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, 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.