For the new year

Screw New Year's resolutions. And I say that as politely as possible. Realistically, how many have actually survived a year keeping a resolution they set 365 days earlier?

I think the problem is in the details. If you're the type that sets a New Year's resolution, you probably make it something specific. Spend 20 hours a week at the gym. Loose 40 pounds. Quit smoking. Quit swearing. No more red meat. Win the lottery. Whatever it is, the details are too specific. You're doomed to fail. As soon as you take a bite of steak or that first day you sleep in instead of driving to the gym, it's over.

So do something different. I'm usually the kind that never sets a resolution, knowing that it will likely be forgotten or broken by the end of January. That's why I propose something different.

Be better.

It's simple. I don't have some arbitrary goal to miss. Just be better. Be a better dad. Be a better husband. Eat healthier. Read more. Write more. It's OK if I have a bad day as long as I have more good days. It's OK if I have a soda, as long as I drink less. Whatever it is, by this time next year, I want to be able to say that I was a better person in 2013 than I was in 2012. Then I can make the same goal for 2014.

That's it. That's my New Year's resolution. Be better.


Casting my kids as dwarfs

It's sleepover night. All of my kids are spending the night at a friend's house. There is a blessed stillness in my home. Nothing but the sound of silence and some Dr Who episodes on Netflix.

I sure hope my kids behaved. They all had a rough day. The only way that I can explain it is the brief synopsis I gave my friend when I left my kids in her care.

"Christian has been super bossy this afternoon. Zu has been complaining about being tired since I got home from work. And JJ has been obstinate all day. If you look at it from Disney's perspective, I'm dropping off Grumpy, Sleepy, and Doc."

Then I jumped into my car and drove away.


My Christmas present to you:

This might just be the most awesome thing on the internet.

Just look at how much fun ?uestlove is having. (he's the the one with a beard and the epic afro)
And those kids? They came out of nowhere.
Who knew kazoos and toy xylophones could sound so good?

On a serious note - I do wish you and yours the best possible Christmas. Don't forget to tell those you hold dear how much you love them. Give the gift of grace to family members that drive you crazy. Don't get caught up in the stress of making a perfect holiday. Eat, but don't over do it. Drink some eggnog, or hot chocolate, or cider, or coffee. Sleep in. Get in a wrapping paper fight.

And above all, follow the example set by Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey & The Roots don't. Don't take yourself too seriously.


Soundtrack for the end of the world.

A long time ago and in a galaxy far away...

Well, in this galaxy. This planet even. Once upon a time, an ancient civilization created a freakishly accurate calendar. In recent years, crazy people have gone nuts over the discovery that the Mayan calendar ends on 12/21/12. AKA: today.

Christians believe that no one can predict the day that the world will end. Scientists estimate we still have billions of years before our sun dies. Even the people that descended from the Mayans don't believe that their ancestors predicted doomsday. My reaction: meh.

But if you're one of those gullible people making rash decisions based on the assumption that there's no tomorrow, you might as well go out listening to some cool music. Here are my ten recommendations for the sounds of your last day on planet earth. Hopefully, my reasoning for these selections should be self explanatory - starting with the first song ever played on 107.7 The End.

R.E.M. - It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

U2 - Last Night on Earth

Dave Matthews Band - When The World Ends

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Steve Taylor - On The Fritz

Ash - End of the World

Eels - Last Stop: This Town

Soundgarden - Blow Up the Outside World

Family Force 5 - Zombie

The Doors - The End


I'm sure I missed something. Anyone?


Responding to tragedy - doing it wrong

Social media has made me ill the past few days. All of the bitterness and arguing. For an outsider looking in, you'd never believe that we're all trying to cope with a massive tragedy. And I'm not innocent in it. I tried to steer clear of ugly battles, but at the same time, I'm human - and that person inside me wants to scream at all of the things that are wrong with part of this world and the way the other part is reacting.

Facebook and Twitter have brought out the ugliest aspects of our nature. It's fitting as social networks have given everyone of us the soapbox from which we flaunt our first amendment right to be obnoxious. But is that the right thing to do? Not that long ago, we would discuss horrific events from the relative safety of living rooms, churches, bars, and water coolers with people who were mostly of similar political or religious persuasion. Now, we step up to the world wide microphone and bleat whatever comes to mind to a much more diverse audience. From some other corner of the internet, a "friend" with little in common with us will rebut as if fate of all mankind rested upon their ability to fix the error of our ways. I'm no angel and I like to be correct just like most other sentient creatures on this planet. So please do not take this as a lecture from someone who is immune.

Over the past four days, as I've watched the slow-motion train wreck unfold in my twitter feed and in conversations on Facebook, I've made a few observations. I do enjoy to be faultless, but I also realize that I'm not always. So please, feel free to point out any perceived deviation in my musings. But please - if you do, do so with kindness.

Reactions to Friday's massacre - whatever the content - can be divided into a few categories. Granted, the words below are not quoted verbatim. This is a generalization of what I'm seeing in social websites, blogs, and comments on news stories.

1.Reactions of fear. These are the people who are debating pulling their kids out of public school because they fear another rampage. These are the people who wonder why our teachers are not armed. These are the people who fear the proliferation of fully automatic weapons.

2. Reactions of opportunity. This is a door that swings both ways. Guns are to blame. A lack of guns are to blame. Blame video games or television. Blame rock musicians. Blame a lack of mental health care. Blame mental health medications. Blame conservatives. Blame liberals. These are those that are trying to score political points - to capitalize on someone else's loss.

3. Reactions of demand. This is the call to action. These are the people that want an immediate repeal of the second amendment. These are the people who are demanding we allow people to carry weapons into schools and bars and courtrooms. These are the people who want reform and they want it now.

4. Reaction of superiority. These are everyone's least favorite words. I told you so. I knew this would happen. This wouldn't have occurred if we did things my way. Let me beat you over the head with how much I am better than you.

If you say that this nation needs to have some serious discussions about gun control or mental health, I'll agree with you. If you say that our nation needs to experience a drastic culture shift, I'll still agree with you. But if you come into those conversations from the perspectives of fear, opportunity, demands, or superiority, you're doing it wrong. Very wrong.

There is a fifth method I've seen used in reaction to Friday's shootings.

5. Reactions of grace. Respect for the grieving. Respect for those who don't share your opinions. #26Acts. Sensitivity. Tact. Hope. Kindness. Love.

This last approach is a rarity and it breaks my heart that I have not seen more of grace and hope. It pains me because I think this is the most appropriate way to react. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am.


Identity: Creature - a week of living second

What kind of creature are you? I believe with all of my being that you were created. (ps, I don't intend that to be a denial of all we've learned from science - rather that science confirms my faith and my faith spurns me to learn more... but that's a topic for another blog post at a later time). If we are created, we must be some kind of creature, but what kind?

Some days, I feel like a monster. Sometimes it's the good kind of monster like Mike and Sulley from that Pixar movie. But other times it's the scary kind. The one that hides under your bed or lurks in the shadows. Those feelings stem from a bit of depression and poor self esteem. Or the stress of work or parenthood or those pesky adult responsibilities. On a couple of previous occasions, I've talked about my love for horror movies, so monsters make sense to me.

Despite my feelings, I know I'm not a monster. I know because real monsters walk into schools, shopping malls, and movie theaters and start shooting people. Monster kidnap and hurt little kids. Monsters rape their girlfriends and abuse their wives. Monsters fly planes into buildings.

So what kind of creature am I? What kind are you? In his book Sex God, Rob Bell spends a chapter wrestling with this question of identity. He argues that we're neither angels nor animals. We're something in between. While some people claim that they're nothing more than animals giving into their animal instincts, others vie to be angels and bury the desires and emotions God has built inside them. The problem is that we don't belong on either end of that spectrum.

We are men. Or women. Forgive me if this sounds a little pompous, but we're better than than animals. However, we're not quite angels. One psalmist tells us that man was created to be a little lower than angels, yet crowned with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-6)

Part of living second means that we know who we are. We have a healthy understanding of what it means to be human. The biblical story of creation tells us everything we need to know about how God sees us. "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

We are good. Sure, sometimes we screw it up. We start wars. We find vices. If you're anything like me, we yell at our kids and forget to take out the trash. But underneath it all, mankind - as creatures created by a Creator - is good.

Note: This post was written in support of the Live Second book release. It is a fantastic year-long study and if you're looking for a good devotional in 2013, I'd encourage you to do Live Second. Identity is the ninth week and focuses on God as a friend, a father, and an advocate.

For more info on the book, go HERE or HERE.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Success: Enough - a week of living second

For most of our married life, Bekah and I have been able to live off of my income alone. It hasn't been until the past couple of years that Bekah has truly put in effort to bring in some income.

Please don't misconstrue this as some swaggering boastful talk of how I've made so much money that my wife didn't need to work. It's nothing like that - quite the opposite. Bekah wasn't always able to work so the single income wasn't a scheme of our own design. It just worked out that way. And it wasn't easy.

There were times where we didn't know how we were going to pay all of our bills. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we made some foolish financial decisions and had to pay the price. And in one of those times where we paying for those consequences, we sought some help. As a part of the arrangement for assistance, we had to meet with a financial planner to review our spending habits and budget to see what we could do differently to avoid needing help in the future. After reviewing our income and our expenses, this adviser told us there wasn't much that we could trim from our budget. He told us the only option we had was to make more money.

Really? We're struggling to pay rent and the only advice he could come up with is "You need to increase your income."

The irony of his statement caught up with us a couple of months later when some changes in my employment cut my income by roughly 40%. Mr. Smart Money Man tells us to make more money and suddenly... we're making less.


Bekah and I learned a lot through that era of our lives. We learned to rely on God. We learned some better habits. We paid off some debts. We managed to turn things around. Again, it wasn't an easy task. It took a lot of hard work, more tears than I'd care to mention here, and an unhealthy amount of stress.

My wife compares our struggle to Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams in reverse. These were the seven years of famine that we had to endure so that we could in turn be blessed with abundance. I see it as a lesson - we were learning the definition of enough.

The writer of Proverbs had a good understanding of what it meant to have enough. He pleaded with God, "give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." In other words, give me enough to meet my needs.

We discovered this meeting of needs on our road back to financial stability. No matter how lean our budget, no matter the minimal balance in our checking account, our needs were met. It was during this time that Christian was diagnosed with aspergers, and we were able to get him early intervention and therapies. It was during this time that we finalized Zu's adoption. And it was during this time that JJ came into our lives. It was because of this time that Bekah started couponing and figured out how to shrink our grocery bill. It was because of this time that we paid off some nasty debts. And it's because of this time that we were able to get our finances in order and buy our first house.

I feel kind of anomalous talking about success as if I'm supposed to be a shining beacon of what it means to be successful. I'm not. I still don't make much money. I'm just a data analyst. I look at numbers all day and try to make sense of them and manipulate them into something useful. I know that I'm good at my job, but most days I wonder, 'in the name of all that is good and holy what am I doing?' It's easy for me to grumble about this house we just purchased because the toilet runs and there's a smoke alarm that I can't locate that keeps chirping a reminder to replace its dying batteries. I still get discouraged thinking I need to make more money. So whatever it means to be successful... I'm not it.

Yet, because I'm second, I know that I don't have to be the one to measure my success. I have enough. I have three awesome kids, a loving (if not patient) wife, a house that over my families head with an office space that is just for me, a job with a flexible schedule that allows me to take care of my family's hectic life, and a budget that mostly works. So I pray that I never become stupid rich. But neither do I wish to become destitute. I just want enough.

Note: This post was written in support of the Live Second book release. Live Second is a year long study from Doug Bender and the I Am Second team. Success is the eighth week and covers topics like giving and ownership.

For more info on the book, go HERE or HERE.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Relationships: Unify - a week of living second

When I met Bekah, I got it. That younger version of myself instinctively knew how to make that girl's heart glissade and pirouette. Our first date was the stuff that from which fairy tales are made.

My roommate at the time was the worship leader at our church and I was the sound man. One of our other roommates played bass in the worship band. The three of us conspired to put on a magical Valentines date that (for two of us) would be the last first date that either of us ever attempted.

It started with dinner - a table for six at the Olive Garden. We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company. From there, we drove to our church. As the members of the worship team, my roommates had keys to the building, and the three of us guys had transformed the big room into a private movie theater. Instead of our weekly worship service, we watched The Princess Bride. As the movie credits rolled, the three of us guys escorted our dates to separate tables and disappeared into the church kitchen. We emerged with dessert and sparkling cider - which we served to the girls. Now at our own tables as individual couples, we could hold more private conversations. Once dessert was consumed, we each presented the girls a gift bag that held two disposable cameras - a his and hers camera. We then stormed out into the cold February night and wandered downtown Boise armed with six cheap cameras posing as couples and as friends on street corners, with public art, on escalators, and one with the three of us guys nearly falling into the fountain at Capitol Blvd and Idaho Street.

It was our first date, but not our last. Over the next year, there were several occasions that clicked - those moments where Bekah and I knew that we were going to be together forever. It was the two of us cruising down Fairview, singing along to a song on the radio like we were the only two people in the world. It was both us us having the identical reaction to a goofy looking statue in the courtyard between the IMAX theater and the Edwards cinema on our way to see a movie. It was how we were equally critical of the skanky way girls dressed at Boise Towne Square. We thought alike. We seemed to have similar taste in movies and several shared interests. We weren't identical people, but similar enough.

Fast forward a year and a couple months, I still got it. We had spent a couple hours posing for photos with our family and closest friends. She was beautiful in her wedding gown. We had over estimated the time it would take for pictures. With guests arriving for the ceremony, our families distracted, and nothing better to do, we made a run for it. We jumped in her Ford Festiva and escaped the wedding before it even happened. We didn't go far, we only drove around the block and stopped at Jamba Juice. She was in her gown and I was dressed in my tux. The Jamba Juice staff was polite and congratulatory. They looked a little confused when we told them that we weren't married yet. "Isn't it bad luck to ... " they said as we ran out the door with our drinks in hand. A week later, we had that Festiva packed as full as we could get it so that we could move half way across the country to start a new life together in Sioux Falls. We were full of wild dreams and youthful hopes.

We were of one mind. When Paul was writing his letters to the early churches, he had this kid of unity in mind. He advised that we (be it friends, lovers, or a family of believers) should have that strength in a unified life. In Philippians, he said "if you have ... any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind."

For those of you that are married, you know that kind of oneness is hard to maintain. Not just difficult, but strenuous.

Fast forward some more. It's been nearly eleven years since that fist date and almost ten since we ran away to get some Jamba Juice. I don't get it quite as easy as I did back then. These days, I make more missteps than anything else. I'm more likely to cause Bekah's eyes to roll than I am to make her heart dance. To be honest, I'm not sure how we got here. Over the past decade, Bekah was diagnosed with a chronic illness, we moved back to Idaho, we've added three small people to our family (and all three of our kids are special needs), we made some stupid financial decisions and had to pay the consequences, and we've suffered heartbreak and loss. We've had richer and poorer. We've had sickness and health. We've had better and worse. And somewhere, in the middle of that we've (like that old Righteous Brother's song) lost that lovin' feeling.

But that's just a feeling. The choice we made a decade ago still stands. We still choose to love each other deeply. We have a shared faith in God. And we both believe that our marriage is worth fighting for. That unified mind is there somewhere. Sometimes hiding. Once in a while it comes out to play. With three kids, two dogs, a mortgage, and five different schedules to juggle, being like-minded doesn't come as naturally as it did when we were young and care free.

We are determined to not become a statistic. We vowed to love each other until our bodies are claimed by death. It is here were living second takes on an additional dimension. I can say that God is first in my life (and Bekah would tell you that God is first in her life as well). But to be of one unified mind, there's more in that second chapter of Philippians, and it's a part that I often forget. It's not enough to just be of one spirit and one mind. We also need to be looking to the interests of others. I need to be second to God, but I also need to be second to my wife. And I need to be second to my kids. I wish I could tell you that I've figured out the easy way to do that, but I can't. Partially because I'm not perfect. But mostly because it's not easy.

It takes work. It takes a lot of effort. But it's worth it.

Note: This post was written in support of the Live Second book release. Live Second is a year long study from Doug Bender and the I Am Second team. Relationships is the seventh week and covers topics like forgiveness, love, and unity.

For more info on the book, go HERE or HERE.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Struggles: Addict - a week of living second

In the book of Romans, Paul makes an addict's confession. He writes in his letter, "I don't get it. What I want to do, I don't. Instead, I do what I don't want to do and I hate it." (Romans 7:15 - paraphrased by me)

Why is that the confession of an addict? Addiction consume's the mind, the will. Have you ever seen the expression of a gambling addict repetitively pulling the lever of a slot machine? They're not enjoying their time in the casino. There's a bucket list of things they'd rather be doing, They don't want to be wasting their money on a machine that will never spit out more than what was put in, yet they're there taking one more pull after another waiting to become the next big winner.

I get Paul's struggle because I've lived through it. No, I don't need to check myself into rehab. My addictions are more limited to Mt Dew and bacon. I'm a musicophile with a craving for more music (the playlist that I listen to while writing could play for 11 days without any repeats).

Please don't let that admission cheapen the struggles of other addicts. My best friend in high school was an alcoholic. I've had friends whose battle with addiction ended in suicide, but I also have friends who overcame their drug addiction and are now thriving. My wife and I served for a year in my uncle's church where he ministered to people in recovery - people who were desperately trying to put their lives back together. I know how hard it is to defeat a chemical dependence.

All kidding about soda and my preference in pork products aside, I'm still an addict - but not in the manner you might expect. I'm addicted to validation. I want people to like me. I want people to tell me I'm awesome. When that happens, when people recognize that my existence is appreciated or that my job has been well done, it's almost like a drug. But the crash is bitter. When my efforts go unnoticed. When my mistakes are under a spotlight. When I'm rejected, or criticized. I just want to hide. I want nothing more than to be noticed again.

That's a disastrous cycle. No matter how hard I try, at some point, I will fail. I'll disappoint, I'll let people down. Despite my greatest efforts, some things will go unnoticed or unappreciated. Some successes will go uncelebrated.

So I end up doing things that I don't want to do and not doing the things I want. I'm not as good of a father as I want to be. I'm not as good of a husband as I want to be. I don't write as often as I should. And no matter how badly I want to do the things needed to be a better dad/husband or write more, I do something different.

There are support groups for all sorts of addictions. Gambling, pornography, drugs, alcohol. But an addiction to human approval? Am I the only one who struggles with this?

Here's what I do know. I know that I'm not perfect and I know my imperfections don't matter. I know the approval I seek is ultimately irrelevant to my worth as a person. I know that if I am to live second, I should heed another admission of Paul's: "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)

Note: I am blogging this week in support of the Live Second book release. Live Second is a year long study from Doug Bender and the I Am Second team. Struggles is the sixth week and covers topics like forgiveness and addiction.

You can find the book HERE or HERE. If you purchase the book this week (12/9-12/15) and email your receipt to promo@iamsecond.com you can receive $150 worth of free downloads including two webinars with author Doug Bender.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.