Dec 16, 2013


On Saturday, we went to a Christmas party for Heather's work.  One of the third year residents had recently gotten married to a "guy from UCF" - that was the extent of my knowledge of the young man.  At one point, they were sitting on the couch and I walked up to ask if they were going to Arizona for UCF's Fiesta Bowl appearance.  They ecstatically answered in the affirmative.  I found out he actually works in the sports marketing department at UCF, which is just so cool to me.  Off and on for the next several hours, I chatted with Ryan about UCF's sports programs.  We watched the Heisman trophy presentation and I asked if he would be working on a Heisman campaign for Blake Bortles, UCF QB, if he comes back next year.  He said he would.  Then we talked about how Blake actually has a tough decision because he could legitimately be a top ten pick in this draft.  This all seemed like a perfectly sane conversation.

Yesterday, I got a text from my friend Candy.  She is a UCF alum, as is her husband, Allen - one of my roommates in college.  We have kept up with them and they are some of our best friends.  While we lived in Orlando, we usually spent New Year's Eve with them at our house.  Our move to Columbia seemed to end that tradition.  Not so fast!  They are going to be traveling for the holidays and will be staying with us over New Year's.  In her text, she said, "Aren't you excited we will be there for the Fiesta Bowl?!?"  I hadn't connected that.  I've watched a ton of UCF games this year, all alone.  The thought of having fellow UCF fans here?  On New Year's Day?  To watch UCF in a bowl game?  Heck yes, I'm excited.  Again, a perfectly sane exchange.

Rewind about 20 years.  I had recently shed my lifelong love of the University of Georgia to firmly align with UCF.  If I was going to spend thousands of dollars at a school to get a degree, I was going to get the most I could out of the experience.  Student tickets to football games were free, so I went to most of the home games.  We were small time football.  There was a big battle on the campus between the academics who felt that a school should rely on its academic achievements alone and those who believe that a strong successful sports program enhances the school as a whole.  The new university President, Dr Hitt, was trying to walk the fine line between sides while pushing what he knew was best - sports is a billboard for the school.  UCF was going to transition to Division I and had to spend a couple years in I-AA.  So our schedule was made up of teams like Garner-Webb and Bethune-Cookman.   We envied powerhouse schools like Georgia Southern and Youngstown State.  There would be louder cheers from the crowd when the UF or FSU scores were announced than when UCF scored.

My senior year, through a bizarre set of circumstances, we landed Daunte Culpepper.  He should have been at a big name school.  But here we were, sitting in the Citrus Bowl, watching someone who was the best player on the field by leaps and bounds.  We almost beat Nebraska in Lincoln, starting an annoying trend of "almost beating" big teams.  Daunte was invited to the Heisman Trophy award ceremony.  He got drafted 11th by the Vikings.  We never even won a I-AA title, but didn't care because it was a just a transitional stage - starting an annoying trend of looking too far ahead and being mediocre where we were.  We got into trouble with the NCAA, starting an annoying trend of being on the wrong side of the law.  And we watched teams like USF pop up and race past us.  It was frustrating to be a UCF fan.  Big schools like UF and FSU didn't take us seriously.  Lesser schools like USF and Bowling Green didn't take us seriously.  Even doody schools like Miami (Ohio) and Marshall didn't take us seriously.  We were just kind of farting around.

Ten years ago, UCF fired Mike Kruczek as head coach.  There was an uproar among some fans because Kruczek was the one who recruited Daunte.  That fact alone had gotten him the head coaching job and kept him there.  And to some, he could have ridden that score forever.  But there was a simple fact at play: we weren't going anywhere as long as we kept Kruczek.  It was the same fact that ultimately led to the firing of Kirk Speraw as basketball coach.  Both of those guys were good coaches.  They mostly had winning teams.  Every so often, we would pop into the postseason in some way - mostly as cannon fodder or a footnote.  But UCF would be terminally trapped in mediocrity.  The school itself was exploding in size and renown.  There was no justifiable reason why a school ranked in the top five nationally in enrollment in a massive sports state like Florida should be putzing around like UCF was.

Just like when Daunte came to town, UCF got lucky again.  George O'Leary had an impressive resume.  He had been named National Coach of the Year while at Georgia Tech.  They went to big bowl games five years in a row.  And he had been hired as coach of Notre Dame.  But his resume was a little TOO good.  It turned out he had said he had a master's degree and had lettered in football.  It was resume padding - something that many people over the years have done to break into the business.  But he didn't remove the padding once he "made it."  And so he was fired.  He ended up getting hired by the Minnesota Vikings as their defensive coordinator, where he led them from 30th in the NFL in defense to 10th.  UCF saw a huge opportunity.  O'Leary was obviously a great coach.  His errors in judgment didn't affect that.  So they jumped and hired O'Leary as their new head coach.  UCF got tons of coverage for the hiring.  They also got tons of coverage the next year, when they went 0-11.  Hardly a promising start.

The first six years or so of O'Leary's tenure was rough to say the least.  UCF would alternate winning records and losing records for six years.  There were some extremely frustrating experiences.  I called for his firing on multiple occasions, especially after USF beat the tar out of us 62-12 in 2007.  I even went so far as to submit some slightly cruel questions to his radio show like "Does living without a soul make you cold?"  We had a major NCAA investigation thanks to our cheating Athletic Director.  A player died during workouts.  It seemed like things would never get better.

But things were getting better.  UCF's graduation rates were among the highest in the nation.  We were being shown on national television.  We actually started to win some of those games we used to "almost win."  There still were maddening failures.  We still always were on the outside looking in with the major conferences.  When we finally got invited to join one, it was the collapsing Big East.  But progress was being made.  We had another Heisman candidate in Kevin Smith.  Former UCF players like Matt Prater, Brandon Marshall, and Josh Sitton were excelling in the NFL.

It seemed like everything clicked this past year.  UCF's affiliation with the Big East (sorry, American Conference) paid off in the final year of the BCS.  There was an automatic bid with a championship to one of the "big bowls" - Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose.  Our homegrown quarterback, Blake Bortles, morphed into a big time college player.  [Side note, Blake's mom was Josiah's and Gabe's preschool teacher.  That certainly makes all of this even more exciting.]  Last year, we almost knocked off Ohio State.  This year, we actually did beat Penn State in their stadium.  We only lost to South Carolina by three and should have won that game.  Living up here, it was interesting to see the nation's opinion of UCF change so rapidly.  The people I encountered up here prior to the game thought it was just another cupcake for Clowney and company to feast upon.  I kept saying they needed to watch out; UCF was better than they thought.  It was a tough game to watch because UCF was the better team.  Time after time they shot themselves in the foot.  USC won, but UCF came storming back and probably would have taken the game if it had gone to overtime.  The thing is, USC fans knew that.  After that, anytime people saw my UCF shirt or license plate, they responded differently.  "Man, you almost got us."  Or, "you guys have a good team this year."  These were SEC people who usually see the rest of the college football landscape as the minor leagues.  They saw UCF as a threat.

That ability to come storming back and never give up became the hallmark of this UCF team.  It felt like we were losing just about every game at some point in the fourth quarter.  No game was ever over until the final gun.  Time and again, UCF came through.  Blake Bortles and the Defense refused to let UCF lose.  We knocked off eighth ranked, undefeated Louisville in their house on a Thursday night on ESPN.  We were on ESPN for four games and ABC for the first time ever.  UCF ended up 11-1, undefeated in conference play, ranked 15th, and in the Fiesta Bowl against Baylor.  Less than twenty years after saying "How could we possibly expect to beat Youngstown State? They are a national power."  Ten years after being ranked dead last in the NCAA Division I.  We were playing in a BCS bowl.  We had a nationally ranked team.  We had another Heisman candidate, with a real shot at starting in the NFL.

An interesting statistic was mentioned during the Blizzard Bowl against SMU last week.  The few seniors UCF have (just seven) finished their college career with 37 wins in their four years - an average of 9 wins a year.  They actually won 11, 5, 10, and 11 games.  How does 37 wins across the last four years stack up?  Let us see.

  • Florida - 30 wins
  • FSU - 40 wins
  • USF - 18 wins
  • Miami - 29 wins
  • Texas - 30 wins
  • South Carolina - 41 wins
  • USC - 34 wins
Let's just say it isn't bad.  UCF and George O'Leary has built something in Orlando.  The most impressive thing about this team is that there were only seven seniors.  UCF should be better next year.  Do you mind if I type that again?  It's my blog, so I can do what I want.  UCF should be better next year.  There are a bunch of assumptions to that statement.  Blake Bortles could go pro, which would effectively render that line of thinking moot.  The American Conference isn't going to be much better next year.  Louisville is leaving for greener pastures.  And our non-conference games are even better next year.  Missouri, BYU, and Penn State IN IRELAND!!!  That guarantees several nationally televised games.  We obviously will get a lot of coverage for the Fiesta Bowl.  And if we beat Baylor....

That is the wonderful thing about being a UCF fan right now.  We've been through a lot over the years.  Finally having success feels so good.  But having hope as a fan is even better.  Is it crazy to say we could beat Baylor?  Oh yeah.  But, at this point, crazy isn't so crazy any more.  Who would have thought we could beat Penn State or Louisville this year?  Or what about hanging in there with South Carolina to where we gave the game away, which is entirely different than getting beaten outright?   Who would have thought we would be 11-1 or in a BCS bowl or ranked 15 or anything that happened this year?  It is all crazy.  So, talking about beating Baylor has become a perfectly sane conversation.  

Sep 13, 2013

Analyze this

With the kids back at school, I have been able to return to the world of sports radio and television. I don't sit there all day and watch a never ending stream of ESPN shows, mind you. I abandoned the Worldwide Leader years ago when it was apparent that what they considered sports coverage was some combination of loud-mouthed ignorant hosts arguing with each other. Instead, I usually have the Dan Patrick Show running on the radio or NBC Sports network while I am working. No matter where you get your sports coverage, one thing that is startlingly clear within a matter of days is just how much critical analysis has become the dominant source of content. This isn't analysis like Trent Dilfer may offer on ESPN, where he is breaking down plays and coverages. This is just plain criticism passing as journalism. It isn't limited to sports, either. I would wager that more words of criticism are written across the interwebs each day than any other tone. 

You see it in entertainment coverage, sports coverage, news coverage, food coverage, fashion, celebrity, travel - even religion.  Gone are the days of the simple reporting of facts or investigative journalism. Everything now has to have an editorial attached. One of the biggest examples of this was when CNN switched their sports provider from Sports Illustrated to Bleacher Report. SI is a (somewhat) respectable old school sports journalistic entity. Bleacher Report is basically a sports blog. Every article they write ends with some kind of editorial statement. Some of them are wildly out of place and unnecessary. But there they are. It is almost like the news outlets are worried we won't know what to do with the information they are providing us. So they also have give us the stance we should take now that we have the news. 

Look at political speeches. Some political entity will get on television and give a fifteen minute speech. Then the networks will run two hours of commentary breaking down and criticizing what that person said. And with the rise of Twitter, we don't even have to wait until the speech is over. We can start sending out our analysis as soon as the person hits the stage. "What a weasel." "What is that tie supposed to mean?" "How can this guy get elected when he mispronounces mujaheddin?"  

Slip back into the sports world for a moment. After last college football season, it was the unanimous opinion among sports people that Jadaveon Clowney would be the first pick in last year's draft. There was even spirited discussions about if he should sit out this season to make sure he didn't get injured like his old teammate Marcus Lattimore. He was the best player in college football, we were told. He is unstoppable, they said. It was like every college football expert was tripping over each other to join some insane Clowney posse. (No groaning, you should expect that by now people.) Living in Columbia, we have gotten more than enough coverage of Clowney. My twelve year old son, who could care less about football, wanted to watch the first game and came home telling jokes involving Clowney. (Why is six afraid of seven? Clowney) Two games into the season? USA Today had a headline this week asking if Clowney had already slipped in the draft. Sports outlets have already switched to debating just how overrated this out of shape wannabe is. The Gamecocks still have 10-12 games remaining this year. And he's washed up after just two?

Think about the news of Ben Affleck's casting as Batman. How much ink and web space was devoted to criticizing that choice? I clearly remember this uproar over Michael Keaton being cast. And Christian Bale being cast. And Heath Ledger being cast as Joker. In fact, the person who was the least criticized for being cast as Batman was George Clooney, who was so bad he has apologized for his role. Affleck is an Oscar winner for screenwriting and producing. He has been nominated as an actor. This isn't Zac Efron or Ashton Kutcher being cast here. We don't have any footage, any pictures, any script yet. But people have eviscerated the choice.  

So what, you may wonder. In fact, you may be waiting for me to be done to criticize me. I think there are several problems. First, being so critical all the time is a horrible way to live. It poisons your thought processes to where you start to find the worst in everything instead of the best. Think about if you go to a restaurant with a positive outlook. Let's say you know the owner or you're on a date. You will praise the things you like and overlook the things you dislike, unless the whole experience is a complete disaster. Maybe the chicken was a little dry. But the appetizers were great and the dessert rocked. You will probably walk out happy and see the experience as positive. If you go in angry and wondering if this dump will be any good, well, it will more than likely bring you down - no matter how good it is. 

Second, we get an overinflated view of our importance when we become full time critics. "People HAVE TO know what I'm thinking!"  It is like the universe is holding its breath to hear what we think of the new Harry Potter movies or Kate Winslet's dress. Since the Internet allows us to be anonymous in our criticisms. We can write rude things about an athlete who could tear our heads off in real life. We can say things about people we never would say to someone's face. Would you ever walk up to Ben Affleck and tell him he is going to suck as Batman? Would you tell the president to his face you think he is a jerk? Would you look an actress up and down and say she looks like a cow?  Of course not. But online, behind our screen names, we can be as cruel as we want. It makes us feel like we have power over those people, because we can cut them down. They may have the fame, money, and power we wish we had. But, dang it, we can be rotten on Facebook about them. We start to believe we are above the rules of common courtesy. We are superior to all those people who disagree with us. That's hardly a healthy view of things. 

The last reason I have to avoid the cult of criticism is something I realized yesterday in an unusual place. We fail to see the beauty of the "big picture" when we start to pick on and at everything. Last night one of my very favorite shows ended. We have been watching Burn Notice on USA since the end if season two. We caught up on the first two seasons quickly and have been avid viewers for five years. The show is far from perfect. It had had its ups and downs and its share of ludicrous story lines. It suffered from the entertainment trap of "too many layers of bad guys," where each conspiracy unveils another deeper layer. This season was much darker and different from the other ones. Instead of helping someone every week while constantly pursuing the bad guys behind the curtain, the team was kind of out to save their own skins. They were doing one job all season, only to stay out of prison themselves. They had to partner with slimy government agents to take down slimier bad guys. The problem came when the slime line wasn't so clear. Our honorable hero, Michael Westen, went so far under cover it looked like he wouldn't and couldn't come out. It was easy to pick on the season. Some episodes were frustrating. They weren't bad. But they were different. And that was hard. But as they tied all the pieces together, it culminated in one of the best series finales I have ever seen. Michael ended his quest the only way possible for a man like him. There were major sacrifices made - ones that were heartbreaking to see come to pass. But I couldn't have asked for a better ending after so many years invested in the show. 

So often we forget the big picture. We can be so critical of each quarter, half, and game that we miss out on the complete season or career. We get upset about a role being cast and miss out on the overall direction of the movie franchise. Think about the Avengers movie franchise. People griped about Robert Downey Jr being cast as Iron Man. It was originally supposed to be Tom Cruise. How stupid would that be in retrospect?  People were unhappy about just about everyone cast in the Avengers series, except Samuel L Jackson. But the movie itself was brilliant. The complete effort made sense. Imagine if the Internet existed when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel. Would there be constant online whine and cheese fests over each panel?  "I can't believe he painted Jeremiah that way!!!  Omg!"  Would Lincoln or Reagan stood up to the constant news influx and the age of twitter?  Doubtful. Personally, I also think of the Bible and how people get hung up on battles over tiny passages while missing the whole story. It is often quite detrimental to be so obsessed with the parts that we miss the completed project. 

I know that I have battled a critical spirit in my own life. I have been labelled by many people as a negative person, with one minister telling me in junior high that I was "the most negative person he ever met." (That felt good.)  I will admit that I have been negative a lot and I still can easily fall back into that. I also like to analyze movies, restaurants, music, sermons, tv shows, and books more than most people. I like to think about them and critique them (which is not the same thing as criticizing them.) A critic doesn't have to be critical. We can examine a thing and judge it without bringing an acidic attitude into the process. What is our reason for that analysis? Is it to help people or ourselves? Is it to make ourselves feel better and tear others down? Is it to stir up issues and brings readers to our blog or twitter account? Are we being fair and allowing people to present the completed work before we tear it to shreds?  Maybe it would be helpful to turn that highly trained analytical eye inward for a spell to make sure we are doing things right first, and doing them for the right reason. It may give us a richer view of things were we aren't constantly tearing them apart. 

Aug 20, 2013

Out of the Box: Epilogue

When I was seventeen years old, I had just finished up my junior year in high school and was getting ready for my awesome senior year.  Naturally, to celebrate this momentous occasion, I went with three other students and our faculty sponsor to a Yearbook Workshop in Columbia, SC.  I had been named Copy Editor of our school's yearbook at the end of junior year. The three biggest positions on yearbook were Editor, Photo Editor, and Copy Editor.  The Photo Editor was Matt Brice, who was my best friend.  The Editor was Kerri Sutton, who I had been good friends with since seventh grade.  So the three of us, another photographer, and Mrs. Paula Marie Stevens hopped on a train to get a jump start on the yearbook creation.  It was a fun trip.  I had not traveled much growing up, so seeing a new place was cool.  Riding a train was interesting.  And I discovered on the trip that Matt Brice could not be awoken by anything but an alarm clock - not yelling, tapping, punching, kicking, shoving.

I don't remember many details of that trip.  I know that may be shocking to those of you who know me.  I have a bizarre ability to remember extremely minute details of events over thirty years ago.  And my wife swears I know the first and last name of every person I ever worked with or went to school with.  [Hence the Paula Marie Stevens listing earlier.  She used to sign notes when she was angry with "PMS."  I found that hilarious.]  In my defense, most of the trip was working on yearbook layouts, determining headline fonts, generating story ideas, and creating the theme and cover.  So it was pretty monotonous.  I remember two things very clearly.  One, we ate dinner one night at California Dreaming restaurant.  Two, I thought Columbia was an unbelievably ugly city.  My assessment came from walking across the street from our hotel to the workshop location (I think the Carolina Coliseum).  I looked around mostly saw industrial areas that looked half-abandoned.  So I always thought Columbia was ugly.  I told people this most of my life.  "You want to know the ugliest state capitol in America? Columbia, South Carolina."  Like I had visited all the state capitols and come to this decision after intense scrutiny.

We have now lived in Columbia for over two months.  We have driven all over the place.  And here is my assessment of 17 year old David - he was a moron.  I have not even found the place that brought me to that opinion.  I have driven through downtown, around the campus, and in a loop of the city.  Unless I was seeing the southeastern quadrant of the city towards the football stadium, I have no clue what I based that opinion on in the first place.  In my head, Columbia looked like a smaller version of Pittsburg or Birmingham or something.  Far from it.

I love Columbia.  From my first trip up here to look around for housing, I liked the city.  I took to the city faster than anyone else, which is strange.  I can find my way around pretty well, except on Two Notch Road.  And I am very comfortable here.  We have lived all over Florida - from the tropical mini-Cuba of South Florida to the concrete jungle of Tampa to the South Georgia lands of Tallahassee to the touristy urban Orlando to the beachy, country, sprawling Jacksonville.  Columbia has a lot of elements of those cities that we like.  But it is blended in a way that suits me well.  I know that I wrote quite a bit leading up to our move, but have not given many updates afterwards.  I just wanted to throw out some quick observations that may explain why I like it here so much.

1. The People Are Nice
Floridians are not nice.  Americans in general are not nice.  I remember flying back from Australia in 2000, landing in Los Angeles, and being greeted within five minutes with the reminder of why so many people hate Americans.  The people here are still nice, for the most part.  Sure, they have rude drivers.  And the lady that works at Taco Bell seems to be borderline sociopathic.  But overall the people are nice.  They are polite.  They are helpful.  I like that.  Call me strange, but I prefer to talk to nice people.

2. The Traffic Is Minimal
With the exception of a couple roads for a couple hours a day, the traffic here is extremely mild.  People up here complain about the traffic.  They apologize for it when you first get here.  We laugh at them.  We explain they have no clue how bad traffic is until they have been in a parking lot on I-95 or I-4 or I-275.  The traffic in Orlando on regular roads is worse than rush hour traffic on the interstate here.  I am amazed at how light the traffic is.

3. The City is Small
I came to the realization that cities in Florida are enormous.  They cover a tremendous amount of real estate.  One time, I was teaching a class for Kaplan.  They pay you at different rates depending how far you have to drive.  I actually got the long-distance mileage rate for the class and never left Orlando.  The really crazy thing was I could get the second tier of long-distance mileage pay and still be in Orlando.  The same is true of every Florida city I've lived in.  Even Tallahassee, which is hardly a metropolis compared to Orlando, Miami, Tampa, or Jacksonville, takes forever to drive across.  Here, unless there is some bizarre traffic apocalypse, you can get from one end of the city to the other in 25 minutes.  I couldn't get to the doctor in 25 minutes in Orlando.  Heather sometimes took an hour to get to work in the morning - just going downtown.  Now, it takes her 10-15 minutes.  We actually both just went two weeks without filling our gas tanks.

4. The Architecture is Gorgeous
It helps to have amazing architecture when your state has been around for so long.  So much of Florida was developed in the last half of the 20th century.  So much of it looks the same.  Here, there are old stone churches, colonial style government buildings, European looking buildings.  Just a drive across town usually causes someone in our car to say, "Ooo, look at that building."  It is neat to go into a business that isn't in a 1980s era strip mall or stay in a hotel that has unique character.  As a history ed major, I appreciate that there is actually, you know, history here.  Very cool.

5. Golf is Bigger Than Anything But Football
I'm not necessarily happy about this, since I don't play golf and don't really watch golf.  I've been shocked to see the amount of coverage given to golf here.  The fact that Dustin Johnson got engaged to Paulina Gretzky made the front page in the local paper.  The fact that some woman was possibly going to win the grand slam of majors got more coverage than the NBA finals or the MLB drug fiasco.  To get some blowhard ranting about the major sports, I have to go read The Orlando Sentinel.  Unless that blowhard is talking about South Carolina football.

6. So Many Grocery Store Options
We have several Publix stores here, which is great.  We love Publix and that is our main store.  But it's nice to have options.  We have Bi-Lo, Piggly Wiggly, Kroger, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Earth Fare, and Trader Joe's - plus Walmart and Target.  We have a lot of options.

Just so you think I'm completely enraptured by Columbia, there are some negatives.

1. Bugs
I thought I knew bugs.  I lived in Florida, home of the gigantic flying cockroach and mutant mosquitos.  I was wrong.  We have so many bugs up here.  They are determined to get into my house and terrify my children.  The mosquitos here are like ninjas.  They may not be big enough to carry off our dog, but they bite all of us and we don't see them.  We have like ten kinds of bees, several wasp types, and flies.  And then there are the spiders.  Good grief.  Spiders everywhere.  I hate spiders.  But the one that is probably the grossest is the house centipede.  Seriously.  Go look it up.  I'll wait. ....  Did you vomit?  Imagine waking up to one of those crawling across your ceiling.  I did this morning.  Still phantom itching from it.

2. Car Property Tax
So, let me get this straight.  I have to pay every year a property tax on a car I outright own and park on my own property?  And not like fifty bucks either, but $700 combined?  Each year?  To pay for road maintenance?  You've seen the roads, right?  Which roads are you maintaining, exactly?

3. Nuisance Flooding
Have you ever heard of nuisance flooding?  I would think you could just call that "flooding."  Here, nuisance flooding is when the streets flood or canals overflow or a parking lot is underwater.  You know, not "real" flooding.  Apparently we moved here in the wettest summer in over fifty years.  One of Natalie's teachers apologized about the rain.  She said, "Normally it is over 100 every day and broiling hot and dry."  Well, shoot.  Put that on the tourism book!  I'm not complaining about the rain.  I like rain.  I just think it is bad when you have two different kind of flooding.

4. Mustard Based BBQ
I love BBQ.  Anyone who has read my blog or Facebook knows this.  But I have discovered a kind that was universally rejected by our entire household.  Mustard based BBQ is disgusting.  I don't even get the point of it?  Good BBQ should stand on its own without sauce.  If you add sauce, it should enhance the flavor.  So why take perfectly good BBQ and cover it with a mucus-colored sticky mustard sauce?  The worst is that there is a chain here called Maurice's.  They are everywhere.  And that is all they sell.  You can't get it plain.  It has to be covered with mustard.  Nasty.  Which just makes us miss 4 Rivers even more.

5. No Malls
We used to complain about how bad the Oviedo Mall was.  That would be the second best mall in Columbia.  That's how bad it is.  The two malls near us are atrocious.  One has literally five stores in it.  One of them is a Belk clearance center..  It's sad, too, because they have a movie theater and a beautiful Barnes and Nobles there.  But everything else closed.  The other mall has a bunch of weird stores and a pathetic Sears. We have to drive over to Irmo to find a "real mall."  Irmo is the one place in town with consistently heavy traffic.  Probably because they have a mall.  The only place close to us is an outdoors mall, like Waterford in Orlando or St Johns Town Center in Jax.  We've been told that if you actually want to shop, like for Christmas, you'd be better driving to Charleston.  This is more saddening than it should be.  But we do have five Lowe's and I've been to all of them.

That's a quick look at our life in Columbia.  It's nice.  We're looking forward to experiencing Fall and seeing the downtown and historic areas during the Winter.  And we have not yet had to deal with home SEC football games.  We've heard that the city is insane on those weekends.  So far, we are loving it.  Which leads us to the moral of the story: seventeen year olds are not to be trusted.

Aug 12, 2013

More Than Friends

Thirteen years ago, I married my best friend...

I see sentiments like this often on Facebook.  I've probably even posted that at some point.  Who knows?  With today being our 13th anniversary, I was thinking about that statement again.  It has troubled me a lot lately.  It seems to minimize what actually occurred in that wedding ceremony.  I didn't just marry my best friend, did I?  Is that really what Heather is?  Is that all she is?  It just didn't sit well with me.  [Aside:  If you are one of the myriad of people who posted that in good conscience, I apologize for what is going to happen here.  I am certainly not doubting your sincerity or love of your spouse.  But I have issues I need to work out, apparently in public.  So I wage into the fray.]

I never used to believe this, but I have a lot of friends.  Facebook proudly proclaims that I have exactly seven hundred and thirty-seven (maybe a few less after this post).  And, if I am to believe the helpful suggestions Facebook tosses up on the side, I am neglecting quite a few more friends.  Going beyond the superficial Facebook definition, I actually do have a lot of friends.  Some of them are good friends; some are great friends.  I would even say that you could make a legitimate argument for about a dozen people for the the position of best friend.  Is Heather my friend?  Sure.  She is my Facebook friend (since we do not and never will share an account).  She follows me on Twitter - something only true friends and Russian spammers do.  Is she my best friend?  I don't know.

When I think of my best friend, I immediately think back to elementary school at The King's Academy in bustling West Palm Beach.  Matt Sharp was my first best friend.  He left the school after first grade and Nathan Wright became my new best friend.  That title would be passed to others depending on my mood, location, and interaction with that person.  When I left TKA for a year a Belvedere Elementary (Go Belvedere Bees!  Sting on!!!), Nathan wasn't my friend as much because I rarely saw him.  I still liked him, but we didn't see each other every day.  So I wandered on to Willie Prince.  Then I went back to Nathan in sixth grade.  That is what I think of when I think of that term.  It is a flexible position, like first place in the BCS rankings.  I think of Ellis Mitchell, Matt Brice, Mitchell Wunsh, Tim Shields, Allen Turner, Toney Sauls, Eddie Gilley, Greg Ramer, Rick Estes, Nik Whitener, Charles Wise, and Randy Gillis.  I find myself saying things like, "Well obviously Heather is my best friend.  As far as friend friends go..."  Should she be assigned to a position with such high turnover?

I think part of the problem over our marriage is actually that I did see her that way.  We were buddies.  We talked and had fun.  I made her laugh.  I was proud of her.  We supported each other.  We cared for each other.  It was great.  I am a good friend to my friends.  I would think most of them would agree with that (except, maybe, Greg Ramer who I have spent most of our friendship tormenting).  I am loving and generous and thoughtful.  I like to go to lunch and eat burgers or pizza or BBQ.  I am a good storyteller and conversationalist.  I love movies and love talking about them.  I have pretty well thought out opinions on stuff.  I have a fantasy football league.  All the good friend stuff.  But being a good friend didn't make me a good husband.  In fact, it made me a pretty crappy one.

The last year of our marriage has been the most trying, stressful, difficult, and beautiful of our lives.  Since our anniversary last year, we have reached the most desperate point we ever reached.  We also reached the most wonderful point we ever reached.  We went through seven months of couples counseling, as well as individual counseling for me.  We decided to move hundreds of miles away from our hometown to a new start in a new city.  We left our amazing church, our incredible friends, our loving families to a city where we didn't even know where to buy groceries.  Heather graduated med school.  We bought our first house. And we had our youngest child get ready to start kindergarten while our oldest got ready for middle school.  I think back to where I was last August and I don't even feel like the same person. Part of it had to do with this very issue.  For the first time in my life, I finally have begun to understand what it means to love my wife - the responsibilities, the joys, the heartaches.  And it has changed everything.

There is obviously a clear distinction between husband/wife and friend.  Guys are well aware of this, which is why they so desperately avoid the Friend Zone with girls and dodge the "friend" label.  The worst thing that they can hear from a girl they are interested in is, "You are such a good friend."  I used to call it the f-word when I was single.  "Then she dropped the f-word on me.  'You are my friend. I don't want to mess this up.'" Friends aren't husband material.  They are guys you rely on until you find the guy to marry.  The Bible talks about the importance of friends.  They sharpen us.  They keep us on the right track and give us wise counsel.  Jesus had friends.  He valued them.  Jesus even taught that there is no greater love than laying down your life for a friend.  The concept of laying our lives down for each other is very familiar.  We hear it in the Bible and often use it as a demonstration of how deep our friendships are.  "I would die for that guy and he would die for me."  It is a noble proposal - to be willing to die for someone.

When we come to how husbands should treat our wives, this sentiment pops up again.  Ephesians 5 contains the instructions for how spouses should treat each other [A separate entry than for how to treat friends and acquaintances, just to remind you.]  I've heard dozens of sermons about how a husband should love his wife like Christ loved the Church, willing to lay His life down for her.  This appeals to the most basic heroic element of a man.  Die defending the people he loves.  Isn't this the heart of epic hero?  Or the modern superhero?  The willingness to give up everything, including his or her own life? Jack died for Rose on the The Titanic. Kyle Reese died for Sarah Connor and their unborn child in The Terminator.  Katniss was willing to die for her sister in The Hunger Games.  Ummm, wait.  This isn't just guys dying for their beloved any more.  That circle keeps expanding.  Jack Shepherd will die for everyone on The Island.  Batman is willing to die a little bit every night to protect his city.  Tony Stark is willing to die to save the Earth.  In some ways, it is a little easier to die in a blaze of glory.  You get honored and don't have to clean up the aftermath.

I would encourage you to look a little closer at Ephesians 5.  I have.  I've read several translations of it (NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, Holman).  Ephesians 5:25 actually says, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..."  That phrase is in every single version.  Gave himself up for her.  Looking at what that word means, I was shocked.  The word "gave" is paradidomi and it is used 119 times.  The most times it is used to mean "betray," followed by "delivered to," "handed over to," "entrusted to," and "surrendered."  It doesn't necessarily mean die.  In fact, it never is used to directly mean die.  It almost exclusively means an act of turning over someone to another (mostly in a negative context).  It is saying, "Husbands, hand over your being to your wife, if she is going to treat you well or not."  We are surrender ourselves to them.

Now, I've heard a lot of things about friendship.  But I've never heard that as how we should treat friends.  I've also heard a lot of things about how husbands should treat their wives.  And I have rarely heard that.  Surrender ourselves?  That isn't manly.  That isn't being in charge.  Surrendering is the opposite over leading.  It is losing.  Why are we supposed to do that?  The passage tells why.  We are supposed to love our wives like our own bodies - nourishing her and cherishing her and helping her to become the person God intended her to be.  And we do that through following the model of Christ with the Church.  He served.  He led by being a servant.  It was not about having His needs met.  It was about meeting their needs.  That is the model for husbands.  Service.  Sacrifice.  Surrender.

That is what I began to discover.  It isn't about trying to do things to make Heather like me.  It isn't about working hard so that she will tell me I am good enough.  It isn't about changing so she will do what I want.  It isn't about doing something so I can play even steven and get something back. It isn't about showing how tough or strong I am by being loud or aggressive or dominating.  It is about serving her and cherishing her.  It is having a heart only for her and no other.  It is putting my desires on the shelf and meeting her needs.  It is being tender and caring and sensitive.  It is being strong by being controlled and determined and reliable.

I have found myself wanting to do things that before I formerly would have shied away from.  It has been easy to hide behind my rheumatoid arthritis over the years.  Yes, it was painful and debilitating.  But I didn't always fight it as hard as I could have.  This last move, I didn't let myself give in so easily.  I got up and worked.  If I hurt too much, I stopped.  If I couldn't keep going late into the night, I rested. But I worked hard.  What happened?  It was the easiest move we've ever had (and we've had a lot in 13 years).  Were more organized and done earlier.  The transition was smoother.  And this was me doing all the things "I wasn't good at" before.  Since we have been in our new home, I have tried to keep that drive up.  I fix things when they break.  I keep up with the house better than I ever had.  I even have kept up with the yard - something I haven't done since my RA flare up in 2003.  I had never owned or  used a weed whacker before.  But I have one now.  Sure, the first time I used it I destroyed a plant that the previous owners had planted to wrap around the mailbox . . . and a sewage pipe plug . . . and three outdoor yard lights . . . and several grass patches.  But I did it.  I put together all of our furniture.  I have kept up with all of our bills and created a budget for us - something that I had never even come close to doing before.  I bought all the kids' school supplies, even Natalie's uniforms, by myself on tax-free weekend.  And I didn't do it and then present my back for a quick pat.  I did them because I was supposed to do them.  I did them to minister to my wife.

I don't yell much anymore.  If I do raise my voice, it is a quick short burst to stop something the kids are doing wrong.  There is no explosion.  There is no meltdown.  I don't yell at Heather.  I don't bully her in arguments or discussions.  I try to listen to what she is saying and feeling.  I try to encourage her and be a part of her work life.  I have established relationships with her attending doctors, fellow residents, and their significant others.  I am pursuing her heart.  I am meeting her needs and the needs of our family.  I am not doing it because Heather has always wanted to be a doctor.  I am doing it because God built her for this so that she can change her world.  She is incredible and brilliant. She already has skills that her attending doctors say veteran doctors don't have.  She is already beginning pulmonology research and starting projects on how to help kids keep up with their cystic fibrosis.  I told her the other day that she could make a discovery that changes how millions of kids suffering with CF will live.

You may be sitting there and thinking, "Well whoopty freaking doo.  You're doing what you should have been doing.  You want a cookie?"  If you are thinking that, yes I do want a cookie.  Not for what I'm doing - I just like cookies.  Especially chocolate chip.  Also, shame on you if you are thinking that.  It is a big deal.  Making a switch in my mindset was not easy.  It took a lot of therapy, a lot of hard work.  We both fought and suffered to reach this point.  It wasn't easy at all.  I didn't have the example of a father who loved his wife to model myself after.  I had heard so many different things about how a man should treat his wife, and most of them sounded wrong somehow.  I had a hard time even understanding what loving someone looked like.  For so long, I believed that what you did determined if you were loved.  Love could be withheld if things weren't done right.  That puts an unbelievable weight on a person, trying to do everything right.  Or at least appearing to do everything right.  When you are focusing so much on that, you can't focus on meeting someone else's needs too well - unless by meeting those needs helps you to stay in that person's good graces.  It is warped and twisted and sick.  That is what I've left.  And I don't miss it at all.  Sure, I still wrestle with things and mess up more than I'd like.  But the general goal is to do the right thing.

That's why this anniversary, possibly for the first time, I truly celebrate what this day signifies.  It is more than the day I turned my best friend into my wife.  It is more than the day I got a great roommate. It is the day the anniversary of the day I became Heather's husband and she became my wife.  It is the day that I was entrusted with a precious gift.  It is the day that I surrendered myself to Heather.  It is the day that God allowed me to be a part of Heather's journey towards Him.  I only wish that it didn't take so long for me start doing my job.  Heather, I truly love you.  And I am so glad to be married to you.  You are precious to me and I will continue to keep pursuing your heart from now until the day I die.  I'm sorry if I am still learning.  I'm sorry it took so long.  You are my friend, my wife, my beloved.  And I'm the most fortunate man around.

Jun 19, 2013

Out of the Box: Friends

I'm sitting here waiting for the movers and thinking about leaving my home.  I'm not talking about this house.  After living at 19 different addresses in the last 20 years, I have gotten over mourning a move.  I'm talking about leaving Orlando.  Ever since I fled South Florida (the region, not the university) for UCF back in 1992, I have seen Orlando as my home.  In my adult life, I have lived in Tampa for four years, Tallahassee for two, Jacksonville for one, and Orlando for fourteen.  I love this city.  I love the vicious afternoon storms that have numbed me to the fear of a "real" tropical storm.  I love the close proximity to a major university, a decent downtown, and even a tourist mecca.  I love being within reasonable driving distance to ever city in the state I would need to go to.  I even love that our unofficial city mascot is a cartoon mouse, even though I think said mouse would get his tail kicked in a fight with Bugs Bunny.

The point is, Orlando is awesome.  We have loved it.  We have had to move before, but there was always the expectation that we would be back very soon.  This time is different.  This feels final.  We know that there really is no way to move back for at least seven years.  Residency is three years and Heather's fellowship is another four - something they don't even have available in Orlando.  At that point, Josiah will have graduated from high school, Natalie will be in high school, and Gabe will be entering middle school.  (Did you just have a panic attack at that?  Me too.)  The even bigger thing to consider is that Heather is entering a specialized field of pediatrics.  She is going to be a pediatric pulmonolgist who works with kids with cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, and premie babies.  There are entire states without a single doctor of that type working there.  Orlando has several practices located here.  Isn't there some responsibility to go where people need the physician instead of just where the physician wants to live?  We think so.  That means that this move is most likely NOT going to have a return relocation. Sure, we will be back to Orlando.  But not as frequently as we would like.  Heather has limited vacation.  My mom is moving back to West Palm Beach.  Heather's parents like outside Jacksonville.  If we are coming to Florida to visit, those two cities are the most likely landing points.  We recognize all of this and have accepted it.  But that is why this has been so hard.

I spend a lot of time talking about restaurants and churches and stuff like that.  Yes, I will miss the ability to go to Four Rivers BBQ any time I want (except Sundays - unless they cater a church event on Sunday).  I will miss Tijuana Flats and Tenders and Jeremiah's Italian Ice.  I will definitely miss our church.  I will miss being close to THREE Apple stores.  But, that's not the real reason it is hard to leave Orlando.  I had planned on writing about jobs I had here and churches we attended here.  But the thing that kept popping up was the collection of friends we made over the years.  I have some truly amazing friends that I love dearly.  Leaving them stinks.  I know we all have Facebook (except for Aaron, who is reading this thanks to the link on Google+).  And I've had people helpfully offer, "You'll make new friends."  That's what I tell my kids to make them feel better.  But it never works on them either.  I don't WANT to make new friends.  I WANT to pack all my friends up in this truck in my driveway and take them with me.  But I don't want to be negative or sad.  So I am going to celebrate my friends instead.

I feel like I have had several different eras in Orlando.  First, there was the overarching UCF experience.  Within that, there were actually two distinct experiences.  There were the first two years when I was in Student Government.  Then there were the second two years when I was in the BSU/BCM/BSM/BCU/Baptist Group and attended FBC Oviedo as a student.  Totally different groups of people.  I still keep up with some of the SG guys, mainly through Facebook.  But the BCM people have been my friends for nearly two decades.

  • Matt and Sarah Sharp - I have known Matt since Kindergarten.  Literally.  We were good friends at King's Academy together.  I used to go hang out at his house and play with his Star Wars toys when I wasn't allowed to watch the movies.  He left TKA after 2nd Grade.  But we still would see each other at various academic competitions ("Nerd Games").  Then we went to 9th grade together.  We ran into each other visiting UCF in our junior years.  And we roomed together in our freshman year of college.  We were in honors classes together and he invited me to BCM.  He was in my wedding.  We have been friends for almost 35 years.  He is one of the most brilliant people I have ever met.  He is hilarious and always good for a discussion on sports or movies or comic books.  And his wife Sarah is very giving and kind.  She had done our family photo shoots for years.  She brings us clothes for Gabe when her son outgrows them.  She has done tons of special things for us and our kids over the years.  Great friends.
  • Allen and Candy Turner - I became good friends with Allen during my junior year in college and  roomed with him my senior year.  Way before they started dating, Candy used to be part of the cadre of BCM students who would come to our house to watch Magic games on our big tv.  Allen has been one of my very best friends over the years.  I was in his wedding; he was in mine.  He was my co-best man.  The funny thing is that over the years, Candy became one of my wife's best friends.  They got close when we attended church together about seven years ago.  We watched their son all day when their daughter was born.  We have babysat each other's kids.  We would hang out together ever New Year's Eve.  We would play Dutch Blitz together.  Their kids went to the same preschool as ours.  I cannot even list all of the ways they are special to us without tearing up.  Their family is one of the five hardest things to leave about Orlando.  I must move on.  It's getting dusty in here.
  • There are other BCM friends that I still see around town like Byron and Bern Kirkpatrick, Mark Dao, Jeff Kipi and his family, and Jamie Waters.  That is one of the really neat things about having decades of history in a city.  You go to Target, go to Publix, go to church and run into people you know.  We have common friends.  If we ended up at a party with any of these people, I could spend hours talking to them.  That familiarity is hard to match.  
After I graduated from UCF, I moved to Tampa and then Jacksonville.  After about five years, we moved back to Orlando where I worked at First Baptist Oviedo for over four years.  There were some overlaps with my BCM crew at this point.  But I also forged dozens of new friendships from that staff experience.  It is actually hard to believe how many people I know from this time of my life.  This is the Target crew or Mall crew.  I go to Target on a Wednesday afternoon to kill time in between getting the kids and run into someone from FBC Oviedo.  It happens about twice a month.  They may be from First Years Preschool, from the staff, or a church member who I knew from a project or event.  These are people like Ron and Dana McKay, Shannon Chambley, Marlene Olsen, Diane Strathdee, Jim Wadley, Cheryl Pavuk, Debbie Ellison or Schmidt, Randy and Donna Moore and family, Jill Myers, the Mannas.  I also taught college Sunday School for years there.  I had tons of students that came through those classes that have now gotten married and had kids.  I watched them start as freshmen and blossom into brilliant and tremendous adults, workers, parents.  Some of them have ended up as teachers in the area, some are ministers, some are counselors.  I have had kids in preschool with their kids.  One of my favorite things as a teacher is to see the end result of a student.  It isn't the frustration you have when they are learning.  It is seeing that person as an adult out there and changing the world.  That is such an amazing feeling.  I also became very good friends with Tiffany and Erik Wieder.  I worked with Tiffany at the church.  I remember when she first started there.  Her life had been so tumultuous and she seemed shell-shocked.  It was a friendship of mutual teaching, though.  I would talk to her about some things, and she would talk to me about others. She helped me to understand how wrong my worldview was when it came to issues of compassion and social awareness.  I helped her to realize meat was worth eating and there was hope for a better future.  Once she and Erik got together, I had the pleasure of watching that relationship blossom.  I did their premarital counseling and performed their wedding.  I remember having a broken heart when their first child nearly died after being born early.  Heather and I were in Jacksonville for Christmas and just desperately wanted to drive to Orlando just to hug them.  To see this boy now, you would never know he was ill.  He is thriving and rambunctious.  They have a beautiful baby girl, in addition to Tiffany's stellar teenaged daughter.  We love their whole family.  We can easily kill hours and hours talking.  I'm almost disappointed to go to a movie with them because we miss out on talking.  

Thanks to FBC Oviedo, I became friends with Charles Wise.  I remember the very first time I sat down with him was when he took all of the secretaries out to lunch.  (What?  I was a secretary.  Want to fight about it?)  I heard about his counseling ministry and was blown away.  I went home after work and told Heather, "I met this guy today who run a counseling ministry.  He was awesome.  I know it is strange to say this, but I really want to work with him at some point."  At first, I did some freelance graphic design work for him.  As years went on, we talked more and more.  In 2006, we ended up starting Defender Ministries together.  For the next seven years, we have ministered together and grown to be very deep friends.  I can't count the number of lunches we have had together. (But I can count the number I have paid four.  Five.)  We have traveled all over the place to speak at Defender events, run seminars and breakout sessions, and scout locations for future projects.  There is very little that we don't share with each other.  I don't know if I have ever had a deeper friendship.  He knows almost everything about me and I know tons and tons about him.  He encouraged me so much to develop my skills in writing and design and speaking.  We have worked together for over seven years and we have never had a fight.  We have had maybe two disagreements.  We don't always see eye to eye.  But I believe there is such a mutual respect that we still value what the other person says even if they are wrong.  Through the Defender experience, I became much closer friends with Brad Crawford, the BCM Director at UCF.  We would drive the vans for him to National Student Week.  Brad had me come and speak once a year at BCM.  He would make me pulled pork, although not as frequently as he should have.  I also further cemented my friendship with Aaron and Jill Morrison.  I knew Aaron as a student in BCM and worked with Aaron at FBC Oviedo.  We became good friends through our time working together.  But our friendship got deeper after those years while I was working at Defender.  It was probably because we didn't "have to" see each other and "chose to."  I ended up performing Aaron and Jill's wedding.  When they started going to Summit with us, we again intensified our friendship.  They came over twice to help us pack, just because.  They went to Islands of Adventure with us just to help us have a better (and cheaper) time. Two of the most giving people I have ever met.  

The last four years we spent in Orlando seem like an entirely different era.  We had this huge history with FBC Oviedo, BCM, Defender which all blended together because they pulled from the same pool.  Then things shifted.  We stopped going to FBC Oviedo and ended up at a church plant.  I had to get other jobs to subsidize my income from Defender.  I started working at International Community School and Apple Retail.   Heather was preparing to go to medical school, which meant we were "on a clock" of sorts.  Our church still had some familiar faces - the Kirkpatricks, the Turners, the Sharps, and Randy and Susan Gillis who we were familiar with, but not super close to.  It turned out to be a wonderful shift of experience.  Our friendships with the Turners, Kirkpatricks, and Sharps got a jolt and developed a new dimension, with Heather getting to know all the principles better. We got to realize the Gillis family was a blessing sent from God.  And I got to make a whole new group of friends that had nothing to do with my college years.  Apple was a wonderful experience.  It ranks as one of my favorite jobs ever.  I still would go back and work there part time if I could.  I loved just about every day there.  Plus, I got to meet people like Neil Otto, Chris Anenome, and Veronica Fish.  ICS was a great place for me.  I got to teach and invest in the students there.  I also got to know the teachers and become friends with them - Carrie Baker, Wendy Bowerman, Shelly Uner, William and Jessica Eggleston.  I also spent time with the parents like Wendy and Steve Kreidt.  And I met Greg Willson, the most bizarre example of "It's a Small World" of them all.

When I got hired to teach Bible, the class originally was all taught by "Mr Willson" who I assumed was an old man who would hate me.  The kids were all hacked to get split up.  The administration decided to have half of the class with Greg, and half with me.  The half with me was mad.  I figured I would be walking into a landmine.  When I met Greg, I realized I had guessed severely wrong.  He was younger and awesome.  I loved getting to school early for my class just to talk and joke with him.  He was a part-time minister and a musician and an Apple fan.  I kept telling Heather how much I liked Mr Willson.  One day, she picked me up from school and he was walking by.  I said, "There goes Mr Willson."  She looked up and said, "Wait.  What is his first name?"  I told her it was Greg.  She asked if he was from Middleburg.  I said that quite frankly I didn't know.  He had indicated Jacksonville.  She told me she was in band with him.  Uh, what?  I walked over and got him to come to the car.  It was true.  They had gone to high school together and been in band!  Their moms had been friends.  His wife had been in high school with my brother-in-law Mike.  Bizarre.  After our year at ICS, I moved to Tallahassee.  But I always managed to have lunch with Greg when I was in town.  We kept close when I moved back, mostly by eating at Four Rivers or Chipotle.  He was on church staff and he told me that they were planning on relocating to a church in Columbia, SC.  Then we ended up matching in Columbia.  So we are both moving up there at the same time.  Our counselor also turned out to be one of Greg's best friends.  It truly is a small world after all.

Upon our return from Tallahassee, we again were in a new place.  We had med school friends that came back with us.  Even though they were mostly Heather's friends at first, they became my friends too.  It was hard to say goodbye to these people at graduation, knowing Facebook was going to be the main contact point with them since we scattered all over the country.  Zach and Jasmeet are headed to Michigan.  Katrina is going to Louisiana.  Sheallah is staying in Orlando.  Even our dinner club - a group of couples that ate at ethnic restaurants monthly - have splintered.  Mark and Shannon are staying in Orlando.  We are going to South Carolina.  Richard and Meagan and their soon-arriving baby are going to Baltimore.  We also ended up at Summit Church for our final stretch here.  It was unlike any church experience we had ever had.  I got to serve by writing, something that is extremely rare at a church - to have a lay person writing.  I also made some tremendous friends like Michael Murray, John Parker, OJ Aldrich, and Brian Hogan.  One of the best things about Summit was the Gillis family.  They have always been a part of my Orlando story, but it seemed in a "close call" way.  Randy was in the UCF BCM, but he graduated right before I started going and went to seminary.  Then he was a college minister in Gainesville when I was a college minister in Tampa.  We went to the same conferences frequently and became familiar with each other.  They moved back to Orlando just after we did.  Their oldest daughter is the same age as our oldest son.  At a birthday party for Allen Turner, they showed up with their infant second daughter, who was a week older than Natalie.  They enrolled their kids at First Years just like us.  We went to church with them at the church plant and Randy and I were on staff together there.  They had a third daughter by that point.  We started to get close as a family during that time.  What really solidified things, though, when they had their fourth child and first boy less than a month after Gabe was born.  Those two have been friends since birth and now are best friends.  They play together all the time.  In fact, our families both play together all the time.  The kids are all matched up in ages.  Randy and I play the same computer games.  Being at Summit together gave us even more opportunities to share experiences, which was awesome.  Randy and I wrote together for the kids' service.  Since Gabe and their youngest were at First Years together, I saw Susan all the time.  We would pick up each other's kids, watch the kids for each other.  During some family events for the Gillis family, we had all their kids spend the night.  We even shared a babysitter!  All four adults are all friends with each other.  It has been a truly amazing family friendship.  It also is one of the five hardest thing to leave in Orlando - if not the hardest.  I know my kids shed many tears about leaving the Gillis kids.  It was heartbreaking to see Gabe broken up about losing his first best friend.  I've got to move on again.  Stupid dust.

All in all, I count myself supremely blessed to have had the friends I have.  They have refined me and defined me.  They have helped me to grow into the man I am and have had patience with me as I did.  They have encouraged me and lifted me up.  And each one of them holds a treasured place in my heart.  In response to the answer to finding new friends, I may be able to find new ones.  But they can never replace the crop I have now.  They are gifts from God.  I firmly believe that.  And I thank God that I had them for whatever time I did.  So thank you all.  You can never know what you meant to me.  I love you guys.  

May 23, 2013

Out of the Box: FYPK

Today our youngest child graduates from preschool. Obviously this is a big deal to us - watching our baby become a big kid. But it also is very difficult for another reason. This is the last day that we will have a child enrolled at First Years Preschool and Kindergarten of Oviedo. For the last nine years, we have had a child attending FYPK every year except the two we were living in Tallahassee, and we would have had Gabe enrolled those two years. I will say without a doubt that First Years is the finest preschool I have ever interacted with. And it has had an immeasurable and eternal impact on all three of our kids.

I have been taught many times that everything rises and falls with leadership. If that is true, that explains why First Years is such an amazing place. Shannon Chambley has been the director for as long as I can remember. She is an incredibly gifted educator, speaker, and encourager.  She knows every child's name.  I mean, like literally knows every name.  By the second week of school she is standing at the door welcoming each child by name.  Today at graduation, she introduced each child as they came up on stage.  There was no list, no teleprompter.  The kids weren't holding little cards.  She just knew them all.  She has a heart for every one of those little guys and girls.  She wants to see them learn and grow up to be good godly men and women.  She is compassionate and loving, but also firm and just.  I've been around educational facilities a lot in my life, between being an education major, a parent, and working with schools for my ministry.  But I would be hard pressed to find too many school administrators that are half as good as Shannon.  It was fitting that the last person we saw on the way out the door of the church was Shannon.  I teared up when she hugged us goodbye.  She has been an unfair standard for every subsequent principal our children have had.  And it makes me expect more from my schools.  So, Shannon, thank you for your years of leadership, prayers, and love for us.

But Shannon is not just a figurehead without a support network.  The teachers at First Years are all incredible.  There have been times that we started a year off with a teacher and wondered if this was going to work out.  They seemed to be the opposite of the kind of person our kid needed.  But by the end of the school year, we were sad to have our child move up to the next grade.  They loved our kids. They were tough of them when they needed it (Gabe, looking at you). And they cuddled them when they needed it.  They would recognize areas where my kids were gifted and encouraged them. I remember one of Josiah's teachers identifying his obsession and bizarre comprehension of space.  So she started to use space in her illustrations of other things.  Natalie has always had an aptitude for language.  Gabe has intense creativity and beautiful handwriting.  Each time, the teacher would grab hold of that and use it as an anchor to improve other things.

There have been times my kids were challenging.  (Shut up.)  I am aware of this.  Well, not Natalie.  Apparently Natalie never did anything wrong.  One year, her teacher would move their names from green apples to yellow apples to red apples for behavior warnings.  She got moved to yellow twice all year.  The teachers loved her.  They snuggled her and told her how beautiful she was.  They praised her artwork and encouraged her to explore her music and gymnastics.  She still remembers most of her teachers there and special things they said to her.

My boys were not nearly so easy.  Josiah set the standard.  He got into minor trouble frequently - but nothing major.  He loved to touch people's arms and hair.  Especially Emily's hair.  She had very curly black hair and Josiah LOVED to pat it, stroke it, play with it.  She did not enjoy this.  We would pick him up and hear, "Josiah had a hard time keeping his hands to himself today."  Emily was also the source of another Josiah problem.  One day we heard that he had said that Emily looked like a potato.  I thought this was a strange insult, so I asked what he meant by that.  He said plainly that he had said her SKIN looked like the same color as a potato because she had a little bit darker skin.  Josiah was misunderstood from time to time, apparently.  There also was the time when we went through carline and Josiah's teacher was waiting to put him in the car.  She didn't seem happy.  When she got to the van, she said, "I need to talk to you. Josiah today told some boy he was going to blow his brains out."  We were a bit stunned, since that was not something he should have heard before.  On the way home, we talked to him about it and realized that he had said that something was going to blow the kid's brain, but he meant "blow his mind."  BIG difference.

At a conference with that teacher, we finally addressed some of Josiah's behavior stuff.  For most of his time at First Years, Josiah had done the green/yellow/red apple/frog system.  And he would come home almost every day with yellow apple or sometimes red apple.  But never green apple.  I had grown tired fo hearing this, so I asked just what went into this process.  Did the kid get into trouble and immediately get yellow apple?  The teacher calmly explained that, no, the child got two warnings and then a mark on the board, then two more warnings and then another mark, then two more and then the yellow apple, and then another couple before the red.  I suddenly realized that Josiah was getting corrected eight times a day for the same thing.  I also suddenly had a great deal of sympathy for those teachers.  Know what the funny thing is?  By the middle of first grade, Josiah never got into trouble at school.  He actually has gotten straight A's in behavior (until a couple of questionable choices at the end of this year that will appear in a much later post when I think it is funny - not yet, obviously).

Gabe also was a challenge.  He is a bundle of energy and never seems to tire.  I remember one of Gabe's teachers last year used to greet the parents with, "We had a busy day!  They're going to be tired when they get home."  Then she looked over at me and said, "Well except Gabe.  He never gets tired." I wearily nodded.  This year, it got to be a daily occurrence that he would lose both of his stickers due to behavior issues.  Sometimes they were minor (to me) like not sitting or paying attention to instructions.  These were punctuated, though, with stuff like "Gabe hit Asher in the face with a truck" or "Gabe threw mulch at Kort" or "Gabe threw his lunch today."  I even got to the point where I was convinced the teacher hated Gabe for his many shortcomings.  Here was another chance for Shannon to step in, as she met with me and the teacher separately to make sure things were all fine.  She reassured me and told me that the teacher loved Gabe for his energy and creativity.  I found this out personally through his conferences, where the teacher raved about his journal and his mastery of benchmarks without ever even mentioning behavior issues.  By the end of year, I sat there crying as I watched him in the front row of his graduation ceremony singing with the class and doing every single hand motion perfectly.  No stupid faces.  No swinging his arms around.  No staring into space.  He desperately wanted to do the right thing and couldn't wait to show us the music.  My heart was so full, watching just how much those teachers had helped my baby become a big boy.

So, thank you to all of the teachers and aides we have had through the years.  I am going to do my best to remember them all.  If list of names bore you, just skip to the next paragraph.  Thank you Geina Creviston, Suzy Bortles (twice), Alicia Gyger, Nancy Oxendine (thrice), Mrs Plitt, Carmen Felix (twice), Mrs Nieves (twice), Rachael Hall, Mrs Mattan, Melissa Mayse (twice), Lois Dearolf, Miss Roxie, Mrs Pike, Lu Stasak, Heather Graves, and - of course - Miss Blanca.  Thank you for investing in our babies and for helping them become great kids.

Beyond even the teachers, the office staff was top notch.  They cared about our whole family.  They loved our kids.  But they also followed Heather's journey through medical school and asked her how she was doing every time she came.  They gave us extensions on tuition when they knew things were tight.  They bend over backwards to help us meet deadlines when we weren't sure about where school would take us.  And they also were willing to spend a few minutes chatting with me when I dropped off the kids or picked them up - even though they probably had better things to do.  When we started at First Years, I was working at the church there.  So they knew me as a co-worker.  I would help them run off copies, make powerpoints, and scan drawings.  Later, after I left the church to work for Defender Ministries, they kept up with me.  They asked how the ministry was doing and encouraged me through the ups and downs.  Finally, the knew me as the stay-at-home dad.  It wasn't always easy to be one of just a few guys doing the preschool runs.  I felt like an outsider.  But the staff never made me feel that way.  In fact, it seemed they offered me a special measure of grace.  They probably didn't even realize just how much it meant to me.  So thank you to Sharon Hill, Donnalea Hutchinson, and Melissa Mayse for all you did to make First Years a wonderful place and community.

Academically, First Years gave my kids an advantage.  They already were familiar with most kindergarten benchmarks by the time they finished preschool.  They knew shapes and colors and numbers and letters and were far ahead of reading requirements.  They had gained social skills and behavioral skills.  They had a positive outlook about school and teachers.  But, the biggest thing, is that all three of my kids learned about Jesus while at First Years.  He was a part of their curriculum.  He was talked about during chapel and at Christmas and at Easter and at end-of-the-year assemblies.  They learned songs about God and heard Bible stories.  They learned WHY it was important to make good choices.  And all three of my kids gained a personal relationship with Jesus while at First Years.  That is an eternal impact that I will never be able to put a price on.

So, as I promised, I am not going to bemoan what I will miss about First Years.  Instead, I will just say how thankful and blessed I am that we had the opportunity to have our children there.  Today, Dr Mercer, the pastor of FBC Oviedo, said that First Years is the best preschool in Orlando.  I would agree.  It has been an incredible place for our family.  It put our kids on the right path.  And it ministered to us in so many ways.  All I can really say is thank you.

May 17, 2013

Out of the Box: FSU COM

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of attending medical school, allow me to briefly walk you through it.  You graduate from college with some lofty science degree.  You take the MCAT.  You don't get the score you want, so you pay Kaplan (cough name drop cough) for a MCAT prep class.  You retake the MCAT and score 1-2 points higher, somehow justifying the $600 you just spent on the Kaplan (cough paid endorsement cough) class.  Then you start to apply to medical schools.  There is a national application process.  You fill out all of your information online and then pick which schools to send it to.  To make the process more like purchasing auto insurance, there are bundle prices for applications.  So, as an example, since you are paying the same price for fifteen or twenty schools, you apply to twenty schools.  This is where you dream big.  You pick any school you could imagine yourself going. Any city that has family in it.  Any place that has cool places to visit.  Any university that has a good football team.  Just apply to them all.  You can a very wide net in hopes of catching something.

Slowly you hear back from these schools.  Well, you hear back from some of them.  Others act like "too good for you" cheerleaders and never actually check a box and return your note.  If they do contact you, they will ask you to fill out a secondary application.  At first, you are thrilled at the number of schools that request these secondaries.  Then you realize two things.  First, you have to pay an additional fee for each secondary application.  Second, the secondary application requests only a small amount less information than a Homeland Security background check.  So you start to pare down your options to more realistic ones.  Let's eliminate Drexel and Temple.  We don't REALLY want to move to Missouri.  Stuff like that.

After you have sent off all of your secondary applications, you wait again.  You start to hear from medical schools.  Some of them will say something like, "We believe you will be a great doctor, just not if we have anything to do with it."  Or they may say, "Thank you for your interest in our med school.  Unfortunately you are not a native Spanish speaker so vas chupar los huevos."  Again, you have the cool COMs that just ignore your application entirely, maybe pass it around as a joke.  Then there are the few that offer you an interview.  Here is where you go to the school and meet with some representatives.  They want to simultaneously wow you with the program, cast doubt on if you will be asked to go there, and encourage you to keep trying even they reject you.  Eventually, you hope that one school will offer you a spot.  If not, you go apply to a Caribbean med school or try again the next year and hope for better results.

As we went through this process, we followed all these steps.  We applied to tons of schools in the initial application round.  We applied up in Philadelphia, in New York, in DC, in every Southern state, and to every Florida option with a medical school.  Heather was going to be entering med school in May of 2009.  We got very excited to see that UCF - our hometown school, our alma mater - was going to be opening a med school in May of 2009.  It got even more exciting when we found out that UCF was going to try to lure top recruits even though they had no accreditation by paying the tuition of the entire first class.  As we walked through, our goal was UCF.  It was perfect.  We didn't have to move.  Tuition was free.  It was UCF, which is the best school ever.  Number one was UCF.  There was no number two.

This mindset had to change when we began to realize just was UCF was doing.  They weren't really after med students.  They wanted to make a massive splash by pulling in people with ridonkulous resumes who didn't mind adding an MD to their name.  Their thought process was brilliant.  By overloading the stats of their first class, they never would have to deal with the stigma that came from checking the list of med schools and seeing bad numbers for UCF (low MCAT scores, lower GPAs, etc).  They didn't stick with their "Florida first" approach that they had promised.  They were flooded with applications.  And they ended up grabbing thirty-one people where half of them may never actually practice medicine.

We started to wonder what other schools we were going to "go after."  There was UF, which was close.  USF had a program.  We liked the med schools in Georgia and South Carolina.  And then there was FSU.  We had always said that we would be fine going to FSU.  We didn't know much about the program itself, or the city.  We had a good friend who lived in Tallahassee, but that was it.  It was always in the back of our minds - a way to stay in Florida, stay relatively close to family.  It wasn't our top choice, but it was an option.

Now, we had prayed that God would show us where to go.  I know some of you discount the role God has in our lives.  "He has bigger things to worry about than where you go to medical school."  Fair enough, you are entitled to your opinions on that.  When it comes to major decisions in our lives, this is how I usually pray.  "Dear God.  I am a big stupid idiot.  Left to my own devices, I will most assuredly screw this up.  I will make a bad choice.  I will overlook something.  I know myself too well.  SO even if you do not make a practice of helping people know how to (fill in the blank), please do it for me.  Because I am a moron."  I'm not kidding.  I pray that frequently.  I prayed that when I was single and hoping to find a wife.  I prayed that about jobs.  I prayed that about residency.  And I prayed that about med school.  God has been merciful and has usually answered that prayer in the affirmative, guiding me along.  I'm thankful for that.

As events would have it, the first medical school that offered Heather an interview was FSU.  We figured it took a while to process the applications.  Instead, FSU contacted Heather within a couple of days of submitting the application and wanted to do the interview right away.  So we packed the kids up and made the long, boring, boring, boring drive to Tallahassee.  Heather went to the interview and I took the kids to the Governor's Square Mall to kill time.  I think I knew the instant Heather got into the car that we would be moving to Tallahassee. She told me about the interview and how nice Dr Brummell-Smith and Nancy Clark were. She told me about how FSU approached teaching medicine differently - a very patient-focused approach instead of a mostly academic one. They were interested in making good doctors, not good med students.

We were told Heather would be wait listed, since it was so far along in the application process. Instead, she got a phone call later that week offering her a spot. I still hold out hope for UCF to work out, but I knew it wouldn't. And it didn't. 

I spent a lot of time in this blog bashing Tallahassee. And I stand by most of what I said. I didn't enjoy the city very much. But I also have to be fair and note that I personally was battling depression and a lot of other issues during those two years. So I may have had a negative view of Paris had I been living there in the same boat emotionally. All that being said, I do not want my opinion of Tallahassee to ever be mistaken for my view of the FSU College of Medicine. To be perfectly honest, I think the FSU COM is absolutely incredible. And I don't think Heather could have gotten better training to be a doctor anywhere else.

Going into this endeavor, we heard a lot of horror stories about medical school.  The hours were horrific.  Students would steal journals from the library.  They would rip pages out of books or check them out and not return them all semester.  Students would claw, scratch, and backstab to get ahead on the grade list.  FSU immediately puts an end to that mindset.  First, they assign everyone to one of four study groups, so they are forced to work with each other.  Second, the library is almost all electronic, so thievery does no good.  Third, they didn't release class rank until fourth year.  Fourth, they focused time and again on patient interactions instead of research or plain memorization.  From the very first year, Heather was interacting with standardized patients (people who got paid to pretend to be patients).  They matched her with a doctor in second year to work with and actually experience being a doctor.  The first two years at FSU literally give students thousands of patient interactions vs just a handful at most schools.

Lots of people wondered why we moved back to Orlando halfway through Heather's schooling.  Tallahassee is not big enough to have 240 med students roaming around the city for third and fourth year.  So FSU has established partnerships with satellite locations around the state.  Each of those locations has a mini-FSU med school, complete with a dean and a full roster of faculty.  The students are paired up with a doctor that they work with once a week for the entirety of third year.  They have rotations ever month with local doctors and in local hospitals.  The are actually DOING things.  In her OB/GYN rotation, Heather helped deliver babies.  She sutured cuts.  She placed IVs.  She did hundreds and hundreds of exams.

The thing about all of this hands-on training is that FSU graduates are obscenely experienced when it comes to actually practicing medicine.  They don't just know it on a theoretical level.  They are fully functioning doctors.  Residencies all over the country have started to notice this.  When they have a chance to snap up an FSU grad for their resident program, they do.  And after they have had a taste of FSU grads, they start to go after them more and more.  This past year, it was incredible to hear the places that FSU grads placed for residency: Cornell, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Dallas Children's Hospital, Denver for Neurological Surgery.  These grads are so equipped that the residencies are falling over themselves to recruit them.  I watched the process with Heather, where a half dozen top notch pediatric residencies kept pursuing her.  In the words of the head of the South Carolina residency we matched with, "Heather was awesome.  We wanted her.  We got her."

I may have hated Tallahassee, but it was only two years.  I absolutely loved FSU's Med School.  The faculty were so incredible sweet and attentive to my family.  They always asked about the kids and did special things for them.  The other students were amazing and loved our family.  One girl put on an Easter egg hunt for our kids.  Several of the girls watched our kids to give us a night out.  The guys took care of my wife when she was up at the school late studying.  They encouraged her and me.  I know that it is common for med students to forge lifelong friendships.  But I feel that I have as well.  People like Austin Henkel and his family, Zach and Jasmeet, Shawn Shah, Richard Jones and his wife Meagan, Souhail and Mariana, Laura Davis, Josh Smith, Shannon and Mark, Karina Walker, Eva Bellon, Emily Dudemeister (sorry, Dodenhoff), Beth and Nathan, David and Dana, and Sheallah Palmer showed me how much they cared for me as well as my brilliant wife.  The staff at FSU was just as awesome.  The local faculty invested so much time in Heather and were so kind to us.

It was a different kind of learning experience.  The faculty and administration were majorly invested in the students.  And that went beyond just teaching.  The Orlando campus dean every year would throw a dessert social for all of the faculty, students, and staff.  This wasn't your ordinary "cookies and cake" party, either.  He would take two or three days off before to make these high-end extravagant desserts that would cost a fortune in a restaurant.  Both years we had a blast.  He did it just because he liked the people he interacted with.  Faculty went overboard to mentor Heather, write her recommendations, and give her guidance on the next steps of her career.  People like Dr Stine, Dr Weatherly, Dr Coffman, Dr McBane, Dr Laham, Dr Harding, Dr Sabogal, and Dr Faverio did more for Heather than we can ever repay.

This weekend, we will close this chapter of our lives.  I think that I may post something about graduation on Saturday.  But I wanted to make sure that I expressed appreciation for a wonderful school, a wonderful faculty and staff, and wonderful fellow students.  I know that Heather is prepared to her utmost to be the best doctor she can be thanks to them.  I have enjoyed watching the experience unfold.  If FSU ever needs someone to talk up their med school, I would be honored to do so.  It has been a great four years and we are excited about our next steps thanks to FSU COM.  I'll even forgive them for being in Tallahassee.

May 13, 2013

Out Of the Box: Introduction

When Josiah was a little guy, preschool television had not completely exploded into the mega-billion dollar industry it is now.  There had been some major hits like Bob the Builder, Blue's Clues, and Barney.  But there also was a lot of stuff that fell into two major categories: Canadian Kids Television and Crap.  Nickelodeon had not launched Noggin (which later became Nick Junior).  Disney had not come up with Preschool Disney.  Entities like Baby Einstein and The Wiggles were just coming onto the scene. So for those early morning hours after the big kids went to school and before preschools got out, these stations tried to fill the hours with shows they purchased from other groups.  That is where Canadian Kids Television came into play.  For some reason, there was more groups in the Great White North that funded kids tv.  So they had developed more shows.  It was always amusing to hear all of these shows with their Canuck accents and our children learning words, sounding like young hockey players.  (The same thing happened with The Wiggles, except with all of our kids sounding like extras on Crocodile Dundee.)  Disney and Nick snapped up rebroadcast rights to these shows and filled their lineup (PB&J Otter, Franklin, Little Bear).  Unfortunately, they also purchased a lot of shows that fell into the Crap pile.  Sometimes these were also Canadian shows, but more like Quebec (technically, it is Canadian, but they like to remind us that - like a divorced couple - that province has TWO parents and one is France.)  This explained shows like Doodlebops, because there really wasn't any other possible explanation for that monstrosity.

Before long, Disney and Nick realized that creating their own shows was far more profitable than buying existing shows.  So they slowly replaced all of the imports and created their own shows with infinite merchandising rights.  Brilliant financial move.  But for anyone who had children in the first few years of the new millenium, we will always remember those other shows.  One such shows that landed squarely in the Crap pile was Out of the Box.  It was so dumb.  Absolutely ridiculous.  They had the "clubhouse" like Barney.  They had the two super-earnest hosts like Blues Clues.  And they had, well, not much else.  Oh, wait, they also had this horrible theme song set off by terrible puns.

Whenever I hear the phrase "out of the box," this is what pops to mind.  It has made me hate the phrase even more than most people who are encouraged to think outside of the box.  This past Sunday, we had a guest preacher at Summit Church.  He talked about living outside of our box.  I held in my usual aversion to that line to listen.  He was talking about how we can have extremely busy lives and still be unbelievably bored.  We get into a monotonous routine and get stuck in a rut.  As a result, we start to make choices that are easy and comfortable to stay in our box.  He challenged the church to start to be willing to move out of their box (or comfort zone or hedgehog or whatever catch phrase you happen to embrace).

I looked at Heather and we both said the same thing.  We already got out of our box.  Back in February, when we had to turn in our Match List for Match Day, we knew we faced a tough decision.  There was Orlando - the place we called home and loved dearly and had lived the majority of our married lives together.  It had our church, our friends, our kids' schools.  It was close to both of our parents.  It had doctors that Heather had spent two years with and residents who were wanting her to work with them.  Then there was Columbia.  On the surface, there was no reason to pick Columbia.  I had been there three times - once in high school for a yearbook conference, once to take the kids to the children's museum while visiting family in Rock Hill, and once for a wedding.  It was the place we turned North when traveling to Rock Hill.  It had Steve Spurrier and team fans who found it hilarious to only use part of their mascot name to sound obscene.  But we had this gut feeling we were supposed to go there.  Heather's interview there had been amazing.  She felt drawn there and felt like they wanted her.  I really only had her word to go on.  But we both were willing to make the jump.  So we listed it first and ended up matching there.  In that moment, we were out of the box.  If we had stayed in Orlando, that would have been the easy and comfortable and rut-increasing choice.  Leaving for Columbia was the right choice.

We will be leaving in just a few weeks.  In the words of Ron Burgundy, I am a swirling ball of emotions as we prepare to go.  Normally, my response is to blog about stuff like this.  For some reason, I have hesitated to do that this time.  But I feel that I would be robbing myself of a positive outlet for me to think through this process.  And I feel that I would be robbing others from knowing the impact they made on my life.  Between now and our move in June, I plan on writing a good number of posts that will be in the "Out of the Box" series.  Some of them will be looking back at the last four years of medical school.  Some of them will be looking ahead.  And a great majority of them will be trying to explain why I have grown to call a tourist trap my home.  Instead of listing all the things I will miss about Orlando, I will write about the things I am thankful that I got to experience in Orlando.  Some of you may find yourself splayed across this site in those articles.  For that, I apologize in advance.  Some of you will not.  For that, I apologize in advance.  I know that this is the Internet we are talking about - the haven of the disgruntled, wronged and cynical.  But if I don't include you in a post and you felt that I should have, please do not take offense.  I mean no slight.  After thirteen years of living in the City Moderately Beautiful, I have to trim things down.  And if it really bothers you, let me know and I'll write something special just for you.

The first in this series (well, actually the second, since this technically is the first - although this is more of a prologue or forward and shouldn't count towards pagination) will look back at Florida State University's College of Medicine.  It will post sooner than you think.  I hope you will join me on my journey of self-reflection as we move out of our box.  Out of the box. OUT of the box.  Take one box...