Friday, January 29, 2010

didn't expect that

I've been widdling down the number of emails in my inbox after the insaneness that was November and December, and tonight I came upon an email that jostled me. It is the obituary of a mentor, friend, adviser, professor, and much more who was the 70-year old spark that opened the door for theological inquiry, openness to new ideas, and a belief that I was capable of something great. Rev. Dr. William Thomas helped to change the course of my direction of life, as he simply entertained a question about a then unknown theologian to me Karl Barth, and whose Philosophy 101 class forever opened my mind to the mystery of God, humanity, and the complexity of life.

The next class that we had after I had asked him a seemingly small question on Barth, led to a brown paper bag sitting on my desk with a few new, great smelling books that he hoped would continue to help me ask more questions, keep up the conversation, and spur me on towards greater learning. Over the four years in college, and the next four years afterwards, we kept in touch, meeting occasionally for a meal, to discuss my going to seminary, to meet other prominent professors, to introduce Shey to some fantastic art historian, or just to catch up...he always listened, and he helped me to believe in myself in ways that I had never believed in myself before. He asked great questions, and he somehow kept ahead of the curve theologically, and was in tune with a broad swath of conversations and theological discussions across the spectrum.

Dr. Thomas passed away the right before I graduated from seminary, and the news was sent to me while Shey was in the hospital, in the middle of some of the worst weeks of my life thus far. To be honest, I haven't even begun to process the hole that is in my life now that he is gone. His death represents so much more than simply an absence of guidance, great questions, and insight...his absence is sorely missed as I evaluate Ph.D. programs, read a new theologian, or simply need a helpful voice to speak into my life. I know that I wasn't the only one impacted by this generous, humble, and kind man, he had a way of impacting every student in one way or another that he came in contact with.

So as I read tonight:

The Rev. Dr. William W. Thomas, Honorably Retired pastor

The Rev. Dr. William W. Thomas, age 74 and Honorably Retired pastor, died on Saturday, May 24, 2008, at the Bridgewater Nursing Home in Bridgewater, VA. Dr. Thomas was a longtime resident of Harrisonburg and retired from James Madison University as a full professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion in 1997. Since then, he taught at JMU on a part-time basis and continued his involvement with the students, faculty and staff at JMU. Prior to teaching at JMU, he taught summer sessions at Bridgewater College.

He was the last survivor of his immediate family. The Rev. Thomas Reynolds will conduct a graveside service at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, at St. Matthew's Cemetery adjacent to Reformation Lutheran Church in New Market, VA.

Memorial contributions may be made to Bridgewater Nursing Home or Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, Va.

from an email that I can't get myself to take out of my inbox, I was jostled a bit, because Dr. Thomas' life has left a lasting handprint into the very way that I see the world, and his generosity, kindness, humility, challenge, and strong spirit I know lives with me as I try to live and learn as he taught me. The truth is: I miss him. In the midst of the pain of watching Shey and Rowan fight to make it, I simply ran out of tears to cry, and so tonight, as the tears well up, I know that it wasn't because I didn't care then, that is when I first heard, that I didn't cry. It was because I had nothing else to give.

So tonight, Dr. Thomas, as we come closer to celebrate Rowan's two years of life in June, we will also remember you, and pray that we can spur on and spark in Rowan the joy of God, life, theology, hope, and curiosity that you worked so hard to create and cultivate in both Shey and I. Thank you for believing in me and helping me to believe that with some hard work, we can grow, learn, and open our minds to amazing things if we are just willing to listen and be open to the great diversity of ways that God can work in the world.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


We are expecting Baby Hayden #2 somewhere near August 5, 2010. The new addition to the family was a surprise to Shey and I (to say the least!), and we are getting more excited, but for a while we've just been overwhelmed. In light of recent events in Massachusetts, and the ongoing discussions about health care in our country, I thought I might add a personal story to the mix.

After Shey's difficult and complicated pregnancy, delivery, and Rowan's early troubles, we had a difficult time getting insurance for both Shey and Rowan. Rowan was added to my policy at the church after an initial appeal, but Shey was denied twice. They advised us to reapply after six months to a year, and thought that without any other complications she would be fine to get coverage. During the next year, we kept coverage for Shey through COBRA which is anything but cheap, stretching our budget a good bit, but we worked things out. We reapplied this past summer and Shey was denied coverage again on the plan with Rowan and me.

So we pursued an individual policy for Shey through Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (the same company I was on with Rowan, and the same company that Shey was on through her school) and she got coverage. Weird isn't it? As part of the policy, we had to pick up a maternity rider, the rules being that Shey could not become pregnant within the first six months of coverage or they would not cover the pregnancy costs. We made it 4 1/2 months. We weren't trying to get pregnant, but apparently being careful doesn't always work!

So, not only were we faced with the prospect of a major change in our family, which is surprising, but we could certainly grow more excited...but we then had to face what seemed like overwhelming obstacles of trying to figure out how we are going to cover the costs of all of the medical expenses. Pre-natal visits, labor, delivery, hospital costs, estimated between $10-15,000. Add to this that Shey must also be on a prescription of Lovenox shots, twice/day, with an estimated cost of $3,000/month. And oh yeah, we are in the middle of buying a house! And while we've saved some money by renting and living in people's basements, we don't have that much money...I'm a youth pastor and my wife was a teacher for four years before Rowan. Basically the conservative estimated medical costs (shots for 10 months, pre-natal, labor/delivery, and then a normal hospital stay) would be my entire salary for one year.

So most of December was spent trying to finish up teaching, finish my book, and then figure out how to cover some of the upcoming medical expenses. We found out that I make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to pay for all the expenses outright, so as you can imagine we were freaking out a bit.

Thankfully, the folks over at the company who make Lovenox (Sanofi Aventis) have a program for those who are underinsured or uninsured, and they have given us a 3-month supply of shots for free, and as long as I don't get a raise, and we should continue to be able to qualify for the program. Next, there is a Baptist Minister's Relief Fund of Virginia that is in the process of helping us figure out some things. I just got an email yesterday, and am going to talk with someone about negotiating with the price of the hospital stay for Shey.

We've played by the rules, we've been decent people, we've paid taxes, we've never lost coverage for health insurance, and we've done of good job of staying pretty healthy, but at the time when we needed solid coverage and health insurance, it hasn't worked. We are certainly thankful for the other organizations and even for the drug company (even though it is the steep prices that caused much of the problem in the first place), and of course our families will never let us starve or foreclose on our new house...but the healthcare system didn't work for us. And we aren't poor, and are educated, and have access to information that many other folks don't have, to at least explore other means of help.

I'm not going to say that Obama's plan is the only viable option, or that I know all the answers; because I don't. But I thought that our story is one that helps highlight the need for change and reform. If we can't get reasonable coverage or coverage when we need it the most, and we are in the middle class or even wealthy compared to many families who are without jobs or whose lives have been devastated by lack of coverage earlier, it seems like change might be a good thing.

We knew that the system was messed up after the last pregnancy and birth of Rowan, and their hospital bills without insurance would have been about $90,000/person respectively (and that's nothing compared to some of our other friends who have had more serious problems or Shey's sister who suffered through a car accident and was hospitalized for nearly a year).

I guess I wanted to add my voice to the discussion, because it is easy to think about healthcare as a political issue (which it certainly is), but it is also really easy to demonize people who disagree with you on the issue. I simply wanted to share our story about how the current healthcare system is not working for us. Thankfully, the community of faith, and our family are supporting us and helping us figure some things out, but many people are not so lucky.

So as you discuss healthcare reform or change, or talk about how the "Dem's" are trying to make us all socialists, or how the "Rep's" need to stop having tea parties and start offering other solutions, I hope that we can try to help others see beyond the political spin machine and remember that there are real people whose lives are being dramatically altered and changed, and perhaps forever changed depending on the results of the healthcare discussion. We know ours is.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

bumps and bruises

Rowan took his first spill tonight where he got a good bump and bruise on his head, plus a good cut with some blood. No fun. He actually didn't freak out very much; I think Shey and I were probably more surprised and worried to see his response than he was himself. But we didn't make any loud or surprising gasps at the sight of blood, and he calmed down in less time than a temper tantrum.

I've spent a good part of the last few months thinking about hope, in both preparing to write and in writing the book on sacred hope for students. It forced me to take a look at some of the bumps and bruises of the last couple of years, and some of the deeper wounds that are still healing from years past. Rowan is going to have a bump for a couple of weeks probably, and will have a little mark for probably months. All from climbing up on his play kitchen, slipping, and then bumping his head on the corner of our buffet.

I am just finally able to start talking about in any meaningful way about some of the traumatic experiences of the last year and a half, and yet we already have some new challenges that have arisen while finishing the book. I keep looking for a pause button somewhere; a place or time where I can catch my breath, slow down, and recharge, but so far we haven't found that place yet.

I suppose it is like advent: the waiting, the anticipation, the longing. Anticipation is a difficult emotion and means of life. It necessitates a hope in the present while also implying a hope in the future. It is really hard to live in those tensions. Not to mention the bumps and bruises along the way. Sometimes the bumps and bruises are actually cuts much deeper though, and take much longer to heal than I want to admit. I know that I haven't wanted to admit the pain still exists and affects me. In some ways, I'm just learning how to speak again.

I hope this means that I will figure out how to be a better husband and dad, to find a rigorous hope that helps me to live into the present with greater awareness of the future. The bumps and bruises are always scary at first, but they heal quickly; it is learning how to gain feeling back into the places where there were deep wounds and gashes that take time, silence, and perseverance.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

country music and painting

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. After three years in the bluegrass state I lived in rural Appomattox, Virginia. My parents used to even make fun of me for my country twang. But I never liked country music at all. Everyone listened to it growing up (except my parents) and I hated it.

When I started painting in college, I was told that it was simply inappropriate to not listen to country music while painting. I disagreed. Then alt-country became hip, indie-fied, and good. It became the new necessary music to listen to while painting.

Also, in the winter, I find it essential to listen to heavier, darker, more complex music. You'd think I'd get enough grey in the cold winter with short days. But apparently I do not.

In November I painted a lot of hours to earn a few extra bucks getting ready to buy a house in a really short period of time and this album by The Avett Brothers became indispensable.

Put all this together (painting+country music+winter) and The Avett Brothers new album I and Love and You simply can't get enough plays on my iPod. It is one of my favorite albums of the year, and is an album that I can't get enough of right now.

It's not all dark and depressing all the time, but it is always good. You should probably check out this video for the title track I and Love and You. So, so good.

Monday, January 04, 2010

hello world!

2010. How did we get here? It has a been a remarkable and remarkably busy end to 2009 for the family and me. I really can't believe how fast it went and all the new experiences we had. We are in the process of buying/building a house in Old Town Warrenton right now. We have loved living out in the country, and there are a lot of things we are going to miss terribly, including the family we currently live with, but overall, we are quite excited to live back in town. It will make for some easier playdates for Rowan and Shey, and will decrease some of commuting times to most everything. We are three blocks from Main Street in Old Town Warrenton, and only four blocks from our first apartment. This means we are only a couple of blocks from the farmer's market, the great local food and shops in Old Town, and close to parks, friends, and work. We are buying a brand new home with a good start on some helpful environmentally-friendly characteristics. We honestly never thought we'd be able to buy a house in town, much less a brand new home, which we got to pick out a lot of the options, and is all sitting on half an acre on a side street with little traffic and lots of trees! We are so excited!

On the personal side of things I taught my first class ever, Christian Theology I, in the diploma program at The John Leland Center for Theological Studies. This was a test run for me...a much cheaper (in fact I got paid for it!) way of figuring out if I'd like to pursue a Ph.D. some day. I had a great time. It was a stretch to make it happen while working a full-time job, but the experience and the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was amazing to sit on the other side of the classroom, and have the privilege of being there as folks realize a new way of thinking about God, life, and theology; or to be a part of helping them ask better questions, or rid themselves of some unhelpful theologies. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am looking forward to teaching Christian Theology II this spring semester.

I also officiated my first wedding a couple of weeks ago for one of Shey's cousins, and it was also a great time. Stressful at points, mostly because we were all trying to figure out how to best bring all of the details together, but when it was all said and done, it was a great time. Good food, family, friends, and two people eager to begin a new phase of their journey of life together.

Lastly, and everything isn't all said and done quite yet, but I turned in last week a manuscript for a book titled Sacred Hope for an organization in Kansas City called Barefoot Ministries, which is under the Nazarene Publishing House. It is written and geared towards students, and aimed at helping them interactively engage with the theology of hope: hope for tomorrow and hope for today. It is a short book, most likely in the 60-75 page range. I haven't received word yet if the manuscript has been accepted, so I haven't gotten my hopes totally up yet! Either way, it has been a wonderful process and a great opportunity to try to write a book. I'll keep you posted on how things work out.

I have been writing a lot for the book, and thus not writing much many other places. But writing so much over the last few months has sparked in me the desire to kick up some dust in the blog again. I forgot how much I loved writing until I was writing the book. I think the hardships surrounding Rowan's birth and Shey's back in tandem with graduating from seminary did a bigger number on me creatively, theologically, and emotionally than I was probably honest with myself about, and it showed in my lack of writing. I just wasn't at a place where I could simply be, and be in such a way where I could write transparently, even if only for myself.

So here's to 2010 and to more writing. Just in time to coincide with reading more poetry too. Love it.