Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hi, My Name is Kent and I am a Tracking Addict

I have read that confession is good for the soul. O.K. I confess that I have developed a fascination with the tracking software on this blog. When I click on the little counter at the bottom of my blog, I go to a report that shows how many hits the blog has gotten in past days. It also usually allows me to see the city, internet service provide (e.g. AOL), and the length of the visit. I suppose it is a bit of a pride thing to check to see if anyone has visited my blog (If you prefer to visit anonomously, you are reasonably safe. I can only guess who visited based on city and ISP.) However, part of why I check is simple curiousity. This is especially true since I learned that often the referring URL (web address) is listed. Often someone hits the link on my daughter's blog, or my son's blog, or some other such obvious route. However, more often that I would have believed possible, people find my blog when they do Google searches with a variety of search terms. A lot of searches just happen to hit some key words in one of the couple of hundred posts that I have done over the years. What really intrigues me is the nature of some of the search terms. People seem to be using Google to research fundamental questions about life. I won't quote exact search terms here, but I have seen quite a few folks who found me while searching about making a big choice. In fact, that search has the broadest worldwide audience. I have seen hits from Tonga, Australia, India, Japan, and others. It seems that at least a few people scattered about the world turn to Google when confronted with life challenges. Another search had terms about" relationship father dying" or similar words. That person found a post about how I struggled with my own father's death and our relationship.

I have often said that my motives are mixed, and I thank God that they are. Too often they have approached being purely selfish or prideful. So mixed is a step in the right direction. I hope the less selfish part of me is learning something from watching how people find my blog. Since my blog is one of many millions, I hope I learn some humility. Since some people find it when researching serious questions, I hope I learn some more humility. I pray that God will help folks find answers to those deeper questions (and those not quite so deep), whether my blog is involved or not.

May God bless each of you with true answers to important questions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

50 Things That Should Have Killed Me Already

It seems like the richer we are and the more leisure time we have, the more precautions we take to avoid danger. I think they help, but probably not as much as we would like to think. Here is my start on a list of things that happened to me or that I chose to do during my life that would be a major concern for a lot of us if we thought it might happen to someone we love in the future (If you think I am saying it is o.k. to do this stuff, you are wrong, it's not o.k., it's stupid):

1. My mom and dad smoked heavily, even including when I was in the womb.
2. There were no baby seats for cars (except little toy jobbers that would tear a kid in half)
3.There were no seat belts in cars until I was a teenager.
4.There was no polio vaccine until my teens.
5.We sat out numerous hurricanes in our suburban house near New Orleans (It was probably underwater after Katrina).
6.I played near a sewage canal during much of my childhood, including boating in it.
7.I played in sewage and snake filled hurricane flood waters after each storm.
8.There were no bicycle helmets.
9.There were no skating helmets.
10. I let a guy on a bike tow me while I rode on skates, got knocked out cold when I fell.
11. We played chicken by seeing who could skid their bike closest to the edge of an unfinished interstate overpass bridge (The middle of the bridge was missing, we would have fallen several stories onto a tangle of re bar).
12. We played acrobat by walking the railing of the overpass.
13. We jumped off of our tree house onto a nearby sapling and let it bend to the ground, until the top broke off in our hands.
14. We would climb trees and let the other guys cut them down. We would have to move quick
to whichever side of the tree was going to land up.
15. We only drank sugar filled pop with caffeine. We drank it with twinkies and other fine fare.
16. We ate bacon, eggs, and buttered toast for breakfast virtually every day.
17. I started drinking coffee at age 9 or 10.
18. We only ate white bread.
19. Our dad punished us if we didn't eat all the fat from our pork chops and pork roasts.
20. My mom kept the bacon grease and used it to cook lots of stuff.
21. We rode our bikes behind the mosquito fogging jeep and pretended we were flying in clouds.
22. There were no pollution controls.
23. We moved next to a river in Ohio that was so polluted it caught fire and burned for days.
24. I swam in Lake Ponchatrain when it was so polluted that people were getting sick.
25. I camped on a flat sand bar island in the Gulf of Mexico while a big storm blew over it.
26. We shot arrows straight up to see how close we could let them land to us while we sat still.
27. The first time I got really drunk, I drank about 10 or 12 drinks worth and then swam in Lake Ponchatrain. The waves made it hard for me to climb back onto the seawall. (I was about 17).
28. I got my mom's Chrysler to go 110 miles per hour, but I was so busy watching the speedometer that I didn't notice til the last minute that I had run out of freeway and had to take an exit at about 90 mph.
29. The back seat of the car caught fire from a cigarette butt and the 110 mph wind (I'm not joking).
30. I started smoking at age 16.
31. I drove drunk (lots) I thank God I never killed anyone else.
32. I drank until I passed out or blacked out, on a number of occasions.
33. I used 10 - 12 different illegal drugs by the time I was 30.
34. I drove while using as many as three or four drugs and alcohol at once.
35. I totalled two cars without air bags. I thank God I never hurt anyone else.
36. I climbed a 70 foot Cypress tree and found a hornets nest at the top (very rapid descent).
37. We played chicken to see who could hang by one hand the longest while several stories up.
38. I had a rattlesnake in a jar for a pet.
39. We played in a drained swamp behind our house that had all four poisonous snakes in North America (and we saw all but the coral snake).
40. I climbed buildings on a dare.
41. We tried to make a rocket by filling a pipe with gasoline and lighting it.
42. We threw aerosol cans into fires (especially into the furnace at the grocery store I worked at)
43. A local troubled teen held a knife to my throat when I was about 12 and threatened to kill me.
44. I got hit by a speeding car when I tried to ride my bike across a highway in the dark (I jumped off the bike just as the car slammed into it and tore it from my hands)
45. We thought food with preservatives was good for you.
46. Sunscreen was unknown to us when I was a boy in Louisiana. I spent most of the summer with no shirt, hat, or shoes. (I was very fair skinned and burned constantly).
47. We tried to swing high enough to wrap the swing around the swing set.
48. We jumped out of the swing when we got as high as we could go.
49. I got more or less drunk and lost in a crowd of one million during Mardi Gras (I was 15).
50. We rode our bikes way out into the country and snuck up on the isolated home of a man reputed to shoot trespassers with his shotgun (probably a myth, but it was scary).

I have lots more, but you get the idea. I don't think I was much more rambunctious than most boys my age. My parents cared about me, but they gave me enough freedom to do lots of exploring. Some things like smoking, pollution, pesticides, skin cancer, and bicycle helmets just weren't well understood 50 years ago. I made a lot of really stupid choices as a young man. It seems very odd now to find myself worrying about relatively little things (like falling and hurting my knee replacement). I never thought I would live to be fifty. It seems a bit of a miracle that I did.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Up, Down, Up

Dr. Seuss could have written a book about my mood. Up, Down, Up. Good, Bad, Great.
Despite significant aid from the very latest pharmaceuticals, I never know what I am going to feel like hour to hour, day to day. When I am down, I am pretty sure I will stay down for ever. When I am up, I wait in suspense for the next down.

This morning I was up during my devotional time. As I read Psalm 21, it suddenly occurred to my moods are at the very least, biblical. The first line of Psalms 21, 22, and 23 will give you a pretty good idea where David's head was at when he wrote each one:

Psalm 21: The King rejoices in your strength, Lord ( David was the King!)
Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (David speaking again, and Jesus used the quote on the cross)
Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. (David again, now he is just one of the sheep and glad to be that).

Well, I don't know how much time transpired between the composition of each Psalm, but I do find it gratifying that they reside in a clump. A few minutes reading clearly shows that up and down were both a part of the life of a man after God's own heart.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hey, I have the Internet

As I mused about what it is like in Dar Es Salaam, I suddenly realized: "Hey, I have the internet." Google Maps gives me a suprisingly clear view of downtown Dar. I don't know Julia and Viggo's location, but since it is a hotel near a beach, I'm betting it is in this photo somewhere (additional clues: golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools are in the photo, even a cheap hotel should be somewhere in the vicinity!)

View Larger Map

Dar Es Salaam

The name Tanzania seems plenty exotic. Traveling to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania seems poetic and adventurous. Nonetheless, that is where Julia & Viggo Larsen are as I write this. My daughter and her husband, along with my one and only grandchild, Daniel, are walking the beach along the Indian Ocean in Dar Es Salaam. Soon they will receive important orientation on such vital topics as the difference between a small intention and a large intention as understood in that part of the world!

Friday, January 18, 2008

On Being a Grandpa

One picture really can say a lot about what it feels like to be a Grandpa! Daniel is ten months old in this shot.

How Likely Is That?

If I pretend that parts of my past are future possibilities, they seem incredibly unlikely. For example, last week I took a trip to Norway in January. If someone had suggested that to me about 5 years ago, I would have laughed in their face. I wouldn't have known then that Julia was going to marry a Norwegian. Nor would I have known that they would make me a grandpa. I certainly would not have thought that my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson would all be packing up to move to Tanzania on January 17, 2008.

Some of the roads not taken are even more incredible. Julia and Viggo seriously considered going to Mali, probably specifically to Timbuktu. Recently I read a great book on languages, The Power of Babel. The author used the Fulani language as his prime example of an incredibly complicated language among all the thousands in the world. Julia and Viggo would have been working on a project to translate the Old Testament into Fulani (or a close cousin language).
I would be telling people that my daughter moved to Timbuktu to translate the bible into Fulani.

It seems that most peoples' lives are a concatenation of events that they simply would not believe were they foretold. That is probably worth remembering when it seems that we are headed down a track we don't like.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reader Beware

I am surprised to learn from my visit tracking software that a number of folks come upon my blog via a google search. I can see the search terms they used and the part of my blog that the search steered them too. For the most part, this seems all fine and good. I wrote a post about making choices, someone in Tonga did a search on "I make a choice" or something similar and wound up spending a bit of time reading my essay on making choices. However, other times, I can see that searches may have led folks to misleading and distressing results. A reader in Egypt, and another in Switzerland, put in search terms into Google Image along the lines of "arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks". I imagine they hoped to see a fully recovered healthy knee, which would usually be the case two weeks after arthroscopic surgery. Instead they saw a grisly picture I posted of my leg bruised from hip to ankle by internal bleeding that ocurred when my own arthroscopic surgery did not go well.

So reader beware! The world wide web is large enough to contain typical and relevant items, but also atypical items. This is to say nothing of all the outright false material that is available. Perhaps one of the readers was encouraged to know that their arthroscopic surgery was not the only one that had resulted in a egregious misfire. Perhaps the other reader was frightened away from potential arthroscopic surgery by a picture of a rare mishap. Reader beware!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Something Terrible That Is Not Our Fault

We are fascinated by the idea of something terrible. Broadcast news (and most journalism, it seems) focus on the most terrible things that have already happened. They also speculate about future terrible happenings. As I age, the list of terrible possibilities that have made the headlines seems to grow and grow. Nuclear holocaust. Resurgent Nazism. Japan as an economic superpower bully (and Korea, and China, and India). The rise of the European Economic Union as precursor to the end of days. Killer bees. Flesh eating bacteria. Bird flu. Genocide. Climate change (much colder, or much hotter, or just plain nasty). Communism. Socialism. Capitalism. Fundamentalism. Secularism. (Practically any ism is seen as terrible by many). Worldwide starvation due to overpopulation. Moral collapse. Ecological collapse. Asteroid strikes. Sentient computers with attitude.

Meanwhile, each of us inexorably approaches our death at the rate of 24 hours per day, seven days per week. We do what we can to maintain our bodies, but we know for certain that if we live long enough, we will deteriorate physically. Eat right. Exercise. Die anyway.

Each of us also contributes daily to the death and pain all around us. Too often we try to cover ourselves with the thought that no one is perfect and perhaps many other folks are worse than ourselves. I remember very clearly the Pogo cartoon where Pogo declares: "We have met the enemy and he is us". We can choose to battle flesh and blood, but we have been assured by God that the real battle is a spiritual one. The great weapons we wield in that battle are our love for God and our love for others. We already love ourselves.

Each new headline sends a chill down our backs and rivets our attention. However, deep inside we are aware that we are making choice after choice that contributes to the pain and suffering we fear so much. It may be almost comforting to think instead that some terrible force, which is not our fault, is about to kill us all. Almost comforting, perhaps, but not quite. True comfort comes when we confess our failings to a loving God who promises to make all things new, including us.