Thursday, June 30, 2005

Peculiar Living

It didn't seem a big deal. I was invited to dinner with some missionaries our church supports...they've been in town for a few weeks, partly on furlough and partly to celebrate their organization's election of a new president and they chose our church to host it.

I haven't really had time to visit with them. I was gone for a week of that. They have family and friends to see and so it simply didn't seem to be a priority for either of us. But yesterday I had a chance to sit down with them over dinner. Steaks were on the menu, which made the decision even easier.

They told funny stories of life in Haiti. We got caught up on families and such. Nothing spectacular, but highly enjoyable and very good company.

And then I thought back to both of these guys and their processes of deciding to drop careers and head to the mission field. And I could see how much they've grown in their relationship with the Lord over the years they've been gone. It made me excited to see where they are now in their lives and reaffirmed my belief that we're supporting the right people in the right places.

During the time I got updates on three of my former students who are out and about trying to discern if they might want to do missions as a career. One discovered the harsh realities of life in Mexico City. Another is preparing to return from six months in Holland. Another actually got kissed on the cheek by a former cannibal who came to Christ.

And this is "normal" in my world.

The God of the universe working in people's lives and I get a patent reminder of it sitting by a grill eating corn on the cob and a big slab of beef. And then I got to teach God's word to my students.

Are you kidding me? This is "normal" in my world. Could I live a better existence? Not a chance.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Idealism Gets Trumped...Again.

It's official: I'm getting a mobile phone this weekend.

Practicality outweighs my idealism, and as per usual, I'm about a decade behind technology (a common phrase in my world is "Ummm, that's new. Therefore, I must fear it.")...but it's going to happen.

I only hope the next stop isn't for a haircut and new Dockers & loafers.
Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls...

That sound you heard at approximately 10:10PM after Garret Anderson's grand-slam home run in extra innings at the Ballpark in Arlington, was the death rattle of the local baseball team. Any playoff hopes for this season now that we're 8.5 games back in late June are being given their last rites.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I'm Really Just Curious

I used this on my student ministry blog today. It's rare that I "cross over" in blogs, but I'm really curious on this one.

See, I was reading a book by Stavesacre's lead singer, Mark Salomon, entitled "Simplicity." He described his upbringing in a church youth group this way:

"I guess I just wish someone would've told me how to take the information I had been given and then make it work (Or that someone would have nailed my feet to the ground until I understood on my own). I felt like a mechanic who'd been given all the tools to fix a car--without being shown how to use any of them. If something was broken, I could have been holding the tool to fix the problem and still not have known where to start. I didn't know how to sort through what mattered to me and what mattered to God. I was too busy most of the time trying to not do the wrong thing. I knew how not to have premarital sex. How not to get drunk. I knew how not to embarrass my parents in front of other people at church. I just didn't know how to apply the teachings regarding spiritual maturity that I had heard in church to my life: How does one actively 'set (one's) mind on the things of God?" (Colossians 3:2) How does one take hold of the 'mind of Christ?' (1 Corinthians 2:16) I was too busy not cussing, not doing drugs, not hanging out with the wrong people, etc."

And, I'm wondering how many people relate to this passage in some way...and if they do, what can the church be doing to prevent it. Becuase, as I see it, if he's correct and this is going on in a rather large scale, it'd be wise to proactively go after it.

If it's not all that widespread, then we could simply chalk it up to one person in an isolated type of case and let it go at that.

But I think it's more widespread than we know. Your thoughts?
Ball Game

The local major league baseball team is in a tailspin. I witnessed what might've been the formal collapse last night at the ballpark in person: 13-3 and the Angels pounded out 20 hits. There are very few things more boring than going to the park and seeing the home get drilled.

One player was quoted in the paper as saying, "Losing's one thing, but we got beat awfully bad, almost to the point of embarrassment."

I'm glad that I went with good company, and we used coupons so as not to pay anywhere close to full price and that we took advantage of the $1 Mondays parking special. Otherwise, instead of bored, I'd have been angry.
Church Sign

A local church's lettered sign is at it again (and ever since I've been doing it, people seem to enjoy pointing them out to me--which I find very funny):

What's the best vitamin for the Christian?

Get it? Ugh.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Lookout Xanga...

Blogger has added picture insertion to their basic template once they add music capability, the false myth of Xanga-hipness will be destroyed once and for all.
The Boys of Summer...

The Rangers are 6.5 games out of first place, with the first-place Angels coming to town for four games starting tonight. They have to win three, and ideally need to sweep to make this season interesting. Anything short of that and the playoff situation looks pretty bleak.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Nice Summer Day

Yesterday my family had a lazy morning. Kelsey and I watched the highlight DVD of Auburn's football season while Tracy read the paper and Shelby blogged.

Around lunchtime I went to the car dealership to get my license plates and all that for the new wheels--and the dealership had a free lunch on Saturday of which Shelby and I partook.

Then the family went to get gelatto at this little ice cream shop in town.

We followed this by taking my car to get washed by some local kids trying to raise money for a competition in another state. They did a good job--even if Tracy's window was washed by no less than 5 different kids (the car wash certainly could've been more efficient, but it couldn't have been more thorough)--and the washed all the dead bugs we collected from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

I napped. Tracy and the girls went to the park. Lloyd went, too...but the heat wore him out so he came back and helped me nap.

Shelby headed off to a movie with some friends, and we ordered pizza. They got hung up in some forensics show on the discovery channel and I headed off to the hammock for some reading...good book, too.

We finished up the day by piling into the big bed and watching Will Farrell on Saturday Night Live from earlier this season. We laughed a lot together.

Oh yeah, and I ignored the yard work. It can wait until Monday. I need more Saturdays like that one.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Awww, We Want Da Funk...Gotta Have Some Funk, Awww

It's been very interesting to consider how people have responded to my talking about the "funk" I was in for a few weeks. Colleagues told me I shouldn't blog about it. Congregation members told me various methods to get out of the funk. Friends told me they were praying for me. Others told me I should pick myself up by my own bootstraps and suck it up. I was forwarded several e-mail articles.

It should be known that I expected all the above. Each instance was taken as a caring attempt to help me out so none of them were offensive or misconstrued. No offense fact, most of the time the attempts reinforced that the person actually cared about me. Who doesn't quietly enjoy that?

What's puzzling me today are two lines of thought: Mike Yaconelli, noted inspirational figure for me, talks about how when people stop pretending (in their spiritual life) then other people who are pretending get exposed. That's a good thing, right?

Then, I read Gordon Atkinson, a.k.a. "Real Live Preacher," on his blog on Wednesday, June 22, asking the question of "how much of your pastor do you really want to see? How well do you really want to know him/her?" There have to be some boundraries in the deal, right?

So, I'm asking...(because there might be some more thoughts I'd like to put out there in the future that may run deeper than some vague "funk")...where's the balance? Is there a balance? Should it be full-throttle and let the pieces fall where they may or should it be scaled back somehow?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Auburn Photo Journal

We got back from Auburn last night after Kelsey having an absolute blast at softball camp, but being exhausted. We only made three stops on the way back (never even touching terra firma in Louisiana) during the 10 hour trip...pretty cool travelling with a daughter like that!

Anyway, here's a few photos from around good old AU!

Here's a picture of Kelsey in front of one of the main signs welcoming you to the campus. We have anothe one of Kelsey just like this one when she was three. Posted by Hello

Here's a better one to give you some size of the 87,515 potential seats (you still can't see the upper decks). They're planning on expanding it to over 100,000 within the next three years. Posted by Hello

Here's Kelsey and I at the 50 yard line at Jordan Hare Stadium. Obviously, they're under summer repairs and will have it up and ready by September 3. Posted by Hello

Here's Kelsey with one of those fake poses with famous people that's supposed to look real when you take a photo...we got some goofy lighting on it, but this is her with Tommy Tuberville (AU's head football coach). Posted by Hello

Here's Kelsey with Pat Sullivan's 1971 Heisman Trophy at the sports musuem. Posted by Hello

Here's Kelsey at famed Toomer's Corner (where they celebrate football victories) with the $4.00 hand-squeezed lemonade they've been making for 105 years...allegedly. Traditions usually play fast & loose with the truth at AU. Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Tired Head

Yeah, Kelsey and I were supposed to hit the road at 6AM. But after three days of softball camp, being pushed pretty hard, she's one tired puppy. So, I decided to let her sleep in and we'll hit the road at 10:30AM instead...and give her some time with her grandparents as an added bonus.

So, I'll just have a cup of joe, doe some reading, and get her up in an hour or so...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Do You Ever Get The Feeling...

...that if you went on trip for a few days to just think and pray...

...and say, on that little trip you became convinced of a few things, both personally and pastorally...

...that life as you know it is about to change dramatically?

Yeah, I feel that way today.
The funk seems distant in the rearview mirror.
The "punk rock sensibility" meter is red-lining.
Fasten your seatbelts.

I can't wait to get back. Oh, man, I can't wait to get back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Lunch With Huff

I won't tell you the stories, and even if I did, you wouldn't believe them.

Everything from being shot at to Zen golf to bachelor parties that movies could be made about...I have two journals full of them.

Tim was my fraternity brother and very good friend almost 20 years ago. I know I'd have taken a bullet for him in those days. In the ultimate compliment of that age, we were in each other's weddings...knowing full well each of us was marrying FAR above our heads.

Then life happened. Children. Careers. The annual meeting at football games slowed, then stopped. I moved 600 miles away. Then the Christmas cards stopped. This was before the proliferation of e-mail and cell phones.

We tracked each other down and made plans for lunch...and we did what old fraternity brothers are supposed to do who track each other down and make lunch plans: We talked a bit about our spouses and children. We talked a bit about our jobs. We talked about the fortunes of the college football team...

...and then we told stories. About two journals full of them. Only this time there was a lot of, "What's that guy doing these days?" to check up on old friends in between the laughs. I laughed for nearly two hours.

But it wasn't the laughs over stories I lived, told and re-told 100 times that was so cool. I was taken aback by the power of community. I mean, we were good friends 18 years ago, hadn't seen each other in 12 years and hadn't heard a word from each other in a decade or so, and it was as if we never really missed a beat.

We lived in the same house for about three years two decades ago. We lived together. Ate together. Played together. It was life lived in community...the girls we chased and didn't get, the intramural sports we didn't take seriously (but, then again, how can you take a team called Mother and the Pus Buckets seriously?), the community showers, the Lonnie Burgers on Friday, the weekend ski trips, the summer quarters with nothing to do but hang out in the house, the formals, the fundraisers, the parades, the road trips, the practical jokes, the real life moments...

...we lived it all in community. We were friends. Real friends.

And community is that powerful (the Church should apply those lessons). So much so that you can stretch out over two decades and pick up right where you left off. The biggest difference is that over lunch, now we fight over who picks up the check rather than fighting over who got what so we weren't paying more than we should've.

And truth be told, I'm pretty sure I'd still take a bullet for Huff. At least in the leg or hand, anyway. I don't have many friends over the age of 25 (occupational hazzard of sorts), and I'm really glad I got back in touch with this one.
Deep Thought From Underneath A Tree Yesterday

From Brian McLaren in "A Generous Orthodoxy":

"What we will be is not yet clear to us. What we are becoming is presently only visible as through a glass darkly. As we see the glorious image of God in the face of Christ, as we lean toward that image that beckons us forward, as we identify it as our true destiny and the pearl of great price that we seek, we are purified and transformed inwardly, from glory to glory. We constantly emerge from what we were and are into what we can become--not just as individuals, but as participants in the emerging realities of families, communities, cultures, and worlds."

The funk has subsided.

I think part of the cause was that I sense God's transformation of it is happening and not in retrospect. This caused me to be in a nearly constant state of tension between who I am and who I am becoming, which, frankly, I'm not sure I am comfortable with.

However, the advice that came to me in a crystal clear way under a tree by the library at my old college yesterday, is advice I give continually to teenagers:

Enjoy being removed from your comfort zone.
You are in process.
The past is prologue.
The journey is most of the fun.

The phrase I often use is that you're going to have to get comfortable walking around with your shoes untied. Sure, it's safer to have them tied in a neat little bow and it certainly makes moms happier if their tied. But, if we're honest, the reality that we were so busy having fun that we didn't notice they were untied, and too busy having fun to lace them back up, well, it's more exciting.

Physician, heal thyself.

So, goodbye to the funk.
You came without warning.
You stayed too long.
Good riddance.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A little too close

For those of you looking for some spiritual insights from things I've learned while on my spiritual retreat, suffice to say that since I'm starting with myself and my family life and all that, the public record of that is a little TOO personal for public consumption.

I hope you understand that, and it was encouraging to me that I did have some things become crystal clear to me last night during my time in the Word and prayer. Just can't share them. Sorry.
Tales From The Road, Day 2

After taking my father-in-law out for lunch for Father's Day (yes, I avoided the menu entirely) Kelsey and I got on the road to Auburn. It was about an hour and a half drive from my in-law's place.

Kelsey was amused that the radio stations were already promoting the broadcasts of Alabama and Auburn football games this fall. I was amused by her being amused. To me, that's standard operation.

We stopped at a Wal-Mart to get some batteries for her hearing aid. At the front entrance there was a magazine rack dedicated entirely to pre-season college football magazines. Kelsey was amused by this. I was amused by her being amused. "They're not even talking about the Cowboys yet in Dallas, Dad. It's baseball season." I didn't try to explain. You can't. I picked up two magazines.

It was fun taking Kelsey through all the traditions at Auburn and letting her see the things she's been hearing about pretty much all her life:

For example, when we drove through Toomer's Corner, a place where AU fans celebrate victories (oddly enough to outsiders, but the most normal reaction for AU Family members) by throwing toilet paper in the trees--I have pictures in my office--she said, "There's the Tiger Paw in the intersection." She turned, pointed, and said, "And there's the score from the game!" (in reference to the win over Alabama last year, 21-13).

We had a glass of hand-squeezed lemonade from there...something they've been doing there for like a hundred years or which Kelsey said, "Man, this is really good lemonade." It's my belief that tradition implants something in your brain that makes it taste better. That, or the reality that you now pay $4 for a large lemonade so it better taste good.

We headed off to see the aviary where they keep the bald eagle mascot, which has since been moved, but the remnants of the old one were there, and I showed her the grassy lawn where her mother and I used to hang out when I'd skip class and Tracy would have an off-hour between classes. "Dad, you skipped classes?" "A couple." There'd need to be an exponent after the word "couple" but let's just keep that between you and I, okay?

Naturally, we checked out the baseball stadium. Lots different nowadays. It's all brick and walls and such. Chain-link and aluminum seats when I was here.

We then headed off for the sports museum. Lots of videos and such of victories and motivational speeches by football coaches...and we took her picture with the Heisman trophies and all that jazz. We spent about an hour there just looking around and playing with the interactive stuff. Kelsey was pretty impressed by all the other sports in which Auburn had gold medal winners, like track, swimming, women's basketball, and, of course, Charles Barkley & Bo Jackson. There was even a place where you could throw toilet paper in fake trees. There was even a roll from the day AU beat Alabama in 1989 (long story, but it was the first time Bama played AU in Auburn and they were unbeaten at the time) that some family had on their Christmas tree that year and donated it to the museum. No kidding.

Finally, before we checked her in to her camp, we headed off for the football stadium, which was locked. Until a security guard walked out and we asked if he'd take our picture in the stadium. He agreed, and after the shot from the stands, he asked, "Would you like me to take one of you both on the 50? We're not supposed to do that, but no one will care." The answer, of course, was yes.

I'd post the pictures but I forgot the computer cord that connects with the camera, so I'll do it on Thursday.

Anyway, it was pretty cool to check my daughter in to the camp and she was a little awestruck by the college players working the camp. She seemed so big and grown up, too. Checking into her dorm room. Anxious for dad to go so she could meet people. Ready to take the tour of the complex the team would put on for recruits. Ready to watch the 2005 highlight video. Ready to eat pizza with real, live college softball players and coaches. That made it worth it, right there...seeing how she is becoming her own person, doing her own things...

And she's starting her process of that in the same place I did it...she's just doing it a few years earlier.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Tales From The Road

Kelsey and I took off from Flower Mound around 6:10AM for Birmingham, Alabama to stay overnight before I drop her off at AU softball camp and head for some spiritual de-funking in the land of my college days.

The road trip was largely uneventful. We split CD choices, and I went with The Crystal Method first. She went with Stavesacre (out of MY pile). She went with Social Distortion (again out of my pile). We finished up with Pearl Jam and Pillar. It's pretty nice travelling with someone with the same musical tastes.

At one point, I wanted to listen to some sermons that my pastor gave me from some leadership club he's's like the best sermons from the best preachers around the country. Kelsey, not wanting to but knowing her dad well enough to know it's going to happen, in her best teenager sarcasm says, "Let's listen to this one, Dad. It even includes a bonus sermon."

For lunch she said she wanted Taco Bell, but would settle for a McDonald's. No such luck in Vicksburg. In Clinton, we encountered an exit with both side by side but due to construction all the signs were down and we didn't see them until we were past the exit. Kelsey: "Awww, man. That was the best exit in the history of exits and we missed it!" Sometimes, McDonald's in Jackson can be in bad parts of town and you don't even know it until you're in it...but you still don't say anything to your daughter. We were back on the road in 20 minutes.

People who have an interest in your arrival who also own cell phones really don't like it when your daughter forgets to turn hers on. There were 4 voice mails right after lunch.

I forget what a pretty city my hometown is. It's like someone dropped a city into a forest.

I was tempted to head off to this outdoor music festival Birmingham throws every year called City Stages. It's actually a very cool deal, with good bands downtown and people mill about and have a good time. Last night, (among MANY others) The Killers played and Def Leppard headlined. Tonight, The Black Crowes headline. Again, tempted, but not for another two hour drive.

An underappreciated restaurant chain by locals is a hamburger joint called Milo's. The double cheeseburger with extra sauce, great fries and sweet tea is something Birminghamians take for granted...but move away, and I guarantee you you'll stop by every time you're in town. We did. Milo's didn't disappoint.

An underappreciated thing is how little I get to see my neice & nephew. I had a ball for a couple of hours goofing with them, and was even a little sad they had to leave at around 10PM. My neice is a mess, so naturally I enjoy her...and my nephew is into baseball in a big way, so naturally I enjoy him, too.

Today, we're off to another underappreciated restaurant by locals, Lloyd's (in no way related to my dog), to take my father-in-law to Father's Day lunch. I won't need a menu, as my hamburger steak, medium well, with extra gravy, onions and mushrooms will do just fine...and that'll be Thousand Island dressing on the salad, too. So, Happy Father's Day to all applicable fathers out there!

And then we drive to Auburn to check-in at the camp. I'm actually looking forward to the drive. It's been 11 years since I've made it, and I'm intrigued as to what thoughts and emotions it'll stir up.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Out And About

"I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, becuase a mind was made to figure things out, not read one page again and again...

...And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something born inside of you...

...we get one story you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting, the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?

...It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
Let me repeat one word for you:


Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn't it? So strong and forceful, the way you always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry, everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed."

--Donald Miller, in the introduction of his book "Through Painted Deserts" available online at

I'm off to spend a week de-funking and seeking God in east Alabama. I'll hit the open road in five minutes. And, yes, I'll have internet access (they've got that there now)--which might lead to the best blogs you've ever read or more mundane drivel. That's to be seen.

But, I'm leaving.

I need to.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ahhh, Summer...Yesterday, I...

...had an employee's annual review in which he made my job very easy so the time was enjoyable and encouraging.

...had lunch with my staff and we told funny youth ministry stories.

...had ice cream and was regailed with stories of a road trip to California my graduating senior guys took with some friends. Funny, funny stuff...and he even paid for the ice cream because, "Technically, I'm not in your ministry anymore." How great is that?

...had coffee with a teenager that has grown in Christ a great deal since the last time we had coffee together and it was such an encouragment to me to see this kid seeing what everybody else sees as well as her dependence on Christ to help her do that.

...followed that up with coffee with my friend Adam, who is one of the best youth ministers I've ever met, who excited me with his excitement for taking his ministry to Juarez this week to build houses. He's going with the same organization we did and he was asking all sorts of questions and telling me about his plans and such. Very exciting stuff, really.

...did pre-marital counseling with a couple who is taking it seriously, so that makes it even more fun.

...walked through our building on my way out and there was so much going on at our church on a Thursday night that you could feel the building's "vibe": worship teams practicing for Sunday's service; V.B.S. workers being their creative selves getting all the rooms and activities ready; a gathering of entrepreneurs who get together periodically for an outreach and encouragment kind of deal; and walking by the room the elders meet in monthly only to see them all bowed in prayer.

...picked up my daughter from softball practice. in my hammock until I nodded off.

Maybe when you get back from your huge mission trip and gear up for a few days of prayer and time in the Word (our church provides "spiritual refreshment" days) you begin to enjoy the summer. Yeah. Maybe that's when that starts.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that being a girl in America today is tough, guaging that opinion on the reality that some of the most beautiful girls I know struggle with "image issues"--despite the fact that everyone around them sees them as amazing.
...that the Texas Rangers seem to be having trouble deciding if they want to "win now" with veterans or "develop and win big later" with younger players, and that very indecision will ultimately hurt both philosophies.
...that I'm very excited to take my daughter to Auburn for her softball camp next week, and am curious as to what my time around the campus will raise in my memory bank. I haven't been back there in over 10 years.
...I have some tough questions to ask some people I'm discipling.
...there is plenty of blame to go around in the case of the missing girl in Aruba. When I read that there was like a 1 to 25 adult to teen ratio, my youth ministry 1 to 7 ratio guage went off in my head. And an 18 year old girl should know never to get in a car with strangers.
...that it's hard to be idealistic to the idea that justice might be blind when it appears she can see dollar signs quite clearly.
...I'm slipping back into bad diet habits due to warp speed work details right now.
...that my annual review of my staffers is going to be rather enjoyable this year (even moreso than last year) unless they have some curveballs about ME they're going to throw.
...trying to define and model authentic worship for teenagers is difficult, especially when the one mode of worship I enjoy the least (singing) is the one that most people equate with worship.
...National Treasure is a really good movie. is The Emperor's New Groove.
...I'm not seeing enough of Shelby these days as she's the queen of sleepovers and pool parties, and when you combine that with my being out of the country and leaving for a week on Saturday, I guess I'll have a lot of time to make up.
...I'm pretty excited about writing my sister's wedding ceremony. After seeing the location and getting the "vibe" of the outdoor place, it has the creativity going on that deal.
...a lot of old friends are getting in touch with me lately by e-mail.
...I'm really looking forward to the release of Donald Miller's new book (hey Wes, did I lend you his other one?) as it's about his struggle with the loss of his dad at age 13 so I think it might be very personal for me. daughter is anxiously awaiting the release of the final installment of the Harry Potter series, and making arrangements to grab a copy since we're in San Francisco at that time.
...that I need to get on with my day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

All In All You're Just A-nother Brick In The Wall

Arrived from Mexico on Saturday evening.
Worked all day Sunday...even taught three times.
Spent all freakin' day Monday at car dealers, then took in a baseball game watching the Rangers win that night and getting home late.
Then hit the wall yesterday.

Exhaustion + funk = no juice.

Went to bed very early last night.

I have to "rally" today. Or maybe I should just "be still, and know He is God."

But I still have a ton to do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Xzibit, Get Ta Steppin'! I No Longer Need My Ride Pimped

Here's my new ride...a Toyota Corolla. Posted by Hello
The Car Buying Experience

I needed a new car. The maroon Chevy Astro van has had it. I'd experienced car buying before...but Tracy had done all the leg work and I showed up on the last day and signed the papers.

So, I'm off extra early to car shop.

I was on the first lot about six seconds when I realized that I don't like to car shop.

It seemed like every question the guy asked me was designed to figure out how much money he could get out of me. For example, the salesman (who mysteriously popped out from behind the cars like those folks who pop out of nowhere at Disney the second a scrap of trash hits the ground in the Magic Kingdom) asked, "Did you have a good weekend?" I said, "Sure." He follows up with, "Do you have to work all weekend or do you get to enjoy them?" Could've been small talk, but I sensed he was trying to figure out if my career gave me long weekends.

Another guy on another lot literally offered me a "selection from our coffee and water bar." No kidding.

In car dealerships, there are about 20 people sitting around doing nothing...just waiting for people to walk in. I thought it would make a great setting for a situation comedy.

One salesman even brought up his daughter in college. Another mentioned his wife and two he adopted three months after his first one was born. Orthodontia never came up.

Once we got settled on the deal at the final dealership, the paperwork took about two hours. During this time, the salesman came over and helped us fill out his evaluation ("Anything less than 'excellent' is simply unacceptable by my bosses, so really, it'd help me out. But if something wasn't 'excellent' then you'd be doing me a favor in telling me what that is.") Then he took us around and introduced us to our "service representative" as well as our "financial representative." He even introduced us to the "parts manager" in case we might need any parts for any reason, he was the guy to get them for us. He showed us where they serve lunch and all that jazz when you come in on Saturdays to get your car serviced. He went over the service schedule sheet with us...which means he read it out loud to us. He showed us our owner's manual and how to find stuff in there. Tracy and I both figured he was killing time. I got the feeling there had to be a better way, but at the same time, I felt very sure it's done that way for a reason which has been time-tested and approved.

I also can't believe anyone at these places when they tell me that is the "very best deal" they can give me. Even the financial guy shook his head and couldn't believe the deal we got. He went to check with the salesman to make sure. That might've been genuine, but it still seemed like an act.

In short, the whole time I was shopping, I was being thankful that I don't have to do that job. I think it would be very difficult, competitive and monotonous to be in that line of work. Even down to the Dockers and pressed shirts.

The whole day took 9 hours. I'd rather have helped a friend move furniture.

Monday, June 13, 2005

And We're BAAAACK: Observations From Juarez

Random thoughts as they pop into my brain:

We sent an advance team to set up camp and do the shopping for the week who went in a day previous to do their work. That team was mostly adults and older high schoolers. This meant that the bus ride with the rest of the team was me, my staff and mostly underclassmen. 12 hours with underclassmen and their conversations can be somewhat trying, even if you've been in student ministry as long as I have.

With so many on the advance team, the needed volunteers to return across the border to supervise the underclassmen got back to the hotel before it got dark. This is unprecedented.

The weather this year was actually bearable. We were in a barrio tucked away in a "bowl" within the mountains and while it was still hot, there was a breeze all day, every day.

You can tell a lot about parents and their parenting by observing the work ethic and responses of their teenagers to worksite "set backs."

Bucket showers suck, even if I've done them for 8 years now.

Afternoons without dust storms make for an infinitely better trip. Instead of spending our early evenings trying to keep tents standing and securing equipment, the teens spent bonding. The student ministry is as close right now as its ever been. The seniors did a great job of getting to know the underclassmen, too.

The adults had as much fun as the kids, if not moreso.

Mobile phones change the dynamics of the trip...nearly every teen had one. Almost everybody had their service accesible from the campsite, so everyone could use theirs. It had upsides, such as younger ones getting to get some "mom reassurance" during the more difficult days or calling parents to let them know how close the bus was to home. It also had downsides, like older ones calling their boyfriends before bed or text messaging each other from across the camp. I think next year I'll allow them, but have a half-hour each evening they can be used.

Suburban teenagers can be very hard workers when they choose to be. The kids enjoy being taught how to saw and hammer and mix concrete and do stucco. They all had good attitudes (shiny, happy people) for the majority of the week.

Mr. Bother is funny to everybody except who it's happening to.

We eat really well on this trip. Barbecue chicken. Burritos & tacos. Brisket. Sure we had one night of hot dogs and hamburgers, but we really did have some great cooks and kitchen workers. One night they had cobbler made in dutch ovens for dessert. They even had Starbucks coffee ready every morning over the campfire. Very cool.

There are stories of the barrio that only someone with extensive knowledge of Spanish could work through...and one lady in our group walked up and down the neighborhood just listening to those stories. Rapes. Drugs. Arson. Spousal abuse. Hunger. Job losses. I could go on. There were also tales of sticking together, helping one another, looking out for each other and other tales of joy. I guess when you have that many desperate people that close together in that heat with very little hope, I'd imagine you'd see both the best and worst of human nature.

Watching adults realize that you don't have to fear teenagers never gets old.

We have some very cool freshmen. The future of our ministry looks very bright. The present of our ministry ain't looking too bad, either, for that matter. If last night's Sunday School attendance is any indication, we're in for some very large spiritual growth.

At night it got very chilly...which couldn't have been nicer. If the whole day were like that, I could enjoy camping.

There's no way to look cool walking to the outdoor restroom facilities (across the campsite, too) carrying a roll of toilet paper.

Bon Jovi can get a new generation of teenagers in a good mood. Catchy anthem rock is something they've never heard or experienced. They sing the choruses with gusto.

No matter how you slice it, setting up camp for a week, building 5 homes in 3.5 days with a teenage labor force who has no power tools, transporting 105 people 2 hours round trip every day, tearing down camp, having enough food and water, and travelling to and from Dallas with no major injuries or illnesses...well...let's just say God is gracious and leave it at that.

Handing a formerly homeless person in a barrio the keys to their new home with a lock, windows and all that, never gets old...despite this being my 8th trip.
It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down, I had the radio up, I was driving...

So, upon my return from Mexico, I discover that my van will not be getting repaired after all. A $4,000 front end is not worth it on a van with over 100,000 miles on it.

I'm going to look for a new car today. I despise the process, but maybe it'll be nice to have the new wheels...even if it means a monthly payment for the first time in ages.

Any advice?
The Funk Continues, Day 19

Still can't shake it. I had a blast in Mexico, but there were times when it was almost too much time to think. I have some definite thoughts on the causes and contributors to the funk, but none I want out there for public consumption just yet.

Sorry about that, but keep praying for me. I'm struggling a bit right now.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Southbound Juarez

A little over an hour ago, the "advance" team headed off in four 15-passenger vans. Their job is to travel today, and pick up 3 more 15-passenger vans in El Paso. Tomorrow, they'll go to Sam's and Wal-Mart for supplies, cross the border into Juarez, Mexico, and set up camp.

Mind you, this shopping and camp set up--which includes four military tents and two kitchen tents--will be being done for 105 people who are going to build homes for five homeless people in the barrio of the border town. The remainder of the team will bus in on Sunday, crossing the border on Monday morning to lay a concrete foundation.

The logistics are staggering.

Camping out for a week.
Cooking (not to mention buying/preserving the food).
2 gallons of USA water per person per day (not to mention getting it over the you know how much water weighs?).
Paperwork, including birth certificates and notarized releases for every person.
I could go on.

But they're done now.

Me and my staff can enjoy the trip at this point. So we will.

But The McKinney Diner will be on hiatus until Monday, June 13. See you all then, regailing with you tales of my 9th trip, and 22nd home built. It may not be much, but to those families, it's something.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Rejection Always Sucks: Day 9 of the Funk

June 2, 2005.

Brent -

I'm sorry we won't be using your article at this time. We receive a number of proposals, and many of them are very, very good. When sifting through all of the great ideas, we try to choose features that approach the theme from different angles, that challenge our thinking about youth ministry issues, and that provide our readers with a variety of perspectives.

This leaves us with many proposals we're unable to use. Some are not sufficiently targeted at our audience, and others are too narrow in focus. Some are highly academic in nature, and others are too loosely structured. Very often, the ideas are good, but they're duplicated in dozens of similar proposals. And many well-thought out concepts we simply cannot use due to space limitations.

Be sure to check out our writer's guidelines at (new themes are posted every other month, as well; and you can sign up for our theme notification e-list, there, too).

Thank you for your interest in YouthWorker Journal, and we welcome your submission of article proposals in the future.



Will Penner, Editor, YouthWorker Journal

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Funk Update

Still kinda in it. Day 8. Welcome to it.
Isn't That Special?!

Hey everybody! It's Dana Carvey's 50th birthday today! Let's all celebrate by learning to play the drums in our spare time, creating memorable skit characters for sketch comedy shows and starring in a series of very forgettable and bad movies!

Your favorite Dana Carvey character is...

(mine is Garth Algar)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Five On The First

On the first of each month I started asking a few questions to get to know my readers better, so here is today's question and my five responses:

"What were five times that you caught yourself in the moment saying something like 'I can't believe this is happening to me right now?'"

In no particular order:

My wedding day when I saw Tracy for the first time in her dress.

The night of my seminary class' graduation when I was sitting with my 5 and 3 year old daughters at the Ballpark in Arlington instead of sitting through ceremonies (they'd already taken enough of my time and money, so I thought I'd spend it with my family who got cheated out of both during that time in my life).

In New York City, I saw "Stomp" at the Orpheus theatre, and that was the first time I'd ever been truly moved by a play or movie. The message of that show far overrides the impressive dance stuff, and the hour and a half you wait to get it only makes it that much more wonderful.

The time I stood in pulpits in Haiti and The Netherlands, preaching God's word to cultures and situations you'd never think an average Joe from Alabama would ever find themselves in. Each time the moment shocked me and I had to gather myself to go forward.

The births of my two daughters. Each one was unique and special in their own ways...and I can tell you that when people tell you that you're watching a miracle take place, they cannot mean the surgical procedure that takes place when you're in that room...that is a surgical procedure, plain and simple. When the "magic" happens is when you KNOW your wife is okay and then they hand you a cleaned-up, bundled-up, smelling-good baby. That's the miracle.

So, what are yours?
Books I Read In May

Sorry...record-keeping by me.

"Assasination Vacation" by Sarah Vowell
"Plan B" by Anne Lamott
"The Great Evangelical Disaster" by Francis A. Schaeffer
"Stop Dating The Church And Fall In Love With The Family of God" by Joshua Harris
"Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity" by Laura F. Winner
"Don't Rock The Boat, Capsize It: Loving The Church Too Much To Leave It The Way It Is" by Rick Bundschuh