Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Beautiful Destruction.

"It's beautiful isn't it?" 

"Well, yeah, I guess it is." 

"That's why they do it. They like to set the fire then stand back and watch it." 


***

I'm pretty lucky to have the job that I have. As a reporter, I get to see some pretty neat things. I also get to see the worst in people, which can sometimes be emotionally draining. About a month ago, I had the opportunity to see a little of both of those things, and it taught me a very valuable lesson about the things I've been struggling with in my life. 

The call came over the scanner close to dusk. 

"There's a grass fire, we have a structure in danger, here are the coordinates." 

I grabbed my notebook and my camera, and headed out the door. After circling the smoke for what seemed like forever, I finally found the fire. 

There were quite a few firefighters out, and since the fire had been set in numerous places, they were having difficulty getting enough people to extinguish the encroaching flames. 

After talking with someone in charge about the structure in danger, I sat back to keep an eye on things for a bit to make sure they didn't get any worse. I even took advantage of the setting sun to get a pretty good selfie.



About ten minutes into my fire watch, a local fire chief pulled up next to me and said, "Hey we have to go check out another fire, you want to ride with me?"

Guys.

He offered me a ride in a fire truck.

"YES SIR PLEASE LET ME GET MY CAMERA CAN I HAVE CHOCOLATE MILK BEFORE BED I'M JUST SO EXCITED CAN I PEE FIRST?"

I got to ride in a fire truck!

I sent my boss a text that explained what I was doing, and off we went, lights blazing.

Unfortunately, the trip didn't produce anything more exciting than a ride in a firetruck, and we drove back to the conflagration in progress just as the sun was giving its last few rays to illuminate the scene.

As darkness fell, the burning grass and smoldering trees took on a completely different hue. They weren't red, and they weren't orange. As the breeze shifted and picked up, it whistled through the destruction and turned things an entirely new color, one I'd never seen before, and one I have no name for.

The camera I had wasn't good enough to capture the moment, so I have no picture to offer. My only hope is that you've witnessed the color I'm talking about, because, well, it was. . .beautiful.

"Wow." 

"It's beautiful isn't it?" 

"Well, yeah, I guess it is." 

"That's why they do it. They like to set the fire then stand back and watch it." 

It all came together for me in that instant. The Lord showed me something very powerful. Those who are regular readers of this blog or who know me intimately in person know that I'm struggling with several things. I'm trying to make my marriage better, I'm trying eat healthier, and I have a multitude of other daily battles. 

I win some, and I lose some. 

In that moment of extreme beauty and destruction, it occurred to me that some of the things I deal with seem just as enticing when looked upon from a safe distance. They smolder as they are fanned by the wind of my struggle, and they have a bewitching quality, even as they are destroying my life. 

I think sin can appear appealing when viewed from a "safe" distance. So we do it. We set the fire and stand back to watch. But after a season of alluring annihilation, we're left with nothing but the charred remains of what was once something healthy and alive. 

Then I thought a moment longer, and realized that even in that burned desolation, new life was beginning to take place. Before the end of the summer, the pasture that was burned will start growing new grass, new trees, and new flowers. In a few years, all traces of the fire will more than likely be gone. 

The Lord does the same for us. He sweeps through the blistered remains of the fires we set and rescues us, forgives us, then begins to plant new life in us. That, to me, is grace. Grace greater than all my sin. Green, newly budding, and full of potential, even in the wake of my own calcine intentions. 

So if God can create new life in my self-destruction, what more can He create in fields I don't torch at all? How much more useful are the green areas in my life have than those blackened by insistent sin?

Why—to misuse a popular phrase—can't I just stay green? 

That is the question I've asked myself a lot the past few weeks, and it's something I've dedicated time to work on. Making my wife happier, making my kids stronger, and giving up things I once considered beautiful, but ultimately left me empty and cauterized. 

What fires are you setting in your life? What are the singed areas of intentional sin that you struggle with? Can you stop before you flick the match? I think you can, and I think I can too. Let's work on that this week. Let's all stay green and healthy, and let God work with unblemished grassland instead of salvaging the remains. 

Photo credit.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Memoir Monday: The Break-Up.


For those of you who don't know, I played Church League Basketball.

If you read that and wonder which one I am, I am the quintessential Washed-Up Ballhog.

Our team was the First Baptist Muskogee Green Team, and well, we were what you'd call "suspect." As in, "I suspect that at one point these guys were probably all really good, but I'm not sure at what, and they definitely aren't now."

Our team consisted of a couple of ex-baseball stars turned pharmacists, a man who makes shopping carts, an inventory lackey, a guy who does something with rugs, a farmer, an auto mechanic, and yours truly, an extremely overweight newspaper reporter/peon.

The only person we were missing is this guy. Jackie "Love Me Sexy" Moon. 
At one point during the depressing first stages of our season, a Sunday School classmate approached me one evening and said, "Travis, I have a friend here who wants to play on a church league team, could y'all use him?"

I looked at his friend, who was maybe 6'4" and weighed a solid 175. He looked like he was in really good shape, he had hands the size of a satellite dish, and he was black. Then he looked at me and said, "I have another friend that's wanting to play too, would that be okay?"

You know how when you fall in love all at once and all you can think about is just being with that person day in and day out and conquering life together and taking on the world and hell with a water pistol and at the end of each day you look each other deep in the eyes and tell each other that you love one another more than life itself?


Well that's kind of what happened to me only it was with a basketball context. I just stared at him in what was I'm sure a bit of a creepy way and nodded.

Stanley was hands down the best character on that show.
Since I was in church when all this took place, I took the opportunity to thank The Lord for His sudden and glorious contribution to a failing team. We were going to be the miracle of the season, the proverbial Bad News Bears of church league basketball.

PRAISE BE TO JESUS ON HIGH WE LANDED SOME TALENT.


For the sake of privacy, I will change their names. Let's call them Kip and Jerry.

We signed them to a contract on Sunday, and Monday we had a game. We knew it would be a difficult game, but since we had signed our stars, we felt a little more confident.

Let me tell you folks. Kip and Jerry could HOOP.

They ran our team like Durant and Westbrook. Like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Like Jordan and Scottie.

They were shaking people and breaking ankles and doing that thing where they almost dunked but didn't dunk because it's church league and you're not allowed to dunk because they value self-esteem more than anything and getting dunked on in church league could really hurt your self-esteem.


Kip and Jerry fearlessly led our group of overweight has-beens clear through till the end. I'm here to tell you, we went on actual fast breaks. Fast breaks! We had transition buckets! Anytime any of us got in the slightest trouble, we'd kick the ball out to Kip and Jerry and BOOM! Buckets!

To put it mildly, they made it rain.

Then, to top it all off, they put together a string of successful and quite marvelous basketball plays that ultimately lead us to victory, 73-72.

WE HAD EMERGED VICTORIOUS.

The other team was stunned. No doubt they'd received scouting reports on our miserable performances and sloppy victories from earlier in the season, and I think they were expecting to beat us by 40 points and then go home and brag to their wives and children about how they embarrassed someone in church league because that's what those kind of men do.

When I say that we beat a team by one point who should have beat us by 40, you can understand how glorious we all felt in that moment. You know the end of Hoosiers where Jimmy takes that shot and everyone starts going crazy? That was us.


My excitement was short-lived.

Fast forward to the night of our next game. As I was sitting there mentally gearing up for a gruesome thirty six seconds of actual trying, I got this text message.

My world collapsed around me like a Lisa Loeb song. 
Apparently these boys were some local college hoops stars, and if there's one thing church league rules clearly don't allow, it's actual good players. My world came crashing down around me. I knew what came next.

I had to break up with them.

I called the friend who had introduced me to them and desperately pleaded with him to do it for me. "Don't let them show up tonight," I said. "Please tell them I'm so sorry, and it's not them, it's us."

My friend said alright, and then both of them showed up at the game expecting to play.

I can remember it clearly, like it happened yesterday. We were in the hallway just off the basketball court and near the locker rooms. The clock was ticking off the seconds until the game would start, and I was stalling for time trying to find the right words.

"I'm sorry boys, it's over. You play college basketball, and they won't allow it."

They stared at me. You could see it in their faces, emotion etched into their eyes, each of them holding back tears while mine flowed freely down my face.

It got real bad. 
I explained the rule to them, and one of them, in a desperate attempt to salvage the whole thing, said, "But I'm not going to play next year."

I wanted to hug him. I wanted to reach out and hug them both, rub their backs, tell them everything was going to be okay, and that all we needed was time to pass to sort this all out.

But I held back, and told them that they were of course still welcome at our church, and how I wished they'd come back to see us sometime, and I must have apologized 25 more times.

And finally the buzzer rang that signaled the start of our game, and I gave them one last look, turned, and walked through the door and on to the court, and I haven't seen either of them again since that day.



And that's the saddest thing that's ever happened to me in a break up.

Change the "him" to a 'them" though. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Didn't Miss It.

In case you're wondering, the answer is three.

It took three slow dances with my daughter for her to look up at me, smile, and say, "Daddy I love you."

I wanted to tell you that now, both because it was hands down the best part of my night, and because you might leave this blog prematurely, thinking this post might not be for you, and you might be right, because this is mostly for Akeeli.

I love you too, daughter.



***

She came into the room in a rush, holding a flier. It had some hearts on it, and a date and a time, which meant it involved a commitment, and with the precious little amount of time I have, I didn't want to make one. 

It was the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance put on by a local organization that I heartily support because of the good work they do for children. Forgive me for be extremely cliché, but I consider them the proverbial catchers in the rye, rescuing children before they run off a very dangerous and emotional edge. 

But back to the flier. 

I didn't know it until later, but a conversation had taken place before she asked me to the dance. In the car, she looked at The Missus and said, "Do you think daddy will take me?" 

"I don't know if he'll have time." 
"Well if he doesn't, I'm asking uncle Brad." 

I have class on Thursday nights. From 5:30 to 8:10, I'm cooped up in a small room learning how to teach English to secondary school kids. The teacher is amazing, but I wasn't too sure how she would feel about letting me off early for a dance. 

But I decided I would go anyway. I told our daughter to be ready, and that I would be a little late, but we'd go. 

I didn't miss it. 

As I left class, I got told by every. single. girl. including the teacher, to go get flowers. I told them they'd have flowers for sale at the dance, and one of the girls said, "Yeah, but she'll have the best flowers." 

So, crunched for time—always crunched for time—I stopped and got my daughter flowers. 

Keeli, if you ever find this, they were cheap flowers. I'm sorry. You were 8. You didn't need a dozen roses. 

I'm glad I got the flowers. She didn't realize at first they were for her, but her face lit up when she saw them. Then I threw on a sweater and we jumped in the truck, speeding off to our "date." 

"The flowers were very pretty daddy." 

Oh. Crap. 

I've got to compliment my daughter, I forgot to do that, I opened the truck door for her but I didn't tell her how beautiful she is, crap crap crap, Travis tell her how beautiful she is. 

"You are very beautiful, daughter." 

"Thank you daddy. And you're very handsome." 

We finally got to the dance, walked in the door, and she immediately handed me her coat and she took off to find a friend. She hugged her, they screamed like little girls, and immediately went to the cookie table, where she got good and hopped up on at least eight cookies and a fruit punch. 

Meanwhile, my arm was sweating because I had a coat on it, and the rest of me was sweating because that's what I do in hot confined places. 

Then they played a slow song. 

Get this. 

It was "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me. 

When you think about slow songs you can dance to, I'm not sure that cracks even the top 100. But she ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and led me onto the dance floor, just like every other little girl in the building was doing to her dad. 

And we danced. In reality, we swayed, but I'm sure she'll remember it as dancing. I'm a terrible dancer. But I can sway pretty well, so I stuck with what I knew. 

An example of how I dance to fast songs.
Then they broke for a fast song, and almost all of the dads cleared the floor for the daughters to have their fun. These little girls screamed every time a "popular" song was played, and when the DJ spun up "What Does the Fox Say?" I actually thought the glass would break in the place. Woo. 

Then the next slow song came up. I don't remember it, but I know that my daughter looked me in the eyeball and said, "Spin me daddy!" So I twirled her a couple of times in a very awkward way because we couldn't quite get the hand placement right. But she laughed, and it appeared she was having a good time, and I've got it on good authority from several people that this is the kind of thing she'll remember the rest of her life. 

I just hope I remember it for the rest of mine. 

A few more fast songs, then another slow one. This one was "My Little Girl" by Tim McGraw. 

About halfway through the dance, Akeeli looked up at me, smiled at me, and said, "I love you, Daddy." 

When I say I forced myself not to cry, I mean it. I pulled up more happy memories than it takes to conjure a Patronus, and I forced myself not to cry. I glanced around the room and saw a bunch of stone faced men and I have a strong hunch that I wasn't the only one in the room with that problem. 

Here are a few highlights of the night:

  • I watched a grown man in a three-piece suit sing along with "We're Never Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift (it wasn't me I don't own a suit)
  • My daughter did the Cha-Cha Slide
  • The sheer number of people in attendance gave me hope for Muskogee
  • My daughter told me she loved me

And then it was over. We hopped back in the truck, she talked about wanting to bring a limo next year because someone in her grade had a limo, and I reminded her that limos cost money. But in reality, I'll probably do my best to get her a limo next year. 

Here's my end goal: Maybe, just maybe, if I can set impossibly high standards for my daughter, not just any idiot young man will be able to impress her. Maybe it'll take a man who gives her flowers, who gets her a limo, and who takes time out of his busy life to win her heart. 

I am not Ozymandias. I do not expect this blog to live forever. But maybe that young man is reading this now. 

You aren't good enough for my daughter. 

But if you treat her like I tried to treat her, like the way she deserves to be treated, then you'll have just a little bit better chance of winning me over than the last testosterone-fueled jackass that gave it a shot. 

I've failed more times than not at being a good dad. It's hard work. But last night I got something right. The Good Lord smiled down on me and blessed me for making time for our daughter. It was a great night. 

And I didn't miss it. 



Note to the reader: I am not kidding about making mistakes. In case this blog gives you the feeling that I'm holier-than-though or think I'm the best dad ever, here's one where I royally screwed up to make me look worse. Just click this. 


P.S. Maybe you didn't read this. Maybe you did. But if you're a father, go read this right here. Seriously. Don't even read what I wrote. This is better. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Sloat Family Growth Chart.

Just under two years ago I posted this blog.

I was full of resentment and hurt and all of those things that can make a very bitter person out of you if you hang on to them. You see, I was having trouble walking the walk I talked about so much when it came to other people.

I will assume you're familiar with the phrase: "Just pray for God's will." You may have even spoken those words to someone, hoping they'd give comfort and peace.

I can assure you that living that phrase is harder than saying it. And I'm just about positive that you already know that, because undoubtedly you've lost a loved one, a job, or have been in a situation where you desperately wanted your will done and not God's.

If you aren't a Christian or don't believe in God, that's fine, I have to figure this would be the equivalent of someone telling you "Things will work out, just give it time."

So fast forward to a few months back. The Missus and I got a phone call. The bouncing baby boy born back in 2012 was needing a new home. You were on the list. Be ready. He's coming to you.

We might have freaked out just a bit. The Missus did a deep cleaning of the house the likes of which I have never seen in my life. Things were stored, things were bleached, things were thrown away, things were painted. Rooms were changed. My brother came over and threw his back out hanging up a ceiling fan, God love him. We were going to be prepared.

Then came an email.

"We're going to give him to someone else instead. We'll keep you posted."

The pain The Missus felt was extraordinary. I felt empty. I was disappointed. I felt like nothing good would ever happen again. We cried, we yelled, and we questioned the very God whose will we were supposedly praying for all along. We sat down and had a giant pity party. We broke the news to the kids, and then everyone in the family was broken hearted.

I do not claim to know why that happened. I don't know why we needed to feel that pain, and why we had to explain to our children that the new baby, their brother, was not coming to us after all. But we did. And we moved on.

Then we got another email.

"The someone didn't work out. He's coming to you." 

After swearing we would never get our hopes up again, we...well we got our hopes up again. We cleaned. We did background checks and home studies and physicals. We decided not to tell the kids until we were a bit more certain. Then we told the kids.

Then we made the drive. Just under two hours, and we had a Tahoe full of toys and clothes and baby, whose name I cannot give you for a while, for the same reason I couldn't give you the others' back in 2010. It'll take a little bit. We don't know how long, that's up to the state and the Lord. This situation isn't as fluid as the other one. There are a lot of extraneous factors that could result in us not getting to keep him.

However, I serve a God who is in control of this situation. He knows what's going to happen already, in fact He saw it from the beginning of time. And what's more important, He knows what I can handle. He knows what my family can handle. And if it's His will that my family should now number five, then so be it. If not, somehow, with His help, we'll get through it.

But right now the boy is home. He's at our house, with his brother and sister, and they love him. We love him. He loves all of us. In fact, on the car ride home, he said something, and I turned and looked at him. He pointed right at me and said "Dad."

"Dad."
"Dad."

He hates nap time. He hates bed time. He loves bananas. He has the reddest, curliest hair you've ever seen and looks exactly like a Sloat. Hates to be told no. Can high five with the best of them. Loves the rabbit, doesn't really care for Fabulous, but he's warming up to her. Loves to say "Bye" and act like he's walking out the door. He cries when I leave for work or school, which breaks my heart. Gives pretty good hugs. Is calling The Missus "Mom," and his brother and sister "Bubba" and "Sis."

The addition to our family has also created an imbalance of sorts, as represented by the following pie charts.

This seems natural and right and in complete harmony and accord with all things.

THE PURPLE AREA IS GROWING HELP ME BABY JESUS.

In the past two weeks I've taken hundreds of pictures, the majority of which I can't put on social media or my blog. I forwarded one picture to about 20 different people before I realized that it had my boob in it, clear as day. Here's one that makes me proud, but I can't tell you if it's him.

This could be him, this might not be him. I'm not telling you for sure.
It seems as though he's had a hundred visitors. Family, friends, and everyone who meets him loves him. They play with him, hold him, talk to him. God has blessed us with people in our lives who genuinely love us and who want good things for our family. It amazes me that He would take so many terrible situations: broken families, infertility, abuse, drugs...and combine them into something so amazing. Something I'm able to call a family.

The other day, the day after we brought him home, he was screaming his lungs out about taking a nap and I was there beside him to make sure he didn't abscond from the crib. As I watched him tire himself out by crying, something struck me as humorous and I looked down at him and laughed. Then, the comparison hit me, I started crying while I was laughing. So I stood there like an idiot, chuckling silently while giant tears slid down my cheeks.

God throws me a lot of curveballs. And sometimes, when I'm right smack in the middle of something God knows I should be going through, I lay down and I kick my feet and I scream about it. I say "No" a lot and I think God is the worst person in the world for handing me the situation or set of circumstances. It's so unfair. The world is unfair. It's the worst.

And then I calm down. I realize that what I'm going through is what's best for me. I realize all those things I wish I would have realized sooner. I realize that I serve a God who can handle me when I'm having my biggest screaming hissy fit ever, and he's looking at me saying, "It's for the best. Trust me. Just trust me."

So yeah, I'm hoping God works His will in this situation. And even more than that, I actually believe that His will is best for all of us, including the new guy. Do I want things to work out the way I think is best? Absolutely. But what do I know?

I know that God is big.

I know that I am His. I know that my family is His. I know that you are His.

And I know that The Missus and I are officially outnumbered, and we wouldn't have it any other way.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Garage Door.


It happened before I realized it was happening. I pulled into the driveway, looked over, and I saw the garage door was open.

I sighed, and said to myself, "I'll freaking close it, geez. I have to do everything around here."

Then, as I walked over to do "everything," I saw something else. The Powerwheel was sitting there, half parked in the garage, half out.

I got even more upset. I gave the thing a half-hearted kick and shove, then yanked the door down. Angry, I walked into the house...

"Christ looked at this screwed up world, turned to the Father and asked, 'How can I help?' And God looked at him and said, 'Are you sure? Because you may not like what you have to do.'" - Andy Stanley

When I walked in, I slammed my keys a little too hard onto the rack, and I tossed my wallet on the refrigerator a little too hard. I made sure my face was good and screwed up so my wife would ask me what was wrong, and sure enough, she bit.

"Travis, what's wrong? You look mad."

"Alright, which one is this?" 
"This one is Travis Sloat, sin number 4,555,291. He looks at his wife and says something really dumb. Something he shouldn't say at all." 
"And I'm going to die for that?" 
"In order for this to work, you have to." 
"Alright, done. What next?" 
"Sin number 4,555,292: he uses several curse words while watching Duke play." 
"He's kind of an idiot, but man I love him." 

I opened my mouth.

"I'd like it if I didn't have to be the one that closes the garage door all the time. And the freaking Powerwheel was sticking out of it. Why can't you at least check that before I have to do it?"

The very second I closed my mouth I knew they were dumb. I realized how stupid it all was. I realized, that if I owned my piece of the pie, the reason I was mad was because all I wanted to do was come home and not be bothered by trivial stuff...like my kids...my kids and their stuff.


But I couldn't just back out of it. I needed to own that stupidity. I couldn't just have said, "You know what, I'm an idiot, and I'm sorry."

Now, sitting here, I realize something. There are people out there that would LOVE to have the opportunity to put their kids' toys away. They would love to come home, see something laying out, shake their heads and say, "Those crazy kids."

"This is for Travis, and sin number 4,555,291. This is for Travis, sin number 4,555,291. I love him. That's why I'm here. That's why they're beating me. That's why these thorns are on my head. This is for Travis, because I love him, even though he's an idiot, and even though he's not always thankful for what I've given him. This is for Travis, sin number 4,555,292..." 

"Travis, I'm sorry, I'll start making sure they put their stuff up and the door is closed."

What? What? This isn't what I wanted. I WANTED A FIGHT. I WANTED YELLING AND LOUD NOISES AND TRIVIAL THINGS TO BE BROUGHT UP. I DON'T WANT APOLOGIES.

"I think I ate your chocolate squirrel." 
I didn't want an apology because the second the words were out of her mouth, I realized what an absolute idiot I was. I realized that she loves me enough to try and fix something that isn't even her fault.

And I couldn't even find the ability to say "I forgive you." Not because of pride, not because of anything other than the fact that I AM SO STUPID, and THIS IS SO STUPID, and WHY ARE YOU MAKING HER APOLOGIZE FOR THIS YOU JACKASS. It's like saying the words "I forgive you," would have been even worse than what I said in the first place.

"Oh I forgive you because you spent all afternoon filling out paperwork for something incredibly important AFTER you spent all day molding young minds and AFTER you fixed dinner you might have wanted to just take a break instead of closing the garage door."

Right. That would have made it better.

And I'm the one sitting here now, remembering the blog I posted LESS THAN A WEEK AGO, about how I'm working on things, and here I am taking two steps forward, telling the world (the six folks who read this blog) about how I'm making progress, and then, BAM, three steps back.

What my "progress" feels like most days.
And I could just have easily not typed this, not written this up, and not left it here for those six people to see. But I can't do that. This is what you need to know about me. Because I'm sure there are others out there who struggle like I do, and who need to be reminded that it's an uphill struggle, but we do have hope.

"So what happens to Travis after a lifetime of imperfection?" 
"Well, he'll be forgiven because he accepted our gift." 
"Just like that? There won't be a giant scale weighing out his good and bad that ultimately determines where he'll spend eternity?" 
"Nope. Just you, standing in the gap between the real and the ideal."
"That sounds fantastic. He'll never make it on his own. Let's do this thing." 



Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Chips or: What I'm Working on in 2014.

Note to the reader: This may be a tl;dr post for you, and I don't want that to happen. If you want to get to the meat and potatoes of things, skip to "So here's what I've done." If you want a cute story about how my wife loves me, scroll down to the bit about chips. It may just make you interested enough to read the whole thing. 

I'm traditionally terrible at the New Year's Resolutions. For example, last year I decided I was going to lose a bunch of weight, read twenty-four new books, and try to become famous.

  • I lost about thirty pounds from January to April, then gained it back. 
  • I read 16 new books, and most of those were because of the Young Adult Lit. course I took. 
  • I became somewhat Internet famous after posting a certain picture online. 

Terrible.

So this year I didn't really have many resolutions. I kind of thought that I should eat healthier, but I probably won't. I mean, it's 2014, shouldn't we have calorie-free nachos by now? We're all looking at you scientists.

I just want to mention here that I am absolutely terrified about this Velveeta shortage happening right now. I know, I know, it's not real cheese, but that's neither here nor there. MY NACHOS WON'T BE MADE WITH CHEDDAR AND RO-TEL GUYS. I've called for President Obama to look into the situation, but I just about bet he's too busy with his "healthcare" to worry about it. 

I'd really like to get to those twenty-four new books, but I highly doubt that's going to happen, mostly because of my insane school schedule this year. I'd really like to have audio books widely accepted by literary circles as actual reading, but I honestly think that would be tougher than calorie-free nachos.

As for fame, I've kind of realized it won't happen for me because I'm not ready for it. I know that because the following thought has actually gone through my head:

"What if some famous Internet site actually offers me money for an interview because of the turtle picture? Would that be selling out?" 

I'm not even kidding about that. It's something I've spent at least an hour thinking about. An hour. A legit hour. So I don't think fame is right for me. I'll probably need to sort out a few priorities before the good Lord actually blesses me with real fame, and not just fame acquired by taking my shirt off on the Internet, a picture which, God help them, my children will probably find one day.

So what does one do then, if resolutions are not to be conceived in the new year? Does one set goals for themselves, which are resolutions cleverly disguised in a shorter word? Or does one proceed willy-nilly into the year, running amuck amongst the freedoms granted one by one not having tethered themselves to the "same old, same old?"


My hat is off to you if you understand that paragraph. If you sort of checked out after the first sentence, basically I'm asking if I should even try to set up some sort of guidelines for improving my life in 2014.

So here's what I've done. I've just decided that I want to work on a couple of things in 2014. I'm not saying I'm going to perfect them, I'm just saying I want to see if I can't improve them just a little bit. And here they are, in no certain order.

  • I want to work on my out of control consumerism. 
  • I want to work on rediscovering why I fell in love with my wife. 

Guys, I want stuff. I want guns. I want the latest Apple product. I want the Beats headphones. I want the brand new television. I want a new truck. I want, I want, I want. I am never satisfied, and I know that's not right.
Actually I want the new Hyperbole and a Half book too. 
It's something that really went out of control in 2013. Something, that if left unchecked, could possibly drive my family into financial collapse. I don't believe that a husband and father should do that to their family. And it's not just stuff. 

It's coming home and eating the food that my wife has cooked because if I make something else I'm essentially wasting food.

It's maybe not getting the brand-name body wash and shampoo, because that's extra money that could go into my gas tank. 

It's maybe not taking that extra trip to hang out with friends because that extra gas money could be used to get me back and forth to work a couple of times. 

It's saying no to people, even when I don't want to, because my family and their comfort are more important than my social life. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying at all that the occasional money wasted on good fun isn't something that can't be done. You should certainly enjoy those things once in a while. But can I cut back on them? Probably. Should I? Yes, it's something I need to work on. 

My absolute nemesis may make a repeat appearance in 2014. 
As for rediscovering why I fell in love with my wife, I'm slowly coming to the realization that I've wasted a lot of time over the past decade ignoring her. It's taking me meeting with a leader in my church to see it, and it's something that I've recently started working on. 

Instead of griping about the messy house, I've realized that God has blessed me with two hands and the ability to figure out the buttons on the dishwasher. 

Instead of demanding things from her, I've started asking "How can I help?" 

Instead of sending her text messages telling her things, I'm trying to talk to her more in person about the important things. 

Instead of staring at the television (even during a Duke game) or my phone, while she tries to talk to me about her day, I'm trying to pause the television or put down my phone and just listen, because she needs someone to talk to, and I'm the guy she picked to talk to.

And here's the kicker. Here's the bee's knees. Here's the wasp's nipples. Here, as Douglas Adams said, is the entire set of erogenous zones of every flying insect of the western world.

She bought me a bag of chips the other night. 

Now I can understand how you might see that as a bit of weird thing to say. "Chips?" you say. "How can a bag of chips help Travis understand the incredibly deep love his wife has for him? Has he gone off the deep end? Has his love for food so completely blocked his ability to think/blog that we're now forced to listen to his rambling about a deep fried potato?" 

And to that I say, just bear with me. And also, she doesn't know I'm blogging about this, so I may be in trouble. 

Here's why the chips were special. 

1. She knows I love chips — She was thinking about me. She saw something in the store and said, "Oh I think Travis would like that." 

2. We didn't really have the extra money to spend on them — We're strapped from Christmas like I'm sure most of you are, and we're trying to recover. But she did it anyway because she knew it would make me happy. 

3. She didn't let the kids touch them and she never asked for one or tried to grab a couple — She was completely selfless in the purchase. She could have easily allowed it to become a treat for the entire family, but she saved them for me. 

I was talking to my buddy during our weekly meeting this morning and I broke down when I told him about the chips. I think it hit me, at that moment, that this was one of the reasons I fell in love with my wife. Not because she buys me chips, but because she's seen me at my absolute worst, and still loves me enough to do the tiny things that she knows will make me happy. 

The thought occurred to me, that, in trying to rediscover why I fell in love with my wife, I may be inadvertently helping her discover why she fell in love with me. 

And that, my friends, is worth me trying to work on. 

I may not have resolutions for 2014, but if working on things helps me get a few more metaphorical bags of chips in this new year, then I'll take work over resolve every year for the rest of my life. 

What are you going to work on this year? 

My word I'm sexy. Also my wife, my wife is sexy too. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Tapeworm.

Part one

Of course, when the cops came, they'd never seen anything like it. They sat at the crime scene for a while, discussing the worst things they'd ever seen on the job and off, in that joking way that cops sometimes use to keep the gruesome mortality of their duties from affecting them too much.

"Did you see the way their necks were bent?" asked one of them.
"Yeah, that was a 90 degree angle," replied another. "Like that street light after Roberts hit it with his patrol car last week."
Another, presumably Roberts, jumped in to defend himself. "The perp's in jail isn't he? Besides that light was wonky. It didn't work half the time."
"Doesn't work at all now."

They all laughed and started heading for their cars. There wasn't anything they could do now, this was a job for the guys who showed up in fancy black suits driving fancy black Suburbans with no identification on them whatsoever. The kind of guys who you didn't argue with if you wanted to keep your job.

Even though, after tonight, most of them were wondering why they'd even want to keep their jobs.

***

Stephen "Bear" Williams was a tough man. Not only was he as physically grizzled as his nickname suggested, he also had the temperament of a bear who'd just woken up from a long hibernation only to find his normal hunting spot had been turned into a Burger King with a sign that specifically said "No Bears." 

Stephen approached all of life with a bad attitude. He hated his job, he hated his wife, and he hated his kids. He had a reputation for being an abusive husband and father, although "abusive" didn't exactly cover what he could be in a bar on any given night, be it Tuesday or Saturday. No one knew exactly what Stephen's problem was; his wife Marie was beautiful and had a passive demeanor that would have to be possessed by anyone who loved Bear, and his children were well-behaved and mild-mannered. 

Only Stephen knew the reasons for his behavior, and Stephen wasn't exactly the type to tell you all about it over a beer or on a psychologist's couch. Stephen was the type to explain his anger with two large, ham-shaped fists thrown any direction he could see a face.

In fact, the only redeeming qualities Stephen possessed were not actually qualities at all. They were people, and they were his brothers, Jeff, who was older; and Wallace, who was younger. Each of them could do what no one else could; they could calm Stephen down when he was at his worst. Every bar and tavern owner in the town had their numbers saved in their phones, and local policemen didn't hesitate to pick either of them up from work to go diffuse a situation that would normally take a truncheon and a taser to get a handle on.

In spite of their onerous father, the Williams family thrived. The oldest, Sarah, was eight years old and at the top of her class in school, and Brandon, who was six, was athletic and charming, sometimes a little too much of both. Neither displayed the typical character traits of an overbearing father, and both loved their daddy with the pure and unequivocal love that only young children and Jesus are capable of.

The only real problem the family had of late was Brandon's lack of interest around mealtimes. No matter what Marie fixed, Brandon would get a couple of bites in and refuse to eat anymore. This often prompted angry outbursts from Stephen, demanding "You got a tapeworm boy?" Without fail, Brandon would always ask, "What's a tapeworm?" and dinner would be completely derailed by Stephen pounding his fists on the table and sending Brandon to his room where he would "deal with him later."

The Williams were active in church, inasmuch as "active" meant that they attended semi-regularly and didn't mind helping out once in a while as volunteers were needed. Stephen's reputation followed him like his shadow, but many church members were content to let that ride as long as his temper never flared inside the doors of the church and as long as he was kept away from children and the sacramental wine used for communion.

So when it happened, no one was really surprised. The talk of the town was that they all knew it would happen one day, and someone really should have called protective services when there was still a chance, and how each was really too busy to make the call themselves, because that's how people will deal with passing blame in the face of tragedy. But, just like in any other small town or city, a lot of people can talk, but only a few know the details.

And the devil was certainly in these details.

Part two