Monday, January 31, 2011

Striking the Rock

Sometimes decisions are made that have long lasting, even life changing consequences. And often, they are done under a cloak of spirituality. Such was the case for Moses - the day he lost his chance to see the promised land.

Most of you know the background: The children of Israel (that is, the descendants of Jacob) had been in slavery for 400 years. At the right time, God raised up Moses as the leader who would lead them out of slavery...and eventually to a lush land where they could well throughout history. They (like us) rebelled and did things their own way over and over, and so they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. At one point, God began to provide food and water miraculously. The water was provided when Moses, at God's command, struck a rock and brought forth water.  So far, so good.

Then, one day, the people were feeling particularly thirsty again. They came to Moses and demanded relief. They were very demanding:
Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:2-5)
 Well, Moses had had enough. He was very angry because he had given his life to these people.  He had spent years and years serving them, leading them, taking care of their every need. They were such whiners! I can just hear him: "I should have left you in Egypt? Seriously??" How could they be so ungrateful? To the Lord...AND to him!

So as he went to the Lord in prayer, we will see that he had his mind made up...and as a result, he didn't listen very well.  Here is what the Lord told him:
“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” (Numbers 20:8, italics mine)
But did he do that? No, he was fed up. Here's what he did instead:
So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:9-11, italics mine)
So, instead of trusting God and just speaking to the rock, he struck it....twice. I think he did it because:
  1. He was angry, and we men hit things when we're angry,
  2. The first time they did this, God told him to strike the rock. It worked then - why change it now?
  3. He didn't listen, and
  4. He wanted to make things happen, and so he did it his way.
Well, if you read on in Numbers 20, you'll see that the people didn't suffer for Moses' mistake; water came out of the rock anyway. But he did tell Moses that because he didn't trust the Lord to honor him in front of the people, he wouldn't be the one to lead them to their final destination. Why not? Was that fair?

As I read this account, I am humbled beyond words. I don't want to just float through life working, eating, breathing, and having fun.  I want to make a difference in our world. I want desperately to lead teenagers into a growing relationship with Christ.  I want to be a good uncle to my nephew and nieces, setting an example of living life to love God and love people. I want to use my resources - time, money, and influence - to minister to the oppressed both here and around the world. But I encounter two major obstacles, both potentially deadly. One is the tendency to live for myself - my own comfort and pleasure.

And the other is Moses' trap: the desire to make things happen myself, without depending on God. Without depending on prayer. Working, doing the things God wants me to do, trying to make people see the Kingdom and how it permeates every aspect of life - and doing it all in my own strength. How silly!  How worthless! And how frustrating! I can't expect God to do great things if I won't get out of the way and let him. If I won't let go.

As I read Numbers 20, I see where that leads. God will do what he will. The people in my life and in my path will get their water. God will do awesome things with them. And if I insist on doing it my way, if like Moses I don't "trust in (him) enough to honor (him) as holy in the sight of the 'Israelites'", I too will be left behind.

Lord, I pray that I will pray more and strain less.  Give me the faith I need to know that you are sovereign and will accomplish your purposes, and that I am privileged to be a part of it.  Thank you. Amen.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tech baby

I'm sure most of you have seen this ad, or one of the other ones like it:

I think they're all hilarious, especially this one where he goes to his backup, the smart phone when he's grounded.  Ridiculous, right? Babies can't use smart phones!

But check this out: I was in line at Universal-Orlando last month, waiting to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (It was a loooooooong line, but totally worth it.)  About halfway through that 90-minute wait, we saw this:

This is a real picture.  I am not making this up!  A kid.  In a stroller.  Using an iPhone. Ok, it looked like one - maybe it's an Android, I don't remember.  If you can tell from the picture, feel free to correct me.  Either way, it's a stinkin' smart phone!  and I'm betting he's better at it than I am.

Yes, it's a new world, and we ain't going back.  Whenever you see that eTrade ad, maybe - like me - you'll think of this kid.

Now...back to your regularly scheduled surfing...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Touching down in Ethiopia

I met Laura in the Atlanta airport. My niece Brooke and I were about to embark on an adventure that would change our lives - a mission to love on orphans in Africa with 28 people whom we had never met. Brooke, Laura, and two others would spend several hours together before meeting up with the rest of the team in the DC airport, so we got to know each other quickly.

Laura and her husband Tymm have a daughter whom they adopted from Ethiopia. She is a tremendous blessing to them, and it is a joy to follow her growth on their blog. They are an inspiration to me as they live out their lives in obedience to God - loving this little girl with all their heart.
Hoffman family...before
They have been preparing for over a year to add to their family, and the time for their court date in Ethiopia is here. Laura headed over there while Tymm stayed home caring for their other daughter Meron. As I write this, Laura and her friend (and mine) Tamara are probably collected their luggage from baggage claim in the Addis airport.  How exciting!
Tamara and Laura, on the last day of our 2010 trip
In less than 24 hours, Laura will get to hold her girl for the first time - I can't even imagine the joy. And they will also get to spend some time in Korah, a place that has grabbed my heart. I am so excited for them I can hardly stand it, and I'm also praying for God to use their time there.

If you would like to read more about the Hoffman story and follow the events of Laura's trip, check out their blog in this link. And if you think of it, please join me in praying for them, and for Tymm back here at home.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jay Cutler and Twitter

If anyone doubts how much the explosion of social media has changed our lives, yesterday provided a prime example of how things are completely different than a few years ago. Heck, probably even a few months ago.

I was watching the NFL playoffs yesterday, really with no dog in the fight (ooooo, probably a bad expression to use when discussing the NFL...thanks, Michael Vick). I just wanted to soak up the last morsels of football before it's over on February 6. In the first of two games, between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, the Bears fell behind 14-0 quickly. The offense was struggling and it was a miserable game for the Bears - exacerbated by the 20 degree weather. And then, early in the 3rd quarter, they had lost their quarterback.

Even as I write this, the debate rages as to whether Bears' QB Jay Cutler should have sucked it up and played. Was the injury bad enough to keep him out of such an important game? Why did he stand on the sidelines with a disinterested smirk on his face as his team went down? Why was he not seen giving guidance to his backups? Well, the purpose of this post is not to weigh in on that debate. (However, if you follow me on twitter, I think you know what I think.) No, what fascinated me about yesterday was the immediate and strong reactions that were instantaneously available - thanks to twitter.

Almost immediately after Cutler left the game, the questioning started, and we all could see it and weigh in ourselves. During the game, I let my followers know what I thought and saw the thoughts of my friends almost instantly. Ok, fine. But more significant to me is the way that the opinions of the well-known were out there so quickly. Want to know what your local sportswriter thinks of a controversy? a paper the next day. it on the paper's website in a few hours. in in the writer's blog probably within an hour or so. Today? Follow him/her on twitter - instant opinion!

Well, that's kinda cool and where I get most of my breaking news nowadays.  But yesterday took things to a level that I'm not sure I've ever seen before.  Because other football players (former and current) - Cutler's peers - immediately started blasting him in real time.  Here are tweets from yesterday, as quoted in an online column from ESPN's Michael Wilbon:
Deion Sanders: "I never question a player's injury, but I do question a player's heart."
Darnell Dockett (Arizona Cardinals): "If I'm on the Chicago team Jay Cutler has to wait 'til me and the team shower [and] get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room."
Derrick Brooks: "There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart."
Maurice Jones-Drew: "All I'm saying is he can finish the game on a hurt knee...I played the whole season on one."
Mark Schlereth: "As a guy [who has had] 20 knee surgeries you'd have to drag me out on stretcher to leave a championship game."
Unprecedented! In fact, so much so that it seems to me the reaction, rather than the injury, is the talk of the sports world today.

We are in an amazing era. And I have to confess that I love it. It has its downside, and it can be vicious. There definitely has to a heightened sense of responsibility and consideration when things spread so instantaneously. But I know I love knowing what my friends are thinking so quickly. And it's also cool to know what the rest of the world thinks.

One more thing:  Do you think that, say a year ago, Desmond Howard (1991 Heisman trophy winner and the first to strike the Heisman pose in a game) would have given me the time of day?  Well check out this exchange from this morning:
@desmond_howard: It was flat out WRONG 4 players(current/former) 2 tweet about J.Cutler's toughness w/out knowing extent of injury. 
@donnie19 (me!): @ Wrong. He stood there with disinterested look on his face instead of tutoring backups. Totally checked out.
@desmond_howard: @ WRONG! His normal look. Fella can't help the way his face is constructed. LOL
Yep, I got a smackdown from Desmond Howard!  Awesome!  Is this a great world or what?

And oh, follow me on twitter at @donnie19.  See ya there.

Friday, January 21, 2011


This is my niece Holly, the firstborn among my nephew and nieces.  She would have been 22 if she had not gone to be with the Lord nine years ago today.  I cannot imagine what a joy she would be if she were still with us, because I know how much joy her sister and cousins have brought into my life.  But I do know how much she taught me in her short time on this earth.  She was radiant, funny, loving, and incredibly courageous.

I still miss her so much, and I look forward to the day I can join her in praising our Father forever.  Until then...

Love you, Holly!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fringe Fridays

There are few great television shows. A little more than a year ago, the final season of my all time favorite show began.  LOST.  I remember the anticipation of finally seeing the conclusion of its amazing story arc. I could not wait to see it, and yet I dreaded its end. It was a fantastic run, ending May 23. I will never forget that night, gathering with friends and family to celebrate the six-year journey. The night at my home is captured in this video:

LOST was one of the many brilliant projects of JJ Abrams, a genius who is perhaps the leading storyteller of our time. Another of his creations is the show Fringe. It's a show built on a premise of mystery,  and unexplained phenomena...but it also has strong characters whom I've grown to care about, and a healthy mix of humor. It's a fun, exciting, thought-provoking, and emotional story. It's not LOST, but, well, what is?

Fringe has gotten better with age. The characters have become more complex and the writing is very strong. I'm excited about the second half of season 3 beginning tomorrow night. But also apprehensive. This quote from a fan site explains why:
It's a fascinating, emotional tale that's improving every week. And now all that's at risk after having been sent to what's commonly referred to as "the death slot." But at least "Fringe" isn't going quietly.
 Yes, Friday night is a graveyard for television shows. (Most of us have other things to do on Friday nights.) So if you are also a fan, please watch it. If you happens to be home tomorrow night, watch it live. If you've never seen it, give it a try.

This show, like LOST, is telling a long compelling story. The thread runs through the shorter stories that are told in individual episodes. I will always love the fact that I got to see a completed story with the end of LOST. I'm looking forward to seeing a completed story with the last Harry Potter movie next summer.  Here's hoping that Fringe will get the same opportunity. Join me if you will.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sixth Sense

Tonight was another Monday night at my sister's house. As I mentioned in the last paragraph of this blog post, it has become a tradition to gather with family and a few friends at her house once a week. We began doing this as a way to watch 24 together when it was on, and we have continued to do so ever since then. Sometimes we swim (not in January though!), sometimes we watch a TV show we all like, sometimes we play guitars and sing. Tonight, we decided to watch a movie. An oldie but a goodie...Sixth Sense.

SPOILER ALERT: If you have never seen Sixth Sense (it's been out since 1999), please do not read any farther. Major spoilers ahead.

For those of you still reading, you know what a great movie this is. I had not watched it in years, so I had almost forgotten how powerful it was. (One of our group had never seen it, so it was fun seeing his reaction.) You know, I bet most of you are like me; when you think of this movie, you think of the twist at the end. The moment when we realize that Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) has been dead all along. (If you haven't seen it....I warned you!)

But this was fantastic storytelling all the way through. This movie starts with a seed of a premise and masterfully builds the suspense as we see Dr. Crowe trying to help young Cole (Haley Joel Osment) process the fact that he sees ghosts. And then, just before the twist for which the movie is so famous, we see a magnificent thing happen.

Dr. Crowe, who (we learn shortly thereafter) lost his life because he was unable to help a child with similar problems, is able to help Cole process the reason for his "gift". It is so he can help these dead people let go of their burdens and move on. (Which reminds me...I miss LOST!) The best part of the story, to me, is the fact that is exactly what Cole is doing for Dr. Crowe, and he has no idea. The doctor has to let go of the fact that he was able to help the boy who killed him, and by helping Cole, he can do so.  So he thinks he is just helping his young patient, but in reality Cole is helping him. Gave me chill bumps.

Now, this is fiction. Of course I don't believe dead people walk around trying to unload burdens so they can move on to some unknown afterlife.

But what a riveting story. And what a great lesson for me. Because, you see, life is not meant to be lived for ourselves. We are to give ourselves away, loving others as we love ourselves. When we spend our days looking out for number one, we will always find ourselves unfulfilled. But when we pour ourselves into helping others, we reap the rewards of an abundant life as God meant for it to be.

So, the thing I took away from our movie was this: ironically, selflessness is in our own self-interest. Or, as Jesus put it,
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)
Not easy, but it's the way to live.  Time to get on with it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A tragic night close to home

Life is short.  And fragile.  Fire is hot.  And spreads fast.

Tonight, after a late evening at work, I stopped by my Dad's house for a few minutes.  As I was walking to my car, I heard sirens begin to sound.  To my surprise, they got louder and louder,  until I saw the fire medic truck turn onto his street and race past me.  And then, it made the right turn from that street onto the one where I live.

Well, I jumped in my car and followed it (well, not really followed - it was a coincidence that we were going in the same direction).  Again, I was shocked when it stopped in front of my house.  All I could tell at first was that there was an emergency of some sort across the street.

The next few minutes are now a blur.  I was headed home to meet my friends Clark and Brian to catch a bite to eat and perhaps a movie.  It turns out, they were there before me.  And then there was a fire truck.  And another.  And still another.  Then I saw a blaze streaming out of the front door of the house.  Pretty soon there were at least five fire trucks, police, and a street full of neighbors.  As it turns out, tragically, a raging fire claimed the life of a man whom lived just across the street from me.  Here is a link to the account from WAKA, including video.

As we gathered on the street, I began to piece together what had happened.  And then I saw Clark and Brian and began to talk to them.  It turns out that they had arrived before almost anyone knew what was going on.  They saw the fire and were beckoned to help by one of the residents of the house.  They tried.  They tried mightily.  But the flames were too hot and they could not get inside.  By then it probably was too late anyway, and when the firefighters arrived it was.

We stood there in shock.  I've never been that close to something like this, and my friends certainly had not.  We wanted to believe that somebody could have done something, but it was not to be.  The fire was just too hot and it was spreading like crazy.

I really don't know how to put this in words, but I had to try.  I'm know I'm proud of my friends and their heroic efforts.  And I know that's not what they want to talk about.  And so as we got away from the scene to try and process it, we talked about life.  And how short it is.  We all need to make the most of every opportunity, because we don't know which will be our last.

I'll never forget tonight - it's imprinted on my brain.  I am praying earnestly for the family whom I regret to say I had not taken any time to get to know.  I ask that you please do the same.  My heart breaks for them.

Fire is hot.  And spreads fast.  Life is short.  And fragile.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Are you ready for this?

So here I am, having ended another late night at the office.  Tonight it was so late that I missed chior rehearsal.  Stinks, right?  Not so fast.

I love my job for a variety of reasons.  I work with people I like, both inside and outside my department.  My company has an environment where living out my faith is encouraged.  I love being an actuary, because I'm a math geek and also I enjoy trying to come up with successful business strategy.  I have a great boss.   (Lest you think this to be brown-nosing, I should point out that I don't think he even knows this blog exists.)  And most of all, it's where God has placed me and he knew exactly what he was doing.

Don't get me wrong; I don't love it so much that I want to spend 60-70 hours a week working.  I am so not a workaholic.  I believe that balance in life is important.  Yes, do everything with 100% effort as to the Lord, but that doesn't 100% of your time. To me, it means give work, family, friends, and ministry your best whenever you're there.

But this is a time of year when I know those long days and Saturdays will happen. There is work to be for year-end financials that require the actuary's skills, and the time frame to get this work done is very short. So I know way ahead of time that, for about three weeks, it's gonna be like this.  And that's ok.  Because I know it and can prepare myself.  Because I take some time off around Christmas for bowl games and such. (Yes, I guess that can actually make it harder.)  And, mostly, because (GEEK ALERT!) this type  of work is fun.

The work is seasonal.  And so is life.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Eccesiastes 3:1)
Are you ready for the seasons?  We all will go through fun times, hard times, boring times, exciting times, love, laughter, tragedy, and so on. Most of them are unexpected: sometimes ebbing and flowing like the tides, and sometimes in sudden bursts like a tidal wave or hurricane.  But some you can be ready for.  If you can prepare, it's much easier to go with the flow and even savor the moments good and bad.

I was prepared for this season, so I can even enjoy the extra work.  And I do.  What about the other seasons of life - how can I prepare for the unexpected?  The only thing I know to do is to stay connected to the One who does know the plan.  So...time to pull out that Bible.  Later, dudes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

You don't have to thank me

You will say the wrong thing
   if you talk too much--
   so be sensible and watch
   what you say. (Proverbs 10:19, CEV)
Don't you just love those facebook statuses?  You know, the ones like this: "Eating breakfast." "Just went through the car wash."  "Brushed my teeth."

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating. A little.  And I'm guilty of that myself, more on twitter than facebook.  It does seem that we have all developed a compulsion to share every little detail of our lives.  Even the ones that are so routine as to be, by definition, uninteresting to anybody.

But that's forgivable.  Hey, it's just a few words and I can skip over it if I want to.  To me, the biggest danger of boring people to death online is not the mundane tweet.  No, it's writing a blog post without having anything to really say.  Writing just because you feel it's time to post again.  This is a trap I pray I can keep from falling into.

You see, I've only been blogging for about six months.  I began partially because I had so much to say about my experience in Africa.  And then I realized that I saw funny or interesting things in life that someone else might want to read about.  I enjoy it, and I hope most of you have enjoyed reading it.  And then came last night.

I made a big mistake last night.  I had some time on my hands, and I looked back and noticed that I had only one post so far this year.  Yes, I actually counted the frequency of my posting.  Big mistake. And for some reason, I decided that it was "time" to post again.

So, I booted up my Macbook and logged in to blogspot.  I sat and thought.  And thought.  And thought. And then I started to write.  Fortunately for the entire free world, I stopped and deleted it.  Then I thought some more.  And started to write again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

I finally realized, how nuts is this??  I began doing this because I wanted to share interesting, funny, exciting things with my friends; maybe even occasionally something that would help them grow.  If I ever - ever - write just to be writing, I need to shut it down.

You know, this applies to life offline as well.  How often have I talked just because it seemed the thing to do?  To avoid awkward silences?  Because I wanted people to know I existed?  Just to hear myself talk?  The Scripture at the beginning of this post is right on point: we should talk only when we have something to say.

So, you're welcome.  I did not expose you to the drivel I tried to write last night.  It was horrible and boring - even to me, and it's my life!  And if you ever wonder, "Hmmm, why hasn't Donnie posted in a while?" know that it's not because I've stopped blogging.  It's because I'm waiting until I have something that I really want to say.  Hopefully, that will keep you reading.

No, do not have to thank me. :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Shaping up...I mean it

I don't care for New Year's resolutions. I really don't. It never has made sense to me that we have picked an arbitrary day, January 1, as the day when we promise ourselves that we'll do something different with our lives. Oh, I do it. But it still seems random to me. And we all know that they often don't last.

So I'm going to claim that it is just a coincidence that this week I have decided to get serious about getting myself back into better shape. I will try to convince everyone (and myself) that it's not a New Year's resolution; it just so happens that football tailgating, snacking while watching games, and Christmas food have gotten me to this point. So, since those things are over, it seems like a logical time to reverse the trend.

Good physical health is a tricky thing. I believe that many of our reasons for dieting and exercising are not the best. We want to look better. We want to be more attractive to the opposite sex. We want to live longer. We want to feel better. We want to keep from having to buy new, bigger clothes. None of these are bad things. But I don't think this list includes the real reason that I need to get serious.

Looks are fleeting and temporary; we will eventually grow old and wrinkled no matter what. And no matter how long we live, we are going to die. No matter how healthy we were. Feeling better as we grow old is probably the best of the motives listed. Who wants to be a burden to their family in their old age? But it's still not the best.

The real reason for me is much, much more basic. It's simply this: God has put this body in my care, but it does not belong to me. Like everything else in creation, he owns it. So...if I have been entrusted with the care of someone's house, shouldn't I make sure it stays in good repair? Well, to me, it should be the same with my body. I should realize that it is not mine, and the owner is trusting me to take good care of it.

I haven't been doing that lately. Not too long ago, I was doing the ropes course at Windy Gap. And everything else my high school friends were doing. That would not be so easy now, and I'm not happy about it. Probably for every reason I've listed, but hopefully mostly because I know God wants me to take better care of what he has entrusted to me.

So I'm ready to shape up. I mean it. I started Monday, and I plan to follow through. Not because it's January, but because it's now. God grant me the resolve to follow through.

Ready. Set. Go.