A glimpse of Heaven at Milligan Homecoming

In I’ve heard it said that Heaven is a long “hello.” I’m not here to debate the theology of that statement, but when you take into account that saying “goodbye” is so difficult and the book of Revelation says there will be no more tears or mourning or crying or pan, it’s hard for me to say that this statement is too far off.

And if that statement is true, I feel like we had a little taste of Heaven during Milligan’s Homecoming weekend. It was a weekend full of reunions and introductions and saying “hello” to long-lost friends. Here’s just a glimpse of the people and places we said “hello” to during Homecoming…

Bays Mountain State Park

Christy used to bring the kids here while we were in our grad school era of Tri Cities living (as opposed to the BK – Before Kids –  undergrad era of Tri Cities living).  We had to go back to Bays Mountain to say hello to the wolves, deer, and predatory birds. Of course, we also had to ask the fox what he says.

Pondering what the fox say

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Deer at Bays Mountain State Park
These deer were so calm that they barely even noticed the small group of paparazzi who had gathered to take their picture.

The food

Although Cheers is long and gone, many of the old stand bys that have become closely associated with Milligan we still around. And it was a beautiful thing to be reunited with them.

Firehouse

We met Melissa/Bob/Miss Awissa at Firehouse for some Southern barbecue that was out of this world. I don’t think I really appreciated Firehouse while we lived there because… well… it wasn’t Shyler’s. I guess you could say my palate has matured because there’s plenty of room on my plate for both barbecue (assuming Shyler’s does eventually reopen).

Christy insists on eating her pulled pork with slaw. That’s probably the “right” way to eat it, but I don’t understand why one would want to mess with perfection.
Firehouse BBQ in Johnson City, TN

Pal’s

Not only is Pal’s tasty, but it seems they’ve hired some mind readers, too…

Misaki

I wish they would bottle that shrimp sauce so we could bring it home…
Misaki

Misaki
Unfortunately, they don’t. Oh well. I guess that just means we’ll have to go back soon.

Bojangles

No trip to the South is complete without at least one meal that includes Bo-Berry biscuits from Bojangles.
Bojangles Bo-Berry Biscuits

Church Friends

I wish we had time to meet with more people from our old Southside/Summit Church, but it was great to get together with some former members of the Wandering Church of the Nomad.
Homecoming 2013  Homecoming 2013

That’s our Goddaughter on the trampoline. She’s dressed up like a fairy princess. I think. And she’s practicing so she’ll be able to learn how to fly. Since she’s our Goddaughter, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. Should it? It’s just par for the course.

And Miss Awissa/Bob/Melissa would like for me to inform you that no, she is not pulling Mihret’s arms out of her sockets. They’re dancing to music that wasn’t playing. That’s kind of par for the course, too.

The Kids and Their Old New Friends

It was amazing watching our kids play together. Some of them met for the very first time. Some hadn’t seen each other in quite a while – and most of them probably didn’t really remember each other. But they played and played and played. It was heartwarming to see them play like they’d known each other all their lives.

Homecoming 2013

Tossing a stuffed buffalo at Milligan Homecoming 2013

football at Hoover Farm

The Hoover Farm

Heather and Randy invited us to their farm for a bonfire. It was great spending more time with everyone and it was just a little bit reminiscent of the bonfires we used to have at Milligan – without the kids running around and playing, of course.

Toasted Marshmallows - Milligan Homecoming 2013

Aly met a real live Tennessee Fainting Goat

Buffalo Creek

We walked along the banks of Buffalo Creek for some family pictures. I couldn’t help but remember and pray for the guys I had baptized in that creek more than a decade ago.

Buffalo Creek

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

I think the weekend convinced Aiden to consider attending Milligan (years down the road when it’s time for him to start looking seriously at college. I know it’ll be here before we know it though). Until I opened my big mouth and talked about the tradition of throwing a guy in the Creek after he gets engaged. Now I think we’re back to square one with him.

Aiden at Buffalo Creek - Milligan Homecoming 2013

Of course, since Milligan doesn’t have a football team, our efforts might be futile anyway.

Vespers

Milligan students of the mid to late 90s gathered with their families in Lower Seeger for a night of Vespers, not unlike the services we used to have every Sunday evening while we were students. It was moving beyond words.

I don’t know why it took us 15 years to decide to do something like this, but I pray that this will become a regular part of Homecoming weekends in the future.

Seeger Chapel

After the amazing Vespers service, we had to take a quick walk through the Chapel. The kids, however, weren’t satisfied with just a walkthrough. They had to jump on stage.

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

We left Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains with our hearts full and already looking forward to the next time we’ll be able to say “hello” while standing in the shadow of Buffalo Mountain.

1993? That was SO long ago

As I’m sure you already know, the Hoosiers are Big Ten CHAMPS. And they aren’t sharing the title with anyone like they did back in 2002. This is the first time they’ve won a regular season title outright since 1993.

That was such a long time ago. But it was a very pivotal year for me.

My Senior Picture

As I’ve mentioned before, Scott and Corri Brooks have a special role in my story because they were willing to invest time and energy into me as they continued to speak Truth into my life. They’re also a very crazy couple. Who in their right minds would think it would be fun to take a group of high schoolers into their homes every Wednesday evening? Who in their right minds would think it would be fun to take a group of high schoolers eight-ish hours away into the hills of Tennessee to visit their alma mater? I can’t think of many people who would honestly think of that as a good time.

Scott and Corri did.

OK…maybe they didn’t necessarily call it “fun”…but they did it. And that changed my life.

When we arrived at Milligan, we got a tour of the campus. I don’t remember how, but I came away with a free Milligan Buffaloes bandanna (and I didn’t even have to use twitter to win)!

After our tour, we went into the dorms to meet our hosts for the evening. I don’t know where the girls went, but the guys got to crash at Webb Hall. As we were dropping our sleeping bags and suitcases on the dorm room floor, I heard one of the guys we were staying with say to our campus guide, “We were thinking about taking them to Cheers.” Then he looked at us and said, “You guys want to go to Cheers with us?”

Remember, this was 1993. Everyone knew what Cheers was. It was where everybody knows your name.

It was also a bar.

“Um…” we said….”Sure?”

The next thing I knew, we were piling into a Webb resident’s car and heading off to the place where everybody knows your name. I must admit, I was pretty nervous. “What if they ask for ID? How are they going to let me in?” I thought to myself “And….what about the drinks? They’re not really going to offer me anything are they? I mean….this is a Christian college.”

Some of you might be rolling your eyes. That’s OK. I was pretty sheltered. By choice. I had access to alcohol in high school. I just chose to stay away from it. And I have no regrets. That’s why this was such a big deal.

My hands were shaking. I didn’t want to get busted. I couldn’t imagine having to try to call my dad and explain to him how I needed him to bail me out all the way down in Tennessee. That was going to be an unpleasant conversation, to say the least. But I also didn’t want to offend my hosts. After all, I was staying with them for the weekend.

We pulled into the parking lot and I wondered what was going to happen next. I checked my wallet. Yep. It still said I was under 21. This wasn’t going to end well. We met a carload of girls and started walking into Cheers. My hands were sweating. I tried to remain calm. I tried to find an “out.” I had no idea what they were going to do or how to sneak the whole lot of us in without someone questioning our age.

You have no idea how relieved I was when I found out that the Cheers in Johnson City, Tennessee, was merely a family restaurant with amazing cheesesticks.

A good, clean time was had by all.

Milligan College sign

After an amazing weekend on an amazing campus, it was time to leave. Scott and Corri parked their van with the girls already loaded and ready to go. I was the last one to throw my luggage in the back of the van. As I closed the liftgate, I slipped in a puddle and got mud all over my jeans.

“Did you hurt anything?” Scott asked, trying not to fall over in laughter.

“No,” I replied. “Only my pride.”

And my pride was, indeed, wounded. You see, there was a girl on that van. I had been trying to impress her during the whole trip. Slipping and falling right in front of her definitely didn’t help matters, although I did manage to get her to go to prom with me. Kinda.

To add insult to injury, we listened to the IU game on the way home. They lost. To Kansas. In the tournament. Calbert Cheaney’s collegiate career was over. I was devastated. Let’s just say that I’m not hoping for a repeat of that game.

Fortunately, I had just discovered my new home. I knew I would be returning to Milligan as a student someday. I never really gave any other college a serious look. I was going to be a Milligan Buffalo.

That trip was 20 years ago this month.

That was a long time ago. Or was it?

This is INDIANA (you have to watch these kids!)

I’m honestly not the biggest fan of This is Indiana, the unofficial IU video that went viral a few years ago. I just don’t like the song. That being said, I LOVE this video made by a class of third graders from Cold Spring Environmental Magnet School. Great job, kids!

I especially like the part where they share their dreams. Keep dreaming big, kids! And we’ll see you in 2022.

Speaking of IU…

Let’s go, Hoosiers! Beat Michigan tomorrow!

SpangDeutschLish Rears its Ugly Head Again

The Ethiopian Flag

Longtime faithful visitors to Life in the Fishbowl don’t need to be reminded that I’m far from an expert at foreign languages. My linguistic understanding is really more like a stew. SpangDeutschLish stew.

Apparently, my “default” foreign language has reverted back to German. There was obviously a language barrier between us and the nannies at the Care Center in Addis. They spoke very little English. We spoke very little Amharic. So we resorted to pointing and signing quite a bit.

The German flag. It's not THAT different from the Ethiopian flag - right? At least it has yellow. And horizontal lines.

But whenever I’d hear them say something to me in Amharic, my mind would register that they were speaking in a foreign language. So I wanted to respond to them in German.

That’s right. German.

I even caught myself actually responding in German once. A nanny was explaining something to us (I don’t remember what – probably about feeding Mihret) and I understood what she meant. I heard myself say, “Ah, sehr gut,” out loud.

It could be argued that because there’s still a lingering Italian presence (i.e. Chaio = “goodbye”) from the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in the early 20th century, I could have simply been trying to recognize Ethiopia’s cultural heritage. Because, after all, Germany and Italy aren’t that far from each other.

Or maybe I’m just a doofus.

Fortunately, I figured out how to say “Thank you” before I started telling everyone “Danke” or “Gracias.” That would have been embarrassing.

Flashback Friday

My Senior portrait. And do note that the t-shirt says Milligan, not Michigan.
My Senior portrait. Notice the Milligan t-shirt.

Today was the last day of school for Christy and the kids.

Cowan’s graduation is tonight.

And fifteen years ago, I donned the cap and gown and did all I could not to actually march to the tune of Pomp & Circumstance.

I like to say that during the early 80s, I kind of lived under a rock when it came to popular music. After you watch one of the more popular videos from my Senior year, you’ll see why I decided to climb back under that rock and spend my time listening to the likes of Rich Mullins, Tchaikovsky, Aaron Copland, and Simon & Garfunkel.

Groundhog Day: Junior/Senior

I can't remember which event this is from. It MIGHT be from Junior/Senior. Then again, it MIGHT be from Fall Formal.

My response to the question: If you were forced to re-live a single day for the rest of your life, what day would you pick?

In case you missed it (and where were you?), here was Answer #1

Answer #2: Our Last Junior/Senior at Milligan

Not much to say here. It was a great time. It was one of the last major events we did with all of our friends before they all graduated and moved away (I still had another semester).

I can still see Greg Pas dancing to YMCA. Man, I miss him!

Groundhog Day: First Date

My response to the question: If you were forced to re-live a single day for the rest of your life, what day would you pick?

As mentioned in the earlier post, I’ve managed to narrow my answer down to a handful of days. I’ll be sharing them in chronological order.

Answer #1: My First Date with Christy

Covered Bridge - Elizabethton, Tennessee
Covered Bridge – Elizabethton, Tennessee

So, it’s no secret that I essentially stalked Christy for almost six months before we went out on our first date. OK, “stalking” might be a little strong. I mean, it’s not like I had a cardboard cutout of her in my dorm room or anything like that. Because that might have been a little bit obsessive. Besides, I wasn’t creative enough to do anything like that. 🙂

I remember the first time I noticed her. I was captivated by her eyes and desperately wanted to know the woman behind those eyes. So I would conveniently place myself in the same places I knew she’d be. I even found out what classes she was taking the Spring semester and conveniently signed up for many of the same classes. (But no – I wasn’t a stalker!) And I even somehow convinced her that I was a worthy study-partner for one of our classes. Boy, I had her fooled (for the record, I did do really well in that class)!

Anyway, the day finally came where I gathered up enough nerve to finally ask her out on a date. I sat there in her dorm’s stairway and my hands shook uncontrollably. She knew I was going to ask her. People had been trying to set us up for months. But she wanted me to ask her out. Dang – how unreasonable can you get? 🙂

I was concerned about how awkward it would be and how nervous I’d be. I mean, we’d spent a lot of time together in the weeks leading up to our first official date, but things tend to change when you put labels on them. Fortunately , I wasn’t nervous at all and there was no awkwardness, except when we debated about who should pay. I thought I should. She thought she should. We managed to compromise on that, though.

We ate dinner at a restaurant that’s no longer there. It used to be known as Cheers. I can’t remember what the place was called at the time, but it was some type of homestyle, family-cooking restaurant. Later, I think it became Joe’s Crab Shack. Now it’s a Smokey Bones (unless it’s changed again).

Then we went to see James and the Giant Peach. It was one of Christy’s favorite books as a child. So we went. Let’s just say the movie wasn’t nearly as good as the book. So the place where we ate dinner on our first date went out of business shortly after that. And the movie we watched wasn’t very good. If those were a way to gauge the future of our relationship, you’d think we were doomed.

Fortunately, those aren’t very good indicators.

We finished the evening by going to the Covered Bridge in Elizabethton, TN, and fed the ducks (shhh! Don’t tell anyone! You’re not supposed to feed the ducks). After running out of bread, we sat on the river bank in the shadow of the bridge and talked. And talked. And talked some more. We shared our hopes and dreams. We shared our life stories. It was one of those nights I’d hoped would never end.

After a few hours of sitting and talking, we realized that it was extremely late, so we decided to call it a day. I drove her to her dorm and walked her to the door. I don’t think I needed my car to get back to my dorm because I’m pretty sure I could have floated there. It was such an amazing evening.

This was one of the first days I thought of when I originally heard the question. It was magical. But I don’t think I could stand watching James and the Giant Peach every single day for the rest of my life – regardless of the company.

But it just might be worth it.

Washington Mall

Stand in the Gap - October 4, 1007
Stand in the Gap - October 4, 1007

I’m watching the people pour into the Washington Mall in anticipation of this historic day. As I’m watching the images of the crowd amassing between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, I can’t help but think about the last time I was at the Mall.

It was October 4, 1997. A small group of us from Milligan had driven up to D.C. the previous evening. One of the more prominent memories about the car ride was when I told Scott Berggren that I needed him to pull over…immediately. He did. And that was a good thing. I proceded to throw up all over the side of the highway. We stayed in a large church that night. Got up the next morning, grabbed some breakfast (I had a McDonald’s sausage & egg biscuit, and a banana…I thought my stomach was better…I was wrong), and loaded onto a caravan of buses and rode to a parking lot near the Pentagon. As we began to walk towards the Washington Monument (that seems like a long walk. Maybe it was. Maybe I’m mistaken about where we were…but that’s what I remember), I had to stop again. Yes, I threw up all over the parking lot. And my shoes.

But I kept going. Because I wasn’t going to miss this Sacred Assembly of Men.

Me & Scott as were about to leave Stand in the Gap. You cant tell because the picture is a little washed out, but I was still pretty queasy. Spending the day in the sun might not have been the best idea.
Me & Scott as we're about to leave Stand in the Gap. You can't tell because the picture is a little washed out, but I was still pretty queasy. Spending the day in the sun might not have been the best idea.

Because I was sick and exhausted, I don’t remember too much about that day. But I do remember a couple of things. I remember there was a prayer for unity within the church and we were encouraged to reconcile ourselves with one another because of the divisions (especially racial) that we’ve allowed to occur within the church. All of a sudden, this guy comes out of nowhere, grabs one of our friends (who happens to be black), and embraces him.

“I’ve sinned against you, brother,” the anonymous white man said.

It has served as a powerful reminder of how we can be reconciled to one another. I’ll never forget that moment.

And it’s on that same Mall that history is taking place today.

Since the campaigns began, I’ve been arguing that you cannot vote for a person simply because of the candidate’s race. Race is no reason to vote for someone and it certainly isn’t a reason to vote against someone. So although race shouldn’t have been a factor during the election process, now that we’re about to swear-in the nation’s first African-American President, it’s time to celebrate. And the church should be leading the way. Not because of any misplaced hope in a person, but because of the life-changing, unifying power of the good news of Jesus Christ!

This is truly an historic day. It’s a day we can help lead towards healing for the centuries of division between us based upon color of skin. It’s a day where we can begin to hope that Dr. King’s dream will someday be fulfilled and we will one day judge people not on the color of their skin but the content of their character.

It’s a day where we can embrace each other and say, “I’ve sinned against you, brother. I’ve sinned against you.”

Why would you need that in a KITCHEN?

I remember sitting in Communications 101: Intro to Mass Media at Milligan, under the guidance of Terry Mattingly oh-so-many years ago when the conversation turned to this growing phenomenon called the Internet. This was in the Dark Ages, when the WWW was still reserved primarily for techno-geeks and role-playing buffs. It wasn’t accessible to everyone and it definitely wasn’t as fast as it is today. This was before Milligan (who claimed to be a front-runner in this area) put down fiber-optic cable, allowing access to higher-speed Internet to the entire campus. And yes, this was much earlier than wi-fi. My roommate bought a computer a year or two after this conversation and it had a few gigs of memory. One of our techno-geek friends asked, “Why on earth would you ever need that much memory? That’s so huge!”

Yeah, now we can carry more memory than that on our keychains. But I digress…

TMatt was discussing unending possibilities that would open up once the WWW became more accessible to the general public. I remember him saying something about the entire house would be connected to the Web. Kitchens would even be online. You’d be able to store your recipes and make grocery lists on your computer. And they might even do your grocery shopping for you.

I quietly chuckled about the notion. Why on earth would a kitchen need to have a computer? And even if it did have a computer, why would it need to have Internet access?

My father-in-law recently gave us a wireless router, so we now have Internet access throughout the house (and in the church office, I might add). So I use my laptop to listen to the radio while working in the kitchen. And yes, I look up recipes on the laptop. Made some pretty tasty pork chops a couple of days ago. I followed the recipe on my laptop’s screen. And while I was working on the recipe, a reminder popped up from my to-do list.

Huh.

Maybe he wasn’t so far-fetched after all. I guess the guy does know what he’s talking about (from time-to-time :))

Now, if only we could eliminate the need to go to the grocery. Oh wait.

Charles Barkley, Intramural Basketball, and this year’s Indiana Hoosiers

The Round Mound of Rebound
Sir Charles: The Round Mound of Rebound

Like most kids in Indiana, I was no stranger playing basketball in middle school and high school. We’d play in the backyard. We’d play in the church gym after Scout Troop meetings every Tuesday night. After lunch, we’d play basketball in the gym during middle school.

And, like most kids, we’d try to model our play after NBA players. There were all kinds of Jordan wannabes with tongues wagging and showboat layups. I had my own hero on the court. It was Charles Barkley, even though has continually reminded people that  he’s not a role model.  I didn’t have the height of a Dominique Wilkins or David Robinson. I couldn’t shoot the ball from outside like Larry Bird. And I definitely didn’t have the skills of an MJ.

If my body shape was like anyone in the NBA’s, it was Barkley’s. If my playing style was like anyone’s, it was Barkley’s. I didn’t talk trash like he did. And of course I couldn’t dunk. But I could block out. And I could fight for every rebound. And I loved the fact that his game was multidimensional. When he retired, he was one of only four players to end his career with 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists.

When I was with my friends, I’d play with confidence and reckless abandon. I’d block out. I’d fight for every possession. I’d drive to the basket with confidence. And I wasn’t afraid to swat away a shot or two. And when Kevin was playing, they made us play on opposing teams because we were too good when we were on the same team. We knew where the other was going to be and what the other one was going to do. I guess we canceled each other out when we were on opposing teams.

Things changed when I played with people other than my usual friends. There was one time when we were playing a pickup game and I was dominating in the paint. A few of the more athletic guys came over and suggested we play a game of four-on-four. We agreed. And I completely disappeared. It was like I’d forgotten how to play. It was like a light switch. One of my friends came up to me and said, “Play like you were just playing.” And I tried. I just didn’t react the same way. I couldn’t block out. I couldn’t drive to the hoop. It was like I forgot how to play.

The same thing happened again my freshman year of college. When I got together with my friends and we played a little hoops, I usually did pretty well. S0 we joined the intramural league. We walked into the gym for the first game, oozing with confidence. But that all changed at the first tip of the ball. I disappeared. Again. The light switch went off and I forgot how to play. As we were running down the court, one of my friends said to me something that sounded eerily similar to what was said to me five years prior: “Play like you were just playing yesterday!” But I couldn’t do it. I guess I was too intimidated.

We lost that game by at least 30 points. It might have been 50. I really don’t remember. We lost every other game in that intramural season. We were a bunch of freshman who hadn’t played together very much before intramurals began and we really didn’t have the collective skills (or hoops intelligence, to be honest) to match any of our opponents. We tried our hardest, but we really weren’t very good. And although my team tried to do everything they could to rebuild my confidence, I just didn’t ever play like I did when it was just me and my friends playing together. It was like I was a big fish in a little pond and I definitely couldn’t keep up with the big boys. Instead of fight my way through that, something inside of me would shut down instead.

Photo courtesy Hoosier Scoop Online

I thought of my basketball experience this Saturday as I watched the Indiana vs. Illinois game. I have no doubt that the Hoosiers are good players. I mean, Kyle Taber was the Player of the Year in Evansville his Senior year. That’s no small accomplishment. I’m sure they do remarkably well during practice.

What I saw when I watched the game, though, was a bunch of guys who realized they didn’t have the raw talent to take on their opponent. And instead of fighting for every possession and crashing every board, they forgot how to play. Just like when I’d play against people who were better than me, the light switch went off.

The Hoosiers are inexperienced. That goes without saying. Michigan’s Fab Five were inexperienced and they were very successful. But they were one of the highest-rated recruiting classes of all time. They could overpower other teams with their raw talent and athleticism.

The Hoosiers don’t have All-American talent. At best, they have the talent level of a mid-major or a smaller school. Mid-majors and smaller schools don’t overwhelm other teams with their overpowering athleticism. Inexperienced mid-majors and smaller schools get beat up by the bigger, more experienced and talented teams. They get beat up by teams like Indiana used to be. And while they take their lumps their first year or two, a team with the right chemistry and good coaching can build on those beatings and turn into a threat to the big boys come tournament time of the young team’s senior year.

In a few years, I’m confident that this is what’s going to happen to the Indiana program. In case you hadn’t read it before on my blog, Tom Crean gets it. He understands what Hoosier Hysteria is all about. He understands that there’s a culture and tradition at IU. And he can build on that. But tradition doesn’t win basketball games. So during this massive rebuilding process, the Hoosiers might wind up looking a little bit like my freshman intramural team.

I’d like to say that we blew out our opponent in the opening round of our intramural tournament. We didn’t. But we did manage to lose to the #1 seed (the team that blew us out in the first game of the season) by single-digits.

Sometimes it’s important to celebrate the small things.