Thursday, December 31, 2009

Some Goals for 2010...

(note: these are not in order of significance...they're pretty much in the order that my random mind captured them here)

--"Deliver the Baby" (in the great and painfully funny words of my family practice Dr. & friend Brett Robbins referring to the fact that I'm several inches too short for my weight...) It appears to be twins...*sigh*

--complete a 5k running (well, "running" needs to be defined very broadly there...and perhaps it'll even be a 10k...)

--read through the Bible using the chronological approach this time. (found >>here<<)

--eliminate a considerable portion of the crapola, er, stuff that's cluttering up my offices & my house

--re-institute a regular fast 1 day a week

--ramp up my reading program. I've started on 3 fascinating & substantial books, that will require concentrated reading time; all 3 authors use all of those big words & big ideas...*smile*

--ramp up my prayer life. It's there, but is not where it should be.

--re-discover the game of golf and try to get my score down to just two digits (of course, the (a) funding, and (b) time for this could be a challenge...but I'm gonna try)

--fish more (yet another sport that--like golf--I enjoy immensely and am not very good at...)

--have a "deck-raising," analogous to the old-school "barn-raising" (memo to all H'burg friends who have any building game...stay tuned! Remember, I have zero game in the area of building, except for driving nails as directed...)

--pass CFA level II exam in June (see "time to play golf hard to come by")

--go to Poland to speak at the Christian Professor Conference in August (I've been invited to do so, and am VERY excited about it!)

--significantly ramp up my teaching abilities in terms of Econ & Finance courses @ WCU; stop "doing the same things the same ol' way" while not tossing out the proverbial baby w/ the bath water...

--ditto, in terms of my Sunday School class @ TBC

--work harder at being an encourager to friends in ministry, whether it's their vocation or not

--make the latter half of year 25/first half of year 26 the best years of marriage yet; this will require considerble effort, as these last 25 have been great! But I still have a long way to go in terms of "love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5)...

--work hard at being a better, more loving, more encouraging Daddy. I'm still trying to figure out how this works when one's 4.5 hours away & the other 3.5 hours away...

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Ephesians 5:15-17

Thanks for your prayers & friendship & encouragement! You are cherished greatly here @ Casa beach bum.

Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Join me, won't you?

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
John 8:31-32

Many a university has the latter part of this passage inscribed on buildings: "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." But there is a HUGELY significant "IF" at the beginning of the thought. "IF you abide in my word..." Other translations read "If you remain in my word..." Don't read the conclusion without the premise...don't focus on the "then" without the "if".

And thus, the challenge: Will you join me in faithfully & regularly reading the Bible this year?

I offer this with great humility as a fellow traveler who is flawed and imperfect. And who has experienced HUGE blessings from those times when I have faithfully & regularly read the Bible, including in 2009.

To make it easy, I commend to you >>this site<< . It has multiple options available.

The one I'm reading in 2010 is the "Chronological" plan that sets the books & chapters of the Bible in the order in which they occured. In 09, Lisa & I used the "One Year Tract Bible Reading Plan" at the link; that one takes you through the Old Testament once & the Psalms & Proverbs twice throughout the year. The site offers a brief description of the multiple choices there.

My challenge & encouragement to you is to make reading the Bible a priority in 2010!

The link above includes multiple options, and also includes the ability to add the plan to your Google calendar or to your Outlook, along with the ability to subscribe via RSS. You can get them emailed to you each day, and you can even listen to each day's readings. And of course, you can them online. In other words, the ESV site has utterly eliminated the vast majority of excuses.

Here's another plan that has readings from three different places a day.
This is the plan John Piper uses regularly. Through the whole Bible; only 25 days per month scheduled, which has built in catch-up or additional study time.
This site has 13 different reading plans.
This one has 5 different plans.
Here's one with 4 different plans, including a 2-year plan to read through the whole Bible.
This one goes from Genesis through Revelation in a year.
This one goes through the whole Bible in 2 years, alternating an Old Testament passage on one day with a New Testament passage the next.
And here is a 3-year plan with weekly readings, and a 3-year plan with daily readings.

Some words of encouragement & reminders, all of which are based on experience:

A huge temptation, especially as 2010 draws to a close & you find that you've been faithful.

If the enemy of souls can't make you cocky, he'll try to put you under the pile: "see, you knew you couldn't finish; why bother, you loser..." (etc.) Do NOT fall for this.

--If you're wondering if you're able to achieve whatever Bible reading goal you set for yourself, find an accountability partner.
Howard Hendricks says that the ideal accountability partner is someone who loves you but is not impressed by you. (great description!) Find someone who will hold your feet to the fire without slapping you around. Someone who--ideally--is sharing your Bible reading goal. And someone who loves you but is not impressed by you...

--Humbly ask the Lord to speak to you through His Word.
He will likely not do so every single morning...but it's a virtual lock that He will speak throughout the year.

--Get a notebook or journal & capture what He says.
I'm about to read back through my 09 journal rt now. Huge blessings from looking back & seeing what He has taught you.

I find great encouragement and challenge, along with some badly-needed reproof, correction, & training in Scripture. And a systematic approach helps me avoid proof-texting, wherein I select the verses I love that I know what they say & build my whole theology on those...thereby ignoring what theologians call "the whole counsel of God."

As I say, join me, won't you?

Looking forward to the journey,

Monday, December 28, 2009

This time last year...

...I was celebrating still being alive despite having stage IV metastatic melanoma in both lungs

...I was still recovering from my 2nd lung surgery just 3.5 months earlier

...I was still recalling the breath-taking cycles (literally!) of high-dose immunotherapy the previous summer

...I was recalling an absent friend whose leukemia took his life the previous summer

...I was wondering whether I was on the tail end of my journey through the hell that is cancer...and hoping that I was near the end

...I was looking toward one more lung surgery

Now a year has passed:

--I'm feeling great! (well, for an old guy...*smile*)

--Incredibly, I have been sent home three times in a row from M.D. Anderson with no additional surgery required

--My next visit is in February

--I've just purchased some new running shoes & plan to put them to good use this year. (note: "running" here needs to be broadly defined...)

I'm currently pondering my goals for the year...and feeling like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Most grateful,

Sunday, December 27, 2009

White Christmas - beach bum style

I'm dreamin' of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the beaches glisten
And beach bums listen
to hear waves that evoke "Whoa!"

I'm dreamin' of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be sand-filled and bright,
And may all your beach-es be white!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas 09

There's the one that says "First Christmas Together - 1984" & features an outline of a couple dancing.

And then there's the two "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments w/ pictures from 21 & 19 years ago.

And the building from "It's A Wonderful Life" that lights up.

Oh, and there's the white & black cat ornaments. For the previous 17 years, they both were here. Now the white one is gone.

And the bell from the lighted string that my Mom bought for us after her youngest grandson James ooh'd & aah'd over it @ the mall.

There's the "Mike" ornament that used to hang on Christmas trees in Ft. Walton Beach, FL. And the blue dove one that hung on trees in Silas, AL.

Of course, there's the crab ornament from Key West. And the "University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy" ornament that's new this year.

And the Lion King ornament featuring Simba on his Dad's back.

Across the room is a Santa Claus that dates back to roughly 1958. Purchased for an infant boy who never really liked it so much. His younger brother not yet born in 1958--a handsome fellow who blogs a bit now & then when not teaching Econ & Finance--came to love that Santa as dearly as a little boy can love anything. Of course, now that he's grown, that's abated. As far as you know.

Out front, are the poorly laid out Christmas lights. Think "Clark Grizwold minus the $$ & skill" and you're about right.

In the kitchen, of course, are the Christmas dishes that were purchased in Gatlinburg, TN with the last of the disposable $$ near the end of the honeymoon in June 1984.

Next to me is the giant coffee cup given by a former student. HS students give gifts to their teachers; college students not so much. Which I understand.

Near me on a shelf is a hand-carved wooden nativity purchsed in the amazing market located in central Krakow, Poland. Word is, that market has been in operation for over 800 years. I love that it has the traditional manger scene characters, plus a mountain farmer/shepherd on the side kneeling in adoration.

I love the stories behind the ornaments & decorations--and this is but a sample, I assure you. The history, and the instant triggering of vivid cherished memories. That's a big part of the magic of Christmas to me.

But more, I love the cherished memory that goes far deeper in my soul. Of great loss & seperation...and of promises...anticipation...and then their fulfillment in a child born to poor peasants in a backwoods wide-spot-in-the-road. And the restoration that child offers based on the gruesome end of his young earthly life on a hillside outside of town, not that far from where he was born.

Tonight, we'll go to the Christmas Eve service at church and cherish the friendship & celebration & worship & re-telling of the story that binds us together.

It is my prayer that 50 years from now, my grandchildren & great grandchildren will be remembering the stories capture in ornaments, decorations, & nativity scenes. Much more, though, I pray they will be celebrating the story of stories.

But you, OBethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One Who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days.
Micah 5:2

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name 'Immanuel' (which means 'God with us')
Matthew 1:21-23

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6

Merry Christmas, my friends!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

35 Years

I think I'll let others speak for me today.

Everything I Own - David Gates
You sheltered me from harm; Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me; Set me free, Set me free
The finest years I ever knew were all the years I had with you

I would give anything I own
Give up me life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
just to have you back again.

You taught me how to love; What it's of, what it's of
You never said too much; but still you showed the way,
and I knew from watching you

Nobody else could ever know the part of me that can't let go.

I would give anything I own, give up me life, my heart, my home.
I would give everything I own just to have you back again

Is there someone you know; you're loving them so, but taking them all for granted?
You may lose them one day, someone takes them away,
and they don't hear the words you long to say

I would give anything I own, give up my life, my heart, my home.
I would give everything I own just to have you back again
Just to touch you once again.

Things I Wish I'd Said - Rodney Crowell
You lay there fighting for each breath while angels hovered round your bed
With open arms like God’s own smile they led you to the light

What a battle you have won and now your journey has begun
To the land where spirits fly and your soul will never die

So travel lightly in my heart. You and I will never part
Far beyond this world we see there’s a place for you and me
And I thank my lucky stars we had a chance to heal our scars
Now I don’t have to hang my head over things I wish I’d said

So here am I your only son; I’m thinking back on work we’ve done
You were strong and I was young; man we had our fights
And every thing I felt for you has been turned to something new
And this is love I feel today, it will never go away

And I thank the moon and stars we had a chance to heal our scars
Now I don’t have to hang my head over things I wish I’d said

I don’t have to hide my tears; I don’t have to drown my fears
And I don’t have to hang my head over things I wish I’d said
No I don’t have to live in dread over things I wish I’d said

(back to Mike: I actually wish this song were true...I do have to hang my head over things I wish I'd said. I hope he knew though; perhaps he did. Does.)

He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
~Clarence Budington Kelland

Some of you guys think you're a man because you've done something my dog can do...Siring a child does not make you a man...
~Tony Evans

Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.
~Author Unknown

Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later... that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life. ~Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Gift - © Lea Gomez
I will never say goodbye to you my Father
'cause I know this is not the end for us to see each other.
You will only be going to a place where there’s no pain nor suffering.
I am happy for you, for you will be with God.
For now we need to go in separate ways.
I remember how your arms hold me and give me strength.
You were always there to listen, love, and defend me in everything.
You were my very best friend.
In my triumphs you were always proud.
I’m very grateful and proud to call you my dad.
Here deep inside my heart you’ll always be.
I would give up everything I have just to hug you one more time.
I remember the last time I held your hand and how you looked at me in the eyes.
If only I could turn back the time I would have never let you go.
I felt the world stop and my heart stop beating when they told me you were gone
How I wish I was only dreaming.
Just like the rain; tears fell down from my eyes;
I couldn’t speak for a while.
Thank you Dad….
For always understanding, listening , caring, and loving me for the rest of your life.
It’s difficult to let you go but I must…I must return the gift God gave me…
Till then;See you in Heaven…

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Psalm 116:15

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:19

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:22

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:26

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


(This post was started Tuesday, 12/8...and percolated on...and edited. So "today" in the post actually means "last Tuesday" This might be yet another post that cashes in some man-cards for me...and once again, I don't care!)

I'm a dog lover. Been one my whole life. We had one cat back when I was a kid. Briefly had a cat, that is. We were dog people. I am still one.
Having said that, I was deeply saddened earlier this week to say a permament goodbye to one of the world's great cats, "Maggie" Madaris. She was 17.5 years old, was part of our family for most of that time, and will be missed.

Today has been a day of clear mental images, memories from these past 17+ years. I still remember my little pre-schooler coming home from the USM Ctr for Child Dev'mt, looking up at me with his big beautiful eyes, and shyly saying, "um, Dad? Can we get a cat?" (oh, like you could've said no to those cute eyes...)

Maggie was actually a replacement cat. The initial baby kitten didn't last long...tragic choice to nibble on a power chord...But Maggie the replacement cat was a few months older & wiser when she arrived here.

She was painfully shy. Hid from us for the first number of days she was here. She was accidentally let outside by a houseguest the first couple of days she lived here, whereupon she instantly disappeared. But my wife and my son had faith that she would return (I didn't have that faith, frankly)...and after a day or two, we heard her under our deck. Lured her back inside. Whereupon she began to trust us.

She never liked company very much though. Would always hide under a couch when guests arrived. And re-appear immediately upon their departure.

She dearly loved us, even as we dearly loved her. Another clear mental image is 1.5-year-old Anne carrying her like a log...front legs over one of Anne's arms, back legs over the other. And Maggie just was her quiet self. With the occasional "get me out of here!" meow...

She had a very soft, gentle demeanor. And so help me, she came across as maternal. James & I used to go fishing in the canoe in the lake behind the house. Maggie would follow us to the lake and stand there sticking her paw into the water and just fussing at James & me. We could hear her all the way across the lake. (another abiding mental image)
Her demeanor was tested when a second kitten arrived a couple of years later. Molly (the black cat in the pictures) was smaller than Maggie, but much fiestier & more aggressive. Maggie was usually patient, but we did hear the occasional hiss followed by a swat...they became friends. Mostly.
And then Sam the very friendly puppy arrived, further testing Maggie's patience. They became friends too. Eventually. Sam learned to be very gentle & tender with Maggie, as this picture attests. The meanest I've heard Sam sound was the few times a rogue Tom cat would get after Maggie. He'd go tearing out of the house, growling & barking...presently, Maggie would come trotting in unharmed, with Sam following shortly thereafter.

Maggie loved the Christmas tree every year. She would climb up into it in her early years; in later years, she settled for the skirt around the tree base.

She loved to cuddle, albeit on her terms and on her schedule.
These last several months have been hard to watch & experience. I'll not elaborate. I prefer the other memories above.

So, earlier today she & I took the longest trip to the Vet that we've ever taken. I came back alone.

It was absolutely the right move, but dadburn was it hard.

I'm still a dog guy...but I will cherish the memory of a beautiful, gentle white cat who blessed our lives for a long time.

R.I.P., Maggie. We love you!


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

To An Absent Friend on World AIDS Day

(Update of a post from a few years back)

He was a tall, strapping, muscular guy who had worked in the offshore oil business.

He had a very nice high tenor singing voice, and loved to use it.

He loved to talk. And to laugh. He & Lisa & I did both rather frequently.

And he had HIV. Which became full-blown AIDS. Which took his life far too soon.

The means by which he contracted HIV is utterly irrelevant here. HIV can be transmitted/contracted in multiple ways, some sexual--homosexual and heterosexual--and some not.

It's World AIDS Day. Which always causes me to remember my friend, and to miss his company.

I met him at the church I attend. His was a faith that greatly. He confessed that he had not been faithful to live according to his faith. I assured him that I have my own batch of sins, which I submit is a much larger batch than his was. I 'spect you have your own batch too...we all do.

He taught me oh-so-much about love and grace. He gave both freely.

In one of our chats, he told me that he felt like a man without a country.

1. He said many in Christian circles who knew of his illness kept their distance from him because of his illness.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
Luke 7:39

Shame on us!!

Then turning toward the woman he [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:44-50

2. My friend also said that when he went to the AIDS Support Group meetings, they kept their distance because of his Christian faith. Ironic, isn't it? One of the more marginalized groups in our society would further marginalize one of their own because of his religious beliefs.

"I left the church because I found so little grace there...I came back because I found none anywhere else."
Philip Yancey

So what will you do with World AIDS day?

Will you ignore it completely?

Will you wag your finger & speak of HIV/AIDS as God's curse on a lifestyle?

(If so, you need to ponder how you'd respond to the heart-broken parents of an infant in, say, Africa, who has been diagnosed with AIDS & explain to them God's curse on their tiny baby's lifestyle...)

Will you wag your finger at the church and at Christians for the above finger wagging?


Will you honor the memories of those you know who have suffered and died from this horrible disease by how you live your life?

Will you pray for and love and serve those who have the illness now?

(BTW, what's your stereotype of an HIV sufferer? I ask, because I have a HS acquaintance who is HIV positive. And a fitness machine. A lawyer who rides his bicycle all over the place competitively & who does triathlons & such. He regularly does stuff like high-speed 100-mile bike rides. A few summers ago, he was the first openly gay, HIV-positive person to do Race Across the West where he competed with the world's greatest endurance athletes. The race is from Ocean Side CA to Durango CO. That's 860 miles in 3 days! It's billed as the toughest part of the toughest race in the world ["Ride Across America"]. Jim, too has helped crash my own stereotypes...)

Will you pray for and give toward those who are spending their lives to eradicate this illness?

God have mercy on us. All of us. Those with HIV and those without it. Help us be thankful for the days and the health you give us, and help us love redemptively and NOT judge pre-emptively. And above all, I ask You to magnify Yourself today on World AIDS day through Your church and Your people. May we reflect Your grace and demonstrate it far and wide. Today, and always. In the name of Your Son Jesus, Who was tortured and killed unjustly, Whose death offers redemption and life, Amen.

Thanks, Cecil, for all that you taught me. See you later. Can't wait for that next hug, bro!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Iron Bowl

It's Iron Bowl week. There's nothing like it. (which is not all good, mind you...) One solitary football game that affects the vast, vast majority of the residents of the state of Alabama for an entire year.

Some years back, a relative of mine who married into the family, moved to Alabama. I advised her, "you'll have to choose." She said, "I'll stay a GA Tech fan"...I said "that's fine, but you'll still have to choose between Auburn & Alabama." She laughed. She called about a week & a half later & said, "Mike, I thought you were kidding..." I wasn't.

As a lifelong (3rd-generation) Bama fan, the Iron Bowl has always been a biggie. (Aside: the "Iron Bowl" is the annual rivalry football game between the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide and Auburn University's Tigers.) The two schools are located in the same state just a few hours apart. Auburn, AL is in the central part of the state over near the GA border, whereas Tuscaloosa, AL is not too far from the MS border & also in the central part of the state.

This is one of those games that affects everybody in the state. All will be required to choose upon entering the state. Alma maters other than UA & AU and previous schools supported do not matter; one will be asked which of these two schools one supports. Both fan bases are quite...fervent, let's just say. In addition to affecting everybody in the state, the Iron Bowl affects everyone all year long. The one day is discussed & celebrated & lamented for the other 364. Until one lives in the state, the obsessive, even excessive, focus on this one game can only be imagined.

MS has three D1 football programs, and has for decades. All three have been successful at times. LA has only had one that was competitive until fairly recently. TX has UT, A&M, TCU, TxTech, UTEP, SMU, Rice,...

Both schools are pretty good in the classroom across a wide array of academic disciplines. Auburn is the larger of the two schools. Excellent engineering program that claims a number of astronauts & NASA engineers among its graduates. Also outstanding in the sciences. Very good school of Veterinary Medicine. Alabama has a very good business program. A very good school of education and Law school.

None of which is discussed this week in coffee shops & restaurants & bars in Alabama.

It's Iron Bowl week. Conversations turn to memories of Iron Bowls past with the intent of attaching hope in this week's game to outcomes of previous contests. Auburn fans remember the "Punt, Bama, Punt" game...and Bo over the top...and 6 in a row. Bama fans remember "Go left, Bo" and "The Kick" and 36-0. On both sides, we remember almost exactly where we sat in our favorite Iron Bowls. Players, coaches, plays, radio calls,...both sides remember them clearly and either fondly or with disgust.

Me? Yeah...I'm guilty, even though I've not lived in Alabama in 22 years. I attended the Iron Bowl back when it was played in Birmingham's Legion field every year. Watched 8 in a row from the Bama side. Back then, the stadium would be half Bama, half Auburn. "Rocking" begins to capture the feel. Both student sections were open seating; thus, if you weren't there by two & a half hours before the game, you might not have a seat. The cheers would start. Back & forth. "Waaaaaar Eagle! Hey!"..."Roooooooll! Tide! Roll!" The two teams would stroll the field in their suits, eliciting cheers from one side of the stadium & boos from the other. By kickoff, I could hardly stand it! And I saw some great games, including some of those listed above.

This year, the game is back in Auburn. The site alternates now between the two campuses. I fully understand & appreciate the reasons. But I will always remember how very cool it was to be in a stadium split down the middle between AU fans & UA fans. James & I went a few years back to an Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. Still great fun & a great memory, even though the wrong team won. Somehow, it seems there was more sustained electricity back in the Legion Field days. Oh well...still an awesome experience to have.

One can live in FL without being a UF or FSU fan. One can reside in TX and be a fan of numerous football teams. In LA, there's really only the one major team. Even Alabama now has two more D1 programs, with more on the way. But still, this week--and throughout the year until this time next year--it's the Iron Bowl. Alabama - Auburn. Us-them. We-you. Good-evil/wrong-right/darkness-light/(etc.).

Fans of both schools severely over-do this game, and severely overstate its cosmic importance, and severely over-demonize those on the other side.

God help me, I'm right there. But I've made substantial progress over the last two decades. Make no mistake: I hope my Tide thrashes the Tigers this year. And every year. But if that doesn't happen, I'll be OK (which is the substantial progress...*smile*). As a kid, or as a student back when, I'd be undone by an Iron Bowl loss. Now, I've made it to the point where I recognize that the outcome of an Iron Bowl has precisely ZERO to do with anything that is of ultimate importance. My family's love of (& grace toward!) relationship with Christ...friends who love me regardless of which team I happen to health...the joy of giving thanks for so much that I have been given...the amazing coming, living, teaching, dying, raising, & returning of my Lord...(and so on)

Auburn's recent successes in the Iron Bowl have had absolutely no effect on any of these ultimate things in the life of this lifelong Bama fan. Neither did last year's Alabama win. Good perspective to be reminded of this week.

It's Iron Bowl week. Is it game day yet? I can't wait! Roll Tide!

Monday, November 16, 2009

In Praise of My Teacher...

He's a pediatrician by training.

But he will always be my teacher. He has discipled many through the years. And has taught many of us. If God had not called me to teach my own Sunday School class, I'd still be in his. I miss his teaching & think of it most Sunday mornings as I walk to teach my own class. I was just thinking of how amazing the following is to me: in 20 years of Temple Baptist membership, I've only been in his class a little less than 2 years. And yet, as I say, he will always be my teacher. But not just my teacher...

One of my life's great privileges is that he calls me a friend. We have laughed together--do so quite often. We have dreamed together...dreams for our children...for ourselves...for our church. We have prayed together. Often. But not often enough for my standards. And we have shed tears together. I have shared things with him that not one other person save Lisa knows. And I'm quite confident that he has kept my secrets in confidence.

His wise counsel has impacted lives all through the Pine Belt. Mine too. Marriages have been improved by his words and example. Mine included. Walks with the Lord have been challenged and substantially enhanced. Mine as well. Many have nervously raised their...our...hands in response to his regular question: "What's God done in your life or in the life of someone around you?" Parents have been encouraged and trained. Including me. Pastors & other ministers have been loved, encouraged, prayed for, and held accountable.

He is very humble, and would say that I might be overstating his import to the Body of Christ and to our community.

Only eternity will show the gigantic impact this one man has had. And the next time he's egotistical will be the first I've seen.

He laughs easily. Even at himself. (again, humility)

He's a proud grad of MS State University. As are all three of his beloved children. To all of his fellow MSU Bulldog alums out there, he represents y'all very, very well.

He has been used mightily in the life of my church since before we were members (20 years + a couple of months for us).

I wish...oh, how I wish!...that I were half the awesome father that he is. I shudder to think what I'd be like as a Dad had I not come under his influence not long after James Madaris arrived...I *love* his regular comment to his children when they were younger: "just remember, you're a Kent wherever you go..." And let me tell you--being "a Kent" means something around here

Tonight was his final session as chairman of our Deacon body at church. What a remarkable year it's been.

You might know him. If you don't, you wish you did. His name is Dr. Ronald S. Kent. But he'll always be Ronnie. My teacher, mentor, and friend. My brother. My example and counselor.

Thanks, Ronnie. I may not show it much, but your building into my life has most assuredly not been in vain. At least, I hope so. Thanks again, for everything, bro. This is very long overdue. I love you.


Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Psalm 37:3

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Want to save someone's life?

In the very literal sense of the phrase "save someone's life"...

Sign up to be a bone marrow donor. >>CLICK HERE<<

I signed up in 1994 when a wonderful young man in Hattiesburg was sick. (He died as a young man with HUGE potential...) MOST regrettably, I am no longer a donor candidate because, well, because cancer sucks.

But some of you reading this are potential donor candidates.

I go to church with a man named Charles. Charles also signed up in the registry in 1994. A couple of years later, he got a call. Which led to other calls. Which led to some medical things. Which led to him becoming a match for a leukemia patient out on the west coast.

Charles donated bone marrow. Said his lower back was a little sore for a few weeks. The recipient? Prior to the donation, the guy had NO hope. He & his wife had started getting his affairs in order in anticipating his passing. A young married man...with young kids...and no hope.

Then he got word that this guy in MS was a match & was willing to donate.

Now, more than 10 years later, the guy on the west coast is doing trace of leukemia...enjoying life with his wife and kids. He's flown Charles out to visit a couple of times.

I do not have enough of a vocabulary nor of an imagination to try to capture what that first meeting would be like. I'm sitting here blubbering like a little girl just writing this!

So the phrase "save someone's life" is to be taken absolutely literally. And you...YOU...might be able to do it.

Click the link above & sign up. They mail you a kit, you swab your cheek, and you mail it back. And pray that you're a match for someone. So that you can--literally--save their life.

A closing question: Imagine my friend Charles arriving at the guy's house for the first visit, and meeting his wife and his kids. Do you think Charles thought or said anything like this? "yeah, this is pretty cool, but that needle spot hurt for 3-4 weeks, so I don't think it was worth it..."

Me neither.

Sign up. There's a link there for donating money too, if you--like me--are medically ruled out as a potential donor. BTW, there are also links there with FAQs about the marrow donation process, and with myths about the process. Read them. And then sign up.


p.s. - Why are you still here? Go sign up to be a marrow donor! *smile*

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If Time Travel Were Possible...

From a great thread on a Bama msg board I frequent. "If you could go back in time and watch any Bama football game, which one would you choose?"

(note: to use a borrowed phrase, there's a huge head fake in this topic...keep reading, even if you couldn't care less about Bama football games past or present...)

Naturally, I couldn't just pick one. So here are a few of mine, along with my explanation as to why I'd go watch...These are not in order, except for the last one, which would be my one first choice by a long way.

--Bama v. Auburn, Tuscaloosa, about 3 years ago. The good guys lost...but this was my 1st Iron Bowl with my son sitting beside me. He drove over from Oxford & met me; we had a BLAST. Thus, it will always be one of my favorite games, despite the outcome.

--Bama v. Miami, Sugar Bowl, 1993. We destroyed the 'Canes, made all the sweeter by (a) the non-stop noise talked by the Cane players and the media before the game, (b) the fact that this game led to us winning our 12th national championship. But beyond all that, I attended this game...with Lisa's Dad sitting right there beside me. A great, great evening & road trip because of the company I was keeping that evening.

--Bama v. Auburn, 1985, Legion Field, Birmingham, AL. This game will always be known as "The Kick". Van Tiffen--father of current Tide kicker Leigh Tiffen--kicked a 52-yard field with just a couple of minutes left in the game to win it 25-23. The new mrs. beachbum was, of course, sitting there beside me. The game was awesome, but going w/ her was incredible.

--Bama v. KY, Legion Field, 1980. Defending nat'l champs Bama thrashed the Cats. Tide linebacker E.J. Junior was a force; UK had no answer (nor did anyone else who had to face EJ that year...). But the utterly-cool thing about that game is that it was my first as an actual UA student after transferring from the U. of FL. I was in the company of a number of folks who would impact my spiritual life significantly over the next few years. I also found myself wondering about this former UA coed I know who watched her first game as a student some 30ish years earlier...did she have the same excitement and anticipation of the game?--but much more--of what her time @ UA would mean to her? Maybe I'll ask her over lunch today...she & her husband Leo are visiting us for the weekend. Love you, Mom! Roll Tide!

--Bama v. Auburn, Legion Field, 1982 (or so). We had no answer for the great Bo Jackson of Auburn. He ran for nearly 300 yards that day. We lost. So, why would I go back to that one?? Because it's still the single greatest football performance I've ever seen live & in person. Incredible performance, even if it was against my guys. The future mrs. bb was there by my side.

--Bama v. Penn St., Tuscaloosa, about 1986. We won 6-0 in one of the best games I've ever seen. Old-school defensive struggle, with guys regularly limping off of the field, only to return a couple of plays later after the hamster climbed back on the little wheel and after the application of copious amounts of tape. Hardest hitting game I ever saw. Cornelius Bennett must have had 20 tackles that day for us. Neither offense could move the ball. We got w/in field goal range twice, and that was it. mrs. bb was there, as was a friend & classmate from India who was watching his 1st ever football game. Naturally, the great Joe Paterno was on the sidelines that day as head coach of the Nittany Lions, which added to the experience.

--Bama v. Notre Dame, Legion Field, about 1986. This game's known among the Tide faithful as "The Sack." Cornelius Bennett came in untouched and blasted Notre Dame QB Steve Buerlein. A totally awesome play. The Tide won big. A couple of guys walked around late in the game with a sign that said "This One's for You, Bear". I had some flashbacks...

...which leads favorite. The one I'd pick over all of these.

--Bama v. Notre Dame, Tulane Stadium, New Orleans, Sugar Bowl, January 1974 (or so). Pre-Superdome. Sat in the rain & watched my guys lose by one point to the hated Irish. Coach Bryant called this the greatest game he saw. So why in the round world is THIS one on the list? First, I met Coach Bryant after the game, which is just all kinds of cool. But much more, this was the only game I ever watched with James E. Madaris, Dad, who loved the Tide more than most. He died suddenly the next December of a heart attack when he was 3 years younger than I am now.

I'd give pretty much anything I've had since then to be able to go back & sit with Dad at that game again, even with the same outcome. He was great at being a serious, passionate fan without becoming...well, a north end of a south-bound horse. That particular way of being a fan is fairly well a lost art these days. (Even at the high school level!) Anyway, what a joy it was to share that game with Dad--even tho the wrong team won! I've remembered that experience at every game I've attended--Bama's or anyone else's!--since then. I dearly love the game in & of itself...but I'll always wonder if part of the reason isn't that football in gen'l--Bama football in particular--presents one of my most vivid memories of time spent with my Dad. At pretty much every game since then, I've had a very powerful "Dad, I remember" moment.

So, did you catch the head fake? I even "head-faked" myself with this one. I started out writing about some of my favorite Bama football games. Turns out, though, that this post actually has very little to do with football. Which really makes me wonder...I LOVE football, especially college football, and especially Crimson Tide football. Have loved it all my life. I wonder, in light of the head fake here, if my love of the game isn't really a celebration by me of some key people in my life. Especially my wife...and of my kids who are now loving their respective schools' teams...and of my parents, one of which is a two-time UA grad & the other of which was a serious UA fan for his all-too-short 47 years on earth.

Make no mistake. I love the violence of the game...the hits...the blocks (as a father of a former offensive lineman, I really love the blocks!)...the strategies...the fakes...the scores...the interceptions...the strength & athleticism...God help me, I so very much love all of that. But I'm beginning to decide that much of what I really love is the people in my life who I remember each & every time I watch a game. Any game.

I can't wait until Saturday's games on TV. And the next USM home game I get to watch live. And my yet-untaken annual jaunts to Oxford and to Starkville to watch football, while hanging out with my favorite pharmacy student & my favorite psych major...And maybe, just maybe, a trip to Tuscaloosa will occur at some point in the not-too-distant future.

And once again, I'll choke back a tear as the team takes the field.

Roll Tide! Thanks Lisa...and James & Anne...and Mom...and Dad. Also, thanks Gary & Kelly & Ken & Aunt Daisy & Uncle George & all the rest who loved me when I arrived there in 1980 as an angry, childish, remarkably un-love-able lout. I hope you know that you've made a huge difference in my life.


Monday, October 26, 2009

A Common Thread

1. I've known her since she was in high school. She has always been an excellent role model of how the Christian faith should be lived out in the real world. Rock solid faith. Excellent character. A great role model in her professional life. Then an excellent wife. Now an excellent mother of three. Always smiling. Everybody's friend. This past Friday, she had tough and serious surgery. When she recovers, she'll have radiation & chemo.

2. I've known him for a few years. He has become a great friend. By which I mean, a servant who always has the best interest of others at heart. He is one of the great church members I've ever known. Again, servant minded. Takes his faith and the Bible very seriously, and yet is very patient with those who take them less so. A leader who leads by serving and by example. An excellent husband and father of four. This past Friday, his Dad was diagnosed with a very serious cancer. Earlier today, he took his Dad to the 1st, critical appt. with the surgeon. The news got worse. Chemo, radiation, and then surgery. This one will likely have a huge impact on a large number of family members.

3. I just met her this past weekend in person, although we've known each other through a mutual friend for some time. She is a sweetie, and is known as such by all who know her. Has always been known as such. Last year, she had surgery and chemo. Now, she is about to undergo treatment for her second go-round with a different type of cancer. She delayed this treatment in order to be available for her son's last summer before college. He graduated from HS in May, and began college this Fall. She has her priorities straight.

Catch the common thread? All three of these great folks have had their lives turned upside down & inside out by cancer. Their own or that of a loved one.

Forgive the coarseness, but cancer just sucks. In the midst of this fearsome dread disease whose mere mention evokes terror, a sovereign God magnifies Himself in the lives of His servants. He's doing so in the lives of all three of these friends. And their families. But from an earthly perspective, it just sucks.

Would you please join me in praying for all three of these friends of mine? The Lord knows their names. My life is better because all three of them are part of it. I'm so thankful that each crossed my path. My selfish prayer is for complete and total healing, followed by a long & joy-filled life. My slightly-less-selfish prayer is for God to pour out His Spirit on all affected by these three illnesses, and to draw each of my friends all the closer to him. (Although, all three are mighty dadburn close to Christlike already...). And that He would make each mindful of His awesome presence and love and power and fear-removing capabilities, along with the wisdom He bestows on Drs...

I consider it a huge personal favor for you to lift up these. Thank You for them, Father. And for all who will be praying for them in the days to come.

And while you're at it, please pray for all who are doing research desperately seeking a once-and-for-all cure. Thank You for them too, Father.

With love and hope,

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”
Job 26:14

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Other Woman...

The Other Woman - Larnelle Harris
Time goes by…Much too fast
But the memories I have will always last
Like the risk of that first step
And the first word I heard her say
I knew she’d be the only other woman
That I could ever love this way
She’s become the other woman in my life
She’s the evidence of love
Between me and my wife
When she was a baby I held her
And as a young girl I watched her
Become the other woman in my life

Soon she’ll be on her own
Making choices she must live with all alone
But I pray she won’t forget what’s been the truth
Right from the start
She’ll always be that special little lady
That heaven placed into my heart
Watching her grow is like seeing a flower begin to bloom
As it follows the morning sun
And knowing that God’s not done
And knowing He’s just begun
She’s growing up and I love her so
But it’s almost time to let her go
She’s become the other woman in my life
She’s the evidence of love
Between me and my wife
When she was a baby I held her
And as a young girl I watched her
Become the other woman in my life
(lyrics end; back to bb)

Rebecca Anne Madaris is 19 years old this day. *jumps up & down in excitement*
She has been the other woman in my life ever since I watched her take her first breath. And she will remain the other woman until I take my last.
She now no longer resides in my house. *sighs* *composes self*
Yesterday, her big brother was sooooo excited when we brought her home. Today, she gets excited about going to a football game at her school, Mississippi State University. (And yeah...she does "get" the finer points of the game. Just this week, she was griping about the interceptions the QB there threw...)
Yesterday, she was "daddy's gull." Today...ok, she's still daddy's gull, though the nature of that has changed remarkably.
Yesterday, boys were kind of stupid. Today...they (we) still are, but now they're kind of fun to have around. And some have hung around over the past few years *narrows eyes menacingly* *smiles*
Yesterday, I didn't have the faintest clue how to raise a daughter. Today, I'm not sure I've caught a clue yet...but I'm sure trying hard to be a good distance-Dad, & am enjoying the difficult journey immensely!
Yesterday, she was all potential and dreams. Today, some of that potential & some of those dreams have already been realized, but she still has enormous potential and still dreams big dreams. I dream big dreams for her.
Yesterday, she got excited when I came home from work. Today, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp,...
Yesterday, I was her favorite singer. Today, it's John Mayer, or Dave Matthews, or some rap star. *smile*

OK, I'll stop now. just swapped a few text messages with the other woman in my life.
Happy Birthday, Anne!! I love you more than my meager writing skills can say!

('s blurry...but it's one of my favorite pics of us. Taken @ the MSU BSU when Tony spoke earlier this term. And yes, if you're wondering...I am *very* proud of that shirt! If she had gone to Notre Dame *shudders* I would've been proud of that shirt too...Thanks for wondering!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Miracle Patient

Another good report from MDA!
(& I hereby apologize for not updating here before now...I got my chops busted twice within 50 feet of walking into church for not updating my blog! *smile*)

Many are the thoughts & emotions this news evokes. (Rest easy though...I'll not be trying to capture all of them here...*smile*)

Basically, the same spot that showed up last year is still there. Right @ the end of one of the previous surgery scars. IMPORTANT BOTTOM LINE: Dr. Homsi's not worried about it; neither is the radiologist who read the scan. Next thing on the cancer list: another followup scan in early February. *smile*

We feel extremely fortunate to be where we are:
June, 08 - stage IV metastatic melanoma in both lungs...
Sept, 09 - skipping appts w/ the surgeon because of good P.E.T. results.
Amazing...simply amazing...

As long as we're heading out there for these periodic scans--which will likely be for a long time to come--we feel that it's unlikely to get a scan result that says "nothing we can do; get your affairs in order." That makes the drives out there slightly easier to bear. At least, we think so.

My overwhelming reaction to Tuesday's good results came when we got off the elevator & walked into the lobby. I was almost instantly overwhelmed with a strong desire to say in a loud voice in the lobby: "There's hope! Look @ me! God's still on his throne & still does miracles!" I didn't do that, in case you're wondering...but I choked up pretty substantially at the mere thought...

The nurse practitioner said that Dr. H. refers to me as his "miracle patient". I'll take that...Here's how good the visit went...Dr. Homsi spent a fair amount of time asking & getting a detailed response to this question: "so how's your son's pharmacy program going?" I'll take that too...

Every visit out there--as mentioned previously here--takes me deep into my theology & my beliefs about God's dealings with us "jars of clay." (1 Cor. 4:7). This particular one was no exception, in that I thought much on God's sovereignty. Especially on the ride home. If you're wondering, I haven't the vaguest clue why I got another good report, while much better men & women don't get such good reports. Sure, many were praying, which is the most humbling thing I can imagine, and for which I am most grateful. But many others are similarly prayed for who still get less-desirable results. And rest totally assured, that my results have zero to do with any innate goodness I possess that others do not! I guarantee you that this is not the case. I know some awesome servants of God & man who have not gotten such great news from a visit to MDA.

My "conclusions" (such as they are):
--We worship and serve a sovereign God, Who holds the universe and us people in the palm of His mighty hand
--His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9)
--He is UTTERLY & COMPLETELY able to work such that ALL hear "rise, take up your mat, and walk." As was said this morning in church, & has been said elsewhere, if Jesus had not said "Lazarus, come forth!" all of the graves would've emptied at His power...
--Yet sometimes, He does heal and sometimes He doesn't, except for what Wayne Watson calls "the Ultimate healing."
--What we see as earthly cause & effect...or lack somehow part of His plan
--He always answers prayers; sometimes "Yes"...sometimes "Not like that"...sometimes "Not Yet"...and sometimes "No"...
--He is always good, regardless of the desirability of a particular set of scan results!!
--I'll not understand all of this fully until I stand before Him complete, at which point all questions will fade away...

Until then, I will celebrate Him and thank Him for His grace in healing me on earth. And I will always worship...

In His Strong, Loving Grip,

p.s. - THANKS FOR YOUR PRAYERS!! We are so very humbled to be living on them...

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26:14

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Job 1:21b, 22

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Exodus 15:11

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. Psalm 71:17-20

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another Trip to Houston Looms...

Lisa & I will head out Sunday afternoon for Houston. Followup scans & bloodwork Monday. Then the latest most-important-of-my-life appointment w/ my doctor on Tuesday.

The Schedule:

Sunday, 9/20 - Drive to Houston

Monday, 9/21 - P.E.T. Scan & bloodwork beginning @ 11:00.

Tuesday, 9/22 - Appt. w/ Dr. Homsi (medical melanoma)@ 12:00 to get the scan results

Wednesday, 9/23 - Appt. w/ Dr. Mehran (thoracic surgeon) @ 12:00.

**The STRONG hope & prayer is that the Wed. appointment w/ Dr. Mehran will be moot--& cancelled--after Dr. Homsi says on Tuesday "Mr. Madaris, your scan results are clean; go home! See you in 6 months..."**

The tests themselves are no big deal in terms of pain & suffering, except that on Monday, I get no food nor coffee for 6 hours before the test. Morning coffee? Negative. Breakfast? Nope. *sigh* However, there is a coffee bar of sorts in the lobby, which means that about 4 minutes after I walk out of the P.E.T. scan area, I'll be swilling a giant cafe au lait & eating a stale donut...and seriously enjoying both! Also, there's the IV prep for the scan. I haven't ever minded getting stuck, until I was stuck something like 240 times last year. B.B. King said it best: "the thrill is gone..."

But oh my, how time C R A W L S between the end of the scan Monday...That's the worst part of the whole thing.

And then there's the crushing fear that these trips never quite overcomes me by the grace of God, but it's there just beneath the surface. Note carefully: my faith in my Lord is SOLID; better, perhaps, than ever. And I do not fear death. I completely know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day. So don't be concerned that my cancer journey is damaging my faith! Indeed, the opposite is true; these last 15 months of cancer-related stuff have strengthened my faith as God has poured out grace upon grace to us...(although I'd strongly suggest that you find other means to develop your faith than stage IV metastatic melanoma...)

So what is this fear of which I speak? You know it too, I 'spect. (Although for most of you it lies in the gloriously hypothetical; I pray it stays that way for you, & that you never...well, get to go to MDA as a patient!) It's a deep & devastating fear of what bad scan results might mean for me between now and that marvelous day when I stand in Him complete...It had been gloriously supressed by the potent combo of time, prayer, and good news at the last visit. But now it's time to get re-scanned. And to spend another loooooong night and slooooooow morning awaiting this latest most important Dr. appt. of my life...thus, the nagging fear is back.

That fear...or dread...never really will go away in this world. Perhaps that's a testimony to a small faith. But I don't think so, although my faith is surely incomplete and could be enlarged. Like most everyone's.

Whatever it is, in my fleshly humanity, here's what trips to M.D. Anderson for scans bring up in my mind:
--"Your cancer is back..."
--Chemotherapy (I have very few genuine fears & terrors on earth; here's one...)
--Radiation therapy
--Immunotherapy (this one I've fun, sir!)
--more cancer surgery (I actually fear this less than the ones above...)
--Inability to do my job
(my students & colleagues may insert their own punch line here...Perhaps a better way to say it is "inability to attempt to do my job"...)
--Inability to provide for my family
--Dreams unfulfilled
--A legacy in my kids that says "yeah, Dad was alright, but he had some huge, obvious, gaping character flaws that I wish he'd have worked on more..."
--An obituary that says "he had some potential, I suppose...too bad it was all unrealized..."

Again, I do NOT fear death. I've been present, standing beside the bed, when two people died. Not such a big thing for the one who dies. (Can be a mighty big deal for those left behind, though)

So, yeah...this upcoming trip to M.D. Anderson is taking me once again into the depths of my theology & of my relationship with my Lord & of what redemption means. More specifically, MY redemption...I thank God that I'm am so very far from what I used to be. But I am also very far from what I ought to be. And I'd sure like some more time for the Holy Spirit to continue chiseling & shaping & molding me toward that.

I suppose I'll battle these fears until I stand in Him complete in the place of what Wayne Watson call's the "ultimate healing." There will be no cancer there...and no fear...and no death...and no goodbyes. One of my personal favorite descriptions of heaven--that I'm sure I read somewhere, as it's way too good to be mine!--is the place of the eternal hello... I can't wait, although I'm also not looking to go just yet...

Sorry to have poured all of this out on you...(but then, that's what happens here @ mmbeachbum, ya know...*smile*)

If you're a praying type, please pray for us. Some suggestions:
--safe travel

--relatedly, for our car to get us there and back
(Lisa & I head out Sunday after lunch)
--peace that passes understanding from Monday afternoon through the appointment Tuesday.
--God's grace to be with us in that room @ MDA Tuesday around lunch time as Dr. Homsi walks in

Also, if you would, please be thankful to God for a few things on our behalf:
--Diane, my high school classmate who has opened her home to us multiple times
. (Her son has the swine flu, so it's unlikely that we'll be staying there this time) One of God's grace notes through this MDA journey is that we have yet to spend a dime on lodging in something like 15 trips out there! This could be the first time...
--Friends who have loaned us cars for the trip in the past
--Dr. Jade Homsi - medical melanoma & Dr. Reza J. Mehran - thoracic surgery. Got an appt. w/ Dr. Homsi Tuesday to get the P.E.T. scan results, and w/ Dr. Mehran Wed. that I HOPE becomes moot after Tuesday's appt. These guys are awesome!
--Dr. Cheryl Dale, Dean of the Wm. Carey Univ. School of Business who hired me two years ago, little realizing how very much juggling would be required to cover my trips to MDA, and who has yet to complain about it.
--My colleagues @ the Wm. Carey Univ. School of Business. They will be once again covering my office hours without complaining, and will be praying for us faithfully. What an absolute joy it is to work alongside servant- and ministry-minded friends who genuinely have my best interests at heart! (dadburn allergies...*sheepish grin*)
--Steve Blake, Manager of the Lifeway Store in Hattiesburg. Once again, he will be juggling the schedule & the workload so that his assistant manager--Lisa--can head out to Houston/MDA with her husband.

Thanks so much, my friends, for remembering us before the throne of grace. Aren't you looking forward to the day when intercessory prayer will no longer be needed? When only prayers of thanksgiving & praise will be required? When we will "bow on our knees and cry 'Holy!'" as another song says?

Until then, I'm glad you're in my world, and am humbled by your prayers.

In His Grip,

p.s. - just so you know, I cut out several parts of thankful for that, as it's already long! *smile*

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How Small a Whisper...

Charlie died last week.

To many, he was Charles Hoyle, Ph.D., Professor of Polymer Science & Engineering in USM's School of Polymers & High Performance Materials.

He researched the following, according to his webpage: Photophysical properties of polymer systems; Laser flash photolysis of polymers; Photopolymerization of thin-films based on monofunctional and multifunctional self-initiating monomers; Photochemistry and Photopolymerization of Liquid Crystalline Polymers and Monomers; Thiol-ene photopolymerizations; Kinetics and Mechanisms of Free-radical Polymerization; Mechanisms of Polymer Photodegradation; Photochemistry and Photophysics of Small Molecules in Polymer Matrices; Fluorescence of Polymer Solutions and Films.

(And no, despite many a cup of coffee & meal & chat with him, I still haven't the vaguest clue what any of the above means. Sorry Charlie...I tried to understand all those times you tried to explain it to me...)

Charlie's students are researching & working in Polymer Chemistry all over the world. The ones I knew...know...remember Charlie as one of the good guys who was a trusted friend & mentor.

He was absolutely brilliant. Bachelor's & Ph.D. from Northwestern. (I don't think I'm smart enough to drive past that school, let alone get in...and let's not discuss my probability of getting out...especially in polymer chemistry!)

But to Abby & Austin, he wasn't "Dr. Hoyle" or "Professor Hoyle" or even "Charlie." He was DAD. I know every time I spoke with Charlie or shared a cup of coffee or whatever, I would get the Abby/Austin update. He was proud of his kids, as he should've been. Abby teaches English in the south Pacific, & Austin & wife live in Vicksburg. Abby & Austin, never doubt that your Dad loved you. I've been in your shoes of losing a Dad suddenly to a heart attack well before we thought such an even should happen...I know. I have no magic words, for there are none. Except for the oh-so-trite sounding "press on"...

And he was Karen's husband. I have NOT been in her shoes of losing a spouse suddenly. I cannot imagine the depths of that darkness. Again, I have no magic words, for there are none. Just know, Karen, that I always loved the quiet, solid cherishing of you that Charlie did. And know that, somehow, in ways that will be made plain when we join Charlie in glory, in the presence of the One before whom all of our questions fade away into one glorious answer, we'll understand fully that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15)

That's how I knew Charlie best. As a saint. He was one of the 2 or 3 most brilliant professors I've ever met anywhere in any field. An amazingly productive scholar & teacher with an awesome mind. But he also possessed a rock-solid faith that affected the totality of his life. Charlie was a key part of our Christian Faculty Forum at USM when I was there as a professor and as a staffer with Campus Crusade working with professors. Despite his prodigious scholarly output, I always found him humble and eager to listen to invited speakers...or to uninvited Campus Crusade staffers who dropped into his office without a prior appointment. (that'd be me)

And yeah...I did pick his amazing mind & scientific training regarding origins & design & evolution & such. As a bit of a hobby, he was fairly well-read in that. His take--one for the ages!--was this: "Mike, that evolution & creation stuff is fascinating to read, but IT'S NOT SCIENCE!!" (emphasis his). Meaning essentially that origins & evolution are not replicable & not repeatable, so whichever side of the argument one arrives on is philosophy & not science. He would get rather intense when someone like, say, Richard Dawkins would make the claim of scientific superiority of his atheistic, evolutionary beliefs over Christian creationist beliefs.

And what I always loved about Charlie was his enthusiastic encouragement of the Christian Faculty Forum's activities. But more, his enthusiastic encouragement of me. Here was one of the most impressive scholars I'll ever meet, and he always had time for me and always encouraged me, professionally as a Business School professor, and then as a Campus Crusade staffer, and personally as a brother in Christ.

That is why, since I heard Friday night of his passing, I've been unable to stop remembering. And pondering the awesome, wonderful, majestic, sometimes-inexplicable providence of God. It's also why I'm up at 3:41 a.m. Saturday morning capturing these thoughts and remembering Charlie.

USM is now short one incredible scholar & professor & mentor to many. Karen is short a husband who cherished her. Abby & Austin are short a dad who loved them & never shied away from talking about them. My church is short a quietly faithful member. And I am short an encouraging friend.

And this world is all the more lonely, making me feel all the more like the stranger & sojourner that I really am...that we all really are...

RIP, Charlie. Thanks for being my friend, and for going out straining toward the finish line. Your life & work mattered. Matter. See you on the other side. Perhaps there, in a place unstained by sin, I'll finally be able to understand what your areas of research actually were...*smile*

Your friend,

"Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”
Job 26:14

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In 1977...

...I arrived on campus @ the U of FL as a freshman. Full of energy, cocky, and UTTERLY clueless. (note: not all freshmen are clueless...but I definitely was)

Despite my advanced age, I remember a few things about those first days on campus. (Well, I remember a LOT, but the statute of limitations may not be up on some, my Lord has promised to remember them no more, which works for me)

Dorm: The Broward Basement. Roomed w/ a HS classmate, Jim. Ironically, neither of us would graduate from because of total stupidity & lack of discipline; him because he pursued his dream & graduated from USC (the one in California!) Jim was a great roommate; I was a self-absorbed jerk as best I can recall. But nonetheless, we are still friends today!

The UF Housing office had an idea...a singularly bad idea, but an idea. They put our bunch of guys in the bottom floor (basement). All of the floors above us were populated by ladies. Our R.A. was also a lady. Who lived in a room upstairs. Yeah, as I say, a singularly bad idea...

Actually, aside from a large number of stupid-guy pranks, it worked out pretty well! We mostly got along w/ each other, and had a pretty durn good time along the way. And seemingly despite ourselves, many of us succeeded. One guy's a pretty big-time judge in south's a very successful businessman...Jim's a money manager living in SoCal...and one guy's a professor living in Hattiesburg (although that particular guy took quite a while to find his wings...)

Dorm life is a totally fascinating experience. I am VERY glad I did it...and am MUCH MORE glad that I don't do it any more! *smile*

I remember buying books. Civilization & Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud (which I still have & thought I was so cool & scholarly carrying it around)...The Wasteland ...(ditto) Didn't know then what a book-a-holic I'd be as an old guy... Actually, I'm just remembering that we had a "book BBQ" at the end of the term in which we burned our books outside on the grill just for the sheer joy of surviving that 1st time. (as I say, stupid-guy stuff...)

I remember some things about classes, although not much. (Mostly because I didn't go that much; see "no degree from UF'...and "stupid"...) I remember that one term, out of 6 teachers (incl labs), I had 5 who were not native English speakers, and the other one grew up in a bilingual home. Please note: that is *not* why my grades were so pitiful!

I remember that another HS classmate & I had calculus together that 1st term. 8:00, MWF. She was much more responsible (& scared!) than I, so she actually went to class. Then she'd come wake me up, we'd go grab bkfst in the dorm cafeteria, & I'd explain the concepts from the day as she'd ask. This was possible because I had the TOTALLY AWESOME HS calculus teacher, the great Lona Almond, who remains the greatest teacher I've ever had or known at any level. Thus, 1st term calculus was a breeze for me! (How ironic is that one of my better grades in a disaster of an academic year was in freshman calculus??)

I also remember that the total stoner we had for a teacher, covered the last 3 (out of 6!) chapters in the last week of the term. (literally!)

I remember fraternity rush. Open rush, or informal rush. I found myself becoming drawn throughout the week to this one house & bunch of guys. Lambda Chi Alpha. A shaper of me at the time. Socially (in ways that were not all good!), but also morally (mostly latently; would show up later).

I remember Gator football games. That 1st game, the Gators hosted--and tied--then powerhouse Pitt Panthers. After that, not so good. The team had 10 guys drafted...10! And they were something like 6-4-1. Football analyst Cris Collinsworth was a freshman QB on that team. (Yeah, I know...he played WR in the NFL for a number of years...) The great Wes Chandler was a senior that year. The Brantley brothers, one of whose son is Tebow's backup @ QB now. Linebacker Yancey Sutton...who was completely deaf...and who would knock your head off!

It was fun. I remember when West TX St. U came in & was up 14-7 before the Gators reeled off 70 consecutive points to win 77-14. Fun times. Of course, I also remember a couple of years later when Bama's 2nd consecutive Nat'l Champ team came down & thrashed the Gators 40-0. Five different QBs led the Tide to touchdown drives. Total domination.

I remember concerts. The Dregs on campus @ Halloween Ball. Awesome! Axe @ the Great Southern Music Hall many times. Best rock group nobody has heard of...I *loved* their version of "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch"--picture a very heavy metal groove version of the old R&B hit. Blue Oyster Cult in town. Judas Priest in town. Kansas in Lakeland. Styx in Jacksonville. Molly Hatchet in Jacksonville. Steppenwolf.

I remember outdoor movies on the lawn. Monty Python's Holy Grail. Rocky Horror Picture know--all the classics...

I was one of 39,000 students on campus.

Now, Anne Madaris is a freshman @ MSU. She's one of something like 15,500 students. I'm praying that she has such a blast this year that it marks her & shapes her like my freshman year did for me. Only, I hope & pray that she doesn't experience the deep lows that I experienced...and that she doesn't have as much to regret about the freshman year as I do.


p.s. - early scouting reports suggest that she's having a BLAST while also being productive...TYL!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Teaching As The Rain...

I love the anticipation the night before a new term begins.

What will my students be like? How will they respond to my teaching? Will they do the work I ask? Will I do the teaching they expect?

And significantly, what will the Lord do this term?

Just this morning, my pastor spoke on being missional where we are. I've tried to be that for some years now on the college campus, with some successes by the grace of God. And with some epic failures too, for which I need much forgiveness & would love some do-overs...

This term is a new one for me, for both of my children are beginning their terms in college too.

Here's my prayer that they both have a professor or three who professes Christ publicly, humbly, and faithfully. And that those professors impact my children both academically and spiritually.

And, of course, here's my prayer that my own testimonies given in my "first classes" this week will be empowered by & filled with the loving, wooing grace of God. And that my life & work & teaching this term lives up to my confession of Christ, such that I am truly a "missional" professor.

May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!
Deuteronomy 32:2-3


p.s. - Be missional wherever our Lord has you this week too!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Watercolor Ponies Have Ridden Away...

"There are watercolor ponies on my refrigerator door
and the shape of something I don't really recognize
drawn by careful little fingers and put proudly on display
A reminder to us all of how time flies..."

So, as of today, my house is officially the place my kids come to visit. (And I have no words to tell you how very bizarre that sounds to me...)

It's no longer where they live. It's where they used to live.

"Seems an endless mound of laundry
And a stairway laced with toys
Gives a blow by blow reminder of the war
That we fight for their well-being...for their greater understanding
To impart a holy reverence for the Lord"

The nest is empty. We have liftoff.

Luckily, (a) there are many memories echoing around here...(b) I'm delighted about where my kids are...(c) wherever I am, they will always be welcome. And treasured...(d) they will have several more long stays here in the next couple of years.

"But, baby, what will we do when it comes back to me and you?
They look a little less like little boys every day...

Also, VERY fortunately, I'm married to my best friend. We were such for 3 years before we married & then for 4 before James arrived. I look forward to many years of hanging w/ mrs. bb. We still enjoy each other's company.

"And the vision can get so narrow
as you view through your tiny world
And little victories can go by with no applause
But in the greater evaluation as they fly from your nest of love
May they mount up with wings as eagles for His cause"

This is a seriously strange day @ casa beach bum. A *major* life era ends & another begins.

"Oh, the pleasure of watching the children growing
Is mixed with a bitter cup of knowing
The watercolor ponies will one day ride away"

And there they go...And there goes a very large piece of my heart with them...

p.s. - your prayers are MOST welcome for James & Anne. Thanks in advance!

p.p.s. - your prayers are also MOST welcome for James & Anne's parents. Thanks again!

p.p.p.s. - the lyrics (in bold) are from "Watercolor Ponies"a *superb* song by Wayne Watson

Monday, August 10, 2009

For the Love of the Game...

I *LOVE* football! Especially college football. To me, there's not much I can do that's more fun than sitting in a stadium w/ thousands of fans screaming & listening to the band & roaring @ 1st downs & picks & fumbles & TDs & such.

Dad was a Bama fan; Mom, a Bama grad. Papa--Mom's Daddy--was ordered by his Dr. to stop listening to Bama games on the radio for the sake of his heart. My 1st several football games involved the Crimson Tide, including the game that Coach Bryant called the best game he ever saw: a 1-point loss to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. I was on campus for the last three years of the man's amazing 25-year run. Attended his funeral, even. So, yeah...I love " Football!"

In the last 20 years, I've watched a BUNCH of USM games, & plan to keep watching more. My plan is to see all of the home games this year, as I did last year. Several years back, James & I rolled up to Memphis to watch USM crush Pitt in the Liberty Bowl. Loved it! I had Ryan McKee & Tumbo Abanikanda in class a couple of summers ago. I've also had a bunch of other players through the years. Was in Tuscaloosa for Favre's miraculous off-the-bench W. And for some other USM Ws.

In recent years, I've watched a number of UM & MSU games in Oxford & Starkville. Saw the Rebs come mighty close to beating the Gators a couple of years ago. Saw Eli & co win some biggies. James & I went to the Cotton Bowl last January & watched the Rebs DESTROY the vaunted Tx Tech Red Raiders. Loved it! In Starkville, I watched Tim Couch throw for over 400 yards...and lose to the Dogs. Watched the Dogs beat my Tide. And lose to them. Both places are fun places to watch a game.

I've watched games from the pressboxes at Florida Field in Gainesville and at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. I've watched in torrential rainstorms...and in 100+ degree heat...and in freezing cold weather. God help me, I absolutely love watching the game!

Which leads to the point of this post. (Finally!)

Are we really going to define our lives by which bunch of 18-22 year olds defeats the other bunch of 18-22 year olds on a given Saturday?

Will the outcome of a football game define our friendships?

Our mood for the entire next week?

Our love for--and hatred for--particular institutions of higher learning?

Our conversational content & edge?

Our witness to the world (if we are Christians)?


Make no mistake: I hope my guys go 12-0, win the SEC championship, and become the latest SEC team to win the national championship. (I do not predict this, but it'd be nice...and I *do* predict that the Tide will be mighty good this Fall) Also, know that I have, in fact, allowed the outcome of a football game to affect all of those things listed above, to my great shame.

But for crying out loud...a little perspective, please!! Regardless of the outcome of a particular football game, here are some things that are true:

--God is still on His throne

--Jesus is still coming back

--I am loved and redeemed by my Lord
("My chains are gone...I've been set God my Savior's ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy rains, unending love, Amazing Grace!")

--Lisa still loves me

--I still have two children who are absolute joys & treasures

--my degrees from the U. of Alabama are still intact

--as is my job that I love @ WCU

--God has blessed me with MANY wonderful friends who love in deed, & not just in word

--I'm still--incredibly--cancer-free at this moment

--The beaches of NW FL are still there in all of their majestic, breathtaking beauty

--ditto the Colorado Rockies

I have friends who are Ole Miss grads. MSU grads. USM grads. UF grads. Ohio State grads. LSU grads. Tx Tech grads. Even Auburn grads! Each of these are treasured friendships that have been indispensable to me this last year & a half particularly.

Here's my challenge as a new college football season approaches. Enjoy the stew out of the games. Cheer for your team. Agonize over the bad spots, turnovers, penalties,...But DO NOT let a football game's outcome define your existence...your friendships & the way you deal w/ those friends...your mood (Piglet when your team wins, Eeyore when yours loses)...your conversations...your prayer life...the way you sing at church (or not)... In other words, make it a goal this Fall to move beyond the typical "my team's great/your team sucks" approach to college football fan-dom.

I dare you to find something positive about the OTHER team & its coaches & its fans. For example...
Gator fans--are you aware that OU QB Sam Bradford is a very committed Christian who takes his faith seriously & is involved in ministry off the field just like your man Tebow?
OU fans, are you aware that UT QB Colt McCoy is outspoken about his Christian faith just like your man Sam is?
Fellow Bama fans, are you aware that Auburn has a center for sports ministry (don't know exact title) where sports chaplains are trained that was started by the hated former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville?
USM & MSU fans, are you aware that Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt speaks of his faith & desire to impact others with it? (I've heard him do this with my own ears!)
Non-USM fans, are you aware that USM Coach Larry Fedora does the same & has been seen attending church at my church?
Michigan fans, are you aware that OSU LB James Laurinaitis is a deeply committed Christian who speaks often to student groups about it?
Bama-hating fans, are you aware that the late Paul "Bear" Bryant established a scholarship fund for children of Bama players that has fully funded the education of several hundred young men & women most of whom never set foot on a football field? And that the hated Bama coach Nick Saban has donated a very large pot of $$ to fund academic scholarships for non-football players?

Such stories are just a sample of one of the primary things that I love about college football.

My own church staff has USM grads/fans, Ole Miss grads/fans, MSU grads/fans, WCU grads, Ohio St. fans, U of TX fans, KY fans...and yet they are of one accord, by & large.

EVERY school has its share of...*searches for kind word*...idiot fans. Every single one. My challenge to us all is to not add to that number this Fall.

When's kickoff? I can't wait...

p.s. - Hold me to account on my points here, please!