Category Archives: It’s My Life

Lingering Regrets from the Mountaintop

In 9th or 10th grade, I bought a pack of cigarettes (it was Winston), rode my motorcycle out into the Arizona desert, and smoked 5 or 6 of them. I didn’t know how to smoke, and wanted to figure it out on my own, without anyone watching. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself.

I’ve (happily) never smoked since. But let me tell you the backstory.

Dick and Nora Lundy were a fabulous couple at my United Brethren church in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. They ran Lundy’s Diner. They also built a big lodge in the Hualapai Mountains, about 60 miles away. It would host church retreats.

Three of us from the youth group spent a couple weekends helping Dick with construction. Tom Wilson and Tim Armour were fairly new Christians. And me. It was a blast. We worked hard, and the Lundys fed us royally. Dick was a big, jovial guy, somewhere well above six feet. We held our breath every time he ventured onto the makeshift scaffolding he cobbled together from scrap pieces of 2x4s and plywood. It always held, but only by divine intervention.

On one perfectly calm star-lit night, the three of us sat outside the lodge just chillin’. out. That’s when Tom and Tim pulled out some “supplies” and began rolling their own cigarettes. They offered to make me one. I said no thanks. Are you sure? Yep, no thanks, but you go ahead.

It wasn’t a principled no. I said no because I’d never smoked before and feared making a fool of myself. I didn’t want to leave Tim and Tom and the Lundys with the burden of explaining to my parents how their firstborn son asphyxiated himself in the Hualapais.

I watched Tim and Tom sit back against large rocks and leisurely puff away, with tiny tendrils of smoke wafting skyward. The stars, the fresh mountain air, the pine trees all around–it was so tranquil, so peaceful. Nicotine addiction played no role. They were just young Christians relaxing after a very long day of servanthood.

I wished I had said yes. Even now, I do. I feel like I missed sharing a very special moment of community with my friends in the Lord. As I watched them sitting there smoking away, they were so at peace with the world. Me? I was thinking more about my ambivalence and discomfort, and felt a bit envious. I wanted to join them. I really did. Having a cup of coffee in my hands might have accomplished the same thing, but I was 7 years away from trying coffee. In that moment, a cigarette just seemed perfect.

After finishing one cigarette, my memory is that Tim and Tom smoked a regular cigarette. When it was done, they were done. And then we just sat there a while longer under the heavens.

Reflecting on that specific moment, in that specific context–yes, a cigarette would have been just right. Just one. I should have told Tim, “Sure, I’ll take a cigarette, if you’ll show me how it works.” Just one cigarette, nursing it slowly, while gazing into that vast sky with my friends in Christ.

In the 40 years since, I’ve never had a sense that God would have minded. As long as it went no farther than that. And that’s why, if this situation ever arose again (which it never did), I wanted to be prepared.

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Second Thoughts About That Teacher in 1973

We moved to California at the beginning of my junior year of high school. I played basketball that year at Tulare Union High School. Practice went until about 6:30. Since we lived 15 miles away and I had no car, I usually walked a couple blocks to the bookstore on Tulare’s main street and waited for one of my parents to pick me up.

As I stood there browsing through magazines, a short guy with stringy hair wearing gym trunks, a tank top, and flip-flops came and stood besideme. In a whisper, he asked me if I wanted him to perform a certain sex act on me. Being a naive preacher’s kid, I was totally flummoxed, but I managed to mutter a “No.” (Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what he was asking, but I knew it was bad.) He then gently placed his hand on my thigh. I batted his hand away and quickly exited the bookstore, my heart racing.

The next day, I saw him at school for the first time. He was a teacher. Another time, I entered a restroom and looked down the long line of urinals. There he was, along with a very strange student, standing side-by-side at neighboring urinals. Gross. I immediately turned around and left.

That was 1973. I never told anybody about the guy. The idea was unthinkable at that point in my life. Nobody talked back then about reporting things like this. I was new to the school, and couldn’t imagine telling anyone what the guy had said to me. I saw no upside. I didn’t even warn my younger brothers about the pervert (both graduated from that school).

The experience had no lasting affect on me. It left no residue whatsoever (please don’t play amateur psychologist and imagine affects buried so deep that I’m not even aware of them). It was just something that happened, and that I kept to myself. I almost never think about it.

But yesterday I came across an article about a predatory teacher whose signature move was to put his hand on a girl’s knee. So it reminded me of him. Curious, I Googled his name. It turned up a few times. One article identified him as a retired teacher from Tulare Union High School, with a $30,000 pension. So it sounds like he taught at that school for another 30 years and never got caught.

I should probably have done something, but I’m not sure what. Even now.

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Murphy Down Under

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I began the day by stepping, barefooted, into soft cat poo placed strategically just outside our bedroom door. It was no doubt Murphy, though I couldn’t prove it in a court of law, especially now that I have decontaminated the crime scene (and my foot). Our long-haired Murphy seems to have difficulty cleaning his nether regions. Even my low-powered olfactory system goes on alert when he enters the room.

So, I did a relevant Google search, and came up with numerous forums in which people discuss this malady, which appears to be quite common. I learned a great deal, including the usage of technical terms like “crusties” and “dingleberries.” People offered a variety of solutions, which included using such items as baby wipes, rounded scissors, Vaseline (you heard me), high-protein food, and fine-mist spray bottles. One person suggested, “Fire–it’s the only solution.”

Stinky Boy, sensing that evil machinations were afoot regarding his tender parts, decided to jump on me and play Lovable Lap Kitty. After cleaning himself everywhere but “down there,” he went to sleep for 30 minutes, sprawled open-faced. I can’t resist lovable, regardless of the smell. However, this afternoon I plan to run my recliner through the car wash.

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Homework and Heights Unscaled

A report says American kids average 6 hours of homework per week, one of the highest rates in the developed world. During my last two years of high school in California, I doubt that I had six hours of homework in a semester. Unless you count the tennis balls Coach Kavianai would send home with me so I could practice my serve.

If I had had more homework, how might I have turned out? I can only wonder.

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Do I Really Want Diapers?

diapers

Just on a whim, I began the day by going to Amazon and doing a search on “diapers.” I’m curious to see how many diaper ads appear on web pages I peruse during the day.

Sure enough, ads for diapers have been calling for my attention all day. Here’s what turned up on a BBC page.

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The Messy Mind

Two bumper stickers on the 1970s-era wood paneling in my office.

Two bumper stickers on the 1970s-era wood paneling in my office.

New studies affirm that an untidy work environment can make people more creative. This is music to my ears.

In one study, people were put in a room and given some choices. People in a tidy room tended to make more conventional choices, while people in a messy room gravitated toward more novel choices.

In another study, people in these two different environments were asked to come up with unconventional uses for ping pong balls. The two groups came up with the same number of ideas, but the ideas from the messy-room people were deemed substantially more creative.

This sentence from an article helped explain how tidiness inhibits creativity: “If you keep all your tools in the tool shed and all your kitchen utensils in the kitchen, you might never think of using a kitchen utensil as a tool or vice-versa.”

My office is typically untidy, but there comes a point where even I can’t take it, and I spend much of a day cleaning up and pitching stuff. Like, three times a year. I consider this burst of orderliness more efficient than spending time every day maintaining order. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

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Worst Case

My new Durango displays my tire pressure. With the cold, my tires were under-inflated. The on-board computer told me to add a few pounds of pressure, so I did. But air hoses are not an exact science. Now, say the computer, I’m a couple pounds over. I’m not sure a couple pounds really matters. Nevertheless, I asked Google if over-inflating tires is a bad thing.

A couple persons gave “the worst that can happen” answers–uneven tire wear, a blow-out. Then someone gave this answer: “The worst that can happen: you die taking others with you.”

Okay, I’ll let out some air.

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The Van Wert Fair, and the Missing Ice Cream

cherrycone-steveholding580

Last night, Pam and I went to the Van Wert County Fair, about an hour’s drive from us in Van Wert, Ohio. We’ve gone there every year of our married life (25) plus several years of our dating life. Definitely a Dennie tradition.

We go mostly to eat, and choose from the same menu. We started at the Pork Barn (formerly Rager’s, which I still call it), where I had a sausage sandwich and an extraordinary ham & cheese sandwich. Next came a funnel cake. Sometimes we do Belgian waffles, but not this year. No Fiske Fries or lemon shake-up, either. On the way out, I bought my usual bag of roasted pecans while Pam bought a big bag of cotton candy.

Then, the very last thing: a cone of cherry ice cream. Alas, the cherry ice cream machine was BROKE. And thus ended a streak of nearly 30 years. It was very discombobulating, not having cherry ice cream to cap the evening. I mean, that cherry ice cream truck was there, in the exact same spot, when my mom attending the fair as a child.

Psalms admonishes, “Remove not the ancient landmarks.” In Van Wert, an ancient landmark was missing last night, and I don’t think God was please. Pam and I certainly weren’t.

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Too Close to Home

amazon-shoestore

Now I’m really weirded out. While in Pennsylvania on vacation, I bought a pair of shoes at an outlet store. This morning, my Facebook newsfeed shows a sponsored ad from the Amazon Shoe Store picturing shoes in the EXACT same style I bought in Pennsylvania. My Amazon account does use the same credit card I used to buy those shoes. There’s no other way Amazon could know I bought shoes like that. It COULD just be coincidence. But…I really doubt it. This is getting too personal.

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Theology Off the Top of My Head

hair-flyaway

Earlier this year, I developed what seems to be a cowlick–a small patch of hair that just won’t lay down properly. I can splash some water on it and smooth it down. But I’m torn by two theological issues which inform my response.

1. Is this just the way God made me? And God doesn’t make mistakes? If so, I should embrace, yes celebrate, the cowlick. It is part of my identity in Christ.

2. Is this just an example of the fallen world in which we live? Surely God didn’t make Adam with a cowlick. When sin entered the world, so did cancer and polio and all manner of evil, including cowlicks. In which case, I should force it into submission with water or even some nasty gel, if not shave my head entirely.

Scripture is unclear regarding how I should respond. I seek godly counsel.

(Oh, and while I’m on the subject–what’s with all the gray?)

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