Karaoke and the choice of friendship

I swore I would never do it. Sure, I’d sung in front of people hundreds of times before, but doing a bad cover of an even worse song had no appeal to me. Karaoke was reseved for drunkards and fools. My people. It would take a Mel Gibson sized volume of booze to persuade me to make a fool of myself like that. At least, that’s what I thought until my 29th birthday party. It was billed as the party of the century….or at least of the day. My birthday is the day after a close friend’s birthday, so there have been a few years where we decided to share a party – this was one of those years. She and her husband agreed to host the party, the invites went out, and on the day of, the threat of a karaoke party was realized. See, this was her one request. A karaoke machine. Mine was bourbon. I kept eyeing the karaoke machine all night. It was like a high school bully that was waiting for me outside the locker room. Sooner or later, he was going to pummel me.

A few hours later, after most of the guests had left, the hour was upon me. There was no backing out of this one. The remaining guests, which were my closest friends, decided that the guys should all sing something together. You know, to break the ice. After a less that convincing rendition of “Single Ladies,” The guys put down their mics and I was asked to sing something. I guess the belief is that having performed in front of people makes you a pro at karaoke. Well friends, let me be the first to tell you that this just isn’t true. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it. Heck, I might have even sounded halfway decent. The problem was that I was SUPER embarrased. This was going to take some easing into. A good friend of mine, who smelled my fear, decided that we would do a duet. I think he was trying to do me a favor, but despite popular thought, singing a duet of “Endless Love,” with another dude is slightly more humiliating than singing a Cheap Trick song on your own. We nailed the duet thought, so all was well. But then we busted out some Taylor Swift. I immediately Bedazzled my microphone and, like I was singing to Taylor Lautner himself, sang, “you’re the best thing that’s ever been mine.” Actually, that last bit didn’t happen. Well….not that night.

We karaoke’d (can that be a verb?) for hours. Until 3am if I remember correctly. And somewhere between U2’s Where the Streets Have no Name and Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name, I realized that these people and I really love each other. We had to. No other group of individuals would make such fools of themselves and still retain any bit of dignity for the others the next day.

It made me wonder what makes friends stick together. Usually, you have a lot in common, or are in a similar place in life. But is there more to it than that? Why do you just “click” with some people and not others? Is it “God ordained,” for lack of a better term, or is it completely environmental? Maybe a bit of both? What solidifies you with your closest friends? There seems to be an intangible “magical bit” that’s unexplainable. Thoughts?

Catching Up

Yo.

What’s shakin’?

Cool. Me?

Oh, you know, the usual – growing a baby, buying a house, working, traveling, running. Life’s been crazy for us. I’ll go through things one at a time to catch you all up on what’s we’re doing. First of all, Jenn’s been pregnant for the past six months, which, if my math is correct, means we’ve got three months to go. I know Jenn is excited to welcome our baby girl, Stella, because being pregnant is miserable. At least that’s what I’m told. It’s actually miserable for the guys as well, just not as miserable. Not even close. But still miserable by our standards. I’m excited as well, but also nervous. I’ve heard it all, “two kids is easier,” “two kids is harder,” etc. Doesn’t matter, really. We’ll find out when we get there and it will be awesome and super tough.

As far as the house thing goes, we are in escrow. The process of buying a house started and is proceeding very quickly. We’ve had our eyes on the market for the past three or four years, but we weren’t in a position to buy until now. Mostly, due to the generosity of our incredible parents. When we started looking again, about two months ago, we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted. Unfortunately, everything in our price range were short sales or foreclosures, which turns out, makes for a miserable buying process. We eventually found the house that we are currently in the process of buying. It is a great first home for so many reasons – it’s close to parks, safe, only five years old, close to friends, but mostly…..it’s ours. We are only starting to wrap our heads around the idea that we can put holes where we want, change the floors or the counter tops, or paint or kid’s rooms. It’s really such a privilege to be in the position we are in where buying a home is a possibility. It’s something we honestly never thought would happen, but we are SO ready to move in once escrow closes next month. Keep your fingers crossed. HUGE shout out to Holly Rodgers Realty. She’s been great to work with. Super encouraging through the process, but also really honest, even when the news wasn’t positive. If you’re even remotely interested in buying, email her. She’ll find you a great home, complete with a 14 color rainbow and garden gnome. hrodgersrealty@gmail.com

Work stuff is boring. I’m working like a dog, traveling all over kingdom come, blah, blah, blah. Nothing new there. But business is great and I’m thankful for having such a great gig.

My lovely wife has been….uh….encouraging me to exercise lately. With all the work and stress, she wants me to stay healthy. At least until my life insurance policy is worth more. I’ve tried all sorts of things, but the bottom line is that I just don’t like exercise. I hate it actually. Exercise hurts. The only exercise I enjoy is surfing, but surfing is difficult because you are a slave to the conditions. You also need at least a few hours from getting suited up to getting out of the water, showered and ready for work. It’s just not an acceptable substitute for a consistent workout. So, despite my own fears and hesitations, I’ve begun running. It’s just the easiest way to get out and do some cardio to keep the ticker ticking. But I’ll be honest with you. I absolutely despise running. At least at the moment. I started last week, and so far I’ve run about two miles nearly every day. There are people who love running. Love being outside in the fresh air, love the challenge, love setting goals, etc. I’m just not one of those people. I’m not an especially motivated person. I don’t really care to set goals for myself, or challenge myself physically. This presents a problem because running sort of requires that you push yourself to new boundaries. At least most of the initial pain is gone, having done it for a week now. My thought is that if I can run three or four miles three or four times a week, I should be in pretty good shape. I’ll be even more sexy and my wife will get to keep her husband around. Win-Win.

Sorry for the lengthy post, but this is the last topic. Writing.

I’ve got a project that I’m working on that had to be put on hold until I thought it through a bit more. I’ve begun working on it again, and now, it just needs to be finished. I’m plugging away at it, slowly but surely, and I’m excited to share it once it’s done. It’s an essay about our responsibility as Christians to love others who are struggling with hopelessness, given the dilemma of the human condition, realizing that we ourselves are subject to the same condition. It’s a monster of a subject, so I wouldn’t expect any revelations. But writing about it has allowed me to better understand it. Hopefully it will be done soon, considering I’ve been working on it for two years.

So that it, folks. Hope you all are doing super awesome. Why don’t you tell me how awesome you are in the comments section. It would be nice to get something other than spam comments.

Trav

Failure

I asked Jenn to record an interview Oprah had with J.K. Rowling last week. I finally got around to watching it tonight, and I was super impressed with J.K. Rowling. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that all of my readers watch Oprah – so there’s no need to repeat what you’ve already heard, but J.K.’s thoughts on failure really struck a chord with me. I have this insane urge to succeed, and it’s not because of fight – it’s because of fear. I am deathly afraid of people finding out what I fear is true of myself – that I may fail. This might be the reason why I haven’t finished any of the writing projects I’ve started. It might be the reason why I haven’t taken many chances in my life. I usually take the “failure is not an option” approach, which is fine, unless your fear of failure has everything to do with other’s perception of yourself.

J.K. said something in the interview about failure that I thought was really great:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

I am really trying to deal with my fear of failure. I don’t want it to prevent me from trying something, even if it means I’ll likely fall flat on my face doing so. I want to tame this beast for myself and for my children. They need to know that they are only bound by their ambition. What if everyone lived this way? What if that little idea you have…the one that won’t go away. What if that idea is that one that frees you from your fear of failure, even if it does so by causing you to fail. I think I’m ready. At least I hope I am. You?

Words without Power

I came to the realization yesterday that words and ideas that used to be packed with meaning, and therefore power, have slowly been diluted. Words like hope, trust, promise and love have been marginalized to the point that their meanings have become confused and misunderstood. We say, “words are cheap.” And they are, if the person who says them has no intention of following through on the action the word demands. Friends of mine, going through really tough times have been on the receiving end of this . Their friends say to them, “I love you,” but what they mean so often is “I will be committed to you until it becomes inconvenient for me to do so.” This got me thinking about C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a series of letters, written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his junior-tempter nephew, Wormwood. In the letters, Screwtape advises Wormwood on how to handle a certain human, to ultimately secure his damnation. Like most things C.S. Lewis writes, it’s brilliant. As I was thinking about the power of words and ideas through the lens of spiritual warfare, I thought that, if I was responsible for the damnation of humans, I would begin to trivialize the ideas that give them hope. I assume that I’m not alone in the thoughts I have. Thoughts like, “I wonder if dinosaurs cross-bred?” Well, maybe I’m alone in that one, but I also wonder what life is all about. What am I here for? Will I ever feel truly content? Things like that.

It seems like at each milestone in life (i.e. getting married, having kids, buying a house, etc.) there is the potential to think, “huh….that wasn’t really as fulfilling as I thought it would be.” It’s proven to me that life isn’t about the things – it’s about the people. And in a world where people can be thought of as commodities and rungs on a ladder, words like hope, faith and love are more important than ever. When the guts are ripped out of hope, people lose the motivation to hope – and by hope, I mean the active pursuit of hope. Because if hope is futile, what’s the point? I’ve seen this in myself. When hope is lost, when love disappoints, and when faith is damaged, I’ve become lifeless. A robot, going through the motions. When that happens, victory goes to Screwtape.

In the last few days, I’ve been trying to rethink these ideas. Who do I really love? What does that mean? Am I fighting for hope? I’ve felt a bit robotic in the past few years and I think it has something (or everything) to do with allowing myself to lose the power of the things I believe in. Because life has gotten so hectic and distracting, I’ve stopped thinking about the things that really matter because I’m simply trying to make it through the day. It’s a strange paradox that when I pursue hope and love, making through the day becomes an afterthought.

Lakes – The Agreement

1996 – Audio Adrenaline: Bloom

1999 – Blink 182: Enema of the State

2000 – Caedmon’s Call: Long Line of Leavers

2003 – Norah Jones: Come Away with Me

2006 – John Mayer: Continuum

2010 – Lakes: The Agreement

There are albums that, for whatever reason, you relate to so deeply that they become landmarks on your journey. Bloom was the first CD I ever bought. Enema of the State was on repeat throughout my senior year of high school. “Can’t Lose You” from the album Long Line of Leavers was my lament while Jenn was living in England. I listened to Come Away With Me on every drive to Northern California to visit Jenn while she was living with her parents prior to our marriage. “Stop this Train” from the album Continuum was, and still is a song that completely encapsulates my feelings on the speed of life.

This year, it’s the album The Agreement from the band, Lakes. It’s going to mark a chapter in my life because it’s full of songs about the struggle. Hope in the midst of heartache – faith when it comes at a cost. I am pleased to say that I’ve got friends in this band. They are a group of men that believe the songs, because they’ve lived them.

We all want to listen to music that moves us. And I can promise you, with complete certainty, that this album will move you. I’ve had the privilege of getting a sneak peak at the album, and it’s incredible. So do yourself a favor and pre-order the album here. It will be released on Friday, September 3rd.

For those of you in California and neighboring states, please come to the release show in San Luis Obispo on Thursday, September 2nd at Downtown Brew. The only thing you will regret is your face being melted off. But it will be worth it. Trust me. Buy tickets here.

I’m doing this for your own good. Listen to my advice and you’ll get some kick ass music and warm fuzzies. Maybe not in that order…but you’ll get them.

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.