If I had to name the god of my time in Corpus Christi, I would name it Restless.
My Gringo Palate
Corpus Christi was great for my marriage. Living close to our parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents had kept Carrie and me from developing our own identity as a family and we began to do that in Corpus Christi. We discovered beautiful little gems throughout the city, like La Paletera. Their fresas con crema was decadently rich, tart, and sweet. Their Fruit Cup, with the simple addition of chile, lime, and salt to all the fruit, was a revelation to my gringo palate. La Paletera paired well with a drive to Padre Island to work on our tans. A breakfast at El Posado helped me fall in love with the combination of Coffee & Tex-Mex as well as Fries & Frijoles (seriously, dip french fries in refried beans when you get the chance).
I don’t know if it’s still allowed, but you could drive on the beaches back then. With our Beach Permit affixed to our windshield, I’d find a good spot and park my car right on the sand that we had claimed as our homestead. Margaritas came out of the ice chest, an umbrella opened for shade, beach chairs dug into the sand, and a piece-of-shit barbecue pit we bought at Walmart emerged from the trunk. I named that barbecue pit the Super Pit 2000. It was the size of two big shoeboxes put together. The “SP2K” grilled quite a few meals for us at the beach as we did our best to develop skin cancer. I got so dark that my 1/8 Hispanic heritage started showing in my skin tone and the locals would even occasionally speak espanol a yo.
We made about $50,000/year combined and we didn’t save a dime of it. We’d go out with our new friends J & Tif or splurge at The Republic of Texas on the top floor of a downtown hotel. We’d take weekend trips to the border and walk across to buy trinkets. We’d drive to Houston to see my family or Carrie would fly to Lafayette to see hers.
Chandler’s Mill was a great apartment complex on the far Eastern side of town, off of Airline. We had our two cats, Callie and Mrs. Kitty, and a TV in the guest room so that I could watch Letterman while winding down from work without waking up Carrie.
Life was good back then.
Without Saying a Word
We found a church pretty easily. I don’t remember how we discovered Bay Area Fellowship but when we walked into the school auditorium they met in, it was obvious that there were doing this Purpose Drive Church stuff that our church in Lafayette did. Carrie immediately started volunteering with the little ones and I started running sound. Until I walked in one day and someone else was at the sound booth. The Worship Leader had a little bit of a problem dealing with conflict. He avoided telling me that I had been replaced and let me figure it out on my own.
Just like in Lafayette, Carrie taught in the mornings and I worked in the evenings. We believed deeply in community as a part of our spirituality so, when it came time to join “small groups,” we signed up for the only one that met on the weekends. Every Sunday night we met with the Subialdea family and the Lopez family. We shared meals and talked about the scriptures together.
I’ve had a lot of great pastors in my life. Three of them have published books and another should have. Most of them have spoken at leadership seminars for other pastors. However, none of them taught me more about God’s love than Michael Subialdea… and Michael did it without ever saying a word to me.
Michael, “Mikey” as I knew him, was born prematurely and had birth defects. He didn’t speak but could shout and laugh. He was blind and was confined to a wheelchair. Doctors had placed a shunt in his skull to drain fluid and keep pressure off of his brain because his skull was too small for it. We knew something was going on upstairs because Mikey had a small musical toy that played children’s songs and he hated Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He’d always skip past it when it came up on the song rotation.
Every Sunday evening I’d walk into the Subialdeas’ home, thinking I was hot shit. I had on my cool clothing, I worked for a popular Rock station, and I was young and immortal. Mikey didn’t care about any of that. He’d slice through my ego and butterfly it open within a few seconds of walking into his apartment. His silence left space for questions that I didn’t want answers to. Did God like me? Was I good enough? What if everyone knew how scared I was? Did God allow Mikey’s suffering? Why? Could I avoid suffering like Mikey’s somehow?
Like all wise teachers, Mikey didn’t give me the answers. He just sat with me, made me do the work on my own, and let me learn the lesson in my own time.
I remember one time I went to visit Mikey in the hospital. He’d had a seizure or something like that. His parents asked me to pray for him so I did. Christianity has a rich tradition of physical touch and I tapped into that tradition when placed my hand on Mikey’s leg as I prayed for him. He had never seemed so small to me. My hand easily wrapped around his thigh.
It took years for me to internalize the most important lesson Mikey taught me in Corpus Christi: If God liked Mikey even though he did nothing other than “be”, then maybe God liked me, too. No matter what I did or didn’t do.
They Tolerated My Faith
C-101 was a blast to be a part of. Paula, the Program Director, was the first female boss I’d ever had and I absolutely loved the feminine touch of her leadership. She didn’t just manage us, she nurtured our gifts and talents. She gave up her raise so that we could have one (quite often, the bonus structure in Clear Channel was adversarial, pitting one level of employee against another) and we were fiercely loyal because of her sacrificial act. She was also a badass and ran a tight ship.
Rex and Big Al were the morning show. Rex said whatever he thought, whenever he thought it… that is what most good morning DJs do. However, it makes the workplace absolutely insane. Rex walked around with a mold of his penis one day that he had made for a paid morning show bit. In any other workplace environment he would have been fired on the spot but, since it was radio, he got away with it. One day he called me at home -live on the air- and asked me how many tickets to the Creed concert he had to give away (I had forgotten to tell him). Right before he hung up he asked me, with a large chunk of South Texas listening, “Hey man, did I wake you up?” When I told him that he did, he asked me, “Do you have a boner?” Such is life with a morning DJ.
Big Al was… well, he was big. He weighed somewhere around 350 pounds and he loved food as much as I loved it. One day, as he and I were talking about some of our favorite meals, he stopped and asked me, “how the hell are you so thin?!” I laughed and told him that everyone in Cajun Country talked about food like I did. Al was a big teddy bear. He had his issues that got him in trouble at work but he definitely had my back.
Dan, the Midday Announcer, was the best. He was the other employee my age. He was the first person to ever tell me a personal story of being a minority and being harassed by the police because of the color of his skin. He officially welcomed me into The Hispanic Family when I told him that my grandmother’s name was Juanita and that her family was from the Canary Islands. He also showed me the first bong that I’d ever seen in my life.
People talk about their workplaces as a family or a team and I really felt it with this group of people… even though I was the Evangelical Weirdo. They tolerated my faith and did so with grace.
So Much More Comfortable
I got drunk for the first time in Corpus Christi. (I got drunk for the first time on 12/31/1999.) Our group of stations had a very good ratings sweep and the GM bought sparkling wine for us to celebrate with. I had shrugged off the Baptist prohibition on drinking two years prior but was still very much a lightweight when it came to alcohol. I didn’t understand how sparkling sneaks up on you or that you can go from a buzz to drunk pretty quick.
I got so drunk that I couldn’t finish my on-air shift. Dan covered for me. I knew I couldn’t drive so Carrie picked me up and I cried on the way home. I was totally White Girl Wasted. The next day Paula was furious with me… understandably so. I had left my dinner on the picnic table in the parking lot, I had left work without doing my job, and she thought I had made advances towards a female coworker. When I explained that I was actually protecting the coworker from advances other people were making, all was forgiven. Like I said, Paula was a great boss.
It wasn’t the last time I got drunk in Corpus Christi. I remember vomiting vodka and red bull one night, being too caffeinated to fall asleep. I remember drinking too many margaritas on the beach with Carrie once or twice.
I loved the way I felt when I drank. Living in a tug of war between two genders, the constant tension I lived with disappeared when alcohol was added to the equation. I told people I loved them and meant it. I liked the way sound changed when I drank… how the bass pumped a little harder and the voices got kinda garbled. I also loved how every surface became so much more comfortable to lounge on.
I didn’t drink that often and I had totally skipped alcohol in college, so who cared if I drank every once in a while?
Through Our Restlessness
Even with our double-income-and-no-kids lifestyle, Carrie and I were growing progressively restless. We couldn’t find a source for it. Our work was fulfilling. Our coworkers and friends were awesome. However, we both felt something askew inside of ourselves.
On a trip to Lafayette to visit our families, I sat down with my former pastor (the one who did our premarital counseling) and told him about this growing dissatisfaction. He told me he had known someone with a similar experience and shared their story with me. I left amazed and posed his questions to Carrie: What if this discomfort was coming from God? What if the Holy Spirit was communicating to us through our restlessness?
A few months later I put in my notice with Paula. I had turned down resume’ requests from record labels and radio stations but I had finally found the offer I couldn’t pass up. I had responded to this restless voice inside of me and was moving to China. My dreams of being a missionary were becoming a reality. Granted, I was the “supported spouse” and Carrie was technically the “missionary” but it was still a dream come true.
Read the next part: A God named 上帝