Thursday, May 31, 2012

advice for moms-to-be from a new dad

photo: Raj Lulla Photography

Pregnant ladies, before you tear my head off and use it as a very furry ice cream bowl, please remember that this advice was solicited on facebook by my friend Haley before she had her little boy.  Another friend found it helpful, so I thought it was worth posting here.

Most of this advice is straight up stolen, not even borrowed, much of it from my sister who has four children.

I wrote these things in a sleep-deprived stupor five days after Charlotte was born.  There were originally 18, but then my friend Tonia pointed out that I had skipped number 12.

Without further delay, here are 17 helpful tips for you ladies who are about to have babies:
‎1. If you're planning on breast feeding, get easy snacks like trail mix and granola bars, whatever you like, that can be eaten one-handed and don't need warmed up.


2. Put diapers/supplies in the two or three places you most often sit or sleep.

3. Butt Paste and gas drops. Buy them now.

4. Buy a night light.

5. Your milk doesn't come in for about four days. No one tells you this. Your baby will be hungry and fussy because of this. Good luck sleeping those first few days.

6. Babies get a weird rash from being exposed to all the new stuff. Don't freak out.

7. Epidurals are awesome. Don't be a hero. 
(Before you get all hippie-granola, please remember that my wife was induced.  If you can handle Pitocin-induced contractions without drugs, then you are an impressive she-Hulk that I never want to make angry, meet in a dark alley, or challenge to a pie-eating contest.)

8. Feed then sleep. Let your husband and whatever family do the rest.

9. Buy extra pad things for yourself for your ladyparts. The aftermath is not pretty.

10. Get a swing and/or a bouncy seat. Set everything up now.

11. Don't just be parents. Be married too. Don't forget about each other. Try to spend at least a few meaningful moments together everyday.

12. The first week flies by. Pay all bills, etc. beforehand. You won't get anything else done, and you won't want to.

13. It's all totally worth it.

‎14. Reassure your husband he's a good dad, and the reason he can't stop the crying is because God didn't give him boobies.

15. Sleep however works. Bed, recliner, couch, etc. Same goes for your husband.

16. Prepare to have your heart stolen.


17. Post pregnancy hormones are intense. Added with no sleep, you will feel like a crazy person.

What other tips would you add for new mothers?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

four years of marriage by the numbers


One blog comment started it all.

One hundred eighty-six pages of e-mails starting four and a half months before we ever met (three months before even speaking to each other).

Two ten-digit phone numbers that connected us across fifteen hundred miles for six weeks before we met.

One iced vanilla latte and one iced chai that sealed our fate.

Eight months of dating.


Seven seasons of The West Wing watched and enjoyed (many times).

Countless burritos shared at Chipotle.


Six months of engagment.


Four years of marriage.

Three Cities.  Two states.
Four Apartments: Three one-bedroom.  One two-bedroom.
Two cars. Then one.

Twelve jobs:
Three jobs for her.
Three full-time jobs for me.
Six part-time jobs for me.

Three pregnancies:
Two miscarriages.
One beautiful baby.

Two guinea pigs. Then one. Then five. Now three. Soon zero?

Four churches. Two heartbreaking departures. One reconciliation.

One goal and purpose.

One love that will last a lifetime.

I love you, Lindsey!  Thank you for the four best years of my life!  Happy anniversary!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

in defense of television

The West Wing

I like television.  Some television, I love.

Maybe some day I will be as disciplined as John Piper and not even own a television, but I doubt it right now.

I read all the time about how TV is a "mindless distraction" and that we are all better off doing other, more valuable things with our time.  It peddles sex, drugs, and Glee to our children.  This box of evil must be destroyed before it destroys us.  Etc., etc.

But I also read about how stories help us process the world around us, giving us a sense of meaning and order in an a chaotic world.

Here's the truth: some television is bad.  It entertains but does not inform, titillates but does not inspire.  Some TV is to your brain what junk food is to your body, and both expand the size of your butt.

I believe, however, that some television is good.  Just because we don't gather around the town square to hear minstrels and bards tell stories anymore doesn't mean that we've given up on shared cultural stories.  In fact, I will bet that some teenager was scolded in the 1590s for attending a Shakespearean production because "that stuff will rotteth your brain."

For me, watching The West Wing has caused me to consider how to live out my values in public, that is whether following Jesus is best done by legislating my morals or by living them out authentically and persuasively.  Watching House, M.D. raised issues such as honesty, integrity, work ethic, humility, and self control.

Jersey Shore is unlikely to make you any more virtuous, but Parenthood might.

You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of entertainment they consume.  What do they find funny, objectionable, immoral, meaningful, insightful, etc.?  In fact, Lindsey and I had our first serious conversation because I asked her what kind of music she liked.  Television is both an influence on and a reflection of who we are.

Television is our modern oral history.  We shouldn't burn our books and bow down to the tube, but maybe we should calm down, throw our arms around the family and enjoy new epics, romances, dramas, comedies, and satire being beamed into our homes.  Then, we should have lively discussions around dinner tables about what we saw and what we believe and how stories should change us or give us resolve to stay the course.

It's time to come out of hiding.  What television do you like?  Or hate?

-------------

Author's note: As a family, we do not currently subscribe to cable or watch many over-the-air programs.  Nearly all of our television consumption is through Hulu.  DVR and Hulu cut way down on advertisements and time spent in front of the television.  They're worth considering if you want TV to be a part of your life, not controlling it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

photographers

As an aspiring photographer, I look up to a great number of artists in the field.

My friend Bryce, also a photographer, suggested I do some photography reviews on here, but I hardly feel qualified to critique others at this point.  Instead, let me introduce you to some people who I think are doing work worthy of notice.

- Zach Hodges: I had the privilege of working alongside Zach over the last couple of years doing music at our church.  He taught me nearly everything I know about working a camera, but don't let that negatively impact your opinion of him.  Zach also works for Visual Supply Co., which I cannot wait to get.  (Hey Zach, if VSCO needs beta testers for T2i support, give me a call.)

Zach is based out of Southern California and takes beautiful sun-soaked natural light pictures.  My favorite thing about Zach's photography is how he is so stinking creative with his use of the scene.  I don't know if he's an incredible location scout, ridiculously creative on the fly, or both, but I love that aspect of his photos.
photo: Zach Hodges Photography
- Peter Schweitzer: Peter was doing the "photo-a-day challenge" long before anyone else I know was doing it.  I don't know exactly where Peter would consider himself on the hobbyist-to-professional spectrum, but I think he does "slice of life" photos better than anyone I know.

Peter shot our wedding and did a wonderful job capturing candid moments, which is what we really wanted.  He is also an airplane mechanic, is restoring his house, and is awesome to hang out with (as is his wife).
photo: Daily Photo Fix
- Troy Grover: Troy and I briefly attended the same high school.  We each went our separate ways, but I discovered through facebook a few years ago that we both ended up in California.  At that time, I also discovered that Troy was on his way to becoming a hugely successful photographer.

He he shot campaigns for Nike and other major businesses.  In my humble opinion, everything Troy shoots looks like it belongs in a magazine.  Seems all the wedding websites (Grey Likes Weddings, et. al.) agree.
photo: Troy Grover Photographers
- Trevor Hoene: I have only met Trevor a couple of times socially, but my wife went to college with him.  From his recent work, however, you would hardly know that he has any connections at all with ordinary (i.e. not famous) people.  Lately, he seems to be booked entirely by magazine shoots and album covers.

In addition to his fabulous work, the best thing about Trevor is his continued work with 31 Bits.  31 Bits is a jewelry company that teaches marketable skills to internally displaced Ugandan women and connects them with an audience wanting to buy their products.
photo: Trevor Hoene

As with anything, I'm constantly being inspired by other up and coming photographers.  I will try to mention them as I come across them.

Whose photographs do you like?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

photo: Inara Studios

I had a dream last night that one of my friends who has served overseas with the military died in combat. Thankfully, he's back home and not eligible for deployment again, so it was just a dream.

Nevertheless, it struck me that I have many military friends, and I am grateful that I have never lost one. It is easy to let that lure me into a false sense of security for me friends.

Movies make it seem our friends our invincible but nameless "extras" are expendable. Tell that to the guys who come home and hate fireworks, almost wreck the family car to avoid a shopping bag in the street, or wake up screaming with night terrors.

In my dream, the smallest things brought tears. Handwritten reminders or old voicemails. A life cut short doesn't depart with tearful goodbyes, it leaves behind scraps of paper and unfinished plans.

Regardless of the geopolitical mess we find ourselves in during any given year, there is great honor in choosing to serve, protect, and defend. Selflessness is never wrong, and devotion and discipline are praiseworthy.

I am so thankful for my friends who are safe back home, that their families are still whole and their sacrifice is done. I pray for my friends who have not yet completed their tours. May God ever be your rear guard.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

a future letter to my daughter explaining why I wept at her wedding

photo: Raj Lulla Photography

Dear [Future] Charlotte,

If you are reading this letter, it is because I bawled and blubbered at your wedding, and I would like to explain why.

Right now, you are almost four months old.  A little over three and a half months ago, you and I spent the first hour of your life together in the nursery at the hospital.  They whisked you away because you had a little fluid on your lungs and were not crying very much.  The fluid cleared up, but you wouldn't give in on the crying, even after they gave you a bath.  Stubborn, quiet, and crazy black hair sticking up all over your head, you were definitely my daughter.

We brought you home, and even though everyone said that your calmness would not last, it has.  You are sweet, smiley, affectionate, and rarely fussy.

By the time that you are reading this, you will know that I hate cliches, and I avoid them whenever possible.  More than once have I rolled my eyes once the father of the bride took the microphone and explained that in his eyes the bride was still his four-year-old little girl.  Well, now I understand, and while I am still not one for histrionics, I probably just gave a speech that sounded like that to everyone else.

So why did I weep?

For the past nearly four months, I have checked on you in the middle of the night, especially if you got fussy after your mom went to bed.  When I go in to put your pacifier back in, you wrestle me a little bit because you like to suck your thumb (adorably), but I know that it won't keep you asleep.  After I finally win, and I always do, you grab my thumb with one of your hands and my pinkie with the other as though you are trying to steer me like a car.

Everything you do, from the way you smile at me and babble when I come home from work to the way you rest your hand on my chest when I rock you to sleep, connects with my deepest nature as a man to protect, grow, serve, and lead.  When I hold you, your tiny fist grabs my t-shirt so tightly that you don't let go even after you fall asleep, reminding me that I am needed in your little world.

We have prayed every night since you were born for the man that you will marry, and I assume that you found him.  As your dad, this is bittersweet.  I can no longer be your protector (unless he slips up and I need to end him, of course), and I am glad for that but also sad.  You have never existed in this world apart from our family and never lived except in our home.

I hope the adage is true that a father never loses a daughter but instead gains a son, and I hope his family doesn't mind when we steal the two of you away as often as possible.

I love you.  Congratulations!

Love,
Dad

Friday, May 25, 2012

"two a-holes" no more

Saturday Night Live has been pretty stale for a long time, but they did at least one thing right in recent years.  That one thing is the "Two A-holes" sketch.

Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis played, well, two a-holes in different scenarios.  If you have ever worked retail or really ever been out in public at all, you have met these people.  He is the guy who is always wearing the Bluetooth earpiece, probably more to show off his importance than to take calls - only slightly classier than the guy who hangs two fake testicles from the bumper of his truck.  She texts constantly while smacking her gum and half-heartedly listening, even after having asked a question.

This sketch doled out a sweet measure of justice on behalf of those of us who must suffer these self-important people, their outlandish demands, stingy tips, and arrogant impatience everyday.  For a couple of minutes on Saturday nights, America was the judge and jury, finding these "a-holes" guilty and sentencing them to public mockery.

Sadly, Kristen Wiig's last episode was last Saturday, so it's unlikely we will see the "a-holes" again except when she hosts or makes a cameo.  Here is some of their finest work:







Thank you for the laughs, Kristen.  We will miss you on the show.

people I admire

photo: Robert Goodwin

I often feel like an ant compared to the giants of strength, courage, integrity, and redemption God has placed in my life.

Today, I don't want this post to be about me.  Instead, it's going to be about people I admire.  You'll probably be able to identify some of them, but I'm only going to use first names and vague details because I didn't ask permission to talk about them.

I admire:
Dan - He just welcomed his fourth child into the world.  Only two are biologically his, but I didn't know that until several months after meeting him because it's impossible to tell the difference by the way he fathers them.  Dan is an incredible picture of how God has adopted us into His family after we separated ourselves from Him.  He is also ridiculously smart and expertly bearded.

Eric - I learned a few weeks ago that Eric carries around a much heavier load than I ever imagined.  He doesn't grumble or complain.  Instead, he volunteers and makes other people laugh.  I also learned that his razor-sharp wit is backed up by a profound intelligence which makes him about one hundred times cooler than I had ever realized.

Ben - Ben started a church a few years ago.  When I visited that church a few months ago, I saw people who had been friends with Ben long before he became a pastor sitting in the front row learning the Bible from him.  This clearly meant to me that these people see that Ben is truly being changed for the better by what he believes.

Joseph - Joseph may, in fact, be the smartest person I have ever met.  You probably don't understand what a compliment that is, but my circle of friends includes people who have gotten near-perfect scores on all of the standardized tests that matter, philosophers, biologists, physicists, engineers, etc.  He recently decided to dramatically alter his career path because his family is more important to him than the title.  I cannot even express how much I want to be like this guy.  I am challenged to grow my intellect, be a harder worker, discipline myself physically, and be a more faithful follower of Jesus every time we talk.

Phil - He is at once the gruffest, funniest, and most soft-hearted father I have ever seen.

Dan - He taught me to be sarcastic many years ago, but now his life models deep sincerity (while still being uproariously funny).  This year, he will welcome his fourth son into the world.  We don't talk about it a lot, but I know that Dan fights to have a faith devoid of cliche and fluff.  I can't wait to see what a clan of mighty men he raises.

Please know there are many other men I greatly admire, and had I the time or space, I would give them each their due tribute.  Perhaps in time I will.

Who do you admire?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

the MRS degree

photo: Vernon Swanepoel

At Christian Colleges, a curious phenomenon known as the MRS degree program exists.

The MRS degree takes its name from the abbreviation "Mrs." Young women who have no intention of finishing college undertake this endeavor in order to meet an eligible Christian young man, marry him, and begin producing offspring as soon as humanly possible.

Some of these girls are beautiful, sweet, and get snatched up quickly, wasting only a minimal amount of their college fund (so it may be reappropriated into a wedding fund). Many others, ahem, "have a good heart." By "have a good heart," I mean they harbor chips on their shoulders so large they would have to be dipped in an Olympic-swimming-pool-sized vat of guacamole.  Imagine the movie Teen Wolf if Michael J. Fox had a bridezilla inside rather than a werewolf.

Those chip-bearing MRS ladies make up the majority of the "major," often garnering enough credits for multiple degrees while waiting for unsuspecting new classes of fresh meat . . . er, coeds to arrive.  While most of the ladies who move through Christian schools are there to learn about the Bible and lead productive and generous lives, these MRS women are ruled by a ruthless biological clock.

When I worked at my small Christian college's bookstore, I was tasked with writing letters to announce monthly specials to each group of majors our school offered.  January was ten percent off for youth ministry, February for music majors, etc.  During a period of writer's block for one of these assignments, I began to feel bad for the MRS ladies at our school, so I wrote a letter announcing a sale just for them.

Sadly, it was never sent, as it was a bit awkward trying to ascertain which ladies were there to study and which ones were there to poach.  This probably ensured my safety as well. (Please note, all perceived misogyny was the result of a couple of bad relationships/break-ups and does not reflect my view on the wonderful and precious gift that is the female gender.)

Nevertheless, with college far behind us, I present to you the letter for MRS degree appreciation month from our bookstore:


September 27, 2005


Dear Ms. MRS Degree Student,

                At the bookstore we think that just because you’re here to lure a man into your clutches shouldn’t mean that you don’t get a discount like everyone else.  Therefore we hereby proclaim this as MRS degree month at the college bookstore.
                Hungry for the latest dating/snaring advice?  Check out our “Relationships” section.  You’ll receive 10% on those and all other books this month.  That discount is on top of the already low price for our featured item this month, the latest book in the I Kissed Dating Goodbye series.  It’s called I French-Kissed Dating Until I Found Someone that I Could Guilt Into Marrying Me.  If that doesn’t hit you where you live, nothing will.
                Even if you’re not in a relationship yet, it’s never too soon to start stocking up on collegiate children’s apparel.  Lucky for you those items and all other apparel are 10% off just for you special ladies.  Buy a new sweatshirt for that special guy you’ve been stalking – oops, pursuing since you stole his while he was sleeping and smell it every night before you go to bed.
                While you’re here, pick up a new Devotional Bible at 15% off.  That way, when your roommate hoodwinks some unwitting young lad into a blind date with you she can at least mean it when she says that you’ve “got a great personality.”  All other Bibles are 15% off for you as well.  Might as well get something thick to read – you could be waiting a while.
                Also this month you can pre-order the latest work by Gary Chapman (author of the bestseller The Five Love Languages).  For just $17.99 you can order his new book The Six Love Animals of Desperate Women.  If you pre-order before November 1st, you’ll receive the study guide companion for free when the book arrives.  The study guide offers note-taking sections and quizzes to help you determine if you’re a Vulture, Lioness, Barnacle, Leech, Black Widow, or Great White Shark as a lover.  Critics call Chapman’s latest work, “genius” and proclaim that men are “dropping like flies or at least like disoriented hikers” thanks to this book’s advice.
                Hurry in!  Last one down the aisle is a rotten egg!

                                                             Your Tag-Em and Bag-Em Bookstore Staff,
                                                             Ann Landers and Dear Abby

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

all things together for good?

Ebenezer Parry 1877 - photo: Waen

I became a Christian in 1996 at the age of 12.  Since that time, I spent many hours in youth group and church.  I studied the Bible for four years at Nebraska Christian College, and I have worked in full-time ministry off and on for the last five years.

Sadly, it wasn't until about four years ago that I really started to wrestle with my unbelief.  I had a general belief in God that was unshakable - too many unexplained things out there (i.e. even if there was a big bang, where did that come from?, etc.).  Also, I believed that the God of the Hebrew Bible and subsequently the New Testament was most likely the true God (based on archaeology, history, etc.).

What I doubted about God was His goodness.  You know that verse that annoying Christians like to trot out when you're going through something difficult, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28 ESV)?  That never seemed to happen to me, and it only made me want to choke people who brought it up - in Christian love, of course.

I committed my life to Jesus in junior high and apparently all things working together for good looked a heck of a lot like me still being a chubby loser, sporting a Pedro-from-Napoleon-Dynamite "mustache," and being ignored by girls like I was a math textbook.

But it got better.  I felt called to full-time ministry in high school, so I committed that I would do it.  This decision met patronizing, "That's so great (for you)!" comments from nearly every friend and teacher.  I got my heart broken my freshman year of college by a girl whose main reasoning was that she couldn't "be a pastor's wife."  (This ended up being fair reasoning because she enjoyed smoking pot much more than is usually acceptable for the woman occupying the front pew.)

Thankfully, it got even better.  My first ministry position out of college required me to move 1500 miles from my hometown, which I loved, to Riverside, California, which misery loves (sorry, Riverside friends, I couldn't resist).  That position lasted nine months.  In fact, had it been a gestation, I would've been a preemie on the way out.

It seemed to me that the God who was supposed to be working all things together for good in my life was sleeping on the job.  The more I followed Him, the less attainable good (i.e. girls and a couple of dollars in my pocket) became.

It was almost as if His definition of good and mine were different.

Now, as I look back, I see that His "good" was actually good, and mine, well, was not.

I see that in junior high, He wanted me to start learning to be content with who He created me to be, even if I didn't look like one of the boys from that @%$ band Hanson.

I see that through broken relationships He wanted me to learn that He desired better for me than I even wanted for myself.

I see that in failure He wanted me to learn humility, diligence, forgiveness, and resilience.

Since then . . .

I've seen in the heartbreak of miscarriage that we live in a broken world that highlights the joy of the one to come.

I've seen in job loss that I am not really the Provider.

I've seen in the tragic loss of a loved one that second chances are sometimes born out of grief.

I've seen that He is good but that my heart must be tuned to sing His grace.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

you're (probably) not doing it right: girl scout cookies edition (with a guest appearance from ice cream)

photo: Jay Cox

Eating Girl Scout Cookies out of the box is wrong.  That is, it's wrong if those cookies are Thin Mints or Peanut Butter Patties.

When I was younger, my mother introduced me to a hybrid.  No, this wasn't an early prototype of the Prius, it was a cookie or rather two cookies to be exact.

After you have been harangued by the tiny girls in green, ordered more treats than your waistline can afford, and received your tiny, expensive boxes of joy, do this:
1. Open both the Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties boxes.
2. Empty the cookies into a gallon-sized freezer bag.
3. Place bag in freezer and leave for a couple of days.
4. Enjoy your peanut-butter-flavored Thin Mints and your mint-flavored Peanut Butter Patties.

They're the best.  Trust me.

You're welcome.

By extension, there is something else that you have probably been doing wrong your whole life.

Conventional wisdom says that the best way to adorn mint ice cream is with chocolate chips.

When you want to get really crazy, you can add Oreos to mint ice cream.

Let's play a little logic game.  Peanut butter is good with chocolate.  Mint is good with chocolate.  Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that peanut butter, mint, and chocolate are all good together.

It turns out that the perfect items to mix into mint ice cream are Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - all the better if you can find the Dark Chocolate Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  (Reese's Pieces are okay but too sweet to really strike the ideal flavor balance.)

If you are one of those freaks who don't like mint or peanut butter or chocolate or ice cream (or fun or puppies or Jesus or happiness), please don't bother commenting on this post disagreeing with me.  Just sit there and ponder silently by yourself how your life has gone off the tracks so badly.

For the rest of you, go enjoy the best bowl of ice cream you've ever had.  Feel free to send a picture of your smile afterward.

P.S. If you frequent TCBY as we do, get the Peanut Butter frozen yogurt, mixed with the White Chocolate Mousse, the mint chips (that look like little cut up Andes Mints), and the crushed peanut butter cups.

Monday, May 21, 2012

five programs you should start using (if you haven't already)

photo: Raj Lulla Photography (special thanks to Azina*)

If using your computer makes you want to beat your brains out, you aren't using it right. Or your computer sucks.

This post will help you with the first. Email me if you want help with the second.

Here are some programs and websites I use that will make your life infinitely better and your face better looking:
1. Google Chrome
If blog stats are accurate, the majority of you still view this blog on Internet Explorer. Please stop.

Why should you use Google Chrome? It is lightning fast. You can sync your bookmarks to any computer. It is clean, minimal, and sexy, much like myself.

While IE9 is vastly improved, I still think Chrome is the fastest, simplest, and most usable browser out there.  Even my wife likes it.

2. Evernote
I call Evernote my own personal Google. It saves articles, websites, pictures, quotes, and notes for you. You can use it for anything from dissertation research to grocery lists.

It syncs across all of your devices (computer, phone, tablet, etc.), and it is fully searchable. Evernote is good for those times when you're reading a fascinating article and then you hear explosions in your infant daughter's diaper as she sits smiling in the swing across from your perch on the couch - not that I would know anything about that. If you've installed the Evernote web extension for Google Chrome, all you have to do is right click to "clip to Evernote," go deal with the poopocalypse, then come back to your computer and finish reading in Evernote. No more filling your browser with bookmarks or forgetting where you read something.

Just visited their website and noticed that now you can even search text within images on Evernote.  I'm going to have to try this.

3. Mint.com
Don't fight about money with your spouse anymore. Use Mint.com.

Mint works like many personal accounting softwares, but it does it better and for free. It pulls all of your information from your bank, credit card companies, and even student loans to give you a complete picture of your finances. It is secured with the same level of encryption that your bank uses, and it doesn't actually store any of your financial information.

What sets Mint above the competition though is its completely awesome interactive graphs. I know it sounds boring, but this is what provides marital bliss. Now you can show your wife or husband where your money is going and what changes need to be made. Chart trends over time, plan budgets, or view a realtime meter of how much you have spent in different categories so far this month vs. what you have budgeted. Put it on your phone, and you won't have to call from the store to see if it's okay I buy something (or face a frustrated spouse when you come home).

4. Dropbox
Emailing things to yourself is so 2010.

Dropbox gives you 2GB of storage for free and increases every time one of your friends joins (from your invitation - I'm almost up to 5GB already).  While Google Drive offers more storage at sign-up, there are concerns that Google may use your files however it wants.  Microsoft Skydrive offers more too, but I've found Dropbox to be much easier to use across multiple devices, users, operating systems, etc.  It just works.

I use it for a job that I work remotely the majority of the time, for sharing photos with family, and for backing up iPhone photos and videos of my darling daughter (it's easier to access on my computer than iCloud in my opinion).

5. Picasa
It might be surprising that an aspiring photographer would still use a free, fairly basic photo program.

I love the way that Picasa organizes pictures, and sometimes I don't need the power of Adobe Camera Raw or Photoshop to do a simple crop or lighting adjustment.  In fact, the image at the top of this post was edited on Picasa.

My favorite thing about Picasa is that it incorporates a lot of features from Picnik, which Google acquired in 2010 and has since merged into its products.  Picnik was a great what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, and it lives on in Picasa.

Facial recognition is cool too, though it is occasionally a little racist (not all Indian people are related) or confused (boys and girls are not the same).  It's a huge help when you're trying to find pictures of someone for a tribute video or just a stroll down memory lane.

-----------
What are some of your favorite programs, apps, or websites?  What should I start using?


*Azina gets a partial photo-credit for yelling at me to take the picture of this graffiti in LA before the stoplight changed.  I almost missed it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

why voting for Romney isn't the same as voting for McCain: a Christian perspective

photo: Dave Lawrence

I had a hard time deciding whom to vote for in 2008.  As a minority, I wanted to support the first black president, but I hated his politics.  As a conservative, John McCain left me wanting . . . a lot.

I swallowed hard and took a deep breath in the voting booth and pushed the button for McCain, ultimately deciding that McCain, though undesirable, would have made more decisions I agreed with than Obama would have.  Granted, it was an electronic vote, so I have no guarantee it actually counted the way I voted.

McCain was not pro-life enough for me, but he was more pro-life than Obama, who opposed the Illinois Senate's version of the Infants Born Alive Act on the grounds that it would endanger abortion rights.  Senator McCain also advocated a larger federal government than I would prefer, but again, it was still drastically better than Senator Obama's position.

By contrast, Mitt Romney, while still not conservative enough for my tastes, seems to line up more with me on the issues.  Though, he is so slick, I would bet nearly everyone, even from divergent camps, feels that way.

So I should feel better about Romney, right?

Unfortunately, I don't.

With McCain, my differences were political and occasionally philosophical.  I have come to expect these in politics.  Short of electing a Christian minister such as Mike Huckabee, it is unlikely we will ever have a president who is as socially conservative as I am.

With Romney, my differences are on a worldview level.

As a Mormon, Romney believes that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who translated an additional testament to the Bible.  I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is not true.

I mean no offense to my Mormon friends, and on most days, this difference doesn't affect our relationships much.

But, I don't have to vote to give them the nuclear launch codes.

For the first time, I understand the vitriol that secularists spewed against George W. Bush.  If you believe someone is so powerfully deluded, the possibility of giving them first strike capability is positively nauseating.

Assuming that the evidence against Joseph Smith is accurate and that he was a fraud, I don't think I'm comfortable with the decision-making skills of one of his adherents when it comes to the the ability to start a world war of apocalyptic proportions.  Mormons are great friends and neighbors, but that's different from commanding a nuclear arsenal and the most advanced army in the history of the world.

The difference between George W. Bush and Mitt Romney is that 2 billion people believe the same as GWB, whereas only 13 million believe the same as Romney.  Even my non-Christian friends who have researched Mormonism see a distinction between the two faiths.

By the way, this is also why Reverend Jeremiah Wright matters too.

As Americans, we need to abandon the notion that faith is meant to be personal and is therefore unassailable.  Warped beliefs can do incredible amounts of damage, and one's personal faith should be open to scrutiny when running for public office.

At the risk of being guilty of reductio ad Hitlerum, the Nazi genocides were based off of a dangerous belief in eugenics mixed with equally dangerous fascism. The Crusades were based on a twisted understanding of Christianity, the idea that people should repent or let God sort out their bodies.  Terrorism happens because of deeply entrenched beliefs.

Jim Daly of Focus on the Family wrote that Christians should vote based on values rather than religion this year.  My problem is that in addition to my socially conservative values, I highly value the truth. I don't believe Romney has a firm handle on what is true.  Because of this, I have no way to accurately gauge the values underlie his decisions.

I know that this won't make me very popular with some of my friends or with those who blindly preach tolerance, but I honestly don't believe I can vote for Romney with a clear conscience. I can't vote for President Obama either.

P.S. If you think my position is extreme, read up on Brigham Young's prediction that America will fail without a Mormon saving the Constitution.
P.P.S. I reserve the right, as always, to moderate comments on this blog. Please be respectful of me and others, whether you agree or disagree with the position taken in this post.  Disrespectful comments will be deleted.

Friday, May 18, 2012

please, please stop misspelling these words

photo: Didi

I realize that not everyone can spell well, but I think that we can all try a little bit harder on some rather common words.

If you are a spelling offender (or will realize you are once you're done reading this list), then please start spelling the following words correctly:
1. Definitely.  It is not "definately" or (even worse) "defiantly."  "Definately" is definitely not a word (and according to the NSFW Oatmeal, it may have other implications).  And "defiantly" definitely is a word, but it's a word that means you defiantly chose to not to study for your spelling test in third grade and still can't spell.

2. Congratulations. Graduation and wedding seasons are upon us, which can only mean that facebook will be lighting up with hundreds of misspelled "congradulations" hitting my newsfeed.  I can only imagine that "Congradulations" was the clever pun of some dillweed at Hallmark that apparently 93% of the country didn't realize was a pun.  There is no "grad" in "congratulations," and if you graduated junior high, you should know that.

3. Your, you're.  It almost feels cliche even mentioning this one, yet sadly I must.  If you're still spelling these wrong, then I'm not going to be your friend much longer.

4. There, they're, their.  "There" is a way to tell how smart people are.  If they're still confusing these words, punch their stomach until they figure it out.  The more times a person has to puke before they learn their lesson, the dumber they are.

5. Than, then.  Few grammar mistakes annoy me more than when people screw this up.  Then, it makes me want to step on their birthday cakes.

6. Obese.  While this one isn't as commonly misspelled, my students often used to write it as "obeast."  Yes, because doctors were trying to put into words how beast-like extremely fat people are, and then it dawned on them: "obeast."

7. Intents and, intensive.  This is maybe stretching the misspelling theme a bit too far, but I don't care.  For all intents and purposes, don't say "intensive purposes" around me unless you want me to take you to the duck pond and duct tape bread to your shirt until you have had this lesson pecked into you.

Bonus: 8. Fewer and less.  This is not a spelling mistake (which is why it's "bonus" - get off my back).  Use "fewer" when referring to things you can count.  Use "less" when referring to something you can't.  I.e. After I showered, I was less dirty (because you can't really count dirt).  After I ate two pieces of pizza, there were fewer slices for everyone else (because you can count pizza slices unless you're pregnant).

I'm certain there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind right now.  Any others I forgot (besides the ones The Oatmeal mentions)?

the invisible minority

photo: D Boyd

I didn't even know I was considered an invisible minority until my friend Deanna mentioned it the other day.

In fact, I had to look it up.

Apparently there is some debate which ethnic group makes up the invisible minority, but people generally agree that it is Asians because, as a group of Americans, they do not suffer from the widespread ills with which other minority groups contend.

The crime rate is low among Asians. The employment an earning rates are high, and we tend to be well educated.

Many of us identify with white culture. We sometimes call ourselves "twinkies" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), though in my case you might have to go with oatmeal creme pie.

So what has my experience as an "invisible minority" been?

First of all, let's talk about the label.  "Asian."  Asia is at least 30% of the land mass in the world, and it is home to over half of the world's population.  India and China each have over one billion people.  An Asian can be a communist or capitalist, fascist or democratic, wealthy or impoverished.  Do we really only get one box on forms?

Asians represent 5% of the US population and 15-16% of Ivy League college admissions.  Sounds good right?  Except schools who have race-blind admissions policies admit nearly double that percentage of Asians.  Why? Asians are the highest scoring ethnicity on the SATs.  While I can't prove that I have been discriminated against because of my race, I know that my parents advised me to just put "Caucasian" down as my ethnicity when applying for scholarships and such.  It's a sad day when being a white male is better for you on quota-based applications.

Since I don't look "Asian," I often get spoken to in Spanish or treated as Middle Eastern (aka anti-American).  Again, I look like a billion other people in the world, but because I don't have almond-shaped eyes, people don't assume I'm good at math or have strict parents.

I've been followed around Wal-Marts in small towns in Nebraska before.  I don't know if they thought I was going to steal or buy suspicious amounts of fertilizer, but they definitely seemed to think something was up.

Probably the worst thing about being an invisible minority is when people think they are funny.  Since I tend to identify with majority culture and am frequently self-deprecating, white people, especially younger ones, tack that as a license to trot out borderline (or not so borderline) racist and hackneyed joke material.  Here's a clue: if you're going to make a race-based joke, be sure that it is a) original, b) funny, and c) something that won't get you punched.

I can promise you that I have heard every slurpee-hocking, camel-jockey, towelhead joke you can throw at me and all of them from people I like a whole lot more than you.  Political correctness can eat my curry, but obtuseness is always offensive.  Your permission to make racially themed comments around me depends entirely on the closeness of our relationship, not on how hilarious you find Apu from The Simpsons.

The high school I graduated from had a 98% white population.  My college was not much different.  Needless to say, my photo made it into several yearbook spreads and brochures.  Yet, I didn't get an extra scholarship for multi-cultural-ploitation.

While I'm not a fan of government-sponsored "leveling" of the playing field, I often find myself wishing that my brown skin and funny-sounding name would either afford me similar perks to what other minorities receive or not get noticed at all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

what I've learned as a new dad (#1)

photo: Raj Lulla Photography (please remember to remove children from clothing before sticking onesie in between drawers)

1. They grow really fast.
This is good and bad. Good because the difficult, still figuring out how to be outside the womb days don't last forever. Bad because my darling daughter is already asserting her independence and reminding me how much of my heart she has an how little control I have.

2. All babies are different.
Charlotte didn't even cry in the hospital and rarely cries at home. Our neighbor's baby cries a lot. A. Lot. Parents get the joy of both shaping who their baby becomes and getting to know this unique little person who lives in their house and drools on their stuff.

3. Babies like mommies better because they have the food and spend the most time with them.
Daddies have to wait their turn.

4. Let them cook as long as possible.
They seem to work better when they come out.

Charlotte was born at 41.5 weeks, and she's a baby genius who generally sleeps at night.  I imagine if we had let her go even longer she would've debunked string theory by now.

5. Babies are NOT cute when they come out.
They are a weird blue/green/grey/godzilla color when they are first born, and they usually come with a healthy smattering of what I call "baby cheese" all over them. They also commonly poop inside mommy before making their entrance. Birth is a real freakshow. On a related note ...

6. Jamming down a cheeseburger right before delivery is a very bad idea.
No matter how hungry you are.

7. Having a baby makes you want to buy every children's book and cute toy in the world, even if you can't afford them.
It also makes you use the word "cute" dramatically more often.

8. Having a baby is a lot like falling in love.
I loathe being at work away from her all day. I often contemplate quitting just so I can go home and snuggle her. I resist the urge so we can have a home to snuggle in.

9. Dads have to help moms fight "mom guilt."
It is instantaneous following birth and does not seem to go away. Even normal, previously sane women are affected by this psychosis. No, you are not a bad mom for putting her to bed in her room. She can't sleep with us forever, and I promise that it is very unlikely that a giant falcon will swoop through her window and carry her away.

10. Moms get crazy paranoid during the first month or so.
If your wife is expecting, expect to get woken up by the baby. Then, after the baby goes to sleep, expect to get woken up by your half-asleep wife who is panicked that she can't find the baby (who is asleep in the Pack and Play) next to her.

More to come ...

Any additions of your own?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to live poor and not feel like it (so much)

photo: Omer Wazir

In the four years that Lindsey and I have been married, we have yet to make more than $30,000 in a single tax year.

This might surprise some of you who know us because we don't, to my knowledge anyway, look poor - unless you count driving up in our awesome 15-year-old car.

Along the way, we've picked up some habits that make living frugally more enjoyable. Here are some of them:

1. Hulu instead of cable.
Keep the Internet. Kill the cable. All of our favorite network shows are available online, and even some of our favorite cable shows like Psych are free on sites like Hulu.

Plus, since Hulu is on demand, it's like having a DVR.  If you have an old desktop computer (or can get your hands on one), it will probably be perfect for a home media PC connected to your TV.

2. Good toilet paper.
A few items are not worth scrimping on. The couple of bucks you can save by going generic aren't really worth it when it comes to the comfort of your tushie.

3. Ice cream.
We stay stocked on ice cream. Nothing fancy, just store brand or whatever is cheapest. This makes home a happy place to eat and live.

4. Netflix, not movies.
We have subscribed to Netflix rather than going to movies. Some movies are worth the big screen date, such as The Avengers, but other movies aren't. Is The Proposal any funnier 30 feet tall than it is 3 feet tall? I say "no."

5. Cook at home.
Eating out is a huge expense that is easy to curtail. If you're insanely busy like we are, take one Saturday per month and make a bunch of freezable meals or sauces. If you have friends who do the same, you can even trade with each other to introduce variety.

Don't go premade either. Ingredients for lasagna are cheaper than frozen lasagna which is cheaper than Olive Garden. Ultimately, this is usually much healthier too.

6. Work on the side.
If you have a skill that people will pay for, pick up occasional side jobs. Teach a guitar lesson. Plan a party. Take care of someone else's kids. Then have a little fun with that money if you can afford to.

7. Haunt clearance.
We don't buy clothes full price unless we absolutely have to. I would guess that 75% or more of my wardrobe is from clearance racks at Target, Old Navy, or Kohl's. It's my personal mission to never pay more than $10 for a shirt.

The only time I break this rule is if it isn't worth buying lower quality. I will pay $25 for jeans if they will last me three times longer than the $10 clearance pair.

8. Learn new things.
You might be more capable at small automotive repairs or cooking than you think. Only use professionals if the risk is greater than the savings or if you will lose money or do poorly at your job without it. I.e. If riding the bus to work makes you late, get your car fixed.

9. Split meals.
Look up the nutritional facts for your favorite restaurant dish. A lot of times they're more calories than even two people should consume in one meal.

When you do go out on a date with your spouse or significant other, split the meal. It gives you a good excuse to sit close. Don't stiff the waiter in the tip, though. Be conscious of the fact that you took up one of their tables for that time period. Frugality isn't an excuse for stinginess.

--------------
These tricks won't magically shrink the size of your rent, mortgage, or student loans.  They can't make health insurance affordable.  But if you're struggling with life feeling just a little unmanageable, then they might help tight budgets feel a little roomier.

What do you do to save a little money?

Monday, May 14, 2012

random acts of annoyance

photo: Abel Vilches

- I hate the way Giada talks on the food network. It's 98% normal, unaffected English. Then it's 2% pretentious Italian when she's saying "Parmesan" or "prosciutto." Plus, that amount of cleavage in the kitchen is just asking for an unfortunately splattered and permanently disfiguring grease accident.

- Can we give up the national obsession with bacon yet? Sure, it's delicious, but it definitely doesn't make everything better. Know what it doesn't improve? Acid reflux. Bacon is less fun when it makes you taste your own stomach acid all night.

- Don't ever invite me to an amusement park. They're tourist traps that leave you exhausted and broke at the end of the day. They do not amuse me in any way. Fact: I lived an hour from Disneyland for five years, never stepped foot in the place, and I am darn proud of it.

- Hats that look like animal heads are adorable on infants and toddlers. They are infuriating signs of spoiled and coddled youth when worn by teenagers.

- The retail employee who rings up your purchase at a store is a human being.  In fact, he or she is a poorly paid, ill-respected human being.  Hang up or put your call on hold when you get to their register.  Talk to them. They might be interesting, pleasant, hilarious, and/or ridiculously good-looking.

If you answer your call while in the checkout lane and fail to put it on hold when you reach the register, there is a special place in hell reserved for you.  This place is an eternal Wal-Mart line with an 80-year-old, hard-of-hearing cashier who needs a price-check on everything.  The woman in front of you has dozens of items in her basket and is an "extreme couponer."  All you want to buy is anti-diarrheal medicine, which you need urgently, and there are no other lanes open.  Whether or not you end up in this place is your choice - just remember that the next time you hit "answer."

Alright friends, unleash.  What annoys you?

the beard

The beard at its finest.  Photo: Raj Lulla Photography (well, Raj Lulla Photography's wife)

I started shaving in sixth grade.  I hated it then, and I hate it now.  Even as I write this, I know that my beard is likely inappropriately unkempt for my job hocking electronic devices at a major national retailer, and I don't care because I hate shaving that much.

For years, my mother was my beard's nemesis.  She insisted that as long as I lived under her roof, I would not have a beard, dye my hair blue, or get a tattoo.  Two out of three ain't bad.

While I rebelled against my mother a few times in high school, I didn't make any real attempts at beardliness until college.  The initial grow-out stage is itchy, however, and I usually caved in to the itch or girlfriends who were like a bad itch.

Then came college graduation.  Finally, the promises of my high school guidance counselors would be realized, and I would capitalize on my now greatly-enhanced earning potential by virtue of possessing a bachelor's degree while applying for jobs.  Sadly, this would mean that my lifelong dream of bearding would be crushed by the draconian demands of the white collar workforce.

Or would it?

As it turns out, it might be wise to reconsider "earning potential" advice from people who work for the public school system.  I heard principals make some decent cash, but let's be honest, it's not worth the garbage they put up with.

So I found myself unemployed (or "funemployed" as Natalie Dee calls it).  This precipitated the genesis of the beard.  I chronicled this period in life on my old blog:
". I did it. I grew the beard*. It seems that somewhere between not having anyone to shave for and the excitement (diluted as it may be) of watching the hair on one's face grow, this change in appearance is a staple of those finding themselves under-employed. 
*This should not be confused with post break-up beard and/or the Biblical morning beard (accompanied by the tearing of clothes and sitting in ashes)."

Within a year of the beard's arrival, I had found gainful employment and a serious girlfriend (who is now my wife).  Coincidence?  I think not.

By God's grace, I avoided a trap that my father fell into.  You see, he was clean-shaven when he met my mother and was therefore doomed to baby-facedness for as long as they both shall live.

I, on the other hand, shaved one day last year during a subsequent period of funemployment.  As it turns out, Lindsey hates my naked face, and I, like a modern-day Abe Lincoln, was required to regrow my beard in order to avoid scaring children, end slavery, and kill vampires.

My daughter does not seem to enjoy the beard that much, but I think she will learn to appreciate it once she becomes enamored with puppies, which are similarly groomed.  Plus, she is only the boss of this house insomuch as she controls the sleep schedules, cries until we cater to her every need, and causes us to dance around like idiots making funny faces just so she will smile.  She does not control my beard.

I relish the fact that Charlotte will grow up in a world where men do not look like feminized children who wear ties (to separate them from actual children)**.  Hopefully, we can get creepers (and hipsters) to continue sporting mustaches only, so they can be avoided on spec.

If I ever write a FAQ about my beard, it will include this fact: I do, in fact, stroke my beard like an ancient philosopher while thinking.  This is unpremeditated and quite reflexive.

Now you have it, the story of my beard.  Any questions?

**This post was not written to offend the beardly-challenged or those who work for fascists (i.e. companies that don't allow beards).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

my mother

photo: Raj Lulla Photography (i.e. shameless plug)

My mother lets kids whom she did not birth (college roommates, sons/daughters-in-law, et al.) call her "mom," and she gives them hugs whenever she sees them.

She makes better Rice Krispie treats than your mom and in more shapes (including totem pole, US map, wedding cake, et al.).

My mom worries a lot about her kids and grandkids. This can be difficult at times, but it always comes from an incredibly loving place.

She works really hard at her job at hobbies and doesn't seem capable of doing anything halfway.

I learned from her that it's okay if your house doesn't look perfect as long ad it's a great place to live and be ... and as long as it doesn't make your wife upset.

My mom took me to church the week after I was born and all but a couple of weeks thereafter. This changed my life forever.

She probably knows more about weather phenomena than your mom. (If your mom doesn't know the scientific name for freezing fog, she need not apply.)

I was taught a lifelong love of ice cream and classic music (think Beatles, not Beethoven) by my mom.  In these areas, I was and am a star pupil.

My mom is a great person to call whenever you have a question about anything.  Whether it be automobile repair, Microsoft Office tips, medical advice, or cooking questions, you're unlikely to fluster her.

She is a fantastic grandmother.  I think she not-so-secretly enjoys it even more than parenting.

My mom has always gladly gone to bat for her kids and has never backed down when it came to protecting us or making sure we got a fair shake.  Sometimes, we even got a little bit more than a fair shake, and she didn't mind if we didn't quite deserve it.

I love my mom, and I'm glad she's my mom.

Happy Mother's Day, Ma!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

what is "good"?

photo: Chez Andre

The President revealed his change in views about gay marriage this week.

Political and religious pundits have predictably turned this story of the week into an excuse to argue on tv (and fundraise).

I thought about adding my opinion to the foray, but with all of the internet shouting, it hardly seems useful.

Instead, I would like to ask this question:
What is "good"?

Don't break the high school english class rule of using a word to define a word.  Also, don't bother ill-defining it unless you can come up with a definition for "bad" that doesn't include the word "good."

I used to ask my students this question in our early days of Christian worldview class.

When you answer this question, try to guess what percentage of the country would agree with you or could be persuaded to agree with you.

By the time you're done with this, I think you will begin to see why everybody is fighting over this issue that "doesn't have anything to do with you."

It's a new frontier in an old argument.  It used to be teaching evolution in schools.  Then it was abortion.  Now it's gay marriage.  And none of those fights ever really ended.

There's a reason.  Our country is divided into separate, well-entrenched camps of people.  In each camp, the people firmly believe they are right and everyone else is wrong.

The funny thing is, I don't even think we could get half the country to agree on a basis for the concept of good.  How are we supposed to figure anything else out together?

Next time you find yourself arguing with someone about whatever issue riles both of you up for that day, go back and start with "good."  See if you can make any progress at all.

If not, save your breath.

How about you, friends?  What is "good"?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why you should go see The Avengers

This blog does not claim any ownership of this image.  Blah, blah, blah.


The Avengers is one of the best superhero movies I have ever seen.

It outpaced other films in its genre in writing, direction, story, and special effects (really in every way that's worth talking about).  To be clear, we're talking about sharing equal status with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man.

Joss Whedon delivered masterfully in his first turn at the helm of a Marvel movie, and I think it's safe to assume that if any sequels in this series arent directed by him, they will be disasters (and not in the entertaining movie sense of the word).

Some quick thoughts about the movie:
1. Writing.
Joss Whedon is incredibly funny. I have thought so ever since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this was the ultimate confirmation. Levity helps an audience resonate with the film, which actually makes poignant moments even more meaningful.  The humor is witty and well-timed, not immature and occasionally racist (I'm looking at you, Transformers 2).

I came in with high expectations of Whedon's work, and he hit a home run. He is the dark, sarcastic Aaron Sorkin in my mind.

2. Direction.
Whedon coaxed excellent performances out of the entire cast.  In particular, Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo, who were both question marks for me before the film, pulled their weight and offered complexity to the story.  While I was disappointed that the producers wouldn't/couldn't work it out with Ed Norton, Ruffalo left behind his former-fat-friend from 13 Going on 30 days and . . . well, hulked out.

Chris Evans continued his streak away from Fantastic Four and toward greatness.  Chris Helmsworth avoided channeling his inner (and outer) Fabio.  And Robert Downey Jr. was particularly brilliant, even for RDJ.

3. Story.
For me, superhero movies fall down when they become too "super."  As budgets grow in sequels, directors and producers attempt to up the ante by increasing the size of the explosions, but true suspense comes from believing in and identifying with the characters.  The Avengers, for being a group of self-described "freakshow" outsiders, proffered a tremendous amount of humanity.  I found my heart racing at some points during the film, genuinely caring what happened to the characters.

4. Visual Effects.
I offer the most forgiveness to movies for visual effects if the other elements are present, but I think visual effects speak to a certain care taken in making the film.  Think about The Dark Knight and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  They didn't settle for cheap effects.  It creates an immersive world where one can get lost in the story.

If you stay for the credits (and you definitely should), take a moment to marvel at the sheer number of digital artists who worked on the film.  It's a small city.

After the cold fish that was Thor, the minor letdown that was Iron Man 2, and a little bit of cheesiness during the back half of Captain America, I was prepared for a giant letdown at The Avengers.  Instead, I got a smart, funny, exciting, entertaining, inspiring 2 hours and 39 minutes well worth the price of admission and then some.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

choosing well


Most of the things I love about my wife, I had no way of knowing before we got married.

It's not that I didn't have indications based on her character, rather we couldn't have known the sorts of things we would face in our time together on this planet.

I didn't know we would have our first miscarriage publicly because I was a prominent leader in our growing church. We had to grieve in front of others, which brought to the surface many similar wounds that were shared with us. Lindsey needed to offer comfort to others who had hidden their miscarriages and buried the pain for years, and she did, even while mourning.

I didn't know she would be my rock as I struggled through anxiety during our first year of marriage. She could see my panic, even when I was to sheepish to admit it to her. We missed some good friends' wedding because I couldn't bring myself to go up the mountain. Instead, she stayed home and watched TV with me.

I didn't know she would weather ministry blowouts with me and work when no one would hire me. She even worked up through 37 weeks of pregnancy so we could do ministry in Salt Lake City on our own terms with God.

I didn't know what a domestic artist she is. Our table is always filled with delicious food on a tiny budget. She makes our home welcoming and warm and doesn't complain about the things we can't afford.

I didn't know what an incredible mother she would be. She adores and serves our precious baby, already modeling virtue for her. She even lets me relax some at home, changing extra diapers and picking up slack when I am exhausted from working two jobs.

I didn't know these things that I love about my wife when we got married, but I knew her, and I'm not surprised.

I chose well.

Happy 1st Mother's Day, Lindsey! I love you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

sleep

photo: Mark Mathosian

Sleep doesn't live here anymore.

He moved out when we had a baby.  He thought about coming back, but then our neighbors had a baby.

We share a wall with them, and it must be made out of tissue paper or imagination because it blocks newborn cries about as well as a ballerina trying to stand between a sumo wrestler and a buffet.  It stops sound like a Keebler Elf guarding Lebron.

Sleep sneaks back in every once in a while, but he is discovered, chased out, and bludgeoned to death by ill-timed alarm clocks, conflicting body rhythms, and occasionally a chicken (or guinea pig or dog).

I love Charlotte.  I used to like sleep a lot too.  I'm sure they could find a way to live together in the same house.  It has to be possible, right?

For a while, I conspired with Sleep's enemy Caffeine, but Caffeine is sort of a tricksy fellow who likes to stick around long after Sleep wanted to attempt a comeback.

Sometimes it feels like Sleep has returned, but it's just his impostor cousin Doze.  Doze is a lot like Sleep, but he never sticks around long enough for us to really get to know him.

I know Sleep wants to see me.  Sometimes he tries to visit me at work, even while I'm standing up in the middle of the store.  We have got to find a way to see each other.  We used to be such good friends.

Sleep, I know things have been rough between us, but I swear you're welcome back anytime.  Please come home.  Soon.

We'll leave the lights off for you.

Monday, May 7, 2012

hidden gems: music I don't like to share with others

The worst thing that can ever happen to a good song is for it to become too popular.

If you doubt me, think of Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" before Grey's Anatomy found it, and then think about it afterwards.

Nevertheless, several of you asked me to share some thoughts about music, so today I'll introduce you to two songs and artists you might not be aware of yet.

1. Kendall Young
I can't vouch for her booty-shaking ways on The Sing Off as part of Delilah, but this girl is a true believer as far as I can tell.  She's [fairly] famous, but she retweets John Piper.  That's impressive in my book.

Her first single is surprisingly worshipful, and her voice in it reminds me of Australian phenom Brooke Fraser (of Hillsong).

Enjoy.
Follow her on twitter here if you'd like.

2. Foy Vance
While a smoking, drinking Irishman might be an odd follow-up to a fresh-faced aspiring Christian artist, Foy Vance's music is so incredibly earnest, the connection might not be that much of a stretch.

He will likely remind you of Damien Rice and/or Ray Lamontagne.  Get a napkin.  You might drool.

I could have posted the more polished music video, but if you make it through the 10 minutes of the live version, you'll know why I picked it.

Enjoy.

ht: Pat Campbell

my life without Jesus

photo: Rick Harrison

I'm going to write about something which I normally don't.

There's a special place of hatred in my heart for religious cliches, and I abhor regular cliches.  I like to preach in church, but I don't like to be preachy ever in life.

But this morning I was asked a question that made me think, and it's worth writing about.

"What would your life be like without Jesus?"

I don't think I'd be dead or in jail as the common answer goes.  I was raised too conservative and middle class for that.

Not much would have changed through junior high, though there would probably be fewer embarrassing photos of me singing in church with my siblings and wearing matching outfits.

But high school would have been different.  I was insecure and desperate enough for attention, even as a Christian, I can only imagine what I would have been like without the moral compass of my faith.  This isn't to say that non-Christians don't have a moral compass, just to say that I know my faith was the only thing preventing me from making some really stupid decisions back then.

With some certainty, I can say that the majority of my time would have been spent trying to convince girls with low self-esteem to sleep with me.  I wouldn't have tried for the popular ones or the drunk ones but the ones who really seemed to need me to give them a sense of value because that's what I wanted from them in return.

That probably sounds incredibly predatory, but it's true.  It wouldn't have been intentional manipulation.  I would have bought flowers and been sweet and romantic.  But I would have been so middling and acquiescent that we would have believed each other soulmates while we both collapsed inside.

My low self-esteem probably would have led me to be unprepared if my romantic advances worked, and I likely would have faced a pregnancy scare.  I can almost imagine the conversation between two shattered teenagers failing to plumb the depth of their actions, too immature to cope on their own.

I doubt I would have learned to play guitar.  In fact, I probably would have stopped playing music after my parents stopped being able to afford it.

I might have experimented more with alcohol and possibly pot, but I probably wouldn't have stuck around in those scenes.

You would probably find me writing bitter, emo rants on the internet . . . er, more anyway.

My weight probably would have ballooned to a dangerous level as shame spirals and addictive eating would have followed each other.

Hope would likely be the most notable absence from my life.

While imprisonment or untimely death did not seem likely for me, despair was almost a certainty without Jesus.

Deciding to follow Jesus didn't make me a good person.  It showed me that I was far worse than I even realized.  Even writing this, I cringe wondering what people who have always thought of me as "nice" will think of my once potential destructive path.

Following Jesus paid for the debt of my soul-defining internal corruption and invited me to live in a new reality.  It showed me that trying to be exactly what a girl wanted was the same as lying to her and that we both deserved more honesty and integrity in our relationships, even if it meant needing to be with someone different.  It planted in me a creative seed that brings me great joy to share with others.

I would have chased more money, but instead I can be counted rich in family, lifelong friendships, and joy.  I would have pursued more fleeting pleasure, but instead I share love with an incomparable wife and darling daughter.

I have fought to become healthier, losing over 30 pounds since my heaviest and having the courage to get right when I slip up.

I believe in a better tomorrow because I do not control my own destiny.  I spent too many fruitless years trying that.

I wanted completion because I was not whole.  I wanted meaning in a chaotic world.  I wanted love when I was drowning in loneliness.  I wanted truth to cut through noise and bullshit.

Jesus is all of that and more to me, and I am thankful that I am not living the life I would have had without him.

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