Saturday, March 29, 2008

Celebrating Geek-dom

I have decided that "cool-ness" isn't -- at all -- what it's cracked up to be (not that I have extensive experience in that area), and I thoroughly enjoy my eccentricities... so far.

Thursday, when I came home for lunch (I've been enjoying my job for the last few months... especially eating 3 meals a day at home) I found my wife had placed an 8½" x 11" padded yellow envelope under my plate. It seems I'd received it in the mail, but she hadn't opened it (although, let me assure you, she was dying to know what was in there). The upper left corner of the envelope (the "normal" return address address area) was totally blank. However, I did see it had been hand-addressed to me. At first, I didn't even notice the "Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill" sticker on which my name and address were written.

It seems that my membership in, and specifically, my involvement in the Early Reviewers Group has finally paid off: I received a FREE book in the mail!!! I'm sure not very many people in the world would do a little happy-dance in their chair when they find out someone sent them a free book, but I did. Of course, "free" did/does have one caveat: I have to read and review the book -- that's easy, I'm a read-a-holic. Not to mention, I always have an opinion (about everything), and finally someone is asking me to give my opinion. To top it all off, this is the first time I've even seen a book with "Advance Reading Copy. Not For Sale." emblazoned across the top of the front cover -- and they sent it to me... on purpose! Now, I just need to find the time to read the book, and write the review.

So, for any of you that bother reading my blog... now you know: I will do a happy-dance anytime someone sends me a free book and asks my opinion on it. (Although, I really can't stand things like romance novels, enviro-nut-jobs, pro-evolutionists, pro-choice (murder), horror, etc.)


EDIT: I just logged in to write my review, and found this post... NOT published to my blog... oops.

Today is actually Tuesday, April 8th, 2008. I received the W. Hodding Carter's Off the DEEP END on Thursday, March 27th, 2008.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Immured in Green

I realize this post is a week late, but if I wait until next year, it will probably be a week late then as well, so... three hundred fifty-eight days early... here's my 2009 St. Patrick's day post:

Every year I'm asked why (since I'm so "religious") I never seem to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. It's not that I attempt to be "religious" I just try to live "right" -- and of course, just like everyone else, I succeed on some days and fail on others. On St. Patrick's day I actually make every attempt to avoid green -- on every part of my wardrobe (I don't check the tags of my clothing or the toes of my socks, just the visible portions of it).

Even in junior high and high school I insisted on running the risk of resisting the green trend -- granted, it was very small risk, but risk nonetheless. (For some reason, jr. high boys like to punch and the girls like to pinch any non-greenies they can find.) I was constantly explaining that both Catholics and Protestants celebrate St. Patrick's Day, the Catholics wear green, and the Protestants wear orange. Although I'm a small part Irish, I'm NOT Catholic, never have been, never will be, and I shouldn't be punched or pinched for wearing orange. Then I'd get the inevitable, "Prove it," which was rather simple if the person had ever seen an Irish flag.

The Irish flag consists of 3 vertical stripes, green at the pole, orange at the opposite end, and white between them. Green signifying the Catholics, Orange the Protestants, and White signifying the Peace that should be between them -- their shared "Irish-ness" unifying even opposing religious views.

In recent years, I not only refrain from wearing green, but orange as well -- the change was brought about by studying history. I'm a Baptist, and Baptist history is a very different, separate "tree" than Catholocism and Protestantism.

The "dark ages" lasted a little over 1,000 years -- different people observe differing events to "mark" the beginning and end, but the approximate dates are 450 AD to 1600 AD (if you allow +/-75 years to/from each end you'll avoid much contention). Protestanism had earlier champions that attempted to reform the church to line up with the Bible, but didn't officially "start" until Luther broke away in the early 1500s. The Lutherans were followed by the Church of England, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, and many other denominations that now claim to be Protestant.

There were "Baptist" churches prior to Luther (as early as the 1400s) and prior to being called "Baptists" these churches were called "Ana-Baptists" or Anabaptists. There were persecuted churches throughout the entire dark ages that were called Ana-Baptist and Baptist, but sometimes they were called by other names as well. A few of those other churches holding to "Baptistic" or "Anabaptistic" beliefs were the Montanists, Novations, Paterins, Donatists, Paterins Cathari, Paulicians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Albigenses, and Waldenses. Generally, these all believed in rebaptizing any new converts coming from churches holding heretical views of the Bible. Wittenburg wrote in 1607, "Our modern Anabaptist are the same as the Donitists of old. They took no account of the baptism of others ..." To the best of my knowledge there were churches referred to as Anabaptist as early as the late 200s (predating Catholicism's Constantine).

I said all that to say, as a Baptist, I would be remiss in wearing green and associating myself with the Catholics that have over the centuries killed many thousands that believe the Bible as I do. I could wear orange, as many different Protestants of today hold beliefs similar to my own and the general public cannot differentiate between a Protestant and a Baptist. However, in the early days of Protestantism, many of those denominations held beliefs widely divergent from Baptists, and some went so far as to persecute Baptists.

No matter how similar my beliefs are to those of others of today, I know I'm truly a conservative Baptist (of the independent and fundamental variety), and have views that are separate from Catholicism and Protestantism. So, as a personal preference, I've decided to eschew both green and orange on St. Patrick's day. I now wear maroon, or (if I don't have any clean maroon shirts) red. Maroon and red are close to orange (as many of my beliefs are close to mainline Protestants), but are obviously different. And if someone asks, I can point to my red article of clothing and explain God's exclusive requirement of Christ's blood sacrifice to remit any and all sin, the importance of accepting this sacrifice, and how, as a Baptist, it's my belief that each convert should be baptized after salvation.

Explaining the green/orange observance of St. Patrick's day hasn't yet enabled me to lead anyone up to (or through) the Bible verses that promise 100% certainty of salvation (and eternal residence in heaven), but maybe the next observance of St. Patrick's day will change that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lost in cyberspace!

I have discovered (by skimming back over old blog entries) that I need to re-read my posts after hitting publish. This is because I've found several gaps in a number of past posts. Gaps that I know weren't there when I posted them originally. I hadn't considered the possibility of losing bytes in the submission process, but it's (obviously) not only possible, but a fact of blogger-life.

I'm pretty sure all of the blanks have been found and "filled in"... or at least been made somewhat more understandable to "normal" people. I'm also fairly certain that someone will be there to point out those gaps I've missed. Several of the partially-empty-posts were so old that even I couldn't figure out on which tangential tracks my train of thought was attempting to run.

For now I'm going to go park my rusty train of thoughts in bed. One good thing about getting older: I sleep harder and fall asleep faster... oh, wait... that's two things.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Time changes all...

I keep pictures in my head of how everyone I know "used to" look. When I talk on the phone with my friends, or read their emails, I can still "see" them in my mind -- looking just as they did back when I first met them.

Even though seeing current pictures of my friends is sometimes a surprise, the longer I'm on it, the greater my realization is of how much I enjoy Facebook. I like seeing the pictures of others better than the pictures of myself -- although seeing the receding hairlines and extra grey hairs on others reminds me of my own. As much as it can be annoying to always be posing for pictures, I do like looking at them. It's especially interesting to me seeing my friends from my college days -- how time has changed most a little, some drastically, and yet a few don't look any different. It also seems like the friends I would expect to have just a few children have many. Even though it's been 5 years since their last one, it still occasionally amazes my that my "little" sister has SIX children... and the Rossiters have SEVEN!! EIGHT for the Scilex's!!! and the Sarlos are just flat-out impressive!!!!

Our three (soon to be four) are a handful, but I love crawling around on the floor with them... tickling them until they can't talk... hugging them when they get their "boo boos"... getting unexpected (usually slobbery) kisses just for being "Daddy" and getting to explain all of their questions about the world around them.

Little Bear is just 5, but his questions and observations amaze me... often. Especially when I'm driving down the road, listening to him talk (the boy can out-talk even my mother, and for those of you who've met her, you KNOW that is saying something) and he stops mid-sentence to interject how the car we just passed looks like someone's we know... yet we last saw them almost a year ago! It floors me how much individuality can be observed in 4 and 5 year olds. He asks questions of how I was as a boy (thankfully, the cobwebs aren't too thick yet, and I can still remember), and what did his "Papa" do with me when I was little. And then pictures of my parents (that are still way back in the corners of my mind) come back out to the forefront of my memory, and I understand a little better the sacrifices that they made for us... and my admiration for them grows... more... again.

Last weekend, out of curiosity, I Googled a friend. His name is fairly unique... when I finally spelled it correctly, he was the only one in the world that came up. So I called him up to see how life had gone for him so far. And he told me just a tiny fraction of the problems his only son is having... multiple operations to save his son's life have caused other complications that now threaten that life. He told me how difficult it is to see his wife constantly in a state of emotional distress, and how, as glad as he was to hear from me... he had to get back in the hospital, in case it was the last few minutes he'd have with the son that shares his name... and is only 8 months old.

That was when the sights, sounds, smells, the mind-numbing waiting rooms, the intensive care units, and all of our own experiences with our first child... also a son... came back to my mind. I remember being exactly where my friend is now: my wife and I spent every free waking moment in the hospital... listening to doctors tell us our son probably wouldn't live much longer... and how he needed this surgery, or that new piece of equipment, or some other change that would give him a few more days... maybe.

The few hours a night I'd allow myself for sleep were spent scouring the internet and devouring medical books... learning everything about his problems, any possible techniques and medications that could be used to treat current and even possible complications... so when the doctors discussed his condition, I would not only be able to understand every word, I would also understand the implications of every decision that could keep him alive. It was against hospital policy, but I asked how every piece of equipment worked... even the complex ventilators, so if anything happened when the nurses, doctors, or respiratory therapists were all at other children's bedsides, I would know what to do. And a few times, we were all glad that I knew what to do. My wife and I watched every nurse, insisting on specific ones to be assigned the care of our son, insisting others be removed from the unit.

Then when we finally saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" and the lung problems were finally healing, and the drugs were being weaned from his system we faced another staggering blow. We'd also been watching other parents for months -- many taking home healthy babies, some taking home handicapped babies, and others that left preparing for a funeral. We thought it was almost all over for us... with a happy ending to boot, and then the MRI results indicated his brain was "mushy." They said it appeared to be dissolving, and if he lived through that, he would probably be a "mental vegetable." After a few more days of waiting, he still wasn't responding like he should have been if he was 100% "normal," but it hadn't gotten worse. We continued to cling to our hope, and our faith was rewarded. He eventually improved to normal; it was just a much slower process than what anyone expected it to take.

We finally brought him home after spending his first 4 months in the hospital. He still had equipment connected to him -- there was even still a large chance he could die at home -- but the doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists had been observing us while we observed them. THEY recommended we take him home... that we care for him. They said it was their belief that we could give him the same (and possibly better) level of care that he was receiving in the hospital, and that the environment would be much better for him. So, home we all went, and gladly.

He had good days and bad ones at home; we took a few trips back to the hospital... one in an ambulance with lights flashing, siren blaring, and the EMT "bagging" our son, but somehow God saw fit to bring our son through it all ("bagging" is hand-pumping oxygen into him). Little Bear has proven all of the doctor's worst predictions wrong. But... he has been the exception to almost every case... and when we bring him back to visit the NICU, the medical staff gathers around to see the "miracle boy" -- they all say (even the atheistic ones), "He is proof that prayer works!" One of the two doctors that delivered Little Bear is also a Believer, and constantly checks up on the little ones he's assisted in bringing into the world. Whenever the NICU doctors get discouraged, or give up hope, he reminds them of Little Bear, and that anything is possible.

In light of all those memories, the months of anguish, of attempting to comfort my wife in the bad times, and then years of uncertainty that finally resulted in a good continuation of "our story"... I heard in my friend's voice the same feelings of helplessness that I felt back at the beginning of the whole process.

I know that I can tell him "anything is possible" from the standpoint of being there... even down to the possibility of a "mushy" brain healing. But I remember being there and listening to the harsh, cold delivery of an impossibly difficult diagnosis... and back then I didn't want to hear those words, even from someone that had experienced them... I didn't want to get my hopes up -- only to see him die like some of the other children had. I didn't want to be like other parents that brought home a little baby -- a little baby that they knew would become a big baby, because his brain was incapable of ever developing further.

No, I wanted to KNOW he would be fine, I wanted proof... and ironclad guarantees, but I know that wasn't possible, just as I knew it then. Just as I knew I'd have to take whatever God had planned for his life... live with it... and like it.

And so I hesitate to call my friend... hesitate to ride that awful roller coaster of emotions... and yet I want to check in with him hourly... because I KNOW there is a one-in-a-million chance... and I want to know his son will be that one, just as mine was. I still want an ironclad guarantee... and it's not even our son. I wish I could see the future... five years from now... will his outcome be wrestling on the floor, with tickles and slobbery kisses? Will he be pointing to the world around him and explaining it to his miracle boy? That's what I want... what I'm praying for.

And while I'm looking 5 years in the future, I want to be able to peek over and see if we've done OK training our own children. I'd like to see they've removed the "rough edges" we're trying to teach them to lose. I'd like to see them following God better than I did at their age... making new friends that are, and will remain assets to their lives. See them doing right, even when it's hard. And I know I can't see that, yet. But I can still take my mental pictures of today, and smile when my wife wants "real" ones. And as our hair gets more grey in it, we can look back at what was... and remember all the good times we had.