23 February 2007

Diddy Gras and the Season of Lent

I'll admit something strange: I've really been looking forward to Lent this year.

Perhaps it is because I have already been fasting each Monday for my friend, Johnny (he has responded miraculously to treatment, far above our fondest expectations). Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of Lent in my ninth year of celebrating it. I'm not sure what it is.

I do know that I longed to fast. I longed for 40 days to get away from the gunk in my life and focus on God. I longed for the darkness of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I long to experience the luxurious joy of Easter at the end of these 40 days of deprivation.

About two weeks ago, I started asking the kids what we should fast from. We're celebrating Lent as a family this year. I mentioned sweets & desserts. Our home has been covered with candy ever since Halloween. We were finishing up the last of the junk food when Christmas rolled around. Then there was Valentine's Day. Yuck!

The kids didn't like the idea. But it was Owen who brought it up three days later. He had told his friends at school that he would fast, and he seemed to like the idea. Ellie bought in too. Everyone agreed once I told them we would celebrate Diddy Gras on Fat Tuesday: we would take all of the candy and ice cream out of the cupboards, and we would eat as much as we could stuff our guts with!

In cleaning out the cupboards, I filled a whole grocery bag full of junk food. We stopped at Food Lion and bought pints of Ben & Jerry's. We pigged out that night until we were sick (everyone but Owen, who was too obsessed with his GameBoy game to notice the food). To be honest, it hasn't tempted me since.

To me, the goal of Lent is casting aside vanities. Whenever I'm tempted to think of what I've given up for Lent, I merely remind myself of the things Christ gave up for me. It really puts things into perspective and gives me more reasons to thank God for the gift of Christ.

19 February 2007

Praise God, Hallelujah, Hip Hip Hooray!

My cousin, Norman McNulty, is engaged. He has posted the exact date and time--even some video on his blog if you're interested.

We haven't had a wedding in the Dittes family (Norman's mom is my dad's sister) since Julie walked down the aisle almost six years ago!

Whoopeee! Congratulations Norm and Joelle. I can't wait to see you wed!

17 February 2007

Valentine's Thoughts

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Jenny and I got a night out at a Valentine’s dinner at our church. It was fun, but it followed the rigorous and stressful negotiations that involve finding childcare. A number of people on our “list” had other plans, and when we finally did find someone, Ellie entered intensive negotiations to have her moved to a third home for the evening. The fact that this added an extra 20 minutes to our evening didn’t seem to faze her.

In honor of Valentine’s Day—and the lovely Bride with whom I celebrate it each and every year—I want to write a true love story. I’ll try not to make this long, but posterity demands some record of the love between the former Jenny George and me.

I fell in love with Jenny when I was on a date with a different girl.

It was my junior year at Southern Adventist University, about six months after Jenny and I had parted a final time, following one last epic hitchhiking trip through Wales (the details of which would take up a whole blog, so I’ll summarize: Betwys y Coed, Mount Snowdon, Harlech Castle). I had returned to Tennessee to finish my teaching degree; Jenny was in Africa, volunteering at a dental clinic in Cameroon. Our connection was a deep, abiding friendship.

That’s why I was on a date with the other girl.

Jenny’s brother, Johnathan, worked at a Taco Bell near my college. I probably ate there with my friends three times a week (the value menu was decidedly cheaper than our cafeteria). Every time I saw John, I would ask him, “Have you heard from Jenny yet? Have you written to her?”

He always stammered and said something about losing her address. I always grabbed a pen and wrote it on a napkin for him: Jenny George, Clinique Dentaire Adventiste, Cameroon, West Africa. Only the zip escapes me now. This must have happened six times. I was clueless to the fact that my weekly letters to her were anything more than trying to live her African adventures vicariously. Jenny was the best kind of friend: the kind who wasn’t going to break my heart, because I had no intention of risking that friendship on a romantic entanglement.

So I went out with Leslie when I got the chance.

I had harbored a secret crush on her since academy—she didn’t go to my school, she went to Jenny’s, although she was three years below Jenny’s grade. When I saw my chance, I asked Leslie out for coffee and cake at an International House of Pancakes (my cousin, Donnie, had a name for my dates: “cheap and deep”).

We had a great time, sharing stories and talking about our grand ideas. I felt so comfortable with Leslie that I finally revealed my Grand Truth of Dating: romance was a great way to lose a good friend; that’s why I never dated my friends.

Leslie wasn’t impressed. “I just think that’s a bad idea,” she said. “You’re eliminating a group of people that could be the best options for you. Romance is nothing without friendship.”

It wasn’t the first time that one of my grand ideas had crashed and burned under closer examination. As I drove Leslie home, I remember thinking, “She’s right. She is so right.” Then two words echoed in my mind: “Jenny George.”

It would still be eight months before Jenny returned from Africa. It took another three months for me to get up the nerve to ask her to consider taking our friendship into the realm of a serious relationship. Eleven months later we were engaged; nine months after that we wed; 12 ½ years later our love is vivacious.

Instead of dooming our friendship, I think romance enhanced our friendship and grew slowly and enduringly throughout the course of our marriage. Jenny would probably say that I am more romantic with her today than I was in the first days of our relationship. (Part of the explanation lies in the fact that I have to compete with two handsome boys for her affections, no doubt.)

Five years ago I saw Leslie at Jenny’s academy reunion. She is married now, with a little boy of her own. We spoke cordially about our experiences since college, our families and our shared friends. I was never able to bring myself to thank her for the romance that my date with her had engendered—a lifelong romance, only not with her.

10 February 2007

Neo-Nazi Concerns

I haven't been posting here as much recently because of MySpace. I joined it on a lark--to keep up with the gossip of my Cousin Stephen and his ridiculously loony love life. My students found me there, and I've been using it to keep up with present and former students in really unique ways.

Sometimes I get a little antsy. There are many social stigmas associated with public school teachers in America today--the primary one being close relationships with students. Of course, this is a terrible thing when it leads to inappropriate sexual relationships, but it really scares teachers like me from burying too much into students' lives.

I've become "MySpace teacher." If the 6:00 news eventually leads off with the headline, "Teacher investigated for MySpcace contact with student" about my case, so be it. I want to be a leader for my students. I want my relationship with some of them to grow and last a lifetime.

That leads me to a student whom I'll call "Jim." In my sophomore class last year, Jim made leaps and bounds, transforming before my eyes from a kind of rebelious kid into a straight-A student--but still a wild card as far as his personality is concerned. He joined the Youth in Government club I sponsored, and we have kept in touch over the summer and this year--when he isn't in any of my classes.

Jim is interested in Germany. Since I am a German teacher, he's asked me about German history, and I've shared books and materials with him. He had a particular interest in Hitler, which concerned me a little. I decided to engage him intellectually on the matter, hoping to use my considerable influence with him to divert any temptations to the "dark side."

MySpace has given me a chance to keep up with Jim and his cousin, Kurt, who took my class for awhile last year, but dropped out of school. Kurt is the lead singer for a "death metal" band. He has played some of his music for me, and I would describe it as something between a low moan and a loud roar. Strange, yes--I would almost describe is as alarming to listen to.

I was following Jim on MySpace last week. He had been absent one day, so I contacted him. I also noticed that he had left the comment on another student's page, "I just saw Satan!" At a club meeting, he behaved erratically and irrationally, as if he had a chip on his shoulder against the world--as if he were trying to push me away from him.

Immediately I scheduled a lunch with him. It occurred to me: Jim is a junior, and I fear that he is at a crucial point where he doesn't really have a plan for a future beyond high school, and he is growing frustrated with home and "kid life."

As we spoke, Jim told me that Kurt was really into National Socialism. He said he had read tons of books about Hitler and Socialism (I don't think he really understands the tremendous gulf between National Socialism and Socialism). Kurt, who has dropped out of school, is some of the influence I'm having to counter.

We talked about his dreams. He's a lot like I was at 17: tired of Tennessee, desperate to get out and see the world. Jim would like to get an English degree and get overseas to teach English and learn about how the rest of the world works. I really tried to imprint upon him this vision, so he might have something to carry him through some of the tough times.

Please keep me in your prayers as this new technology gives me new means to minister to these kids. Kids like Jim desperately want a future that includes hope.

07 February 2007

Warming up with Colbert

I'm engaging some friends in debate over Climate Change, and I just loved Stephen Colbert's take on the topic in the video below.

03 February 2007

Snow Day

For the record: this is my 100th post in Point Pleasant. It's taken me about 14 months to get here. I'd like to thank my seven or eight loyal readers. How are y'all doing?

Thursday was a typical "Snow Day" for my county's public schools. All day Wednesday the forecasters blanketed the news with predictions of 1 to 2 inches of snow. On the 10:00 news, many school systems, including mine, closed school in advance of a winter storm.

Thursday morning, we awoke, looked out the window, and saw the same brown, muddy gloom that we've experience all winter! About 9:30, a shower of snowflakes drifted by, but otherwise, the day was a wash: the storm had shifted and passed to the north of us!

I was delighted, however, when Thursday night, they announced that my schools had been closed because of a minor flu epidemic. I was even more delighted when I awoke the next morning to find two inches of snow on the ground (none of the weather forecasters had predicted it, this time).

In honor of Megan, who is currently sweltering through a summer heat wave down in Melbourne, Australia, I'll post the following images.

Jenny and Jo-Jo posed outside our show-covered log hogan. Jenny used to look that happy when she hugged me, I might add.

Since she could barely walk, Ellie has celebrated snow by pelting me with snowballs. He she goes again. All I can do is gaze into those gorgeous eyes, savor that glamorous smile and beg (with apologies to Britney Spears), "Hit me baby, one more time!"

These are the sleds we use here in Tennessee (where it only snows once or twice a year, unfortunately). When I was growing up in Ohio, I had these luxurious, long sleds and skeds that sped down the slopes. Here, we are lucky to get four or five runs in before the snow melts. Jonah sure looked bundled up, didn't he?