Friday, December 31, 2010

My Ten Favourite Christian Songs: 6/10

The Newsboys are among Christendom's most amazing performers.  I've never been to a concert, but I know several people who have, and they all say they've never seen a concert like a Newsboys one.

Founded in 1985, they've been around the block a few times.  They have over a dozen studio albums released, as well as several singles and one compilation.  As with most of my music, I stopped collecting Newsboys releases in the late 90's so I'm quite out of touch with their later work.  This may be something I have to rectify.

Their lyrics are deeply insightful and superbly constructed.  I think of the perpetual play on words which goes on through the title track (link is to the very creative music video) for the 1996 album Take Me To Your Leader:

Justin is adjusting to the odor from Theodore's evergreen incense
But aromatherapy don't make him any younger than Oliver's All Liver Supplements
His late mate Marilee merrily said immortality can't be bought in a jar
This just in - Justin's had enough of cure-alls, gonna quiz the neighbor kid with the fish on his car.

You have to say those words out loud to get the puns. The odor & Theodore, Oliver & all liver... etc.


As neat as that song is, however, the one song that blows me away every time I hear it is Lost the Plot from the same album.  The rhythm is a pounding, driven expression of the heart's intrinsic anguish when lacking intimacy with Christ.  The lyrics are a conversation with God which reveals just how mediocre, hypocritical, and slothful the believer has become.  It's a real guilt trip - the healthy kind - and it serves as a wake-up call to all believers.  The first two lines sum it up:

When you come back again,
Would you bring me something from the fridge?

Here's the whole tune. Crank it up:



.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ornaments

My Ten Favourite Christian Songs: 5/10

One cannot be a fan of Christian rock from the latter two decades of the 20th Century without having Petra somewhere in the list.  As I mentioned in the initial post on my favourite Christian music, Petra was the first album I ever bought.

Their style has consistently been rock, with a strong theme of spiritual warfare.  They make heavy use of the Scriptures in their lyrics, and seemed to have a limitless imagination for plays on words.  They rendered Caesar's famous quote, "Veni, vidi, vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered) into a song about Jesus called, "He Came, He Saw, He Conquered."  I was stunned when I first heard the title to "Killing My Old Man" until a friend (thank you Christa!) explained that it was a reference to the sinful man who dies in baptism, to be reborn anew with Christ in the resurrection.  And when they released their first praise & worship album - Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out - they played heavily on the fact that Petra is the Greek rendition of rock, and the passage in Luke 19:40 where Jesus responded to those who told his disciples to stop praising him that "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

All of my Petra music is on cassette tape, with the exception of their God Fixation album, which I bought on CD and is the most recent one I have.  I did have an LP of Greg Volz, who was Petra's original lead vocalist but left the band to start a solo career.

His replacement, John Schlitt, did a concert of some of Petra's best hits in Caronport, SK on January 16, 1991, and that was the first concert I ever went to (the date stuck in my head because it was at the beginning of the first Gulf War).  He performed by himself, using recorded tracks of the band's music.  I remember how puzzled Schlitt was when the audience demanded an encore, as he hadn't prepared anything.  So he simply did the first song in the set over again.

With my journey to Catholicism and discovery of the fathers of the ancient Church, I was naturally drawn to Petra's song "St. Augustine's Pears."  It's taken from a passage in St. Augustine's Confessions (which I must confess I've never read) where he recounts how he stole pears from a tree for no other reason than that he could.  St. Augustine used that incident from his past to open a vast meditation on the nature of sin in his heart.

I also enjoy this song because of a neat trick they did with dual guitars and stereo channels in the intro.  Crank the volume and make sure you're listening in stereo.  The effect is magnified if you're wearing headphones.

Here it is - enjoy.


.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Twitter Protocol Observations

For the past few months I've been delving into the complex and chaotic foray of Twitter.  It's been fascinating watching this relatively new online community evolve, and I've gradually come to my own understanding of how to do Twitter well.

One thing I've observed is that there are four types of Twitter users:

Type 1: The novice who isn't really sure what to do
Type 2: The casual user who posts things whenever the mood hits, hoping somebody will reply
Type 3: The seasoned user who regularly reaches out and listens to a broad spectrum of people
Type 4: Spammers who seem to think everybody is just dying to click their links (#doingitwrong)

Right now, I consider myself progressing from a Type 2 to a Type 3.  This post is addressed to Types 1 and 2, and to a lesser extent to Type 4.

These are some of the guidelines that I've seen the Type 3's out there adhere to, whether it's instinctive or planned.
  1. First and foremost, be real.  Your profile should be a short summary of what interests and/or motivates you.  And don't automate your tweets.  Compose all your replies and direct messages personally.  People can smell a robot.
  2. Use your face as your avatar.  By default, Twitter assigns a monochrome egg as your profile picture.  If you haven't removed that within a week of signing up (at most), you have no business using the service.  Nobody will take you seriously.  If you don't want your face online, delete your Twitter account.
  3. Be clever.  When you get a laugh out of people, the trust and interaction factors skyrocket.  If you're not naturally clever, then tell a joke.  Anybody can tell a joke.
  4. Be brief.  Twitter forces you to keep your comments to 140 characters.  You can get third party tools that allow you to extend this limit.  Don't do it.  Learn to fit in the frame.  If you have more to say, start a blog.
  5. Ask questions.  Few people will interact with tweets like, "I love my new shoes!"  It's because there's nothing left to say.  Most people (including you) are an expert or at least very knowledgeable about something.  Use that fact to your advantage.  For example: rephrase the tweet to say, "Love my new shoes. What do you look for in a shoe?"  You then open the door for two things to happen.  Twitter users of all types love to demonstrate their knowledge or give their opinions.  Either somebody will reply with an answer like style, price, comfort, etc, or somebody will find a joke waiting to be told and respond with, "A foot!"  See point #3.
  6. Don't link your networks.  Most social media networks allow you to link your posts from one to the other, so that people who follow you on one and not the other can get all your content, streamed word-for-word, from channel to channel.  There are two problems with this.  First, you have different types of people on your different networks.  Content on one is rarely relevant to content on another, unless you specifically design it to be so.  Second, it's lazy, and people will notice.  I lose a bit of respect for individuals and companies whose various social networks are just a bunch of echoes of stuff they've already told me.
  7. Use hooks.  There's a lot of chatter on the Twitterverse.  Most of it is white noise from types 1, 2, and 4.  Type 3 users know how to make you want to click their links.  Sometimes it's a simple as announcing a contest.  Other times you have to be more creative.  Again, rely on point #3 for help in this regard.
  8. Tap into your eclectic nature.  That's a rarely used word, but it means to have a broad range of tastes and interests. My profile states that I like, among other things, Nerf and Toastmasters. [update Jan 15/11 - it now points to my about.me page, which lets me be a little more detailed.]  Use hashtags (the # symbol followed by a word) to search Twitter for a particular topic or theme.  Seek out the official Twitter IDs for the brands you like, and for users who talk about things you like, and follow them.  But first, see point 9.
  9. Be discerning in who you follow.  When my interest in a person or company is tweaked by something I see re-tweeted or a notification that I'm being followed, I review their past few tweets (including the dates of the tweets) to see which of the four types they are.  If it's a Type 4, I never follow.  If it's a Type 3 (i.e. a good mix of recent original tweets, retweets, and @replies) that displays a common interest, I definitely do follow.  If it's a Type 1 or 2, it's a judgement call each time.  Remember, quality is more important than quantity.  Also, look at the number of followers they have compared to the number they follow and the number of tweets they've posted.  You'll start to see patterns in these ratios that will reveal which of the four types they are.
  10. Be proper. Avoid profanity.  Use correct spelling, sentence structure, and grammar (but feel free to save a character but putting only one space between sentences instead of two).  I'm impressed that after a decade of instant messaging, this indication of sophistication and education has survived.

As I said, these are some of my observations of what the Type 3s are doing.  While I'm hardly the first guy to try to build this list, I find it fascinating how the unregulated Twitter community has spawned this emergence of commonly accepted protocols.  If you're a Type 1 or 2, you won't go wrong these insights.  If you're a Type 3, let me know if I've accurately tagged your secrets, or if there's anything you would add to this list.

If you're a Type 4, don't bother commenting - I'll just delete it.
.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shelley Glover and the Clerical Error

Whoops!

Today I received three emails from Michel Trudel, an office staff member for my Member of Parliament, Shelley Glover.

The first email was a newsletter.  Nothing unusual there.

The second email was a note saying that "Please note that I have made a mistake on sending out old versions of the E-Newsletter. Please see the attached for correct copies.  Sorry for the any problems or confusing I have caused. Thanks."  There's some poor grammar there, but that's par for the course with emails these days [disappointed sigh].

And yes indeed, the updated version of the newsletter has been tweaked a bit.  Again, I would normally not have an issue at this point.

The third email, however, demonstrated a lack of technical competence on the part of the user.  The contents said merely,

Glover, Shelly - Assistant 2 would like to recall the message, "".

The worst part is that the third message was addressed - non-BCC - to all of Shelley Glover's newsletter subscribers - 1181 of them, to be precise.  An unscrupulous subscriber could really go to town with that list, and it's likely that somewhere in that 1181 there are a few spies for political & ideological opponents.

I've deleted that message from my inbox.

But first, for fun I whipped up a chart showing which email providers her subscribers use.


I've voted for Shelley Glover, and I've got nothing against Michel Trudel. I certainly hope he learns a lesson here.


What do you think?  Is an error like this in a federal official's office worth dismissal?
.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Transformations #37: Movember, Cancer, & Sugar

Day 9 for the Flavour Saver
I'm officially going ahead with it.  The results of my poll came back with about 2/3 of votes for the moustache.

By the way, what's up with the weird American spelling of moustache?  They spell it m-u-s-t-a-c-h-e, without the "o".  We Canadians spell it the proper way, just like harbour, neighbour, colour, and splendour.  But on those words, the Yankees dropped the "u."  Why the "o" this time?  Just trying to mix it up a little?

The Movember initiative is designed to help awareness of prostate cancer, as well as funds for research.

From what I've seen & read though, the need for more research is minimal, as existing studies are very clear.  All cancers thrive on sugar, especially refined sugars present in processed foods and drinks.  Remove the sugar from your diet, and your risk of cancer plummets.  Additionally, your body can start to heal any cancerous growths already present.

The typical Western diet is full of sugar.  It's no coincidence that cancer rates have skyrocketed as our diets have changed over the decades.  So instead of raising funds for research, I'll be trying to promote awareness in a different way.  I'm removing sugar from my diet.  And before anyone thinks I'm insensitive towards cancer victims, know that I, like most people, have lost dear friends and family members to this disease.  My hope and prayer is that society can grasp the hard lessons out there and end this disease once and for all.  I firmly believe that the long term solution to cancer will not be found in drug or chemical treatments, but in lifestyle choices.

I should note, in all fairness, that this change in my diet was my wife's idea and her one condition of me growing the moustache.  She also has a vested interest in seeing me lose a few pounds.

It's amazing how many items have sugar in them.  If you didn't know, any of the additives on an ingredient list that end in "ose" are refined sugar - dextrose, sucrose, glucose - and it's hidden under other names too.  I've really got to have a keen eye to catch them all.  It's much easier just to eat nuts, sauce-less meats, lots of vegetables, and hunks of cheese.

The transformative part of this experience for me is the self control it takes to avoid the chocolate bars and chips - especially in a house crammed full of Halloween candy.  Right now I'm snacking on almonds as I write this. My wife made me a blueberry smoothie for an after-supper snack, including yogurt, coconut milk, and avocado.  Delicious, and without a molecule of refined sugar.  The body, I'm told, takes about a week to restructure its digestive processes to burn fats instead of sugar.  So far I've doing this for five days (I got a head start with the moustache).  I can feel my body craving the other stuff I used to eat, and I'm amazed how easy it has been so far to resist.

Stick around - I'll post more Movember pics, and will give updates from time to time on how the sugar purge is going.

Nov 30 UPDATE: I compiled a video of the photos I took throughout the month:



The sugarless diet is going really well.  My wife is incredibly supportive and has kept me well fed with lots of healthy food, and I'm definitely noticing an increase in my energy level.  I want to keep eating like this; it tastes better and I don't feel guilty about what I eat.  It's more difficult, yes, but ultimately it's more rewarding.

.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

My Ten Favourite Christian Songs: 4/10

Rich Mullins was an icon and trendsetter in the Christian music scene.  He was killed in a tragic car accident in 1997.  I have a special affinity for him because he too was drawn to the Catholic Church after a lifetime of living as an evangelical Christian, although his death interrupted the formal completion of his journey to Rome.

As with many of my favourite musicians, there are a host of songs I could reference.  But I'm going to go with Sometimes By Step, as there is one lyric within it that really resonates with me.

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw was lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that no less than he...




.

Poll: Should I a grow a moustache to promote prostate cancer awareness?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Guest Blog Post

I've done my first ever guest blog post!

My boss, William J Cole, AKA Bill, has turned into my friend over the last two years.  He's a fellow man of faith, has a passion for social media, and is a solid businessman.  When he asked me if I'd be willing to do a short video blog posting for him, I immediately agreed.

Head over to his blog and watch, "Standing Out: Lessons From A Light."
.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Ten Favourite Christian Songs: 3/10

There is no way I could compile a list of my favourite Christian songs without including something by Rick Cua (note that a song will play when you visit that link).  He's a niche artist without broad appeal in Christendom, but he definitely found his niche with me and my quirky ilk.  He's a true rocker and really pounds the bass line out, and the weaker of his albums were the ones where he tried to soften his style for who knows what reason.

I was and remain a huge fan.  I'm even a member of the original Koo Crew and have the t-shirt to prove it.  Sadly, it has shrunk so I can no longer wear it. Ahem.



I remember reading that when he was first developing an interest in music, he started learning guitar.  But his dad told him that if he wanted to ensure he always had a music job, he would do well to master the bass guitar, as every musician and his dog wants to play guitar or drums, and they'll all need a bass player if they want to form a band.  He took his dad's advice and landed a gig with the Outlaws in 1980, a southern rock band.  He left them three years later and launched his own self-named group.  His album "Midnight Sun" was the second one I ever purchased, and he is the only musician for whom I have collected every album.  I've had his music on his LPs, cassettes, and the last two releases on CD.

Also he was born in the same year as my dad.  That's bizarre.

The content of his music relies heavily on the theme of "Help me God!" - yet another niche he has filled, for this world is replete with people who need help and encouragement.  I could easily pick some faves from across the decades, such as I Can I Will, Help Me Out, Won't Fade Away, or Be God, but after much deliberation (and a last minute change of mind) I'm going to go with 1992's Be A Man.  Lyric sample:

When his disciples got up and ran
He walked alone on the road to be a man
His body broken, blood on the sand
Still he got up, got to be a man
The drove a spike right through his hand
He could have walked but he had to be a man
You wanna grow up?  Well here's the plan:
Let the Lord teach you how to be a man.

You gotta hear this one.



.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Ten Favourite Christian Songs: 2/10

Next up in my list of my top ten favourite Christian songs was a piece written by Steve Schellenberg.  My wife and his wife are friends through his wife's sister, and he graciously helped me pick out a guitar when I first learned to play.  Within this top ten list, he is the only artist whom I actually know.

His music is folksy, airy, and imbued with poetic, whimsical lyrics.  It's difficult to pick just one of his songs, but the one I selected is Cold, Cold Wind.  He performed this song on a show the CBC put on a few years back.  It's all about welcoming strangers into your home when they are in need, and that gift of hospitality has been poured on my wife and I in spades.  We are constantly entertaining guests, so it's little wonder that this song resonates with me so much.

For the tune go to this link and play track 13.  A sampling of the lyrics:

I heard somebody knocking at my front door
What ya gonna do when the cold wind blows?
Well I think we got some room for maybe just one more
So won't you come in, yeah you better come in
Get a little shelter from the cold, cold wind
There's a lot of people walking this world alone
What you gonna do when the cold wind blows?
Well they got no family, maybe got no homes
So won't you come in, yeah you better come in
Get a little shelter from the cold, cold wind.

This tune is a prime example of the Gospel in action.  Jesus told us that on the last day he would judge his disciples by whether or not they had fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, visited him when he was sick - and revealed that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters on this world, we do unto him.  That's a tall order, and the song reminds me of this holy obligation to recognize the divine dignity inherent in all my fellow travelers on life's road.
.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Ten Favourite Christian Songs: 1/10

Being raised in an evangelical home, I was surrounded by the Christian music my parents had collected.  As I grew older I started looking at the years these albums were released, and I noticed that around the time of my birth, my parents had stopped purchasing music.  I asked them about it one time, and they didn't have a clear answer, saying something vague about how it just wasn't a priority any more.

We are a musical family, so I didn't understand how that could be, until I started having kids myself and saw the same thing happen with my music collection.

I was about sixteen when I purchased my first cassette tape with the money from my paper route: it was a collection of Petra's greatest hits entitled, "Petra Means Rock."  Tentatively I showed it to my parents, fearful of what their reaction would be.  Rock music was something they simply did not have in their collection - even Christian rock - and while I was branching out in my own direction, I was uncertain how they would respond.  They didn't react at all, which pleased me: I had been worried that they would insist I take it back.

And so my journey began.  My wife constantly pokes fun at me, since most of my music is from the Holy Decade of Christian Rock - the 1980s.  But I still enjoy it all, although I have updated my collection with a few newer albums too.

A couple of days ago I compiled a playlist of ten songs that resonate with me, and burned it to a CD so I could listen to it in our non-iTunes compatible minivan. Over the next few series of posts I will share these songs here.  Note that the order these are posted in is not reflective of where the songs rank.

So without further ado, here is number 1: Nothing Can Take This Love, by Whiteheart, 1982.  Steve Green, who later went on to a more subdued musical solo style, is the lead singer on this penultimate album of one of the earliest Christian Rock groups.

This song has a sharp, pounding bass line, tightly chorded piano, and a chorus which builds to a tingle-inducing crescendo.  A sample of the lyrics:

Only you could have changed me, sent the clouds from my eyes
Now I see things in a different way, since I gave my life to you
Now I know the love I'll never lose, never lose
'Cause you gave all you had for me
You gave all you had for me
You gave all you had for me
Nothing can take this love, nothing can take this love from me
Nothing can take this love - no!



The tune itself is catchy and I love the fact that the verses don't rhyme and yet still flow smoothly.  The lyrics themselves resonate with me, as in all of these songs, because of their truth and relevance to the life I've lived and the love I've known.
.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Transformations #36: How New Is New?

During my time in the adoration chapel last night, the Lord drew me to the Luke 5:36-39.

He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.  And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.' "

He challenged me to answer this question: Has my heart grown old?  Am I stuck on the old wine?

I run into this concept at work all the time, as I try to explain the concepts of Twitter & blogging to some of my older colleagues who are nearing retirement.  Many of them are quite open to this type of change in the world of business, but a handful are the stereotypical crotchety old men who can't see why anybody has to do anything different.  It's ironic: when the fax machine first came out, these men were at the forefront of the new technology.  Same thing when early computer-based word processing software came out - they jumped right on the technology bandwagon and left their previous generation in the dust in terms of squeezing more hours out of their workday.  But an amazing thing happened: they got used to the new things, and before long they weren't new anymore.  Suddenly the fax machine is archaic, and being able to increase your font size in MS Word doesn't leave your coworkers gawking in astonishment.

But I see this same trait in myself.  When I first learned my MS Excel skills, it was on Excel 97.  I have Excel 2007 at home, and it's chock full of new features that weren't around when I cut my teeth on it.  Like that new Office Clipboard that lets you copy multiple chunks of data into memory simultaneously and paste them individually at your leisure - it annoys me and I've disabled the feature, because I am used to the copy-and-paste-one-at-a-time method.  So I find myself stuck in an old rut when there is a new and more efficient method.  I just don't have the desire to learn to use it.  Just like a crotchety old man who doesn't give two cents about Twitter.

Similarly, my decision to surrender my life to Christ is not, chronologically speaking, a new thing any more.  Naturally, at the moment of my rebirth I was made new, as I Cor. 6:17 says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"  This is what the Lord challenged me with last night.  The theme of this entire blog - Be Transformed - is derived from Romans 12:2: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."  Renewing is an active, current verb and implies continuity.

I'm also reminded of Lamentations 3:22-23, which says of the Lord, "His mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."  If the Lord gives me new mercies every day, then I should be renewed every day.  I am learning that my rebirth in Christ was not a single event, but is a lifelong journey.  If I stop moving, stop growing, stop receiving his mercies, stop being transformed, then I am stagnant and dying.  G.K. Chesterton said, "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

Lord, show me your new mercies tomorrow morning; help me to swim upstream.

And starting tomorrow, I'm going to figure out that multiple clipboard thing in MS Office.
.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Promises, Promises

For those of you who don't know, I work for a moving company, helping to plan moves, resolving claims, sending quality surveys, managing the social media channels, etc.  My title is Customer Relations Coordinator.  [Shameless plug - if you're moving and want it done right, feel free to send me an email.  I can give some free advice or can have one of our moving consultants contact you to provide an estimate.  And it doesn't matter where you live - we're well networked and can probably recommend somebody local to help you.]

For the past couple of weeks I've been trying to get in touch with a firm with whom we did some business in the US.  We contracted this company, an automobile hauler, to move a large boat trailer for one of our customers, as it wouldn't fit on our tractor trailer unit.  They did move it, but in order to attach the trailer to their truck, they needed to improvise the trailer's connections to the extent that the hydraulic brake fluid for the trailer leaked out, depressurizing the whole system.  When our customer received the boat trailer and realized what had happened, he took it to a dealer who re-pressurized & resealed the brake system at a cost of $155.  Naturally, this expense should have gone to the auto hauler, as it was their fumbling that caused the problem in the first place.  Whether or not it was a necessary problem, I don't know.  But ultimately, the customer should not have been saddled with the cost.

We asked the hauler to send a cheque to our customer in compensation.  This is where this post's title comes into play.  After a bit of a runaround, I was referred to Julie in their claims department.  I emailed her on Sep 7, and followed it up with a phone call on Sep 10, asking her to send a cheque and to let us know when it was done.  Her voicemail greeting is fairly standard, but it ends with something unique: "I will call you back by the end of the business day."  That emphasis is hers.

I thought that promise was impressive, but seeing as she hadn't responded to my email from three business days earlier, I was skeptical.  I waited until the following Monday, Sep 13, and still having received no response at that point, for the sake of our customer we decided to send him a cheque ourselves.  We didn't want him to be the one stuck waiting for a reply from the auto hauler.

To this date I have never actually spoken to or received an email from Julie.  I left another message for her on Sep 21 letting her know that we had sent the cheque ourselves and that we are expecting them to reimburse our company directly.

My only complaint here is that unfulfilled voicemail promise: "I will call you back by the end of the business day."  Most companies out there, in my experience, provide mediocre follow-up as a matter of course.  I've come to expect that as a norm.  Very rarely can you find a person or a company to whom you can assign a task and expect it to be done without at least one reminder.  I'm blessed to have a good collection of coworkers who are exceptions to this rule (although everybody has their off days).  But for third parties, I've grown accustomed to following up on all the requests I make to other people and companies with whom I work.

So if that line hadn't been there on Julie's voicemail greeting, it would have no cause to complain.  Following up with our auto hauler for this cheque would have been just another item on my to-do list, and I wouldn't have thought any less of them.  This would have been just another mediocre firm with whom we had to do business because there were no better alternatives.  But Julie led me to believe that she and her company were better than that.  With one email and two phone messages unanswered, she's proven they're not, and I'm reluctant to send any more work their way in the future.

The moral of the story: don't make a promise that you can't keep.  People notice.
.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Transformations #35

In the past few months, as I mentioned before, I've been reading a lot of Star Wars novels.  Eighteen of them, to be precise.  I've got two left in the series I'm currently in, but I've decided to put them on hold for the time being and read a book I just had delivered.

Give God Permission: The Memoirs of Fr. Bob Bedard was published this year, based on the handwritten notes this venerable old priest (my former spiritual director, and the Church's official witness of my marriage vows) had been compiling for the last few years.  About a year ago he ran into some health issues, most of which have settled down, but a sad curtain of dementia has remained, shrouding this once bright mind.

Fr. Scott McCraig wrote in the book's introduction, "The signature dry humour and compelling directness of Fr. Bob suffuse the book from beginning to end.  More than a few people have found themselves laughing aloud at times.  But it also deals with serious matters.... It is a very personal reflection on his life."  Buy it here.

I'm wrenching myself away from my fiction obsession to take in the truths and lessons contained in this book, and to reminisce on the life of a dear old friend who shall enrich Heaven with his worship there when the Lord finally calls him home.
.

Transformations: Change of Strategy

My initial concept of these 100 Transformations posts was to do three per week.  Lately this hasn't been happening.  I started this initiative at the beginning of summer, when the Lord was granting me a season of rest.  Now that the chaos of the school year has resumed, my free time has diminished.

I am therefore changing the rules.  I will still aim to do 100 posts on the theme, but I will take my sweet time to do it. My blog, my rules, my prerogative.  I refuse to feel bad about it.

That permission to change my own rules is almost worthy of a Transformations post itself...
.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Work is not Rabbit"

This post's title is a quote from the eminently readable David Warren's Labour Day column.  It's a quote from an old Czech friend of his, followed by, "It will not run away."

The meaning is that one's job, or more precisely, work in general, will always be there, and one should not sacrifice one's soul to it.  Rather than endorsing irresponsibility, he encourages priorities, by saying, "Lose a job, and you may find another. Do not lose a child."

Reading it reminded me of the job I held for 3 months before my wedding.  I was the receptionist at an electronics repair shop.  I took in customers' VCRs & stereos, arranged dates for service calls on large TVs, and did a lot of general office work, including filing.  I enjoyed the work and my colleagues were great.  The boss, however, was a weasel, as I learned after about a month on the job.

Every now and then he would give me a stack of completed repair invoices for filing.  The moment I realized his weasel-ness was when I noticed that one of the invoice copies I was filing was one I had already filed, and the total cost at the bottom of it was higher than the original had been.  I pulled the original out to confirm what my memory had told me, and as I looked through the whole stack of copies he had asked me to file, I realized that every single one of them - dozens - had had the price changed.

I looked deeper into it.  All of these were for work done within the manufacturer's warranty.  If the solution to the customer's poor VCR playback was a simple cleaning of the internal components, that's what the original invoice would say.  The customer would come and pick it up, sign the invoice, and be on his merry way.  I would file that copy.  The pattern I saw emerging was that my boss, a few days after the customer picked up the unit, would open up the invoice software, add a few fictional replacement parts and more labour, reprint the invoice, forge the customer's signature, and use that invoice to bill the manufacturer.

The manufacturers were none the wiser, with the exception of RCA, who had obviously been burned by this in the past and required all of their warranty shops to keep the faulty components they replaced.  Every few months RCA would send somebody in to collect them, so my boss couldn't pull the scam off on them.  But Panasonic, Phillips, Sony - they had been nailed for years this way, I realized once I started looking back through the older files.

My moral compass was, thankfully, well formed by that point in my life, and I confronted my boss on it.  "This is fraud and it's wrong," I told him.  "You've got to stop this."

He balked at that idea.  "Warranty work pays peanuts compared to non-warranty work.  It's not worthwhile to do warranty repairs at the rates we get.  Everybody in the repair business does this, and the manufacturers know and don't care.  They practically expect it."  Classic justification.

I stuck to my guns.  "If you don't stop doing this, I'll have to resign," I said.  It was an ultimatum, and I meant it.  I'm sure he didn't take me seriously; he kept saying things like how young and naive I was; that once I grew up a little and had more life experience I'd see things in more shades of grey that I was capable of right then.  This was eleven years ago, and I'm proud to say that my sense of right and wrong has not changed.

Ultimately, he refused to stop doing it, and I resigned.  It was a month before my wedding, and it wasn't easy to put a search for a new job on my to-do list right then.  But my spiritual advisor at the time, the venerable Fr. Bob Bedard, counselled that I had indeed done the right thing.  What kind of husband would I be, he asked, if I caved at the pressures of the corrupt world around me?

It all worked out - I got another job after the honeymoon without any difficulty.  Looking back, I'm very glad that I made the decisions I did back then, with the exception of one, which was a wee bit churlish.  I had written the poem below to capture my feelings as I went through this struggle.  On my last day, I programmed my computer to pop-up the poem about three months later.  I never found out if it worked or what the reaction was.

The Fool

To have a conscience in this day of lies
To be a light when darkness is preferred
To dare to stand, when "Sit!" the planet cries,
O pity me, for I must be a fool.

Uneducated, fresh, young, and naive,
I beg your sympathy for my poor fate.
I know my non-conformance makes you grieve.
O pity me, for I must be a fool.

You hearken to me; pray you, listen close!
For neither this, your system, nor yourself
Will be the judge of earth and all its host.
So reckon as you will.  I am no fool.
.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Transformations #34: Cycles of Life and Love

At Mass this past Sunday, I had a moment of reflection thrust upon me while watching the faithful gather.  As the worship leader for our service, I stand up front, and thus have a great view of the people filing in.

I saw one couple enter, good friends of ours, who this last week have been dealing with the anxiety of a sudden ectopic pregnancy.  They're scared, and torn over the moral dilemma of how to resolve the danger to the mother's life without overtly taking the life of the little one.  As they took their seats I could see evidence in their faces of a morning full of tears already, and their reservoir of sorrow was still brimming.  He wrapped his arm around her, and she held close to him.  They were for each other a pillar of strength, yet themselves broken and leaning on the other and the Lord for support.

My heart breaks as I ponder them even now.

A moment later, another couple, also good friends, entered the church.  This last week he had proposed marriage to her, setting up the evening with a repeat of their very first date, followed by some time praying together in the Perpetual Adoration chapel, and topped off with a romantic proposal in the courtyard of the church with the moon and stars gazing at them through the trees.  She said yes.  Theirs will be a good marriage.

They were positively glowing with the aura that only newly deepened chaste love can emit.

These two couples sat not far from each other, a stark contrast in extreme emotions.  Yet both had faithfully come before the Lord to share with him their deepest longings; to open to him their hearts.  After Mass as I was putting away my sound equipment I noticed these two couples talking to each other.  I wondered who was empathizing with whom in that exchange.  It also got me thinking: a mere two years ago, the first couple was engaged; swimming in the delight of new love full of unimagined possibilities.  The second couple wasn't even a going concern two years ago, as the man had just gone through an unpleasant breakup and was quite despondent, wondering if he would ever find love.

I saw demonstrated here the power of the vows of marriage in their fullness, covering as wide a spectrum of the human heart as is possible.  Through both spine-tingling joy and soul-crushing sorrow, the promise of each other, through the model of Christ and his Church, was the ideal to which both couples clung.

It was humbling to observe, and left me with a stern reminder not to take my wife and children for granted.
.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Books

My title is the self-same title of David Warren's recent column, in which he quips:

In general, I favour capital punishment for people who put marks in books. They'd be easy to catch, for almost all put their marks on only the first few pages. The effort of defacement seems itself to exhaust them, so that they seldom make it to the end of a long preface.

I've recently been immersed in a shallow vice: Star Wars novels.  There are at least 275 of them, and I've maybe worked my way through twelve so far.  It's a daunting task.

I had to laugh when in one of these tomes I encountered frequent use of a highlighter on some of the more profound thoughts.  "Evil is as evil does" is but one example.

I know that truth is truth, no matter where it's found.  But the poor chap who found inspiration in a Star Wars novel must really crack open a Chesterton essay or some C. S. Lewis; there is much deeper thought contained in their works - even in their fiction.
.

Transformations #33

Yesterday during supper I put on a bit of a show for my kids.  We've been watching a lot of Jerry Lewis films as a family lately, and one of Lewis' shticks revolves around having difficulty eating.  So I hammed it up a bit, demonstrating difficulty getting one particular piece of roasted zucchini into my mouth.



Even little Benny, at 18 months, found it hilarious and was positively enthralled - just check out the look on his face.  On many levels I don't fully comprehend just how much my kids look up to me.  Although it started out as an attempt at being funny for my family, this turned into an eye-opener for me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Transformations #32

I did it!  The project that I've had in my head for the past seven years is finally done.

It's a drawer for the computer desk I made seven years ago.  It doesn't slide too well but I think once the nuts grind against the wood long enough to carve grooves for themselves after repeated openings and closings, it will be much better.



Yes, yes, I know, it's far from perfect and I could get one that slides like butter off a bald monkey at any store, but there's a certain satisfaction that comes from having made something with my own two hands.
.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Fifty

I live in Winnipeg.  The speed limit on most Winnipeg streets is 60 km/h.

I grew up and learned to drive in Estevan, SK.  In this sleepy little town, the speed limit is 50 km/h.

While in Estevan on vacation two weeks ago, it took me about half a day of driving around to get accustomed to the slower speed.  At first I felt impatient; like I was dragging a slab of granite behind me.  In the "big city," you see, everybody is always in hurry.  We have places to go, and a long way to go to get to them.  It can take an hour to drive from one end to the other; longer if you take the "shortcut" of the Perimeter Highway. 

In Estevan, by contrast, if it took you 7 minutes to cross town, you knew traffic was thick.  Either that, or a freight train had bisected the city again, causing commerce and community to halt until the anonymous cargo was clear.

That 10 km/h makes you feel like you're going a lot faster.  But try driving at just 10 km/h and see how fast that is.  Or better yet, try driving 50 when everybody around you is doing 60 and see how many times you catch up to them at the next red light.

Once I became re-adjusted to the slower pace, the town felt like home again.  Now that I'm back in Winnipeg and can go 60 though, it feels so unnatural.  I feel like I'm being pushed everywhere I go when I'm in traffic flowing at the higher speed.

Looking back on my visit there, I recall feeling unanchored and lost at first (metaphorically, that is - my taxi-driving days there burned the layout of the town into my brain).  My family has all moved on, and there are only a few friends left there whom I had time to visit.  But once the slower pace kicked in and I gave myself permission to take my time, at that moment I felt my vacation peak - and I reached maximum relaxation.  It was nice.

Being back at work now and seeing the hectic and frenetic pace that our sales staff, operations crews, and customers operate at is tough.  Why can't we all just slow down and savour the world around us?  Why does everything have to be done yesterday?  Everybody, take a deep breath; chill out!

In a few moments I'll be leaving my house for my weekly time in our church's perpetual adoration chapel.  I think I'll do 50 on the way there.
.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Transformations #31

This morning I somehow cobbled together enough self-discipline to drag myself out of bed early and do my first ever bout of burst training.  It's a long road ahead, I can tell you that for sure, but at least I've put a foot on it.

Feels good.
.

Monday, August 02, 2010

This Post Might Not Be Worth Reading, But...

Did you catch the title to this post?  What expectations did it set in your mind?  What are you expecting after reading it that you weren't expecting before?

While driving out west with my family for our recent vacation, we stopped at McDonald's in Brandon, MB.  This is one of the must-stop places for us, as it has a great Playland.  It's far enough away from Winnipeg (2 hours) that our kids can use a stretch once we've hit it.  The only downer is the food.

I went to place our order, and the girl behind the counter was clearly new.  Her uncertain stance and the way she kept glancing over her shoulder at her coworkers and supervisor gave it away before she even spoke.  Her first words to me were not, "Welcome to McDonalds!  What can I get for you?"  Instead, she started off by blushing slightly and saying, "Let me just say that I'm new so if I screw up your order I apologize in advance."

Now, I've been there.  Even recently.  The owners of the company where I work have pointed it out to me on several occasions when I've done pretty much the same thing: opening an interaction by, essentially, asking for permission to fail.  I'm becoming more and more aware of my tendency to do this, which is why it snagged my attention when this girl did it.  I stopped her before she could say any more.  "That's no way to begin," I chided her.  "You're going to do just fine.  Trust me."

She muddled her way through our order, needing help a number of times, and she made a few mistakes which I caught and patiently corrected.  When the food was ready, I offered her a final word of encouragement:  "Hang in there.  In a week or two this will all be second nature.  Trust me."

It would have been easy to get frustrated with her and to beat her down.  But that just wouldn't be Christ-like, nor would it embody the spirit of Friendly Manitoba.
.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Transformations #21, Addendum

To sate my readers' curiousity, here is the secret I couldn't tell before.

My wife, as most of my readers will know by now, is was pregnant with our sixth child (see that link before offering your congratulations).

She doesn't relish being countercultural with quite the same passion as I do, and dreading the reaction of those around us who don't understand our lifestyle choice and the priority we put on following the Church's teaching on life issues, she has asked me to keep this news quiet for a bit.  Even with five children, we often draw stares or comments like:

  • "It's called a CONDOM."
  • "Time to tie those tubes!"
  • "Are you done?"
  • "Was it planned?"


I can't even begin to convey how offensive I find such remarks.  They a complete invasion of our privacy and quite rude. No stranger in the supermarket would ever dare say to a family with no children, "Are you infertile, or just selfish?"  So where do they get off making such comments about families with lots of kids?

At any rate, my wife and I had a bit of a dispute over how appropriate it was to hide our news from the people in our lives who don't 'get' us, and I agreed to postpone our formal announcement until a time of her choosing.  This was a difficult decision for me, and I made it by sheer act of will for the benefit of our marital harmony.  That act of will is the growth moment which I could not share before.
.

The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away

For those of you who weren't aware, we learned on June 16 that we were expecting another child.

On July 24, during our vacation with my parents at Arlington Beach (pictured above), my wife miscarried after about 2 months of pregnancy.  She's doing fine physically and is recovering emotionally.  So am I.  We have named our little lost one Rita Hope Kautz.  We were able to baptize the remains, and also received a blessing from the priest after Sunday Mass at the nearby Catholic Church in Strasbourg, SK - St. Rita's Parish.  We chose the name Hope because this baby arrived in our lives at a time of renewed hope in our marriage.

As you shared in our joy at the announcement of this baby's conception, we invite you now to share in our sorrow.  We commend our lost daughter to the care of our Father in heaven, and to the company of her sister Rachel.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!
.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Transformations #30

At my work, the owners have set up a lending library.  The original idea, which unfortunately has lost some steam lately, was that employees would be required to read one book per year which would help them find deeper wells of inner motivation.  It's a great concept, but in my two+ years there, I've only been assigned one book - The Fred Factor.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and there are a lot of great gems inside it.

For some time I've been petitioning the president to add Lior Arussy's Excellence Every Day to the library.  This book was a great help to me as I tried to recover the part of my soul that I lost as I began to succumb to the pressures of mediocrity before I resigned from my last job.  It would fit in quite well with some of the other well known titles and authors on those shelves right now, including John C. Maxwell's Developing the Leader Within You and Max Lucado's Facing Your Giants.  I've just finished the former and have just started the latter.

Most inspiring was this bit from chapter three.  Lucado is describing how Israel's King David, before he became King, was fleeing for his life from King Saul and found strength by praising God.  Lucado extrapolates on this effect:

Wander freely and daily through the gallery of God's goodness.  Catalog his kindnesses.  Everything from sunsets to salvation - look at what you have.  Your Saul took much, but Christ gave you more!

This message resounds with me very profoundly.  Lately my prayers have been along the lines of complaining how busy I am.  With my recent time in our adoration chapel, I made more of an effort to offer up prayers of praise.  I was led to Psalm 94, and God put it into song in my heart, which I hope to introduce to the 12:00 noon Sunday Mass in a few weeks.  This experience of praise was much more enriching than a simple gripe session, and I consider it a lesson learned.
.

Transformations #29

I admit, I'm a little behind in my announced thrice-weekly schedule of these Transformations posts.  I don't feel bad about it, however, and I don't intend to play the make-it-up-later game.  I'm just taking one day at a time.

That being said, I know that my subconscious has reason to delay posting this particular item.  It knows that if nobody knows about this next step I'm taking, nobody will be the wiser if I give up on it.  So here goes: I've finally decided to tackle the fitness dragon with a little more vigour.  The other day I was doing up the button on my shorts after using the washroom when it popped off, pinballed around the room, and I'm pretty sure landed in the cyclone of swirling waste which was on its way out of my home (i.e. in the toilet).

I liked those shorts.  It's no big deal to sew on a new button, but there's a reason it came off in the first place.

I've asked for a friend who has some experience with exercise to help me design a workout program.  Once I've got a better understanding of it, I'll post again with some more details.
.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Blast from the Past

Years ago - way before the Internet - I had a Tandy 1000 TL computer.  This featured an 8086 processor, less RAM than my old calculator watch, and two floppy drives - for 5.25 inch and 3.5 inch disks.  In its day, it was a very trendy and innovative computer.  Tandy monitors could display sixteen colours using their proprietary technology while IBMs still maxed out at three colours.  It had a bootable ROM, which could launch Deskmate, a program which arranged all your Deskmate applications like the text editor, drawing software, games, etc into windows on the screen.  The actual individual programs needed their floppy disks inserted before you could run them, however.

If you installed a serial port card, you could even hook up a mouse to make navigation easier.  If you didn't want to have to keep swapping discs out when you ran programs, you could install a "hard card" - which was an expansion card with a 20 MB hard drive stuck to it.  I had two of those hard drives, and they both stopped working years ago, when I was still actively using the machine.

This Tandy has been one of the few things I've managed to hang on to since my bachelor days.  I did a lot of writing on it back then, and it was on this machine that my old buddy Phil Chajkowski at Aldersgate College saw me doing journal entries and came up with my nickname "Doogie" which has stuck to this day.  I must have moved sixteen times in my unstable and gallivanting bachelor days, and it came with me every time.

While tidying up the garage, I dusted off the old beast.  On a whim, I hooked everything up and tried booting the computer.  Here's what happened:



So it looks like I'll have to consign this dear old electronic friend of mine to the scrap heap.  It's a pity, but life goes on.  Although I wonder if it's so old that it's become a collector's item...
.

Transformations #28

I surprised myself when I found out that this will be my 501st post on this blog.  I don't know where the self-doubt I have about my ability to write a book comes from, but it's clearly ridiculous.  All I have to do is write a book where every chapter is about something different and the publisher lets me take five years to write it.

Anyway, on to today's transformation event.  I bit the bullet and tackled the workbench in my garage.  It was a huge chaotic mess.  Considering that I have about 30 labeled drawers in the garage for my various tools and hobby supplies, I've been feeling rather bad about how cluttered the workbench itself had become, especially because I consider myself to be an organized individual.  To those women out there who would shriek in dread at such a tidying project, you must understand that for a man, time alone in the garage is energizing and relaxing.  It's almost a "nothing box" activity.

With all the responsibilities and duties that stream my way each day, I often find it difficult to take some truly relaxing time for myself.  This statement may surprise my wife, but it's true.  So when I made the decision to tackle the mess and informed my wife I'd be in the garage, it marked something new and different for me.  I've observed that the "fun" label I'm assigning to this post is the least used of my transformation labels, especially when it's about something that I'm doing in happy solitude.

Now I have a nice, clean workbench, and part of my soul feels more rested.
.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How to Put a Shirt on a Baby Without Interrupting the Bottle

Over the years I've picked up many useful tricks, insights, and shortcuts on parenting.  Five kids will do that to you.

Here's one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Transformations #27

To celebrate our 11th anniversary this past weekend, my wife and I secured overnight babysitting and shot off to St. Malo Provincial Park for a 20 hour vacation.  We set up a tent, swam in the lake, cooked our food over an open fire (note to self: bacon grease combusts easily on open fire), and cycled to the nearby Farmer's Market to peruse their wares.

We woke to rain at 5:00 AM on Saturday, but after ensuring the tent was not leaking, fell asleep until the summer heat woke us up again at 9:00.  Campsites are so much easier to set up and tear down when you're not wondering where your three year old is!


Overall, we had a positively splendid time and have pledged to do this once a year.
.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Transformations #26

This week I did something that I never thought I would do.

My 11th wedding anniversary is tomorrow (woot!).  I couldn't think of anything steel to give to my wife, and I had no other leads.  I wandered into Michael's the other day, looking for inspiration, and suddenly it hit me.

A scrapbook!

My wife is an avid scrapbooker, and she has always tried to get me involved in it, saying that it's not just a thing for women.  I've always told her that because I'm so gifted in the arts and crafts area that if I started scrapbooking I would soon intimidate her, and it's for this very reason that I don't intend to keep scrapbooking (heh). But I wanted to do it this one time, out of pure love.  I picked up a medium sized book with 10 pages in it and a few supplies.

I told her that I was working on her gift and that she couldn't bother me in the basement for the past few nights.  The first night - Tuesday - I spent scanning through old photos from when we met, our courtship, our wedding, the children we've brought into the world, and life in general.  I picked out 34 photos which touched on a little bit of everything and mapped out which ones would go on which pages.

The next day - Wednesday - I took the original photo prints and a USB stick with some digital pictures on it and had them reprinted during my lunch break.  On the way home on the bus, I wrote a couple of poems to put in the book on the first and last pages.  Once the kids were in bed I sequestered myself in the basement again and cropped photos, stuck them on the pages, and added a few thematic flourishes.

Too anxious to wait for our formal anniversary (it's not like sex, where you have to wait for the wedding date), I presented it to her last night - Thursday - and was shocked to discover that she had no idea that I was working on a scrapbook.  She thought I had been doing something with steel.  But she loved it.

It was a profound experience for me, as I was amazed at how my love and affection for her grew as I immersed myself into our memories.
.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Transformations #25

This weekend my parents and my nephew visited us.  They picked a brutally hot and humid weekend to come, but overall we had a great time.

You idiot!  You shot my hand off!
My nephew Dustin is a neat kid.  His dad - my brother Ben - and I aren't cut from the same cloth, but in many ways Dustin's acorn fell closer to my tree than to Ben's.  One of our common interests is a passion for setting up forts from scrap blocks of wood, filling them with little plastic army men, and shooting them with Nerf dart guns.  OK, this may be more of a thing I'm into, but Dustin certainly enjoyed it while he was here.  Even if he couldn't beat me.

Dustin lives on a farm and hasn't a chance lately to resupply his stock of army men (there are many reasons why a boy's supply of them can dwindle).  We had some time on Saturday, so I took him to Toys R Us to see what they had in stock.

Dustin was my very first nephew; the trailblazer.  I remember when he was just a wee babe, and I'm amazed at how he's grown up so fast.  I rarely get the chance to see him nowadays - once a year, at most.  So it was a neat opportunity to spend some time shopping with him, and to get to know each other just a little bit better.  It's a reminder that there's more to my family than just my family.
.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Transformations #24

Today I did something I've never done before.

I had a beer.

This may shock some of you, and I'd wager that the split is 50/50 between shocked that I've never had a beer, and shock that I had a beer.

It was a Moosehead Light Lime (check out that website; it's very creative!), at a friend's house for a Canada Day / birthday get-together. The temperature was in the mid 30's, it was smotheringly humid, and there was no wind.

This news may sound unusual for a transformations moment, as typically a man trying to improve himself would be moving away from alcohol. But mine is a special case. Raised as a tea-totaling Protestant, my first sip of alcohol was a glass of champagne at a wedding reception I attended shortly after deciding to become Catholic. I was 23. I believe I had a bit of wine at Christmas that same year. Then someone introduced me to Bailey's and the other creamy liqueurs. I would occasionally try some beer, but could never quite develop a taste for it. This may stem from my taxi-driving days, when I grew to identify the smell of beer with... less pleasant odours.

So today, finishing my first ever bottle of beer, marks a milestone for me.

But don't worry Mom - I won't make a habit of it.
.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Transformations #23

Tonight I had the honour of presenting some of the awards at our school's Grade 8 Awards Night.  As the board chair I'm somewhat expected to attend, and it's my pleasure to be there.  It's delightful to see how far the kids at Holy Cross School are progressing, and the deep friendships they've made over the past 9 years in the school.  The board role is necessarily a hands-off one, and the rare moments like this when I get a glimpse of the camaraderie between the staff and students make the nitty gritty behind the scenes work very much worthwhile.

Watching these early teens walk stiffly up to the stage to receive their awards, arms pressed to their sides, and wearing fancy clothes that don't always fit their growing bodies properly, made me wonder if I was the same kind of awkward little 14 year old.

Looking back through my yearbook from then... apparently I was.

But my Grade 8 year was an unpleasant one.  My social awkwardness began to reach a crescendo and even my classmates who had never had an issue with me before that year began to pick on me.  I had no friends; none at all.  My best friend had moved away after Grade 6.  At recess I would sit under a tree and read my Bible, which evoked further teasing.  It was after that year that my parents pulled the plug on public education and sent me to a private Christian school where I made friends again.

This is difficult to write about, and me facing this in this way is my transforming moment for today.  Seeing all those kids at the school today made me realize what I had missed.  I found myself scanning the class groups for the lonely kid - the one nobody acknowledged - and couldn't spot any.  I thank God that in Holy Cross School, the friendship seems to have penetrated all levels, and I hope and pray that as these kids move on, they will continue to know true friendship and true Divine intimacy.
.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Transformations #22

Tomorrow is my last Toastmasters' meeting before the summer break.  It's been a hectic year, all told.  I completed my Competent Communicator certification, which means that I finished the ten speeches in the first speech manual they give.

There are umpteen other speech manuals I can choose from for my ascension through the Toastmaster certifications.  The next level will require another ten speeches.  Since it was such a busy year I was planning on waiting to start down that path once the meetings resume in the fall.

But today I pulled myself up with my bootstraps and prepared the first speech for that next level and will present it tomorrow.
.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lion of Judah

I was reading through an old prayer journal tonight and found this excerpt, which I feel prompted to share with my readers:

Dec 6, 2005

The reading this morning is from Genesis 49, from the passage where each of the sons of Israel is prophecied over.  Of Judah it is said: "He crouches like a lion recumbent, the king of beasts - who would dare rouse him?"


Then I flipped the Liturgy of the Hours 1,874 pages to discover St. Eusebius of Caesarea's commentary on Isaiah.  He writes: "What does it mean to bear the good news but to preach to all nations, but first of all to cities of Judah, the coming of Christ on earth?"


We must not forget that our Christian faith is rooted in God's promise to the Jews.  After the diaspora, only the tribe of Judah reassembled in Israel.  They proved a mighty people, as the accounts of battles in Nehemiah and Maccabees attest.  Who, indeed, would dare to rouse that lion?


Eusebius' answer is clear: the evangelists and apostles.  They had been shown the Messiah; they knew the promise had been fulfilled.  So they took their shepherds' staves and poked the lion, prodding it out of its slumber, saying, "Behold the lamb of God!"


Perhaps that's what Scripture means when it refers to the lion and the lamb in rest together: it's not some hippie rendition of world peace, but a powerful metaphor of Israel accepting Christ.  It calls for a stiff-necked people to bow their heads and pray for God's blessing.

.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Transformations #21

Today's transformative moment will, for the time being, have to remain undisclosed.

But trust me, it's a good one.
.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Transformations #20

On Sunday I went on a bike ride with my whole family.

The last time we tried this was late last summer.  Our destination then was a local park, and as soon as we got there my second daughter, seven years old at the time, took off for the play structure and promptly proceeded to split her chin open by falling off the balance beam.  The rest of the kids weren't even off their bikes yet.

As a dad, I've learned that it's necessary to carry numerous things on one's person for the day-to-day needs of one's family.  I carry a tiny pair of fold-up scissors and a set of nail clippers in my pocket.  I also carry a small multi-tool with a flashlight.  And in my wallet are a few bandages.  Luckily my supply of bandages was fully stocked that day, so I was able to slap one on her chin and we all biked home, from where I drove her to the hospital to get stitches.  While they were patching her up, I watched them with a sort of detached fascination, admiring the skill behind the work the doctor was doing as he injected a numbing agent into the cut and started applying the stitches.  And then I passed out.  I - a guy who had seen his wife give birth five times - fainted.  It was terribly embarrassing.

That was nearly a year ago.  I hadn't been on a bike ride with my family since then.  The previous experience was a bit of a hump for me to get over.

We did have a fun outing.  My third daughter scraped her leg at the park, and that was the extent of the injuries incurred.

And, no, I didn't faint.
.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Transformations #19

When I was growing up, I used to go swimming all the time.  We took lessons at the public pool near Oungre, SK (can you believe it's on Google Streetview?).  In the change room there I recall talking back to a bully, who was nicknamed "Stu," by asking him if his last name was "Pid."  Ah, the wit of tweens.  Timeless stuff.  I also remember throwing up in that pool a different time after having eaten too much watermelon at the picnic which preceded our swimming.  At another pool near my hometown of Estevan, I responded to more bullies by punching the leader in the face and breaking his nose.  Not bad for a scrawny 13 year old.

My desire to swim seems to have decreased in inverse proportion to the size of my belly (embarrassment?) and my family (the logistical chaos).  But re-reading the above paragraph, it seems that I associate a lot of bad memories with swimming as well.  Racking my brain for good memories, I can recall flirting with a girl I liked by swimming under her and tipping her over.  It didn't work though; I ended up marrying somebody else.

This year our family took out a membership in a nearby YMCA and my wife has been taking the kids swimming nearly every week.  Yesterday (Saturday) I manned up and went with them for only the third time.

I don't particularly dislike swimming, but when holding either an infant or within arm's reach of a toddler the whole time, there's not a lot one can do to make it fun for oneself.  Yet it's so clearly fun for them that it feels rather crude for me to say that I don't have fun.  And my wife takes great delight in seeing me interact with our children in a way which reminds her of her own pleasant childhood memories.

Perhaps I can organize some family fun activity more in line with pleasant memories from my youth.  Food for thought... and possibly another post in this series.
.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Transformations #18

I have my wife to thank for today's Transformation post.  You'll recall that way back in #3 I announced a new practice - giving a quick prayer offering up my day before I even get out of bed.

Two days ago my wife was having a rough day, and as we cuddled up at bedtime I prayed with her, that she would find strength and hope.  It was a warm, intimate moment, and it brought her a lot of comfort. Last night we cuddled up at bedtime and were silent for a few moments, until she lifted her head and asked, "Aren't we going to pray?"

I felt guilty for not thinking of it first, and that guilt triggered some kind of weird response that made we want to pray even less (I'm kinda messed up that way; I know, but that's part of why I'm doing this whole Transformation initiative).  I manned up, took a deep breath, and led her in prayer again.  It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.
.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Transformations #17

Many of my readers know that I joined Toastmasters about a year ago.  I had always known of the organization, but being a fairly confident public speaker, never really felt the urge to go.  There was a point, however, where I came to realize that while I am good at giving speeches when I have ample time to prepare, I'm not so strong at speaking off the cuff.

Seeking to improve this skill, I sought out a local Toastmasters club - finding Manitoba Morning to be the most suitable for my schedule - and after trying out a couple of meetings as a guest, purchased a membership and joined formally.  I was amazed at how much I was able to improve in my impromptu speaking, and even in my prepared speeches.  In addition, I have also made improvements in another valuable skill: how to listen and provide constructive, practical feedback to other speakers.  And the flow of the meetings provides valuable experience which ties directly into my work on the board of directors for my kids' independent school.

My overall confidence has grown, I've made new friends, and I've stretched myself in ways I never thought possible.  I believe there isn't a person alive who would not benefit from a Toastmasters membership.  Find a club in your area and check out their meetings.  It can't hurt.

Last month our club held elections for the executive positions which are needed to run the club effectively and in accordance with Toastmasters International norms.  Several members approached me and asked if I'd be interested in running for President, or VP of Education.  I declined those invitations, as my schedule is already quite full with school board work, the music I do for church, and the administration of the schedule at our parish's Perpetual Adoration chapel.  I didn't want to take on any position which would require that I do any more work outside of the basic Toastmasters club setting.  At the last moment, I decided to put my name forward for Secretary, and won.  My term begins July 1.  I reasoned that this job would be OK for me as most of the Secretary's roles are within the meeting itself.

Right after the elections were finished, I learned that all executive members - and the Secretary is one - must attend a a 2-hour training session put on by the local Toastmasters district leadership.  Immediately I had a sense of regret.  I didn't realize this would happen!  I wouldn't have put my name forward if I had known that I would have to do a single iota of extra work outside the club setting.  And yet there I was, committed.

My training was tonight.  During the introductions, I got a laugh by introducing myself by saying that since I'm not very outgoing, I am the incoming Secretary for Manitoba Morning.  And being the keener that I am, I had downloaded the training material from the TI site and reviewed it prior to the training, so I didn't learn a whole lot tonight.  I was, in all honesty, a wee bit bored.  But my sense of foreboding faded somewhat, once the training was over.  I'm beginning to see what I can learn from this role and how it can help to continue to form me in other areas of my life.

I'm well out of my comfort zone though.  But I guess that's kinda the point.

Eighty-three to go.
.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Transformations #15 & 16

As I continue to press forward with this goal of 100 Transformations, I am finding that each day when I plan to post about one, I find my self planning ahead of time what I will do differently that day.  This is generally a positive enhancement.

Accordingly, yesterday I planned to work on a project I've had in my head for years - the completion of a wooden drawer for my custom-made home office desk - and to categorize it under "fun".  I do enjoy woodworking but seldom get a chance to whisk myself away to the garage on weekends due to the demands of my large family.  But a friend yesterday offered to take our three eldest children to the circus, and the younger two had their naps in the afternoon, giving me the perfect chance to work on this project.

In the last few months I've been able to cut & assemble the pieces.  Yesterday I stained the drawer, meaning all that's left now is to mount it on sliders.

This alone would have been sufficient for my "fun" category, as I did enjoy it and it does present a departure from what I normally do for fun.

But a second notch is worth recording.  In the evening we paid a visit to some friends who happen to live near the "Hi Neighbour" street festival happening in Winnipeg this weekend.  The husband was working, so it was three adults and eight children in a house never designed to hold that many people.  After about an hour there, we decided to go for a walk down to the festival.

As soon as we got everybody outside, it began to sprinkle.  Undeterred, we pressed on and arrived at the fair, fairly damp.  We purchased some tickets and went on a few rides, had some cotton candy and mini donuts, and ultimately stayed there for several hours, getting more and more wet.  Happily, I didn't go on any uncovered rides.  My wife, on the other hand, did, and made the observation that being whipped into the rain in a circular motion results in the accumulation of more water on one's self than would have happened had she merely stood and observed the ride in action.  All told, we had a great deal of fun, and arrived home after midnight.
.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Do You Agree?

A long time ago I had a cassette tape (a what?) containing songs from a Promise Keepers conference.  I've had one of the songs on my mind lately - called "Yes We All Agree."



The song is done in a monastic style, where a leader makes a statement or question, and the group gives a response in chorus.  The questions being asked are things like "Do you agree that he's holy?" or "Do you agree that by his precious blood we've been set free?" to which the response is "Yes, we all agree."  It's an attempt to forge some kind of unity from the diverse grouping of Christian men who would be attending the Promise Keepers rallies.

This was a laudable attempt, to be sure, but they failed to ask the one question which would signify that true unity had been achieved: "Do you agree that we've asked all the important questions?"  I can only imagine how muddled the choral response would be to that.

And in case there's any doubt about my stance: no, I don't agree that the song has asked all the important questions.
.

Transformations #14

Today wasn't really an extraordinary day, but I did receive the sacrament of reconciliation followed by gelato dessert with family and friends - it's a little tradition we in our faith community call "Confession and Coffee."

Any time I receive this sacrament I feel renewed spiritually.  And happily, I sin a lot, so I get to feel renewed a lot.  I know it may be difficult for my Protestant friends and family to understand why the Catholic Church believes in confession.  If you want to try to learn why, check this out.  Or this, which is a bit easier to read.

Tonight's confession was more difficult than usual.  I've been in a spiritual desert valley lately, with many factors contributing.  In fact, I'm coming out of one of the bleakest phases I've ever experienced.  To sit in front of the priest and name my sins when I am feeling as down as I am was an act of sheer will; my heart really wasn't in it.  I still feel like I'm tottering as I write this, as though the narrow streams of joy that have been trickling back into my life might suddenly be schlorped up by the parched sands around me, leaving me for dead once again.  But all I can do is go on, one day at a time, continuing to trust, persevering in faith, ever hopeful in the love I have been shown by the work of Christ on the cross.

But I know that the power of the sacrament is real, and this emboldens my joy.
.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Transformations #13

Last night as I tucked my three year old into bed, I had a rare moment between kids needing attention, so I sat her on my lap and read her a book.  This is something I don't do very often, and especially not at bedtime when everything is usually so chaotic.

After that book, she brought me another one.  I read that to her as well.

And another one.

I stopped her at the fourth one.  Then we cuddled for a few minutes, just daddy and daughter.  It was very nice. It warms my heart as I think about it even now
.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Transformations #12


For the last few days, we've had torrential downpours in Winnipeg.  This morning I came downstairs to find that our basement sewer drain had backed up onto our bare concrete floor a little bit.  Fortunately, it began to recede almost immediately.  More seriously though, we have water coming in from all four corners of the basement.


LEFT: AN EXASPERATED DAD LOOKS AT THE WATER TRICKLING TOWARDS THE DRAIN IN HIS BASEMENT

Last summer we did a lot of external landscaping to slope our lawn away from the house, as well as rerouting some downspouts, and it seemed to make a dramatic difference.  But this, well, this is crazy.

I'm trying to regain hope by telling myself that every house in Winnipeg is having these issues, and that the planning we've got for finishing our basement isn't shot, as this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime storm.

Anyway, the transformation I did today was getting out the ladder and cleaning our eaves-troughs.  I could only get to the lower ones on our front porch, as our house is a 2 ½ story monster and while my ladder technically reaches the top roof, it's mighty wobbly up there.  I did make the climb, but once I neared the top I figured that some jobs are best left to professionals.

Nevertheless, I do count this as progress.
.