The Joy Thief

In every Christmas story. There has to be a Grinch. An Ebenezer Scrooge. A Heat Miser. A Daffy Duck. A Mr. Potter. A King Herod.

Bah humbug.

The character who steals the joy of others. The party ends when they walk in. They are transfixed in a state of dissatisfaction. Their grumpy dial is turned up to 11.

Christmas stories need these villains because it is through them that the power of redemption and the depths of grace are most greatly conveyed.

It is through grace that George Bailey discovers how desperately the town needs him to balance the evils presented by Mr. Potter. It is redemption that allows the Grinch's heart to grow three sizes - even after robbing the citizens of Whoville in the middle of the night. The ghosts of Christmas offer Scrooge redemption; in gratitude, Scrooge extends grace to those he has wronged.

For people like me, the pessimists, the melancholic, it is easy to be the miser in our own Christmas stories. We see joy in others and impulsively take it away. No, you can't be happy. Joy is not allowed. Bah humbug.

It's not that I intentionally want to be a joy thief. It's reactionary. It just happens. Like last Friday.

It snowed and the roads were slick and unplowed. After a full day of snow and roughly 3" - 6" accumulated, the city hadn't taken any deicing measures. Or at least they had not yet reached the north end of town. Rather than drive all the way home just to turn around and drive back up to church, we just stopped at church to hang out. Sure, we were an hour and a half early, but we could hang out and watch the worship band run through sound checks. My kids love music, and I enjoy being around the new friendships I've built with members of the worship band. It was a win-win scenario.

We sat down in the first few rows for a while as the band played. They were getting ready for the last weekend before Christmas, so many of the songs being played were carols. Christian was pretending to be asleep to annoy his sister, but the band started playing a song he knew. He shot upright and started singing along.


And off key.

Genetics is a cruel master. And when it comes to Christian's singing ability, he inherited it from me. In other words, he's tone deaf. But like me, he loves to sing and he emphasises the noise in make a joyful noise.

In that moment, I tried to hush him. I used the reasoning that the band was practicing and they needed to hear themselves so that they could get their parts right. Realistically, I was trying to protect him from the path I traveled. When I was younger, I was encouraged to sing. I had special musical numbers during Sunday evening services. I would sing in the Christmas pageants. I would enter talent competitions. But it wasn't until I was an adult before someone told me that I couldn't sing. Up until then, I thought I had a good voice. Aside from jokes and teasing from my peers, I had no reason to believe otherwise. If I had a bad singing voice, why would they let me sing in front of church? If I had a bad singing voice, why would people tell me I did a good job? If this, why that?

I harbor memories of feeling gross embarrassment over the realization that I was singing loudly and off key all the time. And that it annoyed people. That that it sounded horrible to everyone and anyone that complimented me were being polite.

So I robbed Christian of his joy. I tried to muffle his exuberance. I tried to silence his celebration. Dang. That might be one of the worst things I've ever done to him. To tell him that I don't care if he's happy or if he's enjoying himself. To tell him that it doesn't matter and he needs to stop.

This weekend, I had a couple of people point out the error of my ways.

The first voice of reason was a member of the worship team that was on stage singing when Christian decided to join in. She told me that she found the whole thing to be adorable. She said she loved it when he started singing. She didn't care that he was out of tune. All she noticed was the unashamed expression of joy.

"When he did that," she told me, "your son stole my heart."

Impressive. And enough for me to feel a little guilty for trying to hush him.

Then, Sunday afternoon, I was walking through the kids' area at church looking for music stands. Our children's pastor stopped me and told me that he loves having Christian in kids' church. Pastor told me that the best part was worship time. Doesn't matter if it was Christmas music or regular praise and worship, he said that Christian will sing along as loudly as possible. The pastor also said that he points out Christian to the volunteers and staff as an example of what it means to worship. He knows that Christian's voice isn't great. He knows that Christian will be off tune. But the other thing that the pastor knows is that Christian will pour his whole heart into it. And that's what worship is really about.

So I tried to pass those stories along to my son. I told him that I heard lots of good things about him and that I was pleased with who he is and what he does.

He stopped me before I could finish. "But Dad," he said, "I thought you told me that they didn't want to hear me sing."

"I was wrong." I said.

And I was wrong. Sure, his voice will never be his path to fame. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that he loves expressing his joy through singing. No shame. No reservations. Just singing.


And off key.

Yet filled with joy.

Because that's who he is. And thanks to the reason churches celebrate Christmas, he has great reason to be joyful. Shame on me for trying to take that away.


Oh Christmas Tree

There were two different species of trees that made their way into my childhood home each Christmas. It's because my parents had different tastes in evergreens. My dad preferred the Colorado Blue Spruce with its asymmetrically spaced branches. My mom though the Blue Spruces looked like Charlie Brown trees. She favored the fuller bushiness of the Douglas Fir.

They compromised and set up an every other year swap. One year, it was Dad's choice. The next year it was Mom's.

Every year, we would drive up toward Darrington to a tree farm along the North Fork Stillaguamish River. We would trudge through the snow - hiking until we found the perfect tree according to the prescribed parental variant. Then we would take turns with the saw until the tree came down. It was paid for and strapped to the top of our car, then we would return home for chili and cornbread while the wet tree dried out on our back porch.

When Aaron graduated high school, my folks found a tree farm just outside Arlington - a shorter drive from home. By the time I was out of high school, they had settled on selecting a tree from a parking lot somewhere in town.

I grew up with real trees for Christmas. Looking back at the few holiday traditions my family practiced, the tree selection was my favorite. Even more than opening presents on Christmas Day.

It didn't snow much in Marysville. We were at sea level and in a snow shadow cast by the southern end of Whidbey Island. It would snow in Everett to the south. And in Arlington to the north. East of us, Lake Stevens and Granite Falls would get snow before anyone else. But in Marysville, snow was rare. And I love snow. The trek out to Darrington to get the tree was the one time of year that I knew for sure I would be able to play in the snow.

Now, in North Idaho, I get snow every winter. Some years more than others. (And this winter is starting to look like one of those other years.) Going to the tree farm to see snow isn't necessary; I can just look out my window. I haven't had a real tree in several years. Pine needles (or spruce or fir) are nature's glitter; one needle breeds and turns into hundreds that you're still vacuuming up months after the tree is gone. It is nice to not be cleaning up after real trees, but I do miss the smell.

This year, space is limited so there isn't a tree (real or fake) at my place. Well, not in the traditional sense. But my son provided one for me. It might just be the best tree I've ever had.

As for the smell? I have candles.


Feeling naked at work and other tidbits

Yesterday, I walked out the front door without my wallet or my checkbook. I didn't realize it until after I was at my office. About lunch time, I recognized an emptiness in my back pocket that is not usually there. So today, I made extra effort sure I had my wallet and my checkbook when I left for work. However, I forgot my phone. I intended to take a break to run home and get it, but that break never happened. A full day at work with out my phone.

I felt naked.

It's weird what technology has done to us. When I was in high school, I felt naked when I wasn't wearing a hat. Now, I feel naked when this rectangular object made from aluminum, glass, and circuitry isn't with me.

When I was a kid, the phone was attached to the wall, now it fits in my pocket. When I was in high school, I had a walkman with me everywhere I went. I now have an iPhone to play and make music. I used to have a heavy TV/VCR combo and the original Playstation. Now I watch TV, watch movies, and play video games on my phone. It's my camera and video camera. It's my planner. My Bible. My calculator. My encyclopedia. My cookbook. My flashlight. My comic book collection. My guitar tuner. I use it to make spreadsheets, write blog posts, track my weight loss, discover celestial constellations, and keep in touch with friends and family. The me from twenty years ago would geek out over the power I now usually carry around with me.

Except today. Today, I was phone free. Today, I felt naked.

Also today...

A coworker walked into my office, set this big thing on my desk, said "Merry Christmas," then turned around and walked out.

While talking with one of the girls on my team, I was discussing improved time management. I was attempting to explain that everyone wastes a little bit of time from janitors to CEOs. Researchers believe that little breaks are mentally healthy for us and that's why we have smoke breaks and lunch breaks built into the typical work day.

But when I said, "Everybody wastes time," she responded, "That sounds like a book."

"It is a website, but not a book." I said.

She didn't accept that answer. She said, "It sounds like a book - 'Everyone Poops.' You could totally write a book like that, just call it 'Everyone Wastes Time.'"



Today was out of the ordinary. I usually head home for lunch and relaxation after church. But today, I stayed after the second service to strike the stage. The kids Christmas program ran this weekend and the risers had to be taken off stage and the piano, drum set, keyboard, mic stands, and other assorted equipment had to be returned to their normal place.

But then I did something I don't ordinarily do. I stayed. And stayed. Until 6pm. Listening to the band rehearse. Chatting with the sound guy. Laughing and fellowshipping with the team.

Instead of going home and playing video games, I spent the whole day with these wonderful people who have become my friends over the past few months.

Music is therapeutic. And today, I got the best sort of therapy I could ask for.


All Zu wants for Christmas

If you ask my kids to identify their favorite Christmas carol, you'll hear songs that are typical for kids their age. Frosty the Snowman. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Away in a Manger.

We play a lot of Christmas music at my house. It's my coping mechanism to help me enjoy the holidays. When the kids ask to hear a certain song, it's one of those listed above.

As for my daughter, she'll make the same requests. "I want to hear Frosty. I want to hear Rudolph." She'll sing and dance with the music, and when the song ends she'll sing and dance with the next. She loves Little Drummer Boy, O Come All Ye Faithful, Sleigh Ride, and The First Noel. She might even tell you one of those songs is her favorite.

However, actions speak louder than words. She enjoys those songs. But none of them are here favorite. After one particular song, she will sneak over to my computer and click a couple buttons in iTunes to start the song over from the beginning. Only one. Sometimes, we'll listen to that song three or four times before she let's the music continue to another tune.

That song? All I Want for Christmas is You.

And it doesn't really matter which version is played. Mariah Carey's original. Dave Barnes' bluesy take on the song. The modern rock versions from House of Heroes or Dave Melillo. Even more recent interpretations from Newsboys, Anthem Lights, or CeeLo. Without fail, she will sneak her way to the computer to hit repeat.

All I Want for Christmas is You. It is my daughter's favorite Christmas song. That is enough to melt this daddy's heart.


iPods and coincidences

If you happened to see a laughing pedestrian walking across the bridge over I-90 on your evening commute home along Northwest Blvd ... that strange figure lost in a guffaw above the freeway traffic was me. It's not often that I audibly laugh while walking alone. And I myself wonder about the mental health of strangers when I see them chuckling and giggling to themselves while they stroll down the sidewalks.

I'm sure I looked odd. Baggy jeans, old and worn work boots, dirty ski jacket, a crooked beanie atop my head, and a week's worth of stubble (manly beard growth?) covering my face. Anyone driving by me would have every right to assume I was insane.

But I had reasons. Good ones.

As I approached the freeway, I noticed the tell-tale blue and red lights of a police officer. The closer I got, the more obvious it became that one of Coeur d'Alene's finest had pulled over a motorist. That's not what I found funny. I was laughing because the random setting on my iPod had the predictive sense to match the music to my surroundings.

The song changed as I walked past The Outback Steakhouse. Next in the playlist: Public Enemy's Fight the Power. My first glimpse of flashing lights and the unlucky driver synced up with the moment that Chuck D first chants, "Lemme hear you say 'Fight the power' We've got to fight the powers that be."

I couldn't help it. I started laughing. Out loud. My breath visible in the frosty air dancing as it left my snickering lips. Part of me wanted to raise my fist in the air as a symbol of solidarity, but I knew that that would be too much. Even for me.

The moment passed. The ticket was written and delivered. Flashing lights switched off. And I kept walking.

I traveled the rest of the way home with a big smile on my face though. The next song was Can I Kick It from A Tribe Called Quest. And Arrested Development's Fishin' 4 Religion was on as I walked through my front door.

Those three songs were enough to make my day. Today was a good day.


Make it Snow

It's been cold in North Idaho. Bitter cold and mostly dry. We received a little dusting of snow this weekend. Our forecast calls for more. There's only one thing I can say about that outlook. Make it so.


My not-so grown up Christmas list

To be honest, I really don't want anything for Christmas. Not really. I can't think of anything that I truly need. What I don't need is more stuff - I have enough of that all ready. However, there are a few gifts that would make me squeal like a school girl with front row tickets to a 1D concert if I found them wrapped with my name on it on Christmas morning. And no, front row tickets to a 1D concert is not one of those items. Like these:

Star Wars Totem t-shirt

Doctor Who Weeping Angel Stress Toy 
(I know... not available until January)

Really, I don't need anything. But the geek in me dreams of a nerdy Christmas. A very nerdy Christmas.


What would it take for a piece of blue cheese?

Christian doesn't like cheese. Texture issues. So when the other kids sprinkled finely shredded mozzarella onto their angel hair pasta, he shied away from the topping for his own meal. Zu generously offered some of her own and he refused.

"I would never eat that," he said, "not even if some one offered me a million dollars."
"I would," I replied.
"But you like cheese."
"This type I do. But not all cheeses."

Christian looked at me funny. He's never seen a cheese I don't like.

"Blue cheese," I said, "don't like it."
Zu piped in, "Blue cheese? Is it really blue?"
"A little," I answered, "sometimes a little greenish."
"Ew," she said. "No one could ever get me to eat blue cheese. Yuck."
"Not even for a million dollars?" Christian asked.
"No, not even for a million dollars."
"What if," my turn. "What if someone said they'd give you every My Little Pony toy that has ever existed if you ate one piece of blue cheese? Would you eat it then."
"OK," Zu replied. "For that, I would eat one tiny tiny slice of blue cheese."

In my daughter's world, My Little Pony is better than money.


Youth group alum? No, try survivor.

Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans launched a barrage of the funniest tweets I've read in a long time. She asked her followers to remember potentially dangerous youth group games we played when we were actually in a youth group. Then she proceeded to retweet every reply so that we could all see the hilarious atrocities endured in years long gone. I can't imagine how much fun she had reading through all of those responses.

Looking back, it's amazing that I survived youth group. And I'm not talking about safely navigating the popularity games because we all know I lost there. Nor am I talking about the trip Shane and I took to Nampa during our sophomore year where we (bored and unsupervised) snorted some Altoids and engaged in a two man game of tag. In the dark. Long story.

The grace that allowed me to fondly contribute to Rachel's invitation to reminisce is the miracle that I survived the officially sponsored activities horrors.

I am convinced that the 90s were a special time in youth groups. A time where the risk of life and limb were permissible as long as alcohol and foul language was not involved. A time when youth leaders were convinced that making kids fear for their actual safety was some sort of spiritual lesson we all needed to learn. A time when relay races were scientifically designed to risk either injury or humiliation. Those with no shame and no timidity prospered. I am also convinced that no youth group existing today would be able to do half of the stuff we did without a lawsuit.

There was the camp crowd favorite: Eat That Food. This was a game similar to Name That Tune, but instead of identifying songs, contestants had to eat a food. In as few bites as possible. Through my tenure as a teenager, I witnessed the following feats of Eat That Food: a grown man shoving an entire can of Spam into his mouth, a girl chug a 48 ounce jar of applesauce, and a camp counselor dump a full tin of Altoids in his mouth. Witnessing this game played many times over the course of six years, I saw things I never wish to see again.

There was the Caterpillar Relay. This was a race where teams laid face down and shoulder to shoulder along the beach. The last person in line rolled on top of his or her team mates to the front of the line. This created a new person at the end of the line who also had to roll over and over their teammates to reach the line's beginning. Thus creating a "human caterpillar." The first team to get their caterpillar across the finish line won.

When we went snow tubing, some were too lazy to walk all the way back up the hill so they would try to jump onto other tubes sledding down the hill. It was at one winter retreat that I got buried under four other riders; our overloaded and top heavy inner tube hit a jump and went flying without the tube. When we came down it felt like everyone landed on my head and the side of my face was ground into the ice and slush. I had to go back to the cabins with an eye-patch and a concussion.

Games of tag. Blindfolded. In the woods.

Games of hide and seek that had us kids traipsing through poison oak, poison ivy, and occasional bee hives.

Games of Sardines (like hide and seek, but only one person hides and everyone that finds that person hides with them). At night. No lights allowed.

Blind-man's volleyball. The volleyball net was covered with a tarp so that you were unable to see what the other team was doing. Then the ball was usually replaced with something hard and heavy. Or a water balloon.

Four-way tug of war.

Slip'n'slides that were carved into the slope of a steep hill.

Touch football matches that often turned into tackle football.

Full contact Ultimate Frisbee.

Camps were always the Super Bowl of dangerous and/or embarrassing entertainment. Every year had a different theme and those in charge of group recreation worked hard to have games that fit the theme. That meant many of the games during the year of "The Doctor Is In" involved bedpans. Two memorable relay races sent participants from one end of the field to a bed pan waiting at the opposite end. In one race the bedpans were filled with warm rootbeer and we were expected to drink as much as we could through a straw while laying on our stomachs, without using our hands. In the other race the bedpans were filled with baking flour and a package of M&Ms hidden in the powdery white mess; first team to find 20 M&Ms (again, without the use of hands and laying on our stomachs) were the winners.

Every year, the pinnacle of camp fun was the annual shaving cream fight. During the week, campers and counselors could purchase cans of shaving cream to save for the final night of camp. On that last night, a section of grass about the size of a tennis court (singles not doubles) was roped off with water filled garbage cans at each corner. All those who wished to participate would climb inside the cordoned area and wait for the whistle to blow. After the shrill cry of the referee's whistle, that small patch of grass turned into a battlefield. The ensuing pandemonium resembled what would happen if the food fight scene from Hook was set in Mad Max's Thunderdome. The war raged until the last man standing or until everyone ran out of shaving cream. The grass and surrounding field was stained a foamy white. Muscles and egos were bruised. And participants still smelled like shaving cream the next morning.

But at my church, when it was just us - the kids in our youth group - our favorite game was Wink 'em Blink 'em. This was an incredibly violent and flirtatious mash up of the Hunger Games and Blind Date. The girls would sit in a circle with one empty seat and a guy would be standing behind each chair including the empty chair (or the guys would sit with the girls behind them). The guys (or gals) would be staring at the top of the head of the person seated in front of them... all except the guy with the empty chair. He would be looking at all the girls and eventually, he'd wink at one of them.* The girl he winked at would try to escape her location, move across the circle, and sit in the empty chair. The guy standing behind her would attempt to catch her before she got away. Or roles reversed with a girl winking at a guy and that guy trying to flee the girl behind him. During my first years in the youth group, a simple tap on the shoulder was enough to keep the sitter in the seat. But as I got older, we got progressively more aggressive. Soon, the person that was winked at was permitted to continue away the single handed tap of the peer behind them. Both hands had to touch the shoulders. But then a two handed tap (one hand on each shoulder) was not enough; the person trying to prevent the escape had to hold the runner in place. Then we allowed those that were winked at to do all they could to elude the grasp of the person behind them.

By the time I was a high school senior, our rounds of Wink 'em Blink 'em produced more rug burns and bruises than I can possibly count. I can recall a few torn shirts. Jimmy got a set of fingernails scratched down his back that tore through both cloth and skin. Hair was pulled. Eyes were blackened. And there was at least one bloody nose.

I can't believe our youth leaders remained trouble free with our parents for such games. I hope my kids never have such insanity inflicted upon them. However, I wouldn't trade those days for anything.

We were young. We were wild. We were free. And we were unashamed. Sometimes, it would be nice to feel like that again.

* Now that it's in print - Wink 'em Blink 'em sounds way creepier than I remember.


This is how my brain works

Writing isn't easy. Especially when you suffer from ADD. Choosing the right words to express what you want to say often leads to bunny trails that serve no useful purpose.

Fore example.

In my post from Tuesday, I had a line that read, "Those are words that you've probably heard countless times before and will hopefully hear upon many more occasions." But that was the final phrasing after a couple rounds of revision. The version of that line in my first draft was, "Those are words that you've probably heard many times before and will hopefully hear many more times."

Problem number one: repetition. No need to use 'many' and 'times' twice in a single sentence.
Problem number two: some intangible fog that I can't quite describe. The way it ended sounded awful.

But my easily distracted brain got sidelined at this spot in the editing process. Here are the steps I took before I could find a rewording that worked for me. These are the thoughts I had while trying to fix my ugly phrasing.

1. Hopefully hear many more times? Ugh. That sounds disgusting. And wordy. Blech.
2. What if I eliminated the last word. Hopefully hear many more. No, that actually sounds worse.
3. I know you shouldn't end sentences with a preposition. But More isn't a preposition; it's an adjective.
4. What if I used it as a noun? Look - it's a more. But that sounds like the Italian word for love.
5. *singing* "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore."

Yes friends, my brain works in mysterious and sometimes frightening ways.


An open letter to the ladies

Do you have body issues? Do you struggle with your self image? Do you believe that you're not pretty enough or skinny enough?

We live in a culture that as a twisted definition of beauty. Our starlets are photoshopped to look curvier and bustier creating this artificial standard that demands you sacrifice your self worth on the alter of Sexy. This culture tells you that you need a slimmer waist, bigger breasts, fuller lips, and shinier hair to be hot. Our movies and music tell you that you have to take your clothes off to to be valued. When you walk through the grocery store check out lanes, you are confronted with magazines that promise tips to have a better sex life, get the guy you want, and lose a few pounds - all while Katy Perry is the cover model ideal of perfection.

Very few people can live up to those expectations. Honestly, I understand how you could compare yourself to what our culture deems beautiful and find yourself falling short. And if you're following all those fashion tips and diet plans and still don't look like a Victoria Secret model, it makes sense that the way you view yourself suffers.

I could tell you that you should ignore those voices that are telling you you're not enough. I could tell you that you are beautiful just the way you are. Those are words that you've probably heard countless times before and will hopefully hear upon many more occasions.

Instead, I have a secret for you.

Guys struggle with our image too. We do.

We see the Calvin Klein ads featuring David Beckham with his sculpted abs. We notice you fawning over McDreamy while you watch Grey's Anatomy. We see the winning smile of Adam Levine as he's named the sexiest man alive. We watch as some of the strongest men on the planet pulverize each other week after week as we follow our favorite NFL teams.

The same culture that tells you that you're not hot tells us that we're unattractive. It compares our beer gut to Beckham, our receding hairline to McDreamy, our less than desirable appearance to Levine, and our physique to the Seahawks offensive line.

We can't measure up. We have body issues. Just like you, we often feel like we're not good enough. Between the expanding waistlines and the balding/graying hair, we're not the manly men that our culture expects us to be.

Our culture tells us that we're supposed to look like those shirtless guys on Abercrombie & Fitch posters. It tells us that we should be able to grow beards, eat bacon, handle a rifle with ease, and rebuild the engine of any vehicle we own. It tells us that hunting and fishing should be instinctual. It tells us that we should be able to hold our liquor. It tells us that we should be able to kick the ass of anyone that threatens us or our loved ones. It tells us to be a rock - an unmovable force.

Like pouring salt into an open wound, our culture takes this image issue with men a little further. When we can't be that guy, when we're a little chubbier, if we can barely change a flat tire, if we can't tell the difference between a .45 and a 9 mm, if the scent of alcohol makes us a little tipsy, if we choose to be a vegetarian or a pacifist, if we show any sign of weakness ... If we don't measure up to the ideal man, our culture tells us we're not allowed to be insecure. It tells us to man up. Throw some dirt on it. Bury your pain. Keep on moving on. Don't back down. If we admit any hint of insecurity, our culture somehow determines that we're less than a man.

This culture is unhealthy for you, but it's unhealthy for us too.

Sure, there's things that we can do to help or hinder your self image. We know that providing the wrong answer to "do these jeans make my butt look big?" can lead to disaster. We know that looking at porn makes you feel devalued. We know that you feel unloved when we forget to take out the trash. We could compliment you more. We could stop objectifying you in our movies and lyrics. We could be better boyfriends, husbands, brothers, and sons.

There are also things that you could do differently.

When you get together in your groups and engage in your girl talk, we hear you. When you're mocking your husbands and boyfriends - it might just be you venting with your girlfriends ... but we hear you. When we over hear you commenting about your husband's or boyfriends dunlap and widow's peak, it reminds us of our need for an extra couple of hours at the gym and a bottle of Rogaine. When we hear you laugh at jokes about your significant other's appearance, it cheapens the value we've placed in ourselves. If you are that mean towards the men in your life, we question what the women in our lives say about us when we're not around.

Insulting the way someone looks will never make them feel better about their appearance. Please stop. Just, stop.

You can do it. And us men, we can do it too.

ps: I realize this whole post is a generalization. There are men and women in this world that are perfectly happy with their bodies. To them, I say congratulations. I wish we could all be like you. I also know that there are women who could never imagine insulting their spouses while out with their friends. To them, I say thank you. We need more people like you in this world.


Faith & Pop Culture: Counting Stars

On the surface, OneRepublic's Counting Stars is an expertly crafted pop song. Shiny production, snappy rhythms, and virulent melodies. It was included in my summer soundtrack for it's infectious qualities and I remain unashamed to admit how much I love this song. Still.

Yet, that's just the surface. Dig a little deeper and you'll find lyrics aiming for a purpose higher than anything of monetary value. A conflict riding the edge between being young and being old. Hopes to defy the trend of what everyone else is doing. The struggle between the desire to do what is right against the tendency to do what is evil. It's the human existence in a nutshell. Which makes it the formulaically ideal pop song.

But dig deeper.

My oldest son listens intently to lyrical content of the music he hears. And then he picks them apart to figure out what those words mean and what the songwriter is trying to convey. He understands that music often speaks life into words that aren't always easy to arrange in simple conversation. His challenge is grasping the subtleties of similes and metaphors. Part of this is due to having aspergers. With the way his brain works, the typical literary devices of songcraft and poetry are often too complex or confusing without some sort of translation into language he can understand. When he and I listen to music together, he asks a lot of questions. This is also an aspie thing, but this is a demonstration of his thirst for knowledge.

We were listening to Counting Stars and the pre-chorus was one of those nonsensical word choices just beyond the limits of Christian's understanding.

"Dad," he asked, "what does he mean when he said he feels something wrong when doing the right thing? If it's right, why would it be wrong?"

Excellent questions. Here's where we begin to dig.

I explained that doing the right thing isn't always fun. Nor is it always comfortable. Sometimes, we do the right thing even when we don't want to. I asked him if he can remember a time when he hurt his sister's feelings and he had to apologize to her. Was that something that he enjoyed doing? It was the right thing to do, but it was hard.

Doing good is not always easy. Sometimes, it just feels wrong.

Now, he understands. And now that he gets it, he sings along with off-key abandon.

And I get it. This is one of the reasons I adore this song. Because I understand exactly how it feels. Sometimes, doing the wrong thing feels right and doing the right thing feels wrong. Sometimes, I really want to be a jerk because being a jerk would be so much easier and a lot more fun. Yet, I don't. I still aim for the high road even though I occasionally miss. Even though it's much more difficult and often painful.

Digging deeper.

Listening to this song reminds me of the words of Paul in Romans 7. "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing ... Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (full passage)

I know that Ryan Tedder comes from a religious background. So this connection may or may not have been intentional. Yet every time I listen to that song, I can't help but ponder those verses from Romans. I don't do want I want to do and instead end up doing what I don't want to do.

And in Tedder's words, I'm losing sleep and praying hard.


What really happened to me

Everyone has those moments. Making progress. Awesome things are happening. Reason to be excited and hopeful. And suddenly, you hit a wall. Everything just stops. Everyone has those moments. Right?

The last couple weeks of my life did not include live action role playing or pseudo-scientific experiments. I'm not John Locke; I didn't find a hatch or a smoke monster. I did not write any scenes where Professor Charles Xavier wore a powdered wig while the rebellious X-Men including Logan, Scott Summers, and Henry McCoy fought against the Red Coats. While I had fun writing out those four wildly improbable answers to explain away my sparse participation on the interwebs, the truth isn't so sparkly and fun.

I got stuck. I hit the wall and everything stopped. I still went to work and did everything I could to be a good boss and get my reports done. I still poured as much energy as possible into being an great dad. But when I was home, and everything was quiet, and I had time to write, I was stuck.

Truth is, I was paralyzed by fear. Because after the three little voices that make my world worth inhabiting went to bed, other voices started chipping in their unwanted worth. Some of them are very real voices that have faces and names. Some of it is nothing more than an inner dialog.

Voices telling me that I'm worthless. Incapable. A loser. Unreliable. Uninteresting. Uninspiring. All of it feeding into one of my greatest fears. That I'm insignificant.

At some point in the middle of all of this, the group formally known as The Start Experiment posted a challenge inspired by TWLOHA. To post a #FearVsDreams photo. This entry was mine:

And yet, for the past couple of weeks, I still allowed that fear be the loudest voice in my head.

When I got home from Cheyenne, I was stuck. There were tears and laughter on that trip. Joy and sorrow. Many hours in a car. Some less than desirable driving conditions. But the time there was freshening. I am extremely grateful for my parent's hospitality and the last minute transportation provided from cousins in Eastern Washington. I enjoyed seeing cousins and aunts and uncles that I haven't seen in a long time. And I was glad to spend some quality time with my brother, my sister-in-law, and their kids. Yet I still felt stuck upon my return.

I would try to write, but felt the only thing that I had to talk about was about my week in Cheyenne. In fact, I wrote a wonderful post based on some observations I had while driving through northern Wyoming that remains a draft in blogger because fear kept me from hitting the publish button. Afraid of being under-qualified to write about anything else. Afraid to write about topics that I really want to write about because I fear it might hurt some people's feelings. Afraid that it doesn't really matter what I write, because I'm insignificant.

Being a good dad? I can do that. A good employee? Sure. A good boss? I'll do my best. A good friend? Usually. A good blogger? Well, maybe. But not so far this month. I let fear win. And I desperately want to fight back.

Besides, that fan-fic idea actually sounds like a decent one. The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Guardians of the Galaxy using steam powered gadgets and the best fashion sense in all of literary history to help the good guys win the Revolutionary War? Please tell me I'm not the only one that thinks that would be an epic novel.


Time for a new game

When I was a kid, I looked for Waldo in every Where's Waldo book I could find at my school library. I played a couple of the Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? games (even watched the Carmen Sandiego game show on PBS). I played I Spy on many road trips. Still do. I watched a lot of Scooby Doo. Still do. There's something about finding lost or hidden objects - in solving mysteries - that appealed to me as a kid. That act of discovery filled me with awe.

In honor of that childhood quest to reveal secrets, let's play a new game: What the Heck Happened to Nic?

Excluding the tribute to my grandma, all I've managed to publish here are two Selah posts and a Five for Friday list. What's the antonym for Woohoo? Because whatever that word is, that's what I'm feeling.

How do I explain my lackluster blogging performance this month? You tell me.

*     *     *

Question: What has nic been up to over the past couple of weeks?
a) After falling from a window, he lost the use of both of his legs. In frustration, he traveled to Australia to do a walkabout believing he could find himself in the Outback wilderness. However, when seeing his paralysis, the tour company denied his admission so he boarded an ill-fated trans-Atlantic flight home. Also, he doesn't trust that guy, Jack.
b) He has picked up LARPing as a new hobby. He spent the past couple of weeks handcrafting chainmail armor, foam swords, a foam flail, and a wooden shield so that he could enter and compete in an upcoming Dagorhir battle event.
c) It's NANOWRIMO and he has been busy working on his novel. It's a genre mash up piece of fan-fiction featuring characters from the Marvel Universe set in a steampunk version of Colonial America.
d) In an effort to earn a little extra spending money before the Christmas shopping season, he donated his time and body to rigorous scientific experimentation. These tests have left him confused and exhausted. Now that he is back home, he appears to be normal, but only during the day. At night, if you look closely, he glows. And he may or may not have a clone now living in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Come back tomorrow for the real answer.



On the drive home, I snapped this picture between Billings and Livingston. It was posted to twitter with the line "These thousand hills..." as a nod to the Third Day song.

These thousand hills roll ever on
Ripples of a coming storm
The morning star precedes the dawn
These thousand hills roll ever on

There's snow in the Rockies. And there was a storm upon those peaks as we passed by. Yet, in the ripples of that storm is a scene of beauty.

Photo credit: me
Source: twitter


A time for nostalgia

On the last night that I was in Cheyenne, my Mom and my aunt Kristi shared stories from a trip my family made in the summer of 1983.

Of me getting bored and wandering off at the Cheyenne Mall; they though I was lost, but I was waiting out at the car - ready to go.

Of me wandering off from my uncle's school because I was bored; I walked to the apartment of another family member so I could hang out with a cousin.

I was four years old. Actually, I had just turned four. I was an adventurous child.

That was also the summer that Return of the Jedi was released. I remember going to see it in the theater those many years ago. It is such a clear memory as my family didn't ever go to the movies; the only reason we went to this one is because we were on vacation. I remember falling asleep before the assault against the Death Star - the big explosion woke me up in time to see the Ewoks throw what became my standard for a good party. What I don't remember about that visit to the movie theater is that I watched it while sitting on Aunt Kristi's lap.

Kristi did not recall my brief nap as the film reached it's climatic scene. No. She remembered me pulling my foot close to my chest and playing with my shoelaces - pointing their tips to the big screen, making those "pew pew" sounds to imitate the sound of Jedi blasters.

It was good fun looking back. Considering the sadness of our circumstances, we needed the moment to laugh at ourselves.

That round of stories made me nostalgic in a million different ways. But the stories we told were not the only things bringing back memories of yesteryear.

Classic rock radio was the predominant musical choice on the drive from Cd'A to Cheyenne and back. It was also the clearest station on the dial through most of Wyoming. Between the classics and a small dose from my brother's satellite radio, I got a healthy shot of nostalgia with a chaser of music therapy. The following five songs brought up memories of better days at some point in the trip - either on the way there, during my stay, or on the way back.

Squeeze - Tempted: "I said to my reflection 'Let's get out of this place'" ... yes, that. One of my all time favorite lines in the history of pop music.

Coolio - Gangsta's Paradise: While driving across town, this song came up on my brother's radio. Surprisingly, my dad didn't even flinch. Had I played this song back in high school, he would have bristled and I would have received a lecture. Added proof that my father has mellowed: Aaron asked me, "Can you imagine dad cruising down main street with this cranked up?" And we listened to the whole song.

Whitesnake - Here I go again: If this song comes on the radio and you don't sing along, shame on you.

Goo Goo Dolls - Name: This is quite possibly one of the best songs of the 90's. The quintessential melancholic anthem. I will never get tired of hearing those lines, "I think about you all the time, and I don't need the same. It's lonely where you are, come back down. I won't tell them your name."

Tom Petty - Free Fallin': Somewhere north of Sheridan on the way home, this came on and it's at that point that I first felt ready to be home. At peace with the loss of my Grandma. Refreshed from a week with my folks. Also, this song should be on everyone's road trip playlist.

I won't divulge the fond memories dredged up by these tunes, but it was therapeutic for me. Did these songs bring back any memories for you?



Cheyenne, I'm on my way to see you.

Photo credit: Michael E. Grass
Source: The Lincoln Highway Guide


Good night, Grandma. Rest well.

It is through tears that I write this post tonight. A post that I knew would be composed at some point in time but never sure when. Until now.

Today, my family is grieving the loss of the lovely woman on the right of this picture. In spite of that sadness, we also celebrate the life that she lived.

She loved to travel. While I was growing up, my summers were willed with the anticipation of postcards or letters from Grandma and Grandpa detailing their adventures.
She loved to take pictures. Her camera was nearly always within her reach. Life around her was a constant photographic opportunity.

I am grateful for her summer road trips. We didn't take many vacations while I was growing up, but we did when Grandma and Grandpa Budd came to visit. With them, we took the ferry to Victoria BC and toured The Butchart Gardens. We returned to Washington and visited Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rain Forest. Somewhere, there exists an award winning photograph that Grandma took on that trip - she pointed her lens through a gap in a piece of driftwood and snapped a picture of me playing on an Olympic Peninsula beach.

She was a great mom. I never experienced that first hand, but I have seen the fruits of her labor. She raised seven of the most amazing people I've ever known - one of whom happens to be my mother.
She was devoted to her family. She was devoted to her church. She always had a kind word to say. She loved to laugh; something that was irresistibly contagious. I can barely remember a time when she wasn't smiling.

She taught me the definition of hospitality. She opened her house to this large family of ours and it was always filled with warmth and joy. Conversation. Spirited rounds of playing cards. The delicious scents of whatever was cooking in the kitchen. She always had soda available (as long as you asked). In that kitchen, I learned to like yogurt and ate my first Red Baron single serving pizza.

So tonight, it's farewell. Goodbye to a bright spot in this universe. To the wonderful mom that raised the aunts and uncle that inspire me. The sweet grandmother that loved my brother, me, and all of our cousins. The great-grandma to my kids. A woman who touched countless lives. We are all blessed that you were a part of our lives. Thank you for all that you've done.


Happy Halloween

Captain America, Rainbow Dash, and Chip have a message: from the Casey household to yours, we wish you had a safe and enjoyable Halloween. We hope you got lots of candy. And we hope you didn't eat all that candy in one sitting.


Head Trip

In the category of too much free time... This is the work of an actor, digital displays, and a couple of robots.

Mind blown.


Skinnier than I used to be

In case you haven't been following along over the past couple of months, I'm on a journey to get healthy again and reclaim the man I used to be. But there is a problem I have with losing weight. Perhaps some of you have experience this as well.

I see myself in the mirror every day. And, as far as I can observe, I don't look any different. Every morning when I wake up and jump out of the shower, standing in front of the mirror as I brush my teeth, I look at the same figure I've always known. I still appear to be just as chunky as I don't want to be. I still have my gut. I still have the jowls.

Yet, I am shedding pounds. Slowly the weight is coming off. How do I know?

1. The Belt.
This one.

That's four holes less than where I started. That's four holes skinnier than I used to be. One more hole left in this belt. After that, I'll either need to punch new holes or get a new belt.

2. The Scale.

When I started my weight loss adventure, I weighed 216 pounds. 211 when I started tracking my weight on a daily basis.

I love this. In previous attempts to lose weight, 200 pounds was an invisible barrier that I couldn't pass no matter how health I ate or how much I exercised. I've now smashed that wall. I am still not where I want to be, but I am 24 pounds skinnier than I used to be.

3. The Pants.

I'll spare you pictures of this one. But my favorite jeans - ones that were a loose fit when I got them - now fit like wide leg cut jeans. A couple of other jeans (a relaxed fit and a straight leg) both fit more like skinny jeans. Now they fit like they're supposed to.

I'm skinnier in my jeans than I used to be.

4. The Appetite.

Funny thing. I just can't eat as much as I used to ingest. I get fuller faster.

My stomach thinks I'm skinnier than I used to be.

5. The Kids.

Even if I'm not able to visibly notice the difference, my kids can. Christian points it out to me. He has been one of my biggest motivators over the past couple months. Zu thinks I'm losing weight, but "just a little." And JJ, well, he just smiles and laughs at me.

The kids know I'm skinnier than I used to be.

24 pounds down and 42 to go. Anyone else working toward a skinnier and healthier version of themselves?


The definition of "progressive"

In an interview with 106 and Park, Lecrae gave the best description I've ever heard about what it means to be progressive. When asked about being a progressive artist, he said:

"Progression is just understanding that humanity is capable of so much. We've grown. We were riding on horses and chariots and now we're flying in planes. Understanding that's just what's inside of us. So, there's no need to regress. There's no need to just stay ignorant or ill-informed and continue to perpetuate cycles of ignorance in culture. Let's progress as people and let's continue expand who God has created us to be and be that to the fullest."

Please, can we stop using the word 'progressive' as an insult? Actually, can we stop insulting people just because they don't agree with us? Wait... can we just stop insulting people?



When I attended summer camp in fifth grade, I was the only kid from my church to attend. I was surrounded by strangers. Two of the kids in my cabin were not only from the same church, they were also best friends. Best friends who spoke a language that only the two of them knew. They had spent their childhood inventing a conlang - a fictional language. They had spent enough time with this fake language that they not only had a word for everyday objects, but they had it fully developed to the point that they could hold conversations exclusively in the tongue of their own invention.

Much like fantasy and scifi legends had done before them.

The art of the invented language is one that is the product of someone with far too much free time. And I wish I had that much free time.



Last Sunday, this was the morning view from my patio. This is fall in Cd'A.

Photo credit: me
Source: Instagram


Identity Part 2: Who Am I

As I've been on my quest to regain my health, identity has been a recurring theme in my inner dialogues. I've spent much time pondering my identity, because if one thing is clear, I'm not who I was. I've mentioned many of these self-identifications introducing myself to the Start Experiment groups I joined, in stories I've told to pastors at my church, in my quick introduction in my small group, and in my attempts to refine the "about me" section that used to reside in the top right-hand corner of this blog.

I am a geek dad and a professional nerd. I am a pop-culture junkie driven to understand the intersection between faith and pop-culture. I am a joyful noise kind of singer (with an emphasis on noise), a sloppy and undisciplined guitarist, and a funky white boy with no sense of rhythm. I'm a former actor who still loves the theater, a former architecture student who still loves drafting and design, and a former graphic artist who has lost his touch. I have an artist's heart with very little artistic talent. I am a pessimistic optimist or an optimistic pessimist. I love being around people as much as I love being alone. I am somehow both shy and outgoing. I am a walking contradiction. I have a self-deprecating sense of humor. I'm chubby but skinnier than I used to be. I am a broken and deeply wounded man on a long and arduous path to healing. I am relearning what it means to be healthy. I aim for the high road but often miss it.

I am a child of God.

That last one is difficult for me. I believe it and I try to live it. But when it comes to defining who I am, God's child is toward the end of my list. I'm more likely to point out my flaws than I am to point toward God. I'm much like Jeremiah when he first met God - not really sure how to describe himself. Who am I? I am nothing.

I should know better. My faith is such an important part of my life. Yet, I let too many other things cloud my identity. Please, tell me I'm not alone.


Identity Part 1: Who Are You

"Who are you?"
"I'm Nic."
"No, that's your name. Who are you?"
"I'm a data analyst."
"No, that's your job. Who are you?"
"I'm a dad."
"No that's your duty. Who are you?"
"I'm a pop culture junkie."
"That's how you use your free time. Who are you?"
"I'm nothing."
"Who told you that? Your identity is in me. Your esteem should be found in me. You are my child worth more than you could conceive."

I can imagine a conversation like this between God and Jeremiah. God keeps asking "Who are you?"

Of course Jeremiah doesn't have the correct answer. "I'm Jeremiah. I'm just a kid from Anathoth. I'm Hilkiah's son. I'm timid."

He doesn't know his identity. God has to tell him.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew and approved of you, and before you were born I separated and set you apart" (v.5 Amp)
"Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go..." (v.7 NIV)
"Don't be afraid of anyone, because I am with you to protect you" (v.8 NCV)
"You will pull up and tear down, destroy and overthrow, build up and plant." (v.10 NCV)
"Today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall." (v.18 NLT)
"They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you." (v.19 NASB)
"I am with you and will rescue you." (v.19 NIV)

When Jeremiah declared his weakness, God gave him a claim to strength. When Jeremiah admitted doubt and fear, God gave him confidence. Jeremiah saw anxiety, God showed him security. When Jeremiah said "this is how I see me," God said "this is how I see you." God gave His vision to Jeremiah. God gave Jeremiah value and identity.

What answer do we provide when asked, "Who are you?" Where do we find our identity? Where do we find our self worth? Is it in our jobs (or lack of employment)? Is it in our family? Our habits or hobbies? Why is it that we allow petty things to define us? Whose vision of us do we trust?


This guy

This guy is:
a) my new hero
b) the coolest dad ever
c) Batman
d) all of the above



In Ashville, NC, you'll find this subterranean grotto at The Omni Grove Park Inn.

Photo credit: Omni Resorts
Source: Huffington Post


When normal is big

A kid walked by me today carrying a regular sized can of Monster energy drink. I've never seen this kid before, but as he approached me he smiled as if I was a good friend of his.

He held up the can of Monster. In a voice that was somehow both raspy and squeaky, he asked me, "Have you ever seen one this big?" His question was clearly one of awe and wonder.

I didn't have an adequate response so I just flashed an awkward grin as the following thoughts raced through my cranium.

How do you follow up a question like that?
Yes, I have seen Monsters that big.
That's their standard size.
They make them bigger.
The kid is stoned.
He is higher than Snoop Dogg Lion at a hemp convention.
What - in the name of all that is good and holy - did I just witness?

The moment my face was out of the kid's line of sight my half-smile was replaced with an expression of extreme stupification.

When did normal become big? And when was that cause to be amazed?



If you haven't seen Jimmy Fallon's #Hashtag sketch with Justin Timberlake, watch it now. It made me feel just a wee bit sheepish. Although, I'm not as bad as some people I know.

And I won't mention the Start Experiment - people who've turned hashtags into an art form.



Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps. It forms the border between Italy and France. Picture from a trail on the Italian side.

Photo credit: Laurel Robbins
Source: Monkeys and Mountains


Elsewhere in the interwebs...

Hello friends, I'm guest posting on April Best's blog today. You should go read it.

And if you're coming here from Careless in the Care of God, welcome. Stay a while. Look around. The swimming pool is in the library. I hope you enjoy yourselves and I sincerely hope you come back for more.


I had a plan...

I had this fantastic plan to spend the month of October counting down a month's worth of my all time favorite horror movies.

Pitch Black.
The Ring.

And on and on and on. 31 of them.

But then this whole shut down thing happened. Whatever is happening in Congress is far scarier than anything Hollywood can imagine.

So instead of indulging in my favorite fearsome films, or dwelling on the incompetence of our elected officials, I'm going to watch Men In Black 3 while folding laundry. Like a boss.


Fly like an eagle

Ever wonder what it would be like to see the eagle's point of view? What it would be like to soar on wings like eagles?

Well, wonder no more. This might just be the most awesome thing I've seen in all week.



This is a Japanese Maple tree from Portland's Japanese Garden in Washington Park.

Photo credit: Scott McCracken
Source: Twisted Sifter


Three things I want from my kids

I want them to trust me.
I want them to respect me.
I want them to enjoy me.


Eye of the Beholder

This is my wish for my kids. For them to be in a perpetual state of learning and discovery. To be able to see all things as if those things were new. To be lost in wonderment. To view the world like this.

ps. I recommend watching this video in full screen with the lights out.


Selah Sabbath Sabbatical

At a family conference that I attended early this year, one of the speakers emphasized the importance of rest. He divided the art of resting into three different "S" words.

1. Selah - When you read through the book of Psalms, the word selah is used 71 times. The exact meaning of the word is difficult to translate but most Hebrew scholars recognize it as a break in music. Much like we use rests in musical notation, Selah was a way for the authors of Psalms to tell the readers to stop and listen - to take a break. To employ Selah in the modern life is to take a break from whatever occupies your time. A five minute day dream. A smoke break at work. A time out. A brief moment to catch your breath.

2. Sabbath - This is the day of rest. It is Jewish law, a part of the ten commandments: to honor the sabbath and keep it holy. It was a tradition adopted by the early Christian church. The author of the book of Hebrews reminds readers that there is a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. The concept of a full day of rest has fallen out of favor in modern times as the American workaholic ideals has infected the church. Yet, a day to do nothing is essential - even for those that don't believe in God. Tireless work without a day off is bad for your health. However, for me, it is in the spirit of Hebrews chapter 4 that I am making every effort to enter that rest.

3. Sabbatical - Opposed to a single day of rest, sabbaticals are a prolonged rest. Employers refer to it with varied vocabulary. Vacation. Personal leave of absence. Paid time off. It is a ceasing of all labor. For a few days. A week. A month. A year. In Jewish tradition, people would work a seven year cycle in their fields. They would sow and reap their crops for six years then in the sevenht year - sheviit - they would let their land grow without any agricultural effort. Any fruits that grew naturally during sheviit where available to be picked by anyone. It was a year for the lands to rest as well as a year for the farmers to rest.

Since that conference, those three words have been camping out in my psyche. Selah, Sabbath, Sabbatical. The importance of rest has weighed heavy on my heart. I've mentioned before how I'm taking steps to make Sundays my do-nothing day, my day of rest. My emotional health needs it. Going forward, you may see posts here to honor Selah, a moment to stop and rest. Sabbatical... well, that might be harder to accomplish.

But let me encourage you to rest. Whether you're taking a brief mental vacation to go to your happy place, or embarking on an actual vacation to the Bahamas, rest. Stop and breathe.


for the love of a cold shower

Yes, you heard that correctly. Cold shower. I take cold showers. Before you think I'm insane (and that is a distinct possibility), please understand there are reasons. Consider the following.

1. Increased production of cortisone.

The first that I heard of possible health benefits from bathing in cold water was about 12 years ago. There was a human interest story on some news program that interviewed the five oldest people on earth and asked them what they believed was the secret to their longevity. One of the subjects was a woman that lived in Russia's northern Ural Mountains. She smoked, drank vodka, and ate red meat. However, her little home was next to the Usa River near the river's source. She claimed to bathe in that river every morning. Researchers on the show theorized that the regular immersion in icy temperatures of the river stimulated the production of cortisone for this little old Russian woman.

Cortisone is a hormone released as a response to stress - and the sudden subjection to frigid waters can be stressful. The hormone typically prepares our body for either fight or flight, however it also provides short term pain relief and can be used to ease joint inflammation.

2. Helps overcome fear.

Serious about this one. Last fall I began reading through some of the writings of Joel Runyon and his Impossible Blog. He's a big advocate of Cold Shower Therapy. Yes, therapy. He proposed the concept that fear holds us back from getting started with big projects like opening a new business or losing some weight (a concept that has been seconded by Jon Acuff in his book Start). Joel's solution to conquering that fear is to start with cold showers because the thought of a cold shower could be scary, but once you start doing it you realize that it's OK. In his words, "You might yell out a few Tarzan type screams, but once you decide to do it, you lean into it and you’re not afraid of it anymore."

The act of taking scary cold showers changes the way you think because when you face something else that frightens you, you recognize that feeling because it's the same sensation. You experienced before taking cold showers. And if you conquered the fear once, you can do it again. Joel wrote a fantastic piece about cold shower therapy - you should read it, especially if your fear is holding you back from doing something you've always wanted to do.

3. It's better than coffee.

I know many people who cannot wake up in the morning without the assistance of coffee. I happen to be related to a few of those people. Please don't misunderstand me, coffee is good. I'm not trying to say you need to give up drinking coffee - I still drink it myself.

But, do you know what's cheaper than a daily Starbucks habit? Cold showers. You know what is more effective than any caffeinated beverage? Cold showers. Nothing wakes you up quicker in the morning than standing under a falling stream of water that feels like it has been teleported from deepest and darkest recesses of space (or as Joel Runyon phrased it "we-just-piped-this-water-in-from -Antarctica-because-the-penguins-won’t-swim-in-it-cold"). As a side benefit, it also encourages shorter showers and less less water waste.

4. Burn more calories while showering.

A few years ago, some researchers wrote and published an article through PLOS titled Human Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Uncoupling Is Associated with Cold Induced Adaptive Thermogenesis. It's an fascinating read (if scholarly scientific studies are your thing) that points out a few interesting ideas.

The article focuses on the role that brown adipose tissue (AKA, brown fat) plays in the human body. Some of it has tangible research. Some of it is theoretical. But the short explanation of the data shows that exposure to cold stimulates brown fat and increases energy use. In other words - it buns more calories. This suggests that cold therapies could be used as a weight loss strategy. Exposing yourself to colder temperatures increases the amount of calories being burned; it accelerates your metabolism.

Part of the reasoning behind the changes to metabolism is due to the difference between your body temperature and the water's temperature. According to the laws of thermodynamics, everything seeks equilibrium. In order to counteract the effect the cold shower has on your internal temperature, your body reacts by increasing heat. That thermogenic process means your body is working harder, improving your ability to burn fat.

5. No more after-shower shock.

Do you know what was my least favorite part of taking hot showers? That moment when I opened the shower curtain to the cold bathroom air. It doesn't matter if the bathroom is heated, the air outside the shower is always colder than the steam and water inside the shower.

But with cold showers, I'm all ready cold when I step out. There is no difference between the frigid water and the chilly air. No bracing shock as you step out of the shower. I'm all ready acclimated to the icy feeling during the shower so I can just step out, towel off, and carry on. Plus, the bathroom mirror isn't steamed over.

There you have it. Cold showers are a good thing. Facing fear and losing weight. I've lost 16 pounds over the past couple of months. Granted, cold shower therapy is not my only weight loss strategy. I'm eating healthier and exercising more. But I believe that my weight loss journey is more successful because I decided to turn the dial down from Mordor to Hoth.


Summer Soundtrack

The kids are all back in school. While summer might technically be in effect, as far as I'm concerned, it ended when the school bells started ringing.

Last year, about this time, I posted the soundtrack to my summer. I'm doing the same thing again. While last year's mix had a predominantly indie rock/Americana feel to it, this year's selection is far more influenced by electronic music. Agree or disagree, but these are the songs I had pumping through my speakers and headphones all summer long.

1. Timeflies - I Choose You - Synth heavy with a little bit of vocal manipulation. Heard this for the first time while driving back from Spokane after a late dinner with friends. With the beat and that "Everybody needs somebody to love" hook, this was an instant cranked up with the windows down song for me.

2. OneRepublic - Counting Stars - OneRepublic is one of those bands that seems to be genetically engineered for radio airplay. Honestly, I don't care. I love this band and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Ryan Tedder is easily one of the most talented songwriters in pop music and if they keep churning out songs like this, I'll remain a fan.

3. Family Force 5 - Chainsaw - If OneRepulic is the band I'm not ashamed to admit I love, FF5 is more of the guilty pleasure. Their music is unquestionably cheesy and ridiculously fun. Their videos are over the top and they're a blast to see live. I can't wait for the next time I can catch one of their shows just so I can see them do this song.

4. Avicii - Wake Me Up - "I can't tell where the journey will end, But I know where to start" This song is easily the anthem for all of my #StartExp peeps. "All this time I was finding myself, And I didn't know I was lost"

5. Capital Cities - Safe and Sound - This song just makes me happy. And that guy's beard? It's fabulous.

6. Citizens - Made Alive - When I look at Christian subculture, I'm encouraged that some of the most creative musice is being written and recorded by worship leaders. Like this one. Funky bass lines and drum rythms. Melodies that are uncommon among Sunday morning services. And again with a fantastic beard that could make all hipsters jealous.

7. We As Human - We Fall Apart - So there once was this little band from Sandpoint Idaho that got themselves a record deal, moved to Nashville, and started releasing some beautiful tunes. I find myself singing along with this every time it's on the radio.

8. Robert DeLong - Happy - Another track that makes me feel exactly the title of this song. It also makes me happy to see music like this coming out of the Seattle area. With artists like this, I long to be home again.

9. John Fogerty - Mystic Highway - Fogerty is a rock legend. His newest album (Wrote A Song For Everyone) pairs him up with musicians from both rock and country to reinvent a few Creedence classics and breathe life into some new songs. The album is one of my favorite albums of the year and this track makes me think of summertime road trips, sunsets, beaches, and campfires.

10. Fellowship Creative - Future Back - Music like this defines what I think summertime music should be. Upbeat. Hopeful. Sing-a-long hooks. Catchy melodies. This. So much this.

11. Fall Out Boy - My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up) - Fall Out Boy is a ridiculous band. And the video for this song is truly bizarre. That being said, this is what I've been listening to while exercizing this summer.

12. Daft Punk - Get Lucky - I'm pretty sure most people were playing this song all summer. Inescapable. I'm a big fan of Daft Punk and this song was not a disappointment. Now I just wish every radio station on planet earth would stop playing it so that the entirety of popular culture doesn't grow sick of it.

The next few songs are honorable mentions as they were released in 2012. But I've listened to them more these past few months than I did when they first came out.

13. Youngblood Hawke - We Come Running - I've been playing this song for much the same reason as Future Back: upbeat, hopeful, and insanely catchy.

14. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with Ray Dalton - Can't Hold Us - I once joked about wanting to slow my car down when I see someone running along the road just to drive behind them with this song volume up at full blast and my windows down. Give them some motivation music. I'll never do it, but it is another song that I've been listening to while working out.

15. Zedd and Foxes - Clarity - Not only one of the songs I listened to the most this summer, Clarity is also one of the most recent additions to the soundtrack of my life. The chorus is also one of the most poignant lyrics in modern EDM. "If our love is tragedy, why are you my remedy? If our love's insanity, why are you my clarity?"

ps: I'm waiting for one of those A+B DJs to mash up Clarity and My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark. Those two songs sound like they were meant to blend together.


I never wanted to be famous

There was a phase where I had stars in my eyes. But it was just a phase. At that age when most kids had big plans to get rich or make a name for themselves, I was studying architecture. Learning about building codes and blueprints eclipsed the desire for a spotlight. So, that title might be a bit of a misnomer. I never really wanted to be famous.

As my dreams became more realistic and mildly tangible, I've held on to some wildly absurd aspirations.

I never wanted to be a rock star.
But I always wanted to have friends who were.
I never wanted to be a filmmaker.
But I always wanted to have friends who made movies.
I never wanted to be an accomplished author.
But I always wanted to have friends who wrote books.
I never wanted to have my artwork in a gallery.
But I've always wanted to see art from my friends displayed.
I never wanted to be President.
But I've always wanted to be friends with one.
I never wanted to be instantly recognizable anywhere in the world.
But I've always wanted to be stopped by strangers because they recognize my friend.

As I've grown older and truly discovered who I am, I've come to recognize that I find more personal satisfaction in helping others be successful than I do in my own personal successes.

And maybe that's just how I measure my success. By helping others take that next step, by helping them reach their goals.

I want to be that guy that reads through the liner notes of a new album or the acknowledgments of a book and find my name among the list of people thanked.

I want to be that guy that helps a struggling bar band find a bigger audience.
I want to be that guy who helps an indie director debut their first film at a festival.
I want to be that guy encouraging a talented storyteller to put their words onto paper so that it may someday be read by millions.
I want to be that guy that finds new venues for the starving artist to showcase their work.
I want to be that guy that helps the amateur turn pro.

And that might make me weird.

A couple of weeks ago, I started watching Long Way Round. At the very beginning of the first episode, Ewan McGregor said "I wasn't driven toward being famous."

Yes! I'm not alone.

McGregor's full monologue: "I like being successful because that's a mark of my work. But I wasn't driven toward being famous. I'm glad that's the case because you can be satisfied with success but I don't think you'll ever be satisfied with fame because you'll never be famous enough."

That makes sense to me. I'm willing to let my involvement in the successes of others be the mark of my work. I'm at that point in my life where that is enough for me, and I can be satisfied with that.


a gentle reminder

I will praise you, Lord,
because you rescued me.
You did not let my enemies laugh at me.
Lord, my God, I prayed to you,
and you healed me.
You lifted me out of the grave;
you spared me from going down to the place of the dead.

Sing praises to the Lord, you who belong to him;
praise his holy name.
His anger lasts only a moment,
but his kindness lasts for a lifetime.
Crying may last for a night,
but joy comes in the morning.
When I felt safe, I said,
“I will never fear.”
Lord, in your kindness you made my mountain safe.
But when you turned away, I was frightened.

I called to you, Lord,
and asked you to have mercy on me.
I said, “What good will it do if I die
or if I go down to the grave?
Dust cannot praise you;
it cannot speak about your truth.
Lord, hear me and have mercy on me.
Lord, help me.”
You changed my sorrow into dancing.
You took away my clothes of sadness,
and clothed me in happiness.
I will sing to you and not be silent.
Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.

Psalm 30 - New Century Version (emphasis added by me)



This is what I pictured in my mind when I first heard the lead single to Daft Punk's newest album. I'm glad someone had the intuition to put this video together for me.


Of faith and tattoos

These days, I wear my faith like a new tattoo. It came about through searing pain and lots of cursing. It's there and plainly visible, but by just looking at it you might not understand the full story. And it is a story - one that I'd be happy to share over a cup of coffee.

But it wasn't always like that. At one point, I believed that my faith was to be displayed by carrying around a bible like an athlete wearing a letterman jacket. I once believed that my faith was to be used like a megaphone in a public library. And for a short while, I was foolish enough to believe that my beliefs made me better than everyone else.

I will never pretend like faith is easy. If it was, churches would be filled to standing room capacity every Sunday. Saying that I've believed in God my whole life would not be telling the entirety of my tale. That would be like reading the first page in a Stephen King novel then assuming the every character survives until the end. I am not one of those "I grew up in the church and nothing bad has ever happened to me" kinds of Christians.

The pages of my book are filled with doubt and struggles. Mistakes and missed opportunities. Broken heart and wounded spirit. Yet, ultimately, it's about second chances - of which I have been given many.

So my faith is like a tattoo. Art covering an imperfect canvas. Something beautiful from something painful.


What's different?

Due to my audacious risk, there are some things that must change. If I'm going to get healthy, I will need to do things differently than the way I usually operate.

So, what's different?

Keep in mind, that I've set this ridiculous goal to not only improve my physical health by losing weight. My true end is a holistic perspective - to heal emotionally along with the physical aspect.

I've long had the opinion that everyone has five different aspects to their lives that are all interconnected and a lack in one will affect the others. If you're sick, you don't typically want to go hang out with friends. If you're struggling with self esteem, the will to exercise or eat healthy foods is weakened. Everything is connected.

So, what's different?

Here are those five areas with notes of what I'm doing different. This is my track to getting back to the person that I once was.

Physical: Exercise has become a priority. I'm spending more time outside, taking regular walks with increasing pace (might actually start running one of these days). No more elevator at work. I'm also doing yoga with the kids.

Social: Geekery. Some friends of mine host a bi-weekly (ish) event at their place for the nerds like us to gather and celebrate the fact that we're all geeks.

Spiritual: I've mentioned before how I've struggled fitting in - especially in a church setting. That's changing. I've returned to the church that I attended a few years ago - where I used to volunteer as a youth leader and was able to connect on some level with most of the church leadership. The kids and I go on Friday nights - which is also the night that the church serves ice cream sundaes after the service. In the few weeks since I've made that switch, I'm all ready feeling more connected and engaged.

Mental: I'm forcing myself to write more. Even if it's utter crap that no one will ever see, I'm putting words onto paper. My plans. My dreams. My fears. Random thoughts. It's making my mind work a little overtime so that it's able to handle all of the other stuff that comes up during the course of the day.

Emotional: This is all about rest. Finding moments during the day to take a breather - to mentally check out long enough to stay focused on what needs to get done. And since I'm going to church on Friday nights, I'm finally able to treat Sundays like a Sabbath. Sunday is my day of rest, the day that I do nothing. No church, no chores, no work. Just rest.

Disclaimer: I'm not claiming perfection in any area of my health. Reality shows I stil have a long way to go. This is just my start. Baby steps.