Friday, June 13, 2008

My really Big Mistake

I recently received an envelope in the mail with "advertisement inside" printed across its face. There was a generic corporate name that could have been anything from a novelty importer to a custom imprint company. It was an oversize manila envelope with a lump in the middle, so against my better judgement I "killed the cat". Inside I found a large rubber eraser, similar to the one in the picture, I would have taken my own stupid picture, but somebody decided they needed my $600 camera more than I did, so they took it! Anyway, it was not,as you might expect from some purveyor of theatrical props (directing for the stage being my chosen profession) or a novelty printer hawking his wares, it was from an attorney!

So, here's the back story. About six months ago the friendly people down at the internal revenue service sent me a little note. The note was sent to inform me that I had not paid a portion of my taxes for the last year and they would be happy to alleviate me of the responsibility of owning anything if I did not comply and give them their money right away. I immediately disregarded the legitimacy of such a claim because my tax preparer doesn't make mistakes of this magnitude...ever. Of course she is my mother-in-law so maybe I'm partial. (yet another of the reasons I am one of the weirdest people you'll ever meet I actually like my mother-in-law)

Turns out that we had indeed sent them a check for this particular portion that totaled up to 2200 and change. They, with brilliance and skill, processed and cashed the sucker for ten percent of that, a whopping 220 bucks. Now, my less than stellar book keeping skills were fuddled by a fiasco having to do with a rubber check (someone wrote me one, not the other way around) which totally screwed up my accounts, what with overdraft fees, returned check fees, debit card penalties, refunded debit card penalties, overdraft and returned check fees, and when the dust settled I started with a clean slate. In the madness no one caught the snafu on the IRS check going through for a tenth of its face value (gotta love computers).

So, now they estimated that my $1900+ balance had grown to a whopping $3600! (yeah I know you wish you could get them to run your 401k with that kind of return, huh?)In less than eight months my debt, which remember, I thought, honestly, was paid, had nearly doubled! They gave us thirty days to pay or face garnishment, then promptly filed a tax lien in less than a week! (don't tell me the government can't move on things quickly!)

I wanted to fight it so bad, after all it was their mistake not mine, but as it turns out the presumption of innocence does not extend from the government to us, only the reverse. You can of course appeal their decision. There are two routes you can take.

(Okay, if there are any attorneys reading this please forgive my ignorance but this is my basic understanding of my options, )

A: I can appeal to the IRS directly, first I must pay them whatever they think I owe, which they hold until a panel of IRS appointed arbitrators can decide if there was any legitimacy to my claim. If they decide I owe what they said I owe, they can then assess damages against me for waisting there time. (doing there job?) If they decide I am right they will return the money I do not owe minus the cost of the hearing.Oh yeah and if I let the IRS decide I also waive the right to sue them in court if I don't like the outcome!!

B: I can sue, first I pay the taxes and they hold onto that until I pay an attorney out of my pocket to argue the case, and take at least forty percent of the winnings, if I win! So, after so heated negotiations we got them down to $2500, still almost a third more than the legitimate debt, and gave them a check.

So now I go to my mailbox and find that some brilliantly over educated idiot has spent his hard earned advertising dollars on giant rubber erasers to insult me with epithets regarding the condition of my life if I do not avail my self of his services! Can you imagine how proud his parents must be after eating spagghetti o's for four years to send this neanderthal to law school that the best he can do is skulk around courthouses going over tax liens and stuffing envelopes with over sized school supplies? I could go on all day but I will not waist anymore of my valuable time on this colossal moron!

So, now I have this huge eraser printed with "for really big mistakes" on one side, and this stupid thing is reminding me of one of the biggest mistakes in my life, the one the IRS made, so I hate this eraser. It is sitting in my rehearsal studio on my piano mocking me, and I have finally decided its fate. Tonight when I go back to the theatre to set up for our latest performance I am going to give that eraser true power to change my life, No I cannot turn it into a device that will erase any evidence that the IRS ever existed, but I can right one word on the reverse side in black magic marker that will make sense of all of this nonsense. "Jesus"

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Problem Isn't Out There, It's In Here With US!

This is an old post that I felt bears repeating seeing as how similar events have played themselves out a couple times since then, with similar results.

April 16, 2007
Yesterday I wondered aloud if the topic of conversation we were choosing for our public discourse was really that important, could the strongest nation on earth really be this obsessed with an off color joke, told in bad taste? Is this really the discussion we want to dominate the American political landscape at this point in history?

(Or more recently, should congress really be holding hearings to determine if jocks are really dumb enough to shoot their bodies full of harmful drugs? Come on, these are the same guys who used to crush beercans on their heads to impress chicks, leave 'em alone! They found the only way that anybody was going to pay them more than minimum wage to workout and play all day, and they're not vainly attempting to educate highschoolers in American History in their off period, so it's a win win situation!)

Today the sun was dimmed, today a dark shadow fills the sky, today one young man takes the lives of thirty others and all we can do is ask questions. All we can do is ask questions, invade people’s privacy and point fingers. Why didn’t they stop him, why did he do it? What was he thinking, how can we stop this from happening again? Out trot the experts with their PHD’s RN’s, MD’s and tell us what may have been on the young man’s mind and tomorrow will come the experts in school safety to tell us how we can avoid being the next victim.

I heard tonight that I, yes I too, am a victim of this tragedy, that because of my exposure to this horrific event via the media I may be traumatized and should seek psychological help should I find it difficult to sleep or find myself dwelling on this terrible massacre. I may even need medication. Along with the explanations will come a multitude of excuses for what has transpired, he was mentally ill, depressed, genetically predisposed. The victims will suffer from “survivor’s guilt” or “post traumatic stress disorder”. The experts will run in with their societal label guns like some global closet organizing team! These labels, do they really help? Or do they serve to further cheapen the sacrifice of lives?

The thing you will never hear is the truth, we live in a fallen world, you are no better than he. Any one of us under the right circumstances would be capable of our own atrocities. But the labels make us feel safe, we are not like him, we can be tested, treated, medicated to avoid repeating his “mental breakdown”. You see humanism has no label to admit to the depravity of man. There must have been something uniquely wrong with this young man to make him malfunction in this way. What they don’t realize is that he is the normal product of a society which places little to no value on human life, we, the uninitiated masses, we who have never taken up arms against our fellow man are the ones that are working against the odds.

So we work to treat the symptoms rather than attacking the problem at its root. We will investigate the university’s security, the police department’s response procedure, we may even argue to enact new legislation (we can’t even enforce the laws we already have, gee I got an idea lets make some more, after all last time I checked it was ALREADY illegal to ,oh, I don’t know take a gun and shoot thirty people!!??) we will do anything, anything at all to keep from admitting that it is past time for us to get on our face before God and in an attitude of humility beg Him to spare us from His just wrath! We will continue buying tickets to the same movies, plugging in the same games, listening to the same music, reading the same books, making the same jokes, practicing the same complacency that has led us this point already.

Solutions of course are a dime a dozen. As for me I intend to hold my own sons close and tell them about how precious EACH human life is in the eyes of God. In this way their will be three young men who will think twice before alleviating their pain at the expense of others. My heart goes out to those effected by this senseless act. I know that as in all things God’s purpose will be served but I also know that God mourns the loss of those lives with us. Pray, pray that we will seek God’s face before it is too late, that we will see our own guilt in allowing things in our own neighborhoods, cities and states to deteriorate. That we have judged prents and children alike when they showed signs of starting down the road of degradation. Like the Pharisees we are extremely adept at pointing out the faults of others but lousy at lending a hand to help carry the burden.

Pray that the truth spoken by De Toqueville will serve as our warning, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Not being a part of the problem is not cutting it anymore, salt is supposed to be a preservative, WE are the solution! (yeah, I know technically He is the solution but he works through us and HE’s not the one who needs motivating right now)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Perfect Parenting 101

There is nothing better than physical affection from my children. When it comes to hugs and kisses I am a big teddy bear. Seeing a two year old run at you screaming Daddy! With a huge smile on her face is the greatest. I love them! However, there are times when they will try to buy you off with this cute wide eyed, innocence, how can you accuse me of such a thing, look at me I’m cute expression. Mostly after they have been given specific instructions such as clean your room, or brush your teeth, or get me a soda! (okay the last one very rarely works , except with the six year old because it is his joy in life to serve anybody)

So, anyway they’ve been given clear instructions which for whatever reason they have decided to ignore, and instead they begin running through the house doing other things. The things they select to do at these moments are generally things that we would give medals for if they were done without being told! Things like: give everyone a kiss, (including the three dogs, lizard, parakeet, and whatever stuffed animals happen to be grazing on the living room rug) or pick up some stray bits of trash and making sure to take about eighteen times longer than it should, (carrying it through three different rooms “looking“ for a trash can only to “find“ it inches from the starting line of their world trek.)_ Or collect their shoes and put them away, anything but what they were asked to do.

Now, they have a fairly strong argument that these are good things, however, they are not what they have been asked to do. I find it extremely tempting to just allow them to continue. (mostly because they are quiet and not interrupting my DVR’d Jericho or Monk!) but I have noticed a trend. When they are allowed to get away with such small and seemingly innocent lapses in response to authority it never ends well. It always escalates!

Parents beware! It is not my place to tell you what type of discipline to use in every circumstance that you may find yourself but I beg of you, I plead with you to make whatever it is stick! This is not the time to be wishy-washy, you must be consistent! Get off the couch, pry the remote out of your hand, turn off the Ipod and deal! Here is where the rubber meets the road! Ninety percent of effective parenting is not saying things you don’t mean, and making the things you say mean something!

Tonight as I was sending my children up to bed my six year old began to stall. He was grinning slyly as if he were getting away with it and I was tempted to just let it go, after all bedtime in our house is a fairly soft deadline. (and I was watching Jericho) But, when Dad says something he needs to mean it. Now I was not angry or gruff, but I put an end to his charade and he happily went to bed.

After the incident I kind of half heartedly thought to no one in particular, what is that about? This is generally when God takes me to task. It seems that I am frequently guilty of similar behavior when God gives me instructions. God says, Witness to your neighbor, so I take their garbage cans in from the curb hoping they’ll notice my “lifestyle”. God says Give to the needy, so I clean out my closet and give the leftovers to Goodwill.

Worse yet I often times ignore his instructions completely! Oh I will sing loud in Church that Sunday, maybe even harmonize a little, clap my hands, shuffle my feet, see how much I love you? Or comment in Sunday school, or on someone’s blog when I should be praying for a sick friend or going to visit them, all the time hoping to distract God from his original intent with my “good deeds”.

At the end of his lecture God reminded me of a verse that I don’t think I ever really understood until tonight. God desires obedience more than sacrifice. He wants us to do what he asked not our interpretation of what he really wants, or some substitute. He doesn’t just talk because he likes the sound of his own voice, there is a purpose and a plan, more often than not a time sensitive plan, in every command he gives! Maybe your neighbor needs to hear tonight because he plans to end his or someone else’s life tomorrow. Maybe that friend is going home to be with Jesus and needs your companionship to ease their discomfort, or more likely maybe there is something you will gain from obeying that you will miss otherwise?

At any rate the next time you are tempted to substitute something good for obedience, remember this little verse, turn off your worship CD, close your Bible (yea I said it) open the door, cross the lawn and step out in obedience in whatever God is asking you to do. By the way I often find that some little something I have been asking will suddenly be answered when I cross things off my Sonny Do list.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Quiet morning in a barbershop

It was a quiet mid morning, the last dying gasp of an Oklahoma Winter was on the air.
“You selling something?” the question came from a man ensconced behind a huge box of donuts moving my way down the shaded portico of a strip mall.
“Looking for sponsors for a theatre company actually,” I tried desperately not to drop my notebook as I reached for a business card, it worked.
Donut Guy smiled, “You know who likes that stuff? This guy, Travis here in the barbershop, talk to him.”

Travis, it turns out is in his late twenties, he handles a straight razor with the ease of a pro and is finishing a haircut on a guy about my age. The man’s wife sits patiently, with a look of satisfaction with the haircut holding their, I guess, one year old son.

I tell Travis why I’m there and drop a card on his counter and sit to wait.

The man in the barber chair requests a trim for his young son, and the boy is placed lovingly in his lap by the mother. I notice “Dad” does not wear a ring , but “Mom” does, fiancĂ©? I wonder. The boy is a thing of beauty, sitting quietly with his large blue eyes taking it all in. He is quietly sucking a pacifier, which, once removed, reveals a beautiful serene smile.

The barber weighs his options, first approaching with the clippers he abandons these for a small pair of shears and goes neatly to work shaping the baby soft tufts above the youngsters ears, trimming up the back, wisely leaving the front in its natural state. He moves quickly, but there is no rush. He is quiet and confident and the infant senses no need for alarm.

In less than five minutes the entire procedure is complete and Dad is happy with the results, the soft ding of a cash register, the rustle of currency changing hands, “Have a nice trip,” says Travis.

“Thanks,” says Dad and they are gone.

I am left in quiet gratitude for having shared such a beautiful moment. I wonder if Mom will remember the man who quietly commented on her son’s ease of mind. I have just witnessed the boy’s first haircut, a moment of his life, unique in the history of the world. It makes me feel connected.

He buys a small ad from me, Travis, this quiet, confident young man, and we spend a moment idly chatting about what best to fill that space in my program. I wonder if he felt it, the awe, at having been witness to such an event?

These moments seem far too rare in my busy life. It is as if all the other transactions of the day are artificial, this one small moment ringing true, real life is so illusory. Even with my own children moments of intimacy seem to come so rarely and fly by before they are noticed. This is the kind of thing that twenty-twenty hind sight is good for. The memories.

It is sad to say but I am not sure I was there for my own sons first haircuts. Of course, this is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things but I think I will remember this quiet boy for some time to come, his curious eyes following the barber’s shears, his tiny shoulders shrugging up against the cold steel of the scissor blades. His questioning glance to Mom who is remarkably calm and the quiet acceptance of this state as normal, no struggle, no fight, just life.

I wish I were as still in my Father’s lap when he brings out the shears. When He gets the notion that my unruly locks could use a little TLC. But I am no Baby, I go kicking and screaming into the “sprucing up” of life, and frequently earn nicked ears in the process. Even the pain, and the bleeding are usually not enough to remind me that it is my fault I am hurt by God’s gentle pruning.

God help me to be still in the trimmings of life. Help me to see that you are not here to hurt me in your corrections. Help me to see your quiet smile, feel your confidence, let you do what needs doing, remove the things that keep others focused on the unruly appearance of my too long ignored shagginess, and help them see the real me. The me you are undyingly trying to reveal, even if it kills me. Let me cooperate when next you come to take away some prop, that, by the way, you placed there to keep me from falling on my face, that I have become attached to and now believe it is mine to own. Let me gently smile, as the boy with the pacifier, and accept the better thing you always have to put in its place with quiet gratitude.