2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The London Olympic Stadium is 53 meters high. This blog had about 590 visitors in 2012. If every visitor were a meter, this blog would be 11 times taller than the Olympic Stadium – not too shabby.

Click here to see the complete report.


What I’ve learned from the recession

Writing on a sensitive subject like this is never wise. I realize that as a white collar professional with a job, a home, and food on the table, I haven’t fully felt the brunt of this difficult time we all know as the recession. I know that there are millions out there who are out of work, out of hope, and looking for answers to all this madness. Sadly enough, I remember a day a few years back when I was talking theology with fellow church members, stating that what the church in North America needed to shake it out of its lethargy was another depression. Little did I know what I was asking for.

But my point here is that the belief that God does use adversity to teach us humility, to help us develop character, and to encourage us to lean on Him. It’s sad that when things are going well, we’re less likely to depend on God. Why? We have everything we need. That’s the nature of Laodicea. So in no particular order, here are a few observations I have made of our mutual situation.

1. No matter how bad things are, someone else has it a little worse. That’s not to say you should take solace that your situation isn’t all that bad. It’s to say that there is always someone else we can be helping. And the encouraging part in all of this is that people who are really hurting still take the time to help other people. You see this especially around the holidays. I’m seeing more people and organizations reaching out than ever before. The sobering part is that as many people get help, there are many, many more out there who still need a hand.

  2. God wants us to get our priorities straight. A little tragedy often is the litmus test of the strength of a family. When you are confronted by a crisis, you find your planning becoming more and more short-sighted, until you realize you are living day-to-day. And maybe that’s not so bad. Matthew 6:31 says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?'” The Bible isn’t saying we shouldn’t take care of our families; it’s just saying we should stop worrying and depend on God a little bit more. Even those of us with jobs have had our challenges over the past few years. I’ve been helping out family members, working harder than ever, and am now deeper in debt than I have ever been. And I know we are not the only people that are there. People have cashed out their retirement accounts, lived off credit cards and done other crazy things just to get by. But you know all this. The point is to keep you eyes on what is important in all this. God and family.

3. Humility. I started to write something about personal dignity just now, but the fear that I have is that people confuse personal dignity with pride. I know I do. Hard times call for us to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. Some of us have taken jobs that we wouldn’t have considered five years ago. But we need to keep things in perspective. We need to learn to be grateful for small graces. Titles, degrees and abilities won’t mean much in the end. It’s doing what we can with what we have, where we are, which is important.

My parents lived through the Great Depression, and we kids tended to laugh at their stories of walking to school barefoot, having a chunk of cornbread for lunch and being forced to wear the same dress every day to school for a year. But we aren’t laughing now. Those were troubling times, years that left an indelible imprint on a generation for the rest of their lives. But it also made them the tough people that they ended up being. The same generation that fought and won a world war.

Maybe that’s the bottom line in all this. Maybe God is preparing us for another crisis, a challenge that calls for tough-minded individuals who have their priorities straight and depend on God, rather than depending on ourselves. Times are hard, and I pray they don’t get harder. But I also pray that this experience helps me become the person God wants me to be.

I must be dreaming!

My wife Shelly feels like I have the most vivid dreams of anyone she has ever met.

When I have one, and when I remember it in the morning, I try to tell her about it. Why? Because I have learned through my own graduate work in communication that unless you verbalize your dreams, they are likely to disappear. It has something to do with the portion that is used in dreaming, versus the brain portion that houses our memories.

Last night I dreamed that I had a white whisker on my chin that was sticking out and bothering me. I started pulling on it, and it grew and grew as I pulled on it until it was several feet long. Then I called Shelly over and she began to pull on it as well. Finally it came out, with two long whiskers attached to one very deep root.

Obviously, nothing profound there, but it stuck with me.

I have a recurring dream that is so real that I truly believe that if I concentrate I can levitate myself off the ground. I’ve actually tried it while awake; so far, no luck.

And I have the usual, typical stress dream of being a student, showing up for the last class of the semester and realizing that I haven’t read the textbook. Other variations of this are going to class but somehow not being able to find the classroom, and showing up in class–or at work–in my underwear.

Over the years, I’ve done quite a bit of reading on dreaming. As a child, I read a book by the mystic Edgar Cayce called “Dreams: Your Magic Mirror,” who took the approach that if we understood our dreams, we can make ourselves into much better people, and possibly communicate with the dead, or some such nonsense.  I’ve also heard that dreams are the brain’s way of cleaning house while you are asleep, so for the most part, we should ignore them. And then I have heard that the best person to interpret dreams is yourself.

For example, the showing up at work in your underwear has to do with stress and being embarrassed that people will see the real you. That’s my perspective, at least. And the levitation dream is simply believing that if one concentrates enough, you can accomplish anything. Whether the message is valid or not is beside the point. The message gets through for the most part.

The Bible talks a lot about dreams, and proposes that God often uses dreams to talk to us. Think about the dreams in Joseph’s story, in Daniel’s, and in Peter’s. What’s interesting is that they usually have to go to someone else to get an interpretation. Not sure what that’s about.

I occasionally dream in German, a language I learned almost 40 years ago. I have very little opportunity to speak German here in Texas, but that doesn’t stop my subconscious from using it to give me a fresh perspective in my dreams.

And here’s another interesting tidbit that I have no real explanation for. My father died in 1993. After his death, he began appearing regularly in my dreams. But it wasn’t until my mother died in 2006 that she joined him in my dreams. Sometimes I dream that my father is back with us, that we know he died, but for some reason he has returned. On occasion, I have talked to him in my dream, telling him that he has already died, and he can’t seem to explain why he is there.

I have thought a lot about why I dream about my parents. I wonder if people who have lost their parents dream about them as well. My theory is that they represent a part of my own personality to me: my father is my view of manhood; my mother probably stability in the family as well as living a godly life.

Perhaps it’s because I am a storyteller that I am so interested in dreams. God have given me vivid dreams for a reason, I believe. Maybe it has to do with my ability to tell stories.



Reality Check

I was upset. I was mad. I felt as if I had been taken advantage of.

Ever since the iPad had come out, I had wanted one. But we could never seem to squeeze enough extra cash from the family budget to afford one, and so I waited. Then the iPad 2 came out, and made the desire stronger. Finally we decided that if I was successful in selling a couple of items at home, I could use the money to buy the device.

The day that I left the Apple store with my new iPad, I was elated. Over the next six weeks, I learned more and more things I could do with it. I surfed the web with it, watched movies and TV shows, read books, took notes and made lists with it. I even bought a nice case that was both efficient and attractive.

And then one day I had to go with my wife to Home Depot. We were remodeling our kitchen, and I had made a list on my iPad of the items we needed to buy. One minute it was in the shopping cart, next to my wife’s purse. The next minute it was gone.

We checked all over the store to see if anyone had found it. When I got home, I realized that I had personal information on it, so I had to go online and change passwords to my e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and Netflix accounts. And I fumed and fussed. How could this happen? I was always careful. I deserved it. Why me?

The next day was Sabbath, but it was hard for me to pull myself out of the dark funk that had swallowed me. The music and positive words during church didn’t make a dent in my self-pity.

That afternoon we attended a memorial service for a friend of ours, Sara Saldana. We met Sara and her husband, David, when we were involved with Marriage Encounter weekends a few years ago. She was our age, probably even a little younger, and had been taken from her family much too soon. The Keene Seventh-day Adventist Church sanctuary was filled that afternoon. Testimony after testimony talked about how her home was always open to visitors, how she took joy in serving others, and how she was a bright light in the lives of those who knew her.

And hearing these testimonies made me realize how selfish and foolish I had been. I knew all along that the iPad was just junk; just a piece of plastic, silicon and metal. I had placed value on it that I should have put on the people around me.

Sara had known the secret; that true joy comes from serving others. It doesn’t come from nice houses, or good-looking cars, or even iPads. I’ve often thought what I am here on this earth for, and what kind of legacy I would like to leave when I go. I don’t want my motto to be the modern one, which goes: “The kid with the most toys wins.”

Instead, I want to be like Sara. I want to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Perhaps by putting them first, I can learn to find out who I really am.

Burn, baby, burn

Tradition has it that before Cortez and his conquistadors set out to conquer the Aztec empire, he burned the ships that had brought them to the new world. This was to prevent his men from taking them back to Spain. Their future lay before them, and Cortez didn’t want any second thoughts.

In a sense, that’s kind of where I am. I have been a Mac user for about six days now. I purposely surrendered my old, reliable PC two days ago, telling them to take it away, even though they offered to let me hold onto it for a while longer. But I knew that I needed to get rid of it, only because I didn’t want to lean on it anymore. Brave new world, here I come, stumbling and fumbling my way along.

Let me explain. The first computer I ever owned was a Texas Instruments 16K computer that did nothing but write code. At that time, you could buy magazines at the bookstore with pages and pages of Basic code that after spending a few hours writing code, promised you that you could play a simple game. There was no monitor; I connected it to my TV. There wasn’t even a floppy disk or hard disk; all programs were saved onto cassette and then run off whenever you wanted to run the program. For about another $1000 you could add the equipment necessary to make it into a word processor.

Not too much time later–maybe 10 years or so–I got my first PC. I learned WordPerfect with keyboard shortcuts so that I could get it to do what I needed it to do. I had a hard time converting to the use of a mouse; by that time I thought it was unnecessary. But I steadily made the transition through all the changes that PCs have seen since the 80s.

I use a computer a lot, and my kids lean on me when something goes wrong with their computer. I like to think I know PCs, although that’s like saying you know the state of California when all you’ve done is fly into L.A. But I find them relatively comfortable.

So why did I switch to a Mac? Our department is building a Mac lab, and more and more of what we do involves Macs. Therefore I felt it was a necessary transition. And my students kept telling me, “You’ll love the Mac. They’re easy. They’re so intuitive.”

Maybe if I had never used a PC before I would warm up to them faster. As it is, I keep looking for it to do things the same way that my old PC did. The first problem I had was learning how to copy and paste. Eventually I learned that Macs can do that too. It’s just that they put the necessary keys in a different location. So now I have to retrain my fingers on where to go when I copy and paste.

The other small irritation is that the PC has a delete button and a backdelete button. Macs have a delete button that is ONLY a backdelete button. I need to remind myself as to which direction it goes when I want to delete.

There are other little irritations, such as the fact that I can’t watch Flash movies from the NFL.com website. Not sure what to do about that…. But you get the idea.

It’s a brave new world for me. Brave, but maybe not devoid of irritation.




Hurry Up and Wait

The first summer I arrived here in Texas I learned that this campus is totally different in the summer months. I had taken on the responsibility of running the campus radio station, and actually had arrived early to attend meetings that were related. As I always did, I arrived ready to turn the world on its ear. I had major plans for the radio station, and the world would just have to step aside.

That first summer, I learned that regardless of your intentions, things happen slowly during the off-school time. I almost blew an artery when the air conditioner went out in the radio station and I couldn’t get it fixed. I kept calling plant services, complaining, my voice getting louder with each call. Their response was that the person who did that kind of thing was on vacation. Eventually, I guess my calls got through to someone, because in the middle of a Texas summer, it only took two weeks to get the air conditioner fixed.

Since that time, I have learned that it doesn’t pay to be in much of a hurry in the summer. Especially since the people around you don’t seem to be moving at the pace you’re traveling at. More than once, I have come over to my office, ready to get a lot done, only to find that everyone I need to talk to is gone. And so it’s time to get philosophical. Time for a siesta?

This summer, the big wait is for the new Mac lab that Communication is getting. Classes start in six weeks (pay attention, students!) and so one would think there would be a sense of urgency about getting the lab done–especially since I plan on teaching most of my classes there). But the walls are still bare and they are just getting started on the electrical. The floors still need work. In other words, the future looks a little bleak.

The man in charge of construction told us last week that they would be turning off the power to our offices this week. It’s Wednesday, and I am still waiting for it to happen. When Bob asked if they could guarantee that it would be back on in a day, they couldn’t do that. When he asked if they could guarantee that it would be back on in two days, well…they couldn’t guarantee that either.

So what’s the bottom line here? I am fully aware that one of my many bad habits is worrying about things I have no control over. And more and more this is appearing to be one of those. It will happen when it happens, apparently. In the meantime, we do other things, or do what we can to get ready for when it does happen. And you come up with a Plan B.

Plan Bs are a good thing. Especially in Texas in the summer time.

That’s right. I’m a nerd.

After years as a professional communicator, all that time working for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in some capacity, I have come to the conclusion that everyone is hiding something.

When I was a PR assistant at Hinsdale Hospital in Illinois in the early 80s, a colleague told me that I was “too transparent.” What he meant was that I am pretty much the same person all the time. I don’t put on airs–too much–when I am in professional circles, and am not sure I would know how to do that. The other problem that I have is that I talk too much.

Just the fact that I write a blog that shares what’s going on in my pointy little head tells you something of my transparency. If you are working in public relations, this flies against the logic of success that tells you that you are supposed to reflect your organization and not really be an individual. One VP in Hinsdale didn’t want to give me a promotion because I wore a cowboy hat to work in cold weather. Bad idea in Illinois.

But being an individual and being open and transparent about it works well for the life of a writer. As the old saying goes, “I worried what people thought about me when I was 20, I stopped worrying what people thought about me when I was 40, and when I got to 60 I realized they hadn’t been thinking about me at all.”

So here’s my deep, dark secret: I am a closet gamer. Preferably MMORPGs. I played Everquest for five years. When an online friend found out that I was a university professor, he was shocked. He said, “I figured that professors would have more important things to do.” Well, we do, but that’s not to say I really want to do them. After Everquest came several years’ hiatus, then I played Age of Conan for about six months. I loved it, but as usual, real life came and sucked the life out of me. Most recently–for about the past week–I have been playing Lord of the Rings Online. I like it because it’s free, mostly.

Notice the trend. All three games have elves, dwarves, and the latest one has hobbits. In fact, I play a hobbit on the Brandywine server for LOTRO. It’s fun, but I have learned not to get in too deep. One of the big reasons why I quit Everquest and Age of Conan is that you get to a certain level and you have to start grouping with others on a regular basis to continue. And inevitably that grouping comes in the evenings. I did evening raids when I was in Everquest, and found it a constant pull between being with friends online, and spending time with my wife and daughter. My family won, I am happy to say.

So I will probably play LOTRO for the rest of the summer, but will pull the plug when school starts. And the nice thing about it being free is that I can let it sit for a long time without feeling like I am wasting any money.

So there. You know everything there is to know about me. I actually never grew up.

Of course, if I was the type that were to act like an adult, I probably would have been an accountant.