Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

Graduation 2 — June 20, 2019

Graduation 2

My youngest nephew graduated from high school last night. The plan was for this gigantic school to hold this ceremony at 6pm outside, but the rain appeared to have other plans. The forecast was for 90% chance of rain, and as of 4 o’clock, it was still pouring down. At 5, as we drove in, the sun began to peek from behind dark clouds and the drops slowed, then stopped. They began at 5:30, just in case, and ended just before 7, when we hurried to our cars as the rain began again. There was a 2 hour window or calm, clear skies for our celebration. A gift from God to my nephew and his classmates.

Now, last week I wrote a post on graduations, sadness and celebration, presence and attention, so I won’t do that again. What I will talk about is bleachers and space.

We sat in the metal bleachers, crammed in like sardines, and when we should’ve been thinking about the moments we’ve spent with Nathan and the man he’s becoming and how significant this moment is, we were instead thinking about the heat and sweaty forearms and being careful not to shove our knees into the backs of the grandparents in front of us.

It’s easy to underestimate how important those small details are, like the music in the background or the temperature.

When the Bridge moved into our current building, we were buried under an avalanche of sound problems. Then, once they were fixed, we enjoyed about a year of quiet before the heating system attacked. It is impossible to underestimate how disruptive a deafening shriek of feedback can be, or how distracting a 90 degree sanctuary is.

Last year, during this same weekend when my other nephew graduated, I wrote a post about hot HIIT yoga. This year, my torturous sister treated me to another class of hers; this time, plain old boiling hot yoga. It was hotter this time, like the surface of the sun, but the movements and workout just as uncomfortable. The music was loud and perfectly mixed, the instructor’s voice constant and encouraging – 2 huge details that allowed us to endure.

[2 things about the instructor, Mona (who looks exactly like you think she would.) Before the class, she said to me, “If you can’t do the movements or go on, just stay in the room,” which is terrific advice for a life of growth and becoming. Then, during the class, we were twisted like pretzels and my muscles were threatening to be torn from my bones, and I felt her hands on my hips, gently, firmly, nudging me even further in the direction I could not go. Except that I could go further. I may have whimpered or cried a little, but sometimes it takes someone to ‘help’ us stretch.]       

My sister’s house is comfortable and her dog is amazing, The Best Dog On Earth, and she had lots of food on the counter. 

It’s these small details of our lives that make our lives. These ‘small’ details make obstacles and trials manageable or unconquerable monsters. That make relationships new and fresh or misery. That make workouts challenging and fun or boring boxes on our “things I have to do” lists. They’re the difference between existing and living. 

It’s the reason the Bible spends so much time and so many words on what we can mistake as irrelevant minutiae. These details are the bricks upon which we build our world. 

Chuck Palahniuk writes, in Choke: 

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time.

We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are.

Letting our past decide our future.

Or we can decide for ourselves.

And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight.

And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

….

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.

What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”

What we build could be anything. We should probably pay attention to these little rocks.

Graduation — June 8, 2019

Graduation

Today my youngest son will graduate from 6th grade and move on from the elementary school into junior high. I’ll just let that sit for a second and allow the weight of that statement to wash over me.

My oldest son is moving out of junior high into the high school, as well.

I have no children in elementary school.

Yesterday they were sleeping on my chest, or nursing, or needing a diaper change. Last night I was spoon-feeding them from a jar. And this morning, Samuel (the soon to be 9th grader) drove his shoulder into my belly (probably breaking 3 ribs,) lifting me off my feet and into the couch.

I can no longer throw him over my head and into the air, drawing the concerned gasp from their mom. As long as we’re at it, she is now “mom” exclusively, no longer “mommy.” It would be the sweetest song to hear the word “daddy” again. I tried to throw Samuel over my head like I used to at the pool last week and I’m pretty sure I tore several muscles in my back. 

I have no children in elementary school. 

[Now it’s 2 days later and the graduation is over. Summer vacation has begun!]

Yesterday, during the music/photo montage at graduation,  I had absolutely no hope of holding back tears as I saw that sweet 1st grade boy smiling and running and laughing. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really want to, either.

Elisha (the graduate) is growing into a really wonderful human being, I love who he is and watching him become who he will be is overwhelming. He is kind (mostly;) and polite and self-assured and grounded and hilarious and has moves on a basketball court that only show me how old and slow I’m getting. He’s so handsome and lovely it would break your heart. He gets the haircut and wears whatever he wants – which only the most stylish can/will do – and sings out loud. He reads, tells jokes he makes up, can run like a deer and would rather eat nails than let you win. At anything. He’s not always nice and he’s not always concerned with your feelings; He has rough edges, which only makes me like him more. 

The boy that he was is gone and isn’t coming back, and that fact must be mourned, an offering of salty tears. But the young man that he is becoming, and the man that he will become, are worthy of euphoric celebration, also an offering of salty tears. Both of these are 100% true.

My heart works exactly as it should. In that graduation, I was fully present, engaged, feeling all of the emotions of this beautiful gift of life. I am so, so thankful. How could I not weep?? Why would I hold anything in? 

2 of my favorite people in the world gave birth to twins this week. All four of them are unbelievably lucky and blessed. And I know the tears they will cry as the pictures of babies in car seats will transform into teenagers in the drivers seat, the cribs into graduations, and the loss and the hope and the mourning and dancing and the times for weeping and laughing and the times for tearing down and building. And I wish them everything. I hope nothing more for them than that they are there for all of it and hold nothing in.

This Angel — May 24, 2019

This Angel

Monday is our 18th wedding anniversary, in 3 days our marriage will be old enough to vote. I have so many thoughts about that…and I’ve been sitting looking at a mostly blank screen. It’s not that I haven’t started. I have, quickly tapping out several sentences. And then immediately delete what I’ve written. 

Because what can you write about that? 

We’ve been together 1 day and, at the same time, a million years. It’s been smooth and easy, natural and peaceful. And it’s been difficult and uncomfortable and full of all kinds of tears. I know her like I know me, and I am consistently surprised by this Angel.

So now, what can you say about this marriage, any marriage that has made it this far?

I know it’s unbelievably important to kiss each other a lot. I’ll tell you my favorite thing we have done since the first day, as long as you don’t tell her I told you. Anytime either of us comes in the door, we get up – no matter what we’re doing – and we go to the door and say Hi and give the other a hug and kiss. (We do the same with the boys, too, but this isn’t really about them. It might be, now that I think about it. Theodore Hesburgh says, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” So, I’m doing the “best thing” for my boys because I sure do love their mother.)

Here’s another embarrassing thing (for her) that I’ll tell you. I wrote earlier that the nearly 20 years we’ve been together sometimes feel like 1 and others like a million. I still see her and lose my breath and get nervous because she’s so ridiculously foxy EXACTLY like I did before I ever spoke to her, when she was “this girl in some of my business classes.” You would think that would fade a little, but it hasn’t, and I don’t know if that has more to do with her remaining this foxy or the more I learn about her, the more attractive she is. I’ve seen the way she loves our sons, gets out of bed the second they call her name (never mine,) cries over the things she sees and feels at work, and builds decks and bookshelves; each of which make her ever more stunning in the dresses she wears as well as her pajamas, fully made up or fresh out of bed.

I know now what to write about that! As I’m sitting here thinking about my special lady, about all of the things that I love about her and the many arguments and frustrations and storms and floods and heartaches and celebrations and all of the everything that comes with a full life, I realize that each of them contain some variation of the word ‘thankful.’ And I guess that’s what ties everything together. We go to the door because we are so grateful that they are the ones that are coming home and that we are the ones who are there to greet them. I still deeply appreciate the way she looks (instead of being overrun with the numbness that familiarity can easily breed, taking the most lovely woman you’ve ever seen completely for granted) because the God to whom we have given our lives and our marriage has opened my eyes, and transformed my life until I am the kind of man who is present and awake enough to see what is right in front of my face. I’m thankful He brought us together and that she chose me then, and continues to choose me now. 

I’ve been incredibly thankful for these 18 years, overwhelmed at the grace I’ve been shown, and I sure can’t wait to see what happens next. Happy Anniversary!

     

   

Watches — May 3, 2019

Watches

This morning, I picked up 6 watches I had taken to a local jeweler for battery replacements. I had been missing them for quite some time, and it is very nice to have them back and the one that is apparently my favorite, back on my wrist.

I love the look and function of a nice watch, I think it says something wonderful about the person that wears it. I also like the look and function of people, too, so I engaged him, asking an innocent question – more a statement with a question mark, really: “There sure aren’t many that still do watch batteries anymore, are there?”

He had opinions (and we’ll get back to this in a minute.)

First, there is a machine that exerts pressure on the face to put the piece back together. This machine is fairly complex and, if the proper fitting isn’t used, the crystal can easily break. Sometimes, the hands get bent and the mechanics get damaged as well, if this machine is used inappropriately. To prevent this sort of problem, it takes patience, training and careful operators.

Second, watches can be pretty cheap. Most of mine are. In fact, I bought 2 in Canada at a department store that was having a GIANT sale for less than $2 each. My watches aren’t all that inexpensive, but I also don’t have any that I have to insure.

These 2 actually share the same root. We are living in an increasingly disposable world. It’s cheaper and easier to buy a new watch than replace a battery, it’s cheaper and easier to hire a new employee than train and keep the old one. TV repairman are relics; if my picture fails, next Thursday I’ll take it out to the curb with the rest of the trash. Sewing is a lost art. I’ll put the pants that split right next to the tv.

I find this mostly depressing. I like cheap and easy, but I’m not sure I like it as much as patience and care. Speaking with the jeweler, who would’ve gone on all day about the watch replacement battery procedure and the many different choices of tools involved, who spoke slowly, softly and clearly (also anomalies), I was struck by his passion and talent. You know how that is, when someone cares deeply for something, you find yourself completely engrossed in whatever it is, right? (I have a good friend who is a tax lawyer and absolutely love to hear stories about codes and assessments) I wanted him to go one all day, was disappointed when the next customer opened the door. (She wanted a bracelet engraved. Engraved. Nothing I own is engraved. Yet.) I wanted him to offer to show me the machine, to train me, to give me a job. I wanted to be a jeweler. I wanted more fancy watches and I wanted them engraved.

Now, it’s an hour later and I don’t honestly care too much about watch batteries, outside of the simple fact that my watches tell time again. But this disposable world issue is farther reaching, and that’s harder to ignore. Our relationships are disposable, people are disposable. I guess it was inevitable, We treat each other as commodities, as we would dish soap or bedsheets  – remaining as long as they are useful. If my buddy has a rough patch and is no longer making me laugh or providing a fun time, I’ll find a new buddy, leaving him to deal with his rough patch alone. If my marriage doesn’t feel very good lately, maybe it’s time to upgrade and get a new one. Of if he disagrees with me, or has something negative to say about a decision of mine, or she expects too much of me, or wants me to do things I don’t want to, everyone can be replaced. Who has the time to invest in something that doesn’t offer a high return immediately? 

Marriages, authentic relationships, honesty, loyalty, kindness, care, love – these things aren’t cheap and easy, but they’re so great, they’re the best things about being alive. What does it say about us when we so quickly discard the most important for the most convenient? When we trade commitment for detachment and indifference? 

I know they’re only watches, but I’m not convinced we should become the kind of people who just mindlessly throw anything away.              

Advice/Endgame — April 26, 2019

Advice/Endgame

I don’t usually make a habit out of dispensing advice (especially unsolicited advice.) It has been my experience that most of us don’t care at all what you think, unless, of course, you agree with me. This hasn’t always been my perspective. I used to think we wanted the truth, or at least honesty, but I am no longer a child.

Today is an exception. I have 2 pieces of very good advice.

First, a story. 

Last night, I explained to my boys that the trash was to find its way to the curb and, if not, they would not be staying home from school to see the new Avengers movie with me. (Yes, we all take the day off to see a movie. Do you remember any Fridays in school in late April? Me neither. We will remember today.) My youngest said, “no you won’t,” with a nice smile, not as mean-spirited or disrespectful as it sounds here. And this morning, when I woke to see that they did not do what had been asked of them, I knew he was right. 

#1. Do not ask questions of which you are not prepared for all answers or make threats you are not prepared to see through.

I knew my comment was ridiculous and should never have been said. It was meaningless as it left my lips. They are home today, and we are going to the movies. 

#2. Being ‘right’ isn’t always the most important thing to be.

Instead, maybe a peaceful, forgiving, clear-headed presence is. I was an unbelievably angry young man, and I have absolutely no idea how I was able to sustain that level of energy. This morning, I was mad when I saw the trash (STILL IN THE HOUSE!!!!!) but I went to the gym and took a breath and all of that negative energy quickly dissipated and I was left with us and the facts of the case (that won’t mean anything in a week.) Now, there will be punishment, but it won’t be at the expense of a memory we won’t get back. I know it’s only a movie, but it’s far more; It’s a special day – set apart, holy, a celebration of a journey we have taken, and are taking, together – these boys will spend with their daddy, who thinks they are the sun and moon. This is no small thing, (in fact, as most of us are only too aware, it’s the biggest thing, more valuable than we’d ever acknowledge) and should never be traded for right-ness or wrong-ness. I’m right, they’re wrong, we all know it…now what?

I can’t imagine the regret I’d have if I still was that angry young man and, still trying to prove myself enough, led around by my raging ego, mistaking a simple error for an indictment of my own value, took such a sacred moment from us.

They are sweet boys. This was no rebellion; his innocent (true) comment made it appear to be, but it was not so, only a job half-done (maybe he should read a several week teaching on details) They are sweet boys who are learning lessons about love and kindness and service and becoming who they have been created to be. There will be mis-steps, forgotten tasks, slights and subtle disrespects – by all of us – but we simply cannot lose sight of the bigger picture that gets more and more gorgeous with every moment not taken for granted.

…And now for the ENDGAME!!!! 

         

catfish — March 7, 2019

catfish

Today on MTV, Catfish in on. If you are unfamiliar, Catfish is a terrific show where people who think they’ve found true love online discover, with the help of host Nev Schulman, that the objects of their affections are not at all the people they believe them to be. It’s pretty great tv, where the drama is in the search to find the actual person, then the reveal and subsequent confrontation, and finally the tears and broken heart resolution. Who knows what all is real? (Only children still believe that reality tv is, in fact, reality. It’s more of a ‘based on a true story’ situation, probably.) But there is an undercurrent that is very real, that is too easily missed as we watch shows, detached and judgmental – the judgment either taking the form of sympathy for the fished or disgust for the fisher.

It’s interesting how quickly we can dismiss the Bible as outdated and irrelevant, stories about ‘they’ and ‘them’ and not ‘we’ or ‘us.’ It is much the same with programs like this. The lines that separate us are nowhere near as defined as each of us like to think, and the more we can dismantle these structures and erase those lines, then there is the chance for understanding and genuine connection.

It’s not surprising that we draw these lines of comparison and condescension, it’s all part of the foundation of Catfish. The people who are fishing, deceiving those on the other end of the screen, are creating images of themselves. They are actors on a stage pretending to be someone else, someone they are not, to gain acceptance and belonging. And I watch, pretending to not be just like them, pretending that we are very different. Now, I have never used your pictures or lied my face off to waste years of someone’s life, but I have a loooooong history of image-building. I have been what’s called a pleaser, trying desperately to fit what I think you want, to be cool, smart, funny, mean, trendy, or whatever.

I shake my head and say, ‘these people.’ But like so much, there is no ‘these people,’ there is only ‘me,’ only ‘us,’ and the weight of the show is in the mirror it uses to shows us how unsatisfied we are being who we are. I need better jeans, a better job, a better car, more money, clearer skin, bigger biceps and a smaller spare tire, to find fulfillment, peace, happiness, peace.

Who am I? is The Question that is always looming, just beyond fake plastic filtered smiles and sunshine instagram posts. Not everyone’s food (or workout or pants or marriage) looks that perfect all the time.

Ok, so I am a catfish in all kinds of ways. But I am the catfished in more (and the truth is, everybody is.) I do all of these things, contort myself into more desirable positions, for the same reason everyone has ever done, since the beginning of time – for that beautiful bond, for a hand to hold, for love. That’s why the unbearably naive victims on the show believe EVERYTHING, because they are willing to close their eyes and cross their fingers in the hope that this time it might be true, that they might not be alone. Of course, the paradox is that as long as we wear masks, we’ll never find the authentic relationship for which we are wearing the masks in the first place. But we have to wear the masks because we’re all so busy trapped in ‘us’/’them’ theology, and this catch 22 rolls over and flattens us all.

But yesterday is not today and today is not tomorrow. Just because we have always done it this way doesn’t mean we will continue. It is not just what it is. The revolution starts when we say it does.

 

 

Memento — January 20, 2019

Memento

There was a great (GREAT) movie in 2000 called Memento, in which the protagonist Leonard searches to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. Standard thriller plot, except he has no memory at all, leaving notes all over his body, all over everything.

Now. There is a very interesting discussion to be had on the philosophical idea the film’s title is taken, Memento Mori, a Latin phrase that means ‘remember death,’ or ‘remember that you will die.’ We’re not going to have that discussion.

Instead, the discussion we’re going to have is about Lady Gaga. I have been a pretty serious fan since ‘Paparazzi,’ a song so good it forced me to re-evaluate the 2 earlier singles. The problem I have with Lady Gaga is that I am afflicted with much the same issue as Leonard. Every Gaga song is without question THE BEST LADY GAGA SONG!! If ‘Hair’ is playing, it’s the Gaga masterpiece, until ‘Bad Kids’ or ‘Alejandro’ or ‘Monster’ or ‘John Wayne’ or ‘Angel Down’ or ‘Summerboy’ is playing. The truth is that her finest moment is ‘Bad Romance,’ but I just don’t remember just how fine a moment it is until it’s on.

I read the Bible, and one of the narratives is how the people of Israel get themselves in a mess, God rescues them, and they celebrate, promise to follow Him, and forget, thus beginning the circle anew. It’s terribly frustrating and impossible to read without the thought of, “seriously, again?” It’s like Mr. Incredible’s quote on saving the world, “Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know?! For a little bit. I feel like the maid: “I just cleaned up this mess ! Can we keep it clean for, for 10 minutes?! Please?!” Why don’t they just pay attention?!!? Do we really have to keep running the same story on a continuous loop forever?

To which the answer is, apparently, yes.

I sigh, shake my head and mumble about ‘these people,’ while I make the same mistakes over and over, step into the same traps, fall into the same holes, continue to think ‘Manicure’ is better than ‘Bad Romance.’

We all have a little bit (or a lot) of this Leonard, forgetting really important details of our lives.  I know Lady Gaga songs aren’t the ‘really important details of our lives,’ but you get the point. We certainly aren’t bound by our pasts, but there is value in where we’ve come from, who we were, how we have grown, overcome, transcended, value in celebrating the times we were rescued. All of it provides the context for living and where we will go and who we will be. I suppose we all need more notes and tattoos as reminders.

My boy just walked into this room where I am writing, sat on the edge of the couch and expressed some remarkably insightful thoughts about Marvel characters. I hope I don’t forget this moment – it’s just perfect. (What’s not is how he’s going to get himself into trouble in 15 minutes, but for now…perfect)

There’s no special, clever ending here, just the same thing. I want to be present to every second. That’s mostly what the idea of Memento Mori is about – we are going to die, so we should enjoy each moment as if it’s the last, and then, we will really live. (Maybe we are going to talk about this now.) This is from a site called The Daily Stoic: “Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. And fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this. A simple reminder can bring us closer to living the life we want. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many things you have left to be done, a car can hit you in an intersection and drive your teeth back into your skull. That’s it. It could all be over. Today, tomorrow, someday soon.”

This purpose, priority, meaning, urgency, all of it is so overwhelming in its beauty. It’s called presence, right? Being present to my life, and never taking any of it (the what, where, why, how and especially the who) for granted. And remember, because I don’t want to have to keep relearning it every day.