Archives For Reflection

This morning I stepped outside and looked out at my back yard.  The coffee was just right and I decided to take a stroll around the yard.

I stepped into the grass and my foot became engulfed with dew.

Those steps became a reminder of my summers when I was young.  I was blessed to move at the age of 8 across town in Kansas City to a little nine-hole golf course.  It was there that I spent most of my summer mornings waking up early and hitting the dew soaked tee-box to begin a fun round of golf with my neighborhood friends.  We were blessed with one of the finest junior golf programs in the city and it was in those years that I fell in love with the game.

Occasionally none of my friends could play so I would join a group of retired gentlemen.  These men loved having a “youngster” join them to play.  They played a relaxed pace but still kept score and honored each stroke with patience and routine, while paying close attention to the rules.  They kept accurate score, called penalties on themselves, and would laugh and talk about all sorts of things in life.  Most importantly, they took the time to invest in me by teaching etiquette and that golf is a great game to play by yourself for a challenge.  With that, they taught me by example that relationships you can develop in a golf-foursome are invaluable.  Last, watching these gentlemen play showed me that the game was a sport that could be played until they day I die. Even at the age of 8, it was clear to me that this game would never go away.

I’m pretty sure I became a morning person because of the game of golf.  This is why I’m writing this now in the wee hours.  I don’t play much golf anymore since I have a young family and my mornings are spent clowning around with them.  My kids will soon be spending their summers at sports and other craft camps so it will be interesting what connects with them.   Their stories will be written in the next few years and I can’t wait to read them.

The circle of life continues…

Tell me your favorite summer sports story when you were young! What did you learn from it? 

Who hasn’t asked this question,“Will they remember me when I’m gone?”

The question haunts all of us.  I often feel like I am surrounded by people constantly bothered by that question so they are frightened and fighting incredibly hard for relevance.  I am one of them I must confess.  The question implies that we should have “worth” if we are to be remembered.  There is great truth to that feeling.

When watching the movie Troy (2004), the cheesiest line but perhaps the most important one is the war call from Achilles,

“Do you know what’s there, waiting beyond that beach? Immortality, take it, it’s yours!”

Achilles knows well that the battle he fights is not about that day but for ages to be told.  Odysseus in the movie goes further,

 “Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves: will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?”-Odysseus

*Disclaimer folks, these are great sensationalized Hollywood lines and not pulled from Homer’s The Odyssey. Be nice to me because we can still learn from them. 

My father recently took our family to go visit our grandfather’s tombstone at Jefferson Barracks outside of St. Louis.  It was Memorial Day so we were honoring his life and service for our country.  It is safe to say that hundreds of years from now that tombstone will continue to be there.  I’m sure my grandfather would be proud knowing that we continue to visit his grave to remember his sacrifice.  I imagine also that my other deceased relatives appreciate us remembering their lives.

There is a deeper part of this question we must examine.  It isn’t just being remembered on a tombstone, a memorial, or in a biography.

It hit me about 10 years ago when I was a Young Life leader and I was talking to one of my students who just accepted Christ.  He told me, “Chi Chi (my nickname), I just love that my name is now written in God’s book.”  I learned more from him about eternity than a thousand theologians.  This Psalm sums it up,

“your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

We may be haunted by the vastness of eternity but be confident that according to this above promise, we are written permanently into His book. 

Lately I have been thinking about one of my favorite questions to ask people.

“What was your first live music show?”

I love asking that question to people and hearing awesome stories from someone’s first show.   I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s so I usually hear the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Poison, INXS, Def Leppard, NKOTB, etc.  Occasionally I meet someone like my great friend Josh Lang whom I think said his first show was Bob Dylan, which is unbelievably golden.  There are also people whose unfortunate first exposure to live music was Color Me Bad or RATT.  I’m surprised the Department of Children’s Services didn’t take those poor kids away from their parents.

And me…

Well my first live show that I can remember was the great Paul Simon.  My mom took my sister and I to see him at Starlight Amphitheatre in Kansas City.   It was Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints Tour in 1991.   I think all summer my parents were playing that album along with Graceland, which to this day I still listen every few months.  I remember the amazing African drums, the bass vocalist singing The Obvious Child, and all three of us singing the Born at the Right Time together out loud.  My sister and I were hooked.  Looking back, I am surprised that was the first show since my parents were big folk music fans and thought it would be something more like The Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul and Mary.  But thank you mom because I feel that I can share that story with great joy.  Paul Simon is one to be proud of when answering that question.

The question is more important than ever now that I am a parent.

My daughters are growing up and I want them to be able to answer this question in the future with great confidence.  Okay basically I want them to acknowledge that their parents were really cool, right?  Is that wrong?  I need to be careful because whatever artist my wife and I may be into at the moment might not stand the test of time.  So in these next 10 years, I’ll be sure to report in what that first show will be.  But I will still love my kids if their first live music show is that year’s version of Hanson or Bieber.

So…what was your first live music show?

Be Ferris Bueller

May 18, 2011 — 9 Comments

Lately I’ve been thinking about one of the finest and most amusing movies to come out of the 1980’s.  I wish I could give the director John Hughes a big hug for the movies he wrote and directed during that period  But the one that always makes me smile the most is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Who else growing up didn’t want to be Ferris Bueller?  

He has great friends with cool names like Cameron and Sloane.  He gets the girl.  He wears a classic beret  driving a vintage 1961 Ferrari  250 GT California.  He knows the city of Chicago inside and out.  I’m from St. Louis and would even consider naming my son “Ferris”, one of the finest Chicago names of course.  He is pure awesome.

Here is what we all can learn from Ferris.

1.  Be spontaneous: High school,  like our lives can provide a sense of monotony full with meeting everyone elses expectations.  Sure, it is important to go to school, work, and go through your routine.  They are all noble things.  But from my experience there is nothing better than a good spontaneous adventure.  Wherever you live, wake up one day with your family, friend or loved one and just do something totally outside of what feels “normal.”  I’m not advocating stealing a Ferrari or skipping school but you get the idea. Odds are there are some amazing things to do where you live so go for it.  “Save Ferris.”

2.  Avoid the Dean Rooneys: Dean Rooney represents the crazy person in your life who thinks they know everything about anything and feels the need to go out of their way to tell you that you aren’t doing something right.  He is the Pharisee judging us and preventing us from living life to its fullest.  They may do this in good intention but a pure legalist gives you no room for joy. Oh and also don’t let a French cuisine Matre D’ stop you from having a good time either.

3.  Appreciate the finer things:  Yes, even a 17-year-old Ferris with his friends visited an art museum and ate at a nice French restaurant.  Unfortunately, we are in a media culture full of so many “entertainment” distractions.  Slow down your pace and read some classic literature and visit that free museum.  Next time you just want to eat a burger and fries, go wild and try some new international cuisine.  None of these things have to be expensive either so be creative.

4.  Drive a Ferrari with great friends: Ferris would never go on an adventure alone.  Many people unfortunately view themselves as an “island” especially men.   Not Ferris. He saw life as an adventure to be shared.  Plus, think of how you can help the “Camerons” in your life get out of their shell.

5.  Join a parade.  In Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he describes how his friend Bob Goff would arrange for flash parades on his street.  How cool is that?  Why not join one?   You can sing Twist & Shout, Danke Schoen, or whatever else floats your boat.  Just get out there and be a little crazy.

Bonus: If you can help some kid get out of summer school, he or she will be eternally grateful and you’ll never be without friends.

Last but not least, our friend Charlie Sheen delivers his most #winning performance of his career in the movie.  Don’t miss it.

I could go on and on with the  lessons I’m learning from Ferris even as an adult but I’ll leave you with his wisdom.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. -Ferris

What do you love and learn most about Ferris?

Sometimes in life we are blessed to witness greatness.  I remember 10 years ago this month I had the privilege
of being part of a feat that few have accomplished.

Have you ever met someone who ran a marathon a day for 2 months straight?

Well I did.

They all ask, “Why would someone in their right mind do that?”

Well I shall tell you about the great Neil Garrod.

First, a short history lesson.

In 1451, King James II of Scotland persuaded Pope Nicholas V to grant a bull authorizing Bishop Turnbull of Glasgow to start a university.  That act initiated what became Glasgow University.  Flash forward 550 years to 2001.  It was a goal of mine to graduate early from college so I could live and work abroad.  Scotland was a love of mine since visiting a few years earlier and I began preparing for what I could do there.  The possibilities were endless.  I secured a 6 month work visa, packed my bags and moved to Scotland on New Years Day.  I found a job doing finance research for Professor Neil Garrod who was dean of Glasgow’s faculty of law and financial studies.  Soon after working for him he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The conversation went something like this:

Dave: “You want me to do what with you?”

Neil: “Right, drive a camper van with me through Europe for a few months. I’m going to run from Rome to Glasgow.”

Dave: “What?  Wait…Why?!?”

Neil: “Because this is life. Let’s go.”

Dave: “Okay, why not?”

Neil was a serious marathon runner and wanted to find a unique way to celebrate the 550th Anniversary of the university.  He would run the possible path of  where the bull would travel from Rome to Glasgow.
It sounded exciting to me so I embarked on this journey with the British version of Forrest Gump.  I was in charge of driving the camper van so I flew to Belgium to pick it up.  It would take three days to drive down to Rome where the race began at St. Peter’s Square.  I drove through Belgium and made a quick stop to visit Bastogne.  Next, I drove to Dijon, France and then another leg across the Alps passing Mont Blanc and to Genoa, Italy, which rests on the Mediterranean Sea.  It got interesting when the camper van was broken into while I was away eating dinner.  My passport and a credit card were stolen but thank God they didn’t take my Credence tapes (Big Lebowski fans out there?).  I had to quickly repair the driver’s side window with plexiglass and limped my way down to Sienna where I would meet up with Neil Garrod and his family. I was exhausted from that experience so it felt like the ultimate retreat in Sienna.  There we would eat amazing Italian food, drink the best wine and enjoy conversation with people from all around the world.  I think Neil thought I handled the whole robbery situation with calm but the truth is I was freaking out in my head the entire drive from Genoa to Sienna.

On the day the run began in Rome I was able to receive a new passport from the American Embassy and was on my way.  The first few days were spent trying to escape the population centers and get to open road.  The most memorable days were running through Florence/Firenze and then through wine country (Chianti) when Neil ran about 50 km (over 30 miles) in one day.  We went through amazing towns like Sienna, Castellina in Chianti, Donato, Bologna, Firenze, and Aosta.  Somewhere along these roads I cracked the van’s rear bumper and broke yet another window running into the side of an extended gas station roof.  It’s amazing I still am given insurance to this day.

The daily routine would be to wake up at 6am, eat a big breakfast and Neil would run 5-7 miles.  We would stop, eat, and I would ice Neil’s knees.  Following that, Neil would do a couple of afternoon runs.  Every night we would finish it off with a bottle of wine and eat some of the most tasty pasta one would ever dream of.  The routine was difficult but incredibly rewarding.  Observing Neil and his discipline for running only motivated me to run with him. So I joined him most days and built up stamina to go 5-6 miles.  When we reached Aosta near the French border, I left the team and went back to America for my friend Heath’s wedding.  I handed off the baton to another young student who helped Neil finish the race to Glasgow.  It was sad to leave but Neil always made me feel part of the team.  I heard later that the day after Neil finished the 1500 mile run, he flew down to South Africa and ran a 100 mile, 2 days race.  To this day I’m convinced that he is not human.

I could write for days about the experience.  Neil kept an extensive diary during this trip and you can read it all here.

During the Mega-run I grew up a bit.  I made the effort to embrace adventure, took some risks, and understood how to lean on God when I was lost.  What changed me most of all was learning to embrace “spontaneous experiences” that God puts in front of me.  I had the choice to stay in Scotland but the Mega-run was definitely one of those experiences to seize.  Before moving to Scotland I wrote my bucket list and running a marathon was a priority item to attain.

The year after the run,  thanks to the inspiration of Neil Garrod, I finished my first marathon in Chicago.

Thanks Neil.

Be spontaneous my friends.  Chose your own adventure.  Ultimately it is God’s adventure in you.  

I’ve not met many people who do not absolutely love the spring season.

Have you?

Spring offers far superior hope compared to a New Year’s resolution.  It is beautiful.  Spring represents rebirth of God’s creation here on earth.  Color explodes.  We leave our homes and head outside.  The house is empty.  It is glorious.

This past weekend, my oldest daughter (turning three this week) and I journeyed into our yard admiring the daffodils while giggling and chasing the chipmunks.  Almost everything is new to my daughter.  Her sense of being “alive to nature” perked me up.  It was a wonderful weekend to venture out.  Reality set in and Monday came.  I had to head back to work knowing that I was going to be stuck in an office.  While driving into work I passed by a field of beautiful yellow daffodils.  I couldn’t help but remember this amazing scene from the movie Big Fish where Edward Bloom declares his love for his future wife amidst a sea of daffodils.

Big Fish is among my top 5 movies of all time.  Here is why.

It is about “living the dream.”

We throw that phrase around sarcastically much too often and it becomes a throw away line.  In life, we get stuck in the day to day reality so often that it hinders us from taking that odyssey or stepping into the sea of daffodils.  Now we need to acknowledge reality but not be tamed by it.  For Edward Bloom, the main character, it was about the drama of this adventure that he told so eloquently.  He even got lost in the stories but the spirit of adventure was always there.

“A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.”-Will Bloom (Edward’s son)

Life is the adventure.  Embrace it.  Live it.

Get. Out. There. Now.

Ignore the excuses because life is too short.  Whatever is holding you back, let go.  Find a way.  Ask for help.  God made you creative so you can do it.

A friend and author I work with Phil Cooke posted this recently on twitter/facebook:

“Bob Dylan couldn’t sing. Picasso wasn’t good with color. T.S. Eliot had a day job. That didn’t stop them. What’s stopping you?”

It is Spring.  It’s our chance.  Let’s run out into the daffodils, Big Fish style and dive in.

What’s stopping you? Who’s in?

Not long ago I attended a conference in Washington, D.C.  I love that city.  It is easy to be cynical about D.C. and see it as a town only full of politicians with lobbyist leeches there to influence them.  I admit that I have been one of the cynics in the past.  I want to change and here is why.  What I like about DC is the same reason I enjoy parts of Nashville, New York, or Los Angeles.  You will undoubtedly meet someone from another part of the world.  Often I am called a pied piper so whenever I encounter someone from another culture, I am drawn to them to learn about their story.

I don’t recall who said these poignant lines but it goes like this:

Americans love to spend time and energy trying to understand who they are.  They unfortunately spend so little time trying to understand who the world is.

My understanding became much clearer after I visited Washington DC and experienced the following:

Experience #1: At the conference, the thousands who attended share a similar political ideology.  One thing that was evident was their passion for the “idea of America” and it surpassed a specific political ideology.  Anyone with an open mind can respect that.  I am a moderate conservative but their zeal resonated with me.  My hope is that when the world looks at America, they see freedom as I witnessed at the conference.

Experience #2: I met a Scottish girl named Shona who is married to an American friend of mine, Nathan and has lived in the United States for the past couple years.  I had lived and worked in Scotland in 2001 so we had plenty to discuss including politics, British and American culture, music, food, etc.  I asked her what the current pulse of the British people was about America. She seemed to agree that it was very much like the quote above.  I have been reading Tony Blair’s A Journey which provides an insightful political perspective on Anglo-American relations the past couple decades. Shona, Nathan, and I discussed in detail how we need to be more alert than ever before about protecting freedom.  As Brits and Americans, it is a special responsibiltiy we bear.  While we have not mastered it, we need to be a beacon of freedom and lead.

Experience #3: I met Sam Solomon from Ethiopia.  Sam is a cab driver whom we spent an intriguing 45 minute ride from central Washington DC all the way to Dulles International Airport.  He lives here legally, is married, and has four children.  Sam wouldn’t stop smiling when talking about America. Sam said he still has family in Ethiopia but doesn’t see a reason to go back unless it is more free and things change. We discussed that not far from Ethiopia an uprising is happening in the Middle East driven primarily by citizens wanting a democratic process.  America has given Sam the opportunity to start a business, raise a family safely, and live free.  We all need to listen to the Sam Solomons living in America.

My lessons from these experiences:

Freedom and the democratic process is unmatched.

We should never stop seeking freedom or if necessary, fight for it.


Most of the nation has entered a freeze.  Blizzards have overtaken us in parts of the midwest and northeast.  Schools have closed. People are stuck and can’t move.

Yeah, I’m ready for spring just like you.

My father reminded me about my grandfather who fought (and was wounded) at The Battle of the Bulge.  This was the largest battle of World War II and was the Hitler’s last chance to save the war.  The allied victory sealed the German’s fate.  There were 80,987 official American casualties (19,000 dead) and the majority of them happened in the first three days of battle.  It was even worse for the Germans.

All of this happened in a deep European freeze.  The weather was much like what we are encountering this week. On top of that most of the troops didn’t have any of their winter gear so they were left with normal uniforms without gloves and other essentials.  Meanwhile, they were being attacked by hundreds of thousands.

You can read about the details of the battle here. You also get a good glimpse of the battle portrayed in movies like Battle of the Bulge (1965)Patton (1970), and the Bastogne episode of the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001).

When I hear people complain about the weather in the winter, I think about my grandfather Branch and the many others who endured this battle. It also makes me remember that our soldiers are currently fighting in weather like this in Afghanistan.

Remember who fought in the real cold for us.  We are free because of them.

Remember the Frostbite

The Circus Rollercoaster

January 28, 2011 — 8 Comments

A great friend from college called me this week.  We talk from time to time and he brought up how much life has changed since we lived in a house together in college.  We’ve each had difference paths with ups and downs.  He’s single and been trying to figure out his “vocation” at the moment.  I filled him in on how my wife and our two kids were doing.  Our family had recently been to the circus when it came through town.

If you haven’t been to the circus before then you should go just to see the amount of stressed out parents.  Yes, my wife and I were two of them.  Despite the chaos, it was so much fun. We smiled.  We laughed.  We ate snow cones out of animal-shaped cups.  We felt a little queasy.  The kids wanted to be held.  They ran in circles while we chased.  We were exhausted but what an unforgetable experience.

Our time at the circus reminded me of the film, Parenthood directed by Ron Howard and starred Steve Martin.  Pay close attention to this short exchange.

I think of that scene often because I relate so much to Steve Martin’s character.  I react. I freak out. I over-analyze.  I can be loud.  I blame others. I even run away like a Monty Python and the Holy Grail character.

In life we are not guaranteed perfection.  We strive to achieve some height we cannot attain here on earth.

© Amrita Skye Blaine, 2013 photo credit

“Then he (Jesus) said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must first deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NIV)

I’ve always been challenged by Jesus’ calling for us in life because ultimately he does not promise us an easy life but one filled with many challenges.  Ultimately there is “hope” by following him even when I feel the emotions of the circus or a rollercoaster.

As I thought about the circus and watched the rollercoaster scene again, they have become reminders…

-To lighten up.

-To laugh more.

-Keep going back to the circus and ride a rollercoaster

-That ultimately in life we will be fine.

Life is a Circus-Rollercoaster. It feels cliché but it’s true.

Enjoy the ride.

The Meaning of a Year

January 3, 2011 — 2 Comments

1492

1776

1861

1918

1941

1963

1968

2001

These all were important and memorable years in American History.  We remember some of the above because of tragedy and some because of triumph.  In some of those years, there was both.

2011 marks an important year.  Some see it as a dreaded 10th anniversary of terror and tragedy.

For me I choose to remember 2001 differently.  2001 was the year I remember embracing adulthood and moving to work in Scotland.  I took risks.  I became a Young Life Leader.  I was robbed.  One of my best friends got married.  One of my other great friends and I went on an amazing golfing roadtrip through the southeast.  When I finally began a “real” job that year, It became evident that the world was changing faster than ever before for me.  Looking back, it was an special year with many ups and downs.

It is important to remember the experiences, appreciate the fruit and learn from our years.

Today in 2011, I am hopeful.  I will experience  the date 11/11/11, make new friends, and spend more time with family.  I am enthused about my job as this is the most exciting time in publishing since Gutenberg invented the printing press.  I am even convinced that there will be hardships and mistakes.

In the end, we will triumph.

PS  Have hope because according to Back to the Future Part II, in just 4 years we’re supposed to be flying around in our cars.  Good Lord, help me.  My daughters will be 16 in no time.