Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Who are these people?

There is something about hanging out with family that I find comforting. Something I think we all find comforting. Even when it's family that you don't know or aren't directly related to.

This past weekend my wife and I headed up to the Chicago area to see some of her family. (Of course, they are now my family through marriage, but to keep the connections straight I'll refer to them as 'her family.') We arrived at her grandmother's house late Friday night. Her aunt and uncle were there as well. They were staying with my wife's grandma for the week. This is only the third time I have seen my wife's grandmother. We visited her once when we were engaged and then she came to the wedding. Even though I could easily classify her as an acquaintance, it was comforting being in her home, sleeping on her pull-out couch, eating at her kitchen table.

I spent an hour or so visiting with my wife's uncle while the girl's were at the store. He is even more of a stranger to me, having only met him briefly after our wedding. But I felt so relaxed just chatting with him for that short little while. I didn't recognize some of the names in the conversation, but that didn't really matter much to me. We were talking about family.

It's funny how we humans seem to feel the need to classify our relationships. We have our friends, acquaintances, close friends, work friends, old friends from school, neighbors, family, immediate family, distant relatives, and the list goes on. But for me, the moniker of 'family' is enough to make me feel right at home, no matter how far back our history goes.

Friday, May 16, 2008

More of a man than most...

... and more of a man than me.

It's not often that one will find inspiration on American Gladiators, but tonight was just one of those occasions. Season Two of the all-new American Gladiators premiered Monday night. I happened to catch the rerun tonight and I'm glad I did.

John Siciliano is an Olympic gold medalist, an American Gladiator contender and an amputee. That's right, he has one leg. The other was amputated five inches above the knee. John went against an "able-bodied" contender and hung tough through three competitions. But watching him compete in the Eliminator, Gladiators end-of-show obstacle course, was one of the most amazing displays of athletic determination I've ever seen.

Click this link to watch the full-length show. John doesn't show up until the second half, so skip ahead.

To put it simply, the Eliminator is not design for someone wearing a prosthetic leg, but that didn't seem to slow John Siciliano. It begins with about a 15-yard, underwater swim. John handled that with ease. But the swim ends when you get to 10-foot tall cargo net. That was all John's competition needed to separate him from his amputee opponent, but that didn't seem to slow John Siciliano. You see, several times John had to stop, grab his prosthetic and pull it free before continuing. Next came the tight rope, which is two ropes suspended across a span, one above the other. Since his prosthetic foot is not designed to grip, John has to hang on to the top rope for dear life while slowly shuffling his feet. But that didn't seem to slow John Siciliano. He handled the hand bike as well as any others. His trip down the rolling barrel ended with a crash but he jumped right up and bounded up the pyramid. After taking the zip line down he had to figure out how to handle the teeter totter. He chose to crawl across it. While the other contenders run across the teeter totter, John's only option was to tackle in a manner you would expect from a four year old, but that didn't seem to slow John Siciliano. Finally, he came to the the Travelator, a treadmill style ramp. It eats most contenders for lunch, requiring sometimes five attempts. John handled it in three. Nothing could slow down John Siciliano.

My words don't do it justice. You have to see it for yourself.

It's human nature to take the easy road. John could have decided 15 years ago, after losing his leg, that he would not compete in an athletic competition again. That would have been the easy choice and no one would have blamed him for making it. But he didn't and he went on to win a gold medal in the Para-Olympics.

John Siciliano, I don't hold a candle to your determination.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

86 days to go...

To quote a not-so-famous athlete, "I am feeling very Olympic today."

(Bonus points to anyone who can name the movie and character.)

I had a random thought today about the Olympics. The Bejing summer games are 86 days away, which means...

It now time for everyone to pick the obscure sport you are going to follow, rain or shine, for 17 or so days late this summer. Now, don't get too worked up and anxious about it, you do have 86 days to decide, but the excitement is palpable. Isn't it?

Think about. Individuals, across the global, dedicate their entire lives to competing in sports that most of us consider backyard, once-or-twice-a-summer, activities. Take badminton for example. Grown men and women stand across from each other on a court, divided by a flimsy net, holding a three ounce "racket" in one hand and a "shuttle cock" in the other, posed and ready to send said shuttle cock hurling through the air at unimaginable speeds. By "unimaginable" I mean a somewhere between 8 mph and the rate at which a hippopotamus evades... well anything.

But you will watch.

Ninety-eight pound Chinese men will amaze you with their table tennis prowess. Three hundred, ninety-eight pound Germans will shock you with their inhuman strength as they lift weights the rest of the world has determined was better suited for fork lifts and other heavy machinery. And the US will laugh as other countries dare to challenge us to a game of basketball. At least, that's how it used to be.

But you will watch.

You'll watch because some of this stuff you won't see for another four years. That is unless you challenge your neighbors to an archery duel. By duel, I don't mean the walk ten paces, turn, and shoot variety. I think they use targets these days.

So the clock is ticking and before you know it the summer games will have come and gone. So you've been warned. Don't miss 'em. If you need me, I'll be memorizing the names of the Latvian taekwondo team members.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What are you so happy about?

My role as a dad most days includes dropping off and picking up my son from daycare. Somedays the the picking up part is the highlight of my day.

As another busy day at work comes to a close I begin to think about the evening's activities--what will we do for dinner, do I have time to mow the yard, is there a show on TV I want to watch, etc. But before all that nonsense I pack up my things, head to my car and drive to my son's daycare.

Usually when I get there he is sitting in a swing as his teachers are getting other kids ready to go home. Some days I don't announce my presence and just sort of sneak up on him. When he sees my face we make eye contact and he gives me a big, toothless smile. That is, unless he is trying to consume his right arm, starting with his fingers. Most days he's halfway through his palm by the time I get there.

But every so often he's just sitting there quietly, knowing I'll come through that door any minute to snatch him up and take him home to his mama. And when he sees me he gives me what I've been waiting for all day--that wide, handsome smile. It's a smile you can see through the biggest pacifier. You need only to see his eyes, to see the little curl at their corners, to know he is excited to see you.

I live for that smile. I love that smile.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How much time to you have to give?

I had one of those days yesterday. You know, one of those days where you feel like you could be doing so much more. Not that you don't work hard at what you do or that your job is holding you back, but that you should be accomplishing more with your time here on earth.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I work at a church and churches are about saving souls. That's what we do, or should do. My job is a behind-the-scenes kind of role, which doesn't bother me a bit. But it means that at times I feel like I'm not actively doing my part to fulfill the Great Commission.

I was reading a publication produced by my church's fellowship. It gave a report of how we (meaning all the large churches in our fellowship) were doing. You know, the ratio of baptisms for every 100 members, rate of attendance increase, that sort of stuff. My church is doing a good job, but others are doing better. I was encouraged and challenge at the same time.

"We have to step up our game," I thought. "I have to step up my game."

Then I watched an awkward little videocast on the web of Rick Warren talking to a meeting room full of people. That guy knows his stuff when it comes to what a church needs to be about. He was talking about how churches need to move people from "Come and see Jesus" to "Go and be Jesus." Warren said he wants to help bring about the second reformation of the Church. It will take 50 years he said. He figures he has 20 years left to give to that reformation. I was encouraged and challenge at the same time.

"We have to step up our game," I thought. "I have to step up my game."

So I'm a bit fired up and contemplating what I can do in my role at my church to move the needle on those numbers and to help move people towards "being Jesus."

I have 50 years left to give.


Someone Famous Once Said...

"If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated,
let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does
in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right."

-- Bill Cosby