Friday, October 31, 2008

He's Aliiiiiiive!

Up from the shrouded mists of the pumpkin patch he rises, grinning his near-toothless grin, his beady eyes blazing with fire. Filling all who choose to gaze upon his glowing countenance with... JOY!

That's right, it's Beady Bigmouth, the perky pumpkin who comes to life every Halloween to spread good cheer to children of all ages. Nobody knows exactly when this gleeful gourd first visited us, though it must have been around 15 years ago.

My daughter, Megan, was the first in our family to encounter the spritely squash. She has never related the details of that initial meeting so many Halloweens ago. But she came to me with a sketch. "Can you make a pumpkin like this?"

When I was finished, we smiled at his beady little eyes and cavernous mouth. "What shall we call him?" I asked.

"Beady Bigmouth," she replied. (Megan is a creative nicknamer, but with given names, she tends to focus on the obvious, e.g., her pink teddy bear, "Pinky.")

The response from trick-or-treaters was so overwhelming that we knew we had to bring Beady back to life every year. And we have, each time celebrating his return with the frankensteinian proclamation, "He's aliiiiiiive!"

While his countenance will change slightly each year (just like Micky Mouse has morphed a bit over time) — for example, this year he only has three teeth vs. four in the photo above — his infectious grin is always the same and brings a smile to all who see him.

So from my family to yours: Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just Braggin'

There's no particular message for this post; I'm just braggin'!

Check out the latest phone photo of Loretta Joy (Lori) Hernandez, doing her Tito Puente impression on those timbales... I mean plastic congas. Note the similarities between her smile and the smiley faces. Now that is one cute, happy baby! Oh, I'm sure she has her cranky moments, but most of the photos I've seen are like this.

The photo at the left is from a few weeks ago. She could get up on hands and knees but hadn't figured out the hand and leg thing. So she'd just sort of worm her way along, like the seals at Ano Nuevo (now there's an unflattering image!).

I have heard (and phone videos have proven) that she is now mobile. She's definitely a physical kid, just like her mom, full of energy and life. Looks like it's time to put the baby latches on the drawers and cabinets!

I will witness Lori's amazing talents first hand when Trudi and I fly out to Houston for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, don't mind me... I'm just braggin'!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Build and Rebuild

Another reflection from my fathering days. . .

Build and Rebuild

I bought a plastic model
A 1968 Pontiac Firebird
Just like the one I had in high school
Candy-apple red, black vinyl top
Hours and hours of cutting, trimming,
Painting and gluing
It's coming together pretty well

Hmmm, I just can seem to get these doors to fit
Maybe if I trim them just a bit

Uh oh, now you've done it

My anger mounts as every effort to fix it
Only makes things worse
Stupid car! **Smash!**

Embarrassed at my own behavior
I gently pick up my trashed model

Hours to build
Seconds to destroy
How easily I sacrifice my past investment
And future enjoyment
to gratify a moment's anger

The anger's gone now
But the car is still broken
It can be fixed, but it will take a lot more time

God, please help me with my anger

While I'm fixing the model, I reflect...

I need to go and have a quiet talk with my daughter
And apologize for my angry words last night

Time to rebuild

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Power of Affirmation

Now that I've got a granddaughter (and a grandson on the way!), I've been doing a lot of thinking about my own experiences as a child and as a parent. If there's one thing I wish I'd received and given more, it's affirmation.

I'm not talking about flattery. Telling a child that s/he's the best player on the team when s/he's not doesn't help. It'll either ring hollow now or set them up for disappointment later. I'm talking about sincerely affirming a child when s/he's demonstrated a valued character trait, or done something well, or given their all.

Some parents do a pretty good job in this area. Me? I think I finished pretty well, but early on, I didn't do that great a job. I focused way to much on "teaching moments"... opportunities to give advice, instruct, correct, etc. But as my wife says, "Not every moment is a teaching moment." She knew better than I that spending too much time telling a child where s/he needs to improve ends up sending the message that they just don't measure up. I think I could have been more effective as a parent if I'd spent more energy, particularly in those early years, looking for opportunities to affirm, not just teach.

In my case, it was perfectionism that drove me to correct more than affirm. Here are a few more excuses I've heard for not affirming:
  1. Giving too much praise, even when it's well deserved, will give a kid a swelled head. Nonsense. Take a look at all of the kids you knew growing up. The ones with inferiority complexes, the ones who would've given anything to have someone cheering for them far outnumbered the swelled heads.

  2. Or how about this one: Telling them they did a great job will make them rest on their laurels and not strive to do better. Yeah, right. The same parent who withholds praise so that their child will push him/herself harder will go to a baseball game and cheer 'til they're hoarse to root their team on to victory. Would that they were as vocal a cheerleader for their own kids.

Thankfully, it's never too late for a parent to do a course correction. Seek opportunities to affirm, pursue them with the same passion you did those teaching moments, and you'll begin to rewrite your legacy. Trust me on this one.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Losing Your Life in Order to Find It

I played music this last weekend at Menlo Park Presbyterian's annual all-church retreat. That was a treat in itself. But another benefit is that we got to hear from a really excellent speaker, Dave Johnson, who challenged us in many ways.

One of his messages that impacted me the most was about losing your life in order to find it. So many of the truths that Jesus taught run counter to our culture and the way the world works. Like loving your enemies, whoever would be the greatest must be the servant, etc. But the counter-intuitive truth that's really hitting me where I live is Jesus' teaching that you've got to lose your life in order to find it.

That's true, but man, is it tough to do. I find myself grasping onto the very things I know I should let go of. Anger and bitterness, for example. Or hanging on to some problem area in my life that I want to be rid of, but somehow still hold close -- maybe because it's easier for me to just wish something would go away rather than going through the hard work of dealing with it.

Dave Johnson called it right when he said that when you let go of something, you feel like you're dying inside. But you don't. It leads to life. Having someone confront you about something can be painful and humiliating, but afterwards, it can bring healing. Letting go of feelings of bitterness towards someone is like that, too. You want justice. You want someone to pay. And there's an odd kind of satisfaction in nursing a grudge. Letting go of all of that and truly forgiving someone who's wronged you can feel like you're dying. But you don't. Ultimately, it's freeing, and you come alive.

Funny how this weekend's conference gave me the exact message I needed to hear to help move me forward. God works like that.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Approval Addicts Anonymous

Sorry for not posting for a while. Things have been pretty crazy at work. And when things get stressful, I tend to lapse back into old habits. And that's definitely been the case with me this past week.

In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about "Changes That Heal" by Dr. Henry Cloud. This book has really helped me gain insights into why I am the way I am and make some good progress with some issues that have plagued me much of my life. But it's not an overnight fix. With any deep-seated issue, it takes more than a good self-help book. It takes time, vigilance, prayer, insight from wise people, support from friends and family, etc.

One of my lifelong issues is approval addiction. This manifests itself in lots of ways: being overly cautious around authority figures, fear of failure, assuming the worst, procrastination, etc. I've been dealing with all of these this week.

So I've had to go back and do a refresher on "Changes That Heal." I also learned something from one of Jon Ortberg's sermons that has helped. He told about how his wife, Nancy, had taken him aside and shared some things that she felt he needed to work on. Though it was tough to hear, he knew he wanted to be rid of those issues, too. So an encounter that could have been a negative experience was in the end a positive one, an opportunity for growth.

Nothing gets better when it's not faced. Ignoring baggage won't get rid of it. It just wears you down having to schlep it around all the time. On the positive side, when we face something with the right attitude, the outcome can be profoundly beneficial and freeing.

As a result, I've been able to identify some of the baggage I need to get rid of. I'm honest to goodness looking forward to doing that.

Have a great week!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Night That Grandpa Taught Me How To Play

The first stringed instrument I learned to play was the ukulele. The second was my grandfather's guitar, which he often played for us during visits. Playing that guitar was a moment I'll never forget, for many reasons...

It was back in 1967. My grandmother, who had been very ill with cancer, finally lost her battle. The family was up in Palo Alto for the funeral. After the service, we went back to my grandfather's house. My mother and I planned to stay overnight, while my dad and brother went back home.

We were all aware of the weight of sorrow that my grandfather was carrying, so we wanted to give him some space to process everything. In the early evening, I cautiously asked him if he wouldn't mind showing me a few chords on his guitar. Having learned to play the ukulele, I was anxious to move up to guitar, which has four strings in common with the uke.

He brought out his guitar, an old Martin that had been given to him by my uncle. He showed me a few chords and how to strum with a pick, a skill that was new to me, since ukulele is typically strummed in an up-and-down motion with the thumb and index finger. I then asked him if there were some instruction books he could recommend. He wrote down "Hy White Guitar Method" on a small scrap of paper. I still have that scrap of paper in my memorabilia box.

Sadly, this was the last that anyone would see of him. During the night, he suffered a stroke and passed away the next morning. It hit everyone like a lightning bolt. I spent a good part of the day lost in my own thoughts.

To say that this experience changed my life would be an understatement. It's somewhere in the back of my mind whenever I pick up a guitar, especially so whenever I play his guitar.

One of these days I'll finish this song. I have the chorus:

"It was just three simple chords
But it opened up the door
To a life of making music
That I'd never known before
I remember it like it was yesterday
The night that Grandpa taught me how to play"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Five Foot Two

No, I'm not talking about Dana's height. I'm talking about the first song I learned to play on a stringed instrument.

Last weekend, I went to Davis to attend my niece's wedding. My uncle Bill and aunt Barbara recently moved from Capitola to Rocklin, and so I combined a visit with my brother and his family with a stop-off at my uncle's house. A really nice visit. He and Barbara are adjusting well to life in a new city and different setting.

During the visit, I saw a Martin ukulele in his living room. Martin is best known for its guitars, but it also makes other stringed instruments, including mandolins and ukuleles. This one looked a lot like the ukulele my Mom played when I was growing up. She taught me how to play it.

Turns out it's not just similar, it's the exact ukulele. My Mom had had it on extended loan from my uncle for years. I wondered whatever became of that uke, so it's good to finally know.

Looking at it, the memories came flooding back: Mom showing me how to hold it and strum it. How to play C and G7 and alternate back and forth comfortably. How to play simple two-chord songs like "Three Blind Mice" and my first "real" song: "Five foot two, eyes of blue. Oh, what those five feet could do! Has anybody seen my gal?" I loved all of those old-time songs. The uke was tailor made for them.

Thus began a musical journey that continues to this day. I can't even image how different my life would have been without this humble little instrument, and a mother who showed me how to make music with it. Thanks, Mom.

Next, I'll tell you about the day I moved from ukulele to six-string guitar.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Desperate for You

I listen to and play a lot of Christian music. I have my favorites, of course. But even in a good song, there are lines that I just don't relate to. "Breathe" is a good example. Great melody, and good lyrics:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

So far so good. But whenever I'd get to the line "I'm desperate for you," I always thought it was, well, corny. "Desperate for you"? Come on. How about something a little less emotional, like "I'm longing for you"? I guess I've always been a bit self-conscious about emotionalism. But that's changed...

Over the last couple of years, I've gone through a period of doubt with my faith. Not doctrinal stuff like does prayer work, but foundational stuff: Is God really there? Do I really believe what I say I believe, or do I just want it to be true? I've been following Christ for most of my life, so this has been a tough time for me.

Books have helped, including John Ortberg's latest book "Faith and Doubt." If you've not read it, it's worth checking out. John's book didn't answer all of my questions, of course, and didn't claim to. No book could. But it did help reaffirm one truth that is helping me move through this valley of the shadow of doubt.

We have a lot of control over many of our decisions in life, but beyond our time here on earth, we're utterly powerless. (I already knew that, and you know it, too. But maybe because I've been "doing church" for so long, I took my eyes off of that core truth.) In response to this powerlessness, we have two options: 1) despair or 2) throw ourselves on the mercy of our Creator.

Henry David Thoreau said that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." One could argue that we all lead lives of desperation, that is, we're either desperate for God or desperate without him. I'm taking the God option.

So the song was right after all: "I'm desperate for you." We sang it at our Friday night music jam. I find it ironic that a line I couldn't relate to has become a lifeline I now cling to. That's how it is in the journey of faith. Full of surprises, and in this case, a happy one.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ritual Grooving

Throughout the ages, men have engaged in a variety or rituals in order to get in touch with a higher spirit, with each other, or just to pass the time. Ritual drumming was in vogue for a while. Men would gather in a circle, like Native Americans at a pow wow, and drum and chant.

We've got our own bonding ritual, which I call Ritual Grooving. Me and the boys (and I use the term loosely; we're all over 40) get together about once a quarter for an evening jam session. Our core group consists of yours truly, Michael Dittmar, Marty Estkowski and Marc ("the Rocktometrist") Swanson. If we can get others to join us, so much the better. We used to be all acoustic guitars, but we've since branched out to include electric guitar and bass.

Here's the ritual:
  1. Pour the beverage of your choice (I've got a mini-BevMo in my garage).
  2. Tune the instrument of your choice (Thank you, Lord, for electronic tuners!).
  3. Choose a song (We have a pretty good selection of classic rock, country, blues and contemporary Christian charts).
  4. Play the song.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4.
I admit, it's a simple ritual, but hey, it works!

Seriously, if you love to play music, there's something undeniably wonderful, even spiritual, that happens when a song comes together. When you're locked into a solid groove, and the harmonies are just right. In my September 22nd post, I talk about music as a doorway to the soul. That it is. And it's a gift, too, straight from the Creator.

Gotta run. Tonight is music night. Woo hoo!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

When She Flies

Today Dana and Jorge celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary. In honor of the occasion, I'm posting the lyrics to a song I wrote for Dana when she graduated from Middle School. At the time, the song expressed my hopes and dreams for her. Now it's a song of thanks, because God has more than answered my prayers.

Congratulations, DB and Jorge!

When She Flies
David Barnes, 1997

When I was ten, I was coming home from playing ball next door
And I found a baby sparrow on the ground by our back porch.
I raised it in a shoebox nest ‘til it was nearly grown
And I asked my Dad for wire and wood to make my bird a home.

Dad said, "Son, I'm proud of you; you've given everything.
But what she now needs most of all is the freedom to take wing.
Letting go is hard to do, but if you don't say good-bye,
You can hold her and love her, but you'll never see her fly.

"When she flies, she'll ride the winds of freedom
And the sky's the limit to all that she can be.
A whole new world will open to her
When she leaves your world behind.
But a part of you goes with her when she flies."

It seems like only yesterday, when we brought our daughter home.
Like a little bird, so helpless, couldn't make it on her own.
But we nurtured her and raised her like the Good Book said we should.
And now a fine young lady stands where my baby girl once stood.

Like my Daddy told me, I've given everything.
But what she now needs most of all is the freedom to take wing.
Letting go is hard to do, but if I don't say good-bye,
I can hold her and love her, but I'll never see her fly.

When she flies, she'll ride the winds of freedom
And the sky's the limit to all that she can be.
A whole new world will open to her
When she leaves my world behind.
But a part of me goes with her, when she flies.

When she's grown and on her own, it's then I'll truly see:
It's worth the cost of letting go to see her flying free.

When she flies, she'll ride the winds of freedom
And the sky's the limit to all that she can be.
A whole new world is opening to her
As she leaves my world behind.
And it's a wondrous sight to see her when she flies.
It's a wondrous sight to see her when she flies.