Sunday, September 30, 2007

September 29, 2007 - Saturday

’84 ’89 ’98 ’03 ’07

This was the year the Cubs were supposed to go for broke. They spent all that money in the offseason, hired the "perfect" manager, and turned him loose. The 100 year mark is approaching, and so the panic button was pushed.

The dynamics of this season have been unreal. A bad division, a bad start, injuries, team fights, suspensions, game postponements due to opposing players' death, and a very up and down record.

I am the first to say that sports should never have anything to do with real life. Sport is simply a diversion...a momentary distraction from things that matter. Sports should never matter. However, I do happen to take Cub baseball and Bradley basketball fairly seriously in the heat of the moment. And 2007 will likely be remembered (by me at least) as the year the Cubs were able to kind of shift my focus in the middle of a crappy-to-fairly-crappy summer.

As I mentioned, the season started roughly for the Cubs. Some friends of mine and I had tickets for the Sunday, June 3rd game...but as that date drew nigh, it almost seemed like it would already be an irrelevant game. They started off 7-13, battled back to 20-21, but then had lost six games in a row (and 10 of 12) but the time I made it to Wrigley on June 3rd. What's more...two days earlier Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett had engaged in a public fight in the dugout during the game. This was very bad. And the previous day Lou Piniella had kicked dirt on the third base umpire after Angel Pagan was called out on a boneheaded baserunning decision. He was supsended. The team was a complete mess. They were a season-worst NINE games under .500, and had fallen seven and a half games back of first place.

But that Sunday afternoon at Wrigley things turned around. The Cubs became a good baseball team in one day. Mark DeRosa hit a first inning grand slam, and the Cubs beat the Braves 10-1. The next day I moved to Indiana and started listening to almost every game on Gold 95.9 FM. It was suddenly a different season. And it couldn't have come at a better time for me personally. The Cubs provided a three hour hiatus from reality every night, and they were playing good baseball to boot.

Since I saw them that day in early June, they have gone 62-45. Immediately they ran off nine of 13 (and 17 of 25). That included a seven game winning streak at the end of June. They began to win most series, and their longest losing streak the rest of the way would be four. In my mind, the season is broken up very succinctly into pre-Wrigley Field visit, and post-Wrigley visit.

Eighty six. That's the number I've targeted for a while. Certainly 84. The Cardinals won the division with 83 wins last year. And I made a lot of fun of them. I thought that was weak and undeserving. So when the Cubs started to make their push, it was apparent that the division-winning team would not have a very impressive record. I wanted 84 wins at the very least, and 86 for good measure. Remember, the Cubs only won 88 games in 2003 when they last won the division (they actually won more the following year when they missed out on the playoffs). There is an asterisk in my mind next to the 2006 Cardinals' world championship. I don't want that to be the case should the Cubs do something special this year.

I've always made a big deal about teams not backing into championships. I was so pleased that the Bears and Colts both made it to the Super Bowl last season because they were the best team from each conference. I've often said that when the Cubs ever do win the World Series, I hope it's not a cheap back-in job where they sneak in the Wild Card and draw some weak opponents in the playoffs. I want to be able to look back at that season and remember that the Cubs were dominant. The Cubs haven't been dominant this year, but it's been an extremely memorable and thrilling season, and one that would certainly serve as a nice backdrop for a championship.

Last week, the Cubs reached 10 games over .500 for the first time all year. They had won 10 of their 12 to go 83-73 for the year. It was almost beginning to look like a first place record. And so for the first time in a while, I wasn't ashamed of the Central Division as a whole. But then the Cubs got swept at Florida this week. Oh still might be enough.

I remember 2003 so well. I had just moved to Texas, but was immediately consumed by the midwest baseball team I had always loved. Right off the bat I had made two new good friends--both liked the Cubs every bit as much as I did. I didn't really have a job job. I was working for Baylor Dining Services and as a research assistant at Baylor. But I had all my evenings free. And we had those guys over to watch the game. Every game. It was what we did that October.

The first playoff game at Atlanta, Dr. Carbonara opened up the lecture hall to show the game on the big screen. It felt so epic. Much larger than the baseball playoffs had ever felt before. And the Cubs played like a different team. All of a sudden all the frustrations of the regular season seemed so far away. These were the playoff Cubs.

And so it was. Clutch. Randall Simon. Doug Glanville. Mark Prior. Kerry Wood. Kenny Lofton. All these guys seemed to become larger than life in the playoffs. My life got put on hold. Later people asked me if I was OK recently. I realized no one had heard from me. I was in my first semester of grad school, but studying seemed to be a non-issue for about a month. I was listening to Extended Post Game on WGN radio with David Kaplan last night. He implored the listeners, "Enjoy the ride. No matter what happens, you're going to enjoy it. You're going to enjoy not getting a lot of sleep. You're going to enjoy not returning many phone calls." And immediately I was transported back to 2003. He was right. Time stood still while the Cubs were in the playoffs.

This time? I'm much too busy for all that. I'm just hoping I get to see and/or listen to most of the Cubs' playoff games. Then again, there may be only three. I'm prepared for that. The Cubs already did their job for me personally this year. They got me through the summer. Now I want to see them win it. But I don't need it. I handled the Steve Bartman game alrightly, I think I'll be fine no matter what happens here.


September 18, 2007 - Tuesday


There will always be songs linked to different experiences and different eras. I can specifically recall exact songs from specific seasons of the calendar over the last half decade or so. Here are ten songs that will forever remind me of the Summer of 2007 (for better or worse)...
1. Hey There Delilah - Plain White Tees
2. Home - Daughtry
3. Umbrella - Rihanna
4. Broken - Lifehouse
5. Breath - Breaking Benjamin
6. What If - Coldplay
7. Palm of Your Hand - Satellite Soul
8. Who We Are - Lifehouse
9. If You Let Me Love You - Smalltown Poets
10. Forever - Papa Roach

(I didn't say I was proud of all the songs...)

Priorities and Stuff

August 16, 2007 - Thursday

Priorities and Stuff

Nathan LaGrange once told me, "If I don't have God as number one in my life, it's not like that first slot is empty. Something always moves in to take His place." It's scary how you can get a little carried away—even with the right things. You can do good things with pure intentions with correct motives and still find yourself drifting from center just slightly.

Think about what jealousy can do in a human relationship. It will drive us to the unthinkable. I'm sure we've all been there. How much more when the Maker of the universe sees a heart He created replace Him with something altogether empty and carnal? James 4:5: "Or do you suppose that it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, 'The Spirit which He has caused to dwell in our hearts yearns jealously over us'?" What have I yearned for over the years? As a human I have limited and crude resources with which to act on a jealous feeling. But He has all of creation at His disposal to wake us up. And sometimes that doesn't feel much good at all. But it works.

Larry Crabb said in "Shattered Dreams": "All of us are trapped by addiction to a desire for something less than God." I know it well. Of course it doesn't seem like "something less than God" at the time. Maybe just something in addition to… Certainly not something to replace. But it's dangerous nonetheless. Tom told me (of that quote): "There's a book of commentary that could go along with that, I'll leave it at that for now."

In the book "Sacred Romance," John Eldredge writes: "If we believe that this life is our best shot at happiness, if this is as good as it gets, we will live desperate demanding and eventually despairing men and women. We will place on this world a burden it was never mean to bear."

I think we'd all like to think we're at least a little bit in control. That we can control our own level of happiness at least in part. The above quote is both reassuring and excruciatingly crippling at the same time. If you take all that power away from me, that messes with my mind. But the truth of it can be very comforting if used correctly.

I had been on the verge of many kinds of fears as of late. Fear of a miss-step. Fear of failure. Fear of falling on my face. Fear of destroying my life. Fear of pain. Fear of repeat pain. Fear of still hating my job tomorrow. Fear of hating my life tomorrow. Fear of getting taken advantage of. Fear of getting walked all over. Again. Fear of looking like a fool. Fear of looking naïve. Fear of looking unwise and ignorant.

Pastor Ron at church was talking from the Psalms this summer. One particular Sunday about a month ago was probably the most poignant message I've ever heard at a specific time in my life. It was unbelievable how relevant and timely the entire deal was.

He spoke of fear "evaporating." I liked the imagery that accompanied that. All the points were good, but the first—Fear Evaporates From Regular Intimacy with God (Psalm 91:1)—got to me particularly. Simply put…it works. We may not like it. It may not be how we would choose for it to work. But that's how it goes. However, that's a real discipline. And hard work. Another one was "Fear evaporates from faith declarations." And the final one (not altogether different from the first) was "Fear evaporates when we love God deeply." Easier said than done, but necessary nonetheless.

As I said, the sermon couldn't have been any more timely. Oh I'm still afraid maybe, say…a couple thousand times a day. But there's a certain peace that comes from actually putting some of this stuff into practice.

Whales and gales and plans that fail. It's amazing how we reframe our life until it's so off base it's not even funny. I had this verse from Proverbs 16 in my caption for awhile: "People make plans in their minds, but only the Lord can make them come true. Depend on the Lord in whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." Not too radical of a thought, I don't suppose. But it sure does take some of the pressure off. Another translation: "The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits. Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established."

It's been said that "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think." These days the thinking and the feeling seem to be running together an awful lot for me. And I certainly haven't found a lot very humorous in recent times.

It's amazing what a mind game life does become. I visited with a friend in the Midwest for a weekend this summer. He gave me a couple "ouch" verses:
"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit." Jude 1:20. Nobody's going to do our heavy lifting for us. Corporate gatherings and group Bible study serve their respective purposes. But if the groundwork is not being laid on a personal level, the others will lack footing. And that will show up, believe me.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18.

And then one of my favorite verses (and one that haunts me all the time): "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, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2. That's about as simple as the Bible ever gets. There's a formula right there. It's not a mystery.

Now…if I could only remember that on a daily basis and maybe apply some of it here and there. Maybe that's a process. I don't know. I'm sure there are certain levels of realization here and there. But it's amazing when real life kicks in how it will make you step back and evaluate some of this stuff.