Dec 19, 2010

Brilliant

Today is my wife's birthday.  I know that many of you may grow weary of my bragging on Heather.  But, frankly, I don't care.  She is an incredible woman and deserves the praise.  This year, I was thinking about her special day and one word came to mind.


BRILLIANT (adj)

- having or showing great intelligence, talent, quality
This is the most familiar definition of brilliant.  It is a person who has amazing intelligence.  They can do unbelievable things with their minds.  Obviously, Heather is brilliant.  She has excelled at every level academically.  And she seems to get better with each challenge.  What she is accomplishing right now is simply insane.  I always kind of knew that Med School was hard.  But I really didn't appreciate just how tough it was.  This year, she has had 23 credit hours each semester.  They have quizzes every week that cover as much material as a normal person's exam.  Their monthly tests are equivalent to a college class' semester exam.  I am usually overwhelmed just seeing HOW MUCH they have to do.  That is before even looking at the actual material - which is just stupid hard.

But she keeps on torching the classes.  She has mostly A's with a few B's.  But she is doing this with three kids and a husband that are demanding of her time and attention.  Except for the few days right before a test, she does not have the luxury of studying for nine hours a day.  She has to make the most of her time.  And once she gets home, you can find her sitting in a chair with her laptop on, her notebook open, and a kid trying to squeeze into her lap as well.  I am constantly amazed at her brain.  Quite simply, she is absolutely brilliant.

- distinguished; illustrious: a brilliant performance by a young pianist
The second meaning of brilliant is having great stature.  It has more to do with reputation and talent than just intelligence.  Again, it completely applies to Heather.  She is loved by professors and students alike.  We will be sitting there at night after the kids are in bed - watching tv while she studies.  Her phone keeps on beeping with texts and emails.  I'll ask what's going on and it will many times be someone needing her advice, her help studying, her comfort.  This is what is going to make her a great doctor.  There are many doctors who are smart - but just terrible.  They don't have the personality or reputation needed.

I watch her with our kids or with other children.  I liken it to watching a superstar athlete hitting their stride.  They just start to do things that people should not be able to do.  With Heather, it is like she morphs when it is time to go into doctor mode.  It isn't just that her brain throws out all the potential diagnoses or medications, approaching it intellectually with her intelligence.  She looks at the person and tries to connect to them.  She meets them where they are.  The goal is to help them get better.  Her heart connects with them.  It really is something to behold.  When Natalie was sick a couple months back, Heather started figuring out how to approach the illness.  She was talking to Nat, coming up with creative stories and explanations and illustrations.  Natalie went from nervous to smiling and ready for treatment.  The nebulizer became a "strawberry flavored cloud maker."  Sitting in the bathroom with steam billowing led to a big story about princesses.  And I've witnessed her do that same kind of thing with other people and kids.  That isn't something that is learned.  It is a gift, a talent, a passion, a mindset.  And it is brilliant.

- shining brightly; sparkling; glittering; lustrous: the brilliant lights of the city
This last meaning is brought to mind when thinking of diamonds and lights.  They shine and sparkle and generate light.  Again, this applies to Heather.  She is sparkling and bright and shining.  She projects the light and love of God.  People are drawn to her.  She just radiates.  I have had the pleasure of watching this over the years.  I see the scores of people whose lives have been changed by Heather's role in their lives.  It is a wonderful thing to experience.

I know the personally I have been won over by these qualities.  The room lights up when she comes in.  My kids cheer when she comes home or gets in the car.  (Seriously - they do.  "MAMA!!!")  She's just one of those people.  I don't know anyone who has anything against her - because she doesn't give anyone a reason to.  She honestly is just trying to bless everyone.  Even her eyes are sparkly.  They are this cool blue color and the pattern looks like a cross section of a strawberry - if it was blue.  I love them. And I love her.  She's brilliant.  And I'm the luckiest guy in the world.

Dec 5, 2010

Know Your Role

I am drawn to a particular kind of movie (and tv show).  It is the one where there is an ordinary guy who must become extraordinary to save those around him.  It could be that he is forced into this position.  It could be that he fights it before ultimately embracing it. But this general theme is laced through my favorite movies.  It is why I like Batman and Iron Man more than other superheroes.  They aren't gifted with any superhuman abilities - with the exception of great wealth.  They decide they have to do something to rectify the evil going on and then make it happen.  But, underneath the suits and weapons, they are just guys fighting to save the people around them.  (Granted, their circle of influence is larger than most people's.)

This is one of the reasons the Harry Potter series resonates so much with me.  It is just an ordinary boy who has to become extraordinary.  Everything he does is to save people.  He becomes a warrior because he has to.  We see this in The Matrix, Braveheart, Burn Notice, Chuck.  I am drawn to those adventure.  I want to see myself in that role.  I guess I always have seen myself there.  I'm just an ordinary guy who sees that people need rescued and wants to lead the charge.  There are actually times where I have trouble disconnecting mentally from a movie because I desperately want to experience that thrill of fighting and defending.

I have always been the one in front.  I gravitate towards leadership positions.  Rarely am I satisfied to sit idly by in a meeting or Sunday School class.  I don't force myself into the limelight - I'm not an attention hog.  It is just the way I'm built.  I'm a leader.  And other people see that and want me to take that place.  I am not going to stage a coup to take over.  But if there is a void of leadership or an opportunity to step up, I will do it.  I had a leadership position in every club I was a member of in high school.  If I was active in a group in college, I usually ended up in an officer role.  When we start attending a church, it is usually just a matter of time before I'm teaching a class.

The problem is that right now, for this period of my life, I am not able to follow my usual pattern.  Due to my responsibilities with the kids, Heather's school schedule, commitments with Defender Ministries, and travel, I am not able to step into leadership.  I actually don't have any opportunities to be that at all.  And it is frustrating.  I'm not used to sitting in a class and having to listen week after week - thinking of how I would teach the lesson.  It has not been my lot in life to just watch things happen and not be an active part of making them happen.

One of our new favorite shows is Blue Bloods.  It is about a family with a long history of law enforcement. The father is police commissioner.  The one brother is a detective; the other is a rookie cop who just switched from law school.  The sister is a district attorney.  There even is a brother who died in the line of duty.  The family is the kind that I was mentioning earlier - ordinary good people wanting to make a difference.  Then there is the grandfather.  He used to be police commissioner.  But he was forced out due to politics and his own age and failing health.  Now he has to sit by and watch the rest of the family make a difference - and he's left cooking for their weekly dinners and offering the occasional piece of wisdom (often unheeded).  You can see the frustration in his face.  He wants to be out there.  His heart is still on the battlefield, but he has been forced to the back.  For the last few weeks, I have felt that way.  It has been very frustrating.

Today, something came to me that really got me thinking.  For the time being, my role really has changed.  I am not supposed to be the front.  I need to support from behind.  That is an uncomfortable place to be for me.  I'm sure some of this is pride and ego.  Some of it is just that it feels unnatural.  But that is the reality of the situation.  Our society loves to promote and embrace the hero, the superstar, the biggest and best.  We don't think about the people behind the scenes making that happen.  I am very guilty of this.  I mean, look at this entire post.  I am unhappy that I am not top banana.  I keep on mistakingly believing this whole thing is about me.  If I really was wanting to see my world changed, it wouldn't matter who is doing the job - just that it is getting done.

Those people on top can't make it without people behind them.  For every Harry Potter, there are dozens of Neville Longbottoms and Luna Lovegoods that also are battling.  Bruce Wayne has Alfred and Lucius Fox.  Tony Stark has Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan.  William Wallace would never have become the hero he was without Uncle Argyle and Hamish.  Those people know their roles and do them well.  The victory is just as much won through their efforts - even though that movies are not usually made about them.

I know there are things I can do in this place.  And I know they will have an impact.  And I wrote a few weeks back, I have started contacting the people on my Facebook friend list.  Mostly, this consists of sending them a message to encourage them.  So far, I have gotten a response from everyone I wrote but one.  Each one of them has said that the message meant so much, that it came when they needed it most. That is important.  I remember when I was running a ministry.  It gets to be lonely and stressful.  You usually only hear from people when they are upset at you.  It meant so much to get a positive note.  I can offer that to people.

Also, the entire Sunday School lesson was about how important it is to pray.  I fail at this so much.  One thing I have now is time.  I certainly could spend time each day praying - for my family, for friends, for Heather's classmates, for ministers and teachers around me.  That is something I can do that fits into my schedule.  Prayer is important.  Even if I can't physically be out there working and fighting, I can at least be praying for people.

It is a mindset - just like my weight loss efforts.  I have to choose to accept my role and embrace it.  Back in the day, Dwayne Johnson the actor was The Rock the wrestler.  He had a statement he used to yell before a match.  "KNOW YOUR ROLE AND SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!!"  It was a pretty arrogant and rude line that took a shot at the jobber entering the ring.  But it brings a level of truth with it as well - at least for me.  If I want to stay miserable, I can keep wishing for something bigger and better.  I can strain against my situation. Or I can accept the secondary role and work as hard as I can to help the people around me.  It still is an ordinary guy trying to change his world - it just isn't leading from the front.  It is helping from behind the scenes.  It isn't about me anyway, right?  Know my role.  Shut my mouth.  Get it done.

Dec 3, 2010

For Your Own Good

This post is technically about 50/50 family and religion.  But for sake of classification, let's go with the brown disc.  And, if I've written about this before, my apologies.  It just struck me again this morning.

Gabe is a funny little dude.  He is VERY opinionated and stubborn - possibly more than either of his siblings.  It is very difficult to get him to do something that he doesn't want to do.  I can threaten him, bribe him, try to force him.  But he gets this little stubborn scowl on his face and just keeps whispering, "NO!"  At least he usually is quiet in his rebellion.  He is a sweet kid, but - like a fudge ripple through vanilla ice cream - there is this ribbon of hard-headedness that runs through his middle.

Today, the fight was over his shoes.  Don't ask me to explain this, but he gets a weird attachment to whatever pair he is wearing.  Years ago, he hated wearing shoes.  Finally, we got him to wear these blue sandals.  When he started to outgrow them, we tried to transition to a Thomas the Train pair of sneakers.  He flipped his lid.  For weeks, he refused to wear them.  He would fight us when we put them on.  And then he would tear them off.  Finally he changed his mind - I don't even remember what made him do it.  Well, when those shoes got too small we bought him a pair of brown sandals.  Same thing happened.  Fight, scream, kick, take off, grudging acceptance.

We are now in a place where these sandals are getting tight.  But, there is the added dimension that winter is rolling into Tallahassee.  Today, the low was 26 when we woke up.  Next week we have lows of 20 and 21 forecast.  It just isn't the smartest thing to wear sandals in that weather - especially since he loves ripping his shoes off the second he's in his car seat.  The truth is he hates shoes and only wears them for the briefest of moments.  A couple weeks ago, we bought him a pair of blue casual shoes - kind of like that skater sneaker design.  Nice shoes.  Not to Gabe.

On his first day of school, I tried to put them on.  It was like trying to put socks on a cat.  He was flailing all over the place.  I finally forced the socks and shoes on him and he ripped them off within a minute.  Anyone who has a two or three year old knows, some wars just aren't worth it.  So he's been wearing his sandals.  Every so often we'll drag the blue shoes out and try them.  "NO!  I want my BROWN shoes!"  Today, though, it just didn't seem responsible to put those sandals on him.  It's stinking cold!  (No rude comments from people in Buffalo or Connecticut.)

We had started preparing him last night by talking about the blue shoes.  "No.  Brown shoes."  I thought we had made some progress before bed, but this morning it was back to the same point.  "NO! Brown shoes."  When I went to get him dressed, I brought out the blue shoes and socks.  He ran and got his brown shoes and started carrying them around.  He went up to all of us, trying to convince us (even the kids) why he should wear brown shoes.  I laid him down to get him changed and dressed.  "BROWN SHOES! BROWN SHOES!"  He's crying now about the shoes.  Deep down, I don't give a rip if he wears the blue shoes.  I just don't want him to be cold.  I have a small thought.  This is only going to get ugly.  What if I can at least get him to wear socks with the brown sandals?

I start putting the socks on and he's flailing around like I'm trying to put a costume on him.  (Oh, yeah, that's the worst thing I can do to him.)  I get one sock on and then really quick jam the brown shoe on.  "LOOK!  Brown shoes WITH socks!  Eh?  Sound good?"  I get the other one on quick.  He's crying.  "Go show Mommy!  She wants to see your shoes."  He wanders over to her, crying about the injustice.  Finally, he realized he sort of won and he was fine.  I even got him to keep his shoes on in the car!  (If he had take the shoes off, the socks would have gone next and I never would have gotten them back on.)  Of course, the same battle was brewing when I went to put his Cars hoodie on instead of his WALL-E jacket.

The ridiculous thing is that it was for his own good.  I didn't want him cold.  I'm not trying to be mean.  I just know better that you need to bundle up when it's that cold outside.  In that moment, it struck me how much like children we are when it comes to God.  He's sitting there, knowing what is best for us.  And we're getting angry over dumb little things - the equivalent to which shoes we want to wear.  The whole time, God is saying, "It's for your own good!"  We just don't care - we want to wear our WALL-E jacket and sandals.

I started thinking about Defender Ministries.  We have been kind of drifting along for almost six years now.  We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are supposed to do this ministry.  We have been given a message.  And we know that God is guiding us into the different realms we address.  But it seems to be kind of stuck in low gear.  For years, we have tried to get things going.  We have tried partnerships, meeting with big shot pastors and speakers, going to to conferences, mailing out stuff.  All the stuff marketing firms tell you to do.  But those things yield surprisingly little results.  We get upset and wonder why.  Why doesn't the money come in?  Why don't we hear anything back from people.  And it seems like God says, "I'm protecting you.  It's for your own good."  But we get upset because we want things to be different.

I do it in my personal life.  Why can't there be more financial security?   We aren't things easier?  Why can't these kids calm down?  I want things done my way and don't think about how God knows best.  Or I don't care.  It isn't until I truly do calm down and hand things over to Him that I gain peace.  I realize that everything is for my own good.  I look at these years in Tallahassee, which have been very hard.  And I wouldn't trade them for the world.  I am a better man, a thinner man, a calmer man, a more trusting and faithful man.  This was for my own good - as bad as I wanted to stay in Orlando.  But if I had stayed there, I would have stayed where I was in so many ways.

Even with Defender, God has been showing us that His plan is truly incredible.  Stuff has happened in the last few months that has blown our minds - and it still is.  We just needed to trust Him and let it happen.  Everything has built to this point.  And now, we are just stunned.  We are praying and saying, "God, you had a plan the whole time!  It all built to this."  And He's nodding, saying, "It was for your own good."  Finally the lesson is sinking in.  Sure, it has taken six years.  Maybe I should be more patient with Gabe...

Nov 9, 2010

National UnFriend Day

There isn't a category picture for this post because, really, it falls into most of them.  On November 3, Jimmy Kimmel proposed a new holiday.  November 17 is being known as National UnFriend Day.  On this day, he is urging people to unfriend some of the glut of friends they have accumulated on Facebook.  He makes some good points.  Friendship is a special thing that should be treasured.  Instead, Facebook has minimized the importance of that word by calling anyone who you know "a friend."  To help us identify "true friends," Kimmel came up with some questions.  Would you loan this person fifty dollars?  If you posted you were moving, would that person help?  If the answer is no, unfriend them.

I can understand the thought behind Kimmel's semi-serious rant.  I love Facebook.  It has allowed me to reconnect with people who I had lost track of over the years.  But there are tons of people that I don't really  know that well.  Right now, I have 650 friends on Facebook.  How many of those are "true friends?"  I have no idea.  I have people on that list from just about every major phase of my life.  There are people from my high school years - both my school and my church.  Then there are people from college - old Student Government friends, classmates, BCM pals.  I have people from the church at BCM I worked at in Tampa, people from our year in Orange Park, friends from our time up in here in Tallahassee.  And there are tons of people from Orlando - Apple coworkers, students from ICS, friends from church.  I also have a good number of ministers and students that I met at Defender Ministries appearances.  So, would I consider them all good friends?  Not at all.  In fact, some of them I don't know very well at all.

So, according to Kimmel and others who think his idea is super, I should jettison most of those people.  In a kind of funny twist, I had a completely different plan.  I had no idea about Kimmel's idea until yesterday. Instead, while I was driving down to Tampa this past weekend, I had a lot of time to think.  And I found myself drifting back into the dark vortex that a combination on loneliness, fear, and lack of adult interaction leads to.  At that precise moment, I honestly felt that I had nothing to offer anyone.  I was worn out and beat down.  It is a pretty ugly feeling, honestly. I was trying to think about how I have fought that in the past.

The greatest weapon to that feeling of emptiness and hopelessness, to me at least, is to try to minister to other people.  It is one of the great mysteries of life.  But, even when we are completely empty in our own tank, we can find fulfillment and refreshment by giving to others.  In those times when I allowed myself to be an encourager, an edifier, a positive influence I would always find myself better off as well.  This is part of God's plan for mankind.  We are not build to be loners.  We need each other to encourage and strengthen us.  In addition, we are built to need to provide that for others.  It seems a little strange - we need to give ourselves away to be truly full.  But, the big problem for me right now is that I don't have a whole lot of people to bless that way in person.  I am with the kids all day.  I don't know a lot of people up here in Tallahassee.  I could make food for Heather's study group at FSU.  I could call or email a few people I know here - maybe 10 or 15.  But it isn't what I was thinking.

As we were driving, I came up with a way to minister to others and told Heather my idea.  (And keep in mind that I had no idea what Kimmel had proposed at this point.)  I thought about the fact that I had these 650 Facebook friends.  I decided that I was going to begin reconnecting with every single one of them.  These people have all been brought into my life for a reason.  It may have been nearly twenty years ago in Mr. Trotsky's English class.  Or it may have been at a workshop four years ago in Ridgecrest, NC.  But that person still connected with me enough to create a Facebook link in the first place.  So, what better way to start this process?

Think about how much you love getting an encouraging note from someone?  I could give that to people.  I have the time to get on Facebook.  And writing is something that comes naturally to me.  So I could probably put together a few of these letters every day.  I don't mean write some lame cut and paste memo either.  I mean to write a personal letter - thanking the person, reminiscing about how that person is important to you, offering to pray for the person.  I thought it was a pretty good idea.  Of course, after the weekend I kind of suspected the idea would just float away like many others.

That was until I saw Kimmel's proposal.  I watched the clips from his show and read his twitter feed.  And I knew for sure that I needed to follow through.  Instead of removing people, I am going to try to minister to them.  I'm sure some people won't appreciate it or care.  They can unfriend me and we'll move on.  But I would wager that it will instead be something positive for a lot of people.  I'm not sure how quickly I'll finish this.  But I am going to get started as soon as I can.  So if you get a note from me at some point on Facebook, you'll know why.  And I hope it will make your day better.

Nov 4, 2010

Mom

Today is my mom's 65th birthday.  Over the years, I have written blog posts about my kids on their birthdays, and about my wife.  I have written several posts about Heather's grandparents.  But, as I went back through my posts, I realized that I have never actually written about my mom.  I've mentioned her, of course.  But she has never gotten her own posting.  That is an oversight that will be remedied right now.

Patricia Staples was born November 4, 1945 in West Palm Beach.  She was the third of five children born to George and Dorothy DeBay.  And she is an extraordinary woman.  Her life has never been easy.  She would probably be labelled unlucky in love by people who like tagging labels onto things. I know from personal experience that my father was not exactly a stellar selection.  They remained married until he died in 1999.  But their marriage was far from perfect, and our family was far from peaceful.  My dad was a quick tempered and intolerant man.  He was an alcoholic who, even though he quit drinking when I was a kid, always projected the stereotypical alcoholic behaviors.  Rage, irrational behavior, fighting.

It was all made worse when I was two and my mom became a Christian.  The added point of tension from differing worldviews created massive tension.  As a child and a teen, I always felt like the guys in Hurt Locker - trying to diffuse the bomb that was my dad.  He could go off at any instant and from any prodding.  You never knew what it was that would cause it.  It didn't have to make sense.  You could sit in the wrong chair, put the wrong sauce on your sandwich, say the wrong thing about the wrong athlete, not respond the right way.  It was like walking through a minefield.

Through it all, my mom was constant in where she stationed herself.  She was between us and him.  She was the human shield.  There were actually some times where literally she had to step in between him and one of us.  Most of the time, she placed herself emotionally in the middle.  She took the brunt of the blast.  I can't count the number of times that she stood there and diffused the explosion before it got to us.  It wasn't a passive action, either.  She would call him on his behavior.  Sometimes we would be like, "Shut up!  You're making it madder!"  But she didn't back down.  This little woman - a foot smaller than my dad and half his size - would stand right there and give it to him.

In addition to serving as a defense for us, she also was completely responsible to maintaining our home, coordinating the day to day activities, and teaching us.  When it came to issues of faith, she was the sole influence.  Actually, that isn't true.  She was the sole positive influence.  And she had to work extra hard to overcome the other point of view being presented.  She was a great example to us - both of strength in the face of adversity and of applying what you believe.  I have said many times that I would not trade my experiences growing up because it made me who I am.  I had to be sure about what I believed because I had to defend it every day to my dad.  It wasn't just a casual thing I decided to think one day.  It defined me - and it still does.  My mom exemplified this.

She also showed how important it was to always learn and read.  One of the most indelible images I have about my mother is her sitting in her chair at night reading.  She would have her Bible and a AW Tozer or Warren Wiersbe book in her lap.  She had a whole bookshelf full of books on the living room wall jammed full of books on theology, devotionals, and study guides.  She had topical Bibles, dictionaries, and concordances.  Seriously, her shelf was a loaded as most ministers' would be.  This example has stuck with me - and subsequently my kids.  We always have books around and are reading. I never depended on just what I learned in church.  I studied for myself.

Her generosity also was so amazing.  I remember all of the unbelievable things she did for us and our friends - just because she loved us.  She made me overalls when I was a little guy with Sesame Street characters on them.  In Kindergarten, she made cookies for my whole class that were made to look like each child.  She helped turn the garage into a rec center of sorts during our college years so we could have people come over.  Over the years, she made us toys, shirts, blankets, wall hangings to reflect things we loved.  And, one of the most amazing gifts she gave me was a full king size quilt for our bed - hand stitched and embroidered.

My mom also was our best friend.  I know there is the great debate over if parents should be their kids' friends.  I never wondered about her role.  Trust me.  She had no problem busting out the stick when we needed (which was frequently).  But she also was there when we needed her. We could talk to her about anything and everything.  I remember calling her when I was desperately homesick at camp in high school.  I spent many hours on the phone with her at college - dealing with frustration, loneliness, confusion, being mistreated.  When I first moved to Tampa, I distinctly remember calling her crying because I felt abandoned and wanted to leave.  Even now, during this new stage of life as a stay-at-home dad, I have relied on calling her and talking to her.  She has been an encouragement and source of strength.

We didn't always want that friendship.  I know that all of us went through periods where we pushed her away.  The phone conversations were short and terse.  We didn't want to talk and share.  And we certainly didn't want her advice.  And we could all be selfish jerks.  I remember her 45th birthday.  The kids were being so nasty to each other that she turned the car around and we went home.  She was so hurt.  It was a very special birthday to her (born in 1945, 45th birthday).  And we ruined it by being pains in the butt.  I would like to say that it was the last or only time that behavior happened.  But it wasn't.  Over the years, I have hurt her in so many ways.  But, every time I come back, she is right there.  That has taught me about God, as well.  He is willing to forgive and repair our relationship.  He never stops loving us.  My mom demonstrated that constantly.

I know that I am the man I am because of the mom she was.  I can never thank her enough for her example, her love, her teaching, her strength, her protection, her forgiveness.  Now I get the joy of watching my kids experience all of those things.  Gabe today was crying because he wanted to go see her today instead of tomorrow.  The kids sang happy birthday to her on the phone today with such glee and love.  They adore her and love their time with her.  We only wish it could be more often.  She isn't the same physically.  Her many health issues have robbed her of her ability to be as creative or involved. She is constant pain and distress.  But she still makes cookies with the kids when they come see her.  Or she paints with them or makes volcanoes.  That same person is there, reflecting God and radiating love.  It just is imprisoned by the frail body.

So, I would like to wish her a very happy 65th birthday.  Mom, thank you so much for being who you are.  Thank you for sacrificing for us, for protecting us, for teaching and guiding and disciplining us.  Thank you for loving us and praying for us.  Thank you for introducing us to God and for demonstrating how to live a life pleasing to Him.  Thank you for loving my wife and my kids.  Thank you for the many hours of phone calls.  Thank you for shedding tears with me and talking me off the proverbial ledge.  It has been a blessing to be your son.

Oct 30, 2010

Beloved

Last Sunday we were down in Orlando and attended our old church.  It was great to be able to see our friends from before the Tallahassee relocation.  And I also enjoyed being in the service.  It is a different style of preaching and worship than what we experience up here every Sunday.  Sometimes it is good to go to a different church every so often - it kind of jars you out of complacency.

Anyway, during the sermon, Pastor Byron was talking about The Transfiguration story from Matthew 17 (and Mark 9 and Luke 9).  The story itself wasn't what hit me.  During the story at one point, God speaks down from Heaven and says, "This is my beloved Son..."  Byron went on to explain that beloved means "priceless and unique."  When he said that, I started thinking about that word.

My name means "Beloved of God."  I like my name - always have.  I know some kids imagine changing their name.  But I like my name.  I don't like shortening it to Dave or anything.  I think part of that is the association with King David in the Bible - one of my favorite characters.  And part of it is that I learned what my name meant very early on in life.  When your name means something like "beloved of God," it is hard to think it needs changed.  I mean, can you get better than that?  I can understand if your name meant something dumb.  But I like my meaning.

Hearing that beloved means priceless and unique, really struck home.  I am priceless to God.  I am unique to Him.  I started thinking.  Over the years in the church, I have heard so many sermons and lessons about how we are these small weak things.  Pastors almost go over the top to establish the fact that we are pathetic.  We have nothing worthwhile to offer.  We are almost like scum.  God's bigness is talked about a lot - from Francis Chan to Louie Giglio.  In addition, God doesn't need us.  He will see His plan realized with our without us.

There is truth in this.  Paul calls us worms and talks about how our goodness is like wound wrappings.  But that doesn't really take into account how God treats us.  Look at Creation.  God doesn't lump people in with everything else - just another cog in the universe.  We are special.  We are the only creature that God wanted to have a relationship with.  We are the only ones Christ died for.  God does see us as priceless and special.  He loves us and desires to be with us.  Isn't that amazing?

I know there are some people who have trouble believing in God.  I never really have.  I mena, just look around.  It is pretty hard to believe that this incredible world just randomly popped up.  The reality of God, to me, is not a hard concept.  The thing that really is hard to wrap my mind around is the fact that this Creator of the Universe, this huge massive God, wants me to spend time with Him.  He wants me to talk to Him and pray to Him and sing songs to Him.  That is just bizarre.

Take President Obama.  I don't give a warbling hoot what you feel politically, if the President were to call you, it would blow your mind.  Now imagine this President kept on calling you, emailing you, sending you presents.  The "leader of the free world" wants to spend time with you - just some random person.  Things like that just don't happen.  God wanting to do that is even more unbelievable.  But that is exactly what He does.

He sees me as priceless and unique.  Yes, there are other people with similar skill sets and personalities.  But there is no one else exactly like me.  My combination of talents, gifts, passions, dislikes, experiences, opinions, friends, history, family, decisions make me completely different than anyone on this planet.  My wife and I are very close.  We spend a ton of time together and have more than ten years of marriage in our history.  But look at how different we are.  I mean, we only have 269 friends in common on Facebook.  That's a lot, but that means we both have almost 400 people different.  Even twins have a long list of things that make them different - even if the only difference was their own perspective on shared history.

God made me for a unique purpose.  He has a relationship with me.  I'm not some worthless weasel that has ingratiated himself to a ruler.  He chased me.  He called me.  He wants to work with me and use me. And He made me in such a way that I will have an impact on my world that no one else can have.  I am His beloved - his priceless and unique one.

I don't know about you, but there are definitely days when that thought makes all the difference.  You may have an exciting life with high stakes meetings and million dollar negotiations.  But for right now, most of my days are spent trying to manage three kids in tiny apartment and not get overrun with dishes, toys, and laundry - all while staying sane and controlled.  That is hardly something that would draw the attention of a big shot, let alone God.  To know that even in this place in life, when it is easy to feel useless and alone, God Himself looks down and sees me as a priceless and unique part of His heart.  That's one heck of a name to have.

Oct 18, 2010

Calling College Football Fans: Get on Board!

The first BCS rankings came out on Sunday night.  As expected, they are stupid.  This is normal, though.  In fact, it would be disappointing if they were anything else.  It is something we have come to rely on: the sun rises and sets, the seasons pass, the BCS is stupid.  It is one of the worst ideas EVER in sports.  I'm serious.  If you were to rank the dumbest sports ideas, what would you rank?  I don't know the exact order, but they would have to include the following, right?
  • Drafting Ryan Leaf #2
  • LeBron's "The Decision"
  • Michael Jordan playing Baseball
  • The Detroit Lions
  • Brian Bosworth
  • THE BCS
It is undeniably disappointing. And the thing is, there really is no one to defend it except the executives in charge of it and the college presidents.  Everyone else wishes it would crawl into a hole and die.  Fans, players, coaches, announcers, sports "experts," the President of the United States, Joe the Hobo.  Everyone hates it.  I think that what makes it even more atrocious is that it is the handiwork of the NCAA - the same people who have the BEST postseason process.  Of course, I'm talking about the NCAA basketball tournament.  March Madness.  The upsets.  The pageantry.  The brackets.  Even people who don't give a rip roaring rocket about sports follow March Madness.  So, with football - the cash cow and biggest sport in the land - the NCAA relies on some convoluted system of math formulas and makes sure the best teams are NOT playing.

How hard would it be to make a tournament for football?  It wouldn't.  Take the top eight teams and have them play in the Cotton, Citrus, Fiesta, and Peach Bowls.  Then the next round, have the winners play in the Sugar and Orange.  Then the championship is in the Rose Bowl.  No conference guarantees.  If that won't fly, then expand it to a sixteen team field.  Give the ACC, Pac10, Big10, Big12, Big East, and SEC their spots and then take the next 10 highest ranked teams.  (I think if your conference champion isn't in the top 16, you shouldn't get a seat at the table.  But I'm willing to compromise.)  Have the first eight games take place in the Outback, Holiday, Aloha, Humanitarian, Liberty, Tangerine, Gator, and Motor City Bowls - to spread it around the country.  The other bowls can still be played with the teams left out of the tournament.  (Bonus Result - no more 6-5 or 6-6 teams getting to the postseason.)  How hard is this?  It isn't.  It makes perfect sense.  Like I said, no one is defending the BCS process.  You hate it.  I hate it.  That is why there is one things that must be done, and I need your help.  For this one year, put aside your team allegiances and root for the matchup that MUST happen.

Boise State vs TCU for the National Title.

I know what you're thinking, and you're right.  But, let's face it.  Your team is probably either A) already out of the running, B) not a part of a big conference so it never had a chance, or C) going to lose or get screwed by the BCS.  Auburn Fan - I know you are hoping this year will be your year.  But you don't realize there is actually a formula in the BCS that guarantees you will NEVER WIN.  This is the best year.  USC is on probation.  Texas sucks.  So does Florida.  Ohio State and Alabama were kind enough to already choke.  The ACC is horrible this year.  The SEC can't play defense.  So, let's bind together and root for the Broncos and Horned Frogs to square off in Glendale, Arizona.

It HAS TO happen.  You're right.  They are NOT the best two teams in the country.  In the SEC, TCU would go 6-6.  In the PAC-10, Boise State would end up 8-4.  But that just goes to show how stupid the BCS is.  Two teams like that should NEVER be in the title game.  But, the BCS itself can guarantee that.  Here's the deal.  There are lots of protections build into the BCS to assure that only the major conferences will ever have a chance at BCS happiness.  If you are in a smaller conference, you have to finish in the Top 12 to be considered.  You have to finish in the Top 6 to be guaranteed a spot - unless there are two non-BCS teams in the Top 6.  Then the second one can go fly a kite.

BUT, there is a way.  It is in the BCS contract that the title MUST BE the teams ranked one and two.  There is no way around the rule.  So, if Boise State is #1 and TCU is #2, there is no way around it.  They are the title game participants.  This would be a-MAY-zing!  The game would have the lowest ratings for a title game since BYU clinched the top spot with their sterling win the Holiday Bowl.  It would be a disaster.  The game would sell out because it is being played out west.  TCU and BSU have fan bases that travel.  So the stadium would be full.  But the rest of America will be watching Castle and Dancing With The Stars.

I know that we all think this can't happen.  The first poll showed us that the BCS will do whatever it takes to keep it from occurring - even leapfrogging Oklahoma over everyone because they have the easiest remaining schedule and may be able to hang onto the top spot.  I mean, if it comes down to it, some junior exec for the BCS will charge the field and shoot a player mid-play ala The Last Boy Scout.  But they can't fight their own rules.  If the season ends with BSU and TCU 1-2, they are the title game.  YES!!!

So, here's what you need to do.  Don't just blindly root for your team.  Look at the games remaining and pour all your couch potato karma into the games that will guarantee our disaster.  Here is a handy guide of the games remaining that could affect this.  I only listed realistically losable games - no mega-upsets.  We just need to clear out the unbeaten teams and keep BSU and TCU undefeated.  Cheer for the team in capital letters.  Rain down haterade on the other team.  And root for the Broncos and Frogs every week.  We need everyone to get together to make this happen.

  • WEEK EIGHT: UCLA over Oregon, MISSOURI over Oklahoma, LSU over Auburn (you'll see why later)
  • WEEK NINE: IOWA over Michigan State, USC over Oregon, NEBRASKA over Missouri
  • WEEK TEN: ALABAMA over LSU (that's why we chose LSU earlier), TCU over an undefeated Utah (to bolster TCU's rep)
  • WEEK ELEVEN: We should have all the major undefeated teams gone by this point, but to be safe, we'll root against some of the biggest one loss teams also.  And we'll still target the unbeatens just in case some got through the net.  GEORGIA over Auburn (stop laughing, it could happen), MISSISSIPPI STATE over Alabama, KANSAS STATE over Missouri
  • WEEK TWELVE: IOWA over Ohio State, MICHIGAN over Wisconsin
  • WEEK THIRTEEN: In Auburn/Alabama, cheer against the higher ranked team, ARIZONA over Oregon, OKLAHOMA STATE over Oklahoma
  • WEEK FOUTEEN: OREGON STATE over Oregon.  This is the conference championship week, and our last chance to bring down any troublemakers.  Pay attention and root against those teams that could block, leapfrog, or hurt BSU and TCU.  
It is a lot to ask, I know.  But take one for the team.  Rise up and band together.  It is our time.  Let's push our collective sports loving strength into what must be done.  Think of the joy you will experience knowing that the BCS has been dealt a death blow!  YES WE CAN!  It's going to happen; get on board.  Let's root the Boise State Broncos and TCU Horned Frogs into the title game.  

And then go watch something else that day.

Oct 15, 2010

TV 2010: No Glee in Blogville

As I have written recently, I have been working on my writing.  This has been through reading a lot of books, visiting some other blogs, and seeing what my favorite writers say about how to improve your writing.  To a person, every one of the great writers I follow say the same thing.  "To be better as a writer, you must write every day."  Malcolm Gladwell, Peter King, Bill Simmons, Stephen King, Chuck Klostermann.  They all preach that.  I am always nervous about writing too much on my blogs - because that means that people who follow me have to READ my increased output.  This is compounded by the fact that this blog gets forwarded over to Facebook - where the Notifications get put onto my News Feed.  That means all 650 friends have to see "David Staples posted another useless Note." So I have tried to spread out my writing onto my three blogs.  One day each week is on the blog for my fantasy football league.  (If for whatever reason, like you are insane, you want to visit that site - you can follow this link.)  Then I post on Darth Fatso off and on.  And I send really long emails to people.  That still leaves a lot of writing unaccounted for.

I have ideas for stuff to write, but I usually decide it is too stupid to post.  Well, no more, my friends!  I will no release the beast of idiocy that I have kept bottled up inside.  Be prepared.  That means TV reviews, discussions on meaningless movie "what ifs," and my long gestating article on why modern tithing sermons are not biblical.  The floodgates are about to open.  Get in the raft and grab your lifejacket.

To begin, I thought I would take a look at the current TV season.  I watch a decent amount of television.  It is my chance to unwind at night.  I also can justify it by saying it is research for all my Defender Ministries teaching materials.  One show that we have always enjoyed has been Glee on FOX.  I even talked about the show last year, during its stellar first season.  I thought the teen story lines were very realistic with what kids struggle with.  The music and choreography were phenomenal.  And the underdog trying to make a splash season storyline resonated.  I felt it slipped in the last nine episodes, almost a little too proud of its success.  But I figured this season would put the show back on track.

I was wrong.

To be honest, I have been very disappointed by this season for several reasons.  First of all, the characters that were so rich in the first season have been reduced into one note stereotypes again.  This show broke stereotypes.  Every character was being pigeonholed by the other kids in the school, but the viewers realized through the story that there were many layers.  The label didn't cover everything.  Finn was the superstar jock - but he also wanted to sing and was very sensitive.  Quinn was captain of the cheerleaders and president of the celibacy club - but she was pregnant.  Artie was handicapped - but he was a romantic and performer.  Rachel was the driven and talented annoying girl - who desperately wanted to fit in and get the guy.  Each character looked like it was going to be one thing, but there was a twist.  Mercedes was the sassy black girl - who was actually the most encouraging person in the group.  Tina was the goth girl that loved the geek.  Puck was the bad boy athlete that wanted to do the right thing.  And Kurt was the gay kid with the rough edged loving mechanic dad.

But something happened.  Now, these characters have all reverted back to those stereotypic labels.  The growth they had last year seems gone.  Quinn is back to being obsessed with getting back on top.  Puck is surly.  Now that Rachel got the guy, she is whiny and annoying.  Artie is just a lonely wheelchair dweller. Tina is Asian - like that's it.  Brittney is the dumb funny girl.  Santana is the sex crazed cheerleader.  And Kurt, oh Kurt, he has become something else.  He is still the gay kid.  But he is angry and rude and awful.

That leads into the second problem.  The show used to be focused on Rachel.  Her drive to stardom, quest to capture Finn's love, mission to find her mom.  The show worked that way.  We hated her diva-in-training attitude.  But we saw there was so much more behind the scenes.  Now, though, she got what she wanted.  She got Finn and found her mom.  So now she has been reduced to the whiny driven girl and placed on the sidelines.  The competitions that drove the group are gone.  They mention Nationals, but they haven't done anything to prepare for it.  Now, it is Kurt's show.  Everything spins around him.  And he is not a good enough character to be in that role.  It is NOT because he is gay.  It is because he is angry and rude to everyone.  He pushes away everyone who cares about him.  He's been hurt over the years and mistreated for being different and so he is taking it out on everyone.  He just assumes everyone is going to be that same vicious bully from years past.

But these people are his friends.  They have defended him and been there for him.  He has no reason to be so ugly.  Finn spurned Kurt's advances last year.  And Kurt is punishing him for it - even though Finn has put his own reputation on the line more times than anyone for Kurt.  If anyone has proven his true friendship, it is Finn.  But Kurt is acidic to him.  He is also unbelievably awful to the teacher - even though there is nothing to justify that.  So far, Kurt has been ugly to everyone, even his own dad.  It makes no sense.  I don't like his character any more.  I feel sympathy for him sometimes.  But mostly I think he is being unreasonably mean.  But, I don't feel that anyone can say that because of his homosexuality - he can't be presented as a negative character.  We, as the audience, MUST be sympathetic to his plight - even if he doesn't deserve it.

This brings us to the third problem.  The show has been so preachy this year.  One of the things I admired about Glee in the first year was its ability to address difficult topics in a subtle and graceful manner.  This year, it has become a musical afterschool special.  The biggest theme is the one of tolerance.  And it is being jammed down our throats.  In the first year, we grew to love the students.  We empathized with them as we watched them trying to live their lives and deal with their struggles.  This year, the show seems to have abandoned the storytelling so much in favor of making statements.  I thought the religiously themed show was very well done.  But it was a statement show.  All of them have been.  You could plug anyone into the story - it doesn't have to be these characters.  And the show is suffering for it.

The last problem is that FOX realized there was a lot of money in this show.  The music sales from season one made executives drool.  So now everything is about how to generate more money.  The songs used to be an organic element of the storytelling.  They were part of the group's rehearsal or something to communicate emotion.  Now it is "how do we twist the story to fit this song idea."  The theme nights are killing the show.  Last year's Madonna themed episode was so well done and entertaining - and such a cash cow - that the creators have tried to duplicate that.  We had a Brittney Spears episode this year.  The thing was a mess.  It made no sense.  Most of the music was due to dreams.  The story was ridiculous.  The group goes to the dentist?  REALLY?  Now there is a Rocky Horror Picture Show episode coming up.  STOP!  Just go back to telling great stories punctuated with music instead of selling albums.  The show is an hour long music video.

Yes, the music is still really good.  I just am not that attached to it.  It used to be that I remembered the scene as the music played too - which made it better.  You ever do that?  Picture something as music plays?  When I heard "Bust Your Windows" on the CD, I remembered Mercedes and the cheerleaders singing to Kurt as she smashed his SUV because he was lying to her.  This isn't the first show to do that. Lost was a master of this.  (I can't hear "Make Your Own Kind of Music" without picturing Juliet getting ready for book club.)  Whenever I hear "Bleeding Love," I see the dance routing with Mark and Chelsie from So You Think You Can Dance.  With the exception of Kurt's amazing performance of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" from this season, most of the music was just kind of there.  It doesn't have emotional weight.  And neither does the show any more.  It is being reduced to a stereotypical teen show - with really good singers and political overtones.  Broadway presents John Hughes via Bill Maher.  I hope things get better soon.

Oct 4, 2010

The NEXT Iron Chef

I have some other posts simmering in the old blogsophere.  But I figured I would punch this one first while it was fresh in my mind.  Last night was the season premiere of one my favorite shows - Food Network's The Next Iron Chef.  This is the third season of the show and it is always exciting and entertaining.  They make these guys do the craziest stuff to try to win this thing.  Just an example.  Last night began with them having to make a sandwich that showed ingenuity in just thirty minutes.  Then for the elimination challenge they were send to a beach.  They were given a Little Green Egg grill to cook on - and that's it.  It wasn't even lit for them.  They had been asked what ingredient they would want on a deserted island.  Whatever they answered they were given as their main ingredient.  The only supplemental things they had were "tropical island ingredients" - shrimp, clams, coconuts, pineapple, stuff like that.  Some people had said suckling pig and turkey, so they were given that.  And then they had an hour to prepare a dinner.  Yeah, ridiculous stuff.

Anyway, last night was a longer episode, so we got to meet the competitors.  As they are panning around, one guy looks familiar.  I blurt out, "Is that Ming Tsai?"  Heather was like, "What?  Who's that?"  I explained that he is a really well known chef and has had his own TV show.  It pops up that he had hosted East Meets West.  She recognized that.  I was kind of flabbergasted.  Why in the world would they put Ming Tsai on a show trying to basically find a new celebrity chef.

This show is a huge deal for the competitors.  The winner gets to be on Iron Chef America.  But even the other guys who do well end up being used by Food Network, The Cooking Channel, or other cable channels for other shows.  In the first season, Michael Symon won and has had multiple shows.  But several other guys are in heavy rotation on Food Network (John Besh, Chris Consentino)  One of them - Aaron Sanchez - has been on at least four different shows.  Plus he just landed a big endorsement deal with a Latin American food company.

Last year they kind of put a ringer in there when Amanda Freitag competed after being a judge on multiple Food Network shows.  But her fame was from judging more than cooking - so in that she was on pretty level ground.  And it isn't like Jimmy Johnson or some past winner returning to Survivor where the clan can vote them out right away.  This is completely different.  Ming Tsai is not some random guy.  He one of the more famous chefs around.  He has been on Food Network for almost a decade.  He won a freaking Emmy for his show.  As the contestants were being introduced, the graphics would show an award they won - to give them legitimacy.  Several of them were James Beard award winners, which is one of the biggest awards for chefs out there.  They showed whatever for Tsai, and when he was introducing himself in his little bio, he just tossed out there, "I have an Emmy, I've won the James Beard Award."  He's won so much stuff that it was a throwaway line.  He could have been one of the original Iron Chefs and no one would have thought it strange.

The other contestants were equally incredulous.  On of them was like, "I looked over and saw Ming Tsai over there.  That's very intimidating."  I was wondering why in the world he would even compete in something like this.  It's almost as crazy as having Bobby Flay compete.  In his bio, he followed that earlier line with, "I know I can cook.  This for me to know if I can still really BRING it."  What?  He's only 46.  He's not 82 trying for a comeback.  This isn't George Foreman or Brett Favre trying to wing it with young kids half their age.  You don't lose your cooking chops as you get older.  It would be like Jean Paul Gaultier competing in Project Runway and saying, "I just wanted to see if I still knew how to make shirts."

Obviously, Tsai has the most to lose.  There is no excuse for him not winning.  Just like the other contestants, he has tons of restaurant experience.  But, he has a ton beyond that.  He already knows the pressures of the show, Iron Chef America, having been on it before.  In fact, he beat Bobby Flay in that show.  He's had his own show for years.  He's well respected.  And he can flat out cook.  You could tell the others were intimidated.  In the first challenge, they judged each other and one of them weakly pointed out that Tsai's sandwich had "too much bread."  Ming looked at him and took note.  When it came time to judge that guy's sandwich, Tsai stared the guy down and casually tossed out, "It had too much bread.  It was a 50/50 ratio of bread when it should have been 70/30 or so."  The camera cut to an interview with the guy afterwards.  "I should have seen that coming."  He destroyed the elimination challenge, acting like he cooked all of his meals on a Little Green Egg on the beach.  The only quibble the judges had was that his clam was "marginally overcooked."  Needless to say, he won that episode.  And one of the contestants said, "He's the veteran.  He should win."

It just strikes me as odd why they would have such an unlevel playing field for this version of the show.  Tsai's fame is already in the competitors' heads.  That last comment shows that - they expect to lose.  When you can have that effect on people by showing up, that is a HUGE advantage.  Tsai even said, "I know I can win this competition.  I want an undefeated record."  That shows that he isn't in this just to feel good about himself.  He wants to come in like Michael Jordan in a rec league basketball game and destroy everyone.  Some of the others seem more than ready to let him.  I'm looking to see which of them is willing to actually battle the giant.  That will make for some great television.

Oct 1, 2010

Like Eeyore, Like Son

I had a nickname for a long time.  I didn't like it.  Eeyore.  That's right the mopey donkey from Winnie the Pooh.  Everything was always negative with him.  He always saw the dark side of life.  And that was what people called me.

I'm not oblivious to the fact that I am a melancholy person.  I have taken enough personality tests to know this by now.  I've taken just about every variation of Myers-Briggs known to man.  One of them called me an owl.  Another one said the Bible character I was most like was Moses - a good leader with an angry streak that burned him.  I am aware of this.  I once had a youth pastor tell me that I was the most negative person he knew.  (Doubtful)  In ninth grade, my mom used to get upset at me when she had to watch me mope and walk across the school lawn to come to the car.  I've fought this forever.

I make excuses.  "It's just the way my mouth is."  This is true, my face is not built in a natural smile.  If I let all my facial muscles go, my mouth turns down at the edges - just like my mom's does.  But, that isn't the real reason.  "I'm not overly critical, I'm overly analytical."  Again, a true statement.  But there is a difference and I am not dumb enough to realize it.

I have tried hard to change my outlook - to be more joyful.  And, largely, I have been successful.  (For those of you snickering, just imagine how bad I USED to be.)  But I still wildly vary between being TOO joyful (singing dumb songs and irritating the kids) and being TOO grumpy (scowling and irritating the kids).  I know that I influence others with my behavior, and that it is a bad example.  I guess I never knew how bad...

This morning, we had to change our schedule.  Gabe is starting preschool three days a week.  So we all have to get up earlier so I can drop him off before the big kids.  We went through our routine and got to the preschool with no problems.  Gabe went right in his class, we went back to the car.  Everything was running well.  I would drop them off, go home and shower, get some work done, pick Gabe up, head over to FSU to find out where we will be assigned for years three and four of Heather's schooling.  No biggie.  But then the car wouldn't start in the preschool parking lot.

I have had my share of bad batteries and such.  This sounded different.  Honestly, it sounded like the starter motor was gone.  I had been having trouble with the car starting for a couple days.  Everything I read on The Google while sitting there led me to believe it was the starter.  I waved off a couple of parents who wanted to help jump the car - knowing it was the starter.  So I called my friend, Greg, and waited for him to get there.

Josiah sat in the back and started griping.  He was complaining about how long we would have to sit there.  About being late to school.  About being stuck there forever.  He said today was worse than yesterday, which yesterday he told me was the worst day ever.  [Kids were naughty at school, he couldn't get a smoothie at Boston Market, they messed up his sandwiches, he thought he was going to be able to do something special on Saturday which then looked doubtful.  Worst day ever.]  It was non stop.  I tried to talk to him, and then I realized.  He sounded just like me.  It was like a recording of how I handle situations.

It turns out it was the battery.  It was under warranty at Sears and cost me $1.62 to replace.  I got home in time to get ready to get to FSU.  The kids only were 40 minutes late.  And even last night, Boston Market gave us half our meal free because of the error.  Things worked out.  But he couldn't see it because of all the negativity.  I feel bad for him.  I hated living like that.  And it makes me ill that I have trained my boy to respond to life that way.

Last night I sat with him and tried to teach him about perspective.  Things have been worst (when grandpa died, when we were sick).  Things are worse for other people (earthquakes in Haiti, flooding in Pakistan).  Things are not that bad and usually get fixed quickly.  It is a tough lesson, and obviously he didn't learn it overnight.  It is very apparent that I have some work to do - both with him and myself.  They mimic me.  My initial negative response trains them to think that way.

I guess it is time to retire Eeyore for good.  He can go die with Darth Fatso.  I don't want an Eeyore Jr.  Not even Eeyore wants to be that way.

Sep 19, 2010

Was Jesus Funny?

When we look at the picture of Jesus painted by the Gospels, we have an incomplete picture.  We don't know what he looked like - aside from being from the Middle East and having a beard.  Sure, we have artist renditions of Jesus - but we have no way of knowing if they are accurate.  (Actually, we can be pretty sure that they are NOT.)  Personally, I think that this was on purpose - so we would not worship an image of Jesus.  Rather, we should direct our allegiance to the true Christ.

Most of the time, I don't mind the lack of physical description of Jesus.  I have an active imagination and can generate a picture pretty easily in my mind.  I've done the same thing with regular books for decades.  But there is one big thing that is never described in the Gospel accounts that does bother me.  Why don't we ever see Jesus laugh?  We see Him cry (Luke 19, John 11:35).  We see Him angry (Matthew 21, John 2).  We see him compassionate, distressed, in authority.  We see him teaching, healing, healing, lecturing, walking on water, eating, having dinner.  But we never see him laughing.

This has actually been a difficult thing for me to understand over the years.  I like to laugh.  Sure, some people over the years have accused me of being negative or unemotional.  But that usually is when I am stressed or trying to get ready for a speaking event or something.  I really do like to laugh.  And I like to make people laugh.  When I am speaking at an event, it is a pretty sure bet that the attenders will be laughing at some point.  That is part of who I am.  And so I have really wrestled with why we never see Jesus laugh, smile, grin (despite what Monty Python sketches say), chuckle, or anything of the sort.  He never tells a joke.  He never laughs at a situation.

He is described as a Man of Sorrows.  We know that the lostness of the people around Him broke His heart.  He was about His Father's business.  And I guess that is where I have difficulties.  Did He not have the luxury to laugh?  Was it considered a frivolous activity that was beneath Him?  Does that mean that we shouldn't laugh and joke?  I know the Bible speaks critically inappropriate or coarse humor.  But we don't see a whole lot about laughter.  Sarah laughed at the promise of a baby in her old age - but that wasn't a positive action.  Proverbs is pretty derisive of those labelled "fools" or "jesters."  If Jesus didn't laugh, should we?  I mean, lots of people tell us we should ask What Would Jesus Do?  If we never see Jesus laughing, does that mean we shouldn't either?

This post is certainly not meant to be trivial or disrespectful, so I hope you don't think it is.  I really want to know, did Jesus laugh?  Was He funny?  And if He was, why was that character trait completely left out of everything we read about Him?  Was it because it would diminish His authority?  Would it undermine His Godliness?  I mean, I could see descriptions of His using the facilities as eroding His status.  But laughing?

We know that Jesus was fully man.  He was born.  We see Him as a boy at the temple.  Then we see Him as a fully grown man.  So, he is a person - a real man.  As human, laughter is natural.  From very early in life, babies smile and laugh.  That is one of the milestones for kids.  There's not many better things in life than watching a baby laughing.  Children laugh like crazy at all kinds of things.  You don't have to teach them that.  It is just a natural part of life.  If Jesus was fully human, then He had to laugh.  That is part of being human.

The problem I have is that He hung out with twelve guys every day for over three years.  Is it possible that those guys never laughed together?  They never busted out about some goofy story or something silly someone did?  These were guys.  And they weren't highfalutin learn-ed types either.  They were regular old guys - fishermen mostly.  I don't know many fishermen who didn't bust each other's chops on a regular basis.  That is pretty universal with guys.  They hang out and bust on each other and laugh a lot.

You mean to tell me that none of those guys ever cracked one off around the fire late at night?  No one ever stepped in donkey droppings?  Someone didn't trip over their robe and fall into the water?  Remember, these are twelve guys wandering around the countryside.  They ate fish.  There had to be some gastric instability going on.  Last weekend, we were discussing this at a youth retreat I was at.  One of the kids (a boy, of course) said, "One of the great things about being a guy is that from infancy until old age, a fart is always funny."  It's true.  Guys just laugh at that stuff.  (Remember, there are artificial fart machines out there and people buy them - probably all males.)  My three year old giggles when he toots.  I have so many stories from my past about groups of guys trying to gas each other out.  This never happened?  Personally, I believe it did.  And, I would like to think that Jesus participated in it.  He probably was really good at it.  So much so, that the other guys didn't want Him to play.  "No, don't ask Him to play.  Remember, even the winds obey Him.  It's not a fair contest."

In addition, children were drawn to Jesus.  He welcomed them.  I have three kids.  You know what kind of person they don't gravitate towards?  A gloomy unsmiling person.  Kids love happy people.  They like to be around adults who have a pleasant disposition, a smile on their face.  Would children have surrounded Jesus just because He was God?  Probably not.  There had to be something there.  And with all the talk of how we should be filled with joy, Jesus had to be joyful.  Right?  Joy is supposed to be something that flows through us - He couldn't have been different, could He?

Certainly, I am not trying to paint Jesus as a clown.  He brought some serious discussions into play.  You could definitely say that he was a downer at times - talking about His death, promising that people would hate His followers, saying you had to give up homes and families to follow Him.  Those were not cheery statements.  When He was knocking over tables, sweating blood, chewing out the Pharisees, He was not a jovial fellow.  It's just that few things really bring out your humanity more than humor.  The ability to laugh at yourself, laugh at and with other people, make people laugh.  Those are valuable human characteristics - or at least I have always thought so.

I guess part of what makes this issue so hard for me is that so many times when I am speaking, the people listening spend a lot of time laughing.  (And, no, it is NOT always AT me.)  I try very hard to allow God to flow through my words.  I aim to be flexible and receptive to His guidance as far as what I say.  I don't rely too heavily on outlines and frequently find myself using examples and stories completely on the fly.  I have always felt that when I am at my best, it is when I personally do the least and let God do the most.  If that is actually true, then it would follow that God uses the humor as well.  It puts people at ease, helps them to listen and engage, and it even assists in understanding what is being said by painting a picture.  I cannot be ultra-serious all the time when I am teaching and preaching.  I have tried.  I have aimed to better fit the mold of a traditional pastor, wearing gravitas and forcefully pounding points home.  But it never works.  It turns into something far different.

I have to believe that God values humor - I mean, He uses irony frequently, which can be funny.  The foolish shame the wise.  Our weakness makes us stronger.  The least end up first.  And He did create the platypus.  I just wish we could have seen Jesus laugh.  Maybe He is saving it for when He can really cut loose - when He is hosting the biggest dinner ever.  I think that is one of the coolest things to see - God laughing.  And I hope that when He sees me, He will say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You really made me smile."  That would be the best.

Sep 18, 2010

Solitary

Think about how your morning usually begins. If you are like most people, it starts with a audible assault. That is how my day begins. I am jolted out of a sweet tapestry of dreams about puppies, saving the world, and being yelled at by this annoying screeching noise machine. I'm not talking about Gabe. It's the stinking alarm clock. MEEHH! MEEHH!! MEEEHHH!! MEEEHHHH! I am not one of those people who needs to go through that twice. When I was in college I wanted to make sure I didn't sleep through classes. So I intentionally put my alarm clock on the other side of my cubicle/dorm/"room." I had to jump out of bed to turn it off. "Well, I'm up. I guess I'll get ready." I also solved this problem by taking no classes that started before noon.

My wife is different - she likes to sleep and savor it. So for her to get up, the alarm gets to go off on three separate occasions. At 6:15am. MEEHH! MEEHH!! MEEEHHH!! MEEEHHHH! I roll over and turn it off. Fifteen minutes later: MEEHH! MEEHH!! MEEEHHH!! MEEEHHHH! This time I turn it off and have to change the time of the first alarm to 6:45am. MEEHH! MEEHH!! MEEEHHH!! MEEEHHHH! It is just unpleasant. Usually after all of this racket, Gabe has woken up. And he is about as persistent as an alarm clock. "Daddy. Get up. Daddy get up. Daddy get up. Get the kids?"

So we traipse out into the living room and if it isn't time to "get the kids" up, we turn on Nick Jr. Our first waking moments are greeted by a jumping singing weird yellow monkey looking thing with a long bendy tail named Wubbzy. Well, that or a dumb blueberry with tendrils octopus voiced by Wonder Years boy named Oswald. "GOOD MORNING!!! WOW WOW WUBBZY, WUBBZY WUBBZY WUUUUBBZEEEE!"

Once it is time to get the older kids up, the house morphs into a carnival atmosphere.  There's spinning plates, running animals, flipping acrobats, and the ringmaster trying to keep it all under control.  "Sit down and eat your breakfast.  Stop throwing your cereal on the table.  Sit down!  Eat please.  Now go get dressed.  What are you doing?  Stop playing and get dressed.  Are you dressed?  Go change those shorts, they don't match.  STOP JUMPING!  Brush your teeth.  Hurry up in there, your brother needs to brush his teeth.  Get your shoes on.  STOP! THE! JUMPING!  Get your backpacks.  Let's go.  We're going to be late.  COME ON!"

From that point on, life is a mix of noises and activities.  Anyone with kids will tell you that it is a circus.  Even when Gabe is the only one there, it still is a wild place - because he's a wild guy.  There's videos and imaginative games and running around and fighting and pulling the cushions off the couch and crying and begging for juice or cheese sticks or fruit snacks.  It's funny, in a way.  I hate the circus in real life.  My kids ask all the time when we are going to go to the circus.  FSU has a circus.  (No rude comments.)  But my kids know I hate the circus.  Largely, it is due to my irrational loathing of clowns.  I'm not scared of them, I just don't like them.  So I have never been a circus fan.  But, I like our circus just fine.

This morning, I am speaking at a high school retreat for ICS - the school I worked at in Orlando before we moved.  It has been challenging and fun.  I've never been THE speaker for a retreat before.  There have been plenty of speaking opportunities and Defender Ministries events.  But this was a little different.  I have powerful memories of camp - and of the role that the camp pastor played.  So I didn't take this lightly.  I am worn out.  We still have one session left today.  And I hope that it ends up being a useful thing for everyone involved.

When I woke up this morning, my phone was dead.  That meant my alarm never went off.  I panicked - waiting for my phone to charge enough to put up the clock.  "WHAT TIME IS IT?!?!"  Finally I remembered I had a watch.  I actually had woken up early.  So I got ready and dressed and was ready thirty minutes early.  I went and sat out on the screen porch and just looked out at the lake.  What is this? Silence?  I don't know what that is like.  Even when I travel for Defender, I usually sleep with ESPN on.  So I usually awake to some sports highlight and "BOOYAH!"  I didn't know what to do with myself.

The sun is peaking through the trees and cabins.  The mist is still sitting on the lake, which I can see in the distance.  It is so quiet I can actually hear animals running around, racing up trees.  Birds are chirping in the distance.  "What is that a ninja?  It can't be a ninja - you never hear them coming."  I have my Travis Cottrell "Jesus Saves Live" album playing, because I never get to listen to my music at home.  It is just a bizarre feeling - and a calming one.  My nerves, the agitation, the weariness, the concern over getting back home.  All of that melted away.  It was good to just sit here in solitary confinement for a few minutes.

I have to run and eat breakfast - hoping there is something to fit into my diet plan.  Then there is electronic setup and preaching and talent show and the long drive home.  Then watching the kids while Heather works through the mountain of studying.  Then getting ready for church, planning for Gabe's birthday, writing curriculum.  Life will pick back up quickly.  But, I was thankful for thirty minutes to experience something that is far to foreign in our lives.

Peace and quiet.

Sep 15, 2010

True Honor

This past Saturday, we observed the ninth anniversary of the horrific events of September 11, 2001.  It is good that we have these patriotic days scattered throughout our calendar (Memorial Day, July 4, 9/11, Veteran's Day).  Because, honestly, if it wasn't for those day, we probably wouldn't give a second thought to all the soldiers out there daily fighting on our behalf.  I know that there is a great deal of argument over the rightness of the current military conflicts.  And this is hardly the place to engage in a battle over that - and I am hardly the person to begin that fight.  I am not a warmongering ultra-patriot that will defend every decision the USofA makes.  I am also not one of those people who appear to hate America so bad you wonder why they live here.

But I do think that as citizens of this country we have certain obligations.  We need to vote and be active in the political process.  We need to be educated and hold our government officials responsible for their actions and decisions.  We need to obey the laws - even if you think are moronic.  And we should show respect and gratitude for those people who have decided to put their lives in danger to defend others.  Realistically, none of us are immediate danger due to the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan.  But the concept of defending freedom is still at play.  And, perhaps, the service by these brave men and women of our military is even more admirable (and difficult) than in years past BECAUSE we are so unsure of the struggle they are fighting in.

When my dad fought in Korea, we had just come off a World War - where our freedoms were legitimately threatened.  America was at risk.  With that in mind, Korea was a legitimate threat as well.  We had seen what happened when the Nazis ran without control across Europe.  It was easy to see the Communists doing the same thing.  Volunteering under those circumstance was an easier choice - still not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  Now, though, these battles seem so far away.  The terrorist attacks of 9/11 showed us that the forces over there could hurt us.  But, I fear, we are starting to get complacent in our safety and security again.  That leads to forgetting the soldiers fighting.

A second major problem with our respect for soldiers is that we have this false version of a warrior projected through media and entertainment industries.  We have Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, The Expendables, Batman.  There are these super-human monsters that can withstand vicious attacks and somehow dip into a reservoir of mega-strength to fight back.  I'm guilty of it too.  We've been watching Chuck on DVD this summer (along with Burn Notice).  In this world, spies get shot, stabbed, electrocuted, hit with tranquilizer darts and then hop up and keep fighting.  In one Chuck episode, a spy got shot with FOUR tranq darts before he was out.  In another one, a spy got shot in the back through a window with a shotgun and popped up a few hours later fighting.  He also ingested a deadly poison pill and woke up a few hours laters, got slammed between two massive metal sliding doors, and got beat up multiple times.  But he kept on fighting at every turn.  Another spy went through three severe beatings, got shot, and got shot.  But he never wavered - even at one point taking out nine guys to escape torture.

This is not realistic.  Last week, I was reading Gregg Easterbrook's excellent Tuesday Morning Quarterback article on ESPN.  In it, he bemoaned the number of hit man movies out there - probably eclipsing the actual number of hit men on Earth.  These people are able to kill without thinking and rarely get hurt.  Later on in his article, he had a letter from a med student in Pittsburgh who talked about this same trend.  He said people are frequently stunned at how painful bullets actually are.  They will be in horrible pain and telling their doctors, "This really really hurts.  I wasn't expecting that."  They see the heroes on tv get popped in the shoulder and shrug it off.  That is not realistic.  Bullets hurt.  They kill.  Our realization of that has been so numbed over the years, as we watched The Terminator have an entire clip of bullets pulled out of his back, that we don't even understand just what is war is truly like.

Then you read an article like this one on CNN.  (Yeah, I read CNN frequently.  It is the best formatted news site.  Sue me.)  This soldier, Salvatore Giunta, is the first living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.  There are only 3446 people who have been given this medal in the 234 years of our country.  In order to receive a Medal of Honor, you have to distinguish yourself in an extreme way in battle.  By reading those statistics, you see it is a very rare award.  Going through what led to past recipients receiving the award online, you see some truly amazing stories of bravery.  Here are some of those brief stories (from The Congressional Medal of Honor Society site:
  • In 2003, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself near Baghdad International Airport. With disregard for his own safety, Sgt. Smith manned an exposed mounted machine gun allowing for the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers and the death of as many 50 enemy soldiers. Sgt. Smith was mortally wounded at this time. 
  • In 1965, Captain Ed Freeman flew his unarmed helicopter to aid a trapped battalion.  They were pinned down and he faced heavy enemy fire on each trip.  Other aid, rescue, and medical evac helicopters refused to enter the area due to the intensity of the enemy fire.  Captain Freeman flew FOURTEEN separate missions into this zone - evacuating wounded men, providing ammo and supplies.  It is estimated he rescued thirty seriously wounded soldiers in his missions.
  • Lt. John Finn was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack.  He secured and manned a .50 caliber machine gun in an exposed part of the parking lot, which was continually being strafed by enemy machine gun fire.  He was wounded multiple times, but refused to leave his post.  His actions had a major impact on the enemy planes (hard to estimate how much - but obvious that it did).  Even after he was forced to seek medical aid, he returned to supply and assist returning US planes.  
So, not just your basic, run of the mill heroism.  These recipients went far above and beyond the call of duty.  What about Staff Sergeant Giunta?  In 2007, his unit was attacked by Taliban soldiers.  He, of course, says he was just doing his job - a normal soldier doing his job.  Normal soldiers doing their jobs don't receive the Medal of Honor.  In reality, he was extraordinary.  The unit was returning to base when the Taliban attacked with AK-47s, large machine guns, and rocket launchers.  Several of his fellow soldiers went down.  So he charged the Taliban, throwing grenades at them and shooting his weapon.  He retrieved one of his fellow soldiers and dragged him to safety.  Then he noticed one of the wounded was missing.  He raced over the hill where the Taliban had been staging their attack and saw his fellow soldier being dragged away by two of the enemy.  He pursued, even though he was now completely cut off from his unit.  He killed one of the enemy and wounded another.  Then he sat there in the war zone and began providing first aid to his friend, who had been shot six times, until he was evacuated.  (The friend later died from the wounds.)  During all of this, Giunta was hit twice himself - one hit his body armor, one destroyed the weapon strapped to his back.  Their quick action drove off the Taliban that day, and saved lives.

When I read that story, it just made me think about how I would have responded in that situation.  The truth is, I never would have been in that situation.  I have never even considered military service.  I don't disrespect the military.  Quite the opposite.  I love the military and respect those who serve.  Perhaps the reason I never thought about joining was because I knew I couldn't do it justice.  I am amazed at those who serve and sacrifice.  I never want to become numb to the risk they face.  I don't want some goofy spy show to make me believe their efforts were not amazing.  There may have been a part of you that, when you read the account of Giunta's heroism, was not amazed.  I know at first that was my response.  "He saved a guy and another guy - shot some people."  But I was comparing it to an unrealistic scene where Chuck Norris takes out an entire squadron.  In real life, people don't go charging into the enemy, flinging grenades.  They don't race off alone over a hill into an entrenched location.  They don't run and man a machine gun and angrily fire away at fighter planes and soldiers.  They don't fly helicopters time and again into heavily defended jungles.  If that happened every day, there would be more than 3,446 Medal of Honor recipients.

I hope that we can take a moment and think about that.  Think about what these guys and girls are going through on a daily basis.  And it is more than just the battles.  They are far from home, missing out on time with their families, missing out on the things we take for granted.  And it is all for people they don't know and will never meet.  At least for today, don't take them for granted or view their sacrifice through the filter of Hollywood.  If you know a soldier or their family, thank them.  Give a small donation to the USO.  Volunteer at your local VA Hospital.  Or just spend a few minutes praying for them.  They deserve that level of honor.

Sep 11, 2010

When Being First Doesn't Pay

It is not easy to be the first child.  Sure, there are some benefits to it.  Like if you are royalty, being the first born means that you are first in line to the throne.  You can call family meetings.  And you are usually bigger, so you can enforce your will with force if necessary.  So, there . . . you have that going for you.  But, there are two very big problems when you are the first born.  And those two problems are your mom and your dad.

Think about it.  New parents have no clue what they are about to get into.  They may think they do.  They may read and research and watch other people's kids.  But there is just nothing that can truly prepare you for your own children.  When you are babysitting or serving as a nanny, you go home at some point.  Things like doctor bills and schooling and future plans are not your responsibility.  Reading a book will serve you well if your child is a two dimensional sketch on a page.  But when your child is a real life boy, the book doesn't do you a lot of good - unless you use it to throw at the child to stop them from knocking over a lamp.  As a first time parent, you are in completely new territory every single day.

When they are babies, they are small and helpless.  Every day there is the fear that something is going to happen to them.  When they cry for some bizarre unexplained reason in the middle of the night, you jump up and worry.  "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?"   We learn it was nothing - and we know better the next time. We have to deal with the feedings and changings and putting to sleep.  And each time, it is a new effort - something you are unprepared for.  Basically, a new parent is winging it.  I don't know what to do in each situation.  I am just doing my best and hoping it is right.

The kid starts to grow and explore.  They begin to crawl and pull up.  They stick things into their mouth - like deodorant, vitamins, money.  "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?"  They survive and everything is just fine. We know better the next time. Then they start to walk and talk and interact with their world. And they fall and bang their heads and split their chins on the bathroom counter. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?" But the doctor glues their face back together and they are fine. And we know better the next time.

Next the child continues to sprout like a weed. Now they are in preschool and potty training. They have to interact with other children - learning to share toys, play nice, and not keep touching the one girl's really curly hair. They get in trouble at school. Other kids want to have them come over to play or spend the night or introduce them to new shows and movies that you weren't ready for your kids to see. Now your child is acting like an insane robot and you don't know why. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?" So you make them take a break from the character and know better the next time.

Your boy now is in older elementary. He has his own passions and desires. He develops his own quirks. And he is not your clone - even though you desperately tried for that. So all the weird noises and crazy games and uncontrolled insanity is completely foreign to you. Maybe something happened to this child at some point that you were not aware of. Maybe they have fallen off the monkey bars and banged their head. Or they have been learning subversive messages in their Sponge Bob cartoons. Or they could be part of a massive international conspiracy where children are trained to bring a country to its knees through annoying parents. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? THEY ARE GOING TO DIE . . . IF THEY . . . DON'T . . . SHUT . . . UP!!!" But it is just a phase and you know better the next time.

As parents. we always know better the next time. With the next kid, we understand not to stress out so bad about weaning and potty training and socialization. Things happen in their time. We become more relaxed and less panicky. We used to carry twenty pacifiers with us everywhere we go to switch out the second one touches something filthy. Now, we carry one and just wipe it off on our jeans. Or, better yet, we forego pacifiers altogether, knowing they are just a big waste of money and the kid is more content to gnaw on a four hundred dollar cell phone instead. When they fall, our first response is not to call 911 before we assess the situation. We scan the room and look for missing body parts. Finding everything still attached, our new goal is just to stem the flow of blood and make the crying stop.

That oldest kid, though, just gets the big shaft. Every single phase they go into is brand new for the parent. We are never prepared. It seems like we are just hanging on, hoping to survive the newest annoying and challenging life change - the arguing, the sassiness, the pigheadedness, the taking their life into their hands on a frequent basis. It just isn't fair for the poor kid. They are just growing up and being a kid and we are freaking out. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?" Then we take a breath and know better the next time.

Tomorrow is my Josiah's ninth birthday. The poor boy has had to put up with nine years of his father's ineptitude, over-reaction, and hasty (and usually poor) decision making. He has put up with it, and honestly been the best oldest child I could ever have imagined. He is absolutely incredible. The little guy is brilliant, imaginative, talented, silly, and very loving. And he has been extremely patient with me learning how to be a dad. I am glad that he is the first born. He challenges us. He raises the bar and pushes us to be the best we can. Laziness is not an option or we will get run over. I honestly have no idea what he is going to do next - and I have no idea what to do when he does it. I do know that I'll survive and know better the next time. And I"m glad I get to learn these lessons with him.