Auld Lang Syne

This is the way the year ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

OK, today is also the end of the decade, apparently, but that’s too big. I can’t begin to process the last 10 years of my life collectively.

But, tonight, 2009 will end.

A year ago, at the stroke of midnight 2009 began about as well as any year ever has for me, and I knew exactly how the year would end. And I was very very happy with that. And very very wrong.

Even just a few days ago, I thought I knew how the year would end. Not exactly the same, but perfectly and redemptively nonetheless. But I was apparently wrong again. No good deed goes unpunished, it seems. (Not saying I’m not open to God pulling off some last-minute poofing, the sort of thing that happens once in a blue moon.)

But the year will end nonetheless, as years tend to do.

And I am very fortunate that the one way God has blessed me has been with a wealth of friends. Two years ago, I was dreading the end of 2007, and was just hoping to find some way to not be alone at the end of the year. This year, I hadn’t really been looking since I thought it was covered, but, even when that fell through, I still had multiple options of how to ring in 2010. And for that, I’m grateful. And the main two wouldn’t even have been options a year ago; God has really broadened my world over the past year.

But that’s about what I’m doing with New Year’s Eve. I’ve still been dealing with what I’m doing with 2009.

To be sure, this year has definitely had its moments. The STS-125 launch. The Ares I-X launch. Rock-climbing for the first time. Going to Six Flags. Book signings and lectures. Two great Ole Miss football games. Some horizon-broadening concerts. Celebrating Hall of Fame inductions of two good friends. Going sailing for the first time in way too long. Good times with great friends. In some ways, this year has been a transformational one for me in that respect, in that it’s marked a transition from saying, “Man, I would love to do that” to “Yeah, I’m GOING to do that.” And that change in 2009 has already laid the foundation for the same in 2010 — I’ve already bought tickets to, in the next couple of weeks, go to a B.B. King concert and go to Las Vegas. Kinda cool.

On the flip side, yeah, in the biggest of ways, this year was not remotely what I hoped it would be. And that still sucks. I had really hoped it would end in a way that would be redemptive, or that would make sense of that, or would provide a fitting coda to it, or something.

Instead, again, barring the unforeseen in the next 12 hours, it will simply end.

In a way, that in itself is not unfitting. As I’ve written on here before, one of the big lessons for me of the year is that of surrender, or, perhaps better, yielding or living unconditionally. As the year ends, the things I would most like to change, I have no power to affect. And that’s probably good for me, no matter how much I hate it. But, you know, it’s easier than it was a year ago. And I’m increasingly able to trust that solutions don’t require me bringing them about.

Another, lesser lesson of the year for me has been, “It’s just a day.” I have always had a preternatural ability to remember and track anniversaries of significant days. And, as a result, I want to mark them appropriately somehow. I wrote about that, though, in mid-October, about how the 15th was both the two-year anniversary of my divorce and the one-year anniversary of seeing my book for the first time. And I wanted Oct. 15 to be significant this year somehow. But, ultimately, it was just a day.

And so is today. Granted, it’s a holiday, so it will be a bit different. I’m taking off work. I do plan to count down to midnight in good company. But, tomorrow, life will go on.

My coworker Heather gave me a good analogy for it yesterday. The current contract we are on at work is ending, and so we’re in the process of transitioning to a new contract. This will be my second contract change, and those of us who have gone through it before have tried to reassure those who haven’t. As I explained it, last time, one day I was at my desk, working at my computer, doing my job. The next, I was sitting at the same desk, working at the same computer, doing the same job. There was just a different name on my checks, but that was really the only difference.

Ultimately, that’s today. Tomorrow, I’ll live in the same house. Have the same friends. Do the same job. I’ll just write a different year on my checks.

So, in that respect, it’s just another day. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to enjoy it. And if today doesn’t end in a way I think it should, if this year doesn’t end the way I’d like, you know, there’s always tomorrow.

Hope you and yours have a very happy New Year!

(And I feel obligated, having made the T.S. Eliot reference at the beginning of the post, to link to this strip that we wrote 13 years ago.)

New Year’s Day

“New Year’s Day,” by Carolyn Arends

I buy a lot of diaries
Fill them full of good intentions
Each and every New Year’s Eve
I make myself a list
All the things I’m gonna change
Until January 2nd
So this time I’m making one promise

This will be my resolution
Every day is New Year’s Day
This will be my resolution
Every day is New Year’s Day

I believe it’s possible
I believe in new beginnings
‘Cause I believe in Christmas Day
And Easter morning too
And I’m convinced it’s doable
‘Cause I believe in second chances
Just the way that I believe in you

This will be my resolution
Every day is New Year’s Day
This could start a revolution
Every day is…

One more chance to start all over
One more chance to change and grow
One more chance to grab a hold of grace
And never let it go

Two and Three-Halves Bibles

I wrote in my Bible Sunday.

This, for me, is a big deal.

By way of backstory, this is Susanna’s fault. I’ve had any number of Bibles over the years, but they’ve all been fairly conventional. She, on the other hand, had unconventional Bibles. When we met, I was intrigued by her wide-margin Bible, that had room for taking notes on the sides of the pages. A Bible that actually encouraged you to write in it.

OK, let me point out, I don’t write in books in general. Even just normal, everyday books. It seems wrong, like defacing them. Part of that is the idea that I might want to pass it on someday, and want it to be pristine for the next reader. But part of that is just, well, it seems wrong.

So the idea of writing in a book that actually is holy? Wow. The closest I had come was in sixth grade, when I attended a Catholic school for half a year, and was required to mark in my Bible. We had to go through with different color highlighters and find parables, miracles, etc. Highlighting is not quite the same as writing, but I was still uncomfortable with it. But, again, I didn’t have a choice. And I don’t think I’ve written, or otherwise marked, in a Bible since.

The other Bible she had that intrigued me was a chronological Bible, that rearranges the books from their standards canonical order into a historical order. I had read something last year saying that the New Testament was a different experience when read that way; that if you read Paul’s epistles not in order of length but in order of when he wrote them, and in the context of what was going on historically from Acts you get a different feel for them. She got the chronological Bible as a Christmas present last year, and I figured I would at some point get around to reading hers.

Over the course of the year, though, I gained a new appreciation for both of those Bibles. As I’ve written about on this blog, I did some studying of David this year. And a chronological Bible would have made it so much easier. The story of Saul, David and Solomon is spread out over a total of, what, ten books, with multiple accounts of the same stories in different places. How much easier would it have been to be able to just start reading the story of David from the beginning to the end, without having to flip around or remember, and to see his psalms matched with what was going on when he wrote them?

And one day at church recently, the pastor was talking about the story of Sarai and Moses Abram in Egypt, and why God cursed Pharoah. (The story isn’t really relevant to this post, so if you don’t know it, don’t worry about it.) And I had certain thoughts about it when he was talking about it. But I could remember discussing the same story at Sunday School at Whitesburg about a year and a half earlier. I couldn’t remember exactly what I thought then, but seemed to remember having a very different take, and I wished I could compare what I thought at the two points in my life. I’m pretty sure I still have notes somewhere from that class, but how cool would it be to be able to just open that story in my Bible, and see all the notes I’d made about it every time I studied it, to see how my thoughts had evolved over time?

So, when my mom asked what I wanted for Christmas, I told her I wanted a Bible. Specifically, I wanted either a note-taking Bible or a chronological Bible. I really didn’t know which I preferred, so I figured I’d do the easy thing and outsource the decision to someone else. I’d let her pick one, and whichever she picked, clearly that’s what I’m supposed to have.

I also told her that I wanted a Roomba, though. And that’s what they got me. And I’m excited about it. But it was a big enough present that it wasn’t accompanied by a Bible. So they told my grandparents that I wanted a Bible. Somewhere along the way, however, the details of what sort of Bible got lost. My grandparents did in fact get me one — an NIV study Bible, identical to my current Bible, the one they had given me a decade earlier.

Not a problem, of course — I could take it back to my local Family Christian and trade it out for what I wanted. Well, OK, slight problem — that meant I had to decide what I wanted. My plan to make someone else make the decision had failed, and now it was back on me.

As it turned out, though, not a problem at all. My current Bible is fancy enough; with points for the leather cover, the red-letter edition, the nice sides, etc. All it needs is my name embossed on the cover, and it’s pretty close to ideal. So I don’t need another fancy Bible. Heck, a chronological Bible wouldn’t even go out in public; you really can’t use it as your church Bible when you can’t turn to a particular book and read along with the pastor.

The Bible my grandparents got me, being, as mentioned, identical to my current Bible, was fancy. And it turns out that fanciness costs enough that you can trade in one fancy Bible for multiple non-fancy Bibles. So I left Family Christian with a note-taking Bible, a chronological Bible, a Message New Testament, two ESV New Testaments, Same Kind of Different As Me and a pre-order slip for the next VeggieTale video, all for my returned gift and five dollars. Not bad at all.

The chronological Bible remains untouched, as does one of the ESVs. The other was given as a gift. I’ve barely started reading the Message as my night-time Bible reading.

But, on Sunday, I took both my old NIV study Bible and my new note-taking Bible to church with me. Most of my note-taking was done in my notebook, since it had more to do with the sermon than the scripture.

But, for the first time, I wrote — only one full sentence, but still – in my Bible.

Pictures We Paint

I’m a decent sort of fellow. Really, I am.

I mean, sure, I have my faults. And, yeah, I definitely have my moments, but, in general …

OK, I’ll warn you from the outset, this is going to be another of those rambling Obvious Things Dave’s Been Convicted of in 2009 entries. And, as tends to happen, once I become aware of it, I’m having to deal with it multiple times, from both sides.

In a conversation with one of my coworkers recently, she sheepishly revealed that her husband had, um, an interesting opinion of me. I forget now what all it entailed, but probably the closest it came to positive was that I might just be the sort of lug who meant well enough, and that my evils were more incompetence than ill intent.

I would say I was a bit surprised, except that I’m telling this story out of chronological order, and so I knew exactly how this could have happened, having been dealing with basically the same isues in otehr context already.

Basically, it’s so easy, without even realizing it, to do that to someone. You come home from work, and vent about how your coworker has annoyed you that day. You go into work, and vent about something frustrating a friend did the night before. And, over time, what you’re doing is painting a picture of that person based on only that half of the story.

And, in my coworker and her husband’s defense, I laid a lot of the foundation for that myself. While I, as aforementioned, fancy myself a pretty decent guy today (and hopefully I’m preaching to the choir here — I would like to think that the population of people actually reading this blog is generally pro-Dave), I’ve had a fair bit of growing up to do, and continue to. The early days of the two of us working together were also the final days of my marriage, and that was probably not me at my best. I was very guarded, hurting, frustrated, etc. I was still in the process of learning to control my temper, and wasn’t always in the best emotional place for doing so.

She told me recently that her initial impression of me was that I was like a Disney villian: guarded, cold, stern, nothing jovial. Of course, me being me, I love it — “Disney villian” is just too cool a description. Of course, it led into a discussion of which Disney villian I seemed most like, whether I was one of the awesome, dignified ones like Malificent, or one of the buffoonish ones. I was pleased that I was not like Gaston, a bit chagrined by a slight comparison to Ursula, unsure about a link to Cruella DeVille, but very very pleased with the primary comparison to Scar.

But all that’s beside the point. She agreed that her impression of me has changed since that time (if nothing else, I’d hope I at least seem a bit more jovial). But without regular interaction, much of her husband’s impression is still rooted in that early foundation.

Since then, however, she’s continued to build that picture, unintentionally, with things she’s said. For her, she’s just venting about things during the work day, without thinking about the image she’s creating.

And, like I said, I get that, because it had been made very obvious to me how I had done the same thing. It really bothered me a while back how two of the people closest to me seemed to have this animosity for each other, despite the fact that they’d barely met. How could they have this dislike for this person that they hardly knew? I had theories at the time, and tried to work things out, unsuccessfully, based on those theories.

But, with some help, I realized recently that they had that animosity because I told them to. I had been doing the same thing. Sure, I said some positive things about them to each other, but they were also the person I vented to when I was frustrated. And the picture I painted was that the one person was someone who frustrated and hurt someone the other person cared about.

I had some glimpse of that this summer. I was involved for a while in a somewhat, um, interesting relationship. And more than one of my confidants asked me why I was involved with this person. And what I realized was, I only talked to them about the situation when I was frustrated. And, yeah, based on the side they were hearing, it really didn’t make sense.

And that’s one of the things I’ve realized is true for me, and I suspect others — when things are going well with someone, I talk to that person. When things are going poorly, I talk to others.

My confidants didn’t hear about the great times we had this summer, because during those times, I was with her, instead of with them. I didn’t need any advice on how to endure the really pleasant times; I could handle those just fine myself, thanks.

The other thing that I’ve realized recently is that we also unintentionally paint others negatively by how we tell stories. We have, of course, a tendency to paint ourselves in a positive light, without thinking about how that portrays others. “I was just minding my own business, when they …” If you’re telling about an argument, it’s easy to, without thinking, lapse into portraying it in a version in which maybe you’re a little more right than you were in real life.

I’m personally bad about exploring issues through having debates where I take a devil’s advocate position against someone else to get them to help me question my thoughts on the matter. I did that a lot last year with these two friends, and in talking to one, would tell them what the other said. The problem was, the discussions put them into opposite extremes for the sake of examining a straw-man argument, and really misrepresented them unfairly.

I found myself on the receiving end of this yet again this week, when I talked to someone I’d had no contact with since the early part of the year. We got along well then, so I was more than a little taken aback by the amount of animosity I encountered in talking to him this time. I tried to find out where it was coming from, but he wouldn’t even talk with me. Um, OK, you know?

One, I have a hard time understanding that in general. I’m the complete opposite, to a fault. There’s nobody on this planet that I wouldn’t be willing to talk to, and there’s nobody that I wouldn’t want to heal any rifts with. Even, arguably, sometimes when I should. But, two, the last time we talked, earlier this year, we were on good terms, and now you won’t even talk to me, and we haven’t talked, there’s been no interaction, no contact in the meantime? Um, really?

But it’s the same thing. And I suspect all three of those factors came into play. Yeah, there were faults in me that served as the foundation for impressions, regardless of whether they’re still true or not. And that colors perceptions of things since then. In the meantime, he’s probably heard much more venting about me than positive. And from what he did say, it sounds like one or two stories have been told, unintentionally, in a way that paints me in a certain light, given the preconceived notions. And, you know, it’s rather unfortunate.

But, hey, things can change, and the damage can be repaired. My coworker was telling me yesterday about a conversation she’d had with her husband over the weekend, in which he basically said that I was, more or less, crazy. And this time, she stood up for me that I am not, in fact, crazy. Granted, she ended up conceding that what he was talking about was pretty crazy, but defended me that, OK, while I am isolatedly crazy in this one particular area, I’m not universally crazy.

So there’s always hope, right?

Before This Decade Is Out

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project…will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important…”
–President John F. Kennedy, May 1961

A friend of mine pointed out over the long holiday weekend that we’re just days away from that point. And I wish I had realized it earlier, so that I could have decided to do something worthy “before this decade is out.” As it is, I’ll be happy making good New Year’s Eve plans before the decade is out. Alas. Probably too late to go to the moon.


“Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”
–Erica Jong