Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Review

The year 2008 A.D. has been a productive year for me in terms of personal growth and happiness, in marked contrast to the previous two years. I have been compiling a list of things that have happened to me this year that I wanted to share. They are listed in no particular order, just as they streamed into my consciousness. If you had a positive or negative year overall, make definitive plans for how to take steps in the right direction in those areas of your life that are not where you want them to be. Then, take the first step. Good luck. Here, without further delay, is my list.
  1. Stopped smoking,
  2. Found a church,
  3. Joined a small group,
  4. Gotten involved in my church,
  5. Read over 30 books,
  6. Did significant volunteer work,
  7. Greatly increased my giving,
  8. No illicit sex with strangers,
  9. Made some friends,
  10. Learned to accept myself,
  11. Forgave my ex-wife,
  12. Forgave myself,
  13. Completed counseling,
  14. Came back toward equilibrium,
  15. Stopped drinking,
  16. Strengthened my relationship with my daughter,
  17. Looking for love,
  18. Came to terms with my position in life,
  19. Survived a fourth recurrence of my cancer,
  20. Started and continued on an exercise program,
  21. Had knee surgery,
  22. Lost 12 pounds (and counting),
  23. Strengthened my relationship with God,
  24. Developed some hobbies for the first time since I was a kid,
  25. Realized that work is not the most important thing in my life.
Each entry on this list, while comprised only of a few words, involved a lot of determination and hard work to deal with or overcome or move past the problem. All of the glory for my successes in each area belong to God and I give my love to those that helped me along the way (you know who you are). Here's hoping for continued success and growth in 2009. Peace be with you.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Resolutions

For the past several years, I have attempted to lay out some New Year's resolutions, or at least define some specific hopes that I might have or set some goals to achieve for the upcoming year. As with most folks, I have had decidedly mixed results. I think that, by necessity, these types of resolutions should not be taken lightly. They are important in shaping who I want to be or where I want to be. Obviously I have thought of them to overcome some perceived deficiency, flaw, or need. It is probably not a good sign when I cannot attend to them properly, to give them enough attention to make some progress. It could be a sign of laziness, or of not having the energy to move away from the known or comfortable. Sometimes, the resolutions are not fully under my control. Sometimes they rely on help or cooperation from others. Looking back on my list of 7 resolutions from last year, I think that I had an amazing level of success, certainly much more than I did the year before. While I view my resolutions as private, I am happy to share a brief statistical analysis with you.
  • 5 resolutions were fully and satisfactorily accomplished.
  • 1 resolution is coming along nicely and will be fully accomplished over the coming months.
  • 1 resolution was a total failure as I am not sure how to make progress with it.
Looking back over the past year, how did you make out on the resolutions that you had established for yourself? A rousing, unqualified, pat-me-on-the-back success? A dismal, shameful, tail-between-your-legs failure? Somewhere in between?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Best Books of 2008

This past year, 2008, has been, for me, marked by a new interest, a new love. One that I certainly did not have in the past by any measure. My new love is reading. I have never been a big fan of reading in the past, too boring, too time consuming, too professorial. Why the looks of incredulousness? I was more a fan of napping, snacking, and watching T.V.. However this year, something within me changed. I have read over 30 grown-up type books, am in the middle of 4 right now, and have about 10 books in the to-read queue. What has changed you ask? I think that it's the type of book that I am reading and my thirst for knowledge about and answers to long-held questions. Many of the books that I have read this year were suggested by friends, and a few others were books that I sought out on a particular topic. I can honestly say that I have not wasted a moment of my time on any turkeys. Nope, not a one. Readers of my blog know that I keep a list of my book reads on Shelfari. A fun side benefit of my reading is to watch my bookshelf fill up. It brings me a small sense of accomplishment somehow. Anyway, I wanted to share my top ten list of best books that I have read this year (and give shout outs to those that turned me on to them). What books have touched you personally this year?
  • The Shack, William Young (recommended by Bill and Heidi Sprouse)
  • Darkness Visible - A Memoir of Madness, William Styron (recommended by Keith Solberg)
  • In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Mark Batterson (Community Group book)
  • The Agape Road, Bob Mumford (recommended by Stew Diesel-Reynolds)
  • Crazy Love, Francis Chan (recommended by Rob Shepherd)
  • Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Charles Swindoll
  • The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
  • This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti (recommended by Robby Turner)
  • Wild Goose Chase, Mark Batterson
  • Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis (recommended by Robby Turner)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Four Stages of Lost

Christmas is supposed to be a serene time of peace on earth, love for your fellow man, good tidings of great joy. Suddenly out of nowhere, there is the sound of a tussle. I hear someone yelling out, "No mercy! I will beat you senseless.". Now, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me take you back to that fateful day, so long ago. Let me tell you how I lost my little girl in just 4 stages on Christmas day, December 25, 2008 (O.K., so it wasn't that long ago, but I am trying to build up some atmosphere, some drama).
Anyway, in stage 1, you can see my little girl when she came into the living room and saw all of the presents that Santa had left for her. Notice how cute and innocent she looks, a picture of excitement, you can almost hear Norman Rockwell crooning in the background (strange, he wasn't known for his singing). Fast forward the scene to just a few short moments later. In stage 2, she unwraps what is to become the source for all her affliction. It appears innocent enough at first glance, but this device bears the marking of the beast, "Wii". Just a few frames further on, we see in stage 3, this once cute, innocent girl trying to beat the snot out of some hapless simpleton who dared challenge her in the Wii boxing ring. This is no friendly sparring match, no low-key exhibition. Notice the fury in her eyes, the unbridled rage. By stage 4, my little one is a total zombie, unable to make complete sentences, unable even to ask for a glass of juice. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nailed to the Cross

Several years ago at an Easter service at Central Methodist Church in Athens, OH, vivid reminders, in the form of long metal spikes, were given to each of us attending the service. The point was to fully understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ endured for each of us. He withstood the physical torture, he withstood the harsh, vindictive, and hateful words, and he withstood those closest to him denying his name. If that was not enough, he allowed himself to be arrested and murdered. He allowed his own people to reject him and hang him on a cross to die in one of the most inhumane ways man has ever dreamed up to kill their own kind. Long metal spikes were pounded through his hands and feet that day at Golgotha to affix him to that cross, followed by long hours of unimaginably excruciating pain. He did this for you and he did this for me. In this time of year, remember what Christmas is really about. Certainly take the time to celebrate your family and friends, exchange gifts, go to social functions, but be certain to find some quiet time to put Jesus Christ foremost in your thoughts, foremost in your mind. Giving him some leftovers just before you fall asleep, is never good enough, especially now. Remember what this is all about and honor him with your thoughts and prayers. I keep that spike on my desk where, from time to time, it serves to remind me of the truth.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lot Full

During the Christmas season (or the holiday season as many would like to say), we tend to become inwardly focussed. There is so much to do, so many expectations to fulfill. We are faced with shopping for presents for family, extended family, friends, and co-workers. There are lots of holiday parties and get-togethers, there is travel, decorating, cooking, eating, and entertaining. The list goes on and on and we are stretched thin - we really have it rough. With all of this festive holiday cheer, we never get a break. How we long for some time to be alone and relax, away from all the hubbub and commotion.

Do we realize just how fortunate we really are lost in this existence of holiday fever? We complain, we groan, we force a smile and bear up under the onus of our heavy loads and responsibilities. However, I think that we have lost touch with the world around us, the reality that surrounds us. Driving past the hospital the other day while out on a Christmas errand, I noticed that the parking lot was full. You know what, it always is. It doesn't matter what day of the year it is. Death, pain, sickness, and suffering never take a break. These are tireless foes who never stop their onslaught. Some of the cars in the lot belong to folks who are hovering over their loved ones praying for another day, some belong to those who are alone and scared, some belong to those who won't get the chance to drive them home. I would bet that many of these folks would give their last dime to change places with you, to bear up under your loads. So, realize how good you have it, how much you are blessed. Give thanks for your good fortune and pray for those who have to face the full parking lot.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My First Christmas

The preacher and his family were driving past a ubiquitous nativity setup the other day. He asked his kids who was in the manger, a check on their understanding of the real meaning behind the entire Christmas season. With excitement they answered, "the baby Moses!". This conversation was the basis for his message the following week, namely, who's in the manger? Do we really understand what this season is all about, or more properly, who this season is all about? As for me, I have just now started to figure it out. So much so that I believe that this Christmas will be my first real Christmas, the first where I understand what it truly represents, the person that we are supposed to be focussing on and giving glory to. That person is Jesus Christ, and the Christmas season is an opportunity for us to celebrate his birth, how he lived his life, and how he died for us as the perfect sin offering.

Going through my life, there have been a number of seasons of Christmas.

  • Childhood: It was all about me and my love for presents.
  • College: The hustle and bustle with exams and then decompressing and relaxing before the start of the next semester.
  • Marriage: Focussing on the needs of my wife and daughter, dealing with family commitments. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the obligations and the frenetic pace.

Each of these different seasons was marked by a unique brand of selfishness and a misplaced focus. This year I celebrate my first Christmas, focussed on my Lord and Savior.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Colors of Life

Daddy, can we? Maybe next weekend sweetheart, Daddy is real tired. Can I get things out of the closet? Not now please, you will make a mess. I tried to put it off, to delay the moment. I had to eventually look at myself in the mirror and ask why? This year, like the past few, I have faced some deep-seated, inner termoil during the Christmas season when it came to putting up the Christmas tree. Things just haven't been the same for me since my divorce. The Christmas season was a time for family, a time for all of us to look forward to and celebrate together. Now that it is just me and my daughter, it seems that bringing that box out of the closet just serves to highlight my loss, my failure, my depression. Each year it brought out memories that I was trying to bury, to lose, to out run. This year really could have continued the cycle in full force, just like the last few. However, as I searched myself, I didn't feel the same breadth of hurt, the same dread. Funny how time and prayer can increase the distance, diminish the pain, and bring about relief and healing. I think that the biggest realization that I have come to this year is that it is not all about me. It never was. With a new perspective and a new found peace, the colors can return to your life.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Belief to Believe

Where do our core beliefs come from? Think about the things you truly hold dear, are passionate about, are willing to fight for. The basic tenets that define what you are all about. You've probably already been able to rattle off 3 or 4 of these right off the top of your head. That's great. But where did these core beliefs come from, what was their source? Did you learn them from your parents or your peer group? Did you carefully hone them over a period of many years to turn them from carbon into diamond? When I talk to folks about the things that they have very strong opinions about, they have the ability to defend them with such strong convictions that it is clear that these beliefs are woven into their fabric. They are an organic part of them. This has always amazed me. I seem to work so much differently than anyone else that I have come across. In fact, it seems that I did not come with any core beliefs factory installed on my hard drive. The oddest look comes over my face (kind of like I have gas) when someone catches me off guard and asks me what I think or feel about something. I have no thoughts or feelings most of the time on any given topic until I first find out what others believe so that I have a pool of ideas to choose from. I approach it like making selections from a chinese menu. I take one idea from column A, another from column B, and form the ideas of others into something that only then becomes a part of me. I think that I require some boundary conditions defined by other people before I can define what I believe. Am I alone in my strategy or am I a robot from the planet CrEmi-NuGat V?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Answer the Call III

Today's blog is the last of my three-part series entitled "Answer the Call". I have been musing about spiritual gifts. So that I don't leave discerning my true spiritual gifts to chance (or even to God), I figured that I should take a 100% fool-proof test that is scientifically accurate and guaranteed or your money back. Anyway, the test is from an outfit called Disciple Making Ministry (DMM) and was passed on to me by my good friend Bill ("Bill") Sprouse. If you follow the link, you too can figure out what you are supposed to be doing. Anyway, the results of my test are given below. The y-axis is a linear scale. The higher the rating, the more strongly you are gifted in the listed categories (as you can see, there are 20 areas rated).

Looking at the results, it is clear that I should not be allowed to come in contact with anyone at any time! Tis not my blessing, dearie. My top three gifts apparently are writing (me write good!), leadership, and prayer. Hmmm, very interesting, now I have a clear mandate from God (or at least the folks at DMM). Watch out y'all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Answer the Call II

As I view things, finding out what our true spiritual gifts are can be an awkward journey. There are those who believe that this discovery process is one of the most exciting adventures a person can have with God. Spiritual gifts are abilities that God has endowed every believer with for the good of the body of Christ. Truth be told, I am just now starting to figure out what my true gifts are. There are certainly things that I do, like volunteering to help with tear down of our church at one of its remote locations. But is this my gift? I am not so sure. It is certainly a necessary and important job, but I surmise that pretty much any able-bodied person could do it. Am I supposed to be doing other things where I can uniquely effect people? I don't know, maybe I should be doing something that would bring in new people or strengthen those that are having troubles. What about stepping up to do things that I might not necessarily like to do, but need to be done. Is this my gift? The bottom line is that there is only one way to find out. We must explore, and not just in those places where we are fully in our element. We need to try a number of different things to find out where we are supposed to be, where God is calling us to be, where our piece of the puzzle really fits.

So that you can at least appreciate my struggle to listen to God's call, I have volunteered to help out at the WEC church office contacting folks who are seeking information. I can't tell you just how uncomfortable I am doing this work. There are moments when I would rather walk down Jefferson Avenue during rush hour wearing a loud (but tasteful) dress than do this type of work. But I think the Lord has asked me to step up, to answer the call. I invite you to do the same. There is no time like the present. I think it boils down to the fact that our ultimate goal in life is not to be happy or content or even satisfied, it is to glorify God. (Part 2 of 3)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Answer the Call I

At my Waters Edge Church (WEC) Community Group meeting a few weeks back, we were having a discussion regarding our spiritual gifts. These amount to the skills and passions that we are blessed with to help spread the gospel of the Lord. While by all metrics I am a highly educated person, I have always felt that my main spiritual gift is, well, staying out of the way. Hah. Seriously, I feel most comfortable doing physical labor or routine office tasks that, while important and necessary, kind of keep me in the shadows. I used to tell folks who would press me on my religious beliefs to leave me alone - religion is a personal thing. How's that for spreading the good news! After some reflection on this matter, I think it all boils down to the fact that I am highly agoraphobic. I think my fear of being around other folks has led to a strong reluctance on my part to think that I could have any special skills or passions about talking in public about my faith or beliefs. So, when the subject of ministry as a spiritual discipline was discussed in group, I stated that it was clearly not one of my gifts.

It's funny how God takes what you think you could never do and turns it on its ear. You say no, no, no - he says yes, yes, yes. You say no way - he says way. It was only a few days after I had this discussion that I got a call from WEC asking if I would participate in a video testimony. I said yes as I immediately understood that even though I was being asked by WEC staffer Brian Miller, it was actually God doing the talking. The video was shown at the services on Nov. 30, 2008. I will let you be the judge of how effective I was. Regardless (or as the scholars say, "irregardlessly") if I mumbled, said nothing useful, or even made a fool of myself, I stepped up and answered God's call. Will you? (Part 1 of 3)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


My office at work doubles as a critically acclaimed fine art gallery. There are no Bruegels, Van Goghs, Rembrandts, or Brassaus (O.K. you got me on that last one. Brassau, as in Pierre Brassau, was acknowledged as a master until it was revealed that he was, in fact, a chimpanzee). However, the featured artist is quite well known to me. I call her Maddie. I am not dropping names here to appear suave and sophisticated. I call her Maddie because that is her name. You see, Maddie is my 10 year old daughter. Over the years she has provided me with many wonderful masterpieces to display in my office. In fact, I have more pieces than I have wall space. Some are simple, some are colorful, and some are quite complex. Maddie has gone through several noticeable phases in her work. There was the fingerpaint phase, the spiral phase, the, errr, eclectic phase. Each one is unique, but signature Maddie.

Several years ago when my office gallery was situated in Ohio, a person came to visit me and commented on my extensive art collection. This was not all that unusual of an occurrence. However, this particular connoisseur actually made an offer to buy one of the pieces that had tickled his fancy. When I told Maddie about this, it was such a thrill for her. It somehow validated her work well beyond any praise that I could give. This was an independent, outside judge - an outside judge offering cold, hard simoleons! Maddie still reminds me of this episode every now and then. She has authorized me to tell you that if you are interested in any of the items from her extensive catalog, have your people call her people. (Cash only. No dealers please.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Birds and Bees

Folks, given my advanced age, I am closer to the off-ramp now than to the on-ramp. However, I feel like I am incomplete. I feel that there is something that I should have learned long ago, but I missed out on it - never got the inside scoop. My mummy and papa never sat me down and had that talk with me. You know the one, about, hmmm, what to call it, the one about the birds and bees. Actually, I could not imagine a more awkward conversation. I can picture my parents trying to make do with the standard euphemisms, while I, sitting in my footie pajamas, have focussed every ounce of energy trying to make lightning strike me or trying to spontaneously combust so that I could get the heck out of there. Ack. The thought of this scene makes me itchy. Talk about your heebie-jeebies! On a serious note, I have a 10 year old daughter. I have tried my level best to teach her right from wrong, to bring her up with strong moral values, to be a positive role model in her life. However, I feel totally inadequate and totally uncomfortable even thinking about having the talk with her, my precious baby. My instinct is to stick my head deep in the sand and only emerge when the all-clear signal is sounded 20 years from now.

I have visited the web site of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology for some help. Their advice in this area is to: i). encourage your child to talk and ask questions, ii). maintain a calm and non-critical atmosphere for discussions, iii). use words that are understandable and comfortable, iv). try to determine your child's level of knowledge and understanding, v). keep your sense of humor and don't be afraid to talk about your own discomfort, vi). relate sex to love, intimacy, caring, and respect for oneself and one's partner, vii). be open in sharing your values and concerns, viii). discuss the importance of responsibility for choices and decisions.

Despite my total discomfort and reluctance to talk to my daughter, I know that all of this is too important to ignore and avoid. I can't shirk my responsibility and leave this for others. I know what I must do. Please pray for me to finally be the mature grown up that I am supposed to be, but in the mean time, I need to call mummy to find out about this bird and bee business, it's about time I found out too.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Family Values

Today I want to touch on a prickly subject. The subject is homosexuality, and more specifically, homosexual marriage laws. It is entirely possible that my words will make me sound confused, at odds with the scriptures. The topic is one that I wrestle with and perhaps care more about than most men would dare confess in public (but that never stopped me before). The subject matter at hand is one that is constantly in the news - modern culture and politics view this as a hot button issue. It was not too long ago when a presidential election was decided, in part, on the issue of "Family Values". There is a constant battle between the homosexual community and the straight community about laws relating to same sex "unions" (egad, we can't use the word "marriage"). California passed a law allowing these unions to take place with the assurance that they would be legally respected and recognized. After less than six months, the law was overturned. I know the one side will bring the issue back, followed by a counterattack from the other side, and on it goes. What are folks so afraid of, so threatened by, that they would go at the other side with such ferocity? When I try to talk to people about the subject, I tend to see only open hostility and hatred. I don't get the feeling that the battle raging has anything to do with religion or religious beliefs. It has to do with differences. All of us divide the world into "us" and "them". We tend to believe that our ways are the norm, and anything else, anything different, is unnatural, and must be done away with. Personally, I do not think about this issue along the usual path. On the one hand I have the word of the Bible: "Don't have sex with a man as one does with a woman. That is abhorrent." (Leviticus 18:22). On the other hand I feel for people who have found love, true love. This is a gift that comes along so very rarely. I feel the anguish, pain, and conflict for those people who have found their sole mate and the world wants to extinguish them. Is there no middle ground here? Does my sympathy signal tacit allegiance with the them's against the us's?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pain is Essential II

We've come to understand that pain in a Christian life is essential. Do you ever look back on a painful situation that ultimately led to some positive change in your life and ask if it was worth it? Do you ever count the cost? Do a simple cost/benefit analysis? If you could unwind the clock and reclaim what was lost - the spouse, the friend, the job, the victory - would you do it knowing what you would give up, what you would forfeit from your current life?

Let me be specific to give you something to chew on. Personally, I have known God, I mean really had a close relationship with him, only for about 3 years. It all began when I was at the lowest point in my life. My wife had just told me, after 10 years of marriage, that she was done with me. I was lost in such a dark place, such a lonely place, that I simply wanted out. I wanted the end - my end. I felt like my life was too far gone to be saved. I was broken and worthless. It was only at this point, my nadir, that I was finally able to hear God speak to my heart. I would not have come to know him as I have if I not gone through this living hell.

So, was this a fair deal? Does the benefit outweigh the cost? On one side of the balance is a life with God, on the other, my wife and the life I knew. There was no way to have both. Truly I say to you, it is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply. What do you think?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pain is Essential I

An interesting section in the book Man to Man by Charles Swindoll tells us that pain is essential to our lives. It is a mechanism, maybe the mechanism that God uses to bring us closer to him. The scriptural basis for this is in Psalms 119.

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy word. It was good for me to be afflicted that I may learn.

Oftentimes God does not get our attention until we are flat on our backs, down for the count. It is not until our will, our pride, our stubbornness, are beaten out of us that we have eyes to see and ears to hear. A.W. Tozer said "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.". Suffering and pain are necessary for us, essential to soften our spirits and to allow us to come to a point where we can be moved by the spirit and be able to hear that "still, small voice".

How have the major setbacks in your life shaped you for the good? As you look back and consider these experiences with a critical eye, knowing what you know now, were they worth it? Would you willingly submit to the pain if you knew what would come out of it? What if it brought you face to face with God? Stay tuned, more to come.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Peer Pressure

There is so much written and said about peer pressure. It has been an important focus, and rightly so, of parents and psychologists for many, many years. So many good kids have been led astray by this hideous beast. They end up doing things that they know are absolutely wrong, absolutely sinful. They hurt themselves, they hurt their friends, they hurt their families. In an instant they tear down walls of trust that took years to erect. The frustrating thing is that we tend to give into peer pressure to impress or gain approval from our "friends". Our friends, the people that we would like to think have our best interests in mind. Have a drink, take this pill, steal that, intimidate them, have sex -- man just loosen up. Why is it that we think we need the approval of anyone who encourages us to do something, anything, that we know in our hearts is wrong? Why don't we think about how damaging our actions can be to those that we love? Is it that we feel that our reputation in our circle of friends is that important? If we lose this friend we won't have any others? Is it the boredom or the thrill? The mindset is so focussed on the here and now, this moment, this instant, that we are willing to release an important part of us. If you are on the inside, your decision to go along makes so much sense, hey it's no big deal. If you are on the outside looking in, these decisions make no sense at all. Of course none of us are immune to the temptations of the beast. Learn to trust your inner feelings and walk away. You are too important to be discarded or used. It is so trite, so hackneyed, but "just say no". It really can be this simple. Surround yourselves with people and situations where you know you will be protected and loved. Learn to respect what you have learned, respect your family, and most importantly, respect yourself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hold On

What do you hold onto? Are there things that mean so much to you that you can never let them go? Memories, gifts, scents, photographs, money? Some things that we lock onto can lead to our undoing, they can be the taproot for sin to seep into all corners of our life. Other things can keep us connected closely to those we love and can strengthen our spirit.

When I came back to Virginia a couple of years ago and moved into my new office, my daughter drew a picture on my whiteboard of the two of us standing together under a colorful umbrella. The drawing is still there to this day. It really symbolizes our strength and unity together - always standing side by side. Our bond is a shield that protects us from the slings and arrows of the outside world. We know that we always have each other to lean on in times of trouble - always have the other to laugh with in times of joy. Her drawing remains as colorful and vibrant today as when it was drawn. Time has not overshadowed its message. What do you hold onto? Things that bring light into your world or things that bring in darkness?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Case for Science

Folks who know me, know I am a scientist, more specifically, a physicist. Physics is my vocation, as well as my avocation (i.e. not just a job but an adventure). It is one of the things that defines who I am. In fact, truth be told, I have known exactly what I wanted to do for as far back as I can remember. In my line of work, I am constantly asked to describe what I do to non-experts in the field (i.e. soccer moms and non-maverick types). This has always proven very difficult and awkward for me. My research is quite intricate and complex, and when I try to describe it, my own words make my ears bleed. My blather seems so esoteric that I fear I am doing my field an injustice. As your typical scientist is a nerd, with either bad acne or white poofy hair and a mustache, we are not known as being the most personable, outgoing folks on the planet. So we try to leave justifying our work to paid professionals. Those who lobby on our behalf in Washington D.C. (and yes there are many of these folks skittering around in the congressional shadows), lay out arguments like: Physics matters because it stands where wonder at the workings of the world meets our practical demands ... Physics matters because issues of understanding and practicality rarely stay apart for long. However, congress members are not blind to our manipulative ways. I found a quote a couple of years ago from former senator Sherwood Boehlert who stated "The argument that science funding is a long-term national investment does nothing to set scientists apart (from other special interests). All that sets you apart is that scientists are the only group that thinks it's making a unique argument."

What do you think about our government supporting basic science? Do you feel that this support is in our best national interest? Is important for mankind? Is a total waste and there are much better ways that we could allocate these funds? Weigh in if you have an opinion.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Revisit the Past

The other day I was minding my own business, keeping to myself, not getting in anybody's way. Out of nowhere I hear a beep on my computer signaling that I had just received a new email. The message was from a researcher in Germany who had some questions about a paper that I published some time ago. In fact, the paper was based on my Ph.D. thesis project. I set about answering the questions when I realized that it would be best to send them a copy of my thesis for reference. I went to the directory where all of the files for my thesis are kept and realized that I could not create an electronic file from what I had. In fact, it took me about 3 days to take what I had and whip it into shape so that I had a document suitable for transmittal. During this rework, I came across a few typos, some grammatical errors, and some style problems that I could not believe escaped my careful inspections lo those many years ago. Looking back at this moment from the past caused me some pain and anguish.

This exercise made me think about looking back on my actions of the past. I would like to think that I try to conduct myself in all sitations with the attitude that I would not be ashamed for anyone to know what I did or said. In short, I should not be disturbed by anyone taking a closer look at my behavior or actions in any situation. Of course this is what I would like to think. In reality, my behavior, action, and words in way too many past situations would cause me to sink in shame, cringe in embarrassment, or shake in disgust. Can any of us look back at moments of our past without any shame, embarrassment, or disgust? We all know the answer to this question. The solution is to take time to think more carefully about what you do and say before you act. Trust me, it is very hard (i.e. nearly impossible) to take back hurtful words or undo selfish acts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bad Day

I came across the following hilarious, amazing, and unique but true story in the book Man to Man by Charles Swindoll. So you think you've had a bad day? Compare your story to this poor guy who filed the following work accident report.

When I got to the building I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the damaged area, there were a lot of bricks left over. Then I went to the bottom and began releasing the line. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was -- and before I knew what was happening the barrel started coming down, jerking me up.

I decided to hang on since I was too far off the ground by then to jump, and halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down fast. I received a hard blow on my shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers pinched and jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground hard, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out.

I was now heavier than the barrel. So I started down again at high speed. Halfway down I met the barrel coming up fast and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the pile of spilled bricks, getting several painful cuts and deep bruises. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of my grip on the line. The barrel came down fast -- giving me another blow on my head and putting me in the hospital.

So, count your blessings my friends!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Two Arms, Two Arms!

hate - verb (used with object) - to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.

This word completely describes my feelings, it is perfect. Couldn't say it better. Dislike intensely? Yup. Passionate feelings? Got those. Extreme aversion? You read my mind. Extreme hostility? My, yes. Detest? Lordy, lordy. What could bring about all of this emotion? Just what is it that is givin' me them ol' down in the dumps I gotta scream out blues? Well, listen up. I HATE having my arms and hands too full. Sometimes I think that I can handle it. I figure, I can save a trip, walk a few less steps, save a few seconds. Then I load up my arms and hang onto a different object with each finger. Everything is threatening to drop to the ground with each step. I look like some cheap department store Christmas tree. The ensuing feelings are overwhelming. I begin to mutter to myself and I don't care who hears me, yeah, you heard me, I don't care. I stomp my feet and wrinkle my face. Veins start to pop out on my forehead. They throb, they pulsate. Why, oh why didn't I just make two trips. Maybe next time I will learn, I will remember. Nah, probably not.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Furniture Apologies

I have read a number of books on the topic of developing spiritual disciplines. These include Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines and Charles Swindoll's So You Want to be Like Christ?. I will not go into a discussion of the spiritual disciples today. Today I want to remind you of the old adage "practice makes perfect". Think of a pro golfer practicing his putting stroke hundreds upon hundreds of times to develop what is known in the business as "muscle memory". The same approach is entirely appropriate and relevant for the spiritual disciplines. Practice makes perfect. Really the point is that most spiritual disciplines are a pain in the gluteus maximus, that is to say that they are not normally a natural part of who we are. Instead, we must mindfully approach them with nuturing and patience like a timid bunny that might skitter away at any moment into the underbrush. We must realize that anything worth obtaining or anything worth mastering will take time. Remember it is a journey.

All of this discussion so far is well and good. My main point today is, however, to brag. It is about me. One of the disciplines, I have down cold. It is so imbred into my coding that no processing or thought is required. What is my special spiritual gift? Well, I am one of those folks, who if they bump into something, immediately offers an apology or an "excuse me". Apparently, it does not matter if the other party is a pope, a Fuller Brush man (this allusion probably goes over the heads of most folks), or, in my case, a piece of furniture. I have given so many apologies to furniture that I have bumped into, that an objective observer might think that I am a few figs short of a newton. I also noticed today, sadly, that when I sneeze, I immediately say excuse me, even when I am driving alone in my car. This makes me wonder what other disciplines I have mastered ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What, Me Worry?

There are huge chunks of my life that are infected by worry. The truth is that all of this worry, really worries me. The issue that I am struggling with is that by allowing worry to control areas of my life, I am reducing God to the size of my biggest worry. To get around this limit to my piety, I tend to play silly games. I try to reclassify my feelings. Oh, it's not worry that I am dealing with, it's concern, it's grieving a loss, it's self-pity. Thinking about it, I find that I tend not to worry too much about things that I view as more under my control, things that directly depend on my actions, my effort, my words. These I am very comfortable praying about and then handling. What really churns in my heart, my mind, and my gut are those things that are totally out of my control. Those things that are contingent on the actions of others. I pray over and over again, I can pray until I am sick of the sound of my own voice, but I never really turn it over to God. I hold onto it tightly. I am fearful that I really have let the size of my problems define the size of my God.

There are some relevant notes in scripture that folks like to point to about worry.

  • Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:27;
  • Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34;
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7.

While I do appreciate these verses, especially those from Philippians, I think that my favorite comes from Charles Swindoll. In this book, So You Want to be Like Christ?, he provides this simple prayer: Lord, this is your problem to fix. You take control. Let me know what you want me to do if I'm to be involved in the solution. By leaving it with you, I will consider it solved. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Skunk Juice

I needed money badly see. I was running on flat broke, flat broke. I was down n' out and out n' down. I was living on the edge and falling fast. Let me take you back a ways, a long ways. It was during the summer after my freshman year in college. I thought that I was some know-it-all, but I was just a punk kid. Down on his luck and running scared. I needed some scratch, so I did what anyone in my position would do, I got a job that would raise me some dough. It was actually at Pizza Hut. The problem is, the Pizza Hut gig was my night job. I moonlighted during the day at a major defense contractor testing sonar cabinets for nuclear submarines. But that is another story. The real issue is that after working for the man all day and at Pizza Hut all night, I was a total, certified zombie by the time I completed the books, cleaned up the store, and made the night deposit. I was unintelligible, I grunted alot, and didn't care if people saw me scratching myself in public. I had this same schedule day after day, for the entire summer.

Anyhoo, one night my oldest brother tells me that he will come and get me at 3:00 a.m. from the store and give me a ride home if I will toss a pizza his way. This sounds like a crummy deal from his side, but you should have seen the meatballs that I loaded up on that bad boy. When it came out of the oven, I swear you could hear a heavenly choir singing. Change the scene. I am all done, my brother has his pizza, and we are driving home. He was really bookin' down a windy side road, all windows open and the night air blowing in our faces. In my hand I have a Mountain Dew in a jumbo to-go cup. My brother rounds a curve and there in the middle of our lane, almost smiling at us, is a big old polecat. In my delerious state of total sleep deprivation, I close my eyes and shriek like a 13 year old girl at a horror film, but only with less manliness. My brother deftly swerves the vehicle around the skunk, but in my panic I splash my Mountain Dew all over my face and shirt. I let out an ear-piercing yell, "Skunk Juice -- I'm hit!". My brother nearly steers his vehicle into a ditch because he is doubled over in total laughter. After he catches his breath, he coolly reaches into his pizza box and pulls out a slice of pie. He savors the taste and all is quiet once again. I slink down into my seat, cold, moist, and clinically dead, hoping, just hoping that this was all a bad dream.