Family Life / Growing Up

From Richmond, Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona

I’m on a long 5 hour flight back home to Phoenix. I spent the last three days speaking at the Diocese of Richmond’s annual youth conference. It was a real treat to spend time with the 500 teenagers over the weekend. I do enjoy speaking from stage, but my favorite part is hanging out with the teenagers in between the sessions. It’s just fun to share a bit of our lives with one another like that. It adds warmth to a world that can be very cold.

The Injury

There is an early episode of “The Office” where Michael Scott accidentally burns his foot on a George Foreman Grill. It’s a random and completely funny first five minutes of the show. Michael likes to eat bacon while in bed in the morning, so he lays bacon in his George Foreman Grill each night before he wakes up. Except on this day, he got clumsy and stepped into the hot grill on his bedroom floor and burns his foot.

He didn’t want to miss the chance for attention, so he becomes over-dramatic about his injury. He calls into the office and demands that someone come pick him up and drive his broken body to work. When he gets to the office, he’s using crutches and has a pitiful, desperate look on his face. He begs for help throughout the day on easy tasks because he is “disabled.” You get the idea. People can make such a big deal out of nothing.

I don’t want to be the guy that makes a big deal out of nothing. However, this is my life, and this is my story. And this is my injury.

I had a small cancerous area of skin cells removed from my back. It was a quick surgery and the surgical team promised me that I would l have a quick recover. I had to limit my motion for two weeks, but after that I should be feeling back to normal. I asked if I should cancel an out of town trip a few days later, and they said I would be fine. I canceled the trip anyway.

It seems like I take one step forward in healing, only to take two steps back. In the last six weeks, I’ve battled two staff infections, which made my back feel like it was on fire with pain. Sleeping was difficult because I couldn’t toss and turn. To make matter worse, a few weeks into recovery, I got a heavy cough and a fever too. My stitches broke free and my back opened up as if I never had stitches at all. It was a gory site! Plus I was in worse pain than week 1. So for some time now, my bandages must be changed several times a day.

When you are healing and feeling stronger with each day, you know that you are making progress towards being 100% better. But when you get worse with each day, it’s quite frightening because you don’t know how bad it’s going to get. It’s hard.

Last Week’s Detour through Denver

Sitting in this airplane seat is uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as last week when I attempted to fly to Michigan while passing through Denver. That was random. Heavy rains in Phoenix delayed my flight to Denver. The ticket agent suggested that I fly to Denver, even though I will miss my connecting flight. I would need to stay the night in Denver and then take an early flight to Michigan. My friend Leah’s husband Rick picked me up from the airport and drove through heavy snow to get diner. It was fun getting to know Rick because we’d never met before, although I’ve met his wife a few times at different conferences. Soon we drove through more snow to get back to their place.

The next morning we drove back to the airport through heavy snow. I looked up to check departing flights, and every screen was covered with the word “CANCELED.” Anxiety surged through my body. What is going on? Will I be able to make it to Michigan? Will I have to spend a long weekend in Denver to wait out this snowstorm? After waiting in line for 30 minutes, the ticket agent explained to me that there was almost no chance that I could make it to Michigan today, but they might be able to get me in tomorrow. I looked at my weather app on my phone and saw that it would be heavy snow pounding the city of Denver for the next 48 hours. I knew that chances of me getting out tomorrow were even slim. I was getting more anxious. I wanted to be in Michigan to speak at this conference, but now it looked like I would be stuck in Denver away from the conference and my family. So everyone would lose.

So I asked for a flight back to Phoenix. Incredibly, she got me a seat on flight taking off in 35 minutes. Once I had my ticket, I ran down the escalator to get to the security checkpoint. I saw a line of 25 people to get through security, which surely would take 15 minutes. I walked to the front and gently explained to two friends that my plane was taking off in 19 minutes and would they let me through. They smiled and gestured me forward. Quick through security. Then onto a train, then up the escalators at the gates. Then sprinting down the moving sidewalks to finally arrive at my gate. I handed them my boarding pass and they closed the door behind me. I made it with less than a minute to spare. All that running while having a heavy cough and breathing the thin oxygen of the mile high city. Let’s not forget that my back was a mess too.

Back to the Situation

So yes, as I type this on my flight today, I am so so thankful to be feeling better. I still have a lot of healing to do, but I am very happy to be where I am right now. Thank you Jesus.

I understand that many people have suffered worse than I have. Once this is all done, it will probably be remembered as a rocky three months of my life. It will be remembered as a difficult time mostly because I couldn’t hold my children. A time where doing normal things like reaching for a glass on the shelf threatened my healing. But in the end—it’s no big deal. For whatever reason, God has wedged this small chapter into my life. A chapter that I didn’t see coming; a chapter that has lasted so much longer than I expected.

Here’s how I see all of this. When you are in good health, it’s hard to have compassion for those who suffer. It’s hard to even imagine that suffering is an option because day-to-day life is so consuming. You’re just living life. But once you’ve suffered, your heart becomes bigger with compassion for others. When friends ask for prayers on Facebook because they’re in poor health, I pray hard for them because I know what it’s like to feel desperate. To pray for these friends and friends-of-friends adds richness to this life.

Simplifying Life

I am going to try something new. I will write this blog under five subheadings and see what happens.

1. Family

So our story is much like everyone elses. You have babies in the house, and all of a sudden—just like that—they’re not babies anymore. Norah is a little girl, Stella is a toddler, and Eden is crawling all over the place. Yes, they are not old enough to go to school yet, but Candyce and I have been a little sad about how fast this whole thing has happened.

I’ve been dreaming about moving outside of the city to a more relaxed place where there is fewer stimuli. I’ve been thinking of little ski towns in the mountains, or maybe a sleepy coastal town in California. I posted it to Facebook, and some friends from high school invited me back to Hiawassee.

It’s just such an unexpected thing for me to be thinking like this. My primary goal since high school was to escape the boredom of small town living and drown myself in the excitement of city living. Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and now Phoenix. But now I have my precious children, they are all the excitement I need. They satisfy so much of that unrest from my 20s.

Candyce has been feeling this way too. It’s not in our cards right now to move to a slower town, so we have to find ways to slow down our lives. So we made too steps as we entered 2013: say “no” to fun social time with friends in favor of boring time at home, and cut off DirecTV. I do miss HGTV and the Food Network. But I don’t miss sports b/c all of my favorite teams are horrible right now.

2. Home

I didn’t update my blog much near the end of last year because I was working on remodeling our family room. I tore down the off-centered fireplace and rebuilt it smaller and more centered. Then I finished the wainscoting and repaired the drywall. I pulled out the 1980s mirror behind the wet bar and built-in some shelves. So I got about 90% done then we escaped to California for a couple weeks over Christmas and New Year. I pressed pause on the project because of cold and wet weather over the last six weeks. I hope to finish off these last details soon.

3. Spiritual Life

This Lent is very different for me. I got surgery to remove a cancerous area from my skin. So as I type this, my shoulder is uncomfortable with soreness form surgery and discomfort because of limited motion b/c of stitches. I am happy to be where I am today because this is the best case scenario. I am defiantly praying hard.

4. Work

I’ve really enjoyed getting out of the office this year. Since accepting the position of VP Operations Etc., I now oversee all of our facilities including summer camps and offices. So in January and February this year, I’ve visited Covecrest, our camp in Georgia, and Tepeyac, our camp in the mountains of Northern Arizona. Both camps have had snow when I’ve visited, which is a treat for me b/c I’ve always adored the snow. All in all, things are very busy at Life Teen. The first quarter of every year is so critical for the success of the year. I am very proud of how well organized and forward thinking our staff is today. I try not to get overwhelmed by all the hyperactivity.

5. Life Lessons

I came across a quote recently that really struck me: “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” This pretty much sums up the tension that I deal with every day. I want to do so much but I cannot do it all. So I have to focus on what matters most and then do that. Right now I can’t see anything more important than my family. My little girls are growing up so fast. Every day our relationships grow because they’re maturing. So everyday I have a new opportunity to get to know these little souls. It’s the quiet adventure within my life. It’s not something that can be blogged about every day. It’s not something that will make me more money or win esteem from my peers. But it means everything to me. Other things will have to wait.

Family Wagonz

I want to talk about buying a car for my growing family. But first, lets take a trip back to middle school.

1990 was a complex year for me. I was 11 years old and I was in love with everything about cars. Back to the Future II had just come out, and my mind was spinning with the fantastical hovering cars from the future. This gave me such great hope, because we had just finished the most boring decade for automobiles: The 80s!  Of course there were supercars that gained popularity on posters (read: Lamborghini), but cars for people who weren’t millionaires was dreadfully dull.

So 1990 was symbolic of things changing. The future was here! Maybe no hovering cars, but surely the Ford Mustang could get some style, couldn’t it? Nope. With every new car that debuted from Detroit, I got less excited about the future.

So instead of looking forward for cool, I looked backward. I loved the hot rods from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, but they were too expensive. Then I discovered VWs by way of curiously sentimental people known as “hippies.” I discovered that Volkswagen owned the 1960s and 1970s had daring style and personality: VW Beatle, VW Bus, VW Rabbit, the VW Thing!

It seemed like there was room for everyone in the VW scene. If you wanted to restore your Beatle to it’s glory from 1969, that was cool. Or if you wanted to chop it up into an outrageous custom, that was cooler. My favorite trip of the month was to Wal-Mart with my family b/c they carried VW Trends and Hot VWs on their magazine rack. I remember the rush of optimism as I walked towards the magazine rack hoping to find a new issue tucked in those shelves. I loved the radical VWs with crazy paint and intense customization. Somewhere I have drawings of my own custom VW Beatles. Limo, truck, and permanent convertible. I was 11 and I could draw. There were no limits.

My favorite was probably the 18-window VW bus with the slide back roof.  It’s an endless summer for you and 6 friends. I was also fascinated with the newer VW buses, even if I didn’t fall in love with the new ones as much as the old ones.

The Eurovan. So what if it didn't fit in with the rest of the minivans in 1993?

The Eurovan. So what if it didn’t fit in with the rest of the minivans in 1993?

Enter Pastor Ted from Oak Forrest Methodist Church. Thank you, my friend, for giving me one of the most awesome memories of my childhood. That trip with the youth group down to Florida was priceless. For this little dude, riding in your new 1991 or 1992 EuroVan camper was one of the richest memories of my youth. Sleeping in the pop-top camper/tent made me so happy—you have no idea! Now 20 years later, I’m flirting with the idea of getting a Pastor Ted era VW Eurovan. Out here on the coast, I see them all the time. The guys look like they’re having so much more fun than me. Plus, now that I have three little ones, I’m more interested cars with more seats.

So I would love if the VW New Bus Concept that they came up with a few years ago would actually get made. How much fun is this? If it were real, I’d drive up to the dealership and come back home with one.

Top: VW New Bus Concept. Bottom: A cool kid’s rendering of how to make it cooler. Victory!

 

This is How I Roll

Since there are VW New Buses available, earlier this weekI test drove a 2013 Honda Pilot, Honda Odyssey, and Ford Flex Titanium Edition. Here’s my quick review, in a Twitter-style 140 characters:

1) Honda Pilot – Another SUV. Not a lot of style. YAWN. Reliable Honda. Spacious. Holds value. Disappointing SUV gas mileage.

2) Honda Odyssey – Coolest minivan on earth in 2012 AD. Sliding doors = chill parents.  Surprising power, good on gas. 26mph hwy. Lux options. Expensive! Holds value.

3) Ford Flex, Titanium Edition – Cool. Cool. Cool. Lux! Mediocre gas mileage. Different in a good way. May or may not hold value. Ford’s street cred is on the up.

It’s too early to know what direction we’ll go. If I feel like being impractical, I’ll go the 1990s EuroVan route. Or I’ll get an older Toyota Landcruiser. Those get better with age. But more than likely, I’ll buy my family an Odyssey, and then wait for the perfect time to get a Ford Flex for myself. Or I’ll get a Toyota FJ. Or a 2008 Dodge Magnum SRT-8. Or maybe, I’ll just wait for Honda to bring back the Element and I’ll get another one of those.

It’s hard to believe because Norah is just about to turn four years old, but she’s really into this whole car search. Last night she asked to borrow my iPad and she went onto the eBay app. Five minutes later, she squealed with excitement and shouted, “Daddy, I found the perfect fam-el-eee tar.” Then she shows me this:

1962 Impala SS convertible, 22 inch rims

…she has great taste.

Flight from Atlanta to Phoenix

Flight from Atlanta to Phoenix

This is going to be a long, long flight. I’ve been in seats that don’t recline, but this one is particularly upright. It feels like I am trying to lean against a wall. Maybe worse. Could it be that this seat actually leans forward?

I spent the past few days near Mobile, Alabama, at a retreat/planning/visioning meeting with the leaders of Life Teen. It was cool because everyone’s spouses were invited, and many of them came. Unfortunately, Candyce wasn’t able to come b/c our baby sitters changed plans and, thus, Candyce stayed home with the girls.

:::

I just took a 2-hour break from writing this blog to watch a Nicholas Sparks movie on the Delta screen in front of me. I know that book snobs live to make fun of Nicholas Sparks b/c his stories are sentimental and predictable, but I am not a book snob. I am a father of three girls under four, and every minute of entertainment on our screens at home is soft, cuddly, and sweet. So any movie that I can watch with action and/or adventure is treat.

In this movie, I got enjoy all kinds of reckless manliness: wartime heroism, sleeping by a fire under a big ass tree, training dogs, restoring old homes, vintage Ford F100 pickups, a new Dodge Challenger, standing up to cops, fixing old boats, saving a cute child from a flooding river, spontaneously charming a woman by playing a piano, being misunderstood, grabbing a gun from the hand of a drunk cop, etc.

I think I’m going to get a tattoo.

:::

Last week we bought four new mattresses for the Smith household. I know that Eden is only a few months old and won’t need a mattress for a few years, but it feels dorky to go shopping for mattresses frequently. So I just bought them all at once. It was an expensive trip to the store, but I am hopeful that the quality of life for everyone in our family will get better.

Based on what Brian at the mattress store told me, our new Tempurepedic mattress will need to be replaced in ten years. So that’s the year 2022. Far off dates like that didn’t mean much to me when I was single because so much was uncertain. In less than two years, I could’ve moved, changed jobs, and fallen in love and then broken up. Now that I am married and have children, these dates actually mean something. When it’s time for me to get a new mattress, Norah will be about 14, Stella will be 12, and Eden will be 10. And those girls will probably have little brothers and sisters too. Me? I’ll be 43. That’s CRAZY.

This is another way that fatherhood has added richness to my life. Time becomes precious because every moment of life is a moment shared with my daughters. Candyce and I talk about this all the time. It doesn’t matter what else happens in our adult worlds that day—none of that should distract us from the simple joy of spending time with Norah, Stella, and Eden.

:::

I really dig my iPad b/c it’s made it easy for me to draw again. I love the app called Paper from the company fiftythree. I’ll have to post some of my drawings in this blog. Actually, I’m going to close down this laptop and start doodling on the iPad.

Baby Eden Jane

So Baby Eden Jane was born three weeks ago. She’s awesome. She’s a little miracle. And she doesn’t seem happy when I hold her. That’s okay, because it makes me happy that she likes being held so close by Candyce.

Terrible, Intense

The two weeks following her birth were crazy with sickness. So we never had that blissful newborn experience in our home. Instead, it each of us got some version of stomach flu. I’ll spare the details, but it was an ugly 10 days. It was so frustrating too, because here we are at the beginning of the summer, and we’re sick like it’s the peak of the flu season in February or something. This was the most vulnerable and fragile our little family has ever felt, especially because we had a newborn baby in the house too. So much anxiety.

The first stable moment we had as a family was the last afternoon before I returned to work. We went to Bahama Breeze to get some iced drinks, and then we came home and watched a kids movie on TV. Candyce, Norah, Stella, and I all sat on the same couch sipping our cold fruity drinks. Nobody was vomiting. Nobody was crying. Everyone was happy and healthy. At last.

I’ve learned in life that if I retell a bad/sad situation over and over again, it’s because I’m still trying to heal from the trauma. I’m trying to make sense of what just happened so that I can move on in life. Most of the time you tell your story and you’re off to new adventures on a new day. But both Candyce and I have revisited that first week-and-a-half of Eden’s life countless times. We retell the each day almost in shock that it really got that bad. Only now, three weeks later, are we able to talk about something new. It’s good to feel normal.

My Mom

It was really nice to have Mom in town for the past week. This is the longest time she’s ever spent out here in Arizona. Having extra help around the house was priceless.

On the drive back from the park, I asked Mom why my life feels so hectic. In the last three months, Stella and Norah have needed so much attention. I can’t make it from one side of the room to the next without disappointing someone. I try to be as patient and compassionate as I can be, but all I have never seems enough.

She put it simply: “It’s because you have little children with a lot of needs. It won’t always be this way. And now you have a newborn too. It’s a transition and that’s never easy.” It wasn’t anything that I didn’t already know, but somehow those words coming from my mother gave me hope.

Yes, HGTV Makes Me Obsessed

Being homebound for the past several weeks has given me a rare opportunity to gorge on Home and Garden Television. If there is anything I am addicted to, it’s before and after photos of remodeled rooms, homes, and yards. My favorite show is Curb Appeal with designer John Gidding. It blows my mind how he can take an awkward or boring house and transform it into something so gorgeous.

I made many trips out of our front door to hold baby Eden and get some fresh air. I spent many moments standing still on the street in front of our house, staring at the front of our home and seeing so much potential. I bought this house at a great price six years ago largely because it lacked curb appeal. My goal was to get gangster on the house and change up its whole look. But when the Real Estate market is bombing and the planet is spiraling into a financial crisis, it’s hard to spend $20k on making your house pretty. Now the worst of the meltdown is over (hopefully), so I can again dream about making my house cool.

I think I’ve found a solution to the awkward blocky thing that’s going on: two toned-paint, plus light colored trim. This could really work. Of course I have some cosmetic work to do too: trimming out windows, changing architectural details, adding iron details to the second floor windows.