Life Lessons Learned

Mork taught me that being weird can be a good thing. Nanu nanu.
Adrian Cronauer taught me to be irreverent and to use music as a coping mechanism.
John Keating taught me to stand up, seize the day, and make my life extraordinary.
Dr. Malcolm Sayer taught me to appreciate life.
Parry The Fisher King taught me that every man needs a quest.
Peter Banning taught me to believe in my inner child.
Batty Koda taught me that only fools are positive.
The Genie taught me the value of a well placed pop culture reference.
Daniel Hillard dressed up as Iphegenia Doubtfire and taught me that nothing is more important than time with my kids.
Alan Parrish taught me the joy of an adventure.
Sean Maguire taught me that it's not my fault.
Hunter 'Patch' Adams taught me about the healing power of laughter.
Rainbow Randolph taught me that friendship is better than rivalry.
Reverend Frank taught me that love should endure all hardships.

But those were just characters.

The man taught me that it's OK to be hirsute. He taught me to accept my flaws and to be honest about my failures. He taught me to smile when everything inside of me wanted to cry.

And today, there are two more lessons I wish to convey.

Depression is a liar.
Suicide sucks.

Please, if you need help, get it. If you need to talk, say something. You are not alone. Someone out there cares about you. Be weird. Appreciate life. And indulge in silly pop culture references.

I'll be here if you need me.


O is for Offer

Let's be honest. There are things that you wish you could do but no matter how valiantly you try, you will never posses the skills to pull off such activities.

In such respects, I hold a very realistic outlook on my limitations. Perhaps a little too realistic as I have the tendency to talk myself out of realistic pursuits under the guise of impossibility. But I know who I am and to an extent, I know what I am capable of offering.

I have an artist's heart with only a meager amount of artistic talent. I may never create a timeless work of art - I can't offer that. But I love artists and I can offer them encouragement.
I may not be mechanically inclined but I am analytically gifted. I can comb through massive amounts of raw data and help someone make sense of it all.
The 'I can't do this but I can do that' list could go on for longer than would be tolerable in a blog post.

Now, let's be realistic. Most human friendships are (to some degree) selfish. Those relationships where you give and give and give and never get anything in return can be discouraging and emotionally draining. True, most people don't look at their friends and ask "what's in it for me?" But the thought is there.

I'm not a saint in this respect. I can be just as selfish as anyone. But I've made efforts to take a different approach. For those people in my life that I've accepted as good friends, I ask myself "What do I have to offer?"

Sometimes, that isn't much. I have some really talented friends whose light will forever outshine mine. Wise friends who have poured more into me than I can imagine ever being able to repay. And friends who seem so much my equal that anything I have to offer is gained back.

Jon is one of those guys that lands somewhere between my equal and that brighter light. We connected almost a year ago and in many ways he's like the brother that I never knew existed. We don't agree in everything, but religiously, politically, and socially speaking, we're more alike than not. While I grew up in Snohomish County and migrated east to North Idaho, he started his journey further east and has landed in Snohomish county. The first time he and I interacted, he said "I live where you grew up, and you live where I want to be."

But he is also freakishly talented. He's got a knack for video editing and has some big dreams to use that talent for something that could be simply amazing. When it comes to my question of what I can offer, I don't have much. But I am a thinker. Jon and I have had a few deep and fantastic conversations helping him brainstorm some ideas and chase after his dreams. And I can write. So, a couple of weeks ago, when Jon asked me to write a guest post for his blog, I said sure. That I can do. That is something that I can offer.

That post went live today. Please - hop over to Jon's blog and read what I've shared with him.


Through my son's eyes: Car d'Lane

Christian approached Car d'Lane with his iPod in hand, snapping picture after picture of the cars lined up for the auction near Independence Point. These are the seven best from his little shoot.


N is for New

My uncle Ron once told me of one of his favorite hobbies: going into a book store, cracking open a new book, holding it up to his nose, and inhaling in a long and deep breath. New ink printed on new paper inside a new book. He said that scent was one of his favorite smells in the world.

It sounds crazy, but it is logical. I've heard others describe a similar satisfaction with the odor of a new car, new shoes, and new electronics.

We love the word new. It instilled with a sense of excitement and endless possibilities. We celebrate the birth of a new baby and party to welcome a new year. New is the anthem of optimism. Cloaks of hope and desire hang from the coat rack of new.

Unfortunately, not all new is good new. Sometimes the jubilation of newness is counterbalanced by the fear of the unknown. Sometimes the new is forced upon us through change or tragedy that is unwelcome and we find ourselves inadequately prepared for new.

When the nervous energy of a new job is replaced with the discouragement of a termination, a lay off, or corporate restructuring.
When young lovers and the honeymoon phase turns to infidelity, falling out of love, or divorce.
When vibrant health gives way to devastating terminal diagnosis or chronic illness.
When the joy of a new home is interrupted by foreclosure.
When a parent passes away.
When the kids grow up and leave behind a quite empty nest.
When you find yourself in a new city facing the overwhelming task of finding new employment, new friends, new housing, and ways to navigate the strange and unfamiliar streets.

New often means change. For many people, change is scary. Facing the unknown of new can be frightening. It causes discomfort and uncertainty. This kind of new strips away our identity and our security. It causes emotional and financial strain.

How do you cope? How do you get through the big scary new so that you can enjoy the fun and alluring new?

To be honest, I really don't know. I don't have any formulaic answers that can point your way through the difficulties of change. The past few months have been a difficult season of loss for me and because of that, I'm facing a season of new. While I'm no wise sage dispensing years of philosophical knowledge, I have learned a few things along the way.

1. Change is inevitable.
2. Sometimes, change sucks.
3. It's OK to feel like it sucks.
4. The pain of new is temporary.
5. This kind of stress is a lot like growing pains.
6. Change gives you the opportunity to truly connect with your identity.

Finally, my last observation is perhaps the most important: You are not alone.

You are not the first person to redefine themselves after the loss of a spouse. You're not the first to find yourself suddenly unemployed. You are not the first to to find yourself abandoned or alone. There are others who have gone before you and weathered your pain. There are others that are going through it right now just like you. And sooner or later, there will be coming behind you with the same stress of change. This is the kind of community that makes the bad new easier to experience.

Do yourself a favor, find that community and embrace it.


M is for Misfits in the Margins

A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy at church that I'd never seen before. We chatted for a while. He was there for the first time, visiting and looking around to see what we were about. He was built like a pro-wrestler, someone who obviously spent a considerable amount of time in the gym. The short-sleeve t-shirt he was wearing fit snugly to show off his prodigious muscles. The visible parts of his arms were covered with tattoos - artwork of which, frankly, was quite impressive.

He was just there. Just visiting. Just checking us out. Wanting to know who we were. What we were about. What we had to offer. I tried my best to be helpful until a friend he was visiting emerged from the bathrooms. He hung out with her for a little while longer and endured greeting a few strange faces that she introduced. Later, while walking though the parking lot, I saw the guy strap on a leather jacket and climb onto a motorcycle. And gone.

His questions. The lingering hesitation in his voice. The reservation when introduced to more new people. It all communicated something that he never committed to words. He wanted to know what most anyone wants to know when visiting a church for the first time.

Will they accept me?

It's the fundamental question of our existence. Our desire to fit in and be loved is part of what makes us human. For misfits, that quest for deep connection with other members of our species is much more complicated.

Sadly, the modern church tends to marginalize these people. We should know this, the stories are pervasive. People that have left the church for one reason or another. Because they lack that sense of belonging or community. Because they were ostracized. Because they felt like their political or social beliefs didn't fit in with the larger church culture. Many of these people carry wounds with them. Refusing to give a different church a try because the pain inflicted from the last one is too great.

The working poor barely scraping by and ashamed of their reliance on welfare. The young teen questioning his sexuality. The single parent coming out of the tail end of an ugly divorce. The clinically depressed attempting to navigate the stigma of mental health. Recovering addicts. The homeless. People with dirty lives and dirty pasts.

It could be something purely superficial. Like the man I met. Could it be possible for predominantly middle class church welcome a biker covered with tattoos? I know the answer would be yes, but he doesn't. Or maybe his trepidation was grounded in a bigger issue. Past religious traumas. Family issues. Voices of friends telling him that he doesn't belong there. Regardless, he is one of many. A representative of those who walk through the front doors of a new church and wonder, 'Is there a place for me here?'

The rejects, the outcasts, the losers, the last ones picked, the misunderstood. We're in the margins of the modern church.

The church should know better, right? If we look at Jesus' example, it's plain that he loved the misfits. He dined with the most despised members of society. Con artists and prostitutes. One could argue that those were occasions, not a constant, but they'd be wrong. He surrounded himself with outcasts. Almost all of His disciples flunked out of traditional Jewish education. At some point in their lives, they were told that they weren't smart enough to study with a rabbi. They were told that the only thing they were good for was to return to their family profession. Fishermen and tax collectors.

Jesus gathered 12 outcasts. 12 losers. He lived with them, traveled with them, and ate with them. They sat around campfires and He taught them. He told them stories and He laughed with them. And, along the way, He showed them how to love other outcasts. Adulterers, lepers, Samaritans, people with shady reputations - all people who were marginalized by the religious institutions of the day.

If we are to be Christ-like, we need to love those in the margins. The misfits are everywhere. They walk through our church doors every week. We see them at work, at school, at the park, at the grocery store. They need love. They need to know there's hope, that there's a place for them.

As one who has spent most of my life as a misfit, I know how hard it can be. I'm thankful that I've found a place that accepts my flaws and encourages my growth and healing. For those who feel like they're in the margins, I stand with you.

As a side note, you should know that music has played a big role in my life. It's my coping mechanism. And over the past few months, this has been my anthem. It seems to fit with this post.


L is for Live Your List

If my previous post looked like the beginnings of a bucket list, there's a reason for that. It is. It's not the first time that I've posted such a list and probably won't be the last. Part of my path to healing is to start dreaming about the future again.

So, why the bucket list? It's because of these guys.

I have been listening to these guys a lot. It's one of the few pod casts that I faithfully keep on my iPhone. In the show, Jerrod Murr and Ryan Eller have fun and joke around but they also give practical tips for self improvement and how to work toward your dreams.

The Live Your List show is one of the best leadership podcasts available. I don't often promote other people's work and should probably do it more often. Listening to Murr and Eller has been a great source of encouragement and motivation for me over the past couple of months so if I'm going to promote anyone, I'll promote them without shame. Click on the picture above and it will take you to a list of episodes to listen to online. You can also find them on iTunes.

I seriously recommend you check them out. It's worth it. And don't be surprised if you see more of my bucket list in the future.


K is for Kilimanjaro

Encouraged by some friends I've connected with online, I have begun to put together the workings of what some might call a bucket list. Part of my journey back to being healthy and happy is figuring out those things I want to do with my life. Who I want to be. Where I want to go. In looking forward, I have also had to look back.

How far back? To the place where I grew up. To where I first truly found myself. The mountains.

It started with Pilchuck. Me, standing on top of the peak that rose above my hometown, seeing where suburbia of the south met the rural lands to the north and where the Puget Sound stretched around islands out toward the Pacific. The sudden perspective of how small my problems were when compared the larger world around me. That sensation of accomplishment and the realization that there were many more places to go.

Through out my teen years, I went back into the hills. Summer after summer. From Sauk Moutain to Mt Si. Along Ptarmigan Ridge Mt Baker and Ptarmigan Ridge on Mt Rainier. Snow covered ridges and alpine lakes. The Cascades made me a man.

Sadly, I stopped hiking when I moved to Boise. New environments and new passions overtook my longing for higher altitudes. But in recent years, that yearning has returned. Memories of places that I've always wanted to visit coupled with a new-found wanderlust. That whimsical voice in my head, whispering Oh the Places You'll Go.

Looking back, the earliest I can remember wishing for an exotic trek was when I first heard of Kilimanjaro. It sounded so majestic. It sounded like the kind of place that everyone should visit at least once in their life time. In the years since those early dreams, I've compiled a list of ten mountains that have appealed to those early desires. I hope to one day stand on top of each of these mountains.

1. Mount Kilimanjaro - Tanzania. The first of my childhood dreams.
2. Mount Fuji - Japan. Beautiful and one of the most recognizable in the world. And after seeing Karl Pilkington climb it on An Idiot Abroad, I've wanted to make that journey.
3. Mount Kenya - Kenya. I saw some pictures of climbers on Kenya in a mountaineering magazine when I was 15. I've wanted to go there ever since.
4. Mount Whitney - California. Higher than Rainier. Higher than Pikes Peak. Highest in the lower 48. This is another mountain I've wanted to climb since my younger days.
5. Masada - Judea. There is so much history on that plateau. The scholar in me wants to visit as much as my inner adventurer.
6. Table Mountain - South Africa. I've always wanted to visit Cape Town and Table Mountain provides one of the best ways to view the city - from above.
7. Uluru - Australia. Uluru is also known as Ayers Rock. A geological oddity. Isolated. And utterly unique.
8. Mount Roraima - South America. Some know this as the border between Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela. Some recognize it as the backdrop for the movie Up. If members of the Pixar production team can climb it, so can I.
9. Mount Sinai - Egypt. This site is holy for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Although, I think I'd prefer to ride a camel to the top of that one considering how hot it is there.
10. Psiloritis - Crete. This is the highest point on the island of Crete. Also known as Mount Ida, it's an impartent site in Greek mythology. Also, there's a Holy Cross open stone chapel at the top that is the destination for a pilgrimage every September.

Who wants to go with me? Better yet ... Who wants to fund my adventures? Anyone?


J is for Judging McJudgypants

This is a post I've been delaying. I knew I needed to write it yet didn't really want to do it. Have you ever had those words in your head that you just had to get out but kept them bottled up instead? That's what this blog post feels like for me.

Why have I been so avoidant? Because ... Well ...

Disclaimer: I am a judgmental jerk. Not that I try to be, just happens. So when I write about being judgmental, I might as well be scribbling with a sharpie marker on a mirrored surface; that every time I look at my reflection I see these words superimposed over my face. Do not judge. Do not judge. Do not judge. Shame.

In a strange character reversal where my creativity plays the parental role to my will, my will like petulant child standing in the corner pouting and shouting, "No. I don't want to. You can't make me."

"Write," says creativity.
"Do I have to?" says will.
"You must," says creativity.
"What if I don't?" asks will.
"You will suffer," says creativity.
My mind is a scary place.

I have avoided writing about judgments so that I wouldn't have to take that long hard look at myself. Procrastinating what was only inevitable. J is the next letter in the alphabet, so I couldn't move forward until I finished this step. Now is the time.

If we're being honest, this season of my life is one where it's really easy to be judgmental. One could argue that my disposition would be fully justified, however I know it's not. The words that follow are me preaching to myself as much as they are anything else. When I said that I needed to write this post, I wasn't kidding.

This isn't the first time that I've written about being judgmental. And it's probably will not be the last. It is a perpetual problem among people. As long as humans walk the earth we will be in a constant state of judging and being judged.

One of the most recognizable passages from the Gospel of Matthew warns us to be careful about judging others. It opens with the verses that say "Don't judge others, or you will be judged. You will be judged in the same way that you judge others, and the amount you give to others will be given to you."

This isn't an order, it's a promise. If we judge, we will be judged. But, like I mentioned the last time I wrote about this subject, it isn't a matter of if but when.

Call it karma, call it the golden rule, call it whatever you want. When my church covered this passage a few weeks ago, my pastor described it with the explanation that whatever you put out there, you will get back. The manner in which you judge others is the same as what is going to be used against you.

Or for you.

Realistically it could go either way. Not all judgment is bad. When you complement a stranger, you're providing them a positive judgment. When you choose to keep your kids away from hurtful situations, you're making judgments to protect them. When you're faced with a decision between two good options, it is a matter of judgment that leads you to the choice you ultimately make.

If we know that the matter of judgment is not a question of if we do it, but when, then we need to make extra effort to ensure we are judging others as positively as possible. To give others the benefit of the doubt. Set boundaries where appropriate. Protect when necessary. But always judge in the best light possible.

This process isn't easy for me. In fact, I probably get it wrong more often than I get right. Yet, it is something that I am making a conscious effort to do.

A few months ago,a friend spoke some wise words into my life. He said the things that annoy us most about others are generally something that we hate about ourselves. That before I complain how someone is manipulative, I must consider how I might also be manipulating others. Before I complain of those around me being selfish, I must examine my own self-centered ways.

The lesson is that we see our own faults in others. We expect more of them than we do ourselves. It's a wicked double standard. It echoes the parable from Matthew 18 where a servant begged forgiveness of an enormous debt but refused to show leniency in a minuscule loan that was owed to him.

This revamped perspective has revolutionized my understanding of what it means to be judgmental. That it is just me criticizing others for the worst parts of myself. It is me getting back what I put out there. It is me being judged in the way I judge others.

It is in that spirit that I am attempting to break away from my natural tendencies. Easy? Not at all. Worth it? Absolutely.


I is for Impossible

One of the most poisonous words in the English language is "Impossible." It's often added to phrases that are uttered too often. You can't do that. You'll never make it. That's a stupid idea. You are not good enough. Don't be a fool.

I love those stories where the boundaries of impossible are defied. Where the target of such criticisms stand up and say, "Oh yeah? Watch me." That's what these kids from Thailand said when they were told that they couldn't be soccer players. Do yourself a favor and take five minutes to watch this.

What have you been told is impossible?


H is for Hole

David Bazan is one of my favorite songwriters. His songs are both masculine and vulnerable and have this confessional quality to them that makes it easy to connect with his lyrics. In 1997, his band Pedro the Lion released an EP called Whole that is still among the most played music in my collection.

There's a thematic feel to the EP - to fix what's broken, to fill an emptiness. In Nothing, he sings of not fitting in within rules and ideals and instead finding your own way. Fix and Almost There both deal with struggles of a recovering addict. I put the song Lullaby on both Zu's and Christian's MP3 player; it's a sweet song of finding healing through hurt. It's one of the songs I sang to them when they were little, replacing Bazan's name with theirs.

"Rest in me little David
And dry all your tears
You can lay down your armor
And have no fear
'Cause I'm always here
When you're tired of running
I'm all the strength that you need"

Through and through, the EP is a man desperately seeking wholeness.

But H is for "hole," right? Not Whole. That brings me to the title track. For one seeking to be whole, there's a recognition of a hole in our lives. To be whole, that hole needs filled.

And that's where I'm at. I've been listening to this EP a lot recently. "Mr Hole Fixin' Man, you fixed my friend can you fix me? ... I'm as broken as a boy can be, so how about fixing me?"

It's not just me. While I'm experiencing this process of holes being fixed, I'm seeing it in lives around me too. It's a beautiful thing. If you're in the process of healing too, celebrate it. I am. And I would love to celebrate it with you.


G is for Good Times

I took the kids to the park this weekend to play and go for a walk. While there we watch the ducks and took a bunch of pictures. And this conversation happened.

Zu: "Look, it's a mommy duck and a daddy duck. They're swimming together."
Christian: "That's because it's mating season. Right Dad?"
Me: "It is."
JJ: "What's mating?"
Me: " ... "
Me: "Uh, that's how mommy ducks and daddy ducks make baby ducklings."
Zu: "No Dad, ducks make eggs."

Well, technically she is correct. After that little science lesson we had a good time. And last night I discovered that we can walk to Riverstone with only one street crossing. That will be a great activity with the kids this summer.

Here are some of the highlights of our good time. First the ducks.

Christian was hoping that the mallard in that second picture was laying an egg. They refused to walk away until they knew if or if not a baby duck was on the way.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of Christian.

Some of my favorites of Zu.

And finally, the best shots of JJ.

JJ is a ham but he's a tough one to pin down long enough for a snapshot. But I won't complain. When he plays nicely with his siblings, it's a beautiful thing.

As for me, I spent most of the afternoon trying to keep up with them. More often than not my view was like this: watching them run off to play tag, chase ducks, or splash in the water.

We had a good time. And at the end of the day, I can confidently say that I have three of the greatest kids on this planet.


F is for Flipper

Several years ago, I met a guy named Flipper. That probably wasn't his real name, but it's the one he used when he introduced himself. It's what everyone called him. For the short time he and I hung out, he was one of the most memorable persons I have ever met.

Flipper was a big guy. He was six foot tall with a chunky build. And he was Chinese. But those two characteristics were not his most noticeable attributes. What made him stand out was his long multi-colored hair.

Aside from his nationality, his imposing height, and his unconventional hairstyle, Flipper found another way to be memorable. He possessed a personality that was bigger than his appearance. He was loud, but not obnoxious. He gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. He had a joke for almost any situation. Something about him was magnetic. Where his looks might have intimidated, his smile and laugh attracted people. He was also a hugger. He loved hugging people. It was his way of saying "hi."

There's no real reason that the two of us should have ever connected. Me, the scrawny white kid from a suburb to the rural north. Him, the six foot tall Chinese kid from Seattle proper. His family had money. My family was poor. His apartment had a view of the Kingdome. My house had a view of the four way stop at 51st and 80th. He could smell the Puget Sound from his high school. My high school smelled like cow pies. Yet, for some inexplicable reason - he and I became friends.

I had just turned 16 and was getting ready to start my junior year of high school. He was almost 18 and facing his senior year. Despite our differences, we both had the same taste in music. We also had the same taste in girls. We had a lot to talk about.

There were a few things I learned during our brief friendship. I learned that his boisterous and optimistic composure was really a mask to hide something more painful. While his smile was genuine, behind it laid a sadness that he was never willing to explain. The various colors in his hair was his interpretation of a clown.

We kept in touch for a few months and then lost contact. There are few individuals from my past that haunt my memories. Not often do I wonder what became of those friends I've lost. Flipper is one of those people. And today is one of those days where I thought about his fate.

I wonder because Flipper's opportunities were endless. He was likable and amiable. He was smart and a little daring. If Flipper was a character in a movie, he would be the goofy yet endearing type - the kind you hope receives a happy ending. Unfortunately, If fear the most tragic of possibilities were far more probable. I hope I'm wrong.

18 years. I have no idea where Flipper is today. I could not predict where his life brought him. But every now and then I wonder, and I hope it's the best.


E is for Encouragement

For a long time, I've existed in a bubble with minimal encouragement. The person responsible for this is me. I don't blame anyone else for this state of isolation. I've made certain choices to bring myself to that place. But things have begun to change and it is refreshing beyond anything that I could describe.

Last fall, one of the pastors at my church caught me in the lobby and told me, "There is a place for you here." Since then, I have become involved with his team and ministry.

In February, a writer I deeply respect and admire was talking to me about this blog. He said that I was one of the few that could truly write. He then surprised me by telling me that when he sees me post something, he pays attention. +2 for confidence.

A few weeks ago, a friend introduced me to his wife and in the process described me as "the Swiss Army knife of the worship team."

Little moments. Realistically, nothing more than passing comments with little thought to their effect.

There's a funny fact about language. Words have power. We grew up with the adage that sticks and stones can break bones but the other half of the saying is a lie. Words hurt. I know. I grew up with the sting of nasty and spiteful remarks that left deep wounds that have only recently begun to heal. Yet, whatever power words have to tear down and destroy, they also have the strength to lift up, to renew, to breathe hope, and shine light in the darkest places.

The three people I mentioned above? That's what they did. They may have only offered a heartfelt compliment. They might have thought their words were inconsequential. Regardless of their intention, the result was the brightest light in the darkness of my life. They spoke life where I needed it. They encouraged me to breathe a little deeper and walk a little taller.

But encouragement isn't just emotional boost for the encouraged, it's healing for the encourager too. In the process of rediscovering the man I used to be, I've challenged myself to be a ninja encourager. I am finding little ways each day to encourage someone to keep trying, to let someone know that they're valued or important, to drop otherwise inconsequential compliments. I don't know what affect my words will have in their lives, but I can testify to the impact in my life.

Truth is, I'm a flawed individual. My melancholic disposition isn't typically adept at seeing the good in all things. An odd thing happens when someone like me makes efforts to compliment and encourage others. The act forces you to look at the brighter side of life. It makes you see the best in others. You begin to see opportunities for joy. Do it often enough and it becomes habit forming. Second nature.

When you always look on the bright side of life (admit it you're whistling that song), optimism is easier. You feel more comfortable in your own skin. You become more content in all situations. +2 for mental health.

Give it a try. Find someone that you can encourage today. And if you're the type that would prefer to send that encouragement through the mail, a friend of mine has hand-made cards for just that occasion. Check out her site.

For those of you who natural encouragers, congratulations. People like you have been a blessing in my life the past few months. Thank you. This world needs more like you.


D is for Dreams

Dream big. Do it. It's worth it. Don't let anyone smash your dreams.

I've had enough dream killers in my life, so I am consciously making an effort not to be that person to my kids. They want to aim for the stars, I'm shopping for rocket fuel.

But it's not easy. In fact, it's not my natural disposition. My inner me wants to be a critic. To play devil's advocate. To say, 'that's silly.' To dismiss. Being the encourager of dreams means that I'm going against my inclinations. It means I'm having to change some habits.

My oldest son once told me that he wanted to be a pastor, an artist, and the president. He put the emphasis on the word 'and.' As in, if he couldn't be a pastor or an artist, then the option for being president was eliminated. Honestly, if anyone could do all three of those at the same time, it would be my kid.

Ask Zu what she wants to be when she grows up, she'll tell you she wants to be a horseback rider. Great - that is a fantastic dream that I can get behind. I'll cheer her on endlessly to achieve that dream.

So far, that's easy. When your kids have plausible dreams - even ones that border on audacious, supporting those dreams is basic. Minimal effort required.

JJ, on the other hand, not so easy.

There comes a point when every rational thought in my being wants to tell people that there should be a point when you must stop dreaming. You want to be an astronaut? Well, they shut down NASA but that's a worthy dream. You want to ride a surfboard around the rings of Saturn? Whoa there toughie... you and I need to have a talk about making your dreams a little more realistic.

And that's where JJ is redefining what I consider to be a realistic dream. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

A while back, JJ told me, "I want to be Iron Man when I grow up." I've shared this story before, but his reply to me is essential to the spirit of anyone who considers themselves a dreamer.

JJ said, "I want to be Iron Man when I grow up."
"Well, the first thing you'll need to do is get very very rich." I replied.
Without any thought to the challenges in my instruction, he simply answered, "OK."

As if becoming very very rich was something that is commonplace. So easy a caveman could do it. If you want to be Iron Man, first get filthy stinking rich. And he shrugged it off. Sure, no problem. I'll get started now. He won me over. I'll be front and center at his press conference when he tells the world, "I am Iron Man."

So dream. Even if it is ridiculous or impossible. Do it anyways. It's worth it.


C is for Chuck/Charlie/Charles

One of the members of my D&B group posts a #fivethings challenge almost every day asking us to list of five answers to various questions. Five favorite candies. Five most influential people. Five favorite quotes. That kind of thing.

A couple of weeks ago, the challenge was to name your five favorite fictional characters. I listed mine without much thought to a pattern. It was there though, and I didn't notice it until someone else pointed it out. Three of my five were named Charles - or some derivative of that name. Digging deeper, I recognize more Charles, Chucks, and Charlies that land in the list of my favorite fictional characters. They are as follows.

Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I've adored this story as long as I can remember. There's so much hope: the impoverished kid winning the chance of a lifetime through a stroke of luck? We all dream of opportunities like that. But more than being lucky, Charlie deserved this break. He was a good kid, and perhaps the most noble of all of the characters - including Mr. Wonka.

Chuck Bartowski (AKA Charles Carmichael) from Chuck. There are so many things that this show got right. The culture of big-box electronics retailers. The customers. The staff. The geekery. As a former Best Buy employee, that show constantly reminded me of days past. Except when they were fighting spies and blowing stuff up. That never happened at my store.

Charles Xavier (AKA Professor X): The leader of the X-Men was my fictional sensei. A mind reading Mr. Miyagi that looked like Mr. Clean. Through the comic books and the cartoon series, there was no doubt that Professor X was the smartest guy in the room. Yet he never lorded that superior knowledge over anyone. He was compassionate and endlessly forgiving. Qualities I always wanted, even without superpowers.

Charlie Brown from Peanuts. He was me. Insecure, melancholic, and awkward around girls. But also a champion for those that kept trying in the face of ongoing failure.

Charlie Pace from LOST. Charlie's story is one of the most heartbreaking in LOST. I might have cried when he died. But his story is that of redemption. A rock star by choice, a one-hit wonder by the nature of the recording industry. He was a heroin addict when the plane crashes. There he sobered up, rekindled his music dreams, became a surrogate father to a baby born on the island, and finally sacrificed himself to save his friends. One of my favorite scenes in all of TV history is him sitting on the beach with Rose. He was distraught and depressed. Rose sought to comfort him and told him, "It's a fine line between denial and faith. It's much better on my side." He asked Rose for help, but she prayed with him instead, knowing that there wasn't anything she could do. They struck the balance between loss and hope so perfectly.

Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon. There is a bittersweet tone to Flowers. The sadness of Charlie's low IQ at the beginning of the story, his gained and lost love for Miss Kinnian, the realization that his friends were only interested in mocking him, the mouse's death, Charlie's realization that his intelligence will not last, the reversion back to being dimwitted yet knowing that he was once smart. There isn't a happy ending, but rather a challenging conclusion. This book was one of the more important stories I read while growing up.

Did I miss any? What's a good Charles that I've overlooked?