Family Planning

Imagine being part of a revolution. Imagine that you are living your life; working your job, taking classes for a degree, raising a family, hanging with friends – whatever it is that you do. Then it happens. You meet this person who turns your world upside-down. You thought you were content; you had plans for your life and a general trajectory. But then you hear this person saying things that just take hold somewhere deep inside you and you can’t shake it.

Now, to be clear, you’re not the type of person that falls for every conspiracy theory or pop-psychology out there. You’re balanced, you don’t machine-gun share every post that aligns with your political bent; for the most part you dodge any kind of topic that might stir contempt or emotional debate. You’re just doing your best to stay in your lane.

But then you hear this guy. He’s not apolitical, yet he seems to cut through any argumentative bait that’s thrown at him from a mysterious angle that can’t be traced back to a partisan platform. It’s like his perspective is foreign, so otherworldly, that when he speaks, everyone, from every side, is knocked back on their heels. Yet, though it’s uncomfortable, it’s also refreshing.

Somehow, though this person isn’t an influencer in the typical sense – he isn’t running for office; isn’t a billionaire; doesn’t have millions of followers on any platforms – he changes you. All of the sudden, what you thought you knew about life, what you thought you knew about how things work and what this life – at least what your life is all about – changes.

It’s uncomfortable. You’re constantly compelled to stop listening to him. You return to your life and try looking over your plans that you had for your future, but all of the sudden they are colorless. They shouldn’t be! What happened? You were going to make so much money, take so many trips, make so many memories; all of which seemed so perfect before you started listening to this guy talk in his weird way about life.

The weirdest thing is that what he’s talking about isn’t actually appealing; not compared to what you had planned at least. He keeps talking about not living for yourself; about not building wealth; about not doing whatever you feel like will make you happy. It’s obnoxious that it’s aggravated your psyche so much; why can’t you just forget about him? But the problem is that it’s not just a mind game; you know that it’s more than that – and it’s precisely this problem that keeps his words and everything that he is hanging around in your whole being.

You hear other people talk about him and you aren’t affected the same way. They can talk about him; they can use the same language; they can quote him for god’s sake, but it’s not the same. But when he talks, even if what he is saying is utterly ridiculous, backward, and upside down (which it pretty much all is to you) – you know that there is deeper truth in what he says than in anything that you have ever known. It’s like what you knew to be true was black and white – what he says is color; what you knew before was 3d – he brings the fourth dimension and reveals the truer reality of everything. Again, it may be disorienting; nauseating to start to understand this because it turns everything inside out. But the consequence of losing the life you had planned starts to pale in comparison to life that you taste when he talks about his Kingdom.

You finally take the plunge. Whatever your life looks like from here on out doesn’t matter as long as you end up wherever he is. Where’s that? not sure. But it doesn’t matter, as long as he’s there, because the reality that he brings is just simply so much more than any situation without him.

So you keep following. You keep listening to his words, and though you have heard what he has to say dozens of times, each time you listen again, you hear something new. But more than that, you feel like you become someone new -not all at once, but slightly, incrementally. Sometimes you tune out the familiar words, and though you don’t realize the colors fading back to gray, you do realize the rush of colors when you tune your ear again.

Imagine that the revolution isn’t broadcast like a military or political revolution would be. In fact, imagine that the more subtle it acted, the more powerful it was. Imagine a revolutionary that hid in the hills; that didn’t track fame and power; that dodged opportunities to capitalize. Then, instead of raising an army for battle, he says that he is starting a family for a party. He also says that you’ve been part of the family from the get go. He starts to introduce you to one of your new siblings – they look nothing like you, they don’t speak your language; you find out that they didn’t vote the way that you did – and as you realize this, you both laugh uncontrollably because at one point, those things seemed to matter. Now, only he matters .

Runnin’

On Friday the 13th, 2006, I woke up around 5 AM; anxious. I stayed that way until around 10 AM, when I handed my two week notice to my supervisor. With his signature look: a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, he snatched the slightly crumpled paper, which had been floating around in my truck for a week or two, out of my shaking hands.

 “What is this shit?” he asks, while dramatically trying to flatten and smooth out the wrinkles. I had contemplated getting a new form, but these were before the days of simply pulling a smartphone out of a pocket, googling the company website, tapping a couple tabs, downloading a pdf, and sending it to a printer via Bluetooth to sign and hand in. I mean, I say that what I just explained is simple, but getting my phone to link up to a printer works about as often as getting my two-year-old to walk to his bedroom for bedtime. Regardless, it’s still simpler than driving across Las Vegas, asking for yet another form from the receptionist that effectively say “hey, here’s a reminder that I’m quitting; I’m going to cause ya’ll to be short another worker…but I don’t know when I’m going to have the nerve to do it, since obviously didn’t turn in the last form that I grabbed a week ago, so can I get another one of those?”

So yeah, I decided to go with the wrinkled form and told myself that he probably wouldn’t care; that he’d probably just appreciate that I handed it in at all instead of just not showing up for work. That’s what I told myself.

“I don’t give a shit!” smoke shooting out of both nostrils as he contorted his arms dramatically, this time undoing his previous ironing by crumpling it up and throwing it at me. If I were to guess, I think he was going for an ironic effect. 

Despite the embarrassment of the display, which had definitely blown my attempt of discretion, I felt an exciting charge run through me. I was free. I worked the rest of my shift that day; got home at about 3 PM; loaded everything that I owned into my Blazer  – a pretty easy feat of grabbing a couple of boxes, deflating an already halfway flat air mattress that I had to air up every night due to a leak – and I was flooring the gas pedal as drove down the entrance ramp to I15 North at exactly 5 PM that evening. 

Fueled by Sobe No Fear and gas station hot dogs, I drove through the night until I reached a Town Pump gas station in White Hall, Montana at around 5 AM the next morning. Since this was before smartphones and the GPS maps that we now utterly depend on, I asked the attendant directions to a town that I was aiming for. I knew that there were a couple of secondary roads that would get me there, and I was hoping to save some time because, well, I was a bit tired and the well over one hundred ounces of soda no longer had any sleep-diswaying effects.

“Yeah, just straight down this road, man.” Nice. 

About five or so minutes later, I hit a dirt road. Not nice.

I knew that there was a dirt road that went over the mountains between the towns; I had no idea of the condition, though I assumed it was not great. But I knew that it definitely wouldn’t allow me to go the posted night speed limit of 65 MPH on Montana highways that I wanted to go. But I felt committed, so over, instead of around the mountains I went. 

I was kind of worried about falling asleep because of how slow I had to go, but that quickly evaporated after I did fall asleep, then woke up because of some washboard in the road, and caught something in my periphery – a massive buck deer trotting alongside my driver side door. 

Why? I think he was concerned for me. All I know is that I was wide awake after that as I drove over the lightly snow covered pass and slept the rest of the night in my Blazer on a side street in the little mountain town of Boulder, Montana. 

I had somehow convinced myself that I had missed the cold of Montana while living in the brutal desert heat. Really what I missed was the change of seasons. If I had given Vegas a couple more weeks I probably would have settled in as the highs started inching down. But I had other reasons too. 

I was running to, and I was running from. 

I was wounded, and I was looking for safety. I thought that I knew what home was for me. I was pretty sure that I knew what it wasn’t. It wasn’t what I was leaving back in the desert. Ironically, the times when I have lived in closest proximity to others, have been the loneliest. 

So I had an idea what home was. Home was companionship. Home was being able to just…be. No pretending, no faking, no compensating on beliefs. 

I didn’t find Home. Not exactly. The early twilights and increasingly brisk breezes of September and October in Montana were like meteorological expressions of what was happening in my soul.  It wasn’t a bad season, it was just deep; heavy.

It could have been bad though. I could have resigned to the dark and gone down a road of either depression or addiction – roads that I have explored before. I think that they end up merging together. 

Instead, though I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, I chose to live there. I didn’t run away from the dark and cold; I didn’t find distraction in a well lit, warm place. I was out in it, just like a month before, where I was walking around in the daytime desert heat in August, not flooding to a dark, cool casino. 

It certainly wasn’t a conscious choice, it was just a result of doing more of what I had been doing for the last 6 months or so; not escaping pain. I had been running; I guess I just wasn’t escaping, I had been feeling.

The memories from this time period are seared into my soul. I have done a lot of escaping since then; whole periods of life where I just kept bouncing; both seeking home and avoiding it. But I’m sure that there is a synapsis connecting neurons from my brain to some in my soul, because  when I feel the cold September breeze, or when the twilight is just right; or when I’m internally aching as I was in the moments of these experiences – it reminds me not to run. It reminds me that a memory, even if it’s dark, even if it’s cold –  is better than the nothingness that happens when I escape.

Common

I took my kids to Waffle House the other day. It’s a rare ‘treat’ – though many who know what Waffle House is wouldn’t use it and treat in neighboring sentences. But for my kids, leaving the house is kind of a treat, let alone being able to go out and eat a syrup saturated waffle that is bigger than their head.

We went on a weekday morning. Probably around 9:30. Plans had changed for Darian, we had access to our van, and I was feeling some cabin fever, so off we went.

We sat down in one of the corner booths. Lucky for me, it was next to the bar seating where all of the regulars sit. Our waitress was nice; my four-year-old daughter was especially fond her blue eyeshadow.

One regular in particular, a Santa type – but of a southern variety, with a drawl and coveralls – was a magnet for all of the staff. One by one, as they were making their rounds, they’d swing wide of their tables and take a few minutes to chat with him. During one of these encounters, a young waitress, probably in her mid-twenties, was letting loose her current life situation to quiet, listening Southern Santa. everything from how she needs to get to bed earlier, to childcare, to how she’s trying to get her laptop fixed because the screen is cracked and it’s making it difficult to do her homework. In a matter of a couple minutes she’d unloaded her issues and was back at filling coffees and wiping down tables.

The next time her turn was up for a conference with Southern Santa, it was his turn to talk. He asked about where she was planning on taking the computer, how much it would cost, whether it was worth it to try and get it fixed or whether she should just get a new one. The barrage of questions was surprising, since he hadn’t talked much up to this point. But he was relentless; when she brought up the expenses, he wouldn’t have it. He’d help her get one, or help her get hers fixed – but it had to be a priority. It had to get done.

I started wondering about Southern Santa – what had he done for a living; did he still work? Was he a weirdo? As if answer to my pondering, a second regular, who had been there the whole time reading the newspaper and drinking coffee, turned to Southern Santa and started asking SS about his health – clearly a continued conversation from a day or two ago. SS filled him in briefly, then they both went back their coffee.

A few minutes later, an older gal came and sat down next to Southern Santa. She was about to start her shift. It turns out she was a regular here too, just on the other side of the counter. It was Ms. Claus.

This occurrence keeps bubbling up to my conscious. along with it is this word Greek word: ekklésia. It means gathering. It’s also translated church. Now, I didn’t witness any teaching, preaching, singing of hymns or spiritual songs at the diner, but I did witness someone offering, not only a listening ear, but also a helping hand. Which brought to my mind another occasion – one that turned a gathering into a church.

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one [of them] claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.

Acts 4:32

This is what defined a group of people who didn’t have any kind social bond; they were racially diverse, diverse in gender, diverse in social status. What bound them together was their common belief that a poor Jewish teacher, from a Podunk town in the Judean providence of Rome, had actually turned out to be the creator God of the universe, who came to sacrifice his life in order to save the world. That’s what they held in common, and they believed it so strongly, that in turn, they held everything of theirs in common.

One last thing. That word common; That’s koinos in Greek. It means common – but it can also mean dirty; unclean. The idea is that it’s too common; that’s in insignificant; unimportant. Just think of public restrooms. That’s Jesus’ group, that’s his assembly. I think that I went to church at Waffle House on a weekday with my kids.

Rhythms

Six-and-a-half-months ago my wife and I pulled the trigger on a couple of dreams that had been slow cooking for about four years. If life is a highway, sometimes it’s an iced-over mountain pass that you find yourself descending; slowing down seems at least improbable, and the only possible choice seems to be to stay off of the brakes and hope for bends instead of winds. We were very much ‘there’ in life; between new businesses, new kids, and new towns – we seem to like to drive over passes in the winter…

But every once in while, you come around a corner and find a nice dry piece of pavement, and if your lucky, a place to park and contemplate the next leg of the journey. That’s what the Covid shut down in April did for us. All of the sudden the blips of conversation had before rushing out the door to work, or  in between putting the kids to bed and passing out because another 4 AM shift was impending, actually became real back and forth dialog. We recognized that these deep-seated longings that each of us had were being buried by busyness, and that if we didn’t start acting on them, well, time might very well have scrubbed those desires away for either or both of us.

This new adventure was like nothing that we had ever pursued- there was no promise of security in any matter – we were moving away from family, away from a steady income; away from any familiarity in daily life – grocery stores, church, commutes; even cultural norms. The only things that we were bringing with us were our hopes, dreams, and our little family.

We moved into a very nice, quiet neighborhood (that apparently was the subdivision to live in during the 90’s…). The house that we rent is a 1500 sq. ft. one level brick ranch style house with a mid mod inspired A-frame front room, complete with floor to ceiling windows. The orange broken tile entry under an orbed chandelier really completes it for me; the retro faux wood paneling in the garage and the…floral(?) wallpaper covering every wall in the kitchen just push the esthetic beyond all my expectations. We have a huge fenced back yard where our kids have spent countless hours playing in a covered sand area, peeling cicada “exuvia” (shed skin – sounds gross; probably is to most, but we think it’s rad) off of trees, play ‘wizards’, or playing in a kiddie pool filled with lukewarm water – because that’s how it comes out of the spigot here year-round. In my wildest dreams I never expected to be able to “mow” each week through the third quarter of the year. Though my wife – probably more appropriately – calls it “vacuuming the lawn” at this point in the season. Regardless of what the mower’s effectually doing to the ground, every Wednesday with few exceptions I take the kids out with me and spend a couple of hours (usually broken up with lunch in between) pushing the machine around while I listen to Tim and Jon from the BibleProject dissect words or ideas found in scripture on their podcast and the chillin’ run wild.

While we run our circuit of playing, eating, cleaning, exploring, and working at home; Darian has been running in ultra-hyper study mode – taking extra credits above the curriculum track for the nursing program that she is in. I’m often bewildered by how much she takes in, while somehow also having the conscience to help other students by forming study groups, sharing study tactics or notes, or (probably most boggling to me) by giving of her precious time to listen, encourage, or empathically cry with fellow students. Her level of drive in her academics is both inspiring and exhausting.

The first and second half of the year has certainly been a swap for us (Darian and myself), one that we were both (and I still believe are) excited about – she has been able to relentlessly feed her desire to learn more about all things health and human body, and commune with the adults regularly for the first time in five or so years. I have been able to idle down in thoughts and pursuits of business ideas that once  seemed to pervade all the tissue inside my skull. I’ll readily admit that my personal transition hasn’t been easy (refer back to the iced road analogy); I spent a lot of time trying to find something that would make me feel valuable –  turns out I still needed a dollar sign attached to what I did with my time; that we were getting along fine without that income had no apparent bearing. I can’t say that I am over this struggle, but the sacrifice of living on less, working weekends and evenings in order to keep our kids out of daycare – is something I’m utterly confident is worth the lack of stuff.

Beyond the struggle of finding value in the monetary, the struggle to not seek distractions is real. I’m not much of a reader. I like to read, but my attention span – not so much. I don’t know why writing is so much different;  I could do this all day and night, but there’s something about inactivity, silence; about receiving info without actively doing something that is very difficult. I realized this shortly after moving here. I was aware that I was going to struggle with purpose and idle time; to a degree I was aware of how tightly I had wound myself with schedule and doing, and so I took the advice of many people (you know who you are – thank you) and started listening to The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. If you haven’t, in the timeless, infamous words of Shia – “just do it!”. I started implementing quiet into my mornings. I  would just sit, listen, feel. It didn’t last long, my oldest likes to get up at 6 AM and having struggled for the last couple of years with insomnia, voluntarily waking up at 4:30 or 5 isn’t doing it for me right now. But, I will say that this two-or-so-month practice was effectually like hitting a reset button on my mind and, to a degree, my body. The dread of not doing started to dissipate. I started walking slower; smelling things and actually having what may be considered an emotional response to it. Bird sounds, colors; life as experienced by humans of yore started seeping in. Feeling has been a foreign…experience for me in many ways and at many times in life. I don’t know where the blame lies – western intellectualism, nature, nurture, technology – I’m sure it’s a cocktail all of the above and more, but what I am finding is that it really does require shifting of patterns, rhythms, habits – one doesn’t merely trip and fall into contentment,  into psychological well-being; into happiness. Alternatively, one doesn’t bull rush or “grind” daily into the good life – what’s much harder in our culture and in our time, is to slow down. When I started feeling things once again like loneliness, empathy, heartache, imagination; they were so foreign and uncomfortable that it felt like something was wrong – feelings were foreign invaders. But by giving time to, as they say “sit with my feelings”, it’s as if the color of my humanity is resurfacing. The endless amounts of distractions would have us believe that the pale and limited access to a couple of emotions (anger and depression…just for example…) is normal, that these are the things that most people at most times in history have felt most of the time. That is simply not true. Reflecting on times in our own lives when “things were different” can help dispel the myth of “this is just how: I am/life is/things are”. Hope, real hope requires looking through the windshield and the rearview mirror.

About that one nagging, surprising feeling: loneliness. Perhaps this feeling has surfaced more often for more of us this year. It’s been nagging at me to simply acknowledge it’s existence, so here I am, acknowledging. There, are you happy, Mr. Lonely Feeling?

I think that given our extra-lonely circumstances of moving across the country to a city and state where we knew no one, at a less than opportune time for mingling and meeting new people, we have actually persevered quite well. In my year-end reflecting – which by no means happens every year, nor does it  take form of perfectly calligraphed font on handmade, fibrous, medium toothed paper that has been stitched and woven into a chunk of hand harvested, tanned, and intricately stamped ostrich leather (just in case you had that in mind) – I recalled that with all of our visitors (of which we have been so honored and blessed to have a fair share of [thanks Dora, Josh and Sarah, Skye and Emma, and Gigi!]), the thing that we have been most excited to share with them is our rhythms. Our rhythms of eating, resting, walking, basking, singing, creating, reading, praying – they make up the current we floated and have found sustains through the turbulent waters. As we look forward to 2021, for us,  our family anticipates another busy semester of late nights and early mornings, tight schedules and probably tight budgets; I take solace that these simple, but powerful rhythms will continue to carry us – together – to the open sea.

Post apoCOVID Ponderings

In one sense, it’s ridiculous to draw a comparison between what we are experiencing and what would happen if some natural or man made disaster of apocalyptic proportions took place. But in another sense, the swift economic and social paradigm shifts that have taken place could draw a parallel unlike anything that we have ever experienced in the modern era.

Call it a soft apocalypse. One without the radiated zombie deer. And instead of a twinkie deficit, we merely had a temporary TP shortage.

So what happens now? as the metaphorical dust settles and normality ensues, do we take away anything valuable? Do we reflect on the unprecedented event that just happened; or do we merely press forward – persevere, take charge and don’t look back.

I refuse.

I sincerely wonder how most people are reacting. I wonder if I am out of sync with ‘reality’. I imagine in some ways I am. In some ways, I’ve lived a vastly different life than than most. I was home schooled in the 90’s – 1-2% of the population for the U.S. at that time. Out of high school I moved to Las Vegas to continue pursuing a punk/metal/screamo career with my friends. It was short lived, but we did record an EP at the same area where we practiced – a storage unit/jam space/recording studio. Tell me that isn’t rad. I also got a really sweet, probably-too-large-for-a-second tattoo, camped in my Blazer outside of a small desert town north of Vegas every weekend in August, smoked a preposterous amount of cheap cigars, and overall learned what living in a pulsing city of a million or so people felt like compared to a small farm town of about two grand. I have also taken a rather meandering, side stepping, back-and-forth career path. I have worked in the medical field – I spent three years working at a children’s psych hospital as a direct care provider; I also did a stint at an assisted living facility, working exclusively with Alzheimer residents. I have worked various vocations in the construction field – electrical, heavy equipment operating, irrigation, insulation. I have worked retail and customer service. And my current hat as a small business owner and operator employs aspects of every one of these fields (not very much of the singing/screaming, unfortunately). I also dabbled in education – I lingered in college long enough to get an associates degree in business with a supposed emphasis on small business management, and realized that: (1) I wasn’t learning anything about how to practically and functionally run a small business, and that (2), though I was really becoming addicted to the pleasure of writing papers, getting really good grades, studying and researching my heart out – the track of attending another 2 years, wracking up another fifteen to thirty grand in student loans – only to be qualified for a middle management position was never my intended trajectory, so I stopped there. For now at least.

If you’ve trudged this far with me, I want to assure you that this is neither some bizarre resume to prove some sort of credibility (digression: I have been writing resumes lately and you can imagine how inventive I have had to be), nor am I attempting necessarily to spotlight how special or unique my experience is – as a barber I’ve talked to hundreds of people in the last five years and I like to treat these appointments as mini interviews; I love to ask about peoples stories – especially as it relates to their vocational journey – so I have garnished a deep understanding and appreciation for the twists and turns that most of our lives take. I only summarize some of my story to give you a picture of my experience; what has led me here. So back to feeling kind of crazy…

I believe that what informs us, influences us. That may go without saying, but then I wonder, why is it so easy to get lost in articles and ‘news’ that, looked at objectively, blatantly aim to influence, not innocently inform. So I have attempted to limit my ‘news’ input for the last month; focusing only on the bare necessities of information that I need to know. I have turned these down, but I’ll be honest, I have had a very difficult time turning down ‘influencers’. I’m not talking about the one’s with hundreds of thousands of followers, I’m talking about friends and acquaintances; people who have strong beliefs and opinions about the state of things. We’re all influenced in this arena – as we should be, to an extent. But one downfall of social media is that it is conditioning us to grab our phone the moment there’s a silence in our day (have you noticed the chime as you open Facebook? that’s called: C-O-N-D-I-T-I-O-N-I-N-G). So instead of thinking, or writing down our own thoughts, or staring at a steaming cup of coffee; watching paint dry or grass grow – instead of breathing – it’s too easy to pick up that device and ‘inform’ ourselves with endless opinions and pictures, then inevitably feel compelled to ‘share’ our own position on a matter. And are we even wearing blue light blockers when we do it!? I jest…about the glasses, but for the last couple of weeks, it hasn’t been a laughing matter for me, this conditioning. Even as I dodged the articles like landmines, I was breathing in the radiation of opinions and perspectives; aimlessly meandering through these digital fields where I didn’t even need to be. I realize how pathetic this may sound, but I was in all reality, binging on social media. In retrospect, since I have returned to work, I realize one reason why this might have been the case: a fundamental element of my vocation is talking with and listening to people. I do it all day every day. So in order to stay ‘relevant’ in conversations, I have grown, quite unintentionally over the years, a practice of knowing a little bit about a lot of topics. Actually, I think it’s a common and poisoning practice a lot of us get into. It’s so quiet, but it’s pervasive. And really, it draws us from deeply and wholeheartedly focusing on the thing that we should be. It draws us away from tuning in to our families, it distract us from engaging the tangible issues around us, and it overwhelms and cripples our creative processes. Being informed is one thing, being infatuated – especially about topics that we have little to no control over – is quite different. It’s like riding on a train: unless I’m the conductor (hint:I’m not. Hint 2: his name rhymes with Lark Huckerterg), I have no real control of where this crazy train is going, and I can’t get off of it unless I leap while it’s still picking up speed.

Yet here’s what happened: diligently I waited for the crazy train to come around the corner, and I jumped on without reserve – it didn’t even have to stop for me.

So here we are. we’re on this digital train and we entered the COVID tunnel together. The light in front of us has only been a pinhead – but now, suddenly, it’s growing rapidly and ‘normal’ seems not only possible, but imminent. Things that we may not have imagined returning to routine, at least for awhile, are now being streamlined. I foresee many of us being blinded as we come out of this. I personally feel like I have been holding my breath subconsciously, not wondering what awaits, as much as contemplating whether all of the time spent in the allegorical darkness – where schedules crept or halted, calendars had only a few scrawls, dinners were eaten together, board games were dusted off, stories were read, Zoom calls with far off family were built in to the day (I could go on, but I may tear up) – will these things be cast off like shadows as we pierce out from under the other side of the once looming precipice of COVID-19? It really hasn’t been all that long, but but for many of us, it’s the longest disruption from schedule that we have encountered since college, or high school, or…pretty much ever possibly. Are we really ready to see the light?

I know that it’s inevitable. I know that that we can’t linger here in these tight quarters – it wouldn’t be good for people’s appetites or our affects. But the bucking exit from routine surfaced some truths for me that I can’t ignore and let fade back into the recesses. First and foremost are the dozens, if not hundreds of conversations that I have had over the past five years while cutting older gentlemen’s hair that summarize like this: ‘I wish that I would have spent more time with my kids when they were younger’….’time sure does fly’…’now that I’m retired, i don’t know what to do’…

You may have heard of Bronnie Ware; an Australian nurse who wrote a book about the answers she received about regrets from terminally ill patients who she cared for. Here are the top five:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Hmm. How does this list make you feel? Read it again. Those first two sunk right into my chest. In fact, that first one has been the most covered topic between my wife and I during this hiatus from ‘normal’. And I can tell you that, even after almost five weeks at home, with little influences from outside sources – that pressure is still there. It’s still high enough to not let the lid off. It can be tricky to realize how influential others’ opinions – whether spoken or perceived – have affected our trajectory. Our mind has to synthesize so much when we are constantly moving, constantly working, scheduling, planning; it’s easy to absorb others’ opinions – especially when they are strongly given – into the mix of how we live. This may just seem like part of life – but then I go back to the list above, or all of those dreary haircut conversations, and I wonder. I wonder how many experiences I’ve forfeited by listening to the voices in my head, and now, with the barrage of social media influence on our conscience, those ‘voices’ don’t go away unless they are put away. Think about this: even with a worldwide pandemic silencing the streets of the busiest cities on Earth, the voices continue, even in the smallest apartments in the highest skyscrapers. Yes, there are upsides to having the the world to stream, but it takes a lot of discipline to actually shut off all of the negative and only schedule in the positive.

So what sheltering in place has shown me is that I am quite addicted to ‘noise’. Even with three little humans (1,3, and 4) runnin’ umuck, my default isn’t to sit in silence after a long day of playing, teaching, and mediating heated toy Property Rights arguments. Instead, when I’m most exhausted and susceptible, I scroll. And then I compare. And as all of us know, there are people who are fantastic at selfies; they’re also great at polishing their stories up and filtering out the raw, less-than-glamorous scenes. No one taught them how Story works. Unfortunately, these polished images do nothing to help us, they only contrast what we are seeing with our bent, bruised, and often broken stories; to the point where we become discouraged and start to neglect the very thing that will make us happy: our own internal work.

Thankfully, even as life is ‘normalizing’, there has been just enough jarring in routine, that I’ve finally started to wake up to many deep wounds – many of which I’ve existed with literally all of my life. If it weren’t for this disruption, I wouldn’t have seen my broken processes – the ways that I have coped with hurt and pain day after day, year after year. I’m tempted to dig in to some real controversial topics, particularly one that is generalized in the phrase ‘victim mentality’ – maybe in the coming conversations. But I sense that as some of you read the beginning of this paragraph, the eye rolling came almost involuntarily. If so, no judgement. But what I have been learning is that it is exactly those reactions – the involuntary ones, that give us some real insight to our broken internal systems and why some of us struggle with the path that our lives are on. If that last sentence speaks to you; if you feel like the trajectory of your life is completely out of your control and not the path that you have chosen, I would encourage you to open yourself up to that tension. Allow yourself to admit that life took some turns that you didn’t intend. Usually when these types of thoughts rise to the surface of our conscience, we stuff them right back down in an attempt to drown them because they don’t serve us, and because: ‘positive thinking’…and stuff…right? But admitting the truth wins out over telling ourselves a lie any day. Really, what happens is that we have the opportunity to be honest with the fact that we: 1) are not content with where we are, and 2) we want to change. And I can tell you that change is possible – but change, by definition, doesn’t come from employing the same processes that we always have. Example: I feel a sense of despair when I see someone else’s success in a matter. My reaction: stuff it away – distract myself with something else ASAP. Instead, I’m stubbornly learning that sitting for a moment with these thoughts – not combating them or immediately discrediting them, just acknowledging that they happened, is ultimately the pathway to their origin. We live with these toxic thoughts day in and day out, it’s only when we fess up to our brokenness that we can change our trajectory.

Much is changing in our life, of which I hope to share more of in the near future. But what this global slow down has taught me that I refuse to ignore, is this simple admission: I’m broken. I could spin it a different way, word it a different way,say it a different way; but that’s the truth of it. My internal processes have failed me and I acknowledge that finally. Of course, that’s not comfortable to say, but I’d rather come to this realization now, rather than thirty year from now when my kids are gone and I’m sitting in a barber chair, (if I still have hair) reflecting back on life.

You and I have an opportunity like never before and probably never again to pause and consider life. Even now as the wheels start turning, I would encourage you to imagine that the world is still very much in slow motion, regardless of what your schedule or routine looks like. Take the first four months of this year and reflect on what changed from the first two and the latter two. What became important in March and April? Did you start any projects that you have put off? Did you feel a bit more emotional when you had the opportunity to talk to a friend or a family member? Did you pick up an instrument or a pen? I’ve found that what I would say is important to me, often was the first thing to be cancelled or put off. It’s a great tragedy that most of us live this way, as evidenced by the Bronnie Ware’s research above. For me, writing is, and always has been my Soul’s home. It’s where I find peace and comfort; it’s where I make sense of the world and where my imagination blooms. And though I would say that it is important to me, my broken systems kept me locked out; they told me that I don’t deserve a home, that my place is somewhere else.

So my hope and prayer for you is that you got a taste of Home over the last couple of months and that you will sit with some of those annoying thoughts that ultimately are dissuading you from your true Place. Sit with them, and let them lead you back to their roots. I think that you’ll be surprised how far back in your story they trace, and what they trace to, but in discovering, you’ll realize that there is much healing for you, and the path Home is through that healing.

The World Needs Your Dreams

I was on my knees on the living room floor, rustling – maybe wrestling – attempting at the very least, to gather my daughter’s dodging, then limping, then straightening, then flailing appendages and insert them into the proper aperture in her footy pajamas. My hands were moving, I was probably even talking to her, trying to convince her to cooperate; that’s usually how these daily affairs go. But despite my bodies physical response to the event, I wasn’t present.

Then She said it.

The best way I can explain what happened is: sssshhhhhhffffffwwt

OK, you’ll have to read that sentence again, let’s imagine for a moment:

Two men fighting in a hallway. An intruder and an…Intrudee. The Intruder is, of course, dressed in all black, with a ski mask on. The Intrudee – plaid pajama pants and a white t-shirt. Intruder punches Intrudee, a square connection to the jaw bone. The hit sends the opposite side of Intrudee’s face into a family portrait hanging on the wall. Glass splashes from the wall. Intrudee’s right ear ringing – screaming from the crescendo it just experienced, is more disorienting than the bone cracking and face slashing. the confusion is gone in a blink; the endorphins released from the hit bring a surging tide of strength as Intrudee grabs Intruder instinctively by the neck/collar/face mask – one, or all of those – and performs the second half of a Shot Put – flinging Intruder through the window at the end of the hallway. The vinyl window frame folds and snaps as the window almost seems to absorb, but then relents and releases Intruder onto the patio roof below. The slight slope of the patio is generous to Intruder and levies only two roles before allowing him to claw and dig in to the asphalt shingles, shedding and spraying granules every direction. Intruder kicks off a section of gutter as he springs to his feet; just in time to look up at the raging home-owner jumping out of the window, clearly intent on personally escorting Intruder the rest of the way off of his property. Like he was a spring loaded action figure, Intruder flips a knife from (apparently) a sheath on the small of his back. As Intrudee descends upon the unwelcome solicitor, it’s too late to avert. The blade finds an easy entrance as Intrudee grabs Intruder by his favorite spot; this time it’s definitely the neck. They turn once in the air, Intrudee with a firm, two-handed grip on Intruder; Intruder has lost his grip on the knife and is now in full flailing mode. They hit the water with a surprisingly flat, smacking tone. The water, just as you’d imagine, inks instantly, seemingly black in the low light. The battle subsurface is short lived; the Intrudee knew that the pool awaited below, while the Intruder, conversely, unaware of the impending water submersion, hadn’t gasped oxygen before the plunge. The flailing lasts momentarily, but is quickly resigned. As the already quiet underwater battle becomes silent, Intrudee releases his vise and lifts his arms to swim toward the dim, very dim, even dimmer -“wait why is it getting dar” he thinks as he loses consciousness. All Black. Silent.

Then…

sssshhhhhhffffffwwttt, Intrudee is pullled through a vortex of light as Stranger grips him by his water soaked, blood stained shirt and ejects him from his unconscious state.

Alright, did that work? do you have the audio effect in your head? ready for that sentence again? Here we go, back to the true life story:

Then She said it; “Daddy, do you want to make baweebe?”

The best way I can explain my response is: sssshhhhhhffffffwwt

I was so preoccupied by thoughts: ‘How am I going to pay rent?’ ‘Was shutting down the shop a good idea?’ ‘When is this ‘curve’ going to flatten and life normalize?’ ‘Is life actually going to normalize?’ ‘Should I start looking for work?’ ‘What kind of work should I do?’, then, the shame: ‘I should have had more money saved.’, ‘I should have been spending more time looking for jobs, listening to those podcasts that I subscribed to, reading those emails, blogs, books…’

“Daddy, do you want to make baweebe?”

sssshhhhhhffffffwwt

“Yes baby, I want to make believe.”

Tears welled up instantly, just like they are now.

Did she know? Is there actually any way that this tiny little not even 3 year old could possibly feel the weight I was carrying behind my zoned out eyes? I don’t know. But I swear there was something deeper in that sentence than a restless toddler.

And because of that sentence: this.

I have written more, played more, walked more; I have started photographing, content creating, clothing campaigning, coding – actually pursuing the creative things that feed my soul – because of “do you want to make baweebe?”.

This week, the message I keep getting from so many different sources, in so many different ways, is that I am loved. I’m loved. The message is clear: God is my Heavenly Father, and he loves me. no prerequisites, no requirements. He just loves me. And he wants me to know it; to feel it. And I have. I hope that you get that message this week too – because it’s true. Because when we live out of this understanding, we can know that we are creators, it’s in our very make up. It’s our first and greatest vocation. Before anything else, we were created to create. When we act in our creative nature to dream and to draw out from these deep wells within us, it allows for life to begin.

So I’ll pass on the question to you: do YOU want to make believe?

Now more than ever before, we need new life. The world needs your dreams. Spring is coming, the earth is going to bud and grow, it’s had unprecedented time to breathe, and those things that are inside of you, that have been held back, neglected, hidden because of business and life; they need to grow. Take all of the dead foliage away; reveal the green underneath, give them room to breathe, bring them out into the light and let them grow.

Soberville, MT

Doin’ some work. Like we all are.
4 months ago I rediscovered sobriety. To be honest, I don’t even know where I lost it! Somewhere in my twenties the wounds of life piled up, dreams didn’t pan out, relationships went wayward. I looked around and everyone was drinking, so I joined in. But the perceived promise of pain relief; of happiness and good times, just didn’t pan out. Not for me.
I didn’t find what I was looking for when I took this detour, but time kept on rollin’ along all the same.

I was never a heavy drinker – at least compared to my environment. At the peak of my heaviest drinking though, I certainly could have wound up in cuffs or a coffin. My bar visits waned, but I drank steadier as the years went on. Again, compared to everyone around me, I was just hitting the quota.
The disillusionment probably would have continued if it weren’t for some key people around me getting sober themselves. When you can see clear waters, you tend to want to stop swimming in the mudhole.
What I came to admit was: it had control of me.

I could stop. But I didn’t. If I did, it called me back, always. If I determined to not drink for a week, guess what consumed my mind for seven days.

My biggest hurdle was that I just couldn’t percieve of a life where alcohol wasn’t the grand finale of all activities; it was how you broke the ice and got comfortable, it was how you finally relaxed after a long day, it was why you chose a specific place for vacationing because it had ‘that’ brewery/winery/bar, etc. Alcohol became a reward system. Only, for me the reward was a headache and further longing for…something more.

Birthdays are helpful for me in giving me motivation to ‘do’. So last year I decided that starting on my birthday I wouldn’t drink…well the day AFTER, because…obviously, right?
So I had my celebratory steak and drinks on Nov. 7th, 2019. I got home and passed out, and on November 8th…I actually didn’t drink. And I haven’t since. And I won’t. Because that biggest hurdle, that fear of the nagging desire and need for a drink – it died. And what replaced it – well, I just call it Pristine. And dreams are taking root again here in Soberville, MT.

Winds and Waves

Here we are. 2019. New Years day can be awesome. I mean that word in the literal sense. Awesome, as most of us know, yet also as most of us are conditioned to diluting, means ‘awe inspiring’. Whether that ‘awe’ is good or bad, positive or negative, etc. doesn’t apply. A wave is awesome; and from a distance, watching from the shoreline, it is beautiful and majestic and can be awesome. But if you are in a small boat, a surfboard, or just out there in the water in some form or fashion, and a huge wave hits you, that same wave is still awesome, but in a completely different way. Awesome and awful actually aren’t that far apart in their technical meaning, yet their connotations are vastly different for most of us.

I feel like that is how the first day of January can feel. There is so much hope and inspiration being shared and expressed, people are almost exclusively sharing their hope for the brand new year; it just really feels like a lot packed into one day. Also, like a wave, it is predictable, it’s inevitable. Looking forward can make me feel giddy with all the possibilities that lie ahead; all the opportunities in store. And when I am ready for the new year, when I’m in a good place emotionally and mentally, when life has good flow to it and things are going my way, it’s like I am wading in the water, fully anticipating and timing the next, big, wonderful wave that’s coming. And when it comes, I jump up and forward with my back to the rush, letting it lift and push me towards the shore. It’s like I’m flying.

But then there are other years.

For me, 2018 started out as wonderful wave. I had a lot to be thankful for and a lot of waves rode; 2017 was packed full of ‘new’. My daughter, who is absolutely the apple of my eye was born in April, then in July we moved our little family back closer to family and into a bigger house. I also started a new job and experienced a lot of growth and success quickly. Besides my daughter being born, the highlight of 2017 for me was when my wife and I decided to take a HUGE risk and take our little family to the Southeast after Hurricane Irma hit Florida. It was a big act of faith that was very much identity forming for us, especially since we experienced a lot more failure in it than we did success. What it did for me though, was take this seed of writing that was planted when I was a 12 or 13 years old, and it finally budded to the world through a facebook page that we made for our adventure. That, for me (and hopefully for my wife), was worth all the money and definite stress and heartache that came with the trip.

After that trip we had a deeper sense that God was calling us to ministry. We already felt very convicted in it, but as we have moved around a lot for vocational training and work, we have never been able to root in anywhere for very long and grow in it. So two months after the trip I had a very chance encounter with someone who worked at the local airport here in Helena, MT where we live. Through this conversation I found out that the company that operates the regional Delta and United flights was hiring part time. The perk of working for the company was that as an employee, me and my whole family were able to fly on standby status for free. We really saw this as an opportunity to cut costs when it came to doing more ministry trips. I started that job in November; in December we nearly lost our daughter when she fell in the bathtub and drown. My wife was able to resuscitate her, and though it was absolutely a traumatic experience, we were so ecstatic about being able to keep our precious, beautiful princess with us, that we had that much more to be thankful for going into 2018.

So 2018 came in with a great flow. I was very busy, working full time at the barbershop and part time at the airport. We were able to fly to North Dakota to see my wife Darian’s dad for New Year; a trip that takes four hours all together with the connection in Minneapolis; much more ideal than the typical twelve hour drive over generally less than ideal (actually almost always terrible) road conditions during that time of year. In February Darian and I flew to Phoenix for Valentines day and spent an unprecedented two nights without our children. Though it was amazing to spend that quality time with my bride, finding legit street tacos and going to an incredible (in my personal opinion, perhaps not hers) swap meet, we both came away from that trip less than ‘filled’. there were a lot of contributing factors, the primary being that the motel that we got was about a block away from other motels that more than likely could be rented hourly – just guessing. The last night before leaving there were several middle-of-the-night check-ins, and as you could probably guess, the walls weren’t exactly soundproof so any and all comotion was well registered. We are very used to not getting much sleep these days, but it was quite the bummer to fill that quota when we didn’t have the toddler and the infant. But really, beyond the little quirks, the lack of purpose was what consumed my joy for that trip. Some of that comes from my lack of skill in the ‘chill’ department. And it’s actually something that we specifically talked about on the flights down; Darian did her best to, in her always tactful and gracious way, remind me that this is was a vacation, there didn’t have to be a mission incorporated into it. And that is just the thing. That, for me, is what made 2018 a struggle in many aspects.

Moving forward, and with no clever way of discreetly segwaying so as to deviate the reader’s mind from making any correlations here to the last paragraph (although I can assure you, there is none) on April 7th of 2018 we found out Darian was pregnant with our third! We were truly happy to find out that we were going to be blessed again with a new life, as we felt that it was commissioned. I recall this really being the first pregnancy of feeling pressure to secure our family financially, which, if I’m honest, it was somewhat threatening to my adventuring personality. The threat of confinement, of rooting down and being in one place indefinitely for me does more to choke my spirit than perhaps anything else.

During this same period, it became very obvious that I needed to start my own shop if I wanted to maintain my reputation and grow my business (and curb that need for adventure). I found a small place that I could cashflow the remodel to if I worked after my regular business hours and recruited a LOT of help from many amazing family members and friends – which I definitely did. It wasn’t perfect or flawless on the opening day, in fact the front of the shop was boarded up due to me breaking a HUGE storefront window the week before. But it was functional and I was able to infuse it with my personal, hopeful, light and warm (think Florida warm) style. It has absolutely been a case of ‘humble beginnings’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way, even though the months following the opening of the shop have been quite difficult.

Interweaving through this busy time period of working at the airport, working at barbershop, and working on the new barbershop, I was given the most incredible opportunity, not once, but twice to preach at two different churches. It is quite ironic how life can happen all at once, isn’t it? Preaching is something that I have had a calling and passion to do for years and it was an utter surge for my spirit to be able to finally be able to stretch and grow in these opportunities.

Speaking of surges and waves, September came like a wave, washing me into the new shop and into a new beginning. Business flowed almost seamlessly as almost all of my customers followed me over. Life, in some fascinatingly mundane way, carried on. Then came a surge of melancholy, if not outright depression. It really made no sense to me; everything was seemingly going my way. It seemed like I was winning. Why did it feel like I wasn’t ready for the wave? Maybe even like I was…resisting it.

During this time I felt very convinced that I needed to seek counselling, as I could not pinpoint the reason for my Down. Unfortunately, there were no counselors available in network with my insurance that I considered a good fit, so I took it day by day. And like the tides, these dreary emotions receded and gave me some space to catch my breath; to stand and walk to shore again. But I didn’t just stand on my own two feet, I needed a hand to grasp to help me up; my wife has always been incredible at walking with me through the thick and thin and I am so blessed to call her mine. That being said, anxiety and depression are ever so prevalent in our world, and I have noticed that the natural tendency for the majority of people is to become more anxious and/or more depressed as they age. This may be a somewhat recent trend, but it is an observation that I cannot, nor do I want to shake. With the tides of emotional and hormonal changes that Darian has undergone through delivering three wonderful children into the world, I often reflect on how incredible it is that we have almost never struggled simultaneously with these mental illnesses. It strengthens my faith in God to reflect on the ways that He is faithful to always give us a way out; sometimes through supernatural resilience from within, and more often with a supernatural tapestry of relationships, perfectly timed words, looks, gestures, friendships; and just love that is injected at the perfect time and place from another of His prized creations. If we are going to fight these seemingly progressive diseases, we have to know their origins.

Depression is a ‘darknessborne’ disease, it thrives under the surface in confined, dark, isolated environments. the longer it occupies this space, the stronger it grows and the bolder it becomes in informing one’s mind, until it can influence action. Exposure to the light is the most immediate and effective way to halt the growth of the tumor.

Anxiety is a sickness incubated by confusion and disorder. As long as everything remains muddled and grey, the spore thrives and reproduces. Like light to depression, truth to anxiety freezes new growth from developing.

These two elements kill new growth, but to arrive at health requires walking in the way basked in truth and light. You won’t arrive at health by accident.

2018 came to a close for us in a marvelous way; we left a hospital with a newborn baby. it was extra marvelous and bathed in glorious mystery, as exactly one year previous to the day, we left a different hospital with a revived baby. How starkly different the two years were, the former filled with adventure and terror, but marked by relief. The latter filled with the mundane and safety; branded by struggle. Yet one correlation encapsulated both years: Life.

Jesus said that it’s a small gate and a hard, narrow road that leads to life; only a few find it. He also said that the way to eliminate anxiety from your life is to trust that our heavenly father will provide. Both of these statements can be hard pills to swallow because they require us to trust something outside of ourselves. We want proof. We want popular opinion. We want control. I hear Jesus promising us that following him will never ever be that. 

The reality is that life is never predictable. Sure, waves come in and they go out; time consistently marches on. And sometimes I find myself just holding my breath; telling myself to just wait out the wave. And if life was linear, that could possibly work, but sometimes Tsunamis hit. Sometimes hurricanes happen. What happens, when the unthinkable happens? We have had some of those in our family – some very recently – and what keeps me going, what really keeps one foot in front of the other – especially when those dark days come – is knowing, and learning, and growing in my understanding of the sovereignty of God. As I more fully understand through reading and studying the Bible, and through learning from those who have dedicated their entire lives to interpreting, studying, and truly understanding this text, I find a solace that soaks into the soil of my soul to know that there is a Supreme Authority over everything. All of it. And when I just don’t understand, when I want to scream “why!?”, when I want to contend with this Authority – I can. It may not get me anywhere, because I may be stuck in my short-sighted motives that I just can’t get away from – even if thunder and lightning were to answer me. Which brings me back to that sweet, sweet solace of the soul! How good is it to know that no matter what – no matter how much, or how little faith I have, His purposes prevail. I may scream against injustices, be spiteful or angry; I could go in circles and argue until I’m blue in face about what is right, but in the end, I’m not…the end. He is. In fact, His words were “it is finished.”

He also promised that a life built on – a life actively lived in conviction of – His words, would be like building on a stone foundation; one that would withstand the winds and the waves that are to come. That’s the life I want for me and my family.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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