Sunday, August 29, 2004

King's Ransom

I just finished reading an advanced copy of Thom Lemmon's new book, King's Ransom. It is a historical novel set in early 1940's Bulgaria and follows the story of Tsar Boris, King of Bulgaria, the only German ally that did not give Jews over to the Third Reich thus saving an estimated 50,000 lives. This telling has it all: history, romance, intrigue, heroism, honor, darkness, tragedy, conviction and more. It is a great example of how even in the face of overwhelming odds and in the shadow of other personal failures one has the potential to rise to a calling that is greater than the madness of the world around them, choosing, instead, righteousness. I am excited for Thom and think that this could be the break-out novel takes him to the next level. Set for release in mid-September by Waterbrook Press, it is a page-turner that will not disappoint. Way to go Thom!

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Life, Love, Lowake and Looking Back

I just had a full weekend. Actually, it has a few hours left so maybe such a statement is premature. I had planned on whisking my bride away for our 12th (I can't believe it either) anniversary for a weekend at the North Ranch. Sadly however, a friend in our small group, Brady Nichols, lost his Dad on Thursday after a fight with cancer. I just assumed we would try for another weekend because we definitely wanted to attend the funeral to show our support and help the family honor his life.

Friday, after work I helped some friends move some things to their new house. I am convinced that moving and childbirth are somewhat alike. They're not alike in a Steven Wright kind of way- wherein he states he was reading a diary he kept as a baby and it said, "DAY ONE: Still tired from the move." No, I think they are alike in that if you truly remembered what either process was like, you would never seek to go through it again. But, people see a new house or a baby (a new person if you want to stretch the comparison) and they think, " I want that more than I want an accurate recollection of what that involves." This concept, network TV and the fact that Ted Kennedy is an elected official are main columns in my platform that states, "People are stupid." (As a side note, this is a temporary residence for these people until they decide whether to build or buy another house so they may step over the line separating stupid and insane.) After that, I went on home (with a seriously bad back-shhh) a little disappointed that I wasn't leaving for our weekend. Nevertheless, as I lay in the floor on my back, my bride was encouraging and suggested we might be able to go the next night. As for Friday night, I missed the visitation with Brady's family staying instead on my back.

The funeral service was well done (in spite of the fact I pulled the singers together) and the cemetery was a beautiful slice of the Abilene area that I never knew existed. We are keeping the family of Larry Nichols in our prayers in the wake of all that has come their way.

Another friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. My response to this has been mixed (see previous blog) partly because I have already lost my mother and my sister to the very same disease. I really do feel positive about this, but I think my heart goes out to Gina more for the worry and fear than it does for the actual cancer at this point. I am not exactly sure why that is. Maybe it's because that is the element that actually robs your heart and soul whereas the disease merely robs your body. Then again, aren't we blessed to have a salve for that injury as well in the form of our assurance through Christ? That God; He thinks of everything!

Saturday afternoon I had a pleasant surprise. After the funeral I found out that Kendra had made other arrangements for the kids and we did go out to the ranch after all. It was awesome! There is something very cool about:
1) Having the love of my life next to me in a hot tub while 2) We watch approaching thunderstorms light up the night with amazing pictures of spectacular cloud formations while 3) Foxes and turkeys and other wildlife are calling out to the surrounding nature and 4) I have no cell phone. From the geographical height of the ranch house, it seemed like we were actually looking down at the storms. Of course, Kendra was every bit as spectacular and I am not sorry for saying it. We had some very valuable time together and I realize how blessed I was to become her husband twelve years ago today.

This morning we slept late and then went to eat at "The Shed." The Shed was a big deal 10-15 years ago and people came from miles around to eat there. It was kind of like the Lowake Steakhouse in Lowake, TX was back in the oil-boom days. Both are in little shacks on farms in the middle of nowhere. The Lowake steakhouse even had its own landing strip whereupon wealthy Texas oilmen would fly private planes (even jets) to Lowake just for their legendary steaks. Sadly, recent visits to both have proven that it's hard to go back to those glory days. Don't get me wrong, The Shed was still great, but just not like I remember it ten years ago.

Anyway, tonight we forced our kids to sit and watch our wedding video with us. Of course, Addie was a little perturbed because she doesn't remember the event and thinks she missed something. (TEACHING MOMENT! "Kids, you do not have kids until after you get married. You don't get married until you are 30.") It is so crazy to look at us being so ignorant but being so blessed- at least that's how I feel about it. Even when the minister actually said "If you're ready take hands and repeat these vows," we did not bat an eye and marched right into the fire. I hope my kids are as blessed in their marriages as I have been in mine even if I have not modeled the best image of a husband.

Collectively though, I have been blessed by a great cloud of witnesses. Watching the video, I saw old photographs of my mom, I watched my sister's scatter-brained method of wedding coordination, I saw Kendra's dad march her down that aisle willingly only to literally tackle me at the reception; each of these people no longer here to offer suggestions but guiding us nonetheless through the examples they left. I also saw pictures and heard the voices of old friends we are still blessed to see on occasion. I know they were all cheering us on that day and wishing us well. But especially I think of Christ continually calling His bride, the church, to reconcile itself to Him. All of these witnesses provided, in some way, the impetus that led us to that point twelve years ago and through all the years since. Keep rooting for us and if you don't mind, we'll do the same for you, and all the more as we see the day approaching.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Due-due or just doo-doo

Well, it is open season on believers and Satan is armed to the fang. So many around me are being attacked and I hurt for them as I watch marriages fail, children taken, parents taken, cancer ravaging, livlihoods tanking and so much more. I just received word of another friend being stricken with an illness. I started the day with a bit of the warm fuzzies (thanks Addie) and frankly, I don't want to drop them. But news of anguish can crack that fragile condition. Just the same, as a mutual friend and I discussed the health concerns of others I still felt confident despite all the despair.

"Look," I said. "You and I both have watched this disease win too many times in our families. This time, we are due. You are due and I am due and together we are due-due. If you are buckling under the strain, I will be more than happy to remind you that you are due-due." As for me, people remind me pretty often that I am due-due but I'm not sure they use the same spelling.

It was a heartening exchange, but the fact is there is no disease or condition that can truly beat us when our hope is founded in Jesus.

We recently recognized a very bittersweet anniversary in our family. My wife's dad passed away two years ago, July 31. He was an amazing larger-than-life man who was loved by all who knew him. As cancer ravaged his body, many of these friends urged him to seek non-conventional method of treatment to save his life. When urging failed they insisted. Finally he stopped much of this when he said:

"All my life I have been trying to be on the team getting into Heaven. Well, here I am about to punch it into the end-zone and everybody who should be blocking for me is trying to tackle me instead."

What a great testament to the hope and assurance he had. I hope I can approach whatever comes my way with the same confidence and good nature. Until then, I am due-due.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Michal Kate's Fair Shake

I am often approached by people asking for an Addie story and usual there are good ones to tell. However, seldom does anyone ask for a story about Michal Kate. It is not that people don't adore her, because everyone does. But Michal Kate is more of a fly-under-the-radar kind of girl for people outside her immediate family.

For instance, Michal is a very prissy little girly girl. She love lace and bows and kittens and watching Full House. She loves to dance and giggle and snuggle. She has always had strong opinions about fashion and social behavior. In light of some of this, we were trying at one point to emphasize things other than shallow matters by praising her for her helpful nature and for how kindly she treats others. We also told her how smart she was and on and on when she interrupted us and said "And- I am in STYLE!"

Well, in light of these tendancies, tonights story was even more striking. You see, at meet the teacher the other afternoon, I had heard one of Michal's little friends touting the virtues of having a secret handshake and trying to convince Michal and another friend that they neede to create one- and fast. Riding along in the truck tonight Kendra was asking Michal if they had come up with one. When Michal assured her that they had, Kendra asked her where they used it.

"Well," Michal began. "We don't do it in the class. Actually we don't even do it indoors now that I think about it because for part of it you have to spit."

I almost wrecked the truck laughing. I love my family.

Politico or Politicoo-coo

I have always been one who used to lend an ear to discussions of politics and loved to offer my opinions to the fray. But as time has passed that interest has waned as I become more and more disillusioned with the rhetoric from all sides. The amazing thing is how this rhetoric permeates every fabric of our being if we let it and how we make assumptions about others based merely on their political leanings. No matter how absurd these assumptions are, people cling to them for dear life because these are the justification for the sheer animosity spewed from the participants in the argument.

However, to truly have an exchange of ideas and seek positive change and resolution, it is imperative that one try to consider the point of view of the opposition repeatedly and honestly and then proceed. Repetition is important because it guards against being automatically dismissive and honesty is important (though rare) because it is the only platform on which any exchange of ideas can be weighed. A favorite saying of mine and one dismissed perhaps too easily is "You can't argue with an idiot." It seems almost rude, but that statement speaks volumes. Basically it means that if people do not accept basic truths as premises to an argument, then no fair exchange of viewpoints can possibly occur. While this matter of honesty sounds a few steps below simple, it eludes us the most on matters of politics.

In the middle of another election year, these concepts come to view in the glaring light of partisanism. In order to justify impressions about candidates or their supporters we accept assumptions that are so inflammatory they could not stand for anyone less than a psychopath.

One such issue is social responsibility to the disadvantaged. This argument is based on the idea that the conservatives have absolutely no concern for anyone struggling to overcome difficult circumstances and liberals are only seeking to gain power by offering kickbacks rather than sincerity. This argument has gotten so extreme that liberals have accused conservatives of literally trying to kill school children by cutting the rate of increase in school lunch program subsidies and conservatives have accused liberals of endangering the well-being of future generations by jeopardizing their defense, rushing social security to insolvency and pushing agendas that destroy the moral foundation on which our nation was built.

I fear that neither of these extreme positions offers a place for me to stand. Frankly, Ralph Nader almost makes more sense than most in his alarmist kind of way with commentary on the lack of social responsibility of American corporations. What he misses is that it is not just an American phenomenon. In fact, the globalization of markets and the world-wide conglomerates that come with that are the worst offenders. No matter what the violation or by whom the company is led, in the arena of corporate greed I stand firm in calling for the enforcement of laws guarding against improper, unfair or otherwise misleading practices .

Nevertheless, I guess this is where I come down on a few issues.

I hurt for people that are struggling through no fault of their own, whether the reason be health or circumstances or other things. However, in a system like ours wherein each dollar I pay in taxes is filtered through a government that keeps 60-70 cents, and further which distributes to remainder to various programs that may or may not actually reach those in need, basic logic says there must be a more efficient way. If the goal is re-distributing wealth, are people with government jobs really the intended beneficiaries? If it is forcing an unsuspecting public to give money for social concerns they might not otherwise give, is that helpful? The same kind of people argue against forcing morality on others through things like the posting of the Ten Commandments or other religious messages. Isn't that disingenuous? How on one hand can we say morality cannot be legislated and then carry forced philanthropy as a standard? One might say it does not matter as long as people get help. I contend that this is a very worldly view of what kind of help people really need even if one ignores the very watered down nature of these "entitlements."

I mentioned this briefly before, but many well-intentioned people use this as their primary reason of support for liberal policies. I agree that our society is woefully out of whack as it relates to this, but the argument of payrolls for cops versus professional athletes or teachers versus movie stars or soldiers versus rappers has been done to death. So how to repair this inequity remains the argument.

One camp touts the virtues of increasing the minimum wage. Sadly this is a very elementary approach to a complicated issue that fails under true economic analysis rather than political analysis. When this happens, the economy is affected in two ways. For most of us, in rather a long-term lag, we feel the bump in pay as it is passed to consumers through inflated prices ultimately erasing any benefits to workers. For many workers, though, (and this is the truth that remains largely unspoken) the effects strike much more quickly as small businesses lay off employees from an inability to make payroll or, in extreme cases, close altogether. This is not uncommon and is a scenario I saw in my role as a commercial lender for many small businesses.

It intrigues me that when people discuss the redistribution of wealth, they support the idea by pointing to high-paid executives and the extravagant lifestyles they pursue but do not mention high-paid entertainers or atheletes. In fact, the executives are responsible for providing jobs to a large segment of society. Where they need to be held accountable is for their violation of laws to support their lifestyles. Entertainers, on the other hand, laud the virtues of liberal policies while remaining blatantly hypocritical through their own behavior. In our last election, one major candidate carried this torch of virtuous entitlements, but at the same time his tax records showed a mere $3,000.00 in philanthropic giving for a year while the other candidates records indicated over $350,000.00. Even in this year's election, one candidate admittedly wants to raise taxes despite his own efforts to shelter himself from Medicare and Medicaid taxes and to further move a large portion of his family business off-shore. Were his charges to carry any weight, one might expect that he would try to pay more than what is expected rather than less.

The fact is, large problems are rarely solved by quick fixes and this is the fundamental difference between conservatism and liberalism. Liberals often react to issues in a way that is sure to please many people immediately but fail the citizenry in the long run. The examples of this are many. The failure of the health care system, the pending insolvency of social security, the creation of a welfare state that in its adulterated condition does little to help those truly in need, the moral decay of society in general and on and on.

Providing for the national defense, however, is one area in which we may scrimp to our own peril. Our nation has now seen the results of not taking a threat seriously as did Europe in the early 1900's. Hopefully this lesson is one from which we can apply our new knowledge. But the fact is, these lessons are not new. Muslim extremist have hated the United States for more than the last three years. Previous attacks on Americans and even previous attempts to destroy the World Trade Center were harbingers of our ultimate circumstance to which we paid little mind. Even now, as extremists call for the ousting of George W. Bush, should we not at least consider this as one of the best reasons to stand behind him? But again, the quick-fixers and the please-all-the-people-all-the-timers ratchet up the rhetoric and promise whatever it takes.

Basically, the lesson we need to learn is consistent with what generations of people have proven. Quick fixes are suspect. Hard work and planning pay off over the long run. Saving money that does not have to be spent unnecessarily provides opportunities for true needs. This is true of our personal finances and it is true of government funds as well. Like my dad always says (and I do mean always) "A penny saved is opportunity gained."
Putting this into practice means choosing leaders who lead on principal rather than on popularity. It is not easy to do the right thing when something else might be popular, but it is still the right thing.

The Democrats were close in the early 20th century but unchecked, this eventually decended into what we now witness. Now both sides are more liberal than FDR ever was or even JFK for that matter. I am personally sick of the way both sides of the aisle are rife with politicians who are constantly electioneering rather than leading. But if someone is willing to stand up and lead based on principal, they have more honestly earned the few votes they are likely to receive. The sooner voters educate themselves and seek to ask not what their country can do for them, but rather what they might do for their country, the sooner the long and necessary process of healing may begin.

Mundane and not so

Many things going on lately. I have had five empty houses, one empty commercial building, one remodeling project, two non-listed but desired properties and more to deal with which means the never-ending ringing of all phones. For those looking for a way to drive me crazy, call me. There came a time on Friday where I really thought I was going over the edge because every call I received (over 40 that day) was by someone demanding something. In most of these situations, the perceived emergency was one caused by the caller rather than me even though the solution had somehow become my responsibility. I need a break.

At my real job, things are hopping as well, but that job includes a confidentiality agreement so you'll just have to take my word for it.

I have a new favorite song. "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban gives me consistent chills. I really want us to do it at Highland. I had heard it before, but in light of yesterday's sermon it came to mind again so I came home and got it on I-Tunes. It is awesome. I am trying to teach it to myself for the piano as well.

I have also been to the hospital each of the last two days to visit a friend whose father is in his final days or hours. Remember the family of Larry "Nick" Nichols. His son, Brady, is an old school friend and in our small group at Highland. They need prayers.

Another member of our small group, Jamie Truitt is also hurting after the loss of her niece in a car wreck. Remember the Halbert family.

Today is the first day of school in Abilene- a big deal at our house with a 3rd grader, a 1st grader and a part-time second grade teacher. Everyone in our house is a little melancholy over the whole idea. My reasons are that it is so bittersweet to watch them grow up so fast and now I get back into being the car-pool dad and my truck once again becomes full of all the crap (sorry, can't think of another word for it) that kids manage to bring home from school.

Also this week, Sunday the 22nd will mark twelve years since I conned a gorgeous blonde into becoming my wife. Like everyone else's our marriage has been one of good times and tough times, but if I had tried this with anyone else, it would not have worked. Through the job changes, the family losses, the family trials, the kids, the injuries, and so much more I have watched Kendra be an example of unflappable grace while I have teetered on the edge. Combine that with the fact that she is an absolutely beautiful woman of God and you can see that I got the better end of the deal than she did.

So, those are my random thoughts for today. I will try to be more entertaining or thought-provoking some other time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Waiting @ the Mickie D's

Top ten thoughts as one waits in line at McDonald's

10. Is Ronald's face like that because of a fryer accident?

9. The "Fry Guys" scare me.

8. I think I saw that guy working the drive-thru on America's Most Wanted.

7. Robble, robble robble robble? Robble robble robble robble, robble (robble robble) robbble robble, robble. Ha Ha. Robble!

6. What is Mayor McCheese's political affiliation?

5. If I only order fries, will they ask me if I want fries with that?

4. They just never gave McBrussel Sprouts a fair chance.

3. Is it catsup or ketchup?

2. Does Supersize really matter?

1. I think I'm gonna name my next kid Grimmace.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

May we see your I.D.?

Thursday evening after a day of school shopping and Chuck E. Cheese we decided that the way to wind down was to go back to Six Flags for some evening play before heading back to Abilene. As we were in line at the only open entry gate, I took note of the guy in front of me in line. He looked vaguely familiar- like someone we may have gone to ACU with. He had three little boys in tow and was sporting season passes. Two of the boys had made it through when the attendant stopped on the third, announcing that the season pass he had was not his.

"Really?" asked the man, apparently incredulous. "I guess we brought the wrong one."

"Well," said the attendant, her face already taking on a smirk. "We can look him up. What's his name?"

"Oh, that's okay," the man said. "I'll just buy him a ticket."

"No," she insisted. "Let's look him up."

"I'll just buy him a ticket," the man repeated.

"Does he even have a season pass?" asked the attendant her smirk now growing and being joined with a evil glint in her eye.

"No," replied the man bowing his head. "Really, just let me buy a ticket."

"No, it's too late for that," said the attendant, now gloating. Then she called over Six Flags security to revoke the family's season passes and possibly more. The last time I saw the man and the boys they were being physically escorted into the bowels of Six Flags (probably more akin to Six Flogs) where I am convinced they learned first-hand that the Judge Roy Scream is more than just a roller coaster.

Now I know that although it seemed innocent enough, what this man was attempting was basic theft. I further know that he had also lied. But as I watched him get hauled away with three little boys in tow I was disturbed by the scene and could not get it out of my mind.

An obvious lesson here is Don't mess with Six Flags. The literature which accompanies a season pass purchase states clearly how they feel about such things and the consequences thereof. Further, it mentions that they will check the season pass against another form of ID should there be a question. In this case, the lack of resemblance between this 8 year-old blonde boy and a late 30's woman with long dark hair did not allow it to get that far.

For some reason, another lesson popped into my head from this, as well. Sometimes little stories like this when applied to our walk seem a bit contrived I and often shrug them off thinking that relaying them to others will be pandering. This one however stuck with me.

I thought of the parallel to this story and our eventual passage into eternity. I wonder what the gate attendant will think when we try to gain entry into Heaven. I suspect that anyone with sense would know that I would not fit the description of those who belong in Heaven. Armed with this perspective, I suspect they might ask for an ID. Then I can envision the moment when I am just about to admit my true status, Jesus would show up and say, "Sorry. I have his ID." Then he would show the attendant something in his hand I could not see and the attendant would allow me to come in.

"Jesus," I might say. "Do you really have a pass for me?"

"Sure," He might laugh.

"May I see it?" I would ask. At that point I can see Jesus holding out his hand again- empty except for a scar.

At that point I see Jesus dashing back to the gate to help someone else in. As I look on I see him showing various scars on his hands, back, head, feet; each serving as the pass allowing someone passage that would otherwise have been denied.

So, there you go. My lessons from Six Flags. Like I said, it is a bit cheesy, but I suppose it is safe to relay here because not many people read this. Besides, any chance readers have been warned that this blog contains pretty random thoughts. In this case, however, the random thoughts have managed to stick with me and remind me of the love of Jesus.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Well, a summer that has been complicated by broken bones and lots of baseball is drawing to a close. In an attempt to get in one last activity, our family came to the Metroplex to play.

Yesterday, on a fantastic 101 degree Tuesday we went to Six Flags. The dancing old man from the commercials was nowhere to be found. He was too smart. All of the heat and humidity did remind me of another old man, though. I believe it was Kyle Dickson's Paw Paw Bully who said, 'If you can smell yourself, other people been smellin' you a long time.' That't all I have to say about that.

Today we go to a waterpark. I have recently lost 19 pounds, so maybe people won't organize an effort to get me back in the water like last time. The heat should be more bearable there.

Today's blog is a bit of an experiment because I am blogging on my phone while my family sleeps. I just don't sleep late, yet I don't want to wake them. I know others will argue because they are obligated to, but I think I have the best little family! I really mean to say that pridefully. I just feel extremely blessed.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Am I dreaming?

I seldom take naps, but on this Sunday afternoon I fell asleep on the couch. I don't know how long I had been there when I sensed someone was staring at me. I opened my eyes to see our Schnauzer looking at me with (I am not kidding) a look on her face saying: "I am not asking for help. I actually kind of like this look." What made this unusual was the fact that she had on a sequined black halter top. Ordinarily one might check to be sure they are awake when confronted with such a sight. I merely thanked God for our little girls.