April 8, 2011

Cars, Trains, More Trains, and Lots of Walking

Ok, so the title isn't as catchy as the old movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It felt like we were stuck in that movie a little today. This morning my girls and I left the house promptly at 7:30am. We met up with one of the guys who attends South, so he could take us to the Amtrak station so we could catch our train to Chicago--the place we are vacationing for the next few days. That trip went smoothly, as did the train ride to Union Station in Chicago. We were even ahead of schedule! Unfortunately, that's where things began to get a little squinky.

When we got off the train in Union Station, our first task was to find the CTA Multi Day Ticket Kiosk. We needed some passes to use the rail and bus system here in Chicago because little seven year old legs and luggage (and toys) for three people is too much to walk around town for four days. Putting my male dignity aside, I asked someone where it was because, though I looked it up the night before, I had forgotten where the kiosk was in the station--the big, big station. The Amtrak lady was nice enough to tell me where it was--up the ramp and to the right at the Metra Ticket area. No problem! We proceeded up the ramp to the Metra Ticket area to purchase some ride passes. That is where the trouble began.

First off, there was a line. I'm ok with lines. We were only two deep at the kiosk, with two or three more people behind us. Not a problem. Both people in front of me successfully executed purchases of multi day passes. The odds were in my favor. I stepped up to the machine, selected what I wanted, and proceeded to pay for my passes. Unfortunately, the screen read "Bank card declined, try again." So, knowing that this was some sort of a glitch because the card I was using is in great standing, I tried again. "Bank card declined, try again." Giving up on that card, because obviously, there was a glitch in the system, I tried another card. "Bank card declined, please try again." I gave up for the moment and went over to the Metra Ticket station to see if they sold the tickets I needed. I was sternly told, "No." Time for plan B.

As I'm crisis managing the situation in my head, I have a flashback to when I was in Chicago three or four years earlier. I remember seeing kiosks at the entrance of the various rail stations we used back then. Problem solved, we'll walk to the Clinton Blue Line station, purchase our tickets there and be on our way to the hotel . . . so that we can check into our hotel and proceed to a LATE lunch. I stress late there because my girls get a little cranky when we get off schedule with meals. Knowing we are on vacation and we want this to be a happy trip, food is extremely important!

So, picture this. me in my bigness toting a pull behind suitcase in one hand, backpack on my shoulder, and Hannah's hand in my other. Right behind us, because there isn't space to walk three wide, Steph is behind us, dragging another suitcase, with an extra bag on top of it, her purse, and the toy bag (because you can't go on a five hour train ride without toys for a seven year old). Its not a long walk to the Clinton Blue Line terminal. Its mostly downhill. However, this line is a subway line. There are steps down into the belly of the beast. Lots of steps. . . that we had to navigate with two rolling suitcases, a backpack, a hand bag, a toy bag, AND a seven year old who is bouncing off the walls because she can't believe that we finally made it to Chicago!

One hundred steps later, we arrive at the ticket gate. I look to my right and see all the kiosks that my brain had remembered from the previous trip. All of them were single fare kiosks. No problem, my brain says as it begins slogging through the new crisis. I step up to the window where two CTA employees are talking and ask to buy some multi day passes. All our problems will be solved at this moment, we'll go farther down into the belly of the beast, get on our train and head off to the hotel, so we can check in and then get food. I've already mentioned these things. . . they are extremely important tasks that we need to get done. These are the thoughts in my head as I'm talking to the nice lady. unfortunately, you can't buy a multi day pass at ANY of the specific rail stations, only at Union Station or the CTA offices. Then the lady said this, "if you would have went out the other side of Union Station, you could have went into the CVS and purchased your passes there." All I could think at that moment was, "That's nice to know NOW!"

Still in damage control mode, I repeated what the lady said to me back to her to make sure I understood her correctly. I think my words were something like, "so your telling me I need to go all the way back to Union Station to get what I need?" All I could think as those words spilled out of my mouth was, "I'm going to have to drag my girls, all this luggage, and the toy bag back up the stairs, back the three blocks we walked to the CVS for tickets. They are going to have to go with me because I simply can't just leave them here. I wouldn't be a good husband/father to bring my girls all the way to this point and then leave them in the bowels of the beast while strange people walk by them continually while I search for ticket mecca." I guess the thoughts in my head caused my facial expressions and body language to show the lady that I was in a spot of need. She became an angel and let us onto the train without paying. I would have hugged her, but I was already a bit sweaty from the slogging we had already done.

Quickly through the turnstiles, we headed farther into the beast. In keeping with the recent problems we had been having, we quickly noticed that the down escalator was broken. We forged forward down another 1000 steps to the platform to wait on our train.

At this point, I must confess that previos to this trip to Chicago, I had only been one other time--at the end of January, when it was -50 degrees outside. I guess there aren't as many people visiting Chicago then, nor to people go out when it is cold. I know these things. My brain, on the other hand, did not process the change in seasons. When the train arrived, it was packed. We tried to be discreet when entering the train, but seriously, how descreet do you think a 300 pound, 6 foot 4 inch man who is dragging suitcases, a small child, a wife, and a toy bag behind him be--especially when the train is full. You get the picture. Lucky for us, the people of Chicago must be used to commotion and oddities because they continued on in life with little acknowledgment of our grand entrance.

To get to our hotel, we must go from the Blue Line into downtown and transfer to the Red Line and go north. Not a problem in my mind. We've already defeated the kiosk problem by getting a free ride and we've walked down a million steps already. We should only have to walk down a long hallway to make the transfer. Right? That's what my brain remembered. Not so much. To get from the Blue line to the Red line there are another million stairs and a long hallway to walk through. At this point, I looked at Steph to see how she was doing. She smiled back at me. That is code for, "I'm doing ok, but this isn't what I expected or remembered."

We made our transfer with much success, averting slight disaster by realizing that we were going to get on the South bound Red Line train BEFORE we actually got on it. This time the train wasn't as full, so it was a bit more comfortable. And, we were seasoned pros by this time! We were at our exit in no time and proceeded to climb out of the belly of the beast. No escalators again, only millions of stairs to go up . . . with suitcases, a seven year old, a starving wife, and a bag of toys.

I forgot to mention one thing. While we are enduring this trip from Union Station to our hotel, my daughter is continually asking, "where's our hotel? Is that our hotel? Is that the Grand Canyon?" She can be a bit persistent. All seven year olds can. It brought me great joy to say, "there is our hotel!"

That is not where the story ends, though. We go up to the sixth floor to check in. We are there too early. Our room is not ready. We'll need to drag our stuff--all of our stuff, including the toy bag, back down the elevator and check it with the bell hops AND then return in an hour or two to settle into our room. At this point, I know two things. One, my girls are a bit frazzled at this point from the helter skelter CTA fiasco. Two, they are hungry. They are angry hungry. I must feed them. I quickly pull out my ipad to find a pizza place or something to avert total first vacation day meltdown. I can't get on the internet. I try and try. I'm good at these things. I know how to get online. Seriously, I KNOW HOW TO DO THIS! Oh, wait. I need my room number to login to the FREE wireless network. Wait. I don't have a room number yet.

At this point, the abort sirens are going off in my head. This was supposed to be easy. Get off the train, multi pass kiosk, one million stairs, hotel check in, food for the family. I swallow my man pride again and step up to the front desk to get my room number so I can get online so I can figure out where we are going to eat, so I can then take all our stuff downstairs to the bell hops. AGain, my body language and distress on my face must have communicated a need for divine intervention, because the nice lady promptly said, "I just had a room finished up, we'll check you in so you can get to your room." THANK YOU JESUS!

I would have hugged and kissed that lady, too, but by this point in the game, I'm beyond glistening with sweat. She wouldn't have appreciated my appreciation. I wouldn't blame her.

We learned something today. Some people are still nice! They are willing to do everything they can to help you out, especially when you find yourself in a tight spot. Thank you CTA lady and front counter lady for saving us from total disaster!

And, next time we will splurge for the cab . . . though I don't know if that would turn out any better!

April 3, 2011

Full Tilt

The last few weeks have been insanely busy in my life.  This week was no exception.  Following worship last Sunday, Frank and I piled into a van with another one of our people here at South and headed to Atlanta, Georgia for the Drive Conference.  It was a great time away to see how others do church.  The drive home was not so memorable. Well, it is memorable, but only because it was highly painful.  We left at 1:00pm and got home at 4:00am.  We spent about two or three of those precious trip hours in traffic jams.  

The following day was spent taking care of everything I hadn't done the previous three days while away at Drive.  That included planning some worship and doing a audio video cast for the next day's Dave Ramsey Simulcast.  

Friday was the simulcast.  It was good.  The event went off without a hitch and it was good material.  But, I must admit.  By this time in the week, I was toast.  I hope I didn't show it too much.

Yesterday was another interesting day.  While away in Atlanta, our administrative assistant called and said another church needed to use our facility.  That's not a problem, we like to help out when we can.  We especially like to help Art Foster, a guy who used to go here who planted a church downtown.  He's a great guy.  So, I found myself again at the office yesterday running sound and stuff for the funeral.  
Being in ministry, you go or participate in a lot of funerals.  Some are joy filled.  Some are sad.  Some are downright miserable because of the tragedy that is staring you in the face.  Yet, in all the funerals I've been at, I've never attended an African American funeral.  Yesterday was my first, and it was an experience.  I don't have time to write about it now.  I'm still processing.  There were moments of beauty in it...and at times, complete pandemonium.  It was a beautiful thing.

Finally, today was no exception to the full tilt life I've had recently.  This morning was worship, followed by a party at the church for one of the kids of my bass player.  It was a good time of fellowship.  Then, I actually got to take a nap!  After which, I was off to church for a coffee house and a concert by Brian Carter.  It again, was a great time.  But, I'm pooped.

So, why am I telling you about my busy life.  I don't want sympathy.  This is the life I live.  Sometimes its a bit more than I would like, but it is what it is.  I am writing to say, that though I'm wiped, I am filled.  God has given me many different things to think about, chew on, and ingest this week.  Yeah, some of that was intentional because of the conference we attended and the simulcast we hosted on Friday.  But some of it was out of sheer grace, being put in a certain place and a certain time.  And, that is a good feeling when you notice it and soak it in.

Today in my morning life group, we were talking about the simple statement that the Holy Spirit has emotion and prays for us.  The idea that God is engaged in our lives moment by moment is something that I think we too often overlook.  Our self sufficiency unfortunately overpowers it.  As we talked, we kicked around things we could do or ways we could shake out of our routine and selfishness to listen for God around us and move in His way, not ours.  Living life at full tilt lately has helped me know that God is in control.  That He needs to be in control.  Its a scary and humbling thought, but it carries much power and hope.

Lord, may I learn to continually live life under your spirit's direction.  Open my eyes and ears so I can see you and move in Your Way.