Mr. Jones (a death)

If you haven't done so already, please read the first part of this post HERE.

Our schedules revolved around movie night, poker night, and turning the store where we worked into our own version of Empire Records. But the most meaningful times were nights we would stay up talking for hours. Mr. Jones was the story of our lives. We helped each other believe in anything. We told each other fairy tales. We would look into the future. We knew that once everybody loved us, we would never be lonely. And we were going to be big stars.

Then there were days we would hang out at the mall. We would watch people and (just like the song) stare at all the beautiful women. We would exchange conversations lifted straight from the lyrics "She's looking at you. I don't think so, she's looking at me." I find it enlightening that the song starts off with such bravado, but revises the line toward the end to reveal a more insecure perspective: "She's perfect for you, man. There's got to be somebody for me." When we were having these conversations, we would brag and exaggerate, but if either of us were truly honest, we were nothing more than mumbling, bashful, and awkward when talking to any attractive girl.

Eventually, I moved away from Marysville. We maintained our friendship while living in different states. Five years later, he followed me eastward. Neither of us stayed there. I relocated to North Idaho and he moved back to Marysville. Due to tragic circumstances, we lost touch.

See, not every story has a happy ending. My Mr. Jones had a drinking problem. He hid it while we were younger, never imbibing while we were together. I knew that he would drink when I wasn't present, and was aware his dad was an alcoholic. I made it my mission to be around as much as possible in hopes to prevent him from following his father's path.

In the last year that we were friends, he no longer hid his drinking. By then, he was swimming the depths of alcoholism. Soon after, he also developed a narcotics problem and it didn't take long before he was mixing the two. He was dating a girl I had introduced to him, and at the end of that tumultuous relationship, he turned suicidal. He was drinking more and was increasingly angry.

In a phone conversation with his mom, she told me, "Do anything you can to save my baby boy."

I did. And it was the last we ever spoke. He was arrested on narcotics charges and spent a week in jail. He blamed me. His parents sent me death threats. Part of the terms of his bond was that he was to have (for my protection) no contact with me. That was the end of my friendship with Mr. Jones.

Years later, I got nosey. Googled his name. Looked him up on Facebook. I learned that he had moved back home with his folks. But other than location, not much had changed. He was still a metal-head, still loved Star Wars, still collected comic books, still struggled with depression.

Still an alcoholic.

In my last contact with him, he expressed a deep hatred for me. I didn't want to reopen old wounds, so I never made an attempt to reconnect online. My curiosity was sated. I moved on.

A couple years ago, I looked again. Instead of the typical "this is my life" posts that everyone shares on social media, I found messages from friends saying "We miss you." A Google search turned up an obituary. No cause of death was listed but knowing his lifestyle, his temperament, and his addictions, I could probably guess.

Why do I share this long and sad tale of an old friendship that has long gone cold? Well, the song has been on my mind a lot lately. We’re three weeks into the new year, and during this time (more often than not) I have had this Counting Crows tune playing in my head. In the shower. Along my commute to work. As I fill out reports. While I clean my apartment. When I try to fall asleep at night.

The words resonate with me. In quiet moments I can hear myself internally singing along, “She's suddenly beautiful. We all want something beautiful. I wish I was beautiful.” Then, “I want to be a lion. Everybody wants to pass as cats.” And later, “When I look at the television, I want to see me staring right back at me. We all want to be big stars, but we don't know why and we don't know how.”

This song has been stuck in my cranium for three weeks. With it come memories. As much as my Mr. Jones had his flaws and demons, he was a good friend. Probably the best friend I’ve ever had.

Why now? Why so long after everything fell apart? Honestly, I don’t know. However, I am not a man who believes in coincidence. I believe that everything happens for a purpose. Perhaps this song will remain lodged in my consciousness until I figure out the reason why it is there.


Mr. Jones (a life)

We met at the beginning of my eight grade year. Both of us were nerds. Outcasts. Our friendship seemed like the most natural of selections.

He was sitting alone in the Cedarcrest cafeteria at a table in the corner closest to the doors that exited to the courtyard. He was reading comic books but there was nowhere else for me to sit. So I sat. He said "hey" but didn't look up from his reading. At that moment, I felt like a loser, sitting at the table reserved for the rejects. What I didn't realize was the kid sitting across from me, dressed completely in black, and nose buried in a Wolverine comic would become one of the best friends I would ever know.

Outside of Saturday morning cartoons and reruns of Adam West’s Batman, this kid was my introduction to superheroes. My parents wouldn't buy comic books so I read whatever he brought to school. Wolverine. The Dark Knight. Ghost Rider. Punisher. Spawn. Silver Surfer. The Watchmen. Occasionally the X-Men. He was drawn toward the anti-hero, so they were the first comics I ever read.

We spent the year talking about these characters and geeking out over their exploits. Every day during lunch. Then we would both head off to our classes ready to resume the geekery the following day.

The next year, he was gone. Due to some health issues, he missed both semesters. We didn't see each other until my sophomore year. I was surprised to see him in the drama club and we reconnected as if we hadn't lost contact since junior high. A couple years older, the topics of our conversations widened. He was still a comic book geek, but we added shared interests in music and movies to our discussions. We were both crazy about a girl. Two different girls who shared the same name: Heather. The first time the two of us hung out together outside of school was to watch Heathers - the 1988 movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. It seemed appropriate considering where we were at during that phase of our lives.

As we got older, our conversations gained depth. We began talking more and more about life and God and girls. Then we began talking about our hopes and fears. We talked as teenagers about our dreams while the whole world still laid out before us and anything was possible.

By the time we graduated high school, we were spending nearly every weekend together. Eating at Taco Bell. Going to the movie theater. People watching at the Everett Mall. Playing video games. Playing poker at a mutual friend's apartment. Or debating philosophy at midnight out in the middle of nowhere under a sea of stars. He helped me get a job at the record store where he worked and we began hanging out on a daily basis surrounded by two things we loved: movies and music.

But going back to the beginning, back when the most exciting part of our day was reading comic books during our lunch breaks, there was a song that was a big radio hit. The Counting Crows became popular while we were in junior high. Their debut album became darling to both MTV and FM alternative stations. Songs like Rain King and Round Here were inescapable. However, their single Mr. Jones holds the most significance for me.

My friend was a metal head. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth ruled his music collection. But he loved Counting Crows. The song, Mr. Jones represented the entirety of our friendship, from our days as a couple of junior high nerds into our mid-twenties, trying to figure out how to adult effectively.

He was my Mr. Jones. In turn, I was Mr. Jones to him. He has been on my mind a lot lately.


Great Expectations

Several years ago, I attended a seminar about strengthening relationships. The big idea was setting a foundation in your live that would serve you well in any connection - be it professional, romantic, familial, or a friendship. One of the questions asked was about how other people have the power to hurt us. They said something that stuck with me: the greater your expectation in a relationship the greater the power this person has to emotionally wound you.

Think about it. A stranger could level the cruelest insult at you but their words are easily ignored or forgotten. If a spouse or a parent said the same thing, you would be devastated. Even simple criticism from someone you love can hurt worse than the barbed words of casual acquaintances.

That seminar was an ah-ha moment for me. I was (at the time) in the middle of a long string of disappointment from unmet expectations so I latched onto this practical concept. However, I have the tendency to take truisms like these to the extremes. If (a) the people with the most potential to hurt me are those on whom I place the greatest expectations and (b) I don't want to get hurt, then the most logical thing for me to do would be to set the lowest of expectations for everyone.

As you can imagine, this did not turn out as planned. Sure, it worked for a while. But then it didn't. Then I was dealt the most wounding blow imaginable.

Part of my journey of healing these past couple years has been learning to set high expectations and not being disappointed when those expectations are missed. It has been brutally difficult and I am nowhere near proficient. I have lost count of the times I have told myself that I am OK when I'm really not or that it is not a big deal when it really is.

One of the realities I have had to admit is that I am far more self-centered than I would care to admit. Yet more and more I have found a degree of narcissism to be present in most everyone I meet. Knowing this, I can work on my own issues while bracing myself for others who might not be as self-aware.

This year, as I work toward being a better person, I am working to erase the concept that I need to keep my expectations low. Along with that, I must accept a few (generalized) facts about humanity.

People are mean. Most of it is unintentional, so I will show them grace.
People are selfish. I will speak my needs but understand that most care more about their own.
People are manipulative. I will set appropriate boundaries and love them anyways.
People are vindictive. I will not participate in the cycle of vengeance.
I will trust knowing that my efforts will probably be betrayed.
I will invest in the lives around me knowing that few will invest in my life.
I will set great expectations knowing that most will not achieve them.
I will offer encouragement, support, and assistance whenever possible knowing the favor will most likely go unreturned.

Through this, I know I will be hurt. I know I will be let down. Yet I will forgive, I will care, I will love. And sometime, somewhere, someone will completely surprise me. Someone will be kind and generous. It has happened before and I cannot wait to see it again. It is for these people I keep the greatest of expectations. You are out there. I do not know who you are, but I am eager to meet you.


Feel Good Movies Part 2

There is no better way to start off 2016 than by finishing up something I started in 2015. After a rough week and a late night viewing of Can't Hardly Wait, I compiled a list of feel good movies that can boost my mood no matter how grumpy or bummed my current attitude. These are the instant picker-uppers. I already posted number ten through six, so if you have not yet read the first half of this list, you can do it HERE. Otherwise, here are the top five movies that cure my doldrums and make me happy any time I watch them.

5. The Great Outdoors. The second John Candy movie in my list, this one finds the late comedian as a family man whose tranquil vacation plans are interrupted by rude in-laws, accidental water-skiing, his son falling for a local girl, a 96-ounce steak, rambunctious raccoons, a brutal rain storm, and a bald-headed bear. When I was a kid, this was the kind of vacation I always wished my family would take - even if it included the disastrous pratfalls.

4. The Princes Bride. I was first introduced to this movie in high school when I got involved with the drama club. It was one of two movies considered as prerequisite viewing if you wanted to be accepted by the theater geeks. (The other was Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) Since then, lines of dialog from The Princess Bride have filtered their way into my regular vernacular. From the sick Fred Savage to "As you wish" to the fire swamp to "You killed my father, prepare to die" to the most passionate, the most pure kiss, this is an example of perfect film-making. It finds a deft balance between the sweet and the comical that speaks to the soul of every kid's dream: to live an adventurous life and find tru wuv.

3. Office Space. As I have spent most of my adult life in office buildings and cubicles, everything about Office Space rings familiar. The obstinate photocopy machine. The seemingly needless reports. Having eight bosses. Constant office relocations. Coworkers that are on the verge of a mental breakdown. A case of the Mondays. Placing too high a value on staplers. This is the movie that made us ponder what we'd do with a million dollars, reminded us how we don't need 37 pieces of flair to express ourselves, gave us the dream of taking taking a baseball bat to outdated machinery, and taught us that it feels good to be a gangsta.

2. Zoolander. Everything about this movie is ridiculous. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Jerry Stiller all give us a lesson in over-acting as they lampoon the fashion industry amidst an absurd plot about brainwashing male models in high profile assassination conspiracies. Then you add in the cameos from people like David Bowie, Cuba Gooding Jr., Billy Zane, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Portman, and so many others. There are zero reasons this movie should work, yet it does. My mood lifts along with the Ben Stiller's character. He starts in depression because Hansel is so hot right now and his roommates all died in a freak accident; then he falls in love, saves the prime minister of Malaysia with Magnum, and opens the Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too. Perhaps we all just need a lesson that there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking.

1. Empire Records. I love this movie. Perhaps it's because it reminds me so much of my first job working in a record store. Perhaps it's because I miss chasing shoplifters. Perhaps it is because I am fond of independent retailers. Perhaps it is because I have love Ethan Embry movies (he was also in my #10 pick from the previous post). Perhaps it is the 90's alternative music soundtrack. Perhaps it is because I had a massive crush on Liv Tyler when this movie came out. Or it could just be nostalgia. Whatever it is, Empire Records always brings a smile to my face.

Of course, this list would not be complete without a few runners up. Here are three that could have easily made this list, but missed out by a smidge. Cool Runnings, Airplane, Coming to America, and Rat Race.

No matter how sad I am feeling, these are the movies that can make it all better. And if you're looking for a good way to begin your new year, I suggest cuddling up with some popcorn, a mug of hot chocolate, a fleece blanket, and a feel good movie. In fact, that's what I am going to do tonight.


For a New Year (again)

As 2015 draws to a close, I want to take a moment to look back (learn) and to look forward (dream).

One of my groups encourages everyone to have a word for the year. A word to focus on, to motivate and inspire, to keep you driven and moving toward your goals. Last year my word was "healing" and I have done a whole lot of it over the past 12 months. I also wrote a post one year ago about New Year's resolutions - that mine was a simple two word ambition: Be Better. I feel that I've achieved that resolution to some degree and the best thing I could do going into 2016 is to adopt the same resolution all over again. While 2015 was a great year for myself and my kids, I want this next year to be even better. With that in mind - my word for 2016 is "Better." In addition to a word, I'm also picking out a theme song:

Consider what has happened this year. I'm healthier than I have been in a long time. The kids and I are all happier than we were in 2014. There were some great changes at work. I took some big risks in life that I would have never imagined myself taking when this year started. The Faithful Geek blog has seen some successes and I have been blessed with the opportunity to write for a few of my friends. I have also found some unique chances to help and support others in ways that would not have been possible a year or two earlier. If these experiences were a result of me wanting to be better, then I am overly optimistic about what could happen in 2016 if I continue striving to be better.

Now that this year is dwindling into its final hours and I contemplate all that has transpired in the past three hundred and sixty five days, all I can say is this was a great year. For that, I want to express my gratitude. To everyone that has taken a minute or two to read my thoughts here - thank you. To those few brave souls who allowed me to write a guest post for their blog - thank you. To my pastors and mentors - thank you. To those of you that have laughed and cried with me, who have hugged me, who have joined me for spirited games of Quelf or Mario Kart, who have encouraged me or challenged me, who have loved my kids - from the depths of my heart, thank you. To my family - I love you all dearly. And for all who have indulged my geekiness - may the force be with you.

This is it. One more day of the old year and I am wishing you the best. May 2016 be better than 2015. Heading into the new year, here is my hope, my goal. I'm going to scream it from the top of my lungs.


The Greatest Gift

We had a rough night last weekend. My daughter was unusually morose after church. Most Friday nights, she is bursting with manic energy after the games and teaching in our children's ministry. Being the last weekend service before Christmas, this sullen emotion was out of character for my typically chipper Zu.

When I asked her what was wrong, my heart sunk. "No one cares about me" her answer. "Nobody loves me."

"Can't possibly be true because I love you very much. I'm sorry that you're feeling like this." I did my best to recognize her emotions as valid yet help her understand our feelings are not always honest.

As we talked, she continued her brooding. "God probably doesn't love me either."

"Oh, sweetheart, it must have been a hard night. It's not fun feeling like this. But I do not believe there is anything you could do to take away God's love for you."

As we talked, she revealed more of the reason behind her sadness. She wants so desperately to have a good Christmas and a happy New Year, but she fears she will get neither. This made her sad so she didn't participate in Kids' Quest, instead she sulked. She then felt like God couldn't love her because of her behavior; this exacerbated her despair. She even told me she felt like her heart was breaking.

When we got home, we started our bedtime routine. With her in her pj's and a tomato in hand (her bedtime snack), I tucked her in then sat on the side of her bed and spent some time doing all I could to soothe her fears.

"I hope you know how much I care about you." I said. She nodded. "Did you know that God cares most for those who are hurting?"

Her expression seemed to display confusion, as if she were saying 'that can't be true.'

"I believe that God's love is best demonstrated when we are sad and hurting. In fact, one of my most favorite verses from Psalms says 'The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.' The way you're feeling right now isn't proof that God dislikes you; it is a sign that He is close to you."

Then I continued.

"You know what? I'm really excited about Christmas. Like really super looking forward to it."
"You are?" She looked at me with eyes swelling on the verge of hope.
"I am. And I am sure that this Christmas is going to be great. You know what else?"
"I'm hoping we have a happy New Year too."
"Are we going to watch the ball drop?"

And that was all she needed to hear. She finally smiled and wrapped her arms around me. I gave her a kiss and told her the same thing I say every night: "Goodnight sweet girl."

By morning, Zu was acting more like herself. Playful. Joyous. Looking forward to our Saturday adventure. And not wanting to take a bath. Normal.

Her stocking stuffers and presents were purchased two weeks ago and hidden in a closet. Tonight, I will be up late wrapping and setting up her Christmas surprises. However, I am convinced that none of those presents will compare to the gift of assurance I gave her this last Friday night.

We dream. We hope. We wish. And yet, sometimes life deals extraordinary circumstances. We face loses in life and jobs and marriages. Tis the season for peppermint and gumdrops but it is also the season of strained finances and annoying relatives. Sometimes happiness and joy are debatable. It can be incredibly difficult to embrace the spirit of the season when the spirit within you is burdened, stressed, and heartbroken. This is Christmas. Bah-humbug.

But sadness is nothing new. Sorrow and misery have existed as long and humanity has graced this planet. Grief was a thing long before the birth of Christ. Yet as long as people have had the ability to experience depression, God has had a plan to heal our emotional wounds. In our hopelessness, God is telling us "I am here. I am close to you. I will demonstrate my love through your brokenness and your life will be made new."

This experience was described in another Psalm: "You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent."

Two thousand years ago, God gave us the gift of His Son, this act was his signature to a love letter that He had been writing since the dawn of time. In Jesus, He showed us that wherever we find broken hearts and wounded spirits, He would be there to heal all our achy parts. A baby boy, a gift, God with us.

At Christmas, we express our longing and hope for something worth hoping for. Many of us do that in a list. Me? I would love it if someone gave me an Xbox One with a copy of Star Wars Battlefront. I could really use a new car. Or even an all expense paid weekend in Seattle. I'd be content with concert tickets or an hour long massage. Those gifts would be awesome, but realistically I have all ready been given the greatest gift imaginable, the assurance that everything is going to be OK.

I have mourned and God has turned my mourning into dancing. I could not ask for more.

My wish for you is to have the happiest of Christmases. But let's not fake it. If this is more of a somber holiday, admit it. Fell free to say "Life sucks right now." Do it. Because I believe in a God who is big enough to listen to your complaints and loves you anyways. And I believe in a God that can transform your deepest hurts into something beautiful.


White as Snow

All I ever wanted for Christmas was six feet of snow. Well, not six feet exactly. That estimate is an exaggeration: a number to explain I want a lot of snow. It has been my wish every year for as long as I can remember. For a kid growing up in the Seattle area, a white Christmas would be a miracle. I wanted one, but knew the odds were as favorable as an actual fat man in a red suit shimmying down my chimney in the middle of the night to leave boxes adorned with festive wrapping and my name on every tag.

I blame music. When I was a little kid, we listened to Amy Grant's 1983 Christmas Album every year. My folks had it on vinyl, and it found a near permanent home in the record player from Thanksgiving until New Years Day. It was the only Christmas album they owned so we listened to it a lot. I still remember every song on it by heart and could sing along from Tennessee Christmas to Angels We Have Heard On High. From the album, my favorite song was her take on Sleigh Ride. Amy's version is the standard by which I judge any other artist's interpretation. I loved that song in an unrequited form. Sleigh rides were a foreign concept to us Seattleites. In the sea-level suburbs, snow was fleeting. It is difficult to snuggle up together like the birds of a feather in a horse drawn sleigh ride upon rain-slicked wet concrete. Yet that song built up within me a longing for winters where skis and snowshoes were commonplace. For magic falling as white crystals from a frozen sky.

We hear it on the radio every December. "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow." Or "The fire is slowly dying, my dear we're still good-byeing, but as long as you love me so, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." Also "In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Parson Brown. He'll ask 'are you married' we say 'no man, but you can do the job when you're in town.'" From Frosty the Snowman to Silver Bells to In the Bleak Midwinter, we have it ingrained in our culture: snow is an intrinsic element of Christmas. Mariah Carey sang "All I want for Christmas is you," but me? All I want for Christmas is snow. In large quantities. When it comes to the holiday season, this could be my theme song.

Then I moved away from the Emerald City. I now live somewhere with (typically) snowy winters. While white Christmases are not guaranteed, they are far more likely. Last week, after I had nearly given up on my wish for this year, the skies opened and blanketed my town. I love it. When I went out for a walk this afternoon, the virgin snow still untouched by human footprints was knee-deep, and we are supposed to get more in between now and Christmas morning.

I am grateful to be able to raise my kids here with the snow. I love seeing them make snow angels and build snowmen and throw snowballs at each other. (However, if I'm honest, I am the usual target of their snowballs.) I am happy to dig my car out from under its fresh fallen blanket and drive along Coeur d'Alene's icy streets. I find serenity looking out my window at the evergreen branches sagging under the weight of snow.

When snow falls, the world turns quiet. All that is ugly disappears. Even my most sun-and-sand seeking friends who loathe cold weather will admit to a kind of aesthetic allure only available in landscapes covered by snow. It has a calming effect on the hustle and bustle nature of modern living. It forces us to move a little more slowly - even if for the sake of safety. Snow forms the truest bridge from the dead of Autumn to the blossom of Spring. It is peace, beauty, renewal, healing.

In the middle of this cold and ice, we find ourselves celebrating the birth of Jesus. Fitting, as His life grants us the same promise in our lives as snow has on the land around us. To give us peace amidst a storm. To cover over the ugly and make us beautiful again. To revive and heal everything that is broken inside us. Living in a locale that looks like a Christmas card, the promise God spoke in the first chapter of Isaiah is easier to understand.

In this, we find life. Our God is a God who makes all things new. I see no better demonstration of this promise than in a snow-covered earth.


Feel Good Movies

In a previous post, I talked about the therapeutic effect of a good song. However, music isn't my only anti-depressant. As a cinephile, certain movies also have a positive mood altering impact.

Not all of them though. Fight Club might be one of my all-time favorite movies, but watching it will not make me happy at the end of a hard day. It takes a special element for films to elevate the human condition, to drag a mood out of a funk, to unburden a weary soul, to mend a broken heart.

Such movie magic that can only be found in particular films. Part whimsy, part absurdity, part nostalgia, always comical, and sometimes irreverent. These are the movies you could start watching at any point in the plot, you can watch over and over and never lose interest, you know the script by heart and could provide the character voices on your own if the movie was muted.

One night a few weeks ago, I needed this type of magic. After a stressful week at work, some discouraging news at home, a fight with insomnia, and attempting something brave without knowing whether or not it would be rewarding, I was feeling odd. My head was not in the right place. Worrying about junk that I shouldn't have been worrying about. Cycling through never-ending "what if" scenarios. Giving too much credit to critical voices. And feeling bummed for inexplicable reasons.

I opened Netflix and the banner at the top of their homepage featured another favorite movie of mine: Can't Hardly Wait. 'Yes,' I thought, 'this is exactly what the doctor prescribed.' I turned off all the lights, clicked play, made myself comfortable, and enjoyed the movie. Despite the dozens of times I have previously watched it, I still laughed. Alone in my apartment, I sang along with the soundtrack and quoted some of the best lines of dialog. 100 minutes later, I felt so much better. Any hint of sadness had evaporated.

There are a handful of movies that do that to me. Regardless my mood, no matter how angry or frustrated or glum my emotions, these movies always turn it around. These films have a way of making me happy.

With Christmas a week away, we could all use extra reason to be filled with joy and cheer. If you need it, I recommend watching a feel good movie. I plan on seeing a few this week. I do not know what is in your list, but here is what is on mine.

10: Can't Hardly Wait. The perfect blend of a plucky kid with an indomitable spirit pursuing the girl he's been pining after for years, the bromance between the geek and his bully, and the eccentric cast discovering who they really are. The scene that always gets me is when the dejected Preston is pulled out of the phone booth by a stripper in an angel costume. She had a horrible day but but she shares a poignant conversation about fate and celebrity crushes. This is the line that fixes my sadness every time.

9: Spaceballs. This is one of the last great parody movies. Clever writing. Brilliant cast. Fourth wall breakage. Puns galore from "we've been jammed" to "comb the desert." Every scene with John Candy shines; I cannot imagine how he managed to play a character named Barf with a straight face.

8: So I Married an Axe Murderer. Weird jazzy beat poetry. Mistaken identity. Conversations taken out of context. A Rod Stewart song performed on bagpipes. This was Mike Myers at his best as an unlikely lead in a romantic comedy. Then again, this movie was unconventional as far as romantic comedies are concerned.

7: Grumpy Old Men. Who knew watching a couple old dudes in a rivalry over the love of a woman could be so funny? Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are two of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen and seeing these two men spar through insults and pranks brings me immense joy. When Lemmon drops a dead fish into the back seat of Matthau's rig, it may be one of the cruelest practical jokes, but it always makes me laugh. However, the double entendre spoken by Grandpa Gustafson in the closing credits/outtakes remains my favorite part of the film. But those insults ...

6: Nothing to Lose. Side note, my gut hurts from laughing every time I see this movie, but I have reached the point where it is more fun to watch people watching this movie for the first time than actually watching the movie. Martin Lawrence plays the same type of character he always plays - a quick talking smart aleck with a chip on his shoulder. That persona plays well against the brokenhearted strait man in Tim Robbins. They fend off a pair of career criminals and commit one of Hollywood's most hilarious heist scenes. The mishap adventure starts Lawrence attempts to car-jack Robbins who disregards all sense of logic and fear.

... to be continued


Star Wars: It's Not a Spoiler

One of the most notorious stories about Harrison Ford in making the original Star Wars movies centers on Harrison's wish for Han Solo to get a death scene. He almost got it. Getting dipped in carbonite after being betrayed by a friend would have been a fitting send off for the stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerf herder.

George Lucas had other ideas. He wanted to complete Han's story arc. George must have felt a better story would be told if Han and Leia lived happily ever after. Or maybe he felt someone needed to party with the overgrown living teddy bears on Endor. Or perhaps this was George's way of making sure everyone knew he was the boss. Regardless the reason, Chewie's best friend lived on to help the Rebel Alliance and kiss the girl at the end.

Every body won.

Except Harrison Ford who never got the epic death scene he always wanted.

Then news came out that there would be more Star Wars films. Location scouting, casting, and various aspects of pre-production began. Fans started to speculate whether or not the original cast would return. Around this time, rumors spread that Harrison Ford would only return to the franchise if the script included the death of Han Solo.

In case you are not already aware, Harrison is a member of the cast for The Force Awakens. Does this mean the film's creators are going to kill him off? Maybe. Draw your own conclusions. The typical movie attendee won't know for sure until tomorrow evening at the earliest. (And if anyone spoils it before I see it for myself, I will feed you to a sarlacc.)

What follows is pure conjecture - the wishes of an optimistic fan. If you are looking for spoilers, you will not find them here.
This isn't the spoiler you're looking for.

If Disney does bring a final breath to Han Solo's life, they better do it right. If you think there is no possibility that it could go wrong, you haven't seen the prequels. What could go wrong? Plenty.

If he dies of old age, fans will be confused. Han isn't Yoda.
If he is murdered during a conversation with a smuggler, fans will protest because we all know that Han shoots first.
If he is simply shot in the middle of battle or perishes while crashing the Millennium Falcon, fans will cry foul as our hero deserves better.
If he is accidentally killed by an oddball comedic relief character, fans will forever insist J.J. Abrams's initials stand for Jar Jar.

If Han Solo must die, then he needs to go out on a high note. He must fall in honor, or fans will be let down. It is the only way Harrison Ford can get his wish that will be satisfying for fans.

If I had been a screenwriter for The Force Awakens, here is what I would have done.

Han, Leia, and Chewie are on a mission to rescue Luke. At first, it seems success is theirs but they are surprised by Kylo Ren and his acolytes who had been hiding to ambush the heroes. Cornered and under heavy fire, the group sees only one possible way out. Someone needs to provide cover fire so the remaining members of the group can escape the the awaiting Millennium Falcon. Unfortunately, such an action would be suicidal as there would be no opportunity for that person to follow the others.

Han volunteers, telling his friends that he would willingly give his life in exchange for theirs. "This is something that I should have done years ago," he explains. Then he looks at Luke. The two men hug each other and Han says, "May the Force be with you."

After Han unholsters his blaster, he pauses one last time and turns toward Leia.

"I love you," he says.
"I know," she replies.

Han smiles then ducks around the corner and begins firing upon the Knights of Ren. He takes a couple of hits but remains standing, determined to take as many foes down with him as possible. Luke, Leia, and Chewie make a run for safety on board the Millennium Falcon. Leia looks back at Han once more, just in time to see him struck by a slash from Rylo's lightsaber.

With tears in her eyes, Leia whispers to herself, "I know." Then she climbs into the Falcon and the trio fly off to join Rey and Fin.

That would be the most noble way to kill off a character. It would be reminiscent of Obi-Wan's sacrifice in Episode IV and echo the biblical adage "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." Han's death (if there is one) will probably not happen in such a fashion. But wouldn't it be awesome if it did?

*Image source HERE


It keeps getting better

Meet Gnomesworth the Seagnome.* This little garden gnome is easily the coolest gift I have ever kept in a white elephant gift exchange.

Why does that matter? Well, it represents a sea-change in my perspective on Christmas. (See what I did there?) This holiday is supposed to be filled with happiness and cheer. After all "It's the most wonderful time of the year." Yet not everyone feels those feels. For many, Christmas ranges from mundane routine to stress-filled present shopping to painful memories to obnoxious family members and conflict. I don't fall into any of those categories, yet Christmas has never been my favorite holiday.

It was never a day of magic for me. I was not one of those kids who woke up to presents overflowing from under the tree. When everyone returned to school after winter break, I rarely joined the other kids bragging about the cool gifts they received. Instead of expensive crap, I got parents who loved and encouraged me. In hindsight, these experiences helped me remove the materialism from my Christmas traditions. I'm probably a better person for this. However, as a kid, such values are harder to understand.

Getting older made Christmas even more complicated. My first holiday season after leaving my parents' house and moving out of state was lonely. My roommates both flew home to celebrate with their families but I stayed behind. I worked retail both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. That was when I discovered the day after Christmas in Old Navy was worse than the day after Thanksgiving. I don't remember what I had for Christmas dinner that year, probably nachos. I don't remember what my parents and grandparents sent me, but I know I opened it when the mailman delivered the boxes instead of waiting until December 25th.

You might think having kids would inject a little jubilation into my holiday season, but you would be wrong. Instead of creating magical moments, I found it more stressful. I am a horrible Santa Claus. The harder I tried to be the coolest dad ever, the more difficult it was to hold up the charade. These last few years have been challenging as I figure out how to Christmas as a single dad.

Despite the new complications, last year was the best Christmas ever. Even with balling on a budget, I was filled with hope. My brother and his wife gave me the best gift imaginable: they stocked my pantry, fridge, and freezer. Another friend wanted to make sure my kids were taken care of and she played the dual roles of miracle worker and Santa's elf. My favorite present she sent was a framed picture of my three muchkins; it is now sitting on my desk at work. Perhaps the greatest treasure of all was the realization that I was not alone.

This year is already shaping up to outshine last Christmas. I have been twice surprised as my worship pastor and a group of strangers have blessed me with their kindness and grace. It's not about money. It's not about material things. It is a matter of perspective. Mine has been radically shifting.

Gnomesworth now sits on top of my home office desk. Every time I look at the gnome, decked out in Seahawks swag, I smile. I have always assumed everything would be OK, but now I am thinking differently. Now I know things will be more than OK. It will be awesome. When I look at that goofy little garden gnome, I am reminded of that fact. I can imagine him saying in a deep craggy voice "Have a very epic Christmas."

* My kids named the gnome, I dig it.


Splashing in the Puddles

While walking out to the car this morning, I heard a sloshing sound next to me. I looked over to see JJ absentmindedly wading through one of the largest puddles in the parking lot. He was not trying to make a mess of himself - nor was he aiming for the growing pool of water. It happened to be in the path of where he was walking.

My 'be cautious' daddy instincts kicked in and I told JJ, "You know you don't have to walk through the puddles, right?"

"Oh," JJ said as if he was unaware that he was ankle deep in a puddle.

Then I remembered something: I was that kid once. In fact, I was worse than all three of my kids combined. I am sure my mother loathed rainy days like today (and in the Seattle suburbs, this kind of weather was a recurring possibility). The half mile walk from Pinewood Elementary down 53rd and around the corner to the white house on 80th stretched longer than the typical ten minutes on days filled with heavy precipitation.

Because I was that kid. The one who had no qualms making a spectacle of himself. The one searching for each and every rain puddle with gleeful anticipation, often straying from the path to find those out-of-the-way puddles. The one jumping as high as he could upon approach and simultaneously stomping with both feet as close to the middle of the puddle as he could. The one on a quest to discover the biggest splash he could create. That was me.

By the time I stepped through the front door I was drenched and disheveled, dripping my own rainstorm all over the hardwood floors. Every square inch of fabric covering my body was soaked. Shirt and coat. Pants and undies. Shoes and socks. This routine was so thorough, my waterlogged shoes would still be wet the next morning when it was time to go back to school. I was sodden and numbed, shivering as if I had just gone for a winter swim at Kayak Point. Sniffling runny nose, toes and fingertips tingling as they adjusted to indoor warmth. My mom could only embrace me with a towel then follow me with a mop.

I was that kid. So it seems a bit ignorant of my own history and inner child to deny my youngest son the same pleasure. This is the boy who does not like getting dirty. Who craves order. Who is the most organized student in his class. Who believes that everything has a place. For him to mistakenly wander into a puddle because he wasn't paying attention to the ground beneath his feet hardly deserves correction considering I (at his age) would have likely been dancing like a kangaroo in that same puddle.

To my youngest child, please allow me to revise my previous guidance. You don't have to walk through the puddles, but you can if you want. You don't even have to walk. You could jump.

Sincerely, Dad.


Of cigarettes, drugs, and inevitability

One day, during my 8th grade art class, Mr. Taylor turned on the television and allowed the students to pick a channel. We ended up on MTV and worked on our projects with music videos playing in the background. (This was back in an era when MTV's focus was still music.) During those forty minutes of class time, a video from Stone Temple Pilots was broadcast. The chorus crooned "I'm half the man I used to be. This I feel as the dawn it fades to gray." It was not the first time I heard the song, but it was the first I had truly paid attention to the lyrics. "I'm half the man I used to be. Half the man I used to be."

If Scott Weiland ever wrote a self-fulfilling prophecy, the song Creep would be it. Recent videos of his performances revealed a different man. He literally became half the man he used to be. Muscle mass withered away, leaving a frame of bone and sinew. Attempting to dance like Jagger but instead looking like the inebriated over-zealous fan who finds their way to the front row of every rock concert ever since The Doors first wooed audiences. In one clip he mumbled his way through Vasoline like a bad karaoke singer who had long forgotten the words he should be singing. Gone was that rich baritone and vicious snarl that made him famous - his voice was replaced with a whiny whimper that inspired pity far more than awe.

The person we have seen over the past couple years is not the rock star and music legend we remember. Not even the Ghost of Weiland Past. These glimpses we have caught through concert stages and YouTube videos were the final appearances of a dying man, a hollowed shell, evidence of addiction's demanding price.

If Scott's death is a surprise to you, you're a fool. This was an inevitable event anyone could see coming. Russell Brand described Amy Winehouse's death with that same sense of inevitability. He said it was "like watching someone for hours through a telescope advance towards you, fist extended with the intention of punching you in the face. Even though I saw it coming it still hurt when it eventually hit me."

Addiction is a terminal disease. You can see the ending approach from miles away, yet still feel powerless to stop the grim finale. For a touring musician, drugs and alcohol are practically an occupational hazard. Scott Weiland indulged in it for a quarter century. Because of his habits, he was forced out of Stone Temple Pilots and fired from Velvet Revolver - the two bands he was most recognized for fronting. Rehab never worked. At one point, a DA testified before a probation judge that Scott was "on the road to killing himself." Seventeen years later, the DA's prediction came true.

The actual cause of Scott's death may or may not have been suicide. We don't yet know if it was an overdose. Regardless, his passing is a direct result of a lifetime of heroin and cocaine addiction. Healthy people that are as skinny as a 2x4 do not have heart attacks at age 48. And 48 is too young to die.

Stories like this shouldn't happen. Drugs have been around long enough that everyone knows their effects. Between scientific studies and real world examples, everyone knows what drugs do to your brain and your body. Sober people should be able to envision their fate with drugs and decline on the overwhelming evidence that such a future will end badly. Yet, drugs ruin countless lives year after year.

This is a quandary that confused my oldest son. He is a smart kid. He knows that smoking is unhealthy. He knows it causes cancer, makes your breath and clothes stink, and turns your teeth yellow. He also has friends and classmates whose parents smoke. After seeing a bunch of cigarette butts in a parking lot, he asked me why people smoked. He said, "If people know it is disgusting and so bad for their health, why do they do it?" I tried to explain how tobacco is addictive and once people are hooked it is hard to quit. That answer didn't satisfy him. "Then why do they start in the first place?"

The answer for Christian's second question is not an easy one to explain. One could talk about peer pressure, the desire to look cool and fit in, nervous habits, or the cultural effect of growing up in environments where everyone else smokes. One could explain the numerous reasons that people light their first cigarette but each of those answers would be grossly inadequate. And they should be.

I could be cynical and say that drugs are just something that people do. That it will always be a part of life. That it will always lead to ruin as it has done for Scott Weiland. But I refuse to be that kind of guy. I choose to take the perspective that my son has with smoking. Drug abuse should not make sense. There should not be an acceptable explanation of why people do it. And if we can't get rid of the cartels and the dealers and the pushers then we need to work harder to make sure our kids don't grow up to be users. We need to make every effort to ensure young artists and musicians eschew the 'sex drugs and rock'n'roll' image of their cultural forefathers.

We need to do better. Because I'm fed up. I don't want to lose any more heroes. Yes, heroes. I don't want to model my life after Scott Weiland. He’s not that kind of hero to me. However, he did influence me and is one of the biggest reasons I started writing. His music helped me get through my awkward teenage years. His songs are still those I crank up the volume and sing along every time I hear them. Now he is gone.


Musical Therapy

I am grateful for a great many things in my life. Hopefully, I am doing a good enough job communicating my gratitude throughout the year so I'm not one of those jerks who saves it all up for an obligatory "thank you" message on Thanksgiving Day. Yet I am still abounding in reasons to be thankful - perhaps more this year than I have in a long time.

As I look back over the past few months, the days I am most thankful to have lived are the days surrounded by music (or at least talks about music). There were conversations with a coworker or a friend from my small group about our favorite songs. There were days spent with the worship band at church as they rehearsed and laughing together in the green room. There was an afternoon providing the background music for a company party. And there are so many moments where I have caught my kids singing along with the car stereo or hearing my daughter singing to herself words from songs that I grew up with hours after the music stopped playing. These moments fill me with immense joy.

I wholly believe that music is therapeutic. There have been numerous studies to support the fact drum patterns and musical accompaniment have beneficial neurological effects. Reports have shown music in education help kids be better students in traditional academics. You can easily find a plethora of anecdotal evidence of music being a source of motivation, of being a mood stabilizer, of inspiring and uniting and strengthening people everywhere.

Then, on a day when I needed to see it most, my brother posted this on facebook.

On that day, I engaged in my favorite form of therapy. I plugged in some headphones, shut out the outside world, and for the next hour and a half I allowed the melodies, harmonies, tempos, lyrics, and rhythms to heal my wounds.

In case you're looking for something similar, here are my therapists from that afternoon.

Bottom of the River by Delta Rae
Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars
Take Me to Church by Hozier
Fading West by Switchfoot
Not Alone by Matt and Kim
We Come Running by Youngblood Hawke
Anna Sun by Walk the Moon
Bodies by Savoir Adore
Tongue Tied by Grouplove
Divisionary (Do the Right Thing) by Ages and Ages
Just Kids by Mat Kearney
Renegades by X Ambassadors
Major Tom (Coming Home) by Shiny Toy Guns
Safe and Sound by Capital Cities
Young Blood by The Naked and Famous
We Don't Believe What's On TV by Twenty One Pilots
In the Shadows by The Rasmus
Excited Eyes by The Notionaries
Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men
Seattle by The Classic Crime
I Like To Be With Me When I'm With You by Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors
Down There by Bronze Radio Return
Train Song by Listener
The Outsiders by Needtobreathe
Life Goes On by Pigeon John
I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers
Walk This Way by MØ
Little Secrets by Passion Pit
L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N by Noah and the Whale

30 songs and I felt whole again. Revived and ready to take on the world.


Not Afraid

We live in an ugly world. It is filled with broken people who have a penchant for cruelty. After the headlines of last weekend, I have seen a few common emotional reactions. Anger. Sadness. Fear.

The anger is evident. If you listen closely you can probably hear war drums pounding. It is hard to skim through social media without seeing a vitriolic rant about governments not doing enough to stop terrorist attacks or calls to nuke the Middle East until it glows. Both French and American militaries have engaged in bombing strikes over ISIS controlled land. So, yes, you could be angry. But I don't want to be one of those people. There is enough anger out there without my contribution.

Sadness makes sense to me and feels like the most Christian response. After all, the Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn. Sorrow should be the most natural answer to the loss of life on a monumental scale.

Then there is fear. Fear that the worst might happen and it could happen to you. Isn't that the purpose of terrorism? To make people scared? It's not worth the effort. We may be swimming in currents of emotion but I refuse to be swept away by an undertow of fear.

I am not afraid.

Yes, I realize that I am a member of a culture and society that ISIS hates. I am not afraid. I know that they have threatened our nation's capital. I am not afraid. I am aware that extremist groups are encouraging homegrown militants to attack cities from a kill list which includes the nearby communities of Bonners Ferry, Spokane, and Airway Heights. I am not afraid. I recognize domestic terrorists (people like Timothy McVeigh, Richard Butler, and Dylann Roof) are a greater and more probable risk to my life than any foreign jihadist. I am not afraid.

Even if a suicide bomber were to walk into my neighborhood, my office, my church, my bank, my favorite coffee shop, or anywhere I happen to be at that given moment - I am not afraid.

Because I believe in a God who promised to never leave or forsake His people. A God who told us not to fear anything because He is with us. A God who gave us power, love, and self control instead of fear. A God whose love casts out all fear. If this God is for us - if he is on our side - then nothing can stand against us.

The writers of the Bible had reason to be afraid. The Israelites, fled from a life of slavery. They battled against vastly superior military powers. King David led Israel into a time of peace but was first hunted down by a murderous madman before he could take the throne. After him, the kingdom suffered generations of ineffective leadership and were eventually conquered by a neighboring superpower. By the time Jesus came along, the nation of Israel had fallen under the dictatorial rule of Rome. The first Christians faced threats of torture, imprisonment, and execution under the Roman government. Yet these people were the first audiences to hear God's repetitive command: do not be afraid.

What makes us think we're different? What makes us think we're special? What makes us think that ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, or al-Qaeda are more deserving of our fear than of the Philistines or Pharaoh's, Nebuchadnezzar's, and Caesar's armies? Are they greater than the tyrants who oppressed the Israelites and the early church? If God commanded His people to be fearless while they were facing the most fearsome conquerors of ancient times - why wouldn't that same order apply to us? If we consider ourselves to still be God's people, what do we have to fear?

We must realize that the greatest weapons in our fight against terror are not methods of modern warfare. Our enemies are undeserving of our rage or our terror. Our best response would be to live our lives as we wish. To combat terrorism, we must fight with bravery and boldness on the homefront. Every western citizen living with love, kindness, generosity, and fortitude will conquer terrorism quicker and more definitively than a barrage of drone strikes and xenophobia. We need nations to collectively declare: We are not afraid. We will not be shaken.


Meanwhile, outside my apartment

The top of this tree ...

... is now here.

And just a little further south, a tree came down on one of the garage units. All in all, it could have been worse.