Saturday, October 15, 2016

Remembering Miss Langs

     You never forget your kindergarten teacher. And I will never forget my kids' kindergarten teacher, for they all had the same one, making Miss Blythe Langs a very special person to our family. We first met her in 2008 when Julia entered Briarwood Elementary School just down the street from our house. We loved our firstborn's experience with Miss Langs so much that we requested that Ella have her as well, and then Max. Because of this, she became a family friend, not just a teacher (though being "just a teacher" is an amazing thing in and of itself). She loved the kids in her class and cared that they received the best education possible. She did above and beyond things in her classroom, like bringing chicken and duck eggs in and keeping them in an incubator so the kids could learn about the process of chicks and ducklings hatching, resulting in the kids coming up with names like "Twitch" and "Banana" for the newborns. We were blessed to have her as the kids' kindergarten teacher.
     Even after all three kids moved up the ranks of elementary school and were no longer in her class, we'd make a point to still stop by and say hello to Miss Langs (she insisted Marty and I call her Blythe). We were connected to her more than any teacher at that school because of our history with her.
     Almost two years ago, Blythe messaged us on Facebook asking if she could call us. I had a sense it wasn't necessarily good news. It wasn't. Blythe told us she had cancer and asked us to pray because she didn't have a pastor. The news was heartbreaking, and even more so because she told us through tears. Of course we would pray. And pray we did. Every day that I walked Max and Ella to school, we prayed for our usual items and we prayed for Miss Langs, for healing, for peace, for her to know the love of God amidst this trial she was facing.
     She didn't return to teach the following school year but stayed in touch with her through her fight with cancer. Unfortunately she would say things like "I wish I had better news."
     Last Spring, Marty was able to have lunch with Blythe. She was dying, but she was living life, trying to connect with as many friends as possible and was headed to Hawaii in a few weeks. Yet, the most important thing she conveyed was she was at peace and was ready to be with Jesus. Though we prayed for healing, that peace she was experiencing was the biggest part of my request of God. Marty said it was an honor to be able to sit with her and observe this woman so brave and so ready to go if she had to die. Marty gave her a necklace and Blythe took this picture of her wearing it and sent it to us...

     She looked so pretty and healthy.
     Woke up this morning to "RIP's" on her Facebook page and my heart grew sad instantly. She died yesterday, October 14, on her birthday. 
     Miss Langs... Blythe... a kindergarten teacher is pivotal in a child's life, and a good kindergarten teacher is monumental. You were a great kindergarten teacher. You taught, loved, and cared for our three kids and we will be forever grateful to God for allowing our paths to cross on this earth. It was an honor to help you walk through the fight of your life and lift up prayers for you. You haven't been our kids' teacher for years now, but these last several months, you taught us how to live life and face death. Still teaching. Our hearts are breaking and rejoicing for you. We will never, ever forget you. We are remembering Miss Langs today... Blythe Langs. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Terror in the Mountain

     We were able to swing a trip to Disneyland on the cheap in September... where I faced a life-long fear. In the 70's, a commercial aired advertising that something had gotten in to the Matterhorn at Disneyland. The announcer had an eerie voice and the shot was as if you were on a bobsled slowly approaching something that had glowing red eyes. Then, a roar emitted from the TV. It was captivating in a terrifying way (at least to me as a kid). I had never been on the Bobsled ride at Disneyland since the only time I had been to the park up to that point was when I was 4.
     I finally returned to Disneyland when I was 16. I never forgot that commercial. As I faced the mountain, I was reminded that "something had gotten in to the Matterhorn." With a little trepidation, I boarded a bobsled with a girl from my youth group. I warned her I was probably going to scream and I made good on my promise. I was anticipating the Yeti and it had me spooked. We flew past some glowing red eyes that flashed on accompanied by a roar which freaked me out. Then, there he was in all his towering and frightful glory. And right in Jenny's ear, I bellowed like a banshee. She didn't appreciate that.
     Fast forward 30 years and I was facing the mountain again, this time with my 12 year old daughter. I hadn't been on the Matterhorn in several visits, lines too long, kids too young, me without my Depends undergarments... but it was time to face the Yeti again. I had never been on this ride at night, and that added to my anxiety. Plus, I was in the front car with my daughter right behind me. Facing the pitch black cave, I was freaking. And for 2015, they upped the terror factor. Now, as you ascend, behind a wall of ice alongside,  Harold (that's the creatures unofficial name), follows you. So  I'm tripping as we climb and I'm being stalked. We began our descent, and all I could focus on was the heart attack that was awaiting. I started calling out, "He's coming! He's coming!" as if that would prepare me better. We shot past him and I yelped. But, thank you Disneyland Imagineers, because they designed this ride so a guest passes Harold twice. And I knew that, and the second pass was worst than the first. I screamed and jumped, and then all I could hear afterwards was the uproarious laughter of my daughter in back of me. And more thanks to the Imagineers, because now upgraded Harold lunges at you. Julia says he doesn't. He does. The experience is worse than ever.
     I blame the whole thing on that commercial that always stayed with me. And I have to just give one more shout out to those Imagineers. Thank you for allowing me to leave such a rock solid manly impression on my 12 year old daughter. Curse you, Harold. And I'll see you next time (there's something seriously wrong with me).

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chairs On the Freeway


    I am a counselor. My office is a safe place for the people who come for help. They are free to share from the depths of their soul. Sometimes that sharing weighs heavy on my heart. I hurt because they hurt. And then there are the victories, the breakthroughs, the transformations I get to witness because of my line of work. The last couple weeks has been a mix of both with a funeral included for a dear lady who basically watched me grow up as a pastor. Which brings us to Saturday. A good hot soak in the tub with a thought provoking book is cherished down time. It's happened many times before, but this day was to be a different experience. Later, as I was shaving, I was chatting with my wife, normal stuff going on, when suddenly I found myself bracing myself against the bathroom door jam. "I don't feel well," I said to Marty. I became increasingly light-headed, the room was swirling, and my hearing became muffled. I sat down and wondered how long was this going to continue. And if I'm completely honest, there was a little fear as to what could come next. After a few minutes, things started to return to normal and a call to an advice nurse determined that I had more than likely experienced a drop in blood pressure from the hot bath. "Have a sports drink next time to increase your salt intake." Relieved by the prognosis, but having never experienced something like that before, it caused me to be very reflective. I thought about clients I had seen earlier in the week, one in particular that had some huge personal breakthroughs and some miraculous news to report in our last session. I resolved that I still needed to be around to help others write the next chapter of their personal story, the success chapter. I still have work to do.
     The next morning, I hit the road with my son in the early hours of the morning to head to Pleasant Hill as I am filling in as an interim worship pastor at my friend's church. We had just pulled off of Lawrence Expressway to get on Hi 237 when a chair appeared abruptly in the middle of the freeway. The sun just started to peek over the hills, so the road was still very dark. The unexpected sight of the piece of furniture in my lane caused me to swerve and let out a "Whoa!"I immediately called 911 to report it so no one else would be in danger of colliding with the foreign object in the road.
     I shared the story with the church that morning before leading the first song which states. "You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord, Blessed be Your Name." Needless to say, I had a little extra gratitude to be able to sing those lyrics that morning.
     After the first of two services, a lady came up to me and shared that she had been praying for me that morning that I would get to church safely and that she had never prayed a prayer like that for me before. Did I say I was reflective after the low blood pressure incident? Double that.
     The roller coaster of empathizing and rejoicing with clients, the funeral, the health scare, the near accident, the prayers for my safety that very morning... All these things have added up to make me very aware that this coming week and beyond has great purpose, and I want to live to serve that purpose. And that is true for all of us. It doesn't have to take a near death experience or facing our mortality to realize our lives have meaning and our existence affects others.
     Maybe you came across this blog and forgot how purposeful your life is. If that is the case, let me assure you, you matter, and you don't need a chair popping up in the middle of the freeway to prove it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mickey Lost His Leg and Why That's Okay

     The day after Thanksgiving, I pulled out the Christmas decoration boxes and started to unwrap the ornaments. Annually opening the tissue paper reveals treasures that come with a lot of memories we've collected over the years. One very sentimental ornament is Mickey and Minnie Mouse ice skating. In 1996, Marty and I were engaged and we took a trip with another couple to Pier 39 in San Francisco where we found Mickey and Minnie. It represented our first Christmas together as we anxiously waited for our wedding date to arrive the following Spring. It was old school Disney style, colors muted making it look a little more antique. And for 17 years, it made its way to the top of our tree. Every year I would tell the kids the significance of it. I even left the original tag on it to make it more collectable, not that we'd ever sell it. 
     Yesterday, Mickey and Minnie emerged from their tissue paper. I held them up, nostalgia filling the room, when instantly my heart sank. One of Mickey's legs had broken off. NOOOOOO!!! I had preserved this ornament all this time and wanted it to be a cherished heirloom someday, and now Mickey was an amputee. I immediately began to search through the box they were stored in to see if I could find the missing limb. I fell just short of asking God if I couldn't find it, could He grant a Christmas miracle and grow back another one. 
     In my disappointment, I wrapped the skating mice back up in their tissue paper and put them back in the box that was headed for the attic.  Later that night, I realized that was the wrong call. Legless Mickey probably represents our marriage better than before he was maimed. We've been battered and broken. We've taken our hard knocks. Life has thrown us some curves and storms have come, but the biggest revelation that came from our now imperfect ornament was we're not... perfect. However, we are blessed, we are healing, we are forgiven, we are learning. And we're trying to be like Mickey and Minnie regardless; side by side, smiling, and still skating through life. 
     I don't know where Mickey's leg is and I don't know if I'll ever come across it, but I just might crawl back up into the attic and bring the mice back down to be placed on the top of the tree where they belong. Sorry that I temporarily needed you to be perfect, Mickey. Hope no one expects that of me. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Happiness Is...

     I realized I had a lot of anxiety today. Sheesh! The WORLD seems to be having an anxiety attack right now. So much turmoil and unrest. I needed a pick-me-up. On my desk sits a first edition of the bestselling book Happiness is a Warm Puppy by Charles Shulz. I consulted this deeply philosophical work for some cheer tonight.

"Happiness is sleeping in your own bed." Facing a trip overseas, I say a hearty "Amen."
"Happiness is a chain of paper clips." One of the first things I ever collected were paper clips in 6th grade. I still have them in my pencil box that I saved all these years. Paper clips... 
"Happiness is being able to reach the doorknob." Apparently I have been taking this one for granted for  the last 43 years or so.
"Happiness is a good old fashioned game of hide and seek." One of my best memories on Reimche Drive is of summer nights and playing Hide and Seek with the kids in the neighborhood. Yes.
"Happiness is finding out you're not so dumb after all." Yes. Yes, it is. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Smuggler's Blues

     This one is a tad hard for me because its a little embarrassing. A year ago this month, Marty and I were at a minister's retreat home. Beautiful grounds up in Taylorsville, CA surrounded by mountains. Picturesque little home in the style of a bed and breakfast. Several pastors and spouses occupying the residence for some time of refreshing and decompressing. We had called ahead and asked if they could accommodate some specific needs for we were both on a no sugar/no flour diet since joining Overeaters Anonymous. At every meal, the cook would present us with our special dishes that were tweaked a little, so I took it upon myself to explain to our new friends why we were dining differently. Marty had already been in the program a year before I started, so she was pretty established. Up to that point, it had been six months of falling off the wagon and getting back on, and falling off again. I was struggling to break up with candy, soda, and fast food, my abusive lovers.
     Though the cook was kind to oblige our special requests, she was also my tormentor because each night she would put out fresh baked goods to be enjoyed whenever we wanted to help ourselves. So, in the light of day, I was eating my abstinent meals, but under the blanket of night, I heard them calling... calling... Marty had fallen asleep, it was late, most should be in bed. So I ventured out to the dining room where the little lovelies were serenading me from. I looked outside to see if the coast was clear. I listened for anyone coming down the stairs, I checked the sun porch that was adjacent to the dining room, and then I made my move. I piled six or seven brownies onto a napkin and fled for the common bathroom in the hallway. I locked the door and uttered these words: "This is crazy." Then I ate as many as I could, feeling so out of control, feeling the insanity of smuggling brownies into a bathroom to eat in secret. This is what my life had come to? Sad. Yes, it was very crazy.
     When we got home, I told my sponsor what happened. After I confessed, he, pardon the pun, ate my lunch. He said I could live that way if I wanted, sneaking brownies and binging in a bathroom, but he reminded me that I had told him that my feet hurt, my knees hurt, I had high blood pressure, off the chart triglyceride levels, I wanted to be around for my kids, I wanted to be healthy, and many other reasons for there not to be another brownie incident.
     Today is my anniversary. One year ago, I had my last taste of sugar and flour which, to me, are two very addictive ingredients in food that cause me to want as much as I can get. I need to avoid them at any cost.  I know not everyone battles like I do with eating, but for those who do, you don't have to. I'm going to be very transparent (as if I haven't exposed myself enough already): I feel for those who fight with food and it shows. I am not writing this because I have seen anything recently so I have no one in particular in mind, but I am sad when I see someone who is struggling with their weight post a picture of themselves on facebook having a rich dessert or a fatty meal. I can say that, because I have struggled, too. I didn't need to post pictures of my problem because everyone could see it on me when I was 50 pounds heavier. I am not trying to shame anyone. I am simply sharing out of my brokenness, hoping it connects with someone else's and offers them hope.
     So this is how I want to celebrate my anniversary. If anything in this blog post resonates with you, email me or private message me on facebook. I would be happy to share with you more about my journey and how much better life is now compared to when I was a brownie smuggler. Take good care of yourself. You're worth it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dad: Best Name Ever

     I've been called a lot of things, especially growing up with the last name "Couch." Shane Sofa, Shane Loveseat, Armchair, Hide-a-bed... I've heard them all. And "Shane" rhymes with approximately five thousand, four hundred and seventy three other words in the English language. Someone from my childhood used to chant, "Shane McBain, sleeps in the rain, and is a pain, and has no brain." Yeah, real mature, Gramma. Yet, the best way I've ever been addressed is "Dad."
     I've always wanted to be a father. I became an uncle at the age of 7 so I pretty much grew up with nieces and nephews coming into my life ever since then. I loved being an uncle, so I knew I would love being a dad when my time came. I was right.
     When my kids were little, it was a gift to me to walk in the door after being at the office and hearing their little voices cry out with genuine excitement, "Daddy!"as they rushed me for hugs.
     One thing I always looked forward to after becoming a parent was having a conversation with my kids. I wanted to be able to banter with them. I loved the baby years, but I longed for somewhat intelligent discussions. Some of my favorite times were spent walking my firstborn to kindergarten and chatting with her along the way, then picking her up from school and hearing about her day. On one walk home, Julia said, "Dad..." (there's that name), "... I'm writing a story in class. Do you know what the title is?" My guess was, "'My Dad's the Greatest Dad in the Whole World'?" "'The Mermaid With Magical Powers.'" "Oh." (I was close).
     I still can't believe I've been blessed with three exceptional children. Sometimes they call for me and say, "Dad?" In that moment, silently and to myself, I relish the fact that I am their dad, that my name is "Dad."
     All that being said, Father's Day is my favorite date on the calendar, not necessarily for the gifts and the attention, though that is enjoyed and greatly appreciated. I love the day simply because I have been lucky enough to be a dad. It has been my privilege and honor to change messy diapers, feed, burp, and receive spit up, sit up late at night during sickness, rush to the emergency room, walk to school, go on field trips, attend talent shows, cheer at ball games, pray with and teach Scriptures to, worry about, yell at, cry over, laugh with, miss intensely during travel, apologize to, help with homework and projects, volunteer in classrooms, and all because I have the name of "Dad." For all that, I bless the day that Julia, my "Baby Girl," Ella, my "Sister," and Max, my "Buddy Boy," came into my life and turned my world upside down in the best possible way.
     So this Father's Day, I am going to revel in my moniker... "Dad," because I got to be one. Lucky and blessed me.
     (For another time, a post about growing up with the first name "Tracy.")


Monday, June 2, 2014

Not a Sunshine Day

     Someone I grew up with passed away today. She has always been there as long as I can remember. I'd come home after school and spend an hour with her each weekday. She was a big part of my childhood. Her name was Ann, but most people knew her as "Alice." Alice Nelson, live-in housekeeper, girlfriend to Sam, surrogate parent to the Brady 6, friend to all.
     I truly was sad to learn that Ann B. Davis had died. The Brady Bunch was a show that helped me escape the chaotic and tumultuous 70's, and I'm not just talking about the era. The decade was bad enough culturally speaking, the fashion, the music... Come on, "A Horse With No Name"? I fail to see the brilliance of that two-note versed song. And "Afternoon Delight"? Wait, I kind of like that one, but for the harmonies only. More specifically, I look back on that time span while I lived on Reimche (Rem-key) Drive and peeking through the windows of my mind... let's just say it wasn't very Brady-like.
     So, those opening notes to that classic theme song would take me away to a two-storied house with an astroturf lawn, and let me forget for a while that there was unscripted reality swirling around me. The nine people living in that home without a toilet genuinely cared for each other (though I've noticed over my 40 years of watching reruns and dvd's that no one on that show ever uttered the words "I love you" to another family member, so I guess they're not perfect). They pulled together when bullies would tease little girls with lisps. They tried to solve each other's problems like performing on an amateur hour on TV to pay for an over-priced anniversary present (those kids always ended up on TV somehow!). They covered for each other by hiding goats in the attic. Squabbles over missing Kitty Carry-All dolls always turned into understanding. Accidents that caused orange hair were eventually forgiven. They took in wayward cousins even at the expense of killing their show.
     It's a show, I know. With writers and actors and sets. None of it was real. But for this elementary aged kid, it was a great place to imagine living. And what's wrong with a little escapism?  And what's wrong with still watching episodes 40 years later? It is not that I need to escape to Clinton Way with a dropped "y"at this stage in life, but it helps to know that I had the Brady's to tune in to when memories of childhood can be a little sad.
     So, so long Ann B.. You were a part of something meaningful though it may have seemed mundane at the time. Thank you for being America's housekeeper. Nobody makes pork chops and applesauce like you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Stroll Down Jelly Bean Lane

     It starts in September and goes all the way through April. Candy season. And I was a fan. From that first fun size chocolate bar to that last jelly bean purchased for 50% off after Easter. And as long as there was any holiday sugar left in the clearance shopping cart at Safeway, I would be a consumer.  Here it is, April, and Target is filled with baskets and bunnies... and jelly beans. This was my favorite month of Candy Season because I love jelly beans. Every name brand that specilaizes in confectionry puts out a jelly bean. That used to thrill me to no end. It wasn't that there were so many to choose from because there was no choosing one over another. All had to be sampled and then favorites bought over and over again. Brachs Spiced Jelly Bird Eggs, Nerds Jelly Beans, Hawaiian Punch Jelly Beans, as well as Starburst, Jolly Rancher, and Sweet Tart Jelly Beans. I tell ya, from the time they cleared out the Valentines Day wares, I was stocked up. It's a wonder I have any teeth left.
     I was in Target today, and I decided to take a stroll down the Easter aisle to look in on my old friends. Of course there was a type I had never tried yet, Laffy Taffy Jelly Beans. I picked up the bag, looked at the contents, and put it back. I silently said hello to my two favorites, Nerds and Spiced. And then I walked away. That was probably very confusing for them because I was so faithful in bringing them home every year, ever since I earned a paycheck. But things are different now. I thought all those years I wanted them, but I realized once I tried to give them up that I needed them, and it wasn't a healthy relationship. I thoght I was choosing them, but they were actually controlling me. Someone had to say it was over, and it was me.
     So good-bye, Jelly Bean Lane, and Brachs Cinnamon Jelly Hearts, and Peppermint Christmas Nougats, and any wrapper that has the words "Fun Size" on it. We had many years together, too many. I've had enough for a lifetime or two, so this is where we part, for I just took my last stroll down Jelly Bean Lane, and how sweet it is.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Color Black Let Me Down

     I've heard it said that black was a slimming color. In the photo above, I beat the crud out of that theory (faces were blurred to protect the innocent and keep them from looking skinnier than me). When I first saw that picture on facebook, was I: a) horrified, b) mortified, c) shocked, d) sad, or e) all of the above? Answer: e, f and g! I have dubbed it "worst pic ever." I've taken bad pictures before, you know, like face frozen as if someone hit pause on the dvd player, but this one made me cringe. I really couldn't believe I was that out of shape. Even more surprising is the fact that this shot was taken almost 4 years ago. The reality of my being over weight wasn't enough to sober me up. I didn't change after this picture slapped me in the face. I only got worse. 
     2013 was the year I finally admitted and surrendered to the fact that I am a food addict. People don't like that label. They don't want to be branded or there's a stigma attached to it that is very unappealing. I admit it freely because it helps me call the issue what it is and get the help I need around it. If I have a broken arm, I want the doctor to tell me I have a broken arm so he can treat it properly and then I can heal. And because of my addiction I choose to abstain from sugar and flour COMPLETELY. I'm not one of those people who can have one cookie or a small slice of cake. I want as many cookies as I can handle and the biggest piece of dessert, and it's always been that way. This behavior, among others led to my weighing 241 pounds a year ago, way too big for my height. 
     So, after wrestling with my inner demons, resisting my sponsor, and falling off the wagon several times, I've finally accepted this lot in life. I eat practically the same thing everyday. Ironic for a guy who grew up going to buffet style restaurants and actually worked in one for a couple years (along with his mother, brother and sister). I liked my choices, but now I choose to eat repetitiously, and I'm fine with that. Someone asked me "How can you eat the same thing every day?" I surprised myself when I heard the answer: "I have learned to appreciate what I get to eat." Out of all the blessings and accomplishments in 2013, that is probably the one I am most grateful for. 
      I preached a sermon recently and opened with this: "You know, I’m thinking ahead. I’ve already made my New Year’s resolutions for 2014, and because I don’t want to ruin my new year, I’ve already broken them. Why start 2014 feeling guilty about not doing what I said I was going to do? So, resolutions for 2014 made in 2013, broken in 2013, guilt and shame being dealt with in the old year so I can continue living in denial and truly have a Happy New Year! I’m ahead of the game by already falling behind, I’m progressive in my being stuck." I was actually being facetious. A year ago, that would have been more true for me. Today, it is not. And it feels most excellent to not have to rely on the color black any longer.
(Together, Marty and I have lost 110 pounds, but I win 'cause I lost 60!)