Category Archives: It’s My Life

Of Lost Cats and Men

Jordi in the GrassWe have a screened patio in the back of our house, and Jordi spends a lot of time there. But what he really likes is to go clear outside into our unfenced yard. That’s what he lives for. And when it’s a nice day and I’m home, he’ll cry and cry and cry at me until he wears me down, and I take him out.

I can’t just let him out by himself, because he’ll wander off. I have to watch him. And even that doesn’t always work.

Like today. I was standing out on the porch reading the latest BusinessWeek, shivering for the sake of my little golden boy. He was out on the ridge at the back of our lot, looking for mice, his favorite pastime. He wandered a bit behind the neighbor’s property, in a little thicket area, but I was watching. Then, suddenly, as I looked up from my magazine (how long had I been reading that particular article?), he wasn’t there. No problem. He was probably in the little dip behind the ridge. I went out to make sure that’s where he was. And he wasn’t there.

Hmmm. I roamed all around the area, looking. No luck. Pam saw me searching. “Did you lose Jordi again?” she asked. Because this wasn’t the first time. “I did, and I was even keeping a close eye on him.” Pam got her coat and joined the search.

It’s awful when this happens. The thought of not finding Jordi creeps into my mind, and I can’t imagine that. We’ve done this search-and-locate thing many times, because he can take off in a blink, lured by a mouse or rabbit, or maybe just because he was zoning out and he wandered along and we weren’t paying close enough attention. But it hadn’t happened in a while. And after 15 minutes of looking, I was getting pretty worried. What if Jordi was gone for good?

Well, of course I prayed. “Lord, help us find Jordi.” I’ve prayed far more about finding Jordi than I have for the salvation of my neighbors or relatives. And Jordi’s eternity is no doubt predetermined–he ain’t goin’ anywhere. At least, I’m not one of those people who think our pets will be in heaven. If I had to live with all of the pets I’ve had during my lifetime, that would be one crowded heavenly mansion. But still, I pray more for Jordi’s whereabouts than I do for my neighbors’ eternal whereabouts. Perhaps that’s normal for us devout pet owners sans kids.

I could say that Pam found Jordi. Or I could say that God led Pam to where Jordi was. I prefer the latter. He was two houses down, hiding in some bushes. When Pam rattled a container of treats, he moved enough to ring the bell on his collar, and he was busted. And tonight, all is well in the Dennie household. One happy family. I can’t tell you the situation in my neighbors’ homes. Maybe that should concern me a little more.

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Me and the Revolution

Well, it’s my birthday. Age 49. Really. Not “49 and holding,” but an actual 49. So next year, people will probably make a bit deal out of the big 5-0. Our worship leader intended to draw attention to my birthday during the services this morning, so they could sing “Happy Birthday,” but he forgot. That’s fine with me. I hate having “Happy Birthday” sung to me. It’s excrutiating.

I was at a little medical clinic several years ago for some ailment I can no longer remember. A nurse came in, looked at my chart, and saw my birthday: October 23, 1956. In an East European accent, she said, “You were born on a very special day.”

I responded, “I know. The day the Hungarian Revolution started.”

It about blew her over. The expression on her face was priceless. She was from Hungary and experienced the invasion by Russian tanks. She remembered it well. And she was astonished that this American knew that date. My Mom had told me about the Hungarian Revolution connection when I was young, so I’ve always been aware of it. That nurse made sure I was well taken care of. It’s nice when a piece of trivia, after 40-some years, actually comes in handy.

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Is This Some Form of Racism, or Not?

I’m no racist. When I was in junior high, Dad taught in an all-black inner city school, back in the days of the Martin Luther King riots. My sister-in-law teaches in a mostly black school. I graduated from a California high school which had a huge ethnic mix–hispanic, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, blacks, Filipinos, and various brands of caucasians: Oakies, Arkies, and Texans, who moved out during the Great Depression. My first day of school there, when I left the bus back in our town, I found myself surrounded by a group of blacks as another black tried to pick a fight with me, and everyone was egging us to go at it. Yeah, I was scared spitless, but I managed to walk away intact. From then on, I walked to a different bus stop. Those same guys came over to our house frequently, since the parsonage had a full-court basketball court in back. I played basketball with those blacks–and with bunches of Hispanics–all the time.

At the ping pong club, I enjoy talking to the various immigrants who show up. There are probably a half dozen guys of Chinese ancestry. There are several Hispanics–Panama, Peru, Cuba, and elsewhere. This week there were two new guys. One seemed to be arabic or persian. He was GOOD, too. I’d like to get to know him. All of these immigrants have interesting stories.

Then yesterday I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning. Normally Becky is my hygienist, but she’s on maternity leave, so I let them set me up with Lonnie, a new girl. I arrived at the office, and there was a black girl standing in the receptionist’s area. I hadn’t seen her before. I told her I had an 8:30 appointment, then sat down in the waiting room. A minute later, she came out with a folder. I figured it contained information for me to update. Then she said, “We’re ready for you now. I’m Lonnie.”

And I began kicking myself for assuming that this new black girl must be the receptionist, and not a professionally-trained hygienist. Some people would say I was just showing some kind of racist stereotyping or exhibiting latant racism lurking within my core being. But I think I just made a simple mistake, an errant assumption…BASED on some kind of stereotyping, I guess. I don’t know. I’m confused.

Anyway, Lonnie was great. I like her better than Becky, and asked specifically for Lonnie the next time. And I ask myself again: is that just the playing out of some white guilt? Over-compensating by making sure I make a choice in favor of an African-American? I don’t want to think so, but…maybe I did?

This is all complicated. And it’s made more complicated by the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons, who continually tell us we’re a bunch of racists, even if we don’t think we are. And I resent that. But there’s a mixture of truth and untruth there, and I’m not smart enough to sort it all out.

Am I racist, and just don’t realize it?

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The Guys-and-Girls Dance

I’m currently in the library of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. My pastor has been working on his MDiv for the past two-and-a-half years, and this semester he has a class on Monday night. So I rode up with him today. Good chance to talk about stuff. I spent some hours at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, then went down the street to the Borders bookstore. I can always kill time in bookstores. And now I’m back at the college library, waiting for him.

It’s 8:25, and Tim’s class gets out promptly at 9:00. My Airport wireless card is connected to the Trinity wireless system here in the library, but I’ve got a very weak signal. But good enough to connect to Blogger, if I wait long enough. I better hurry, since my battery level is down to 34% and dropping quickly. I’m too lazy to go find an outlet.

I’m in an area with some nice padded chairs. A guy and a girl, new acquaintances, are sitting at two more chairs nearby, and I can hear them talking. Nice kids. Both freshman, evidently. The guy is doing the pre-ask-out-on-a-date dance that I remember playing when I was a college student, several ice ages ago. It’s fun to observe, because I know what’s going on. The guy, a tall skinny fellow with short blonde hair and a backpack, is taking the initiative. The girl is appreciating it. They talk about their classes, dorms, how they ended up at Trinity, what churches they came from, who their professors are, yada yada yada. He plays soccer. They talk well together, easily, no silences.

The guy will find ways to run into her during the day, and maybe they’ll talk in the cafeteria. And one of these days–maybe soon–they’ll go out on a date together. And they’ll have a good time, because it’s obvious they don’t have any trouble conversing. They seem compatible. And they’re both Christians. This is what Christian colleges are for.

I find the whole thing very cute and innocent. And I’m glad I don’t need to do that anymore.

I’m down to 28%. Better hurry.

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Uh…Hello? Anyone Still There?

So what happened? Did I just get bored with this thing? I haven’t posted in, like, three ice ages (or one global warming). What, now, causeth my prodigal return? And do I intend to stay?

I started this thing for my own amusement. Plus, a blog was “the thing” to do. The new thing. Something every early adopter was adopting, most of them earlier than I did.

My stated passion is the local church, and that’s what I liked to write about. Particularly about my church, Anchor Community. But during the past year, my writings drifted occasionally into venting about my denomination’s (alas) failed effort to join the Missionary Church. Some pretty cynical stuff there. Then I wrote about Promise Keepers, and it was drawing PK people from across the country. So I didn’t want to put up stuff that was too in-house or would turn them off.

Plus, in June, my denomination chose new leaders and new initiatives and embarked on an ambitious plan to create a new future. It’s a very big deal, and I’m in the thick of it doing communications stuff, since I’m the Communications Director. I’m still neck deep, and can’t blame FEMA. And suddenly, two months passed with nary a post.

I think about this thing a lot. Miscellaneous ideas float around in my head as I drive the 25 miles to work. But when I sit down at a computer, whether at work or at home, I always have a zillion other things clamoring for my attention, and I just don’t get around to typing in the Blogger address. I guess it means that this blog isn’t a high priority for me. And why should it be? It’s for my amusement, after all, and amusements take a back seat to the urgents.

But I’m gonna give it another good try. Because, frankly, I miss doing this thing. I miss rambling into the cybersphere, as I’m doing right now. This is a totally content-free post. I’m just blabbering. And I’m sort of amusing myself, which means I’m succeeding in my lowly goal.

So, for those of you out there who, for reasons of your own choosing, pop in now and then and wonder why you never received an obituary notice…well, as Fast Eddy announced to the twerp played by Tom Cruise, “I’m back.”

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Paul, Ping Pong, and Peru

Last night at the ping pong club, there was a new guy named Paul. College age. Probably 6-foot-five. Tall, skinny, long hair. I thought it was Dirk Nowitski when he first walked in. Others guys said he used to attend the club when he was a kid, but the family moved to Colorado. Now they’re back in Fort Wayne.

Everyone always wants to play new guys, especially if they’re any good. And Paul was pretty good. I beat him 3 games to 1, but it wasn’t easy. He has some wicked serves.

Before starting our match, I asked some questions to get acquainted. He said he was actually on summer break from college, and that his parents had moved back from Colorado. What college? He said it was in Wisconsin. What’s it called? He said “New Tribes Bible Institute,” and said something about how it specializes in training people for missionary work.

“Sure, I know about New Tribes,” I told him. “I have a cousin who went to Liberia with New Tribes. Her husband was a pilot, and they escaped with their lives when Charles Taylor took over the country.”

Paul’s eyes lit up at the fact that I knew something about New Tribes. To him, it was just a small mission organization. But I was familiar with it.

After we played, we sat down and talked more about missions. His fiance is an MK whose parents serve in Venezuela. Paul says they have their eyes set on going to Peru. He initially wanted to be a pilot (I know Kareem squeezed into the pilot’s chair in “Airplane,” but that was a major airliner; I’m not sure Paul could fit in a four-seat Cessna), but he had kind of ruled that out and was now looking at other forms of ministry.

I’m just delighted that guys like Paul exist. He showed to me a real heart for missions. He comes from a Christian home, but would be the first missionary on his side of the family (obviously, there are missionaries among his future inlaws). I told Paul that missionaries have always been my heroes, and he understood that I was affirming him. Here’s a guy who is looking at missions as a career, not as a work trip. And from everything I saw of Paul, he’s a good catch for New Tribes–smart, likeable, athletic, articulate, and fully confident that missions is where God wants him.

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The Civility of Ping Pongsters

I continue playing ping pong regularly. Mostly, I’m going to the club on the east side of town, which meets on Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons. It has a lot of good players, as opposed to only a couple players coming to the one on the west side of town (my side). Last night, I played 8 or 9 matches during the three-hour period. I beat the guys I should have beat, and lost to the ones who were better than me, though I put up a pretty good fight and won a couple games off of guys who had previously beaten me 3-0 (we play best of 5 games, with 11-point games).

About 25 guys were there last night, and I’ve played probably 40 different guys during the past two months. Two guys, both named Tom, are clearly better than everyone else. They are the upper tier. Then there is a tier of about 8 guys who are very good, and fairly well matched. I was surprised last night when, in separate conversations, two different guys put me in that group. I’m definitely on the bottom end of it looking up, but it was flattering.

This is just about the nicest bunch of guys I’ve ever been around. It’s not a church thing–just a secular, city club that happens to meet at a church. But I’ve never been around a more gracious, nice, friendly, courteous bunch of guys. Not a single person there acts stuck-up, gets upset about losing, or otherwise displays a bad attitude. Like a bunch of Mormons or something.

By comparison, I think of the church softball, basketball, and volleyball leagues I’ve played in. My goodness, if you want to find unsportsmanlike jerks, go play in a church league. Why is that? And why are pastor-athletes sometimes the worst of the bunch? Would the character of the ping-pong club plummet if a preacher showed up to play? Hmmmm.

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When You Love What You’re Doing

It’s been nearly two weeks since I posted anything. I’ve been conscious of that, but I’ve had other things on my mind. Actually, one thing: redesigning the United Brethren website.

I’ve been tinkering around with new designs for several months. I finally found something I liked during February, and worked on refining it. Once I committed to the design and was ready to implement new templates and stylesheets and a new structure, I had to totally immerse myself in the task of converting hundreds of pages over to the new design.

So for three weeks, that’s about all I’ve been doing. During the past two weeks in particular, I’ve been totally engulfed in this. And the thing is: it’s FUN. This week I’ve been coming in around 6 am and leaving around 8 pm, and then feeling anxious to get back to it the next morning. There’s something about a huge creative project that gives me an adrenaline rush. (The fact that Pam is deep into tax season, working similarly long hours, gives me license to work late.)

Yesterday, I went live with the new site, and a few minutes ago, I sent an email to our constituency telling them about the new site. I just know I’m going to hear back about miscellaneous broken links and other problems, despite my best efforts to track down everything. I continue to stumble across such errors. But that’s okay. Other people can help me get it right.

I appreciate the fact that many people work at jobs that are a drudgery to them. I’m fortunate to have something that gives me the chance to tackle huge creative projects that are not only immensely rewarding when done, but are immensely fun in the process. Designing Filemaker databases is that way. Designing slides in Photoshop. Writing books. That’s what I’ll be doing most of next week, taking four days (actually, compensatory time) to work on my novel. I’ll be fully engrossed in that, though it’s a whole different kind of creative project. It’ll be immensely fun.

Yeah, I don’t have a lot to complain about.

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Max is Back. For How Long?

Just got back from playing ping pong. Max, our 82-year-old leader, was in the hospital for three weeks. He has a tumor, his kidneys got infected and nearly shut down, things don’t look good. But he was playing, and could still whip me. We played for a while before he lifted up his parka and showed me the colostomy bag. Hmmm. I felt guilty hitting balls past him, because it was painful watching him slowly amble to retrieve balls. But at the table, his reflexes are plenty good. “I’m still as good as anyone in Fort Wayne, any age,” he told me.

I’m not sure of that. I’ve been going to a well-developed table tennis club on the other side of town. Lots of really good players there. There are a few that I think could beat Max–not in his prime, but now. Which shouldn’t seem like such a big deal–young guys ganging up on an 82-year-old with cancer and a colostomy bag. But there are some.

After the others left, I hung around to talk to Max. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since before he entered the hospital. He said he hasn’t been in the hospital since World War 2. Pretty fortunate. Now a bunch of things are hitting all at once. I sense that he’s lonely. I know he has at least one son in town, but I don’t know if he’s close to anyone. He just seems alone. If he didn’t have an athletic outlet, I get the impression he would just shrivel up and be gone. I asked him if his hospital stay went well, if they accomplished what they wanted to accomplish. He just smiled and said, “Oh no. This thing isn’t going away.”

How do you live with that?

On the way home, I pondered on whether I should have had prayer with him. Just say a little prayer on his behalf, him and me, the only ones left in the church. That’s what a minister would do. It doesn’t really fit me–it’s not something I would normally do, just have spontaneous prayer with someone who needs it. But maybe I should. Whether or not it “fits” me is irrelevant.

Maybe next week. He needs to feel less alone. I think the fact that I, at last, hung around and inquired–with genuine concern–about his condition at least counted for something in his mind. Probably most people don ‘t know what to say, figuring his days are numbered. And they are. But he needs people to come alongside him. I’ll give it a try.

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Don’t Want No White Christmas

Woke up this morning to about eight inches of white stuff. Knew it was coming. Hoped it was just a bad dream. The good news: we closed the UB offices, so I didn’t have to go in to work today. And then Pam stayed home, too. The bad bad news: had lots of time to shovel lots and lots of snow. I got the snow blower running last night, but it’s just a little thing suited mostly for just a few inches of snow, not the deluge we got last night. Might as well run a blow dryer on a long extension cord.

When I hear the song “White Christmas,” I groan. My parents like to have a white Christmas. Dad, after all, grew up in Michigan. I’m sure they’re happy today. And I must admit–it’s very pretty outside. But I can do without.

And, in fact, I did do without for a number of years. We moved to Arizona in 1970, and in the desert, all Christmases are brown or tan. I liked that. I liked going outside in December in a T-shirt. The lake in Lake Havasu City was too cold at that time of year, but you can’t have everything (unless you live in the Caribbean, I guess, which is something to consider). We moved to California in 1974, and there, we could at least see snow up in the Sierra Madres, but it kept its distance. Out there, we talked about “going to the snow.” If we wanted to sled or throw snowballs, we piled into the car and drove into the mountains. That’s the way to do it. Snow by invitation only.

Until 1988, I spent most of my Christmases in California or Arizona (my parents moved back to Arizona, the Phoenix area this time, in 1983 or thereabouts). I would fly out there for a couple of weeks during the holidays, often leaving–or more accurately, fleeing from–a white Christmas. But alas, everyone moved back to Indiana or Ohio in 1989, and fleeing is no longer an option. If it snows, we have a white Christmas. It comes to us, unbidden. On Saturday, we will have a white Christmas, unless there is an unusually strong solar flare.

Give me the desert any day. I wonder if Jesus ever had a white Christmas? Jesus, of course, was unfortunate to have his birthday on the same day as Christmas, which meant one less day for presents. But even divinity couldn’t solve that dilemma, I guess.

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