2017

October 16, 2017

Beat Dependent


The more we are together, the more I realize that I am dependent on my wife for certain things. She always buys the shampoo and tooth paste (and we never run out). She plans vacations. She knows how to make popcorn in a pot and not in the microwave. There's nothing wrong with being dependent of course, but as I take on more responsibility as a parent, I am finding that there are things I should know how to do that I just don't.

Last night, for instance, we were going to have pizza for dinner because Katie bought some dough that was about to expire. We used to have a Pizzaz pizza maker, a gift from our good friend Jason, which made homemade pizza night something to look forward to. The Pizzaz didn't make the move cross-country, but homemade pizza is still awesome. But also intimidating, as I have never made it before and a big blob of dough is kind of weird to me. And so I did. And the dough was undercooked and our youngest woke up puking this morning. Still, I tried and everyone survived, thankfully...

Our oldest is becoming quite skilled at using the potty, and one of our training methods has been to reward her every time she used it with a cookie, a temporary tattoo or a present from Tootie, her grandmother. Last night she chose a tattoo and I realized I didn't know how to put them on, because it was something Katie always did. I put the prize off until this morning, but I am a man of my word and so today I figured out how to apply a child's tattoo. No puking on this one. It's a double tattoo, and actually looks pretty good:



Those are silly examples, but the fact of the matter is, particularly in regards to dads, that it is easy to let our wives take on more of the parenting responsibilities when it comes to day-to-day activities. Katie tells me about moms she meets all the time that complain about their husbands' ineptitude in practical parenting skills. And so I want to take this time to encourage any dad readers out there that you can do more! You can and do play an important job in parenting your child!

To do so will just take work and the desire to learn about your kids and what they require to make it through a day. But therein lies the problem: It's easier to let your wife do "mom things," while you go and earn that paycheck, thus fulfilling your duties as dad. Not so, dads. Providing for your family means much more than putting food on the table. You are valuable for more than that and are certainly able to do it!

I don't write this to demean or simplify either role in parenting -- food on the table is necessary -- but I write rather to encourage dads to stretch themselves in ways that they either thought weren't possible, or were content not trying. Your family will appreciate the extra effort and time, and I think you will find the progress rewarding as well.

I ran into an old friend today who said he had his three kids all week long due to his wife being out of town. "I don't know how to do anything," he said. "The school had to do my daughter's hair today!" To that I say, "It's okay." I commend him for stepping up and not dropping off the kids at grandma's for a week. To him I also say, "You can do it!"You are more than you think you are. You are strong and courageous. You are patient and competent. You play a part no one else can: you are Daddy.




October 9, 2017

Keep Experimenting


Kids are really different. This becomes more apparent when you have more than one, of course. Our first learned different words at a different rate, walked later than the second, is a much more fluid dancer but also a little less adventurous. She also used to hate going to bed (still does most of the time, though it's not as bad as it used to be); but once you got her to bed, she was out for the night. We got this book, 12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks, which was recommended from a work friend. I think it took 14 weeks for us, but it pretty much made the difference. However, once you put her down, you usually had to go back in a few times to comfort her before she would actually pass out. Yeah, maybe we should have just let her "cry it out," but sometimes it's hard to take the sound for more than a few minutes.

Conversely, our second child was extremely difficult at first, in regards to sleep. To be fair, we were in a 2 bedroom apartment and were putting her to bed in our room, and then transferring her to a pack-n-play in the living room once we were ready to sleep. Naturally, that didn't last long and we decided to move across the country to solve the problem (sleep deprivation will take its toll). After a few months, she actually went to bed really nicely. By the time she had her own room, you would hold her for a few minutes and then she would actually lean into the crib to go to sleep. However -- and this is a big however -- she would wake up several times a night. Not always, but about 85% of the time, our sleep would be broken up by a crying kid in need of a pacifier. Once she got the pacifier, it was out like a light for a few hours most nights. But then there were the odd ones where she would wake up 5-7 times. Exasperated, we would try and take turns, though who is keeping score when you're in the middle of a deep sleep cycle and can barely tell what's going on outside of your own head?



And then the other day my wife mentions that Waverly is almost two years old and still not sleeping through the night. Really? Wow... I thought, as it hit me that Ellie was far past this point at her age. Like I wrote, kids are different, but man, shouldn't she be sleeping soundly by now? For our sake and hers. Age kind of gets away from you after the first child. For your first, you are acutely aware of each month and milestone. "Oh, she's 7 weeks old...14 months..." Then, after two years, it kind of dies down. Of course, we had Waverly when Ellie was 21 months, so maybe we just couldn't keep track anymore -- I have heard mothers say her child was 32 months before...c'mon, that's too much.

Anyway, two nights ago, my wife decides to leave a closet light on with some books in Waverly's crib when we put her down for sleep. She typically fights this time of night, her energy really boosting once the lights go out. But on that night, she didn't make a sound outside of "reading" her books. The night went on, she slept, and that was that. It's been three nights of this, and it has worked every time. And so I wanted to write this whole thing to encourage all the parents out there to keep experimenting when it comes to your daily routines. Don't just accept things like a bad sleeper or a child who won't eat vegetables, because there might be a solution that will save both of you a lot of heartache, and will likely be healthier for everyone in the long run. I guess the same thing applies to life outside of parenting, so if that's you, congratulations for reading so far into a blog post about parenting, and hopefully it is now worth your while!

October 2, 2017

"I Just Want You"


Nap time is never a guaranteed thing at our house. My wife very cleverly started calling it "rest time," so our oldest could play by herself in her room while the youngest slept, also giving Katie some time to relax before the afternoon craziness that would inevitably come.

I have tried to keep rest time going during my tenure as the stay at home parent, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. Ellie started getting into an Amazon show called Creative Galaxy, which is a fun little cartoon that encourages kids to approach problems through creativity. At the end, it shows live action kids doing art projects, which always inspires Ellie to do the same. Suddenly, rest time has become "art project time," which involves a constant interruption for paper, scissors, crayons, glue, etc. I think of myself as a pretty creative guy, so I hate to stifle her own endeavors, but it is cutting into my own time, which is when I usually write or do house projects.



So this has been the little daily battle that has been going on while my youngest slumbers away peacefully. I usually try to play with Ellie a little and then shut the door for rest time, but she always retorts with, "But Daddy, I'm not tired." I assure her that it is important to be by yourself sometimes as a means to rest, but "introvert" is a word that means nothing to her right now, so this is typically futile. Eventually, I shut the door and she becomes sad, eventually playing quietly until she needs more paper to cut and a refill of tape.

Today was much the same, but when I told her it was rest time, she got very somber and hugged my leg. "What do you want, Ellie?" I asked. "Daddy, I just want you," she replied, and squeezed a little tighter. The words melted me, and I laid down to play for another 15-20 minutes before calling it rest time and coming to the computer to write this blog post.

These were powerful words coming from my three year-old, expressing what is likely one of the deepest desires of her little beating heart. But they struck me deeply as well, because I think that's exactly what God wants to hear from us; though if I'm honest, it's rarely what I want. Sure, I want to know God, and I know the more I get to know him, the more of him I will want. But there are so many things in this life that I also want, that overshadow his relationship far too often. It's the worst kind of eclipse -- one that happens every day -- the beauty of creative pursuits perverted as they take the place of the only thing that can truly fulfill, the only One who can.

It is no wonder that Jesus valued children so much, as through their words can we catch a glimpse of our own relationship with God. Even then, sometimes I find it difficult to believe that this could even be what God wants from us. But then I read verses like this, and my mind is changed, and my heart leans a little closer to the God who so strongly wants it to:
The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3)  
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) 
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)   
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8a)  
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God... (1 Peter 3:18a) 
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)  
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1a) 
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:12-14)  
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15)  
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)  
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17) 

September 29, 2017

The One He Loves


Here is another throwback to some sermons I listened to during my tenure at my boring desk job. I was lucky enough to watch Judah preach this one in person (not the recorded one, but the topic was the same). He's a compelling speaker and if you ever get a chance to see him, take it! But one thing that struck me about Judah Smith from the beginning was that he pretty much says the same thing every sermon: God loves you a lot and wants you to be in relationship with Him. That's it. Over and over, just with different words and a unique twist here and there. But what could be more foundational to our faith and our existence on this planet? Sometimes it's hard to believe, but when we hear the passion in Judah's voice and see his excitement over the reality of God, you start to think that maybe it's true.

Here is The One He Loves By Judah Smith

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (John 11:1-5)

Notes:
  • When Mary/Martha want Jesus to come save Lazarus' life, they don't cite his love for God, but God's love for him
    • The theme of their lives is God's love for them, not their love for God
  • The closer you get to Jesus, the less our works matter
  • We will never be able to "hold up our end of the bargain" in our relationship with God
    • This is how we have relationships with others
  • http://thecity.org/message/the_one_i_love

September 25, 2017

The First Hard Day


I wrote before that I recently became a stay-at-home dad for the second time, and I am totally loving it. Well, the honeymoon phase has worn off I think, because things are starting to get hard. The kids seemed very happy to have me home for the first couple of weeks, and were pretty much obedient. Over the last few days though, I have noticed a little more obstinance showing up. I was bracing myself for the explosion, and today it came.

My daughter hates cleaning up. It's a real point of contention for us, because it drives me crazy when kids don't want to clean up after themselves. I'm big on social responsibility, and realized that children don't often share my sentiment when my wife and I used to teach Sunday school for our old church. Getting fourth graders to clean up their crayons seems just about as hard as training a dog to make me a sandwich. So when my own daughter, a three year-old, shows signs of this same blatant disregard for responsibility, mixed with a healthy dose of laziness, I can't stand it. We are trying different techniques -- taking away toys and making her earn them back with chores mostly -- but nothing seems to be working fully.

Today was an all-time low. With several bins of toys already on the prison shelf, I gave her ample time to clean up before we did a craft. She piddled about and played her usual routine. I even offered to help a little and did help. No dice. When the timer was done, she lost about half her toys in a matter of minutes. Tears ensued. Meanwhile, the oblivious one year-old was prancing around needing her own level of attention, but I just didn't have it.

Fast forward to the park, where something was still just off. The girls were being a bit asocial and just wanted to swing. Eventually a ball made it into the picture along with a boy who wanted to play chase. Ellie wasn't having it. Waverly wanted to swing and, being the younger, needed a little extra help, but the older one was just feeling incredibly needy. Not able to split myself in two, I had to choose. It was pretty much lose lose, but I tried hard to balance the time.

And then there was lunch. The gate to the kitchen that usually allows me a peaceful preparation broke today somehow, so now they are able to take things out of the trash can, while also arguing because Ellie didn't want to share the two walkabout toys they have. That's another point of contention -- Ellie feels she doesn't need to share, but rightly deserves every toy in the house, whenever she wants it. "We share everything," I say over and over. Eventually the conflict leads to tears and a tantrum on the floor.



I'm sure this is just a normal day for most of you, or was when your kids were this age, or maybe will be when you have kids, but it was just difficult. Like I said, something has been off all day. I was even casting out evil spirits in Jesus' name during lunch, just trying to get this negativity out of here! It's only mid-day right now as I'm writing this, so I'm hoping things get better. Anyway, I wanted to write about it to kind of process, but also encourage you (and me) with some more positive thoughts...

First, even though this is a hard day, this is still the best job I have ever had. I'm sure of it. And I'm sure it's what I'm supposed to be doing right now. It reminds me of my years in searching for a perfect job that I would love every day of. "Find something you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life," as the saying goes. But reality taught me that even the "perfect" job will not always feel perfect. There will be tough days and tedious tasks. It doesn't make the job any less perfect, it just makes it a job.

Second, don't let the arguments turn personal. They are just kids testing you. Stand your ground and keep going, as calmly as possible. I learned that from my teacher wife, who really did a good job being the stay-at-home mom the past year-and-a-half. The tantrum now will turn into an "I love you Daddy" later. It's also important to remember that, even though my kid appears lazy or socially irresponsible now, she is only three and we are not done yet! Maturity is a process. Sometimes I fear the worst for my kids, but that shows little faith and will not lead to good places.

Another aside along the same lines is to not speak negativity into your kids life. I often hear parent say things like, "You're being such a brat" and "Why are you so lazy?" We are speaking titles and labels into our children's lives that they will learn to adopt as the years go on. Sure, the action is lazy and bratty, but their identity is not those things. Even if it feels that way, speaking it will only solidify it, which is the opposite of what we want.

Okay, TV time is almost done and we will see if the oldest wants to nap. Here we go...

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.

July 19, 2017

Loving Others




Do you ever have trouble loving others? We're commanded to love everyone, but there is always some difficult person out there that you know you're supposed to treat nicely and what not; but when it comes down to it, you kind of wish that he or she would just get out of town and move away.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Of course we're supposed to ask God for help in these instances, but often were are given the help in God's word before we ask it -- we just have to look. Check out this verse below:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:9-12)
Did you catch that part about loving others? "Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." It's because of God's love that we can even love others in the first place. So if you're having difficulty loving that one person in your life (or two or three or four people), then pause and take a moment to focus on God's love for you. This is our fountain and our source; the electric outlet we need to plus into in order to light the lamp. And then, once we get the power we need, we can shine the love of God to a world that doesn't see him at all, making him known with a strength beyond our own.

June 23, 2017

Bleed These Dreams


Back in 2012/2013 I had a pretty long commute to and from work. About this time, I discovered the voice recorder app on my phone (I'm not sure why it took this long...) and decided to use the massive amount of time I was spending in my car productively. I did this through writing songs, dreaming up verses and choruses and then recording them, piece by piece, on my phone. Well, by the time 2014 rolled around and I quit my day job to become a stay-at-home dad, I had quite a few tunes recorded. And don't think that just because I dropped a daily commute that I stopped writing on the road...no, no. This trend has continued to this day.

The whole thing got me thinking that it would be fun to make videos and an album of all the songs I have written in cars, recording those very songs inside cars. It took a couple years to get started, but here is the first one: Bleed These Dreams.

I wrote this song while driving home from a visit to the main office of the property management company I worked for from 2014-2016. Bellflower to Redondo Beach was far enough to come up with something compelling. The song is about the struggle of dreaming big dreams, balanced with a steady dose of contentment. Such is the constant tension I find myself in as I hope for a better tomorrow, without sacrificing the happiness of today.



BLEED THESE DREAMS

It's easy to die, hard to live.
Easy to dream, hard to give
Yourself to a cause that might
Disappear in the dark of the night

It's easy to try, hard to be the best.
But will the best satisfy or give you rest?
And will you ever make it through
Without loved ones supporting you?

It's easier to complain than do the right thing
And take what you get with a smile.
Contentment ain't sexy, but boy I will bet you
You'll be happier in the by and by
Happier in the by and by

Woah.

It's easy to run, hard to fight.
Harder when you're not sure what you're fighting for is right.
And am I even on a path
That will lead to a glory that lasts?

It's easy to fly, hard to build wings
And run off a cliff fueled by dreams;
Maybe crash into a ball of fire,
Or sail into the sun, going higher and higher

It's easier to complain than do the right thing
And take what you get with a smile.
Contentment ain't sexy, but boy I will bet you
You'll be happier in the by and by.

It's easier to complain that do the right thing
And take what you get on your knees.
It takes something humble, but boy you won't stumble.
In the end, you might be happy.
In the end, you just might be happy.

Woah.

-- I chose to record this in my 2005 Subaru Baja Turbo because that was the car it was written in. It also has special significance, because I sold this car about a month after shooting this video. Hopefully she finds a better home in Ohio...


June 16, 2017

Age & Expectations - Part 3




I wrote some years ago on the topic of age and expectations. It's an idea that has been coming up again recently, so I thought maybe it would be a good thing to revisit.

I keep hearing, "I'm so-and-so age and I haven't done so-and-so," typically centered around the milestone of turning thirty. I can't say I'm not immune to this thinking though, as life certainly hasn't turned out the way I planned ten years ago. My career is pretty much non-existent. Actually, the whole idea of having a career has been slowly flying out the window before me. I think this is something God has been bringing me through personally, so I don't want to make any comment on careers here; but really just dealing with this idea of believing I would have hit a certain milestone by this point in life is tough. My struggle is career, for others it's relationship status or having kids... Actually, I can't really think of any other milestones that come up in conversation -- those seem to be the big two. But I have to ask -- Where do these expectations come from?




The answer I come up with is that they are societal norms that turn into personal pressures. Most people at thirty have gotten married, had a couple kids, bought a house and have a pretty stable career that they spent most of their twenties working towards. Well, if most people have done it, why haven't I? But I have to ask another question -- What does God say about it?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
That pretty much says it -- this world and its expectations will likely differ from God's, and so we need to be comfortable in those differences. That's not to say that God's will and those milestones, some of which may be genuine desires, might not always line up. Most of these things we want are pretty good things, and we probably have good logical reasons for wanting to attain them by the time we have set out to do so. The problem is that I keep seeing friends get down on themselves about what they have and haven't accomplished at their age, and I don't think it's right. God has you where you are for a reason. Period. And that's hard for me to write because, if you read this blog at all you know, I'm coming out of a really hard year. But that's one of the lessons he's been teaching me and I think it's true. You are where you are for a reason. Even if some seemingly poor choices you made brought you there, those choices did not surprise God.

Guided by the hand, you will be led through this life, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. There will be dangers on the path, dark cliffs and hidden vipers. You may, at times, feel the mist of waterfalls and bask in the shade of green trees looming overhead while birds chirp away songs of joy and hope. And then there will be days in the desert, where a lonely death seems right around the corner. But we have to have faith that these things work out like this for a reason, and trust that God will bring us where he wants, when he wants us there. If we don't, then all the anxiety that our generation is so thoroughly saturated in will surely consume us as we attempt to design our destiny around what we think it should be. Really, it all boils down to trust.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

June 8, 2017

God Honors the Bold



Let's talk about boldness.
I haven't been much for boldness, evidenced by my dating track-record. First was the girl I never called because I was afraid my parents would find out I had a girlfriend (they didn't care). Then there was the one who I was not bold enough to ask out, but rather told a friend who knew her to spread the word that I had a thing for her. She came up to me at lunch one day, and the rest is history. That is, until I got tired of her and, not being bold enough to actually break up with her, was just mean to her until she brought up the subject.
My lack of boldness continued through college until I met my wife, where I was still not so bold as to ask her out, but kept hinting at it until we decided to have the DTR (define-the-relationship). Things worked out with her, but I still have a ways to go...
In scripture though, it seems that God rewards boldness. Jesus said in Matthew 11:12, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." To be a great man or woman of faith requires some degree of boldness. To be a follower of Jesus requires boldness too -- in Mark 6, the disciples have returned from being sent out in pairs. They go away to a solitary place to get some rest, and tons of people meet them. Jesus teaches them, but the disciples bring up the fact that it's getting late and the people need to eat. Jesus replies with, "You give them something to eat." (Mark 6:37b). What?! Are you serious Jesus?! Yes. In faith they obey, and it all works out.
It seems a lot of lessons Jesus taught His disciples involved God providing for their needs, even in ridiculous circumstances. It all required boldness and trust, which God seems to reward.
In the Old Testament, David was called a "man after God's heart." (1 Samuel 13:14) He was humble and bold, but also incredibly flawed, going on to commit adultery with his own soldier's wife, and then having that man killed to cover it up. With this same woman, though, David would have Solomon, through whom God's covenant would continue.
The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son...Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:11b-14a, 16)
What strikes me about David is his consistently strong faith and regular worship -- he wrote about half of the book of Psalms. It is amazing that he can do this, even in the darkness of his deepest sin, but maybe that's the secret to getting past it. That's another blog though...
A lesser-known man of boldness...Joseph of Arimathea (which spell-check wants to change to Joseph of Aromatherapy), who "boldly" asked Pilate for Jesus' body after he is crucified (Mark 15:43). Scripture reports him as a "prominent member of the Council," the same Council that sentenced Jesus to death, though it reports that he did not consent to their decision and action (Luke 23:51). It also says he was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57). I have to wonder, though, why did Mark say he "boldly" went to Pilate? Every other account just says he went there; what about the action was bold? (Mark does note odd things and leave out others, such as the guy who ran away naked from the garden of Gethsemane after Jesus was arrested [Mark 14:52].)
Maybe he was there when Jesus was sentenced (it's not known if he was or not), and didn't say anything to the contrary. Perhaps his act of boldness was a little too late. Or maybe he wasn't there, and when he found out, he decided to do something for his rabbi, a proper burial being the least he could offer. I suppose this still would have been a bold act, as the Council would certainly have found out and he would likely be have been rebuked, reprimanded or put out of the synagogue. Either way, he is mentioned in the synoptic gospels, and therefore honored for his boldness.
In scripture, I think God honors the bold, and this is because it requires faith. You can have faith without boldness, but you can't have boldness without faith. Faith in what? That whatever decision you make, no matter how brash, will turn out alright because God is taking care of you. This takes a lot of trust.
Boldness also takes honesty. As David sings after he is rebuked by Nathan the prophet for his adultery and murder.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51: 1-6, 16-17)
In our pursuit of boldness, it also helps to have a partner. Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs more than once (Matthew 10Luke 10, Luke 22:8-13Mark 11:1-6). When you have someone with you, you are automatically stronger with someone to back you up. Even after Jesus ascended, Peter and John are noted as doing a lot of work together (Acts 3:1-108:14-17), as well as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2) and then Paul and Silas (Acts 15:40-41).
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
Even in marriage, our wives are called our "suitable helpers," (Genesis 2:18b) and God knows where I would be without my wife.
The first time I realized how much help a partner is in being bold was at El Porto with my good friend Zach. There is one way in and one way out of the busy El Porto parking lot, and a guy was stopped, waiting for some folks to pack up and vacate so he could park there. This dude was totally backing up traffic, waaay up the ramp. I thought to myself, What a douche...this guy needs to just keep going and find a spot later. I rarely say what I mean though (another mark against my boldness factor), but with Zach there to back me up, we were both bold enough to call the guy out and tell him he should keep going. Something small and simple, but it struck me that having this partner in our cause was what led me to speak up.
So to summarize this rather long blog post, boldness takes trust, honesty (with us and God) and a partner. So go out there and be bold! Maybe something good will happen!

May 31, 2017

Imperfect World


It's been a hard year. A rude awakening of sorts. A lot of work, not much pay. No time. Out of balance. Things are changing, but one of the things I have noticed this year is that this is a common story. I work with folks who devote hours and hours to multiple jobs, and still struggle to make ends meet. It would be one thing if they were choosing this life in order to afford an ultra cool loft and a Maserati, but most of these people are just feeding their families and paying off a modest mortgage. I suppose there are always ways to cut back, but outside of moving to Costa Rica and living on a farm, I'm not sure what else to do about it.

Photo by Don C.

So one day I'm standing on the ramp at the airport (one of my jobs) and watching a plane get ready to take off. By my side are these same men and women that are barely scraping by. In front of me is a sleek travel tool, man's invention. To operate it takes thousands of guys like us, wearing our hands and backs down just to move metal. A spectacle of human ingenuity. Man's best.

But then, behind me, the wind blows through a cluster of trees and all the green leaves sway like ocean swells. In the sky the sun rises behind grey hazy clouds, kicking up the breeze like dust on its feet. This is God's creation and, if you ask me, it is infinitely better than what we made. It works, in perfect balance. Sure, there are seasons, life and death, rebirth, renewal; storms and destruction next to tranquil breezes and still water. But somehow it all works. Not like life in this broken world, where fathers miss a third of their children's lives while working in offices they dread located miles from their homes. The cluster travels, weary, burdened -- the workforce drowning. That is man's creation, and when you see the two juxtaposed so starkly, it just makes you want to sit down and rest. No wonder that's what Jesus promised -- he was just bringing things back into balance, the way they are supposed to work. God's intention. Not laziness or lethargy, just rest in balance with work.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) 
We live in an imperfect world, a result of the fall of man. We can't do much about it except pray for God's kingdom to come -- not as in the "end of all days" kingdom (I guess that's part of it), but rather what Jesus was speaking about: an easy yoke. A proper burden. The thing God designed for you and me to do. It's a life in balance. An imperfect world with a perfect God in perfect love.