Every parent wants the best for their kids. This usually means two things.
1. We try and give them the best we can give, whether that’s a college fund, a quality home, or a supportive atmosphere. And,
2. We do everything within our power to assure that they turn out to be the best people on the planet, which means, to become a far better than we’ve ever been, even on our best day.
Sample prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that my child grows up to know you, to know what it means to love, to have confidence, to serve with humility, to act with wisdom…,
and never, ever, drink too much of that trash can punch at the Sigma Nu frat party which leads him to marshal a team of twelve people to temporarily deface the University of Tulsa library pavilion with random yard art while simultaneously closing off a busy street with “borrowed” safety cones, all without getting caught.
I grew up Catholic. What can I say? This blog is my confessional. For my penance, I’ll Google and click on 74 versions of the Hail Mary and we’ll call it even, OK God?
Gabby and I really want our kids to grow up with a heart for service. To us, this means that they’ll grow up thinking that service is just something you do. Part of everyday life, thrown in somewhere between eating breakfast, breathing, showering, and not flossing. We want it to be in their blood.
In an attempt to foster this kind of normalcy, I’ve mentioned how we “have lunch with our friends” down at the local soup kitchen every so often. The kids get a kick out of it. They have fun serving, meeting people that come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and running around like rabid squirrels at a Betty Crocker Acorn Bake-Off.
On our most recent trip, we showed up and chatted with some folks while we were waiting for the lunch to begin. Jake and Audrey’s job that day were to pass out forks and spoons, each matching set lovingly wrapped in a tiny disposable napkin. Gabby and I were on germ eradication duty, which involved watching our kids like hawks, and intercepting any utensils that they had co-opted for use as a) percussion instruments, b) nose pickers, c) hair brushes, or d) armpit decoration.
Needless to say, it was a stressful half-hour of volunteering. We very nearly ran out of silverware.
The people who came through the line were gracious, waiting patiently for our kids to select just the right fork for them. It was a painstaking process that required the same deliberation as say, Israeli Palestinian peace talks. The final handover of dinnerware was accompanied by a hearty “Have a nice day!” or “Bon Appetit!” Their joy in helping was met with lots of smiles and mini conversations.
All except for one man.
I noticed him approaching us, and he stood about five feet out of the line. He was saying something to himself that I couldn’t quite make out. He was not making eye contact.
And he wasn’t happy.
Mental illness? I wondered.
As he got closer, I heard him comment, “There aren’t supposed to be any kids here.”
What a stick-in-the-mud! Everyone else seemed to be enjoying the diversion, but this guy was not interested. Then I heard his follow-up comment that stopped me in my tracks.
“I ain’t supposed to be within ten feet of any kids. If somebody sees me here, I could go back to jail. These kids shouldn’t be here.”
Without thinking, I grabbed some silverware, stepped forward, and handed it to him. He reached out toward me without looking and accepted the napkin, and returned to his arms-crossed stance.
So, what started out as some idyllic trip to have “lunch with friends” and make service part of our everyday normal, turned into something very different. As you might imagine, my immediate thought went to my kids. When Jake was ten months old, we took him to Guatemala to visit the host family we lived with for a year. We justified it because he was breastfeeding at the time, so he wouldn’t be eating the questionable food, or be near the contaminated water. No chance of serious sickness for him. Since then, we’ve hesitated to take the kids back again until they are older, and frankly, not sticking random objects or fingers in their mouths like they’re an all-you-can-eat Popsicle bar. It’s one thing to put yourself in a compromised health situation. It’s another thing entirely when you make that decision for someone else, even if you’re doing it for God.
And here I was again, feeling a bit naïve. When you’re serving those on the margins, you’re bound to run into some people who wouldn’t likely make your top ten list of lunch table companions back in the third grade cafeteria. This was one of those situations. It also had me questioning whether or not this would be the best service opportunity for our family. My brain started “awfulizing.” I mean, what if I had accidentally let Jake go to the bathroom all by himself? Should this guy even be allowed in here?
Then my thoughts turned to the man in line. I realize I’m making some assumptions here, but my guess is that he was just trying to get back on the straight-and-narrow, and thought he was coming to a safe place to have a nice meal. Now, he was facing his demons and a chance he might have to go back to jail. Not exactly the afternoon event he had planned for either!
So where was I, and where was God in all of this?
In my mind, I had questioned whether or not this was our place for service. Selfishly, I thought, “If these are the kinds of people they serve here, is this where God would want me to spend my time?”
I think it is precisely where God wants me to spend my time. Why? I tend to do a job for God that He never asked me to do.
I create a filing system for the needy.
In one folder, I place the “worthy poor.” Those disabled by no fault of their own. The homeless trying hard to work their way up. The abused victims.
In the other folder are the “unworthy poor.” The convicted felons. Those who are mentally ill due to years of prolonged drug use. Those who have the capability to get a job and a home, but don’t seem to want to.
God sees my filing system as ridiculous. Kinda’ like holding an election to see whether trees are more beautiful than flowers, or vice versa. It doesn’t matter. Both were created in God’s image to be just what they are, and as God’s creation, we’re supposed to show the same appreciation for both. They both deserve the best we have to give.
Now, does that mean that I send Jake and Audrey to summer camp at this guy’s house?
What it does mean is that we should always remember that we’re far better than the worst thing we’ve ever done. Each and every one of us.
And I say this not to put myself on a high horse. First, I’m scared of heights, and that would make me scream like a tiny girl.
Second, there are times I’ve been judgmental, hurtful, and insincere. I’ve told lies. Heck, I’ve even made personal copies at the office, which make me question whether or not that was the real reason for WorldCom’s downfall. But these things don’t define me, and that’s not what defines us all. We’re better than the worst thing we’ve ever done. God’s grace is there for the taking, whether we deserve it or not. Shouldn’t we reciprocate by giving without prejudice?
In the spirit of that, a funny confession follows. It’s like a “bonus blog entry” from my archives. Helpful if you really have a lot of time to waste on the blog today (Hello? Conference calls?). I really hesitate to share this, but then I think how the world is filled with far too many people pretending to be something that they’re not, to impress other people who really don’t care all that much. As an fully ordained pastor of an internet church (First International Church of the Web – and Saint Luke’s Evangelical Ministries – no lie) I make it my job to shatter the image that members of the clergy are perfect people. This may not be the worst thing I’ve ever done, but telling the world about it sure helps put me in my place, which helps me remember how we can never be too quick to judge those we serve, or those we don’t. Enjoy!
I fancy myself a well-educated guy. Heck, at times, I have even been called “smart.” I earned a 3.9 in grad school at Oklahoma State University. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Tulsa. I even graduated 10th in a high school class of 362. Granted, it was Yukon High School in Yukon, Oklahoma, where not sucking directly on the Bunsen burner tube as it’s attached to an open gas source gets you a minimum of a B-minus in chemistry. Still, not too shabby. Overall, my brain has had a decent workout during my time on the planet.
So, one might think that a simple decision of whether or not to pee before leaving the office today would be a walk in the park. Not so much.
I have spent this past week in L.A. attending a class for the company I work for. It was rather enlightening, and I feel like I actually earned my salary as my brain crunched away from 8-5. Throughout the day, we spent most of our time seated on our keesters. This tends to make the joints get a bit stiff due to some mild arthritis I am fortunate enough to have inherited. The good news is, I have found a remedy. If I just drink gallons of water, I’m fine! However, what is normally just a mild case of “tiny tank” syndrome in my bladder turns into a colossal urge to wet myself about every thirty minutes or so.
Today, class finished up a bit early. I sat around gabbing with my coworkers for a good half hour when I finally realized that I had better head to the airport so I could make my 5:55pm flight back home. The thought of arriving late and missing my flight did not excite me. Even though I had ample time to make the trek from Thousand Oaks to LAX, one can never be sure about LA traffic.
Because of my arthritis issue, I figured I should make a pit stop and load up on fluids. Besides, Gabby is always telling me how traveling on planes dehydrates you. This is VERY true. I know this, because 1) on last weekend’s bachelor party, having only a couple of beers en route from Austin to New Orleans made my mouth feel like I just tried to down a box of saltines topped with baby powder, and 2) if I don’t drink enough fluids before and during a flight, my arthritis gets horrendous and I walk around like a retired NFL offensive lineman for a day or two. For these reasons, I downed the last of my current water supply, and stopped by the company cafeteria for a refill. I loaded my 20 oz. Styrofoam cup with ice and about 4-5 lemon wedges, then filled it to the brim with water. I didn’t have an immediate urge to pee at this time, so I headed out toward LAX.
The drive started smoothly, and by my astute calculations, it looked like I would get to the airport in PLENTY of time. I really wanted an exit row seat, so this would be an added bonus. The idea is that if I beat everyone else to the ticket counter, I have my choice of spots on the plane. NICE! I dialed up my good pal Marty on the phone to help pass the time. He wasn’t there, so I left a message. When I hung up, I felt a slight urge to relieve myself, but nothing major. At the rate I was traveling I would be able to get to the car rental place in plenty of time and have the Avis shuttle drop me at the airport. Then I could hit the “Little Cowboy’s Room” before check-in. PERFECT!
Two miles later, the traffic stopped. I sat motionless on the freeway while a 65 mile per hour speed limit sign mocked me on the shoulder. I can’t be too sure, but out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a three-toed sloth passing me in the HOV lane, pulling a trailer loaded with anvils. Maybe this was a hallucination from all of the Southern California pollution, but it was still a bad omen.
I figured that there must be an accident up ahead. I was right. I passed it about 5 miles and 25 minutes later. I was hardly any closer to the airport, and had burned up nearly a half an hour! The good news was, the traffic was moving at about a 30-40mph clip. I had a pretty heavy urge to pee now, but nothing to write home about. Since this story tops 3,900 words, you, dear reader, know that this would change for the worse.
As I hopped off the 101 onto the 405 freeway, I got a call. It was Marty. We yakked for a good 10 minutes, and I appreciated the distraction. My bladder was filling, but listening to Marty making fun of some of the dolts he works with took my mind off the pressure.
When I got off the phone with Marty, I had the “maybe if I clench my buttcheeks it’ll be better” urge to pee. I thought, “Well… perhaps I won’t wait ‘till I get to the airport to make a pit stop. I should just risk missing the first Avis bus back to LAX and use their restroom instead.”
SCREECH! The traffic came to a standstill again. “This is not looking good,” I thought. All lanes of traffic, including the HOV lane, were crawling. I still had a LONG way to go to the airport, too. As I crested a small hill, I could see a mile or two in front of me, and not much was happening. My bladder immediately shrunk upon seeing this. Now, I was at the “if I keep taking these deep breaths and exhaling loudly, maybe the urine in my body will magically evaporate” stage. My bladder was a virtual powder keg now. This is when I made the decision that would change the course of history.
I reasoned with myself. “First off, it will take me FOREVER to get from the ‘fast lane’ over to a place I can exit. Second, this is a fairly ‘residential/nature preserve-ish’ stretch of the highway, and I see absolutely no establishment nearby that would let me pee, at least not legally. Third, if I drive around to find a place, I will likely get lost. Four, if I drive around to find a place, I will likely be late to the airport and lose that coveted exit row seat, or worse yet, miss my flight.”
You may be asking, “Scott, what was the alternative?”
I noticed my 20 oz. stryrofoam container perched in the armrest cup holder, now empty. Again, my critical thinking skills kicked in. “That’s a pretty sturdy lookin’ cup there! It’s like the ‘circle of life’ in Elton John’s song! I just took 20 ounces from the cup for nourishment, it’s only natural that I give it back at some point, right?! My brother has even told me a story about one of his college buddies who took an emergency leak in a coffee cup while stranded in a winter snowstorm traffic jam. Heck, I have MUCH MORE than a simple coffee cup here! This is a 20-ouncer!”
My choice was made. Making my flight took precedence over decorum. But how to do this? I assessed the situation.
I was driving a rented, golden beige-colored Oldsmobile Alero. It rides pretty low to the ground. Traffic was still crawling. I looked to my left and right. Sure enough, there were SUV’s on both sides of me. Their high vantage point gave them a prime “crotch viewing” angle into the Alero! Noticing this I now wish I had rented “Truckzilla” for this trip. However, when making car reservations, I never forecasted that “tall enough so that no one driving a normal-sized vehicle will be able to check out your ‘franks and beans’ on the 405” would have been my highest priority vehicle feature. Fuel economy seems like such a wasted benefit right now. Lesson learned #1: Olds Alero is a poor vehicle choice for peeing into a cup while driving.
My plan of attack changed a bit. I shuffled over to the HOV lane. From this lane, I only had to worry about vehicles to my right. On my immediate left was a thin shoulder and a big concrete barricade. This was only interrupted by the occasional wayward straggler, who himself has probably peed into many forms of cup or canister. They won’t care! I figured that the chance of being pulled over for driving/peeing solo in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane was worth the risk.
So, I was driving about 3-5 miles per hour in the HOV lane, considering dropping trou and taking care of business. The problem was that I still had plenty of trucks and SUVs to my right. I quickly reached into the back seat, unzipped my backpack, and pulled out an old T-Shirt. The thought was that I could lay the T-Shirt in my lap to cover myself. I positioned the T-shirt like a napkin at a fine dining establishment, then I unzipped.
Soon after, I realized something I was never taught at Yukon High School, Tulsa University, or even in graduate school. When seated in driving position, it is difficult to obtain the “downward angle/dangle” necessary to fill an upright cup. Since it would be impossible to change the laws of physics and defy gravity, I had my work cut out for me. Leeson learned #2: proper seat adjustment is critical when peeing into a cup in an Olds Alero.
First. I straightened the seat back so that I resemble a guy wearing a back brace. Next, I grab the electronic seat control that raises my butt, and lowers my legs & thighs. Needless to say, NASCAR drivers would never attempt such a posture. I am essentially eating the steering wheel, and my hindside is now in the lap of a “virtual backseat passenger.” Let’s put a visual on this.
Imagine, if you will, that advertisement for those robotic recliners they used to try to sell on infomercials to old people. Similar to the Craft-Matic adjustable bed, these are the chairs that basically move you from a seated position to a “crouched-standing position” for $699 and the push of a button. Well, I am now in the “nearly-crouched standing” position. Good if you’re watching the big game on TV, and need to be righted so you can go to the fridge for another cold one. Bad if you’re driving on the 405 in LA. From this position, I re-cover myself with the T-shirt, sit up high to get some leverage, then position the cup.
As helpful and awkward as it is, I found that this seat position only allowed me to get a 60-70 degree tilt on the cup. Translation? I gotta’ be careful. As I positioned myself near the lip of the cup, I took a deep breath. I tried to block out the fact that guys on motorcycles are “riding the line” between lanes of traffic and nearly clipping my side view mirrors. I have BUSINESS to attend to! Finally, the moment of truth – sort of.
You guys probably know the term “pee shy.” Well, for any ladies reading this, “pee shy” is what sometimes happens to guys when they are forced to pee while standing next to a bunch of other guys at a urinal. I still don’t know the exact cause of this disorder that affects 99.8% of the urinating public of males. Maybe there’s something about standing there with your privates hanging out while a bunch of other guys are around. Maybe it’s the fear that when you release your contents, you’ll have the weakest stream in the group – more of a trickle really. Subconsciously, this says something about your level of manliness, much like the size of your truck tires, the capacity of your backyard grill, or your fastest recorded time to pick a Buffalo Wing clean to the bone.
Whatever the case, when the “pee shy” fairy overtakes a guy, it means that he may go to the can and walk away unfulfilled. Sure, he may try to mask it all by making a lot of noise (coughing, flatulence, belching) to cover up the fact that there is no “splashing” sound at his urinal. He may even finish with a hearty flush to try and fool the rest of the happy pissers. Still, the truth is out.
Back on the 405, I learned that “pee shyness” is magnified when you’re surrounded by a slew of 4X4s, Ford Excursions, and Hum Vees. I probably sat for 60 seconds with nary a drop. I’m just sittin’ there with my wanger perched on the lip of a Solo cup, covered by a Lyle Lovett concert T-Shirt, driving at a snail’s pace on one of the busiest freeways in the country. Not your everyday situation, to be sure. Needless to say, my “twig & berries” were out of their element. It was gonna’ take a while to adjust. Finally, somewhere before the Marina Del Rey interchange, I felt a rush of sweet release.
Whether you know this or not, using the bathroom in the driver’s seat can be just as rewarding as taking a leak anywhere else. I was feeling like I had made the right decision, that is, until I realized another sinister biological phenomenon had taken hold. I felt warmth on my inner thigh. Taking my left hand off the wheel, I lifted the T-Shirt to peek at the goings-on down below. Sure enough, I had fallen victim to the cruelest random joke in the male universe. That’s right, it was a “split stream”.
Again, guys know what I’m talking about. For you girls, it may take a little explaining. For centuries, women have complained about “bad aim”.
“My little boy pees all over the floor!”
“My husband always leaves droplets on the rim!”
“How hard is it to pee in something as big as a toilet?!”
Well ladies, I promise you that anyone over the age of three always aims true. We line up dead center and then let it go! But sometimes, when the moon is full and Saturn aligns with Pluto, our primary stream is diverted. To use a plant-watering analogy, it’s like you were letting the hose just pour into the flower bed, and then suddenly, you capped your thumb over the end. Next thing we boys know, our primary stream is hittin’ the Tidy Bowl Man right between the eyes, but this secondary trickle is splashing into your jewelry box on the night stand. We have no control over this. It just happens. So (an aside here) next time you catch yourself complaining about bad aim, you should just be happy that the majority of the primary stream hit its mark. It coulda’ been much worse. Trust me. Anyhow, back to the 405.
When I looked down, I saw my secondary trickle bouncing off the edge of the cup and draining into my lap. “Great! I’m peeing my pants!” I yelled. With all the strength I could muster, I shut off the stream and rethought my strategy. This minimized the damage to my inner thigh, but didn’t quell the fire in my bladder. I reasoned, “Well, there’s no turning back now.” So I tried again and prayed. Once the “pee shyness” subsided, the split-stream event had fixed itself, and I was feeling better. Total relief was in sight. Except… wait… wait just a minute…
“How big can a bladder be?” I wondered. I saw the cup filling rapidly. Logic told me that a 20 oz. cup should be more than enough to hold all my pee. What I didn’t figure on was the “tilt factor”, which greatly reduced the capacity of the cup. Then my morning flashed before my eyes.
Happily sipping two 12 oz. cups of hot tea…
Joyously gulping down two 20 oz. cups of water…
A couple of trips to the drinking fountain!
For the love of Pete! She cannot take much more Captain Kirk! I coulda’ filled a swimming pool!
I peeked at the cup again and realized the root cause of my misfortune. Well, I take that back. The root cause of my misfortune is that I thought it would be a good idea to void myself while driving on the 405. My problem now was that there wasn’t much ice left in the cup, but the 4 lemon wedges were taking their toll. I would never go the distance. The solid objects were displacing the liquids, and I had to make a rapid decision. Damn my love of citrus!
I cut off the stream again. Just in time! So, let’s recap.
As if this picture wasn’t odd enough to begin with, now it’s even worse. I am now driving 10-15 miles per hour on the 405 (things are picking up), I have my “bits & pieces” hanging out, covered by a Lyle Lovett concert T-Shirt, I have a pee spot the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on my jeans, and in my right hand I now hold a steaming 20 oz. cup of lemon-flavored urine.
Now what do I do?
The good news is that even though I wasn’t able to empty my bladder, the idiocy of what I had just done has taken away all urges I had. Lesson Learned #3: Heavy doses of personal shame and embarrassment apparently overtake any feelings one has to expel waste from his/her body. Good to know!
I placed my cup of pee ever-so-carefully into the cup holder beside me, and use my free hand to zip up. I reached back to put the T-shirt into my backpack. I looked right and left to see if anyone noticed what I had just done. Luckily, I was driving in the most superficial town on earth, so the women were busy considering their breast implants while the men were wondering if they have enough vacation time left to get a butt lift. They didn’t even notice me.
We (me and my hot cup o’ pee) crept along for another 7 minutes, then traffic started to pick up to 20 miles per hour. I am still laughing at my poor planning, when I realize that my rental car now smells like the men’s room at a Dodger’s game. I think, “This isn’t good. I have to get rid of this pee before I return this car.” The light aroma is starting to nag at me like the “thump-thump… thump-thump” from Edgar Allen Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart.” I am thinking, “Leave me alone, pee cup! Leave me be!” I must rid this car of the evidence… and FAST!
I rolled down the window and considered chucking the cup. Then, an idea hit me. “I should just DUMP the cup! That-a way, I could ‘refill’ it if another traffic jam comes and I’m desperate.” So… I reached my left arm WAAAAAAAY out the window, and gave the cup a hard flicking motion. I soon realized that, essentially, what I just did was toss a cup of urine and lemon wedges into a 20 mile per hour wind. I might as well have just strapped a playful elephant on the back dash of my car spraying wildly with a trunk full o’ pee. It would have the same effect. The end result is a crop of shiny urine droplets dancing across the side of the Olds. I didn’t even bother to check the rear-view mirror to see if my other road warriors got a shower, too. The good news is, my car was already the color of stale pee to begin with, so now it merely looked like it was sweating. The bad news was, my wellspring of poor choices now seemed endless.
I changed lanes quickly to get to the far right lane. This maneuver was probably a violation of the law, but by this point, who’s really counting, right? I hoped that the wind rush of the rapid lane change would help to dry the side of my car. Looking up, I felt relieved that I was a mere two miles from the exit that takes me to Avis. The bad news, I realized, was that I still had a gargantuous pee spot on my pants. Sure, most guys can overlook a little pee spot. One little dribble can easily be covered up by an untucked shirt, well-placed laptop case or jacket. With larger splatters, you can often just blame it on a sink that has a bad spraying faucet. However, the spot I have looks like I had an exploding water balloon in my pocket. Even worse is the fact that the checkout guy at Avis knows that there aren’t any wild spraying sinks in an Olds Alero. At this point, I just wished I had a medical ID bracelet diagnosing me with Overactive Bladder Syndrome. At least that way I would have had something to blame it on.
Again, my brain kicked into gear and I try to figure out what to do. A quick fix I have often used for a small drip is to just rub the spot vigorously with a dry cloth or paper towel. The friction causes heat, which dries the spot. Looking at my spot, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I blindly reached into my backpack for anything resembling a rag. This time, my prize was a pair of clean boxer-briefs. I exited the highway to head for Avis. “I must work quickly, ‘cuz I am not far from the car lot.”
At the intersection at the end of the exit, the light was red. I decided to seize the opportunity. I feverishly got to work on the spot. I rubbed back and forth as fast I could trying to generate some heat and get rid of that darn spot. Once I started, I realized that this may take a LOT of effort. I kept looking down, then looking up to see if the light was green yet – still working feverishly. My mouth was contorting into all sorts of unnatural expressions. I worked on the spot for a good 45 seconds. After that time, I went zig when I shoulda’ gone zag, and lost my grip on the boxers. I held the boxers up to get a better handle on ‘em before I got to working again. When I did this, I realized another really bad idea had come to fruition.
A guy in a Toyota Camry was idling next to me at the light. I glanced at him. For the last 45 seconds, he had apparently been watching me “go to town” on something in my crotch region. As I glanced back at my hand on the steering wheel, I saw why his eyes were open so wide. He had just watched me “work on my spot” for a while, and then my hand made its way up to the steering wheel to reveal me holding a pair of underpants. I can only imagine what he must have been thinking. If only I could have been shot right then and put out of my misery. I stared straight ahead. The next seven seconds felt like hours. As soon as I saw a hint of green, I floored it. Lesson Learned #4: When embarrassed to the point of heart stoppage, I can win the Grand National Dragster Championship in an Olds Alero.
Thankfully, that was the last of my truly big mistakes. I arrived at Avis about 5 minutes later to return the car. I quickly deposited the cup while the guy was ringing up my final total. As I grabbed my receipt, I looked at the side of the car. It still showed signs of my “cup dumping”. Even though the guy probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it, and certainly wouldn’t have thought that he was staring at drops of pee on this nice new rental car, I mumbled, “Yeah… I drove through a little puddle at the edge of the parking lot.” Red-faced, I quickly grabbed my receipt and jumped on the bus, using my laptop case to cover the evidence on my pants.
Now… here I sit on a plane bound for Austin. My arthritis isn’t acting up, so that’s a good thing! Another positive is that I have learned a valuable lesson. I hope each of you have as well. Enjoy this story, gents. Pass it on if you must. But please… please… I beg of you… next time you’re in LA… keep your windows rolled up, stay out of the HOV lane, and remember…
we’re all so much better than the worst thing we’ve ever done.