I’m an Introvert.

Hello. My name is Steve, and I am an introvert.

Those of you who “know” me are probably thinking, “Duh. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out”. And that’s true, I’m the quiet one in the group. I’m the guy making eye contact and trying to listen, but not saying a whole lot. I’m the guy who walks into a crowded room and looks uncomfortable. Actually, I’m probably trying to figure out how to gracefully and tactfully excuse myself. Surely, I need to go use the restroom, or maybe I’ve left something in my car. Or some other lame excuse to rescue myself from “certain doom” in the crowd of people.

I’m also the one who feels guilty because “there is something wrong with me”. I mean, aren’t all good Christians supposed to be outgoing, gregarious, people lovers? That’s not me, so something must be wrong with me? Right?

That’s the message that “the church” has “subtly” communicated over the years, albeit mostly unintentionally and likely obliviously. However, it’s still the message that’s been sent.

And in the midst of that, I’ve wrestled with things like what is God calling me to do? Or how has God gifted me? Or where does God want me to serve? Or even am I good enough to be used by God?

But here’s the deal, all that is a bunch of lies.

You see, the Bible says that God made man (that’s me, you, and everyone else) in His image. That’s in the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 26, if you want to check it out for yourself. And yes, there’s the whole sin thing in Genesis 3, but that’s a whole other post by itself. Let’s just say, to keep it simple, that sin messed up God’s original plan. Fortunately, God had a plan B. (Or was it really plan A since God is omniscient? Try to wrap your brain around that one.)

Anyway, long story short, God’s plan was to sacrifice Himself (i.e. Jesus, the cross, Good Friday, Easter, y’know) in order to undo our screw up. And by undo, I mean to make us back to being like Him again. There’s a whole lot of theological stuff that I’m glossing over here. If you want to know more, go download the sermons from my church’s website for 4/22/12 and 4/29/12.

So, what this all means is that even though I am an introvert, I am made in God’s image. And even more than that He loved me enough to sacrifice His own life so I could be in relationship with Him.

My problem is that I have an easier time listening to who others say I am instead of believing who God says I am. Some days are better than others. Today isn’t one of those days. Fortunately, I have this forum where I can ramble, get my thoughts out there, and remind myself of what is Truth. And that’s a good thing.

Thank you God that You made me in Your image. Thank You that You don’t make junk. Thank You that You are loving and patient with me as I wrestle with my unbelief.

How about you? Do you wrestle with being an introvert? Or do you wrestle with seeing yourself as God sees you?


Blog Reboot… Again!!!

Welcome (or welcome back) to Thought Shrapnel!!!

Simply put, this is my electronic brain dump for all the world to see. Sometimes (probably more often than not), you will read stuff about my relationship with God – the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (No, I’m not Catholic – not that there’s anything wrong with being Catholic – but I believe that God is Trinity – 3 persons in One. And I believe that my relationship with God includes how I interact with each of the 3 persons of the Trinity – Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.)

OK, thanks for indulging my short digression, now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

Where was I… oh yeah, what you’ll find here. God Stuff, check. Besides God Stuff, you’ll occasionally find stuff about me that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with God or spiritual things. For example, I may post pictures and write about my travels (vacation or otherwise). Or maybe I’ll post about baseball, one of my biggest passions. The bottom line is that I may post about almost anything, hence the name Thought Shrapnel – random postings about random topics.

For anyone that has read my posts in the past, you’ll know that I can very easily get into a rut and not post for long periods of time. It’s crazy just how undisciplined I can be about things. I am hoping this time will be different. My goal is to post at least one spiritually relevant entry per week in addition to any nonsense to go along with it.

Thanks for reading. Hang on and enjoy the ride. Comments welcomed and encouraged. Just be nice. 🙂

You Are Missed Becky!!!

This earthly world is little bit dimmer this morning. My friend, Becky, who had been engaged in a losing, but valiant battle with pancreatic cancer, went to be with Her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ last night. She went as she would have wanted it: peacefully, surrounded by all of her family.

It’s sad. Sad because this disease came on suddenly without warning. Sad because she has a loving family and had a lot to live for. Sad because of who she was and what she did with her life.

Yet, in the midst of the sadness and the grief, there is a glimmer of joy. Joy because her suffering is over. Joy because she is now in the presence of her Creator, Lord, and Savior, Jesus.

I met Becky’s husband, Mike, back in the mid 1990s. I was a software engineer working at Frasca International. He was one of our customers, in charge of training at Bell Helicopters in Dallas, TX. I had the opportunity to work with Mike off-and-on over the years on several different helicopter simulators for Bell. A couple of years ago, Mike and Becky moved to the Champaign area so Mike could come work for Frasca. Becky too started working at Frasca as our morning receptionist.

What I remember most about Becky was her cheerful and pleasant demeanor. She was always friendly and always cheerful. She always had a smile on her face and a kind word on her lips for anyone who came up to the front desk. She was quick with a friendly “Good morning.” or a “How is you day going?” She was perfect for that job – as the first thing people see when they walk in the front door at Frasca.

Becky was also very hospitable. This past year, Mike volunteered to host our fantasy baseball draft at their home. I remember that she slaved all morning (ok, maybe Mike helped a little) preparing a veritable feast for us guys. And as people came over, she was very welcoming and inviting. When you entered her home, she made you feel like family.

I also remember that even in the midst of this terrible disease, her faith and her love for her Savior didn’t waver. She came to visit our church (The Vineyard) one Saturday night so that we could pray for her. And even though God chose not to bring physical healing to her that night, He brought emotional freedom to her over some issues that she had been dealing with for years. She found joy in the emotional healing that God DID bring, instead of sorrow over the physical healing that He did not.

One of my last memories of Becky was visiting her at her home earlier this summer. She was still in pretty good shape – weak and in some pain, but still manageable. What struck me most was her attitude. She was not mad or bitter. In fact, she commented that over the last several months, she had been closer to Jesus than she had been in her entire life. She was finding joy and pleasure in the little things in life – a clear blue sky, a cool breeze, the flowers growing in the yard. She talked about her times reading the Bible and praying being fresh, vibrant, invigorating, and peaceful. She was truly inspiring in how she faced death. She saw it as joy and sorrow intermingled – sad that she would be leaving her family that she adored so much, but joy that she would be with her Savior Jesus where all pain and sorrow would be gone. That left an everlasting impression on me.

To Melissa, Meredith, Marc, and Jon:
I extend to you my deepest sympathies on the loss of your mother. May your lasting memories of her be of the good times and not those of the last several weeks. May you draw near to the same Jesus whom your Momma loved so much. May you find in Him the same joy, peace, and comfort that she did in Him so that one day you will be reunited with her.

To my friend Mike:
Words can not express my feelings on the loss of your wife, friend, and soul-mate. My condolences, my sympathies, and I’m sorry just don’t seem adequate enough. I grieve with you. Remember that I am here for you whenever you need it. Don’t forget that. Whether it’s to talk about what you’re feeling and going through, or to hang out and try to get you mind off of things, I’m here for you.

To all of the friends and family of Becky:
May Jesus be your source of comfort, peace, hope, and love as you go through the grieving process. May you be drawn near to Him. May His love overflow in and on you. May He turn your mourning into dancing and your sorrow into joy. May He give you peace.

Good bye, Becky. I know I’ll see you again some day.

Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling place of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every team from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

25 Things About Me You May Not Know

We had a cookout tonight at our senior pastors’ home for some of our church leaders. I was inspired by the get-to-know-each-other activity that we did tonight. So, in response to that, I present…

25 Things About Me You May Not Know
1. Many people know I am a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. However, what you may not know is that my favorite Cardinal player of all-time is shortstop Ozzie Smith, who played for them from 1982-1996. In fact, I went to the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cooperstown, NY when Ozzie got inducted in 2002.

2. I have seen the following musical acts in concert (not all at the same time): Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Debbie Gibson, Midnight Oil, Amy Grant, and Paul McCartney.

3. I was put on academic probation at the U of I after my 1st semester junior year. I was kicked out of the U of I after my 2nd semester junior year for not getting my grades up. Yet, I petitioned to get back in and was able to graduation. Oddly enough, I never FAILED a class – I just got more D’s than B’s my junior year.

4. I graduated from graduate school with my MBA with a 4.0 grade point average from all of my graduate level classes. Go figure. Amazing what a few years of maturity will do.

5. One of saddest moments of my life was in December 1999 when I found out my best friend from high school committed suicide. We had lost touch after high school, but he was going to grad school at Northwestern in Chicago. I felt guilty for a long time that I hadn’t done more to keep our friendship going.

6. From 1993 – 1997, I was involved in my church’s worship team – even spending much of this time leading worship during our Sunday morning service.

7. My two favorite Christian musicians are Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman. I have all of their albums (except a greatest hits album or two and some re-releases). I have seen each of them in concert on more than one occasion.

8. As a vocation, I manage software engineers at a company that manufactures flight simulators. On bad days, I pretend I still know how to actually be a software engineer. I hate heights and cramped spaces, and have NEVER flown in a small single or twin engine airplane.

9. Loyalty is very important to me – both giving and receiving it.

10. One of my biggest vices is that I still enjoy watching professional wrestling. My favorite wrestlers of all-time are Sting, the Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

11. I am a huge fan of most things science fiction with regards to TV and movies. Some of my favorite sci-fi TV shows are: Battlestar Galactica (both the original AND the newer), Star Trek (all series), Babylon 5, Firefly, and Doctor Who.

12. When I was in high school, I went to a Doctor Who convention in St. Louis, and was within 10 feet of Colin Baker – the 6th Doctor. The funny thing is that I didn’t recognize him. At the time, he was my least favorite Doctor, and I hadn’t seen too many of his episodes – not to mention that he looked a lot older at the convention than he did in the show.

13. Staying on that theme, my favorite Doctor is the 9th Doctor, Christopher Eccleston. I was disappointed when he only did one season.

14. I have an easy time starting books and a hard time finishing them. Right now, I’ve got about a dozen or more books that I’ve started and not finished.

15. As a kid, I collected comic books and baseball cards. I stopped collecting comic books about a year or so after I got married. I still collect baseball cards, but not as intensely as I used to.

16. Sticking with the comic book theme, my favorite comic book was the Uncanny X-Men. Part of the reason I got out of collecting was the it got too expensive. Not only were the individual issues $2+ an issue, but each super hero group had anywhere from 2 to 5 titles and story lines often crossed over these multiple titles.

17. My favorite foods are pizza and homemade chocolate chip cookies. I have little willpower when it comes to these foods.

18. I play both fantasy baseball and fantasy football. I am in 2 baseball leagues and 4 football leagues.

19. I accepted Jesus as my savior on October 10, 1988 around 3pm in the afternoon in my dorm room on the 4th floor of Hopkins Hall in the U of I campus. A friend had shared the gospel with me the night before and I didn’t want to be pressured into praying with him then so I waited until after class the next day when I was by myself.

20. One of the craziest things I did in college was during finals week my first semester sophomore year. I had one last final exam on Saturday morning, but a bunch of my friends were done on Friday morning. So instead of staying back and studying for my Saturday morning final, I joined them on a road trip to Chicago to walk around and enjoy the downtown Chicago Christmas festivity. We got back around 2:00am – enough time to do some last minute studying for my 8:00am final. Needless to say, I didn’t do too well.

21. I feel awkward in social situations because I typically don’t know what to say to people, and I don’t want to look stupid.

22. I am the youngest of four children. My sister, Karen, is 10 years older than me, lives in southern Illinois, has her PhD in nursing, and teaches at St. Louis University. My brother, Ron, is 9 years older than me. I don’t have any contact with him. I haven’t seen him in over 10 years. Last I heard, he was somewhere on the east coast. My brother, Michael (I think that was his name), died as a baby several years before I was born. I don’t know much about him because he wasn’t talked about when I was growing up.

23. I have worked at my current job for over 19 years and have had the opportunity to travel all over the world. Some of the places that I’ve been are:
Miami, Phoenix, New York, Dallas, Cincinnati, Orlando, London (four times), Oxford (twice), Shrewsbury (UK – three times), Toronto (twice), Montreal, Zurich, Copenhagen, Cognac (France), Paris, Tokyo, and Rome.

24. I really don’t like change. I can handle it and deal with it, but I really don’t like it. I’m all about stability, and change often means instability.

25. And lastly, I asked my wife, Sara, what is one thing about me that people may not know. She said (after lots of ummm-ing): that I like country music since I hid it for so long. She’s right. I do kind of like country music. My favorite country artists are: Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood.

So there you have it, 25 things about me that you may not know. I hope it was enlightening for you.

Emotional Suckiness

Hi. My name is Steve, and I’m an emotions stuffer.

For the past 4 months, I’ve been wrestling with some difficult situations and circumstances – and with those come a full gamut of negative emotions. Let me expound further on the biggest of these…

I have a couple who are friends of mine. The husband, Mike, works with me at Frasca. I’ve known him since the mid-1990s when he worked as one of Frasca’s customers. A couple of years ago, Mike came to work for Frasca, and his wife, Becky, became our morning receptionist. Becky is one of the nicest, sweetest ladies that I’ve ever met. She always had a smile on her face and a kind word on her lips. I have had the privilege of getting to know Mike and Becky during this time period.

In March of this year, their lives got turned upside down. After routine gall bladder surgery for Becky had lingering pain, further investigation revealed something no one saw coming: Stage IV pancreatic cancer that had already spread to the liver.

As I have watched Becky and Mike go through this ordeal, various emotions of my own have been stirred up:
Shock / disbelief
What the heck?!? Is this really happening? Where did this come from? She seemed fine. This doesn’t make any sense. This happened so suddenly, so out-of-the-blue. I don’t get it.

This isn’t good. It’s aggressive and it’s already spread. What about Mike? What about her 4 adult children and her grandchildren? They’re losing their wife, mother, and grandmother. Worse than that, they have to sit back and watch her die. And then there are all of her friends. We’re losing our friend. I’m losing my friend. I don’t want her to die.

Cancer, you suck. I hate you. This is wrong. Becky is a good person. She doesn’t deserve this. She doesn’t deserve to die like this. She doesn’t deserve to suffer.

God, what are You doing here? I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed – and Becky only gets worse. Nothing medically is making her better. Only You can heal her, but it looks like that’s not going to happen here.

If I dwell on the sadness, I’ll be overwhelmed. So, if I know what’s good for me, I do the best I can to bury the sadness.

God, I thought You didn’t like sickness. I thought You answered prayer. I thought You desired to heal the sick. I thought… I thought… I thought…

Maybe if I prayed more… Maybe if I fasted more… Maybe if I read my Bible more… Maybe if I did X, Y, or Z, then maybe God would answer my prayers and He would heal Becky.

Now, let me just say this: These are some of the thoughts that have been rattling around my head. These are not what I necessarily believe. Yet, these thoughts forced me to take a step back and ask myself some really hard questions about what I believe. What is my foundation? What am I standing on?

One day, I found myself in Psalm 13:

1 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
      How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
      with sorrow in my heart every day?
      How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
      Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, 'We have defeated him!'
      Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
      I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
      because he is good to me.

I like Psalm 13 because it shows that a man who loves God (i.e. King David) can pour his heart out, ask hard questions, even doubt, but at the end-of-the-day, reminds himself what he knows to be true: that God’s love is unfailing, that God rescues, and that God is good.

It is in God’s goodness and mercy that I find my comfort. And it is in that very same goodness and mercy that I pray provides comfort to Becky, Mike, and their family.

The reality is that Becky is not getting any better. In fact, over the last 3 weeks, she has gotten significantly worse. The nausea has been so bad of late that she hasn’t eaten anything of consequence for 6 days. She is currently (as of Thursday evening 8/4/11) in the hospital where they are trying to get her strength built up and the nausea under control as Mike put it “so she can be comfortable enough to come home and die in peace.”

The one thing that takes the edge off the pain is knowing that this is not the end for Becky. She is a long-time Christ follower, and is secure in her place in heaven with Jesus when she dies. In fact, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Becky several weeks ago before her most recent turn for the worse. I was so encouraged by my visit with her. Despite knowing that she was dying and that her health was getting worse instead of better, she had hope. She related that her relationship with Jesus has been closer in the last several months than it had been in a very, very long time. And while she said that she was “ready”, she was still sad – for Mike and for her children having to deal with her disease and watching her deteriorate.

Throughout all of this, I have learned a few things (and am still learning them too):
1. I don’t have to understand everything.
I’ve tried to resist the urge to ask, “Why God?” and simply accept that I don’t understand everything – and that’s ok.

2. God does not promise to remove hard things from our lives. However, He does promise to be with us and comfort us in the midst of them.

Matthew 28:20
And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of
the age.
John 14:15-18
15 If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the
Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never
leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.
The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him
and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives
with you now and later will be in you.  18 No, I will not
abandon you as orphans-I will come to you.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God
is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He
comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort
others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them
the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer
for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort
through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with
troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when
we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you.
Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.
7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings,
you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

3. No matter what, God is good.
This is what I hang my hat on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed:
God, I don’t understand. But I know You are good. Help me to rest in Your goodness.

Thank You Jesus for Your goodness!!!

Where everybody knows your name…

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name
You wanna go where people know people are all the same
You wanna go where everybody knows your name

I never really watched Cheers when it was on TV – an occasional episode here-and-there, but not “religiously” like with the later Star Trek series (i.e. TNG, DS9, Voyager). Anyway, I always mildly admired the camaraderie and friendships among the “regulars” at the bar: Sam, Carla, Coach/Woody, Diane/Rebecca, Norm, Cliff, and Frasier. It wasn’t until I started hanging out with some regularity at Buffalo Wild Wings in Savoy that this appreciation grew. This post is a look into the “regulars” at BWW Savoy, and it is dedicated to them. My relationship with these people is no where near on par with the folks from Cheers. Many of these are casual acquaintances or less. But who knows what may happen?

The folks I see at BWW Savoy fall into 3 main categories: Buzztime Trivia players, non-trivia players, and BWW Savoy staff.

Buzztime Trivia players
This is the main reason I go hang out at BWW Savoy – to play Buzztime Trivia (and to watch sports too). There are a number of “regulars” who show up to play on Wednesday and/or Friday nights.

  • First, there’s Tim (aka WILLIE – his Trivia Handle). I’ve known Tim since college. We even shared a house together the year after I graduated. He’s really good at trivia, and he’s a friend.
  • Next, there’s Susan and Ernie (aka ERNSUS). They’re Friday night regulars. They are probably the best trivia players @ BWW Savoy. My goal when they are there is to beat them because that is a major accomplishment. I’ve talked with them a couple of times, but don’t know much about them other than they are Illini and Cubs fans.
  • Then, there’s Marin (aka IRISH). I’ve talked to her once or twice. She’s quiet and often sits at the end of the bar playing trivia and reading a book between rounds.
  • Finally, there’s a group of friends who come in most Wednesday nights. I’ve never met any of them, and know them only by their Trivia Handles – DANGER, DRAGON, PDUBYA, PIGLET, KTDID, RMANX. They’re all pretty good and competitive. DRAGON always wins Sci-Files (a science fiction based game) on Wednesday.
  • Non-trivia players
    In the course of hanging out, Tim has introduced me to some of his friends that he’s gotten to know as he’s hung at BWW Savoy over the years.

  • First, there’s Dewey. He runs the Prime Time Pizza in Champaign. He often brings in a pizza for the BWW Savoy staff and “trades” it for beer. I’ve talked with him on a few occasions. He’s a nice guy.
  • Next, there’s Scott and Debbie. Scott is a finance guy of some kind, loves to play tennis, and is a Cardinal fan. Debbie is a hospice nurse and a Cubs fan. I can tell that she has a real heart for people in that stage of their life, but I can tell it eats her up inside.
  • Beyond that, I don’t really interact with anyone else who isn’t a trivia player or BWW Savoy staff member.

    BWW Savoy staff
    And then there’s the staff. These are hard working men and women in mostly thankless jobs – waiting tables, serving drinks, and the like – many working their way through college, earning peanuts and hoping for the generosity of their customers.

  • First and foremost, there’s Jamie. She is the “regular” bartender on Wednesdays and Fridays. She’s friendly, treats her customers well, and makes THE BEST Long Island Iced Tea that I’ve ever had (after a little training on my part to get her to leave out the Tequila). 😉 While I almost always get good service no matter who is working, Jamie is best.
  • Next, there’s Israel (or Iz). He tends bar on Fridays from time-to-time with Jamie. He also waits tables. He always says “Hi” to me when he see me whether he’s waiting tables or tending bar.
  • And of course, I can’t forget Joe (or Trivia Joe). He tends bar and waits tables, but he’s more known for being the Trivia MC for Wednesday night Live Trivia. He’s a nice guy too despite being a Cubs and Blackhawks fan.
  • Then, there’s Ashley. She used to tend bar on Wednesdays, but I see her waiting tables more often than I see behind the bar.
  • There’s also Jen. I’ve never talked to Jen, but she is hard to miss. When I first saw her, I thought to myself, “Is it legal to have a 12 year old working in a bar?” She’s not very tall. However, she is always smiling and works harder than almost anyone I’ve seen on staff at BWW Savoy. She’s always running around getting drinks or checking on customers or whatever. She doesn’t tend bar, so I’ve never had her wait on me, but if I ever go in and don’t sit at the bar, I hope I get assigned to her table. I know the service will be outstanding.
  • And then there’s Deb. She’s another server who has tended bar on occasion. I haven’t talked much with her either. The main thing I remember about Deb is a story she told Tim one night (with me sitting right there) about a guy hitting on her using a pick-up line written on a napkin. It said, “It must be a sin to be as hot as you.” Really? Do pick-up lines really ever work? Sad. At least we all got a good chuckle out of it, including Deb.
  • Finally, there are the managers / supervisors that I’ve interacted with: Matt, Amanda, and Roger. They’re all hard working, friendly, and very customer focused.
  • There are also two ex-employees who are worth mentioning too:

  • Andrew was a former Friday bartender. He worked his tail off. He was the original Trivia MC, and was awesome at it. He left last spring for a “real” job out east.
  • Beth was also a former Friday bartender. She was by-far THE hardest worker at BWW Savoy – always on the go, always going a mile-a-minute, never standing around chit-chatting. She left near the end of last Spring Semester.
  • What a great bunch of folks!!!

    My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will open my eyes to what He is doing around me, and that He will give me the courage to risk being made fun of, thought less of, labeled as a religious kook, or whatever to step out and say those scary and powerful words, “Can I pray for you right now?”, when I sense that He is up to something.