Broken Heart, Weary Soul, Busy Mind

Dear God,

There’s a Bible passage that instructs me to how to love you. A religious legal expert asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, to which he replied, “Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This was the kind of verse all of my childhood Sunday school teachers insisted I commit to memory. While the younger me hated memorizing scripture, those lessons have stuck with me, roaming the halls of my cerebral library, following neurotransmitters between my temporal lobes and prefrontal cortex. Synapses follow a mental Dewey Decimal System and memories open like borrowed books then I recall those words, “Love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind.”

It was such a simple concept when I was younger. Youthfulness tends to throw ourselves into pursuits with reckless abandon. When I was into something, I was all in. Every last drop of my being dedicated to whatever it is I chased. Yet today, as a forty year old man, I’m not sure I understand what this verse means anymore.

How do I love you with my whole heart? It’s been broken and abused so many times I’ve lost my ability to count. A bullied childhood, a geeky outcast, the last one picked, a perennial loser. Ignored by my peers, rejected over and over again by high school crushes. I grew up to work dead end jobs and endured a broken marriage that ended in divorce. Even though you gave me another chance at romance, I occasionally feel unworthy of her love. Yeah, I have a heart but it’s weak and damaged.

How do I love you with all of my soul? I’m so weary watching our world; if humanity has a soul, I don’t even know if it’s worth redeeming. I don’t know why you would make the effort. Greed and corruption permeates every institution from our churches to our governments. The people who claim to love you the most are often least likely to act like Christ. I continually hope for the best, and day after day I see the worst. I’m tired and discouraged. Sure, I have a soul, but it is heavily burdened.

How do I love you with my entire mind? It’s so busy. There are days my brain hurts from too many external stimulants with an abundance of information to be absorbed. On Wednesday, I went to the store to buy ingredients for homemade cranberry sauce. I spent $50 and managed to forget the cranberries, yet somehow I can still remember all of the lyrics to every song on Third Eye Blind’s debut album. I can only learn and retain a finite amount of data and my capacity has been exceeded. The way my brain functions is illogical and I can barely make sense of it. Of course I have a mind, but it’s crowded and dysfunctional.

Jesus said I should love you with all of it. The healthy bits and the sick. The simple and the complex. The parts that work and the damaged parts. Whether I know how or I am clueless.

So I love you. My heart has been shattered but you can have it, all of the broken pieces. My soul is heavy but it’s yours. If there’s anything worth saving, you can take it. My mind is crowded but it is dedicated. Whatever is left belongs to you. I might not know how to love you with my heart, soul, and mind, but I’m going to love you anyways.



Holiday Labor

Actual conversation with the kids about Thanksgiving

Chloe: "Dad, do you work on Thursday?"
Me: "Nope. I have the day off. My office is closed."
Chloe: "Yay!"
Christian: "Of course Dad has the day off. No one works on Thanksgiving."
Me: "That's correct."
Christian: "See."
Me: "Unless you work in a movie theater."
Christian: "Wait, what?"
Me: "Or you're a police officer. Or an ER doctor, a nurse, an ambuance driver, a firefighter, a 911 operator."
Christian: "Um ... "
Me: "Or if you work at Walmart. Or a gas station. Some theme parks are open on Thanksgiving, like Disneyland. So their employees are working. And zookeepers need to feed the animals even if the zoo is closed."
Christian: "Uh ... "
Me: "Deployed military personnel don't get the day off."
Christian: "Eh ... "
Me: "But other than that, you're correct. No one works on Thanksgiving."

Some people cruise through Thanksgiving eating too much food, watching football, and avoiding awkward conversations with their family. Others are earning a paycheck. This post is my way of thanking those who spend their holiday on duty. You keep our society functioning so the rest of us can celebrate.


In This Together

High school, sophomore year, health class. The kid who sat next to me wrote the same date on every assignment our teacher handed to us. May 17, 1965. Over and over. Day after day he scribbled his name and that one singular day across the top of his papers. It confused me because my birthday is on May 17, just 14 years further into the future than his repetitive calendar selection.

By mid October, curiosity overwhelmed me so I asked him the purpose for writing that specific date on all of our worksheets. “Because it’s Trent Reznor’s birthday.” He sounded offended that I wasn’t previously aware, but once he provided the answer, it all made sense.

This kid dressed like no one else at our school. He wore ultra-wide leg black JNCO jeans before that brand was popular. It contained more pockets than any human would conceivably ever need and was adorned with an assortment of straps, chains, and enough metal objects to concern a TSA worker. His leather jacket was threadbare and had the NIN logo printed on cloth and safety pinned to the back. Other less memorable patches haphazardly covered the sleeves and the spaces where you might find a name tag. Spiked hair, fingernails painted black, studded collar. He looked like Hot Topic’s first and biggest fan.

His revelation of Trent Reznor’s birthdate connected my brain to the letters affixed between his shoulders: NIN - Nine Inch Nails. Reznor was the lead vocalist and this kid idolized this band. He dressed to show his fandom and memorialized his devotion on every homework assignment. Their song Closer had been released to radio the spring of our freshman year; by the time we started life on the MPHS campus, it was on regular rotation on MTV and KNDD.

At 15, I wasn’t a fan. The vulgar chorus of Closer scandalized the trying-too-hard teenaged version of me who was still entrenched in conservative evangelical culture. It was the music of heathens that good Christian boys shouldn’t listen to. As I got older, my music tastes matured. A few years later, NIN recorded The Perfect Drug and I was intrigued. When they released The Fragile in ‘99, I was impressed. By the time With Teeth came out six years later, I was hooked.

In the middle of this era, the band released a single called We’re In This Together, an aggressive paean to raw determination and a defiant middle finger held up into the face of discouragement, angry and empowering at the same time. It contained the perfect tempo for exercising at the gym, hard hitting and motivating, enough to keep you moving through pain and exhaustion of an intense workout.

Over the years, the song has taken on new meaning for me. This is the sign of a great songwriter, when they can pen words that mean one thing when you’re 20 and something completely different when you’re 40.

This last year hasn’t been an easy one. It started with a car crash and we’ve been on our toes ever since trying to hold it all together. While we have had cause to celebrate, life has a way skewing toward complicated. Over the last couple months, we discovered mold inside bales from a recent hay delivery, had a truck break down in the middle of nowhere stranding us in darkness while waiting on a tow truck, and put down a pair of horses. School has been a challenge as Christian navigates his first year of high school and we’ve struggled to keep Chloe focused. We’re working to save up money to fund Christmas and a destination wedding, then our washing machine quit working and I received some disappointing news from my attorney. In a phrase coined by a younger generation: adulting is hard.

Thankfully, I have an amazing partner walking through this journey with me. We encounter setbacks and we recover. We hit roadblocks and find a detour. She is raw determination in human form. Every time Annie texts me, “It’ll be OK, we got this,” I hear this song playing in my head. As she does her best to ease my fears, my internal karaoke machine begins to sing Trent’s lyrics. “You and me, we're in this together now. None of them can stop us now. We will make it through somehow. You and me, if the world should break in two. Until the very end of me. Until the very end of you. When all our hope is gone we have to hold on.”

We’re In This Together no longer sounds angry or defiant to me. Instead, it sounds like love, the kind of love that is committed through all of the better and worse that life has to offer. It is a love that endures all things. In heathen music good Christian boys shouldn’t listen to, I’ve found the biblical definition of love.

Though industrial beats, distorted guitars, and strained vocals, I hear echoes of devotion. You and me, we’re in this together now. Because of love, it’s patient and kind. None of them can stop us now. It keeps no record of wrongs. We will make it through somehow. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Until the very end of me. Until the very end of you. Love never fails.

Whatever challenges the future holds for Annie and me, I know it will be OK. We got this because we’re in this together.



Prior to the beginning of the 2018 rodeo season, Joylyn fell off of our Arabian, Roxy. Roxy is the same horse she rode the year prior and we were looking forward to another summer of equestrian competition where Joylyn would learn to ride without someone holding a lead rope walking ahead of her. One day, her foot slipped out of the stirrup; she leaned too far forward and plummeted to the ground. While she was tough enough to get back on the horse, she felt extraordinary pain. A trip to the doctor revealed the reason: Joylyn had a broken arm.

We gave Joylyn time to recuperate, for her limb to heal. When she started riding again, something had changed. The brave girl who once wanted to run with her steed as fast as the wind was suddenly terrified of anything quicker than a leisurely walk. She struggled to hang onto hear reins and grew discouraged every time Roxy bent her head down to nibble on grass. The fun of horse riding was ebbing, replaced by tears and frustration. Joylyn lost her mojo. Something needed to change.

Enter the Shetland pony, a sweet little boy who was just the right size for Joylyn. The first time she saw the new pony, she told us it was exactly what she wanted. She was still a little timid getting back in the saddle, even with a smaller horse. Still, she mounted up, over and over again, growing more confident with each subsequent ride. Joylyn began the rodeo season on a lead rope, taking more control as the summer progressed. By autumn, the lead rope was no longer used and Joylyn was riding on her own.

Sad news came as winter snows melted and spring arrived. Mojo was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. He was given a prescription and we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, Mojo did not respond to medication. We took him to one final rodeo event where Joylyn took second place. After that, we did all we could to help him live as comfortably as possible.

As this last summer came to an end, it was clear Mojo’s health was deteriorating. It would be cruel to make him endure another winter. We made end of life arrangements and let him out of the pasture to freely graze on fresh grass. On Halloween, we said our final goodbyes and loaded him into the trailer. Annie drove him to a facility to be humanely euthanized.

There is a Shetland sized hole on our farm. Mojo helped Joylyn get her mojo back and now he’s gone. He wasn’t her first horse, but he will always be her favorite. She will ride bigger and faster horses as she gets older, yet Mojo will always have a special place in Joylyn’s heart.


The scariest movies?

‘Tis the season for scary movies. Or it was. Halloween may be over but I’m always in the mood for a frightening tale. Some people might think the Christmas movie season has begun, and if that’s you, I might have some yuletide themed horror films to suggest.

I realize not everyone enjoys the horror genre. Even for those who do, results vary. Joylyn's favorite movie is Jaws (or as she calls it, Jaws the Shark) and she asks if she can watch it at least once a month. However, none of the other kids enjoyed it. The whole family loves The Nightmare Before Christmas and it's a group sing-a-long every time we watch it. When I was younger, I didn't find Blair Witch Project scary at all, but my best friend at the time thought it was the most terrifying movie he'd ever seen.

Point is, art is subjective. One man's fear is another man's thrill. What one person considers nightmare fuel, another might call it boring. Horror is both revered and reviled. It's not for everyone. While I'm a sucker for a good scary movie, I won't judge anyone who doesn't enjoy them.

Halloween has passed, but there’s still time to enjoy a scary movie before everything turns red and green and festive. The following is a list of the ten movies that scared me more than any others. This is not a best-of list, or even a favorites list. These are the movies that instilled in me a lingering sense of dread lasting beyond the closing credits, movies where I left the theater feeling shook, films that kept me awake through the rest of the night after watching. If you're looking for a dose of cinematically induced flood of cortisol and adrenaline, here are my suggestions.

10. Pitch Black: A prison transport vessel crash lands on an alien planet with two suns keeping the world lit for years without nightfall. However, they crew has the worst timing ever as they arrive just before a rare dual eclipse plunges the landscape into darkness. The planet is inhabited by deadly creatures who are scared of light. To survive, the crew must rely on the prisoner who has the ability to see in the dark. While this is more sci-fi thriller than horror, it has a smart plot which provides a few good scares and enough twists to keep you uncertain of each character's fate.
image courtesy of Focus Features

9. The Exorcism of Emily Rose: This is skewed take on the traditional story of a priest's attempt to treat a girl suffering from demonic possession. It is told through the perspective of a courtroom drama as an attorney attempts to determine what is real while she defends the priest who is on trial for murder. At the end, you're left wondering if the possession was an issue of physical and mental ailments needing medical attention or if there was a spiritual element warranting exorcism. The film doesn't provide any solid answers.
image courtesy of Screen Gems

8. Stir of Echoes: Blighted with the unfortunate circumstances of a theatrical release a few months after The Sixth Sense, and both films containing a similar plot (a protagonist sees ghosts and solves a murder), Stir is the creepier of the two. It utilizes familiar ghost story tropes yet maintains a sense of dread in every frame. And there was an uncomfortable scene involving fingernails disturbing enough to stay with me ever since my first viewing 20 years ago.
image courtesy of Artisan Entertainment

7. Event Horizon: A rescue ship is sent into deep space to search for the missing crew of a research vessel abandoned at the event horizon of a black hole. Plenty of jump scares and gruesome imagery. This is the most frightened I've ever felt while walking out of a theater. I sat shaking in my car in the parking lot for twenty minutes before finding the nerve to start the engine and drive away. This movie would have ranked higher on my list except the fear factor seems to be unique to the theater experience. I watched it again at home and didn't feel a single twinge of fright. That might have been because I was viewing it on a 24 inch screen or that I was watching from the comfort of my own couch. Maybe if I saw it now on a bigger TV, it would inspire different results.
image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

6. The Babadook: An Australian film follows a single mom and her son wrestling with the death her husband in a car crash several years earlier. They are haunted by a monster from a storybook the boy likes to read, which may or may not be a physical embodiment of their emotional grief. Also, the creepy kid is creepy which, for me, is the scariest of all movie monsters.
image courtesy of Entertainment One and Umbrella Entertainment

5. The Exorcist: This classic horror film is featured on every "scariest movies of all time" list. Unsettling establishing shots. Claustrophobic setting. Demon possessed creepy kid. Projectile vomit. Levitation. Speaking backwards. Poltergeists. Solemn priests. This is the movie that had people feinting in the theater when it was first released. It is still a frightening movie but age has diminished some of the scariness.
image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

4. Alien: Trapped in space with an unstoppable predator built to hunt. The lone survivors are a tough woman and a cat. The men who refused to listen to the woman all die horrible and disturbing deaths. The xenomorphic is, on its own, one of the scariest villains in cinema. In Alien, its presence is made worse with the fear of isolation and helplessness.
image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

3. It: The first part of a remake of a TV movie adapted from a Stephen King novel. A group of outcast kids form the Losers Club and are tormented by a murderous interdimensional demon clown named Pennywise. The Losers must also navigate a world of abusive parents, teenaged bullies, and a town filled with indifferent adults.
image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

2. Phantoms: Want to know what I think makes the difference between an average scary movie and an excellent one? Atmosphere. The best films build up an atmosphere that you feel as much as you can see. Phantoms (adapted from a Dean Koontz book) oozes atmosphere. You feel it from the opening credits through the final frame of film. A woman is bringing her younger sister away from the temptations of the big city to live with her in a remote mountain village. When they drive into town, the place is empty. Everything is abandoned as if everyone vanished in an instant. No people, yet there's an ominous and malevolent unseen force preventing them from leaving.
image courtesy of Mirimax

1. The Ring And the winner for the movie that scared me more than any other is the American remake of a Japanese film about a cursed VHS tape whose viewers all die seven days after watching it. A reporter investigates the deaths in hopes to break the curse after she and her son viewed the tape. Bonus points, The Ring is set in the Seattle area and the constant rainy gloom adds a menacing atmosphere to the story.
image courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

How about you? What is the scariest movie you've ever seen?