Saturday, July 31, 2004

There's Something Going On That's Not Quite Right

Today, 17 teenagers from our church's student ministry will be leaving on a mission trip to inner city Houston. They'll be in the capable hands of Nathan Lee who has already trained them and prepared them and done all the leg-work for the trip...which will challenge the teens a great deal if what I've read from his training packets transpires.

It feels strange to me to have a major event taking place in MY specific area of ministry without me being involved in anything other than a consultant's role (at best--an observer's role would be more accurate).

It feels strange to know that for the first time since I got to CBC that there'll be a mission trip photo up on the wall without me in it.

It feels strange to know that the teens will come back with all the things teens get from trips like that--the bonding experience things like van rides and inside jokes and meaningful worship times--and I won't be a part of it at all.

It feels a lot like my future in ministry. Which feels strange. Good and necessary and using gifted servants to serve using their gifts and blah blah blah. But definitely strange.
What's Good About Amercia

After the downer of political convention coverage this week, I found everything good about America in the doughnut shop this morning.

It's owned by Korean immigrants. They work early hours making doughnuts, attending classes in the afternoon. They're friendly and smile when you come in after they say "hello" with a Korean accent. They're learning English (but apprently haven't learned to say "hey" yet) and making their living from Texans who spend around 4 bucks every time they come in. They're trying to be a part of the community. They put little kids' artwork up in their store alongside prints of Matisse (I don't know why they chose him in particular). They have a bulletin board for local business cards. They have their children, who work in the store, in our public schools. They go to church.

It's the melting pot in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to people from somewhere else. They may or may not make it but the ideals are giving them their shot...and the idea that there's some idea of an "American Dream" out there that people want to pursue is what's good about America. Not the politicians or the politics.

Friday, July 30, 2004

When did summer shrink (and yes, I know I blogged about it earlier this month, but for some reason this is really, really bothering me)?
It's the end of July and the Dallas Morning News ran a feature on things to do with your kids during the "last week of summer."  So I stared thinking about my summers.

First off, if memory serves correctly, it ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

When I was younger, me and a friend would mow two lawns in the morning and then we'd go to the pool from after lunch until dinner, and then play games in the neighborhood until 9:30 or 10 at night.  Stuff like hide and seek, kick the can or sardines.

When I got older, I'd work 40 the country club golf course or the movie theatre.  It was funny, because I made more money per hour mowing lawns, but for some reason, we all had to "go get jobs."  Then me and my friends played in an organized baseball league at nights...and there was a girlfriend, but she hung out with me after games.

There was a week-long vacation in there somewhere.  My entire extended family would go to the Gulf Coast to be with my grandparents and we'd stay at the beach.  My paternal cousins and I spent a lot of ouir weekends having drunk uncles drive us around in a ski boat while we were hanging on desperately to this inner tube during our stays at the family cabin on the Warrior River.

By this time during my summers, it was total boredom (and, I really think there's value in rest and decompression, even if you're bored.  That's why moms say, "Well, you could vacuum, or read a book."  For some reason, we'd fake finding something to do, like ride your bike to Jimmy's and stay there, bored, until his mom started scurrying up chores, then we'd head off to Frankie's because he had cable/MTV and we'd be bored there until his mom came home).  You'd still have four weeks to go of this routine, too.  Two weeks if you played football or were in the band and had to report for practice or camp.  Three if you were involved in some sort of extracurricular thing like student council or yearbook.  Coaches and teachers understood if you missed some of them if your family was squeezing in one last week of vacation, too.

But now, school stuff kicks off next week.  And, frankly, some teens have been attending "voluntary" (read:  it's voluntary, but if you aren't there, you won't play) camps with their band sections or football 7-0n-7 teams, since school ended the first week of June...and this is the last week of summer...

I guess I'm wondering what happened to lazy summers, and for whatever reason, I don't like the warp speed feel to these.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Upon Arriving At Home... entire family came to the airport to get me.  That doesn't always happen, but it's really nice to have a slew of excited girls happy to greet you. dog was happy to see me.  That's what makes dogs the greatest of all pets.
...serious thunderstorms started about an hour after I got back, and continued all night.  I think I was built for the Pacific Northwest, because I absolutely love the rain.  I like cold more than hot, rain more than sun, snow more than summer, etc.
...I got to teach a Bible study.  After a day of travel, I don't have my "a" game.  I forgot to tie the opening illustration to the main point of the text.  Rookie mistake from a 16-year veteran.
...I met with my upperclassmen.  I'm excited about how they are challenging me, my staff, and by extension, the rest of the teens in the ministry.
...there was a glitch in the dishwasher.  We're hoping the problem was solved, but I can say I'm tired of plumbing problems.  The test for that is this morning.  Ugh.
...I watched a movie with my wife.  There's something nice about just being in the room with her.  That hasn't changed in 16 years.
...I watched the Rangers' lead in the AL West division dwindle to a half-game.  I fear the August slide has begun 3 days early.
...I woke up to normalcy in my routine.  My newspaper (albeit a tad soggy) in my driveway with my coffee made my way in my kitchen with my family asleep with my dog sitting by my feet with my computer in my chair working on my blog.   I'm content.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Chronicles From The Deep South, Volume 5, Final Edition.
Went with my Mom to her radiation treatment yesterday.  The doctor, after looking at some x-rays taken previously, decided that she'll need three additional treatments after the current schedule.  I'm guessing this is good since the doctors seem to know what they're after but my mother didn't tell me this information until after I could ask questions to the doctor to see what it meant.  She didn't care that I couldn't ask questions, either. "They're going to do the treatments they need to do so what good are your questions going to be?"  Moms.  Gotta love 'em.

I took a break from my diet to get involved in some serious Milo's Hamburgers.  It's a small chain of hamburger stands that started in Birmingham and now they've grown to 10 stores. It's all about the sauce, fries and sweet tea...making the straying from the diet well worth it.

Last night I cooked out again.  I'm not sure what I'd have done if they didn't have a grill here.  Just give me some sort of meat and a fire and I'm golden.  Give me a stove or a microwave and I envision Rubik's Cube.  Very caveman-like...except I'd have to have a cave-grocery store to buy the meat, and I'd need a cave-fire starter, too.

My mom's friend came over for a visit.  She pointed out that my mom is "very predictable" and "watches a lot of television."  My mom is happy with her life and said, "I watch a lot of TV. So what?  I like it."  And, "Who cares if I'm predictable?  I don't."  Chemo and radiation hasn't fried her spunk, I don't guess.

I missed going to Hurricane Harbor with the middle schoolers at our church.  Over 100 go and it's always a good time.  This makes two years in a row that I didn't get to be a part of it, but when I called Kelsey last night she said they had a blast.  I'm glad for her, but I really would've like to have gone.

Today ends a stretch of 12 of the last 16 days that I spent out of my home.  I have no idea how people who travel for a living do it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Chronicles From The Deep South, Volume 4.
I took my mom to her first chemotherapy session yesterday, followed by the beginning of week #2 of radiation treatments.  The chemotherapy took place in a center designed especially for this purpose, and there were a lot of women wearing hats.  My mom's dosage isn't enough to make her hair fall out, but there seemed like a lot of trepidation was in the waiting room.  All the nurses were very Tigger-like in their approach, very happy and bouncy.  The treatment didn't seem to rock my mom's world very much, but she came out a bit lightheaded.  That went away in an hour.

The radiation treatment was lightning fast.  We walked in, and half an hour later we walked out.

Then we went to pick up my mom's medicine.  She uses the pharmacy that is 15 minutes from her house, but two minutes from the house she lived in for 30 years.  She said she can't change pharmacies.

After that, we went to Sam's Club to get mass quantities of bottled water.  Apparently, that's crucial to chemotherapy recovery.  Drinking water...not going to Sam's to buy it. 

Then we came home and my mom had a nap.  I read while the thunderstorms rolled in.  I once heard a visiting pastor from California talk about how earthquakes were nothing compared to Alabama thunderstorms.  I've experienced both, and he might be right.

While running some errands for mom, I was listening to sports talk radio, and college football was the topic and passionately discussed.  Get this:  The head coach at Tennessee apparently turned in Alabama to the NCAA, who later put them on probation.  The head coach announced he won't be coming to the Southeastern Conference pre-season media blitz in Birmingham this week because he doesn't want to be deposed by a group of lawyers (who are not affiliated with the University of Alabama in any way that I know of) who are waiting to interview him.  Just a group of guys suing the Tennesse coach for what he supposedly did to Alabama.  The Tennessee coach also mentioned that the SEC couldn't guarantee his safety while he was in Alabama.  I keep trying to tell you people about the passion for college football here, and it's really difficult to explain.  I'll just keep offering you snippets like this and hope it suffices.

Last night was very lazy.  My mom had a big day, so I chatted on IM with my sister, called my girls (yes, my "girls" includes my wife) back in Texas, and watched portions of CSI with my mom.  Everyone went to bed early.

I wanted to hear Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention, and he's a very good public figure. (GenX anti-boomer sentiment/diatribe upcoming) Much like almost every Baby Boomer:  Lots of style, very well presented, but short on substance or integrity.

I loathe politics, the process and the "sound byte" mentality.  (generic idealistic statement upcoming) I wish politicians could get elected by being philosopher/statesmen these days...

Monday, July 26, 2004

Chronicles From The Deep South, Volume 3.
Yesterday I attended the church I went to when we lived here 10 years ago.  Right before we moved to Dallas, the church went through a difficult phase.  A popular, young assoicate pastor was leaving to form his own church and taking a significant part of the church leadership with him.  He got on John MacArthur's bandwagon on 1 John 1:9 (a contrarian position MacArthur later had to defend before a church council) and decided to push the elder board on it, and they wished him well.  He left, and in effect damaged the senior pastor's credibility along the way.

Those that stayed then split into two camps:  Those who weren't confident in the pastor's leadership and wanted to oust him so they could stay in the building they "mortgaged their homes" to build, and those who wanted to sell the property and buy land further out in the growing suburban landscape.  The latter camp would've stayed if the first group were willing to be a part of sweeping change, racially mixing the congregation to balance the racially mixing surrounding neighborhood...and I can assure you, that was NOT about to happen even in early '90's Alabama.

Tracy and I were supporters of the senior pastor, a good man and solid teacher.  But about the time the sale of the land was completed, we moved to Dallas.  The church built on their new land and things looked promising.

That's why I was sad to see that only about 50 or so people were in the seats on Sunday morning.  Despite very solid Biblical instruction, the church was dying a slow death.  I was one of the youngest people there.  Making matters even worse was the reality that there were two new churches on the same street that were parking cars on the lawns and had large playgrounds outside--obvious signs of growth.  The whole experience (besides hearing an excellent--even if 50 minutes long--sermon) reinforced my belief that a church's methods must be relevant to the culture they are in...and open to the generation behind the current one, too.  A lesson every church needs to be cognizant of.

Then I had a fantastic lunch with my in-laws.  My brother-in-law and I chatted about life and I got to hear what Tracy's parents were up to, which included a potential trip to New Mexico for their annual balloon festival in the fall.  My sister-in-law was primarily involved in riding herd over my neice, who is as cute as she can be with the look of (Raising Arizona reference upcoming) an outlaw.  She's a mess. Cute, but definitely a mess.  My nephew was busy doing push-ups to get in shape for his first season of tackle football later this month.

Afternoon thunderstorms rained out my Sunday night possibility of going to the local minor league baseball team's home game.  I was hoping to pay $6 for the box seats and sit by the dugout and watch the Barons, but there was actually damage to the outfield walls done by the storm, so they're going to play two tonight.  I won't be going.

My mom was kind of worried about her chemotherapy session that starts today so we more or less sat around, chatting and watching television.  She and her husband are faithful watchers of shows I never knew existed (Some show called Studio 7), and I couldn't take any more of bad tv shows so I suggested watching this show called The Days on ABC which shows promise after only two's actually pretty good, and my mom liked it and laughed...taking her mind off the upcoming day, which was nice.

I'm developing a cold, too.  Not to worry.  I picked up the greatest pre-emptive strike against colds ever, Cold-Eeze.  Some sort of zinc thing...but it works for me like crazy. 

Chemo chronicles tomorrow.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Chronicles From The Deep South, Volume 2:  Reunion Edition
Last time, it all started with a phone call in 1993 when, as class president, I got a committee together to plan the 10-year reunion for my high school class.  It went off without a hitch.

This time, it all started with an e-mail I received in 2003 when the committee I put together last time already had the 20-year reunion planned and were letting me, the class president, know about it.  Again, it went off without a hitch.

As I was driving to the main party last night (there was a picnic earlier in the day which I'd missed) I was surprisingly excited to be going.  Originally, the thought of driving 660 miles to attend didn't seem all that worthwhile.  Driving 20 minutes across town seemed well worth it.

When I got there, two girls (well, to me they seemed like girls, but they're in their late 30's now) on the committee were filling out nametags.  They didn't recognize me, and I've known one of them since 2nd grade.  I guess the ponytail threw them off.  I added the long hair after the 10th so get a free pass.  At least I hope it was that and not the 20 pounds I've gained since then.  They laughed embarrassingly and were happy to see me.

My group of friends showed up about a half-hour into the deal.  One of them is in pharmaceutical sales and actually lives in the house next door to my grandmother's old house.  The best man at my wedding showed up with his wife, and he works for Frito-Lay in Charlotte.  The other it twice divorced and living in a van down by the river.  That's really sort of the way it sounded when he was telling us he was a freight broker.

Anyway, there was little talk of the past.  At the 10-year deal, we re-lived the big games and stupid moments.  This year, there seemed to be a genuine interest in what each other was doing and our families.  Pictures came out of wallets.  A lot. 

Maybe it's a generational thing or maybe it's that we've moved past superficiality, but no one was really trying to impress anyone else.  We had a couple of Ph.D's and M.D.'s and a couple of pro athletes, but everyone made statements like, "Well, I'm a professor at Georgia Tech, but really all that does is pay the bills so I can spend time with family/do my hobby."  We seemed really interested in those things more than the careers.

We definitely moved past the stereotypes that we were, too.  The cliques were difficult to discern.  Everybody more or less worked the room.  There was enough time to talk to everybody.  A lot of conversation evolved around those who weren't there...not in a bad way, but more like, "Tyler didn't come to the 10-year, either. What's he up to?" 

As for my personal conversations, it's interesting to see how people respond when you say you're a pastor at a church in Dallas.  They looked as if I'd said I became an astronaut.  Then they'd ask me if I'd read "Purpose Driven Life" or the "Left Behind" series of books.  At the 10-year, everyone had infants and toddlers.  Now they were all talking about the great church they started going to and how much they liked their pastor, etc.  Apparently when boys start calling your daughter (some even had teens that were driving/dating/etc.) church becomes a priority.

It's also interesting when you have children in middle school how you look at stuff through different eyes.  One of the more popular girls in high school married a man who had children from a previous marriage (making her the only one with children in high school--one actually graduated this year) telling us of stories like the first time they took the car out after they got their license or staying out all night during prom or getting ready for them to move off to college in a few weeks.  We were riveted.  That conversation lasted about an hour and led to a discussion about how we thought we were so old at that time in our lives and now it seems so young...throwing in all those stories about how we used to drive like maniacs and now we're getting ready to hand our kids the keys, how we used to go after the pretty girls and now we're telling our sons not to be so shallow, how we used to stay out all night after prom.  We all decided it might be wise to thank our parents at some point.

The 80's music that filled the hall lost it's retro effect, largely due to the VH-1 series about that decade.  The songs still made us laugh, though...especially as the DJ announced that his final 10 songs were counting down Billboard's top 10 from 1984.  I didn't hear what #1 was because I was saying goodbye to some of my friends.

People who couldn't dance in high school didn't get any better over 20 years.

Only two guys were obnoxiously drunk, and both were using the opportunity to try to pick up the bachelorettes and new divorcees.  Needless to say, drunkeness may be funny to 18 year olds, but it's pretty sad to get tanked and chase skirts at 38.

The highlight of the night was when my group of friends started reviewing those girls we dated or had crushes on during the high school years.  They'd walk by and one of them would fire off, "Hey, McKinney.  There's Kim.  Remember in 9th grade homeroom you said you were going to ask her out?  Did you ever?"  Or, "Hey, Smitty.  Remember when you went out with Melissa and the cops found you parking?"  We thought it might be wise to apologize to these various girls at some point for our teenage guy stupidity.  My old high school girlfriend was a no-show...but my friends talked about my stupid exploits with her anyway.

So, overall, I'm really glad I went.  It was a surprisingly good time.  And, I got voted to win an award for "Classmate Who Has Changed The Most."  I took it as a compliment.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Chronicles From The Deep South, Volume 1
In the airport I purchased a copy of Time magazine.  I NEVER read Time magazine unless I get it in an airport.  The cover made me think of my sister (who loves Las Vegas) because it said, "It's Vegas, Baby!  Why America's No. 1 Tourist Town Is Hotter Than Ever."  A great line from the article:  "The town's logo, 'What happens here, stays here,' is complete camp.  What happens in Vegas, in fact, is bragged about at home for five months afterward."  Another line:  "It is Britney Spears' home away from home whenever she's in town to get married."

I got to fly first-class yesterday on a special ticket a friend provided for me.  You can put the boy in first-class, but you can't put first-class in the boy.  A flight attendant had to show me how to get the tray out of the armrest, and I had red wine with the smoked chicken (I don't think the explanation that red wine is on my diet would've worked, anyway).

The plane flew over the defunct Fairfield Works steel production plant belonging to a huge company in America in the 60's and 70's, United States Steel.  I thought of the three generations of my family that worked there (well, my cousins worked there in the summers before they went belly-up).  It made me kind of sad to see it empty...we used to take field trips there when I was in elementary school to watch them pour molten steel and got to wear hard hats and safety glasses.

I don't know why, after not living here for 10 years, I get into the airport and start looking at people to see if I know them.  It's a city of something like 400,000 people.  Who am I going to know?  But for some reason I look at people as if I expect to find someone I know.

They've fixed up the interstates since I was here last.  Nice blacktop and striping on most of 'em.

My mom doesn't look or act sick at all.  She came in from her radiation treatment in good spirits and we visited for a while.  She did take a nap later in the afternoon for about an hour and a half, but I couldn't tell if it was the radiation treatment or because she's over 60. 

I don't like going into grocery stores that aren't my own.  In Dallas, I go to Albertson's, and Albertson's only.  Not because of any brand loyalty or anything like that, it's simply the closest one to my house and after living there 8 years I know where everything is inside.  Need spices?  Right over here.  Need coffee creamer?  Just over there.  Meat?  Way over there.  Trying to purchase fixin's for dinner at a place called Bruno's, I felt like I was taking FOREVER to get the shopping done. 

My mom was impressed that I could throw dinner together all by myself (I wonder if moms ever get passed thinking you're 11)...thanks to her shiny relatively new grill I think I can handle dinner for five more days.

The nightly news in Alabama always seems to have a racially significant story.  Last night, some guy found the mug shots taken from the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott...which is really significant because they had early photos of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, true American heroes in the thick of what they would become heroes for.  Anyway, these mug shots were found in photo albums no one knew they kept for 40 years.  They were clearing out boxes in the basement and found them. 

The nightly news is also laced with ads featuring former football coaches.  The former Alabama coach pushed a car dealership.  The former Auburn coach peddled lumber.

And, 20 year reunion.  Now that I'm here, I'm kind of excited about it.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Big Wheels Keep On Turnin'...
I'm off today for Alabama...going to spend some time with my Mom (a.k.a. "Charlotte The Scar") as she's undergoing radiation and chemotherapy to get rid of some "pre-cancerous" cells.  She's going to be fine, but I still want to go see her.

Secondarily, I'll now be able to attend my 20-year high school reunion (W.A. Berry High School Buccaneers, Class of 1984, thank you very much).

I should have many tales soon...

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Tonight we went to Shelby's "end of summer" recital for her workshops...she's getting ready to start here... Posted by Hello

Shelby doing her thing! Posted by Hello
The Day Before "Vacation"
I'm taking a few days of vacation starting tomorrow (more details to follow) through mid-week next week.  I dislike the days before I leave the office because it seems like the shoelaces never get tied.  There's always a ton of work to do and then it's rushed and finally you just leave.

It's sorta like taking finals in college. By the time they roll around you're tired of studying so you just read over the notes and settle for whatever grade you had in the class instead of busting your hump to bring the grade up one letter ("Hmmm...lemme see.  I have to make a 12 on the final to get a 'c' or I can make a 92 to get a 'b.'  Well, fellas. Let's go bowling.")

Maybe that explains my 2.9 GPA and a career bowing at the altar of mediocrity.
500 Posts
So, with the Hollywood Minute post below, The Diner just completed it's 500th post.  I'm big into milestones, even if they don't mean that much.
Hollywood Minute
So, it's David Spade's 40th birthday today.  Let's all celebrate by riding Chris Farley's coattails, skewering celebrities and making a string of forgettable movies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Remedy for The Doldrums
In yesterday's entry, you'll notice I was having a day like Lucy from "Peanuts."  You know, an "I'm crabby so stay out of my way" day.  Today is already much better.

In case you're wondering, high doses of Foo Fighters CD's really helped me out. 

Today's group therapy/support question:  What helps you out of your pity-parties?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Summer Doldrums
Maybe it's because I've spent a bunch of money on plumbing this week.  Maybe it's because the Texas Rangers' starting rotation is starting to crumble and their surprising hold on first place seems shaky.  Maybe it's because my Mom starts radiation and chemotherapy today.  Maybe it's because I'm back in flat, hot Texas after a week in hilly, chilly Colorado.  Maybe it's because the guy didn't get the girl in The Terminal.  Maybe it's because my 20-year high school reunion is this weekend and, combined with an unexplained shoulder pain and that VH-1 has an "I Love the..." for every decade I've lived in, the reality of pushing 40 is staring me in the face.  Maybe it's that every morning for 15 years I've had a morning routine with my black lab and now I don't have that (Lloyd is really trying, though).  Maybe it's because all these teenagers I discipled are coming back from mission trips to Greece and China and all sorts of interesting places that I didn't get to see with them.  Maybe it's because my lawn needs mowing.  Maybe it's that I don't have any new CD's. Maybe it's that the upcoming presidential election seems like much ado about nothing.  Maybe it's because the teenagers I'm spending the most time and energy working with don't seem to be "getting it."  Maybe it's that I haven't had a pity party in a while.  Maybe it's because I'm so busy, or my family's so busy.
I don't know. 
Definitely, the dog days of summer have hit me hard and nothing seems like very much fun right now.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Back in the Saddle
While I love the change of scenery/activity involved in a working vacation, I really enjoy the routines of home:  My own bed, my hometown newspaper, my coffee my way, my morning radio DJ's, my entire catalogue of CD's to choose from, my kids with their morning "g'morning, daddy," the wife's kiss, the whole deal.  I'm not sure why but these routines are comforting to me.
The problem is that I have tons of stuff to do today.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Good Time
Kelsey and I made good time coming from Colorado yesterday.  We drove over 700 miles with only 3 stops, which translates into 11.5 hours door-to-door.
The unfortunate reality is that when we woke up the temperature was 55 with a high predicted at around 80.  In the Texas panhandle at two it was 95 and climbing.  And a bit flatter and less aesthetically attractive.
We bided the time by using an atlas at computing our average miles-per-hour.  I also took the time to introduce my daughter to the fine work of The Black Crowes and R.E.M.  It wasn't long after that she went to the headphones/personal CD player to dive into Evanescence.  We chatted about things big and small, made jokes about why every small town in Texas deems itself "historic" (of which, she made the observation that, if you're a minute old, you have "a history") and how funny it would be if we decided to stop at a "historical marker" and found out that it was the first colored "Sharpie" to arrive in that community or how when we "pass with care" we told the passee that we cared about get the idea.  It might not be that funny, but it helped the time fly by.  We finished up the day by listening to the radio broadcast of the still-in-first-place Texas Rangers.  She noted the difference between radio and tv play-by-play ("the announcer was describing the uniforms of each team, dad").
I've decided that there are worse ways to spend a day than driving across 20% of our country with your daughter.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

On the last day of my summer vacation, I...
Ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Hot tubbed after breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Took a nap after my hot tub session after lunch.
Taught Bible study twice.
Made s'mores with the kids in my church.
And, today, a 12-hour drive.  Ugh.

Friday, July 16, 2004

16 on the 16th.
16 years ago today, she said “I do.” 
No honeymoon.  We simply jumped into life. 
6 moves.  4 semesters of seminary.  16 years of youth ministry pay, hours & emotional investment.  5 churches.  3 ministries.
2 kids.  2 dogs. 2 birds.  A forgotten number of hermit crabs
On that day, when I saw her the first time, I thought that she’d never be more beautiful.  I thought I’d never be more content.
I was wrong on both counts.  She’s more beautiful to me today than ever before. I’m happier than I ever thought I’d be.  Even from 721 miles away.
I’m blessed beyond all comprehension.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Royal Gorge

Yesterday Kelsey and I took a train ride through an area called The Royal Gorge. It wasn’t a basic train ride, either. This train offered a first-class car, dining car, bar car, the whole deal. Plus, it has an outdoor observation deck.

Even though we had a “Ferris Bueller’s Teacher” type of narrator, the stories of how railroads got built in the old west really was interesting. And the sights were incredible, too. 1,000-foot cliffs made it feel like we were riding in a hallway, and we got to see white-water rafters in the river, too. Not to mention a suspension bridge at the very top of the gorge…

The afternoon capped off with a two-hour rainstorm that couldn’t have sounded better from the comfort of our room with the windows open and dropping the temperature 20 degrees.

Then, this morning, a Bible study on Jeremiah 35 on the deck at the foothills of a retired ski resort. Did I mention that it was 55 degrees outside?

Sometimes I think I undervalue the idea of vacation and rest. Even if this is a “working” vacation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A Colorado Update:

1. Kelsey and I went white-water rafting on the Arkansas River yesterday. In the first minute of training session, our guide mentioned that two “bowsers” were needed. She also said this job was the most strenuous because you set the rowing pace for the whole boat and rowed the hardest and sat in the bow of the boat making you the most likely to fall out. She also mentioned that there was no question those two people would be the soggiest at the end of the day.

Kelsey, in a very passive-aggressive way, says, “Yeah, me and my dad’ll do that…if nobody else wants to.” I had some concerns that her 12-year-old bravado would later turn into a source of embarrassment, but she held her own physically and definitely did the job well, too. I really like her tenacity.

2. We sleep with our windows open at night. The record-setting heat in Pueblo (which is actually hotter than Dallas this week, with temperatures over 100) doesn’t make it up to 9,000 feet in the mountains.

3. I go hot-tubbing at least once a day. Sometimes twice.

4. I’m teaching an overview of Jeremiah during the men’s Bible study each morning. I can’t get over how much human nature hasn’t changed throughout history. God continues to offer blessings and grace and people would rather listen to themselves than surrender to God. I can’t get over how much I do that myself.

5. I’m teaching through the Psalms of Ascent in the evening sessions. There’s definitely some really interesting insights into the spiritual life in that Hebrew hymnal they sang on their way to the festivals. They’re Psalms 120-134 if you’re interested.

Today brings us a train ride through the Royal Gorge. I wish I knew how to put pictures on this blog. I know there’s a trick to it by posting them on some other free host and then inserting them in the blog, so if somebody out there knows how to do it, I can give you some photos.

Monday, July 12, 2004

I hiked a former ski resort hill today...

...with my daughter. There were others, but to me, it will be a lifetime memory. 1,000 vertical feet. A 100 foot waterfall. With friends. With my daughter and some of her friends. Nothing else that happens today will mean as much to me, I don't think.

So I have been reading a book in the mountains, too...

From Eugene Peterson: "The puzzle to me is why so many people live so badly. Not so wickedly, but so inanely. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly. There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture...People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines... the same time, we continue to have an unquenchable thirst for wholeness, a hunger for righteousness...The Bilbe makes it clear that every time there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God's creative genius is endless."

Sunday, July 11, 2004

On The Road, Sans Kerouac

Driving. A long way. I usually loathe it.

Yesterday, I didn't. My family has had a crowded summer. Not really hectic and certainly enjoyable, but it seems like we're constantly "on the go." Mission trip here, ballet workshop there, softball over there, in laws in town, etc. Nothing bad. Just on the go a lot.

So I guess that a 10-hour drive through the Texas panhandle helps slow things down. I think the panhandle just feels slower...and I don't think I'm alone in those thoughts.

For example, saw a sign at a roadside stand that said, "dang good candy." Homemade candy at a roadside stand. Slow pace of life allows that to happen.

Another sign at a gas station: "Please don't buy tobacco products or alcohol for minors." Slow pace of life has all sorts of things going on, too.

We passed a shiny, convertible Cadillac with posed mannequins in bikinis waving at the passers-by. Slow pace of life.

People talk slower. People walk slower.

I felt myself slowing down. Hopefully the week upcoming will let me do that more.

Hopefully, I'll have internet access at the camp we're staying (the slow pace of life camp director said, "Yeah, we've got dial-up service in each room, but your software has to dial a '9' and then pause, and then you've got to have a local access number.") So, if that slow pace of life works out, I'll have a slow pace series of blogs...if not, I'm reading a book in the Rockies somewhere.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

On The Road Again

In one hour, my oldest daughter and I are heading out on the open road to go to our church's family camp. Tracy can't make the trip due to a few free-lance photography jobs popping up for her and Shelby has long ago committed to dance workshops that run through the, it's just the two of us and a neighbor whose family is meeting him there.

It should be a great trip, but I'm not sure if the camp has internet access or not...they have a dial up, but the owner said something about having your software dial "9" and then setting a we'll see.

Because of that, I'm not putting the Diner on hiatus. Next post: Trinidad, Colorado.

Friday, July 09, 2004

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...I wish I could go to Six Flags with my in-laws today instead of going to work.
...that I cannot believe Courtney Love actually made it to 40 years of age today.
...I'm pretty excited about going to our church's family camp next week in Colorado.
...that I have a ton of work to do before I go to our church's family camp next week in Colorado.
...I'm going to call my mom today.
...we should get rid of the stupid birds my daughters just had to have but no one really pays any attention to.
...the History Channel and the Discovery Channel are both highly underrated.
...that Lloyd, the Understudy to the Greatest of All Dogs, is coming into his own these last few days.
...I still need to clean out the garage, and now my closet has made the list.
...techno music is underappreciated.
...that Lance Armstrong's achievements are underappreciated.
...some books should be read annually: The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. The World According To Garp, by John Irving. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. True Spirituality, by Frances Schaeffer, and Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott.
...I'd buy several greatest hits CD's just to have them in my collection, and if Lenny Kravitz had one that included the hit from his new disc, I'd buy it. I'd also grab Van Halen's, The Replacements and Iron Maiden.
...that I need to go to work instead of continuing this blog.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Bemoaning Summer

Man, it seems like it's almost over. Summer that is.

When I was a kid, it seemed like summer went on forever. It began right after Memorial Day and we went back to school the day after Labor Day. Even in high school, the football practices and band camps and yearbook people didn't have to show up until mid-August.

My kids are having a different experience, too. We had plenty of time to get good and bored. My family usually found our way to the beach at some point, for a week, and a couple of weekends at the grandparent's cabin on the Warrior River. But my days were mostly mowing two yards in the neighborhood, and then heading up to the private pool in our community and/or playing some sort of outside game like baseball or frisbee golf or something.

Once in high school, I worked 8 hours a day and played baseball or softball on some organized league teams at night...hanging out afterwards.

What we didn't have were "voluntary" sports/activites ("you don't have to attend, but if you don't the coaches/director won't let you be a starter/have first chair") or yearbook meetings or some mandatory orientation or whatever.

And even if we did, summer was 12 weeks long then. In our community, they don't get out until the first week of June and classes actually start August 12. By the time you grab vacation, there's about 6 weeks of summer since everybody who's involved in anything has to be back by August 1 to get involved in their "thing."

I wish they'd just go to the quarter system and year-round school instead of all this pretense.

And it reaffirms my belief that we've lost the idea of how to "rest." The Europeans might actually be on to something with their mandatory 38.5 hour work weeks and lengthy summer holidays.

Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. Eugene Peterson said that. For some reason, today, I believe it in what I'm seeing in my quaint, crime-free community.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

A Reminder

While I truly am flattered by the fact that some of you who read this blog send me items to blog about, and I'm equally flattered that some of you value my opinion, please don't ask me to use this space as a vehicle for pushing an agenda of any kind.

Not that I don't have political thoughts. Not that I don't have certain interpretations of Scripture. Not that I don't have opinions on local civic issues. Not that I don't care about (insert favorite sports team here) and their (great outlook/sorry chances). I do.

It's simply that I don't want this space to become agenda-driven. They're my insights, as skewed and contradictory as they may be, and not intended to be inherently influential.

Now that that's said, since you wanted my opinion:

*I think Bill Cosby is right, but it isn't really my battle.
*I'm thinking of voting Libertarian...again (see next post).
*I'm not really interested in Focus on the Family's legal positionings, largely because their fundraising tactics center on them. We know what you fear, but what are you for? I'm very thankful for their influence and ministry, but turned off by their "Focus on Politics."
*I don't think the Texas Rangers will last the season in the running for the playoffs. The pitching's already falling apart, and we're barely halfway through the baseball season.
*My town's recent election result won't change much, if anything.
*I still maintain that a pre-trib rapture is a legitimate theological position, especially in light of my interpretation of Daniel 9: 25--27. *Yes, I still hold to inerrancy of Scripture as well as infallibility of Scripture.
Political Thought

Not that it matters to me because my vote will be swallowed up by Texas in the electoral college, but can someone explain to me how two millionaires can legitimately claim to identify with the working class? If that's their campaign strategy, they're sunk. Even I can see that.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

So, The In-Laws Are In Town...

Tracy's parents made the big drive from Birmingham to Dallas yesterday in about 11.5 hours. In tow were my sister-in-law with neice and nephew.

I enjoy them, so it's not really a big deal to have everybody here in my house. My nephew took off to the park with my girls, and I got to get caught up on my in-laws recent tour of America...retirement sounds pretty cool to hear them tell it.

Then I got to spend some time with my 2-year-old neice who spent the better part of two hours burning off the energy she'd been saving up over 10 hours buckled in a car seat. She couldn't be any cuter, I don't think.

It's nice to have such a diversion in the summer. And the more my extended family is around, the more I see the value in those relationships. I mean, how great is it that my daughters have a great relationship with their grandparents? Cousins?

I grew up in a family that saw each other all the time. Lots of cousins, lots of uncles and aunts, getting semi-spoiled by the grandparents. I think it enhanced my generally happy childhood. I hope visits like these enhance my children's generally happy childhood and my generally happy adulthood.

Of course, we'll see if I'm singing this same tune on Friday...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Struggling With My Own Middle Age

This lady at my church last night made an interesting comment. She was talking about a local July 4th celebration called "Celebrate Freedom" which is put on by a Christian radio station whose target demographic is the 25--45 age range.

She was talking about the quality of the groups who played and how much she enjoyed them and couldn't figure out why her son, age 13, wasn't all that excited about them. In her defense, the selection of groups was good for their target demographic...they know their audience and got the best for them. Good public relations folks over there at KLTY.

Anyway, she asked if I attended the free all-day festival, to which I replied that I would rather help her and her family move than mess with 180,000 people to hear those particular groups. I may fit the demographic of KLTY but, hey, I cut my musical chops on Iron Maiden/Black Sabbath/AC-DC (which later evolved into the punk revolution, which then hit heavy in the obscure college-radio hit list) so the odds of me getting into anyone that targets the adult contemporary Christian market is not worth the traffic, heat and other festival headaches for me. Granted, 180,000 people loved it, and more power to them...just not my cup of tea. Obviously, I'm far afield from my fellow man when it comes to worship styles, too.

She noted that she was surprised to hear me say that because "most of our church loves that music" and when we played on moderate song last week from the college-age demographic, a lot of people felt we took a pretty big chance of alienating our church's major age group.

I began to wonder why? Isn't the idea of the Body of Christ that everybody gets a seat at the table? I mean, why is it that grownups get so comfy and cozy in their lifestyle that they want the same thing every week? Shouldn't we want to have an entire set of say, classic hymns one week, country/western music one week, "teenage music" one week, contemporary adult stuff one week, kids music the next, etc.? That way, the entire Body of Christ gets their style of worship at some point, while learning to appreaciate Dad's style of worship, Grandma's style, their younger brother's style, etc.

The way I see it, the church shouldn't have a kiddie table, and we'd all grow deeper faster if everybody looked out for everybody else instead of their own comfort zone.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Happy July 4, Ever'boddeh!

From today's New York Times editorial page:

"...nothing in our history has annulled the revolutionary principles of the Declaration of Independence itself. The declaration is a historical document; it is also an open one, even now. The same is true of our history. As a nation, we have often acted ignobly, selfishly, willfully, yet that does not mean that we are doomed to go on doing so. Nor are we bound to go on acting nobly, selflessly or courageously, simply because we have often done so in the past. Neither our history nor our principles are self-determining, self-fulfilling. They depend entirely upon the choices we make."


Saturday, July 03, 2004

"Bart, What is that religion we're involved in? The one with the well-meaning platitudes that don't work out in real life? Oh yeah. Christianity, that's it."--Homer Simpson

The eggheads at Yale and Columbia studied 12,000 participants in church-based abstinence programs (like True Love Waits) over a 6 year period of time. It turns out that 88% fail in keeping their pledge to wait to have sex until they're married. Sadly, I would've thought a number around 50% would've been realistic. 9 out of 10 fail? Stunning.

For those of us in the business of teaching church-based abstinence programs, well, I can only hope that the teenagers and parents that I teach have a higher "success rate" (also known as a more realistic understanding of how to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to live through you in the moment of choosing between flesh and spirit).

What I guess I should be thankful for is that 12%...but for some reason I'm more concerned about the effectiveness of youth ministry.
Changing of The Guard

At 9:50AM this morning, after a breakfast of donut holes and eggs, amidst tearful goodbyes from all of us, Buford, the Greatest of All Dogs, will be put to rest.

It is time. Of this, I am certain. This reality is what makes this action bearable.

At 9:51AM this morning, Lloyd, the Understudy to the Greatest of All Dogs, will begin showing us what he learned during his two-year apprenticeship.

Friday, July 02, 2004

There's A Reason You Cry When Old Yeller Dies

So the vet tells me my dog's heart doesn't work right. Apparently, there's fluid where there isn't supposed to be fluid. That's why she's been coughing so much the last few nights.

So the vet tells me he isn't sure, that he would need to confirm these suspicions with tests. In my mind, he's sure. I can tell that he's really only worried about my heart. The extra tests aren't necessary. He's an excellent veterinarian.

So the excellent vet tells me about some things he could try. The treatment would involve pills and *might* buy a year *if* everything works well. It might not work at all. We'd need more tests to confirm it. I read between my excellent veterinarian's lines and ask a few difficult questions. He's got an excellent bedside manner.

So, finally, I ask the vet if I were to make an appointment to put my dog down would he advise against it. He says he wouldn't.

I made an appointment for Saturday morning.

We told our daughters. We made an executive decision that for the next 48 hours love and people food would be the orders of the day.

So after nearly 15 years her heart doesn't work right. After 15 years of her heart being in the right place it's putting fluid where there isn't supposed to be fluid.

And today, that fact makes my heart hurt.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

A Night At The Theatre

Spidey saved the day, folks. We can all rest easy.

Generally speaking, I'm not much of a movie-goer. I like movies, but I like being at my home watching them better than going to the cinema. It's a great chance to people-watch, which I enjoy way better than going to the movies.

Some observations:

I had a recurring case of "nearing middle age man" last night as the theatre we attended was an anchor tenant of a major area mall. I kept wondering where all the parents were of the sea of teens and pre-teens that were there.

What's the deal with the knit cap on college kids? It's still Texas and it's still summer.

Why would people pay a fortune for movie theatre food, especially when this theatre allows you to bring in your own snacks? But, the line was incredibly long.

Unless you're a doctor on-call or your wife is pregnant, why can't you turn off your cell phone for two hours? They even have a silly promotional trailer telling everyone to turn them off before the feature starts and no one does it. Cell phones are the leading cause of selfish, rude & boorish behavior in our society.

The entire audience groaned at the end of the sado-masochistic trailer for Catwoman (starring Halle Berry) coming out soon. In the momentary silence after the preview, a guy yelled out, "Yeah, more like CRAP-woman." The audience laughed and applauded in agreement.

I had to remind two of my new 9th grade guys, that when you are on a Guys' Night Out with 25 other people, you don't invite girls you trolled for in the mall to sit with you. 9th grade guys are also a major cause of selfish, rude & boorish behavior in our society, but not as much as cell phones.

Our theatre was enthusiastic, clapping and cheering and groaning and such when Spidey was experiencing his highs and lows. I wondered if the people in other theatres were having the same experience or if their crowd was boring.

When your primary audience is teenagers, innocuous statements made by the actors can be taken as double-entendres.

I went with a pastor from Haiti who is visiting our church and his interpreter said he had a great time even if he couldn't understand the language. The translator gave him basic background on the story beforehand and basic plot lines as it was happening but left the pastor on his own for the majority of details. When I asked the translator what the pastor would tell his wife about his cinema experience, he responded with, "Probably something like, 'Crazy white Americans. Getting in line and hour early, paying $8.50 per person (which could feed a Haitian for a week), eating food that's bad for them, watching a show about men with characteristics of spiders and octopii fighting each other. Crazy.'"

After hearing that, why did I think he observed people better than I did?