P is for Power pt 2: The Power of Positivity

Melancholy is such a great word. When Smashing Pumpkins released their double LP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, it quickly became one of my favorite albums. To this day, every time I listen to it I'm inspired to write.

I remember sitting in my American Literature class with their songs stuck in my head. I was supposed to be reading The Scarlet Letter, but I all could think were the words "Tell me I'm the chosen one, Jesus was an only son for you." Nearly 20 years later, that album still remains one of my all time favorites.

But that younger version of me, the high school junior distracted by music, didn't fully understand the meaning of melancholy. I thought of it as something bittersweet. Only a hint of sadness. At that time, I didn't even realize that I had a melancholic disposition.

As years have passed, I have come to better understand the meaning of the word. Gloomy. Somber. Pensive. Lost in thought.

I don't see melancholy as a bad thing. Even though it makes certain tendencies a little more viable - depression, despair, pessimism. It has it's trade offs. It's given me compassion and empathy for those that are hurting - the outcasts, the misfits. It's forced me to be a little more deliberate than most. And I'm learning to be happy in times of mourning and infinite sadness.

However, that learning takes a considerable amount of effort. Knowing that my coping mechanisms are either mockery or grumbling, knowing that my default response to stress is to retreat, knowing that happiness is impossible by doing the things I've always done, I'm making conscious actions to change some habits.

To combat negativity in the workplace, I've put together a "Happy @ Work" playlist. It's on my iPod and I will turn it on in my office to help keep my mood positive. I'm surrounded by people who constantly whine and complain so my musical therapy is a pleasant counterbalance.

The quest for happiness is not solely internal; there is an external component. It's about the way I interact with others. It's the way I present myself in social media. It's about the topics I chose to write about and post to this blog.

Last spring, I mentioned that I'm not a natural encourager. To be honest (and those who know me can confirm) I tend to be more of a grouch. Like Oscar. One of my greatest fears is that I'll age into a grumpy old man, standing out on my porch shaking my fist at those darn kids and yelling at them to get off my lawn. In hopes to avoid that fate, I'm finding ways to compliment, motivate, and encourage those around me. I'm trying to envision the positive side where I would not normally see it.

For example, a few months ago I overheard a conversation between two ladies complaining about parking outdoors in North Idaho. One of them griped about the trees at her apartment complex shedding needles and how she's sick of sap dripping onto the hood of her car. The other said she hated pine trees.

Something seemed tweet worthy. My instincts wanted to make fun of them. Don't park next to trees, you wouldn't have that problem if you didn't park under a tree branch. Don't like evergreens? You're living in the wrong part of the country. Pine sap dripping on your car? At least it's not bird poop.

Halfway through composing that tweet, I stopped myself. 'Naw,' I thought. 'It's not worth it. I shouldn't be mean.' Instead, I tweeted the following: "I prefer pine trees to palm trees." The result to this more positively minded tweet garnered genuine responses that affirmed my opinion including a Texas friend reminiscing how much she missed living in the northwest.

Over the summer, I observed a peculiar neighbor while driving to church. He was dressed in tube socks and flip flops, shorts and an ill fitting t-shirt. He appeared to be at least my age, if not older. And he was spinning in circles at the end of his driveway with a Bubbles wand in his hand. Not a kid in sight, just him. When I got out of my car, I started typing a description of what he looked like and his choice in activity. It started with the intent to make a joke, but then I realized that he was enjoying himself - and probably more so than me. Instead of being cruel, I ended the post commenting that I bet he was having more fun than anyone who was reading my update. Once again, the response was positive. One even alleged that I was jealous of my neighbor - which was definitely a possibility.

Lesson learned. Intentional efforts to be positive are far more rewarding. But lets be real, I'm not perfect. It takes a lot of work, and I don't always get it right. Mockery is far easier. But there is a shift going on; I call that progress.

I am convinced our world would be a better place if more people made the effort to embrace the power of positivity.


An open letter to the students of MPHS

Hello friends.

Is it OK if I call you friends? We don't know each other, but we share a common bond. I am an MP alumn. Class of '97.

It's been years since I stepped foot on campus. If I remember correctly it was to see a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the spring of '99. Later that year, I moved away and haven't returned. But I miss you. And no matter the distance or the number of years that separate us, I still consider you home. My school. My city.

The MPHS campus holds many memories for me. Some good, others not so good. However, even my worst high school memories pale in comparison to the grief you are all feeling today. For that reason, my heart is breaking for you. My body is 300 miles away, but my thoughts are in Marysville.

Today is hard. Tomorrow will be the same. In fact, the next time you enter a classroom, it will be difficult. But there are a few things that I know to be true that I hope will help you.

First, and most important: this is not the end. When tragedy strikes, it's easy to feel as if your world grinds to a stop. While there is a sense of finality that surrounds you, there is much more life ahead of you than anything that lies behind you. Today might have been the closing of one chapter, but tomorrow is a new page in your story - the beginning of the next chapter. You still have the power to achieve greatness. Despite the horrors of today, I believe that your futures hold many wonderful things.

You also need to know that where there is darkness, there is also light. Right now, you have a choice. You can either let the darkness of tragedy consume you. Or, you can choose to be a light in that darkness. Hug your friends. Remind your family how much you love them. Be a shoulder to cry on. Find healing in helping others heal. Find something to hope for and cling to it.

This next bit I know to be true but I can't really explain why. It is just something that I feel at the very root of everything that I am. This tragedy does not define you. You are bigger than this. You are stronger than this. And you are worth more than you will ever comprehend. Each and every one of you are here for a reason. Your family loves you. Your friends need you. And now, more than you may ever recognize, you school needs you. Even if you feel like an outcast or that you don't fit in, just know that there is someone out there who needs you to be here.

Finally, something I see in overwhelming evidence: you are not alone. I have been checking in with friends and former classmates and one theme stands: We support you. Your school is an irrevocable part of what makes us who we are today and that connects us to you. We are your biggest fans. All over, I'm seeing my peers change their profile picture to that of the MP logo and our Tomahawk. We are showing you how much this school means to us and how much we believe in you. The kids I graduated with, they've grown up to be actors, musicians, writers, teachers, preachers, lawyers. We all said the same thing. From members of your community to Cheyenne Wyoming to Dallas Texas; from SoCal to Salt Lake City to Indiana. The message remains the same. Our prayers are with you. Your pain is ours. We are grieving with you.

Sincerely and with much love.

your friend


P is for Power pt 1: The Power of Pause

It was during an afternoon commute north on 95. Late afternoon. It's the only time of day when that stretch of Coeur d'Alene highway experiences a genuine rush hour. I switched from the slow lane into the fast lane to get around a logging truck and discovered a second logging truck a few car lengths ahead of me in this new lane of traffic. After those few cars all moved into the turn lane, I had nothing in front of me, except freshly cut timber.

Lights ahead turned red and we rolled to a stop. There, with one fully loaded logging truck ahead of me and another to my right, I had a revelation.

However, before I unpack this sudden brush with wood inspired wisdom, I need to talk about Trevor.

Who is Trevor?

When my family moved into a new house during the summer before I entered the third grade, Trevor quickly became my best friend. There was one house in between his and mine, but the casa Casey was situated on a two acre corner lot. Due to the size of the property, our back yard almost connected with Trevor's back yard, so he was practically a neighbor. We were close enough that when dinner time approached, all my mom would have to do is stick her head out the back door and yell my name. I'd hear her and go running back home.

There are a few big reasons I enjoyed hanging out with Trevor. The first is that he owned a Nintendo - a luxury that my parents could never afford. I would also watch some shows at his place that my parents wouldn't allow, primarily Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The final reason I liked hanging out at Trevor's place became more apparent as we got older. His little sister was super cute and by the time we were in junior high, I had a massive crush on her.

What does getting stuck in traffic have to do with Trevor and my boyhood crush on his little sister?

Excellent question.

Trevor had great parents. They wouldn't let us spend all of our time indoors playing video games and watching TV. They frequently sent us outside, rain or shine.

There was an empty lot between our back yards. It was the battlefield where we played out our summertime squirt gun wars. It was the arena where I played tag with Trevor and his sister. It was the setting where I became infatuated with her jet black hair, tanned skin, and bashful laugh.

At the far end of that empty lot was a row of pine trees. Their lowest branches were close enough to the ground that it was easy to scramble up into the boughs and climb higher and higher until the branches were too thin to support our weight. We spent many afternoons clinging to bark high above the ground. More often than not, by the time I heard my mother yell, "NICHOLAS!!!" my hands were sticky with sap and I had pine needles tangled in my hair.

But now I'm stuck in traffic. This is North Idaho and what we call rush hour pales in comparison to the I-5 Boeing traffic that I grew up with in Seattle. But I am not a patient man. Slow drivers tend to annoy me. Semi trucks in the fast lane tend to bother me. Being stuck at a red light when I'm in a hurry to get to my destination tends to frustrate me.

(I never claimed to be perfect.)

But that afternoon, despite the annoyance of slow traffic and being stuck at a red light behind a semi in the fast lane, I had an out-of-character reaction. With both of my windows down, with former trees stacked up in front of and beside me, I took a deep breath. I fully inhaled the odors of recently cut pine. And I just enjoyed the moment for what it was.

My natural inclination would have been to grumble. Instead, I found a bit of happiness in that piney sappy scent wafting through my car. For just a moment I allowed my life to pause. Instead of dwelling on whatever problems existed in my life, I breathed in every ounce of calm and peace that floated by along with that smell of lumberjack's labor. In the time it took for the rotation of lights by Fred Meyer to cycle through and give me a green light, that refreshing aroma reminded me of Trevor. And his sister. It reminded me of better days, years of blissful innocence. It reminded me of those countless times I squirrelled my way into the tree tops and the evenings I ran home for dinner smelling like a forest. The revelation hit. I could chose to be frustrated or choose to accept my circumstance.

That minute of pause was a return to joy.

Every now and then, we need to push that pause button. Our lives are hectic and demanding. Stressors abound. Demands unrelenting. Left to our own devices, it's easy to let these outside influences steer the course of our day to day routine. We need that pause to give ourselves a refreshed perspective. To recharge our internal batteries. To experience a momentary reprieve from our burdens.

That's the power of pause. To rest.

And rest isn't easy. It takes practice. As the son of a workaholic (who exhibits some of those same tendencies), I don't truly know how to rest. Intellectually speaking, I know it's important. Selah. In actual practice, however, I have a hard time fully and tangibly resting. But this past summer I made considerable efforts to do just that.

I've largely been absent from the blogging world since May. My writing pace slowed to a noticeable trickle. It's hard to write from the heart when your heart is not in the right place. So I needed a break. I needed to push pause. I devoted as much time as I could to enjoying the summer with my kids. I took them hiking, something that I myself haven't done since I moved away from Seattle in '99. I started going to concerts again, local shows. That's an element that has been absent from my life since I lived in Boise. I rekindled the joys I once found in live music and dirt paths through the woods. I loved every minute and along the way I discovered a few things. I found that one of the most peaceful places on Friday mornings in Coeur d'Alene is sitting on the edge of the amphitheater stage at Riverstone Park, with my feet dangling in the water, watching the ducks swim by close enough that you could kick them. (note: I don't condone kicking ducks). I discovered the light of fireworks reflected in my children's eyes. I discovered energy that I didn't know I had while walking around the fair grounds with my three kids for seven hours. I learned that truth always wins.

One other thing I discovered, or rather rediscovered, is who I am. Why I write. The kind of person I want to be. Why I embrace geekery. And where this path is taking me. Thanks to the power of pause, I'm driven. I know why God stuck my love for pop culture and theology in a blender. Those synapses in my cranium are bursting. I'm ready to be me again.

All because I got stuck between logging trucks at a red light during an afternoon commute and it reminded me of a kid I once knew named Trevor. And his younger sister.


Have You Seen Me Lately?

Zu has a head that instinctively understands music and a heart that is drawn to a catchy song. Melody and rhythm flow through her like a tranquil stream through alpine wilderness. She feels the emotion of a song in the deepest recesses of her being.

It's a gift.

And she sings. Oh how she sings. Her voice is lovely. And sweet like marshmallows. Some of my most cherished moments have been those seeing her lost in giddy bliss - belting out the chorus to an Owl City song. Or holding her in my arms while we sing Hey Jude together. Or when a special tune comes up on her MP3 player and she says, "This is my favorite song, how did you know?"

Someday, when she's older, she's going to be one of those girls with her own YouTube channel singing her own versions of popular songs.

I occasionally picture an older version of her with an acoustic guitar in her hand or sitting behind a keyboard, and I imagine her future voice replacing the vocals of whatever music I have playing. Most of the time, this imaginative jaunt into days yet to come makes me smile.

This is what I was doing the other day while listening to an old Counting Crows album. The song playing was one of my favorites - Have You Seen Me Lately? When the chorus started, I began to imagine Zu's voice replacing the one belonging to Adam Duritz. "I was out on the radio starting to change. Somewhere out in America, it's starting to rain."

That image of a teenaged version of my daughter rocking this song that the teenaged version of me used to listen to brought me joy. It's the same sense of hope and optimism I feel when I imagine the awesome things my boys JJ and Christian could accomplish in their lifetime.

But as the song continued to play, I was reminded of a truth about life that I know my kids will wrestle with sooner or later. In the song's bridge, Duritz sings, "Come on color me in. Give me your blue rain. Give me your black sky. Give me your green eyes. Come on give me your white skin." To let it sink in, he repeats that last line a couple of times.

Come on give me your white skin.
Come on give me your white skin.

Suddenly, the though of my sweet girl singing those words broke my heart. Because I know the day is coming where she will feel those words, even if she never speaks them.

For now, I shouldn't worry. My daughter is fiercely proud of her Native American heritage. If you call them Indians, she will correct you. And I'm thankful that her friends at church and school have accepted her for who she is. And I love her beautiful mocha colored skin, her piercing brown eyes, and her blend of raven and chocolate hair that shimmers in sunlight. I will always see her as a priceless gift, a treasure.

But lets be real. We live in North Idaho, an area with a notorious history with white supremacy. Even in more diverse areas of our nation, America still struggles with issues of race. Someday, my kids will enter that world beyond the shelter of my guidance. Because of that, I know that someone somewhere will treat Zu and her little brother with less dignity and respect than they deserve for no other reason than their ancestry. I know that in the ugliness of adolescent comparison, a classmate will deem Zu less beautiful because of the pigment of her skin. I know that no matter how hard I try to protect them from the evils of this world, someday my kids will feel hated, they will be discriminated against, they will experience racism.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that attitudes change. I hope that every teacher, every peer, and every stranger my kids meet in the street see them for who they are. I hope that my kids grow up in a society where everyone is treated fairly. And I hope Zu and JJ never wish they had been born with white skin.


My biggest critic

In the course of living and breathing, you will collect critics. It's a part of being human. Someone somewhere doesn't like you. Most of the time, it's not your fault. If you have a heartbeat, you will have people that are critical of you.

Critics. Everyone has them.

Some of mine are very vocal. Sometimes obnoxious. But at their worst, they are tame when compared to my biggest critic. Have you met him? I'm sure you might recognize him. He looks a lot like this.

Yeah, that's me.

There's nothing that any critic could tell me that I don't all ready know. Nothing that I haven't all ready told myself. In my most private moments, I'm the only one that utters those "What were you thinking?" comments. I can self-deprecate harsher words than the worst insult lobbied by any of my other critics.

And I have to live with him for the rest of my life. Sooner or later, I'm going to tell him to shut up.

Who is your biggest critic?


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.