What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 8, Coping Mechanisms

We all know the childhood proverb, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I prefer the grown up version of the same saying: what doesn’t kill you gives you a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a really dark sense of humor.

Divorce didn’t kill me and it did give me a dark sense of humor. Music has always been my coping mechanisms. Healthy or not, I’ve found solace in song. Coping with divorce wasn’t any different than any other challenge in my life. These songs didn’t just help me cope, they explain how I coped.

Sometime Sunday: “Home
Mikee Bridges sings of two homes in this lament, not knowing a physical home while looking forward to a spiritual home. Regardless of where I’ve lived, I never really felt like it was home. Losing the house I bought in the divorce and being forced into a small apartment reinforced the unanchored feeling of this song, “Home is a place I’ve never been.” Yet I shared Mikee’s hope in something more, “I’ll hold on to Sunday, a first time to come home.”

Pearl Jam: “In Hiding
I didn’t leave the apartment much, spent my time watching movies, paying video games, or writing. I did like the song said, “I shut and locked the front door, no way in or out, I turned and walked the hallways and pulled the curtains down.” Church on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. A small group meeting on Monday nights. Work five days a week. But if there was nowhere I needed to be, I was in hiding.

Matchbox Twenty: “Unwell
Symptoms of narcissistic abuse are varied and I didn’t experience all of them. However, I did suffer from insomnia, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Other symptoms get weird: inability to trust yourself or others, feelings of isolation, difficulty making decisions. Narcissistic abuse makes you think you’re crazy. It’s a sensation described in this song, “I can hear them whisper, and it makes me think there must be something wrong with me, out of all the hours thinking somehow I've lost my mind”

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with XPerience: “Let’s Eat
If I had one truly unhealthy coping mechanism, it was food. Comfort food. Fast food. Stress eating. Boredom eating. Social eating. Workplace potlucks. Whatever weight I lost when Bekah and I first separated, I gained it back after the divorce plus some. I know exactly what Macklemore is talking about when he raps, “I was gonna get skinny for the summer, I was gonna start doing my crunches, but looking down at my stomach, I'mma go to the beach, but I'm not taking my shirt off in public.” My craving for something spicy for lunch after church on Sundays every week worked against the efforts I made to get skinny again. Then again, “You know I feel good about this cake” can only be a viable way to cope for so long. My post-divorce body got to be the heaviest I’ve ever been.

Sick Puppies: “White Balloons
After a lifetime struggling with insecurity, divorce practically confirmed by biggest fear: I was insignificant. As a newly single man, and a single dad, I felt like a ghost – unseen and misunderstood. I heard my state of mind echoed in this song, “What’s inside of me is invisible to most even in clear view.” In my ghostly phase, there was a lot of change as I rediscovered/redefined who I was.

Of Monsters and Men: “I of the Storm
Another song speaking about feeling like a ghost, this one didn’t just address my inner turmoil, it described my appearance. “Until all you'll see is my ghost, empty vessel, crooked teeth.” There was a loneliness as I coped with grief, I was out of place and ungrounded. “I am a stranger, I am an alien inside a structure.” I had my kids and I had my job but aside from those two things, I felt lost and defeated.


The official Heartsong ornaments 2020

Every December when I was younger, my mom created handmade Christmas ornaments for my brother and me. Her plan was to provide us with ornaments of our own to use when we were older. She had a theory: when we moved out of her house to start life on our own we would have at least 18 Christmas ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree we get four ourseves. It wasn’t just Aaron and me either. She made these ornaments for all of the Budd family cousins too.

Annie also indulges in this crafting tradition. She started making ornaments with Joylyn when it was only the two of them together. Now, with our families blended together, the holiday crafts continue.

There is a difference though. When I was a kid, Aaron and I just let mom do her thing. These days, the ornaments are a family affair. The kids help brainstorm ideas and often handle sharpies and hot glue guns to assemble and decorate the family ornaments we give as gifts to our closest friends and family.

It was tempting to aim for funny this year. The thematic possibilities for 2020 were endless. We even googled in search of toilet paper roll and murder bee shaped confetti. We looked for miniature medical masks to place inside a plastic globe. We pondered the viability of using dollar store sized bottles of hand sanitizer.

After much contemplation, a decision was made to avoid the year in review approach to ornament making. No references to the pandemic, social distancing, the election, Netflix binging, conference calls, extreme weather, or apocalyptic animals.

We realize 2020 has been a weird year. This was the year that real life imitated something halfway in between Maury Povich and the twilight zone. It started with a tiger king refusing to accept reality and is ending with an American president who refuses to accept reality. In between those two cultural mileposts, we’ve seen mask orders and anti-mask rallies. We got professional sports played in empty arenas and super-spreader parties held in NYC, DC, and LA. New generations of video game consoles were released with near life-like graphics yet the most popuar game in America is a cartoony contest about armless spacesuit wearing little people trying to catch a murderous imposter while fixing their spaceship. Graduations were observed on zoom, vacations were cancelled, theaters were closed, and everyone had to figure out how to live life six feet apart.

This world has enough crazy, we didn’t need to add to it. We ached for something normal. Nothing could be more normal for us than this.

Inside a plastic mason jar, you’ll find feathers and snow. Well, artificial snow but the feathers are real - mostly from our chickens and ducks with a few from our turkey, Uno.

While we love our horses, the birds are the heartbeat of Heartsong Meadow. Annie had a pair of Chinese geese when she moved to the farm. Elvis, a black silkie, was one of the first three chickens we got and is the OG of our farm animals. Ruby and Stanley are long time fowl residents. Wasabi the emu is one of our newest feathered friends and he’s quickly become a favorite part of our world. This farm wouldn’t be what it is without the birds.

They greet us every morning. We’ve hatched several, both naturally and artificially, raising some ducks and chickens from tiny lil ducklings and chicks. Joylyn collects eggs and sells them. Chloe has trained a few chickens to jump on her and perch on her shoulder. Annie and I even rescued a dozen abused birds while on the way to a Valentine’s Day date. Now everyone wants to pet and hug the emu.

When it came time to design this year’s ornaments, it made sense to do something with the feathers. In a year as weird and wild as 2020, the birds kept us grounded.

We all took turns collecting feathers, searching for the cleanest and most intact plumage we could find. The birds blow feathers frequently enough that we could have made 100 ornaments. However, we only made 19.

If you receive one of the Heartsong ornaments, we are sharing with you a piece of our hearts. The fake snow has been added because we’re always dreaming of a white Christmas.

Maybe next year we’ll do something funny.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 7, The Fallout

I never wanted to get divorced. However, after everything was said and done, I’ve realized divorce was the best gift Bekah ever gave me. It sucked in the moment but led to something better.

In the end, I’m happier and healthier now than I ever was when we were together. It took a while for me to fully understand this gift though. The fallout from her original filing was devastating. These songs represent my emotional state in immediate aftermath of becoming a new divorcee.

Lifehouse: “Sick Cycle Carousel
Grief pairs well with shame. My gut level reaction reflected in these opening lyrics, “If shame had a face I think it would kind of look like mine.” While this song met my emotional state, it also provided the advice I needed to move on, “Keep spinning around, I know that it won't stop ‘til I step down from this for good.”

Mumford & Sons: “Little Lion Man
The vulgarity of this song’s chorus is a punch to my gut. “I really fucked it up this time, didn’t I my dear?” My good sensible Christian inner-child blushes at the frequent f-bombs, yet I can’t help but recognize the raw emotion as my own. When Bekah said she wanted a divorce, she told me I had done unforgivable things, although she’s never disclosed what those things are. With such an accusation, how could I not feel like I was the one who fucked things up?

Rob Thomas: “This Is How a Heart Breaks
Rob spices his tale of heartbreak with manic energy and a relentless pace. Words like “Life is like a mean machine it made a mess out of me” would normally feel laden with sorrow but this song is so eager it doesn’t give you much room to contemplate the weight of the lyrics. Similarly, the frantic pace of life didn’t give me much time to ponder my existence post-divorce. I could feel the brutal sadness of what was happening inside me but didn’t have the time to process it. I felt like I was out of breath all the time while singing like “this is it now, everybody get down, this is all I can take, this is how a heart breaks.

The Prayer Chain: “Grylliade
Eric Campuzano, The Prayer Chain’s primary lyricist captured my emotional state better than I ever could have on my own. “You've pushed me all around, and now I've had my fill there's nothing left for me to say.” Yeah, I knew how that felt. “I feel like the grylliade, two inches tall or nothing at all.” Been there too. Word for word, no other song explains my attitude after my marriage ended better than this.

Everclear: “Wonderful
Art Alexakis grew up as the son of divorced parents. When he and his ex-wife split, he wrote this song for his daughter, sharing his experience with hers. “Promises mean everything when you're little and the world is so big, I just don't understand how you can smile with all those tears in your eyes.” I don’t have the ability to feel the way my kids feel, so this song helps me see things from their perspective, “I don't want to hear you say that I will understand someday.”

Staind: “Home
For every cause, there is an effect. In this song, Aaron Lewis sings of the effect first, “Today just fell apart like everything, right in my face,” before explaining the cause, “I try so hard to be, everything that I should never take away from you again.” And that’s what it was for me for a long time, trying to be everything just to see it fall apart.

Breathe Carolina: “Shots Fired
If divorce is war, I was outgunned and under siege. I was constantly protecting myself or playing retreat. “You said some things that you can't take back. I know where it's going when you look like that. You can see what you started, and you still want more. You sure you want a war? Shots fired.” Even after the end, I still lived in a defensive mode.

Buckcherry: “Sorry
Josh Todd penned this tale of blame and regret with the desire stay together. I didn’t share his desire for unity, but I understood how he internalized the guilt. I found solace in his lyrics, “This time, I think I'm to blame. It's harder to get through the days. You get older and blame turns to shame. Cause everything inside, it never comes out right.”

Hoobastank: “Good Enough
The last words she told me before leaving haunted me. It's an expected reaction when you’re told your best will never be good enough, especially if you (like me) spent a lifetime fearing insignificance. Hearing this song was a reminder I wasn’t alone. “Still after all I gave it's not enough for you. Well, I can't give any more.” I’m not the only one.

The Fray: “Heartless
This was a Kanye song, then The Fray made it more earnest and turned it into something you might hear played in a coffee shop. There’s a little extra heartbreak when they sing, “Somewhere far along this road he lost his soul to a woman so heartless.” While I tended to my emotional wounds, I found one of the most supportive groups of friends I’ve ever had. When this song comes on, there’s a line I sing along with conviction because of the truth behind it: “You got a new friend, I got homies.”


American Irony

The Christmas story begins with a young girl, pregnant and not yet married. Her fiancé is looking for an out because she’s bearing another dude’s baby. He loves her but understands the scandal of raising a bastard child. People in their small town talk in whispers; rumors spread faster than urgent news. So the teen mom leaves home and visits a distant relative and stays with her for a few months while the gossip back home dies down. She and her fiancé soon marry but they do so quietly, avoiding the big celebration they had originally planned. The baby is born in the most unglamorous setting to be raised by his stepfather.

Can you imagine the mix of emotions Mary feels? She’s been looking forward to her wedding, but she never imagined it would be like this. Excited to be a mother, but this isn’t what she had panned. She barely gave consent, but how could she have said no to an angel considering the circumstances. How do you even raise the son of God? Most new parents are worried about the mistakes they’ll make. The pressure Mary felt to succeed would have been unbearable, especially for someone so young.

Fast forward a couple millennia. Imagine how the modern American evangelical would treat someone in the same situation: a pregnant teenager, she’s got a boyfriend but the baby isn’t his. How welcoming would the church be? In my experience, Christians have not always been as loving as we should be.

I’ve seen churches turn away rape victims for their indiscretions. I’ve seen pastors blame women for the violence committed against them. Purity culture told women they deserved it because of their immodest fashion choices, and that’s if their claims are even believed. Too many Christian folk are quick to doubt women who make accusations of rape, assault, and harassment – especially if the perpetrator was a member of the church staff, a pastor, an elder, or a deacon.

In my experience, teen moms have struggled to find safe haven in churches. I’ve seen pastors call children of single moms a consequence of their sin. I’ve seen girls removed from volunteer positions in church because they got pregnant out of wedlock. I’ve sat through Sunday school lessons and youth group devotionals demanding abstinence, and watched as youth leaders ignore the needs of kids who didn’t follow their advice. Too often, pregnant teens and single moms are either an object of scorn or of pity inside American churches.

I’ve heard slanderous labels like slut and whore lobbied at girls who became pregnant at young ages while the boys involved in making those babies never endure the same level or ridicule and rarely face any consequences. While never spoken out loud, the attitude I’ve observed in most churches is “boys will be boys and girls should know better.”

This is the irony of Christmas in America: we reject those made in the image of the One we believe breathed life into our entire universe. We mock the single pregnant teenager while worshiping the offspring of another single pregnant teenager. We alienate heroes raising illegitimate kids while our savior was the step-son of a humble carpenter.

Our nation is imprisoning immigrants and refugees on the southern border at unprecedented rates, separating children from their parents, and caging them in dismal quarters. Of the people I hear applauding this inhumane immigration policy, most have claimed to be followers of Jesus. They forget how Joseph and Mary once fled to Egypt with Jesus, themselves becoming refugees in a foreign land.

Dear church, what the hell are we doing?

To affirm the beauty, strength, and resolve of the Christmas story, we must treat the young women in our community who suddenly find themselves alone on the threshold of motherhood with the same dignity and respect we bestow upon Mary, the mother of God. From the women bringing their babies across the Rio Grande to avoid the gang violence in Honduras, to the Muslim girl escaping war in Syria, to the teenager assaulted by the pastor’s son, to the college kid who wasn’t careful.

What if we loved these vulnerable young women the same way Jesus loved his mom? What if we validated their humanity and their fears with encouragement and acceptance? What if we told them “You are blessed and so is your child,” the same words Elizabeth spoke to Mary? Could we inspire an entire generation of mothers to sing like Mary?

Maybe then we could see God do what Mary promised: “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

What a wonderful world it could be.

Amen and merry Christmas.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 6, Finality

Endings aren’t always the end. Sometimes, everything fades to black at that final moment as credits begin to roll. Other times, there is a mess to clean up after things are over. Some endings become new beginnings. And some stories demand an epilogue after the final chapter. For me, the end of my marriage was all of the above.

There was finality to it. When she said she was done, it was an irrevocable point of no return. I felt enveloped in darkness as if curtains just closed after the climactic scene of our tragic play. The end of my marriage was the start of a new and better life, but that was yet to be realized. In the moments and days and weeks and months after divorce, there was a mess to clean up. We had custody schedules and division of property to figure out. While our story was over, this was my epilogue.

Sevendust: “Separate
It was a Sunday when she told me she wanted divorce. In a text message. While I was at church. I was a volunteer and had a few hours left to finish my duties before I could go home. Despite feeling devastated internally, I had to hold it together on the outside. But I fell apart as soon as I got home. I sat in darkness by the pantry door and asked God why it was happening. I prayed “help this make sense to me.” For a long time, that was the only thing I could think to pray so I repeated it over and over again until things did make sense. I find comfort hearing Lajon Witherspoon echoing my prayer in this song, “Help me, make this make sense to me.”

Papa Roach: “Leader of the Broken Hearts
My predicament found me in a situation similar to Jacoby Shaddix’s lamenting song: “Here I am with nothing left to lose,” feeling like I walked off a battlefield burdened with grief and pain. There’s a weird balance with broken hearts; there is sorrow but there’s also relief. I survived. And as I came out of this broken marriage, I’ve found an ability to lead others with the same broken heart.

Andy Mineo and Co Campbell: “Still Bleeding
As a writer, I am intimately aware of the power of words. This is the truth about language Andy raps about in this song, “so ironic how these phonics are made of frequency waves that can stir oceans of emotions and invoke them old things, I need composure just to compose them.” It often seems as if he wrote this song on my behalf, as I was still bleeding from the wounds of the words she said, that I’d never be good enough. He continued, “your words are so filthy, I don't even know the damage, God used words to create this planet so be careful with them.” But it wasn’t only Bekah’s words that were weaponized. I got text messages from her friends saying I was worthless and telling me I was a shitty dad. There were false accusations reported to the police. They mocked me online and harassed my new friends. It was relentless for a while. I get it when Andy says, “stick and stones may break some bones and some words scar forever, you’re hard forever, make it hard to get up.”

Alison Wonderland, Brave, & Lido: “Already Gone
The first time I heard this song, my emotional state was described in the opening lyrics, “I've been nursing a broken heart, it took so long for me to adjust.” Completely cutting off contact wasn’t an option because we shared children. Every time I picked up the kids, it reopened old wounds. It took me a while to figure out how to exist on my own and be OK with the way things were but she didn’t make it easy for me. “Still you manipulate things, you already broke my heart, why make it so damn hard to move on?”

Staind: “Everything Changes
Aaron Lewis opens this song with a hypothetical question: “If you just walked away, what could I really say?” This wasn’t a hypothetical for me, I had an answer: nothing. If one party wants a divorce, there is absolutely nothing the other party can do to stop it. In the eyes of the law, it takes two people to get married, but only one person to end the marriage. When Bekah walked away, there was nothing I could say. In that moment, I became what Lewis described, “I am the mess you chose, the closet you cannot close, the devil in you I suppose.” Everything changes. Marital status, living arrangements, financial stability, tax filings. Everything.


The (adjective) Elf on the (noun)

Hiding a little elf for kids to discover when they get out of bed each morning has become a favorite (and sometimes loathed) holiday tradition for many families. Santa’s mischievous spy has become an internet sensation as parents seek out increasingly creative ways to display their elves and avoid repeating the same thing over and over again. The inappropriate ideas posted in chat forums and on social media became a meme worthy of a notorious reputation for hilarious antics.

If you were to purchase the official Elf on the Shelf, you will get more than just a simple posable elfin doll, the box also includes a storybook to be read to children explaining the elf’s life and purpose. We have one of the Elf on the Shelf branded elves, Joylyn named it Elfy when she was three. Elfy has been a recurring element of our home every year from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. Elfy came packaged with a storybook. However, not all elves have a backstory.

We recently added a second elf to our holiday routines. Annie and I hide one elf every night like we always have while the older kids take turns setting up the second elf for their younger sister to find the next morning. We didn’t buy a second Elf on the Shelf though; instead we got a craft store elf - similar in appearance yet distinct enough to avoid confusing the two mythical creatures. No storybook was included with the discount elf, just a doll in a box.

With no backstory for our new elf, we had to create our own. As a writer, this is something I could easily concoct on my own but that wouldn’t be fun. Wouldn’t it be better if the kids created his story? And what if they didn’t know they were making a story about an elf? For our second elf on a different elf, we did it Mad Libs style.

Now Joylyn is aware how Elfy and *checks notes* Chad know each other. With two elves, we have twice the opportunity for hijinks and shenanigans.

Need a story for your elf? Feel free to play along. Have your kids (or significant other) fill in the blanks for your own elfish story.

Hello, my name is (goofy Name). I am a (adjecive) elf from the (direction on a compass) pole. Elfy is my (adjective) friend. We met each other while playing a game of (something you play in PE), elves versus (animal plural). We won.

Santa asked us to (verb) you every day from now until (holiday). He has a (noun) to keep track of which kids are naughty and which kids are (adjective). If you want to be on the good list, make sure you (verb) your parents, and be (adjective) to your siblings, and do all of your home(noun plural) for school. Don't forget to clean up the (noun) you make after dinner and brush your (body part plural) every morning.

Look for me every (general time of day) to see what kind of (noun plural) we have while you sleep on your (piece of furniture). I might be (adjective) or I might be (adjective), but my goal is to make you (verb).

I will (verb) my final report to Santa on Christmas Eve. Only (adjective) kids will get the best presents under their Christmas (type of plant), bad kids will get a lump of (mineral). After Christmas, I must say (a different way of saying goodbye) and (verb) back home to Santa's (type of building). We are going to have the best Christmas ever!

Love, (same goofy name as before) the Elf

Enjoy. I would love to hear what epic stories you and your loved ones devise. Feel free to share. Or, like the elves do with Santa, report back on Christmas Eve.


The Covid Effect

It’s been a year (give or take a couple weeks) since the initial cases of Covid-19 were reported in the city of Wuhan. A little more than a month later, the first documented cases would appear in the US and we were given warnings this would turn into a global pandemic. In the following months, the Coronavirus overwhelmed our culture impacting every American – some through getting sick but most through changes in lifestyle. 

When states begin implementing various orders to wear masks or close non-essential businesses, we thought it would only be a few weeks and life would get back to normal. Spring and summer passed with the pandemic dominating headlines, controlling American life, and a menagerie of state or municipality protections remaining in place. Now in autumn with winter upon us, we’re seeing new government measures issued to try and contain this virus and it seems things will never be the same. 

It’s obvious the shelter in place directives interrupted the way Americans live, work, and play. The three Es of education, employment, and entertainment all drastically altered how they exist and operate. When this pandemic is over (and it will be over eventually) it’s likely some of the changes in our lifestyle will never return to the way it was before. 

But is that a bad thing? 

There is cause for concern, elements of American culture in need of repair. We’re facing an enormous mental health crisis as isolation is not good for the human psyche. There is a generation of school kids falling behind as they’re missing essential learning while schools are scrambling to prevent making the pandemic worse. The masses of newly unemployed workers will need to find new jobs. Many who contracted Covid-19 and recovered have been and will be suffering long term effects of the virus. 

There is also reason for hope. Fewer pollutants have been released into our atmosphere and waterways because less people are travelling. Reduced exhaust and fossil fuel usage means we’re breathing cleaner air; rivers and lakes are clearer. People are paying better attention to basic hygiene – doing the things they should have always been doing like washing their hands frequently, sanitizing high use surfaces, exercising, spending time in the wilderness, and eating at home instead of getting fast food. There’s a greater attention on science and increased appreciation for nurses and doctors. Individuals are investing in acts of kindness and generosity in ways to inspire and renew faith in humanity. 

In this pandemic, as with most things, both the good and the bad inhabit the same space. 

But what about the post Corona life? What lasting affect will Covid have on our culture? With a few different possible vaccines on the horizon, I think it might be beneficial to speculate on what our world will be like after life returns to normal. Or if it ever will be normal again. 

Since business as usual went on lockdown last spring, corporate America adjusted. In the process, we learned to use technology to our advantage, canceling non-essential meetings and moving important group conversations into virtual spaces like Zoom or Google Meet. Employers got creative giving more employees the option to work from home. New remote jobs became available. Those still working on site have been encouraged to stay home when they’re sick. These are changes to American life I hope never return to the way things were before. 

I am optimistic supervisors, managers, directors, and CEOs everywhere have learned some things are better for an email and not every idea is worth a half hour meeting in a conference room. I wish for telecommuting becomes more prevalent as it will make our workforce larger and more diverse. More people working is good for the economy and more people working from home is good for the environment. Side note: I don’t miss my 25 minute commute to the office. I hope more people consider the health of their neighbors, friends, and colleagues before leaving the home with flulike symptoms. As much as we all hate wearing masks, people should keep them – not to wear indefinitely, but for times of illness. Maybe if people wore masks any time they were sick, we would live in a healthier society by limiting the spread of the flu, common cold, and other contagious diseases.
(psst, wear a mask) 

Still, there are things I miss in this Covid world. When this is all over, I hope some elements from our former lives resume as soon as possible. I miss concerts and movie theaters. I miss hanging out in coffee shops. I miss seeing smiles on strangers’ faces. I miss parades and festivals and farmers markets. Of everything we’ve lost, there is experience I miss more than anything else and I hope it isn’t gone forever: the samples at Costco. 

Please bring back the samples as soon as it is safe to do so.


The First Thanksgiving

American history is filled with epic stories, memorable tales to promote the American spirit and teach the shared values of our nation. Some of these stories are true, others a complete fabrication. Most are based on actual events yet omit a few key details. The first Thanksgiving is one of those famous accounts, historically accurate to a point, yet incomplete. 

The main beats of the story are known to anyone who grew up in the USA. Settlers of the Plymouth Colony, the Pilgrims, had a rough start in the New World. Of the 100 passengers from the Mayflower who founded the village, only half lived a year in America. Their first winter was bitter, cold, and cruel. 50 of them died before spring. They feared they might not survive another winter until they met Squanto. Squanto was a Native of one local tribe. He taught the white folks to grow corn and catch fish. With his help, they learned to store their goods to endure the colder seasons of the region. The chief from another local tribe brought supplies to the new villagers to help them build their town and extra food when provisions sent from England were insufficient. After the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest, four women prepared a feast so the town could rejoice and be thankful for their bounty. They returned the generosity of the neighboring tribe by inviting them to dine with the townsfolk.
image courtesy of History Channel 

All of which is true. Except there are some key details missing, starting with Squanto whose real name was Tisquantum. They shortened his name as a way to mock him. Tisquantum was the lone survivor of his tribe – the rest had died from an epidemic disease. The land chosen by the Pilgrims to build their village was home to Tisquantum’s tribe, abandoned when they perished. While Tisquantum helped the Pilgrims learn to survive, he fell ill a year later and passed away. Despite receiving help from Tisquantum and the tribal leader Massasoit, the friendly relationship between the Wampanoags soured over time. Indigenous culture was incompatible with the strict puritan religious values professed by the Pilgrims. The European immigrants saw the local tribes as savage people who should assimilate and convert religions, or be banished. Soon the there would be a war between the colonists and the Natives. Finally, the Plymouth Plantation continued to struggle economically after their first feast. Many of the founders left to start their own settlements elsewhere in the colony. Eventually, the smaller Plymouth Colony was absorbed by the larger Massachusetts Colony. 

The tragic bits from the legend of the first Thanksgiving have become footnotes to the historical record. We remember the highlights and retell the sanitized version. Yet the parts we edit out of the story are still important. The fragile truce between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags provides context to King Phillip’s War 50 years after the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. The way the settlers treated Tisquantum reflects the way white people exploited Native Americans like Pocahontas and Sacagawea to further their own interests. Their tension was a precursor to the India Wars against Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse or the Apache US conflict against Geronimo. 

The whole story might not be a happy story, yet to fully understand history we need to know the sections left out by elementary historians. We need to see the ugly alongside the beautiful. Hopefully we learn from the worst of our stories so we are not doomed to repeat our mistakes. 

When we talk about our firsts, there will be a lot of bumbling errors. Often our folly makes those events memorable. Like my first Thanksgiving outside of my parent’s place. 

At the end of the summer of ’99, Travis, Shane, and I moved to Nampa and rented an off campus apartment so Travis didn’t have to spend his senior year living in a dorm room. Autumn came. None of us had the time or finances to travel back to Seattle for Thanksgiving; it was the first we would experience the holiday without our families. Along with our mutual friend Nick, we devised a plan to celebrate on our own. We brainstormed the menu, listing off the traditional foods our families served every year and created a shopping list. We went to the grocery store as a team and filled a cart with festive ingredients and split the bill four ways. We divided the cooking duties and prepared the meal as close to what our families served as we were able. We invited Travis and Nick’s girlfriends to join us and set our table for six. 

The happy version of this experience is a success story. We came, we saw, we conquered. It’s a tale of friends coming together to replicate a family event in the dearth of actual family. If I ended the story there, all of it would be true, but it wouldn’t be complete. Our dinner wasn’t super smooth. Shane used a full ten pound bag of spuds for his mashed potatoes, the finished product didn’t even fit in the biggest bowl we had. The turkey was a little dry and overcooked. I burnt the rolls. Still, we dined as if it as the finest meal ever prepared. Most of the dishes we cooked were completely consumed, with one exception: the cranberry sauce.
image courtesy of 12 Tomatoes 

 As we cleared the table of dirty dishes and empty platters, we discovered the cranberries still standing in the shape of the can it came in, untouched with a clean spoon sitting next to it. The four of us questioned each other – why didn’t anyone eat the cranberry sauce? Turns out, none of us liked cranberry sauce, neither did our two guests. Why did we buy it and serve it? Turns out it was something each of our families served every year so we included it because we thought it’s something needed. However, we never took the time to ask if any of us would eat it. We just assumed everyone else liked it. 

When I tell people the story of my first Thanksgiving on my own, I always talk about the cranberry sauce. Our mistake is an object lesson of the dangers of making assumptions. It’s a reminder of the value of getting complete input from invested parties before taking action. It’s an example of how the way things have always been done isn’t the way it must be done. And it makes me laugh every time I recall the dumbfounded looks on our faces as we realized the error of our ways. 

America looks to the Pilgrims as their epic first Thanksgiving. I recall the cranberry sauce for my own epic first Thanksgiving. 

I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of first Thanksgivings this year. More people will be staying home, less travelling to visit extended families. Dining room tables will be missing settings for cousins, aunts, and uncles. Meals will feed five instead of twenty-five. Several brave chefs will be baking a turkey for the first time on their own. Many Americans will be eating their first Thanksgiving meal not prepared by their parents or not hosted at their grandparents. 2020 is there year several of us will just hibernate. 

We know because we’re one of those families. Annie has always celebrated Thanksgiving at her grandma’s house with her siblings, large extended family, plus everyone’s spouses and kids. I’ve joined her the last couple years as a buffet of food is spread out in the kitchen, soda is stocked in the cooler on the side porch, football plays on the TV in the living room, and kids run wild and free through the woods behind their house. Grandma canceled Thanksgiving this year because of the pandemic and Annie’s numerous relatives are adopting alternate plans. We are staying at our farm and cooking our own holiday meal for the first time ever. 

Look, I know 2020 has sucked. It’s been a rough time for a lot of people. Lonely holidays absent the family who typically populate our memories are not the ideal end caps to a rotten year. However, your revised holiday doesn’t have to match the dismal spirit of the year though. Sure, it won’t be perfect, but it shouldn’t be terrible either. 

Embrace the mistakes because there will be mistakes. Hopefully, you learn from your errors. The Pilgrim’s mistreatment of Tisquantum should teach us that generosity often comes from places we don’t deserve. Their crumbling relationship with the Wampanoags is a warning against burning bridges. On a less destructive scale, my untouched cranberry sauce is a lesson to do better research before taking action. Sometimes, the bad parts of our stories make us cringe, other times they make us laugh. Either way, they should remain a part of our stories. 

Firsts are memorable for a reason. Make yours epic. America’s first Thanksgiving is the stuff of legends because of the lessons it teaches about survival, charity, and gratitude. My first Thanksgiving in Nampa is a personal legend because we were young, dumb, and trying to figure out how to survive on our own. If this is your first Thanksgiving removed from your usual traditional family gatherings, you have the opportunity to make it legendary too. Perhaps you might begin a new tradition to follow for years to come.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 5, The End

As a matter of habit, I check my Facebook memories every morning. It’s usually a happy stroll through the history of everything I have posted to social media or been tagged in over the years. Holidays and celebrations, kids’ milestones, various mementos, and random musings of forgotten reasoning. Then this popped up and I couldn’t help but chuckle over the irony.
Less than a year later, she asked for a legal separation and two years later we were in court ordered mediation to finalize the divorce. I should have seen the end coming, but instead it felt sudden. While I can laugh about it now, the first couple times this showed up in my memories, it wasn’t as funny. Rather I was heartbroken, confused, and angry. 

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus: “Grimm 2.0” 
We read the book “The Love Dare” and watched “Fireproof,” the movie based on the book. Supposedly, we had fireproofed our marriage. I thought we were safe from divorce. A few months before asking for separation, she had told me she’d never leave me. Then it happened and I was stunned. The lyric “Throw me away at your leisure” encapsulated how I felt about the situation. Wasn’t I supposed to have a say in the matter? Well, no, I didn’t. My only option was what this song suggested, “I will do my best to try and sort this out, It can't get any worse, than what I've felt.”
Tyler Carter: “Leave Your Love” 
I’m unsure if Carter wrote this chorus as an indictment to his ex or advice to himself, however I interpreted it as the latter. Or at least, I took it as personal instruction. She wanted out, what else was I to do? This was the only thing that made sense. “Leave your love at the door, Leave your heart on the floor, And if you leave your heart on the floor, Leave your tears let em' pour.”
Mutemath: “Used To” 
At the end of a failing marriage, there is an ample collection of bad memories. It’s easy to dwell on the arguments and painful conversations, missed opportunities and unmet expectations, and of the garbage piled up leading to the moment of divorce. Yet somehow, you must reconcile those tragic images in your mind with the more pleasant memories. “I still recall a time you were on my mind, monopolizing each and every second.” There was a reason Bekah and I got married as much as there was a reason we got divorced. After the end, there are both good memories along with and sometimes tangled into the bad.
Cold War Kids: “Bitter Poem” 
In a down-tempo tune, Cold War Kids speak of a lesson we all need to learn, “you often find the best laid plans will fall down broken all around you.” As divorced loomed around me, my best laid plan of ‘til death do we part was falling down and broken. I struggled to understand how and why we ended and found myself asking the same questions as the Cold War Kids, “Is it chemical imbalance or some other struggle? Nobody's to blame, can't use force. Take me to court, ‘cause I couldn't love you? Nobody could use you if you want. Ain't it fun?”
Eels: “That Look You Give That Guy” 
Between my melancholic disposition and self deprecating sense of humor, it’s always been easy to relate to music from Eels. Words like “I'm nothing like what I'd like to be, I'm nothing much, I know it's true, I lack the style and the pedigree and my chances are so few” speak the core of how I often see myself. Then, on the eve of separation, Bekah told me there was a boy in one of her classes at LCSC, some 18 year old fresh out of high school, who frequently complimented her. She added a zinger – that his compliments made her feel better about herself than anything I had ever told her. Suddenly this song about other people’s someone else took on another meaning for me. “I see you with your man, your eyes just shine while he stands tall and walkin’ proud.”
Splender: “Yeah, Whatever” 
Navigating former relationships is complicated. Just ask Waymon Boone of Splender. In song, he told his ex “you’re primitive,” and “you’re cynical to me.” In case his feelings were unclear, he added a bit more, “you’re paranoid as you look me up and down.” I have worked hard to avoid feelings of animosity toward Bekah. It hasn’t been easy and I have not always been successful. Yet I try. Still, I get where Boone is coming from because primitive, cynical, and paranoid could have been adjectives I used to describe the way she treated me. When she told me she was moving forward with divorce, she told me that this was the only way and perhaps someday, we could be friends. Seven years later, it seems like we’ve figured out how to be friends. But back then I believed our fate would be more like this song. “We don't have to stay friends, let's pretend to be enemies.”


Election Math (Minorities and Majorities)

It’s almost Election Day and it’s not going to be pretty. If Biden wins, Trump will make accusations of fraud and cheating. If Trump wins, it will be the same way he won four years ago: by losing the popular vote and winning the Electoral College. 

Discussions of eliminating the Electoral College are pointless. Such changes would require a constitutional amendment and is unlikely (if not impossible) in today’s political climate. Instead, let’s examine the validity of the greatest argument in favor of keeping the Electoral College: it protects the minority from the majority. 

Sure, this was the original intention: it gave southern (less populated) states more of a say in federal matters. Without it, northern states would dominate elections and control southern affairs without any vested interest. As a nation we’ve grown since then. Literally speaking, there are 130 times more people living in America than when the Constitution was ratified. Figuratively, we’ve extended voting rights to women, racial minorities, and people who don’t own homes. We have grown less segregated and more diverse. 

The sociopolitical leanings of our citizenry have also become more integrated. Poverty and absurd wealth infect all fifty states. There are liberal towns and cities in conservative states. There are conservative communities and regions in liberal states. We are a blended nation from the Key West to Point Hope. Battle lines were easily drawn during the Civil War; factions divided along state lines and popular ideologies adhered to geography. If the Civil War began today, battle lines would not be as clear as they were 160 years ago. Neighbors would find themselves on opposing sides of battle. 

Yet we still believe the Electoral College protects the minority from the majority. But does it? 

How well does the Electoral College protect the conservative minorities of California and New York from their liberal majorities? How well does the Electoral College protect the liberal minorities of Kentucky and Wyoming from their conservative majorities? Did the 943 thousand Trump voters in Maryland have any influence on the ten electorates who pledged their votes to Clinton? Did the 420 thousand Clinton voters in Oklahoma have any influence on the three electorates who pledged their votes to Trump? The answer to my first two questions are not at all, and the answer to the other two are no.
Image courtesy of Tree Hugger

Four years ago, I was living in Idaho. A vote for Clinton wouldn’t have mattered because the state is solidly red. All four or their Electoral College votes were going to go to Trump regardless of who I voted for. This year, I live in Washington. If I wanted to vote for Trump, it won’t matter because all twelve of this state’s Electoral College votes will go to Biden. 

People keep saying the Electoral College votes protect the smaller population of states like Idaho from larger populaces in states like Washington. In the end though, states like these don’t matter in this system. Before the polls close, we know states like Alabama and North Dakota will be wins for the Republican candidate while states like Oregon and Massachusetts will vote for the Democratic candidate. Presidential candidates could ignore most states and still win because voting patterns are predictable. The Electoral College has solidified votes in those states to the point the end result is an inevitable conclusion. This is true everywhere except the swing states. Under the Electoral College, the only states where your vote matters are swing states like Nevada, Florida, and Ohio. 

Since eliminating the Electoral College is practically impossible, maybe it’s time to revise how it works. What if we tweaked it in a way we could still use the constitutionally mandated system while ensuring it better represents its constituency? What if there was a way for the Electoral College to better protect minorities and actually reflect the will of the people? Two states already do: Nebraska and Maine. These states use a district method which allows them to split their electoral votes between two candidates so their Electoral College more accurately resembles choices made inside their voting booths. What if all states adopted similar methods? 

Let’s go back to Idaho. Trump earned 409 thousand votes over Clinton’s 189 thousand votes. The end percentages left Trump with nearly 60% of Idaho’s popular vote, but Clinton got 28%. If one in four Idaho voters voted Clinton, giving all four Electoral College votes to the candidate who only won 59.2% does not match how the state voted. Clinton got 25% of the total votes; she should have also received 25% of the Electoral College. Other candidates like Evan McMullin and Gary Johnson didn’t garner enough votes to earn a whole Electoral College vote, so the remaining three should have gone to Trump. Idaho’s Electoral College awarding one vote to Clinton and three to Trump is a better representation of the Gem State than what actually happened in 2016. 

What about a more liberal state? In Vermont, Trump won 30% of the vote to Clinton’s 57% and all three Electoral College votes went to Clinton. If the state divided their electoral votes with a district method, Clinton would have got two votes and Trump would have received one. 

What about swing states? Nearly three million people voted in Wisconsin and the difference between the winner and loser was 22 thousand votes. If only 0.76% of Trump voters had selected Clinton instead, the state would have had a different winner. The same is true in Michigan where the difference between the top two candidates was only ten thousand out of 4.8 million voters; 0.22% of the vote sealed their fate. They were statistical ties with Clinton and Trump getting 47% of the popular vote in both states. With the district method, this even match could have been demonstrated in the Electoral College with a tie vote there. Wisconsin’s 10 votes could have been split 50/50 and the same could happen with Michigan’s 16 votes. 

Finally, what about close votes in states with an odd number in the Electoral College like Colorado? There, Clinton’s 48% beat Trump’s 43%. It’s close to a tie but Clinton clearly won. You can’t split Colorado’s nine votes evenly so the advantage should go to the state’s winner. If Clinton took five Electoral College votes and Trump got four, this result would provide a truer representation of Coloradans. 

Because I’m a nerd with an analytical disposition who likes numbers and statistics, I have crunched the data and retabulated the 2016 results. In my revisionist history, Clinton receives 275 Electoral College votes and Trump loses with 263. In the end, this maintains the uses of the Electoral College system and matches the popular vote. Votes would matter everywhere, not just swing states. It’s a win win for democracy. 

We all know reality took a different turn. My proposal isn’t going to change any results this coming Tuesday. However, if you try to defend our current system by claiming it protects the minority from the majority, I will tell you you’re wrong. The Electoral College alienates the minority from the majority. Don’t believe me? Just as a Trump supporter in Hawaii if their vote is represented in the Electoral College.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 4, Fading Hope

For a few agonizing months, I was torn between the hope of reconciliation and the awareness such hopes would never be realized. There were signs along the way. I ignored them all. Yet the closer we came to the day she said things were over, the more obvious and unavoidable those signs became. 

My mental state also complicated things. After a decade of emotional abuse, my eyes were slowly opening to the manipulations and maltreatment I had experienced. However, I didn’t really feel free yet. I was committed to being married because I felt compelled to honor my wedding vows, despite all of the hell I endured. Growing up, I was taught that divorce was giving up, and you should never give up. Instead, at the expense of my mental health, I dug in and hoped for the best even while hope was fading.

This is a short song, lyrically speaking. Yet it captures my uneasy feeling, that self doubt common among victims of narcissistic abuse. “I feel like I'm just too dumb to get away from myself. I feel like I'm losing touch with everyone else.” No, I wasn’t dumb, just conditioned to think I was.
Staind: “Outside” 
Aaron Lewis sings with such conviction, you can feel the pain in his voice. The agony in this song stands as an avatar of how I felt for so long, knowing all my efforts were squandered. “All the times that I've cried, all that's wasted, it's all inside.” There was also an overwhelming loneliness. When Bekah left, I lost more than my wife. I also lost my support network. All of my friends were her friends. So I lived with the lyrics “All alone I can’t mend” more than I ever want to revive.
Family of the Year: “No Good At Nothing”  
I’ve been a wallflower most of my life. Seems I’m good at it. When this song opens with the line “I feel at home on the sidelines,” I know exactly what the songwriter means. There’s some resignation here, the sort only available through an honest assessment of failures. First admitting “my magic markers just weren't magic enough,” then “Can't do nothing for a lemon who's begged for a squeeze.” These metaphors spoke to my soul better than any pastor or therapist ever could.
Tedashii and Natalie Lauren: “Love Never Leaves”  
No matter how bad the situation, no matter how difficult the relationship became, I refused to quit. I couldn’t leave because I believed love would stay. Always. There was no drug abuse in our home. No domestic violence. And (as far as I know) no infidelity. Just conflict. I didn’t believe there was a good reason for divorce. The chorus of this song explained my perspective. “I know love don’t do the same way it used to, Strangers in the same bed, I know you’re questioning about life I know this, It’s all on your face. And lately, lately, we’ve been so distant, Baby I wish things could be different, Don’t stop searching for what were missing, So don’t walk away. ‘Cause love never leaves.” Ultimately, my conviction wasn’t enough. Two people must believe this to keep a marriage together.
Mr. J. Medeiros and Tara Ellis: “Holding On”  
“Dark days cold nights, This is what we’re going through.” These words have haunted me ever since I first heard this song. I have shared it in social media a few times since its release in 2009, and I leaned hard into this song about relational perseverance after Bekah and I separated. It begs a partner to hold on and promises it will be all right. Yet it fully embraces the frailty of human emotion. “From your brow to your chin your confession is that we are lonely, If we could only escape through the memories that take precious moments like these from a youthful heart.” If I needed any last shred of hope, I found it in this song.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 3, Still Trying

In the months between finalizing the legal separation and the inevitable request for divorce, I tried to fix whatever it was in me that was broken. The way I saw it, if we were to save our marriage, I’d return as a better man, husband, and father. I jumped through every hoop I was told I needed to clear. I bent over backwards to be accommodating. I lost some weight. I learned to grieve. And I tried everything I could to hold together what was falling apart. 

Ultimately, my efforts failed. However, I hope the work I did was not wasted. Bekah might not have been able to see the better version of me but the better me was saved for someone else. Bekah might not have cared about the changes in my life, but my kids benefited from those changes. All things work together for the good. 

Simple Plan: “Try”  
My road to repair began with the torturous process of self examination. It isn’t a pleasant experience in any way, shape, or form. When I heard lines like “I've made more mistakes than I can even count” or “I've been the best at letting people down” I knew where the songwriters of Simple Plan were coming from, that deep well of admitting all those things you don’t like about yourself. 

NF: “Wish You Wouldn’t”  
Maintaining a relationship isn’t easy for lot of artists. Well, a lot of things are difficult for artist. One of my biggest hurts was knowing I never had a spouse who supported my craft. And for her? I’m sure she felt like I was chasing a dead dream, wasting my efforts and misplacing my priorities. For NF, it’s rapping. For me it’s writing. Those things we can’t not do. Our artistic pursuits are different but I empathize with his struggles. She doesn’t like the long hours that don’t fit inside the normal 9-5 schedule, he says “I wouldn't be with me either.” She’s mad he took on new projects without consulting her, he says “I guess I was scared to see how you reacted.” He realized what took me far too long to figure out: “it's obvious that ain’t working” 

Fitz & The Tantrums: “Fools Gold”  
“Oh maybe I just wasn’t good enough to blow your mind, you know I’ve tried.” Fitz and the Tantrums open the song with these lyrics. Most people could probably relate to the unfortunate possibility of culpability at some point in their lives. In my failing marriage, it wasn’t a question of maybe. I knew I wasn’t good enough because Bekah told me. On the day she asked for a legal separation, she spoke words I’ve never forgotten, “Your best will never be good enough for me.” To heal the emotional wounds, it might feel good to sing along, “Maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to toe the line, make true the lie.” I’m only fooling myself though. There is no maybe, I wasn’t strong enough. 

Linkin Park: “Final Masquerade”  
When a relationship is ending, you can sense it. As hard as we may try to stave off the feeling of inevitable dread, we know it’s there lurking in the shadows. This is the emotional state evoked in me when I listen to this Linkin Park song. It’s easy to hear the pangs of an approaching ending when they sing “I don't have a reason and you don't have the time.” I saw my own predicament of unfulfilled expectations in lyrics like “All I ever wanted, Secrets that you keep, All you ever wanted, The truth I couldn't speak.” We all want something, and when things fall apart we end up with disappointment instead. 

Staind: “Right Here”  No other song adequately describes the pointless endeavor or my attempts to save my marriage as this song from Staind. “I hope you're not intending to be so condescending, it's as much as I can take. And you're so independent, you just refuse to bend so I keep bending till I break.” I bent a lot – often when I probably shouldn’t have. All of it was done under the belief my failure to bend would give Bekah reason to divorce me. By the time it was over, I had bent so much I was broken.


All Other Ground

To the church in America: 

Where do you stand? What is your faith built upon? I’m asking about your foundation like the biblical parable of the wise and foolish builders. I’m talking about the old Sunday school choruses you taught me when I was little: “the rains came dawn and the floods came up.” Will the house of your faith stand firm or go smash? 

Because I wonder sometimes. When you call yourself an American Christian instead of a Christian American, it seems like your foundation is in your nationality and not your savior. It seems your flag is bigger than your cross. It seems like your patriotism is louder than your evangelism. It seems you’re more concerned with being a US citizen than a heavenly citizen. When you claim that any political candidate is going to save your religion while the other candidate will destroy your religion, you’re placing your hope in someone other than Jesus. You’re worshiping an idol in a fancy suit reading platitudes from a teleprompter over the Son of God who delivered the beatitudes in a garden. Your trust is in a fragile foundation. When I hear you talk about Antifa, the Black Live Matter movement, immigrant caravans, vaccinations, mask mandates, or the Hollywood elite, you sound scared. You sound like you don’t know God. You sound like you don’t understand how perfect love casts out fear. You sound like you forgot where your foundations should be built. 

Earlier today, I was reminded of another old song we used to sing in church. This was a hymn the whole congregation sang, not the simple melodies reserved for children. Perhaps, if the church meditated on these lyrics a little more, we could restore some sanity and civility to public discourse. Perhaps then we could present ourselves as a people of God and not a people of Trump. 

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” Nothing less than Jesus. My hope is not in Joe Biden. It is not in Donald Trump. My hope is in the Messiah, in Christ alone and nothing less. 
“I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name” we cannot trust the sweetest frame, the sweetest campaign promise, or the slickest lies. Politics is the art of deceit and we would be fools to trust anyone with their name on a ballot. 
“When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.” Administrations change, laws and policies change, people change their minds, people fail, and people are filled with selfish ambition. But grace never changes. 
“In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.” Or, as one poet put it, “While my warship is sinking I still believe in anchors, pulling fistfuls of rotten wood from my heart and I still believe in saviors.” In the chaos of America, I remain anchored to God. 
“When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.” I’m weary y’all. These times are hard. I’m so tired I feel it in my soul. The current state of Christianity saddens me. If I don’t have the church to encourage me, if I don’t have a government to motivate me, if I don’t have a community to heal me, then all I have is my God to guide me. 

So if I answer my own questions about the foundations of my faith, I can answer with the words from the hymnals of my childhood church, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” American ground is sinking sand. Pacific Northwestern ground is sinking sand. Republican ground is sinking sand. Democratic ground is sinking sand. Legalistic ground is sinking sand. Prosperous ground is sinking sand. I stand on holy ground. I stand on ground which does not oppress the orphan, the poor, and the immigrant. I stand on the ground of justice, mercy, and humility. 

Jesus told this parable to his followers. If you hear the word of God and apply it to your life, you’re like a wise contractor who anchored a foundation in stone. Through storms and disaster, the house on a rock remained strong. If you hear the word of God and chose to ignore it, you’re like the foolish contractor who built a house on stilts along the beach. During hurricane season, a tidal surge swept away the foundations built on sand and the house collapsed. 

Dear church, I see you going all in pursuing American idols. I see you lust after wealth and power. I see your closeted racism, your anger, and your fear. And I wonder. How shaky are your foundations? Have you built your house on presidential promises of conservative judges, civic pride, and xenophobia? I urge you, no … I beg you to rebuild your faith and return to surer footing. Stand again on Christ the solid rock.


Like a Plane in the sunset

Waiting on you has been like a pilot flying a plane into the sunset being the last human to see the beautiful sight before the world is cast into darkness. 

Waiting on you has been like a little kid at bedtime hoping to stay awake a little longer - just five more minutes daddy please. 

Waiting on you has been like ordering a meal at a popular restaurant, anticipation filled with aromas from the kitchen so strong you can taste the food before it even arrives. 

Waiting on you is like a baseball game and the home team has the bases loaded when the star player steps up to bat, as the first pitch is thrown you know it’s going to be a grand slam. 

Waiting on you has been like a comedian telling a a funny story and she takes a deep breath after delivering the punchline before the crowd erupts with laughter. 

Waiting on you has been like a hike in the woods on a spring day while the roar of a waterfall grows increasingly louder long before it’s visible through the trees. 

Waiting on you has been like a radio station playing your favorite song as you reach your destination so you let the engine idle until the song is over because you need to sing along with every note. 

Waiting on you has been like savoring every moment every rainy day, of every mile driven on a road trip, of every sloppy wet kiss given by a dog, of barbecue smoke, family movie nights, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, foggy mornings, and a comfortable bed at the end of a long day. 

No longer waiting on you has been a fulfillment of joy, anticipation and preparation subsided, to have you here and hold you in our arms knowing some day you will protest bedtime, tell jokes, climb mountains, and giggle after puppy kisses. 

 Until then, I’ll forever be a pilot flying my plane into your sunset.


The Theory of American Everything Part 4: A Personal Lesson

Here is my theory of American everything: we are a nation birthed in rebellion and given the freedom to do, say, and believe anything we want. It’s what makes us the best country in the world, and it makes us the worst ever. 

Why does this matter? Because I share a trait with the common conspiracy theorist: I want my world to make sense. 

In times of unsettling changes, through momentous events or devastating tragedies, in the wake of upheaval, some individuals experience feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. The bigger world seems senseless leading people to feel disconnected and powerless. Then they hear about a grand conspiracy. For reasonable people, the tale is nothing more than a ridiculous or outlandish fantasy with no plausible basis in reality. Yet it is different for the theorist; they cling to it as it makes them feel special. They’re armed with the satisfaction of being one of the select few who have access to a secret truth. Any evidence to disprove their theory is interpreted as proof of the conspiracy. Anyone who doesn’t believe is either a part of the conspiracy or just needs to do their own research. They feel superior because they know something you don't know. The sensation is intoxicating.  

A never before felt sense of belonging leads some people believe the Freemasons are secretly controlling the course of historical events, or think celebrities are members of the Illuminati after rapidly rising from obscurity to superstar popularity. People feel powerful for the first time in their lives believing the moon landing was a hoax or alien aircraft has been hidden in a hangar inside Area 51. 

When events happens with an intensity, magnitude, or suddenness to alter the course of a culture, people look for answers. When a popular president was assassinated during a public parade, theorists rejected the official conclusion of a lone gunman and concocted complex conspiracies of a second or third shooter. When terrorists flew planes into buildings, theorists couldn’t believe a fire was hot enough to weaken the World Trade Center into catastrophic structural failure, so they invented ideas of planted explosive charges and called it an inside job. After every school shooting, theorists ignore the eye witness accounts and live video, declare it a false flag operation, and believe the victims were paid crisis actors. Their theories are absurd and easily debunked, yet it gives them what they want - to make sense of senseless tragedy. They want an explanation for the unexplainable. They want order for the disordered. 

I want the same thing. I want my world to make sense. However, this current era of history is completely illogical. I don’t understand how the nation who collaborated to build the first transcontinental railroad is the same nation who dreamed up pizzagate. I don’t understand how the American mindset which inspired great speeches like the Gettysburg Address also motivated tweets like covfefe. I don’t understand how the voters who claim celebrities shouldn’t share their political opinions elected a celebrity to be president. I don’t understand anyone who can’t see the racism behind statements like “I hit them with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there. Let's see. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all." I don’t understand why police officers continue to act like executioners with impunity over and over again. I don’t understand why people are so offended by the phrase “black lives matter.” And I refuse to accept any of this as normal. 

I need clarity because I’m a moderate voter living in the middle of Trump country and need to learn how to show my neighbors grace when they view people like me with disdain. Because I have four inquisitive kids who ask a lot of questions and I need to answer them when they want to know why people act with so much greed and hatred. Because I have a two day old baby and I am filled with grief over the America she has been born into. Because the violence and division in this country is antithetical to the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness our founders conceived. Because I want to answer those questions which have no easy answers. 

Someday, history books will have to explain the Trump era. 2020 will be discussed in classrooms across America and students of the future will debate the effectiveness of our actions. When they ask why we did what we did, I hope their teachers explain it was because we were birthed in rebellion and given the freedom to believe the most ridiculous ideas imaginable. We were, as Lady Gaga would say, born this way.