Unlikely heroes

Last week, I watched new coverage of the ongoing hostage situation unfolding in Midland City, Alabama. Sixty-five year old Jimmy Lee Dykes had taken a 5 year old child off a school bus after fatally shooting the driver. Dykes held the boy hostage in an underground bunker for a week until negotiations broke down and authorities stormed the bunker, rescued the boy and killed his kidnapper. Much has been said of bus driver Charles Poland, and rightly so. Poland stood between Dykes and the children on the bus to protect them. He made the ultimate sacrifice. He died a hero.

That’s a word that’s bandied about a lot, isn’t it?


I’ve heard single parents called heroes because they must be both mother and father to their kids while working full time. I’ve heard teachers referred to as heroes because they’re required to be babysitters and counselors and well as educators. And while I don’t diminish the hard work and dedication it takes to be a single parent or a teacher, I suspect if you were to ask why they do what they do, most answers would be along the lines of, “What choice do I have? It’s what needs to be done. It’s what is expected.”

For me, being a hero involves going beyond what is expected; displaying courage and nobility when others do not. It’s about doing the right thing even if it puts your life in danger. Soldiers are heroes. First responders are heroes. Likely heroes.

And then there’s Kai, the homeless, hitchhiking, surfer, hippie. An unlikely hero, but a hero just the same:

In the unedited version of this news report, you learn a little more about Kai. At the very end of the tape, the reporter tells Kai that it seems he doesn’t seem to have any concern for himself, that he seems to be all about doing the right thing and not even worrying about “Kai first”. Kai’s short response really struck me:

“I don’t have any family. I mean, as far as anyone I grew up with is concerned I’m already dead. So…whatever.”

He probably doesn’t live a lifestyle most would condone or want for their own children. Fresno, California is a long way from where he said he grew up in West Virginia. If I had to guess I’d say he had a less than stellar childhood, has done many things he regrets and has relationships in his life he thinks are irreparably broken. But despite all the emotional baggage and regret he’s probably carried around much like that backpack, on this day, he did not let any of it weigh him down. He saw the opportunity to do what was right, what was heroic, and he took it.

May we all be so brave.

“No matter what you’ve done you deserve respect. Even if you’ve made mistakes you’re lovable, and it doesn’t matter your looks, skills, or age, or size, or anything, you’re worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you.” — Kai

Creating our own soundtrack

Both of my kids are involved in extra-cirrular activities at school. My sixth grader plays percussion for the band and is involved in something called Science Olympiad–or as I jokingly refer to it, The Nerd Olympics.

My 9th grader is in band and football. Between private lessons, practice and school work, his schedule was already full. Which is why when he insisted on being involved in Debate, the Debate teacher was understandably concerned about whether he would be fully committed to the research and preparation required to compete in tournaments. She need not have been. After a phone conversation with her about my son’s interest in politics–he was voted “Most Likely to become a Politician” by his 8th grade class–her concerns were abated and she was excited about having him join the team. That he enjoys being on the debate team doesn’t surprise me. What has surprised me is that he is the only kid on that team who considers himself a conservative. There are two who claim the moniker of libertarian. The rest consider themselves liberal. We live in Texas, y’all. States don’t get much redder than this one.

When the school year began, he would tell me stories of spirited discussions he engaged in with his liberal classmates. As the school year has progressed however, he has begun to take liberal stances on political issues. Not, he assures me, because he actually buys into them, but because part of being a successful debater is being able to argue both sides of an issue. But still–This is a kid who often proudly wears a tee shirt emblazoned with the face of Ronald Reagan and the words “Do you miss me now?” on it. Then there’s comments like, “Do you really think Fox News is fair and balanced?” I shared with him my belief that there’s really no such thing as fair and balanced news coverage anymore. Everyone filters information through what they want to believe is the truth.

The world is much more polarized these days, but I think us humans have always had a knack for creating our own soundtracks in life.

Upon hearing the phrase “sensible gun laws”, depending upon your political leanings you might hear “the government is going to make the streets safer for everyone” or “the government is trying to take guns away from everyone but the criminals”.

Even in personal relationships, a person might say “It’s not you, it’s me”. Nine times out of ten, what the other person hears is “It’s totally you.” (And nine times out of ten, they’re correct.)

We choose to believe versions of truth based upon our life experiences and the deep-seated desires of our heart. One only has to look as far as the Manti Te’o story for proof of that. That’s obviously an extreme case, but let’s be honest. If we could create our own soundtrack as our lives played out before us, who wouldn’t edit out “The spot we found is cancerous” and replace it with “It must have been a smudge on the x-ray because you’re perfectly healthy”, or edit out “We need to talk” and replace it with “You’re all I’ve ever wanted”?

Face it. If you could mute the sound and put in your own words, you’d most likely do it.

You might even do something like this:

Did she just write a 500+ word post just to share a YouTube video?!?


Yesh she did. Snort!

Happy Superbowl Sunday, y’all!

Christians gone wild

I spent a lot less time on social media than I used to. I check my Twitter and Facebook feeds every day, but I don’t spend more than a few minutes on either. More times than not, I get in on the tail end of some controversy which has erupted on Twitter. Such was the case when I began seeing tweets in my timeline from folks coming absolutely UNGLUED in the aftermath of this tweet sent out by Mark Driscoll on Inauguration Day:

You know…

It’s not like Driscoll is known for his tact. This is hardly the first time he’s offended thousands of people. I have to believe he fully expected a huge backlash because of this tweet, and that’s exactly what he got.

There’s more. Much more. If you’re interested, you can read his entire timeline. Shaun King (who has over 31,500 followers and lists “Jesus Follower” on his timeline) later apologized for his language, but stood by his outrage as a result of Driscoll’s tweet. I don’t question for a moment that Mr. King’s outrage was genuine, and I’m sure many others, regardless of their political affiliations, were offended by Mark Driscoll’s tweet.

But seriously, people…

When you go off on someone on such a public forum, you end up looking like a self-righteous attention whore. I’m not trying to single out Shaun King. I’m sure there were plenty of others going off on Driscoll. I just happened to see his tirade because @Learell is in my “Friends” column on Tweetdeck, and when I saw this exchange, it made me curious about what I had missed:

Shaun King doesn’t know Learell from Adam. As far as I know, this is the first interaction either has had with one another. Yet King assumes Learell agreed with what Driscoll said.

Twitter is not the platform for meaningful dialogue about complex issues or passionate debates about politics, religion, or…well…anything.

It’s Twitter, people!

It’s pithy comments of 140 characters or less. The odds of your words being misunderstood and/or taken out of context are pretty high. Those odds go up exponentially when you’re pissed off.

If you’re outraged about something, rather than express your anger in 140 character spurts, get a pen and a notepad, or talk to a real, non-virtual human being about it. Maybe even go so far as to send a private email to the offending party.

If none of this advice sounds reasonable; if you still think your best bet is expressing your righteous anger on social media, might I suggest you examine why that is? Why you feel it so important to share your worst moments intimately with what amounts to a bunch of complete and total strangers who have no right to judge you, but most certainly will?

And while we’re on the subject of social media, can someone please explain to me why you would follow someone you don’t like? Doesn’t living in a fallen world give us plenty to be upset about without going out and looking for reasons to be pissed off?

In the memorable words of Sergeant Hulka…

Lighten up, Francis.

The relativity of truth

I recently read an article on Grantland.com, a site which is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to visit on the interwebs.

It wasn’t so much an article, actually. It was a fascinating email conversation between contributing editors Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman concerning the Manti Te’o story. You can read it in its entirety here.

The conversation begins with Klosterman asking what most of us ask when presented with a story of high profile people in the midst of a scandal:

What did they know and when did they know it?

Klosterman presents three scenarios:

1. He was completely fooled all season (only realizing the depth of the deception a few days before reporting it to Notre Dame authorities on December 26).
2. He was initially fooled, yet continued to perpetuate the hoax even after he realized he’d been duped (either for the benefit of public relations or to hide his own humiliation).
3. He was totally complicit the whole time.

His assumption was the same as mine, and most likely most of yours: Option 2.

But in typical Malcolm Gladwellian form, Gladwell is not much interested in what Te’o knew and when he knew it, but rather is fascinated by the narrative of the hoax:

Hold on. Hold on. I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Before we get into the question of what Manti Te’o did and didn’t know, can we go back and reflect on the singular genius of the hoax itself? The young girlfriend of a prominent football player is severely injured in a car crash and then dies of leukemia. It’s so good. It’s three of the great modern inspirational narratives, all in one.

The first element is: beautiful young girl dies of leukemia. It’s Love Story, right? The most influential Hollywood tearjerker of the past 50 years. Ali MacGraw dies tragically of leukemia, leaving Ryan O’Neal bereft: Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Then there’s the “inspirational outsider” motif, which goes all the way back to Notre Dame, Knute Rockne, and the famous “win one for the Gipper” speech. Notre Dame’s star, George Gipp, is on his deathbed with pneumonia. He says to Rockne (at least in the movie version):

“I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Sometime, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”

On the strength of that inspiration, Notre Dame rises up and beats previously undefeated Army 12-6…

The crucial element of this kind of story is that the off-the-field tragedy does not diminish the importance of the game (as you would expect, logically, that it might). It makes the athlete take his task even more seriously…When Pittsburgh Pirates manager Chuck Tanner’s mother died just before Game 5 of the 1979 World Series, Tanner, famously, goes ahead and manages the game because his mother would have wanted him to keep working. That’s why it’s so crucial, for narrative purposes, that Te’o didn’t go to his girlfriend’s funeral — even though, you know, a man might reasonably be expected to want to go to his girlfriend’s funeral. She told him, he said, that she didn’t want him to miss a game.

Then comes the third part — the Icarus myth. Our hero flies too close to the sun. This is the story of the star who dies tragically in a car or plane crash. The examples here are almost too numerous to mention: Steve Prefontaine, Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente, Jerome Brown, Ayrton Senna, Derrick Thomas — not to mention the granddaddy of them all, James Dean. Too fast to live, too young to die.

Typically, these are entirely separate narratives. In a way that might not be appreciated today, Love Story is very much about leukemia. That was the culturally resonant disease of that era. It struck healthy, innocent young people, entirely at random. The death rate was close to 100 percent. The Icarus narrative is completely different. It’s not about innocence. It’s about the heroic self-destructiveness of youth. James Dean was a rebel without a cause. Jerome Brown was a man-child. The whole point of Pre’s genius is that he pushed himself to the absolute limit…

So what is so fantastic about the Manti Te’o story? It is all three narratives, all in one. It’s Love Story meets Icarus meets inspirational outsider. It wasn’t enough that Manti’s love affair be doomed, that his girlfriend had leukemia, and that he drew from her death the inspiration to go out and get 12 tackles in the crucial defeat of Michigan State. She also had to be severely injured in a car accident. It’s a combo platter! It’s so over-the-top I am in awe. You couldn’t be more right that this is an “aggressively modern” scandal. Why would anyone in the 21st century settle for just one played-out story line?

I’ve posted just a small snippet of a rather long but riveting article. If you have a few minutes, it’s definitely worth a read.

I suppose what I find surprising about the Manti Te’o story was the realization that I wasn’t all too surprised by it. The rose colored glasses which once adorned my eyes have long since been replaced by a skepticism of all storybook, “against all odds” back stories. Because Gladwell is exactly right. We’ve come to expect the myth. Being ranked as the fourth best college football player in the nation and being virtually guaranteed as a top NFL draft choice isn’t compelling enough. Losing your beloved grandmother on the day of the big game? Compelling. Losing your girlfriend to leukemia within hours of your grandmother on the day of the big game? Epic–you can’t make this stuff up…

Oops. Apparently you can.

Does the debunking of the Manti Te’o myth bother me? Sort of.

But not because I feel duped by Te’o or because I feel sorry for him for allowing himself to be duped.

What bugs me is that no one bothered to fact check his story. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the first core principle of journalism is its obligation is to the truth. “Its essence is a discipline of verification” comes in at number three.

A five minute search on Google would have contradicted most of Te’o’s story. But instead, the myth plays out over and over again on glossy magazine covers and heart-wrenching, Lifetime-movie-of-the-week-worthy televised stories, all the while, not one journalist daring to question the validity of what in hindsight is a mostly implausible story.

Shame on them for breaking the cardinal rule of journalism.

And shame on us. Not for buying into a false narrative, but our need for any narrative other than the one which pertains to the God-given talent, training, hard work and personal sacrifice it takes to be an athlete the caliber of Manti Te’o. Shouldn’t that be enough to garner our attention and our respect?

More shameful still is the fact that we only become truly riveted by the narrative when it turns out to be a lie.

At all costs

As I write this post, I’m sitting on what was probably once a nice leather couch. But after years of providing seating for big, sweaty athletes, there’s more duct tape visible than leather. That’s okay. This facility was not designed for comfort, it was designed to train athletes. The couch is just outside the room reserved for what they call speed and agility training. There’s another one just down the hall outside the weight room. I spend five evenings a week sitting on one of these couches, watching my son being pushed beyond the boundaries of what’s expected as a freshman offensive lineman. It’s been a good investment. In the two months since his initial training session here at Next Level Athletics, he’s lost some baby fat around his middle, gained 12 pounds and is stronger and faster than ever before.

He’s been more devoted to this program than I expected. With the exception of a few days off due to illness and a couple of days off for Christmas and New Years, we’ve been here for two days of speed and agility training and three days of weight training every week. This is all in addition to the off-season training he does at school. My son is a big fan of the weight training, probably due in no small part to the attention he’s received for his newly bulging chest and biceps.

The speed and agility training? Not so much.

I wouldn’t say he hates it, but it’s hard, grueling, sometimes vomit-inducing work. (That’s just weakness leaving the body, as one of the coaches might say. Yeah, it’s pretty hard core.) The results of which aren’t readily apparent. Those results will be seen on the football field. In the mind of a 15 year old, delayed gratification isn’t high on the list of priorities.

Yesterday he begged off Day One of speed training. I grudgingly allowed him to skip it with the understanding that he would not miss today’s training session for any reason. So when he called me today from school and casually mentioned they did speed training during athletics, I was already preparing myself to hear his argument against going tonight.

As expected, he tried to get out of it. He even went so far as to find an old text from me stating that I was going to talk to Coach Rey (the owner of Next Level Athletics) about adjusting his workout schedule so he wouldn’t be doing speed training at NLA on the same days as he did it at school. Did I mention he’s also on the debate team?

But I wasn’t having any of that. My decision had nothing to do with the actual workout. He didn’t need another speed training session. What he did need was to understand that when you give someone your word that you’re going to do something, you do it. He needs to know that you don’t let your mouth write checks that your actions can’t cover.

He’s sweating pretty heavily right now. He’s grimaced more than once. One of the kids in his training group keeps knocking over the step hurdles. Every hurdle knocked over equates to 20 push ups for everyone. They’re up to about 100 so far. I just smiled at him. He didn’t smile back. But when walks out of here, he won’t regret that he came. He never does. He’s beginning to understand that most things worth having don’t come cheap. He’ll understand this concept more when he suits up for spring football. He will have earned his position on that field–paid for with long hours in the gym, dedication, sweat and no small amount of pain.

I don’t know if my son will play football after high school. The odds aren’t in his favor. The percentage of high school players who go on to play in college is around 6%. Of that 6% that manage to play in college, only 1% will get drafted by the NFL.

There are ways to increase your odds. I’ve heard stories of kids my son’s age and younger using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in order to tip the scales in their favor. Some may go on to great careers and lives of luxury and influence. They will be heralded as heroes and role models.

Much like Lance Armstrong,

who might have been a cycling phenomenon without cheating, without bullying, without threatening and suing those who dare question his integrity and generally being a gigantic asshole.

He could have been remembered as a legendary cyclist, philanthropist, survivor and role model.

Lance Armstrong pictured with the jerseys he wore in his seven Tour de France victories, all of which he obtained by cheating.

Instead he discovered that winning at all costs might very well cost you everything.

Time to move on: A top 10 list

Is it just me, or does the new year not feel very new? Maybe it’s because after an excruciatingly long campaign season, we have the same president, the same congress and the same Washington bickering and gridlock. I grew so weary of the same old same old that I took time off from watching the news. Sadly, when I lifted my self-imposed boycott, nothing had changed. Not even the commercials.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge companies and their ad agencies for trying to make a buck in these tough economic times. I don’t even mind people like Fred Thompson, Henry Winkler or Robert Wagner pimping reverse mortgages, whatever those are. But there are some commercials that I feel have run their course. It’s time for some fresh ideas. It’s time to move forward.

So as a public service, I submit to advertisers, in the interest of the public welfare, my top ten list of commercial celebrities that need to find a new gig.

10. Joe Theismann for Super-Beta Prostate

I grew up in a household of die-hard Washington Redskin fans. Mention the name Joe Theismann and what comes to mind?

His famous passing stance?

Maybe the infamous sack by Lawerence Taylor that ended his career?

That used to be the case. Now, when I form a mental picture of the legendary quarterback, it’s of him waking up in the middle of the night to pee. Thanks, Super-Beta Prostate!

And speaking of men made famous by the game of football…

9. Jimmy Johnson for ExtenZe

How much money is enough? Can you amass enough by coaching two high profile college teams? What about if you coach for two high profile professional teams? One would assume having a weekly gig as a commentator for Fox Sports would keep you living high on the hog, but apparently not. Why else would Jimmy Johnson agree to be the pitchman for ExtenZe natural male enhancement?

Yikes. Double yikes.

8. Jimmy Fallon for Capital One

You know…we get it. The baby is cute. She just doesn’t want to receive 50% more cash, no matter how many times you rehash that tired old premise. Of course, Fallon may have made the list for the simple reason that I just don’t think he’s funny. Am I missing something?

7. Sarah McLachlan for the ASPCA

I don’t dislike Sarah McLachlan. I’m actually a big fan of her music. I’m also not against preventing cruelty to animals. What I am against are PSAs created to guilt people into supporting a non-profit organization which was given an “F” grade for money mismanagement by Charity Watch. I’m also not a proponent of giving money to an organization which, in 2012, a CNN investigation found had raised almost $27 million but spent nearly all of that money on fundraising expenses paid to a direct mail company. Of the $14 million that SPCA raised in 2010, the organization spent only $60,000 in cash grants to animal shelters across the United States. How cruel is that?

6. That annoying local guy who makes his own furniture commercials

This isn’t just a Houston phenomenon is it? Oh, and extra points if you manage to get your kids in the commercial to pimp your cheap furniture.

5. Mesothelioma Families Spokesman Doug

Finish this sentence: “Hi, my name is Doug…” In case you’re one of the 5 people in the United States who haven’t seen this commercial, the rest of that sentence is, “and I have mesothelioma.” By all accounts, Doug Karr is a fine man. A veteran who served his country with honor. I don’t begrudge him any compensation he has received due to exposure to asbestos. But mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of cancer. What’s with the deluge of commercials urging potential victims to come forward? The answer: A big, fat pile of government money–thirty Billon with a “B” dollars– set aside to compensate those exposed to it, and a bunch of lawyers chomping at the bit to get their cut.

4. William Devane for Rosland Capital

Thus far, William Devane has invited us to invest in gold while fly fishing, sky diving, riding horses, driving around in a yacht and other activities rich, old white guys participate in. We get it, Bill–you’re rich. We’re all happy for you.

3. The Charmain Bears

Yes, I know they’re cartoon bears, but still. Who’s your target audience here? Is there anyone who thinks big, furry cartoon bear butts with toilet paper dingleberries hanging off of them is cute? Bears, keep your s**t in the woods where it belongs.

2. The Geico Gecko

This guy was only moderately cute and amusing about a million commercials ago, and I have to wonder how a company can save me money on car insurance when I consider what they must spend constantly bombarding the airwaves with commercials. The gecko is just one in a long line of characters: the caveman, the pig, the googly-eyed stack of money, the Joe Friday guy, and the rage-aholic therapist (Loved that guy, but they fired him.) Apparently in advertising, less is not more. More and more is more.

1. The Burger King King

This guy is, in a word,


Please make it stop.

So what say you? What other celebrity endorsers need to find a new gig?

My One Word: Perspective

Click on image to visit the One Word website.

So many of my blogger buddies have participated in  One Word 365 in the past. I’ve always thought it was a great idea–to forget about a long list of New Year’s resolutions and simply commit to focus on one word. “One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long.”

I love the simplicity of the concept, even if simple rarely equates with easy. I’ve not participated in the past because I’ve never felt strongly that any one word could be a point of focus for me. But over the past several months, one word did seem to come to mind over and over again in so many areas of my life.


It began with a mural project. After completing an undersea mural for a children’s room at a chiropractic office, I was asked to paint a beach mural for the waiting room. My original plans were to paint a beach scene covering three large walls, but with two kids both involved in extracurricular activities, I soon realized that I simply didn’t have enough hours in the day to complete it in a time frame acceptable to my client. She suggested that rather than doing a full-scale mural, I could do something like this:

Seemed easy enough. And since I knew she liked that particular scene, I figured I’d just replicate that very mural. I made a copy of the above picture onto an overhead transparency sheet. Now, at this point I could tell you I did this to save time. By projecting the image on the wall and penciling it in, the job would go much faster. True enough. What I might not mention if you were a prospective client is that I use an overhead projector on most of my mural projects not only to save time, but also because I absolutely suck at perspective drawing. The only thing I can draw freehand with any remote resemblance to a three-dimensional rendering are those boxes people tend to doodle during long meetings, and I’m not even good at those.

If you were to look at an updated portfolio of my past work (which would require that I actually had one of those, which I don’t), you might say, “Your paintings are not flat or one dimensional. How can you say you suck at perspective? That can’t be!” And I would respond in the memorable words of Elaine on Seinfeld and simply say, “Oh, it be.”

I was met with challenges from the get-go. When I projected the image onto the wall, I realized that the bottom ledges of the windows did not line up with the chair rail on the wall unless I turned the transparency at an angle.

From the above picture, it looks fairly straight to me, just as it did looking at in the dark room, pencil in hand. I was a little uneasy about getting started, because I’d never painted a window scene before. I didn’t know if it was supposed to line up straight at the bottom. But since I’m a measure once cut two or three times kind of gal, I figured I just go with it, even though once I taped off around the windows it was clear to me that the windows were only straight vertical on one side.

Once I pulled the blue tape, it was abundantly clear I had made a mistake. I relied on the perspective of the original picture being correct.

What I didn’t consider was that it was a photograph of a mural on a wall. It was most likely taken at an angle in order to get the entire mural into the shot. I should have known that. I take those kinds of shots all the time. I should have considered the perspective of the photo, not just the picture. But it was too late for that. Fortunately, the great thing about painting is that it’s just paint. My immediate concern was how I was going to fix my mistake.

It was far from a one step process, but through a little bit of trial and a whole lot of error, I finally got it right.

Or, at least mostly right. I’m never completely satisfied with anything I create, whether it be painting, writing or life in general. But in the future, I will use this experience, this knowledge and perspective so as not to make the same mistake again.

Remember earlier in this post when I mentioned having two kids involved in extracurricular activities? One of the activities was freshman football. In Texas, where football is king, many boys (and some girls) are in helmets and pads before they’ve ever attended their first day of kindergarten. My son was a late starter to playing football. He started in 8th grade quite by accident. We showed up for 8th grade orientation, received his class schedule and noticed that where it should have said Physical Education it said Athletics. “I guess you’re playing football”, I told him.

He took to football well. Thanks mostly to genetics, he’s a big, strong kid. His freshman team had a great season. With three games left on the schedule, their record was 7-0, including a win against a team they had no business beating–bigger, stronger, faster and much better athletes. The next game on the schedule was against one of the three teams which remained undefeated. His team lost. Not badly, but they were outplayed. When I picked him up after the game, the first thing he said to me was,

“Mom. I’ll never get over this. Not as long as I live.”

I give myself huge mom props for not laughing at that statement. I think I almost bit a hole in my lip in an attempt not to crack a smile. His team would suffer one more loss the following week against the eventual district champs, and by the time his team rallied back to win the last game of the season, he had (mostly) gotten over the loss he swore he’d never recover from. After reflecting on the totality of the season (inasmuch as a 15 year old can do this, I suppose), he had gained some perspective about that first loss.

Our perspectives can shape how we look at just about anything. They can elevate or destroy.

So, my one word for 2013 is Perspective, and I will commit to be cognizant of how true reflection may shift both my own and the perspectives of others; choosing to expand my focus rather than narrow it.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Philippians 4: 5-8

Gifts not received

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Some of you may know that besides being a life skills coach and role model for author Billy Coffey, I also manage his website. This includes approving comments, scheduling new blog posts for him which he sends me via email, and sending Peter Pollock URGENT EMAILS TYPED IN ALL CAPS on those rare occasions when I’m experiencing technical difficulties with the site. One of the fringe benefits of this job is that I get to read Billy’s writing before anyone else does. Such was the case yesterday when he sent me his latest post Did you have a good Christmas?

I thought about that question.

Did I have a good Christmas?

And based upon the parameters in Billy’s post, I did have a good Christmas. Great even. My Christmas was quiet, spend surrounded by family, and I spent Christmas Eve being reminded that over 2,000 years ago in the town of David a Savior was born; he is the Messiah, the Lord. A baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. And while many equate January 1 as a time of new beginnings, I suppose I’m more like Ebenezer Scrooge. Waking up on Christmas morning feels more like a chance to start anew. When focused on that first Christmas gift–Jesus–everything else we receive is gravy.

I received some great gifts this year, including an iPhone 5 with Siri. Did you know that you can change the voice? If you go to settings, choose Siri, then choose Language, it will give you a list of several different languages in which to choose from.

If you choose English (United Kingdom), Siri becomes a British gentleman, which is awesome.

It's funny because it's true...

The only drawback to English Gentlemen Siri is that he has a hard time understanding my American accent. It was frustrating. I felt like Barry Kripke from Big Bang Theory:

But after several attempts to make a phone call via voice command, I finally figured out that all I needed to do was speak with a bad British accent and English Gentleman Siri was happy to oblige. Yeah…I’m totally doing that. Sorry/you’re welcome people within earshot of me using my phone.

But I digress…

Because I’m not here to talk to you about the gifts we receive for which we are grateful. I’m not even here to discuss gifts received that maybe we’re not so grateful for.

I’m asking you to consider being grateful for all those gifts you could have received but didn’t. For example,

Pajama Jeans

I have a friend who just LOVES her pajama jeans. She says they’re super comfortable and that when she modeled them for her kids, they didn’t even realize they weren’t actual jeans. To which I responded, “Um…uh, huh.” As I type this, I’m wearing jeans. I pretty much wear jeans every day. Why? Because they’re comfortable. I also have yoga pants, which are more comfortable, but unless I’m headed to the gym or to the bus stop, you’re not likely to catch me out in public wearing them. If you’re a stickler for comfort before fashion, then by all means, wear your yoga pants or your sweat pants out in public. But pajama jeans wearers, you’re not fooling anyone.

The WaxVac

Gaaaaahhh!!! I’ll stick with dangerous Q-tips, because that’s just gross.


This is a gift that says, “I don’t think you have the mental capacity or physical dexterity to remove a piece of plastic wrap out of its original container and that maybe your junk drawer isn’t quite full enough.

Thanks, but no thanks.

And of course, there’s

The Jesus Chair

Oh, who am I kidding? I would LOVE to receive the Jesus Chair. Then I would throw a big dinner party, set it at the head of the table and watch as guests uncomfortably ponder whether or not they should sit in it.

So how about it? What are you grateful for NOT receiving this Christmas?

My wish for you

If you were to ask me what my favorite genre of music was, I would not give you a straight answer. I don’t really have one. My music tastes are complicated.

I’m a lyrics gal. Words move me, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. I suppose I could say I love rock and roll, but not all of it. I don’t care for screaming guitar music. So, riddle me this: How is it that someone who’s a lyrics gal that doesn’t care for screaming guitar music would list as one of her favorite songs of all time Always with Me, Always with You by Joe Satriani? A song with no lyrics and plenty of screaming guitar?

See? Complicated.

If you were to ask me if there were any genres of music I didn’t like, two would come to mind. The first would be rap music. Then I would tell you that I love LL Cool J, and that I’ve probably logged hundreds of miles on the Stairmaster with his Mama Said Knock You Out CD blasting through my headphones.

I know. I’m a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

The other genre would be country music. For me, listening to country music is akin to eating gummy bears. A few are sweet and satisfying, but past a certain point I begin to feel nauseous and regret every having opened the bag. It’s strange, this repulsion I have for country music. Because some of the best stories in the world are penned by writers of country music. Most country songs are simple and honest. I should love country music, but I just don’t. Maybe there’s something lacking in me which makes me turn away from it. I’m not a fan of sappy love songs either, but the lyrics to Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch”–arguably the sappiest of all love songs–may hold the key to my feelings towards country music:

Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide

Maybe it’s just a little too honest for me at times. Maybe it stirs a longing in me that I know on some level will never be filled. Music has its own special power, and it affects each of us differently I suppose. The power of country music is that it sometimes makes me sad.

Having said all of that, there are some songs that sum up a sentiment better than our own feeble words ever could, and sometimes those songs are country songs. I heard this song on the radio the other day, not for the first time, but perhaps for the first time, I really heard its message.

This is my wish for you. At Christmas, and always.

Merry Christmas.

Mourning with and for Newtown

I didn’t want to write about this.

The interwebs don’t need yet another blogger telling everyone what they think about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday. What could I possibly say that someone else hasn’t already said? Truth be told, I’m still struggling to process my emotions; to come to grips with them so I can help my kids process their own. In the end, I decided I had to say something if for no other reason but a selfish one: sometimes I just have to allow my mind and heart to, as Billy Coffey says, bleed onto the page or I find myself drowning in my own thoughts.

As I write this, it’s Tuesday morning December 18, 2012. I’ve purposely avoided the news and the internet since Friday afternoon. Horrible things happens every minute of every day, but this? The news of this absolutely sucker punched me. I don’t know if this will be one of those events where you’ll always remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard about it, but it feels that way now.

Me? I was in the parking lot of a Best Buy. When I was pulling into a space, I caught “more from Newtown, Connecticut as details become available”. I had no clue what the anchor was talking about, but she sounded ominous. Rather than waiting through the commercial break, I went into the store to do some Christmas shopping. I remember snapping a picture of a DVD thinking I would post it on Twitter along with a snarky remark. I don’t even remember what the DVD or comment was now. I only remember thinking that if something really horrible had happened in Connecticut, maybe sending snarky tweets about B movies was an incredibly insensitive thing to do. Ah, that small, still voice–this time I didn’t ignore it.

Once back in my car, I heard the anchor say, “Twenty-five confirmed dead, eighteen of them children.” I put the car back in park and just sat there in that parking lot for what seemed like a very long time. Long enough for an updated body count. Twenty children confirmed dead. Two had died at a local hospital. As I listened to the news I began to get a sketchy picture of what had happened. A man with a gun had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and began shooting. The majority of his victims were believed to be kindergartners.


My first thoughts were, “WHO DOES THAT? Who goes on a shooting rampage where his intended victims are SIX-YEAR OLDS? WHY? SWEET JESUS, WHY?

It was just too much. Too horrible to fathom. I wanted to turn it off. Make them stop telling me about it. I hit the “scan” button on my radio. It stopped at MSNBC. That’s when that feeling of anguish and disbelief turned to anger. A reporter was attempting to interview surviving children as they were being lead away from the school.

That’s when I turned off the news and decided to stay off of the Internet.

That evening, we watched television, but only shows which we had previously recorded on the DVR. What happened in Newtown was still constantly on my mind–the town in my prayers–I just couldn’t sit through hours of news coverage, nor was I prepared to answers any questions from my kids.

After a few hours of tossing and turning in my bed Friday night, I grabbed a pillow and a blanket and headed for the couch. This is not an uncommon occurrence, but on this night I elected to forego my usual late night news viewing in favor of yet another pre-recorded show. As misfortune would have it, the television in the den was tuned to a news station. Before I was able to find a recorded show, I saw Geraldo Rivera standing in front of what should have been an abandoned hill in what is normally a sleepy little town. He was rehashing the events of the day. The camera cuts away to a car pulling away from the scene. It zooms in tight on a distraught woman in the passenger seat shielding her eyes from the bright lights of the cameras. My heart sank even deeper. I felt ashamed. It was less like news coverage, much more like voyeurism feeding off the pain of this heartbroken community.

Yesterday, I once again attempted to listen to the news on my radio while running errands. I heard more about the shooter, pro and con arguments for stricter gun laws, opinions about the lack of adequate mental health care in this country–all the predictable discussions that arise from these all too common mass killings.

And then I heard about Vicky Soto. The 27 year old teacher who died while attempting to shield her students from the gunfire. Once again, I was sitting in a parking lot. I broke down. I sat in that parking lot and wept for a long time.

I still can’t watch the news. I know there were many more heroes on that day, and I fully intend on reading their stories. Honoring them and the victims of this senseless act seems like the right thing to do.

But for now–for me–I feel a greater need to simply give the community of Newtown one less prying eye, one less unsolicited opinion. I offer instead the only thing I can give them.

My prayers and my tears.

Of these, there seems to be an endless supply.


If you’ve managed to read through this entire post, thank you indulging my need to get these thoughts down. I saw this posted on Facebook the other day. I thought it was appropriate.

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting

Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

Hope that you don’t mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home
Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence

Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy

Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world

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