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The Fisher of Stories


One of the great things about having children is marking all the milestone moments you have. All the “firsts.” As a family, the Sloats have had their first Fourth of July, their first birthdays together, their first Halloween, Christmas, and yesterday, their first Easter.


Straight ballin’, yo.

In this recent post on comfort zones, I talked about a ministry that I’m involved in at Eastgate, an assisted care living facility for elderly folks. In short, a nursing home. Once a month, I go out there and teach Sunday School. Couple of hymns, a lesson, another hymn, a prayer and then they all go to lunch. I’ve talked about what a struggle it was for me to go in there, and what a struggle it was for me to involve our family as well.
The second Sunday I went, a virus had swept through the place and it was very contagious. This caused me to rethink the “involving the family” thing. The Missus and I made the decision that it would probably be in the kids’ best interest to not be exposed to that sort of thing, whether it was discovered yet or not. So they haven’t been back, and I’m okay with that.
A few weeks ago, I approached the director of the ministry about the fact that my Sunday was going to fall on Easter during the month of April. I asked him how that worked, and if I would still be responsible for my lesson, or if I would be able to come to church with my family. He said he’d get back to me, and I spent the next couple of weeks thinking that surely the Lord wanted my family together on Easter Sunday.
I’ve learned a lot of things in twenty-nine years, but the one thing I guess I haven’t learned is how to accurately predict the all-divine will of the Lord.
“Travis, we still do that on Easter Sunday. In fact, the residents actually look forward to it. Are you okay with continuing as planned?”
To quote George Clooney: “Dang. We’re in a tight spot.”
You see, I got selfish. I thought (and rightly so, I’m sure some of you would say) that I should be able to spend my family’s first Easter with, you know, my family. It would have been very easy for me to tell him, “No, since it’s our first Easter with kids, I’d really like to spend it with them in church.” He might even have been expecting that. I certainly expected to say it.
But I didn’t.
So yesterday, I took some pictures with the kids, explained to them that they better behave, and sent them and The Missus to church with her parents, while I loaded up my stereo, my notes, and my iPad and headed to Eastgate. I had a lot of selfish thoughts on the way. Then, as I was pulling in to the facility, I got a notification on Facebook for a wall post. I assumed it would be a request to play the latest Super Duper Slot Machine Deluxe Ball Drop Extravaganza, and I was going to delete it and go on.
However, it turned out to be a post about my dad. The gentleman said that he wished nothing more than to hear one of my dad’s lessons this morning, and wrapped it up by saying what a great man he was. It’s been almost twelve years, and it turns out I’m still not the only person who wants to hear his voice.
It was the proverbial slap in the face. I started thinking about what my dad would have done in this situation. Then I thought about whether or not he would be proud of the parent I’m becoming, and the man I’m growing into. Then I thought about how it wasn’t fair that he hadn’t gotten to see the kids, or my niece Briley. Then I thought about how he didn’t get to see me graduate, or get married, or see The Groom get married, and how he wasn’t going to see The Liar or The Youngest get married or see their kids.
In about ten seconds, I was angry, crying, and telling myself I was a stupid, selfish, and pity partying crybaby. I was going on and on about how life wasn’t fair, and how it wasn’t fair that I had to be separated from my family today, and how terrible I had it. To top it off, I had about ten minutes to get myself together before I walked in the nursing home and began telling people how joyous of a day it was supposed to be.
I don’t know how, but I got it together. I walked in the door, and the nurses started wheeling the people in.
Time for smiles, right?
About five minutes into the procession of wheelchairs coming through the doors, a lady looked up from her chair, introduced herself, and asked me what time it was. I looked down at my watch and said, “10:30.” She then consulted her watch and said, “I have 10:25.”
+1 to that lady.
Then she asked me what day it was.
I said, “It’s April 8th, ma’am. 2012. It’s Easter.”
She threw her hands in the air as a huge smile lit up her face and said,
She went on to introduce herself again, then tell me three times that she was German and Indian, then told me four times that she had only been there two weeks, even though I’d seen her there for three months. She obviously has some sort of dementia.
But in the span of a second, with her reaction to the fact that it was Easter Sunday, she reminded me why I made the decision I made. She showed me that even though life had taken from her all sense of time, she remembered enough to know that Easter Sunday was special. She instantly validated my reason for being there, my reasons for splitting up our family on our first Easter. She reminded me of the excitement I should have had.
I stood there, genuinely smiling, and listened to her tell me over and over again about her heritage and how she used to beat up people for messing with her brother, and how her parents loved the razor strap, and how her nickname used to be “Hitler.” At one point during her stories, another lady fell asleep and her dentures fell out.
I stood there, once again unexpectedly blessed by these folks, and finally I started the lesson. I told them how we should never forget Easter. How each day should and could be Easter to someone else who didn’t know about The Gift.
And at some point, during what I thought was a pretty inspired and amazing lesson, that same lady fell asleep and her dentures fell out again. Then I had a lady get mad at me because I couldn’t control the thermostat. Then I had a lady wheel up to me afterwards and tell me how much she enjoyed me coming today.
I got to my in-laws for dinner and hugged my kids.
To end the day, I stopped by and saw dad. I’ve been thinking about taking the kids to meet him, you know. I reached his headstone without crying for the first time in eleven years. I told him I was trying. Told him how much I wished he could see his three grandkids. I got mad again. I fought with God, yelled at him for a while. Then the tears came, and with it, the self-pity. I Almost fell back into that same spiral. I saw a couple of headstones and was reminded of what some of my friends of mine had lost. The realization came to me that no matter how amazing my Easter Sunday was, my dad had a better one.
I left smiling. Crying…but smiling. This little blog won’t take much of your Friday. There has just been too much happen today to Tweet or Facebook all of it, and I thought a succinct little update on the ol’ blog would be the way to go.I hope these few things make you laugh as much as they did me.First things first, I was awoken this morning by a Facebook message from my first and second grade crush. She was seriously one of the two girls in elementary school that I swore I would marry when I got older. I’ve actually blogged about her before, in my post about having accidental scary accuracy. She was the little girl I brained with a rock as she was swinging on the playground so I could show her how much I liked her.So…she doesn’t remember that happening.I apologized to her for giving her irreparable brain damage, and we’re working it out.Also this morning, I walked in on my daughter using the bathroom. The Missus looked at me and said, “The door was closed, that was your own fault.”We all know about my crippling sense of bathroom shame. I don’t talk about bathroom stuff, I am dead set against open door bathroom stuff, I don’t want to SEE bathroom stuff, and I for dang sure don’t need to walk in on my beautiful young daughter as SHE’S doing her bathroom stuff. I don’t want to walk in on ANYONE doing that. Bathroom time is private time.I HATE BATHROOM STUFF.So anyway, after she got out of the bathroom, I said, “Come child. It’s time you learned about shame.” And I proceeded to show her that the bathroom door had a lock, and she should utilize that lock to protect her own privacy as well as the sanctity of my precious memories of her. I will teach these children bathroom shame if it’s the last thing I do.Another thing I said this morning, to my son, was “That’s not how you use a basketball goal.” To which my wife replied, “That’s how uncle Josh was playing with it last night.” So…shout out to my baby brother (Happy Birthday also) for being the most nonathletic Sloat boy, and passing that down to my son, who I’ve determined will be recruited by Duke and then go to the NBA as one of three successful white point guards since the seventies.I was also on point on Facebook this morning with the smart-@ss comments, as evidenced in the following picture.Boom. Roasted.Then…there is the piece de resistance.My son was asked to draw a picture for his class yesterday. It was a picture of his family as he saw them. This is what he came up with.The Sloat Family PortraitAs you can see, he plainly traced around a cantaloupe to draw me, then apparently remembered I have trouble supporting my head on my bulbous body. I also have a goiter and a black hole for a face. Maybe I need to work on yelling less.His sister is just a mere 35 pounds away from me, a tad shorter, but at least she was given a facial expression and an “X” on her clothing. I think that may stand for the first person he’s planning to knock off. I am pretty sure I should get him in counseling.Then we move to his self-portrait. I would have to say it’s astonishing to me how accurate it is, minus the pompadour haircut. The torso to legs ratio may be a tad off, but by far it is the most spot-0n drawing in the picture because……my lovely wife has a solid red face, green legs, lacks any arms whatsoever, and loves brown tops with green skirts. Also, SHE HAS SPRINGY SHOES. I think this solidifies how my son feels about his mother, in that she’s launched herself to a favorable position as the head of the family by being the highest in the air.I’m seriously considering having him do artwork for the blog. I could pay him with bags of chips and Capri Sun, and that’s cheaper than most “photographers” out there. “Art by Aven” has a nice ring to it. Here’s to shamelessly selling out my children!That pretty much rounds out my Friday, and I hope I’ve given you something laugh about until the weekend starts. Turns out, kids are GREAT blogging material. Who knew?My family and I walked in the front door, after a long conversation in the car with the kids about being on their best behavior. We walked down a long hallway to a central counter. Off to the right, a TV was on, with a couple of people in wheelchairs watching it. I looked around, and EVERYONE was in a wheelchair. The only people walking were in white scrubs…and us. Someone noticed us standing at the counter and said, “Can we help you?” I looked around and almost said no, almost left right then. I was in over my head. What was I thinking bringing my family here? But I replied, “Yeah, we’re here from FBC Muskogee. We’re here to help with the church service. Where is that?” The nurse told us and pointed down another long hallway, where more people in wheelchairs were busily rolling along. I took a deep breath, filled with doubt, but I took that first step, my family followed, and we walked into the room…This whole thing started several months ago when my brother Brad and I were at lunch with a friend of ours who used to be our Youth Minister and who is now the head pastor at a church in Muskogee. His name is Donnie, and to this day he is one of the people I look to when I need spiritual help.(Real quick, as an aside, for those of you who don’t want to stick around to read a “Church Post,” I would consider at least reading the italicized parts. This won’t be as churchy as you might think, it’s really more about stepping outside of your comfort zones).So we were eating with Donnie, and he asks, “How are you guys liking your new church?” Of course, Brad and I had all kinds of answers for that, ranging from “We love it,” to “It’s so great, our Sunday School class is the best!” Donnie takes all that in stride, then cuts to the heart with a simple question. “How are you serving?”“God, you can’t have meant for us to do this. There isn’t a single person in the room who looks under ninety. They all look so close to death. My children won’t understand this place. These aren’t the friendly elderly people who pinch cheeks and give out candy. These people are dying. They aren’t enjoying these years, this place, their lives. I’m going to call Clint and tell him I can’t do this. If you want me to do this, I need a sign. Tell me I’m supposed to be doing this.” Those were the words in my head as we walked over to the folks that were leading the service this morning and introduced ourselves. They were much older than us, probably by twenty years. It was their first Sunday too, and unlike us, they weren’t given the benefit of seeing someone do a trial run. They were in head first…but they hadn’t brought their kids…Brad and I both kind of stammered and hem-hawed around with a reply to Donnie’s question, so we moved on to another topic and had a wonderful time avoiding the piercing question. It wasn’t too long after that when the opportunity came for me. I was informed of a “Nursing Home Ministry” that needed people to do a Bible lesson once a month for folks that couldn’t make it to church. I thought about it for a while, prayed about it a bit longer, and finally decided this was going to be the perfect area for me and my family to serve our church. I get along GREAT with older people. Always have. I have this sort of relationship with them that brings out the old school polite and respectful Travis that old people love.But I had forgotten about those folks in nursing homes.The gentleman leading the service started out kind of shaky. He introduced themselves, and turns out he’s an ex-Army guy. Meanwhile, when The Missus had taken a seat with the kids, she’d neglected to take my Bible with her. So it’s clear on the other side of the room, and there are at least ten wheelchairs that I have to walk through to get to it. With a very self-conscious attitude, I start that journey. I get back to my seat, which is wicker by the way (the old comedy bit about people who utilize wicker furniture also hate fat people is running through my head) and sit down to listen to the rest of the introduction. About halfway through, a man sitting next to Aven starts to wheel out the door. As he’s leaving, he looks at an orderly and says, “I CAN’T HEAR A WORD HE’S SAYING!” I have never been more embarrassed for a human being than I was at that moment…So we got it all set up, and I decided that it would be a great idea to take the kids with us on this trip. We’d only be going once a month on the second Sunday of each month, and the service was just forty-five minutes long, so why couldn’t they come? They can sit still that long. Also, don’t old people love kids? Don’t they want them to sit on their laps and tell them stories about how lucky they are because when they were six they had to sign up for the draft and plant gardens for the war effort? This is the attitude I have going into it. That’s my brilliant scientific mind in action. The kids are coming. That is my executive decision. To her credit, if The Missus thought better of it, she didn’t say a word, she just allowed things to happen.Before we even started the first song, I had made up my mind that we weren’t going to do this. I couldn’t handle the pressure. I was nervous, and I wasn’t even the one up talking this week. All these things weren’t signs for me to do it…all these things were signs that I shouldn’t. Last Sunday night, a very good friend of mine was ordained as a deacon in our church. We went to the service that night to support him in his ordination. The kids and I got there a little early, and so Akeeli spent a good portion of her time going through the Baptist Hymnal, which is almost as outdated as the BlackBerry. These days they have the PowerPoint displays and all the songs are choruses, and rarely does an old-school hymn make the cut. But as she was looking through it, I told her, “Turn to number 426. The name of the song should be ‘Victory in Jesus.’ That’s my absolute favorite hymn in the whole world, and when I was kid your age, I used to request it all the time.” She turned to 426, and boom, there it was.The gentleman finally wrapped up his introduction, and told us we were opening in song. “If you have a hymnal, turn to page 426. We’re going to sing ‘Victory in Jesus.’” What? Could this be? Is this my sign? “But God, I don’t WANT to do this. This is too far outside of my comfort zone. These people are not what I thought of when I agreed to try this. I want out.” But there was no ignoring it. This was what I needed to do. I NEEDED to be out of my comfort zone. I spend too long in my comfort zones, and I learned a long time ago that you can get awful stagnant sitting in a nice house on Comfort Zone Avenue. The Missus was out of her comfort zone, I could tell. The kids were WAY outside of it. But this was right. Somehow…this was where we needed to be. About halfway through the service, someone started snoring, and then someone told a story about how she heard the voice of God one day while she was hanging laundry, and she thought it was the Chinese coming to cut her head off. At one point I looked over at The Missus, and she was crying. Later, when Aven asked her why, she explained that those folks “sang like her grandma.” In the end, we wound up helping wheel some of the folks into the lunchroom. My kids met an older lady who tried to talk Aven into staying with her, then proceeded to tell my wife that her dog had gotten stolen last night. She doesn’t have a dog. There were missteps, miscues, and misdirections. But we’ll be back. On the second Sunday of each month for at least the next year, we’ll be back. I can do anything twelve times. It might be outside our comfort zone, but I’m absolutely sure God will show us something through this. In my dad’s Bible, and now in the front of mine, there is a quote that simply says, “God does not call the qualified, God qualifies them he calls. A-MEN” I don’t think my dad had the best of grammar, or the best spelling, but when he heard that quote he copied it down in his words, and to me it proves the point. I’m not qualified to be teaching a Sunday School lesson to senior adults in a nursing home. But I have been called. That’s all the assurance I need.How are you going to step outside your comfort zone this week, this month, or this year? You don’t have to be a baptist, or even a Christian. All you have to be is human. Step outside your zone. Do something new. Don’t stagnate. You might have noticed that I’m starting to live life a little differently. The Missus claims I’m having a mid-life crisis. This could very well be the case, seeing as men in my family rarely live past the age of 40. However, I just think it has to do with me realizing that I was NOT happy living the way I was living.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty sweet life. Married to the woman of my dreams, good job, decent vehicles, food on the table, and even a Netflix account.
But I started feeling a little TOO comfortable.
So I started Tae Kwon Do. I fought for the first time in my life. I got on stage at a comedy club and gave open mic night a shot. I’ve started trying to push myself into doing things I wouldn’t normally do.
Sometime in the very near future, I’M GOING TO RIDE A BULL.
However, there is one thing that The Missus and I have talked about doing for a long time, and now the time has finally come. You see, most of you know about our fertility issues and what not. If you don’t, ask someone else, don’t ask me, because I’m tired of answering questions. We went to a fertility doctor recently, and just for the bare minimum amount of treatment, (a $10 prescription) it would cost around $1000 a month. We just don’t really have that kind of cheddar laying around, and if we did, I’d probably be eating it, because hey. It’s CHEESE.
So…drumroll please…
We’re going to adopt a child. That’s right, this big guy’s going to be a dad. We got the paperwork from DHS all filled out and turned in, and right now we’re just waiting to go from there. We have references lined up that will hopefully tell everyone how wonderful we are and how big my heart is, and hopefully not that the doctors call that big heart “enlarged.” If The Missus gets knocked up afterwards, all you people who said, “Just adopt, you’ll get pregnant,” will get to say that you’re right, and then you get to move in with us and be our housekeeper/babysitter.
We’re making life decisions at the Sloat house, and we’re stepping outside of our comfort zone to do it. So I have a question for you. What are YOU doing to step outside of your comfort zone? I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and ride a bull or adopt a child. But what have you wanted to do for a long time but never had the guts to try? Why aren’t you doing it? Just about everyone of us can fulfill a dream without being careless, so why won’t you try? The payoff is amazing, and you might just find yourself looking at that boring life of yours with a new vim and vigor.
And you better believe I’ll blog about riding that bull.
Oh. And the kid.