Sunday, October 27, 2013

17 Crazy Days

Sometimes it feels like you just can't catch a break, like nothing is going your way. Sometimes you wonder why that perfect thing at just the right time never happens to you. Sometimes your life just seems a little harder than everyone else's. But every now and then, you have 17 days like the 17 days I have just had. There have been highs and lows, but I just can't get over how many awesome things have happened. I had this great head of steam posting here and then over the last two and a half weeks, I lost it. That's because life has just been keeping me too busy being awesome.

 Friday, Oct. 11, 2013

Dad's Birthday. This day was definitely a hard one, but we did our best to make the best of it and we had a lot of fun. We discovered a new brewery that featured delicious pizza and over 100 beers on tap. Strombolis and wings covered in garlic and a couple of delicious beers. I even got dad a gift that got him totally stoked. That's what's up.

Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013

Dad's Birthday part 2. We had dinner with family and then headed to see Captain Phillips. Great food, great company, great movie, awesome time.

Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013

I bought a motorcycle. Yeah, just like that. I showed up and they had knocked $1,300 of the posted price. Maybe there will come a day when I'll look back at how I got heisted on that stupid piece of junk bike that's been nothing but problems. As of now, killer deal, so exciting. She is beautiful and wonderful an sounds amazing.

Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013

Buy a super sweet looking motorcycle helmet. Ride motorcycle for first time. I literally could not stop smiling the whole time. They should call motorcycles motor smile machines.

Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013

Ride motorcycle to work for first time. Why not? I've officially been on it a total of 45 minutes. I also took a motorcycle safety course where I rode a motorcycle around a parking lot for 10 hours. Driving 30 miles to work is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Learn by doing, right!? After work, head out to New Jersey to meet up with a new friend and new friend's family.

Thursday, Oct. 17 - Sunday Oct. 20

Hang out with friend and family in New Jersey.Friend's family is pretty darn cool. Hang out with friend and family in NYC. Hang out with the Flavins! Eat a chicken parmesan sandwich in a greasy, NJ diner. Go see the Phantom of the Opera with friend. I have been developing an informal east coast bucket list for before I move back to California. Check off visit NYC, see Broadway Show. Eat all the street food! Run out of gas on the side of a New Jersey highway at 230 am only to have police officer arrive within 30 minutes, give me all the assistance and get me on my way.

Wednesday, Oct. 23

24 hour camp out in Chick-fil-a parking lot with 7 friends for grand opening. When it was all done, we each earned about 37 coupons for free chick-fil-a sandwich combos. So much delicious chicken. Wednesday was also that day that I may have witnessed the saddest thing I have ever seen in my life. Perhaps I'll address that in another post.

Thursday, Oct. 24

I've owned a motorcycle for nine days. This seems like an appropriate amount of time to wait my first road trip. I head 150 miles down to my hometown in VA, the greatest state in the union. I hang out with one of my best friends and go to a karate class, because that sounds like a fun, interesting thing to do.

Friday, Oct. 25

Hang out with one of my best friends and one of the most critical mentors in my life. Head another 100 miles south to see one of my other best friends in the entire world. Enjoy Virginia in it's wonder and grandeur.

Saturday, Oct. 26

Head down to one of the most wondrous beautiful towns in all the world, Blacksburg, VA (This time not on a motorcycle). Eat delicious food, imbibe delicious victuals. Somehow accidentally buy 2nd row seat on the 50-yard line from a scalper. Watch football game from the best vantage point I likely will in my entire life with one of my best friends. How did this happen??? Refuse to discuss results of game. Drown sorrows in further victuals and best cheese fries this side of the Mississippi.

Sunday, Oct. 27

Spend afternoon riding full length of skyline drive on motorcycle. Take Virginia in further in all its grandeur. I'm from the best state in the union. Life is grand.

I just wanted to get this all out and share it and say how thankful I am that all these things have happened to me. I know it's not the most detailed post ever. So many of these things deserve more than just a brief shout. They're so incredible. Maybe I'll go over them again, maybe I'll post some pictures. Maybe not. Frankly, right now I'm just exhausted from so much awesome and I'm so grateful.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Motorcycle Diaries Volume 3: Why Chicks Are Like Compliments

You guys know the drill. A guy I would absolutely love to buy a beer and hang out and joke around with, Ryan Reynolds:

Also, if anyone knows how to get abs like that, I'll take your answer off the air.

This is the last post in my motorcycle diaries series. These posts have basically been about the things I was thinking about when learning to ride a motorcycle when I should have been thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle.

Chicks are Like Compliments

I have previously used this forum as a place where I've discussed my need for affirmation and appreciation. Historically, if my soul were an internal combustion engine, it's fuel would be praise. I think there is a little bit of this in all of us. Even those who are the most sure of themselves feel that lightness of heart and surge of pride when another person tells them they are worthy. It's a condition of humanity that somewhere deep inside us we were meant to be more than we are. When we get a brief feeling that we are better than we believe ourselves to be, it is nice to live in that feeling. I've been striving to be less connected to the praise I do or do not receive. We're all going to do great things and we're all going to screw up pretty badly at times. If we're confident and happy with who we are and who we're becoming, we can start to insulate ourselves from a deep need for praise and the destructive capacity of negative feedback. Regardless, it's nice to get thrown some compliments every now and then. To sum up, I don't need affirmation the way I once did, but I still like it a great deal.

Here's the thing: When I receive compliments, I don't know what to do with them or don't want them anymore. Maybe I'm less sure of myself and my trajectory than the above paragraph would indicate, because I never feel deserving of praise. When someone tells me I'm good at something, I generally believe they are either confused, wrong, or are just such a nice person that they would give me unjustified praise. I've even crafted a standard response to praise that reflects this thought process. "That's very kind of you to say" is a phrase that turns the compliment back on the complimenter and makes me sound like a good guy while completely avoiding acknowledgement of the idea that I may have done something well. Sometimes I even think less of the complimenter or the compliment itself, merely because it was given to me.

I am the exact same way with women as I am with compliments. Guys, let's be honest. Women are awesome. They smell nice. They have pretty hair. They are very attractive. If they really like us, sometimes they'll do things like make us sandwiches, scratch our backs and give us smooches. Much like compliments, when you get to have a lady around, you feel better about you. If you get a lady or a compliment, you feel like you must have done something well to earn them. They both make you feel warm and delicious inside. Ladies and compliments are the best kinds of things. They are totally dragonsauce. Finally, the last things that ladies and compliments have in common is that I have no idea what to do with them once I get them and sometimes I think they're less valuable once I have them.

I can remember a few points in my life when I worked to be with a woman and determined I didn't want her anymore once I was sure she wanted me back. This determination has occurred  both as a passing feeling from which I recovered and a more permanent one that led to the dissolution of the relationship.

I will openly admit that this is completely dysfunctional. I will also say that I think there are a lot more people out there just like me. I'll bet it's even happened to the ladies out there as well. The princess and the frog is a famous fairy tale where a princess falls in love with a frog and smooches him and he turns into a prince. How many of us have experienced the opposite‽ After a few months or even after that first smooch, our prince or princess charming becomes a frog and we just want to send them back to the swamp.

Why is this? I know that I, for one, want what I can't have. I'm the worst about this. It happens when I'm shopping for things all the time. I can hop on the Internet with a passing interest in considering purchasing an item. If I find out that item is sold out or extremely limited I want it to be mine immediately or sooner. If it's readily available, I lose interest. Additionally, I think we all have some pretty deep-seated insecurities and qualities about ourselves that we don't care for. Maybe my degree of self loathing is greater than the average person but I project my negative perceptions of myself onto any woman who is willing to accept me. In a stunningly twisted mix of self loathing and pretension, any woman who is willing to "settle" for me is clearly not good enough for me. I feel like I could write a whole post on this one subject. I wonder if there are any other people out there who consider the idea that someone would be interested in them a strike against that someone. Obvi, this is something I really need to work on.

So, I was shifting, accelerating, decelerating and swerving through cones on a big open parking lot, and I was doing it pretty well. I was looking for as much constructive criticism and guidance as possible. I only had about 10 hours on the bike and wanted to learn absolutely everything I could in that small window. Much to my chagrin, I was getting great feedback. There were a few instances when I pulled up to a rider coach and he said, "That was perfect. Change absolutely nothing." My mind started churning. I thought, "These coaches have no idea what they're doing, this is a waste of time. There's no way I'm doing as well as they say I am. They are either just kind or incompetent."

Then I decided  to get out of my head. I'd spent hundreds of hours on two wheels without a motor. I've been driving a stick for years. I know the basics of looking through turns, braking at appropriate times, shifting, etc. Not only was it possible I was actually good at this, but it was logical as well. My job wasn't to tear myself down or question my small successes. These would only make me a worse motorcyclist. What I needed to do was greet praise and acceptance and be grateful for it, knowing that there would be plenty of time for criticism an improvement as well. I was just at the start and I had the basics down, I needed to be confident in this with the humility of knowing that I still needed to grow massively in my skills and would make plenty more mistakes on the way. I felt a brief surge of pride, my chest puffed a little, I smiled and responded, "Thank you."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Motorcycle Diaries Volume 2: Learner

I received a request for my shirtless dude of the day to be Jason Statham. I'm obliging.

Reminder: Last weekend I took a motorcycle safety course. It was super fun and I learned some skills that will help me ride a motorcycle. I also learned and considered some things that had nothing to do with motorcycling. Those are the things I'm going to talk about here.


This was not the first time I took a motorcycle safety course. About twelve or thirteen years ago I took a very similar course in Virginia after a friend talked me into it. At that time I had been driving very briefly and really hadn't spent much time on two wheels of any sort, motorized or otherwise. I had never used a clutch on any vehicle of any kind. Despite this fact, I thought I was some kind of motorcycling wunderkind.

I would say the key word in that last sentence was "thought." In recent years, I've noticed that I can acquire a reputation for arrogance or over confidence. To the people that have that opinion, I would say I have come a long, long way. Clint circa 2000 was a specimen in arrogance. If I ever encountered something new, I would just assume I was already good at it because I was, you know, me. Well, that weekend the best rider on the range went down with his bike twice and was visibly shaken by the end. To this day, I am not sure why I passed. I have half a mind to believe that the instructor passed me out of sympathy. After that, all I had to do was go to the DMV to get my license endorsed, but I never did. There were certainly other reasons, I didn't have the resources to buy a bike at the time. But the heart of my decision was the fact that I rode a motorcycle terribly and was scared to get back on one. My friend got a bike after the course and I remember being jealous but knowing I just didn't trust myself with one.

Fast forward a decade and some change. I'm a grown man. I can handle adult decisions and adult responsibilities. I've been through some challenges and made some decisions that no one I know has quite had to go through or make. Despite these truths, I was worried seventeen or eighteen year old Clint was going to show up and ruin this whole thing for me. Then there was the alternative, what if my prior failure had nothing to do with my immaturity, but I just wasn't any good at riding a motorcycle?

It turned out that I took very well to riding. For the past 6 years, I've been driving a car with a manual transmission. Additionally, my cycling/mountain biking handling skills translated pretty well. It sort of sounds strange to cite these completely different skills as reasons for riding a motorcycle well, but I really felt like they helped. I felt that I had a huge advantage over the other students without the same prior experience. I can't imagine how hard it must be to simultaneously learn the concepts of riding, the physical components and how to work a clutch. As I realized how much my preexisting skillset benefited my motorcycling, I started to get confident, which was good. Then I started to get over confident, which was bad. Again, I was starting to find myself in a place where I was doing something I knew very little about and yet considering myself an expert on it.

Over the past few years, I've had a lot of cross-cultural training and interaction. Probably the lynch pin to successful cross-cultural interaction is entering every situation a learner. Taking the posture of a learner means a number of things. It means being as humble as possible. It means recognizing that everyone in the world could teach you something. I means knowing that no matter how much you know or think you know, you still have a lot to learn. Most obviously, it means if you're interacting with an expert, you do everything you can to ask, learn and mine for information and wisdom.

Fortunately, this training kicked in. It reminded me that even though I felt remarkably comfortable for a novice on a motorcycle, I was still just a novice putting around a parking lot at 25 mph or less. Not only that, I was surrounded by a number of people who knew much more about motorcycling than I did. As a result, I realized that although I was comfortable, I was not great at riding a motorcycle. I was barely even scratching the surface of learning how to ride. I took the posture of an learner. I observed as much as I could watching other people ride, and asked as many questions I could of our instructors. If I had been too sure of myself, I could have wasted valuable opportunities to learn. Instead I feel that I made the most of the time I had.

I'm really thankful for the training and experiences I've been given. Getting to travel the world and work with people different from me continues to benefit me even when I'm just taking a motorcycle safety course. I hope I continue to be afforded these chances, that I take them and make the  most of them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Motorcycles Diaries Vol. 1: Investment

Alright, the last time I posted, I used a facebook link with a hunky shirtless movie star. Subsequently, I had possibly the busiest three hours in the history of my blog. It could not have been that my writing was that good. The readers have spoken. You want it, you got it. My favorite hunky movie star, shirtless

Yes, this is shameless, but I'll do anything to promote my art. Now, on to the actual post.

People who know me well know that I love metaphors, analogies and allegories. I love to talk, analyze and restate things. In short, I like to say the same thing a bunch of different ways and behave as if it's a new thought each time. I don't know how everyone tolerates this.

This weekend I participated in a motorcycle safety course and had an absolute blast. I wasn't sure how I would feel about being on a bike because it had been a long time, but it was really great. In keeping with the tendencies I mentioned above, I'm going to tell you a couple of things that the course made me think about and how the class was an allegory for other things in my life. Much overthinking and overanalysis will ensue.


The way this all went down was pretty crazy. I was looking into the course over the last few weeks and found out there was an opening for this past weekend. I had thought about signing up, but the registration closed. I found out with a little more research that I could walk into the course on Thursday night when it started and take the available spot as long as no one else came in before me. I just needed to get my motorcycle permit before that. So, Thursday morning I studied up for the DMV permit test for a little bit, went in, passed, and got my permit. A couple hours later, I showed up an hour early for the course and snagged the remaining spot. Thursday morning I had no prospects of riding a motorcycle. By Thursday evening, I had a permit and was fully enrolled in a  free Pennsylvania course that would afford me the opportunity to ride Saturday and Sunday. If all went well, I'd have my license by Sunday afternoon. Insane.

As all the other students arrived, we started talking. They had been receiving emails about this course for months. If we didn't pass, we may not have another chance util the spring. If we were late for any of the classes, we would fail. These students had clearly put forth some effort and been thinking about this course for a long time. Some had to take it to keep their licenses. Some had already purchased bikes and needed to pass to be official. I had paid $10 for my permit and invested a couple hours of my time that day and shown up spur of the moment. My emotional, intellectual and financial investment toward this moment had been extremely low. I really wanted my license, but if I didn't pass it was not a big deal to me and all I had lost was part of  a weekend (Which is hard to consider a loss when it's spent riding a motorcycle).

I've been working in economic development for about a year and a half now. I've read books like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity (Please, please, please, if you're interested in learning about dependency and aid done right, read Toxic Charity). I've repeatedly been taught about how things go wrong when people don't have any investment. I've read countless stories of wells and similar resources built for villages in the developing world. Wells and resources that the local people had zero investment and interest in and would inevitably fall into disrepair.

In my own way, I had a brief brush with a resource I had no investment in, and I saw it a little bit in my behavior. I definitely wanted my license. However, I was always the last one to class once I got in. I finished the written test minutes ahead of everyone, as I didn't really feel much pressure to pass. When we got on the bikes, I felt free to explore the range in some ways and try different tactics. As the weekend went on, I got more stoked on the idea of having a bike and got motivated to put my absolute best effort forward, but I had to think, what if I wasn't sold on this whole bike thing? What if I had this great opportunity at my fingertips but no deep motivation to take advantage of it? From the word "go," the people who had deep motivation to be in the class were working harder than me.

Working to help the poor, I don't think this lesson can ever be taught to us too many times. It's critical that the people you are working to help are also working to help themselves. No matter how many times I read or see this fact in action, each time I experience it is valuable. I think I've seen it so many times from the perspective of the helper, that I haven't considered it much from the perspective of the one being helped. It also makes me wonder how many things in life I've been handed that I've taken for granted without even realizing it. It's easy to look at a rusting, broken well and wonder why people aren't taking better care of it, but do we ever consider the same with our friendships and family members? I need to think deeply about the advantages/love/care I've been given and whether I have fully honored those gifts with my actions. If we keep thoughts like these at the forefront of our minds, I believe we'll take better care of our relationships and resources and relate better to our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Run To Mourn

I used to be a pretty decent runner. I wasn't competing or winning anything, but I ran and I enjoyed it. I usually ran 8-10 miles 3-4 days a week. After years of focusing on sports that required hand eye coordination and always being found wanting, I believed I was discovering my niche. My efforts had been misplaced. Basketball, soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse, cycling: I thought these were my sports, but I was wrong. I managed to avoid injuries that had plagued me when I ran before and as far as I was concerned, I could flat go. No concrete goals in mind, I ran because I liked it. I ran because running made me feel good. I ran because that speed between walking and hopping in a car is just perfect. I ran because one step out my door, my legs would take me exploring. I ran because I got fast. I will never believe my watch, but I remember one perfect, dry, cool evening in Phoenix looking down at my wrist after running six miles and it read under 36 minutes. That was two years, 30-35 pounds and a whole lot of heartache ago.

Late last year I started running again, this time it was different, though. This time I ran to exercise demons. I ran away from my problems. I ran because I was really, really ridiculously angry. I ran against a clock. I ran constantly beating myself down for not being as fast or as in shape as I wanted to be. I ran to punish myself. Unfortunately, the punishment worked better than I had planned because I was injured quickly. I needed some kind of outlet, so I changed strategies.

Speedhead to Meathead

I started going to the gym. A lot. 1.5-2 hours a day, 5-6 days a week a lot. Suddenly my goals changed quite a bit. I think most of us are guilty of having an ideal for what our bodies should look like. As a cyclist and runner, I knew I would never have the muscular, David-like physique that I idealized. I made myself okay with that because I was doing things I loved and staying fit. Now that I was hitting the weights, though, I was feeling a little different. You see, I've always kinda hated my body. In high school, I was so skinny I got called Skeletor. As I got a little older, I developed a broader chest and shoulders, but maintained my skinny limbs. I put on a little college weight and have been convinced ever since that I essentially have the body of Mr. Potato Head, the main difference between he and I being that I don't have a wife and sadly can't store spare limbs and clothing in my butt. At this point, I not only had anger, rejection and emotional self-derision as motivators, but hatred of my body as well. I think Dr. Cox sums it up best:

One more thing that Dr. Cox and I have in common is despite my hatred of my body, I do think I have a fairly nice can. The Barnes Booty is not to be trifled with.

Driven by the realization that I could possibly achieve this ideal, I really put the pressure on. Not only was I going to the gym 5-6 days a week, I was often rock climbing, mountain biking or running (If my legs let me) on my "off" days. It has not been uncommon for me to work out twice in the same day or go 14-16 days without a rest day. I did all this while convinced that my regimen was critical for my health. Emotionally, I was expending a kind of anger and violence that I couldn't in most other contexts. Physically, I appeared to be in the best shape of my life. Despite the clear warning signs concerning anger and distorted body image, I charged through every day and I was making progress toward my goals. What were my goals specifically? Well, let me show you.

I could never have those eyes. But the body? Maybe.

Yeah, I got really superficial. This is when things got even more confusing. As a culture, we often talk about the media's portrayal of the female form and how it's distorted and unreasonable. I think we are trending more and more toward the same truth with men. Between fancy camera angles, perfect poses and clever lighting we're making men look unrealistic as well. Why do I say this? Well, one day I was wondering how far off I was from being the hulking James pictured above, so I searched out his height and weight. I found that for his role as James Bond, Daniel Craig is 6'0", 180 lbs, with 10% body fat. The day I looked this up, I was 6'1", 205, 14%. While admittedly doughier than the international man of mystery, I was bigger and more muscular than him, no contest. However, I looked nothing like the above photo. I'd post a picture of myself shirtless for comparison's sake, but I'm just not that guy (Okay, I am, but I just don't want you to have incontrovertible proof that I am).

This was the first of several tough facts that I had known for a long time but had to formally admit to myself:

1. I was chasing an ideal that did not exist outside of Hollywood studios and the lives of people who commit far too much of themselves to their physical appearance or have superior genetics to mine.
2. Nothing would ever be good enough. I've said that if I reach 215 lbs with 9% body fat, I'll be happy. But I won't be. I'll want to be just a little bit bigger or to run faster or jump higher or something, anything that I'm not.
3. I need to work on my body image. Honestly, I'm like a teenage girl. By far, I receive more positive attention for my build than I have at any other point in my life. But I still see myself as a paunchy, skinny-limbed Mr. Potato Head. This is not healthy.
4. The best looking body is a healthy body.

This last point has shown itself more and more lately in my life. As my progress toward fitness has slowed, I've realized I'm just not taking care of myself. I am typically sleep deprived and throw all kinds of garbage in my body and expect it to perform at an elite level. Several times this year, I have pushed myself to the point where my body gave out and I became physically sick for a day or two. This just isn't healthy behavior. And honestly, what have I got to show for it? Certainly not that perfect body I'm chasing after.

A few weeks ago, I was getting my first massage. As I was laying on the table actually doing nothing for the first time I can remember in awhile, all of the above firmly asserted itself in my mind. It hit me that I had been abusing myself in the name of mental and physical health. It really struck me that I needed to pull back on my activity, but I knew it was highly unlikely I would do so.

Fortunately, I got a forced break just in time. I had to travel to some places where I didn't have the opportunity to hit the gym. Simultaneously, I had a friend suggest Born to Run as a book that I might be interested in reading.

Born to Run has several stories intertwined into one. The story that is most compelling to me is the one about a bunch of people who love running and love each other. Whether it's a nearly lost indio-Mexican culture or American and European ultra and marathon runners, a beautiful picture is painted of people who care deeply about caring for themselves, caring for each other and pushing themselves to the absolute limit while loving what they do. One of the main ideas set forth is that enjoying your run makes you a better runner. In one of the most poignant moments in the story, we see a tumultuous, angry runner verbally assault another happy-go-lucky runner at an aid station during a race, only to be overtaken and beaten soundly by that joyous runner later in the race. I know this feels a little new agey and weird, but perspective and emotions matter to me.

I had to ask myself a few questions. Whether running or working out, could being happier improve my performance? What if I was just happy with my body rather than judging myself while staring into the mirror at the gym? What if I listened to some uptempo music that made me happy, rather than the abrasive, offensive, violent music I listen to while exercising? What if I just ditched the headphones altogether? What if I wasn't racing ghosts and the clock on my runs? What if I just cruised and enjoyed the fact that God gave me legs that can carry me pretty amazing distances to see some pretty cool things? What if I focused on a well-balanced, vegetable rich diet rather than pumping myself full of protein in an attempt to increase my muscle mass? What if I my life was marked by discipline and joy rather than an aggressive reckless charge forward?

I think I know the answers to these questions, but living them out will be another matter. In the past couple weeks, I've tried to approach exercise with a heart of fun and enjoyment. When it starts to suck, I stop and go do something else. But I've still got goals, some of which are unreasonable, but I'm working toward something better. I've hit a tipping point. I used to run and lift exclusively to chase after ideals and so I wouldn't be angry. Now, I'm moving toward a place where these things bring me joy. I've got a long way to go, but I'm hoping to enjoy the journey.

Friday, August 30, 2013

There's Nothing Love Can't Do

I've been listening to a lot of Tegan & Sara the past few days. This song hit me today and just kinda melted my heart and made me feel good all over.

For me, it hearkens back to some of the opening lines to the album I would pick if I had to listen to just one album for the rest of my life:

Love, it will not betray you
dismay or enslave you 
it will set you free
be more like the man you were made to be

I'm just going to try to keep these thoughts front of mind for awhile.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Realizations on Grief (Or: I Miss My Sanguine Eyes)

This post has been sitting in a word doc for a couple of weeks. It’s one of those ones that could be one of my best or one of my worst. It felt so exhausting to write that it could use a lot of editing that it will never get. I feel a need to share a disclaimer. I’m doing pretty alright. I’ve been provided with some incredible opportunities and experiences in recent months. I’ve added three continents to the notches on my belt, I’ve visited one of the wonders of the world, I’ve continued to be blessed with incredible friendships, both new and old. I’ve got a new exciting job with the same organization I love and will be moving to a new, exciting city in a few months. I have been on the go constantly. It’s always been true that life is harder for me when I’m idle. In a time when that’s been made even more true, I’ve been given constant opportunities to collect new experiences and keep changing and keep growing. But sometimes life is just really hard. And sometimes it’s good to share it. And every now and then, when you share something like what’s below, it resonates in people’s hearts and they are better able to understand what they are going through. It’s with this hope, that I share the following.

In recent months, I’ve noticed a change in myself that hasn’t been readily apparent to everyone around me. I call it severity. I believe that in a lot of ways I have become a harder, more severe person. It’s really hard for anyone else to see on a daily basis. It doesn’t stop me from bringing my trademark goofiness and levity to situations (unfortunately, whether they need it or not sometimes).  It doesn’t stop me from greeting as many people as I can with a big smile on my face. It doesn’t stop me from seeking out adventure and having fun. But I also go off on my own a lot more than I ever have in the past. There’s something lurking and sometimes it’s a little scary. Every now and then I look face to face at the darkness that resides deep in my heart. It’s darker than I ever knew or suspected. When I look into that darkness, it gets more than a little scary, it gets terrifying.

I’ve known that this severity I describe was not quite the full diagnosis of what I was feeling. I had a chance to speak to a few people this weekend who have had some hard times as well. We’ve spoken on lasting scars, the ones that don’t just disappear when life starts to feel better again. You can meet that next person who sends a current of excitement through your body. You can experience the victory of suffering under the weight of a heavy pack, breathing the thinnest of air and summiting the most beautiful mountain you’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, these experiences will not erase the knowledge of the darkness you’ve discovered or the deep scars marring your heart and soul. These realizations cannot be  unlearned. It feels an innocence that cannot be regained has been stolen from you.

The people I’ve talked this over with have helped me see the impetus for these feelings. Why have I hardened? Why does my soul seem so dark at times? It’s not because these conditions were woven into me. They are not part of my God-given DNA. It’s because the world is a lot darker and harder than I had ever realized. Awful things happen in this world. People can commit the deepest of betrayals. Cancer can ravage the body of one of the most wonderful people you’ve ever known, only to leave them helpless on a hospital bed for days on end, finally extinguishing their life in the most unjust of ways.  A tribe can rise up against another tribe and brutally murder a million people in mere months. In the Bible, the consummation of marriage is ascribed as “knowing” one another. Knowing something or someone is experiencing that thing or person in totality. Anything can be observed, but intimate knowledge comes with experience. While I could see the brutalities of life before, now I know some of these brutalities. This place is dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that there are times we wish we didn’t have to live here. We wish there was a way to avoid the danger. We wish we could be safe. We also sometimes hate the world that could commit gross violations against us.

This is where we discover the hardness and darkness in ourselves. We harden because we believe our vulnerability has betrayed us and we’ll be damned if it will happen again. If this world will fire rounds at us, we will don every piece of armor we can. We find darkness because we’ve seen darkness in others’ hearts through their actions. We find darkness in the way the natural order of this world can be so perverted. We find it in our own hearts because, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we’re capable of the same atrocities. We’ve also brooded over worse in our hearts as we feel rage and scream for retribution. The undeniability of darkening and hardening  makes for a bleak outlook. Can’t it be assumed that as we continue to journey through life, it will only show us more of its’ evils? I believe if we let it, life can make us harder and darker until it ultimately leaves us.

I have grown increasingly combative as I’ve matured (Read: Gotten older. My maturity is always up for scrutiny). It occasionally does me a disservice, but it may be the quality I possess that makes me most proud. I do not lay down. I do not give up. I am not content to let circumstances wash over me. When someone or something threatens me or the people I love, I develop a plan and take action. Darkness and hardness are threatening the man I want to be. They are threatening the fullness of my joy. They are threatening my ability to be authentic and sincere. Most importantly, they are threatening my ability to love others. I’ve heard many people share some version of the following words with me and my family, ”The things that don’t kill you make you stronger.” I fully reject this readily accepted wisdom. It is patently false. It is another fairy tale we tell ourselves in dark moments. The truth is, what doesn’t kill you can hurt, rape and debase you. It can leave you a shell of the human being you once were. We have a choice to be strengthened or weakened by the disappointments of our lives. I will not have the man I was made to be sacrificed and settle for a lesser me.

So what do we do when we are learning about the darkest parts of life? How do we take action? We need to grieve. Although I’m already grieving my losses, I must also learn to grieve the loss of my shattered world. The world is not what it was, and it never will be. It is a tougher place. I need to grieve the loss of what I perceived to be a safer, more joyous place. I also need to own and take heart in the strength I have displayed to get to this moment. Small victories should be celebrated. Even the occasional avoidance of disaster can be a sign of great things to come. I also know that along with the darkness I’ve discovered, there is still great light and joy waiting to be found as well. Tremendous surprises have yet to be experienced in relationships, creation and faith. I’ve been blessed in making some of these discoveries at this time. No matter how dark this world can be, it can be equally bright.

One of the best ways to cope with these feelings is to put your mind on others. I’ve found that when I can actually do it, taking my focus off of myself is really helpful. Serving and investing in others really gives perspective. Part of what I realized in discussing this subject with other people is that there are a lot of people discovering darkness. It’s just a part of life. I kinda like when I’ve found some darkness first and I can help a friend through the same discoveries. It’s also true that there are a lot of people out there who have discovered a lot more darkness than me. Maybe, since I can see a little more light, I can grab ahold of their hand and help lead them along abit.

This is a tough post to wrap up. I’ll just say, if you’re going through or have gone through some hard times, I hope this can help you identify some of the feelings that people in my life helped me identify. If this all seems crazy to you, I’ll post something a little more upbeat soon. It will either leave you reassured or feeling like I’m bipolar.

I Grieve - Peter Gabriel by Ion Storm on Grooveshark

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hopeless Wanderer

Two things are really surfacing about myself as I get older. First, I am an incredibly sincere, intense person when it comes to identity and relationships. Honesty and transparency are my policies. I experience life deeply and emotionally and share my experiences with others. I am begrudgingly accepting that I can be pretty dramatic, and I think this is largely driven by the fact that I largely feel the full range of emotions at full volume. Second, I am incredibly goofy, satirical, and insincere when I'm being irreverent. I think this can be very confusing for the people around me and sometimes leaves them with the wrong impression of who I am, but that's another post for another time.

The first of the above qualities has driven my love for Mumford & Sons. If you go through this blog post by post, their presence may be the most pervasive item other than the word "I." Marcus Mumford writes incredibly personal lyrics within the context of larger, universal human experiences. I feel deep joy and sorrow when I listen to many of the songs he's written. The ones that I hold closest all have a story in my life closely related to them. They constantly tell the story of a flawed man striving to be his best. On top of all that, I think the songs Sigh No More and The Cave, when listened to back to back, provide the best 6:04 of running music in the history of ever.

When my friend Andrew (See #3. Although I reread the whole thing and I thoroughly entertained myself) sent me an email raving about Mumford's new Hopeless Wanderer video, I imagined something like this:

(This video may as well be a giant pile of onions for me to chop. It makes me cry so hard that I'm dehydrated when I'm done. Has anyone yet figured out why our faces' response to being upset is to void itself of all fluids?)

Hopeless Wanderer is an intense track and also one of my favorites on Babel. Just as I think Mumford is about to further indulge my inner (and outer?) teenage drama queen, they throw this at us:

Mumford, you just get me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Momma Barnes Update: Conclusion

I've generally made it my policy that when something big happens in my life, I write about it and share it. In the past week or so, I've seen page views on this blog spike. I'm sure that people in my life who know I've lost my mother are wondering what I have to say about it. The problem is that blogs by nature feel like a self-promotional medium. I took my name out of the title of my blog a year and a half ago for this very reason. Even so, I'm writing about my experiences, my feelings, my perspective.

My Momma passed away last week. I want her and The Lord to be served in anything that I have to say here. The problem is, what the hell does one say in such a circumstance? In the past several weeks, I have struggled to figure out how to frame so many messages to so many people. How does one go about communicating the death of one's mother to those beyond the closest of friends and family.

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to speak at my mother's memorial service. The following are the notes  which largely drove what I shared on this occasion. I hope you enjoy them and I hope that they give you insight as to how wonderful my mother is, and how I, my family, and my savior feel about her.

Since my momma got sick, she’s become a big fan of trashy reality television. I am not that big a fan of trashy reality television. This lead to a sort of awkward one-sided tension as we hung out in her hospital room a couple weeks ago. She was perfectly happy watching her shows while she thought I sat at her bedside and read a book. Little did she know, I wasn’t actually reading at all. I was sitting with a book in my hand, completely incapable of focusing while the irresistibly addictive sounds and images of Say Yes to the Dress and Flip This House were projected from her tv. I didn’t judge my mother for her choice of entertainment because I knew that she was too weak to read, but I still would rather have been doing something else.
                After working my courage up for a day or so, I asked my mother if she would mind if I read to her. I had just finished reading the Magician’s Nephew from the Chronicles of Narnia and was starting on the Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe. This felt like the perfect book for the occasion, it would be fairly easy to read out loud, I knew we could finish it before her time was up in the hospital, and I find C.S. Lewis to be a lot of fun to read. It turned out that my nerves over asking m y mother to read to her were completely unfounded. She loved it. We had a wonderful time. She loved the way Lewis wrote and I felt a deep peaceful joy as she gazed in childlike wonder while I read to her. We only got five chapters in before she was put under a heavy dose of drugs for a procedure, after which I really never had more than a few lucid minutes with her at a time. Despite this fact, I can’t think of many things that bring me more joy than looking back on that time and I feel confident that she now knows the end of this story although I was unable to finish it with her.
                This is the source of so much of our heartbreak as a community that knew her. We know the strength of her faith and we know the place where she currently resides. With this joyful knowledge, it’s the unfinished stories that leave us wishing she was still with us. Apart from the one Lewis wrote, there are so many that I wanted to write and that I’m sure so many of you wanted to write. We hoped she would be around to see the conclusions to these stories.
The wonderful thing is that God feels this sadness with us. In the Magician’s Nephew, a little boy brings concern over his mother’s health to Aslan, the great Lion who spoke Narnia into being with his breath and song.
Digory Cries:

“But Please, please – won’t you-can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life.  For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself.
                “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another. But I thave to think of hundreds of years in the life of Narnia.”

We cannot conceive of why we had to lose our mother or why we had to lose her in the manner in which we did. However, I know our creator grieves with us and must be concerned about the whole of the good of creation in every decision he makes.

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is another example of the emotional availability of our God who mom served so faithfully. We all know about the miracle that occurs as Lazarus is raised from the dead, but I believe the most revealing part of this story occurs before Lazarus is raised. Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus saying, “He whom you love is ill.” By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is dead. Jesus knew he had the power to raise Lazarus, but just the same, his heart aches over he whom he loves and it aches for his friends who miss Lazarus. Here we come to my favorite part of the story, the shortest and one of the most poignant verses in scripture. John 11:35 tells us, Jesus wept. Jesus did not look ahead to the miracle he was about to perform, nor did he use the grandiosity of his creation and plan to explain away his friends’ pain. He understood the anguish of that moment. He sympathized, he empathized, he wept. I find great consolation in the fact that my savior weeps with me. Although he’s called her to glory, he weeps for my mother’s sickness, he weeps for her death, and he weeps for those of us left behind, missing her. He weeps because he loves us.
                The story of creation and everything that has happened since is a story of love. God created us and he was in love with us from the very beginning. We, his bride, turned away from him and he has chased us as a groom truly in love. There is a French easter liturgy, for which the translation is, “The love of God is folly!.” God has constructed so many bridges by which we could return to him, the final being the sacrifice of his son on the cross.
                Although I can say these words, I have always struggled to understand the depth and breadth of the Lord’s love for me. God feels too distant, too big, too ethereal.  Because she was a human being walking on this earth with me, I find it easier to understand my mother’s love for me.  It has become clearer and clearer in recent months that she totally adores me. She thinks I’m incredible, she thinks I’m amazing. She finds me worthy of love and takes joy in loving me.  Mom is with The Lord in her home now. Because she is next to him and she loves me way she does, it is now easier for me to understand God’s love for me.
                The one person that my mother loved more than my brothers and myself is my father. It’s become inescapable to me recently that over the past 30 years, I have been privileged to witness a tremendous love story between two Godly, caring, dynamic people. They have fulfilled God’s purpose in each other’s lives as they have loved each other intensely and tenderly and driven each other to more closely resemble Him. As my mother got sicker, I witnessed my earthly father’s love and care for my mother. He adores her and wants little more than to be with her.
                There is one whose love for my mother is greater than my earthly father’s still. That is my heavenly Father.  As her earthly body was broken and beaten, we heard the Lord calling her to come home as the beloved does in Song of Solomon 2:10-14. I believe that the creator of the universe called my mother home using the following words:

My beloved speaks to me and says to me
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away,
For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth a fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
Oh my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff,
Let me see your face, let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet and your face is lovely"

My savior is desperately in love with my mother. Far more in love than any of us can be.  Five days ago, my mother and my savior were united in their tremendous love for one another.

My savior does not love my mother for anything she did. He merely loves her because she exists and is his. This love has compelled her to be the woman we are all here to celebrate.

A favorite band of mine from College wrote a song about a friend called Elias. The song is about love and separation. It’s about loving someone deeply across a great distance. This is something  we’ll all now have to learn to do for a time. There is a bridge in the song that makes me think of my brothers and me. The lyrics have become increasingly important to me as my mother’s sickness has progressed.

I see your wife she stands stooped over by the fire outside
And I see your boys and when they look up
You know I think they got their mothers’ eyes
She looks so proud, she looks so happy
She looks so proud, she looks so happy

My prayer as my mother has departed this earth is that my father, my brothers and I would have my mothers’ eyes. Not the deep, brown eyes that I received from my mother, but eyes that view the world as an opportunity for service and worship. Eyes that see every person who walks into our lives as someone whom we are meant to serve. I pray that we’ll make her proud. I pray that we’ll make her happy. I pray that we’ll bring glory to her beloved.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I wrote this post in the airport on my way down to Haiti about eleven days ago. I had connectivity issues, so I haven't been able to post it till now. This was the attitude and approach I wanted to keep at the front of my mind while in Haiti. Some moments I succeeded and some I didn't, but that's just part of the process.

Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning has continued to bless me as I have pored over and considered not only trust, but some other concepts and themes he presents.

One of the points Manning focuses on is the concept of now/here. I struggle with attention. My mind is always somewhere else. Whether I'm daydreaming, philosophizing or thinking to the future, I very rarely live in the moment. I'm the type of person who struggles to listen to what people have to say because I am busy formulating my next response. As a result, I've been caught many times being inattentive and absent-minded, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

For some time now, I've been familiar with the concept of making everything that we do in life an act of worship. So the thought goes that no task is so small that God cannot be glorified in it's doing. I like the idea of making everything that I do an act of worship, but how do we do this? What does it really mean?

A great place to start is now/here. Manning shares the anecdote of a man who is visiting the home of a Buddhist monk and having dinner with him. As the meal concludes, the guest urges the monk to allow him to do the dishes. In doing so, the man desires to thank the monk for preparing the meal and also to get the dishes done as quickly as he can so that they can "get on with their evening." The monk responds that the guest may not do the dishes because he will not do them right. The guest asks how a person could possibly do the dishes wrong, and the monk responds that he will be doing the dishes to move onto the next thing. In order to correctly do the dishes, one must do the dishes merely to do the dishes.

Every person, every task, every moment deserves our full attention. Being now/here is being nowhere except where you are, physically, intellectually, emotionally spiritually.

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is an incredibly powerful one. This is a story where we truly see Jesus as fully God and fully man. Jesus shows up late. This is a point in time when his friends believe in his power to heal but do not yet understand that he holds power over life and death. Jesus commiserates with his grieving friends as they mourn the loss of their beloved, His beloved, Lazarus. Let me say that again, Jesus feels sorrow with his friends. Here we see the shortest and one of the most powerful verses in the Bible: Jesus wept. Jesus knew full well that he was about to raise Lazarus in this moment. He knew that this death and separation were merely temporary.

I never fully realized the significance of this moment until I read Ruthless Trust. Jesus doesn't look around and say, "Hey guys, pipe down for a second. I gotta get psyched up to do something really cool. I think you're gonna dig it." He also doesn't say, "Quit your crying, weepy whiners. I'm going to raise Lazarus and reunite you guys in just a few minutes." He doesn't give some lame Christianese answer about how all things work together for His glory and He's the shepherd of his flock, so everyone should just accept their loss with a dull smile on their face and move on.

Jesus Wept!

Despite his infinite knowledge and power, despite the fact that his father lives outside of time, Jesus is now/here with his friends. He feels intense sadness, sympathy, empathy, pain. Jesus didn't smile and shrug it off, Jesus didn't sniffle. Jesus wept.

What a testament to being now/here! What a statement on being nowhere, save for where you are! I'm praying that I can strive to be like Christ in this way. I am praying that I can focus on my God, the people, the tasks, the moment that lie right in front of me at all times. It's a tall order, but I believe it is a beautiful act of worship.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

For some, 2012 was the best year ever. Some are just thankful that it's over. Either way, the end of a year and the beginning of another certainly provides a symbolic line of demarcation that many grasp and claim as time for a change.

Every single day that the sun rises offers this sort of opportunity. Even better, every moment of our lives beckons us to make better decisions, care better for others and add something of beauty and substance to creation. How much moreso a day when the whole world is beginning something new?

You may be on the mountain top right now, looking back down at 2012 with joy, peace and thankfulness, looking forward to 2013 with hope, assurance and anticipation. You may also be in the valley, looking back with sadness, disappointment, and questioning, forward with fear, confusion and anxiety. In whichever camp you fall, you're still carrying some brokenness, some kind of doubt, offense, anger, or self-questioning. Leave it. It's poison. Let 2012 have it. That's what grace is all about.

This song is beautiful. It's about new beginnings. It's about rejecting the darkness in our lives, investing all we can and looking to the future with hope. It makes me want to dance. And it's hard to dance with the devil on your back.

 I'm not sure all these lyrics are correct. But I wasn't a real big fan of the actual music video.