RESTORATION

Previously on Late Night Cravings!

My wife loves lists…I do not! Here’s another way of putting it – she thrives on structure while I run from it with reckless abandon despite acknowledging my need for it. In the words of Dave Ramsey, she’s the nerd and I’m the free spirit (although we are both in different aspects of life). I’ll give an example from several years back. We somehow stumbled across a simple, fun task of putting down on paper our ideal Thanksgiving. Shanti wrote a list of all her desired favorite holiday dinner items, desserts, and beverages. I on the other hand described the setting; the perfect autumn weather, the background music and the family gathering to feast together. I told a story. Hence I am the one writing these late night craving entries.

What does any of this have to do with our house fire? A great deal actually because lists, bullets and spreadsheets were essential throughout the insurance and restoration processes of our home. Shanti was a trooper, a master of facilitating said processes…so much that our project manager frequently joked about hiring her to manage his other projects. In any case, I’ll tie this aspect together in a few moments (or several).

Seeing as the fire took place exactly four years after we moved to Kansas City, we felt it poetic to stay in the same Residence Inn as we did before we closed and moved into our house in 2009. The hotel became our home again for a few weeks after the blaze. Equipped with beds to sleep 6-8 people, a kitchenette and the acceptance of pets – the hotel was intended for long-term stays. We had our core family of five, my mother, and two dogs living in a hotel room. Oh I almost forgot the bird again; Tweet Tweet was there too. It served us well as we strapped ourselves in for a roller coaster ride.

The fire department was thorough the night of the event, in that they ensured saving our home to the fullest extent possible. The fire itself was on the top floor and up into the rafters, so to keep it from spreading they hosed and saturated the entire length of the roof. Gravity did its job by pulling the water down to the far reaches of the basement.

The fire investigator quickly determined the cause of the fire to be a spark from lightning that struck a gutter on the back corner of the house. He found evidence of a retired bird’s nest in the gutter of the front of the house outside of Peyton’s room. The lightning bolt had charged and traveled the gutter system until it reached and lit the nest before spreading into the home. Upon inspection of the electrical system it was determined that 50 to 60% of the wiring was destroyed from the lightning strike.

The drywall throughout the house morphed into a giant roll of Bounty, absorbing the water that traveled down from the roof. The majority of the home’s wiring was fried and about one third of roof framing had been either completely burnt to ashes or charred. All things considered the insurance company made a rather quick decision on what path to take. They determined that the most efficient and thorough restoration would entail gutting the entire house down to the studs. That was mind-blowing to hear; it sounded rather extensive.

Once the insurance company settled on how to proceed with the structure, we then moved onto the the contents portion of our insurance claim which was additionally overwhelming. All items in the house which were determined to be salvageable were boxed up and moved to storage for an elaborate cleaning process claiming to remove any smoke odor. We were then tasked with detailing every last item left behind; deemed destroyed by fire, smoke, or water damage. This included anything and everything that was plastic since it absorbed smoke, as did all pillows and mattresses throughout the house. And since a bolt of lightning was the culprit it meant we were to also claim for replacement each and every electronic – all computers, televisions, appliances, etc. were trashed. This was the first piece of spreadsheet artwork that Shanti masterfully sculpted. Every last item in every room from the basement to the top floor had to be accounted for and detailed down to an estimate on its age, its original cost, its current value and cost to replace. The insurance adjuster in charge of the contents marveled at Shanti’s work.

The claim was launched as we spent the first three weeks in the Residence Inn until we were given a rental home. The first estimated time frame we were given was approximately four months which would have put us back into our home sometime in September. That didn’t happen as scheduled and we eventually established a temporary life and routine from the rental house. But we were able to see God work throughout this entire ordeal.

As we put the contents aspect of the claim in order the demolition of our house was taking place. The structure was completely cleared out. To give a scope of “cleared out, the garage was located at one end of the house while our master bedroom was upstairs on the opposite end. In the final stages of the interior being entirely gutted you could stand in the garage and see clearly into our bedroom located upstairs. Relative to the circumstances, it was surreal to say the least.

I could give a technical breakdown from start to finish, but that would be the equivalent of reading the assembly instructions for a Bush or Sauder executive desk. Suffice it to say, when it came to piecing our house back together we were given an overall dollar figure to work with. That total was itemized and broken down to every last piece of trim, door knob, fixture and framing of the home. The beauty of it was that we were permitted to move that money around to upgrade certain areas while downgrading other spaces to compensate.

The final product resulted in the entire electrical system being rewired (including surround sound and HDMI ready outlets, had to point that out). We had new stainless steel appliances. All exterior and interior doors were replaced along with new carpet, tile and wood flooring throughout the house. We had a fresh 30-year roof installed, our bathrooms were remodeled down to every last faucet and fixture, new paint inside and out and most importantly – our kitchen was remodeled.

So let me do the bullet points now as we –

  • wanted to spend our own savings on remodeling our kitchen
  • prayed and decided we shouldn’t spend the money
  • instead prayed, gave our savings to help plant churches and give back to our community
  • had a house fire (in which we lost nothing of sentimental value and my family was safe)
  • had our entire home remodeled (including our kitchen) for the cost of our deductible

That is only the structure portion of it. When it came to the contents I can liken the end result to that of a fender bender. Imagine someone rear-ended your car. You exchange driver’s license and insurance info and thankfully everyone is safe. After several irritating phone calls to body shops and insurance companies, dropping your car off for estimates, and finally submitting a handful of said estimates to the insurance company of the driver that hit you, you eventually get a check for the repair on your car. But your vehicle is fully functional and you don’t really care about the dent in the rear fender. You care more about the extra cash so you just deposit the check and your dent gives you a story to tell. On a much grander scale our house was rear-ended by a bolt of lightning. And while our house was more or less totaled in many ways, after taking an extensive inventory we found our trunk to contain a plethora of useless possessions. While we replenished much that we lost we ended up living with a pleasurable dent in our “stuff”.

It was a long and arduous seven months that we were displaced from our home. Don’t get me wrong, I fully know that too many in this nation and this world have life much worse and experience tragedy to which this was the antithesis…this was an “uptown” problem to be sure. It was thankfully not tragic, but was a relative tribulation to our lives at the time. Yet, after all was said and done, we were in awe of how it turned into an absolute blessing.

We were able to move back into our restored home on December 6th, 2013; seven months after the lightning strike and just two weeks prior to Christmas. Our new home was absolutely beautiful. And the restoration was not the end of it. By the time the new year rolled around Shanti and I had both earned bonuses through our respective occupations. We actually had a tax refund as well. Those financial windfalls combined with our “fender-bender” claim ended up with God not only replenishing our savings but He did so three times over.

Now, please don’t hear what I’m NOT saying. First off, I’m NOT saying that God rewards with materialism and that following God will get you “nice things”. Although He can choose to do so in knowing how each and every person will respond to His blessings. He set our hearts in the right place before this event took place and I do whole heartedly believe God knows how best to reward His rug rats in ways only He knows will grow their faith and He gets the glory. While I did marvel at the beauty of architecture that our home became, I was first and foremost in awe at God’s carpentry…not just the kitchen countertops.

Secondly, I’m not sharing this story to boast about how awesome our humble abode looked after it was put back together. And I’m definitely not righteously boasting about us and how great we are for giving the money we did. What I AM saying is that we stepped out in faith by God’s guidance. I AM boasting about what God can do! We suck in so many ways and are far from perfect…always will be. I know from experience that giving and tithing can seem rather insane. We dragged our feet and it was a tough pill to swallow when we first tested those waters years ago. So while this chapter is not exclusively about money in and of itself, it is at the core of where God wanted us to be faithful and obedient in order to show us that he shows up…and he showed up BIG TIME!!

Should I mention that once we moved back into the house that I commented to Shanti, “Watch, God will probably ask us to give this up eventually!” Oh, ok I won’t bring that up…yet!

Peace, and forgive me!
E.R.

THE BACK BURNER

 

Previously on Late Night Cravings!!

My family was safe! So my house caught fire, but nobody was hurt. Wrapping our heads around the ordeal was overwhelming to put it mildly. Aside from being displaced from our home we were clueless as to how this trek would progress. But, before I move forward with how God revealed his hand in all of this, it is essential to rewind the tape a bit.

The fire took place on May 8, 2013. Ironically, this was four years to the date we drove into Kansas City upon our initial move. We called the local Residence Inn our home for the first three weeks of our stint in the midwest until we closed on our house in June 2009. Once we moved in we quickly fell in love with the house for many reasons. One of which rested in the fact that we had so much more home than we could have ever owned in Florida for the same amount of money. Including the finished basement it clocked in at just over 4300 square feet. (That number was enthralling at first but I do admit that over time I realized how excessive that was to maintain.)

After several months of getting to know the layout, we felt as though we were there to stay for a long while. The house quickly became home as we grew familiar with its various aspects as it functioned within our daily routine. This included knowing which toilets flushed the best, how long you had to wait get hot water to the shower, getting your footing right on the stairs and of course instinctively finding the light switches in the dark.

By the time early 2012 rolled around we were deep-seated not only in our home but in our neighborhood and around town. We knew our favorite restaurants to dine out, we had made some great friends and were plugged into our church. We were strapped in and committed to our Kansas City ride. And with that commitment we gained a comfort on a different level.

Being in the house for a few years now we slowly started a wish list of changes and remodeling ideas. If financially feasible we knew the kitchen was first and foremost on our list. Its location in the house was perfect but its layout was far from it. The refrigerator was opposite the sink which in and of itself was not a problem. The issue was more in the roadblock that the builders installed in the form of a misplaced island right in the path from the fridge to the sink. This island consumed the bulk of the kitchen’s real estate. I won’t mention the sea foam colored formica countertops. I know, I’m sounding extremely entitled and spoiled…but stick with me and hear the story out.

In the fall of 2012 we were close to making that spend. We knew we could do a decent remodel while keeping a somewhat comfortable portion of our savings intact. Most every major decision, and smaller ones, is given a great deal of prayer. Prayer is what got us to move in the first place and to this point it was an absolute blessing for our family. So we knew we’d make this decision in the same manner. But after several months we had no clear feelings or peace about proceeding. The lack of clarity grew more prominent and with that we both felt too uptight to spend the cash. We finally decided to hold off until the first of the year to see how any work bonuses and/or tax returns pan out for us.

Shortly after the decision to hold off on the kitchen we were invited to a meeting with our church. They were launching an initiative to ramp up church planting efforts in both the Kansas City area and in Colombia. Restore Community Church was extremely transparent in showing how their finances were used. It was part of a network of churches which took a large percentage of the giving received and put it back into the community and church planting in various regions. It was part of the reason Restore opted to not devote money for its own church building and instead leased space in the local high school. The community and new churches was priority over the costs of owning and maintaining its own facility.

In this meeting the congregation was asked to pray over how they could help this effort, either financially or in any other facet. We couldn’t help but view the timing of this event as more than ironic given the fact that we recently put off spending money on something material. So Shanti and I certainly prayed as to what and how we should give. It would have been easy for me to suggest giving as much as we could without being conservative. And while that would not have been in any way logical, we both knew it was a big deal. After all, amidst a horrendous economy and housing market our Florida home sold rather quickly in 2009. Not to mention after several rounds of layoffs at her company, Shanti was spared at every turn. In reflection we realized that no matter what financial stress we thought we might be under, God always showed up for us.

It was about six weeks from the initial ask from our church until a decision was to be made. There was absolutely no pressure placed upon any single member, it was totally up to the individual or family to pray and do what was felt to be God’s direction. When it came down to the last several days of deciding Shanti and I chose to pray together and individually over the matter. We had the idea to keep to ourselves any specific amounts that may come to mind until our agreed upon day to reveal.

The day arrived and we had planned to meet up with our friend and pastor for coffee to pray and discuss our decision. Shanti and I met at the set location ahead of our friend to share our thoughts to each other. As we sat at the table we each wrote a number down on a sheet of paper and exchanged them. Throughout the several weeks I found it difficult to come up with a number and had no true clarity on what to give. I strongly felt that Shanti would be conservative and hesitant to deplete any financial security we had in the bank. So when the time came I wrote an amount that was seemingly on the safe side while also being generous – I indicated giving half of our savings. I was a bit nervous to say the least as I truly thought she was going to see my suggestion as rather exorbitant. My eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets upon opening her slip of paper. Shanti had written down the entire amount we had in savings. She had a big smirk on her face when I looked back up at her…we both began to well up.

She explained that she had a solid prompting about it leading up to the day but still didn’t know for sure until she was driving to meet me. As she walked to her car to leave work for the restaurant she had asked God to give her peace about what she felt was on her heart to give…to give all of it. Now I know some readers are gonna think this is crazy, and that’s ok…but en route she happened to catch a glimpse of a billboard that happened to have a number on it. It was the amount in our savings, rounded off of course and not to the exact dollar and change. But to her she felt a tingling sense of peace upon seeing that number, as it was the same one she was running through her head along with the thought “Really God! Really!”

And so it was, we depleted our liquid cash from our bank account. Granted we knew we would replenish at least some of our savings with a possible tax returns and work bonus when 2013 came around. But for the immediate and unforeseen future we zeroed out our emergency funds and just loved our sea foam countertops for the foreseeable future. We more than put the kitchen remodel on the back burner…we completely took that pot off the stove and put it back in the drawer.

Up next : RESTORATION

Peace and forgive me –

E.R.

 

 

The Day After

Previously on Latenightcravings!

Panic ensued as I sat in the dimly lit hospital room. Waking up shortly before midnight, two separate emails suggested that my home might be on fire. I had tried calling Shanti on both her cell phone and our landline to no avail. The messaging system for our landline was set to ring three to four times before going to voicemail but there was no ring on any attempt. My calls were going straight to voicemail and I assumed a power outage. I was hoping to reach my family before the nurse returned to check my vitals. Otherwise my numbers would have undoubtedly spiked off the chart. It was a good thing I was already at a hospital – if I didn’t have a heart problem to begin with there was a good chance I may have quickly developed one.

My phone finally rang. What seemed like several hours was actually only five to seven minutes at the most between my last call to Shanti and her calling me back. I answered, I might have said “Hello”…or possibly something I shouldn’t have. But I don’t recall. The first thing I recall was that before she finished her first sentence her tone itself clearly indicated that she and the kids were safe. I don’t think she had three words out and I was already a bit calmer. She confirmed that there was indeed a fire but I fed off her disposition; she was exhilarated yet in control. Her adrenaline was obviously in high gear and it transmitted through the phone as she gave me a quick rundown of the evening’s events. Within all the details and dialogue there was an unspoken notion between us that we knew we were in the midst of a God-sized adventure.

In the immediate moments after first talking to Shanti I envisioned the scene on the other side of the phone. The Monroes were our most awesome next-door neighbors (if you don’t have a Monroe family next-door, get one). Their home became my family’s safe haven that evening. The kids went straight inside of their house while Shanti was outside with other neighbors waiting for the firetrucks to arrive. Mr. Monroe, along with his son and some of his friends, helped gather some valuables from our house including our parakeet. Soon after the firemen were on scene they advised everyone to clear the house as the smoke was getting too dense. This was all happening as I sat helpless in a hospital. But I felt an inexplicable peace and strength that I knew flowed from God through Shanti. Not once during our conversations did I sense she was terrified or overwhelmed when she very easily could have gone down that path.

I spoke with Shanti a couple more times as the night wound down. The fire was finally out, any openings in the house were boarded up, and the kids were asleep in the Monroe’s basement. Knowing my family was safe was paramount, but trying to get back to sleep alone in the hospital was difficult to say the least. Obviously I wanted to be there for my wife and kids throughout the ordeal, but since I wasn’t it was eating at me to know every last detail. Although Shanti was able to give me the cliff notes she simply didn’t have the time to tell the full story in the heat of the moment. Being somewhat in the dark kept me up. When I finally came close to falling asleep another thought crept into my mind. My mother’s flight came in first thing in the morning. By the time the fire took place she was already in bed back in Florida and would be up by 4 a.m. to head to the airport. She would be flying out to Kansas City for my so-called heart issue and arrive to find out that our house caught fire. Shanti would have to pick her up and say, “Erich is fine, but guess what?!” My sleeplessness was extended.

Knowing a busy day was ahead of us Shanti figured it was best for the kids to stick to their routine as best as possible. Despite the evening’s events and losing quite a bit of sleep she woke them on time, dressed them in clothes that various neighbors brought by the Monroe’s early in the morning, and got them on the school bus without a fight. I think they were somewhat relieved to be able to go to school that day.

After the kids were off Shanti headed to the airport to pick up my mother right around the same time I was eagerly checking out of the hospital. While I did have an eerie sense of calm despite my house catching fire I was also anxious to see the aftermath after being sequestered for the last twelve hours. While Shanti and my mother were on their way to get me I began walking away from the hospital. Perhaps thinking I would get home quicker I strolled about fifteen minutes to a McDonald’s down the street and waited. A soft smile of bewilderment adorned all three of our faces as we made eye contact. We were speechless when I first got in the car; silently basking in the fact that everyone was safe. I kissed my wife, hugged my mother, and strapped myself in as Shanti proceeded to give the play-by-play.

Our son Parker had turned 10 years-old just eight days before the fire. At that age he had a fear of the dark and extremely loud noises, especially those related to thunderstorms which were commonly intense in Kansas City. This evening was no exception as he was quickly awakened by a thunderous bolt of lightning that struck the house between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. The power was out and the alarm system was blaring incessantly.

Peyton is our middle child, she was just shy of 7 years-old at the time. Out of our three children she was and is the one that falls asleep quickly. To this day there’s not much that will wake her. I’m quite convinced that not even an elephant jumping rope next to her bed would do the trick. But if on the rare occasion she did wake in the middle of the night our initial parental instinct has always been that something is wrong. Something was wrong this particular night, terribly wrong and it was seemingly louder than a thousand elephants jumping rope.

The thunder and lightning had Parker sprinting down the hall to our bedroom. As he entered the room he found Shanti and Peyton awake. We had not yet severed ties with our landline in this era so we relied on it for any emergency phone calls. That wasn’t happening in this scenario since the power was out. Shanti told Parker to stay with Peyton while she ran down stairs to get her cell phone. As she walked through the main floor she notice the thermostat was blown off the wall. She called her father first as she hadn’t yet talked to me at the hospital (she was hesitant to worry me). He lives in Oregon so there was no concern for waking him in the Pacific time zone. He advised her to get the kids and get out of house in case there was fire. In the midst of the chaos she wasn’t really sure what had happened and didn’t care much about anything beyond making sure they were all safe.

Shanti made it back upstairs and had Parker and Peyton accompany her to get shoes for everyone. Once they reached Peyton’s room and approached her closet they could smell smoke. They looked at each other in agreement to leave the room then quickly turned around to go get Penelope, our youngest daughter who was three at the time. As they approached her room Penelope had just come out into the hallway wondering what was going on, almost as if lodging a complaint that something woke her up. They scooped her up, gathered the dogs and ran over to the Monroe’s.

 

After getting out safely and 911 had been called they stood outside along with onlooking neighbors. As the firemen began their work Shanti and other onlookers witnessed a large plume of smoke and flames burst out of the front of the house above the garage. That was Peyton’s room…where she wasn’t sleeping that night. We have no idea how the events may have transpired had Peyton been in her room. Everyone may have exited safely just the same. Nonetheless, earlier that very day an anomaly of chest pains landed me in the hospital which was the sole reason Peyton slept with Shanti that night. Within the walls of her bedroom was the origin of the fire and smoke, the walls by which her bed rested against.

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I can’t begin to explain the whirlwind of emotions in the immediate days following. We all reflected in awe at the chain of events. In bold print was the fact that Peyton was in our room instead of hers that night. In parenthesis was that my heart was fine. The cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health and stated they found absolutely no heart-related issues. He had no explanation for the discomfort I was experiencing but suffice it to say, I’ve had no chest pains since the fire.

To this day I vividly recall how I felt walking away from the hospital that morning. I had no stress or concerns about the fire or the house itself. I had a very peaceful and vibrant buzz throughout my entire body knowing my family was safe despite having been trapped in the hospital when it all went down. There was nothing I could do…God was in control. And while my family being unharmed was top priority and the most important piece of this story it was just the beginning of what God was about to do NEXT!

The Corner of NW 65th Place and Nevada

We made our move from Florida to Kansas City in May of 2009. We moved into our home on a large lot on the corner of NW 65th Place and Nevada in a community called Thousand Oaks. The job I held at the time of the move was a remote position in which I worked from home. So a move between these two states was not an issue, especially since the company was actually in New Jersey. The remote aspect of the occupation obviously provided great flexibility for me and my family. But within a few weeks of arriving in Missouri, and one week from closing on our new home, I was laid off. Not a great start to the move.

Fast forward to 2011, I was given the opportunity to return to the same company in a consultant role performing the same duties I had before in quality assurance. Granted the money was less as contractor of sorts, the pliability of my schedule remained. But over the next two years my job duties evolved. My responsibilities and workload increased to where I was handling more important projects beyond that of my previous employment.

Shanti and I began discussing the idea of pushing for a return as a full-time employee. Despite the fact that we knew it would restrict the liberal schedule, being on staff would come with an increase in pay and benefits including paid time off.

I began negotiating this with the company in early 2013. By the beginning of April they agreed to bring me back to full-time status the aforementioned salary and benefits. After paperwork and some light training, May 13th was assigned as my official start date as an employee.

I have to admit I was little nervous throughout the process. Mostly because my previous role was more in the background, and that is my cup of tea. Now I was working my way up a ladder of sorts which put me more in front of people. Granted “in front of people” actually consisted of regular conference calls from the comfort of my home, but I hate the phone.

As the start of my new role approached the stress began to creep in. It wasn’t just a change in my position at work, it was a shift out of my comfort zone and routine. Presuming it was related to said stress, I had started to experience intermittent chest pains in the weeks leading up to the big day of May 13th. They weren’t excruciating by any means. And although I was in my early 40’s and enjoyed chicken wings and pizza, the minimal pain and infrequency kept the blip of a heart issue from appearing on my radar. That was until one day the pain didn’t stop.

I was sitting at my work desk on Wednesday May 8th, five days from starting my new appointment. Let me reiterate that up until that point these pains hadn’t been extremely painful and they typically faded after 15 to 20 minutes. I was going on about 40 minutes this particular day so I did what any wise forty-something adult would do…I consulted the internet.
Being the poster child for the stereotype that men usually ignore health concerns and doctor treatment, I caved and made an appointment after the sensation lingered for an hour straight. What I mean is, I called Shanti at work and had her call the doctor’s office…I’m not a phone person remember. So she called, made the appointment, informed her boss and then headed home to pick me up. I then let my boss know of the situation. While I had her full support and understanding I’m quite sure I perpetuated the chest pains by dwelling on the fact that I was leaving work just five days before my boss was going to give me more money. But I guess I couldn’t do the job dead, so I relented…even if only slightly.

Not knowing what the doctor visit would have in store I called my mother on the way. While I felt there was no serious concern I knew I should still inform her since she was half way across the country in Florida. Of course I proactively explained that I hadn’t mentioned the issue previously because I felt it was no big deal. But seeing as I was on my way to get checked out for “chest pains” I figured she should know.

As soon as I hung up Shanti expressed that she was surprised I didn’t ask Mom to fly out. Again thinking there was no real severity I didn’t think it was necessary, but she knew if there ended up being any health concerns that my mother should be there. Knowing that Mom was retired and could easily get a “buddy pass” from a retired airline relative I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I called her back and asked her to fly out. After hanging up she immediately arranged for a flight first thing the next morning. Part of me thinks she was packing a suitcase before I called back to invite her out.

After several test and details that are essentially boring to write about(and I tried) the doctor told me that they were 85-90% sure that there was nothing going on related to my heart. However, if it was my heart, I was over 40 with a desk job and a diet that consisted of essentially non-food. The doctor’s advice was in two parts. He first suggested I get checked out by a cardiologist to be on the safe side. Part two of his advice was that since it typically takes one to two weeks to get an appointment with a cardiologist, and again since it is my heart we’re dealing with, that I should simply check myself into the hospital’s ER overnight and the on-duty cardiologist will check me on his rounds.

That was not how I wanted to spend my evening, but it seemed like the wisest choice. After a few hours I was checked into the hospital and finally spoke with the cardiologist. He felt there was no need for Shanti to stay over night. The doctor clearly said it would be an uneventful evening and we felt that if she stayed that it would worry the kids even more – it would be best to have Mommy at home.

We said our goodbyes and eventually the nurse got me settled into my overnight room. I talked with Shanti and the kids before they were put to bed back home. It seemed like a long day and I was tired by 8:30 that evening, but it was difficult to fall asleep as I was informed that every three hours the nurse would be coming to check my vitals. And that would continue throughout the night.

Thunderstorms had started rolling into the area, I could see and hear the rain through the window of my room. Around 9:00pm the nurse came in for a vitals check. Before she left the nurse confirmed that she’d be back in around midnight to check again. I fell fast asleep within minutes of her leaving the room.

For whatever reason I just happened to wake up around 11:50pm before the nurse returned. I reached over to grab my phone off of the side table and there was an email from a friend in the neighborhood. I opened the message upon my finger swipe to see the subject line of: “Fire”. The body of the email simply said, “You guys ok?”

Now, my friend doesn’t know that I’m not at home. He doesn’t know that I’m in hospital. So he doesn’t know I’m in the hospital getting checked out for chest pains…waking up to read an email titled “Fire” and asking if “You guys ok?”. Then another email comes in. This one was a push notification from our neighborhood’s Facebook page. I opened to read the neighbor’s post. –

“Cable’s out, lightning strike at 65th and Nevada!”

 

Well I hate to leave my cravers hanging, but after these emails I failed to reach Shanti to make sure everything was ok. I was left hanging myself…I had to wait for what was next. Check back soon for the next craving

 

Peace, and forgive me!

ER

Starting Small

I rebooted LATENIGHTCRAVINGS.COM (LNC) with a dual purpose in mind. It is here for more than simply transferring random thoughts to virtual paper. I put those stray ideas down and sometimes they turn into a current post or sit in a back log folder until it finds a way to make sense. But the other side of LNC’s purpose is to share my family’s journey with God. This is a catalog I already have stashed away to be pieced together in chapters here on this page.

I do have several of those random thoughts on the stove as well. Some of which is commentary that might possibly have been inspired by various current events. But I felt like moving those to the back burner for now. I felt like sharing more of….well, happy thoughts.

Today I had a couple of small items that crossed my mind. I say small because some of the major life-altering events that God has orchestrated in our lives have been somewhat dramatic. But while these seemingly insignificant pieces that I’m passing on today may not be grandiose on the surface, they are an essential piece of fabric in my walk with the big man upstairs.

The first of these two happenings goes back to the summer of 2008. It had been about a year since Shanti and I started going to church which steered us onto God’s path. Over the course of that year we made the effort to apply the pastor’s teachings to our lives beyond Sunday attendance. Growing up and going to Sunday school at our local Baptist church I really only recall being told that Jesus saves and was given Bible verses to memorize each week. That’s not to say that those Sundays didn’t help lay a good foundation. But It wasn’t until I landed back in church in July 2007 that I discovered there was an actual relationship to be had with our creator.

Over the course of that first year (2007-2008) I had been making time first thing in the morning to pray and get into God’s Word – getting to know Him. By summer 2008 we had been serving as ushers for a couple of months already. After each service we walked up and down the aisles and picked up any weekly handouts or other items left on the seats and floors. Now I am a people pleaser, to the point that it causes me stress at times. Leading up to this particular weekend at church I had been praying and questioning whether or not I was pleasing God. In hindsight that was obviously a truly a ridiculous question. But at that season in my walk I was unsure.

The morning before we headed out the door for church I prayed yet again for peace to this question. Fast forward to the end of service and we are performing our clean up duties and I stumble across this little gem on the floor –
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A piece of paper hand-cut in the shape of a heart on which a child happened to write “I Love you. From: God.” Whether that child was in service instead of Sunday School or his parents had this little note with them, it was left on the floor of a church with a congregation of almost 3000 at that time. But that little note was left right where I found it. Coincidence?! Hmmm.

Ok, so you’re not picking up what I’m laying down. So try this one on for size. Skipping ahead to the fall of 2009, I’m deep into my God walk and about four months into living in Kansas City, Missouri after moving from Florida(that’s a bigger story, it comes later.) We’re living in a beautiful midwest planned community called Thousand Oaks. In the center of the neighborhood is a beautiful pond, man-made but picturesque nonetheless. A paved winding trail wraps around the perimeter of the pond which is lined with trees that the developers left standing in place during construction. We had walked this path plenty of times with the kids in the few short months we had lived there.

This season in my life I had another question for God. For some reason I had felt that I had not really been giving much focus on Jesus himself. Looking back I know it was another insecurity of mine – I was asking “am I doing this right?” But in any case, that is where my head and my heart was at this point. Just as I was praying two years earlier asking if I was pleasing God I was now praying about my relationship with Jesus. That was part of my prayer on this one beautiful fall morning which was followed up with a walk around the Thousand Oaks pond.

The foliage had just begun to change colors. While not many, the winding trail did have a few scattered leaves on its surface. There were also random twigs no bigger than a thumb’s width that had fallen to the ground here and there. We had reached about the halfway mark of the walk when we happened upon a bit of a clearing on the path. Nothing definitive but just a little less natural debris compared to the first portion of our trek. Just a few feet into this clearing was an object that stood out. As I approached the area I looked down to see this –

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Now I don’t know what anyone reading this believes, but I know what I believe. That little note, “From:God”, two years prior in church was not a coincidence. Then one day I’m praying about Jesus specifically and came across this piece of art. Someone took two small twigs and tied them together with twine to form a cross. The person that chose to do that happened to be living or just passing through my neighborhood. Whether accidental or intentional, a cross ended up in the center of a trail – a trail in Thousand Oaks that I happened to walk on and stumble upon a response to my prayer on that specific day. Coincidence?! Rod Serling didn’t suddenly appear from behind a tree…but God did.

 

Peace, and forgive me –

ER

The America Show

I wrote the following post along with a back log of others a month or so ago. Not that the world wasn’t already in shambles, but since writing this several more incidents of tragedy have hit our nation and the world. So before posting I thought I’d start off with this sort of post script-preface to say that by no means am I wanting to marginalize any horrendous events or lives lost. My purpose in the below piece is simply my spin on specifically highlighting our society’s fasciation, reaction and interaction within not only current events but everyday life. That being said, here-we-go!

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I recently finished writing and directing a short film; a video montage if you will. Granted I only accomplished this piece of work in my mind, I’ve watched it several times already. No other eyes have seen it. I mentally orchestrated these scenes that play out as a of promo of sorts for a television show.

We see alternating shots between several families in various countries outside of America. Their household settings clearly display each of their cultures and, without subtitles, their respective foreign languages are heard through the speakers. Their excitement is obvious as each family rushes to gather in the living room areas of their humble abodes. The shots of the different homes progressively shorten in length; the cuts between them increase in frequency.

A final rapid sequence through each home – a close-up on their faces further express thick anticipation as they gaze in the same direction while huddled on and around their couches. When the last family in the sequence is shown the camera pans over and quickly zooms into a television. Epic dramatic and celebratory music blasts from the speakers as flashing images of Kanye, Bieber, the Kar…(almost)…Trump, Hillary, a gorilla, Prince and air brushed photos of Jack Black’s six-pack abs appear on screen. The title adorns the screen in glowing neon fashion:

THE AMERICA SHOW

That’s our nation! By Nielsen ratings America would be a globally top rated reality show. Drama, conflict and oh yes, division. Just to be clear, difference isn’t the enemy here. That’s not my point, variety is paramount. We’re a little bit country, we’re a little bit rock-n-roll. But we have certainly become obsessed with the drama and conflict within our variety. And we are no longer only spectators as we’ve descended onto the field; the abyss where TMZ is lurking in the darkness.

What?! The episode is over?! What are we gonna do now? We have to wait until next week to see who gets the next rose? I wanna know who will be voted out now!? Oh wait…I can just binge watch Orange is the New Black until next week.

Done! Hmm…now what? Well if there’s nothing else to watch and absorb turmoil, I can get my fix by simply acting out the drama in-home from the comfort of my couch.

It appears that our personal lives, households and neighborhoods have been infiltrated by this phenomena of conflict addiction. Facebook and Twitter are now the preeminent arenas for contesting. Around the clock both strangers and friends alike step onto the virtual field to spar with their artillery of diatribes and hateful word jabs. Each castaway seems to be an expert on life; we all seem to know how and why our way to live, fix the world and stop hate is better than the other’s method…to the point of hatred. As if it would do any good for someone gripping another person by the chest of their shirt and repeatedly punching them in the face while screaming “Don’t you see what I’m saying, violence won’t solve anything!”

Between two suburban neighborhoods, one in Kansas City and now Tampa, I see it almost daily in our community where closed Facebook groups of residents are meant to communicate and help one another. Where we are now in Florida there are of over 9,000 members on our neighborhood page. It is intended for suggestions on trade services, offering items for sale, new resident questions, or looking out for our fellow neighbors by reporting potentially suspicious activities. But inevitably most posts turn into a juvenile debate or an immature battle of insults. Whether impactful or not, a resident’s post with good intentions still manages to garner someone’s need for a derogatory reply that is entirely unwarranted. And this is by done by grown adults…parents! Not sure what happened to “love thy neighbor”!

Obviously this isn’t confined to closed group pages on Facebook. It’s all over the social media outlets and the internet at large. Twitter wars is an actual thing. Even us Christians partake in the punches. I mean come’n dudes, can we stop that already – it’s embarrassing! A great friend of mine frequently pointed out that everyone’s memorized John 3:16 but they don’t know what the next verse says (http://bit.ly/28QrrsI – go head, look it up). Sometimes I wonder what percentage of Christ followers have ever read the entire Bible because I’m pretty sure it speaks about love with quite a degree of frequency.

But I digress!

I don’t recall a winner ever coming out of an argument between my wife and I over who was right or wrong about something. Come to think of it, I can’t remember any person or entity ever agreeing or seeing it “their” way via the use of hateful comments, arguing or forcing one’s ideas down the other’s throat – that would only choke someone. But I have seen people change their perspective and their way of life NOT because they were told to but because they were…wait, are you ready for this? Ok here it is – change was INSPIRED!!

What a novel idea right?! But while we wait for inspiration to prevail, please know that the toilet paper roll goes up..not down. Starbuck’s coffee sat on the burner too long, America runs on Dunkin’!! Listen to rock-n-roll, not country, understand it’s the Beatles and not the Stones, and for heaven’s sake – Jesus is a Star Wars fan, not Star Trek! Now if only everyone would just see things my way this would be a better world.

Until then we’ll just be the media and continue to write the scripts and produce episodes that (dys)function and thrive on strife and discord. But with this cast and theme, productions costs are extremely high. The Producer may eventually have to cancel the series and we may be asked to grab our torches.

“The tribe has spoken!”

Welcome to The America Show!!

GREETINGS EARTHLINGS!

Greetings, thank you for visiting LATENIGHTCRAVINGS.COM. This is my second attempt at running this blog (“blog”…errggh!). Call it a reboot if you will, either way I’ve spent entirely too much time trying to craft this re-introduction post. I was working towards something clever and humorous, short and direct while subtly dropping pieces of my brain matter without giving a bullet point laundry list of characteristics. Striving for perfection I was, until I realized it was around 8:00 and that’s when I rearrange my sock drawer.

I plotted a Star Wars reference somewhere (DOB 1970 – that fan). I planned to highlight my affinity for Batman with a footnote that I’m not into comic books but was hooked by Christopher Nolan’s reboot with his Dark Knight trilogy. I even considered playing up the reboot concept itself and explain that this is not a mediocre retooling of Spider-Man, then liken it to said Batman reboot. In fact I wrote this post in an unrecognizable and exceedingly raspy voice despite the fact that I am not Batman. Or-am-I?

In any case, I thought the aforementioned anecdotes would clearly indicate my obsession with film. These details would be followed by revealing that I am blessed with an awesome wife and three kids…who are all absolute angels. And, while I like many genres of music (including classical, but not country), I’m a metalhead at the core and eagerly seek opportunities to be surrounded by other suburbanites at traffic lights whilst my kids are piled in the mini-van as growling vocals, distorted guitars and double bass pedals thrust through the open windows.

Last but not least, I’d finally point out that I’m a believer. Yes…a metalhead and a Jesus freak! To the best of my ability I would then summarize all of the above with the hope that it would never read as self-indulgent; I don’t talk to hear myself talk and I don’t write just so people can read my thoughts. I’d rather my audience of 3.5 know that I crave to write in order to squash the appetite to rip my restless gut out of my stomach. Then I questioned, is “…rip my restless gut out of my stomach” too graphic? My gut told me, “No, it is not!”

To avoid succumbing to my addiction of mental self-dissection, compartmentalized perfectionism and procrastination I eventually made the wise decision to take a break from reworking this post to do some much needed research…on Facebook. And boy did it pay off. It was there that I came across this little gem –

 

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I started to peek into the mirror but stopped at the last second – I didn’t want to see the red splotch reality left on my cheek. But with the slap I acknowledged that I had wasted several days complicating a simple, short and sweet post. A few sentences to share my faith and my penchant for film. Some text to denote that my ears are tickled (or flicked) by heavy metal while driving my children around in a suburban assault vehicle. And then a summary would wrap things up with a subtly verbose statement (a what?) explaining that while writing is therapy, I chose to release it on the “Internets” for humans to find on “The Google” with the hopeful byproduct of inducing a spectrum of results ranging from a chuckle to inspiring someone to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

With all of that being said, I again welcome you to the grand re-opening of LATENIGHTCRAVINGS.COM. For now, please pardon the dust of the Dream Builders as this attraction is still under construction. But check back regularly to read the words I put together to form sentences and paragraphs. Peruse the passages my bloody and calloused fingers type within the bubble of suburbia. Discover the mind-blowing accounts of our trek with God or delight in a dessert recipe I may share…or probably not. Gloriously bask in the random musings of a musical composition that reminded me of 1995, a movie review or a reflection of my aversion to cats. Marvel with hypnotic awe as your eyes feast upon a historic retelling of the soap operas that play out on our neighborhood’s Facebook page. Whether a daytime human or nocturnal, you may freely make frequent trips to my pantry – its door is open and stocked with Jesus, metal and other latenight cravings. I’m breaking all the blog rules (because there is such a thing)…I’m just that insane and rebellious.

 
Peace…and forgive me!
ER