid-brothers in the pool as we staged the gimpy-Olympics and competed in things like Chickenstroke, Butterstruggle, Ameoba, Egyptian Bath Tub and Torpedo races, bubble-ring blowing, and finally, a reenactment of floor exercise gymnastics, underwater style, complete with soft-spoken commentary.

“Now he just needs to stick this laaanding, THERE! Beautiful…”

Also, the caves at Mammoth Cave were really awesome. As were the running trails. But the memories I’ll keep from this trip are all moments like these, where the spontaneity and laid-back nature of my family keep us open to the simplest of unexpected joys.

I stopped in Louisville to hang out with Lucy, a friend who graduated  a year ahead of me and is now in grad school. We checked out a Pie & Ice Cream shop and got apple pies for the road.

Managed to snap a picture of Cincinnati's skyline from I-75 on the way back -- that was my first time driving through the 'Nasty.

In other news, I think I’m allergic to Ohio. Callie asked me what itched. I said everything – eyes, nose, scalp, back of the neck, and my heart is itching to go back to North Carolina. I don’t think Benadryl can do anything for that last one, but it’s getting a little better with some of the crazy things I’m getting involved in.

Last week a couple sources said things that made me laugh out loud, like this one:

“I think the Siri that I got has a learning disability.”

Another source made a tentative lunch date with me, pending the outcome of my upcoming adventure involving the 27-story tower and a rope.
“Hope you can join us--assuming all goes with rappelling off the building next week.

Yep, this is the one. 

I’m constantly finding new things I like about my job. This week it was sending an email that said “Thanks, Happy snooping,” to a source. I have minions doing my work. 

I’ve joined a boxing gym. It’s awesome. I’m also running. My plan is to get in shape so I can beat you up and then run away afterwards. But nothing makes you feel more empowered than slugging a 50-pound bag after a stressful day at work.

My boxing buddy and new-to-Dayton friend Courtney getting her hands wrapped. As she pointed out, the guy's face is priceless here. 

I’ve also started tutoring at the Victory Project. Check it out here: http://www.victoryproject.org/. I have two seventh-graders, and I’m pretty overwhelmed. But it’s a great opportunity and I think it will give something for me to come up with creative ideas for.

Here are some other adventures I've had in pictures:

Dragons game with Courtney. Joey Votto was playing a rehab game, so the stadium was packed-out.

Getting lunch from a food truck downtown with Laura. Here she's updating the menu with "sold out" labels. 

Here's the first of hopefully many more lunch dates. 

Ashley hanging out with some creepy psycho convicts at the Land of Illusion haunted park in Middletown, which was quite an experience. 

Downtown Dayton Revival with Lauren and Ashley, getting excited about seeing Rusted Root, Mat Kearney and Train. 

Supporting Dayton's fledgling food trucks! 

Mat Kearney stoking the crowd. 

Mat Kearney breaking it down. 

I’m recognizing that a lot of my crazy drive to get involved with things is in response to my avoidance of alone time, and my fear of that solitude is because I depend heavily on relationships for my refuge. Without going into super heavy details, I’m in one of the darkest places I’ve ever been spiritually, but here are some thoughts I had the other day that I’ve been clinging to.

For background, I’ve been struggling with understanding everything that follows after salvation. I know I’m saved because I recognize my sin, my complete inability to overcome that sin, and Jesus’s sacrifice to pay for it all and pave the way for a relationship with God, and I’ve asked for that. But the whole idea of having a relationship with an invisible God is lost on me, even though I crave it so desperately. I’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, which I think all American Christians should read, especially if they’ve never thought about the concept of spiritual warfare.

I really relate to the Psalms in a lot of things, because it seems like the authors had some really low points in their faith. But when it’s talking about enemies attacking, I always felt like that was an exaggeration of my situation. Thankfully I’m not actually surrounded by haterz with swordz, or literally hiding in a cave because the king’s army is trying to kill me. But it occurred to me as reading The Screwtape Letters that I do have an enemy – Satan – and he is always attacking me. I need God more than ever, and even though I do not feel or sense His presence, I have to believe He is with me or else I am overwhelmed with fear of Satan’s attacks. Psalm 42 continues to resonate in this dry period, especially verse five:

“Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

That’s kind of where I am/want to be right now. The things I know are that God is God, and He is my salvation. I don’t know anything else for sure, but I hope that “farther along [I’ll] know all about it/ farther along [I’ll] understand why,” to quote Josh Garrels from the song below, and that when this dry spell is over I will again praise God. 

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