CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Looking for the next updraft.

The past couple of weeks have been interesting.  As part of my job at Edinboro University, I attended a three-day class on Wednesday, March 14 through Friday, March 16.  The class itself was fine, it was a FEMA sponsored certification for All-Hazards planning.  The stressful part of that was sitting at a table with the University President to my left, the Provost to my right, the VP for Student Affairs two people down from that, and the VP for Finance (my boss) across the table.  I felt like the proverbial long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  All of the mentioned individuals are great to work with and for, but even so, that situation is simply not the most relaxing of environments.  In addition, that left me with a two-day work week to get stuff done at my office.  Fortunately, I could keep relatively caught up on my email, even if I wasn’t in my office.

Friday evening, Beth and I looked at a couple of motorcycles to replace my 1982 Suzuki GS 1100L (more on that in a later post).

Saturday the 17th was interesting.  That morning, we picked up the new(er) motorcycle, and I rode it home.  It was a beautiful day, but I was more than a little tired from the previously mentioned class, so I took the rest of the day to relax and catch up on some rest.  That evening Beth and I went to our friends’ home (thanks, Matt and Teri) for some fantastic home-brew on St. Patrick’s Day.  I could do that again, let me tell you.  I wish we could have stayed longer, but had obligations at church the next morning.  We were the “party poopers” and left really early (I’m not entirely sure that was a completely bad thing, having been to M & Ts’ parties in the past. Kidding, Matt!!).

Sunday morning was church at First Baptist Church in North East, PA, and then we had to hustle over to the Polish Falcons Club in Erie for our monthly Blue Dolphins Skin Divers meeting.  This was our annual club “bowling challenge” (I’m a miserable bowler) meeting, but fortunately we had the business portion of the meeting first.  I’m the VP of the club, and I think it’s kind of important for me to be there as often as humanly possible.  I couldn’t stay for the fun part (although Beth did), because I had a six-hour drive to Lancaster, PA.

Pennsylvania’s state Universities are linked by an organization, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).  Each University has its own Police Department, with a Chief of Police leading each PD.  The PASSHE chiefs have periodic meetings, in which we discuss matters that may affect us all.  The meetings are always productive and necessary to explore issues deeper than is possible by phone or email.  This particular meeting was a two-day affair starting Monday, March 19 and concluding on Tuesday, March 20.  I then drove the six hours home after the Tuesday meeting.

Brief re-cap: FEMA class Thursday through Friday, Mar. 14-16.  Pick up motorcycle and St. Patty’s Day party Saturday, March 17.  Church, Blue Dolphin meeting, and six-hour drive Sunday, March 18.  Chiefs’ meeting Monday and Tuesday, March 19 and 20, and a six-hour drive home Tuesday afternoon/evening.

Wednesday the 21st through Friday the 23rd were fun, in that I got to ride my new bike to work and home, thanks to the beautiful weather and unseasonable temperatures we have experienced.  Friday evening I was beat, but jazzed about the new bike, so Beth and I took a one-hour ride.

This past weekend was great, very restful and relaxed.  Friday and Saturday nights were the first great nights sleep I have had in a couple of weeks.

So I have been tired for at least the past week and a half.  Each event was fine in and of itself.  I enjoyed each thing that came along, but added together, I just wore down.

I suppose being so worn down had a large part of the spiritual malaise I have felt for a while.  I have struggled for some time to feel like I was keeping my head above water spiritually.  The description that I have used in the past is that it feels like I am running in the surf.  I have to work twice as hard to get anywhere, but it’s a struggle to even stay upright.  Other than the lack of rest, I’m not sure of the dynamics of this difficulty, but it has been disheartening.

But I am grateful for God’s periodic boosts through this time.  There have been multiple moments where I have found a verse in the Bible that lifts me, perhaps a verse that I would skim right over at any other time.  Maybe a line in our pastor’s message on a given Sunday.  A line in a song on the radio (WCTL in the Erie area or on-line), or a comment from Beth or a friend.

These haven’t been “boosts” like one would see pushing the space shuttle into the stratosphere.  I actually had that kind of booster during our recent fast.

Have you ever watched a bird, maybe a hawk or an eagle soaring high in the sky on a summer day?  It seems so effortless, but the truth is that they need constant adjustments to stay “up.”  Glider pilots (and even captains of sailboats) must constantly monitor the winds.  Because winds shift.  If they have a breeze from the north-west, they cannot depend on that as a constant.  It might shift to a wind from the south-west, and they must adjust sail accordingly.  That bird or glider must constantly ride a new updraft, otherwise they will have a very short flight.

And this is what I have received over the past few weeks.  Not a massive booster that slams me back into my seat, breathless as I am thrust ever faster on my journey.  But instead, a gentle updraft, keeping me afloat as I pray to maintain my soaring above the earth.

God never promised that this life would be an easy one.  He only promises that He will be with us always, constantly, a “wind beneath my wings.”  And as I learn to continuously surrender myself, He helps me find the next updraft that He has provided, keeping me afloat, soaring.  Every day, every moment, Lord, Your will be done, not mine.  Kill my will, Father, it’s out to kill me.  Fill me, Lord with You.  All You.  Nothing but You.

Music plays a large part of my life, and I have loved music since I was a child.  I sing, listen to CD’s, radio, and I am constantly uplifted.  This song touches me every time I listen to it.  May God’s Blessings be upon us all.

Enjoy:  http://youtu.be/SGniRk_GcLs

Advertisements

I want to go diving!!!!!! (fini)

Being a scuba fanatic and a NAUI certified Training Assistant, I have worked with a few students, and I have talked with a number of new divers at diving club functions (Blue Dolphin Skin Divers of Erie, PA).  One of the things I often say is that as divers in the Erie, PA area, we are privileged to learn to dive here.  I then ask, “And do you know why?”  Always my answer is that we are privileged to learn to dive here because in Erie, the diving sucks!!  And I’m quite serious.  While I would not consider us diving experts, my wife and I are fairly good divers, and have dived in a number of miserable conditions; cold air, cold water, poor (or literally no) visibility, unexpected currents.  And we dive relatively frequently in similar conditions.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know several people who enjoy diving, but are “warm water divers,” many of whom give themselves this designation.  So this is not a slam, but an observation.  Warm water divers enjoy diving, and often plan vacations around diving.  But they do not dive much at home.  At home, the water is usually cold, the visibility poor, the comfort level less than optimal.  Critters aren’t as spectacular or as colorful as in warmer climates.  A thicker wetsuit or even a drysuit is mandatory.  True story: some time ago, a national magazine, as part of an article, sent a professional diver to Erie to take some photographs.  One of our Instructors went with him, and offered several times to dive with him if he desired a guide.  The professional answered rather bruskly, finally telling our Instructor that he was a professional, and could handle it alone, thank you very much.  Our buddy just waited on the boat, and within about five minutes, the professional fairly exploded to the surface, ripped his regulator from his mouth, and yelled, “You people dive in this $#it???”  Yep, that’s right, we do.  And we like it.

And that’s my point with my somewhat crude statement regarding why we are privileged to learn to dive in Erie.  I believe that diving in cold water and poor visibility conditions (such as our area) produces divers of the highest caliber.  When one can dive in poor conditions, dive well and enjoy it, that diver can dive well and enjoy their dives anywhere in the world.  I am not saying that warm water divers are by definition not as good as us “cold water divers.”  Many warm water divers are fantastic divers, and I am not worthy to tighten their fin straps.  But many are not nearly as good as they could be if they dived “cold.”

Our younger daughter dives, and has been certified for a few years now.  However she gets cold while diving in the Caribbean, let alone around here, and absolutely refuses to dive at home in central Pennsylvania.  Beth and I have a doctor friend that dives warm water only.  He’s a weight lifter, body builder, and is in amazing shape.  But Beth and I could dive circles around our daughter and our friend.  We are more comfortable and more confident in the water than either of them, and that is due not only to the number of dives we have in our log book, but very much because of the conditions in which we have dived.

I have written extensively about the one-week mission trip that Beth and I took to the Dominican Republic.  My posts included my difficulties, as well as how God worked on me through that entire experience.  What I did not write about is how that entire time affected my desire for diving.

This past November, Beth and I went to the Caribbean island of Bonaire, and it was perhaps the best vacation we have ever had.  Prior to the vacation, my Mother had recently passed away after a brief illness, and we had a number of other “life issues” we were dealing with at the same time.  For whatever reason, we really needed that vacation, and our time on Bonaire was absolutely fantastic.  We came home refreshed and healed.

But after we got home, the only thing on my mind was that “stupid mission trip” that I had committed to.  I was so focused on going to the D.R., I enjoyed little to nothing between returning from Bonaire and the start of the mission trip.   I didn’t think about diving, and had no desire to even participate in our annual New Year’s Day dive.   This lack of excitement was entirely out of character for me.  I am usually buzzing with anticipation for the next dive, wherever it may be, and I constantly think and read about diving.  Subscribing to three dive periodicals, I usually can’t wait until the next dive magazine comes to the house, at which point I devour the entire thing.  And through this period of time, I barely touched any of the magazines that did come.

And then the time of the mission trip came, Beth and I experienced it, and we came home.  It was an unbelievable trip and as I said, I have written extensively about it.  But my passion for diving didn’t return.  We went to club meetings, and talked with diving friends, but I didn’t feel the “burn” to get wet.

One of our Divemasters was going on a dive vacation to San Salvador in February, and asked me to cover for him with a Scuba Diver certification class while he was gone.  My role was to assist the Instructor, mostly in the pool, with the students.  The Instructor was Gene Krahe, who was also the Instructor that taught me in my first certification class.  So I guess that makes him my Scuba Dad.  Kind of fits, he is a lot older than me.  Ahem.

Anyhow, I wasn’t even looking forward to helping with the class.  And that worried me a bit.  As nutty as I had been about diving in the past, I couldn’t even work up excitement about getting in the pool.  As much as I have loved diving, I was worried that I wasn’t all that excited about it now.

Until I got in the pool.  It was so good to get wet again.  It was only a pool, but wow, it felt great!  I enjoyed working with the students, and Gene is easy to work with.  He gives great direction, and really connects with his students, so that was fun.  And the diving!  Feeling so fluid, my movements so easy, it was great!  I remembered how much I loved the sport, and the excitement returned.

And this is how the past few posts got started.  Scuba diving is a great sport, and I love sharing it with Beth.  I love being in the water, I love the joy and challenge that it brings.  We have a trip planned later this summer to Grand Cayman, but right now it is only March.  If  Beth and I want to dive before then, we will have to dive here in Erie, where the diving “sucks.”  We can look forward to typical Erie diving in cold water and low viz.  And I want to go diving!!!  Man, I can’t wait.

I want to go diving!!!!!! (part three)

Beth and I took up diving three years ago and four years ago, respectively. We both love the sport, and have been growing steadily more confident, and skilled as divers. When Beth reacted well to a bad situation (her inflator hose came loose from her buoyancy compensator), I knew she was a diver. Since then, we have been racking up a number of dives in our log books, and gaining experience. We have both taken several courses through Diver’s World in Erie, PA, and have several certifications from NAUI. Beth and I are both Master Divers, having earned that designation this past year.

Our diving has taken us to a number of wonderful spots, and we have seen more amazing things than one can imagine. But our training and much of our diving has been in the Erie, PA area. And I tell many of the students that go through the Scuba Diver course at Diver’s World that we are privileged to learn to dive in Erie. I then ask, “And do you know why? Because the diving in Erie sucks.” And I am quite serious that we are indeed fortunate to learn to dive in Erie, and for the reason that I have given.

Last year Beth and I dived two wrecks; the Indiana and the Dean Richmond. The air temp was toasty, but the water temps were frigid. Beth and I both wore seven millimeter wetsuits, with a seven millimeter core warmer (basically an extra a wetsuit) over our torso and head. We each had maybe twenty to thirty pounds of weight, plus the scuba tank and a thirty cubic foot pony bottle of air for safety and redundancy. The wrecks were both around one hundred feet, give or take fifteen feet. In comparison, in the Caribbean, I usually wear just a swim suit and six pounds of weight. Beth, by the end of the week, will be wearing a three mil wetsuit and a few more pounds than I.

At the wreck(s), we suited up. As I have said before, I hate the heat. So, here I am, suited up in about fourteen millimeters of wetsuit, thirty-ish pounds of weight, and sitting there waiting for Beth. I am sweating like a fiend, and getting a bit, uh, put out. Beth is having some minor difficulties, and is working with the boat captain to get ready. Finally, I tell her I will see her in the water; I have to get in, get wet, and cool down. It is all I can think of. So, over the stern I go. Oops! No reg in my mouth, wetsuit unzipped, no fins. Fortunately I had my BC inflated, or it would have been a very bad moment. ‘Course, my life insurance is always paid up, so Beth would have been ok, but…And that is probably the stupidest thing I have done in my diving career, and I am committed to that being the stupidest thing I ever will do.

When Beth came off the boat, we collected ourselves, got to the anchor line, and dropped down. Visibility was very poor for the first sixty feet down the anchor line, maybe a total of three feet of visibility. We could see each other, and that’s about it. But when we dropped through the thermocline (and into the really cold water), the viz opened up to sixty feet or better. And the wrecks were spectacular! What great dives those were, and I will describe them in detail another time.

Another poor visibility dive we did last year was at Kinzua reservoir, as part of our Master Diver project. When Kinzua dam was constructed and the reservoir filled in the ’60’s, three towns were flooded. The town of Kinzua in PA, Onoville in New York, and Corydon, in PA. Our fellow Master Diver student, Terry Skarzenski, suggested we research Corydon and dive on it to see what we could find. Beth and I loved the idea. We did the research, and planned our dive for a beautiful, sunny and clear day in late summer.

Our families arrived at Willow Bay, and surveyed the area. Based on old photos, we compared the topography, and agreed on where we believed the town had likely been located. We did a surface swim out and caught our breaths before dropping down. We knew the conditions were going to be less than perfect, so we had an eight foot buddy line. I was on the left, Terry on the right, Beth in the middle. When we were ready, we popped our regulators in our mouths, and started our descent. And we dropped into the nastiest mud pit I have ever been in. As we were descending I watched upward, and as we hit the ten or fifteen foot mark, the sun disappeared, as if someone had flipped a switch. No exaggeration. I turned on my dive light (all while hanging on to the buddy line, trying to read my gauges, clearing my sinuses, and letting a bit of air into my BC to stay close to neutrally buoyant). I could see absolutely nothing. The only way I knew we had hit the bottom at about thirty-eight feet was because we stopped descending. I could only read my gauges intermittently. I could not see Beth (just four feet away). And I could see absolutely nothing in any direction. We just sat there for five minutes trying to figure out what to do, and then kind of mutually huddled up. We discovered that we could only see each other from about six inches away. Seriously. And that was not real clear. Beth signalled that she would take the lead and follow her compass, and we would keep pace on the buddy line. Every now and then we could feel something on the bottom, maybe a tree stump, or a rock or something. We had thought we might find paved streets, maybe a sidewalk or house foundation, but not a chance. Have you ever been a fog so thick that you literally could not see your hand in front of your face? Or been driving in a snowstorm with absolutely nothing outside your windshield except snow? Now imagine that same visibility while wearing a set of goggles, and a clothes pin on your nose, breathing through your mouth only, wearing spandex that is two sizes too small, with about three atmospheres of pressure surrounding you, all at the same time. That’s kind of what it would feel like, and it is not the most pleasant moment I have experienced.

Beth, however, did a great job. Remember, she has claustrophobia, vision issues (although we got her a mask with prescription lenses), and nearly drowned when she was young. And here she was, taking the lead in the nastiest diving conditions we had seen yet. Unbelievable. And me? Well, let’s just say I’m glad I was in a wetsuit, because I was peeing my pants for about twenty minutes. That was the freakiest, nerviest, nastiest, scariest dive I have ever done. But we got ‘er done. We did about a fifteen minute swim around, and never once saw a single thing. After fifteen minutes, we headed for the surface, slowly, and did our safety stop for three minutes. Beth and I came to the surface together, with no Terry. We looked around, and that was the worst moment I can remember. His wife, Sue, and their kids were on shore waiting for us, and no Terry. I started going though my mind what to do for a lost diver, hoping that he would show up soon. He finally came up a couple of minutes later, and explained that he needed a longer safety stop, so he let go of the buddy line and did his extra time alone. Hey Terry, if you’re reading this, you owe me a new wetsuit. The “water” I produced from the scary dive belongs to me, but the, uh, stains in the back are from you scaring the caca out of me, and they didn’t come out of the neoprene. Don’t ever do that to me again! Collecting ourselves on the surface, we all agreed that none of us had any desire to go back under on the way back to shore, and so did a surface swim back to the beach.

…final episode next time.  Maybe…

I want to go diving!!!!!! (part two)

(Somehow WordPress decided to post this before I was ready, so several people got this post in email form before I was quite finished.  This is the finished version.  Sorry…)

My scuba diving career started about four years ago when our daughter decided on a destination wedding on Grand Cayman.  I have always been fascinated with the idea of scuba, but could not justify it until then.  I took lessons, got certified, and did my first ocean dive off the south shore of Grand Cayman.  It was truly an experience I will never forget.  I was pretty much instantly hooked, and very much wanted to share this amazing sport with my wife.

Like many people, Beth was reluctant to try scuba, and for a number of reasons.  She almost drowned when she was about ten, so she has some water issues;  she is claustrophobic; and she has vision, uh, issues (we used to spend a lot of money on optometrists until I figured out we could do the same thing by cutting the bottoms off of coke bottles.  We save a lot of money that way.  Kidding, Dear).  I guess I was pushing a bit too hard, which I figured out when Beth put her index finger about an inch off my nose and gently said, “Stop pushing me!!!!!!”  Yeah, gently.  I hate living in fear…

But we did go snorkeling every day we were there, and Beth had just as much fun as I did.  After the vacation, we were talked about how cool the snorkeling was, and we got to talking about scuba.  Unprompted by me (see, I can learn) she said, “Well, maybe I could try it.”  I responded with a non-committal, “Yeah, ok.  Whatever you want, Babe.”  Inside I was doing my own version of the Cherokee Victory Dance, but I didn’t see the need to share that with her then.  Plus, I figured I would remain much healthier that way.

Beth started lessons, and I remember the evenings of her first three lessons .  She would call me as she was driving on the way home, crying, and not sure she could “do this.”

I think I should explain at this point how the lessons work.  The certification classes last approximately six weeks, one evening a week.  There is a couple of hours of classroom, followed by an hour or so of pool time.  For the pool session on the first evening, the Instructor and his Trainer Assistant or Divemaster help the students gear up, explain how the equipment works, and get them under water for a bit.  Each session after that builds on the knowledge from the week before.  The way the classes are designed, the students “get wet” from the beginning; there isn’t a theory portion and then a practical portion.  You get both each class.  And another plug for Diver’s World of Erie, PA.  The Instructors are phenomenal, the Divemasters outstanding, and the Trainer Assistants dedicated (disclaimer: I am one of the TA’s).  But if you want quality scuba instruction, you cannot do better than Diver’s World.

So Beth had to deal with her issues from the start, and it wasn’t easy.  Each time she called crying, I would talk with her, and pretty much encourage her to continue, that she should keep going with the lessons, and if she got through the lessons and couldn’t do it, so be it; she had given it her best shot.

I’m not sure which week it was, I think maybe week four, she came home, and looking thoughtful, said, “You know, I had fun tonight.”  Another non-committal, “Good for you” from me.  Another internal Victory Dance.  She toughed it out, and got certified.  I often tell people that she is the poster child for scuba.  There should be a poster with Beth’s photo on it, with the caption that says, “If I can do it, so can you!”  Honestly.  I have been a cop for over thirty years, twenty in the City of Erie.  I was on the SWAT team for thirteen.  I have seen acts of courage and bravery that would make one weep.  But Beth, having no training or background it that kind of thing, gutted out those lessons and got certified.  And that’s the bravest thing I have ever seen in my entire life.  She says that she did it for me, because she knew how much it meant to me.  But it was her effort and determination that got her through.  She is one tough and amazing lady.

And not only did we get certified, we have continued with our scuba education.  We both have our Advanced Certifications, both are Deep Certified, Computer Certified, Rescue Certified, and are both Master Divers, all through NAUI schools.  I am particularly proud of Beth for the Rescue Diver cert.  That is one tough mama of a course, and she did it.  I went a bit further, getting Ice Certified and my Trainer Assistant Cert as well.  I am thinking Beth will get her TA this year maybe, and I am at some point looking at Divemaster and/or Instructor.  Time will tell.

And we found our “together” activity.  Beth and I have had a chance to dive in some truly amazing locations.  Three times in the Caribbean country of Bonaire, the Florida Keys (the Vandenberg is a really cool wreck), the Gulf of Mexico, lakes and quarries all over the place.  And we dive as partners (“buddies” in scuba parlance).

I think it is probably typical for a husband to be protective of his wife, and worry about her in situations like that, and I am no different.  I tended to hover nearby, worried to death for Beth.  Until our second trip to Bonaire.

We were on a typical dive in paradise, enjoying the warm, clear water, seeing really spectacular stuff.  I saw something I wanted to show her, and turned to get her attention.  Only she wasn’t there.  Where is that woman!?  I did a 360 circle, looking all over, up, down, and then I saw her about ten feet above me, streaking like an arrow toward our divemaster.  I thought, “Oh, this isn’t good,” and saw her make contact with him.  He kind of fussed at her buoyancy compensator (BC for short), and I admit to a bit of jealousy for him touching her, but after a minute they turned and slowly started toward the boat.  At that point I caught up with them, and she showed me her inflator hose.

The inflator hose is the part of the BC that one uses to add or release air to the BC from the attached scuba tank.  In that way the diver can adjust their buoyancy, to be as neutrally buoyant in the water as possible.  Using the inflator hose, there are two ways to dump air.  A button on the end lets a bit of air out at a time, and is useful for most needed adjustments.  The second way to release air is to just kind of tug on the hose itself.  There is a larger dump valve on the shoulder of the BC at the point where the inflator hose connects to the BC itself.  In Beth’s case, she had tugged on the inflator hose a bit too strenuously, and the entire inflator hose came disconnected from the BC, making it useless for her.  That’s when she did an underwater sprint to the divemaster.  Needless to say, Beth was a bit nervy over the incident, but at the instant I saw what the situation was, I ceased worrying about her.  I remember thinking, “She’s a diver!”  When we got on the boat, she was a bit shaky, but I asked her if she knew what she had done.  She did not, and I told her that she had done exactly what she should have done.  We are trained that panic will kill a diver, so do not panic.  Stop and take a breath, analyze the situation, and take appropriate action.  Which is exactly what she did.  Upon analysis, she knew that her husband didn’t have the knowledge to help, so she went to the person that could.  Just a year earlier, she would have probably bolted for the surface, risking the bends or other um, undesirable possibilities.  But that is not what she did.  She did exactly what a diver should do, and I can honestly say that I haven’t felt the need to hover over her since.

…more to come,,,

I want to go diving!!!!!! (part one)

I hate summer.  I hate the heat, I hate the humidity, I hate feeling like a human pot roast, being popped into an oven set at four hundred degrees.  Starting in the fall, continuing through winter, and into the beginning of spring are enjoyable temperatures for me.  Especially winter.  I love the cold and snow.  I love being outside in winter, I love driving in snow, and I love watching it fall.  My theory du jour is that my internal temperature is such that winter brings down my temp to a point that I can relax and just enjoy.

But there are certain drawbacks to winter.  I miss certain activities that bad weather and extreme cold make a bit more difficult.  First on that list is scuba diving.

My wife and I are avid and enthusiastic divers.  I have been diving for about four years, and Beth about three.  We are solidly in our middle-ages (and yes, I plan for my current age to be the mean average for my life span.  I’m fifty-four), and for several years I had been searching for an activity that Beth and I could enjoy together currently, and for decades to come.  Try as we might, we couldn’t come to an agreement for what that activity might be.  The very thoughts of golf just make me want to run screaming, and one or two that we actually tried didn’t take.  Until scuba.

Our younger daughter decided on a destination wedding on Grand Cayman four years ago.  Settling on Cayman as the destination seemed to me to be a torturous path, wandering all over the Pacific, into Central America, touching on the Mediterranean, and finally alighting onto Grand Cayman.  Beth and I had not travelled by passport prior to this, and we were in turns excited, nervous, anticipatory, and apprehensive about our first trip to the Caribbean.  After arriving in Cayman, we got our rental car, and drove to our condo at Turtle Nest Inn, on the south side of the island near Boddentown.  What a fantastic place to stay!  Spacious and beautiful, we had a fantastic view of the ocean from the deck, as well as the bedroom.

In the end, the wedding was wonderful, our daughter lovely, and the vacation truly amazing.  We fell in love with the Caribbean.  It was the first vacation that we have been on that I wept as we left.  Of course, being a typical guy, I only cry when I’m hungry, and I probably should have had something to eat before our departure.  Ahem.

But before the trip, I did some thinking.  Ever since I was a kid, scuba diving has held a fascination for me.  Ever since I saw re-runs of Sea Hunt as a kid, I thought scuba would be an amazing sport.  However as time went on, the idea of diving took a back seat to other things, and eventually kind of receded from my thoughts altogether.  Until the wedding.  When the destination was announced I was in my late forties, and I realized that if I didn’t go diving now I never would.  Beth and I sat down and talked it over, weighed our finances, and decided that, yeah, I should give diving a go.  I contacted a local diving shop, got prices for lessons and basic equipment, and signed up.  Several months before the wedding, I began lessons at Diver’s World in Erie, PA, completing my basic Scuba Diver certification, and much of my Advanced Scuba Diver certification before the trip (click on Diver’s World above to visit their website).

What a rush!  As is my usual tendency, I punished myself studying, figuring I would flunk out, and beating on myself mentally for ever thinking I was cut out for something like this in the first place.  But as is also my usual tendency, I passed with flying colors, got my c-card (that’s “certification card” to you land-lubbing non-divers out there), and completed several additional dives needed for Advanced Certification.

When we went to Cayman, I had perhaps a dozen dives total in my logbook, maybe less.  I was a newbie, a greenhorn, a rookie, whatever terms one would use to describe someone who is allowed to do an activity, but shouldn’t be trusted alone for more than a nano-second.  I contacted a dive shop, Deep Blue Divers Grand Cayman, and arranged for a two tank dive on a given day.

I met Rick  on the dock at the appropriate time, intimidated and nervous.  Rick was great, taking me out by boat to a location that probably couldn’t possibly be much safer.  We geared up, did a buddy check, and got in the water.  Once we were ready, we dropped below the surface.  And I entered paradise.  Being new, I blew through an 80 cu. tank of air in about 22 minutes (for comparison, an 80 cu tank now lasts me about an hour), but those few minutes were more wonder producing than anything I had ever done.

In Erie, the best visibility I experienced was in the pool, and that was maybe thirty feet.  Generally speaking, the viz in the quarries and small lakes that I dived to become certified was ten feet on a good day.  In fact, in Lake Pleasant (clearly not named with the underwater visibility in mind), the viz was at best three feet.  Up to this point in my diving career, this is all I knew.  I had no experience in water in which one could actually see anything.

And then I dropped below the surface of the ocean off the south shore of Grand Cayman.  Visibility of at least one hundred feet, probably more.  The colors, the corals, the fish!  Of the multitude of fish I saw, one was particularly delightful!  It was small, and colored a deep blue with seemingly neon light blue spots.  They weren’t exactly in schools, but there was quite a number of them throughout the dive.  Later on I discovered them to be juvenile damselfish, and they remain among my favorites.  I am still tickled when I find a few on a dive.

Rick took me on an easy, twenty-minute circle in, around, and between corals.  I was mesmerized.  Honestly, if Rick had just hovered in one spot right under the boat for the entire twenty minutes, I would have been happy.  It was unbelievable, and the time was up way too quickly.  We did our three minute safety stop, surfaced, and boarded the boat.  I had been hooked.  I wanted so badly to share my experience with Beth, but how can one describe something like that?  It was my first time in the ocean, and I just didn’t have the words to say.

So I did what most self-respecting husbands would do.  I pestered her to get into scuba herself, so we could dive together.  When I got the index finger in the face with the words, “Stop pushing me!!!!!” (emphasis not mine), I knew I needed to back away.  That having been said, we did go snorkeling together nearly every day we were there.  One time we were snorkeling off Seven Mile Beach, and I would guess we were perhaps a quarter of a mile off shore.  I saw a conch on the bottom, and wanted to check it out.  I told Beth I would be right back, took a couple deep breaths, and had to power my way to the bottom, probably about twenty feet down.  In fact, I had to keep kicking to stay at the bottom.  I looked the conch over, and when I was ready to surface, I simply stopped kicking and turned to look at the surface.  I popped to the surface with no effort at all.  I virtually could not sink!

…continued soon…

Lessons from the fast.

Our week of fasting was interesting.  I am not naturally inclined toward fasting, it is not something toward which I am drawn.  The fact is, I like food.  I like the smell, the taste, the texture.  There is very little that I do not like about food.  Beth and I have fasted in the past, including two Daniel fasts in conjunction with our church, and the infrequent day of fasting through the years.  So I am somewhat familiar with fasting, at least to some degree, but I do not look forward to the times I go without food.

I think I was looking for some sort of “breakthrough” moments like I experience during our week-long missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  That was not a mountaintop experience, but more of a consistent, gradual healing of my spirit, one that I have needed for some time.

But that was not what I experienced during the fast.  That fact alone was a bit disconcerting, which is my fault for setting up expectations and not just waiting for the week to unfold.

The hunger was a great reminder to pray, and I did.  I prayed a lot through the week, on a variety of topics: family, friends, my wife, myself.  I seriously prayed a lot over the week, and that was very good.  Further, my daily readings in the Bible were also very good, very nourishing, if you will.  I found a real enjoyment in the reading, in the praying, and in the closeness that I felt with God.

And there were several other good things through the week.

For quite a while I was a Facebook junkie.  Keeping up with friends and family was very enjoyable, as was posting my opinions on topics and the give and take  with people who had different opinions or political persuasions.  It was a good opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends as well.  One of which was an acquaintance from high school.  I can’t guarantee this, but I believe he had friended me.  We weren’t really close way back when, but going to a small school we knew each other, and he was ok as far as I was concerned.  I remember him as a good-natured guy, easygoing, rather quick-witted and fun to be around.  However, something changed.  I noticed that on FB he was frequently acerbic, and rather taunting in his posts on my page, both with me as well as with others who posted on my comments.  I tried using humor to tone down his anger and pointed posts, but apparently my efforts were not appreciated.  It culminated in a post I made on a very controversial topic.  I posted what I thought I was simply a throwaway line on a topic that I am very passionate about.  In retrospect, I should have known what a backlash this would generate, but at the time I was caught completely by surprise.  What a firestorm!  A friend of my daughter questioned my Christianity, and would not dialogue.  Others blasted me as well, including my high school acquaintance.  Here’s what he wrote:

“It must be comforting in your black and white world, clark. One victim is obviously too many…you think you know me because we went to high school a long time ago…you don’t. I don’t know anything about you since then either…this is not a jibe, a bait or even sarcastic humor….it is adios. I have better things to do in this short life than read your self-rightous bullshit…good luck….”  (I’m not sure he really meant the “good luck part”)

In and of itself not that big a deal, but combined with his sarcasm and rather mean replies to my friends, it was a bit much.  He then un-friended me.  I attempted dialogue, but he refused.

This type of issue is very difficult for me.  I do my best to get along, and much prefer reconciliation to discord.  And for him to act in this manner was disconcerting to say the least.  It has been very difficult to let go of this, and it has been bothering me to some degree since around mid-January.

This has all been background for me to explain how huge it was that God laid it on my heart to let go of this whole thing during our week of fasting.  I noticed that early in the fast I seemed focused on this incident, and it seemed to be affecting my spiritual life.  I had no peace, just a jangled sense of disturbance, and it seemed to focus on my old acquaintance.  I realized (yeah, I can be a bit of a slow learner sometimes) that I needed to let the incident, as well as my acquaintance, go.  I’m not certain I was able to do so one-hundred percent, but I am much, much closer than I was before the fast.  And boy does that feel good!

Further,  as I had stated in an earlier post on this blogsite, I experienced some fairly intense kidney pain right around day three through day four or five of the fast.  I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it lingered, and prevented sleep for a couple of nights.  I had intended to take no analgesics at all for the duration of the fast, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and so on.  However, with the pain I experienced, not only did I need some pain relief, I loaded up.  I was quite disappointed in myself for that.  Also, I was at a local shop about mid-way through the fast, and they always have a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses for the customers.  I always have one or two, and without thinking, I picked one up, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth.  Enjoyed it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had unthinkingly broken my fast.  And that frustrated me as well.

But as the week went on, I kind of changed my thoughts on this.  I think I’m kind of grateful that I did “fail” in those regards.  I could easily become a bit proud of the fact that I completed the fast, and that I did so to the very smallest detail or requirement that I had set for myself.  Which, of course, would have been completely contrary to the entire intent of the fast itself.  So I wound up being thankful that I had not had the “perfect” fast.

Various other insights were also given to me through the week.  I will describe just a couple here.

As part of his Sunday message on March 4th, Pastor Bob Klecan shared a text he had gotten from a friend, talking about the fast we had just begun.  The text said, “Do you think this week of fasting is causing people to realize that they’re actually not replacing food with a fast but rather that they’re actually replacing food with a feast?”  I found that to be profound, and this thought was echoed through the week with my reading in the Word.  One example is from Phillipians 1: 9-11.  It says, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

This passage calls to me.  This is exactly what I want my life to look like.  This is exactly what I want to be.

In the end, the week of fasting was not a spiritual rocket taking off.  If anything that “liftoff” was what I gained from our week in the Dominican Republic.  The week of fasting was instead, a booster attached to that rocket.  The fasting did not give me liftoff, but it kept me going.  I am grateful for the lessons learned, and for the spiritual applications I gained.  In fact, as unbelievable as this is to me, it is likely that Beth and I will be much more regular with fasting.  We have discussed making this a quarterly event, with our next one as early as sometime in June.  And for someone who loves food as I do, that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Ok, not so fast.

-Look, the pun was unintentional this time, ok?-

This post is intended to look at the physical effects of our week-long fast.  My next post will be about my spiritual thoughts on the fast.

I guess I was a bit premature with the kidney pain.  Sunday before church I was feeling them pretty keenly.  I often allow myself to dehydrate a bit on Sunday mornings so I don’t have really uncomfortable urges during church.  I guess this time it wasn’t such a good idea.  I drank extra water  just before the service started, and during the service I intermittently drank a juice cocktail from a thermos we often take with us.  (This thermos is great, by the way.  The ones we got are for cold only, and have a locking lid so it will not spill, and it keeps liquids cold for hours, even in brutal heat.)  By afternoon, they were manageable and I thought I was ok.  However, by bedtime, my kidneys were really ramping up the pain, even though I had three glasses of water just before bedtime.   I finally got up and migrated to the living room and crashed on the sofa.  I didn’t get much sleep Sunday night, but it did give me cause to pray a lot.  Not just for the pain, in case that was implied.  I did pray for outside concerns, so I guess the time wasn’t really wasted.

Monday night was pretty much the same.  The pain wasn’t as intense, but really uncomfortable, so I got up earlier than I had on Sunday and went to the spare room.  I think Beth and I both slept better than the night before, as I wasn’t tossing and turning for a few hours before I decided to sleep elsewhere.  I woke up a couple of hours before it was time to get up, and the pain was lessened, so I was able to crawl back into bed with my wife for a couple of hours.

Unfortunately, I am prone to kidney stones.  Normally I drink a ton of water, in fact I figured it out one time, and on an average day I drink close to one hundred ounces of water.  So I’m not unaccustomed to kidney pain, and I do what I can to minimize the probability.  I guess I goofed up a little with the fast.  Saturday and Sunday we added fruit and vegetable juices to the water which constituted our entire diet on Friday.  I drank a ton of tomato juice and fruit juices, but I think in retrospect I substituted them for the water that I normally drink.  I probably figured that liquid is liquid, so I skimped on the water.  Small tactical error, there, and I paid a bit of a penalty for it.  Last night was not so bad, so hopefully we’re on the downhill side of that particular issue.

The hunger has been interesting.  Not unmanageable, but consistently present.  Believe me, that tomato juice on Saturday was like heaven.  I totally loved the juices we had on Saturday and Sunday after only water the day before.  And then came Sunday evening.

The “fasting days” go from 6:00 PM on one day to 6:00 PM the next day.  Sunday evening at 6:00 PM we had our first solid food since Thursday.  Now that was heaven.  Understand, I am not a veggie kind of guy, but after three days of nothing at all, Sunday dinner was a feast!  Beth fixed lentil soup (no bacon, but I got over it) and a veggie tray.  Homemade hummus and peanut butter with crackers and apples finished off the meal.  Heaven!  Monday night Beth sautéed some mushrooms and onions, fixed home fries in olive oil and herbs, and some sort of bean salad.  Man!  I tore into that like a starving dog on a t-bone steak.  Not being a veggie kind of guy, the irony of the situation hit me about  half-way through the meal.  I looked at Beth and said, “What is happening to me???  I’m scared!!”  But I gotta tell you, that moment didn’t stop me for long.  Last night was ratatouille.  What a great meal!  In fact, during supper we talked, and I remarked that I wouldn’t mind “meatless meals” a couple of times a week.  This is a bit disconcerting to an unrepentant and avowed carnivore, so I’m in uncharted territory here.

Coffee I miss.  I love the flavor, the smell, I love everything about a good cup of joe.  But even with that I noticed that I don’t mind not having that first cup of steaming goodness when I roll out of bed.  I need to evaluate that as well.  Cut back and drink less?  Mix a higher percentage of decaf?  Just not sure what to do here.

I also miss my beer and cigars.  I don’t slug down a ton of brews at a time, but with certain meals and evenings, a cold one is very nice.  And the cigars!  I only have one now and then, but the past few days have been mostly desire.

But, once again, the fast has included these things, and all in all I have been very pleased with this fast.  As I expected, the first few days were difficult, but relatively smooth sailing after that initial time period.  We have today and tomorrow, with tomorrow evening being the breaking of the fast.  I have to admit, I am really, really looking forward to tasting the “good stuff” again.  But until then, I am devoting this time to God, and praying.  A lot.

The next post will look at the spiritual thoughts and lessons throughout this week.

So far, just a mixed bag.

(For those interested, First Baptist Church in North East, PA has put up a blog regarding this week-long fast.  Although they used a somewhat, ahem, inferior blog site, they can be found at: http://breakthroughfbcne.blogspot.com/2012/03/preparing-for-change.html).  It’s a great devotional to use while fasting, and has encouraging thoughts to go along with the day’s post.

Regarding our fast, Beth and I each noticed Friday (Day One: water only) that our own breath was pretty bad.  I suspect it is related to the fast, and I’m thinking that by not chewing food, we are not cleansing our mouths of the bacteria that likes to live there, but that’s just a guess.  It reminded me of some information I had heard of Gandhi.  Gandhi, as most people know, was instrumental in the independence of India from England.  What I heard was that due to his walking everywhere, he had massive calluses on his feet, and that due to his fasting so often, he was inclined to poor health.  Further, his religion wasn’t strictly Hindu, but there was a bit of mysticism thrown in there as well.  And the part that reminded me of this story is that he suffered from chronic bad breath.  The story concluded with the thought that Gandhi was a super-callused, fragile mystic, plagued with halitosis.  (Anyone not catching that right away, see the note at the end of this post.)

So far this has been interesting.  Speaking first about the physical issues, I find that the hunger hasn’t been as all-consuming as I had feared.  Yeah, I’m hungry, but that’s ok.  What I had been concerned about was the caffeine withdrawal.  God is good, no terrible headaches this time.  Bit of a headache Friday and Saturday, but manageable.  Same with the kidneys.  I remember my kidneys aching badly for four days the first year, and maybe the second year as well.  So far this year, not so bad.  Still achy a bit, but not crushing me.

Mentally, it has been a bit frustrating.  I have felt a bit “fuzzy,” not really as sharp as I would like.  I notice a difference with my thought processes, I feel like I’m lagging about a half of a second behind stuff going on around me.  I know there are those that would ask me what the difference is from usual, and that they believe this to be the norm for me.  I would dispute that.  I think they’re just jealous. 🙂

Spiritually, I must confess its been a mixed bag.  I have remembered to pray when I felt the hunger, so I have prayed often.  That’s a good thing.  And mostly, it’s been positive, thanking God for His goodness, praising Him for who he is, thanking Him for being able to fast for Him.  Friends and family have been getting prayed for, too.  The down side is that I have been a bit cranky from time to time.  I’m pretty sure it’s due to low blood sugar, which I have a tendency toward anyhow.  It’s weird.  in times past, I will come home, or be around the house, and apparently acting crabby.  Beth will ask when I last had something to something, and I will crank out an answer, usually something like, “I don’t know, leave me alone.  I’m not hungry.”  To which she replies not with words, but gets of a bit of cheese or something from the fridge, and stuffs it in my mouth.  The effects usually don’t take long to notice, I can usually feel it in a couple of minutes.  It feels like there’s pressure behind my eyes, and as the food begins digestion, it feels like the pressure is letting up.  I feel lighter somehow.  And less crabby.  Which pleases Beth no end.

So I have been snapping a bit more than I like the past few days.  God has been good in that as well, I have recognized crankiness faster than usual, and have prayed about that also, letting go sooner than is often the case.

The fast hasn’t really disrupted my routine too badly, either.  I spent Friday and Saturday doing my normal routine.  Friday was a regular day at work, doing “boss” stuff, keeping up with paperwork and email.  The smell of coffee and others having lunch was a bit disconcerting, but nothing I couldn’t deal with.  Around noon, my two Lieutenants went for lunch.  They invited me along for Chinese, and I had to decline.  Angela asked if I were dieting, and I told her, “kinda,” to which she looked puzzled and asked how one “kind of” diets.  I then told her I was fasting.  She got that, and turned to leave.  Eric, however, laughed himself silly.  He gets it, too, but has a sense of humor that is a bit, uh, tilted?  (And yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black)  Like most guys, if he finds something a bit different, he’ll “bust chops” about it forever.  He knows my faith, though, and I don’t think this’ll be that kind of topic.  Even if it is, no biggie.  He makes me laugh, so I don’t anticipate this being any different.

So Beth and I are adjusting, and using this time to praise God and pray.  I want to do this for the correct reasons, and not just because I love a challenge.  I love God more, and even though this has been a bit difficult, I am grateful for the opportunity to devote the time to He who gives all good things.

Now as I promised earlier, if you didn’t catch the reference at the beginning of this post, watch this: http://youtu.be/WSX9ms04mhA.  Ok, if you just insert the words, “Super-callused fragile mystic plagued with halitosis.”  Yep, I love it.  And as punners around the world know,other peoples’ groans are but music to my ears…

It begins.

Day One of my Punishment Detail.

It’s been twelve hours, twenty-two minutes and seventeen seconds since I had a bite of food in my mouth.  Only two and a half days to go.  I can feel myself weakening.  Almost fell down the stairs.  No strength.  I think my ribs are sticking out.  How can I keep going?  Not even a cup of coffee to comfort me.  So…tired…camt fele teh kaybrod…goin daaarrrrkkkk…eajfaliiooooeeeeeeeeee jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj  jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj  jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

   …NOT!!!  I don’t quite have enough fat to live as long as a polar bear through the winter, but I bet I could go a couple of weeks minus calories.

It’s kind of interesting, last night I found myself kind of perversely looking forward to this week of fasting.  It’s a challenge, and I am all about that.  Nor really feeling the hunger yet, but I do miss my coffee.  However, Beth and I were talking, and you know what?  We both want to do this correctly.  I really want to focus on God during this time, so that when I feel the hunger I am pointed toward Him.  I want this to be a time of prayer and focus; spiritual awareness.  Hunger and I are not friends, so this is definitely out of my comfort zone.

In times past when we did the Daniel fast, I remember having a caffeine headache for two days, and my kidneys ached for four.  Interestingly, no headache today.  We have cut back on caffeine intake, so hopefully we’ll be relatively ok with that.  I am a bit hungry, but that’ll change; I expect that I’ll be real hungry later on.  I find myself tired, but that I expect will improve.  During our last Daniel fast I missed the coffee for a few days, but then not so badly.

And I tried to convince my wife last night that hops and malt should be allowed on this diet.  They’re grains, right?  She didn’t buy it.

Post Navigation