Patty just left a minute ago for the Women’s Retreat for our church. She’s on her way to Forest Home where it is supposed to snow later tonight. So fun! I know it’s going to be a good one. Hopefully she’ll make it up there without needing to put on chains!Read More
There’s a song I’ve been listening to by one of my favorite artists, Glen Phillips. It’s called “Nobody’s Gonna Get Hurt” and is about all the lies we tell ourselves. It’s starts with the obvious lie, “the earth is flat” (sorry if that is a spoiler for anyone) and proceeds to much more subtle fallacies, the central one being that we can somehow live life well and avoid getting our hearts broken.Read More
So, yesterday I got kicked in the face. It was my first time. I didn’t see it coming. I did block two punches, but the third move got me. I can’t believe Master Mark can even get his foot that high. Thankfully I had a padded helmet on. Otherwise I might have lost a tooth.
Sparring is a whole different level of training. Much of our time and energy in Hapkido goes into form and memorization; step back block, front kick, double punch. Again…and again.
This is how we learn. Wax on, wax off. As we do, the moves feel more and more natural. We don’t have to be told to straighten our fingers when we elbow someone in the ribs. It just happens. And our fingers close quickly into a fist when we block a kick. Because when we don’t, and our fingers get kicked, it hurts really, really bad.
But practice of this kind can only take us so far. And I’ve noticed, when the sparring gear is on, my mind tends to go blank. What move are we practicing? Are we doing kicks or punches? This way of thinking doesn’t apply to sparring. It causes us to overthink and freeze up. Sparring isn’t the time to refine technique. It is the time to fight.
And as we do, we find ourselves discovering a whole different level of meaning. Master Mark reminds me over and over to get my front hand up. But I like it a bit more low and tucked, boxer like. He pulls my fist out and up. This is proper form. And I keep it up there for a bit. But a couple moves later, my hand is back where I like it. This feels more natural to me.
Except that my lowered fist is like a huge invitation to hit me in the face. I want to put my effort into strikes, into kicks, into moves. But this is getting ahead of myself. We must first build a strong, impenetrable foundation, and then go from there. We can then add to it. Because if we are too focused on our punch, we miss our block. And the punch becomes irrelevant. That missed block can leave our head ringing.
Lila loves to spar. She comes at you like a spider monkey. She is fearless. She is all attack. As we walked to the car afterwards, a lady asked us how class was. Lila said, “It was great! I kicked everyone’s butts.” The lady smiled. “That’s as it should be.” It was a sweet ‘girl power’ moment for the two of them.
I, personally, have more trepidation when sparring. I prefer the safety of the classroom. I like the theory. I like the controlled environment of technique and form. But that, ultimately, isn’t the point. All that training is simply the structure for the real thing.
And the real thing is the dance. We learn so we can truly live. We practice so that we can come alive. The work and discipline matter. But we must get in the ring. We must engage. This is where it all comes together. The arena is where it counts.
Today is our anniversary, babe! Can you believe it? We’re seventeen, which means our marriage is almost old enough to vote.
I look at that picture from our wedding day and can’t believe how young we were! We were just kids! Our whole lives were before us. Everything was just beginning. We were only just getting started.
I remember, in those days, we were both discovering so many new things about ourselves. So much of my life was centered around leadership and ministry. So much of yours around spirituality and new identity. In many ways, we fell in love with each other’s potential. How could we not? We were changing and growing every day. And together we just continued in that stream, redefining who we were, and shaping where we wanted to go.
Laguna Beach instead of L.A. Small church over large. The decision to have a family. You deciding to stay home and figuring out how to be a mom. Me juggling work and family and learning how to be a dad. So many changes have happened between now and then. And yet, somehow, things are still very much the same.
At middle age, we are both still discovering new things about ourselves. But one of the main ones is the discovery that we haven’t really changed as much as we thought. The minister’s wife/stay at home mom is still actually the cheerleader/athlete who loves to dance and perform, and is a phenomenal coach! And me, well, I’m still that nerdy kid that loved books and D&D. All the surfing, guitar playing, and good music in my life never seem to alter the fact that I’m still a geek at heart.
Which means our life is very much like a John Hugh’s movie, and I’m the awkward Michael Anthony Hall character who somehow, someway, ends up with the gorgeous Molly Ringwald. How in the world did I get so lucky?
When you first choose your spouse, it is for all the reasons they are the perfect fit. At least that is what we think. But that is just the small part of ourselves we’re consciously aware of. The things we find immediately attractive, as opposed to the deeper questions of what we really need. When you get to midlife, that top ten list is no longer front and center. In fact, it is probably buried away somewhere in a drawer.
What we have instead is so much reality. Who we truly are. All the ways we fit, yes, but also all the ways we don’t. But both of those lists have become practically irrelevant. Because what we have is seventeen years. Seventeen years of intimacy, vulnerability, struggles, frustrations, dreams, defeats, victories, losses, embarrassments, and moments of glory. And we have three little ones that aren’t so little anymore, who have added all their complexities to the mix.
Who I am and who you are has become inseparable. We really are one. And as you continue to grow, and flourish, and become more of who you are, then so do I. And I love who you are becoming and therefore, who we are becoming. It is so familiar, and yet so brand new. It includes more of who we were, and yet continues to expand into new territory.
I love you, not because you somehow complete me. I love you because you and I no longer come apart. I love us. As both of us step into new areas filled with new fears and insecurities, you are the one I want to go there with. I love you so much! Can’t wait for the next seventeen.
This morning was delightful! Mia and I have been having breakfast on Fridays for years now. She and I are breakfast people. It is both of our favorite meal of the day. We’ve been exploring all of Laguna’s spots on a quest for the very best poached eggs and cinnamon rolls. There are plenty to choose from. Zinc, Heidelberg, Penguin, Urth, Shirley’s…Laguna is filled with a great variety of little breakfast nooks.
But our most favorite of all is Orange Inn, and that’s where we went today. This place has so much soul! The rafters are filled with old Brewer and Dewey Webber longboards…not well persevered, but dinged up, yellowed, and well surfed. We love the window seat with the words “Best Coffee in Town” decaled on it. (We usually make some Elf reference.) The muffins are fantastic. The soup is great. They even have a fabulous tuna sandwich. But we come for the eggs and the cinnamon rolls. Every time. Because it is our ritual. It is what we do.
This morning, Mia was commenting on the different smells. They are so familiar. John, the owner, comes out and greets us, checks in on us, calls me “padre.” We feel known. We belong here.
We finish up breakfast and walk down to the end of the street and down the steps to the beach at Cleo. There’s a bench down there, close to the water, where we like to sit and watch the waves and surfers before school. That, too, is our spot. It is our bench. We laugh about different stories and memories over the years. That one time we watched a random sandal being sucked out to see and then thrown back by the waves, over and over. We just sit and giggle.
These moments, these glimpses, are solidified in the ritual. They take on a certain permanence. They have shaped us. These experiences are now a part of who we are. And because of that, they are sacred.
I love my daughter. I love the way she comes alive when it is just the two of us. She and I move through life at the same pace. We’ve always just sort of understood one another. Ever since she was little, we’d find ourselves on trips or at parties, retreating to a corner and hanging out quietly.
We get each other, and that is such a gift. I love our rituals, not for the formality or structure, but for the deep peace they bring. We are the same.
This morning, as Mia finished her cinnamon roll, she had worked it all the way down until just the center was left. Because the center is the very best part (did you know that?). It is the gooiest, sugariest bite of the whole thing. Every time we split it. We savor it. And we give thanks. For good breakfast. For our friendship. For the beauty of our ritual. But most of all, for the sweet gift of each other.
Today my son bought an electric guitar. He saved up his pennies and purchased it himself. That is such a rite of passage moment. This isn’t a gift from his dad who is hoping maybe this hobby will stick. No, Gabe is hungry. He paid for it himself.
Many of you know Gabe plays the drums, and happens to be a fabulous drummer. But Gabe isn’t just a drummer, he’s a musician. Whatever instrument is nearby, he’ll pick it up and tinker with it. Saxophone, piano, stand-up bass, you name it.
But electric guitar is the thing that has really grabbed him. It is fun to watch his eyes light up when he talks about it. I hear him listening to “old people” music like the Strokes or Radiohead or the Arctic Monkeys. It is what he and I do now whenever we’re driving somewhere. We walk down memory lane as he asks me about the music from my past. Gabe can tell you more about Jack White or Kurt Cobain than I ever could.
So, I asked my friend Marc if he could give us some input on what Gabe should buy for his first guitar. Marc happens to be one of the best guitarists in the world. Seriously. So you can imagine his response. “What guitar to buy??? That’s way too big of a question! He’s got to sit down and play them. What matters most is that he gets the one he likes.”
It reminded me of Olivander, the wand seller in Harry Potter, saying, ”the wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.” “The guitar chooses the guitarist.”
Marc met us today at Guitar Center. It was a little bit like having Kelly Slater come help my son pick out his first surfboard. But Marc was so into it. He was so kind with Gabe, as he pulled different models off the racks. “Ooh, here’s one if you want to go more Kurt Cobain!” Marc knows everything about guitars, and not just sounds, but styles, colors, eras. This is a man who has invested his entire life in this instrument.
None of the employees were old enough to shave, and none of them recognized who he was. They chipped in with their own input and perspectives. But Marc didn’t skip a beat. He has no need for attention or recognition. I love that about him.
Marc is a master guitarist, and yet a master that has lost none of his joy. It meant the world to me to watch him invest this time with my son. I can think of no greater gift you could give me.
When we got home, Gabe asked, why do you think Marc was willing to do that for me? “Well…he’s our friend. And he loves guitars. And, I think, it meant a lot to him too to be a part of your first purchase.”
As I sit here tonight, writing, I feel grateful. Grateful for new friends, and new instruments, and the future joy that awaits Gabe as he continues to figure out just who he is. I love my quiet, thoughtful son, who has fantastic taste in music, amazing rhythm, and who longs for a bit more distortion.
I think of Marc, with all his knowledge and experience, sitting down and playing these bottom end guitars, making them come to life, finding out just what Gabe likes, and then pointing with confidence… “that’s the one!”
It was a glimpse, for me, into God’s heart. He delights in our simple gifts that must look so small to Him, and yet He continues to find such pleasure in our steps. God doesn’t just honor us with his presence, he comes down to our level. Not simply for our joy, but for His.
The realization that God delights in me causes me to blush. I feel that odd mix of humility and joy. But the fact that God delights and takes pleasure in my son…well, as a father, It delights my heart. It is the greatest gift I could ask for.
Last night Lila and I completed our test for yellow belt. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous. I even practiced my moving attacks on Patty ahead of time. It is funny how we never outgrow those jitters. At least I haven’t.
We got there and the room was set up a bit different. A table was out. A Korean flag was hung. My instructors didn’t smile. This was serious.
This is one of the things I’ve loved about Hapkido. It is the sense of deep tradition and meaning. My friend, Scott shared with me about the years he had invested in this discipline, and his eyes revealed just how deep this ran in his heart. This class wasn’t being taught by just anyone. Mark was like Scott’s brother. This was family. It was that moment that made me sign up. I wanted in.
After our test we celebrated at San Shi Go. As we stuffed ourselves on their fabulous sushi, I sat back and watched Master Mark and Scott savoring in the joy of the moment. They were relishing in my and Lila’s accomplishment. And it was connecting them to this rich vein of joy that they could tap into vicariously. We were all celebrating, but my instructors most of all.
This is one of the deep truths in life. Joy is increased when it is shared. It diminishes when we try to possess it. It flows, like a river. The blessing is allowing ourselves to pour out the blessing. Investing our lives in others is the good life. It was a wonderful evening.
And then, this afternoon, my role switched as I took Alex, a friend of my niece, Mary’s, out surfing for the first time. Alex is a snowboarder from Idaho and was itching to get out there. We ran through the prep on the beach and then paddled out into the chilly water.
I shoved him into a couple waves to begin with so he could get the timing for his pop up. His first wave was great but he went to his knee on his back leg. Almost! From there he just got closer and closer. He pearled a couple times. Popped up too early on a few. Went over the falls once or twice. And then nailed it. He paddled into it by himself, got right to his feet, and rode it all the way in.
As he hooted on the inside, all the guys in the lineup beamed. We all remembered. We were all there. Alex was so stoked! But we may have been even more than him. There’s a saying that gets tossed around at moments like this. Some version of “So much for him ever becoming president.” Just writing that makes me smile. It is so true!
He was so thankful. But I was the one feeling grateful. Because when we pour out our joy and passions on others, when we seek to be as generous as our hearts will allow, we tap into something so very rich. It is the goodness of life. And while it cannot be possessed, we can wade into it. We receive it and give it. We become conduits of the blessing. And that is the blessing. That is abundant life.
Today’s softball game was my very favorite of all Mia’s games. Her team was assisting a program that our league offers to children with disabilities and special needs. Each player on her team was paired up with a partner who they would shadow and assist when needed. They would lend an arm when running bases, back them up when fielding, and speak words of encouragement throughout the entire game.
It was so tender. So many beaming smiles. So much joy and enthusiasm. I was choked up for the entire hour.
Several of these sweet-heart girls, after rounding home plate, would walk past their cheering fans and ask everyone their name. One in particular was named Miracle. So perfect! She absolutely was.
I couldn’t help but compare it to a typical game where I’m sitting under a cloud of pressure that I feel for my daughter. Mia is getting so good, but I’m still nervous for her, especially as her position continues to move towards more and more critical roles. There is no room for error. Every ball hit towards her causes me emotional distress, for her, for me, for her team and the parents sitting next to me.
Because, in these games, fun is secondary and inseparable from winning. And winning means you outperformed the other team. And, even better than just a win is when you made a significant contribution to the victory. Right? We all know this to be true.
Until you sit through a game like this morning’s and realize that maybe you don’t have this figured out. I can still see one of the girls at bat, having swung at least 10 times, turning to her mom and blowing her a kiss. Then, somehow, smacking the next ball past second base.
Some refused to be helped. Others were more insistent. One darling little girl shook her head and pointed to which ball she wanted placed on the tee. When she swung, the ball landed maybe two inches from the plate. She ran to first, then second, then third, and sure enough, she had turned that brilliant 2” hit into a home run. We went crazy! She strutted past us with pride, waving the whole way.
Now I realize, when it comes to games like this I’m a complete tourist. I can easily sit in the stands and romanticize the suffering and struggle that these families go through every single day. I see it in the eyes of the tired mom’s in the stands. One little girl was so overwhelmed she just stood at the plate and cried. Her mother came over and put an arm around her, spoke a couple silent words of encouragement, and then walked her daughter off the field and sat with her in the stands as her daughter rocked noticeably back and forth and shook for the remainder of the game. I could see them both, arm in arm, tenderly suffering together.
But after that failed attempt, every batter that walked up to the plate first stopped to check in on their friend. “It’s okay.” “You’ll be alright.” “I love you so much.”
Leaving the game, I felt honored to have been included in such a tender scene and for my daughter to have partaken in such a powerful moment. There is something about that level of patient suffering that feels sacred. It is illuminating. It exposes the fallacies of our privileged existence and shows us a depth of feeling that goes often overlooked in our fast paced world.
Because it moves way too slow for us.
The game lasted just one inning, but took an hour. Each batter stood up there for pitch after pitch, swing after swing, until the least bit of contact. The girls in the outfield stood still and watched for the majority of the game. But what they saw, as they shifted their weight patiently from leg to leg, waiting for something to happen, was a glimpse of true tenderness.
We often ridicule a society where everyone gets a trophy, because then we underperform and always expect to be a winner. And I guess that is true. But a world where only the strong survive, where winning is the goal, where we praise talent and beauty and shun the weak, is a much graver mistake. And comes at a much deeper cost.
Jesus asked, “What good is it to gain the whole world and forfeit your soul?”
Today’s game was a sacred glimpse into the purity of what love can be. It is enormously costly, and yet of the greatest worth. I’m not surprised that the “least of these” holds the greatest weight in God’s economy. This isn’t God’s mercy or generosity. It is God’s brilliant wisdom on display for all those patient enough to stop and see.