Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Throughout several seasons of my life, I found what I believed to be compelling reasons to dislike Christmas. At one point, it was a lack of interest in the Christian faith. Another period, I hated how much it seemed Christmas had floated away from its origin. Still later, I was railing against consumerism (A justification that anyone who has witnessed my spending habits can identify as shaky at best). I look back and I pity Humbug Clint because Christmas is in a couple of words, Freaking Awesome.

I love Christmas so hard. It is the absolute best time of year. My heart and mind are overwhelmed by the amount of music produced for this holiday. If I'm feeling a little jaunty and campy, I'll throw on the Carpenters, nostalgic, Bing Crosby, reverent and expectant, Future of Forestry, if I just want to have a good time, Sufjan. No matter what emotions I'm experiencing in relation to Christmas, someone has written and recorded a beautiful song I can identify with.

I love the colors and lights. The way spaces we frequent transform, often with happiness and whimsy in mind, excites my senses. I love the slight downturn in temperature, especially back on the east coast. The smell of logs on fires permeating neighborhoods warms my heart. Even on the west coast where I am now, it's cool enough to justify cuddling up under a blanket on the couch with someone you love, or as the case will be for me this year, a bowl of pho. I've grown to love Christmas so much that I kind of dislike Thanksgiving because if we didn't have it, the Christmas season would likely start much earlier, like in many other countries.

The greatest thing about Christmas is the fact that the above listed qualities, along with many others, seem to point to one thing. We as a human race are all being captivated by something at one time. We come together to decorate, celebrate and fellowship because we all see something big is happening.

No, we didn't get the date right. Yes, consumerism has gotten in the way. Regardless, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no dilution or confusion that will ever change that.

I love Christmas more with each passing year because I love Jesus more each year. I am also growing increasingly confident that He was irrefutably awesome. Even if you don't believe in His miracles or that He was the Messiah, it is historical fact that there was a guy named Jesus roaming the countryside and being really kind and loving to people roughly 2000 years ago. People of nearly any background can agree that the wisdom He shared is extremely powerful and helpful in living life well. Even to Muslims, Jesus is a very important prophet.

In Speaking of Jesus, Carl Medearis illustrates the way many of us think of Christianity. Medearis urges us to take a piece of paper and put a dot in the middle - that dot is Jesus. He then asks us to put a whole bunch of other dots on the page. Those are people who aren't Jesus. He then asks us to draw a circle with the Jesus Dot at the center, with some of us included and some of us excluded. This view exemplifies our preoccupation with salvation and exclusion. We want to know who is in our out of Jesus' club and if we call ourselves Christians, we want desperately to know with some surety which side of the line we're on.

Medearis had another illustration about getting to know Jesus that I liked better. He urges us to erase the circle and draw little arrows on many of the dots, pointed toward Jesus. Medearis would argue that the circle and our relation to it are less important than that we are postured toward Jesus and trying to get closer to Him. Jesus was and is about building relationships now rather than making deals to inherit salvation later. I love this about Jesus, because I know that if my salvation were up to me keeping up my end of the bargain, I would be hopeless. I also love it, because I think following Jesus gives us glimpses of perfection and an opportunity to participate in it now, rather than waiting around for it.

It would seem that Christmas is the time of year that the most arrows are pointing toward Jesus, and feeling that is the true source of my joy at Christmas.

Advent starts today. Advent is a time of expectant waiting. It is a time spent in trembling in anticipation of Jesus glory and it's impact on the world. I'm the most excited I have ever been about Advent this year. I want to spend the next 26 days with my arrow squarely fixed toward Jesus and I'm hoping that my dot may ever so slightly shift closer to him during this time.

The only thing that excites me more about the next 26 days is that you might do the exact same thing. No matter who you are or what you believe, Jesus is incredible and I am sure that just knowing a little bit more about Him will make your life better.

If reading this does urge you to get to know Jesus a little bit better this year, please let me know what you learn. Chances are, I haven't learned it yet. I feel like I'm really just getting started. I guarantee that learning about Him through you will be the best gift I receive this year.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Near Moleskine Catastrophe of 2014

I think I've always been a little sensitive (Read: super sensi and melodromatic). It's really not a quality that gives me a great sense of pride, but I'm doing my best to recover from this predisposition. As a man, being overly sensitive is much akin to being a huge fan of Grey's Anatomy or learning to cross-stitch at the beach with your cousins at the age of 12, in that it's not widely celebrated in our culture. It's kind of tough to admit publicly. I probably wouldn't be writing this post if I wasn't fairly sure that at this point, the secret is out (fast forward to :18) on one of my less desirable character traits.

Despite my desperate attempts to separate myself from my soap opera tendencies, they've taken a little more control in the past couple of years. Suffering losses makes life feel raw. Taking chances leaves you vulnerable. My losses and risks knocked me out cold for a little while. I was down and pretty unaware of the things going on above and around me.

Fortunately, I had some friends pick me up off the canvas and snap some smelling salts under my nose. I've been back in the fight. It's felt good to throw some punches, imagine success and believe I'm not alone. Something happens when you get knocked down, though. You get the taste of your own blood on your tongue. You feel the rough canvas against your face. You get a glimpse of what it would be like to suffocate as your breath leaves you entirely for a moment.

When you get up, you're woozy and painfully aware of your weaknesses and injuries. If you're smart, you learn from your mistakes and prepare better for the next onslaught. Regardless of what you learn, nothing but time can help you recover from the spacey detachment that results from that first big fall.

I feel I'm at that point in the fight right now. I've recovered and learned from some pretty rough mistakes. My coaches have taken a blade to my once-swollen eye and I can see again, even if my vision is still a little blurry. I'm gritting hard on my mouthpiece, ready to make a clear statement that I'm not going down in the next round. But I'm still woozy and one solid, well-placed blow could easily put me on the mat again. This is how a misplaced notebook pretty much destroyed my psyche for roughly 48 hours.

About six months ago I got robbed. The details aren't worth hashing out, but the items I was relieved of had a vicious combination of monetary and sentimental value. There was a large amount of cash, a laptop containing work and pictures from a once-in-a-lifetime trip that were never backed up. It was, in a word, lame. One of the items stolen was my Moleskine.

For those of you who aren't hipsters and don't fancy your thoughts more significant than everyone else's, I'll explain what a Moleskine is. It is a notebook. Really, that's it. It's a notebook with a thin leather cover and a ribbon to mark your page, much like many other notebooks. What differentiates a Moleskine is its heritage. Great thinkers, writers and artists such as Jean Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and Vincent Van Gogh carried Moleskines. In carrying one, nearly every one of us deludes himself/herself into believing that one day we will record something as significant as the works of the aforementioned greats in our $20 notebook. Who knows? Maybe we already have, and the world just needs to stop being so lazy and discover our wondrous brilliance.

This is what was taken from me six months ago. In the interest of full disclosure, I don't just love my Moleskine because it makes me feel smarter than I am, it's also at the core of my organization. I take notes in it daily, both for work and my personal life. It's filled with to do lists, strategic plans, deeply valued thoughts, ideas and sketches. As I get older, my brain is an increasingly rapidly shaking sieve. Every thought I have is roughly two seconds away from being erased from existence. I need my Moleskine. When this first Moleskine was stolen, I felt the sting of a deep loss. I learned how much I valued it.

Fast forward to Sunday evening. I had a really fun time running all over the Bay Area with my Dad during the preceding four days. We saw Yosemite, SF, Oakland, drank excellent coffee, went mountain biking, ate and drank at Lagunitas and Brown Sugar Kitchen and created a deep bond with the bar manager at Lost & Found, a local beer garden. The only problem with this amazing time was that it completely threw me out of my daily habits, which is a major issue cuz the brain sieve thing. On Sunday evening, I was trying to get some work done when I realized I hadn't seen my Moleskine in days. Thus began a 48 hour downward spiral of hatred and self-loathing. I knew exactly how valuable this little notebook was to me, after having to part with one recently. If I couldn't handle a responsibility as small as keeping track of this item I have deemed incredibly important in my life, what could I handle? I had ONE job! And perhaps the worst part of the whole situation was feeling as if I was floating above my spiraling self, knowing that in the grand cosmic scheme, this notebook was pretty meaningless. I screamed at myself to go on with my days like a normal person, but both of my ethereal selves were apparently powerless to act. Now I could hate two of me for our irresponsibility and inaction. I am not a great multitasker (see above: brain sieve), but while I used most of my will to resist punching everything in sight, I was able to compile a list of responsibilities I would never be able to handle because I lost my Moleskine:

1. Succeeding at my job
2. Succeeding at any other job for the rest of my life
3. Meeting and caring for a woman
4. Marriage
5. Children
6. Really being trusted to take care of anything, ever, at all
7. Cactii

I referenced a boxing match earlier. If you've seen Fight Club, you can recall the unforgettable moment when Edward Norton beats himself to a pulp in his supervisor's office. As you remember it, you are creating a pretty accurate image of what was going on in my brain and my apartment for 48 hours. 

Over a notebook.

With the exception of actions required by basic survival instinct, I completely shut down as a functioning human being for two days. Because I lost a notebook. To some of you, this likely sounds absolutely nuttier than squirrel turds. On the other hand, I'm sure there are a few people who can relate to this. The struggle is real, as they say.

We let so many things define us. Our successes, our failures, our jobs and our relationships are just a few of the many external things we allow to dictate to us who we are. When we are emotionally and spiritually at our healthiest and happiest, everything we've done and own matters to us less. It becomes easier to say, I am not my career, I am not the things I own. It's the days when life is harder that we begin to grasp on to anything we can use as evidence that we are worthy. It's the slightly harder days that we look to our perceived failures because we are so disappointed in ourselves we actually want evidence of our unworthiness. 

Giving a pat solution to this degree of disappointment and self-sabotage feels a little contrived and forced, given that I'm still amidst a hangover from two days tail spinning over a notebook. I will say this: every single moment we have is an opportunity. One moment may be an opportunity to serve, one may be an opportunity to listen. One may be an opportunity to prove that although you lost a prized possession, you are capable of contributing to society in a meaningful way. Behind the ability to make the most of each moment is the confidence that no matter what happens, you can make the best choice possible, you can press on, you can be, as my mother used to say, a duck back. But even if you can't there are still a lot of people and a God who loves you. Maybe that actually matters a lot more than anything you'll ever do.

And you never know, maybe your roommate will find your Moleskine under the front seat of his car.

Friday, September 5, 2014

There is Unspeakable Beauty

"It's hard to notice gleaming from the sky when you're staring at the cracks."

- A band I will no longer publicly cop to having lyrical knowledge of

Every now and then, I find myself perusing old posts I have written. I do this because when I spend time away, I miss writing. I also wonder if people miss my writing. I go back to find justification to write again. Sometimes I find completely pedestrian thoughts and structure, so I put writing off further. Other times, I find something that makes me feel proud or prompted. Every now and then that thing is a line from a band I won't publicly name, provided by a friend. Today those words are confirmation that in recent months, I've spent far too much time looking down.

I fall in love with words. Embarrassingly, they are oftentimes my own. Increasingly, I'm coming to acceptance with this phenomenon. When some bit of encouragement or wisdom creeps it's way into my head and makes a home there, I like to think of it as a gift. I don't consider it my own creation. I reason that if it was totally worthless, I would hopefully throw it out. Thus, I am left with this phrase, idea or theme stuck in my head, believing that I should both embrace and share it.

On Friday Morning, I left Oakland for a backpacking trip in the Hoover Wilderness just north of Yosemite. I left with excitement and trepidation, as I committed to spending 96 hours with a friend I respect and anticipate learning a great deal from, but actually know very little of. It can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out how to fill (and not fill) 96 hours of silence with someone you barely know. I also felt exhausted and overwhelmed, with two weeks of travel in my rearview, jetlag dominating my body and an important meeting on the horizon. We didn't get hiking till three o'clock. With 7.5 miles to cover and packs weighing around forty pounds, I felt a bit discouraged. As the hike went on, our conversation found it's pace, but my feet didn't quite do the same. I was exhausted and felt beaten. As often seems to be the case, the last leg of our first day was a long, uphill pull. As my final defeat loomed, the lake where we would camp appeared below us, highlighted by the setting sun. I took in the colors and the shapes and felt my eyes begin to water. We set up camp and listened to silence and the wind rustling the trees and water. We stargazed. I laid with my back on a rock curved perfectly to fit me. I appreciated the moment and dreamed of what the future might look like. I heard a whisper I couldn't make out.

Our time went on. We saw more beautiful lakes, we invited each other into our lives. We shared and affirmed. Despite not having service, I habitually checked my email. I found a message from before our departure confirming a partnership between HOPE and a church I had been working on. I was blown away by generosity. We camped by a river, we sipped bourbon, I watched shooting stars flare. I experienced the undeniable knowledge that God is all powerful and loves us, a knowledge I most strongly understand in nature. In the silence, I heard the whisper again, audible, but still not comprehensible.

We returned home. I had an encouraging meeting with a group of people who are in love with HOPE and excited to see what we can do in the Bay Area. I hopped on my motorcycle, now my sole means of transportation, to work and visit with more friends I had not seen in awhile. I avoided a very close call and came out unscathed. I got encouragement, I did crossfit with some amazing people (I know). We worked hard and sweated together. I shared foodtruck dinner with a great friend, whom I had been missing, along with his family. I hopped on my bike and rode home. As I crossed one of the amazing bridges spanning the San Francisco Bay, I looked over my left shoulder to see the sun set. Over the wind in my helmet and the musical roar of my engine, I heard it unmistakably. People are loving, understanding and generous. The earth is beautiful. The world has so much to offer. You have so much to be thankful for.

There is Unspeakable Beauty.

Now go live in it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dear Banana Republic: I'm Breaking Up With You

This is so hard. I just don't know where to start. Please forgive me for putting this in writing. I know it's avoidant. I know you deserve better. I simply lack the courage to face you at this time. You've done so much for me. You helped me realize that the way I present myself matters. You introduced me to slim fit dress shirts. You gave me not only wrinkle-free shirts, but pants as well! There's been family deal after family deal. You've given yourself fully to me and never expected that much in return, often no more than 60% of retail, to be exact.

I remember the way things got started. My college years marked a time when I cared very little for how I looked. Most days, I would grab a pair of jeans, one of 35 Virginia Tech t-shirts and be on my way. My standards were so low. I had no idea I deserved better. I remember really noticing you for the first time as I graduated. I can't recall exactly where it was, perhaps in a local mall, or maybe one of your flyers hit my mailbox. Maybe it was you who made the first move. At first, I thought you were entirely out of my league. I'd shop your outlets just for the label, although the fit and finish of your outlet line was never what I saw in the magazines. I wanted to be with you, but I figured you were just out for the higher class guys. Still every now and then, I'd shop those outlets and find a great deal. It was on one of these outlet trips in Delaware that you really made yourself available to me. As I came to the check out counter, the sales associate offered me a BR credit card. At first I passed, wondering why I would get a card for a place I could barely afford. He assured me I would save 30% on that purchase. I couldn't pass it up. I applied and you accepted me. Despite my baggage, student loans and dependence on the graphic t as a fashion staple, you accepted me for all that I was. You were so graceful. Our relationship truly materialized on that day.

I had some very real needs at that time. I was no longer a college kid, I was a business professional. My wardrobe just didn't reflect this transition. Many of my collared shirts and ties had stains on them from years of waiting tables. What was presentable was still ill-fitting. So, I spent more time with you. I perused your aisles and websites. I'd day dream about the new season's arrivals. Sometimes I'd struggle to focus on work as I devoted myself to your website, learning every detail  of your clothing lines. As we often do in exciting, blossoming relationships, I completely leaned on you in my times of need. I solely looked to you to remedy my dirth of professional and classy casual attire. I lavished you with large percentages of my salary. You gave back. To simply take from me was never your way. As if clothing me wasn't enough, you made me feel special. In that first year, I hit a spending level that provided me with a BR Luxe Card. In return for my faithfulness to you, you gave me deep discounts, access to special events and free alterations. I was so taken with the tortoise shell finish on that card. In fact, I still am.

This marked the beginning of the Golden Age of our time together. You always provided whatever I needed. This was never more clear than during my argyle phase in the winter of 2006-2007. Rather than letting me commit a fashion faux pas with someone else, you gave me the most tasteful argyle you could, allowing me to indulge in several sweaters while keeping my dignity. Those sweaters still reside in my closet, memories of some maturation I still had left to wade through as you held my hand. Soon after, I discovered your slim-fit dress shirt line. The first one I purchased was for an interview with the FBI. I also bought a tasteful blue and red striped tie that day. It was plain but classy, just what I believed the FBI would want to see. That shirt helped me through that interview and since has been through two weddings. While it's a little dingy and has stains on the chest from a poorly affixed boutonniere, it still hangs among the others in my closet, my go to for an understated look in a suit. That shirt began a tradition. From then on, whenever I entered a round of interviews for a new job or had any other type of important meeting, I would visit you for a new shirt. You gifted me the confidence to know I could impress anyone who sat across the table from me. Additionally, until I met Ledbury, I never bought a dress shirt from any other maker. Your newer, tailored slim-fit hugs me so closely I always feel loved when wearing it.

And, oh, you're jeans! They fit me perfectly. It was like they had a deep knowledge of me. Every now and then, I could stack discounts and rewards and get a truly premium pair. My first $110 pair of jeans that I purchased for $45 were sublime. I wore them until they fell apart. It was no problem when they did fall apart, though. When it was time for a new pair, I would just order a new pair in the same size and cut. There was no need to try anything on. You were so consistent in the way you felt tailored to me. I even remember when I was strapped for cash at one time, you let me shop with my Luxe Card at your little brother, The Gap. I got my discounts and a near identical fit at a cheaper price point. You were so gracious.

Soon, you were all I wore. People started noticing that I was with someone new. At first, they would ask, "Where are those jeans from? That's a really nice shirt, where did you get it?" Early on, I was occasionally wearing someone else. Quickly, it was always you. Underwear, socks, belt, suit, pants, shirt, it was only you. Eventually those who knew me learned not to ask. On the seldom occasion they would make such an inquiry, I'd look at them with disdain, my glare or dismissive sigh conveyed I would never be with anyone but you.

The honeymoon was wonderful. I believe it was longer than most, but it would not last. As The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Chinua Achebe tell us, things fall apart. And fall apart we did. Our end came as sleep comes: Slowly at first, then all at once. It began with your jeans. Your sizing became inconsistent. I couldn't count on your fit anymore. You'd always try to make it right, with streamlined returns and replacements, but we just couldn't find our groove like we used to. Then I started to notice those "Made in China" tags that you were always carrying on you. Why had you fallen in with such company? You never used to carry those tags. Finally, your sales just got too prolific. They were no longer just for me as a Luxe member. On many days, you'd offer 40% off to anyone who walked through your doors. It was like you didn't respect yourself or understand your value. You were just like the Jos. A. Banks of the world who present ridiculously high retail prices that one should never pay, only to have 45% off sales every other day. Honestly, I believe you're better than that, but maybe that's just wishful thinking, maybe you're not who you used to be. Your jeans sure indicate you aren't.

This isn't just about me, either. I really want you to be happy. I think I fooled us both into believing I was the type of guy for you. You fit me better than anyone had before, I thought we were tailor made for each other. The truth is, the more I explore you, the more I realize you're great, the best I've been with, but we're just not right for each other. When I get those mailers from you, you always feature rail thin men with thick heads of hair. That's just not me. Even when skinny, I'm broad shouldered. Barring some long overdue advances in the scientific community, my hairstyle of choice will be a buzzed head till I die. You're looking for a different kind of guy than me, and I think you deserve to find him.

BR, you've been good to me, but if we're honest with one another, we both know it's time to move on. I have a history of holding on to things too long, and I just don't want that to be the case here. We've already both made some memories that we'd rather forget. I want to focus on the good times. You gave me a lot. You got me through some hard times. You helped me to take pride in my appearance and form a better view of who I should be with. It's time for me to go find them. I hope they'll be much like you, but American made, full of a little more confidence, and better tailored for me. I hope you find that super lean guy with a dark, full head of hair you're always dreaming about. You might hear from me from time to time, but just know that this is the end, and I'm grateful for the time we had.

Much Love (Just not THAT kind, anymore),


Someone Like You by Adele on Grooveshark

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Resolve

Compared to some of the other athletic endeavors I’ve encountered, walking is fairly easy. It’s very rare that we find ourselves in a place where we can’t put one foot in front of the other. That’s why this moment was particularly disheartening. We were struggling up a well-worn trail, the Salkantay, in the Andes. It’s a little known fact that while Machu Picchu is on a mountain top, it’s actually in a depression relative to most of the surrounding areas. Most people who visit Peru make a pilgrimage terminating at Machu Picchu, meaning that while difficult, the weary travelers ultimately experience a loss in altitude during their journey. In other words, they’re going downhill more than uphill. My party decided to go the opposite way. This decision was mostly due to time constraints, but looking back I think it was also a result of ignorance to aforementioned geographic features.

It was the last day of our three day trek and I was struggling mightily under the weight of a mostly empty pack at about 13,000 feet. That morning, wild dogs had stolen our food for the day, so I was suffering a pretty serious caloric deficit. I dug my trekking poles into the ground and hoisted myself up with my arms and shoulders, my legs lacked the strength to carry my weight. Incapable of keeping any consistent pace, no matter how slow, I had to develop strategies to keep myself going. I settled on 45 seconds of walking followed by 15 seconds of rest. This pace even felt more than I could handle. Two others had gone ahead, concerned that we would miss the driver waiting for us at the terminus. Aaron and I served as each other’s carrots, each leading the other for a time, before changing positions. Oxygen depletion and exhaustion were playing tricks on my senses, I barely knew where I was. I stalled for a little while. Aaron came up from behind and took his place by my side.

“Clint, I haven’t known you for very long, but from what I’ve seen of your life, I know one thing about you. There is no quit in you.”

Empowered by his encouragement and my survival instinct, I continued up the mountain. We hit the final pass a brief period later, much to my relief. We snapped pictures and celebrated our victory. The descent down the back side of that final climb wasn’t easy, but at least it was downhill. We arrived to a Peruvian trail guide waving flags and screaming that he needed to meet the crazy mother******s (His words, not mine, although mine may not have been entirely dissimilar at that point) who completed a four day trip in three days, backwards. This was a few months after my mother passed, and I desperately needed a win. I remember looking back through the window of our van at that mountain, a symbol that I could still accomplish something wonderful.

I think Aaron misjudged me that day. I have a history of giving up on many things fairly easily. This is one of the qualities I find most disappointing in myself. However, Aaron’s words made me believe that I could change this part of me. I determined that if there was a single person in the world who saw me in that light, I could become a person with grit, determination and no quit. Although I saw Aaron’s words as totally off-base and lacking insight, I decided to make them prophetic. Those words have echoed in my head for nearly a year now.

“There is no quit in you.”

So, I’ve resolved to fight the challenges that are thrown in front of me. I get discouraged, and I sometimes cope in ways that I wish I wouldn’t, but I fight. I refuse to be brought down. I refuse to be broken. There are just a few problems with this resolution.

It’s exhausting. Not long ago, I ended up in conflict with a close friend. I couldn’t figure out why we had come to this place. Then I realized that I’ve been in a defensive, battle-ready posture for over two years. When I face harsh criticism or rejection I dig in my heels and anticipate or engage conflict. Not only is this hard on relationships, but it’s exhausting. Constantly preparing for the next battle drains a lot of emotional and physical resources. Next, I’ve begun to identify too closely with my toughness. Grace, love, acceptance, patience: These are characteristics to truly aspire toward. A stubborn refusal to be hurt? Not so much. Sometimes it’s the pain and hurt that make their way into our lives that do the best job of shaping us into who we should be. Another issue I have is stubborn loyalty or resolve to fix situations that just aren’t working. This is actually one place where my past actions directly contradict my perception that I give up easily. The hallmark of this shortcoming in my life has been in romantic relationships. I just don’t know when to quit. I know this has resulted in a tremendous amount of heartache both for me and a couple of women in my life.
There’s one last problem with always needing to hold things together: Sometimes we need to be broken. Greek mythology gives us two amazing examples of beings that are destroyed to make way for new beings. The first is the Phoenix, which bursts into flames and is rebirthed. The second is the story of Halcyon, a woman who loses her love and, heartbroken, throws herself from a cliff. She is raised and reborn as a beautiful kingfisher.

In the Christian faith, we are called to die to ourselves and be reborn in Christ. This isn’t a decision we make once, when we give our lives over to Christ. It’s a decision that we have to make every day. Just like I’ve found myself embattled with friends and family at times. I’ve embattled myself with God. I currently view being brought down or broken as the one thing I will not accept. This makes all problems mine to handle, rather than handing them over to God. I’m also starting to get the feeling at God is pretty set on breaking me. I think he wants to convince me that my life and my problems are not mine to handle. Rather than accepting his grace and love in such a time, my petty ego is insulted that he’s trying to make a point. In short, I think I may be in a battle of wills with God. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

A few months ago, I was out on a company retreat and we were racing around a ranch in off-road go-carts. On straightaways, I had the pedal set against the floor, the speedometer pegged at its max. I slid in and out of turns wildly, exhilarated by the speed and tiptoeing along the line between control and recklessness. My passenger and I switched positions. Although his driving was markedly similar to my own, I was in a complete panic. He never would have known, but I was miserable. The same experience that was invigorating to me moments ago was now terrifying, merely because I did not have control. As we skidded around a corner, my friend oversteered slightly. Our front, passenger side wheel dug into the soft grass just on the inside of the turn and our forward momentum became sideways momentum. It felt like an eternity from when I saw what was happening in my mind to when the roll became a reality. I felt my shoulder and face slam into the ground harshly and the strange unweighting of doing a full flip. We landed with the wheels on the ground, stunned but okay. Our worst case scenario was pretty much realized. There was some damage to the vehicle, which we were regretful to report, but we were alright, albeit sore for a couple of days. I let go, we crashed, but we learned some lessons.

This may be where I am in life right now. I may need to let go and let someone else drive for a spell. Life may get still harder for a moment, but may be better in the long run. Have you ever battled God, or simply life’s circumstances for control? Are you doing it now? How do you think you can let go? What do you think would happen if you did?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Foundation of Faith

When I was working in short-term missions in Mexico, I was able to assist in building a lot of homes. The homes that we built had a concrete slab for flooring and the walls were stick frames, covered on the outside with stucco. During those two years, I learned a lot about building those homes. I first had the conceptual, textbook lessons, then I was able to take a lot through experience. One lesson I learned was the following: You want concrete and stucco (if you're not familiar with the material, stucco is concrete-based) to cure as slowly as possible. They both firm up rather quickly, but while they seem hard on the outside, there is a curing process going on inside that lends the materials their full strength. If the curing process happens too quickly, the materials can cure more weakly or even crack in the process. I learned that if you keep the materials more damp as they cure, it slows down the process, generally making them more stronger. I remember mornings returning to the worksites after some rest to see families sprinkling their walls and floors with water. We always knew these houses would be especially strong and well-cared for.

About 18 months ago, I was in India, speaking with some HOPE International savings group members. In this particular area, we only offer savings programs. Our savings group members do not have access to loans. At that time, there was a large demand for loans. Loans are generally viewed as an opportunity to improve one's economic circumstance more quickly than with savings. With a very, very poor population, loans are also more risky. For the poorest people in the world, getting started with savings programs is the more prudent, helpful tact. I walked into a room of about 80-100 people to tell them something they didn't want to hear - HOPE would not be offering them loans. As I took my steps toward the front of the room, my lessons from Mexico came to mind. I used what I learned about concrete to frame the discussion on savings, loans and financial rehabilitation. I agreed with the group that, yes, it is possible that loan programs could help their businesses grow faster. I also explained that maybe their brand new businesses were not ready to grow that fast. They needed to grow slowly to firm up their skills and make sure they were successful in the long-term. For this group of people, savings programs were the right tool. The programs would allow them to grow at a slow, steady pace into dependable well-run businesses. I cared for the people I was speaking to, and I didn't want them to have cracks in their foundations as they pursued a more secure financial life.

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty proud and thought I was pretty freaking smart when I pulled that out last minute. That is partially why it was even more humbling when a new application for this concept struck me while talking to a pastor in San Francisco who is interested in a partnership with HOPE.

I love to tell people my story. For those of you who haven't heard it, here is an abridged version: I grew up in a Christian home and I felt I became a Christian in elementary school. However, I really didn't care that much for the faith. I "gave my life to Christ" in a fit of panic. In the following years, I called myself a Christian but didn't behave much like one. By that I don't mean that I smoked, drank, dabbled with recreational drugs, got in situations with young ladies I shouldn't have, lied and cheated. Don't get me wrong, I did those things. So did some of the men who are closest to God's heart in scripture. What I mean is that I didn't love God and I didn't love the people around me the way he calls us to. In college, my mom duped me into going on some missions trips. They changed the way I saw faith. I realized that faith wasn't abstaining from the above list. It was loving God and loving others and bearing fruit of those loves. Abstaining from the above list is a series of disciplines that better equip us to love God and others. Just under four years ago, I really gave my life to Christ when I literally gave up my life as I knew it and moved across the country to build homes for the poor as a part of His ministry. For about two years, I grew in my faith and loved life as I never had before. Although I had really practiced my faith only briefly, I felt like a person who was mature in the faith, someone who had certainly ascended to a height of faith from which I could not be knocked down.

A little under two years ago, things started getting much harder. I moved back to the east coast and had a front row seat as my mother's health declined. I had a woman I loved ask me for a ring, then reverse her decision a month after the purchase was made. My mother passed away. My father and I were in a home together, two grown men trying to grieve the same thing and having no idea how to. Then there have been the smaller things, most recently being in a new place without a home for three weeks and having some of my most valued possessions stolen within two weeks of arriving in California.

My faith has simply not held up. Massive questions about God and his love for me have surfaced. I've responded in ways that have not glorified Him and not kept the interest of others at the forefront of my mind. At 31, I've spent two years living in the truth of God's love for me and then spent two more years questioning it. I was concrete that dried too fast. I neglected small things that took discipline, unlike the homeowner who dutifully sprayed his house down with a hose or sponge. I appeared strong and set on the outside, but I was still very much a child in my faith.

As I sat across from my new friend, this realization was unloaded on me. I believe that God is the creator of the universe and that Jesus died for me. I know how transformative this knowledge can be. It's transformed me. However, I haven't been embracing a lot of other truths about God, who He is and what He wants for me. My foundation is pretty much shot. The good news is, I have the two main ingredients to begin my new foundation. Now I just have to put in a lot of hard work and take my time this time around. Fortunately, I've already got a vibrant, growing group of friend in my new home to help me go about this rebuilding process.

I would love to know if there's anyone else out there who has had to rebuild their faith from the ground up after a tragedy or series of tragedies. What did you do? How did you do it? Where did you start? 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Thank You

Wow, you guys came out in full force. I remember as a child and even as a young adult, walking around begging for people's attention. "Look at me! Give me affirmation! Tell me I'm good!" This often wore really thin on those around me, so I never dreamed it would have worked on the blog!

Your encouragement has my head swirling with ideas, and I think I know what I'm going to write on, but this has been a crazy busy week. So busy, in fact, I haven't had time to write. Unfortunately, my weekly post is due now. However, I'm currently prepping for a 7:30 flight down to SoCal and a very full day tomorrow.

The good news is that my inability to write is the result of some really great things going on. I'm making friends, having adventures and finding my groove at work.

Tell you what, my goal is to have something up on Friday. Check back then. And thanks again for the encouragement.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Curse of Good Enough

I was a ridiculously talented kid. I made every travel soccer team. I made every travel baseball team. I made all but one travel basketball team. In travel sports I was always a contributor. In regular club leagues I was typically the leading scorer/best goalkeeper. When I played seeker, I snatched up that snitch like a dang boss. I was in one of those janky elementary school systems with a grading scale with E for Excellent, G for Good, S for Satisfactory, and NI for Needs Improvement. I have this great anecdote about when my parents came back from a student teacher conference and had me in tears because I had all Excellents and, without showing me the report card, they briefly convinced that E was just above F, rather than standing for Excellent, and I had straight E's. Actually, that's it. That's the whole story. I hope you got a good laugh. I was scarred for roughly two months.

After what I refer to as "The Golden Age of Clint," the other kids started catching up. By middle school, I wasn't quite as successful in sports or academics. High school came and I was rocking barely a 3.0 GPA while taking those notoriously grade boosting AP classes (This means I was closer to a C student than a B student. I really just did that math and came to that realization. I'm disappointed in you, High School Clint). By senior year, I got cut from the basketball team, representing utter failure in my favorite sport. The only sport I lettered in was lacrosse, and that was only because we were an underachieving club team that took anyone who would suit up. Picture the bad news bears slightly older with substance abuse and anger issues and prolific use of profanity.

I remember being bemused, but rather arrogantly proud as I sat across the table from an acceptance official at a university. The university official was calmly explaining to me that it didn't make sense for them to take a chance on accepting me. My SAT score was proportionately so much higher than my GPA that it was clear I just didn't try or care. I learned a light lesson from that experience. I put far more work in in college and graduated with one of those cum laude-type designations.

I learned enough of a lesson to improve my college performance, but I didn't learn the bigger lesson about life. I always believed that I just developed earlier than most and everyone caught up with and then passed me. I think there may be some truth to that. I was a great test taker and was a little taller than most of the others for a time. However, I don't think this is the whole story. I think I got comfortable with my slight advantage. I didn't strive for more. I think the others that I was a little ahead of definitely caught me, but most of them didn't pass me. A lot of people passed me because they learned how to work hard earlier than I did.

I was having a conversation with a new friend a week ago who had the same experience. We both believe we're talented enough to do most things proficiently. However, we both have strong doubts that we can truly excel at much of anything. We both have patterns of picking things up and being a star briefly, then falling to the middle, and often the back, of the pack. We hit some hard challenges and assume we're just not gifted in whatever field we're competing.

Early life typically only requires brief commitment, so those of us with a quick early learning curve shine. It's the marathons of life where we start to fall short. We're sprinters. We burn ourselves out, we become despondent as the others pass after our brief lead. We get beaten and embarrassed by those with endurance and discipline. The most discouraging part of this is that the marathons of life are all that matter. We're asked to go the distance. Unless we're Usain Bolt. Keep doing what your doing, brah.

A little under a year ago, I did some track training with my buddy Dan, who did some running in college. I remember him saying to me, "You're plenty strong, you just don't have the discipline to pace yourself."

You're plenty strong, you just don't have the discipline to pace yourself.

Although it's now mid-March, I've finally settled on my theme for this year: Discipline. Discipline is more valuable than any talent. It's something you work for rather than something you're given. It's also something you can apply to any of your preexisting talents. This is going to be one of the few things that's ever come slowly to me in the early goings. Discipline is a struggle for me from the moment I encounter it. My expectation is that it will help me discover a lot more about myself. I think it may help me discover where I'm truly gifted in life so that I can stop believing I'm mediocre at everything now that I've become an adult.

It's hard to go these lessons alone. In deciding to discipline myself this year, I've already contacted one of my best friends to help hold me accountable in some of my pursuits. He's going to help me stay accountable on when I go to bed and wake up, so that I don't exhaust myself and Netflix binge. He's going to help me stay on task in a couple of areas of life as well.

This is where you come in. This blog started as an opportunity to share about my missions work in Mexico. Then it became a little self obsessed. Then it became a place for me to share some of the harder things about life, in the hopes that my writing touches and wakes other people up. I like to throw some jokes and entertainment in there, too. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love to make myself and other people laugh. What this blog has never been is disciplined. I write when I want. Sometimes I literally have a dozen ideas backed up in my head. Sometimes I go through a desert of bloggie thoughts. Either way, I write when I feel like it.

Here's the thing: I think that writing might actually be one of the things for which I actually possess a true talent. One that I won't just dominate early on, like the Monstars in the first half against the Looney Toons. For once, I'd like to be Jordan stretching out for that game-winning dunk (Spoiler alert! Also, so many good things here. Bill Murray, for one. Why didn't Jordan ever do this when Karl Malone was mugging him in those series against the Utah Jazz? I digress). So, I've got a request for you. If you read this, dig it and think I should keep writing, drop me one comment. If one person drops one comment per post, that will motivate me and hold me accountable to make sure I get something up next week. The only requirement is that it can't be the same person over and over again. I know there are one or two of you out there (That's all, mind you.) So that's it. One comment from one unique reader per week, help me stay motivated to keep doing something I love. If we can keep this going for a bit and I can find room in my schedule, maybe we can up the stakes. More comments! More posts!

Even as I type this, part of me hopes you won't do me this favor so I can escape this very pedestrian level of discipline and commitment. The thing is, I know if you've made it through this novel of a post, you can probably handle typing a few words about what you think of it.

Please do it. Please help me. Save me from becoming a lifelong monstar.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Defiant Peace

A couple of months ago, I was doing my final sweep of my dad's house, making sure that I hadn't forgotten anything. A big move makes you forget the conveniences of email, Fedex and UPS (I don't think I need to speak on why I'm leaving USPS out of this list). In those moments, we feel a deep stress and need to identify and claim everything we need to take with us. My frenetic quest to claim all things Clint took me to the basket on the top of the refrigerator. In my family's home, the basket has two layers. On top are the prescriptions. For many years now, my little brother has consumed a potpourri of pills regulating his seizures and his behavior. If we had this basket at our old home, surely this is where my mother's sometimes potent cocktails of drugs designed to fight her leukemia would have resided. The second layer in this basket is comprised of various oddities and items we no longer think about or need. It was here that I found something that made me slow down and reduced the insignificance of being sure that I had gathered all of my things.

I very nearly dismissed it. The girly handwriting bordered on portraying the writer as juvenile at first glance, but as it came into better focus, it communicated more of an innocence. As I looked for another moment, it's contents engulfed me. It was a list of recommended natural supplements to aid in dealing with cancer and chemotherapy. The contrast between the handwriting and the contents was disquieting. It felt incredibly unjust that a young woman who possessed this handwriting also possessed such a deep knowledge of an insidious, destructive disease.

Allie Frymoyer was an intern with HOPE two summers ago. I remember the day standing in HOPE's kitchen, a common meeting place, discussing my mother's sickness. Right now, I can't recall the exact circumstances, I think I have willfully forced bits and pieces of my mother's physical degradation out of my heart and mind. We talked about how my mother was going through treatment. Allie asked pointed questions about my mother's process and condition. She spoke with the kind of care that only a deeply compassionate person who had experienced the same level of suffering could communicate. I remember her smiling sweetly during some of the difficult conversation. Her facial expressions showed the same sort of defiance toward the subject matter that her handwriting did in the note I found on my desk the next day, accompanied by her favorite vitamin fortified juice which helped her through her chemo. I was taken by her thoughtfulness and also by the fact that an unpaid college intern would find room in her budget to give a $6 bottle of juice away.

Another day, Allie and I were talking over lunch. The subject was engagement. I had recently bought a ring and was preparing to propose, she had just gotten engaged. I wanted as brief an engagement as possible, I was ready to be married. Conversely, Allie was looking toward a year long engagement. I really don't know much about the intricacies of Allie's life at the time, but I do know that she was still sick. She would miss days at HOPE from time to time and I think was even admitted to the hospital at one point during the summer. The idea that she would want to take her time and have a normal if not extended engagement was odd to me. Although her sickness loomed, she was in no rush to claim what was hers in this earthly life. Again, she had a peace about her that completely betrayed her circumstance.

Allie was at peace with her sickness. It was through her acceptance of it's physical existence that she was able to reject much of it's emotional and psychological impact. Allie remained fresh when she could have been jaded. She lived in and made the most of the moments she was given rather than rushing to or hoping for better ones. She cared for my mother, whom she never met. Allie's presence and actions communicated a deep, abiding peace.

I woke up this morning, rolled over and grabbed my phone to do the typical email/text check. Mixed in with a number of other messages, was a brief email informing HOPE staff of Allie's passing. Since my mother passed last year, I don't cry much. My theory is that my emotions just got overloaded and kind of stopped responding. When I read this message, I immediately felt the old but familiar sensation of warm tears running down my face. When I weep for people like my mother and Allie passing, I don't cry for them. I cry because it feels a travesty that this world should be denied the presence of people like Allie Frymoyer and Sandy Barnes.

Allie, thank you for pulling these tears out of me. Thank you for a smile and a handwritten note that stood in stark but quiet and humble defiance of the worst this world has to offer. Thank you for showing what Hope in God truly looks like. It's my prayer that in the wake of losing you, your defiant peace will resonate in our hearts and bring us to a similar place.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Does it Almost Feel Like You've Been Here Before?

It's the New Year once again. It seems the experience is always the same, granted with different circumstances. We look back and dub the last 365 days the best or the worst ever (and occasionally somewhere in between). Bloggers blog, hack writers who occasionally write make sure to write on this day (See: This post), we all promise the next 365 days will be better than the last. Sometimes we're right. I like to try to eschew the norm, but inevitably end up doing the same as everyone else. Last year, I decided on January 1 that I would commit myself to the gym and change the way my body looked and felt, but refused to call it a resolution. It may be the first resolution I've ever kept. I remember writing the 12/13 version of this post last year. I thought I was reviewing the roughest year I had ever had. I was right. However, what I didn't know was that 2012 would be quickly and definitively supplanted as the most challenging year I've had.

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show

And the walls came tumbling down
In the city that we loved
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

January began with me emotionally distraught. For one of the first times in my life, I was taking sick days as "mental health days." When I stay moving, it facilitates distraction and growth for me typically. I was thankful that by the middle of the month I was headed down to Haiti to spend time with friends and colleagues. At some point during my trip, I got word from my dad that my mother had been rushed out to Ohio State by some friends in the middle of the night. She had been coping with extreme abdominal pains and they had finally grown unbearable. At this point in time, it was pretty standard affair for my mother to head to Ohio State for unexpected treatment. This time felt simultaneously the same and very, very different. I pulled a good friend and colleague aside and we prayed together. I remember him asking if there was any reason to be particularly concerned this time around. My response is seared in my memory. I told him there was no evidence that we should be more concerned than usual, but it was simply the law of averages that dictated in my mind that each time she went, there was an increasing likelihood that she would not come home. Within days of my return home from Haiti, I headed out to Ohio State. The stated reason I stayed in Columbus with my mom was because I would rent a car and bring her home when her treatment was over. There was also a big part of me that was worried something terrible would happen and I didn't want my mother to be left alone when it did. 12 days after I arrived in Columbus, my mother passed away. The following days and weeks felt like I was living someone else's life. It's not really possible to understand that a loved one is gone in a brief period of time. We were scrambling to put together a service and get a handle on how we felt. We were surrounded by friends and family. My three best west coast friends flew out to see and support me. Soon after, I was filling up my life with adventure and stuff. I bought new suits, shoes, a jacket and tent and numerous other toys and made trips to Peru, Africa, Germany and a few spots in the US. I took a new position at HOPE. I still felt like myself. I was just a really sad version of me. I felt deeply disappointed and like my family and I were getting kicked around, but my constitution and convictions remained. This time wasn't the worst this year would have to offer.

Time went on. I felt very much on my own. Living at home served as a constant reminder of my new reality. One I didn't really care for. I felt I had spent the preceding 2-3 years building myself into the man I wanted to be and building my life into the one I wanted. I had based that man and life on my faith and constitution and yet they seemed to be crumbling away. I found myself living a different life than the one I wanted. One that I had lived before and fought to make different.

The year's gotten harder. As I get ready for a big, exciting move I've been prone to isolate myself from my loved ones. I was supposed to leave tomorrow, but in the past two weeks, my car has been in the shop twice, I've broken my phone, fallen off my motorcycle (at a very slow speed, Carla took the worst of it) and been very sick for about a week. 

I think part of the reason my non-resolution worked so well last year is because I only made one. It took priority over nearly everything. Whenever it was a question of the the gym vs. something, the gym always won out, unless the other something was a something of extreme importance. This year, my singular goal is to be a finisher. I've been the kind of guy who can get things started, get stoked and get others excited with me. But I'm a sprinter. I have a hard time sticking with things for the long haul. I hope to change that. I've got a lot to rebuild and some new projects on the horizon (I've been kicking around trying my hand at a novel!?) and my hope is that I won't quit till the job is done, no matter what it is.

Oh were do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

Happy New Year.