When memories become fairytales

Time has a way of turning good memories into fairytales. They somehow become bigger and better than they were as they were being lived. Good memories get embedded with nostalgia, and the unfulfilled desire to re-live the moment only gets stronger with time. This weekend, I was up in San Francisco for a wedding. I was going up with a friend who lives in Bakersfield, so we decided to meet at Harris Ranch in Coalinga to ditch my car and ride up together. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Harris Ranch is on I-5, in between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s a cattle ranch, inn, restaurant and mid-way stop for travelers headed between SF and LA. It also smells like poop – and poop reminds me of home. You see, the town I grew up in is 15 miles west of Harris Ranch. It’s a lovely little town. A town I’m quick to defend when others do what I just did and make fun of the smell. “Harris Ranch is NOT Coalinga,” I’ll tell them emphatically. Just like ethnicity and religion, it’s okay to make fun of your own group, but if someone outside your circle starts talking crap (no pun intended), game on! Had they ever been to Coalinga, population 20,000, they would discover a charming town full of friendly people. It’s a safe town (or at least was when I was growing up) and perfect for raising a family. There’s not a whole lot to do, but that’s the beauty of it – you are forced to use your imagination. Within walking distance from the home I was raised in was the edge of town. Literally, the edge of town. The dividing line was a fence made of steel posts and barbed wire. On one side, an asphalt street and on the other, land stretching out as far as the eye can see. My friends and I had lots of adventures roaming the land. Armed with pellet guns and water, we would scour the fields for bandits (squirrels), blasting them to kingdom come. When we weren’t roaming the outskirts of town, we’d be riding our bikes through the neighborhoods. You could cover a quarter of the town on a good day, jumping off sidewalks, riding through the schools and using the edges of driveways as ramps to launch you onto the street. It was as good a childhood as I can imagine someone having.

I grew up at 213 Cindy Lane in an unassuming four bedroom, two bath house. It was a short street…maybe five houses on each side. Brick covered the bottom half of the house and white stucco, the top. The windows frames were green and there were two steps leading up to the front door. Two trees in the front yard provided shade and were probably the best climbing trees to ever have existed. I’m not sure what kind of trees they were, but they were maybe 20 feet tall, with large green leaves and thick branches.

I was supposed to meet my friend at Harris Ranch at 8:30pm, but I was running a bit early, so I decided to go into town. I pulled up to Cindy Lane just before sundown. I parked my car and stepped out into the warm summer evening. Living at the coast is incredible, but there is something about a warm summer night that just can’t be beat. I started walking down the street and a flood of memories came to me. My best friend lived in the house on the corner and her aunt and uncle lived next door to us. The neighbor on the other side was a highway patrolman named Jeff. He and his wife would let us swim in their pool whenever we wanted. We would run between these four houses all summer long. As I walked down the street this weekend, I noticed there was a truck in front of my old house. A man was outside leaning on it, talking to the neighbor. They were drinking beer and trying to have a conversation, but the kids kept interrupting. I walked by and said hello. They said hi, but looked at me as if I was from another planet. Truth be told, I was completely out of place. V-neck shirts, tight jeans and TOMS shoes aren’t exactly what the locals wear. I rounded the corner of the street and walked down the ally. No one has ally’s anymore. At least no one that I know. I peaked through the fence of my old backyard and found dirt and concrete in the place of what used to be a beautifully manicured back yard. The deck that my father built with his own two hands was ripped out and the flowers that he and my mother planted were gone. It was disappointing to say the least. The only thing remaining of the basketball hoop that hung above the garage door were the four screw holes that held it there over fifteen years ago.

I returned to my car and drove to my parents house to visit for a bit before heading out to meet my friend. I frequently think of how great it would be to buy our old home and fix it up, restoring it to its former glory. I told my dad this once and he said that it probably wouldn’t be the same. I’m sure he’s right, because that’s the thing with great memories. They remain great through the remembering, not the recreating. Walking down the street, touching the leaves on the trees, seeing my name written into the sidewalk – that stuff never gets old.

So now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite childhood memory that’s taken on a life of its own?

Bad Acronym

Organizations love acronyms. They love acronyms to the point of absurdity. It seems like, no matter the length of the phrase or title, an acronym is necessary. The problem is that I’ve got so many in my mind that I can’t keep them straight. I have to laugh when someone thinks that “Sales Force” is too lengthy a phrase and needs to be reduced down to “SF” so people can remember. It’s ridiculous.

Two months ago, I was asked to be involved in a council within the company I work for. One person in my role from each of the seven regions were chosen to be a part of this council. It’s really a huge honor – one which I’m grateful for. The purpose of the council is to be the voice of the sales force to the executive team. We gather information from our peers and present it to the executive team for review, in the hopes that changes will be made to improve job satisfaction from those in our role. All well and good, right? Well….

The title of the group is the Sales Advisory Council.

SAC

Yup. SAC.

When this acronym was first casually mentioned in a conference call, I raised my hand and said, “uh…is anyone else uncomfortable with this acronym?” The response was basically, “grow up.” I’m sure though, that the members of the SAC are now the laughing stock of the organization. It’s super funny though, and I’m the first to poke fun at the SAC. Especially when emails go out from corporate introducing the SAC, telling the sales force that they are excited about SAC, etc. Absolutely horrible.

Anyway, are any of you aware of other bad acronyms?

Salt

This is going to be a very “pastoral” post. So if I sound preachy and you’re offended…my bad. Please remember as you read that this post is first and foremost, for myself. I just need to write some stuff down in an effort to process it myself. It’s going to be full of metaphors and bible verses. I may even throw in a humorous story to keep your attention. And if you could hear my voice, it would be getting really loud, then really quiet, then really loud again.

Here’s the Bible verse part:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” – Matthew 5:13

I read this verse a few weeks ago and didn’t think much of it until recently, when I read in the news that Prop 8 had been overturned in California. Proposition 8 was voted on in 2008 and ruled that only marriage between a man and a woman would be recognized by law in California. Obviously, the proposition being overturned is a massive victory for the gay community – and being such a controversial issue, the judge’s ruling was followed by serious backlash, especially from Christians. Now, I have no intension of getting into the political or moral arguments for gay marriage. And honestly, Prop 8 only sparked my thinking, but what I’m about to write really holds true for any human relationship we have.

In Matthew 5, we are described as salt of the earth. The intrinsic characteristics of salt result in the flavors of its host being enhanced. It’s meant to compliment the dish. Too often, when we are talking to others about Christianity, it results in an argument. I’ve been in situations before where I’ve got an agenda and an opinion. In those instances, there is no way I’m backing down. The only acceptable outcome is the other person changing their perception. I’ve never seen this end well. Usually we both walk away frustrated, and although I’ve been clear in what I believe, neither of us are better off for it. I will say this though. There is absolutely a time and place for standing on the rooftops and passionately proclaiming what we believe to be true. But having the compassion and discernment to determine when and where those times are is one of the most difficult skills a Christian can master. Jesus obviously had this skill in the bag. He turned over the tables at the temple in righteous anger and in compassion he turned away the adulteresses accusers, turned to the woman and said, “neither do I condemn you – now go and sin no more.” I am guilty too often of seeing Christians abuse the temple while I call it marketing – and of seeing sin and passing judgement.

If we are salt, people we contact should be strengthened, complimented and enhanced for having contacted us. If they are not, we have lost our flavor and have become useless. We are called to love and give an account for the hope that is in us. We should be happy to leave the conviction to the Holy Spirit. No matter the person, whether they are homosexual or prideful, I desperately want to recognize my own sin and instead of judgement, pray that God reveals his love and mercy to that person, as He has done for me. After all, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.

There is a reason that Matthew uses salt and light as examples. In any human interaction, two things are present – prejudice and experience. Whether good or bad, people have prejudices towards a person before they meet based on what they’ve seen or heard of that person. This is where we’re called to be light. A city on a hill. Once they’ve met, they are left with the experience of a person. This is based on actual interaction, where we are called to be salt. I sincerely hope that in both prejudice and experience, the people I interact with throughout my life find both salt and light.

The Todd (Re-Post)

I went to the bank today and guess who was there? Yup, The Todd. It reminded me of this story…..

(I am now convinced that this crap happens to me for the sole purpose of your entertainment. Such is my lot in life. That said, here is another horribly awkward true story.)

A few days ago, I went into my local bank to make a deposit. The tellers were all helping customers, but there was no one else in line, so I took my spot two feet behind the tellers, where the tile meets the carpet. I watched myself make funny faces on the TV monitor as I waited. The teller directly in front of me finished first. His name was Todd, which I deduced from his name badge. Todd was exactly as I imagined every Todd would look. He had spiky, dirty blonde hair, a one day old beard and rolled up sleeves. He was sitting on his bar stool, hunched over his desk with folded arms. Todd was too cool for school. He said, “What’s up bro?” I guess that was his way of asking me if he could be of any help. I stepped up to the counter and placed my deposit ticket and check on the counter as I told Todd, “Nothing much Todd, just a normal day.” “That’s what I’m talking about,” responded Todd.

I chuckled as he began the transaction. Then Todd said, “Bro, your jacket is super sweet…where’d you get it?” (That particular day, I happened to be wearing a Herringbone 3/4 Peacoat. Not that it matters) “Urban Outfitters,” I told Todd.

“Bro…could you do a spin for me,” Todd asked as he used his finger to illustrate the request.

Un-be-lievable. Was this actually happening? At that point, I had two options. To spin or not to spin.

Obviously, I was going to spin. But if I was going to do it right, I had to own it. So I took a half step forward with my left foot, placed all my weight upon the ball of my foot, and used my right foot to control the spin as I pivoted on my left foot. It was a perfect 3/4 speed turn.

“Nice spin,” said Todd. I nodded in agreement. Todd reiterated, “Yeah, that’s a sweet jacket.” “Thanks Todd,” I said as he ripped my receipt from the printer. Todd handed me my receipt, and as I walked away I thought that although I went in to make a deposit, I couldn’t help but feel as if Todd made a withdrawal.

From T-Shirts to Dress Shirts

Yesterday, I walked into my closet and noticed something that was a bit unsettling. As I surveyed my wardrobe, which I’m sure most of you guys out there do as well, I realized something. What used to be a closet full of t-shirts, jeans and converse, has transformed into one of buttoned dress shirts, polyester slacks, shiny black shoes and skinny ties. I stared at the garments of a man I did not recognize and thought, “what happened?” Somehow, and seemingly overnight, I became an adult. Pieces of myself are getting replaced at the same rate as my clothing and this transformation, I suppose, is the process of adulthood. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not complaining or disappointed with my life, it’s just that life happens so fast that it can feel like sliding down a mountainside, desperately clawing for something to break the fall.

The clothing seems to represent the life I’m now living. The shirts and slacks need to be ironed daily and the shoes need to be buffed and polished. Everything about my adult wardrobe is so high maintenance. Not so long ago, I just threw on a t-shirt, jeans and tattered old shoes and walked out the door. Now it seems that I’m so busy planning for life that there’s not much time to live it. There is so much required of us as adults that enjoying a day has been replaced with simply surviving a day. Good or bad, this is the life we lead. Bills need to be paid and errands need to be run. As much as I’d like to shut it down and move to a remote island with no cell towers, I’ve been given this life….this great life….and I need to live it. I see so many adults enduring their lives like robots, hopelessly going through the motions. Seeing this day in and day out gives me motivation to find joy in the small stuff. To fight and claw for pieces of life amongst our daily duties. I honestly have no desire to go backwards. Sure, my life before my family and my career was more flexible, but I was also unsatisfied. It’s so easy to be disappointed as an adult. Life for most of us is not what we imagined it would be when we were younger. Finding time for yourself and the things you love is incredibly difficult. Despite the obvious struggles though, I want to be a man who sees the good in life. For my sake and for my family’s, I want to have hope and joy in every season of my life – even when it’s difficult to find. Looking in my closet yesterday was a great reminder that, like my new wardrobe, my life might be more high maintenance – but it’s also really great.

Two Valleys

Tomorrow, Jenn and I will drop Bubba off here…

And drive here…

We’ve got a friend who’s getting married in the Yosemite Valley this weekend and we are SUPER excited about it. We are going to a BBQ on Saturday evening with a bunch of friends that we haven’t seen in a while, and then the wedding on Sunday morning. As much as we love the Bubba, it’s going to be nice to have conversations with friends without having to look over our shoulders to see who he’s trying to body-slam. Also, I haven’t been to a wedding that I wasn’t filming in about two years. Should be a great trip, especially since Jenn seems to be over the worst of the morning sickness.

So now it’s time to play the game, “Try To Top My Weekend, Chumps.”

Good luck.

“No One Beats This Town”

I spent the last four days in Las Vegas, consulting on a project that is very important for the future of our company. The trip coincided with our quarterly business review, which was also in Las Vegas. This meant that Operations and District Managers, as well as Regional Directors and the executive team were there as well. Turned out, my District and Operations Managers (who are two of my best friends) were able to pick me up from the airport. We walked out of the airport into 110 degree heat and headed for the car. This was only my second time in Vegas, but the same thought occurred to me each time. “Why does this place exist?” It’s in the middle of the freaking desert, with fewer desirable qualities than a do-it-yourself circumcision kit. The place is built on booze and broken dreams. Like my manager says, “no one beats this town.”

We walked into the lobby at Mandalay Bay and took our place in line at the check-in counter. My Operations Manager was staying in my room, so we walked up to the counter together and gave the guy our names. His first question was, “You’ve got one king bed in the room. Will that work?” I looked at the guy and said, “I thought there were two queens in the room.” As soon as I realized what I had just said, I looked at the guy to try and explain. He just shook his hand as if to say, “No need.” I handed him my credit card and he asked, “Will your travel partner be staying with you all four nights?” Travel partner!? “Good Lord,” I thought. This is going downhill fast.

The good news is that we didn’t find a tiger OR a baby in our room. We actually played it VERY safe. We did have one classic Vegas experience though. The first night there, we went out to dinner late (about 9pm) and then walked around the hotel. We then caught a cab to a local lounge and got a drink. We ended up hanging out there until 3:30am. We decided we should probably get to bed, considering we had meetings at 8am that morning, but we were hungry, so we stopped off at one of the hotel restaurants. We sat down, ordered and then looked to our left to find two dudes completely passed out at the table next to us. One guy was sitting in his chair with his head back and mouth wide open. The second guy had his arms folded on the table with his head buried into his elbow. The best part was that everyone in the restaurant was taking pictures of themselves standing behind these poor saps. Some were giving high fives and others were far more inappropriate. One girl even kissed one of the guys on the cheek, which caused him to lift his head out of his arms. Didn’t last long though. Within seconds he was out again. Vegas baby.

Like my manager said, “No one beats this town.”

Flags in the Darkness

I needed a new book. For the past ten years, I’ve read nothing but philosophy, theology and apologetics books. Nothing else seemed to interest me. Whatever I read, I wanted to make sure that it was valuable – mentally and spiritually worth the time. The problem is, if that is my main objective, I tend to use reading as a means to an end rather than enjoying a story and connecting with the characters. There’s nothing wrong with theology books, but after ten years, I started to see reading as a chore – so I stopped reading. After talking with a few friends, the general consensus was that I needed to read a good fiction to get me back into reading for pleasure. So, late one night, I grabbed the keys and headed off to Barnes and Noble. On the way, I passed a beach resort that sits on the cliffs of Shell Beach. In the front of the property, they have an American Flag on what is probably the largest flagpole in the county. As I glanced at the flag, a thought occurred to me. Flags serve as a visual representation of the beliefs and values of a group. If you see a black flag with a skull and crossbones on it, do you feel safe? Throughout history, ships used flags to signify country of origin, destination, and what they were carrying. A flag told you whether you were going to live or die. A single flag communicates a host of ideas and beliefs, but perhaps most importantly, it communicates identity.

The flag I passed that night in Shell Beach was so poorly lit that I wouldn’t have known it was an American flag if I hadn’t passed it a hundred times before. It was then that the thought occurred to me, “What good is a flag in the darkness?”

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Eph 5:8