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The Bible, The Spirit, & Diet Mountain Dew

Faith, Life, Humor

Control?… Nope… Not really… By design…

So if you’re in my very limited scope of friends & acquaintances on social media, you might have been really confused lately given our very abrupt relocation from one state to the next.  On the one hand, I didn’t really even want to talk about it.  On the other hand, I didn’t really figure that the reasons behind it mattered all that much.  I’m still not really sure what, if anything, needs to be said here, so Ima just let it flow…


On the Christian Calendar, Maundy Thursday is celebrated as the day before Good Friday.  The day Christ got on his knees & washed the feet of his disciples prior to the Last Supper… For me, this year Maundy Thursday became the day that I found out my job (as it existed) was going away… The plant was being closed…

As the acting Plant Manager, that kinda felt like a kick right in the gonads.  Moreover, it really just pissed me off…  I had inherited one helluva mess four years prior… And I had busted my ass to make the whole operation into a consistently strong performer.  We were easily out performing half the plants in our division, BUT…  And its a big BUTT…

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Seriously though…  Our sales were declining & rapidly at that…

Generating sales was not in the scope of my responsibility as a plant manager…  We had a sales organization that was supposed to be doing that… But the sales continued to decline nonetheless… And no matter how efficiently we were able to run the orders, it eventually reached a point where consolidating our business into a larger plant made the most financial sense for the company…  Especially given that several of the larger plants had volume to give…  And so the decision was made…  Just like that…


With all due respect to Janet Jackson…  Control is really nothing more than an illusion.  I mean it feels really good to believe we’re actually in control, but it’s a complete facade…  That’s not to say that you might have some measure of control in some of the small stuff…  What you wear on a given day…  Or what you eat…

But if you think about it, even that isn’t totally in your control.  You can’t for instance have SourSop Ice Cream in November…  Even if you do travel to the same little shop in Nassau that you first tasted it on a previous visit & found it heavenly.  Because that prior visit was in July & Soursop is out of season in November…  I’m not bitter…  Okay, I’m a little bitter, but I’m definitely not in control in that situation…


If I can be completely transparent for a moment, I’ve gotten entirely too used to the feeling that I was in control, especially where my career is concerned.  Like a gambling addict on an extended hot streak, I have found it entirely too easy in my lifetime to believe I’m actually the one pulling all the strings…

I was my high school’s valedictorian… got into my first college of choice with relative ease and graduated with two degrees in Engineering… I had three job offers two months before I actually graduated to choose from… And until now, every career move has been mostly my choice…

But this time, the choice was being forced on me…  Staying put was no longer an option…  I was fortunate enough that my company offered me two alternative options to unemployment… 1) Take another Plant Manager’s position in Indiana or 2) Take a traveling position providing technical support within the division…


Hoosiers

Its not that I don’t like Hoosiers people…  Great movie… Great basketball…  But not a great fit for our fam for a number of reasons…  Likewise, traveling 3-4 nights per week is not something I’m cut out for… Two nights in a hotel & I’m pretty much over it…


Here’s the thing… So if I lost you at some point during this blog, shake it off, grab some coffee, & pay attention…

The number one enemy of growth is becoming too comfortable.  I’ve known that more deeply at different points in my life…  Applied it in certain situations, without really acknowledging that its pretty much a universal truth… And trust me in this… it IS a universal truth…


So in this situation, I could’ve chosen one of two paths…  Rail & pout like a two-year old… Or embrace the change & the ways God blessed us through it all…

With one resume submission, I had another great job come through that was a much better geographic fit for the fam…  The current house sold quickly… The new house we offered on needed a lot of repairs & the sellers agreed to cover ALL OF THEM!…  The fam survived a 6 week stint apart from each other… And the kids already have great friends in the new locale…

Sometimes God interrupts us because we’ve gotten too comfortable…  Sometimes God interrupts us because he has better things in store…  Or sometimes a little of both…  Don’t let your pride get in the way of those blessings…  TRUST THE JOURNEY!!!…


EPILOGUE…

I am aware that the GIF at the top is from Rhythm Nation & not Control… But it was a much cooler GIF…

Childhood Revisited…

When you live in a world where the closest thing to manual labor most people get is carrying out the trash every Tuesday Night…  it’s nice to get out & work up a sweat.  And thanks to a driver that was probably more interested in their SnapChat than where the car was going, my folks had a dead tree that needed to be removed today…  So as the day went along, I started snapping some photos & thought it might make for a neat entry…  So without further ado…


 

The Back Pasture Feeding Trough…

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Me & this disc plow spent more time together than macaroni & cheese…IMG_5987

So many fence posts…IMG_5974

And miles & miles of barbed wire…

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After years of crossing this creek on an earth bridge on an adjacent neighbor’s property, we finally built this timber bridge in Middle School…  Held up to the tractor, trailers, multiple trucks… But time inevitably wins…

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The view from the very back of our property (almost)…  The three trees that standout on the horizon shaded the house nicely…

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The Point…  As in the very tip of where our 20 acres converged…  You can mostly see where the fence line was…

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Rear corner of the barn… AFTER a pine tree fell on it during Winter Storm Jonas (January 2016)…

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The old loft… where so many bales of peanut vines were tossed into & stored…

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The old stable where my favorite chore waited for me annually…

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The “front yard” where that Yellow Labrabeagle met his end…

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This was my grandfather’s tractor…  He passed away following a tragic freak accident that left him pinned under it…  The tractor itself is still ticking…  and may very well outlive all of us…

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My view… most every Saturday growing up…

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Aromatherapy…

Around late May each year, I drive a little bit out of my way in search of it… You see, while I live in the burbs of a small’ish metropolitan area… it really doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to get completely out of the city and into the country… and this is definitely a country thing.

For the first half of my life, I was completely oblivious to this.  Like, it just didn’t even register.  And then shortly after college, it started calling to me.  And so each May, I start the search.  Sometimes I get lucky and find it right along my drive to work.  And then sometimes, I have to take some detours to locate it.  Because depending on prices in any given year, it can be quite elusive.

And it has to be located early on, because the window is extremely small.  Mid to Late-September, depending on how the weather cooperates… that’s all you get…


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Apologies to those of you that read this far in thinking there was something more along the lines of the above photo…  I mean I can sort of understand…  My wife can spend hours in this store…  For me though, I get a headache just walking by the store in the mall…

So yeah…  This is not that kind of aromatherapy…  It took me until my late 20’s to realize it… And it took me on into my 40’s to put it into some kind of perspective…

So here it is…

My favorite smell in the world is the smell of peanut vines that have been freshly overturned in the field…


So I’ve blogged a good bit about those cows we raised when I was growing up…  Well, late spring through early fall, they’re pretty self-sustaining…  Grass grows, cows eat… Its the circle of life…

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Okay… okay… we sometimes had to plant some of the fescue, but seriously…  During the warm months… There wasn’t a whole lot of upkeep required.

The winter months however were a totally different story.  As it turns out, my dad was way ahead of his time…  He had this Uber-Green solution to keeping the cows fed during the winter months that would make your favorite tree-hugging friend proud… You see, my dad owned 20 acres of farm land, but the cows only needed a small fraction of that to do their thing.  The rest of it, he rented out to local farmers.

That’s right, I grew up on a farm, that we didn’t actually farm ourselves.  You’d be surprised how much farm land is “farmed” by someone other than the owner.  Nonetheless, we still had a regular churn of corn, cotton, & soy beans on our land.  But the one stipulation was always this…  At least one of our fields had to have peanuts planted on it.

Because as it turns out, cows are crazy about peanut vines…  So after the “farmer” came through & stripped all the peanuts from the vine, the vines are left in the field discarded.  That’s not the money end of the crop…

Enter the Uber-Green solution…  My dad had the vines baled up and stored as winter feed for the cows…  That sounds really simple, but oh my… There’s so much more…


Possibly my favorite childhood memory of all time was the annual harvesting of the peanut bales.  I’m still not quite sure why that is, but I have a few guesses.  For starters, there were rare opportunities when I was young to stay up late & hang out outside after dark.  But the task of moving bales from the field to the barn took all evening and usually well into the night.  So that’s just a super fun thing in & of itself as a young boy…

But more than that… Dragging all those bales around & tossing them into the barn loft required some manpower.  That usually meant that my brothers-in-law came in to help out.  Given that I had no brothers growing up, that was always a treat.  And if not them, it was other men that were friends of the family.

When I was younger, the whole event was just open play time for me…  Jumping on & off the tractor… the trailer… the loft…  Climbing all over the bales…  As I got older, I became more involved…  Dragging bales around in the loft… Driving the tractor… Eventually, tossing bales into the trailer or into the loft…  It was some difficult work at times… But still…  It was just the absolute best thing ever…


I’ve come to understand over the last decade or so, that the Kingdom of Heaven is always calling to us… Ezekiel tells us that God gives us each a new heart and along with it, an imprint of Heaven… So my natural conclusion is this… If something makes my heart leap with joy, PAY ATTENTION!!!…  Because that something is probably of the Kingdom…

If that’s not making any sense for you, perhaps C.S. Lewis said it better like this…

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”


There was something about that night every year…  Just the men in my family & sometimes their closest friends… working together towards a common goal…  There’s something about this that echoes of the Kingdom of Heaven…  Of this, I’m thoroughly convinced…  And that smell is my closest remembrance of it…

And so… every spring, I go in search of those fields in my area that have peanuts planted on them.  All so that somewhere during late-September, I can drive by the field after its been overturned… And with the windows down… Breathe in deeply…

The Age of Adaline

Exactly one year ago today and at about this exact moment, 1:42pm, I was hanging a picture in our Living Room when it happened.  Life as we knew it thrown upside down…  Baxter was gone…  R~ had witnessed the entire thing play out in front of her 9 year old eyes…  I’d go on, but I’ve already captured that story once before and to be honest… its just too painful.

So for today… Happier thoughts…  The following is a republishing of a Facebook note from early last summer.

B-waxy…  I miss you bud!…


It’s been just over 4 LONG, GRUELING, & PAINFUL months since Baxter died. If we’re new friends or if we’re old friends & you just happened to have no internet access in the month of February, I wrote a lot about Baxter back then. You can catch up by starting with Part 1 and continuing on from there if you like.  It’s raw & its uncensored & it didn’t quite go the way I thought it would when I started writing, but… such is life… Raw, uncensored, & rarely going the way you thought it would. Nonetheless, I recovered some pieces of me in the process & I quickened my resolve to fight for my family’s hearts in the wake of tragedy.

So how’s that working out you ask? Well, I doubt they’ll be making a Disney movie about it… We have all dealt with the loss of Baxter in our own ways. But I think common for all of us is that everything has just felt magnified… Every emotion… Every reaction… Every social interaction… Every high… Every low… Just way too intense… Much weightier than it should be… And that’s made it hard on those around us I think. People tend to like easy… People tend to like uncomplicated… And we have all been anything but easy & uncomplicated lately.

Part of me wants to apologize for that… for all of us… But then I realize that no apology is necessary. What is necessary is recognition & gratitude… Recognition for those that don’t shy away from the uneasy or the complicated. And we are eternally grateful for them in this moment of darkness we’ve had to endure. You folks that encouraged & kept checking in & persevered through walls of insecurity… You’re the heroes here and I can’t thank you enough!


They were born on April 1st, 2016… April Fools’ Day… I started my current job back on an April Fools’ Day a few years back… Since God made man in his own image, I don’t feel bad at all that I tend to have a very dry & somewhat off sense of humor. Clearly he does…

They were born a litter of four… Clove, Cedar, Cashmere, & Cressida… All girls… Did I mention that sense of humor yet? Anyway… here’s all the cuteness…

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R~ nearly came out of her skin when she found out they were finally born. She’d been counting down since the day she found out Belle & Dickens were… um… expecting… Sidebar: That whole birds & bees discussion became unavoidable as a result… But I digress…

After they were born, it became all about pictures… And once we had the initial pictures, she wanted to see their faces after their eyes were open. And after that… the Name Game started. Literally from mid-April until the day we picked her up, every other conversation with R~ was about the name. She researched & googled & polled complete strangers.. And LISTS… She made lists… Many lists of potential names… And the final week before we were to pick her up, you’d have thought she was a momma bird in the nesting phase… She took inventory of everything we had saved from Baxter, but some things wouldn’t do for a girl… So we had to go shopping… multiple times, before we got everything on the list… Finally though, the day came!..

We didn’t have the first pick of the litter with Baxter. The litter back then was down to just two boys. And Baxter chose us, so it wasn’t all that difficult. But now we had four to choose from & they were all perfect in their own way. We thought we had it sort of figured out based on the pictures, but that pretty much went out the window once we got there.

So we played… & we played… & we played with them for about an hour… and we weren’t making much progress. They’d just been to the vet the prior week for their initial shots and they found out one of them had an umbilical hernia. It was really hard to tell which one because they moved so fast & looked so similar, but I was convinced that was NOT THE ONE we wanted.

I could imagine this scenario where that puppy could develop a complication & ultimately wouldn’t make it. We had a family friend with a similar story about a kitten that didn’t survive and I WOULD NOT expose my family to that… Nope… Not on my guard…
Of course, then I realized that the one we were finally zeroing in on was, you guessed it, the one with the umbilical hernia. Somewhere deep inside, that little voice spoke up… “This dog needs healing…” Well okay, yeah… That’s sort of obvious… “Your family needs healing…” BUSTED… I was completely undone…


There would be no inside jokes with the naming of this one… Named Adaline, because of the movie that my wife fell in love with this breed of dog… Middle name Harper, because we rock like that at creating names that flow well… A by-product of having a run-on First & Middle name myself…

And she is a much different dog from Baxter. Smarter because she is female… at least that’s what my family tells me… So house breaking has been a breeze… Hardly an accident to even count. But she’s also smart enough to figure out that if she whines in her crate long enough at night, we’ll eventually cave & take her out… That sleeping through the night thing is still a work in progress. But regardless of the differences, she’s all ours…


EPILOGUE

R~ & I had a chance to do some hiking & rock climbing over Memorial Day Weekend. She LOVED it!… Like she’d found some piece of herself out there or something… That type of LOVED it!…

BUT IT WAS ALMOST ERASED BEFORE IT EVEN STARTED… Catawba Falls is a neat attraction that draws lots of people from nearby Asheville. And many bring their dogs & make a day out of it. In fact, we had multiple conversations about how Addie would not have liked this hike. Too strenuous for a little puppy & we’d have had to carry her the whole way.

R~ spent most of the hike leading me by 10-15 feet… so much in her happy place. About 20 minutes into the hike, we approached a blind corner in the trail. And next thing I know, two fairly large dogs are bounding around the corner, chasing each other off leash. In a FLASH, R~ was behind me & shaking like a leaf. The dogs ran right by us like we didn’t even exist. Their owners appearing around the corner in the next instance. Just two dogs having a romp… nothing more…

R~ was frozen for a few moments, no doubt re-living the entire experience from the day Baxter died. For a moment there, I wasn’t sure but what our day wasn’t over at that point. But we talked about it for a good bit the rest of the way up the trail. Still reminding her… “Its not your fault”. She shook off the cloud over her much faster than I expected and was back in pure delight by the time the rock climbing started.

In truth, part of me wishes that four months + constant affirmation + new puppy = healed R~. But shortcuts in healing rarely work to the advantage of the wounded. So we persevere and continue the fight because that’s what we do for the ones we love.

Saturday Morning Cartoons

I have a hard time convincing my children now that once upon a time, kids had to get all of their cartoon swag on between the hours of 8am & 12pm on Saturday Mornings…  and that was IT!… I mean sure, there were some occasional afternoon cartoons, but they were largely re-runs you’d seen before a hundred times.  In the days before Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, etc…  All the best cartoons were on Saturday mornings…  And this was long before Al Gore invented The Internets and even longer before the advent of streaming on-demand anything…  Times were simpler then…  Kids needed not have an anxiety attack over which cartoon to watch & when…  There were three stations & a 4-hour window of time… and it did not yield to anyone

That last part used to make me so mad on a weekly basis…  Because where I grew up, there were always lots & lots of chores to get done on a Saturday… and that usually meant I’d miss most or all of my cartoons.  Oh sure… I’d try to drag out breakfast as long as possible… But inevitably, there was a barbed wire fence to mend… or a field to plow… or a barn roof to repair… or any number of other things that come up on a small farm and they would not wait!…  At least that’s what my dad told me…  And so the cartoons all too often had to…


At roughly the turn of the century, The Industrial Revolution forever changed the American family.  More specifically, it radically changed the relationship between fathers & sons.  For most of human history, sons grew up working side by side with their fathers on a daily basis, for the good of the family.  They learned multiple crafts & disciplines working at their father’s side, but more importantly, they learned about manhood.  They learned what it took to be a man and eventually, they developed not only the necessary skills, but also the confidence in themselves that manhood required.

But the Industrial Revolution ended a lot of that natural progression for boys in the 20th century.  For the first time in human history, and in quite large numbers, fathers left home to go work at the factory or the mill in pursuit of a better life for their families.  It was a noble effort… and one that has brought about most of the creature comforts we enjoy in today’s modern world.  But the impact on each generation since cannot be underscored.  And it has compounded over the years until today, where as a society… we can no longer even agree on what manhood should even mean…


So like I said…  Saturday morning was chore day at my house.  And if the chores were all done, there were always small projects to complete.  It was so bad that friend of mine just knew… Sleepovers on Saturday Nights were gravy…  Sleepovers on Friday Nights?…

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Danger Will Robinson!… If you slept over at my house on a Friday Night, you were getting sucked into whatever chores or projects Saturday had in store…  And no one got a pass!…

I whined & complained about this INCESSANTLY!!!…  in my own head that is…  Because if I had ever voiced any of these concerns out loud, I would have woken up in the following week… as I should have…


I kind of doubt that it was intentional on his part, but at the same time… I should’ve given him far more credit for this & much sooner than I actually did.  Because the simple fact of the matter is that those Saturday mornings were the best “fathering” moments of my entire life.  Dad worked a lot of hours Monday through Friday, but Saturdays?…  That was our time… I wish I’d understood this better at the time…

Most every significant “manhood” skill that I ever learned, I learned on one of those Saturday mornings.  Straightening bent nails led to driving straight nails, which led to building a shed or siding a barn…  So building a deck onto my house later in life…  That was actually a joy for me to build and secretly a huge source of pride…  Plowing a field, led to driving a truck and mastering a stick shift… which is becoming a lost art form…  Fired my first rifle… my first shotgun…  both on a Saturday… And now, I can pick off boyfriends at 100yds without hesitation…  Build or repair a septic system?… Plant a garden?… Wire a house circuit?… Okay, actually that last one was all me, but here’s why…


In the early years, I was just the helper… Go get me this… Go get me that…  Hold this board… and so on… For the most part, it was just the two of us working together…  Somewhere around age 10 or so, we developed this unspoken game where I tried to anticipate what tool or thing he would need before he would ask for it… Oh my word, I can’t even describe the thrill I would feel when I anticipated correctly & handed him the tool/thing as he was in the process of asking for it…  To pull that off… I had to assess the situation, understand what was happening, see where the work was going, foresee where the potential issues were, and act in advance of the need to make the job more successful…  It’s no wonder that I ended up becoming an Engineer as a career choice…  I was solving problems & improving processes before I ever reached middle school.  Then at some point late in high school, he’d actually start asking my opinion on how to approach some jobs we were engaged with…  It was a huge boost of confidence for me going into college… And confidence was something I needed in droves at that point in life…


So yeah… wiring the house circuit?… That was all EE101…  But I never would’ve been in those Electrical Engineering classes in college without missing  those Saturday Morning cartoons…

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

I really didn’t mean to do it…  For reals people… It was a total accident…  I mean, we had been playing this song for two weeks already…  And I’d been flawless in rehearsals, sound checks, & three live services the Sunday before…  But it still happened…


A few times a year, we invite the kids in our church to join us in the “big service” to lead the congregation in a few songs of worship.  And they get the full grown-up backing band just like all the contestants used to get on American Idol.  It’s honestly an adorable moment most of the time…  The parents show up early, sit all the way up front, & pretty much eat up every minute of it.  And the kids absolutely love it!… One of my favorite memories ever is from a few years ago, when my youngest snuck back around after the kids were supposed to start exiting the stage and gave me a big hug…

Yes indeed…  It’s a grand ole’ time had by all…  Until the day that green guy showed up.


It was the 8:30am service and I was supposed to kick off Song #1 with a punchy U2 inspired lick that would set the stage for the kids.  They had been practicing this for weeks & would be cueing off of this lick so they’d know where to start singing.  It really was a good plan…

What happened next is still a mystery to me…  I fretted the chord shape as I had every other time & struck the strings with all the confidence of a veteran player at this thing.  What came out however was the most atonal, unrecognizable arrangements of notes possibly ever heard by the human ear.  I’m pretty sure it looked or sounded something like this to the parents, but honestly, there was no way I was making eye contact to verify…

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I can’t accurately describe the levels of hell that my perfectionist heart sank to in that particular moment…  But I’m now convinced that Dante left out a few…

Over the next several split-seconds, here’s the run down of what my brain managed to process…

  1. What the heck just happened?
  2. Do I remember the actual correct notes to play & can I find them?
  3. Where can I hide at the end of the service?

Somehow… In all of that, I found my footing by end of the next measure & gave the kids just enough lead in so that even greater catastrophe was averted.  After I eventually crawled out from under the rock I found, I reflected on some advice that a wise old musician had bestowed upon me…


PRACTICE YOUR MISTAKES!!!!!

Wait…What did he just say?!?!?…

Yes my friends… As much as we practice to prevent making mistakes, it’s also important to practice them…  I realize that this may sound like something Yoda would say, so explain it I will…

In your preparation for serving on any given Sunday, you should definitely practice your parts in such a way that it leads to making fewer mistakes.  However, at some point…  usually late in the week of preparation (ie. between Rehearsal & Sunday Morning)… its important to start practicing your mistakes as well…  What I mean by that is, as you run through the music, if you make a mistake… KEEPING PLAYING…  Do not stop, rewind, & try again mid-song…  Play through it, all the way to the end…  THEN start the song over again from the beginning & try to eliminate the mistake on the 2nd take.

Why is this important?  Well, when you make a mistake live, a number of things happen internally… I’m talking now about the adrenaline surge you’re probably going to feel.  There is no rewind button when you go live…  All you can do is go forward…  So you need to learn how to manage through that stress at home or it could lead even more mistakes in a live setting.  Creating a little internal pressure by telling yourself up front that you’re going to “practice this like its live”, just adds to the “realness” of the experience.

Practice this often enough & you’ll be able to manage the live miscues without too much trouble.  And if not, take heart…  Studies show that 80% of the time, the congregation doesn’t even know when you’ve messed up…  Unless its Christmas & the kids are singing…

Who is Negan?

Just in case you’re among the 30% of Americans that are not completely caught up with The Walking Dead… You may want to skip this entry & come back to it.  But if you’re at least through Season 6, I’ll try to tip toe delicately here without giving away any Season 7 spoilers…

And with that out of the way… “Who is Negan?” was a big theme for much of Season 6…  In short, Negan is the BIGGEST of BIG BADS that Rick Grimes’ merry band of survivors has ever faced in the Zombie Apocalypse.  He’s possibly the best villain captured on film since Darth Vader… And that’s saying something for me because Star Wars is near & dear to my heart.

I suppose for the 1% of you that may not be Walking Dead fans, I should back up & give you some context here.  Negan is a 100% Grade “A” NARCISSIST… He is the leader of an extremely violent group of survivors known ironically as The Saviors. And by leader, I really mean brutal dictator.  The guy takes other men’s wives, makes them his own, & flaunts it back in the former husband’s faces.  And those are the people within his own group!  He forces people to kneel to him as a show of submission.  He walks around with a bat covered in barbed wire name Lucille and uses it to intimidate & if necessary, prove a point… or perhaps just reinforce one.  “She’s a vampire bat… And she is thirsty…” he proclaims shortly after bashing in the skull of one unfortunate soul.

But what makes Negan such a great villain is that he’s SO CHARISMATIC.  At times, he can seem downright charming, but do not be fooled because he is also a MASTER MANIPULATOR…  He’ll flash you that winning smile to draw you in today… and then feed you straight to the wolves tomorrow…  if it serves his purposes…

So add all that up and combine it with the one final characteristic…  He’s COMPLETELY convinced that he’s right in doing the things he does.  And from a certain perspective, maybe he is…  He has managed to “save” a large number of people  from likely death and in doing so, has grown the largest group of survivors we’ve yet to encounter in the universe of The Walking Dead.  If you were on your last legs when he found you, you really might think of him as a savior…


While Negan makes for a compelling villain on the big screen, he & his kind can make life quite hellish for others in real life.  It’s been almost 10 years since I ran into my own personal Negan…  And just like Rick Grimes’ group, I was totally unprepared for it. But the similarities go even deeper than that…  Like Rick, I too made some very wrong assumptions about Negan…  Like assuming that adults can agree to disagree without resorting to cheap power plays.  Like assuming people in positions of authority & leadership are worthy of those positions.  And just like on the show, Negan was completely convinced he was right & justified in the way he dealt with me & many others.  He played the manipulation game as well as anyone I’ve ever encountered & as a result, he had a huge “following”, most of whom weren’t even aware of the evil happening right under their noses.

And that brings us to the crux of this blog post… Sooner or later in life, we ALL run into a Negan.  In my case, I didn’t recognize the signs at the time and I paid a price for it.  If I can accomplish anything here, its that I could spare someone else the same pain & suffering.


I’ve just finished reading a great book by Donald Miller called Scary Close and it parallels nicely with this particular topic.  Its all about relationships… healthy ones & otherwise…  In the middle of the book, Don identifies Five Categories of Manipulation and as it relates to this post these are all excellent tools to help recognize when you may have a Negan operating in your midst…

  1. The Scorekeeper… “A Scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win.  Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way that they’re winning.”
  2. The Judge… “A Judge strongly believes in right and wrong, which is great, but they also believe they are the ones who decide right and wrong and lord it over others to maintain authority and power.  Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around”
  3. The False Hero… “The False Hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do…  You might be dealing with a False Hero when the future they’re describing seems too good to be true.”
  4. The Fearmonger… “Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination.  The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell.  Fearmongers manipulate by making people believe they are strong.  They are never willing to be vulnerable for fear of being perceived as weak.”
  5. The Flopper… “A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention.  Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can.  This is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation.  In order to be a victim, a person needs an oppressor.”  Hang around a Flopper long enough & that will inevitably become you.

If you start paying closer attention to those you interact with, you’ll find subtle hints of all 5 Types in just about everyone… including YOU!… But with a Negan, there is nothing subtle about it.  Negans are some blend of all 5 Types, but almost always lean most heavily on Fearmongering, Judging, & Scorekeeping as their “go to” forms of manipulation.  If I’d picked up on even one of these traits, I could’ve saved myself and my family a lot of heartache.

So identifying that you’re dealing with a Negan is one thing…  But even if you get that far, you may feel that you can help them see the light…  Help them overcome their tendencies & transform into a healthier version of themselves…  Don offers us some sound advice about dealing with this type of person…

“The harshest people I’ve met over the years have had two things in common:  they don’t fully trust anybody, and they view relationships as a means to an end.”

“You will never have a healthy relationship with a deceptive or manipulative person.”

The reality is… You can’t fix Negan…  And its not your responsibility to do so…  A good friend of mine shared this advice with me a few years ago & its stuck with me ever since…

“We must at all times remember it is not our job to institute change in another’s life, but to be the bringer of good news. Conviction and change is the role of the Holy Spirit. Failure of change is not a lack of the gospel or a condemnation of us, but the indication of the heart of another not yet ready for the movement into abundant transformation.”

So if you can’t help Negan see the error of his ways, what can you do?  In some cases, you may feel a sense of obligation to confront Negan & his manipulations head on…  If you do, you better apply some of the lessons Rick Grimes group had to learn the hard way…  You will need allies… And LOTS OF THEM!…  You’ll also need to recognize that the cost of doing so will almost always be more than you could have ever anticipated…


I hope this somehow helps you & yours…  And if you’re looking for some new reading material, I highly recommend Don’s book.

And for what its worth… the fate of Negan on the show remains unknown.  In the comics the show is based on though, Negan’s ego eventually gets the best of him… And while it took quite a few years to play out, the same was true for my Negan as well…  #karma

Dynamics in Worship

Folks…  This is Adaline…  She’s a 7 month old King Charles Spaniel… And she has two speeds…

This is one of them…

kcspaniel-fast

Okay, thankfully… that’s not actually Adaline, but instead her stunt double…

But this really is her… And this is her other speed…

addie-sleeping

Cuteness aside… There’s a valuable lesson Adaline can teach us here…  You see, musicians on worship teams can frequently get stuck playing in two speeds as well…  Either wide open/all in… Or not at all…  And that my friends doesn’t make for very dynamic worship.

So how do we get out of the puppy trap and play with the gusto that worship deserves?…  Well… There’s lots of good material out there but just for the sake of time…  Here’s the Cliff Notes version of tips I’ve accumulated over the years…

Oh wait… My oldest keeps reminding me that no one under the age of 35 knows what those are…  Well… before the internet existed, high school students had to be more creative about how to NOT read the great works of literature, yet still pass the quiz…  But I digress… (just Google it…)

  1. As you first listen to a new song you’ve been tasked with playing, focus first on the big picture dynamics.  Think of it like one of those political debate trackers that shows audience approval in real-time… (and that’s about all the politics you’ll get from this blog)…  Where in the track is it subtle & quiet?  Where does it build or swell?  Are there hard stops?  Are there ringing whole notes?  Plot this all on your debate tracker & let this be your overall guide.
  2. Now listen a second time & really focus in on your particular instrument.  Are there times when the instrument deviates from the “big picture” in Step 1?  It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen occasionally.  Youtube tutorials can help some here, but be careful about drawing a lot of conclusions about dynamics from an isolated instrument recording.  They sometimes miss the “big picture” in an effort to teach the part.
  3. Volume…  It seems too obvious right?… But there’s a lot of ways to adjust volume.  At the “Easy Button” end of the scale, you have the Volume Pedal… Then there’s your picking technique…  Developing some nuance there can go a long way…  And don’t forget about Right Hand Muting… Mix in some combination of all these techniques & you’re ready to roll…
  4. Be wary of your Overdrives…  Searing lead tones generally don’t go over well in those quieter / introspective moments during worship…  Personally, I like to use 3 OD’s…  a Light OD, a Medium OD, and a Lead OD…  Including the amp, which I set up right on the verge of breakup, that gives me 7 different options to match my Overall OD Level to the dynamics of the song.
  5. Effects… Same warning as the Overdrives… Too much at the wrong time… Not good…
  6. Harlan Howard famously quipped that “…all you needed was three chords & the truth…”  But sometimes you’ll see the same chord progression through an entire song.  So how do you create dynamics in that situation?  Well, there’s a number of ways to play a I – V – vi – V progression…  If you like to stay on the straight time…  varying between quarters, eighths, & sixteenths during different sections of the song can create some dynamics that don’t otherwise exist.  Or you can lay it back a bit…  Find more or a groove…

This isn’t an all inclusive list by any means, but hopefully it gets you thinking more about dynamics in worship and the role you can play in helping to develop it.

That Damn Wardrobe…

Once upon a time…  We lived in the most magical place…  And it was called Community…

No… I’m not talking about the same thing our friend Webster describes.  That is a pale imitation of what I’m talking about…

And I’m also not talking about that TV show starring Joel McHale… Although that Community was great in a totally different way…

I’m talking about something totally  OTHER here… It’s really hard to define, so let me just give you some examples…

Community is BACK DECK time…  It looks a little different in each season…  Currently, we’re deep into Fire-pit Season for instance…  But some common threads never change…  Relaxing with your closest friends… Unwinding about your week with people that know your heart & your soul…  Losing track of time & finding the kids passed out in the playroom…

Community is having a medical emergency that sidelines one of you in the hospital for a few weeks and your kids think it’s the greatest thing in the world… Because from their point of view, it just looks like endless sleepovers with their besties…

Community is crashing your friends house at 10pm… in your PJ’s…  Because you were both bored & couldn’t sleep…

Community is knowing each other deeply & being known deeply… And choosing to overlook the faults & flaws and love each other anyway…

Community is having mentors that so easily seem to guide you along the most difficult paths of life. Community is having younger people that you have earned the privilege to mentor yourself, even though you doubt your own worthiness to do so.

Community is encouraging each other as we run this race… Be it about work or parenting or dreams or faith…  It’s equal parts building each other up YET ALSO KNOWING that “fixing” isn’t always the priority, but instead simply sitting in the struggle together is what is needed…

Once upon a time lasted about 4 years for us the first time…  3 years the second time…  And life has been almost intolerable outside of those periods ever since…


I was recently sharing some of these thoughts with a new friend & he said… “It was like you were living in Narnia…  and now you’re not…”

Holy Cow Batman!…  That guy just crushed it and barely even knows me!  I mean, honestly… That’s about the most accurate description of how life felt both at the time & ever since.  Life in Deep Community felt like about the closest thing to Eden we get to enjoy on this side of the divide.

And all the moments in between and since, feels JUST LIKE the Penvensie children did trapped here in the “real world”.  Having had a taste of Narnia, the children were unable to accept life “as we know it” here.


Once Upon a Time… Or Narnia as it should be known… Fell apart both times for multiple reasons.  Someone moves… something tragic occurs or nearly occurs…  And The Ring is broken… No wait, that’s Tolkien, not C.S. Lewis… Anyway, things happen an POOF… Narnia is gone.

And I have been so angry about that at some level…  On some level, I’ve cursed at that Wardrobe for ever letting me in… And I’ve cursed at that Wardrobe for kicking me out… And I’ve cursed at that Wardrobe for not letting me back in…  I’m not proud about any of that… Just being honest…

Being in Narnia felt as right as anything has ever felt right in my entire life.  It was life as close to as it was meant to be as we’ll ever experience here on Earth.


So where dear reader does that leave us?…  Well…  I’m a far better person for ever having been to Narnia…  That needs to be recognized.  Also, it has left me with a deep longing that has been positive in two ways…  1)  I have a much greater appreciation of the times I do get with my friends from Narnia.  Its not much time these days, but when we can make it happen, we drink it in deeply.  2)  I’m resolved to fight for it.  While so many circumstances have shifted since our time in Narnia, I know what is at stake.  We are not meant to run this race alone.  In fact, we are opposed in so many ways, its nearly impossible to do so alone.  And so we fight to find our fellow Narnians here in this world.


Just one more thing…  Narnia wasn’t meant to be the final destination…  Perhaps that is why it has proved to be so elusive over the years…

At the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep leaves Narnia & enters Aslan’s Country…

dawn-treader-reepicheep-sails-to-aslans-country

You see, there is a place even better than Narnia…  And The King is far too kind to allow us to settle for anything less…

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