Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.

- Rabindranath Tagore

Inspirational Music

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Magic in Music

I have been through a fair bit of hellish situations. I have scars and even still open wounds from them. My heart and my body are riddled with somewhat filled-in holes. My home, my family was torn to tatters when I was a boy, just becoming a young man. I have a menagerie of scars all over my residual limbs from so many sores that some scars are right on top of others. When I was still in Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, I actually had such terrible scar banding in my left armpit that I could not raise my arm above 90 degrees for a few weeks. It wasn't budging; it was painfully obstinant in is lack of flexibility. One weekend, it just "released" and I could get my arm to close to 180 degrees. I had this thought today that music, in that it is incredibly cathartic to me, is similar to occupational stretch/massage therapy for my hearts scars. I use it to find my way to the source of the pain and to stay there a while. I feel the hurts and painful scars and try to just let them be expressed. I could look at it like I'm just opening old wounds, but I see it has keeping them open until they heal from the inside out. That's what I have to do if I have a infection under the skin on one of my legs. I have to pack it with this cotton wick-type thing that keeps it from closing and creating a void where infection can incubate. Doing this allows it to heal fron the foundation of the wound all the way to the surface of my skin. But, this cathartic experience is also like massaging old scars sometimes. I massage them with melody, knowing that whether I can see any change or not, at some point they will soften. At some point, they won't keep my heart from loving more fully and from being graciously flexible. In this way, I think there is a little magic in music.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Real Men Don't Buy Girls

I saw a random post on my Facebook news feed; well, I saw the photo and it captured my attention.

This is the photo:

The post was for an organization called StreetLight USA. The first page I went to on their website was called "The Issue." The first thing I noticed was the scripture quoted:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" - Micah 6:8

This is one of my favorite passages of scripture. It covers so much with so few words. We are not asked  simply to think or vote justly; we are required to DO JUSTICE. This scripture also says, "O man," but it certainly is not limited to only half of the human race. It is talking to each of us. I take the perspective that men and women are completely equal in their measure of humanity, and in my eyes that means that we are all equal in our responsibility to humanity. To buy a girl, is to put a price on the liberty and dignity of a human being.

I met a few people who in my estimation are doing a great deal of justice when I was in Calcutta in the summer of 2009. The first was Mother Theresa, who I did not meet literally, but who I met in her writings and in the caring homes she helped to establish. The others were this band of Americans working to rescue women, and their families, from "the trade," as it is referred to. This trade being the trade of human beings as goods or commodities. It is most usually expressed as the sex trade because most of the "buyers" demand that. So, the trade supplies it. These people worked with more than one organization and business in order to create the opportunity for freedom for women caught up in the trade. They teach women skills that they can use to make a living in a different way. They help these women create a better life for their children in many ways. They break the bonds of slavery and imprisonment in both these women's lives and in their hearts. They embody what I understand as the second highest (but a darn close second) commandment: love your neighbor.

"Jesus replied: '"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.'" - Matthew 22:37-40 NIV

They are doing justice as well. It is one thing to "not buy girls." It is a completely different thing to rescue them. We have a list of commands as to what to not do. This one is about what we must do. It requires proactive action. Mother Theresa decided to build homes for the dying just so they wouldn't die alone and unloved. 

I am challenged as to what it means for me to do justice. I think of myself as having the opportunity to become someone equipped to do justice. I am unsure of whether that means being a doctor or not right now. I do not intend to stop growing or becoming a person who is equipped to DO JUSTICE better than I can right now. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Niece, Alivia or The Most Beautiful Hug

I got a hug from my niece today today. I was at the top of the stairs in my sister's open living room. My dad and grandparents were down in the living room with Alivia (my niece) and Rani. Alivia looked up and saw me and was "saying hi" waving her little hands and smiling. Then she walked to the bottom of the staircase, crawled up the stairs to me in her toddler way, and then she threw herself into my lap and tried to wrap her arms around me and sunk her head into my chest. Then she looked at me and smiled and started crawling down the stairs. She went right back to playing with her stuff and enjoying everyone's company. I got a beautiful hug from my niece today.

My grandma said something about this to me on our way home. She said, "Kids just know who cares about them." It made me think about the relationship I have with this person who is only 14 months old. It's not like any I've ever had. I've never met someone as an adult who is so young and got to spend time with them regularly. I do care about Alivia very much. I cherish the times I get to be there when she wakes up from her nap. I love that when she sees me, a smile breaks out on her face. I now know how much she cares for me.

I've wondered once or twice about her future. I wonder what her voice will sound like when she can say "Mom" or "Dad" or even "Uncle Caleb." I wonder how her talents and gifts will be expressed and in what way. I wonder what kind of things she will find difficult and frustrating. And, I wonder what kind of pain and valleys she will experience. I think of my own. I pray that God does not take her down the same paths. I beg God not to take her down any of those roads. But, if He does, she will have a family that is not unfamiliar with those places, and she will not be alone.

This is Alivia's one year picture:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Waiting Place

One of my favorite authors is Dr. Seuss. His book Oh! The Places You Will Go is an inspiring read. It's a genuine read as well. He doesn't pretend that life is one constant success , but, in fact, is an ebb and flow between success and failure. The title of my blog "you have feet in your shoes" is taken from this simple little gem.

At the Contemplative Prayer session today at Gravity the word that I focused on is "wait." I had the chance to share the beginning of my story with Phileena, and got to share the profound effect of Psalm 27:13-14 to me. It repeats "wait patiently on the Lord." It was from this point that I began and ended my meditation. What happened in between and afterward is what makes it interesting. While thinking and listening for insight and the voice of the Lord, it occurred to me that waiting is not unlike standing. Taking a stand. Standing your ground. Things of that sort. I thought about Gandhi's ideas of non-violent resistance and it is both a waiting and standing, but it is also being. In standing your ground and affirming that as a human one deserves dignity as inherent to his or her being, he or she is using "soul force." I came back to the word "wait."

On my way home, I began thinking more about it and it occurred to me that that amazing book talked about the "waiting place." I reread that little bit and what stuck out to me was that he called it "a most useless place."

The whole thing can be read here: http://homepages.ius.edu/harrisla/places.htm

I disagree. In waiting, whether it be on the Lord, or for the things Dr. Seuss talked about, we reflect. Sometimes we don't, but in general, it forces reflection. What are we waiting for, why are we waiting for it. In waiting and reflecting, we find purpose. It primes us to do what we should when the waiting is over.

I'm in my own sort of waiting place. I cannot wear my left prosthesis and cannot do much of anything as to work. It is very hard for me. I am hardwired to work hard. I think it's in my DNA. My dad works at a steel mill and put in multiple 80+ hour work weeks last year. Nevertheless, I have found goodness in this waiting place. I have begun to write my story with more purpose. I have found more time to read the books on my nightstand. And, I have realized once again how miraculous it is that I can walk at all. Crawling around the house on my knees humbles me. My niece visited yesterday. She is barely a year old, but she can walk, and outrun me. A child has more mobility than I do without my prosthesis. So, what do I do when I get them back? I am excited to once again stand on my feet. To work hard. To live more fully. But, I am making great efforts to make thankful humility more a part of my life when I'm not "down."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Down but not out

I continue to struggle with consistency in my blogging. I was working a large number of hours last week until Friday morning. I woke up to my favorite visitor--a sore too deep for me to handle. I knew immediately that I was going to be "down," and needed to go to the wound clinic, but was hopeful it would be able to be resolved over the weekend. I was wrong. I won't be back on both feet until next week. In any case, busyness and being down are very hard to overcome. Both have separate but equally large obstacles to me writing.

Until today all of the time I've spent down has been one long time pass. That's all I could do: pass the time. I couldn't focus on reading or anything productive; it was like I developed ADHD instantaneously. So I watched television shows on Netflix or films, slept sporadically, and was generally frustrated. My new home has made a huge difference. And, by new home I mean having one of my closest "bru"s living with me. 

Last night, as I was heading back to the couch from the kitchen, I heard the melodic sounds of a guitar from upstairs (any of you who've heard this guy play know exactly what I mean). Zach was practicing/tinkering. I crawled up the stairs and fell exhausted on his floor. It was just like the many times in high school that I found myself at his house being renewed by the sounds from his expert fingers. I went from laying flat, to sitting upright, to singing hymns, to asking hard questions with my friend that we both knew there are no answers for in this life. I slept well through the night and, in fact, slept in this morning. I woke up, made some tea, and started to read. I've since unpacked a great deal of my stuff and organized a little. I intend to get more reading done and some writing, perhaps. This might all sound mundane, but to me its revolutionary. I will get back on my feet next week stronger than when I went down last week. This is a new, unexpected, and joyful blessing.

Monday, March 25, 2013


I can't stop the tears right now, but they are tears of relief and joy and thankfulness! We got the pathology report back and there was no trace of cancer cells in the tissue removed from Hannah' face. She will not need chemotherapy, radiation, or any more surgery, only to have oncology check-ups as a precaution. Basically she is in the clear. To the extent that modern medicine can tell, she is free of this cancer. Thank you all for your prayers.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hannah's Surgery

Hannah's surgery went very well yesterday! She was able to go home afterward she did so well! In short, they removed the tissue surrounding the area where the tumor was originally. The lab will look at every micron of what was removed to detect any trace of the cancer cells by staining for them specifically. If there are no more then she will just need to recover and have oncology check-ups regularly for a few years. If they find more they will need to go back in and take more tissue, please pray that they simply find nothing but healthy tissue and that she is totally in the clear. We will find out early next week the lab results. Hannah has a lot of swelling in her face, but that is to be expected from the surgery. If this is the last surgery, she will have a hairline scar along the side of her nose and as she grows it will fade and be hardly noticeable. This was a close call, but I think she is going to be just fine. This is the truest :) I've ever typed.

When I first found out about Hannah's condition, I was overwhelmed. I thought/prayed "Geesh, I feel like my family could use a little less tragedy. God please give us a break." I am very hopeful right now that she will make a full recovery. It seems like God heard my prayer--and all of yours. I think we all found out how close we are to tragedy, but also found a gracious God. I am so thankful that Theresa found this as early as she did, if it had been only a few weeks or months later, we would be in a different game altogether. In my mind, God heard our prayers in the past few weeks and answered them in the moment that Theresa found the lump. But, as they say, He works in mysterious ways.

Thank you for your prayers.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Location

The weekend was quite busy and when I finally had a couple days off (Tuesday and Wednesday) I spent almost all my time painting at the new place. The pictures show the before (bright green) and the after (darker bluish gray). 15 hours of painting with just my right hand has made it a bit swollen, but mostly just sore. The whole arm, shoulder, wrist, and hand are sore actually. It was worth it.

Today, Hannah is going in for surgery at 1. Please pray that, once again, they find no trace of these cells in anything they examine. Please pray for Hannah too, needles seem to scare her. She apparently did well with the first surgery, but I imagine that experience didn't make her any more comfortable with the whole thing. I forget how foreign surgery is to most people. When I think of surgery, I think of a particularly restful nap with a little morphine when you wake up to take the edge off. Twenty or thirty surgeries will do that to you though. But, Hannah is very young and does not have that familiarity, so please pray for calmness for her.

Yesterday, I went to the Contemplative prayer thing at Gravity. I really enjoy the experience. When we are done, I have been incredibly surprised by how much calmer my mind is. The word I contemplated was Courage. I had read Joshua 1:9 that morning and it just stuck I guess.

Joshua 1:9
Have not I commanded you? Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. - Amplified Bible

I honestly could hardly think about courage in that mindset. I almost immediately thought about my time in the hospital and the infections that have laid me up. I don't like to cry in front of people, especially when we are supposed to be silent and contemplative, so I tried to hurry my mind away from those things and that made it hard to really get back to courage. I did recite this verse in my head along with the sort of instigator verse: "Be still, and know that I am god" - Psalm 46:10. The craziest thing has been how quickly these things end. I feel like they last only a few minutes but they are twenty minutes of silence. All that to say, I think I want to make that practice a part of my daily life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Like a Freight Train

I just got home from Gravity which is a 20 minute centering prayer gathering. The point is to quiet your mind and the world and listen to God. The word that came to me and that I focused on was justice. I remembered the scripture in the Old Testament that said something about justice being like a mighty river. My mind danced around that idea for most of the time trying to form thoughts and a lot of them were great, but when I came back to the idea that God claims to be just, I tried to understand what that really means in light of all the terrible suffering inflicted on innocents worldwide. Needless to say I didn't get very far in this thinking. I did, however, think about what the comparison to a river meant. I thought about what a river is and how it follows a path with great force. What came to me next was just before we ended but I wish to explore it as a similar analogy. Is justice not unlike a freight train as well? It has the characteristics of a river that came to mind when I thought about the traits of a river.

In any case, when I got home I looked up the scripture about the river and it is Amos 5:24:

But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!
    your assemblies are a stench to me.22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
An endless procession of righteous living, living"

New International Version

I then looked around it a little and realized that it was the same verses that Jon Foreman is referencing in his song "Instead of a Show:"

Amos 5:21-24 says:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

English Standard Version

This is God speaking directly to His people. He gets to the root of His desire for His people, not pretense or a show but a powerful community bringing justice into this world like a freight train. Jesus died to free us from the things that oppressed us and kept us from being vessels that could not only hold this justice but continuously pour it out into this world. Jon Foreman translated these verses this way:

"Instead let there be a flood of justice

In seeking to live righteously, we are called to flood the world with an ocean of justice and hope. In being redeemed, we are being freed from the corruption in our natures that stifles the love we've been shown and stops up the river like a dam. So in a way, its all about personal righteousness, and in another, the purpose of seeking righteousness is to bear the image of God more brightly and be used by Him to bring His kingdom into this world with force.

I'm still, in the back of my mind, contemplating the river analogy and how it illuminates the nature of justice. Does it mean that it is flowing right now, certainly. Does it mean it's finished, hardly. I guess I think of a train on its way across a country. One of these days, it will arrive in the station and we will see God's justice manifested perfectly. Until then, like the prophet Micah made very clear and succinct:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 Amplified Bible
In seeking to do these things together we are the river of His justice, shaping the land for His purposes and His kingdom.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

That stupid chair

First, I am ecstatic to tell you all that I will be moving by the end of this month. Things did not work out in time for me to get a roommate. She had to find a different place so she could start her job this past weekend. I decided to look for a different solution, and was able to get out of my lease to be housemates with ZACH DAVY. Sorry for the all caps. I'm kinda stoked out of my mind for this next stage of  my life. He lives in his brother's house up in Benson, and I will be moving in over the next few weeks. I remember the month of May in 2010 when I was considering transferring to UNL to live in the "A-street House" (where quite a few of my closest friends all lived together) and how much I realized I missed my friends. I've realized that living in Omaha and being friends is not the same as living in Norfolk and being friends. It is much harder to connect when you live in a city. I anticipate that changing if Zach and I are housemates. I mean when--when we are housemates. This is a blessing from God.


Some of you might be familiar with the analogy of faith being compared to the act of sitting in a chair. In case you are not: I remember being told multiple times in my youth from church group leaders and the like that acting in faith is the same thing as when you sit in a chair. When you sit in a chair, you trust that it is going to hold your weight and that you are not going to hit the floor instead. So sitting in the chair is an act of faith. I think that this analogy while strictly speaking is true, falls so far from the truth of reality that it should be changed.

I think that if we want to use a chair in our analogy we must first make it similar to our experience with living in faith. My experience is not one where every time I pray I am answered. My experience is one where I've done things in faith, but was dead wrong and fell flat on my face. God has never made his ways so clear to me that I can predict how things will turn out. The analogy of the chair in its original form fails to explain that sitting in a chair is not even something we think about. You and I have sat in so many chairs that it has moved from cognitive to instinctual. We have been conditioned to trust the stupid chair, because for thousands of "sits" it has done the exact same thing, no surprises, no unexpected falls. If you've ever missed a chair, or had it fold in on you, it is something that jolts you out of this instinctual thinking. But, not for long, your trust in the chair will move back into the conditioned state after a few thousand more "sits." So with that I would like to smash our chair, literally, in our figurative analogy. So take this chair whose structural integrity is now gone. Would you dare sit in it?  Now say I repair it to the best of my ability and succeed in making it look like the chair we are used to, would you throw your weight onto it on the first try? Could you know if I just used some glue and focused on the cosmetic aspects or if I put in time to brace it where it required such?

To me this second contemplative approach to the "sitting" is so much more like my experience with faith. I hope that I have built my understanding and faith on a solid foundation, but the way it plays out in my life shows that I often miss the truth at certain points and apparently focus more on a cosmetic aspect than a structural one. I do not think that we should stop sitting in the chair and finding the weaknesses, sometimes by crashing through it to the floor. I think this verse might apply here:

Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. - James 1:2-4 English Standard Version

So with that, imagine you are given a bunch of pieces of wood and are charged with building a chair. You are the one who tests it, you are the one who hits the floor when its not got the proper steadfastness. When you have finished and you know its solid, do you think you will ever doubt that it will hold your weight?

The problem I think we've come to is that many, many Christians are living not in faith, but on knowledge alone. We are not willing to sit in any chair that is not given to us from a trustworthy source--we don't actually step out in faith, we do the sure things. We don't embrace the falls, we fear them.

For a righteous man falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked are overthrown by calamity.
- Proverbs 24:16 Amplified Bible

A little more contemporary reference, Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne (Batman), told him this: "And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." - Batman Begins

May you see faith being more about picking yourself up, or sometimes letting God pick you up, than about not falling. And, may you build true strength of faith.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. - 2 Timothy 1:7 Amplified Bible

Monday, March 11, 2013

Best Possible News

Today we went to the consult with the oncologist for Hannah. We got the CT scan results back and they found no trace of cancer anywhere in her body! This is the best possible news we could have received. It means that Theresa caught it as early as was possible. The next step will be to perform surgery to remove the tissues that surrounded the original tumor and to check for microscopic cancer cell clusters that would be so small the CT scan could not pick them up. They will use staining and microscopy to ensure that there is no minute traces in the local area. The doctor was confident that she will not need any kind of chemotherapy or radiation therapy unless something major and unexpected appears in the tissue that they will remove. I still cannot believe that we were blessed so extraordinarily! Thank you for your prayers.

Destiny, Grammar, and Gandhi

A wise man once said:

"Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny."

His name was Mohandas K. Gandhi. He lived a life that I believe was in the very least honorable. These words seem very acute and applicable. They are precise, which is why the copy I have on my wall has the verbs highlighted. He used the words "watch," "manage," "consider," "judge," "acknowledge," "understand," and "embrace." These apply very differently to their subjects, which is why he changed each as he went along. He also repeated the word "watch" several times. I think you could just as easily use the word "listen to" because it requires the same thing from the actor--passive observation. This is something we, as content consuming Americans, do well in some respects, but so poorly in some of the more important respects. We passively observe incredibly meaningless crap on the television to the extent that the number of hours of tv watching is a huge indicator of certain aspects of health. We don't seem to contemplate more weighty things like "Will sitting on a couch for 2 hours a day negatively effect my mobility when I am 70 years old." You may be wondering where I am going which all of this. I want to focus on a slightly different aspect of this quotation.

In my Iife, I've learned that words matter. Which words you use determines what you are trying to say, and much more, what you are trying to think. It is vital in thinking clearly to have accurate words to fit your abstract thought into useable information that you act upon. Many people find grammar and using correct diction to be arduous and a waste of time. Humbly, I think they are dead wrong. If the definition of integrity is simply some amorphous "being good" idea to you then you miss out on what it really means--to have all of the aspects of your life in line with the same values and principles. You can be a person of integrity and be a very bad person. In the same line of thinking, if you understand the word "socialist" to mean Soviet Communist, then you probably don't realize how many institutions here in our country are socialist: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, National Parks, and most if not all public works departments. The effects of labeling one side or the other with these words in a hyperbolic way only decreases the clarity of the discussion. So in that light I submit a new take on the original quotation:

Clarify your thoughts with clear language, for if you don't your words will be muddled. Clarify and scrutinize your words, for if you don't your actions will not mean what you wish them to. Compare the effects of your actions to your original thoughts, for they will reveal gaps in clarity and misconceptions. Examine your habits created by your actions, for they will reveal more fundamental and wide ranging assumptions you have about life. Accept your habits for what they are, but realize that as solid as they seem you are still responsible to change them. Your habits reveal your fundamental values and as you shape them, you shape your destiny.

This reminds me of one of my favorite little bits from the film _The Last Samurai_. Before the last battle Katsumoto, the samurai warlord, asks the American, "You believe a man can change his destiny?" To which Algren replies, "I think a man does what he can, until his destiny is revealed." I hope that these thoughts help each of you to understand more clearly what it is that you can do and how it affects your destiny. There are aspects of our destiny that only God can know. You will encounter things that you will never see coming. But, there are things within the realm of your control that most certainly affect the person you are becoming and, therefore, your destiny.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Golden Sessions

I have realized recently that I have been blessed with some of the most amazing friends. So many people have come along side me at different times and somehow just stayed. Space and time seem to have lost meaning and the moment we are in communication or in the same place we comfortably continue moving forward together. I still remember thinking in 7th grade that all I needed to find was one friend. One friend who felt the same way I did about Christ being the real deal. The guy I found a friend in was Eric Seevers. I don't know if I've ever told him this, but I know I've told many others. Seeking out friends might be part of why I have ended up with some good ones, maybe it was just destiny, I don't really know. In any case, I want to share one of my favorite quotations by C. S. "Jack" Lewis:

“In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day's walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life natural life has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”- The Four Loves

More than any individual friend, I've been blessed with an amazing group of friends with whom I've shared quite a few Golden Sessions as Jack calls them. One of my favorites was in fact not in a warm place at all. We decided that being manly men and all we should camp out by a pond without tents. The catch is it was in December and the pond was frozen over and the ground was covered in snow. We still built a fire, many in fact. We still laughed hard, talked about crazy ideas for the future, and brought out the best in each other.

I have had a very difficult time writing this because I have so much to say and so much to be thankful for. Its like having a traffic jam in my head or something. I do want to focus on one more point though. It centers around this verse:

A friend loves at all times, and is born, as is a brother, for adversity.
- Proverbs 17:17 Amplified Bible

With that said, I want to talk about two of my best friends. They are the kind of friends that when I bring them up around my Grandma Baber, she always, always reminds me that "they are such good friends, honey." When I was critically injured on a Saturday in late September 2008, these two crazy cats dropped every aspect of their lives got into a car and drove hundreds of miles to support me. That first visit they didn't even get to see me, but they stayed for days on end in the waiting room and brought encouragement to my beleaguered family. I remember the first time they got to come into my room, they brought in a guitar and sang hymns with me. I knew that last sentence would choke me up, dangit. These two men, Charlie Nixon and Zach Davy, not only loved at all times, but they loved even stronger when adversity hit. They are two guys who I refer to as "bru," (the term we stole from Blood Diamond) which has come to mean my friend who is closer than a brother. I will forever be thankful that God brought them into my life and that we still get to walk together in our journeys.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I saw what I saw in India

"your pain has changed me,
your dream inspires,
your face a memory,
your hope a fire,
your courage asks me,
what I'm afraid of...
your courage asks me,
what I'm made of...
and what I know of love"
- Sara Groves 'I Saw What I Saw'

I spoke with a new friend who had the privilege to visit Uddamarry for the first graduation from "our" school there. When I think of the faces of the students there, I always think of this song. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what I'm talking about I have quite the story, but I'll try to keep it as brief as possible.

In the fall of 2003, a bunch of young people and the adults involved with their group called Sud.Z (Sunday night 'Zoey' greek for life) in Norfolk, NE decided they wanted to put their money where their mouth was. They raised over $23,000 dollars to fund the building project for a school on the other side of the planet in a village called Uddamarry outside the city of Hyderabad, India. This crazy idea turned into a relationship that is still strong today, almost 10 YEARS LATER (I put that in caps because once that hit me I kinda freaked out a little). This group from rural Nebraska sent their first "team" to visit what was to become "their" school in rural India the next summer in 2004. I use the quotation marks around the ownership words because its not an ownership but certainly a commitment. Every summer there has been a team from Norfolk making the trek to Uddamarry. It was not until the trip in 2006 that the building project had been started. I had the pleasure of being part of this team and documented a lot of the work I saw on the new building with photos and videos. I felt like I lucked out because we spent our time with the children in the old school "building" which was nothing more than a converted barn and cattle stalls, and we got to see the new building our efforts helped to build. Teams have continued to go each year and this year many of the "veterans" and some new people had the privilege to visit for the first class to graduate (equivalent of high school) from our school.

My story with this little village school is a little more intertwined. But, I will try to tell that story later on. Suffice to say that I will forever have the images of these students' faces when they were children in my mind. Each time I remember where they would be if not for the school and the promise of education--in poverty, in slavery, or worse. This song captures how these memories inspire me along with many others. I saw what I saw in India, and it changed my life forever.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hannah and Grandma Judy

I mentioned in an earlier post that my extended family is going through hard things right now. I posted on my facey page (my goofy uncle's nickname for Facebook) a status earlier this week about my cousin Hannah. Around the beginning of the year her mom, my Aunt Theresa, was blowing her nose and found a lump in her cheek. They were able to remove it surgically and test it. The results came back last week when I was visiting Norfolk. The mass was an Alveolar soft part sarcoma--cancer. (I guess I'm still not quite over the initial shock, tears still hit me when I start thinking about it--let alone trying to write about it) It is an incredibly rare form of cancer about which I cannot find a whole lot of information. Her parents let me go with them to the oncology consult on Monday with them. Her parents are Theresa and Scott (my mom's little brother), and her older sister is Brianna. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers, as well as Hannah. Hannah will not really be able to understand most of what's going on outside of the fear, pain, and tumultuousness of it all. Her family, though, will face the facts at each step knowing the weight of them. We were able to get Hannah in to a CT scan on Monday afternoon. This was to check the rest of her body for any other signs of its progression thus far. I have been pleading with God to just let there be no other masses at all in any part of her body. We are still waiting on the results of the CT scan. The oncologist was going to consult with his colleagues after the scans have been analyzed to decide on treatment options (or lack there of potentially). We are going to the next consult Monday morning to hopefully start the plan of action the oncologists have made. There is a good chance that no matter what the CT results are Hannah will have to undergo chemotherapy, but we just don't know yet. For everything I've been through, this is new and hard in many ways and I have to just take each day as it comes. So in that light, please keep me in prayer as well.

The other heavy issue that is also on my mom's side of the family is that my mom's mother, Judy, is now digressing rapidly. She has been dealing with bipolar disorder for over 10 years, but she was diagnosed with dementia a few months ago. This has brought with it a finality of sorts in that we know we can't simply "get the medications right" any longer. She will continue to lose mental function, eventually losing her ability to speak and towards the end become bed ridden. The hardest part is that this finality is also delayed. We have and will continue to watch her personality fade away. This is very heavy on my grandfather, Dale, and their three children Tami, Scott, and Suzi. I hope that I can support my own mom as she continues to support her parents in this hard time. I cannot even begin to imagine this situation if it were my own mom; I do not know how my mom is holding it together as her mom goes through this terrible experience. So please pray for my family in this as well. My uncle Scott has it the worst it seems to me. His mom and his baby girl are both going through hell right now. So, if you would pray  for him; pray that his heart has enough strength and wisdom to not be crushed under this weight.

This would be a time I go back to words of wise people like Rabindranath Tagore:

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Blessing of a Sound Mind

I have started writing about my experiences in the hospital! I have waited to start this project until I felt like I knew what I wanted to say. I have told the different parts of the story to friends for years, and have gotten the same reaction from almost every person "you should write a book!" I finally realize that mostly what I am doing is telling a story. I intend to talk about what I've learned through the experience, but at its core this book with be the story of how God stepped into my broken life and showed me that He is in the middle of what we call Redemption in the Christian faith. He is not waiting until the end to destroy this whole creation experiment and redeem those left over. I believe very strongly that Christ died not so I can have "fire insurance," but so that He can conform His people to the Image of Christ, so that He can bring His love into this world in all its broken godforsakenness, so that He can move in our lives through His Spirit. I have a lot of the outline tentatively finished and started writing first drafts of certain stories. The hardest one to write so far was the very first days in the hospital when things were not particularly clear. I posted on Facebook a status:

"It is quite hard to write about a time where you weren't completely lucid but still have vivid memories. Especially, when these memories are of a nightmare reality that only you knew. I now think about my first few weeks in the hospital as something of a dance with insanity. I do not pretend to know what a person with schizophrenia lives with, but I remember believing that my entire world was dominated by an evil man with almost supernatural powers who loved to torture me."

I looked up Schizophrenia and realized that certain aspects of that disease describe my memories and how different they were from what was actually happening. I actually fit the category of Paranoid Schizophrenia in a few aspects.

Some things I found from PubMed that I experienced:

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it hard to: Tell the difference between what is real and not real; Think clearly. And, specific symptoms include: Irritable or tense feeling; Trouble sleeping; Bizarre behaviors; Hearing or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations); Strongly held beliefs that are not real (delusions). Specific symptoms of Paranoid Schizophrenia: Anxiety; False beliefs that others are trying to harm you or your loved ones.

I only lived with these things for a week or two, but they were the heaviest burden I've had. There is no way to explain it to a "sane" person without sounding "crazy." But, that's just it, I more or less was. My actions and perceptions were in line with this disease. Now, I know that they were caused by the drugs they had me on and that it would be very different to live them out in the world where there aren't nurses to rescue you from yourself.

At one point in my writing I began to cry because I realized how blessed I am that those things were only temporary. I do not know if the electrical shock could have reorganized my mind in a way that left me with them permanently, but I am glad that it didn't. When I started to cry, I began to walk around my home and touch the walls and furniture just to experience them as real. The blessing of a sound mind connected to reality is something I hope I never take for granted again.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Cry of David

My extended family on my mom's side is going through some very, very hard things. I do not have the freedom to go into them, but they are the kind of things that bring tears up just by mentioning them. My heart feel like its being broken several times each day.

I discovered a verse in Psalms months into my recovery, but before I was able to walk on two legs or snowboard etc. It was like having someone else put into words what your heart was expressing. That verse is Psalm 27:13-14. This is the King James version:

"I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord."

This is my expanded version based heavily on the Amplified Bible version:

"What! What would I have become (embittered, scared and cornered, oppressed by fear) had I not believed that I would see with my own eyes the goodness of the Lord before I die.

Wait on Yahweh-yireh, our Lord who provides, rest your hope in Him. Expect to see and feel His presence. 

Be boldly brave and dare to be courageous in the face of fear. May your heart be a fortress of strength, taking every bombardment head on. When, after every assault (for their may be too many to count), you find your heart has been reduced to rubble pile--renew and rebuild it in the Christ!

Wait on Yahweh-rapha, our Lord who heals, rest your hope in Him. Expect to see and feel His presence."

These are not just words to me, they are life--my life. I don't get the luxury of rose tinted glasses anymore. I see the pain, I feel the pain. Our world is hurting, our people--the human race--are hurting. Pretending that saying "I'll pray for you" does a *expletive* thing is buying into a lie. We cannot leave each other out in the cold, facing the brokenness alone. We cannot sit in our "city on a hill" anymore, we must light a candle and defy the darkness. That darkness starts inside first, really. We must face "our demons." But, it cannot end when we are "enlightened" and free.

I echo once more, MARCH IN, taking hope with you!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

When I Was a Child

I was able to visit my home town, Norfolk, NE, earlier this week with my sister. We were visiting my brother, his wife, their older daughter, and their new baby girl, Aubrey Grace. It was amazingly beautiful to hold her for the first time and hum a few hymns to her. I got a few brief minutes with my dad. I got to make supper for my mom and step-dad. I was also able to connect with an almost impossible number of close friends. It is an amazing thing to have a best friend who will stay up for hours after closing at midnight just to catch up over some tea, thank you Charlie! I was also blessed with time with "the Taylors" who have been incredibly amazing friends and mentors going on 10 years now. And, I got to catch up with two men I consider little brothers, Aaron and Seth Kolm, despite their being something like 6'2" and well over 200 lbs. I was also blessed with a short visit with my mom's parents. The car ride bookends with my sister were also filled with good conversation.
One of the things that my sister remarked was how different our vision of Norfolk was growing up from what we know it as now. We had great friends growing up who made it a joyful time. But, looking at the town now, we only see the "small, rural town." It reminded me of the scripture:

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside." - 1 Corinthians 13:11 Amplified Bible

Growing up and seeing other places and ways of life has expanded my understanding of the world. I cannot view my hometown in the same light as I did in my youth.

A second thought occurred to me about my vision of my grandfathers while growing up. My dad's dad and my mom's dad couldn't be further apart on the spectrum of personalities. Grandpa Dale Goodwater has made economy of words a way of life; whereas, my grandpa Bob Baber will literally strike up a conversation with anyone who crosses his path. Back to how I saw them growing up. Maybe this is normal, I don't know, but I always kinda saw my Grandpa Goodwater as Clint Eastwood and my Grandpa Baber as Sean Connery. I'll post pictures below and you'll notice some faint similarities in their appearances to their better known doppelgangers, but in general I don't know why I saw them that way. I think their personalities affected my impression, and I guess I just saw them as these men of stature in my life. So this is not a change in thinking as much as a marvel on the way my mind worked as a child.

This is Dale Goodwater. The man who dropped every single aspect of his life to take care of my grandmother at home as she has dealt with mental disorder and degeneration. He taught us all what love and loyalty mean without saying a word.

And this is me and Bob Baber, who met Mother Teresa by chance on a 24 hour layover in Calcutta many years ago. He inspired my adventurous spirit in many ways.

Clint and Sean might be two of the most iconic men in show biz, but these two, Dale and Bob, are my epic grandfathers. God has blessed me with a broken and beautiful family I wouldn't trade for the wisdom or riches of Solomon.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

First time, again

Do you ever wish you could go back and watch a film for the first time again? I do with certain films. The ones whose twist was spectacularly unexpected or those which are unique and groundbreaking. For example, I would very much like to go back and see The Matrix again because I was mesmerized by it. It was like nothing I'd ever watched. To name a few more of this kind for myself: The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger's performance of the Joker, Casablanca because it's Casablanca, or Alien with its bone chilling terror. On the other hand, I would love to be able to see certain films for the first time again because the plot twists are so well crafted that your jaw drops to the floor when the filmmakers unveil the truth. I will only list a few of this type, and only ones I assume most people have viewed. If you're anything like me, knowing there is a twist ruins half the fun. This list includes films like The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, and The Usual Suspects. Can you imagine being able to experience these kinds of things for the first time again?

I was listening to hymns this morning and something stuck out to me while listening to "In Christ Alone" which was written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. It's been performed by multiple artists to varying success, but here is a video of a version that I particularly like:

The song has an incredible degree of narrative strength in my opinion. By that, I mean that when the third verse begins you almost feel the sadness that comes with The Christ being dead and buried because the song has already introduced you to him. I realized that this hymn, and many more, reflect something of the story of redemption we find in the Bible: Birth. Ministry. Death. Resurrection. My "ah ha" moment was when I realized how badly I wish I could reread one of the gospels for the first time. To be able to read about Christ's life without any iota of contextualization or Christian culture, nothing. I want be completely mesmerized by his death and even more blown away by the twist ending: The Resurrection. I have realized that I never had this experience to begin with--I don't doubt that few, if any, American Christians can say they have. What a pity that we've eliminated one of the sweetest narrative experiences from our faith.


I was about to publish this and couldn't find it in me to leave you on that last note. So I will end with a quandary for you. Albert Einstein said, "All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree." This guy was pretty smart, but he was also human. With that in mind, my question is "What aspects of this statement are true and which are false?" (This would be a great time to leave a comment, I would really like to hear some "foreign thoughts" on this.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

March In

I am writing this morning with many things on my mind. I post this video because it's one of the most inspiring songs I have ever heard, and I hope you have the time to listen to it and catch the nuances of what she's saying. It starts off right away as a prayer. She doesn't hide her deep faith, and for any reader who doesn't share her faith, I hope it doesn't stymie your interest. She writes with many Biblical references, but they are used to express an underlying hope not judgement. I believe pretty much anyone can find a commonality with some part of her song.

In my cursory research on the "when the saints go marching in" origin, I found that Wikipedia seemed sufficient for the little history I sought. It is from an American gospel hymn. That song was apocalyptic in nature. Basically, it was about the end of the world according to certain interpretations of The Book of Revelation. The saints are marching out of a world that has been forsaken and is to be destroyed and they are "marching in" to Heaven.

This is my favorite part of what Sara Groves does with her song. And, she does this often on her album Tell Me What You Know. She flips an old longing in Christian traditions on its head. Instead of marching away from this world and all of what seems Godforsaken, she admonishes the exact opposite. She shows that Saints "march in" to the pain, taking hope in right along with them. This is what I think the writer of the letter to James was getting at when he said, "External religious worship [religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world." James 1:27 Amplified Version. I do not believe that practicing a Christianity that is focused, even in part, on "rewards in heaven" or some form of relief in the afterlife is correct. In my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount the last verse ends with:

"Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day."

There are days for me when I long for this kind of "rapturous" relief. I can't listen to these words without being brought to tears. My burden is a heavy one, but I still hold that letting that be any part of my frame of mind will circumvent its purpose. For me, I satisfy myself with putting my hope in other things.

Look for those places where hope is absent,
where it seems that it is Godforsaken.
Don't run away.
March in,
and take hope with you.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Look at that smirk

Alivia Sue Hughes, my niece.
I got to see her today! She is starting to walk with even more proclivity. She just grabs my thumb (or whatever finger is available) and takes off in the direction she's heading. I love how she assumes that the body attached the the fingers she's holding onto will simply follow her. When I arrived she was in her car, and was having a particularly hard time getting her foot unstuck as she tried to move around in it. She was all about it and only got out for a short time before going back to it. She had one heck of a time trying to figure out how to get in until she accidentally opened the door. I've been blessed with being a part of her first year of life. I've watched her learn so many little things and I've always been created with her infectious smile. I gotta say, I love being an uncle!
Here's a quotation that contains some simply profound wisdom.
"Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny."
-Mohandas K. Gandhi
I recently listened to the audiobook of The Power of Habit. It goes into great depth about habits and the neuroscience behind them. In any case, I think Mr. Gandhi was able to say most of the important things.  I really appreciate that he changes the verbs he uses for each of the stages. You can't just use the same approach for every part of yourself. It takes a great deal attention at every stage, but the focus is different for your thoughts (watch) than your values (understand and embrace). When it comes to our thoughts, sometimes it seems as if they have a mind of their own. At least, mine tend to run circles around me, especially if I'm attempting to corral them and push them through a pen onto paper. Our words though are more manageable. Learning to use our mouths and ears in correct proportions greatly helps this particular skill. When it comes to our actions, we get back to thoughts a little, but this time we are directing them through consideration and then need the guts to judge actions. Our habits are something that require our recognition or acknowledgement. We are made up of them. Some of them seem to have come from our past or our parents etc. but we need to see them for what they are and understand their strength. Kurt Lewin said, "If you want to truly understand something, try to change it." I think this applies to habits particularly well. In the book The Power of Habit, William James is quoted: "All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits--practical, emotional, and intellectual--systematically organized for or weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be." Then we approach our values in a similar way by using the directed thought idea but we get the kicker: embrace them. This is a very hard task. Embracing anything about ourselves is hard. It's hard for me because I'm usually so uncertain about knowing exactly what it is about me that I'm embracing.  But, embrace we must. Our destiny will be determined by what we spend most of our time doing, how we think about those things, and our determination to change what we can and embrace what we cannot.

Friday, February 15, 2013

At the outset of one journey.

I was intending to post some thoughts on a song I think is amazing. I started to listen to it and write down notes and then began a very long beginning to a much larger idea about a group of songs. Music has long been a thing I loved, but, much more so, it as been a source of catharsis. I put a lot of these kinds of songs on a playlist that I called "true." Many of them were listened to over and over again on my worst days. There are certain songs that I first heard in early high school that still grab my soul from the first note. I still find songs that can have this effect. Some of them were my only companions during those worst days. At some point, I realized that I could listen to music that would not just echo the sadness or pain I felt, but could help me find a way to smile anyway. So, maybe this is an introduction to that side of me. If you ever wondered why I post so much stinkin' music on Facebook, some of what I will write in the future might help it make sense. I have not truly been alone in this; many, many friends have introduced me to incredibly good music. I've been blessed with what they found while they spent hours listening to and discovering music, and especially by their sharing it. Look forward to some contemplation on lyrics and songs coming in the future.

Taking another step in the right direction

Today, I met with a potential roommate. She liked the place, so hopefully we can move forward quickly with the process. We have to go through the landlords--it's not a sure thing yet, but I'm excited that I can help a friend get a start in Omaha. This morning, I decided to relaunch my old photography company "Visions by Baber," but with a different structure and name. I've got a lot more research and networking to do before I can talk much more about it. I am very excited, though, and have already made some great progress. I also have an interview with Express this afternoon. It's located across the hall from Teavana at Westroads. It would be another great opportunity to work in a place I actually like. It would also be a great place to learn a different side of salesmanship. I'm not sure if I'll have time to post tomorrow. I am having breakfast with James Bond a.k.a. Fez a.k.a. Jason Thomas. Then hanging with my great aunt Brendee and first cousin once removed (I had to look that one up; I've never known exactly what it was called) Shellee. We are meeting my other first cousin once removed Sandee and my "cuz" Darrin (He's actually my second cousin). I haven't seen Darrin for a very long time. We used to spend a week at Brendee's with Shelley every summer and have some awesome memories. We once went to a Husker game and got our picture on the front page of the Lincoln Journal Star by painting our entire upper bodies. After that I'm going to attempt to play poker with my house mate and some of his friends. I have only played poker once and it wasn't pretty. I was out of chips within minutes--poker is not the game it appears to be.

As I was thinking about things I wanted to write about, I realized something. I have very few pictures of me with my friends. I was thinking about writing about the blessing of amazing friendships with amazing people I've had over the years. Many of these people and I have never shared a photo with each other. This is not surprising to me; I rarely see a camera out when hanging out. I also seem to end up behind the camera when one is present. This lack of photos, while not a negative thing, is surely a positive I've missed out on. And, I'm not saying there are not photos out there, but I am not in possession of very many. So if you have a photo of you and me please send it to me. One of the most bizarre things about this to me is that I've walked around with an 8MP camera in my pocket for 4 years in the form of a smart phone. The one I currently have has a 3D camera even. So, if I see you mention getting a photo, it would be sweet to have a little photo album of my friends (and family).

I'd like to take some time to talk about the quotation I have at the top of the page.

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.

- Rabindranath Tagore

I do not remember exactly when I found this quotation. I do remember it was not long after getting back on my feet again. I still have not taken the time to read much more of Tagore's poetry, but I hope to soon. These few lines seem to give words to the courage I have tried to live in. My life has taught me that there are dangers everywhere that we will never see coming. There are things that will swoop into our lives and mess things up, mess us up. We will have our lives altered in ways that range from uncomfortable or inconvenient to absolutely terrifying and we cannot do a thing about the circumstances we find ourselves in. I believe that living fearlessly is the only way to approach this fact of life. Let danger come and like Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wild, we can take a long look at what we love most and then turn and face it and say, "You're my friend kind of." Danger is a constant companion in my life. I never seem to be able to shake it. I guess that does kind of make it my friend. My life has also seemed to have been served with a full helping of pain. I know stories of people who have endured more pain than I can imagine, and I do not think I've learned anywhere near as much about it as many people know.  I do, however, have a familiarity with it that is not common. My life has also taught me that pain is one of those things you cannot necessarily avoid. And, if you live courageously facing your fears, you find there is a certain amount of pain required to do so. I believe that it is possible to live with avoiding pain and danger as a modus operandi of sorts, and many people go that route. As for me, I guess I have tried to take the road less traveled. I would like to say I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I have lost a few things that would be hard to not attempt to regain. I do not know what I would choose given a choice between my life as it is and a life where my body was whole. It would be very hard to give up the memories I've had with the spectacular people I've met because of what happened. Back to the poem, pain, that frightening thing we just want stilled. There have been moments and sometime much longer periods where I have endured intense pain. The most vivid is from the day after Thanksgiving in 2008. Long (and not so tasteful) story short, I did not have IV pain medication on my chart when we needed to change the wound vacuum dressing on my left leg. I was left with only oral medication which, after more than 50 days straight on some of the most potent narcotics, their effect was negligible. The process for the dressing change would normally have taken 10 minutes but lasted over an hour because of how difficult it was for me to keep my body still enough for the nurse to change it. There are more stories like this but none so intense in my memory as this one. I don't think I would have been able to endure it without the family members that were visiting. They gave me the strength to grit my teeth and focus on what I needed to do. They strengthened my heart when I was in the midst of it. So I agree with this old Indian poet and I think he is talking about courage.

Please feel free to leave comments, criticism, and whatever else might come to mind.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A start, perhaps

This week, I was hired at Teavana which is a tea shop at Westroads mall here in Omaha. Today, I went to the store to finish the paperwork and get put in the system. Funny thing is, I ended up staying for almost 3 hours. I am unbelievably excited to start work at this place. I have never worked a sales position before now, but just being able to listen to the employees talk with customers made me realize how much I will enjoy interacting with customers. I love tea. I don't know how many people know that about me but I do. This is key. I could never try to sell something I wouldn't buy myself. After being hired Monday, I've drank green tea throughout most days and realized how much it helps with my mood and energy level. I struggled throughout college trying to find things that would help keep me motivated and focused on the tasks at hand but never really found something. Coffee was always too much of a rollercoaster to rely on. I hate energy drinks and only used them as a last resort. I drank tea, but mostly to relax; and that was only occasionally. Now I wonder what it would have been like to drink tea the way I have this week. I have had sustained energy and clarity throughout the day without feeling jittery. It almost seems like magic, which is bizarre to me because I never would have figured this out without the little push of being hired at a tea shop. Having this experience will undoubtedly make selling tea more natural because I am way more enthusiastic about it than I was even a week ago.

To change gears a little, I am endeavoring to start writing consistently. I've had numerous conversations with friends who think I should write a book, and the one last night pushed me over the edge I think. My friend JR Lilly, who is the most noble human being I know, said I should start a blog and go from there. I want to write about my experiences past and present. I want to write about my dreams of the future. I also want to share and write about all of the things that have inspired me throughout my life, especially the ones that continue to do so. I also want to write about the things that have provoked thought trails, philosophical questions, emotional catharses, or brute self-reflection. Lastly, I want to share the creative projects I've invested in over the years. With that, I want to share something very simple that has affected me in subtle ways, but I believe they are profound on some level.

I read this quotation by Mark Twain once and didn't give it much thought at the time beyond a chuckle. "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." I have, for the most part, very little natural regard for how I dress. I consistently have found myself consider wearing nicer clothes but end up deciding it wasn't worth the trouble. I would throw on my jeans and t-shirt. I would reinforce the decision with thoughts of how pretentious I wasn't or ideas of being from a blue-collar hardworking family which was too preoccupied with doing rather than appearing. I'm big on genuineness. One of the most attractive things to me is a person who is themselves, blemishes and all. All of this combined to make me a very careless dresser. My thoughts have changed significantly though. I have realized that presenting myself in a way that accentuates the good characteristics about me is not a form of deception but a form of expression. I imagine many people who read this might be thinking "Well, duh," but for me this change has made an impression that I think will continue to be evident in who I am for as long as I live. So I guess the point is that I feel better when I take the time to look in the mirror. I think that it affects how people see me in a positive way that promotes more genuine connections. Pride in my appearance, not arrogance but pride, is something I intend to continue to pursue.