I asked God to find me

Originally published Feb. 18, 2021 as a Lenten Devotional on oconeestreetumc.org

Deuteronomy 1:31
“There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

Footprints (author undetermined)
An elderly man, who had lived his life and left this world to go and meet his Maker asked the Lord a question.

“As I’m looking down on the paths I’ve trod, I see two sets of footprints on the easy paths.

But down the rocky roads I see only one set of footprints.

“Tell me, Lord, why did you let me go down all those hard paths alone?”

The Lord smiled and simply replied, “Oh, my son, you’ve got that all wrong!

I carried you over those hard paths.”

It had already been a long week, even though we were only two days into it. I had not been connecting with the most important people in my life, and was already overwhelmed with work, family, church and baseball commitments.

I woke up yesterday to find my work calendar was filled with back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings, the earliest of which I was already running late for.

Both my personal and work inbox were littered with requests for action items that needed to be finished immediately.

Somehow, I received more than a dozen texts in the span of six hours between 2-8 a.m.

My youngest children were relentlessly arguing. My dog was incessantly barking. And Carla was gone.

I rushed out of the house and into my car, only to find my eldest child left me a near-empty tank.

And halfway through my 50-mile trek to work, the check engine light popped on.

Every mountainous twist on HWY-441 brought fantasies of driving off the cliff. As someone who has learned to successfully live with clinical depression (through decades of therapy), I knew the path I was headed down was dangerous.

Photo by Matteo Di Iorio on Unsplash

I asked God to find me. 

The next eight hours were a blur. I know I successfully taught a class. I was told I impressed a VIP from the governor’s office in one of my morning meetings. I even received a “thank you” email from the parents of a prospective student to whom I apparently spoke with around noon. I managed to successfully lead a very long and potentially contentious faculty meeting. And in between everything, I somehow finished multiple reports that have been sitting on my invisible “to-do” list for weeks.

It was after 4, and I was eager to drive back to Athens to announce the opening day baseball game for Clarke Central and watch Jaydon get his first opening day start with varsity. I’ve announced several sporting events in my lifetime, but this one was special — I never imagined I would have an opportunity to introduce my child in a game.

First pitch was scheduled for 5:55, so I had plenty of time. Walking to my car, I checked my text messages for the first time since the morning. A message at 10:38 a.m. from coach read, “Game moved to 5 p.m. and will be a doubleheader.”

Surprisingly, this did not impact me like my morning did. I accepted that I would be late. I was sad that I would likely miss his first at-bat, but knew there were several other competent parents who knew how to talk into a microphone and do the job for me.

When I arrived at the Clarke Central baseball field, I rushed into the press box and as luck would have it, the first batter I got to announce was, “right fielder, #8, JAYDON DENNIS.”

It gave me goosebumps. And I watched with great pride as Jaydon beat out a grounder up the middle, stole 2nd and 3rdbase, and eventually scored the first run of the season for the Gladiators, as the team swept Oglethorpe County.

As I reflected on my day, I remembered asking God to find me. God not only found me, but carried me throughout the day, and dropped me off at one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Prayer: God, thank you for finding me. Thank you for carrying me when I was struggling to walk. Thank you for gently setting me down to fully experience the goodness of life.

Kuya Egor was a cool dude

Kuya Egor died last week, one of thousands of victims of coronavirus.

My Kuya Egor was a really cool dude.

Growing up as child in a first-generation American Filipino family, it seemed I was meeting a new family member at every gathering — and there were A LOT of family gatherings throughout the year. When I first met Kuya Egor, who had recently married my Ate Regie, I instantly fell in love with him. It was the late 1980s and much to the dismay of my parents, I was getting into the “heavy metal” music of the era and simultaneously was discovering my passion for radio, and like every Chicago boy was a huge fan of Michael Jordan. Kuya Egor talked to me about music, popular Chicago morning man Jonathan Brandmeier and the Chicago Bulls, and I knew this was one cool dude. He always made a point to check in on me at family gatherings, offering advice and encouraging me to pursue my dreams. I didn’t think much about it then, but now I realize how much that meant to me.

Being a cool dude, it’s not surprising that Kuya Egor made our supersized Christmas gatherings extra fun. I always enjoyed going to the home of Kuya Egor, Ate Regie and my supercool cousin Mikki. As karaoke was booming in the Philippines (to this day, the karaoke capital of the world … at least according to an episode of The Amazing Race), Kuya brought karaoke into the family, etching it into family tradition. When it was my turn, he would always have a Guns N’ Roses or Bon Jovi track that he purchased just for me. Kuya Egor was also very generous with his gifts, and would frequently attach a $2 bill to gifts for kids. A highlight of the adult white elephant gift exchange was finding Kuya’s gift, because we knew there was a good chance of some extra cash hidden in there. And for the kids, he would literally make it rain money into the living room from the upstairs loft in his home.

My favorite memory happened when I was “around 21” and my Kuya Bong was visiting from Switzerland. At Kuya Egor’s house, we met up with Ninong Ver and Manong Jun — and we all drank whisky until the next morning. That was the moment when I crossed the threshold to become one of the “Filipino men” of the family. I don’t remember much about that night, but I swear for the first time I started to understand Tagalog!

Although my interactions with Kuya Egor grew less and less over the years as I moved to Georgia, he always reconnected with me when I went back home. And he was the first member of my extended family to visit us in Georgia, dropping by for a visit en route to taking his family to Disney.

Looking back for photos of Kuya, it’s not surprising that the only ones I can find (besides shots of the whole family) are ones of him interacting with my kids as they were growing up. Jaydon, Jackson and Matthew instantly connected with him, as is evidenced in the photos.

That’s not surprising, because Kuya Egor was a really cool dude.

Chapter 6: I failed

I failed.

As much as people tell me, “Don’t look at it as a failure,” it is what it is. A failure.

The past six months there have been five aspects of my life: family, dissertation, work, church and personal — typically in that order. But the dissertation affected every aspect. I missed many Saturday “family days.” I neglected work emails and phone calls. I shrugged my church responsibilities. And personal time? Forget it. The dissertation followed me everywhere I went. I wrote while on the bleachers during my son’s baseball game. I spent a trip to visit my mom in Chicago locked up in a bedroom to write. I wrote during work. I wrote in church. I wrote in doctor’s offices.

My family sacrificed immensely, not only in my wife going without her husband and my sons going without their father for months, but also financially. I spent north of $1,000 paying for recording and transcription services, token gifts for my participants, and of course the open coffee tab at Starbucks, my official writing headquarters. I  bought my $750 doctoral graduation gown and planned a flight for my mom to watch me achieve the highest academic accomplishment in my field. And on Oct. 15, it was all worth it. I was done.

Only one step was left — the defense. It was supposed to be a mere formality. I know dozens of Ph.Ds, many of them who came through my program. Every single one of them breezed through the defense. Perhaps a revision now and then, but nothing to delay graduation. Failing a dissertation defense is almost unheard of — just google “failed dissertation defense.” At the point of the defense, the dissertation has been well-read and vetted by the committee. Any major issues should’ve long been addressed.

So I walked into the defense confident and proud. I couldn’t wait for that moment when I would be dismissed from the room so the committee can deliberate, and be invited back to the room to hear my major professor say, “Congratulations Dr. Dennis.”

But that didn’t happen. The form the committee must sign has three options: approve, approve with revisions, and disapprove. My dissertation wasn’t “approved.”  It wasn’t even “approved with revisions.” Perhaps not to completely crush my psyche, the committee didn’t “disapprove” either. The form disappeared. And I was told there were “serious concerns” about my study. My methodology was flawed. My research questions were misguided. My results were unreliable. “Don’t look at this as a failure,” I was told.

Countless family members, colleagues and friends knew I was defending on that day. And when I’m forced to tell them what happened, they all echo the same sentiment: “This isn’t a failure.”

But I did fail. All the missed family time, all the neglected work duties, all the shrugging of church responsibilities, all the money spent, all the neglecting of personal gratification was all supposed to lead to the graduation stage on Dec. 18. But it won’t. And it’s not because some tragic life event happened or because I gave up along the way — it’s because I failed.

To say I didn’t fail ignores the hard work I put into this, and the sacrifices my loved ones made to support me. After months of work with hundreds of pages of notes and text, I didn’t submit my dissertation for defense so the committee could debate whether I was going down the right path. I submitted it so they could approve it, and I could finally complete this chapter in my life that began in 2008 and has withstood the birth of my two youngest children, fires that destroyed my parent’s home and my church, the death of my father, a sickness that nearly killed my wife, and a myriad of personal health problems. The chapter was supposed to have a happy conclusion, with me finally graduating in 2015.

Now that chapter will have to be rewritten, much like my dissertation.

Because I failed.