Spare tire

(In a discussion about coaching strategies, the small group discussion leader was stressing the importance of finding root causes for your employees' behaviors. The analogy worked for most of us. Key word: most.)

Discussion leader: Look, if the starter in your car went out so your car won't start. You change the tire. Is it going to start now?

Discussion participant: Well, I don't know much about cars, but...


50 Days

If you could summarize your life in 50 days, how would you do it? What days would you include? What days would you leave out? Most of us could easily remember the 50 best days of our lives – 50 days that represent who we are.

This should be easy, because (from our perspective) 50 days is a short period of time. But for Maddie, 50 days was a lifetime. In 50 days, Maddie took her first and last breath. She smiled her first smile. And she started to recognize the faces of those who held her and cared for her. For 50 days, Maddie fought for her life. And for 50 days, each and every breath was a miracle.

I learned a lot about life in 50 days. I learned about the heartbreak that comes when you care for a baby whose body has been destroyed by drugs. When you hold a baby like Maddie, you know that no baby should ever have to suffer like that. And through her I learned that life is fragile; that life is messy. But through all of the pain that life brings, life is filled with hope.

In a recent book, Dean Koontz wrote, “Because God is never cruel, there is a reason for all things. We must know the pain of loss; because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others, and we would become monsters of self-regard, creatures of unalloyed self interest. The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to soften uncaring hearts, to make a better person of a good one.”

I struggle to see reason for all things. Yet, in these 50 days, I see God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s providence. I am reminded of when King David lost his infant son. When he learned that his son had died, he said, "Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." David knew something that we all need to know, and in this I find hope: we are not home yet.

Maddie is home. And she is free of all of the hurt that this world brings. There’s nothing I can do to bring her back. But one day, I will be going home. And that day holds such a glorious reunion.

It's been one year. For those of you who have stood beside us over the last year - you have been a source of strength I can not begin to describe. Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. We love you.


Post B-day Q&A

Question: How does it feel to be 30?
Answer: The same as it felt to be 29.

Question: How does it feel to hear Stone Temple Pilot's song Plush on the Classic Rock station?
Answer: WHAT! Really?!?.... Dang, I feel old.


Happy (expletive deleted) job hunting!

Well, I'm off to a good birthday weekend. Bekah treated me out to a surprise dinner and movie, and our waiter also gave me a peculiar b-day surprise.

We've eaten at MacKenzie River Pizza before, and our previous visit was impressive: great food, boisterous atmosphere, stellar service, and reasonable prices. We figured it would be a great spot to return for my birthday dinner. We got most of what we expected - the food was still delicious, the atmosphere was just as casual, and it fit our budget. The service however was questionable.

Our waiter was (as Bekah described) a tool. College age kid with a frat-boy attitude who makes up for his lack of charm and good looks with swagger. I knew we got a dud from the moment he asked what we'd be drinking. He placed one hand on each corner of the table hovering over us - but significantly leaning toward Bekah. I figured he was trying to flirt (yet failing miserably).

Bekah: I'll have a Coke or Pepsi
Giant Tool: It's Coke.
Bekah: I'll take a Coke.
Giant Tool: K... (to me) And you?
Me: Thomas Kemper Cream Soda.
Giant Tool: I'll get those right out.
Bekah: I think we're ready to order, actually.
Giant Tool: (to Bekah) Great! What will you be drinking?
Bekah: (bewildered) Coke... we know what we want for food.
Giant Tool: Oh.

He takes our order and the food came out quicker than I expected. We talked and enjoyed the food. **I've now had the Hot Hawaiian and the BBQ Chicken pizzas and both are phenomenal.** The waiter stopped by a couple times to check how things were going.The last time he checked in he asked if there's anything else he could get us and Bekah told him that it was my birthday. The waiter dropped a dessert menu down on the table and told me I got a free dessert. Aside from the rough start (Bekah and I are sure he was trying to look down her shirt) things were going predictably superb. That is until the waiter delivered our check.

Bekah opened the black folder and scrunched her face in an unsettled look. "I don't think that's OK." she said. I asked what it was and she shook her head but then handed me the bill.

At the top of the receipt, the waiter chicken scratched "Happy mother effin' birthday."

No joking. I wish I was kidding.

Now, I have thick skin... so it takes a lot to offend me. And since my opinion of this dirt bag was low before he handed us our bill... his effin' well wishes weren't doing him any favors. I wasn't offended - just a tad surprised that anyone in the realm of customer service would ever speak to their customer like that.

We paid, and started to leave when Bekah started to think What if he did that to someone who would be highly offended by that stunt? She mentioned that we should have shown the receipt to the manager.


I couldn't resist. After all, I have a wicked vindictive streak. I walked back to our table and grabbed the receipt. I asked the girl at the front if a manager was available. She was cheerful and complied, gave me the manager's name and led me to him. I waited for him to finish talking to one of his employees.

Me: Hi, it's my birthday... actually, it's tomorrow. We just finished our dinner, and here is what our server wrote on our receipt.
Manager: (eyes widen as he reads the note) Wow... I am so sorry.

Bekah explained that it was a little offensive (to which he replied it was incredibly offensive) and that we would hate for him to do that to someone else. The manager - who had a weight lifter's build and looked like a bouncer - thanked us for not being angry. We weren't angry, but he was... I could see his bald head turning red.

He said he would take care of it and told us it would never happen again. Bekah tipped out of courtesy, but I have a feeling our former waiter got a stern tip from his boss... perhaps something along the lines of "go home."

Yes, we will return to MacKenzie River. The food is great. Better price and quality than it's neighbor Olive Garden. I won't let the one bad server ruin the restaurant for me.


Two Truths and a Lie

Two truths & a lie is a great ice-breaker game to play – especially in a small group of people who know a little about each other (or at least are not complete strangers). The general idea is that each participant shares three “facts” about themselves; two of those facts are true but one fact is a lie. Having done this at dozens of youth group events and young adult retreats, and having used this in almost every class I taught… I see a lot of value in it. For employers – it’s a great way to see which of your employees are good liars (and which ones are horrible liars). It’s a great chance to see who the creative people are in your group. It’s also a good way to see who is good at following instructions. For example, after I reviewed the instructions, one of the participants gave me a sheet of paper with only two facts: I like beer, and I am dumb. I had a feeling both facts were true.

I thought I’d give it a shot here… With a twist: 3 truths and a lie. Let’s see how ya’ll do. Which of the following four "facts" am I lying about?

1. I have jumped from a moving vehicle

2. I have jumped out of an airplane
3. I have jumped off of a bridge
4. I Have jumped off of a cliff



I was a short kid. Wait... I'm still short. But, back when I was little I was shorter than all my peers. So, you can imagine my mom's surprise when, in September of '84, I returned home from my first day of kindergarten with the exciting news that there was someone in my class that was shorter than me. There was four of us short people: Matt, Jen, Kelly, and me. We were all friends for a while. By the time we reached junior high, Matt and I were still friends. His older sister worked in a coffee stand and gave me chocolate covered espresso beans any time I went over to their house. And Matt played guitar (If you remember correctly - Matt is the friend that inspired me to write my first song). Matt is the only kid from my kindergarten class that went through every grade with me the whole way through our graduation in '97. And he's the only person that I can remember always being shorter than me.

I don't know if Matt is still shorter than me. But he still plays guitar. Sitting down now and thinking about our days growing up, I can't help but wonder if he was to do the same thing I'm doing now, and pick out his favorite albums released in the year we started kindergarten... how much would his list match mine.

#5 The Pretenders - Learning to Crawl: After the drug overdose death of one member (and firing another member for drug addiction) the two remaining - and sober - members of The Pretenders carried on and the result is their best album. The whole album has a bittersweet tone to it, but is much more mature than their previous work. Chrissie Hynde's voice is alternately assured and forlorn. The album opens with the solid Middle of the Road and the familiar Back on the Chain Gang - and closes with the beautiful ballad (and unintentional Christmas Song) 2000 Miles. Throughout the album there is a compelling combination of loss and longing with hope and determination that defines the band.

#4 Depeche Mode - Some Great Reward: DM changed a bit here... no longer the bouncy synth-pop band we grew to love. They were still syth-pop, but there was a hint of something darker and more somber. Yet, with songs like People Are People, I never could tell if they took themselves too seriously, or didn't take themselves seriously at all. This album is also home to a quint love song (and one of my DM favorites) Somebody. Here they set the ground work of what was to become goth and industrial music.

#3 Bryan Adams - Reckless: This album is a testament to Bryan's abilities as a song writer. Half of the tracks were singles, including the epochal Summer of '69, and they still sound fresh over 20 years later.

#2 Bob Marley - Legend: If you've never listened to reggae - you need to hear this album. If you're looking for the one reggae album to add to your collection of music that isn't reggae - this is it. The only reason that Legend isn't my number one pick for 1984 is because it is a greatest hits collection. But it is the quintessential reggae album - true to the tradition of reggae yet accessible to listeners who are not fans of the genre. Greatest hit compilations are notorious for inducing the "why'd they put that song on here" thought, but Legend avoids that pitfall. There's not a single song on here that I don't like.

#1 Petra - Beat the System: I'm not a huge Petra fan. My brother is (was), but not me. I find the band to be the cheesy side of Christian music. Yet, when I dig back through my music collection, I can't help but remember a fondness for these old Petra songs. This album is pure 80s keyboard driven rock. There is still an element of cheese here (Computer Brains and Witch Hunt), but it works. All of the songs from the title track to the driving Easter themed It Is Finished, to the mellow Hollow Eyes are memorable. A couple of months ago, I listened to this album for the first time in over 10 years. And I was surprised that I was still able to sing along and remember the words to every song. Few bands produce music that sticks with you like that. Memorable songs is (or at least should be) the goal of any recording musician and Petra gets a big hat tip from me for this truly memorable album.

Honorable Mention: The Cars - Heartbeat City



Two words come to mind when I remember 1983: Jedi. Actually that's just one word... so lets try Jedi and church.

My mom took me out to see Return of the Jedi when it was released while we we in Cheyenne on vocation. I'm pretty sure it was the first movies I ever saw in a theater (and due to my Nazarene upbringing - the only movie I saw in theaters 'til I was old enough to go on my own). I had just turned four so I thought the Ewoks were the coolest part of the whole movie. Unfortunately, I fell asleep right before they blew up the Death Star. The fact that I slept through that explosion should explain why I was able to sleep through many other loud events as I got older. (Mom, Aaron, remember the fire alarm in the Billings hotel? I don't!)

Anyways, I'm getting off the subject. Jedi is entwined with some of my earliest childhood memories: I had action figures and coloring books. I even had the story book/cassette tape combo. My parents were not rich, so I had what they could afford. And, while walking to church with my mom and brother, we'd stop for a rest at the mini-mart on the corner of 4th and Liberty. Mom would let us pick out a candy bar or a package of Star Wars trading cards - I usually chose the cards. That's right - I collected Star wars trading cards before I collected baseball cards. I was a strange kid.

But I'm running away along another bunny trail. Back on subject. !983 was also the year I started preschool. Sunshine preschool was located in our church, and my mom was the church secretary, so even when I wasn't in preschool, I was still at church. I remember the floor plan of that church better than I remember the floor plan of the house we lived in at the time. I don't remember much about preschool: the room we used, learning to write my name (nic - short for nicholas, shortened because I was to lazy to write the whole thing, no K because I was too lazy to add the one extra letter), our two teachers, and my best friend Marcus. One day Marcus brought his Millennium Falcon for show and tell. It was huge - and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. (I now believe that THIS is the coolest thing ever - just skip the dialog and look at the pics)

So there you have the two things that remind me of '83: Church and Return of the Jedi... and Return of the Jedi at church. What does any of this have to do with my top pics of the music of 1983? Absolutely nothing. Granted, John Williams Score to Return of the Jedi is a stunning and instantly recognizable masterpiece, yet it does not make my list of favs. Now if this was a list of my top 5 movie scores of all time...

#5 David Bowie - Let's Dance: By the early 80's, Bowie had abandoned his freaky drag-queen alien look for a glamorous (yet comparatively subdued) look more fitting for the times. And while he modernized his persona, he also began releasing music with less of a futuristic sound. China Girl and the title track are both timeless - and Bowie's impact can be heard in music 20 years later from modern rock to hip-hop.

#4 U2 - War: U2 returns to my list with their third album. The classic U2 sound was established with their previous two albums, but War finds finds them creating their identity. Overtly political, these songs sung a plea for peace over some unsettling instrumentation. The album is home to one of their most identifiable songs (Sunday Bloody Sunday), a peculiar love song (Two Hearts Beat as One) and a stirring moment of worship (40). Aside from that, I have to hear New Years Day at least once on December 31st before I can feel like I've adequately celebrated the holiday.

#3 The Police - Synchronicity: This is not my favorite Police album (That would have been their previous effort Ghost in the Machine), but this is a contender as their most popular album. Back by two strong singles (Every Breath You Take and Wrapped Around Your Finger), Synchronicity managed to knock Michael Jackson's Thriller out of the number one spot on Billboard's top 200. In addition to those two tracks, the record is supported by a solid track listing (my favorites: King of Pain, Murder by Numbers, and Oh My God).

#2 UB40 - Labour of Love: I think I'm like most people... I can't help but smile whenever I hear Red Red Wine. While that cover of a Neil Diamond song is one of the only songs anybody knows from UB40. If Red Red Wine is the only UB40 song you've heard, you're missing out. This album contains some great covers of songs originally recoded by The Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, and The Melodians among other.

#1 Steve Taylor - Meltdown: On Meltdown, Taylor continues his sharp wit with the lead track Meltdown (At Madame Tussaud's) uses melting figures at the famous wax museum as a metaphor to say that we're all in the same boat and all judged equally - no matter who you are ("Celebrities, statesmen, history's elite"). His satire continues, but he expands his target to include more than just Christian culture. There are songs about pursuing immortality (Am I in Sync), news media (Meat the Press), guilt & rationalization (Sin for a Season). If the album has a standout track it'd be Hero - a song I think everybody should hear. There is a bit of inadvertent irony in the record. The song We Don't Need No Colour Code condemns Bob Jones University's policies supporting racial discrimination and apartheid in South Africa. Lyrically irrelevant now that apartheid is no more and BJU has recently changed their policy... but Taylor has stated several times "racism in the name of Christianity can never be tolerated." So where's the irony? This song that rails against racist Christians and segregated churches was produced by Jonathan David Brown - a man that spent some time in federal prison for his ties to a white supremacist organization. Oops. I wander what was going through his mind when Steve Taylor sang "White supremacists eat their young."

Honorable Mentions: Bryan Adams - Cuts Like a Knife and Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues.


May Day

May Day. It's the first of May - a day for the anonymous gift of flowers... a tradition vaguely rooted in Celtic history. Or it's a distress signal. And if the voices in your head are saying "Mayday, mayday, mayday," there is a very logical explanation. May is National Mental Health Month.

If you refer to yourself in third person - this month is for you. If you believe that Elvis lives next door - this month is for you. If you can only eat food in even quantities - this month is for you. If you have an irrational fear of bald people, 100% fruit juices, and awkward pauses............... (sound of crickets chirping) this month is for you.

To help celebrate NMHM, I'm going to list my favorite mental disorder movies. Here are 12 movies to help you feel better about your crazy self. There's a variety of psychological disorders here, and there should also be a good mix of genre's... mystery, action, comedy, horror. Hopefully something for each of your mood swings.

1. What about Bob: A multi-phobic man (and possibly bipolar) arrives at his psychiatrist’s vacation home. The psychiatrist’s family loves Bob. Bob drives his psychiatrist insane.

2. Conspiracy Theory: Mel Gibson is paranoid, delusional, schizophrenic, concocts wild conspiracies, and thinks the government is out to get him. It’s not his fault… a secret government experiment made him that way.

3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: Johnny Depp’s mom is morbidly obese and his little brother is mentally disabled. He’s a little stressed out… but who can blame him.

4. As Good as It Gets: Obsessive-compulsive man falls in love and makes fun of gay people.

5. I Am Sam: Sean Penn is mentally deficient. He’s got the mental capacity of a seven year old. He has a seven year old daughter who is bright for her age. A social worker takes the daughter away and Sean fights to regain custody (like you couldn’t see that coming).

6. Falling Down: Michael Douglas is slightly paranoid. Michael Douglas is stuck in traffic. Michael Douglas is suffers mental breakdown. Michael Douglas abandons his car in traffic and goes on a rampage through Los Angeles.

7. Identity: A psychopathic killer has multiple personalities; each personality is crazy. And a bunch of people die at an abandoned motel in the middle of a rain storm. I wonder... who's the killer?

8. Memento: Confused? To make you feel like you forget stuff, the movie plays out in reverse chronological order. He tattoos himself to help him remember important things. But he can’t remember anything that happened over five minutes ago. He’s trying to find his wife’s killer. Lenny has anterograde amnesia – short term memory loss.

9. Benny & Joon: Mary Stuart Masterson is a quirky unbalanced individual who likes to start fires. Johnny Depp is socially awkward unbalanced character who can’t write, but can do stellar tricks with his hat. Wouldn’t they make a cute couple? Bonus points for being filmed in Spokane.

10. Martian Child: A single man (and sci-fi author) adopts a kleptomaniac little boy who thinks he’s from Mars.

11. Fight Club: A man with a boring life has insomnia. He meets Tyler Durden, a hyperactive anarchist whack job with a nihilistic streak. They get in a fight. They become friends and form a club. They make soap. Surprise ending. (they’re the same person). I hope I didn’t ruin it for anybody.

12. Rain Man: Tom Cruise is type cast as a jerk whose life is unsettled by his older brother – an autistic savant – who inherited all of their rich dad’s money.

So if you're feeling a bit loony... or perhaps out of sync this month - rent a movie, pop some popcorn, and be glad you're not one of the characters profiled in the movies above. Hollywood makes a great therapist.

P.S. Mental illness makes compelling plot lines. What's your favorite movie about mental disorders? (you can use one above... or suggest your own)