Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Who stole my bowling ball?

Monday night I landed in Atlanta around midnight after an amazing long weekend in the northeast. It included so highlights:
  • A fantastic Broadway show in NYC Thursday night, as I wrote about in my last blog post.
  • Huge chunks of time hanging with friends from this summer's Africa mission team - I love those guys!
  • A tour of "Chocolate World" at the Hershey plant in, yes, Hershey, PA. I even got to do a taste test.
  • Getting to stay with the Swank family, who I think at some point in their lives must have gone into some sort of top secret hospitality training.
  • An awesome morning of worship with my friends, as we shared our love for Ethiopia with their church family.
  • Surviving the edges of Hurricane Irene, including a two-day power outage. I love adventure, so that turned out to be one of the most fun things about the trip. Check out the downed trees, one of which happened right before our eyes through the kitchen window, and the other being what we encountered trying to find a route to church:

All that was amazing! And enough to help me gloss over my one goofy, "Donnie" moment of the weekend. I don't know why I'm going to admit this...except that the urge to tell a funny story seems to always overshadow any embarrassment I might feel.

I was at the Palmyra bowling alley Friday night with David, Ashton, and Sarah, three of my friends from the Ethiopia trip. We had bowled 3+ games and we were having a great time hanging out even though none of us (well, maybe David) really were bowlers.

Rewind to the beginning of the evening. Despite being a terrible bowler, I had followed my usual pattern whenever I'm involved in a competitive sport. I had looked all over the alley and finally found a perfect color crimson bowling ball. Roll Tide...I was ready to go!

Well, as we were bowling the fourth game, they turned on the black light for their version of what we in Montgomery call "cosmic bowling". When it came my turn, I stepped up the rack and...dang! Where is my ball? Who took it? I looked at every ball in the rack and there was no sign of it. I turned to my friends and yeah, I think they would say I was kinda freaking out. All of them begin to tell me, "It's right there!" "Where?" "Right in front of your eyes!" I looked again - no crimson bowling ball. Finally, they pointed out that the black light had made it look purple all of a sudden. At which point I blurted out, "Great! Now I've got an LSU ball!"

How goofy is that?

And yes, it's football season in less than 24 hours. And it's just a little bit on my mind, don't you think? Let's get it kicked off.

And oh yeah, one last little adventure: my Sunday flight got canceled and so I spent an extra day there. But that just meant more time with my new friends, which was very cool.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Catch Me If You Can

As documented in previous posts like this one, Broadway is one of my favorite places in the world. When I’m anywhere close to there, I want to find a way to catch a show. So as I was planning to visit friends in Pennsylvania this weekend, I decided to add an extra day for a trek into the Big Apple. You may be asking, “Close? Really?” And you would probably have a point – I am currently writing this on a 3 hour train ride from NYC to their city. But 1) for an Alabama boy, that is close, and 2) that’s how much I love it. Rationalization can be a powerful thing.

So….what to see? There were really three choices at the top of the list. The two not chosen were Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, simply because the music is by U2. How to Succeed in Business, starring Daniel Radcliff. But my niece Macy was in New York earlier this summer and saw Catch Me If You Can and she absolutely loved it. Add to that the fact that the co-star Norbert Butz had spent four years of his career at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery and it was the obvious choice.

It. Was. Amazing. It had everything that I love about the genre. A great story to tell, exceptional musical numbers, awesome performances, humor, and even a couple of times where I got a little misty. And it had something I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before: the original cast intact. I bought the soundtrack on iTunes when I got back to my hotel room, and the performers on the album are the same ones I had just seen perform. How cool is that?

Just to give you a taste, here is a four-minute clip from this year’s Tony Awards. It includes an almost complete version of the song “Don’t Break the Rules”, which was an absolute showstopper. Enjoy:


Let me just say that I was highly entertained and walked out of the theatre with a smile on my face. Like a child, I wanted to cry out “Do again!” But also, with the way I’m wired, I never see a movie, listen to a song, read a book, or see a play without thinking about how it fits into and comments on life. CMIYC was no exception. It was a story of a kid who went looking to fill a big hole in his life, one left by a father who taught him some distorted values. It was also the story of an FBI agent who never had children of his own and was also trying to fill a hole in his life by the pursuit of this criminal who continually made him look bad. It dealt with father issues, conditional vs. unconditional love, and the tension between law and grace. I loved the fact that these two long time adversaries found something of what they were looking for in each other. And that unlike Javert of Les Miserables, Agent Carl Hanratty learns that the heart can change. He still believes that the rules must be obeyed and punishment must follow when they are not, but he learns to administer the law with love and grace mixed in. And, like the Prodigal Son, Frank responds to that.

Just a marvelous show. If you’re ever in New York, or if in the future a touring company brings it near you, see it!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another semester begins...

...but not just another semester. When we last left the academic calendar at the University of Alabama, the school and its surroundings were in chaos. The city of Tuscaloosa had just been ravaged by a monster tornado and any idea of rebuilding was almost inconceivable. The day after the tornado, the school announced an early end to spring semester. And the process of picking up the pieces began.

From what I can tell, amazing progress has been made over the summer. There is a long way to go, but we have learned that our state and the city are both filled with resilient people. And more importantly, there is a big, big God watching over us and leading the healing process.

So tomorrow, classes begin again. And another step in the healing process commences. No doubt it will be a hard day for many students and faculty. I pray for them that God would fill them with grace and a sense of his comfort as they try to build a "new normal".

And I also pray for my three nieces who are students there. I am so proud of them. From the moment the tornado struck, I started hearing from them nothing but compassion for their neighbors and fellow students. Their heart is in their chosen city, and it shows.

So tomorrow they begin classes. For two of them, it is the 4th year of college and so they enter the home stretch of their chosen fields of study. They are beginning to think about the implications for their careers - classes are not just classes anymore. For the youngest, she enters her second year and begins to move from freshman requirements into classes that are more relevant to her field. I pray for God to give them a sense of calm and the fact that he is in control of their futures.

For all of them, they continue to navigate the the dangerous waters of living for Christ in the midst of college hedonism. We all know that college is a place where so many young people exercise their new found freedom to live for themselves and, more specifically, their pleasure. Yes, it's a dangerous place for students who are not connected to the Vine, drawing their life daily from their relationship with Christ. But for those who are connected.... What. An. Opportunity. They can be the light of the world in the darkest of rooms, and make such a difference for friends who desperately need light.

And so I pray for Tuscaloosa. And I pray for the student body of the University. And mostly I pray for these three students whom I love so much. May you stay connected to your life source. May you stay close to friends are also connected. And may you do so in a way that spreads God's grace among your other friends, not bringing harsh judgment to them but the love of God.

Just like your aunt/mother did 30 years ago. I am so proud of you. May God grant you an amazing year.

And roll tide.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Crazy Don

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed." (Malachi 3:6)
Wednesday afternoon about 2:30. Am moment that I'm sure led my staff to think, "What the heck?"

I was in transition from one meeting with some higher management to another. The problem was this: The first meeting had run overtime and (to my dismay) I had decided to print some stuff for the second meeting between meetings. Yep, that was my own fault and yes it was because I am a world-class procrastinator.

So there I was, charging back to my office to print the exhibits. But when I had sent the print job, I realized that in my haste I had printed the whole 10 page document instead of the single page I wanted. 11 copies. So there I was printing 110 pages instead of the eleven I intended.

Wasted paper. And having to wait for that many pages to print. All while the other meeting was starting.

Yeah, I panicked. I stormed around telling everybody what I had done, and how frustrated I was. It must have been quite a sight...especially for our new staff member who had been there less than a week. "What have I gotten myself into??"

Everyone else was calm, a staff member offered to sort the exhibits and bring me the page I needed, and everything was ok. Of course. When I got back from the meeting I informed everyone that "crazy Don" was gone and "normal Don" was back.

The next morning I was reading a devotional from Max Lucado. The theme was God's unchanging nature and he made this point:
Catch God in a bad mood? Won't happen. Fear exhausting his grace? A sardine will swallow the Atlantic first...He's never sullen or sour, sulking or stressed. His strength, truth, ways, and love never change.
 The more I know about God, the more aware you are of how short I fall. I am so glad that my Creator is not like me. Yes, there is a crazy Don and a normal Don. I like to think people can count on me, but I have moods. Not God. His unchanging character is something we can all count on. For all eternity. And that's something to be excited about.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An annual reminder...

Remembering is a good thing. Especially when you use it to make a difference in how you live your life going forward. Our nation honors its past with various days set aside to do just that. For example we have Memorial Day and Veterans Day to celebrate the lives of those who have sacrificed themselves for our freedom. One day to celebrate multiple people. To look back and to look forward.

50 years ago today my sister Kim was born. Fifteen years ago tonight she went to be with the Lord, as I talk about in this post from last year.
Kim and me at a church homecoming lunch
The next year, I started a tradition of taking this day off work, to honor her, yes, but at least for a few years it was to help me deal with my thoughts and emotions. I just needed the time to be alone rather than deal with work.

Over time it developed into something better, something that I think is actually healthy. My boss (and friend) Wyman encouraged me in this. He kept saying that I need to be looking at the day as a celebration of her life and her birthday, not a focus on her death. He was (and is) right. But it has become even more than that - something that I would encourage you to think about.

Since then, I have had more losses, including my mother and my oldest niece Holly. And I began to realize what this day could be. Just as our nation has set aside a Memorial Day, I have set aside August 15 as my "Personal Memorial Day". A day when I remember not only Kim but others I love who have passed on from this life. Remembering their life, their love, all the good times with them, what they taught me about life, and how I should live going forward because of their influence.

This may not work for everyone. But it seems to work for the country and it has become a very helpful thing for me.

A personal memorial day. Today. I remember...and I love you all.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

So cool...

My family is so cool:

Haley Pannone
 watching Elite 11 QB camp on espnu. I am loving Jameis Winston. Attitude, personality, talent- He's great.  ;)

I love so much about my family. The way we have stayed close over the years, through some very difficult and tragic circumstances. The fact that we still hang out as much as possible despite busy lives going in separate directions. This goes almost without saying.

But when I read this tweet last night, it hit me afresh. My niece...tweeting a friend who she knows because of me...about football. No, not just about football, but about a show on high school quarterbacks and congratulating him on their school getting the kid.

The other night, she and another niece began tweeting about the opening of the NFL preseason. It brought a smile to my face.

Yes, the family the prays together stays together. And at the center of our being as a famiiy, that's who we are. But playing together doesn't hurt either.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Got You

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) 
Gimme lazy days with nothing better to do 
than singin oh black water keep on rolling while I wait for you 
I don't care if it rains, I'll be just fine, 
I'm leaving the ghosts behind until I got you I got you.
 (I Got You - Train)

Train is one of my favorite bands, and the song I Got You has gotta be close to the top of the list of their best songs - at least to me. There are several reasons I think. The music is great, as always with Train. I think the thing that got my attention the first time I heard it though was the sampling from the Doobie Brothers' Black Water. The song even starts with it. I've always loved that song, so embedding it in new music...well, just awesome.

But the more I listened to it, the more I liked the lyrics too. More on that in a moment. If you've got about 3:48, take a listen:
Ok, if you didn't know the song already, you paid attention, right? So here's a song about a couple that is destined to be together. It goes through two verses about how they just missed each other. But the really cool thing is that in between the verses (not just at the end when things get "solved"), the writer expresses confidence that everything was always destined to work out. Using phrases like "lazy days with nothing better to do", "I don't care if it rains", "sit back and enjoy the ride", he expresses an a attitude of confidence in the future. Not stress, worrying, or anxiety. Confidence. He doesn't have her yet, but..does he? "I got you", he says. Way before the end.

And all through it, he uses the Doobies' musical image of the Mississippi River rolling on as a symbol of how he can just let time pass because history...and going to roll on and it's all gonna be ok. Love. It.

Of course, what the song doesn't say is why we can have such confidence in the future. Destiny? Fate? No, I am convinced that it is the hand of a Sovereign God who wants the best for his children. Worry about the future? Nah, because he said, "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7) And, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation...with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6)

Think about it - with thanksgiving. Isn't that so the attitude of the song?

You know, clearly for me this song isn't about finding my soul mate. (At least not yet.) And that's very cool because it makes the meaning so much broader. It means that while we're letting the black water roll, we aren't waiting for our plan - we're waiting for his. I don't know what that plan is, but I know it's exactly what I need. It may take longer than we would like. It may not even be what we had in mind. But it's perfect.

I don't know the future, but I know who holds it.

I can't wait!!

Ummm, oh yeah, I can. That's kinda the point.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Well, this is different

Ok, well I'm used to going to these things. Actuarial conferences - full of other math geeks like myself who analyze risk. In this case, we all work for Farm Bureau insurance companies, so we can exchange ideas, get continuing education credit, and yes...have some fun. (Yes, actuaries can have fun.)

But the thing is that I'm usually a guest at these things. Today, we arrived a day early so that we could unload and set up all the registration bags. Those things are supposed to just, you know, be here when I arrive. Somebody has to this work?

Yes, they do. At every conference I attend. People make reservations, set up dinners, arrange activities and speakers, line up sponsorships, and yes, arrive early to do work. And they spend the whole conference worrying about whether it's meeting up to everyone's expectations.

But I don't usually think about that. Because until it's my turn, I am a victim of the self-centered thinking that is so common in the human race. If it doesn't affect me, I don't think about it.

From now on I'll know. I'll think about all the work that's done so I can have a successful conference and yes, have a good time. And I will be more thankful.

In the meantime, I wouldn't mind some prayers that it goes smoothly. We're just getting started.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Just typical pool conversation

The other day I was at my sister's house, taking a swim in her pool. It was a hot day, the kind of day that pools were invented for. So maybe it's the fact that it was hot. But for whatever reason, the conversation I was having with a friend turned to hell.

Yep - typical lazy summer conversation at the pool.

It really wasn't the heat. I had just finished reading a couple of books on the subject, books that were written in response to Rob Bell's book Love Wins. The books were Francis Chan's Erasing Hell and Mark  Galli's God Wins. Whatever else you think about Bell's book, you have to give it credit for this: it has gotten Christians to talk about a subject that demands discussion but that we like to avoid. Everywhere, followers of Jesus are having conversations about their beliefs on our eternal destinies.

So here is the specific question we were discussing: How can eternal punishment be proportional to sins committed in a finite lifetime? And even more to the point, how does the cross pay the eternal penalty for us, given that it was suffering and death for a finite period of time?

Deep? Sure. So was the pool.

Anyway, the conversation was so interesting, I thought I would share a couple of points from it here.

First and foremost, we cannot possibly understand how such things work. The mind of God is infinite and ours are so limited. For me to try to understand the mind of God would be like my dog trying to understand mine. Except that the gap is so much greater than that.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
   neither are your ways my ways,” 
            declares the LORD. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
   so are my ways higher than your ways 
   and my thoughts than your thoughts."
 (Isaiah 55:8-9)

But that didn't keep us from trying. so here's a concept we came up with. It's probably soooooo far short of the truth, but it helped me get my arms around it a little:

God is infinite, and created everything, including time. He is above time and not limited to our timeline. For him, all of history is simultaneous because he cannot be bound by something he created. Based on this, I think it is reasonable to think of the cross this way: Jesus entered history and went to the cross for our sin and because of that moment, his eternal nature was, is, and will be enduring our punishment for all time. Because for him, that moment always exists. In other words, he took our eternal punishment on himself because for him, his substitutionary death exists for all eternity. It is always "now" to him.

There are hints of this concept in the Bible. Any time his eternal nature is mentioned, it's implied. But the biggest hint (as my friend pointed out) is in Revelation 13:8, where it refers to the Lamb "who was slain from the creation of the world".

Hard to understand? Yep. Even if it's on the right track, it's only a shadow of the actual truth. But it helps me get my arms around the fact that the cross is big enough to pay for all the world's sin for all eternity. And it also helps me see that the idea of eternal punishment for people is something that God has taken on himself, and therefore any judgment by us that it's somehow unfair is out of place. If so, God was unfair to himself.

I think it's time to move to the shallow end.