Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Commencement Address for the Class of 2015

I had the enormous honor of giving the commencement address to the Okay High School Class of 2015 last night, and I've had a couple of people ask if they could have a copy. 

Here it is, with changes I made mid-speech struck and highlighted in red. 

I only tripped up in a couple of places, thank God. I just want to say again, this was such an honor. 

Good evening.

Here I decided I probably should thank the senior class, really not sure how I didn't get that in there, I'm basically an idiot.

In September 2014, I took a selfie with the President of the United States. Obviously I think more of you than I do President Obama, so will you take a selfie with me?

This got struck because Katey Holland decided to do it in her speech, I'm not mad at her. While on stage I decided I'd open with the fact that I'd Googled how to give a graduation speech when I first found out, and then Mariah Whiteday decided she'd use that as HER intro, and long story short, I just winged it. Seemed to go over well. 

Thank you.

I first met the class that is graduating tonight in 2009. I was here as the ISS teacher, naturally a very popular job, and I was occasionally a substitute. I can remember vividly things like making Mr. Thurman run extra laps around the gym, making Mr. Thurman stand outside and count out loud to prove he could, and just in general making Mr. Thurman’s life miserable. Mr. Thurman, when you are successful in life, tell them it was Mr. Sloat who built your character.

When I started as an intern in August, I noticed a couple of things immediately about this senior class. The first was your inquisitive nature. Trying to explain a senior term paper to Mr. McVicker was near impossible, but we sewed shut all the loopholes he created, and we got through it.

The second thing I noticed was the fighting. Now, hold on, this isn’t a bad thing. You see, I was raised in a house with three younger brothers. There was rarely a moment when we WEREN’T fighting. So while some may choose to look at your arguments and see dissension, I see a family. Families fight. Families argue. Families take cheap shots at each other over the senior trip. But, most importantly, families love each other.

Fourteen years ago I stood on this same stage in this same gym and I delivered what I was sure at the time were words of inspiration to my classmates. I don’t know if they left inspired, but I left that night with two goals: The first was to one day deliver the commencement speech for a future class at Okay High School. The second was to one day become a teacher at Okay High School.

Both of those have now happened. 

I realized suddenly that both of those have NOT happened, because I haven't signed a contract for next year. I thought it would be funny to jokingly call out the administration and the school board on hiring me next year. This also seemed to go over well, everyone laughed and no one said, "You're fired." That's cool. 

That means I get the chance to give you a few pointers tonight that you, like my classmates all those years ago, will probably forget the minute you walk out the door. But first, I want to tell you something I’ve learned during the years in between about things that are fireproof.

Completely screwed this up with my ad-lib comment on hiring me. Completely. I then admitted that I'd lost my place, which is essentially the number one thing you should never do while giving a speech. But, the simple truth is, people screw up, even those of us who you might think have it all together. I'm not perfect, the graduates won't be either. There's a life lesson there. That's how I'm spinning this. 

What does fireproof mean?

When I hear “fireproof” my mind immediately flashes to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. The flames danced around them, and yet they emerged unburned, unblemished by the fire. Now, we’re not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but we all have something fireproof inside us. That doesn’t mean it can’t be touched by the fire, but rather that it will not be consumed. Although the outside may sustain damage, the important stuff, the stuff on the inside, can’t be burned. It’s fireproof.

So the one lesson I’ve learned, that I want to share with you, is that these three things are fireproof. You may find more on your journey, but these are the ones I know:

1. Your dreams — You will find throughout your life that people will try to set fire to your dreams. But dreams? Dreams cannot be burned by anyone but the dreamer. What do you want to do? Some of you may have your life planned out from now until the day you die. That’s fine. Some of you may not have plans that last past this evening. That’s fine too. But your dreams are fireproof.

2. You — Believe it or not, you are fireproof. In much the same way as dreams, the world will try to burn you. A toxic relationship, family that doesn’t act like family, a struggling economy, social injustice and coworkers so bent on making their own way, they’ll throw you under any and every bus they can find. These are all ways the world will try to burn you. But they can’t. You will walk away with a few scars, yes, but what makes you YOU will not be consumed.

3. This town — I know so many who’ve left this school on this night saying “I’ll never be back.” They can’t wait to burn Okay to the ground and never look back. I stand here to tell you that Okay is fireproof. Go on. As you leave tonight, flick your match, drop your napalm. Okay will survive. And when you turn around and look through the smoke to see it’s still standing, remember that some of us, some of us are still here and we’re making a difference. I’d invite you to join us.

Now, here is my advice to you as you go out into the world:

The first thing is, look around you. In the years that come, stay in touch with the people you see tonight. With today’s social media and what’s no doubt coming in the near future it seems like this wouldn’t be a problem, but I think it is. You see, we have a tendency to mistake liking a status or retweeting someone as communication. It isn’t. Before you leave tonight, get phone numbers. Get email addresses, those are far less likely to change. Send a message on Facebook instead of a comment. Don’t be silent when you see their sorrow. Call. Text. Empathize. To this day, my best friend is someone I graduated with.

Secondly, Don’t regress – I think a lot of people leave high school and actually start regressing back to their most basic educated state.  While some of the things you learned in kindergarten — be nice to your neighbors, don’t pick your nose, and sharing — are things you should never forget, you’ll also need things you learned in high school. Yes, maybe even the Pythagorean Theorem, (I spent all day pronouncing Pythagorean wrong, then asked the math teacher right before I went on if I was saying it right. She corrected me, and I spent the last 20 minutes before the speech just repeating Pythagorean over and over. Caught her eye as I said it, and she gave me a little nod, it felt good) although I’m still waiting to use that one myself. Some think the learning journey ends when they leave here, and that’s not true. Whether you go to college, start a career, or just sit at home for a couple of years trying to figure it all out, you will never stop learning. I don’t care if it’s working towards a doctorate or memorizing all of the fatalities in the latest Mortal Kombat…never. Stop. Learning.

Expected a lot more laughs at the Mortal Kombat line, I guess you live and learn. 

Another very important lesson is learn how to be charming – Whether it comes down to needing a job or a spouse, you’re going to need a little charm in your lives. Some of you, like Mr. Holman, may have that figured out already. But in case you don’t, here’s how you can be charming: Listen well. Don’t be the talker in every conversation. When someone starts talking, maintain eye contact and let them speak. Don’t interrupt, no matter how much cooler your life may seem. Smile frequently. Provide non-verbal cues that convey your interest. Nod. Shake your head. Change your facial expressions appropriately. Make the person you’re listening to feel like they are the most important person in your life at that very moment. You’ll find that being charming, combined with a lack of face tattoos, will get you just as far in life as an education or a good work ethic.

Another bit of advice is to always see things through – At some point in your lives, you’re going to find yourselves at a job you don’t want to be at, in a class you don’t want to complete, or stuck on the 89th level of Candy Crush with not enough lives to finish. Here’s the advice I’d offer you. Stay focused. See it through. Wait for that next job offer to come in before throwing your computer across the office and leaving a profanity-laden letter of resignation. Take that final exam before skipping the last two weeks of class and getting an incomplete. Go spend $2 on in-game purchases to get to level 90. When you spend the time or energy on finishing something, it provides a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling is addictive, and it’s the one addiction worth cultivating.

Candy Crush line was a bit dated I think, still got a few laughs. Probably should have researched the latest and greatest app, but I didn't think I could work a Tinder line in there. 

The last token of knowledge I have for you is Take your time…if you want to — There’s a quote that goes around every teacher’s social media this time of year. It says, “We’re asking young people to make decisions about their futures and their careers, when a month ago they had to ask to go to the restroom.” There is an enormous amount of truth in that statement. If you need some time, take it. That doesn’t mean ignore your responsibilities, but if you want to work a job instead of going to college while trying to piece together what you want your future to look like, go ahead. You may realize that computer technology isn’t for you, and you may get married, drop out of college twice, adopt a few kids, then go start a degree in education and come back to where it all started. While I don’t recommend that road, I can say without hesitation that I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, because I am truly happy. The time I spent figuring out what I wanted to do with my life was not wasted. You cannot waste your time, your youth, or your potential: these are fireproof things and they are yours to spend as you choose, according to your needs.

I would be doing a disservice to you if I did not leave this stage tonight without giving you the exact same words I gave my fellow graduates 14 years ago.  Words that can be found in the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29 and verse 13.

My lovely wife sent me an email at 3:30 in the morning saying, "Isn't it Jeremiah 29:11? It totally is, and I'm very glad she caught it. 

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.


Go. Be great.

I really wanted to scream this last line, or at least deliver it with more authority, but I couldn't figure out how closely to hold the microphone to my mouth without blasting everyone out of the gym. Live and learn. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

In Which I Discover George Strait is a Master of Quantum Physics

image credit
I'm going to do something very unusual on this blog today.

Some of you may be familiar with my "Why Music Sucks Now" posts, but while this post will focus on music, it will not be focused on horrible music. Actually the song and artist I'm discussing today are both amazing.

You are familiar, I am sure, with George Strait. I am sure you're also familiar with his hit song, "I Can Still Make Cheyenne."




I guess the video won't play through the blog because UMG is a bunch of ninnies, but click on through and familiarize yourselves.

I have a mind-bubbling theory about this song. It occurred to me whilst driving down the road the other day, and hit me so hard I almost had a wreck.

Here's the theory:

Only the first thirty seconds of this song actually happened. Everything after is a fictional representation of an imagined 'worst case' scenario that played out in her mind immediately after picking up the phone. 

So let's break the song down before we go on.

Scene is set at a house, the phone rings, it's late, the woman's man-friend is on the line. He's had a hard go at the local rodeo, and he failed to qualify for the next round. Tired and beat up, he decides he's coming home.

But alas, while he has been out riding bulls and carousing with cheap women (probably) his significant other has taken another lover, and he "sure ain't no rodeo man." She tells her man-friend not to bother coming home, that she'll be leaving and won't be coming back.

Saddened, but not surprised, the man-friend simply says, "It's totes cool, babydoll, I'd leave me too, but I gotta go, cause there's a rodeo up in Wyoming and I think I can get there if I leave RIGHT THIS SECOND."

Then there's some driving, the chorus again, and before you know we hit the end of the song, which repeats the first few lines.

She never knew what his calls might bring,
With a cowboy like him, it could be anything. 
And she always expected the worst in the back of her mind.

And there we have it. Those three lines give us all we need to know that almost the entire song has been a figment of her imagination, which played out in the span of a few seconds between her answering the phone and him leaving the phone dangling off the hook.

Confused? So was I at first.

You see, she was so worried about what he might say when she picked up the phone, that she subconsciously created a scenario in which he told her he was coming home, and she told him she'd found someone else (she hadn't, really, it was a test, women always come up with these little tests) and he didn't even bother hanging up, didn't get mad, just said, "Baby that's cool, I gotta bounce though."

See?

She always expected the worst in the back of her mind

Him not caring about her leaving is the worst thing she can think of.

So George, the master of Inception-esque temporal physics it would seem, has basically sung us a three minute ballad the equivalent of Bruce Willis being dead the whole time.

So, if you were as concerned as I always was for this tragedy of a romance, take heart, it never actually happened. The whole thing was a dream.

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

Also, as a complete side note here, there's no way George Strait and I aren't related somehow. You put a hat on me and there's virtually no difference in our looks. Uncanny really.

Uncanny.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Battle of Snapchat Bridge



Travis couldn’t see it, but the battle for his life was being prepared for as he was driving home. Angels and demons were gearing up, dressing for battle in the way soldiers did in ancient times.

If he could have witnessed the preparations, he would have noticed they started their armaments at the bottom and worked their way up. Lightweight sandals were put on, then greaves, made out of a metal he’d never now the name of. A belt buckled around the waist, then a breastplate, something that looked heavy, but didn’t appear heavy in their experienced hands.

Finally, a helmet went on. The helmets looked Corinthian, and again, heavy. Once on, the angels each grabbed a shield and a longsword.

One of the angels – Jeff – was on the hood of his truck like an ornament, and he was obviously the leader. Jeff was crouched low, and wind should have been whipping through his hair, but with a helmet on, whipping hair was hard to achieve, and he was not happy about it. He had amazing hair.

There were two angels on the roof of the truck, one on the driver side and one on the passenger. The one on the passenger side was supposed to be riding shotgun inside the cab, but he had eschewed that duty for the roof because, simply put, he liked it better. His goofy grin hid the nervousness he felt about the coming battle.

The last four rode in the bed of the truck, heads low, discussing tactics and potential scenarios. These were the footsoldiers, the untested, the “bullet-stoppers.”

It was dark, and Travis had just worked a sixteen-hour day. He was exhausted. 

The road he was driving home on was monotonous, traveled thousands of times since he was first given a license. 

Nothing exciting ever happened on the road, except that one time when a deer jumped unexpectedly in front of the car he and his family were traveling home in. He had dodged the deer expertly, earning rare praise from his wife. “Good job, Travis, that was close.”

But tonight, no deer.

The road climaxed in a one-lane bridge. The bridge was ancient, and had recently been the subject of an investigation that had ruled a new bridge should be built. Construction would start any day. But tonight, the bridge would be traversed.

Travis had the windows down and the music blaring, blissfully unaware of the passengers congregated across his truck. He was singing along unashamedly to Taylor Swift’s “22,” because it was 11 p.m. and not a soul was on the road with him.

The proverbial troll under the bridge sat just a quarter mile away…under the bridge. He spoke in hushed but firm whispers to his troops.

“Tonight’s the night,” he said. “Tonight we take him. He’ll cross the bridge momentarily, and we attack. His truck will be defended with…” he spat on the ground, “…His people. They’ll know we’re here. Prepare yourselves.”

His soldiers nodded quietly. They rarely won these battles. There was a running joke among their kind that the least-wanted demons were used for these battles, and the word expendable was tossed around a lot. But tonight, they had a leader who had fought many of these battles. While his success rate was mediocre, he’d never been killed. That had to count for something, right?

They took their positions.

“Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel was next, something Travis would always sing along with as well. He sang a lot. In fact, recently, he’d taken to recording himself singing on Snapchat and posting it for his friends to see.

It was 11 p.m., but some of his friends might be bored, so why not?

He pulled his phone out of the cup holder it had set in most of the drive home, and he opened the Snapchat application. His iPhone was big, but then again so were his hands, so tapping the screen at the top to switch the cameras usually wasn’t a big deal. Tonight though, the long day caught up with him, and he dropped his phone in the floorboard of his truck.

He murmured a profanity and bent down to grab it.

The loud clank of his tires striking one of the steel plates on the bridge was his only indicator that this whole driving thing might be something he needed to pay attention to.

“NOW!” cried the demon and angel leaders simultaneously.

The battle began.

Jeff launched himself off the hood of the truck, not yet seeing the enemy, but knowing they would appear. In the moments after the battle, Travis would assume his quick reflexes had taken over, and he’d applied just the right amount of braking power.

He hadn’t.

As Jeff was flying through the air – a feat greatly helped by the fact that he had wings – he spotted the first demon clambering over the bridge. Unfortunately for the demon, he was paying too much attention to clambering, and as he looked up, the first – and last – thing to go through his head was, “Wow, I’d like to look through that armory.”

That was the only easy kill of the evening. The rest of the battle went back and forth, and the demon leader made short work of two of the angels who were so busily preparing in the bed of the truck.

Then Colin, the grinning roof-rider, met up with the demon leader as Jeff was finishing off five or six of the expendable guys whose only legacy would be to perpetuate the rumor currently circulating that it was absolutely not better to rule in Hell than it was to serve in Heaven.

Colin and the demon leader’s swords clashed. Sparks flew. Later, Travis would think that his truck had kissed the steel beams of the bridge ever so slightly and had thrown a shower of sparks. But when he got home, his truck would be untouched.

What Colin lacked in swordplay, he more than made up for in confidence. Confidence tended to come easy when you spent your off days in the presence of Him. He never took a defensive stance, constantly staying on the offensive, persistently moving toward the demon leader, pushing him back.

The rest of the battle had stopped. Angels and demons gathered and watched the swordfight as it continued. This temporary truce was interrupted only once by one of the more subversive demons trying to sneak around Jeff and cut his throat.

It didn’t work.

As Colin backed the demon leader to the end of the bridge, things began to look bleak for the demons. But the demon leader had not survived thus far without gaining an intimate knowledge of angel tactics.

Angels didn’t get tired, per se, but they did get sloppy. In his constant and confident offensive, Colin got sloppy.

And a few moments later, he paid for it with his life.

An audible gasp rippled through the crowd of onlookers equipped with the eyes to see the killing. Travis would later mistake this for a gust of wind bringing a thunderstorm.

He was wrong.

The demon leader roared, and his comrades roared with him. Travis would attribute this to the thunder on the horizon.

He was wrong.

The demon leader looked at Jeff, pointed at Travis, and said softly, “He is mine tonight. I’ve won.”

Jeff hadn’t yet taken his eyes off Colin’s lifeless form, but after the demon leader spoke, he raised them slowly, in a manner calculated over many eons to bring fear to anyone on the receiving end. The gaze alone had been known to kill, and was, in fact, responsible for several deaths of humans in biblical times when angels had been allowed to comingle visibly with mortals.

The demon leader didn’t die, but immediately recognized that he soon would if he continued his present line of thinking. He murmured something under his breath, something that sounded an awful lot like “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and promptly disappeared.

Alerted by the loud clank, Travis jerked his head up just in time to see the oncoming car at the other end of the bridge. He braked, remarking silently on his amazing reflexes, then felt a bump and saw sparks at the front of his truck.

“Crap. It’s new,” he said.

He backed his truck up and allowed the other car to pass.

By the time he fished his phone out of the floorboard, Sister Hazel had been replaced by Family Force Five, and the feeling of singing self-promotion on Snapchat had passed.

Another loud clank signaled that he had crossed the bridge, and to those with the eyes blessed – or cursed – to see, he appeared to drive right through the ghostly figure of a man crouched low, cradling the limp body of someone else.

They weren’t visible when the truck drove away.

With Sister Hazel in his head, and the recent lesson of paying attention to the road flying ungratefully right over his head, Travis grabbed his phone and called up Twitter.


At least he was awake now.   

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

To Kill a Cardinal

For those of you who don't know, I recently (six months ago) bought a new truck.

I haven't blogged or bragged about it a lot because when I brag about things, I lose them. Like, if I'd have posted a picture on Facebook the day after buying the truck, the dealership would have called and said, "It's the dangedest thing, but the financing fell through, and we already sold your other truck, so all we have here is a Ford Focus...that's pink because it's an Avon car."

So I've been pretty hush hush about it, but I did post this on Instagram/Facebook the other day, after spending four hours detailing it.

I scratched the piss out of the driver side fender in the back because I'm an idiot. 
There has been a problem with the new truck though. And it's a problem that's led to me naming the truck CK3. 

Cardinals (the birds, not the dudes in funny hats that tell Catholic folks how to vote*) love my truck. 

Now I know that seems super weird, but give me a moment and I'll explain. 

Since I have gotten the truck, it's been responsible for the death of three cardinals, and instrumental in the injuring of two more. 

CK = Cardinal Killer; 3 = The death count. 

Two of the deaths happened while I was driving, and there have been several more close calls. What happens is, lady cardinals dive-bomb my truck, and I hit them doing 65 miles per hour. 

Here's how I explain that: 

You see, lady cardinals are looking for mates. Naturally, they want the biggest and strongest mate out there, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to seduce them. A little known fact** is that they also like the reddest color they can find on a mate. 

My truck is big (from a cardinal's perspective), it is strong (it's a truck, not a Prius), and it is very red. 

In short, lady cardinals want to bang my truck. 

In shorter, they do actually bang my truck, but it's not really how they want it to go. 

"Oh hey baby, you look good, my word you're big and strong, watch this dive bomb right here, this is how I got my third and fourth husbands, oh wow hey you're not a...THWAP." 

The end. 

But it doesn't stop there. 

Our house has an enormous window in the front. I don't think it's a bay window because I refuse to watch the DIY and HGTV, so I have no clue if it's a bay window or not. But it's big. 

I park my truck in the driveway. 

There is a tree cardinals like to land on in front of the house. If they land on the tree, they have the following view: 

You see that red thing looking all big and sexy reflecting in the window?  Yep. 
So here's what's happening. 

No less than three times since I've had the truck, we have been sitting quietly in our living room and heard an enormous thump on the glass. 

Because I am not a hero, each time it happens I jump up from my recliner and yell, "SAVE YOURSELVES IT'S HAPPENING!" 

After my family got me calmed down the first time it happened, they finally talked me into going outside to see what happened. I grabbed the biggest gun I own and nervously stepped outside with my finger on the trigger. 

A lady cardinal lay dead in a small pool of blood on our porch. 

CK2 was now CK3. 

The next time, I never found the cardinal, which means it survived. 

But, as I was sitting at the house this morning (I called in sick to work because I have a headache, don't judge me), I heard a loud smack on the glass, spilled my coffee all over myself, and had just started to panic when I remembered CK3. 

I glanced out the window and saw this: 

A cardinal. He's a bit shaken up, and sitting in our azalea bush trying to figure out what just happened.
Here's what I can't figure out though. This is a dude cardinal. A male. As in, lacking the romantic desires the female normally possesses. 

So while I'm thankful I didn't have to change my truck's name to CK4, I think the much bigger question here is:

Is this cardinal gay, or was he trying to fight my truck? 

I suppose it's entirely possible that the last female my truck murdered was this dude's side piece, and when he found out the truck was responsible, he flew hundreds of miles and tracked down countless empty leads before finally spying what he thought was my truck but was really the same image that caused his super sexually charged lady friend to fall to her ultimate demise. 

Basically a Nicholas Sparks book only with no cancer. 

Or he's gay. 

We may never truly figure it out, but if I see this bird anywhere near my truck again, I plan to take evasive action. A bird that committed to either avenging his dead girlfriend—or making the sweet love to another male—is not to be trifled with.

*I have no idea if Cardinals influence voting among Catholics, I was just saying things
**I am basing that on nothing but my own opinion, and I think it was a Trivia Crack question once

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Addressing Wounds

This may be the shortest blog you've ever seen me write.

I left the gym this morning after being tortured by my trainer, and as I walked out the door I spotted a woman in the vestibule.

She was black, maybe middle 30s, and she had on a tattered coat and pajama pants. Then something else caught my eye. She was wearing flip flops.

It was 40 degrees this morning, and she was wearing flip flops. White flip flops with little flowers on them.

I said hello, and asked her how she was doing. She asked me what time it was, and I told her. For whatever reason, I asked her if she needed a ride somewhere. She told me she was waiting on the bank to open up, and I told her they wouldn't for another hour.

I opened the door to leave, and as I did a woman came in with a scarf and a plastic wrapped piece of food.

Without a word, she wrapped the lime green scarf—obviously new—around the woman's neck, and placed the food in her hand.

"There you go honey," the woman said.

The woman in the flip flops didn't say a word. She stared into the distance as the scarf was wound around her neck, and wordlessly accepted the food.

I'd like to step back from the situation for a moment and talk about a couple of things, because what the Good Samaritan said to me next kind of hit home.

As we were walking to our vehicles, I said, "Thank you so much for doing that. That's so awesome."

And she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "There but for the grace of God go I, you know?"

I thanked her again, and turned towards my truck, tears piling up in my eyes, then tracing cold paths down my cheeks.

"There but for the grace of God go I."

We all make choices in life. And I know bad things happen to good people, and I don't have any explanation for it, but I still choose every day to believe in a God that allows those bad things to happen.

I'll never understand it.

I saw a post on Facebook the other night where a friend of mine said something to the effect of "Religion doesn't work, so until god figures that out, I choose love."

This morning, I saw both at work.

When the Good Samaritan saw the dying man on the side of the road, there was no religious obligation for him to stop. When he addressed the man's wounds, he was showing love. When he took him to the inn and asked the innkeeper to look after him, he was showing love.

The Good Samaritan this morning didn't tell the woman about Jesus. She didn't ask her if she was going to sell the scarf later, and she didn't try to get her to come to church. She simply acted. She showed love.

And I serve a God who can take it from there.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trust.

The rock staircase was steep, but adventure was calling. The Youngest couldn't resist the siren song of adventure, and his older brother and sister were already halfway down, yelling and having fun. 

He decided he'd do it on his own. 

"Daddy, let me." 

"Go for it son. Be careful." 

***

I got the phone call on Wednesday morning. I really want to give you more details than I can right now, but I can't. I have to be careful how I say and word things, but in a couple of months, hopefully I'll be writing the blog that reveals all. 

The call was from Alicia. She was crying. 

"Travis, he picked the hard way. What are we going to do?" 

To be honest, I didn't have any clue. I immediately starting thinking of ways I could fix it, ways I could make it better and create a world where I didn't have to get phone calls like this. 

"Things will work out," was all I could say. 

I hung up, and immediately got another phone call from another side of the state. The side of the state where the problem was. 

The person on the other end of the line told me the same thing Alicia did, but also gave me more bad news, news I had to give to my wife.

"Alicia, here are a couple of problems. I know we thought this would be easy, but it turns out it won't be as easy as we thought."

Then it was my turn to ask. 

"What are we going to do?" 

***

Independence did not suit The Youngest well. 

He started struggling on the very next step, then tripped on the next one. He stood there for a moment, examining his options, looking for another way down, fully exercising the extent of his independence. 

Finally, he reached a conclusion. 

"Daddy, help me." 

And he held out his hand. 

I grabbed his hand, and the second I did, his descent down the staircase was transformed. He leaned out, taking the steps as fast as he could—as fast as I could—pursuing the goal with reckless abandon, his thoughts now only on the fun.

He trusted me. And in that trust, he found no fear, only freedom. Freedom to take chances, and freedom from doubt. 

***

I hung up the phone with Alicia and I sat there, wondering. 

I didn't pray, although I'd like to say I did. I was too busy thinking of ways I could fix things. I wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to fully exercise the extent of the independence I have in my Savior. 

"Daddy, let me." 

But there was nothing I could do. No way for Travis Sloat to handle it. 

I stopped. 

"Daddy, help me." 

Then the phone rang. 

The call was from the other side of the state. And this time it was incredible news. 

"Travis, he picked the easy way. We don't know why, but he changed his mind. It's going to be the easy way." 

***

Making that second phone call to my wife is on the top five list of the best moments in my life. It might even crack the top three. 

We both sat there on the phone sobbing like idiots, completely lost in the massive mystery that is God. 

I told someone later that it felt like God reached out, gave me a friendly pat on the back, and said, "Hey. Hey Travis. I don't need your help. I got this." 

When all hope has completely vanished, when the road ahead is dark, scary, and twisted, and when you stop, look around you and wonder how you're going to go on, all God wants is your trust. All he wants is you to look back, hold out your hand, and say, "Daddy, help me." 

I have no idea what the future holds for my family. 

But I know that right now, I'm leaning out, testing the firm grip of the One who knows my future, and I'm pulling Him as fast as He'll let me go. 

God is big. We are His. 

And so are you. 


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finally.

Good Lord I'm a dork. 
 I've wondered about the title of this blog for four years. As it turns out, I didn't even have to think of it. This morning, while I was getting a glass of water from the refrigerator, my son walked in and said, "Yay! Daddy's graduating today!" 

My daughter looked up at me, smiled, and said, "Finally." 

***

Thursday night was bad. 

I kept having dreams where I died. I'd drift off to sleep, and wake up gasping, having just crashed an airplane, fallen off a cliff, or having been pushed in front of a bus. 

I cried Friday morning when I was watching the news before class. Someone paid off someone else's layaway, and I got all weepy. 

So of course I texted my wife and told her what was going on, and she was very succinct with her reply: "You need to calm down." 

I didn't believe I would make it. I really didn't. When I started college four years ago, I honestly thought I'd quit again. I mean I'd tried it twice before, and I left both times. I don't mean I dropped out, I just left. My grade point average was abysmal. 

But I started again. 

And I slugged along. I took some classes I really thought I'd like at first, just to pick up the momentum. I took elementary algebra four times, and I took intermediate algebra four times. I won't tell you how I got through college algebra. 

I fell in love with literature. I decided against a journalism degree, then decided against a computer science degree, and finally settled on English Education. Teaching. Geez. 

I quit my job after my second semester. I burned an enormous bridge at Connors State College, simply because their math department (certain faculty, really) is the biggest bunch of idiots God ever put on earth. 

We got a couple of kids. Then we got another kid. We went through a really rough patch in our marriage, and I genuinely thought it was all over. Then I learned how to ask, "How can I help?" 

I've worked 16-hour days for an entire semester now. I've gained an enormous amount of respect for high-school teachers, and not only them, but the students as well. I fell in love with those kids (totally not in a weird way), and I'm sad I only have one more week with them. 

I interrupted the semester with a trip to Washington, D.C. for an amazing reason. I had a wreck my second day of my internship. I got sick for like the second time in my entire life. I yelled at my daughter for making a C when I was struggling to keep up a C in a class myself. 

"You're a Sloat. Sloats don't make Cs. Sloats don't make Bs. Sloats make As." - Brian (and now Travis) Sloat

I ran out of gas halfway through the semester, then got an email from my wife that changed everything. 

And, while we're on the subject, can we just take a moment to enter my wife in the "Best Wife of the 2010s" contest. The woman is amazing. While I've been slugging away at my internship, then working nights at the paper, she's been raising three kids essentially by herself, and, not only that, actually tried to sleep with me a few times too. 

You know I still remember the first day I actually noticed her. I don't remember much, I truly think I'll have dementia in about a week, but I remember noticing Alicia for the first time. I can tell you exactly where I was, and exactly where she was, and almost exactly what she had on. 

God, in His amazing and infinite wisdom, completely changed my life when He let her fall in love with me. She is a rock, and I am fully prepared to spend the rest of my life trying to thank her for these last four years in particular. I love you, Alicia. 

***

I woke up at 7 a.m. 

I rolled out of bed to get in the shower, and Alicia asked me, "What time are you leaving?" I replied, "I need to leave in about 45 minutes." 

"What? You told me it started at 9:30!" 

"Yeah, but I have to be there an hour early." 

She made some sort of noise, and then I honest to goodness didn't see her the rest of the morning. Somehow, she got all three kids ready, herself ready, and ironed my clothes in 45 minutes. Did I mention she's amazing?

Just before we left, I remembered something. In my sock drawer, there's an armband with some initials on it. B.R.S. Brian Ronald Sloat. I had it made for basketball after he died. I grabbed it, and slid it on under my shirt sleeve. It just seemed right dad should be there with me. 

We made it to the event center. We didn't die. 

The separated us at the door, and ushered me around the building where I had a moment of sheer, unadulterated panic when the lady in charge of the cards with our names on them couldn't find mine. It wound up being the only one in the pack stuck to the back of another one, and if that right there doesn't prove to you that The Lord has a sense of humor (a sick one, sometimes), then I don't know what will. 

I met my friends, Krista and Katelynn, who have been with me through this whole thing, and don't seem to find it weird that they have attached themselves to a 32-year-old man who has a penchant for being inappropriate. 

I freaking love you guys. 
We teamed up with Bret, another fellow English major, and we lined up. 

I didn't die. I didn't trip. But I was sweating bullets. 

My mom sent me a text. You see, she got married today in what was the biggest scheduling SNAFU of 2014, and couldn't be at the graduation. I'm okay with that, because I like the guy she married. I think, for the first time in 14 years, I'm cool with finally calling someone my step-dad. 

"Congrats on your graduation today! Sorry I'm not there to see it, just know that I'm SO proud of you! Your dad would say, 'Good job, son.' Love you." 

And now, typing that out, I'm crying for the first time today. I'm honestly surprised it didn't happen sooner. 

My dad would be proud of me, just like the rest of my family is. But I honestly think he'd laugh a little, and smile at me the way he used to, the way I can see so perfectly in my mind right now, and he'd say:

"Finally." 

***

I walked in that gym, and I had my chest out and my head high. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I waved to my friends and family. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I sat through a commencement speech that I can't even come close to remembering now. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I stood up when my row was ready. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I walked to the stage. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I heard my name: "Travis Gene Sloat." I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I shook the hands of two people and got my degree holder. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I walked out of the gym and into life as a college graduate. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

***

I found a professor I've really grown attached to and I shook his hand. "Thank you." That's all I could say. 

I found some friends and hugged their necks and shook their hands. They congratulated me, and I thanked them, looking all the while for my family. 

I finally got a text message from Alicia. "We're at the truck." 

You know, I didn't even pause. I just started walking that way. I completely missed Krista and Katelynn, and missed a couple of other professors I wanted to thank, but I didn't care. I just wanted to be with my family. 

We got in the truck, and we went out for a celebratory lunch. Mexican food, because what else? 

I looked at them, gathered around the table. Aven, who was of course distracted by everything; Akeeli, who is just about the cutest little girl on the face of the planet; The youngest, who we're hoping to finally have a chance to adopt in a few short weeks; and, finally, Alicia. 

I smiled and took a drink of my beer, completely satisfied with my life at that point. 

"Finally."