Monday, October 12, 2009

The Man Who Walks Alone

For the past several years at one of the Home Depot stores I visit regularly, I've seen an elderly couple walking. You know, like some folks like to do in the mall early in the morning, except these people do their exercising at Home Depot, making countless rounds from the entrance to the far right side of the store and all the way to the other end and back around. Regardless of the weather, you'd see these two walking at a pace that wasn't too fast but brisk enough to give proper exercise.

Last week in my visit to the store I saw the elderly gentleman making his rounds as usual, cap on his head and cane in hand, pressed shirt and khakis, almost as if he could be coming in to interview for a job but wouldn't mind too bad if he was turned down. I thought nothing of the fact his wife wasn't walking right beside him.

I came to find out she had passed away just weeks before. Then I find out they had been married for 59 years. Wow.

Let that sink in for a minute: 59 years ago, Harry Truman was president, the Peanuts comic strip was first published, Stevie Wonder and Tom Petty were born, and the first remote control for a TV was developed.

59 years ago there was no Internet or cable TV. Families were fortunate to have a telephone. There was no Internet, no facebook, and certainly, no blogs.

They were married through 12 presidents, 30 Olympics, 4 wars, and 2 new states being admitted to the union. 59 Christmases, anniversaries, and summers. Countless vacations, winter snows, and walks along autumn trails. Laughter, hugs, kisses, and kind words.

Now here this man is, doing what he knows to do on a Monday morning: go walk.

When I heard his story, about how he had walked all these years with his wife and how now his dear bride had departed after 59 years on this earth, I had to think about my own life, my own marriage.

How the words I said on July 12, 2003 will be my words until the day I leave this earth, be it in 59 years or tomorrow morning. I thought about how ridiculously undeserving I am to have a woman love me for such a long time as that.

I also wondered about those 59 years these people spent together, how if there were times he came home from work frustrated and caused a fight. Perhaps she spent too much money on shopping, causing a night of tension. Or the moments where irritation escalated into hurtful words. Days and week that maybe went by with few words spoken between them. Because in marriage, that can happen. The climax is what we decide to do with it. Do we stay or go? Do we forgive and love, or do we throw up our hands and walk out the door?

The bottom line for this man is this: in spite of how he might have been or how she might have been at certain moments, the commitment outweighed it all. Because marriage is a covenant not to be taken lightly. It's not a contract with negotiable loopholes to ease your way out of when things get tough. It's not a game that you can turn off when you feel like you're on the wrong end of some imaginary score. It's not a selfish act of desperation in which to use another person for your own desires, then leave them all alone. It's not a blaming match where you've got permission to give up when the other person does you wrong.

Marriage is a choice. A commitment. A promise that even when I might wake up unhappy with my spouse, that I commit to work and get things back on track.

God bless anyone in today's world that makes it 59 years of marriage. God bless anyone who truly lives out the wedding vow "til death do us part". God bless the man who now walks alone.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thirty-Five Days of Fatherhood

Perhaps the loneliest time in my life came around 10:20 on the morning of August 18, 2009. There I sat, covered in hospital garb from head to toe awaiting entry into the operating room where my wife Kathryn was in the midst of having a spinal injection to numb her from the pain of a c-section. In that moment, I had roughly five minutes of time alone to myself, perched on a clean wooden bench just outside the room where my wife and a team of doctors and nurses were prepping for what can be described as nothing less than an awe-inspiring moment.

I spent that time alone avoiding thoughts of anxiousness as I awaited the go ahead to enter the room. I thought about a million things: the doctors performing the c-section, the discomfort of being draped in a long paper robe, what I had eaten for breakfast, if we were choosing the right name for our child, etc. I thought about the thousands of other husbands that had sat in the exact spot I was sitting, pondering whether or not they were really good enough, strong enough, stable enough, mature enough, and gentle enough to contain the blessing that was about to change their lives.

I thought about how life can be unfair. How nearly 6 years ago we had gone through a miscarriage, and just this past Christmas were scared it was happening again. I thought about men who never get to experience the joy of this moment. I thought about the women who try for years in heartache and frustration, only to find they'll never be able to birth a child of their own.

From the time I was summoned to join my wife in the room surrounded by masked men and women who all likely spent half their adult lives to gain access to perform such invasive tasks to the human body, I was numb. Partially scared, yes, but mostly feeling so unworthy of the very moment I was in. Of feeling nearly ashamed that I would be given the great responsibility to care for another human being when so many times I had failed in taking care of my wife and even myself.

But that's part of the beauty of it. God was gracious enough to see past that and carry out His plans. His will was taking place, and none of my feelings of inadequacy would change that.

And so at 10:52 a.m., Macy Claire Becker entered this world without much of a sound, just a few small whimpers. It wasn't but a few minutes later the nurse handed this seven pound, 19 inch bundle of wonder to me, almost as if she presumed I knew what to do with her.

Now movie scripts and poets will describe such a moment in flowery language, as if some magic spark had taken place. I suppose you could say that's true, because I'll never forget the first moment that baby girl looked into my eyes with curious wonder, unsure of the cold surroundings around her. How witnessing a miracle first hand could change a man.

As these days and weeks have passed, I've completely fallen in love with her. The way she smiles when she's sleeping, the noises she makes as she eats, the exploratory nature of kicking feet and arms flinging. How every single movement she makes is ordained and planned by God.

And the beauty of it all is that I've only got 35 days down, with an eternity still to go.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

10 Prayers for my Baby Girl

1) I pray that she'll be healthy. I know that sounds cliche and simplistic, but it's really the first desire for us to have a healthy child. My prayer is that she'll not be afflicted with much illness, pain, or discomfort.

2) I pray that she'll know love. That she'll know love from us, her parents. That she'll know that everything we do is in her best interest. That she'll know love from our families. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and future siblings. I pray she'll know love from her friends, from preschool classmates to college roommates. I pray she'll know love from the church as she grows in her relationship with Christ. I pray she'll know love from her future husband to carry her through her adult life. I pray most of all she'll know the love of God and that His love is the greatest of all!

3) I pray she'll realize she's beautiful. That she'll not use what this world has as it's standard of beauty, but that she'll delight herself in the Lord as an image bearer of God. That she'll know the depth of her beauty begins in her likeness of Christ.

4) I pray she'll follow the desires of her heart. As long as it pleases God, I hope she'll chase her dreams. If she wants to be a paint, we'll get her brushes and canvas. If she wants to be a lawyer, we'll work extra hours to put her through law school. If she wants to be a writer, we'll get all the paper and pens she needs. I pray she'll never ever be afraid to chase the dreams God has placed in her heart.

5) I pray she comes to know Christ at an early age. I pray she'll learn stories from the Bible when shes young. I pray God will turn her heart towards him early in her life. I pray we'll be parents who teach her God's word.

6) I pray she'll grow into a strong woman. I pray she won't let the things of this world bring her down. I pray no man will ever treat her as anything less than a daughter of God. I pray she'll be confident in herself. I pray she'll depend solely on Christ, and nothing other than Him.

7) I pray she'll understand life is about moments, not things. I look back on my childhood and couldn't tell you 10 different toys I owned. But I could tell you the times my dad played catch with me. I remember mom tucking me in every night. I remember my parents being there for every lame band recital, every little league game, and every Christmas play. I remember vacations to the beach and mountains. I remember shooting hoops and homemade ice cream. I remember driving lessons in church parking lots. I remember the moments with my parents, not the things they gave me. I pray the same goes with our daughter. I pray she'll remember not the Christmas or birthday presents, but the daddy-daughter dates. The apple-picking trips with the family. Manicures and pedicures with mom. I pray she remembers MOMENTS, not material posessions.

8) I pray that she'll want to play sports, but still be a girly girl! This is selfish, I know, but it's worth a shot right? I pray that I can help our daughter to shoot a basketball or to kick a soccer ball. At the same time, I want her to be feminine, to see her mom dressing up and want to wear the earrings and lip gloss like her.

9) I pray that she will learn from mistakes and heart breaks. This is the toughest of all to pray, because it's facing an inevitability: some time, probably more than once, she'll mess up or get hurt. I pray she'll not be discouraged, but learn from those incidents and carry on with hope and confidence.

10) I pray she'll look just like her mom. Never was I blessed in my life as I was the day I married Kathryn. She's the most beautiful woman in the world to me, and I pray that our daughter has her same looks. That she has the radiant smile, the olive complextion, the smooth skin, and gorgeous eyes. I pray that she'll realize just how much I love her mom and find her beautiful.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Plea To Parents of Little Boys

I'm roughly a month or so away from adding a new label onto my life: father. And if you think that sounds like just another step, to me it seems so out of place. The word father seems to carry a sense of maturity to it. Because now you're not only responsible for yourself, but for an entire other life. One totally dependent on you to clothe, feed, clean, stimulate, play with, read to, hug and kiss, and sacrificially love daily. And lucky me, I've got to do all this with a little girl! Not that I'm not excited, but it sure is intimidating!

I've been thinking a lot recently about how Kathryn and I are to raise this little girl in today's world. A world filled with such crudeness and sin that it causes me to shiver just thinking about not being with my daughter for a single moment to protect her. So I wanted to write a blog directed to the parents of young boys out there. Just a few requests:

1) Teach them to respect other girls as the weaker sex. We lived in a society where gender lines are often blurred. The feminist movement has leveled the playing field for men and women, and both genders have felt reprecussions. While some good things have come of it, it has also taught us that females are to be treated no differently than men. That's bogus. It's obvious we were created differently. Women are weaker physically than men and often times emotionally. PLEASE teach your boys to respect girls. It goes beyond just holding doors and lifting heavy things for them. It's respecting their hearts to never break them, their minds to never discourage them, and their bodies to never defile them. We are all image bearers of God.

2) Respecting other girls starts at home. Fathers (and husbands), if you are crude, crass, mean, rude, disrespectful, slanderous, abusive (physically or verbally), harsh, condescending, or arrogant towards your wives at home, your son WILL see that, and he will most likely view that as how women are to be treated. If you have negative things to say towards your spouse, you NEVER do so in front of your children. That doesn't mean it's okay to do it in private unless it's a civil discussion between both of you. As a child, the worst punishments I received (and the most painful spankings, for that matter) were when my father found out I had disrespected my mother. His love for her showed me that I was to love her and respect her because HE did. Dads, love your wives (Eph. 5:25-27). Your children are watching.

3) Teach your son that sex is for marriage. The saddest part of today's world to me is how open and disclosing people are with their sexuality. As someone that is going to be raising a girl, it scares me to death. In today's world, girls are pregnant in some cases at age 13. Many girls will have their first "sexual experience" by age 16. And then, once you're in college, it's just an expected thing. Sex is normal, natural, and boundless. Often times today a normal part of a dating relationship is even something called "sexting", where a girl sends nude pictures of herself via text message to a guy. How sad! It's clear in the Bible that sex is an act of marriage, and marriage alone. God never gives permission for anything sexual to take place outside of marriage. However, the world will try to convince you it's no different than a goodnight kiss. Please parents, teach your sons that they should not only respect other girls, but themselves as well. Teach them that sex isn't just a physical act, especially for a young woman. Teach them that often times the consequences vastly outweigh the pleasure. Sex IS intended for pleasure, once you're married. Your son should view other girls as "daughters of God", and respect them as much. This means, along with waiting until marriage for sex, to not look at a girl with lust. Hard to do, but nobody said following God's word was easy. Direct them in those ways!

The day will come where I'll start going on daddy/daughter dates with my girl. The day will come where a boy will write a "check yes or no" note to my daughter in class. The day will come that some boy will break my daughter's heart. The day will come where she goes on her first date. The day will come where some young man will ask for permission to marry my daughter. The day will come where I will walk her down the aisle and give her away to the love of her life.

And there's a chance that young man may be your son.

So please listen to my requests. I won't puff out my chest with bold statements like "she won't date 'til she's 35" or "I'll have a couple of shotguns waitin' on a boy that comes to me wanting to date my daughter!" But I am serious when I say this: your son better respect my daughter. If not because I said so, then because Jesus Christ commanded it (1 Pet. 3:7). Not just my daughter, but all little girls out there, because there's thousands of daddies of little girls that feel the same way I do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

6 Years and Counting...

It's difficult to really describe marriage. I've often thought about what I would recommend to a younger couple looking to get hitched regarding marriage. In part because I still feel at times like a newlywed myself, but more so because I feel a lot of times like I'm not in the best position to be dispensing advice on a topic that I'm still taking lessons on daily.

First of all, you have to take your vows seriously. It's not just a formality to get up in front of people and recite promises to your soon-to-be spouse. It's a whole-hearted commitment, one not to be taken lighty. Sadly, too many people today discard that wedding day promise as if it were made in haste, or as if it wasn't really intended to be serious.

On July 12, 2003, Kathryn and I made those vows to one another. We promised to ourselves and to God that we would always be there for each other, never failing in our love or honor for the other. That doesn't mean everything is perfect. It doesn't mean we don't have knock-down drag-out fights from time to time. It DOES mean, however, that we always promise to be there, for better or worse.

We'ce celebrated 6 years of marriage. As we enter into the seventh year, we know it's a volatile time. Year 7 is often a "make or break" year for marriages. Statistically, if couples can make it past their seventh year of marriage together, they usually make it for a lifetime.

Having a newborn arriving in August won't make things easy. Finances tightening won't make things easy. The stress of late night feedings and budget calculations will sometimes strain things. So what to do? Maintain focus on God's word to humbly submit to one another.

Do you know what that means? That I'm supposed to put my wife's needs above mine. That I'm to love her regardless of the way she loves me. That when times get tough, I don't walk out the door, but that I commit myself to my wife, my lover, my partner, and my best friend to work things out.

The best example of marriage to me has always been my parents. Their love and affection for one another hasn't wilted in their near 40 years of marriage. I can still remember my dad coming in from work when I was younger and walking straight over to my mom to greet her with a warm hug and a kiss. That's love. That's marriage. And all I hope for is that same love shared between Kathryn and I for many, many years to come.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why You're Also To Blame for Jon and Kate's Divorce

Chances are, you did this. In fact, in all likelihood there's still blood on your hands from it. So tell me, how does it make you feel to tear apart a family with a mom, dad, and 8 kids?

I know, I know, it wasn't your intention. I guess from the start you were just simply entertained. But when things took a turn for the worse, you jumped on the TMZ train straight to "Happy Hour: Divorce Style" to get your fix on the latest break-up news. Only this time, it's not some A list actor splitting from his wife of 9 months. No, this is a family, one that began well over a decade ago. One that encompasses 10 people, 8 of which are age 6 or younger.

I can't be too harsh on you because, after all, I'm just as much a bearer of the blame. I tend to get a fix on these stories myself. It's so much more fun to watch people in the spotlight fail. After all, they get to be in that light, while we can only sit from afar and dream of just being in it's shadow.

If you were unsure of the exact situation I'm referring to here, be glad. Be content in being removed completely from this drama, one so disgustingly engrossing it's popularity spiked only when the worst moments arose. Jon and Kate Plus 8. The TLC reality show starring a big Brady Bunch like family, one with a set of twins and a set of septuplets. Only in this show, there seems to be no sweet Alice to help pull the troops together and smooth things over before the hour is over.

Jon and Kate announced publicly (via their show, of course) that they were filing for divorce. Cite different reasons all you want: she's too bossy, he's been cheating, they're exploiting their children, the stress of public life is too much, etc., but the only defining outcome of it all is this: two parents of 8 beautiful children are splitting up.

Understanding all the nooks and crannies that come with raising 8 kids (let alone doing so publicly) befuddles us "normal" people. We see this cast of characters as mere Monday evening entertainment. Quite frankly, it presents itself more of a fun show for our wives. However, now that things are falling apart, everyone wants to know about it. No sliver of gossip even this juicy escapes the interest of most Americans. But our reaction to the situation is what saddens me the most, and proves that we are becoming more and more numb to the idea of separation, divorce, and broken families.

Why is it we never talk much about the moments in a couple's life that go right? Why did TMZ and E! and those other stations not cover the times when Jon and Kate were reading bedtime stories to their children and having date nights and laughing and loving on camera?

Because we don't want that. A safe, strong, secure family is boring. We prove it with the ratings. You don't watch Entertainment Tonight to see which couples celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. You watch it to see who's been caught red-handed with their secretary. Who's been out at the clubs with another man? Who filed for divorce among their other items on their daily check off list? Who's in alcohol rehab? Who was arrested for drug possession?

Perhaps even more tragic is that we react much the same to people in our every day lives who aren't daily tabloid fodder. Neighbors divorcing, co-workers cheating, family members going through depression. It's become all a big joke. Like screwing up is entertainment, and no price is too high to pay for it.

My hope is that we all will take a step back, and rather than label the Gosselins as "media whores" or as "just another reality show curse", we will instead be broken. That our hearts will break for any family going through tough situations. That we wouldn't simply sit comfortably in our chairs and become marriage therapists will all the advice and answers, but we would pray earnestly for family reconciliation. That we wouldn't turn our neighbor's issues into water cooler discussion, but we would seek out whole-hearted ways we can serve them in love.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll see Jon and Kate and any other families being torn apart as nothing but human beings on the other side of the camera, going through the same trials that we all go through. Then perhaps we could sympathize rather than judge and cast stones, and hopefully in turn not play the damning role of accomplices in a crime of breaking apart a family.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Admitting We Need Each Other: Not easy, but Necessary

For those of you that know me, you know my limited capabilities as a "handyman" or a "fix-it guy". Okay, so maybe it goes beyond limited, maybe non-existent? Somehow in all my years at home, I never really picked up on my dad's skills of fixing things around the house.

A prime example of my lack of mechanical fortitude is the fact that I rejoiced at installing my second ceiling fan, and it not taking me nearly two weeks to complete like the first one. That was a combination of several ingredients: lack of patience, failure to follow the directions, and perhaps most importantly, my stubborn refusal to seek help.

Often times there will be issues that arise around the house that I have very little clue on how to fix it. Rather than follow the sound advice of my wife, I continually claim I can handle the issue on my own. Typically I either screw things up, or it takes me much more time to handle the issue than it would with the benefit of a knowledgeable partner.

You can probably already see where I'm going with this. How many times do we act like this in regards to our own personal issues in our lives? We've all got so many things going on with our jobs and careers, with our spouses, with our children, and with our own personal struggles.

It's hard to ask for help. It's hard to admit that we have any struggles or problems. Because of that pride we have, we fail to fully immerse ourselves in what God would desire for the church. Men fail to admit problems with lust, anger, or feelings of inadequacy. Women feel unable to be open with other women for fear of judgement.

We find in reading Acts 2 that the early church meet together often for fellowship and to meet each other's needs. Is that how we view church today? Do you come to church to share your burdens and to carry the burdens of others? Do we fully value the bride of Christ as our family and irreplaceable community or brothers and sisters?

There are times I'm standing in a Home Depot store helping customers with questions about certain products. Occasionally I'll walk up on someone who obivously needs assistance, yet when I ask what they need help with, they'll say "I'm okay" or "I've got it figured out." Then 15 minutes later I'll walk down the aisle and see the same person standing there with the same confused look on their face.

That look is too much like what we as Christians wear on our faces. Looks of confusion, frustration, disappointment, and even hurt. We've got to come to the realization that church isn't just a building to sing songs in once a week. Church is a community where we come together to worship, pray, and serve one another. It's where we come because we understand that life isn't meant to be lived alone. We need each other.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

10 Observations from a NASCAR Weekend

Some thoughts, frustrations, and appreciations from this past weekend's events at the Bristol Motor Speedway...

1) RACES ARE A WEEKEND EVENT, NOT JUST TWO HOURS OF ENTERTAINMENT. There were roughly 10-12 hours total of pure racing this weekend, but when there weren't things to do inside the track, there was certainly entertainment outside. Lots and lots of not only driver's merchandise booths but various vendor giving away a ton of free stuff.

2) COMBOS REALLY ARE A MAN'S FOOD. They're salty finger foods made with pretzels and a cheese inside. Are you kidding me? They're fantastic. Things are only better when a tent has them as free handouts.

3) BATHROOMS ARE AN ISSUE. There are only so many trailers outside the track for bathroom use, and let's face it, nobody finds using a porta-potty a real luxury.

4) THE SPONSORSHIP ASPECT IS BORDERLINE INSANE. I know everyone has their favorite drivers, but there's just something funny about seeing grown men walking around with huge jackets with a big M&Ms logo slathered across the chest. More disturbing are the women wearing the Viagra car aparell. It's to the point you can get a general idea of who a fan is rooting for based on their color scheme. Let's see...he's got green on. Must be the Scotts #60 Carl Edwards car or the #88 Amp Dale Jr. car. The guy with red? Gotta be a #14 Old Spice Tony Stewart fan or perhaps a #9 Bud Kasey Kahne fan. Yeesh.

5) HOW IS THIS STILL A REDNECK SPORT? Sure, the majority of customers purchasing 12 packs and packing extra koozies have either A) teeth missing, B) a mullet, or C) the word Earnhardt placed somewhere on their body, the fact is the technology that goes into these cars is mindblowing. The fact that just a few inches taken off a car and just a small chassis adjustment can make or break a driver. Awesome.

6) BRING EARPLUGS. When there's 43 souped-up car engines roaring around a tight half-mile track placed down in a bowl surrounded by 180,000 people, things get loud. I mean, you can either get earplugs, or go to a metal concert and stand right next to the speaker. The choice is yours.

7) SCANNERS ARE PERHAPS THE COOLEST WAY TO ENJOY NASCAR. If you've never been to a race, let me encourage you to rent a scanner before you go into the track. These nifty little radios come with headphones (also useful for blocking out noise) that allow you to listen to conversations between any driver and their pit crew during the race. For example, in Saturday's race I heard Kyle Busch give an expletive-laced tirade to his pit crew after they caused a violation for a lost tire. Sunday I switched back and forth from Jimmie Johnson's crew constantly updating him on who was in front or behind, as well as Kevin Harvick's frustration after wrecking just past the halfway point. Trust me, whatever car wrecks, turn to their frequency right after. It's most entertaining, and a feature you won't find in any other sport.

8) RACING CAN BE DULL. Sunday, I watched 503 laps of racing. Sure, it was fun, but there were certainly times where it was just watching Busch drive around an oval track while 42 cars followed behind him. NASCAR is a bit like hockey; you watch for the wrecks and the fights.

9) LIKE ANY SPORT, NASCAR IS BETTER WITH RIVALRY. Maybe rivalry isn't the best word, but it's more fun to watch a sport where you can hate someone almost as much as you cheer for your favorite driver. When Kyle Busch won Sunday, you saw thumbs down signs from fans, heard boos, and felt a general disgust with his victory. It's almost like we were sitting in Fenway, and Derek Jeter went 4-4 with a game winning homer. If all the drivers were likeable, what would be the point of cheering for just one or two?

10) MY IDEA TO MAKE NASCAR BETTER. Maybe it wouldn't go over well, but I'd like to see the team concept emphasized more. Perhaps split the drivers into 10 different teams comprised of 4 drivers each. Based on the combined performance from those 4 drivers, a team championship would be determined at the end of the year. The top individual driver could get a MVP award similar to what the NFL, NBA, MLB, and other sports do. Maybe it wouldn't work, but it would get guys like me who are used to rooting for teams more into NASCAR.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Manliest Cities in America

A group called Sterling's Best Places recently came out with a study to determine America's "Manliest" cities. Taking the top 50 metropolitan areas in the nation, Sterling's used 5 basic criteria to determine a city's "manliness" ranking.

1) SPORTS. Including professional and collegiate events, NASCAR and NHRA events in close proximity, monster truck events, etc.
2) LIFESTYLE. This includes the registration of U.S. made cars, full-sized pickups, available locales for hunting and fishing, sports viewing areas and frequency, etc.
3) RETAILERS. Stores such as steakhouses, home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot, and sports bars enhance a city's manliness.
4) MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS. The amount of subscriptions to reads like Men's Health, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Maxim, etc.
5) SALTY SNACK SALES. This is a rather irrelevant category, likely included if for no other reason than the fact that Combos snacks were a big sponsor for the study.

Sterling's also used 3 main criteria to determine possible manly detractors: categories that would trend more towards women. Those 3 areas were:

1) CARS. The higher the volume of minivans and foreign cars registered, the less manly the city.

2) RETAILERS. Stores that deal in home furnishings (Pier One, Pottery Barn), cafes, and sushi restraunts took away from a city's manliness.

3) MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS. Cities with a higher volume of subscriptions to magazines like Oprah, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, Vogue, etc. were obviously considered less manly.

So based on these findings, the 5 LEAST manly cities are

1) San Francisco
2) Oakland
3) Boston
4) Seattle
5) Denver

The 5 MOST manly cities are

1) Nashville, TN
2) Charlotte, NC
3) Oklahoma City
4) Cincinnati
5) Denver (somehow Denver makes both lists' #5 spot)

The funny thing about those lists are that the areas I'd rather live in show up more on the "less manly" list. If you look at all the cities, in the manly list, Indianapolis is ranked #9. #9 on the "less manly" list is San Diego. Seriously, how many of you would prefer to live in Indy instead of San Diego, which could have the best weather of any city in the entire world? But, I digress. (For full breakout list of the cities, go here

The reason the study struck me was it's criteria. Listening to Colin Cowherd's show on ESPN Radio Thursday morning, he discussed what he thought makes a man and what doesn't make a man. He pointed out that having multiple tattoos doesn't make you a man. Having a gun rack doesn't make you a man. Driving a truck ten times bigger than you can afford doesn't grant you manhood.

So what does? Is it what this study suggests? Is it living within 45 minutes of a NASCAR track? Is it owning subscriptions to Maxim, Playboy, and Hustler? Is it eating a 70 ounce steak and downing a 13 pack of beer?

Cowherd gave 3 basic criteria for men. Tell me if this isn't brilliant.

FIRST, men are risk-takers. They gamble. There's a reason you don't have a lot of women dropping 50 bucks on a NCAA tournament pool, or hear many women dealing in fantasy sports. That's why so many Wall Street stock brokers are men: it's competitive. It's risk-taking. That's why, according to Cowherd, cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh don't make the cut. Nearly 75% of those cities' residents live within an hour of where they grew up. In other words, they never took a risk and moved away for college or for a job. Many get out of high school and go work at the family business the rest of their lives. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not a risk. Manly men are the ones who move to the opposite coast to follow a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Manly men date women they know are out of their league. It's all about risk.

SECONDLY, men are leaders. Most of us just have that programmed in our DNA to take the lead. So cities that have a large collection of fraternal organizations and clubs don't qualify under the manly list because they deal with groups, not individuals. Manly men don't need other people to get by.

THIRDLY, and most importantly, manly men are responsible. They take care of their families. Travis Henry, the NFL player who has fathered 9 children by 9 different women, claimed last week he doesn't have money to pay child support because he spent it all during his playing years. He said "I have a big heart. I help people. I guess I never got into that saving thing." See, first of all, if you have 9 children, they become your top priority. Not your teammates, not your homies back from high school, not the one night stands on road trips, but your children. Manly men take responsibility for their family. If it requires the extra job working weekends or overnights, then so be it. If it requires leaving a business trip early to be home for your son's first t-ball game, you do it. That's what manly men do. They treat their wives with love and respect, because they made a choice to do so. They take care of their children and raise them right because they made that decision to do so.

I ask myself often where do I place myself in the "manly" question. I don't care much for hunting or fishing. I don't do much construction work around the house. I do love sports, and have a subscription to Sports Illustrated, and eat plenty of salty snacks. Does that make me a man? Maybe...maybe not. Really, who cares? I'll do the manliest thing I can do, and that's take care of my family.

But I'll eat some extra chips, just for good measure.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thoughts on Our New President, His Inauguration, and Leaning Away from Extreme Views

The 44th President of the United States was sworn in this past week. His inauguration reached epic proportions leaving some to wonder if this was the President or Elvis resurrecting from the dead. A Woodstock-esque atmosphere in D.C. Tuesday served to remind all of us that America seems, at least in the broadest terms, to be happy again.

I didn't vote for him. In the summer I voted for Mike Huckabee in the primary, and then for John McCain in the November election. However, that's not to assume that McCain would have been my first choice. I don't think he was for many conservative Republicans. We simply didn't want a liberal in office. Unfortunately for us, most of America did.

That said, I'm not prepared to bash our new president. It will certainly take getting used to, saying President Obama when for 8 years we've had the name Bush following that prestigious title. I cannot say I agree with all of Obama's ideals and philosophies. However, I cannot attempt to say the man does not have the best interests of America and it's citizens at heart.

The biggest issue I've had with Obama's campaign and inauguration was actually not related to Barack Obama himself. It has to do with America's reaction to him (midly put), or in reality, their nauseating love affair with him.

It's easy to point fingers at the media, but they're the main ones to blame for a nation so hell-bent on crucifying former President Bush that they abandoned journalistic integrity to disgrace a man that was simply trying to do the same thing that President Obama is: making the USA a better place to live.

We've seen only negative images of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don't see the schools being built, communities thriving, and lives being saved. We're told to view Bush as a tyrant, a vllainous fool who's love of oil fuels his greed and motivates his brash decisions. We're told Bush is to blame for the economy, despite mountains of evidence pointing towards the greed of business men and poor policies enacted by previous presidents. We're told Bush is to blame for Hurrican Katrina, that it's his fault 2,000 lives were lost, and not anyone at the local or state government in Louisiana.

And to think, America used to not be this ignorant.

President Obama has all the makings of a great president. He's young and energetic, much like John Kennedy or Teddy Roosevelt. He speaks as well as any leader we've ever known. He comes across as calm, cool, and collected. He's got a beautiful family, one sure to be adored by Americans over the next 4 years. But the question is can he lead a nation?

I would implore fellow Christian conservatives to end the hate-fest. We have a new president. He may not be who you voted for, but for the next 4 years, Barack Obama is your president. I'm not his biggest fan, but I'll certainly support him as he leads our nation.

At the end of the day, he's just a president. Our authority goes much higher than the Oval Office. Derek Webb says it best: "My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It's to a King and a Kingdom."

Friday, January 9, 2009

What Gives You Pleasure?

I recently dusted off an older Caedmon's Call cd that I hadn't listened to in a while. On track 2 of the cd, the chorus states

"You created nothing/ that gives me more pleasure than You."

That one line really made me think: did God really intend for nothing else on this earth to give us pleasure like Him? Sure, we're all blessed by God with particular people and things that give us pleasure. But if we concentrate too much on that, we become much like the pagans, who worship creation but not the Creator.

God wants us to take pleasure in Him. GREAT pleasure. I've thought about that and wondered how does pleasure in God look? I think it starts with contentment in our hearts. When we are truly satisfied with Christ and truly take the gospel to heart, it's then we're truly wrapped up in the joy Christ gives. We can take pleasure in the fact that God loves us regardless of what we look like on the inside. Regardless of our thoughts, words, our history, and even our future, God loves us. And not with just a casual, conditional love. It's with a saving grace, a man unabashedly chasing his bride, despite her adulterous lies and deceit. That's God's love. How can we not find pleasure in that?

David writes in Psalm 16:11 "You will teach me how to live a holy life. Being with you will fill me with joy; at your right hand I will find pleasure forever."

Not just pleasure for a day. Not just for the happy moments in our life. Forever.

How have you discovered pleasure in God today? What characteristics of God are you truly rejoicing in today?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Wrapping up 2008

What a crazy year! A new president, a bad economy, and crazy stories from sports and entertainment. Let's take a moment to reflect on the best and worst of 2008.

BEST SPORTS STORY: Michael Phelps. Hands down the most compelling sports story of the year. I think just for fun he should compete in the 2012 games while actually wearing all 8 Gold Medals as he swims. Honorable Mention: Tampa Bay Rays, Josh Hamilton, Boston Celtics.

BEST SPORTING EVENT/GAME: The Men's Wimbledon Final. Rarely do we see athletes pushed to the brink of mere survival in a single event. The 2008 Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer gave us just that. Including 2 rain delays, the match lasted roughly 7 hours. Nadal finally was able to put away his old nemesis for the first time in Wimbledon history. Honorable Mention: Super Bowl 43, Kansas vs. Memphis NCAA basketball final, Texas vs. Texas Tech NCAA football.

COLLEGE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Candace Parker, Tennessee Lady Vols. Say what you want about women's basketball, but you can't deny the sheer dominance portrayed by Candace Parker this past year. Not only did she lead her team to their 2nd consecutive national title, she won the SEC Player of the Year, Wooden Award (national POY), NCAA Tournament MVP, and eventually went on the win the Rookie of the Year in the WNBA. Honorable Mention: Tim Tebow, Tyler Hansbrough, Graham Harrell.

COACH/MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Chad Knauss, Jimmie Johnson's Crew Chief. Like 7 NASCAR Nextel Cup wins and 15 top five finishes this season wasn't enough, how about helping the 48 car win it's third straight NASCAR championship? That's impressive no matter what driver you root for. Honorable Mention: Joe Maddon (TB Rays), Nick Saban (Alabama), Tom Coughlin (NY Giants).

TEAM OF THE YEAR: Tampa Bay Rays. It's tough to decide among all the possible candidates for this one, but when your entire team's payroll doesn't even equal a fifth of the Yankees or Red Sox, yet you still win the division, that deserves a tip of the hat. Honorable Mention: Boston Celtics, Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas Jayhawks Basketball.

MOVIE OF THE YEAR: Dark Knight. Perhaps it was a bit overhyped, but for the most part, it lived up to the billing. Heath Ledger played what was by far the most convincing and truly eerie villain that the Batman series has ever seen. Honorable Mention: Baby Mama, No Country For Old Men, 21.

SONG OF THE YEAR: "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay. The music is phenomenal overall, which we've come to expect from this band. Honorable Mention: "So What", Pink; "I'm Still A Guy", Brad Paisley; "Swagger Like Us", T.I., Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil' Wayne.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: "808s and Heartbreaks" by Kanye West. Take everything you already know about Kanye and throw it out the window. This album shows more creativity and less "preppie" rap; more heart felt soul and less redundant references to dropping out of school. Honorable Mention: "Death Magnetic", Metallica; "Viva La Vida", Coldplay; "Paper Trail", T.I.

WEBSITE OF THE YEAR: They complained in the beginning, but I don't know of too many that still don't like the new facebook format. Yes, the status updates get a bit annoying, but they certainly provide up to the minute info, even on the random person from high school who you don't really remember but don't want to feel like a jerk by denying their friend request. Awesome. Honorable Mention:,,

COMMERCIAL OF THE YEAR: Ozzy Osbourne AT&T Cell Phone Text. If you know anything at all about the former Black Sabbath frontman, you know that you can't understand what he's saying. AT&T does a great job playing off that in this ad:

WOMAN OF THE YEAR: Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska. Poke fun all you want, but she wouldn't have been hated so much if she wasn't a real threat to the Democratic Party. You can certainly expect to hear her name brought up in 2012. Honorable Mention: Hillary Clinton, Candace Parker, Pat Summitt.

WORST PERSON OF THE YEAR: Three-way tie between Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, and Ben Bernanke. It's hideous how bad these men failed at their jobs, leaving us in an absolute financial nightmare nationwide. It's further more disturbing that this men continue to have jobs. Honorable Mention: Rod Blagojevich, Al Davis, "Pacman" Jones.

MAN OF THE YEAR: Barack Obama, President-Elect. Like him or not, the soon-to-be-prez ran a brilliant campaign, and may very well be the best presidential speaker we've had since Reagan or perhaps even JFK. Honorable Mention: Michael Phelps, Jimmie Johnson, Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher.