Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Next Three Days

As Clark, Brian, and I headed to the movie theater last night, I wasn't completely sure about the wisdom.  Yes, I go to late movies alot, and yes, on weeknights.  But I had gotten a short night's sleep the night before, and this 11:00 movie was schedule to run over two hours.  Would it keep my attention?  Or would it become a $9 nap?

It was no contest.  There was never a time in the course of the next 2 hours where I was not on the edge of my seat.

As the trailer above illustrates, The Next Three Days was promoted for the action and tension of an escape attempt.  Lara Brennan (portrayed by Elizabeth Banks) is arrested and convicted of a murder her husband John (Russell Crowe) is sure she did not commit.  The evidence is overwhelming, and ultimately John feels compelled to break her out of prison and flee the country.  I expected the movie to center on the action of the escape and the flight.  I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it spent most of the time building the tension as John first experienced the hopelessness welling up, and then plotted every detail of the coming escape attempt.  Some might call that slow (and some reviews did).  I call it gripping, and masterful.  I was spellbound by the script, the building pace, and Crowe's acting.

The most compelling scene of the movie took place in the home of John's parents, and had no action.  It was powerful, and exemplified the brilliance of the film.  It featured one of the great actors of our time, Brian Dennehy, in a small role.

(Side note:  I've always been a fan of Dennehy, but especially after I got to see him on the Broadway stage in 1998.  I was privileged to see him perform the role of Willy Loman in the stage production of Death of a Salesman.  It was magnificent.)

When I saw early in the movie that Dennehy was playing the role of John's father, I knew there would be a scene to watch out for.  You don't put an actor of that caliber in a movie just for a warm body.  The promise was fulfilled as John was picking up his little boy from his parents' house the evening before the escape attempt.  His father (Dennehy) saw the plane tickets and realized what was up.  He knew he might never see his son again.  I cannot adequately describe the power of what took place next as he came face-to-face with John, possessing that knowledge.  And I wouldn't want to, because I would not want to spoil the experience for you.  Let me just say that the movie is worth seeing for this scene alone.

So...how far would you go for those you love?  When you make a decision that will affect the rest of your life, do you count the cost?  John Brennan had to.  If you really want to know what that means (or if you just want a captivating two hours of entertainment), see this movie.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"I have no responsibilities here whatsoever."

Do you have one of those movies?  One that if you flip past it on your TV, you can't resist stopping to watch it, no matter how many times you've seen it?  And you do this even though you already own it on DVD?

Yeah, mine is A Few Good Men.  This classic legal/military drama from 1992 has one of the best scripts ever, and has dozens of memorable and quotable lines.  (Yes, 1992...more on that later.)  I drop them in conversations all the time.  Like yesterday...

I was at church in Tallahassee and had a chance to chat with Mark, the pastor and a good friend.  It just so happens that he wasn't doing the message and so he was able to just worship and enjoy the day.  He described it by saying that had "no responsibilties" for the service.  Well, I couldn't resist -- I interjected the line "I have no responsibilities here whatsoever."  If you know the movie, you know this is what second counsel Sam Weinberg (played by Kevin Pollack) said about his role in the case as he was being introduced to JoAnne (Demi Moore).

Thus began a conversation about the fleeting nature of life.  We talked about the fact that this movie was 18 years old.  18 years!  How is that possible?  Then we talked about other movies that were ridiculously old.  Later that afternoon, while on a completely different topic, my friend Steve and I reminisced Thursday night TV shows from the 80s.  Hill Street Blues. LA Law.  The Cosby Show. And the beginning of ER.

Could those shows really be over 20 years old?  Does Steve really have a daughter in college?  Has it really been 28 years since Coach Bryant's passing?  Where the HECK is the time going?

Of course, we know the answer.  From Scripture:
The life of mortals is like grass, 
   they flourish like a flower of the field; 
the wind blows over it and it is gone, 
   and its place remembers it no more. (Psalm 103:15-16)
Or , if you prefer, from the Steve Miller Band:
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' Into the future. (Fly Like an Eagle)
Yes, life is short.  We are only here for a brief time, and the longer we live, the more we know it.  For those of you who are really young (college, high school, etc.), it doesn't seem that way yet, does it?  Just a heads-up: the more you live, the faster it goes.  I don't know why.  Maybe life is like a roll of toilet paper -- the closer you get to the end, the faster it unrolls.  (Ever notice that?)  Maybe it's math -- every year is a smaller and smaller percentage of your life experiences.  (Math geek answer.)  Whatever the reason, it's true.  Guys, it was just Christmas!  Like last week.  No?  Well, it sure seems like it.

Yes, A Few Good Men has been around for 18 years.  Tom Cruise's future wife Katie Holmes was 13 years old. (Sorry, Tom, it's true.)

So, can you handle the truth?

Life moves on.  Faster and faster.  Knowing this, I want to make mine count.  I don't have as much time as I might think.  Lord, help me to redeem the time, and use it for your glory.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Too fast

This moment has come WAY too fast!  From the moment the season tickets arrive in August, you dread the moment when you pull the last ones out of the envelope.  Done.  Unfortunately.

Tomorrow is the last regular season game for the Tide, and I can't believe how short the time was from September 4 until now.  But since it's here, a win would be huge. Bama is tied with Oklahoma for the most 10-win seasons at 30.  Let's make it 31!

As we are less than 14 hours from the game, here's a recap of last year's game against this same opponent - a key step on the road to National Championship #13:

ROLL TIDE!  Let's do this!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

By faith...

As we move deeper into Thanksgiving week, I am overwhelmed by how thankful I am for the people in my life.  I am fully convinced that God has put us on earth to love him and love people -- everything else is just noise.  This is what I want my life to be about, as reflected in this post from August.

So, as an expression of my gratefulness, I offer this tribute to the people who have meant so much to me.  I won't be able to get to everyone, because God has blessed me with so many wonderful people; for that, I offer apologies to anyone I don't mention specifically.  Please know that with or without a specific mention, if you're in my life, you mean the world to me.

So here we go.  With thanks to the apostle Paul, it is in the format of Hebrews 11:1-12:1.

 Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for, and what people are still commended for today.

By faith my Mom and Dad raised four children that were born in the span of five years.  They instilled love for each other, faith in God, and the joy of life in us.  My father worked multiple jobs to provide for us and my mother always made time with us a priority.  My Dad continues to provide life lessons for me, and by faith my Mom still speaks even though she is with the Lord.

By faith my sister Kim modeled what is is like to be a follower of Jesus on a college campus far from home.  That model is still an influence on kids who attend UA today through a scholarship in her name.  She also taught me how to love my family better.  Though she is no longer on this earth, her faith still speaks.

By faith my niece Holly loved a lifetime's worth in her short 13 years.  I mss her as much as I ever did.

By faith my sisters Kay and Kristy show every day what it's like to raise a family and still have time for a brother and a father.  They watch out for me and seem to worry about me as much as a mother would.  I am very thankful for them.

By faith my nephew Hunter and nieces Haley, Macy, and Brooke continue to love their extended family as much as they did when they were 10...even though they're all college students.  I am amazed that they take as much time as they do loving on us, considering all they have on their plate and how many friends they have.  I am blessed to be their uncle.

And now for friends:

By faith Steve has stayed in touch with me for right at 30 years now.  We met when I was teaching his 10th grade Sunday school class in 1980 or so.  And even though he live 200 miles apart and he has a wife and two children, he takes time to hang out at least 4 or 5 times a year.  His spiritual wisdom is a light to all who know him and to me especially.

By faith Tommy led our local YoungLife ministry for over 10 years, and during that time became one of my closest friends.  He is still leading it as a volunteer, and has followed God's call to another ministry.  I admire his faith.

By faith Brian left his home in Georgia (yeah, I guess I stole that line from Sitting on the Dock of the Bay) to come do student ministry here in Montgomery.  He is a faithful friend who will do absolutely anything for you.  I am thankful to know him.

By faith Jeff has persevered through many obstacles and moved several times to make sure he provides for his family as the Lord expects. Like Steve, he has stayed n touch for nearly thirty years despite not living anywhere near me.  Friends like that don't grow on trees.

By faith Clark and Laura followed their Father's call to Asia, and began raising their family there.  Through the miracle of facebook, email, and skype, it felt like they lived in the next state instead of on the other side of the Pacific.  They have taught me so much about the Father's heart for the whole world.

By faith Russell has raised a family that I almost call my own.  His kids are a second generation of YoungLifers, and it is so cool to be friends with them as well as their Dad.  He is another friend of 30 years that I still talk to at least weekly.  (During football season, make that daily.)  Roll Tide, Russell.

By faith my cousin Chip and his wife Susie have adopted from China as their enter their 50s.  They have become burdened with God's heart for orphans and want to dedicate the rest of their lives to it.  I'm inspired.

What more shall I say?  I do not have time to talk about Rusty, Russ, Tim, Audrey, Tammy, and Angie who walked with me through high school and kept me grounded in the faith.  Or Larry, Craig, Mark, Norm, Jeannie, Ron, and Hap, who were my mentors as they led YoungLife.  Or Windell, Bill, Wyman, Lee, and Steve, supervisors/mentors over the years at work whom God has used to bless me through my career.  Or Beth, Lori, Frances, Jody, and Cathy, women of God who taught me what little I know about relating to them. :)  There's John, Jesse, Michelle, and two full mission teams with whom I had the privilege to travel to Russia and Africa.  Many of them are now lifelong friends.

We're talking friends old and new: Jacob. Jack. Joe. Joe. Janice. Amy. Ann. Nathan. Jason. Mary Kat. Carrie. Bobb. Kevin. Gene. Chip. Jennifer.  Kim. Tamara. Katrina. Sarah. Mark. Lee. Andrea. Rob. Lauren. Kathy. Shannon. Kerrie. Yali. Shannon. Beth. Christine. Bill. Sharon. Elissa. Megan. Danny. Laura. Jenny. Matt. Ally. Callie. Liz. Kris. Hillary. Name after name after name after name...there are so many of you I can't count them.  Not "people I know".  Friends!  What a blessed life I have.

The world is not worthy of them.  They are all commended for their faith, but most of them have not received what is promised yet.

So, since I am surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, I do want throw off everything that hinders, and run with perseverance the race marked out for me.

My family and friends inspire me to do so.  And I am thankful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

stopped up

Have you ever noticed how much we depend on being able to hear ourselves properly? When I talk - or sing - there is an expectation of how my own voice is going to sound to me.  I'm sure the same is true for you.  When we hear a recording of yourself, it doesn't sound quite right, does it?  Yeah, me neither.

So right now, I'm all messed up.  My sinuses and such have been acting up for the last week or so, and it has gotten to the point where it affects my hearing.  I have always had trouble with my ears.  I had frequent ear infections as a child and a few as an adult. (Yeah, I know...who said I'm an adult now?)  I've had two significant ear surgeries and spend most of my life with a tube in my left ear.  So when allergies flare up or I get a head cold, my ears are along for the ride.

So here's the deal.  I do not sound like myself to me right now.  I am positive I sound exactly the same to other people, but not to myself.  In my own head, my voice is hollow, loud, and grating.  I can't stand to hear it.  And that really ticks me off on a Sunday morning.  Why?  Because I love to sing and it's an important part of worship for me.  When I can't sing out confidently, I feel almost, well, paralyzed.

As I was reflecting on this during church, two things occurred to me.  Not especially deep thoughts, but worth sharing.

  1. On the positive side: We have to live our lives by faith, not by sight.  Or in this case, not by hearing.  There is absolutely nothing different about the way my voice sounds to the outside world.  Nothing.  Unless I hold back or sing differently because I lack confidence.  Today we sang a beautiful rendition of The Majesty and Glory of Your Name.  I wanted to sing it from the bottom of my heart, but I was distracted by my voice and it wasn't easy.  So, how do you live your life?  Do you live it by how you feel and how you think you come across to others?  Or do you live it by faith in the One who gave you life, without worrying about how it "sounds" to other people?  As for me, I know which way I want to live.  And I know it doesn't always happen that way.
  2. On the other hand, sometimes I talk too much.  Sometimes I think my opinion is the only one that matters, and I want to make sure everyone hears it.  I can go on and on, without listening to what others are saying.  Yes, you could conclude that I like to hear myself talk.  What a relief it must be for others when my ears get stopped up, so that I no longer like to hear myself.  So, I have reached the conclusion that sometimes God will allow discomfort in our lives just so we will stop being so focused on ourselves and listen to the needs of others.
I hate this feeling!  It's no fun to continuously sound like I'm living inside an oil drum.  But maybe it's good.  When adversity enters my life, what should I do?  Should I keep on plugging away, confident that  God is still God and I can rest in that?  Yes.  Should I let it change parts of my life where maybe I've been too self-centered?  Again, yes.

Both: Ignore it...and let it change me.

I love paradoxes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Music tonight

If you've never heard Drew and Ellie Holcomb perform, you have missed a major treat.  I heard them first when they were the featured musicians at YoungLife camp.  I was hooked, and I go see them any time they're near.  Here's a sample of their music from YouTube:

Awesome, aren't they?  Well, thanks to my friend Tommy for letting me know they were playing at Huntingdon College tonight.  I went, and was not disappointed.

You really oughta check out their website (http://www.drewholcomb.com) to see about getting some of their music, and also see if their Christmas tour is coming near you.  It starts Dec 1 in Raleigh and ends Dec 18 in Nashville.

Speaking of Christmas, I'll leave you a video of my favorite version of this holiday song...enjoy:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A tradition renewed

It was a cold night in Minnesota, January of 2008.  I was there to go ice fishing (of all things), invited by friends up there that I work with.  It was very, very cold -- about 10 degrees below zero -- and there was lots of snow.

So on Friday night while I was there, I got a call from some friends.  Turns out it was snowing at home.  In Montgomery!  For the first time in years.  So I left the south to see snow, and there it was in my back yard.

But that's not what this blog is about.  It's about what my friends were doing when they called me.  You see, a small group of friends who had met as YoungLife leaders had begun getting together on a regular basis at my house.  We would eat Thai or Indian food.  We'd talk about life, our ministry together, and fun stuff.  And, as a group that loves good stories, we would watch a couple of favorite TV shows together.

At the time we were watching a couple of shows, Heroes and 24, as a group.  But on that cold night, we were caught up as a group, and they were snowed in, and they were looking for something new.  Enter the greatest show in the history of television.  That's right...LOST.

At the time, the show had not begun its 4th season, and my friends had not ever seen an episode.  So...the phone call.  I discovered that cold Friday night that my friends were at my house, without me, watching my DVD of the pilot episode.  I was thrilled, because you always want to share your passions with those you're close to.  And this definitely qualified.

Well, it's too late to make this long story short, but my friends became as addicted to this amazing drama as I was.  I had the most fun watching the DVDs with them, and watching them enjoy it was almost as cool as the show itself.  We had long discussions about what stuff meant.  But as great as that was, what really, really was awesome was a tradition of getting together with friends and sharing life.

Fast forward two and a half years.  Two of our group, Clark and Laura (pictured at the top of this post), have been in Asia for the past two years.  They have had two children.  Throughout most of history, end of friendship, right?  But through the technological marvels of email, skype, and facebook, we have kept in close touch.  I even went to visit them once.  And now...they are back.

So, Sunday night, we renewed a tradition.  This time at their house.  The core of the old group was back together.  Eating chicken tikki masala (not to mention some delicious pies Laura made!).  Talking about Asia and my trip to Africa.  Catching up on life.  Watching a movie.

It's good to have y'all back, guys.  I look forward to many more evenings like Sunday.  Friends and family...the stuff life is made of.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Welcome to Tuscaloosa

Here are some of my favorite people, only one of which I've known more than 5 months:

They are, of course, the awesome africa team that I spent two weeks with last summer.  On Labor Day weekend, we had a reunion in Nashville, and it was awesome. At the time I blogged about what a great weekend it was, what with the opening weekend of football season followed by the reunion.

Football. And friends with whom I shared one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Tomorrow, a few of them are coming to visit.  And go to a football game with us.

What a day it's going to be!  I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Off Broadway

I couldn't resist.  I cannot be this close to NYC and stay away from Broadway.  So this afternoon, after checking into my hotel in Newark, NJ, I jumped in the car and headed toward Manhattan.  (For why I was so close, check out my previous blog post.)

As a side note, I would rather have been in Tallahassee, where my good friend Steve's new Chick-fil-A location was being dedicated.  But work had me here, and "here" is tantalizingly close to one of my favorite places in the world.  So there I went.

I wasn't sure what if anything I might be able to see.  It's Monday night, which for years has traditionally been "dark" on Broadway.  I was prepared to just have a nice dinner in "the city".  But it seems that now some shows are going dark on a different night so that Monday can be active, so when I got to the discount ticket booth in Times Square (pictured below), there were some choices.

Just a few choices, but there were some.  There was Phantom, which I've seen almost as many times as I've seen Wicked.  There was Mamma Mia, which I've seen in Atlanta...nah, not in the mood for ABBA.      There was Rock of Ages, a musical with tons of great 80s music....very tempting, and I almost bought the ticket.  But then I noticed that The Fantasticks was playing Off Broadway.  It originally ran on Broadway for 32 years, making it the longest running show on Broadway.  It's a script I've always liked (based on a couple of college performances I had seen), and I had never seen an Off-Broadway production of anything.  So that's the way I went.

It was, well, a fantastic evening.  (Sorry, couldn't resist.)  It was very interesting to be in NY and see a show in a small theatre on the third floor of a building -- it probably held about 150 people.  I was on the front row, and it was so intimate that many times the actor was looking me directly in the eyes while speaking.  It was an atmosphere that I had only experienced in college theatre or the Octagon at ASF.  To experience that environment with highly professional actors (and singers) was a treat.  Thanks to Edward Watts (El Gallo), Erik Altemus (Matt), Juliette Trafton (Luisa) and the rest of the cast for a wonderful evening.

I started this post intending to spend some time on how the show's script moved me.  About how it paints a picture of life with some points that parallel some truths of Scripture.  The fact that Ms. Trafton listed a Bible verse (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) in her bio makes it even more tempting.  I may do that too in another post, but it can wait.  For now, I just wanted to share that I didn't need the large house, lavish orchestration, and large sets with moving parts to enjoy a night of musical theatre.  Good acting and music along with a funny but deep script were enough.

I love Broadway...hope I get back here soon.  Now I know that the choices for good entertainment are even wider than I thought.  Off-Broadway ain't bad.

Now...back to work in the morning.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On the go...

Sometimes I have the craziest schedule.  I love to travel....love to hang out with family and friends...love to just be doing something.  Last spring I was in Europe for a work assignment when...well, you remember the whole volcanic ash thing?  Yeah, that got me.  But instead of fretting, I loved the adventure.  I will have to tell that story later.

Yeah, I go and go and go every chance I get, and I have been blessed with a career where some of that is due to work.  So...here is what my next few 5 days looks like:

  • I am writing this from my hotel room in Baron Rouge.  I'm here with my sister and two nieces, and we are stoked for the Bama-LSU game tomorrow.
  • Game tomorrow, and then we head back to the gump Sunday...5 hour drive.
  • Then it gets interesting.  I jump on a plane Sunday night and will check into a hotel in Washington, DC around midnight.  This is so I can...
  • Be in attendance to support one of my employees who is officially receiving her professional designation as an actuary.
  • Then I jump on a train to New Jersey.  I'll be there Monday night and Tuesday, where I will...
  • Meet up with several other company staff for a presentation we have to make Wednesday morning.
  • Then...finally....I fly home Wednesday night.
Whew!  This should be interesting.  It starts with a little business for the Tide to take care of.

Roll Tide!

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    NO left turn

    It was early Sunday afternoon, and we were headed to lunch.  I was in Tallahassee visiting my good friend Steve and his family, and we had just left an awesome worship service at their church.  As we circled the building searching for a parking place, I saw the following sign:

    Now I've seen plenty of "no left turn" signs.  But this one is a little different.  Did you notice it?  It has the word NO in huge letters.  We all know what this means: the sign is shouting at us.  "NO left turn!"  Dummy!

    Now I don't know the story behind the sign.  I imagine that some previous, normal version of the sign had been ignored over and over.  For some reason, the city felt the need to emphasize that they really, really meant it.

    We have all sorts of language tools to tell people that we really mean something.  We promise.  We swear.  We swear by things.  Jesus saw this and he had something to say about it:
    Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made."  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)
    It's easy to focus on the specific admonishments in this quote.  Don't do this, don't do that.  Don't break your oath, don't swear at all.  But the key to the whole passage is the last sentence: let your yes be yes and let your no be no.  What is Jesus saying?  It's pretty simple really.  Be a person of your word.  Always tell the truth.  Always do what you say you're going to do.  Have integrity.  If you do that, then you won't need to say "I swear".  Or "I promise."  Or "I mean it."  Or "This time I really mean it!"  Or "Not just no but....(you know the rest)."

    NO left turn!  We mean it -- you stinkin' better not turn left here!  We mean it!

    That's what the sign was saying.  It's my prayer that I would be the kind of person that you believe what I say without me having to convince you.  If we all did that, how cool would that be?

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Month of thankfulness

    Hey all!  My friend Tommy came up with an awesome idea that I want to share with my friends. He is encouraging everyone who is on Twitter to have a daily tweet during the month of November, listing something that you're thankful for. And then to use the hashtag #monthofthankfulness so that a chain can be created for us all to follow.

    What a great way to lead up to Thanksgiving!  I know I can benefit from a tool that makes me focus a little more on my blassings.  In fact, I think I'm also going to use my facebook status for this (although the hashtag part won't apply).

    I started today, appropriately, with an All Saints Day tribute to my mom, sister Kim, and niece Holly who have gone to be with the Lord.  I'm so thankful for all they taught me and the blessing of knowing them, and that I will see them again one day.

    So...try it!  It should be fun.