Will You Stay Home This Christmas? Please?

Will you stay home this Christmas? Please?

This isn’t a condemnation. This is a plea. Opinions on this virus are as varied as my friends list and I’m not trying to debate or engage with any of that. I know there are many who have probably already stopped reading and tuned me out and believe me, I’m not here to convince you. I don’t think I can and I won’t try. I love and respect you despite our differences on this issue. Feel free to move on.

I’m here for those who might be on the fence. For those who are feeling the pressure from family to join together or have been invited to a party and really want to go but maybe, in the back of their minds, there’s a voice that’s saying, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t.”

To you I say: please, stay home. You are not alone and I and many others support you. Cancel that party. Tell your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles, your children, and your friends that you love them and don’t want to upset them, but this virus is really bad right now and hospitals are overwhelmed. If we repeat the aftermath of all the traveling and togetherness of Thanksgiving it’s only going to get worse.

I genuinely don’t know what worse will look like or how we will accommodate that. For example, where I live–right now–there are no beds in the ICU left. And Christmas hasn’t even happened yet.

There are many who have been sacrificing all year to help stall the spread. It’s time to join them. It’s not just about how you or I personally will be affected by the virus. Odds are in your favor and mine that we will live through it, no doubt about that, but a virus is just that–it’s viral. The less we associate with others, the less it will spread. It’s not just about whether or not you personally will get through it, it’s about slowing that spread by minimizing contact. Please, even if you feel healthy, don’t go to a place where you are cooped up with people you don’t live with. In a very real way, people you don’t even know (and maybe some you do)–the future temporary residents of E.R.s and hospital hallways and rooms and ICUs–are depending on you for help.

I’m with you. My little family has been living a strict life of isolation for over 280 days, since March. The only other person who has been in this house since then was a handyman who came over to fix a broken sink. We all stayed on one side of the house while he made the necessary repair. Other things broke this year that we can live without. They remain broken. We will get them fixed later. When we do venture out, we mask up. We socially distance. We get takeout. We haven’t had a sickness in our house–not even a cold–since February. But even given that, for the week and a half leading up to Christmas, we have doubled down on our isolation and are not venturing out except for walks. Why? Because we’re giving our kids back their Grandparents for Christmas. They’ve been doing the same–zero contact with anyone on the outside world, not even with masks and social distancing–for 10 days as per CDC guidelines. To ensure we are all virus-free. And if you and your family are taking similar measures, then by all means, enjoy this time of year together.

But if not, please, stay home.

I’m not looking for a gold star here. I’m not telling all this because I want credit for “doing my part” or whatever. That would be dumb and I don’t care about that. I’m only speaking specifically of our efforts to encourage you and demonstrate that you would not be alone should you choose to isolate this Christmas. And it’s not just us, I have many friends who are making similar efforts, quietly and reverently with a sense of duty and purpose.

I’ll say it again: You would not be alone if you do this thing with us.

Please, let’s help keep the numbers down and give the hospital back some beds, together. Let’s stay home Christmas morning. Let’s skip the parties and family meals. Let’s do what we can not just for ourselves, but for others. It’s a sacrifice, and I get that, but you’re probably used to that, if you think about it. That’s what being a person of faith or a responsible citizen of the world is all about, right?

Huh. Sacrifice and Christmas. Can’t get much more in the spirit of things than that.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Let us pray–and do our part–for a Happy New Year.

The Happiest Unhappy Birthday Ever

This year, for the first time in my life, I was not looking forward to my birthday.

I’m not afraid of aging. Even as I near 40 and the increasing possibility I’ve got more years behind me than ahead, I don’t mind getting older at all. I want to get older. Getting older means gaining experience and (hopefully) wisdom. Who doesn’t want that? Sure, there are plenty of negatives that come with aging–weight gain, creaky bones, poor eyesight, getting weirdly riled up over kids on my lawn, etc.–but for the most part I still get excited by the marking of time and all the stuff people want to give me because of something my mom did years ago.

Until this year. This year, I’m 38-years-old and unemployed.

I didn’t think I’d be celebrating Christmas–much less my birthday–unemployed. So, I went into my birthday slightly depressed. I begged Erin to spend no money on me and just let the day slide by like any other. I knew better than to ask that because my wife is awesome and giving, but I did it anyway. She rolled her bright, beautiful eyes. She’s a champion eye roller.

Mint. Chocolate. Chip. These are literally all the flavors and textures you need in good food. And maybe bacon.
Mint. Chocolate. Chip. These are literally all the flavors and textures you need in good food. And maybe bacon.

Amazon has been trying to send us a card with their logo on it and give us free money for years, so Erin finally let them do it and got me some great, expensive board games for basically nothing. (If you ever work up the courage to venture beyond Monopoly and Candy Land, you could do a lot worse than to pick up Castles of Mad King Ludwig and BANG!–both truly excellent, easy-to-understand, difficult-to-master games.) She also made a Mint Chocolate Chip Cake from scratch. I would tell you how good it is but then you might want some and there’s no way in Satan’s address I’m sharing.

At Erin’s suggestion and in acknowledgment of the distinct lack of joy in my countenance of late, I took Violet to jump at a local trampoline arena after preschool let out. Technically, I think it’s against the law to frown there.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 8.36.32 PMThe day kept getting better. After the trampolines, Erin and I split a Chipotle burrito for lunch and watched Boyhood (edited for content via my handy Clearplay player). After the kids got out of school she got me a balloon and Rolling Stone magazine, and I played video games with Elora. My Mother-in-Law, Lynn, took us to House of JuJu, my favorite burger place. Best burgers in the world as far as I’m concerned. I’m not kidding. If you ever find yourself in the Fresno/Clovis area, try the Dragon Lady. Thank me later.

After we got home from JuJu’s, several men dressed in ski masks and hoods jumped out from the kitchen and the closest, put a bag over my head, and bodily carried me out of the house. I was kidnapped.

The criminals were my friends: Cody, Mike, Kevin, and Logan. We call ourselves “The Forum,” not because it’s not stupid, but because it’s shorter than “Guys Who Get Together Every Couple Weeks to Play Board Games Late at Night After Our Wives Go to Bed.” Yes, we are all married. We’ve all even got kids. We are a massage therapist, a bank manager, a nurse, an insurance claims adjuster, and an ex-art director. Pretty fantastic group.

Clockwise from left: Me, Cody, Logan, Kevin, Mike
Clockwise from left: Me, Cody, Logan, Kevin, Mike

Here’s how it went down:

Coming into my kitchen to see two masked men crouched low and hiding and then having all visual input cut off by the bag was honestly one of the creepiest, heart stopping things that’s ever happened to me. The big guy carrying me is Cody. It’s muffled, but if you listen closely you can hear me say “I’m so scared.” I quickly realized it was my friends under the masks, but I was afraid of being dropped. So, of course, Cody dropped me–though you can’t tell in the video because of how dark it was.

(Erin makes a little cameo in the beginning of the video, and that’s Cami–still recovering from her Whooping Cough–throwing a little fit as we exit.)

The Forum took me to No Surrender, a local Laser Tag facility that does it right–full range of weapons (Assault, Shotgun, P-90, Sniper Rifle, etc.) and a gameplay system that encourages and rewards stealth. We played three games in which we sucked so very hard against all the tournament players who showed up for half-price Tuesday. Can’t complain though. We sweat a lot, enjoyed each other’s company, grabbed some late night fast food, and ate my delicious cake. It was everything I could have wanted from my 38th Birthday and it never mattered once that I don’t have a job.

I’ve never defined my self worth by my job. I’ve never done it. I’ve always said a job was a job and it was important to me to do a good job, but my real happiness and fulfillment comes from my friends, my family, and my faith. I’ve always said that, but, until now, I’ve had the luxury of being employed while saying such things.

So, what happened? Of course that got put to the test. Of course it did.

At my last birthday, I did have a job. I didn’t want to turn 38 this year I think, in part, because it stings to be this old and this unemployed. The other half of that sting is that, until now, I’ve done a poor job of adequately considering what I’ve gained in the past year. I’ve only looked at the loss.

I haven’t put things in the proper perspective.

A year ago, the Forum didn’t really exist. The last time I had a close group of guy friends I had to ask permission from my mom to cross the street. Now, these men who are my friends are important to me and I’m important to them and we are a group. I didn’t think I’d ever get that again in my lifetime. But I have it now, this year, at this time. And, amazingly, we are adults.

A year ago, I was gone at work almost every day and saw my kids for 2-3 hours in the evening. I wasn’t a neglectful, 1980’s movie dad who had to be taught that his big brick cell phone and Madison Avenue job weren’t the most important things in life, but I didn’t see my kids nearly as much as I have since the big job loss this past August. I’m closer to my kids now–especially to Violet–than I otherwise would be. I’d say you can’t put a price on that, but I’ve actually paid dearly for it.

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A year ago, things were as good as they’ve ever been and yet I felt slightly out of touch with my faith. I had experienced things so viscerally in times past and I was wondering why I didn’t feel such things so strongly anymore. Now, as always happens in times of trial, I’ve had to rely on the Lord more and in doing so I’ve felt Him powerfully.

Are all of these gains a result of being unemployed? No. Some, but not all. Either way, that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve been blessed, immeasurably–and recently. Not with a job, but with so many other things that matter a great deal more.

When you think about it that way, focusing too much on the job loss and getting down because of it isn’t just kind of silly, it’s more than a bit ungrateful. It’s like getting a piece of cake and your favorite ice cream and then complaining about the color of the plate. Sure, I like blue, but I shouldn’t cry about getting avocado green when I’ve still got this amazing cake and ice cream.

My life is delicious cake and ice cream on an ugly plate right now.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Day 46 – Is It Time to Move Away?

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – October 13, 2014

After receiving my call to the Elders Quorum Presidency last night, I did a bit of work for the calling this morning, to prepare, then immediately headed out to our local Social Services office to take care of some stuff there. Part of my responsibilities as the new President is to assess needs for poor or needy families, particularly welfare needs. It’s more than a bit odd to be one of those needy people at the same time I’m supposed to be helping them.

Odd, but not a bad thing. My empathy level is certainly through the roof right now.

All of this contributed to some severe whiplash today. In the afternoon, I had an interview with a company in Salt Lake City. This is a new, fairly big company that has a real need for additional personnel, particularly a creative type who can lead a team. Seems like a terrific job I could be very, very good at.

But living in Utah? Is that really something we’re prepared to do?

Utah, aka Mars
Utah, aka Mars

Yeah, sure, I always said I’d never do it. “Too many dang Mormons,” I’d say. I mean, when the religion becomes the culture, how can that not be a potentially toxic combination? One of the reasons I love California is that we Mormons stick out a bit. I think that makes is easier, not harder, to stay true to our beliefs.

We’re different, and that difference gets highlighted in the oddest of situations. When I was in high school, for example, everyone knew what I believed. One time–only once–I left the F Word slip from my mouth and you’d have thought the Apocalypse had arrived. I mean, I felt terrible about it, but those who heard me say it were beside themselves. It was like they’d seen a unicorn fart in the wild. They held me to a certain standard, and that made it easier for me to hold myself to that same standard.

I want that for my kids, but I know–when I’m honest–that that kind of fidelity to my religion doesn’t just happen in California, or even come from living here. It comes from how I was raised and my own personal testimony. Unless I’m doing a poor job as a parent, my kids should be able to benefit from similar checks and balances, but within themselves.

The reality is, moving to Utah? It’s not impossible. We could do that, and we could be happy doing it. That’s a change I and my family would be willing to make.

And that’s terribly hard to take in and process.

Since I basically knew the changes in the Stake were coming and that we’d be shifted over to a new Ward, I’d been anticipating what my new role in that Ward would be. I thought knowing what calling I would have might be some indication of whether we needed to stay in town or move on to something else. I thought some clarity would come from having somebody, somewhere say, “We want you here.”

This is exceedingly stupid.

I knew it was stupid, and I still thought it. Callings are temporary and I could do this job for just a few weeks and be done with it. That might just be the entire plan. I don’t know. I don’t know what the Lord is thinking and how this is all supposed to play out.

What I do know is this: I’m more conflicted now than I was 48 hours ago. I want to be part of the all the exciting changes and stay here and serve. I want to move away. I want to stay here and serve. I want to do something new somewhere else.

If anything, I have less clarity than ever.

But no matter what–no matter what–moving away will/would be incredibly difficult. Moving away is to leave behind not only family and friends and stores you like and restaurants you frequent and side roads you know to take and that park nearby your daughters love and the house you’ve imprinted yourselves on, but also all the things you were going to do. All the things you could have done had you stayed. All the friends you would have made and all the ways you could have contributed and helped someone.

Those are the things that are hard to think about. Usually, I don’t. But today, it’s like the universe is throwing it all in my face.

Day 39 – Losing a Friend and Impatience with the Rest

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – October 6, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 12.30.10 AMI finally figured out I lost one of my very good friends after he unfriended me on Facebook. I pleaded with him to tell me what I had done or how I had offended him, just so I could apologize. I can’t imagine what I’ve done–I’ve thought and thought and thought about it and I can’t come up with anything–but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that I’ve done something. He is silent. He will not return my calls or my emails. One day he was my friend, now he is not. And I don’t know why.

Today, he sent me a brief, factual email on a particular point having nothing to do with our friendship. There were no details, no explanations. I have lost a friend. And I don’t know why.

Additionally:

One of Erin’s opportunities, the one that looked the most promising, may have in fact been a scam. She can only get a voice mail when she calls the place, no matter the time of day. They’ve vanished. She did some research only to find that the circumstances surrounding her interview mirror some hiring scams other “businesses” have pulled. It’s a discouraging thing to be jerked around like that. We really had a lot of hope for this one. And we still don’t know how her San Francisco audition went.

All of this is probably why I felt so raw today, and I should have known better than to try to engage with people.

I got uncharacteristically tired of people’s advice and was probably more impatient on Facebook than I should have been. This is stupid because we all know Facebook is laced with an addictive chemical that spurs aggression (they’ve tested monkeys on this) and I know by sharing my garbage in this blog that I’m inviting people to give advice on how to clean it up–and usually I’m way cool with that–but today I just had my fill of all of it.

All that said, I still ill-advisedly offer the following by way of your enlightenment as to just what the heck I’m talking about:

The Facebook conversation had a lot to do with how I interact with God. People were imploring me to temper my expectations of answers to prayer. They told me to not necessarily anticipate an answer, that when it comes down to it I may just have to make a decision about where to work and where to live. Jobs come and go anyway, so it may not even be that important. They were speaking from their own experiences and I respect that, but I just can’t pray like that.

I can’t pray thinking the answer may or may not come. I know that’s sometimes the case–sometimes God’s silence is what we need, but to actively engage with that possibility WHILE praying and trying to utilize my faith, no, I can’t do that. I believe God is compelled by faith. I believe–and have seen–that when faith is sufficient he cannot hold back from revealing Himself.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to submit to silence. I’m willing to submit to whatever I need to in order to endure properly this trial of unemployment, but I also know my past experiences in seeking answer to prayer. I know how God communicates with me, and I will put my faith towards a definitive answer. I can’t muster up faith for anything else.

There’s a story in the Book of Mormon of a young prophet, Nephi, whose brothers bound him with cords (his brothers were jerks). Nephi prayed to God that he could “burst” the cords and assert proper control of the situation, but instead God made the cords loose and they fell off instead. That was fine. It got the job done, but it’s clear Nephi had the faith to break the cords. The Lord simply went a different, less demonstrative way.

If God needs to do the same to me, I will submit, but meanwhile I wanna burst me some cords.

After a day like today, I wanna burst a whole bunch of cords.

Day 5 – It’s Not Nice to Snap at Your Wife When You’ve Both Been Fired

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

September 2, 2014

This is Erin's angry face. I'm... not entirely sure why she took this picture, but I think my duty bound to share it with the world.
This is Erin’s angry face. I’m… not entirely sure why she took this picture, but I think my duty bound to share it with the world.

I woke up with lots of anger today. I’ve maintained a mostly even keel through all this unemployment business, but days like today it all just gets under my skin and just the… crushing unfairness of it all weighs me down. Which is stupid. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from so many who have reached out in the past several days it is that just about everyone has gone through a bout of unemployment. Some for an incredibly, heartbreakingly long time. Those people, every time I talk to them, I think “Please, not me. Not us. Let it end soon.”

I think of “me” first. Then my family. I don’t like thinking that way. We’re all in this together and even though my two youngest may not be able to even process or understand what’s going on (and why should they? All they know is Daddy is available to play “Hotel” 24/7 and turn on Frozen more), they’re affected nonetheless. I also need to remember I’m not the only one who lost a job. Erin makes it easy to forget. She has such utter confidence we’re going to be okay and though she has her moments, she handles the whole situation with much more grace than I currently am capable of.

Case in point: I snapped at Erin this morning.

I tried to do the morning drop-offs at schools. With Violet, I got completely lost. She’s attending preschool in a home in a neighborhood with the most convoluted street layout devised by man. I half expect to run into a minotaur every time I venture in there. That wasn’t the real problem though. The real problem was that I completely forgot where this labyrinth actually was. I spent 20 minutes driving in a circle. Violet was late, so Erin asked what took me so long when I finally returned home. This is when I snapped.

Erin didn’t retaliate. She knew as well as I did my morning’s “ordeal” wasn’t the real issue.

For the rest of the day, we tried to keep as busy as possible by playing games both video and tabletop with my brother and his wife before they return to their home in the Portland area. The constant diversion served its purpose well, so we did it again with friends this evening. Other friends brought by another gift basket, complete with an offer to babysit and movie tickets. This is our life right now: surrounded by generosity and friends who genuinely care for us to a degree we perhaps don’t deserve. I can’t comprehend with anything other than aching gratitude.

At the same time, I know these kindnesses are somewhat temporary. I’m reminded of my father’s death and funeral and how much attention was paid to my family at that time and how it all went away eventually. People will have to move on as our new state of unemployment becomes old and normal. This is how it should be, I think, but I doubt we’ll be any more okay with it all than we are now.

* * *

I’ve dropped a lot of weight since this all started. About three pounds since Friday. I was actually dieting before I was let go, but I haven’t seen this side of 180 in about a year. It’s hard not to think of it as a good thing even when I know I’m probably terribly unhealthy right now. Even as I sit here typing with my stomach screaming hunger pangs at me, I find I have no appetite.

Tomorrow I go back to work to say goodbye. Not everyone knows I’m leaving. Maybe I’ll eat after that.