Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Goodbye Ivan

I lost a friend this weekend. Ivan Mukasa was part of my son's Jr. cycling team. He turned 18 last April and was someone that Joseph really looked up to. Ivan had a cruddy home life, beyond the usual "Dad and Son don't see eye-to-eye." Let's just say that I took Ivan on several out of town trips to various locations in TX and never met a parent at any race. Everything I've heard suggests that abuse was involved. Ivan was a very kind young man, soft spoken and polite, as well as fast. Rarely will an 18 year old choose to spend time with 12 year old boys, but Ivan never complained about bad jokes or loud voices on any of our long car rides. He always had a kind word for another racer no matter how they finished. He was also a State Champion. Ivan had finally prevailed against his past. He had graduated high school, gotten a green card, and received a cycling scholarship to MidWestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX. He was staying in the overflow housing at an apartment complex the weekend before classes started when he was found in the bottom of a swimming pool Friday night. Foul play is not being considered but there aren't any other details available. I still can't fathom that he's really gone. Like everyone else, I expect to see him riding around the corner any minute.
The grief is strong, not because his life was cut short. He lives a fullness with God now that the best parts of this life only point to. He has completed his final race and now stands a Champion. I pray that he will be carried swiftly to Paradise and that he will intercede for my family, especially Joseph. Ivan over the last few months had really come out of his shell and developed a role as a mentor for some of the younger riders. He mentioned to them that there were other riders who might think that they are too fast to ride with these kids, but that he thought that it was vitally important that he pass on all the experience that he could. I think that he just enjoyed the opportunity to be a kid. Joseph broke my heart in detailing the loss of Ivan. "Besides John, he's probably the only guy on the team who understands me." Tough to hear from a twelve year old. Kim cried as much or more than any of us.
Some things I will always remember about Ivan: his goofy Ugandan accent and big open laugh, the time he heard an announcer talking about primes and use the words "last lap," so he and another racer pushed hard for one more lap and finished the race two laps early, seeing him come around the final bend in perfect position for the State Championship RR last year and surprising everyone by getting fourth, seeing him cross the line 1st in this year's State Championship RR, leaving everyone behind with his powerful sprint. The next night, we went to grab some chow on the way home. We stopped at a Long John Silver's and Ivan noticed a Church's chicken next door. He met us at the Long John's with a ten piece box of chicken. Tom wouldn't let him eat fried chicken and he missed it so much. His consuming of that chicken was punctuated with long, this-is-really-good-food sighs. I will also remember seeing him about a week ago. We were just starting the Sunday afternoon ride and he came up behind me and placed his open palm on my back and stayed there for about twenty seconds. Then I looked over, he flashed his biggest smile, said "Hey Mr. Bull," and rode on ahead. Someday I'll catch up with you Ivan.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Goood Catholic Families

Last week I was on a business trip and mentioned to a car full of associates that we have six kids. Jaws dropped, eyes widened, air was gasped, the usual. Someone else in the car mentioned growing up with all the "good Catholic families" in their neighborhood having six, seven, or eight kids. A couple of folks mentioned that they or their spouses were Catholic. I didn't mention that I was Catholic, just that I married far above my station (true fact) and that my wife is a saint (so far, so good). I only have one sibling, a sister 19 months younger. We were never really close, so I would often ask my Mom and Dad to have some more kids, hopefully better ones, ones not as "bratty and spoiled," as I saw my sister. Mom would tell me many times that she would have loved to have had more, and then make some excuse as to why she stopped at two. I didn't know until my wife was pregnant that my Mom had gone through tremendous complications to have me and my sister. A high forceps delivery, internal tearing of muscles that I don't feel comfortable mentioning, a baby having emergency surgery at 28 days old to repair an unknown life-threatening birth defect, the death of her father five days before I was born and the mixture of emotions that I would never know him or his abusive tendencies. We have some friends who just had their fourth this year, and that pregnancy nearly killed the mom. She had her tubes tied and plenty else removed shortly later. These are faith-filled Catholics who know that the stroke that came with this child was God's way of saying "that's plenty." The issues my Mom dealt with were God's way of saying "that's plenty." I have a dear friend who has shared in his wife's pain of six miscarriages and no living children. They've given up on asking again for a child. And then I read this really beautiful piece on Good Catholic Families. Thanks Karen. I really need to remember these kinds of things. I take too much pride in the fact that God has blessed us with a vision of many children and then followed it up with no complications. But Good Catholic is as Good Catholic Does, not how many trophies they accumulate. My Mom and Dad having two was faithful and prudent and open and holy.

House for sale! No more!

OK, so we've got six kids, four bedrooms, and two bathrooms. That means two kids per room (not as bad as it sounds). And it means that all of them share one bathroom. Not a tremendous obstacle right now, but our oldest will be 13 in October and the next one is 10 and of a different gender. This projects as major conflict on the horizon. We will potentially have three teenagers using the same bathroom, sharing it with three younger kids. Not good. So the house went up for sale on July 31st, just before we left for vacation. On Monday after we got back, we got a call from our Realtor, Loyce Shirley. She said we had an offer on the table that was just what we were looking for. Basically list price and an extra thousand back for their closing. Zowie. I thought we had another month or so and that the offer would be for 3 to 5 thousand less. So then we have to find a place, and a home that I had looked at 8 MONTHS AGO and longed for and said "why am I looking at this on the internet, it will not be available when I can buy it," still had a For Sale sign up in its yard. We went over to see it and it's perfect. Upstairs might need a bit of updating, but downstairs is so much more than we could have dreamed. And it's got 5 BR and 3 bath. And it's 12k cheaper than it was in January. So we close on our home this week, maybe next, and we buy the new house just after Labor Day. It's only a couple of miles from our house right now so we can still see all our friends. So either God was up there tapping his watch saying "Uhm, Bull, let's get your house on the market so I can show you some tangible gifts" or it's like when Israel kept begging Samuel to have God send them a king. Finally God responded and gave them Saul. They got what they asked for, even when their asking was an act of unbelief, and the results were not what they wanted. Lord, sanctify my very asking. Help me to want that which you want.

Babies like the Elms

OK, so there's a couple more stories about Vacation... Sunday we went to the San Jacinto Monument. It's tucked in the middle of all kinds of factories and plants that make things like olefins and random smelly plastics. The park is beautiful, however. Plenty of trees block the view of all the gunk around it. And the monument is the monument. Pretty much the same as when I visited it as a 3rd grader on a field trip. The Battleship Texas is also there and it looks much better than I remember it. Not as much of it is open but what's there looks great.
Then on the way back we had a spate of dueling crying babies. We knew that stopping would calm them down only temporarily so we soldiered on. No amount of singing or holding-while-still-in-baby-straps would help. Finally we thought "let's try the CD player." The song on was by a band named The Elms, the song was Hey Hey! and the line of the song was "Yeah, hey, hey I! Hey, hey I…Should’ve tried - tried this sooner. Tried this sooner." And that was that, they both conked out before the line finished and slept the rest of the way. Needless to say we did not change the CD until after we got home. Our babies like the Elms.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Ahhh... We just got back from our vacation Sunday night. It was very restful. We spent Monday cleaning up the house and getting in order to show. We have too many kids for that house and we need a bigger one. So on Sunday night, we had a realtor over to sign the paperwork to put it on the market. Loyce Shirley. Nice gal. Smart and experienced. We had talked to another realtor and while there was nothing wrong with her, it just didn't feel right, so I called Loyce. Glad I did, but more on that later. So we get up on Tuesday and start to pack, get out of the house around 1 or 2 and head off to Nacogdoches, TX. Affectionately referred to as Naco-Nowhere. My Aunt and Uncle built a house there (by themselves, no builder) after they took early retirement. I love being there. My cell phone doesn't work, there's about 8 acres, no one else around, no shops, lots of grass and trees and mud. Heck, the room we slept in doesn't have windows. Kim slept in until 10! The kids love it there, the babies were just glad to get out of their car seats and enjoy some room. Wednesday we drove down to Houston after having lunch with my cousin Josh and his wife Ashley and their new boy Will. He's about a month older than my youngest but he's built like a truck. Thursday I drove to the other side of Houston for work stuff. I don't know that I got that much work done, but I think I really laid the foundation for stuff I'm doing this week and beyond. It always helps to be able to meet and greet. Friday we just sat around. The weekend was jam packed and I'll post that separately. All in all, a great time. Too much time driving though. My back hurt all day Monday and the babies cried off and on. Next time we'll space out our driving a bit more.