Friday, March 27, 2009

The Only Constant Is Change

I don't like change. What's worse, the older I get, the greater the extent of my dislike. It truly pains me to say this. I remember fondly the glorious days of my youth when I not only enjoyed change, I embraced it. I soaked it up like a hungry sponge. I looked at each new circumstance as a grand adventure to be explored. A new opportunity for success or failure. It didn't matter, the value was in what could be learned from the experience. Sadly, with every passing day, I find myself appreciating more the comfort and safety of having things remain as they are. These days I take more joy in living a carefully planned day that didn't involve any surprises, than a day fraught with unexpected situations.

I got along pretty good in my younger days, no better or worse than anyone else I'm sure. Through all the years of my education, I was surrounded by people my own age and tended to hang out with others that felt the same way I did. It was quite a shock when I graduated college and entered full-time employment. I was suddenly thrust into a 4-story building that was filled with way too many "older" people. But again, I saw this as a new adventure. I happily began my career.

Very quickly, I got frustrated at the amount of griping and complaining being done by the older crowd. Computers were just getting to be understood as a tool that could be used to increase productivity. Not many people had them back then, the Internet was still a government research project. But what got me was that so many people were not the slightest bit interested in having them. When they found out they would not have a choice but to get a computer on their desk, you would have thought you gave them the worst news of their lives. I struggled to understand what the big deal was.

Now, I no longer find myself one of the youngest people at work, or even among the middle-aged people. The best I can do is say that I'm in the "younger" bracket of the "older" segment of our staff. I understand now, that those people I started full-time employment with did have some reason to complain. These days it seems I just learn how to do one thing, when everything changes and I have to learn something else.

I went to the dentist this week. My dentist of almost 20 years had to sell his practice because of a family situation. I wasn't worried. I knew my old dentist cared enough about his customers to not leave them with the first tooth-scraper to come along. I had also heard from the new owner's clients and they had quite pleasing things to say. I was also comforted that the hygienists would be staying and so the woman that has cleaned my teeth since the 3rd grade (over 30 years) would continue to do so.

I sat down in the waiting room to enjoy my brief time away from an office that is way too busy for this time of the year. I knew something was wrong the minute my name was called. "Randy?"

I looked up not to see the woman I expected but someone else. My heart plummeted. Things were very busy with all the changes and there were scheduling issues with the new computer system so my hygienist was busy with someone else. I tried very hard to not let my disappointment show as I was led down the hallway and into a chair.

As soon as I opened my mouth, my worst fears were realized. My old hygienist knows my mouth up and down, in and out. She knows what teeth they have been keeping an eye on and what teeth are safe to be left alone. My mouth was a complete stranger to this woman who immediately started saying things like, "Oh dear," and "Oh my." With every syllable, I had to suppress a groan, visions of dollar signs danced in my head as I imagined what my next month's dental bill was going to be.

She pressed hard on one spot in the back of my mouth, "does this hurt?" She inquires.

"No," I said, "it feels fine." So she presses harder, I actually hear her give a soft grunt she's pressing so hard.

"Does that hurt?" She gasps. "No," I replied, "It feels fine." Evidently, she's still not satisfied with my answer so she goes in again. This time digging and scraping with a vengeance. "Are you sure this doesn't hurt?" She asks again.

I'm thinking, now that you've attempted to excavate a small canyon in my mouth, yes, I am starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. "Just a little," I say.

"Well, we may have to do something about that." Yes, I thought, you just did do something about that. The cleaning continued.

Finally, she gets over to the other side. In all fairness, I have been needing to get a crown on this one back molar that's got a filling the size of a small silver mine. But these things cost money, so I've been holding out as long as possible. When she got the metal hook into that tooth, she started to swoon. "You really have to get a crown on this one." She says.

"Yes," I withered. "They've been keeping an eye on that for some time."

Mercifully, the cleaning ended. I felt as though I'd weathered another storm. I had to chuckle that I came in from a storm outside to walk into another one sitting in that chair. Isn't life grand?

My new dentist walked in. I liked him immediately. Young, sharp as a tack, and very confident in his abilities. I began searching for a ray of hope. Amazing how he was able to check things without digging and scraping everything in sight. Yes, I know, the reason was because my teeth were now clean and no more scraping was needed. Cut me some slack.

He very calmly explained that though I hadn't been having trouble, this cavity had slowly grown quite long and really did need to be taken care of before it caused any worse damage. "Fine, set it up."

Then he explained about my crown. The reason that molar wasn't bothering me was because it bit down on an empty space created by a bottom tooth that had been pulled years ago. There wasn't any pressure being placed on the bad tooth and so I was not experiencing any pain. My old dentist had told me all of this as well, so it wasn't any surprise. "Get 'er done!" I said in my, "Larry the cable guy," accent.

We talked about the gap from the tooth-pulling and implants and bridges. I finally got my silver lining. Because they have oral surgeons on staff, they can do implants at a ridiculously reduced price. It would still be very expensive, but not near as bad as the estimates I had been getting in previous years.

But I put my foot down, "I've got 2 kids worth of braces to pay for first." To his credit, he immediately grasped the magnitude of my situation. I think I will get along with this dude just fine. I will not say change is bad, I just have a harder time dealing with it these days. I did like the new computer system. I sat there as my hygienist was scheduling my next cleaning. She very nicely scheduled it with my regular hygienist and apologized for all the hubbub. She said she understands perfectly that it is nice to be seen by the same people for each visit. Then she told me that they have water in their basement crawl space and that she dearly hoped it wouldn't get to the main floor.

Every unkind thought I had been having just melted. My heart truly goes out to people affected by the flooding. This experience has really hit home for the Bismarck-Mandan area. I thanked everyone for their service and got into my car with my complimentary toothbrush and prayed the serenity prayer which I thought very appropriate for the situation.

"Lord, grant me the patience to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference."

To everyone affected by the events this past week. Take heart. This too shall pass. Do what you can for others, and may God bless us all.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

DEER ME!........Not Again?

OK, maybe the title is a little misleading. I figured I had to do something to catch your attention after not posting for so long. There have been no more deer collisions since the incident I blogged about.

However, the trips to Hebron continue to be exciting. Last Sunday was another one of my monthly visits to the brick maker city to lead worship services. The trip out was uneventful enough. It was pretty cold and windy. I don't believe it was snowing but there was enough wind to blow the snow on the ground. Some places didn't have the best visibility and at times it was difficult to see the road because of all the snow blowing across.

But I made it to church, shook hands with my regulars, and proceeded to worship. I have to say it wasn't one of my better messages, but they seemed to really enjoy the song. I try to always sing something that goes along with the message. I feel if the congregation doesn't care for what I have to say, maybe they'll appreciate the song. Sunday's message was about weathering the storms in our life. I chose the song, "The Anchor Holds," by Ray Boltz. I thought it was quite appropriate singing about our lives being like a ship on a storm-tossed sea. It also tied in pretty well with the windy weather that day.

About noon I pointed the car East and started home. I was eager to get back to my warm, natural gas heated house and a spot of lunch. The weather hadn't really changed from the morning other than to tease me with just a glimpse of sunshine every once in awhile. As I passed the West Mandan exit by the truck stop, I started to notice something wasn't quite right.

The cruise control on my car went out years ago. I really miss it as I have a very hard time maintaining a constant speed. So when I noticed my speedo-meter was approaching 85 I wasn't very surprised because my foot doesn't make for a very good cruise control device. I let up on the gas. Unfortunately, my gas pedal wasn't interested in leaving the floor. Then I began to get concerned.

I pushed the accelerator a few times, I tried to pull it up. All I succeeded in doing was pushing it further down. Now I was going over 90 and was very concerned at this point as to how I was going to get this 4-wheeled runaway stopped again.

If I had more time to think about it, I probably would have been more terrified. As it was, I found myself calmly watching the landscape speeding past and pondered my options. I could shut the engine off. I believe I've only done this twice in the 25 years or so I've been allowed to legally operate a motor vehicle. The first time I was in drive but wasn't moving because my foot was on the brake. The second time I was going in reverse but very slowly. Both times, when I accidentally turned the key, there was quite a jolt before the engine shut off. I didn't like to think about what kind of jolt might have occurred had I tried to shut the engine off while traveling over 90 mph.

Now I was approaching the scenic overlook just West of the middle Mandan exit close to the Seven Seas Motel. This was my exit and I dearly wanted to make it. I thought I could shift the car into neutral first before turning it off. Then maybe I could coast to a stop without any damage or jolting that might have occurred with option number one. My exit was fast approaching and I didn't have time to consider any more options.

I mashed the brake to try and slow it down as much as I could before shifting. I got it down to around 60 and started to smell smoke and something like burning metal. I didn't think the brakes could take it much longer. I'm sure brakes are accustomed to being used without the gas pedal pushed to floor at the same time. I shifted into Neutral.

Immediately the car screamed as the RPM's shot to the ceiling and I quickly turned the key. Hearing the engine quit and feeling the car subsequently slowing down was a beautiful thing. I applied the brake again and found it to be much more accommodating when it wasn't fighting the accelerator. The timing was just about perfect. I coasted right off the exit ramp and came to a stop in front of the stop sign across from the Sunset MVP station.

Then the shock of what I had just gone through began to sink in. I started shaking and had to take several deep breaths before I got myself under control. I had just started to calm down when a blaring horn scared the liver out of me again. As I only have one liver I wondered how it was possible to have it scared out of me twice in one day. The honking continued.

I looked behind me to see a cranky lady glaring at me with some very angry eye-balls. She would have made a good character model for the Mr. Potato Head toy. She had those eyeballs down pat. I had pulled over as far as I possibly could without going in the ditch or burying myself in a snow bank. There was a ton of room to go around me. But this woman was having none of it. I looked at her in what I hope was an apologetic look, raised my hands in the air, and tried to mime, "this can't be helped, woman!" She gave me another withering stare, wrenched her vehicle around me and sped off. I prayed she would get home safely as she was clearly upset about something.

I also thanked God for pulling me through yet another storm. I had to laugh when I thought how much better my message would have been if this had happened before church instead of after. As I was laughing I heard a pop and felt my gas pedal hit my foot. Apparently it had had enough of lying on the floor. I worked the pedal up and down several times to make sure it wasn't sticking anymore. Then I did it again just to make sure, then I did it several more times until I was convinced I could make it home without any more emergencies.

And so I did. You would have thought nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I made it safely home but still breathed a deep sigh of relief as I drove into the garage and shut the beast down. Boy did I have a story to tell all the nations. I really like that hymn by the way.

Deanna, true to her nature, immediately freaked out. I did too but I was over it by the time I got home. She insisted I take the car in as soon as possible and get it checked out. "It's working fine now," I say. "Yeah, now," she says back.

In an effort to keep the peace, I made an appointment to take the car in on Tuesday. It turns out the accelerator had a lot of Carbon build-up which was making it sticky. Everything else checked out fine. I even had them look at the brakes since I smelled the smoking and burning. They were fine also. So I had them take the accelerator apart and clean everything to hopefully stop the sticking.

My next trip to Hebron will be Easter Sunday. I can't wait to see what the next adventure has in store.