Sep 27, 2009


Gabriel was never even supposed to be here. That's the honest truth. After we had Josiah and Natalie, we had talked a lot about it and really felt that our family was complete. We had one boy and one girl. Heather was finishing school and was planning on going to medical school. Both kids were out of diapers, weened, well on their way to being full fledged children - not preschoolers or toddlers. They were kids. So we decided that we were done.

Of course, that was before we got our souvenir from our cruise. Now, of course, I cannot imagine our family without Gabriel. No one calls him Gabriel. That is reserved for his "getting in trouble name." When he is acting like a wild person (like he was this afternoon), I will yell, "GABRIEL!!! KNOCK IT OFF!" I swear, he doesn't know who I am talking to. He's like, "Who's this cat named Gabriel? At least he's getting in trouble, not me." We all call him Gabe. Or Gabey. Or Gabey Baby. Or Gabers. Or Gabersaurus. Or GooGoo (courtesy of Nat).

The little dude turned two yesterday. Or, as he said it when Heather asked him, "Twooooooo!" I have written about Gabe before back in March. He is just a really unique and funny little guy. Josiah was nine pounds, four ounces when he was born. Natalie was eight pounds, one ounce. Gabe was six pounds, fifteen ounces. We were used to these mongo babies and he was too small to fill out newborn clothes. We didn't even have newborn clothes because the "pass me down" stuff was all so much bigger. Josiah and Gabe celebrate their birthdays two weeks apart. We figured that would be great in using Josiah's old clothes. The seasons and everything should match. Well, we didn't expect such a little dude.

I am not a little person. And my kids seemed destined to be on the upper range of growth charts. Natalie is a full head taller than ever other girl in her gymnastics class. She is only two inches shorter than Josiah. As a baby and toddler, Josiah was at the upper levels on everything. Gabe celebrated his second birthday wearing his twelve month shorts. We just now are able to get into the clothes Josiah wore when he was one. In addition, Gabers is blond with blue/green eyes (depending on the light and what he's wearing). He looks very little like his daddy.

One of the the things about Gabe that is just so awesome is that he is nuts. I mean he is absolutely crazy. He will tear through the house "GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO!!!!" I have no idea what he is going to (or running from). He has always just assumed that he should do whatever the big kids do. The fact that their is six years between him and Josiah is one thing. Add to it the fact that Gabe is so tiny and it looks like an 18 month old trying to climb into the bunk bed or play with Legos. I think Gabe is such a joyful kid (although the ladies who watch him at church would dispute that). He is always smiling and laughing. He thinks he is so funny. He has come up with a whole bunch of goofy faces that he will do at you to see if you will copy him. The other day I put him down for his nap and I caught him standing on the bed, looking in the mirror making faces at himself and laughing.

Back to the joyful thing... I know that over the last two years, Gabe has made many preschool workers consider changing their area of church service. For a long time, people swore he didn't smile because every picture was him just staring at the camera. Part of his deal is that he simply adores his family - all of it. He thinks his older siblings walk on water. He will follow Josiah anywhere and now has realized Natalie is his crazy play buddy. He loves his grandparents, his aunts and uncles. Sure, he's still not sure about his cousins - but I think it is because he is trying to make sure they aren't getting his attention. One of his favorite people in the world is Heather's dad. This has been true since his birth. "POP POP!!!!" He loves his Pop Pop. Whenever we get to visit, there will be multiple times where Gabe and Pop Pop are seen cuddling somewhere. He loves to cuddle. He naps and sleeps so much better when he is near people. He wants to be hugged and kissed all over. He'll come up to you when he's playing. "Holdchuuu? Holdchuu?" That means, "Hold you?" Which means he wants picked up. Even as I am writing this, he keeps coming over to the couch and climbing up on me just to hug me. He cries just as much when I leave as when Heather leaves. The other night I went out with a couple friends and he just wailed at the door. He wants to go with me to the store and whenever I go out.

That is possibly the most special thing about Gabe - and it maybe isn't even him. I have spent so much more time with him than the other two kids due to working mostly from home his whole life. And I also am so much more comfortable with him, since I have been doing this for so long. As a result, he and I have such a great relationship. He loves to sit with me. He asks for me. "DADDEEEEEE!" When I worked at Apple and ICS, I would walk in the door and he would run down the hall to see me when I came home. Now, he is really getting into sports and balls. He will throw balls to me . . . and at me. He prefers to through them at you, actually. I'm not used to this. Josiah would always take the balls and make solar systems out of them. Today at lunch, Gabe was staring at ESPN watching the football pregame show. He kept yelling, "BALL!!! BALL!!" I remember even when he was little he would sit there and watch basketball and football with us. A lot of people will watch him and say, "Well you got your sports buddy."

Gabe is talking all the time. He is memorizing songs from shows. He plays with blocks and toys like a big boy. He writes and colors all the time. We have gone through dozens of notebooks with his hundreds of circles and scribbles. He absolutely loves chocolate. And he can spot it from across a room. 1 Fresh Stir Fry (one of our favorite restaurant treats) has a big jar of Hershey's Kisses. Gabe remembers this and starts begging before we are in the door.

I absolutely adore my kids. Each of them are so different and so special. And I have completely different relationships with each of them. They bring something so special to our family. I don't love them more or less because of what they bring to the table. Josiah is such a brainy boy - he plays video games, loves Star Wars and Mario Brothers. He runs around making sound effects and acting out whole worlds. Natalie is such a girly girl. She loves dresses and bows and jewelry and falling asleep in my lap. BUT, she is MY girl. So she also will belch and fart and laugh - she's hilarious and can be a total clown. And then Gabe is a sporty, mechanical, crazy, funny boy. It is like he bridges everything and ties us all together. He is smart and wild. He loves little intricate toys and big bouncing balls. He will dance to music or sit and read a book. I am so blessed to have these three little people in my life. And I certainly am glad that God decided not to take our advice on what we thought we wanted for our family. He gave us what we wanted - and needed. He gave us Gabey. Happy birthday little man.

Sep 23, 2009

River Wild

I have been canoeing twice and rafting twice. If you ask me to do either of those things, though, I will look at you like you obviously don't know me at all. The two canoeing trips were nice and enjoyable. And the first rafting trip was fun and exciting. In fact, after the first trip, I had so much fun that I couldn't wait to go again. The college group I was running went on an annual Memorial Day rafting trip. My first experience was on that trip. We went on the Big Pigeon River - which I found out later was a "wuss river." It also was a "dam river," which was a source of humor for everyone on the trip. That meant that they would release the dam upriver and the runs would start as that huge wall of water raced down the river. The trips were fast, and the second run down had several Class 4 rapids, due to the huge volume of water. But, to these rafting experts in our group, it was a river for sissies. Everyone wanted to go back to either the Ocoee or Nolichucky River.

The next year we ended up at the Nolichucky River. It was a big group that went. I had pushed the event big time, and we had two vans of students make the trip. As I planned the trip, I had visions of future years' trips. I thought maybe we could hit the Ocoee the next year. And then, maybe, we would go to Costa Rica for a mixed rafting/mission trip. It would be awesome. The day for the rafting began and we all got up, ate at Bojangles, and then drove to the meeting point in Erwin, Tennessee. We parked our vans at this abandoned looking warehouse where the rafting company would store their stuff. They picked us up there in really lousy buses and drove to the launching point - like 30 minutes away. Actually, "drove" is a kind word for what the guys driving did. They raced like maniacs around the winding mountain roads. Jerks.

Anyway, we got to the river. And naturally, things did not go the way we planned. It had been a dry summer, so the river was low. The guides didn't want a lot of rafts going down the river, because they would get stuck. So they encouraged all the experienced guys to take funyaks down the river. Funyaks are like kayaks, but more fun, apparently. So we had all the guys in funyaks and the ladies and guides, and one or two guys in rafts. I felt some responsibility to all these ladies I had convinced to come. So I opted for a raft. It was me, a guide, and several ladies. [At this point, I need to explain something about rafting. You are going to get wet. That is what happens when you ride a glorified inner tube down a raging river full of W-A-T-E-R. You just should expect these things. Back to the tale.]

We started off and went through a couple of smaller rapids. This was fun, but I knew what was coming. And I noticed, with some concern, that the ladies in the raft with me were very concerned about getting wet. So at each rapid, they would squeal and pull their paddles up to crunch themselves into a ball. This is, to be kind, a very stupid thing to do. So our initial rapids were mainly me and the guide doing everything. He had put me right in the front and he was in the back. This was his game plan to make it down the river in one piece, since the girls were of little use.

We got past the first section, and the guide somberly warned us that we were about to hit some nasty stuff - some Class 4 rapids in succession. And we ALL had to work together and paddle. Everyone nodded. We approached the first big one, and the guide was yelling out commands. When we hit the rapid, the raft didn't do what we expected. See, the girls got worried about being wet. They yanked their paddles up into the boat and the raft slammed right into the rocks and started to flip a little. I, being the one in the front, couldn't hold myself in and I flew out. I had gotten tossed out of the raft the year before, and was able to get back in pretty easily. But that was because that was a "wuss river."

Instead of being able to get in, I got swept away down the river. I found myself completely out of control. Soon, I banged up against another raft. They reached down to grab me and pull me in, but the life vest didn't fit me well. Since life vests are made for people who do activities outside, and most heavy guys only go outside to pick up subs, the vest kept sliding up around my neck. The more they pulled, the more it choked me. Finally, I got torn away from them and I just went flying down the river. The river narrowed to where only one raft would go through at a time. In the middle of that narrow spot was the biggest rapid I had ever seen. I got closer to the churning water as the rock walls raced by.

There are few things more terrifying than being dragged along on a white water river. At least that is what I assume. I have never been held by terrorists or been caught in a tornado. I have not been stranded in space or been abandoned in a desert tied to my horse with a bag of rattlesnakes on the ground. In my pathetic world, being helpless in a river is about the worst I can imagine. I just screamed as I went flying down.

Rafting rivers are not like some of those peaceful streams with the tiny round rocks, either. They have big ole boulders under the water. That is what causes the rapids, after all. I think I managed to bounce off all of them. Finally I went right through that big Class 4 rapid. I got tumbled and tossed, banging against rocks. I imagined my appendages snapping, or my foot getting caught in a crevice. Finally, I popped out and raced along about a half mile more, until somehow I ended up washing up on a little calm spot just past the narrows.

The rest of our crew emerged from the rapids in one piece. Apparently my ejection caused the girls to pay attention a little better. [It could be my life is just to serve as a warning sign to others, after all.] They all stopped as they neared the calmer section, with my students all looking shocked at what had just happened. I was alive and mostly unbroken - but my back was killing me. We found out once I got home that I had bruised my spine on the rocks. The rest of the trip was horrible. I was in too much pain to do much of anything. I even had to lay on my back in the van on the way home. And I made myself sick from taking Advil and Aleve too close together.

But the worst part of the whole thing was in between the river and the trip home. As I sat there by the river, I did what any rational person would do and refused to get back in the raft. So the only option I had was to climb up the rock walls - not sheer rock faces, of course - walk along the railroad tracks back to the launch point and wait there. So I did that. But when I got to the launch point, some guy from the rafting company told me that I was supposed to catch a ride back to the Erwin location. So I rode with him back there. And I sat there for six hours.

See, I wasn't supposed to go back to Erwin. They just wanted me to wait at the place where they would come back after the rapids run. They were going to have lunch and hike around. Everything was there at the launch point - the van keys, our food, everything. So I sat by myself with no money, no phone, no food for six hours. It took longer because no one knew where I had gone and they looked around and waited for me. It was the perfect picture of adding insult to injury. It was a Saturday, so there was no one around in the deserted part of town. And I had no idea where to go. I couldn't do anything once I got there anyway. So I sat and laid down on an old picnic table. I have never gotten in a raft again, nor will I. The annual Memorial Day rafting trip became a "hey remember when we used to..." event. I haven't canoed or anything since then. I even got nervous when I tried to ride the Congo River Rapids at Busch Gardens until my wife made me get on.

Why did I think about all of that? Well, I was homeschooling today. I know - that sounds like a stretch. Things weren't going well, which has kind of been the norm of late. I was stressing out big time and I went to take a break. As I thought about what was going on, I thought about canoeing and rafting. When you are canoeing or rafting there are the dangers/problems that you are aware of. You know where the rapids are. You know where there are drops and sharp curves. You know that there are tough stretches. And when you know about the challenges, you can handle them.

The first canoeing trip I went on had similar problems as the horrible second rafting trip. It had been a dry summer. The water wasn't as high as it should be, so there were places where we had to get out and lift the canoe. There were a couple of places where we had to push ourselves off of tree roots. You knew that was going to happen, so you did it. And it was fun. The group I was with would ambush each other and pelt each other with stuff. The trip was great. The first rafting trip was fun. We knew where the rapids were. We knew they would be tough. But we just dealt with it and it was exhilarating to get through.

In our current situation in Tallahassee, there are the known problems. We know that there are going to be weeks where Heather has huge tests. We know there are going to be times when people get sick, or when we don't want to do school. We know there are days when we will be exhausted. You just deal with it. And then once you are through, you take a break and regroup. That was one of the things that made rafting so cool. You went through a series of rapids and then had a few minutes to paddle and regroup. And usually that happens here. We have a rough week (test, guest coming, two birthdays within 14 days), but then there is a lull for a few days.

The problems come when the unexpected blindside you. Like the refusal to paddle tossing me into the river. That would be an unexpected blindside attack. Or, when during your lull you get hit with something worse. This would be like when I had to climb the rock wall, walk down a train track, get abandoned in some horrible waste of a city when I should have been able to regroup. Or if you stop on a rafting trip to eat some lunch and get attacked by a clan of ninja bears. Instead of getting the rest and recharge you need, there is no break. That is what it has felt like lately.

I knew there would be challenges in homeschooling. I knew Gabe wouldn't cooperate and would need attention when I was trying to teach. I knew that there would be days where the kids were wired or out to lunch. I saw that as a teacher. I shouldn't expect things to be different just because we are home. I guess what I didn't see coming is what is throwing me for a loop. I didn't see the loneliness. I thought the kids would be able to connect with others at something. They just now are starting to be at a church and gymnastics regularly to meet people. And I hope that they will be able to make some new friends soon there. I haven't really met anyone here. I have Greg, and that is pretty much it.

I also didn't see the depression. I had always had a unclear understanding of depression. I thought it was just a person being sad that day. It wasn't until I heard Tommy Nelson from Denton Bible Church in Texas talk about his struggle with clinical depression that I realized it was something more than being blue. Now I find myself inexplicably drifting towards that place so often. There are days I just can't shake it. I have talked to a counselor, who doesn't feel it needs medication - yet. But he is concerned that I may end up there if something doesn't change soon.

I also didn't see that maybe, even though I am a good teacher, I am not a good elementary teacher. I can teach dozens of subjects to teens, college students, adults, senior adults. But it seems like I have trouble teaching my children. I don't know what a Kindergartner is supposed to already be able to do. Should they know the days of the week? The months of the year? Some of the books makes it seem like that. Should my second grader already know how many days hath September, April, June, and November? Is it normal for an eight year old to suffer from amnesia when it comes to math facts? And what about the acting up? See, when you are teaching a class of teens, when you hit that day when everything goes wrong, you go home. They tell their parents you were mean. You tell your wife they were uncooperative. And then the next day things are different. Homeschooling doesn't work that way. You leave the school table and those discipline issues leak into lunch time and free time and dinner time. You can't completely disconnect the school from the home.

So, like on the river, I am at a place where I have to decide what to do. Do I jump out of the river and climb up the rock wall? Do I toss the homeschooling aside and enroll them in a "regular school?" Is that the only hope to save my sanity and theirs? Will that make things better, or open up a whole new can of problems? Or do I just grit my teeth, climb back in the raft, and keep paddling. I can't base my decision on what happened in the river that day. I really believe I should have just gotten back in the raft. But this isn't a river. These aren't rafts. They are the most precious things I have. They are my kids - and I have to do what is best for them in any case. I know that each one of you has different opinions on what the right thing is do with kids. But, honesty, it doesn't matter what YOU think either. It comes down to us making the right call on how to navigate these rapids while Heather is in Med School. What is going to help these kids and this family to be the best it can be so we can change our world? I just hope when I figure that out I'm not too scared to get into the boat again. Or out of it.

Sep 14, 2009

32 Most Obnoxious Things I've Done to Greg Ramer

Todays is my good friend Greg Ramer's birthday. He turns 32. I have mentioned Greg several times over the last few years in ye old blogge. He's a great and generous guy. His blog postings are inspirational. His photography is amazing. We have had lots of fun over the years. But I think the greatest testimony to the faithfulness of Greg Ramer is the fact that he is still my friend. Once you read this list, you too will understand why that is such a big deal. Happy birthday, Greg. This is in honor of you.

  1. I instigated a wrestling match between Greg and Melvin McColloch, who ultimately rubbed Greg's face in the carpet.
  2. I instigated an incident where Greg crushed Michael Carter's chips. Michael subsequently punched Greg fifty times in the arm.
  3. A few years back, Greg told me how a girlfriend (I think they were dating) had ended their relationship. He told me, "Yeah, she doesn't know what she wants." I responded with the following sensitive statement. "She knows she doesn't want you."
  4. When I asked Greg to help me learn how to play golf, he was kind enough to really try. I got angrier and angrier at the entire process - and at him for being there. At one point I finally said, "Unless you want this golf club stuck in your forehead, don't come back over here." He complied.
  5. I relentlessly ridiculed Greg for his purple truck. He insisted the color was "Radar Blue." I insisted it was purple. This process repeated about 300 times. He hasn't even had this truck for years, and I still bring it up.
  6. One time when Greg was arguing with a bunch of people about how his truck was not purple, he said, "It . . . is . . . radar . . . blue." I responded with, "His next truck will be pink. Only then, it won't be pink, it will be Radar Red." That never was lived down.
  7. We were driving some people back from Daytona Beach. After dropping them off, we went by the Florida Mall in Orlando. This was after I had graduated from UCF in Orlando. I had spent many days at the Florida Mall. When we got into the Mall, I walked up to a directory and said, "Hey I need to see where this one store is." I stood at that directory for at least 10 minutes just staring. He finally realized what I was doing and walked off, mumbling to himself.
  8. His mom makes awesome brownies. She used to have them every time I came to their house. One time there were no brownies. To make up for this, I guilted Greg into making me brownies every time we came to his house. We live down the street now, and when I come in I still say, "No brownies?"
  9. One time, I invited Greg to something that required him to come down to Tampa from Tallahassee. I did not realize it was Mother's Day weekend. So he missed Mother's Day. Somehow I got blamed for him missing Mother's Day. Of course, I also will frequently remind him of the time he bailed on his mother - that same mom who was in labor with him for 23 hours.
  10. Greg went with me in Tampa to pick up my sister from the airport. On the way back, I really have no idea what happened. He told us he was going to take a shortcut. It took at LEAST 15 minutes longer. From that point on, whenever I would be following him, or if he was giving me directions, I would have to mention, "Don't give me a shortcut" or "don't take any shortcuts" or "Man, that took forever. Was that a shortcut?"
  11. This next chunk will be from when we roomed together. We would be watching tv. I always had the remote. We would be watching golf. When a golfer putted, right before the ball went in the cup, I would switch the station. This was irritating.
  12. I would frequently turn the tv to the Catholic station and leave it there for long annoying stretches. This was also irritating.
  13. I would call the house from my cell phone and impersonate another church member and ask for "Greg Ramer." Our roommate would go and get Greg to get the phone. Then I would bust out laughing. Usually this would happen during Sunday nap.
  14. I would sing opera outside of Greg's door. Usually this would happen during Sunday nap.
  15. I would set an alarm clock and hide it in the bathroom outside of Greg's door. It would go off and he wouldn't know where it was. Usually this would happen during Sunday nap.
  16. I would set random alarms on his clock and cell phone when Greg was not looking.
  17. I would take pictures with Greg's phone and set them as his wallpaper. This included one of the inside of my mouth that looked very strange and disturbing.
  18. One time, Greg was sitting at his desk. I ran into his room and dove in between the mattress and box spring and then wiggled all the way to farthest point in. I have no idea why I did this. It was just the weirdest thing I could come up with.
  19. On April Fools Day, I ran into Greg's room at 6 in the morning, yelling, "Greg get up! The barn is on fire and its spooking the horses!" He sat bolt upright in his bed, then said, "We don't have any horses."
  20. I would sit in Greg's car and randomly push all the buttons and change all the dials. Yes, I did this to everyone. But I did it to Greg a lot. I still do, now that I think about it.
  21. I used to call Greg when he was out doing deliveries for work. I would ask him where he was taking me for lunch. I really don't know how many lunches I scored - quite a few actually. (I do really feel bad about this thing. Maybe that is subconsciously why I have Greg over for dinner so much - to make up for it.)
  22. I sent this card out to over 40,000 homes. I had Greg's permission to use the picture. And ultimately the church did not want to use this campaign - feeling it was insulting. And, really, they were right. But, still. It is kind of funny.
  23. When Greg first launched his website, he would change it a lot. A LOT. Except, the content didn't change much - just the layout. And he would ask for feedback. For like two years, I sent him an email through his feedback link. They all were different, but basically said, "Your website sucks." Two years straight.
  24. When Greg first launched his photography site, it included an option to book a photo shoot through the site. Under a fake name and email address that I have set up (what? you don't have one?), I sent him a photo request for him to come and spend the weekend at my house and take a series of, um, boudoir shots. And I think I hit on him in the email. Oh, yeah, my fake person was a dude. Greg never replied.
  25. I used to call Greg's phone and leave long and obnoxious messages using various accents, pretending to be law enforcement officers, hillbillies, Scottish clansmen. All of these messages lasted for minutes. And they always lasted like 1:05 or 3:07 - just to make sure it cost an extra minute.
  26. I would send Greg long, drawn out, pointless emails all the time. They would just ramble and ramble and go off on huge tangents. Sometimes they would have a point; sometimes not. It was always an adventure.
  27. Greg worked at a small Christian bookstore. It was not always the first to get new products - or the fifth - or the tenth. After several times asking about new products and hearing, "We don't have that yet," I started to take it to an extreme. "Hey Greg, I was wondering if you guys had anything by this band yet. It's a newer band - so you may not. It is Petra. Heard of it?" or "Hey Greg. There is this book I want. I doubt you guys have it. Do you have Pilgrim's Progress?" This happened about twenty times a year.
  28. I think I used this exchange from Tommy Boy about 100 times with Greg. "What? Lots of people take a decade to finish college." "Yeah, they are called doctors." But I am proud he finished!
  29. Back before you could port your cell phone number between companies, it seemed that Greg had a new phone number or pager number every three months. He would send out an email about it - and then another email a week later - "I changed my mind. My old number was already taken, so here's my third number within a week." He also changed email addresses frequently. It got to be where he hated telling anyone because he knew he would hear something rude back within twenty minutes from me.
  30. I would frequently take my pointer finger and stick it into Greg's food - usually a sandwich. Mostly this was accompanied by, "You gonna eat that?"
  31. I introduced Greg to the Wheelhouse burger at Bennigan's. This was a burger that actually had a big circle of fried mozzarella on it. It was amazing. But I think it alone was responsible for taking three years off of both of our lives.
  32. A group of us were talking about Matthew McConaughey. Actually, I think we were talking about different famous guys that various girls found attractive. Someone was gushing about McConaughey. Greg, who had been working out and losing a lot of weight, said, "It's okay. It won't be long before I look like him." Without thinking, I said, "Why is McConaughey gaining a bunch of weight for a role?" What made this even worse - besides me making any weight-related comments to anyone - was that it happened this summer. And I thought I had really outgrown making those comments.
Greg - thanks for being such a great friend, and for tolerating me. Even if you mom never enjoyed you as a child, I have enjoyed having you has a friend. Have a super birthday.

Sep 11, 2009


Tonight, the NBA will induct its latest class into the Basketball Hall of Fame. David Robinson (always one of my favorite players), John Stockton (always one of my least favorite players), Jerry Sloan (disliked also, but a great coach). All are worthy candidates. But this really is the Michael Jordan show.

It kind of is appropriate that it is this way. When Jordan was playing, he was such a force that the rest of the league actually paled by comparison. Robinson was tremendous, but didn't really come into his own until Jordan was retired and Duncan joined the squad. Stockton and Sloan both saw what could be a dynasty in Utah squelched by Jordan's Bulls - forcing them to be the NBA equivalent of the Buffalo Bills. Chris Robinson wrote a tremendous piece today for ESPN about Robinson - and the kind of person and player he was. It certainly was a compelling argument for why the big guy will have a bigger impact than Jordan. But it also kind of sounded like someone supporting the fourth place candidate in a Presidential primary.

Jordan, plain and simple, was the greatest player. He came along at the perfect time. The NBA was in need of a new icon, with Magic and Bird on the decline. The television and international exposure for the NBA was in its heights. And the new marketing element for players was hitting a new level. Jordan tapped into all of that. He had a winning smile, an attractive face, a highly rewatchable playing style, a great voice, and a willingness to capitalize on all of that. His deal with Nike was revolutionary. No one ever had been that tied to a company. But that was also the deal he had with Gatorade . . . and Hanes . . . and Ball Park franks. He transcended sports. Remember, he was in Space Jam. He captured the imagination.

His play was phenomenal. I remember watching him all the time on television. He hit the NBA about the same time I got interested. I watched his 69 point game against Cleveland in 1990. (The night made even more memorable by Stacey King's epic quote: "I like to think of it as the night that Michael Jordan and I scored 70 points together.") I remember the early years, when he was just a freak on a mediocre team. I remember when the Bulls butt up against the Pistons and their nauseating "beat the crap out of Jordan" approach. I remember when the Bulls finally broke through and won their first three championships.

To someone who has only heard of Jordan from history, or seen replays of him, you cannot possibly understand just how ridonkulous he was live. You were sitting there, watching the other team pull ahead near the end of the game. And you just KNEW. You knew he was going to go on a tear. When he pulls the heart out of the entire city of Cleveland, it was like you KNEW it was coming. He did things on the court that did not seem possible. He would jump and the defender would go up and come down before Jordan would drop. He would fade back until it looked like he would fall over - and the ball would go in. There were at least five "what the what!?!" moments each game.

The Slam Dunk Contests -- they were just crazy. The 1988 contest, where he went up against Dominique Wilkins was just sick. That was the legen - wait for it - dary free throw line dunk where he just kept going up and up and double pumped the ball. I remember just going crazy when I saw that. Then he quit doing the contests. He had nothing left to prove. He had won two titles in a row and should have won in 84 also. And I think that is what hurt the contest for so long - well that and Spud Webb winning.

What made Jordan even more successful than so many people was that he changed his game when necessary. You can shake rims like that and fly forever. As he began to get older, he perfected other areas of his game. One of the greatest pure scorers ever in the NBA became a perennial member of the All Defense Team - and Defensive Player of the Year. The person playing him didn't just get torched for 50 points, but he also got shut down all night. As he had to give up his perpetual lane invasions, he developed an absolutely deadly fade away jump shot - effectively nullifying blocked shots. Think about it - do you remember him getting his shot blocked? I remember a couple of them. You know what happened next? He would relentlessly attack the clown who dared to block him and score the next six baskets off of him until the opposing coach would call a timeout just to give the poor schlub a break.

The competitive nature was also what set him apart. He pushed his teammates. He pushed his coaches. He was the most talented, dedicated, competitive person on the court. He would not allow himself or his team to lose. But, the funny thing is that this is precisely what actually hurt his reputation. For most of his career, Jordan was seen as a clean-cut guy - immensely talented, funny. He was seen as a family man. Even his first retirement was seen as a guy who just didn't feel challenged any more.

But all of that changed as time wore on. His horrendous gambling problem came to light - making people wonder if that first retirement was actually an under-the-table deal with Commissioner Stern to avoid suspension. When his dad was killed, people wondered aloud if it was gambling related. He got divorced. Jordan un-retired twice - the second time was a pathetic effort by a player who should have left his magical ending in place. Instead he came back with the Wizards and just wasn't the same. His foray into team ownership and management has been equally disappointing. He is highly competitive. Which is exactly why so many former teammates hate him, why he is so lousy at being an executive. He has no patience. He wants to WIN. And that is an unquenchable drive. This is why he basically lives on a golf course or casino. Remember when he found out he was being inducted into the Hall, he almost seemed angry or resentful. It was because it meant he was done - and he can't stand losing -- even to the clock and calendar.

It is sad, actually. The perception of Jordan today is hardly what it was. People today can't help but mention all the stuff in the last paragraph when talking about him. Younger people have no idea what exactly he meant to the league, what a phenomenon he was. Everyone tries to christen the "next Jordan" - which actually tarnishes #23's legacy. By trying to push other inferior people into that role, it makes fans who don't know better think that Jordan may only be that good. Kobe, LeBron, Harold Miner. There are numerous pretenders to that title. In reality, I don't know if even Jordan could be the "next Jordan" if he came along today. He would be so over-exposed. It would all seem so planned and orchestrated. People would hate him like so many people hate Kobe or LeBron. They would have a Jordan puppet. He would demand a trade if the Bulls didn't put enough focus on winning. He would toy with the people of Chicago when it came time to re-sign, threatening to go to New Jersey.

Today, though, I was able to spend a few moments remembering what it was like to see someone so incredible. I watched his whole career - from UNC to DC. I could take time to think about all that "other stuff" that clouds the picture. But today, on the induction day, I wanted to remember what it was like to really think that a man could do the impossible. It was good to revisit what, as a kid, it was like to imagine a man could fly and never land. There's plenty of other days to remember that he actually did land.

Sep 7, 2009

St. Anger

It is one of the most universal of emotions. Every person can relate to it. The burning around your neck and up into your face. The elevated heartbeat. The clenched fists, locked jaw, grinding teeth, furrowed brow. It is like a volcano has been unleashed inside your body. It actually takes every ounce of strength to keep the vitriol from spewing out over everything in the blast radius. I, of course, am talking about anger.

Anger. What a rotten thing. I have battled with anger my whole life. I come by it honestly, as some might say. My dad was one of the angriest people I ever met. He blew up about everything. And that anger, when it was unleashed, was a frightening, powerful explosion. I have seen and heard some horrible things that were generated by the anger of that man - some things no child should ever be in the vicinity of. And I probably had the easiest time of all of us. With all of those memories haunting me, you would assume that I would strive to become the opposite. But, when I look at my life, one of the biggest battles - and failures - has always been my anger problem.

As a Christian from an early age, I always heard how anger was wrong. So, I always battled another of anger's running buddies as well - guilt. Anger feeds guilt and guilt feeds anger. They are quite a parasitic tag team. You blow up at someone, immediately you feel guilty. Feeling guilty makes you angry at yourself, which then trims your fuse for the next unsuspecting doofus who crosses your path. So I would fight my anger - which naturally meant burying it. Act like it isn't there. If it isn't there, and no one sees it - then no one thinks you are angry. Or so I would believe. Obviously, that is not true. People know. For all of ninth grade my mom told me I walked around with a black cloud over my head. I was trying to push all those nasty, sinful emotions deep down inside - ignoring them instead of giving in to them.

Turns out that is just as damaging. And, it makes the explosions even worse. I know that for a large portion of my life that I would do this - and then one day finally the dome would blow off the volcano and burning napalm would toast everything around me. Many times, the target of the explosion had no clue what was even going on. They didn't know I was angry at them. So when the vicious attack finally came, it was like shock and awe. They were shocked at the magnitude of the blast and awed by the transformation that took place.
  • In college, my poor roommate Matt got blindsided one night. I was battling insomnia, a case of inflamed rib cage cartilage, and coping with the new status of being on my own. He was listening to Leno (with his headphones on no less), and he was chuckling to himself. I was already upset about some other stuff, so this just got on my nerves. I laid there and just got madder and madder. I whipped myself into such a frenzy that after about 30 minutes, I finally blew up. "WOULD YOU JUST SHUT UP!!!!" He was just staring, stunned. I ended up taking over an hour just to calm down enough to go to sleep.
  • My good friend Greg made the mistake of trying to teach me golf. We were at the driving range and I was getting more angry with each lousy hit. He would try to give me tips, but I was just getting embarrassed and very very mad. Finally, he came over again and I said, "Unless you want me to stick this golf club in your forehead, don't come over here again." He didn't. We are great friends. We just don't play golf. (Just like I have a list of friends I will not play Monopoly with.)
  • A couple of years ago, after my brother moved back to Florida, we all were going to drive to Tampa to see my mom. I was already harboring some stuff - and from the morning we got in the car, more stuff got added on. By the afternoon, I was in a state. He finally made some remark about how I disciplined my kids. I launched into a hateful and insulting tirade. The best part was it was in front of my wife, my kids, my sister, my mom, my aunt. I lost a lot of respect with a lot of people that day.
  • My mom got the same treatment about a month later. I was upset about how she had handled some things with my kids. Rather than ever talk to her, I just tried to ignore it - avoiding the inevitable fight. When "the final straw" happened, I blew up at her. I ended up loading up our van and driving back to Orlando. I don't think I talked to her for a week, and it took about two months before things got back to normal.
  • One night at a Defender event - a week long conference at a church - I got really upset at the rude behavior that the kids were exhibiting. So when I finally got done with my talk, I took a few minutes to "pull a Moses" and rip into the kids for their behavior. It was like throwing a bag of Chinese stars into the crowd. The minister actually came up after me and tried to settle the kids down. I even came up and apologized at the end for it. One of the high points in my ministry.
I've knocked over piles of laundry, chucked a smoothie against a wall, punched a cheeseburger, threw my keys against the sidewalk, jammed a pair of scissors into the wall, and - naturally - had many many verbal explosions. I have never hit anyone, thankfully. I have been "working on my anger" for about thirty years. And I can see my ugly streak in my kids - from throwing game controllers to shoving a sibling to stomping on the floor to growling. I absolutely detest that this has carried through - and here comes the guilt train to pour kerosene on that fire.

So recently, I started reading a book by Dr. Gary Chapman. I think the dude is straight up brilliant. His Five Love Languages series has done wonders for thousands of couples and families. His Five Languages of Apology made a HUGE difference in my marriage, and it is something I make anyone I am doing premarital counseling for read. So, I was scoring big sale items at Lifeway Store the other day and I caught this one out of the corner of my eye. Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way. $6. Bought it. And I found inside something startling. Anger is not bad.

Now, before you go flaming Dr. Gary Chapman's email with hateful angry comments, let me explain. We have for so long linked the emotion of anger with the effects of anger, that we just think of them as the same thing. But they aren't. Anger is an emotion - just like happiness, sadness, fear. There are natural biological responses to those emotions. But that is different than the actions that follow. If you were to do a scientific study of emotions, you would see how a body responds to each. "Happiness: smile comes to face, eyes sparkle, posture straightens." "Sadness: tears from eyes, mouth drops, shoulders slump." "Fear: cowering stature, dilated pupils, racing breathing and heart rate." But when it comes to anger, it's like, "Subject entered room in a neutral state. I made him angry by commenting on his receding hairline and large gut. Subject hit me in the face with a chair."

But that comes after the initial response by the body - the racing heart, the increased temperature, the narrowed eyes, the scowl. THAT is the response. After that, it is what we do with it. Chapman makes the point that anger is actually designed to get people to rise up against injustice and wrong behavior. We should be angry when people are mistreated and hurt. Anger should come when we hear some of the travesties that are going on around us. And then, the absolute clincher, anger is always supposed to push us to lovingly try to bring about change in that situation. That is what Jesus did in the examples in Scripture when He was angry (and there are several BESIDES the moneychangers at the Temple).

I remember after Grandpa Blann died, his kids found a bunch of his old letters. I read a few of them from when he started his ministry in Africa. It was astounding - the forceful assessment of the situation, the urging the churches in America to do SOMETHING. As I read them, I realized that he was angry. I only remembered one time that I ever saw Grandpa angry - and it was when he was talking to me about a book I gave him that he gave back due to theological errors he saw in it (which I realized thanks to him). And another thing that hit me as I read those letters was how much he sounded like, well, me. His crying out sounded like me when I talk about battles we at Defender have with churches and their members.

That anger that is in me is why I even do what I do. It is why, in many ways, I am a good minister and a good teacher. See, whenever I found myself preaching or teaching with power, I would write that off as passion. But it was a passion that was a correct implementation of how I should respond to that initial anger. I think that was why Grandpa was willing to raise his family in Africa for all those years. It made me realize that he was an angry man - but he used it right. He used it as a impetus for action - and that action was always housed in love. My father was not just an angry man, he was an out-of-control man. He misdirected his anger. I don't remember him ever getting angry and then lovingly trying to fix something due to it.

I will never be able to squelch the anger - to make it go away. And I'm not really supposed to any more than I am supposed to eliminate happiness or sadness. My challenge now is to find out to harness that anger. How do I pause after the initial emotional hit? How do I look to see if it is valid or not - and then let it go or try to do something about it. It was a freeing discovery for me. My natural anger is not bad. It is part of who I am - it is what makes me want to educate and challenge and confront. What is bad is when I selfishly respond to perceived slights to my person in a volatile way instead of taking a moment to deal with it rationally. When I get cut off in traffic, or get the wrong sandwich at Mickey D's, or when my kids act rude, or when my wife doesn't say what I want her to. Those are the moments when I need to recognize the anger and decide how to handle it in a healthy way. It won't be easy, but I already am finding myself being more aware of my behaviors. I actually am catching myself before the train hurtles down the track into my family. It is a long battle, to be sure. I'm sure this is not the last you will hear on this topic.