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A conversation with my wife led to a headsmack/”yeah, huh?” moment this morning.

We have a friend who needed me to write a letter of recommendation as part of her application to a math and science teacher training program. I love it when people ask me to do things like this, because I get a big kick out of pointing out things I see in people that maybe they don’t see in themselves.

For an antisocial sort, I’m actually pretty fond of people. On a personal level. (It’s just the GROUPS I don’t particularly care for, I guess. But anyway.)

I wrote the letter yesterday, and emailed a copy to my friend, who seemed quite happy at what I had written about her. And it makes me feel GOOD to make people feel GOOD about themselves. And that’s what I told my wife.

In a moment of sheer, clouds-parting clarity, she looks sidelong at me (in the mirror… still working out the geometry of that one) and says, “You know… you don’t have to wait for someone to ask for a letter like that, or for someone to be applying for something. You could just write one, if you like doing it so much.”

My first instinct was, “Why would I do that? Who would read it?”

Oh yeah… I could write it and give it to them.

So I think I’ll make it my goal to write one “letter of recommendation” a week. And see what happens.

I like blessing people. I like writing. ZOUNDS! I can do BOTH AT ONCE?!?!?


Outstanding Essay – Bittersweet Christmas Morning

This comes courtesy of Julian Murdoch (a.k.a. “Rabbit”), member and regular contributor to Gamers With Jobs — a site (and podcast) I frequent since I decided to outgrow the bathroom humor inherent in so many other video gaming communities.

Click and read this.  Now.

Mr. Murdoch has a good ten years on me, but we’re hitting several balls in the same park.  It’s a hard thing when a lifelong hobby and love of mine tends to be equated with immaturity.  It’s refreshing to encounter other “grown-ups” who aren’t just sad man-children that never really left their early twenties behind, but who can still enjoy “childish things” respectably.  Kudos, Rabbit.


Jonah, after the fact

Our pastor finished up a four week series on the book of Jonah this morning.  The following is a hodgepodge of my reflections (and his) on the fourth and final chapter… and one of the most overlooked, least understood “resolutions” in the Bible.  In my opinion.

Jonah has just finished (begrudgingly) delivering a three-day message of “repent-or-yer-gonna’-burn” to the 120,000 citizens of the heathen city of Ninevah.  And it’s an evangelist’s dream-come-true: every man, woman, and child (even the king!) fall on their faces in mourning for the lost lives they’ve led, and beg for God’s forgiveness.  Everyone.  Billy Graham probably never saw results like that.

But Jonah isn’t happy.  To the contrary, he starts raging against God, because “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  (v. 2-3, NIV)

Seriously?  What is this guy’s problem?  And God calls him on it: “Have you any right to be angry?” (v. 4)

I draw two important insights from this:

One, God can use me EVEN if I don’t have all my thoughts, motives, intentions, or ambitions in the right place.  All I have to be is willing.

Two, I can’t trust my feelings.  I may believe in my heart of hearts that something is right or wrong, but that doesn’t mean a thing if it doesn’t line up with the TRUTH of what God knows.

Jonah ignores God’s question, by the way.  Instead of answering him, he gets up and “went out and sat down at a place east of the city.  There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.” (v. 5)

He was hoping that the people’s salvation wasn’t for-real!  Even though he was the one who brought them the message!  He still hated them enough to want to hang around for 40 days or so and see if they would get an almighty smiting of fire, thunder, coconuts, whatever.

That’s devotion.  I guess.

And of course, God isn’t done with Jonah.  He still wants him to understand his way of seeing things.  So he sends a nice, green, shady vine to grow up and keep Jonah cool.  (Causing, as the pastor pointed out, Jonah to be happy for the FIRST time in the entire book.)  Then he sends a worm to chew up the vine, which sends Jonah into another bout of suicidal self-pity.

And God asks again, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” (v. 9) Slightly different question, but still relevant.

Jonah finally stops ignoring God, and whines some more: “I do… I am angry enough to die.”

God ends the chapter with a question challenging Jonah, and all of us, to try to take on HIS perspective on things.  Jonah was so sad about a stupid plant drying up that he wanted to die, but the 120,000 people who were so screwed up that they “cannot tell their right hand from their left,” (v. 11) didn’t even trigger a tear of compassion from the very man sent to save them from themselves.

How could he… or better yet, how can WE get our priorities so screwed up that we wail and moan over things… our cars, our wardrobes, our 401k, our baseball card collections… and don’t give a second thought to the hundreds or thousands of people who die EVERY DAY without knowing God?

We call ourselves children of God, but where’s the family resemblance?  Why don’t we yearn more to know our dad’s heart?  Why don’t we listen to him, and want the thing that he wants most more than ANY other stupid, finite, earthly pursuit that we spend our days hungering after?

If we’re not spending every minute of every day thinking about how we can help, serve, and love people… then we’re missing it.

(Many thanks to Pastor Marshall Ford of Grace Fellowship Church, Borger Texas, for his continued and contagious fresh look at words I thought I knew so well, yet are being made new to me every week through his unassuming teaching and leadership.)


God to JC: “I’m still here.”

Yesterday found me in a dark depression about my job.

Backing up a bit.  About a week ago, my boss called me in to get my side of the story on something that I did.  Something I did which was stupid.  VERY stupid.  Being the amazing man he is, he turned the situation into a learning experience and promised to help me get things right.  Seeing as how he COULD have just fired me and hired a sane person, I thought this most gracious of him.

Then yesterday, I had what was probably the WORST day yet with my 6th hour class (which is REALLY saying something…   ask me sometime), was already more than a little off-kilter due to sleep deprivation, and was battling a touch of… umm… intestinal difficulties.

And I get an email from my boss saying, enigmatically, that he “wants to see me during my conference.”  Again.  And I get this right at the end of the day.

I have been very slow to move all my stuff into my new room.  I guess I’ve felt like it’s not really “mine,” I guess.  Anyway, I’ve had this big box of smoke-scented college textbooks sitting in my front passenger seat for about a month now, which I only recently have been taking in to my classroom, a few at a time.  I doubted whether I should finish doing so… after all, if the administration and school board changed their minds and DID decide to fire me, what would be the point?  I’d just have to box them all up again anyway.  At least this way I have a head-start of sorts.

So I came home, monster headache, feeling like something that fell off a poop-wagon.  My wife immediately sends me to bed, where I stay for an hour.  As I wait for the Tylenol and Sudafed to kick in, I really let God have it:

“What were you thinking bringing us here?  What possible good can I do for THESE kids?  I don’t have it in me to change them.  They are SO far-gone.  What good will it do us if you brought us all this way, away from our home, church, friends, cozy little house, and established job security, only to let me get myself unemployed a few months later?”

Then I told him I didn’t believe what I was saying… but that I could REALLY use a sign.  And soon.

This morning before the bell rang, I got several.  My department head asked me how things were going, and I told him (a bit of) the rotten situation I have been having with my 6th hour kids.  He offered a little advice and encouragement, and then said…

“Well, we’re glad to have you here.  I’ve walked by your room quite a few times, and everything in there seems to be going well.  If there’s anything you need, please ask.”

I somehow kept from crying tears of relief and release then, as I am fighting crying them now.

Another teacher in the department expressed similar sentiments to me, not more than a few minutes later.

I met with my boss, who told me that despite several irate board members asking him about his hiring practices and whether they should “terminate my contract immediately” he, the superintendent, and the assistant superintendent all went to bat for me.  Undeserving me.  Unknown quantity me.  Guy who pulled the idiot move and made them look bad me.

Okay, that did it… I’m crying now.  Getting hard to see to type.

On top of all that, my lab demonstration worked today.  First time, no kinks.

And I found my dinky little green iPod Shuffle I lost about a month back.  Wasn’t even looking for it.

I love how God answers me in ways that even oblivious, idiot me can’t miss.  Exactly when I really need it.

I am baffled sometimes at how one as repeatedly unworthy as me continues to find love, patience, and acceptance from the God of the universe, and those he puts in my life.  I’m glad he does though.

I don’t need to go back to Egypt.  I’m bound for Promised Land.


Twilight parenthood

DISCLAIMER:  There are probably no references to vampires in this post.  Besides this one.  Google is not your friend.

Many of my last seven years as a parent have been spent in a state of twilight.  Not entirely lucid, not quite asleep.  I’ve come to regard it as normal, and even to cherish the feeling brought on by days, weeks, or (sometimes) months without an uninterrupted night of sleep.

It starts when they are newborn, especially with your first.  You are getting MAYBE an hour or two of sleep at a stretch, which deprives your brain and body of the good REM sleep that you need.  As a result, you start to go bonkers.  This is a good thing, because if you were entirely aware of the psychological, spiritual, and moral implications of the new arrival of a human life — that you had a hand, so to speak, in creating and bringing into this world — you’d likely go far more deeply and irreparably insane.

Then they get sick.  There will be no rest on the nights when you “sleep” camped out on the recliner with a trash can under one arm, ready to spring to full alertness and catch the vomit at the slightest noise or other cue… most of which are false alarms, but which you can’t afford to ignore.  Or it might be the spiking fevers, the whooping or wheezing of a cough, the sharp cries of pain from newly-cut teeth or the ubiquitous ear infection.

Even when NOTHING’S WRONG you will lose sleep, because the predatory fears of the future do their best hunting at night.  When all seems calm, it’s easiest to remember that the world is a scary, dangerous place… and despite our constant reassurances to the contrary, monsters DO exist.  Twilight hours spent in prayer for our little ones come so often, but never as often as they should.

So, why bring this on yourself?  Why bring on the heartache, backache, and forced insomnia?  And WHY would anyone choose to bring an innocent, defenseless, undeserving human being into a world with such evil and suffering?

I can’t explain it if you haven’t been there too.  Sorry, it’s a little bit of a “red pill, blue pill” thing.

I’ve taken the red pill four times now… and I am eternally grateful for each of them.  Because whether they occurred on my timing or (much more often) not, I am blessed with each nighttime cry I comfort, each diaper I change in a pitch-dark room, each nose I wipe, each bedtime story I read, each sleepless night I undertake.

There will be plenty of time to sleep when they’re grown, and these rooms are quiet and empty.  In the meantime…

… have to go.  She’s crying again.  Where did I put that Tylenol…


Mr. Spock had the right idea…

Emotions.  Puh-tooie…

Here I am on the eve (give or take a few days) of the birth of my 4th child.  I should be ecstatic to meet him.

God has brought us through so much in this last year.  He’s opened doors, moved mountains, and continued to prove his love and provision for us.  I should be overwhelmed with gratitude.

My school and its administration and faculty are professionals in the best sense of the word.  My students, while counting the odd duck (or 12) among their number, are enthusiastic, open-minded, and hard-working.  I should feel privileged to teach where I do.

I’ve been eating better, getting (marginally) more exercise than usual, losing weight and inches off my waistline.  I should feel all healthy-buff.

So why do I feel poopy?  From what seeds sprout this discontent?  Why, in the midst of my beloved family, friends, and God do I feel so utterly alone this night?

I’m usually all about the silver lining.  Why can’t I make myself see anything but raincloud right now?


8 years

This morning wasn’t terribly unlike most other school days.  Since it was a Friday, the walls (and faculty) of Borger High School were draped in red (and denim, in the case of the teachers.)  The kids were rowdy, excited for the coming football game and weekend.  An announcement came after first bell, as usual.  But instead of launching into the pledges and a moment of “silence,” we were told that that would happen at 8:46… in memory of September 11.

I looked around at those kids.  I did the math.  They were all 7 or 8 years old when it happened.

I remember every detail of that day with crystal clarity.  It was my third year teaching.  It was 2nd period, and I was mixing up some stock solutions for a lab for Chem I.  Then Sammy Silva told me that “somebody accidentally crashed a plane into the World Trade Center” in New York.

I hurriedly turned on my rabbit-ears equipped classroom TV, just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower.

The rest of the day passed in numb silence.  I remember that I got a new student, Pamela, that day.  I remember that we didn’t get much classwork done that afternoon.  Classes changed, and one group of kids wandered out as the next wandered in.  The TV stayed on.

That night, Rebekah and I watched Fox News coverage (broadcast over the UPN, which was the only station we could pick up at home) and, though I don’t remember doing so, eventually tore ourselves away from the screen and tried to go to sleep.

Eight years later.  Certainly there has been time enought to mourn, right?  Time to move forward and put this behind us.  Right??

3rd period today — my conference time.  I made a run to the bank to deposit a check (another one of those things I’ve never been able to do before during a school day.)  I was pulling back in to the teacher parking lot, when I caught the opening monologue of The Rush Limbaugh Show.  Rush read the Gettysburg Address.  Then he told the story of Todd Beamer.

Todd was 32 in 2001.  He had a wife, two sons, and another child on the way.

In the face of evil, this man rallied with his fellow passengers and stood up to the hijackers of Flight 93.  And saved who knows how many lives.

As I listened, I started crying uncontrollably in my car.  I’m 32.  I have two sons (plus a daughter) at home, and another on the way.

If it had been me, would I have been able to selflessly give all I am and have to do the same?

So few of us are ever called upon to be heroes.  While many hope for the chance, I shudder at the thought that I might be tried in the fires of momentary, life-or-death crisis… and be found lacking.  That history might forget me as just another coward-on-the-scene who didn’t stand up and DO something when I had the chance.

I thank God that there ARE heroes in this world.  I am eternally grateful for those who have stood and fought evil wherever they have found it, or where it has found them.  Without them, I would have no country… no life… no hope of eternal salvation.  No freedom.

And I pray that if I am ever called upon to stand in the gap and give my life for my fellow man, that I too will be filled with the resolve to stand firm, clench my knuckles, set my jaw, look my enemy in the eye, and sincerely say “let’s roll.”

The random musings of a 30-something, West Texas high-school science teacher. Hoo-RAY.
November 2019
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