Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saying goodbye to one set of twins, and hello to another

"It's been ten whole years already? Wow! Hard to believe."

Many a father will say something like that while shaking his head in disbelief, when his oldest approaches the 10th birthday. It's a milestone, not just for the kid, but for the parents. It's a head-shaker because I am reminded that on that day, 10 years ago, my life changed forever. In some ways, it has passed very quickly.  In other ways, it seems like it's been every bit of ten years.

There are two distinct things, though, about the ten-year anniversary of my dadhood. The first is that I became a father of not one, but two little bundles of joy that Tuesday morning. Abby was born at 8:48, followed by her brother Jacob at 8:50.

The second is that their birth marked some rare joy in the midst of the darkest day in our nation's history.  As my wife was in labor, a nurse came in and told us that an airplane had crashed into a skyscraper in New York. I turned on the labor room TV in order to find out details. But a minute later, a painful contraction led to a gentle but firm request that I switch off the TV and hold her hand. (I'm not sure how my hand-holding could make contractions better, but I had seen enough sitcoms to know that when your wife is in labor, you should be as accommodating as you can.)

So off went the TV, and the plane incident was completely gone from my mind as we went into the operating room. I scrubbed my hands, paying attention to instructions from the nurse to get the dirt that was under my fingernails. I watched as the anesthesiologist stuck a needle in Beth's back. A few minutes later, I held her hand while chatting with the the same anesthesiologist as the surgeon and nurses prepared for the Caesarian.

Before long, the nurse tapped me on the shoulder to alert me to a beautiful sight. I think my heart stopped momentarily as I saw my crying little girl, Abby. Her cry was so sad, and I melted. Her brother came out crying, too, but his cry was an angry one, and I chuckled.  I was told they checked out just fine, and everything was right with the world. As far as I knew.


Once back in the hospital room, I started calling relatives, hoping they'd all be thrilled at the news I had for them. But the first one I spoke to, my brother-in-law, told me that our nation was under attack, and one of the World Trade Center buildings had fallen to the ground as the other one burned.

Wait, he said. Hold that thought. Silence.

As we were on the phone, the other tower fell. "There is no more World Trade Center", he said.

This is embarrassing to admit, but as I hung up the phone, I was ticked at the timing. How dare someone steal my special day!  I was now a dad, and everyone's mind was on something else! In hindsight, my selfishness that day was appalling, and I hate to admit it now, even in writing.

It took some time, but I have come to embrace Abby and Jacob's special birthday. One thing that saddens me is that that attack is referred to by its date. People don't refer to, for example, Pearl Harbor as the "December 7 Attacks." I have a sister who was born April 19, but nobody hears that and immediately thinks of the Oklahoma City bombing.  But for some reason, this one is named after the date in which it occurred. If you say 9/11, everyone thinks of a terrible event, not just a date. And every year as their birthday approaches, the TV news speaks of the tragedy and the lives lost. I'm guessing that will increase dramatically for the 10th anniversary.

But it doesn't end there. The pregnancy itself was bookended by tragedies. Back in January, when the OB/GYN determined the beginning date of the pregnancy (necessary to predict the due date 40 weeks later), she marked it as December 22, 2000. That happens to be the day my father took his own life. I had never known him very well, but I had hopes that grandkids might remove some of the bricks in the wall between he and I.  That chance was gone forever when he shot himself.

It was rough in other ways.  I was unemployed when they were born, having been laid off the week before. The added responsibility of two new lives who I couldn't even provide for was an enormous weight.

It should be noted that the 5 weeks of unemployment turned out to be a huge blessing, as Beth needed me around the clock as we tried to figure out how to take care of two new babies. And I got a better job just about the time she felt she could handle them for 8 hours by herself. But the day I got laid off, I didn't see it as the gift from God that it was. I was selfishly unhappy with God; yet another embarrassing thing to admit.

So how do we process this? I'd like to think that God has a purpose for even the details, so perhaps their birthdate is no coincidence. But as the Double Rainbow Guy would say, what does it mean?

Is there something to the fact that they are twins, and the WTC buildings were known as the Twin Towers?

Was it just a matter of adding a joyful event in an otherwise joyless day? Was God even involved in the timing?

Is there significance to their names? Abigail means "Father's Joy", and she has certainly lived up to her name.  And Jacob, of course, means Israel, the nation that was going to bless the rest of the world. Will their generation be the one which will be a blessing to all the others?

One thing is clear: the world changed that day, and not just for me, the new unemployed dad. My kids are at the beginning of a new, post-9/11 generation. One which has a chance of leading our nation and world into change; specifically, change for the better.

A generation which never experienced, as I had, the comfort of knowing that the US doesn't get attacked on its own soil.

One which accepts the reality that it will always have to remove shoes at the airport, because it has never known it to be otherwise.

One which can take its awareness that devastating attacks happen, and do some good with that understanding.

I recently was hit hard by this verse:

Psalm 24:6 "This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face--even Jacob."


Did that verse about a generation that would seek Him actually end with "even Jacob"?  I'm holding onto that one. For hope's sake.

Bonus: In 2002, the Dallas paper featured a letter I wrote for the one-year anniversary. Here's the PDF. I like the picture.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cats are Better

As a former math teacher, I once postulated the following:

The size of one's pickup truck is inversely proportional to the likelihood that he is a cat owner.

For some unknown reason, many people do not like cats. My pastor says rotten things about cats, our only major theological difference.

Look, people. Cats are better than dogs. This is a truth that can be seen by comparing the top of the line cats vs the top dogs.

The chief cats are lions and tigers.

The best dogs can do is a fox, wolf or hyena.

Seriously, this is no contest. God said Jesus is the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5) and when an angel spoke so powerfully that it sounded like thunder which shook the foundations of the universe, it was said he had a mouth of a lion (Rev 13:2).

Was Jesus the hyena of Judah? I don’t think so.

I can't believe I have to explain this stuff.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Embracing Jesus' Words Selectively

This passage looks longer than I usually start with, but it's a quick read, and an interesting story:

Luke 4
v.15  And He [Jesus] began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
v.16-17  And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and ...He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

v.22  And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; ...

v.24  And He said, "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. "But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;
v.27  "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."

v.28  And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;

This snippet of the event of a Saturday morning is fascinating.  When Jesus was telling the people what they wanted to hear, they loved Him. When He had hard things to say, critical things they needed to hear, (in this case about their lack of faith), Jesus quickly fell out of favor with them.

I see this happen in my own life, and it's something I am working on. Once I realized that all of God's words toward me are for His glory and for my benefit, it will be easy. It's getting easier, but I have a ways to go.

More importantly, there are many more Christians in the same place as the angry citizens of Nazareth. I am finding this out lately in discussions I am having, and blogs I am reading, from many Christians of all stripes. Topics like hell, sexual sin, and social justice seem to bring this out in people.

Some folks embrace the idea of a loving Jesus, but not the judgmental one. Some like the idea of a politically conservative God, but ignore His liberal tendencies toward the poor, and insisting that the rich forgive debts. Some see God being against needless deaths in one context, but aren't as concerned about protecting innocent life in other contexts.

What we need to do is get to know His words to us. All of them. And live them out in the course of our daily lives.

All of them.

Even the ones that make us uncomfortable.

Even the ones that conflict with the political party line.

Even the ones that challenge what we have been taught.

Even the ones that make us examine our opinionated positions to be sure they are in line with His will.

Even the ones in conflict with the denomination we belong to.

Even the ones that don't mesh well with the stance taken by that author we really like.

If we aren't ready to do so, then are we any better than the Nazarenes who liked Jesus one minute, then drove Him out of town?

Monday, August 08, 2011

What Exactly Are You Looking For in a President?

Like it or not, the 2012 Presidential election season is just about upon us. Although I hate to hear the most vocal blowhards deriding candidates that have already announced, some of the criticisms are making me laugh in ways that were not intended. Some people are so married to their political party that a considerable effort is being spent on their part telling anyone who will listen how the recession is either Obama's or Bush's fault, how Bachmann is crazy, how Kucinich is funny-looking, how Palin is a ditz, how Obama blew his chance today (just after the stock markets spiraled downhill in response to the S&P downgrade) in his speech which was to have reassured Americans that the economy isn't tanking.

From what I hear, his speech fell short. Or it was well-received. Again, it depends on who you listen to. Pretty much anyone these days is delivering their evaluation of our President, and of those who want to be President, based on the personal agenda of the one doing the evaluating. Many Republicans do not want to admit that Clinton might have been good, or that Palin isn't presidential material. And many Democrats are still hanging our nation's ills on Bush.

The thing is, I am not sure what people want in a President. Is it about good speeches? Is it about  the performance of the stock market? The unemployment rate? The ability to work with Congress to get a budget passed? The number of bible verses he is willing to use publicly? How photogenic he is? How he represents the US to other nations?

ESPN/Grantland columnist Bill Simmons did a poll a few weeks ago of the best movie presidents ever, and the top two vote-getters were Harrison Ford in Air Force One, and Bill Pullman in Independence Day. In the latter one, the character who is the current president is a former fighter pilot who joins in the effort to ward off the aliens. While he's still our president. In Air Force One, Ford's character fights off the kidnappers the old-fashioned way: with his fists and feet.

I can't imagine anyone who was a real president in my lifetime doing that. Can you picture Jimmy Carter doing that? How about Richard Nixon? Clinton? Bush?

It's true that Simmons' poll is massively unscientific, but thousands of readers did chime in. When facing a choice among presidents who did statesman-like political things (think Michael Douglas in "The American President") vs. the ones who fought bad guys, the voters proved that what we really want in our presidents is a guy who kicks behinds. That fact alone, set against the backdrop of what we have running for president this time around and what they promise us (budget-balancing, healthcare, fairer taxes), is worth examining. Thing is, I have thought about it for two weeks, and still don't know what it tells us.

Human nature being the unchanging thing that it is, we shouldn't be surprised when we read

1 Samuel chapter 18: "It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, "Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands."

Are we any different from the Israelites saying they like David as king because he killed ten times more people than King Saul did?

I'm still thinking this one through.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Book Review: Thunder Dog

Thanks for Thomas Nelson Publishing's Booksneeze program, I received a free copy of Thunder Dog, by Michael Hingson and Susy Flory for review purposes. I got it a few days ago and devoured it in very short order. The book is Mr. Hingson's  account of his experience as a survivor of the attacks on the World Trade center in September of 2001.  He worked on the 78th floor of the first tower to be hit, and the bulk of the story is about his journey down the stairs, guided by his guide dog Roselle.

It's a great story by itself, but made much more interesting by interspersed glimpses in the life of the author, starting as a child whose parents refused to send to a special school for the blind. They insisted he live as normal a life as possible, which sounds great in theory, but a little scary in practice. For example, they let him ride a bike as a kid. A blind boy was allowed to ride a bicycle throughout the neighborhood. using his sense of where obstacles should be to guide him and keep him from harm's way.

As a whole, the story works. It's moving, exciting, heartwarming, heart-tugging, and powerful.

My Top Five Movies of All Time

In no particular order, these are the 5 movies that have moved me the most.

The Fisher King
Schindler's List
The Kid
Cinderella Man
The Princess Bride
Shawshank Redemption
Stranger Than Fiction

Yes, I can count, so I know that my Top Five list has more than 5 movies in it. Sue me.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Fahrenheit 451: Worth Re-Reading

When I discovered books as a tween, one of the first books I ever read was Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."  I have to admit I didn't understand its implications or more subtle points, so it didn't do much for me. A few years later, I read it again, and was deeply impacted. Obviously, I was still years away from being wise in the ways of the world, so there was a lot I didn't get. But I knew then that it was saying something powerful. Of course, being a high school student, I was assigned many other books which also attempted to say something profound. "Lord of the Flies", "The Good Earth", "The Grapes of Wrath". These and other works accomplished their intended tasks to varying degrees. They each had a point, which they communicated effectively.  Some, especially "Lord of the Flies" so completely lacked subtlety that they came across as preachy, and I did what I could to distance myself from such books.
A sad sidenote: I moved from one city to another in the middle of my sophomore year, so I ended up having to read LOTF twice.  Some books get better upon a re-reading. This was not one of them. I hated LOTF and have not gone back to it since that 2nd reading.

In contrast, F451 did get better upon re-reading. So much so that I took the time last month to read it again. I borrowed it from the library and devoured it. I probably should just purchase the dang thing. 

Chances are you've not yet read F451 because you have the impressions it's a silly sci-fi story about censorship. True, it is set in the future, which is why you will find it in the science fiction section; but F451 is actually much more than that.

The future setting serves it well. Futuristic sci-fi stories typically bring to mind Jetsons-like gadgets, silver bodysuits, and flying cars. F451 does have the flying cars, but only for a few minutes in one scene late in the story. The more important futuristic gadgets include:

1. Wide-screen TVs: In F451, homes have TV sets which take up entire walls, at a cost of thousands of dollars each.

2. Reality shows: Since fiction is more or less outlawed, the TV screens show something like what we'd call reality shows. They are not described in detail, but there are apparently a lot of characters who are family to each other and are regarded as family by viewers who get sucked into their stories, such as they are. Guy Montag's wife Mildred represents the masses who watch these shows, and when pressed to explain why she likes them, she cannot even say what the plot is. She does say these programs contain a lot of yelling. Sound familiar?

3. No regard for human life: When a neighbor dies, it's mentioned as just another event, like a broken-down car or rainstorm. No tears are shed. One wife is unfazed by the prospect of her husband being told he must go to war. Additionally, millions of viewers are urged to watch the police hunt down and kill a fugitive on live TV. 

4. Earbuds: citizens have little inside-the-ear earphones, called "seashells", where music, news, other entertainment, and commercials are constantly pumped to them by the networks. Seashells keep people from being conversant with those around them.

The list doesn't end here,  but these 4 examples are pretty interesting in light of this book being published in 1953, at the very beginning of the widespread acceptance of TV, and long before the appearance of anything resembling headphones which fit inside the ear, and a full half-century before Jersey Shore. 

The lack of regard for human life, however: well, that's been around for a long time, hasn't it?