March's swan song

As I parked my car at the grocery store and shut off the engine, a thread of lightning violently wove its way across the fabric of the sky. An instant later, thunder rattled as if nature's symphony was preempted by a rock 'n roll drum solo. I came across some old friends inside the store who told me that the thunder shook the building. It was close.

I smiled.

I love storms. There's something invigorating about them - a near magical quality that makes me feel alive. Inclement weather and other acts of God are my fountain of youth.

In the Inaugural Day storm of 1993, my dad and I went for a walk around the neighborhood; we watched the fireworks of blown transformers unnaturally light up the skies around us. I leaned back with all of the weight my scrawny 14 year old self contained and allowed the force of wind to hold me upright.

During the seasonal flooding, my dad and I would often approach the swollen banks of the Snohomish, Stillaguamish, and Skagit Rivers to witness first hand the mighty and destructive power of roaring waters. I still remember that sense of awe seeing the familiar sunken under rising and uncontrollable torrents.

One 4th of July, I went swimming in a friend's pool during a thunderstorm. Although, in hindsight, that wasn't my brightest moment. Later that summer while visiting family in Cheyenne, tornado sirens started sounding. Instead of going to the basement with everyone else, my cousin Joel and I headed outside to play catch.

When an earthquake struck during our final dress rehearsal of Neil Simon's Rumors, people told me I was the calmest person around. Classmates that wouldn't normally talk to me were coming to me for comfort.

When the German Club's tour bus was trapped by an avalanche returning home from from Leavenworth's Christmas tree lighting festival I was the happiest passenger on board. That was one of the highlights of my senior year.

I even tried to go storm chasing while living in Sioux Falls, but I accidentally left the car windows down before the storm hit. As I drove off in the direction of reported funnel clouds, the windows fogged up so badly that I couldn't see anything more than a car-length in front of me. In lieu of my plans, I sheltered at a Walmart to get dinner and headed back home. I eventually got to see a tornado the following summer; I was DJing for a wedding and stepped outside in time to watch a twister drift by a little more than a mile away. The bride and groom inside were blissfully unaware of the wrath and fury outside the rented dance hall.

I love storms.

I know that not everyone shares my fervor when it comes to experiencing natural disasters. The recent landslide in Oso is a reminder that nature is more than sunshine and roses. It is nurturing but vengeful. It is beautiful but dangerous. Every raw display is a potential for tragedy.

And last night, I was reminded of one other life that does not agree with my love of storms. My daughter.

She's scared of loud noises. And last night was full of loud noises. A mix of rain and hail poured from a seamless and darkened leaden sky. Wind whipped the hail against every heard surface. Thunder rolled long and unavoidable. Runoff pooled in parking lots and roadways like a blunt reminder that Noah opened in theaters this weekend.

While I might have found last night's natural theatrics a fitting farewell to the month of March, I know that today was the kind of day my daughter prefers. A gentle warmth and baby blue skies decorated with cotton ball clouds.

This month was true to the saying, in like a lion and out like a lamb. It's probably better that way.


They are coming. Soon.

Peanuts. The movie. Digital animation from the same studio that made Ice Age, Rio, and Epic. This brings me so much joy.

Hearing Vince Guaraldi's jazzy Peanuts Theme warms my heart. It reminds me of all that is good. It evokes feelings of optimism and innocence. It brings me back to that youthful belief that anything is possible, that maybe this time Lucy won't pull away the football when I go to kick it.

I loved the Peanuts gang when I was little. It was the first comic strip at the top of the Sunday paper's comics section. While my dad read through local news and my big brother dove into the sports section, I would sneak off with the funny pages. Of course, when I was too young to read, Aaron was a good brother and read them to me, but that's irrelevant. Every Sunday morning, the first thing I would consume was the newest mishaps of Charlie Brown and his circle of friends.

There were the cartoons. I've seen every single one of them. Multiple times. It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and Snoopy Come Home were my favorites.

The pastor at my childhood church was also a fan of Peanuts. He would regularly slip references and stories from the comic into his sermon illustrations.

Then there was my first nickname. When I was really young, my parents referred to me as Woodstock because the blond hair on top of my head stood strait up like that lovable yellow bird.

The Peanuts characters are woven into the fabric of my identity. Rewatching the cartoons as an adult stirs up so many wonderful memories. I feel at peace and remember the simplicity of being a kid.

Eventually, I outgrew the Woodstock nickname. As I got older, I began to identify more with Charlie Brown. Clumsy. Horrible at sports. Over-eager to fit in. Awkward around girls. He failed almost everything he did. On the surface it looks like he had a lot of friends, but I get the impression that those friends tolerated him more than they accepted him.

When I watched the movies and TV specials - when I read the comic strips, I couldn't help but recognize myself in Charlie Brown. Still do today. I see his foolishness, his insecurity, his sadness, his hopes, his efforts, his failures. I see all of that and think, "Yes, that's me."

Charlie Brown wasn't equipped to navigate the relationships in his life. He was ill prepared to handle the teasing. He really did not belong with that group of kids. However, Charles Schultz did something brilliant with this character. Charlie Brown was never portrayed as a victim. Even when he was being tormented by Lucy, Charlie Brown took ownership of his actions. Even when he failed miserably, he kept going. Charlie Brown never let his mistakes or mistreatment hinder his ability to get up and try again.

Those are lessons I'm still learning.


What about happy endings?

In the movie Clerks, Randal walked into the Quick Stop after watching Return of the Jedi to discuss a revelation with his friend (and Quick Stop employee) Dante. The conversation they had is one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie.

Randal asked Dante if he preferred Jedi or Empire Strikes Back but was insulted when Dante answered Empire.

"Blasphemy." was Randal's response.

Dante explained his reason: "Empire had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets."

When looking at the story of our lives, most guys want to go slay a dragon, return to their castle, and kiss the girl. Unless you're me. I wanted to blow up the Death Star, fly back to Endor, and party with the Ewoks. Bunch of Muppets.

We all want the happy ending. We want to walk into a room and hear the cheers. "Hail the conquering hero!"

What do you do when you don't get that nice, neat, and victorious conclusion? You lose your hand. You find out the greatest villain in the universe is your dad. You tell someone that you love them and they reply, "I know." You're dipped in carbonite and taken away by a bounty hunter. End scene. Roll credits. What then?

Because that's where I am. Where I feel my efforts have been in vain. That what I have been hoping and praying for has been answered with a brash, insulting, and irrevocable no.

It's too easy to be trapped by that thought that life is nothing more than a series of down endings. We can't stay stuck there. Like Han frozen in carbonite, life doesn't stop with the down ending. There has to be something more. Something better.

How do we get there?

We must remember that the down ending isn't really the end. The Star Wars Saga didn't finish with Empire. That was only the second act in a three act play. Jedi was the ending. Victory and celebration and redemption was the true ending. Those down endings were a segue to something else. Those down endings were challenges to overcome. It's the long dark night of the soul.

Discouraged, bruised, wounded. To carry on, we must recognize that our journey doesn't end here.

I know I'm not alone. I've talked with several who are right there with me. Right now. Those who feel like they're at the end of their ropes. Who feel burdened by guilt and shame. Who view themselves as screwups. Who look at this moment in time as another down ending.

Let me be the first to tell you that the story continues. You are Han Solo. You are Princess Leia. You are Luke Skywalker. You are Chewie, Lando, Wicket. A better ending is coming. You (and me) in our brokenness, in our failures, in our defeats, we are still the heroes of our stories.

If that's you, please feel free to leave a comment. Send me a message through Facebook or Twitter. I would like to encourage you to keep going. I know my story is not over. Neither is yours.


Hope, part 2

In my previous post, I described hope as a peculiar thing. Hope is not an easy word to define. I could tell you what it is, but there are many that have described it in words far more eloquent than I could ever compose.

Here are five of my favorite lyrics about hope.

1. "Give me a reason for life and for death, a reason for drowning while I hold my breath. Something to laugh at, a reason to cry. With everyone hopeless and hoping for something to hope for." Life And Love And Why by Switchfoot

2. "Hope dangles on a string kike slow spinning redemption, winding in and winding out. The shine of it has caught my eye." Vindicated by Dashboard Confessional

3. "Faith is a trampoline. Life is a ginger snap. Love is like gasoline. Hope is a welcome mat." Zoom Daddy by The Swirling Eddies

4. "Don’t let these waves wash away your hopes. This war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors; pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors ... My fear is this prison that I keep locked below the main deck. I keep a key under my pillow; it’s quiet and it’s hidden and my hopes are weapons that I’m still learning how to use right, but they’re heavy and I’m awkward." Wooden Heart (Sea of Mist Called Skaidan) by Listener

5. "All around hope is springing up from this old ground. Out of chaos life is being found in You. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust ... You make beautiful things out of us." Beautiful Things by Gungor

For as long as I can remember, I have found hope, motivation, and solace in music. Over the years, these are a few songs that have stood out to me when I needed hope the most. What songs give you hope?


A funny little thing called hope

Hope is such a peculiar thing. I find it hard to define yet it's the thing I've wanted most in my life. You can't touch it but you can feel it. It's always spoken of in a positive light. A motivator. A source of joy or courage. No one ever says they hope for disaster. The proper saying is to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

No one hopes for something they all ready have. I can't hope to have veggies and pasta for dinner when I have veggies and pasta waiting for me to cook when I get home. I can hope it has a satisfying taste or hope I don't burn it. Those options are still to be confirmed or denied. But I can't hope to have it since it's all ready mine.

Hope is a longing for something that has not yet happened. It is for something yet to come. It is for possibilities.

Hope carries patients with cancer through their treatments.
Hope sees renewal of broken relationships.
Hope recognizes potential in lost causes.
Hope pushes the worn out runner to finish the marathon.
Hope lifts the spirits of the underdog.

My life is filled with hope. Reality says that I could be let down. Reality knows that the things I hope for could never come to pass. Yet I cling to it. And I still hope. Even when it seems unlikely or unreasonable, I hope. I walk in and out of the gym with hope for a healthier future and a skinnier waistline. I play with my kids with hope for their best interests. I hustle at work with hopes for security. Everyday, I hope. In all things, I hope.

It's not easy. And I don't always get it right. But it's worth it.



On Friday, I was playing with JJ - my youngest. In a moment of excitement, he threw a toy at me. It hit me on the bridge of my nose just below where my glasses rest. I wasn't worried. No harm, no foul. He as just being overzealous.

Yesterday, I discovered a bruise on my nose at the point of impact. Still no worries. It's a tiny little thing.

Today, I've had a monstrous headache emanating from that diminutive brown mark. The throbbing noggin is pesky, but I can only deliver one thought about this incident: that kid has good aim.


Christian's house

My oldest son's favorite artistic pursuit is cutting up paper to make other things. He draws pictures of people and animals then cuts them out and uses them like action figures. This weekend, he made a house.

That's the back door with steps going down to the back yard. He even made a little car that you can park in the garage. Here it is parked out in front of the front door.

The doors all open and close. Like the back door.

And the front door.

Once you open the front door, you can see the stairs up to the second level.

The living room takes up most of the front of the house.

It has a couch and a coffee table. And a big television.

The bedroom is in the back of the first floor.

At the top of the stairs is the kitchen. It must be a bachelor pad as the only two appliances are a fridge and a microwave.

The two doors upstairs lead to an office (left) and the bathroom (right). There is a computer desk and an office chair in the office. The bathroom has everything you could ever want: toilet, sink, and a bathtub.

Christian purposely did not make a roof so that his sister could use it as a doll house. That kid blows me away with his creativity and unexpected moments of generosity.


To be stingy

Over the past few months, I have discovered something about myself: I hate spending money.

Paying bills. Grocery shopping. Buying clothes. Filling my car's gas tank. Hate it. I do those things because I have to, but there is nothing rewarding about it.

Even doing activities that I find enjoyable like going to the movies, or a concert, or bowling. The experience itself is great, but I cringe a little inside knowing I spent money to do it. I appreciate eating out but shudder to know I'm paying money for food that I could cook at home. For me, there is no such thing as therapeutic shopping.

If this makes me stingy, so be it.

However, there is one kind of purchase that I do find satisfying. Those special little items that bring a smile to my kids' faces. Be it a bag of popcorn for movie night, their favorite flavor of cereal, a knickknack from the dollar store, Christmas and birthday gifts, or batteries for the Wii remote because the old ones died. Seeing their joy makes the money spent worth it.


We need more geeks

Friday night, my church's pastor dropped a Marty McFly reference. I think I might have been the only one that noticed.

Then Sunday morning I was hanging out with the worship band and the drummer started talking about end times and if we were going to have pre-trib or post-trib whatever. To which our bassist replied "That's the trouble with tribbles." I laughed. Really loud. Unfortunately, I was the only one that laughed.

Dear modern church, you need more geeks. You need people that love Jesus with all of their heart and soul but also loves robots and Jedis. You need people who can discuss the beatitudes with the same grace and skill as they could talk about time travel. You need people who think co-op video games can hold as much value as traditional small groups. You need people like me who aren't ashamed to wear a Batman t-shirt to church.

God loves geeks. Which is good because I am a geek.

Churches across America, please find some more geeks. Because I don't want to be the only one smiling at subtle Back to the Future references. I don't want to be the only one one laughing at Star Trek jokes.