My Life: Out of the Nest (Part 4)

I was really considering hard about the University of Texas. Not wanting to go all the way to Austin, I became very interested in UT-Dallas. I really didn’t want to move out and leave my mom by herself. About this time, she was seeing a gentleman she had met through my being in Boy Scouts. In January of 1997, they married! Yay! Burt has been my step-dad ever since. Of course, there were some adjustments to make that weren’t always easy, but I am so grateful for him. Well my mom was planning on retiring back in Arkansas eventually, and knowing this, she wanted me to go to a school she knew of in this little town called Arkadelphia. I agreed to go visit this oh-ah-chee-ta; or is it oh-wash-it-awe…whatever. Unfortunately, the weekend I went was a few days after a tornado had wiped out half the town. I had never seen devastation like that before. I loved the campus; it was beautiful. They had an awesome new science building to boot! But I wasn’t sold.

I was going to Freeman Heights (the church that put on Judgment House) quite regularly by that point. Got baptized and the whole bit. The student ministry was awesome. And they happened to be going to summer camp at Ouachita. It was during this trip that I knew I wanted to go there for sure. Had Burt not been a blessing on our lives, I doubt I could have done it. Go God!

That summer, I turned in my volunteer badge at the hospital and became a full-fledged employee–a pharmacy tech, to be precise. Remember that overbearing-ness I spoke of earlier? Yah, it carried over into this job. Wow, I look back on that and wonder how I ever stayed employed. I kept that job every summer I came home; every time I came through that door in May, just about every one looked at me and groaned. I had good relationships with a couple of employees. Heck, we even joked around a lot. Except one time, another person (who didn’t like me) overheard a joke and informed the manager, who called to fire me, had it not been the pharmacist I was joking with telling him it was nothing. Anyway, it was a good job and I gained a lot of experience. If I could, I would go back and tell my manager thank you for giving me a shot when he had every reason to let me go.

August came and it was time to leave the home I had grown up in for 18 years. I remember just holding Scamper and Callie for as long as I could, crying the entire time. Burt and mom loaded me up and off we went. We arrived for freshmen move-in, arranged a couple of things, Burt shook my hand, and then there was my mom and me. So many years of going it alone, and here we were at last…a day we both were excited about yet dreaded with all our hearts. There was silence, then the words “no sense in delaying it”, and we hugged and cried and hugged some more. And then they were gone and I was really on my own.

I had a roommate…all of 3 weeks. Look, you live solo and have things your way your whole life, it is pretty hard to adapt. Robbie was his name and he would wander in every night about 1 am, then call his girlfriend and talk for about an hour. He went home on the weekends. I was very dedicated to studying and starting off well, so I went to bed at reasonable hours, so this wasn’t working. Since I never saw him, I left a note one morning asking if he could call his girlfriend in the lobby. He left a note in turn saying he shouldn’t have to. In the meantime, I was on the rowdiest hall of Daniel South. This was the notorious slip-and-slide hall. I made a couple calls to the dorm parents and of course, I was berated for it by some in the hallway. I requested to be moved and paid the extra fee for a private room. A few weeks later, the dorm parents called me in and asked if I wanted to be an RA. So I moved again to Daniel North, a hall of mostly guys on the swim team. I enjoyed the responsibility, despite all the, uh, nudity in the hallway. LOL. We’ll leave those stories for another time, perhaps.

I was an avid sports fan, never missing a football game, unless it was out of state. I wrote for the school newspaper. And of course, I studied. I’m proud to say I got a 4.0 my first semester, even with a little home sick crisis during finals. In fact, every fall I made that, but spring fever must have taken me because I made a B or two every spring. 🙂 My sophomore year, I bought a truck (the same one I still drive today). On the way home for Thanksgiving, I was about 10 blocks from my house and had a wreck. *sigh* Also, my sophomore year, my mom and Burt moved to Searcy. I would continue going back to Garland, though, for my summer job. I lived with my sister for two summers, but she ended up moving to Searcy too, so the last summer I stayed with an old Boy Scout buddy.

About midway through the baseball season of my sophomore year, I approached the coach concerned about the lack of attention the team was being paid. There was no scorekeeper, announcer…nothing. So I asked if he’d like some help. Me and a buddy started doing it. The next year I was officially the baseball team manager. (I also got to call a few basketball games.) My junior year, I became a volunteer athletic trainer for the football team. Some of my best memories come from this part of my college tenure. The long nighs of practicing taping ankles with buddies, the long two-a-day practices that always ended up at the hospital with cramping players instead of getting to eat dinner, standing on the sidelines, and getting to go on road trips…just to name a few. I can’t help but stop and smile.

I had moved to the “nicer” dorm that year, too, no longer an RA. My senior year, a buddy talked me into an apartment, which I did for one semester, but the amount of partying that went on with the people from the other school in town quickly ended that. I moved back on campus into the football dorm (coach’s hall) and its community showers. Oh boy….why did I ever move off campus? But, with the friends I had on the team, it really was one of the best places I lived.

I made so great life-long friends during school. One of the most annoying people I had ever met ended up being my BFF–Rachel Elliff. We helped each other through a lot of personal issues, she and I. In fact, I didn’t really allude to this before, but I was still having trouble with my self-esteem my freshman/sophomore years. Even went to the school counselor for several sessions. I was really struggling with my identity. But through Rachel, a kind family from the church I was attending, and well…God, I worked through those as best I knew how. Rachel unexpectedly didn’t come back one semester and I was pretty much at a loss. But God came through and built up new friendships for me, namely Christina Overton. We too had many great times together, having met in a biblical studies class.

Getting involved in sports really helped with my confidence in that area. Not that it was easy being the baseball manager. Some of the guys were really hard on me. But I kept at it, if nothing else for Coach. The football team was not as harsh, and I even began making some friendships with guys for the first time since elementary school. During the spring break of my senior year, at a baseball game, there was a very bad injury to one of the players. Our catcher–Bryan Jones–was making a play as the runner came sliding into home. But the runner slid into Bryan’s knee pushing out to the side. This tore 3 of 4 ligaments, chipped bones, and tore his meniscus. It was so bad, he was transported to Baptist in Little Rock. I flew up in my truck after the game. Bryan was very appreciative and asked me if I could stay. So I did…all week, in the hospital room. Bryan went through surgery (which I got to watch) and came back to Arkadelphia. His family was certain he would have to withdraw from school, but I suggested he move in to my room and I would do his rehab and get him to class. And so that was what we did. Bryan and I became fast friends, though as much pain as I put him through during his stretches, I have no idea how. 🙂

So that was me in college…you could find me pretty much in the science building or the sports venues. As I said, I attended a church there. A family “adopted” me who just happened to be the music ministers. Janie and Will Thompson. Janie somehow got me involved in handbells. I played the big ones…the really big ones. And though I was reluctant for several years, she eventually got me singing again (for the first time since elementary school) in the college ensemble.

My ability to leave home and return to school became easier about 2 years into it. Leaving Ouachita in 2001 was equally as hard as leaving home in 1997. Christina was the last person I said good-bye to and also the point when I lost it. I graduated magna cum laude and with honors. All my family–except my dad–came to see me. God had done so much in my life in those first four years of being called His child, but little did I know how much things were about to change and life become all the more challenging.

My Life: Out of the Nest (Part 4)

The Great Blackboard Crash of 09

We interrupt this program to bring you this disturbing story that is still unfolding…

So I teach some online courses in addition to my administrative duties at PTC. They are actually “hybrid” science courses, with the lecture part online and lab still meeting in person. Last year, I developed, wrote, and led new sections of chemistry and Anatomy & Physiology I. The system PTC uses is called Blackboard. It’s okay. Some of it is not very intuitive, especially when it comes to making exams. In fact, it takes me hours to half-a-day to write a science exam. Over the Christmas break, I started writing my third course, A&P II. But before I got far, they announced that Blackboard would be down for scheduled upgrades.

When it came back in early January, I resumed working. But then one day last week, I couldn’t log on. I emailed the guys and a short time later an announcement was issued about a database error. Another instructor called me and was like “last time this happened, we lost data”. I got a little worried. I back up my files as much as I can. But like I said, the program is not entirely intuitive. Some files–and exams–have to be made in Blackboard and can’t be pulled out. Those also happen to be the ones that take the longest to create.

A couple of days rolled by with no update and still no access. I didn’t want to be “that guy” that emailed and bothered them, but I did…and asked how bad it was and should I start re-writing things. The response was “when was the last time you created new content?” I know just enough about computing and servers for that to be a dangerous question. Clearly the question is saying: we are trying to restore directly from when it went down but cannot, so we are having to go to a backup point. Normal procedure is to backup server data nightly at an off-site location. I eventually found out, the last good backup was from Dec. 29. So pretty much everything I did over the break would be wiped out. Well then the date went further back to Dec. 17, wiping out more work I had done. Thankfully, you can role over courses from a previous semester, so two of my three would be saved. Oh wait…

Saturday comes and an email is sent out. Blackboard is back up but all attempts to restore data failed. You have your course shells but they are blank. We won’t turn Blackboard on for students until noon Tuesday, rather than midnight to give you a chance to get some content up.

Ohhhhhh @#$%@!!!!!!

Sunday evening and all day Monday I feverishly worked until my shoulders ached, my wrists and fingers were numb, and my eyes were cross to get some beginning material up for my three classes that had been wiped away. At 11:00 am on Tuesday, I got that much done. I need to do more work…a lot more, obviously, but I’m so burned out, I haven’t done a lick since. And as far as those items I couldn’t back up…creating them in Word this time and c&p’ing them. Exams…using an external exam-maker so that the files are on my computer.

Last I heard, from the instructor forums, teachers were jumping from the tallest building on PTC and stoic, unemotional types are feverishly working through blurry, tear-filled eyes. Unfortunately, my building is only one story. Would only break a limb at best and I need it to keep typing… /sarcasm

The Great Blackboard Crash of 09

My Life: High School (Part 3)

High school rolled around. I went to North Garland High School, which was within short walking distance, just past my old elementary school. I was also promoted into Boy Scouts, but more on that later. In high school, I tried my hand at acting again. But I just don’t think it was my calling. And it doesn’t help that the drama teacher hated me. She would openly make fun of me in front of the class. I’m not just saying it like that because I’m bitter…I’m dead serious. For three years I tried that and finally had enough. I remember rehearsing one morning, and as usual she left the drama room, leaving the class to ourselves. This particular day the students turned the lights off and began playing hide and seek in the dark. Suddenly, the lights came up and a huge object came flying at my face, busting my nose. Blood gushed down my arms as I tried to stench the flow, running to the clinic. As the nurse tended to me, the drama instructor came in and yelled at ME(!!!) for fooling around and making it so she could never trust a class again. She had gotten reports that I was running down the hall and partaking in the sortie. The nurse kicked her out, and that was the end of my acting career.

Most of my friends by this point–due to my low self-esteem–were girls. But by the end of my high school tenure, that fell apart too. Two particular girls, hormonal as they were, could not stand each other and manipulated me through deceit and lies. I ended up breaking off contact with one of them. She tried to make me touch her at a movie, explaining how lonely she was. I know God was guarding my innocence then. I later befriended a wonderful person named Amanda. We became best friends by senior year and she even asked me to the prom! We had a mock casino at prom and together, Amanda and I had enough “money” to win a trip to New York, which we took. (Her brother went with us to “save face”.) My senior year, I was a huge school spirit kind of guy. In fact, I was nominated for best school spirit! I graduated 18 of 300.

As far as academics, I was above average. Can’t say I really studied, but if I had, I’m sure I would have been top 10 of my class. I buckled down my senior year though. And by the way, I waited until then to take the dreaded PE credits. Ha ha. I also devoted a lot of my academics to medical classes. They had a unique program where students could spend half a day observing at a hospital. I did that for two years, certain I was headed for medical school one day. To further my experience, I began to volunteer at the local hospital. The same hospital, in fact, where I was born. There was a nurse who, I found out, worked in labor and delivery the year I was born (she didn’t remember me =P).

Outside of school, as I said, I was in Boy Scouts. Troop 57. Being the runt is not easy. In fact, since this story is getting long, let me just say that it became a knockout drag fight when it came time to go to the meeting each week or camping each month. My mom and I would argue, but she kept making me go. I progressed through the first couple of ranks slowly. I tried to get a few modest leadership positions (required for the upper ranks) but never got elected. After months and months the torment and mental suffering, my mom experienced it first-hand. We were leaving from the meeting one night when a boy yelled out across the parking lot–with my mom beside me–“why don’t you do this troop a favor and quit!” My mom yelled back at him and finally she saw what I was going through! We started visiting around because she was determined to keep me involved. I ended up joining Troop 884. I was accepted there, which is always what I’ve been longing for. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to handle it. I became arrogant, headstrong, and developed a “my way is the only way” attitude. But patient leaders grew me in that area. I rose in the ranks and got elected leadership positions. I developed great friendships, some of which I still keep (though distantly) today. The leaders–like Bill Bliss, Robert Divelbiss, and Ron Wood–are some of my biggest influences in who I am today. I even went on three backpacking expeditions, leading one of them! (As me for my journals sometime.) I obtained Eagle Scout in 1996 and even completed the Eagle Palms before I turned 18. Not a lot of people in my life now know about this side of me, but yah, I can be quite the outdoorsman when I want. 🙂

As far as church activities, those didn’t go so well either for most of my high school years. But it ended in the best possible way! The church I was attending had a huge youth group. But it was more of a fashion show than anything else. I ended up making my schedule at the hospital so I worked Sunday mornings, just to avoid having to go. But the pain of my dad was still very real and very fresh, even a few years after it had happened. This other church in town sponsored a “Judgment House” every Halloween. It was a HUGE production; not like a hell house. My senior year (1996) I wanted to help out with it, so I became a guide that took audiences through. The other adult staff started talking to me and investing in me. They answered questions I had that I never felt able to ask. I remember reading John and got to 20:29, I think it was. Blessed are those who believe without seeing. As you can imagine, I was having a hard time reconciling my circumstances with faith in Christ. But pull on me God did, and on Halloween night, 1996, I gave my life to Christ. And the healing of the pain from my dad and all other tough circumstances began.

My Life: High School (Part 3)

My Life: Miserable Middle School (Part 2)

Middle school sucked. I mean, really. My two friends from elementary abandoned me. One got into the “gotta be cool” stuff and the other went emo. Okay, there wasn’t the term “emo” back then, but that’s what it was in today’s context. I was picked on a lot because…well, I was a late bloomer. And to top it off, the story I’m about to tell you happened during those years. But there was one brilliant light in that time and I will never forget her. Mrs. Gail Baugher (rhymes with locker). She was my 6th grade English teacher and an angel sent by God for me. Besides teaching me my helping verbs (which I still remember her jingle today), she was there for me in personal struggles I faced. She let me start a club called “Kids for Saving the Earth”. We started a paper recycling program. I thought it would be fun to count the number of pages we got. I don’t know why, but we did! Anyway, Mrs. Baugher…well, I can’t say enough praise about her.

Middle school is where I started developing my science aptitude. And it wasn’t without notice…by the other kids I mean. AKA, I was a nerd. I remember running out of class one time crying because the other students were making fun of me for asking so many questions. I also had given up on choir and wanted to try band. But we made one of the last “interest” meetings so my top picks for instruments were already full. I ended up playing the clarinet. My 7th grade year, the band director asked if I wanted to be last chair symphonic or first chair concert band, so I chose concert. My 8th grade year I was in symphonic. But then “marching band” started to loom ahead and I didn’t want to do that, so that was my musical instrument stint. I really wish I had just stuck with choir. I weaseled my way out of taking PE–something that terrified me–by volunteering to fill the building’s coke machines as PE credit. My 8th grade year, they didn’t let me do it again, so I tried to be a team manager for athletics. That plan backfired, because even though I did equipment stuff, the coach still made me dress out. I was mortified the day I walked into the locker room during the “athletic” period. Yes, more making fun of me. 😦

Around about that time, my dad re-married. She has a daughter, Kimberly. It was his weekend for my visit and when I came over Kim told me they were married! They just went down to the JotP and did it, I guess. I liked his new wife well enough, I suppose, especially before they got married. But for some reason, after they got married, she got it in her mind that I was out to break them up and get my parents back together. (I wouldn’t know this for many, many years.) It was awkward and I started withdrawing when I stayed with my dad. And it got really bad. I would, in time, become completely silent the entire weekend, only talking to Kimberly. And soon enough, every visit led to them yelling and fighting the entire time I was there. So I became more distant and they fought more and on and on. And whereas my dad used to come into mom’s house when he came to pick me up, that degenerated into just standing at the door, then sending Kim to the door, then just honking. That is how paranoid this woman became.

Finally, the “S hit the F” one weekend and she told my dad that it was either me or her (also information I found out much later). My dad had time to grab his boots and me and get out of the house. He was going to take me to my grandma’s for the remainder of the weekend, but I wanted to be taken to my sister’s. And that was the last time I saw my dad on any “official” terms.

For the remainder of my time in Garland, my dad would ever-so-often call me from work (he worked on phone lines) or swing by after school if he was in the area on a job. I have regularly gotten a birthday card and Christmas card. He gave me some money regularly in college, too. All in secret. All those comments I made about “finding out much later?”…it wasn’t until a summer break in college that I learned the circumstance of that day and what led to it. He told me he didn’t want to grow old alone and that he knew one day I would grow up and be out of the house, so he had to make a choice. It would not be until my late 20’s when I finally, completely reconciled myself to what happened that day.

So as not to end on a low note, one positive did come out of that. My mom took me to the pound soon after that day and that is when I got Scamper! He has been my comfort and closest companion for 17 years. Some people just don’t get peoples’ attachment to pets, but I hope you may see a little insight into mine. He’s my most precious gift in this world!

My Life: Miserable Middle School (Part 2)

My Life: The Early Years (Part 1)

[Without further ado, here is PART I of “my life”. I’m just ad-libbing as I go, so bare with the rambling. Hope you enjoy!]

The most defining circumstance that has made me who I am is the fact I grew up in a single-parent home. I grew up in Garland, TX, in the same house until I moved to college. Homestead Place, it was. Across the street was a huge city park with little league fields, pool, rec center, etc. I have 3 half-siblings who were grown up out of the house by the time I remember anything. The oldest is my sister, followed by two brothers. They each have 2 kids each, ranging from 18 to 10. My sister informs me when I was a baby, she would take me to cheerleading practice to pick up guys who thought it was cute she had a baby.

My parents divorced when I was three (I think it was). For a time, I had regular visitation to my dad’s, like one weekday a week and every other weekend. Looking back, my mom was a trooper. I can see now–however ungrateful I might have been about it as a child–how incredibly much she loves her family. They are everything to her. And there were tough times, just like almost everyone experiences. She’ll openly admit to not always making the right choices, but she always made sure we had what we needed.

I lived around the corner from my elementary school, Ethridge. Before that, even, I went to a daycare called Holly Hill, until I was old enough to walk home from school. I never was the popular kid or very bold or outgoing. I had a couple of friends. In fact, my best friends in elementary school were named Dustin and Josh. I remember many a recess we would run out to the field behind the playground and pretend to be Ghostbusters or Ninja Turtles. We played two characters each. I was Donatello (the smart turtle, of course) and Master Splinter.

I mentioned tough times and I think that is what led to my mom going to church. We went to Calvary Baptist Church. I was in 2nd grade when we joined. You know how it is: a 2nd grader going down front with their parent who is joining. I didn’t have a real grasp with what I was doing. I honestly don’t think that was the moment where I was truly saved by Jesus Christ, but don’t worry, we’ll get to when I was. I remember being in kid’s choir; got a lot of leading roles. Same for school. In fact, in third grade I had the lead role and had to wear this awful glittery superhero outfit. I could make Christmas cards come alive and then refreeze them. A story about that: when it was time to re-freeze a card, I would have to do this big swirling motion with my arms and chant “whoa whoa whoa…” until the actors got back to their places. Well, I got it in my head that I wasn’t allowed to take a breath while doing this and would be running on “fumes” and my voice would break while I tried to finish the line. I also remember a time when I didn’t have my lines memorized because I was confused by the instructions and the director took me to the 5th grade area to call my mom, rather than to the office. She wanted to humiliate me and it worked! Ha…I just remembered I was in a city-wide play too. I had one line, but I wore this itchy pajama costume and sat there the whole time scratching all over. I also nearly tripped over a giant doll, flailing my arms to many a gasp from the crowd. But don’t worry, I steadied myself and kept right on going. So yeah, I was into singing and acting during elementary school.

I was also active in Cub Scouts. (Dangit, I can’t remember my Pack number.) It was important to my mom that I be around some good, positive male influences. So I did the whole camping, pinewood derby, pack meetings, etc thing. I seem to remember my mom being a cub leader for a time, and I think I hated it. LOL. She would be polite to the other boys and let them go first on activities, which would make me mad. Anyway, I got through that and earned the rank of Webelos (WE BE LOyal Scouts…creative, huh?) and the coveted Arrow of Light. Oooooo!

Middle school came around. I went to Bussey Middle School. And this is when things began to get really tough for me.

To Be Continued…

My Life: The Early Years (Part 1)