Category Archives: Life

Fear is a robber and a killer

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

I came across this quote while I was trolling the web this evening, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Pain seems to stick harder than sweetness in life, and try as I might, the fear associated with pain often trumps the joy associated with sweetness.

There’s a saying in sales that pain is the greatest motivator. That is, a potential client will respond most quickly to pain avoidance than an investment in pleasure. Present pain is more tangible and real than some theoretical future pleasure.

That’s why it costs so much more to get a busted pipe fixed in the middle of the night than it does in the middle of the day. They sell you on the idea that you’re paying more for inconveniencing some poor plumber, but the reality is that you’ll pay just about anything to get your busted pipe fixed during off-hours because your house is being ruined by the minute.

On the other hand, spending some time and money every few months on preventive maintenance is something only a minority of folks bother with because of the power of denial. My father-in-law was warned to watch his diet after a heart attack, but he never really adjusted his diet…and ended up dying of a heart attack.

Fear does more damage in this world that just about anything. Why is this? I can’t believe that God designed us this way. Is this part of our fallen nature?

The most uttered phrase by Jesus, according to the New Testament, was “fear not,” and that should give us some clue as to the power of fear, along with God’s view of it. We are so prone to forget God’s track record in our lives and rely upon our own power and understanding of the world to work out our hopes and dreams and disappointments and failures.

Because we are frail and forgetful, we are overwhelmed by our troubles and the pain associated with them. Though some may have higher thresholds, none are immune to the crippling power of fear.

So, what are we to do? How do we live in the sweetness?

I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions, else everyone would be happy and well-adjusted, but I’ve found that one thing helps to keep me focused on the positives – counting my blessings.

I’ve written about here before, and as simplistic as it seems, for me, this practice helps me – especially when fears snare me.

I’ve come to think of fear as a cancer or a lie, and treat it as such. To indulge in fear is to go from a two-pack-a-day smoking habit to four, or to live with liars.

Fear is a robber and a killer.

Daffodils

Today, for the first time this Spring, I saw clumps of daffodils as I drove home through Anchorage. With a week left in February, they’re a bit early, but who cares? The sight of these harbingers of warmer weather to come make me very happy.

Years ago, as part of Mayor Jerry Abramson’s Operation Brightside, thousands of daffodils were planted along the grassy easements of the interstates leading into downtown, and in the next few weeks, I’ll be reminded of this when I’m on my way to work and see blankets of yellow that will bud, bloom and expire just before Easter.

The older I get, the more I understand why old people go to godawfully hot places like Florida and Arizona, and while I’m not yet ready to totally abandon Louisville in the winter, the idea is germinating in my mind, like one of those daffodil bulbs, waiting for the right conditions to send it popping out of the cold soil, looking for warmth and light.

Until then, I’ll content myself with discovering more clues, scattered along the roads and trails, foretelling of warmer days to come.

Hadley, at work and play

Yesterday, we were able to make it down to Asbury to see the Eagles play their first home game. Unfortunately, Asbury didn’t get the win, but Hadley played all but a couple of minutes of the game.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and Mom and Dad made it down. It was great sitting out in the sun, watching Hads and her friends play and talking to Mom and Dad and Angell. Here’s some photos from the game:



After the game, we hustled back home because Hadley is working on a film project for her multi-cam class. Hadley directed, and her friends/teammates Jenny and Kat shot, lit and did sound.  The project involved interviewing Angell, her mom and sisters about Angell’s dad (there’s a good/weird story in there for another time).

It was fun to watch Hads and her friends set up their gear and talk and kvetch about school, class and Angell’s family. I’m more than a little proud of this kid, and I can’t wait to see what this documentary short ends up looking like. Here are some pics from the shoot:


Count your blessings

A couple of years ago, I went through some deep shit of my own making, and having come out the other side of it all in one piece, I’ve learned a few things.

For starters, I’ve learned that most, if not all, of the chaos that happens in my life is self-created. There’s almost never anyone out to get me. I either do something stupid, or when something happens, I have a self-destructive reaction to it and compound the original incident with my own nuttiness.

One of the ways this happens is by buying into lies that swirl around inside my mind most of the time. I imagine we all carry around a headful of lies and fears that originated around the time we had our first conscious thoughts: you’re not good enough; you’re not smart enough; nobody likes you. And on and on.

In my experience, those lies have always been there, and most of the time, I’ve been able to overrule them with rational thought and a boot-strapper’s mentality towards life. I got into trouble when a couple of bad things happened in succession, around the time of the big recession back in 2008, and I gave into those thoughts. Once you start buying into lies, they quickly pile up on you.

At first, the lies were about what I was lacking, and then they morphed into what was wrong with my life and those around me. I suppose that morphing was a survival impulse that kept me from getting overwhelmed by the accumulation of accusations – a kind of blame-shifting that made some outside force or forces responsible for what I thought was wrong with me.

As the spiral tightened on all that negativity, the lies grew worse until I finally crashed and had to deal with truth.

At first, the truth seemed like a lie. And then, it just seemed impossibly hard. And then, one day, I had an insight. I realized that by buying into a reality where everything was wrong, I was closing myself off to the possibility of what was right to the point where I couldn’t even see it anymore. I realized that somewhere along the way, I’d stopped counting my blessings.

Once I realized that I wasn’t taking the time to consider all the positives in my life, I immediately began to take a daily inventory of things that I was grateful for. If you grew up going to Sunday school, you may remember a song called “Count Your Blessings.” The refrain goes like this:

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Count your blessings, see what God has done

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Count your many blessings, see what God has done

                     “Count Your Blessings” – by Johnson Oatman

It’s amazing the amount of perspective I gain each day, just from pausing to think about the many blessings are contained within it. Even when I’ve had the shittiest day imaginable, I can point back to the love of my wife and children, a decent job, good friends, good health and a host of other things that are abundant in my life. And when I’ve remembered to do this, I’ve never failed to gain a new perspective on the problem that was causing me so much stress.

I was reminded of this tonight, after dinner, when I had a conversation with my 15 year old daughter about a stressful time she’s having with a close friend. It’s so easy, as a 49 year old, to look at the problems of 15 year olds and shake your head and laugh at how dramatic they’re being over what seems so trivial. But when I remember back to how high the stakes seemed to me at that age over the same kinds of trivial stuff, that’s when I begin to take my daughter’s problems more seriously because this is the first time she’s dealing with this stuff.

At a point in our conversation, as we were talking about how to approach this friend, we talked about this business of counting blessings and I was so blessed to hear that my daughter had heard a message like this from my wife not too long ago, and it was a key in pulling her out of a bad spell. Hearing that was certainly one of my blessings for today.

My prayer is that she’ll somehow be able to communicate this wisdom to her friend who’s also having a hard time seeing anything positive in the world. If this negativity is simply a matter of buying into lies and negativity, I pray that this individual will stop and consider everything, rather than just what’s wrong. Maybe in doing that, a new perspective will be gained that shines enough light to overcome the darkness.

Valentine’s Day do-over

So, Saturday night, I posted a video that I made for Angell – a timeline of photos that span the 25 Valentine’s Days we’ve spent together.

Kind of.

When I uploaded the mp4 to YouTube, I grabbed the link and embedded it into the post and hit “publish” before I went to bed, because I had to get up at 7:00 the next morning and go to Phoenix for a conference I was running.

The video uploaded, but with no sound. The reason? I used a Beatles song, “Two of Us,” and unlike most artists, Beatles songs are LOCKED DOWN.

I got back from Phoenix late last night, and when I finally dragged myself out of bed and watched Walking Dead and grabbed something to eat, I started looking for a replacement song – cover of the same song. I love the one I chose. The fellas who sing it don’t speak English as a first language, which you can tell. But it’s a lovely version of this wonderful song, and it times out perfectly.

So, here it goes again – 25 Valentines Redux.

25 Valentines

It’s hard to believe, but Angell and I have shared 25 Valentine’s Days together. It’s been an interesting ride, and I can’t imagine spending these years with anyone else.

I made this little video for Angell to remind her of all our adventures together.

Rollerblading in Central Park

Valentine’s Day is in two days, and today, I’m scrambling to make something for Angell as a token of my love. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve been combing through old photographs, looking for specific images that will accomplish my purpose (I’m being vague because Angell will read this before the 14th).

Looking through old photographs is to climb into a time machine. I’ve read where smells are the most evocative of the senses at triggering memories, and while I’ve found this to be true for myself, the combination of my eyes and old photos is mighty strong.

Rollerblading in Cenral ParkTake this photograph of me looking like I got jumped in an alley. This was taken in the summer of 1995, when Angell and I were living in New York. Her friend Rhonda had come to town to stay with us a few days, and we went to Central Park with her and my friend Suzy, who was in Elizabeth Dillon’s acting class with me.

The previous Christmas, Angell’s mom got us each a pair of roller blades for Christmas. I have no idea why she bought us those things. We’d never expressed an interest in roller blading or any other activity that involved footwear designed to make one fly like the wind.

Before Rhonda’s trip to New York, I’d used my roller blades exactly once. Angell and I took them over the Juniper Park, a few miles from our place in Queens. The park is a rectangle, 1.3 miles in circumference. I made it around once before giving up. I’d never ice skated, and couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Angell, on the other hand, picked up on it rather quickly. She was a skate rat in middle school, so maybe that had something to do with it.

I don’t remember who suggested roller blading in Central Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was me. We had no blades for Rhonda, and she was very much okay with that. We drove into the city that day, and picked Suzy up at her apartment in Manhattan before heading over to the East Side to find a parking spot somewhere in the 60’s. We packed in our blades and put them on after we’d walked around a bit and gotten past the Alice in Wonderland statue by the Boat Pond.

Rhonda followed on foot as we made our way toward the Bethesda Fountain. I remember Suzy being quite good on her blades. Angell was next on the depth chart, followed by wobbly me.

When we passed the Band Shell and crossed the road just before the Bethesda Fountain, I looked to the right to see if we could avoid all those steps. I noticed a sidewalk snaking up into the trees and then down to the pond where you rent the row boats.

I skated past the girls and told them to follow me. As I made my way up the little hill, Suzy said she didn’t know about that path. When I got to the top of the little rise, the sidewalk turned to the left before plunging down a short, steep hill that dead-ended at a sidewalk at the bottom. Just past that was water.

For some reason, I felt no fear or caution, which is not like me. Instead, I paused a brief moment before pushing off just as Suzy and Angell were making the top of the hill.

The impulse to skate down this hill was done without a thought to how I’d stop at the bottom. I could barely stand upright on the stupid roller blades, let alone stop on a dime at the bottom of a steep hill. As I gained speed, this thought raced through my mind as I comprehended the stupidity of my decision.

My knees bent, I stared ahead of me at the T-shaped intersection at the bottom of the hill. I’m not a panicky person, and in a split second, I formulated a plan. I noticed that to the left of me, it seemed soft and spongy, with vines and other plants bordering the sidewalk. The plan was to simply skate off the sidewalk into the viney stuff and have a soft landing.

The problem with that plan occurred when I took my eyes off that T intersection. Me being the novice blader, I was wobbly on my feet when I was barely moving. At this ever-increasing speed, I was a disaster waiting to happen, and when I shifted my gaze to my left, my feet flew out from under me.

In the moment when I crashed, time slowed to a crawl. I saw my feet shoot up as though being jerked by a rope. As this happened, I threw my arms back reflexively to soften the blow of falling on asphalt. As I did this, my body somehow spun in the air, and as my left elbow hit first, splitting the end of my radius bone, my left cheek was next to hit, emitting a shower of starts, and drug behind me a bit before I rolled over and gave the right side of my face a go. As I spun around, my knees got all scraped up too.

As I slid off into the dirt, time resumed its normal pace, and I began laughing and cursing as the girls made their way to me. Angell and Suzy, afraid of suffering the same fate as me, side-stepped their way to me as Rhonda was able to run.

They tried to get me to take it easy as I sat up. At first, it didn’t hurt, but as the blood began to move into the banged-up areas, the stinging started. I assured them I was fine. They were all wincing at the look of my face, and none of them had mirrors, so I didn’t know how bad I looked. My elbow felt weird, but I figured it was just a bruise.

As I sat there, I pulled off those rollerblades for the last time and got back into my black high-top Chucks and got to my feet and told them it looked worse than I felt.

Rhonda was wanting to rent a row boat, and me being me, that’s what we did. For the next 30 minutes, I rowed the three girls around the Central Park Lake in a rowboat with what turned out to be a slightly broken arm. At that point, the swelling hadn’t started, and I felt okay. The next day, my arm stiffened up and hurt like hell.

The photo above was taken when we got back to the car. I love it. The Preservation Hall t-shirt was a memento from our honeymoon to New Orleans. The sand cammies are still in my wardrobe, and when I’m not fat, I wear them.

The next day, I showed up for work looking like I’d been beaten up on the way in, and my boss sent me straight to St. Vincent’s, down in the Village, to get looked at. That’s where I learned that I’d broken my arm.

A day or two later, we drove Rhonda to LaGuardia and put her on a plane home, and over time, the scrapes scabbed and healed, as did the arm. These days, the elbow aches when I do yard work or swing a hammer or use my heavy duty drill for any length of time – a little reminder of the time when I went rollerblading in Central Park.

Whenever I visit New York and get a chance to walk through Central Park, I always head over to the Band Shell and the Bethesda Fountain and watch the street performers work their hustles. But what most attracts me are the skaters.

I love the roller boogie skate dancers, with their smooth and rubbery moves that make skating look so easy, but what I really love are the young daredevils who usually congregate over at the steps that go from the road down to the fountain. They’ll take turns getting up speed at the top of the stairs by backing off from them and sprinting at them as hard as they can before leaping in the air just as they reach the top step. As they sail through the air, they’ll do a 180 and get into a crouch, looking behind them and anticipating their landing spot.

The successful ones stick the landing and continue to click-click-click down the remaining steps at break-neck speed. If you can’t see them land, you know they made it by the oohs coming from their peers and spectators.

The unsuccessful ones wipe out and go spiraling out of control down the remaining steps, cursing and yelling. Their failure is usually met with howls of laughter from those gathered, especially when the skater gets back up on his feet and shows that he’s okay.

I admire the successes, but relate to the failures. I know just how those guys feel.

Quietude and love

Tonight, the house is quiet. The kids have a day off from school tomorrow, and have gone home with friends from school for sleepovers.

Angell and I took advantage by having an early Valentine’s Day date at Outback Steakhouse, where we had a gift card leftover from Christmas. Sexy, eh?

But now that the shrimp and burgers have been eaten and we are back home, the vibe is off. There’s a wobble in our night. Thing’s ain’t right. No kids means:

  • No music
  • No fighting
  • No late night showers
  • No being evicted from the TV room
  • No wanting us to look at art projects
  • No needing help with homework
  • No bedtime prayers
  • No hugs
  • No kisses

It’s good to have a quiet night alone in an empty house. When the house is full of noise and activity and heavy utility consumption, there’s no time to reflect and be grateful for the women they’re becoming.

Our oldest, Hadley, is out of the house nearly full-time. She’s away at college, and I couldn’t be prouder of how she’s doing.

She’s doing a much better job than I did at that age at managing her time and studies. She’s balancing school, lacrosse and a social life and making good grades in the process. She’s got a great work ethic, and she’s super mature and serious about her responsibilities.

Speaking of sports, Hadley is the only person in our family that I can think of who’s played sports at the collegiate level. Her second season opens this weekend with an away game down in Tennessee. We’ll get to see her play next weekend at her home opener, and I can’t wait.

If all that weren’t enough, Hadley is a genuinely good person. She’s awesome. She loves people, and is fair-minded just like her mother. She’s a deep and soulful person who loves deeply. I love this kid.

Our middle daughter, Daisy, amazes me with her quick mind, bottomless talent and big heart.

Daisy’s smarter than I thought about being at that age. One measure of this is how well she takes standardized tests. Another is how quick she is. She’s much faster than I am at thinking on her feet. Her brain processes at a super-quick pace that is hard for me to keep up with. I wish I had that timing.

Like Hadley, Daisy has a great work ethic. Her standards for herself are very high, and she gets physically ill when she can’t or doesn’t perform up to them. That kind of pressure can have its downside, but suffice it to say that Angell and I have never had to get on her for not working hard enough.

Like all my kids, Daisy’s a much better person than I was at her age. Though she is very much a typical hormonal teenager, she’s loves God, she’s involved with two youth groups, she’s sensitive and she cares deeply for her friends, and because she’s VERY empathic, she feels their hurts deeply. She’s got a big, beautiful heart.

She’s maybe the most like me, and we have many shared tics and interests.

Daisy’s got an offbeat sense of humor. She loves puns, irony and papaw jokes. I never go more than a day or two without her tracking me down to show me some funny Vine or Snap that has her crying from laughing so much.

She loves good movies. A Wes Anderson freak, like me, she’s undertaken an art project for school that involves painting the poster art for every Anderson movie. Over Christmas, she and Hadley and I watched The Godfather together. Hadley fell asleep a few minutes in, but Daisy was locked in, asking me questions throughout the movie. It was cool. She picked up on so many references that have been echoed in the entertainment of her generation.

She also loves good music. She grew up listening to my stuff in the car, but she’s evolved into her own person, and though she still likes the stuff she grew up on, she’s got her own bands that she’s discovered on her own, obsessing over their biographies and lyrics just as I did when I discovered Dylan or Townes Van Zandt. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.

Avery, our youngest, is our big-hearted, sweet girl. I’m in love with this kid so much, and love to hang out with her.

She’s such a sweetheart. She has a big circle of friends, and though she’s very funny, she’s also very sweet and sensitive to their needs and quirks. She’s very generous and fair, and doesn’t impose her will.

Avery’s may be the most selfless of the kids. She freely shares with others, and she always has. She puts herself out for others, and is very good at reading people and knowing what they need. She’s got a sweet, sweet heart.

All that sweetness is salted with a wicked sense of humor. She may have the best comic timing of us. Daisy’s quick, but Avery always has the right funny comment that comes without the slightest hint of missing the beat. She’s always made us laugh.

Like her sisters, Avery is a hard worker. She hates doing anything poorly, and puts too much pressure on herself to succeed. Angell and I actually have to take the pressure off this one. She’s worse than Daisy about pushing herself.

Now that Avery’s playing field hockey, it’s cool seeing her work ethic being applied to athletics. I just built her a field hockey goal box in the back yard, and she gets out there every chance she gets to hit the ball.

One of my great joys is going to Avery’s field hockey games and seeing her play. It’s our thing, and I can’t wait for the season to start. Maybe we’ll end up with two college athletes in the family. Who knows?

Yeah, I’m grateful for the quiet night at home with Angell. And though I miss the noise and chaos of having the kids around, it’s good to be apart and be reminded of just how much I love this bunch of mine and just how full my heart is with love for my family.

A good day for Sojourn

Tonight at church, we had a member meeting where we talked about the many things that have been going on in and around the church over the past months.

It was our first member meeting in the new building, and it was cool to know that this was our space. And it made me proud to see how well everything is being cared for. From the stately new sign out on Rudy Lane to the mulch around the edges of the sanctuary to the new paint and tiles inside the building and along the hallways, it reminded me of when Angell and I went from being renters to being homeowners. You relate to your living space differently when you own it and are paying the mortgage.

Kevin and Jeremy caught us up on some administrative stuff having to do with amendments to the governing structure of the church. Sojourn has four campuses, and in the past, it was governed centrally from the midtown campus, with J-Town, East and New Albany serving as outposts, like forts out on the frontier.

With the changes, Sojourn is now 4 interdependent churches that are governed locally, but overseen by a leadership council.

Also, in the past, Sojourn’s offices were all located at Midtown. This included the campus pastors, which always struck me as weird. Now, the campus pastors (actually, the term campus no longer exists) have their offices at their local churches, which seems to me a good thing. Being IN the neighborhood where they work helps them be more in tune with the neighborhood and what’s going on around there.

We welcomed around 70 new members and said goodbye to a few, who are moving to new states and new jobs.

What made me most proud was to see my friend Mike Cosper introduce his new project – The Harbor Institute for Faith and Culture.

Harbor, as we call it, is a new media platform that produces resources for Christians trying to make sense of what it means to live out their faith in a post-Christian society.

What that means is this:

In decades past, it seemed (at least on the surface) that much of mainstream America’s values and Christian values were one and the same. This notion is very much up for debate, but in the sense of a somewhat puritanical moral code we can make the argument that this was sometimes at least the case.

Fast forward to today, when Christian values are more and more coming to rest at the fringes of what is considered normal and acceptable behavior and thought in today’s culture. Harbor exists to help Christians navigate this ever-shifting landscape.

I’m excited for Mike and proud of this move to fill a very necessary void in media for Christians. I’m also excited to be working with Mike and a few others to help support this vision. In the coming months, look for the launch of a blog, a podcast and, later in the year, the first of some live events.

After the meeting, Angell and I strolled through a courtyard and thought ahead to a day in the not-too-distant future when our daughters might one day marry in this sanctuary and run the gauntlet of rice-throwing well-wishers to a waiting limo. It was sweet to think about, and good to know we all have a church home.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on at Sojourn, and it’s a great time to be a member. I look forward to seeing what’s in store in the year’s ahead.

Your candidate can’t/won’t save you

Facebook and politics is a bad match. Like bourbon and ice cream. To open Facebook is to risk political assault. Most of my friends are people I’ve known my whole life, and aside from an educated guess, I couldn’t tell you the political affiliations of most to save my life. That is, until Facebook came along.

Folks who are so kind and gracious in person devolve into raving maniacs on Facebook, when it comes to posting diatribes against Obama, Trump, Clinton or Sanders. Lately, it’s gotten so bad that I’ve about come to the point where I want to cut the cord on Facebook and be done with it. If it wasn’t for totally losing track with people I never see otherwise, I’d do it.

Thankfully, some smart programmer came up with the unfollow button, which brings instant relief when the screaming becomes too shrill to bear.

It seems that people are more frustrated, more disgusted, more hateful and more insistent than ever before. And as this happens, those who engage in this sort of virtual screaming are more convinced than ever before that THIS is the election that will either set us back on the right course or tighten the death spiral.

What’s puzzling is that my Christian friends engage in this behavior, which reminds me of the Israelites circa I Samuel 8 who were convinced that a mighty, politically savvy king was the answer to all their problems.

Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows that this was a bad idea. This reliance on political solutions to their problems was evidence of an inner, spiritual rot that was taking place. They were turning their back on the same God that had delivered them from Egypt and promised to always look out for their best interests.

But the world is a seductive place. It always has been.

And just as the Israelites learned the hard way that political might doesn’t make ultimate right, so too should Christians understand that the winner of the next election might do many things, but delivering us from evil ain’t one of them.

Should we engage in politics, if God is ultimately in control? Of course. But we shouldn’t become mini-jihadists on Facebook and elsewhere, trying to beat those who disagree with us into submission. Even if we know we are right. Especially if we know we are right. We need look no further than Jesus himself to see the model for persuading our friends with love and patience and grace. If the God of the universe chose not to wrestle us into a chokehold and make us cry uncle, who are we to do this?

So hey Christians, why don’t we use Facebook for what it was made for – voyeurism and memes.