Monday, September 20, 2010

3 Professors

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away...

I was an undergrad student at Alabama. Still desperately trying to find my groove academically (although I had made progress on that front in JuCo in FL). Still recovering from the devastating embarrassment of my near-total lack of success at my first college. Still sorting through the self-created wreckage of my faith, though embers of re-ignited flames were beginning to show.

In that setting, I had to take an operations management course. The title back then was "Production & Operations Management," and the course had a well-earned reputation for being hard. Somehow, I clicked with it. And with the professor, a guy named Johnny Charnetski. Made an A in the class, for which I was very grateful and very proud. Anyway, on a test in that class, Dr. C. wrote "Have you ever considered graduate school?" I hadn't; in fact, my first reaction was to laugh. But I began to think about, especially after following up on his comments in his office. (My question for him was basically, "Are you serious??" He said he was, and elaborated...)

In another semester or two, I took an economics elective called "Current Issues in Economics." That one I took because (a) it was a 3-week full-credit course, and (b) I had the professor before in an earlier class and like him. The professor was a guy named Ron Bird. The class was awesome! We discussed the economics of education, of sports, of labor relations,...The combo of labor & sports was a very cool discussion, since one of my classmates was playing O-Line for the Packers at the time, and was the Green Bay Packers' player rep for the NFLPA union. A day came when I stuck my head in Dr. Bird's office to check on something. He said, "Mike, have you ever thought about getting a graduate degree?" By this time, I was able to answer something like "well, I've been thinking about it." He encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree.

So, shortly after, there I was, in the Master's program in Economics at Bama. The M.A. program director also taught me macroeconomics. (best Ron White delivery: "We've met...") His name was Ted Vallery. One day, I was in his office checking on something, and he said "Mike, have you ever considered getting a Ph.D.?" After I rediscovered control of my mouth & closed it, I mumbled "no" and asked about what all is involved. He talked me through it and encouraged me to give it some thought. The irony is, I was an average student (at best!) in his class.

Thus, in about a one-year period, I went from clueless undergrad student to applying for the Ph.D. program in Financial Economics. Now, 27 years later, here I am, back in the university classroom, digging every minute of it.

All because three different professors saw something in me that I didn't see myself. They all challenged me severely in their respective classes, and then saw something in how I approached the courses. It is correct to say that all three had much to do with my education and my career choice(s).

To close, thanks Dr. C., Dr. B., & Dr. V. You guys all three made a difference to me. I hope I can inspire & encourage my students the way you three inspired & encouraged one of yours a long time ago at the University of Alabama.


p.s. - Dr. Vallery passed away not that long ago. I hope he knew what a difference he made in my life! I sure wish I had told him more clearly. And I'd love to know where Dr. Charnetski & Dr. Bird are. Last I knew, Dr. Bird was working w/ a think tank of some sort up around Washington, DC.

Monday, September 13, 2010

28 years ago...

...there was a small private plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in east Texas. There was this guy on the plane with two of his very young children. A singer/preacher. I'll come back to that.

Meanwhile, there was this college student in Tuscaloosa who was coming back around to his spiritual roots and was re-discovering the joy of salvation in Christ & all that meant. He had encountered a number of folks his age who were Christians & took that seriously. But the strange thing to this guy was, they were having a total blast! They laughed, they loved football games, they went to movies, they went bowling, they went swimming, they pursued those of the opposite gender...they just generally enjoyed life. One of those was this gorgeous lady from a small town in south AL with large beautiful blue eyes. She even went out with him. Repeatedly!

And thus, he had come back home to the faith he had tried to deny & abandon for several years.

But there was still one huge hurdle. He *loved* music. Good music. (Related aside: taking bad music & baptizing it & using it to sing about Jesus doesn't make it good music. Bad music is bad music, whether the subject is Jesus or one's Jeep!) This was a quandry for our young student, as it seemed that all the good music was...not worshipful, let's just say. And then he discovered a group called 2nd Chapter of Acts, and a singer named Keith Green. While he saw 2nd Ch. of Acts in concert once--which remains a spiritual high point--he discovered Keith Green's music just shortly after Keith died. In a plane crash. That plane crash in east TX.

I cannot wait until eternity to share with Keith how HUGE an impact his music had on me and my spiritual journey. I remember when a friend asked me if I had heard of him (I hadn't), and played his "23rd Psalm" for me. Instant tears. And many times since, listening to that song. I still remember the liner notes on the album for this particular song: "Can't wait to meet King David & hear how the original went"...I'm convinced the Lord let Keith hear the original in his studio & then record it on his "Songs for the Shepherd" album, which was the last "new" album Keith Green put out. It was released shortly after his homegoing.

INCREDIBLE piano playing. Great lyrics. Great sense of humor. Great passion. Tears. Righteous anger. Joy. A Prophet who sang.
"The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can't fight, 'cause it's asleep in the light"...
"And it's only that I care; I really only want just to see you there"...
"Rushing Wind, blow through this temple, blowing out the dust within; daily change me to your image, for I've been born again"...
"All my life I had been searching for that crazy missing part, and with one touch You just rolled away the stone that held my heart; now I see that the answer was as easy as just asking You in, I am so sure, I will never doubt Your gentle touch again; it's like the power of the wind...Like waking up from the longest dream; how real it seemed, until Your love broke through"...
"Make my life a prayer to you, I wanna do what you want me to; no empty words & no white lies, no token prayers, no compromise"...
"When I stand in glory, I will see Your face, and there I'll serve my King forever in that holy place"...
"Well you can run to end of the highway, and not find what you're looking for"...
"Nothing lasts, except the grace of God by which I stand in Jesus"...

In the soundtrack of my life, the music of Keith Green, and the passion behind it, figure prominently.

I still can't believe he left us so young. And that it was 28 years ago.

This entry originated a few weeks back when I saw something about the 28th anniversary of the crash. It was finalized tonight, after the ipod shuffle feature during my drive home after class landed on, you guessed it, Keith Green's music. I listened to, worshipped with, and shed a couple of tears to Keith's 23rd Psalm. I even sang along; luckily, there will be no youtube moment of that. You're all welcome. *smile* Then the last thing I listened to, worshipped with, shed tears to, and sang along with before pulling into our driveway was his *incredible* "Grace By Which I Stand." Like many of his songs, this one's a bit autobiographical for me.

Thank You, Father, for reaching down & saving & redeeming & transforming & putting into service this hippie from southern CA some 30+ years ago. And thank You for using that hippie's life & music to re-capture & re-focus this young Univ. of Alabama student's faith. And thank you, Keith, for listening & for passionately writing & recording what you heard. I'll catch you later, on the other side. Your life mattered to so many here, Brother. I know, because I am one to whom it mattered.

Reminded that The Lord is My Shepherd, and that Nothing lasts except the grace of God by which I stand in Jesus,


p.s. - Here's "Grace By Which I Stand" (note: this is the album version; it's not live, so don't worry about watching...just have a listen & enjoy!) >>>Click Here<<<.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Connecting the Dots (A short one with zero words by me...)

"Your life is much bigger than a good job, and understanding spouse, and non-delinquent kids. It is bigger than beautiful gardens, nice vacations, and fashionable clothes. In reality, you are part of something immense, something that began before you were born and will continue after you die. God is rescuing fallen humanity, transporting them into his kingdom, and progressively changing them into his likeness--and he wants you to be part of it."
Paul David Tripp
(quoted by my pastor this morning)

"We exist to proclaim good news and to practice good deeds."
Tony Merida (my pastor; from this morning's excellent sermon "Ministry and Mission"...part of a series called "Membership Matters")

"Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come, yeah!
With all creation I sing
'Praise to the King of Kings!
You are my everything,
And I will adore You'"

Jenny Riddle
(Sung @ my church this morning)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Some Challenges for this Fall...

See if you can cheer for your team without cheering against the other team.

See if you can talk calmly to fans of the other team.

See if you can praise them when their team defeats yours.

See if you can do so without making excuses. There are times when something goes amiss & costs a team a game. A bad call. A lighting issue. Sudden downpour. But those events are VERY, VERY rare. Usually, the team that plays the best on that day wins the game.

See if you can honor & respect their traditions without mocking them.

See if you can support your team as much when they don't win as when they do. (I was in Tuscaloosa when the Tide had our first losing season in decades. It was NO fun losing game after game...but OTOH, I *was* still watching football, the game I love so very dearly...and I didn't miss a game, despite expecting to lose many of them.)

See if you can always keep in mind that a college football game is, well a game...Do you & I really want to base so much of our self-worth & mood & attitude & how we treat our friends & neighbors on the outcome of a bunch of 18-22 year olds running into each other at high speeds??

See if you can be a positive, classy representative for the school(s) whose team(s) you happen to support. In other words, be that guy/lady, about whom others say "you know, if _________(your school name) had more fans like that guy/lady, I'd be more favorably disposed toward them"...


p.s. - if you're wondering, I am chief of sinners here. This blog is aimed first at me; if it challenges any of the rest of you, well,'re welcome? Sorry? *grin*

p.p.s. - Please hold me accountable for this stuff, and feel free to let me know if you hear me straying from this challenge.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

For worse...

June 2, 1984, Gilbertown, AL:
"I, Lisa, take you, Mike, to be my wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'till death alone shall part us."

(or words to that effect...)

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him"...Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Genesis 2:18, 24-25

We focus on "having & holding" & "better" & "richer" & "in health." As we should. Weddings should make us go "awww..."

But the other thing they should do is fill us with AWE. Awe at what we're promising. Awe that the family was the very first institution God created (NOT the church, not the government, not schools, not businesses, not cities...FAMILIES). Awe that marriage reflects in so many ways what God does in relating to us. Awe at the reality behind what the words mean that are being said.

(Related aside: Lisa & I "started a family" on June 2, 1984...four years later, we had our first child, right when we wanted to do so. Realizing that is why I *never* ask a young married couple "so, when are you going to start a family?" They did so on their wedding day; the only remaining question is, how large will that family become...)

I was presiding minister at a wedding some years back. I doubt I'll have a higher honor this side of Glory. An INCREDIBLE experience!

("So, where are you heading w/ this?" Glad you asked!) I've been thinking much on some of the pre-marital teaching the presiding pastor at our wedding shared with us in 1984. GREAT stuff! I still clearly remember him looking at me, with Lisa sitting right there in his office with me, and asking "Mike, God forbid, but what if you're pulling away from church & are in a terrible accident such that she's paralyzed from the neck down. Does that change the way you feel about her & about this marriage? If so, I'd advise you to hold off on the wedding..." An awesome, holy silence followed...I realized that there was WAY more to this marriage stuff than simply acquiring a close buddy, or sex, or another income. One word has both haunted me & challenged me about my own marriage: responsibility. After all, I repeated very similar vows myself to the ones at the beginning of this entry before God, my family, her family, our friends,...

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...
Ephesians 5:25

There's a lot of controversy in recent years over the "wives, submit" part of Ephesians 5. I fully understand why that is; however, landing that one is not the purpose of this post. But have you read on ahead to the requirements of the very same passage for the husband? My hunch is that one of the main reasons for the pushback on the "submit" part is that we husbands are not keeping *our* part of the deal; we're not very good at "loving our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her"...Just the one verse above haunts me & challenges me on a daily basis. I'm still *very much* a work in progress on this one myself, after 26+ years of working on it...

Sometimes, marriage involves all giggles & grins for decades on end. But frankly--and with apologies to my newly- & nearly-married friends--that is the VERY RARE exception. Sure, there are those giggles & grins times, where you just can't imagine more pleasing circumstances. But alas...

Sometimes, marriage involves one spouse losing a job. And having to move. And not having as much $$ as planned. And career changes. And the simultaneous GLORIOUS blessings and OVERWHELMING challenges of kids. And it always involves (eventually) not being 25 forever.

And sometimes...God forbid that this happen to you!...marriage involves things like this:

--being utterly alone in surgical waiting rooms at places like M.D. Anderson Cancer Center waiting for the nurse to step out & call your name to come see the surgeon to see how the operation went on your spouse.

(The surgery patient--me--has BY FAR the easier part of this deal, if you're wondering. Also, it frankly matters very little whether friends & family are there in the waiting room; the spouse will still feel utterly alone.)

--Sleeping on a foldout chair in a hospital room while listening to your spouse's very shallow, labored breathing along with the beeps & hisses of all of the machines he's hooked up to.

--Being awakened every couple of hours for yet another blood sugar stick & vital sign check.

--Being awakened by the sound of him not able to catch his breath & having to call for help because he's physically not able to do so.

--8-hour drives home becoming 10- & 11-hour drives because he's basically non-functional over there in the passenger seat, and yet he has to get out & walk around to keep from clotting up after surgery.

--Not freaking out when he's bazooka-barfing because of post-surgery anesthesia related effects.

--Changing surgical wound dressings.

--Pulling out pain pumps from his chest.

--Helping him wash himself because he's not able to do so on his own.

--Helping him get to bed because the pain meds made him crash while sitting on the couch watching TV

--Waiting yet again in a Dr.'s office for the latest most-important-ever scan results & hoping...

There is absolutely NOTHING romantic about any of the above. Nothing sexy or "awww" or "how sweet!" or "fun!" about them.

And yet, that's been Lisa Madaris' lot in life these last few weeks. And multiple times 2 years ago. And again 5 years ago. And there, ladies & gents, is what separates real love from squishy, romance-novel, TV love. "The Bachelorette"? Um, negative... "The Kardishians"? Please!!

The Bible speaks of three main forms of love: eros - basically, physical, romantic love, as in "erotic"; phileo - friendly, brotherly love, as in "Philadelphia - City of Brotherly Love"...and agape.

Let the word lay there a moment. AGAPE. ("ah-gah-pay" more or less). Self-sacrificing love. Love that gives, expecting nothing in return. Love that solely seeks the best for the beloved (NOT for oneself).

I'm convinced that it is the latter--agape--that is the basis for a joyful, long-lasting marriage. Note carefully: ALL ARE NEEDED! There's certainly a place for eros love in a marriage (see "Song of Solomon" for but one example of the high priority the Bible places on erotic love...and keep in mind Who it was that invented sex in the first wasn't anyone in Hollywood! *smile*) And the companionship, phileo love of a spouse that enables each other to complete sentences for the other correctly is a great treasure.

But those both fade into the distance when agape love shows up. "Wow! S/he's hot!" just fails miserably when a marriage confronts, say, stage IV metastatic melanoma. "S/he's my best friend" just will not get one through those long nights in the hospital...or at home during recovery.

On June 2, 1984, when Lisa & I made vows to each other in the church there in Gilbertown, AL, we didn't have a clue. Note: the list of topics about which I had not a clue was very long then...and is still long now...but "love"--especially agape love--was right up there toward the top of the list back then.

Now, I know a bit more about it. Because I have seen it. Lived it. Received it. From one who will be TERRIBLY embarrassed at this blog entry. She would say she's just doing what loving wives do. Duty. I disagree. I've received "duty" too, and it feels just like someone doing their duty. Duty is fine and is needed, but it is NOT agape love. Receiving self-sacrificing, agape love like I have received feels entirely different.

To wind this up, if any of you want to see agape love, don't look to me as the example. Rather, look to my bride. You'll have to watch closely, as she does her thing out of public view mostly. And as you watch, note the loving, joy-filled smile on her face. There, my friends, is what love looks like.

I, among men, am so very blessed and grateful that my Lord drew me to my wife in the early 1980s. And I am still amazed that He drew her to me, with my many & manifest issues then. And now. And I am humbled beyond measure that He has put in my home one of the great examples of agape love that I've ever seen. And I hope she's nearly finished having to do the yucky's to years of love that doesn't require any more of all that she's had to give these last few years.

Deeply in love & receiving amazing love,

p.s. - "not good for man to be alone"...ESPECIALLY true of this man! *smile*