Friday, December 12, 2008

Sign that the times are REALLY tough

I was checking out the headlines on the internet and came across this article on Yahoo's home page about Miley Cyrus's 16th birthday.

Seems that young Miley wanted a new Mercedes for her 16th birthday, but had to settle for her mom's hand-me-down Porsche. Things are obviously even worse than they seem.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dateline: Waterloo, Iowa

Vicki and I are in Waterloo, Iowa celebrating Thanksgiving with family. My sister Joanne lives here with her husband Fred. Their daughter Karyn is in town as well, and my oldest sister Carol and her husband Paul also made the trek here from Cincinnati.

Believe it or not, Iowa is really beautiful this time of year. The landscape is a study in browns and ambers and faded greens, textured by leafless trees and dead tall prairie grasses and, of course, miles and miles of harvested corn fields that stretch to the horizon, all capped by a pale blue sky. It's a world that should be captured in pastels. Yet it has the odd effect as you drive through it of making you want to put on camo's, pick up a shotgun and shoot at some birds, even if you've never done such a thing before. In my case, the birds would be completely unthreatened.

It's good to be here. It's good to be with family at Thanksgiving. And it's good to get a little break before we crank into the craziness of Christmas at VCC (although to some extent that's already begun!). I think it's going to be an exciting month ahead and I can't wait to see what God has in store for all of us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Watching

One of the more telling images I've seen tonight is the difference between Obama's supporters gathered in Chicago and McCain's supporters in Phoenix. I was riding my exercise bike when I saw this, so I couldn't hear what was going on. But there were what appeared to be thousands of Obama supporters yelling and jumping up and down at a park in Chicago. Then they cut to Phoenix where maybe a couple hundred of McCain's supporters were just kind of standing around watching a boy's choir perform. Hmmm...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election 2008

Little known fact:

Since 1968, if the Cincinnati Bengals won its last game prior to Election Day, the Democratic contender for the White House also was victorious. If Cincinnati lost its last contest before Election Day, the Democrat also lost. The lone exception came in 1988, when the Bengals defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 6, yet two days later Michael Dukakis lost the election to George H.W. Bush.

We'll see tomorrow if the Bengals go 11-1. Maybe they're just in the wrong business!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I saw my doctor last week for the first time since my back surgery, and I got some really good news. My back is good, my blood pressure is good and my cholesterol is good. It's been a long time since those three things have been good at the same time.

It got me thinking about how much I really have to be grateful for, and I think I'm more thankful for good health now than I've ever been. When you're younger it's so easy to take good health for granted. I know I did. Last year was scarier for me than I probably let on to. In the back of my mind was always the question "What if this thing with my back doesn't get fixed?" Especially as it got worse, I wondered what I would do if my back never got better. So I'm really grateful that the surgery worked.

And even beyond good health I have a boatload of things to be grateful for that I sometimes take for granted. When I was getting sober years ago, one of the things I was taught in AA was the importance of developing an "attitude of gratitude." I hated that phrase. When my life sucked, as it often did in those days, my AA sponsor would make me write down the things I was thankful for- a "gratitude list." I frequently hated him too. But the thing is, those things worked. They forced me to stop looking at everything negatively and give thanks to my Creator for his blessings.

Life is good for me these days, but I can still fall into the trap of looking at things negatively. I lean towards pessimism by nature. So I find I still need to be intentional about reminding myself of all that God has blessed Vicki and me with. I love this passage from Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peace or anxiety? The choice is mine!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Some days I hate owning a home.

We came home today to find water on the floor in our basement. That's never a good sign. We traced the water trail back to our water heater. The good news: it's under warranty. The bad news: we have to empty it and take it to Home Depot to get it exchanged. Even though we had it installed through them, we have to bring it in. No options. The worst news: it's now 8:40 and the thing is still draining. Home Depot closes at 9:00.

So I'm going to have to get up early tomorrow, take a COLD shower, and haul it in before I go to work. If you work with me and you read this before then, don't be surprised if I'm less than chipper in the morning.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Financial Peace

Vicki and I have been going through Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University.” After just a few weeks of the class it’s already had a significant impact on the way we look at and manage our money. And the things we are learning are really helpful to us regardless of the state of the economy.

Here’s what has surprised me about the current financial crisis: it doesn’t scare me. I’m not happy about it, and I’d much rather live in an up economy, but I’m really not worried about our future. And the real kicker for me is that I’m not trying to not worry, I’m not trying to somehow generate faith, I’m not trying to be “extra faithful” in the hope that God will take care of us.

Here’s what I think I’ve learned. God is more concerned about my character than he is about my financial well being. So if I have issues that need to be addressed regarding where I am putting my faith he’s not going to wait for the economy to tank to help me learn what I need to learn. He can put me in a financially difficult place regardless of what is happening on Wall Street if that’s what he needs to do to get my attention.

Of course that means the opposite is true as well. A bad economy doesn’t mean anything to God, either. He can provide just as easily in a bull market or a bear market, in a recession or a depression or in the crazy tech bubble of the ‘90’s when people seemed to be making money hand over fist every day.

So I really do have financial peace today. Vicki and I (more than likely just like you) have lost quite a bit of money over the past few weeks. So if anything, I have financial peace because I finally learned that my finances really have little or nothing to do with my peace. My peace comes from allowing God to have his way with me as best as I can. And money has nothing to do with that unless I let it become my master in God’s rightful place. And if that happens, God’s going to make me as uncomfortable and un-peaceful as he needs to regardless of the economic conditions until I once again allow him to have his rightful place as master in my life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Florida Redux

This is our last day in Florida, so it’s my last chance to write from our balcony overlooking the Atlantic. It’s been a nice week even if nothing phenomenal really happened. Seeing the Kennedy Space Center was a lot of fun, but in general it’s just been very relaxing. I did get some reading done. I had started on a book by Erwin McManus called “Chasing Daylight” on our last vacation that I really like. I was able to skim back over the parts I had read and while I still haven’t finished it yet, it shouldn’t take too much time to get through the rest of it when I get back home.

It seems like every time I take a vacation I start out thinking that whatever the definition of Paradise is, it includes at least in part concepts of not working and living on (or at least very near) a beach. But more often than not by the end of a vacation I’m ready to go back to work, and this time is no exception. A few hours ago, I wasn’t ready, but now I am and I’m not even sure why.

I do know one thing for sure, and that’s that I’m blessed to get to do what I do on multiple levels. On the macro level I get to use what God has blessed me with towards the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) every day. You can certainly do that without working for a church, but it’s perhaps more pronounced at a place like the Vineyard. On the micro level, I get to do it with a fantastic group of people, both staff and volunteers.

But the coolest thing for me is getting to do what I do with Vicki. I’m incredibly blessed to be able to spend my vacations with her AND do ministry with her. I don’t think it gets any better than being able to go through life with someone who you really share a purpose and a mission with. And I happen to like her a lot, too…what a deal!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

$700 Billion

OK, so $700 billion is too much for me to get my head around. As a result, I've had a hard time deciding where to land on the whole bailout issue. Until tonight, when Lou Dobbs talked some sense into me on the news. His point is, basically, if you want to fix the problem, don't try to do it by giving lots of money to the people who screwed things up in the first place. And don't listen to a President with the second worst approval rating and a Congress with the absolute worst approval rating in history.

I'm with Lou. You can read (or see) his comments on CNN's website (

Monday, September 29, 2008


In Ormond Beach, Florida for the week. I’m writing while sitting on our balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. If there are any drawbacks to being here, this in itself makes it all worthwhile. We're here at a timeshare with Vicki's mom Bev and her husband Frank. Frank is standing just maybe twenty feet away on his balcony smoking his pipe. Every now and then I get a whiff of it. Kind of reminds me of being around my dad when I was a kid.

My dad was a sailor in WWII and I sometimes wonder if I inherited some of his love for the sea. If my understanding is right, he came very close to making a decision to make a career out of the Navy. But he was older when America entered the war- in his late 20’s- and in his early 30’s when it ended. So maybe the Navy had no interest in him at that age, or perhaps he loved my mom more than the Navy. I don’t really know. Regardless of the reason, he left the Navy, returned to his native Cincinnati and married my mom and eventually started our family.

Whether or not it comes from my dad, I love being near the ocean. I have a spiritual connection with it that I really can't explain. All I know is when I'm around it, I feel closer to God. I completely understand why water is used metaphorically in the spiritual writings of every culture and every major religious tradition. And more often than not, I come back from it in a pretty good place mentally and spiritually. I'm hoping for the same result this time around!

Monday, September 15, 2008


We just regained electricity at our house after 30 hours. I had no idea how spoiled I am- I almost get depressed going a day without power. And this was really nothing. For one thing, power was still available just a few blocks away if I really needed it. But more importantly, we hadn't lost anything: our house wasn't damaged and our health and safety were never even remotely threatened. It makes me wonder what I would do if we had a serious emergency.

I've never been one to worry much about disasters. I think you can get really weird about that kind of thing. But that's no excuse for not being smart and not preparing for what is likely to happen. I think you can compare it to some of the things Dave Ramsey says about money and the need to be prepared for financial troubles. His point is troubles will come, so they shouldn't be a surprise. The same could be said of emergencies like what happened this weekend. So really I should be better prepared.

Vicki and I were talking about the fact that it's not really all that difficult to do without electricity for a day or two. People do it all the time. It's just a lot easier if you know when you're going to have to do it. So here's what I think we should do: once a month, we should have to go a day without it. Think about how good it would be for our environment. And think about how much money we could save. I think it could work.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Cross

Every now and then I'll read or hear something that just seems to literally overwhelm my thinking for a few days. Joe's message this weekend had that kind of impact on me. If you weren't there, you can check out his message at the link below:
(It may not be up until Wednesday due to the holiday)

Joe was speaking on Simplicity to end our "Awe" series. Towards the end of his message, he focused beautifully on the simplicity of the central message of Christianity: that God loves the world so much that he sent his Son to die for us and to rise again to fix the otherwise irreparable tear in our relationship with him brought about by our sin and rebellion.

It's been a long time since I've thought about the cross as much as Joe's message has led me to these last couple of days. I was brought up Catholic, and in the Catholic church crucifixes almost always had Jesus on them. There were times when I would be bored with mass and I would just stare at the cross with Jesus on it and try to figure out what it all meant. I knew I was a sinner, I knew I did wrong and even that I did wrong intentionally, and in doing so I knew I violated what I was taught God's rules were. But the fact that God was so offended by my fairly petty misdeeds that someone had to die for them seemed to me to point to a rather thin-skinned deity. After all, if I could get over a friend lying to me in a week or so and be his friend again, I thought God should certainly be able to do the same.

Of course, I was missing the point completely on multiple levels. I certainly hope I have a better understanding now than I had then of God, of the real and devastating impact of sin on my relationship with him (and on every relationship in my life), of concepts like salvation, redemption and atonement, and of God's tremendous and relentless love of humanity. But none of that knowledge can take the place of the need to reflect on the cross and consider what it really means to me today.

As an adult I think the biggest challenge is that the cross can begin to be relegated to the status of an historic event like D-Day or Lincoln's assassination, something that certainly helped shape the world I live in but has only indirect and unconscious impact on how I live today. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. If anything about Christianity is true, if it has any power at all to bring healing to broken lives and hope to a helplessly messed up world, then the cross is and must be as relevant to my life today as it was the day it happened.

So that's where I've been the last couple of days- just thinking about the cross. What impact do I allow it to have on me daily? What kind of effect should it have on me? I don't have all the answers yet. I suspect I never will. But it's well worth considering.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I don't talk about sports all that often but the Bengals drove me nuts today. They re-signed Chris Henry. Huh?!?

In recovery circles there's a saying: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think Mike Brown has officially entered the loony bin.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I don't wanna...

I haven't blogged in a while. And it's really because I haven't felt like blogging in a while. But I've been feeling guilty about not doing it.

Vicki reminded me tonight that I haven't been blogging. And then she gave me some ideas about things I could write about. And it got me to thinking about how I don't want to write about things someone else wants me to write about. And that got me thinking about creativity in general, and work as well.

I do best when I own what I'm doing. I write best when I have something I think is worth talking about, even if it's silly. And I work best when the work I'm doing is something I'm really engaged with and want to do well at, even if it might seem silly to other people. Conversely, it's a struggle for me to have to write about things I'm told I have to write about or work at things I'm told I have to do when I don't want to, regardless of their apparent value to others.

At the same time, it doesn't mean the idea has to be mine to start with. For example, there are times when someone comes to me with an idea at work that I immediately "own", even though it's not mine.

So I wonder if there is a way to want to own those things that come my way that I really don't want to do. Basic maturity will compel you to get things done; we all have things we do just because they're part of our job and we're responsible for getting them done. But I know I will consistently do a much better job when I'm doing the things I own, the things I want to do.

The flip side of the coin is that I'm in a leadership and supervisory position, and I often have to assign work. My guess is that everyone else is pretty much the same as me: they do well at the things they own (regardless of whether the idea is theirs or is given to them), and not so well at what they don't own. So how can I help others to feel a greater sense of ownership about what they are doing as well? Really that's at the heart of leadership, but sometimes I forget that and just figure they want to do the same things I want them to do. It would be a huge understatement to say that's a miss.

So what's the answer? I have some ideas, but I think I'll leave them for another night. Besides, now I have something I want to write about.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I've got to admit I don't get Facebook. I've been on it for maybe a couple of months now, and I just don't see the draw. I've heard stories of people whose entire social life is driven by it, but for me it's a big day if I spend more than 5 minutes on it. I'm a little worried that it just means I'm becoming an old fogey, and in a sense I know that's true, but at another level I really don't care: I think Facebook is overrated.

On another topic, if you'd like to see pictures from our vacation, go here:

I know I'm biased, but I think Vicki takes great pictures!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Career change?

And you thought there was only one use for buoys. Buoy, were you wrong! Apparently they make nifty porch ornaments as well. And believe it or not you can apparently make a living selling the aforementioned accoutrements.

Upon closer inspection, Vicki and I found out these things aren't even real buoys. Who'd a thunk that? They're just styrofoam balls cleverly painted to look like buoys and strung together on a rope. Now really, how hard can that be? Especially given the fact that most genuine buoys I've seen are hardly little Picassos artfully disguised. Now all I have to figure out is how many bogus buoys I need to sell in a summer to afford the mortgage on a million dollar seafront estate. I've heard it's a buyer's market. If the math works out...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Beaufort, NC

Sitting in Taylor's Big Mug coffee shop on vacation in Beaufort, NC. This is the first place we've been with internet since we left home on Friday. The withdrawal has been intense.

Beaufort is best known for being the home of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the Pirate. The house he lived in is just a few blocks from where we are right now. Legend has it he hung one of his wives from a tree that's still in the front yard. Charming, I know.

It's a beautiful day here. Sunny skies and the high is supposed to reach 95º. Perfect vacation weather. Actually, Vicki would disagree with that statement- it's about 20º too hot for her, but that's why God made air conditioned coffee shops with free internet access.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Katie Reider

Katie passed away this morning just before 7:00am. Our hearts ache for Rob, Karen and the kids, and the entire Reider family.

A few years ago Rob invited Vicki and me to a live radio concert at WVXU featuring Katie and her band. It was one of the most enjoyable evenings I've ever had. Katie was so fun to see perform, so engaging with the audience and just genuine. And, of course, immensely talented. But she always remained one of the friendliest and most gracious people I've known. After she moved away from Cincinnati, I was always surprised that every time she came back to visit and came to the Vineyard she would stop by the audio booth just to say hi.

We're lucky that Katie's music will remain with us forever. But she will be missed incredibly by those who knew her.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Things that sting

For the first time in what seems like a really long time, Vicki and I have had a chance to do some things together in the evenings. Tonight we were working in the yard. We've had problems with carpenter bees on and off for years. I don't know if you've ever been around them or not, but they're big and scary looking and I'm dead certain they were NOT part of God's original plan for creation. They dig holes into wood to live in, and in our case that means they dig into a fascia of sorts just under the roof line of our solarium. The only way I've been able to control them (I've failed at trying to eliminate them) is to occasionally climb up on a ladder and plug their holes while they're sleeping. I don't know what happens to them after that, but they don't seem to be able to dig their way back out.

I don't think carpenter bees have stingers, but I've never gotten close enough to one to find out for sure. But while I was up dealing with the carpenter bees, I happened to notice two wasp nests just under the peak of the roof. I kind of thought they were maybe old nests that weren't active, but I decided to be careful. Good choice on my part. When I knocked the first one off, angry wasps went everywhere. Luckily they mostly flew up rather than down at me, so I had time to escape before they figured out who was responsible for disrupting their hitherto happy home.

In general I really dislike anything that can sting me or looks like it can. My friends Greg and Cindy Dean actually keep bees. On purpose. It makes no sense to me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Goin' to the Brickyard

Thanks to our good friends Fred and Rhonda Maess, Vicki and I are going to the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a few weeks. Woohoo! This will be our second NASCAR race- we went to Charlotte last year to see the fall race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. It was a great time, in spite of my bad back at the time, and my boy Jeff Gordon won the race. Perhaps lightning will strike twice: he's won the Brickyard 400 four times.

This race has some special meaning to me because it was the initial Brickyard 400 that turned me into a Jeff Gordon fan in the first place. I was a pretty casual NASCAR follower until then, but I watched that race because it was a big deal for stock cars to be racing at the hollowed home of the Indy 500. Everyone wanted to win that race, especially all the good ole' boys of NASCAR of the time like Dale Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliot, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace. Instead, this 24 year old kid (a ridiculously young age to break into NASCAR at the time, much less start winning) who could speak English without a drawl won. I was hooked. And it ends up I picked a pretty good driver to follow as well.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I'm done. I took my last VLI final exam tonight and I have completed the program. Woohoo!

What's it get me? Uhh...nothing. Only the personal sense of accomplishment of having completed two years' worth of college-level theology and leadership courses, I don't get a thing. But it does help me feel better prepared to do my job. I never really meant to be a pastor, so I didn't go about studying to be one. At least not until now.

One thing it made me realize is that I really do like academia. I always did pretty well in school. I liked the competition of it on strictly a performance level, trying to figure out what it was that would get you a good grade from different teachers, things like that. And I still like those things, but as I've gotten older I realize I like the pure learning and discovery part of it as well. So someday it would be nice to continue on and get a real degree. And maybe teach. But for now I just get to sit back and bask in the glory of getting....uhhh.....nothing!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Iowa Floods

Last night I talked with my sister who lives in Waterloo, Iowa. Waterloo is about 45 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids, where some of the heaviest flooding in Iowa has occurred, and the Cedar River passes through both cities. All of the pictures here are from the Cedar Rapids area. Waterloo has had some flooding as well- enough to close down all four bridges in the city that cross the river at one time, and seriously damage one of the bridges. But luckily they've had nothing that compares to Cedar Rapids. My sister and brother-in-law already know four people who have lost their homes to the floods.

From what I've been reading and have heard the flooding is expected to reach "500 year" levels, and that the damage could rival Katrina. Be praying for the folks in Iowa if you have a chance.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Plumbing Genius

OK, so some things are worth the wait. We finally got a second plumber to come out to our house to check out our kitchen drain problem. The first guy who came out quoted us between $2500 and $3200. He told us he was going to have to cut our countertop, take out the sink and open up the wall to remove the old pipe and install new PVC in its place. It might take two days of work total. My newest best friend Keith from D.J. Hughes plumbing comes today and says, "I'll just leave the old pipe in the wall, cut a new hole and drop in the new PVC pipe alongside it." Estimated total cost= $585. Brilliant!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Whazzup with plumbers?

Our kitchen sink backed up a week ago Sunday. After trying the usual Liquid Plumber and, when that didn't work, an actual plunger it became obvious that our problem was more serious than just the usual clogged drain. So I got underneath the sink and disconnected the j trap and let everything drain out. The j trap was clear so the problem was obviously in the galvanized pipe that the PVC j trap connected to. I tried to clean out the galvanized pipe with a snake, but that didn't work either. So I had to take off an elbow at the end of the galvanized pipe to see if that would give me a straighter shot with the snake.

I got the elbow off and, man, what a mess. The galvanized pipe was completely full of disgusting, vile, black stuff. I mean I was amazed that the drain had worked at all because this stuff had to build up for years. I cleaned some of it out before realizing I had a bigger problem. The galvanized pipe was corroded, and the end where the elbow had screwed on was completely disintegrated. So I had reached the end of my plumbing ability.

We called two plumbers the next day who had been recommended by friends. One of them called back to say he didn't do "that kind of work" (I'm not sure what kind of work a plumber does besides plumbing) and referred us to the other guy we had already called. So we called him again. He never called back. We called another plumber. Again, no call back. Ever. Vicki's boss recommended a plumber, and we called him. He was out to take a look at our problem the next day, but the price was high enough that we wanted a second opinion.

So we called another plumber. I picked this one because his advertisement said they answer the phone. That actually seems to be a novel idea in the plumbing business. Someone did answer the phone. This was on Friday and they told me they would have someone come out Monday. By mid-Monday no one had called to say they would be out so I called them back. A different person answered this time and said she would get right back to me. By the end of the day, we hadn't heard back from them. So I called again yesterday and they said they would have someone get in touch with us first thing today. Do you want to guess what happened? Nothing. No call.

So out of five or six plumbers we've contacted only one has even come close to panning out. That's a pretty poor performance rate for a group in the service sector. So does anyone know a good plumber? Are they out there? Do they really exist? I feel like I'd have better luck tracking down Sasquatch.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Steak and Potatoes

Our small group went to Fred and Rhonda Maess' home tonight for a cookout. For those of you who don't know Fred, he's a great guy who spent a lot of his adult life in the restaurant business (although now he manages a fleet of trucks- go figure!). He's an excellent cook. And he grills some of the best steaks I've ever had. Melt-in-your-mouth good. So we had steak and potatoes, fresh asparagus, sauteed mushrooms and onions, salad and dessert. Several hours later I'm still full. Vicki will tell you how rare that is.

I had my last VLI weekend intensive today. The intensives are held on two weekends each quarter and go on Saturday from 9:30 to about 3:00 or 4:00 and Sunday from 1:30 or so until as late as 6:00. I missed Saturday's portion (I let too many people on my team off for the weekend so I needed to be there). But today's session was pretty good. It was on 1 and 2 Peter and Jude. I have a new appreciation for those books. One more regular class and a final exam and I will be completely finished with VLI. Then it will be my goal to post more often here. My buddy Brad Wise has already threatened to stop linking to me because I don't post enough. I'm in danger of becoming a cyberspace loser.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ocean Sick

I'm ocean sick I think. I don't mean like sea sick, but more like home sick but only for the ocean. Vicki and I almost always take a trip to North Carolina this time of the year. Her grandmother lives in Emerald Isle, a little city on the southernmost part of the Outer Banks. So we just ˆhaveˆ to go visit her at least once a year. It's a tough job.

But this year we weren't able to pull off a May trip, mostly because of work stuff. So we're stuck here, ocean sick. I'm surprised by how much I miss being there. I see God differently when I'm there. He's bigger. And I always come back happier for being reminded of that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My how time flies

Yes, I committed the cardinal sin of blogging, like not doing it. It's not that I haven't wanted to, but I continually forget. But now I have a shiny new MacBook Pro for work, and it seems like if you have a Mac you really should be blogging. And doing miscellaneous other creative things, like using iMovie to change the world. But that would require buying a camera.

I've officially started my last term of VLI. That's Vineyard Leadership Institute for the uninitiated. It's an almost two year college level leadership development and theology class that has eaten up most of my free time since the fall of 2006. I've learned a lot and have had a lot of fun along the way as well, but I'm really glad it's about over. I would recommend it to anyone, but beware- it will eat up your life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Surgery and prayer

Well, we made it through surgery and all is well. They had me up and walking within a couple of hours of the operation and I was completely free of the pain and numbness that I've been dealing with for the last nine months or so. I can't tell you how good it feels to walk again.

Of course I'm still restricted in what I can do for now. I'm not allowed to lift anything over 10 pounds and I can't bend at the waist while standing for the first week. You'd be amazed at how much bending you normally do in a day. Just like anything else, I'm so unaware of what I have until it gets taken from me. I think I'm so abundantly blessed that I don't have a clue of the scope of God's favor and generosity until something like this happens.

Another thing I've been made aware of is the power of prayer. When I've been asked to pray for something someone else is going through, I think in the back of my mind I've always minimized the importance of those prayers, as if they really had no significance. But it's a completely different world when you're on the receiving end. I deeply appreciate every prayer that anyone has offered for me. It's been as if I could feel them. I'll never say another prayer for someone else in the future without knowing it can make a difference.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Paul, the Call and the Calendar

This term in VLI (Vineyard Leadership Institute, a two-year college level study in theologhy and leadership) we're studying the writings of the apostle Paul. As a result, I've had to read all of Paul's letters in a short time period and I'm getting a ton of background information about both Paul and the culture of the times in which he lived.

One of the things that makes reading the Bible at any level difficult is that ancient writers had a different style of writing than we have today, and as a result they leave out things that we would think are very important. One of the things they tend to leave out is dates (not to mention that they sometimes don't write in chronological order, either!). So sometimes it's really hard to figure out what the timeline is of the story that is being told.

There's a pretty good example of this surrounding Paul's story in the book of Acts. Paul's famous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus occurs in chapter 9. Immediately after that, Paul begins preaching around Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God, but nobody trusts him. In case you're wondering why not, he was attempting to imprison and kill the followers of Jesus just a couple of paragraphs earler. In any case, as a result of Paul's conversion the tables are turned and certain Jews in Damascus decide they want to kill Paul. Even though they don't trust him yet, his new "Christian" buddies (they weren't really called Christians yet) get him out of town safely and send him to Jerusalem from whence he is sent back to his hometown of Tarsus.

Now, here's where the timing gets tricky. It only says next that the fledgling church "enjoyed a time of peace" and "it grew in numbers." The next thing we know the story turns to Peter and recounts two significant stories that center around him before returning to Paul at the end of chapter 11. Still in Tarsus, Paul is sought out by Barnabas who wants his help in pastoring a new church in Antioch, which is not all that far from Taursus.

So, two chapters, a couple of stories about much time has elapsed? I think in my head, the answer was always, "A few months, maybe." Do you want to know the real answer? About 10 years!!

Now why is this important to me? Well for one, I always had the impression Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, heard Jesus' calling for him to "carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings" and- boom!- sent him on his way. Two out of three ain't bad I guess. The first two things are true- he encountered Jesus and through another disciple named Ananias heard his calling from Jesus. But then there's this 10 year gap.

Now we don't have any idea what Paul was doing during those 10 years, but my guess is at times he must have questioned what happened at Damascus. Did he really hear from God? Is He really going to use him to carry the gospel to the Gentiles? Even if Paul spent a lot of that decade honing his preaching skills and carrying the gospel as best he could to non-believers in Tarsus, don't you think that would have appeared to Paul to be a dismal disappointment compared to his grand calling to carry the gospel to the Gentiles "and their kings"?

We see this kind of story repeated throughout the Bible. Abraham, Moses and David all experienced this kind of "delayed fulfillment" of God's purpose for them. But God uses that time to develop character, to develop skills, to develop obedience, to develop relationship with him. He hasn't fogotten us. Steve Robbins, the primary teacher of VLI puts it this way: differentiate the call from the calendar. In other words, God's will for me is not dependent on my timing.

That's important to me. There are things I believe God has called me to do that haven't happened yet. Maybe there are for you, too. If so, at least it's good to know he's not done with us yet!


I'm scheduled for surgery on my back on Monday at 11:00am. They are going to go in and clean out the ruptured disc material and hopefully be able to re-create a nice passageway for the nerve that's being pinched. It seems like a big deal to me, but it's actually outpatient surgery. That still blows me away. If all goes well, I'll be home by dinner time.

After the surgery, I'll more than likely be off an additional four weeks. For the first two weeks I won't be allowed to do much at all. After that I'll start doing physical therapy and will be able to drive again. At the end of four weeks I should be able to return to work doing a half-schedule for a couple of weeks and then be able to return full time. So if the timetable holds true, I'll be back to work full time the week of Easter. How's that for timing?!?

I've been able to do some work from home over the past couple of weeks, so I've been able to conserve at least some of my extended illness benefits. My VLI classes resumed two weeks ago and since all I have to do during class is sit and listen to a lecture I've been able to go in for those. I'll miss class this coming Thursday for sure and possibly the next week as well.

More than anything else, though, I'm just really looking forward to getting on the recovery side of this thing. I have been more than covered in prayer, so I'm not really nervous about the surgery. I'm sure it's going to go well as will my recovery. I'm just very ready to be able to walk again for more than a few feet at a time or stand again for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

If you are reading this and you are one of those who have been praying for me, thank you so much!! I can't tell you how much I appreciate your prayers and I'm very much at peace going into this thanks to you.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Super Bowl

I can't imagine having a Super Bowl that I would care any less about than having teams from New York and Boston playing. Yuck!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back Saga

I am currently on leave from work with a bad back. It sucks having a bad back and it sucks being on leave from work. I don't mind not working if I'm on vacation, but right now I'm kind of in limbo until I find out the next steps. I meet with a surgeon next Tuesday, Dr. Thomas Saul of the Mayfield Clinic. I'm looking forward to meeting him. But until then I'm stuck here burning up the sick days I've accrued.

My back problems started in late April of last year. Actually, they started long before then, but this particular instance started then and I'll spare you the details leading up to that. I was already seeing a chiropractor when things flared up. This had happened several times in the past, so I was relatively certain the problem would go away more or less on its own.

When it didn't I started bumping up the frequency of my visits to the chiropractor to try to get relief. When that didn't help, I looked for and found a different chiropractor who I had gone to years ago and who had been very helpful to me. I started seeing her 2-3 times a week, but still with no real results. I'd be OK one day and bad the next two.

Finally I made a call to my family doc (my high school buddy Mark Schrand) who had me go in for an MRI. I've had one MRI in the past and I absolutely hated doing it, but the pain was enough that I was willing to do it again. It showed a bulging disc and Mark suggested I do a series of up to three epidural steroid injections to try to bring down the swelling. We ended updoing all three injections over a period that stretched from September to November. The shots had to be spaced 6 weeks apart. During that time, I didn't get any worse, but I didn't get significantly better either.

When the last shot didn't improve things, Mark had me try physical therapy. It too helped a little for a while. Actually, at first I thought we were finally on the right track. But then after a few weeks, things started getting worse again and I lost the progress I had made early on.

Things really took a turn for the worse the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Until then I was in pain but I was still able to get around. I would wake up kind of bent to the left, but as the day progressed I would get better and be able to straighten myself up. Then over a few days' time that all stopped. By the end of the week, I could no longer straighten up at all and the pain had gone through the roof. Even walking a few dozen feet became unmanageable.

I was able to get in to see my family doc on New Year's Eve. He upped my pain medication from Vicodin to Percocet and referred me to a physiatrist (Dr. Wunder) who specializes in lower back pain. Originally, Dr. Wunder wasn't going to be able to see me until early March, but Mark called his nurse and was able to get me in to see him last Thursday (January 10th). By then I was already unable to work. I wasn't able to make it in the weekend prior at all. I did make it in for a couple of meetings in the week leading up to the appointment with Dr. Wunder, but that's been it.

When Dr. Wunder saw me, he didn't spend much time with me before he said something to the effect of, "You need help. You've done everything we would expect of you from a therapy standpoint. Nothing has worked, and you're getting worse." So he referred me to Dr. Saul.

So that pretty much takes us to today and now you pretty much know the story of my back saga. I'm sure there will be more to come in the days ahead, but right now I'm just trying to stay off my feet as much as possible until I see Dr. Saul.