Friday, December 31, 2010

What I learned from 2010: A Retrospect on a Crappy Year

It would be no surprise to me if 2010 did not go down in history as one of the crappiest years ever! I think the animal that should have represented this year on the Chinese calendar was the dung beetle. Rolling up poop, that's what this year was all about. There just seemed to be enough pain, sorrow and despair to go around! If you didn't lost your job you certainly knew someone who did. If you didn't have someone close to you die this year you certainly knew someone grieving a lost love one. The word that best describes 2010: Adversity (and poop).

Adversity, however, has a funny way of being a great teacher. Though this year has been a stinkfest for the record books, I have been able to dig through the manure to find some little gold nuggets I will be able to use for the rest of my life (eww!). Here are just a few:

1. The importance of community
It seems that everyone is talking about community these days. Hard times always bring out the best and worst in people and that usually brings people together. This year saw its fair share of hard times. I got through this year relatively unscathed but I sure did walk a whole bunch of people through some pretty rough stuff. Thank God I had a group of people around me to love and support me so that I could love and support others.Therein lies the essence of community. How do you survive in community?

Being in community is not as easy as you think. Just because you join a club, a church small group, a team or any other organization, doesn't mean you get a free ticket to do whatever you want and everyone has to automatically accept you for “who you are”. People will tolerate you if you are a complete jackhole, but it doesn't mean they will accept you. It is not the job of the community to accept and love you. They could be just as messed up and dysfunctional as you (and chances are they will be, maybe worse). It is your job to add value to the community you become a part of. It is also your job to be open and honest with the members of your community and to lean on them when you need to. You don't have to go it alone.

2. Just because you don't like someone, it doesn't make them a bad person
I think this is what Jesus was talking about with all of that "love your enemy" stuff. Somehow, this year, I learned that I was not the utmost authority on what goes on in a person's head! Wow, that was a huge burden off my shoulders! You can never tell what is going on in someone's heart so it is impossible to judge the intentions behind the actions of another human being.

But we have a funny tendency to put ourselves in the center of our own lives. To be honest, we tend to put ourselves at the center of THE universe! When we do that, every slight against us, perceived or otherwise, becomes a full on assault on our world. That's a pretty small world you are a king of your world and you become a petty tyrant. We need to think of ourselves more holistically, like we are part of something bigger than ourselves rather than the center of the universe. That is when you truly experience growth.

3. I learned how to say the word "no"
Easy word to say right? Won't get you a great score on Scrabble but man it can sure help get you out of a pinch! The word "no" gets a bad rap. Say it enough and you become Mr. Negative, but if you never say it at all you will lose all credibility or become resentful, burning yourself out. I used to think that people would not like me if I told them “no” or that I would miss out on some great opportunities. Well if someone isn't going to like you for saying "no" they probably didn't like you too much in the first place. And the truth is, me saying “yes” sometimes made me miss opportunities! Great opportunities!

On that same note, people are going to say “no” to you and if you don't like them anymore, you really need to check yourself, your heart and your intentions. Remember, it is not a full-on assault on your being, it probably means either they have something they seem to think is more important (see “you are not the center of the universe”) or they just don't want the added responsibility. And if they don't want
it, do you really want to depend on them for it?

I might add more to this list later because, like I said, this year has been one for the record books of crappy, no good years and through it I became a better person.

So raise your glass to 2011, the year I hope I don't learn a DAMN thing!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Angel on Top of the Tree

Have you ever wondered how the angel came to be on top of the Christmas tree?

It happened one Christmas eve long ago. Santa Clause and his elves were hard at work in Santa's workshop making toys for all of the little girls and little boys around the world. Santa wanted this Christmas to be extra special because so many boys and girls had been good. So Santa and his elves doubled the amount of toys they were making. This made Santa and the elves fall a little bit behind. The elves needed a break so Santa told them they could take a break and have a snack of milk and cookies. Then, it was back to work making toy trains and dolls and bicycles for all the good little boys and little girls. While the elves took their break, Santa went back to his house next to the workshop to plan the long night of delivering gifts.

While the elves were on break, one of them found some special eggnog that Santa Clause and Mrs. Clause drink to celebrate the sunrise on Christmas morning to mark another wonderful year of making the dreams of children come true! When the elves drank the eggnog, it made them a little bit clumsy and mischievous and they began making a merry ruckus all throughout the workshop!

The reindeer in the barn became curious because of all the sounds of laughter and rough play in the workshop so they came inside to investigate only to find the workshop now resembled a great ballroom where elves were dancing and singing and bringing all sorts of good cheer! The reindeer couldn't resist, they joined in the  Christmas eve festivities!

When Santa Clause came back to the workshop, the party was in full swing! Elves were swinging from the rafters, reindeer danced and flew around the workshop knocking over tools and unfinished toys. The whole place was in complete chaos!

Just then Mrs. Clause walked in to find the same scene. She was furious with Santa Clause for allowing all of this to happen! She shouted at him, asking him how he could let this happen and that he is going to let all of the good little boys and girls around the world down if he doesn't pull this crew together and get the job done!

By this time Santa Clause was furious himself! And just before he could raise his voice and bring the whole party to a trembling to a close, there was a knock at the door and when Santa Clause answered the door he shouted, "What is it that you want? Can't you see we are busy?"

Then Santa Clause saw, standing in his doorway, was the most beautiful angel he had ever seen! She had a long, white, flowing gown that sparkled in the light of the workshop. Her hair was golden blond and her eyes were as blue as the sea. In her hand, she had the most magnificent Christmas tree Santa had ever seen in all the houses he visited in all the world! She said to Santa Clause, "Santa, you should not be angry, you have a very important job to do tonight! Now you get right back in your workshop and make this the most special Christmas ever! Now to help make this more special, I brought you this beatifuly decorated tree for you to behold and cherish on this Christmas eve. Where would you like me to put it?"

And Santa told her where she could put it.

Merry Christmas everybody! May God bless you and your family!

This is our God

This is the God I worship.

The God that created the blue jay and taught him to sing his song is the same God that has gingerly placed every maggot on every rotting corpse on every battlefield from the open field battles of the Philistines and Israelites to the back alley slums of the Mexican drug cartel wars. He is there when the bride decides to marry the man kneeling before her and He is there when the serial killer chooses his next victim. Every leaf that has fallen off a tree, every dew drop that has moistened the ground and every piece of shrapnel that has every torn through human flesh have all been chosen by God to rest where they do. There are no coincidences and no accidents for the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33). He is the God that chose both Abraham to bless the world with his promise and the God that chose Judas to kiss the cheek of Jesus and send him to the gallows. The God that created Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler. This is our God.

This is the same God we call to at ever meal. We hold hands around the table and summons Him to join us. We never ask where He’s been or what He’s been up to because we either never think about it or we don’t really want to know. We know He does such dirty work, but we never ask Him to wash His hands. His hands are clean. The work of being God is both delightful and horrific. God is there at the birth and death of every human being. He stands in quiet dignity as both heros and cowards take their last breaths. He knows the deepest desires of their hearts. This is our God.

So why worship this God of sorrow and joy? Why worship the God of duplicity? Because his cause is great. Each life that seems to be torn down with total disregard was given by Him for His purpose and taken at a chosen time that is beyond our understanding. The same God that created the mountains and the sky, the same God that poured the sea into the depths of the earth is the same God gave us the passion to create and gave us the greatest gift of all: Love. The God that brought us death so that we could experience life. Isn't it just like the personality of God to bring us eternal life and eternal life abundantly through the horrific death of his only begotten son? This is our God.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hack Your Soul: Opening a Window

Hack Your Soul: Opening a Window: "Steph and I left the house last night and took off in two totally different directions. I took my oldest son out to dinner while Steph took ..."

Opening a Window

Steph and I left the house last night and took off in two totally different directions. I took my oldest son out to dinner while Steph took my youngest to a rehearsal for our church's Christmas program where he plays a "wood's child" (what ever that means). My oldest son and I ended up getting home first and upon arriving home I noticed several of our windows were open.

Now it wasn't like we were gone very long, maybe two hours, but I felt the possibility of our home being violated. Before doing anything else I went around the house and made sure all of the windows were shut. It was a little unnerving.

So I started thinking about those people who love to sleep with their windows open. They love to hear the sounds of nature. It relaxes them. Oh the joy of an open house where wild fragrances are invited to rush in by our own little portal to their world. The great, majestic outdoors.

There is a funny thing we like to ignore about nature. Every living, breathing creature and plant outside of your window would love nothing more than to see you dead. The romantic notion of the "circle of life" boils down to kill them before they kill you or run like hell! When you walk out your front door (and even while you are in your home if we are being honest here) you enter into a world where doing harm to you has a favorable outcome to every creature you come in contact with (especially other humans). To be human is to be ruler nature, the top of the food chain, which means inherently you are despised.

We love to have our windows open in our home, but once things go a little south, it sure is nice to be able to slam them shut!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Flight

Mr. Hobbs is sitting in an airport terminal waiting to fly out of town for business.

He looks at his watch to see the time. Then, he looks at his cell phone, he looks at the T.V. monitor showing the news (this stock is up, that stock is down, quarterly gains lower than expected), he checks the clock behind the flight check-in desk.

Mr. Hobbs hates to fly. He hates everything about it. Mr. Hobbs hates that he has to take his shoes off and walk through a giant machine that detects metal. He hates that his luggage go through a machine that looks inside his luggage and, if the machine and/or operator of the machine is not satisfied, someone opens his luggage and rifles through them.

He can’t carry hair gel or shampoo. The accusations offend Mr. Hobbs.

But Mr. Hobbs is past all of that. Now he is sitting in a terminal, as close to the gate as possible, waiting for a flight to come in so his flight can go out. He looks at his watch to see the time. Then, he looks at his cell phone, he looks at the T.V. monitor showing the news (Some sports reporter is talking about how some team playing some sport can only win the game if they play some way), he checks the clock behind the flight check-in desk.

Mr. Hobbs looks at all the people in the terminal. He looks at the empty seat next to him and wishes there was someone sitting there. Mr. Hobbs is a married man but wouldn’t mind the company of a beautiful woman just to pass the time. She could sit there and laugh at his witty observations. She would laugh and smile and he would look at her and she would get uncomfortable and he would feel awkward and start talking about his children and she get bored and Mr. Hobbs would feel embarrassed. He looks at the empty seat next to him and is glad that no one sitting there. He looks at his watch to see the time. Then, he looks at his cell phone, he looks at the T.V. monitor showing the news (There is a man in a gray suit in red tie talking about why his political party knew all along but the other political party just cares about consolidating power), he checks the clock behind the flight check-in desk.

Mr. Hobbs sees the jet pull up to the gate through the giant windows of the terminal. He stands up and grabs his carry-on luggage in his hands even though he knows he cannot board the flight until after everyone has gotten off of the jet. Mr. Hobbs sits back down.

After what seems like an eternity (but actually about three minutes) Mr. Hobbs watches as people begin to stream off the jet and out of the gate through the terminal. Mr. Hobbs again stands up and grabs his carry-on luggage in his hand even though he knows he cannot board the flight until after the flight crew cleans the jet and re-stock the galley with food and beverages. Mr. Hobbs sits back down. He looks at his watch to see the time. Then, he looks at his cell phone, he looks at the T.V. monitor showing the news (A suicide bomber in some country, somewhere in the Middle East, detonated his explosive vest in the middle of a crowded market. X amount dead, X amount wounded), he checks the clock behind the flight check-in desk.

Mr. Hobbs hears the woman behind the flight check-in desk say that his flight is ready to board. He stands up and grabs his carry-on luggage in his hands knowing now that boarding his flight is eminent. He looks at his watch to see the time. Then, he looks at his cell phone, he looks at the T.V. monitor showing the news (This time Mr. Hobbs doesn't even notice whats on the news), he checks the clock behind the flight check-in desk. Mr. Hobbs check his ticket like he has been doing since he first parked his car in long-term parking to make sure he is getting on the right jet. He hopes he remembered to lock his doors and display his ticket on the dashboard even though no one has asked him to do that. Mr Hobbs makes sure he is in the first group to board. He wants to be able to pick his seat and not settle for whatever he can get. He wants some control over where he will be sitting for the next four and one half hours. Mr. Hobbs, with carry-on luggage in hand, takes his place in line and begins boarding the plane. He has his ticket scanned. He has his driver's license and passport in his hands also even though no one asked him to show either of them. He walks down the long hall and through the door to the jet. As he walks down the aisle between the rows of seats he looks ahead for a good seat. While walking down the aisle his carry-on luggage bumps into seats already occupied by people but he doesn't notice.

Mr. Hobbs finally finds a seat near the emergency exit. He stored his two appropriately-sized carry-on luggage bags in the proper storage compartment above his head. Mr. Hobbs then takes the seat closest to the window and immediately fastens his seat-belt because he knows soon the flight attendants will ask him to do that and he wants to be ahead in the game. He makes sure his tray table in front of him is fastened securely and that his seat is in the full, upright position. He watches as the people continue to board wondering who he will have to deal with for the next four and one half hours. Mr. Hobbs hopes it is someone young so if a conversation happens he can impart some of his years of wisdom on them. He will talk about how he remembers a simpler time before cell phones and laptops and how he has been married for 20 years and has children and how the future is whatever you make of it. Just as Mr. Hobbs was thinking of some whimsical tales of his youth, a middle-aged man in a gray suit took the seat next to him. He knows he will never say a word to this man. He looks at his watch to see the time. Then, he looks at his cell phone. Mr. Hobbs turns off the cell phone because he knows the flight attendants will ask him to do so and he wants to be ahead in the game.

Mr. Hobbs watches as the flight attendants do their dance to show us how to locate all the safety features of the jet. He watches intently even though he has watched this dance many times. He checks to make sure his his seat-belt is fastened, his tray table in front of him is fastened securely and that his seat is in the full, upright position. Mr. Hobbs locates all the emergency exits and knows that in the case of an emergency he can handle the duties of sitting next to an emergency exit. Mr. Hobbs makes sure he can find the aircraft safety card located in the pocket in the back of the seat in front of him. He knows the oxygen bag that will drop out in front of him in case of a loss of cabin pressure will have a bag attached to it that will not fill up with air but will be providing him with oxygen. He know his seat can be used as a flotation device in case of a water landing even though the jet will never actually fly over any large bodies of water.

At this time Mr. Hobbs imagines what an emergency water landing would look like, what it would feel like. He imagines the jet, traveling at five hundred miles per hour, hitting the water and breaking apart on impact. Mr. Hobbs imagines what it would be like to be sitting in his window seat next to the emergency exit when another aircraft collides with the one he is flying in. Would he die instantly? Would the jet rip apart and send his maimed body hurtling towards the earth while he is still somewhat conscious? Mr. Hobbs imagines a bomb exploding in the fusalage of the aircraft. He imagines what it would feel like to burn to death while sitting next to a middle-aged man in a gray suit that he will never say a word to.

Mr. Hobbs tightens up the seatbelt fastend across his lap. He looks at his watch to see the time. The jet begins to make its way down the runway. Mr. Hobbs hopes that he gets to see his wife and children again. He hopes he does not die.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

There is no way to mark time in Southern California

There is no way to mark time in Southern California.

Every season feels the same, every month as perfect as the last.

March feels like November, October like April, June like January.

There is no unbearable heat like the Summers of Texas. No horrible ice and snow of the North-East. The colors of fall look like the colors of spring. Christmas feels like Easter! Easter feels like Halloween!

You’ll go mad trying to remember a place in time, a moment past.

I remember a day, in eighth grade. I remember the ride in my mom’s car. I know I was in eighth grade because I only went to that school one year.

What month was it? Who knows? Felt like October, which felt like July.

I remember the day like yesterday, the day we found out our friend Stephan killed his dad.

I remember being shocked but not surprised, confused but totally understanding exactly what it meant.

It meant things would never be the same. The seal on my innocence was worn before, but now it was completely broken. The possibility of death was always a part of my childhood, but the possibility of murder was now completely real.

I remember not talking to any of my friends about it because I only had one friend then and he wasn’t at school that day. I remember watching a kid vomit in the middle of the quad at school. His vomit was bright orange and I remember wondering what he could have eaten or drank to make it that color. Cheetos? Orange Crush?

I remember sitting by myself, wondering if I would ever murder someone, wondering if this feeling would become the new normal. My reality was change forever, nothing would ever be as it was before. All my thoughts were tainted by this new possibility.

But the sun was still shining, and the grass was still green, and the trees still had leaves, and I was still wearing shorts.

When did it happen? Who knows?

There is no way to mark time in Southern California