Monday, December 28, 2009

"Life's Not Fair, Kid..."

“But it’s not fair!”--the exclamation that rings out of kids and adults from 1 to 92. We all know the woefully uncomforting answer: “Life’s not fair.” When I hear those three words I think, “Really, is that all we’ve come up with?”

If you know me, especially lately, you may have noticed some deconstructionistic tendencies in my writings and thoughts. Why do we say what we do? And why do we accept what we say? Even more important to me is why we say things and then do the opposite.

Why do we respond to emotional statements with responses that squash the emotion? As if making a logical statement makes it all better. “It’s not fair!” can be a thought and emotion, but the response is always a thought. Once the response becomes a statement of fact, then it is subject to a whole realm of logic, and all sorts of conclusions you don’t want. For instance, if life is not fair, then there is no point of being fair if you want to survive. Or, if life is not fair, and I keep doing things to make it fair, then I am in an endless pursuit. “Life’s not fair” can put me in a pretty helpless predicament where I do desperate things to make life fair for me, which never works because it’s not fair. Try this: Because the government isn’t fair, it is okay for me to not be fair on my taxes in order to make up for the unfairness. (I hope this is not too hard for you to understand like the other stuff I write, Michael;).

Whether life is fair or not is a thought for plenty of debate. We will continue to build philosophies and religions around how do deal with unfairness in this world. Those still won’t help the emotions behind “It’s not fair.” There must be a better follow up statement to that statement that takes the emotion into account--a way to say, "Yeah, it can feel that way." Of course, we can always continue to pass the anxiety that we avoid from the emotion of that statement to the next generation and let them try to sort it out intellectually, as they accuse us of not being fair.

Next up, “Big boys don’t cry.” May it never be uttered in my home!

Friday, December 25, 2009

2009: A Year to Remember to Not Forget

At the beginning of 2009, we were staring down the barrel of unemployment. Going from DINKS (Dual Income No Kids) to SINKS (Single Income) to NINKS (No Income), is not the progression we had in mind. With no idea what was going to come next, we jumped in the car and drove to Oklahoma with no idea how long we would be away from Memphis. By the time we made it back to Memphis, Monica had an interview for a job, I had a couple of part-time jobs lined up, and we thought it would be healthy to go back to the home we owned.

Ten months later, Ben finally found full-time employment and Monica survived her new job, and there you have it—2009 in a nutshell!

That’s the nutshell version, but here is the nuthouse version:

This was the craziest, most unstable, depressing, exciting, stagnant, fast-paced, no growth, unfathomable growth year of our lives yet! Nothing worked out and everything worked out at the same time.

The year was marked by taking a 10-day survey trip in March to Ireland (both of our first times to experience Europe) and training with an amazing team ready to make an impact for Christ in Dublin. Through this process we experienced spiritual growth at deeper levels than ever before in our lives; however, ultimately we felt led in a different direction and the difficult decision was made to resign from the team.

Ben worked at 5 different jobs this year before experiencing the irony of landing back at his old place of employment that let him go in January. He’s working in a different capacity, but has fit back in well. He’s trying to learn how to work 40 hours a week like the rest of the world. Monica was the face of stability by staying at her job and is a Jane-of-all-trades.

Our marriage has grown by leaps and bounds! Through all the frustrations, joys, awesome concerts, different wake up times, Monica’s sassing and Ben’s moping, we decided to stick it out. What an awesome year for our marriage, and we look forward to many more, as long as Monica quits trying to shove her cold feet under Ben when they go to bed at night!

We look forward to the new year and what we have in the works. Monica is going to pursue a career in professional home staging through further training (although she is already pretty incredible at it). Ben is excited about being involved in bringing positive change to Memphis with his involvement in ScreamFree and partnering with people and organizations throughout the city. These are the things that keep us up at night with excitement.

Life looks full of possibilities for 2010. May our paths cross in ways that benefit us all! We love you all - Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Two Days Until Christmas Letter

The Christmas letter blog will come sailing in on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day, on Christmas day in the morning. The "Inadequacy of Christmas" is not our Christmas letter, thank goodness!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Inadequacy of Christmas

Christmas has become a time to be frustrated with those who only see the season as a time of materialism. Take Christ out of Christmas and you just have "mas"--the Spanish word for more. We debate the use of holiday and/or Christmas, as if the use of one word over the other would make a difference

Why do we need other people to focus on Christ during this time? I handed a cashier some money the other day and said, "Merry Christmas!" I said very little to her the rest of the year. What is that about? Let's only shop at the places that still use the term Christmas vs. Holidays. Really? Do you know how much marketing research went into deciding which word to use in order to get the most people to purchase products?

I wonder if the reason we want people to remember Christ during Christmastime is so we don't feel as bad about how we did not help people remember Christ the rest of the year. We depend on a season to bring Christ back into focus for people. If Christmas and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special would just do its job, we could actually enjoy the holiday or "holy day." When I point at the world's failure to recognize Christmas, what am I really pointing at? Christmas will continue to be inadequate as long as I depend on it to bring Christ back into focus for others.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it's the middle that counts the most.

I've never felt more excited around the New Year for so many new beginnings! This past week has been full of Christmas events & spending time with great friends. Ben's work x-mas party was at Incredible Pizza which was a lot of fun (see pic below). My work opted to hold our x-mas breakfast between 5-7A in between the night/day shifts, so there was a lot of caffeine involved in that shindig.

ScreamFree Marriage Update
Yesterday, Ben called me at work to tell me that he had a work thing to go to last night from 5:30-7. He was all ready to battle it out when he told me, thinking that I would be really upset since we had been counting on our first relaxing evening at home in almost 2 wks. Instead, I simply said, "Ok." Ben kinda did a double take & didn't know quite how to respond. Apparently, us both acting like healthy, functioning adults catches us both off guard a lot these days.

I feel a little like when we first started dating because we have amazing conversations throughout the day & sometimes until wee hours of the morning, only it's more fun because we get to live together without feeling guilty. It's like we are getting to know each other on a whole new level because we are taking the pressure of "reactivity" out of our relationship.

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree...
After brainwashing Ben with sushi Friday night, I dragged him to the Singing Christmas Tree at Bellevue on Sat. Since living in Memphis, we have been told time & time again that this is a Must See. We crossed it off of our "things to do in Memphis" list & gave it a 5 out of 10. We went with our friends Justin & Brandy, so that made it a lot more fun!

Last year, Ben dragged me kicking & screaming to a Christmas chorus at St. John's Episcopal Church because a co-worker of his was performing. It ended up being an amazing experience & is now one of our favorite Christmas events! We went again last weekend & it was just as we'd remembered & more. There's just something about hearing a choir sing Carol of the Bells, O Holy Night & The Hallelujah Chorus in a beautiful church with that "old wood" smell that puts you in the Christmas spirit!

My Office Quote of the Week
"All jobs suck, some just suck worse than others."

Another One Bites the Dust...
This weekend we are saying goodbye to yet more friends that are making the typical move from Memphis to Nashville. Clay & Katie (or as we call them, Claytie) are some of the coolest people we know & we are sad to see them go. Camping trips & LIFE group have been a blast ...we'll miss sharing life with you guys!

It's hard to believe that a week from today is Christmas! Tonight we have our last annual Craig & Merschon x-mas party, Starry Nights at Shelby Farms on Sat, a few days of work & then we're off to Hot Springs for our first stop. The Benicas are going green this year & have decided to save a few trees by posting our infamous Christmas letter on our blog, so be looking for that on Christmas Day!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Santa and His Buick

"Ho! Ho! Ho!" a jolly man in a red suit came into the house proclaiming. Santa, here, at my house! I didn't know whether to be terrified or excited. I wasn't used to having that level of royalty in my house. For a 4 year old, I was in disbelief.

I'm not sure what happened next. Digital cameras did not exist and the pictures weren't uploaded to Facebook within moments of the actual event. All I remember is that Santa had to leave, and he did not leave via the chimney portal, he went out the front door. This was my chance to see the elusive reindeer and sleigh in the driveway. So, I tiptoed passed my parents and looked in the driveway, and what did eyes behold...

An old Buick...and Santa got in it. My memory compares it to the old Buick in Uncle Buck. This did not compute in my four year old brain. Something is not right, Santa can't leave in a Buick. My little brain did, however, compute disappointment and grief at this scene. To my parent's credit, though, some story was concocted to keep the belief alive, but the trauma had occurred nonetheless.

Not only did Santa leave in a Buick, he arrived in one as well. Somehow, with a hint of doubt, I still believed in Santa even though he didn't arrive or depart the way Santa should.

But isn't that the story of Christmas...Christ coming and leaving in a way nobody really expected. Could God actually arrive in this world in a manure smelling stable and leave nailed to pieces of wood? Truly unremarkable if you ask me--and yet he saved the world and is ruler over everything! My 29 year old brain has trouble computing this, and I believe (sometimes with a hint of doubt).

Monday, December 14, 2009

ScreamFree in a Starbucks

This weekend we were at Starbucks & we uncharacteristically ordered two separate drinks (usually we split a Grande No Water Chai Tea Latte). Ben's Carmel Apple Spice was lukewarm at best - he described it as tasting like warm tap water which I agreed with after tasting it. I wish I could take back the words that instinctively came out of my mouth after that ..."Do you want me to ask them to fix it for you?" Ben justifiably asked me if I would like his manhood with that.

I justified this to myself by saying that I just wanted him to be "happy" & feel "loved" because I (his awesome wife) would stick up for him. What I was really saying was that I did not trust that Ben could take care of himself & be responsible for doing whatever he wanted in that situation. Sometimes my "helping" can be completely detrimental to the foundation of trust in our relationship.

I apologized, Ben got his drink fixed & all was well. The thing is, though, that even if Ben would have decided NOT to get his drink fixed, I needed to be ok with that. Hopefully next time my actions & reactivity can mirror how I truly feel about Ben & I can simply say, "That stinks, what are you going to do about that?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

"How's everybody doing? Not great. You heckled Santa for an hour and a half."

Holy chestnuts, I can't believe it's December & that Christmas is right around the corner! If you've read our blog, you know that this past week has been a doozy! I would write more about our Ireland decision, but I'm still processing it. I will say that Ben has been very supportive of my shopping & vampire therapy in getting through this ...more on that later.

Jack Frost Nipping at Our Noses
Last weekend we had friends from the Ireland team staying with us which also happened to be when Old Man Winter came swooping into Memphis. Right before bed Sun night we blew a fuse because a space heater was running at the same time as the microwave. We were out of extra fuses, so Ben decided to replace it with an unlabeled fuse in the fuse box.

Mon morning we woke up & the house was 60ยบ ...apparently the "extra" fuse was for the heater which hadn't run all night. We're pretty sure our friends will never be back.

My Office Quote of the Week
“You livin’ alone now?”
“Yep, since Thanksgivin’.”
“What happened?”
“Apparently, I’m a donkey.”
“Well, the first step is admitting it.”
(the content of this quote was edited so as to keep our PG blog rating)

Vampire Lust
This has become a common term in the Benica household. This past week I got back to my junior high roots & jumped on the Twilight train. I had heard about these books being addictive, but I had no idea that I would start rearranging my life around them! Ben suggested that he run a loop around the backyard in his boxers before coming to bed so that he would feel cold & vampirish. He has also taken up hissing & biting my neck.

Ding, we're done!
That's right peeps, we are officially done with our x-mas shopping! I am 99% sure that in past years we hadn't even began our shopping by now. One of my very favorite things to do is gift giving, so this time of year is like Christmas for me ...oh wait.

Why is it that the people closest to you are sometimes the hardest to find that perfect gift for? I'm still waiting for the x-mas fairy to bring me front row, 50 yd line seats to an OU vs.TX game for Ben's present, but it hasn't happened yet.

Cali Update
We've been joking that we don't actually LIVE at our house anymore, we just stop by there to sleep. We've been out with different friends every night this week & have had a lot of fun, except that we miss our puppy dog. She has been protesting by pretending to need to go out in the middle of the night, getting on the couch & giving us the classic sad puppy dog eyes.

By the way, the first pic is of Ben holding my SECOND failed attempt to make chocolate covered pretzels - my double boiler improv skills are obviously lacking. I have us booked for x-mas festivities (Ben's favorite) all weekend. We are going out for sushi tonight though, so all will be forgiven. Happy Friday everyone!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Hardest Decision I've Ever Made

It was an intensely emotional weekend for Monica and me...

Last Monday I made the final decision not to pursue being a missionary to Ireland at this point in my life. Unfortunately, this means Monica will not be going either, even though she has had her heart set on it for over a year now. The hardest part of the hardest decision I've made is knowing it is taking a huge dream away from my wife. Seeing her in pain has torn me apart this week and I don't like it. I want to do everything I can to take her pain away. I want to give her a new dream, buy her something really expensive, do something to lessen the pain. I want to do that for her pain, but I also want to do that for mine. If she hurts, I feel like a failure. One thing I can do now is refuse to withdraw and leave her alone in this, I want to be the best husband I can. One thing I can do now is refuse to withdraw from myself and instead take care of what is going on inside me.

For our story to dramatically change like this is unsettling, to pick a highly understated term. To exit a story of taking God's redeeming power to a land that has forgotten so much about an almighty God, is extremely difficult. As much as we will still play a role in this mission, it is not the role we imagined or dreamed. We formed relationships on the Dublin team in which we invested more spiritually and emotionally than ever before, and we saw the team raising our children and being an awesome cloud of witnesses to us and our kids. It hurts deep down to not be on this team. I wish I could take away that hurt in us and the team, but I can't...

I know you may not want us to feel this hurt either. When we tell people we are not going, we get that not-sure-how-to-respond look, and that's okay, because we don't know how to respond right now. We are grieving this right now, and will for a while. It is raw right now and it hurts in so many places. I ask that you just love us right now by being our friends. We will be okay, but we are going through it right now and not hiding from it. This is the hardest decision I've ever made...

Friday, December 4, 2009

If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise.

Happy Friday friends - did you miss me on my 2 wk hiatus?! Black Friday got the best of me & I was distracted spending time with those I love instead of blogging. Ben turned 29 & I got him a new watch & the Bourne trilogy which were both hits.

Thanksgiving Break Highlights:
  • Making puppy chow & PB Hershey kiss cookies that were successfully scarfed down by both our families
  • Hanging out w/ my bro & making Ben’s bday cake w/ my sis-in-law in their awesome new apt.
  • Having a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving meal w/ 10 family members around the table & 4 at the kid's table
  • Watching Blind Side at the ghetto theater for $3.75/ticket on Thanksgiving Day – great film!
  • Celebrating Ben’s bday w/ both our families
  • Getting together w/ Bailey & Joyce who continue to amaze us w/ their wisdom & love
  • Watching Ben play endlessly w/ our nephews & niece & realizing what an amazing dad he’s going to be someday
  • Playing our annual Monopoly game w/ my fam even though Ben gave up in the end to my bro in lieu of watching the OU/OSU game (go OU!)
  • Staying up talking until after midnight w/ my BFF, Bobbie
My Office Quote of the Week
No stand-out quotes this week, but I did win a $1 bet w/ an engineer who doubted my “document control” abilities saying I wouldn’t be able to find a folder in our filing room.

Ode to Green Truck
I will never forget the first time I met green truck. Ben pulled up to my OC apt. & picked me up on our first “unofficial” date to go to Shakespeare in the Park. My first thought was, “I thought Ben was an Edmond snob ...I guess his parents are making him tough it out by driving a beat-up truck.” Later on, Ben & I had our first kiss in the bed of green truck while staring up at the stars at Lake Arcadia. Green truck also bravely pulled our U-Haul on our big move from Oklahoma City to Memphis 5 yrs. ago & has been a loyal truck ever since.

We are sad that it has come to this, but we will always have a special place in our hearts for this vehicle that symbolizes so much! I am also very proud of Ben for sticking it out through all the repairs & no A/C all these years in his dedication to his truck & our budget. We are officially a 1-car family as of now.

Carpooling 101
  • Do not expect for either of you to ever be to work on time.
  • Do perfect the art of doing your make-up in the tiny flip down mirror in the car.
  • Decide beforehand whether it’s more important to brush your teeth or feed the dog (mouthwash in the car is a compromise).
  • Make a plan BEFORE entering the vehicle regarding who gets to listen to their favorite radio station.
This week Ben got a new job & I got a new curling iron - both of which have drastically impacted our everyday lives. This weekend is already packed full of events & some of our favorite people are staying at our house Sat-Mon. Happy Christmas month everyone!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday Ramblings

Wow, what a week! Started a new job, green truck died, made some big life decisions, and began carpooling early in the morning. Of course, you may hear more about that in Monica's awesome Friday blog.

I'm almost getting the hang of my new job. There's like 4 or 5 new things I learn each day that would have been nice to have known the day before, but I guess that's how it goes. I actually get my first paycheck tomorrow for the part-time training I did, so at least I'll see some fruits of my labor. I can't tell you the feeling of pride I feel for having a full-time job again. Not that I was incomplete without a full-time job, but it was easy to feel I was.

It is also interesting how having a full-time job makes it easy to forget my dreams. I wrote a blog about having a better story, and now that I work so much, I can see how I could give up on those dreams for the sake of comfortability. It would be easy to stop right now and not pursue my story. I'm pretty sure being a case manager is not the climax or the resolution, rather, it is part of the plot. It is supporting the story that I am ready to continue living.

A line from The Kite Runner I will always remember comes in the first chapter of the book (if my memory serves me correct). The main character is told this: "There is a way to be good again." Chilling and hopeful at the same time, I feel the power of these words. "There is a way to be alive again," are the words that scream out in my mind, sometimes echoing in the emptiness of fear, sometimes absorbed by the power of finally living. I want to be alive again and there is always a way, despite my protestations that I've tried everything. Maybe we should stop trying and start living...