September 18, 2017

Beach Day


We are blessed to live by the beach. Actually, I've been blessed my whole life to have lived within 20 miles of it on both coasts, the closest having been 1.5 miles in Westchester neighborhood in Los Angeles...those were the days. But with all this closeness, you'd think I'd be there about every weekend. Not so. Actually, I average a beach trip about every month. So I have to ask myself why?  And if I'm being honest, I think the answer is: kids.

Yes, it's difficult to take kids to the beach. And even if I don't plan to take them to the beach, during a big surf swell for instance, I can't just leave them at home (yet...). So my terrible solution has been to only venture to the shore on rare occurrences when I'm feeling both brave and patient enough to endure the hardships of beach-going; or when the stars align and someone is home to watch so I can sneak out for a couple hours to surf.

But today is different! Yes, I awoke with the beach on my mind, and so I decided to single-handedly take my children to the beach! My wife did it as the Stay-at-home Mom -- several times -- and managed to come home with both children and her sanity intact. She actually had developed a good routine for it, which she taught me during my "training" (when we were both home before she started working again). There are several difficult things to prepare for if you want to have your own blessed beach day. Check out the list I thought of below and feel free to add your own in the Comments if I missed any.

Papa got us this tent, which was an awesome addition to our beach supplies.
Preparation: This is key. You must think ahead and bring lots and lots of things to have a successful beach day! Gone are the days of grabbing a surfboard, a towel and a bottle of water for a few hours of fun. No, with children you must have sunscreen, bathing suits, towels, toys, swim diapers, clothes to change into when you are done, water, snacks, a tent/umbrella, sandals and probably some other items I'm forgetting. Today I forgot to bring toys, which my three year old noticed when she wanted to dig and build a sandcastle. No worries though, Daddy is good at...

Improvisation: Be ready to improvise. I turned seashells into shovels, which can also be used for castle decorations and listening devices. ("I can hear the ocean," she says with a conch shell up to her ear. Of course you can hear the ocean, you're standing right next to it, I think, with a smile and an affirming nod.) You will forget something and before you know it, turn a towel and some sticks into a makeshift tent to protect the baby from the sun. Just be ready for it.

Sunscreen: Like I said, my wife created a routine for this which involves changing and lathering the oldest, who will stand by the car while you work on the youngest (a wanderer). I don't want to say too much about sunscreen here, because there are a ton of different types out there and a lot of research on which ones give you cancer and which ones prevent it. I will say I had a friend who made her own, and it was a lot cheaper and a lot better; just super thick and less convenient. The thing I forget to do is reapply, but today when reapplication time came, it coincided with lunch time, so just left. Again, improvisation.

Snacks: If you're a stay-at-home parent, you know that you never leave home without snacks. This is only truer at the beach, where you are more isolated from convenient supplies, and kids are seemingly hungrier. The good thing is that if you get tired making sure your kids aren't drowning, you can use snack time for a brief respite from concentration. The bad part is trying to keep your one-year old from eating sand (and then cleaning up the poop after she does).

Not surfing: We were getting a little bit of the Hurricane Jose swell today, and I have to say it is difficult to watch people catch four-foot waves while you're jumping over four-inch ones with your kids. Usually I go to the beach with my wife and she watches the kids while I surf for a bit, then I come back and play. It works. I guess if you're not a surfer, the flip side of this is suntanning. You can't exactly check out for a few minutes to lay back and relax in the sun when your kids are being pummeled around by the ocean.

Not drowning: This is really hard with my youngest, who is a wild woman of the water. I love this part of her, and so I try hard not to squelch it (I am looking forward to family surf time one day), but it is hard when this fearless one-year old goes deeper and deeper. I guess when you name your child Waverly, what can you expect? Those swimmy things are awesome for this when your child is big enough.

Leaving: By far the hardest thing about the beach is getting two children with different minds on the same page for leaving -- something they probably don't want to do anyway. You're drying off one while the other is running back in the water. One is rinsed off and the other starts digging again. I still don't know how to do this, so any tips would be appreciated!

September 11, 2017

Don Miller Chat


Years ago I had a desk job where I mindlessly entered massive amounts of information from reality television footage into a database, and then even more mechanically put stickers on the tapes. Jobs are all about attitude though, right? And so when I discovered I could spend those "lost" hours listening to sermons and audio books, and even outlining stories I wanted to write, the lost became found.

This blog used to be primarily taking notes from those sermons and lectures, and relaying them to you, the avid readers. Well, I was going through some old posts and found quite a few unfinished pieces with lots of notes and links to sermons from churches, some I attended in person and others just online. Much of it is irrelevant now, with expired links and pastors who don't work there anymore; but lucky for you, this one isn't!

Take a look/listen and then read the notes at the bottom. Hopefully you'll find it useful!


NOTES:

Talks about church structure, church discipline, authoritiy of the church, baptism, meaning, life plans, handling criticism as an artist.

We need, according to Victor Frankel:
  • a project to get us out of bed, building something
  • healthy relationships (unconditional love, truth-telling)
  • a redemptive perspective on suffering; not being victims but conquerors
Love is the only thing that can keep people together when they disagree about something.

Comparing themselves to Bob Goff, who is like a super Christian love guy. Realizing we can't live how someone else lives, but be how we are created to be, but with the same amount of passion and zeal, trusting that God will use it.




September 4, 2017

Stay-at-home Dad


I recently reclaimed my role as Stay-at-home Dad, and I have to say, it feels good! For our oldest daughter's first two years I worked from home part-time, and watched her (full-time). It was difficult for a lot of reasons, most of them having to do with societal norms and dads not being primary caregivers. Even in liberal California, I spent many mornings at the park with more nannies and moms than I ever cared to hang with. Of course they were all very nice and fed Ellie tons of snacks (both my kids love to eat), but I still found it hard to deal with the lack of men I could relate to. Occasionally I would find a father at the park, usually on his day off, but as my mother-in-law recently noticed, sometimes dads kind of suck. Half of the time they spend on their phone while their children either dangerously hang off of high ledges or cling to their father's legs, begging for attention. Women are not immune to this, of course, but I'm just saying -- I see it more in dads.

Despite being a challenge, I found the whole experience deeply rewarding as I came to know my daughter extremely well, and had so many good memories with her. We were close, and I wouldn't have traded that for any career. And so when we decided to move to the South, I wanted my wife to have the same experience. We switched, and for a year and a half I worked like a dog to try and provide for our family. Well, despite the effort, it still wasn't enough. They say a single-parent income is nearly impossible these days, and I guess they're right. I like to blame the system/culture and the expectations we have set up for what encompasses a "comfortable lifestyle." Nonetheless, we needed a little more. Still, God brought us through a whole 18 months without losing our shirts, and now my wife, a modestly-paid teacher, will carry the financial burden of our family, with a little extra help from my part-time job and some freelancing.

The decision wasn't strictly financial though -- I really love being home and am quite good at it. I write and make music and videos, all of which provide additional income that I can generate from home; but I'm also a good dad and really thrive here. Cleaning, cooking, fixing things -- I feel very at comfortable in this role. My wife is also an incredible teacher and missed inspiring the youth to be better people, something she feels passionate about. And so here I am at home while she works, and like I said, it's working.



But if California had its challenges with being the stay-at-home dad, you can imagine what it's like in the South...the parks are laden with women, mostly mothers and grandmothers (not as many nannies). It's fine, I can deal. I have a lot of support and when you're at the park, most of the time you're chasing your kids around anyway. But again, some dads to hang with might be nice...

As I mentioned earlier though, dads don't have a good track record of "being there." I help out with the youth group at my church and on one telling Sunday, half of the kids in my small group either didn't have a good relationship with their distant fathers, or hadn't even seen them in two-or-more years. HALF! Fifty percent! That is unreal and unacceptable. That is why a good friend of ours from the same church constantly reminds me that what I am doing is important, and even though I often feel a bit isolated, people need to see that a father is far more than just a paycheck. As my wife often told me in California, providing for your family involves way more than money.

A few people recently told me to start blogging about being a stay-at-home dad; that it would be an interesting topic and a unique perspective on parenting. It's something I have done for years (search "dad" on this blog and you'll see some of my posts), but when I hear the same thing a few times over from different folks, I usually give it a go. So I'm kicking it up a notch and you can expect to see more posts about fatherhood, particularly staying home with the kids. Hopefully you'll catch a laugh and, as I often write, maybe get a little inspired.

August 27, 2017

Jah Works #1


This blog started off in 2011 as a way to record events in my life, past and present, and mull over them a bit as I wrote; hopefully sharing something anecdotal and maybe inspiring my readers. It has evolved since then, but lately I was reading Psalm 78 and an idea was sparked that throws back to my roots:
My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
 I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

things we have heard and known,

things our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their descendants;

we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
 They would not be like their ancestors
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.
The psalm continues to tell the history of Israel, and how God showed up even when they were stubborn and doubtful -- a faithful husband to a wayward bride. When I read that first part though, the concept of recording the works of God to recount to others, particularly younger generations, struck me. What a powerful way to bolster the faith of our community and bring up the youth in the knowledge of God at the same time.

And so I decided to go through my life and recount all the times I can remember God showing up. Hopefully it will encourage you to trust God more, as I know it will strengthen my own faith to write about these experiences. As for the title of this little series, Jah Works: Katie and I had just seen a reggae band with the same name about the time this idea was brought up. They were really good, and the title is catchy, so there you go...

--

The first time I can remember experiencing the feeling of God's presence was at a Carmen concert. In case you didn't listen to Christian music in the early 90s, Carmen was pretty much the Michael Jackson of the Christian world. His music was theatrical, big picture and told epic stories. He was a white guy with curly hair and a thick jaw (so very unlike MJ in those regards), but was unafraid to rap, shout, dance, act and preach for Jesus. It was all kind of cheesy in hindsight, but in the fledgling world of 90s Christian music, and for a young kid like me, he was a big deal, and certainly impacted a lot of folks in the process, my family included.

I was in fourth grade when he put on a free concert at the North Charleston Coliseum, and so my dad took me and my friend John. On the way I tried to describe the music to John, who had never heard Carmen. I remember landing on the word "jazzy," confirming the title with my father, who probably said it was, knowing it wasn't. His music really couldn't be defined by a genre. Rock, hip hop, country, ballad, western...everything was permissible for this guy. Here is one of my favorite videos of his, for one of the songs he performed that night:


Somewhere in the middle of this concert I remember feeling God's presence in such a powerful way that I kept looking up at the ceiling, expecting to see Jesus. I honestly thought he would appear! It sounds kind of silly in hindsight, but the feeling was powerful and certainly memorable.

I'm not sure any major life change happened that night -- no decisions to follow Christ or anything like that -- maybe we gave some money away to a charity or sponsor of the event that we deemed worthy. But I do know that God has often met me in music, particularly live music, and this was the first time. So thank you Carmen, for introducing me to music that nestled itself in my psyche and ultimately lead me to a God who communicates through arena rock and cheesy music videos alike.

July 28, 2017

Turn It Down


I've been playing music publicly more lately, thanks to my good friends Chris Baur and Roger Mindwater (we used to play in a band together called Campfield). A few weeks ago Chris let me play some songs at his show and, right in the middle, the waiter came up to ask us to turn it down. Ugh, not what you want to hear when you're putting yourself out there in a song you wrote. So we turned down the guitar, I backed away from the mic and we pressed on. But hearing that question does something to you as a musician that I want to write about...

It's certainly not the first time this has happened to me (unfortunately). The first was playing with my buddy Mike in our pseudo-metal/folk rock two-piece, Thrash Choir. Again, Chris was giving us a shot and we were playing a little impromptu four-song set at an outdoor patio on James Island that has since shut down. Some diners were sitting a little too close to our amps and asked us to turn it down. I even had the same thing happen while playing drums with Chris at a bar many years ago. We weren't invited back.

So what do you do as a musician when you hear, "Turn it down." Play softer, duh. But internally, it flares up a whole host of insecurities that are already present when baring your soul to a blank-faced crowd. What you're really wondering is, Am I too loud or do I just sound bad? It could go either way, but at this juncture in your musical career, you have a choice: Do I quiet down for good, or keep putting myself out there?

Maybe that sounds dramatic, but any expression of art truly is a vulnerable act, and for me using my voice is about as exposed as I can get. Most people fear rejection, and so when it actually happens, you have to deal with it. Quitting music is an extreme example -- I'm just getting started in a way -- but I just thought it was an interesting thing to write about. It's not everyday that we get to experience public rejection like this.


A more positive performance happened about two weeks prior, when Chris encouraged me to do an open mic night with him and Roger at Home Team BBQ. I did this about a year before, but hadn't been back since. Most of my performances are kind of a sloppy mess, with last-minute preparation thrown together with a few laughs and some forgotten words. However, this time I wanted to be prepared, so I practiced. But as showtime approached, all the lyrics and chords in my head were just getting jumbled around so badly that I could hardly think. I almost backed out about four times that night, but peer pressure wouldn't let me stop. (I guess peer pressure isn't always a bad thing, kids!)

And then, during Roger's set, this calm and clarity came over me. The stress left and the words became settled in my mind. I went up there and told the crowd that I often forget my words, so to forgive me should that happen, but you know what? I don't think I forgot a thing that night. I confidently sang songs about my wife, my family and contentment. Mike Williams played violin with me and it sounded beautiful. It was a real win, and I was reminded afterwards of why we even get up there in the first place: there is something energizing about a successful performance, about creating something and showing it to the world, that supersedes all insecurities and self-doubt. This moment overshadows the "turn it down" experiences like mountains swallowing valleys. For what is a valley without a mountain next to it? And what is the summit without a trek through the darkness leading to a beautiful light and a view that spreads for miles.

So when the world tells you to "turn it down," smile politely, finish the song and tighten up for the next one; because as long as you want it, there will always be a next one.