Monday, January 30, 2012

And the streak ends






One of these things is not like the others.

6 is the current streak of consecutive national football championships for the SEC. 56 is the record for the longest MLB hitting streak, held by  Joe DiMaggio. 297 is the longest streak of consecutive NFL games started, held by Brett Favre. 8,243? Similar - Cal Ripken, Jr.'s record streak of consecutive MLB games played in.

How about the last number?

19,182 was the number of days I went without breaking a bone. This streak ended last Friday night. It was a great run.

Fortunately it was a fairly small break, just above the ankle. I just need to keep the ankle stable with a boot until it resetting required, thank God.

But it is a broken bone. And the streak is over.

So, one of these things is not like the others. Which one? The first, because the SEC is at six and counting.

And the "road to 15" begins for the Tide in 215 days. Seven, anyone?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fringe: On the limits of forgiveness

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)
Grace and mercy...two sides of the same coin. A part of God's character that we love we we are conscious of our own need, but that doesn't look so attractive when someone has wronged us.

"Why do I have to love them anyway?"

"Why do I have to forgive her?"

"He doesn't deserve it...not this time!"

The concept of forgiveness is one most of us treasure, because we want to be forgiven for our mistakes. We even see that it's only fair for us to forgive others if we want some leeway for ourselves. But aren't there limits? Aren't there trespasses so big that I can't overlook them?

Fringe is my favorite show on the air right now. Probably my second favorite all time show. In last week's episode, there was a powerful scene on forgiveness. Before watching it (for those of you who aren't fans), here is the context:

(Spoiler Note: If you are behind on the show, you may want to stop reading here!)

The two characters in this scene are Walter and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is recognized by Walter as his wife...but not really. She is another version of his wife from a parallel universe. In the scene, they both know this. Elizabeth's son Peter was kidnapped as a child by this Walter after his own version of Peter had died from an illness. He had found a cure for the disease and was trying to bring her Peter over to our side to save him. In the process, they fell into a lake and Peter drowned. So both of their sons have died, and Walter is clearly responsible for Elizabeth's son's death. And if that's not enough to challenge the limits of forgiveness, Walter has endangered our very existence by messing with the nature of the universe. I know that's alot to absorb; hopefully it's just the right amount for you grasp the power of this scene:

So much in this scene!

"I asked for a sign of forgiveness and I got none. There is no absolution for me."

"I forgive you, Walter. And if I can, God can."

  • God's love for us is so great and so powerful that his grace and mercy extend without limit. There is nothing you can do to change that. If you will return home to him and accept his forgiveness, it's there for the taking. Elizabeth is simply saying that God's forgiveness extends so far beyond ours that if she forgives him, of course God can!
  • So what is the limit of forgiveness for us? Do you think you could forgive what Elizabeth forgave? It seems like alot to ask. How big is the offense that it is unforgivable to you? Or how many times can someone wrong you before you say, "Enough!" This scene challenges me. But not as much as the Scripture at the top of this post. And not as much as the parable Jesus tells to illustrate his point (Matthew 18:23-35when he teaches that our debt to God is so great that nothing we're asked to forgive is even in the ball park.
Walter responded to Elizabeth's (and God's) forgiveness by deciding to help with the crisis at hand. (What crisis? Watch the show!) Mercy should always inspire one to action. But that's not up to us. Our lot is to forgive, no matter what the response.

Father, it's so hard to forgive some things. Or to forgive someone who keeps wronging me over and over. But I know my offenses to you are infinitely greater than anything you're asking me to forgive. Thank you for that forgiveness. Help me to respond in kind with my neighbor. Amen.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Windell Neal, 1925-2012

Today I was planning to write about pop culture and some life lessons that come from them. I was going to choose between last Friday's episode of Fringe and the movie Extrmemly Loud and Incredibly Close. Both had amazing moments that moved me to share. But today something more important is on the agenda. For my first boss at Alfa, my professional mentor, my friend has gone on to his eternal reward. Windell Neal is no longer with us. I am sad for that...and thankful for his life.

A little less than twenty-four years ago I was at a crossroads. I knew God was calling me away from my three years teaching middle school math, but I didn't have any idea what was next. In a long story that I will tell in another blog post one day (if I haven't already - I need to check back), God led me to Mr. Neal at the perfect time. The perfect time for me, and the perfect time for the company. My career as an actuary began.

He gave me my first chance. He supported me as I learned what the heck I was doing. He made sure I got visibility with people here so that management would know my capabilities. And at lunch day after day after day, he gave me advice, and taught me everything he could think of about how to succeed at my career. Because of him, I began a journey that I am convinced put me right where God wanted me, in so many ways. I can't even begin to express how thankful I am.

Tomorrow we will gather at his church to say goodbye. I am honored that his widow Catherine asked me to say a few words. I feel so inadequate, but I know God will help me express how much he has meant to me all these years.

You know, we try to sum up a person's life in a short paragraph in the newspaper. Here is the one for Mr. Neal:
NEAL, Lt Col Windell W., US Air Force (Ret) died on 24 January 2012 after an extended illness. He was 86 years of age. Lt Col Neal entered the Armed Forces during World War II and also served in Vietnam. He served for 27 years at various assignments in the United States and in other stations overseas. While on active duty, he attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Subsequent to his retirement, he elected to reside in Prattville, Alabama. He is survived by his loving wife, Catherine, of 31 years. He has 5 children by a previous marriage, Stephen Neal, Atlanta, Georgia, Sheila Neal, Houston, Texas, Joyce Spivey, Montgomery, Alabama, Gail Hayes (Bill) Georgia, Carolyn Dasinger (Jim), Montgomery, Alabama, Surviving grandchildren, Bill Hayes (Washington,DC, Benjamin Dasinger (Montgomery), Ashley and Elizabeth Dasinger, also of Montgomery. Windell is also survived by 2 stepdaughters, Cherie (Clifton) and Jennifer (Jim), both of Prattville. Also surviving is step granddaughter, Stefani Wiley (Jamie), Prattville, Alabama. Windell has been an active member of the First United Methodist Church of Prattville for many years. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his memory to the Church. A memorial service will be held, Friday, January 27, 2012 at 10:00 AM, First Methodist Church, Prattville.
No, obituaries don't do a man justice. My life is totally different because of this one. Thank you, Mr.Neal. I'll miss you.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Random signs around the office

I look at things weird. Or, I guess to get the grammar right, weirdly. If you're around me much, you'll here reference to ridiculously silly puns. So here are two observations about signs at my work place:

This sign is displayed in the mornings as we enter the office, to point out that we are required to swipe our security badge as we go through the door. So here's my question: If this is required at all times, when are we supposed to get our work done? Yeah, I know...haha.

And then there is this pair of signs, on opposite sides of the same door - an exit door from our cafeteria:

Outside of door

Inside of door

So, once again a question: If this door is only for exits, why should the people walking out have to open it slowly? I guess that means we expect people to ignore the "exit only" sign, and so we need to be careful opening the door in case someone is on the other side trying to enter. Despite the sign.

Either that or we're just being careful.

Just random observations...yeah, I look at things weird. ly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

That's not what happened...not at all

"On March 21st, 1963, Alcatraz officially closed. All the prisoners were off the island. Only that’s not what happened. Not at all."
With the narration began one of my most highly anticipated shows of the last two years. Just a few months after LOST ended, word got out that there was to be another show with some of the same bloodlines. JJ Abrams producing. Michael Giacchino doing the score. And one of my all time favorites, Jorge Garcia (Hurley!), as one of the stars. I was sad LOST was ending, but I looked forward to Alcatraz.

It took nearly two years after LOST ended for it to hit the air. In the meantime, there have been several really shows to catch my attention. The best of these is Fringe, another Abrams creation. (You should check it out.) But there is something about the promos for this show that whispered hope for those of us who missed the greatest serial drama  of all time.

Before I give my thoughts, here's a trailer so you can see what it's all about:

Well, after watching the first night, what's not to love? It has in only two hours, introduced interesting characters who I think I will begin to care about soon, laid out a fascinating premise involving government conspiracy and time traveling prisoners, several layers of mystery, and two major plot twists that caused my jaw to drop. With the narration quoted above, it hooked us and then repeated the same lines at the end of the first hour in context (while giving us the first big reveal). Love that! It laid out a format for future episodes (one prisoner at a time) that, in my opinion, will help keep the premise from getting old.

And I had forgotten how much I loved watching Hurley until I watched Garcia creating another lovable character.

Ok, I can hear some of you who watched saying that there were places where the plot was too unbelievable to get in to. Sure, it's out there. But I would say to you, relax. Enjoy it. Suspend your need for logic for an hour and just enjoy.

By the way, it does have a few things in common with Fringe. A core group of characters who are not just random investigators, but have a history related to the bigger mysteries of the show. And an aspect that is like a procedural drama (case of the week) but all in the context of a bigger mythology. Yep, pretty cool.

So...has LOST been replaced for me? That's not even possible. I had to go into this reminding myself not to use that as the would only lead to disappointment. But the first episode was a dang good one to me, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Alcatraz...check it out.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I once was lost...

Last night was one of the longest nights I've been through in a long time. A long time.

I go up yesterday morning to go to work, as I often have to do on the second Saturday in January. One of my duties as an actuary is to estimate our company's need for loss reserves, and this has to be done in a very narrow time window before year end financial statements are prepared. It makes for long hours this time of year. So, I headed to work, planning to get it all done in time to see the playoff game at 3:30.

I left my dog Elphie in the back yard, figuring she would enjoy running around and playing back there for the few hours I was gone. Although she stays inside with me most of the time and sleeps inside, I do this alot, and it's not a problem.

But this time it was. Somehow, Elphie found a weakness in my fence. And she wiggled her way through it, and then she was gone.

I got home about 3:30 and immediately knew something was wrong. I saw the hole she had pushed through the fence. I called her name, but there was no answer. I called...and called...and called.

The next few hours are a blur now, but suffice it to say I was distraught. Between then and bedtime, I spent hours riding around looking to see if she was in someone's yard, as did my dad. I walked up and down streets calling her name, as did both my dad and my sister. I called my vet and went to the Emergency Animal Clinic. I called the Humane Shelter. Nothing. I put lot posters up all around the neighborhood. I was desperate. Elphie is, of course, the best dog in the world. I love her so much, and she was gone. All because she had wanted a little freedom and a little adventure.

As I went to bed last night, my heart hurt. Let me correct myself - as I went to sleep. you see, I couldn't bring myself to sleep in my bedroom, because to do so I would have to look at Elphie's empty bed beside mine. And I was trying to everything I could to avoid thinking about her possibly being hungry, and out in the cold all night. It was almost unbearable.
Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:4-7)
As I lay on my couch last night, hurting and desperate to find Elphie, I thought about my heavenly Father.  Like my dog, I have wandered off from his protective care. I haven't realized how good I had it, with Someone to love me, feed me, nurture me, and do what's best for me even when I don't understand it. I don't understand how good I have have it in his back yard and in his presence. I want to get away and chase my squirrels. I want to do things my way. I want freedom. And when I force my way out of his care, I get lost. So lost.

But what I truly understood last night, what I felt more clearly than I ever have, is how much it hurts our Father when we are lost. How he desperately calls out name over and over, pleading with us to come back into his fold. Yes, Jesus loves me. But loving me to the point of hurting - just words until I felt it for myself. Oh how it must hurt him!

Listen as Don Francisco sings about it:


This morning, one of those posters paid off. I got a call as I was getting out of church, and hen it was a number I didn't recognize, my heart leapt. It was from a man two blocks over, and he had found Elphie. She was ok. He had taken her to the Human Shelter (apparently my phone description of her wasn't very good), and she had slept in a warm place all night. I was thrilled.

So, I think I'll go pick her up in a little while....what?! No! Are you kidding me?? I rushed out of that church and drove immediately to the Shelter, and got her the heck out of there as quickly as I could. Because I love her and I wanted her to be with me. Where she would be taken care of.

Do you think our Father loves us any less? I am an imperfect human, and my dog is, well, a dog. God is infinite, full of love, mercy, and grace. He is so anxious for us to be back where we belong, we cannot even comprehend it. Wow!

As Elphie sits at my feet and I type this, I am filled with joy. May I experience the same joy by sitting at the feet of Jesus, and remembering how much I mess things up when I stray.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

Time to do this

January 9 is finally here. Big boy football. Hard hitting football where they teams actually know how to tackle.

Alabama. LSU. For all the marbles. Let's do this.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dream on...?

Science indicates that dreams are often the way your brain processes stuff that has been going on in your subconscious. The Bible clearly teaches that some dreams are God speaking to us. Symbolic dreams like the ones Joseph (See Genesis 40) and Daniel (See Daniel 7) interpreted. Direct dreams like God telling Joseph it was ok to marry Mary (See Matthew 1:20-24).

I don't usually remember dreams, but I had a weird dream last night and I do remember it. I have no idea what it means.

Like all dreams, there was alot of detail I don't remember. Here's what I do remember:

  • I was visiting friends from another state, and staying with them.
  • There was another friend of mine, whom the hosts have never met, staying with them also. I have not seen this friend in a long time, which is not something I'm proud of.
  • There was a woman staying with them whom I've never met. I got the feeling I was being fixed up.
  • I did something really, really embarrassing at dinner, causing a big mess in their house. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
I have no idea what this means. Seems like it might be a hodgepodge of things. If anyone wants to play Daniel and interpret it for me, comment away. I'm listening. In the meantime, time for bed. This should be interesting.