Friday, December 29, 2006

Moving Day

Tentpegs is now found at Please re-set your bookmarks. See you there!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Post Christmas Blues?

[Note: sometime in the next week or two, this blog and will be moving to, a new site run by theobloggers]

So, the papers are in the trash, half the gifts are broken or being returned, and the leftovers are piling up in the fridge. Welcome to "Christmas: the day after." In the UK (that's 'United Kingdom, not 'University of Kentucky'), this is Boxing Day. It gets that name because.... well, I'm not sure, but it's still a holiday and that counts, bucko.

A lot of people feel letdown about now. The perfect holiday they wanted didn't come to pass, or they had a good day but now the real world is pressing in on them, demanding their presence at the office, reminding them that the tree and lights will need to come down soon, and that summer is a long, long time away.

When I was a boy my father felt that Christmas was an evil pagan, Catholic plot. Even to this day he preaches against it. I tried to talk to him a few times about it, but that didn't go well. If people sent us Christmas cards, they were thrown in the trash or returned to sender. If someone from the church or my school gave me a present, it had to be given back with a sermonette on why Christmas was evil. I adored the lights, trees, tinsel, and songs but felt like I was making God sad by doing so. I can remember sneaking a few minutes of TV, watching "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" or bits of the Andy Williams family Christmas special. I wanted to live in those stories. I wanted to be adopted by the Williams.

For those of you who spent Christmas alone, for those who are sad and depressed today, and for those who mourn how poorly your family gets along with each other, let me say "let not your heart be troubled." Take some steps to get out of the funk you find yourself in. Turn the lights on -- Christmas lights, sure, but especially the house lights (remember the posts on Seasonal Affective Disorder of a couple of months ago?). Eat well, take a multi-vitamin, and find time for a few minutes of walking and a few minutes of fun every day -- even, especially, silly fun. Moderate your intake of junk food and junk media. Go ahead and enjoy silly TV and songs, but lay off the dark, downer stuff. And remember -- media isn't real.

Not even Andy Williams' Family Special. When I was between six to ten I had a terrible crush on Andy's wife Claudine Longet. She was a French beauty and, to my preadolescent eyes, what a woman should be. But she was unhappy. How could she be unhappy??? She had Christmas and she got to cavort around a series of fun sets with fake snow, Christmas songs, and smiling kids! Her acting career was doing okay ("Hogan's Heroes", "Twelve O'Clock High") and her LPs were selling, if slowly, but it seemed that she just didn't like the Williams family as much as I did. She left. The next thing the world heard from her was when she accidentally shot and killed her lover. This was quite a shock -- how could this perfect family have problems?

Enter the Book of Ecclesiastes. All things are universal -- including joy, despair, loneliness and laughter. When we experience these things we must not assume that we are alone, that we are singled out by God for punishment, or that God has chosen to ignore us.

No, we are merely on another part of our long journey. Allow the tentpegs to pop up and move along, move to the next season, the next holiday, the next project. Know that the good and bad we go through is common to everyone, even the highly coiffed and made up celebrities we secretly wish we were. Sometimes I smile when I hear someone breathlessly going on about the latest celebrity marriage, divorce, or outburst. I don't think any Hollywood star would like my life, but when I compare it to theirs... no trade. I'm keeping this one.

Remembering that helps get you through these post-Christmas days. Maybe, just maybe, your life isn't that hard after all.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lessons Learned from Travel

I get to stay home for the next two weeks -- all the way through Christmas and New Years. I couldn't be happier. Travel kicks in January 2nd when I leave for Colorado Springs and the National Youth Minister Conference (or whatever it's called). I'll speak for one day and then fly back the next. Looking at my schedule for 2007 reminds me of lessons learned in travel.

A Dave Barry quote: "I would say that the single most important conclusion I reached, after traveling through Japan, as well as countless hours reading, studying and analyzing this fascinating culture, is that you should always tighten the cap on the shampoo bottle before you put it in your suitcase."

I'll share some of my lessons from the road and then wait for yours. I just returned from Indianapolis. It's the only sane thing to do if you find yourself there.

I think it was Mark Twain who first stated "A small town is usually divided by a railroad, a main street, two churches and a lot of opinions."

I thought about living in Florida. The problem is that the average age is, well, dead. I was in my hotel listening to the sound of the waves hissing on and off the beach... until I realized that was just the sound of the Depends rustling under the Sans-A-Belts of passing walkers. Besides, in Miami, drivers will actually try to pass you on the inside of a carwash. But they're seniors so they have their self-entitlement meters pegged on "Self referential" so there's no talking to them. Besides, are they beaches or are they ashtrays in their wild state? I've thought about going down to the beach and burying metal objects that have "get a life" printed on them. Just another service I provide...

I like cruises. Yes, you have to be careful about the boat. They have the Fantasy and the Ecstasy. Those are good. I'd avoid the Hysterectomy.

There's a lot of nice things about Oklahoma City. I just don't, for the life of me, know what they are.

Why do people in Seattle insist they really don't get that much rain? The rest of the nation knows it as "America's Bladder."

There's a small town in Alabama that has a fashion show. Well, really, they just open up the Penney's catalog and point. Sometimes the road less traveled got that way for a reason.

When the guy at the custom's shack ask you if you have any weapons, the WRONG answer is "Whaddya need?" I assure you -- and I don't want to discuss this in detail -- that, after the third or fourth time, body cavity searches lose their charm. We still write, though, so that's something positive.

Can you believe it? The Vatican doesn't have a Hard Rock Cafe. Talk about missing a great chance to enhance the revenue stream...

There's nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in ocean level wouldn't cure.

Don't want to get searched at the airport? Dress like an iman and mutter under your breath, casting angry looks at people. In our PC world you'll get waved right through. (and a shout out here to United, the one airline that actually -- are you sitting down? -- cared about passenger safety over political correctness. You guys rock)

And France? Don't get me started. Charles de Gaulle once said "How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?" thereby showing the determination, sense of purpose, and backbone that has forever been the hallmark of the French.

Chicago? Richard Jeni says "Chicago was started by a bunch of New Yorkers who said, "Gee, I'm enjoying the crime and the poverty, but it just isn't cold enough."

The only pleasure trip I took last year was when I took my mother in law to the airport.

So... what have you learned by traveling?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Black Balloons

There is a black balloon in my office. It says "Oh No, the Big 5-0." I walked into my staff meeting yesterday only to find black balloons, the afore mentioned one with "50" on it, and a cake with a tombstone that played "Happy Birthday" in a dirge like tone.


Some of the staff took me out to a pub for lunch (yes, church people do that). I had the traditional Irish lunch drink, Diet Coke, along with potato and leek soup and chips (that's "fries" to you Colonials). They were interested to know how I feel about turning 50... even though that's not until the 16th.

Well, let's see. Fifty is when you know that you are no longer considered a sexual being or a sexual threat. You are a safe person to be around. When a pretty girl smiles at you, you assume that something is unzipped or that you remind her of a kindly uncle who is now in a nursing home in a distant land. I'm really not that old. I was just born before a lot of people. In the race to get to the planet, I beat out most of them.

Yes, I've seen changes. When I was a kid the wonder drug was alcohol. (in that neighborhood, it still is) My Social Security number only has six digits. And it's in Roman numerals. I can remember, when I was young, wanting to change the world. Now I only want to change the young. I find myself using words like "spacious, roomy, and comfortable" when buying underwear. I can remember when the Dead Sea was only sick.

Besides, it's all relative. If every year had twenty months instead of 12, I'd only be 30 this weekend. I wish they hadn't discontinued my blood type, but what are you going to do? For a while I learned something new every day. Now I unlearn something every day. I call that "a balanced life."

And who wants to live to be a hundred anyway? The only way to get there is to give up everything that made you want to live that long in the first place! And while it's true that the hands on my biological clock are giving me the finger, I'm okay with that. I'm not bitter. I figure it's not what happens to you that counts, it's how you choose to deal with it. I find Prozac, Vicodin, or a killing spree works best.

There are advantages. I'm old enough now to personally identify every object in an antique store. Sure, there are disadvantages. I pulled my left shoulder out putting peanut butter on a bagel (hey, it was chunky!). I pulled out my right shoulder putting Ben-Gay on my left shoulder. At least I'm not as old as the teller at my bank. She's 812 years old. If I counted the rings right.

I'll be here without my wife on my birthday. She flew to Texas for a cousin's wedding. Don't feel bad -- birthdays don't mean that much.. and it could be worse. I remember when my parents surprised me with a car on my sixteenth birthday. They missed me, but it was still quite a surprise. Besides, some of my surprise parties have really been interventions, so...

Fact is, birthdays used to be a big deal. That was when you would get a present -- something you wanted but could never, ever get the money or time or chance to get on your own. Now I can buy what I want (as long as I don't want much). Birthdays were also mile markers; each one opening up a door to another possibility, another step up the ol' maturity ladder. Now, birthdays mark the end of things and warn of coming slow downs and closed doors. I have four months left with my son before he ships out. My daughter is married to a good man. Christmas changes, then. So do birthdays. Sometimes the family will be together but...

Sad? Nope. Melancholy? Nope. I'm ready for this. I've been a traveling man all my life. Raised by missionaries, moving from one new frontier to another, and finally having to leave Scotland behind as I returned with my wife to America. I know I can't live in Scotland again (there isn't a good reason to, plus it is very expensive, far from any grandchildren that might be born, and the politics annoy me) but I miss it terribly. I know every day that I am on a road from this place to another place. This mile marker doesn't bother me. It just means I'm closer home. One day I'll be in a place where my Christian friends and I will all be together and where the days aren't marked by black balloons. If this Saturday means I'm one day closer to that... bring it on!

Friday, December 08, 2006

God of the Details

Jesus told us that God loves us more than sparrows; that He knows even the number of hairs on our head. That is amazing... and a little unbelievable if you don't know science. Here's a "for instance."

If mites infect the next of a house finch the hen protects her sons by laying eggs containing males later than those containing females. When there are no mites the eggs are laid in a more random fashion with equal chances of male or female eggs being laid first. Why do things change when mites show up?

Males are more sensitive to the mites than females. Mothers minimize their son's exposure to mites by laying male eggs later than female eggs. As a result, the males are in the nest fewer days. How does she know to do this? She doesn't. She didn't decide to do it that way, nor could she have evolved this in a step by step basis over thousands of years. For one -- we would not have finches since the mites would have killed off the males within a handful of generations. Second, the process that changes the order of eggs laid is a very complex one.

Exposure to mites (any bite or irritation) causes a hormonal change in a breeding finch's body. The change is multi-stage and very, very complex. It accomplishes several things. One -- it effects the egg laying order. Two -- and this is very cool -- it accelerates the in-egg development of the males so that they are much farther along by the time they hatch and, therefore, ready to leave the next much sooner.

This is the first documentation of "maternal ovulation of both ovulation and growth" in the animal kingdom but scientists are certain they will begin finding more now that they know what to look for. They are already spotting changes in finches reacting to local conditions, seasonal changes, predator risk, food abundance and, yes, parasitism.

[details are available at the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 18, 2006 edition. The study was done by the University of Arizona and a good, short article on this is available in the popular magazine "Bird Talk" which you can get in most bookstores, January 2007 issue]

A God who thinks of the safety and comfort of finches and who, according to Jesus, will not even allow a bird to die alone, will certainly be with you today. He will care about you. He knows you and loves you anyway! You can take ANYTHING to this God in prayer -- even the little things, for He has proven that He is all about those little things, too. A young lady told me last week that she "sucks at prayer." I wondered who (physical or spiritual) told her that. All you have to do is show up. Talking is good but, as we saw with Job's friends, it certainly isn't everything. Just come into His presence... for He has already come into yours. He cares, even about the small stuff.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Professor Jack

JoAn Dillinger is doing well. After an eleven hour + surgery yesterday she was sitting up and talking today. Talking about what? Talking to her surgeons about their need for Jesus and the power of prayer! Amazing.

I spent part of today on the phone with a dear man whose young daughter is dying of lung cancer. They think radon caused it for she has never smoked... but no one knows for sure. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Professor Jack was one of the most fascinating and wonderful men I have ever known. He touched us and loved us and we learned from him. And then his addictions took him away -- forever away from us. Please read and to hear more of the story of this remarkable man. We want to go down to Cass Park and pass out thousands of cookies in his name. Read their posts and you'll know why. Keep Kara and Stephanie and Josh in prayer. This has hit our giving, serving community hard.

On a happier note, I am on the way home Thursday. They are predicting snow showers the whole way -- 330 miles. I plan to stop on the way at a large guitar shop. Unfortunately, that means I will lust, covet and envy and, therefore, have to repent on Sunday. Good thing I'm already standing up front, huh?

Keeping death in the back of my mind makes me hug my wife and kids a little tighter, have more patience with Scooby the wonder parrot, and not fret so much about lost guitars and broken appointments. God gave us lots of gravel but we don't value it. He gave us few diamonds and little gold so we treasure it. We only treasure that which is limited. Life is limited. Treasure it. Every moment.

I'll hit the road. God bless and cheerio.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Death in the Back of Your Mind

I've been blogging about JoAn Dillinger at but wanted to move the discussion over here since this is a family and mental health blog. JoAn's surgery began with anesthesia around 5:30AM and ended with suturing at 7:15PM. At 2PM the doctors came out and told the family that there was more cancer in JoAn than they had thought. It looked bad. They admitted that they would normally just sew a person up in her condition but they were taking into account her relatively young age, good health, and the fact that so many were praying for her... and decided to continue the surgery. After the surgery, the doctors told the family that they were amazed that they were able to get all the cancer. Aggressive chemo will need to be done and they warn that JoAn will probably only have two or three years with us... but they aren't certain on that last point. As one of the doctors said (and I heard this third hand so this isn't a quote) "I'm not sure I believed in prayer until today. Now, I think I do."

Before her surgery JoAn wrote the doctor a letter informing him that hundreds of people were praying for him and for her. She then made a point of telling him that personally. It seemed to have made a real impression on him.

I wrote recently about Tim and Nancy Milligan; especially concerning Tim's faithfulness and love for Nancy. She was taken to hospital on Sunday and told she has a new brain tumor and the family is having a hard time with that news, but they remain optimistic that God will intervene once again and give her more time with her family.

As I approach my 50th birthday this month I wrote a new will, made a new Living Will, and Power of Attorney. Morbid? I don't think so. I believe those things need to be done a long time before you think you might need them. You never know. I believe that it is good to keep death in the back of your mind. It makes the days we have that much more special. We understand that holding hands with your wife is special because there will be a last time. Even traffic jams would take on a new glow if we knew that we would never drive that way again. Every day is a celebration when we keep in mind that life is not forever.

Kami and I have talked about life and death issues since we were married 28 years ago. She knows that if I were to come down with certain cancers or diseases I would refuse treatment. I have seen too many people fight for miserable, pain filled years and then die. There are many cancers that I would fight because the chances of a good life are there, but that isn't always the case when other cancers strike.

So here is the question: knowing that we are headed toward heaven and that all of us must make that journey, how hard should we fight mortal illnesses? That is an intensely private and individual decision, to be sure. It can be affected by the desire to see grandchildren, or to see a child married, or a hundred other things.

But would you fight if the illness had a zero or near zero long-term healing rate? Why or why not? Keep your answers brief and do NOT criticize or critique the answers of others.

As for me: I have been traveling all my life. I am looking forward to being home in heaven. That is a highly attractive thought -- so much so that I have made my pledge that, should certain specific situations arise -- I would not go through miserable treatments for a few more months of life. Yet... if the same disease occured to my children when they were young or to my yet-to-be-born grandchildren I know my mind would change and I would make a different decision.

We all make the journey. How hard would you fight to delay it?