Monday, January 31, 2011

This is what it's like when zeitgeists collide

I saw this at Borders today and it very nearly became an impulse buy. Had it not reminded me so much of that day I picked up the Scarface poster for my dorm room nearly ten years ago, it would be in the back of my car right now. At what age does it stop being appropriate to hang large, kitschy movie posters in your living space? I fear that age is earlier than 28.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Seriously, Mexico?

My last Seriously Mexico post definitely took a shot at how things are sometimes done by our neighbors to the south. This week, rather than being blown away by something ridiculous in Mexico, I have been entranced by it's beauty. I shared that a couple of weeks ago southern California and the Baja Peninsula got quite a bit of rain. This has resulted in an absolutely gorgeous display in Mexico. The typically brown mountains have turned a deep green often resembling velvet. I worked with a group this past weekend and then had the pleasure of visiting again yesterday. Pictures will not do what I've seen justice, but I wanted to share them anyway.

That last one I sneaked in was a picture of an absolutely delicious carne asada taco smothered in guacamole that I got to enjoy yesterday. This one came wrapped in regular old food paper. In addition to enjoying some awesome scenery and food, I worked up my appetite by operating a freaking jackhammer. As a man, this makes me feel very good about myself. Two more images supporting the fact that my job is still, in fact, incredible:

This is the tailgate that I put a serious dent in last spring. The sheet metal was finally starting to peel apart as a result of the damage. I got a new tailgate, but this one has been kept in the office for posterity (read to continue to have physical evidence of my absentmindedness) . I'm hoping that I can somehow talk someone into letting me take it home and hang it on the wall. I love that my mistake has been treated with so much grace and humor.

I walk by this palette in our warehouse every day. I'm fairly certain it's all t-shirts, but I just love that it is labeled with a huge, spray painted heart. How many things in your office are labeled with a huge, spray painted heart?



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sticking With It

Unless you have been living under a rock (or like me, do not have tv or internet access at home), you have probably heard about the unusual and persistent rainfall that southern California received in the middle and end of December. The rain was particularly inconvenient for the residents of San Diego and surrounding areas. It appears San Diego is essentially a bowl in which rain water is diverted and collected. To compound this problem, it seems that most San Diego drivers' responses to what the rest of us would consider a normal amount of rain is to drive 20 mph slower and turn erratically until they hit something. As a result, there have been many reports of property damage, homes and roads being flooded and car accidents. San Diego is such a major city news wise, that the surrounding areas that have been affected sort of become a footnote. One of these surrounding areas is another major city by the name of Tijuana, Mexico.

The week before Christmas, I was tasked with taking a group down to the outskirts of Tijuana on a two and a half day trip. Initially, it was going to be a group of twelve, but they clearly got the message that we had been receiving rain, as the size of the group dwindled down to six by 8:00 am Monday morning, when we were set to depart. Tijuana had been receiving rain all through the weekend, just as San Diego had, but there is one important difference between the two places. A large percentage of the roads we travel on in Mexico are hard packed dirt and sand. When rain is added to this mixture, the resulting substance is roughly the same consistency as partially melted butter. The mud that covers the Mexican roads has a way of completely adhering to tires, shoes or anything else designed to give you traction. As a result, there is absolutely no friction to be had, so both driving and walking can become extremely tricky propositions.

(This is what it looks like in Mexico when it rains.)

Over the two work days we had, we were scheduled to complete a home build for a family. The structure was basically framed up, so it was in need of wire, paper and stucco. I was very excited to be able to complete this home before Christmas. Unfortunately, the community in which this house sits is up a rather steep hill. To make things a little more difficult, the lone paved road going into the community was under construction and completely blocked off. This meant that our only way in was a rutted dirt road which travels up the side of a steep hill. We quickly found that the participants' van would not make it up this hill.

Around the same time, I heard over the radio that there were flash flood warnings for the area over the following two days. I gathered the group leaders together to discuss our options. I let them know about the flood warnings and also informed them that we would be flying by the seat of our pants as far a finding alternate work for them. The leaders took the the options to their participants, a group of teenage boys. They were ready to stay in the rain. Amor offered them accomodations in the store on our campsite (the store is the same type of structure we build for Mexican families) so that they would not have to sleep in tents in the pouring rain.

Over the next two days, the group met with several more challenges and had to continuously reevaluate their decision to stay in Mexico. In the end, they stayed and worked the full length of time they had originally planned.

Although we were not able to complete the house I had been so excited about, we were able to bless two other families the week before Christmas. As it turned out, the group that was scheduled to complete Tony's home had to cancel due to weather. My group was able to spend one day completing his home. I had hoped to spend some more time with him, but he was not around while we were working. I'm sure he was very excited to come home that day and find his house completed. The following day, we were able to put a last coat of stucco on a house that had been waiting awhile for it. It's really neat to show up at a house when a family is not expecting you and see the surprise and delight on their face, particularly if they have been waiting awhile to see you.

Several times this trip nearly came to an end, but the guys that came down had a sense of both adventure and of God's will, and they were able to help provide an awesome Christmas present for two families. As I type those words, it's a reminder to me of why I'm here and what moves so many of us to action. So I ask, where's you sense of adventure?



Friday, January 14, 2011

Momma Barnes Update, Beard Update.

The following is the latest update e-mail I have written about my mother. I have not started sending it out yet, but it will be out shortly:

Friends and Family,

I want to thank you for the complete outpouring of love, support and prayer our family has received since my last e-mail. The response has been absolutely incredible. People in our lives have continuously inquired as to how my mother is doing and I have been e-mailed and received comments from people so far from my direct contacts that I can't quite figure out how they even received my first e-mail. Please continue to ask us about Mom and how you can help out, as I think in the coming weeks our needs will become clearer.

Immediately after my first update, our plans started to get modified. While the population of leukemia in Mom's blood was low and she was very healthy, her white blood cell count was low as well. The doctors at Johns Hopkins wanted to wait for the white blood cell count to rise before moving on to a bone marrow transplant. Their strategy was to avoid chemotherapy or any other treatment and let Mom's body do the work. The doctors could not predict how long this would take, so we were asked once again to wait. In the meantime, Mom was to get weekly blood work done and we would be contacted when a time table became clear.

Nearly two weeks ago, we received a call from our main doctor at Johns Hopkins. He expressed concern over what was going on in Mom's body. Along with seeing more cancer in her blood, her glands were also extremely swollen, causing her discomfort. For this reason, he ordered a PET scan so that he could get a clearer picture of where the cancer was in Mom's body. We went down to Johns Hopkins for the PET scan last Thursday. While Mom was having her PET scan done, her doctor came in briefly to talk to her and told her he would be getting back to her with a clearer plan of action in the following days.

In the meantime, the whole family headed down to Richmond for my brother Jason’s wedding. We had an incredible weekend in Richmond with many friends and family. The ceremony was incredible, as was the reception. There was an immense amount of joy shared by both families and all our guests. The bride and groom are very much in love and are the picture of what a new marriage should be.

Earlier this week, we got a call from our doctor at Johns Hopkins who was armed with a new game plan. Due to some changes in Mom’s blood work, he finds it necessary to give her one treatment of chemo along with a series of a monoclonal antibody before her transplant. Yesterday she received the chemo, today and each of the following six weeks she will receive one treatment of the monoclonal antibody. At the end of this time, the doctors expect a thirty to forty-five day waiting period, after which time she will have her bone marrow transplant. This means that the likely date for the transplant will be late March or early April.

As always, these plans are subject to change, but this is what we are now expecting. Dad was looking into housing for the recovery time while in Baltimore yesterday and I’m sure there will be more details that we can get started on. In the meantime, I would ask that everyone reading this keep the family in their thoughts and prayers as this process goes on. Thanks so much for your concern and I will update again as soon as it is necessary.

In His Love,

Clint, Jr.

Light Hearted Bonus: Beard Update

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot ;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.



Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best. Year. Ever.

"Then the lion said – but I don't know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it."
"The very first tear he made was so deep and I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."
"And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again."

-Eustace Scrubb, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

It's funny, now that I'm writing fairly regularly, I sometimes feel pressure to make sure that I get a post up. One example of when I this is when each holiday rolls around. Given that my Thanksgiving post came late and I didn't manage to get anything written for Christmas, I really felt the need to make sure that I wrote something for New Year's. In addition, the coming of the New Year is a perfect opportunity to talk about this year as a whole.

In the past few days, I've been wondering what this post would be about and the answer finally came last night in two parts. First, I was spending time with friends and they reminded me of my Giving Thanks post at about 11:45. I decided to give it another look and it was fresh in my mind as I went into downtown Hershey, Pa to watch the kiss rise. As the countdown ended, the clock struck midnight and the fireworks exploded, I said out loud to myself, "This is the best year of my life." My Dad overheard me and asked if I meant 2010 or 2011. I responded by telling him that 2010 was the best year of my life and I expect this coming year to be even better.

The quote with which I began this post is given by a young boy after he undergoes an incredible transformation. He is in what he considers to be an undesirable form and attempts to strip himself of it so that he may become a boy. He quickly finds that he is unable to execute this change himself and receives help from Aslan, a powerful lion. He describes the process as painful but wonderful and is ecstatic to return to being a boy.

I find this to be an apt metaphor for how I feel about 2010. When this year began, I was not quite what I wanted to be. It was about this time that I decided to stop trying to find who and where I should be on my own. In a leap of faith, I decided to trust something I didn't quite understand. As a result, I had a lot of things painfully pulled away from me. It was not an easy process, but just like Eustace I feel joy even through the hard times and I am so pleased with the outcome.

As I've said time and time again in this blog and elsewhere, this has been the greatest time of spiritual and emotional growth I have ever experienced. I can't say that I am a different man now, but I can say that I'm a bit wiser, more compassionate and a whole lot happier.

No matter how discontent you are or how exciting your next step is, it is amazing how vulnerable you feel when you step out of your comfort zone. Just like a young boy who has been stripped of his skin, nearly everything you come in contact with stings in some way. It is important to note that in Eustace's case, his skin could not be transformed, it had to be stripped so that he could be given new skin, leaving him temporarily raw. Even those things that you know are going to be good can be painful when they rub up against an old wound. The truth is that many of these types of wounds are not healed when you start to go in the right direction. They remain, sometimes for the rest of your life. This is where grace, wisdom and maturity allow you to move ahead and have a new beginning.

In May, I got to travel across the country, seeing some of the most beautiful places America has to offer. Since then, I have seen even more of the country, as well as Mexico. My line of work allows me to also see some of the best man has to offer. Often, I have found that the people who display the characteristics that move my soul are others who have chosen to take a risk and live in faith as well. As a result, I would encourage you to take a leap of faith this year if you never have. You don't have to move across the country and you don't have to make an incredible sacrifice. All you need to do is identify a true call and respond to it. It will absolutely open a new world of possibilities as it has for me and so many others around me.

As I look behind me at all the growth and challenges that 2010 held, I also look forward and see that 2011 holds the same. In a lot of ways, I think that 2o11 may be a tougher year than 2010. The beautiful thing is that I am prepared for it and know that this year I can continue to walk in faith and continue to become a new creation. For these reasons and more, I am so excited for 2011. Leaving the irreparable past and walking into the irresistable future is a beautiful thing.

Beard Update:

So, I haven't cut my hair in three months and I haven't shaved in two, the result is what you see below.

Yes, I rang in the new year with beard. I actually had my midnight smooch with beard. Don't ask how this is possible, it just is. I feel wild, wonderful, manly and free. It's amazing how much the time it takes to look like a bum makes you attached to looking like a bum. Again, ladies, restrain, yourselves. As they used to say on one of my favorite old SNL skits, "No! No! Too sexy!" With Beard, I feel like the Superman to my typical Clark Kent. Alas, I believe my kryptonite will be presented shortly, but I plan to have fun with it in the meantime.