|Job and His Friends by Ilya Repin (1869)|
Not a moment had passed when another servant came to Job and informed him that fire from heaven (asteroid? volcano?) had burned all his sheep and servants, except for one, who, escaped with his life and was able to tell Job (Job 1:16).
Immediately after the second servant shared the bad news, a third servant showed up on the scene and informed him that his camels were stolen and his servants killed by a raiding party. Again, this servant escaped with his life and was able to tell Job (Job 1:17).
No sooner had the third servant finished informing Job, a fourth servant came to tell Job his sons and daughters were enjoying a feast at the eldest brother's home when a tornado formed, ripped through the home and sent the roof crashing onto his children, killing all of them.
If the story is to be believed, in one day, Job lost 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, a large number of servants, 7 sons and 3 daughters.
As if to add insult to injury, Job contracted painful sores on his head and feet (Job 2:7). Later, Job's friends came to try to comfort him. But his pain was so extreme, his friends could only sit with him in silence (Job 2:13).
Upon further reading in the Book of Job, we also learn he was mocked and scorned by friends and neighbors and even by his wife.
I'm not going to debate the historicity of Job's story, but rather I want to focus on the question: could it have happened? Indeed the scale of Job's trials is large, but each of those events have happened to other people. And if you still don't think what happened to Job could happen to others, there are plenty of examples of hard times which exist all around us today. They existed 50 years ago; they existed 100 years ago and they will exist in perpetuity.
If It's Happened to Someone Before, It Could Happen Again and It Could Happen to Me
Some stories stick with me. I often come back to them. These stories rattle around in my head often. Not much needs to be said. I think I can provide the headline and you can imagine the rest.
My grandmother lost her 15-year old son to a tick. She lost a young baby boy too. My sister-in-law and my niece both lost a baby. Friends and other relatives have had still-born children. My aunt lost one son to stomach cancer and another son to Lou Gehrig's disease; both died in the prime of their lives while my aunt lived well into her 90's. A nephew took his own life as a teenager. A mother in our community, backed out of her driveway and accidentally ran over her young child; the child died. A wife lost her husband after he had a motorbike accident - her young son saw his father crash the bike on the street and witnessed him die. I was in a restaurant one afternoon. A mother and her young daughter had just ordered before me and sat down with their food. I ordered mine and the cashier had tears in her eyes. She told me that the mother/daughter just lost their husband/father - he had died recently. The daughter was really too young to understand the situation. Another wife in the community, lost her healthy, strong husband to a stroke. He was around age 40. Their boys lost their dad; my son lost his soccer coach. My father-in-law - my wife's father ... he died too young and unexpectedly. More on that later.
A young child at our church beat cancer with treatments. I hear the treatments are pretty tough. Another young mother in the community recently told me how her young son is enduring cancer treatments. A couple of months ago on Facebook, I read of parents laying to rest three of their children after they suffered from juvenile Batten disease. Another story from my sister-in-law goes that her neighbor's young daughter was sitting at the table during dinner and began to complain that she felt like throwing up, but could not. She then slumped over and died from a burst appendix.
I read The Republic of Pirates a while back and will never forget one story. I summarized the story previously: one example the author used to illustrate how bad a sailor's life was, was about this young boy who the captain beat quite savagely for 17 days! He beat him, whipped him, made him eat his own stool and when the boy finally spoke, he asked for something to drink. The captain ran to his quarters and then returned with a cup of his own urine and made the boy drink it. The boy finally died.
The first part of Vikor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning, details the horrors of living in a Nazi concentration camp. Lots of horror stories from WWII and concentration camps haunt me.
I still remember following the news about and feeling anxiety for Elizabeth Smart and her family, when she was kidnapped and raped over a span of nine months. I also remember the horror when the news broke on the Ariel Castro kidnappings - gut wrenching.
In September 2017, I watched Otto Warmbier's parents describe seeing their son for the first time since being released from captivity in North Korea. Their account is harrowing (see here).
September 11, 2001 and 2012 will always be vivid in my mind. From 2001, the images of the planes crashing into the towers as well as the images of the man and people leaping from burning buildings, still chills me to the bone. And then in 2012, seeing Ambassador Stevens' bruised, smoked, body being dragged in a street in Benghazi, makes me shudder. Then there are the mass shootings: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora Colorado, Orlando night club, D.C. Sniper, Ft. Hood 2009 & 2014 ... Las Vegas ... the list goes on and on. These are just the ones that have stood out in my memory. Not to mention the other terror attacks in London, Barcelona, Norway, Russia, India ... all over the world. It truly is endless the list of terror attacks and mass shootings.
Weather happens; and anywhere you live, nasty weather can pop up. Tornadoes, hurricanes, strong wind, abundant snow, ice storms, flooding, drought. Our family has lived through tornado warnings in Dallas and Houston. Just weeks after we left Dallas, a tornado ripped through our old neighborhood. Then in 2011, after enduring a searing, hot summer drought in Houston, my kids had to hunker down in their school when a tornado tore across our community in November. Then there are the major natural disasters. To name a few that remain in my conscious: Mt. St. Helen's, Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami of 2004, Japan 2011, Katrina, Ike, Irma, Maria, Harvey ... more on Harvey later.
Of course we can't forget about wild animals and their interactions with humans. Some of those interactions are still fresh in my mind. My sister fainted when a rattlesnake slithered over her foot. Mountain lion attacks in California and cougar sightings in a business park in Utah. I don't have too many details, but I seem to recall my brother going on a bear hunt in Alaska and killing one! I might need to ask him about that someday. Living in a forest affords many opportunities to see wild animals. Several years ago I battled armadillos who tore up my grass and yard, digging for grubs and such. I think I killed about half a dozen armadillos that year. Our neighbor was walking her two schnauzers in the park next to our home when she happened on a coyote. The coyote attacked her small dogs leaving them nearly dead. The neighbor escaped with no injuries. My wife, one day, just finished a walk and was getting the mail when a coyote emerged from the forest and was eyeing our schnauzer. We often see deer and buck on our walks. One baby deer got stuck in our backyard. She couldn't escape and when my wife went to investigate, the doe tried going though a small opening between our fence and side of our house. She got herself wedged really tight and was crying. Jill pulled the fence down (it was sagging already) so the deer could escape. Raccoons are quite the characters and have taught us the need to always keep garbage in the garage and to not put the garbage out until the day the trash gets picked up. Every night on my home camera I see raccoons walking through the driveway and back yard. Possums also frequent our neighborhood, but are far less bothersome than raccoons. Bats come out at dusk. In the summertime you can see them swooping through the air eating insects. One morning on a walk, I had one swoop around me several times. It really freaked me out how often and how close it came at me. On another occasion, a bat swooped on my wife and I while we were on a walk. People have been bitten by bats and contracted rabies. Some have died. Every winter, we get turkey vultures. They come from the north and roost on the roofs and trees. It is very similar to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. The most destructive wild animal in our area are feral hogs. They will absolutely ravage a yard - like a plow. Grass, plants, bushes - all are devastated by hogs. We even have alligators near our home. I've only ever seen one alligator in the lake near our home. And I was only able to see it through binoculars. Then there are the snakes: the garter snakes, yellow-bellied rat snakes, tree snakes, king snakes, and then the venomous ones: moccasins, rattlers, corals and copperheads. I've seen one dead rattlesnake; one water moccasin, four corals and countless copperheads. More on copperheads later.
Markets and keeping a career can be volatile. Of course many know of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Growing up, I often heard my parents discuss how they were dealing with tough times in the late 1970s and early 80s. I read an op-ed of a man who was laid off in 2004 after working with a major company for 25 years - too young to retire, too old to get another job ... it was the same company I work for today. Enron was eye-opening. We have friends who worked for Enron ... one day they were well-to-do, the next they had no retirement savings or pension to draw from. The Dot Com Bubble ... I narrowly escaped that while some of my friends I graduated college with did not. I often think of a manager named Rich O'Connor. He was a senior manager who interviewed me. After I landed the job and after working a few months for the company, I was shocked to hear that Rich, who was about to retire, drove home one day, pulled into the driveway, experienced a heart attack and died.
You see? Who needs the Book of Job when you have all these stories to draw from? If any one of these things happened to someone (and they veritably did), then it could happen to me and you. That is an important lesson to remember.
A Word About Copperheads
We live in a cul-de-sac near a heavily forested park. We get snakes in our yard quite a bit. Most are harmless, but we do see the occasional venomous snake - it's almost always the copperhead. Usually, the time of year we see the snakes is between the end of April and beginning of May.
Our first encounter with a copperhead was in 2013, when my daughter left the back door ajar. My wife walked in the kitchen, she noted the door was slightly open and a copperhead was slithering in! She quickly shut the door and pinched him between the door and the door-jamb. When I got home a few minutes later, I took some hedge clippers and lopped his head off. It was quite a shock at the time.
Ever since then, we've encountered the occasional copperhead in the garage and in the yard. Heavy rocks, shovels, brooms, rakes, pellet guns - all effective for dealing with copperheads and snakes in general. A friend of mine, who deals with and likes snakes, came over one time when we had a copperhead in our garage, and dealt with it. He took it home and skinned it. Copperheads don't lay eggs, rather they are one of the few snakes who deliver live babies. He told me the one he caught in our garage had babies in her.
Copperhead bites aren't 100% lethal. Usually, people who have been bit by a copperhead suffer pain and tissue damage. I've done a fair amount of research on copperhead bites and have seen the damage that can be done (images.google.com search: copperhead bite ... don't click the link if you're squeamish).
Coming across any snake in your yard or in the wild can cause your heart to skip a beat or two. But like anything, the the more you become accustomed to it, the less "shock" you feel. For me, I always experience that rush of adrenaline, even after the many snakes I've encountered. I'm minding my business and then - poof - there is a snake sitting there in the garage, or driveway or yard or walking path or street. There is never an announcement with copperheads (unlike the rattle of a rattlesnake). He's just sitting there. There is not much one can do to prevent a copperhead from showing up in your path. You just have to acknowledge he's there; know he's venomous and then have the courage to deal with him.
The Year of the Copperhead
I've dealt with more copperheads in 2017 than any prior year of my life. Coincidentally, 2017 has been the wildest year of my family's life, in terms of unexpected events. Indeed we've experienced lots of challenges, but we've had a lot of wonderfully memorable times too.
About that same time, I was on an early morning walk and decided to jog a bit. It was early in the morning and dark and I did not see a bump in the sidewalk and I took a nasty tumble. I banged up my knee and shattered the screen on my iPhone. Not a particular great start to the year.
On top of these two events, my wife and I noticed that a small leak under our bathroom vanity had turned into a larger leak. We finally decided that replacement of the vanity was needed, besides fixing the leak. After consulting with our friend who is a home designer, we decided we should proceed to not only fix the leak, but upgrade the bathroom. And while we were upgrading the master bathroom, we decided to fix one of the upstairs bathrooms, which had been leaking on and off for the last eight years. And while we were at it, we decided to remodel the powder room bathroom next to the kitchen. Over the course of the next nine months, we met on and off talking about and designing these three bathrooms.
One weekend, we were able to go visit him at the beach next to Galveston (his first road-trip stop of many). It was a beautiful day on the beach. The kids got to play in the ocean and my wife and I and him were able to relax and talk. He fired up the grill and we all ate hamburgers and chips. A truly memorable experience! We were so sad to say goodbye to him when we drove back home.
February was unusually warm in 2017. Instead of typical highs in the 60s, we experienced almost half of the month in the low to mid 80s. On Saturday February 25, we enjoyed a morning watching our youngest play a basketball game. Then in the afternoon with not much else to do, I decided to give some of our hedges a trim. My 12 year old son came out to help me. After trimming about 4 bushes, we began the clean up. We took 1 or 2 wheel-barrow loads to the forest. Working on filling up the 3rd, I reached down to pick up a scoop and got pricked. I knew there was a thistle-like weed in the pile and at first I thought it pricked me, but then a moment later, I saw the copperhead slither off. I yelled out, "I got bit by a copperhead!" I moved my son away from the pile, we went inside, I cleaned the bite and then asked my 15 year old son to go with me to the emergency room. My two younger kids stayed home.
I drove and had my son look up symptoms of a copperhead bite. I wanted to know what to expect in the next few minutes to hour. After ensuring I wasn't going to pass out, I had him call my wife. She wasn't answering her phone. He kept trying.
We drove to the local ER at town center. After talking to the desk attendant, she informed me that they were not equipped to handle copperhead bites. She said I should go to the main hospital ER 4 miles away. We got back int the truck and drove to the main hospital ER.
I stayed in the ER until they could get me a room in the ICU. I was about to go to the ICU at 5pm, but someone needed the room more than I did. So I waited in the ER wheelchair from 5pm to 9pm. My wife was there the whole time, so it wasn’t so bad. By 9pm, I was in a bed in the ICU. I took a couple of Tylenol that night for pain – the pain was not so bad by then.
While I was in the ICU, several nurses were concerned about my heart. I had a heart flutter / irregular beat sometimes. It was not constant, but would come and go. It started in 2007. I went to a cardiologist in 2007; went through the gamut of tests and was given a clean bill of health – was told to keep working out. Over the last 10 years, I just lived with it; sometimes it was more noticeable than others. I tried seeing a cardiologist in 2016, but the scheduling never worked out and I dropped it.
Saturday night and Sunday morning, the nurse saw what my heart was doing. The doctor was able to arrange for a cardiologist to come visit me and look at my heart. They did an echo cardiogram on me Sunday afternoon. The cardiologist said it was not a major concern and that a cardiac ablation would most likely fix it. Later in March, I saw another cardiologist and went through some additional testing. We decided that a cardiac ablation would be the best course of correction. The procedure was scheduled for July. More on this later.
After the copperhead bite, I became a bit of a local sensation at work and in my community. Lots of people wanted to know the details; other people would tell of a story of some dude getting bit by a copperhead and I would say, "that was me." At work, I had multiple opportunities to present my story and share a safety minute on yard safety and what to do in the event you are bitten by a venomous snake. In some circles and conversations, my co-workers suggested the snake bite provided positive exposure for me in front of senior management, thus helping boost my career. I can't fully discount the notion.
I stopped doing major yard work in February and hired a lawn guy. The first time he came out, he found (I think) the copperhead that bit me. He killed it. Thus ended the life of the first copperhead I encountered in 2017.
The copperhead bite wasn't the only event in February that I will never forget. A couple of weeks before the bite, I celebrated my birthday on a Friday night by going to the high school basketball game. Our team was having a pretty good year and they were facing their main rival. It was a somewhat close game through 4 quarters, but our team made a strong push to the end and put themselves in a position to win it. And win it they did - in fashion! It was one of the best birthday presents I've received.
53-52 over atrashcocita #gomustangs @chaselovins_ with the final second game winner!!!! @KingwoodBBall GREAT GAME. pic.twitter.com/i7xlvl4NzD— conner derelioglu (@connerd45) February 11, 2017
March was welcomed. Our oldest was able to go with her band to New York City and perform in Carnegie Hall. The rest of the family enjoyed time off from school during Spring break. And our family spent some time at the Houston Rodeo. April was equally quiet, as we enjoyed the warming of spring and the anticipation of the school year wrapping up. We attended practice events for the end-of-year school programs and choir plays. My 2nd son and I started a chess club for him and his friends. And my wife and I enjoyed long spring walks under sunny blue skies. My oldest son also started his spring-summer basketball league and we were able to travel to a lot of his games and watch him play.
Around the second week of April, I was on one of the greenbelt trails and there on the right side sat a copperhead! I was able to find a rock and throw it skillfully onto its head. Thus ended the life of the second copperhead I encountered in 2017.
My current assignment at work is highly cyclical. For the vast majority of the year, I assist management in developing an outlook for the current year's budget as well as a plan the next year's budget. There is a lot of work and planning involved. Every March, the process begins again and gradually heats up until we finish in September. May is really when the work begins in earnest. On Monday May 8, after wrapping up a full agenda from our team meeting, I walked back to my desk full of enthusiasm. I had a lot of work to do that day and week and I was energized to tackle my to-do list. I had been sitting at my desk no less than 10 minutes when I received a phone call from my mother-in-law. She could barely speak through tears. My father-in-law passed away at the young age of 66. She wanted me to go be with Jill, as soon as I could, so that when she heard the news her father passed away, she would have someone with her. The news was shocking, to say the least. I packed my things at work, told my team and manager and then drove home. I called Jill, but I knew she was teaching her class. When she called back, I told her she just needed to excuse herself from work and meet me at home. She asked what was wrong; again I told her to meet me at home. She asked, "is it my dad?" I had to tell her at that point - yes. Silence.
She was at home when I walked in. Then the tears came. We spent all morning and afternoon talking, crying, mourning and discussing how best to tell each of the kids when they got home from school. We told the kids and there were more tears and mourning.
After we had returned home from the funeral trip, towards the end of May, on a Saturday night, I was walking to my truck around 11pm to go pick up Emma from a friend's home. There next to my truck in the garage on the driver's side sat a copperhead. This one truly caught me off-guard and seeing him so close to the truck I get into every day really threw me off and my heart was pounding. I got the shovel and crushed his head. Thus ended the life of the third copperhead I encountered in 2017.
June and July were quite busy, but very enjoyable and memorable. My youngest and I took a quick trip up to Idaho for my parents' 60th anniversary. We got to commemorate them, play lots of golf and eat delicious food. Then a couple of weeks later, the whole family drove up to Utah to attend my niece's wedding. We got to spend lots of time with family and play more golf and eat lots more delicious food. At the end of June, my oldest passed her driver's test and earned her license to drive.
July brought to completion a 10-year ordeal with my irregular heart beat. My cardiac ablation was scheduled for the first week of July - everything went as planned. The only really memorable part was during the pre-op when they were poking me with all those needles. It was early in the morning and I had been fasting for quite some time. The nurses were having a hard time finding veins. After about 4 or 5 pokes, my wife went limp and passed out! All attention that was on me was diverted to her until she felt good enough to get up and out of the room! She survived and I turned out just fine ... it took them 7 pokes to finally get 3 IVs in me. The cardiologist said it was a very routine procedure and everything went well. The arrhythmia has finally abated and I have never felt better in a long time. Quite frankly, the toughest part of the whole procedure was the removal of the catheter and then trying to get my digestive system flowing again. But things sorted themselves out and I fully recovered.
We finished July with some fun. Our youngest child turned 11 and we had lots of friends over for a party. There was lots of good food, goodies, face painting and swimming.
August gave us two events that we will never forget. The first event had been anticipated for quite some time: the moon eclipsing the sun for all of North America to see. My brother, being an astronomy aficionado, knew this day would be here ten years ago. And he knew it would pass directly over central Idaho. He made a deal with a lodge owner that he could have a reservation for the normal cost. The lodge owner agreed. As August 21 approached, my brother reminded the lodge owner of the agreement, as the prices of hotels all across Idaho skyrocketed due to demand. The agreement was kept and my brother and his family enjoyed front row seats to the eclipse. As for me, I was at work and observed the many people on campus trying to catch a glimpse of the eclipse.
One day after the eclipse, right after lunch, I received an email from my manager. The title of the email, "Undead Hurricane Harvey." The previous week, back to August 13, Harvey was investigated and then entered the Gulf of Mexico, where the consensus was he was going to die in Mexico. Then came the email, which quoted a respected weather blogger.
"I think the best case scenario for this weekend is scattered showers and highs in the low 90s. In the worse case scenario, we have the potential to see some widespread flooding. Some of the global forecast models have painted rain bullseyes of 10 to 15 inches of rain over parts of the Houston metro area. Although it is too early to have much confidence in that, this definitely shows the potential for heavy rainfall if Harvey reforms (even into a weak tropical storm) and moves into the central Texas coast. If heavy rains do come, right now they're most likely from later on Saturday through Monday for the Houston area."There it was - the beginning of what was to become a series of events that would change our lives forever.
My wife's worries kicked into high gear (thankfully) as she scrambled to buy water and extra food in case we needed to hunker down for the hurricane. We figured we would get lots of rain and possibly lose electricity for a few days and then things would return to normal. All day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we watched Harvey lumber across south Texas and inland. Then he stopped and headed towards Houston. All that time, he moved ever so slowly with Houston on the "dirty side" of the storm - meaning we got pummeled with rain. We thought we'd get a foot or so of rain. But it didn't stop at 12 inches. And with every forecast, the amount of rain predictions kept going up.
Sunday afternoon, my son and I walked out behind our home towards the lake to see how far up the water had come. It was pretty high. Not as high as the water from the previous spring flooding. I didn't worry. In Spring 2016, the water was much higher and I felt confident that nothing would come of it. But we still discussed "what-ifs". One of which was, "what if the water comes into our street?" Our response was, "we'll begin moving things upstairs."
Later in the day on Monday, another friend of ours and his buddy, came and scoped out how high up our house is and how long it would possibly take for the water to reach the inside of our home. By their estimates and leveraging the East and West fork monitors of the San Jacinto, they said the water might get right up to our doorstep and then recede. At that point, I figured the worst we would get would be an inch to few inches of water in our home. So we put the furniture on cans and blocks.
Still more friends came to help us move a ton of food and things, from our place to a friends home. We figured it would be better to get the kids out while there was light. With them settled comfortably in a friends home, my oldest son and I hunkered down in our home, hoping the water would recede.
At 6pm on Monday, the water had reached my AC units in the back yard. At that point, I decided to shut power off to the home. My son and I then went over to our next-door neighbors, who are on a little higher ground. We all watched the news and monitored the river levels. Lake Conroe Dam was releasing a lot of water and the East and West forks continued to rise.
By 11pm on Monday, the water was right up to our door step. I was still holding out hope.
Two hours later, at 1am Tuesday August 29, water entered our home. My son and I were still at our neighbors and ended up falling asleep there. Three hours later at 4am, our neighbors woke us up and said water was coming into their home too. We needed to get out before we all got stuck. My son and I went back to our home, waded in the water inside our home (about up to our knees), got our bags, threw them into the kayaks and then paddled up the street and put our stuff in the back of my truck. Then we went back to our neighbors and helped them get up the street. I took their cat, who was in his little kennel. He was scared and freaking out.
From Wednesday August 30 til about Sunday September 10, the daily routine was, get up, eat, muck, eat, muck, eat, muck, sleep. There were so many homes to muck and so many needed help. Between keeping things moving along at our home and helping others, we were always busy. I was especially proud of my oldest son, who worked so hard during these days. He had a lot of friends whose homes were flooded and he spent a lot of time not only helping us, but helping them. My other kids did a lot to help too. They each helped in their own way and they did their best to keep a positive attitude. The work didn't stop after September 10. It continued on for the whole month of September, but for our family, we began to focus more on making plans and coordinating work to get our home repairs moving.
For the kids, school got off to a rough start. They had barely began the school schedule when Harvey hit. Our kids' high school got hit really hard with the flooding and the entire student body would not be able to use the school. The school had two options: 1) disband the high school and farm the kids out to multiple schools or 2) pick one of a few awkward schedules and share a high school building with another student body. Parents and students opted to share the high school with another student body. Our two older kids began their new schedule of commuting 45 minutes and starting school at 11:30am and getting out at 4:30pm and then commuting 60 minutes back home (extra time due to normal rush hour traffic). Their days were long, but they learned to adjust. The middle school and elementary school were not impacted in our area, so our two younger kids were able to go to school with a normal schedule.
The second half of September, we got so much done. With the help of my pool guy, we turned our pool from brown to blue. The pool, by my count, had about 15 fishes in it. After 20 lbs. of shock, they were all floating the next day. Then we drained, filled, and backwashed repeatedly. When it got fairly clear, we cleaned the filters and then the pool really cleared up. My cleaner broke from all the extended use, and I ended up buying a new one.
Contractors began arriving and soon walls were up and floated and mudded. The dust ... oh the endless dust! We began working ideas for remodeling the house with our contractor. What was going to be a 3 bathroom remodel project turned into a whole home remodel. One of the main ideas was to knock out the wall dividing the kitchen and dining room to make the space more open. We also worked on re-designing the kitchen layout as well as the office (our oldest son's room). Plumbers, electricians, carpenters and laborers came. They knocked out walls, ceilings, re-piped, re-wired, jack-hammered, busted pipes, fixed pipes, moved pipes ... all of it. During all this flurry of work, one quote from C.S. Lewis kept popping into my head:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.Perhaps that quote soothed my anxiety a bit, in the sense that there is a directing mind over a home remodel just as God is at the helm of a soul remodel. And perhaps all of 2017 and the seeming chaos of it all, is similar to what C S Lewis is talking about. It's quite painful to see your home flooded, gutted, ripped up, hammered, chiseled, dirtied and stomped on so much. But in keeping the greater vision in mind, the whole ordeal is quite bearable - the greater vision being: knowing that everything will be better than before - more sound - more suited - more loved.
On September 29, I arrived home from work and found a dead copperhead sitting in my driveway! I asked the workers about it and they said they found it in our garage and killed it. He was moving a mirror in the garage and the snake lunged at him. They just killed it and threw it in the driveway for me to see. I told them it was venomous and he was lucky it didn't bite him! Thus ended the life of the fourth copperhead I encountered in 2017.
October brought a wind of optimism. Walls were up, all the debris and garbage were hauled off, we had a plan to move forward and things seemed to be moving along. Sure, there were bumps and stalls, but overall, a lot of progress was made.
While on a walk on October 4, I came across another copperhead on the greenbelt. Not sure if I used a rock and branch this time, but I was able to deal with him as well. Thus ended the life of the fifth copperhead I encountered in 2017.
The highlight of October was seeing the wall between the kitchen and dining room removed and in it's place, a grand cedar beam arch. On October 18, a big 16 foot cedar beam (16' x 12" x 8") was delivered to our home. The truck driver, me and one other dry-wall worker helped lift the massive thing off the truck and into the house. I've never helped lift something so heavy! The two other smaller beams were much easier to move. The next day, the carpenter and his crew came. I pulled up a chair and observed the crew install two temporary trusses on each side of the wall. Then they tore down the wall. Next, they cut the cedar beam to size and hefted the big log up. They quickly put temporary supported beams under it and then they put up the two cedar beams up to form the arch. That whole exercise took perhaps 3 hours. The end result was impressive. Our home was much more open and the smell of cedar wafted through the home.
A few days later on October 22, while on a quiet Sunday morning walk, I found a smallish copperhead in the gutter. He wasn't moving much and I though he might already be dead. It was a cool morning too, so that may have been a reason he wasn't moving too much. But I poked him and he moved. This time, I found a strong wire from a yard sign and was able to sever his head. Thus ended the life of the sixth copperhead I encountered in 2017. He would be the last copper head I came across in 2017.
At the end of October, the day before Halloween, my wife and I get a call from our oldest. She was a passenger in her friend's car had been in a fender bender. OK, I thought. No big deal. I told my daughter to tell her friend that she needed to exchange insurance information and then drive home. Then more details emerged. The car wasn't drivable. The airbags deployed. The glass shattered and my daughter got some scratches. The windshield was massively cracked and buckled. It wasn't just a fender bender; it was a full blown accident. Her friend was driving them home from school and was "distracted" and when she looked up, she intended to stop, but got the accelerator and brake mixed up and they slammed into the car in front of them going 35-40 mph. The car they hit, in turn, hit the car in front of him.
On Halloween, I took my oldest to the neighborhood clinic to have her checked out. After a check-up and some quick x-rays, it was determined she is just fine, After two days, she and her friend were back to normal.
Leading up to Thanksgiving in November work continued on the home. Jill and our contractor were about to take a whole day to visit some kitchen cabinet stores to get ideas for kitchen design when Jill's friend showed her pictures of her new kitchen. We quickly learned of a carpenter who could build custom cabinets for quite a reasonable price. Many, many hours later and after lots of discussion and talking of ideas, we had a kitchen design. We were able to provide the design to the carpenter and get a quote and found it quite reasonable. Furthermore, he would be able to build closet space for Ben, a bookcase in the living room and hallway and our master bedroom closet and rebuild our stairs. After seeing some of his work, we were quite impressed and excited to see him start.
Progress on the home continued. November marked three city inspections (structural, electrical and plumbing). Thankfully, we have a great plumber, who discovered a gas leak next to the furnace in the attic. All the walls, except the living room, were finished ahead of the tile guy and carpenter.
For Thanksgiving, my wife's friend offered her home to our family, since they would be out of town the whole week. It was a much needed break from school, work and reconstruction and it was the first time our whole family was under one roof since August 28.
At the end of Thanksgiving week, we had about a third of our floor tiles cleaned and then had our washer, dryer and second fridge delivered. We set up our son's bed and made a space for him. At that point, we were able to get most of the family moved back into our home. Our eldest stayed with a neighbor, but all the other kids were able to move back into their rooms, while Jill and I used our eldest's room. We also had the damaged fireplace removed and a new one installed.
Our carpenter showed up the last week of November and began work on the kitchen. He and his crew were able to fabricate and install much of the kitchen. Also during this week, work started on repairing the upstairs bathroom. This bathroom had been leaking on and off since we first bought the home in 2009. The plumber installed a new shower pan and filled it with water to ensure it did not leak. After a few hours, I noticed it was leaking through the ceiling. It was leaking so much, there was a bulge in the ceiling. I lost it. On a Saturday night at 11pm, I took a hammer to the ceiling, ripping a massive hole and let all the leaked water out. I put a bucket on the floor to catch most of the water. The next day, I told our contractor and plumber that I wanted the ceiling ripped out and the bathroom ripped out and then put it completely back together. I did not want the ceiling put back together until the bathroom was fully restored and functioning and we verified there were going to be no more ceiling leaks.
With the start of December, we had a few sit-down meetings with our designer and discussed how we were going to push this project across the finish line. Bathroom tile, in the master bathroom, powder room and upstairs bathroom needed to be completed. The kitchen needed to be completed. Base boards and crown molding needed to be installed. Kitchen tops and bathroom sinks and tops needed to be finished. The plumbing and toilets needed to be installed and finished out. And all of that needed to be done before we painted. We also worked to get quotes on painting the kitchen cabinets, walls, molding and base boards. Having talked to neighbors, we learned that we simply could not be in the house while painting was on-going - the fumes are too strong. So we planned to get as much done as possible and then let the painting crew take over while we left town for Christmas break.
The tile guy, electrician, drywall crew, plumber, and granite guy worked for three weeks to get things ready. Things still didn't go quite smoothly. After getting the bathroom vanity and sink roughly set up, we realized Jill's faucet (which already had the plumbing and tile in place) was too low. So they had to rip out a few wall tiles and adjust the plumbing. Jill's kitchen vent hood had also been set up, but afterwards, she realized that it was set at 24 inches high when it should have been 36 inches high; so they had to undo that work and move the vent up and put things back together again. And one other little minor detail was that there was no outlet for where the microwave would be placed; so they had to figure out a way to deal with that. Lots of minor and major issues needed to be dealt with along the way in the rebuild process. But by December 16, things looked pretty good and we were ready to leave town and let the painting begin.
While painting and trim out finished up, we spent our time with family and friends in the cold North. We got to go to Temple Square; we watched some Weber State basketball; we played lots of basketball; watched the new Star Wars movie a few times; went shopping and got ready for Christmas; spent time with family; ate lots of good food and relaxed. And despite all the good times, 2017 still had to try our patience when everyone in the family came down with flu-like symptoms during the first few days of our vacation. Thanks to good insurance, we all were able to see the doctor just down the street and 4 out of the 6 of us were prescribed Tamiflu. We got our rest and did our best to recover before Christmas day. For the first few days of the trip, we only got inches of snow and even what little we got, melted. But on Christmas Eve, we got several inches of snow and on Christmas Day, we got to play in it! It was a great way to finish out a very tough year.
As I look back on all that has happened this year, a few quotes come to mind. The first is a quote I referenced in a Facebook Live video I recorded back in September. It is from Marcus Aurelius and is one of my favorite quotes:
Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.
'It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.' No, you should rather say: 'It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.' Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it? Or in general would you call anything a misfortune for a man which is not a deviation from man's nature? Or anything a deviation from man's nature which is not contrary to the purpose of his nature? Well, then. You have learnt what that purpose is. Can there be anything, then, in this happening which prevents you being just, high-minded, self-controlled, intelligent, judicious, truthful, honourable and free - or any other of those attributes whose combination is the fulfilment of man's proper nature? So in all future events which might induce sadness remember to call on this principle: 'this is no misfortune, but to bear it true to yourself is good fortune.'We are artists in this life and the material we have to work with are other people and their actions and events in general. How we react to them is the paint on our canvas. We get to choose how we react mentally and physically.
The second quote is from Seneca and although in the negative form, the point is still valid:
I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do - not even yourself.Again, the perspective is not to view these events as good or bad, but to view them as material to interact with and to prove your virtues of wisdom, justice, temperance and courage.
Epictetus used Hercules as an example of someone who was defined by his adversity:
What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?
Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.
And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir him into action?I don't look at the Year of the Copperhead as an unfortunate year. Rather, I look upon 2017 as a year where I and my family were able to face what life threw at us with a "stiff upper lip" and react with all the required virtues - especially courage. Moving forward, we will forever be defined by the challenges sent our way and how we reacted to them. Personally, I am extremely grateful for what has happened this year. Never before have we had more opportunities to teach our children how to approach, view and manage adversity. I sincerely hope they will remember this year for the rest of their lives; and more importantly, the lessons they've learned in dealing with tough times.
I hope you've learned something from this post. Writing it was a very cathartic experience for me and helped me to continue to put life in the proper perspective. Feel free to leave a comment or reaction and share how adversity has helped you become a better person.