Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ho, Ho, Holy

Every so often, God slips me a stocking stuffer. Stocking stuffers are those little gifts that he gives me just to let me know he still up there. He's still watching, still listening. He still hears my heart even when I'm ignoring it. He still loves me and knows me. Even when I'm not wondering. Or wandering.

Stocking stuffers are sometimes an earth-shattering sunset, sometimes an ordained "coincidence" that only I will catch, sometimes the punchline to one of our inside jokes, sometimes the answer to a prayer I forgot I prayed or a found object I forgot I lost, a nudge to call someone out of the blue that leads to ministry, the perfect Bible passage to fit my situation.

Tonight's stocking stuffer was a song. A random song. A B-side on the If You Say Go album by Vineyard Music. Not really a song I paid much attention to when the CD was in heavy rotation around these parts. It's called "Make Me Whole" by Rachel Milstead, easily one of my favorite voices in Christian music. The bridge (or channel B, or whatever it is), "you carry me when I can't walk," was repeating over and over in my head as I milled around the kitchen cooking my grilled-cheese-sandwich dinner. So, I popped the CD in after dinner and memorized it. Four words: Ri Dic U Lous. I was lost in worship by the second line. If you get a chance, check out the CD and the song. Here are the lyrics:

You're the shelter of my soul
Through every drought and storm
When life leaves me worn and cold
You shelter me and peace flows
You shelter me and peace flows

Breath of God spring new life
Spirit move through my bones
Holy Love embrace me
Stir my heart wake my soul
Bring new life and make me whole

You're the light in my dark
Through seasons all alone
When my strength wanes and fails me
You carry me when I can't walk
You carry me when I can't walk
Oh carry me when I can't walk

Breath of God spring new life
Spirit move through my bones
Holy Love embrace me
Stir my heart wake my soul
Bring new life and make me whole

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Peace Out!

There are a lot of great things in my life that I take for granted.

One of the greatest and most indispensable is peace. It's something that God placed in the original Dennis recipe. It's not a given for everyone. God reminds me of that daily as I walk through my life. The Bible lists peace among the Fruits of the Spirit, but it's just as much of a Gift.

Along with the internal peace, I take my external peace for granted. Right now, DC is in the middle of one of several recent thunder storms that would do the Midwest proud: pelting rains, blinding blazes of lightning, and crashes of thunder that set off car alarms. All we're missing is the killer hail. I love storms like these for their awesome power and beauty, although they can be destructive and even deadly. But they're God-made.

When I hear the crashes and see the blazes and feel the pelting, I know that it's just the weather. I know it's just God taking pictures, watering the lawn, rearranging furniture in heaven. Also, not a given for everyone. Lots of people are living or maybe just surviving in a war-torn country. So they experience the exact same sensations all the time, except the crashes are bombs, the blazes are explosions and the pelting is gunfire.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not heralding the evils of war as an institution or any specific war. Even though my brother will soon begin a one year tour in Iraq and a good friend of mine will be heading over there for work, which is probably part of the reason God brought all of this up. All I'm saying is that I can't take any peace for granted. All of the peace in my life - in and outside of my head - is a gift from God and I must be grateful.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Paper Trail

I'm in the process of cleaning out my e-mail inbox at work. I archive every few months, so there's nothing in there older than five months old. Just the same, it all seems like a lifetime ago. It's fascinating to read the e-mails that kicked off friendships with people it seems like I've known for all of my life, the e-mails that were foreplay to amazing moves of God in relationships and ministry. I'm reading e-mails and thinking how young we were back then, and how little we knew of life and love and things of the Spirit. I was quite literally a different person then, so it's interesting to read the old Dennis' thoughts. Just five months? Wow! It's amazing how when we're walking with God, we live in his time, where a day is like an hour (or whatever that verse is).

With time flying by, it's good to have a record of where I've been, especially since my journaling habit didn't take. Of all of the habits that just wouldn't stick, that would be the one. Wouldn't it just figure? Although, to be fair, a lot of my bad habits didn't stick either. Like the love affair with "the sauce" that marked my college years: didn't stick. I really can't thank God enough for that.

Anyway, I do have a new tool. I stole an idea from My friend Julie: sending God e-mail. I set up an e-mail account for God (, and I send him an e-mail at least once a day. It works out really well. The password is 10 or 12 random characters, so I can never check it and see what I wrote, but it's still a good way to talk to God. If he ever writes back, I'll probably have a heart attack, but it's great for one-way downloading.

You're welcome to use the address if you want, but I wouldn't send him any junk mail or forwards, if I were you. If you send him a Christian chain letter and your computer crashes, don't say I didn't warn you.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Up The Creek Without A Camera

I spent last weekend camping with nine friends in Shenandoah. It was a nearly perfect time. I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun. We slept under the open sky (and a couple layers of nylon), we hiked for hours on end, we lazed by the campfire, we ate like royalty, and we communed with God, nature, and each other. We saw snakes, bear, deer, waterfalls, "waterfalls," gullies, mountains, valleys, and skies that would make your eyes cry in worship.

My only prayer for the trip was that God would orchestrate it so that I would have one-on-one time to bond with each person on the trip, even the ones that I didn’t know. God answered that prayer and tossed in the best weather we could have hoped for, just to show off.

Honestly, the only thing that would have made the weekend actually perfect is a camera., I didn’t know why, but as I prepared for the trip I actively avoided having a camera. Then, I ended up spending most of the hikes envisioning each scene through the lens of an imaginary and/or whining about not having a camera.

After I got home, God revealed the purpose for my cameralessness: being. For me, this trip was an exercise in just being. Not doing. God had gifted me with incredible beauty at every turn: natural, man-made, human and relational. But all of this was just to be enjoyed, not captured.

I get a little crazy with cameras. My friend, Kurt, is a photo-sniper. He’s also a Marine, so perhaps there’s a correlation. He takes one great picture per vista, catches exactly what he wants, then moves on. One shot, one kill. I, on the other hand, am the reason that God willed digital cameras into existence. I take ten or fifteen pictures per vista, and delete the shots until I narrow it down to two or three I can’t choose between.

So, God knew how distracted I would be with the process of taking pictures. In general, photography is about capturing the present for the future. It’s about capturing an experience, a mood, an emotion, a scene, a person, an expression, a moment. It’s an incredible gift. But it wasn’t for me, for that weekend. I needed to stay present to the present in the present for the sake of the present. It’s not something I do very often.

Mission: accomplished. I just beed. Sure, there was some Godly coercion involved, but it was for my best. I’m no worse for the wear and I came away with an amazing experience. I'll try it again, one day. Actually, I'll try both. Camping and being.

Friday, June 09, 2006

So. Last Night...?

Last night was one of those nights.

Yesterday, I was as close to depression as I get. Having seen real depression - just balls out, only-Satan-could-orchestrate-a-hell-on-earth-like-this depression - I bless God for my temperament. I get down, but I can only go but so far down before God stops me and says, "nah, li'l Negro, that's not for you." So, this melancholy has been circling for a while. I've been in a transitional period with a finite shelf life, but without a clear plan as to how to get off the shelf. Transitional periods always get me. I'm going to be rearranging my living situation and I don't know what things will look like when I'm...when God is finished. He's dropping hints and bread crumbs, but he's as annoyingly vague yet optimistic as always. Anyway, the melancholy eagle landed yesterday, maybe the night before.

He just kind of sat there all day long until around 7:30ish. I was reading Every Man's Battle and started feeling better. It wasn't the book, or maybe it was, but I don't think so. At 8:15 or so, I met a friend and had one of the worst/best conversations of my life. That sealed it. I was happy again. Not because of the conversation or the outcome.

The conversation was like a really happy funeral. You're happy because there was singing and really nice words and lots of great memories were stirred up, and the only thing that could have made it better was a spontaneous resurrection. But you still know someone's died and your life will never be the same, and that's very sad. And you're glad they're in a "better place," even though you can't imagine a better place than there with you. You want to let go, but only because you know you have to, not because you want to or are ready to. You're feeling happy and sad and thankful and pissed and overwhelmingly loved and abandoned and reminiscing and wondering what the hell do I do now all at the same time.

Yeah, it was like that.

In the middle of this convo, I got a call saying that I was accepted into the cool people group house. It felt like high school all over again. Sitting with the cool kids at lunch. Being in with the in-crowd, going where the in-crowd goes. I felt so wanted. I'm not sure how many people they interviewed, I met three or four of the other applicants, all cute girls who would have been fun to live with. I was so not what they were looking for, but they picked me anyway. I'm one of us. Yay.

I'm easy, I know it. Just part of my charm. The only problem is I couldn't take the slot. They need someone immediately and unfortunately I'm not available immediately. That sucks so badly, I wish it could have gone differently. It really would have been like living in the real world house..."but not for me."

Dangit, I'm late. Gotta go camp.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

He Who Laughs While Seated on a Throne in Heaven Laughs Loudest

God had a great laugh at my expense the other night. I was heading home and telling my friend, Olu, about a long-standing complaint I had with our subway system. I have always thought that the LCD marquees on the mezzanine/ticketing level of Metrorail stations should tell you when the next train will arrive at your station, rather than just giving you system-wide elevator outage and rail delay information.

The marquees on the train platform level give both types of information, so it's clearly possible. That way, I'll know if I need to rush to catch the train, if it's a lost cause, or if I have all the time in the world. And I wouldn't have to constantly bother the info booth guy or other passengers to see which train I just missed.

She sensibly recommended that I pass on this information to the people at Metro, who could actually do something about it. I scoffed saying, I had this suggestion for a long time and didn't anticipate it moving past the mental concept stage of its development anytime soon. Clearly, God had other plans.

As soon as we got on the train and sat down, she pointed out an advertisement directly in front of us. It was a picture of the interim president of the DC transit authority. The text invited Metrorail customers to contact him with any complaints, comments, or suggestions for how Metro could better serve them.

When I have a major life decision that I fast and pray for guidance on, I'm lucky to get a still, small voice. But when he overhears me whining about public transportation, I get a burning bush. Where's the justice?

Needless to say, I wrote Metro as soon as I got home that night. They wrote me back yesterday to say that they liked my idea and would be passing it on up the food chain.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Musical Interludinality

It was interesting evening. A night of dreams and visions. I went to visit a group house tonight. I'm looking into some housing alternatives and the group house I visited is the dream group house. It's Real World DC. I spent the rest of the night in a record store. Midway through my time in the store, I had a vision about a friend, which I learned an hour later was more than a fleeting thought. It didn't make any sense at first, so I ignored it. To be fair to myself, it's still new to me. I'm still learning.

More than anything, though, it was a night of music. There were nearly a hundred songs bandied about, but two stood out: one God sang to me, the other I sang to him. Oddly enough, the song God sang to me was written from my point of view and the song I sang to him was mainly written from his. We're wacky like that, God and I.

God's song was "Salvation (Psalm 71)" by Shawn McDonald:

I run for dear life to you my God
I'll never live to regret it
Do what you do so well
Do what you do so well
And get me out of this mess and up on my feet

You are my salvation
You are my fortress
You are my salvation
In whom I trust

Put your ear to the ground and listen
Give me space for this salvation
Be a guest room where I can retreat
You said your door is always open
It's always open.

You are my salvation
You are my fortress
You are my salvation
In whom I trust

My God free me from the grip of the wicked
From the clutch of the bad and the bully
My God free me, free me

My song was "I'll Trust You Lord" by Donnie McClurkin:

I know that faith is easy when everything is going well
But can you still believe in me when your life's a living hell
And when all the things around you seem to quickly fade away
There's just one thing I really want to know

Will you let go (I'll trust you, Lord)
Will you stand on my Word (I'll trust you, Lord)
Against all odds will you believe what I have said (I'll trust you, Lord)
What seems impossible (I'll trust you, Lord)
Will you believe (I'll trust you, Lord)
Every promise that I made will you receive (Yes, I will trust you, Lord)

I know how bad it hurt you when that loved one's life came to an end
And when they had to leave you, you said you'd never love again
But will you trust that I can help you and I'll never turn away
Will you trust me, Child, no matter, come what may

What if it hurts (I'll trust you, Lord)
What if you cry (I'll trust you, Lord)
What if it doesn't work the first time that you try (I'll trust you, Lord)
What if you call my name (I'll trust you, Lord)
And don't feel me near (I'll trust you, Lord)
Will you still believe in me or will you fear (Yes, I will trust you, Lord)

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust, Oh

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Phoblography: Family

I just want to note that this is the 100th blog post for Black Sheep Diaries. It's quite an accomplishment, considering that in the first year there were only 10 posts. I've come a long way, baby. Anyway, I'll get on with the matter at hand.

The Bourne Trilogy

My grandmother, the sweetest woman in the world, decided early on that she would document our lives by taking pictures of our shoes. Every so often Granny would grab our shoes and a camera, and we'd follow her outside where she'd line them up in age order and snap away. My shoes are the pair in the middle, since I am a middle child and all that that entails. I'm not sure how many of these shots exist. I also have no idea when this one was taken.

The pair on the left belongs to my older brother. If the three of us represented high school cliques, he would be the Prep. He's the family clothes horse. His closet was the reason I was in the running for Best Dressed in my high school. He has a keen eye and impeccable (albeit pricy) taste for anything that requires coordination. Probably equal parts ladies' man and rebel, he was a tough act to follow. He was, however, an excellent trailblazer in the sense that being known as his little brother proved to be a useful calling card for the one year that we went to school together. He was also a good foil, making me look even more studious and well-behaved. In general, he has always been popular with people of all ages, the favorite in most cases. Fast-forward to present day and we are flatmates. As adults, we haven't managed to identify any more similarities, but we have found that our differences complement each other quite well.

It's hard to imagine someone more different from me than my older brother, until you figure in my younger brother, the owner of the shoes on the right. My younger brother is the family Jock. He inherited the bulk of my father's athleticism. As children, we did almost everything together and had big fun doing it. In fact, we were raised almost as twins, because we were about the same size until a couple of uncontested growth spurts secured his status as the tallest and brawniest of the three. He was the secondary ladies man and the primary rebel. He was just as popular as my older brother with his peers and also a snappy dresser, although he has always leaned more toward urban fashions. Actually, he gravitated toward all-things urban, in spite of our mostly suburban upbringing, and insisted on calling my college-prep high school "The Wellington School of Etiquette." Nowadays, he's an Army MP with a wife and four kids. A meat and potatoes kind of guy, to balance out my older brother's "champagne wishes and caviar dreams." Unfortunately, we've yet to reach the same detente of complimentarity in our differentness, but I'm still holding out hope.

I round out the group as the Brain. And, in case you were wondering, I lost the Best Dressed title and instead ended up as Most Likely To Become President.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Phoblography: Family

Mi Padre

I had no recollection of this picture before scanning it for this post. It is a great shot of my dad and me, nonetheless. I believe I was three here, so my dad would have been 23. He is also my namesake (or I'm his, I don't remember how that works): I'm Dennis Jr. After years of rejecting the idea, I recently decided that there will be a Dennis III. We'll have to call him "Tres" or something, two Dennises is confusing enough.

I was extremely afraid of the water as a child and still don't know how to swim. My dad had a great way of making you feel completely safe when he held you, which explains my happiness. He was also very playful, however, so chances are I would have been dunked and bawling soon after this picture was taken.

My dad is the source of my renaissance-manliness. He's a great businessman, athlete, and artist. My spurts of business sense and athletic prowess come from him. He was an entrepreneur and engaged in a variety of business ventures in my childhood. Being a great provider was always his strong suit. He played football and basketball very well, and can probably still outrun me running backwards. My intelligence and creativity also come from him.

My dad is an odd combination of workaholic and party animal, something else I inherited although both in more moderation. He's an all around cool guy and is very dedicated to his friends, as am I. The only thing I didn't inherit was his skill as a ladies man, that went to my brothers. Although I was a carbon copy of my mother for most of my young life, I look more like my father every year. Between the two of them, I have a great shot at looking twenty something well into my forties.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Phoblography: Family

For my next trick, I will explain my life in pictures. Or, more accurately, using pictures. I figured I'd start at the foundation: my family.

Those Kelley Girls

This is one of my favorite photographs in print. It just so happens to be of my mother. That's her in the middle with my aunts. She's about two there, I believe.

The women of the Kelley clan are the stuff of legend. Incredibly strong, fiercely resilient and deeply loving with life stories to rival the best Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan have to offer. An African slave woman named Sally was the first of them and they've been rolling ever since.

My mother lives up to the tradition, although she's on the more reserved end of the spectrum. She's a woman of quiet strength with a faith that screams. Her grassroots relationship with God is about as old as this picture and was the first and best inheritance I received. She is also the source of my smile, my freckles which come and go, my hairline, my interest in teaching and youth ministry, the reserved side of my demeanor, and my passion for experiencing God through his creation.