Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Plethora of Activities


A lot has been happening lately. I suppose that's not uncommon. The electronic silence between my posts should convey that I'm off somewhere doing important things, like having campfires and working and watching friends get married. But the key here, is that the "a lot has been happening" refers to a pile of things I don't do very often.

On Sunday my good manfriend Nate got himself a bride. I was fortunate enough to be one of his groomsmen. I got to spend a good deal of time with him, which was awesome. You can most often find your single friends. They're just hanging out. You also can find your married friends easily. But the dating/engaged friends are like rumors and whisperings. You hear that they exist, but you don't see any evidence.

Sunday weddings work just fine, if you were wondering. They have a different feel to them versus a Saturday wedding, to be sure, but you can't argue that it seems slightly silly that a Saturday wedding is twice the expense of an identical wedding staged on Sunday. At the reception, I caught the garter, which is supposedly a traditional memento that foretells who will get married next (amongst the single men trying for the garter). But I just see it as an opportunity for the husband to reach up his wife's dress and pull off a lacy article of clothing, in public.

I taught story time at Kids Club Monday evening and tried to explain faith to a pile of eager, energetic inner city kids. The kids are divided into three groups: the youngest boys and girls, the older girls, and the older boys. I have to tailor the story to be relevant to each group, which is the hardest part for me. For the story, I grabbed up some horrendously expensive-yet-plain-Jane helium balloons and took my cinder block with the two sequoia saplings growing inside it.

Granted, party decorations don't grow on trees. But at the cost of a gallon of gasoline per balloon, I think I may need to get a piece of this lucrative Helium Balloon racket.

I told the kids that faith is "complete trust in something or someone that we can't see." I gave them examples of this by telling them to all take a deep breath. "We trust that there is oxygen to breathe, right? Even though we can't see it." But that practical example was free so I knew it wouldn't leave a lasting impression. I showed them the balloons and asked if they knew what was inside. Several kids piped up "Helium!"

I tore a small slit in the neck of the balloon to let out some helium. I asked if the kids could see the gas escaping. "No?" They said in a panicked voice, like perhaps they missed an obvious puff of gas escaping the balloon. "That's right, you can't see helium. It's clear, like oxygen. So we can't see it but we can see that it does something, right?" At this point I inhaled the helium and talked in a squeaky little chipmunk voice, which certainly left a bigger impression on the kids than inhaling plain 'ol oxygen. (I wanted to geek out about how oxygen is contained in our atmosphere and distributed over the surface of the earth so that we can breathe wherever we go ohmygoodnesshowcoolisthat! but evidently kids aren't wired like I am.)

I then used my sturdy little saplings to show the relation between "faith" and "works". I related faith to sunlight and works to water, both of which are necessary for a good little sequoia to grow.

On Tuesday I bought a plane ticket to Oregon. More accurately, I paid Mom for the ticket she found me after analyzing dozens of flight companies for several weeks. I'm flying out of Omaha, which is 4 hours away, but that's not even a tribulation because a) I'll get to visit my awesome cousin Kyle who lives near Omaha and b) I'm flying with Southwest, my most favorite airline.

I'm headed to be a groomsman in my friend Jamison's wedding this October, and I'm pretty thrilled about it. I dearly miss Jamie and I have only seen him a few times since he moved to Oregon 2 years ago, but we grew up together so it'll be awesome to see him again. While I'm out there, I'll spend time with my sisters and brother and nephews and nieces and brothers-in-law.

On Wednesday I spoke in chapel at Pathway Christian. Wednesday mornings are for the fathers of the students to give chapel. I'm not a father of any child, much less a child old enough to attend Pathway. But they enlisted several alumni to give messages, and I was glad to pitch in. I taught about the name of God and what the modern church is doing to it, and I was pretty nervous I'd forget something so I wrote the entire message down and more-or-less read it to the students. I want to share that message with all of you, but I'll do that some other time because it's long.

This Thursday I get to help teach a friend how to properly use firearms, and I'm excited. What's not to get excited about? Firearms are a wonderful hobby. Now, the media would have you believe that gun owners are crazy yahoos living on the edge of sanity, with no regard for physical hygiene or safety. Well, I can't speak for every gun owner in the world, but I don't know of anyone like that. Proper firearms training is something I get excited about because an innocent kid with no knowledge of guns is more dangerous with a firearm (and often more lethal) than an armed criminal. I'm not joking. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of a firearm, ALWAYS carefully follow the Four Gun Commandments.

I went on a one-day canoe trip last year with the oldest Kids Club boys. We had a leader for every two boys, and I'm thinking there were a dozen kids. The trip was awesome but I was so exhausted and sore at the end, I thought I'd never put myself through something like that again. Well, nostalgia is that horrible condition in which strenuous exercises are remembered with fondness. On Saturday several of us guys leave with some of the older boys from Kids Club on a two-day canoe trip. This time, the leader-kid ratio will be one-to-one. We're leaving our phones behind, taking sleeping bags to camp the night...I'm excited to see how it turns out.

Upcoming in September is my roommate Shane's wedding. I won't be a groomsman in his wedding, but I've been asked to be the emcee. I'm looking forward to it because I'm good friends with Shane AND Alaynna.

Last on my "Plate of Upcoming Activities" is the trip to Ghana. I have not found my Yellow Fever vaccination card, but I'm no longer worried about it. I don't have the paperwork to prove it, but my body is capable of defending itself against brightly-colored fevers.

I told a friend that I was pretty frazzled with all of these events swirling around in an ominous cloud of responsibility. She wisely pointed me to Psalm 29:11, which states "May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!"

Thank you, Father. Help me to take things one day at a time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Returning to Ghana

I remember the clinic very clearly. Our team sat on metal folding chairs, waiting our turn to get injected. Our imaginations ran wild wondering what kind of horrible device would be used to administer our Yellow Fever vaccine. Did this little medical clinic tucked into a shopping mall have clean needles? Competent staff? As Mennonites, we had all jumped at getting $17 shots instead of spending $100 at a medical clinic in America, but now, sitting in the waiting room, eyeballing each other, we began to have doubts.

I have no problem with insulin injections. In the past 15 years, I've given myself literally thousands of shots. I once started doing the math but I stopped because the numbers went too high.

I've had north of a dozen vaccines in my life. Polio, mumps, measles, rubella, tetanus, various influenza vaccines, chicken pox, etc. I don't necessarily like vaccines. Not because I fear they'll turn me into a vegetable or that my offspring will be the focus of the next Xmen movie, but because they get injected into muscle and hurt like crazy for a few days.

I jumped up and followed the nurse back to a small examination room, which was clean and organized. She prepared my arm for the injection, administered the vaccine, and gave me a bandage. It was all over before I could worry about HIV or tarantulas. The nurse was well-trained and very competent.

We were given a Yellow Fever card that showed us the date and location of our vaccination.

Fast forward 18 months. I need that card, and I can't find it.

I'm headed back to Ghana, Africa on a ministry trip with Crusades for Christ this Fall. God has really opened a lot of doors, starting with changing the date of the entire trip so I wouldn't have to miss my roommate Shane's wedding. God is so good! I've been running through all of these open doors until I tripped over giant piece of furniture labeled "Yellow Fever Vaccination Booklet".

I am not organized. I lose important things all the time. Once I angrily called my car insurance provider, telling them that they neglected to send me an updated Proof of Insurance card (which got me in trouble when I was pulled over and didn't have it with me). The insurance provider promised to send out a copy as soon as possible. When it arrived, I ran inside and set it down on the counter, which is where I found the original copies that I accused them of neglecting to send me.

I have no idea where that Yellow Fever booklet is. Please pray that I find it. Worst case scenario is I can't find the card and will have to take the shot again.

How this trip to Ghana will be the same: 

-The trip is under the same organization: Crusades for Christ

-God will be present in our work. Is that conceited? God provided in so many ways on the last trip, and I believe He can and will do that again.

-I'll be going for two weeks, which is the same duration as the last trip. I could certainly tolerate longer trips (Two weeks on a foreign continent is like ordering a salad at a steakhouse.) but shorter trips work with my job schedule far better.

-I'm going to be staying with the same Missionary family, Jon & Sarah Sauder, who are living just outside of Accra, the capital of Ghana.

-I'm going to consume large quantities of delicious fruit.

-I will be traveling with a wonderful group of like-minded believers. I can't wait to meet the whole team! 

-I will be purchasing a machete like the one I got last year.

This one has seen rigorous use in the woods around my trailer, as evidenced by the battle scars and dents. 

How this trip to Ghana will be different: 

-Ron & Audrey Bontrager, a dear missionary family I met last trip, will not be in Ghana. Their three-year term has come to an end. They're being replaced by Leon & Barb Geigley and their daughter Carissa. I was blessed to work under them at Prairie Camp in Indiana, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

-Last trip, I helped put up rafters on the Crusade for Christ Bible Institute building. This trip is a Missions Crusade, where we'll be working in clinics and spreading the life-giving words of Jesus. These are things I had hoped to get involved in the last trip, but there simply wasn't enough time.

-Last year, I traveled with a friend from my church and a pile of Pennsylvanians. This year, I'll be the sole Iowa team member lost in a sea of energetic Indianans. Indians? Indiananites? 

-Instead of just one, I'm going to buy multiple machetes. I really like them.

Our group will be catching the very beginning stages of the yearly Harmattan, which is a nasty sandstorm that whips through West Africa from November til March. I was smack dab in the middle of the storm when I went in February 2012. The sand that blows from the Sahara desert just hangs in the air like a gritty smog.

The trip dates are October 27th to November 8th. Please keep my team and I in your prayers as we prepare for the upcoming trip.

You can download my account of the first trip here:

The Crusades for Christ International Bible School is still being constructed. Teachers and students meet in portions of the building that are already completed. There are all sorts of lovely photos of the project here:

For comparative reference, this is what the building looked like when we got done with our portion of the project.
Parked out front is the trusty 15-passenger van we used. No, I didn't make a mistake. It held 15 people regularly. Sometimes more, when we completely surrendered all personal space.

Lord, thank You for the opportunity to serve in a foreign land. Please use our small group for Your honor and glory.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Graber Family Reunion

Last weekend I blasted out to Middlebury, Indiana for an afternoon reunion with my Graber ancestors.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Abraham Graber. He married a sweet young lady named Rabena (whom everyone from then on referred to as "Beena"). This reunion that takes place each year is the gathering of the Abraham & Bena Graber Family. They had 12 children, three of which died in infancy due to pneumonia and other now-curable maladies. The oldest child that survived was my Great-Grandfather, Daniel Graber. He was followed by Allen, Ezra, Joseph, Ervin, Sam, Floyd, Esther, and Ruby.

Each year we get together for an afternoon just to see who's still around and kicking. My Great-Grandfather Dan passed away in 1993. Had he been present at this year's reunion, he would have been a ripe 102 years old. The others are in their 80's and 90's. The distance in age from Dan to Ruby was 24 years, so many of Abe's kids are still alive.

A reunion that takes all of 5 hours from beginning to end would seem simple enough, no? Well perhaps in theory, but this is Grabers we're talking about here, so the trip was fairly involved.

My cousin Ryan informed me that we should all make the effort of going to this year's reunion. I had wanted to go, especially once I heard that Ryan, a first-cousin my age, would be present. But general lack of interest from my family members was putting a soggy blanket on my proverbial reunion fire. The lack of interest was understandable, I guess. The reunion is held yearly in Indiana on a Sunday afternoon. A potluck meal is followed by lively conversation for a few hours, with a roll-call of sorts to see who's still alive, and then everyone heads home. It's difficult to travel 6 hours one way in order to spend a handful of hours with relatives. To compound the problem, many of the Indiana relatives (that have hardly any distance to travel) were absent from previous reunions.

I asked my grandparents, Lynn & Ruth Graber, if they were going. Grandma replied that she would like to, but Grandpa would go only if a really good bus trip didn't interfere.

In the meantime, I planned my birthday party for August 2nd, the Friday before the reunion. Without even trying, I picked one of the busiest Fridays of the year, and many of my guests couldn't make it. I then changed the date to Saturday, the 3rd. 45 minutes after changing the time, Grandma informed me that Grandpa and her would be taking a busload of IMS students partway to Washington D.C., and then driving a shuttle car to the reunion. Would I like to join?

I canceled my birthday party with a hasty promise to my guests that I'd reschedule it down the road, eventually, sometime. We left Friday around 11am, and to my dismay I found out that Grandma had developed a nasty cough and was too sick to go along. I hopped in the pickup with Grandpa, and our adventure began.

We drove his pickup to Cedar Rapids, signed in at the Windstar Bus Company office, and grabbed a shuttle car. Or minivan. A loaded, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink minivan.

 We drove out to the Iowa 80 Truckstop to grab some food. Grandpa and I solved some puzzles (the ones Grandma gave me for my birthday), ate some lunch, and moseyed around the giant truck oasis. You can find all sorts of sweet chrome-plated accessories for your rig there, with many of them proudly displayed on THREE SEMIS SITTING INSIDE THE ROOM. One entire semi tractor sat on a slowly-revolving turntable, so that you could admire every angle of its shiny goodness.

You won't defeat me, Level 3 riddle. I've got a secret weapon. "Grandpa, what do you think this means?"

We then traveled to a gas station to rendezvous with the bus. Upon its arrival, Grandpa and I hopped on. I recognized maybe three of the thirty IMS seniors. Eventually they figured out that I was Shane's older brother, whom they were friends with. A busload of Shane's friends with the audacity to call themselves High School seniors made me feel especially ancient.

Grandpa drove the bus to North Lima, Ohio, which is on the far East end of the state near the Pennsylvania border. It was such a blessing to travel with Grandpa Lynn. He is a wealth of stories and wisdom. During the trip we talked about a thousand different topics. Many of them focused on Grandpa's thousands of miles traveled on the roads in buses and semis.* A sampling of the topics were: Semi weight loads. Risking money on the stock market. Hitting things on the road while driving a bus. Semi drivers that would rearrange semi cargo with a creative tap of the brakes, in order to pass inspections at weigh stations. Traveling 300,000 miles with Grandma on a motorcycle, visiting all 48 contiguous states, Canada and Mexico, in the 12 years spanning 1980-1992.

*"Wait 42 seconds! Didn't your Grandpa own and operate Graber Heating & A/C? What's all this about driving trucks and buses?" Grandpa worked at Graber Heating for decades, but found time to drive semi for Twin County Dairy (AKA the Cheese Factory). After "retiring" from GHI, he started driving tour buses.

Grandpa quoted many memorable things, and I wish I had thought to bring a tape recorder along to preserve them all. 

"Once your [great-great] Uncle Sam bought a town in Alaska."

"I witnessed the drag run where Connie Kalitta went 300mph in a quarter mile. He was the first man to go that fast in the quarter."

"Most TV channels have the most idiotic drivel nowadays. They must think the viewers have the IQ of a snail."

"It's nice driving a bus in heavy traffic. When you use your turn signals, people get out of your way."

Grandpa told me about some of the complex hoops truck drivers have to jump through. Every mile in each individual state traveled has to be recorded for tax purposes. At the end of the year, each state gets paid a certain amount of tax for the use of their roads. "But isn't there road tax in fuel?" I asked. "Of course, but if we fuel up in Iowa and travel to New York on one tank, that's not fair. Or at least the states don't think its fair." So I helped him log the miles in each state driven.

By 2am Saturday morning, a relief bus driver met us and took the bus. We grabbed the shuttle car and drove to our hotel.

Windstar relies heavily on Toyota's for their shuttle vehicles, and they've got quite the track record. Several of the cars have 300,000 miles on them with nary a problem. This one was a relative baby in comparison, with only 200,000 miles on it.

We slept in til 9am and then back-tracked to Indiana. We spend the afternoon browsing through shops in Shipshewana and visiting points of interest tied to our Graber ancestry. I had wanted to go to the giant Auction & Flea Market but they only operate on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or some nonsense like that. While driving down one street in Middlebury, we were denied access. Four police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance had cordoned off the street. We were just sightseeing, so we turned around. I noticed some news vans and told Grandpa we'd have to watch the news later to see what happened. We watched the news, and we found out. But firstly, how can you Indiana residents tolerate waiting til' 11pm to watch your news?! What happened was an older woman got out of her car to help an injured groundhog on the street. While helping the poor critter out, she was struck and killed by an oncoming car. It sounded like something that happens in immature comedies.

Serious-Type News Release

Sentimental-Type News Release

Grandpa and I visited the house located on Jayco property. This home belonged to Great-Great-Great grandma Bena, before she sold the farmland to somebody who then sold it to Jayco, I think.

Someone carved a giant bird (a bluejay, perhaps?) into a tree stump. The house is now a welcome center for Jayco, and I think it also contains a "History of the Area" museum, but I'm not sure. They were closed on Saturday. Grandpa and I quickly developed a habit of visiting places based on whether there were vehicles in the parking lot, because everything else was inexplicably closed.

If you've met me more than one time, you know that I'm awful at remembering names. That evening, Grandpa and I ate a delicious meal at the Blue Gate restaurant. While we were there, I wrote out the family tree on the back of the paper place mat, so I wouldn't be as blind about my ancestors' names. I hadn't even known all the names of Great Grandpa Dan's siblings before that. I carried this paper with me the entire reunion, asking people which family line they came from. The paper quickly became priceless to me, and I got a lot more out of this reunion (and felt way less foolish).

I wrote out the family lines of Great Grandpa Dan, Grandpa Lynn, Great Grandma Mildred, and Grandma Ruth. Joseph's children added their family lines while I wasn't looking, but that was alright. Then Ezra or Ervin signed my paper. I think he thought it was an attendance sheet. 

Sunday morning I went to Greiner for church and met a lot of wonderful friends. I really should travel to Indiana more often so I can spend more time with those lovely folks.

After church, Grandpa and I went to the reunion, where we were surprised by Grandma Ruth. Lynn's sister Nancy drove out for the reunion and Grandma tagged along, even though she still felt a little under the weather.

Grandma and my cousin Ryan. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Ryan said he couldn't come, and I was sad, and then he came, and I was glad.

Great-Great Uncle Joseph. Just look at this troublemaker. 

"Uncle Joe! My little brother Shaylon has your name for his middle name."
"What! I didn't know I lost my name."

My great-great uncles are still sharp as tacks. Ezra came in slowly and stiffly. When we commented about it and asked if he was feeling old, he replied that he had just got done with a couple of rounds of BOWLING and was feeling pretty sore from that. He had bowled a 190 or something ridiculous.

Uncle Sam (the leprechaun in the white shirt) just cracked me up. After hearing countless stories about him and his stock market dealings, I had expected to meet a stern, severe old man with a permanent scowl etched on his face. I was never more mistaken in my life. I shouldn't be surprised that he turned out to be more Graberish than I could ever have wished for. He told some stories of our Graber ancestry during the sharing time. I could sit and listen to him tell stories for a WEEK, but his brothers didn't share that same sentiment.

"We shoulda never let Sam get the mic. We're gonna be here until 6pm!" Joseph said, with a twinkle in his eye.

Ezra began to tell a story, sans microphone. Nobody could hear him. "Hold on," Sheldon said, "Some Grabers are hard of hearing." A voice from the back piped up "Tell me one Graber who aint!"

I had heard rumors about Uncle Sam's wealth and was told that at the previous reunion, he handed out cash to each family member that showed up. But when Sam stood up and announced that every person present over the age of 16 would be getting a voucher for $500 toward any Christian non-profit organization of their choice, I was still speechless. He gave everyone under 16 a $100 voucher, to be donated with their parents assistance. Grandpa Lynn and I did some quick math: the 108 Grabers present in that room walked out with a little more than $42,000 in vouchers.

Sam informed us that he had set up an Abe Graber Heritage Fund, with the express purpose of blessing others in thanks for the way God has blessed us. The money he handed out wasn't even keeping up with the accrued interest of that fund. Grandpa and I did some more math to figure out how much principal would be required to make interest like that, and we came up with some skin-tingling figures."Now this isn't to bribe you to come to family reunions or anything..." Sam said with a laugh.

Joseph gave me a sweet family ancestry book, but with one stipulation. "I'm on my third Lennox furnace. The first one lasted 25 years, the second lasted 20 years, and this third one is new. But when it quits in 20 years, I expect you to come replace it for me!"

All Graber Heating furnaces have magical properties that allow them to work for 40 years at least, possibly because of our expert installations. Those Indiana contractors must be inferior workmen.

We ate large quantities of food and had many fantastic conversations. It was not a dull roar in that room of 108 Grabers. It was a full-out audio onslaught. It was wonderful.

Ezra, talking to Robert Reigsecker, who is the pastor at Greiner. I found out that Robert is a first-cousin to my Grandpa Lynn.

Some kids lining up for their $100 vouchers.

After things died down and the elderly Grabers called it a day, Grandpa and Grandma and I headed out. We drove the shuttle car back home and arrived late Sunday night. We had truly Mennonited our way out there, what with a free bus ride, free shuttle car and fuel, and a free hotel on Friday night.

 I took a quick attendance poll while we were at the reunion. The bottom, if you can't read it, says "Abraham & Bena had 9 children, 40 grand-children, 117 great-grandchildren, 128 great-great grandchildren, and 9 great-great-great grandchildren. (Not counting in-laws)"

Because I was furiously scribbling down stories and quotes and taking photos, several of the relatives thought I should write a book or something like that. If it allows me to hang out with my Graber relatives and hear more of their stories, I'm all for it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Getting Older and All It Entails.

It is my birthday today. I'm turning 24.

If I lived in China, today I'd be turning 25. In some Eastern territories, I'd be 25 years and 9 months old. The Chinese begin counting the age of a child at conception, declaring the child to be 1 year old at birth, and 2 years old on their following birthday. I think that they're just trying to give their children a head start on other countries.

I have had a wonderful, wonderful birthday today. I started celebrating at 12am by firing 24 rapid shots into the woods, which seemed like the proper thing to do. I went in and slept until 7am, when I was awoken by my cell phone. A friend was calling me to wish me a happy birthday and apologize for waking me. Perhaps there are those of you out there thinking, "How could you possibly still be asleep at 7am?!" Well, I'm certainly an evening person. If you were to stage a 5am Bible study and an 11pm Bible study, I'd far prefer 11pm. Nevertheless, the birthday wake-up call was a nice start to a really nice day.

My sisters Shannon and Shelley called to wish me a wonderful day, and it was good to chat with them and their children. Carita was bawling in the background as Shannon fed her children lunch and Jocelyn was running away with Shelley's phone while she was trying to talk to me, which made it even more special, because I realized that both of my sisters were exceedingly busy and had their hands full but took the time to call me anyway.

It was beautiful weather today, so we were working on the roof. Dad asked me to help him install a sweet solar light through the kitchen ceiling, which required crawling through piles of attic insulation. I had just poked my head through the hole to hear my mother ask my father if we all could eat lunch in Kalona, and he looked up and said, "What! It's your birthday today? Oh. Happy birthday, Shawn!"

The Solar Light companies do not advertise that you will have to crawl through deep, musty insulation in order to install their magical mirror tube.

So Dad, Mom, Shane, Sheryl, Shaylon and I ate together at the Kalona Family Restaurant and had a wonderful time.

After we returned from lunch, Dad was really easy on me and I didn't have to crawl through attics anymore.

I'm going to include a few extra photos of myself smiling, because my mother would have you believe that I hardly ever smile "normally" in photographs.

After work, I went out with some manfriends for supper. We normally have Bible study on Thursday evenings, but this evening we decided to socialize and eat large hamburgers at Short's Burgers & Shine in Iowa City.

Nevin, showing us that marriage doesn't always mean you have to surrender to polite table manners. 

Jordan, showing us the hypnotic power of these delicious hamburgery morsels. 

Shane canceled three prior obligations to spend time with us, and I was grateful.

Kendal just got back from a long trip to Florida, which evidently prevented him from having enough patience to fully assemble his hamburger prior to devouring it.

Nevin took one glance at my delicious bunless burger and decided it looked way tastier than his burger.

The company was hilarious. The food was tremendous. This was the first time I ate at that wonderful burger joint, but it will not be the last. We had a wonderful server so I left her a note.

I had been using a napkin to illustrate a story I was telling, which is a tactic I've inherited from the three generations of men before me. The boys told me to leave the napkin there, preferably with my number on it for the waitress. Instead, I wrote a thank-you note. 

Jordan and Nevin fought over paying for my meal. If fighting was always like that, I think I would be a lot less Non-Resistant. Jordan won, which was wonderful because I was afraid it would be a draw and default back to me. Thank you for supper, Jordan! Nevin, not to be outdone, paid for parking. Nevin also drove all of us to Iowa City, using his precious fuel and blasting through yellow lights with the new turbo he put in his Subaru.

As if mountains of delicious hamburgers and fries weren't enough, Nevin decided that we were all craving ice cream from Dairy Queen. Kendal bought me a delicious Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard, and it filled all the tiny cracks that the hamburger and fries didn't fill.

The sweet young woman at Dairy Queen consented to taking our photo through the order window.

After food and more food, we journeyed to Christian's to watch The Great Race, which is a hilarious classic that everyone should watch at least one time, preferably with good friends at a late hour.

Oh Hezekiah, you sneaky man.

I got home past midnight, which was fitting. 24 hours of birthday celebration with a little bit of sleep and work tossed in there.

Grandma and Grandpa gave me a bunch of fruit and a Page-a-Day calendar of Mind Benders and Brain Teasers. The calendar is for 2013, and since 2013 has gotten quite a head-start on me, I've got the considerable job of catching up. But Grandma thinks I'm smart and thought I needed the extra challenge. ;)

Frank and Ada, a sweet elderly couple from my church, gave me a set of Skip-Bo cards for my birthday because they remembered me saying I could use a deck of Skip-Bo cards when we were playing games at church last New Years Eve. It blew my socks off, because even though I had forgotten to get myself a deck, they hadn't forgotten. 

My brothers Shelby and Shane said wonderfully nice things about me on my Facebook. Shelley wrote a sweet blog about me. I received calls, texts, cards, and messages on my Facebook. Many people went out of their way to wish me a happy birthday, and I'm extremely grateful. I'm afraid they've all got me confused with some incredible-yet-charming identity thief, and I would love to meet the man they're talking about. :)

Overall, a lot of people had a lot of nice things to say to me, and I feel very blessed. Thank you, friends and family, for making this day so nice.

24, I'm stuck with you for a year. But so far you've been pretty swell. I guess I'll let you stick around.