Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Time to Pause

The last day of the year seems like a good time to pause briefly to look back at the previous year, and to look forward to the upcoming year. I really don't have any particularly deep thoughts about either one at the moment, but maybe I can manage a few quick reflections.

2008 was a good year. My family enjoyed good health, safety, prosperity, and some genuine spiritual and personal growth. There were some setbacks and hardships, too, but those seem relatively minor when I consider what many people in the world are facing today. I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing friends and family, and I would be tremendously remiss if I failed to mention that Jesus is the center of everything good and worthwhile in my life. His unquenchable grace, mercy, and love are precious beyond words, and it's because of Him that I can look forward to each new day.

I start 2009 with few lofty goals or ambitions. Perhaps one thing I should try to do is relax and take a little more time off. The folks at my office notified me this past week that I have a tremendous surplus of vacation days accumulated. I'm at an age and season in life where my work is generally enjoyable and rewarding, but I know from experience that it's important to keep a good balance in my life, and not devote too much time or energy to work. Enjoying a little down time, and stopping to appreciate the goodness around me, sounds like a grand idea.

I think I'll start working on that right now. My wife spent the whole afternoon preparing a nice spread of meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and a variety of condiments to take next door, where our neighbors are throwing their annual New Years' Eve bash. There will be lots of food, drinks, friends, kids playing, laughter, and even some fireworks.

Happy New Year! May you and yours have a wonderful 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Though He Often Cheats By Using Extremely Long and Descriptive Titles, and Not Including Those in His Word Count

I enjoy Abraham Piper's blog, 22 Words. I struggle with being too verbose. I'm usually not disciplined enough to use fewer words.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter Gloom

So here we are, just a few days from the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and I haven't seen the sun in weeks. Literally. We've been locked into this weather pattern where there is constant, thick cloud cover. This isn't unusual for this time of year here in Tennessee, and I don't mean to make it sound like I'm complaining.

In fact, we've had decent rainfall lately, and are now ahead of our average for annual precipitation in 2008. This is good, because we've had a couple of very dry years. 2007 was considered a drought year.

I do think there is more than just a psychological effect from continuous lack of sunlight. Our bodies get Vitamin D from sunlight, so perhaps a lack of it has other physiological effects. My sleep patterns are a little off. I feel a couple of degrees off kilter. It's hard to explain.

The last couple of days it has been very cold, and drizzly, and a thick fog has been lingering just above the rooftops. I swear it looks like London in 1891 -- the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery.

But I accept this. It's part of the amazing cycle of life in our world. There was rebirth and new hope in the spring, an almost endless supply of hot sunny days in the summer, and a crisp beautiful change in the fall. Now it's time for things to lie dormant or die. It seems a bit dreary now, and sometimes seems like it lasts a little longer than we'd like. But the truth is that it stays this way just the right amount of time. It will make the warmth and rebirth of springtime that much sweeter when it finally comes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Linked Together

Is it just me and the places I visit, or does the blogosphere seem sort of slow lately?

I find it fascinating that something as chaotic and uncontrolled as the internet manages to ebb and flow in such discernible patterns. Each individual person, acting as a free agent, manages to blend and mingle into a greater whole in ways that can be surprisingly predictable.

Having been part of online communities for many years now, I do understand some of the reasons for this. For one thing, much of the content on the blogosphere is part of an ongoing conversation. A post by one blogger sparks a conversation, and other bloggers write new posts both in response to the original, and as part of new thoughts on related subjects. More and more blogs become linked together by the synergy of these multiple ongoing conversation threads. Eventually there is some sort of consensus or equilibrium reached with the original conversation, but others have arisen to take its place.

When many of the prevailing conversations have run their course, and some sort of saturation point across the whole of the hive has been reached, things quiet down for a while. Because we just completed an election cycle here in the United States, it's possible that a certain level of fatigue has set in. Everyone expressed his or her opinion, poured their passion into the process, and is experiencing a bit of a lull or letdown now. I don't necessarily mean a letdown in the sense of being sad or depressed (though I'm sure some people are), just in levels of passion and desire to express strong opinions about many of the issues that were hot topics a little over a month ago.

It's also possible that the time of year has something to do with it. Perhaps people are busy shopping, or spending time with family and friends. Maybe some are suffering from season-related depression, which unfortunately, is fairly common this time of year.

Ultimately, I'm not sure if this slowdown is real or just anecdotally perceived. And how can something be called "real", when the entire framework and substance upon which it is based only exists in a virtual way in the first place?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Magnifying the Mundane

So I've been trying this "daily blogging" thing, more or less, for about a week now, and I'm still not sure what to think about it.

I find that I can always write something -- sometimes it's something about something, and sometimes it's something about nothing. Sometimes it's an embedded video that I found funny or interesting. As far as I know, I have at least one person who has this blog in his reader and actually reads what I write (thanks, Jim!). But I'm still restless and uncertain about what value this whole thing has, and for whom I am writing it.

I guess it should be obvious by now that I'm an awkward, introspective and self-conscious person. Otherwise, why would I keep stopping the simple flow of daily minutiae to ponder the process, instead of just engaging in it? And I think I should make it clear that I'm not saying this in a negative way, or to be persistently self-deprecating. It is what it is, and I am what I am.

Perhaps it's the mundane and introspective nature of my life (and therefore of my subject matter), that has me constantly rethinking this process. Other than a few friends, I'm not sure who wants to read about my simple daily existence. One of the common criticisms of blogging I've seen is this very thing -- that there are millions of people creating dull and meaningless logs of their dull and meaningless lives, and trying to make it sound like they are interesting or have something important to say.

Which means that at this point, I'm a blogger whose dull and meaningless chatter includes allegedly witty observations about how other writers I've read like to make fun of the fact that most blogging is just dull and meaningless chatter.

Somebody stop me.

It's One of a Kind

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holy Strep Throat, Batman!

So after a few days of pretty severe symptoms and no apparent improvement in her condition, I took my wife to the doctor today. Turns out she has strep throat. We were both pretty surprised to hear this. She did have swelling at the back of her throat and lymph nodes, but she did not have what we usually think of as a "sore throat" -- you know, that thing you get during a bad cold, where you can't even swallow without extreme pain. I always thought that was one of the main symptoms of strep throat, but apparently that's not necessarily the case. Reading through the list of other symptoms for strep throat, I see that my wife has exhibited every single one of them.

While I was there in the doctor's office, the doctor wrote me a prescription and recommended that I take the same type of antibiotics that my wife is taking, since I have been in close contact with her the whole time she's been sick.

I think the biggest mystery for us is where my wife got this. We couldn't recall any friends or family who have had strep throat, and are not aware of coming in contact with anyone who has had it recently. We did go to a restaurant and have a meal a couple of days before she began showing symptoms -- and that's about how long it's supposed to take them to show up. That seems like the most likely scenario, but it's a scary thought -- that somebody working as a cook or server at a public restaurant is running around infecting everyone with strep.

I think we'll stay home and cook our own meals for a while.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

My poor wife is sick as a dog this week. We're not sure exactly who she got it from or when, but there's always lots of this crud going around this time of year, so it really doesn't matter. Nobody in particular owns it, and nobody wants it.

She's a little congested and has a bit of a cough, but this one is mostly aimed at her stomach and body. She can't eat anything without getting extremely nauseous, and she has an intense achy sensation all over her body, especially in her back and joints. She's alternating between a high fever with sweats, and chills with violent shivering. She's been taking either acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the aches and fever. These are providing some measure of relief, but she's still pretty miserable.

I've been trying to be helpful and comforting, and to keep the house clean and functional so she can rest a lot without worrying about anything. So mostly I'm just sitting around, waiting for her to need more water, or medicine, or a back rub. And wondering what the odds are that I'll be getting this exact same thing really soon. These kinds of bugs have a way of getting passed around among all the members of a household, so it's probably just a matter of time. Boy, now that I think about it, I am a little achy. And is that a tickle in my throat? Hmmm...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cow Town

My wife grew up in a place called Vacaville, California. It's about halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco.

For several years, I always got the same response when I would tell people where my wife was from. They would always smile and say "Cow Town". I thought they must have known something about the history of Vacaville that I didn't. Sure, I'd seen some cows in the countryside around the area where my wife grew up. But not that many cows. I figured maybe that was some sort of California in-joke, or something about the history of the place that I was unaware of. Or maybe they considered it some sort of hick town.

One day I mentioned something about Vacaville to one of my coworkers and he said "Cow Town," so I asked him if he was familiar with the place. "No, never heard of it before," he said.

"Well then how did you know it's called Cow Town?" I asked.

"In Spanish, 'vaca' means 'cow'. So 'vaca ville' would be 'cow town'."

Ah, mystery solved. At least, the mystery of why everyone would say that when I mentioned Vacaville. But it turns out that the place is actually named for a guy named Juan Manuel Vaca, not for the cows.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My Baby is Growing Up

What you see below are actual, unretouched photos that I took myself, mere moments apart, from the driver's seat of my 2003 Honda Civic last night:

That's right, she's just crossed over to 100,000 miles! (Also notice, kids, that I came to a full stop before attempting to take these photographs). If you've been the owner of a Honda automobile, then you know that this mileage is barely adolescence in the life cycle of the car. I finished paying this car off a few months ago, and have been doing all the recommended maintenance, so it should continue to be safe and reliable for a very long time.

In other news my daughter, age 24, is living in her own apartment, and doing really well for herself. After a bit of a slow start, she is now exhibiting more responsible behavior and making wise choices that reflect a better understanding of how to achieve her long-term goals.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Old Man Pains

For most of my life, I've generally tried to live in a reasonably healthy way. (Note the generous use of modifiers in that sentence.)

When I enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 26, it was the beginning of a fairly consistent pattern of exercise, diet, and other behaviors aimed at taking care of my body and allowing me to lead an active lifestyle. Running has always been an activity I've enjoyed -- it helps to relieve stress, gives me more energy, and makes me feel more healthy in general.

I continued with my good exercise and dietary habits for several years after my time in the military ended. However, I got away from those good habits for a couple of years when we moved here to Tennessee. First, there were a few months of house hunting; then several months of renovation on the house we bought. I got into the habit of eating out a lot, and simply didn't have make time to fit exercise into my schedule.

Eventually we got settled in and began making home-cooked meals again. But it took me over a year and a half to try and start back into an exercise routine. The first time I started running, I had to stop after a couple of weeks, because I was having a lot of pain in my knees -- something I had rarely experienced previously as a runner.

In January 2008, I decided to give it another try -- this time taking into account that my body would need to be introduced to exercise gradually. I needed to lose a little weight, but mostly I just needed to ease my body back into a workout routine slowly, so that it would adapt without rebelling. I started with brisk walks, push ups, and the rowing machine. Within two months I was running again, and this time with no pain. Throughout the year I gradually went longer distances in shorter time. I was feeling good, and looked forward to my runs.

Then about a month ago, I returned from a run and noticed considerable soreness along the outside of my right leg, from my knee to my ankle. As a runner, you learn that various aches and pains come and go, but this one seemed a little worse than usual. The next time I ran, the pain built as I was heading out, and was bad enough that I had to walk the final mile or so back. I'm pretty sure I didn't do anything unusual, like turn an ankle or land awkwardly during a run.

So I tried resting for a week, then started up again -- but the pain returned. I've been through this pattern a couple of times now. My wife says (mostly joking) that I'm just having "old man pains". You know, the "not as young as you used to be" thing. Yeah, yeah, like I want to hear that.

I think it's actually tendinitis. Most of the pain is in the deep tissue just above my ankle, but at times the twinge shoots all the way up to my knee. Apparently you're supposed to avoid the activity that caused the tendinitis for three to six weeks, ice the affected area, and take NSAIDs when the pain flares up.

Three to six weeks sounds like a long time to me. That's long enough for my metabolism and cardiopulmonary conditioning to really suffer. That's long enough for the currently-healthy muscles in my legs to begin to atrophy. And worst of all, that's long enough for me to get away from the habit of exercise that has once again become a part of my life. I think that's the part that scares me the most.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Looking Back

My blog friend Jim recently did a series of posts with videos from the early days of MTV. I really appreciated the excuse opportunity to watch these, and allow them to do what such things typically do -- transport me back to the time from whence they came.

When the soundtrack of my past takes me back to that time, it somehow seems like things were good back then, even if they really weren't. I had nothing, and everything was confusing and uncertain. Yet something inside me aches for that time. I can't explain it.

In all honesty, things are much better now than they were then, in so many ways. And I'm glad and grateful for that, and don't actually want to go back to an earlier time -- even when it seems like an appealing idea.

What I conclude is that the past can sometimes create an optical illusion. It's always a safe place to visit, no matter how bad things seemed back then, because I know the outcome. I know how all those bad and confusing and scary things managed to work together to lead to the good things of today.

Though it seems like it would have been hard to believe then, I probably should have known all along that everything would be OK.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fading Into the Background

In case there's anyone out there who still visits blogs, rather than reading feeds from blogs, you've already noticed that I've gone minimalist on my blog layout.

For those of you reading this in your reader, there's no real point in visiting my blog to see it for yourself, since the whole point of going minimalist means that there's nothing to see here.

Really, this outward change in appearance accurately reflects the way I feel on the inside: plain, simple, not flashy, searching for the important core components of existence, shedding the complex and the showy.

Frankly, I'm happy about this. I know that the written word doesn't always convey tone, so I just figured I'd make that clear. I'm not feeling drab or trying to be pretentious.

Though I haven't published anything on this blog for a month, I've actually written some stuff. But I can never seem to finish what I start or allow myself to be satisfied with "good enough". I'm back to the same old conundrum that I arrive at pretty regularly -- undecided about why I'm writing or to whom I'm writing. Different bloggers have different advice on what works for them, and I've not only listened to this advice and taken it to heart, I've pondered it deeply, and deconstructed it to the point of paralysis. Which ironically, would also be an accurate description of how I've processed most of the other information that has found its way into my cerebral cortex in the last few days, or weeks, or months, or years.

I'm thinking of maybe trying one of those "post every day for a month" or "post every day for a year" things, like Jim has been doing. I do have thoughts almost every day that might be interesting to look back on at some point in the future. I also love my community of online friends who regularly meet "virtually" around the blogosphere. It seems that actually writing a "blog" would make me a better "blogger", and hence a better member of the "blogosphere".

I could do a lot more with this, too, but honestly have no desire to do that. I know how to cull accurate statistics of web site visits. In my professional life, I've set up dozens (if not hundreds) of web servers, manipulated the server log data at the most basic level, and have installed a wide variety of web statistics programs for years. I know all the tricks to get "noticed" by a larger audience, how to create content that is attractive to important search engines like Google and Technorati, how to use social networking sites, and on and on. Perhaps it's my past and present professional involvement in such internet marketing that makes me not want to do any of that for this blog.

So maybe I'll try writing again, or try writing regularly, or try committing to something, or try to stop writing long sentences with lots of commas and repetitive coordinating conjunctions. That last one certainly seems like a noble goal.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


My wife and I have been saying this new word a lot in the last few days, and having fun with it. "Obamanomics". It's easy to pronounce, in case you're having trouble with the visually intimidating series of characters. Just say the name "Obama", then add "nomics". It flows quite nicely, and is fun to repeat.

We've also sung this new word, to the tune of the song Mah Nà Mah Nà, which I used to always enjoy on The Muppet Show. Instead of saying "Mah Nà Mah Nà", you say "Obamanomics". It's a bit of a tight fit and has an extra syllable, but you can do it. Give it a try.

You can also try repeating the word as sort of a silly school fight-song cheer, with variations on the pattern:


It's zany fun for the whole family!

(What? Did you think I was going to discuss politics?)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Land of Opportunity

Congratulations to Barack Obama on making history and being elected the 44th President of the United States of America.

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
-1 Peter 2

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.
-1 Timothy 2

May God bless Barack Obama and may God bless America.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Early and Often

Since I've been in Tennessee, I've always voted early. I can't imagine not voting early. On every Election Day, the news is full of stories about how many hours people waited in line, what sorts of problems were experienced at various polling places, and how crazy and impatient everyone became.

So today at lunchtime I hopped into the car with my wife, drove about 20 minutes away to our county election office, stood in line for about 10 minutes, presented my driver's license, signed a piece of paper, and was escorted by an election official to a small booth with a computer touch screen. There, I participated in the process. I voted.

It's easy to make critical remarks about how broken this world's systems are, how little my vote seems to matter in the overall scheme of things, how much the politicians have screwed everything up, how much undue influence money has on the system, and on and on. Most people I know, including myself, routinely engage in that sort of discussion. Perhaps we do it because we can, because we're free.

There is a profound and important privilege and duty involved in participating in a system where those who govern do so with the consent of the governed. As much partisan rancor and passionate disagreement as our system entails, at the end of the day, those with less votes accept the results and go back to whatever they were doing before the election, those with more votes assume the responsibility for the office they were seeking, and "we the people" recognize and respect the legitimacy of those who were elected -- whether it was the candidate we voted for or not.

Man, that's pretty cool. Try telling someone living under a fascist dictatorship, or in a land with violent warlords and rampant anarchy, how much you hate it that every couple of years you have to look at campaign signs on the street corners and political commercials on the TV. I bet they'd be happy to trade places with you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Last night I was watching a PBS documentary on the political career of Richard Nixon. I found it quite interesting and fascinating. Most of the information it contained was not new to me, but it was interesting to see it presented in the form of an historical documentary -- complete with lots of old film footage, as well as modern-day interviews with many of the key players from those events of the past.

There's something interesting about revisiting events that happened during my own lifetime, which seem in my mind to be both "fairly recent" and "long ago" at the same time. I vaguely recall the Watergate hearings, as my after-school cartoons were interrupted day after day by Breaking News and Special Reports. To a young boy, this meant that instead of Looney Tunes and Popeye, there were a bunch of serious looking men in suits arguing with other serious looking men in suits.

At that time, I couldn't tell you what it was really all about. But there was one event I still remember with crystal clarity, like it happened just yesterday.

Every summer, my family would pile into our car and drive from our home in Texas to Pennsylvania, where we would spend a week visiting with friends and relatives. The whole thing followed a very predictable pattern -- so much so that we would even stop in the same motels in the same cities each year as we made the journey.

In that year, 1974, I remember stopping at the motel and going through our usual routine of dragging all our stuff from the car to our room, and then getting settled in like usual. My brother and I were running around the room, bouncing on the beds and laughing when my dad switched on the TV. I recognized the man on the screen as President Nixon. His face took up the whole screen, and he looked sad and serious. We continued with our playing for a moment, but as my dad began turning up the volume, he shouted "Listen!", both because he couldn't hear what was being said over our laughter, and because something very serious was happening. We could tell this by the unusual tone in my dad's voice.

I remember stopping what we were doing, and sitting at the foot of the motel room bed, listening to the President's words. "...Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office..."

At 9 years old, I don't think I understood exactly how things had gotten to that point, or what the historical significance of the event was. But I did understand the gist of what the President was doing and saying. And I realized that what was happening was big. Really big.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What I Did for My Summer Vacation This Year, by Chaotic Hammer

I took a vacation from writing blogs (but I did still read blogs). I went running a lot. I did some swimming. I worked a lot. I mowed the lawn a lot. And a bunch of other stuff.

Oh, and I also went with my wife to eastern Kentucky and saw Seth working with the theater orchestra, and saw Amber do an amazing job as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and as Diana in A Chorus Line. It was really neato. And while we were there, we totally relaxed and enjoyed some time away and stuff. I also didn't blog while I was there.

I saved up all the many wonderful experiences and memories from this summer, so that I could blog about them when I started blogging again. And so here I am, blogging again. I wrote this blog post sharing all those things with you. I hope you enjoyed reading about my summer vacation. The end.

Monday, May 19, 2008

To Feel, and Not Think

I can't turn off my brain. It fires constantly at high speed, when I'm awake and when I'm asleep. I use logic and reason for everything, it seems. I like to say I'm pragmatic, when I take lofty ideas and dreams that people have, and drag them back down to earth where they belong. This is mostly how I've always been.

Sure, I've sat behind a drum kit, and felt something that almost wasn't even me, that compelled me to ride the feeling like a wave. Afterward, my head light and tingling, I wondered where that came from. But it didn't last long.

For the last few years, I've gradually lost interest in art and music, or at least lost appreciation for them. There are still a few faint echoes of distant remembrance; but mainly cold indifference.

I've wondered if there's some reason for this dearth of creativity; if perhaps it's leading to some wonderful new place or revelation, or something even better than it ever was before. But maybe there's not. Maybe there's something wrong with me, or I'm really missing out on something. Or maybe this is a normal stage of life. I'm not sure.

I'm not really asking for an answer to this. I'm not even sure there's a question anywhere here. I'm just making a few honest observations.

But lately, I don't know. For somebody who thinks too much and feels too little, I sure have been spending a lot of time not thinking at all. I can't seem to find the energy to wrap my mind around deep thoughts or ideas which formerly enticed me so much. I'm craving simplicity, and I seem to be finding it.

I wake up in the morning thinking "Okay, Lord, the day is yours. What do you have in mind?" And if there's no answer, then I proceed like normal, expecting the answer to appear sooner or later. I'm mostly just resting in the goodness that I'm experiencing right now. I have been engaged in healthy self-doubt, in the sense that I question the value of my own attempts to make good things happen. If I'm going to give away something worthwhile to somebody, it needs to be empowered by God, not full of my own attempts to manufacture what seems good.

If the full extent of the Lord's plan for my day is to be in the right place at the right time to say five words to somebody I see in the supermarket, and then to simply rest in Him for the remainder of the day, I'm alright with that. If I'm being obedient, I have no way of knowing what that person had been dealing with, how God may have used those five words to change somebody's entire direction for the day and maybe longer, and to lead them closer to Him. I know this might sound like a stilted sense of self-importance on my part, but I really don't think it is, if I'm trusting Him to make things happen that need to happen. I believe in Divine appointments and the leading of the Spirit. I've lost confidence in just launching out on my own, doing the best I can, if it doesn't involve trusting God first.

I'm not sure where this walk is headed, but I trust that God is in control and I'm expecting Him to do what needs to be done.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Wow. So uh, here we go again. That thing bloggers do that I sorta don't like. I don't like it when others do it, and I particularly don't like it when I do it -- which is way too often.

You know what I'm talking about. The "Hey people I haven't blogged in a while, I've been busy with life and yadda-yadda" post.

So you know the drill. I'm still alive. Still reading my feeds. Not commenting on other blogs much these days. The sun is out a lot more. Life is good. Yadda-yadda.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bits of Soul Runoff

Why do we so often fail to see the beauty that constantly surrounds us? We despise the familiar, and search for something new, just because we can.

We learn early on the thrill of acquiring that which we do not have; yet it turns to dust and crumbles between our fingers.

The days are long; the weeks are short; the years sneak quietly past. The chances we have to sit at the table and look into the faces of those we love are numbered. But still we find time to excuse ourselves from the table, to dig through the old crate in the attic. Our bony fingers tremble, moving gold coins and precious pearls out of the way as we search for plastic cups to hold our water. And still we go away thirsty.

I can't explain it, really.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm Not Hip

It's time that I face it. I'm just not hip.

In fact, I'm so not hip, that I still use words like "hip".

My friend Jim has made yet another entry about Twitter, mentioning again how he just doesn't get it. And I agree with him. I've gone to people's Twitter pages. I see what it does and how it works. But I just don't get it either.

I'm a hardcore geek at heart. My first introduction to a personal computer was a friend's Apple IIe in the mid-80's, where you would insert a floppy disk and wait a few minutes for the program to load. I was immediately hooked. By the early 90's, I was assembling hardware and installing operating systems on computers as a hobby, and operating a dial-up BBS.

Today, I work professionally in high tech. I build server farms, manage computer networks all over North America, and get to play with racks full of some of the coolest hardware you've ever seen in your life.

I have no problem "keeping up" with the technology itself, or understanding all the possible uses and functions it can provide. But for some reason, I feel like I've reached some sort of threshold of interest in continuing to follow each new technological fad or trend.

It's a wonder that I even have a blog. I only have a cell phone because my job wants me to be available if servers go down after business hours or on weekends. I don't text message, or snap photos with my phone, or browse the internet while away from my desktop computer. When I told my friend Seth that I wouldn't know what to do with an iPhone if I had one, he started telling me how nifty the interface was, and how it was much simpler than I imagined. I had to explain that it's not knowing how to work it that I didn't get -- that part comes quite easily to me. It's why I would want to in the first place. I just can't think of any practical use for it, and I would be creating new things to do, just to make use of it.

At this point someone will no doubt object that "I bet you never thought you'd find a use for [insert some common gadget or appliance I take for granted] at first, but now you can't imagine living without it." And you'd probably be right.

So yeah, this is quite an arbitrary and fuzzy threshold I've reached -- but I've reached it nonetheless. For the moment, I'm pretty content with blogging, using e-mail, viewing photos or watching videos, and occasionally staying in touch with friends and family on a couple of social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook (though I've found that these quickly grow quite wearisome for me).

New things creep into our lives gradually. I don't think we'll even know it when we've become so invested in the use of gadgets that they are driving us, instead of the other way around. In fact, that's probably already happened, and we don't even realize it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Every Heart Has a Story

Lately, I've been pondering the idea that every single person is a story in motion, still being written.

Each and every one of us really is living in a story, complete with interesting characters, fascinating settings, and twisting, turning plots that would make any writer's head spin. We are the characters in others' stories, and they in ours. And all of us in God's bigger story.

I feel like the Lord is trying to teach me how to listen to these stories. When I talk to somebody, I'm learning to allow myself to hear everything they are saying, and not to impose something into the story that isn't really there.

I've always had the bad habit of sizing a person up before I even hear the first word out of their mouth. If it turns out they are pretty close to the mold I had already set, then mission accomplished -- I've already got things basically figured out, and don't have to give it any more thought. If they turn out to be something completely different than I expected, that may interest me for a moment while I size things up again and look for the right container. Ah, there it is. Problem solved.

Do you hear how utterly dehumanizing that is? I'm sorry to have to admit that I function like this so much of the time. With the Lord's help, it's something I'm trying to change.

I'm finding that when I listen to the story, there are always unexpected elements there. I now understand why the person behind the counter was so curt, when I realize that her car was just repossessed, and her dearly beloved aunt died yesterday. People will generally not be forthcoming with this sort of information, but I think it's easy to find there, if I listen closely.

If I'm going to live this way, I'm going to need lots of time to listen. You see, we've been taught to be so busy, moving from one task to another, that we rarely take the time to stop and just listen to the stories all around us.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Prayers of a Young Man -- Part 1

I spent my adolescence looking for God. Like other kids, I had strong, irresistible impulses and emotions that led to lots of exploration and experimentation, much of it foolish and harmful. But the burning desire to know about the true nature of our very existence, and to understand the purpose of life (if there was one) was the strong undertow and recurring theme that drove much of my passion during that time.

I had rejected the Christianity of my parents early on in the process, and proceeded to give serious and sincere audience to just about every other alternative out there. Imagine my surprise when, at the age of seventeen, after a fruitless and wearisome journey, I ended up right back where I started; deciding that Jesus was not only real and alive, but was central to the very essence of Reality and Life itself.

My early years as a Christian were marked by a deep passion for what I had found. What I lacked in wisdom and understanding, I largely managed to make up for with raw enthusiasm and sincerity. I would fast for several days at a time -- no small feat for a skinny kid with hamster-on-a-wheel metabolism. I couldn't get enough of reading my Bible. The words there were alive and deep and meaningful to someone who had hungered so deeply for Truth, and had finally found it.

During that time period, I was moved and influenced by preachers, writers, and artists who emphasized compassion, holiness, death to self, love for lost souls, and love for God's people -- for example, Leonard Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, and Keith Green. I still remember some of the very passionate and earnest prayers that I prayed to God: That He would seize my life and use me for His glory; that He would break my heart and refine me with His holy fire to make me pure; that He would grant me supernatural understanding of His deepest and most hidden truths; that He would remove all the wicked and sinful tendencies that I was constantly struggling with and couldn't seem to overcome; and that He do all this even if it hurt, and even if my flesh resisted.

That's some pretty strong and heady stuff, any way you look at it. While some of my thoughts and motives during that time were amiss, and though I still had a lot to learn about life in general, the truth is that my heart really was in the right place. But I had no idea how deep or how wide the things I was asking for really were. And though I believe those were prayers that pleased God and that He was willing to answer, in hindsight I'm grateful that He chose to answer them in completely different ways and completely different timetables than I was expecting when I originally prayed them. (To be continued...)

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I consider myself a pretty stoic person. Well, actually I know better because I live on the inside of my walls. But I'm generally pretty good about keeping up that appearance. Even my wife buys it, and she knows me better than anyone else.

So I have to admit that it surprises me how much I have been hurt by the death of my Miniature Schnauzer, Teddy. I've only had the little guy since August of 2007, so that shouldn't be enough time to get all that attached, right?

Teddy spent most of his life, nearly twelve years, with some old military friends of ours (the wife is Navy, the husband is Army). They have a couple of acres near Jacksonville, Florida where Teddy was mostly an outdoor dog. But as Teddy started to get older and they were both deployed elsewhere, we agreed to have him come live with us so he could retire and live out his days indoors, in ease and luxury.

Anyway, Teddy quickly worked his way deeply into our affections when he arrived here. He was extremely good-natured, lovable, and smart, with a gentle disposition. He has been my constant companion, spending all day with me here in my home office, and giving me a great excuse to get up from the computer screen during the work day and go for walks outside.

Several weeks ago Teddy was diagnosed with Cushing's Disease, and though we tried treatment, it turned out that he also had several other conditions that made him deteriorate rapidly. He quickly went from what seemed like a fairly normal elderly dog to an ill-looking skin-and-bones mess that could barely stand up or walk around. So we made the hard decision to go ahead and euthanize him, to minimize his suffering and mercifully hasten what would otherwise be a senselessly painful final few weeks of life.

I took Teddy to the vet for the last time yesterday, and was present when he was given the lethal dose. The vet was very gentle with the procedure, and Teddy passed quickly and painlessly. I brought the body home and buried him under the biggest tree in our yard. I had already dug the hole a few weeks earlier, and I'm glad I did because otherwise an already unpleasant experience would have been much worse.

Being there as the last breath left my little canine friend, carrying his body out into the yard and putting him in a hole, burying him on a cool and rainy day -- you would think that these parts would be difficult. But looking back, it was like I was on autopilot, doing what needed to be done without stopping to consider the pain of it.

The hardest part was coming back into the house, hoping to hear the jingling tags on his collar, expecting to be greeted at the door by excitement beyond compare like so many times before -- but being greeted by silence. Deep, penetrating silence that cut my heart like a knife. That silence has been my constant companion since yesterday morning when all this happened, and I can't seem to shake the horrible sense of loss and pain I feel inside.

If you're like me, at this point you're probably reading this and thinking "Get over it man, it's just a dog." And I understand that. I've had pets all my life, and this is just part of what goes along with getting attached to them. I'm sure the pain will subside over the next few days and weeks. But I guess I'm just struck by how strongly this whole thing has unexpectedly affected me and my stone cold unfeeling self. I feel like I should be using this compassion on people, and important problems in the world -- not on the loss of one little dog. But knowing that and actually experiencing it are two different things.

This experience is certainly making me feel more empathy towards other people, and reminding me to comfort them in their pains and struggles, even over little things that I may not understand. I'm so often driven by logic and reason, and as terrible as it sounds, sometimes wonder if I even still have a heart at all. Now I know I have a heart, because it's broken.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


In my previous post, I mentioned that despite feeling good about my decision not to attend Sunday morning church services, there are still a few concerns I have that I think are worth mentioning.

I was raised with a strong sense of social responsibility. That is to say that as a general principle, anything I'm engaged in that involves community should cause me to endeavor to put more into it than I get back from it. You can apply this principle to personal relationships, small groups of friends, clubs or organizations, and continue upward into local and state government, national government, and finally all of mankind. I think that most reasonable people could agree that if everyone truly abided by this principle, the world would be a better place.

I like to think that by and large, I have done a pretty decent job of abiding by this principle. It is with this in mind that I admit the first concern I have about not attending the big church: Am I benefiting from the work and sacrifice of others, who are part of the institutional church, while putting nothing back into it myself?

My wife is currently attending an intensive two-year through-the-Bible study that has been amazing and life-changing for her. I'm not sure who wrote and distributed the materials, but it is sponsored by and held at the big church, at a fairly minimal cost to us.

I've mentioned before that even the small group that we attend, and consider our "church", is affiliated with the big church. I very much appreciate the fact that the big church does not micromanage this in any way, or mandate any aspect of the small group. Ours is attended by people who attend other churches, or no church at all, and the big church is perfectly fine with this. They offer general help and guidance upon request, but seem willing to trust the leaders of the small groups to use their own judgment about what the members need.

Most of the community outreach projects that we take part in are either started by, or supported by, the big church. They are great about using things like e-mail chains to make people aware of service opportunities or special needs that arise. If there were no centrally located church organization, I'm not sure exactly how much of this stuff we would find out about, and how much of it would get done at all.

So are we being leeches by benefiting from the work of others in some way, while putting nothing back in? Comments are welcome, and don't worry about hurting my feelings. As I've already mentioned, I'm sincere about the questions I'm asking. I'm just trying to find my way to the heart of Jesus the best I can. If I've gotten way off track, I'm open to correction. At this point, this "not going to church" thing is not a hill I'm willing to die on.

Monday, March 24, 2008

We Went to "Church"

I think it was Good Friday when my wife said to me, "Hey, it's Easter time. Do you want to go to church on Sunday?"

And I said, "Sure, why not?"

So we did.

See, the thing is, we haven't been attending Sunday morning services for the last few months. I discussed this on a recent post. This is a decision that both myself and my wife have been quite comfortable with.

Technically, the small group we attend is affiliated with this larger church. It's a very nice church. Good, solid Bible teaching, emphasis on missions and community outreach, and always a rad and super-tight music thing on Sunday morning. They have cool videos and a great sound system. As far as Sunday morning church goes, this seems about as good as you'll find anywhere around this area.

Anyway, after the service we discussed how we felt about it, and decided we both still very much like our decision not to attend Sunday morning church. We read about ten times as much Scripture and Bible-teaching on our own as what we hear from the preacher/teacher guy during a monologue. We aren't really into the music there as an expression of what we consider "praise" or "worship" to the Lord. We give away more money than a tithe or offering would amount to, and we know for certain that what we give is going directly to meet needs in our community and around the world. We are actively involved in the messy lives of all the real, actual people we can handle. When additional service opportunities are brought to our attention, we gladly donate our time and energy to those. And the list goes on and on.

I'm fully aware of the objections that people can and do raise to this approach we're taking. I'm not defensive in addressing those, and do still have a few lingering concerns that I'll address on a later post.

In the end, both my wife and I chuckled at the notion -- "Maybe we'll attend church only on Easter and Christmas. We'll be those kind of Christians."

That statement is ironic, and bears no resemblance to what it would have meant to either of us just a few years ago.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Someday I'll have a strong prayer life. For now, it seems like I spend a lot of my day thinking about the Lord, and pondering things, and communicating with Him more by feelings and thoughts and experiences than by words spoken aloud. I'd like to have a dedicated prayer closet, with a couple of well-worn places where my knees have been. I'd like to see miraculous transformations all around me -- the result of spending serious time wrestling with God and winning.

Someday I'll really dig in and read my Bible, and understand it all, and be able to apply it all practically. For now, reading certain parts seems a chore, and I just can't seem to get one of those disciplined daily-reading plans off the ground. So I mostly jump around, or stumble randomly into reading a chapter or section that seems relevant at the moment, and sounds vaguely familiar.

Someday I'll fulfill my creative potential -- take all the talents the Lord has given me out of storage, and exercise them again. I'm sure they're still in there somewhere. For now, I mourn daily the utter dearth of imagination that I've suffered in the last several years. Artistic block is one thing; the apparent death of half my brain seems like quite another.

Someday, I'll be the kind of husband my wife deserves -- loving, romantic, strong, thinking only of her and her well-being. For the moment, I'm selfish, and never seem to be able to express my love for her like I know I should. There never seem to be enough hours in the day to do all the wonderful things with her that I imagine I could. When we have free time, I look at her, and she looks at me, and we shrug and wonder if we're boring. We're deeply in love, more with each passing day -- but maybe we should be doing something more.

Someday, I think we'd like to be missionaries in a far away land. I have friends that have done it, and I comprehend the beauty and wonder of watching people in other cultures hear the Gospel for the very first time, and of seeing them come to know the Lord with an innocence and sincerity that sounds refreshing to my weary, cynical American mind. For now, I have obligations that keep me where I am, and I'm content to be where I find myself. Probably not the kind of obligations you're thinking, if you think I'm working to acquire more stuff. It's not that. These are more along the lines of people that are relying on me, and I'm okay with that. I'm honored to be a critical part of the support structure for the people that I love.

Someday I'll exercise more and get in great shape, and floss daily, and help little old ladies across the street, and love my neighbor. Right now, I'm just too busy with, you know, life and stuff. I'm sure grateful for Jesus, and for God's grace. Grace covers me where I am -- right here, right now.

Someday I'll write the perfect blog post. For now, this one will have to do.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Snipe Hunt

Growing up, I was in Cub Scouts, then Webelos, and finally Boy Scouts. Though I never really excelled in these or became highly decorated, I did have a lot of fun in them. One of the most fun activities I remember was going on camp outs. For a growing boy, there was something magical about packing up some survival gear, a tent, and a bunch of snacks, then heading to the deep woods for a few days with a fraternal order.

On one particular camp out, my next door neighbor Greg and I were introduced to something called a "snipe hunt". Snipes, we were told, are small birds that live in the forest, and dwell mostly on the ground. The idea was that one group of boys would spot the snipes, and then chase these birds directly toward us. We had a bag for catching the snipes, and were supposed to scoop them up as they came our way.

In case you haven't heard of this or figured it out by now, the whole thing is a ruse. While there apparently really is a bird called the snipe, there weren't any snipes anywhere near our camp grounds. Ultimately, the idea was to lead a couple of young newbies out into the deep woods, then tell them to "wait here for the snipes and scoop them up", then to head immediately back to camp and sit around laughing, wondering how long it would take for the poor idiots to figure out they'd been had. If well-executed, the dupes would also be pretty well lost, since they were led deep into the woods in a completely unfamiliar area -- meaning it could take hours for them to make their way back to base camp.

Anyway, Greg and I heard buzz about this "snipe hunt" for the entire day leading up to it. We were told how delicious ("like chicken") they were, and how much fun it was to bag them. I'm not sure about Greg, but I was genuinely suspicious right from the start. I had never heard of such a bird, and couldn't quite believe that the presented method of hunting could actually work. As the time drew near and we headed out, something just didn't seem right. The other boys seemed to be having a hard time containing their giggles and glee, and seemed like they were trying a little too hard to sell us on the whole "snipe" thing. But for whatever reason, we decided to play along anyway and head out with them to the appointed hunting grounds.

Sure enough, it was a long walk, deep into an obscure area of the woods. There Greg and I stood, bags in hand, and off went the other boys to "chase the snipes our way". I don't think we were there for even 30 seconds when I announced to Greg that we'd been had, just like I knew we would, and that we had better start back to camp so we didn't end up looking like idiots. He agreed, and so off we headed.

At some point, we appeared to be making pretty good time, and the thought actually crossed our minds to try and beat the others back to camp. "Imagine," we thought, "the looks on their faces when they see us sitting there waiting for them." But unfortunately, we didn't know the quickest or most direct route back to camp, so eventually we had to abandon that plan. We did get back mere minutes after everyone else had arrived, and naturally told them that we knew there were never any snipes, and that we just played along for the fun of it. But at some level, there's just no saving face when you've been led out for a snipe hunt. So you laugh along with the others and shrug it off, and in some strange way, you're now a little closer to the mystical inner circle of camaraderie that only boys can share.

If you've heard a lot of good sermons, or read a lot of witty short stories by good authors, you realize by now that this final paragraph is where I present the great life lesson behind my experiences -- the "moral of the story", if you will. And this particular story, about the snipe hunt, is no doubt chock-full of great possibilities in this regard. But you know what? I really don't have anything in mind here. Never did. No point to make; no great underlying truth. Just a story from a boyhood memory. Sometimes a snipe hunt really is just a snipe hunt.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Church and Fellowship

Jim has been pondering the subject of "fellowship" lately -- namely, how it fits (or doesn't fit) into the larger context of our church experience.

I have mixed feelings about this and related subjects, but do have some thoughts I'll try to capture here. My feelings are "mixed" because I'm currently in the process of trying to settle on what "church" means, and what my part in it is. I'm aware of the whole "we are the Body of Christ" thing, and agree that it's bad to be separated from the Body, or to harm, neglect, or disrespect the corporate manifestation of Christ-followers currently on earth. When we start asking questions about what church is and isn't, those who are content with the more traditional models seem quick to point this out.

For the last few months, my family* has chosen not to attend Sunday-morning church services. When I first became a Christian in the early 80's, it was my belief that the spiritual state of believers could be gaged pretty accurately based on their church attendance, or lack thereof. Those who were backslidden had no interest in being around Christians or church, so they would stop showing up, and eventually reports would surface that they had fully returned to their old lifestyle.

At the risk of sounding like I'm trying to justify our decision not to attend Sunday morning services, I'll be honest here -- our spiritual state and relationships with other members of the Body of Christ are better now than ever before. That fact doesn't automatically mean that we can declare success, or start promoting our "church model" as being superior to the more traditional models.

What has worked for us, for several years now, is basically the "small group" as our primary expression of church. We did this when we lived in California, and when we moved to Tennessee, we managed to get "plugged in" to the same scenario here. What I'm referring to is not a once-per-week meeting, or some sort of coerced or contrived program. We do meet weekly, to sing, pray, take Communion, study the Bible, and just generally converse and communicate. But what I'm really talking about is a group of believers who have decided to live lives fully committed to one another. We can admit our faults and sins, acknowledge who we really are and how we really feel about things, and know that the underlying commitment will not cease. We take meals to one another during sickness or family crisis, act as emergency babysitters, share personal possessions in common for one another's benefit, we get together for meals, parties and other social events, and we do various service projects and neighborhood outreach things together (sorry -- I'm sure somebody somewhere just yelled "Bingo!" after this paragraph).

I don't mean to over-idealize this. It's messy, imperfect, and doesn't always function in a healthy or beneficial way. But I am being honest and transparent when I say that I believe every member of our group would agree that it's been tremendously beneficial overall, and certainly is the most intimate intersection between our individual, personal faith in Jesus and our need to share that faith experience with other believers.

*My family means my wife and me. Our only child has moved out of the house, and it's possible that we might be making different choices in many areas of our life if we had children in our household right now.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Does This Excite You?

After these wonderful revelations, I can hardly wait to get to Heaven.

I hear it's even bigger than New York City.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Half a World Away

I've been following all the Compassion bloggers in Uganda this week, eagerly reading each and every blog entry as they trickle into my reader. If you're just hearing about this, I highly recommend visiting some of these blogs to see what all the fuss is about!

Time and time again the things I'm seeing and hearing tug at my heart. We sponsor four children, but before hearing these reports, I really don't think I grasped the full impact of the work Compassion does. It doesn't just effect the children we sponsor, but also has a profound effect on the entire families of the sponsored children.

Please visit this post by Shaun Groves to watch a brief video that shows exactly what a world-shaking difference each and every one of us can make.

And if you don't already do so, please consider sponsoring a child through Compassion International today!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Choosing Compassion

One of the first things I'd like to address here is why my family has chosen to make Compassion International a ministry and cause that we wholeheartedly support. The longer I've had interactions with Compassion, the more impressed and amazed I've been by them. If you've ever considered sponsoring a child or getting involved, but just weren't sure, I hope you'll consider some of the things that helped us in deciding on Compassion International.

The first and easiest reason I can give is that the effects of sponsoring a child through Compassion are immediate and tangible. I'm saving the specifics about our sponsored children for later posts, but if you've worked hard and made sacrifices to provide for your family like I have, then it's important to you that the stewardship of your giving is in hands that can be trusted, and which truly honors the Lord and makes a difference in our world. Compassion does not just use a child's face to lure you into giving to a "general fund" of some sort, and then pull a bait-and-switch once you've begun your giving. They literally put you in direct contact with a specific child, and your involvement in that child's life has visible effects. Studies have shown that this approach is much more successful than a nameless/faceless entity that shows up and drops off some food and water and then just leaves. This is a long-term ongoing commitment in the life of a specific child, and it is really quite an amazing and effectual thing.

One specific example of this sponsor-to-child relationship I'd like to mention, which we've enjoyed very much, is giving a child gift or family gift through Compassion. You are allowed to give a dollar amount, over and above your normal sponsorship, that goes to your child or your child's family. 100% of this gift goes directly to them. We've been privileged to receive letters and photos back from our kids, telling us of their very exciting day at the market, and showing us the beautiful new clothes and other items they purchased with the gift money.

Another reason we've chosen Compassion is that we are extremely confident that we can trust them. Compassion is constantly getting high marks with all the ministry watchdog agencies, and even better than that, I've personally had direct dealings with the folks at Compassion, and with people who know the inner workings there. It all paints a clear picture of an organization which, from top to bottom, operates with absolute integrity -- and more importantly, that this is a group of people who truly love what they do and want to be the best they can.

Finally, there is one more aspect of giving through Compassion which, in my mind, is the single strongest argument to be made. That is simply this -- the best gift I can possibly give, and the most critical need in the world, is Jesus. Compassion teaches these children from a very young age about the love of Christ, and demonstrates it in the most practical way possible. Knowing that these little ones are being filled with hope and joy through the Gospel is by far the most rewarding part of this entire experience for me!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Something to Blog About

After a long, self-imposed break from blogging, I finally have something which has drawn me back into doing it again.

This month is blog month at Compassion International, and I feel very strongly about the great work they do, so I've decided to add my "voice" to their cause.

My wife and I sponsor four children through Compassion, and I will be taking some time over the next few weeks talking about each one of our children, and telling you about my experience as a child sponsor.

Also this month, Compassion is taking 15 Christian bloggers to see the ministry's work firsthand. You can read their blogs and get an insider's view of Compassion as the bloggers send live updates. I will be highlighting and linking to some of my favorite posts from this group.