Monday, December 23, 2013

Quacking Up the Wrong Christmas Tree

Quacking Up the Wrong Christmas Tree

Two weeks ago, I thought I’d write an article about “keeping Christ in Christmas.”  This week, the story is all about Ducks.  So, I guess I’ll mix my messages and say that I think in both cases we Christians are quacking up the wrong Christmas tree.

What was it the angels said?

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Luke 2:14 (KJV)

Peace on earth.

Good will toward men.

How does that jive with all the angry words that seem to dominate my Facebook feed?  In my mind, not so well.  Consider these thoughts from your friend, Caaamper….

CHRISTmas or Happy Holidays?

A good number of my friends are adamant about saying “Merry Christmas!”  Almost to the point that I’m afraid that if I happen to slip up and say “Happy Holidays” to the wrong person, I might end up being shunned.  It’s like walking on egg shells just to pick out a Christmas…um…er…Holiday card. 

“We’ve gotta keep Christ in Christmas!” they shout.  “Those left-wing liberals are trying to scrub the ‘reason for the season’ right out of the holiday!”

Well, amen brother.  In response, let’s consider the scriptures that discuss the Christmas holiday…. 


That’s right.  There aren’t any.  You see, Christ didn’t come to earth so we’d name a holiday after Him.  But, maybe we could consider some of the things He said:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”  Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Matthew 5:9

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:44-45b

“Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:38

“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:30-31

Personally, I don’t see a lot of room there for Christians to be writing nasty Facebook posts….but, that’s just me. 

I think if we want to keep Christ in Christmas, then our best method to do so is to keep Christ in us.  We are his hands, his feet, his mouth in this broken world.  We should reflect Him in our very words and actions, and by doing so Christ will very much remain in Christmas…regardless of what we call it.

Here are some suggestions:

Feed a hungry person.  Put a coat on the back of a homeless person.  Buy someone some groceries.  Listen to someone who needs an ear.  Put your arm around someone in pain.  Buy someone a tank of gas.  Forgive someone who has hurt you.  Be Christ this Christmas.

Ducks and Boycotts

Ever since Phil Robertson’s words whirled into a firestorm, my family has been telling me to keep my mouth…and my keyboard…to myself and stay out of the fray.  And, frankly, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say anyway.  The whole spectacle has actually been painful…painful to watch…painful to read…and painful to think about.

That said, even though I’m tip-toeing into the subject, I’m not going to discuss what Phil said.  I’m not going to talk about the reactions from GLAAD or A&E.  If you want my thoughts on those things, we’ll need to know one another, and then we can sit down and have a discussion.  Instead, I’m going to share my view that as Christians, I think we are reacting all wrong.

Christians all across America are up in arms about the attack on Phil’s 1st Amendment right of free speech, and angry about the infringement on our rights to freely practice our religion.  Hateful words are flying through cyberspace faster than light travels from the Sun to the Earth.  Nasty letters…nasty posts…nasty tweets.

We Christians may deny being homophobic, but we sure can be hateful when our rights are stepped on.

The problem is that Christ never guaranteed we’d enjoy those rights.  And, the way we are pursuing them flies in the face of some of the things He did want us to do….see the verses above.

Are people saying things about Christians that aren’t true?  Yes.  Are they misconstruing Bible verses to suit their agendas?  Absolutely.  Are some even attacking our God?  No doubt.

Well, shouldn’t we stand up and fight?


Consider these words:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  --Jesus.  Matthew 5:10-12

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.”  --Jesus.  Matthew 5:39

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  --Peter.  1 Peter 3:9

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  --Jesus.  Matthew 6:14-15

Rather, I think we should be about the business that He left us here to do.  He ate with sinners.  He drank with sinners.  He died for sinners.  And frankly, that is what we are.  Let us pass that example through and befriend those around us that still remain outside the Grace we’ve found.

We weren’t commissioned to defend God, or judge the world.  God can pretty well defend Himself, and the judgment seat is where He sits.  We were told to love God, love our neighbor, and urge a lost world to reunite with the Father.  Period.

The problem with judging is that when we do it, it gets in the way of loving. 

No more strife.  No more anger.  No more hateful words.  Rather, let us love with the love of Christ.  Selflessly.  With sacrifice.

You don’t have to approve of what people do in order to love them.  Good grief, I don’t even approve of my own actions a good deal of the time, but I don’t have any trouble maintaining affection for myself.  Paul said in Romans that we “all have sinned.”  God gave us Grace before we deserved it, so why shouldn’t we give it to others before they do?

We can make a difference in this world, but it won’t be our angry words that does it.  It will be something truly remarkable. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-Murphy's Law and a Stapler

“Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”

That’s known as Murphy’s Law, and it’s true of many things. 

You never have a flat tire in the garage…nope, it will obviously happen on the interstate highway.  And, then, it won’t happen when you’re dressed in jeans and a work shirt.  No.  Rather, it will only happen when you’re dressed up in a nice suit.

If you drop a quarter on the kitchen floor, it will automatically roll under the stove.

The guy in front of you will only hit the brakes when you look down.  BOOM!

If one tiny chicken bone is left in the pot of chicken & noodles, It will end up with it on my plate.  FACT!

And, if the seam of your pants rips from front to back, it will only do so in public, and in a crowd.  EXPERIENCED!

I’ve officially ripped out my pants four times…every time in front of a group.

Event One

Sometime late in my high school career, I attended a Fairlawn Church of Christ youth group event at Prairie Creek Reservoir.  Often I would have driven myself, but thanks to Murphy and his law, I had decided to ride with the group in the church vehicle.  So, when I bent down to catch that softball someone tossed my way and I heard (and felt) that seam tear in my jeans, I had no choice but to retreat to the back of the Chevy 15-passenger van.  I resigned myself to social self-seclusion.  I was sitting dejected on the rear seat when I was rescued by one of the girls.  She handed me her hooded sweatshirt and I tied it around myself; then returned to the festivities.  Problem solved.  I may have looked like a giant teenage baby with a cloth diaper, but I still managed to hit a homerun or two in the softball game.

Event Two

I’d gone off to Williamstown Bible College in West Virginia, and each spring and fall, the ministry students traveled to another city to participate in a week-long “campaign.”  In the spring of my second year, we held a campaign at the Lindberg Road Church of Christ in Anderson, Indiana.  On the last night of the event, after all the official programs were over, the whole crew gathered at a local family’s home for a party...a local family with three teenage daughters.  At this point, I’m twenty years old…and still enough of a kid to enjoy hanging with all the teens.  So, there I was in my gray dress pants…my fairly old gray dress pants…out in front playing basketball.  The ball went up.  The ball went down.  I bent over to get it.  RIP!  Front to back!  There I was, undies to the wind, in front of all the guys…and more importantly, in front of all the girls.  Luckily, I had an extra pair of pants in the car, so I jumped in and slipped the extra pair over the ripped pair and returned to the party.

Event Three

After college, I returned home to Muncie and involved myself with the college-age group at my home church.  Among the many various activities was an annual bus trip to Chicago for a seminar.  It was March.  There was snow on the ground.  It was a long bus ride, and we stopped at a rest area along I-65.  Now, before I go on, you need to know that all of the luggage was piled up in the back five rows of the bus.  It was just thrown in there in no particular order.  Anyway, the whole group of passengers…goofy college boys and cute college girls…, well they all piled out to go take a leak.  Boys being boys, and snow being on the ground, a snowball fight naturally ensued.  I bent over to get me a good frozen missile when I heard (and felt) the opening of my rear window.  RIP!  Front to back!  I quickly retreated to the men’s room and sent a friend to retrieve my suitcase.  Of course, people started to ask: “Where’s Mike.”  My friend, being the honest guy he was, replied: “Oh, he ripped his pants out, so we’ve gotta get his bag for him to change.”  Of course, my return to the bus was met with more than one giggle and snicker.  My face was as red as my frozen butt.

Event Four

A couple of years later and I’m all grown up.  I have a full-time job slingin’ bearings at Bearings, Inc at the corner of Liberty & Willard streets.  I spent my days answering the phones and helping customers at the counter.  There were eight or nine of us in the branch plus a constant flow of customers.  A guy came in and asked for something we had in the warehouse.  I headed back to get it.  It was on the bottom shelf, so I bent over to get it.  RIP!  Front to back!  My fanny was in the breeze again!

So, I called to the warehouse guy:  “Hey Terry!  Can you help me out?”

“What do you need?” he replied.

“I’ve ripped my pants out.  Can you take this up to the guy at the counter for me?  Just tell him that I got tied up with something back here, so I asked you to take care of him.”

“Sure,” he says with a sneaky grin.

I grabbed a stapler and headed to the bathroom.  He grabbed the stuff and headed to the counter.

A few minutes later, I emerged from the bathroom with a pair of pants that you couldn’t get through the security gate at the airport to find an office full of sneaky smiles and a guy at the counter that was belly-laughing.  The information was too good for my warehouse guy to keep to himself. 

I overcame the embarrassment within a few minutes, but sitting at my desk was precarious the rest of the day.  There is a great reason that clothing companies do not use staples to make trousers.

So, take it from me.  Murphy’s Law will guarantee that if you wear your pants until they are threadbare, the butt seam will split at the most inopportune time.  Of course, maybe it wasn’t Murphy’s Law…maybe I was just a clothing dork.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grace and the Soldering Iron

Many years ago, I did a message on how guilt is like the sense of touch.  I said it was kind of like when as a kid, you put your hand on a hot stove…that burning pain warned you that you were doing something that you shouldn’t.  I said that guilt was the same way.  It was something that God put on our conscience that taught us that doing wrong was bad for us so that we would stop doing those things.

However, I was off-base.

For example, once in high school I took a shop class on Electricity.  As I was working a little soldering project, I inadvertently reached up and grabbed the wrong end of my soldering iron.  After I stopped screaming and got done rinsing my burning hand under the cold water spigot, I had learned to never do that again….and I haven’t.

For another example, as a kid of about 18 years old, I had a moped; one of those old Batavus mini motorbikes that had goofy pedals sticking out of the sides.  I took off on it one day and rode over to a friend’s house.  I didn’t go far…only a half mile or so…and I happened to wonder if the muffler was hot after such a short ride.  Now, I know that right now you’re thinking:  “He couldn’t be that dumb!”  Well, I WAS that dumb at eighteen years old.  That’s right.  I reached down and touched it.  That hot, searing pain taught me to never do that again, and I never have.  Lesson learned.  I’m not that dumb any more.

But, guilt doesn’t seem to have that effect.

I seem to be quite capable of doing the same dumb, sinful things over and over again…feeling guilty…then feeling guilty again…without ever seeming to learn to avoid those things in the future.

I’ve finally figured out after all of these years that beating myself up and feeling all guilty…while it does serve the purpose of driving me toward repentance…does nothing with regards to preventing me from doing the same stupid things over and over again.  (Of course, maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m the only one who seems to fall into the same self-imposed temptation traps over and over again.  Would you tell me if I’m not?)

Anyway, guilt is simply not effective in teaching me anything useful in breaking that cycle.  Guilt is really kind of like burning your hand on the soldering iron, then forgetting how much that hurts a few days later and doing it again....and again...and again.

But, I think I’ve finally found something that is effective…

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  (That’s you, me, and even that goofy kid with his pants hanging around his rear and the nose ring poking out of his nostrils.)  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, (That’s all those stupid things you, me, and that goofy kid seem to keep doing.) and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  Titus 2:11-14

Did you catch it?

The grace of God TEACHES us to say no.  It’s not the guilt…it’s the grace.

I have decided that from now on, if I’m falling short….no…wait…scratch that…WHEN I fall short, it’s not that I need to feel more guilty….I don’t need to have a deeper understanding of how messed up I am.

What I need when I fall short is a better understanding of how deep, how wide, how incredibly amazing is the grace of God.

Only through a deeper knowledge of grace can I hope to LEARN to say no…and to live a godly life.

Maybe you knew that all along, but I’m just glad the light bulb finally lit up for me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Achilles Heel-An Update

Back in August, I posted an entry about my recovery from several years of health issues that stemmed from an initial tear of my right Achilles Tendon.  At the time, I had finally been back on my bike and riding consistently for about two months.  I was feeling good.  I'd lost four or five pounds (I'm unsure of how much I'd really lost because I suspect I had maxed out my digital scales.)

Then, I went canoeing with my wife and daughters.

It was a nice day.  I'd taken a vacation day, it was during the work week, and it was after school had started for the fall, so we nearly had the river to ourselves.  The sun was shining.  It was hot.  Our girls were in one canoe, and Nancy & I were in the other. 

Well, I'm not particularly a skilled canoeist.

About halfway though our journey, we hit a rapids and got sideways.  Where the rapids emptied into the calmer part of the river, it sort of spilled under the calmer water, so when we hit it sideways, the rushing water flipped our boat.  In turning it back over, it filled with water.  In trying to empty a full canoe, I lifted on the side...I lifted wrong.

And, something popped out of place in my lower back.

I couldn't move for almost a week.  The pain was tremendous.  I stopped riding.  I stopped doing much of anything.  Finally, nearly a week later, whatever was pinched popped back into place, but I was still sore for several more days.

That episode interrupted my riding habit and I don't do well when a habit is interrupted.  In essence, while I have ridden occasionally since, that ended my focus on the bike for the year.

But, that wasn't the end. 

A few weeks later, I decided to spend some time focused on my diet.  Specifically, I decided to avoid most starches for at least a solid month and see if it would make any difference.  I cut out breads, potatoes, rice, and cereals.  I replaced those items with more fruits, vegetables, and meat (with a focus on chicken and fish). 

Let me just say that cutting starches is a real wake up.  You just don't know how much of that is in your diet until you decide to exclude it.  Folks, I ate a lot of it!

That little (huge) change made a difference.  I lost another couple of pounds pretty quick and dropped down to 266 pounds.  That was a good start, but the real change came about three weeks ago.

My wife introduced me to a website/app tool that I began using on my smart phone and via my laptop.  It is called My Fitness Pal.  Here's the link:

Through this little tool, I was able to set up a daily allotment of calories, and I am able to track what I eat on a daily basis.  I can either enter calories/foods manually, or I can scan bar codes on food containers with my phone.  As long as I stay under the allotted calorie goal, I lose weight.  I combined my elimination of starches with the use of this website/app, and the results are wonderful.  I've already lost another ten pounds, and am now down to 256. 

That is the lowest in three years!

For over two years, I have been unable to get below about 263 pounds no matter what I did, but those days are behind me.  We're coming up on the holidays, and that will be a challenge, but I'm going to hang with it.  I do take a day off from tracking once in a while to give myself a break and I'll have some bread or rice once in a while, but I'm going to see just how far down this will take me.  I'd love to see 210 lbs again.  I think I can do it as long as I don't get burned out or give up.  (Encouraging words help.)

If you've been stuck, this might be a good way to go.  Cut the starch, increase fruits, vegetables, chicken and fish, and track your calories on My Fitness Pal.

It's worked for far.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Driving Force

The other day, a friend returned an old USB flash drive to me that had fallen out of my computer bag inside his car.  As I looked at it, I realized that I had no idea what was inside.  Eventually, my curiosity got a hold on me, and I opened it up.  Well, it was mostly a bunch of old work files that I'd archived out of an old computer.  But, among the haystack of Word documents and Excel files, I found the following.  It seems that back in 2006, I was contemplating writing a book on Christian motivation.  Now, after re-reading it, I have found myself re-intrigued with the idea.  So, what do you think?  Read the intro below and let me know.  Should I do it?  Should I write this book?  Do you want to see it?
Leave me a comment on the blog, or post your thoughts on the Facebook page, but let me know what you think.
The Driving Force

Why do you do what you do?  What gets your motor running?  What gets the juices flowing?  What is your motivation?  More specifically, what is your motivation as a follower of Christ?  I have seldom noticed this question given much more than cursory coverage, but I think it is an extremely important factor in the longevity of our walk with God.

To begin, let us define our terms.  I consulted the online dictionary of Merriam-Webster:  To motivate means to provide with a motive or to impel.  To impel means to urge or drive forward by the exertion of strong moral pressure.  In boiling it down, it creates the question of what is the moral pressure that impels us to live as a Christian.

I intend that final question to cover more ground than just orally claiming to be a Christian.  I mean to refer to the life of a Christian to be, as the Apostle John said, walking as Jesus did. 

“Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”[1] 

What motivates you and me to live out our lives walking as followers of Christ?

There can be multiple motivations for the things that we do.  Some are good, positive, and healthy.  Some, on the other hand, are bad, negative, and destructive.  Some, in my personal experience, can have the appearance of being good, but in the end are quietly destructive and sometimes spiritually debilitating.  We will explore together several motivators, and what I have come to call “de-motivators,” and examine them in light of how biblically sound they are, as well as their practicality.  Some of the motivators/demotivators that we will look at include: faith, hope, love, accountability, guilt, and grace.

As a means of introduction, I want to share two personal stories that I believe illustrate the opposite extremes of good motivation and bad demotivation.  Both of these stories involve my father, and have had a lasting impact on me.

My father was a Midwest boy, born in 1912 and raised near Lima, Ohio.  He traveled the west in his twenties, and fought in WWII in his thirties.  After the war, he settled down in Muncie, Indiana; got a job at the local Chevrolet plant; and married my mother.  A few years later, I came along.  By then my dad was 50 years old.  He was a blue collar, no nonsense factory worker that had a son when many men his age were having grandchildren.

One night, when I was somewhere around the age of two or three, I remember lying on my dad’s chest as he was putting me to sleep.  I remember that I loved to do that.  There was something safe about lying on his chest.  I was secure, and loved.  All was right with the world in that moment in my life.

As I laid there, he told me something that I have never forgotten.  It stuck with me all through my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  It has never left me even as I struggled to build a career, raise my own children, and work through my church relationships.  He said, “Mike, the most important thing you can ever do in your life is to love God.”

That’s it.  It was that simple.  It was not a long, drawn out sermon on the doctrine of salvation.  It was not a directive to obey the church leaders.  No exhortation to avoid sin.  It was just “love God.”  That simple message whispered into a toddler’s ear has kept me going when I wanted to quit.  It has prevented me from giving my life over to the temptations that are everywhere around us.  It has impelled me to get up and get going when I wanted to stop and throw in the towel.  Somehow it stuck in my heart, and I have made it the driving force in my life, and I hope to make it the driving force in the lives of my children.

The second story involves my father’s childhood.  When he was a boy of about twelve, he had begun to attend a local church.  It was a rural, farm community, and he was not in a position to have much that wasn’t considered a necessity.  He was one of nine children, whose father had recently disappeared.  He had a couple brothers and a sister that were older than him, and several siblings that were younger.  They were scraping by, but extras were rare.  However, he must have had a least one set of “Sunday” clothes, and he was enjoying church.

One Sunday, a neighbor boy who was worse off than he was, and a few years younger went to church with him.  However, this boy did not have anything to wear but his usual farm clothes.  After church, the minister and an elder of the church pulled my dad aside and told him, “Don’t bring that boy back until he has decent clothes to wear to church.”

My father, the same man who told me the most important thing I could ever do was to love God, never went back.  And, I don’t mean that he never went back to that particular church.  I mean that he never went back to any church, anywhere.  Even as I grew up and began to attend church, he would not go.  After I went to Bible College and spent some time as a ministry intern, he would not go.  Even up to the time he lived with me prior to his death, he still could not bring himself to go to church.

My father had been demotivated.  He still loved God, but the pain of someone’s ridiculous, unbiblical standard used as a legalistic tool to bring about an appearance that was “acceptable” destroyed his desire to worship with others.  Again, it wasn’t a long dissertation.  It wasn’t a fiery sermon on sin.  It was just a few simple words.  They probably were not even meant to be hurtful.  However, they had a lasting, negative motivational effect on an impressionable young mind.

I hope you will join me in the following chapters as we explore the various ways and means of Christian motivation.  Hopefully, together, we can come to understand the concepts that will truly motivate us for the long-term to be people that are “after God’s own heart.”[2]  Together, we can find the “driving force” that will move us along in an enduring relationship with the Father of us all.     

[1] 1 John 2:6
[2] 1 Samuel 13:14

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Voice in the Wind-A Book Review

Truth hidden inside a parable.  A story with a moral.  Hope in the pages of a novel.

Those are the concepts that flood my mind as I think about Francine Rivers’ A Voice in the Wind; the first novel in her Mark of the Lion series.

The series was recommended to me by my wife and daughters, and being the guy that I am…a guy who loves novels with gun battles, car chases, or monsters that threaten suburban communities…, I was a tad reluctant to pick it up.  Boy, am I glad I did.

The story of little Hadassah, a teenage Jewish Christian girl is captivating.  But, more than that, it is on the one hand inspiring, and on the other hand challenging.  It will both inspire and challenge your heart of faith.

Hadassah is captured in the fall of Jerusalem by the Roman army.  She is taken as a captive on a long journey to Rome where she becomes the personal slave to a rebellious and petulant Roman girl who is close to her own age, but is bent on the selfish pleasures found in first century Roman society.  The girl’s parents are kindly, but lost in the emptiness of idol worship or the pursuit of financial wealth.  The girl’s older brother is lost in his pursuit of personal pleasures.  Her “owners” know that she is Jewish, but are unaware that she is a Christian.  She keeps that fact a secret while she faithfully and lovingly serves both the girl and her family for several years because Christians were routinely sentenced to death in the Arena.  All the while, her devotion, humble service, and extraordinary affection for her captors begins to cause ripples in the waters of their lives, and ultimately her true faith begins to come to the surface. 

Over time, her quiet faith becomes both a balm and a thorn to various members of the family, and the story culminates with a climax that is both devastating and at the same time incredibly inspiring.  Tears of both joy and sorrow will flow as you read the last several pages.  You will feel so many conflicting emotions, and it will make you reconsider what you really believe, and just how deep your own convictions go.

While some may view this book as a Christian romance story and there is some romance to be found, it is much more and much beyond that simple categorization.  This book will challenge you to your core.  It will make you reexamine your faith at a level you didn’t realize needed to be reexamined.  It will inspire you to new highs of love, service, and selfless devotion.

I recommend this book to every Christian, every person who is thinking about becoming a Christian, every person who used to be a Christian, and any person who is remotely curious about what it really means to be a Christian.  This book depicts Christianity as we rarely see it in 21st century America, and the core of our faith is found in the parable it contains.

Well done Francine.

Now, on to Book Two.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thorns and the Grace of God

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  –Paul  2 Corinthians 12:7b-9

I’ve been contemplating writing this post for some time, but it just never seemed to be the right moment.  I’m still not sure that this is the moment.  But, I’m going to give it a go and see what happens.

The verse above is one of those highly intriguing passages in scripture.  What was the thorn?  That is what we all want to know, right?  It’s been debated for centuries.  In Bible College, it was strongly suggested to me that the thorn was a physical issue; particularly Paul’s poor eyesight.  I read and article recently that suggested that the thorn was the “Judaizers” who were afflicting Paul by influencing the Gentile believers to embrace the Jewish Law in the face of the freedom of God’s Grace. Personally, I tend to think that he had some personal battle with a sin that he couldn’t quite conquer.  (See Romans 7:14-25) 

Maybe it was a real thorn.  Maybe in some of his travels he walked through a thorny shrub and got a big one stuck in his flesh and couldn't get it out.  Maybe.

In this life, we will never know.  And, that’s okay because what it was doesn’t matter nearly as much as what the Lord told him about dealing with it: 
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My grace is sufficient for you.

Whatever the thorn was, it wasn’t going away anytime soon, and the Lord wasn’t going to take it away.  Paul was going to have to rely on the grace of the Lord.  Grace was just going to need to be enough.

The question I’m asking myself…and you by extension…is this:  Is God’s grace sufficient for me?

Is grace enough?

You see, I…like so many others…live in a vicious cycle.  I do pretty well with a spiritual life for a while, and then I fall short in some way.  Falling short leads to guilt.  Guilt leads to beating myself up mentally.  Eventually, I feel a little better…get a little spiritual streak going again…and then the cycle starts over.

Will I ever change?  Will I ever beat these issues?  Did I really do that again?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  What is wrong with me?

Guilt.  Shame.  Embarrassment.  Discouragement.  Depression.

My grace is sufficient for you.

So, then, I remind myself that God loves me.  I remind myself that Jesus died for me and my sin…which, by the way, makes me feel even more guilty…, and I remind myself that nothing that I can do will make God love me any less.  After all, he orchestrated all of history to bring about my redemption.

Still, the words of David from Psalm 51 bounce around in my mind:  “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”

Somehow or another, even after reviewing all of the pertinent facts of the Gospel, I just don’t seem to be able to accept that the Lord’s grace is enough.  Somehow, grace isn’t good enough.

I want the Lord to just take this mess away.  I want Him to fix my errant ways and make me a good person.  Paul pleaded three times.  I’ve pleaded many more than that.

My grace is sufficient for you.

Ah, but there’s the second half of that sentence.  Jesus said a little more:  “…for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul’s thorn was manifested in order to keep him from becoming conceited.  He hated it.  It was a burden; a discouragement.  He wanted it gone.  He pleaded.  It stayed.  Why?

…for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Apparently, if the Lord had removed this “thorn” from Paul, he would have grown exceedingly proud, and in doing so, he would have limited the power of Christ in his life.  As a result, Paul needed to embrace his weaknesses.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.     

Sometimes, I wonder if God allows certain struggles we have with sin to remain a burden on us so that we remain useful to Him.  Does that sound like a paradox?  An oxymoron?  It does to me. 

But, hear me out.

If I, with the Lord’s assistance, were to snuff out the struggles and the sins in my life completely, the result would be a wonderfully righteous and pious life for me.  Fantastic!  I would begin to feel so good about myself.  No guilt.  No shame.  No discouragement.  Boy, that sounds just wonderful.  After a time, I’d start to feel so good about how I’M doing.  I’M such a great example to the world.  They should just follow MY example.

Pride.  Conceit.  Judgmental Attitude. 

I become unapproachable…unrelateable…Unuseful.

…for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Now, let me say what I’m NOT saying.  I’m not saying that we should just go out and sin with abandon…have a fantastic time driving the nails into His hands and His feet.  Nope.  I’m not saying we just give in to the temptations that come our way.  I'm not saying any of those things.

What I am saying is that we should just stop beating ourselves up.  We should stop feeling like God has abandoned us.  We should stop feeling like we are worthless…or maybe less than worthless.

…for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Maybe we should embrace our weaknesses as a tool to demonstrate the grace of God to a lost world.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal live.  –Paul  I Timothy 1:15-16 

Paul said that the above statement is a trustworthy SAYING that we should all accept.

When we fall short, it gives God an opportunity to show His patience…His love…His grace.

My grace is sufficient for you.

If we accept that the Lord’s grace is enough, and we embrace our weaknesses as a tool in God’s toolbox, we can be the way He makes His power manifest before those who are lost. 
We can be the vessels of God’s grace to a hurting world.

I think Paul’s thorn was always a burden to him.  Our struggles will always be a burden to us.  That said, I feel confident in saying that God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, and once he ascended to be with the Lord, his thorn was removed.  The same awaits us.  We will always struggle in this life…in one way or another…but, once we cross that border into the New Jerusalem, our thorns will be removed as well.

And, then we can say with confidence that His grace was sufficient for us...and also for all those who have that eternal life with us because we were willing to let Christ display his power in our lives. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Achilles Heel

Four years ago this month, I was feeling good.  I was riding my bike for miles and miles in preparation for a 108-mile ride that I was planning for September.  I was playing softball in an intramural church league for the first time in many years.  I was gaining on my fitness goals; getting stronger and thinner and more fit by the day.

In September of 2009, I rode that 108-mile bike ride on the Cardinal Greenway near Muncie, Indiana by riding from Losantville to Gaston and back…twice…in one day.  I rode it alone.  My wife drove from point to point to provide me with food, water, and moral support, but I rode the whole distance by myself.  It was an all-day adventure.  No pun intended, but I was riding high.  I had never ridden that far in a single day before.

I was not yet at my ideal weight, but I was doing so very well.  My cholesterol was ideal.  My blood pressure was great.  I was losing weight.

A couple of weeks later, my world snapped.

I was playing in a softball game on the last day of our league.  My team was in the championship game, but I was filling in at second base for a team playing in a consolation game.  Someone hit a pop up just over first base, and as the second baseman, I had the best angle, so I took off to snag it.  I was nearly there when someone through another ball and hit me in my lower right leg and I fell.  At least, that’s what it felt like.  That’s what went through my mind.  For a brief moment, I really thought that someone had been messing with me and hit me with another ball in the middle of my play.

The pain was intense for a minute or so as I lie there on the ground holding my right leg.  Soon, though, it settled into a dull ache, but I could barely walk.  With help, I hobbled over to the sidelines and watched the rest of that game… and my team’s championship game… from the sidelines.

A few days later, I learned the prognosis.  I had torn my right Achilles Tendon.  It wasn’t torn completely through, but it was nearly 90%!  Now, if you’ve never had an Achilles injury, you may not realize the significance of this injury.  I certainly did not.  I used to hear about athletes who had torn one, and they were out of the game for their season.  In my mind, it was in the same category as a strained ankle or a fractured arm.  Frankly, after living through the whole ordeal, I would have rather broken my leg.

The reality is that if you tear your Achilles, you cannot use your foot.  This tendon connects the foot to the calf muscle.  Without it, you cannot put any pressure downward at all.  You cannot walk.  You cannot run.  You cannot push the gas pedal on your car.

First, I went to see my family doctor, and his Physician’s Assistant wasn’t sure of the extent of my injury.  He referred me to a foot specialist:  Dr. Wendy Winckelbach and the Southside Foot Clinic in Greenwood, Indiana.  Soon, I had an MRI, was on crutches, and had a surgery planned.  I was ordered to absolutely put zero weight on that foot!  None.  Period.  My injury occurred on Sunday…my surgery happened on Friday.

Surgery on Friday…then a week in a soft cast…then stitches out…then six weeks in a hard cast…then another four weeks in a walking boot…then several sessions of physical therapy.

I got my real shoe back in January, and I figured that with a few physical therapy sessions, I’d be back on the bike in the spring and playing softball in the summer.  I’d be back to normal in no time.

I’m afraid it didn’t quite happen that way.

I had lost all my strength in the injured leg.  My right calf that had been strong and quite toned from all of those miles on the bike was flat as pancake.  On top of that, my left Achilles had begun to get very sore from being overworked during the recovery of the right.

It might be useful for you to understand just what was happening with my tendons.  As it was explained to me, the Achilles Tendon is similar to a rubber band.  It is flexible, but as a person ages, it becomes more thin and brittle.  Often, when a man enters his late forties and early fifties, when he thinks he can still do everything he was doing in his twenties, but now only does on occasional weekends, that brittle and thin tendon breaks.  When it does, the tendon retracts up into the calf.  The doctor has to slice into the back of the leg, reach up into the calf to grab the tendon, then pull it down and reattach it to the remnant at the heel.  Obviously, this is a significant procedure.

So, while my right tendon was torn, my left was also getting brittle and thin.  When I was rehabilitating the right, I was also straining the already tender left tendon.  It became so painful that I became very afraid to push it too hard out of concern for tearing it too.  In fact, I did try to play some softball during my recovery, but in the second season following the initial injury, I “tweaked” the left one.  I took off for first base and something sort of popped in my left calf.  Of course, they overthrew second, so I had to advance to that base…then, they overthrew it again, and I had to run to third. 

That was the last softball game that I have ever played.

After that game, my left was so sore that I was totally sure that I was going to tear it and have to go through the whole surgery/recovery process again.  Plus, my right leg was still weak and recovering.  Between the weak right leg and the sore left one, I became nearly completely inactive.  I couldn’t run.  I didn’t get on my bike.  All I did was occasionally mow the yard, and the drought last summer made that mostly unnecessary.

All I did was get bigger…and weaker.  I ballooned up to where I was beginning to outgrow my XXL shirts.  Late last summer, I started having an ache in my chest.  It wasn’t much, just a dull ache.  It was nothing severe, but I would find myself rubbing at my upper right Pectoral Muscle.  Eventually, I became concerned and ended up in the emergency room with wires connect to various locations.

Ultimately, they never found anything really wrong with my heart.  My conclusion is my chest pain really was muscular from having pushed around my lawnmower after not having to for months during the drought.  However, my once great blood pressure had become elevated and my under control cholesterol was now too high also.  Suddenly, I went from just taking a daily vitamin to being prescribed a blood pressure pill and a cholesterol pill.  Plus, I was told to start taking a low-dose aspirin tablet everyday too.

I was on a collision course with a health disaster, and I was put on that course when I snapped that tendon in 2009.

My legs hurt, so I stopped doing things to make them hurt.  When I stopped doing things to make them hurt, I got even weaker than I was before.  The weaker I became, the more sedentary I became.  The more sedentary I became, the heavier I became.  The heavier I became, the less I wanted to do anything.  I hesitate to call it a cycle because I was just headed down hill and picking up steam.

I had to change course!

In December of 2012, I went back to see Dr. Winckelbach.  I asked her if there was anything that could be done to repair my left Achilles Tendon PRIOR to it actually tearing.  I had to get it fixed so that I could confidently become active again and get on a healthier course.  My repaired right Achilles was fine, and it gave me no issues, but the left was a royal pain!  I wanted to know if there was a preemptive procedure that could be done so I could get my life back.

She said: “Yes!”

So, last December I had another surgery.  Dr. Winckelback went into my leg through two small holes up by my calf and basically clipped the top of my Achilles Tendon where it attaches to the calf.  She did this so that it would relax, lengthen, and take the pressure off of it.  She then put a whole series of tiny holes through the tendon in order to convert the existing tenderness from a chronic injury to an acute injury.  I then had to wear my walking boot again for several weeks and go through some more physical therapy.

Coming out of that, when I took the boot off and tried to walk and recover, I have to admit that I was unsure if I’d done the right thing.  The left Achilles was hurting a great deal.  It was sore.  And, that leg was now weak too.  I still had not regained any semblance of strength in the right leg, and now my left was almost as weak.  It hurt to walk, forget running.  The spring of 2013 was similar to the previous few years.  I was still gaining weight.  I was still inactive and in pain.  Did I do the right thing?  Was it enough? 

Then, I got back on a bike.

With some money I earned in a bonus, I went out and purchased a new hybrid road bike.  I knew I couldn’t ride very far to start off, and I didn’t want to get all geared up with the special clothes and special bike shoes to ride my real road bike, so I got this cheap little Trek hybrid to see if I could put some activity back in my life, get some strength back in my legs, and maybe get back on the road to fitness.

Now, remember, before I tore the tendon to begin with, I had just ridden 108 miles in single day.

So, I brought the bike home, and then took it out for a one-mile intro ride just to get the feel of it.  Just to the end of my road and back.  Oh, man!  My legs literally felt like spaghetti!  One mile!  I remember thinking:  Oh, how the mighty have fallen!  I couldn’t believe how weak I really was.

That was mid-June.  It is now mid-August.  I have been riding for nearly two months, and I want to report that I’m feeling great!  I haven’t lost a bundle of weight yet, and my metabolism is being stubborn about speeding up.  However, my clothes are fitting much better, my legs are feeling great, and I’m gaining confidence by the day.  My longest ride was this last Thursday with over 23 miles on a greenway in Owensboro, Kentucky, and I’m averaging nearly 50 miles per week.  Overall, I have ridden about 400 miles since I got that new bike.  I reached down a few minutes ago and felt a new bit of definition in my once pancake-flat calves.  And, probably the best thing is that the more I ride, the less my Achilles Tendons hurt!  Now, my goal is to drop this weight and get off these stupid pills!

The point of this article is to share that if you have some physical injury that has held you back…particularly a torn Achilles Tendon…don’t give up!  Keep working your way out of the pain.  Do what I did and get on a bike, or maybe an elliptical machine, or swim…but don’t stop…don’t sit down and quit.  Don’t let that downward course get the best of you.

There is hope on the far side of your Achilles Heel. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-Random Memories of Muncie South

As I write this, I’m anticipating the 2013 Muncie Southside High School All-Years Reunion planned for this upcoming Saturday night, August 10th.  Since this is a multi-year gig, and since it’s been better than thirty years since I was a senior, I’m not altogether sure just how many folks I’ll know.  I’m sure it will be fun regardless, but I can just imagine myself sitting there in a room full of complete strangers and not remembering anyone.  I’m pretty sure it won’t happen that way, but….it could.

In light of the reunion, I thought I’d try to put together some random memories from each of my years, and see if they make any cohesive sense.  There probably won’t be a moral in this story…and maybe nothing useful, but I hope it’s as interesting for you to read as I’m sure it’s going to be for me to write.

Here goes:

1976/1977—My Freshman Year

I can’t remember my first day.  I was probably so nervous that I blocked it out.  I do remember an anxiety dream I had just before the beginning of school:  I walked into school and headed to class only to realize that I had forgotten to put on pants.  I spent the balance of the dream trying to find a way to get back home to get my trousers.

Here are some other random memories from that year…

A.      Teachers that I recall:  Mrs. Moses for Freshman Science, Miss Seibold for Freshman English.  I enjoyed the English class quite a bit.  I used to regularly write technically accurate sentences that were also completely off the wall.  Miss Seibold would often get so tickled with them that she’d use them as the examples on the board.  I also had Algebra, and I must have had some sort of Social Studies, but I don’t remember who the teachers were.  My home room teacher was Mr. Gorin.  He was a cool guy, but you could never tell if he was looking at you or not.  If you had him, you understand.  If not, well, I’m not going to elaborate.

B.      I had a shop class.  Architectural Drawing.  Why they let me in there I’ll never know.  Even the teacher was mystified.  I had not yet taken Geometry, so I had no clue regarding many of the methods needed to easily do my project.  The project, by the way, was to design and draw the layout of a house.  We had to draw the basic floor plan, but we also had to do electrical and plumbing drawings, and do a street view.  To make matters worse, I couldn’t be just like everyone else and draw a simple rectangular ranch home.  Nope.  I had to draw a diamond-shaped house.  There was not one square room in the entire design…very few square corners.  That was pretty ambitious for a kid with no geometry knowledge.  If you’re wondering, I did pass.  Got an A.  Probably a sympathy grade.

C.      I think I also took another shop class that year.  Electricity.  I built a cool little photo-sensitive switch from a kit I got at Radio Shack, and the teacher taught me how to build the circuit board.  On a painful note, I also learned the hard way that if you grab the soldering iron by the wrong end, the pain will be beyond intense!  It was a true iron…a hot rod on one end and a handle on the other.  I was soldering a wire splice.  I had twisted the wires together and then reached over to grab the tool without looking.  I got the wrong end and let out a scream!  Ouch!  It hurts even to think about it.

D.      I had grown four or five inches over the summer before my freshman year.  One of my friends saw me on the first day and was amazed, but I hadn’t noticed any change.  I went from being a pudgy 8th grader to being a tall, slender 9th grader.  Really…I had not noticed.  I still felt pudgy.

E.       I was ahead of my time.  I had so many books and notebooks to tote back and forth to school and home that it made my one-mile walk pretty tough.  So, I had a bright idea.  I had an orange backpack, and I thought it would be awesome to load it up and carry my books to school on my back.  Of course, no one was doing that in the mid-1970s, so I was harassed mercilessly.  “Nice purse, Mike!  Hahahaha!”  The backpack went back in my closet beneath my Farrah Fawcett t-shirt.  Now, here we are years later and all of the kids carry one.  Call me a visionary. 

F.       The last few weeks were all about the squirt gun.  I wrote about that in a different story: The Year of the Squirt Gun

1977/1978—Sophomore Year

Ahhhh.  Sophomore year.  I no longer had to worry about suffering a freshman initiation by being stuffed in a locker or having my head flushed in a toilet by a senior!  None of those things ever actually happened to me as a freshman, but I had been constantly wary…especially when using the rest room.

A.      This was the year of the song that just would not go away!  “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone.  Oh, how I hated that song!  It still sets me on edge all these many years later!

B.      I finally took Geometry.  I had two different teachers.  I don’t recall the name of the first teacher for the first half of the year, but I earned B’s in her class.  In the second half, I got switched to Mrs. Denton…and my grades crashed!  I had NEVER earned less than a C in any class I had ever taken,…EVER!… and I barely got a D in the third nine-weeks…my first grading period with her.  In the final nine-weeks, I really buckled down, worked harder than I had ever done for any other class, and barely scraped up a C.  I’m afraid that I did not leave her class with warm feelings toward her. 

C.      I had Driver’s Ed with Mr. Jay.  He was a tough teacher, but I got along okay in his class.  He liked to take you driving and give you trick instructions.  For example, we might be driving through Indian Village (A residential neighborhood near the school) and he would tell one of us to pull over and parallel park in some random spot.  Of course, being really nervous to begin with, we’d miss the fact that the “spot” was either in front of a driveway or a fire hydrant.  His response was not pleasant.


I remember two Driver’s Ed class projects:  1)  Planning an over-the-road trip.  You had to calculate the EXACT mileage from Muncie to wherever you decided to go by counting up the tiny little numbers between markings on a road atlas.  (Google Maps makes things so much easier these days!)  We also had to calculate fuel costs and trip times.  I planned my trip to Birmingham, Alabama.  I don’t know why…I just did.  2)  I had to draw a complete and detailed map of the entire downtown area of Muncie.  I remember spending hours crisscrossing the various streets and scribbling down the various lanes and other details.  Let’s just say I was probably a bit obsessive about getting it right because I was determined to get a “Waiver.”  A waiver meant that you didn’t have to take the driver’s test at the license branch.  I wanted to avoid the branch test at all costs because my dad’s 1968 Chevy Nova had a manual transmission, and the school had trained us on automatics.  Ultimately, I got the waiver, but not before promising Mr. Jay that I would practice like crazy before I got my real license.

D.      At the beginning of the year, I still had a HUGE crush on Tena.  I lived for the passing glimpses I got of her in the halls between classes.  I remember that if I happened to be lucky enough to see her, I’d get a giant smile that I couldn’t control…so much so that my face would honestly ache afterwards.  By the end of the year, the crush was gone: The Summer of 1978

1978/1979—Junior Year

This year, for me, was all about basketball and a girl!  South’s huge rivalry with Muncie Central was at a fever pitch, and we had a good team.  On top of that, my class year’s normally lackluster enthusiasm morphed into a really hot spirit of true school pride!  Further, I had started dating in the summer before, so this was my best year in high school.  Toni and I were a steady thing in my Junior year.  She was a Delta Eagle, but that didn’t matter because the one thing that is more important to a teen boy than school pride is the affection of a girl.

A.      I had a Zoology class with Mr. Phillips.  We dissected a shark and a fetal pig.  The shark was cool, and it was very interesting when I pulled a smaller fish out of its belly.  However, the craziest thing that happened was when one of the boys decided it would be funny to cut off a chunk of fetal pig and toss it out from our classroom window and into the open window of an English class.  It did not end well….but, I have to admit it was funny.

B.      Even though I had grown substantially and was a little taller than many of my classmates, I was still prone to being occasionally bullied, and there was some of that in my gym class that year.  I had taken a class on basketball, a sport that I loved to watch, but at which I had few personal skills, and my ineptness led to a good deal of ridicule.  The teacher didn’t actually teach us anything about basketball.  He just let us play for about an hour while he did whatever he did.  Anyway, somehow I had become friendly with a couple of the varsity basketball stars that year, Clint Conklin and John Benford.  Really John more than Clint, but Clint was in the basketball class with me, and I remember him stepping in when some bullies were up to no good one day in the locker room.  It wasn’t anything too serious, but he stopped them anyway, and I’ve always appreciated it.

C.      We used to have school pep rallies before big games where the whole school would gather in the gym to get all fired up.  We sat in different sections by class year.  There was one particular rally that stands out in my mind from that year.  Everything seemed quite normal.  There were cheers from the cheerleaders…the band was playing…the players were firing us all up…then…  Well, then someone in our junior class area broke open some sort of STINK capsule.  Oh, man!  The smell would make you wretch and gag!  Putrid!  As an entire class we suddenly rushed down from the bleachers to the gym floor, which obviously freaked out the teachers.  Since they were surprised and confused, they thought we were pulling some sort of prank and ordered us all back to our spots.  Obviously, we didn’t want to obey, but in the end, we had no choice.  Holding our collective noses, we returned to our section with many groans and complaints.

D.      Muncie South had a very competitive basketball team that year.  I remember going to so many games either at our gym, the Muncie Fieldhouse, or even traveling to away games.  Clint Conklin, John Benford, Smoky Vance, Eddie Childress, and some others.  We had hopes of knocking off the usual favorite Bearcats in the Sectional, and I think we had a shot at it too.  But, unfortunately, Smoky Vance got booted from the team right before the tournament started.  I never knew the real details, but the story I was told was that It was frigid cold outside and he refused to get off of a Muncie Career Center bus to go work on a jobsite.  Part of his punishment was to be expelled from the basketball team.  It was just wrong!  Some might say that knocking off Central that year was a pipe dream since they went on to win the State Championship, but I still think we had a shot.

79/80—Senior Year

All high school kids live for their senior year.  Even the nerdiest senior commands the respect of the incoming freshmen.  One more year!  One more year of forced servitude to the whims of various instructors.  All kinds of special senior events…some sanctioned…some not so much.  I was too much of a nerd and too straight-laced to participate in the non-sanctioned stuff.  I could say that I regret that, but the truth is that I’m so far removed that I really don’t care much either way.

A.       I had Botany class with Mr. Shannon.  I learned about photosynthesis and marijuana propagation.  Mr. Shannon taught the photosynthesis part, and some of the other boys in class taught the weed-growing part.  Botany was right after lunch, and a few of the guys would go out to their cars and get a little high during the break.  You could tell when they did by their red eyes and the stink on their clothes.  Just for fun, they took some seeds and planted them in the planter boxes in the Botany greenhouse.  Before you could say “DEA,” there were little pot plants springing up.  I don’t know if Mr. Shannon recognized what they were or not, but if he did, he never said a word.

B.      One of my guys in my class year got busted breaking into cars in the parking lot.  Several of us were watching him through the second-story windows before one of our classes started.  One the girls said to him through the glass and across the distance that was too great for him to hear:  “You’re busted!”  The next day, we watched the police come cart him away.  He was a good kid who got on the wrong track and made some bad choices.

C.      I had signed up to take Chemistry, and herein exists one high school choice that I do regret to this day.  I signed up for it, but I didn’t really need it to graduate.  I had enough credits, and I didn’t need another HARD science class.  So, I attended one day, and then dropped it.  Instead, I spent that hour as a student assistant to Mr. Phillips in his Freshman science class.  That difficult job consisted of distributing and retrieving papers from the kids in the class, and losing at least one game of chess to Mr. Phillips per day.  Basically, I wasted that hour.  In retrospect, I wish I’d taken the Chemistry class.

Finally, the end of my Senior year arrived in May of 1980.  I had skipped my prom because I didn’t have a date (I had broken up with Toni, and she had graduated the year before and gone away to school in Tennessee.), and I was working a lot of hours at K-Mart anyway.  But, proudly, I was excited for graduation.  I was the first in my whole family to graduate from high school.  It was a huge deal!  Looking back, that momentous night at Emens Auditorium seems sort of anti-climactic.  I had my red cap and gown.  I walked down those aisles with my classmates.  I listened to those speeches.  And, all the while I never considered that I’d never see many of those kids again.  I’d spent thirteen years with some of them.  I just walked across that stage, took my diploma, and wandered off into life without looking back.  Some of them I didn’t care to ever see again…I’m sure we all have some kids we’d just as soon not remember,… but there were also a lot of those classmates that I genuinely liked, and I was just oblivious to the fact that without school to force us together, we might rarely, if ever, cross paths again.  I suppose you just don’t think about those kinds of things when you're eighteen years old.

I don’t know who I’ll see on Saturday night.  Familiar faces to which I cannot put a name?  People who remember me, but I cannot remember them?  Lots of folks that don’t even ring a tiny little bell?  And just maybe a bunch of those kids that I genuinely liked and left behind oh so many years ago.

I hope so.