Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Monday, June 5: 9:02

My most favoritest thing about today is that I did not have to get up early to untape the doors.  Thankfully a couple of my wonderful chaperones have taken on that responsibility!  So instead of getting up to untape doors at 6:30, I was able to sleep in until 6:30.  That...has made all the difference.  Big thanks to Vince and Amanda for taking this on.

Unfortunately that later start also meant I missed a couple of things.  I didn't get down to breakfast super duper early like I usually do.  And also I didn't get to take pictures of folks eating.  What I ABSOLUTELY DID NOT MISS was the opportunity to eat some of the DIY waffles.  They are pretty much the reason I keep staying at Hampton Inns.

We loaded up the bus and headed out at about 7:30am.  Thanks to William M for pointing out the pyramid as we went by.  I realized yesterday I never got an exterior picture of it, and he said something just in time for me to get this one.

We have five alumni traveling with us this year.  You might hear from some of them in guests posts coming up.  They sit in different places around the bus.  Lea has chosen to sit with the chaperones for the most part, and I believe this has been something of an educational experience for her.  Suffice it to say for now that any illusions she was harboring about the superhuman status of said chaperones have been dashed like a potter's vessel.  Folks, sometimes it gets real at the front of the bus.  That's all I have to say about that.

As I walked back through the bus, I noticed Reina working on a drawing.  On a moving bus.  Her artwork done on a moving bus far exceeds anything I could ever hope to do.  This picture doesn't do her work justice.  Very cool.  She's also pretty humble about it.

I have not yet included a picture of chaperone 1, but we do have a chase van this year.  At any given time, there are 4 chaperones onboard.  Paul P is typically driving (his choice!), and he has set up a rotation for the other chaperones to join him in the van.  We did this because our bus holds 56 people, but there are 58 travelers.  Based on the picture below, though, it was unnecessary.  The middle school girls have, once again, demonstrated just how many can fit in 2 seats on the bus.  It's a lot.  Pay no attention to Curt in this picture.

But do pay attention to him in this one (below).  Curt began telling us about taking one of his friends to various ballgames.  This particular friend is special needs, so Curt has rules he must follow.  A couple of the chaperones had a hard time believing he had rules, to which I suggested rules are not the same thing as standards.  As Curt was explaining the rules, we realized that some of them did actually imply standards after all, at which time Cindy pulled out her picture and snapped one.  She included this caption: "Documenting the moment Curt established standards."

It is amusing to hear Curt and Cindy banter.  They both work for power companies, and they do similar jobs at each.  So every now and then they really geek out hard about their work.

It was about a 2.5 hour drive to our concert venue in Sherwood, Arkansas.  It was Elmcroft of Sherwood, which is the place my father-in-law is the building manager (and it's just a few miles from Lisa's parents' house!).

The most important part of the drive was the revelation that MARK IS A ROCKSTAR BECAUSE HE FIXED THE TV'S ON THE BUS.  Our Princess Bride tradition may yet remain intact.

We have a number of soloists in our program this time around.  Paul P got a couple of them in pictures.  William and Steven really bring it (as do all the other soloists!).  And of course Neil keeps rocking the piano.  He's my roommate for this trip.  I'm looking forward to getting to know him better!


Did I tell you to get used to seeing pics of our kids visiting with our audience?  Yes.  Yes I did.  Speaking of our audience, mad props to the good folks at Elmcroft of Sherwood, who did an amazing job getting us a fantastic audience.  They had great energy, and there sure were a bunch of them!


The folks at Elmcroft were also nice enough to provide lunch for us today!  So kind!  That's uncommon and much appreciated.  It also meant we had a little more downtime.  On tour, downtime frequently translates to bizarre behavior...like trying to look like Bill when taking a picture.  Bennett, the lips are right, but the eyes are all wrong.


And guess who came to see us?!  Anna!  She is about to begin a new job in Little Rock, but since she hadn't started yet she was able to come see us.  I can't believe she just graduated from college (Lea did too).  I'm old.  Point of information: Anna's new place to live is just blocks from my elementary school.  Small world.

But that's not all!  Since we were in the motherland, a whole bunch of my family was able to come to the concert too.  Here's Lisa and the kids, my mom, stepfather, and sister, and Lisa's mom, dad, and one of her sisters.  Yes.  My sister is wearing a Dr. Who hair bow.  Be jealous.

STILL not all!  Elvis was in the building.  Elvis is the dog.

I made a special arrangement for lunch dessert.  I had asked my father-in-law to pick up Mark's donuts.  Let me tell you something about Mark's donuts.  They are amazing.  I believe them to be the best donuts in the world bar none period.  The youth enjoyed them.  I'm not sure any of them were willing to go quite as far as I did in my praise for the donuts.

After lunch and dessert, we changed clothes on the bus.  Girls first, then boys.  While the boys were changing, the girls found a playground.

Then it was time to get on board and head toward our next city.  The youth did not know where we were going, but some of them took note of our direction of travel and guessed based on city size and distance from our location.  At least one person guessed right based on those criteria.

Movies on the bus: Wargames.  The Sandlot. (we attempted this a number of times yesterday, but it was nice to see the whole thing)  Field of Dreams.

I finally, for the first time ever, understood the end of Field of Dreams when Shoeless Joe Jackson says, "No, Ray, it was you."  I'm not sure if I haven't got it before because I am thick or what, but today it just hit me: the voices Ray has been hearing the whole movie long have been his own voices pointing him to realizing his own dream of reconnecting with his father.

Field of Dreams goes especially well with our Embrace the Mystery theme, as Ray consistently acts out of his convictions, even when faced with grave uncertainty as a result.  He truly embraces the unknown, and in the end that risk is greatly rewarded.

Just as Field of Dreams was ending, we rolled up on the world's largest soda bottle at Pops Arcadia.  This sits on Historic Route 66.  It's huge.

Matthew took a great picture of us.  The sun is setting, so we have a nice glow about us.  Mark has taken Andrew Brinson's typical spot prone in front of the choir.  And speaking of the Brinsons, Roger and Nan actually showed up at Pops Arcadia at the same time we did!  It's almost like if they knew we were going to be there...

In addition to soda, they sell burgers, sandwiches, sides, and milkshakes.  Below, Hattie and Coco show us both how tasty the shakes are and how to look cool drinking out of a straw.  That is not as easy as it may sound.

Did I mention the sun was setting?  I took this picture backwards over my heard without looking.  The sunset was so nice that it still made a decent picture.

After Pops Arcadia, we headed to the Federal Building Memorial in Oklahoma City, where we had a devotional experience.  I don't know if you've ever been to this memorial.  You probably haven't.  There's not a lot on OK City to bring you here, so why would you?  Once.  Just once in your life, get yourself up here and experience it.  It is profound.  I have now been here both during the day and at night.  Both experiences were remarkable.  We did not go to the museum (it was closed).

Let me explain.  No.  There is too much.  Let me sum up.  (Seriously, it would take way too long to explain the whole memorial, and I wouldn't do it justice, but you need to understand the layout before you can understand what we did).

The memorial sits in the exact spot where the federal building stood.  They have actually left portions of the lower walls of the building in place to form part of the memorial.  There are two large gates at each end of the memorial.  9:01 is inscribed on one, while 9:03 is inscribed on the other.  Between them is a large reflecting pool, which is water flowing constantly over polished granite...so there are virtually no waves on it (the idea is that you are to be able to see your reflection at all times...when you look into it you will see looking back the face of someone changed).  The reflecting pool sits where there used to be a street...the street on which the bomb was parked.

Where the building itself used to be, there are chairs.  One chair for each victim, arranged in rows by which floor they were on and grouped more or less densely based on where the most damage occurred.  The chairs for children are smaller (which puts a lump in my throat just to type).  There are two names on some chairs...representing expecting mothers and their unborn children.  These chairs are lit at night.

9:01 is intended to represent the time of peace.  9:03 is intended to represent the time of healing, leaving between them 9:02, the moment of destruction.

It's easy to look at the news and believe terrorism is a new thing.  It isn't.  Most of our traveling youth were born post 9/11--but most of them have at least heard of it.  All of them were born post Oklahoma City.  Most of them have not heard of it.  The truth is that as long as people have been, people have been hurting each other in horrible ways.

We gathered outside the 9:01 gate in a close circle.  I told them how the memorial is laid out and explained the basic symbolism.  I invited them to take as long as they needed to experience it and remember and be changed by it.  I told them to meet me outside the 9:03 gate when they were ready.  We went through the gates of time.

While my pictures here can't possibly give you an authentic experience, I will let you enter at 9:01.  Meet me at 9:03.  Take as long as you need.

There is a memory wall outside the 9:03 gate.  It's a fence with memories attached to it.  There was a pacifier, and it took my breath away.

We gathered in a tight circle again.

We are happily marching along in our lives at 9:01, and then 9:02 happens.  9:02 is horrible.  It is unfair.  It is something we would never choose for ourselves.  Most importantly, 9:02 is something that happens to us--something over which we have no control.  For every chair, there is a long list of lives profoundly changed by loss they would rather not endure.  Most of the time 9:02 is something we shouldn't have to deal with.

But 9:02 does not define who we are.

9:03 brings us a choice, a moment of decision.  We are faced with a choice about how we will respond to 9:02.  It is our response that defines us.  At 9:03 the healing can begin.  It can begin.

Put another way, 9:02 is mystery over which we have no control and about which we have no knowledge.  We can live in the constant shadow of our last 9:02.  We can live in constant fear of the next 9:02.  We can.  Or we can accept that for better or worse, 9:02's are.  Embracing the mystery means choosing our response to it carefully and, over time, emerging from it better, stronger, and more complete.

We prayed together the Lord's Prayer, and "deliver us from evil" felt somehow different to me.  Deliver us from evil didn't feel like a request that evil would not befall me.  Instead, it felt like a plea for strength in its wake.

On the outside of each gate (pictured above), there are these words: "We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."  As for me, I know I have been changed, and I am grateful for the experience.


  1. Wow, John...just wow! Thanks for the tour of the memorial. I had never seen pictures of it before and your explanation of the meaning of the chairs, the symbolism, the pacifier, gave me goose bumps. Thanks for this sermon. It will stay with me for a while.

  2. Hi I'm Reina's Grandma Linda, and I really enjoyed 6/5 :) Looking forward to the rest of the trip.

  3. Your work gors far beyong work - or a job. You are a gem. Thanks for what you do!

  4. Princess bride!
    You really need to start keeping track of the high score of people in a seat.
    Steven's off book. What is everyone else doing? I mean it's day two come on... :p
    Wow. That was powerful even from here.

    -EtM O-O

  5. I love reading your daily blog John! Thanks to you and the other volunteers for giving our children an experience of a lifetime. This is amazing!

  6. John, Thanks so much for taking us along on this trip. Starting my day with your description, photos and reflections on the Oklahoma memorial is a powerful reminder of what violence takes away, and how understanding and remembering it can help us grow stronger and more compassionate. THank you for all you are doing for our youth- and for all of the rest of us!

  7. WOW! you are such a wonderful storyteller! I have chills. I want to make that one day. Thank you so much for sharing with us.